Secular Sunday: Case for a Creator: Chapter Three, Part 2
So there’s this
asshole Christian asshole by the name of Jack Chick, who has produced evangelical tracts for several decades, but who has only come to most peoples’ attention since the advent of the internets. These “Chick tracts,” freely available on his site, are by turns misogynistic, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, anti-Catholic, and just about any other -ist, -ic, and anti- you can think of (except, of course, atheist or agnostic).
Also, everything is Satan’s fault. Chick is basically The Church Lady, except he’s serious.
The tracts are supposed to be little comic-book stories that you can hand out to people, they read them, and, thoroughly convinced, they accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
If that sounds a little too pat, that’s apparently how easy it is in Jack Chick’s mind, because that’s how it always works in the tracts. This is how most of the Chick tracts go:
Unbeliever: Religion is stupid!
Believer: But Jesus died for your sins.
Unbeliever: No one ever told me! Praise His holy name!1
You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. Go read them. You’ll see.
You can tell that Chick has never met a true unbeliever — certainly he thinks that everyone actually believes, they’re just “rebelling” — and so he only imagines, poorly, the way such people talk and think.
I bring this up not to specifically go off about the Chick tracts; they’re morbidly amusing, but don’t really deserve a detailed response. Most folks, even religious, can see that the arguments presented in the tracts (such as that Catholicism came after Protestantism, and is a perversion of Christianity as opposed to, you know, its origin) are absurd. And those who cannot are clearly either stupid, insane, or sociopathic, and deserve nothing more than to be pointed and laughed at.
No, I bring it up because the continuation of Chapter Three, the Jonathan Wells interview, plays out essentially like a Chick tract. Strobel has cast himself in the role of skeptic, but he has never been one, and doesn’t know what the word means, and so his performance is shockingly poor.
The gist of the interview is Strobel discussing the images of evolution, presented in Chapter Two, with Wells. And it basically goes like this:
Strobel: This is evidence of evolution, right?
Strobel: I’ve never heard it from that perspective! You’ve totally convinced me!
You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.
Wells presents no evidence to support his case, only dismisses the evidence Strobel presents as not being evidence, and Strobel, in the most embarassing parody of skepticism I’ve ever seen, immediately accepts Wells’ dismissal as totally valid. As a corollary, he also immediately accepts any assertion Wells makes regarding what is true, without requiring Wells present any evidence to support it.
At this point, the best-case scenario explanation for this book is that Strobel is a credulous idiot. It’s starting to seem like he keeps presenting arguments from authority because he genuinely finds them compelling — he accepts Wells’ arguments because he considers Wells an authority.
But at this point — long since, really — it has become clear that Strobel is actually a liar and an opportunist. It’s become clear that if Strobel expects his reader to be the credulous and idiotic ones. He thinks that his declarations of being “convinced” will themselves do the convincing, in the absence of an actually convincing argument.
And of course, when it comes to his target audience, he’s right. Over Christmas, a close friend’s girlfriend received another Strobel book “The Case for Christ,” which her brother, the giver, encouraged her to read. And the first thing out of his mouth was “The guy who wrote it was a skeptic, and then he became a Christian!”
That means nothing. It might mean he was a bad skeptic, or an idiot, or (quickly becoming my pet theory) a liar.
Not to mention the fact that if it were that easy, I could always counter that I was a Christian, then I became a skeptic, which is completely true. Have all you theists out there automatically dropped your beliefs as a result of my testimony? Does the fact that I am unconvinced mean you are unconvinced?
That’s what I thought.
Admittedly, his conversion, if such it was, could mean that the evidence was genuinely convincing. But if it were, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time being convinced that the fact that these people are convinced should be enough to convince us.
Arguments from authority are meaningless, and the manner by which many (otherwise sensible!) people find themselves talking about their naked Emperor’s exquisite clothing.
I’m going to try not to go intricately into the poor writing or poor argumentation of this chapter as I have been doing before — not only is this book not restoring my faith in God, it’s beginning to erode my faith in humanity. Just know that it’s still there under the surface. I’ll be doing my best to address only the main arguments, and save my snark about Strobel’s foolish conclusions and/or laughably poor writing for only the most grievous passages.
Still, I can’t help this one little piece of dialogue:
“If these icon are the illustrations most cited as evidence of evolution, then I can see why they’re important,” I said. “What did you find as you examined them one by one?”
Wells didn’t hesitate. “That they’re either false or misleading,” he replied.
“False or misleading?” I echoed. “Wait a second — are you saying my science teacher was lying to me? That’s a pretty outrageous charge!” [page 36]
Yes, Strobel is just shocked — shocked — that a man working for the
Dishonesty Discovery Institute in Seattle, the sole expressed purpose of which is to promote Intelligent Design over evolution, who got his Ph.D specifically for the purpose of “destroying evolution,” in the name of the glory of God (who by the way is a Korean man), should state that evolution is false.2
Like I said, most of the dialogue in this book is like that, and I will spare you. Am I not merciful?
But okay, Wells. I’m ready to have my mind blown. Gimme whatcha got.
The Miller-Urey Experiment
Wells’ first argument is that the Miller experiment used the wrong atmospheric composition in its “early earth” simulation, the one which produced amino acids, which are the building blocks of life.
It is true that Miller’s original theory about the composition of the early atmosphere has since been abandoned in favor of other atmospheric theories. But Wells fails to mention that most scientists agree that the initial formation of organic compounds, and even the early forms of life, probably occurred well away from the atmosphere (e.g. in the deep sea), making the composition of the atmosphere largely irrelevant.
Wells does state that other experiments have been performed which create complex organic compounds — but points out that some of the molecules formed are cyanide and formaldehyde, which he refers to as being intensely toxic. And they are.
But they’re also necessary building blocks to important biochemical compounds, such as amino acids. Therefore in this context they are not toxins. Wells even acknowledges that “it’s true that a good organic chemist can turn formaldehyde and cyanide into biological molecules,” but then states that “to suggest that formaldehyde and cyanide give you the right substrate for the origin of life…well, that’s just a joke.” [page 38]
What? WHAT? You just said that those two chemicals can form the basis of biochemical compounds, then say that it’s a joke.
In context, the punchline of the “joke” is that what you create by mixing them is embalming fluid. Which is true. But what he doesn’t mention, because it would be devastating to his case, is that you can also get amino acids, which are the substrate for the origin of life. Of course, despite the fact that Wells has two Ph.Ds, neither of them is in biochemistry, so at best it can be argued that he just didn’t know. But if he didn’t know he shouldn’t go around saying it with such finality and authority.
A simple Google search of “cyanide amino acids” brings up pages and pages of scientific studies discussing how hydrogen cyanide is a precursor to the formation of amino acids. Wells is supposed to be the expert, he’s TELLING us he’s the expert, and yet he can’t be bothered to actually check if what he’s saying has any truth?
The other option is that he has done the research, he knows he’s lying by omission, and he’s doing it anyway. It’s not the first, nor I’m sure the last, occurrence of lying for Jesus I’ve seen in my life. It’s probably far from the last that I’ll see in this book.
In the next section he goes on to say that if you were to poke a hole in a cell and allow the insides to drain out, you could not form another cell from this material, nor expect one to form, even though “you’ve got all the components you would need for life.” [page 39] But that’s not the way cells are formed, and not the way evolution works, and Wells knows this. Evolution involves replication and reproduction, activities in which a dead cell — especially a dismembered one — cannot engage.
This section of his argument is just ridiculous, but of course someone who is already ignorant or suspicious of evolutionary biology will latch onto it as making total sense. And that’s the alarming part, to me.
And of course, since Wells has dismissed these naturalistic explanations for abiogenesis, there must be a supernatural reason. Not because there’s any evidence for a supernatural explanation, mind you. Just cuz.
So, in this section Wells fails to disprove abiogenesis — by his admissions about the products of abiogenesis experiments, he has in fact provided evidentiary support for the theory. He lies and says it’s evidence against, but being an actual skeptic, I did some research. It didn’t even take me long to find all the ways he’s full of shit (going by number of Google hits on “cyanide amino acids,” approximately 666,000 ways. How appropriate).
Since he has no evidence of his own, he instead fills pages with straw man arguments, a clearly misguided understanding of evolution that I do not believe he actually holds (rather, he just hopes that the people reading won’t know better and won’t bother to check), and rhetoric that assumes the pre-determined conclusion.
I’ve said this before, but the correct process is: “here is the observation, what does that indicate.” Not “God exists, chase observations in support and ignore/deny observations against.” So far, Wells — and Strobel — are following the latter.
I’ll finish up the Wells chapter next time. For now, no points awarded. Try again next round.
- That’s another odd thing that Jack Chick seems to believe: that the vast majority of people in America aren’t aware of the fundamental tenets of Christianity — Christ’s divinity, salvation, etc. Presumably he thinks that the only logical explanation for people not believing is that they haven’t heard. Though of course “Jack Chick” and “logical” never seem to have been properly introduced.↩