Dembski and McDowell on Intelligent Design

This 90-minute talk on Intelligent Design by Sean McDowell and William Dembski was to a lay audience of 500. It is based on their new book “Understanding Intelligent Design – Everything you need to know in plain language“. You can buy the book online from Koorong in Australia here.

One attendee wrote:

I was there and brought my entire family, as well as a family friend. It was a terrific evening. It really is too bad that students in the public schools are forbidden to be exposed to Dembski’s dangerous idea that there is scientifically detectable design in the universe and living systems. This could lead to catastrophic consequences, like some students becoming intellectually unfulfilled atheists.

The download is about 40MB (= quite big) and can be found here (right-click, download).

Answering Objections to 'The Argument from Evolution' Part 2

…continued from Answering Objections to ‘The Argument from Evolution’ Part 1

(4) illegitimate use of probability calculations in evolutionary models

“Creationists certainly love big numbers – especially when they inappropriately use them to prove evolution ‘improbable.’ Of course, to do this they must set up a straw man – their liem [sic] that evolutionary changes result from chance!”

Who now is distorting my words? A careful reading of the article would show that I did not state or imply that evolutionary changes were a result of chance alone. Indeed I was careful not to set up this kind of straw man. All these highly unlikely calculations apply to the chemical origin of life (or proteins, etc), that naturalism or atheistic-evolutionism is committed to.

Natural Selection cannot be a contributing factor in the origin of life scenario. Before natural selection can operate there needs to be an entity that is capable of self-replication. Natural Selection presupposes the existence of two or more distinct types of self-replicating, self-maintaining, complex, open systems which can then compete for the resources of their environment.5  “Prebiological natural selection is a contradiction in terms.”6 

The bigger question being raised here though is how are these big numbers arrived at? 

The second law of thermodynamics is not some vague idea that entropy increases with time in a closed system. It is a precise theorem expressed with mathematical formulae. As such, system energy can be quantified statistically and entropy measured with probability calculations. High entropy corresponds to high probability, and low entropy corresponds to low probability. A random arrangement is characterised by high entropy and so is more probable than a highly ordered arrangement which is energy-rich. Highly ordered macromolecules such as DNA and protein are vastly more improbable then their antecedents amino acids or heterocyclic bases, thus their arrangement can be calculated. 

But its even worse for the atheistic-evolutionist. Order is not enough. What is needed is specified complexity. This is the essential ingredient for a systems replication. A crystals information content can be compared to a book repeating the word “SALT, SALT, SALT…” over and over. A polypepties information content can be compared to a book full of random letters, “AGBDCBFE GBCAFED ACEDFBG.” The information content of a complex and specified arrangement can be compared to a sentence just like this one. The DNA of a human is often compared to several libraries worth of this type of detailed instruction.

In short, complexity is the long sequence that itself is highly improbable in its formation. Specificity is the result of the sequence conforming to an independently given pattern. The arrangement in a protein is not just random – it means something.

“It would be quite impossible to produce a correspondingly simple set of instructions that would enable a chemist to synthesize the DNA of an E. coli bacterium. In this case the sequence matters. Only by specifying the sequence letter-by-letter (about 4,000,000 instructions) could we tell a chemist what to make. Our instructions would occupy not a few short sentences, but a large book instead!”7

On thermodynamics the probability of the formation of this sort of information, where the sequence matters, can also be calculated. Hubert Yockey, Robert Sauer, Peter Rüst, Paul Erbrich, Siegfried Scherer and Douglas Axe are all people who are doing this (though that does not mean they are proponents of ID).

What has to be considered is not only the thermal and chemical entropy, but the additional component of configurational entropy (“coding” work) with the “sorting and selecting” work.

 

(5) The illegitimate use of the second law of thermodynamics;

Even if the second law of thermodynamics is used illegitimately, that in no way effects the four other points that speak against ‘The problem with soup’ section  on the chemical origin of life. 

“As a chemist I feel offended when creationists take a thermodynamic law which applies to a closed system and dishonestly apply it to part of an open system. . . The earth, where life evolved, is not a closed or isolated system.”

But is the use of the second law of thermodynamics used illegitimately?

Your objection is based around the idea that the earth is an open system. This wave-of-the-hand dismissal is a poor refutation.

“A mere appeal to open system thermodynamics does little good. What must be done is to advance a workable theoretical model of how the available energy can be coupled to do the required work.”8

An open system offers a possibility of ordering, but supplying raw energy and raw material alone is not enough to produce specified complexity. There still needs to be a mechanism that harness that energy, and another mechanism that makes pre-biopolymers non-trivial (specified). That is why I say, “Still raw energy alone cannot bring order or information out of random chaos. Some sort of blueprint or plan is needed and that requires an intelligence.”9 It can be likened to an combustion engine. The engine uses the energy provided by petroleum fuel and converts it into carbon-dioxide and water, to produce torque in the wheels. The engine acts as a coupling mechanism between the energy required for function and the raw energy supplied. 

A purely naturalistic evolutionary model uses the coupling mechanism called “chance” for the “coding” work. Energy flow through the system, it is assumed, is capable to account for the chemical and thermal entropy work. The configurational entropy work of both selecting and coding is the fortuitous product of chance.

Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen outline their equations for the work required to synthesis a protein containing 101 amino acids. They find the probability of producing one protein of 101 amino acids in five billion years is only 1/ 1045. 10 They conclude:

“It is apparent that “chance” should be abandoned as an acceptable model for coding of the macromolecules essential in living systems. In fact, it has been, except in introductory texts and popularizations.”11

(6) that improbability calculations should apply to creation models

“The irony is that while the small steps in natural selection have a high probability the huge creation step doesn’t. The numbers given by Thinking Matters really should be applied to the acts of special creation required by their ideas…”

This concept that you espouse is undeveloped, insofar as you have not stated why it must be so. (6i) It seems you are presupposing a methodological naturalism, in which case I agree it would be highly improbable. But limiting the pool of options to naturalistic ones only shows a ‘closed mind’ and the restriction of sciences faculties to explain concepts like specified complexity. (6ii) In any case, I think you are confusing probability with plausibility. While something can be improbable due to its rarity of occurrence, it may be entirely plausible due the six assessment criteria for scientific models stated in the article “The Argument from Evolution” in section 4) The problem with science. Positing a transcendent intelligence in a creation model is superior to the purely naturalistic alternative in that it has more explanatory power, explanatory scope, outstrips rival theories, etc.

To head off the criticism that science must only posit naturalistic phenomena in its explanations, and that putting “God-in-the-gaps” is a hindrance to science, I will say that with our current scientific knowledge it is at least more rational to assert an intelligent designer than adopt a provisional agnosticism-in-the-gaps. If the criticisms raised against naturalistic evolutionary models are increasing the scientist is advised to abandon pure naturalism in the face of the explanations overwhelming lack of comparative superiority. 

“One characteristic feature of the . . . critique needs to be emphasized. We have not simply picked out a number of details within chemical evolution theory that are weak, or without adequate explanation for the moment. For the most part this critique is based on crucial weaknesses intrinsic to the theory itself. Often it is contended that criticism focuses on present ignorance. “Give us more time to solve the problems,” is the plea. After all, the pursuit of abiogenesis [the origin of life from nonlife] is young as a scientific enterprise. It will be claimed that many of these problems are mere state-of-the-art gaps. And, surely, some of them are. Notice, however, that the sharp edge of this critique is not what we do not know, but what we do know. Many facts have come to light in the past three decades of experimental inquiry into life’s beginning. With each passing year the criticism has gotten stronger. The advance of science itself is what is challenging the notion that life arose on earth by spontaneous (in a thermodynamic sense) chemical reactions.”12

That about wraps up my criticisms of your objections.

 

Footnotes:

5. Ludwig von Bertalanffy, 1967. Robots, Men and Minds. New York: George Braziller, p.82.

6. T. Dobzhansky, 1965. In The Origins of Prebiological Systems and of Their Molecular Matrices, p.310.

7. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mysteries of Lifes Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, (New York, Philosophical Library, 1984), (http://ldolphin.org/mystery/chapt8.html; retrieved 24 October, 2008).

8. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mysteries of Lifes Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, (New York, Philosophical Library, 1984), (http://ldolphin.org/mystery/chapt9.html; retrieved 24 October, 2008).

9. Stuart McEwing, ‘Argument from Evolution,’ (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2008/the-argument-from-evolution/; retrieved 25 October, 2008)

10. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mysteries of Lifes Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, (New York, Philosophical Library, 1984), (http://ldolphin.org/mystery/chapt9.html; retrieved 24 October, 2008).

11. Ibid.

12. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mysteries of Lifes Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, (New York, Philosophical Library, 1984), p. 125.

Answering Objections to 'The Argument from Evolution' Part 1

Hello Ken, 

I am the author of the article “Argument from Evolution” released on Thinking Matters. Ken Perrott has laid a few charges at the door (see Open Parachute) so to speak, and has tripped a few times getting there, so I wish to address some of the problems here. I will first outline them.

I perceive these charges to be: (1) being anti-evolution; (2) upholding a ‘web of lies’ by citing ‘bulling’ tactics from evolutionists that curtail of the freedom of inquiry; (3) The illegitimate use of a quotation by Stephen J Gould that speaks of a lack of transitional forms in the fossil record; (4) the illegitimate use of probability calculations to substantiate fault in evolutionary models; (5) the illegitimate use of the second law of thermodynamics and (6) that these improbability calculations should equally apply to creation models.

(1) on being anti-evolution

There needs to be a subtle distinction drawn here. In the article I did not state my position, but I did argue in a way that suggested a purely naturalistic evolutionary model is not viable. Granted, the movement of the article was towards refuting evolutionary models, and evolution did come under heavy assault, but the main burden of the article was to show that evolution does not imply that God does not exist (a contention it seems you did not imbibe) and if true, the Christian can be open to where the evidence leads. If the evidence points to some form of evolution, then holding to it can be considered a valid intellectual move. If the evidence points away from evolution, the Christian is free to move away from it unlike the atheist who committed to purely naturalistic evolution. 

But where does the evidence lead? We can discuss the merits of it here at least partially by looking at your objections. 

Beginning your discourse you immediately make two mistakes. The first is here:

“It’s interesting that people who have no real regard for science, and are actually working hard to discredit modern science, feel the need to ‘use’ science to support their arguments!”

You conflate ‘modern science’ with ‘correct science.’ I, like you, have a regard for science as a valid method to explain the world in which we live (I have posted on this subject of Science, God and the Bible separately). I have no interest in discrediting good science. I do feel obligated to refute bad science (as I see it), and especially bad philosophy that is smuggled in underneath good and bad science. 

Your second mistake is here:

“…the fact that evolutionary science is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientifically literate. . . the experts, do actually support evolutionary science?”

Just because the majority of people accept evolution does not mean that evolution is true. Making that leap is called the fallacy of argument from the majority of opinion. If your point was that the majority of expert opinion lends weight to the argument that evolution is true, then I could agree with you. I would question then if it was the case that there was an overwhelming majority of opinion, but that would be beside the point. 

Take for instance this example. If I told you that the overwhelming majority of critical new testament scholars and historians recognise the facts surrounding the events of Christ’s death as truly historical (namely; (a) the honourable burial; (b) the empty tomb; (c) the resurrection appearances; (d) the disciples earnest belief that ‘God raised Jesus from the dead,’) and then told you that therefore God raised Jesus from the dead, you wouldn’t accept that. You would find all manner of reasons to disregard the critical scholars and historians acceptance of the data (by saying they cannot legitimately derive that conclusion from the data; these people are biased; these people are no authorities), or failing that discredit the reasons why the majority agrees to (a) through (d). It is after analysis of (a), (b), (c) and (d) that your opinion would be swayed, if at all. Similarly, it is on the arguments and reasons why evolutionists believe in evolution that should sway you to believe, or in failing to convince you, perhaps disbelieve. Not on the majority opinion!

Majority of opinion has very often been wrong in science before. That is a lesson you should know very clearly if you have done any research in history of science. Besides all this, if it turned out the majority of opinion actually was for the ID model, you wouldn’t accept that as proof of the truth of ID either. So its clear claiming expert opinion as a means of proving evolution is a fallacy best avoided. 

(2) ‘bulling’ tactics

Your claim is creationism and ID are propped up creationists and ID proponents by claiming they are bullied by the scientific establishment and prevented from being published by a faulty peer review system: a conspiracy is afoot, and lies are protected by the establishment. 

Now I did not cite any bulling tactics, nor did I use an argument like this at all. I did mention Ben Stein’s documentary, but this was to support the right to speak out without being called derogatory names, and for the responsibility of everyone to let criticisms of any theory to be heard. 

Your comments are therefore quiet disturbing. Any charge of the curtailing of academic freedom is deplorable and should be scrutinised with the up-most seriousness. Your quick dismissal is not engendering in this reader a confidence of your own “open mind.” The facts are there is a culture of scientific intolerance that pervades academia (especially American) towards critics of neo-Darwinian evolution. To support this I need only cite your own blog and your favourite satirical cartoons you have provided (very funny btw :-).

Your third mistake I perceive is here:

“Well, it’s too late to tell the truth. That would destroy the whole web of lies they have constructed. . . Of course these creationist propagandists see New Zealand Christians as the natural constituency for their propaganda. This constituency is more accepting because the more fundamentalist of them fear that modern science negates their faith. They also inappropriately feel that the harsh reality of natural history somehow has implications for how human society should work.”

Your clear that you think that creationists have constructed a big ‘web of lies.’ Not so clear on just what these lies supposedly are. It is incumbent on you to support your general aspersions of Christian belief or what the Christian community ‘inappropriately feel’ with specifics and then arguments if you have them. As I mentioned before the burden of the article was to show that evolution in no way speaks to the issue of God’s existence, but rather brings a very different challenge to Christian belief than the atheist charges. 

The assertion that Christians “inappropriately feel that the harsh reality of natural history somehow has implications for how human society should work” is unsupported and unjustified. As longs as evolution remains the standard for presuppositional naturalism, while the science (good or bad) is being trumpeted the philosophy will be smuggled in underneath. Evolution therefore constitutes a worldview that will influence how people think and fell about themselves and society at large. Eventually it will (if it hasn’t already) start to dominate the actions of people. 

Dr. Nathan Jastram says on the topic of evolution, if life is a product of random chance [blind, undirected evolution]; it doesn’t matter if we live or die; it doesn’t matter how we live and die; end-of-life issues like euthanasia and abortion become acceptable and we are no better than trout, dogs, cockroaches, chickens or salmonella. These are the logically consistent conclusions if evolution is the case.1 I can think of many more consequences to people and society that are not listed above. This does not mean to say that evolution is not true – just the unsavoury consequence if it is.

(3) Misquoting Gould

You claim I illegitimately used a quotation by Stephen J Gould that speaks of a lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. Even if I have, this does not invalidate the point of the section “The problem with fossils.” There are other quotes supporting the lack of transitional forms, as well as other problems in the fossil record other than the lack of transitional forms. 

But was I misusing the quote from Gould as you claim? 

(i) Gould was complaining about the ‘distortion and innuendo’ of his theories. I ask you now, how did I distort and/or give suggestive, disparaging remarks of punctuated equilibrium? Moreover, (ii) the quotation I used points out the extreme rarity of transitional forms (which was the point being made), as does the quotation by Gould that you used – “Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level…” He then modifies his statement somewhat by saying “…but they are abundant between larger groups.2 And what are the abundant transitional forms between the larger groups? The species that in the fossil record appear not to modify. Put simply, the missing links are still missing. So its actually you (because of (i) and (ii)) who are illegitimately using his quotes. 

In the quote of Gould from Natural History, Vol. 86, he goes on to say, “…new species almost always appeared suddenly in the fossil record with no intermediate links to ancestors in older rocks of the same region.”3 It is true that this lack of evidence led him to amend evolution as gradual change to his model of punctuated equilibrium, but the point I was making was the same as Gould himself – that there is a problem with the fossil record due the lack of transitional fossils. 

To underscore the point, here is another quote from Dr. Niles Eldredge;

“…the smooth transition from one form of life to another, which is implied in the theory… is not borne out by the facts… No one has yet found any evidence of such transitional creatures… In the last decade, geologists have found rock layers of all divisions of the last 500 million years and no transitional forms were contained in them. It is not the fossil record which is incomplete, it must be the theory.”4

 

…continued on the next article Answering Objections to ‘The Argument from Evolution’ Part 2

Footnotes

1. Dr. Nathan Jastram [Concordia University Wisconson], Issues, Etc., (Podcast: 23 October, 2008)

2. Stephen Jay Gould, ‘Evolution as Fact and Theory’ (http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_fact-and-theory.html; Retrieved 24 October, 2008)

3. Stephen Jay Gould, ‘Evolution’s Erratic Pace,’ Natural History, Vol. 86, May 1977, p. 12.

4. Niles Eldredge, “Missing, Believed Nonexistent,” Manchester Guardian (The Washington Post Weekly), Vol. 119, No. 22, 26 November 1978, p. 1.

Science, God and the Bible

In my previous post I was responding to objections of Joel Hilchey to my article entitles “The Argument from Evolution.” I gleaned five principle objections but abstained from writing about science and God for space issues. Here is the remainder of what I had to say in response to that area. To Joel, if it seems like you’ve been caught in the line of fire, that’s only because you have provided a lot of intellectual tinder for my guns.

 

Science, God and the Bible

You charged that the Bible offers nothing scientifically relevant. I disagree on the following grounds.

1) The Bible provides epistemic grounds to ensure the success of science.

2) The Bible provides motivation for the pursuit of scientific truth. 

3) The Bible anticipates scientific discoveries. 

 

1) The Bible provides epistemic grounds to ensure the success of science.

The idea of God does not stymy science at all, but invigorates it. It was the Christian worldview that first opened the door to the modern scientific era. The understanding that a rational God created a rational universe along with rational man, who could understand it made science flourish for almost 400 years. 

Almost every major field of science was founded by a Christian, working specifically from a Christian worldview. Consider Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics; William Turner, the father of English botany; Johannes Kepler, the planetary laws of motion; Galileo Galilei, the father of modern astronomy; Rene Descartes, philosopher and mathematician; Blaise Pascal, physicist and mathematician who defended the scientific method; Robert Boyle, the first modern chemist; Louis Pasteur, inventor of the pasteurization method; Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics; Lord Kelvin, important in Thermodynamics; Max Planck, the founder of Quantum mechanics, and the list goes on. 

Before the scientific renaissance no religion or worldview provided epistemic grounds necessary for the success of science. To put it crudely, atheism gives us an irrational universe and a monkey’s brain to comprehend it. Agnosticism gives us nothing concrete to pin down even basic assumptions like the principle of uniformity or that we can know truth at all. Polytheism provides an irrational universe subject to the irrational gods who inhabit it. Theravada Buddhism denies the existence of the enduring real world to be known, and the enduring self to know it. 

The necessary preconditions of science are consistent with the Christian worldview. These are the rationality of the world; the existence of value; the reliability of the mind, and that the senses are generally truth-worthy.

On the Christian view God created the universe and placed man in it to subdue it and to rule over it – science was born in Eden. The purpose of man is to have dominion over all the created works of God (See Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8:6). Then God decreed “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, to search out a matter is the glory of kings (us).” Proverbs 25:2. He also gave us an inquisitive and creative mind to search out answers for all manner of problems. 

With society becoming more and more post-christian, if we are not about to see a collapse of the modern scientific era, it will only be because scientists refuse to discard theistic presuppositions. C.S. Lewis writes:

Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. In most modern scientists this belief has died: it will be interesting to see how long their confidence in uniformity survives it. Two significant developments have already appeared—the hypothesis of a lawless sub-nature, and the surrender of the claim that science is true. We may be living nearer than we suppose to the end of the Scientific Age.1

 

2) The Bible provides motivation for the pursuit of scientific truth.

Dr. William Lane Craig writes; 

For as Christians we believe that all truth is God’s truth, that God has revealed to us the truth, both in His Word and in Him who said, “I am the Truth.” The Christian, therefore, can never look on the truth with apathy or disdain. Rather, he cherishes and treasures the truth as a reflection of God Himself.2

As Christians we believe that the author of science and the author of the Bible are the same. Therefore, good science shall find the fingerprints of God. That does not mean the theist has any advantage over an non-theist scientist, apart from what is pointed out in 1). Craig goes on to say; 

Nor does his commitment to truth make the Christian intolerant. . . on the contrary, the very concept of tolerance entails that one does not agree with that which one tolerates. The Christian is committed to both truth and tolerance, for he believes in Him who said not only, “I am the Truth,” but also, “Love your enemies.3

See the humility of Sir. Isaac Newton, a deeply committed Christian, after completing his great work Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica; “I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

He understood that seeking scientific truth was not the sole domain of the Christian, but that scientific truth showed the beauty and wonder of not only God’s creation, but by extension, God Himself. Science, for the Christian, carries with it an extra dimension. The German astronomer Johannes Kepler said that through his study of the Universe, he was “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

 

3) The Bible anticipates scientific discoveries

 – Against the prevailing scientific views of the time Isaiah 40:32 states “God sits above the circle (sphere) above the earth.” 

 – Written at least 2000 BC, Job 26:7 says “He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing.” 

 – The first law of thermodynamics, energy conservation, was not established until 1850 but was predicted in Genesis 2:2 when it said “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”

 – The second law of thermodynamics, energy deterioration, was predicted over and over. In Matthew 24:35 it says “Heaven and earth will pass away…”

 – Creation ex nihilo is predicted in Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” the word created (bara’) in Hebrew means ‘to form from nothing.’ 

 – That twentieth century science has confirmed that time and space themselves began to exist in Big bang cosmology, is also a radical conformation of Genesis 1:1.

 – Isaiah 55:10 speaks of the water cycle, not confirmed untill it was at last provided by Bernard Palissy (c. 1510-1590) in his 1580 book Admirable Discourses, which cut through all previous misunderstandings. Ecclesiastes 1:7 “All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.”

 – If your in Virginia look up the statue of Matthew Fontaine Maury. Beneath you will find an inscription that reads; “Matthew Fontaine Maury, Pathfinder of the Seas, the Genius Who First Snatched from the Ocean and Atmosphere the Secret of Their Laws. His Inspiration, Holy Writ, Psalm 8:8, Psalm 107:23,24, and Ecclesiastes 1:6.”

 

1. C.S. Lewis, Miracles: a preliminary study (London, Collins, 1947); p. 110.

2. William Lane Craig, ‘In Intellectual Neural’ (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6597; retrieved 24 October 2008) 

3. Ibid

The Merits of Intelligent Design

Hello Joel,

I can tell you’ve put some thought into these important matters. There are few holes in your thinking however that are apparent to me and I shall endeavour to plug them here for you.

(1) In defence of Premise 1-1: If evolution is true, it requires a divine miracle.

Preliminary remarks

As I said in the article, ID scientists try not to invoke the cause of the design they see in biological systems while wearing their lab coat. Continually they make it clear that the presence of design indicates a designer, but they cannot speak as to who or what this intelligence is. As philosophers though, we can ask that second-order question.

To take your agnostic line and say we simply don’t know, is at least an admission that on our current scientific knowledge the most rational explanation given thus far is a divine miracle has taken place. 

Defence 

It is (i) the lack of naturalistic mechanisms for the specified complexity of macromolecules that is suspicious, but it is (ii) the probability calculations given by the second law of thermodynamics that turn those suspicions toward a transcendent cause. This cause is not some random, ad hoc explanation, like the flying spaghetti monster. We can deduce its properties and attributes from the design, like we can deduce the properties and attributes of a painter from a painting. This cause is not there to plug a hole in our knowledge and stymie the work of science, it is there to provide an explanation for data that cries out for an explanation. (iii) This design argument shows a cause that strongly implies a superior intellect, tremendous expertise and volition. These are all attributes of a personal being. While this in itself does not say specifically that the designer was God, it is nonetheless consistent with the concept of God and (iv) more likely than any contradictory.

The argument from biological specified complexity I think is quite strong on its own. Nevertheless it has severely limited the scope of God’s attributes. That is why it is always good to keep in mind that the argument does not appear out of the blue, on its own, but against the backdrop of other design arguments for Gods existence, such as the extremely powerful argument for the fine-tuning of the universe itself. That argument gives us a being who is timeless, immaterial, whose power approaches omnipotence at the minimum, whose knowledge approaches omniscience, and who is personal. 

 

(2) An Explanation

In order for an explanation to be viable, you don’t need an explanation for the explanation. For example, suppose you were to find an arrow head made of copper embedded in the rock on a mountainside, and close by you discover old broken shards of pottery, primitive tools and weapons, the remains of clay walls and marked graves. You conclude that some village once dwelled there in this high altitude. But suppose your mountaineering partner said “Hey, you don’t know how this supposed village got here, so your conclusion can’t be correct.”

You would rightly hit him over the head. The objects that need explaining are right there before of the two of you, and here he is arguing against the obvious. It is clear that you don’t need an explanation for the explanation in order for the explanation to be the best. If that were the case, then science would truly be over, for you’d have an infinite regress of things that need explaining and nothing would be explained. 

Likewise, if positing God as the designer, we don’t need an explanation of God’s origin, nature and how or why he operates, for this being to be the best explanation. 

It seems you have a wrong idea of God anyway. The God of the Bible never “came about.” He is by nature eternal, that is, He transcends time and has no beginning. Like you quoted in John 1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” He is the “first un-caused cause,” the creator of all that exists and thereby can supersede all natural laws of the universe. That is why we call him supernatural.

 

(3) Science and God

I have chosen to write about this in another post for space issues. 

 

(4) Intelligent predictions 

The charge that Intelligent design offers no predictions and therefore cannot be called a scientific theory is either wilful ignorance or blatant dishonesty. 

Dr. William Dembski answers this charge convincingly. I will not try to summarise all he said here – it would be far better to read it yourself here – though I will offer one quote. 

“To require prediction fundamentally misconstrues design. To require prediction of design is to put design in the same boat as natural laws, . . . This is to commit a category mistake. To be sure, designers, like natural laws, can behave predictably. . . Yet unlike natural laws, which are universal and uniform, designers are also innovators. Innovation, the emergence to true novelty, eschews predictability. . . Intelligent design offers a radically different problematic for science than a mechanistic science wedded solely to undirected natural causes. Yes, intelligent design concedes predictability. But this represents no concession to Darwinism, for which the minimal predictive power that it [Darwinism] has can readily be assimilated to a design-theoretic framework.”1

Although predictions are not required, that does not mean intelligent design makes no predictions. Here are some: (A) High information content machine-like irreducibly complex structures will be found; (B) Forms will be found in the fossil record that appear suddenly and without any precursors; (C) Genes and functional parts will be re-used in different unrelated organisms; (D) The genetic code will NOT contain much discarded genetic baggage code or functionless “junk DNA”. 

I have already shown (A) and (B) to be the case. As for (C) there is a large distribution of molecular and morphological characteristics throughout unrelated branches on the tree of life. It is a hallmark of a designer to reuse good design features. As for (D) it is now widely acknowledged that so-called “junk-DNA” is no longer considered purposeless. Against the predictions of neo-Darwinianism it has been found that non-gene sections of DNA have functionality. They regulate genes, package chromosomes to assist in cell division, and small mutations there can be the cause of some forms of cancer, Type 2 diabetes and other diseases. To read more on “junk-DNA” go here.

 

(5) Religious Books

Objections raised:

In points (1) through (4) I think I have already spoken to the main point you made clear in the last paragraph. What you do in this paragraph is impugn reputation of the Bible by (a)including it in the same category of other religious books; (b) saying the idea should be absurd to many people; the stories within are (c) shallow and (d) ridiculous and have (e) questionable character lessons; are (f) dated; (g) irrelevant to modern life; (h) offer nothing relevant scientifically or (i) morally. This is a heavy assault, indeed! 

But can you back-up any of your accusations? The only examples you give are (g1) exorcisms instead of medication, and (g2) poor sanitation of ancient peoples to note (g) the irrelevance of the Bible today in modern life with respect to healthcare.

Preliminary remarks:

This is a very interesting topic that I will try to address comprehensively some other time. Let me just say here that firstly I am certainly not going to defend all religious books. I’ll defend the Bible against all your accusations, and more if you can think of any if you can give examples. Second, that religious books like the religions themselves should be judged on a case by case basis, and not all lumped together prejudiciously like you have done here.

Broad critisims:

I will address these objections broadly by saying immediately the accusations strike me as shallow in themselves. Accusation (b) is followed immediately with an admission that many others accept the book to be literal and inspired Word of God. Accusation (e) seemingly presumes there are character lessons explicitly given in historical writings. Accusation (i) is downright laughable. Would you say the ten commandments are not relevant for today? (For a refutation of your preferred humanist ethic see here) What about the beatitudes, widely acknowledged to be the supremely highest ethic?

After the berating you then go on to say that Eastern religions are generally more moral than Western religions, forgetting of course that (1) Christianity is an eastern religion, with its origins deeply rooted in eastern soil and most it adherents now living in the east or the undeveloped third world; (2) Judaism and Islam are both eastern religions and also require fidelity and obedience; (3) William Wilberforce and (4) Mother Theresa. 

It was from the profound conversion of William Wilberforce to Christianity that made him realise that “all men are created equal,” and that therefore no man had the right to enslave another. The application of this Christian truth led to his tireless campaign for the abolition of slavery in England and spawned the movement throughout the west. A movement unknown to eastern religions. 

Mother Theresa went to India where Hinduism prevails amongst the laity and where they preach a cow is more precious than a human life. When she started caring for the sick and weak in Calcutta, many there were against her work because they saw it as interfering with peoples Karma by not allowing them to work off their suffering and improve their lot in the next life. People starve in the streets while offerings of food are sacrificed to one of the many gods. 

 

I will continue my criticisms of your criticisms in my next article entitled “Science, God and the Bible.”

 

1. William Dembski, ‘Is design testable?’ (http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_isidtestable.htm; retrieved October 24, 2008)

Tim Keller interviewed at the Washington Post and other videos

Tim Keller sits down in an interview with Sally Quinn, one of the editors of Washington Posts On Faith discussion site. Keller discusses several questions, including his journey to become a Christian, certainty and the possibility of dialogue between Christians and agnostics, getting mad at God and suffering, and Kierkegaard’s definition of sin.

Source: JT and Kevin Cawley

Keller is the author of the best-seller The Reason for God, and also of a new book coming out this month, The Prodigal God, on understanding Christianity through the story of the prodigal son.

The Gospel Coalition has several other good segments of Keller answering more questions on their site:

Who are the New Atheists?

What is the New Atheist message? How should we engage them?

How do you respond when people say that science has buried God?

How is Christianity relevant for today’s culture?

Has science buried God? Report from the Dawkins/Lennox discussion

This week, on the 21st of October, Richard Dawkins and John Lennox came together at the Oxford Museum to discuss science, atheism, and the Christian faith. Both represent significant voices in the debate about the existence of God and the claims of science; with Dawkin’s The God Delusion and Lennox’s God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?

The event was hosted by Fixed Point, and for those that are interested you can grab a DVD or CD of the debate from their website (they are currently offering a £2.50 discount on pre-orders).

The RZIM trust has summarized some of the discussion (thanks to Aaron McAleese for sending this to me) and I thought I would quote some the comments because it sounded like a lively and interesting discussion between the two scientists. The whole report is over three thousand words, so I have not included everything. If you want the full report, you can email me for a copy at jason@thinkingmatters.org.nz.

Has science buried God?

The debate was a fascinating exchange which revolved around the ideas of truth, the intelligibility of the universe, the reliability of history, the importance of the resurrection, whether or not God has any place in science, and issues of morality and purpose.

The debate involved a conversation between the two speakers, followed by a question and answer session and then finished with concluding remarks from both sides. Because the speakers were cross-examining one another, it meant that the topics that they spoke about swung quite considerably.

Dawkins started by saying it depends which god you are talking about. He said there were three types of gods:

i) Einstein’s poetic metaphor.
ii) The deist god. Dawkins said there was a “reasonably respectable case for a deist god”, but it was not one he believed in.
iii) The thousands of other gods including Yahweh, Zeus and the Christian God.

Dawkins said he knew what God Lennox believes in. He said Lennox is a scientist who believes God actually turned water into wine (changing the proteins and structure of the water) and who walked on water. He said he is used to hearing it from sophisticated theologians, but not from a scientist like Lennox. He said couldn’t God think of a better way of saving the world then torturing himself. He said it was petty and small-minded.

Lennox said that he believes in the rational intelligibility of the universe and that it was not just a freak accident. He said that he believes in a creator who is not only a force, but a person. He said the issue was far from petty as it deals with a very serious problem – our alienation from God. He said as a scientist he believed the universe was rational intelligible because there was a God. He asked Dawkins how he accounted for it.

Dawkins said things were not a freak accident. He said that Darwin showed that it happened through evolution by natural selection. He said it looks designed but it is not. He said the cosmos has not had its ‘Darwin’ yet, so we do not know how it was created. He said biology can discourage us from believing in God. He said that although we don’t understand the cosmos we do not have to postulate a creator. He says it’s harder to think of how a God came into existence than a universe.

Lennox pointed out that Darwin does not explain the origin.  He said scientists and cosmologists assume the universe is rationally intelligible. He said can we trust our own minds if they are only the product of unguided processes? He quoted the atheist Pinker who said that unguided evolution only serves reproduction and has nothing to do with truth. Likewise, atheist Gray says that it could not give any credence of truth. He says Dawkins’ views undermines the rationality upon which he relies.

Lennox said everything depends on having a fine-tuned universe before life can begin. He asked Dawkins if his belief was that everything went from the simple to the complex. Dawkins said that in biology this was correct. Lennox said that all language comes as a result of a created mind. Dawkins says that DNA is not human language.

Lennox said there was no other conceivable way of understanding information. He said information processes communication.

Dawkins accuses Lennox of [sic] incredulity.

Lennox said believing rationality comes from irrationality is rational credulity. He said he believed in an eternal logos that created the universe and the laws that uphold it.

Dawkins said that this was no explanation and that the universe was just a brute fact. He said it was easier to believe in a brute fact than in God. He said this was more plausible than a God.

Lennox says that things don’t always have a simpler explanation e.g. someone writing a book.

Dawkins says that your brain has an explanation – you can go back a level and it is always from the simple to the complex.

Lennox says we have no evidence for how low level molecules can move to a macro level with information.

Dawkins says we don’t know yet, but science is working on it.

Lennox says DNA is an ancient language that points to a logos and cannot be seen in purely naturalistic terms. Extreme reductionism removes the rationalism from the debate. He said that the existence of DNA suggests there is a designer and that Dawkins’ dichotomy of science or religion could put people off science.

Dawkins says that a religious person smuggles in magic as an explanation.

Lennox said there are some bad gaps that science closes as well as some bad gaps that it opens. He said that if there was a God you would expect (1) Evidence in the universe e.g. mathematical intelligibility, fine-tuning and the sophistication of the world and (2) that the creator would speak in a special way. He said that the resurrection was not petty. He said death affects everyone and therefore it does make an enormous difference.

—-

Lennox asked about ultimate justice. He said this was not a petty matter. He said that we live in a broken world and that no God means no ultimate justice.

Dawkins said suppose there was misery and no justice. He said that this was too bad if it’s true. He then said maybe there was no hope without God.

Lennox said he’d just admitted it. He said if there was a God then he would have to reveal himself. He said he could not know Dawkins by analysing him with a telescope or a microscope. He said God had to take the initiative to reveal himself to people. That is the only way you can know someone.

Lennox asked Dawkins what the ultimate meaning of life was for him.

Dawkins responded by saying that we make our own meaning. He said a biologist’s perspective was that it was all about the propagation of genes.

Lennox said what about the nature of reality? He said how do you get from atoms to a brain, or a mind, or
consciousness? He said what concept of meaning can you have unless there is a top-down view of God? He said there is a personal God and this is the source of life and meaning. He said that there is a beyond and you can have a relationship with God. He said atheism’s meaning is much smaller.

Lennox made the following points as his closing remarks:
– Science has not buried God.
– Science originated from a faith in rational processes (from a Christian background).
– Laws that mean science can be done come from the logos from God.
– Christian faith is not unscientific if you pay attention to history.
– If science has buried God where do we get morality from?
– He pointed out that Dawkins has written that there is no good or evil because there is just DNA and we dance to its music.
– He said the new atheists hold to the values they have got from Christianity. He quotes Jurgen Habermas who says the foundations of our legal system come from Christianity.
– He said atheists like Nietzsche and Camus understood you cannot retain your moral values and you are led to madness.
– He asks whether Dawkins’ world is one in which (like Peter Singer) a newborn baby has no more value than a pig or a dog.

Dawkins made the following points:
– He said Singer was one of the most moral people he knew and that he was interested in suffering. His comment about foetuses and animals was in reference to their ability to suffer.
– He said the universe was not horribly determinist, but rather it was horribly rational or intelligible. He said it would have to be (as what would it look like otherwise?). He said we could only survive in such a universe.
– He said science does not know everything, but we are working on it.
– He says science doesn’t invoke magic as an explanation.
– He said prior to Darwin much of the science seemed like magic, but Darwin solved a difficult problem.
– He said Darwin provides a lesson that we should not give up on the difficult problems.
– He said science is going to solve things and if it doesn’t there is still no reason for saying magic did it.

The RZIM Zacharias Trust Team

Hitchens vs Turek debate now online

The video from the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Frank Turek is now online. The debate was held at Virginia Commonwealth University, on September 9, 2008, with the topic “Does God Exist?”.

Frank Turek is the co-author of “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist” and you can read his own impressions of the debate on his blog.


Christopher Hitchens/Frank Turek Debate from Larry M on Vimeo.

Source: In Defense of the Faith Apologetic Ministry

Nihilism letter to Massey Uni "Chaff"

Let’s begin with definitions:

Nihilism The belief that all endeavors are ultimately futile and devoid of meaning.

Nihilism (from the Latin nihil, nothing) is a philosophical position that argues that existence is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.

In my youth, the understanding I had of the world was that everything was ultimately meaningless. I mocked the religious kids at school for believing in a god, for Darwin had shown there was no need for such a creation of our minds.

I also understood where this thinking led to. On one occasion, I can remember being in tears, telling my parents that there was no point in going on. “Life is pointless”, and that “I had not asked to be born.”

As an adult, my thinking has not changed at all, given the assumption that God is something humans have invented. Consider the wisdom of the writer of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes (chapter 1) some 3,000 years ago:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

What does man gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun?

Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.

The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.

All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.

There is no remembrance of men of old,
and even those who are yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow.

With that in mind, the following is a letter I wrote to Chaff, the Massey University student newspaper, in response to their focus on nihilism.

Letter to Chaff in reply to Nihilism articles (Monday 15th Sept 2008)

Here is a letter for u 2 publish, if you care :-)

Re Nihilism…

I skim read the nihilism material in the latest Chaff, only to realise why I don’t usually waste my time reading what my money is paying for. Moaning aside, prior to my converting to Christianity, I guess I was a nihilist — I planned to live-it-up until my body went down, then drive a beautiful fast car off a tall cliff to end my miserable existence. Needless to say, my life changed direction when I found God was not dead, and have since discovered the enormous explanatory power of a solid Christian worldview in light of the soooo-confusing world described in Nash’s Trash. Laugh if you prefer, but seriously, true Biblical Christianity provides a beautiful coherent worldview that makes sense of life, death, suffering and pleasure. It fully understands Solomon’s 3,000 year old philosophy that: “meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless” is indeed true if the Biblical God is false. (Rob Ward, PhD Student, Physics.)

The Manawatu Christian Apologetics Society (www.christian-apologetics.org) would be very happy to provide a piece similar to the Nihilism article(s) for Chaff next year. We would, of course, be advocating a solid Biblical case for creation, fine-tuning of the universe and life, the basis of morality, the reliability of the Bible and anything else that springs to mind :-)

P.S. If you enjoyed the beautiful poetry and philosophical genius from Ecclesiastes Chapter 1 (above), then here is some more from the second chapter:

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work,
and this was the reward for all my labor.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.

Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom,
and also madness and folly.
What more can the king’s successor do
than what has already been done?

I saw that wisdom is better than folly,
just as light is better than darkness.

The wise man has eyes in his head,
while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize
that the same fate overtakes them both.

Then I thought in my heart,
“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said in my heart,
“This too is meaningless.”

For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
in days to come both will be forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise man too must die!

And from chapter three:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Riches too are meaningless:

Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
This too is meaningless.

As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owner
except to feast his eyes on them?

The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether he eats little or much,
but the abundance of a rich man
permits him no sleep.

I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner,

or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when he has a son
there is nothing left for him.

Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb,
and as he comes, so he departs.
He takes nothing from his labor
that he can carry in his hand.

This too is a grievous evil:
As a man comes, so he departs,
and what does he gain,
since he toils for the wind?

All his days he eats in darkness,
with great frustration, affliction and anger.

Chapter 12 (for those who are older):

Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”-

before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;

when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;

when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when men rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;

when men are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags himself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then man goes to his eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
or the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
or the wheel broken at the well,

and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. [a]
“Everything is meaningless!”

What does the writer conclude of all this?

Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.

The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.
Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man.

For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

So there you have it.

If you made it this far through this beautiful 3,000 year old philosophy in poetry, you even got the bonus of discovering the un-meaninglessness of life.

Here is what the Lord God, Creator of the heavens and the Earth tells us is the meaning of life:

“Fear God and keep His commandments.”

…which ties nicely into Proverbs 9:10:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Feel free to comment below :-)

God and the limits of science: Auckland Lecture this week

This Tuesday, the 21st of October, Dr Neil Broom will be giving a lecture addressing the debate about science and design. He will examine the explanatory limits of science and the case for the existence of God.

Topic: Science and the ‘God vs No-God’ Dilemma
Date: Tuesday, 21st October 08
Time: 6-7pm
Where: Lecture theatre 4.304 Engineering faculty

Neil Broom is a professor and the deputy head of the department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at Auckland University. He was trained as a materials scientist has been involved in over 77 published articles in international journals . Dr Broom initially spent time in research investigating crystalline structures before he switched focus to explore the world of living materials over the last two decades. With abundant exposure to nonliving and lving systems, Broom is convinced that the data of science paints a different story than the increasingly dominant view that we are merely biological artifacts of a cold, unfriendly universe.

His book, “How Blind is the Watchmaker?” from InterVarsity Press (it can also be previewed on Google Books),  challenges the “filmsily crafted but persuasively packaged myth of scientific materialism” and argues that the living world functions “in the presence of a transcendent, nonmaterial dimension – a dimension that both nourishes and imparts meaning to the processes of life”.

Humanist Amsterdam Declaration refuted point-by-point

Joel posted this at the end of his response to my “Argument from Evolution” article.

There it was slightly off topic and I thought that this warranted a full response in a separate space.

Here is what he said;

Now that we ARE here on this planet, let’s focus on making the best of it. I hope we’d all agree that using outdated textbooks (ie the old testament – full of stories about an omniscient, jealous, irritable, racist & sexist intelligent designer who is proud to promote ethnic cleansing and child sacrificing) are not good stories to teach morality. Let’s put our faith in some good, relevant, modern discussion. Let’s agree on some guiding principles that seek to expand and fulfill lives and explain our universe without the need for outdated myths and “morality for all time” predictions. I like the 7 principles of Humanism, myself:
http://www.iheu.org/amsterdamdeclaration

First, nobody (sensible) teaches morality from the ritual law of the Old Testament. You cannot impugn the moral law by citing examples of the ritual law about what is ceremonially clean or unclean, and that has no moral dimension to it. Second, nobody teaches morality from the false characterisation of God you give. God is an omni-benevolent, morally perfect being according to scripture and you’d do well to discard the false picture of the Christian view of God you have.

Here is my response, point-by-point, to the Humanist ethic communicated in the Amsterdam Declaration 2002. There is much here that the Christian can find in common with the humanist, but I think the question is which ethic (Christian or Humanist) provides a better account for our shared understanding of moral duties, values and accountabilities? Also, insofar as Humanism implies naturalism, humanism is deeply incoherent as I shall show.

The Amsterdam Declaration 2002

Humanism is the outcome of a long tradition of free thought that has inspired many of the world’s great thinkers and creative artists and gave rise to science itself. [italics mine]

The ‘long tradition’ that stretches all the way back to 1952, the first World Humanist Congress. Facts are however, the ‘many great thinkers and artists’ that humanism can legitimately claim drown in the influence made by Christianity. In thought and art it is undeniably how Christianity far out-weighs any paltry offering humanism makes. If humanism can sustain the practice of science is a discussion for another time, but the thought that Humanism gave rise to science itself is laughable. Only Christianity provides an epistemological foundation for scientists seeking to make sense of the universe, and almost every major field of science was founded by a Christian, working specifically from a Christian worldview.

Just consider these few scientists who were Christians; Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics; William Turner, the father of English botany; Johannes Kepler, the planetary laws of motion; Galileo Galilei, the father of modern astronomy; Rene Descartes, philosopher and mathematician; Blaise Pascal, physicist and mathematician who defended the scientific method; Robert Boyle, the first modern chemist; Louis Pasteur, inventor of the pasteurization method; Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics; Lord Kelvin, important in Thermodynamics; Max Planck, the founder of Quantum mechanics, and the list goes on.

The fundamentals of modern Humanism are as follows:

1. Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. Humanists have a duty of care to all of humanity including future generations. Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanction.

Humanism provides no metaethical foundation for it’s ethical system. Why is a metaethical foundation necessary? One is apt to ask why the human has worth, dignity and autonomy. To finally come to rest the foundations of a morality on the worth of a human is ad hoc. Especially after the humanist’s naturalistic view of evolution makes men into mere animals. Evolution is the great leveller. What’s so special about humans on naturalism? We’re just fortunate sacks of molecules in motion that have survived against the odds by tooth and claw.

On Christian theism humans are created by God in His image. This gives us inalienable rights, guarantees the right of personal freedom of choice, as well as deep significance and meaning to life. Moreover, God expresses our worth in His eyes when he showed his love by giving His only son as a sacrifice to pay our sin-debt and conquer death on our behalf. He spared not his only son for us.

You see how Christianity gives a substantiated reason for its assertions of worth and dignity, but how humanism cannot?

2. Humanism is rational. It seeks to use science creatively, not destructively. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human thought and action rather than divine intervention. Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare. But Humanists also believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values. Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends.

This self-affirmation is astonishingly presumptuous. There is no argument here: only assertions and declarations of belief, more akin to blind faith than science and reason.

Still the Christian can agree that human thought and action are for solving the worlds problems and that the application of science and free inquiry should promote human welfare. We can agree to use science creatively and not destructively, but we’re not likely to condemn the scientist who researches dynamite to pull down an old building safely, or to minimise collateral damage during justified warfare.

On the Christian view God gave humans a mind to think and engage with the world as it is. On naturalism the mind is a physiological response to stimuli, socio-cultuarl pressures and evolutionary development. It is therefore tuned for survival and not for the apprehension of truth or rationality. It is hard to see why humanism is rational given naturalism.

There are few questions that must be asked, like who determines the ‘human values’ that temper the application of science and technology? Is it Hitler, Hefner, the Humanist or the Holy Spirit? Is it science itself, and if so doesn’t it work out that science proposes the means and the ends? If so, was Hitler rational at the time to propose and carry out his ‘Final Solution?’ After all, that was in accord by the evolutionary science being propounded in his day; was supposedly for the betterment of human welfare; and was then the human value system in vogue. At Nuremberg it was quickly realised to condemn these Nazi war criminals there needed to be a standard that stood above human and societal values, and the only values they could find to do that were rooted in God.

The need for such a transcendent absolute, or law above the law, can be illustrated by what happened at the Nuremberg Trials of World War II criminals.  Those accused appealed to the fact that they were only obeying the laws of their own culture, and that they were not legally responsible to any other.  Faced with this argument, Robert H. Jackson, Chief Counsel for the United States, appealed to permanent values and moral standards that transcended life-styles, particular societies, and individual nations. While he was not necessarily appealing to biblical norms in this trial, the situation illustrates the need for a transcendent basis for moral values. For example, God’s commandment against murder was not just for the Jew.  It transcends culture, and it transcends generations.  Murder is as wrong today as it was in the Old Testament.

Christian ethics escape this problem of cultural relativity because it is based upon the nature of God.  Good is what God wills in accordance with His nature (see Mark 10:18).  God provides the moral patterns which apply to all human behavior.

Because this standard is based upon God’s holy nature, it is binding on all people.  There is no standard beyond Him that can define moral conduct. Christian ethics applies to everyone and is not merely a parochial discipline for Jews and Christians.  God’s moral revelation extends to all generations.  God is the ultimate standard for human behavior.1

Also, who is it that diagnoses the ‘world’s problems?’ Is it the humanist? The smartest? The most popular? the strongest? The bible says that the major problem with this world is sin, and there is little hope for man’s efforts to rectify that problem. Sin (defined often as failure to meet God’s perfect standard, or imperfection, or breaking God’s law) is symptomatic system-wide, and the evidence for that is clear. Only a divine solution and intervention can save us from that ultimate problem.

On Christianity the solutions to the worlds problems lie in human thought and action as well as divine intervention. God also determines to use mostly use people as his agents on earth. Woe to the humanist if God exists and he/she rejects divine intervention.

3. Humanism supports democracy and human rights. Humanism aims at the fullest possible development of every human being. It holds that democracy and human development are matters of right. The principles of democracy and human rights can be applied to many human relationships and are not restricted to methods of government.

Human rights are declared to be universal rights. That is they stand above all nation’s laws for all times and all places for all people. This statement is like eating white-froth if you consider the next fundamental’s (4) claim to be undogmatic and imposing no creed upon its adherents. Christianity however provides something substantive for the table. Universal human rights were developed by the founding fathers of America from their understanding of the scriptures. In Christopher Hitchen’s words Thomas Jefferson was a deist with atheistic tendencies. However, when it came to finding a ground for unalienable Rights, he pointed to the sky and said “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”2 The abolition of slavery was a practical out-working of this same understanding from scripture: that all men are created equal.) The Bible even gives justification for democracy also, but at the moment I’m not prepared to support that contention.) Both groups of people were smart enough to recognise that if human rights are given to a human by another human, they can be taken away again. If human rights are given by God, then no man can take them away. They become inalienable and truly universal.

Humanism lacks a model of what it means to be the fullest development of a human being. On Christianity it is clear the model is Jesus. On Humanism it can only be subjective and relative. What if the fullest possible development of the human being is Hitler? You might say that he did not support democracy, but then you’d be forgetting that Hitler was the legitimate democratically elected official of that nation. You might say that Hitler was wrong because the humanist ethic is based upon understanding and support for others, but then you’d be forgetting that Hitler deeply cared for Germany and to carry out his atrocious acts all that he needed to do was create a culture that dehumanised Jews, Blacks, Homosexuals, the handy-capped, etc.

How do you decry the wicked man who says he is only becoming ‘the fullest possible development of what it means to be human,’ if he has radically changed what it means to be human. Humanism lacks a definition of what it means to be human, but Christianity has a ready anthropological definition grounded in its own basic theology.

4. Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognises our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world. Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents. It is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.

If a person is responsible to society, then what happens when society tells you to do something that is objectively wrong, like slaughter Jews wholesale (Nazi Germany), or force husbands to watch as their pregnant wives are split open by sabres so their unborn children fall to the ground to be crushed underfoot (Saddam Hussein’s Iraq), or taking unwanted new-borns and dashing them on rocks (ancient Greeks). The list of examples is appalling in its length and brutality, but it is already clear that responsibility to society is an insufficient ethic to build a world on. There needs to be some transcendent standard above society and humanity. Christianity provides that by revealing a morally perfect transcendent God as the standard.

“Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherants.” This is self-referentially incoherant. It is dogmatic in being undogmatic. It is thus really rich when it concludes that humanism is committed to education free from indoctrination. Even if it is possible to educate people free from indoctrination from operating within a worldview, this statement is as double-handed as it gets. Humanists are experts at indoctrination. You need only look at our current education system here in NZ. An example follows in the next section.

5. Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world’s major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity. Humanism recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process of observation, evaluation and revision.

Humanism of course excludes itself from the dogmatic religious crowd, and seeks to fulfil the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. It will do this by supplying people with another dogmatic religion (if not religion then ethical framework) and imposing it on others.

For example, take the belief that ‘morality is an intrinsic part of human nature.’ This means that humans are essentially and basically good. This is taught all throughout the education system and is one tenant of humanist indoctrination. Is it true? I leave it for you, but I think the Bible gives a far more realistic account to the state of the human heart; see Jeremiah 17:9 and Romans 3:9-19.

Christianity recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises also through revelation from God. If reliable knowledge arises from observation, evaluation and revision then its not really reliable is it?

6. Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognises the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment.

On the surface this affirmation is fine. A deeper look at it though and you quickly realise how shallow it really is. What is creativity and imagination supposed to transform us into? What is it about literature, music and the other arts that provide us ‘human development and fulfillment.’ Humanism fails to answer the deep existential needs of human beings; ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘Where am I going?’

The purpose underlying most (if not all) creative expressions is communication. Art is a vehicle for a message. When you start to value the form, and not the message that lies behind the form, then art becomes mere mindless entertainment; a distraction to personal development rather than an aid. Is fulfilment reduced on humanism to amusement? Take from art its purpose and society will transform into a mindless mass that is far too easily manipulated.

Christianity affirms the value of art and artistic expression by imbuing the artist with purpose, answering the deep existential questions of life; by affirming the artist is created in the image of God and is therefore a creative agent; by supplying the artist with a message, inspiration and talent; and by infusing the world waiting to be captured and mirrored by great works of art, with a sense of the sublime. Naturalism on the other-hand finds beauty an awkward notion. It is difficult to see why an apes brain would appreciate the aesthetic pleasure from a morning sunrise, the star-filled sky and or the frozen waterfall.

7. Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.

If human existence transcends the death of the body, then obviously humanism is not for everyone everywhere. Humanism become bankrupt if this life is not all there is or if there is a God. Besides this, based upon the refutation of points 1 through 6 it is not obvious humanism does supply an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times.

Footnotes:

1. Author unknown, A Christian View of Ethics, (Received 15 October 2008, http://www.fni.com/cim/technicals/ethics_t.html)

2. In Congress, JULY 4, 1776, The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America