Morality, semantics, and presuppositional apologetics

Remember the big apologetics war Peter and I waged, where he fired the first salvo in the wrong direction, and called me Justin to boot? George is still waging it, though Peter’s end of the argument has gotten stale rather quickly — and not just because he’s been sitting on George’s reply for over a week. His argument amounts to a false dichotomy — either morality is objective (and therefore God exists as the “law-giver”), or it is subjective (and therefore anyone can choose to do anything they want if they think it’s good). And this dichotomy depends on some semantics about those two words.

If you know me well enough, you know I have little patience for philosophy as I find it to be self-important fluffery, using logic to prove things without any evidence, misused by theists to the point where my impatience grows into disdain. Philosophy has largely been superceded by empirical scientific discovery in every area of studying reality. However, it still has a place — and a valuable one, one I cannot begrudge its practitioners. Meta-ethics, for instance, can’t rightly be refined by a scientific process, even while we discover how the brain shapes our personal ethics through the same scientific process. Without philosophers defining objective moral frameworks around which we can better serve humanity, our moral codes would never evolve — it is therefore the engine for evolution for our societal morality.

Daniel Fincke of Camels With Hammers was dragged into the debate between Peter, George and I at George’s behest, and his first salvo wasn’t against Peter — it was against George and my use of the words “objective” and “subjective”. Evidently, philosophy has a whole lexicon for a varied shade of positions about morality, and “subjective” morality actually has two definitions — one that is in line with Peter’s definition, and another that involves a law-giver (e.g., The Supreme Court, for instance) that can make things good or bad by fiat. Neither of these fit with the definition I was using — merely, that there is no external, inviolate, unchanging objective law. I was using “subjective” as the opposite of “objective”. On the spectrum, “objective” covers the extreme leftmost corner, and “subjective” covers everything else. As it turns out, this definition is far too broad, regardless of what we’re arguing.

I posted the following on Daniel’s blog:

Not to resurrect a dead horse to beat on it some more, but I do feel the need to clarify, and I was under many time constraints over the past week while travelling, so I really couldn’t properly attempt to defend my layman’s understanding of philosophy. This is not an attempt at arguing with you, for the record, only of explaining my position in such a way that we are not talking at cross purposes as much as we seem to have recently.

I would agree that, given the definitions of terms you’ve given in this post, I am also a naturalist and a contextualist. However, I limit my understanding of “objective, natural values” to the context of human beings, insofar as morals do not exist outside the scope of humanity. Morals are a framework by which humans decide what action benefits themselves and their society most; and I strongly suspect we’ve created them because humans are natural classifiers — we will not simply accept any aspect of our humanity without first having “punched, stamped, filed, briefed, debriefed or numbered” it. We’ve evolved as social animals, who work better together than apart as a species, and therefore require rules that we enculturate in our offspring in order to keep individuals from damaging or otherwise breaking the cohesiveness of the societal unit. Our empathy as human beings pretty much ensures that we have to take others’ feelings into consideration; the fact that empathy can be removed by lobotomy indicates to me that morals are entirely brain-dependent.

I make the caveat about it applying only to humans because I steadfastly deny that the existence of morality (such as it is, since it does not exist manifestly without humans) proves anything about a divine creator or “law-giver”, which is the general tactic of the presuppositional apologist. If my declaration that morals are subjective is anything, it is an inartful declaration that morals do not exist separately from humans, and are therefore contingent on them. It is also a declaration that one needs to make a specific objective moral frame the guideline for building one’s system of morals, and that societies’ laws are a zeitgeist-dependent approximation of them.

At least in a functioning democracy. Some laws simply exist to ensure the ruling class remains the ruling class. Some laws exist as a sword of Damocles hanging over each citizen’s head, intended to serve the government in damning anyone at their discretion — much in the same way that every person on the planet is a sinner if the standard is the Bible, given how it was written to damn every person for at least one thing, and if not for anything endemic to humanity, then through “original sin”.

Jason’s emotivist-like discussion of “disliking” pedophilia—rather than condemning it explicitly on objective grounds—has not yet convinced me that his views rule out subjectivist relativist dimensions.

Also, I believe the “dislike” construction [referring to the blockquoted objection above] was paralleling one of Peter’s assertions that atheists have no reason to believe pedophilia is “wrong” without a law-giver. If this isn’t the case, then obviously, emotivist language was not the best construction, and I am not the most polished at arguing philosophical or meta-ethical questions. I was using the layman’s understanding of “objective” — “unchanging, uniform under all circumstances” — and “subjective” as the opposite. I expressly deny the false dichotomy Peter presents, that morals either were given to you by God or they differ from person to person and therefore give cover to a pedophile. The fact that you have so many words for so many positions on a spectrum I didn’t even know was fleshed out by philosophers shows me that philosophy has a place in discussing man-made concepts like morality. I am a very practical soul: a naturalist (there is no supernatural) and monist (there is only one kind of “stuff”, matter), and a determinist (every molecule does exactly what it’s supposed to, and doesn’t break any laws of nature to do something uncaused), and barring any advances in the field of quantum physics, I strongly believe free will is an illusion — one I’m willing to suspend disbelief and enjoy.

Because I strongly believe there is an objective truth to the universe, and science is the best way to find it, I generally find questions of subjectivity (by which in this case I mean anything to do with humans and their understanding of one another and of ethics or other man-made constructions) to be side-bars to the greater quest of discovering this universe. I prefer science to philosophy, but only because I find philosophical arguments to generally be an unending ouroboros of painful discussion about semantics. I don’t mean “semantical quibbling”, I mean “semantics”. As in, “meanings of words.” The “quibbling” part comes in when — and only when — one tries to make their position clear despite misusing a word, and the bulk of argument following involves the misuse of the word rather than the position they attempted to make clear.

And if anything in this diatribe uses incorrect words, I welcome you to correct them, but not to assume that my use of them means my position is anything but what I’ve laid out. If you’re unsure, please do ask.

On reflection, I also need to point out that my exact quote about “disliking” pedophilia:

Atheists dislike the idea of pedophilia because children are vulnerable, and it is in human nature to protect vulnerable members of our species. They are not sexually mature enough to make an informed consenting decision, and therefore they are not “consenting adults”, and therefore do not count as someone you can “have sex with and enjoy it because sex is fun”.

Note that the second clause of the first sentence, through to the end of the quote, is an objective framework: children are vulnerable, and humans will protect them because otherwise our species would die off. It is also a recognition that sexual predation on children would tangibly harm them because they are not informed or sexually mature, and therefore would be psychologically damaged by the act. Protecting children is an objective framework that is arguably the easiest one to get everyone to agree with.

Why then Peter can use this as a rhetorical club and get away with it, while I get accused of not sufficiently providing objective reasons why pedophilia is bad, is beyond me. And you wonder why I dislike semantics. No matter which way I try to argue, people on both sides of the argument will beat me up using semantics as their club.

I’ll change my lexicon. I have no problems doing so. I just seriously dislike it when people take me out of my provided context to argue word-choices, when the context I provided refines the definition of the words I’m using. I mean, hell, when people (including Daniel) tell me I’m taking stuff out of context, misunderstanding stuff because the surrounding text is missing, I correct it — even when the omission is not my own fault. So I’m using the wrong words… big deal. My meaning should be manifestly clear, and if it isn’t, a quick question about them never killed anyone.

Morality, semantics, and presuppositional apologetics
OrbitCon: The Orbit's online conference. Attend from anywhere.

45 thoughts on “Morality, semantics, and presuppositional apologetics

  1. 1

    I read
    “Evidently, philosophy has a whole lexicon for a varied shade of positions about morality, and “subjective” morality actually has two definitions — one that is in line with Peter’s definition, and another that involves a law-giver (e.g., The Supreme Court, for instance) that can make things good or bad by fiat. Neither of these fit with the definition I was using — merely, that there is no external, inviolate, unchanging objective law. I was using “subjective” as the opposite of “objective”. On the spectrum, “objective” covers the extreme leftmost corner, and “subjective” covers everything else. As it turns out, this definition is far too broad, regardless of what we’re arguing.”

    and was nodding my head is agreement. When debating theists we need to be very, very clear what the specific contentious words we are using mean.

  2. 2

    The funny thing about the two philosophical definitions of “subjective” is that one is in line with Peter’s opinion of how we must think and the other is exactly how he thinks. If philosophical subjectivism can be defined as deferring to the opinion of a third party without any objective reasoning or justification, then this is expressly what Peter argues for in saying God is morality. It is the necessary precondition for presuppositional apologetics, that all morality and logic comes from God-to be moral or logical presupposes the existence of God. So contrary to Peter’s argument morality has to be subjective, or else God is not presupposed.
    He can argue for one or the other, but not both.

    I agree with you Jason that the degree of our moral constructs is unique to our species; I disagree that our morality can be entirely separated from the social constructs of pack mammals. Is a simple camera eye not still an eye, though not as developed or complex?

  3. 3

    Right, George — if there’s an OBJECTIVE morality, wholly divorced from anything, then there’s no need for a God to create it. It’s not objective if it’s created by some entity.

    I’m tempted to call “morals” in other animals something else, though I don’t know what. I agree that other social animals have rudimentary morals, e.g. the dog’s sense of fairness, but hacking out what’s moral and what isn’t is entirely a human trait, in that we’re codifying innate senses of empathy, fairness, etc., into laws, axioms, rules that are easy to follow, and we change those rules to better serve humanity and us as individuals whenever possible. Maybe it’s that morals are simply the sense of empathy and fairness evolved to keep social groupings cohesive, but what we’re arguing about is the meta-ethics aspect of morality?

    I sense this is another language thing.

  4. 4

    Your insistence on calling morality something else in other species really smacks as a bit elitist. I, for one, do not feel quite that special about my species. If a social species is demonstrating behaviors that we would classify as moral for us, I don’t know why we should classify them as evolutionary social structures or whatever for them and not the same for us. That we as a species have the most developed and complex sort of morality is certainly true. I just think that we used our higher reasoning and increased independence from the cold reality of the food chain to take the time to expand, reason and classify our evolutionary social structures. Then some arrogant asshole gave them a name so as to separate us from the savages.

    Let’s look at biology. If I showed you rudimentary light receptors on a tube worm you might wish to classify that as a form of eye. I certainly would. It serves to the best of it’s ability those functions for which we depend on an eye. If you don’t want to call it an eye, fine. Just get ready when your creationist friend tells you that photoreceptors do not an eye make. Our human eye might be by every metric better than the tube worm’s photoreceptor, so it is less an eye, but still…an eye.

  5. 5

    Dude. I said it was probably another language thing. I’m thinking it is. I just think that there’s a level beyond instinctual morals, where rationality is necessary and therefore sentience, a fact you yourself admit. That level where you can discuss what’s appropriately moral and what isn’t, rather than merely sensing it and acting on it yourself. So yes, maybe I am saying sentient beings are on a special plane above those that aren’t sentient and capable of rational thought, but that plane is at the top of a very gradiated slope, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we as humans could bring other species to rationality. Somehow.

    We got to a stage where we could expend energy on our curiosity and our ability to communicate. We specialized in communication, and therefore gained the ability to actually discuss our in-built empathy, sense of fairness, etc. We can override or build upon our natural instincts with regard to these senses, in coding up laws to follow — and it’s well possible that some laws can override our sense of empathy such that we can actually create meta-ethical frames that might repulse people who aren’t enculturated into them, because they’re patently unfair or damaging to other human beings. I think that deserves a different word than other animals have. And I don’t think I was being particularly species-ist or sentient-ist in making the observation.

  6. 6

    How would you respond to an animal forcefully copulating with another animal and relating it to a human forcefully copulating with another human?

    Is it in one case rape and in another case just an act of instinct? Or is rape in and of itself an illusory concept to the human species?

    Do we think rape is actually wrong because of some exterior understanding of “wrong” or is does it just feel “wrong” because somewhere in our evolutionary past it was an instinct given to us by natural selection.

    I guess if I was a strict evolutionist I could conjure up a story that may show us why we don’t like rape. I’m sure rape happened all of the time with the ancient humans, but was it rape at the time? Some even postulate that that was the primary way our ancestors copulated with their females, through force.

    When did it become “bad” to do so? Are there any benefits to women not being raped in our ancient past?

    My point is, why is it okay to suggest that objective moral values do exist, when they don’t exist for animals? Or do you believe it is wrong for an animal to “rape” another animal?

    If you believe objective moral values exist under your philosophical presuppositions (such as naturalism) then surely you understand that they are just as illusory as free will.

  7. 7

    Are you saying that forced intercourse is universal in the animal kingdom? It would have to be for your point to make any sense. Otherwise it is just another attempt to play a shell game with morality. I never said that all animals have a moral instinct. I said that social creatures that breed infrequently would all exhibit a “morality” that intra-species murder is wrong.
    I bet that if you look at species where the paternal parent has a significant role in child rearing, you would probably find a species that appears to have a “morality” that forced copulation is wrong.

    Moving the goalposts doesn’t change anything. Human morality is highly developed and unique, but it is certainly not without natural correlation.

  8. 8

    “Human morality is highly developed and unique”

    These statements strike me as odd because I find no “scientific observation” for such a statement. I am assuming you are suggesting that morality WAS developed and as a result is unique. It doesn’t matter if I apply forceful copulation to all species of animals as a morally wrong act.

    The child rearing example fails because the mother is protecting the child from possible harm. There isn’t a moral duty that can be applied to the animal who forcefully copulates; this animal doesn’t care what he ought to do, but rather what he instinctively “wants” to do because he wants to spread his seed.

    You say that “[morality]…is certainly not without natural correlation,” but I have serious doubts that there is solid, observable, and repeatable scientific proof for that.

  9. 9

    I think you fundamentally misunderstand. When I say:

    I bet that if you look at species where the paternal parent has a significant role in child rearing, you would probably find a species that appears to have a “morality” that forced copulation is wrong.

    I am talking about species where the male plays a central role in child rearing.
    Those species exist.
    That is a fact.
    That a male would forcibly copulate with a female and then stick around to raise the child seems counter intuitive to the idea of forced copulation and merely “spreading your seed”.
    There are species that mate for life.
    This is a fact.
    Are these species made in God’s Image? Did God dole out the morality in just such a way as to allow it to correlate with the evolutionary means that these species use to survive? It just seems too convenient…

    Rest assured Daniel, I was sure that you would have “serious doubts” about anything that contradicts your 2000 year old “history book”. If gravity contradicted your little book, I bet you would insist that you were floating.

  10. 10

    It seems counter intuitive because your taking what seems counter intuitive to us and applying it to them. I think your missing the point either way.

    Let me put it another way. Does an animal that kills another animal for whatever reason (food, territory, protection, etc.) do we consider it murder? Or does this also come down to an issue of semantics?

    I understand that these arguments aren’t proving an objective morality, I’m just trying to get us away from assuming there is a concrete moral standard that exists within the boundaries of space/time. You either have them or you don’t. If you agree that morality is an abstraction (in which case I think it is) and you agree that it exists as something that we “ought” to adhere to, then I think your building a case for abstract “objects” that exist but cannot be quantified or qualifying via the scientific method.

    I fail to see any contradiction in the Bible in regards to this subject and my doubts aren’t founded on any contradictory evidence to the biblical accounts.

    I read the Bible for what it is and in most cases it’s historic, some poetic, and some symbolic. I don’t pick up the book of Revelations for example and take each sentence literally. The problem with gentleman such as yourself is that your all too often quick to pull the trigger on everyone who is a Christian and shoot them with the “You 6,000 year old creationist! You believe in unicorns and hate homosexuals!”

    I know you never said that, but my point is that your comments are pretty generalized. I love science. I am willing to take the evidence where ever it leads and if causes me to re-evaluate my own religious beliefs, then so be it. The problem is that I have yet to find good reasons to abandon my faith.

    For one, I have personally experienced God in way that confirms this truth, but plenty of people have “experienced God” without any proof. I don’t expect anyone to come believe me nor do I use it as an apologetic argument for my faith.

    Secondly, the historical evidence, based on the inference of the best explanation, gives me pretty good grounds to believe that the origin of the Christian Church was NOT founded on large groups of delusional schizophrenics who were subject to a multitude of hallucinations that caused them to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

    Thirdly, Darwin’s theory poses absolutely no threat to the Christian faith. In fact, I believe that Darwin had a great idea that has helped us understand nature. However, I do not by any means believe that Darwin’s “mechanism” for the origin of life can account for the insurmountable complexity we see in nature. I do not believe it (natural selection + random mutation) has been shown to be able to account for everything as it were.

    I do not agree that it is okay to use Darwinism as sort of a theory-of-everything and call it science. It’s ridiculous. To even place into the question the elements of Darwinism you commit “intellectual suicide” in Academia and on websites such as this one.

    Is Darwinism falsifiable? On what grounds? Is it okay to suggest it?

    I am not saying that, “Everything is so complex, therefore God did it.” Rather, I am suggesting that it is very possible we DO find design in biology or in the cosmos. But are we allowed to pursue it?

    Do your atheistic/materialistic presuppositions cause you to NEVER see evidence in design in anything? Why is it so wrong to ask these questions?

    In regards to morality, you’ve lost the war. You can’t have it given your beliefs. You will never have it. If you are like Jason, a materialist, morals absolutely do not exist. Bottom line.

    That’s okay. Just admit it. At least you will be intellectually honest with yourself.

  11. 11

    Daniel, first off, morality absolutely exists (in the sense that any sociological concept can exist). It does not exist absolutely, however. It is not independent of humankind.

    Secondly, could you please define “Darwinism”? You’re using it in a sense that I’m not entirely familiar with — you seem to think that “Darwinism” is the theory of evolution, speciation, abiogenesis, stellar evolution, chemistry, physics and particle physics.

  12. 12

    Here is how I understand Darwinism in regards to biology (from Dictionary):

    the Darwinian theory that species originate by descent, with variation, from parent forms, through the natural selection of those individuals best adapted for the reproductive success of their kind.

    When I use the word Darwinism to represent an ideology, yes I do mean “everything” else. My point is that people are using this sort of Darwinian thinking in everything.

    I should probably clarify myself next time. It’s just that I am so used to using the word like that in my own circles because we understand what we mean by it.

  13. 13

    You are forcing a a false distinction between an evolutionary societal behavior in animals and humans. That we have the luxury of higher reasoning and the ability to extend our choices beyond day to day survival is the reason that what started as evolutionary societal behavior grew into morality.
    If morality in it’s simplest form did not exist, then every living thing would be locked in a survival free-for-all where they kill everything or be killed. The nurturing instinct of mothers, the provider instinct of fathers, the co-operative instinct of packs- all these things form the basis of morality.
    That we are unique in reasoning, codifying, and extending these instincts into morals is a product of being the only species with the capacity to subvert nature and harness it for our own gain. If day to day survival was the only goal for modern man, I doubt that our “morality” would look markedly different than a lion’s, or a chimp’s, or a wolf’s.

    The use of the word “darwinism” is designed to make evolution sound like an opinion. Like one guy thought it sounded right and everyone since is a disciple. If I am a Darwinist, then I am a Newtonist, an Einsteinist, a Curieist, a Lyelleist, a Copernicist, and a whole bunch of others.
    Evolution is a fact. If it wasn’t Darwin, we know it would have been Wallace. If it wasn’t Wallace, it would have been someone else. It is a fact- and facts have a way of being found.

    What bothers Christians so much is the other side of that coin…. Myths have a way of being exposed.

  14. 14

    Once again George you have simply suggested how it is we came to have morals. You are giving me a background story as to how ANY morality entered the human race but I seriously doubt you have real evidence for this.

    There are certain discussions we can have centered around epistemology that I think deals with both this issue and the origin of belief in God, but I most certainly reject that our moral foundation is merely naturalistic, much like I believe most of our “ungrounded” beliefs are not merely naturalistic.

    You say, “evolution is fact,” but I have a difficult time with that statement because I believe in certain “tenets” postulated by Darwin, but I don’t have a holistic view of evolution. For example, I think that natural selection acting on variation is limited. Although I think it can do a great job all by itself (such as malaria working around choloroquine), I believe that all of the odds are working against the Darwinian process. The process itself, by nature, is a process of attrition all the way down the line. To get to us, i have serious doubts that the lack of direction and blindness of this process produced everything.

    There is no compelling evidence to the contrary. In fact, there is compelling evidence that suggests that natural selection and random mutation coupled together actually is limited.

    Here’s the truth, I’m open to discussing this with an open mind. I don’t even know why I continue to comment here, maybe it’s my need to speak with intelligent individuals who have opposing views. If I had received $100 every one time I spoke to a person face to face about these subjects every month, after about 3 months, I’d have $100. 🙂

    George, I think there is pretty compelling evidence for common descent of some sort. I don’t hold to a “single-random-protein-came-about-in-primordial-soup” theory for our origins, but I’m open to follow the evidence where it leads. The Darwin paradigm, I believe, is in a crisis and we can no longer ignore it.

  15. 15

    Sam Harris gives a good discussion on TED Talks about the science of morality: Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions

    Darwin paradigm?!?! What is that?

    Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection explains the great diversity of living things on our planet. FULL STOP.

    That’s it. It doesn’t apply to abiogenesis. It doesn’t apply to cosmology. It doesn’t apply to cosmogony. It doesn’t apply to plate tectonics. It doesn’t apply to quantum mechanics.

    The process itself, by nature, is a process of attrition all the way down the line.To get to us, i have serious doubts that the lack of direction and blindness of this process produced everything.

    Is that supposed to be a “OMG! Evolution breaks the 2nd law of thermodynamics!! God just PWND you guys!” type of statement?

    Speciation happens. It’s happening right now. It’s been observed and documented. Creationists, when faced with the evidence, state that it’s only minor genetic differences that are seen, and they aren’t actually new species. Bullshit! When the generations-removed progeny of a particular type of individual are no longer able to mate and reproduce with their distant cousins, they are a new species.

    The only “debate” regarding evolution in the scientific realm is over how much change natural selection provides, how rapid those changes are, and what other natural forces help or hinder it. Evolution by natural selection is accepted as fact by all but those who wish to dispute it because it disagrees with what their holy book says.

  16. 16

    What you seem to be saying Daniel, is that you know enough to know that evolution is indisputable. This much, at least, is true. Then you embark on special pleading and incredulity to try to leave a comfortable little place for God.

    There is no indication that evolution is unable to create the variations we see today completely unassisted. There is no “theory in crisis”. You can find studies where scientists argue about the minutiae of how it happened, but none of them are saying it isn’t possible. The creationists have made much ado about nothing by twisting the very nature of science- questioning, probing, refining- into a mythical Achilles heel. That there is much to still be known is a fact; that these details are overturning rather than refining our ideas about biology is pure fantasy.
    If you are privy to peer reviewed literature and studies that show otherwise, I invite you to share them with us. I am open to the idea that I might be wrong- but certainly not without strong evidence. In the absence of this, I will comfortably defer to the plethora of evidence I have already amassed that overwhelmingly shows otherwise.

    Your insistence that

    The process itself, by nature, is a process of attrition all the way down the line.

    seems to try to rephrase the insistence that evolution is incompatible with thermodynamics. It reminds me of a post I recently read.

    I shudder every time I hear an anti-evolutionist taking about “odds”. “The odds are staked against evolution”, we hear it time and again. I would like you to define that statement; give some evidence that you understand how odds relate to evolutionary processes. The tornado in the junkyard is a tired and misinformed analogy, one that feeds on a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution.

    My thoughts on the nature of morality are not unique in the scientific community. They are also not shared by every scientist, or even by Jason and other “Darwinists” on this blog. What I have discussed here is a gross oversimplification of a whole area of study. What you seem to be doing is asking me to explain morality “fully formed” or not at all. This is the same error made by creationists over and over again. The eye did not spew out fully formed. There were simple processes that took it from a simple photocell to a functioning eye.

    Morality is different in that it is not material. Yet we have witnessed human behaviors and values change dramatically within our recorded history. You need to show me evidence that morality in a robust and recognizable form just magically appeared in human culture at point x, and I seriously doubt you have real evidence for this.
    Anthropology has shown us that morality has changed and was evolving before recorded history. Morality, like many other facets of humanity, has changed dramatically as a result of the transmission of culture over time.

    Incredulity just won’t do.

  17. 17

    You’re making it seem like there is overwhelming evidence that the processed mentioned above is completely and totally sufficient to produce all of the biological complexity we see in our world without fully investigating the evidence on the contrary.

    Before I get myself caught in a trap, let me digress. I do in fact believe that the process of natural selection working on random genetic mutations can produce wonderful systems. I find it perfectly reasonable to agree with the abilities of the Darwinian process.

    Malaria continues to be a wonderful example because of the sheer population size. On the one side, Malaria, against horrible odds, was able to overcome chloroquine. The odds of that happening were of course affected because of the population size of parasitic cells in any given body (about a trillion). The idea is that 1 in a billion people each year get sick and it takes about that much in terms of odds for a malarial cell to become resistant to chloroquine. So you can see how natural selection will obviously play a huge role in the progeny of those chloroquine-resistant parasites.

    This is a wonderful example I think of the powers of natural selection and random genetic mutation. If anyone denies it powers in this sense, then I would presume that they don’t actually look at the evidence itself and blindly believe that it can’t happen.

    Sickle-cell v. malaria is another example of the Darwinian process working to the advantage of a species (us), but not without disadvantages which is why I say that evolution in this sense (as mentioned above) is a process of attrition. Malaria, despite having the population to beat the odds, still cannot develop immunity to sickle cell in humans. The odds are stacked against it. This is why I think odds are important in playing a role in how we understand evolution, because although we see that the Darwinian process is very useful in some cases, we can reasonable deduce that in other cases that may not be the case. But how? Well, I think it will take painstaking analysis and scientific inquiry to finally see that perhaps a Darwinian explanation may be too far-fetched.

    When we get into micro-biology we start to see these complex systems that seem to make the who malaria example look like child’s play. I know you guys don’t like him, don’t think he is a scientist, and would rather not read anything he writes, but Behe did a good job in my mind of explaining this.

    That’s all I can write for now, I’ll add more later.

  18. 18

    I had some time to quickly add.

    Keep in mind that while we can pick around at “irreducible complexity” all we want and I know atheists are fond in attacking Behe’s hypothesis, there are other examples which we can discuss that help draw the line on where Darwinian evolution simply isn’t a sufficient explanation.

    In regards to morality, which I forgot to discuss in my previous post, anthropology is an interesting appeal, but I don’t think as convincing as you suggest it is. I’ll try to talk about this when I have a chance to sit down.

  19. 19

    You’re making it seem like there is overwhelming evidence that the processed mentioned above is completely and totally sufficient to produce all of the biological complexity we see in our world without fully investigating the evidence on the contrary.

    What evidence to the contrary?

    The idea is that 1 in a billion people each year get sick and it takes about that much in terms of odds for a malarial cell to become resistant to chloroquine.

    Your mathematical basis for determining such “odds” would be…?

    I know you guys don’t like him, don’t think he is a scientist, and would rather not read anything he writes, but Behe did a good job in my mind of explaining this.

    Firstly: Behe is an idiot. Secondly (and even worse): Behe is an idiot with an anti-science agenda. See also: Dunning Kruger effect.

    Behe also did a good job in his own mind of explaining it. That doesn’t make his explanation anywhere near factual, though.

    …there are other examples which we can discuss that help draw the line on where Darwinian evolution simply isn’t a sufficient explanation.

    The scientific community has been waiting with bated breath for many decades for such evidence to be presented.

  20. 20

    I do in fact believe that the process of natural selection working on random genetic mutations can produce wonderful systems. I find it perfectly reasonable to agree with the abilities of the Darwinian process.

    That strikes me as more than a bit disingenuous. You obviously do not find it perfectly reasonable to agree with the abilities of the Darwinian process. If you did you would have stopped right there and agreed with us. You insist on staking a small amount of real estate for your God somewhere in the process.
    You do this based on a fundamental misunderstanding of words like “odds” and “organized”, and use the king of incredulity to underline your point. Behe’s arguments can be boiled down to Paley’s watch put in science-y words.

    The example you use of malaria tells us a lot about the credulity you need to fall for creationist pseudo-science. Sickle cell anemia does not make someone more resistant to malaria. It simply lessens the severity of the symptoms of malaria. This would be the first reason why malaria would not seek a resistance to SCD individuals. SCD is also a functioning change in the red blood cell proper. Unless a malaria parasite was able to alter the properties of a red blood cell before the production of Heme, it would be effectively unable to evolve a resistance to the protection inferred by SCD. That, as I said is beside the point, because the parasite is able to run it’s course in a SCD individual which would not require it to adapt resistance. Malaria doesn’t exist to make you sick, it exists to exist.

    Chloroquine, on the other hand, is designed to enter the red blood cell(and potentially the parasite cell) by diffusion. It effectively blocks the process of turning heme into hemozoin, the molecule malaria requires for it’s metabolism. This process causes the malaria parasites autodigestion, killing the parasite. I could see why a malaria parasite might want to be resistant to that, and so they have. Malarial parasites within the strain P. falciparum have ingeniously found a way to leach chloroquine out of the digestive vacuole by separating it from the heme at a rate 40 times that of CQ-sensitive malarial cells. In this case malaria is existing to exist.

    So any comparison between the two “resistances” to malaria are effectively moot. That sickle cell anemia is detrimental to humans is beside the point. Someone living with it in France may feel shortchanged, but someone living in the tropics is better off to have it. That said, SCD itself is only manifested in individuals who have two copies of the gene, yet only one copy is required for it’s beneficial malaria effect. So off the bat many people would get the inferred advantage with virtually zero side effects (save the possibility of mating with another SCD carrying individual). Those who do suffer from SCD have a average lifespan of close to 50 years old. That is much higher than a child living in the malarial tropics or Africa. Evolution, not being too keen on seeing the bigger picture, is going to favor individuals who pass their genes on more frequently. It really doesn’t care if you die after your breeding years. That has nothing to do with attrition. It has to do with odds. I can understand your confusion….

  21. 21


    I do not disagree with anything you said about malaria, the point I made still stands. Let me clarify myself once again, because I feel as though I am not really getting to my point. I’d rather not drag this on, but I am assuming you enjoy writing me back as much as I like responding.

    BTW, I read your testimony and your blatant honesty comes to me as surprising. I have heard many similar testimonies from my atheist friends and it would seem that “cultural Christianity” got the best of you. Or, in your eyes, you got the best of it.

    I had the wonderful opportunity to do it all backwards, where I was the skeptic turned Christian. I was perceptive enough to see American Christianity for what it was and not take it as the “image” of Christianity.

    You seem to think I am an extremely gullible guy who will believe anything any ID proponent like Behe tells me. I am agnostic when it comes to ID theory being proposed as a scientific theory, I’m not sure yet whether or not that is the case.

    Here is what I do know. I know that you cannot even suggest the possibility that evolution in a lot of respects is “intelligent.”

    When you think of the evolution of cilia, for example, there has yet to be a solid hypothesis on how something like this could have evolved through some Darwinian process. It seems ridiculous. You say that Behe’s arguments are like Paley’s watchmaker and I disagree.

    I like to refer to SETI in this example. How is it that they will ultimately find intelligent life or signs of it? Is it from random jargon that “floats” in the heavens that we may hopefully one day find? Or are they looking for patterns or an inference to intelligence? This question is rhetorical of course.

    In the same way, as much as we would like to suggest that the Darwinian process is all there is, is it so irrational to seek out the possibility that there is an inference to intelligence within biological life?

    You can sit behind your keyboard all you want and say that the Darwinian process explains the most complex systems we see in molecular biology. I hear story after story after story about how it must of been and then afterwards you tell me, it’s science.

    Let’s be honest. You’re holding a deep philosophical notion that matter is all there is and that science is the only measurement of truth since it aims to understand that matter. This notion in and of itself can be self refuting, because after all, science cannot measure the truth of that statement.

    Dan J’s comment, “Behe is an idiot” says a lot about him. I doubt you’ve read his books. Perhaps you did, I don’t know, but to suggest he is an idiot is itself an idiotic statement.

    The probability of something is important for many reasons, but one of those reasons is that we use it consciously for our beliefs all of the time.

    If there was a 1,000 ft. long white wall and a person was standing 400 yards away and was told to shoot a gun without aiming towards the wall to see if he can hit a one inch target, we can assume that more than likely, he won’t hit the target.

    But let’s say he does hit the target, dead on. Would our automatic reaction be, “Holy moly! What are the odds?”

    I think not. We would assume he was aiming for the target, because odds tell us he should of hit the white wall, somewhere. What if in order to reach a desired purpose, he had to do that 2 times, without looking? You get the point.

    I see evolution on the grand scale in this way. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you can show me no matter what that everything can be explained through some sort of Darwinian process. But when I see that certain processes like IFT contain such a complex amount of “organized purpose,” such that the nucleotides in the DNA would have to be arranged in such a way that to do it backwards, or start in the middle, or so on, it would render the function of it’s purpose useless, then I have grounds to be skeptical about what natural selection with random mutation can do. Why? Because in the grand scheme of things, we are suggesting simply that, “at some point, it had to get it right.” <—- I hear this all the time.

    I have high doubts that the scientific community, in the continual search for more truths, that they will eventually be able to explain the most complex systems via Darwinian process. I think, as the future begins to unfold, we will find even more reasons to see that, yes, the odds are stacked up against evolution, all the while we will be able to explain other things this same way.

  22. 22

    The question then, Daniel, is how many shots that shooter gets. We know that in this world it took probably billion years from the simplest proto-organisms to the first multi-cellular ones. We know that the Cambrian Explosion happened over at least a million years, if not more, during which time all the various critters that emerged were culled for what works and what doesn’t by natural selection.

    I have to disagree with one point of George’s, though it’s a language one only — natural selection is not a driving force, it doesn’t “want” anything. It is a side-effect. It is the description of the phenomenon where genotypes that are less well adapted to the surroundings don’t pass on their genes as often. It’s entirely about odds. The question here is not how astronomical the odds are for the life we see to have arisen — if you ask someone who just hit the 8-number lottery three times in a row what the odds were that he’d won, he’d have to (if he understood statistics) say “one in one”. The sample set he’s including, only includes the one lifetime wherein he DID win three times in a row.

    The weak anthropic principle suggests that we only know how astronomical the odds are that life arose here because life arose here. Before it happened, maybe the odds were as amazing and impossible as you say. But we don’t know how long the dice have been rolling, how many shots the guy has been given, how rapidly he can shoot per second, etc. Grant me, for the purpose of this thought experiment, that IF the abiogenesis theory is correct — and I don’t doubt that it is, personally, since experimentation shows that it’s well possible, though the extreme early stage of life on this planet may never be exactly discovered — IF the abiogenesis theory is correct, then the conditions on the whole planet may well have been such that there were billions upon billions of shooters asked to aim at that wall. One for every puddle in which the amino acids could have formed and started self-replicating.

    And life on our planet could be one out of billions upon billions of planets in this universe with conditions suitable for life. Realize that the universe is apparently 250x bigger than the visible part. We can only see 13 billion light years away at absolute most, and this universe is way bigger than that. That means that, of all the galaxies, of all the stars, of all the planets around those stars, we live on one where life emerged. And we’re around to see it BECAUSE we hit the lottery three times in a row.

    Big numbers mean almost nothing in a universe this vast.

  23. 23

    Thanks for jumping in Jason.

    I’m pretty sure George knows natural selection doesn’t “want” anything, btw. 🙂 Just wanted to save George the trouble from defending himself.

    Whenever someone brings up the anthropic principle, I of course like to bring up the tale of the 100 marks men who aimed at a man about to meet his demise and they all miss. The man most certainly isn’t surprised that he can observe that he is alive, because if he wasn’t he wouldn’t be able to observe, but he is taken back at the sheer madness of 100 marksmen missing their target.

    I understand that the universe is incomprehensibly large. I understand that we can suggest, that given enough time, chances, and potential, mere chance can accomplish much.

    I am not calling into the question that we are here against all odds. I am calling into question the idea that natural selection is all we need to get here. We like to see things as somewhat linear and when we see the end result, we try to formulate a story on how any particular biological structure evolved. We forget that it is not unreasonable to suggest that perhaps natural selection couldn’t have brought this thing about.

    Rather than one big peak, where all of life is moving on up “guided” by natural selection, evolution is more like a vast landscape of mountainous terrain, where there are mini peaks, medium sized ones,and really large ones. We are expected to believe that natural selection as a consequence blindly ran every single biological organism past the dead ends it was meant to face. Is it fair to suggest that the actual time necessary for such largely complex biological systems to evolve is actually older than the universe?

    Or are we to simply suggest, “We are here now, regardless of how ridiculous the odds.”

    Beyond biological evolution, we have the vast cosmological landscape, where the universe doesn’t seem to infinitely regress back into time, tacking on more improbability over more improbability, so much so that it too is incomprehensible.

    I guess we can all agree to disagree, I enjoy talking about it and I enjoy the subject very much.

    Right now I am reading Alfred Russel Wallace’s work “The World of Life” which I am enjoying and it has elicited some excitement about biology which is why I am taking the time to even respond.

  24. 24

    I think in order to convey my final point I have to retrace my steps. My large doubts come from the abilities of random genetic variation work with natural selection. I noticed I mentioned natural selection only in some sentences which may not make my point clear. 🙂

  25. 25

    Dan J,

    Let me first mention something you may not know.

    On pages 37-38 of “Darwin’s Black Box,” Michael Behe goes over why the eye is NOT irreducibly complex. So much for reading his material, let’s move on.

    I didn’t suggest that because I didn’t understand cosmogony that it is incomprehensible, what I meant is the vastness of the universe (and I think we can all agree) is incomprehensible. Also, I didn’t use the “tornado in a junkyard” analogy.

    I’ll take a look at the series, thanks for the link.

  26. 26

    Dan J’s comment, “Behe is an idiot” says a lot about him. I doubt you’ve read his books. Perhaps you did, I don’t know, but to suggest he is an idiot is itself an idiotic statement.

    Actually, it says a lot about Behe. How bad must it be when his own biology department publishes an official statement opposing his views and opposing ID? He is a disgrace to scientists around the globe. He’s not stupid, but he’s an asshole who proudly flaunts his own ignorance about a particular subject and wants to impose it on everyone else.

    As for “irreducible complexity”, it has been shown again and again that it simply doesn’t hold water.

    Random? Evolution is not a random process. Individual genetic variations may occur randomly, but the survival and the reproductive success of an individual is dependent on whether or not its particular genetic traits provide an advantage within its environment. Genetic drift can be a product of randomness rather than natural selection, but the process of evolution is not random. It isn’t like every gene gets an opportunity to change at every generation, then the random code is compared to the winning lottery number. The “tornado in a junkyard” analogy illustrates an ignorance (not stupidity, but ignorance) of the evolutionary process. Might I suggest Evolution myths: Evolution is random by Michael Le Page (New Scientist, April 2008).

    Beyond biological evolution, we have the vast cosmological landscape, where the universe doesn’t seem to infinitely regress back into time, tacking on more improbability over more improbability, so much so that it too is incomprehensible.

    *facepalm* Though it has absolutely nothing at all to do with evolution or Darwin, cosmogony is a fascinating subject. The fact that you don’t understand something does not make it incomprehensible. Yes, the Universe as we know it had a beginning; and we discover more and more about the tiny fractions of time near that beginning with each passing year. I’d like to recommend an excellent series of blog posts by Ethan Siegel (a theoretical astrophysicist currently teaching at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon). The first in the series is The Greatest Story Ever Told — 01 — Before the Big Bang

  27. 27

    Yeah, sorry I’ve not been engaging in the conversation as much as I’d normally like to, Daniel. Work has kept me far busier than they have any right to, considering how sick I’ve been these past few weeks.

    Dan is constantly fighting “the last war”. I don’t mean that as an insult, just that when you’ve been engaged with ACTUAL idiots on these topics for as long as Dan and I have, you start to see patterns emerge. ID proponents tend to come in a number of varieties — one of which always seems to argue with the irreducibly complex human eye, a “clobber argument” that Behe himself came up with. I haven’t read Darwin’s Black Box, so I don’t know what it says about the eye, and he could very well have rescinded it, but that bastion of free thought Conservapedia credits him with the eye argument originally.

    In Dan’s defense, the “tornado in a junkyard argument” is not actually ABOUT the specific words “tornado” and “junkyard”, or the specific analogy that you recognize. It’s about using ANY analogy to try to display exactly how unlikely it is for some aspect of biology to have randomly appeared fully-formed, and it refers specifically to your analogy about hitting a one inch target twice in a row at four hundred yards without aiming. It’s entirely about the misuse of large numbers. And there’s a second layer to the objection — one that most theists miss in the original objection, possibly because most atheists or agnostics do not attempt to argue it exactly this way. The layer is: “that’s not how biology works anyway”. Meaning, no aspect of present-day biology sprang fully-formed from the primordial ooze. Every organism alive today has benefited from the same amount of evolution (e.g. ~3,600,000,000 years). If any organism today was demonstrably formed instantly and in its present shape, that’s an argument for divine intervention.

    To your previous point, evolution (by which I mean Darwinian, since you insist on crediting him) is most certainly falsifiable, it’s just that the fossil record DIDN’T falsify it. Darwin didn’t have the benefit of the expansive fossil record we have today. He even made excuses for the fossil record, correctly interpreting its scarcity as a result of the conditions for fossilization being exceedingly rare. If we had started to discover that chickens, cows, horses, rabbits, humans, etc., populated every stratum of the fossil record, we would certainly have falsified evolution as a theory. If, say, a rabbit fossil was found in the precambrian, alongside a velociraptor (or say, in its stomach), that would lend more credence to a young Earth as most ID proponents throw in with. I recognize that you’re not one of “those guys”, so I won’t assume that you believe their tactics are correct or worth pursuing. I’m much more interested in debating you on YOUR positions, rather than assumptions about your positions.

    I think Behe is a very intelligent idiot, personally. By which I mean, he is polished and skilled at debating, at communicating his ideas, and even at refining them. However, I strongly feel that he’s working from a premise that he adopted for reasons outside of pure rationality. Regardless of what a person tells you about their adoption of the theistic background, it seems there’s always some hint of emotion to the conversion. And more often than not, it’s much more than a hint. So, I strongly suspect that, Behe being a human and humans being exceedingly good at rationalizing positions they didn’t come to for rational reasons, he’s essentially provided himself as much intellectual cover as he can for his actual conversion. And I suspect that, with your intellect, your conversion was an emotional one rather than a rational one too. I’d enjoy hearing that I’m wrong about that, though.

    If you want to roll in all of our worldview under one blanket called “Darwinism”, I’m fine with that, but make no mistake, Darwin was a theist until he started having his doubts when he looked at the biological record in finches, in dogs, and in human populations. It’s well likely that he didn’t understand nearly as much about this universe as the term “Darwinism” implies. His realization was common descent. It’s only through logical extrapolation from there, coupled with all the new knowledge that’s come in the 150 years since his publication of The Origin of Species, that one might come to the conclusion that maybe it IS all one long material cause-and-effect chain from the Big Bang all the way through to us. And yes, I will admit that being a monist (e.g. that there is only one kind of “stuff” in the universe, being matter) is a conceit — an assumption, a starting point, from which all the atheists in this conversation appear to ground their philosophies. I would be glad to trade my monism in for dualism if someone, anyone, could provide me with some actual proof that your “mind” or “soul” is anything other than the null hypothesis, being simply the electrochemical interactions going on in your brain.

  28. 28

    On pages 37-38 of “Darwin’s Black Box,” Michael Behe goes over why the eye is NOT irreducibly complex. So much for reading his material, let’s move on.

    Let me get this straight: Man was created by God, fully formed, as he is now. His eyes at that time appeared and functioned in exactly the same way as they do now. If the human eye is not irreducibly complex, why isn’t it? Why would your creator make some parts irreducibly complex, but not others? Who do you worship, Anansi?

  29. 29

    I’m going to agree with Daniel here. Behe has never to my knowledge cited the eye as being a IC structure. The reason it continues to get so much play is that it is the example given by Darwin in Origin for a structure that his knowledge of 19th century biology could not explain. Behe would not have argued the eye as being IC because science had all but proven its origin well before Darwin’s Black Box.
    The interesting point here is that Darwin himself deserves the credit for being the father of Irreducible Complexity in it’s modern form. As with Darwin’s digression on the eye, Behe’s research serves no other purpose other then to motivate science to reduce complex structures into evolutionary steps. This is what happened to Behe’s blood clotting mechanism, his flagellum, his immune system, and every other example he cited in his 1996 book.
    His subsequent forays into gaps in the fossil record and evolution of the HIV virus have resulted in some embarrassing moments; not least of which was a public smackdown by a grad student.
    What Daniel is arguing for here is not creationism proper but rather evolution with a spot left for God. It is a position that I myself unsuccessfully held when I was a Christian. If a YEC gives God the whole parking lot and the city surrounding it, Daniel is only pleading for a spot to park God’s moped. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t believe that man sprung up fully formed.

    This is what leaves me torn when discussing evolution with Daniel. I cannot help but consider his stand on evolution within a Christian worldview rather enlightened. I don’t want to back people like that into a corner where they feel obliged to take a side, because emotion trumps reason far too often. I would actually be relatively happy if every Christian accepted evolution and the power of natural selection with a small caveat for God. This view at least doesn’t imply a far reaching conspiracy within the scientific community or an extreme mistrust of the scientific discipline. Good science can still be done while holding Daniel’s views.

    I don’t even necessarily disagree that natural selection has not been the only filter through which evolution flows. I think Daniel and I have very different inclinations as to what those forces might be, yet I think he is right to question whether natural selection can be seen as the singular mechanism of evolutionary change.

    That said, I still find Daniel’s arguments steeped with incredulity and a misinterpretation of statistics. I still shudder every time he conflates evolution with abiogenesis or cosmogony. I think he gets a whole bunch wrong on his way to a half right conclusion. I get increasingly irritated when he continually brushes aside much of my comments as “interesting but unconvincing” when he routinely makes statements that match that same criteria. I’m not about to write a dissertation on morality as an evolutionary construct, especially when it is a subject that I have admitted is still open for some debate. I’m sure Daniel is not going to give us any substantial evidence that natural processes cannot reasonably account for our existence.

    I am glad that you took the time to read my testimony on my blog. I always appreciate someone who is willing to get to know the people they engage online. I have to say that I disagree with your interpretation of my apostasy and eventual atheism but can see how you might interpret it as such. All this is fodder for a different conversation at a different time.

  30. 30

    George: On the point that Darwin came up with IC, with the eye as an example, creationists / IC proponents use this quote:

    To suppose that the eye […] could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.

    As this site points out, the next two sentences say otherwise.

    When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.

    I do happen to agree that Daniel’s philosophy is far more rooted in logic and evidence than many of his brothers-in-arms. Why do you think I said I missed him, when he came back? I actually enjoy talking to him. I find the same sticking points as you do, though.

    Personal incredulity and bad statistics are beneath you, Daniel. You’re better than that.

  31. 31

    I think we’d all enjoy this conversation a lot more over many cups of coffee (or beverage of choice) every Saturday morning. Geography seems to be stacked against us, gents! I keep coming back because I like you guys! I do come off as an asshole in many blog posts and comments, but I’m not quite so bad in regular conversation, or even on Twitter.

    I still can’t get a good idea of the whole irreducible complexity thing, and maybe Daniel or George could explain this a little better to me. The way I understand it, irreducible complexity presupposes (I hate that word!) the direct creation by God of a fully-formed entity. The individual, irreducible parts weren’t simply created like parts in a Lego set to be combined into various species or kinds, were they? They had to be a functioning part of a created organism.

    Did this creation take place about six thousand years ago (YEC)? Did it take place at some other time? If you discount the direct creation of fully-formed humans, then why should irreducible complexity play a part at all? If you believe in guided evolution by an intelligent designer, did the designer create new species fully formed, or just created new species with certain parts (irreducibly complex) fully formed?

    Behe has stated that he accepts the concept of common descent. His problem, it seems, lies in abiogenesis. If so, then why on earth is there all the problem with irreducible complexity and evolution in the first place? Behe doesn’t think that natural selection can explain molecular life. It isn’t supposed to explain molecular life!

    Those are just some of the thoughts that I had regarding the subject. I just fixed a small pot of espresso, and you guys aren’t here to enjoy it with me, so I guess I’ll have to drink all of it.

    Best regards,

  32. 32


    I would most certainly love to enjoy a conversation such as this one over a pot of coffee or preferably espresso. When I’m feeling like an iced drink, a triple grande carmel machiatto upside down is even better!

    Michael Behe doesn’t make an appeal to any particular intelligent agent and doesn’t aim to describe what that intelligent agent or force is. Rather, the question which is posed by most ID proponents is if design is detectable in nature?

    To get the gist of this, the best illustration I can think of is perhaps forensic science. If a woman was found on the ground at the bottom of a high rise hotel there are immediate questions that pop up. Was this an accident, murder, or suicide. Obviously, there are ways to detect this. We can narrow down the options by investigating other things other than the woman to determine the verdict. In other words, we look for design.

    The SETI example I gave earlier may be another good one. In Carl Sagans, “Contact” the scientists received a radio signal that was a long sequence of “beats,” and it ended up actually being a sequence of prime numbers. This is another way to infer design in a field where looking for design is the main goal.

    The question is, can we detect design in biology? and Behe aims at showing that it is possible to detect design by showing that something couldn’t have evolved via a Darwinian process, namely the molecular machinery found in the flagellum and other examples. He doesn’t suggest that “God” did it. He is only interested in discovering whether or not there is a design inference in biological systems.

    Behe seems convinced that he has at least found what he calls “the edge of evolution” which is the title of his newer book. His newer book builds on his original ideas and even adds more examples into the mix with an additional appeal to “coherence” in biological systems. His ultimate suggestion (I haven’t made my way through the whole book) is that a Darwinian process cannot explain these systems he discusses and he provocatively suggests that there is a design inference in these biological systems.

    ID is not interested in making religious or theological statements and including them in science, but rather aims at possibly using “design” as an explanation to scientific findings.

    Now, I’m not sure yet whether or not something like this should be included in science books. I’m sort of agnostic, but I definitely do not disagree with the approach and also know that the typical arguments against ID as being a viable alternative as being weak.

    There are plenty of fields in other sciences that are aimed at detecting design. Plagiarism wouldn’t be noticeable without being able to detect design. What ID proponents are essentially doing is trying to see if it is possible or viable enough to transfer that into different physical sciences.

    In regards to your theological questions I think that there is a lot to be said, certainly too much for me right now. But I think when we examine the nature of the God, it makes more sense that God created everything with “potential” and that that potential was allowed to unfold over time.

    I have issues with people who suggest God is like a “tinkering-God” that seems to individually create things and help them grow and so on. God doesn’t act in a series of actions which seems to limit Him to time. This is why “literalists” of Genesis don’t seem consistent to me in their view of God. There argument is, “Why would God wait millions of years? Why can’t he just create everything as is?”

    Well, if their view is consistent with the nature of God in the Bible, time has no meaning. The time it took for this potentiality to unfold could translate to us as millions of years, it would make no difference to God. Besides that, there are indications in Scripture itself that seem to suggest some literary construct in Genesis that was aimed at describing God creative action in terms that were more palatable to the people receiving them.

    All too often people read science into Genesis when Genesis isn’t concerned with science. This is my problem with YEC’s and the likes. To me it is actually arrogant to suggest that anyone who doesn’t take it literally isn’t a true Christian or something like that.

    I think the Christian approach to science is humbleness. We are letting our culture interfere with our faith so much that we create this false wall between faith and science that doesn’t have to be there.

    I’d like to write more, but i’m being forced out right now to go eat! I’ll be back to expand on what I was talking about.

    Thanks for all of your input!

    BTW, George and Jason. Sorry if it was irritating that I seemed to brush off your remarks. I’ll touch on then when I come back.

  33. 33

    First Jason, I was being a bit facetious with my Darwin remark, I am well aware of the rest of the eye quote. I think that one comment has served as an inspiration to many ID proponents because they can disregard the rest as just a matter of opinion.
    Ultimately, I take ID just as seriously as Darwin did in the 1800s and think that ID is, at the end of the day a

    difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye (or flagellum, or blood clotting mechanism) could be formed by natural selection…. insuperable by our imagination

    and I also believe that it

    should not be considered as subversive of the theory.

    Intelligent Design proper does not necessarily imply that a system or entity needs to spring into existence fully formed. It only implies that some things in nature and cosmology are best explained by way of an intelligent designer. What has allowed it some traction is that there is no concensus of how much design there really is in the universe. ID is both young earth creationism and a single cell creation event with evolution doing the rest, and everything in between. Where we can say that “fully formed” is a necessity is when we talk about Irreducible Complexity.
    Behe’s definition is a system

    composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning

    and this certainly lends itself to Dan’s understanding as a system needing to be fully formed. Of course, Behe’s definition fails to ask whether the entity can function without that system, whether parts of the system serve or have served other important functions in other systems, and what constitutes “effectively ceasing to function”.

    It is the deliberate ambiguity of ID and IC that have allowed them to gain traction within the creationist camps. You can’t define the intelligent agency else we get creationism re-branded; thus there is ambiguity even in that. The hope is to create a scientific basis to mistrust evolution and give creationists a scientific avenue to take in arguments.

    Even the design argument that Daniel uses is ambiguous. What exactly constitutes a “detectability of design”? There are things which we know to be natural processes that seem on first glance to have a design.
    If you are Bill O’Reilly you might include tides among those things.

  34. 34

    It may seem ambiguous, but then I’m forced to ask my self a question—how do we currently detect design in other things? Is it by way of correspondence or coherence? Is it due to having an “appearance” and if so, why do we understand that something has the appearance of design in the first place?

    How does our mind conclude that something is or is not designed? Is it an appeal to sub-conscious probability analysis, corresponding previous background knowledge, etc.?

    I understand that it is ambiguous, but I think the question is fair. When we start out with, “Everything must only be explained naturally, so that if nature cannot cause itself, then there cannot be an inference to anything else, be it meta-physical or supernatural.”

    Well, fine. If that is how we are to define science, where there is no room to look for a possible design inference, then so be it. But I wouldn’t ostracize people who find it reasonable to look for it. I also would find it to be very unreasonable to ridicule people who don’t start with the italicized presupposition above.

  35. 35

    I think that’s a fundamental issue in this conversation — we need to define our terms extraordinarily narrowly to be sure we’re talking about the same thing. And we definitely need to pin down what we mean by our particular conceits.

    As I’ve said, I do accept that my monism is a conceit, but I would welcome evidence that there IS a supernatural. Everything we’ve observed to date that we’ve explained, we’ve done so in a naturalistic fashion, and have been able to make correct predictions with each of these explanations to the point that they’ve become theories. I don’t doubt that abiogenesis also has a naturalistic explanation, and that we’ll one day be able to not only point to an exact method of creating life, but experiment with other worlds using those methods. But I would welcome evidence to the contrary. If we try, and try, and try, and no matter what we theorize, nothing best fits the evidence at hand, then maybe there’s room there for a supernatural cause. But is it the Christian God Yahweh? Says who?

    I do not start by presupposing that there is absolutely no such thing as the supernatural or metaphysical. I merely assume that, since every other mystery that we’ve solved has been solved in a naturalistic fashion, that it’s at least a good starting point. We’ll move on to the supernatural when there’s some solid evidence to take us down that path, gladly.

  36. 36

    A brief moment before I head to bed…

    When we see evidence of “design” are we actually seeing evidence of “manufacture?” Paley’s rather infamous watch would appear to me to be manufactured, based on my prior experience with objects I knew to be manufactured.

    But what about design? I think the term is rather poorly defined for this purpose. I understand the intent. I can immediately think of no other term that would be used to refer to the implied interactions of a deity with its creations.

    More things to ponder, as always. Off to bed now. Chat with you all again soon.

  37. 37


    The case for Christianity is a cumulative one. Ultimately, one must come to faith in Yahweh through personal transformation. This would include the rejection that life is purposeless and random, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that God is interested in a personal relationship with human beings.

    The evidence for Christianity is something that can either strengthen the understanding of God to the believer or convince an unbeliever to investigate the claims with an open heart and mind. Ultimately, I do not believe it is a purely intellectual choice.

    George, in his testimony, spoke about Christians who often lied about this transformation in their lives. I’m sure there are plenty of exaggerated stories. Mine is not one of those stories. My conversation was slow, studious, and thoughtful. I disliked Christians who talked about their religion and found it repulsive to think of any religion as true above all others.

    I won’t go into it, but let’s just say there was a point when I found a resonance with what I read in the New Testament with myself. The genesis of my faith was spiritual and I accompanied it later with philosophy and theology. This served as a fuller understanding of what I believed and a deeper faith that is very difficult to shake.

    I find my faith to be very reasonable and believe science is another conduit to truth, but that the conduit is only aimed at very particular truths that help us understand creation. The fact that it has been used as justification for atheism comes as no surprise to me, but I believe it is horribly misdirected and misconstrued. Nonetheless, we must appreciate the contributions of all scientists regardless of their beliefs.

  38. 38

    Jason, would giving “proof” for dualism mean I would have to show you proof in a monist way? If dualism is true, then I think it would be difficult to give proof if your looking for physical proof. Just an after thought.

    George, I think prior to any discussion about design and and ontological arguments, there is a pretty good discussion to be had in regards to the historical Jesus. There are 4 historical facts universally accepted among almost all new testament scholars.

    #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in the tomb

    #2:On the Sunday morning following the crucifixion, the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers.

    #3:On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.

    #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every reason not to.

    In discussing these point, Dr. Craig (whom you all should know by now) suggests:

    Any responsible historian, then, who seeks to give an account of the matter, must deal with these four independently established facts: the honorable burial of Jesus, the discovery of his empty tomb, his appearances alive after his death, and the very origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection and, hence, of Christianity itself. I want to emphasize that these four facts represent, not the conclusions of conservative scholars, nor have I quoted conservative scholars, but represent rather the majority view of New Testament scholarship today. The question is: how do you best explain these facts?

    It’s important to note that in order to overcome these facts, some of the biggest critics of the New Testament try to give alternative explanations. One is that all of the disciples were hallucinating and taking drugs. One is that Jesus had a twin brother who died in his place. All of which don’t add up.

    To me, the best explanation to the evidence is that Jesus did in fact raise from the dead, which caused the large uprising of the Church. I think it is very convincing, although I don’t have sufficient time to go into it all together.

  39. 39

    I reject that life is purposeless and random. I think that most atheists don’t believe that life is purposeless and random.
    Why does the absence of a God make life purposeless?
    Why does the absence of a God make life random?

    In general, I like Jesus. I think that many of the things he said were insightful, good-natured, and worth emulating. As with any other philosopher, there are some things I would take issue with. If more people were “Christ-like” in the way that I felt I knew Jesus as a Christian, the world would be a far better place. If Christianity were emulating Jesus, then I think many more people might want to be Christian.

    I have never heard convincing evidence that God must exist. When I look back at my time in the faith, those things I felt were the best evidences for God don’t seem to hold water now. If anything, the more I gathered information, the more the case against a God formed.

    When we get to the argument from design, I think that the evidence suggests otherwise. We are a mishmash of inelegance. We show all the hallmarks of undirected evolution.

  40. 40

    I’ll go out on a limb and say that if I had evidence of a phenomenon that had no possible monist explanation, then I would be open to dualism.

    As to your WLC argument, I am well aware of both him and this particular piece of apologetics. The whole argument presupposes too much as fact for it to hold any water. It is apologetics. As I have said before, apologetics is made for believers, it is an affirmation, not an argument.

    I don’t wish to argue against a historical Jesus. I think it is likely that a man named Jesus lived in Galilee, that he preached to followers, that he can be credited with anywhere from some to many of the quotes attributed to him in the New Testament. I obviously do not believe he was the son of God. I might even question if he ever said he was the son of God.
    First we must establish a few things:
    #1- “New Testament scholars” are otherwise known as theologians. They are not approaching the Bible the way a Classical scholar is approaching “The Iliad”.

    #2 We have to assume that everything that was written in the NT is factually accurate. Given that the most contemporary book to Jesus’ lifetime was written twenty or more years after his death, there is some question.

    #3 We must also remember that twenty years was a long time in those days. Someone whose testimony could be directly given twenty years after Jesus’ death must have been at least 35 years old. Likely older. This is roughly the average contemporary lifespan. Not impossible, but unlikely.

    #4 We must assume that the authors had no possible motive to exaggerate or embellish any historical events. Given that we must assume that a movement was created through the life of Jesus, and he had reverent followers who were basing a religion on his teachings, I can think of many reasons why they may wish to embellish, exaggerate, or invent.

    #5 We must question why, if something so substantial had happened at the time of Jesus’ death, there are no contemporary non-biblical accounts or records that back up these claims. We have no dearth of records from this era, yet Jesus is not mentioned in any substantive way till AD 45 when the book of James is written.

    So I am unable to concede that any of these are “historical facts”. They are internally consistent in the canonized scripture, which I suppose is somewhat surprising given the problems in other books.

    I would argue of your 4 postulates, #1 is probable, #2 is possible, #3 is unbelievable, and #4 is most certainly a lie.

    To Dr Craig, I would say:
    If you are asking me to give a possible account why people who are studying Christianity would have any reason to accept the account of a book they almost certainly believe is the divinely inspired work of their Creator, then I’ve got one. If you are asking me to give a reasonable account as to why followers of Judaism, who became followers of Christ, would want to embellish or exaggerate accounts of Jesus’ life to build a Messianic figure, I have an answer. If you are asking me to explain how it is possible that a series of books written beginning twenty years after Jesus’ death till fully 75 years after his death might not be a reliable, I have an answer. First though, you are asking me concede that you have facts. That requires a little more than the authority of people with a vested interest in the veracity of the Bible.

    The problem with overcoming these “facts”, is that they are very likely not facts. The argument remains an affirmation, not evidence.

  41. 41


    I think that when you understand historical methodology and how we come to have historical knowledge, the evidence is more convincing. Now, I’m not saying that you don’t understand it, I’m simply suggesting that most people who encounter this evidence, they don’t find it convincing because they don’t understand how we come to have historical knowledge.

    There are so many things you and I can discuss, I think it would require a blog all by itself. What do you say? lol

  42. 42

    Again, too busy to do any proper conversing, but I have a name for you both: Bart Ehrman. I find his over-forty-years of scholarship (starting from when he first became an Evangelical Christian, through to today’s agnosticism) to be impeccable, and his arguments engaging and more than plausible. And all the more telling, I find objections against his studies by theists to run along the lines of “well he MUST be wrong, since he reaches conclusions we don’t.”

    The fact that he has argued that it is impossible (and unnecessary) to try to separate historicity from legend in New Testament studies, suggests to me that there is no quorum amongst scholars.

  43. 43

    I feel very comfortable with my grasp of how we come to have historical knowledge. I am arguing that if there were more corollary evidence from a source that didn’t have a vested interest in the story of Jesus, then I would feel more comfortable accepting your postulates as facts.
    If I were a historian, I can’t say that I would be swayed too far by a foundational religious text that has been shown to be written starting some twenty years after the historical event took place.
    To expand on my point, do you think that your postulates are accepted by all anthropologists specializing in that era and location? How about classical historians who specialize in the Holy Land at the dawn of the first millennium?
    I have to assume that they have a pretty firm grasp of how we come by historical knowledge.

    You are always welcome at my blog. I would even be happy to give you a guest post or two if you want to discuss interesting issues. Be careful what you say there right now though, I have a troll who would love to tell you that you don’t really know Jesus and you’re not a Christian.
    That would be a conversation worth reading!

Comments are closed.