Tag Archives: Intelligent Design

Take Aways: The God Argument

(Because of my love for books and the profound insights I gain from them, I thought it would be nice to share some of this wisdom with the rest of you.  Not your typical book review, this series focuses more on the things I “take away” from a book, and the insights I gained from it.)

My latest read was A.C. Grayling’s The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism.  A synopsis is not really needed, as the subtitle pretty much says it all.  The book spends the first half arguing against organized religion and the second half discussing why humanism is a better option.

I mainly grabbed this book as I was interested in the second half; what Grayling had to say about humanism as a personal philosophy.  I’ve heard of most of Grayling’s arguments against religion before, but he still offered some insights and new ways (for me anyways) of looking at things.

There’s an old saying when it comes to religion – “They can’t all be right.”  Grayling expresses that same sentiment towards the beginning of the book when describing the term “God” and what it means to people:

Even more significantly for religious people, the word [God] typically invokes to denote the all-encompassing and unanswerable source of authority governing what people can think, say, eat, and wear… The fact that different religions claim that their god or gods have different requirements in these respects should be evidence that religions are man-made and historically conditioned, but religious people think that this insight only applies to other people’s religion, not their own.

Grayling also devotes a good amount of his book to science and how it differs from religious truths, particularly when it comes to the idea of Intelligent Design:

ID theorists know in advance the answer, and are seeking to arrange the right questions to get to it; they know what they wish to prove, and are suborning evidence which, when applied and understood, leads to very different conclusions.  They subscribe for non-rational reasons to one of the many creation myths from the infancy of mankind… and are looking for justification in support of it.  This is far from science, rationality and intellectual honesty as one can get, and it is the essence of the Creationism-ID project.

Also:

A central plank of the scientific method is the open invitation to others to test, probe and question the work that any scientist or group of scientists does.  The generalized version of this is the invitation to submit oneself – one’s ideas and proposals, one’s efforts – to challenge by and disagree with others.

One of my favorite subjects of the book was the idea of probability.  In talking with believers about the concept of God and his intervention in this world, the idea of possibility inevitably gets thrown out as a sort of last-ditch effort to get you to consider their position.  Statements like, “Isn’t it possible that God made things appear old, but they’re really not?”, “But isn’t it possible that God caused the Big Bang?”, “Isn’t it a good idea to bet on the possibility of hell really existing?”  Yes, these are all possible – just like it’s possible that there is a Chinese teapot circling the sun.  But, it’s not very probable.  Everything humans believe in is (or at least should) be based not on whether it is possible, but to the degree of which it is probable:

One line of thinking in the theory of knowledge has it that belief is not an all-or-nothing affair, but a matter of degree.  The degree in question can be represented as a probability value.  A virtue of this approach is said to be that it explains how people adjust the weighting they give to their various beliefs as the evidence in support of them changes when more and better information becomes available.  People might not talk of probabilities unless challenged to say just how strongly the believe something, but their beliefs are nevertheless measurable in terms of how subjectively probable they appear to their holder.  In what is known as Bayesian probability theory this is taken to underlie all acquisition and evaluation of beliefs.

In the beginning of second half of book, Grayling gives a concise description of humanism:

In essence, humanism is the ethical outlook that says each individual is responsible for choosing his or her values and goals and working towards the latter in the light of the former, and is equally responsible for living considerately towards others, with a special view to establishing good relationships at the heart of life, because all good lives are premised on such.  Humanism recognizes the commonalities and, at the same time, wide differences that exist in human nature and capacities, and therefore respects the right that the former tells us all must have, and the need for space and tolerance that the latter tells us each must have.

Humanism is above all about living thoughtfully and intelligently, about rising to the demands to the informed, alert and responsive, about being able to make a sound case for a choice of values and goals, and about integrity in living according to the former and determination in seeking to achieve the later.

Humanism is the concern to draw the best from, and make the best of, human life in the span of a lifetime, in the real world, and in the sensible accord with the facts of humanity as these are shaped and constrained by the world.

Humanism is an attitude towards ethics based on observation and the responsible use of reason, both together informing our conversation about human realities, seeking the best and most constructive way of living in accordance with them.

Throughout the book, Grayling distinguishes between humanism and religion.  As one example:

Religious ethics is based on the putative wishes – more accurately: commands of a supernatural being.  For the humanist, the source of moral imperatives lies in human sympathy.  If I see two men do good, one because he takes himself to be commanded to it by a supernatural agency, and the other solely because he cares about his fellow man, I honor the latter infinitely more.

Grayling also points out something that I have been saying for years- you can’t claim to live your life according to the Bible and still live in a modern society; the two notions are mutually exclusive.  One has to pick and choose what they believe and leave the stuff that is no longer culturally relevant (as much as some would wish it was):

When people submit to systems, they are handing over to them (to those who devised them) the right to do their thinking and choosing for them.  Given that almost all the major systems are religious, which moreover originated in a remote past to which most of their teachings apply, they can only be adapted to contemporary conditions by much reinterpretation and temporizing, and alas – by straightforward hypocrisy.

Grayling spends a great deal of time focusing on human interactions on both a small and large scale.  I do wish he would have devoted a little more time to how the philosophy of humanism relates to the earth as a whole – how we treat animals, take care our environment, etc.

Overall, The God Argument was a good read.  I would recommend it to anybody who is on the fence about religion.  For those who have already made up their minds, I would say that you would be safe skipping to the middle of the book.  I’ll leave you with one final quote that is in the book, this one from Leibniz:

In saying that things are not good by any rule of goodness, but merely the will of God, it seems to me that one destroys, without realizing it, all the love of God and all his glory.  For why praise him for what he has done if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing exactly the contrary? 

Thanks for reading.

Ray Comfort’s “The Atheist Delusion”: A review

 

The other night a good friend of mine (who also happens to edit this blog, thanks Paul) came over and we sat down and forced ourselves to sit through all 62 minutes of Ray Comfort’s latest film, The Atheist Delusion.  Comfort is well known in the Christian community for his books, tracts, and films on apologetics.  Previous films include Audacity, Noah & The Last Days, and Evolution vs. God.  I’ve had the displeasure of seeing some of these other films, so I had an idea of what I was getting myself into.

Paul and I started drinking right from the start, as we figured we would need the liquid courage to make it though without throwing something at the TV.  We were right.  I’m not going to go minute by minute on this one, but I am going to hit on several of the main points where Comfort fails miserably.

  • The beginning of the movie starts with Comfort interviewing college students, asking them about nature and evolution.  He hands them a book, and asks them if the book could have put itself together by chance.  That’s right, kids; it’s the watchmaker argument! Comfort has simply repackaged an all too familiar and thoroughly denounced fallacy, and claimed it as his own.  He uses a false analogy to try and claim that since a book can’t create itself, neither can anything in nature.  This is the one scientific question that Comfort claims will “destroy atheism” and sets up the premise for the whole film.
  • He then moves right into talking about DNA, claiming that like the book, some Intelligent Designer (ID) must have created it – it didn’t just come from nothing.  It’s ironic that Comfort uses DNA to try and prove his point, as DNA is unequivocal proof that evolution is true, a point that he conveniently ignores.  He uses a common metaphor that DNA is the “instruction book for life” and then goes on to claim that since the Bible talks about writing the “Book of Life”, then DNA is proof of ID.  Again, using a false analogy, he attempts to claim that “book – book designer, DNA – intelligent designer, i.e. God”.  The problem with this is that the idea of DNA “encoding” information is purely an analogy, since the DNA precedes the information rather than vice versa.
  •  Comfort asks a lady if DNA happened by accident and she rightly replies that it developed over the course of many thousands of years of evolution and development.  Not getting the answer he was hoping for, Comfort moves the goalpost and response with, “The origins don’t matter”.  Yeah, they fucking do, Ray!  Isn’t that what we’re talking about here – evolution vs ID and the origins of all living things?  Like all living matter, DNA also evolved from simpler simpler molecules.
  • Comfort asks one guy if he thinks that the eyes of mammals could have come about by chance.  Again, eyes are a clear example of evolution at work.
  • Comfort spends an inordinate amount of time asking people if “something” can come from “nothing”.  This is what’s commonly know as the Cosmological Argument, a fallacious argument that has been debunked six ways from Sunday.
  • In one of my favorite scenes from the film, Comfort uses an old riddle to try and prove ID.  It goes something like this: “What came first, the chicken or the egg? If the egg came first, what fertilized the egg?  The rooster did.  Therefore – GOD!”  Yes, that is really his argument.  Once again, Comfort’s ignorance and denial of evolution are apparent.  Neither a chicken or an egg just popped into existence, they both evolved over time. 
  • The egg riddle leads into a confusing series of questions regarding eyes, brains, lungs, the heart, blood vessels etc. Comfort falsely assumes that these things couldn’t have simply evolved (hint, hint -they did) and must have been created together just as we see them.  He then asks a strange question, “Do you know of anyone who isn’t fully evolved? Anything on earth?”  His assertion is that everything is created perfectly just the way it is.  There are two problems with this claim.  First, there is no end-point with evolution.  Second, there are species that are continuing to evolve, in fact most species do, including humans.  This has been observed in numerous species, everything from e coli bacteria to elephants.  Oh, and to Comfort’s claim that we don’t see people who have half-evolved legs or other extremities because we are “perfectly evolved”; explain this.
  • Comfort makes the very bold assertion that Richard Dawkins “isn’t really an atheist, he’s an adulterer.”  (Almost threw something at the TV at this point.  Thanks you alcohol)  His reasoning is that Dawkins (like all non-believers) has the wrong idea about God because he cherry-picks the Old Testament and therefore doesn’t understand the true nature of God.  Comfort doesn’t actually address Dawkin’s point, however, regarding God’s character.
  • “The Argument from ID isn’t to convince people of the Christian message, it’s just to just to show them the insanity of atheism”.  Bullshit.  That is exactly why Comfort spends the first half of the film trying to prove ID, so that he can spend the second half of the movie proselytizing to people.
  • Comfort claims that the Bible contains “scientific facts that weren’t discovered tell thousands of years later”.  He first mentions the Earth hangs from nothing, but then goes on to list a number of things which the the writers of the Bible absolutely did not know about, things like germs and the Earth being round.  He then says that the writers of the Bible knew that “life was in the blood”.  This is hardly rocket science.  People long before the Bible had figured out that if the blood leaves your body, you’re going to die.  No mention of all the areas of the Bible which demonstrate how scientifically illiterate its writers were.
  • Two thirds of the way into the film, Comfort changes gears and starts talking about hell.  Because no good Christian witness would be complete without threatening people that their going to burn for all eternity.  Comfort’s “proof” of Hell is that there has to be some sort of retribution for things like the Holocaust.  “When you look at Nazi Germany, instead of saying ‘If God is good, how can He create Hell?  You’ve got to come out saying, ‘If God is good, how can there not be a Hell?'”  No, Ray; I still want an answer to first question, and actual evidence that Hell is real, beyond your assertion that it is.
  • Then comes the “Are you a good person?” part of the film, where Comfort makes people admit what shitty people they really are.  It’s honestly one of the hardest parts of the film to watch because you can see people getting uncomfortable by his questions.  Comfort doesn’t care, of course, because in the Evangelical world, there’s no such things as personal boundaries.  Even to the point where if they give an answer he doesn’t like he’ll keep pushing them tell they admit what he wants them to admit.  More on this later.
  • A couple of times in the film Comfort compares humans to other animals, by wrongfully assuming that they don’t have much of the same emotions and desires that we have.  He implies that animals have no sense of morality or compassion.  This is false.  He also tells one person that they are not like an animal because he has a desire to live.  The will to survive is literally the most foundational force in nature!  Every species of live on this planet carries it.
  • Pascal’s Wager makes an appearance in the film – “The Bible says that Jesus Christa has abolished death. Now, if that isn’t true, we shouldn’t look into it.  But if there’s once chance in a million that it is…  Your good sense should just open your heart and say, ‘I’ll check it out'”.
  • The last bit of the film is Comfort trying to get people to accept his bullshit “Allow Jesus into your hearts” by telling them that they’re going to go to hell for their sins if they don’t.  He makes it very clear that Christianity is all about correct beliefs; our actions are irrelevant.

A few more thoughts about some general themes throughout the film.

Comfort spends the entire film equating evolution with atheism.  He makes the case that if evolution isn’t true, then there has to be a God, and not just any god, but his God.  Comfort is fond of using straw man arguments to make his points, saying things like, “You’re an atheist, so you believe the scientific impossibility that nothing created everything?”  First of all, atheism and evolution are two completely separate topics.  Atheism is the assertion that a God can not be demonstrated.  That’s it.  Whether or not evolution is true has nothing to do with it.  Also, even if evolution was to be proven false, that does no automatically make ID true; it’s a false dichotomy.  Nor would it prove that God exists.  You still need to provide sufficient evidence for both claims.  Comfort also ignores the fact many Christians accept evolution.  Believing in ID is not a prerequisite for believing in God.

All but two of the people Comfort interviews in this film are under-graduate college students; just random kids he’s meeting on the street.  He doesn’t interview any experts in the fields that he is discussing.  If he really wants to know about evolution, why isn’t he interviewing biologists?  If he wants to talk about DNA, why didn’t he interview Francis Collins, a fellow Christians and expert in the field?  Instead, Comfort interviews a bunch of dumb college students, and holds them up as shining examples of what all atheists believe.  This is incredibly dishonest and manipulative.  Ever heard of “bearing false witness”, Ray?  Ray doesn’t include anyone knowledgeable in his fields of inquiry because he knows they would have solid answers for his questions, wouldn’t buy his bullshit, and would make him look like a idiot.  The only expert included in the whole film is a short, edited clip of his interview with Lawrence Krauss, in which Krauss sharply refutes his arguments.  (You can see the full interview here)  Of course he doesn’t pose the “something from nothing” question to Krauss, a man who literally wrote the book on the subject.  The same can be said for atheist in general – why didn’t he interview one of the more well know atheist like Matt Dillahunty or PZ Myers, who he’s spoken with before?  There are a number of atheists and scientists who I’m certain would have been in this film if Comfort had asked them.  Instead he chooses to interview young, ignorant college kids to make his point.  Comfort also has a habit of giving ignorant, but easy answers to complex questions.  Subjects like DNA and evolutionary biology are fields which experts spend decades studying and can’t generally be summed up in a sentence or two.  Comfort chooses to remain ignorant of these topics and instead insists that “God did it!” is a suitable answer to any topic he doesn’t understand.

Or, most likely he did interview some knowledgeable atheists and scientists and simply left those interview out of the video.  As with his interview with Krauss, the entire movie is heavily edited and pieced together.  It’s hard to know for sure what kind of answers the people being interviewed were actually giving.  I’m willing to bet there were interviews which were intentionally left out because they didn’t provide the answers Comfort was looking for, i.e.; they don’t make atheists look stupid enough.

Comfort’s cheery nature and New Zealand accent aren’t enough to masquerader what a self-righteous, judgmental prick he can be.  Around the half-way mark of the film, he accuses pretty much everyone he’s been interviewing that the real reason they’re atheists is because they want to sin, they love their porn, they love their pre-marital sex, etc.  He’s fond of using that the one line that makes every atheist want to punch someone in the face, “You know deep in your heart that God exists; you’re just denying it!”  This comes up several times throughout the film with Comfort insisting people believe in things they just got done telling him that that they didn’t.  This is what’s know as gaslighting – a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity.  When talking to people, Comfort attempts to draw out all the bad things they’ve done in their lives to show them how wicked they are and how much they deserve Hell, to the point of actually calling people names.  He does all this “out of love” of course.

When it comes to apologetics, the old saying, “There is nothing new under the sun”, really strikes true.  The Atheist Delusion is nothing put a repackaging of the same tired, fallacious arguments that Christians have been using for decades in an attempt to justifies their baseless claims.  Everything from the Cosmological Argument, the Argument for Design, Pascal’s Wager, to the overall theme that since Evolution is false, then God must be true.  Not once in the 62 minutes of this film did Comfort make a solid, plausible case for either God or ID.

But that really isn’t the point, is it?  Comfort isn’t trying to convert atheist – he’s pandering to his audience of Christians who already buy into his particular brand of religion.  Comfort makes a pretty good living reinforcing stereotypes, pandering to the Evangelical world-view, and remaining willfully ignorant of reality.  It’s not like Comfort’s arguments haven’t been challenged before; he just chooses to ignore any evidence which refutes his position.  Confirmation bias at its finest.

The only redeeming quality of this film is the stock footage that is used as filler between scenes, and to emphasize some points  But it’s not worth watching the movie for, just watch Planet Earth instead.  If you really want to see what the movie is about, just watch the first half to get the gist of Comfort’s fallacious arguments, and skip the sermon at the end.

One final note.  At the end of the film, we get a message from the president of the company that produced the film, Living  Waters, directs you too the movies website, were you can get a four session video course “that will equip you to do what Ray did in the movie, and reach atheists with the love of Christ”.  If there are any Christians who have gone through this course and would like to try it out, contact me and I would be totally game, as would Paul.  I’ll even buy lunch.

If you would like to check out a more in-depth and humorous review of this film, be sure to check out The Bible Reloaded’s great commentary below.  Thanks for reading.

 

Mythbusters: Intelligently Designed Humans

One of the most common arguments for the existence of God, particularly from Creationist and Intelligent Design advocates, is the human body.  They will often cite Bible verses that claim humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and designed in God’s image.  We humans have a very long history of being full of ourselves and unfortunately religion has only reinforced this view.  Since Darwin’s breakthrough discoveries regarding human origins, science has come to understand homo sapiens real place in the natural world.  Despite geneticists proving through DNA that humans are in fact, evolved from other animal species, there are many who still want to believe that we came into existence just as we are and are the greatest of all creation.

Let’s suppose for a second that human were designed by an intelligent creator  and really are the greatest of all creation.  Shouldn’t this intelligent design be evident in our makeup and abilities?  Shouldn’t humans have a long, glorious history of being “king of the jungle”?  You would think so, but that’s not what we find at all.  Let’s look at some examples of design flaws in humans:

  • One of the things that sets apart humans from other mammals is our ability to walk upright, or be bi-pedal.  This frees up our hands to do others things like use tools.  With this advance came the increase in size of our craniums.  But with evolution, everything comes with a cost.  Our skeletons were developed over millions of years of walking on all fours and having relatively small heads.  The price paid for becoming bi-pedal and having larger craniums is having back problems, foot problems, and stiff necks.  Women paid extra.  An upright gait required narrower hips, thus constricting the birth canal.  This not only made childbirth painful, but also dangerous.  Prior to modern medicine, childbirth often lead to the death of the mother and/or child.
  • Speaking of children, human infants are some of the most helpless of the mammalian species.  Colts are able to run only hours after being born, and a kitten can forage for food on its own after only a few weeks.  Humans, on the other hand, are totally helpless and dependent for many years on their elders for sustenance, protection and education.  This poses a problem for the mothers as well, as a lone mother can hardly forage enough food for their offspring and themselves with a needy child in tow.
  • Compared to other creatures, humans are relatively weak and marginal.  Despite having large brains and inventing the use of tools, humans still spent around 2 million years somewhere in the middle of the food chain.  Our sense of smell, eye sight, and hearing are no match to other mammals.  Our overall strength, speed, reflexes, and agility is also outmatched by hundreds of other species.  Humans lived in constant fear of predators, were always in danger of exposure from the elements, and had to forage for food daily just to survive.  This did not change until the Agricultural Revolution, which brought its own set of problems.
  • Of all the things that a human can die from, diseases accounted for more deaths then any other.  Every since the Agricultural Revolution when humans were forced to live in close proximity to animals and other humans, diseases have wiped out untold amounts of the human population.  Why do humans have such weak immune systems?  A wild vulture can eat anthrax and not be affected thanks to their strong stomach acids.  Cockroaches are well known for their survivability, even able to withstand nuclear radiation.  Yet humans can be taken down by a simple cold.
  • Some species of coral and sponges can live thousands of years.  Bowhead whales can live over 200 years. A lobster can live to be over 140 years old, as can a tortoise.  There are in fact, hundred of species of animals that live well past 100.   Yet humans life expectancy is roughly 80 if you live in a developed county, thanks to modern medicine.  At the turn of the 19th century, life expectancy in the US was only 46.  During the Bronze and Iron Age it was 26.
  • One of the unique features of some lizards is their ability to grow back their tails should they lose them.  This is a good escape technique, as a lost tail will continue to wiggle, which might distract the predator and give the lizard a chance to escape.  Most lizards will have regrown their tail within nine months.  Other spices of animals also posses this neat trick, know as regeneration.   The Mexican axolotl can regenerating a missing limb; tail; and parts of their brain, heart, and lower jaw.  If they’re paralyzed in the back they can recover the functions of their legs by making all new neurons and new connections.  Starfish also have the ability to regenerate their arms and sometimes their whole bodies.  Why aren’t humans able to grow back missing limbs?  It’s clearly not outside the realm of nature, yet no amount of medical treatment or prayer has ever brought back a missing limb.

The fact is, the only things that set homo sapiens apart from other animals is our cognitive capacity and our ability to cooperate in large numbers.  

If you want to believe that humans were designed by a God, you have to then explain why he did such a shitty job of it.  I’ve demonstrated just a handful of ways in which humans fail to be the pinnacle of creation despite the prevalence in nature of better designs.  If humans are the greatest of all creation, why not incorporate some of the amazing abilities found in other animals into humans to make a species that would experience far less suffering then humans have?  If humans are designed by a God, he needs to go back to the drawing board.

However, the design flaws in humans make perfect sense when viewed through the lens of evolution.  Natural selection provides a working model to how humans evolved and why.  Evolution is a give-and-take system; if an animal increases in efficiency in one area, it will decrease in another*.  Human’s large craniums gave us a larger brain which lead to our greatest asset – our cognitive abilities.  But powering that brain takes a tremendous amount of energy, which meant compromises had to be made.

The weaknesses found in our species has led to untold numbers of deaths and immeasurable suffering.  It’s time humans accept their place in the natural world.  It’s time we stop fooling ourselves into believing that we are somehow “special” and intelligently designed.  We are simply animals, or as Robert Ardrey wrote, “We were born of risen apes, not fallen angels”.

With this knowledge we can work towards caring for and sustaining nature so that we can preserve the world for future generations.  Humanity has risen to the top of the food chain, but with that comes the responsibility of making sure we don’t screw it all up.

Thanks for reading.

 

* For example, elephants have no natural predators they need to worry about thanks to their large size.  However their large size means they can only have one offspring at a time and they have a two-year gestation period.  In humans, our large craniums meant greater cognitive abilities, but it also meant more difficulty and potentially life-threatening births.