Sunday, January 15, 2012

Evidence for God: Arguments 8-16 (Science, part 1)

See previous post on this book before reading this one.

I'm now 16 chapters into "Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science" edited by William Dembski and Mike Licona, and I'm beginning to regret buying and reading the book. I had thought that the book was going to offer good and well reasoned apologetics arguments for the existence of God. And some of the time it does. But section 2 of the book, which deals with 'Science' and which I am not even halfway through, is getting quite repetitive and is relying heavily on 'Intelligent Design' arguments, which I have little time for. If I'd noticed that Phillip E. Johnson had a chapter in here before I'd bought it, I might not have bothered. But I've spent my money now, and started this blog series, so I might as well continue. Maybe there will be some gems later in the book.

But for now, here are my comments:

Section 2: The Question of Science

8. Creator and sustainer: God's essential role in the universe by Robert Kaita
This chapter has one basic point to make and it makes it several times. The point is this:
Everything humans make eventually breaks and needs fixed or maintained, why should we expect the universe to run without the need for ongoing maintenance?
I'm afraid I don't think this reasoning is very compelling. Why should we expect the universe to be anything like the things we make? Why should something natural behave like something manufactured? Of course, the point being made here is that the 'natural' universe is actually created, but the implication of this reasoning is that if God created everything, he wouldn't be able to do it perfectly, so his ongoing maintenance would be required. Viewed from that perspective, I'm not sure many theists would agree.

9. The pale blue dot revisited by Jay W. Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez
This chapter concerns our place in the universe. It also concerns the paradigm shift that was brought in when Copernicus and others demonstrated that the earth wasn't the centre of the cosmos. The chapter challenges the assumption that the Copernican revolution somehow demoted our place in the universe, in that we're no longer the centre of things, rather it shows that the paradigm shift actually elevated us into the heavens.

All well and good, but this is no argument for or against God in any way. So why is this even in this book? There is definitely an attempt here to muddy the waters of the debate here, to show that things are complicated and not clear cut. But really, this contributes nothing at all to the debate.

10. Oxygen, water and light, Oh My! The toxicity of life's basic necessities by Joe W. Francis
This chapter has a simple point to make. The three things that life relies on: oxygen, water and light, are all - in various ways - toxic. And all living things have very complicated ways of dealing with the toxic effects in order to maintain life. The implied question is 'how could such a complicated system have evolved?' And that is a tricky question, but so is the counter question which is not asked here 'why would an intelligent designer make living systems in this crazy way?' Of course, there is no answer to either of these questions in this book.

11. The origin of life by Walter Bradley
So here it is. The Intelligent Design (ID) defence begins. In summary: life is complicated and couldn't have occurred by chance. To be honest, the previous chapter makes this case better, without actually making this case at all. This one is just padding.

12. What every high school student should know about science by Michael Newton Keas
This is not an argument for God. This is an argument for redefining 'science'. This chapter made me angry. Most of what is said in it is kind of true, but truth with a spin. It redefines science in a way that doesn't include evolution. This chapter, which is longer than most here, annoyed me intensely.

13. Darwin's battleship: Status report on the leaks this ship has sprung by Phillip E. Johnson
Groan. I don't care about the ID vs. Darwinian Evolution debate. One of the things that annoys me the most is the constant over use of the word 'Darwinian'. There's a definite attempt to bias the debate by implying that this is all the fault of only one man.

Darwin made observations, he proposed a hypothesis, then he identified evidence which supported this hypothesis, such that it has now become an established theory. Since Darwin died, so much more evidence has been uncovered which supports the theory, that the theory is not really in question within the realms of science.

Up against this comes 'Intelligent Design', a hypothesis which is not derived by observation or experiment. As a hypothesis it has yet to be adequately refuted. True. But as a theory, it has no predictive power. You can take the theory of evolution, apply it to a certain scenario and make predictions about the outcome. The theory is frequently validated in this way. But what predictive power does ID have? None.

I could rant more, but I can't be bothered.

14. Debunking the Scopes 'Monkey Trial' Stereotype by Edward Sisson
Sigh. Another chapter that is about the ID vs. evolution 'debate' without actually presenting any evidence at all on either side of the debate. This is not an argument for God. This book is not doing what it says on the cover. I am getting really quite annoyed now.

If I'd borrowed the book from someone else or from a library I'd have given up by now, but because I paid the best part of a tenner on this I'm persevering.

15. How Darwinism Dumbs us Down: Evolution and Postmodernism by Nancy Pearcey
Finally, an ID chapter that actually has a point to make! The point is an old one, but a reasonably valid one, which is this:
"If all ideas are products of evolution, and thus not really true but only useful for survival, then evolution itself is not true either - and why should the rest of us pay any attention to it?
Indeed, the theory undercuts itself. For if evolution is true, then it is not true, but only useful."
What the chapter does not do is demonstrate why an evolved theory cannot be true. I suppose this is a kind of 'genetic fallacy'. It may be only an accident that evolution has brought about rationality, but to say that evolution could not result in rationality is false.

16. Limits to evolvability by Ray Bohlin
While I am completely bored by the ID arguments now, I'll acknowledge that this one is also valid. It does appear that selective breeding can only strengthen certain characteristics of an animal so much. Perhaps this is also the case in natural selection?

The problem with this line of reasoning is that selective breeding (i.e. intentional selection) does not involve mutation as one of its steps. Evolution by natural selection does. So the author is not comparing like with like. Its not a perfect argument, but after the nonsense of the last few chapters, it certainly feels like one.

The impression given by all the ID chapters (of which there are still more to come) is not 'here is some evidence for God and/or compelling arguments for God' but rather 'look, there are problems with evolution, look, look, a problem we can't explain... must be God then'. This does not make a compelling case or a good argument.

So nothing really to sum up here, as there's more to come. Assuming I don't smash my Kindle out of frustration at all the ID chapters...


Anonymous said...

Interesting post but I too have never been convinced by ID in the whole time I've been a Christian so: snore.

minoria said...

The essence of the ID argument is akin to the situation that if you find a laptop in a field nobody will believe that substances will spontaneously organized themselves to form a computer.

That sounds very convincing to me.