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The Christian Poses Tough Questions to the Atheist (2 of 3)

We’re exploring ten tough questions that supposedly provide strong evidence for the Christian claim. Read part 1 of my response here.

Keep in mind that even if these questions do show holes in the atheist position (I don’t think they do), this are just the Christian side of the issue. Once we respond to this attack, I have a broadside of my own to offer.

4. Why Does There Appear to Be Evidence of Intelligence in Biology?

“Most scientists are quick to agree that biological systems often ‘appear’ to be designed. There are many examples of biological ‘machines’ that appear to be irreducibly complex, a sure sign of design. … Perhaps the most important evidence suggesting the involvement of an intelligent agent is the presence of DNA and the guiding role that this DNA plays in the formation of biological systems.”

Appearances can be deceiving. ELIZA was computer program with which users could have a typed conversation, as if with an attentive friend. Originally written in 1966, it could be assigned as a homework problem today. It convincingly mimics intelligence, though it contains none. Perhaps we’re seeing an ELIZA effect when we look at DNA, imagining intelligence where there is none.

Is the marvelous complexity we see in the cell a clue to an omniscient designer? Or is this clumsy, non-optimal Rube Goldberg machine actually evidence for evolution? Biologists are satisfied that evolution explains it. Laymen have no grounds by which to reject the scientific consensus as the best provisional explanation we have.

The claim of irreducible complexity doesn’t convince biologists either. I’ve written more on that here.

As for DNA being strong evidence for intelligence, guess again. In fact, DNA alone demolishes this Argument from Design. DNA is a sloppy record of evolution, not the perfect blueprint of an omniscient designer.

The Christian might point out that for every instance of information, we find an intelligence behind it. That may be so, but for every instance of intelligently caused information, that intelligence is natural, not supernatural.

Given the long list of things we thought were supernatural but are actually natural (disease, earthquakes, and so on), you’d think that apologists would be more cautious. But no, once science resolves a puzzle, they’ll just retreat to another unanswered question to defend their God of the Gaps.

5. How Did Human Consciousness Come Into Being?

“[As evolution proceeds, naturalists must] imagine that spatially-arranged matter somehow organized itself to produce non-spatial, immaterial mental states. Naturalism has no reasonable explanation for how this might come to pass.”

Ah, but it does: emergent properties. Consider a water molecule. It doesn’t have the properties of wetness, fluidity, or surface tension, but once you get trillions of trillions of them, then these properties emerge.

Or take the human brain. Our brains have roughly 100 billion (that’s 1011) neurons. A single neuron doesn’t think 10–11 times as fast; it doesn’t think at all. Thinking is another emergent phenomenon. (I’ve written more on that here.)

If the point is that we have plenty to learn about consciousness, that’s certainly true. Again, science’s long list of unanswered questions does nothing to support the Christian claim.

Wallace also insists on the existence of the mind as something separate from the brain, but he gives no evidence of this dualism.

Remember the story of Phineas Gage, the man who had a steel rod shot through his head during a mining accident (more here)? Or consider an Alzheimer’s patient. As the physical brain is damaged or deteriorates, the mind is also damaged. The “mind” is simply what the brain does.

If Wallace thinks that the mind (or soul) is something separate or that consciousness is not the inevitable end result of a sufficiently large brain, he needs to show evidence.

6. Where Does Free Will Come From?

Wallace imagines various philosophical problems with free will and then solves them with God as the first mover. Of course, he doesn’t explain the new puzzles that the God hypothesis introduces—where God came from or why God has always existed or what laws of nature (if any) God breaks to do his miracles. This hypothesis teaches us nothing new. God becomes a synonym for “I don’t know.”

If God is the reason that we have free will, then Wallace is saying that a godless universe would have no free will. I patiently await evidence of this claim.

I have little interest in philosophical puzzles. In the apologetics context, they seem like nothing more than smoke screens. Let me know if there’s something I’ve missed.

7. Why Are Humans So Contradictory in Nature?

Humans can be altruistic and compassionate, but we can also be hateful and murderous. “Philosophical Naturalism struggles to explain how creatures capable of genocide and cruelty are also capable of compassion and sacrificial generosity.”

What’s puzzling? Humans have a large palette of personality traits and drives. They came from evolution, and we’re stuck with them, though we can do our best to adapt to society’s norms.

These drives, both “good” ones like patience and perseverance and “bad” ones like lust or envy, can be useful. The problem arises when any are used too much.

For example, generosity is a good trait, but you need to be a bit selfish so that you don’t damage your own life by giving away too much. Anger is a bad trait, but the focus and drive that it gives can be useful occasionally when righting a wrong.

Different conditions create a wide variety of norms (the Nazi prison guard is a classic example) that encourage actions inconceivable in modern society. We don’t need to handwave about Mankind’s fall to explain the good and bad we see in human actions.

The discussion concludes with part 3.

In dark ages people are best guided by religion,
as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide;
he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see.
When daylight comes, however,
it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides.
— Heinrich Heine

Photo credit: Emily Jane Morgan

About Bob Seidensticker

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