Darwin’s Doubt

Number 4 in a Series

This is a continuation of my review of creationist Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. I was recently reminded by a post on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed two of those. Here is another citation:

Intelligent agents can construct and modify complex integrated circuits that are necessary for animal development:

Here is the cited text. The post omits some of the text, as noted by the strike-through section:

Integrated circuits in electronics are systems of individually functional components such as transistors, resistors, and capacitors that are connected together to perform an overarching function. Likewise, the functional components of dGRNs— the DNA-binding proteins, their DNA target sequences, and the other molecules that the binding proteins and target molecules produce and regulate— also form an integrated circuit, one that contributes to accomplishing the overall function of producing an adult animal form.

Yet, as explained in Chapter 13, Davidson himself has made clear that the tight functional constraints under which these systems of molecules (the dGRNs) operate preclude their gradual alteration by the mutation and selection mechanism. For this reason, neo-Darwinism has failed to explain the origin of these systems of molecules and their functional integration. Like advocates of evolutionary developmental biology, Davidson himself favors a model of evolutionary change that envisions mutations generating large-scale developmental effects, thus perhaps bypassing nonfunctional intermediate circuits or systems. Nevertheless, neither proponents of “evo-devo,” nor proponents of other recently proposed materialistic theories of evolution, have identified a mutational mechanism capable of generating a dGRN or anything even remotely resembling a complex integrated circuit. Yet, in our experience, complex integrated circuits— and the functional integration of parts in complex systems generally— are known to be produced by intelligent agents— specifically, by engineers. Moreover, intelligence is the only known cause of such effects. Since developing animals employ a form of integrated circuitry, and certainly one manifesting a tightly and functionally integrated system of parts and subsystems, and since intelligence is the only known cause of these features, the necessary presence of these features in developing Cambrian animals would seem to indicate that intelligent agency played a role in their origin.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 364). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Meyer makes two significant assertions. Here I will quote, with slight editing:

  • In our experience, complex integrated circuits — and the functional integration of parts in complex systems generally — are known to be produced by intelligent agents — specifically, by engineers.
  • Moreover, intelligence is the only known cause of such effects.

Meyer is correct in the first instance. Engineers and other people are known to do such things. In the second instance Meyer is stating as fact what he aims to demonstrate. The counter to that second part is that scientists have observed complex systems that have not been engineered by an outside brain, mind, intelligent agent—whatever you choose to call it. We see these complex systems, and we do not see outside intelligence creating them.

What Meyer is doing here is what he does throughout his arguments for Intelligent Design. He is saying that he cannot understand how else such systems came to be absent the working of an outside agency, and further he is convinced others do not understand. Therefore, there must have been an outside agent of some intelligence at work. Although Meyer and other followers of the Intelligent Design refuse to admit they have the God of Abraham in mind, there is little doubt from their other works and statements that this is the only thing they will consider. Additionally these people, when they are not hyping Intelligent Design or disparaging the legitimate work of real scientists, spend much of their waking time promoting the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. For example:

Historians Mentioning Jesus

  • Titus Flavius Josephus, Yosef Ben Matityahu (ca. 37-100 A.D.)
  • Publius Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56-117 A.D.)
  • Mara Bar-Serapion (late 1st century A.D.)
  • Flavius Lustinus, Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 A.D.)
  • Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (ca. 9230 A.D.)
  • Pliny the Younger, ca 61-113 A.D.)

Despite how much they deny, Meyer and his cohorts are engaged in a relentless pursuit to promote the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus.

There will be more. Keep reading.

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Response From A Creationist

A Recurring Theme (2)

Nearly three years ago I posted a response to a creationist concerning “44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults.” It’s a recurring theme. A creationist will post something on-line, not something developed by the person doing the posting, but something crafted by a creationist savant and supposedly representing the great wisdom enshrining creationism. This was such a case. Here is what I had to say back then:

This is amazing. I picked this link off my Facebook feed Friday and took a quick read. I am pasting it here:

The theory of evolution is false.  It is simply not true.  Actually, it is just a fairy tale for adults based on ancient pagan religious philosophy that hundreds of millions of people around the world choose to believe with blind faith.

And this goes on for a while. Follow the link and read the rest. The rest includes a statement of the “44 reasons,” and in my posting I responded to each of the 44 in turn. Since I posted the original I have received a number of comments. Today I received another, and I took a look at it, preparing to approve it for reading by others. Then I noticed something I see a lot. And here’s the story.

People, if you have doubts about your self worth, and you want the rest of the world to share those doubts, there is an easy way to accomplish this goal. Here is what you do. You compose a bunch of bat-shit crazy stuff, and you lay it out so people reading it will think it was composed by a four-year-old messing with the keyboard. Then you post it as a comment to a blog that is visible to several billion other people. And here’s the kicker. Before the blog site will allow you to submit the post, you must provide an email address. You also must provide a name of sorts. Something like TRUTHLOVER. Yes, that’s a good name. Lets others know who you are and also lets us know you are willing to stand behind what you say. But at this time it is important to make sure nobody can respond to your comment, so you give a phony email address, likely one you made up on the spot for posting this comment and one that can be immediately deleted. Something like 112233@AOL.COM. Yes, that email address is bound to be valid, because nobody would ever think to pull such a combination of numbers out of the air.

And finally, you post your comment, your response to my take on the “44 reasons.” And to make sure people have no chance of mistaking you for a serious adult, you go out of your way to craft the wording. You write something like this:

you just prove you atheist ARE DUMBER THAN THOSE GOAT HERDERS,. YOU LYING ATHEIST HAVE NEVER PROVED EVOLUTION. ALL YOU HAVE DONE IS PROVED YOU ARE A LYING BRAINWASHED CULT MEMBER. EVOLUTION IS NOT REAL DEAL WITH IT YOU LYING ATHEIST. YOU GUYS ARE TO DUMB TO REALIZE PHD DOES NOT MEAN ONES IS SMART. NO SCIENTIST HAS PROVED EVOLUTION. NATURE ITSELF PROVES CREATION.

And that’s it. You have done your best to convince the world. I’m thinking your efforts are not in vain. I’m thinking that anybody reading this is now convinced that creationists are a bunch of backward-thinking illiterates. I could not have done it better. Most thanks, and keep on reading.

Darwin’s Doubt

Number 3 in a Series

Chipmunk confronts a diet soda can near Mirror Lake Utah

I have a copy of creationist Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt, and I have promised to review it. I was recently reminded of that by a post on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed the first of those. Here is another citation:

Intelligent agents can generate top-down patterns of appearance like we see in animal body plans.

Here is the pertinent passage:

“Top-down” causation begins with a basic architecture, blueprint, or plan and then proceeds to assemble parts in accord with it. The blueprint stands causally prior to the assembly and arrangement of the parts. But where could such a blueprint come from? One possibility involves a mental mode of causation. Intelligent agents often conceive of plans prior to their material instantiation— that is, the preconceived design of a blueprint often precedes the assembly of parts in accord with it. An observer touring the parts section of a General Motors plant will see no direct evidence of a prior blueprint for GM’s new models, but will perceive the basic design plan immediately upon observing the finished product at the end of the assembly line. Designed systems, whether automobiles, airplanes, or computers, invariably manifest a design plan that preceded their first material instantiation. But the parts do not generate the whole. Rather, an idea of the whole directed the assembly of the parts.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (pp. 371-372). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Meyer is correct in stating (by implication) that a builder, on receiving a set of design specifications (blue prints and such), can proceed in constructing a device or assembly. Note the implication. There exists nothing like the desired assembly. The materials to construct it are present, and there is a pre-recorded set of instructions for construction. The instructions are the sole source of the information required for construction.

At this point a reminder is helpful. Define information as the agent that mediates cause and effect. I have stated this previously, perhaps not in this exact form. Nobody has ever challenged my definition. All are welcome to have a go at it.

What Meyer does not concede is that a set of instructions is not a prerequisite for constructing a device/assembly. Random processes can accomplish this. This is the basis of Darwinian evolution, and this is what the creationists argue strongly against. They pose it much like this:

Given even the finished components, steel sheet, machine screws, quantities of paint, it is unlikely to the extreme that a random process will assemble these components into a functional automobile, much less into one that somebody would purchase off the showroom floor and drive away.

To be sure, that is an extreme statement of the creationists’ argument, and those people do argue a more digestible case. Their most popular argument is more like this:

Given a completed, perfectly functional, automobile and given materials to be added to produce next year’s model, it is improbable to the extreme that this modification can occur by accident. Some sort of pre-conceived design is required. A set of documentation is required. At the minimum there must be an intelligent agent with the pre-conceived design upgrade in mind.

And this is what the so-called Darwinists object to. The creationists insist there must be a pre-conceived idea, there being no mention of who or what holds this pre-conceived idea. To be clear, the agency that Stephen C. Meyer represents is the Discovery Institute, and their concept is called Intelligent Design. Further, the narrators of Intelligent Design want to insist that religious faith is not at the base of their argument. And this last is an outrageous lie of grand proportions. Any notion that Stephen C. Meyer pushes Intelligent Design absent religious faith is daily countered by his own words and actions. For example:

The final four episodes deal with the New Testament, the contribution by Christians, telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his teachings, his trial and execution, and his return from the dead. Meyer wants to assure viewers all those doubts about the validity of the New Testament are groundless.

Following the trajectory of Meyer’s life and career, we see a relentless commitment to a defense of the Christian faith. His promotion of Intelligent Design is one manifestation of that commitment.

Returning to Meyer’s argument, biologists argue that random processes we observe in nature are adequate to have produced the life forms we see today. In direct counter to Meyer, the concept of Intelligent Design is intellectually bankrupt on a number of points. Repeating myself:

I scoff. Really? Let me get this straight. An Intelligent Agent, the Entity who created the Universe, the Earth, the planets, the sun, and all we see around us—this Entity, took over 13 billion years to get us to where we are today after first creating the Universe. Actually, over 13 billion years to get us to the point where there was a Universe and a planet Earth, and there were any number of species of plants and animals, but none resembling people. Allow me to repeat: Really? If that is Stephen C. Meyer’s concept of intelligence, then Heaven help the human species, because intelligence is all that’s keeping us going.

Additionally, at no point in their argument have proponents of Intelligent Design identified a mechanism by which the Intelligent Designer could have implemented these designs. Nor can they.

I will continue the review of Meyer’s book through an analysis of the Evolution News post prior to diving into a direct review of the book. Keep reading.

Darwin’s Doubt

Number 2

Chipmunk confronts a diet soda can near Mirror Lake, Utah

It was two years ago I obtained a copy of creationist Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt and promised to review it. I was recently reminded of that by a post on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site:

In his book Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen Meyer considers the nature of animals and what is required to build an animal. He finds that only intelligent design can explain the abrupt origin of animal life in the fossil record, as well as the new information required to build the integrated nature of parts and systems that comprise animal body plans. Here’s how Meyer makes the case that intelligent design is the best explanation for many aspects of the origin of animals as witnessed in the Cambrian explosion:

The posting is not signed, a departure from my previous experience. The site lists a number of contributors, here listed in no particular order:

The author goes on to state:

Intelligent agents can generate new form rapidly as we see in the abrupt appearance of animals in the Cambrian fossil record:

That is followed by an excerpt from the book:

Intelligent agents have foresight. Such agents can determine or select functional goals before they are physically instantiated. They can devise or select material means to accomplish those ends from among an array of possibilities. They can then actualize those goals in accord with a preconceived design plan or set of functional requirements. Rational agents can constrain combinatorial space with distant information-rich outcomes in mind.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (pp. 362-363). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Yes! Stephen C. Meyer is 100% correct. If you have an agent, a person, with intelligence and foresight, you can make much more rapid progress than can be accomplished by random processes alone. Here is what an intelligent agent can do:

  • Send nerve impulses from a brain to muscles and cause objects to move, directing bits of matter to come into contact and preventing certain things from happening, which things would not ordinarily have happened were it not for said intervention.
  • Use eyes or other sensory methods to determine what is going on, allowing the brain to make decisions and to change the course of actions being taken.

If the Intelligent Agent only had a brain. Or hands. Or eyes.

What Meyer is saying, perhaps without realizing it, is that somewhere in the distant past something caused matter to move in ways contrary to the natural flow of events. And nowhere in any of his writings I have found has Meyer explained such happenings, neither has he mentioned them. It is an explanation the proponents of Intelligent Design must not touch. It is the figurative third rail of Intelligent Design. Touch it, and Intelligent Design dies.

But stop right there. I know what Meyer and the other creationists are going to say. Allow me to propose a quote:

Our research has not yet uncovered a method. However, our observations and our reasoning have convinced us, and will convince any thinking person, that there must have been an  Intelligent Agent at work. Else we would not have gotten to where we are today.

Explainer of Intelligent Design

I scoff. Really? Let me get this straight. An Intelligent Agent, the Entity who created the Universe, the Earth, the planets, the sun, and all we see around us—this Entity, took over 13 billion years to get us to where we are today after first creating the Universe. Actually, over 13 billion years to get us to the point where there was a Universe and a planet Earth, and there were any number of species of plants and animals, but none resembling people. Allow me to repeat: Really? If that is Stephen C. Meyer’s concept of intelligence, then Heaven help the human species, because intelligence is all that’s keeping us going.

I will dig deeper into Stephen C. Meyer’s book in the coming days. In the meantime, the Evolution News posting has a link to a neat video, which you should watch. I know I will watch it, and I will have a go at summarizing it in a future post. Here’s the link:

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Stronger Than Dirt

Restating the obvious – 5

The One, the True, the Pure

This is a continuation of my response to a reader named Reece. I previously posted a number of objections to biblical truth, and he suggested I follow a couple of links and get my facts in line. I did, and I will continue for a few additional installments. See the link above for the background. Here are the links provided by Reece.

https://answersingenesis.org/contradictions-in-the-bible/scripture-index/

http://defendinginerrancy.com/bible-difficulties/

The first one links to a page by Answers in Genesis, a Young Earth Creationist group headed up by Ken Ham. I will take another of AiG’s challenges and do some analysis. Here is what AiG posted:

Did Moses make an error when he called a bat a bird?

Here is the pertinent biblical  passage:

Leviticus 11:13-19 King James Version (KJV)

13 And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray,

14 And the vulture, and the kite after his kind;

15 Every raven after his kind;

16 And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind,

17 And the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl,

18 And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle,

19 And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.

[Emphasis added]

Here is what AiG posted for Leviticus 11:13-19:

Leviticus 11:13–19
These are the birds [05775 Pwe ‘owph] you are to detest and not eat because they are detestable: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat.

So the text from Bible Gateway does not jibe with AiG’s copy of the Bible, but Bible Gateway says “fowls,” definitely not to include bats, regardless of whether it means “birds.” Bats are not birds, and the mythical  person Moses got it wrong. AiG attempts to explain this away, stating:

The Hebrew word for bird is actually owph which means “fowl/winged creature.”1 The word owph simply means “to fly” or “has a wing.” So, the word includes birds, bats, and even flying insects. The alleged problem appears due to translation of owph as bird. Birds are included in the word owph, but owph is not limited to birds. This shows that translators aren’t always perfect when handling the inerrant Word of God.

It is nice that the Hebrew word for bird also fits the definition for bats, but the King James version, which is the most thumped by Christian fundamentalists in this country, says fowls, meaning birds. Mistranslations are part and parcel to biblical error.

Stronger Than Dirt

Restating the obvious – 2

Many months ago I posted the following:

Would that you had provided more of a challenge. I congratulate Michael Snyder, who is credited in the post I copied these from. He has dredged up what may be the most comprehensive collection of creationist nonsense I have come across in many years. This has been a refreshing tour and a reminder to me, and others as well, of the shallowness of the creationist argument. If there is any demonstration of the standing of modern science with respect to superstition and myth, these kinds of postings stand out. They are sorely appreciated.

Heartening to witness, a number of people commented. Most recent has been a comment from Reece Stevens:

All I’m seeing are some uneducated responses to famous scientists. And were they supposed to be arguments or just some one silly sentence with your uneducated opinion? Because all I was seeing were true scientific facts from Snyder, which you couldn’t even rebut, and silly little one sentence opinions from someone who doesn’t want to believe God exists.

That was worth a response, and I approved Reece’s comment, and I sent him an email:

I invite you to amplify on your statement. I will also respond in more depth where you believe clarification is necessary. For example,you mention “someone who doesn’t want to believe God exists.
On this point you completely misunderstand me. I have no desire to believe one way or the other. I am content to believe or not to believe. It just so happens I do not believe, since that is the way the evidence points.
Additionally, you may want to bring up why there should be a connection between God and biological evolution. The two would appear to exist in different fields of study. Can you expand on your thoughts about this?
Thanks for reading, and especially thanks for taking the time to comment.

Best regards and all that sort. He responded:

The reason I connected God into it is because I am just shocked by the fact there is lack of any evidence for evolution, and you’d expect people to recognise it straight away, but they still believe it. And really the only explanation as to why this is comes down to a quote from zoologist, D.M.S Watson: “Evolution is a theory universally accepted not because it can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.” It makes me think the reason evolution is accepted despite lack of evidence is because the only alternative requires believing in a God.

My response:

I finally got your name right. My apologies.
Your response is appreciated. I will post this dialog to a future item on Skeptical  Analysis.
First, I need to dispute D.M.S. Watson. There are alternatives besides God. That said, I do not believe in  God, and I have good reasons for doing so, and those reasons do not involve biological evolution. Details on request.
You mentioned “true scientific facts from Snyder, which you couldn’t even rebut…” I am thinking that at the time I made no attempt to rebut Snyder, because I wanted to give other readers the opportunity to chime in. In my future post I will address Snyder’s remarks.

So I promised  to  spell out at some length why I don’t believe in God, and biological evolution is not at the heart of it. To start, we need some definition. When we say “God,” what do we mean. We will assume we mean the God of Abraham, as described in the Bible. I’m going to say I do not believe in that God, and I will ignore all other Gods, besides which I do not believe in them either. And we start.

Before I can believe in God I need to know about God. You can’t not believe in something if you have never heard of it. There are a number of ways you can know about God in order to not believe:

  • You never heard of God before, but you made him (it?) up on your own.
  • You observed God first hand.
  • Somebody told you about God, else you would never have known about God.

I’m picking the third choice, because that’s how I learned about God. Somebody told me. If I want to believe in God I have to believe what somebody told me. This sort of thing generally needs some convincing. Here is something you would not consider on your own without outside advice from dsomebody, and it’s also something you never observed. Somebody told you. Are you convinced?

That depends. That depends on how convincing is the presentation from the person who told you about God. Is this person’s word reliable, and should you take this person’s word at face value without investigating? That depends. If the person is known to tell a fib from time to time, or if the claim is so outlandish as to boggle the mind, you might want additional evidence. In my case the person who first told me about God was a family member known to fabricate stories, but not often. Also, the story about God turned out to very hard to believe, with emphasis on very.

Of course I was informed I should not merely take this person’s story about God. There must be a higher authority. I will gloss over the number of church people of high standing who vouched for God, and I will go to  the ultimate source, because that is the source these preachers always gave. That source is the Bible. There is where God ran into  real trouble. If the Bible is the ultimate and true source, and if the Bible turns out to be an unreliable source, then it is going to be difficult to believe in God, especially when the concept of God lacks credibility. Let’s start with the Bible.

Genesis 1:1-5 King James Version (KJV)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And also:

Genesis 2:4-9 King James Version (KJV)

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,

And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.

But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.

And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

On the very first page the Bible gets into trouble both with fact and with internal consistency. To begin with, the two stories do not agree with known facts. They presume this planet is slightly more than 6000 years old. Also, here you have conflicting stories of the same events. There are additional places where the Bible contradicts itself. Take this example of the Bible attempting to tell who incited David to count the fighting men of Israel:

Who incited David to count the fighting men of Israel?

  • God did (2 Samuel 24: 1)
  • Satan did (I Chronicles 21:1)

The Bible appears to give differing accounts of the same event. It’s worth seeing the exact wording:

2 Samuel 24:1 King James Version (KJV)

24 And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.

1 Chronicles 21:1 King James Version (KJV)

21 And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.

And this goes sort of thing recurs in multiple instances. One source cites 100 more such instances. Here are some:

  1. In that count how many fighting men were found in Israel?
  • Eight hundred thousand (2 Samuel 24:9)
  • One million, one hundred thousand (I Chronicles 21:5)
  1. How many fighting men were found in Judah?
  • Five hundred thousand (2 Samuel 24:9)
  • Four hundred and seventy thousand (I Chronicles 21:5)
  1. God sent his prophet to threaten David with how many years of famine?
  • Seven (2 Samuel 24:13)
  • Three (I Chronicles 21:12)
  1. How old was Ahaziah when he began to rule over Jerusalem?
  • Twenty-two (2 Kings 8:26)
  • Forty-two (2 Chronicles 22:2)

God is omnipotent:

Genesis 1 King James Version (KJV)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

And God has limited abilities:

Judges 1:19 King James Version (KJV)

19 And the Lord was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

There is all this and more. The Bible does not seem to be a reliable source of information.

But suppose. Suppose one of the following:

  • The Bible was transcribed by people, and from  time to time they made errors in transcription. The original intent of the Bible is correct, even if the wording is sometimes confusing.
  • The Bible was written by godly people who wanted to tell their story and to establish a basis for orderly life. What they wrote was a work of fiction with good intentions.

Other possibilities may exist, but the Bible should not be taken literally as a set of instructions for righteous living. That needs to come from those who interpret the Bible. But that abandons the Bible as a testimonial for the existence of God, and it’s the existence of God that is in  question.

We have to justify the existence of God (the God of Abraham) without resorting to the Bible. How?

First turn to the wonders of nature. How did all this marvelous stuff come into existence all by itself? The argument goes something like this.

  1. We don’t see airplanes assemble themselves.
  2. Animals, even the simplest living cell, are all more complex than an airplane.
  3. If an airplane cannot be assembled by purely natural means, it’s absurd to think a living cell can be.
  4. Some supernatural power must be at work here.
  5. That supernatural power must be the God of Abraham.

The argument for the existence of God moves steadily from points 1 through 4, but it hits a road bump at 5. It does not logically follow that God is the supernatural power argued for in 1 – 4. Any supernatural power of sufficient capability will suffice.

But then it will be argued that God is the only supernatural power acclaimed by people far and wide. And that’s your argument for God? But now you need to ask why God is acclaimed by people far and wide, and the answer is the biblical tale, demonstrated (see above) to be insufficient to demonstrate the existence of God.

You may argue that what is important is not the existence of God (the God of Abraham), but the divinity of Jesus. Really? Supposing Jesus was a real person, and I do not intend to disprove that, then we can conclude that at the least Jesus was a worthy philosopher and teacher, and we should live according to Jesus’ teachings. But not all of them. If the Bible is accurate in what it says, then Jesus had some distinctly unrighteous views. Jesus saw nothing immoral with slavery and never preached against it:

Luke 12:47-48 King James Version (KJV)

47 And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.

48 But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

Additionally:

Ephesians 6:5 King James Version (KJV)

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

A group called Focus on the Family a few years ago produced a series of videos featuring creationist Stephen C. Meyer. The first came out in 2009 and is titled “Does God Exist?” That “season” comprised 10 episodes, and I reviewed each, hoping to settle the question. My conclusion was that, at the very least, Meyer failed to make his case for the existence of God. If God exists, God exists without the benefit of creationist Stephen C. Meyer. The postings are back-linked, and you can start with Episode 11, which is a bonus feature concerning challenges fundamentalist Christians encounter when they leave home and venture into the outside world, particularly to college. A link to the previous post heads each posting, and you can click links until you arrive at the review of Episode 1. Then follow the entire series.

Focus in the Family released another video, this time in 2010, and the title is “Is the Bible Reliable?” There are ten episodes, and I reviewed them over four postings. Again you can start with number 4 and work your way back to the beginning and then review the entire series.

Readers can follow the remainder of my argument against the existence of God by reading these 14 reviews. Comments and questions are invited.

Persecution Complex

An addendum

Over the past few days I reviewed ten episodes of Does God Exist, a video produced by the fundamentalist Christian organization Focus on the Family. It’s offered as a DVD and is also streaming on Amazon Prime Video. In addition to the ten episodes addressing the question, “does God exist,” there is a bonus segment highlighting the challenges fundamentalist Christians encounter in a less than sectarian world. The operating title is “The Toughest Test In College.” From Amazon:

Preparing for college involves more than just buying new clothes and textbooks. Your toughest test is not going to be on paper; it is a test of your heart and mind. Can you live out your convictions and share your faith with students and professors who might not agree with your Christian worldview?

Here is a brief review. We start with Jay. “He’s on his way to college.”

What Jay and other fundamentalist Christians encountered (according to the video) is the challenge of hostile professors. Across the spectrum, these (supposedly) liberal professors go from questioning students’core beliefs to heaping ridicule on any and all who will not abandon their beliefs. We are informed these hostile professor in the video are actors paid to stand in for real people.

Prominent contenders for Objectionable of the Month include Peter Singer and Ward Churchill. Singer is polarizing for his views on the value of human life. Churchill would be controversial on any campus, but this video singles out his opposition to the Bush administration’s prosecution of the war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Churchill wants administration officials prosecuted for war crimes, a not totally un-Christian position.

Del Tackett, D.M., president (now former president) of Focus on the Family, weighs in and narrates much of the story.

Stephen C. Meyer, the main figure in the video, also appears. Meyer gained fame as an advocate for Intelligent Design as legitimate science. He was prepared to testify (but did not) for that at the Kitzmiller trial. Here all the wraps are off. Meyer is a Christian warrior, fully committed to a campaign to define what is the true faith.

And there is J. Budziszewski, Ph.D., a professor of history and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. He argues strongly against “moral relativity.” He compares it to factual relativity. If somebody advises against eating the cafeteria’s tuna salad, citing that it’s making people sick, he portrays the relativist as saying, “That’s your own opinion” (not his exact words).

Eric Pianka, is Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin. Before I proceed further I need to clear up a minor point. Despite the correct spelling of Pianka’s first name, and despite displaying graphics depicting his complete name, the producers somehow missed the point.

The controversy about Pianka is a speech he made. Wikipedia provides some details:

Pianka’s acceptance speech for the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist Award from the Texas Academy of Science resulted in a controversy in the popular press when Forrest Mims, vice-chair of the Academy’s section on environmental science, claimed in the Society for Amateur Scientists e-journal The Citizen Scientist that Pianka had “endorsed the elimination of 95 percent of the human population” through a disease such as an airborne strain of the Ebola virus. Mims claimed that Pianka said the Earth would not survive unless its population was reduced by 95% suggesting that the planet would be “better off” if the human population were reduced and that a mutant strain of Ebola would be the most efficient means. Mims’ affiliate at the Discovery InstituteWilliam Dembski, then informed the Department of Homeland Security that Pianka’s speech may have been intended to foment bioterrorism. This resulted in the Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewing Pianka in Austin.

Pianka has stated that Mims took his statements out of context and that he was simply describing what would happen from biological principles alone if present human population trends continue, and that he was not in any way advocating for it to happen. The Texas Academy, which hosted the speech, released a statement asserting that “Many of Dr. Pianka’s statements have been severely misconstrued and sensationalized.” However, Dr. Kenneth Summy, an Academy member who observed the speech, wrote a letter of support for Mims’ account, saying “Dr. Pianka chose to deliver an inflammatory message in his keynote address, so he should not be surprised to be the recipient of a lot of criticism from TAS membership. Forrest Mims did not misrepresent anything regarding the presentation.”

Some of the same names keep cropping up in the creation-evolution controversy, and one of those is Forrest Mims:

Forrest M. Mims III, who most recently wrote the Amateur Scientist column of last June’s issue of Scientific American, is out since they discovered he is a committed creationist. Mims talked to the Houston Chronicle and to the Wall Street Journal, and that’s when the watermelon hit the fan. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, in a letter to SA, asked them not to use religion as a basis for publication, and the ACLU has taken up his case. That was where the matter stood the last I heard of it.

The Skeptic editor, Keith Blanton, was able to tape record an interview with Mims on the CNN show “Crossfire,” and he has made the tape available to interested viewers. Contact Keith at one of the NTS meetings if you want to borrow the tape. Appearing in the interview with Mims was NCSE Director and CSICOP Fellow, Eugenie C. Scott. The interview was moderated by conservative Cal Thomas (substituting for Pat Buchanan) and by liberal Mike Kinsley (of New Republic).

And here is what is additionally interesting. Both Pianka and Budziszewski are at the University of Texas at Austin, a place where I once obtained a degree. If you casually watch the introductory sketches you might get the idea that students are going to show up at college and run head on into a wall of liberal bias, unlikely, based on personal observation. Creationist Robert Koons is a professor of philosophy at UT Austin, and he is also an advocate of Intelligent Design, being a former fellow of the Discovery Institute. Robert Pennock was a professor of philosophy at UT Austin  when  he published Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism. What needs to be taken away from this discussion is that students leaving home and heading to college are going to run into the real world, and the real world is not the family dinner hour.

Christian students in the video are portrayed as earnest and sincere. You would want your own children to be like these. Except… Except we see students (or stand-ins) reflecting disdain for homosexual lifestyles and even those whose only offense seems to be anti Christian.

The video includes testimonials by a litany of students regarding the disrespect they received at even Christian institutions. They recount observing lewd behavior, sexual promiscuity, and tolerance for un-Christian life styles. Individual students are generally not identified on-camera, but the end credits list names of actual students as well as names of actors who dramatized students in the video.

Students testify. What they found, even at Christian academies, was a more open attitude, one their home life had neither accepted nor recognized. There was more tolerating of sin and also an acceptance of world views that were not biblical. To that, a thinking person would have to respond, “No shit.” People, you can walk a block from  your front door, even in Salt Lake City, and find world views that are not biblical.

But this video drills down on college campus life and wants to target not only bad actors, abusive and wrong-headed faculty, but also the openness we should hope to find on campus. I notice some play with the concept of intolerance. There is intolerance toward Christian values, and there is intolerance toward uncommon lifestyles. There seems to be a lot of intolerance going around. See the case of Emily Brooker below.

We also learn we should not put our complete trust in the experts. We are reminded that experts predicted a glowing future for the American economy, just days prior to the greatest collapse in our history.

Also mentioned are predictions by “experts” a few decades back of a threatened global cooling, and also the advice from other “experts” that eugenics, including forced sterilization, was necessary for the purity of the gene pool. Particularly, the case of Carrie Buck is highlighted. She was deemed a danger to the gene pool and forcibly sterilized in what is now acknowledged to be a gross injustice and a violation of all sense of humanity:

Paul A. Lombardo, a Professor of Law at Georgia State University, spent almost 25 years researching the Buck v. Bell case. He dug through case records and the papers of the lawyers involved in the case. Lombardo eventually found Carrie Buck and was able to interview her shortly before her death. Lombardo has alleged that several people had manufactured evidence to make the state’s case against Carrie Buck, and that Buck was actually of normal intelligence. Professor Lombardo was one of the few people who attended Carrie Buck’s funeral.

A historical marker was erected on May 2, 2002, in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Carrie Buck was born. At that time, Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner offered the “Commonwealth’s sincere apology for Virginia’s participation in eugenics.”

Missing from the narrative is what position people of Christian faith took on the matter at the time.

A prominent case featured in the video is that of the student shown below.

While not identified here, her case is a matter of record:

Does a professor have the right to require his students to comply with a certain political or social view in order to pass a course? Can universities demand that students observe policies that conflict with their religious views or restrict their First Amendment rights?

A lawsuit filed by a Missouri college student may soon provide some answers to these questions–with important implications for academia.

The lawsuit, Brooker v. The Governors of Missouri State University (MSU), was filed on Oct. 30 by the Alliance Defend Fund on behalf of Emily Brooker, a student in the university’s school of social work. The ADF, a Christian legal group that advocates religious freedom, accuses tax-funded MSU of retaliating against Brooker because she refused to sign a letter to the Missouri Legislature in support of homosexual adoption as part of a class project.

Gay adoption violates Brooker’s Christian beliefs.

As told in the video, the suit was settled in Brooker’s favor, and the offending faculty largely left their positions. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is a regular target of mine for their pursuit of frivolous causes:

You get the picture. Congress outlawed such practices in venues covered by US law,which would be public accommodations. In short, places open for business to the public are no longer allowed to embarrass the entire nation through the use of insulting and exclusionary practices.

Beyond that, this is a truly egregious case and one the ACLU would have taken.

It is perhaps inevitable the matter of Guillermo Gonzalez will come up in the context of campus intolerance. He is featured as one of the cases of those expelled for advocating Intelligent Design. Gonzalez was denied tenure at Iowa State University, where he taught. He contested this action, contending he was denied tenure due to his support for Intelligent Design. The faculty board that declined to offer him tenure stated the denial was due to his lack of productivity at the University. Although he showed promise early in his career, at Iowa State his publication record was sparse, and he sponsored no successful Ph.D. candidates. The National Center for Science Education published a critique of the Expelled video and included the Gonzalez case:

Gonzalez’s publication output dropped steadily during his time at ISU. The work he did publish was based on re-evaluations of data he had previously collected or analyses of other people’s data.

An assessment by the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) found that:

…a closer look at Mr. Gonzalez’s case raises some questions about his recent scholarship and whether he has lived up to his early promise. …

Under normal circumstances, Mr. Gonzalez’s publication record would be stellar and would warrant his earning tenure at most universities, according to Mr. Hirsch [a scholar who analyzed the publication record]. But Mr. Gonzalez completed the best scholarship, as judged by his peers, while doing postdoctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin and at the University of Washington, where he received his Ph.D. His record has trailed off since then.

“It looks like it slowed down considerably,” said Mr. Hirsch…. “It’s not clear that he started new things, or anything on his own, in the period he was an assistant professor at Iowa State.”

That pattern may have hurt his case. “Tenure review only deals with his work since he came to Iowa State,” said John McCarroll, a spokesman for the university.

When considering a tenure case, faculty committees try to anticipate what kind of work a professor will accomplish in the future. “The only reason the previous record is relevant is the extent to which it can predict future performance,” said Mr. Hirsch. “Generally, it’s a good indication, but in some cases it’s not.”

David L. Lambert, director of the McDonald Observatory at Texas, supervised Mr. Gonzalez during his postdoctoral fellowship there in the early to mid-1990s. … [H]e is not aware of any important new work by Mr. Gonzalez since he arrived at Iowa State, such as branching off into different directions of research. “I don’t know what else he has done,” Mr. Lambert said. …

Mr. Gonzalez said he does not have any grants through NASA or the National Science Foundation, the two agencies that would normally support his research…. He arrived at Iowa State in 2001, but none of his graduate students there have thus far completed their doctoral work

Provided that his colleagues at Iowa State objected to his views on Intelligent Design, we need to recognize there can be a problem when a fellow scientist is seen buying into wacko science. I have observed previously there only so many times you can show up with your fly unzipped before you are no longer invited to the party.

It is unfortunate that Stephen C. Meyer has allied himself with a bastion of intolerance which Focus on the Family is. Or perhaps it is fortunate for readers. His several books, including Darwin’s Doubt and Signature in the Cell, attempt to make a show of scientific validation. Not so here. Meyer goes full monty in support of religious orthodoxy. Barbara Forrest has written Creationism’s Trojan Horse as a critique of Intelligent Design, and Meyer’s religious intent is hard to hide:

Religious motivation drives all the CRSC leadership.14 Indeed, Stephen C. Meyer, the director of the CRSC, professed his attraction to “the origins debate” precisely because it is theistic: “I remember being especially fascinated with the origins debate at this conference. It impressed me to see that scientists who had always accepted the standard evolutionary story [Meyer says he was one of them] were now defending a theistic belief, not on the basis that it makes them feel good or provides some form of subjective contentment, but because the scientific evidence suggests an activity of mind that is beyond nature. I was really taken with this.”15

Forrest, Barbara. Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (p. 260). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Meyer’s pretense at academic rigor and any scientific basis for creationism dissolve completely in the video that follows this one. Also produced by Focus on the Family, its title is “Is the Bible Reliable?” A quick peek reveals that Meyer is hosting this one and is arguing for biblical literalism, or something close to it. A review is coming up next. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Fool’s Argument

Tenth of a series

This is the tenth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

In the previous episode creationist Stephen C. Meyer delved into “objective morality.” From that point forward he leaves the world of physical science and enters into philosophy and theology. In this tenth of a ten-part series Meyer concludes by covering “moral relativism,” a matter of great concern to people who base their lives on religious teachings. The opening scene shows host David Stotts before a field of massive sand dunes. He points out that the dunes may seem fixed, but in reality they migrate over a period of time. Moral values can shift in a similar fashion, unless they are anchored by something. This episode is going to argue that religious dogma is that anchor.

This time I am not going to address Meyer’s points one by one. I will put up a selection for readers to ponder, and then I will summarize.

Moral relativism, according to Meyer and also according to most who give thought to the matter, holds there is no fixed and true morality. Moral values are at best set by societies and in the worst cases are set by individuals. Individuals who set their own moral values may become social outcasts and usually do harm to themselves, with harm being a relative term.

We apparently do not receive moral values from evolutionary biology, Meyer argues, and here he is almost completely right. I stated previously (Episode 9) that an inherited moral trait seems to be that mothers do not kill their children. This is definitely something that would be selected for in Darwinian evolution. What then, of the moral issue of not taking other people’s stuff? If you can make a good living by stealing, then you can live a good life without having to spend hours a day working, and you can get yourself a good-looking woman and send your genes deeply into the pool. Meyer makes this point, but those are my words. Let’s look at that.

There is apparently no inherited moral trait that keeps you from stealing other people’s stuff. What most likely happens is people are born with the need to survive. Then at some point in their lives they figure out that if they steal other people’s stuff, then people are going to come after them, and that is not going to be good for a long and healthy life. How, then, to explain Bernie Madoff? Obviously there is a balance.

This kind of thing is invested in other manifestations of morality. Genetically selected moral traits are drawn from the basic need to survive and are then expressed in acquired social traits. And that is as far as Darwin can take us.

But Meyer takes it further, and that’s where he loses me and also where he loses anybody who probes deeply into the matter. Meyer proposes that the Judeo-Christian ethic, given to our species by the God of Abraham, is the one and true anchor. As before, let’s look at that.

Meyer tells us we get morality from God, and I’m going to show you how that works. To do that I have concocted an imaginary tale, so bear with me. There is Fred. Fred lives with his parents, who are among a people cut off from the rest of the world for all human history. They live in the deep and dark forests of Borneo, because traditionally deep and dark Borneo the furthest place you can get from civilization.

One day Fred’s father tells him, “Son, I have evidence there’s a world outside our village that we can hardly imagine. I see streaks in the sky made by something we cannot explain. Also, from time to time I find artifacts that reflect evidence of a superior civilization.” He shows Fred an empty Diet Coke can. So Fred’s father sends Fred out of the village with the task of finding this other civilization.

So Fred sets out on a jungle trail, and he follows it past any point his people have ever gone. Eventually he comes to  a man working in a field, and he explains his situation to the man. The man says, “Fred, if you really want to see civilization, you need to go to New York City,” and he tells Fred how to get there.

Some time later Fred arrives in New York City, and it is indeed a world unlike any imagined by his father. He figures he needs to know how to get along in this brave new world, and he stops Bob on the street and explains his situation.

Bob sizes it up immediately, and he tells Fred, “I need to tell you about God and about all the stuff you are supposed to do and not to do.” So Bob tells Fred about God and also about Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior. And this is how Fred gets morality.

So, what has happened? God did not visit Fred and instill him with morality. That’s the kind of thing that would have happened by way of Darwinian evolution. No. Fred had to wait for Bob to tell him about God and to  instill into him God’s morality. People, Fred did not talk to God. Fred talked to Bob. Fred got Bob’s morality. That is moral relativism if ever there was.

And that’s what we have today, and Meyer does not want to recognize it is moral relativism. Meyer’s Wikipedia entry only tells that he was born in the United States, so I will assume he is not from the South. In the South, even in Texas I imagine, preachers at Christian churches used to stand up in front of their congregations and remind white people that Africans were an inferior people, and enslaving, raping, and murdering them was all right. This was God’s word as much as it was Bob’s word that Fred received. Some preachers may still talk like that, but the remainder have been shamed into silence. That’s moral relativism.

An imam will stand before his followers in a mosque and tell them it is God’s command they kill non-believers. This is the God of Abraham speaking through the imam. It’s the same God that Meyer prays to. This is moral relativism.

The existence of God is not an inoculation against moral relativism. God never talks to us. God talks to priests, preachers, and imams, and they talk to the rest of us. We are not following the commands of God. We are following the commands of others, others chosen by themselves to speak for God or else others chosen by us to speak for God. This is moral relativism.

But we can skip the intermediary and go straight to God. We have God’s morality hard coded in the Bible. How is that working out? To repeat from the previous review, examples abound:

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 King James Version (KJV)

18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:

19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;

20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

Some more:

Exodus 12:29 King James Version (KJV)

29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

More:

Ephesians 6:5 King James Version (KJV)

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

More:

1 Timothy 6:1-2 King James Version (KJV)

Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.

And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.

I conclude as before—any distinction between Meyer’s presentation and an exercise in deceptive propaganda is difficult to discern.

I took a peek ahead at the “bonus extra,” which does not feature Stephen C. Meyer. It appears to be about students from a fundamentalist Christian  background encountering push back and even retribution when they venture into the liberal atmosphere of an American college. It’s a longer episode and I will have a go at viewing it and doing an appraisal later this week.

Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Fool’s Argument

Ninth of a series

This is the ninth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

 The previous episode dealt with the return of the God hypothesis. Creationist Stephen C. Meyer argued that public discourse should return to accepting the hypothesis that God is behind everything. In Episode 9 Meyer abandons science altogether and unfolds his inner core argument. Judeo-Christian (Muslim, too) religious dogma is the only right and acceptable basis for human morality. He states this up front. See the screen shot above.

Meyer has formal education in science, a degree in physics and earth science, and he earlier worked down the street from where I used to work, in Plano, Texas. But then he earned a Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University, and he has been involved in promoting religion since, with little attention paid to actual science. Here he waxes entirely philosophical and theological.

We are treated to the wisdom of that world-renowned thinker Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“If God is dead, then all things are permissible.”

Yes, there is a real question whether we should base our lives on the thoughts of a 19th century writer of fiction.

Meyer illustrates with some sound logical inferences, using well-grounded philosophy.

The presentation foil says:

Is ≠ Ought

Murder hurts people.

Hurting people is wrong.

Therefore, murder is wrong.

The first part I translate to “what exists is what should be.” Then comes a statement that responsible members of society will agree to, namely that killing people is bad for the people being killed. Meyer is presenting to some students, and he initially leaves the part about hurting people being wrong and just shows the last part, murder is wrong. He asks students to fill in the blank. A student provides the obvious and missing part: hurting people is wrong. The matter then lands on where we got the part about hurting people is wrong. That’s the basis of human morality. We need to figure out what is wrong and what is right. We need to figure out what we ought to do. Meyer is going to argue that this answer cannot come from logic and  reason but must come from theism—from God.

Meyer quotes a number of famous people. Here is one such.

Here’s what it has to say:

There Are No Objective Standards of Morality

“Morality … is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive end… In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.

[Attributed to Michael Ruse and E.O. Wilson]

Michael Ruse is a retired professor of philosophy:

Michael RuseFRSC (born 21 June 1940) is a philosopher of science who specializes in the philosophy of biology and is well known for his work on the relationship between science and religion, the creation–evolution controversy, and the demarcation problem within science. Ruse currently teaches at Florida State University. He was born in England, attending Bootham School, York. He took his undergraduate degree at the University of Bristol (1962), his master’s degree at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario (1964), and Ph.D. at the University of Bristol (1970).

Edward Osborne Wilson is a biologist:

Edward Osborne Wilson (born June 10, 1929), usually cited as E. O. Wilson, is an American biologist, researcher, theorist, naturalist and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, the study of ants, on which he is the world’s leading expert.

The statement, attributed to the two of them together, seems brash on the surface, but it contains some embedded logic. There is a view, held by me and by others, that human morality is basic. I start by observing that mothers, with exceptions, do not kill their babies. Else there would be no human race. Further, there would be no human race prior to the rise of Judeo-Christian thinking. Hence, human morality existed at a basic level for a long time without benefit of Judeo-Christian morality. I extend this line of thought to higher levels of ethics and morality.

You don’t take other people’s stuff, because if you do, then that’s going to make them angry, and they’re going to come after you, and you are going to spend your time fighting to stay alive, whereas if you left other people’s stuff alone, and they left your stuff alone, then everybody would get along and we would all be more productive.

And that’s the basis of the Ruse-Wilson argument,  Stephen C. Meyer notwithstanding.

Meyer cites additional examples. Here’s famous trial lawyer of 100 years ago, Clarence Darrow. In 1924 Darrow defended two privileged white kids who murdered a young boy in an exercise to demonstrate they were smarter than anybody else.

What Darrow did is what any good defense lawyer does. There was no doubt the boys did it, and a guilty plea was entered. What Darrow did was to successfully argue before the sentencing judge that the boys were shaped by evolution and society and should not be executed for the crime.

Meyer’s invoking of the Darrow defense might lend merit to his argument against innate morality, but he steps into a giant cow cookie while invoking Darrow. Specifically:

[Darrow] was sent by the ACLU out to Chicago to defend [Leopold and Loeb].

Absolutely false, and I have to wonder where Meyer got this. The ACLU did not send Darrow to defend two murderers. Leopold and Loeb were from wealthy families, and they did not need a civil rights lawyer to defend them. They could afford the best lawyer in the country, and what happened, according to a biography of Darrow’s life, is that the uncle of one of the boys went to Darrow’s home and pleaded, promised to pay whatever was demanded, to get Darrow to take the case.

Call me cynical if you wish, but Meyer’s reference to  the ACLU appears to be a bit of Intelligent Design. The Intelligent Design folks are not known for stand-up honesty, and the temptation  to suck the ACLU—which has confronted state-sponsored anti-evolution at every step—into the narrative was possibly too tempting to resist. Do I think Meyer and the other creationists were still smarting from the drubbing ACLU lawyers gave Intelligent Design in the Kitzmiller case? Inquiring minds would like to know.

The religious doctrine espoused by conservative thinkers, the Discovery Institute included, leans toward being highly-judgmental. The word on the street is these people recoil when they think somebody is having too much fun. “The Kinsey Reports” refers to two volumes published in 1948 and 1953 and based on interviews with a few thousands of subjects.

What’s Natural is Good

“The Kinsey Reports … have inspired sex education programs in high schools and encouraged several generations of sex therapists to tell their patients, ‘If it feels good, do it.’ [Attributed to] James H. Jones.”

Regarding James H. Jones:

James H. Jones is a Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. 

He is the author of Kinsey: A Public/Private Life and [also] Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Meyer does not cite a reference for the Jones quote, but assume it is true for the sake of argument. A broad interpretation is that if nobody is harmed, then it is all right to do it. This is something religious fundamentalists seem to have issue with. Call me out on this if I am wrong, but my observation is that many conservatives in this country and elsewhere, in the interest of smaller government, want people to quit having fun wherever there are no consequences attached.

Meyer invokes the United States Constitution, as it is based on religious morality.

This is possibly a misstep on his part, because the Constitution, as originally adopted, was not steeped in morality and human rights:

Section. 2.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

[Emphasis added]

 

Yes, the Constitution, adopted in 1789, had no provision for protecting human rights, and it had text particularly worded to accommodate slavery.

In the video one student is seen bringing up the matter of slavery, and Meyer is quick to respond that that was then, and this is now (my words). Just because somebody else does it wrong, or just because everybody used to do it wrong, that doesn’t mean we should not presently be doing it right. He completely glosses over his wrong assertion that the Constitution was inspired by a Judeo-Christian morality.

Once again he invokes David Berlinski. I have to go back to the video to recall what this was about.

And here it is. Berlinski is seen saying that no system that sought to ensure morality, absent religion, has been successful. Berlinski may have some support here. In a previous century I was acquainted with the late science fiction writer and acknowledged atheist L. Sprague de Camp. At a dinner gathering once he made this observation. We need religion, the fear of God, to make people do right.

While I  can possibly, based on observation, agree with Berlinski and de Camp, I have never found it necessary in my own life to require fear of the supernatural to keep me in line. That observation holds for a large gathering of my atheistic friends and family. On the other hand I note the great number of people being killed in the name of God. God’s ways are mysterious, to be sure.

Meyer concludes.

Three Key Conditions for an Objective Morality

  1. Objective standard
  2. Free will
  3. Intrinsic value of humans

I find no fault with that position. How I differ with Meyer is that an imaginary God is not necessary to attain that objective.

This entire episode has been soaked in religion and philosophy, and Meyer’s presentation quotes a number of philosophical sources, including Berlinski and Dostoyevsky. And that is supposed to mean a lot. People who know me really well are acquainted with my view of philosophy as a study and philosophers in general. God put philosophers on this planet with an eye toward making used car salesmen look good.

That said, what to make of Meyer’s argument, specifically that  we need a God, particularly we need a religion, to obtain  morality? More specifically, people did not come up with morality, cannot come up with morality, on their own. There must have been some supernatural force to inject morality into the human consciousness. It’s a proposition that does not pass the Skeptical Analysis test.

First, assuming the God to which Meyer refers is the source of this morality. Surprise! This God is a human invention. People existed many thousands of years before the Abrahamic God was introduced, and people had morality. Doubt me? Take note of this. The famous Ten Commandments existed in various forms prior to the time Moses was supposed to have brought them down from Mount Sinai. From all appearances, the writers of the story of Moses adopted these ideas, and placed them on the stone tablets.

But, let’s pretend that God really is the source of our morality. Then what a wonder of morality it is. Examples abound:

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 King James Version (KJV)

18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:

19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;

20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

Some more:

Exodus 12:29 King James Version (KJV)

29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

More:

Ephesians 6:5 King James Version (KJV)

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

More:

1 Timothy 6:1-2 King James Version (KJV)

Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.

And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.

And I can go on ad nauseam. And I will if anybody from the Intelligent Design camp wants to challenge that I am picking and choosing from the Bible. Meyer might come back to me and remind me some of these quotes are from the Old Testament, before Jesus forged a more benign morality, but Timothy is New Testament, and the Old Testament is from the God of Abraham, who created the Universe and humankind, and imbued us with basic morality, which we would not otherwise have.

Any distinction between Meyer’s presentation and a deceptive propaganda exercise is difficult to discern.

There is one more episode to review, and then there is the promised bonus extra. I should be finished in two more days.

Episode 10 is titled “The Moral Necessity of Theism, Part 2: We Need God.” From Amazon:

Dr. Meyer provides overwhelming evidence that the theistic worldview is the only one that can provide a coherent explanation for an objective and meaningful system of morality.

I can hardly wait.

Fool’s Argument

Eighth of a series

This is the eighth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

The previous episode continued with creationist Stephen C. Meyer, discussing the concept he featured in his book, Signature in the Cell, previously reviewed. This time around Meyer argues for the return of the God hypothesis. That is, we should accept the hypothesis that a supernatural being, with thought processes much like human thought, is behind the wonders of the Universe and of life, itself. Above we see host David Stotts, camping out in the mountains at night, taking in the wonders of the Universe.

Meyer kicks off his discussion. Illustrations are screen shots from Episode 8, and viewers should take note. Once I copy an image on my computer screen I use Corel PaintShop Pro to massage it. I enhance brightness and contrast to make key features easier to pick out from the small images I post with the story. Apologies for anybody whose picture comes off a bit weird.

Meyer talks of “Those who have gone before us.” These are great scientists of olden days who accepted the God hypothesis a priori and even employed it as a motivation for their study of nature.

He recalls his days at Cambridge University. Over the Great Cavendish Door (at the Cavendish Laboratory), was this slogan.

Here it is so search engines can  find it.

The Great Cavendish Door

“Magna opera Domini exquista in omnes voluntates ejus.”

“Great are the works of the Lord, sought out by all who take pleasure in them.”

Meyer mentions Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and James Clerk Maxwell, supposedly as those who took pleasure in the works of the Lord.

Meyer launches into the thesis of this episode.

Thesis

Theism—with its affirmation of a transcendent, powerful and intelligent Creator—provides the best explanation of the key evidences concerning the origin of the universe and life.

I could let this pass and get onto my analysis of Meyer’s talk, but I have to take issue with the foregoing. What is actually true is that Theism is a made-up hypothesis that can explain anything and everything, making it a fairly useless basis for scientific inquiry.

That said, here is a chart that recapitulates from previous episodes. The title is “Multiple Competing Hypotheses.”

The competing hypotheses are Deism, Naturalism, Theism, and Pantheism. Meyer is going to eventually cross off all of these except theism, which is going to rule the day. I am going to start by crossing off pantheism, because I have no understanding of it, and my intellectual depth does not plumb Meyer’s discussion of it.

Meyer crosses off naturalism, due to arguments he has made previously. Nature cannot explain the miraculous origin of the universe and the wonders of the world around us. That leaves the competing deism and theism.

Deism Meyer throws out immediately, as would all thinking people. Deism is the idea that God—or whatever—started things off and then went on vacation, having nothing more to do with us. Meyer knows this is not the case, because the Universe was around for billions of years before there were plants and animals—and people. And God, or whatever, is needed to explain these late developments.

Biology

What runs the show in biology is information.

Strictly speaking, this is correct. What runs the show in a mechanistic world is information. Information is a the medium of cause and effect. The Earth goes around the sun because of gravity. Gravity transmits to the Earth the information that the sun is there. A bullet leaves the barrel of a gun at high velocity. This is a manifestation of the bullet receiving information about the burning powder in the cartridge. You cry because your receive an email from your girlfriend saying she has dumped you. And so on. This is cause and effect. This is the transfer of information. Meyer wants to make more of it.

And that is unfortunate for Meyer.

Best Explanation

Information is the product of intelligent activity.

Obviously not. See the preceding examples.

Meyer cites examples in the history of the Universe where information was introduced.

Loci of Design

Fine-Tuning of the Laws of Physics … Origin of First Life … Cambrian Information Explosion

These relate to:

Big Bang 13 bya … 3.85 bya (first life) … 530 mya [Cambrian Explosion]

13 Billion Years of Cosmic History

As a side note, this will not go over well with the Young Earth Creationists, e.g., the folks at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), now located in Dallas, Texas. Most interesting is the way people like Meyer and those of the ICR team up, discarding principal talking points, to push their central theme, “God did it.”

Now Meyer launches into the manufactured controversy of the Cambrian Explosion. This video is by now eight years old, so we have to wonder whether the Discovery Institute still pushes it. And the answer is yes, they do. Here is an item by the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site:

The Cambrian explosion remains one of the severest evidential challenges to Darwinian evolution. Recent fossil finds adduced to support evolution deserve a closer look.

Ediacaran Fossils

Since our recent posts about the “Ediacaran Explosion” and the enigmatic Dicksonia fossils, a couple of news items have appeared about Ediacaran organisms.

Rangeomorphs. At New Scientist, Andy Coghlan invites readers to “See inside the 580-million-year-old creature no one understands” – the rangeomorphs that resemble large petals or leaves. Most fossils of these creatures appear as flattened impressions in the rock, showing only their outer surfaces. Now, for the first time, University College London scientists performed CT scans of rangeomorphs found in their original 3-D condition in Namibia. This is the first look “inside” these organisms. What was found?

[Alana] Sharp and her colleagues think all six fronds may have been inflated like long balloons. They may even have touched one another – meaning that a horizontal section through Rangea would have looked more like a slice through an orange rather than one through a starfruit.

“Our work supports a lifestyle of absorption of nutrients through membranes inflated to the maximum, increasing the surface area across which these organisms seemed to feed,” says Sharp. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, these creatures had no organs, no systems, and no body cavities. The researchers found a central stalk filled with sediment that may have helped “support the creature like a primitive skeleton.” But it isn’t a skeleton; it’s just a “cone-shaped channel.” More importantly, rangeomorphs looked nothing like the true animals that appeared later in the Cambrian explosion. Sharp added, “they are the first of the truly large, multicellular organisms that radiated broadly before the first true animals evolved.”

Yes, Intelligent Design is going to flog this argument for as long as they can mine any perceived absence of data.

It’s interesting to note that in his talk Meyer gives the Cambrian Explosion a geologically narrow window,  “between two and ten million years.” This is at variance to the 20 to 25 million years typically ascribed to the period. I can only guess that Meyer does this in order to intensify the compression of any evolutionary development attributed to the Cambrian Explosion. I recall that creationist Jonathan Wells does something similar:

Wells also plays fast and loose with definitions. The Cambrian explosion is not synonymous with the entire Cambrian period. Even though Wells gives a length for the explosion of 5-10 million years, he also considers groups to have originated in the explosion if they appeared at any time during the Cambrian, a period of over 50 million years.

In invoking the supposed miracles of the Cambrian Explosion, creationists employ this and other devices to exaggerate the apparent rate of evolutionary development and also the lack of complete fossil evidence.

Meyer’s illustration summarizes.

In “older rocks,” prior to 600 million years ago, we see no evidence of fossils representing the multiple phyla in the modern world. In “younger rocks” we see fossils of arthropods and other creatures with body plans we would recognize today. Meyer’s deduction: something miraculous happened. God intervened (my wording).

He illustrates with a cladogram. These modern body plans originated from a “Common Ancestor.” Next we can presume he is going to ask, “What was that common ancestor, and where are the intermediate fossils?”

Meyer cites examples (to him) of unexplained “Sudden Appearance” of species.

Examples of Geologically Sudden Appearance

Mammalian radiation (shows bear, horse, gorilla)

“Big bloom” of flowering plants (shows blossoms)

Marine Mesozoic revolution (shows a drawing of a marine dinosaur)

Cambrian explosion

The fossil record shows a radiation from as few as “two lineages of Eutherian mammals” at the end of  the Cretaceous period. Twenty million years later we find that “most of the twenty or so present-day mammalian orders are identifiable.” I’m getting the idea Meyer thinks this is unbelievably fast for evolutionary development to work. We must come to think Meyer has equal heartburn with flowering plants and marine dinosaurs.

Next, Meyer launches into a foray into Michael Behe‘s “high-tech in low life.”

Behe began to pop up in the anti-evolution scene at the 1992 conference “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference” at Southern Methodist University. Other heavy hitters of the Intelligent Design movement were there, including Phillip Johnson, the so-called godfather of modern Intelligent Design. However, I failed to notice Behe until 1996, when he came out with his book, Darwin’s Black Box. You can catch Behe’s appearance in the 1997 Firing Line debate on YouTube.

Anyhow, take a look at the computer screen Meyer is using in his talk. It shows an illustration of a favorite Behe talking point. It is the bacterial flagellum and its driving mechanism. Don’t look for me to go into  detail here. YouTube has a video of Behe giving his pitch.

A problem with this argument, proposed by Behe and now pushed by Meyer, is that scientists working in the field have real issues with Behe’s argument:

Evolution myths: The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex

Actually, flagella vary widely from one species to another, and some of the components can perform useful functions by themselves. They are anything but irreducibly complex

It is a highly complex molecular machine. Protruding from many bacteria are long spiral propellers attached to motors that drive their rotation. The only way the flagellum could have arisen, some claim, is by design.

Each flagellum is made of around 40 different protein components. The proponents of an offshoot of creationism known as intelligent design argue that a flagellum is useless without every single one of these components, so such a structure could not have emerged gradually via mutation and selection. It must have been created instead.

In reality, the term “the bacterial flagellum” is misleading. While much remains to be discovered, we now know there are thousands of different flagella in bacteria, which vary considerably in form and even function.

Please note, this was published prior to Meyer’s presentation (2009). In a setting such as this, a dramatized argument for Intelligent Design, Meyer might not be required to take note of valid and counter arguments. In a presentation at a professional conference what Meyer is doing would be considered fraud.

Meyer states what he thinks he has demonstrated.

Evidence for intelligent design:

is beyond reasonable doubt.

To which I will add, “In your wildest dreams.”

Meyer reinforces his argument by citing famous thinkers, in this case Anthony Flew:

Antony Garrard Newton Flew (11 February 1923 – 8 April 2010) was an English philosopher. Belonging to the analytic and evidentialist schools of thought, Flew was most notable for his work related to the philosophy of religion. During the course of his career he taught at the universities of OxfordAberdeenKeele and Reading, and at York University in Toronto.

For much of his career Flew was known as a strong advocate of atheism, arguing that one should presuppose atheism until empirical evidence of a God surfaces. He also criticised the idea of life after death, the free will defence to the problem of evil, and the meaningfulness of the concept of God. In 2003 he was one of the signatories of the Humanist Manifesto III. However, in 2004 he stated an allegiance to deism, more specifically a belief in the Aristotelian God. He stated that in keeping his lifelong commitment to go where the evidence leads, he now believed in the existence of a God.

What is doubly interesting, regarding the reference to Anthony Flew, is:

  • Flew moved from atheism to deism, not to theism.
  • The news item pictured appears in the Washington Times. This newspaper was “Founded on May 17, 1982, by Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon.” It reflects religious and politically conservative views and is an unabashed supporter of Intelligent Design, in opposition to Darwinian evolution. Jonathan Wells is a prominent proponent of Intelligent Design. He is a follower of Moon and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

That latter part would rightly not bother Meyer’s reference to Anthony Flew. I am sure a similar item appeared in other publications at the time.

And Meyer concludes with the slogan of today.

The return of the God hypothesis

Good to see it’s back. I was afraid these creationists would sashay into science and mess things up. We might be required to start teaching Intelligent Design in public science classes.

Coming up is Episode 9, “The Moral Necessity of Theism.” This is going to be interesting. People who insist that science recognize the supernatural in the study of nature are now going to convince us that human morality derives from this supernatural force. Here’s what Amazon has to say about the next episode:

It is impossible to live as a moral relativist. Everyone believes in some standard of right and wrong. But what is that standard and where did it come from?

This should be interesting. I’m almost finished. Episode 10 is the final one, and there is also a “bonus extra.” I don’t know what that is about, but I will have a look and do a review if one is warranted. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.