Ignorance, while regrettable, can lead to some interesting discussions.
On Wednesday, November 29, 2006, your narrator had the honor of appearing on the radio talk show of Pastor Gene Cook. The show is called “The Narrow Mind,” a title with which Pastor Cook (he let me call him Gene on the air) seems quite proud, said title implying, as it seems to do, that Gene has a narrow mind regarding his understanding of “Truth,” and therefore proudly disregards anything that argues contrary to such understanding. Here is (should be—this is not a precise science) the narrow mind: http://tnma.blogspot.com .
The show can be (unless they have pulled it) heard here: http://tnma.blogspot.com/2006/11/american-atheist-edwin-kagin.html
If they have yanked the proffered “free download,” try here: http://www.edwinkagin.com/edwin_on_gene_cook.mp3, compliments of the Department of Copyright Violations. If anyone should sue, it will only make them more famous and we can share our profits with them. While you are at it, you can check out the blasphemous website www.edwinkagin.com which enjoyed quite a nice jump in visitors following this historic show.
But I digress. The program generated a number of remarks, many favorable, and many idiotic. Some just plain ill informed. As modest retrains the posting of the favorable comments, let us consider the following masterpiece of logic and presentation, which may or may not have been inspired by the radio show—probably was—surely sent in good faith to straighten me out, and a few replies thereto. The plugs for my website, and for Camp Quest, are indeed appreciated. The names of the parties are redacted for the sake of their family and friends, if any (clever readers will figure out who the correspondent is and how to contact him anyway):
Dear Mr. Kagin,
Recently a friend told me about your camp, Camp Quest, an unique camp for children of secular humanists. I visited your website[i] and noted that, according to your 2005 Camp Director’s letter, you offer a prize of a “godless (without “in god we trust” on it—made before 1954) one hundred dollar bill” to any camper who can prove that two invisible unicorns do not reside at your camp. I assume this challenge is to develop critical thinking skills in your campers, helping them understand that believing in something that can’t be seen is irrational. Therefore, belief in an unseen God also is irrational. Neat-o.
Do you also give a $100 prize for identifying straw man arguments on your website? If so, I’d like to submit the following for consideration of that prize.
In your Director’s letter regarding the unicorn challenge, you state that “Campers come up with the oddest refutations—like Edwin should have to prove that the two invisible unicorns are there. How ridiculous! It is pointed out that I have faith, and that is all that is needed? Isn’t it?” Later in your letter, you mention that campers are assigned a project to offer advice to inhabitants of another planet to consider “whether or not their emerging society should be encouraged to develop along lines of critical inquiry or along faith and belief in the supernatural.”
The way these examples are worded assumes that critical inquiry and faith in God are incompatible. I assume from the context of your letter that you define faith as “blind” belief, devoid of reason or evidence. However, claiming that belief in God is based solely on “blind” faith is a straw man argument—one that, as you point out in your letter, is easily knocked down.
May I suggest that by presenting belief in God in this way you actually are doing a disservice to your campers. By providing a refutation based on a flimsy caricature of theism, instead of developing critical thinking skills in children you provide them with a false sense of security for their atheism. A more robust approach would teach children about the actual reasons theists claim a belief in God and then go about refuting those reasons.
I suggest that your campers would be better instructed by explaining to them that everyone, whether theist or atheist, begins his worldview by first making a foundational assumption about the nature of reality. As it turns out, when it comes to beginning assumptions, there are not many options. You identified two in your letter, either nature is all that exists (atheism), or both nature and the supernatural exist (theism).[ii] Since that’s the case, then a proper starting point for teaching critical thinking skills would be to evaluate these two assumptions in light of our experience.
So let’s apply some good ol’ empirical reasoning to life experience. For example, everyone senses a concept we call justice. We may quibble over exactly what is just and what is not, but deep down we all intuitively know that some human actions are right and others wrong. So the question is: Which beginning assumption, atheism or theism, provides a sufficient foundation for this common human experience?
On the atheistic worldview, the beginning assumption is that only nature exists—molecules in motion, if you will. These initial molecules did not have a sense of justice. Then, it is further assumed that, over time, molecules bumping into each other developed the capacity for moral reasoning. But how can something (molecules with a sense of justice) come from nothing (molecules with no sense of justice)? Given a cause/effect universe, that’s a stretch, isn’t it? All of our experience suggests this cannot be. In fact, it smacks, not of rational thought, but of irrationality, of even, dare I say it, “blind” faith in the unseen ability of molecules to produce something that was not there before.
The relatively new science of socio-biology offers a response to this impasse. Social biologists suggest that evolutionary theory explains how molecules gradually developed into living organisms, and over time, those organisms which developed a mutated “cooperating” gene were naturally selected for their ability to better survive and reproduce. This resulted in homo sapiens inheriting this cooperating gene, or what we refer to as moral behavior.[iii]
However, this scenario, while an interesting story, only confuses the matter on two counts. First, we all tend to look up to people who sacrifice themselves for someone else. This ultimate form of morality, called altruism, is completely out of synch with evolution’s focus on the struggle for survival. If the goal is to pass on your genes, helping someone else pass on theirs makes no sense. It’s not just that evolutionary theory has not yet provided a satisfactory explanation for altruism, it’s much more than that. The insurmountable problem is that Darwinism is counter to our experience.
And second, the Darwinian story does not provide a satisfactory explanation because evolutionary theory is driven by random, chance mutations. And actual experimentation in the laboratory has never shown that point mutations of DNA are able to add any new information content to the genetic code. In other words, what scientists have found is that mutations either delete information or rearranges information that is already there, but they never add any new information. And new information in the genetic code is needed to generate unique organs, tissue, cells, and eventually, thought processes, if we expect to begin with a non-moralizing molecule and end up with one of its descendents having a sense of moral justice.[iv]
Based on this short critique, we find that we cannot adequately explain a fundamental experience of life by beginning with atheistic assumptions. Let’s turn to the alternative to see if we fare any better.
On the other hand, if we start from the other assumption, the idea that God exists and has the attribute of moral reasoning, and we further assume that God created man with a moral capacity, we have a sufficient cause to
explain what we all experience, those pesky moral notions. This is the only logical position. No “blind” faith at work here. Just a little good ol’ deductive reasoning.
Ah, but the objection may be raised, “If God is the cause of everything, then what caused God?” Interesting question, but it’s not pertinent to the discussion. That’s because every worldview begins with assuming something is real and this reality is, by definition, eternal, therefore having no cause. Either we begin with assuming matter is eternal or God is eternal. So there is no going further back to any other “causes.” Either “In the beginning, Matter” or “In the beginning, God.” Both views are equally religious, since they answer an ultimately “religious” question, “What about God?” Additionally, each position is equally a starting point from which to construct a worldview. The question is which assumption is more logical, given other things we know about the universe, life, and ourselves.
Please note, I am not suggesting that just because we can’t explain how something comes into being we insert the phrase “God did it” to fill in our lack of scientific knowledge. My argument is not this so-called “God of the gaps” argument. It is the opposite. I’m basing this line of reasoning on what we do know. We do know we all experience a sense of justice. We do know we live in a cause/effect universe. We do know the limits of what genetic mutations can accomplish, and that, in fact, mutations lead to a overall decrease in useful information.
So, once again, the issue is, how can non-moral molecules develop the ability to sense moral concepts? Or, for that matter, what about love—does love come from non-loving molecular interaction? Or, along the same line of reasoning, how can we arrive at rational thought, given non-rational matter and randomness as the only building blocks?
Over one hundred years ago Nietzsche correctly concluded that in a universe devoid of God, there is no morality, nor love, nor rational thought. So how can anyone use rational thought to make claims about the nature of reality or the non-existence of God? This is quite a quandary! Maybe, instead of calling your organization, “Camp Quest,” you might consider renaming it “Camp Quandary.” Just an idea for your suggestion box.
I wish you the best as you seek to develop critical thinking skills in the lives of the next generation. The fact that you have that desire demonstrates the imprint of an Intelligent First Cause, the only rational explanation for that very human sensibility.
Instead of sending me the $100 reward for identifying the straw man argument on your website, please use the money to purchase some good books on why it makes sense to acknowledge the existence of God. May I suggest the following as staples for your camp library:
1) Faith Has Its Reasons, Boa & Bowman.
2) Unshakable Foundations, Geisler & Bocchino.
3) Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig.
4) Philosophical Foundations for A Christian Worldview, Moreland & Craig.
5) Warranted Christian Belief, Alvin Plantinga.
[ii] Actually, As the philosopher David Stove pointed out, altruism—the willingness, that is, to sacrifice for others—is obviously disadvantageous in what Darwin called “the struggle for life.” In a world where the goal is to pass on your selfish gene, helping someone else pass on theirs makes no sense. there is a third option: only the supernatural exists (pantheism), but the sake of simplicity, I’ll just evaluate the first two options, atheism and theism, since, you would agree that supernaturalism in any form is irrational.
[iii] Richard Dawkins champions this idea in his book, “The Selfish Gene.”
[iv] For a greater explanation of why evolution fails to explain genetic “progress,” see my article, “Of Monkeys and Men: What the Genetic Code Reveals,” at http://www.summit.org/resource/tc/archive/1106/.
Now this person does not win the godless $100 for lots of reasons. The easiest to explain reason is because the prize is only open to Camp Quest campers, and a check of relevant records reveals him not to be such.
For the more serious student, the following replies may be of interest.
I don’t have time to respond right now but see;
for scientific refutation of the person’s argument.
And Dr. Robin said:
I think you will find many interesting possibilities in the real world of gene duplication, polymorphisms, additions and mutations if you choose investigate the literature among various model organisms. Below is one on gene transfer for example and another by gene addition. Just look on www.pubmed.gov and you have a world of literature to read on so many angles that all point to basically the same direction as a net result to explain humans — evolution of simpler to more complex over time.
I don’t have time right now to address your issues with science and facts but the fact is genes do move around and with all the building blocks of genetic information in the DNA all ready there in “simpler” organisms adding more should not be so hard to envision. Then these changes produce longer genes or more genes, basically more DNA to have more functions as well as mistakes.
Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2006 Nov 7; [Epub ahead of print]
Evolution of the syntrophic interaction between Desulfovibrio vulgaris and Methanosarcina barkeri: Involvement of an ancient horizontal gene transfer.
· Scholten JC,
· Culley DE,
· Brockman FJ,
· Wu G,
· Zhang W.
Microbiology Department, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, P.O. Box 999, Mail Stop P7-50, Richland, WA 99352, USA.
The sulfate reducing bacteria Desulfovibrio vulgaris and the methanogenic archaea Methanosarcina barkeri can grow syntrophically on lactate. In this study, a set of three closely located genes, DVU2103, DVU2104, and DVU2108 of D. vulgaris, was found to be up-regulated 2- to 4-fold following the lifestyle shift from syntroph to sulfate reducer; moreover, none of the genes in this gene set were differentially regulated when comparing gene expression from various D. vulgaris pure culture experiments. Although exact function of this gene set is unknown, the results suggest that it may play roles related to the lifestyle change of D. vulgaris from syntroph to sulfate reducer. This hypothesis is further supported by phylogenomic analyses showing that homologies of this gene set were only narrowly present in several groups of bacteria, most of which are restricted to a syntrophic lifestyle, such as Pelobacter carbinolicus, Syntrophobacter fumaroxidans, Syntrophomonas wolfei, and Syntrophus aciditrophicus. Phylogenetic analysis showed that all three individual genes in the gene set tended to be clustered with their homologies from archaeal genera, and they were rooted on archaeal species in the phylogenetic trees, suggesting that they were horizontally transferred from archaeal methanogens. In addition, no significant bias in codon and amino acid usages was detected between these genes and the rest of the D. vulgaris genome, suggesting the gene transfer may have occurred early in the evolutionary history so that sufficient time has elapsed to allow an adaptation to the codon and amino acid usages of D. vulgaris. This report provides novel insights into the origin and evolution of bacterial genes linked to the lifestyle change of D. vulgaris from a syntrophic to a sulfate-reducing lifestyle.
Matrix Biol. 2006 Sep 19; [Epub ahead of print]
On the origins of the extracellular matrix in vertebrates.
· Robertson DL,
Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PT, UK; Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PT, UK.
Extracellular matrix (ECM) is a key metazoan characteristic. In addition to providing structure and orientation to tissues, it is involved in many cellular processes such as adhesion, migration, proliferation and differentiation. Here we provide a comprehensive analysis of ECM molecules focussing on when vertebrate specific matrices evolved. We identify 60 ECM genes and 20 associated processing enzymes in the genome of the urochordate Ciona intestinalis. A comparison with vertebrate and protostome genomes has permitted the identification of both a core set of metazoan matrix genes and vertebrate-specific innovations in the ECM. We have identified a few potential cases of de novo vertebrate ECM gene innovation, but the majority of ECM genes have resulted from duplication of pre-existing genes present in the ancestral vertebrate. In conclusion, the modern complexity we see in vertebrate ECM has come about largely by duplication and modification of pre-existing matrix molecules. Extracellular matrix genes and their processing enzymes appear to be over-represented in the vertebrate genome suggesting that these genes played an active role enabling and underpinning the evolution of vertebrates.
Dog, I wish I was that smart.
And just what does “proof by precondition for intelligibility,” as advanced by Pastor Gene Cook, mean?.