Michael Ochoa posted a link to a video and asked me to debunk it. Normally, I’d skip requests like this, as I have too much on my plate…but sometimes I get in a mood and just go for it. Here’s the first (and only draft) of a response to the video:
“P1 – In order to accept that our rational faculties are reliable, initial sensory experiences of the world must be accepted until proven incorrect. In other words, these experiences must be considered default positions.“
This might be true for infants, who lack the wealth of knowledge with which to assess and evaluate the brains interpretation of sensory input, but it is not necessarily true for adults who are cognizant of the ability of our brains to misinterpret sensory data and who have a wealth of comparative experience with which to assess initial interpretations.
For example, we understand that what we see (or, more accurately, think we see) is not always accurate and that our initial assessment of other sensory data ultimately proves incorrect. Realizing this, we are only acting rationally if we tentatively proportion our belief to the quality and quantity of evidence.
In his example about a mirage, he has no reason to question the mirage until he’s given evidence that it might be false. That’s true and it’s the infant position. However, the instant one becomes aware that one can be mistaken, both in perception and in inferences based on those perceptions one is no longer rationally justified in accepting all initial perceptions at face value.
Premise 1, in simplest terms, is simply an assertion that we are justified in accepting our first impressions until they are proven wrong. This is demonstrably false and intellectually childish. Anyone who has ever witnessed a conjurer’s trick understands that the mental image their brain has compiled from the sensory data simply does not map to reality. The same is true for any number or other examples where we can understand that the brain simply doesn’t have enough information to accurately perceive events.
Only someone convinced that they could never be mistaken could hold this sort of view and remain intellectually honest. The rest of us should try to think like grown-ups and reserve belief for those things which are sufficiently supported by evidence (unless, of course, we don’t care whether or not our beliefs are true).
Premise 1 is simply a denial of rational skepticism (he even uses the ‘rigid skepticism’ dilemma to underscore this – but ignores the truth about rational skepticism) and is a gross oversimplification for the purposes of propping up the rest of the argument. Rational skepticism holds that acceptance of claims be apportioned to the evidence, whereas this premise ignores the complexities involved in rationally determining if a belief is justified and instead simply attempts to shift the burden of proof by proclaiming that one is justified in accepting one’s first impressions until they are proven wrong.
“P2 – The appearance of purpose, intention and order (Design) in the Universe is an initially sensed experience.“
No, it isn’t. It is an inference that the brain makes by comparing the internal model of the sensed experienced to other things that the brain already holds to be true. It is, the conclusion of an argument by analogy – and it’s one that we understand may be flawed. It’s also one that can be tested by scientific exploration.
We’ve done this and identified many instances where one may perceive intelligent, purposeful design where no such inference is justified.
Attempting to call one’s inference of design “initially sensed experience” is a rather clumsy attempt to fabricate a predicate link to Premise 1.
“P3 – Hence, the belief in a designed universe, which automatically infers a designer, is in fact the default position until proven otherwise.“
This directly follows from the first two premises and (given the flaws in the first two) it is unsound. (Nullifying the rest of the argument…)
The fact that he thinks this is where he’ll get the most objections is rather silly. It is only when he asserts that the designer is an intentional, intelligent agent that he runs into trouble, but he doesn’t do that until P4. As this stands, it is a direct conclusion from the first two premises… hence, the “hence”.
“P4 – The concept of God (a purposeful, intelligent agent outside the universe that cannot be detected by our senses) is the most tenable explanation for the identity of this designer.“
There’s no need to continue until the first premises are fixed, but I’d like to point out how really bad this argument is, so we’ll keep going.
Premise 4 defines a particular god-concept and asserts – without demonstration – that this particular god-concept is the best explanation. Without a demonstration, this premise can simply be rejected.
Additionally, the definition given isn’t simply a theistic proposition. It goes further and without justification. A theistic god need not be “outside the universe” or undetectable and, indeed, many would hold that their god is detectable and operating within the universe.
And here, too, we run into another bit of cognitive dissonance in his argument: outside the universe.
By what right can anyone invoke a claim that any such thing exists? Do we have any direct experience of ‘outside the universe’? Do we have appearance of this? Do we have any initial sensory experience of this? By what right can people assert ‘outside the universe’ or ‘before time’?
“C – Hence, Theism is the default position until proven otherwise.“
This entire argument essentially reads as:
1. I’m justified in believing whatever my first perception is, until proven wrong.
2. My first perception is to infer design.
3. I am justified in believing the universe is designed until you prove me wrong.
4. I’m convinced that the best explanation for the design I perceive is God X.
C. Therefore, belief in God X is justified until proved wrong.
This argument is dishonest at virtually every point and it is nothing more than a denial of rational skepticism and a blatant shifting of the burden of proof. This isn’t fundamentally different than the obstinate theist who claims “You can’t prove me wrong!” – and thus it fails to all of the objections we would launch at that simplified argument.
The inability to disprove something doesn’t make it a justified default position. You can’t disprove the claim that there are clones of every one of us living on a planet in the Andromeda galaxy – but that doesn’t mean that we’re justified in accepting it as the default position.
It is trivial to demonstrate that our initial perceptions are often mistaken and we have a pretty good understanding of why some people see the appearance of design – and why their inference of intelligent design in nature is unsupported, at best, and incorrect, at worst.
And even if we didn’t already understand how so much of this was wrong, sticking your fingers in your ears and demanding that someone prove you wrong is a childish argument – no matter how you try to dress it up.