Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are continuing to dive into the ocean of truth! We’re continuing our look at Victor Stenger’s book “God: The Failed Hypothesis.” Our subject tonight will be the second chapter, “The Illusion of Design.”
Early on, Stenger has a great section on how before the age of science, religious belief was based on faith, tradition, Scriptures, and teachings of holy men and women specifically selected by God. However, science began to erode these teachings such as a flat Earth and the planet being at the center of a firmament of stars and planets. People then began to look to science for proof of a supreme being apart from revelation.
It’s a fascinating paragraph. What’s most interesting about it is how wrong it is. As we saw in the other book, Stenger has a problem when speaking on history that he does not use sources. He tells a story, and this story is just wrong.
For instance, the theologians of the early church and the medieval period were willing to use reason to make their case without Scriptures. This is not to deny they saw authority in the Scriptures and in the teachers that came before them. Indeed, every field recognizes authorities in that field. Stenger’s own field would recognize Einstein and Newton as authorities to not take lightly. Hear for instance what Thomas Aquinas said in the second chapter of the first book of Summa Contra Gentiles:
Secondly, because some of them, as Mohammedans and Pagans, do not agree with us in recognising the authority of any scripture, available for their conviction, as we can argue against the Jews from the Old Testament, and against heretics from the New. But these receive neither: hence it is necessary to have recourse to natural reason, which all are obliged to assent to. But in the things of God natural reason is often at a loss.
If I debate with a Jehovah’s Witness, that person recognizes the New and Old Testament as an authority so I can use that. For the Jew, it is just the Old Testament and I can use that. For the Muslim, atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, etc., it would be reason or any holy book of theirs that I could use.
But what does Aquinas mean to say natural reason is at a loss? It is not that natural reason is bad. It is that it requires much reasoning to reach the knowledge of God and few have the time or intellectual power to do it. Aquinas does go on to give reasons for belief apart from the New Testament.
Second, Stenger believes in the flat earth myth. The truth is, the church knew the Earth wasn’t flat. The ancient Greeks knew it. The medievals knew it. Most people could even tell you its circumference. How? It wasn’t from the holy books, but from using science. In Article 1, Question 1, of the Summa Theologica, we have an example of this:
Sciences are differentiated according to the various means through which knowledge is obtained. For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e. abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself. ,/blockquote.
Atheists have been spreading this myth for so long that they’ve come to believe it themselves.
Did they believe Earth was at the center? Yes. They got that from Aristotle and at the time, it was good science. The Ptolemaic system worked and it worked well. Copernicus’s objections were not only questioning the understanding of Earth but that of motion. It took time for the new idea to be accepted and this is the way changes take place in science. An excellent look at this is Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”
However, the center was also not a good place to be. God was seen in Aristotlean thought as on the outer edges. At this point in time, Aristotle had been practically canonized. Galileo’s most difficult battles were not fought with the church but with the secularists of the day who were accusing him of bad science and frankly, the evidence wasn’t there at the time. We can say now that Galileo was right, but we cannot say a theory in the past should have been accepted by modern standards. The question is if those people at that time had sufficient evidence to believe the new theory and they didn’t.
Finally, what evidence does Stenger have of people using science to try to prove a supreme being as if it was the final authority? When did this happen? Who were the minds behind this? Stenger gives no examples. The reason he doesn’t is most likely that he has none.
Stenger of course brings up Paley and then counters with Darwin, to which I have the same objection. A different instrumental cause does not prove a different efficient cause. Now I do not believe God used macroevolution to achieve His purposes, but if He did, my faith would not be damaged.
Stenger also says the Bible describes creatures being made in fixed and immutable forms. It would have been nice to have seen a verse of Scripture that actually teaches this. None is given. It is the idea of fixism that was replaced by Darwin’s idea. The idea was based more on philosophy than on Scripture however.
The movement of ID does not depend on fixism either. It would not even necessitate the destruction of macroevolutionary theory. It simply says that it could be that there is a guiding intelligence involved and if so, we can look at the world around us as the result of intelligence and seek to understand why things are the way they are, which is the question of teleology. Now teleology exists in some extent already in macroevolutionary theory in the idea of survival of the fittest.
The solution then is to look at the claims and realize science cannot rule out the idea of a designer. Let sides present their case in science labs and not in courtrooms as has recently been the case. To bring the court into this is to say that what is to be considered science should be determined by someone outside of the field of science. If the idea is bad, it will surely die out a natural death. In the meantime, it will raise objections that will help the true side. If the idea is good however, it will open up further ideas of research and I would add could make those of a more religious nature prone to enter science and enrich it with their ideas.
Stenger also writes about those who think simple organisms cannot explain the complex lifeforms we have today. He writes that “Simplicity easily begets complexity in the world of locally interacting particles.” Fair enough. I’ll grant it for the sake of argument. I just want to know if Stenger is willing to take this to the realm of metaphysics.
If he is, then he will need to dismiss Dawkins’s 747 argument against God’s existence, that God must be very complex to have all the attributes He has. Dawkins assumed a material understanding of God. If Stenger thinks God must be complex, I will ask him the metaphysical basis for such a statement. What is his training in that field and his qualifications?
In talking about complex specified information, Stenger says that Dembski can walk into his garden and see petals on a flower that follow the Fibonacci sequence and realize that this came about by a natural process.
Dembski would easily answer however that this is begging the question. Stenger says there is no God and there is complex specified information. How did it come about? Simple. It came about by natural processes. How do we know this? There is no God. In fact, I think Dembski could in fact thank Stenger for giving an example of intelligent design and how there is then an intelligent designer behind the universe since so much follows a mathematical code.
Stenger believes that simple rules are enough. Now I do not believe that to be the case, but I will grant it. He then says that for these, at most, a simple rule maker of limited intelligence is required.
I wonder how he would respond to someone who said this. “I am an atheist, but I believe that outside of the universe there is a simple rule maker of limited intelligence.” If Stenger wants to start at just that level, I’ll take it. My theism is still around then, but atheism is not.
Stenger also brings up bad design and says how a properly designed human should look. The question is “properly designed for what purpose?” To ask if something is properly designed assumes that there is a purpose for which that thing is designed. To speak of improper design is even to speak of proper design. Stenger is bringing in teleology and to bring in teleology is to bring in God. Also, if Stenger does not know the purpose to man, how can he speak of humans being designed wrong? If he says there is no purpose, then how they’re designed doesn’t really matter.
Stenger concludes saying that the universe looks exactly as it would be expected to look if there was no God. How does he make this comparison statement however? Does he know of a universe where there is God and he can then compare? Stenger has earlier used the idea of fixism, but could it be Stenger is a victim of his own theology?
That’s right. Even atheists have a theology. They have an idea of the kind of God they disbelieve in. This God possesses certain attributes and does not possess others. As soon as Stenger says “If God exists, he would do things X way,” then he is arguing theology and not science and I can say “Very well. Now let’s look at theology and philosophy and see how good your idea is.”
For someone who is wanting to use science to disprove, Stenger is really slipping in more presuppositions than anything else. That is the problem with his worldview. It is not the science. It is the presuppositions that he brings with that science that is really driving the science.
Stenger has claimed to show the illusion of design, but in reality, he has not made an argument against design, but made the illusion of an argument.
We shall continue tomorrow.