Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I Don't Need to Walk Around in Circles

Somebody over on Slacktivist posted a link to this article over at Answers in Genesis. Before anybody goes over there, I have to warn you that it’s brain-meltingly bad. No, really, halfway through reading the thing I felt a warm, sticky, red liquid leaking out of my ears. I can only assume it was an indication that my mind grapes had flash-fermented and wine was pouring out of my skull (in case anybody’s wondering, my brain grapes make a dry, full-bodied merlot). Anyway, just in case you’re tempted to go over there and have a look-see, I’ve decided to helpfully reprint the first two sentences: Atheists are “coming out of the closet” and becoming more vocal about their message that “there is no God.” Professor Richard Dawkins (Britain’s leading atheist) is encouraging those who share his views to express their opinion. It’s rare for me, a great lover of the flowery but ultimately pointless introductory sentence, to have an actual, quantifiable reaction of disgust to an introductory paragraph. However, for the good folks at Answers in Genesis I’m willing to make an exception. First, I’m a huge fan of the fact that the very first thing we see is atheism equated with homosexuality. Really, I have a tendency to try and avoid reading too much in to such things, but in how many cases is the phrase “coming out of the closet” used? It’s possible, I suppose, to be charitable and think that maybe the author is quoting something Richard Dawkins says, but the only place where anything offered by Dawkins is actually cited on the page is at the end of a different quote farther down in the paragraph. The introduction of Dawkins, further, does nothing to encourage the more charitable interpretation. Second, the use of the atheist belief that there is no God is encased in quotes. Does that really need quotes? Would I have to say that theists believe “there is a God,” and cite Thomas Aquinas to prove the point? Would I have to say that I believe that I’m writing this “on a computer?” And, finally, who, exactly, has decided that Richard Dawkins is “Britain’s leading atheist?” Just saying it proves nothing. Since the substance of the article is far more odious than the introduction, I shall digress and move on. There is much to discuss. The article’s claim is that atheism is fundamentally irrational because it’s impossible to have logic without God because God created logic. It’s rather hard to argue against the premise, but not for the reasons that the author would undoubtedly believe. The issue at hand is one of rhetoric. See, this argument is a brilliant example of what is known as “begging the question.” Begging the question comes up when an assertion itself is used to answer any objections to the assertion. It’s circular logic. Logic comes from God. Logic proves the existence of God. Therefore, any logical thought is proof of the existence of God. The reason this is hard to argue against isn’t that it’s a good argument. It’s because any counter-argument has the danger of becoming nothing more than a begged question itself. Logic and reason are abstract ideas that are a bit hard to pin down and study empirically. So any attempt to unpack them from either side will result mostly in headaches and accusations of disingenuous arguments. I must, therefore, be careful. The author did everyone a favor, however, by arguing from a standpoint of logic, not a standpoint of reason. Reason is an ethereal concept built around abstracts which include logic, consciousness, and the nature of humanity. Much ink has been spilled by much more accomplished philosophers over the course of human history in an attempt to understand the nature of reason and we are no closer. But logic can be explained fairly simply. Logic is built on a set of observable presumptions. Math is a prime example of logic. If you know that 2 + 2 = 4, you can use that whether you’re adding apples, oranges, or missiles. Logic is also based on deductive reasoning, however. If I know that taking two apples and adding two more apples gives me four apples, then I can deduce that taking two oranges and adding two more oranges would give me four oranges. If I see a car drive in to a tree at 40 miles per hour and get totaled, I can make a logical deduction that I should avoid driving my car in to a tree at 40 miles per hour. I don’t actually need to do it myself to prove the point. Observation and deductive reasoning handles it just fine, thank you very much. Furthermore, you don’t necessarily need God to have such deductive logic. If there is no God and the universe came in to being with its own set of internal standards, which is more or less a necessity, then logic will work in all cases. In the cases where logic doesn’t work, the issue probably isn’t a break down of the laws of the universe, but an issue of a break down in the observer’s understanding of the laws of the universe. That, for the record, is why we have the discipline of science. In an attempt to preemptively disprove the point, the author offers this: The debate over the existence of God is a bit like a debate over the existence of air.3 Can you imagine someone arguing that air doesn’t actually exist? He would offer seemingly excellent “proofs” against the existence of air, while simultaneously breathing air and expecting that we can hear his words as the sound is transmitted through the air. In order for us to hear and understand his claim, it would have to be wrong. First of all, I reject the premise of this argument. It’s a strawman, meant to be set on fire, and no one in their right mind would make the claim. In fact, according to the citation, “Christian philosopher Dr. Greg Bahnsen often used this analogy. Dr. Bahnsen was known as the ‘man atheists most feared.’” I find it hard to believe that atheists would fear Dr. Bahnsen based on this one argument. I want a citation for that last claim. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, that’s the entire citation. Still, since I’m meeting these guys on their own turf, I’ll give them a shot. I don’t actually believe in air myself. I believe that “air” is the word that we use to describe the idea that it is possible in certain areas of the universe to find a given area that is filled with gaseous molecules. I also believe that in certain cases the “air” contains molecules of a certain type of gas called “oxygen” that I can breathe. Furthermore, I believe that it is the vibration of the various gas molecules that allows for the transmittal of sound waves, not this theoretical “air” of which he speaks. I could also, with a sufficiently powerful microscope, prove the existence of these molecules which allow me to breathe and transmit sound. Through a study of human biology I can show how the oxygen molecules bond with my blood cells and are carried throughout my body to keep everything working properly. Through the study of physics I can show the vibration of the disparate molecules to create waves of sound. What I cannot actually do, however, is prove the existence of “air,” simply because “air” is not in and of itself a thing. It is the term we give to describe a concept. There’s also an interesting way to test Dr. Bahnsen’s faith in “air.” Put him in a room with an atmosphere composed entirely of, say, nitrogen and carbon dioxide molecules. I’d be willing to bet he’d have a hard time breathing that particular variety of air. “Air,” in this case, can be used exactly the same was as “God” in the article. The only place where there would be a need for logic that is completely and totally tied to the mind of God is in a theistically-created universe run by a God who is inherently irrational. Even though the Answers in Genesis people would have us believe otherwise, this is the exact universe they propose. Here is a rather long YouTube video of a presentation by Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis. It’s kind of painful, but this particular video was put out by some people who set out to refute it, so there are pauses. Also, it’s really only necessary to watch the first fifteen minutes or so. Or you can just read my summary. Ken Ham wants us to believe that there was no such thing as evolution. Everything in the universe was created by God some six thousand years ago. All of the various fossil layers that we have were created in the event known as Noah’s Flood. Continental drift also occurred after Noah’s Flood, when all of that rain water cascaded over the Earth and, um, acted like lubricant to cause the single giant landmass known as Pangea to split apart at the seams and all the little pieces to slide around to where they are today. Meanwhile, it’s a well-known fact that Noah’s Ark wasn’t actually big enough to hold two (or seven) of every single type of animal in the world all at once for forty days and nights. Instead, Noah took aboard the Ark a prototypical “dog” and a prototypical “cow” and a prototypical “bird,” etc. Later, upon exiting the Ark, the “dog” had offspring and those offspring, erm, changed in to the many varieties of canines we have now, such as the wolf, dingo, coyote and labradoodle. This process of “change” is known as “not evolution,” mostly because it’s pretty tough to assert that evolution doesn’t happen by admitting that your own view of how the world came to be is really nothing but a dumbed down version thereof. Yes, I say dumbed down. According to Ham, genetic changes occurred as a result of variations in the dominant and recessive gene pairings from one generation to the next. This is, biologically speaking, impossible. It’s tough to disprove the negative here, but I’ll give it a try. Under Ham’s proposed system, it would be theoretically possible for a pair of wolves to have a litter consisting of a couple of wolf pups, a pug and a dingo. I don’t have the ability to cite it, but I’m pretty sure that this has never, ever happened. Hey, that was pretty easy, actually. All in all, Genesis really doesn’t provide the answers that Answers in Genesis seems to think it does. A halfway decent high school science (science science, not creation science, mind you) course and the ability to stay awake is all it takes to see that.

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