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Secular Sunday: Case for a Creator: Chapter 3, Part 5

March 8, 2009

I’m sure that you have all seen this image: 

evo_bleh1The image has been reprinted, parodied, and has otherwise become so ingrained in the public consciousness that people think that this is an accurate representation of the theory of evolution. 

I honestly think that this single image has done more damage to scientific progress — not just evolutionary theory, but science — than almost anything else. With the exception, of course, of religious dogmas. 

 

 

PZ Meyers at Pharyngula did a post on what’s wrong with this picture. His entire post is worth reading, particularly as it includes a much better visualization of what the evolutionary tree looks like, but his complaints about the image above are as follows: 

It implies that evolution is linear, that it is going somewhere, and of course, that it is all about people — all the wrong messages. Yet it is ubiquitous, and probably the most common rendering you’ll find anywhere…

This is actually a problem. When we’re trying to get the message of the science of evolution across to people, one thing that helps is having a story — people respond well to narratives. The canonical image definitely tells a story, which is probably why it caught the public imagination so well, but the problem is that it is the wrong story.

This is, indeed, the most common misunderstanding of evolutionary theory — that A led to B, and A disappeared from the earth. Then B led to C, and B disappeared. And we continued going forward until at some point evolution reached humans, and then it stopped because it was done. 

Surely you have heard the argument: “If we are descended from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?” Evolution, of course, doesn’t imply that we evolved from monkeys, but that damn picture that everyone knows sure makes it seem like that’s exactly what the theory is about. 

To the contrary, evolution implies that we evolved from the same distant ancestor as monkeys did. Think of it this way: your grandparents, on your mother’s side, are named Smith. They had a daughter (your mother) and a son (your uncle). Your mother married a man named Johnson, so your name is Johnson. When your uncle married, his wife took his name, so their children — your cousins — are named Smith. 

The evolutionary skeptic is essentially asking “If we descended from Smiths, how come there are still Smiths?” The saying goes that there are no stupid questions, but this one is pretty close. 

In the final part of the Wells interview, addressing “Icon of Evolution #4: Archaeopteryx,” Wells essentially asks the same question: 

“The question is, do you get from a reptile to a bird — which is an astonishingly huge step — by some totally natural process or does this require the intervention of a designer? An archaeopteryx, as beautiful as it is, doesn’t show us one way or the other. Besides, we see strange animals around today, like the duck-billed platypus, which nobody considers transitional but which has characteristics of different classes.” [page 57]

In other words, “If the archaeopteryx represented a transition between birds and other animals, how come we still have animals that defy classification?” 

And then he “insists” that archaeopteryx is not, in fact, transitionary:

“It’s a bird with modern feathers, and birds are very different from reptiles in many important ways — their breeding system, their bone structure, their lungs, their distribution of weight and muscles. It’s a bird, that’s clear — not part bird and part reptile.” [ibid]

Yeah, except no. Check out All About Archaeopteryx, which is a short compendium of the scientific data about the specimen. It lists 23 important characteristics of the fossils — four of those are avian (bird-like) features, the other nineteen are reptilian. Whether Wells was simply unaware of these reptilian characteristics, I can’t say for sure. But considering the guy has a Ph.D in evolutionary biology, I can only assume that he does, and chose to commit a lie of omission to make his case. It’s also worth noting that there are no endnotes or other references to other scientific studies or papers which reach the same conclusion that Wells declares here. 

So Wells’ dismissal of archaeopteryx comes down, as is the pattern, to a lying “nuh-uh.” Strobel then spends the rest of the chapter basically claiming that there are no transitionary fossils. None have ever been found. This is a common creationist argument, and is, once again, a lie. 

There’s a lot of information out there, a lot of evidence, and I don’t have the time, expertise, or interest to list every last one of them. Fortunately, I don’t need to. Though I said I wasn’t going to fall back on TalkOrigins if I could help it, this subject is so vast, so broadly supported and so dense with information that I would spend a long, long time re-stating information that’s all been conveniently collected in one place. So if you want to know more, I highly, highly recommend you peruse that site. And if you don’t, that’s fine, but don’t turn around and claim you’re interested in “the truth.” 

Likewise they take the time to “debunk” (i.e. misinform or lie about) other fossils, particularly pre-human fossil forms, like Java Man. Again, the fact is that they’re just sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “LALALA” rather than actually providing any real, documented evidence in the debunking of Java Man or any other fossils like Australopithecus

Ultimately the problem is with this talk of “transitionary fossils.” What creationists either don’t understand, or don’t wish to, is that every organism is a transitionary organism. Even you are transitional — a transition between your parents and your offspring. The differences are not massive between one generation and the next, but they are there. And it is the accumulation of these small changes over millions of years that causes evolutionary change to occur. 

Creationists often like to present this straw-man version of evolution, whereby they claim evolution states that we ought to see clear and identifiable transitionary forms between animals. Not just ones that express similar features to more than one modern form, oh no. They want to know why, if evolution is true, we’ve never found a crocoduck. 

crocoduckI want to be absolutely clear that this image is not a parody of creationist beliefs. This is an image that they actually created believing that it accurately represented what evolution says we ought to see. It was created by an organization called Way of the Master, whose spokespeople (and, as far as I can tell, only members) are Ray Comfort, the World’s Stupidest Christian, and Kirk Cameron.

Yes, that Kirk Cameron. 

I have to be fair to Wells, and Strobel, in that they do not at any point propose anything nearly this moronic. But while we’re on the subject of transitionary organisms, I wanted to touch on this. 

I linked to Ray Comfort’s blog above, and it won’t take you long to notice that the guy is a complete idiot. Most of the people reading this blog, atheist and theist alike, can probably agree amicably on that. We’re talking about a man who once stated, in all seriousness, that bananas prove the existence of a designer God.

 

(He has since backpedaled, trying to claim that he was parodying evolutionary theory. He does not seem to understand what parody means, as he was, if anything, parodying creationism.)

But the terrifying part is, there are people on that site who think he knows what the fuck he’s talking about. And while I’ve never heard anyone seriously use the banana argument, I have actually heard people use a variation of the crocoduck, or at least arguments that demonstrate the same basic misunderstanding of evolution as leads to such nonsense as crocoducks. 

“If evolution is true,” they ask, and often with a smug air of someone who thinks they’re about to deliver a crushing blow, “then why can’t I sprout wings and fly? It would certainly have a positive benefit, and that’s what evolution is about, right?”

Or, “Why haven’t we ever seen a dog give birth to a cat?”

Seriously, I’ve heard those. More than once. The astonishing thing is that they claim that the lack of these observations disproves evolution, when in fact if those events, or events like them, were observed, that would disprove evolution!

I sincerely hope that I don’t have to explain what’s wrong with this characterization of evolution, but I’m going to anyway just in case. 

  • Evolution does not work on individuals, it works across generations. You do not evolve, but you are on in a chain of organisms that have slight differences from one generation to the next, the accumulation of which we call evolution. 

I blame our popular mythology (i.e. movies, comics, and television) for this more than religion, frankly. Damn near everything that involves normal people gaining extraordinary powers describes them as having “evolved.” X-Men, Spider-Man, Captain America. I re-watched Dark City the other night, and the main character, who has somehow gained the ability to “tune” as the Strangers do, is hypothesized — by the scientist character in the film! — as possibly being “the next step up the evolutionary ladder.” Even fucking Pokémon ingrains the idea, from a young age, that evolution happens to an individual, changing them from one state to another. 

That’s not evolution, that’s metamorphosis

Look, there’s a lot of dramatic power in metamorphosis, so I don’t propose that we remove it from the culture or place a moratorium on its use in fiction. If you place stock in Joseph Campbell (and I do), you basically can’t tell a story without some form of metamorphosis — though he uses it to mean internal changes as well. But dammit, it’s not evolution! 

And by the way, the idea that evolution is a “ladder,” that always leads “up” as though there was some goal, leads me to my next point:

  • Evolution does not have a goal.

Evolution is not a process driven by consciousness. It does not know that one particular adaptation will benefit an organism more than another. It is not a ladder that organisms are climbing in an attempt to reach some kind of “ultimate” state. 

Let me repeat that because it is so frigging embedded in the culture: evolution is not a ladder. It is a process that happens. It’s not going “up” or “down.” If anything, it’s moving out to the sides. We talk about “advanced” organisms — and enjoy the notion that we are at the top of that list, and in some ways, as far as we know, we are — but evolution did not occur with the “goal” of creating us, nor has it stopped now that we are here. We are another milestone in a long line of them, and more than likely not the last of them. We are not something the universe set out to create, we are just something that happened. We are, as the terminology goes, emergent. We are what we are, and other organisms are what they are, because they are the accumulation of beneficial mutations that gave them a survival advantage. 

And as a related point:

  • Evolution is not a conscious process.

This may sound like I’m repeating the previous point, but it’s a little bit different. A lot of people who argue against evolution like to ask about why single-celled organisms “decided” to become multi-celled, or why — as in the example above — they can’t just “decide” to sprout wings and fly. 

While it’s true that we are able to consciously control evolution to an extent via selective breeding (that, by the way, is where Ray Comfort’s bananas come from — wild bananas are quite different than the ones you can buy in the supermarket), it is not a matter of an individual consciously deciding to change their genetics, or deciding to give birth to a genetically altered child. 

Well, I should adjust that because we may very well gain that ability at some point as we gain knowledge of genetics. I should say that the evolutionary process that led us to this point has not been consciously controlled. A lizard did not “decide” that it would do well to grow feathers and wings and thus become a bird. And likewise neither can we do so — at least not yet. 

Anyway, I went a little bit off the path of Case for a Creator, but mainly because it’s about to move away from biological evolution now that we’re out of Chapter 3, and I wanted to address this while we were on the subject. 

Strobel and his buddy Wells have totally failed to produce a single tenable objection to evolutionary biology. But let’s say, just for a moment, that they’d hit the mark. Let’s say that they had totally destroyed evolution. They didn’t, but let’s pretend they did. Does this, in any way, support or even make the “Case for a Creator”? 

Sadly, no. They spent the whole chapter saying why evolution isn’t true, and yet did not bother to produce a single shred of evidence indicating that the creator hypothesis is true. Indeed, they didn’t even give a single reason that the creator hypothesis ought to be entered into serious consideration. They seem to think that a creator is the only, and the obvious, option if evolution is false. And it just isn’t. It’s a false dichotomy, and the best they’ve got is “it’s as good as any other explanation!”

First of all, no it’s not. And secondly, it needs to be more than “as good as any other.” It needs to be “the best explanation possible.” 

So despite taking five dedicated posts to get through on my part, and several others to expand upon the misunderstandings and outright bullshit set forth, Chapter 3 failed to add any credible evidence — or any evidence whatsoever — to the titular Case. 

Science: 3

Religious nonsense: 0

With that we’re done with Chapter 3, but don’t pop the cork or start celebrating just yet — we’ve got eight more to go. Next time, we finally move on to Chapter 4: Where Science Meets Faith.

11 Comments
  1. natecow permalink

    “They seem to think that a creator is the only, and the obvious, option if evolution is false. And it just isn’t. It’s a false dichotomy, and the best they’ve got is “it’s as good as any other explanation!”

    First of all, no it’s not.”

    Are you implying then, that there is a third option? If so, what is it? It all seems to come down to two possibilities: we were created by a designer, or we were not, and came about over natural processes. I hear this mysterious “unknown third option” proposed from time to time, but no one ever explains what it is or what evidence they have for it, whether it’s life or the existence of the universe. I’m just curious if you’re proposing a third option, and if you can provide a reasonable explanation that does not simply point back to God in one way or another.

    If not, then we’ll simply move along 🙂

    • dorkmanscott permalink

      Evolution is not necessarily the only “natural process” that could be given to answer the question of how things got here. And even if we didn’t know of any others, that doesn’t automatically mean God or another supernatural force is the only answer left, as I have previously attempted to point out.

      You ask for a “reasonable third option” to add to evolution or God, but the problem is there’s no reason to think that “God did it” is a reasonable second option in the first place. You say that no one ever presents evidence for this “unknown third option,” and yet no evidence is presented for what you apparently accept as the second!

      Evidence against evolution is not inherently evidence that “points to God.” I could just as well say that Last Thursdayism is a “reasonable” option. Perhaps we popped into existence as a quantum singularity — i.e. not driven by a God or any conscious force, we just happened — last Thursday, in a universe with the appearance of age and all our memories coming into existence with us.

      Do we have any evidence for this? No — which places it firmly in the same category of “reasonable” as the creator hypothesis.

      Perhaps evolution is wrong and at some point in the past dogs did give birth to cats, and likewise all species appeared this way, at random and fully formed. We have no evidence that this is so, which places it firmly in the same category of “reasonable” as the creator hypothesis.

      Or perhaps it’s another explanation that we haven’t yet run across or conceived of yet. As I’ve already said, if we didn’t know how lightning formed, or if an early hypothesis proved to be wrong, that doesn’t mean the only remaining option is Zeus. Just because the humours theory of illness proved incorrect didn’t mean that the only remaining option was demons.

      What you need to understand is that not knowing how something occurred naturally is not the same as having evidence that points toward God. If you have evidence that points to God that is not a version of “I don’t know,” then that’s one thing. But the fact is you simply accept the idea of a God as being reasonable because you have been told all your life that it is acceptable to do so. In fact there is no evidence for your “second option,” even if the evidence for the “first” proved invalid.

      It’s like saying if I leave a can of soda on my kitchen table, and I come back to find it empty, either it spilled, or a wizard came by and made it vanish by magic. And that those are the only two “reasonable” options.

      And let’s say I can determine fairly conclusively that it didn’t spill.

      Does that inherently mean a wizard did it? Would you immediately argue that was the best answer?

      Maybe someone poured it out. Or drank it. Maybe it evaporated. Just because I don’t know what the explanation is doesn’t mean that I can’t rule out the likelihood that it was the wizard fairly quickly, particularly given that I have never seen any reason to believe that wizards exist, nor that if they did they would have a proclivity for making strangers’ soft drinks vanish.

      If you want to present your “second” option as valid, to say nothing of being the only possible alternative, you must explain why it is more reasonable than any other alternative, especially when the explanation you propose has no evidence for it.

      What creationists attempt to do is insist that the very fact that the can is empty is, in itself, evidence of wizards, when in fact they must first prove the existence of wizards before proposing them as the explanation. Especially when perfectly sensible non-wizard explanations are available and fit the evidence far better.

      “Not evolution” does not automatically mean “God” — or anything else, for that matter. It only means “not evolution.” There are not simply two competing explanations, there are infinite possibilities, conceptually speaking.

      The question is, as you say, what is most reasonable based on the evidence? And the most appropriate answer has never, to date, been “magic.”

      • natecow permalink

        Alright, I’ll take that. Much respect for the hefty and logical reply. Although I do like the empty soda can and wizards analogy, especially how you explained that you have no reason to believe wizards exist. Neither do I. But in the case of the universe’s existence, I do have reason to believe God exists, and therefore reason to believe he created us.

        Granted, my experiences are not going to immediately be accepted by you, nor should they, as it’s my word against most of the world. But I have witnessed what the Bible describes as spiritual healing, I have seen my prayers answered, I have again and again opened to verses in the Bible that speak to exactly what I’m going through at that very moment, and that leads me to believe that the Bible is not simply a jumble of books written over thousands of years that just so happen to coincide with each other, especially where word choice is crucial, but is in fact the Word of God.

        Given the 2,000-year period of Christianity and the countless accounts, both less than and greater than mine own, the several attempts to wipe it off the planet by tyrants, only to see it grow, the fact that Jesus’ disciples were later persecuted for their faith—totally separate from one another—all tell me that there is absolute truth in the Bible, and as such, I do not take anything the Lord says through his Word with even a minute grain of salt.

        Now maybe that’s not enough for some people, and I’ll admit I’d have a heard time listing everything in a little blog comment, but the point is: I do have reason to believe God exists, and so he is a reasonable option for me and about 2 billion other people.

        Could God have used some sort of natural process akin to evolution as we supposedly understand it to get us to where we are? I suppose so.* I believe the early chapters of Genesis already has a handful of metaphors, and the big bang sure sounds more impressive than light suddenly shedding on a vast body of water. And consider the fact that no one until the past century or so could fathom such an event, God had to have dumbed it down a bit for the majority of man’s existence 😛

        This is why I prefer to skip the small talk and take discussions clear back to the origins of the universe itself 😉

        *I very recently heard (I’ll have to find the article, I heard it in a podcast) that scientists believe they are extremely close to creating artificial life. What amused me was that everything in the article pointed toward a designer/creator and guided process more than totally natural ones. They talked about how they’ll have to first create (yes, they even used the word ‘create’) a protective membrane just to keep the cells alive for a couple of hours, if they’re lucky. It just astonished me that no one went “uh, intelligent design anyone?” when writing the article. Words like “create” and “design” are tossed around as if it’s common knowledge that evolution requires an initial creation to get going in the first place, and further guidance to stay alive.

        Now that I mentioned it, I think I’d like to find the article online and write a blog post about it myself.

        • natecow permalink

          Shoot, I forgot…I just wanted to toss in a Bible verse after I mentioned the big bang and how impressive it must’ve been to see:

          “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” -Psalm 19:1-3

          🙂

        • dorkmanscott permalink

          Let’s speak frankly here. You’re not talking about reasons. You’re talking about confirmation bias. You see the few “answered” prayers and ignore or excuse the hundreds of unanswered ones. Your ability to find something in any random verse that applies to you is no more impressive than discovering that your daily horoscope is “SO me” — you’re LOOKING for ways that these things can apply to you.

          You started from the position that God exists, and have found reasons to reinforce your belief — and either ignore or explain away all the reasons not to.

          And you’re only saying “Christianity” because you happened to be born into a majority Christian nation. If you had been born in India, you would be saying Hinduism; if an Arab nation, Islam. If ancient Egypt, perhaps Horus or Anubis. All of them have in their time and place laid the same claim to absolute truth that you do now, and all for the same reasons. This seems to make it clear that it’s got nothing to do with any particular God. Evidence for everything is evidence of nothing.

          Also, the fact that the story has emotional resonance to you does not for a moment imply that the story is factually true. There’s plenty of fiction that has that same effect, and can even be life-changing. That doesn’t mean it’s factually true, just emotionally true.

          I do have reason to believe God exists, and so he is a reasonable option for me and about 2 billion other people.

          The problem here is that truth is not decided by a majority vote. The number of people who believe in a proposition is irrelevant in the matter of determining whether the proposition has any grounding in reality. Likewise the tenacity of a belief, the length of time it’s been around, is also totally irrelevant if the facts do not support it.

          See also: “the Earth is flat.”

          See also: argumentum ad populum.

          So, no. A god — let alone YOUR God — is not automatically a reasonable alternative just because you want it to be, because the thought of it gives you the warm fuzzies. That’s just not how science works.

          • natecow permalink

            Well by that logic, I could argue that you’re more or less going off of confirmation bias as well. I mean, as soon as you decide one way or another on an issue, everything from that point on in your life is just confirming your position, right? Where exactly is the threshold between that and a reason?

            And who’s to say I started from the position that God exists? You happen to know I’m sure—from Twitter—that I was indeed raised Lutheran. I do however, seem to feel I fell away for a good portion of my teen years. I sorta held onto this belief that God existed just for my own comfort, but I didn’t live by it by any means. It wasn’t until recently that I began to discover what it was all about: truth. I clearly didn’t grasp things when I was younger, and probably fit perfectly into your explanation that I was only saying Christianity because I was born into it. I flat-out disagree with your accusation now. Heck, a popular Christian apologetic who I greatly admire, Ravi Zacharias, was born in India, in a city renowned for its Hindu temples. He converted to Christianity when he was nearly my age, so I simply dismiss your little regional argument you like to tout so much.

            And on the note of other religions: does Hinduism explain natural and social order we see around us? Does Islam layout the design of a family? The state? How about law, labor, history, science, philosophy, ethics, the design and role of the Church and community, or the very relationship between God and man? No sir, but the Bible does. And every social system, when functioning properly, just so happens to have the stamp of the Holy Trinity, which I find hard to ignore.

            I assure you these were not ideas I was simply exposed to all my life. In fact the Church I grew up in would be turned upside down if everyone there simply “got it.” These were things I discovered mere months ago, and was astonished by, and am continuing to explore.

            I also must take issue with your argumentum ad populum accusation. There are 2.1 billion Christians…out of 6.7 billion people on the earth. Now unless relativism has taken over math too, that’s not a majority last I checked…just a butt-load of witnesses, which was my point.

            To bring this back to the original blog post this week, I am not necessarily jumping to Strobel’s defense, because as a published author, I think he’s doing a pretty poor job for creationists, like I said early on when you first started posting about this book, even though I haven’t read it for myself. Your pointing out that evidence was not presented for a creator in the first three chapters is something I have to look at and basically agree with. You can’t simply spend all your time saying the other guys are wrong and no time on why you’re right, and given the title of the book, that sorta frustrates me.

            I’m interested to see where it goes from here…

  2. Ray permalink

    I’m thinking of ways I can use the Crocoduck in a D&D campaign.

  3. Let’s see. The four possibilities I can imagine this early in the morning are:
    1) Some singular omnipresent “consciousness” is actively making all this happen.
    2) Some singular omnipresent “consciousness” wrote a script, and it’s simply playing out.
    3) Things are happening as a result of chance and results.
    4) Things are happening as a result of mathematical chaos.
    5) Multiple omnipresent “consciousnesses” are fighting over how things should work and the Universe is the result of their bickering.
    6) Multiple omnipresent “consciousnesses” set a sequence to play out automatically and are sitting back, pointing, and laughing at everything.
    7) It is a mixture of mathematical chaos with the almost infinitely minuscule introduction of the butterfly wing that is individual consciousness of life forms, causing unimaginable amounts of opportunities, unrecognized choices and unforeseeable results amassed over time longer than we can fathom.
    8) There never was a beginning so there could not be something to start it all.

    Okay. So, that was 8, and I can’t even understand most of what I typed. I figure maybe 4 (at most) might make some sense.

  4. dorkmanscott permalink

    Reply threading has a limit unfortunately.

    @natecow:

    Well by that logic, I could argue that you’re more or less going off of confirmation bias as well.

    You could, but you’d be wrong, and here’s why: the difference is that my position is clearly falsifiable. If we actually found a crocoduck fossil — well, only one could be a hoax or anomaly. But if we started to find a lot of them, then clearly evolution would have to be dismissed. If we started to find a lot of fossils of species we consider further down the evolutionary timeline in earlier geological strata than they ought to be, evolution would be questionable if not declared outright wrong.

    And I’ve already posted about what it would take to convince me that a god exists. Can you give a list of events or observations sufficient to convince you that a god does not exist? If your answer is “no, I have total faith,” then you are admitting your bias, that you will take any observation and twist mould it to your desired conclusion.

    That’s the line between religion and reason, or at least one of them.

    And who’s to say I started from the position that God exists? You happen to know I’m sure—from Twitter—that I was indeed raised Lutheran. I do however, seem to feel I fell away for a good portion of my teen years. I sorta held onto this belief that God existed just for my own comfort, but I didn’t live by it by any means.

    “Living by it” is irrelevant, a particular tenet of your particular flavor of god-belief. You ask who’s to say you started from the position that God exists: you are. Right here. You flat out say “I always believed that a God existed.” You weren’t devout, but you still believed. You never would have needed anyone to actually prove it to you, because to you, “Jesus is God and God exists” was as much an historical fact as “George Washington was the first President.” You may not have been doing the hokey-pokey with such fervency before whatever happened to trigger your current intense devoutness, but you still always believed in a god, and the Christian one in particular.

    It wasn’t until recently that I began to discover what it was all about: truth. I clearly didn’t grasp things when I was younger, and probably fit perfectly into your explanation that I was only saying Christianity because I was born into it. I flat-out disagree with your accusation now.

    I have to admit I’ve made a few assumptions here — because everything you say sounds exactly like the things I would say during the period when I was super devout. I literally would have said what you just said verbatim.

    But all my assumptions have borne out so far.

    Heck, a popular Christian apologetic who I greatly admire, Ravi Zacharias, was born in India, in a city renowned for its Hindu temples. He converted to Christianity when he was nearly my age, so I simply dismiss your little regional argument you like to tout so much.

    Why? That’s like saying Michael Phelps is an American, therefore how dare you say that I personally can’t swim at an Olympic level.

    The fact that he traded one superstition for another doesn’t change the fact that you never did. What you say next only proves that you didn’t even try:

    And on the note of other religions: does Hinduism explain natural and social order we see around us?

    Yes; or at least, like Christianity, it lays a claim to an explanation. Whether it is the right explanation is up to debate.

    Does Islam layout the design of a family? The state? How about law, labor, history, science, philosophy, ethics, the design and role of the Church and community, or the very relationship between God and man? No sir, but the Bible does.

    Nate, I like you; you’re a smart guy. But this is very possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen you say.

    FUCK YES Islam prescribes or attempts to explain all those things. The design of the family? They have very precise descriptions of the role of the mother, the relationship with the children. Why do you think women wear those burkhas, fashion?

    The state? Law? Ever heard of Sharia Law? Ever heard of, I dunno, Iran? Ever heard of jihads and fatwahs?

    The fact that you disagree with the assertions Islam makes regarding family, the state, law, labor, etc. (or are ignorant of them) doesn’t mean that Islam doesn’t make them, and certainly doesn’t automatically mean Christianity’s prescriptions are automatically better just because you happen to agree with them (and/or they’re the only ones you know).

    ALL organized religions make these prescriptions and assertions and philosophical claims always have. It’s a defining characteristic.

    And every social system, when functioning properly, just so happens to have the stamp of the Holy Trinity, which I find hard to ignore.

    1) That’s a load of crap — Norway, Sweden and Denmark are all majority atheist in practice and they’re doing just fine. Ancient Egypt had nothing to do with the “Holy Trinity” and their society lasted thousands of years. The Roman Empire flourished for millennia under pagan beliefs and, ironically, collapsed shortly after becoming Christian. China has had a continuous society for about 5,000 years now, predating the supposed birth of Christ and only recently having any Christian population at all.

    I mean, really, this isn’t even a remotely defensible assertion.

    2) The weasel word is “properly.” I’m sure the Iranians and the United Arab Emirates think things are working out just fine on their end. But since you leave it up to yourself to define what “properly” means, you can dismiss from the outset non-Christian countries, which means more confirmation bias.

    I assure you these were not ideas I was simply exposed to all my life.

    Even if true, “God exists” is. And that’s the most important one; you have to accept that before you can accept any assertions about god’s nature or desires. You already accepted it, which made the rest easy peasy to swallow.

    In fact the Church I grew up in would be turned upside down if everyone there simply “got it.” These were things I discovered mere months ago, and was astonished by, and am continuing to explore.

    You need to do more, obviously. Christianity is not the unique entity you’ve been told it is.

    Also, what makes you so sure your interpretation is right and that other Church is wrong? For a religion that likes to preach humility, there’s an underlying arrogance in the frequent declarations that you “get it” and others don’t.

    I also must take issue with your argumentum ad populum accusation. There are 2.1 billion Christians…out of 6.7 billion people on the earth. Now unless relativism has taken over math too, that’s not a majority last I checked…just a butt-load of witnesses, which was my point.

    They aren’t witnesses, they’re just believers. They haven’t “witnessed” anything, only agreed with the assertions made by others who haven’t witnessed anything and started claiming it as truth.

    Maybe some of them have gotten the warm fuzzies, and because they’re told it was Jesus, they believe. But Muslims and Buddhists and even Scientologists get the warm fuzzies, because the warm fuzzies are a product of the human mind and not some outside influence. People ascribe this feeling to their God of Choice because it’s the god they know, but because it happens to everyone there’s no reason to believe it’s got anything to do with a god at all.

    Neuroscientists even know what part of the brain causes it; they can stimulate it with electrodes and create a powerful “religious experience” in any subject (google “God Helmet”).

    In legal parlance, you’re not talking about witnessing, you’re talking about hearsay. And 2.1 billion people repeating the same story they’ve been told doesn’t make it true.

    You said “it’s good enough for me and 2.1 billion others.” That’s basically saying “this many people believe it so there must be something to it,” and that’s an argumentum ad populum fallacy whether you like it or not.

    And by the way, you don’t get to dismiss huge populations of believers as “not getting it” and therefore not true Christians in one breath, and then include them in your appeal to popularity in the next.

    So let’s assume you were part of a small church, just 200 people. And out of those 200, you’re the only one who “gets it” now. If that ratio holds true, then out of the 2.1 billion you cite, only 11 million actually get it. That’s only slightly more than the population of Los Angeles, approximately 0.16% of the world population — nowhere near the 1/3 or so you’re trying to claim. And if your church was bigger than 200 people, the ratio shrinks accordingly.

    Either everyone who says they’re a Christian is, or only those who believe the same thing about it that you do. You can’t have it both ways.

  5. @natecow: It has already been done to death about the whole “why you’re wrong” and no time on “why I’m right” business.

    While I still feel that rejecting all assertions about the existence of any gods leaves only one alternative as an implied assertion (as the truth is the elimination of all other possibilities), this is really only dealing with a specific set of assertions of Theism and not the belief of Atheism itself. Until Michael actually asserts that Atheism is right, there is really nothing requiring defense on our side.

    I do not find it “fair”, but by our beliefs (by my understanding), fairness isn’t really a factor in it all. I will freely admit that I cannot prove my Atheism to be the truth as I cannot prove all other possibilities to be false. We can, however, prove other assertions to be wrong until everything has been accounted.

    My understanding is that Michael wants people to challenge what they believe at the level of reason instead of face-value faith. I see no harm in that. There is also no harm in contesting claims made as if they were irrefutable and authoritative when they are neither.

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