Tuesday, October 30, 2012

IDHEF - Chapter 5: The First Life: Natural Law or Divine Awe? (Part II)

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

Part II


   There's not a whole lot to say with this section as they are most likely operating off of that straw man argument about the first life being complex as life today. I do, however, want to cover some of the things that they say that is either them being stupid or them lying. Oh, and since the subsections are short, I'm not going to bother creating headers for them.

   I have to start out with this idea that "nature disorders, it doesn't organize things" (p124). This takes us back to that issue I had just moments ago related to chemicals. If nature doesn't organize things, then how did I go from being a single cell to the multicellular organism I am today? From what they suggest here, my growth from embryo to adult must not have been a natural process, because they say nature doesn't organize. Which is interesting, considering that in Chapter 4, one of the anthropic principles they list seismic activity and speak about how it cycles back "nutrients on the ocean floors" (p106). So they seem to know what they say here is not true. So are they being stupid or are they lying? (Another example I have considered myself is thunderstorms (or the water cycle). If you listen to a weatherperson, ze may refer to a storm as a "complex." Or ze may talk about a storm "building." So are storms supernatural then? How about hurricanes? Or what about stars? Right now, our sun is performing nuclear fusion, combining hydrogen atoms to form helium. Stars more massive than our own can form as much as iron through their normal fusion process. This is organization coming from natural processes. Or are they claiming nuclear fusion is a supernatural process?)

   Strangely enough, only two paragraphs later they do a 180 and disprove their own confetti argument by saying, "Yes, [living things] grow and get more ordered" (p125). Wait! You just said, "[nature] doesn't organize" (p124) (note: organize and order are synonyms in this context — the more complete quote above from page 124 helps demonstrate this fact). Again, is growth supernatural? The context in which this statement lies would suggest they would agree it is natural. This next part, though, is key: "But they still lose energy in the process of growth" (p125). The authors are still using this poor terminology of "losing" energy, but at least they seem to recognize that order can be gained in a locale if the overall system loses order, which is something the so-called "Darwinists" recognize. No one I know has ever suggested that the Second Law of Thermodynamics "doesn't apply continuously" (p125). As stated by PZ Myers:
I was once a tiny single cell, and I have increased in complexity and bulk over the years by chowing down on a mountain of high-energy food and turning it into a mountain of low-energy poop. It’s the same story with the bigger scale of evolution: it’s ultimately been driven by immense masses of hydrogen fusing in the heart of our star. Far more energy was burned by the sun than was harvested and used in all the history of life, so there is no net gain in the energy of the whole system.
The problem in the book is why aren't these authors considering applying this same concept to the formation of life? My understanding of the Miller-Urey experiments, for example, is that they used an electrical discharge (to simulate lightning) to "feed" energy into the experiment. The Miller-Urey experiments, from what I can tell, are completely in line with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It would seem that it is actually the authors of this book who are failing to apply the Second Law of Thermodynamics continuously, not the so-called "Darwinists."

   Additionally, why aren't the authors applying this concept to non-living things, such as (again) thunderstorms and hurricanes. Or are they alive (since living things are apparently allowed to become more ordered)? Or are they supernatural? I realize it may be hard for people to grasp the idea that something like a storm or a hurricane is organized/ordered as they often cause disorder. But that is a result of the storms obeying the Second Law of Thermodynamics. As a storm gains more order, it must leave behind more disorder in its path so that there is an overall loss of energy in the system. In short, nature can and does bring order to things on occasion, unlike what the authors say on page 124. The important key to remember is that whenever something gains order, more disorder must occur in the surrounding environment to balance this out.

   The next thing to discuss is this idea of chance. Now, since they are working off of that straw man, we could just ignore what they say about probability altogether. However, they butcher the concepts of probability (chance), and this needs to be addressed. They do this by giving an example of probability that requires intelligent intervention — a coin flip. What they should instead have done, in order to be honest, is given an example of something that does not. To the right, I have inserted a sign one might see while driving to warn the driver of the chance of falling rocks. While the authors are right to say chance is not a cause, the key with such a situation as this is that the forces (primarily gravity) that can cause rocks to fall are always at work. So why aren't rocks falling all the time? It takes...wait for it!...time for all of the necessary conditions to be in place. Maybe a windy day is needed so there is some force working in a direction other than down? Perhaps a slight earthquake is needed to shake things up? It is expected that those conditions will occur on occasion — and when they do, the probability (or chance) of falling rocks goes up — hence the need for signs.

   On the flip side, if you are driving on a road in a fairly flat area or with rolling hills at the most (like Iowa), you will never have to worry about falling rocks because the necessary conditions don't exist. On that note, if it is true (I highly suspect it is) that current conditions on earth are not favorable for first life, then time and chance don't matter anymore. However, in the past, when some scientists suspect conditions were more favorable, time and chance then becomes a factor. In short, the authors are correct that time and chance alone don't do anything. But when biologists are talking about time and chance, the existence of the necessary natural forces are assumed.

   Another important point to note, as this will be relevant in later chapters, is that there may very well have been more than one abiogenesis event. If this were the case, then it would likely be that the lifeforms from those other events died out. Perhaps they were even killed off by our long-distant ancestors. Though there is no evidence to support such ideas, the point is that assuming there would have only been one abiogenesis event is likewise not supported and is thus not a valid assumption to make.


   Here we have another anecdote of a debate with Peter Atkins (we saw an earlier reference to him in Chapter 3). I'm starting to wonder, if this anecdote has much truth to it, if this man should refrain from participating in debates. However, I suspect that another straw man is being presented here. (Yep, I'm even using the picture from Part I again.) I have no disagreement with Atkins when he says, "'Everything in the world can be understood without needing to evoke a god'" (p126). But it is wrong to assert that everything can be known through science as there are some presumptions behind science, as is presented in Craig's first point. However, there are major problems with three of Craig's points. #2, #3, and #4 all involve what are sometimes known as secondary qualities. Basically, minds, judgements, and evil are things that humans use to describe actual phenomena. Another example that may help this make sense is the idea of hot and cold. One cannot prove hot and cold with science, either. This is because hot and cold are subjective terms that humans use to describe "the derivative of the internal energy with respect to the entropy;" in other words, temperature. Science can, however, show what the temperature of an object is. Likewise, minds and judgements are the product of brains. Craig is correct that science cannot demonstrate a mind or judgement beyond the actual phenomena in the brain that produces such things. (The concept of evil is a bit more complicated because the term itself is very broad.) His mistake is to think this is a problem. It is not because subjective things don't require* an explanation; only objective things do. If we were to get rid of the ideas of a mind, judgements, evil, hot, cold, etc, the phenomena, which science can address, would still be there. (But let's keep these subjective terms, because I don't want to say "The derivative of the internal energy with respect to the entropy is above normal" instead of just saying something is hot.) By the way, Craig's second point appears to be dealing with solipsism, not metaphysics. In which case, this deals more with assumptions that science makes, such as the assumption that what we see as the "real world" is actually real and not something like a matrix.

   Otherwise, there really is no big deal that one has to make assumptions about the world. This is largely because theists have to make assumptions, too! (The problem is that they sometimes deny they make assumptions. More on this later!) To help with this, I'm attaching a video in the supplemental material that was also in my coverage of Chapter 2. The video shows how, by just making two assumptions, we can derive math and logic. While this is not in that video, similar methods could be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of science.

   Next, I am slightly confused about the part where they say they discussed philosophical laws used to discover truth in Chapter 1. Did they perhaps mean Chapter 2? It is not until page 62 that they seem to begin covering these things. This is likely just a typo, but there is a slight problem to their claim about the laws of logic, though. If you recall from Chapter 2, they discussed how logical arguments need to be sound to be true. But how do we know if an argument is sound; specifically, how do we know the premises are true? Sometimes premises can be true purely by definition. But when they aren't, determining if they are objectively true is largely going to come from observation, which is a huge part of science. So, actually, the laws of logic alone are not enough; science is needed as well. In other words, philosophy and science need each other**. (This, however, causes their comments at the beginning of Chapter 4 to make more sense. There, they claimed the teleological argument itself as evidence. If they are of the mindset that philosophy alone is enough, then I can now see where they are coming from. I find them to be quite wrong about this...nor do I believe they actually believe this***. I also find that the effectiveness of science (and the relative ineffectiveness of philosophy) demonstrates my point.)

   I'm not sure I need to say much about the rest of the section. Yes, assumptions have to be made first. Yes, the bias of the scientist can impact hirs conclusions. However, this is why there is a peer review process. The point of the process is to reduce bias from the conclusions as much as possible. The joke of the cartoon on the right is implying that running through a line-up of people with weapons to get a paper published would be easier than the current process. Though, I of course know the claim that Christian apologists make in compliant about the process—a majority of scientists are biased against an intelligent cause and they won't let those who believe in an intelligent cause participate. Therefore, the peer review process won't remove such bias if the only people allowed to partake share in that bias. Such goes the claim...which does have some truth to it, but perhaps also consider that it just seems appears that way because the evidence actually leads to a non-intelligent cause rather than it being an issue of bias. (But then they'll claim that I'm just saying that because I'm biased. Of course, I could likewise claim that they have a bias for an intelligent cause. This just leads to a he-said/she-said struggle that takes the discussion nowhere productive. But then maybe that's the point?)

   Allow me to provide a couple examples that are no longer strong religious positions: a flat earth and an earth-centric universe. There are still people who support such positions today (see the Flat Earth Society, for example). But are they included in the peer review process or scientific discussions? Unlikely. Does this mean there is a bias against a flat earth or an earth-centric universe? If by "bias" you mean the evidence is heavily weighted against such positions, then yes. If by "bias" you mean that scientists are unjustifiably slanted to taking a spherical earth or non-earth-centric position, then no. Yet, the flat-earthers and such could try to claim as much. So when creationists suggest the same, you must ask yourself if there really is an unfair bias or if the bias is due to where the evidence actually leads.

   One last point I do have to make on this section is where they say (emphasis mine), "Scientists assume (by faith) that reason and the scientific method allow us to accurately understand the world around us" (p127). Really? It takes faith? With all that applied science has led to? Radios, cellular phones, high-definition televisions, computers, plastics, trains, planes, and automobiles...so many things that we use in our daily lives are the result of scientists and engineers putting into applications the lessons learned from science. And yet they are going to claim that it takes faith to accept (or "assume") that this is an accurate way to understand the world? I think this needs to be discussed in further detail, but not here. Look for an "Appendix" in the future to address this in full.

* This is not to say that it is not important to study subjective topics. Figuring out morality is important, for example. But this is about finding a solution not an explanation. Also, science may be used to find solutions. Understanding human psychology can be useful when dealing with moral questions, as an example. Understanding neuroscience could perhaps be useful in dealing with metaphysics (but I'm not a philosopher, so I'd hate to make assumptions about the study that may be untrue).

** In fact, science was derived from philosophy. Early scientists were sometimes known as "natural philosophers."
Update: Some will even say science is a form of philosophy.

*** The teleological argument, recall, is that (1) a design needs a designer (true by definition) and that (2) the universe is designed. Thus, the universe has a designer. The authors claim this is "evidence" in Chapter 4, but what they did in most of Chapter 4 was try to provide evidence from probabilities derived from scientific observation for that second premise. If they truly thought philosophy alone led to truth, then why spend so much time defending their premise? Was it because presenting only the teleological argument would have made for too short a chapter?


   This section is quite interesting...and quite painful to process all the ignorant nonsense. Let's start by going through their five points:
  1. This first point is essentially an argument from ignorance*. There is a key word in the paragraph that is a sign of such an argument; that word is "cannot." The reality is that it has not been explained by non-intelligent natural laws. This does not mean such laws will not be found in the future.
  2. This second point has the problem of secondary qualities again. (We saw this in the last section with Craig's arguments.) There is also the problem of category errors. These particular errors result from trying to treat the secondary qualities as though they were primary qualities. So of course their questions are absurd! I can ask absurd questions of my own, such as "What is the temperature of cold?" "What is the weight of darkness?" "What is the chemical composition of sound?" All of the things listed in the paragraph as examples are subjective. Now, once again, there is real material phenomena that produces things like love, hate, cold, etc, but that phenomena is more complex than the subjective terms used to describe said phenomena. So how much does love weigh? It'd be tough to determine, but I find it likely to be less than the weight of the person experiencing love. Just because love is a complex phenomena that is difficult to break down and explain in material terms does not mean that it is not the result of materials. This whole argument from the authors seems to boil down to the following: "You cannot explain love in simple, materialistic terms; therefore, love cannot be materialistic." It may sound like a good argument, but just because something is not easy to explain does not mean it cannot be explained.
  3. This third point is back to another argument from ignorance. Again, they use "cannot," but the truth is that we "have not." This does not mean we won't figure it out in the future. Can they prove we won't be able to do so?
    They also seem to imply that materialists cannot explain why one body is alive and another is dead. In this case, I actually think we have ways to show that — such as heart beat, brain activity, body temperature, etc. With that, they are taking this bizarre position (it looks like another straw man) that the interaction between matter doesn't...umm...matter. Yeah, an alive body and a dead body have essentially the same materials. But, for example, when the heart stops beating, there is no longer any blood flow, blood being a material in the body. It should seem obvious with modern medical knowledge that this is an important factor in a body being alive or dead.
    Another flaw in the argument is that it seems to assume a distinct transition from one state to another. This isn't necessarily the case. Take the idea of baking a cake. You don't go instantly from batter to baked cake. It is a transitional process. The same could be said about death. Death doesn't occur the instant the heart stops beating. To ask for some distinct transition point is then an absurd question. I don't need to have an answer for a poorly formed question. (Again, what's the temperature of cold?)
    I also cannot help but note the implications behind such a suggestion. If there is no materialistic (natural) explanation for why a body is dead or alive, then this implies that it takes a supernatural explanation. Knowing that their supernatural explanation is a personal god, then this means that this personal god uses some supernatural force to animate my body. And this personal god has the ability to shut off this force to kill me. Unless...unless they wish to suggest it is the devil that kills people. Or maybe they'd suggest that this supernatural force decays with time? Ironically, for people who are objecting that materialists don't have an explanation, it would seem they are quite lacking in that department themselves. (Or if they think they have an explanation, they forgot to share it!)
    Additionally, they seem to be confusing definitions of the word "problem."** They seem to be treating it as if it were like a roadblock or other obstacle that basically stops one from achieving their goals. The way people like Atkins use it is likely more along the lines of a challenge. Take the homework you likely were assigned in school. Often math and science homework are marked as "problems." It's something to figure out. So when someone like Atkins says that consciousness is a "problem," he's likely not saying it's this huge showstopper for materialism. Instead, he's likely saying it's something we haven't solved yet. Not having the answers is not a big deal. And not having the answers does not allow us to assert "goddidit."
  4. Why do they think it's not likely that many people having spiritual experiences would just be mistaken? Why can't there be something about the human brain and/or genetics that is susceptible to such experiences? There have been studies that suggest this is indeed the case. There is also a problem that many people come to different, and often contradictory, conclusions through those experiences. This tells us that many of those experiences must be mistaken. If most of them are mistaken, is it really much of a stretch to suggest that all of them are mistaken?
    I also cannot help but laugh at their examples of "the most rational, scientific, and critical minds ever" (p129). That list includes Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and Jesus. Really?!? It could very well be that none of these men actually existed. (Pro tip: If you're trying to convince skeptics that your religion isn't mythology, don't go boasting about characters in that religion.) And even if they did, the stories about them are very likely to be exaggerated. Otherwise, I'll grant the authors that they are correct that if just one such experience is true, then materialism is false. I have not seen good reason to believe that any such experience is indeed true, though.
  5. Like with the second point, there are category errors with this fifth point. This time, they are trying to attribute properties of secondary qualities to primary qualities. It is actually quite possible, and I'd say likely, that chemical reactions are involved in the reasoning process. But it's not chemical reactions alone that can do this. So, what they are doing is trying to oversimplify the phenomena that are likely involved in a process that has simplified terminology (the secondary quality — in this case, "reason"). In other words, they are trying to make the phenomena of reasoning as simple as the simplified term itself. But we wouldn't necessarily need simplified terms if the phenomena were simple to describe in the first place!) And what about computers? They are very good at performing logical and mathematical functions — much better than humans. So is there some supernatural component in computers? Yes, sure computers are "intelligently designed," but, as far as I know, they are purely material. While there are a lot of things human minds can do that computers can't, I still must ask if computers can do what they do with materials only, why can't human minds likewise do what they do on materials alone?
   After this, they go about trying to make it look like materialists have lots of faith because we have to make some assumptions. Again, this is true. But if we don't make a few assumptions, then we are left with nothing. Likewise, theists have the same problem. They are either making assumptions that a god is responsible (as in the quote from J. Budziszewski on page 130) or they are using circular reasoning because they have to use reason to prove that a god exists (the goal of the book) and that that god gave us reason. They criticize materialists for using circular argumentation, but so do they. They just add in an additional step with a god. (To make the circularity more clear, ask where reason came from. They'll answer from a god. Well, how do they know that? If this isn't assumed, then it is by using reason! Well, where does reason come from? Oh, right, God! How do they know that? By using reason... Circular!)

   Oh, then they ignore the issues that additional step introduces. Particularly, does this god have the ability to reason? If so, how did it get it's ability to reason. Now, based on what we saw in Chapter 3, the authors would probably say this god is infinite and eternal, etc. OK, prove it. So far they have only asserted this to be the case, though they've tried to cover this up through flawed reasoning. In fact, they use much the same flawed reasoning here by suggesting "it makes much more sense" (p130). Much like I said in my break-down of Chapter 3, I don't care what seems to make more sense. I care about what is true. I've referred to this post at lease a couple of times in prior posts, but I'll reference to it again — this is my post on how "common sense" can fail. It is the reason I don't care about what makes more sense; humans are occasionally wrong on such matters and it is thus unwise to appeal to such reasoning.

   I am also bothered by this comment: "We say it is by faith because it contradicts all scientific observation which demonstrates that an effect cannot be greater than its cause" (p130). First, what observations? Second, who determines "greater"? What does it even mean for a cause to be greater than its effect? That sounds quite subjective to me if we are not comparing numbers things that are quantitative. It would appear that they are implying that reason is greater than mindless matter. Is that true? If so, prove it. All I see, though, are bald assertions.

   Lastly, do I even need to mention the straw man argument about the Library of Congress or can you spot them on your own by now?

* I find it worth pointing out that this is indeed an argument from ignorance, though it is concealed a bit since it is not in its typical form. Essentially, the authors are implying that an intelligent cause is responsible until proven otherwise; that is the argument from ignorance in a nutshell. The implication can be drawn from earlier parts of the book. The concealment involves the so-called evidence they've tried to present in support of their belief, with the reasoning that an argument supported by evidence can't be an ignorant argument. However, that evidence comes from flawed reasoning, as I've addressed previously. Bad evidence is essentially no different than no evidence at all.

** It may be the case, as we saw in the conclusion of Chapter 3 as well as other parts of this chapter, that the authors are approaching this from the idea that god is the default or obvious conclusion and that scientists are trying to disprove god as opposed to proving natural causes. If that were truly the case, which it is not, then indeed problems become major obstacles.


   In the first paragraph of this section, they claim that "order, logic, design, and truth can only exist and be known if there is an unchangeable objective source and standard of such things" (p130). Now, I don't necessarily disagree with this, per se. The video in the supplemental material shows how ideas like logic are derived because there happens to be order. Likewise, it presents a challenge as to how one could assume such things in a world without order. The authors' claim is true to the extent that the universe must be reasonable in order to have reason, but, first, that would be more like a prerequisite than a presumption. Second, they have failed to demonstrate that a god is necessary for there to be order. So, no, atheists are not "borrowing from the theistic world view" (p130).

   They then provide an anecdote, and, once again, let me first say I don't believe this is the true story. It may be based on some truth, but this part about a woman making it known that she was an atheist in Georgia — yeah, Georgia...down in the Bible Belt — is not very believable. Likewise, the part about this guy not wanting to bring up Christianity sounds fishy as well. Again, this story is said to take place in Georgia. They are quite religious down there (and Christian, of course); I'd bet bringing up Christianity would actually have earned him some favor from the group and the group would have become suspicious of the woman claiming to be an atheist. (Pro tip: If you're trying to convince skeptics that your anecdote is legit, don't imply (1) how persecuted you are when you are part of the privileged group nor (2) how respected a member of an underprivileged group is. That is...if you are trying to convince skeptics.)

UPDATE: I had forgotten at the time of publishing that Georgia has a representative that thinks "evolution and the big bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of hell.'" END UPDATE

   The next thing is that if that woman was an atheist, she must not have been good at critical thinking. There are a few flaws with the list that is presented.
  1. This list is under the topic of uniqueness. Therefore, even if I grant that all five conditions can be attributed to humans, that alone does not make these things unique to humans. The question that must be asked is if other animals have any of these characteristics. If the answer to any of them is "Yes," then these conditions are not unique.
  2. Second, the fifth condition is flawed. The first flaw is with the idea of rights being "inalienable." Objecting to that item will show that I, and I alone, have been given that right to do so, but it does not prove that everyone has such a right, which is necessary for a right to be inalienable. (Go ask people in Islamic countries — you know, where Christians actually get persecuted — who get jailed for mocking Islam just how "inalienable" their rights are!) The second flaw in the fifth condition is that it refers to personhood, which is the thing the condition is trying to define. (The word being defined is found in the definition. This is circular.)
  3. Third, on the third and forth conditions, if I were a sociopath, these may not apply to me. Are sociopaths not human? Objecting to #3 and #4, as was the case with #5, shows that only the person objecting holds those values. It does not show that all humans hold such values.
So much for their example of critical thinking!


   I'm going to go ahead and skip over the section about having the wrong box top. They are just building on top of their foundation from chapters 3 and 4. Since I find their foundation to be cracked, which was discussed in previous posts, there is no need to go through it again.

   There also is not a lot to address here, either, as a lot of it is a repeat of fallacious arguments from earlier in the chapter. But allow me to go ahead and remind you of those fallacies:
  1. This is an oversimplification of the phenomena that are likely responsible for life. It is indeed more complex, but they assert such complexity can only come from a mind. This is essentially a form of the argument from ignorance.
  2. Likewise, this is also an argument from ignorance in combination with a false analogy. Just because life and messages share some similarities does not mean they have enough in common to assert that intelligence must then be responsible for life.
  3. This is the big straw man argument. When they talk about "simplest life" (135), they are talking about what we observe today. Life in the past is very likely to have been simpler.
  4. This is mostly a repeat of the last point. As far as their point on bias goes, I can again add that I can just as easily accuse them of ruling out natural causes before looking at the evidence.
  5. This is another straw man. The theory of evolution can still work even if that first life was created by a god as long as that god stays out of the process from then on.

Supplemental Material

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