CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Occasionally an atheist or skeptic will tell me, after countless rounds of argumentation, that I still haven't provided so much as a "shred of evidence" that God exists. At that point I usually leave off my part in the discussion, knowing that I have more than met my responsibility as a Christian witness. I post this only to remind Christian apologists (me included) that we are charged to be wise with our use of time and energy:
 
As Christians, we believe that God is quite capable of revealing himself to humanity. Moreover we maintain that he has actually done so, through various forms of evidence.* These include the precise fine-tuning of the universe for life, the specifiable complexity of living organisms, universal human awareness of moral responsibility, the prophetic history of Israel, religious experience, and of course the miraculous ministry, crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Atheists, on the other hand, often argue that God is not only unknowable, but scientifically undefined and therefore meaningless. Since there is purportedly "no evidence" for God in principle – when "evidence" is narrowly defined as verifiable sightings or scientific detection of God himself, rather than some sort of supporting data or argument – the existence of God is unknowable in principle. This all leads to some rather fruitless discourse.
 
If for example I present the bacterial flagellum or the mammalian eye as evidence of intentionally designed complexity, the argument is rejected by atheists because we cannot actually detect the designer himself with scientific instruments, and therefore functional complexity that exceeds the greatest human engineering marvels by many orders of magnitude is not evidence for the existence of God. If I cite abundant historical evidence to the effect that Jesus existed, that he predicted his own death and resurrection, and then appeared to believers and critics alike (think Paul and Thomas here), then atheists reject this as well on the grounds that resurrections are only possible if we already know that God or the supernatural exists – so the argument is "circular."
 
In other words, by an implied positivist epistemic standard, God should be visible, measurable, or otherwise ever-verifiable scientifically, or else he should be presumed nonexistent. This situation seems to have arisen largely not only from reliance on a now-defunct philosophical movement (logical positivism) but from a misunderstanding of what constitutes "burden of proof." The idea basically is that anyone claiming to hold a rationally warranted or evidentially supported belief in God has to prove it to the satisfaction of atheists, who can always opt to simply fold their arms, chuckle condescendingly, and say, "That's not evidence. Where's the evidence?" There seems to be some duplicity at work here. For example, while any and all critics of macroevolution or universal common ancestry are said to be guilty of purely subjective personal incredulity or a dangerous denialism (quite regardless of their arguments), atheists who summarily dismiss all the evidence mentioned previously by muttering something about Santa Claus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster are said to exhibit coolheaded rationality and a healthy, open-minded skepticism. Such a double standard is, naturally, evidence of deep bias.
 
Given that I don't happen to believe that all of reality is scientifically verifiable (history, the origin of the universe, the validity of logic, and memories of what I did last week are not subject to empirical verification), I will happily concede that God does not often appear to lend himself to researchers for the sake of scientific investigation. However, even where God has evidently gone out of his way to make himself visible, as during the ministry of Christ on earth, atheists often object that God by definition is not empirically investigable! Christ is reported by early Christians and rabbinical Jews alike to have performed seemingly miraculous "signs" (though the rabbis attributed these to sorcery) but these are not valid evidence, I've been told – because they can only be valid if God exists, and to say God exists just because some person does "magic tricks" only begs the question.
 
In short, there is no way to meet an irrational demand for evidence that is at once natural and supernatural, verifiable and unverifiable. Any ongoing attempt to satisfy such a demand is a waste of everyone's time, and I happen to think that mine is particularly important. 
 
 
* "Evidence" here means basically any form of observable data or valid argument which "confirms" a hypothesis H by making it more probable than it would be given only background knowledge K relevant to that hypothesis. So if Pr(H/E & K) > Pr(H/K), E is evidence for H.



 

14 comments:

Great article Don. Compelling and important issue. I agree that all of reality is not verifiable and the big reductionist trick is to limit reality to wht gthey can verify.

The one point of contention is that I'm not a creationist, So I should point out this statement: "If for example I present the bacterial flagellum or the mammalian eye as evidence of intentionally designed complexity, the argument is rejected by atheists because we cannot actually detect the designer himself with scientific instruments, and therefore functional complexity that exceeds the greatest human engineering marvels by many orders of magnitude is not evidence for the existence of God," problematoic.

On the one hand it is true that they meet all evidence with incredulity, On there other hand I think they have a point that design arguments are not necessarily proof because we don't have an undersigned universe to compare them to. But there may be ways around that argument. at least we can argue true nature of sucu complexity is less probable.

On evidence of design, I would argue that EVERY example we have of things that are KNOWN to be designed shows us that designed things are relatively simple as compared to natural things. Any engineer will tell you that complexity of design is something to be avoided wherever possible. The complexity of organisms is prima facie evidence that they are NOT designed, especially given the fact that we know in so many cases that an intelligent designer could have improved on what nature has done.

On your point about evidence for "macroevolution" and common ancestry, I've said it before, and it bears repeating: you are in denial of the evidence. The difference between evidence for evolution that is accepted by scientists and evidence for the resurrection of your God-man that is accepted by Christian believers is that the scientists can actually produce the evidence and show it to you, but all you can produce is hearsay stories. And that gets to the heart of the question of credulity.

On evidence of design, I would argue that EVERY example we have of things that are KNOWN to be designed shows us that designed things are relatively simple as compared to natural things.


O right like printed circuits and nuclear reactors


Any engineer will tell you that complexity of design is something to be avoided wherever possible.

I don't make convectional design arguments. I make fie tuning argument. complexity is not an issue in itself. I don't think design arguments are even the issue, just an example.


The complexity of organisms is prima facie evidence that they are NOT designed, especially given the fact that we know in so many cases that an intelligent designer could have improved on what nature has done


right like computers, simple.


On your point about evidence for "macroevolution" and common ancestry, I've said it before, and it bears repeating: you are in denial of the evidence. The difference between evidence for evolution that is accepted by scientists and evidence for the resurrection of your God-man that is accepted by Christian believers is that the scientists can actually produce the evidence and show it to you, but all you can produce is hearsay stories. And that gets to the heart of the question of credulity.

That is a rather lame comparison. That's the kind of unfair manipulation of the facts I've come to expect from atheists. trying to compare evidence of a historical event that happened 2000 years ago to a replicable scientific experiment is stupid. If you can't even figure out valid analogical comparisons you should not be arguing.




Thanks for the comments Joe.

Your point is noted, but I would maintain that specifiably complex features are still evidence of design (though admittedly short of proof). Dawkins himself conceded as much. On a Darwinian schema, functions like vision, or hearing or propulsion have emerged quite inadvertently as a result of countless unrelated adaptations of countless unrelated parts and countless random mutations of genetic code.

For me at least, the "blind watchmaker" of natural selection as an explanation for apparent design is little more than a fallacy of composition. I.e., (some of) the parts have evolved by mutation and natural selection; therefore the whole has evolved by mutation and natural selection.

On evidence of design, I would argue that EVERY example we have of things that are KNOWN to be designed shows us that designed things are relatively simple as compared to natural things. Any engineer will tell you that complexity of design is something to be avoided wherever possible.

Yes, with "wherever possible" being the operative phrase here. An eye without a lens and a retina may be less complex than one with a lens and a retina, but unfortunately it cannot function without them.

The idea behind "specifiable complexity" (Dawkins gives echolocation in bats as one of countless examples) is that there are biological structures whose functions directly depend upon their complexity. The fact that biologists consider these structures instances of "apparent design" is enough to proffer them as evidence of design.

The complexity of organisms is prima facie evidence that they are NOT designed, especially given the fact that we know in so many cases that an intelligent designer could have improved on what nature has done.

Please keep in mind that functional designs are not just "complex" in the sense that lots of elements are thrown together, but their functionality requires a specific arrangement of all the parts. Try driving a car without tires, or an engine, or a fuel system, or a transmission, and you'll see what I mean.

On your point about evidence for "macroevolution" and common ancestry, I've said it before, and it bears repeating: you are in denial of the evidence.

That's easy to assert. Now please name some fact in evidence that I deny.

The difference between evidence for evolution that is accepted by scientists and evidence for the resurrection of your God-man that is accepted by Christian believers is that the scientists can actually produce the evidence and show it to you, but all you can produce is hearsay stories. And that gets to the heart of the question of credulity.

See Joe's comment. This is a "lame comparison" indeed.

An eye without a lens and a retina may be less complex than one with a lens and a retina, but unfortunately it cannot function without them.
- The most complex camera in the world is far simpler than a biological eye.

The fact that biologists consider these structures instances of "apparent design" is enough to proffer them as evidence of design.
- They call it "apparent design" because YOU call it design. When they say "apparent", they mean that is ISN'T designed despite the fact that YOU think it is.

Please keep in mind that functional designs are not just "complex" in the sense that lots of elements are thrown together, but their functionality requires a specific arrangement of all the parts.
- Yes, a functional apparatus requires parts to work together. This is an issue that Dawkins has addressed at length. The functionality evolves along with the apparatus.

That's easy to assert. Now please name some fact in evidence that I deny.
- You obviously deny the fossil record, for example, which clearly shows a progression from fish to amphibians, to reptiles, to birds and mammals - all found in their respectively appropriate geological formations, showing a timeline of hundreds of millions of years.

This is a "lame comparison" indeed.
- I fully understand that we have something called "historical method" that us used by real historians to assess historical accounts. And like science, it is based on evidence. Multiple independent sources and corroboration, along with historical context are crucial. Credibility and plausibility are important, too. And like science, the historian must in fer the most likely account, given all the available evidence. This is something that many Christians ignore completely.

- The most complex camera in the world is far simpler than a biological eye.

Granted, but the most complex camera in the world is not at the same time fully and continuously integrated with the nerve center of a sentient, intelligent, mobile agent.


- They call it "apparent design" because YOU call it design. When they say "apparent", they mean that is ISN'T designed despite the fact that YOU think it is.

No, that's not true at all. Please read chapter one of The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins goes to great lengths to acknowledge that instances of specifiable (functional) complexity in the biological world almost inevitably give rise to a strong intuition that these structures were deliberately designed. He accordingly defines biology as "the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." Though he obviously disagrees with the conclusions of natural theology, he accepts the premise.

So a natural theologian might argue

1. The biological world is filled with complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed.
2. Complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed have, in fact, been designed.
3. The biological world is filled with complicated things that have, in fact, been designed.

Dawkins (along with many if not most biologists) would accept premise one and dispute premise two.

- Yes, a functional apparatus requires parts to work together. This is an issue that Dawkins has addressed at length. The functionality evolves along with the apparatus.

Right, so in the case of humans the systematic complexity required for the function of the nervous system, hence the visual system, evolves right alongside other functional subsystems like the skeletal, circulatory, digestive, etc., while at the same time all these subsystems are together evolving into a super-system (a living person) to serve the overriding function of staying alive.

Of course that means that for this organism the function of being alive, hence reproducing, cannot emerge until these various subsystems are already in place. But if the subsystems are not already in place they cannot reproduce and therefore cannot evolve.

I'll try to answer your other points later. Thanks.

Granted, but the most complex camera in the world is not at the same time fully and continuously integrated with the nerve center of a sentient, intelligent, mobile agent.
- That's the point. That's something that nobody has the ability to design - unless you want to engage in special pleading.

Please read chapter one of The Blind Watchmaker.
- I have read the entire book. And I think you have entirely missed the point. Yes, people have an intuitive feeling that biological things are designed. But intuitions are often wrong. I suggest you read Coyne's Why Evolution Is True. It describes many vivid examples of why that intuitive feeling doesn't bear critical scrutiny.

Of course that means that for this organism the function of being alive, hence reproducing, cannot emerge until these various subsystems are already in place. But if the subsystems are not already in place they cannot reproduce and therefore cannot evolve.
- Being alive isn't a function. Reproduction is a function. Reproduction is an extension of the most primitive proto-life mechanism: replication. There are various complex molecules that have the ability to replicate themselves (under the right conditions). This is a necessary precursor to life and evolution.

This is a "lame comparison" indeed.

- I fully understand that we have something called "historical method" that us used by real historians to assess historical accounts. And like science, it is based on evidence.

account of the empty tomb are evidenced your incredulity is not you have no evidence against the resurrection your incredulity is purely ideological nothing more. we have evidence, you do not. You can't show how they got the body past the guards.



Multiple independent sources and corroboration, along with historical context are crucial.

At least 10 sources documenting the resurrection. at lest two early source independent documenting the guards,

Credibility and plausibility are important, too. And like science, the historian must in fer the most likely account, given all the available evidence. This is something that many Christians ignore completely.


that doesn't mean your ideological assertions get to be evience.

My assertions? I'm not the one claiming I know the truth of what happened. But I can think of a dozen stories that are all more believable than the ones told in the bible.

if we are going to switch the topic to resurrection we should have a thread to go with it. let me see if anyone wants to put one up.

- That's the point. That's something that nobody has the ability to design - unless you want to engage in special pleading.

That's an interesting reversal of natural theology, to be sure. So to invert Paley's analogy from industrial contrivance: If a native from a primitive tribe on some island stumbled upon a fully functioning mechanical wristwatch left on the beach by a tourist, and then opened its casing to reveal the intricate assembly of gears, springs, etc., the native should conclude that the watch had not been designed – because it's something which (to his knowledge) nobody has the ability to design.

Of course, that native would be wrong, because he would be arguing (literally) from ignorance. The native would be correct, however, to infer that because the watch cannot serve its very useful function without the complex arrangement of its parts, that arrangement was probably designed.

- I have read the entire book. And I think you have entirely missed the point. Yes, people have an intuitive feeling that biological things are designed.

That's all I was saying, so apparently I didn't miss the point at all. Did I somehow give you the impression that I honestly thought Dawkins was a creationist? If so, let me assure that it's not missing the point, or quote-mining, or otherwise underhanded or dishonest, to agree with Dawkins on one point and disagree with him on the other.

But intuitions are often wrong. I suggest you read Coyne's Why Evolution Is True. It describes many vivid examples of why that intuitive feeling doesn't bear critical scrutiny.

Unfortunately Coyne lost me at the title. Scientific theories are not "true." At best they are provisionally confirmed theoretical approximations of truth which very often have to be amended, overhauled, and sometimes completely abandoned. "Evolution" is no exception. Had he lived in earlier times Coyne might have written Why Geocentrism Is True or Why Phlogiston Theory Is True, etc.

- Being alive isn't a function. Reproduction is a function. Reproduction is an extension of the most primitive proto-life mechanism: replication. There are various complex molecules that have the ability to replicate themselves (under the right conditions). This is a necessary precursor to life and evolution.

Talk about missing the point. I referred to a number of complex biological subsystems, all of which have to have fully evolved together in a particular arrangement in order for a human to live, hence to evolve in the first place, and you tell me that certain molecules under certain conditions can replicate. I don't mean to be dismissive, but really: So what?

That's an interesting reversal of natural theology, to be sure.
- But quite appropriate. Paley's argument never made sense. We don't design things that are anywhere as near as complex as biological organisms. So why infer that they are designed? It's absurd.

... the native should conclude that the watch had not been designed – because it's something which (to his knowledge) nobody has the ability to design.
- Why would this "native" think that the watch was functional? What does he know about watches? But there is one thing about it that he could say. It's something that isn't found in nature. It has been built by people. That's how we infer that things are designed. Even that native would know this.

let me assure that it's not missing the point, or quote-mining, or otherwise underhanded or dishonest, to agree with Dawkins on one point and disagree with him on the other.
- But it is missing the point to ignore the whole book that explains why you're wrong.

Unfortunately Coyne lost me at the title.
- Coyne, like any scientist would agree that all scientific theories are tentative. But facts are facts. The fact is that creatures evolve. We know this. Just like we know that bodies in space attract each other. Gravity is a fact. New information might make us change our ideas about how gravity works, but there's still something that makes bodies attract each other. It's a fact. We may someday revise our theory of evolution. We may even conclude that the mechanism is completely different from what seems quite conclusive today. But creatures evolve.

Talk about missing the point. I referred to a number of complex biological subsystems, all of which have to have fully evolved together in a particular arrangement in order for a human to live, hence to evolve in the first place, and you tell me that certain molecules under certain conditions can replicate. I don't mean to be dismissive, but really: So what?
- I pointed out to you that functionality evolves along with the apparatus. Again, this is something that Dawkins discussed at length. If you're not dismissive, why do you ignore what I say?

Paley's argument never made sense. We don't design things that are anywhere as near as complex as biological organisms. So why infer that they are designed? It's absurd.

We infer they are designed because the complexity is specifiable and suited to a particular purpose. It's the same reason you infer, quite rightly, that the sentence you are reading at this moment was written deliberately by me.

- Why would this "native" think that the watch was functional? What does he know about watches? But there is one thing about it that he could say. It's something that isn't found in nature. It has been built by people. That's how we infer that things are designed. Even that native would know this.

I don't follow you here. If the native could not tell the watch was designed, then he probably could not tell that it isn't found in nature either. It may as well be an unusual geological formation or a new species of organism.

Likewise, simply having witnessed people building things would not lead to an inference that they have done so deliberately.

If design cannot be inferred from the characteristics of the object in question, then there's no way to distinguish bows and arrows, for example, that his neighbor deliberately designed for the purpose of hunting, from objects that look like bows and arrows that just happen to be laying around the neighbor's hut for no particular reason. Even if his neighbor appeared to tell him that he designed them for the purpose of hunting, it may be that the neighbor did not in fact design them deliberately, and is in fact making random noises in complete ignorance of the native's language, and those noises just happen to match the noises that would produce meaningful statements about designing bows and arrows in that language. There is no need for meaning or rationality in nature, after all.

This sort of abject nonsense is where naïve empiricism actually leads us.

- But it is missing the point to ignore the whole book that explains why you're wrong.

*sigh*

Here, I wrote this years ago in response to some other atheists who made the same accusation:
Blind Faith: A Review and Critique of The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins

Ironically enough, none of them bothered to explain why I was wrong. Maybe you can show them how it's done.

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