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

Evidence Considered: Part 25

Is ID qualifying as a science? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we’ve looked at Jelbert’s book, but now it’s time to do so again. In this chapter, we’re looking at his response to Bruce Gordon. Gordon has contributed a chapter on the scientific status of inferences to design.

I am not a supporter of the ID movement, but at the same time, I wish to try to remain fair. Are some criticisms of it invalid? As we will go through this chapter, I will demonstrate that I think that while ID hasn’t made its case, neither has Jelbert with his criticism.

One big problem is Jelbert is talking about methodological naturalism, but this is never defined. What is meant by this? The term can be difficult to talk about. Also, we don’t want to confuse methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism. If we say that absolutely nothing miraculous can happen in history, then we are begging the question. This doesn’t mean that we just throw in a miracle every now and then when we can’t explain something. It does mean that we remain open.

Jelbert also says that some sciences do look for an agent, but these are not agencies in the abstract. I don’t think this follows. We can find in anthropological studies an artifact and know it was designed. Perhaps and most likely it was designed by humans, but maybe, though I am skeptical, it was designed by an extraterrestrial agent. This is a pure hypothetical, but either way, we could tell it was designed.

Furthermore, would Jelbert says it was suddenly valid if I said the agent I was looking for was the Trinity of Christianity? Doubtful. All ID is saying is to look for signs of design. Even if we don’t know who the designer is, we can know that there is design.

At the end, Jelbert says that Gordon has not shown anything and his argument about who designed the designer and such leads to some problems with ID I have. If you make science king, you will never answer the God question yea or nay. You have to go to metaphysics so why not just start with metaphysics?

If we ask about who designed the designer, it first assumes the designer is complex, whereas if you talk about the God of Christianity, universally it has been held that ontologically God is simple, in that He has no parts. If that is the case, then He needs no designer.

Second, if complex things need a designer, then we can say the universe is complex so it needs a designer. If Jelbert wants to then say complex things don’t need one, then we could say if God is complex, which He is not, then He doesn’t need a designer. Jelbert can’t have it both ways.

This is also why I find Jelbert’s closing arguments weak. When I follow a good Thomistic metaphysic, I get to an eternal being who doesn’t change and so asking if He died at one point doesn’t work. It also does get past the problem of the infinite regress. I would really recommend Jelbert read some of the writings of Edward Feser at this point.

So I don’t agree with ID, but I can’t say Jelbert has provided a killing blow to it either.

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 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 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 13

What do I think of Jelbert’s look at Phillip Johnson? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to our look at the work of Glenton Jelbert now. Jelbert is still in a section about science and this time looking at the work of Phillip Johnson. Johnson is largely known for his writings on evolution and in support of intelligent design. He thinks the whole system of evolution is problematic and is due to fail. He could be right. It’s not mine to say.

There’s not much in this chapter that I think needs to be said. It starts with the fact that many ID proponents don’t get their work in peer-reviewed journals. It could be because it’s bad science. I don’t know. It could also be that there is a bias in the field. I don’t fault IDists though for thinking that there is something else afoot. Too many well-known atheists use science and seem to have a God allergy as it were.

There is one main point I do want to comment on. Jelbert says what would be the point in studying origins naturalistically if it were assembled by a great designer and did not come about naturalistically at all? He says that if we knew what ID purports to know, there would be no point at all.

I do not say any of this as a proponent of ID. If the ID movement fell tomorrow I simply would not care. Still, I do think the idea that there is a God behind it all does not mean that science has to end.

For one thing, saying that something came about through a designer does not mean that the designer did not use naturalistic means. My favorite example of this is the Psalms. We are fearfully and wonderfully made in our mothers’ wombs. I do not dispute this just because we know more about the gestation practice and what happens when a man and a woman have sex together.

Second, if we find there is a designer, that can lead us to asking questions of how He made things and why He made things. It’s my understanding that the ID movement was right on this when it came to junk DNA. The thought was that if a designer made this, it had to be made with a reason. If a designer even set up the evolutionary process, it had to be set up for a reason.

Unfortunately for Jelbert, saying that X is a science stopper does not mean that X is false. We could say by that that if we find any explanation for anything, then we have come across a science stopper. The point of science is to find the answers to the questions. More questions do come on the way, but we are on the quest of finding the answers.

Jelbert also says that even if accurate, this would only give us deism and not theism. Perhaps, though it is a stepping stone to theism. At any rate, giving us deism shows us that atheism is not true.

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

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 9

What can we learn looking at the pale blue dot? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we last looked at the work of Glenton Jelbert. It hasn’t been because of lack of desire, but because of other reading requirements that I have had. Today, we return to look at a chapter on the pale blue dot.

Like all chapters, this one is a response chapter. The original writers are Jay W. Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez. Jelbert points out that both of them work for the Discovery Institute which we should all know is pretty much the thinktank for the Intelligent Design movement.

I will also state that I am not a promoter of the Intelligent Design movement. I prefer the traditional teleological argument of Aquinas that does not rely on scientific knowledge and I think the current ID makes the universe more of a machine which still gives us the problem of materialism. It was said long ago that he who marries the spirit of the age is destined to be a widow, and I really don’t want to build a worldview on modern science.

That said, there is some history. Richards and Gonzalez are certainly correct about the false narrative given in our schools today about science and Christianity in the so-called dark ages. Most people grow up hearing that Columbus sailed west to prove the Earth wasn’t flat, when this is entirely false as no serious thinker was suggesting that it was.

So also we are told that people would want the Earth to be at the center of the universe, but this wasn’t so. The center was not where God was after all. With this, I stand firmly in support of Richards and Gonzalez.

This then goes on to the idea that science has established our insignificance. We have moved from a place of honor to a place where we really don’t matter. We are just a pale blue dot in the universe. As you would expect, I do not find this convincing. C.S. Lewis said years ago there was a problem that any position would be argued against Christianity. If our planet is the only one with life, well that shows that life really doesn’t matter to the universe and there is no God. If there is life elsewhere out there, well that shows that life really isn’t that rare and unique so there is no need for God. This is a heads I win, tails you lose, approach and is based on an entirely subjective criteria.

Jelbert does say that the big challenge for religion is coming not from science but from history. While this will be looked at later in the third section, I find it quite amusing. The things liberal scholars even will grant today about the historical Jesus are things that would not even be thought about a century ago. We have more and more cemented information so much so that a minimal facts approach can be taken to the resurrection.

Jelbert in going further is absolutely right that how we feel about a proposition in science (Or any other field for that matter!) doesn’t matter. Reality doesn’t care how you feel. If Jelbert says that all that matters is the data, then I agree.

Jelbert says then that this is a slippery slope because it led to the establishment in science of our insignificance. Jelbert says he does not see how this is so, but it does not take much to see. It’s not Christians that demoted man. It’s man that demoted man. If there is nothing special about us, then let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Many people are not persuaded after all by the facts of science so much as by the story of science. Few people will ever read the scientific journals, but many of them will go along with the story that is given. It’s the narrative today that matters.

Jelbert says the Catholic Church resisted heliocentrism for theological reasons. This isn’t accurate. Galileo was not the first to posit that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Several people had come beforehand and done so and they weren’t persecuted for it. So what was the big deal? Galileo was trying to teach theology and this without the necessary theological training.

There’s an irony that Jelbert thinks this case of resisting a claim for theological reasons should be ringing in the ears of those supporting ID. As I said, I do not support ID, but I think it would honestly be the opposite. Galileo was right and Galileo was the one challenging the reigning dogma of the day and insisting that he was right. That should be ringing in the ears of more of the scientific critics than anything else.

Jelbert also disputes that materialism does not enjoy a scientific pedigree. He rightly says that heliocentrism is independent of materialism, which is true, but I suspect Richards and Gonzalez have a lot more in mind than just that.  What is being spoken of lightly is the idea of the scientific revolution from then on and that supposedly materialism has been the great driver of it.

Jelbert also says what matters is not the historical success of an idea but what the evidence of it is. I contend that if you want to know if materialism is true or false, science is not the place to go to. It cannot answer those questions. The question is a philosophical one and not a scientific one.

Jelbert says we accept materialism because of its empirical success. I wonder what he would think about what Lewontin said:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

The problem is that the philosophy does not dictate how the science is done. Christians have been doing the science the same way for centuries. In the lab, a Christian, an atheist, a Muslim, a Jew, a Wiccan, or whoever, does not follow a different set of rules for the science. It’s done the same way. Jelbert says the science cannot establish the case but then claims science is automatically an endeavor of materialism. I find this odd.

He concludes by saying that we have here no evidence of God. The problem is at the start he says that this was not meant to be. Saying the narrative is wrong does not mean God exists, but it should plant a seed of doubt. Why is it that materialists seem so eager to rewrite history? What else could they be wrong about?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Taking Rites Seriously

What do I think of Francis Beckwith’s book published by Cambridge University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say at the start that I was provided with this review copy by Beckwith himself to see if I wanted him to come on my podcast. Rest assured, I do. Beckwith’s book is not just a book I want to get in the hands of many Christians I interact with, but also in the hands of many atheists I interact with.

Beckwith’s main contention is that we have often misunderstood arguments and said that as long as we say that they are “religious” or have a religious motive, then that means we do not need to consider them as real intellectual arguments. This is simply false. It could be someone holds a position for religious reasons and it could even be that someone holds a position (Such as the wrongness of homosexual behavior) just because the Bible says so, but that does not mean that that is the only reason that there is or the only motive that there is.

Something I like about Beckwith’s book is that he tries to give everyone a fair shake. Even if it is a position that he disagrees with, he tries to give it a fair look. When looking at some court rulings, even if the ruling would be favorable towards his position, Beckwith can still point out why he thinks it is an unwise ruling. This is something that we should all learn from. Just because the conclusion agrees with us does not mean that the decision was the right one. You can make the right decision for all the wrong reasons.

Some readers will also be surprised to find that Beckwith disagrees with Intelligent Design. I in fact would find myself closer to his position seeing as I think that we have married Christianity to modern science and what happens if this is explained another way? Wouldn’t it be best to have our apologetic built on something that cannot be shown false by scientific discovery? Why not base our theism on metaphysical principles, especially since the question of God is not really a scientific question but a metaphysical one. (This does not mean it does not have ramifications for science, but the final arbiter is metaphysics.)

Also, the reader will find some very helpful points on the issue of redefining marriage. This is one of the major issues of our time and Beckwith rightly shows that in reality, the people that are not being tolerant and not allowing liberty are more often the ones on the left. Beckwith has a great familiarity with the literature on both sides. One will also find similarity with the abortion debate as well.

If there was one thing I’d like differently in Beckwith’s books, it’d be that I’d like reading them sometimes to be more like listening to him speak. It’s my understanding that Beckwith grew up in the Las Vegas area and knows about the comedians and if you hear him speak, it is absolutely hysterical. Andy Bannister has managed to pull off great humor in a book. It would be interesting to see Beckwith do the same.

Still, this is a book that should be read by anyone interested in religious debates. As I said earlier also, Beckwith has the great virtue as well of wanting to treat the arguments of his opponents seriously as well. Beckwith is not just wanting to reach right conclusions, but wanting to reach them the right way and will settle for nothing less.

In Christ,
Nick Peters