Posts Tagged ‘The God Delusion

31
May
09

The Anthropic Fantasy–part 1

Professor Dawkins notes that creationists are eager to find gaps in the evolution process, where scientific evidence is lacking for Dawrin’s theory, and then argue from there that God (as if by default) must be the creator and designer behind complex life. Dawkins sees this as a lack of imagination (The God Delusion, 128).

Lack of Imagination?? (Wouldn’t an atheist, from their naturalist perspective, normally accuse a creationist—who believes in ‘crazy’ Bible stories and miracles—of having TOO MUCH imagination?) This is very interesting.

Dawkins introduces the anthropic principle to address the large gap between the origin of life and the process of natural selection. When we apply this principle to explain the origin of life, we observe and appreciate all the many precise details that need to come into play in order for life to happen. Dawkins describes a number of these particulars…our distance and orbit around the sun, the gravitational force of Jupiter to grab threatening asteroids that would otherwise destroy us, etc (135-136). To the question “Why do I exist on Earth?” the anthropic principle notes that the very asking of the question requires that we first of all exist, and the fact of our existence on Earth shows that Earth is friendly to our kind of life. The answer: “We exist on Earth because Earth allows for our existence.”

Dawkins presents the anthropic principle as magical statistics.

It has been estimated that there are between 1 billion and 30 billion planets in our galaxy, and about 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Knocking off a few naughts for reasons of ordinary prudence, a billion billion is a conservative estimate of the number of available planets in the universe. Now suppose the origin of life…really was quite a staggering improbable event. Suppose it was so improbable as to occur on only one in a billion planets….even with such absurdly long odds, life would still have arisen on a billion planets—of which Earth, of course, is one (138-139).

Between 1 and 30 billion planets? I find it truly amazing that anyone can even begin to count them. And to count GALAXIES even! Napoleon, like there’s anyway you can even do that. Pull a number out of hat, then “knock off a few naughts”…and what do we have? A made up number that means NOTHING!

After we find our magic number we can start supposing things. Let’s suppose really ridiculous odds for the origin of life, (but not odds so ridiculous that it would be unreasonable).  Let’s keep the statistics generous enough to support evolution or else our theory will fail. Where are they coming up with these fantastical variables?

Abra Kadabra and BANG! (cue poof of smoke) we exist! Is this really science?? Or is it fantasy? I can see now why Dawkins would accuse the creationist of lacking an imagination.

It gets even more confusing. After first refusing to acknowledge chance for the reason we are here, the theory of evolution necessitates pure LUCK to initiate life. Are we going in circles here?

We can deal with the unique origin of life by postulating a very large number planetary opportunities. Once that initial stroke of luck has been granted—and the anthropic principle most decisively grants it to us—natural selection takes over: and natural selection is emphatically not a matter of luck (Dawkins, 140).

Why do we exist? No reason…it just happened, that’s all. Lucky for us.

I am having a terrible time taking this seriously…maybe I lack imagination. Either I seriously misunderstand this theory or it really is a fantasy.

18
May
09

Eternal Evolution?

Irreducible complexity is the notion that a mechanism is so complicated and complete, that if any part of its whole were missing, it would not be able to function (The God Delusion, 122). Two common examples for this argument are the eye and the wing. Many creationists would claim that a partial eye or a fraction of a wing would be useless (123-124).

Dawkins disagrees with these two examples, bringing to attention the flatworm, whose eye is apparently less evolved than the human eye and can only detect shadows and light (124). While giving no real examples of creatures with partial wings, Dawkins rationalizes that a fraction of a wing—though not as good as a whole wing—is still functional.  There is always a height from which a winglet can save you from a fall (123). (I find this logic somewhat silly.)

I am not going to pretend to know the anatomy and complexity of these or other organs. I couldn’t tell you one way or another whether an organ is irreducibly complex.

Dawkins admits that irreducible complexity would destroy Darwin’s theory of evolution:

The creationists are right that, if genuinely irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin’s theory. Darwin himself said as much: ‘If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case.’ (Dawkins, 125)

For some reason Dawkins believes irreducible complexity would be likewise as lethal to the intelligent design theory (125). I can’t figure out why. I should think irreducible complexity is absolutely necessary!

Complexity must either be infinitely reducible, so that we never reach a beginning in which case natural selection becomes an on-going (everlasting?) series of effects, with no definite initial cause. (And this would seriously contradict science in the law of causality.) OR there must ultimately be an actual eternal existence that has no beginning and has no end—whose complexity indeed is irreducible. Neither option is very accommodating to the theory of evolution.

Evolution only works within the construct of time. Dawkins already explained the cumulative process of natural selection. Over so many ‘billions’ or ‘trillions’ of years (far, far less than forever), we’ve supposedly evolved from the same primary life form. Wouldn’t that very first building block have to be irreducibly complex? If there is no end to the reducibility of complexity, then how do we dare frame the process of evolution within a supposed span of time?—(and so short a time at that.) The process of natural selection would go back forever. It would be eternal. This theory doesn’t make sense.

The origin of life must be BOTH eternal AND irreducibly complex if it is to initiate the whole process of natural selection. If neither of these attributes are present in the origin of life, then it remains nothing more than an effect. And we know that an effect cannot exist without a cause. There MUST be an ultimate cause.

We may not agree about who or what the ultimate cause actually is, but we certainly need to recognize the necessity of irreducible complexity and eternal existence.

I believe the ultimate cause is the eternal God, Creator of all things–including time. He is the source of life and is certainly irreducibly complex. Regardless of whether we acknowledge him as our Lord and Maker, we cannot exist without of him. Remove the cause and you remove the effect.

The creationist’s determination to hunt for irreducible complexity and other such “gaps” between stages of evolution seems to really annoy Dawkins. I guess this determination is not so different than the atheist’s obsession to spotlight holes in Scripture in order to find it unreliable. (Dawkins demonstrated this obsession himself in just the previous chapter.) This is NOT annoying. This is good! If there are holes in the ship wouldn’t we sure want to know about them? It is GOOD to critique and examine an argument, to be sure it is solid. Otherwise, you might find yourself on a sinking vessel.

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?

03
May
09

The Faith Award

Why should God be so interested in belief—Dawkins wants to know. Why shouldn’t he reward kindness, generosity, humility, or sincerity? (The God Delusion, 104) It’s a very good question.

Dawkins is asking a question that pertains to an entity he believes (almost) certainly does not exist. Indeed it will be difficult for him to hear any kind of answer. He (and any atheist) is going to have to yield to the notion that God does indeed exist. Not just any god–for there are thousands who require good virtues and works of righteousness in addition to belief. But only one God–the God of the Bible–requires FAITH alone. If Dawkins (or any atheist) wants an answer to this question, he will have to tolerate for once, the God of the Bible…

In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth and gave order to it. He created man and woman in his own image. He blessed them and charged them to be fruitful and multiply, and to rule over his creation. God provided them with seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing trees to eat for food. God saw all that he had made and saw that it was very good (Genesis 1).

Adam and Eve had perfect communion with God in the Garden of Eden. God had only one restriction–do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or you will surely die (Genesis 2:16-17). It is not too much to ask. There were plenty of trees from which Adam and Eve could eat. Only one single tree in the whole garden was forbidden. God gave us freedom to choose to obey him, or to forsake him. He permitted us to act on our will. And so we did. You and I were not there in the Garden of Eden. But we all fell with Adam’s sin. Sin infected the entire human race. We ALL are guilty of sin. We all harbor ill thoughts, we all lie, we all cheat, we all offend, we all shrink in our pride. And therefore we all die, just as God warned would surely happen.

God is not obliged to reverse our decision. We made our choice. We are not entitled to reconciliation. We all deserve eternal damnation.Yet God is gracious. He cursed the serpent for instigating this evil, but in the middle of the curse, he promised redemption for man (Genesis 3:15). And so he established his covenant.

As sinners, we are born into death. The dead and the living cannot have fellowship together. The pure will not tolerate the perverse. And the perverse will not tolerate the pure. God is perfect and holy. We are imperfect and unholy. We can do NOTHING to save ourselves. NOTHING! No amount of good works will ever redeem us from the grave. We will always contend with sin. We made our decision–we CHOSE death.

The only one who CAN save us from death is the One who is perfect and holy, without blemish, without sin—Jesus Christ the Son of God. He took our sin upon himself and died our death so that we may live.

Romans 10:9 tells us that that if we confess with our lips, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. It is easy to read this verse to mean that we are saved as a result of our believing in God. But this would contradict with the rest of Scripture and nullify the work of Christ. We are saved by GRACE, not by works. Galatians 2:21. Belief in God does NOT merit salvation. Faith is NOT an activating agent that somehow makes the cross effective in our lives. We are not saved because we believe in Jesus. We believe in Jesus, because we are saved. Belief is a result (not a cause) of salvation. We will have restored communion with God, not because of anything we have done, but because of what Christ alone has done.

Dawkins is therefore mistaken. God does NOT reward our belief. Salvation—from beginning to end—is entirely the work of God ALONE. We are DEAD in our sin. As long as we are in the grave, we will only ever choose death. But the Holy Spirit gives life. Romans 8:1-17. The Spirit is the one who reveals God’s truth and leads us to true faith and repentance. We can NEVER choose to believe in God without the intervention of his Spirit. True faith can only come from God, not from ourselves. Ephesians 2:8-9. If true faith originates from ourselves, than belief in God is a work of self-righteousness.

Salvation is by God’s grace ALONE, through faith ALONE, in Jesus Christ ALONE, for His glory ALONE.

(I just breezed through an immense amount of doctrine.)

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.




Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3 other followers

Categories

Recent Comments