XFiles Friday: Three strikes and they’re out

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 5)

By this point, Geisler and Turek have hopelessly confused the crucial distinction between evidence and superstition, and are trying to argue that good science is really bad science, and vice versa.

False science is bad science, and it’s the Darwinists who are practicing it. Their belief in spontaneous generation results from their blind faith in naturalism. It takes tremendous faith to believe that the first one-celled creature came together by natural laws, because that’s like believing 1,000 encyclopedias resulted from an explosion in a printing shop! Atheists can’t even explain the origin of the printing shop, much less the 1,000 encyclopedias. Therefore, we don’t have enough faith to be atheists.

And never mind the fact that theistic evolutionists, whom Geisler and Turek explicitly excluded from their definition of “Darwinists,” look at the scientific evidence and reach the same conclusions. Never mind that the Bible defines faith as “the evidence of things not seen.” No, it’s the “Darwinists” whose “faith” is blind, because they refuse to give superstitious attributions the same weight as genuine evidence.

The next couple sections continue Geisler and Turek’s downward spiral into empty spin and posturing, but before we move on, I’d like to look at a quick example that might help illustrate the difference between superstition and evidence.

The example I’d like to use is the so-called fairy ring. In more superstitious times, people used to think that fairies made those rings, but modern science has suggested a couple of more natural explanations. An Intelligent Design proponent might point out that the circular rings have the appearance of having been created for an intelligent purpose, such as marking out an area for very small persons to dance in. But if we attribute rings of mushrooms to fairies, does that mean that mushrooms are evidence for the existence of fairies?

This is what Geisler and Turek are presenting as “evidence” for a non-natural origin of life. They see features of biology that they do not understand, and they merely attribute these features to a divine cause. Attributing one thing to some invisible cause, however, does not mean that the thing you see is evidence that the invisible thing exists. It’s simply superstition: you are giving credit to something despite being unable to show any real world connection between the cause you claim, and the effect you observe.

On to the next section, where Geisler and Turek very quickly strike out, in terms of their scientific understanding.

In the subsection “Give Time More Time?”, they trot out the tried-and-true tactic of invoking the Second Law of Thermodynamics as “proof” that life could not arise from non-life. Sure, they admit that the Second Law failed miserably to disprove evolution itself (though not quite so frankly as that), but now they claim that it surely must at least forbid abiogenesis. Right? Right?

It would be nice if that were true. After all, things like viruses and prions are not alive, so if Geisler and Turek were applying the Second Law correctly, we could just sit back and let entropy rid the world of viruses, mad cow disease, and so on. But strangely, that’s not what we see in the real world. In real life, organic chemical reactions do happen spontaneously, and do produce increasing complexity even in systems that conform to the Three Laws of Thermodynamics. There’s nothing magically anti-entropic about life, such that the Second Law only affects non-living organisms. The same laws of biochemistry work on the same (non-living) atoms and molecules, regardless of the presence or absence of what we call “life.” Strike One for Team G-T.

Their next swing-and-a-miss is the section called “Give Chance a Chance?” In this section, the authors come perilously close to making a very astute observation.

Chance is a word that we use to describe mathematical possibilities. It has no power of its own. Chance is nothing. It’s what rocks dream about.

If someone flips a fair coin, what’s the chance that it will come up heads? Fifty percent, we say. Yes, but what causes it to come up heads? Is it chance? No, the primary cause is an intelligent being who decided to flip the coin and apply so much force in doing so. Secondary causes, such as the physical forces of wind and gravity, also impact the result of the flip. If we knew beforehand all those variables, we could calculate how the flip would turn out beforehand. But since we don’t know those variables, we use the word “chance” to cover our ignorance.

Ooo, so close. Yes, that’s exactly right, the word “chance” does not describe the actual causes involved, which is why, when scientists are speaking carefully and precisely, they do not attribute the origin of life to random chance. In fact, “random chance” is the complete antithesis of what scientists use to explain origins, because random chance implies that the outcomes are completely unpredictable and therefore impossible to understand scientifically.

Creationists, on the other hand, almost invariably attribute the origin of life to random chance, when speaking of evolution and abiogenesis (which Geisler and Turek insist on describing as “spontaneous generation,” even though that’s a different idea entirely). Creationists imagine that life had an inexplicable, magical origin, and therefore they assume that scientists must also be offering an inexplicable and magical origin. But that’s not at all what real biologists are up to. They are specifically and intentionally studying the processes, laws, and variables whose complex workings combine to produce predictable (and not random) outcomes. These outcomes are undirected, but not random, because they are constrained by rational, understandable, predictable natural laws—the same laws that cause inanimate molecules to combine together to make new cells for the body to grow.

So Strike Two for Team G-T: they almost realized that the science of origins is not about “chance” at all, but about the actual variables, laws, and events by which life can arise from non-life. Sadly, though they realized that chance has nothing to do with it, they had to try and “spin” this fact into some kind of slur against science itself. The count is two strikes, no balls, and Team G-T gets ready to take a swing at science and philosophy.

The statement “science is the only source of objective truth” claims to be an objective truth, but it’s not a scientific truth. The statement is philosophical in nature—it can’t be proven by science—so it defeats itself.

This leads us to perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from the bad science of the Darwinists: science is built on philosophy. Indeed science is a slave to philosophy.

Notice that Geisler and Turek are not applying this criticism to evolutionary science alone. In their view, what they say is true of all science. This isn’t supposed to be just some flaw in “Darwinist” thinking. Science as a slave to philosophy is how science should be. Geisler and Turek want science to be subjugated to philosophical ideas that cannot be objectively verified. They want to stack the deck in favor of “philosophy” (i.e. theology) over science, because they know that ultimately, science isn’t going to support their theology.

Unfortunately, Geisler and Turek are equivocating over the meaning of “science” here. It’s true that science, in the sense of one narrow branch of applied natural sciences, is not the sole source of objective knowledge. But that’s not all there is to science. Science, at its heart, is the principle that truth is consistent with itself, combined with techniques that help us to differentiate between actual objective truth, and misperceptions due to bias, illusion, and other sources of error. And Geisler and Turek are quite wrong: science as the only reliable source of objective truth is a scientific truth, which we arrive at by applying the scientific principle of observation. We see that science works more reliably than anything else, which is why science has so much status and authority that Geisler and Turek feel the need to claim scientific validity for their own views. Strike Three for Team G-T.

What Geisler and Turek would like to argue is that science is dependent on philosophy, and therefore if you can find some philosophical grounds for disagreeing with science, you can consider yourself entitled to reject the findings of science. What they don’t realize is that the ghost of the Road Runner is going to come back to haunt them. Despite their rejection of post-modernist philosophizing, which they’ve been boasting about in earlier chapters, the argument they’re making now is essentially post-modernist: the findings of science are meaningless and unreliable, and are only given meaning as one applies his or her own personal philosophy to them. Scientific “truth” is only as true as the philosophy behind it.

Of course, Team G-T would argue that this doesn’t matter, since their philosophy IS The Truth. But they have no way to prove it, because they’ve just argued that you have to make their philosophical assumptions first, before looking at the evidence (aka doing the science). By making science into the slave of philosophy, they’ve pulled the rug out from under their whole book (meep meep!), because no matter what scientific or historical evidence they present, the scientific evaluation of that evidence is going to demand that you make their philosophical assumptions first, which turns the whole thing into circular reasoning.

So a brave, if somewhat underhanded, effort by Team G-T, but I’m afraid that they’ve struck out again. There are still quite a few innings left, for good or ill, so stay tuned…

 
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