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 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 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 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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