I get email: Matthew.

I got an email from Matthew.

 I was at the presentation you gave yesterday a Rose-Hulman. You said you thought that Christian apologists had to know their evidence was bad. What would you say about the evidence of irreducibly complex systems? (Such as the Blood clotting cascade and cilium) You mentioned them yesterday (with the computer), I believe, in relation to the need for using human reasoning. The system is one that can’t come about via evolution because until all the pieces are present it doesn’t have a function to the animal/human and the jump is far too large for it to happen in one mutation.

Also you spent a fair amount of time talking about how bad of idea you find faith; yet later in your speech you talked about how you didn’t have answers to most of the science questions (specifically how the universe/earth came to be) and how you decided you would just trust that the experts had good answers to these questions. Isn’t that the same thing as faith but instead you aren’t interested in learning about it?

Lastly I was wondering what you have to say about the Kalam Cosmology argument.
1)      Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2)      The universe began to exist
3)      Therefor the universe had a cause (God)

Let’s jump straight in.

I was at the presentation you gave yesterday a Rose-Hulman. You said you thought that Christian apologists had to know their evidence was bad.  You mentioned them yesterday (with the computer), I believe, in relation to the need for using human reasoning. The system is one that can’t come about via evolution because until all the pieces are present it doesn’t have a function to the animal/human and the jump is far too large for it to happen in one mutation.

What I specifically said was that I enjoy debating pastors/priests much more than apologists.  Apologists use the same arguments, but don’t ever seem to want to defend them very deeply.  They tend to turn the debate into a game of whack-a-mole, swiftly changing the subject from one thing to another instead of answering basic questions as if they know their case is indefensible.  Pastors, on the other hand, really believe their arguments are good and that god is at their back.  They come right out with Pascal’s Wager and First Cause.  It’s much more honest.

Matt, I’m going to put you in the pastor category.  Because…

What would you say about the evidence of irreducibly complex systems?

By googling “irreducible complexity” I found the wikipedia page on it.  Here are the first few sentences from it.

Irreducible complexity (IC) is an argument by proponents of intelligent design that certain biological systems are too complex to have evolved from simpler, or “less complete” predecessors, through natural selection acting upon a series of advantageous naturally occurring, chance mutations. The argument is central to intelligent design, and is rejected by the scientific community at large

If you are a student at RHIT (as your email address would suggest), then you likely have access to EBSCOHost or some other academic paper database.  You could run a search for peer review papers including the phrase “irreducible complexity” and find that the only papers that have survived peer review are ones trashing the idea.

So I’d say that actual scientists think the idea is bullshit.  Now I, as a music major, could say that I know better than virtually every scientist on planet earth, which is what lots of Christians without the first clue about science do, but that would be hugely pretentious of me (ironically, many of the believers who adopt this attitude will then praise the humility of Christians).

The wikipedia page and the lack of any papers on IC in peer review also tell me what you did here.  You took an argument from some apologetics website and, without asking a scientist about it and without even googling it, decided to email it to me.  This tells me that you are more interested in ideas that you think confirm your present position than with answers.  It also tells me that you’re willing to treat me like your own personal google, as though my time is not already stretched and insanely valuable.  This behavior reveals contempt for me, selfishness on your part, and a lack of any real desire for the answers you’ve told me you want.

You asked what I thought of the evidence for IC and gave two examples.  The blood-clotting cascade example is even tackled on wikipedia.

I would say the “evidence” for IC only amounts to what you don’t know, Matt.  There are several systems in biology that allow for the evolution of systems that once served a different purpose than they presently do. The most common of which is intermediary pathways (like scaffolding, exaptation, and spandrels).  You would already have known this had you either used google or asked a scientist…y’know, what any mildly competent human being would have done if they really wanted answers.

Michael Behe, the author of the IC argument, uses the metaphor of a mouse trap.  The idea is that if you remove any one part of it, the mouse trap fails to function making it “irreducibly complex.”  How then could the various parts have evolved all on their own?  The answer is by intermediary pathways.  Biologist Kenneth Miller breaks it down very simply.

In fact, [Behe] also overlooks the most important error in his mousetrap argument, which is his contention that function is abolished by removing any part of an “irreducibly complex” system. At the very same conference, I removed two parts from a mousetrap (leaving just the base, spring, and hammer), and used that 3-part device as a functional tie-clip. I then detached the spring from the hammer, and used the device as a keychain. If I had cared to, I might have used the base and spring (2 parts) as a paper clip, my tie clip (glued to a door) as a door knocker, the catch as a toothpick, or the base as a paperweight.

Behe used this exact example of the mouse trap in the Dover trial (where he was one of the few ID proponents invited to defend their ideas who actually had the gumption to show up). Kenneth Miller took the stand with the mouse trap tie clip described above to show the judge why the IC argument sucked.

Lastly, even if I had no clue whatsoever how “irreducibly complex” systems came to be, that would mean what, exactly?  You can’t build a case for god’s existence based on what neither you nor I know.  Imagine how this argument would’ve looked a few centuries ago.

Amateur apologist:  What would you say about the evidence of earthquakes?  I mean, the earth is made up of unthinking rocks and dirt, how could it move itself?

Skeptic:  I don’t know.

Amateur apologist:  There must be an earth-mover.

Skeptic:  Do you have any evidence for this earth-mover?

Amateur apologist:  You don’t know how earthquakes happen.

Skeptic:  That doesn’t mean that you do.

Of course, later we’d figure out plate tectonics and realize that earthquakes have a perfectly natural explanation.  So it has been with everything we’ve ever explained, each time with believers who had previously jumped the gun and given the credit to god winding up with egg on their face.  Somehow this has never kept them from trying the same argument with some new thing we haven’t explained.

If you are to make god the the equivalent of what you don’t know, you are either saying that god is the same as human ignorance, which is not very flattering to god, or you’re giving a name to your ignorance (“god”) that moves you to worship what you don’t know, which is not flattering at all to you.  When you don’t know something, you’ve only established that you don’t know something.  You’ve not established the existence of god.  You might as well say that you don’t know where your missing sock went, so god must’ve taken it.

Then you said…

Also you spent a fair amount of time talking about how bad of idea you find faith; yet later in your speech you talked about how you didn’t have answers to most of the science questions (specifically how the universe/earth came to be) and how you decided you would just trust that the experts had good answers to these questions. Isn’t that the same thing as faith but instead you aren’t interested in learning about it?

You clearly weren’t listening to the talk, because I tackled this.

I don’t have answers to most of the scientific questions because my life is far too short to become an expert on everything.  But there are experts in a whole host of disciplines who’ve spent 12+ years learning the intricacies of those subjects and adding to humanity’s knowledge of them.  Instead of thinking my hair-brained, comparatively ill-informed guesses are better than the scientific consensus (like you’re doing with irreducible complexity), I defer to those experts.  I do this every time I get on an airplane and every time I drink water without fear of getting sick from it.  You do the exact same thing.

We trust the experts because we have solid reasoning and evidence to support the conclusion that the consensus of physicists dwarfs our individual knowledge about physics.  This isn’t faith, it’s not being arrogant as all hell.

As for having faith in science, science makes one assumption: that the universe operates under a set of rules.  That’s it.  If this assumption is true, we should be able to test it.  We test it every time we derive an equation dealing with something’s rate of descent.  We test it every time we launch something to the edge of our solar system with uncanny accuracy.  We test it with the invention of light bulbs, iphones, indoor plumbing, cars, etc.  Each of these confirms our assumption, making it less of a matter of accepting it by faith and more a matter of acknowledging that it has worked this way every time we’ve observed or tested it.  That requires only basic sense, not faith.

“Faith” as you use it here, seems to be making conclusions about what you don’t know rather than withholding judgment and waiting until we figure it out.  That’s the opposite of science.  Unless you’re comparing science to religious faith, the thing that can allow someone to believe a Canaanite Jew rose from the dead regardless of how offensive that claim is to literally everything we know about the operation of the universe.  If it’s to that type of faith that you’re comparing my trust of the same scientific consensus that invented the medicine I take, then you’re bleeding mad.

And also, it takes a lot of damn gall for someone who used the irreducible complexity argument, who undoubtedly dug it up from a random website instead of going to see what the scientific community says, who didn’t even google that shit before emailing me, to say something like “Isn’t that the same thing as faith but instead you aren’t interested in learning about it?”  The only appropriate response to that kind of temerity is “fuck you.”  If I’m not interested in learning about it, why the hell are you coming to me with science questions and not actual fucking scientists?

Lastly I was wondering what you have to say about the Kalam Cosmology argument.
1)      Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2)      The universe began to exist
3)      Therefor the universe had a cause (God)

I’d say it’s shit.  Google it.

If I were more generous than I should be, I’d say that…

Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

This is flat out wrong.

Even if it were true, you’ve already admitted that some things can exist eternally (god).  Why does your cause have to be this hyper complex being?  Why couldn’t matter and the laws of physics be eternal?  After all, we already know matter and the laws of physics exist, which makes them superior to the god hypothesis on that one point alone.  We also know that matter and the laws of physics produce order all by themselves over time.  Even if I were to grant your premise, the obviously superior candidate for whatever’s been around forever is matter and the laws of physics, not god.

The universe began to exist

Our universe did, yes.  But nobody, not you or I, knows what preceded that event.  Cosmologists are making progress on this.  Theology has made none in thousands of years, and are still making none to this day.

Instead, theologians are doing what you did earlier: taking what we don’t know and branding it “god.”  That’s embarrassing, and only those eager for something to confirm a similar personal myth would ever paint that kind of behavior as anything other than embarrassing.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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