Thursday, 19 August 2010

Refuting the Arguments For God

These arguments for God appear on http://snapshotsofgod.com/evidence.htm .

This blog examines them one by one and shows the fallacy behind them.

“If you live in a desert and never leave it, you won't find a shred of evidence for the existence for polar ice caps or polar bears.”

True, but if you had never heard of polar icecaps and bears, why would you even think of looking for them? You won’t find any evidence of Martians either but is that a reason to believe they exist? Of course not. Whilst absence of evidence is far from being proof of absence, it is most certainly supporting evidence for the idea of absence.  It is a very long way from being proof or even evidence of presence.

The extraordinary thing is that the blogger opens his blog with what amounts to a claim that the absence of evidence is in some way evidence of presence!

The temptation is to walk away right now.  Let’s hope things get better...

“If you live a world apart from God and never venture beyond it, you won't find a shred of evidence for God.”

Crikey! So, if you accept any ‘evidence’ a priori as evidence for God, whatever and wherever it might be, you will er... find evidence for God. Now why didn’t I think of that when I was doing biological research? “Look professor! If only you would accept a priori any evidence as evidence that my hypothesis is correct, you will see that I have validated it. Why won’t you be reasonable and agree with me?”

It would have made life SO much easier not having to bother with actual evidence or logical interpretation of results.

It’s nonsense of course. This is an example of special pleading. The God hypothesis can’t be expected to stand the same rigorous test that science requires of other hypotheses. It has special needs.

“A universe that is very precisely tuned to support life, from the very unique properties of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and other elements that form life to the physical laws that allow matter to exist in a delicate balance between black holes and plasma.”

Intelligent life, capable of formulating questions about the origins of life and of the universe, and asking questions about why the universe is as it is, can ONLY exist in a universe in which it is capable of existing. This simple truism means that you can only ask why the universe supports intelligent life in a universe which supports intelligent life.  In other words, the universe is not as it is so you can question it, but rather you can question it BECAUSE it is the way it is.

Now, as to the science behind the universe which makes it capable of supporting intelligent life, this may be because of  the initial conditions at the moment of the Big Bang.  Quite simply, we do not yet know why the initial conditions in the Big Bang were as they were and we don’t yet know whether they were inevitable or not, however, as the Feynman equation seems to show, it is entirely likely that all possible universes came into existence in a so-called quantum foam, each with its own self-contained space-time. The fact that we can ask these questions means we MUST be in a universe in which the intial conditions were those necessary to allow the evolution of intelligence.

In essence, this argument is another fallacious ‘god of the gaps’ argument, which says that, if there is something science hasn’t yet explained, it will never explain it, and the only explanation MUST be that [insert your favourite god] must have done it. The argument is fallacious for two reasons:
  • Because science hasn’t YET explained something does NOT mean it’s beyond explanation. Note here the dishonest implication that science has discovered everything discoverable.  No scientist has ever made that claim.
  • Even if this WERE true it would not prove the only explanation is the one claimed. This is the false dichotomy fallacy and betrays again the underlying dishonesty of the religious argument.  The argument is never about whether the conclusion is supported by the evidence and the logic but about whether it arrives at the desired conclusion.
What the blogger needs to show is that a natural explanation for the universe being the way it is, and for living things to have evolved in this tiny part of it, is impossible. Only then is it logical to look for a supernatural explanation. Of course he has done none of that but is merely relying on the reader's underlying cultural assumption that a supernatural explanation must be required because he/she can't think of a natural one.

And we haven't even considered which of the infinite array of hypothetical supernatural explanations it might be. Again, there is the dependence on cultural assumption, in this case that the only possible supernatural explanation is the locally popular god. This is nothing more than a cynical attempt to use the reader's ignorance to pull the wool over his/her eyes.

“Life itself, which is not just a mere assemblage of the right chemicals, but a system of hundreds of interrelated components working in harmony to create the miracle we call life, all precisely coded in the DNA of every cell.”

This is simply a statement of the obvious. There is no mystery to be explained here and nothing which requires a supernatural explanation. I suspect the blogger either believes, or wants you to believe, that living things are thought by science to have arisen, fully formed, in their present state, so is asking us to explain how this could all have happened ‘by chance’.

Of course, science says no such thing. The theory of evolution explains why living things appear to be designed. They ARE designed by a natural, unthinking and undirected, yet inevitable, process called natural selection which, at every generation acts as a filter to ensure those best able to reproduce successfully are those more likely to produce offspring which inherit those abilities.

Design CAN be natural and undirected, and, given the huge timescale over which it operates, can produce amazing refinement, but the design is only and always towards improving the ability to replicate in a changing environment.  Most evolutionary chains eventually lead to extinction so one thing we can say with some degree of certainty is that species are NOT designed for indefinite survival.  Evolution does not have goals.  Just as a falling stone is not intentionally trying to reach the ground, so evolving life it not trying to reach any particular design criterion.  It is being driven by an unthinking yet inevitable force. 

The notion that somehow evolution is directed towards a particular goal is a manifestation of anthropocentrism - the notion that the purpose of everything is to allow humans to exist.  This is a religious, not a scientific point of view.  There is no requirement for science to explain it in those terms.

Living things are essentially vehicles for the replicators they play host too. These replicators, in turn, have evolved vehicles capable of replicating them.

This argument is either
  • the argument from ignorance fallacy – I don’t know how it happened so it must have been done by my favourite god
  • the argument from design fallacy – If something looks as though it was designed, and it wasn’t designed by a human, it must have been designed by my favourite god.
And then, of course, there is the ever-popular false dichotomy fallacy which always concludes with, ‘so it must have been my god’.

“Innate and unique characteristics of human beings which are not readily explained by adaptation, such as artistic creativity, a sense or moral right and wrong which often contradicts "survival of the fittest" and a desire to seek answers about God, even among those who say they do not believe.”

Er... except that they are if we include memetic evolution. Again, though, we have the argument from ignorance combined with our old friend, the false dichotomy.

“Veracity of Scripture in prophecy, history and scientific information “

Such a shame the blogger didn’t see fit to back up this assertion with authenticated examples, but that’s probably asking too much, even for a book which was written or edited AFTER the events it purports to prophesy. In fact, any reading of the Bible will reveal a very large number of prophesies which didn't come true, including a prediction that the Nile would dry up and Egypt would be destroyed.

“People and events in the Bible which have been corroborated by historical and archeological (sic) evidence.”

Right! So every book which mentions actual people and/or events is gospel truth is it? This would be a laughable claim if it wasn’t made so frequently and in all seriousness by otherwise intelligent people. Even so, it is factually incorrect in many instances. There is no archaeological evidence nor Egyptian historical records, for any of the events described in Exodus, for example. The archaeological evidence shows that the town of Jericho never had walls in the period when it was allegedly captured by the Israelites, for example. The Census at the time of Jesus supposed birth occurred in 6 CE. King Herod died in 4 BCE, etc, etc.

“The consistency of the message found in the scriptures of almost all religions. The Bible, for instance, was written by 40 diverse men who lived over a span of 1,500 years, kept separate records and recorded events independently, yet it tells a remarkably consistent story.”

Consistent, as in forbidding killing then ordering it? Consistent, as in telling us to take an eye for an eye AND to forgive our enemies and turn the other cheek? Consistent, as in telling us to honour our mother and father AND to forsake them?

And, as Bart D. Ehrlman shows in his book, "Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible", a horizontal reading of the Bible shows it is remarkably inconsistent and often contradictory with the Gospels often making diametrically opposite claims, even about the very fundamentals of Christian belief such as the nature of Jesus and how to get to Heaven.

This is the cherry-picking fallacy. Because I can find some bits in the Bible I agree with it must have been inspired (or written) by my favourite god, and especially if I ignore the bits which don’t support my argument. And of course, where the Bible IS consistent in its morality, it is merely plagiarising Humanist morality, found in all cultures at all times, and claiming it as its own. The idea that people habitually murdered one another and stole their neighbours goods until a god told them not to is idiotic. Human societies have always had cultures which sanctioned cooperation and mutual support and in which selfishness is penalised.

“Prophecies recorded in scripture that were fulfilled in detail hundreds of years later, most notably in the life of Jesus Christ.”

No examples again. And again the apparent, or feigned, ignorance over the history of the Bible itself. And of course, no recognition of the fact that the stories about Jesus were written by people who knew these prophesies and who had an interest in presenting Jesus as having fulfilled them.

“Revelations in scripture about scientific facts that were not discovered by mankind until recently. As an example, practices to control infectious diseases that were not discovered by science until the late 1800's were recorded as laws given to Moses by God in Leviticus around 1400 B.C. The Quran also contains many references to knowledge that was not discovered by science until many centuries later.”

Well, well! By 3,500 years ago man had learned to associate cleanliness with health. And this is evidence for a god how, exactly? Well it's evidence because the blogger asserts it is, that's how.

Of course, neither the Bible nor the Quran explain infection in terms of microscopic bacteria or viruses; neither of them enunciate Koch's Postulates; neither of them mention antiseptics or antibiotics; and nowhere is there any discussion of immunity, vaccination or how to produce vaccines. In short, neither of them actually deal with the science of infection and infection control, but why spoil a good claim with evidence, eh?

There is no instance of anyone ever reading the Bible or Qur'an and forecasting the next scientific discovery. There is a very good reason for this. They are only good for 'forecasting' past events, and then only with an enormous stretch of the imagination often bending the meaning of words to breaking point.

“The account of the life of Jesus Christ. Many, even atheists, who have studied the gospels have come away concluding, based on reason and historical evidence, that the best explanation is that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Christ, sent by God to reveal Himself to mankind.”

Argumentum ad assertum. No evidence of these converted atheists is necessary. We are just expected to believe they existed and were converted. But, for every claimed converted atheist there are probably hundreds of former Christians who became atheists, many of them BECAUSE they read the Bible and stopped just accepting what they were told it contained. Instead of the inspired and inspiring word of an omniscient and inerrant loving god they found:
  • a muddle of old origin myths involving a volcano god
  • the ramblings of schizophrenics
  • some early attempts to formulate laws for living in the desert in a misogynistic and brutal society which regarded half its members as sub-human and all other peoples as lesser being
  • a story of Egyptian origins which the Egyptians seem not to have noticed despite an alleged mass-slaughter of children in a single night and the entire destruction of the army
  • a brutal and often arbitrary set of rules which would result in arrest and imprisonment in any civilised country for anyone who tried to follow them today
  • some romanticised histories of early kings
  • a collection of obviously plagiarised, but often contradictory and confused accounts of one or more Jewish rabbinical activists, embroidered and tailored to meet the needs of the ruling class of an empire in terminal decline, by incorporating it with other popular cults such as Mithraism and the various animist cults popular in Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and other centres of the old empire
“Personal experiences of prayer, healings, spiritual encounters and changed lives.

"Answers to prayer which go beyond anything that can be rationally attributed to chance or coincidence."


"Unexplained medical healings that occur in conjunction with spiritual experiences."

"Accounts by rational, mature individuals of hearing a voice within that is beyond their own thoughts, of seeing angels or of having visions."

"People whose lives have been dramatically changed through experiences that they can only describe as having been touched by a power beyond themselves, or as one of experiencing God."

"These are at least evidences of God, are they not?”

No. They are evidence only of some people’s ability to place whatever interpretation they want on events, in order to reinforce their own sense of self-importance. God answered my prayer because he likes me; God healed me because I’m special; my ‘voices’ mean I’ve been chosen by a god, etc, etc, etc.

The argument that it must have been my god because it can’t have been [insert whatever you don’t want it to have been] is not an argument for a god; it is an argument for the god delusion.

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8 comments :

  1. Wow! Thoroughly impressed with your writing & reasoning skill.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for a very thoughtful post...I am not an atheist myself...I believe there is a Creator...I just think it is beyond mankind to know the Creator...the "Holy" books are a marketing tool...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Jimbo RAMA. I'd be interested in why you believe there is a creator. What observable phenomena can only be explained by invoking one? If none, then what is the basis of your belief that there is one?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was wondering if you would define science please?

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  5. C. There are any number of science books and on-line reference sources which will do that for you, if you're really interested.

    If you get stuck with anything come back to me and I'll see what I can do to help.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Rosa, thanks. And you just might want to recommend my blog sites,noted @ Twitter! And my posts that people can find @ skeptic griggsy,skepticgriggsy, naturalist griggsy,rationalist griggsy, ignostic morgan and inquiring lynn.
    I have your post posted @ some of my blogs.
    Morgan-Lynn-Griggs Lamberth

    ReplyDelete
  7. Rosa, that's Lord Griggs and Lord Griggs1947 @ Twitter.
    Googling lamberth's naturalistic arguments will show my blogs also and my own and others's arguments.

    ReplyDelete

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