The Case for a Creator: Chapter Two
Remember yesterday, when I said that it seems that Strobel seems very concerned with telling us about himself, and how very very atheist he was? Chapter Two begins thusly:
Rewind history to 1966. The big hit on the radio was Paul McCartney crooning “Michelle.” On a television show called I Spy, Bill Cosby was becoming the first African-American to share the lead in a dramatic series. Bread was nineteen cents a loaf; a new Ford Fairlane cost $1,600.
As a fourteen-year-old freshman at Prospect High School in northwest suburban Chicago, I was sitting in a third-floor science classroom overlooking the asphalt parking lot, second row from the window, third seat from the front, when I first heard the liberating information that propelled me toward a life of atheism. [page 17]
I check the cover to make sure the subtitle is, in fact, “A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God,” and not “The Pointlessly Detailed Life of Lee Strobel.” Maybe they teach you to pad your word count with “colorful details” in the papers, Lee, but I was told that this was going to be an investigation of scientific evidence that points toward God. It would be great if you could get on with that.
It’s clear throughout this chapter that Strobel really wants to hammer home just how he was “toooooootally atheist, guys! Like seriously!” Like Durin pointed out yesterday, I can’t shake the feeling that this is setting up an implicit Argument from Authority. I mean, if someone THAT atheist could be convinced, this MUST be good evidence.
It in fact has the opposite effect — I begin to wonder if Strobel was actually ever an atheist at all. The atheism Strobel describes is a standard Christian caricature of atheism, as evidenced below:
I reveled in my newly achieved freedom from God’s moral strictures. For me, living without God meant living one hundred percent for myself. Freed from someday being held accountable for my actions, I felt unleashed to pursue personal happiness and pleasure at all costs. [page 25]
It is this statement in particular that leads me to think that Strobel was never actually an atheist; rather, he is attempting to convince me that he was an atheist so that, as I said above, I will be compelled by his radical conversion. Having never been an atheist, he instead describes how he thinks atheists think, which will convince those who already believe (also having likely not been atheists themselves), but actual non-believers will have to conclude that if he ever was an atheist, he was a grotesquely stupid one.
The subject of morality without God deserves a post of its own (and even that is probably selling the subject short; books have been written), so I won’t sidetrack this one with the subject. Suffice it to say that no atheist I know actually sees it as an “excuse” to misbehave — the fact that so many of the religious seem to think that the only thing keeping them from raping and/or murdering every man, woman, child and pet they come across is the threat of God’s punishment only belies the fact that they are not good or moral people at all.1 The moral person does good because it is good; the man who does good because he’s afraid of what will happen to him if he does bad is not moral, he is merely a coward.
Buuuut, that’s getting off the subject a bit. My point is that Strobel’s attempts to convince me that he was an atheist have in fact convinced me of the polar opposite, and I will have trouble putting aside the fact that I believe he is being dishonest with me. Fascinatingly, he even describes himself as being “smugly arrogant” — exactly the two words I used yesterday to describe the atheist characterization he was laying on so thick.
Ultimately, however, it doesn’t necessarily matter if Strobel was or wasn’t an atheist (which makes it yet more annoying that he spends so much time on the subject). The more important question is, does the scientific evidence he presents indeed point toward a Creator? Well, I’d like to tell you, but at this point he still hasn’t presented any.
Actually, I take that back. In this chapter, Strobel presents the evidence that led to his apparent atheism when he learned it in his science class. This chapter is called “The Images of Evolution,” and he refers to several iconic concepts (or “images”) that, to him, represent(ed) the undeniable fact of evolution:
Image 1: The Miller-Urey Experiment — in which scientist Stanley Miller reproduced, under laboratory conditions, an approximation of the atmosphere of the early Earth, and via application of electricity was able to spontaneously produce amino acids, the building blocks of life.
It should be noted, before moving on, that the Miller experiment is one testing the abiogenesis hypothesis — the notion of life arising from non-life on the early Earth. Abiogenesis is a separate theory from evolution; evolution does not concern itself with how life started, only with explaining the diversity of life that arose after the moment that life began.
Image 2: Darwin’s “Tree of Life” — referring to an illustration in On The Origin of Species, showing life’s theoretical common ancestor as the bottom of the tree, and all the diversity of life growing and diverging and blossoming upwards from there.
It’s here that Strobel again tips his hand to, if not intentionally misrepresenting evolution, at the very least misunderstanding it:
It seemed obvious to me that there’s such a phenomenon as microevolution, or variation within different kinds of animals. I could see this illustrated in my own neighborhood, where we had dozens of different varieties of dogs. But I was captivated by the more ambitious claim of macroevolution — that natural selection acting on random variation can explain how primitive cells morphed over long periods of time into every species of creatures, including human beings. [page 20]
See, the creationist folk realized some time ago that they could not deny that evolution does occur. It is, as he points out, an observable fact. So instead they have inserted an arbitrary designation between microevolution and macroevolution — two terms that, in a scientific context, do not exist. There is only evolution.
All evolution is small changes within a population of organisms.2 As he says, over time the sum of those small changes can result in organisms so totally different that they are scientifically classified as different species.
As an analogy, imagine that you are five feet tall at the age of fifteen. Every day for a year you measure your height, and on a day to day basis you will see little difference between one day and the day immediately before or after. Yet at the end of that year you find you are six feet tall. Even though the changes were small, at the end it resulted in the need to recategorize you (from “five foot tall person” to “six foot tall person”).
Evolution is this concept writ large, with billions of organisms over billions of years. The notion of a separation between “micro” and “macro” is a semantical dodge, designed to allow creationist (or intelligent design) proponents to admit to what they can no longer deny, while continuing to deny what they don’t wish to admit.
Image 3: Ernst Haeckl’s Drawings of Embryos — up to a certain point, the embryos of vastly different organisms can look almost totally indistinguishable. This is taken as demonstrating how similar we all are genetically, and by extension the likelihood that we share common genetics, since that would logically result in common development up to the point where our genetics diverge.
Fast-forwarding back to 2008 (we’re in 1966, remember), it’s worth noting that we now have pictures of these various embryos and their striking similarities, not just taking an artist’s word for it.
Image #4: The Missing Link — referring to archaeopetryx, the famous transitional form between reptile and bird.
Strobel spends the rest of the chapter establishing his argument, which is that you’ve got to take a stand and choose between evolution or God. He acknowledges that there are some who believe that evolution and God are compatible, but he immediately determines that because evolution leaves no need for God, it leaves no room for one.
And not just any God, mind you, but the Christian God specifically:
Certainly Christians would say that God is not a hidden and uninvolved deity who thoroughly conceals his activity, but rather that he has intervened in the world so much that the Bible says his qualities “have been clearly seen…from what has been made.” [page 22]
But what would Muslims say, Mr. Strobel, and what does the Quran say about God’s qualities? The Hindus and the Vedas? You haven’t even proven that there is a God at all, let’s not jump to conclusions about which God it is.
Of course, he isn’t concerned with those other possible Gods, because Mr. Strobel has already determined for himself that the Christian God exists, and is seeking only to find and deliver validation for that belief.
If Strobel’s intentions are becoming more plain, his methods are becoming more dubious:
I was experiencing on a personal level what philosopher Daniel Dennett has observed: Darwinism is a “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept and leaves in its wake a revolutionized worldview.” [page 24]
Note, again, the selective quotation. Strobel puts the word “Darwinism” into Dennett’s mouth to ingrain it further. More alarming, though, is the citation found if you follow this quote to the endnotes, which gives this source:
Quoted in: Phillip E. Johnson, “The Intelligent Design Movement: Challenging the Modernist Monopoly on Science,” in: William A Dembski and James M. Kushiner, editors, Signs of Intelligence, 34. [page 308]
If the significance of that citation isn’t immediately apparent, let me explain. Strobel has not quoted Dennett in his argument — he has quoted ANOTHER person quoting Dennett, that other person being an Intelligent Design proponent, making the quote in a pro-ID essay.
Why cite the quote secondhand? If Johnson did not include a citation of his own so that it could be traced back to the source — and context — of Dennett’s remark, then the use of the quotation in both Johnson and Strobel’s works is highly suspect. If Johnson DID include a citation, and Strobel chose to cite from Johnson’s essay instead of researching the quote directly himself — and, in so doing, making it more difficult for a reader of his own work to trackback the quote — then the use of the quote is, again, suspect.
Granted, Signs of Intelligence is readily available on Amazon, but why quote a quote instead of going directly to the source? As a journalist Strobel should know better, which leads me to believe he intentionally evaded properly citing Dennett’s remark — which may in fact have had nothing to do with “Darwinism” at all.
It’s not that the quote even really affects the argument being made — it is, at least as reported here, a statement in support of the non-ID view of things — but it certainly does not instill confidence in Strobel’s journalistic integrity, nor his devotion to “not only…ask questions…but to go wherever the answers would take me.” [page 29]
None of this necessarily negates his argument — good evidence is good evidence no matter the source — but it certainly makes it clear that Strobel is not playing a fair game.
Nowhere does this become clearer than in the home stretch of the chapter, in which Strobel says:
My approach would be to cross-examine authorities in various scientific disciplines about the most current findings in their fields. In selecting these experts, I sought doctorate-level professors who have unquestioned expertise, are able to communicate in accessible language, and who refuse to limit themselves only to the politically correct world of naturalism or materialism. [page 28]
Emphasis mine. The problem with this approach is that, despite Strobel’s attempt to couch it as “politically correct,” or previous attempts he’s made within to characterize “naturalism” as only a particular “sect” of scientific study, the fact is that science by its very nature concerns itself with the natural, material, measurable world. Once you introduce supernatural hypotheses, science goes out the window because they cannot be tested and are therefore not scientific.
In choosing his “experts,” Strobel has in fact chosen specifically only those who are already sympathetic to his beliefs. A truly neutral, journalistic approach would be to talk to people on both sides of the issue and let the facts speak for themselves. Strobel instead reveals his bias by limiting his conversation to those he knows will agree with his pre-ordained conclusion, silencing the opposition by simply not speaking to them.
Astonishingly, he follows that declaration with this one:
After all, it wouldn’t make sense to rule out any hypothesis at the outset. I wanted the freedom to pursue all possibilities. [ibid]
So. He didn’t want to rule out any hypothesis — except the natural or material ones — and wanted to pursue all possibilities — except the natural or material ones.
Strobel cautions the reader that “getting beyond our prejudices can be difficult. At least, it was for me…I didn’t want there to be a God who would hold me responsible for my immoral lifestyle.” [page 29]
Again with that. I can’t speak for other atheists, but I don’t lead an immoral lifestyle — even by Christian standards. I don’t lie to people, I don’t cheat people, I am not sexually promiscuous, I don’t get shitfaced-drunk or hurt people or do any other “immoral” things, certainly no more than your average Christian and I would bet, pound for pound, less so than most of them.
Strobel wants to assert that I’m afraid to admit God exists; I’m not. I live a good life, I am a decent person, and I’m confident that any God worth worshipping would take that into account when the time comes. If God exists and he/she/it is truly righteous, then I’ll shrug, say “my bad, good to meet you,” we’ll have a laugh and move on with eternity. And if God exists and is not righteous, then fuck him/her/it anyway.
Either way I’m unafraid of the notion that God might be real. But if I’m going to believe, I’m going to need evidence — and despite the book’s subtitle, Strobel still hasn’t given any. Instead he’s written two “chapters,” really glorified forewords or prefaces, which combined have made me more wary of his claims, and more likely to do due diligence on what’s being said and who is saying it, than I think they were intended to do.
That being the case, future installments of my analysis may not be daily. I need research time, and I’m doing this around After Effects renders, so that time doesn’t come easy. The next chapter is called “Doubts about Darwinism.” I’m doing my best to approach this openly and without bias, but when the author refuses to do so, when he announces his prejudices in the same breath as he asks me to set aside my own, it makes it much more difficult.
- Nor does it make much sense, since — at least in Christianity — all they have to do, whatever the transgression, is be genuinely sorry afterward and all is forgiven. But that is also a topic for another day. ↩
- I notice he uses the word “kinds” of animals rather than “species,” “kind” being the Biblical designation; another flash of the cards he seems to be stacking.↩