Monday, October 9th, 2006


Oxford’s Richard Dawkins, the world’s most famous evolutionist and atheist, continues to vilify religion in his new book, The God Delusion. In an essay explaining and promoting the book on his website Dawkins offered a lot of food for a lack of thought. Concerning the kalaam cosmological argument Dawkins writes:

 

Accepting, then, that the God Hypothesis is a proper scientific hypothesis whose truth or falsehood is hidden from us only by lack of evidence, what should be our best estimate of the probability that God exists, given the evidence now available? Pretty low I think, and I spend a couple of chapters of The God Delusion explaining why.

Most of the traditional arguments for God’s existence, from Aquinas on, are easily demolished. Several of them, such as the First Cause argument, work by setting up an infinite regress which God is wheeled out to terminate. But we are never told why God is magically able to terminate regresses while needing no explanation himself. To be sure, we do need some kind of explanation for the origin of all things. Physicists and cosmologists are hard at work on the problem. But whatever the answer – a random quantum fluctuation or a Hawking/Penrose singularity or whatever we end up calling it – it will be simple. Complex, statistically improbable things, by definition, don’t just happen; they demand an explanation in their own right. They are impotent to terminate regresses, in a way that simple things are not. The first cause cannot have been an intelligence – let alone an intelligence that answers prayers and enjoys being worshipped. Intelligent, creative, complex, statistically improbable things come late into the universe, as the product of evolution or some other process of gradual escalation from simple beginnings. They come late into the universe and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it.

Even before Darwin’s time, the illogicality was glaring: how could it ever have been a good idea to postulate, in explanation for the existence of improbable things, a designer who would have to be even more improbable? The entire argument is a logical non-starter, as David Hume realized before Darwin was born.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>

Obviously Dawkins does not do much reading of theistic apologists, because his “clever” objection has been answered time and time again. Such ignorance is unacceptable for an Oxford scholar.

 

But let’s say the answer was not accounted for. Does that matter? Would it lessen the force of the argument that the universe needs a cause, and that the cause must be supernatural (immaterial, non-spatial, and non-temporal)? No! Assuming God had a cause, the fact that we would not know what caused Him no more argues against His existence and causal necessity than the fact that I don’t know who my great-great-great-great grandparents were argues against the fact that my great-great-great grandparents are the cause of my existence.

 

What does Dawkins think the failure of OOL (origin of life) research does to the strength and coherence of Darwinism?

 

The origin of life on this planet – which means the origin of the first self-replicating molecule – is hard to study, because it (probably) only happened once, 4 billion years ago and under very different conditions. We may never know how it happened. Unlike the ordinary evolutionary events that followed, it must have been a genuinely very improbable – in the sense of unpredictable – event: too improbable, perhaps, for chemists to reproduce it in the laboratory or even devise a plausible theory for what happened. This weirdly paradoxical conclusion – that a chemical account of the origin of life, in order to be plausible, has to be implausible – would follow from the premise that life is extremely rare in the universe. And to be sure, we have never encountered any hint of extraterrestrial life, not even by radio – the circumstance that prompted Enrico Fermi’s cry: “Where is everybody?”

How convenient. No evidence is evidence; failure is success. It can never be demonstrated, therefore it is true; to be plausible it must be implausible. Yes, Richard, that is quite weird. In fact, it’s more than weird. It’s irrational and foolish. How is the failure of scientists to give a purely naturalistic account for the OOL evidence that the OOL came about through purely naturalistic means? Without any empirical evidence that life can come from non-life (yet alone that it did in the past), how can it be considered a fact? How can he, a lover of science, be so certain that life originated naturally if there is no scientific evidence that it did? Ahh…it’s because his conclusion is not rooted in science, but in the philosophy of materialism. As is often the case with atheistic scientists, philosophy trumps science when the two are in conflict.

 

Dawkins shows how he is part of the new brand of atheists who affirm the more modest claim that there is no good reason to believe God exists, rather than the strong claim that there is no God: “We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can’t disprove Thor, fairies and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can’t disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.”

 

Why is Dawkins so hostile to religion?

 

Scientists have a particular reason to be hostile to any systematically organized effort to teach children to reject evidence in favour of faith, revelation, authority and tradition. Religion teaches people to be satisfied with petty, small-minded non-explanations or mysteries, and this is a tragedy, given that the true explanations are so enthralling. Moreover, such hostility as I have is limited to words. I am not going to bomb anybody, behead them, stone them, burn them at the stake, crucify them, or fly planes into their skyscrapers, just because of a theological disagreement.

Here is the typical faith vs. science dichotomy in which faith is blind but science is pure objective rationality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Faith is not blind, but a reasoned judgment in reality. Faith is informed by the evidence, not in spite of it.

 

One of the more surprising quotes is this one:

 

Just as Darwinian biology raised our consciousness to the power of science to explain things outside biology, and just as feminists taught us to flinch when we hear “One man one vote”, I want us to flinch when we hear of a ‘Christian child’ or a ‘Muslim child”. Small children are too young to know their views on life, ethics and the cosmos. We should no more speak of a Christian child than of a Keynesian child, a monetarist child or a Marxist child. Automatic labelling of children with the religion of their parents is not just presumptuous. It is a form of mental child abuse.

No comment is necessary. This speaks for itself.

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<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>Richard Dawkins, “Richard Dawkins Explains His Latest Book” available from http://richarddawkins.net/mainPage.php?bodyPage=article_body.php&id=170 as of 9/20/06, but subsequently removed on 9/23/06. It was reproduced at http://id-idea.blogspot.com/2006/09/richard-dawkins-explains-his-latest.html; Internet; accessed 03 October 2006.

TIME magazine’s latest cover story, “What Makes Us Different?”, explores just what it is that makes man different from chimps. Do you think they identified it as a qualitative difference rooted in the fact that we are made in the image of God? Of course not. Genetics explains it all. Of the many quotable quotes, this really caught my eye:

Yet tiny differences, sprinkled throughout the genome, have made all the difference. Agriculture, language, art, music, technology and philosophy–all the achievements that make us profoundly different from chimpanzees and make a chimp in a business suit seem so deeply ridiculous–are somehow encodedarranged in a specific order, that endow us with the brainpower to outthink and outdo our closest relatives on the tree of life. They give us the ability to speak and write and read, to compose symphonies, paint masterpieces and delve into the molecular biology that makes us what we are.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> within minute fractions of our genetic code. Nobody yet knows precisely where they are or how they work, but somewhere in the nuclei of our cells are handfuls of amino acids,

Laid side by side, these three sets of genetic blueprints [human, chimpanzee, and Neanderthal]—plus the genomes of gorillas and other primates, which are already well on the way to being completely sequenced—will not only begin to explain precisely what makes us human but could lead to a better understanding of human diseases and how to treat them.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]<!–[endif]–>

Two things should be noted. First, notice their use of design language: “encoded,” “arranged in a specific order.” Natural selection is blind and random. It can’t encode or arrange anything. Only designers can do that. It’s amazing how often those who deny design affirm it in the way they speak. They simply cannot escape their intuitive recognition of design.

Second, I am struck by the reductionism advanced in this article (reductionism is when what is perceived to be two things are reduced to one). For the authors, we don’t simply have genes; we are our genes. What makes us human can be reduced to our genes (“genetic blueprints…explain precisely what makes us human”). Furthermore, behaviors peculiar to human beings such as ingenuity, creativity, and speech, can all be explained entirely in terms of genetics. If we were able to insert the genes for writing and creativity into a chimp, he may become the next Shakespeare.

The authors commit the fallacy of deducing causation from correlation. This fallacy mistakenly assumes that if there is a correlation between A and B, A must be the cause of B. If a particular gene (A) correlates with a certain behavior (B), it must be the cause of that behavior. To see why this reasoning is fallacious consider the following example: every morning the rooster crows, and then the sun rises; therefore, the rooster’s crow causes the sun to rise. This is obviously fallacious. Consider another example: studies have shown a correlation between reading ability and feet size. Those with very small feet cannot read, while those with larger feet can. Larger feet, therefore, cause one’s ability to read. That might sound persuasive until you learn that those with very small feet are toddlers who have not yet been taught to read!

The authors mistakenly assume that if there is a correlation between a particular gene and a particular human behavior/ability, that the gene must be the cause of the behavior. That could be, but it cannot be assumed based on the correlation alone. As dualists, we would argue that the soul utilizes the genes to perform such behaviors and exercise such abilities, but that the abilities themselves are grounded in the soul. This does not deny the causal involvement of the genes, but it removes them from being the ultimate cause to a mere intermediate cause. It’s one thing to say certain genes are involved in certain behaviors/abilities, but wholly another to say certain genes cause those behaviors/abilities.

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HT: Scott at Uncommon Descent


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<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>Michael Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman, “What Makes Us Different?”, TIME magazine, 01 October 2006; available from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1541283,00.html; Internet; accessed 05 October 2006.

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]<!–[endif]–>Michael Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman, “What Makes Us Different?”, TIME magazine, 01 October 2006; available from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1541283-2,00.html; Internet; accessed 05 October 2006.

Is it just me, or does Val Kilmer look like Bishop Justinian of
Transdniestria?

Bart Ehrman, a leading NT textual critic, recently wrote a book by the above title that has been selling like hot-cakes. The book is an introduction to the field of NT textual criticism for a lay audience, but with a theological agenda. Ehrman, an ex-Evangelical turned liberal agnostic, portrays the reliability of the NT text as uncertain. While he makes concessions to the contrary, the emphasis in his book is on our doubts about the text rather than our amazing certainty. Such an emphasis has caused many lay readers to seriously doubt the veracity of the NT.

 

Daniel Wallace has written an excellent review of the book entitled “The Gospel According to Bart.” Wallace is well-versed in the field of NT textual criticism. I would highly recommend you read his review. It is thorough, and yet fairly concise. And as always, Wallace is fair and respectful.

I never ceased to be amazed at all of the scientific inaccuracies and spin the mainstream media is responsible for when reporting on embryonic stem cell research and cloning (and to a lesser extent, abortion).

This morning I read an article on This Is London about English researchers who are seeking to clone human embryos using rabbit eggs rather than human eggs. If successful, the resulting embryo would be a chimera: part human, part non-human. In this case it would be 99.9% human, .1% rabbit.

Not to make light of the moral issues involved with creating chimeras, but I can’t help to laugh when I think about what would happen if one of these cloned embryos was allowed to be born (rather than killing it within 14 days). Can you imagine what little Johnny would say in his 4th grade class when he has to research and report on his genealogy: “I am part English, part Italian, and part rabbit. My mom is the Cadbury bunny, my grandpa is Peter Cottontail, and my great grandpa is the Easter Bunny!

Humor aside, while creating chimeras has been going on for some time now, I find it odd how cavalier the reporting on it is. It is reported on as if there are no qualms about joining human and animals together. Maybe it’s because there is usually so little animal DNA involved (or the converse). The scary thing is that eventually scientists will start mixing more and more genetic info together so that it will be difficult to distinguish whether the chimera is human, animal, or something else. Right now scientists are simply getting the public comfortable with the practice in principle. Then, they will use the boil-the-frog strategy in which they will gradually and incrementally increase the mixing of DNA until they are finally able to achieve the levels of genetic mixing they really desire. The process will be slow enough that we—like a frog—won’t realize we’re being boiled in a pot of water.

But I digress. The reason I bring this article to your attention is to highlight what the article did not say, and the spin on what they did say.

What they did not say is that what these scientists want to do is clone human beings. As a general rule scientists and the media go to great lengths to avoid the “C” word, even if it means being intellectually dishonest and redefining established scientific definitions. The author did admit that what is being produced is an embryo (which is more than American media will usually admit), but s/he would not say how that embryo is being produced. S/he leaves it as the vague “create embryos.”

The article ends with these words: “The embryos will be allowed to grow for only 14 days, at which point they will be cells smaller than a pinhead.” Apart from the fact that this sentence seems to stop short of an actual finish by failing to note that they will be killed by the 14th day, and apart from the fact that this is a strange way to end an article, what is said is a common liberal tactic to devalue the life of that which they advocate killing. Why else comment on the size of the embryo? The presupposition is that since they are so small, they do not have value. How being small deprives one of value is never explained or defended. It is merely assumed, and merely asserted. The next time you hear somebody repeat this line, a good question to ask them is Exactly what size does one have to be before they become valuable and obtain the right to life? Chirp chirp chirp chirp.