Monday, March 24, 2014

It's about worldview, not facts

The following is a reproduction of a post I recently made to YouTube, as part of an ongoing dialogue between an atheist and me. The format we've been using is to present a portion of the other person's previous post in quotation marks, and then our own response immediately after. For the sake of clarity in this re-post, I have placed the atheist's quotations in italics.


You're not overwhelming me, but after reading your last post I'm even more convinced that our conversation is the same one that has been going on between believers and atheists since the concepts could even be talked about. Atheism is not a new idea; I would guess that seeing the universe in that fashion has existed nearly as long as seeing it as a form of deliberate creation. Science has given more fuel to the fire of atheism, if one is inclined to view the universe that way.

To explain what I mean, I will take your paragraph about love. I said I can't really prove I love my wife to a scientist's satisfaction, and you responded:

"Actually, we can prove love. Studies with MRI machines show heightened levels of serotonin and oxytocin when people experience what they call love. Yes, we can't touch love. It isn't physical, because love is an emotion. We understand emotions are brain states. We can study them. Since you're comparing love and God, are you saying that belief in a god is an emotion too? Because then I would agree with you. BTW, by your logic, we can't prove hate either, or any other emotion. Why focus on love?"

The issue here is the same issue in nearly every atheistic objection. Because:

1) Monitored brain activity during specific periods or moments of emotional states is real, yes. But we choose whether or not we interpret this activity as the cause or the effect. There is no foregone conclusion, as much as some materialist neuroscientists would love to decree it so.

2) You state that "We understand emotions are brain states." But that sounds like a fact, when actually it is a conjecture that is still up for debate. Yes, when people think certain things, see certain things, have emotions about certain things, their brains register activity that can be monitored accurately by mechanical apparatus. That the activity occurs is not in question, of course it does, because we can see it and record it. What remains in question, whether some like this or not, is how the two events are related. One interpretation is to point at the activity and say, "See! There's proof that emotions are merely chemical processes, not mystical, intangible things that occur by an alleged spirit who inhabits a corporeal body." But what we have seen is that when emotions are experienced mentally, the body simultaneously reacts with physical processes. To assume that the emotions don't exist without the chemicals is one assumption; I don't agree.

3) Just like Ham pointed out in his debate with Nye, atheists and believers alike share the same evidence. How that evidence is interpreted is why there is a debate in the first place.

This becomes the real issue. You and I (and many, many others) will continue to disagree about these issues because we have both made a choice at some point to interpret the shared evidence with a particular worldview. This is not just an easy answer or cop out, it is the real issue, in my opinion.

Often, these discussions/debates/arguments/whatever become long, exhausting examples of apologetic, because one party will insist that the other party prove his or her beliefs, or at least explain the beliefs in a manner that will finally be acceptable to the opposition. But this won't happen, because the arguments and evidence are secondary to the *reasons* why people choose their worldviews.

You are still correct; I don't know enough about you to declare any of my guesses or opinions about you as fact. But the reason you and I decide to interpret evidence differently is because we both have agendas that we think make more sense. To assume that because scientists say something, or because a laboratory provides particular results from particular experiments, that those statements or test results are the final word on any matter is of course not a reasonable assumption. This is because the history of science is full of mistakes that are only fully recognized in hindsight.

The metaphysical must still remain shrouded in mystery because we still lack the instrumentation (and may never engineer it) that can conclusively prove or disprove God's existence. I don't usually throw in the "you can't disprove God's existence" thing because not being able to disprove is not the same as proving. But, galling as it may be, it is still conceptually true that God can't be disproved.

Some say the burden is on the believer to prove the existence of God. But what is the justification for this demand? The believer's own belief in the metaphysical automatically eliminates the possibility, as most accept that God is of an incorporeal nature, and as it has been well established (and you have stated your own experience also supports) that there is no physical proof of God that "modern" human beings can present as evidence, the demand is pointless. What about miracles, you may ask? Pointless, because any miracle that happened in the here and now would be immediately explained away as anomalous natural phenomena, or clever trickery.

Unless of course, an atheist has the intention of either "enlightening" someone or debunking someone's beliefs. These endeavors must always end in frustration, because both parties will always walk away knowing the other person just can't seem to see it their way.

And this lands us back to what I said in the beginning of this response. I can tell you my thoughts about why the actions in the Old Testament took place, but they will seem like rationalizations, whether they are or not. Why? Because I choose to trust God and have faith in His intentions. Many atheists (and if you are not of this ilk, that's fine) choose to believe that God is improbable, unlikely, and mostly objectionable if He does exist. They're not interested in guesses about why God sanctioned or committed the acts that are perceived as objectionable. Ask any effective litigator to produce a viable "defense" of these seemingly objectionable actions, and certainly more than one could be suggested. We choose to think the worst; we don't know for sure that a negative take on the matter is 100% correct.

A problem humans face is that we are not in a position to judge our own Maker. We can try to the best of our abilities to reason our way into conclusions that make the most sense, and we do. We can take all the parameters of our physical, intellectual, and emotional existence, add in our experiences, our acquired knowledge, our earned wisdom, and once we've mixed all that together, we make judgments based on the sum total of those elements. However, if God exists, clearly just a glimpse at his astoundingly original, complex and brilliant technologies (nature, matter, life, etc.) would lead us to the understanding that it's not only possible, but quite probable, that despite our being created in His image, we are still merely faint shadows of Him, and stand meager and impotent next to His abilities and accomplishments.

The whole business of calling God to the carpet because we may think portions of the scriptures to be barbaric is not really very open-minded. We don't have the whole picture; we don't know what happens after death. We don't know exactly what we are, if God does exist. We know what we see in the mirror, we know what we experience every day. But our ignorance of the whole of existence (including the realm of God) is so great, that to use our human reasoning and accuse God of barbarism or sadism, or what have you, is about as presumptuous as we can possibly get.

If God exists, whether some like it or not, we are the clay, not the potter. Yes, we have been given minds to think. Yes, we should use those minds to try our utmost to do the "right" thing every day, to understand our universe as much as is practical for our type of biological existence. But questioning God is a foolish waste of time, because we don't have anywhere near the power of God, and our ignorance of the big picture makes us automatically unqualified to make better judgments than the One who created everything we know.

"How do you know that God prefers what we consider good? How do you know that he doesn't prefer what we consider bad? How did you determine that your god is a good god that wants the best for us?"

This is what I'm talking about; the atheist and the believer choose to view the same evidence differently. When it comes to the universe we inhabit, I see only good that God provides. The only bad I see is when human beings let their sinful natures dictate deeds that produce harm in myriad ways.

"I could make the same argument, except stating that God continues to be bad."

It's still the glass half-full and half-empty effect. You and I see the evidence differently.

"This question is a little off topic, but if God is a perfect being, why did he create anything? Perfection means without error, so why would something that is perfect need to create something? Creating something for a purpose means he was lacking something, which is contradictory to his perfection."

Creating something for a purpose means he was lacking something? That conclusion is completely arbitrary. It's one possibility, but I doubt that's the reason. Why did God create? Who knows? Why does a poet write or a musician compose?

"I have not read Gerald Schroeder's work, and maybe you can help me out in this discussion, but this is patently false."

You are incorrect to declare it patently false. Your interpretation certainly dictates the conjecture is false, but there is an explanation you haven't considered, which is in Schroeder's text. Vegetation did appear before the sun and moon appeared, but the Earth's atmosphere needed oxygen to become more transparent. Photosynthesis does require sunlight, but the nature of the vegetation, other than that it was grass, herb yielding seed and fruit trees, is not fully described or explained. So, although it seems counter-intuitive that some vegetation came just before the light of the sun and moon, we are not in a position to understand why this is so. Modern geologists or botanists can't possibly guarantee that such an order of development couldn't possibly be feasible under any contingency of conditions, as they weren't present to examine them. The rest of the events described are still in correct order, and are baffling, in terms of how they could get the order correct that long ago.

1) The Big Bang occurs (universe created from nothing), and light is separated from dark.
2) The disk of the Milky Way forms.
3) Earth cools and liquid water appears, setting the stage for bacteria and photosynthetic algae.
4) Once sun becomes visible, photosynthesis increases greatly, creating oxygen-rich atmosphere.
5) Waters swarm with life, having the same basic body plans of all future animals.
6) Land animals, mammals, humans.

"I would also like to point out to you how you are basing your idea of creation off of the Big Bang theory, giving credence to science, but then a sentence later degrade science by calling them "experts" in quotations."

I give credence to science, because it deserves credence for what it can do. The Big Bang was originally rejected by the Steady State scientists (the prevailing explanation of the universe at that time), and the main objection was that it had "religious" implications. I wasn't degrading scientists, I was being ironic and implying that what an expert knows one hundred years ago is different than today, and most likely different in another hundred years.

"So do they know what they're talking about or not?"

Of course they know what they're talking about, when they stick to the facts of their scientific method, and refrain from implying that theories are facts.

"You say you can't prove God scientifically or with facts and yet that's exactly what you're trying to do."

This is not true. I'm not trying to prove God scientifically or with facts. I'm simply answering your questions to the best of my ability. It is actually *you* who are expecting *me* to prove something with my answers that I've already said will not be proven. I can't prove the existence of God, and I'm not going to try, most especially because God doesn't need my assistance to qualify His existence.

"Outside of Genesis in the Bible, when "yom" is used with a number or "morning" or "evening", it is meant to be literal. If we're going to be consistent, we must treat the instances of "yom" in Genesis the same way."

So God is subject to human opinion about how to properly refer to time? I don't think so. I read the article you posted a link to, and again, Schroeder (a nuclear physicist) has proffered an excellent, well-thought-out, backed-by-math explanation to reconcile the six days of Genesis and the currently considered age of the universe. Is Schroeder absolutely correct? I don't know for sure, how could I? But the explanation is there, and I choose to give it credence, as Schroeder is a legitimate scientist. His arguments are alleged to have contributed to the conversion of Antony Flew from atheist to deist, which is no small accomplishment with someone as famously devoted to atheism as Flew was.

"There is much evidence in comparative mythology that the creation myth in Genesis is based off of the Enuma Elish, a Babylonian creation myth that was written hundreds of years before Genesis."

That evidence is suspect, because scholars can't agree on whether or not it came from 1800 BCE, 1750 BCE, or 1100 BCE. All these dates are *after* the genealogically verifiable date of the Bible's Flood, which occurred in approximately 2348 BCE. A person may well object and say, hey, wait a minute, the Hebrew texts were written *long* after that time. This would be correct, as Moses was born well after the Flood. But again, the Bible's level of veracity is a matter of faith. If Moses wrote the original texts, and those texts were inspired by God, then the Babylonian flood myth was based on a real event, and the Babylonians merely told their own version, along with many other civilizations who had their own versions.

"We know there was no global flood. The fossil record does not match up with it."

That is not true, we know nothing of the kind, we only assume. The fossil record actually does back it up, as sea creature fossils have been found in elevations way above sea level.

"The distribution of the animals on the Earth after the flood could not have happened. How did the penguins get down to Antarctica?"

This assumes that continental drift has always occurred at the rate it occurs now.

"Everything about the global flood contradicts what we know about geography, biology, and history."

That is a sweeping generalization, not a statement of fact.

"The flood story was copied about four or five times between different belief systems and tribes before it came to the Israelities."
"A notable flood myth that came before the Genesis account is the Epic of Gilgamesh. Whoever wrote the flood myth in Genesis used these previous stories and created their own myth."

Not facts, but more assumptions, similar to your previous one, based on what particular scholars have said that you choose to believe, regarding dates and natural dissemination of information.

"How do you reconcile the Tower of Babel? We know how languages evolved and the Tower of Babel does not match."

We know nothing of the kind, in terms of how languages evolved. We can trace geographical routes of comparatively similar and different languages, we can form conjecture regarding ancient documents with specific dating methods... but these methodologies do not absolutely rule out the possibility of a sudden change in core language. Especially since from a space alien's point of view, our languages would all seem like different dialects of the same language, as all the same structural elements remain in all languages, just repositioned.

"We know Israelities were not slaves in Egypt. We know there was no Exodus."

We don't know these things for sure. We have conjecture and interpretation, not facts.

"We know the Sun did not stop in the sky (or more accurately, the Earth stopped spinning). Cosmology refutes that this is possible."

Cosmology may refute this, and even common sense, but all things are possible with God.

"So is science just wrong about these alternate explanations and the Bible is right?"

There is another contingency: science may not have enough information to report the facts as they actually are.

What we care about is what defines us, because ultimately we commit actions that underscore our values. I see science as a tool, nothing more, nothing less. It can bring joy in the form of technological convenience and freedom from disease, for two examples. It can do things that humans of times past would have been floored by, in amazement. It can provide answers to many questions.

But it will never, ever, disprove the existence of God. That is solely the task of philosophy; and a great deal of effort has been committed to that goal for many, many years. The modern atheist is the recipient of a large store of argument based on doubt; there are many tools at his or her disposal. But though those tools are collectively named "reason," they are not exclusive to the atheist, and as long as there are believers also capable of reason, the debate will continue. This is because one side's worldview does not satisfy the other, and I don't expect it ever will while the Earth continues in its present state.

My new questions for you are:

If you were God, what are some key things you would have done differently?

How do you account for the great minds (currently and from history) who believe in God? Despite their accomplishments, are they all missing some important capacity for reason in their minds that you and other atheists possess?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Evidence for the existence of God

I recently went a few rounds with an atheist (via YouTube) who was of the variety that insists on physical proof of God's existence, and bases his (or her, I don't really know) opinion on the fact that physical proof of God is not possible in modern day laboratories.

I fielded all the usual attacks on my “logic,” replete with the stereotypically named formalisms thrown in for effect (ad hominem, ad populum, and strawman fallacies, etc.).

I also was treated to meandering falsehoods drawn from incorrect assumptions, such as:

“No, I don't know that a god can't be physically manifested. You don't believe that your god and aspects of him can be physically manifested? So prayer doesn't work? Bread and wine can't turn into body and blood? Miracles don't occur? God wasn't manifested in Jesus? God has never appeared to anyone? You are a joke.”

At any rate, I decided to finally give “evidence” of the existence of God, based on Ken Ham's astute observation that both believers and non-believers have the same evidence, but interpret it in different ways. While I had previously stated that proof of God's existence did not exist, the truth is that whether or not proof exists is purely a matter of worldview.

Here is my so-called evidence, reproduced for your amusement:

Evidence: water.

Creationist interpretation: a miraculous life-sustaining substance engineered to possess a remarkably large list of convenient properties.

Atheist interpretation: two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen, occurring by mindless fiat via universal random chance, that accidentally provide a collection of life-sustaining features which offer no proof at all of design or purpose.

It was no surprise that the opposition didn't seem to appreciate the difference between the two interpretations and why it exists.

Oh well.