Posts Tagged ‘Dawkins

10
May
09

Improbabilty or Chance

I am struggling to understand the difference between chance and statistical improbability. It is very apparent that there must be a critical distinction between the two concepts, because Richard Dawkins writes a number of paragraphs on the common mistake that creationists make—referring to chance as the only alternative to design (The God Delusion, 119-121). Other atheists get worked up on the choice of words as well. They prefer the word improbability instead of chance. If the distinction is important to the atheist, than it is important for the creationist to understand the difference. I have yet to understand what that distinction clearly is, and so far I have not received a clear explanation. I looked up the following words in the dictionary. Will someone please explain to me the difference?

chance

3. The possibility or probability of anything happening: a fifty percent of chance.
4. An opportunity or favorable time; opportunity: now is your chance

prob⋅a⋅bil⋅i⋅ty

1. the quality or fact of being probable
4. statistics

a. the relative possibility that an event will occur as, expressed by the ratio of the number of actual occurrences to the total number of possible occurrences.
b. the relative frequency with which an event occurs or is likely to occur.

im⋅prob⋅a⋅bil⋅i⋅ty

1. the quality or condition of being improbable, unlikelihood.
2. something improbable, unlikely

My High School class graduated with no deaths, barely. In our senior year, one classmate had suffered very serious injury in a devastating car wreck. He was given one percent of one percent chance of survival. You wonder how on earth he even lived. The theme of our yearbook that year was ‘I survived’ in honor of him. Somehow (miraculously?) he was even able to walk the stage to receive his diploma at graduation. You can imagine the applause.

If a doctor states that a patient, given his condition, stands a fifty percent chance of survival, is that not a statistical answer? While knowing the calculated odds, does it not ultimately rest on uncontrolled chance? And if the patient does survive, while much to his own advantage, would it not be commonly esteemed a strike of tremendous fortune, or luck? (or from the creationist’s perspective…tremendous providence.)

The statistical improbability of complex life emerging and thriving as we observe it on earth, is said to be too impossible to be given to chance. Considering no other alternative, the creationist insists that their must be a master mind behind everything, and that master mind is God. Dawkins insists on natural selection as an alternative to chance (121). Natural selection, according to Dawkins, is a series of relatively improbable events, which in accumulation add up to an immensely improbable phenomenon–one that is too impossible to be given to chance.

…natural selection is a cumulative process, which breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces. Each of the small pieces is slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so. When large numbers of these slightly improbable events are stacked up in a series, the end product of the accumulation is very very improbable indeed, improbable enough to be far beyond the reach of chance (Dawkins, 121).

The best I can understand this is to relate it to the lottery game where you have to match eight winning numbers. I don’t play the lottery, but they run these lucky numbers in the evening News….Eight glass chambers each with twenty-five ping-pong balls numbered between 1 and 100 bouncing around inside, awaiting their release. One by one, a lady would release one ball from each chamber. When I was little I used to guess the numbers before they came out. Twelve! (I had a 1% chance of guessing correctly on each one.) Seven! (One out of one hundred chance to get it right.) Sixty-three! (Every turn got more suspenseful) Fifty-one! (Four down four to go!) Eighty-four! (Oh boy!) Fifty-one! (Mom, come quick! So far, I guessed all the numbers correctly!) Nineteen! (One more!) Forty! (I did it! I did it! I guessed them all right!)

I DID infact guess them all right once. A freak chance. My guesses were completely random, as were the resulting winning numbers. A 1% chance of guessing the winning number correctly eight times stacks up to be a highly improbable outcome, but not too improbable. I was just downright lucky. (Of course this is a very small scale illustration when discussing the origin of life. But I am only trying to understand the concept of natural selection at this point.)

Does this accurately summarize the concept of natural selection? How is Natural Selection too far beyond the reach of (freak) chance?

Right now, this all feels like a game of numbers and words, perhaps even a house of cards. What am I missing?

23
Apr
09

To Believe or Not Believe

In chapter three of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins criticizes Pascal’s Wager as an argument that God exists. Pascal’s Wager basically says that you lose nothing to believe in God—if God exists, you win; If he does not exist, it is no loss to you anyway. But in opting not to believe in God at all, you take a greater risk, for if it turns out God indeed exists, you face his wrath and lose everything. A very weak argument indeed. Dawkin’s critique made me smile…What if you believed in the wrong god? Wouldn’t you face even greater wrath than if you hadn’t favored any god at all? A very good point–the selection of gods can be more overwhelming than the toothpaste aisle…

Dawkins contests that man cannot seriously chose to believe something unless he is convinced of its trustworthiness. Belief is not a haphazard choice as much as it is a conviction. You can’t pretend to believe something.

In my own family there are members who do not acknowledge any god whatsoever, others who exalt mother nature, some who are apathetic in their faith, and then those who proclaim Christ. The scope might be even broader in your family. Across the globe we find more gods than we could ever fear. John Calvin makes the observation that from the beginning of time, there is not one nation, tribe or even family on the face of the earth that can completely depart from the notion of a divine being. So penetrating is the inkling of a deity in our minds (Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, 44).

Not even the atheist can completely escape the notion of a god. I like the title Dawkins gives to chapter four—Why There Almost Certainly Is No God (emphasis mine). The man who rallies the agnostics and closet-atheists in the world to come out be “loud and proud” ATHEISTS, is too afraid to lead his own parade. Is there hidden deep-down in his being, an awareness of some god, that–try as he might–he just cannot shake?

It would seem that the same notion is rooted deep in all of us…or why should cultures near and far, throughout history, be compelled to worship something (anything) at all? From where does this common notion of a deity come? Is it possible we have a Creator who knows each one of us? Is it possible we might bear his image? Is it possible that this inkling deep within us indeed testifies to a true God who made us?

Indeed, even idolatry is ample proof of this conception. We know how man does not willingly humble himself so as to place other creatures over himself. Since then he prefers to worship wood and stone rather than to be thought of as having no God, clearly this is a most vivid impression of a divine being (Calvin, 44).

The evidence for God is not lacking. Just like it is possible to identify an artist by his distinct creative style present in his work, so creation testifies to its Creator. Romans 1:18-20 tells us that God’s invisible qualities have been clearly revealed to us through what has been made, leaving us without excuse. There is no reason for our disbelief.

In his book, Jesus Among Other Gods, Ravi Zacharias states that a total rejection of God has less to do with lack of evidence than it does the suppression of it (50). Drawing from Scripture, Zacharias reminds us how the Pharisees always demanded a sign from Jesus, even after immediately witnessing a miracle. But Jesus understood their game. They did not seek a sign. They did not need any more evidence. They simply did not want to believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be. They didn’t care about evidence, they only cared about their own industry, even at the cost of truth. (50-57) So stubborn we can be.

At my church, I have the privilege to receive excellent teaching in the adult electives Sunday mornings. This quarter I am taking an elective on apologetics, taught by published author, Dr. Stephen J. Nichols. A few weeks ago, he related this “suppression of evidence” to a boy who tries to keep an inflatable ball under his feet in a swimming pool. He pushes it down and tries to keep it under, but despite all his efforts, the ball always pops up again. The truth always surfaces. The nagging notion of a God is always there, no matter how much we try to deny it. And the evidence for his existence cannot be ignored. If we are so determined to refuse the truth, we will become frustrated, even angry when it surfaces. It just isn’t what we want to believe. (This certainly explains why Dawkins seems so stubborn and angry when it comes to the subject of God.)

If creation plainly testifies to a Creator. If even we ourselves, though hostile to our Maker cannot shake the notion of his existence. If we desperately suppress the evidence in order to favor a lie, then do we in fact choose to believe (or not believe) in something even without sincere conviction–without legitimate reason? Is Dawkins wrong when he says that belief is more than mere choice?

I believe God gives us freedom to entertain our wills, at least within our sinful state. We can choose…but our human will will never choose TRUTH on its own. The Holy Spirit must be at work in our hearts. Mark 3:29 tells us that to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is the only one unforgivable sin. I believe this is because it is the Holy Spirit who regenerates us and leads us to Jesus Christ who is TRUTH.

We might fight it, we may pursue a substitute god, but we will never have rest until we finally acknowledge our Maker and call him Lord.

10
Dec
08

Argument from Scripture—Part 3

Dr. Richard Dawkins notes that the gospels were written long after Jesus’ death, even after the Letters of Paul, and therefore we cannot trust them as reliable historical records. Dawkins also suggests that the authors of the Gospels had twisted the facts in order to serve their bias and satisfy Old Testament prophecies (The God Delusion, 93).

Today biographies are often written even while the subject is still living. But that’s today. It is true that the Gospels were written after Jesus’ death, yet still within the same century that he lived. However you want to slice it, the distance between Jesus’ death and the written account of his life very obviously cannot exceed one hundred years (or even come close). That might seem like a long time in today’s terms, but really it is a very short time for the first century. The earliest accounts of Alexander the Great—also written in the first century—were penned four hundred years(!) after Alexander’s death.

A gap of four centuries leaves a lot more room for suspicious fabrication. I am curious whether Dawkins would accuse the Greek historian authors like Arrian of the same flim-flam that he accuses Luke and the other Gospel authors.  That is, twisting the facts in order to fulfill Old Testament Prophecies.

Granted there are questionable stories surrounding Alexander the Great, but I do not think very many question much about Alexander’s seige of Tyre–an event in history that Archaeologist Dr. Merrill Unger sees as a powerful fulfillment  of the Old Testament prophecy in Ezekiel chapter 26:  (Archeology and the New Testament, 31)

4 They will destroy the walls of Tyre and pull down her towers; I will scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock. 5 Out in the sea she will become a place to spread fishnets, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD… 12 They will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise; they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea. (niv)

Speculative? perhaps. But it really is very curious when you study how Alexander invaded and conquered the city of Tyre. He demolished the main land city and threw the remains into the sea in order to build a land bridge to reach the island portion of the city…

Probably the best-known episode in the history of Tyre was its resistance to the army of the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great who took it after a seven-month siege in 332. He completely destroyed the mainland portion of the town and used its rubble to build an immense causeway (some 2,600 feet [800 metres] long and 600–900 feet [180–270 metres] wide) to gain access to the island section…. Alexander’s causeway, which was never removed, converted the island into a peninsula.

“Tyre.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 09 Dec. 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/611914/Tyre>.

07
Sep
08

Argument from Scripture—Part 2

Archaeology cannot do anything to prove the divine inspiration of Scripture, but it does help to affirm places, people, ordinances, and traditions in human history–including those recorded in the bible–and thus it reveals the trustworthiness of its authors.

Regarding Luke’s narrative of Christ’s birth, Dawkins makes the following claims (93-94):

  1. It is NONSENSE to order citizens to return to their homeland for a census. Luke added this so that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, in order that OT prophecy could be fulfilled.
  2. The census under governor Quirinius was a LOCAL census and was not mandated for the whole empire by Ceasar Augustus.
  3. The census happened in AD 6, long AFTER Jesus is born. Sequentially, the story is implausible.

Claim number 1 is worthless. We live in a totally different culture than biblical times. It is arrogant to judge their ancient practices against our practices today. And even more arrogant to say something didn’t happen just because we think it is nonsense. Enough nonsensical business happens today, we should no better than to think nonsense doesn’t ever happen.

Turning to Merrill F. Unger in his book Archaeology and the New Testament, we find that sub-kingdoms did submit to census procedures as ordained by the Roman Empire. Unger sites the witness of Tacitus who recorded that the sub-kingdom of Antiochus received such a mandate (63-64). It therefore is not unlikely that Rome would’ve required the same of Palestine, also a sub-kingdom. In addition, numerous papyri discoveries testify to an empire-wide census occurring every 14 years (64).

In biblical times, the mindset was much more tribunal. Families and tribes were regarded as whole units. In such a culture, a return to the ancestral homeland for a census is completely consistent. It is difficult for independent Americans to tolerate such binding ties. For us, it may seem like nonsense. Archaeology, however, will say otherwise. Unger provides a letter from the third century, in which a citizen, writing from outside of his own district, requests his sister to find out whether or not she can enroll him in the census and pay his tax in his absence. If she could not, she was to let him know and he would return to fulfill the obligations himself (64).

The question of the year in which the census took place, is a good question. In the account of Jesus’ birth, Luke mentions that Augustus Caesar issued a census, and that Quirinius was governor of Syria.  Josephus, however, places Quirinius’ involvement with the census in AD 6 (Unger 65). As Dawkins points out, a census in AD 6 would be too late to effect Jesus’ birthplace–Jesus was already born by this time.

Archeology does reveal ancient inscriptions which may suggest that Quirinius served as governor in a term prior to the AD 6 date. This draws people to conclude either that the governor named in Luke and the one named by Josephus are the same man who served two terms in office, or that there may have been two different men, both named Quirinius and both who served as governor of Syria in different terms.

Looking closely at Luke 2:2niv, we read Luke’s clarification… “([the census] was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)” emphasis mine. We have here a suggestion of more than one census issued from the Roman emperor to take place during Qurinius’ service. And this particular one which Luke mentions is the first one. Conclusively, Josephus speaks of the second one. Granted this is heavily speculative, but I think it is difficult to rule out the possibility altogether. A total denial would require support.

27
Jul
08

Argument From Scripture—Part 1

Professor Richard Dawkins is not the first one to attack the legitimacy of Scripture. Many many others throughout centuries of history have tried to condemn Scripture or even to destroy it. ALL have FAILED.

I would guess that the Bible is scrutinized more than any other work in history. This is GOOD! I wouldn’t buy a house without a thorough inspection, so why would I blindly anchor my life on a foundation that hasn’t been tested? That wouldn’t make any sense.

Professor Dawkins writes in chapter three of The God Delusion, (92):

The fact that something is written down is persuasive enough to people not used to asking questions like: ‘Who wrote it, and when?’ ‘How did they know what to write?’ ‘Did they, in their time really mean what we, in our time, understand them to be saying?’ Were they unbiased observers, or did they have an agenda that coloured their writing?’

I find it ironic that Dawkins writes this about the Bible—the one book that has been questioned more than probably any other written work in all of history. Not only that, but it has SURVIVED (!) the severe scrutiny through the centuries, even to this day.

Irony aside, Dawkins is right. A lot of people have lazy minds and will just blindly gobble up whatever somebody sets before them. (Not just Christians but also agnostics and atheists too. There are lazy minds everywhere.) And that’s a damn shame.

What about The God Delusion? Do the readers understand that Dawkins himself is a biased observer? Do they realize that Dawkins has an agenda in his writing? Do they seriously investigate what they read, or do they just eat up whatever appeals to them.

And what about this blog? I have a bias too, of course. I do not have perfect understanding. I am not an authority over ANYthing! I should certainly hope that you take responsibility and look into these things yourself.

If you really want to know whether or not God is real, don’t turn to Dawkins or to me. If you want to know whether God really exists, then SEEK HIM out! Read the Bible. Earnestly ask God to show himself to you. God is the God who reveals himself to us. If God exists, he WILL BE KNOWN. Pray that he will show you the Truth. What harm could come from that?

The argument from Scripture is an overwhelming task and is going to take some time. In order that my posts do not get too long, I think it best to follow this particular argument with several posts to come. I also do not desire to delay my writing regarding the rest of Dawkin’s book. (Especially since I am borrowing the book from a friend.) So I will try to maintain both interests simultaneously.

More to come…

09
Jul
08

The Ontological Argument

I had never heard of the Ontological Argument before. Dawkins presents the argument in chapter three of his book The God Delusion. Apparently (according to Dawkins) the argument dates back to 1078 and  is credited to St. Anselm of Canterbury (80). If you want to know for sure, however, I would double check those facts. So far I am not very impressed with Dawkin’s research in his book.

I must admit, when I first read about the argument I thought “this is ridiculous! What for kind of dumb twisted logic is that?” Of course Dawkin’s immature presentation of the argument does not encourage the reader to take it seriously.

Upon further thought, however, it occured to me that the ontological argument is something I actually have pondered myself. I had no idea it was an actual proposed argument for the existence of God. And I didn’t know there was a name for the study of “beingness.” (I had to look it up in the dictionary.) But I have certainly entertained ontological questions in my head…

For years I have tried (seriously tried) to imagine something that does not already exist—some kind of life form or machine, anything. Sure I can make up ridiculous creatures or diseases or futuristic gizmos…and I can attribute to them all sorts of qualities and functions. It’s easy to make-up imaginary monsters and new technology. But of what are these creatures and machines actually composed?

muscle? teeth? bacteria? lasers? spandex? cereal box tops and bubble gum? Or maybe even Dawkins’ favorite—fine china and spaghetti? Why not all of the above?

Our imaginations can whimsically rearrange and reassign components that already exist and call the end product a “flux capacator” without which time travel is impossible. But essentially it is a metal box with wires and lights and maybe a dial. Big whoop.

The same with life forms. We can imagine all we want. But our minds will only go so far.

We have the ability to pretend. But can our minds conceive something that does NOT exist at all?

I cannot do it. Can you? Try to conceive something that does not exist at all. If you succeed, please comment. I would be interested to know what imaginary “thing” you’ve come up with. (And don’t tell me you “can’t describe it.”)

The question then remains…

Is it possible, that our human minds could imagine a god, if no such being ever existed/exists?

22
Jun
08

Our Foundation

In reading his book, The God Delusion, I learn that Richard Dawkins assumes the Christian Religion was founded by Paul.

I know that there are some people out there who say the same, suggesting that Paul’s religion is different from a small Jerusalem sect who followed Jesus. The Jerusalem sect posed a threat to Rome and therefore Paul, supposedly a Roman official, served to destroy them. While the Jerusalem sect essentially died off, Paul’s church movement grew to become the foundation of the church we know today.

There are A LOT of questions attached to this claim…

Paul persecuted the church. It doesn’t matter whether you believe his motive was to protect the Jewish Law or to protect the State. Pharisee or Roman official, he breathed murderous threats against Christ’s church.

Why then would Paul later start a religion which glorifies Christ’s Name?

If that small Jerusalem sect which belonged to Christ really was so insignificant that it ceased to exist within the first century, was it really a threat to any authority–State or Jewish Law?

Shouldn’t the name of Jesus Christ their founder also have evaporated with them into forgotten history?

Shouldn’t we now be called the Pauline church? Or the church of Rome? (oh wait that was Peters’, church…)

How come (for the love of Pete) nobody swears by Paul’s name?

Paul is a convert. He persecuted the church. And then he joined (not founded) the church. God had appointed him to preach God’s Name to the Jews and the Gentiles. If Paul founded his own religion then he made it all up. And if he made it all up would he go to prison three times and eventually give his life for it?

The Church wasn’t founded by Paul, nor even by Peter the rock. The Church is built on Jesus Christ. God established the church, way back in Genesis in the Garden of Eden. The Old Testament continually points to Christ. The rituals and prophesies are fulfilled in him. Even to this day, our faith rests on his Resurrection, not on the letters of Paul.

This is not a man-made faith. The apostles are eye-witnesses to the risen Christ. No human would start a religion on something so bogus. (who in their right mind would follow it?) Nor would the apostles hold on to the lie even unto cruel death. Peter was crucified upside down for his faith!

Roman guards were stationed at Christ’s tomb to make sure nobody would steal the body and say Jesus rose from the dead. They were first-hand witnesses to the empty tomb. The chief priests, however, paid them to lie about what they actually saw. Of course their false-witness would testify to their failure to protect the tomb successfully, and the governor would not like that! Their lies would mean severe punishment! So it is a good thing the chief priests also promised to satisfy the governor in order to protect the guards from such punishment. Their combined efforts were futile.

If there was ever a time to stop such a ridiculous “rumor” of Christ’s resurrection, it certainly was then. Yet even as completely unbelievable as the resurrection is, it spread like wildfire! And it cannot be stopped. Why? Because it isn’t man-made. Even the Sanhendrin understood this much in Acts 5:38-39.

I honestly think it takes more faith to believe that the Resurrection is a made-up story (a very ridiculous made-up story at that) and as such could not be stopped! No legend or tabloid has ever thrived like the story of the Resurrection. And to believe the disciples or apostles would fabricate such a story, even attempt to steal the body in order to fulfill the prophecy, and then die for what they know to be a lie. That’s actually more unbelievable than the Resurrection!

People who claim that this religion is man-made or a hoax, have an awful lot of explaining to do.




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