[For a brief explanation of my “An A-Z of Unanswered Objections to Christianity” series, and for the skeptical tone of this article, please see here. I’m starting my A-Z series with the letter H, and I’ll be zipping around the alphabet, in the coming weeks.]
In this article, I take aim at the Christian teaching that there was a special moment in history at which humans, who were made in the image of God, came into existence, and that a sharp line can be drawn between man and beast. I argue that on purely scientific grounds, it can be shown that such a view is highly unlikely. If the scientific arguments I put forward here are correct, then Christianity is in very big trouble.
The sinking of the Titanic, by Willy Stöwer, 1912.
During the past 25 years, there has been a dramatic resurgence in Christian apologetics, as many talented individuals have written books and given public speeches in defense of the Christian faith. Some of these people have even gone so far as to claim that we are now living in the Golden Age of Christian apologetics (see here, here and here). More books are being published than ever before, and the New Atheist movement, which appeared so powerful ten years ago, has largely fizzled out. The future looks good – or does it?
In this series, I’m going to explain in detail why I believe this rosy view is utterly mistaken, and why Christians are actually facing a thirty-year winter. Continue reading →
Yesterday afternoon, acting on a recommendation by evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, I sat down and listened to a 43-minute Scientific Americanpodcast featuring Stanford biology professor and hard determinist Robert Sapolsky being interviewed by Robert Mirsky, on the topic, “Your brain, free will and the law.” Suffice to say that I was underwhelmed. I had high expectations, as Professor Sapolsky is not only a well-published author (whose most recent work is Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst), but also a professor of biological sciences, neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University and a research associate at the National Museums of Kenya. I was both disappointed and amused with what I heard: disappointed with the complete absence of any rigorous argument against the existence of free will, and amused by the fake history related by Sapolsky, in the course of his interview with Robert Mirsky. By the way, for those readers who are looking for a critique of the doctrine of free will that’s both hard-hitting and substantive, I’d recommend the online writings of physicist Sabine Hossenfelder – in particular, her articles, How to live without free will, Free will is dead, let’s bury it and The Free Will Function: Free will from the perspective of a particle physicist (but see also the conclusion to her prize-winning 2018 essay, The Case for Strong Emergence, in which she acknowledges a gap in her argument). [Full disclosure here: I have previously critiqued Dr. Hossenfelder’s arguments against free will, and although I continue to find her case less than convincing, I would now acknowledge her general point that top-down causation alone won’t rescue free will.]
Back to Sapolsky. Since he’s a professor of biology, neurology and neurosurgery, I had hoped that he would at least attempt to summarize the biological case against free will, but he didn’t. He alluded to experiments by Benjamin Libet, noted in passing that there were multiple interpretations of these experiments, and then proceeded to his central argument: the “shrinking pie” argument, which relied on a very heavy dollop of fake history. In a nutshell: science has already shown that we are not responsible for X, Y and Z, so in time, science will show that we are not responsible for any of our actions. (By the way, Sapolsky is a hard determinist, who has no time for compatibilism and who eschews any notions of personal responsibility for our actions: as he puts it in his podcast, “We have no control, ultimately, over anything we do… We have no agency, and the criminal justice system does not make any sense at all.”)
‘Stay the fuck home’. A less effective means of gaining general co-operation from the instinctively anti-establishment would be hard to imagine. How about you get the fuck out of my face? Our more formal UK government messaging has plumped for the ‘will-no-one-think-of-the-the-children’ emotional arm-twist of ‘Stay Home, Protect The NHS, Save Lives’. This appears at the foot of the rash of notices that has appeared all over my own rural region requesting people to approach a farm gate on a public path as they would open heart surgery, and disinfect or wear gloves before touching. After a day slapping cows’ backsides (I am hazy on the details of the profession!), it would be too much to expect farmers to take responsibility for their own biosecurity, and wash their own hands before dining.
I have been thinking about this. Who can one name, who is not in jail, and who would be eligible to be President, who would actually be worse than this moron, to lead the country through this crisis right now? Someone who is even more self-centered, who knows less about the world, less about proper management, who has had more business failures, who is even more divisive, who has more staffing problems, who is more petty, more insulting to reporters asking tough questions, and who generally would fuck things up even more than him? This is truly not an easy question to answer. Any suggestions? I am seriously finding it hard to name someone.
One of the strangest doctrines in all of Christianity is the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine holds that there are three divine persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost — yet only one deity. Each of the three persons is fully God, and not just a part of God. A famous diagram known as the “Shield of the Trinity” compactly summarizes the idea:
if evolutionism is the mechanism for biological changing of bodyplans then it must be a option it could happen today, and relative to billions of species, it should be happening to a powerful percentage. new population by the millions should be newly created with need for new scientific names. Yet i say there are none or less than six. WHY? I say because evolutionism is not accurate as a mechanism . it never existed. other mechanisms exist. the great evidence against evolutionism is the very unlikely situation of it not having occurred in the last twenty years in great, or any, numbers. Very unlikely but i offer the issue.
and they said that they used to use psychics regularly but the had a review and found that it was not really working and the ‘results’ could be by chance. So they’ve now stopped using them altogether as they have now determined there is no science supporting it.
Alan seemed to insinuate in my last thread that I didn’t explain WHY I think skeptics are full of hot air. So, in order to do so in a manner in which hopefully he can better understand, first I think I should start with a list of who these skeptic mouthpieces are, and then I can perhaps later fill in some of their statements, some of their backgrounds, and some of their beliefs. I hope this will ease Alan’s concerns. So, off the top of my head, here are some of the top ones I can think of. Sort of a Hall of Fame of atheist windbags. Guys who know everything about the universe, because they tell you so. Should be a useful database that we can refer back to later in other conversations. More added later:
I am sure that many readers have already concluded that I do not understand the role of sex in either organic or biotic evolution. At least I can claim, on the basis of the conflicting views in the recent literature, the consolation of abundant company.
– George C. Williams, Sex and Evolution, 1975
What’s sex all about? This question has been exercising biologists since well before Williams’s time, but in the 1970’s, with the rise of ‘gene-centrism’ and the related controversy over group selection, a succession of prominent authors grappled with the problem, trying to fit it with current evolutionary theory to no-one’s particular satisfaction. Males were deemed an impediment to a female’s efforts to maximise her reproductive output, time wasted on these feckless types resulting in her only passing on 50% of her genes per offspring. From the perspective of a ‘selfish gene’, meanwhile, getting into every offspring seems a preferable fate to only getting into half of them. On the basis of these apparent large costs, a cryptic offsetting benefit of corresponding magnitude was assumed. Like Godot, it is yet to appear.
Yet sex is widespread. All eukaryotes either do it now, or possess tell-tale signs that their recent ancestors did. Given that it appears costly to individuals, and genes, how did it evolve and why does it persist?
We experience the world as a seamless stream of percepts. However, intriguing illusions and recent experiments suggest that the world is not continuously translated into conscious perception. Instead, perception seems to operate in a discrete manner, just like movies appear continuous although they consist of discrete images. To explain how the temporal resolution of human vision can be fast compared to sluggish conscious perception, we propose a novel conceptual framework in which features of objects, such as their color, are quasi-continuously and unconsciously analyzed with high temporal resolution. Like other features, temporal features, such as duration, are coded as quantitative labels. When unconscious processing is “completed,” all features are simultaneously rendered conscious at discrete moments in time, sometimes even hundreds of milliseconds after stimuli were presented.
Several years ago, at the beginning of 2016, on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe forums, there was a thread about driverless cars. All the skeptics were going on about how great it was going to be, how it will be here in two years, five years at the most, how we will overcome all the “small” problems by 2017, maybe 2019 at the latest, blah, blah. And at the time, I had told them, well, you may want to hold on a while, its not quite as easy as you think. And how was that met? By a barrage of insults, of you ridiculous troll, what do you know about anything, if you wouldn’t be so ignorant and just learn, can we just block this guy moderator, on and on it went… (typical skeptic fare).
That thread was viewed 117,000 times. There was exactly ONE person who was adamant that their time frames were wrong, that we still have a long way to go. And boy, they sure didn’t like that. Looking back now at the litany of nonsense the skeptics spewed kind of makes me laugh now. Its the same nonsense you see here at TSZ every day. Now, in 2020, some of the most ardent skeptic cheerleaders have reluctantly finally started to admit, ok, yea, you was right, it was a a lot harder than we all said.
The biggest news of this week for the “conversation” this blog is in some small way a part of will likely be the discussion between Drs. Michael Behe and S. Joshua Swamidass in Texas. The answer for both men to the polemical question above is not “God w/out evolution”, but rather “God with evolution,” iow both God and evolution. So what else important is there left for them to disagree about? http://www.veritas.org/location/texas-a-m-university/
For Behe, “evolution” has a narrower meaning than it does for Swamidass. One key question, that likely won’t be asked, is: how wide is Swamidass’ meaning of “evolution” and where does it stop (i.e. what doesn’t ‘evolve’)? Is Swamidass, who somewhat incredulously claims to be neither a creationist nor an evolutionist, actually both? One of the biggest challenges unaddressed still by Swamidass regarding his evolutionism will be met when he starts describing or explaining the “limits of evolutionary theories”, rather than only “the great possibilities of evolutionary theories”, now as we live in a post-Darwinian, extended synthesis scenario.
We may nevertheless hope for some reconciliation, or even a moment or two of peace amidst an artificial storm in the USA involving “Intelligent Design”, evolution, and creationism. Those moments will likely constitute a rare pause in their otherwise contrary apologetics approaches, both taking a “public understanding of science” attitude of pedagogical communication to the stage. We may thus, purely on the communications front, simply get either a parody of abstract intellectualism driven by “religious” or “quasi-religious” agendas, or more positively, a few simple concessions of common ground that shouldn’t be too difficult for either of them to find, or to make towards each other.
Not long ago in a comment here, I posted a short version of definitions involving the Discovery Institute’s “Intelligent Design” (ID) paradigm, hypothesis, movement, theory, inference, policy, heuristic, or whatever one wants to call it, depending on which person they’re speaking with. This was done because the person in the conversation I was responding to appeared to be, to me at least, quite obviously conflating two meanings into one term (thing & theory). And he didn’t seem to realize that he was doing it. (Aside: there appear to be multiple reasons why people tempted by ideological Intelligent Designism [IDism] or repelled by it, may feel they need to intentionally conflate definitions of ID.) I wondered what might be the issue with what was merely an attempt to lay out simple definitions, for mutual benefit towards clearer communications, or ‘operations’ as some people here like to call it.
Within days, to my surprise, I discovered the exact same thing in a long exchange with a Discovery Institute () Fellow on a social media platform. This person too conflated two meanings into one. Why also is that? And this person wanted to equivocate over whether or not there even is a “movement” at play, before finally conceding that yes, indeed, there is = the IDM based at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, USA. The conversation reminded me of previous ones at Uncommon Descent & BioLogos with Eddie, now of Peaceful Science and Potiphar, who only begrudgingly, after listing off a number of ways that this “Movement” could only properly or ‘officially’ be spoken about, according to his somewhat “philosophistic” definition of “Intelligent Design theory” (IDT), conceded the point of there being a “Movement”, with all of DI-CSC’s Fellows admitted as members.
An Indian scientist has purportedly discovered HIV inserted into the coronavirus. If true, this is pretty conclusive evidence the virus is humanly engineered, i.e. intelligently designed.
So, herein lies the conundrum. According to popular imagination, ID is both bad science and false (remember, good science is the falsifiable sort ;). If true, then it should not be possible to detect intelligent intervention in the genetic code.
Yet, this recent news item purports to be exactly that: identification of intelligent intervention in the genetic code.
Please explain this to me like I am 5: how can ID be both bad science and false, yet at the same time it is possible to identify intelligent intervention in the genetic code? If we can do so for the recent past, why can’t we do the same for the distant past?