On Science & Creation

I recently read Part One of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, and he raised some very interesting points in this essay. It is amazing how many of Paine’s observations and criticisms of Christianity are just as potent and relevant today, over 200 years later.

Paine began by explaining the nature of revelation. While most Christians today would hold the Holy Bible to be a revelation from God to man, Paine shows how this is a misuse of the term. Once an initial revelation has been made to a single person (Moses, or Paul, or whoever you think was the original author of any of the books), it ceases to be a revelation as the recipient of the revelation attempts to recount the message to others. It immediately becomes hearsay evidence. While anyone has good reason to believe what one has personally seen or heard in immediate experience, one does not have as good of a reason to believe what one has merely heard said by others. As the saying goes, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

Given the number of lunatics and liars that have been a part of humanity since, well, about the time humanity started, I think it is reasonable to say that the odds that any given person is telling the truth when he or she claims to have received revelation from God is phenomenally low. There are more liars and lunatics than there are prophets (assuming, for the sake of the argument, that prophets are at least possible). This much, I would hope, we can all agree on, theist and nontheist alike. It is not too much to ask, I hope, that we assign a probablity of 1% to the number of people who claim to have receieved revelation who are actually telling the truth.

Now let us consider another scenario. Given the existence of the theistic God, what are the odds that God created the universe and everything in it? Pretty high, right? Most would say 100%, although certainly not all would agree. For our purposes here, though, I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of theists all believe that God created the universe, so let us go ahead and assign a probability of 100% that God created Earth.

With these probabilities in mind, why is it that so many believers disbelieve in the natural processes of the earth as discovered by science? Recent polls indicate that over 40% of Americans do not believe that evolution really happened. They choose to believe what their text of revelation says (or, more accurately, what the religious power-holders have told them the text says), which has only a 1% chance of being correct (and given the historical evidence concerning the authorship of the Bible, I’d say that is a rather generous probability assignment),  rather than what the evidence of the earth has shown, when this planet can be said with 100% certainty to have been created by the very God they love.

What accounts for such awful reasoning? What rational explanation is there behind this massive deception? Is it that powers that be? Are they responsible? What could one possibly seek to gain by holding to an outdated explanation for the origin of cosmos and life on Earth? It couldn’t just be about control of the masses by moral manipulation. The entire account of creation in the Bible can be jettisoned without the least bit harm done to the moral framework set up by Christianity. The liberal and moderate Christians have already shown this to be so.

The reason for the opposition to evolutionary biology is something that I may never understand. Perhaps it is just the human tendency to avoid any and all kinds of change, however minor it may be in reality. It can’t be that simple, though. There are just too many factors that could be at work here.

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Intelligent Design & The Supernatural

The Supernatural… It’s a word that gets tossed around a lot and gets used in a many different ways. Given my philosophical/scientific fixation, what I’m going to concern myself with here is the idea of the “supernatural realm”. So when I say “supernatural”, I’m using it in the same context as that most of the Western religions. Just so that we can all have the same mental imagery here, let’s try to visualize this as Heaven (and Hell, if you believe in that as well). God’s house, basically. It is that realm, completely distinct from our physical world, where any spiritual entities may reside, whether they be God, angels, demons, or  disembodied human souls. Also, let it be understood that I’m operating on the assumption that we live in the “natural realm”, where science operates to explain things in terms of mechanistic processes. 

 

William Paley, in 1802,  put forth perhaps the most famous version of the ‘Argument from Design’ (though he was certainly not the first to do so). It has come to be called the ‘Design Inference’ among today’s Intelligent Design advocates. The basic idea behind the argument is that in the same way that we can examine old artifacts from ancient cultures and conclude that they (the artifacts) had certain functions and were created by an intelligent agent, we can also note how much more incredibly complex the human body is, and how much more intelligent the designer of these (our bodies) must be. Upon examination of the impressive complexity of the human body (or perhaps life in general), we should infer the existence of a designer, or so the argument goes.

My question about the Design Inference is this: what kind of designer are we supposed to be inferring exactly? The Intelligent Design argument doesn’t describe anything specifically (and for good reason, since that mistake is the main reason why the creationists were destroyed in court). For all their “theory” cares, the intelligent designer could have been a super-advanced alien species from a galaxy far, far away…. But if you look at the members of the think tank behind Intelligent Design, it is pretty obvious which designer they have in mind: the God of Christianity. So although this argument could be used to argue for a non-supernatural designer, I shall only be concerned with those religious believers who reject “macro-evolution” and insist that a supernatural designer is required to explain the multitude of species. 

Now that we have an idea of what designer we are supposed to infer, we can focus my main question a bit more: how is it that we are supposed to infer something supernatural from artifacts in the  natural realm? The supernatural is by definition separate and distinct from the natural realm. But if this is the case, then how could the supernatural possibly interact with the natural? Once “something supernatural” enters the natural realm (say, to create new species), doesn’t that make it “something natural”? Science, by definition, operates and explains only in the natural realm. If science can be used to explain something, then that thing must be purely natural. So if the ID theorists want to use science to back up their claims, they have to accept that they are no longer arguing for a supernatural creator (who could arguably need no explanation of  his/her/it’s own existence), but they are now arguing for a natural creator who cries out for even more explanation than our own existence does. 

This question, it appears is hard for me to articulate in these terms, so allow me to pose an analogous question. Descartes is famous for his mind/body problem. He proposed that the mind was a separate thing from the body, and it was nonmaterial, whereas the body was purely material. The question then arose: how does the mind interact with the body, if the mind is, in fact, nonphysical? How does something that does not exist in space and time interact with something that does exist in space and time? In the same way, how can the supernatural, nonphysical and outside of space and time, make changes on the natural, physical and within space and time? 

Superstition and magic and conjuring was a major part of human life in our pre-scientific days. We would perform dances in hopes of inducing nature to grant us rain. This was due to a lack of scientific knowledge, knowledge that actually does some explaining. At that point in time, functionally speaking, there was no difference at all between complete ignorance of what was going on in the phenomenon of rain and proposing that it was the rain gods. Either situation has the same exact level of explanatory power: none. The choice is either recognizing our ignorance, or putting a cheap tuxedo on our ignorance, dressing it up as an explanation, and saying the supernatural gods did it. The major consequence of the former is a motivation to scientific understanding, or contentment without actually knowing anything in the latter. 

This is exactly what I say is happening when people, like the ID theorists, hijack science and try to use it to validate their own previously held religious beliefs. That’s just bad science, first of all, and also they are trying to make an inference that cannot possibly be made. You can’t speak about a realm or a god that is mysterious and separate from ours and then turn around and try to prove it via empirical means. They are arguing in a circle that destroys itself on the first rotation.

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