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Sarfati reviews Dawkins' 'The Greatest Show on Earth'

Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International and author of numerous works including By Design: Evidence for nature’s Intelligent Designer—the God of the Bible and Refuting Compromise, has posted a preview of his forthcoming response to Dawkins’ new book. He writes:

Prominent antitheist and self-styled “atheist” Richard Dawkins has written a new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Ironically, he admits about all his previous pro-evolution books:

“Looking back on these books, I realized that the evidence for evolution is nowhere explicitly set out, and that it seemed like a good gap to close.”
Naturally, CMI is preparing a book to answer Dawkins’ latest. In a chapter about alleged bad design, Dawkins had a section about the loss of wings and evolution of features like halteres, the little drumstick-like stabilizers behind the one pair of wings on flies.

To set the stage, Dawkins related the theory of English evolutionist (and former debate partner1) John Maynard Smith (1920–2004) about the evolution of flying creatures. Maynard-Smith argued that flying creatures evolved first with high stability and low maneuverability (e.g. with the long pterosaur tail or an insect’s long abdomen). Then they shortened, which caused lower stability but greater maneuverability, and they evolved advanced sensory equipment to stabilize by fast reactions (e.g. larger semicircular canals in pterosaurs or halteres in flies).

Even when Dawkins wrote, there were already dragonflies in the ointment, so to speak, because they have both long bodies (stability) but are also highly maneuverable and have advanced navigation systems. Furthermore, even known pterosaur types didn’t fit this theory, as Dawkins admitted in passing. But after writing our response to this Dawkins “Just-so” story, this new pterosaur turned up, and it adds a final demolition point. This new pterosaur, which to be fair Dawkins could not have known about when he wrote, has the stability of the long tail as well as the advanced correction features before loss of stability supposedly drove the selection for the advanced flying skills.

As a sneak peek, to show that we are indeed rebutting Dawkins’ claims, here is a draft section from our forthcoming book answering The Greatest Show on Earth.

Read the rest.

Consciousness and the limits of Science

Let me begin by nailing my colours to the mast. I count myself a materialist, in the sense that I take consciousness to be a species of brain activity. Having said that, however, it seems to me evident that no description of brain activity of the relevant kind, couched in the currently available languages of physics, physiology, or functional or computational roles, is remotely capable of capturing what is distinctive about consciousness. So glaring, indeed, are the shortcomings of all the reductive programmes currently on offer, that I cannot believe that anyone with a philosophical training, looking dispassionately at these programmes, would take any of them seriously for a moment, were in not for a deep-seated conviction that current physical science has essentially got reality taped, and accordingly, something along the lines of what the reductionists are offering must be correct. To that extent the very existence of consciousness seems to me to be a standing demonstration of the explanatory limitations of contemporary physical science.

Michael Lockwood, philosophy professor and fellow of Green College, Oxford, in his article Consciousness and the quantum worlds. In Q. Smith and A. Jokric (eds.), Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives, 447–467. Oxford: Clarendon (2003).

Michael Ruse on why the New Atheists are a "bloody disaster"

Michael Ruse, the atheist philosopher of biology, has written an interesting post about the extremism and intellectual failures of the “New Atheists”. Ruse teaches at the Florida State University and is himself an ardent critic of Creationism and Intelligent Design, authoring numerous books on the topic and in the philosophy of science (“Darwinism defended: a guide to the evolution controversies”, “Taking Darwin seriously: a naturalistic approach to philosophy”, “Biology and the foundation of ethics”, etc). But in his guest post on BeliefNet, Ruse argues that the New Atheists are doing “political damage to the cause of Creationism fighting” and even a “grave disservice” to science. In their campaign to keep Creationism out of schools, Ruse says “the new atheists have lamentably failed to prove their point, and excoriating people like me who show the failure is (again) not very helpful”.

Ruse is particularly critical of Richard Dawkins, proclaiming that “The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist”:

Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing. As I have said elsewhere, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for the ontological argument. If we criticized gene theory with as little knowledge as Dawkins has of religion and philosophy, he would be rightly indignant. (He was just this when, thirty years ago, Mary Midgeley went after the selfish gene concept without the slightest knowledge of genetics.) Conversely, I am indignant at the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group.

Read the whole thing here (HT: JT)

Scientist may have found how life began

On May 14th this year (2009) Reasons to Believe responded to two articles in the popular press. The first from the New York Times; “Chemist finds hidden gateway to RNA” and the second from Fox News; “Scientist may have found how life began.” The following is a transcript of their pod-cast Science News Flash with Joe Aguirre (JA) and Dr. Fuzale Rana (FR or “Fuzz”). Bracketed numbers are mine. Accurate transcript apart from a few omitted dead words.

JA: That’s a provocative title, and this is a headline grabbing discovery that you want to talk to us about.

FR: It is. This discovery was prompted by a paper published in today’s [May 14th] issue of Nature. A team of scientists in the Manchester University of England who discovered a novel prebiotic chemical route to generating building block materials that people think were critical for establishing the origin of life in an evolutionary perspective. This is very interesting, very exciting work, because not only have they discovered what they think to be a novel prebiotic route (to these building block materials) but their way of approaching the whole origin of life problem is radically different than anything that’s been done before. This is considered to be a ground-breaking study in that it is really going to overturn the paradigm – or at least they way people approach the paradigm (again from an evolutionary stand-point). So a real exciting discovery – excellent work experimentally speaking – and of pretty broad ranging significance, not only to the origin of life question, but also to the creation/evolution controversy. So hopefully we can un-package that. Read more

Wilberforce Forum – Intelligent Design and Darwinism

MP3 Interview with leading Intelligent Design proponent Dr. Stephen Meyer here.

“The inaugural radio Forum will be Sunday, May 30, 2009 featuring Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, Director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture, the Discovery Institute, Seattle, Washington. He demonstrates that the digital code imbedded in DNA points to a designing intelligence and brings into focus an issue that Darwin did not address.”

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wilberforceforum/2009/05/31/Wilberforce-Forum-Intelligent-Design-and-Darwinism-

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/steve-meyer-interview-concerning-his-new-book/


Sir Harry Kroto, Science and Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes:

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

Further reading:

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

The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science

January 15th, 2009, Robin Lloyd, Senior editor for LiveScience.com wrote a popular news article discussing the Jesse Preston of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her colleague Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago psychological experiments on the trouble with reconciling Science and Religion. Her conclusions highlight the need for careful thought on integration.

When it comes to the ultimate questions, it’s really just one thing at a time, Preston says. People rarely think about these problems, however, so most people live their lives without paying much attention to how the universe started or how life began, Preston said. 1

Salman Hameed responds to her findings,

However, Hampshire College science historian Salman Hameed says Preston and Epley’s framing of the issues and interpretation of their findings are bound up in a particular view of science and religion known as the “conflict thesis.” Yes, sometimes particular scientific and religious claims conflict, but there are numerous examples of individuals, such as Isaac Newton, who saw no inherent conflict between their scientific and religious convictions, Hameed said.

The experiment’s results actually may reveal cultural forces – a specific way of thinking about science and religion – dating back to the 19th century, Hameed said, and these have shaped people’s thinking about science and religion. 

If society has been primed that science and religion have been in conflict, and that is the dominant narrative, then maybe all we are seeing is the effect of that priming, rather than the actual conflict,” Hameed said. Society and journalists like conflict stories because they grab attention, but science and religion interactions are more complex and defy over-simplistic oppositional categories, he said. 2

Reasons to Believe respond in their latest podcast of Science News Flash, 21 Jan 2009. There Kenneth Samples references the article of his, The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science 3. He serves as RTB’s Vice President of Philosophy/Theology.

Kenneth Samples gives four reasons why historically science and Christianity have been allies rather than enemies. Contrary to the claims of the “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens science and Christianity are not at war, but enjoy a healthier dialogue today than they ever have. The “Conflict thesis” suffers from a lack of support from historians and philosophers of science, and serves today as sensationalist fodder from the news media. 

Samples writes,

Conflicts between scientific theories and the Christian faith have arisen through the centuries, to be sure. However, the level of conflict has often been exaggerated, and Christianity’s positive influence on scientific progress is seldom acknowledged. I would like to turn the tables by arguing for Christianity’s compatibility with – and furtherance of scientific endeavor and arguing against the compatibility of naturalism and science. 4

The four reasons he supplies are as follows. 

(1) The intellectual climate that gave rise to modern science (roughly three centuries ago) was decisively shaped by Christianity.

(2) The principles underlying the scientific method (testability, verification/falsification) arise from the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. The experimental method was clearly nurtured by Christian doctrine.

While Christians have plenty of room to grow in the virtues of discernment, reflection, and vigorous analysis, the wisdom literature of the Old Testament consistently exhorts God’s people to exercise them, and the New Testament teaches the same message (see Col. 2:8; 1 Thes. 5:2 1; 1 Jn. 4: 1). These principles served as the backdrop for the emerging experimental method.5

(3) The philosophical presuppositions foundational to the study of science are rooted in Christian theism’s claims of an infinite, eternal, and personal creator who has carefully ordered the universe and provided man with a mind that corresponds to the universe’s intelligibility. This Christian schema served as the intellectual breeding ground for modern science.

Christian philosopher Greg L. Bahnsen argues not only that naturalism fails to justify its underlying presuppositions but also that naturalists illegitimately rest their scientific endeavors on Christian theistic principles. Naturalists borrow from Christianity. Consider this insightful observation by physicist and popular author Paul Davies:

People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature-the laws of physics-are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they came from; at least they do not do so in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as law-like order in nature that is at least partly comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.6

One may wonder if science would have arisen had the dominant metaphysical views of the time been naturalistic and materialistic. Would naturalism have been able to sustain the scientific enterprise that Christian theism generated? The eminent Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga gives his opinion: “Modern science was conceived, and born, and flourished in the matrix of Christian theism. Only liberal doses of self-deception and double-think, I believe, will permit it to flourish in the context of Darwinian naturalism.”7, 8

(4) The prevailing scientific notions of big bang cosmology and the emerging anthropic principle seem uniquely compatible with Christian theism.

Footnotes:

1. Robin Lloyd, “God and Science: An Inner Conflict” (http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20090115/sc_livescience/godandscienceaninnerconflict; Retrieved 27 Jan, 2009), 15 Jan 2009

2. Ibid. 

3. Kenneth Samples, “The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science” (http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/christianscience.shtml; Retrieved 27 Jan, 2009), 1998.

4. Ibid. 

5. Ibid. 

6. As cited in Michael Bumbulis, “Christianity and the Birth of Science,” August 4, 1998, p. 21, http://www.ldolphin.org/bumbulis/

7. Alvin Plantinga, “Darwin, Mind and Meaning”, November 17, 1997, p. 8

8. Kenneth Samples, “The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science” .(http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/christianscience.shtml; Retrieved 27 Jan, 2009), 1998.

Scientism

Atheistic blogging of late has generated a lot of dry tinder for intellectual cannons. It goes to show, like Richard Dawkin’s book The God Delusion, that brilliant scientists can make miserable philosophers. Today I’m going to look at what scientism is, and why it’s clearly irrational.

As a methodological principle, if I want a definition for a philosophical term, I go to a philosopher. J. P. Moreland, distinguished professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology writes;

Strong scientism is the view that some proposition or theory is true or rational if and only if it is a scientific proposition or theory. That is, if and only if it is a well-established scientific proposition or theory that, in turn, depends upon its having been successfully formed, tested, and used according to appropriate scientific methodology. There are no truths apart from scientific truths, and even if there were, there would be no reason whatever to believe them…

[W]eak scientism allows for the existence of truth apart form science and are even willing to grant that they can have some minimal, positive rationality status without the support of science. But, science is the most valuable, most serious, and most authoritative sector of human learning. If strong scientism is true, then theology is not a rational enterprise at all and there is no such thing as theological knowledge. If weak scientism is true, then the conversation between theology and science will be a monologue with theology listening to science and waiting for science to give it support. For thinking Christians, neither of these alternatives is acceptable.1

STRONG SCIENTISM

Now strong scientism is self-refuting. That is, if strong scientism is true, then it is also false by its own merits. At base level, strong scientism is self-referencially incoherent. Things that are self-refuting are not merely false, but necessarily false. To dissect further, lets ask a couple of questions generated in response to the recent statement, “If you don’t use honest process like science you don’t get to the truth.2

Is the statement “If you don’t use [an] honest process like science you don’t get to the truth,” true? If it is not true then it is false. If it is true then that statement, which itself was not arrived at by a scientific process, breaks its own rule. This is a philosophical claim about science methodology, and not a scientific claim established by the scientific process. Therefore, the statement is false either way.

Perhaps what was meant is, “If you don’t use [an] honest process like science you won’t be able to know if the conclusion is the truth or not.3

This rephrasing does avoids self-refutation, but leaves the ‘honest process of science’ self-defeating. As a philosophical statement about how we know truth and not scientific one, we have no way of knowing if the statement itself is true or not. If it is false then we shouldn’t believe that science is the only process by which we attain truth. If it is true, then as the statement did not come via the scientific process, we cannot know it is true.

Perhaps a more generous reading of the modified statement is required, and “an honest process like science” means we should include other methods such as logic, philosophy and experience as ways one can discover and know truth. If that is the case this would severely undermine the charge of scientism displayed by atheistic bloggers and open the door once again for a two way dialogue on God’s existence. Alternatively, perhaps it means to exclude dishonest processes4 such as those supposedly employed by Christian apologists. But as apologists use philosophy and other truth gathering methods that effectively drains away all meaning from the point originally being made (which was it is illegitimate to plug God into a gap where there is scientific ignorance5), and the task of the apologist’s detractor remains the same – to show that the method or argument used in garnering specific truths is faulty.

WEAK SCIENTISM

There are two considerations that equally undermine both strong scientism and weak scientism.

FIRST

It does not adequately allow for the task of justifying the assumptions necessary for science’s success. The practice of science relies upon some necessary presuppositions that themselves need to be supported. Science cannot be strung up on thin air.

But the conclusions of science cannot be more certain than the presuppositions it rests on in order to reach those conclusions. Thus it is philosophy, and not science, which is in a better position and is the far stronger candidate for being the paradigm of rationality.

A list of the assumptions is given here;6

(1) The existence of a theory-independant world

(2) the orderly nature of the external word

(3) the knowability of the external world.

(4) the existence of the truth

(5) the laws of logic

(6) the reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment

(7) the adequacy of language to describe the world

(8) the existence of values used in science (honesty)

(9) the uniformity of nature and induction

(10) the existence of numbers.

SECOND

Truth can be known apart from the scientific process. There are many fields outside science and wholly apart from the scientific process that provide us with true, rationally justified beliefs. Highlighted here are five of these areas.

First, logical and mathematical proofs.

  • 1 + 1 = 2
  • Laws of inference, (e.g., modus ponems, disjunctive syllogism)
  • Law of non-contradiction, (e.g., you cannot be man and non-man at the same time and the same place)

Second, metaphysical truths.

  • There are other minds that are not my own,
  • The past was not created five minutes ago with the appearance of age.

Third, ethical beliefs or value judgements of right and wrong.

  • It is wrong to torture babies for fun.
  • Feeding the poor is a virtue.
  • Kicking orphans and widows is wicked.

Fourth, there are aesthetic judgements,

  • A sunrise beaming through a morning fog is beautiful.
  • The glacial lake surrounded by ice-capped mountains is inspiring.
  • Mozart’s second symphony is sublime.

Fifth, certain propositions.

  • Red is a colour.
  • I am now thinking about science.

All these examples are well within our rational rights to believe, though we have no confirmation of their truth from science. In fact, one hundred years from now all these will still be perfectly rational and hold greater epistemic status than certain scientific theories. For instance the metaphysical truth that I am not only a brain being stimulated in a vat, or that absolute truth exists, hold greater warrant than the science that says the plane I’m on will successfully supersede the law of gravity according to the laws of aerodynamics, or the major cause of global warming the human carbon footprint.

CONCLUSION

Considering the above it becomes evident that scientism, in either its weak and strong form, is a hindrance to science. It is also anathema to truth and bears a striking resemblance to the dogmatism the advocates of scientism wish to avoid. It is for this reason that scientism is considered among philosophers to be a bankrupt system of thought and avoided at the cost of rationality. Nicholas Rescher, University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, concludes;

The theorist who maintains that science is the be-all and end-all — that what is not in science books is not worth knowing — is an ideologist with a peculiar and distorted doctrine of his own. For him, science is no longer a sector of the cognitive enterprise but an all-inclusive world-view. This is the doctrine not of science but of scientism. To take this stance is not to celebrate science but to distort it by casting the mantle of its authority over issues it was never meant to address.7

FOOTNOTES

1. J. P. Moreland, Love God With All Your Mind (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997), P. 144-145.

2. Ken Perrott, “Fine tuning of the universe?”, 75., (http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/fine-tuning-of-the-universe; Retrieved 13 Jan, 2009)

3. Heraclides, “‘Scientism’ in the eyes of the beholder”, 14., (http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2009/01/05/scientism-in-the-eyes-of-the-beholder; Retrieved 13 Jan, 2009)
4. Ibid., 23.

5. Ken Perrott and James, “Fine tuning of the universe?”, 70, 72., (http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/fine-tuning-of-the-universe; Retrieved 13 Jan, 2009). See also Stuart McEwing, “The “god-of-the-gaps” argument”, 6, 7, 11, 17., (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2008/the-god-of-the-gaps-argument; 28 Dec, 2008)

6. J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press: 2003) p. 348.

7. Nicholas Rescher, The Limits of Science (Berkley, University of California Press: 1984).

Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy

Given the coming year of Darwin, here is a $20 USD MP3 course you can buy and download:

http://www.teach12.com/ttcx/CourseDescLong2.aspx?cid=174

It may be a useful investment for the coming year.

 

The "god-of-the-gaps" argument

The general idea is that the god-of-the-gaps argument represents a god who resides in the ‘gaps’ of human knowledge. Because the gaps in human knowledge will almost inevitable shrink this supposedly reduces the need for God and relegates Him to lesser and lesser portion, eventually rendering God’s existence unnecessary or irrelevant. 

In recent times the god-of-the-gaps argument is used most often as an objection to the arguments of natural theology advanced by philosophers and theologians who explain the gaps in scientific knowledge as specific acts of God. As such it is a variant of the argument from ignorance which is a logical informal fallacy. 

Here is an example of an argument where the god-of-the-gaps objection is used to show it is informally invalid.  

  (1) Science has yet to explain how the biological diversity of life on earth originated.

  (2) The gaps must be filled by God

  (3) Therefore, the biological diversity of life on earth proves, or at least helps to show the existence of God. 

Other example of arguments include the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the fine-tuning of the conditions necessary for intelligent life. It is worth pointing out that the above argument does not represent the best of what teleology has to present.*

The idea is that placing God as the explanatory entity in the place of ignorance is an illegitimate move. Doing so either stops or hinders scientific enquiry, or leads to embarrassment when the gap is finally filled with a demonstrable or feasible naturalistic alternative. 

As the argument from ignorance is an informal fallacy, there are some considerations that may render such an argument, specifically in the case of premise (2) justifiable. Let us look at some.

 

(1) The best explanation

The teleological argument is best understood as inference to the best explanation. This means that placing God in the gap where there is ignorance is a valid move, for it has become a probabilistic argument not looking to establish the truth of God’s existence with logical necessity. When God is posited as the best explanation, whether justified or unjustified, the detractor of the argument needs to show how God does not meet the requirements of a best explanation by (i) offering a superior naturalistic alternative or (ii) providing a plausible reason why our concept of God would not fill the gap where our supposed ignorance remains. 

If one of these two requirements is not met the detractor of the design argument is merely placing something else in the gap, thus the god-of-the-gaps argument can be turned around on its head. For example, many people who use the god-of-the-gaps objection to the arguments of natural theology turn out to argue for a naturalism or scientism-in-the-gaps. I have even seen people place a provisional-agnostism-in-the-gaps! An illicit move when the argument is considering what is the best explanation, for provisional agnosticism can hardly claim to be an explanation.

(2) Distinguishing between experimental and origin science

In experimental science where things are repeatable demonstrated, placing God as an explanation to fill gaps in human knowledge is can rightly be called illegitimate. For one expects gaps in human understanding and that those gaps will eventually narrow or close with time. The idea of a gap however is that they are few and far between, or else the gaps would be described as massive plains of ignorance. Where positing God as an explanation to fill a gap where previously there was ignorance may be called legitimate is in origin science. Origin science deals with rare, often non-repeatable events and includes the study of history and forensic science. When the two branches of science are distinguished and it is obvious that researcher or investigator is operating with origin science, the gaps can assessed using Bayeseon formulae** or the criteria for the best explanation. Both methods assess the probability of given events by taking into account the relevant background knowledge, and the probability that we should have the evidence we do have given said event did not occur.

For instance, what is the probability we should have the evidence of the empty tomb, that the disciples believed they saw the resurrected Jesus, and the origin of the Christian faith such that they were willing to give their lives for their message, if God did not raise Jesus from the dead. The relevant background knowledge would be things like the expertise of Roman soldiers in execution by crucifixion, our other reasons provided by natural theology for believing that a god exists, and the cultural milieu in which Jesus’ ministry took place and the utter absence of the disciples expectation that Jesus would rise from the dead before the end of the age. 

 

(3) Distinguishing between explanatory models

A test that determines whether the gaps in human understanding are getting bigger or smaller could be used to determine which explanatory model is superior. A careful analysis of the history of science may show that the gaps are getting smaller, so that a naturalistic explanation would be in order, or else history may show the gaps are becoming wider, so that a supernatural explanation will be in order. 

Such a test may consist of the following four questions to asses the worth of different explanatory models.

1. Which model contains the fewer gaps?
2. Which model most accurately predicts where undiscovered gaps will be observed?
3. Which model most accurately forecast what scientists will discover as they use new data and technology to explore the gaps?
4. Which model is the least contrived and most straightforward in explaining both what is known and what is not yet known?

Once these criteria are assessed in light of explanatory models it could well be justified to assert that God is the better hypothesis or model. In this way, a researcher is basing the conclusion more on what is known, rather than what is unknown. 

 

(4) Distinguishing between ignorance and impossibility

It is helpful to see the intuitive distinction between the following two statements. (i) That we can’t see how such a thing can happen naturalistically. (ii) That we can see it is impossible for such a thing to happen naturalistically. A person who utilises the god-of-the-gaps argument will often level their charge at (i) failing to see that it is (ii) that is being advocated. Thus the god-of-the-gaps argument can become a straw man argument itself.

An example of this is G. W. Lebnitz’s argument against materialism and therefore for a substance duelism. Alvin Plantinga makes the above distinction, noting that (ii) is very different sort of claim than (i). 

 

(5) Begging the question

It begs the question to say there are no gaps at all, even if the gaps are getting smaller.

 

(6) Existential exclamations and the motivation for the scientific endeavour.

Advocates of the god-of-the-gaps argument often fail to understand what the theistic scientist or theologian means when they say ‘God did it.’ Most often the person is not a covering a gap of ignorance with a supernatural explanation but is expressing the wonder of God’s created order. Far from being a stopper or road-block to science it is a motivation for the theistic scientist to probe deeper into the mysteries of natural phenomenon. 

The theistic worldview provides not only motivation for good science, but the necessary philosophical underpinnings for the continuance of science. For instance, on theism God has endowed humans with cognitive faculties sufficient to understand the world, whereas on naturalism there is no such confidence. Similarly, theism guarantees rationality imbues the universe so that it is possible to discover laws in nature, whereas on atheism there is no such assurance. Alvin Plantinga manages to show that on naturalism there is no way to be assured about the reality of even physical objects, let alone that naturalism is itself true, for on naturalism our cognitive faculties are selected by evolution not for truth but for survival. Thus naturalism is at root self-defeating.

 

(7) Distinguish between primary and secondary causation

When the theistic scientist expresses the notion that God is responsible for unexplained natural phenomena, if he is not simply expressing his awe of the created order, is rather expressing a truth lost on the advocate of the god-of-the-gaps argument. The advocate of the god-of-the-gaps argument fails to distinguish between what the theist sees as primary causation and secondary causation. God can certainly be the one sustaining concurring with natural phenomena as a primary cause, but will operate through the agency of a secondary cause, say the laws of nature. 

The idea here is the theistic scientist utter a ‘Wow, this can only be achieved by a divine creator.’ Rather than this being the end of scientific inquiry, in the very next breath comes the next question, ‘How did God do this?’ Accordingly when gaps of ignorance are filled with knowledge and understanding, it does not relegate God to smaller spaces, but gives the scientist or researcher an extra reason to magnify God.

 

(8) Philosophical or theological expectations

A researcher or scientist may have philosophical or theological expectations of finding a gap with dimensions that make God a tidy explanation. Such as the beginning of the universe ex nihilo, or in the resurrection of Christ one expects to find a gap in scientific knowledge. In cases such as these, the god-of-the-gaps argument should be silenced, for given the philosophical or theological expectations it is wholly reasonable to posit God in the so-called gap. Two examples follow. 

First, early last century science suddenly struck upon empirical evidence for the beginning of the universe out of nothing, against the expectaions of the current cosmogony, namely the Steady State Theory. How the universe literally came into being is widely recognised to be a matter beyond science, for in the singularity, all material things, including time itself, began to exist. As science seeks to provide answers to all naturally occurring phenomenon the ultimate first cause of the origin of the universe will fall outside of the scientific endeavour. The formulation of Big Bang Cosmology creates a big “gap” for science, but a gap such as this has quite easily been filled by philosophers and theologians who expected it, for the cause of such an event can only be immaterial and timeless therefore changeless, uncaused and beginningless, enormously powerful and therefore a personal creator.

Second, The initial boundary conditions of the universe are themselves beyond the scope of science, and so one would expect explanations for these to also be outside science. 

This does not mean, in and of itself, that these expectations are not subject to naturalistic defeaters. But even if these laws or discoveries are not beyond science, based on current expectations of philosophy and theology, and in the absence of naturalistic defeaters one can be justified when positing God to fill such a gap.

 

(9) Auxiliary reasons

Similarly we can have auxiliary reasons to think that God fills the gap, for instance in the biblical texts, or other special revelation. Alvin Plantinga suggests it may be that such beliefs are basic, and result from when human cognitive faculties are functioning correctly in the appropriate environment.

 

(10) Religiously neutral premises

In religiously neutral premises the god-of-the-gaps argument can find no foothold. 

For instance, the second premise in the Kalam cosmological argument that the universe began to exist, can be found in almost any science text book. The first premise, that whatever begins to exist has a cause, is also religiously neutral as it does not take belief in God but only common sense to agree with it. Although the conclusion that therefore, the universe has a cause cannot be said to be religiously neutral, the charge of placing God in the gaps cannot therefore be levelled against the argument.

Another example, the premise the result of the appearance of design is either due not physical necessity, chance or design, carries with it no religious baggage. Plus it is entirely plausible as it seems to exhaust all the possibilities for the appearance of design. 

 

(11) The inference to design

The inference to design may come after sufficiently demonstrating that the appearance of design is not due to physical necessity or by chance. William Dembski has advanced a sophisticated and highly nuanced method for a design inference that does this. The inference to design hinges around the idea of ‘specified complexity,’ where the given probability is not only vanishingly small but also conforms to an independently given pattern.

 

(12) Design detection

According to Intelligent Design theorist one can discover the products of design without having any idea as to how those products came about. The practitioner of theistic science is therefore not committed either way to the gaps of history of the cosmos or understanding in human knowledge. The god-of-the-gaps objection usually fails to take this into account. 

 

(13) Motivations

The motivations of the advocates of design arguments are absolutely irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of the premise or the conclusion that follows. To claim the argument is unsound because of the religious or apologetic motivations is the genetic fallacy.

 

 

* Here is a better representative of the teleological argument. 

  (1′) The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.

  (2′) It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

  (3) Therefore, it is due to design.

 

**

Lays down the formula for calculating the probability of a hypothesis (H) on given evidence (E).

Lays down the formula for calculating the probability of a hypothesis (H) on given evidence (E).

Global Warming a New Religion

One of Leighton Smith’s pet topics on his talk radio show on Newstalk ZB, is global warming. He and I share similar opinions in this regard, and its edifying to hear someone in New Zealand with a modicum of sense surrounding the issue. 

I don’t know how I became sceptical of the global warming cultural phenomenon. Perhaps already being sceptical of evolutionary models that made me see the hype of global warming as the same old sensationalist rhetoric that accompanies a decisive lack of substantive evidence. Perhaps it was a dozen little things that collected and connected in my mind. 

Like the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) being chiefly composed of bureaucrats instead of scientists. Like the political momentum the debate has gathered. Like the ridicule aimed at respected scientist with doubts or dissenting views. Perhaps it was Al Gore’s reputation for honesty. Perhaps it was the late meteorologist Augie Auer puffing at the idea on Sports Cafe, calling it a ‘joke.’ Perhaps it was that I learnt that a single volcano pumps more CO2 into the atmosphere in (something like) a single hour than the whole of America does in a year.

Perhaps it was something else. Entrenching my scepticism were the videos linked bellow, especially The Man-made Global Warming Hoax, an excellent documentary. 

Now one has to point out first that Global Warming is not just the idea that the planet is slowly heating. This everyone agrees with. It is also the idea that man is responsible for the increase in temperature and it is on this point where the controversy lies. 

I don’t confess to be a scientist, but I do think of myself as a philosopher and the global warming cultural phenomenon makes for an interesting case study for the interaction with science and religion. As Leighton Smith said, global warming is not science, its a political agenda and a religious movement similar to that of the crusades in the middle ages.

So I ask, what is supporting the movement if not the science. I have a few suggestions aside from the media’s sensationalism below. Can you think of any more? Why is the global warming phenomenon gathered to itself so much momentum?

1) Humanism. A system that incorporates the belief that people are genuinely good and capable of saving themselves. Though responsible for destroying the environment through neglect and indifference, the enlightened mind is capable of renewing and restoring the natural order. In its extreme form it can manifest itself by the few intellectuals rising up to rule and manipulating and controlling the unthinking masses, and can also give justification for population control, which entails things like euthanasia, infanticide, abortion as a contraceptive method, and eugenics.

2) Misplaced Authority. It is a philosophical assumption whether one accepts scientists as authorities and what the say is true. In current culture scientist are the priests, and the popular religion is scientism. The past teaches us that scientists are fallible and often prone to error, so it questionably wise to accept a scientists word as final judgement. In fact, it is the genetic fallacy to conclude that something is either true or false based upon the origin (the scientist word) of that belief. Logic and its laws is an extremely technical sub-dicsipline of philosophy akin to mathematics so when one thinks to himself, or does any sort of reasoning he is using philosophy. 

4) Belief of an age old earth (as opposed to a young earth). The earth may well be ancient, nevertheless it is chiefly a philosophical question whether one accepts this view and denies the young earth view and the evidence for it. For when determining the age of something, this falls outside the observational scientific method and one must assume specific principles in order to hypothesise. Principles such as that the world was not created five minutes ago with the appearance of age, or that our current knowledge of the past is accurate, or uniformity. 

5) Uniformitarianism. This is the belief that the ‘past is the key to the present.’ It is the dogmatic assumption and application of the principle of uniformity, that holds that the same processes performed today in exactly the same conditions will yield the same results as they did yesterday, and the same result will result tomorrow. This principle is necessary for the success of science, but when assumed dogmatically may render predictions false or unsuccessful. For instance, this rules out a priori any world wide flood hypothesis.

6) Communism. This I hesitate to add, but the idea originated not with me but comes from the documentary The Man-made Global Warming Hoax. It suggests that the collapse of the Berlin wall and the disintegration of communism in the Soviet Union dispersed anti-capitalists throughout the west. Instead of promoting a political solution now they found in global warming a linchpin to hang their economic and social agendas.

 

More Resources:

On Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Io-Tb7vTamY

 

Documentary on The Man-made Global Warming Hoax (Parts 1-8)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpWa7VW-OME

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpX-Kae00s8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BJrdSRDVlQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rf6C0cMq3RU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkSmdaLkd60

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlSSwErKWQs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efxToyX5cPw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGZ1bHo6jR0

 

Glenn Beck telling Irena’s Story

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjmJGMZKCOg

Answering Objections to 'The Argument from Evolution' Part 2

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

(4) illegitimate use of probability calculations in evolutionary models

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(6) that improbability calculations should apply to creation models

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

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

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

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

That about wraps up my criticisms of your objections.

 

Footnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. Ibid.

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