Thursday, September 28, 2006

Jim Benton on Creationism

The Sage of Brooklyn graces this blog with another cool guest entry.
Even If They Are Right They're Wrong
Another Fallacy of "Intelligent Design"

By Jim Benton

I can have a certain respect for honest creationists -- at least the ones that don't claim that evolution is a lying plot of evil godless scientists. We skeptics call them illogical, but that's not quite correct. Their logic is perfectly good, the problem is in their premises. ("Garbage In, Garbage Out" isn't just for computers, it's a general rule for life.)

They simply accept as a premise that the Bible is the word of God, and therefore has to be correct. If other evidence seems to support a long-lived earth and evolution, then sooner or later better evidence will be discovered that will resolve this contradiction. It's actually a perfectly good piece of reasoning.

More to my point, if there were ever to be evidence that the Universe is younger (and smaller) than we believe, that there is a better explanation for the fossil record that would allow it to have been created in a short time, and that species were immutable, then their case would be proven that there was a creator-god. Throw in proof of the Noachian Flood, find the pillar of salt that was Lot's wife and the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah (poor Gomorrah, they always get the short end of the publicity stick. When's the last time you ever heard of anyone being condemned as a Gomorrhaite?) and the bodies of a whole army of Egyptians in full battle array underneath the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds, or anywhere) and presto, you've gone a good way towards establishing the literal truth of the Bible and therefore the existence of the god who wrote it.

Of course the chance of this happening is a good deal less than the likelihood that the six typing monkeys will ever complete their task.

Intelligent Design people are different, because -- where they are not simply creationists who lie a lot (most of them are) -- their argument, even were it to be successful, doesn't prove what they want it to prove. They are arguing that the complexity of the Universe proves the existence of a Creator, and that theism is therefore true. For the time being give them the first part of it. Give them the proof of a Creator.

This goes not one step towards proving the existence of any theistic god, and especially not the one they are, in reality, trying to demonstrate. Deism is a perfectly legitimate position. In fact, in a future post, I'll demonstrate that there is no operational difference, no way of distinguishing between the following:
  • a self-existent Universe,
  • a deistic Creator,
  • a theistic Creator who is still biding his time to communicate with humanity,
  • a theistic Creator whose concern is with the inhabitants of, say, Mizar 7, and who views humanity merely as an unnecessary and unnoticed by-product of his creation, or
  • the "New Agey" concept of "creator and creation being identical", of the Universe as god and god as the Universe.
To establish a theistic god, like the IDers want to do, does not require, and cannot be done through, reasoning.

There are many arguments that attempt it -- unfortunately, a close look at them shows a presupposition for a Universe consisting of Earth and a few lights going around it, a geocentric Universe, and man being co-existent with this Universe. Those that accept to expand this, to argue that the Universe is as big and as old as it is, but that we are the only thinking creatures in it, and thus the only ones worthy of God's attention, fail because they are unable to demonstrate why God needed to be as extravagant as to create a billion galaxies of a billion suns each just for us. Or, if the argument is that there are many races each of whom worship the same god, the trouble is that he also put in that damned speed of light limitation. Until we get round that, we will probably never be able to reach other inhabited planets, and almost certainly never reach another galaxy, so again, why bother with the superfluity of them?

We can't argue our way to a theistic god. A theistic god -- whether a monotheistic creator or just one of the Olympians, Asgard, or whatever -- is one that has interacted with humanity, and the only way to demonstrate that is through evidence. There are plenty of claimed interactions, but none with proof. (And certainly some that are implausible on their face.)

Okay, let me put this as a challenge. There are five key claimed interactions with a god that are the basis of a major religion. Anybody want to give some way of demonstrating that any of these took place?
  • Moses' conversations with God during his lifetime and specifically on Sinai.
  • Paul's vision of the Son of God "on the road to Damascus."
  • Zoroaster receiving the Avesta at the foot of a mountain directly from the hands of God.
  • Mohammed having the Qur'an dictated to him by an angel sent by God.
  • Joseph Smith being guided to the brass plates by God and having them translated by an angel.
And, for the theists out there, if any: remember that you not only have to prove that one of these events took place, you have to prove that the being that interacted with humans was identical with the Creator, and not a demon, a Go'a'uld, or another type of impostor.

(Of course, it is possible to disprove some of these by proving another interaction that, if not central, is confirmatory. Thus it is demonstrable that if any "cure" at Lourdes is authentically the action of God, this makes the idea of the Qur'an untenable. Or it makes God a capricious liar, which also eliminates theism, but that's another article. Any miracle, vision, or other interaction that testifies to the existence of the Christian god which took place in the last century rules out Mormonism, Islam, and Zoroastrianism as well as Judaism. I keep on including Zoroastrianism, not just because I like to show off, but because many of the concepts of both Christianity and Islam in fact seem to have been imported from Persian monotheism and not from Judaism, no matter what is claimed. Satan, for example is much closer to the adversary of the Ahura Mazda than the Old Testament character.)

Similarly, of course, any authentic "Jewish miracle" or revelation rules out the others. Certainly it is possible to accept a progression of revelations, but once a new one comes along, the old ones must be absorbed or thrown out. The idea of a god sitting back and saying, "Oh, we haven't given the Christians a boost for a few years, let's do a miracle for them, then next month we'll toss a vision to the Muslims, and hey, there are still some Zoroastrians in Gujarat, let's give them something too" makes God a liar. Oops! No, the idea that "we all worship the same god in different ways" is only possible if the god we all worship doesn't exist.
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Blogger Martha said...

I'm baffled at the notion that you should even try to prove there is a God. Isn't it the nature of the divine that it is transcendent and experiential and can't be proven? It seems absurd to me to take sacred texts literally, and absurd that anyone should have to waste their time arguing the issue. I think any kind of literal minded fundamentalism misses the point entirely.

29 September, 2006 18:15  
Blogger Martin said...

You know, Martha, I don't mean to offend you, but that sort of suggests that you aren't a religious fundamentalist.

29 September, 2006 18:19  
Blogger Karen said...

Martha said: Isn't it the nature of the divine that it is transcendent and experiential and can't be proven?

Well if it can't be proven and it's experiential, then what is the differnce between a sane person who is "religious" and an insane person who believes they hear voices?

I've never understood why humans feel this great need to believe that there is some huge purpose for our existance, a "meaning of life", or some divine plan. We just are, the world just is.

29 September, 2006 19:07  
Blogger Martha said...

I don't actually believe that there is some huge purpose for our existence, or a divine plan, or any particular meaning to life. I do believe that the universe just is, and that we just are. And I don't think that there is any conflict between that and the experience of the divine. Is there a difference between a sane person who is religious and an insane person who believes they hear voices? I don't know for sure, certainly, but I would like to say that an experience of the divine does not necessarily include hearing voices, and I expect other people use other names for the experience I'm describing. Like selfless love, like having a full sense of how very small we are in the scheme of things, like how powerful a directed group of people, united in good will and purpose, can be. I don't actually care if someone else thinks I'm insane for feeling the way I do, and I honestly don't care if someone else feels differently.

29 September, 2006 21:32  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Dr. Dino ( is offering a $250,000 reward to any one who can scientifically prove evolution is real. The one catch is that it can't use proof of micro-evolution (which is the adaptation of a particular species and not the same as the general concept of interspecies evolution which is taught in schools). If you can prove that chemicals evolved from hydrogen, life was created by chance in primordial soup, said life learned to reproduce itself, or this reproduced organism got together with others and formed a higher order being or that being gave birth to babies which were completely different species, you better go collect your money before some other ancestor of soup does!

04 December, 2006 22:54  

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