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 Chapter 22

Does what’s inside a cell make a case for God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to Glenton Jelbert’s work again to see what he has to say about the inside of the cell. In this chapter, he responds to a young molecular biologist named Bill Wilberforce. Wilberforce seems especially enthralled with something in the cell called Kinesin. As readers know, I, not being a scientist, will not comment on the science, but let’s see what I think of Jelbert’s response.

Jelbert starts by saying he thinks the author is in conflict as he seems to be admiring science but also undermining it. His explanation of why he thinks this is that he says before some tools existed, scientists thought the cell was a blob of protoplasm surrounded by a thin membrane. Jelbert says this is nonsense and scientists have appreciated how complex cells are for a long time.

Unfortunately, Jelbert never tells us when this is. Was there a time when scientists thought what Wilberforce says they did? After all, we have improved microscope technology so was there a time we could not see in the cell that much and that was what we thought? Jelbert gives no indication that Wilberforce is right, but he also doesn’t show that he is. If all Wilberforce has done is make a claim, Jelbert has done the same. There’s not any reason alone to think anyone of them is right.

Jelbert also says that there is no meaningful prediction coming out of Intelligent Design that can be tested. Before this, Jelbert seems to say that the stuff Wilberforce has found was predicted by evolutionary biologists. He gives several places to look, but sadly, he gives no articles himself. I would have liked to have seen him done this.

To get back to ID, I am not convinced this is true. I believe that ID made a prediction about Junk DNA that happened to be right. I say this not as a supporter of ID, but I say it simply as one wanting to be fair with the evidence.

At a later point, Jelbert makes an admission I find troubling. He says, “Rationally, we will always search and go on searching for natural causes for any unknown, preferring to admit that we do not know than to give the non-explanation of an ill-defined supernatural being.”

I find this quite troubling. For one thing, he says that this is rational. Why? Is it a sign of rationality that someone doesn’t believe in the miraculous? Is it a sign of rationality that everything can be explained by materialistic causes?

Second, what about miracles? Sure, Jelbert doesn’t believe in them, but if he saw one in his presence, does that mean he would try to find a natural cause? Suppose it was even the favorite of an amputee growing a limb back. Will Jelbert say it is rational to find a cause?

Third, I find it hard to believe we are talking about an ill-defined being. If we went to the arguments of Classical Theism, Jews, Christians, and Muslims could all use them. This being was not ill-defined but many characteristics of Him were given.

As I wrap this up, I think what Jelbert is missing is this drives many people to theism not because of irreducible complexity, but because of wonder. People see what looks like a little factory in the cell and it leaves them in awe. Thinking it is irreducibly complex does not make them think of a creator so much as just thinking that the thing itself exists and is working towards an end. (This is in fact the classical argument from design.) When atheists argue for something natural and seek to remove God, many people see this as a way to remove the wonder. I am not an expert in the sciences, but many times something I see talked about in the sciences does leave me with a strong sense of wonder that makes me think that God is a brilliant mind behind all of it. Whether He did it through an evolutionary process or not doesn’t matter. Either way God is awesome with His creation.

We will continue later.

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 19

Does Earth’s location show intelligent design? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re returning to the work of Glenton Jelbert with Evidence Considered and today we’re going to be talking about Earth’s location. This is a response to Jay Richards and Guillerno Gonzalez. Now I don’t put much stock in intelligent design arguments and I don’t use scientific arguments, but let’s see what can be found in the response.

The ID argument is that we are in a place that is fine-tuned not just for life, but for observing the universe. They could be right about that. Jelbert’s work is to show either that we are not or that this doesn’t entail any kind of theism. Does he have any other problems though independent of the argument?

To begin with, Jelbert says perhaps there are other beings out there or even hypothetical beings who could have better ways of observing the universe than we do due to having certain problems with their atmosphere. This is a possibility, but just saying it’s possible doesn’t really do much to show that Richards and Gonzalez do have a point that with the lifeforms that we do know about, that we are in a good place that does seem to be fit for discovery.

They also tell us that humans understood the world empirically because God made it easy for us to do so, but Jelbert says that wasn’t shown in any of His books or prophets apparently. I find this statement puzzling. No one in the time of the Bible was doubting that God existed. Everyone knew there were deities of some sort. The questions were who are these deities? What do they do? How do they affect the world? How are humans to interact with them?

To say that the Bible doesn’t tell us how to explore the world is like complaining about the writings of Stephen Hawking because they don’t tell us how to perform open heart surgery on the sick. Before we even get there, Jelbert says that empiricists have fought superstition and religious folly throughout the ages, sometimes at the cost of their lives. It would be nice to know who these martyrs for empiricism were.

It should also be pointed out that the Catholic Church has been heavily influenced by Aquinas and Aquinas was an empiricist. The medieval church was happily doing science for centuries before Galileo and Copernicus ever came along. One could point to Bruno, but Bruno was not executed for doing science, but for a number of heretical views he held otherwise. That doesn’t justify his death, but let’s make sure we don’t make him a martyr for science. He wasn’t.

Jelbert also asks if we are in a place for discovery, why is there no evidence for God? Unfortunately, this is only convincing if you think there is no evidence. For people who think there is plenty of evidence and Jelbert’s arguments don’t cut it, then this won’t work. Furthermore, if the argument that is being made works, that could count as evidence.

We should also point out it’s quite ridiculous to say no evidence anyway. Evidence can exist for a position even if that position is false. Theism is not false, but someone can give reasons for them that count as evidence.  One can use evil as evidence for atheism. I think atheism is false, but that does not mean there is no evidence.

Jelbert also says the reasoning to a greater intelligence is invalid because all intelligence we have witnessed is attached to a physical brain. I find this interesting because at the start, Jelbert pointed to beings he has no evidence exist to show that maybe they could make different discoveries due to a make-up we don’t understand and they’re not like us. Now he is arguing that all intelligence must be such and such a way because of, well, us.

Also, NDEs I think have shown a form of intelligence outside the material body. If this is so, then that means that the brain is not necessary for intelligence. Jelbert has just given us a brand of inductive reasoning that doesn’t work. It’s like the case of finding the first black swans. One could have thought all swans were white, but that got disproven. Jelbert can think all intelligence has to be connected to a physical brain, but it can’t be demonstrated and if he says there could be other beings at the start of a certain nature that is unknown, he should be open here.

Finally, Jelbert says at the end that even if we got a deity, we don’t know if it’s the one of Christianity or perhaps Odin. Sure. But you know what we do have? We have a deity. If we have that, then atheism is false. Atheists always like to argue against an argument for the existence of God saying it doesn’t show which God. Why should anyone think this is convincing? It’s like saying that the victim wasn’t murdered isn’t convincing until you can show who did it or how or why or anything like that. If we know someone was murdered, then that is enough.

We’ll see what happens when we return.

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

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 17

Does atheism have a case with evolutionary computation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look today at the work of Glenton Jelbert. We’re still on the science section which many of you know is not my forte. On this chapter, I cannot comment much because I do not claim to understand the science. What I will comment on is a couple of claims that Jelbert makes that I think can be worth discussing.

Jelbert does rightly say that a goal is central to biological evolution. The goal in biological evolution is the passing along of genes with the end result being reproduction, survival, and food. Jelbert in the chapter says he puts the word goal in quotation marks because goal implies an intent.

The fascinating thing about this is that this is something that fits exactly in line with classical theism. When classical theists talk about teleology, they do not mean intelligent design. Instead, what they mean is that things do indeed act towards an end. This does not mean rational things or divine things. It means anything that is created acts toward an end.

Edward Feser gives a summation of what this means here. Too many atheists will be too quick to jump on their own assumptions. Feser tells us we have to drop everything we’ve heard from the modern ID movement and just look at the argument of Aquinas for what it means to him, not understood in light of modern ideas of teleology. I leave it to the reader to go through Feser’s article as he explains it much better than I can and those intrigued can get his books.

What this means then is that if we have a goal in evolution, then we have a basis for the existence of God. This does not mean that evolution is some entity that has this intent in mind. It just means that if creatures tend to, all things being equal, act toward a certain end, then there is a reasonable case for theism.

At the end of the chapter then, we get to another claim of Jelbert’s that bears relation to this. Jelbert is right that the removal of biological evolution would not require the acceptance of a creator. I agree. One could be an atheist even before Darwin. On the other hand, the acceptance of biological evolution does not require the negation of a creator. (If this is so, and I am sure it is, it makes me wonder why we’re arguing this so much.)

Yet Jelbert says something problematic when he says that Robert J. Marks II, his opponent in this chapter, has not connected a creator to any specific claims theists make, then he has not established theism. At this, he is definitely wrong. Suppose we could take the classical arguments like Aristotle did and establish there is some sort of deity, which is what Aristotle did. Even if we don’t know the nature of this deity in connection to an established world religion, we still have a deity. It seems to be a bizarre universe in which we can say a deity exists and atheism is true. Establishing theism does not mean establishing an Abrahamic religion. It means establishing theism. Establishing theism is necessary to showing an Abrahamic religion is true, but it’s not sufficient. Still, it is sufficient in itself to refute atheism.

We’ll deal with chapter 19 when we return.

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