Thursday, May 31, 2007

Brownback and Evolution

Presidential candidate Sam Brownback has written a guest article in the NY Times explaining his position with regard to the issue of science and faith. Specifically, his goal was to clarify why--when the Republican candidates were asked which of them did not believe in evolution--he raised his hand.

I found his opinions on this issue thoughtful and wise, and I strongly agree with them. Check it out for yourself.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Equivocation--Part 2

In the last post, I talked about equivocation, the logical fallacy in which the meaning of a term changes between the premise and the conclusion. The example in that post was an instance of equivocation (with regard to the term 'secular') of which Richard Dawkins was guilty. Today, I want to point out a much more common example of this fallacy, and that with regard to the term 'evolution.'

It is increasingly being claimed that "evolution is a fact." Now, when people say this, they may mean a variety of things, but at the end of the day, we are meant to believe and accept two things: 1) the idea that neo-Darwinian evolution--and particularly natural selection acting upon random mutations--is the explanation for the diversity of all life (extant and extinct), and 2) that this explanation is so evidentially-supported that it is above critique and that all rival theories or even criticisms of it are therefore unscientific.

Strong claims these, so strong that one would expect a whole lot of evidence to support them. But invariably, the evidence trotted out will be cases of what's known as micro-evolution, that is, changes within a species. "Americans are 6 inches taller on average than 100 years ago." "Beak sizes of finches in the Galapagos change in response to variations in precipitation." "The ratio of melanistic to normal Peppered Moths changed in response to the Industrial Revolution."

Each of these examples has its own problems, even with regard to how well it supports micro-evolution. Nonetheless, that micro-evolutionary changes do occur in the plant and animal kingdoms is completely non-controversial. So, too, is the idea that some speciation may occur, whereby two populations of a single species may become separated (geographically, behaviorally, morphologically, physiologically, or whatever) to the point that they are no longer capable of interbreeding and warrant status as separate species.

But the idea that all life is linked to a single common ancestor (through natural selection acting on random mutations) is a different thing altogether, and is generally referred to as macroevolution. That macroevolution occurs (or ever has occurred) is entirely without evidential support. Indeed, all of the evidence--as from the fossil record--indicates otherwise. The fossil record shows life forms arising suddenly, fully formed, perfectly adapted for their environment and ecology, and remaining unchanged throughout their tenure. Belief in macroevolution involves an unwarranted philosophical presupposition (naturalism), a leap of faith, and a correspondingly unfounded extrapolation from microevolutionary evidence to macroevolutionary claims. As Phillip Johnson has it (in Darwin on Trial)...
Why do other people, including experts whose intelligence and intellectual integrity I respect, think that evidence of local population fluctuations confirms the hypothesis that natural selection has the capacity to work engineering marvels, to construct wonders like the eye and the wing? Everyone who studies evolution knows that Kettlewell’s peppered moth experiment is the classic demonstration of the power of natural selection, and that Darwinists had to wait almost a century to see even this modest confirmation of their central doctrine. Everyone who studies the experiment knows that it has nothing to do with the origin of any species, or even any variety, because dark and white moths were present throughout the experiment. Only the ratios of one variety to the other changed. How could intelligent people have been so gullible as to imagine that the Kettlewell experiment in any way supported the ambitious claims of Darwinism?
This being the case, it seems much easier (if you are an evolution activist) to suppress this problem. Why bother to distinguish between microevolution and macroevolution? It makes a whole lot more sense to equivocate, to use 'evolution' both in the premises (where we'll trot out evidence for microevolution) and in the conclusion (where what we really have in view is another thing entirely, macroevolution).

But from now on, the astute readers of this blog will be able to see through this fallacious ploy on the part of evolutionary scientists, educators, and activists.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Equivocation--Part 1

The informal logical fallacy known as equivocation is when the meaning of a term changes in the middle of an argument. Let me share two examples, the first (in this post), one of which Dawkins is guilty in his latest book, and the second (next post) one that is common fare for evolutionists in their ongoing efforts to convince us--contrary to the evidence--that their theory is true.

Dawkins is guilty of equivocation with regard to the word "secular" in his argument in chapter 2 of The God Delusion. In this section, he is laying some foundation for his larger thesis--that religion is bad and should be stamped out. His lesser argument here seems to be that to be secular is a good thing and that America's government ought to be more secular than it is in practice. To support this, he quotes founding fathers like James Madison and John Adams. The problem is that what the founding fathers meant when using the term "secular" is entirely different from how Dawkins uses the word. Dawkins takes it to mean 'religion-free' or even 'atheist.' (Note that he is not alone in this misunderstanding, which is at the heart of our modern misinterpretation of the whole separation-of-church-and-state issue.) What the founding fathers meant was that the government should not force any particular religious practice, worship methodology, or denomination upon the governed. They took belief in a Creator and in an ultimate, objective morality that flows from that Creator to be essential for the success of any democracy.

So Dawkins' argument here is fallacious. It commits the fallacy of equivocation. Worse, of course (and here I mean not merely fallacious but downright unethical), is that Dawkins quotes the founding fathers out of context, in some cases making them seem to say just the opposite of what they actually were arguing. Here's an example, as Dawkins quotes Madison...
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.
Sounds like Madison shared Dawkins' view of Christianity, right? If so, that's only because Dawkins left off the sentence that led into this quote...
Because experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation...
The bold font is my addition, to highlight the words that make it clear that Madison's view was opposite Dawkins'. The founding father finds religion to be pure and efficacious except where the government meddles by establishing and sponsoring it. From the same letter (a dissent by Madison of a Virginia bill that would have levied a tax to support religious teachers) come other quotes Dawkins would rather his readers not find...
...the policy of the bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity.
Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe.
Dawkins quotes John Adams as writing
This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it.
But here's what Adams wrote in full (in a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated 19 April 1817)...
Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion at all!!!" But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell.
When taken in full, what Adams wrote was just the opposite of what Dawkins makes him seem to mean. More than that--Adams here refuted the central thesis of Dawkins' book. Dawkins' claim is that the world would be a better place without religion; Adams believed the world would be hell were it not for religion. Elsewhere (in a letter to F.A. Van Der Kemp dated 27 Dec. 1816), Adams wrote,
The Christian religion, in its primitive purity and simplicity, I have entertained for more than sixty years. It is the religion of reason, equity, and love; it is the religion of the head and the heart.
Understand that throughout this "argument" Dawkins is being (to generously use a polite word for it) disingenuous. His failure to footnote these quotes indicates his recognition that anyone willing to look them up in context would discover the truth that Dawkins repeatedly makes these founding fathers seem to believe exactly the opposite of what they actually believed.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Gray Day

The weather was beautiful, actually, for the family's annual trek to the Winema National Forest (in southcentral Oregon) to monitor a sample of Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) territories and nests. Most are artificial platforms (erected to provide nest substrate in lieu of the large broken-top snags that they would normally use).

But raising a brood of young requires more than a nest platform--it requires prey and lots of it. On the Winema, this means wet meadows full of voles and pocket gophers. Alas, the meadows are not wet this year, but dry and largely devoid of small mammals. So, we were skunked on the annual survey, and I doubt whether many of the owls in this local population even attempted nesting this year. Being relatively long-lived birds, great grays can afford to miss a few breeding seasons; but let's hope there's a break in the drought in the next year or two.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Fallacious Dawkins

I trust by now that most of you realize that Richard Dawkins' extremely popular book, The God Delusion, is anything but a well-reasoned refutation of Christianity. His errors in critical thinking are so many and varied that atheist philosopher Michael Ruse has written that Dawkins' book "makes me embarrassed to be an atheist."

In our Adult Education class at Antioch, we've read through chapter 3, and have been appalled by the unfounded assertions and poor reasoning. This week, I'm preparing a summary of introductory logic and, specifically, a list of some of the most common informal logical fallacies. As I do this, it has been borne in upon me that Dawkins--in his "argumentation"--provides wonderful illustrations of virtually all of these errors in thinking.

In an earlier post, which I titled "The Cosmological Argument" (May 12), I quoted Dawkins and pointed out a category fallacy whereby he asked of the God of Christianity--who is by definition an uncreated, necessary Being--"who created Him?" In that same quote, Dawkins is guilty of a fallacy known as "argumentum ad futuris"--an appeal to the future. In lieu of a transcendent God, he prefers "a big bang singularity or other physical concept as yet unknown." It is, of course, logically absurd to suggest that something (like the big bang singularity) could create itself. It is also fallacious (argumentum ad futuris) to base one's argument on hypothetical future discoveries. Dawkins must do so, however, because the evidence available to us at present overwhelmingly supports a biblical--not a naturalist--worldview.

Look for more classic illustrations--courtesy of Richard Dawkins--of informal logical fallacies in future posts.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

5 Reasons

Here's a link to a 10-minute video clip that is a must-see for anyone interested in the big questions of life. It's by philosopher and apologist Kenneth Samples and is titled 5 Reasons God Exists. After watching it, share it with anyone about whom you care.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Art Sunday

At our church, Antioch, we had our first Art Sunday yesterday. It was a celebration of art, in which were featured paintings, photography, pottery, carvings, poetry, and songs primarily by folks from our local body of followers of Christ. It was also a recognition or acknowledgement of the fact that most local churches (or even denominations) today fail to acheive a balance between truth and beauty. There are, of course, churches and denominations calling themselves Christian that still celebrate the arts; many of these, however, care little for right doctrine, for affirming the essential truths that make Christianity what it is. On the other hand, the churches and denominations that stress doctrinal truth tend to have little place for beauty in their buildings or their worship. Such congregations tend to alienate those with great artistic talent. Thus, any particular assembly of Christians can usually be classified (and pretty quickly at that) as either a right-brained church or a left-brained church (where those of the opposite hemisphere are under-appreciated, under-utilized and, as a consequence, under-engaged).

At Antioch, we're trying to be balanced in this regard, to affirm the understanding that both truth and beauty find their ultimate, objective basis in God, who cares deeply about both.

If you missed it, we'll be having an Art Sunday about once every six to eight months.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Step of Trust

In reading the "new atheists" Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, it is easy to see that they wholeheartedly accept the false understanding that Christian faith is an illogical leap taken contrary to evidence and reason. It's hard to blame them, perhaps, because even many Christians fail to recognize that the biblical portrayal is just the opposite, to wit, that a step of trust (in Jesus Christ) is the uniquely reasonable response to a right understanding of the evidence from reality.

The traditional Christian understanding of saving faith involves three aspects, notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Notitia means accurate knowledge, which comes through our senses, our reasoning, and revelation. Included in notitia, of course, is a right understanding of the human condition--created in the image of God and yet fallen--and of the unique solution in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. Assensus is the necessary agreement with that accurate knowledge. And yet, having both of these components--accurate information and agreement with those facts--is not enough. The third aspect, fiducia, means making the only reasonable response, committing one's life to that eternal Creator and personal Savior, Jesus Christ. Rather than a blind, irrational leap of faith, Christianity represents a logical step of trust, the only sensible personal response to the sum of the evidence and reason about the reality of our universe and existence.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Snakey Day

Today was the first good snake day of the year.

I was up in the forest (looking for owls), and caught two Gopher Snakes (Pituophis catenifer). Both were sunning on the pavement, one early in the day, and one late. I also found (but couldn't catch) a Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea, the most snake-like lizard in our area) and found a D.O.R. Yellow-bellied Racer (Coluber constrictor).

When I arrived home, I found that the boys (Nathan and Jasper) had ventured out into the canyon east of our home, where they had caught two Western Rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis) in only an hour of searching.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dawkins Refutes Himself

In some of my first blog posts back in February, I made the claim that modern science was uniquely born out of a Judeo-Christian worldview. In brief, my argument was that ideas basic to conducting science--things like the existence of order in the universe and the reliability of our senses and reasoning to perceive and understand that order--are logically grounded in a biblical understanding but not in a naturalistic one. My point was that not only when modern science was founded but still today doing science really only makes sense if there is a transcendent Creator who specially created us in His image.

In His book The God Delusion (chapter 3), Richard Dawkins comes close to addressing this claim (at least as close as he comes to dealing seriously with any of the true claims made by Christians). He says, in effect, that the incorrect belief in God of the founders of science was simply an artefact of the times in which they lived.

I have asked my readers--in a more recent post--to be on the lookout for self-refuting statements. Well, Dawkins' logic here is a good example. Dawkins is claiming that there is no God, and that the brilliant men and women who gave birth to modern science were wrong in thinking there is one. According to Dawkins, their inability to discover the truth on this issue stems from the fact that they were influenced by the thinking of the times in which they lived. But the same holds true for Dawkins--his understanding of the existence of God is influenced by the times in which he lives. So if being influenced by the thinking of your generation disqualifies your conclusions, then Dawkins himself is wrong for the same reason he applies to Kepler and Pascal et al.

This assertion on Dawkins' part is, of course, fallacious, and irrelevant to the question. It would be so much more valuable had Dawkins dealt with the logical proofs given by monotheists for the existence of God (instead of offering up straw-man versions of them) and with the relevant evidence from the study of the universe (a small branch of which, at least, he is purported to be somewhat of an expert). His case against God fails miserably precisely because of his failure to interact with the logical arguments or the evidence from science.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Academic Freedom Denied at Iowa State

This past month, Guillermo Gonzalez, internationally-acclaimed astronomer, was denied tenure at Iowa State University. This despite his far surpassing the standards (for excellence in research) for his department at ISU...
...excellence sufficient to lead to a national or international reputation is required and would ordinarily be shown by the publication of approximately fifteen papers of good quality in refereed journals.
Gonzalez has published 68 articles in refereed journals, and much of his research--including that related in the popular book he coauthored with Jay Richards, The Privileged Planet--is bold and provocative (he's boldly gone "where no man has gone before").

So why was tenure denied Dr. Gonzalez? Well, I'm not privy to the report, and--as an appeal is pending--Gonzalez is unable to discuss his case. But the problem is not hard to guess. You see, the conclusions to which the evidence about the universe that Gonzalez has uncovered and reported does not agree with the reigning paradigm, neo-Darwinian naturalism. In short, the evidence suggests that the universe is designed, and this untenured scientist has the audacity to follow the evidence where it leads. Ever since the publication of The Privileged Planet, he has been publicly and privately attacked by his fellow faculty (with this attack being led by an atheist from the religion department). This denial of tenure represents nothing other than a suppression of academic freedom.

This story--though an obvious travesty--is filled with irony. The first, perhaps, is that if national or international reputation is really what ISU is after, well Gonzalez has acheived that in spades. In fact, I have yet to encounter among my scientist colleagues anyone who can name a single additional scientist from ISU, though many acknowledge Gonzalez and his work. On that criterion, Gonzalez may be the only tenure-qualified member of Iowa State's science department.

More ironic is the fact that Gonzalez is the one conducting science the way it is meant to be done. Science progresses only by continually assessing currently-held theories, comparing them against all of the evidence. New evidence can lead to refining or--where appropriate--rejecting a theory, even a strongly-held one. And all Gonzalez is guilty of is uncovering new information about the universe that calls into question the reigning theory. It is the powers that be--at Iowa State and in the biological community at large--that are guilty of impeding scientific advance for the sake of dogmatic faith (in naturalism).

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins quotes Bertrand Russell,
The immense majority of intellectually eminent men disbelieve in Christian religion, but they conceal the fact in public, because they are afraid of losing their incomes.
Ironically (again), just the reverse is the case in American academia today, and only atheists need apply for tenure. At issue is not, of course, Gonzalez' religion per se; it is, nonetheless, his failure to toe the particular metaphysical line that holds sway at ISU that has brought him to this juncture. Some 300 prominent scientists have signed a petition affirming that they dissent from the neo-Darwinian explanation. But they are careful to warn other, younger scientists that this sort of dissent could cost them their positions--they advise waiting until tenure is granted before identifying evidential problems
for evolutionary theory. The Iowa State travesty is just the latest example of the wisdom of this advice and of how academic freedom is denied at American universities.

Much has been made of the fact that Americans are falling behind the citizens of other countries in the various fields of science. Darwinian activists point to our failure to embrace Darwinism wholeheartedly as the explanation for this. I submit that just the opposite is true. Strict Darwinian materialism so reigns in our academic institutions (but not in those of some other countries) that many bright young people who do not embrace that metaphysical view recognize the stifling climate (especially within biology) and choose other careers instead. Jun-Yuan Chen, the principle paleontologist studying the Cambrian fossils at Cheng-jiang, finds great irony in the current situation in American universities:
In China, we can criticize Darwin, but not the government; in America, you can criticize the government, but not Darwin.
Perhaps the greatest irony, however, is in Gonzalez' own story. This brilliant astronomer arrived in America as a child, a refugee from Cuba and its totalitarian (atheist) regime. What he is finding in this land of "freedom" is that naturalist ideology can be similarly tyrannous even in places like Iowa State University.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Cosmological Argument

I was warned that Richard Dawkins' latest book was filled with fallacious complaints and name-calling, and singularly lacking in substantive new critiques or well-reasoned arguments. I have nonetheless been frankly stupefied by Dawkins' sophomoric rhetorical ploys and his utter evasion of the real argument. Though claiming to refute the existence of the supernatural God--and specifically the God of Christianity--he studiously avoids actually interacting with that concept of God. His dismissal of the Cosmological Argument (for God's existence) is a case in point, and one is left wondering whether Dawkins has ever understood its formulation or, having understood it, chooses not to tackle it in a serious way. (Dawkins' refusal to debate scientists and philosophers who disagree with him would suggest the latter, and implies that at some level he recognizes the many weaknesses of his position of choice.)

Dawkins gives a straw-man version of the Cosmological Argument, one which misrepresents Thomas Aquinas' early formulation. (Were his own argument stronger, Dawkins would have been well-advised to accurately address a more modern and rigorous version; his repeated failures in this regard go a long way toward undermining his credibility.) He lumps this argument with two other Thomist arguments--the Unmoved Mover and the Uncaused Cause--and dismisses them thusly...
All three of these arguments rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it. They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress. Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts. is more parsimonious to conjure up, say, a 'big bang singularity', or some other physical concept as yet unknown...It is by no means clear that God provides a natural terminator to the regresses of Aquinas.
So, a large part of Dawkins' complaint here is that of a simple child, "If God made the universe, who made God?" This is nothing more than a category fallacy, but one that demonstrates Dawkins' unwillingness to address his 'arguments' to the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Those particular Gods--the ones whose existence Dawkins' book alledgedly refutes--are by definition uncreated (what philosophers call 'necessary') beings. Everyone seriously interested in assessing the arguments for or against God's existence comes to understand the distinction between necessary and contingent things. They recognize that God (whether Yahweh or Allah or the triune God of Christianity) in the issue at hand (that is, regardless of whether He actually exists) is conceived of as a necessary Being. The question is whether the universe is itself necessary or contingent.

There are at least two reasons that--contrary to Dawkins' hand-waving personal assurance--the Cosmological Argument remains an extremely compelling argument for the existence of a transcendent Creator God (like that of the three great monotheisms). First, this conclusion seems logically inescapable. There really are no absolute infinities in the universe (it is at this level that the issue of regresses comes in), and an eternal, necessary being provides the only adequate cause ever proposed. (The question of which monotheistic religion accurately identifies that causal Being is a separate issue.) Dawkins' own alternative, "a 'big bang singularity', or some other physical concept as yet unknown" is logically absurd, as any freshman philosophy student ought to be able to tell you. Nothing can create itself.

Secondly, the scientific evidence leads to the same conclusion. The latest understandings are in perfect agreement with the Bible's account and the claims held to all along by monotheists--that the universe (including matter, energy, space, and time) had a beginning. At the same time, modern cosmology has refuted the understanding that was a basic (and seemingly essential) assumption of Darwinism--that the universe itself is eternal.

Dawkins, however, cannot be bothered with evidence and logic, instead favoring bluster and bravado in his crusade to eliminate religious belief.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Field Trip

Thursday mornings this Spring, our home school has been taking science field trips. This usually means heading east into the Crooked River National Grasslands, where we've been conducting a study (in its 12th year now) of a population of Loggerhead Shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus).

The highlight of this morning's adventure was banding the 5 baby Long-eared Owls (Asio otus) at a single nest. The nest structure itself (mostly dead juniper sticks in a large live juniper) was originally built by a pair of Black-billed Magpies (Pica pica), which only used it once. Long-eared Owls, which (like almost all owls) don't build their own nests, have used it four or five times since, generally producing three or four owlets in spring. This year's small mammal population seems to be better than average.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Dawkins Delusion

A group of folks at our church (Antioch) is reading and discussing a chapter each week from Richard Dawkins' very popular (but painful) book, The God Delusion. Reading it makes me kinda grumpy, and so I'll use this space to vent a bit.

In Chapter 3 (which is this week's assignment) Dawkins is especially infuriating. Here, he claims to refute all of the traditional arguments for the existence of God. He begins by mischaracterizing each of these arguments (the 'straw-man' fallacy). He then provides no arguments against them, but offers up silly pseudo-analogies. In the end, he simply assures the reader that he finds no validity to them, dismissing not only the arguments themselves but the many philosophers (from across the theological spectrum) who have found and still find these arguments compelling and worth serious scrutiny. The reader is led to believe (throughout the first two chapters) that Dawkins is going to interact with these arguments in a meaningful way, perhaps even offer some new insight worth considering. The reader of this particular book had better get used to disappointment, because--when it comes to formulating logical arguments--Dawkins is clearly outside his area of expertise.

The more pervasive problem (with the entire book), however, is Dawkins' unwillingness to present any arguments or evidence for evolution. For him, neo-Darwinism is itself God-like. It is beyond the need for evidential support, it somehow accounts for a great deal more about the universe than merely the diversity of life, and ascribing to it is a deeply religious matter for Dawkins (more about this later).

If you'd like to read and discuss this with us (given the foregoing sparkling review), we meet in Theatre 5 at the Regal Cinemas at The Old Mill in Bend, Oregon, Sunday mornings from 8:15 to 9:00. We'd love to have ya!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

"Berra's Blunder"

Ask the average person today what evidence they think there is to support the theory of evolution, and most will name the fossil record and (more recently) the fact that the same gentic code is shared by all living things. In my last post, I argued that the genetic code fits the Judeo-Christian explanation as well as it fits Darwinian theory. I want to now make the same claim for the fossil record.

With regard to both the genetic code and the fossil record, I believe a much stronger case can be made for Christian theism than for evolution as the best explanation. But as in my last post, my purpose here is more modest; I hope to use a simple analogy to demonstrate that evolution is not the only--or even the likeliest--conclusion to be drawn from the relevant evidence.

Many people have been led to confuse the fossil record itself with the popular (though problem-plagued) Darwinian explanation for it. The fossil record does reveal that different life forms inhabited the earth at different times. Darwinian evolutionary theory, however, is just one of many attempts to explain this record. Other explanations include punctuated equilibrium theory, intelligent design theory, old-earth creationism, and directed panspermia (the theory that life was seeded here by intelligent beings from elsewhere in the universe).* Proponents of each of these theories agree that the life forms inhabiting earth exhibited differences through time. Based on the evidence, however, they disagree with the notion that earlier species evolved into later species as Darwin hypothesized.

This confusion—of the fossil record itself with a particular explanation for it—was well (albeit inadvertently) illustrated by evolutionist Tim Berra. In attempting to defend Darwinism, Berra used the analogy of a series of car models.
If you compare a 1953 and a 1954 Corvette, side by side, then a 1954 and a 1955 model, and so on, the descent with modification is overwhelmingly obvious. This is what [paleontologists] do with fossils, and the evidence is so solid and comprehensive that it cannot be denied by reasonable people.
This may be a fair analogy for what we see at certain places in the fossil record, but it supports Darwinism only if Corvettes evolve by strictly natural processes, without the involvement of any designers (or manufacturers). Of course, they do not. Berra’s analogy demonstrates that—of the explanations posited for the history of life—intelligent design, old-earth creationism, and even directed panspermia find more support from the fossil record than do Darwinian evolution or other naturalistic theories. This, of course, was not Berra’s intent, and his use of this analogy has been called—by Phillip Johnson—“Berra’s Blunder.” Johnson notes that this blunder was published following review by a number of other scientists. In other words, this muddled thinking—mistaking common design for common ancestry—is prevalent among the biological and educational communities today.

* I do not here include "Flood Geology" because, at least in my opinion, this explanation does not really seek to interact (as do the other ideas listed) with the available evidence. Rather, its validity depends largely on a mischaracterization of the fossil record, a denial of much of the relevant data.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Did Beethoven Exist?

One of the things I'm currently reading is The Right Questions, by Phillip Johnson. The subtitle is Truth, Meaning, and Public Debate.

Johnson's primary goal for the past many years (in his writing and lecturing) has been to make people realize that there are two very different philosophies about how to define science, and that they lead to two very different interpretations of the evidence. For many "modern* modern scientists," macro-evolution (as the explanation for the diversity of life) is a fact, the clear conclusion to be drawn from the evidence. But this is simply because they have artificially constrained the range of possible explanations to include only materialistic ones.

The two very different definitions of science are these... The first--the one you were likely taught in grade school--is “the objective search for truth about the universe in which we live.” The second definition considers science to be the search for materialistic explanations for what we see in the universe. If truth were equally accessible regardless of which definition one uses, there would be no debate. What Johnson and others are insisting is simply this: that the latest scientific evidence from all fields--astronomy, physics, paleogeology, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, probability theory, origin-of-life research, etc.--has created an ever-widening gap in the conclusions to which these two definitions of science lead.

It should be obvious that it is the materialistic definition that is less objective. That is, evolution may provide the best explanation for the origin and variety of life given an a priori commitment to materialism. But such a commitment is itself an artificial constraint upon the search for truth--it actually limits our ability to discover truth about the universe. Moreover, this commitment to materialism is a metaphysical (religious) commitment. Evolutionists begin by asking a metaphysical question (“Is there a God?”), which they answer in the negative. When they begin this way, they are themselves functioning not as scientists but as philosophers or metaphysicists--they are making theological pronouncements. In a very real sense, they are making the self-refuting claims for scientism (see my most recent post), albeit in a more obscure way.

So, if the public (school boards, courts, university administrators) would understand the philosophical nature of the debate (that is see through the self-refuting and philosophical rhetoric of the naturalistic scientific elites), then the two main competing views (on the origin of the universe, of life, of the diversity of life, of human consciousness, etc.) could be given a fair comparison. Are these things designed by a transcendent Creator (as has been the default position for the vast majority of the history of Western civilization), or are they (and we) the products of purposeless, random rearrangement of strictly physical substances?

When the range of explanatory options is not artificially constrained, it turns out that the design hypothesis (to use a popular way of describing the non-materialistic view) has equal or--in most cases--better explanatory scope and power. Let me wind down this (already too-lengthy) post with an example (from The Right Questions), one that (for now) I'll use only to argue for equal (as opposed to better) explanatory power.

A very popular notion today--since the sequencing of the entire human genome and that of other species--is that the fact that all life on Earth shares the same genetic and biochemical make-up is proof that all life arose through common descent. That is, all life is evolutionarily related, and God does not exist. To this, Johnson writes (page 42)...
One could employ the same logic to prove that the nine symphonies of Beethoven had no composer since they all employ similar musical elements.
More on this in the next post...

* Modern science was founded by those with a Judeo-Christian worldview, and many understandings that make science a reasonable endeavor (such as the existence of order in the universe and the reliability of our senses and reasoning capacities) are grounded in this theistic worldview but remain unexplained, brute facts for the naturalist. (I made several postings on this issue in February 2007.)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Self-refuting Statements

I've become increasingly sensitized to the presence in our everyday language of ideas and statements that are self-refuting. A self-refuring statement is logically absurd (self-referentially absurd) and thus deserves no further consideration. It makes an assertion that, when applied to itself, commits suicide. Let me share a simple example.
No coherent English sentence can be formed without including an adverb.
Since this sentence itself is coherent and does not include an adverb, it falsifies itself. Now, obviously, that particular assertion (about sentences and adverbs) is fairly innocuous. But as it turns out, much of the wrong thinking of our age, those "lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God" (II Cor. 10:5), suffer from this exact fatal flaw; they are self-refuting positions. Specifically, the epistemological positions (the theories about how we know things) at the core of both postmodernism and scientism are self-referentially absurd. Take the following postmodern assertion:
There is no such thing as truth.
Oh, really? Is that a true statement? If not, it deserves our contempt. If so, it provides a significant counterexample to the claim being made, thus falsifying that claim. Again, we are warranted in dismissing it as nonsense.

Now, postmodernists have long ago become sufficiently sophisticated in their portrayal of their view to avoid articulating it in such an obviously self-refuting way. But no matter how they say it, the postmodern view is ultimately self-refuting. How about this form?
There is no knowledge of truth in the objective (correspondence) sense, because each individual or group is inescapably separated from that reality by the barrier of that individual's or group's language.
Sounds better, eh? This one isn't as obviously self-refuting. But that's just because it's a bit more complex. To see that it is nonetheless fatally flawed, ask yourself this: "What am I to make of this statement? Is it a valid, truthful statement about reality, one that deserves my consideration and acknowledgment? But if so, how did the person making the claim escape the inescapable language construct in which she is confined in order to be able to discover this (seemingly objective) truth about the way things really are?" If it is not meant as a statement about the way things really are, then why would this person be sharing it with you? Doesn't she hope to be taken seriously?

Postmodernism is the spirit of our age, and, despite its illogic, is being taught in schools and universities throughout America. As such, it warrants further attention, and I will post thoughts about it from time to time. For now, however, I want to make clear that many of the epistemological claims made by scientists suffer the same problem. For example,
The only valid knowledge is that which comes through scientific testing.
One can only trust that which can be perceived by the senses.
Both of these statements about knowledge are self-referentially absurd. The statements themselves fail the tests inherent in their claims. The assertions themselves were not arrived at through scientific testing or through sensory perception and so are--according to their own claims--not valid or trustworthy.

So keep your ears and eyes open for self-refuting claims. They are all around you, and some have a significant effect on how people understand (or rather, misunderstand) the world in which we live.

Let me leave you with a Berrism, a saying of baseball great Yogi Berra, made in reference to a popular restaurant...
Nobody goes there anymore--it's too crowded.