Skeptical Sunday: Our Impossible Nature
It’s been some time since I had the chance to write much of anything here, much less wade into the quagmire of bad science and shoddy logic that is The Case for a Creator. But I’m doing my best to take the backlog of “stuff I should have finished by now” and making that, you know, happen. I’ve got a 60-hour-a-week-minimum gig coming down the pipes for September so I can’t guarantee it’ll happen during that month, but I’m going to do my best to get through it ASAP.
I could save you a lot of time reading this book, however, and other books and pamphlets and websites by apologists all relaying the same half-baked pablum, with a very simple summary of their argument. Any apologist supposedly using scientific evidence to support the assertion that a deity exists is arguing a premise and conclusion that can be summed up in three words:
Nature is impossible.
Whether the specific evidence at hand is the so-called Big Bang, DNA, human consciousness, the majesty of a tree, the mystery of consciousness, the argument is essentially the same: it is impossible for this to occur naturally. Therefore God.
This is a rather baffling stance to take, since from the standpoint of simple, dispassionate observation these things are not only possible for nature, but confirmed. We know that nature can accomplish them because we can see nature accomplishing them, or we see the evidence that nature has accomplished them, without evidence of any outside assistance.
Now, the case can be made — and correctly — that knowing the natural processes by which these things occur does not inherently disprove the involvement (and, implied, existence) of a god. Sure, maybe your god of choice is the one who makes the acorn into the mighty oak, or hurls the lightning to the earth. But the fact that acorns, oaks, and lightning exist does not mean that your god exists.
Let’s say that I believe that cow’s milk comes from fairies that live in the cow’s udder, converting the cow’s food into milk and sustenance for calf and man alike. Then we discover the perfectly natural biochemical processes that convert the cow’s diet into drinkable milk.
I now have two choices:
- Accept that there is a previously-unknown but perfectly natural process by which this “miracle” occurs, or
- Declare that the fairies are simply invisible, scientifically undetectable, and the biochemical processes we can detect are simply the mechanism by which the fairies do their work.
Now, if I chose to argue point #2, you can’t necessarily say I’m wrong. There could be invisible fairies in a cow’s udder turning grass into milk, via the natural biochemical processes in a cow’s stomach. But the fact that milk exists is not evidence that my fairies exist.
Once we have an understanding of the natural processes that occur in a cow’s udder, the objective fact is that there is no inherent need for invisible fairies to do that work, as nature can do it on its own. And so, in spite of evidence to the contrary, if I wish to continue arguing for my fairies, I must declare that nature, working on its own, is impossible.
And therein lies my error: I’m not starting from the evidence and forming a conclusion. I’m starting from a conclusion and either distorting or discarding the evidence to suit it. The evidence doesn’t “point toward fairies.” I want to believe in fairies and so I perform mental and logistical gymnastics to find ways that fairies could still be involved in the evidence as it is collected. And despite the fact that fairies admittedly could be considered the invisible hand behind the milk, what I fail to present is a single reason that fairies should be given consideration as an answer to the question.
This is not the scientific method. It is the antithesis of science. It is dogmatism.
The subtitle of CFAC, “A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God,” is more accurately phrased as “An Apologist Lists Ways In Which the Presumption of a God’s Existence Can Be Partially Retrofitted and/or Reconciled With Scientific Evidence.”
The final part of an apologist’s argument, the “…therefore God” is always a logical leap from what came before, seeming to lack at least a couple steps of reasoning that would lead an objective observer, one not already predisposed to answer a question that way, to take that path of reasoning. But don’t expect an apologist to show his work bridging that gap, because he probably hasn’t done any. He jumped that shark before his argument even began.
So their argument is ultimately: God must exist or Nature is impossible -> Nature is possible -> God must exist.
You see how it starts and ends at the same point? It’s not even a circular argument, it’s a Möbius argument, a twisted, one-sided argument that folds over on itself and ends exactly where it began, getting us nowhere.
I’ve said many times that I’m perfectly open to the idea that a deity may exist. But every argument I’ve ever heard requires me to already assume God exists before the argument can lead in that direction. It makes sense when that’s the assumption you do make, which is why Christians (including me, at one point) see sense in this nonsense. But to convince a non-Christian, you’ve got to do better than that.
Nonetheless, lest I be accused of attacking a straw man, I will get through CFAC as quickly, but completely, as possible. I’ve got seven chapters left and considering each one takes 2-3 posts it’s mathematically likely this will spill over to the new year. But I hope to be done with it, and other projects, before I turn 27. Consider it an early resolution for 2010.