Thursday, 22 January 2009

A Banana Also Fits Well In A Vagina...

Banana masturbator and all-around nutter Ray Comfort has a site refuting atheism up, it's really great for a laugh until it gets to the fact he's serious. The straw-man attacks on atheism and evolution are no surprise out of the apologetics, it's still sad to see the effectiveness of the obvious fallacies presented. Credulous fools flock to these faux-intellectuals making the public understanding of both evolution and atheism a much more daunting proposition. It's quite sad that for someone who argues that if you lie then you are a liar will deliberately push lies about evolution and atheism.

Atheistic beliefs
An atheist is someone who believes that nothing made everything. He will of course deny that because it's an intellectual embarrassment, but if I say that I don’t believe that a builder built my house, then I am left with the insanity of believing that nothing built it. It just happened.
I will deny that, an atheist is someone who doesn't believe in a god or gods. It's got nothing to do with whether they believe something came from nothing, it's simply to say that appealing to a deity is not an answer. For the house I'm living in, I know a builder built it. And I also know that the builder had a builder too, the builder had two parents who had sex. And where did those parents come from? Well their parents had sex as well. And if we go back far enough we get to a point where sex organs first developed, and even further back we get to a process by which the first replicating cells came about. Before that we get planetary formation, before that we have a giant star going supernova, before that we have that star formation and before that we have the origins of the universe.

The big bang is the limit of our observational point, beyond the big bang at best it can be nothing more than informed speculation. There is mathematical means to try and understand how the universe could be, but in all honesty there is a huge unknown when we hit the end of observable reality. As far as what atheists believe there is no consensus, Comfort makes the mistake of thinking that science = atheism and appeals against current scientific explanations on face value in order to attack atheism. There is no dogma to atheism, no tenets, no historical account, it's a position on the the supernatural and nothing more.

What Comfort is doing is creating a false dichotomy between nothing creating something and the Judeo-Christian construct of God creating something. Though there are many people who don't believe that there is a creation event at all, that the universe or multiverse in some ways is unbounded and infinite. Hawking and Sagan both talk of this unbounded reality, where time has a beginning but time is a creation of the universe and the components that make up the universe are eternal. There's the idea of a cyclic universe, one that is an infinite sequence of big bangs and big crunches where the universe has a beginning and an end but is still fully contained in infinity. There's also the concept of an infinite sequence of multiverses, an 11-dimensional reality where the universe is one 4 dimensional bubble of many floating in a higher reality. It could be that the universe is infinite too, that the beginning is nothing more than a limitation on our observation point. It could be that black holes in one universe are the beginnings of a completely new universe within. Quite simply there is no answer.

But without an answer, does it make the Christian answer of an all-powerful deity creating it all. Why if a deity can be infinite, can't a component of reality be infinite? The big bang isn't the be-all and end-all of existence, it's the beginning of our 4-dimensional bubble universe. Our frame of reference limits us, but that does not make a deity any better of an answer. Imagine I had a box sitting next to me. Can you work out what is in the box without looking inside? Sure you could guess, and even make particular deductions about what could be in there, but the chances of being right purely on guessing aren't high. On earth it's limited to particular material objects, the size is important and the ability to to obtain it is another. The box that covers over what is beyond the observable universe isn't limited by these restrictions and without lifting the lid, getting the right answer becomes impossible. Proposing that God is an answer is nothing more than speculation, it has about the same probability as proposing that reality was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Darwinian equilibrium
Comfort makes a very easy dichotomy to pick against God:
Darwinian evolution and the biblical account of creation are incompatible. Either God made man in His own image as morally accountable beings, male and female, reproducing after their own kind, or He didn’t. If the theory of evolution is a scientific fact, then the Bible should be discarded as mere mythology. But if the Bible is right, Charles Darwin single-handedly propagated a fantasy that has hoodwinked millions.
So if evolution is true, then the bible isn't according to Comfort. Well evolution is true, it's about as true as true can get in the scientific sense. So by this the bible is mythology and God was killed by Charles Darwin... Of course this line of reasoning is bogus, evolution is just one of a huge number of naturalistic explanations that have replaced the divine intervention that was once the explanation. Why should evolution kill God any more than heliocentric orbit?

It's an easy path to dismiss God for the same reason that some theists reject evolution, if we take the argument that one is true and the other is false then it's really going to be nothing more than a gut reaction. For the scientifically-inclined then maybe it would go to God not existing, for the believer it would go to God. It's a dishonest tactic even if it stems from an honest belief in the incompatibility. The fact that many believers accept evolution including prominent scientists and theologians shows that there doesn't need to be an incompatibility between God and evolution.

The main straw-man attack is the deifying of Charles Darwin, that it's his word against God's. Evolution is a scientific theory, not a religion, and there are no holy books that show irrefutable truth. Indeed when Darwin first wrote the hypothesis of evolution, the fossil record was mostly undiscovered, anatomists were only beginning to see the links between different clades, there was no knowledge of genetics and observed evidence was not there. Since then the evidence found supporting evolution has been overwhelming, and the theory has been updated and revised as all science is.

It's important to mention that evolution is not the single-handed work of Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace came up with the theory independently. Through the good grace of both Darwin and Wallace they presented their idea together in 1858, over a year before The Origin Of Species was published. Since then the concept has become standard science, with many contributions along the way. Mendelian genetics added to the theory in the late 19th century. In the mid 20th century the discovery of DNA again changed the understanding of evolutionary theory, which led in the 60s to the gene-centred view of evolution. The idea of evolutionary arms races came about, a new driving mechanism to variation. In recent times the role of horizontal gene transfer has come to light, and the idea of spandrels playing a role in evolution has been added to evolutionary knowledge. All of this is beyond what Darwin came up with, yet all is now part of modern evolutionary theory.

The fact is that evolution is accepted by almost the entire scientific community, millions of people from different religious backgrounds and all walks of life who actually devote their lives to studying biology all agree that evolution happened. It's not the word of Darwin vs the word of God, it's an accumulation of millions of scientists all devoting their lives to understanding the natural world against the allegorical tales of one middle-eastern tribe. If the bible needs creation to be true, then the bible is mythology. But if like most rational theologians taking the tale of genesis is an allegorical tale, then there is quite simply no conflict.


Danny said...

I don't want to intrude, if you would rather me not post on your site then this will be the last time.
The big bang is something that really puzzles me when I think about atheists. From what I understand the big bang being fact would mean that the universe had a beginning. I do not think everything has to have a beginning, but apparently the universe has been shown to have one.
If we can only speculate as to what is before that, which I think is one of your points, then why would I speculate no creator instead of speculating there is one.
I guess my main point is that, I think, it comes down to philosophy, not science. You have stated on another blog something to the effec5 that you don't need science to not believe in God. Which I find honest and somewhat understandable.
If we can not observe past the big bang, then all we have scientifically is speculation, which I don't know if that could be called science.
Philosophically, you have come to your conclusion that there is no creator based on the idea of his malevolence. Which would probably be the better argument in a debate with Christians, but not with people of just any faith. Many christians also have issues with some of the same things you have brought up in the past. Mostly the best one can do is to express why and how he still believes inspite of those.
But scientifically, I do not see atheist persuading many church folk, much less christians.
I enjoyed reading your post, you write well.
take it easy,
danny m

Kel said...

I don't mind anyone commenting, just as long as they aren't throwing bible verses my way. Any objections or questions, fire away.

As for before the big bang, there is a degree of speculation in it. But this is where the science turns highly mathematical, theoretical physics needs to mathematically come up with formulas that satisfy itself and show the end product that is this world. i.e. we have a certain set of laws in this reality so we need a proposition that can account for them.

But of course that has limits, it's understandable as we can't observe past the beginnings of the universe. So while these theories may be mathematically complete, they can't be tested beyond the scope of our universe. There are many properties of this universe though that may need such a theory, like dark matter and dark energy or quantum gravity. The necessity of explanation and a neat mathematical solution that makes predictions about other unexplained phenomena would be at least somewhat verifiable.

Philosophically I came to the conclusion that there is no god through the rejection of the weak anthropic principle. Given the sheer size of space-time, the gargantuan amount of stars, the sheer time scale of the universe whereby we are one of billions of species to walk on this planet, I find it nothing more than imposing our will on reality to think that it was all for us. As I laid out in the religious lottery post, any concept of a spiritual afterlife is nothing more than speculation without evidence, and God is just one of an infinite number of possible explanations it could be. Even if I did believe that there was a force behind it all, I would not believe it to be Yahweh. For God, the credulity of belief comes from proving that Jesus really is a mangod.

So while there may be a limit to our observation, making an effort to make any explanation consistent with our known universe is the least someone can do. To take the Comfort path, he uses the inadequacy of scientific explanation on what we can't know to throw out what we do know. Where does the universe come from? I have no idea. But because I have no idea, it does not mean that we were created in God's image in 4004BC. Because there are histories we can know and those contradict what Comfort is alleging.

What's the problem with saying "I don't know?" and questioning those who claim to know the unknowable? Having no explanation does not mean that a bad explanation has more merit. Stars being camp-fires of the gods is not in any way a better answer than saying "I don't know." That's my contention, that those who propose not only a deity but a very specific deity (usually the one they were taught to believe in) is the answer to the unanswerable, all I can think is how a supernatural explanation has always been replaced by a naturalistic one as time has gone on. I can understand why putting God before the big bang is appealing, and I can see why many religious people choose to do it. But I don't find it any more credulous than our ancestors proposing that angels pushed planets around the earth or that stars are the camp-fires of the gods.

Danny said...

I don't have a problem with anyone saying they don't know anything. I do see the big bang as different than angels pushing planets though.
I think about the begining of the universe, and what it might take to throw all of this in motion from the big bang to stars, galaxies, us, animals etc. Then I think about what the characteristics that the vast majority of the world attribute to God. It pretty much matches up. I mean, the cause of the universe has to have as much energy and power and order and whatever else as the universe and everything that came from the universe.
The only thing that would make it not God as most people understand God to be, is if you take away intelligence. So really, the only difference I can see is that of God or that of the 'force'.
Most of the world may not believe in the same God, but their are major attributes that all who believe say that God has. Some religions believe that God is good, some bad, and others neutral. But there is a creator that caused the universe, the universe had a bigining. The only question I could see someone having is whether this creator has intelligence. lol.
I want to know more about dark matter and dark energy. I saw something about it on the t.v. And I see you wrote something about it. Could you suggest some reading on it.
thank you,

Danny said...

Holy crap, please excuse that horrible spelling.

Kel said...

It pretty much matches up. I mean, the cause of the universe has to have as much energy and power and order and whatever else as the universe and everything that came from the universe.
I can understand that, though I find it a dangerous philosophical game to posit the answer of complexity with something even more complex. I wrote about it here. Basically as I see it, by arguing that a greater complexity is needed to answer complexity, then the explanation is a non-answer. If God has to be powerful in order to create the universe, then questions surely arise of how God came about. If God can be eternal yet powerful, then why can't the universe or multiverse exist without needing that deity?

As for dark matter and dark energy, there really is a hell of a lot that is unknown about them. I found this article on Scientific American, it should be a good start. And here's another. I heard an interesting podcast the other day where a theoretical physicist talked of the potential for string theory to explain both dark matter and dark energy. In other words it's there, but we don't know what either is.

Danny said...

Cool, thanks.