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The Atheistic Argument from Evolution

It is a common taunt among combative non-theists (henceforth called atheists) that evolution, because it is a well-established scientific fact, somehow provides positive proof that God does not exist. God, as the title of the evolutionary zoologist Richard Dawkin’s book proclaims, is a delusion. If this is so it then follows that belief in God is the same as belief in Santa Clause, which directly opposes our best scientific knowledge. It appears as if there is an atheistic argument being made.

1) If evolution is true then God does not exist.
2) Evolution is true.
3) Therefore, God does not exist.

Notice a couple of things about this argument. First, it follows logically. By virtue of the law of logic called modus ponens the conclusion is necessary and inescapable if the two premises are true. That means in order to defeat the argument at least one of the premises will have to be denied.

Second, notice is that premise 1 is a theological in nature, and premise 2 is a scientific in nature. If someone wants to defend or refute premise 2, they will have to do some science, and similarly, if someone wants to defend or refute premise 1 they will have to do some theology (something atheists generally don’t want to do). Now we could argue against that second premise and question if evolution is in fact true. But today I want to look at that the more crucial first premise.

Premise 1: If evolution is true, God does not exist

If evolution is true does this imply that God does not exist?

It seems clear that it is not so. If evolution is true, the most that means is a certain literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is incorrect. Now if such an admission shakes you, I hope that those shakes don’t register on the Richter scale. There have been many Christians who have believed in God, and found no contradiction in also believing in evolution. Many very clever people have been and are theistic evolutionists. C.S. Lewis was one of these who thought that God very well could have used the process of evolution to bring about human life.

Howard Van Till of Calvin College asks:

“Is the concept of special creation required of all persons who profess trust in the Creator-God revealed in Scripture? . . . most Christians in my acquaintance who are engaged in either scientific or biblical scholarship have concluded that the special creationist picture of the world’s formation is not a necessary component of Christian belief . . .”[1]

Augustine in the fourth century (1500 years before the pressure of modern science) was suggesting that the days of Genesis one were not literal “solar days,” but narratorial devises to explain a logical framework. Davis Young from Calvin College explains Augustine’s view:

“Some things were made in fully developed form as we see them today, and other things were made in a potential form, so that in time they might become the way we see them now. Augustine went far beyond any superficial reading of the text by claiming that neither the creation nor the subsequent unfolding took place in six ordinary days. He is explicit that God did not create the world over the course of six temporal days. “The sacred writer was able to separate in the time of his narrative what God did not separate in time in His creative act.”[2]. [3]

Yet even if the Bible’s creation account demands a literal interpretation, then all that would follow is that the doctrine of inerrancy needs adjusting. Studied theologians generally suggest essential doctrines should form a central core. Tenets like God’s existence, his essential attributes, the doctrine of Christ, and of Salvation: these you never up and fight to the wall for. But there are other doctrines positioned nearer the periphery of your theological circle that you could take or leave without causing irreparable harm. If the doctrine of inerrancy falls away, that is not the end of Christianity. (Now in light of scientific and philosophical critiques of evolution, such an admission might be too hasty.) Still, it is worth noting that if the scientific community can establish a convincing proof of evolutionary theory and give explanations of the model’s shortcomings, the existence of God is not what is at stake.

What this brings to light is an assumption that upholds the atheistic argument; that God’s existence is dependant on the Bible’s revelation. That assumption is false. God’s existence does not rely on the special revelation of Scripture. Even the knowledge of God need not depend on Scripture if one has a high view of the project of Natural Theology, so such an argument need not sway the defender of God’s existence.

If God exists he can use the process of evolution. But if God exists he does not need the process of evolution. Therefore, regarding God’s existence, it is a matter of complete indifference if evolution did or did not occur. Evolution therefore brings a very different challenge to the table then the atheist charges. The discussion is an in-house one; less an external attack on Christianity and more a matter of internal consistency of interpretation, as well as an issue of integration with the discipline of science.

What is so irksome to the committed atheist is he sees if evolution fails scrutiny it leaves a gaping hole in his world-view. What can plug this hole? The only option is some form of creationism – which of course is an unacceptable option for the atheist. In the words of Richard Dawkin’s “although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”[4] Ergo, if Darwin topples there goes the intellectual kudos of the atheist. Alvin Plantinga, philosopher at the University of Notre Dame says,

“For the nontheist, evolution is the only game in town; it is an essential part of any reasonably complete nontheistic way of thinking; hence the devotion to it, the suggestions that it shouldn’t be discussed in public, and the venom, the theological odium with which dissent is greeted.”[5]

Strange as it may seem, it is not the Christian who is biased towards the evidence, but the naturalist. The Christian can be open to where the evidence leads on the basis that the Genesis creation account permits a wide manner of interpretations, while the atheist is totally committed to evolution and its speculations.

The Tables Turn

It is perhaps with this realization in mind that led Jeffery Lowder offers a more cautious argument from evolution. In the year 1999 during The Lowder-Fernandes Debate: Naturalism vs. Theism he stated in his opening address.

If evolution is true, then God is not needed for the account that various life forms that exist today and have existed in the past, and therefore evolution is compatible with naturalism. If theism is true however, evolution may or may not be true. Evolution is logically compatible with theism; God could have used evolution, but God could of used many other methods than evolution – methods which are ruled out by naturalism. Moreover, given that over 99% of species that have ever lived on earth is now extinct, evolution seems like a pretty strange way for an all-powerful being to create living organisms. Did God have to keep experimenting till he got things right? Thus evolution is some evidence for naturalism over theism. [sic] [6]

This argument cedes the point that evolution is compatible with theism. This then constitutes a denial of the first premise. If he were to then make the conclusion that God does not exist, he would be then begging the question in favor of naturalism. Lowder avoids this by cautiously concluding that if evolution is true it is more likely given naturalism rather than theism. This conclusion he bases on the assumption that any intelligent designer responsible for the origin and diversity of life would have used an efficient method.

Efficiency however, is only a consideration for beings with limited time, limited resources and limited power. But on the Christian view, the intelligent designer is God, who does not lack time, or resources, or power. There is no reason to think that the Creator of Christian theism would desire efficiency when he was creating. Moreover, the way in which God bought about the origin and diversity of life may have been in accord with other over-riding concerns, such as how the universe was to operate for the living beings he planned would occupy and observe it. With that in mind, Lowder’s conclusion is baseless and needs no further refutation.

But perhaps there is more we can say to blunt the force of this modified argument. Are there any other reasons to think that evolution is not more likely given naturalism rather that theism? Well I think there are and I’m going to briefly sketch two of these reasons.

In the last fifty years the scientific community has made some astounding discoveries that serve to strengthen the teleological arguments for God’s existence. The first of these discoveries is the incredible fine-tuning of the universe. When the laws of nature are expressed mathematically, there are certain arbitrary constants just given in the initial conditions of the universe, tuned precisely such that if they were to be adjusted to the smallest fraction, would not create a life-permitting universe.

To illustrate, imagine if you will, that you discovered a room that could generate universes. In centre of this room is a large circular control panel and arrayed around it very large dials. One dial is labeled the charge of an electron, another the mass of a proton, another the strength of the gravitational force, another the electromagnetic weak force, next to it the strong force. There are over 50 such dials arrayed on the big board in the centre of the room. In the centre of panel is a button labeled “Create.” Initially you thought that these dials were all colored black, but on closer inspection you notice a thin red line on each, representing a sliver of perhaps a 5000th of a degree, on others a millionth of decimal place. Then you noticed that all of these dials were set right on that red line. If you were to shift a setting of just one of these dials off that red sliver and press the create button, the universe generated would be unable to produce life.

Such is the universe we find ourselves in: finely tuned to permit life. One of these dials or constants is the rate of the universe’s expansion one second after the Big Bang. Stephen Hawking estimates that if this constant had been smaller by one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have re-collapsed into a hot fireball.[7] P. C. W. Davies calculates the odds against the initial conditions being suitable for star formation (which is necessary for planets) is one followed by at least thousand billion billion zeroes.[8] He also estimates that a change in the strength of gravity or of the weak force by only one part in 10100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe.[9] (That number alone is far in excess of the amount of atoms in the universe.[10]) But each improbability should rightly be multiplied with each improbability, creating a numbers that are simply inexpressible with analogies. Davies concludes “Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact.”[11] Fred Hoyle similarly remarks, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics.”[12]

For evolution even to be able to occur in the first place is so incredibly improbable the mind cannot comprehend. Evolution is therefore not more likely given naturalism rather than theism. Here, is the second reason.

In the movie Contact, Jodi Foster plays a SETI researcher.[13] One night she discovers a message picked up from one of their satellites pointing at outer space. This message was the first 20 prime numbers in order. She instantly recognized this was a message from an intelligence. How did she recognize this?

Scientists have been careful in how they distinguish between randomness, simple order and information. Organizations like SETI have needed such careful definitions so they know what they are looking for, and can recognize it when they find it.

Randomness is both simple and non-specific. An example of randomness would be if I were to spill alphabet soup on the table. If I were to give instructions to a computer for creating a random sequence, I would give it two instructions, 1) Select any letter, and 2) Repeat. The sequence I would get might be A, P, G, 9, N, 6. That is simple and non-specific.

Examples of simple order are sodium chloride – also known as table salt, other crystalline structures, and water. To create a sequence of 500 ME’s, I would instruct a computer to 1) Select an M, 2) Select an E, 3) Repeat. Simple order is therefore, Simple, Specific, Repetitive, and finally the parts are prior to the whole. This means the individual ME’s are selected before the entire sequence of ME’s. The consequence being if one part of the sequence was removed it wouldn’t do anything essential to the whole.

Information is entirely different to simple order. Examples of information rich sequences include language, codes, and equations. For instance, the message “John loves Mary” is information. It is information because it is 1) Not simple – there are 15 instructions to create that sequence, 2) Specific – because every letter needs to be there in the right order, 3) Not repetitive, 4) The whole is prior to the parts. That means the parts are integral to the whole, such that if I removed or replaced a letter here or there the meaning would be lost.

One of the most incredible discoveries of the twentieth century was that the DNA was an information-bearing molecule. That in every cell there is a non-repeatable code more complex and more specific then a library of encyclopedias.

Now SETI researches make an assumption that information is the product of an intelligent mind. That I think is a good assumption. It is more reasonable to think that information is the product of non-intelligent natural processes. If I was on the beach and I saw shapes inscribed in the sand “All-black rule, Aussies drool.” it is more reasonable to believe an intelligent mind is responsible rather than believe it was from an accidental natural process. But if that is a reasonable assumption for SETI, that should also be a reasonable assumption for a molecular biologist. Hence, if evolution is true, it requires an intelligent mind.

Moreover, in the Anthropic Cosmological Principle two of the world’s leading cosmologists, John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, point out 10 steps in the course of human evolution, such as the development of the DNA base genetic code, the origin of mitochondria in the cells, the origin of photosynthesis, the development of aerobic respiration, the development of the inner skeleton and the development of the eye, each of which is so improbable that before it would have occurred the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence star, and would have incinerated the earth. The odds they calculated for the assembly of the human genome was somewhere around 4 to the -360th power to the 110,000th power — simply an incomprehensible number. For reasons like this as well as others, “there has developed a general consensus among evolutionists that the evolution of intelligent life. . . is so improbable that is unlikely to have occurred on any other planet in the entire visible universe.” [14]

The first example was the fine-tuning needed for the universe to be life-permitting, and even allow evolution in the first place. The second example is the existence of information in biological structures, coupled with the enormous improbability of a purely naturalistic explanation, points to the existence of an intelligent mind. Both these cry out for an explanation, and the best explanation is that there is a single intelligent mind responsible for both the fine-tuning of the universe and the information in biological structures. Jeffrey Lowder was wrong to suppose that evolution is more likely given naturalism rather than theism. In fact, it seems quite the opposite; that if evolution is true it is more likely given theism rather than naturalism. We therefore have grounds to amend the original atheistic argument.

1`)       If evolution is true, then a divine miracle has taken place
2)            Evolution is true
3`)            Therefore, a divine miracle has taken place.
4)            Therefore, God exists.

Isn’t it incredible that what the atheist originally thought disproves God, can actually be turned on its head and made a powerful argument for God’s existence? That in the end, we can proclaim with the psalmist;

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands…”[15]


Footnotes

[1] Howard Van Till, When Faith and Reason Cooperate, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI, http://www.asa3.org/asa/dialogues/Faith-reason/CRS9-91VanTill.html

[2] St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J., 2 vols. (New York: Newman Press, 1982), pg. 36.

[3] Davis A. Young, The Contemporary Relevance of Augustine’s view of Creation, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Ml, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 40.1:42-45 (3/1988), http://www.asa3.org/ASA/topics/Bible-Science/PSCF3-88Young.html

[4] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London and New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1986), pp. 6, 7.

[5] Alvin Plantinga, When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN. Christian Scholar’s Review XXI:1 (September 1991): 8-33. http://www.asa3.org/aSA/dialogues/Faith-reason/CRS9-91Plantinga1.html

[6] Jeffrey Lowder, The Lowder-Fernandes Debate: Naturalism vs. Theism: Which Way Does the Evidence Point? (1999), (http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=8220615357, retrieved 12 October, 2008)

[7] Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York:  Bantam Books, 1988), p. 123.

[8] P. C. W. Davies, Other Worlds (London:  Dent, 1980), pp. 160-61, 168-69.

[9] P. C. W. Davies, “The Anthropic Principle,” in Particle and Nuclear Physics 10 (1983):  28.

[10] Matthew Champion, “Re: How many atoms make up the universe.” 1998 http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/1998-10/905633072.As.r.html

[11] Paul Davies, The Mind of God (New York:  Simon & Schuster: 1992), p. 16.

[12] Fred Hoyle, “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections,” Engineering and Science (November, 1981), p.12.

[13] SETI is the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence.

[14] 15. Barrow, John and Tipler, Frank (1986): The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Clarendon Press, pg. 133.

[15] Psalms 19:1

23 replies
  1. Tom Gilson
    Tom Gilson says:

    Good post!

    The syllogism with which you began has its obvious weaknesses, but it's still better than the logic Dawkins employed in The Blind Watchmaker. The subtitle to that book, as you may recall, was "Why the evidence of evolution proves a universe without design." I read the whole marvelous book (Dawkins used to be a good writer) with great anticipation to see how he would accomplish that proof. I can hardly convey my disappointment when I got to the key passage. It amounted to:

    1. If God does not exist, this is how the observed biological world could have come to be.
    2. Therefore God does not exist.

    That was Dawkins at his (ahem) best when it comes to matters religious. Would that he had progressed since that time.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Hello UpAndAtom,

    With respect to your comment about how atheists do not have to be committed to evolution: the idea here is that atheism, insofar as there are no other naturalistic theories of the origin of humanity with similar evidentiary support, is committed to (at least the general scheme described by) evolutionary theory.

    With respect to your comment that the fundamental constants are not necessarily arbitrary, I agree. The best explanation for these constants and quantities is an intentional outside input. However, on a naturalistic framework where there can be no input from beyond the universe, these constants and quantities appear arbitrary precisely because they are initial conditions. If the explanatory option for them is chance, as is a popular explanation, then they are arbitrary. If the explanatory option you prefer is physical necessary, then its up to you to provide some sort of mechanism which would produce it [say, for instance, the leading hopeful, the Theory of Everything (TOE)]. However, even if you managed to prove this pipe-dream, the fine-tuning of the universe would still remain because examples are so numerous and diverse. A tidy naturalistic theory to make the constants and quantities not arbitrary is accordingly highly implausible.

    With respect to your comment that we know of many processes which create information, and that intelligence is not necessary: I suspect you are using "information" in a different sense here than I am in the article above. This is namely,

    1) Not simple . . . 2) Specific . . . 3) Not repetitive, 4) The whole is prior to the parts

    To my knowledge, we know of no process sans intelligence that can produce the type of information that fulfills the requirements listed above. Perhaps you can enlighten me with one of these many processes? you said there were many.

  3. UpAndAtom
    UpAndAtom says:

    Hello Stuart!

    Yes I get that atheists would sort of automatically latch on to evolution as opposed to an intelligence-based origin of life. I think that the 1) 2) 3) argument that you start with, though, is more of a response to the claim of intelligence-origin than it is a stark claim, if you know what I mean.

    On the fundamental constants. I don't think anyone should be allowed to believe that there can be input from beyond the universe. Such a view is self-contradictory. There is an interesting similiarity here, though, between the argument you are making about fundamental constants and the idea that evolution disproves god:
    Like I have said, the argument that evolution disproves god is more of a response to the historical position of Christianity that god created life. The original claim about life having to have been created is an argument from ignorance. It is an argument that relied upon our ignorance of how life came about. And so, with that mystery solved, I do not find it very surprising that the next generation (so to speak) of Christian jumps upon the next gap(s) in our knowledge, the Fundamental constants. But I think that it is a sure bet that god doesn't lie behind the fundamental constants. Like all the other mysteries that religion has relied upon, this one willl be solved too and god will be relegated to even further mysteries.

    Information. We know, for instance, that in human evolution between chimps and humans we lost a chromasome. And although I do not know any specific examples I can guarantee that there will be instances of mutation where a species gains a chromasome. Initially that extra chromasome might not be an advantage, but clearly it can become useful, otherwise species' would not have retained extra chromasomes.

  4. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Hello UpAndAtom,

    You say the first syllogism is a response to the claim of an intelligent cause of the origin of life. Lets be a little careful here. Evolution does not give an account for the origin of life, but the origin of the biological diversity. With that in mind I can move on in my response by saying I don't know what you mean. Your not suggesting that the motivation of the person making such an argument renders it sound are you?

    You say that the view that there can be a input into a system from beyond that system is self-contradictory. How so? Its not explicitly so at any rate. The only way that I can see that it would be self-contradictory is if your are presupposing metaphysical naturalism. Now that would not be a legitimate argument if your goal is to refute mine. The burden is squarely on your shoulders to draw out the explicit contradiction that you say this view has.

    With respect to your claim that the argument concluding that life has intelligent origins is an argument from ignorance, that is incorrect. First off, the argument is best construed as an inference to the best explanation. Secondly, sorry to say, the mystery view which you fall back on is not an explanation – it is the absence of explanation. And quite frankly, betrays an unwillingness to go where the evidence leads. Third, the preferred explanation of an intelligence for the many fundamental constants and quantities being precisely what they are to yield a life-permitting universe is not based upon what we don't know, but on what we do. Further, if you could some how dream up a naturalistic mechanism which could explain the fine-tuning, then that mechanism itself would have to be fine-tuned. Add to that the many various and diverse ways in which the universe is finely-tuned, the physical necessity explanatory option that you are hedging your bets on has very limited scope and power.

    Regarding your assertion that there are non-intelligent processes that create new information, I'd be very interested if you could back this up with an example. You seem to think mutation is one way to create new information. Mutation only garbles information that already there and does not add new information. To my knowledge there are no mechanisms that have been shown to add new information, let alone be advantageous, or as you put it, become useful.

  5. UpAndAtom
    UpAndAtom says:

    Stuart,

    Yes, certainly, evolution is distinct from abiogenesis.
    No I'm not trying to suggest that motivations make anything sound.
    I just think that the only reason someone would say "If evolution is true then god doesn't exist" is if evolution somehow disproves a god. The most obvious way that it might do so is by contradicting the creation story in the bible.

    I do not think it is contradictory for input to enter a system from beyond that system except where that system, by definition, does not have anything external to it .ie. the Universe. I don't think that metaphysical naturalism is a pre-requisite here, it is simple logic, n'est ce pas?

    About arguments from ignorance. Yes, I can certainly see what you mean. Ancient people concluding that life must have come from a being is completely sensible in that it explains how something complex came about. But I still think it rather short-sighted in that it merely shifts the problem to the complexity of the creator being.

    I do not think that I am running away from where the evidence leads. It is a very good and empirical observation that the answers are always natural, not supernatural. Whenever humans have made claims about the supernatural, they just get steamrolled by the natural truth later on. Indeed, the evidence tells us to run away from supernatural explanations like the one you believe.

    I find it odd that you claim that a naturalistic explanation of the constants must itself be finetuned, but that a god is immune to the need for such explanations. We have never observed anything that does not have an explanation, and we have never observed anything non-natural.

    Information. You should probably get over the mis-understanding that mutation only garbles information before anything else.

  6. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Hello again UpAndAtom.

    I just think that the only reason someone would say "If evolution is true then god doesn't exist" is if evolution somehow disproves a god. The most obvious way that it might do so is by contradicting the creation story in the bible.

    So, after reading my paper above, what would make you think that contradicting the creation story in the bible (if this is indeed what evolution does) MIGHT disprove God's existence? What POSSIBLE grounds for this could there be?

    I do not think it is contradictory for input to enter a system from beyond that system except where that system, by definition, does not have anything external to it .ie. the Universe

    There you go. Presupposing metaphysical naturalism.

    Whenever humans have made claims about the supernatural, they just get steamrolled by the natural truth later on. Indeed, the evidence tells us to run away from supernatural explanations like the one you believe.

    This is the same for explanations given by the natural sciences, so on this logic you are making a case for scientific anti-realism. Are you sure you want to go there?

    It is a very good and empirical observation that the answers are always natural, not supernatural.

    Wouldn't that depend on the questions one was willing to ask? I remember Dawkins saying "Why" questions are "Just Silly." I was with Lennox this last week and he explained that there are some things that are by their nature inaccessible to the natural sciences. He used an illustration of trying to get one of his peers to give a scientific explanation of the semiotic meaning. His opposite thought for a second and said he could not. Why not? He answered, because of the nature of the thing that needed explanation!

    Its similar with the finely-tuned constants and quantities. These are, by their very nature, not the type of things that can be given natural explanations. Thats because they are initial conditions.

    I've never claimed that God (or anything else) is immune for the need of an explanation.

    You say you've never observed anything non-natural. What expectation do you have of observing anything non-natural (if there was anything non-natural)?

  7. UpAndAtom
    UpAndAtom says:

    Stuart,

    I just saying that people that hold 1) to be true obviously believe that evolution contradicts a god somehow. It's not like they are going to agree with your analysis of 1). There are many Christians who adhere completely to 1).

    BTW. 1) is no more theological in nature than the statement A) "astrology is false" is astrological in nature. It would be silly to claim that in order to evaluate A) one has to grapple with astrology. And with 1) one does not have to deal with theology.

    There you go. Presupposing metaphysical naturalism.

    No just logic. If there is input from beyond a system, then that input is within the universe by definition. There can be no exception to this and there are no examples. Such a view is………well, it seems suspiciously convenient. Convenient but completely at odds with reality – both empirical and definitional.

    This is the same for explanations given by the natural sciences, so on this logic you are making a case for scientific anti-realism. Are you sure you want to go there?

    (Just because natural sciences are approximate and can be improved/overthrown does not lead to anti-realism)
    Natural sciences get steamrolled by natural sciences. The result is still natural sciences, and NOT the supernatural.

    Its similar with the finely-tuned constants and quantities. These are, by their very nature, not the type of things that can be given natural explanations. Thats because they are initial conditions.

    This is just all non-sequitur to me. First, I am certain that a scientific explanation could be (partially) given for meaning in terms of the brain. I'm not sure why you think that the fundamental constants have anything at all in common with semiotic meaning. The claim that the fundamental constants cannot be given natural explanations just comes right out of left field. They are not even sure how many constants there are, nor that they are even constant. I'm also not sure that scientists really consider them initial conditions – they are more just part of the standard model. And the big bang model is undefined if you go far back enough.

    Perhaps you could give me some examples of initial conditions which are non-natural?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_constanthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine_structure_const

  8. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    UpAndAtom,

    1 is false. All you're saying now is many people believe it to be true. I agree. Why did you bring it up in the first place?

    If one were to claim that astrology is false, one would at least have to understand what astrology was and a little about its entailments. Similarly, if one were to argue that premise 1 true or failse, then one would have to know a little about God and a little about the entailments if there were one, and this would require some interaction with theology. Thus I can confidently say that premise one is theological.

    If there is input from beyond a system, then that input is within the universe by definition.

    Seriously? Again!

    Here you are arguing something by definition. But the definition is presupposing metaphysical naturalism is true. Thats obviously an illegitimate tactic.

    (Just because natural sciences are approximate and can be improved/overthrown does not lead to anti-realism)

    Natural sciences get steamrolled by natural sciences.

    Thats right! I'm glad you can see at least this. Now the same answer applies to supernatural explanations. Just because they get "steamrolled," doesn't lead to anti-supernatualism and it doesn't mean that there can never be an instance where a supernatural explanation is not the correct explanation.

    I am certain that a scientific explanation could be (partially) given for meaning in terms of the brain.

    I draw a equilateral triangle with two horizontal lines through it. I say that this triangle will, from now on, represent the food pyramid. This symbol now has semiotic meaning. Centuries go by. Some historian is doing some research and wants to know what the meaning of this particular symbol he found in an ancient book means. He takes it to a scientist in a lab. Tell me UpAndAtom, what does the scientist say?

    Does he say, I would have to look at a brain, image its internal structure and movement patterns, then calculate the chemical and electrical pulses therein in order to give you this symbols meaning?

    Get real.

    Perhaps you could give me some examples of initial conditions which are non-natural?

    Never claimed initial conditions are non-natural. Don't know where you got that idea.

  9. UpAndAtom
    UpAndAtom says:

    Stuart,

    1) is false in your opinion. That's all.

    Clearly by your opinion the statement "Astrology is false/true" is an astrological statement. This is clearly nonsense. You can't make meta-statments about something just using the something.

    My definition of the universe is not presupposing metaphysical naturalism. It is merely using a logical and sensible notion of the world 'universe'. If you believe that there is input from beyond the universe then I wouldn't expect to be taken seriously – it is self-contradictory.

    That food-pyramid does not have meaning, except in the minds of those who equate it with food. When someone invents a symbol, it's not like the universe declares that that symbol suddenly now has meaning. It only has meaning in minds which correlate it with another concept.
    What the scientist should say is that this symbol might have (had) some meaning to someone, but there are probably no minds around which can 'interpret' it (correlate it with another concept).

    If natural explanations were constantly gettin overthrown by supernatural ones, you would be claiming that a supernatural worldview is obviously correct. The opposite is happening, and so a natural worldview is obviously correct.

    Never claimed initial conditions are non-natural. Don't know where you got that idea.

    "Its similar with the finely-tuned constants and quantities. These[the constants] are, by their[the constants] very nature, not the type of things that can be given natural explanations. Thats because they [the constants] are initial conditions.

  10. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Of course 1 is false in my opinion. I argued for this above. Whats the point of saying that?

    Clearly by your opinion the statement "Astrology is false/true" is an astrological statement. This is clearly nonsense. You can't make meta-statments about something just using the something.

    "Astrology is false/true" is, though not astrological, still a statement about astrology. Likewise, premise 1: "If evolution is true then God does not exist," is (among other things) a statement about God and his nature. Statements about God and his nature are theological. Therefore to either affirm or deny Premise 1, one needs to interact with some theology.

    It is true that for that statement "Astrology is true" and its negation to be verified one needs to ask a second-order question, namely, Is astrology true? This statement is not astrological in nature. However, the analogy you have drawn between astrology and theology breaks down because theology is a subject area that includes within its scope second-order questions as well as the first order. i.e. Does God exist? How do we know that God exists? If God exists, what would we perceive the universe to look like? All these questions are theological in nature, and the correct subject you have to interact with to get the answers to these questions is theology.

    My definition of the universe is not presupposing metaphysical naturalism. It is merely using a logical and sensible notion of the world 'universe'. If you believe that there is input from beyond the universe then I wouldn't expect to be taken seriously – it is self-contradictory.

    Its only self-contradictory because you've defined the universe in such as way to rule out the notion of anything beyond the universe. i.e. the universe is everything, the universe is all there is. That is metaphysical naturalism.

    What the scientist should say is that this symbol might have (had) some meaning to someone, but there are probably no minds around which can 'interpret' it (correlate it with another concept).

    Is this you agreeing that the semiotic nature of the meaning of the symbol is inaccessibly to the deliverances of the natural sciences? Thats my point, you see. There are somethings that, by their nature of what they are, cannot be given natural explanations. Symbols is an example, for a concept (which is metaphysical) is superimposed upon a natural phenomena. Thus symbols are semiotic (semi = of signs, otic (ontic) = real nature of being; as opposed to phenomenal existence.)

    If natural explanations were constantly getting overthrown by supernatural ones, you would be claiming that a supernatural worldview is obviously correct. The opposite is happening, and so a natural worldview is obviously correct.

    Natural explanations do not undermine a supernatural worldview. At most they will undermine the claims of a person who has a supernatural worldview and previously claimed that such and such was an example of the primary causation of a supernatural power. But Christian theology has nearly always affirmed that God generally works through secondary causation, but that through this causation his providence can be shown. Ergo, no amount of natural explanations contradicting the claims of some Christians can refute Christianity or make naturalism "obviously correct."

    With respect to you thinking that I claimed the initial conditions are non-natural, this is a poor interpretation of what you quoted. Note that the statement "[The constants] are, by their very nature, not the type of things that can be given natural explanations," does not mean the finely-tuned constants and quantities are themselves non-natural. Of course they are natural! Rather, we are able to see, because they are initial conditions simply placed into the big bang event, that they do not have purely natural explanations.

    UpAndAtom. I have been very tolerant of your comments thus far by indulging myself and responding to them. But pursuing your usual style of argumentation (asserting the contrary, giving no proofs and providing no examples, as well as repeating objections that have already been dealt fatal blows) will no longer be permitted. Feel free to comment. Just be assured that if its the usual trolling drawl it will either not be published, or not be responded to.

  11. UpAndAtom
    UpAndAtom says:

    Its only self-contradictory because you've defined the universe in such as way to rule out the notion of anything beyond the universe. i.e. the universe is everything, the universe is all there is. That is metaphysical naturalism.

    Hmmmn. It seems to me common sense that the universe is everything, period. It's even what the word means, I think.
    Why would a person attempt to define the universe as not everything?
    Is there any evidence that there is anything beyond the universe?

    Is this you agreeing that the semiotic nature of the meaning of the symbol is inaccessibly to the deliverances of the natural sciences? Thats my point, you see. There are somethings that, by their nature of what they are, cannot be given natural explanations.

    Yes I certainly have no problem that an uncovered, undeciphered symbol might be inaccessible to 'science'. This is no more worrying than the fact that we can't ever know many things in the earth's history because we weren't there. But just because we weren't there to witness events is no reason to think that those events do not have natural explanations.

    Is monkey talk not a natural phenomenon? Why are our symbols and sounds suddenly un-natural?!

    Symbols is an example, for a concept (which is metaphysical) is superimposed upon a natural phenomena. Thus symbols are semiotic (semi = of signs, otic (ontic) = real nature of being; as opposed to phenomenal existence.)

    I'd put it to you that symbols are completely physical. A symbol cannot exist non-physically – even in a brain. Perhaps you could explain how and what part of a concept/symbol is non-natural.

    Ergo, no amount of natural explanations contradicting the claims of some Christians can refute Christianity or make naturalism "obviously correct."

    So Christianity is unfalsifiable. What if I claimed that atheism is unfalsifiable and the universe just happened to look like there was supernatural god? I'd deserve to be laughed at!

    With respect to you thinking that I claimed the initial conditions are non-natural, this is a poor interpretation of what you quoted. Note that the statement "[The constants] are, by their very nature, not the type of things that can be given natural explanations," does not mean the finely-tuned constants and quantities are themselves non-natural. Of course they are natural! Rather, we are able to see, because they are initial conditions simply placed into the big bang event, that they do not have purely natural explanations.

    Okay, so you are claiming that the constants are natural.

    Quote:

    These[the constants] are, by their[the constants] very nature, not the type of things that can be given natural explanations.

    And yet somehow by their nature, you can tell that they do not have natural explanations.
    Tell me, how do you tell the difference between natural and non-natural things? It seems to me that a primary causation (supernatural) by god would be natural in your worldview (just like the constants are 'natural'). I think your definitions of 'natural' and 'supernatural' here are at odds.

    Now that/b>, I think, will be a fatal blow!

  12. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Yes I certainly have no problem that an uncovered, undeciphered symbol might be inaccessible to 'science'. This is no more worrying than the fact that we can't ever know many things in the earth's history because we weren't there…

    If you were there, would that matter? No. The meaning of the symbol would still be inaccessible to science. Because meaning is by nature metaphysical.

    Christianity is falsifiable.

    Tell me, how do you tell the difference between natural and non-natural things? It seems to me that a primary causation (supernatural) by god would be natural in your worldview (just like the constants are 'natural'). I think your definitions of 'natural' and 'supernatural' here are at odds.

    Complete misunderstanding. God generally operates via secondary causation – which by all appearances would be natural phenomena. God sometimes works by primary causation – which would generally appear to be miraculous; examples include the creation of the universe from nothing, the resurrection of Jesus.

  13. OriginalSimon
    OriginalSimon says:

    Because meaning is by nature metaphysical.

    I think that meaning is the manipulation of concepts (which are physical) in the brain. Do you have any evidence that meaning (or anything) is metaphysical?

    Christianity is falsifiable.

    I am quite interested as to how, since "no amount of natural explanations contradicting the claims of some Christians can refute Christianity"

    Complete misunderstanding.

    No, not at all! Your views are contradictory. You say that the fundamental constants are natural, but have supernatural explanations, and you can tell that they have supernatural explanations from their nature. So clearly there is something different about the fundamental that tell you that they do not have a natural explanation. What is it? What is it about the fundamental constants that tells you that they have supernatural explanations/origins?

  14. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Original Simon, Long time, no hear from you. I see your back with your usual standards of reasoning.

    Meaning is physical. LOL.

    I am quite interested as to how [Christianity is falsifiable], since "no amount of natural explanations contradicting the claims of some Christians can refute Christianity"

    Quite easy. Christianity can be falsified by establishing that a natural explanation contradicts a claim made by all Christians. For instance, producing the body of Jesus would contradict the resurrection (a central doctrine, which would be a doctrine affirmed by all Christians as essential) and falsify Christianity. Likewise, a proof for atheism would constitute a defeater for Christianity, being a theistic religion.

    What is it about the fundamental constants that tells you that they have supernatural explanations/origins?

    Not reading very closely are you, Simon. I've answered this numerous times. Its that they are INITIAL conditions.

  15. OriginalSimon
    OriginalSimon says:

    So I take it that you have no evidence that meaning is non-physical.

    I have never heard anyone talk about the fundamental constants as INITIAL, though. I assume that that is a label that people with theistic motivations have pushed on to it.

  16. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Original Simon,

    Your suggestion that meaning is the manipulation of concepts doesn't even make sense. Its a circular definition. I don't feel the need to disprove absurdities.

    Regarding the fact that you've never heard of "initial" conditions, and your assumption that this is a label attributed to them by people with theistic motivations: Sorry, but that just shows your ignorance.

  17. OriginalSimon
    OriginalSimon says:

    It's not like there is an archetypal, abstractity "dog" sitting somewhere in god's library which every brain is imbued with. The generality "dog" is a symbol in our minds, which we can shunt around, and we all have slightly different ones. You and I will derive/attribute slightly different meaning to the word "dog" that depends upon our experiences (and maybe genes).

    I do find it strange that you would claim that meaning is metaphysical without any evidence or examples.

    Fundamental constants are part of physics, and part of the Standard Model. Granted I have heard people talk along the lines of "what if they were different", but I havn't heard a scientist/cosmologist talk about them as "initial conditions" (but perhaps you can point this out to me). And as I pointed out earlier there is even some evidence to suggest that they might not be constant.

  18. Jason
    Jason says:

    James Hannam pointed out in his book God's Philosophers, that it was indeed people who believed in astrology, and who understood it, who debunked astrology.

    Attempting to refute something you're completely ignorant of? Well I have said before that hubris is the prime atheistic motivator.

  19. Allan
    Allan says:

    I just happened upon this site and hope you don’t mind my throwing my two cents in, because I found the idea of the atheist's argument interesting, although I have to admit I basically skipped straight to the conclusion without reading everything in between.
    So, maybe by skipping everything in between, I have missed the foundation that holds up your final conclusion, but it seems to me that it’s only going to hold up from the Christian perspective, and that’s an unacceptably narrow one.
    How is “divine” defined”, and how is “God” defined (and “miracle” for that matter)?

    It seems to me that your conclusion would more logically be rewritten as:

    If evolution is true, then something supernatural has taken place.
    Evolution is true.
    Therefore, something supernatural has taken place.
    Therefore, God or a god or gods/beings with more capabilities than humans exist.

    I'd be interested in what you think about this.

  20. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Good observation. I'll bear that in mind, though I think that further conceptual analysis of the intelligence required in the two design arguments I gave would give us more reason to think there was one divine agent rather than more than one. One could also bring in further arguments to argue that the intelligence therein was unique. But the point of the argument is really not to prove monotheism, but to show that, given evolution, theism is a better explanation than naturalism.

  21. Brandon
    Brandon says:

    Excellent post. May I suggest you re-edit and repost? You said, “The odds they calculated for the assembly of the human gnome…” where I can only hope you meant “genome”.

    grace and peace.

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