Science VS Faith: Debating Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design

Relatively Interesting October 9, 2012 7
Science VS Faith:  Debating Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design

Recently, I witnessed a fascinating “science versus faith” debate on Facebook between an atheist and several theists, after a comment was made about Bill Nye’s video “Creationism is not appropriate for children”.  The following is the transcript from that debate, unedited, except for the replacement of their names to protect their privacy.

How is it that there is still a debate about evolution? Who benefits when we deny something so obvious?

Bill Nye: Creationism Is Not Appropriate For Children

Evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science, in all of biology. According to Bill Nye, aka “the science guy,” if grownups want to “deny evolutio…

Theist1 Natural selection has strong explanatory power. However, due to the scientific difficulties surrounding the materialistic explanation for the first cell–a pretty crucial step in the evolutionary process–it would be dishonest to throw out other logical possibilities. Being sure of conclusions that were arrived at by jumping is dangerous.

Atheist Hey Theist1, I’m not pulling any punches in my response because I know you can “take it”, so to speak. Also, some of what I’ve written below goes beyond directly addressing your reply as I tend to get carried away, but I digress…

I’m fairly certain that you’re not an expert in evolutionary biology or genetics whose work has been subject to the intense scrutiny of peer review by other experts in his field. Even if you are, I don’t think anyone is in a position to criticize the last century or so worth of research and data supporting natural selection and evolutionary theory without providing concrete evidence supported through repeatable scientific experimentation. Rather, you’re stating an opinion that is tainted by what you call “faith” but, were it not for the surprising and undue reverence generally afforded religion, any reasonable person would call “brainwashing”. Pastors, priests, imams and their ilk can continue to tell their congregations of the easily influenced (including young children) that the universe doesn’t work the way that it clearly does, but that doesn’t make it true.

Where is the actual evidence of a young Earth or of a creator? If the selectively edited/revised words of necessarily-ignorant human beings from hundreds or thousands of years ago are what you consider evidence then you’re placing an impossible burden of truth on science without putting even remotely similar requirements on your own beliefs. In any case, evolution through both natural and unnatural selection can be demonstrated repeatedly in a lab using various living organisms and computational models.

I’m able to give critics the benefit of the doubt that they’re honestly confused by the misinformation spouted by various proponents of “creation science” and other like-minded drivel, but here’s where I think you’re blatantly presenting a straw man argument: “it would be dishonest to throw out other logical possibilities. Being sure of conclusions that were arrived at by jumping is dangerous.” Where exactly does logic fit into the “theories” that purport to oppose evolution? The overwhelming evidence in favour of evolution by way of natural selection and the corresponding lack of evidence to refute it is exactly the opposite of jumping to a conclusion. If you have an explanation that takes into account all of the observations regarding the world around us and that better fits the data than evolution, then the world is waiting. By all means, blow our minds! Provide ANY evidence that refutes these theories and your Nobel Prize will surely follow.

This is a fundamental difference between science and faith; science is about understanding and explaining how things work (with no stake invested in a particular conclusion) while faith is about forcing your pre-formed conclusion on someone else without having to provide any evidence to support it. Science hasn’t sought out evidence to support the theory of evolution. Instead, evidence has been used as the basis for the various theories that we have today.

Finally, an awful lot is known about the evolution of the cell. (I come to this point last because it’s immaterial to my argument but you’re using another straw man approach that I’d like to address.) However, it seems that the only legitimate criticism that the faithful can level against the various theories that fall under the umbrella of evolution boil down to, “science can’t tell us everything.” Even if an astoundingly detailed, complete, and irrefutable explanation were provided for the evolution of every organelle and chemical process within the cell, the faithful would move on to other minutiae rather than addressing the fundamental theories at the heart of this argument. This is because the faith-based arguments don’t actually have any evidence to back them up, nor do they have legitimate criticisms of the theories that they claim to oppose. A lack of absolute certainty regarding any one part of the evolutionary process does not denote a lack of certainty about the overall process of evolution by way of natural selection. Only people who are religious are capable of absolute certainty when drawing conclusions about the world around them and, far more often than not, their pronouncements are contrary to logic, reason and evidence. Why else would religions need to resort to bribery, threats, imprisonment, and torture (both before and after death) in order to convince people to listen and obey?

For further reading, I recommend this website that succinctly contrasts the differences between the common and scientific uses of the word “theory”. http://www.notjustatheory.com/

Theist1  Hey Atheist. We can talk about your digressions later if we’ve proved able to objectively deal with at least one topic. I’m not discussing natural selection, the overall evidence for it is stronger than evidence questioning it–though the doubters have some legitimate concerns. My statement was that it is wrong to jump to the conclusion of creation being impossible.

You mentioned that there are holes in our understanding of the first cell. Those holes are humongous, Atheist. To believe that a materialistic explanation will fill that gap is faith in materialism. Don’t delude yourself that you are believing in something scientific.

I’m against philosophical indoctrination and evangelical anything, be it religion or atheism. I believe-in honest and open-minded discourse that helps our children make sense of their world.

Atheist  Hey Theist1. Thanks for sticking around. :) I think it makes sense to address your points individually so I’ve broken up your reply into several quotations.

“We can talk about your digressions later if we’ve proved able to objectively deal at least one topic.”
Fair enough.

“I’m not discussing natural selection, the overall evidence for it is stronger than evidence questioning it–though the doubters have some legitimate concerns.”

I think you and I would differ as to what exactly constitutes a legitimate concern, but I’d still like to hear what they are.

“My statement was that jumping to the conclusion of creation being impossible is wrong.”

Backing up a bit to address the original reason for my post (which I have now strayed quite a distance away from), I wasn’t aiming to address what can generally be referred to as origins. Bill Nye’s point is that religion has no place in a science classroom for the simple reason that it’s not science. If we were talking about a course on philosophy then clearly it would be worth examining all sorts of different philosophies/perspectives, including theology. I hope that we’re at least able to agree on this point.

As for dismissing creation, you are correct that I cannot conclusively dismiss it as impossible. This is because there is neither evidence for or against creation. Anyone can propose explanations for the origins of the universe that cannot be proved or disproved. If I insist that our universe exists entirely within the imagination of the flying spaghetti monster, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to argue for or against my suggestion. When approaching these types of explanations from a logical, scientific perspective, they are of no use to us because they have no practical value with respect to understanding the universe.

“You mentioned that there are holes in our understanding of the first cell. Those holes are humongous, Atheist.”

As I pointed out previously, a gap in knowledge/explanation does not in any way indicate that a theory is incorrect. Again, this is a classic straw man argument. A gap tells us that there is more that we need to learn and that a theory is still incomplete. If you choose to use faith/religion to fill these gaps, that’s entirely your choice; however history shows us that you’ll find your faith whittled away over time as we learn more and more about the evolution of life on Earth.

“To believe that a materialistic explanation will fill that gap is faith in materialism. Don’t delude yourself that you are believing in something scientific.”
I do not have faith in science, evolution, or materialism (to use your term, not mine). The concept of open-minded, scientific inquiry is based entirely upon the formulation of testable (i.e. refutable) theories that explain what we see around us. We don’t need faith in order to expect (eventually) an explanation for any particular observable phenomenon; we simply need time and resources. As I said before, when approaching these issues as objectively as possible, science has no stake in the outcome. The only measurement by which you can place value on a theory is whether or not it appears to be “true”; whether the theory explains what we observe.

“I’m against philosophical indoctrination and evangelical anything, be it religion or atheism. I believe-in honest and open-minded discourse that helps our children make sense of their world.”

I agree with what you’ve said here, but I think we have different ideas regarding “make sense of the world”. I don’t think it’s a major leap to say that you are religious and that you think children should be taught that at least some aspects of your religion to help them make sense of the world. In contrast, I feel that religion can only possibly obscure our understanding of the world. Religion claims to have all of the answers already, yet the Judeo-Christian and Muslim faiths are fundamentally based on a world-view that is woefully inaccurate and purposely misleading.

Theist1 We probably agree on natural selection a lot more than you think; I just like to read differing views on topics. What I was trying to help you realize was that the belief in materialism that the current scientific community has bought-into has deep philosophical implications. Perhaps you are preferring the words “honest inquiry” because you are aware of this bias. If so, then you’ve already acquired huge respect from my end.

So let’s talk honest-inquiry instead. For any component of a cell to have self-organized is already highly unlikely; to then believe many components that work in concert also became randomly organized at the right time and place defies the law of entropy. It is not justified to believe in something so wild, if you do then you should be able to find at least one example of something spontaneously self-organizing against the laws acting on it (crystals, for example, self-organize, but not against any known law). Don’t take my word for it that the first cell is a serious conundrum, it is legitimate discussion within the mainstream science of emergence.

Why not humour another fair theory: a designer. We have overwhelming, observable evidence that the only way entropy is defied is by the influence of life (a living designer, for example). Please address my comparison about which theory “appears most likely to be true” based on the evidence.

Let’s not label religions right now. Try to stick to the topic.

Theist2  An evolution-believing Christian here. I just listened to a brilliant lecture yesterday by Richard Dawkins. He has no problem admitting that we don’t *YET* know how the first self-replicating molecules came to being and started forming into what would eventually become RNA and DNA.

Now… once we have even the most primitive of primordial “cells”, evolution is the *ONLY* evidence-based theory.

So what do we do about that first self-replicating molecule? Of course, as a believer I would like to say God made the molecule here on planet earth and *forced* those molecules to form to the point where evolution could take place. But there is no evidence for that.

Probably in our life-time, science will figure out how that self-replicating molecule came into being, how to make it happen again and how to make RNA. In my grandchildren’s lifetime, science will probably create fully-artificial cells created atom by atom.

The notion that God made that first self-replicating molecule directly – as much as I would like that to be so – is at best arguing the “God of the Gaps” theory. We don’t know how it happened so God did it. That damns those of us to faith to an ever-shrinking God who gets smaller and smaller with each new scientific discovery.

And though we can’t begin to imagine *HOW*, we could imagine a day in the future when our descendants can completely terraform a planet. They MAY even be able to do it very fast… say in, I dunno… 6 days or so.

What is a FAR more impressive thing to ascribe to God is that God violently blew a hole in nothing (the Big Bang) and from that explosion and over the course of billions of years intelligent life developed with whom God could have a relationship. THAT would be impressive.

Granted, there’s no scientific evidence for that either but if one believes in God then it makes for a far loftier, bigger, more powerful view of God than the God who has to keep hiding in ever-shrinking gaps in scientific knowledge.

Theist1 I understand your sentiment of not wanting to fall into the God of the gaps, Theist2, however, you have to study each ‘gap’ separately. Some gaps may be filled by nature; other natural explanations would defy all empirical evidence, and sometimes even logic.

Life, for example, is a very peculiar, anti-entropic force that strongly suggests a designer, just like the Big Bang suggests a designer. Maybe you are not familiar with the cellular complexity I am speaking of; otherwise you would not make the distinction between it and the complexity of the universe. If you accept the unlikeliness of a pre-cellular structure forming from chance, it would be inconsistent of you not to accept the same unlikeliness for the universe. Sorry to turn on a fellow believer, but I’m just trying to be fair.

Also, I need to correct you on your statement that there is no evidence for the universe or the first cell to have been designed. At this point, there is no evidence that anything but design leads to something complex & specific. I’m waiting for Atheist’s answer to my comparison-question about that, above, before I explain further.

Theist2 Hmmm… no evidence for anything BUT design? There’s no evidence for anything. Anything and everything is conjecture at this point. I love and romanticize the notion of a God outside of time and space… a God without a beginning and without… a God who created time and space… a God who authored the very laws of physics that are so incredibly amazing and gave rise to us.

But what is the evidence for it?

One might argue that it is self-evident. It was also self-evident that the world is flat, the center of the universe and that the sun rotates around it. Isolate a population of humans, remove science from them and ask the 3rd generation to define the relationship between the earth and the sun: “The earth is flat and the sun moves ’round it.” Self-evidence is not evidence.

One might argue that complexity is evidence of a creator but why is it evidence of a creator in and of itself? Complexity is complexity, order is order. We would have to find painfully-obvious order in the complexity… something that has no benefit but being “self-evident” inside of that complexity.

One might argue that religion is proof. Most of the world’s populations believed in some form of personal creator. If there was a creator and we have purpose, surely He would communicate with us. But which creator? All religions (even the Abrahamic faiths) differ wildly on the nature of that creator and the means of creation. Perhaps we should pick the religious faith that is most compatible with what we know to be the scientific origin of the universe, in which case the best we can do is squint and look sideways at Hinduism.

If a gap is filled by nature then it is no longer a gap. It is only the places for which we currently don’t have evidence of any kind of a natural explanation into which we can fit the God of the Gaps. Perhaps we will never find evidence of a natural explanation, in which case our ever-shrinking God will stay the same, shrunken size.

But consider how God, as an explanation for things previously without explanation, has worked out. It was usually, “We don’t understand so therefore it’s proof of God.” followed by, “We now understand it in the natural world. But this other thing over here that we don’t understand is now proof of God.” Sooner or later, we’re going to run out of gaps.

I’d rather a God who is so much bigger than the gaps. I may be biased because I’m a programmer but I like to think of God was one big cosmic computer hacker.

Theist1 I’m sorry I haven’t been able to explain the entropy and complexity thing to you. I’m hoping someone will answer my question before we go on tangential arguments, hopefully that’ll be Atheist as it is his thread and we don’t want to hijack it. In the meantime, if you’d like a clearer and more thorough explanation of how to objectively (as opposed to ‘self-evidently’) recognize design, have a look at Dembski’s work:  http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1997/PSCF9-97Dembski.html#13
BTW, and please don’t mind me saying, but your remarks on theology are not coherent. If you keep listening to Dawkins without understanding your own philosophy, and not critically seeing his philosophical errors, then you may find it hard to reconcile your Christianity.

Atheist   “Perhaps you are preferring the words “honest inquiry” because you are aware of this bias.”

I’m certainly aware of and acknowledge that humans are biased. It’s impossible to completely eliminate bias in individuals. By taking the work of millions of people and subjecting it to ruthless peer scrutiny, we get that much closer to minimizing and eliminating these biases. To claim that anyone is capable of absolute impartiality would be absurd and clearly impossible.

“For any component of a cell to have self-organized is already highly unlikely; to then believe many components that work in concert also became randomly organized at the right time and place defies the law of entropy. It is not justified to believe in something so wild, if you do then you should be able to find at least one example of something spontaneously self-organizing against the laws acting on it (crystals, for example, self-organize, but not against any known law). Don’t take my word for it that the first cell is a serious conundrum, it is legitimate discussion within the mainstream science of emergence.”

While it is true that we’re puzzled by things that we don’t currently understand, a lack of understanding does not in any way imply design. That’s just a cop-out. If science simply gave up on any problem that seemed hard, we wouldn’t have had any of the scientific advances that have permeated every aspect of our lives and society in general. Resources and time; that’s all that we’ll need to figure out many of the current mysteries. (Whether that span of time is years, decades, centuries, etc. remains to be seen.) Of course, along the way we’ll discover more things that we don’t understand and also require explanation.

When you say things like “self-organize”, you are betraying your bias towards a designer/creator. First, if we don’t yet know how complex molecules eventually reached the point of self-replication, how can we possibly expect to find examples of this process taking place? That’s a completely absurd suggestion and employs circular logic. Second, to take your argument to its next logical step, matter should not even exist, subatomic particles should not come together to form atoms, and atoms should not come together to form molecules. However, given 14 billion years or so, the effectively random movement of particles formed all of these things, eventually forming proteins, RNA, DNA, etc. Precisely how this happened is still a mystery though there are many theories that deal with various aspects of the beginnings of life on Earth. (I don’t pretend to be an expert in this field and I can’t speak in detail about these theories, though they’re covered to some extent in the Wiki article on Abiogenesis here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis .)

All sorts of structures occur in the universe that seemingly imply pre-thought in order to arrive at such precise organization (as you mentioned, a crystalline structure is a simple example of this) but in many cases there is already an evidence-based theory that explains how these structures form.

“Why not humour another fair theory: a designer. We have overwhelming, observable evidence that the only way entropy is defied is by the influence of life (a living designer, for example). Please address my comparison about which theory “appears most likely to be true” based on the evidence.”

You’re abusing the word theory here… I’ve already covered why design is not a valid theory and why it has no scientific value. You’re straying dangerously close to the, “who created the creator” argument and I really don’t want to go there. That’s fine for an argument in philosophy but we’re talking about science based on evidence. What you have referred to as evidence, I call wishful thinking. Also, I don’t think you have a complete understanding of the property of entropy. I took just enough thermodynamics in university to realize that I don’t really understand thermodynamics so I don’t want to go down this road either. I’ll just refer you back to my comments above regarding “self-organization”; by your logic, the universe should be comprised of a uniform sea of energy but we know that matter does come together in various ways to form structures that then form larger structures and so on.

“Also, I need to correct you on your statement that there is no evidence for the universe or the first cell to have been designed. At this point, there is no evidence for anything but design to have done so.”

As Theist2 pointed out, there is no evidence, period. A lack of evidence does not imply that your preferred theory of the origins of life or the universe are in any way valid. As I said earlier, I can concoct any idea that I want and if there’s no evidence for or against it, by your logic it must be true. To anyone who is thinking critically, they would ask for my evidence and then dismiss my assertion when I am unable to produce any.

Abiogenesis – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Theist2 You seem to think that I have an undefined philosophy and an incoherent theology. Let me address those.

I haven’t made ANY theological remarks at all so it would be impossible for you to judge my theology. Theology is the study of God and/or God’s Holy Book. For most Christians, theology is the study of the Holy Bible and the Triune God. For Jews, theology is the study of the Torah and YHWY. For Muslims, theology is the study of the Qur’an and Allah.

I’ve made a few personal remarks about what I would like to be so about the God in which I believe and I’ve pointed out some flaws in common religious arguments about scientific things.

You see, it’s not enough for me to believe something to make it so. I need proof. Let me prove it.

I’m a Christian. The Bible teaches me that Jesus is God. I believe that Jesus is God. Not just the Son of God but God Himself came to earth in human form as flesh and blood. Yes, the Creator of the universe poured out in human form. God Almighty becomes flesh. God Himself was crucified for the forgiveness of sins and to His Kingdom there will be no end. There is no greater, subsequent message waiting to be delivered by a future prophet. Salvation is absolutely, 100% dependent on believing this TRUTH.

That is just a fact. Good, sound, Christian, *THEOLOGICAL* fact.

Do you disagree? If you are a Jew or a Muslim, you *COMPLETELY* disagree and if you are orthodox in your belief in one of the two other Abrahamic religions then you find what I’ve just said repulsive and offensive. It’s horrific because Jesus was simply a prophet (if you’re Muslim) or a heretic (if you’re Jewish). To Jews and Muslims alike, this is at best a VERY misguided view and at worse a damnable, capital sacrilege worthy of death.

And so on the matter of Jesus, all 3 religions have conflicting, dogmatic, theological truths.

Big, bold claims could be made for Mohammed. (I would absolutely LOVE a flying horse. It really does sound awesome in so many ways.) For Muslims, these claims about Mohammed are just simply a FACT. But the claims about Mohammed are rejected by Christians and Jews, the same as Muslims and Jews reject the claims about Christi’s divinity.

Now I ask the Christians, Jews and Muslims: prove it. Prove your position. The position is the difference between Heaven and Hell so PROOOOOVE IT! Prove it with some kind – any kind – of double-blind, passable, reproducible evidence that can’t be reasonably explained any other way.

Or do we accept that we who are religious accept some things based on faith alone WITHOUT a lick of scientific proof? Scientifically-prove Jesus, Mohammed or Moses. Can’t? No problem – that’s faith. In all religions, faith is VITAL and for the religious faith is something to be proud of.

But we try to apply those same faith-based things to science without a shred scientific proof but rather with some logically-fallacious minutia with which we hope to crowbar our respective God into a presently-unfilled gap, hoping that the gap won’t be filled in our lifetime.

It’s akin to the Jehovah’s Witnesses missing the date for the end of the world… several times. Their claims couldn’t be disproven. At least until the date came and went. That’s much like the gap we try to stuff God into and it makes us look like idiots.

Let’s just say that God is outside of time and space (a legitimate theological position), God had no beginning and has no end (a legitimate theological position), time and the notion of cause-and-effect were created by God (a legitimate theological position), and God made a bang so big and so unbelievably-precise that He didn’t NEED to intervene any further (a religious view known as “Deism”). Otherwise, those gaps are going to crush our little view of God.

Theist2 By the way, entropy doesn’t prevent the formation of life on a local scale. Not at all. Yes, the entropy of the universe is ever increasing. We glean the wonderful results of that entropy as the sun sheds its energy in pursuit of that ultimate heat-death of the universe. And we consume some of that energy – further contributing to the process.

No, mankind is only special if we can figure out how to defeat entropy all together and prevent the ultimate heat-death of the universe and the end of all life in this universe. That was a FANTASTIC Doctor Who serial.

Theist1 Theist2, as you pointed out, most of the conclusions you listed at the end are legitimate theological positions. I was mainly talking about where accepting God as the designer of the Big Bang but not the first cell would lead. The Big Bang is not some different type of gap that you should accept God to fill it but not other phenomena. Instead, if you have logical criteria for where a designer must be present, you can consistently and confidently apply it. As far as the differences between the religions, we’ll leave that discussion for a different post.

Theist2 I think the differences between religions could exceed the length of the theory of everything once we finally have it. After all, the theory of everything is liable to be something rather defined and elegant!

If God is, in fact, the designer of the big bang… if God is, in fact, omnipotent and omniscient as religions teach then creating the big bang would be sufficient to point to God as the progenitor of everything. There is no need for God to alter the course of chemistry to create the first self-replicating molecule or the first cell because it would already be a product of the big bang.

What would be a loftier claim for God than to say He blew up “nothing” with such accuracy as to create the building blocks of human evolution some 13 billion years later and humans another billion after that? Creating the world in 6 days seems rather unimpressive in comparison.

It still doesn’t prove the existence of God scientifically – that will almost certainly remain the realm of faith from now until eternity – but at least it moves God to the final, most unprovable gap: “Why is the universe?” That is really the ultimate question religion wants to answer, now, isn’t it?

And so while the evolution debate might not be over, it’s kind of like the flat earth debate and imprisonment of Galileo 100 years *AFTER* Christopher Columbus effectively proved that the world was round. I, for one, intend NOT to be on the flat-earth side of the evolution debate. Although there is a certain romance to all of those old maps that said “here be dragons” for all of the uncharted places.

Theist1 Atheist, I wasn’t talking about complete impartiality. I was pointing out science’s bias toward materialism. It is important to recognize; not sure if you do now.

Clarification #2: My argument is not, “we don’t understand, therefore God”. I am pointing out shortcomings in the current theory (in terms of logic and evidence) and providing an alternate explanation that has logic and evidence on its side. The more theories begin falling-apart, the less sure we are of them, or should be, and as other theories become increasingly consistent we become surer of them; it is an objective way to come to conclusions. Please don’t misrepresent my argument again.

Allow me to condense and review our primary discussion:
-We know matter cannot come together to form something with high specificity and complexity because it violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics (entropy). We also have no evidence that things have ever come together to defy entropy. These are objective reasons to open our scientific investigation to other possible theories. Please answer this: Given that we have a lack of evidence and the violation of a law, why should we adamantly stick to the current materialistic theory? Let’s be honest, simply stating that “we will figure it out” is blind faith in materialism.
-We do know that everything that displays specificity and complexity is designed. Further, evidence to support our theory abound. Why not bring a theory of design into the discourse if it is consistent with the known laws and has evidence?

Last clarification: It will not help us to simply say ‘there is no evidence’ or ‘there is evidence’. If you feel i have not explained my point clearly then please just ask. You can also try to be informed by reading the link I provided above if you are serious about understanding the concept of how specified complexity indicates design. Here it is again:  http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1997/PSCF9-97Dembski.html#13

P.S. To Theist2: you are correct, the creation of matter and the universe is a sufficient reason to posit a God. I’m just trying to explain that other reasons may also exist, and they are not like a flat earth theory. Read the Dembski link, above, or stick around. I’m doing my best to explain it.

Theist2 Actually, I think I went out of my way to say that while I believe in God and I believe that God created the universe by means of the big bang, my belief is not proof or even evidence of God. I don’t think that the existence of matter MUST necessitate God nor is it evidence for God. My belief in God is based on personal experience and faith.

Atheist Hey Theist1.

” I wasn’t talking about complete impartiality. I was pointing out science’s bias toward materialism. It is important to recognize; not sure if you do now.”

Science has a bias towards evidence-based theory. This is the very nature of science. Since there is no evidence for the mystical claims of the faithful, scientists will obviously be skeptical of these claims. Just like scientists have been skeptical of cold fusion or the existence of the Higgs Boson. Scientists are a skeptical bunch and that’s exactly the point – they require evidence.

“I am pointing out shortcomings in the current theory (in terms of logic and evidence) and providing an alternate explanation that has logic and evidence on its side.”…”Please don’t misrepresent my argument again.”

I don’t see how I have misrepresented your argument. You have yet to produce an alternative theory that has logic and evidence on its side. You have claimed that this exists and then jumped to the, “therefore, God” part. As I said, if you have any evidence of a designer then the faithful can rejoice and you’ll be handed a Nobel Prize, among other awards. Where is the evidence?

“We know matter cannot come together to form something with high specificity and complexity because it violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics (entropy). We also have no evidence that things have ever come together to defy entropy.”

This is a blatant misrepresentation of the property of entropy.

“Second law of thermodynamics: The entropy of any isolated system not in thermal equilibrium almost always increases. Isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermal equilibrium—the state of maximum entropy of the system—in a process known as “thermalization”. Equivalently, perpetual motion machines of the second kind are impossible.”

I think you used the expression that I was jumping to conclusions. Right back at ya! ;)

“Given that we have a lack of evidence and the violation of a law, why should we adamantly stick to the current materialistic theory?”

We don’t actually have a violation of said laws so your point is moot.

“Let’s be honest, simply stating that “we will figure it out” is blind faith in materialism.”

Actually, it’s not faith because there is evidence to suggest that this is true. Scientific theory has thus far been borne out by every piece of evidence ever collected in human history. Therefore, I don’t have faith, I have a reasonable expectation that this theory will continue to be true. When it is refuted using evidence, I will concede that continuing to believe in scientific theory is simply faith.

“You can also try to be informed by reading the link I provided above if you are serious about understanding the concept of how specified complexity indicates design.”

To be blunt, I don’t have time to refute everything in the linked article. Rest assured that even if I am able to do so, experts in evolutionary biology and physics have already done so.

“We know matter cannot come together to form something with high specificity and complexity because it violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics (entropy). We also have no evidence that things have ever come together to defy entropy.”

One more thought on this suggestion. I hope you recognize how ironic it is that you’re using the laws of thermodynamics, which were arrived at through repeatable scientific experimentation that yielded measurable evidence, to claim that your faith-based view is somehow scientific.

Theist2 Materialism is the only thing that science CAN study. Material things are the only things for which we can gather evidence. If spiritual things manifest themselves in a consistent, reproducible manner devoid of other reasonable and more-likely explanations then spiritual things become materialism.

Boldly saying that science will figure out everything is, to an extent, faith because there may well be things that we could never figure out given from now until the heat death of the universe. Some things may just be unanswerable.

Where I *SLIGHTLY* disagree with Atheist is the notion that science is always evidence-based and never faith. Strongly-believing in an unproven hypothesis (as scientists often must when researching) is a kind of faith. This has led to some amazing discoveries. In some sense of minutia-inflicted semantics, various aspects of our lives involve faith. I have faith that my wife won’t cheat on me. I have faith that the company I’m agreeing to work for won’t screw me over and throw me away.

But faith must be based on evidence. A hypothesis without evidence is a thought experiment and not a hypothesis at all. Though some atheists may want to say our religious faith is completely baseless and without evidence, that isn’t entirely true. Mind you, the evidence is often personal, anecdotal and cannot be reproduced. But we don’t believe for no reason. Not that this proves our religious beliefs – they could all be misinterpretations of our anecdotal evidence.

The difference is that if a strongly-believed hypothesis is disproven by evidence then a good scientist will be GLAD about that whereas the religious will just try to find another explanation for why the hypothesis is still true. 2 + 2 is going to add up to 5, darn it!

To the believer, faith transforms intangible, spiritual reality into a physical, materialistic reality. St. Paul said: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” However, that faith has the effective of altering the believer’s perception of material reality. Science would only be able to measure actually changes to material reality.

In not-so-short, of course science puts “faith” in materialism… it’s the only thing we can definitively test and prove out.

Atheist “Where I *SLIGHTLY* disagree with Atheist is the notion that science is always evidence-based and never faith. Strongly-believing in an unproven hypothesis (as scientists often must when researching) is a kind of faith.”

I think we actually do agree, it’s just that we’re approaching this from a slightly different perspective. Science – real science in the true sense of the definition – is always evidence based. That doesn’t mean that individual scientists always engage in a pure form of scientific experimentation. Sure, individuals are biased and may put unsubstantiated faith in an idea, assertion, hypothesis, theory, etc., but the body of knowledge that I’m referring to as “science” ultimately eliminates extraneous “theories” that can either be refuted by evidence or simply don’t actually explain an observable phenomenon.

Theist2 Then I suppose we do agree! First time ever? :-D

Theist1 Thanks for clarifying, Theist2. Sorry I misunderstood. But I think that a belief in God would be pretty irrelevant if it depended entirely on subjective/personal reasons; the belief can’t be proven or disproven. Atheist may have said something similar. Nevertheless, at least you’ve been able to critically discuss and comment on the points being made. I’ll try to make my case for how honest inquiry gives us considerable reason to doubt the current materialistic theory, and how many phenomenon lend credibility to a supernatural explanation. That supernatural explanation may be a Divine creator, or may not be, it depends what other evidence we have (if this discussion is fruitful, we can talk about “other evidence”).

My point is that if a materialistic model inconsistently explains the many phenomena, and a coherent supernatural explanation consistently explains them, then it would be a more reasonable explanation. This point is clearly different than the point Atheist thinks I’m trying to make. I’ve broken my argument up into smaller steps, below, before I even discuss anything supernatural, above.

Theist1 Atheist, the evidence is everywhere that complex and specific things are designed. The painting on your wall, the car in your garage, the house that you live in, all have specific and complex forms. We would not accept that any of those items had come into existence, not even a single component of them, based on randomness. Why? Because unless there is a greater control over a process—such as within the closed system of a living organism or due to the input of an intelligent being—that process will always increase in entropy. That means the painting wouldn’t have existed, the car wouldn’t have been assembled, and the house wouldn’t have been built unless it was done so by someone.

We don’t need to argue about the definitions of thermodynamics, just try to understand the obvious point: everything ends up getting more chaotic and disorderly over time, not the other way around.

Given that there is no evidence for the assembly of something as complex and specific as a cell, or a pre-cell, or a component of a pre-cell, anyone who makes such claims would need to provide their evidence, not the other way around. I can accept that you don’t have any evidence but continue to believe that it happened with respect to the first cell. However, if a theory without evidence can be accepted, then it is more reasonable that a theory with evidence be accepted.

Does that mean I just proved God exists? No. It just means that a designer is a reasonable theory in terms of the first cell. That designer could be God, or it could not be. We won’t know until we have more information and we see how all the information we have lines-up (we can discuss what other information there is later). As a consistent theory emerges coherently explaining various phenomena, that theory will become increasingly reasonable to accept. That is how we go about inquiry, as you have explained above.

Now, please explain why you choose to accept that a cell (or even part of it) was not designed when everything we know of with such specified complexity is designed (or is already alive); after all, the design theory at least is in accordance with the law of entropy. You can alternatively just accept that a designer may be a reasonable consideration for the first cell. Don’t worry, it doesn’t necessarily mean God.

Also Atheist, it is pretty lousy reasoning to deny something because you believe “experts” refuted it. Whenever possible we should try to use our brains and not blindly follow others.

Atheist “the evidence is everywhere that complex and specific things are designed. The painting on your wall, the car in your garage, the house that you live in, all have specific and complex forms. We would not accept that any of those items had come into existence, not even a single component of them, based on randomness. Why?”

First, this is a false analogy. You cannot compare living things with human-designed artwork and tools. Second, you’re also relying on bad logic: since one complex thing was designed, complex things must always be designed. If A then B in some cases does not allow you to conclude, if A then always B.

“We don’t need to argue about the definitions of thermodynamics, just try to understand the obvious point: everything ends up getting more chaotic and disorderly over time, not the other way around.”

We do need to argue this point because you’re wrong about entropy and your point is not in any way obvious. Again you have misinterpreted and misrepresented entropy, but this is a typical argument that is often trotted out by creationists. You are attempting to cloak your argument in scientific terms by using jargon that you seem to feel lends credence to your position. However, you either don’t understand the concepts you’re attempting to apply or you’re purposely misrepresenting them in order to confuse others.

I am certainly not an expert in thermodynamics but I know enough to dispute your interpretation of entropy. Entropy addresses energy/work within a system and, among many things, explains why you cannot attain 100% conversion of energy from one form to another. If you would actually like to understand entropy then I suggest you start here, though you won’t find any support for your faith-based assertions:http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics. The “Misapplication by anti-evolutionists” section will be particularly enlightening. I won’t bother repeating the information here, but this entertaining quote is quite applicable to our conversation: “In reference to evolution, PZ Myers put it: “The second law of thermodynamics argument is one of the hoariest, silliest claims in the creationist collection. It’s self-refuting. Point to the creationist: ask whether he was a baby once. Has he grown? Has he become larger and more complex? Isn’t he standing there in violation of the second law himself? Demand that he immediately regress to a slimy puddle of mingled menses and semen.””

“Given that there is no evidence for the assembly of something as complex and specific as a cell, or a pre-cell, or a component of a pre-cell, anyone who makes such a claims would need to provide their evidence, not the other way around. I can accept that you don’t have any evidence but continue to believe that it happened with respect to the first cell. However, if a theory without evidence can be accepted, then it is more reasonable that a theory with evidence be accepted.”

There are plenty of theories that deal with various aspects of the evolution of cells and their components (abiogenesis). All of the theories under the abiogenesis umbrella are based on evidence. I have already referenced a site where many of the theories are collected and I have no interest in arguing in circles. I’m sure there are many people who would love to see your evidence-based refutation of any of these theories but so far your assertions have been markedly lacking in evidence. I am in no way advocating the support of theories that are not supported by evidence (which, in that case, aren’t actually theories in the scientific sense).

“Does that mean I just proved God exists? No. It just means that a designer is a reasonable theory in terms of the first cell. That designer could be God, or it could not be. We won’t know until we have more information and we see how all the information we have lines-up (we can discuss what other information there is later). As a consistent theory emerges coherently explaining various phenomena, that theory will become increasingly reasonable to accept. That is how we go about inquiry, as you have explained above.“

I fail to see how you have come anywhere near presenting a theory that involves a designer. You clearly believe that you’re right but you have not introduced a single piece of evidence that supports your assertion.

“Now, please explain why you choose to accept that a cell (or even part of it) was not designed when everything we know of with such specified complexity is designed (or is already alive); after all, the design theory at least is in accordance with the law of entropy. You can alternatively just accept that a designer may be a reasonable consideration for the first cell. Don’t worry, it doesn’t necessarily mean God.”

Design is not a theory, for reasons already stated. You do not understand entropy and have misstated the second law of thermodynamics for the benefit of a conclusion that you have set out to prove. I am not fundamentally against the idea of a designer; I just require actual evidence to support any theory rather than a claim of evidence. How is it that you can’t see that your argument is the classic “god of the gaps” that Theist2 discussed? For you, anything we don’t know comes down to a designer or god. For me, something we don’t know quite simply means that we have more to learn.

“Also Atheist, it is pretty lousy reasoning to deny something because you believe “experts” refuted it. Whenever possible we should try to use our brains and not blindly follow others.”

I can’t see how I can interpret this criticism as anything more than a thinly veiled attempt to get me to react emotionally. Putting experts in quotes doesn’t negate the fact that the experts that I’m referring to are truly the most knowledgeable people in their areas of study. To restate my earlier challenge: prove them wrong! Until you are able to do anything more than take uninformed pot shots at legitimate theories, I see no reason to continue this discussion.

As for blindly following others, you are obviously blind to your own hypocrisy considering you’ve been instructed since birth to believe in a faith for which there is no evidence. I do not blindly follow others but I do, in appropriate cases, trust other people to provide explanations for the phenomena that we experience in our lives. It is absurd to imply that anyone can and should know everything about every theory that they accept as true. When I have a legitimate reason to question the veracity of the scientific theory, evolution, natural selection, the theories that comprise thermodynamics, or any other actual theory discussed above then I will gladly do so.

Throughout our discussion, the position that you have put forward is based on numerous fallacies, some of which I have explicitly identified in my various replies. Your overall approach to this subject boils down to a combination of an appeal to ignorance and an ad nauseam argument. I’m growing weary of the constant repetition of the same points without any semblance of an argument based on evidence. By all means, please feel free to reply again and I will let you have the last word. From my perspective, there is nothing more to be gained by picking apart your arguments and exposing them as a poorly disguised faith in creationism.

Second law of thermodynamics – RationalWiki

Theist2 “My point is that if a materialistic model inconsistently explains the many phenomena, and a coherent supernatural explanation consistently explains them, then it would be a more reasonable explanation.”

Physicists freely admit that they don’t have a complete, consistent model to explain the universe. That’s why they’re pressing so hard towards a theory of everything. That theory may be years, decades or even centuries away but we are getting closer year-by-year. It’s not unreasonable to think that some day we WILL have a completely-consistent materialistic model that consistently explains it all.

The beauty of a supernatural explanation is that it can “coherently” fit and explain anything and everything without the burden of proof. That’s why the atheists have come up with their own “god” – the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Any supernatural explanation could be just as easily attributed to the atheists’ delicious pasta deity.

“But I think that a belief in God would be pretty irrelevant if it depended entirely on subjective/personal reasons; the belief can’t be proven or disproven.”

If God is real then He surely doesn’t depend at all on our subjective or personal beliefs in Him. And it makes me wonder which one of the religions is right. Every religion says they are! But if God is even remotely like the Jewish, Islamic or Christian scriptures claim then God is like the oceans of the world and we mere humans are like a tiny thimble being filled slowly with an eye-dropper.

Belief in God has become irrelevant for many simply because God can’t be proven or disproven. But more than that, disbelievers reject the notion that there is even a single shred of direct evidence for God at all. I keep trying to come up with direct, scientific evidence to “prove it” but I haven’t found it as of yet.

Theist1 Atheist, can you at least understand/read before you argue or get impatient, dude?

The growing-baby example that you cut-and-pasted from wikipedia was already accounted for: “unless there is a greater control over a process—such as within the closed system of a living organism or due to the input of an intelligent being—that process will always increase in entropy”. A baby grows, species evolve, and bacteria survive because they have life. This peculiar thing called life is one of the two ways that entropy can be defied.

The first cell was not alive before it was assembled. The only other way we know “things” get assembled is if someone assembles them, therefore it is reasonable to look for that someone. Hey, maybe the first cell was made extra-terrestrially; we’d miss that if we kept assuming otherwise. Your abiogenesis-link, by the way, even acknowledges that possibility (I, for one, actually read the suggested link).

I understand the value of referencing experienced people in their fields, my criticism was specifically about the way you had done it.

Theist1 Theist2, I feel you are fairly trying to see the other side. But not all supernatural explanations are the same. Let’s say we are open-minded enough to take this discussion to its logical end. We will find that all observable, empirical evidence shows that things don’t just come together. It may lead us to believe that a designer is one reasonable explanation. That doesn’t mean a supernatural designer, but let’s say that is what we’d like to argue.

So we turn to the rules of philosophy: a spaghetti-monster is not the same as a Necessary Entity (NE) in logic. If logic shows that the argument for a NE is indeed superior to the other one, then it tilts the pan a little further. At least we know now that postulating a supernatural NE is logically sound and doesn’t defy evidence, rather has some on its side. But it still hasn’t proved anything.

Then we can turn to other logically and empirically verifiable phenomena and continue forward. As long as we’re not forcing a bias, a reasonable conclusion will emerge at some point.

I have been exploring this topic extensively for the last 10 years, and I have met hard-headed atheists and stubborn theists. The two groups don’t speak to one another, they make assumptions about the other, walk away from discussions, and prefer to stay in their little bubbles. Traveling the world has exposed me to many different belief systems and I’ve come to realize that rational thinking is all we have to figure out truth from falsehood. I’m open to God, and open to there being no God. My belief will be based on the honest and scientific methodology that I explained above. I’d love to share my findings with anyone who is not arrogant, but let’s just get through this entropy thing first :)

~~~~~~

It ends there, but you can continue the debate below.

7 Comments »

  1. David B October 9, 2012 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    Great discussion here. I think the Science VS Faith argument will go on forever, unfortunately. Despite being presented with logic and reason, the Theists in this debate continue to make straw man arguments and never really address the Atheist’s questions – especially when he/she asks for EVIDENCE for God. There is none, and it’s as simple as that. The burden of proof lies with the Theists of the world, not with the Atheists to disprove the existence of God.

    • Ryan October 9, 2012 at 10:02 pm - Reply

      To say that the theists offered absolutely no evidence of God and instead stood pat on Straw Man arguments is almost in and of itself a Straw Man argument. You say there is no evidence for God and so the theists circumvented the question, but my interpretation of their answers is just the opposite. It may not necessarily be good evidence or acceptable evidence, but their attempts at logical discourse weren’t complete nonsense. In a world where physical evidence can’t be produced, logical evidence is all we’re left with. You can argue that their “logical evidence” is simply an extension of their “God of the gaps” idea, but I see the two points as exclusive. My point is that I would hesitate to say there is “no evidence” for God when what you really mean is there is no “good” evidence. (Good being a subjective term, of course.)

      • LongJohnSilver October 10, 2012 at 9:07 am - Reply

        “It may not necessarily be good evidence or acceptable evidence, but their attempts at logical discourse weren’t complete nonsense. In a world where physical evidence can’t be produced, logical evidence is all we’re left with.”…. If it’s not acceptable evidence, then by definition, it’s not evidence. If it were, then I can say whatever I wanted, claim that “it’s evidence”, and then you’d have to accept it. No – the purpose of science is to find reliable, trustworthy evidence. To your other point, that physical evidence cannot be produced – what? Do you mean this literally or figuratively? Physical evidence can obviously be produced – it’s the basis for countless scientific experiments, whose results have created countless physical products. I can appreciate the theists logical discourse – but in the realm of science, evidence that is testable, reproducible, falsifiable, and has withstood the scrutiny of peer review – is all that matters.

  2. Sakku October 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    I recommend the book “Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design.”

    “Finally, from what we now know about the cosmos, to think that all this was created for just one species among the tens of millions of species who live on one planet circling one of a couple of hundred billion stars that are located in one galaxy among hundreds of billions of galaxies, all of which are in one universe among perhaps an infinite number of universes all nestled within a grand cosmic multiverse, is provincially insular and anthropocentrically blinkered. Which is more likely? That the universe was designed just for us, or that we see the universe as having been designed just for us?”
    — Michael Shermer

  3. ProBio October 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    Long ago, scientists, who were then mostly creationists, looked at the world to determine how God did things. These creationists (and atheists) came to the conclusion that the Earth was old and that species developed by of evolution. Since then, thousands of scientists have studyied evolution with increasingly more sophisticated tools. Obviously, many of these scientists have an excellent understanding of the laws of thermodynamics and how fossil finds should be interpreted. They hoped that finding a better alternative to evolution would win them fame and fortune. Sometimes, their work changed our understanding of the details of how evolution operates, however, the theory of evolution has still survived the rigor of peer review and scientific scrutiny.

  4. Chris December 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm - Reply

    Agnostic.

  5. Debate Faith February 9, 2014 at 7:56 pm - Reply

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