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Saturday, 3 August 2013

Four Deceptions of Apologetics

In response to The Four Miracles of Atheism

Sadly, the following seems to pass for religious apologetics these days, as religious superstitions continue to retreat in the face of science. Where once they could rely on a swift execution of heretics to defend their 'faiths' without having to bother justifying it with evidence, reason or logic, they now have to try to mount some sort of defence on the science playing field, and at least look as though they are playing to science's rules. It is taken from one of very many religious apologetics websites which purports to be meeting the challenge from science.

About the only positive thing to say about this site is that, if it has the begging button traditional on these sort of sites, it is very well hidden. Normally one can dismiss them as merely selling spurious confirmation to creationists who'll pay good money to be told that their ignorant superstition trumps science and reason and who crave nothing more than a scientific-looking refutation of the science they so despise.
Richard Dawkins stated that “Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” However, even naturalistic worldviews also take some things on faith.

For the purposes of this discussion, we will define a miracle as an event which occurs outside of the natural order and cannot be repeated or explained by the scientific process. Consider the following four miracles which must be accepted by the atheist in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary:

  1. Getting Something from Nothing. There has never been an observed example where something was created from nothing. No person would attempt to build something without materials, and there is no theory outside Big Bang cosmology which reaches this conclusion without ridicule from the scientific community.
  2. Getting Life from Non-Life. Even if naturalistic causes could have created the universe, it would still be necessary for non-living material to become living. This is also an unproven (and impossible) feat which must be accepted when denying the existence of God.
  3. Getting Order from Chaos. The Laws of Thermodynamics tell us that all things tend towards disorder, not order. Left to themselves buildings crumble, gardens are taken over by weeds, and living material decays. If unguided natural causes produced the universe (from nothing) and produced life (from non-life) these processes would necessarily go against observed scientific principles in order to produce the complexity, beauty, and order that we observe in the world around us.
  4. Getting the Immaterial from Physical Matter. If nothing was able to produce everything, non-life was able to produce life, and chaos was able to produce order the atheistic worldview would still encounter an insurmountable obstacle. No matter how organized, it is impossible for physical material to produce the immaterial realities of human consciousness. Our morality, beliefs, desires and preferences all exist outside of mere physical matter.
Each of these examples go against the natural order and could be labeled as miracles. Naturalistic worldviews such as atheism, evolution, and neo-Darwinism regard this evidence for God with what Dawkins would certainly consider an unscientific approach: each item must be taken on faith.

With God it is very logical to conclude that He who created all things can work within His creation as He pleases. Scripture is replete with examples of such miraculous interactions and the Genesis account of creation certainly addresses the above four points.

First, I run through these four misrepresentations of science then I'll move on to discussing just what these reveal about the honesty and integrity, or rather the lack thereof, which seems to be the norm in religious apologetics.

  1. Something from nothing.
    The first thing to note here is the unstated assumption that the default state of existence is non-existence, in other words that there ever was a nothing from which atheism claims everything came. Of course, atheism is simply an intellectual position on the lack of evidence for gods and makes no scientific claims at all, other than that the only rational basis for belief and opinion is evidence, reason and logical deduction.

    There is naturally no consideration of whether the 'existence' of nothing makes any sense, nor how they examined the properties of this non-existent thing to determine what could and what couldn't come from it. In fact of course, the notion of there actually being a nothing is irrational. (see Much Ado About Nothing.) Scroll to the end of the piece and you will find they've abandoned the insistence that nothing can come from nothing and are waving around an imaginary deity who came from nothing and, apparently, made everything from nothing. Clearly, their 'answer' needs special measures to protect it from the scrutiny to which they insist science should be subject. The traditional hypocrisy of double standards is already being invoked.

    Be that as it may, a few minutes spent searching with Google would have produced several very good scientific arguments why it is perfectly possible for the Universe, and everything in it, to have had a spontaneous beginning which, for all practical purposes can be regarded as nothing.

    Possibly most famously, there is Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow's book, The Grand Design in which they explained why the law of gravity alone is sufficient to explain how the Universe could have spontaneously self-generated. In their words, "Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

    Secondly, there is a widely advertised and promoted book by theoretical physisist, Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing which again deals in considerable detail with this subject.

    Feigned or actual ignorance of these books is inexcusable. Anyone interested in educating and informing their audience rather than in misleading them should have had the intellectual integrity to check. It took me about 20 seconds on Google to find these example. Clearly, the truth is not a major consideration on the above site. Feigning expertise in these matters in order to mislead is also inexcusable and not the act of an honest person.

    Spontaneous creation of the Universe from zero energy fits perfectly well within the Laws of Thermodynamics because the Universe is a zero energy creation. The sum total of energy in the universe is zero. In energy terms, the Universe is nothing. (See The Universe Is A Zero Sum Game.)

    Science is perfectly comfortable with the idea of there being nothing meaningful in terms of this Universe and with space and time having a beginning. This is no more difficult to accept than the idea that there is nothing north of the North Pole. However, science is equally comfortable with the idea that this Universe could have spontaneously generated within another 'pre-existing' Universe in a non-zero energy field.

    What science doesn't need to do is to mislead people with false claims such as we have in the above, where we are told, "There has never been an observed example where something was created from nothing". This is quite simply untrue. Pairs of particles can be observed arising spontaneously in a quantum vacuum and the Casimir Effect is only understandable in terms of spontaneous generation of particles in a quantum field.

    Lastly, there are the dishonest assumptions underpinning the Cosmological Argument (of which the above is simply another version).

    1. There exists a set of things which didn't have a beginning and therefore need no explanation in terms of where they came from, and that the only occupant of this set is the particular god, or any other daft notion, that is being promoted as the cause of everything else. There is no logical, observational, theoretical or experimental justification for this assumption. It's merely a slight of hand made to mislead the audience. This is the intellectually bankrupt ploy of begging the question; of trying to rig the debate so the only outcome permitted is the one desired.
    2. The circular argument which, in effect, argues that the only explanation is that God created the Universe therefore the only explanation is that God created the Universe. One might as well argue that it was caused by a sneeze or an invisible hippo. It is the height of intellectual dishonesty to assume the existence of something then use that assumption as a proof of its existence. It's a trick designed to mislead the daft and hard of thinking, not a logical argument designed to arrive at the truth.
    3. That the universe had a single cause. In fact very few things have a single cause and there is no reason to assume the Universe did. The Universe could be the result of several, possibly many, events occurring either in series or in parallel. There is no rational basis for assuming a single cause. See Causality.

      In fact, there is no reason to assume the Universe had any cause, single or otherwise. Cause and effect are laws of Relativity but the spontaneous creation of the Universe was a quantum event, not subject to the laws of Relativity. Some quantum events are known to have no cause - decay of a radioactive atom, spontaneous return to a lower energy level of an excited orbital electron, etc. Being a quantum event makes it perfectly possible that there was no cause at all. In the quantum world all possible events occur, so the initial moment of the Big Bang only needed to be possible for it to be bound to happen.
    4. That the only god or alternative explanation on offer is the locally popular god. If science can be shown to not have an answer, the local superstition must be true, by default. This is, of course, a crude and intelectually bankrupt false dichotomy fallacy. There is no rational basis for assuming the only alternative to a scientific explanation is the one being promoted.
  2. Life from non-life.
    There is of course the traditional failure to define 'life'. It has become customary for religious apologetics to slip something magical and ill-defined into these sorts of lists and demand science explains it for them - like demanding we explain souls or ghosts. About the only rational definition approaching what superstitious people like to refer to as 'life' is local entropy management, and science has no problem with explaining that in terms of chemistry and physics. See What is life? and Looking At Life. The chemical and physical processes which form the metabolic processes in living organisms are very well understood and have very clearly evolved as early replicators increased in complexity and developed local entropy management processes. There is nothing magical involved.

    If theologists wish to propose something magical called 'life' the onus is on them to define it and demonstrate that it exists. 'Life' is a problem for theologists, not science.

    And it has no bearing on atheism, which, as I said above, is an intellectual view on the (absence of) evidence for gods.

    There are of course the traditional false dichotomy, god of gaps and begging the question fallacies contained in these questions and the whole relies on parochial ignorance in its target audience to succeed. The question is designed to mislead rather than to inform in the finest tradition of morally bankrupt religious apologetics.
  3. Order from Chaos.
    Here we see the traditional misrepresentation of the Laws of Thermodynamics, specifically the Second Law. The regularity with which this misrepresentation is trotted out by religious apologists, and the regularity with which the misrepresentation is pointed out by scientists and those interested in the truth, makes it almost inconceivable that whoever formulated these questions (and they have wisely elected to remain anonymous) was not aware that this claim is false. The Second Law applies only to a closed system. There is no reason at all why order cannot be increased locally without contravening the Second Law.

    Examples of order from chaos abound in nature and are perfectly well understood in terms of thermodynamics and conservation of energy. See Order From Chaos, where I deal with this at length. Again, there are books and website which can be found in a few seconds on Google which deal with this subject, so ignorance of them can only be wilfull or feigned. Either way, there is a clear attempt to mislead. Examples are Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart's The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World and John R. Gribbin's Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity
  4. 'Immaterial' from Physical Matter.
    The claim is that, "No matter how organized, it is impossible for physical material to produce the immaterial realities of human consciousness. Our morality, beliefs, desires and preferences all exist outside of mere physical matter."

    This is quite simply wrong.

    1. Consciousness (why stick with human?) is a function of neurophysiology and is thus fully material in the sense that it is the product of chemical and physical processes. It is perhaps excusable to be ignorant of neurophysiology; it is not excusable to claim expertise in this subject where none exists. There are several books on this subject, foremost amongst them being Daniel C. Dennett's Consciousness Explained and Susan Blackmore's Consciousness: An Introduction

      The fact that consciousness is a physical thing is readily deduced from the fact that it can be altered with chemical or physical brain injury. If it existed as some magical thing separate from the physical brain would mean it would be unaffected by injury of chemical change.
    2. Similarly, morality, beliefs, desires and preferences are all perfectly understandable and explainable in terms of memetic and genetic evolution and physiology. Again, a few moments on Google would have discovered websites and books dealing with these at length, for example, Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine. See Religion: An abdication of Moral Responsibility, Why Cooperation Works, Why Morality Evolved and Darwin's Powerful Science - Cultures.
    Attempting to place these outside the realm of science when a cursory check would have shown them to be well with the scope of science, betrays an underlying dishonesty and an insecurity in the arguments being forwarded in defence of one specific, entirely evidence-free notion for which not a single scrap of scientific evidence is offered.

So, what do these questions tell us of those who formulated them and the website which promotes them?

In the words of devout Christian and scientist, Francis Collins:
Thus, by any reasonable standard, Young Earth Creationism has reached a point of intellectual bankruptcy, both in its science and in its theology. Its persistence is thus one of the great puzzles and great tragedies of our time. By attacking the fundamentals of virtually every branch of science, it widens the chasm between the scientific and spiritual worldviews, just at a time where a pathway toward harmony is desperately needed. By sending a message to young people that science is dangerous, and that pursuing science may well mean rejecting religious faith, Young Earth Creationism may be depriving science of some of its most promising future talents.

But it is not science that suffers most here. Young Earth Creationism does even more damage to faith, by demanding that belief in God requires assent to fundamentally flawed claims about the natural world. Young people brought up in homes and churches that insist on Creationism sooner or later encounter the overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of an ancient universe and the relatedness of all living things through the process of evolution and natural selection. What a terrible and unnecessary choice they then face! To adhere to the faith of their childhood, they are required to reject a broad and rigorous body of scientific data, effectively committing intellectual suicide. Presented with no other alternative than Creationism, is it any wonder that many of these young people turn away from faith, concluding that they simply cannot believe in a God who would ask them to reject what science has so compellingly taught us about the natural world?

Francis Collins. The Language of God
From these questions, and the moral and intellectual bankruptcy they reveal, there appears to be no reason to restrict Francis Collins' castigation of Young-Earth Creationists to just Young-Earth Creationists.

Note for example, the double standards and hypocrisy in accusing atheism of relying on 'miracles' on the basis that they can't possibly have a scientific explanation, from religionists who often depend on claimed miracles as arguments for their own daft notion of a magic man who runs the Universe. It seems the irony of that was lost on whoever came up with this stuff.

To me the thing that shouts loudest here is how these apologetic arguments are aimed at the parochial, the ignorant and the culturally arrogant. Not only do they depend on their target audience not knowing enough about science to realise the false claims being made about it (and atheism) but they rely on their audience falling for the false dichotomy and god of the gaps fallacies which depend on the assumption that the locally popular god is the only god on offer and the only alternative when science has a gap.

They also depend on their targets' arrogant assumption that their intuition is the best measure of reality so ignorance and incredulity are valid scientific arguments. Note the underlying assumption that the Universe is somehow obliged to be easy to understand without needing to learn any thing; that the Universe should be intuitive, as though ignorant intuition is the best available measure of reality and easily trumps the maths and experimental observation.

To me this illustrates well why apologetics does anything but inform and educate and acts to maintain ignorance and perpetuate disinformation and misunderstanding. It depends on ignorance for its success and illustrates well how religion is a superstitious substitute for learning and the default easy answer for those too intellectually indolent to learn or too culturally arrogant and intellectually dishonest to examine their own assumptions. These questions show the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of religious apologetics and how frauds and charlatans prey on ignorance, like a snake-oil salesman or confidence trickster.

And of course, hiding behind all the other fallacies and misleading statements, is the assumption that atheism is a claim about science. It is not. It is simply a position on the (lack of) evidence for any gods. If you are religious, the atheist position with regard to whatever your favourite god might be is identical to your position with regard to all the many gods you don't believe in. The only difference is that we don't apply double standards and grant one special imaginary god a free pass from needing any evidence or needing to pass any of the tests you demand of science and just about everything else, including other gods.

No matter what gap you find in science, real or imaginary, does not prove that your favourite god is sitting in it. Your god hypothesis is a mere notion with no supporting evidence. It is for you to provide evidence for it. It is not granted the privilege of winning the argument by default.

What use is a faith which requires its followers to lie and deceive in order to win converts? To lie is to attempt to trick another person into believing something you know isn't true. There is no belief in a god of truth or a god who respects honesty and integrity. Clearly, the motive here has nothing to do with worship of a god worthy of worship. The only possible motive for that is to attempt to take control of that other person.

There is nothing to be admired or respected in that.

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  1. When I read these infamous bigots saying things like "He who created all things can work within His creation as He pleases." it gets my blood boiling... but then I think of someone like Malala Yousafzai who said "I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I am afraid of no one." and know that there's hope in the future generations. That's the beauty of life, individuals perish so a species can evolve.

  2. 4 deceptions I would change to 4 horrific lies of apologetics. It really irritates me that honest so called scientists and preachers are able to be so dishonest in their work.

  3. Rosa,

    I have read many of your objections to the Kalam Cosmological argument, and I am pretty sure that all of them can be satisfied. I wonder if you would be willing to do a blog debate on the topic of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I know that typically your challenge is to debate "is there scientific evidence for only the Christian God?" but I think the KCA is an equally interesting topic and we would miss out on it if we did it that way.

    We both use our own blogs (and perhaps, if we wish, save a screenshot of the other to ensure that there is no major editing after the fact). If you are interested, this is the format that I usually use:

    1 introductory post per debater (1500 Words or less)
    1 Long Rebuttal per debater (1000 Words or less)
    1 Short Rebuttal Per Debater (750 Words or less)
    At this point, each debater will pose three questions to the other.
    1 Post answering 3 questions per debater (750 Words or less)
    1 Concluding Post per debater (500 Words or less)

    I would absolutely love an open dialogue on the Kalam Cosmological Argument with you. So I hope you accept my challenge. If you do not want to accept for whatever reason, feel free to reject this comment, since I do not want people to accuse you of cowardice. Also here is an archive of previous debates that I have had in this format.

    Have a great week,

    1. Sure, though I have to say I'm not convinced you are the honest debater you were portraying yourself as a few weeks ago, so I reserve the right to break off the debate if you try the usual dishonest tactics of Christian apologists.

      Quite frankly, I can't be bothered with dishonesty and have no intention of giving it a platform, unless it's to put it on show.

      I note that you have failed to address the above blog, and have had nothing to say about the blatant dishonesty of the blog it was a reply to.

    2. I am not sure what tactics you are referencing. I only plan to defend each premise of the KCA and answer objections to the premises. If you think that debate tactics are being employed, then the best course of action, it seems to me, would be to expose them. Which, if they are present, it should not be a problem for you to do.

      I will make a deal with you though. If you go through the entire debate with me, posting an introduction, long rebuttal, short rebuttal, 3 questions/answers, and a conclusion, then I will no longer link to my website on the atheism hashtag on twitter. You will no longer see ThereforeGodExists on the atheism hashtag.

      I did not read the blog that you were responding to. The reason that I did not address any of the points was because I thought it would be more fun to do a debate on them. I also am not too familiar with arguments like "life from non-life" or "order from chaos" so I am not sure if I would necessarily defend it. Maybe the blog author is being dishonest. I do not know.

    3. I don't require anything other than honesty.

      I would point out, however, that intellectual honesty includes changing you mind when you realise your argument is false.

      If I refute your understanding of the KCA will you stop trying to trick ignorant and credulous simpletons with it and, instead, point out to them that it doesn't support their notion of a god, whichever god they are using it to support, instead, it supports the atheistic idea of a causeless, therefore purposeless, Universe?

      That would be the intellectually honest thing to do. Apologists normally don't regard an argument being refuted and shown to be fallacious as a bar to trying it on someone else.

      So what proposition are we to debate?

    4. If you refute the Kalam Cosmological argument, I will no longer use it. Although I am not trying to fool anybody with it. I actually believe the argument succeeds. Perhaps I am the one being fooled, then. If that is the case, and you expose that, then I will no longer use it. However I would not say that the negation of the argument supports the idea of a causeless universe. As the atheist philosopher Kai Neilson pointed out, "To show that an argument is invalid is not to show that the conclusion is false."

      As for the proposition, I would be okay with just "The Kalam Cosmological Argument," but to better align with normal debate formatting, how about, "Does The Kalam Cosmological Argument Prove The Existence Of God?" Since I am answering in the affirmative, I will make the first introductory post and send it to you either today or tomorrow.

      And like I said, if you participate fully in the entire debate, I will stop posting ThereforeGodExists links to the atheism hashtag.

  4. Here is my introductory post.

    1. Thanks.

      I'll read it tomorrow and import it into a blog.

  5. Rosa

    I appreciate that you responded to the article. As a Christian, I didn't really fully agree with it and hopefully my comment on that article will be posted soon. One of the themes of your response is on the dishonesty of Christians and there unwillingness to search for answer, however, didn't you admittedly do the same thing in this response. I confess I only read your response to point #1, but in that response you misunderstood or characterized the cosmological argument and then you say that is took you "about 20 seconds on Google to find these example." I would think that if you were really concerned about truth, as you claim to be, then you would have further investigated those claims about nothing and found that there is a Christian response and that when Krauss uses the word nothing, he doesn't mean it in the same sense that everyone else other than physicists mean it.

    Additionally, the cosmological argument doesn't show any certain God exists, but it does allow us to deduce that an uncreated, timeless, immaterial, and personal thing must exist in order for our universe to be created. What would you call such an entity, if not God?

    1. I have blogged extensively on the 'Cosmological Argument' which is, of course, merely a god of the gaps argument combined with the intellectual dishonesty of circular reasoning and begging the question. It is very clearly aimed at an ignorant and parochial audience which is why William Lane Craig uses it so extensively as a marketing strategy.

      You may wish to read The Kalâm Cosmological Fallacy, William Lane Craig's Logical Kalamity and Debate - The Kalam Cosmological Argument in which I debated the KCA in considerable detail with a Christian apologist.

      You may also be interested in my blog Much Ado About Nothing.

      The fact remains that the article to which I was responding deliberately attempted to mislead by grotesquely misrepresenting science - a tactic very clearly aimed at the scientifically illiterate. With so much information now readily and freely available it is no longer possible to do the author the courtesy of assuming he/she was mistaken through ignorance. There is no excuse for not checking for factual accuracy.

      The pretense of expertise where there clearly is none is itself an implicit lie which betrays his/her dishonesty.

    2. So...Jay, did you really just complain about Rosa not being thorough then admit you didn't even read the whole blog post? Really?

      "...but it does allow us to deduce that an uncreated, timeless, immaterial, and personal thing must exist in order for our universe to be created..."

      A purely philosophical argument that has nothing to do with the distortion of science that Rosa pointed-out


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