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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Insults Do Not an Argument Make

Posted by jlwile on December 4, 2013

This book by Dr. Stephen Meyer has elicited a lot of insults from its critics, but not much reasoned response.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a review of double-doctor Alister McGrath’s book Why God Won’t Go Away. It ends with an amusing anecdote about a young man who meets Dr. McGrath and asks him to sign one of his theology books. The young man tells Dr. McGrath that he has Richard Dawkins to thank for his conversion to Christianity. He had read Dawkins’s The God Delusion and thought it was so unfair and one-sided that he had to look at the other side. When he did, he become convinced of the reality of Christianity.

While one might pass this off as an isolated incident, it’s not clear that’s the case. Not long ago, I blogged about another person who was raised Catholic but became an agnostic in her teens. She read The God Delusion and similar works, thinking it would drive her to atheism. Once she read Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists, however, she read authors on the other side of the debate. In comparison, she found the arguments of Dawkins and his ilk intellectually deficient, so she returned to her Catholic faith.

Note what happened in both of these cases. Each person decided to look at both sides of the issue. They looked at the arguments of those who claimed there is no God, and they looked at the arguments of those who claimed there is a God. Both decided that those who argued against the existence of God had a significantly weaker position. As a result, they ended up believing in God.

But what makes the arguments of the New Atheists so weak? It’s not just that they have little evidence to back up their claims. It’s more than that. I think one of the reasons their arguments are so weak is that they try to make up for their lack of evidence with insults and bluster. Somehow, they think they are making their case stronger, but to most reasonable people, it has the opposite effect. A few days ago, I ran across a story that makes this very point.

The issue at stake in this case wasn’t the existence of God. Instead, it was the reality of unguided, naturalistic evolution. In his book, Darwin’s Doubt, Dr. Stephen Meyer makes a strong case that the fossils found in Cambrian rock present a great deal of evidence against the idea that life arose as a result of random mutations acted on by natural selection. Of course, there are many in the scientific community who disagree with Dr. Meyer, so one pastor decided to read from both sides of the issue. He started with Darwin’s Doubt. He says that he found it quite reasonable, and it seemed to him that Dr. Meyer knew what he was talking about. He then adds:

The problem is that when Meyer says things like, “the Precambrian fossil record simply does not document the gradual emergence of the crucial distinguishing characteristics of the Cambrian animals,” how on earth should I know if he’s right? I don’t have time to immerse myself in paleontology. I’ll never be an expert. I just have four hundred pages of articulate, self-assured, well-documented evidence for Meyer’s case.

So here’s how I find my way into a conversation on subjects that are not my primary field of study. I read the reviews that are antagonistic to the source and just look at the logic that’s employed. I find that this often gives me the best read on a work. If the critics are sincere, the reviews are usually precise.

So he read several reviews that were supposed to refute the book and tell him how Dr. Meyer was misusing and mischaracterizing the science. That’s not what he found. Instead, he found bravado, logical fallacies, insults, and mischaracterizations of what Dr. Meyer wrote. In the end, he says:

So now I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think the fossil evidence does support the current representation of Darwinism. I think there are some otherwise well-trained scientists who are freaking out, and doing it in widely public and observable ways. Their lack of command of reason is a tell-tale sign that their motives for defending their orthodoxy are not scientific. And I believe the failure of the scientific communities to engage in this conversation in a rational way is a manifestation of power brokering rather than honest intellectual engagement.

I think he is exactly right. Those who want to promote unguided, naturalistic evolution aren’t engaging their critics with reasoned arguments. Instead, they think insults will get the job done, and that speaks volumes for the soundness of their position.

Comments

65 Responses to “Insults Do Not an Argument Make”
  1. jlwile says:

    You didn’t answer my first question, Luis. Why does Dr. Giberson spend so much time telling people to embrace both evolution and Christianity if he is just staying a Christian for his family’s sake and his work’s sake? Someone who writes that we need to embrace both Christianity and evolution is not someone who is just going through the motions. Someone who writes an entire piece about how the universe clearly shows it was created is not someone who is questioning his faith.

    You are absolutely wrong about Biologos, which is not surprising, since you obviously haven’t read any of their work. Notice what they believe:

    1. We believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God. By the Holy Spirit it is the “living and active” means through which God speaks to the church today, bearing witness to God’s Son, Jesus, as the divine Logos, or Word of God.

    2. We believe that God also reveals himself in and through the natural world he created, which displays his glory, eternal power, and divine nature. Properly interpreted, Scripture and nature are complementary and faithful witnesses to their common Author.

    3. We believe that all people have sinned against God and are in need of salvation.

    4. We believe in the historical incarnation of Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man. We believe in the historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which we are saved and reconciled to God.

    5. We believe that God is directly involved in the lives of people today through acts of redemption, personal transformation, and answers to prayer.

    6. We believe that God typically sustains the world using faithful, consistent processes that humans describe as “natural laws.” Yet we also affirm that God works outside of natural law in supernatural events, including the miracles described in Scripture. In both natural and supernatural ways, God continues to be directly involved in creation and in human history.

    7. We believe that the methods of science are an important and reliable means to investigate and describe the world God has made. In this, we stand with a long tradition of Christians for whom Christian faith and science are mutually hospitable. Therefore, we reject ideologies such as Materialism and Scientism that claim science is the sole source of knowledge and truth, that science has debunked God and religion, or that the physical world constitutes the whole of reality.

    8. We believe that God created the universe, the earth, and all life over billions of years. God continues to sustain the existence and functioning of the natural world, and the cosmos continues to declare the glory of God. Therefore, we reject ideologies such as Deism that claim the universe is self-sustaining, that God is no longer active in the natural world, or that God is not active in human history.

    9. We believe that the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent. Thus, evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes. Therefore, we reject ideologies that claim that evolution is a purposeless process or that evolution replaces God.

    10. We believe that God created humans in biological continuity with all life on earth, but also as spiritual beings. God established a unique relationship with humanity by endowing us with his image and calling us to an elevated position within the created order.

    11. We believe that conversations among Christians about controversial issues of science and faith can and must be conducted with humility, grace, honesty, and compassion as a visible sign of the Spirit’s presence in Christ’s body, the Church.

    These are not the set of beliefs of a group that puts Darwin first and Jesus second. They are the beliefs of a group that thinks God is in charge of all truth, scientific and spiritual. They don’t think Genesis is a symbol. They think it is a book of revealed truths and is part of the authoritative Word of God! They just don’t think the first 11 chapters were ever meant to be taken as history.

    I already linked you several discussions of theirs that indicate why Jesus had to die, and you refused to read them. Of course, their third statement of belief gives you the short answer: “We believe that all people have sinned against God and are in need of salvation.”

    You also don’t understand the position of any of the men I listed. Once again, that’s not surprising, because you refuse to read what they have to say. Instead, you declare them wrong without even giving them a hearing. Not exactly a rational thing to do! If you would actually read what even one of them had to say, you would find that none of them think of evolution as a “random, purposeless process.” They all have different ideas of how God used evolution to create, and none of them see it as random or purposeless.

    For example, you ask, “Why would god [sic] create and fine tune a universe just to let go when the process of life starts?” Because as Giberson and Collins believe, the fine tuning of the universe is what made evolution go the way it went. God set the natural laws up so that evolution could work and could work in such a way as to produce people. After all, what’s more impressive: making a machine or producing the situation where a machine makes itself? To them, the latter is more illustrative of God’s power. Plantinga thinks that God had a more direct role in guiding evolution. There are many different ways that theistic evolutionists think God used evolution to create. Of course, you would know that if you actually read any of them!

    I agree that Ken Miller’s view of evolution is pretty ridiculous, but it is not the view of Collins, Giberson, Plantinga, Lennox, McGrath, or Lewis. All of these men understand what any person who understands both evolution and Christianity knows: they are quite compatible. Indeed, Dr. Plantiga’s book, Where the Conflict Really Lies (see my review here and here), makes the very clear case that the conflict isn’t between evolution and Christianity. The conflict is actually between naturalism and science.

    You really need to educate yourself on this issue, Luis. Just as you don’t seem to understand evolution very well, you don’t seem to understand Christianity very well. Both are compatible, as is quite clear from all the very devout Christians who are also evolutionists.

  2. Kendall says:

    Hi again!

    Luis, after reading your back and forth between yourself and Dr. wile, I’m curious about a few things. If you don’t mind my asking, I have a couple questions.

    One of your earlier posts made me think that you might have a problem with God and suffering. Is that an issue? I know it’s an obstacle for many many people.

    You said “. Did god guide the evolution of malaria or aids? What about planet and chemical formation, does he guide that too? If so then we are back to believing in ancient mythologies.”

    Which prompted that question. It’s a tough one.

    Evolution aside, how do you believe the universe came to be? It cannot be infinite, for the basic reason that we could never reach this moment right now in an infinite universe. Where did the universe come from? It is nonsensical to believe that the universe came from nothing. That belief makes it really hard to do science, because science is grounded so heavily in the law of causality. Just curious, where do you think the universe came from, if it came from anything at all?

    I’ve been studying the cosmological argument and it is very interesting. Regardless of the how, it seems inescapable that there is a creator. It doesn’t point directly to the Christian God, although you can infer certain qualities about God from it (that the infinite being that created is a person, it has a will, evidenced by its choice to create), but it’s a great place to start, because it does, in fact, point to a creator in the first place.

    I was also hoping you might restate your view of evolution and creation. Why must evolution exclude God specifically? Some people think that an impersonal being created and then left the creation alone (deism), why is this not an option in your mind?

    lastly I want to recommend this site to you.
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/ It’s full of information on a TON of different topics, in case you need more sources!

  3. Luis says:

    Dr. Wile

    I thought I made my answer about Giberson clear. He is a christian because it is convenient for him. Since he is part of the “fold”, he is using his position to preach evolution to the creationits. I bet he spends more time convincing christians about evolution than atheists about christianity. His commitment to christ isn’t as strong as his commitment to evolution.

    Kendall

    “One of your earlier posts made me think that you might have a problem with God and suffering. Is that an issue? I know it’s an obstacle for many many people.

    You said “. Did god guide the evolution of malaria or aids? What about planet and chemical formation, does he guide that too? If so then we are back to believing in ancient mythologies.”

    To some degree, the problem of evil was why I asked the question. The main point was why would god guide the evolution of the things that kill us if he is a loving god? Would you be considered a loving parent if you guided the event that got your child killed? If god didn’t guide it then evolution is random and we were not purposed. Evoluton and christianty are not compatible. I also asked that if god guides evolution, why don’t christians say the formation of water from hydron and oxygen is guided by god, when a rock falls to the ground it is guided by god? Why is biology guided but not physics or chemistry? If it is then we are in the realm of pantheism which is more akin to the ancient religions.

    Also, the multiverse may explain this universe. Even it is doesn’t, you don’t know what came befor either. What proof do you have that it was a creator with a will to create? Molecules in quantum mechanics appear without a cause all the time. The universe started as a singularity. Perhaps it was one of those uncaused molecules. I don’t know where the universe came from but it doesn’t mean it was a god.

    Deism is a worthless position to have. One might as well be an athiest for the all the good it will do. A deist may believe in a god but lives as if there isn’t one because this god doesn’t get involved anyway. It doesn’t care how you live your life nor does it care about the notions of an afterlife.

    I’m also aware of Craig and how he is lauded by atheists.

  4. jlwile says:

    Luis, your answer to my question is not clear at all. If Giberson is only a Christian because it is convenient for him, why does he spend so much time writing about Christianity? Why does he team up with Dr. Francis Collins, a devout Christian, to write a book that helps people embrace Christianity? Those aren’t the actions of someone who is a Christian out of convenience. Those are the actions of someone who really believes. You say, “His commitment to christ [sic] isn’t as strong as his commitment to evolution,” but you really have no basis upon which to judge that, because you haven’t read any of his works. I have read several of his works, and his commitment to Christ is very strong. Remember, he has signed on to the beliefs of Biologos, which says that the Bible “is the inspired and authoritative word of God,” that “all people have sinned against God and are in need of salvation,” that Christ was “fully God and fully man,” and that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are real and are the means “by which we are saved and reconciled to God.” Now remember, he doesn’t have to work with Biologos. He has a good job at a Nazarene College. If he was just a Christian by convenience, he could go to church with his family and teach at the college. Instead, he spends his time telling people about the beliefs of Biologos. That’s not someone who is a Christian out of convenience. You need to give me a real reason why Giberson would do these things.

    Probably the most incorrect thing you say about Giberson is that he “he spends more time convincing christians [sic] about evolution than atheists about christianity [sic].” That is demonstrably false. All you have to do is read what he has written and said:

    From Take an Atheist to Church:

    I would like to invite atheists to join me at St. Chrysostom’s Church in Quincy, MA — or whatever church is convenient — and spend a year doing research into what real life religious people are like — the people who are not in the headlines. You may be surprised to discover that we don’t all think the same. Some of us are cradle Christians with deeply rooted and unwavering beliefs. Some of us are new believers, wondering about our faith. Some of us are properly called agnostic because we have serious doubts — but doubts we prefer to explore from within the Christian community, rather than from outside. None of us are overly concerned about this lack of uniformity. All of us are concerned about our mutual need for community and we invest energy in making our communities strong and healthy.

    (Notice that in this quote, he doesn’t say that some are Christians by convenience. You would think that if he was one, he would include that in the list.)

    Why does he spend so much time speaking about evolution? Because as far as he is concerned, creationism is driving people away from Christianity. Here’s what he said in Creationists Drive Young People Out Of The Church:

    In the name of protecting Christianity from a secularism perceived as corrosive to the faith, the creationists are unwittingly driving the best and brightest evangelicals out of the church — or at least into the arms of the compromising Episcopalians, whom they despise. What remains after their exodus is an even more intellectually impoverished parallel culture, with even fewer resources to think about complex issues.

    So you see that the reason he spends so much time speaking about evolution is in order to bring people to Christ. Now, of course, I disagree with him. Nevertheless, I know what his real motives are because I have read him. Unfortunately, you have not, and as a result, you have no idea why he does what he does!

  5. Kendall says:

    Hi Dr. Wile:-)

    I have a quick question (perhaps slightly longer than quick..:P). I recently read something in the book “Christian Apologetics” by Norman Geisler, that I couldn’t agree with. And I think it’s relevant to something that’s been discussed in the comments: looking at all the sides of an argument. He was claiming that Theism is true because all other views were contradictory within themselves. To Quote:

    Chapter 12 Theism

    “Second, by implication, this would mean that theism, the only remaining non-contradictory view, would be true by the process of elimination.”

    How can process of elimination verify something to be true? You can only eliminate what is CURRENTLY known.

    At the time I thought that process of elimination merely shows that the other views are untrue, not that theism is true.

    Finally to get to the point…Isn’t this true with making rational decisions about the world? When you’re looking at the data you are using process of elimination to determine what is the best explanation for a phenomenon. Doesn’t this merely SHOW that certain explanations are wrong, not that a particular one is actually true?

  6. jlwile says:

    I mostly agree with you, Kendall. As you say, we can only eliminate what is known. It’s possible that none of the known alternatives are correct, and the truth is some as yet unknown alternative. I think the best Geisler can say is that by process of elimination, Theism is the only reasonable alternative we know. I also think your point about science is correct. Sir Karl Popper is probably the best philosopher of science who has lived in the past couple of centuries, and his main point is that science cannot prove anything. The only thing it can do is demonstrate what explanations are false. Even that, however, is tentative, because experiments can be deceiving. It’s possible that something which was once thought to be demonstrated false can turn out to be possible based on new evidence.

    At the same time, however, I do think there are ways of making rational decisions that are not based on the process of elimination. That’s where logic comes in. If you start with a set of premises, you can logically deduct what is true based on those premises. Of course, your premises might be false, but assuming your premises are correct, logic can produce rational conclusions that are not reached by the process of elimination.

  7. Luis says:

    Switching topics for a minute.

    Dr. Wile

    What do you think of this article? Does it have merit or has it been overblown? My understanding is it’s not quite what the media has made it out to be. Of course, creationists and IDists have prematurely jumped all over it to support their beliefs. I thought maybe there might be something to this but I may have been wrong. Any thoughts?

    http://www.breitbart.com/system/wire/upiUPI-20131212-174536-3107

    Also, doesn’t this find diminish the idea that earth is a rare planet? It seems that water on exoplanets aren’t as rare as we thought. Does this pose a problem for theology if we find life on other planets? I think it does and it’s only a matter of time until we find it. I predict we will solve the origin of life once we do find them.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131203133807.htm

  8. jlwile says:

    Luis, I haven’t read the scientific paper on which that article is based. I do plan to read it and blog about it, so I will have more to say then. The one thing I will say is that the ENCODE project destroyed the nonsensical notion of “junk DNA,” so I would not be surprised if it has uncovered another facet of nature that demonstrates it is the result of design.

    I don’t think the presence of water on a planet does anything to reduce the fact the earth is an incredibly rare, most likely unique, planet. Water is fairly common throughout our solar system, so you would expect it to be common in other solar systems as well. There are a wealth of design features that make it clear earth was created specifically for life.

    I don’t see how life on other planets poses a problem for theology. To me, it poses a problem for atheism. After all, life is such an incredibly complex thing that a naturalistic origin for it is still a complete mystery to science. Indeed, as evolutionist Dr. Simon Conway Morris tells us:

    Francis Crick can write ‘An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle’…More than two decades on from Crick’s ruminations, however, it still remains the case that the notion of an infinitesimally unlikely series of chemical reactions – that from our perspective can be described only as a ‘near miracle’…remains the unbidden and silent observer at much of the discussion of how life originated. Yet, as Iris Fry (note 85) reminds us, such terminology is effectively that of creationism. Put this way, nearly everyone will ask that the now unwelcome guest should vanish through the adjacent wall…(p. 67)

    So…if life is really the result of an “infinitesimally unlikely series of chemical reactions,” we should be stunned to find it even once in the universe. Finding it more than once in the universe would seal the case even more that life is not the result of chance. Thus, far from solving the utter mystery of a naturalistic origin of life, finding life on another planet will simply deepen the mystery further. However, if life is the result of a Creator, there is no reason to be surprised that it appears multiple times in the universe.

  9. Luis says:

    When you review the paper, keep this quote in mind. this was found over at UD which is what put the doubts in my mind.

    “The paper by Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos et al talks about Duons in exons. It was thought that genetic code and regulatory code worked independently. Now what has been discovered is that about 14% of codons in exons (which code for proteins) are duons -they specify both regulatory and amino acid information. They also show that human coding variants which are within duons directly affect overlaying transcription factor binding.”

  10. jlwile says:

    UD is a very solid source when it comes to science, so I would expect that this an accurate description of the results. I will keep it in mind.

  11. Luis says:

    I should have been more clear. This wasn’t an article at UD. It was a comment made by one of the readers of the article. I think that UD jumped all over this when it was released and one of the readers pointed out that it wasn’t exactly what UD thought it was. It could still be that there are two codes but they don’t work apart from each other as once thought. They work together but then again, I am a layman in all this.

  12. jlwile says:

    You’re definitely misunderstanding the current thinking, Luis. The current thinking is that protein-coding DNA deals only with the specification of proteins, while non-coding DNA deals with regulation. This research is supposed to show that the protein-encoding DNA also does regulation. If that’s what it shows, then it indicates that DNA is even more sophisticated than we thought.

  13. jlwile says:

    Luis, it turns out that creationists and IDists should jump on this study, because it shows yet another way that DNA is light years beyond anything human engineering can produce. This makes it even harder to believe that DNA is the result of random, unknown chemical reactions affected by some unknown kind of selection.

  14. HSal says:

    Dr. Wile, I have read many of your blog posts and comments, and wanted to stop and comment (hopefully) briefly.

    I worked in a scientific occupation for years, and late in my life came to faith in Christ. I now also hold a degree in Religious Studies, so am reasonably well versed in science and theology. I am still finding my own place in the Genesis conversation, but having read into it on all sides, I am struck by the vitriolic conversation I so often see between Brothers in Christ when we disagree (read also, for example, the KJV debate). I wanted to thank you for standing–not only for your views on Genesis, which each should stand for and be able to defend their view appropriately– but mostly for your humble, logical, and loving defense of Christian LOVE being the highest order of business in debate between brothers.

    I wish you Grace and Peace through God our Father.

  15. jlwile says:

    Thank you HSal! That means a lot!

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