Granville Sewell’s argument for Intelligent Design

Over at Evolution News, mathematician Granville Sewell has written an article titled, From Barren Planet to Civilization — Four Simple Steps (July 27, 2017). My intention in writing this post is not to critique Dr. Sewell’s latest argument, but to clarify its premises. Sewell’s own comments reveal that it is ultimately a philosophical argument, rather than a scientific one. Although I agree with Dr. Sewell’s key intuition, I contend that his argument hinges on two assumptions: that unguided processes have a snowball’s chance in hell of giving rise to factories, and that mental states do not supervene upon physical states.

The bulk of this post will be devoted to what Dr. Sewell has written in his latest Evolution News article. At the end of my post, I will briefly comment on the thermodynamic arguments in his accompanying video, which I see as peripheral to Sewell’s main point.

I’d like to begin by quoting from the first, second and last paragraphs of Sewell’s article:

In the video “Why Evolution is Different,” above, I make the simple point that to not believe in intelligent design, you have to believe that the four fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone (the gravitational, electromagnetic, and strong and weak nuclear forces) could have rearranged the fundamental particles of physics into encyclopedias and science texts and computers and airplanes and Apple iPhones. I show that this belief runs contrary to the more general statements of the second law of thermodynamics, even if the Earth is an open system.

Whether or not it has anything to do with the second law, I can’t imagine anything in all of science that is more clear and more obvious than that unintelligent forces alone cannot produce such things as Apple iPhones.

Mathematicians are trained to value simplicity. When we have a clear, simple, proof of a theorem, and a long, complicated counterargument, involving controversial and unproven assertions, we accept the clear, simple, proof, and we know there must be errors in the counterargument even before we find them. The argument here for intelligent design could not be simpler or clearer: unintelligent forces of physics alone cannot rearrange atoms into computers and airplanes and Apple iPhones.

By his own admission, Dr. Sewell’s argument rests on a simple intuition, that unintelligent forces of physics alone cannot rearrange fundamental particles into science texts and computers. Although Sewell maintains that the second law of thermodynamics prevents the four fundamental forces of physics from rearranging fundamental particles into science texts and computers all by themselves, he insists that his intuition is clear and obvious, regardless of whether it has anything to do with the second law. Since Sewell’s intuition does not appeal to any mathematical reasoning to justify it, and the intuition is couched in non-mathematical language, it is evident that we are not dealing with a mathematical claim here. Nor can it be called a scientific claim, as key terms are left undefined: what is it, exactly, that the four fundamental forces of physics are incapable of rearranging fundamental particles into? Machines, texts or both? Additionally, the only scientific law which Sewell appeals to, in order to support his claim, is one which he says intuition does not require, anyway, in order to grasp its truth.

What does Dr. Sewell mean?

I take it, then, that Sewell’s fundamental intuition is a philosophical one. As a philosopher, I find it somewhat ambiguously worded, in that it fails to distinguish between proximate and ultimate causation. Sewell’s claim could mean either:

1. Science texts and computers can never have, as their proximate cause, the four fundamental forces of physics, acting on elementary particles without any intelligent assistance

or:

2. Science texts and computers can never have, as their ultimate cause, the four fundamental forces of physics, acting on elementary particles without any intelligent assistance.

But we are not finished yet. Although Dr. Sewell claims in his article that “unintelligent forces of physics alone cannot rearrange atoms into computers and airplanes and Apple iPhones” (my emphasis), he does not literally mean this. As he explains in an earlier post from 2012, what he actually means is that such an outcome would be “astronomically improbable.” So what Sewell really means to say is either

1(a) It is astronomically improbable that science texts and computers would have, as their proximate cause, the four fundamental forces of physics, acting on elementary particles without any intelligent assistance

or

2(a) It is astronomically improbable that science texts and computers would have, as their ultimate cause, the four fundamental forces of physics, acting on elementary particles without any intelligent assistance.

Now, even opponents of Intelligent Design would readily agree with Sewell that claim 1(a) is true. In the real world, science books are always written by scientists, and computers are always built by computer engineers. In both cases, the proximate cause is an intelligent agent. (A robot can build a computer, but it still has to be designed by an intelligent agent.) We never see science texts and computers being put together by the four fundamental forces of physics, acting on elementary particles. While it’s theoretically possible for the four forces of nature to assemble particles into texts and computers, the odds are so low that we would never expect to witness such an event. So I can only assume that Dr. Sewell means to assert claim 2(a). Sewell confirms this interpretation in his latest article, where he states that materialists attempt to explain the origin of advanced civilizations from inanimate matter, in four steps:

1. Three or four billion years ago a collection of atoms formed by pure chance that was able to duplicate itself. [Life]
2. These complex collections of atoms were able to preserve their complex structures and pass them on to their descendants, generation after generation. [Reproduction and heredity]
3. Over a long period of time, the accumulation of duplication errors resulted in more and more elaborate collections of atoms. [“Higher” animals]
4. Eventually something called “intelligence” [i.e. human beings] allowed some of these collections of atoms to design buildings and computers and airplanes, and write encyclopedias and science texts.

In step 4, Sewell acknowledges that even materialists posit something called “intelligence” as the proximate cause of computers and science texts. What distinguishes materialists from Intelligent Design theorists, according to Sewell, is that the latter would deny that the four fundamental forces of physics, acting on elementary particles without any intelligent assistance, are the ultimate cause of these remarkable artifacts.

Sewell contends that each of these steps is very difficult to explain scientifically. The origin of life (step 1) is “a very difficult problem which has not yet been solved by science.” Reproduction (step 2) is “difficult to explain without design,” especially when the new entity being constructed is one which has to contain a factory for building yet another entity like itself. The bodies of higher animals (step 3) contain major new features, whose sudden appearance and subsequent refinement “actually looks more like the way human technology, such as software or automobiles, ‘evolves,’ through testing and improvements.” And while the process whereby humans design science texts and computers (step 4) might seem very familiar to us all, “science cannot yet explain human consciousness or intelligence in terms of unintelligent forces alone.”

Some readers might wish to question whether Sewell has an adequate grasp of evolutionary biology. However, as this post is intended to assess his philosophical reasoning, I shall overlook any scientific objections to Sewell’s argument, in his article. Instead, I’d like to focus on his key intuition. Sewell thinks it is clear and obvious that the probability of science texts and computers ultimately arising from the four fundamental forces of physics, acting on elementary particles without any intelligent assistance, is astronomically low. That is his central claim.

What is interesting here is that Sewell does not assert that it is intuitively obvious that the probability of life ultimately arising from the four fundamental forces of physics, acting on elementary particles without any intelligent assistance, is astronomically low. He regards the origin of life as “a very difficult problem,” but that’s a much weaker assertion than his central claim. Sewell also acknowledges that the origin of “higher” animals, and even “intelligent humans,” appears at least “superficially plausible (until we look at it in more detail).”

Getting to the roots of Sewell’s key intuition

As far as I can tell from reading his article, there are two classes of phenomena which Sewell regards as truly mysterious: reproduction and creativity – the former, because it involves not only copying something, but building a factory that can continue the chain of copying down through the generations; and the latter, because Sewell does not believe that human consciousness or intelligence can be explained in terms of blind forces.

I am curious to know which Sewell regards as more mysterious: reproduction or human creativity. Although he devotes two entire paragraphs of his article to the marvel of reproduction, I find it very strange that Sewell nowhere claims that it is obvious that the probability of, say, a lineage of bacteria ultimately arising from the four fundamental forces of physics, acting on elementary particles without any intelligent assistance, is astronomically low. And yet, if he regarded reproduction as the main hurdle rendering the unguided origin of science texts and computers from inanimate matter astronomically unlikely, that is precisely the sort of claim which one would expect him to make.

That leaves us with the mystery of human creativity. And indeed, there is something profoundly odd about the appearance of an animal whose mind enables it to explore the farthest recesses of time and space, and to solve any technological problem that the cosmos throws at it. How did a such a magnificent mind arise, in the first place?

A Darwinist might contend that if we examine the hominin fossil record and the tools made by our ancestors, we can discern no breaks that correspond to any sudden appearance of the human mind. As far as we can tell, the mind arose gradually, over a period of hundreds of thousands of years. Sewell might object that “science cannot yet explain human consciousness or intelligence in terms of unintelligent forces alone,” but Darwinists would call that an argument from ignorance. Or is it? Are there any good reasons to believe that blind forces cannot generate minds like ours?

A Thought Experiment

Instead of putting forward an argument for the immateriality of the mind which is based on Aristotelian metaphysics (as many Thomistic philosophers do), I’d like to cut to the chase with a thought experiment.

Imagine that you’re an astronaut, traveling in interstellar space in the 25th century, and that your spaceship has a super-duper computer. One day, you land on a planet and encounter a race of technologically advanced beings whose science is roughly on a par with your own. One of these beings kindly lets you scan its brain and body, allowing your on-board computer to construct a detailed model in its databank. You also observe the alien being very carefully, monitoring its verbal utterances and its brain waves whenever it communicates with other members of its race.

Now here’s my question for the materialists: do you think you would be able to reconstruct the alien’s thoughts and its language, simply by analyzing its brain waves and bodily behavior? After all, if the mind “supervenes upon” the body, as materialists love to claim, so that two intelligent entities having the same physical states will always have the same mental states, then it should be possible, in theory at least, to infer the latter from the former, given a powerful enough computer. If intelligent beings’ brain processes possess intentionality in their own right, then there is no reason in principle why we cannot “read off” the meaning of these brain processes at time T from their structure and/or the changes they are undergoing, at time T.

What’s more, it shouldn’t be necessary for us to know anything about the alien’s life-history, or the history of its species, in order to determine what it is thinking. For if the content of its thoughts supervenes upon what’s going on in its brain and body right now, as materialists suppose, then a complete knowledge of the alien’s current physical state (and its present surroundings) should be enough to tell us what’s going on in its mind. Otherwise, one might imagine a race of aliens on another planet, having identical brain processes, bodily states and immediate surroundings, but whose thoughts have a different content from those of the first race of aliens, because of different choices they made in the past – for instance, about the rules of their language. This would contradict the physicalist thesis of supervenience, that there can be no mental differences between two individuals without some underlying physical difference.

When my thought experiment is couched in this form, it becomes evident that the materialist’s claim that mental states (including our language and our most creative ideas) supervene upon physical states is highly implausible, and stands in need of justification. One would want to see very good evidence, before accepting such a sweeping claim. Of course, rejection of materialism doesn’t tell us what the mind is. Nor does it establish the truth of any particular version of dualism. One could still adopt some form of neutral monism, where mental and physical properties are regarded as existing side by side, in human beings and other intelligent organisms. But on such an account, the origin and existence of the mind would still remain a profound mystery.

If there is any truth to Sewell’s core intuition, then, it must rest on the materialist claim that mental states supervene upon physical states. The emergence of life, of reproduction and heredity, and of complex animals, are all very puzzling facts, in a world where unguided forces hold sway, but it is not obvious that these outcomes are astronomically improbable. But the origin of a mind which can ask and answer questions about where it – and everything else – came from, and that can solve any technological problem it sets itself, is something truly astonishing. The laws of physics simply express functional relationships between various physical properties; they say nothing about syntax, let alone the semantics of our language. Language is a wholly unexpected phenomenon in a world governed by blind forces. And so are those human creations, such as science texts and computers, which presuppose the existence of language. That, I would suggest, is what lies at the core of Sewell’s big claim.

What do readers think?

APPENDIX: Some remarks on Grant Sewell’s video

Sewell’s 22-minute video, titled, “Why Evolution Is Different,” is available here:

This video is more scientific and technical than Dr. Sewell’s article; consequently, my assessment of it will be quite different from my overall favorable assessment of the central claim of Sewell’s article.

I’ll keep my comments as brief as possible.

(1) At the beginning of the video, Sewell discusses Le Conte’s axiom: the four forces account for everything else in nature, so why should evolution be any different? For my part, I think Le Conte’s axiom is scientifically plausible, when one is discussing the physical properties of objects. But as we have seen, it is wildly implausible to suppose that the four forces can account for the appearance of human language. Syntax and semantics can’t be explained in terms of functional physical relationships, such as Hooke’s law. That’s why I think Sewell’s central claim is a valid one.

(2) At 5:09, we are told that in his published paper, On “compensating” entropy decreases (Physics Essays 30, 1 (2017), pp. 70-74), Dr. Sewell defined “X-entropy” as the entropy associated with any diffusing component (e.g. heat). And since entropy is a measure of disorder, he defined X-order as the negative of X-entropy. However, it’s a mistake to regard entropy as a measure of disorder (admittedly, it’s a common one in physics textbooks, which originally goes back to Ludwig Boltzmann). Steve Donaldson’s paper, Entropy is not Disorder, is well worth reading in this regard. I shall quote a few of the highlights:

So what is entropy? Probably the most common answer you hear is that entropy is a kind of measure of disorder. This is misleading. Equating entropy with disorder creates unnecessary confusion in evaluating the entropy of different systems. Consider the following comparisons. Which has more entropy?

– stack of cards in perfect order or a stack of cards in random order?
– a Swiss watch with intricate internal workings or a sundial?
– ten jars of water stacked neatly in a pyramid or the equivalent mass of water in the form of 10 blocks of ice flying randomly through space?
– a living, breathing human being or a dried up corpse turning to dust?
– the universe at the moment of the Big Bang or the universe in its present state?
If you think of entropy as disorder, then the answers to these questions may trouble you….

A better word that captures the essence of entropy on the molecular level is diversity. Entropy represents the diversity of internal movement of a system. The greater the diversity of movement on the molecular level, the greater the entropy of the system. Order, on the other hand, may be simple or complex. A living system is complex. A living system has a high degree of order AND an high degree of entropy. A raccoon has more entropy than a rock. A living, breathing human being, more than a dried up corpse…

With this clearer understanding of entropy, let’s take a look at those troubling entropy questions posed earlier. Those stacks of cards? They both have the same entropy. On the molecular level, the molecules are not behaving any differently in one stack than in the other. Even on the card level, there is no difference. None of the cards are moving. There is no kinetic energy present on the card level in either stack. There is no difference between the stacks except our subjective sense of order.

As for the watch and the sundial, it depends. If they are both made of similar metals and they are at the same temperature and pressure, then on a molecular level they would have about the same entropy. The molecules in the watch would have about the same diversity of movement in the solid metal parts as the molecules in the metal of the sundial. Ounce for ounce, the heat content would be about the same for both.

On the higher system level, you could say the watch has more entropy than the sundial because it has a greater diversity of internal movement. The watch has more internal kinetic energy than the sundial. What significance you could give this “higher level” entropy is not clear to me.

The water in the stacked jars has more entropy than the flying ice cubes because liquid water molecules have more modes of movement than ice molecules. Again, the heat trapped in the liquid water per degree is greater than the heat trapped in the ice per degree…

…The 2nd law says entropy is always increasing in the universe, so the entropy of the universe at the time of the Big Bang must have been much less that the entropy of the universe now.

This does not mean there was more structure or order back then. It does mean there was less diversity and less space to move around. The evolution of the universe has been characterized by an on-going transformation from a simple, restricted, highly condensed, homogeneous state to an increasingly complex, widely dispersed, dynamic, multipotent, granular diversity. In other words, the universe is not winding down, like a giant soulless machine slowly running out of steam. On the contrary, she is just waking up. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

(3) Later, Dr. Sewell discusses the astronomical unlikelihood of a tornado turning all the houses and cars in an area into rubble, being followed by a second tornado which turns the rubble back into houses and cars. Sewell’s point is that unguided evolution is equally ridiculous. But the origin of life is completely different from a tornado turning a heap of rubble back into a house. In a living organism (e.g. a tiny bacterium), the constituent molecules show at least some tendency to bond together (although we still have no idea how the first organism was formed), and (usually) a very robust tendency to hold together, once assembled. The pieces of rubble from a house destroyed by a tornado show absolutely no tendency to come together again; nor would they show any tendency to hold together, even if they somehow managed to coalesce in some freak event. Also, a bacterium is very small, and a house is very big. From a purely thermodynamic point of view, assembling a house is a lot harder than assembling a bacterium. As for the subsequent evolution of more complex life-forms, Darwinian evolution (supplemented by the neutral theory) provide at least a mechanism whereby complex traits could evolve. No such mechanism exists for houses.

(4) Dr. Sewell contends that major transitions occur suddenly in the fossil record. Evidently he hasn’t read much about the evolution of mammals from mammal-like reptiles, or the origin of birds from dinosaurs, recently. Back in the 1980s, these transitions were still deeply puzzling (especially the latter). Not any longer.

(5) In his video, Sewell explains why the evolution of the automobile engine couldn’t have been natural. I’m sure it couldn’t: cars don’t have babies.

(6) Finally, Dr. Sewell argues that the evolution of life shows the same pattern of careful planning and gradual improvement as we observe in technological design. Convergence, he suggests, explains the similar structures which are sometimes found in different lineages of living things: Ford automobiles and Boeing jets may simultaneously evolve new GPS systems. OK, so here’s a question: why do we never see exactly the same complex structure appearing in different lineages of living things? (The vertebrate eye is not the same as that of the octopus.) This is odd, because human designers typically reuse their designs. And why do novel designs appearing in one branch of living things never appear at exactly the same time, in another branch, as occurred with GPS systems? That does not sound like technological design to me.

(7) Professsor Joe Felsenstein and Mark Perakh have responded to Dr. Sewell’s argument based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics here and here, respectively. I’ll leave it to readers to form their own judgement. Elsewhere, Felsenstein highlights what he sees as two key errors made by Dr. Sewell (emphases mine):

1. His X-entropies, even if the equations for them are correct, isolate the concentration of one quantity from all others, not allowing chemical or nuclear reactions to create or destroy the substance. For example, we could make an X-entropy for carbon dioxide. We could have equations for the changes in concentration of CO2, but these would not have terms for the creation of CO2 by respiration or by some geochemical processes, and they would not have terms for the destruction of CO2 by photosynthesis. So the equations can be correct but their application to the real world wrong.

2. Leaving aside the issue of X-entropies and just looking at the energy flows, Sewell wants to argue that his math shows that evolution cannot make organisms more complex and energy-rich. Here he gets very handwavy and vague, and that is telling. In fact he is ignoring the role of solar radiation in powering the processes in the biosphere. He just says that “all we see entering [the biosphere] is radiation” and expects his readers to dismiss the idea that this radiation could be important. In short, even if his equations are all correct, he has msiapplied them by ignoring a major fact explained in science classes.

Please note that I’m just passing on these comments; I’ll leave it to readers to elaborate on them.

(8) Dr. Sewell’s claim that you can calculate the entropy of a poker hand should be read in the light of Steve Donaldson’s explanation of why an ordered stack of cards has the same entropy as a randomly ordered stack (see above). Likewise, Sewell’s assertion that the Boltzmann formula can be used to calculate “the change in thermal entropy associated with any change in probability: not just the probability of an ideal gas state, but the probability of anything,” has been criticized as a sweeping generalization, which reflects a misunderstanding of Boltzmann’s work.

(9) Sal Cordova points out that not all creationists believe that the Second Law of Thermodynamics precludes the evolution of life.

I shall stop here, and invite readers to weigh in with their comments, both philosophical and scientific.

185 thoughts on “Granville Sewell’s argument for Intelligent Design”

  1. RobinRobin

    colewd:

    Your Honor, I realize the four claims appear to have discrepancies, what with John insisting that only Mary was in the car, Mark insisting that Mary and some Mary he didn’t know were in the car, Matt insisting that Mary, Mary his friend’s mom, and his girlfriend Salome were in the car, and Luke insisting that Mary, Mary his friend’s mother, his girlfriend Joanne, and some other ladies from the party were all in the car… But look, technically they really are all telling the same story when you consider that they all agree that at least one woman was in the car…

    This is clearly a strawman account of the real situation. Why do you continue to invoke logical fallacies if you believe that you have a strong claim?

    It’s not a strawman; it’s a sarcastic illustration of Mung’s silly argument. If one is going to insist that these stories reflect testimony, arguing that they are “essentially consistent on the details because they all mention one same person” is a form of special pleading and inconsistent with standard, honest scholarship. And frankly, it’s disingenuous and bad theology.

    John insisting that only Mary was in the car,

    This was a historical account no one was insisting on anything. The basic story of the accounts are the same i.e. witnesses claiming an empty tomb. Yes, the details are different but you have failed to support why that puts the historical account into doubt other then your unsupported incredulity.

    It’s not an historical account by even minimum standards of scholarship. You have yet to actually support your contention to the contrary. The fact that you can even state with a straight face that “the basic story of the accounts are the same” just shows how disingenuous your assessment and analysis of biblical content is.

  2. RumraketRumraket

    Is it not often the case, that in a court of law where eye-witnesses are questioned about a murder that they supposedly witnessed, if the only thing they agree on is that “John killed Allan”, but can’t get their stories straight on all the other details (he was shot four times says one witness, another says he was shot once, another says he was stabbed), then chances are the jury will find them to be unreliable (and probably coached)?

    It usually means they’ve been told to just say that they saw John kill Allan.

  3. RobinRobin

    Mung: You’re shifting the goalposts now? Are you still asserting that the accounts have to be logically contradictory because they differ in some details?

    If they are supposed to be testimony, then they are contradictory, by definition. If all they are is a metaphorical or allegorical feel good story, then sure…they’re all close enough to give the same impression and feelz. But if folks are going to insist they are a record of a literal historical event, then they are just bad hearsay.

    Do you understand that two women present does not contradict the statement that a woman was present, and vice versa?

    It does if it’s testimony, Mung. It does if it’s suppose to be an actual historic record. That’s where you are totally wrong.

    And therein lies the problem that Christian apologist have: they want their cake and to eat it as well. But you can’t have it both ways: if the bible is merely a set of parables, metaphors, and allegories to give people a loose impression of the type of life they should lead, then fine…William Lane Craig type arguments are perfectly legit. But if it’s actually supposed to be a literal account of a set of actual events, then the standards of honest assessment of historic recordings has to be applied. But Craig, et al, don’t want to do that. They want to apply standards of comic book fiction analysis to it and then claim it’s an historic record. That’s just plain old dishonesty.

    And that’s what you’re doing with your nonsense “but one account of one woman doesn’t contradict a second account of two women.” That’s utterly absurd in terms of historic analysis.

  4. RobinRobin

    Mung: They all even agree on Mary Magdalene. If we follow Robin’s logic, they were all wrong about her being present.

    Oh…so now you’re going to misrepresent what I have posted. Tsk tsk…I guess there really is no value to your bible…

    So, for the record, I noted twice above that they all agree on Mary Magdalene. But of course, you don’t care about an honest assessment of the text.

    Some difference in detail doesn’t make the account contradictory, much less establish that the entire events were made up.

    Yeah…’fraid it does. But hey…if you only believe in a god you can special plead into existence, no wonder you’re unhappy with honest standards.

    And the writer I have come across are very careful and open in their historical method, in spite of what Robin thinks. He would have us believe that no one takes these Christian scholars seriously and that’s just poppycock.

    Well gosh…odd then that you can’t be bothered to support any of your contentions with a reference to their high quality scholarship…

  5. RobinRobin

    Rumraket:
    Is it not often the case, that in a court of law where eye-witnesses are questioned about a murder that they supposedly witnessed, if the only thing they agree on is that “John killed Allan”, but can’t get their stories straight on all the other details (he was shot four times says one witness, another says he was shot once, another says he was stabbed), then chances are the jury will find them to be unreliable (and probably coached)?

    It usually means they’ve been told to just say that they saw John kill Allan.

    Indeed, it is a very basic way of discrediting witnesses’ testimonies in a court of law. However, historic accounts are not generally held to the same testimony standards, but they are still held to fairly stringent ones in order to establish an credible level of historic accuracy. However, even in historic evidence, testimonies – that is, documents or other recordings of people explicitly claiming “this is what I saw happen” – themselves ARE indeed held to that same standard. So the records of folks like Tacitus and Pliny have been given that level of scrutiny.

  6. MungMung

    I love it when “skeptics” make stupid analogies.

    If there is agreement that shots were fired but disagreement over how many, the skeptic would argue that no shots were fired, and that the defendant should be found not guilty due to “contradictory” testimony.

    Fortunately real life doesn’t work that way.

  7. colewd

    Robin,

    It’s not a strawman; it’s a sarcastic illustration of Mung’s silly argument.

    Its another logical fallacy whether you call it a straw man or mocking Mung. Then you follow it up with a burden shift.

  8. RoyLT

    newton: That would be Lone Star not some Yankee beer.

    Thank you for the correction. Where I’m from, Milwaukee’s ‘Beast’ is the redneck swill of choice. In either case, my experience suggests that the condition of dive bar restrooms transcends specific geographical region;-)

  9. RobinRobin

    colewd:
    Robin,

    Its another logical fallacy whether you call it a straw man or mocking Mung.

    LOL! Mocking is not a logical fallacy.

    Then you follow it up with a burden shift.

    I’m not shifting any burden. I don’t even have a burden; you’re the one claiming that biblical accounts (in this case the stories regarding the empty tomb) constitute historic evidence, but you’ve yet to provide any support for such a claim. All you’ve done is provide opinions on the validity of the bible passages by none authorities. There’s no burden on my part to rebut the opinions of laymen or rubes.

  10. colewd

    Robin,

    How mocking or appeal to ridicule becomes a strawman.

    Appeal to Ridicule
    Also known as: Appeal to Shame, Argument From Shame
    “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.” –Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp July 30, 1816
    An appeal to ridicule is a logical fallacy that tries to present the opponent’s argument in a way that makes it appear ludicrous to the extent that it becomes a Straw Man.
    Examples “The theory of evolution says we came from apes, that’s CRAZY”
    This argument mocks the opponent’s argument and tries to resort to an Appeal to Emotion by claiming the opponent’s argument is nonsensical. Although they appear very similar, this fallacy should not be confused with reductio ad absurdum, which is a valid type of logical argument. It should also not be confused with ridiculing the person making the argument, which is a form of the ad hominem fallacy.

    You should also study what a contradiction is and what it means to burden shift.

  11. RobinRobin

    Mung:
    I love it when “skeptics” make stupid analogies.

    If there is agreement that shots were fired but disagreement over how many, the skeptic would argue that no shots were fired, and that the defendant should be found not guilty due to “contradictory” testimony.

    Fortunately real life doesn’t work that way.

    I love it when Mung makes an analogy that doesn’t match the argument.

    Here’s a more accurate analogy of the issue: if there is testimony from four people that shows agreement that at least one person fired a gun of a specific caliber and hit someone, but disagreement on who else fired a weapon, how many other people fired weapons, what kind of guns were fired, and whether the victim was hit more than once, the likelihood that at least three of the of the stories are false is high. And alas, since there are no shell casings to examine, no bullets or even holes to find, no corroborating evidence that the one individual said to have fired even owns a gun, and, oddly, not even a body to examine, we’re left with the distinct probability the event as described didn’t even happen.

  12. RobinRobin

    colewd:
    Robin,

    How mocking or appeal to ridicule becomes a strawman.

    I think Thomas Jefferson summed it up nicely. Thanks!

    You should also study what a contradiction is and what it means to burden shift.

    Sorry, not my burden. When you feel like supporting your position, you let me know. Until then, the bible stories remain fiction.

  13. newton

    RoyLT: Thank you for the correction.Where I’m from, Milwaukee’s ‘Beast’ is the redneck swill of choice.In either case, my experience suggests that the condition of dive bar restrooms transcends specific geographical region;-)

    By the time it hits the restroom all beer was created equal.

  14. RobinRobin

    vjtorley:
    Hi Robin,

    I suggestyou read this article by J. Warner Wallace, a homicide detective and former atheist who is now a Christian minister:

    How many women visited the tomb of Jesus?

    It should answer your questions.

    See also here:

    How many angels were present at Jesus tomb?
    Why we should expect witnesses to disagree
    Rules to evaluate alleged Bible contradictions and difficulties

    Thank you Vincent. However, I’m familiar with Wallace’s credentials, claims, and arguments, and I find much there dubious. For example, as I noted up thread, like a lot of Christian apologists, he takes liberties and expects exceptions for biblical claims that he never would have allowed as a detective. One cannot legitimately declare the events described in the bible after Jesus’ supposed death to be those of “eyewitness testimony”. For one, as noted, whoever wrote the accounts clearly could not have actually been present. Even the stories themselves make this quite plain. And the way the authors phrase the events clearly establishes these are third hand accounts. Yet Wallace claims they have all the hallmarks of the inconsistencies found in actual eyewitness testimony. This is being disingenuous in my book. At the very least, Wallace completely disregards the standards of basic historic scholarship, which is what my point has been from the beginning.

  15. phoodoo

    Robin,

    Give VJ a break, its a tough job trying to toe the line of a born again theistic evolutionist who is antagonistic towards ID. Who are your peers?

  16. RobinRobin

    phoodoo:
    Robin,

    Give VJ a break, its a tough job trying to toe the line of a born again theistic evolutionist who is antagonistic towards ID.Who are your peers?

    🙂

  17. MungMung

    Robin’s throwing everything he can at the wall to see what sticks. Signs of desperation.

    Robin thinks Crocodile Dundee and Priscilla are historical sources.

    Crocodile Dundee (1986) and Priscilla (1994) present different depictions of Australians; one shows them as rugged bushmen and the other shows them as musical performers.

    Robin also thinks that Australians can’t be both rugged bushmen and musical performers.

    Hilarious.

  18. RobinRobin

    Mung:
    Robin’s throwing everything he can at the wall to see what sticks. Signs of desperation.

    Robin thinks Crocodile Dundee and Priscilla are historical sources.

    Robin also thinks that Australians can’t be both rugged bushmen and musical performers.

    Hilarious.

    Mung once again demonstrating his inability to understand context and examples.

    Demonstrating source contradiction in your writing:

    LOL!

  19. newton

    Mung: Crocodile Dundee (1986) and Priscilla (1994) present different depictions of Australians; one shows them as rugged bushmen and the other shows them as musical performers.

    Neither are the inspired Word of God

  20. MungMung

    Robin: Demonstrating source contradiction in your writing:

    We’re supposed to be discussing history, not fiction.

    LOL!

  21. colewd

    vjtorley,

    Hi Vincent
    Thank you for posting this. I think it is interesting to get multiple views on this from people of multiple disciplines. The important view Warner brings is that we should expect inconsistency. If we don’t get it then there is something wrong.

    He also explains very eloquently that inconsistency is not contradiction.

    I don’t think he should argue that the “we” used in John means more then one woman. William Lane Craig argued this in a passage that Robin quoted. I would recommend that both drop this argument because I think it is weak support for more then one woman in John’s account and opens up the account for unnecessary criticism. The identity of only Mary M. in John’s gospel is merely an inconsistency and not problematic to the overall case.

  22. RobinRobin

    Mung: We’re supposed to be discussing history, not fiction.

    LOL!

    Um…no. We’re not discussing history. We’re discussing the exaggerated or fictional biblical passages and the scholarly historical analysis standards for determining such.

    Poor Mung…

    LOL!

  23. MungMung

    But John clearly states that Mary Magdalene was alone.and that there were no other women. How is that NOT a contradiction?

    And the use of the plural, “WE”, that’s obviously just an oversight on the part of some later scribe who was trying to clean up any potential incongruities in the gospel accounts.

  24. MungMung

    Robin is advocating using historical source criticism to evaluate works of fiction. Now that’s funny, I don’t care who you are.

  25. RobinRobin

    Mung:
    Robin is advocating using historical source criticism to evaluate works of fiction. Now that’s funny, I don’t care who you are.

    Wow! You are unbelievably unaware. The majority of our understanding of past cultures, people, and events comes from the historic analysis of either outright fiction or exaggerated works. It is, in fact, the historic analysis standards that guide skilled historians in honestly separating factual data from fictional stories and references. From analysis of poetic eddas and Arthurian legends to analysis of both British and Colonist propaganda used in the Revolutionary War, our understanding of history is made clearer. But, it’s because skilled historians took an honest and disciplined approach to such references.

    So yeah Mung, I’m most definitely advocating using historical source criticism to evaluate works of fiction. In many cases, it’s the only reference to some point in history we have. Your mocking of such simply indicates how lacking in validity your views on the subject are.

  26. MungMung

    I’m glad Robin has a way to tell fact from fiction. Now if only he would begin to exercise it.

  27. RobinRobin

    Mung:
    I’m glad Robin has a way to tell fact from fiction. Now if only he would begin to exercise it.

    Ok…sure:

    Fact: mutation is a mechanism of hereditary variation that allows for the development of new species populations.

    Fiction: The biblical reference to Jesus’ supposed empty tomb.

  28. MungMung

    According to the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene reported that “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

    I’m still waiting to hear from Robin how this use of the plural contradicts the number of women stated by other authors.

    The text doesn’t say that Mary was the only woman.

    The text supports the case that Mary was not alone.

    Robin is grasping at straws.

    What contradiction, Robin?

  29. dazzdazz

    Mung: According to the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene reported that “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

    I think I finally understand Mung’s point: the Bible may not be all that clear on where it happened, but Jesus got laid

  30. RobinRobin

    Mung:
    According to the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene reported that “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

    I’m still waiting to hear from Robin how this use of the plural contradicts the number of women stated by other authors.

    The text doesn’t say that Mary was the only woman.

    The text supports the case that Mary was not alone.

    Robin is grasping at straws.

    What contradiction, Robin?

    Jiminy! So how many women does John mention came with Mary to the tomb? 1, 2, 10? Uhh…none?

    And oddly, it’s not uncommon in most languages to refer to the groups to which one belongs (Mary Magdalene was the leader of the Temple sisterhood) when noting something that affects that group. So whether or not any other women were with Mary at the tomb has no bearing on her referring to her group’s not knowing where Jesus body was taken. The only real issue is that the author of john saw fit to either ignore any other women in his narrative or note specifically that there were none. Got any explanation for that inconsistency? No? Yeah…I didn’t think so…

    Either way, it’s in conflict with the stories presented in the other testaments, your straw grasping at a Greek idiom (oidamen) not withstanding.

  31. MungMung

    Robin: …your straw grasping at a Greek idiom (oidamen) not withstanding.

    lol. It’s an idiom for “I was there all by myself”?

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