Abiogenesis — Where is the Evidence?

It has been great contributing posts on this blog. It has also been great to interact with a number of people who do not subscribe to the creation model of the Universe. However, within a short period of time it has become clear that most of them have not done their homework.

According to the Law of Biogenesis, life comes only from preexisting life. This is a firmly established law of science, and never has an exception ever been documented in any area of science. The aseptic practices in surgical theaters, pasteurization, and every other method to keep micro-organisms from spreading is based upon the law of biogenesis.

Abiogenesis, on the other hand, claims that initially life came from non-life. This is totally contrary to the law of biogenesis, which is an empirically established law of science, yet they insist that this has happened.

Once I started asking for hard data most of them pointed me to this book or that, probably hoping that the titles would suffice to convince me. However, spending a fortune I purchased every book that was available out of this list and that was available from this list, and some more. No sooner I read the first book, I realized that most of these people who suggested me to read the books had not done their homework. So I started posting reviews of these books and more are in the pipeline, so that my readers can understand the shallowness of their arguments and suggestions. Then came the icing on the cake — one of their own comes and tells me

Johnson is wasting his time reading these books (Disappointed Again, Comment 29)

So which of you guys has the truth about Abiogenesis. Alternately, would you guys first settle among yourselves as to what I should read and then give me the “approved list”?

[The post I promised on the 2nd law of thermodynamics is in the works!]

[Dr. Johnson C. Philip is a physicist, with expertise inter alia in Quantum-nuclear Physics, and has worked extensively on the inner quark-structure of Protons and Neutrons. He has also specialized in Christian Apologetics, Biblical Archeology, Journalism, Alternative Medicines, and several other fields]

33 replies
  1. Simon
    Simon says:

    Honestly, Johnson, the key to all of this lies in your misconception of the 2nd Law. I would look forward to your post on the 2nd Law, but it will never come, because you will not be able to use it to prove what you want to. It does not say what you think it does.

  2. Johnson
    Johnson says:

    @Simon

    Do not set my agenda for me. I will be happy to do that myself. Just wait!

    Meanwhile, do tell me, which books do you want me to read ??

  3. Ian
    Ian says:

    Some questions for Johnson based on our previous discussions:

    1. Do you agree that life exists now?

    2. Do you agree that life probably didn’t exist before some point in history?

    Now I’ll make this nice and easy: Please choose A, B, C or D from the following list:

    A) I answer “No” to both 1 and 2
    B) I answer “No” to 1 and “Yes” to 2
    C) I answer “Yes” to 1 and “No” to 2
    D) I answer “Yes” to both 1 and 2

    Which is it? Just a one letter reply is all that is needed, let us keep this simple.

  4. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Hi Ian,

    I hate to butt-in on a discussion, but I am interested in your question. Though it is not addressed to me, when I read it, I immediately desired a clarification. Have you restricted the premise to only atomic-based life? Or when you use the word ‘life’, can it mean absolutely any sort of life that exists, whether it has an atomic life-form or not?

    Please excuse my rudeness.

    Cheers
    Jonathan

  5. Johnson
    Johnson says:

    I will surely give you an answer Ian. However since Jonathan is here, I will defer to him and would wait till you reply to him.

  6. Ian
    Ian says:

    That is a rather odd question but fair enough. Since everything we have ever observed is either atomic (or subatomic) then yes, atom based life. Also we are talking about abiogenesis here which is life from non-life so whatever form that life would have to take in order for the word abiogenesis to make sense is fine by me.

    Others may feel free to pitch in their 2c with simple, one letter responses – I don’t mind at all. But please, keep it simple, just A,B,C or D.

  7. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Ian,

    In direct answer to your question, if by “life” you mean biological (atomic-based) life-forms (plant, micro-organism, animal, human, etc.) I can happily say I believe option D.

    Jonathan is right to point out, you cannot assume that biological life composes the entire set of living things. – God would be example of a living thing yet is not a biological (atomic-based) “life”.

    This answer should also be a reminder to you that any creationist – Christian or otherwise – believes in abiogenesis. The creationist will likely disagree that nature left by itself is the sufficient cause for biological life. As Johnson I think will show, the second Law of Thermodynamics when rightly understood, works against the non-interventionist creation model – i.e. Naturalism, or Atheistic-evolutionary abiogenesis. I’ll leave the rest to him.

  8. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    It is not such a simple question after all. Since we all can respond,

    D: Under the strict definition of life as given by Ian
    C: Under the premise that a non-atomic “life” form made the atomic life form. I agree with all Stuart has said.

  9. Johnson
    Johnson says:

    @Stuart

    Thanks Stuart for that very kind comment about me. It boosts the spirit when I receive an encouraging comment.

    @Ian
    I will surely respond to your question, but only after the interaction between you and Jonathan comes to something.

  10. _Jonathan
    _Jonathan says:

    Well, as the comment system has been changed, we lost the previous conversation.

    As far as I could tell, there was an argument being put forward for abiogenesis which ran along the lines of: There was a point in time where life did not exist, life exists now and thus abiogenesis is true. Indeed, this is the best argument that can be put forward in favour of unaided abiogenesis. But note how the argument does not actually examine anything to do with abiogenesis, the argument is based on other criteria.

    This criteria being, a premise that a strictly naturalist worldview is true. In other words, matter and energy are all that exists. End of story. Given this premise, abiogenesis most certainly did happen, as it is the only game in town. It does not matter how impossible it really is. It does not matter how many other established scientific laws it breaks. It is true because you believe in naturalism. But what about when you do not believe in naturalism?

    “That is just silly!” you might reply, “The only things we have ever observed are atomic and sub-atomic particles (and energy). There is no reason to think anything else might exist!” And therein is the conundrum! We have observed. We have reasoned. We have consciousness. These are the things that were used to make our judgement that matter is the only valid reality. Yet, these things are something other than plain matter and energy.

    So maybe it is best not to make a strict statement that the naturalist’s view is absolutely right. And once we erode this view, we have eroded the only proof for abiogenesis. We must now look for abiogenesis to stand on its own feet, not as a conclusion of a pre-held belief. And that is what Johnson appears to be doing. Show me the evidence! Do not come with your dogmatic beliefs and blind faith in your worldview. That just does not cut it! Follow the evidence.

    I greatly respect Johnson for doing so. Well done, mate.

  11. Johnson
    Johnson says:

    @Jonathan

    I am a thousand kilometers away from my office, with only about 12 hours of electricity per day avaialble mostly when you do not need it or when you cannot use for surfing the net.

    On top of that, the net here seems to connect for a maximum of only 4 hours a day, at times not in my hand, and at occassions when one is likely not to get up from sleep. Thus my posts are likely to be less frequent for some days.

    Jonathan, you have a knack for summarizing what others state, and the summary is

    So maybe it is best not to make a strict statement that the naturalist’s view is absolutely right. And once we erode this view, we have eroded the only proof for abiogenesis. We must now look for abiogenesis to stand on its own feet, not as a conclusion of a pre-held belief. And that is what Johnson appears to be doing. Show me the evidence! Do not come with your dogmatic beliefs and blind faith in your worldview. That just does not cut it! Follow the evidence.

    Thanks for that accurate summary of what I have maintained so far about abiogenesis.

    Johnson C. Philip

  12. Ian
    Ian says:

    My ultimate point in this thread (of which the flow was shot by the comments vanishing) was to establish one of two positions based on the existence of life on earth today: Either 1) there is a transition from non-life to life that needs explaining or 2) there has always been life.

    If one argues for (1) then one is arguing that abiogenesis happened. Maybe it was abiogenesis caused by god or maybe it was abiogenesis by natural means but regardless our task becomes explaining that transition using what evidence we have available. I argue for 1 since the evidence seems to support that.

    On the other hand if one argues for (2) then all talk of the mechanism for abiogenesis becomes irrelevant. I don’t agree with (1) because we have no evidence that life existed before the formation of the earth. That doesn’t mean it didn’t but we have no reason to suppose it did.

  13. Simon
    Simon says:

    Jonathan,

    I think that there is almost as much reason to believe in abiogenesis as it is to believe that the sun contains hydrogen, despite us not having repeated this experiment either.

    Can I also ask you to explain your comment: “Yet, these things are something other than plain matter and energy. “ I am curious as to what you mean by it.

  14. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Hi Ian. I agree with your analysis on matter-based lifeforms, except I think you probably meant to say that you disagree with (2), and not that you disagree with (1). Otherwise, what you write is clear and logical.

    In regard to matter-based lifeforms, I think everyone agrees with you that (1) is what happened. (ie There was a point where chemical/atomic-based/matter-based life did not exist) Science has come to the point of giving the universe a starting date, and Judaism/Christianity has always held that the universe had a starting date. As such, the process you define as abiogenesis is not disputed. The method may be disputed, but you were willing to put this aside to make your point on abiogenesis.

    This does makes me wonder if we are actually using the term abiogenesis correctly. For I think that the term is really meant to convey unaided chemical evolution, not designed engineering. Thus I think that the conceptual allowance you have made, “where God can cause abiogenesis”, is not a valid concession. It seems to me that this is a corruption of the word abiogenesis. And so, while I agree with how you have stated things, I think we are misusing the word “abiogenesis” when it comes to allowing the involvement of God.

    I also agree that at this juncture, we are left with the requirement to explain how chemical-life appeared. We cannot just say that life wasn’t there before, it is now, and thus it arose unaided. Science will look for a natural solution for that is what science is confined to. Presently it only speculates, for unaided abiogenesis is far from being reasonable, let alone proved. In fact, it seems to become more and more impossible as we learn more. As you can tell, I am not pre-committed to a naturalistic solution and so I will not agree with you that abiogenesis (the unaided version) is how it definitely happened. Nonetheless, I am all for research into the matter.

    _____
    Simon. It seems that you are claiming the use of spectroscopy to identify the elements in the sun (where we compare the absorption results to how those elements behave here on earth) is akin to deducing abiogenesis (where a massively complex working machine is just said to arise unaided with no workable model)? It is not a reasonable comparison in my mind.

    Can I also ask you to explain your comment: “Yet, these things are something other than plain matter and energy. “ I am curious as to what you mean by it.

    I was referring to reason, consciousness and observation. This site has enough comment on the matter of you want to look in to it.

    ______
    Johnson, thank you for the acknowledgment. I certainly try my best to understand what people are actually saying. Not always successfully, I might add, so it is good to get something right.

  15. Simon
    Simon says:

    Jonathan,

    I”m merely expressing my surprise at the anti-abiogenetistance. I am surprised that religion draws people inexorably towards rejecting naturalistic explanations; that they repeat ad-nauseum the mistakes of the past.
    Can you not see the correlation between views of a young earth, evolution, and abiogenesis? I put it to you that the likes of yourself would be arguing for a young earth 100 years ago, and in the future arguing for a creator despite abiogenesis having been proved. Can you not see this?

  16. Ian
    Ian says:

    Jonathan:

    Hi Ian. I agree with your analysis on matter-based lifeforms, except I think you probably meant to say that you disagree with (2), and not that you disagree with (1).

    Oops, yes you are quite correct lol, I do disagree with (2) and not with (1).

    For I think that the term is really meant to convey unaided chemical evolution, not designed engineering. Thus I think that the conceptual allowance you have made, “where God can cause abiogenesis”, is not a valid concession. It seems to me that this is a corruption of the word abiogenesis.

    For me abiogenesis is the antithesis of biogenesis which refers to life coming from reproduction of other life. Therefore if god somehow magic’ed life into existence then it is an example of life (as we know it) not coming from reproduction of other life (as we know it).

    Science will look for a natural solution for that is what science is confined to.

    I fundamentally disagree with this but I’ll leave that discussion for another day lol.

    Presently it only speculates, for unaided abiogenesis is far from being reasonable, let alone proved.

    And this is what this thread of discussion was supposed to be all about – demonstrating that unaided abiogenesis is in fact unreasonable. I still haven’t seen any proper arguments to that effect.

  17. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    You are a man of faith Simon, speaking so confidently about abiogenesis being proved in the future. ;-) Yes, I can see how beliefs affect a person’s view of reality.

    Thanks for your reply Ian. I did account for why I hold (unaided) abiogenesis as unreasonable. It is more likely that you do not agree with it, than you missed it. As such there is no need to rehash the point. I do find it fascinating that you can define abiogenesis as you did. I am also intrigued to find out what you think the limits of science are, and indeed, how you would even define science. If you have some time and inclination, please share. I am genuinely interested in your view on this.

    Cheers guys.

  18. Simon
    Simon says:

    Jonathan,

    You are correct that I am a man of faith; we all are. And I have faith – it is only prudent – that current objections to naturalism will fall the way that they always have. It takes much less faith to assume that abiogenesis is most likely true than it does to think that the modern-day equivalent of the YEC will, for the first timein history, be correct.

  19. Ian
    Ian says:

    Jonathan: Thanks for the interesting and friendly discussion :)

    Thanks for your reply Ian. I did account for why I hold (unaided) abiogenesis as unreasonable. It is more likely that you do not agree with it, than you missed it. As such there is no need to rehash the point.

    Your argument seemed to hinge on the fact that naturalism requires abiogenesis but dispatching naturalism does not require it. I believe that abiogenesis (by my definition) happened somehow and that, in the absence of evidence either way, it probably happened in accordance with the laws of nature as we know them.

    My problem is that I have yet to see anyone actually develop a coherent argument for why abiogenesis necessarily breaks any law of nature which would make the supernatural argument slightly more compelling.

    I do find it fascinating that you can define abiogenesis as you did.

    Fascinating in what way?

    I am also intrigued to find out what you think the limits of science are, and indeed, how you would even define science. If you have some time and inclination, please share. I am genuinely interested in your view on this.

    For your reading pleasure… lol (I answered your question on my own blog).

  20. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Thank you Ian for the same – a friendly discussion. And my compliments to you for putting together a well thought-out and a well-presented blog: “My Personal View of Science”. Well done, it was a good read. I especially appreciate how you identified the limits of science. I pretty much agree that science is limited to what we observe, patterns and our ability to explain. Carl Sagan outlined four points on the operation of science; Two of them entailed observation and reproducible experiments, which is close to your “observe and patterns”. He also detailed that the most fundamental axioms and conclusions may be challenged, and appeals to authority are impermissible.

    When I use the word abiogenesis, I fully mean unaided chemicals to life. No intelligence allowed. I do not consider any construction of life by any form of intelligent life to be abiogenesis. For example, if we got to the point where we could build all the specific molecules required in life, by a mechanistic process, put it altogether and kick it off to get a working cell – I would not call this abiogenesis. I think that this is in line with the general meaning of the word. On the idea that an external-to-matter being could actively arrange (direct) the molecules in such a manner, I also do not consider this to be abiogenesis. An unaided, random process seems to be integral to the term abiogenesis. Well, to me at least. This is why I found your definition fascinating Ian. I had not heard a definition like yours before. You defined it such that if God built life, it is still called abiogenesis. And if your definition is valid, I would have to agree that abiogenesis happened. Which is a bummer, because I do not think I could simply say this, without misleading most people. So, I am going to stick to what I know the definition to be and trust that you understand me when I use it.

    For extreme clarity Ian, my argument is that abiogenesis has no evidence. There is no known process to form life from the inanimate. There is no observation of chemicals spontaneously reaching life. There is no pattern for this to happen. This is largely due to the minimum complexity required in life. The best argument put forward for abiogenesis is naturalism. It is what you used. If naturalism is true, so is abiogenesis. There was no chemical life, there is chemical life now, thus abiogenesis. Sorely, we are just rehashing points. I have no problem with your logic on this. But naturalism does not appear to me to be true, so the only ‘evidence’ for abiogenesis is not evidence. Our discussion has landed us on the validity of naturalism.

    Obviously, naturalism has not been “dispatched” to your satisfaction. So you do not have any freedom in regard to abiogenesis. An adherence to naturalism demands that whatever we observe must be forced into the paradigm. Such as: Chemicals to life must have occurred; Single cell to all of life evolution must be true. Adherence to naturalism also means that we must discard things that we observe: The design evident in life is not design; The laws in nature have no source; Morality is not real; Good and evil are nonexistent; Intelligence, consciousness, reason and free will are actually nonexistent – they are only the complex sum of a series of predictable chemical reactions; There is no meaning or purpose to life.

    It is the observation of these immaterial things that has, to my satisfaction, “dispatched naturalism”. There becomes a very obvious conclusion for life: What looks designed is actually designed. As I reject naturalism, I have no requirement to hold abiogenesis. I am free to reject abiogenesis based on science. I am conversely also free to accept it! Do not think that I am rejecting abiogenesis simply because I reject naturalism. I have no requirement to go in either direction. My requirement is truth. I reject it because I find it impossible.

    There is an example that parallels my rejection of abiogenesis. “Why has science abandoned a minimal biological cell as the first form of life?” The answer is that, despite it not breaking any apparent law of nature, It is far too complex a step to have actually occurred. Chemicals do not bump about and make biological cells. Why was it originally believed to be true? Because a lack of knowledge and a commitment to naturalism lead to the declaration that random chemical interaction can form biological cells. Not much has changed in regard to the lack of knowledge and commitment to naturalism.

    ____________
    As a quick side. I was interested to see you address morality in your blog Ian. Obviously, I believe that an absolute morality exists and that this is one aspect of the evidence for God and good evidence against naturalism.

    Ian wrote:
    A common claim is that there are things out there which science cannot explain but that other modes of discourse can. I think this is utterly fallacious.

    Let us take the rather heavy example of morality where many religious people argue that science cannot explain absolute morals. If you set aside the fact that I believe there is no such thing, this is wrong for another very important reason: the very act of recognising that people all seem to follow a universal morality is actually doing science! You cannot avoid the fact that this is a pattern matched to observations. It doesn’t matter what the pattern is or what the observation is.

    My interest was in your claim that science can explain absolute morality. I am not sure you actually justified that. It became a little bit confusing as you interrupted the flow of the argument by noting that you do not believe there is such a thing. Can I ask for a little bit of clarification on this? Have I misunderstood you? Cheers buddy.

  21. Ian
    Ian says:

    I posted a quite long response to the previous comment and it seems to have been lost in the aether and I don’t really have time to repost it. I’ll quickly address the last point and try and return to the rest when I have time:

    My interest was in your claim that science can explain absolute morality.

    My point was not that science has explained absolute morality but that if such a thing existed then it would be found as a pattern of behaviour, thought or something else and therefore its recognition would be scientific in nature. In other words if absolute morality exists it won’t be some magical “science-proof” concept (there is no such thing) but rather just another pattern of observations.

  22. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Hi Ian. Thanks for your attention. It seems like you are running a few topics at the same time. Busy guy! Sorry to hear you lost some notes, I absolutely hate it when that happens. Well, I am sure we can get back to our other points of conflict in due course. For now, let me see if I understand you.

    1) You make the claim that science can explain everything.
    2) Some religious people have said that science cannot explain absolute morals.
    3) You reply to them that if absolute morality actually existed, science could detect it.

    Concisely correct, I hope?

  23. Ian
    Ian says:

    1) You make the claim that science can explain everything.

    Not quite – I make the claim that if something can be explained then science can explain it. I have no idea whether everything can actually be explained but that isn’t really the point.

    2) Some religious people have said that science cannot explain absolute morals.

    I am sure they do say that but my point was that people claim science cannot even participate in the discussion of morals (and more broadly any similar concept like good, evil, ghosts, god, whatever) let alone actually explain it.

    3) You reply to them that if absolute morality actually existed, science could detect it.

    Provided it was detectable, yep.

  24. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    OK, thanks for focusing points 1 and 3. On point 2, you have actually moved the goal posts quite a bit. If you go back to the blog you wrote, the concept that you decided to argue against was (I quote);

    “A common claim is that there are things out there which science cannot explain but that other modes of discourse can.”

    And to clarify this, you wrote (I quote again);

    “Let us take the rather heavy example of morality where many religious people argue that science cannot explain absolute morals.”

    So, do you want to go with the new claim that there are people who say that science cannot participate in the discussion on morals? Or do you want to stick with the original claim that there are people out there who say science cannot explain absolute morality? They are very different claims. (Personally, I am one of the people who would make the original claim but I would not make your modified claim. Thus I am only interested in hearing what you have to say about the original one.) Are you able to stick with the original claim? I will try again to elucidate your view:

    Science is what we can explain by observing patterns
    If there is something that can be explained, science will be able to explain it

    In answer to the people who say that there are things beyond the scope of science, like absolute morality. You say that if absolute morality existed, science could detect it, provided it was detectable. (This has got a little bit confusing as you have permitted an undetectable absolute morality to exist – almost an oxymoron I would say)

  25. Ian
    Ian says:

    It always seems to stretch the english language talking about this sort of thing lol. However I think in this case the confusion probably stems from my lazy use of language, mea culpa lol.

    To try and restate it more clearly: There are people who claim that science cannot explain morality but other modes of discourse can explain morality (effectively excluding science from the discourse although that point is secondary). I think that is a fallacious claim.

    Although on a slightly different track I will say that, since I do not think anything like an absolute morality exists, it obviously follows that science cannot explain it, because there is nothing to explain :)

    Now regarding science detecting the dectable, this is actually a really nice way of describing the whole issue. Detectable things we can know about and explain through science. Undectable things either don’t exist or do exist but we can’t detect them. There really isn’t any practical difference between the last two options.

    Science is what we can explain by observing patterns
    If there is something that can be explained, science will be able to explain it

    Pretty much although if I may be pedantic: science is explaining observations via patterns, not what can be explained.

  26. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    In this situation, pedantic is fantastic! It helps to provide the clarity that I am looking for in what you are saying. It also helps me learn. So, I have two queries.

    1) If explaining observations via patterns is our most accurate, concise description of science, is it true to say that whatever does not provide “patterns”, is going to be out of the reach of science?

    2) Regarding morality, in your blog, you noted a couple of things. It is possible to recognise a pattern in that people believe that there is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. People will categorise some behaviour as right and other behaviour as wrong. Also, there is another pattern that in general, what is ‘right’ is very consistent across people groups. For example, it seems universal that ‘right’ is to treat other people as you would like them to treat you. Quite possibly, we would agree that this is science in action on the topic of morality.

    Now, taking morality one step further, can anything be said about what is right? How could we know if what we think is ‘right’ is actually right? Just because most people think something is right, does that make it right? What about the individuals, who hold a different right, are they wrong simply because they differ from the norm? Is slavery right when the majority believes it to be? It seems to me that as soon as science discovers morality, it reduces morality to nothing. What is ‘right’ really does not mean anything different than some people like the taste of pepper and some do not.

    I guess my question for you is; do you really hold “right” to be nothing more than personal preference?

  27. Ian
    Ian says:

    1) If explaining observations via patterns is our most accurate, concise description of science, is it true to say that whatever does not provide “patterns”, is going to be out of the reach of science?

    Pretty much – I’d say that anything that does not fall into some sort of pattern is inexplicable.

    I guess my question for you is; do you really hold “right” to be nothing more than personal preference?

    I guess in the end it does boil down to personal preference but not the anarchistic random do-what-you-want kind of personal preference for a couple of very important reasons. Firstly society as an entity shapes the people in it so people living near each other will tend to have similar values (which is what this really boils down to). Secondly I suspect there are certain tendencies towards types of behaviour that are built in to most higher organisms which will shape values. Thirdly once you accept that people value things similarly (on the whole) then you can see that many logical discussions of what is perceived as right or wrong will tend to lead to similar conclusions.

  28. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    To the first, I would say that one-off events do not have patterns, yet still may become explicable if someone were there to observe the event.

    To the second I have more to say.

    I guess in the end it does boil down to personal preference but not the anarchistic random do-what-you-want kind of personal preference for a couple of very important reasons.

    I definitely want to look at your reasons for discarding the “anarchistic random do-what-you-want kind of personal preference”.

    Firstly society as an entity shapes the people in it so people living near each other will tend to have similar values (which is what this really boils down to).

    The first reason is that groups of common people will tend to do similar things. That may be true, but it does not invalidate any anarchistic-personal-preference. It only places such a view in the minority.

    Secondly I suspect there are certain tendencies towards types of behaviour that are built in to most higher organisms which will shape values.

    The second reason is that you suspect that built-in behaviour preferences will shape values. Again, this may well be true, but again, it says nothing in regard to discrediting an anarchistic-personal-preference. In fact, this reason does the opposite, it gives validity to the anarchistic-personal-preference by noting that it may well be a built-in tendency.

    Thirdly once you accept that people value things similarly (on the whole) then you can see that many logical discussions of what is perceived as right or wrong will tend to lead to similar conclusions.

    Now, I am willing to accept that on the whole people value things similarly. And yes, what is perceived as right and wrong will therefore be similar conclusions. This appears true again, but again, it is not a reason for discrediting or invalidating any anarchistic-personal-preference.

    It seems to me that unless you are first willing to make an absolute moral stance that the “the anarchistic random do-what-you-want kind of personal preference” is wrong, you cannot make such a statement. ‘Observation of patterns’ may decide that it is not the norm, but it cannot say that it is wrong. As such, “right” still remains nothing more than personal preference. Given your lack of objective evidence, it seems to only be your personal preference that decided “anarchistic personal preference” is wrong. Yet it is obvious to the person with an anarchistic-personal-preference, that such a thing is right.

    Again, science has successfully reduced morality to absolutely nothing. If this is true, science does have nothing to say on morality, expect perhaps, that it does not exist.

  29. Ian
    Ian says:

    To the first, I would say that one-off events do not have patterns, yet still may become explicable if someone were there to observe the event.

    I can’t think of any examples that fit that description?

    I definitely want to look at your reasons for discarding the “anarchistic random do-what-you-want kind of personal preference”.

    You mention discarding it, invalidating it, discrediting it, and even saying it is wrong. These are four different things and none of them really get at what I was talking about – perhaps yet another rephrasing will help lol:

    I think everyone is free to think and value whatever they want, however they want, which means ultimately it all comes down to personal preference. Having said that, I do not think it is arbitrary or random what people actually end up valuing or thinking morally but rather a function of those three things I discussed earlier (and probably others as well).

    ‘Observation of patterns’ may decide that it is not the norm, but it cannot say that it is wrong.

    I agree entirely and for that reason I do not (and did not) claim it is wrong. To be honest I am not even sure what it being “wrong” would even entail.

    Again, science has successfully reduced morality to absolutely nothing. If this is true, science does have nothing to say on morality, expect perhaps, that it does not exist.

    The observation that people value things similarly/differently and that they act on those values (i.e. morality) is a very real phenomenon and is far from being “nothing”. I just don’t think it has a magical source.

  30. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Well Ian, I think we have pretty-well run this thing as far as it can go. Thanks for the genial responses and for putting up with my incessant requests for clarification and information. Thanks for the time you have put in to explain your view in a cordial manner. If you will indulge me, I will wrap up the little that I want to say, and leave you to add any additional comments as you may wish. Then we can both get some more sleep. (I need it) Cheers mate.

    On Morality
    The naturalistic worldview identifies what it calls morality. This turns out to not be a right and wrong, but a belief people develop that there is a right and wrong. In naturalism, many things may contribute to shape such a belief, as Ian has kindly described. (Thanks again for your input) What naturalism fails to address is whether what people hold as “right” could actually be right. Obviously, naturalism cannot address this as it excludes the possibility of there actually being a real “right”. When morality is sourced in whatever we decide to value and what we are shaped by, the morality is just an extension of our preference or of our current state of “evolution”. It is interesting to contemplate and discuss how naturalism develops a belief in morality, but there can be no real morality, just a belief that there is.

    This leaves us in an untenable position of not being able to tell anyone else that they are right or wrong. You might think that this is a good thing, yet it ensures that murderers, rapists, deceivers or abusers are not really “wrong”. In naturalism, they may only be deemed “different”. Maybe different to society’s norm, maybe different to our own preference, but certainly not “wrong”. And as this preference-standard can actually change, one day they may well become “right”.

    When I think of morality, I think of a standard detailing right and wrong. Not a shaped-belief from preference that there is a “right” and “wrong”, which in the end, really has nothing to say about what is ‘right or wrong’. Sure, there can be vivid discussions on how it is that people come to think that there is a right and wrong. Interesting discussions on what may have shaped us to have such attitudes – as Ian has provided us. Yet, “right” could only be truly deemed “right” if it is independent of us. It must be right whether we know it or not! It must be right whether we believe it or not! It must be right whether we agree with it or not! It is just right. This is usually called absolute morality. It should be very clear by now that it is impossible to identify this sort of morality in a naturalistic worldview. It should also be clear that science and naturalism cannot uncover an objective moral standard. Sure, scientific naturalism can discuss a belief in morality that is shaped by society, education, self-interest and instinct, but it has nothing to say about the validity of the standard itself.

    I believe that such a real standard exists. I find it imposed on me when I do not even desire to follow or acknowledge it.

    Without a real standard, a lot of life just does not make sense. If absolute morality does not exist, we could not objectively judge the behaviour of anyone at all. If it absolute morality does not exist, we could not have moral reform. Morality cannot improve unless it is drawing closer to the ‘correct’ morality. In naturalism, relative morality can change but at any point in time, whatever is held as “right” is deemed right, simply because it is held.

    Those who deny obvious moral rules – who say that murder and rape are morally benign, that cruelty is not a vice, and that cowardice is a virtue – do not merely have a different moral point of view; they have something wrong with them.
    Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air F.J. Beckwith & G.Koukl p59

    You can only make such statements if absolute morality is true. Why have I bothered to layout this view? It is the beginning of the end of naturalism for me. If I accept that absolute morality is real, something other than naturalism is now required. There are many other indicators that fit together to destroy naturalism, in my mind at least. Without going into the details of these, it is sufficient for this topic to plainly say that I do not believe in naturalism and see no reason why I should.

    On Abiogenesis (I am using what I consider to be the common understanding of the word)
    Naturalism requires us to believe in abiogenesis. Ian outlined a valid proof for us on this. Given naturalism, we will search for ways that abiogenesis must have occurred. I do not have any real issue with the search. Let it continue! It may find a solution, but I do not think it can. As I sit in a worldview other than naturalism, I am not required to believe in abiogenesis. So what do I do? The validity of such a thing for me rests on research, on science.

    Ian has pointed out that abiogenesis does not break any natural laws. Should this be enough for me to believe it? I do not think so. A good analogy entails Mt Rushmore. (It is not my analogy) Mt Rushmore has four heads carved into the side of a mountain. Intricate details. If someone came to me and said that erosion carved out those heads, I would reject their claim. If they said that there are no natural laws that erosion breaks, so there is nothing preventing it from happening, I would consider that interesting but would again reject the claim that it happened. It is the complexity of the details, the non-related information content and the random nature of erosion that convinces me it is not possible. “What about thirty billion years of erosion on thirty billion planets, could this carve out just one such detailed mountainside?” I would still say “No way.” To put this in perspective, if we happened to reach a new planet, which had a detailed carving on the side of a mountain, we would immediately claim, “Intelligent life made this”, even if there was no sign of that life! I look into a cell and think the same. So no, while abiogenesis does not break any “natural laws”, such an argument does not convince me that it occurred either.

    The position of the naturalist is that “We do not know how abiogenesis happened but we know that it did!” It is unquestionable because of the worldview. It is possible for all Christians to say, “I do not know how abiogenesis happened, and I do not know if it even happened.” God could have made life in such a manner, but did He? The scientific indicators seem to say no. (Another topic perhaps?) As such, the only viable position for a non-naturalist like myself is “Where is the evidence?”

    Well Ian, thanks again for the discussion. I may be the only one who found it interesting. Since you like to end your posts with a dig at “magical” beliefs, let me give you one to muse on. Take a bunch of atoms that follow a set of specific laws, add a very long time period and those atoms will be able to reason, think and contemplate themselves. Magical! ;-)

  31. Ian
    Ian says:

    Thanks Jonathan, a useful summary and a worthwhile and enjoyable discussion :)

    In the interests of closing the discussion I’ll make a couple of closing points and let it rest as well. Clearly we are “agreeing to disagree” on a couple of fundamental points and outlining those is perhaps useful.

    1. As someone who doesn’t believe there are absolute rights or wrongs, your point about not being able to tell if murder (for example) is absolutely right or wrong doesn’t bother me. A common trick is to then say “well murder is ok then” which is a non-sequitur. The belief that says “murder is not ok” doesn’t suddenly disappear because there is no absolute behind it.

    2. You said:

    It should be very clear by now that it is impossible to identify this sort of morality in a naturalistic worldview.

    One of the driving forces of this discussion has been me trying to dissuade you of this particular notion. Apparently I failed :)

    3. You also said:

    If I accept that absolute morality is real, something other than naturalism is now required

    If I (for the purpose of discussion) accept that absolute morals exist and that for some strange reason science can’t detect them, I still have no idea what this magical (I can’t resist lol) “something other than naturalism” is that gives you this insight. After all it is not speculative on your part, you are stating it exists with some certainty and then using that as the basis for other things. This means you must have used something other than science to get to this conclusion. I do not know what that could be.

    4. Regarding abiogenesis, I will make just one point. There are four options for how life came about:

    a. Natural processes that obeyed natural laws
    b. Natural processes that disobeyed natural laws
    c. Supernatural processes that obeyed natural laws
    d. Supernatural processes that disobeyed natural laws

    I believe a is the answer because I (nor anyone else that I know of) has ever observed any examples of b, c, or d. Now it seems to me that if c is possible then surely a is also possible. And it also follows that if d is possible then b is also possible.

    With that in mind I have to conclude that a is by far the most likely and all the work is still ahead of the theist to show particular reasons why god “must” be involved.

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