Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 26

Is ID caught in the vise? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The good news as we return to Glenton Jelbert’s work is that this is the final science chapter before moving to history. (Well, good news for me at least.) The bad news is this is probably the most tedious chapter in the book as Jelbert responds to the claims of William Dembski. Dembski in this one is speaking of putting a naturalist in an intellectual vise. I think Jelbert treats this uncharitably as he implies Dembski is like an inquisitor applying torture. Dembski is more of a lawyer grilling the opposing witness.

As I have said, I am not a supporter of ID, but I am a supporter of good argumentation. So what is said?

Jelbert at one point says we cannot find design in nature because that would be looking at nature that is not nature, but this is begging the question. It is saying that nature is undesigned and if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be nature, but who says this is so? I can hold to design, but not in the ID sense, but in that of classical teleology.  Can Jelbert demonstrate that nature has no design to it? Dembski may mean something different, but for me, I mean order and that is relatively abundant. Per Edward Feser’s classic example, an iceberg floating through the water makes any water around it colder. It does not turn it into cotton candy.

Jelbert also says there is no precise criteria that tells you what science is and isn’t. Surely this is not so! For one, we can say that science deals with what is material in nature. We do not need to do an experiment everyday to see if 1 + 1 = 2. This is true for all times and all places. When it comes to metaphysical questions, such as God, science is not much help. It’s the opposite. Science needs the grounding of metaphysics to be of use.

Jelbert also says that methodological naturalism is saying that science should limit itself to material causes. No evidence is given for this claim. Why should I accept it? Furthermore, isn’t Jelbert again begging the question? If the cause of an event is non-miraculous, such as God for instance, then science will be unable to find the answer and NOT lead us to the truth.

I have no problem with wanting to try to find material causes first, but if evidence builds up that something extra-material has acted, then we should accept it. Not only that, this I think puts much of science in a bind. As a theist, I can happily accept evolution and if God did it that way, that’s how He did it. For the naturalist, it HAS to be a materialistic process like evolution. Note that I am not arguing against evolution in saying this. I am saying as Alvin Plantinga says, for the naturalist, it’s the only game in town.

It is true that some Christians see evolution as a killer to Christianity, but I think this is highly mistaken. On the other hand, evolution is often seen as a necessary staple for atheism. As Dawkins says, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Who then has the most at stake? Prove evolution to me and I go to church just fine the next Sunday. Disprove it to an atheist and could there be a major gap in their worldview?

Jelbert also says that numerous tests have been done to try to disprove materialism such as the efficacy of prayer and the experiments have failed. Later on, Jelbert will say excuses are made such as “We can’t test God.” Well, yeah. We can’t.

The problem with the prayer experiments is not bad science I think so much as bad theology. It is saying that if God is real, then He will respond in such and such a way to prayer. How do we know this? God could have any number of reasons for healing someone or for not healing someone and God is under no obligation to answer X number of prayers. There are so many variables I never consider such things reliable.

Yet you have someone like Craig Keener produce his massive work on miracles, and this gets no interaction. These are cases where I think one can justifiably think an extramaterial agent has interacted. Note this again is a problem for the atheist. If all of Keener’s examples were disproven, theism would still be safe with metaphysical arguments and Christianity safe with the resurrection of Jesus. If atheism is true, none of the miracles can be true miracles.

Jelbert also says one of the problems with ID is it knew what it wanted to find before it started and did the work that way. Yet Jelbert says that there are many clues to materialistic pathways to the origin of life. He has also said earlier that science should be limited to materialistic causes. If it is wrong to assume an extramaterial cause, it is not just as wrong to assume a material cause? Note I am not saying that there is no material explanation for the origin of life. I am saying that isn’t Jelbert guilty of what he is condemning ID for? This is especially ironic since Jelbert says a problem with ID is that it claims to know an origin event with certainty.

Again, I think this is a tedious chapter and doesn’t flow well at all. I don’t think Jelbert has made the case and if anything, he has far more at stake than I do. Modern science is great, but it is not something to build a worldview on. I consider it better to go with metaphysics and I think that is firmly in the theist camp.

Now I eagerly look forward to getting into the history around Jesus.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Part 24

Does agency prove a problem for materialism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this entry, we’re looking at what Glenton Jelbert has to say about what Angus Menuge says about the role of agency in science. What it is saying is any there any goal-oriented behavior in the sciences? If so, then this is a problem for materialism as who is behind these goals?

I actually also disagree with the take of Menuge, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with Jelbert. Menuge is quick to jump to the Intelligent Design community. At this point I want to remind Christians that it was possible to make empirical arguments for the existence of God based on the observance of nature before Intelligent Design ever became a thing.

I have a great concern that too many of us are putting all of our eggs into the Intelligent Design basket and if that basket ever falls, well what then? As a Christian, I do believe there is an intelligent designer, but that doesn’t mean that I uphold the ideology behind Intelligent Design. I think it rests way too much on modern science that could be subject to change.

Why not go back in the past and see how people argued for God then and see if that includes agency? Two ideas come to mind. It won’t be a shock to readers of my work that both of them come from Aquinas.

The first relies on two kinds of causes in Aristotelian-Thomistic thought. The first one is known as the efficient cause and the second as the instrumental cause. Suppose you are building a house. You are the efficient cause of that house. You are the one behind it making it. Now what do you use to make it? Tools, cement, wood, brick, etc. Those are the instrumental causes. That through which you make something is an instrumental cause.

The problem is instrumental causes do not act on their own. There is someone that is behind them or something that is behind them. To say an instrumental cause can be its own cause is like saying a paintbrush can paint the picture itself if the handle is really long. A secondary cause works with the help of a primary cause.

Another way for Aquinas would be the fifth way. This one can be readily misunderstood. Some people think it is Intelligent Design, but it is not. All you need is a connection between A and B. If an iceberg floats through water and makes water around it consistently colder, you have this at work.

Why does this consistently happen? Acorns become oak trees and not puppy dogs. If you pull the bow back to fire the arrow, the arrow does not fly backwards. Planets do not go chaotic in their orbits but maintain a consistent pattern. These patterns are so consistent we can measure them accurately and predict major events with pinpoint accuracy. When we had the solar eclipse last year, everyone knew when it would be.

Aquinas reasons that it is because an eternal mind has put this into nature. The argument is much deeper than this. I recommend the work of Edward Feser on this. If you can’t afford his book Aquinas then you can go to his blogspot and read up on it.

Again, I find Glenton’s work lacking. The case for theism is still there and even if I don’t agree with one approach, there is still another that works.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 23

Is there a problem with bad design? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Chapter 23 looks at work done by Jonathan Witt on the idea of bad design. I see this as a defensive work on Witt’s part. It’s not theism going on the offensive, but on the defensive. If theism is true, why do we see instances of what is thought to be bad design?

As a non-scientist and a non-IDist, there is not much for me to respond to. However, one point I do want to address is something Jelbert says about Witt’s work. Jelbert does show that Scripture speaks about creation as the work of God such as in Psalm 139, Genesis 1:31, and Romans 1:20. However, we must remember the Biblical authors are not blind. Yes. Humans are fearfully and wonderfully made, but they knew more about child mortality from experience than we do. When a child is born today, it’s generally assumed the mother will survive and that all things being equal, the child will grow up and live a natural life.

Not so for them. Many times a mother would die in childbirth and you would want to have many kids because not all of them would live long lives. The authors are not writing though to give an answer to the problem of evil, but because there is still something grand to them in creation.

Jelbert says that God’s involvement appears to be capricious. Things look to be callous and random. Events happen that do no good and bring no redemption and don’t appear to fulfill a grand plan. They do not show that God is in charge of this drama. Jelbert says Witt will fall on God’s mysteriousness again or some other divine attribute.

Let’s notice something here. Not a single objection here is scientific. It is all theological. It is saying that if the God of the Bible existed or even the God of classical theism, He would not allow this or there is no good reason why He should allow it. How is this known? Where does Jelbert get this theological knowledge?

Something else sad about this is that this is part of the logical problem of evil that even the majority of atheist philosophers will admit has been answered. Alvin Plantinga did it decades ago with a little book called God, Freedom, and Evil. It’s important to note that one does not need to demonstrate the answer to why a certain event happened. One has to show that it is just possible that God has a good reason for allowing it. We don’t have to know what that reason is. Jelbert has the burden of proof here. It’s up to him to show that there is no good reason for this to happen.

Jelbert can call it a cop-out to say God is mysterious or something like that, but why think any of us should know all that God knows? If God is real, He has far more knowledge than we could ever have of why events are happening. Jelbert has simply said that things seem a certain way. He has to demonstrate it or else his argument fails.

Now he could go another route and say that it seems unlikely that a good God would exist and that is something else altogether, but it is no longer the hard case. If he went that route, I would reply with the Thomistic arguments, which are not addressed in the book it looks like, and of course the resurrection of Jesus, which we will get to later. I just have to answer one and it is not a deductive argument. The Thomistic arguments are deductive and thus more powerful.

I walk away from this chapter unconvinced. Jelbert has not demonstrated his theological claims. It’s interesting that in a section purported to be about science, we have more about theology instead.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Part 21

What do I think of Jelbert’s critique of Richard Spencer? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Glenton Jelbert of Evidence Considered is now looking at Richard Spencer’s essay on if Intelligent Design necessitates Optimal Design. As readers know, I have no interest in the science portion. It doesn’t bother me and I have no reason to support Intelligent Design. Still, I am interested in the philosophy and theology involved.

For instance, Jelbert says Spencer is trying to explain why the world looks as if it did if there was no God by positing natural causes. This isn’t a scientific objection, but a theological one. It is saying that if God exists, then He will not work through what Aristotle called instrumental causes. He will work directly. How does Jelbert know this?

In the Middle Ages when science really began to take off, they had no problem with filling int he gaps. Jelbert’s argument might work for a God of the Gaps style approach, but that is really a historical latecomer. The medievals actually believed they were showing the genius of God by showing how He went about working the universe.

Consider also a miracle like the Jordan river stopping when it did for the Israelites to pass through. Treat the story as true for the sake of argument. Does it cease to be a miracle when it is found that this event has happened with the waters of the river stopping before? Not at all. The miracle is not just that it happened but that it happened when it happened and resumed when it did.

Later on, Spencer says that we do not fully understand the mind of God and why He does what He does. This should be a given on theism and atheism. If God exists, it should be granted no one can know His mind entirely. Jelbert says that this is also theistic agnosticism. God cannot be known. But why? Jelbert points to terms like omnipotence and omniscience and such being meaningless. His source is George Smith’s Atheism: The Case Against God.

Smith does agree that a contradiction should be impossible regardless, but how does he establish a problem with omnipotence. An omnipotent being is one who is said to be capable of violating His nature. For a Thomist though, this is not a sign of power, but a sign of weakness. We are left wondering what this would entail. This also means God does not violate His other attributes like goodness and love. Omnipotence cannot make evil to be good.

For omniscience, we have the old chestnut that if God knows the future, God causes the future. Most Arminians will grant that God knows the future. I will certainly agree to that. That does not mean that God’s knowledge is the causal factor in what I will do.

Now if anyone really wanted to study the doctrine of God and see how he works, pick up some good tomes on systematic theology. My favorite, of course, is the Summa Theologica. Saint Thomas Aquinas goes in-depth on the doctrine of God and what each attribute means.

Another part worth talking about is how Jelbert looks at cases of design such as food going down the same area we breathe through. Spencer says he does not know what God does and why. This should really be an unproblematic statement. Of course not. Unless God tells us something directly, we don’t know why He does things. We can guess, but we cannot know for certain.

Yet Jelbert makes an interesting statement. Spencer says that often in suffering, we find a greater closeness to God. Jelbert says he cannot see how this comes about through watching your baby choke on a grape.

Sure, Jelbert can’t see it, but how does it follow that it cannot happen? Jelbert said earlier that the mind of God isn’t known and yet Jelbert seems to imply that there can be nothing in that mind that can use that for good. Not only that, there is a greater problem here.

Jelbert says if you remove theism, the problem disappears. After all, sometimes bad things will just happen. There is no purpose in the baby choking to death on a grape.

On atheism, that’s true. There is no purpose in a baby choking on grape. We could say that the solution has come until you also realize that in atheism, there is no purpose in the baby to begin with. There’s no purpose in the baby choking, but there’s no purpose in the baby having healthy breathing either.

In essence, the problem is dealt with, but it’s dealt with by saying not that there is just no purpose to the choking, but there’s no purpose to anything. Now a pair of atheist parents can have purposes for why they want children and purposes they want for their children, but in the words of Linkin Park, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. The whole universe is without purpose and just making one up won’t change reality.

One cannot help but think of what Bertrand Russell said in A Free Man’s Worship.

Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

All he needed to say after that was “Oh, and have a nice day.”

I recommend Jelbert simply read the accounts of Christians who have gone through great tragedy, including the death of a child, and see how it is used for good. Now, this stuff is not good to be sure, but it is used for good. Jelbert can want to say all day long that there is no purpose or good that can come from it, but he needs to show that, not just assert it.

We’ll continue later.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 20

What do I think of a critique of Dembski? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we return to the work of Glenton Jelbert with Evidence Considered, we get to the work of William Dembski. Readers of this blog know that I’m not on the whole Intelligent Design bandwagon. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe there’s an intelligent designer. I just don’t think He’s shown the same way. So let’s look at what Jelbert has to say here.

At the start, Jelbert says that Dembski’s view does not conform to the scientific method. Alas, I think here Jelbert has fallen for a great myth. There is no scientific method. There are scientific methodologies instead. A good read on this is Newton’s Apple And Other Myths About Science. Take a botanist, a physicist, a pathologist, and an astronomer and put them all in the same room. They will all have different scientific methodologies they use. There will be some similarities, but they will be different.

Jelbert’s critique of this is that we don’t search for intelligence but an intelligent agent. Perhaps so, but to find an intelligent agent, don’t we have to have signs of intelligence first? If we have signs of intelligence, can we not properly infer that there is an agent with that intelligence?

He also says Dembski is asking us to accept non-answers to real questions and abandon evolutionary searches. Why should anyone think this is necessary? A proponent of ID can say he wants to know how this came about and why it came about that way. That does not preclude an evolutionary origin. I don’t know of anyone in the ID community who wants us to just say “God did it!” and abandon all questions of origins.

Jelbert also says one could say that the idea of specified complexity is neither complex nor specified so it shows no signs of intelligence. If Jelbert wants to think that, then feel free to produce the animals in the animal world who are talking about complex specified information. Perhaps it doesn’t require high intelligence, but abstract thinking of any kind involves some intelligence.

Jelbert also says Dembski does not explicitly disagree with evolution, yet Jelbert wants to know how this works. How did things evolve? What did God do? This position apparently assumes that if God was involved, it could only have been through miraculous means instead of overseeing. Why should anyone think that? Could God have intervened? Yes. I am not sure how that would look either which is another reason I don’t really do scientific apologetics.

Sometimes it is thought that this looks like what a world without a creator would look like, but how could we compare such a thing? Do we have a world that everyone knows has a creator and one everyone knows doesn’t to compare? I still would like to know how an atheist grounds existence itself in their world.

I also want to comment on how Jelbert says he had a problem with ID as a Christian. After all, Paul says he resolved to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified in 1 Cor. 2:2. Jelbert claims Dembski is relying on the human wisdom condemned in that same passage and is superseding Paul.

This is really a bizarre reading of the text. Paul is saying not that he resolved to know nothing except that Jesus was crucified, but rather the crucified one. The wisdom he condemns is not wisdom across the board, but wisdom that refuses to submit to the ways of God and follow a shameful crucified king. Proverbs tells us regularly to seek out wisdom and Solomon was held in esteem because his knowledge and wisdom were greater than the pagans.

Finally, Jelbert does the same thing he regularly does at the end. Dembski has not proven a theistic being let alone the Christian God. Why is it a theistic argument must always prove Christianity? Can’t it be a stepping stone?

We’ll look at chapter 21 when we return to this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 18

Does evolution lead to evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to the work of Glenton Jelbert with Evidence Considered. This chapter looks at an essay by Richard Weikart on eugenics and evolution leading to that. I do agree that this does not establish that evolution is false. However, I do think there is a danger that one can take evolution in science and apply it everywhere else. When applied to morality, I do think it leads to great suffering.

Jelbert acknowledges this. There is a shameful history associated with eugenics. It did lead to forcibly sterilizing many people. Let’s also keep in mind Margaret Sanger of Planned Parenthood was a leaning proponent of this and the abortion crisis today is continuing this legacy. Now we don’t sterilize the people. We just kill the offspring.

Jelbert does say eugenics is not science and the scientific establishment was far from unanimous in supporting it. Yet if it is not science, then why was the scientific establishment involved? We could say perhaps it is not true science, but it is still a scientific topic.

Jelbert points to Peter Kropotkin speaking in 1912 at the first international eugenics congress in London.

Who were unfit? workers or monied idlers? Those who produced degenerates in slums or those who produced degenerates in palaces? Culture casts a huge influence over the way we live our lives, hopelessly complicating our measures of strength, fitness, and success.

Now I don’t know much about Kropotkin, but I look at this and think that this is just one opinion. Why should I take him as the main one? It would be like saying the existence of Jesus is far from settled in scholarship because Richard Carrier once spoke at the Society of Biblical Literature arguing for mythicism.

Jelbert also says that the Bible has been used to lead to great evil. He points to the Salem Witch Trials. This is true. However, I would contend that the witch trials misused the Scripture about a witch not being allowed to live since that applied to the Theocracy of Israel and not America. Also, it’s worth noting those lasted a short time and restitution was made.

In January 1697, the Massachusetts General Court declared a day of fasting for the tragedy of the Salem witch trials; the court later deemed the trials unlawful, and the leading justice Samuel Sewall publicly apologized for his role in the process. The damage to the community lingered, however, even after Massachusetts Colony passed legislation restoring the good names of the condemned and providing financial restitution to their heirs in 1711. Indeed, the vivid and painful legacy of the Salem witch trials endured well into the 20th century, when Arthur Miller dramatized the events of 1692 in his play “The Crucible” (1953), using them as an allegory for the anti-Communist “witch hunts” led by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.

Of course, anyone who died wrongfully is still one person too many. Also, as Bruce Sheiman says in An Atheist Defends Religion

“Militant atheists seek to discredit religion based on a highly selective reading of history. There was a time not long ago—just a couple of centuries—when the Western world was saturated by religion. Militant atheists are quick to attribute many of the most unfortunate aspects of history to religion, yet rarely concede the immense debt that civilization owes to various monotheist religions, which created some of the world’s greatest literature, art, and architecture; led the movement to abolish slavery; and fostered the development of science and technology. One should not invalidate these achievements merely because they were developed for religious purposes. If much of science was originally a religious endeavor, does that mean science is not valuable? Is religiously motivated charity not genuine? Is art any less beautiful because it was created to express devotion to God? To regret religion is to regret our civilization and its achievements.” —An Atheist Defends Religion

And

“The militant atheists lament that religion is the foremost source of the world’s violence is contradicted by three realities: Most religious organizations do not foster violence; many nonreligious groups do engage in violence; and many religious moral precepts encourage nonvio lence. Indeed, we can confidently assert that if religion was the sole or primary force behind wars, then secular ideologies should be relatively benign by comparison, which history teaches us has not been the case. Revealingly, in his Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips chronicled a total of 1,763 conflicts throughout history, of which just 123 were categorized as religious. And it is important to note further that over the last century the most brutality has been perpetrated by nonreligious cult figures (Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong-Il, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic, Robert Mugabe—you get the picture). Thus to attribute the impetus behind violence mainly to religious sentiments is a highly simplistic interpretation of history.”

And one more

“Religion’s misdeeds may make for provocative history, but the everyday good works of billions of people is the real history of religion, one that parallels the growth and prosperity of humankind. There are countless examples of individuals lifting themselves out of personal misery through faith. In the lives of these individuals, God is not a delusion, God is not a spell that must be broken—God is indeed great.”

Jelbert also says the Bible purports to be a moral guide. I would like to know where this is. I do agree the Bible has some morality, but I don’t think the purpose of the Bible is to just make us good people. It is to make us Christian people who serve King Jesus and when we do that, we will be good people.

Jelbert goes on to say that Weikart paints scientists with a broad brush, but Weikart does not do this. He says many today often sound similar to the eugenics movement when talking about genetic technologies. This is true. Many do. Not all.

Jelbert also says he does not think there is a Christian ethic. If he means there are issues that Christians can disagree on in ethics, that’s understandable, but not all are. I don’t know many Christians willing to defend pornography or murder or rape. Most all of us condemn abortion as well. Christian ethics are founded on Christian principles such as mankind being in the image of God and the resurrection of Jesus.

I will say at the end I understand the concern of Weikart and we should take it seriously. Scientists can too often seek to play gods. At the same time, this doesn’t show evolution is false. It does show that that which works in science might not work in morality and perhaps if evolution is true, we still should not seek to take it into our own hands.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Evidence Considered Chapter 16

What about limits of evolution? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our work at the look of Glenton Jelbert and Evidence Considered. This time we look at a chapter on the limits of evolution. As a non-scientist, there is not much I can really say.

I do agree with Jelbert that rejecting evolution does not make you a Christian or even a theist. That is true. Also, just because you are a Christian or a theist does not mean that you have to reject evolution. This is why I suggest Christians not try to make this a strong point. I contend that both Christians and atheists are often making the same mistake when evolution is made a central point.

The Christian can often think that if God made the world, He had to make it through a certain methodology. Of course, He could have and maybe He did make life through a non-evolutionary means, but is this necessitated? If every life formed in the womb is formed through a process, could not all life come through such processes? Is God only there if you can find gaps for Him?

Meanwhile, atheists say they don’t care for God of the gaps arguments, and rightfully so, but they often make it that the more we gain knowledge about the world, the less need there is for God. They too have the same kind of mindset. If God created the world, He had to do it this particular way and had to bring about life this particular way. Maybe not.

Both sides also hurt one another because they perpetuate the conflict hypothesis that there is necessarily a conflict between science and religion. Both sides will lose out. For the theist, many times their religion means much more to them. They are happy to accept many things in science, but if accepting evolution as science means they have to ditch God, who is much more central in their lives, forget it.

I’d also say it’s understandable for the theist. The theist looks at the world and sometimes his mind is just blown by the way things are and thinks it just couldn’t possibly happen by chance. Call it incredulity if you want, but there is a certain sense to it that the theist thinks this world didn’t just happen. There is some sort of purpose. He doesn’t want to lose that wonder.

The atheist meanwhile can accept sometimes many good things that religion has done, and if anyone thinks religion has only brought about evil, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Still, if accepting religion means he has to ditch science, forget it. Why should he come to God if that means he has to live in a world where he denies what he sees in the laboratory? As long as the two are seen in conflict, each side will go with what is most important to them. Each side will also miss out on the full benefits of the other.

I also agree with Jelbert that if natural selection is true, it has the aim of getting the most fit species out there and will do so even if without intent. This is actually excellent for theism. It fits in perfectly with the fifth way of Thomas Aquinas. Many people look at the fifth way and think it means everything must act with intent. Not so. It just means that there is a correlation with things working towards an end even if not intentionally.

I also agree with Jelbert that if we go with God of the Gaps, new information can damage the argument. This is a reason why while science is fascinating, I don’t really go with scientific arguments. I don’t think Christianity or science should be married to either.

One small thing, Jelbert does talk about limits and says that zebras haven’t evolved machine guns to survive the lions. I would be amiss to say that if that ever happened, it would be truly one of the coolest things ever.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 15

Has evolution dumbed us down? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we’ve looked at the work of Glenton Jelbert and his book Evidence Considered. We’re going to return today with looking at his chapter in reply to Nancy Pearcey. The theme is that evolution dumbs us down. Pearcey argues that Darwinism eventually leads to pragmatism and postmodernism since all our ideas are products of evolution. This is reminiscent of Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. I have no wish to defend or critique the argument here.

Let’s get to what I do disagree with. Jelbert says that Pearcey gets wrong what atheism is. Atheism is not saying that there is no God. It is saying that a person does not believe there is a god. He goes on to say that this is important because it determines the burden of proof. One supposedly can’t prove that there is no God, just like you can’t prove there is no tooth fairy.

Well, these people disagree:

“Atheism is the position that affirms the non-existence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.”

William Rowe The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy p.62

“Atheism, as presented in this book, is a definite doctrine, and defending it requires one to engage with religious ideas. An atheist is one who denies the existence of a personal, transcendent creator of the universe, rather than one who simply lives life without reference to such a being.”

Robin Le Poidevin Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion p.xvii

Ultimately, I find this a dodge. The atheist is just saying that he doesn’t believe and the burden is automatically on the theist and if the theist doesn’t prove his claim sufficiently, the atheist is justified. Would the same be said to a person who is leaning towards a flat Earth and says “I’m not saying the world is flat. I’m just saying I don’t find sufficient reason to believe that it’s round.”? Would the same be said to the person who is arguing against evolution? Jelbert’s position should be considered more agnosticism, but then the burden needs to be placed on the atheist and the theist both. Whoever makes a claim has a burden.

It’s also a problem because let’s suppose that the claim “God exists” is true. In this case, theism is true, being the proposition that “God exists” is an accurate description of reality. On the other hand, let’s suppose that there are still atheists who say they lack God belief. In this universe, Theism could be true, in that God exists, and atheism could be true, in that people still lack God belief. This is something nonsensical though since atheism and theism are contradictories and contradictories cannot be be true. Theism is not making a statement about a subjective belief but about reality. If that is so, the denial of that statement is not making a statement about subjective belief, but reality.

And also, yes, God can hypothetically be disproven. One could show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God. That’s the way we disprove the idea of a square circle. That’s why there are such things also as the problem of evil that if they don’t disprove God, they at least try to show that God is highly unlikely.

Jelbert goes on to say that the big revolution of science was the freedom to say you don’t know something. Thus, you can try to find it out empirically. At this, one has to wonder if Jelbert has done any real looking into the medieval period. Empirical investigation was nothing new. It was being done. Scientists were trying to find natural explanations for most everything.

Jelbert then says that until God presents Himself for experimentation, we have no other recourse than naturalism, but why should I think that? This isn’t a scientific explanation but a theological one. If there is a God, then He would present Himself for scientific experimentation to us. Why should anyone think that?

“Doesn’t God want us to know He exists?” Why? What if God’s stance is sufficient evidence has already been given? What if He wants people to come to Him who want to know Him and not just treat Him like an object of trivia? What if He’s looking for people who are disciples?

But Jelbert has an example of this! Prayer experiments! Prayer experiments have not found prayer to be effective. Somehow, theists always have an excuse for God’s indolence!

Indolence?

That’s an odd way of putting it. The word refers to laziness or sloth. I’m sorry. We performed an experiment and God was obligated to play along? God is not like a machine where if you push A, B happens. There are no guarantees. Any married man should understand this. What your wife will like one time, she could find just annoying the next time.

Besides that, there are always too many variables. How do you know no one else is praying for a person in an experiment? How is the faith of each person involved in praying for a sick person? There is too much we don’t know, and from what we don’t know, we’re able to somehow make great leaps in logic. I’ve never been impressed by the idea of prayer experiments and having those tested. (Not to mention, there’s this little thing in the Bible about not putting God to the test.)

Pearcey goes on to say that each worldview gives an account of origins. Jelbert says that this is not correct. Scientists are fine with saying they don’t know and do not have undue concern for the origins of the universe. This must be news to Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking. He also says theists had ages to preach their truth with fervor only to adjust their position because of science. With this, Jelbert is perpetuating the myth of the warfare between science and religion. Yes. The conflict hypothesis is a great myth. It is recommended that Jelbert look at resources like Newton’s Apple And Other Myths About Science.

Pearcey also says that morality is always derivative from one’s worldview. Jelbert says this seems to contradict chapter 2 where absolute morality could demonstrate that there is a God. Pearcey is, however, right. What one believes about morality involves their whole worldview. Also, I don’t think Copan is saying morality proves that there is a God, but rather it gives strong evidence and he thinks God is the best explanation.

In closing, I have to say that yes, this isn’t meant as a proof of God, but a part of a cumulative case. I do agree that if the science is that evolution is true, we have to accept that and not just look to the consequences, but i think many times in his response Jelbert has made a number of philosophical and historical errors. Largely, having so many chapters endorsing the conflict hypothesis doesn’t really help. (And in all fairness, scientific apologetics doesn’t really impress me anyway.)

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 14

Can we learn anything from the Scopes Monkey Trial? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return again to the work of Glenton Jelbert in Evidence Considered. The next response is to Edward Sisson on the Scopes Monkey Trial. Like Jelbert, I consider the trial itself irrelevant. Evolution does not stand or fall on it. (And if that is the case, then in fairness, ID doesn’t stand or fall on the Dover trial.) However, there is a sort of Inherit The Wind mentality about the ignorance of the Christian side as opposed to the calm rationality of the agnostic side.

The trial arose because someone thought the teaching of evolution was undermining belief in the Bible and another person decided to take advantage of that politically to help his career. At the start, I consider this a mistake. If a teaching is problematic for the Bible and that teaching is true, then we dare not propose a double-theory of truth. We need to be consistent. There are a number of steps that could have been taken.

One could have taught evolution for instance and yet pointed out problems with the theory. How would it not explain scientific data well in its time? What were the best critiques of the theory? What were the best evidences proponents of the theory used?

You could also go back and look at your interpretation of Scripture. This was a mistake in the Middle Ages to think that some texts were meant to be read scientifically. Maybe the same is happening here. Maybe these texts aren’t really scientific texts but instead are teaching something else.

Or, you could say right now we just don’t know, but we do have other grounds for believing in Christianity. You could then go to the classical theistic arguments (Which I have yet to see Jelbert touch) and then to the historical arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. There is often this strange idea we have that we must be able to answer every question and know how every piece of data fits into our worldview to be coherent. This is simply false. We are not omniscient like that.

Jelbert points out that Sisson said the law the trial was over merely barred teaching Darwinian evolution.” I agree with Jelbert that saying merely barred is not a good idea if the youth were to be up on current science. What would be said of saying “The Dover trial merely barred the teaching of Intelligent Design.”? Of course, it could be now that Jelbert would have been saying in Scopes, “Teach the controversy”, but not so much here.

Jelbert goes on to say that the Intelligent Design movement is trying to put Christianity on a firmer scientific footing. I agree with Jelbert that this can be a bad move. In fact, it’s a bad move for atheists. If you hold to atheism for modern scientific reasons, I think that’s a bad idea. The science of today can often be the junk of tomorrow. Certainly much has stood the test of time, but much hasn’t.

This is one reason I don’t really do scientific apologetics. It’s too easy to base your worldview on the science of the day so much so that the Biblical accounts have to be read as scientific accounts. It’s the old mistake of Concordism. When it comes to Scripture and theism, science is not the final decider.

At the same time, I think in this day and age, Jelbert is too highly optimistic when he speaks about education getting a student to think and read for themselves. That is just not happening. Too many young people out there are believing stupid things because of what they read on the internet. They are uninformed in never learning anything and their hobbies dominate their lives. If they want an informed opinion, they use wikipedia or they google and believe the first thing they read.

I am a gameshow junkie. On New Year’s Eve, my wife and I were watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and it was a college week. A student came out and was asked as a question where the Middle East was. I think his choices were southwest Asia, southeast Asia, Southwest Europe, or Southeast Africa. The student had to ask the audience. The most popular answer was the right one, but over 60% got it wrong, and these are the same students who are going to be voting for leaders based on what goes on in the Middle East.

Later, this same student had to have someone come down and help him with a question, and it was his uncle. The question was stating that two presidents had resigned in office during their terms and the second took place in the 1970’s. Which president was this? Yes. This student needed help to know about Richard Nixon.

Excuse me then if I don’t share Jelbert’s optimism about students informing themselves and giving theories a fair hearing.

Jelbert also says that scientists love to tear down an existing paradigm and replace it with one of their own. That may be so, but other scientists aren’t so crazy about others doing it. This is what Kuhn said in his book on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. New data is taken and put into the old paradigm as much as possible until it just can’t take it any more and then a new paradigm must be found, but that new paradigm is hard to come by. Other scientists are resistant to it, much as many Christians are resistant to doing new things in church. (But we’ve always done it that way!)

Sisson does say that since eugenics was taught, it shows that we should not let those teaching be slavishly bound to what is popular science today. I’m not sure that this is saying the government should handle it as Jelbert says, but I would have a problem here as well because while eugenics is evil, could it have helped if differing opinions on it had been taught? Why not confront the idea rather than hoping it will just go away? Of course, the movement was evil and wrong, but it was still there and it needed to be dealt with.

Something interesting about Jelbert’s response is a sort of postscript at the end. He says Sisson was questioning the moral character of Darwinists and Jelbert realized he was doing the same with Sisson. Sisson is just as interested in truth. Jelbert says he had reacted emotionally to a perceived attack on his children’s well-being. Sisson could very well say the same as could many Christians today concerned about evolution. I definitely agree with Jelbert that an idea stands or falls on the data and not the people who hold to it.

We’ll continue another time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 12

Should we teach the controversy? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our look at the work of Glenton Jelbert continues as we look at chapter 12 of his book Evidence Considered and this time he’s responding to Michael Newton Keas who has an essay about what high school students need to know about science. I would certainly say our high school students don’t know enough about science. To be fair, our education is lacking so much that too many today don’t really know enough about anything unless they’ve been through private school or homeschool. Just look at the snowflake population today.

We are normally told to teach the controversy. Jelbert says that they can teach his children the view of Intelligent Design when they can convince scientists of it. Now I do honestly have some understanding here. I am not someone who is a promoter of Intelligent Design. Like many Thomists I think it produces a view of the universe that is still too mechanical.

I also understand that some controversies that take place on the internet do not take place in the academy. I certainly hope that Jelbert will be consistent and not treat mythicists seriously for you have more Ph.D.s in the field that hold to ID than you do Ph.D.’s in the field that hold to mythicism. If Jelbert does not do this, then he will be guilty of being inconsistent.

That being said, I do understand ID has made some contributions, such as their prediction that junk DNA would have some usages. Also, if information in Expelled is right, then a number of people have published papers with reference to intelligent design and lost their job for it. If that does happen, then excuse the public if they get suspicious about the claim.

Finally, if we look at an organization like the National Academy of Sciences, they do vote their own members in and we can understand a selectiveness to it. If there is a supposed bias, it does undercut Jelbert’s claim. For the classroom itself, I would say that if a student thinks ID is true, then here’s a suggestion. Let the student make a presentation to a classroom and he has to present his case and defend it.

Some people have said, “Well would that mean that everyone from another religion gets to give their account?” If so, what’s the problem? Everyone has the same task. Get up and make your case and defend your view in the face of opposition. Not only do students learn different views, they learn how to examine and critique them as well.

Also, for someone who referenced Galileo earlier saying that Christians should keep it in mind, perhaps Jelbert should keep him in mind more. Galileo came with the minority position and the majority position did shut him down. Now we know that Galileo was right. Does this mean that ID is right? Not my call to make there, but it does mean that the claim is certainly one to be explored.

Jelbert tells us that Keas does not define science and then tells us that a simple Google search could come up with a definition. He gives us one of “The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” Perhaps this is a good definition, but I wonder why Jelbert goes with a Google search. Would it not have been better to look up a qualified philosopher of science for this? This is a difficult term and when it comes to Google, I have no way of knowing who the source of this quote is and what this person’s authority is.

Jelbert speaks about how Keas says that geologists study one large object. Namely, the Earth. Jelbert says that Keas apparently wants to undermine the sciences that he does not like. I am unsure how Jelbert reaches this conclusion. I would have said geologists study the Earth as well and I have no wish to undermine geology. (Aside from the every now and then Big Bang Theory joke that geology isn’t an actual science.)

Keas then goes on to say that different motivations shape how we do science. Jelbert quotes him as saying

The ancient Babylonians produced the longest sustained scientific research program in human history (twenty centuries). Although their motivation was based in religion and astrology, their resulting mathematical astronomy wielded great predictive power.

Keas goes on to say that naturalism

amounts to atheism. Naturalism in science has guided many scientists to limit themselves to material causes to explain the world.

Jelbert tells us that Keas is criticizing methodological naturalism and upholding the ancient Babylonians as how science should be done. It is difficult to see how Keas is doing this. Keas is just making a statement about motivations. I don’t see him saying Babylon shows how it is done. It is just saying that even with motivations less than fully scientific, the Bablyonians gave us great success. He also says then that we should beware of our own presuppositions, which I think most of us would agree with and this is how scientific revolutions take place. There has to be a whole shift of the paradigm overtime because all data is interpreted under the current paradigm.

Jelbert tells us that the triumph of the scientific revolution was that it studied nature as nature which gave us much more success in five centuries than the Babylonians had in twenty. I think Jelbert is missing several factors here. These factors undermine his claim greatly.

For one thing, there was hardly the time to spend properly in science in the time of Babylon. Many people were more focused on survival and leisure time was unheard of. It was only the immensely wealthy who could do this. It was through the Middle Ages where science was really starting to take off that we developed better agricultural procedures to better enable people to survive and then the printing press better allowed the dissemination of materials relevant to the field.

Furthermore, Jelbert started talking about methodological naturalism, but methodological naturalism is not only a difficult term to define, and both parts at that, but it does not necessarily equal science. At least if it does, Jelbert has not given us an argument for that. It also does not work to say that this is what we do today, so this is what they did for five centuries. Atheism as a major worldview is still a latecomer. There have been atheists throughout history to be sure, but it has never reached the popularity level it has today.

Finally, Jelbert is ignoring the history of science as it began in the Middle Ages. Through this, he perpetuates what is known as the conflict hypothesis, that there is a necessary conflict between science and religion. This is not a view among most historians and philosophers of science today. It’s one largely shared in the public viewpoint, but not really so much in the academy, kind of like other ideas, like Intelligent Design.

Jelbert then tells us of how Keas says that scientists studying origins study presently existing things and use this to develop their hypotheses. Jelbert says they could hardly be expected to study things that do not exist, but with this it looks like Jelbert is saying something just to be argumentative. I don’t think Keas is presenting this as a problem.

Jelbert says further on that religion is fascinating and was humankind’s first attempt to understand the world it lives in, but if the Judeo-Christian view coincides with science in this instance, it is not of scientific interest. Maybe not of scientific interest if it does, but should it not be of philosophical and theological interest?

He also says it is clear that Keas is using science to confirm religious claims rather than the other way around. He says there are many ways that Judeo-Christian claims blocked science, but unfortunately gives no examples. The same can be said of atheism. How many atheists were hesitant to accept the big bang theory due to not liking the idea of the universe having a beginning? Everyone will approach the science from their own worldview and often interpret the data to fit that. No worldview is exempt.

Jelbert then says that Keas makes a distinction between how things work and how they originated and says he doesn’t know anyone who says says our origins affects the way we view our purpose. Really? Is he serious? How about Stephen Jay Gould?

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because comets struck the earth and wiped out dinosaurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise available (so thank your lucky stars in a literal sense); because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a “higher” answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers for ourselves…

One wonders about this. What is liberating exactly here? Gould doesn’t say, but one wonders. It leaves me thinking about Jerry Walls’s article on the hope of atheism. He quotes from Thomas Nagel in The Mind and the Cosmos.

The conflict between scientific naturalism and various forms of antireductionism is a staple of recent philosophy.  On one side there is the hope that everything can be accounted for at the most basic level by the physical sciences, extended to include biology.  On the other side are doubts about whether the reality of such features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, purpose, thought,and value can be accommodated in a universe consisting at the most basic level of physical facts—facts, however sophisticated, of the kind revealed by the physical sciences.

Walls rightly asks why anyone would hope that this is true. He understands that one can be a regretful atheist, but why would one discover there is no meaning in life and rejoice? You can realize that your wife is a jumble of atoms and be sad but hey, that’s reality. Why would you rejoice?

This is one problem I do have with evolution. It is not the science, but the philosophy. That we are animals in a sense is certainly true as Aristotle called us the rational animal. If we use evolution to say that we are mere animals, then I have a problem. It’s not the fault of evolution if this happens and it doesn’t change if evolution is true or false, but evolution in itself cannot show us if naturalism is true. Unfortunately, this kind of philosophy can lead our youth to especially act like animals, hence we can have a crisis with teen sex.

There are many things here I think are valid in Jelbert’s critique and I have not touched the science as science. He could be right. Unfortunately, in many areas, I think he takes a simplistic approach. He could be right on the science. I do not know. Yet when it comes to philosophy, theology, and history, there is a grave lack.

In Christ,
Nick Peters