Saturday, October 1, 2011

Post 101: Arguing against Arguments Against Atheism

This is my 101st post. This is also my longest running blog, and as I sit here on this dreary, rainy Saturday, I can only think of how fortunate it is that I've been able to stick with this consistently now for not just 101 posts, but also for 4 months. The blog isn't that old, and while we're a while away from 10,000 hits, it's getting close.

So, as something special today, I decided to head back to the regular tradition of Saturday mornings - philosophy and arguments against them. Rather that pick one philosophy and dismantle it piece by piece, however, I decided to take a look at an argument against a philosophy - two arguments, two philosophies - and dismantle those.

So, without much further ado, let's dive headfirst into our Saturday Morning Philosophical Dissertation, while remembering that this is a special post - we've lived to see 100 posts, so here's to another 100.

First, let's start with some fluff. I came across this page, entitled "the best arguments against atheistic evolution." Now, I've heard of Theistic Evolution before - the idea that God directs evolution from a distance - and regular evolution with a side helping of Deism - the idea that God kicked the ball and got it rolling - but "atheistic evolution" is a new one for me. Most atheists accept evolution as fact. According to the page, it's "atheist who deny the existence of God and miracles", which is basic tautology and probably not the best way to start an article. But they've got several points, and I plan to take apart each one.
"Problem" 1: How Did the Universe Come About?
There is of course no scientific law or demonstrable process that would let something evolve from nothing. If there was nothing in the universe to begin with, obviously nothing could happen to cause anything to appear.
Atheistic evolutionists often try to duck this problem — which is impossible for them to answer satisfactorily — by saying that evolution is not concerned with the origin of life, only how life progressed after it appeared. But assuming the existence of an intricately working universe with some sort of life-forms already in it is not a minor assumption, and puts more faith in an unknown, counter-intuitive process than Christians put in God.
The problem is that if you can't get something from nothing, it's pointless thinking you can accurately explain the next step. Juggle the figures any way you like, but without a Creator you are not going to get anything, let alone everything.
 First off, that's cosmology, not evolution. If you're going to argue against "atheistic evolution," get your sciences right. Maybe that should be under "atheistic cosmology." Evolution as a theory does not say anything about the beginning of the universe. This is basic science. If you're failing that right out of the gate, and this is the best you've got, you might as well abandon ship right now because the boat you're on is sinking faster than a dinghy taking on water in a hurricane. Don't confuse or conflate Stephan Hawking with Charles Darwin.

Second of all, there's a lot of different scientific theories out there posited to explain the beginning of the universe. The Big Bang is probably the most well known, but that model is out of date. I've seen models posited by String Theory and M-Theory that call for multiple Big Bang scenarios caused by the bumping of two hyper-dimensional membranes, to try an explain why the cosmic background radiation is so unevenly distributed. If we could ever get a solid theory for gravity, and learn what gravity is, then we'd have some insight into the beginning of the universe that we don't have.

Of course, this is a typical creationist argument. Creationists like to play this "nesting logic game" where you answer that question, and their question is "well, what came before that?" "Where did those membranes come from?" Simply saying "I don't know, but we'll find out" is not an acceptable answer to these people. I don't know enough about these hyperdimensional theories to fully understand then, and I'm not afraid to admit that. "I don't know" becomes an admission of defeat. Which is ironic given that creationism is usually practiced by a crowd of very ignorant people who, if they knew anything, wouldn't be creationists.

Of course, I'm rather disillusioned with them anyway - I've realized a long time ago they'll go to any length, no matter how dishonest, to justify the existence of their God. They don't care about your answer; they've already made up their mind long before you get there.

"Problem" 2: How Could Living Creatures Come From Non-Life?
Again, there is no scientific law or demonstrable process that can account for non-living objects coming to life. The non-living soil in your garden didn't turn into living trees and flowers. They came from seeds, cuttings, or grafts from other living trees and flowers. Life invariably comes from something that is already alive.
Atheistic evolutionists have long believed that at some time in the distant past, life arose from non-living substances. British biologist T.H. Huxley in 1869 and physicist John Tyndall in 1874 were early promoters of the idea that life could be generated from inorganic chemicals.
But biology has found no support for this, and much against it. The invariable observation is that only living things give rise to other living things. Life could not begin if God and miracles took no part!
Dr. Kenneth Poppe says in his book Exposing Evolution's Weakest Link,
“There are no provable mechanisms for how molecules could increase in complexity without cells to produce and utilize them. For example, you cannot assume proteins before you have the DNA that codes for them.”
Imagine all life on earth disappeared. There are no trees, plants or animals. All we have is rocks, dust, and lifeless matter. So how does the earth get populated with living things? That's the atheist evolutionist's unanswerable dilemma, and shows the massive faith they have to hold in preposterous answers.

Psst. 1869 and 1874 were a long time ago. Science has advanced just a little bit since then. Even the majority of Darwin's original theory has been thrown out, in favor of something more fitting to our observations.

I've got my own experiment to quote from: The Miller-Urey Experiment. However, first, some basic chemistry. Organic chemistry is a broad field, defined by one thing: the materials you're working with most possess a carbon atom. So long as you've got that carbon atom in there, the material you're working with is organic. Now, carbon is the quintessential electron hoarder. Because of this, carbon adapts much better than other elements inside of its series (like silicon) and more easily forms long molecular chains, that can eventually give way to chemical compounds.

Because carbon is so flexible, it can link up with almost anything (except the noble gases and a few other compounds, because the balls are inert) and form long trails of molecules. All it needs is an outside source for energy to achieve this. Which is basically what the Miller-Urey Experiment proved. See, all living things have what are called "proteins" in them. The basic building blocks of proteins are called amino acids. Amino acids are complex chains of - you guessed it - organic (read: carbon) molecules. Amino acids can arise independent of life, through natural causes, as the Miller-Urey Experiment showed. Once you've got amino acids, they being to link up to form proteins, which can then start to form organic molecules...

You see where this is going. Note that this takes a long time. A very, very long time. One of the problems with creationists is that they have a hard time wrapping their heads around that "long time." There's an old saying that science fiction authors have no sense of scale. Well, creationists don't either. 4 billion years is a long ass time. But when your starting point is 10,000 years ago, it's no small wonder they can't grasp how big 4 billion years is.

Of course, that's not the only theory of abiogenesis. One theory is Autocatalysis, which are basically substances that catalyze the production of themselves. There are some experiments to lead credence to this, and natural selection could take over from there. Another theory is the Clay Theory, but there's not a lot of evidence to support this one. Others include Gold's "Deep-Hot Biosphere" model, an alternative to abiogenesis you may be familiar with called Panspermia and Exogenesis, and others. So no, there isn't just one theory - there's several.

Before I leave for the next question, however, I'd like to touch on this:
So how does the earth get populated with living things? That's the atheist evolutionist's unanswerable dilemma, and shows the massive faith they have to hold in preposterous answers.
Ah. Good ol' fashioned poisoning of the well. When all else fails, attack any answers your opponent can give before they give them with the intent of discrediting anything they say. Any evidence I give, any answer I give, is automatically "preposterous," how matter how much evidence I have to support it.
"Problem" 3: How could New Genetic Information Arise?
There is no known scientific law that would allow one kind of creature to turn naturally into a completely different kind. Insects don't evolve into more complex non-insects for instance, because they don't have the genes to do it.
To show that all life evolved from a single cell, which itself came from some type of chemical soup, there would have had to be massive genetic information gains.
But evolutionists have failed to show how this gain of new information occurred. Where did the information come from for the first bristles, stomachs, spines, intestines, complex blood circulation systems, intricate mouthpieces to strain special foods out of the water, and so on, when these were supposedly not present in the ancestral species?
I'm no geneticist. My knowledge of molecular genetics and genetics in general is sorely lacking. When I'm willing to admit this and can still see that your answer is full of massive amounts of fail, there's something wrong.

First, evolution is not about taking something complex and making it more complex. Evolution is about life adapting to the situation. If the situation means that the simplest creatures are the best, then evolution and natural selection will produce simple creatures in favor of complex ones. The survivor of the "survival of the fittest" doesn't have to be "fit," they just have to be the best adapted to their environment.

Genes mutate. I'm sure you've heard of mutations. If you're at all familiar with X-men, you have a horribly, horribly misguided notion as to what all mutations can do. At any given time, the average human is home to something like a bunch of genetic mutations. Every single one of us is a mutant. Sexual reproduction allows for the further mixing of genetics and DNA, to allow those mutations to spread and all low more mutations to develop. This is where new genetic information comes from - the mixing of the old genetic mutation. Most of these mutations will die out, most will never see us, but some of them - the ones that help us adapt to our environment and ensure our reproduction and them being passed onto the next generation of humans - will be the ones that appear.

Creationists have a Hollywood understanding of evolution. That is to say, their notions of evolution have been influenced less by actual science and more by popular culture. No, you don't just spontaneously erupt into having fins when the world floods because having fins and gills are the best for survival. A small subset of the human population already had the genetic information for fins and gills, and because of their environment, these were the ones that survived to spread their genetic information, and for that genetic information to be modified.

Here's a really good example. There's a small island in the south pacific that was hit by a hurricane. The hurricane wiped out most of the population, except for a family with a specific type of colorblindness. Following that disaster and the re-population of that island, a large subset of the population has that type of colorblindness. Why? Because the survivors of that disaster had that colorblindness. That genetic information wasn't "new," but if left to their own devices for a few million years, you would have a whole set-set of the human population who were colorblind, among other things. This is called the Founder Effect. I recently used it in a game I'm running now to explain why a planet circling an M-class star could be populated exclusively by albino individuals.

Here's where we can learn something from the Bible:
What has been will be again,
   what has been done will be done again;
   there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
There is no such thing as "new genetic information." There's old, recycled, and modified genetic information, that's recycled and modified with each new generation.
"Problem" 4 - Where is the Proof that Apes Turned Into Humans?
Despite the evidence being pathetic, even if you claim the title of World's Biggest Optimist, evolutionists still tell the story that once upon a time humans evolved from ape-like creatures.
Many years ago this argument seemed credible to a lot of people because there was so little hominid fossil evidence that it was easy to imagine evolutionary links everywhere.
But things have changed. Thousands of fossils and fossil fragments of apes and humans have now been found — and they don't show a steady progression from apes to humans at all. Fossils have been found in the wrong time-frames, put into the wrong categories before all the evidence was in, and what was once thought to be the ape-human family tree now actually has no trunk — just unconnected branches.
Because evolutionists can't change their theory, they are stuck with the evidence looking more confusing for them with each new hominid/homin/hominine fossil discovery. Instead of clarifying the alleged link between apes and humans, new fossil discoveries are making it harder to show which type of ape or ape-like creature evolved into a human.
It's everywhere if you'd open your damn eyes. Any museum, any display, any scientific textbook copyright date post 2010. Travel down the street and see for yourself.

I would like to take this one apart, but like most creationist arguments, it's unfounded suppositions without any evidence to back it up. I have no way to determine what they mean with this "thousands of fossils and fossil fragments" that they pull out of the aether. If they're not citing even one, I'm inclined to call you stupid (being generous) or a disingenuous, lying fraud (I'm allowed my moments of tautology as well).

I'll give them points for remembering it's an ape and not a monkey. Although I'm going to deduct points because I'm not entirely sure they know what the difference is. Anyway, I can answer the claim about the lack of a steady progression. They call it the "tree of life" for a reason. Some branches reached out and hit dead ends. Some continued, but they had branches that sprouted off of them. There is no steady progression to modern man. Using molecular genetics we can still determine what the progression was - for instance, Mitochondrial Eve, our most recent early ancestor, is from roughly 200,000 years ago, when modern man as developing from the other human subspecies.

They only have a problem with humans evolving. You'll notice they never say anything about how there's no evidence to support bull ants, army ants, and driver ants from developing from the same ant-like ancestor, or that there's no evidence to support thick-tailed scorpions and jumping spiders from developing from the same arachnid ancestor. But then, the Bible says jack all about them; they get lumped in with everyone else that Noah saved from the flood. Of course, how he managed to get two army ants on his ark and only two is a question for the ages.

Okay, having said all that, let's take a look at the next set: arguments against more than just "atheistic evolution," but arguments against atheism period. And trust me, they're every bit as unfounded.
The Argument from Causality: Look around for something that does not have a cause (and therefore a beginning). This sequence can work backwards indefinitely. But does it go infinitely, or does it ultimately stop? To say that it goes on infinitely leads to a logical dilemma. Without some initial cause, there can be no caused things, and no explanation for causality itself. The only rational answer is that there is at the beginning of all things an uncaused Cause, capable of causing all things.
This ties into the whole argument about the universe above. This is that "nesting game" of logic I told you about; if x caused y, where did x come from? Eventually you hit a point where you have to say 'I don't know,' and that becomes an admission of defeat to these people. Because, apparently, the implication here is that God can and only fills gaps in people's knowledge; I don't know where those membranes came from. That doesn't mean God did it. That just means we don't know where they came from yet. Using a causality argument to justify your existence of God just reeks of the whole "God of the Gaps" garbage that doesn't serve any functional purpose. If you want to regulate your God to just filling in gaps in our knowledge that's fine - but recognize this doesn't make your God appear impressive. The only one retreating in the face of an argument from causality is the believer, because they're forced to shove their god into smaller and smaller boxes.
The Argument from Design: Nature manifests a certain irreducible complexity. The design in nature requires a Designer. God is the creator and designer of all things.
Ugh. The Watchmaker argument. I thought this one was dead and gone; irreducible complexity is anything but. You name anything in nature you think is irreducibly complex and I can reduce it. Atoms reduce to protons, neutrons, and electrons. Those reduce to quarks. Quarks might reduce to preons. Soon, you're pulling a modified version of the argument from causality; your god's not terribly impressive if all he can do is make quarks and nothing else (because we already know how quarks form up to create the elementary particles, so your God isn't needed there).
The Ontological Argument: The idea of God exists in the mind, even in the mind of an atheist. The event of one's mind understanding this idea must have a sufficient cause. The idea is one that contains infinite perfection, but one's mind is limited by finite perfection, as is everything else in the natural world. A mentally imperfect being cannot produce a mentally perfect effect. Therefore, there is a perfect Mind transcendent to the universe, from which the idea of perfection can originate.
Here's a question - how can something perfect produce something imperfect? If something that is "perfect" did something "imperfect", it's not perfect, now is it? Even if it did it wrong on purpose, that would still make it imperfect by virtue of not having done everything perfectly.

Concepts such as "infinity" and "perfection" are meaningless abstracts unless you're talking in terms of math, and mathematics. Because we're not talking in terms of mathematics, any use of "infinity" is basically a watch word to try and throw people off. There's a strong likelihood that multiple universes exist. Now, if multiple universes exist, these universes have to exist somewhere. There's also a strong likelihood our universe is infinite. So tell me - which infinity is bigger? The infinity of our universe or the infinity that contains our universe, and an infinite number of universes just like it? Or god's transcendent, infinite perfection in creating something as infinitely flawed as our infinity of universes. Eventually, the word "infinity" looses all meaning.

This argument is wrong on an even more basic level. This concept starts with the idea that God exists in the mind. Until you have proof that God exists in the mind, then you have no argument, and you're starting from a false premise.
The Moral Argument: Morality exists. Whether we are considering a stone-age Amazonian cannibal or an intellectual savant at a prestigious Ivy League school, every human being has some sense of morality. Everyone has some level of mental obligation to do good and avoid evil. Why else do we have laws, government, military, prisons, and self-improvement books? The atheistic view is incompatible with real moral obligation. Therefore, the theistic view, which is compatible with real moral obligation, must be correct. Moral obligation cannot originate in the mind of man, and therefore must originate in the mind of a greater being, which is God.
(Almost) every human being does indeed have a sense of morality. Morality, in the very loosest sense, is a social structure, and a psychological one that stems from empathy for your fellow human beings. We love people, and we treat them so we don't hurt the ones that we love. We want to be treated fairly, so we treat others fairly. At the heart of it, this is all morality is: treat others like you want to be treated. This is the Gold Rule. This is present even in other species, like elephants, dolphins, and other social creatures. Morality functions like this because it's necessary for the species to survive - if everyone is in it for themselves, there'd be no development of a social structure. Which means there'd be no development of sentience, which is important to the development of society and civilization (as we recognize it). There doesn't need to be a God to explain the golden rule. Evolution, biology, and psychology explain it just fine.
The atheist uses faith, too. He puts his faith in science or self. He presupposes that science or self are trustworthy places for his confidence, and finds corroboration for this presupposition in the evidences that he can comprehend. He believes in his own testimony
 *Sigh*. One does not have "faith" in science. I do not have "faith" that if I jump off of the two story building I work in I will fall and probably break my leg. I know I will fall and break my leg. I do not have "faith" that so long as there is hydrogen for the sun to fuse, the sun will continue to shine. I know that so long as there is hydrogen to fuse, it will shine (other potential problems not withstanding). Science is not about faith. Science is about knowing. Science is not a religion. Science is a method - if you're going to call science a religion, you might as well call the writing process and math religions as well, and say they're both based on faith (math is based on axioms that haven't been proven wrong yet and probably can't be proven wrong, but are true in most all of the circumstances we use them in. You could argue this is faith in those axioms, but if an axiom is proven wrong, it'll be thrown out. That's something all together different from the kind of faith that they're talking about).

I won't take umbrage about this business about atheists having faith. Any regular reader of this blog knows I believe in humanity and I believe in the future; this is where my faith is at. It's vested in things I feel more productive than unsupported positions like the existence of a god. Other atheists don't have faith in anything - some are nihilists, others existentialists. While I have faith, I need to stress that just because you have faith in something larger than you doesn't mean everyone has faith in something larger than them, nor does everyone have to.

And, lastly -
When an atheist rejects belief in God, he rejects any source of confidence beyond his own level of reasoning or understanding. The thinking atheist will forever be questioning the origin of the universe, will be perplexed regarding morality, and will be unsure of his own destiny and purpose in life.
I think I've pretty well dis-proved this. I'm not perplexed by morality, I accept that there's some grays in science but I'm confident that we'll fill those grays in based on past performances, and I don't believe in destiny. My purpose in my life is of my own design, something that I myself made, so I'm never unsure of it.

And that, folks, is why I'm a humanist and transhumanist.

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