Brute Facts Yellow Garbage CanCaleb Clanton wrote an article in the most recent volume of Philosophia Christi in defense of the cosmological argument.[1] More precisely, he argued for the principle of sufficient reason that undergirds the argument, and against the existence of brute facts which undercuts the argument. Here is a brief summary of his argument.

A contingent being is one whose existence is derived from a source outside of itself.  Everything we see around us is a contingent being: trees, rocks, planets, stars, and even the universe itself.  How did the set of all contingent beings originate?  While the vast majority of all contingent beings can be explained by appealing to a prior contingent being, this cannot go on ad infinitum because an infinite regress is logically absurd.  It follows, then, that the entire set of contingent beings cannot be explained by appealing to another contingent being because as the set of all contingent beings, there can’t be any additional contingent beings.  Only a being that is not contingent can explain the set.  A being that is not contingent is a necessary being, meaning it does not derive its existence from anything outside of itself, but has existence in and of itself by a necessity of its own nature.  Theists identify this necessary being as God. (more…)

jesus-is-truthPostmodern Christians who dismiss the veracity of propositional truth like to cite John 14:26 where Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  “Jesus is the truth,” they say, “not doctrinal statements.  Jesus is the only truth that matters.”

This way of interpreting Jesus’ statement presumes that Jesus is saying He is identical to the truth, such that to speak of the truth is to speak of Jesus.  Linguists call this the “is of identity.”  An example of this use of “is” would be the statement, “Barack Obama is the president of the United States.”  There is an identity relationship between the man Barack Obama and the office of the president of the United States.  Clearly that’s not the kind of “is” Jesus is referring to.  When Jesus says he is the truth, he is not making an identity statement such that “Jesus = the truth,” otherwise, “to say that ‘2+2=4’ is true is to say that ‘2+2=4’ is Jesus. In other words, Jesus is claiming to be a mathematical statement.”[1]

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Darwin_DoubtFor the previous installments: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Chapter 17

In this chapter, Meyer asks whether it is possible that the cause of the Cambrian explosion is an intelligent agent rather than naturalistic processes.  He argues that it is, and that the design hypothesis is better supported by the evidence than any naturalistic hypothesis.

Meyer looks closely at how historical science works.  It is different than physics and biology because you cannot experiment on the past.  What you can do, however, is develop multiple and competing hypotheses to determine which is the best explanation for the evidence at hand (inference to the best explanation).  One of the best ways to test competing hypotheses is on the basis of their causal adequacy; i.e. is the proposed cause adequate to produce the effect in question?  Remember, we have to explain the origin of biological information.  What sorts of causes, now in operation, are known to produce information?  Only one: intelligent agents.  If the basis of life is information, and the only known cause of information is intelligence, then it follows that an intelligent agent is not just the best explanation for biological information, but the only viable explanation. (more…)

Atheism dictionaryAtheists increasingly like to define atheism as the lack of belief in God rather than the affirmation that God does not exist, essentially transforming atheism from an ontological claim to a psychological state.  Richard Howe recently had an interesting critique of this redefinition, pointing out that on this definition of atheism both atheism and theism could be true:

It is becoming increasingly more common for atheists to define atheism, not as the denial of the existence of God, but as a lack of belief in the existence of God. … This definition of atheism entails the quirky conclusion that atheism is logically compatible with theism. This is so because if atheism is the lack of a belief in god, then it could be the case both that atheism is true (i.e., it could be the case that George Smith, for example, lacks the belief in God) while at the same time that God actually exists.[1]

 

See also:

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[1]Richard Howe, “God Can Exist Even if Atheism is True”; available from http://quodlibetalblog.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/god-can-exist-even-if-atheism-is-true/; Internet; accessed 15 December, 2014.

For the previous installments: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Chapter 14

Darwin_DoubtIn principle, a neo-Darwinian explanation of the origin of new body plans can only work if body plans are wholly determined at the genetic level.  If sources of information other than DNA are substantially responsible for the formation of body plans, then at best neo-Darwinism is inadequate as a holistic explanation for the diversification of life, and at worst it is simply the wrong explanation altogether.

Once again, modern discoveries in embryological development have discovered that there are many factors other than DNA that play a critical role in embryological development.  For example, it’s been shown that in many organisms, you can completely remove the DNA from the developing cells and the embryo will continue to develop up to a certain point.  If DNA alone was responsible for embryological development, this should be just as impossible as driving a car without gas.  If the car is driving, and there is no gas in the tank, then clearly something other than gas must be powering the car.  The same is true of embryological development.  While DNA is necessary to embryological development, it is not sufficient in itself.  There are sources of power other than DNA that are critical to the development of the organism.  Scientists call such sources “epigenetic information,” meaning it is information beyond the genetic information coded in DNA.

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Here’s another great video from William Lane Craig, this time on the fine-tuning of the universe for the existence of life (see also his video on the kalam cosmological argument).

Darwin_DoubtFor the previous installments: part 1, 2, 3, 4.

Chapter 12

Scientists largely ignored the mathematicians who pointed out the seeming impossibility of creating new genes and proteins because the mathematical equations of population genetics pointed to a nearly limitless creative power of random mutations.  Given known mutation rates, population sizes, and reproduction rates, there seemed to be no end to what evolution could accomplish.  The problem with this conclusion is that population genetics is based on some assumptions that we now know to be false.

When the neo-Darwinian synthesis (the idea that evolutionary change is driven by natural selection acting on random genetic mutations) was formulated in the 1930s, biologists did not yet understand the structure of genes.  Watson and Crick would not discover the structure of DNA and the digital code it uses to build proteins until 1953 and beyond.  Prior to this, genes were only understood functionally as those entities that determine visible and selectable traits such as eye color and the number of toes on our feet.  It was assumed that single genetic mutations could alter genes in such a way so as to produce a new function, and that one gene could be responsible for building a complex structure.  Given these assumptions, it’s easy to envision an organism slowly improving one mutation at a time.  Today, however, we know that these assumptions are patently false:

  • Hundreds of proteins are often required to create a complex system. To build that system would require changes to hundreds of genes.  Furthermore, because the function of these systems depends on the coordination of several well-matched parts, these new proteins (or proteins with new functions) must arise at the same time.[1]
  • To change or improve the function of a single protein typically requires multiple, coordinated amino acid changes, which in turn requires multiple, coordinated changes in the DNA. Because the new function depends on the coordination of multiple mutations, every mutation must be present in the protein at once.

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