Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Dr. Wayne Rossiter holds a Ph.D in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University. (click for credit)

Dr. Wayne Rossiter holds a Ph.D in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University. (click for credit)

Over the holidays, I started reading a book entitled Shadow of Oz. I have yet to decide whether or not to post a full review of it, but I did want to point out what I have found to be the most interesting part of the book so far: the conversion story of its author, Dr. Wayne D. Rossiter.

Dr. Rossiter earned his Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University in February of 2012 and is currently an assistant professor of biology at Waynesburg University. One thing I found so fascinating about his conversion story is that it is rather different from mine. Science caused me to doubt my atheism, and an investigation of the evidence led me to a belief in Christianity. For Dr. Rossiter, however, it was not science itself that caused him to doubt his atheism. Instead, what he saw as the consequences of atheistic science caused him to fall into the Savior’s arms. Here is how he begins his conversion story:

…I had developed into a staunch and cantankerous atheist by the time I got to Rutgers to pursue a Ph.D. This was aided by an equally atheistic advisor who was of Dawkins’s ilk. Advanced education at our best universities is surprisingly insular. Like bobbleheads, we tend to read and agree on the same things, and give little to no countenance to critics of our views. (pp. 3-4)

I couldn’t agree more with his take on the insular nature of advanced education in the U.S. I vividly remember several instances from my early years in academia where a “senior” member of a research group would make fun of a position with which he disagreed, and the rest of us would bob our heads in agreement without even trying to suggest that there might be good reason to at least examine that position seriously. At the time, I didn’t understand how anti-science such actions were, but now that I look back on them, I shake my head at the sorry state of our advanced education system.

What caused Dr. Rossiter to doubt his atheism? After achieving an important milestone in every academic’s life (publication in a major journal of his field), he and his wife celebrated. He stayed up after his wife went to bed, and he became plagued by the “big questions” about life:

On what rational grounds could I care about the state of the planet (or even my family) after I’m gone? And what did I even mean by “good” or “bad”? I couldn’t argue that any objective morality existed apart from our subjective experiences. Any moral laws that might objectively exist – whether or not anyone ascribes to them – would be beyond our grasp, and we would have no objective or rational reason to obey them if they did exist. Nothing mattered. This is Dennett’s “universal acid,” and Darwin’s ideas applied that acid to the human condition. If molecules led to cells, and cells to organs, and organs to bodies, then the “molecules-to-man” hypothesis was true. We really were just wet computers responding to external stimuli in mechanical and unconscious ways. No soul, no consciousness. Just machines. I was completely and utterly devastated. (pp. 4-5)

This led to some serious soul-searching, which included psychiatric counseling. His counselor was a Christian, and that intrigued him, so he read some intellectuals who found belief in God to be both rational and compelling. This caused him to doubt his atheistic view of science, and eventually, he became a Christian. The university at which he now teaches is a Christian university.

I have to say that I have never been impressed by the argument from morality, which is one of the issues he touches on in his quote above. I recognize that there are many who see it as the most convincing evidence for God’s existence, but it never swayed me as an atheist. Even now that I am a believer, I don’t see its power.

However, I do agree strongly with the last part of his quote. As I see it, if you believe that life is simply a collection of molecules whose interactions are guided by natural forces, there is no way you can believe in free will or consciousness. After all, if my brain is all there is to my mind, then there is no way for me to choose my beliefs or my actions. Indeed, my brain is simply a collection of cells, and those cells interact according to strict chemical and physical laws. There is no way to deviate from the outcomes required by those laws, so none of my actions or thoughts are my own. They are simply the consequences of the initial conditions of my brain and the interactions of its parts.

While this logical conclusion never convinced me to doubt my atheism (I was happy to be an automaton), I can see how it would cause others to do so. I thank God that it helped Dr. Rossiter to see the Light!

56 Comments

  1. Bill McClymonds says:

    I have never been an atheist so I am sure my perspective is different than anyone who is or has been an atheist. From my perspective, the most difficult part of the quote is the molecules to cells portion. The transition from a biologically sterile environment with absolutely no intellectual content to the first bacterial organism is a huge intellectual leap.

    A very interesting research project was done in 2012 by a group associated with the Venter institute. The group tried to simulate one reproductive cycle for one of the least complex single celled organisms we know about. The organism is Mycoplasma genitalium, which has one of the smallest genomes (genetic information content) of any bacterial organism in the world. The following is a quote by Markus Covert who was a bioengineer scientist on the project. “Right now, running a simulation for a single cell to divide only one time takes around 10 hours and generates half a gigabyte of data. I find this fact completely fascinating, because I don’t know that anyone has ever asked how much data a living thing truly holds.” The data Covert is referring to was generated by a cluster of 128 computers which ran for about 10 hours in order to generate the information necessary for one life cycle of the organism. I know Dr Wile has made reference to this research in the past.

    Half a gigabyte of data is a lot of data but there is probably much more that the organism is doing that we still do not understand and therefore cannot document. The total informational content of the organism would probably take hundreds of pounds of standard 8.5x 11 printer paper to document if we were able to fully document what the organism does in 10 hours. Based on this research, I think it would take at least a similar amount of data to describe the activity of early bacterial life that is supposed to have been present 3.5 billion or more years ago.

    Going from a sterile planet, with absolutely no intelligence, to an organism that has a huge amount of informational content in a very short period of naturalistic geological time seems highly implausible to me. Without some source of external intelligence to infuse the first bacterial organisms with huge amounts of information, the naturalistic community is left with nothing but highly speculative scenarios about the development of the first bacterial life on Earth. The other difficulty is that the information enclosed in the bacterial organisms contains DNA, which is the most brilliant informational coding system ever developed. Going from zero intelligence to brilliance so early in the proposed evolutionary development of the early Earth severely strains the credibility of the naturalistic evolutionary scenario for me.

    1. jlwile says:

      I did blog about the Mycoplasma genitalium research, Bill. It was the 128 computers that fascinated me the most. I agree that the biggest problem naturalists have is to get from non-life to life. As you say, it is clear that life requires information. In all our experience, information comes from intelligence. Thus, you must have an enormous amount of faith (blind faith, in fact) to believe that the vast amounts of information necessary for life came about in a way that is utterly different from anything we have observed scientifically.

  2. j. P. Moreland says:

    Dear Dr. Wile,

    I very much enjoyed and was edified by your well-written and important article. I have one suggestion for you. Many of us Christians who have Ph.D.s in philosophy find various moral arguments (there is no single argument) to be powerful and quite persuasive. May I suggest you read the last chapter and the appendix of my The Recalcitrant Imago Dei (SCM Press)? It will give you an overview of several components to an argument to the best explanation for God’s existence. Blessings, JP Moreland

    1. jlwile says:

      I must say, Dr. Moreland, it is an honor to have you comment on my humble blog. I have read several of your books, Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation being my favorite. While we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, I truly appreciate the rigorous intellect you bring to Christian philosophy. You have been a blessing to many, and I pray that you realize that!

      I have not read The Recalcitrant Imago Dei. I just ordered it, and I look forward to reading the entire thing, not just the sections you suggested.

  3. K. J. says:

    Perhaps his achievement seemed lesser and not of his own doing, if he had no soul or consciousness.

    I love reading these conversion stories on your website. Please keep them coming.

    1. jlwile says:

      I hadn’t thought of it that way, K. J. That’s very interesting.

  4. SJ says:

    I’m reading Dr. Rossiter’s book as well, and it is very interesting. It is the first I have seen that critiques theistic evolutionists on logical grounds, as opposed to engaging in a “proof text” war, for example. I particularly appreciate the way he analyzes Stephen Barr’s “God works through random chance” philosophy.

    I hope you will post further on your impressions of the book–it would also be very interesting to read responses from the theistic evolutionists that he critiques.

    1. jlwile says:

      I haven’t gotten to his analysis of Barr’s “God works through random chance” philosophy. I will be very interested in reading that!

  5. Wayne Rossiter says:

    Hi folks. I want to thank Jay for the review, even if it’s not really a review of the arguments my book makes. I want to fully agree with Jay on his view of the moral argument. I see it as a one-way street. Given the ambiguities and seeming lack of objective moral notions in the world, I think it is almost impossible to begin an argument under the assumption of objective moral laws. How would one prove them? Now, if we begin at the other end, and find reason to believe in the existence of God, then the objectivity of moral laws follows easily. That is to say, we can get objective morality from the existence of God, but not the existence of God from objective morality. Just my opinion.

    Wayne Rossiter

    1. jlwile says:

      Thank you very much, Dr. Rossiter!

  6. Keith says:

    I find it very interesting that Dr. Rossiter, as an atheist, wound up getting psychiatric counseling from a Christian. That just goes to show that you don’t have to be a pastor or a missionary to be involved in ministry. God can use “secular” fields like psychology just as well, if not better, sometimes.

    Also, I’d like to comment on Dr. Rossiter’s view on the moral argument, that it is a “one-way street”. He says that you can’t hold an assumption of objective moral laws from the outset, because of the “ambiguities and seeming lack of objective moral notions” in the world. I just don’t see this problem. Consider a moral statement such as “it is wrong to torture children for fun”. How many people would express “ambiguity” about agreeing with this statement? Any sane person is going to agree that yes, it is wrong to torture children for fun, in any time, place, or culture. In other words, they recognize an objective moral law or duty in this situation. Now Dr. Rossiter might protest “but how would you prove that there is such a reality?”. I would concede that you can’t prove that a realm of objective moral values and duties exist. However, you can’t prove that a realm of physical objects exists either! It is impossible to prove the existence of the physical world external to one’s own mind. Yet one believes that it exists because he perceives it, and he has no good reason to doubt his perception. My belief in an objective realm of moral values and duties is based on exactly the same principles. I perceive a moral reality in the statement “it is wrong to torture children for fun” beyond my own personal preference for un-tortured children. I have no reason to doubt that perception, as demonstrated by the fact that so many other people also perceive the same thing. Thus, while God is the best explanation for both the existence of moral realities and physical realities, one does not need to believe in Him beforehand in order to recognize either of these.

    1. jlwile says:

      I would have to disagree with you, Keith. First, you can certainly say that any “sane” person would agree that it is wrong to torture children for fun. However, there are people who would disagree with that statement. You would (correctly) say that means they are insane. However, that’s your diagnosis of them. It happens to be correct, but from their point of view, you are the insane one. Thus, there is at least some ambiguity there.

      Second (and more important), you might find some moral statements about which all “sane” people can agree, but there are LOTS of moral statements upon which “sane” people cannot agree. For example, I would say it is not moral to have sexual intercourse outside of marriage. You could find a lot of people (even some Christians) who would disagree with that statement. I suspect that there are more moral statements on which “sane” people disagree than there are moral statements one which “sane” people agree.

  7. Keith says:

    Dr. Wile, I agree with you that some insane people are unable to perceive the objective moral truth in the statement “it is wrong to torture children for fun”. But this does nothing undermine the belief of all sane people that there is such a moral truth. This is like saying that because some people are blind, and thus cannot perceive stars, this should undermine the belief of sighted people that stars exist. In both the case of moral values and stars, right-thinking people perceive the existence of a thing and have no good reason to doubt those perceptions. If other people are impaired and can’t perceive these things, well, that’s their problem.

    You protest that there are lots of moral statements that right-thinking people cannot agree on, but this is irrelevant. If there exists even one objective moral value or duty, then there is a moral dimension to reality that requires an explanation, just like the existence of the physical universe requires an explanation (and would still require an explanation even if it consisted of just one atom).

    1. jlwile says:

      I would still have to disagree, Keith. First, saying that “all sane people” agree with the statement that “it is wrong to torture children for fun” is much like saying that all real scientists believe in evolution, anthropogenic global warming, etc. It’s the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. I would agree with you that someone who thought it was okay to torture children for fun is insane. Once again, however, the person who thinks that probably doesn’t consider himself insane, and I might have a very hard time demonstrating his insanity, other than by the moral definition that you have given.

      More importantly, I disagree with the idea that because every sane person agrees on something, it must be an objective truth. Every sane person could agree that it is wrong to torture children for fun because evolution programmed us to care for the next generation, which is the future of our race. Those insane people who disagree are the “mutants” that natural selection needs to eliminate, and evolution has programmed us to recognize them as mutants and attempt to keep them from reproducing by calling them “insane.” Every sane person could agree to that because it’s one thing that all cultures do a really good job of instilling into us all. Those insane people who disagree are the ones willing to shed the subjective moral teachings of the culture.

      In addition, I believe in all sorts of objective truths that many (in some cases, most) people do not believe in. Thus, universal agreement has little to do with objective truth, just as “scientific consensus” has little to do with scientific truth.

      1. Keith says:

        I don’t think this is a case of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, Dr. Wile. I think the statement “all sane people perceive that it is wrong to torture children for fun” is analogous to the statement “all people with properly functioning vision can perceive light”. To determine the truth of these statements, we need to define what it means for a visual or moral sense to be properly functioning. From a naturalistic perspective, the only way to do that is to look at what is most normal or common among people. Since a large majority of people perceive light, it’s safe to say that they are the ones with properly functioning vision. Similarly, since a large majority of people perceive the moral truth in the statement about torturing children, it’s safe to say that they are the sane ones (sane here meaning “having properly functioning moral sense”).

        So how do we know that the perceptions of all these sane people reflect an objective moral truth? Here I would say again that if I perceive something, I am justified in trusting my perceptions to reflect objective truth unless I have some reason to think otherwise. I, along with most other sighted people, can perceive stars. In the absence of any reason to think that stars are an illusion (such as all my friends telling me that they cannot see stars), I trust my perception that they are real. I trust my moral perception about the wrongness of torturing children for the exact same reasons.

        Now you point out that an evolutionist might have reason to doubt his properly functioning moral senses. He might think that his moral senses can’t be trusted to reflect truth, since those senses were shaped by natural selection for their survival value. But I don’t think this is a very good objection. If his moral senses can’t be trusted because they evolved, then his physical senses can’t be trusted either, for they are just as much a product of evolution. If his reasons for thinking it is objectively wrong to torture children are undermined, then so are his reasons for thinking that a world of physical objects exists.

        1. jlwile says:

          By simply defining anyone who disagrees with your moral statement as insane, you are most definitely committing the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. You would need an object measure for insanity, and then you would have to show that anyone who disagrees with your moral statement can objectively be categorized as insane. Only then could you avoid the “no true Scotsman” fallacy when making the statement that all sane people agree with your moral position.

          The fact that “everyone” can perceive something doesn’t mean that it exists objectively. At one time, “everyone” agreed that phlogiston was a real gas and was responsible for combustion. In fact, they had many ways of perceiving this gas, and everyone agreed that it was real. By your definition, then, phlogiston was an objective truth. The problem is, we eventually learned that it doesn’t exist. At one time, “everyone” agreed that there was a worm in people’s teeth that caused dental cavities. Once again, there were demonstrated ways of perceiving this worm. However, the worm doesn’t exist. At one time, “everyone” agreed that the earth was motionless and everything else (sun, planets, stars) moved around it. Indeed, they had several ways of perceiving the earth’s lack of motion. Of course, that idea (which by your definition was an objective truth) is now known to be wrong. The fact that “everyone” agrees on something doesn’t make it an objective truth. It could just as easily be a falsehood that everyone believes.

          I didn’t make the statement that an evolutionist might have reason to doubt his moral senses. I am saying an evolutionist can make the strong argument that universal agreement among human beings doesn’t indicate objective truth. Instead, it indicates an instinct that evolution produced in us to increase the odds of our survival. That could make everyone agree to it without it being any kind of objective moral truth. It is simply a survival mechanism produced by evolution.

          I also indicated that every “sane” person could agree to a statement because it’s one thing that all cultures do a really good job of instilling into us all. Those “insane” people who disagree are the only ones willing to shed the subjective moral teachings of the culture.

          Once again, universal consent (even if it exists) doesn’t indicate objective truth.

        2. Keith says:

          I have a couple clarifying questions for you, Dr. Wile. First, why is it that my moral statement commits the No True Scotsman fallacy, but an analogous statement about properly functioning visual senses does not? Second, and more importantly, since you agree with me that the person who denies my moral statement is in fact insane, on what basis do you think that?

          I need to clarify something myself. I’m not saying that the fact that I perceive something proves that it exists- I’m saying it justifies belief that it exists. I believe that stars exist on the basis of perception, even though it is possible that new scientific discoveries might prove that stars are really just optical illusions. It’s the same in the case of phlogiston: belief that such a substance existed was justified until new evidence was discovered, which called earlier perceptions into question. And it’s the same with moral perceptions: unless some evidence or reason can be offered to show that these perceptions are wrong, right now I am justified in believing that they reflect objective truth.

          I am also definitely not saying that near-universal consent proves that a thing is true. I am saying that such consent shows that belief in a thing is normal for people with properly-functioning senses. This means that the burden of proof is on the one who wants to show that theses properly-functioning senses are actually not reflecting truth. It’s not enough to say that they CAN be wrong. After all, a scientist to could stimulate my brain to make me think I am seeing a tree, but this does nothing to show that my day-to-day perception of trees cannot be trusted.

        3. jlwile says:

          Your analogous statement is not analogous. It uses an objective measure – the ability to detect light. I can independently determine whether or not an eye is detecting light. Thus, I can categorize it as functioning or not without reference to the statement. Once again, if you want to use your statement that all sane people understand it is not right to torture children for fun, you must have an independent measure of sanity.

          I think people who disagree with the statement are insane because insanity is a culturally-defined concept. Thus, since culture says it is wrong to torture children for fun, those who disagree are, by definition, insane. However, this doesn’t help determine whether the statement is an objective, moral truth.

          I would agree that perception can justify a belief in existence, but I would disagree that the burden of proof is on those who don’t want to believe in objective moral truths. The only thing you have done is given an explanation for the perception. I have given two other explanations. So far, they all have equal weight, as they all explain the same phenomenon. Some would say my evolutionary explanation has more weight than your explanation or my alternate one based on culture, since they would say that evolution has supporting evidence and has been shown to produce strong instincts. If you want to give weight to your explanation, you have to come up with reasons to doubt my other two explanations and/or reasons to believe yours. You haven’t done so.

        4. Keith says:

          As an independent measure, what if I said that people with properly functioning moral sense (which is what I mean by “sane” in this conversation) understand that human life is intrinsically valuable? It would seem to follow from that that all sane people understand it is wrong to torture children for fun.

          If insanity is just a culturally defined concept, that means people who disagree with my moral statement are not really insane in the sense that something about them is not properly functioning. Rather, such people are just social misfits with unfashionable beliefs, on the same level as people who wear oddly-colored clothing in public. If such people were to become the majority (and thus define culture), it would no longer be insane to believe that torturing children for fun was acceptable. Instead, people like you and me would be the insane ones! In fact, according to your cultural definition of insanity, if you and I were to find ourselves stranded in culture that accepted torturing children, we would be rationally obligated to consider ourselves insane, because our culture has defined insanity.

          The idea that I, in the right culture, should consider my moral statement to be insane is absurd. Along with most other people, I can clearly perceive that it would be wrong to torture children for fun in any time, place, or culture.

          If I understand you correctly Dr. Wile, you agree with me that perception can justify belief in existence, but you think that in the case of moral values, it doesn’t, because there are two other explanations for the perception of moral values that have equal weight. I disagree. I have already shown in a previous post that the evolutionary explanation is self-defeating. If a perception cannot be trusted to reflect truth because it was evolved for survival value, then that means we cannot rely on any perceptions, including those that led us to believe the evolutionary explanation. I have just now shown that the cultural explanation is absurd, because it requires me to believe that under certain circumstances, I should consider myself insane for refusing to believe that torturing children for fun is acceptable. Thus, the best explanation for my perception of moral truths is that there are real moral truths out there which I am perceiving.

        5. jlwile says:

          Insanity is clearly a culturally-defined concept. There are people in other cultures who we would define as insane but people in the other cultures revere. I have actually met a shaman in Thailand. He is insane by any Western standard, but he is revered among the people in his village. You might think that it would be absurd to believe that your moral statement is wrong, but you haven’t given me any evidence to indicate that this is the case. You are completely convinced that torturing children for fun is wrong, so you find it absurd that anyone can believe differently. However, there are people who believe differently, and they probably think you are being absurd. The fact that you (and others) believe strongly in something doesn’t make it an objective fact.

          You claim that you showed the evolutionary view to be self-defeating, but you certainly didn’t. You said that the evolutionist was doubting his moral senses. That’s not the case at all. You now say, “If a perception cannot be trusted to reflect truth because it was evolved for survival value, then that means we cannot rely on any perceptions, including those that led us to believe the evolutionary explanation.” That’s simply incorrect. From an evolutionary point of view, the fact that it is wrong to torture children for fun is not a truth. It is simply a mechanism for species survival. This doesn’t affect the existence of other truths, such as the evolutionist’s belief in the truth of the evolutionary process. There are all sorts of mechanisms for species survival, and they have no effect on the existence of truth.

          I don’t think you understand me at all. Perception can justify belief in something, but in order for that belief to be demonstrated as true, it must be the best explanation for the perception. You can see stars, and the best explanation for that is that those stars actually exist. However, in this discussion, there are at least three (probably more) explanations for the fact that most people think it is wrong to torture children for fun. To an evolutionist, my evolutionary explanation is probably the best one. To others, yours might be the best one. To others, my cultural explanation might be the best one. Since you have produced no evidence to convince me that your explanation is the best one (even though I agree with your explanation), it clearly doesn’t demonstrate the existence of objective moral values.

  8. SJ says:

    I am finding this conversation to be very interesting. Dr. Wile, you stated, “Once again, universal consent (even if it exists) doesn’t indicate objective truth.” May I ask what, in your opinion, would indicate objective truth? Or would you say that, apart from the presumption of the existence of God, there can be no objective truth?

    1. jlwile says:

      Universal consent can’t possibly indicate objective truth, SJ, since there has been universal consent on things that we now know to be incorrect. Going the other way, I think the existence of God is an objective truth. However, there is no universal consent on that point. I don’t think the presumption of God is required to believe in objective truth. Indeed, most atheists agree with at least some objective truths, such as the truth that the earth orbits the sun. An objective truth is something that is true regardless of whether or not it is believed. I am sure there are some objective truths that I don’t believe, but with the help of Scripture and science (in that order), I think a person can end up believing in more objective truths than objective falsehoods.

      1. SJ says:

        Dr. Wile, if I am interpreting your definition of an objective truth correctly, given the example that you used of the earth orbiting the sun, than an objective truth is one that can be observed. Given that God cannot be observed, what is it that makes you think His existence is an objective truth?

        1. jlwile says:

          I am not sure an objective truth must be one that is observed, but there are many objective truths that can be observed. I think God is observable – indirectly of course. Indeed, Scripture tells us that all people know God through His handiwork (Romans 1:20). Of course, the fact that the earth orbits the sun is also observed indirectly.

  9. Sorry to bust in to this (I’m not really very sorry) but both of you (Keith and Dr Wile) have missed one very important point, which is the duality of the problem. The fact of the moral code (and its universality) is very easily demonstrated, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, by a few hours spent with the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.

    The moral code has been codified so often and in such diverse locations and cultures that we can examine and compare them. There we find all the same things, upon which all good men have always agreed – and this in an area of human experience which can be studied by a mere observer, without specialist equipment. Where there are discrepancies, they can be seen to be cultural blindnesses, because the morals don’t change – only their relative importance, and the cultures have weaknesses unseen in all the others. The discrepancies show up as such.

    Where an individual cannot understand a moral (torturing children in this case)this can been seen and recognised as a disfunction (insanity is too emotive a term).

    That this moral code is not naturally occurring can be seen by the fact that it is direct opposition to the observable “Laws of Nature”. The Law of Nature is the survival of the strong at the expense of the weak, whereas the moral code is the survival of the weak at the expense of the strong. The idea that the two are the same thing is ludicrous.

    But the kicker is the second aspect, which neither of you have brought out, which is that we have a perfectly functioning moral code which we cannot obey.

    Adam and Eve had one law, and it was too many.

    The fact of the moral code itself demands an explanation, but the fact that we have a moral code, and yet cannot obey it is apparently absurd. Monkeys all evolve to eat bananas, to which they are all allergic.

    As Christians we alone have an explanation, and it is an explanation to both sides of the paradox. One side, or another, can be explained (at least to the satisfaction of the explainer) but not both. It is in the paradox that the argument for the moral code as a proof of outside influence becomes irresistible.

    (As you can see, I was puzzled what to write under “Website” but do take the opportunity to “fan” the band!)

    1. jlwile says:

      Thanks for your comment, Robin. There is no need to apologize. I enjoy the discussion.

      This is why I think Lewis is a sloppy philosopher. To use the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics to indicate that there is a universal moral code is not reasonable. It doesn’t represent the thinking of all humanity. Instead, it represents a particularly western interpretation of the world, and it concentrates on those philosophies and religions that are considered influential. It tells us nothing about the universality of a moral code. Also, he too easily dismisses the many contradictions that exist within major religions, which are partly glossed over in said Encyclopaedia. One religion says that we must love our enemies, while another religion says we must kill our enemies. That’s a stark contradiction on a major issue, which indicates there is no universal moral code.

      I am not sure what you mean by “Monkeys all evolve to eat bananas, to which they are all allergic.” Monkeys are not allergic to bananas. Are you saying that evolution producing a moral code that we cannot obey is like animals evolving to eat things that they are allergic to? If so, I guess I would disagree. If an evolutionist agrees that there is a moral code, it is generally one to which most people agree, such as Keith’s statement that it is wrong to torture children for fun. The evolutionist would say that nearly everyone can obey that moral imperative, and those who do not are mutants. Thus, to the evolutionist, there is no indication of an outside moral code. There is just a code ingrained into us by evolution (for survival purposes), and those few who don’t obey are the mutants that will mostly be winnowed away by selection.

      Now, of course, I agree with you. There is an objective moral code, and our sinful nature keeps us from obeying it. To a Christian, this is obvious. To a non-Christian, it is not obvious at all.

  10. Keith says:

    (I’m going to make a new reply because I’m tired of seeing text indented ad nauseam)

    If insanity is a culturally defined concept, it would seem that not only my moral beliefs, but any of my beliefs could be insane if I were in a different culture. To me, it seems absurd to think that I should consider my own belief in a physical world external to my mind, or in logical truths like “A and not A cannot simultaneously obtain”, to be literally insane if I found myself surrounded by the right people. If you don’t find this absurd, Dr. Wile, then I would just agree to disagree with you on this point.

    It’s not clear to me how on your definition, the evolutionary explanation is not self-defeating. The evolutionist would claim that our belief that we perceive moral truths is just a survival mechanism, not an accurate reflection of truth. But why does he think this? If it’s because our belief that we can perceive moral truths is the product of natural selection, “ingrained into us by evolution for survival purposes”, then ALL of his beliefs are subject to the same criticism. The evolutionists belief that he can perceive logical and mathematical truths, as well as his belief that he can perceive physical objects, are traits which have been ingrained into him by evolution just as much as his moral perceptions have been. So unless the evolutionist wants to arbitrarily single out moral perceptions as not reflecting truth, his view seems very self-defeating.

    1. jlwile says:

      I guess we will have to agree to disagree on the point that insanity is culturally defined. Travel outside the U.S. for a while, especially in undeveloped countries. You will see people who are insane by Western standards but are revered in their community. That demonstrates insanity is culturally defined.

      The evolutionary mechanism for morality isn’t self-defeating, because the evolutionist who sees things this way doesn’t believe in moral truths. Thus, moral behavior doesn’t even overlap with what is defined as “true.” It is simply behavior, and behavior is neither true nor false. It simply is. This has no effect whatsoever in a person’s ability to perceive mathematical or scientific truths. An evolutionist knows that 2+2=4 is a truth, because the mathematics used to reach that truth are also used to build skyscrapers, airplanes, etc. Since those engineering marvels work, the underlying mathematics is true. In the same way, science is true because it yields the same results time and time again. In fact, to many evolutionists, the scientific truth of evolution tells him that there is no moral truth, only survival mechanisms.

      I think this is your big misunderstanding when it comes to how most people perceive morality. To most people, the concept of truth has no bearing on morality. Morality is simply behavior, and behavior is something that evolution has ingrained in us or society has drilled into us, or some combination of the two. There is no “true” or “false” to morality. This is one of the reasons, in my opinion, the argument from morality doesn’t work. There is simply no way to convince most people that there are moral truths. There are simply too many other plausible explanations for morality.

  11. Keith says:

    Right, I would agree with you that an evolutionist who holds the view you described does not see moral behavior as being connected with truth. So if I were to say to such a person, “I perceive various moral truths”, he would say “That belief is illusory; you just act in certain ways unrelated to truth”. This is the point at which I would say that for the same reasons that he thinks my moral perception is illusory, he should consider all his various perceptions illusory, and should consider all his feats of engineering etc., to be simple actions unrelated to truth.

    Now you say he can know mathematical and scientific truths on another basis, because feats of engineering work. But this is false. The fact that feats of engineering work does not prove that such truths exist; it presupposes them. In order to know facts like “this airplane needs 4 engines to stay airborne“, one must presuppose, among other things, that one’s current perception of this airplane is accurate. This includes trusting mathematical perceptions like “4 is a greater number than 1” and logical perceptions like “to be airborne means to be located at a certain position in space”. At best, feats of science and engineering show that our various mathematical and logical perceptions are consistent with one another, but this is not a sufficient condition to judge that they are true. After all, a fictional story could be entirely consistent within itself, and it would still be fiction.

    So if the evolutionists believes that my moral perceptions are illusory because they evolved (even if he claims to have no such perceptions himself), all of his own perceptions should be considered illusory as well. If he can build things on the basis of his own perceptions, that just shows they are both illusory and consistent with one another.

    Also, I find your statement that “there is simply no way to convince most people that there are moral truths” to be somewhat doubtful. Dr. William Lane Craig, who travels the country presenting various types of arguments for the existence of God, had said “In my experience, the moral argument is the most effective of all the arguments for the existence of God. I say this grudgingly because my favorite argument is the cosmological argument”. (On Guard, pg. 144) So it would seem that many people are actually readily convinced that there are moral truths.

    1. jlwile says:

      Keith, you are simply wrong about the way an evolutionist needs to look at truth. Moral actions are behaviors, and many evolutionists think that behaviors are programmed into us by evolution. Mathematical truths are not actions. Thus, evolution has no bearing on them. Scientific truths are not actions. Thus, evolution has no bearing on them. Also, the fact that mathematical truths are the basis of engineering and scientific truths are repeatable mean a lot more than that they are consistent. It means they are independently verifiable. Mathematics was invented for counting, dividing lands, etc. That is absolutely independent of describing the force that a load-bearing wall must hold. However, when you use mathematics to describe a load-bearing wall, it works perfectly. When you use mathematics to describe any physical situation, it works perfectly. That’s not consistency. That’s independent verification. In the same way, a scientific truth like “All objects retain their velocity until acted on by an outside force” can be independently tested hundreds of ways. Once again, that’s not consistency. That’s independent verification. Thus, the evolutionist need not believe in moral truths to believe in mathematical or scientific truths. The former has no relationship to the latter.

      You are right about my statement regarding convincing people that there are moral truths. It was wrong, because there are many people who can be convinced by poor philosophy. What I should have said is that there is no way to demonstrate the existence of moral truths, because there are many possible explanations for morality, and there is no rigorous way to demonstrate that the existence of absolute moral truth is the proper explanation.

  12. Keith says:

    Dr. Wile, evolution most certainly does have a bearing on mathematical and scientific truths. According to the evolutionist, everything about a person, including both their actions and their beliefs, is ultimately the product of evolution. If an evolutionist believes that he can perceive certain truths, then he must believe that this ability evolved.

    I disagree with you that feats of science and engineering show their underlying truths to be independently verifiable. Consider one scientific truth that everyone acknowledges: the reality of an external world of physical objects, independent of one’s own mind. How do feats of science and engineering provide “independent verification” of this? All of these feats are accomplished in the physical word, which means we cannot believe they really occurred unless we presuppose a physical world. Once again, such feats merely show that our various perceptions are consistent with each other. And no amount of consistent perceptions, internal to my perception of a physical world, provides independent verification that a physical world exists.

    1. jlwile says:

      Keith, evolution most certainly doesn’t have any bearing on mathematical or scientific truths, because those truths are independently verifiable. It doesn’t matter how one acts or what one does, mathematics and science can be independently and repeatably verified. Thus, evolution has no bearing on them whatsoever.

      The reality of an external world of physical objects is neither a mathematical nor a scientific truth. It is an assumption. Indeed, all of this could be a figment of some disembodied imagination. However, most people are happy to make the assumption that the external world is physically real. We cannot verify that this assumption is true; however, once we make that assumption, we can then test mathematical and scientific truths discovered for this assumed physical world. Since those truths are independently verifiable, they exist regardless of whether or not evolution has occurred.

  13. Keith says:

    I was thinking about this conversation last night, Dr. Wile, and a funny thought occurred to me. You agree that there are objective moral truths (I take it that is what you mean by “objective moral code”). So, when some non-Christian becomes convinced that such truths exist, you would say he’s correct in this new belief! It’s just that in your view, he has come to this correct conclusion through incorrect reasoning. But if he becomes a Christian on the basis of this idea, then he’s in a position to recognize the truth of it. What an ironic, by-your-own-bootstraps method of getting saved!

    Anyway, it still seems to clear to me that evolution is strongly tied to truths of every variety. Even if some truths can be independently and repeatable verified, the cognitive faculties that enable an evolutionist to understand the concept of verification are themselves the product of evolution. No matter how far back you go, everything ultimately hinges on evolution’s ability to produce faculties that can accurately perceive truth.

    I grant your point that once we assume a physical world is real, various other truths become independently verifiable. At this point I would just ask, what justifies making that assumption, since it cannot be verified? For me, the justification is that I very strongly perceive a physical world, and there are no equally strong reasons to doubt that perception. And as I said earlier, that’s also my rational for believing in moral truths. So on what basis does the evolutionist say that my belief in the physical world is justified, but my belief in moral truths is not? It’s no good to insist that evolution is only about behavior. If that’s the case, then the evolutionist can only explain away my behavior, not my beliefs, as the survival-geared products of evolution. And since, as I pointed out earlier, many people readily believe in moral truths, it’s the belief that needs to be explained.

    1. jlwile says:

      Keith, you couldn’t be more incorrect. If a non-Christian becomes convinced that moral truths exist, he has not used incorrect reasoning. He has just chosen what I consider to be the best explanation for the existence of moral behaviors. The only incorrect reasoning is to claim that the existence of moral truths is philosophically demonstrable. As I have repeatedly said, there are alternate explanations for the existence of moral behaviors, and there is no objective reasoning that puts one above the other.

      When it comes to being saved, of course, people get saved for lots of incorrect reasons! I have a friend who I look up to spiritually, and he got saved when he heard the obviously false story that an oil rig had drilled deep enough into the earth to reach hell. As the story goes, the people working the drill heard wailing and gnashing of teeth. That totally false story convinced him that hell was real and that he needed to be saved. Nowadays, of course, he knows the story is false, but he still credits it for giving him the final “nudge.”

      Once again, you are wrong about evolution being strongly tied to truth. Many truths can be independently verified and are therefore not at all dependent on how we all got here. When something can be independently verified, your perception is not part of the evaluation.

      I would think that most naturalist evolutionists would make the assumption that the physical world is real simply because they believe that is all there is. I would think that the physical world being a figment of some disembodied imagination smacks too much of supernaturalism for most naturalists.

      I agree that many people believe in moral truths, and that behavior needs to be explained. We have discussed three such explanations:

      1. Absolute moral truths exist.

      2. Evolution instills moral behavior for survival, and that leads some uniformed people to think they believe moral truths when, in fact, they are just behaving according to their instincts.

      3. There are a few specific behaviors that are so well-ingrained by society that only those who society deems insane would avoid them.

      There is no philosophical way to distinguish which is the better explanation. This is why to me, the argument from morality fails, despite the fact that I would love to believe it!

  14. Bill McClymonds says:

    There has been a lot of very interesting philosophy in this discussion so I thought I would throw in a little science. Neuroscience researcher Robert Mark has an estimate on his marclab.org web site that there are more than 10^300,000 different ways that the human brain could possibly be connected or wired. Based on that number, I don’t understand how any naturalist could believe he or she has a brain that functions reliably if it was constructed naturalistically. Natural selection can select for a trait once it exists, but it cannot wire or rewire a brain initially.

    So what is my point in this discussion. Simply that any naturalist who believes his or her brain reflects reality should immediately abandon naturalism and start believing that someone or something more intelligent than naturalistic evolution created his or her brain. With all of the possible ways to wire a brain wrong, it would be miraculous beyond belief to expect that your personal brain had been wired in a reasonably functional manner by any process without any external intelligence. Read that number again. Over 10^300,000 ways to wire a human brain. The number is simply mind boggling. The actual number of connections is much smaller, but the possibility for incorrectly wiring the existing connections is staggering.

    Dr Wile has been discussing the confidence those who believe in naturalism have in the reliability of their brain to understand math, science, etc. I think the two concepts (belief in naturalism and confidence that your brain is reliable) are mutually exclusive. In order to have any confidence in the reliability of your brain it is necessary to abandon the naturalistic scenario for human brain development. Anyone who has enough intelligence to understand math, and also realize their brain has been wired reasonably correctly, should have enough intelligence to understand that the odds of them personally having a reasonably reliable brain that developed naturalistically are absurdly improbable.

    Thanks for letting me comment. Now back to the philosophy.

    1. jlwile says:

      I would have to disagree with you as well, Bill. Certainly there are a dizzying number of ways the brain can be connected. However, I do think that the naturalist can make the argument that natural selection would favor those connections that produce a realistic set of perceptions. After all, realistic perceptions and the ability to come to realistic conclusions will make you more survivable. In the end, then, the only survivable brain is the one that has realistic perceptions.

      You have essentially given Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalistism, whith which I disagree.

  15. Bill McClymonds says:

    Keith and Dr Wile, I was enjoying your discussion so I hope this won’t get you too much off topic. I thought both of you made some very good points.

    Dr Wile, If I understand correctly, You seem to have great confidence that natural selection could somehow find a brain that had reasonably correct connections and then reproduce the individual with that brain. My point was that with all the combinatorial possibilities for assembling an incorrect brain it would be absurdly improbable for some undirected process to find a reasonably reliable human brain in the first place. Even if you start with a basic primate brain and try to develop a human brain from that point, I don’t think it is reasonable to assume copying mistakes (mutations) could accomplish that process. Copying mistakes we are currently familiar with in the brain are called brain tumors.

    I am not even conceding that a process that starts with no intelligence could even get to DNA, so I certainly do not concede that it could develop a primate brain. Remember, the evolutionary process starts with absolutely no intelligence. Somehow that zero external intelligence has to both produce the brilliance of the DNA molecule relatively quickly and then progressively develop the most complex thing we know about in the universe – the human brain.

    The other thing to consider about the connections in the brain is that each one of them is an extremely complex micro processing center for neurochemical information transfer. You can check out any detailed neurochemistry textbook about the synapse to confirm that statement. One book I found on line was 801 pages only about the synapse. It is not a simple off-on switch as many people used to think that it was. It is one of the most complex micro structures we know about. As a chemist, you should appreciate the difficulty of organizing information into a complex miniaturized neurochemical communication pathway.

    Plantinga’s argument is a purely philosophical argument so I don’t agree that it is the same argument. I also disagree with you that it is not a reasonably good argument. That is Just our difference of opinion. As I stated in one of our other discussions about the argument, If you start with absolutely no intelligence instead of a frog or other somewhat developed creature, Plantinga’s argument becomes much stronger for me. I don’t think it is necessary to pursue that line of discussion further because I think we will simply continue to disagree.

    1. jlwile says:

      Bill, I don’t “have confidence that natural selection could somehow find a brain that had reasonably correct connections and then reproduce the individual with that brain.” I don’t think evolution can even produce a brain, partly because of the issues of complexity that you raised. However, you discussed what naturalists should do if they think their brain conforms to reality. Since naturalists believe that evolution can produce a brain, I simply told you how a naturalist would argue the point.

      In addition, the naturalist would start much earlier than a primate brain. The naturalist would say that when the first two neurons linked up to form the most primitive information processing center, the connection would be naturally selected to be one that produces instincts that are centered in reality. If a simple organism had two neurons that could properly perceive a real stimulus and use that perception to produce an action that conforms to reality, that organism would be more likely to survive. As evolution continued, each additional increase in complexity would be naturally selected to produce an information-processing center that conforms to reality, so in the end, even though there are a mind-boggling number of possible connections in the human brain, natural selection winnowed out the vast, vast majority of them, because unrealistic perceptions and unrealistic conclusions make the organism less likely to survive.

  16. Keith says:

    That story about your friend and the oil rig gave me a good laugh- I’m going to remember that one.

    I have some academic work coming up which I need to give my full attention to, so this will be my last reply.

    I guess I’d just have to agree to disagree with you that “when something can be independently verified, your perception is not part of the evaluation.” To me, that sounds like saying “when two things can be measured, the accuracy of the measuring tool is not part of the evaluation.”

    Finally, I find Plantinga’s argument very convincing (though I haven’t made any points based on it) so I’d just like to encourage Bill McClymonds to look it up and judge the argument for himself.

    Thanks for taking the time to interact with me Dr. Wile; it was a very stimulating discussion!

    God Bless

    1. jlwile says:

      I have appreciated the discussion, Keith. We obviously disagree, but it is nice to consider your alternative view. Not surprisingly, I don’t agree with your analogy, because in human perception, no two people are using the same measuring tool. They each have their own perceptions, and they each have their own ways of testing mathematical and scientific truths. They can also use those mathematical truths and scientific truths to make predictions which can also be independently verified. Thus, this is nothing like everyone using the same measuring tool.

  17. Bill McClymonds says:

    Dr Wile, I do understand that a naturalist would start with a very simple creature. I only used the primitive primate illustration to show that it is absurdly improbable to go from a primitive primate brain to a human brain. Going from a couple neurons to the primitive primate brain and then to a human brain would be even more difficult. As I have stated previously, the naturalist would first have to provide evidence that something with zero intelligence could produce the DNA code before I would concede the possibility of even a bacterial organism.

    Another quote from the marclab.org web site that I referenced earlier follows. “A Cray Titan running since the beginning of time could not compute the brains possible networks”. The Cray Titan is not the fastest computer anymore, but it is pretty fast. This is a further illustration of the difficulty any natural process would have in assembling a functional human brain. We are talking about a supercomputer running since the beginning of time. This is factual information from a neuroscience researcher.

    What you have suggested for a naturalist reply is that two neurons will eventually turn into something like a worm neural network, which will eventually progress to a human brain. My reply to that type of answer would be to tell the person – that is a great story, but show me the math. Show me the numbers in the human population lineage and the numbers of years available and the numbers of neurons and synapses to be added in those years. Once those figures were calculated I would expect some reasonable explanation of the way the naturalist expected to accomplish the addition of said brain circuitry out of all the incorrect possibilities that exist for brain wiring. After finishing that explanation, a detailed explanation of the naturalistic development of the neurochemistry within the synapse would be helpful. Beyond that, it would be nice to have an explanation of how neurochemistry can store and transmit information and allow us to communicate that information in writing or verbally a well as having memory storage function. Not just stories – details.

    PhD chemist James Tour has had a public challenge to other chemists for over 8 years to explain to him in detail how macroevolution could occur. He feels that is a much easier challenge than asking anyone to explain the origin of first life. In the eight years after the challenge was publicly posted, no one was able to answer his challenge. Many gave simple explanations like the one you suggested, but no one wanted to sit down and talk to him in detail about how macroevolution could occur. I do remember Dr Tour saying someone wanted to film a meeting with him which he did not want to do. He just wanted an explanation. When the person learned Dr Tour was not interested in a film session, the person promised to send a detailed explanation of chemical evolution. Over a year later Dr Tour had not received that document. To paraphrase Dr Tour, In biology it is easy to give an explanation when you are flying at 30,000 feet. The difficulty is when you get down to the details.

    In conclusion, I would like to say that I understand that you are simply trying to represent the naturalist position accurately. I clearly understand that I am not trying to convince you of my arguments. I also think there are many people in the naturalist camp or who do not have as extreme views as those you present. There are also those who may be considering leaving Christianity because of all the militant atheist arguments they have heard. I think those individuals not yet deeply rooted in naturalism are more likely to be influenced by the arguments I have presented.

    1. jlwile says:

      I understand all that, Bill. However, your initial point was that you can’t expect evolution to produce a brain that is consistent with reality. Your argument was based on the number of connections in the brain. I simply pointed out that such an argument isn’t valid, because selection would be expected to winnow away any connections that did not give an accurate reflection of reality. We know that selection produces specific behaviors. Those behaviors will aid survival when they are based on an accurate perception of the world. Thus, if an evolutionist believes that evolution can produce a brain, it is quite simple for him to believe that the brain evolution produces will be give an accurate perception of the world. This whole idea that evolutionists can’t trust their brain if they believe in evolution is simply not reasonable, as it isn’t consistent with the evolution in which these people believe.

      Now, the proper way to attack the idea that evolution can produce a brain is what you are doing now. The architecture and computing power of the brain, not it’s ability to produce an accurate perception of the world, is what evolution can’t explain.

  18. Bill McClymonds says:

    Dr Wile, Natural selection could not re-wire a brain or a neural network. It could only select from those brains or networks that already existed. Something other than natural selection would have to create enough creatures with different brains so that natural selection would have a choice of options. Natural selection could not winnow away something that wasn’t there.

    I am not aware of any naturalistically proposed options for brain development that rely on intelligence of any sort. The naturalist is thus relying on a process with a total lack of intelligence and a total lack of foresight to construct a human brain – through a process of mistakes or copying errors. The construction of said brain involves not only connecting trillions of neurochemical connections in a reasonably accurate manner, but also requires the creation of a system to acquire, store, transmit and retrieve information. In addition Given that there are over 10^12 actual connections in the human brain and over 10^300,000 possible ways to arrange those connections, it simply seems illogical to me to expect a process with no intelligence to accomplish the task.

    If someone wants to believe it is reasonable to develop both the most brilliant informational coding system (DNA) and the most complex thing in the universe (the human brain) by way of a process with absolutely no intelligence – I can’t control what that person believes. Scripture already tells us that everyone knows there is a God in Romans chapter 1. Again, according to scripture, Those who deny Him are simply suppressing the truth of His existence.

    1. jlwile says:

      And that’s exactly the point, Bill. Natural selection doesn’t have to rewire the brain. It simply needs to select, at each step, the brain that is the most survivable. That will lead to a brain that perceives reality. Once again, the 10^300,000 possible ways to arrange the connections in the human brain are irrelevant, since natural selection is never presented with that many choices. When the first two neurons were produced in a connected way, natural selection had only 2 choices. The one that produced the most realistic instincts would be the one selected. That formed the basis of the next step in complexity, which once again, presented natural selection with a limited number of choices. In each step along the way, natural selection simply selects among a small number of choices, and because a brain that perceives reality produces the most survivable organism, that brain will be the one that survives to be the basis of the next step in complexity.

      If evolution can produce a brain, it will produce one that perceives reality, because at each step along the way, that results in the most survivable organism.

  19. Bill McClymonds says:

    My point was that the process necessary to rewire the brain has to be explained. It is like rewiring a light switch. Sounds pretty simple when you just have one circuit. The more circuitry you add, the more difficulty an intelligent electrical engineer would have in rewiring the existing circuitry to produce a functional electrical system.

    With evolution there is nothing intelligent doing the rewiring. It has to do a random search through a vast sea of possible options. Again, someone is welcome to believe that happens but I continue to think it is illogical.

    1. jlwile says:

      Once again, Bill, in the hypothesis of evolution, there is no rewiring. There is only selection of changes in the wiring. Each time a more complex brain with more connections is produced, natural selection will choose the one that results in a more survivable animal. Clearly, the brain that has the most realistic perception of reality will be the one that makes the organism more survivable. Thus, if evolution can produce a brain (and I don’t think it can), it will produce the one that provides the most realistic view.

  20. Bill McClymonds says:

    Thanks for the reply Dr wile. I do appreciate your time and your input in this discussion.

    You wrote about each time a more complex brain with more connections is produced. That process does not involve natural selection. The more complex brain has to be in place in order for it to be selected. I agree that the brain is an extremely complex organ. Even the two nerve cells you suggested as a starting point for the brain would minimally have to involve at least one synaptic connection. That would make even the simplest “brain” a complex functional biological information processing system. Whatever process a naturalist chooses to alter the existing system would be completely without intelligence or foresight according to my understanding of the naturalistic theory of evolution.

    Please give me an example from the real world of something – anything – without intelligence that can progressively improve the content of any existing complex functional information processing system. Perhaps you are aware of something, I am not. If you cannot think of any such example in the real world, I think it is unrealistic to expect a process lacking intelligence and that depends on mistakes or copying errors to accomplish that purpose.

    I doubt you will think of a process – without intelligence – that progressively develops or improves more complex functional information processing systems in the real world. Because of that, I will even allow you to involve something with some intelligence in the progressive improvement of a complex functional information processing system. You can have a chimpanzee to help. Now you have an agent with some intelligence to aid in the developmental process. Do you think it is more or less likely that the chimp will improve whatever complex information processing system you assign him to work on. In the real world, the chimp would eventually make a mess of the existing information processing system. It would not progressively increase in complexity, it would simply be broken.

    1. jlwile says:

      I agree with you completely, Bill. Without intelligence, you can’t produce produce a complex, functional information processing system. However, that has nothing to do with the statement you originally made. You originally said that you can’t expect evolution to produce a brain that is consistent with reality. Your argument was based on the number of connections in the brain. I simply pointed out that such an argument isn’t valid, because selection would be expected to winnow away any connections that did not give an accurate reflection of reality.

  21. Jaegwon says:

    I must confess I don’t understand your opposition to the moral argument.

    Here is the basic moral argument in both an ontological and epistemological form (I am framing it as an argument against naturalism rather than an argument for God because I think this is a more modest and a more defensible formulation):

    1. If naturalism were true, moral facts would not exist and moral knowledge would be undercut

    2. Moral facts exists and moral knowledge obtains

    Therefore,

    3. Naturalism is false.

    By “naturalism” I am defining it in the sense that J.P. Moreland does in some of his works because I think this is the closest to what actual naturalists embrace—namely, the conjunction of three theses: (1) Darwinism concerning universal and human origins, (2) physicalism concerning ontology, and (3) scientism concerning epistemology. By “moral fact” I mean something like a genuine moral obligation.

    Given this setup, I don’t understand what your problem with the argument is supposed to be. Is your problem with one of the premises—i.e., you yourself personally reject one of the premises or find one of them implausible? It doesn’t appear that you reject the first premise because you yourself have argued that under naturalism we have an alternative story that can account for our moral beliefs and behavior without committing ourselves to embracing genuine moral facts. At the least, this seems to undercut our moral knowledge because under naturalistic assumption we now have a wedge severing the causal link between our belief in p and the fact that p.

    Do you then deny the second premise? Are you a moral skeptic or nihilist of some sort? That seems to be a very strange view (to put things mildly) for a Christian to hold. Again, you seem to be denying this throughout this discussion, but it is unclear to me. I get the uncomfortable feeling that there is an undercurrent of scientism behind your objection (based on the phrases like “objective measure,” which is only relevant if one believes that a person cannot have basic, direct knowledge of moral truth). If you accept both premises, however, what remains for you to object?

    Perhaps your problem is with the *persuasive* force of the argument—i.e., you think the argument won’t be very successful at convincing naturalists that their view is false. Maybe that is true and maybe it isn’t, but I find it difficult to believe that a *creationist* would fault an argument on this point; after all, many scientists will fail to be persuaded by whatever arguments or evidence creationists and ID supporters will make—indeed, some dismiss whatever they say out of hand—but that hardly has relevance to the cogency of the arguments themselves. What is the difference here then? If at least some naturalists feel the force of morality—a reasonable assumption given how morally unctuous many of them, including Dawkins, happens to be, much less those naturalists who actually work in areas such as human rights law or political philosophy—the argument has the potential to persuade them regardless of their verbal denials to the contrary. Of course this issue raises all sorts of further interesting philosophical issues, but I want to be sure I understand what you are saying before proceeding further.

    1. jlwile says:

      Thanks for your comment, Jaegwon. As you have constructed the argument, my problem is with premise #1. It is not clear to me moral facts wouldn’t exist if naturalism is true. Now I am not a naturalist, but I used to be, and I never had a problem with the existence of moral facts in a naturalistic world. After all, culture can instill moral facts. Sure, that means moral facts change with changing culture, but when I was a naturalist, that didn’t bother me.

      Even when I was a naturalist, I wasn’t keen on evolution, but since most naturalists today are evolutionists, they could also argue that moral facts can be produced by evolution. After all, humans are survivable because they band together in groups, and those groups are held together by morality.

      Now, if you want to change premise #1 to say that under naturalism, there would be no absolute moral truths, I would agree with that, and I think most naturalists would. However, they would then disagree that absolute moral truths exist (which is what premise #2 would have to say). To the atheists that I read (and I still read a lot of them), moral facts exist, but none of them are absolute. They are either culturally instilled or instilled by evolution. If the former, when culture changes, moral facts change. If the latter, over generations, new survival challenges could produce new moral facts.

      1. Jaegwon says:

        Thanks for your reply, Dr. Wile. That makes a lot of sense; moreover, I think I now see where the confusion lies: the proponents of the moral argument and the naturalists do indeed have, as you recognize, distinct understandings of “moral fact.” The naturalist is using that term to denote a form of behavior, while the proponent of the moral argument is using it to denote an actually existing part of reality, one that is independent of our own culture or beliefs or attitudes and which makes true (or false) our moral claims about reality.

        On this view, which I like to call moral objectivism, when someone claims that “terrorism is bad” or “I should not cheat because it is wrong” he or she is making truth-claims that are made true by facts which are as much a part of reality as facts about mountains or quarks. This is indeed very close to your idea of “absolute moral truth,” but I think that term has certain unfair connotations that distort the issue (e.g., some people equate “absolutism” with psychological claims about “dogmatism” or epistemic claims of our level of certainty) but the important point is that this view commits one to the reality of normative facts that exist independently of our attitudes and culture and beliefs.

        Now, the moral argument construed this way could be a perfectly sound and cogent argument even if some people do not see its force. Even there, as far as persuasion is concerned, I still think the moral argument can be effective. If the only reason the naturalist can provide for rejecting the second premise is his naturalism itself, then someone who feels the force of that premise may be motivated to investigate whether an alternative worldview is capable of both grounding that premise and preserving whatever good aspects naturalism possesses. The argument forces such people to confront the logical costs of their worldviews. Even if that only causes them to consider some non-naturalistic alternative or take it more seriously than they would have otherwise, it will have served its purpose. It may not persuade everyone, but since different people are persuaded by different arguments, it isn’t necessarily a failure when an argument only convinces one class of persons but not another.

        On that note, have a wonderful day (night?).

        1. jlwile says:

          You make a very good point when you say, “…it isn’t necessarily a failure when an argument only convinces one class of persons but not another.” I think I dismiss the moral argument because it would not have convinced me when I was a naturalist, and many of the naturalists I read are not persuaded by it in the least. However, as you say, that’s not necessarily a failure.

          I am very glad that the moral argument persuades some people, or at least makes them more open to non-naturalistic possibilities.

  22. Bill McClymonds says:

    You agreed with my last post Dr Wile, so I am having difficulty understanding your reply. In an earlier post I said natural selection cannot wire or rewire a brain initially. I explained why I made that statement in the last post, and you agreed with me. If something dumber than a chimpanzee is doing the wiring, it doesn’t make any sense to believe that the unintelligent process could progressively wire over 10^12 connections and still produce a reasonably reliable brain. Since there are over 10^300,000 possible ways to wire those connections by the time the human brain is hypothetically produced, it just isn’t logical. Natural selection can’t find a more reliable brain if one isn’t available to select.

    Let the chimp start with two neurons and try to add some additional circuitry. Let’s even say that by some crazy wild lucky process the chimp assembles a neural network for a worm that is then selected by natural selection. Now the chimp has an improved neural network to work with. What are the chances that he will improve that network now that it is more complex. He now has a huge number of possible ways to add (or subtract) neurons and synapses. There are an overwhelming number of ways he could alter the network in a negative manner rather than improving it. Remember, we are dealing with a complex biological information processing system. Trying to improve said system without reasonably intelligent outside input is illogical. If the chimp is outputting junk – there will only be junk to select from. In the case of the worm neural network, it came in working and goes out broken.

  23. Bill McClymonds says:

    In order to clarify what I mean by rewiring, I mean any change or alteration in the wiring of the developing brain. There are two processes involved. The first one must create the initial two neurons and progressively alter those neurons. The second is natural selection. I am saying the first process doesn’t work when dealing with any complex functional biologic information processing system. Since the first process doesn’t work, neither can the second because it is dependent on the first. Hopefully this will clarify what I am trying to explain.

    1. jlwile says:

      Thanks for your clarification, Bill. I think I misunderstood your argument. You seemed to be arguing that natural selection could not produce a brain that gives its owner a realistic perception of the world around him. What I think you are trying to say is that the brain is too complex for any naturalistic process to produce it. I would certainly agree with that. However, if there were some unknown way that a naturalistic process could produce a brain, one would expect that the resulting brain would provide a realistic perception of the world, as natural selection would tend to select for such brains.

  24. Bill McClymonds says:

    Thank you for the reply Dr Wile. I also think you misunderstood what I was trying to communicate. Sorry that I wasn’t more clear initially.