XFiles Friday: Wrapping up Chapter 5March 14, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 5)
We come at last to the end of Chapter 5, where Geisler and Turek kick back for a minute and pat themselves on the back for a “job well done.” They got an incredible amount wrong in this chapter, apparently without even dreaming that there was any question about their conclusions, and they even admitted, without realizing it, that they define “science” in such a way as to make it merely a tool for expressing their own preconceived conclusions, rather than a method for discovering the objective truth about the real world. But they think they’ve shown that atheists have the “wrong box top” for the picture puzzle of life, and that only their Christian “box top” lets us put the pieces together in a reasonable way.
Let’s sum up.
Geisler and Turek claim that atheists must borrow from a theistic worldview because “[i]ntellect, free will, objective morality and human rights as well as reason, logic, design and truth can exist only if God exists.” Why? Well, just because they say so, apparently. They certainly didn’t derive this conclusion by observing the real world, which provides us with abundant evidence that intellect, for example, is a physical process that exists to varying degrees in all sorts of organisms and that operates according to natural physical laws. As I’ve said before, if you think there’s a non-material aspect to thinking, all you need to do is consume enough ethanol to shut down the material aspects of your brain, and then tell me what thoughts you have and how you have them.
And of course, our beloved Christian President has shown just how much validity there is to the view that human rights come from God, given his recent veto of a law that would ban human rights abuses like torture and maltreatment of prisoners.
Geisler and Turek are simply making the assumptions that put their own conclusions in the best possible light, and atheistic ideas in the worst. All throughout the chapter, they’ve inserted their own preconceived ideas, distorted explanations, and unfounded assertions, as being the “evidence” that fits Christianity better than atheism. For example, let’s look at their summary of the chapter.
1. Life does not consist merely of chemicals. If that were the case, mixing the chemicals of life in a test tube would produce life.
The assumption Geisler and Turek are trying to insinuate into the evidence is that there must be some supernatural, spiritual component that turns non-living chemicals into a living organism. This is simply magical thinking. Yes, life is a complex physical process that’s difficult to re-create manually. But it’s silly to suggest that we ought to expect to be able to solve the problem just by throwing a bunch of ingredients into a test tube and waiting for them to go poof. There’s more to a complex process than simply throwing the component parts into a container.
This argument is an appeal to superstition, without even the benefit of identifying what the mysterious supernatural something is that would magically transform dead chemicals into living creatures. Geisler and Turek are reluctant to get too specific about it because they don’t want to expose the alchemical roots of their speculation, but unless you’re going to appeal to quaint ideas about physical forces (electricity or magnetism, for example), you’ve only got archaic superstitions to appeal to. And then how do you explain things like viruses and prions that are only partially “alive”? And why, by the way, does life always obey natural constraints? If it were a supernatural, immaterial vital force, shouldn’t it be able to transcend physical influences (e.g. physical injuries)? Yet we observe that life itself is destroyed when the physical components and processes are disrupted, just as we would expect if life were purely a material process itself.
2. There are no known natural laws that create specified complexity (information).
Again, a distorted definition mingled with Geisler and Turek’s false preconceptions. Natural laws govern natural processes, and natural processes produce specified complexity all the time, as Geisler and Turek inadvertently showed by citing DNA as an example of specified complexity. To specify something means to distinguish it from alternative possibilities, to select one possibility out of many. Natural selection is a mechanism for specifying complexity, even by Dembski’s definition. To say that natural laws do not produce specified complexity is simply to obfuscate the truth. Natural processes, governed by natural laws, produce specified complexity all the time.
3. The simplest life consists of amazing specified complexity.
Note the appeal to personal incredulity. Sure, Nature is complex. Why shouldn’t it be? The only reason why the complexity of biology amazes us is that we approach it from the context of our own subjective ignorance. Why would we expect to be able to know, just by looking at some living thing, exactly how to make one, at a molecular level? We don’t understand how it is put together, and therefore we are amazed; our amazement stems from our ignorance, not from any inherent improbability in the thing we’re observing. If we knew the exact processes by which such things arise, we might be more tempted to call them, not amazing, but inevitable. The amazement is a function of our ignorance, not of the actual characteristics of the thing that amazes us.
4. Science is a search for causes that is built on philosophy. There are only two types of causes: intelligent and natural.
More subjectivity and preconceptions by Geisler and Turek. Science is based first and foremost on observation and experimentation. It is founded on the observed pattern that truth is consistent with itself, and its only debt to “philosophy” is a commitment to measure all conclusions against the infallible standard of objective reality, to see what is and is not consistent.
And why do Geisler and Turek assume that only two types of causes exist? Spontaneous magic would be neither intelligent nor natural. Why do they arbitrarily dismiss this possibility? If they could answer that one, they’d know why science dismisses other supernatural causes as well.
5. Spontaneous generation of life, which Darwinism requires to get the theory started, has never been observed.
Or more precisely, has never been directly observed. The power of the principle “truth is consistent with itself” is that it allows indirect observations as well as direct ones. There are many indirect observations that are consistent with a material origin for life, such as the material nature of life and the fact that it is completely subject to material influences. By contrast, no Cosmic Intelligent Designer has ever been observed, either directly or indirectly (and no, superstitiously attributing things to a Designer is not the same as having indirect evidence of Him).
This final argument is possibly the weakest, especially when you compare the scientific knowledge with the ID conjecture. Relatively speaking, the evidence we do have, while incomplete, is still much more consistent with a material origin of life than it is with an intelligently-designed origin. Scientists have done a great deal of research, in terms of understanding the requirements for life and documenting the ways in which the available evidence is consistent with those requirements. By contrast, ID has yet to do more than set up a few vague, subjective criteria for superstitiously ascribing this or that aspect of nature to some unknown Creator Designer. We haven’t been given a quantitative definition of either Intelligence or of Design, nor a definition of Purpose or a methodology by which it can reliably be detected and measured. ID specifically avoids explaining anything, so that its inexplicability can be superstitiously attributed to the need for a divine Designer.
And that, apparently, is going to be the whole focus of Chapter 6. Stay tuned.