I would like to finally give an update on what I’ve been thinking about and working on. I’d also like to raise a few questions that I think are worth pondering—especially concerning the whole modern religion vs. science debate—and to introduce some arguments that I’ve found compelling.
It’s been over nine months since my last post, which I’ve deleted. It’s been over a year since I’ve substantially posted. It’s not that I haven’t been thinking and writing as much as before, but rather, that every time I have sat down to write a post I’ve found myself unable to do justice to what I’m thinking about.
I know from several conversations that my last few posts have tended to raise more questions about what my views are than they have answered. This reflects, in a way, my own state of mind. Never have I had so many doubts as I’ve had over the past year or two— but at the same time I venture to say that my faith has never been stronger. (Because how is it possible to doubt anything without being that much more certain of your grounds for doubt? What is doubt of one thing caused by but certainty of another?)
What if it turned out that we lived in a world where the Theory of Everything was not only easy to understand, but also easy to explain to anyone with an open mind? What if the Meaning of Life isn’t something discovered through obscure physics equations or complex philosophical ruminations, but rather a fairly obvious truth about why we’re here and where this world came from?
Many today would laugh at this notion, and they might say, “Please, take me to such a world; it sounds much better than our confusing situation here!”
But others would argue that we actually are in such a world. In fact, the majority of the world’s population believes we are. If you asked them why we’re here in this reality they would tell you. If you asked them what will happen after you die, they would have ready answers. And this has been true since the dawn of human thinking.
You’ve caught on by now that I’m talking about religion. If you tend toward skepticism maybe you’re annoyed. Maybe you would argue that even though most people think they know the truth, they are very far indeed from the truth, having based their beliefs on ancient superstitions without any scientific support, superstitions, you would argue, that have led mankind massively astray, again and again.
Let’s assume for a moment that the idea that God created the universe is a valid hypothesis. And for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that the purely scientific view and the religious one are equally likely. It would follow that the best explanation for why most people believe that our reality is created by God is that God created our reality. Because God being infinitely wise, would know how to create a world where most people know how and why they exist. So you would expect a world created by God to be a lot like ours, at least in the respect of producing so much consensus that God exists. On the other hand, if there were no God, then how would the forces of natural selection countenance the vast majority of humankind being so massively deluded?
All things considered, I find this to be a very powerful argument for the substantial truth of most religious ideas. If religion is just an assortment of random superstitious beliefs, why are beliefs in a Higher Power, a higher reality (heaven), in an afterlife, and in anti-Darwinian self-sacrifice, all so ubiquitous? Why are people willing to give their lives for the sake of such beliefs?
Oh, I know the counterarguments. (I was raised on some of them.) Religion is a tool to control the masses. It binds tribes together so they can fight other tribes. Belief in an afterlife lets people sacrifice their lives for the tribe, so that Darwinian selection works on tribes and not individuals. Belief in the “ultimate truth” makes people loyal. Belief in unique supernatural notions gives a tribe common ground and makes it feel like something special and worth defending.
Incidentally, these arguments are most common in Darwinian books about human evolution, for example Sapiens and The Social Conquest of Earth, which have entire chapters on them. But what is interesting about such chapters written by such Darwinian atheists (like Richard Dawkins and E.O. Wilson) is that they almost never offer any scientific evidence for their assertions that all religion is false. What they tend to do is throw these statements in there, mixed up with a bunch of unrelated studies. Why do these scientists make assertions without proof? Because, in the end, they don’t take the religious hypothesis seriously. What possible study could disprove God, they ask? The hypothesis of God is untestable and absurd, they believe. So they don’t even try. This is considered (by them) common sense. And the vast majority of people, who consider God’s existence common sense, are dismissed as non-intellectuals—as part of the deluded herd.
This is a real problem. It means that the science-religion debate is dead. It’s been killed by closed-mindedness.
Let’s look at a couple of examples that I’ve run into over the past year.
Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God attempts to explain the rise of Christianity as a form of myth-making. On the debate over whether Jesus’s empty tomb (attested in several eyewitness accounts) proves his resurrection, he offers several alternative explanations (for example that his followers simply moved the body), admitting that none of them are very satisfactory:
“I don’t subscribe to any of these alternative views because I don’t think we know what happened to the body of Jesus. But simply looking at the matter from a historical point of view, any of these views is more plausible than the claim that God raised Jesus physically from the dead. A resurrection would be a miracle and as such would defy all ‘probability.’ Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a miracle. To say that an event that defies probability is more probable than something that is simply improbable is to fly in the face of anything that involves probability. Of course, it’s not likely that someone innocently moved the body, but there’s nothing inherently improbable about it.” (p. 165)
This is a flagrant example of begging the question, grotesquely anti-logical, if you think about it. He does not question for a moment the atheistic dogma that miracles are astronomically unlikely. But from a religious point of view, even though miracles are rare, they still have a significant chance to occur. And when you’re talking about arguably the greatest moral teacher ever to grace mankind, namely Jesus, miracles are no longer improbable but become highly probable, since you would expect an all-powerful God to make his presence known as appropriate.
Most anti-theistic “arguments” in modern literature devolve into such question-begging. They assume they are right without even considering the counterarguments.
E.O. Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth, is full of examples of this. On page 259:
“The illogic of religions is not a weakness in them, but their essential strength. Acceptance of the bizarre creation myths binds the members together.”
That religious beliefs about creation are “bizarre myths” is assumed without argument. The “illogic” of religion is never shown. E.O. Wilson himself offers a non sequitur here. Exactly what about a “bizarre lie” is necessary to bind a tribe together? This is assumed, also, in the book Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, but I’ve never seen a good argument for why it should be true. Schools of fish and flocks of birds do not need “bizarre” beliefs to hang together. Chimpanzees do not need “lies” to go to war against other chimpanzees. And atheists, if they are telling the truth, are dooming themselves to be forever sundered from society— that is if social bonds require lies.
Nor are bizarre myths sufficient for binding people together, assuming that the major religions are bizarre myths. Wars between Christians and Christians, Muslims and Muslims, and Buddhists and Buddhists have occurred throughout history. Even in tribal societies, tribes with substantially the same beliefs go to war all the time. The whole argument evaporates the more closely you look at it.
But how would you get people to work together and not be selfish without the prospect of heaven or the threat of hell? This is another of those notions that’s been repeated so many times it’s started to sound plausible. But it also fails to account for nice atheists or cruel believers. And the whole mechanism it proposes for making people cooperate is superfluous.
Let me try to explain this by way of an example. Say you were developing robot able to ride a bike. You would need to give it circuits for keeping its balance, right? You would probably program them something like this:
-IF you start leaning left, THEN turn the handlebars right.
-IF you start leaning right, THEN turn the handlebars left.
You would NOT program it like this:
-IF you start leaning left, THEN gnomes live in the clouds.
-IF gnomes live in the clouds, THEN turn the handlebars right.
-IF you start leaning right, THEN unicorns live underground.
-IF unicorns live underground, THEN turn the handlebars left.
That would be pointless. If you programmed like this all the time it would make your code slower, harder to debug, and more prone to error. You would never teach your child to ride this way. Why then, if evolution wanted to make us nicer to each other, did it not just work on our pre-existing instincts for being nice, rather than this whole elaborate cultural belief system that (supposedly) causes war and ignorance and confusion? After all, chimpanzees are able to cooperate and show compassion to each other, and they have no notion of an afterlife at all. So the instinct already exists as part of our heritage as primates. Therefore it is ridiculous to argue that religion only exists to promote kindness, which even contradicts the usual atheistic mantra that belief in God is not necessary for morality.
I do have faith that God can help you to become a more moral person. But I don’t think this makes any sense of how the belief in God “evolved,” if God is a lie. Because there are much easier ways to become a better person than to pray to a god that doesn’t exist and can’t answer prayers. The only way to explain—on the survival-of-the-fittest view—why so many people have prayed so fervently throughout history, is that prayers are answered.
“At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.’”
Proving the existence of God in a simple and valid way is is not difficult. What makes it seem difficult is arguing with a well-trained atheist, anyone well-versed in high-brow atheism, who has many convincing fallacies ready at hand to confuse the issue. Atheists are uncommon in America today, but at the most elite universities, they predominate among professors.
I’ve been reading their books now for twenty years, but I’ve never yet encountered a sound argument that God doesn’t exist. At best, I’ve run into only very convoluted ones.
The easiest way to see God is to look at nature. The forests of our planet are beautiful and vibrant, full of life, meaning, and purpose. The stars in the sky are glorious in their simple, shining beauty. The human form, and the human intellect, formed by nature for nobility and reason, are beyond compare in their balanced and harmonious intricacy; as are all the ecosystems of our planet, even taken together as a whole living system, spinning endlessly in the generous glow of our star for its billions upon billions of quiet years orbiting the Milky Way’s dangerous and fertile galactic center.
Very far indeed is this world from that proposed by the materialist. Ours is no conglomerate formed of atoms randomly colliding in a chaotic void. All the life on earth is no chance effusion of replicating, arbitrary forms, searching blindly in the space of all possible monstrosities. Each human brain is no arbitrary combination of influences, without soul or purpose or desire for truth, without life, robotic, nor some mixture of computational program and buggy noise. No, our world does have meaning and beauty, even if there is ugliness too.
Such realizations suffice for most people, as they should. Though I’ve tried to express them poetically, they are simple and direct. When we look at the static on a old-fashioned TV screen, that is chaos. When we look at the world around us, we do not see chaos. Our world is obviously designed.
It takes all kinds of convoluted contortions of reason and evidence to force our world to appear moldless, some godless, Darwinian chaos. Yet this is what modern intellectuals have largely succeeded at.
I do not mean to impugn science, not in its purity as a search for the truth. Nor do I mean to deny that our world is billions of years old, nor that many or most organisms share common descent from a few primeval organisms. There is good evidence for some of these claims, and not much evidence against others. But we should not confuse disputes about how a watch operates from disputes over why the watch exists.
Why, when Newton discovered the Law of Gravity, did everyone admit its beauty as God’s handiwork? And why, when Darwin discovered the Law of Natural Selection, did everyone not admit its beauty as God’s handiwork?
This is a very long discussion, actually, and I’ll leave most of it for my book I’m working on. But let me just say this: I’ve programmed evolutionary algorithms, computer programs that improve themselves by natural selection. And it’s not easy. If it were, all of our programs would be evolutionary. Heck, if computer programs could just evolve on their own, without guidance, I would be out of a job.
And you’re telling me that our world, which evolved us, the most wondrously intricate beings in existence, evolved without guidance?
Every theist, college-educated or not, knows how to refute Darwinism. “Look, it’s designed!” Everything else is just endless hairsplitting.
I myself was an atheist for seven years, starting in high school and up until I graduated with my physics degree. I was not an atheist out of defiance or rebellion, not entirely. It just seemed to me, based on how the world works, how everything turns out to work according to the laws of physics, that anything supernatural was unnecessary and unlikely.
When I look back on the atheistic revolution in my thinking, it was not caused by any one argument, but by my gradual absorption of the atheistic worldview of the science books I read and television shows I watched. It wasn’t like I went and read a manifesto on atheism one day and became a convert. It was a lot of things: science fiction and futurism on TV, popular books about string theory and black holes, articles and books about dinosaurs and evolution, and skeptical arguments concerning UFOs and ghosts. There was an underlying assumption, it seemed, a part of being adult and evidence-minded, that rejected theories that didn’t put matter or atoms at the bottom of all explanations, or that believed life on earth to be anything but insignificant and unremarkable.
In calling myself an atheist I was trying to be honest. But there was another component too, which I’ve mentioned earlier. While I was growing up my parents left the religion they were part of, and they had many criticisms to make of organized religion. Blind belief makes you follow your leaders without questioning. It leads to gullibility and oppression.
On the assumption that the vast majority of people in world are delusional, people tend to think that the world is a result of chance, and that when we can understand it, it’s by luck and not design. By choosing the purely scientific worldview, I saw myself as defying this chaos. The world was a pool of random opinions based on feeling and chance (“religion”) and I was going to find what order there was in the world and hang on to it (“science”).
It didn’t occur to me (though this is easy to see) that belief in God is not a form of oppression at all, and in fact helps one fight against oppression. Jewish and Christian martyrs in every age have demonstrated this, not only under oppression by Rome, but under medieval rulers, under absolute monarchs, and under the intense oppression of Nazism and Communism. (Defending Identity by Natan Sharansky gives one personal account of this in modern times.) It is absurd to equate religion with oppression when it is obvious that the tyrants doing the oppressing have always been extraordinarily greedy, cruel, atheistic, and un-Christlike, even when they have called themselves followers of Christ.
But I had absorbed all these notions that God was unprovable. I had convinced myself that all the apparent design in the world—living things, the motions of the sun and moon and stars, mountains and rivers and oceans—are all just the result of chance combinations of atoms obeying the laws of physics.
I had convinced myself that everything that seemed designed in the world wasn’t designed. Even everything that humans had made, from computers to rockets, were products of the human mind, which was itself a product of blind evolution.
As I was pondering all this as a teenager, a Christian on an online forum about science and religion suggested I read a book by an intelligent design theorist, Michael Behe: Darwin’s Black Box. I read this alongside Richard Dawkins’s The Blind Watchmaker. I was determined to have an open mind and come to the most reasoned conclusion. And back then it seemed to me that it was the arguments that Behe the ID theorist made that were the most convoluted.
Michael Behe is a biochemist, and over the course of his studies he has come across a number of molecules in bacteria and in cells that are just too complex to have arisen by small, incremental steps as required in Darwinian evolution by natural selection. For him, this proves that God must have somehow either preprogrammed DNA to be able to produce these molecules, perhaps at the origin of life, or perhaps over the course of evolution.
Darwin’s theory relies crucially on the gradual accumulation of changes for one species to evolve into another. If it turned out that the human eye was too complex to evolve, step by step, from no eye at all, then even Darwin would have admitted that his theory couldn’t work. Since then, attempt after attempt has been made to show that some feature we have couldn’t arise step-by-step. Behe’s it seemed, was the latest and most cutting-edge.
Dawkins argument, it seemed to me, was simply better. It was more open-minded; it was broader and more comprehensive. He pointed out that just because we couldn’t imagine how a given structure could arise step-by-step, didn’t mean that there wasn’t some way it could happen. For a long time people had claimed that eyes couldn’t evolve, but many finely-graded forms of eyes, from the simplest—a collection of light sensitive cells—to the most complex could be seen in nature. (At the same time, he was uncharitable toward his theistic opponents at almost every opportunity. For example in the Introduction: “In most cases, they know deep down what to believe because their parents recommended an ancient book that tells them what to believe.")
So I rejected Intelligent Design theory. It all seemed to rely on the existence of certain obscure molecules that very few people understood to begin with. (And implicitly on an ancient book full of myths.)
The apparent dominance of atheism in the debate over evolution is based on nothing more than a brilliantly subtle narrowing of admissible evidence down to a tiny speck of possible cases, all too complex and ill-understood to really debate—most importantly, the origin of life, and the origin of certain complex molecules. Everything else in evolution, it has apparently been conceded, could be the result of the chance operation of natural selection.
Why creationists have conceded so much without protest baffles me more, the more I think about it. The point of theism isn’t to believe that there is a convenient supernatural being who just happens to come down in rare cases when evolution gets stuck trying to create the next most complex molecule. If God wanted to make his existence known to us, it shouldn’t take a PhD in biochemistry to get the message.
God’s handiwork should be visible in every realm of nature. Surely it is apparent both in the very simple (the laws of physics for example) and in the very complex (such as the human mind). My point is that the only reason that ID theorists are forced to address such convoluted cases is that they face a very convoluted opponent.
It’s not that Behe makes a wrong argument for the existence of God. It’s not even that his argument is too complex. It’s that he doesn’t also mention innumerable simple arguments. This is actually the biggest problem with ID theory, though most people don’t realize it because too few people read it. (I do highly recommend Meyer’s Signature in the Cell, an extremely erudite and philosophical work, and fun too read. And if you’re interested in evolutionary algorithms and like difficult mathematical equations, Dembski’s co-authored Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics is full of entertainingly brilliant, if unnecessarily obscure, theistic arguments.)
All this technical debate can be fun (for some of us) but let’s get back to the basics. Richard Dawkins’s title The Blind Watchmaker is, quite simply, self-refuting. It’s a simple oxymoron. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, too, is about anything but the origin of species. If you think I’m being facetious or overly hairsplitting, take a minute to think these titles over with me. Because the entire Darwinian argument is simply a brilliant piece of Orwellian doublethink, and I want people to start seeing this.
On page 5 Dawkins writes:
“Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.”
Okay, so natural selection is undirected he’s saying, right? It leads organisms here and there in the space of all possible organisms, with no goal in mind. Drunkenly, blindly, it simply wanders. Got it. But how then could it follow that natural selection would lead to something even apparently purposeful? Of course, it is the purpose of books like Dawkins’s to help us to “see” how such blindness could act as if it could see.
Consciously or unconsciously, such obfuscation is achieved by atheists confusing the role of chance in evolution. Theists like to ask, “But how could chance lead to something so well-designed?” Atheists respond, “It’s not chance, it’s natural selection.”
But if natural selection is blind, how is it not chance?
There are two kinds of chance being confused here.
The first kind of chance is chance mutations. This is when the DNA of an organism changes as the result of being damaged. Darwinists and creationists alike agree that mutations are usually fatal. It is very rare that DNA will change in such as way as to make an organism more fit than before.
This is where Darwinists jump in to make their argument. Thanks to natural selection, they say, organisms that get beneficial mutations have more children, and thus beneficial mutations can build up over time, leading to complex things like eyes.
The second kind of chance is what this argument sweeps under the rug. It’s the fact that natural selection is the result of the environment you happen to live in. Natural selection is blind because your environment has no idea—on the atheistic view—what kind of structure it should favor next.
An example might help here. Say you’ve got some worms living in the ocean with eye spots. Their environment hasn’t changed for a million years, so they are optimally adapted. Any mutant offspring die out because they are less fit. This includes offspring with deeper eye wells, which could give them better visual perception but which do no good because they block out a little too much light.
Let’s say their environment changes. Now there is more light, allowing for deeper eye wells and more precision, another step to complex eyes! And the mutation happens again, and this time it spreads through the population. Evolution, it seems, has taken another step forward.
According to Darwin’s theory, this step was taken blindly. It other words, it could just as easily have gone the other way. We know of cave organisms, in fact, that have lost their eyes by natural selection. Every step forward, if we’re talking about a blind walk through possibility space, is more easily a step backward.
The question that Darwinists consistently dodge answering is how chance — in the second sense of the “blindness” of the watchmaker — could have progressively taken all the steps to the human eye in all its complexity without taking still more backward steps.
Any step toward greater complexity is always much more unlikely than a step away from it. For example, to make use of eyes you also need nerves to a brain wired to interpret their signals. It’s all in the coordination of parts. It’s much more likely that a random force of selection will eliminate something complex and costly to maintain, than favor it. So each step forward in the evolution of eyes, because there a more things that can go wrong — bad lenses, bad receptors, bad transmission, bad processing in the brain — is much less likely than than the corresponding step backward.
Dawkins on this point (p. 41):
“[T]here is the familar, and I have to say rather irritating, confusion of natural selection with ‘randomness’. Mutation is random; natural selection is the very opposite of random.”
Opposite of random? But it’s blind! It’s like telling someone to drop you in the desert at random, blindfolded, without a map. You’re going to walk toward the nearest sound of water. You claim, furthermore, that by this method you will tend to find gradually bigger and better sources of fresh water. Someone argues that without a map, wandering a random, you’re not guaranteed to find any water, let alone the best sources of water. Your response? Well I’m not wandering at random, I’m following the sound of water!
There’s absolutely no reason to think that blind natural selection, without a map, even working over billions of years, would produce anything complex at all. All it would tend to produce, assuming it could even get started, is organisms better at replicating faster. And bacteria can replicate a thousand times faster than humans. That’s a huge fitness disadvantage to overcome. It means that most evolutionary steps from bacterium to human decreased the fitness of the species. It’s like saying it’s easy to get to a mountaintop—all you have to do is roll downhill!
Dawkins’s doublethink goes all the way to the end of his book. I’m sorry this passage is so obscure, but if you think carefully about it I think you’ll see the contradiction in the heart of his thinking:
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. The essence of life is statistical improbability on a colossal scale. Whatever is the explanation for life, therefore, it cannot be chance. The true explanation for the existence of life must embody the very antithesis of chance. The antithesis of chance is nonrandom survival, properly understood. Nonrandom survival, improperly understood, is not the antithesis of chance, it is chance itself. There is a continuum connecting these two extremes, and it is the continuum from single-step evolution to cumulative selection. Single-step evolution is just another way of saying pure chance. This is what I mean by nonrandom survival improperly understood. Cumulative selection, by slow and gradual degrees, is the explanation, the only workable explanation, that has ever been proposed, for the existence of life’s complex design.”
Dawkins thus hides the crux of the matter in a convoluted philosophical analysis of chance that is superfluous and that presents itself as more logical than it is.
Dawkins reasoning doesn’t work at all here, even on the face of it. If single-step evolution is pure chance, then so is cumulative evolution. You don’t get nonrandomness by stringing together a bunch of random processes. It doesn’t matter how long a blindfolded person wanders, he’s still just as likely to go one direction as another.
To be fair to Dawkins, it should be noted that by “single-step evolution” he means not micro-evolution but the idea that the whole complex human eye evolved by one mutation. But this is a “straw man", an argument set up just so he can easily knock it down. No one believes this. Cumulative (blind) selection only looks like a good alternative next to such ridiculousness.
The whole march from germ to fish, from fish to man, from algae to tree, from shrew to whale, from primordial soup to rainforest — this whole march was no random collection of random marches. I don’t care whether each step in the march was necessary for survival or not. I suppose each step was necessary for survival, was survival of the fittest. Of course it was, tautologically so. But the harmony and complexity and directedness of the march must indicate that the selection ultimately was selection, in the original meaning of term “selection", that is, “to choose", “to decide consciously". “Natural selection", natural meaning unconscious, is the original oxymoron behind the entire intellectual movement of modern nihilism.
A lot more can be said. But it need not be. The arguments and counterarguments are endless, but the upshot is always the same.
“But we only think humans are the pinnacle of existence because we happen to be humans.”
Exactly. Chimpanzees don’t think they are the pinnacle of existence because they don’t have the ability to think about existence.
“Our world only appears friendly to life because we are well-adapted to it.”
Adaptation itself is impossible on most worlds, let alone most universes.
Yes, from one point of view, natural selection is never random. It’s not the survival of whatever but the survival of the fittest. But from a broader perspective, from the perspective of threading the evolutionary maze from bacterium to human, natural selection by itself would be extremely unlikely to lead to anything like us. If every trait that humans have is a trait implanted by natural selection, then the forces of natural selection that shaped these traits must have been at least as complex as the human mind. And since we don’t understand the human mind, not even close, we are not even close to understanding the forces that created us. So how could we not call the forces that created us intelligent?
To be more precise, forces are not individually intelligent, but they can be used together in an intelligent way. A computer programmer, even if he’s writing evolutionary algorithms, has got to put the right basic rules and parameters in place so his program performs the task desired. Without the right rules, without the right evolutionary environment, anything goes—the most likely outcome being a boring crash. There were countless ways the evolutionary history of earth could have “crashed.” Some tiny species of bacteria could have replicated wildly out of control, killing everything else. A comet could have struck, or a super-volcano. Sure, there were extinctions, but nothing that forced things to start all over. When diversity and complexity came back, it was always deeper than before. There is no law of nature saying this must be so. Life could easily have started on Mars, for example, and died out or simplified back to triviality. By all the laws of probability, this should have happened on Earth too, if there was no design involved.
The literature on this whole debate is vast. Was the Earth fine-tuned for life? Were even the laws of our universe fine-tuned? Did evolution proceed by random walk or designed progression? I challenge anyone to dip into this literature in a fair-minded spirit and not come back with a stronger faith—or at least a stronger suspicion—that a Creator is behind it all. A few recommendations, from both sides of the debate:
The Creator and the Cosmos, by Hugh Ross (theist)
The Accidental Species, by Henry Gee (anti-theist)
Signature in the Cell, by Stephen Meyer (theist)
How Jesus Became God, by Bart Ehrman (anti-theist)
The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel (theist)
Natural Theology, by William Paley (1809) (theist)
The Blind Watchmaker, by Richard Dawkins (anti-theist)
Navigating Genesis, by Hugh Ross (theist)
The Social Conquest of Earth, by E.O. Wilson (anti-theist)
Privileged Planet (book and documentary) by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards (theist)
The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning, by Victor Stenger (anti-theist)
This is just a selection of the books I’ve read (or re-read from a new perspective) over the past year, what I consider probably the most accessible and surprising. The anti-theist literature I list, in most cases, does not present itself as such. Generally it claims to be objective and scientific, and not to take any particular stance toward religious ideas, assumed to be beyond proof. But now, I guess because I suddenly find them so full of contradictions, I find them shrill and petty in their anti-religion. I can still appreciate their honesty in trying to find the truth, if not their utter disdain for actually engaging with religion.
As a professor at a modern university, it is easy to write books and articles criticizing religious ideas. Several of the quotes I’ve offered here show that in the name of objectivity they explicitly criticize faith. They don’t worry about losing their job for it.
But the debate, as I said, is officially dead. Theists are not allowed to publish counterarguments except in special circumstances. In Signature in the Cell, Stephen Meyer tells part of his own story as a scientist and philosopher attempting to put forward pro-theist ideas. One peer-reviewed article that he published, a very technical article, all but destroyed the career of the editor who published it, causing him to be “transferred to a hostile supervisor” and demoted.
Since the Scopes “Monkey” trial, there has never been a case, to my knowledge, where a school was challenged for teaching students the anti-theistic ideas of scientists such as E.O. Wilson or Dawkins. But now any book billed as “intelligent design” has been legally classified as religious and therefore inadmissible in public school curricula, as decided in the famous Dover Trial back in 2005.
I recall hearing news reports about it, and getting the impression that Intelligent Design was a movement promoted by religious leaders without any actual scientific background. But this was all misinformation it turns out. I challenge anyone to read Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell (or any of William Dembski’s more technical works) and not come away with a deep respect for the ID movement and its scientific methods.
“But all those ID theorists are Christians,” you say, “and even if their arguments for a Designer make sense, they seem to assume that we’ll automatically accept the God of the Christian Bible as our ‘intelligent designer.’”
If wanting people to know the truth about why we’re here is an ulterior motive, then yes, Intelligent Design theory is guilty as charged. But if objectivity is anything, then it is a desire to find and share the truth. How then, is one to present all the objective facts in favor of the existence of a Creator? Are we to present them as subjective feelings? That would be a lie. A fact is a fact, even if it favors Christian beliefs in particular.
Stephen Meyer claims that these are facts: (1) The universe could not have made more than 10139 trails to create human DNA, given the number of particles and possible interactions of the universe. (2) The essential, necessary molecular machinery needed for DNA replication has a much less than a 1 in 10139 probability to arise by chance. Together, (1) and (2) imply that life did not arise by chance, and hence was designed.
Maybe you can deny that (1) is a fact, or deny that (2) is a fact. But what if they are facts? What if they are among countless facts which point to the presence of a divine will in nature?
The modern intellectual climate demands that we pay no attention to such facts. It demands that we cease calling them facts, or even potential facts. It denies that they even can be facts. But that is to presuppose, from the outset, that there can be no universe outside our own, or that if it does exist, it may not have intelligent beings. That is an awfully big assumption.
They want to argue that anything beyond our universe cannot be proven. But then the only way for them to get around the undeniable fine-tuning of our laws of physics is to do exactly that, and postulate a “multiverse” outside our own, one consisting of perhaps countless varying universes that are all lifeless, with ours as the lucky stroke that gave rise to intelligence.
Occam’s razor, which states that “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity,” has often been used in attempts to eliminate the hypothesis of God, though of course, William of Occam was a theist. In our case it can easily be used to argue for the existence of a God, given that there is something beyond our universe.
The degree of fine-tuning of our laws of nature are something like one in a googol (10100, one with a hundred zeros). That means that you’d need about a googol universes to, by chance, hit upon one like ours that supports life.
Even then, what fine-tuned the multiverse? Any multiverse you can imagine is just one out of an infinity of possible multiverses. How can this way of thinking avoid postulating an infinity of entities, most of them chaotic and lifeless?
Here’s another hypothesis. Instead of a googol other universes, assume you’ve got one other universe 1050 times bigger than ours, with a creator 1049 times smarter and more powerful than we are. Such a creator could easily create 1049 universes as friendly to life as our own.
Which is more likely? For every 1 life-friendly universe created in the first scenario, 1049 are created in the second. While the first scenario postulates a chaotic multiverse 10100 times bigger than ours, the second postulates a much simpler and more lawful multiverse, 1050 times smaller than the first, yet 1049 times more productive. That means that in terms of efficiency, in terms of satisfying Occam’s demand for simplicity, the hypothesis of a designed universe is far, far more optimal (1099 more optimal to be precise) than the hypothesis of a merely lucky universe.
It appears astronomically more likely to me that our universe, with its well-designed, fine-tuned laws, is part of the repertoire of a powerful Creator, than some freak in a vast array of monstrosities. Which is more likely to produce a working vehicle: storms and earthquakes tearing through junkyards, or engineers and factories?
But then who created our creator? To not multiply entities unnecessarily, we could postulate an infinite Creator, uncreated because eternal, responsible for creating every world under heaven. The infinity of an intelligent Creator is a much more parsimonious assumption that an infinity of chaotic universes.
I’m talking about facts and possible facts here, not emotions. Yes, there’s an emotional upshot, but even the purest scientific theories have one. “There is grandeur in this view of life,” says Darwin. “He who finds a thought that lets us even a little deeper into the eternal mystery of nature has been granted great peace,” says Einstein.
I’m reminded of a peculiar philosophy of physics seminar session in grad school. The professor, an non-theist and hard-line empirical materialist, wrote a question up on the whiteboard along with a graph. The question was, “Why is mathematics so successful in describing nature?” The graph had two axes. One ranged from “simple” to “complex” and the other went from “solvable” to “unsolvable.” He wanted to know how complex we though the answer to this question was, and how hard we thought it would be to finally answer.
Each student and professor went up to mark the board. Most of the “x’s” clustered around the “solvable, complex” corner. In a spirit of contradiction, and in view of the fact that the problem had frustrated modern philosophers for over a hundred years, I went up and marked a region was that completely blank so far, “nearly unsolvable, simple.”
Even then, when my opinions on design were mixed, I knew that modern secular philosophers have a unproductive way of taking a straightforward question with a straightforward answer and making it more complex than it needed to be, all the while pretending that they were solving it once and for all with all their technical ramblings. But the history of philosophy, every philosopher knows well, had not shown much progress. Something new, I realized, was needed.
I believe, after all these years, to finally have hit upon the simple answer that most people already know yet is so nearly unsolvable on materialistic assumptions: Mathematics is successful in describing nature because nature was designed to be comprehensible. You’d think that any old collection of laws, and any old species evolved merely to survive, would have so little in common, logically, as to be mutually alien. As it is, children can start learning mathematics the minute they start learning to speak, starting with counting, moving to arithmetic, and then advancing as far as anyone could wish, into complex yet comprehensible mathematical theories that can keep any math-lover occupied for a lifetime. There is no reason any of this had to be true, nor that the laws of physics would be so readily comprehensible by the mathematics humans tend to excel at. Our mathematical abilities from the least to the greatest, it is held by Darwinists, all evolved on the savanna. Interesting coincidence. Must have been one well-designed savanna.
This has been a taste of where my thoughts have taken me over the last year. I’m currently writing down my arguments in a book, whose topics will range from the fine-tuning of the laws of physics, to evolutionary theory, to Biblical scholarship. Interspersed will also be an autobiographical narrative, telling the story of how my own beliefs evolved, starting with my Christian upbringing, my parents break with Christianity, their New Age explorations, my years as an atheist and physicist, then philosopher, and finally my recent journey back to faith. I groped for a title for weeks, until a friend of mine suggested “Surprised by Reason,” which I’ve kept as my working title for a couple of months now. The first draft is over half-way done, and I hope to have it ready to pass around to interested readers in a few months.