From: Neil Womack on 28 February 1999
Okay, I've finally got some time to sit down and write out a thoughtful reply. It may be a little more convenient (for me, anyway) to move this discussion to ICQ in the future. If you'd like to try doing that, let me know. We could probably clear up any misinterpretations easier that way, as well.
Okay, first things first. Let me explain my beliefs to you so that you know where I stand. You seem to have taken some of the things I said to places even I hadn't intended, and I don't know if it was your interpretation, my inability to relate the ideas to you clearly, or a little of both. Anyway, let me explain what I mean by "objective reality". There exists an objective reality - I think you can agree with me on that. It is what it is, regardless of what we think, feel, or believe about it. We need not know exactly what that objective reality is in order to understand the concept itself. We must realize that our interpretations of that reality are just that - interpretations. They have no impact on the reality itself, only significance for ourselves. What I mean is, we all create our own little worlds to live in based on our interpretations of reality. You said, “Even the word (i.e., indifferent) you say you want to stress in this discussion is defined by man. Nevertheless, you claim this word describes objective reality.” First off, I said indifference describes matter, not objective reality. Matter is what the universe is made out of, after all. That's why a car, made of indifferent matter, can run over a person as easy as it can run down the road. It's just atoms being set in motion. And they don't stop until they hit other atoms, period. Then you go on to say, “Please tell me why you are the only one who can come up with definitions that actually describe objective reality? What, pray tell, is your unique methodology? Have you taken some quantum leap in evolutionary development?” No. It is one concept. Very, very simple. So simple, in fact, that you, along with most other people, step right over it in your zealous quest to find a happy ending to life and a reason for your existence. It's called “predictive validity.” You said earlier that you thought I was playing “philosophical word games” and that I thought everything was relative, and that there were no real “facts.” This is not true. There are facts. The problem is, our interpretation of reality (how we want the world to be) is constantly at odds with what reality itself really is. The only way to be sure that what we know is a “fact” (and not just a “fact” of our own interpretations, which are always biased to some degree) is by making sure it has predictive validity to it. That is, we keep testing the idea over and over, making sure that the relationships between these facts are unchanging and solid. We can predict the outcome of a certain event by knowing the facts involved. How does our society invent new electronic and mechanical gadgets? Because they know the “facts” of electrical behavior through constant research, checking, rechecking, and rechecking again. Then we build from there and seek more facts. Remember, matter is real, concepts are relative. This is the only way to be sure that our perceptions are consistent with objective reality itself. Stories, myths, and books have no predictive validity at all. They are simply a “believe it or not” endeavor. We have no way of verifying of testing any of the supposed "truths" they relate. We're just told to “have faith.” This is the single biggest problem I have with all religions. They conveniently remove themselves from scientific inquiry so they don't have to provide any evidence for their “truths".” We are physical beings in a physical universe. Our five faculties are only capable of perceiving the physical. So it is in the physical world that we must look for truth. If there exists a metaphysical element to the universe, we can't possibly know it (we have no way of perceiving it). So anything we say about the metaphysical is, at the end of the day, just speculation, a collection of “what ifs,” “could bes” and “maybes.” We can't know if anything we say about the metaphysical is actually true or not. This is where you and I differ. You believe that your religion is the “the truth” about the universe, and I'm sitting here telling you that you can't possibly know that (which is why I'm asking you for a reason for your belief), short of God materializing in the sky and clearing up all this “hide-and-seek” garbage He's been playing with us for all this time. By the way, if God did materialize in the sky, I'd definitely take that as evidence, if not proof, for His existence.
Another point - you state that I am wrong about evolution, but in the very next paragraph you state that evolution does occur. Granted, I don't pretend that I know the exact way in which evolution works, but I know that it does occur, and you have conceded this much. So I've got another question for you. If God, in all his perfectness, actually created the world and all its creatures, why does evolution occur? Pardon me, but is God making a collective “Oops” and changing his organisms around because they weren't quite good enough the first time? (I'm guessing he did another collective “Oops” when he decided to flood the planet of His own creations, creatures that HE had created, simultaneously convincing us it was our fault). Now, I'm making an assumption here, I admit. I'm challenging the traditional church's idea of fixity of species. I assume you take a similar stance, since it would be incompatible to think of both evolution and God's “perfect” creation as facts about this world. Unless, of course, you're willing to admit that the church is wrong, and that it would be a very good possibility that evolution is responsible for the “how” things got to be (and yes, that's what I meant before, it was just a simple word slip on my part). Then you jump all over the theory of evolution, trying to say that it doesn't explain a lot of things. Of course it doesn't! This is science, not religion! It takes time to figure out answers for yourself instead of just buying into a belief system based on “faith” Have we dug up every square inch of soil on earth? No. Have we analyzed every fossil in the crust under our feet? Of course not. You know full well that it is very, very likely that the answers to all of our questions about evolution's validity are still buried under the ground. Civilization is only about 14,000 years old! We're still young, evolutionarily speaking, and we need more time to figure it out. We don't have the evidence yet, because we need to keep digging. That's why I said we do not need to jump to any conclusions - which, despite your words to the contrary, is exactly what you're doing. You're using metaphysical speculation to justify your beliefs instead of physical evidence. To use an analogy, this is the way I always see it: the scientist (or agnostic, or atheist, depending on your definition) is the one sitting at the table trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle, and the religionist is the one standing over his shoulder yelling, “AHA! I told you so!” every time the scientist fails to find a perfect fit for two pieces of the puzzle. The way I see it, the religionist is going to feel pretty stupid once the scientist eventually figures out which pieces go where and completes the picture. Don't think that just because we don't have the answers yet, we should all abandon the scientific ship and jump over to religion. It takes time. The problem with people is that they're impatient. Science, math, and physics are time consuming and very complex. No one ever said understanding the structure and nature of the universe was going to be easy, or that everyone would be able to understand it. And those that can't understand instead turn to religion, which is a simple answer for a simple mind. You tell me I seem to be asking all the “what ifs” to continue justifying my skepticism. I agree with you wholeheartedly. We have to ask “what if”! Science can't work without “what if“ questions. Science as a process is contingent on people setting out to prove the accepted train of thought wrong. But religion just tries to shut all that out, tries to insist its doctrines are true regardless if they are consistent with the facts about the universe. Remember - the Bible was written by people primitive in intellect compared to those of us today (and I don't hesitate to humble myself by saying my intellect will be very primitive compared to those who exist 2,000 years from now). Did you ever once notice, in the course of all of your Bible studying, that the book itself is only as advanced as the knowledge of the time? Many occurrences explained as divine in the Bible we now know to be natural phenomena. Can't you see that it is very possible that man created these religions because he needed a reason to explain things he didn't understand? When you look at religion from scientific, political, and social dimensions you can see that there was much to gain in that time by many rulers who would peddle a certain religion as "truth". Divine justification reinforces political motives for monarchs. It's a dream come true for a monarch intent on keeping an iron grip on his throne.
You also said something regarding postmodern thought, and how it's “garbage.” First off, I don't align myself with others' beliefs. They can align theirs with mine, if they want. I was not aware that any of what I had described fell under the label of “post-modernism” or anything else. These are conclusions I came to on my own. And I know it would be easier for you to argue your point if you thought I was simply a feeding bin for my professors to shove in more of that “intellectual mush” that you call postmodernism. I remember one of my professors explicitly stating his distaste for postmodernism at the beginning of a semester. Everyone's got their opinions. It might help if you start by realizing that I think for myself, not according to what others tell me to think.
You also state I sound like two different people, one who wants to believe and one who is a skeptic. I agree with you completely. I would love nothing more to believe that there is a great God out there who really loves us and is going to take us to Heaven for eternity. But come on. Let's quit comforting ourselves with dreams of paradise and face reality. I will not allow myself to believe in any train of thought if there are good reasons not to, and there are much more parsimonious answers to life's questions. I seriously doubt many religionists have heard of, much less adhere to, the principle of Occam's Razor.
You say Nihilism (which I assume means belief in non-existence after death) is a “sorry thing for sure".” Well, I would not really say that. Nor would I say Nihilism is as unreasonable as you may think. Think for a second. What were you before you were born? You were nothingness. Non-existence and nonawareness. I think it's a little reasonable to think that might be the state you return to when you die, don't you? Sure, it's not exactly a rosy ending, but no one ever guaranteed you a bright and happy life and death. There's that indifference of the universe biting you in the rear end again. As much as we humans like to think of ourselves, we must realize that the universe doesn't care about us. We could be wiped out by a supernova just as easily as anything else. The universe does not care. It's indifferent. It's matter. I stated before that as long as “religion” exists, there will never be harmony among man. And I stand behind it. You said “if that's the way it is, then I'm 'gonna git' all the gusto I can in the here and now,” and you say you fail to see how that could make a better world. Now, I don't want to psychoanalyze YOU, but maybe that statement says something about who you really are. Maybe if you didn't have a God to keep you on a moralistic leash, you'd be tempted to get all the gusto you can, no matter at who's expense. But once again, you are making an assumption. You are assuming that religion is prerequisite for morality. Wrong. One needs to adhere to no concept of God or threats of eternal damnation to be a perfectly moral person. I am not a child. I do not need a omnipotent parent to scold or threaten me. I, along with other agnostics/atheists that I am acquainted with, find that the Golden Rule and natural law work just fine. After all, if everyone tried to get all the gusto they could for themselves, not many people would be left to get anything. It just wouldn't work, because it's nature. If we kill ourselves, humanity doesn't carry on. End of story. The fact is that most of the bloodiest wars in human history (and the vast majority of wars in the world today) are the result of a clash of religious beliefs. People hate and kill each other because they don't believe the same thing. You name the war, religion played a major role. The Crusades. World War II (aside from acquiring the Lebensraum, Hitler's justification for executing milliions of Jews and trying to establish the “perfect” Aryan race was religious), Jews in Israel, Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, Serbs against Muslims, etc. etc. etc. It's so pathetic. As long as we're told that “our"” religion is the “one true faith,” it will always be “our duty” to destroy or convert the “non-believers” and “heretics.” We separate ourselves into factions, like children's cliques on a playground, and fight with each other, everyone convicned that their beliefs are the “right” ones, when in reality no one has any idea who, if anyone at all, is right.
Then you go off and say I make a strong case for the moral argument. I have no idea where you got this from. You took my explanations and ran off to find your own conclusions on that one. I said people want to a part of something. It's not a "divine instinct" or some similar internal desire to be “bigger than Himself.” It's much more pathetic than that. Humans are simply deathly afraid of being alone. As much as we like to think we're “grown ups,” we act much like children, only on a bigger level. We need comfort and assurance, motivation to live, and a guarantee we're not alone. Take an infant from the security of its mother, and it cries. Take a human from the security of their society and ingrained belief systems, and you will get a similar reaction. The thought of eternal loneliness would just be too horrifying to contemplate! It doesn't bother me at all, though, because I won't be cognizant of it whatsoever. No wonder the happy endings of religious thought are much more accepted than the less-than-glamorous conclusions of Nihilistic thought.
I agree that there's nothing incongruent about an omnipotent Creator. In fact, I don't ever remember saying that was a problem. My problem is, the gods we humans believe in are so flawed in character, I have a hard time buying any of it. That's why I say I don't believe in “God,” in which I mean the omnipotent, omniscient, (supposedly) omnibenevolent, self-aggrandizing, judgemental and dangerously ill-tempered entity that the Bible purports to have created our universe. Is a first cause possible? Yes. Do I honestly believe that “God” created us? Not a chance. You said before that, if my beliefs about evolution and our inability to accurately understand objective reality were true, we should just “gleefully and ignorantly play around in the primordial gook we are destined by chance to swim around in until something happens to change things, enabling you and me to eventually think effectively.” You've practically proved my point. The only reason we have to keep trying, to keep advancing our knowledge is in the hopes that we will one day acquire the understanding necessary to fully understand our universe. If everything you say is true, what's the point! We have no need to worry ourselves with advancing our knowledge or understanding. We've had the answer for 2,000 years! We might as well just build ourselves little clay huts and live in them until we die, since the whole point of life is nothing but servitude in the name of God. We have no reason to worry about the universe around us. I'm not sure other civilizations around the universe would agree with you either, as I'm sure they're trying to better themselves as well. Unless, of course, you're one of those types that actually believes we humans are so special that we have the whole universe to ourselves, because we are the pride and joy of God, and no one else. But I digress...
And finally, I need to elaborate on the “vengeance” thing a bit. I did not intend to make vengeance the point of that paragraph. The point is this: this God we praise and glorify acts just like a human being. He says he's greater than us, but he doesn't act like it. He gets angry at others, takes sides in conflicts just like humans do, and sends people to Hell for eternity (there's forgiveness in action). Only you seem to think that's okay, just because he's the Creator. I'm sorry, but I don't. And to be frank, I could be a much better God than that.
Well, I think in closing I should reflect on the Athenian altar to the Unknown God. The Athenians were much smarter than you or I may have previously thought. They were smart enough to know what they could know and what they couldn't, and they didn't pretend to know truth in the absence of evidence. If a Creator does exist, then that is exactly what he is to us, unknown. And nothing that anyone believes about it will change that.
I hope you understand where I'm coming from a bit better. I look forward to any feedback you have to give, and if you think my beliefs are unjustified, don't hesitate to tell me! This is a very educational discussion.
Reply from Allan Turner on 6 March 1999
Thank you for getting back to me as soon as you could. I'm going to decline your invitation to transfer this discussion to live chat on ICQ. I really like ICQ and have no objections to you adding me to your “buddy list,” but I really don't think that's the place for careful, thoughtful discussion of this subject. I think I know where you stand, as you've made yourself clear on all this. But, from my point of view, you seem to be standing on awful shaky ground. Of course, I realize you must think the same thing about me. But that's why we're having this dialogue in the first place, isn't it?
I'm sorry you were offended by my remarks on postmodernism, as if I were somehow accusing you of not thinking for yourself. No, Neil, I was not implying that at all. What I wanted you to get from that was that you should not think of me as incapable of thinking for myself either, which you have, in fact, implied over and over again in this dialogue. What you believe (according to you) is fact; what I believe (also according to you) is nothing more than unreasoned, unsubstantiated faith. I was hoping you could entertain the idea that we “Bible thumpers” might actually be able to think almost as well as you atheists/agnostics. Unfortunately, you don't seem to be able to do this, which is a pretty good indicator as to why these kinds of proceedings usually turn into unprofitable wranglings. I mention this at the beginning of this reply, not because I wish vindication, but that I want to ask you again to consider that, in order to make this thing fair, we ought to both be playing by the same set of rules. Because, if you continue to insist on playing by one set of rules while forcing me to obey another, then I assure you this dialogue will soon be over. In order to make this thing work, we've both got to respect a sense of fairness—a fairness that I think deep down inside of you, you really want to manifest. And so do I. So let's both be careful and fair with each other.
What I said in my previous reply was: “[S]urely you're not trying to pawn off on me this mumbo-jumbo, nothing-is-real, everything-is-relative junk are you?" That was not an insult of your intelligence, as you supposed, but a plea for you not to be impugning mine. I then went on to say, “I know many of your professors are peddling this postmodern garbage, but you are not really buying it are you? No, I think not.” So, as you can plainly see, I did not think you had been taken in by it. So, no demeaning of your intellect was intended. Again, I'm sorry if I left you with that impression. Frankly, I was more concerned with your sense of fairness and integrity than I was your intellect. That's why I mentioned your seeming “intellectual timidity” in my second reply.
Nonetheless, it seems to me that you continue to play philosophical word games in this discussion, which, I suspect, you're probably not even aware of. You remain adamant in trying to make me answer to one set of rules while you play by another. You can define something, and your definition is “objective reality,” while you assert that any definition I might come up with is totally arbitrary. I ask you, Neil, is this fair? Of course not! Now, do I think you intended to be unfair? Certainly not! But, this does not make it any less unfair.
So, with this said, I'm optimistic that we can continue this discussion, pressing our points vigorously, without getting bogged down in the pettiness of the personalities and barbs that so often categorize discussions of this nature. I'm convinced that both of us can rise above these things and have a real meaningful discussion.
Both Of Our Biases Are Clearly Showing
You mentioned our interpretations, “which are always biased to some degree.” Yes, you are absolutely right, I am biased. But so are you! Yes, it is true that I have a set of presuppositions. And, likewise, so do you! I readily admit to having a worldview, a philosophy, a religion, if you will, through which I interpret “reality.” Moreover, and I want to emphasize this point, you do too! You may not confess to these things, and I'm not accusing you of conscious dishonesty, but that makes it no less true. You, Neil, like me, have an epistemological grid through which you view everything. And although you do not think of this epistemological grid as a religion, that's exactly what it is—a religion dependent on exactly the same category of belief that you are so ready to pounce on me for. Webster's Dictionary defines religion as a: “...cause, principle or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” So, the way I see it, we both have a religion, whether you'll admit to it or not.
Permit me to illustrate my point. As a careful and thoughtful atheist, you argue: “If an atheist states he ‘knows’ God doesn't exist, then he is in error as much as the religionist is when he states that he ‘knows’ that God indeed exists. Rather, the atheist claims that he has no reason for arriving at the conclusion that an all-powerful entity controls the universe.” As you have used the term knows here, I must say that I do not know (i.e., there is no empirically verifiable evidence) that there is a God, and I do not say so. What I say is that I believe there is a God and that I understand my faith in this God to be reasonable. This, admittedly, is my bias, and I plead guilty. When I am confronted with “reality” or “facts,” I am willing to admit that I interpret them in light of this bias. You, no doubt, are shocked to hear me say this, but this has been my position all along. And if you were as intent on having this discussion with me as you are with a caricature of some “Bible-thumping religionist” that hasn't quite got all his intellectual oars in the water, then you might have suspected this already. For me, it has never been a denial of my bias. For me, it has always been the question of which bias is the best (i.e., most reasonable) bias to be biased with. So, I admit my bias, but will you admit to yours?
Just as I cannot prove empirically that there is a God, you, by this same standard, cannot prove that there is no God. But, in spite of this, you believe God is non-existent. I know this is true because I have gone to your web site where, in a burst of religious ardor, you say: “It is science that treats a disease. It is science that has wiped out so many microbial killers. It is science that has brought us cars, buildings, running water, plumbing, electricity, and all the other modern necessities for life. Left to a God who's not there (emphasis mine—AT), none of this would have come to pass. And we damn well know it.” That, Neil, is your bias, your belief, your philosophy, your worldview, your religion, if you will. You have no more empirical proof for your belief than I do for mine, yet you criticize my faith, as if you had something else, or even something better. Is it because you think my faith less reasonable than yours? Let's see just how reasonable your faith really is.
What's Reasonable About It?
You believe matter is eternal, although there are no known, verifiable facts that prove this. You believe that life must have come from non-life, that order arose from chaos, that consciousness evolved from non-consciousness, that the moral came from the non-moral, and that intelligence came from non-intelligence. There are no facts anywhere to support these assumptions, but you believe them anyway. How is this different from the unsupported assumptions that you claim make up my faith?
The things mentioned above are all tenets of the General Theory of Evolution (viz., macroevolution). In other words, these are the dogmas of your religion. You want to paint me with the brush of dogmaticism, but the picture is not complete until you have painted yourself with the same brush. You, too, have your creed. Consequently, the question is not whether one is dogmatic or not, but of which dogma is the best dogma with which to be dogmatized. I have attempted to argue consistently that Theism is a more reasonable faith than is Atheism. So far, you have not presented anything to make me think otherwise. In other words, your case seems awfully weak to me.
Just One Thing That Is True About It
While we are on this subject, please be so kind as to tell me, and those who will read this discussion, just one thing you know to be true about the General Theory of Evolution. Now, let me make it clear that I'm not asking you for empirically verified facts about the Special Theory of Evolution (viz., microevolution), which I have already acknowledged occurs. Instead, I am asking you about the General Theory of Evolution, (i.e., the amoeba to man theory) which you and I both know is quite different than the Special Theory. I'll be waiting for that one thing you know to be true about the General Theory. If you're right in your defense of macroevolution, then surely this won't be too hard a task.
In answer to your question about God's alleged collective “Oops,” my belief system, which you know to be Christianity, incorporates change and variety within “kinds.” These “kinds,” whatever they happen to be, are not to be equated exactly with the think-sos of modern taxonomy. Our current definition of what constitutes a particular species might be equivalent to some “kinds.” But in other cases, it may be only a subset of a particular “kind.” In addition, I consider all the variety we see among humans today to be consistent with the idea that we all are the descendants of Adam and his wife, Eve, who the Bible calls the “mother of all living.” So change (microevolution) within “kinds” is not a problem for my belief system.
But, to admit the truth of microevolution, which I am perfectly willing to do, is not to concede to the reality of macroevolution, which is what you seem to think I have done. “Evolution” can mean anything from the uncontroversial statement that bacteria “evolve” resistance to antibiotics, to the grand metaphysical claim that the universe and mankind “evolved” entirely by purposeless, mechanical, naturalistic forces. Obviously, a word as elastic as “evolution” can very likely mislead one into thinking we know as much about the grand claim as we do about the small one. Microevolution and macroevelution are two entirely different things, and if you don't know this, then you certainly ought to. Perhaps you have been jousting with windmills for so long now that you have forgotten where the real battle is. Microevolution is so well attested to that it is no longer even open to debate. Nevertheless, you think me ignorant enough to not know this, which, in truth, tells folks a lot more about you than it does me. Is your philosophy so doubtful in your own mind, that to admit intelligent people might disagree with it, is somehow perceived as a threat. If not, cut me some slack, will you!? The battlefield is macroevolution or the General Theory of Evolution, namely the Darwinism or Neo-Darwinism you so unashamedly believe in. Where, Neil, is the empirical evidence for your belief?
After arguing for Darwinism, as if it is an established fact, you then reply to my question about evidence by saying: “We don't have the evidence yet, because we need to keep digging. That's why I said we do not need to jump to any conclusions—which, despite your words to the contrary, is exactly what you're doing. You're using metaphysical speculation to justify your beliefs instead of physical evidence.” But you're not? Come on, Neil, let's be fair about this. Perhaps you still don't understand either the hypocrisy or unfairness of demanding that I play by one set of rules and you another. Yes, I may have “jumped,” as you say, to a conclusion—I prefer to think of it as a reasoned journey—but are you really wanting me, and those who will read this, to believe that you haven't “jumped” to a conclusion also? You can convince me that you are not also a frog only when you come up with that one piece of evidence that proves that the molecule-to-man evolution you espouse has actually occurred. You can continue to believe that this supposed macroevolution is a single process that can be illustrated by dog breeding or finch-beak variations, that fossil evidence confirms the Darwinian process of step-by-step change, that monkeys can type Hamlet if they are aided by a mechanism akin to natural selection, and that science isn't saying anything about religion when it says we were created by a purposeless material process, but you can't espouse these things and continue to claim a secular neutrality. You are, in fact, setting forth metaphysical explanations for your theory. You have a religion, Neil, and I hope you will be honest enough to admit it.
As Theories Go, The General Theory Of Evolution Isn't All That Bad
Please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying macroevolution was not a good theory. It was! Darwin, as brilliant a scientist as he was, was limited by the science of his day and biased by a particular point of view or philosophy. If, as Darwin assumed, nature is all there is, which is the claim of naturalism, then nature had to have the ability to do its own creating. Darwinian evolution is a theory about how nature might have done this, without assistance from a supernatural Creator. This is why “evolution,” in the Darwinian sense, is, by definition, mindless and godless. So, and I know you will protest, the difference between us is not faith vs. reason, or belief vs. knowledge, as you would like to believe, but my faith vs. your faith, and which is the more reasonable.
When I am forced to think about the “blind watchmaker thesis” to which you have eluded several times in this dialogue, which says that God is not necessary for biological creation, because the impersonal material forces of genetic mutation and natural selection can, and did, produce all the fantastic complexity of living organisms, I must conclude it to be absolutely preposterous. For example, for natural selection to work, there must be a self-reproducing entity. But even when one considers the simplest conceivable entity, it is incredibly complex and full of information. In addition, this whole functioning unit would have to come into being all at once before mutations and natural selection can function—assuming they can function at all. The astronomer Fred Hoyle, in an attempt to bolster his now defeated steady-state theory, came up with some devastatingly powerful calculations on the likelihood of a hypothetical minimum self-reproducing cell coming together, given all the necessary ingredients (which, by natural, non-enzymatic processes, is impossible anyway). He hypothesized a cell of only 400 enzymes/proteins, although a real-world bacterium has about 2,000. Nevertheless, Hoyle calculated the probability of this hypothetical minimum cell forming by natural processes as 1 in 1040,000. To put this in context, there are about 1080 atomic particles in the universe. If the universe were actually 15 billion years old, as Richard Dawkins, the Oxford Zoologist, who popularized this idea in his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, believes, this would give us about 1018 seconds. If every second and every atomic particle were an experiment in a soup of ingredients necessary for a cell to form, this would amount to 1098 experiments. This is way short of any chance of getting our assumed “cell.” If we make every microsecond an experiment, this will give us 10104 experiments. This, of course, is getting us nowhere, so let's make every atomic particle in our universe a universe like our own with every atomic particle in all those universes and every microsecond an experiment. We now have 10204 experiments, but this is still a long way short of 1040,000 necessary for a reasonable chance of succeeding. Consequently, the chances of this happening is zero, zip, nada! But I know, you believe it anyway. And you want to criticise me for my faith?
Scientists get excited about finding stone tools in a cave because they speak of intelligence—i.e., a tool maker. As such, they could not have designed themselves. Neither would anyone believe that the carved heads of the Presidents on Mt. Rushmore are the product of millions of years of chance erosion. We can recognize design—the evidence of the out-workings of intelligence—in the man-made objects all around us. Similarly, as in William Paley's famous teleological argument, a watch implies a watchmaker (Natural Theology, 1802). However, many leading scientists believe that all plant and animal life, including the incredibly complex brains of the people who make watches, automobiles, etc., were not designed by an intelligent Maker, but rather came from an unintelligent evolutionary process. Again, I ask you, is this a reasoned-out, defensible position?
Darwin's Black Box
Further, you must be aware that Darwinism arose within a scientific community that knew very little of biochemistry, and imagined the cell to be something rather simple that could ooze itself up and out of some supposed primordial soup. As I pointed out in my previous reply, molecular biology, represented by Michael Behe, says this just isn't so. He says molecular mechanisms are irreducibly complex. What this means is that they are made up of many parts that interact in complex ways, and all the parts need to work together. Therefore, any single part has no useful function unless all the other parts are also present. This means there is no pathway of functional intermediate stages by which a Darwinian process could build such a system step by tiny step. Up to now, Evolutionary biologists have been able to pretend to know how complex biological systems originated, only because they treated them as black boxes. Now that biochemists have actually opened the black boxes and seen what is inside, they know Darwinian theory is just a figment of the imagination, not a scientific explanation.
The Fingerprints Of God
On the other hand, the God I believe in is not known only by faith. He is not invisible to reason. He has not just acted undetectably behind some naturalistic evolutionary process that was, to all appearances, mindless and purposeless. No, what I am speaking of in this dialogue is a God who acted openly and who left his fingerprints all over the evidence. This is why the book I cherish declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
Does such a God really exist, or is he a fantasy like Santa Clause? That is the subject of this discussion. You reject my evidence, or so it seems, but you offer nothing to refute it, only that we should keep digging so we can finally find the evidence you believe is there. Neil, my friend, you and I are both dealing with the same data; it's our interpretations that are different. And we are fooling ourselves if we think our interpretations are not influenced by our presuppositions. But, as I've tried to point out, this is all we have. Consequently, I continue to believe my interpretation of the data is much more reasonable than yours. But I remain open to your arguments to the contrary. So, come on, give me your best shot. If you are right, I really do want to know it.
I liked your remark about not wanting to psychoanalyze me. But, you did, didn't you? I know, it's really hard to resist, and I don't fault you for raising the specter of some dark Freudian meaning, but you are wrong, I think. You said, “Maybe if you didn't have a God to keep you on a moralistic leash, you'd be tempted to get all the gusto you can, no matter at whose expense.” Frankly, I've already got a God who tries to keep me on a moralistic leash, and I'm still tempted to get all the gusto I can, no matter at whose expense. I'm not happy about this, but I am aware of the acquired sinfulness that continues to plague me, even as a Christian. Now, if I were to be convinced there is no God, I wouldn't be tempted at all, for the word has no real meaning in a world without God or absolutes—I'd just do it, as I've already stated. To me, this is perfectly reasonable, and it is the same point the apostle Paul made in 1 Corinthians 15:32. So I feel I'm in good company thinking this way.
You then go on to say that I am really assuming that religion is a prerequisite for morality. Yes, that was my point, and I'm glad you got it, but this does not imply that I believe all, or even most, atheists live immoral lives. I am persoanlly aquainted with atheists who are very moral, they just can't effectively tell me why. Can you...?
Your appeal to the Golden Rule and natural law get you back into that Moral Argument for God thing that we discussed earlier. You say they “work just fine,” which is an appeal to an utilitarian ethic, or an indication that something bigger than ourselves is at work in mankind. Then you say that getting all the gusto “just wouldn't work, because it's nature.” I thought you had argued up till now that “nature” is the only thing that does work. Now, your reason for it not working is similarly amusing. You say: “If we kill ourselves, humanity doesn't carry on. End of story.” Yes, and so what? What does this being the end of the story have to do with a reason for it not working? Who says it has to work? Doesn't that imply some reason for mankind's existence? If your arguments are right, and it happens, it just happens. Aren't you the one who has been trying to sell me on the “indifference” of the universe? Wasn't that your point previously? If indifference is the optimum word in a universe without reason, then there is no desired outcome, especially one particular outcome. In other words, and we're using your worldview, in a totally indifferent universe there is no preferred, desired, or necessary result. If, per chance, it happens, then it happens. End of story. If not, why not?
Not A Chance?
Neil, you say: “Is a first cause possible? Yes. Do I honestly believe that ‘God’ created us? Not a chance.” Sounds to me like you're closed on the subject. Isn't your intolerance very similar to the religious bigotry you complain about? Now, if there is not a chance, as you say, then why are we having this discussion? Is it to save me from my “delusions”? Or is it just a purely academic exercise? Personally, I don't think you'd be spending all this time on this discussion if you thought it meaningless. I think you're really an evangelist for atheism, and to me, you sound just like Richard Dawkins, who, as one of the most influential figures in evolutionary science, remains unabashedly explicit about the religious side of Darwinism. His book The Blind Watchmaker, which I've already mentioned, is at one level about biology, but at a more fundamental level it is a sustained argument for atheism. When contemplating the alleged disrepute of those who refuse to believe his doctrine, he can scarcely restrain his fury, as we hear him say, “It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that).” He then has the audacity to say that the thing he dislikes the most in creationists is their intolerance. This pot calling the kettle black stuff sounds a bit hypocritical to me, how about you? Anyway, your “Not a chance” statement resounds with the same intolerance and hypocrisy.
Once again, you insult me by saying, “And those that can't understand [the structure and nature of the universe] instead turn to religion, which is a simple answer for a simple mind.” You then heap more insult on the pile by saying, “I seriously doubt many religionists have heard of, much less adhere to, the principle of Occam's Razor.” I guess you think this to be true because of the simple-answers-for-simple-minds syndrome you, in your rank bigotry, seem to think most of us Christians have fallen victim to. But I find it more than a bit ironic that you appeal to the dictum, “Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter neccessitatem,” or “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity,” which, by definition, the “simple answers for a simple mind” folks ought to have no trouble understanding. In today's vernacular would not Robert Occam's dictum be “keep it simple, stupid!”? If we Christians are as stupid as you think, then, regardless of whether we ever heard of Occam's Razor, why wouldn't we be adhering to it? Neil, when handling sharp, razor-like instruments, one ought to be very careful not to cut one's own throat, metaphorically speaking, of course.
Why do you feel the necessity to insult me and other Christians? Don't you realize that, at best, arguments ad hominem only serve to illustrate the weakness of your own arguments? If we Christians are as stupid and simple-minded as you think, then your arguments ought to be enough to demonstrate this, without you having to resort to insults. Neil, let's allow the evidence to speak for itself. In conjunction with this challenge, I want to remind you once again that I will be waiting for that one thing you know to be true about macroevolution.
I'm Not Trying To Defend ‘The Church’
I agree that many terrible things have been done in the name of religion, and I don't condone any of them. As a Christian, I believe in returning good for evil, so I don't subscribe to religious wars. In addition, I am neither a Catholic nor a Protestant, so when you mention “the church,” I'm not sure I know what or who you are referring to. The Roman Catholic Church long ago approved macroevolution as a scientific hypothesis worthy of investigation. In addition, Pope John Paul II's message to a meeting of the Papal Academy of Sciences in 1996 seems to clearly endorse marcroevolution. I mention this, not because I agree with the Pope, but to encourage you to get up to speed on your current events. Many of the Protestant churches today do, in fact, endorse macroevolution. But—and it is me you're having this discussion with, isn't it?—I do not endorse it. I believe the denominations that take this position are wrong, and if not on this subject, then certainly something else. The church to which I belong is not a denomination, therefore I have no desire to defend or uphold that with which I do not agree and to which I do not belong. I would like to talk to you about the church I belong to, but without you believing there is a God, it would not do you any good for me to do so. I hope we will eventually get to this point, but now is not the time.
Genuflecting And Pontificating
On the subject of Nihilism, I did not say it's unreasonable. If macroevolution is true, it is a most reasonable conclusion. Even so, I remain convinced it's a “sorry thing for sure.” And I don't deny that “as long as ‘religion’ exists, there will never be harmony among men,” as you have stated. But so what? Your point, I suppose, is that when religion is eliminated, mankind will live together in harmony. Where's your proof? You don't have any, do you? Nevertheless, in genuflecting to your own philosophical construct, you attempt to out-pontificate the Pope himself, as you tell me not only the way things are, but the way they will be. And you said you have problems with dogmatic authority. Evidently, you don't, as long as you're the one exercising it.
Finally, about this thinking for yourself stuff. I have no doubt that you are an intelligent person who is capable of thinking cogently. In fact, you may have an above average I.Q., for all I know. But you have to rely on what others are saying, just like I do. A psychology/philosophy major does not a scientist make. Are you doing all the digging? Are you performing all the experiments? Are you the one that has formulated most of the theories? Are you the one writing all the textbooks? Neil, when you write: “First off, I don't align myself with others' beliefs. They can align theirs with mine, if they want,” both your impertinence and arrogance manifest themselves loud and clear. Don't you realize that this actually hurts your cause, as it takes away from the arguments you are attempting to make? In order to be fair to you, I have to remember that your insolence does not make you wrong, but some may not be so understanding. And, lastly, this: Just because one of your professors articulated his distaste for postmodernism, does not mean it has not saturated academia, and that you have not drunk deeply from its trough. Quite frankly, your speech betrays you.
I await your next response.
More Dialogue With An Atheist