Cracks In The Edifice

The Theory of Evolution has been reigning the academic world for close to a century and a half, but the alleged proofs and demonstrations have been playing a vanishing game. The latest one to do so is what is usually called the “Phylogenetic Tree”.

A theory like Evolution needs multiple proofs and evidences, and thankfully the proponents have been offering a generous number of proofs. This helps both the sides. The proponents get an opportunity to organize their house, while the opponents get an opportunity to examine whether it is a real house or only one made of cards.

Phylogenetic_tree.svg An arrangement of all the known flora and fauna in an organized tree, starting from the simplest known life and culminating in the most advanced one is called a Phylogenetic Tree. Initially they used an intuitive classification based upon perceived similarities, but gradually the work became more sophisticated. Today almost all standard textbooks on biological evolution necessarily contain at least one picture of the Phylogenetic Tree, mainly in support of Evolution.

The first such tree was made by Charles Darwin and his predecessors, and the picture that is shown in most textbooks today was perfected before the 1930s. However, cracks began to appear in the picture soon after that. The Cladists were almost the first to challenge this picture. They refuted the idea of a single tree and substituted multiple trees, each one evolving independently of the other.

Non-evolutionists have always insisted that this tree has no empirical basis and that the whole construction is arbitrary. This arbitrariness was demonstrated repeatedly by the way the tree was rearranged, and also by the absence of established “links” between branches. The question of the non-evolutionist empiricist like me is, “how do you know the branch connects in a certain place when the link that ought to connect is missing”.

The latest issues of Scientific American, New Scientist, and several other scientific magazines accept this observation of non-evolutionists in so many words. Not that they have abandoned the framework of evolution. No, that is not the issue here. The basic issue is that this particular proof, as presented in biology textbooks, is simply not true. Empirical observations have shown — particularly after the arrival of genetic studies — that the tree will not hold together. The presumed edifice will not hold together. [Picture from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phylogenetic_tree]

The author is a physicist, and has worked in the filed of Quantum-Nuclear physics, particularly on the quark structure of protons, neutrons, and deuterium binding energy.

Sir Harry Kroto, Science and Faith

Today I had the pleasure of attending three events with Nobel prize winning chemist Sir Harry Kroto. Sir Harry is an atheist with a Jewish father, and a friend of Richard Dawkins. He is not afraid to talk about religion as evidenced during his recent interview with Kim Hill and by numerous remarks during the sessions today.

As for me, I’m not an atheist (although I was brought up as such) so it is usually with some trepidation that I attend lectures and talks such as these, just in case my faith [1] is shattered. Over the years I have been to many university-based science lectures and found this fear to rarely be justified and the challenges to Christianity to actually be incredibly weak. To be fair, I go to such lectures and talks trying to be as open-minded as I can be, and trying to consider the facts presented both in their isolated form and as part of a larger worldview. Sir Harry’s talks however appeared to present little if anything that would convince me to change my mind, although I would love to have had the opportunity to have chatted with him one-on-one (or any another scientist) and let them try to convince me.

On this point, Dawkins and Sam Harris and others have something to gain by converting me. I’m involved in a church with students, and various other activities with friends and family. If they could convince me that I am wrong and that they are right, then I would join them and become an evangelist for their side. I could make new converts within my church friends and stop pestering my family over their salvation and the “hell” word that Dawkins and Sir Harry seem so offended about.

I should spend a moment on this “hell” topic too since it keeps coming up. What I see regarding this is both a double-standard and a straw-man fallacy. Let’s take the latter first.

Dawkins and Sir Harry have both quoted instances of children being scared by such things as “hell houses” or having children scared to the point of psychological damage in some way regarding hell. Yet this seems intellectually dishonest as I think Anthony Flew has pointed out. For example, take 1,000 church kids and (somehow) determine how many of them have psychological damage from their parents talking about hell. I know numerous kids and none of them to my knowledge live in some disturbed state, and nor do my kids, yet I make it no secret that hell is a reality according to the Bible. What the new atheists and Sir Harry appear to be doing is taking the (perhaps) one or two cases per 1,000 and citing these as if they are normal.

As for the double standard, let’s consider what atheists are teaching young people. Young person: you are part of a cosmic accident, a piece of highly evolved pond-scum. But don’t worry, you are good pond scum. And life is good and has much meaning. We don’t know what it is, but fear not for you can pretend life has meaning which should make you feel better and you will have less reason to follow 500 other New Zealanders each year by committing suicide. Yes, we know that the universe began with a big bang and ultimately will end in a whimpering heat death. But don’t worry, you will be long dead before that happens, and your ashes will be part of that (cough) meaningful utopic picture.

This leads on to another point which is the trouble universities are having recruiting science students. I’m not about to suggest that atheism and post-modernism are the reasons for the disinterest in science, but I think they do play a role. Consider, if you live a life that is ultimately meaningless (born, live, reproduce, die, nothingness), then why would you choose an occupation that is hard and doesn’t pay well? Why ought I live for the good of all and work on great science that helps improve lives rather than just live for myself? Of course atheists counter this by saying that they are philanthropic and good people to which I would often agree. But my question is why ought they be like that rather than be selfish and self centered? Christians (and some other) religious people know how they ought to behave, but atheists have to take a pragmatic view on oughts, yet one persons’ ought may differ from anothers’ ought, so which do we choose and why?

I have a lot more thoughts on this topic but will finish on the question of knowledge as this is a biggie when it comes to scientists and their worldviews. As Sir harry pointed out on several occasions, he is not going to believe anything unless it is based on evidence. Yet this claim is itself self-refuting. Does he have evidence for not believing anything unless it is based on evidence? But I think it is worse that that and I should like to expand on this in another post sometime, but here is an outline.

Scientists often make the claim as Sir Harry does that we should not believe anything unless it is based on evidence. Yet it seems to me that non-religious scientists actually believe everything based on faith. For example:

  1. Do they know the world was not created 5 minutes ago? If yes, what is the evidence? If no, then it must be taken on faith.
  2. Do they use the laws of logic? If so, can they provide evidence that they are reliable? If yes, what is the evidence? If no, then it must be taken on faith.
  3. Do scientists believe in the uniformity of nature? Do they believe that the next experiment will behave as the previous one? Will some experiment behave the same in another country, on another planet, in another galaxy, or at another time? If yes, what is the evidence? If no, then it must be taken on faith.

Let me finish now with a few big words and why I believe what I believe.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with how we know what we know, while ontology deals with the nature of existence or being. I fail to understand how the science alone can access reality in any definite way because to do so requires meta-knowledge such as: are my senses are reliable, is nature uniform, am I a brain in a vat, and is the world the creation of a cosmic trickster? Science seems unable even in principle to access such knowledge. Christianity on the other hand begins in ontology with the existence of God and His revelation through the Bible which cuts through the veil and reveals a world created with order and meaning. C.S. Lewis wrote [2]:

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.

I think a nice way to sum this up is to say that to gain certainty, we must begin in ontology as a grounding for epistemology. The law-giving legislator provides this starting point and provides a basis for science. On the other hand, beginning with epistemology as Dawkins and Sir Harry appear to do leads ultimately to total uncertainty because nothing can really be known for sure about anything. I think Rene Descartes realized this long ago. Should someone tell the new atheists?

Footnotes:

  1. In case you are thinking that I am using “faith” as something that is disconnected from reason, I am certainly not. My faith is firmly anchored using a chain of reason to the historical claims of the Bible. These in turn are treated as other historical claims are, and weighed upon available evidence, logic, reasonableness and so on.
  2. Lewis, C.S., Miracles: a Preliminary Study, Collins, London, p. 110, 1947.

Further reading:

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, p.132 has a section “The Regularity of Nature” dealing with the problem of induction, David Hume and Bertrand Russell. Keller says that many scholars have argued in the last decades that modern science arose in its most sustained form out of Christian civilization due to belief in an all-powerful, personal God who created and sustains an orderly universe. I would add that reading for example, Homer’s Illiad, would not provide you with such a view of nature.

Miracles in Apologetics Part 2

I have long thought that a miracle can be an apologetic. It was one of the chief ways that God authenticated His word and His revelation. Today, with the resurgence of our awareness of miracles, it is important we think about how the testimony of miracles sounds to unbelievers, particularly those who are sceptical and philosophically opposed to Christianity and belief in God.

In order to develop an apologetic for God’s existence that reduces the opportunity for scepticism, based upon the testimony of miracles, I suggest that a miracle X meets the following criteria.

(1) Does X have a natural explanation?
If the answer is “Yes,” then X is merely a case for either God’s providence or second-order causation. What we will be focusing on here is first-order causation where a miracle is any event such that the natural conditions for said event were not present. 

(2) Is the miracle radical enough to assume that there is no yet to be discovered natural explanation to defeat it.

For example, the Egyptian magicians of Pharaoh could duplicate the miracles performed by Moses, but a point was reached when the magicians ability to duplicate the miracle was surpassed due to the large scale and spectacular nature. An ache in the belly with the tendency to come and go, when prayed for may disappear, but such an occurrence, though it may be a genuine miracle, would hardly be convincing. On the other-hand a regenerative miracle, where a blind man sees, a lame man walks, or deaf man hears, or a limb suddenly re-grows is more difficult to wave away as having a natural explanation.

(3) Did X happen within the context answered prayer.

The objection this counters is the chance hypothesis. The skeptic will claim that with six billion people in the world it is not unexpected that some people will be particularly lucky or experience miraculous-like events. However the plausibility of this hypothesis is reduced when it occurs in the context of prayer.

(4) Is X an isolated occurrence, or is there a high frequency of similar occurrences in the same context?

For instances explaining Jesus’ miracles away with natural explanations become increasingly contrived the more miracles there are that have to be explained.

(5) Did X happen instantly, or did it take a while?

This is not to say that miracles that take some time are less miraculous, but to say that miracles that happen instantly are the better spectacle.

(6) Was X permanent?

(7) Is X verified by experts in the field, ie. medical doctors and supporting evidence (x-rays, test results).

It will take skill to weigh and balance the above criteria – though they are not really criteria as a genuine miracle may not necessarily conform to every point. This is only a suggested checklist for use in an argument for divine causation, specifically to refute both Deism and Atheism. It is only a guideline to assessing the convincing power of a testimony, and to reduce the opportunity for scepticism and rejection.

Miracles in Apologetics Part 1

I am deeply concerned about a perceived attitude accompanying our rising awareness that miracles are a part of the normal Christian life. The danger in the resurgence of the miraculous, especially in so-called “healing-evangelism”, is an outlook that says all we need to prove God’s existence, and solve all our apologetic needs, is to believe, pray for a miracle, and let God do the rest.

The inadequacy of this as a principle in healing-evangelism and Christian practice is obvious. Consider the following two reasons.

The evangelistic call of every believer would be restricted to those instances where God does heal. The evangelist’s efforts would be curtailed and the knowledge of God reduced to only an experience. Besides this, if God did choose to intervene with the miraculous every-time so that he might convince someone of his existence, this would turn the universe into haunted house and it is entirely plausible to think that peoples hearts would harden. They might even become resentful of He who flaunts his power, or in all probability conclude His miracle was not a result of divine causation but a natural function of the universe.

The second reason is a miracle without an accompanying explanation of what it represents is near hopeless. The person will know themselves to be healed, but not know who healed them or why they were healed. In the wake of a miracle there is bound to be host of questions asked, concerning His good character, the reliability of the Bible, etc., and this needs someone trained in apologetics.

Let us not forget the pattern given to us in the book of Acts; wherever there is a miracles there is preaching and apologetics; wherever there is preaching and apologetics there are miracles. Both go hand in hand and one is not found without the other.

Now I must say that I do agree that desiring and seeking out opportunities for God to confirm His miraculous power to unbelievers is a very good thing. I also credit God with the intelligence to know what He is doing when he does choose to heal someone. Christianity after-all, is chiefly experiential, and experiencing the power of God; to heal, to empower, to be assured, and of regeneration from a being dead in your sin, is important, but that is not to say Christianity is not also a message of truth and hope that needs to be declared and defended. We must expand the propositional content of the gospel as well as the power of the gospel.

Have you ever wondered why the miracles of Jesus were so effective in confirming Christ’s message? Granted there were of a spectacular nature, but the greater reason, I believe, is that they were performed in a culture suffused with a super-natural worldview. The milieu of the time already believed in a miracle working God and was expectant of a messiah whose ministry would be characterised by the miraculous.

Our culture however is not. We live in a time and place that is post-christian, has a deeply entrenched secularism and an ever encroaching naturalism. In such a milieu, when someone is confronted with a miraculous circumstance the immediate response will be skepticism. If the miracle breaks down this initial barrier, there will arise soon afterward a profound question that is enormously problematic for someone trained to think that God is comparable to the “sugar-plum fairy.” It constitutes what missiologist call a ‘power encounter’ where for the first time, the unsaved man is open to accepting the message of the gospel.

More importantly to consider our culture, where there are alternative explanations of the miraculous, such as; the power of suggestion, hypnotism, charlatans playing mind tricks, and a new age pantheism where the universe heals itself. These alternatives need answering with apologetics. A hedge of prepared arguments is essential for the heeling-evangelist to protect their potential converts from counter-arguments levelled against the occurrence of miracles, divine causation and God’s existence, and to safe-guard the glory of God that He has won for himself by performing a miracle.

So miracles far from being the end of apologetics and arguments, presents a host of new questions seeking to be answered, new avenues calling for intellectual excellence and a renewed effectiveness of the proclamation of the gospel.

"Highly confused if not deliberately misleading"

I came across this quote by eminent philosopher William Hasker today (HT: Victor Reppert):

But science as a total worldview—the idea that science can tell us everything there is to know about what reality consists of, enjoys no such overwhelming support. This worldview, (often termed scientific naturalism) is just one theory amongst others and is no more capable of being “proved to all reasonable people” than are religious belief systems. To claim that the strong support enjoyed by, say, the periodic table of the elements transfers to scientific naturalism as a worldview is highly confused if not deliberately misleading. (Peterson, Basinger, Reichenbach & Hasker, Reason and Religious Belief, 4th edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); p 57.)

If only certain members of our opposition here in New Zealand would pay more attention to what philosophers of religion, who actually know what they’re talking about in this regard, said. Ken Perrott’s recent article ‘Bad science, bad theology’, for example, is a prime example of “highly confused if not deliberately misleading” rhetoric from atheist apologists here in New Zealand.

Russell's Teapot

The following is taken from a friendly email discussing the evidence for the existence of God. The atheist here writes:

Christian belief has been marked by a series of retreats over supposed “truth”. The Earth is the centre of the universe? The world was created in seven days? What starts out as “fact” retreats in the face of overwhelming evidence . . . Modern Christian dogma has retreated to a position where it can’t easily be disproven. This is where the “magic invisible teapot” argument from Bertrand Russell comes in:

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”1

My slightly revised response is as as follows.

Finally I come to Russell’s teapot. By the quotation I take it the point is to show the difficulty in refuting avowals of belief in phenomena outside human perception. But my case for the existence of God and the existence of the teapot is not synonymous. 

Firstly, I build a case from deductive arguments. For instance, if the cosmological argument I gave bears out,2 then that gives good ground for believing in the existence of a beginningless, uncaused, timeless, spaceless, changeless, immaterial, enormously powerful, personal creator of the universe. This has always been the conception of the God of Christianity. Unlike the teapot this argument does not rely upon the authority of a religious book or indoctrination. In the case of the teapot there was and could be no corroborative evidence for its existence, but in the case of God we have the evidence of the beginning of the universea religiously-neutral premise, and reinforced with both philosophy and scienceand the principle that nothing comes from nothing. Here in this particular argument, unlike the teapot many of God’s traditional attributes are recovered, including the ability to create the universe from nothing, which only a personal creator God can achieve.

Secondly, we come back to the presumption of atheism—that in the absence of evidence for the existence of God we should presume that God does not exist. Atheism thus becomes a default position. Not being able to falsify the existence of Russell’s teapot was expected when came the clarification that the most powerful telescopes were unable to detect it in orbit. Take the statement; “there is an elephant in the quad.” The failure to observe it there would constitute good evidence that there is not an elephant there. If someone were to assert however, there is a flea on the quad, the failure to observe it there would not constitute good evidence that it was not there. The difference is the expectation of the evidence, were such-and-such the case. I’ll let Moreland and Craig explain.

Thus the absence of evidence is evidence of absence only in cases in which, were the postulated entity to exist, we should expect to have some evidence of its existence. Moreover, the justification conferred in such cases will be proportional to the ratio between the amount of evidence that we do have and the amount of evidence that we should expect to have if the entity existed. If the ratio is small, then little justification is conferred on the belief that the entity does not exist.

Again the advocates of the presumption of atheism recognized this. Michael Scriven, for example, maintained that in the absence of evidence rendering the existence of some entity probable, we are justified in believing that it does not exist, provided that (1) it is not something that might leave no traces and (2) we have comprehensively surveyed the area where the evidence would be found if the entity existed. But if this is correct, then our justification for atheism depends on (1) the probability that God would leave more evidence of his existence than what we have and (2) the probability that we have comprehensively surveyed the field for evidence of his existence. That puts a different face on the matter! Suddenly the presumer of atheism, who sought to shirk his share of the burden of proof, finds himself saddled with the very considerable burden of proving (1) and (2) to be the case.3

The implications are clear for Russell’s teapot. We have little justification for believing in the existence of the teapot given (1) and (2). In the case of God however the ratio will depend on your view of natural theology (the evidence of God’s existence in nature), and the expectation that he would leave more evidence of His existence than He already has. Scriven therefore advocated agnosticism rather than to be disbelieving in such entities as God, as the burden of (1) and (2) are far too heavy load to bear. But I think that God has left good evidence of his existence in nature and that is the enterprise we are engaged in as apologists. 

 

Footnotes

1. Bertrand Russell, Magic Invisible Teapot 

2. The Kalam Cosmological Argument; See also The Cosmological Argument from Sufficient Reason and The Cosmological Argument from Existential Causality

3. J P Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Intervarsity Press, 2003), p. 157.