Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 10

Is the makeup of the cell a case for God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return again to the work of Glenton Jelbert. This time, we look at a chapter by a Joe Francis. The chapter is about oxygen, water, and light. Somehow, these are all toxic to some extent to parts of a cell, but they all are essential to the make-up of a cell. I do not claim to understand it. Many of you know my position. I do not talk about science as science. I leave that to the scientists.

Having said that then, there might not be as much I dispute in this chapter because I do not know the science behind it. I would be happy to give Jelbert the benefit of the doubt on it. There are areas where he does say something that I do think I have a say on and I plan to speak on those.

Jelbert starts by saying that this is an argument from incredulity. It’s along the lines of thinking I do not know how this could have happened naturally, therefore I think there is a theistic cause. Sometimes this can be an argument from incredulity. Sometimes not.

What makes the difference is if any positive evidence can be put forward why this is unlikely. If that is the case, then it could switch to where it’s much more likely on theism. I will contend in some of this today that Jelbert is not making scientific statements but philosophical ones, which we should expect, but even theological ones.

Jelbert says that Francis says his view is consistent with creation in a short amount of time. Jelbert then asks a series of questions about what this means. What was the first life form? How do we know it didn’t evolve from something else? Also, did God have to keep tinkering to make things evolve?

Jelbert says these contradict one another, but what does? Jelbert has not presented ideas but questions. Francis could have a consistent answer entirely for them. It’s difficult to think that Jelbert can take one statement and then say it entails a bunch of claims that contradict when he makes no claims but asks questions.

He also says it is only consistent in that God could do anything in nature which includes making it look like He wasn’t involved at all. This is a statement I find quite problematic and this is one of the theological claims Jelbert makes. A hidden premise would be that if God is involved, there is no natural process that takes place in the event.

Let’s take a few counter-examples. Scripture teaches us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in our mothers’ wombs. There is no doubt that we know a whole lot more about what goes on inside the womb than King David did. Because of this, does this mean that we deny that we are fearfully and wonderfully made even though it is a naturalistic process? Not a bit.

Let’s take another example. The Exodus. Now I know my skeptical friends are saying that it didn’t happen historically. Let’s suppose for a moment that it did. Just when the Israelites get to the shores of the sea, the waters part so they can pass through and then they happen to converge again on the Egyptians afterward drowning them all.

Suppose now that you find out there is a perfectly natural explanation for this, say a wind that comes through and parts the waters. Does this mean it ceases to be a miracle? Is it just the event that’s a miracle, or is it also the timing of the event? That it happened could be explained naturalistically. When it happened is the amazing part.

I also am troubled with the idea that Jelbert has of how it would look when there is no creator involved at all. If as I do, you take God as the grounding of existence and say that nothing can exist apart from Him and if He withdraws His breath, nothing would be, then the claim is nonsense. If there is no God, there would then be nothing existing to develop or evolve or anything of that sort.

It would also be nice to know what universe Jelbert is comparing this to. Does he have a universe where God does intervene and one where He doesn’t so He can compare? The problem is this comes down to a hidden idea of Jelbert’s. If God is involved, there must be regular divine intervention somehow.

Later in the chapter, Jelbert after talking about all that he can about the make-up of the cell and how it came about says that this came about through decades of research. Does Francis want us to just stop and say God did it? I do not see why Francis would want that. The medieval scientists in trying to figure out how the universe works never thought they were dishonoring God by figuring out how He did things.

Again, this comes down to the problem. It’s a way that God is expected to act which is an assumption. If God creates through an evolutionary process, I can sit back and say “I find it amazing the way God creates a whole process to make things on their own.” It also doesn’t touch the arguments of teleology.

Now some people are thinking this is a teleological argument, but Intelligent Design is different from classical teleology. Classical teleology is about a system set up to work towards a common goal. That is also an amazing system and I think shows a designer even better.

Consider the postal service. When I take my wife to an appointment on Tuesday, I stop at the Post Office to see if I have anything there. Now picture publishers who send me books at their publishing houses. I respond to a catalog and send them something stating what books I would like them to send me. They put something in the mail.

How many other places could the mail go to? Countless other places! There are post office boxes and mailboxes all over the world. Despite this, with great regularity, the mail shows up at my mailbox on a regular basis. This is a finely designed system.

In creation, we have a system set up to bring about life that seeks to survive and ends up producing creations like us. It could have been a multitude of other things, but it was us. This is an incredibly designed system. All of it works towards a goal!

This is even the case with evolution. Evolution relies on teleology. In evolution, things seek to survive and pass on their genetic material to produce the most fit species. This isn’t intentional on the part of the agents any more than arriving in the mailbox is intentional on the packages I am sent, but yet it happens anyway!

Jelbert also asks what it will mean to Francis if a naturalistic process is ever found. This is a good question. It’s also why I don’t build my theism on such arguments. Yet does Jelbert have an answer to this question for himself? Implicit here is a claim that Francis would not be wise to build his worldview on this aspect of reality. I agree.

Yet has Jelbert done the same? What if it is found after decades of research that it truly is impossible for this to happen naturalistically? Will Jelbert concede theism then or some form thereof? If it is wrong for Francis to build his worldview on these discoveries, does Jelbert get a free pass?

I think I especially am in a good position here. For me, if a naturalistic process is found, cool! I can marvel at a mind who creates like that and since for me, God is the basis for existing itself, then I have no problem as my arguments are metaphysical. What about Jelbert? As Alvin Plantinga has said, for the naturalist, evolution is the only game in town. Prove to me evolution and I have no problem. What do you do with Jelbert if evolution is disproven? Must he change his worldview? What of Dawkins’s quip that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist?

The problem for Jelbert then is he chides Francis for building his argument on an appeal to scientific ignorance, when Jelbert himself needs to ask if his worldview is relying on the science? Of course, parts of our worldview do rely on science. Parts such as what constitutes a healthy diet, how to use a computer, beliefs about astronomy, etc. What about the foundation? What is the foundation? If it is science, then it is always subject to change with the latest discoveries. If it is something else, then one can be much more certain.

Finally, Jelbert says that even if Francis makes his case, it does not establish any of the major religions. At this, I want to remind Jelbert that the book he’s critiquing is about evidence for God. It is not evidence for Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other religion. If the case is made for God, then theism is established and atheism is out.

It also can get us closer to a major religion. Is this concept more in line with a pantheistic understanding or a monotheistic one? Would polytheism be out? Etc. Jelbert again disagrees with an argument because it doesn’t demonstrate what it was never meant to show.

We’ll see what Jelbert has to say next time.