Monday, April 28, 2008

Gods, designers, and author@ptgbooks

Here’s my latest response to author@ptgbooks. I am focusing here just on the reasonableness of belief in the Judeo-Christian creator-god.

Author said:

You and other participants have often used examples of ridiculous beliefs like dogs being spies from Venus. I suppose you think belief in a creator God is just as ridiculous. I guess it would do no good to try to point out evidence for God, because you would just discount it.

On the contrary, I have pointed out that the evidence you have provided thus far is very poor, and that there is, in a addition, very good evidence against belief in such a maximally powerful and good God.

Can I suggest you read my “The God of Eth” article, to give you a quick overview of why I think the problem of evil/suffering is fatal to belief in such a God, and why I think your appeal to “mystery” etc. just won’t do. I’d be interested in your response.

I see you put forward as evidence for your God that:

(i) the world shows signs of design
(ii) naturalism can’t account for consciousness; God can
(iii) Biblical prophecies support belief in God

Now I have already explained that, by themselves, these design-arguments, even if good arguments for a designer (which they’re not, but let it pass), no more support belief in a maximally good and powerful god than they support belief in a maximally evil and powerful god (i.e. hardly at all).

Ditto consciousness. Even if consciousness requires a supernatural explanation (which is highly debatable), it’s a huge, unwarranted leap from this to “So the explanation must be a maximally good and powerful God.”

Be good to hear what you think is the most impressive Biblical prophecy. Can you spell it out for us, and why you think it’s good evidence for your god?

Otherwise, it looks very much as if, on the evidence, you are taking a right pasting, doesn’t it?

Summary: Your evidence for your very specific God is weedy [(i) and (ii) no more support belief in your God than they do belief in, say, a maximally powerful, but amoral, God]. Moreover, your attempt to deal with the evidence against the existence of this specific being seems to amount to not much more than this: perhaps in some mysterious way this really is the sort of world we should expect a maximally good and powerful God to create.

Compare this case: Every morning, we find sticks on the beach set in geometric patterns. You say this is clearly evidence that there’s a wonderful designer at work on the beach early each morning. But suppose that woven into these patterns are little animals that have clearly been slowly tortured and killed in the process of being thus-arranged. Is it remotely reasonable still to conclude that the designer is wonderful? Surely not. Yes, there may be a designer. But it’s clear he ain’t that wonderful. Anyone who continues to believe that the designer is wonderful isn’t being terribly rational.

Of course, you might come up with all sorts of ingenious explanations for why what we see is consistent with the designer being wonderful after all (I'm sure we can all think of some). But the fact remains the evidence would point firmly away from that hypothesis.

8 comments: said...

Does the "good vs. bad" God issue have a direct bearing on whether God intervened in creating the species, or whether evolution as taught in schools openly acknowledges the assumptions on which it is based?

The issue of whether God is good is an interesting one, but so far I have tried to keep my focus in this discussion more narrow, to show that science cannot demonstrate or show evidence that their teaching that evolution through natural forces only is true, because they cannot demonstrate or show evidence that God did not create the species.

I am trying to show how the fields of science, religion, United States constitutional law, and logic all overlap in this issue and I am trying to bring them together.

I think there is evidence for God's existence and intervention. I have not tried to introduce evidence that God is good, though I believe myself that God is good.

But I would prefer to limit myself for now on God's existence and intervention, at least until that is resolved, if it can be resolved, before branching into the issue of, "Is God good?"

So far, here are some of the issues covered, but not really resolved as far as I can see:

1) Does evolution as taught in schools carry with it the teaching of "natural forces only" or does the teaching allow for God's intervention in creation of species?

2) Is evolution in public schools taught as fact?

3) Is evolution only a science issue, or is it also a religious issue and an issue of constitutional law?

4) Is the scientific method the only valid method for discovering truth, and does science have the right to impose the limitations of that method on other fields such as religion and law?

5) Is the existence of an intervening God more reasonable than spy-dogs from Venus (whether or not you think that such a God would be "good")?

6) Is evolution based in part on the unproven assumption that there is no intervening God who has created the species through miraculous intervention?

7) Does science make clear in the public school classroom that evolution is based in part on this unproven assumption?

If evolution is taught as "natural forces only" (1), if (2), (5), and (6) are true, if (4) and (7) are false, then I think that it is reasonable for science to clearly state in evolution classes the assumption that is part of the basis of evolution, that there is no God that has intervened in creating the species.

In arguing against this, many in this blog and in other blogs I have participated in have used examples of spy-dogs from Venus and similar analogies to show that belief in a God who has intervened in the creation of species is not reasonable.

I would like it very well if evolution teachers in a public classrooms were to tell their students that belief in such an intervening God is no more reasonable than spy-dogs from Venus. If science is biased against belief in such a God, let that bias be stated openly for the students to consider.

Without that, evolution just becomes propaganda, and since it is propaganda, and since it is propaganda in tax-supported schools against the religious beliefs of millions of students and their families, it is unconstitutional in the United States.

Now, do you think that the issues I have listed above have been beaten to death in this blog and there is nothing worthwhile on either side to say that has not been said, and it is time to move on to the next topic: the goodness or badness of God?

On that topic, I do not have much to say here except that God claims to be good in the Bible, and I have chosen to believe Him. Part of faith is choosing to believe what God says. I don't expect you to accept that kind of faith. Most evidence for God's goodness is of such a subjective nature that I wouldn't suggest it to someone who is biased against it - it would be a waste of time. It becomes a matter of attitude, of interpreting the motives and actions of another person negatively or positively. And even to the extent that there may be objective evidence of God's goodness, I don't think you would accept it, and I wouldn't want to debate it here.

I just want to make it clear that the existence of a God who has intervened as creator to bring the species into existence is a completely separate issue from God's goodness, as far as I am concerned.

But I think it should be obvious that this issue is not part of science. Neither the scientific or science is equipped to study whether God is good or bad.

Stephen Law said...

Hello author. You say:

"But I would prefer to limit myself for now on God's existence and intervention, at least until that is resolved, if it can be resolved, before branching into the issue of, "Is God good?""

Well, I'm not surprised you want to limit yourself in this way.

I have provided you with very good evidence that what you believe is false. I'm not going to let you ignore that evidence, and focus solely on the kind of evidence you think might support what you believe. Why should I do that?

We can approach the debate this way: whether or not there's a cosmic designer, we can already rule out certain sorts of designer on the basis of the available evidence. That includes your designer.

Now if you want to consider whether a case can be made for some other sort of designer, fine - let's do that. But my point is: your particular designer hypothesis has already been pretty much conclusively ruled out by the available evidence. I'm not going to let you just ignore that evidence and merrily continue building your case...

Incidentally, the design arguments you cite don't particularly support even a god hypothesis, let alone the very specific god hypothesis you happen to believe. The designer could be many gods (plural). Or one, or many, supernatural beings who happen not to be gods (what is your definition of a "god", anyhow?) Or a whole load of other things besides.

NAL said...

1) Does evolution as taught in schools carry with it the teaching of "natural forces only" or does the teaching allow for God's intervention in creation of species?

The evidence for the theory (fact) of common descent does not rely on "natural forces only." It is force independent.

Paul C said...

Author: So what exactly are you asking a teacher to say to their class?

I will now teach you the theory of evolution, but please bear in mind that I will not be mentioning that something (which we can't identify or define) may have done something (which we haven't observed) at some point in the process (although we have no evidence for this).

This appears to me as rancid nonsense which doesn't serve the interests of the students, whether they share your particular religious beliefs or not.

Kyle P. said...

Stephen: Good question! I've been focusing on the fact that no one can even come up with a non-fallacious definition of what "god" is on my Sci-Am blog. The very first post was, "What is 'god' made of?" I like asking that one early on, because the most typical answer is that "god" is "immaterial". Then I simply say: Then "god" does not exist, by definition. A lot of people on there, though, have responded simply saying that "god" could be made of something we simply can't detect yet, and that we may in the future. The same person who suggested that suggested that they thought "god" might be made of photons. That gave my wife and I a really good laugh, so I thought I'd share. My wife suggested that "god" is going into her eyes so she can see, and the lens in front of them focuses "god" so she can see better.

The Celtic Chimp said...


The YECs in my experience usually blame the 'fall' of humanity for the suffering we see in the world. Everything was rosy in the garden until some unruly wench went after some forbidden fruit. So entereth death and all manner of nasty into the world. I think it is a pretty lousy argument for several reasons but it is the one most usually employed in responce to the problem of evil.

I would be interested to hear your responce to it.

Steelman said...

Kyle P. said: "My wife suggested that "god" is going into her eyes so she can see, and the lens in front of them focuses "god" so she can see better."

A little counterproductive of his cause if she were reading the God Delusion at the time. And just think of what the combination of a sunny day, an ant hill, and a magnifying glass equipped, ill-behaved 8 year old boy does for the Problem of Evil.

To the Celtic Chimp, regarding Adam and Eve: how can anyone who didn't know the difference between right and wrong be justifiably punished for doing wrong instead of right, especially by a god who obviously knew better but "forgot" that they didn't (along with misremembering about making a talking snake that knew better as well)?

Stephen Law said...

I've just posted a new response to author@ptgbooks...