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April 30, 2014

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I think the major problem in this discussion is that it has been going on so long, basically the entire western philosophical history from Aristotle to Sartre, that it is practically impossible to anymore bring forth new arguments or viewpoints to the debate, which is probably why even discussions that start out interesting usually devolve into these same inanities that everyone wants to repeat.

Out of curious nature, I very often immerse myself in religious blogs, and without a doubt, they will always default back to the same basic arguments that have been debated a million times: The universe needs an immaterial mover, Jesus rose from the dead because the gospel writers were ready to die for their beliefs, morality cannot exist without God, atheism leads to communism/nazism versus God is immoral genocidal dictator, there is no proof of the supernatural, God of the gaps does not work as an argument, communism is political religion not atheist philosophy etc. This is one of the reasons I find the atheism versus Christianity debates nowadays usually so tedious, and have been more interested recently in finding about the philosophical differences between various groups of Christianity for example in regards to evolution and Darwin and the differences between various secular ideologies.

Of course, one of the reasons I still occasionally debate these things is because someone is always around to hear the arguments for the first time.

Simply said, we have reached a moment in Western history when, despite all appearances, no meaningful public debate over belief and unbelief is possible.

I actually find this quote by Hart to be largely irrelevant, although I think it does point a (deserved) reproving finger at Christianity. However, the bigger picture is that it doesn't matter that depraved man doesn't want to have this discussion. Our only responsibility is to set forth the facts of Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection, and the call to believe on Him, and then live that out in our lives according to how the Bible says we should live as Christians. The rest is God's prerogative. I think this is actually in line with what Amy says:

If we Christians have a small view of God and the story He’s telling through history, if we lack reverence, wonder, and awe when we contemplate and speak of Jesus and the cross, if we view church as a self-help exercise, if our services reflect this empty perspective, we can’t be surprised when the culture around us absorbs the same shallow view.

As Jesus said, "You are the light of the world...let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

Let discussion of Christianity—whether between atheists or Christians—never again be filled with "casual inanities."

100% agree.

Errki S,

Your second paragraph speaks volumes. It appears that too often the issues aren't so much complex than convoluted. You were fairly even-handed in laying out the key matters of disagreement, with no real straw man expressions. Many issues interconnect:

>> The universe needs an immaterial mover ...
>> God of the gaps ...
>> there is no proof of the supernatural ...

It boils down to origins having a natural or supernatural foundation. The compromise of theistic evolution has its problems even with a big bang cosmology (the origins of the material leading to pre-bang conditions, the incipient action[s]).

Other issues deal with human conduct, the foundations of morality, the ethic background of political systems. Your concern of the variety of ideas being talked and re-talked to death has two poor responses, 1) refuse to talk at all, or 2) demean the position (and, sad to say, the personal integrity) of the other side. Many present theist vs. atheist debates die from these maladies of thought.

Sigh, I fear Christians and atheists would argue over peanut butter.

I believe each side has far too lofty goals. Paul, in one of his last defenses of his faith may have asked too much in hoping to convert Herod Agrippa II (Acts 26: 28). Utopian dreams of secularistic states were religion is remembered as noxious superstition is equally banal.

Thus, the zeal to convert may be the poison that stales this line of debate. It is better to speak ones mind peaceably (oops, that could be equally tiresome) reminding the other where the inaccuracy exists. This was how Origen handled Celsus many centuries ago.

It is better to speak ones mind peaceably (oops, that could be equally tiresome) reminding the other where the inaccuracy exists.

The problem is that Christians, in general, are resistant to ideas that challenge their worldview. Atheists, in general, are not. Having been a Christian for over thirty years and having walked that road myself, I can testify to this from personal experience. Atheists, in general, go where the evidence leads them. Christians, in general, cordon off certain lines of inquiry. There is little hope of resolution there.

For instance, no matter how many lines of evidence (fossil record, embryology, DNA, physical isolation of species, etc.) are presented to the Christian that evolution by natural selection is a fact, he will never accept it because doing so endangers his presupposed theological position. Sensing the threat that scientific evidence poses to their doctrine, Christians have attempted to build a pseudo-scientific industry of their own (Intelligent Design) that seeks to wrap itself in the trappings of science while never submitting itself to the constraints of science (peer review, testability, falsifiability, predictive power, etc.).

Really, what inaccuracies can the theist point out to the atheist? The theist have no method of even demonstrating that his own position is true much less that the position of the atheist is wrong. I'm not trying to be arrogant although I know that first sentence sounds like it. I honestly don't know how a theist could ever establish that he stands on solid ground. As Bertrand Russell said "Insufficient evidence."

Hart's article is the "Courtier's Reply" all over again.

Certainly it's true that "Christianity's intellectual history is rich and deep, its art is meaningful, its theology addresses the universal condition of man and responds to our greatest questions." It's just too bad that God doesn't actually exist.

The atheist view is indeed quite simple, and it seems inane to the true believers. Those childish atheists are so naive and simple-minded! Just like the child who said the emperor was naked.

@ John Moore

"It's just too bad that God doesn't actually exist."

Oh, really? How do you know that?

Hmmm, AGJ again:

"Really, what inaccuracies can the theist point out to the atheist?"

Mo just did when he asked:

"Oh, really? How do you know that?"

This of course will do, but it would only be a very small tip of an enormous iceberg. Mostly, the problem with the atheists in general, is that they reason poorly, especially when things relate directly to personal experience. The intellectual problem is really a moral problem.

John Moore stating that God doesn't exist may or may not true, but it's not inaccurate. It's a conclusion that John has drawn based the lack of evidence for a God. The null hypothesis is the only logical position to take when discussing something that cannot be detected in any way. Absence of evidence is sometimes evidence of absence, especially when evidence exists for an alternative explanation.

AJG,

Your phrasing ... a pseudo-scientific industry ... smack's too much of conspiracy theories. It is the greatest travesty of a strawman argument. The supposed war on science yadayada.

It is equally certain that science has been abused on all fronts. Embryology? Haeckel's embryonic drawings, first order contrived evidence. Embryology and DNA? Equally appropriate to the design paradigm (too complicated too develop and replicate on vast scales by random uncontrolled forces). The complexity is the evidence that John Moore desires, but the search for natural causes to produce all this without catastrophic system failures that must occur in random activity has been elusive. Scientific explanations, on careful examination, also have their difficulties. For all these pieces to fall into place in and of itself, guided only by blind scientific principles, isn't this too an act of faith?

Your phrasing ... a pseudo-scientific industry ... smack's too much of conspiracy theories. It is the greatest travesty of a strawman argument. The supposed war on science yadayada.

Strawman? Hardly. Here's the first sentence for the Wikipedia page on pseudoscience:

"Pseudoscience is a claim, belief or practice which is presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status."

That describes ID exactly. A notion that wraps itself in scientific trappings but does not adhere to the established methods of science. Where's the theory of ID? There is none. What predictions does ID make that can be tested and falsified? There are none. What papers on ID have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals? I don't know of any. At best, ID is a hypothesis, but it is no theory.

ID was always a concerted effort to insert creationism into the science classroom as the so-called "Wedge Document" makes perfectly clear. That's why when people like Stephen Meyer state that the Designer is not necessarily the Christian God, they are being completely disingenuous.

Sometimes conspiracies are actual conspiracies, and the pushing of ID is a perfect example.

Wikipedia, the realm of the lazy man's research (and favored source of "cut-and-pasters" who tried to make me believe that their research papers were original and in "their own words")? Granted, Wiki has worked hard at improving the editing of material in their "free encyclopedia," but a quote from Wiki shows a tendency not to do real study on the topic, just engaging in an issue fast and reliab ... just fast.

But, for the sake of argument, I will accept the Wiki definition to a point. So to restate this:

>> "Pseudoscience is a claim, belief or practice which is presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status."

You have mentioned Stephen Meyer. Have you ever read Signature in the Cell or Darwin's Doubt? You would have to grant the first two clauses on the practice of a valid scientific method. As valid, you must mean observation/hypothesis/experimentation/theory/ leading to further re-evaluation by experiment and research by the scientific community. Meyer is well established in the routines of good science, and his books are hundreds of pages of documented evidence for his suppositions. As to "cannot reliably tested," there are aspects to Meyer's work that leads to interpretation of the data, but this is the work of scientists in the examination of a fellow's studies. Meyer shows thorough grounding in microbiological research and his presentation of the paleontological fossil findings in the Cambrian level is a major discredit to Darwin's original supposition. It short, scientific findings that counter present scientific knowledge.

This leads to the final clause in the definition, the only one I would question as viable: lacks scientific status. Are you acquainted with the book Betrayers of the Truth written by Broad and Wade in 1982? Their premise was the possible lack of objectivity in the scientific field, and this affected by two key factors, 1) the need for grant-funding leading to skewing of conclusions to gain further grants, and 2) the peer review procedures that assist in the limiting of unfavorable concepts. That and a minor factor, need for personal prestige.

Thus, playing the pseudo-science card is not that simple. Pseudo-science? Chariots of the Gods, for sure. Parapsychology and ESP? Without a doubt. But to seek to negate scientific research to prevent the "divine foot in the door" is a far trickier concept. I understand the need to prevent the divine foot, but still be open to the question the reasonable objections against evolution that would involve all this tootsie-nudging.


Meyer?

I seem to remember some nonsense about a combination lock.

Last I checked, Meyer was neither a microbiologist nor a paleontologist; however, he is an excellent quote miner. Why would I read a book by him on either subject when real scientists with years of education and field work in those areas actually exist and write books too? Real scientists like Steven J. Prothero who sums up the problems with Darwin's Doubt in this review.

Sorry Donald J. Prothero. Shouldn't post before coffee... :)

It amazes me that all discussions are done from the vantage of the Enlightenment/Deistic/Epicurean framework. Miracles are acts of a far away God poking holes into the natural world to break the rules, and the goal of Christians is to escape to a far away reality where God is. What we Christians need to do is to begin to make clear that we do not operate on an Epicurean framework, but one of Creational Monotheism. In this sort of belief system, God is not a part of the created order or the cosmos, but he is in it and constantly acting within it. There is an intersection of both the metaphysical world where God is, and the natural world. The problem of this debate is that modern day atheists essentially see God as a tyrant, and therefore Epicureanism (God is far off or not there or maybe not there) as a better solution to this issue. As Christians, we must make it truly plain that neither do we understand God to be a part of the cosmos (stoicism), nor far off (Epicureanism), but present among us. We often adhere to the Epicurean Enlightenment worldview when we talk about God. This is a major problem to overcome if we want to help those who do not believe walk towards belief.

Read the Prothero review. Poor excuse of ad hominem argument, seeking to question Meyer's credentials (PHD Cambridge, philosophy of science) and his core data of fossil findings in the Cambrian strata. One post review comment declared it a rant while another spoke of a Meyer-Prothero debate which suggested the caustic review. However you approach the review, it is a QED of the proposal of the post, the rationale of why the two sides in this matter refuse to deepen the conversation (why Richard Dawkins won't debate theist apologists).

The argument behind Darwin's Doubt is fundamental:

1. The doubt was placed on the lack of paleontological evidence at the moment Darwin first proposed his general theory, but the confidence that such fossil evidence will be found later to support it.
2. The fossil evidence, ample in its uncovering, not only failed to support it, but contradicted it outright (the Cambrian explosion or diversification if you are so inclined).
3. Darwin's theory should be suspect in certain areas.

In the long run, perhaps it would be insightful if I could suggest that such efforts are not so much an attack on Darwin but on Huxley, who wished to extend the ramifications of Darwin's evolutionary ideas beyond its simple concept of variation of species. It would be better to dispel the false idea of Christians being against science but rather abuses of science.

I do not suppose that this shift in paradigm would seek to deepening of the conversation, but would hope it preserve an irenic tone.

Prothero does slam Meyer, but it's justified. He points out numerous specific outright lies or falsehoods in Darwin's Doubt. Why doesn't Meyer or some other DI Fellow actually answer the criticisms with substantive arguments instead of whining about debates. Debates are fun to watch, but they are poor avenues for discovering truth. Usually, the better arguer could win either side in a debate if he chose to. Debating is a specific talent, but it doesn't determine fact. Who cares if Dawkins won't debate some hack from the Discovery Institute?

The fossil record overwhelmingly supports common descent. If you want to prove this to yourself, you should read Prothero's own book on the subject. You won't like it because the first two chapters detail why creationists are untrustworthy and why ID is really pseudoscience, but you can skip those and jump straight into the meat of the book which concerns the evidence for evolution in the current fossil record.

Meyer is either a liar for Jesus or he's totally out of his element. I'll be gracious and say it's probably the latter.

Two final questions for you DGFischer: do you agree with Meyer that the earth is at least hundreds of millions of years old? Also, do you agree with Michael Behe that humans and apes share a common ancestor and the all species are descended from common ancestors? I ask these things because I would like to know how seriously you actually take the Biblical account of creation.

AJG,

You offer good questions, but I need one FYI to guide my response.

How do you perceive the Biblical account of creation?

I ask merely because of a previous reading of a year ago, The Creationists by Ronald Numbers. Many creationists do not adhere to to Usher's chronology.

I guess I am curious about what kind of creationist you perceive me to be.

I think the Biblical account is nonsense, but the reading that makes the most sense is an earth that is less than 10,000 years old and a creation that occurred in six, twenty-four hour days. Before the Enlightenment and before science revealed that the earth is very old, no Christian accepted the idea that the earth was more than 10,000 years old.

It's amusing that Christians will use the argument that historical Christianity has never viewed homosexuality as anything other than evil as an argument to continue to oppose it, yet many (most?) have completely waffled on the age of the earth because science has demolished that assumption from multiple avenues of evidence. As much as I think he's wrong, I have a begrudging respect for Ken Ham because he accepts and proclaims what the Bible plainly teaches.

AJG,

Sorry for the delay to your post. Pulled away from the computer to attend to family affairs.

While your answer to my request for your personal understanding of creation and Meyer and Behe's conceptions of origins filled in some blanks, I am thinking that creationism is not logically acceptable, at least to you. Ken Ham is not representative of the movement, only the young earth creationist position. Numbers of years are a residual element in the whole case. What this issue comes to is ultimate origin. Is the cosmos the effect of divine fiat or divine guidance (the distinctive mark that separates young-earth and old-earth creationists), or is it the effect of self-activating nature forces? If it comes to a point, I would fall in the area of a YEC who need not be held to Usher's chronology, and appreciate the thoughts of old-earth creationists. YEC's consider the idea of divine omnipotence as full cause. OEC's consider the findings of geology and extend the understanding of Genesis One to metaphorical expressions of development over aeons (the argument on how to take the Hebrew YOM, which deals with the expanse of time over periods as well as 24-hour days). Thus the 6000-10,000 year age of the earth is strawman at best. Both sides, creationist and evolutionists, must deal with the moment of cosmological activation, how things got going.

Both YEC's and OEC's have reservations about the adequacy of Darwinian thought offering a complete explanation of origins. There are serious questions to resolve in dealing with evolution, and the talk of "gaps" really is the discussion whether holes in the evolutionary theory are closeable gaps or insurmountable chasms which would call for the reformation or jettisoning of the theory. In science, theories are falsifiable. Still, there are points of friction with this very idea. One accomplished high school teacher in Washington state dutifully taught the curricular material on evolution, but included a "problems of evolution" sectional as a closure. He was disciplined, then dismissed. Was this censorship of legitimate academic pursuit (teaching pros and cons) or a culling of unnecessary material from the course?

Better than this, I alluded to a debate between Meyer and Prothero in a previous post. View it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-KPfFPIaVU

Telling is the title: Has evolution adequately debated the origins of life? Meyer teamed with Richard Sternberg, Prothero with Michael Shermer. The discussion was lively and cordial. But the comments to the U-Tube entry was disabled. Cordial doesn't seem to be the play of the day outside of academia.

So perhaps JBerr was correct in his post. Forced to follow a specific mold, much like demanding that all future posts on this article be given in Mandarin (yes, I've heard of Google translate). Curious insistence. Feasible, but you'd wonder why you'd take the time to do this. We are talking of worldviews after all. It is difficult to request that one see things your way against his will. It is that cause of all that rancor.

Divine origin or natural origin. Each side will call the other side's view as impossible.

And, yes, I have the same begrudging respect for Ken Ham.

Hi DGFischer, I appreciate your input on this site, I listened to that debate last night and though I am not completely unfamiliar with Prothero, I think I gleaned quite a bit more from that debate.

I'm prompted by several things here but dont have time to give[there's that pesky work thing getting in the way again] even minimal attention to them but I will quickly start with this: Prothero comes off as an intellectual elitist with very little if any humility. I think even a child can point out his foundational ungrounded assumptions but he's got no use for philosophical constraints that might restrain his unbridled enthusiasm for purely naturalistic sciences.

He criticizes Meyey and Sternberg as having ulterior motives for debate saying that the real purpose was to promote ID not debate the merits of Darwinian evolution....well, it seems equally plausible that Shermer and Prothero were really promoting their own limited view of physical science under the guise of the scientific method.

I have no more time, but will chime in that I have no problem at all with Ken Ham and have weighed the physical evidence with open eyes and will say this...if Ham is understanding the texts rightly, the sense perceptions of the age of the earth are wrong. I am agnostic on the age of the earth but not on whether the scriptures are inerrant and infallible-unlike interpretation of the scriptures.

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