A review of Deluded By Dawkins? By Andrew Wilson.

Kingsway, 2007.

This is the second book-length response to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Like the other volume by Alister McGrath, this one is also penned by an Englishman. And like the other volume, it is relatively brief (112 pages). That is because both authors found Dawkins’ book to be quite thin as to its actual arguments against the existence of God.

Indeed, Wilson finds only three chapters in the Dawkins’ book which actually deal with this question. And he is rightly perplexed as to why there is not a single mention of the most central Christian apologetic: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That, notes Wilson, is the real heart of the Christian case for the existence of God, much more so than the older so-called arguments for the existence of God (cosmological, ontological, etc.)

Thus the most crucial piece of evidence for the Christian theist is not even once discussed by Dawkins. This is the linchpin of the Christian worldview, and “despite seventeen centuries of sceptics from Celsus to Crossan, no plausible alternative explanation has ever been articulated”.

Perhaps there is a good reason why Dawkins will not even touch it. Says Wilson, “a historical minefield awaits those who try to explain the resurrection in rationalist terms”. Indeed, the resurrection “is to materialists what satellite photos are to the Flat Earth Society”.

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Wilson briefly canvasses the various criticisms made by Dawkins against miracles and the supernatural in general. Because Dawkins is still locked into an antiquated Enlightenment rationalism, he continues to push the furphy that people in Jesus’ day may have been gullible enough to believe in miracles, but we know better today.

Never mind that the New Testament itself records plenty of scepticism over the miraculous, and over the grand miracle: the resurrection. Says Wilson, “It seems that the nineteenth-century Europeans were not the first to discover that dead people stayed dead”.

The truth is, Dawkins is simply a philosophical naturalist, so he rules out the possibility of miracles a priori, not on the basis of evidence. It is just a faith commitment for him. Indeed, in a somewhat unguarded moment, Dawkins admits as much, at least about natural selection. He says so in a 2005 interview: “Natural selection – well, I suppose that is a sort of matter of faith on my part since the theory is so coherent, and so powerful.”

Exactly. It is all about faith and presuppositions. Thus as Wilson shows, his whole argument against the existence of God really is just a house of cards. Much of the argumentation in The God Delusion rests on “an anti-supernatural premiss, and it is a premiss that is never established. We have plenty of rhetoric, but not much substance”.

The rest of the Dawkins’ book is mainly crude caricatures, straw men, ad hominems, red herrings and non-sequiturs. Wilson highlights many of these, as have many other critics of the book. And many of these critics have been fellow atheists and neo-Darwinists.

Indeed, there are some real howlers in Dawkins’ anti-theistic rant. Consider his claim that Thomas Jefferson, who lived in the nineteenth century, told his nephew in a letter about the Gospels of Thomas, Peter and so on. Only trouble is, no one even knew these existed until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1945.

Dawkins is just so far out of his depth in so many sections of this book, that it is a wonder that any should take him seriously. If this is the best the king of atheism can come up with, then it is time for atheists to take up another hobby: perhaps stamp collecting.

And even in areas where he should be a bit more sophisticated, Dawkins still continues to make schoolboy mistakes. He spends a good part of chapter four arguing for the improbability of God’s existence. One of the three main points he uses to make his case is that the anthropic principle provides an alternative to a creator or designer.

The anthropic principle simply states that the earth is very finely-tuned to support life. It seems statistically impossible that life should have arisen on planet earth, yet conditions seem just right for it to have happened. So it is simply an explanation of events that we find, not an alternative to creation.

As Wilson reminds us, there are only three possibilities here concerning the anthropic principle: A) There is an intelligent designer (God); B) this is all just a coincidence; or C) a multiplicity of universes theory is needed. But B strains all credibility, and C is just a wild, faith-based hypothesis without solid evidence. Thus A is a very possible explanation. So how can Dawkins say the anthropic principle is an alternative to intelligent design, when ID and the God hypothesis are in fact one of three options available for explaining it?

All in all, as Wilson shows, Dawkins mostly resorts to convoluted logic, sloppy argumentation, and plenty of red herrings and straw men to attempt to make his case. The whole thing comes off rather poorly. But for those with a pre-commitment to atheism, it will seem attractive.

Wilson goes out of his way to be fair to Dawkins. He certainly does not resort to the name-calling, heated polemical style, and nasty rhetoric that so characterises The God Delusion. This sensibly and politely argued volume – along with that of McGrath – makes it clear that Emperor Dawkins indeed seems to have little, if any, clothing on.

Wilson concludes by noting that someone even more nasty, aggressive and belligerent than Dawkins – Saul of Tarsus – in the end bowed his knee to the risen Christ. It is hoped that the same outcome awaits Professor Dawkins.

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64 Replies to “A review of Deluded By Dawkins? By Andrew Wilson.”

  1. Well written by the sound of it, Bill.

    It’s a pity poor Richard couldn’t have read Miracles by CS Lewis (1947) before embarking on his massive dummy-spit.

    He could have saved us all a lot of hot air (imagine the impact he’s had on global warming).

    John Angelico

  2. Indeed, the whole edifice of liberal theology, such as Spong, would topple if they would read Miracles as John Angelico recommends. I remember reading through some of Spong’s rantings and often thinking, Lewis refuted that furphy!

    Arguments by atheists against miracles are either presuppositional or circular (see Miracles and Science.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  3. The design argument supported by ‘recent scientific discoveries’ has also been revived, which is what moved former atheist Antony Flew to diesm (see My prilgrimage from atheism to theism.

    “FLEW: I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries. I’ve never been much impressed by the kalam cosmological argument, and I don’t think it has gotten any stronger recently. However, I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.”

    I haven’t written Dawkins off. I heard him say on TV with McGrath that he could conceive of an intelligent designer. Does that represent a move? I hope so for his sake.

    Tas Walker

  4. Indeed. The “multiverse” idea is extremely speculative. I would argue that it wouldn’t solve the “First Cause” problem anyway – as I did a few months ago on my blog. If the multiverse existed, we would still have to ask how that started off in the first place.

    Mark Newton

  5. Mark

    I would also say that the multiverse fails the simplicity test. It is far simpler to posit one being of infinite power and intelligence than a whole slew of universes parallell to ours. You are inevitably left asking, how many multiverse’s are there? If infinite, then that would consitute a mathematical absurdity when translated to real objects. But if we have a certain no. then we may ask, why that no. and not some other?

    Damien Spillane

  6. Bill,
    You wrote:
    “The anthropic principle simply states that the earth is very finely-tuned to support life. It seems statistically impossible that life should have arisen on planet earth, yet conditions seem just right for it to have happened.”

    The anthropic principle is related to universal physical constants, and has little to do with the fact that life arose on our particular planet, except that we happen to be here to observe the universe. There are 100 billion galaxies in the universe, and a typical galaxy contains about 50 billion stars. While it is statistically improbable that life should arise on a randomly-chosen planet, the conditions necessary to support life are almost certain to exist elsewhere in the universe. Earth just happens to be one planet where the conditions are right.

    As for miracles, defined as events which can only be explained by the suspension of the laws of physics, there is no evidence that any such event has ever occurred. Hearsay is not evidence.

    Alan Simpson, Queensland

  7. I compare Dawkins’ problem with Bertrand Russell’s in “Why I am not a Christian” – failure to understand what Christianity is.
    Elwyn Sheppard

  8. Thanks Alan

    But this is a typical example of evasion. Instead of dealing with the issue at hand – the incredible improbability of complex life arising on planet earth by mere chance – you instead go off on a tangent, talking about hypothetical life elsewhere. The question is, how, apart from an intelligent designer, does one account for life here?

    As the non-believing Hoyle once remarked, the chance of obtaining a single protein by chance combination is the same as filling the solar system with blind men, and all of them solving Rubik’s Cube simultaneously.

    Or as Yale evolutionist and biophysicist Morowitz put it, the probability of life by chance is 1 in 10 to the power of 340,000,000. Compared to such incredible odds, the God hypothesis becomes much more credible.

    And the evidence for the resurrection is far more than hearsay.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  9. I’ve heard Dawkins debate with a few Christians. The best one was with Alister McGrath.
    I find Dawkins to be very disagreeable. His answer to most of the objections is either to deny it, ‘It absolutely is not…’ .or to say ‘We dont know enough yet…’

    Dawkins rejected an offer of debate with William Lane Craig saying ‘It wouldn’t look very good on my CV’.

    Michael Ruse, an atheist philosopher, said ‘‘I would like to see Dawkins take Christianity as seriously as he undoubtedly expects Christianity to take Darwinism. I would also like to see him spell out fully the arguments as to the incompatibility of science (Darwinism especially) and religion (Christianity especially).”

    Ruse also wrote ‘The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why.’

    Source: http://www.bethinking.org.uk/resource.php?ID=334
    You can download the McGrath/Dawkins debate here as well.

    Joshua Ferrara

  10. Bill,
    On the contrary, I was pointing out that, rather than defining the anthropic principle, you had demonstrated anthropic bias by focusing on the uniqueness of planet Earth, and the improbability of life originating in this particular place.

    The chance of winning Lotto may be a million to one, but if there are a few million draws happening simultaneously, the odds shorten remarkably. That was my point about the existence of other life-friendly planets. Earth just happened to get the luck of the draw, and we may not be the only one.

    As for proteins, current theories of the origin of life are based on primitive building blocks, not on the sudden appearance of a complex protein. Proteins are made of simple amino acids, and it has been demonstrated they can arise spontaneously from the “primordial soup”. Similarly RNA and DNA are made up of simple nucleic acids. Science may not understand the exact mechanism, but the basic building blocks are well understood, and it doesn’t require a huge stretch of the imagination to comprehend that it is possible. Particularly when you take into account deep time and the immense size of the universe.

    The God theory seems far more improbable, firstly because it requires belief in supernatural power without evidence, and secondly because it doesn’t explain how God came to exist.

    There are many things the God Theory can’t explain. As just one example, how does it explain the existence of the planet Mars?

    Alan Simpson, Brisbane

  11. Thanks Alan

    If something is just about impossible, multiplying worlds will not greatly increase the odds. But you still fail to answer the question. Given the overwhelming improbability of life arising from chance, why is it there?

    There is nothing simple about proteins. They are made up of chains of hundreds of amino acids organized in a very precise sequence. Even Francis Crick admits that the probability of getting even one protein by chance would be one in ten to the power of 260.

    You discuss various building blocks and “simple amino acids” as if the whole project is pretty easy. But it is not. These components must work in the right combinations, under the right conditions, in the right concentrations and in the right sequences. Catalysts and/or energy sources must be present. On goes the list of necessary conditions. The whole process becomes extremely complex indeed. Moreover, because of these fundamentals of chemistry, a number of origin-of-life researchers have concluded that undirected chemical processes cannot lead to life.

    And nothing arises spontaneously out of anything. Every effect must have a cause. Order does not arise out of randomness. And pushing it back a step does not help either. Where did this primordial soup come from? Also, were you – or any other scientists – around when it all first happened? If not, then you are depending on faith just as much as anyone else.

    Your faith in time and size to come to your aide is also of no help. Honest scientists have admitted that the odds are simply overwhelmingly stacked against the universe coming into being by chance. Again, the fine tuning of laws which allow life to exist are simply out of the ballpark. Don Page of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton calculated the odds against the formulation of our universe as one in 10,000,000,000 to the power of 124!

    Yet you cling to your faith in chance and spontaneous generation. Atheists would rather postulate a trillion other universes, than admit that a creator God might just be a better, simpler and more plausible explanation. As Paul Davies has said, “Ockham’s razor compels me to put my money on design”.

    And you are mistaken about God as well. God by definition is an eternal, uncaused being. The universe however is an event, demanding an explanatory cause. And the existence of the universe offers plenty of evidence for a wise, personal and intelligent creator God.

    And I fail to see what you are getting at about Mars. God is the creator of all things.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. Bill,
    Different folks have different opinions about these matters, so the fact that some un-named scientists may think a particular way simply means that there is disagreement. It doesn’t demonstrate that one view is correct. There are assumptions all round, particularly with probability calculations.

    The primeval soup theory is well documented, as is the origin of the necessary molecules (methane, CO2, etc) as a product of stellar evolution. No one needs to have been there. We can see the past in the spectra of distant stars.

    I can’t find that Paul Davies quote so I can’t comment on it, but you must be aware that Davies isn’t a believer.

    I can understand why some people prefer to believe in a creator God as the explanation for the universe, but a naturalistic explanation is much simpler. You aren’t going to convince me that your are right. I’ve heard it all before. Equally I know that I am wasting my time trying to convince you. But if I’m wrong at least I’ll get to find out. You never will.

    You’ll probably tell me I have to go happy-clapping every Sunday as insurance, but sorry, I think a real God would see through that.

    As for Mars, its existence is understandable in the light of our knowledge of star formation, as is the known existence of other planets orbiting other stars. But it makes no sense for God to have made it. Why would he bother?

    Alan Simpson, Queensland

  13. Bill said:

    “And nothing arises spontaneously out of anything. Every effect must have a cause.”

    Then said:

    “God by definition is an eternal, uncaused being.”

    How convenient for you. You are allowed to have something uncaused as the base of your entire belief system, but nobody else is.

    Chris Mayer

  14. Thanks Chris

    But there is no problem here. The law of causality does not say that everything must have a cause, but that every effect must have a cause. Everything in this world is an effect which must have a cause. But God by definition is an uncaused being. He is a necessary being while everything else is contingent. Even Aristotle could speak of an unmoved mover. He knew that an eternal object would not have a cause. This is just basic philosophy 101 stuff.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  15. Thanks Alan

    Ah, now we are getting somewhere. It is nice of you to admit that we all have assumptions. That much we agree on. And your naturalistic assumptions (which are not necessarily entailed in science) just do not seem convincing to me, or to millions of others. And yes, one day, when you stand before your maker, you will find out whether you were right or wrong.

    You say that you will never be convinced by me (or others). What you are really saying is that you have in effect closed your mind on this issue, and are unwilling to follow the evidence where it leads. That is a worrying (and very unscientific) place to be in. For your sake, I pray that you do stay open-minded. Those who seek the truth will find it, but those who choose not to believe really just seal their own fate.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. “God by definition is an uncaused being.”

    Says who? God? Again, nicely convenient.

    Chris Mayer

  17. Alan Simpson is wrong about miracles. They are better described as additions to the laws of physics. And he argues in a circle: he disbelieves the accounts because they report miracles, but disbelieves the miracles because he doubts the accounts. See also Miracles and Science.

    His example of winning the lottery is just another typical evolutionary fallacy of cheating with chance. There is a very high probability that someone will win the lotto, but a tiny chance that a sequence of amino acids will combine into a viable protein.

    About the origin of life, even if all the necessary building blocks could arise in a hypothetical primordial soup (of which not the slightest geochemical evidence has been found), which they can’t, the laws of chemistry work against them combining at all, let alone in the right sequence.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  18. Thanks Chris

    Says just about everyone who has dealt with these questions, going back at least as far as the classical Greek philosophers. But your dogged determination to cling in faith to your anti-metaphysical ideology evidently means you are unfamiliar with, or ignorant of, 2,500 years of intellectual history.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  19. Ahh, of course. Everyone says God is an uncaused being, so it must be so.
    Chris Mayer

  20. Chris

    You said “How convenient for you. You are allowed to have something uncaused as the base of your entire belief system, but nobody else is.”

    Atheists of recent times have had an uncaused cause of everything, they called it the universe. Bertrand Russell was an example here, he said something like “the universe is just there”, meaning it doesn’t require explanation.

    There needs to be a stopping point somewhere or else you get an absurd infinite regress. We know from Big Bang cosmology and the Kalam cosmological argument that the universe had a beginning and therefore needs a cause, so the universe can not be the uncaused cause.

    Even if the universe was infinite it is still contigent and requires explanation. There needs to be an explanation for the order in the universe, and an infinite universe won’t explain this.

    “You also state ‘God by definition is an uncaused being.’ Says who? God? Again, nicely convenient.”

    God is uncaused because he exists outside of time, therefore he is exempt from needing a cause. A being that exists outside of time doesn’t begin to exist and thus doesn’t need a cause.

    Damien Spillane

  21. Thanks Chris

    Of course truth claims are not ultimately determined by majority opinion. But the issue here is the pomposity of one who in effect says he is the intellectual superior to Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Kant and thousands of other world-class thinkers. Your ignorance of and disdain for two and a half millennia of intellectual tradition simply shows the shallowness of atheism, and its intellectual arrogance.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  22. Bill,
    I’m totally open-minded when it comes to tangible evidence. The problem that Christianity (or any other religion) has is that there is no tangible evidence, and certainly no source of possible new information during the last few thousand years.

    The other problem that modern Christianity has is the alarming tendency to treat modern biology, geology and astronomy as a monstrous humanist conspiracy. Any thinking, spiritually questing people who are not already believers are likely to be driven away by this attitude.

    St. Augustine identified this same problem 1600 years ago when he said:
    “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth … But it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

    It’s a serious problem for Christianity today as it slides further and further into the abyss of ignorance and antagonism towards the progress of human knowledge.

    Alan Simpson, Queensland

  23. Thanks Alan

    But what do you mean by tangible evidence? If it is only that which can be measured by the five sense, or observed and repeated today, that rules out not only most of the really important things in life, such as love, justice and beauty, but also any view of origin science you might have. This is an unnecessarily restrictive understanding of proof and evidence.

    And believers do not mind an objective approach to modern biology, geology and astronomy. In fact, in all these fields they find great reason to posit an intelligent creator, not blind, random chance.

    As to evidence of Christianity, it is there for those who are open to it, but if one’s mind is already made up by a pre-commitment to naturalism, then one will not be convinced. Jesus said the same to unbelieving Jews of his day: even if someone came back from the dead they will still not believe (Luke 16:31).

    As long as one’s mind is closed to the possibility that their naturalism is reductionistic and an epistemological straightjacket, they simply will not be convinced.

    The heart of Christianity is Christ. There is enough evidence for his life, death and resurrection for any genuine seeker to explore. True scientists will follow the evidence wherever it leads.

    And you keep bringing up the old canard about Christianity retarding human knowledge and dwelling in ignorance, when the exact opposite is the case. As I have documented elsewhere, minds as great and diverse as Oppenheimer and Whitehead have argued that it is exactly because of the Christian worldview that modern science developed in the first place. Indeed, a large number of the great names in science have been Christians, from Newton, Kepler, Boyle, Faraday and Maxwell of earlier times to people such as John Collins of the Human Genome Project today.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  24. Alan

    I dare say your objection to Christians denying biology, geology and astronomy is mostly aimed at Young Earth Creationists. I would propose however, that not all Christians are YEC. You should keep that in mind.

    The Augustine quote is a good one, and one that ought to be taken on board by many Christians today. My advice to you however, is not to paint all Christians with the same brush.

    Though Bill’s comments are instructive too.

    Damien Spillane

  25. That is disingenuous of you Damien to imply that YECs deny “biology, geology and astronomy”. YECs do not deny any facts, just the naturalistic interpretations of those facts. And Augustine is no comfort to those old-earthers who like to invoke him to support their view.

    ‘Let us, then, omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race. … They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed.’ Augustine, Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World’s Past, De Civitate Dei (The City of God), 12(10).

    In fact none of the early church leaders and reformers can be invoked to support belief in an old earth.

    And since Damien you are a progressive creationist who rejects Darwinian evolution, Alan would presumably also accuse you of “denying biology”, so your comments would not be convincing to him in any case.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  26. Bill,

    Abstract concepts such as love and beauty are within the everyday experience of humans, and are not totally divorced from the senses. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some even say God is love, and that’s fine with me, but a postulation that there exists an intelligent, supernatural, personal being requires evidence beyond merely a “god of the gaps” answer to life’s mysteries. That’s how all ancient gods were created by humans. And a God that is supposedly capable of creating the physical universe must certainly be capable of providing unequivocal tangible evidence of his existence. Note that I said unequivocal.

    As to origin science, contrary to your implication there is much tangible evidence that Biblical explanations are wrong. As just one example, we can observe stellar evolution in progress in a process that takes millions of years. The Biblical story that God simply waved his magic wand and created the Sun, Earth, other planets and stars over a few days is quite obviously nonsense.

    You are being disingenuous with your claim that believers “do not mind an objective approach to modern biology, geology and astronomy”. Many Christians find conflict between the objective findings of science and their presupposition that the Bible is inerrant throughout, some of your own correspondents being a case in point.

    Naturalism is not reductionistic, rather it is parsimonious, as in Occam’s Razor principle. A natural explanation must be assumed unless and until there is unequivocal evidence of the supernatural. I’ll certainly believe if someone ever indisputably comes back from the dead, or if there is definitive evidence that the human consciousness survives death. There is none.

    As for the origins of modern science, you need to surely acknowledge the contributions of the Hellenic world, India, China, Mesopotamia, and more recently Islamic science. The scientific revolution of the middle ages in Europe was heavily influenced by Galileo and we know what problems he had with the Christian leaders of that era. The fact that some great scientists of the past were Christians does not demonstrate that their Christianity was a driving force in their work. In fact we can only speculate whether their faith would survive if they had today’s knowledge.

    I assume you meant to refer to Francis Collins rather than John Collins in relation to the Genome Project. If so, you must know that Collins is a theistic evolutionist. He differs from atheistic scientists only in relation to the first cause.

    The fact remains that there is increasing tension between science and today’s Christianity with the trend to fundamentalism and unscientific ideas like intelligent design. Young Earth beliefs and progressive creationism are quite simply out of step with empirical science. If this trend continues, Christianity will increasingly be regarded as a primitive throwback to the superstitions of the past.

    Alan Simpson, Queensland

  27. Thanks Alan

    Many of your points I have answered here or elsewhere, and many of my points you have avoided or eluded. As to Collins, I have mentioned elsewhere that Christians hold to differing views regarding the age of the earth. Your attempt to pit science and fact against faith and religion is a false dichotomy which I and others have already discussed. Thus I repeat: it seems that you have made up your mind, and no amount of evidence will convince you otherwise. I will however continue to pray for you.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  28. Alan says that the Christian view of origins is “quite simply out of step with empirical science. If this trend continues, Christianity will increasingly be regarded as a primitive throwback to the superstitions of the past.”

    If the first part of this statement were true then the concluding part would be also, but fortunately Alan is completely wrong. As Bill and others have been saying over and over, it is a false dichotomy to pit science and fact against faith and religion. There is NO conflict between empirical science and the Biblical account of Creation. When comparing naturalistic myths about origins with the Biblical Creation account, what we have is not science versus religion but more accurately religion versus religion. It is simply the case that Alan (like most evolutionists) is blind to his naturalistic presuppositions which taint his view of the world. Until he recognises that he is beholden to the dogma of philosophical naturalism then he will never be the objectivist that he thinks he is.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  29. I don’t want to irresponsibly take this trend of discussion off topic, however, it seems as though some are getting entangled in a web of scientific justification.

    The majority of this people who live in this world, don’t wake up each morning and think to themselves, “I wonder how the sequence of a chain of amino acids is organised?”…Sure some are captivated by science and it ways, however I am coming from another angle, and forgive my scientific ignorance, but the upcoming generation (as a whole) don’t give a flying rip about these issues. They are searching for evidence that is based on results that hit the emotional strings, not the brain. Call this generalisation; just turn on your television and see what shows have the highest ratings, the shows that people connect to emotionally. One cannot simply provide long winded arguments to prove that God doesn’t exist, without trying it for themselves. This is the same principle with anything; a devout wine connoisseur cannot claim they despise beer unless they have in fact tried beer.

    “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.” -C.S Lewis

    Jesse Chatelier

  30. Dear Mr. Dawkins. Suppose we take this simple analogy; Let us look at the cow. Whichever direction we look at it, it remains a cow. Whether you look at it from the rear or the front or any particular angle, it will remain a cow.
    Now when you look at Jesus Christ, from any given point and throughout the Bible, He is flawless, and it does not matter how many views, opinions and suggestions you put in your books will change the fact that Christ Jesus, was anointed of God, a child born to us and given to us, and whose government of heaven is on His shoulders. His name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Emmanuel, God with us.
    I know it does not matter how much I quote the Bible, but its people like you and Saul of Tarsus, who saw the light one day on his was to Damascus, that God wants to show His Kingdom.
    Albert Kamau

  31. Alan,
    You say that the problem with modern Christianity is the alarming tendency to treat modern biology, geology and astronomy as a monstrous humanist conspiracy. But i disagree. As a Christian i believe that science, biology, geology, and astronomy are all needed to advance in society. The medical advancements made within the ‘science world’ have been phenomenal. How sweet it would be to find a cure for cancer. But then on the other hand science isn’t the be all and end all. I think what you see as ‘a problem with modern christianity’ is that we don’t believe in science as a god as many atheists do. But we see it merely as a tool for advancement.
    Thanks mate for your time.
    Caleb Podhaczky

  32. Jesse Chatelier may be right about the widespread emotionalism in modern society, but wrong about the need to pander to it. There are many biblical passages about the need to have the mind of Christ and to love God with our mind, give reasons, demolish arguments—see What? A Christian mind?.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  33. Thanks Jonathan,

    I agree that we must not neglect the use of our minds in all things that we do, i just felt to throw another angle in there…i definitely think that science is needed to help understand this complex world that we live in.
    Jesse Chatelier

  34. Science grew out of a biblical framework, because only this provides the necessary presuppositions:

    The universe is real (because it was created—Genesis 1), not an illusion as New Agers believe.

    The universe is orderly, because God is a God of order not of confusion—1 Corinthians 14:33. But if there is no creator, or if Zeus and his gang were in charge, why should there be any order at all? If some Eastern religions were right that the universe is a great thought, then it could change its mind any moment.

    Man can and should investigate the world, because God gave us dominion over His creation (Genesis 1:28); creation is not divine.

    Man can initiate thoughts and actions; they are not fully determined by deterministic laws of brain chemistry. This is a deduction from the biblical teaching that man has both a material and immaterial aspect (e.g. Genesis 35:18, 1 Kings 17:21–22, Matthew 10:28).

    Man can think rationally and logically, and that logic itself is objective. This is a deduction from the fact that he was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27), and from the fact that Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the logos. But if evolution were true, then there would be selection only for survival advantage, not rationality.

    Results should be reported honestly, because God has forbidden false witness (Exodus 20:16). But if evolution were true, then why not lie?

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  35. This book is fantastically irritating to read. It is difficult for me to take seriously any work that refers to biblical quotations as ‘hard evidence’. The hypocrisy in the author’s accusations that Dawkins’ assertions are unsubstantiated seems hilariously ironic. I found myself checking off most of his own arguments as unsubstantiated.

    On the subject of the resurrection I guess Dawkins may have missed something important – but I can understand why. The thought of it had not even crossed my mind because, to non-Christians, the very idea of the resurrection is utterly preposterous. The argument for God comes down to unsubstantiated miracles and religious scripture.

    Christian’s have the luxury of being able to accept religious scripture as truth (or at least pick and choose the bits they like or consider relevant to their lives). Non-religious people have to interpret scripture with care because there are so many from different faiths. They can’t all be correct. What happens when different scriptures contain inconsistencies that, through logic, violate the idea that that scripture is inerrant? (e.g. Genesis 1/Genesis 2).

    I’m sorry but the argument about the empty tomb is so flimsy it’s hardly worth acknowledging – but here goes. OK – so there was an empty tomb. Where is it? If the oral/scriptural tradition is so strong where is the physical evidence. The fact that the gospels were written by disciples other than those immediate to Jesus is evidence against the historicity of the bible not for it. In addition – there are inconsistencies in the resurrection story. Read them.

    Where the book completely falls on it’s face is on the science. Reading this I was embarrassed. The author clearly does not know what he is talking about in this area. Firstly, a minor point. The author discusses the length of a DNA ‘string’. How long is a piece of string? The terminology here is essentially incorrect and serves to illustrate the authors ignorance of the subject – which invalidates the point he was trying to make regarding amount of information.


    The evolution of biological life from nonbiological life must have taken a number of key jumps. These events must have occurred by chance. Two key examples are; nonbiotic synthesis replicted in the Miller experiments in which nucleic acids and amino acids are synthesised spontaneously in primeval earth conditions, and the endosymbiotic theory which constitutes part of the evolution of the eukaryotic cell which is supported by comparative genomics of organelle genomes with that of nuclear and prokaryotic genomes. It only takes a bit of scientific knowledge and imagination to see how these could happen.

    Evolution by natural selection is, however, more than just chance. The monkey and the typewriter analogy is greatly misused by the author and it is a topic that has been dealt with by Dawkins at length in his own work. The point is this: it is massively improbable that a monkey would type the complete works of Shakespeare but if by chance a correct key is pressed in the correct location that character is kept and passed on to the next generation in a model of evolution. Therefore seeming complexity can be reached much faster than just by pure chance.

    The author’s treatment of ID/creationism and irreducible complexity destroys the credibility of his research in this area. The neodarwinian theory of evolution by natural selection which encompasses modern genetics provides a framework into which all biology fits. The evidence is so compelling: multiple genome projects show that all life is related, life is a continuum and provide rigorous phylogenies. Transitionry fossils are still being discovered (e.g. archeaoptyrix) not to mention transitionary animals alive today (e.g. mudskippers and lungfish). Human chromosome 2 contains internal telomeric regions and two centromeres. This along with comparison of genetic content illustrates that the Chromosome is a fusion of two chromosomes found in the rest of the ape family. This is a direct molecular fossil that illustrates man’s descent from apes and accounts for the discrepancy in chromosome number between species. For more information and the demolishing of Michael Behe’s irreducible complexity see the Dover trial. The observation that certain commentators are unable to explain such interesting phenomenon as the bombardier beatles suggests they have not thought hard enough.

    On a personal note it’s spelt premise, not premiss.

    Tom Roberts

  36. Thanks Tom

    Your lengthy comment (keep in mind my commenting rules!) raises too many points to be properly replied to in a short comment. And if you already reject what Wilson has to say, you will probably not find my remarks any more convincing. But let me just pick up on a few points you make.

    The resurrection in particular and miracles in general will of course be dismissed out of hand if one has a philosophical precommitment to naturalism. But that is not something determined by science, but is a faith commitment. If you rule something out ahead of time, then no amount of contrary evidence will seem convincing. The truth is, the best explanation for the empty tomb is the resurrection.

    As to religious texts, in one sense, a person weighs them up like anything else. One compares the various scriptures, and seeks to determine which are the most cohesive and coherent. Christians must also carefully interpret Scripture. But an honest and careful assessment of the Bible will find that the supposed contradictions or anomalies are really nothing of the sort.

    But again, it all comes down to whether one comes to these issues with an open mind and a willingness to follow the evidence where it may lead (as former atheist Antony Flew has done), or whether one’s mind is already made up, and the door has been closed as to learning new truth or coming up with different conclusions.

    As to the Archaeopteryx (note the proper spelling), let me cite just one authority: Dr Alan Feduccia, an evolutionist and world authority on birds, argues that this is a true bird with flight feathers, not a transitional form or a missing link.

    And BTW, premiss is a perfectly acceptable alternative spelling, used by most non-Americans.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  37. Tom, you appear to have made a number of ‘faith statements’ in your dissertation. Statements that represent assumptions rather than either verifiable evidence or logical reasoning:

    “The evolution of biological life from nonbiological life must have taken a number of key jumps. These events must have occurred by chance.”

    “…if by chance a correct key is pressed in the correct location that character is kept and passed on to the next generation in a model of evolution. Therefore seeming complexity can be reached much faster than just by pure chance.”

    “The neodarwinian theory of evolution by natural selection which encompasses modern genetics provides a framework into which all biology fits.”

    Do I need to wonder what religion you adhere to?

    John Angelico

  38. Thanks for your responses,

    To John,
    You could argue I have a faith position but I don’t really agree. Anyway that’s largely irrelevant. The three statements you highlight are accepted facts in the scientific community. I’ll elaborate. Point two is a description of a model for examining a biological phenomenon. There is no faith element in that statement. The model is the work of Dawkins et al. and is described in detail in the blind watchmaker. Point one is pretty much lifted from John Maynard Smith’s Origin of Life. It is admittedly a sweeping statement but behind it are multiple scientific theories/hypothesis and numerous experimental data. The statement is an inference based upon these theories and data. An example:

    Eukaryotic cells (i.e. from higher organisms) contain organelles (chloroplasts, mitochondira, lysosomes etc.) within them which resemble prokaryotic (i.e. lower organisms) cells. The endosymbiotic theory suggests that that one cell was able to engulf another (something which occurs regularaly under some circumstances) and a symbiotic relationship developed between them as the host took advantage of new chemistries now available to it. Certain cells were able to accumulate different combinations of organelles and these became the precursors to the kingdoms of the eukarya. Studies of nuclear and organelle genomes support this theory as do the cellular ultrastructures from electron microscopy. There are some problems and ambiguities with the theory but these are probably beyond the scope of the discussion here. The evidence available points to the evolution of higher organisms from lower organisms. This theory outlines one of the stages in that evolution. The statement that there ‘must be key steps’ is one of fact within this theory.

    The third point of mine that you highlight is my opinion. However, it is based upon my contact and work with people within the scientific community and my reading on the subject. There are too many examples to quote here. (I will if you like).

    To Bill,

    There are many other transitional fossils available i.e. ambulolectus, tiktaalik and lower hominids.

    If I have a faith position I like to think that it is built up from first principles. The burden of proof that anything ‘is’ (beyond the immediate reality experienced by the individual) is with the proponent. I have not ruled out a resurrection – I just have not been satisfied by the evidence for it. (The burden of proof is on you to show that it did happen – not me to disprove it).

    I was being facetious about the spelling of premise in order to promote a debate. (It did annoy me though when reading the book).

    I suggest that anyone interested read Alistair McGrath’s Dawkins’ God which makes the Wilson’s offering look like a colouring book.

    Tom Roberts

  39. Thanks Tom

    True to form, when an atheist objection is answered, instead of saying, sorry, maybe I should rethink my position, the atheist just throws out more objections, hoping that will save the day. Anything but allowing the evidence to lead where it may. It is just as atheist Lewontin admits, “we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” Atheists simply will not allow the God hypothesis, so they keep ignoring the evidence in order to adhere to their naturalistic ideology. Honest atheists like Flew knew that was a bogus position. That is why he eventually found it necessary to renounce his reductionist naturalism, and reject his own atheism.

    But you are right on two fronts: yes, we all operate from first principles. It is a question of which worldview is the most coherent and consistent. Philosophical naturalism certainly scores very poorly on both fronts. Indeed, the burden of proof should lie with those making the negative claims: there is no God, there is no free will, there is no consciousness, there is no right and wrong, there is no such thing as love, beauty, truth, value, meaning, purpose, etc. All these things are entailed in the worldview of naturalism. They are all, as Lewontin admits, “counter-intuitive”.

    And you are right that fellow Oxford academic McGrath has done a good job of dissecting Dawkins in his book Dawkins’ God. I have reviewed that here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2005/02/02/a-review-of-dawkins%e2%80%99-god-genes-memes-and-the-meaning-of-life-by-alister-mcgrath/

    And McGrath also did a critique of The God Delusion, called The Dawkins Delusion? My review is found here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/03/20/a-review-of-the-dawkins-delusion-by-alister-mcgrath/

    And by the way, McGrath of course was once an atheist and a Marxist himself, simply adding to the millions of heavy weight scholars and intellectuals who have embraced Christianity, even after being raised as non-believers.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  40. Tom Roberts is resorting to the typical misotheistic tactic of elephant hurling. But see the following responses:

    Birds: fliers from the beginning (re archeaoptyrix[sic, already corrected to Archaeopteryx)
    Tiktaalik roseae—a fishy ‘missing link’
    A whale of a tale? (re ambulolectus [sic, actually Ambulocetus. For someone who whinges about spelling, even when correct (premiss), this christophobe’s own spelling is hardly the best])
    Fossil evidence for alleged apemen—Part 2: non-Homo hominids
    Mitochondria—created to energize us (problems with endosymbiont theory)
    Misotheist’s misology: Richard Dawkins attacks Michael Behe including a section on how absurd it is to rely on a judge lacking in scientific qualifications as an “authority” on whether ID is science.
    Alleged contradictions in the resurrection narratives
    Does Genesis offer two contradictory creation accounts?

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  41. Thanks again.

    I find the attitude of some of the responses very interesting. I posted on here because I wished to have a debate. When someone states a point in an argument it is not traditional for the opponent to suddenly give up there side and apologise unless they agree with what has been said. I was responding to accusations about what I had said and trying to clarify my points. Needless to say I did not agree with the counter argument.

    The ‘Oh…just another close minded atheist/naturalist etc.’ is an interesting comment also. Why would I be reading these works if I had already made up my mind. No true scientist works in that way. I thought a debate on the subject might bring to light new information and ideas and promote further discussion and to an extent that has been the case.

    Another interesting point is that I have no made explicitly clear my point of view/belief system/worldview and my detractors seemed to have jumped to conclusions. The reason for this is firstly, that it is largely irrelevant, and secondly, that the purpose of my post was to critique what, in my opinion, is a poorly written critique rife with scientific errors. (Incidentally, Wilson’s discussion of the bombardier beetle is wrong to the point of being misleading).

    I highlight the McGrath book because, as far as I can tell, there are no scientific errors and it is a thoughtfully constructed critique of Dawkins that raises some very interesting points. Not to say that I agree with him on everything. I won’t bother posting on your other reviews Bill as they concern the same subject as this page.

    The fact that people who were once atheists such as Flew and McGrath have become religious is not a supporting argument and I will not patronise readers with the reciprocal.

    I feel slightly like a straw man in the accusation that I do not believe in ‘free will, consciousness, right and wrong, love, beauty, truth, value, meaning, purpose’. I have not made any such statement so I have no need to respond.

    The ‘whinging’ about spelling was not meant to be taken quite so seriously. As you can see my spelling is fairly bad, especially with some scientific terms.

    I notice that all the contradictory evidence offered by Jonathon Sarfati links to creationontheweb.com or tektonics.org and that these pages link to scientific journal articles of which some I have read. I think this demonstrates the transparency in scientific publication in that scientists are generally quite frank about the limitations in their work and the problems that may arise. However, I do not believe that the content has been fairly represented by the apologetics sites.

    I will respond to the endosymbiosis issue as it is close to my own heart. The article is speculative and in places and misrepresents the views of the scientists in claims to be representing. As I mentioned there are problems with the theory. Most importantly that organelles are not totally independent. However, there is no reason to suggest that this should be the case. It seems clear to me that redundant genes (e.g. mitochondrial genes with equivalent nuclear genes) would be selected against by evolution. In fact some organelles contain non-functional pseudogenes that once encoded important proteins and are now in the process of ‘becoming lost’. More difficult is the idea of possible transfer of genetic information between organelle and nucleus. There is no known mechanism (to my knowledge) of this although I could suggest hypothetical means (this would, of course, be purely speculative). Genomic analysis suggests that mitochondria and chloroplasts are relatives of the modern day purple non-sulphur eubacteria and cyanobacteria. The structures and membrane topolgies of cellular organelles resemble bacteria. Their genes are clustered, often in regulatory operon-like units (as in bacteria). There genomes are generally (yes-there are exceptions) circular, membrane anchored and non-histone complexed as in bacteria. The membrane lipid compositions resemble that of prokaryotes. The semi-autonomous (self-replicating) nature of oragelles and the double membrane surrounding them is also supportive of the endosymbiotic theory.

    The non-universality of the genetic code is well known. It is not evidence against evolution. It is evidence for the code evolving more than once. Here the different codon usage of motichondrial DNA suggests that they were once another separate species.

    The reason why organelles still retain their genomes is probably patrtly for efficiency (as stated in the creationontheweb article presumably correctly) but also stems from the different codon usage resulting in this genetic material to being selected for. In other words it is written in the ‘wrong language’ for the nucleus to utilise or fully replace. It may also be a result of ‘selfish’ DNA elements ‘promoting’ their own survival.

    The creationontheweb article’s handling of ‘junk’ DNA or intronic DNA is totally bogus in my opinion. I’ll discuss it if people want.

    Tom Roberts

  42. Thanks Tom

    We can only go on what you have thus far said. It would be good if you declare your hand here. If you are not an atheist – fine, say so. If you are an agnostic, which is a far more intellectually respectable (and humble) position to hold, then let us know.

    If you do not like the assumptions being made, then seek to be a bit more transparent here. But if you are in fact a naturalist – which we are picking up by reading through the lines – then my remarks still hold. There is no place in the philosophical naturalist’s worldview for anything immaterial, be it the self, the mind, love, altruism or aesthetics. Thus it is not a straw man whatsoever.

    And worldviews are not irrelevant at all. They determine everything. So if you want a proper debate, fine. But then begin by being candid about where you are coming from. No one is just a disinterested, unbiased and purely objective observer of life. We all have philosophical starting points, and we all must ask the really important questions in life. This is not a game, and life and death issues are at stake in what a person believes.

    You know our starting point, obviously, so help us out by ‘fessing up to yours, thanks. I look forward to your next instalment

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  43. Much as it pains me to I have to refuse your offer Bill. I am not going to divulge my philosophical standing and undertake in ‘soapbox ranting’. My reasoning for this is two fold.

    Firstly, whereas our worldviews obviously shape our opinions and it may be true that there is no such thing as completely objective viewpoint I believe that a robust argument does not rest upon that worldview but is capable of standing alone.

    Secondly, by informing you of my philosophical inclination I would undoubtedly provide you and others with a yardstick with which to attack me and thus a diversion from the debate at hand. This has already happened and I have not even ‘shown my hand’.

    I do object somewhat to Jonathan Saharti’s use of the word misotheistic and christophobe towards me as being somewhat ad hominem and not really in the spirit in which the discussion was started. I find his writing on abiogenesis quite interesting.

    I must admit I had no idea of the content of this website when I wrote the first response to your review of Wilson. I simply wanted to get off my chest some of the grievances I had with the book.

    One thing I have made absolutely clear is my support for the current scientific consensus on the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution etc etc. I particularly am opposed to misrepresentations of scientific evidence by creationist groups. The case that I outlined above is a classic example. On many points the creationontheweb.com article on endosymbiosis is good because it highlights the shortcomings of a theory in a highly dynamic area of evolutionary research. However, the article is, in my opinion, simply a synthesis of points made in various articles by the authors themselves regarding the limitations of the theory and gaps in our current understanding. To gather these together and to exclude the kind of evidence I have listed above so as to present an argument for creation (or rather against evolution) is not in the ‘spirit’ and tone of the original publications and amounts to a fraud. This is the kind of faulty thinking that pervades much of the so-called creation ‘science’ I have encountered (Kent Hovind being the most ridiculous of which) and the reason that it is not taken seriously by the scientific community.

    I would very much like to talk more about this and related ideas (but I fear this will not be so).

    Two quick questions to Bill (respectfully acknowledging that I declined to answer his):

    1. You clearly promote the ideas of Alister McGrath on this site but his views seem to be at peace with the scientific community and evolution whereas you appear to be a design proponent. If so, how do you reconcile this? Is it a case of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ Re: Dawkins?
    2. I do not follow the logic of the statement that naturalism (probably need a brief definition for my benefit) necessarily excludes self, free will, mind, love, beauty etc. Could you clarify please?

    Tom Roberts

  44. We are supposed to be impressed with the bald asserions of a dogmatic misotheist like Tom Roberts?

    Endosymbiosis begins with the assumption that evolution is true, then tries to find facts to fit. E.g. similarities are used as proof, difficulties explained away. But then turning it around as proof of evolution is chutzpah.

    Good grief, evolution was alleged to have predicted a universal genetic code. but then, when exceptions are found, that is apparently also a prediction. Heads = win to evolution; tails = loss for creation. Of course, changing genetic codes would be like switching letters on your keyboard: the message would become garbled.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  45. Thanks Tom

    But your hesitancy to admit where you are coming from is both confusing and unhelpful. It is like playing a card game with someone who refuses to disclose his hand. One does not get very far in such a situation. But as I say, a person’s worldview is vitally important for many reasons, including having a fair and proper debate.

    Let’s say you wanted to have an honest debate about pornography for example. It would make a huge difference to the debate if you gave full disclosure as to whether you were a member of the porn industry, or an official government censor. So your unwillingness to come clean here will certainly skew the debate somewhat.

    As to McGrath, there is no discrepancy. Both he and Wilson are Christians, and both believe that God created the world, instead of it coming about by chance and accident, without purpose and direction. Christians can and do differ on some aspects, but both these men accept the fact that God is the creator and upholder of the universe.

    And I have already said that a worldview that rules out a priori the nonmaterial or nonphysical has no logical basis whatsoever for understanding nonmaterial things. Indeed, they do not exist in a naturalist worldview. My point is, ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences.

    If you start off with a faulty worldview, it will lead to all kinds of bad thinking about various issues. So I am trying to get you to examine your own worldview (which for some reason you refuse to disclose here) in order to get you to see if it is coherent and consistent.

    For example, let’s say you are a full blown naturalist, and a lecturer, and you spend your day telling your students that only matter matters, and things such as love are really no more than chemical reactions in the brain. Then let’s say you go home and tell your wife, “I love you”. She probably wants to know that this is more than mere chemical reactions. Your marriage won’t last long if you are a consistent naturalist.

    I have written about the reductionism of scientism elsewhere:

    So as I say, if you really want an honest debate, then starting to be honest with us here would be a good place to begin.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  46. Scientists are not having it both ways Jonathan. If a ‘universal code from evolution’ hypothesis existed (which is quite reasonable – I’m afraid I don’t know the history of this) it has now been conclusively disproved by experimental evidence. The theory has thus had to be modified to accommodate new information. Although the genetic code used by humans is widespread across much of nature there are exceptions. These have been hypothesised to have evolved separately or arisen as results of divergences from ‘our’ code or vice-versa. The experimental evidence supports this. Firstly, the ‘universal’ and ‘exception’ codes are very similar. Codon distribution is not random with similar codons encoding similar types of amino acid. Genes shared by very distantly related organisms seem to be written in a more ‘simple’ version of the genetic code as we know it whereby some amino acids are excluded. This suggests that the code may not have evolved sufficiently to include all of the ~20 amino acids common to proteins earlier in prehistory. As evolution describes the gradual development of complexity from simple origins it is unsurprising that there should be more than one version of the genetic code.

    This hypothesis-disproof-new hypothesis is the way science works. Darwin made numerous errors in his work such as elements of Lamarckism, blending inheritance and use/disuse inheritance that, with subsequent evidence and understanding, have been refuted.

    Your keys on a keyboard analogy is too simplistic to refer to this phenomenon Jonathan. A better analogy might be of a computer operating system. Let’s say that most organisms use one OS (the so called ‘universal’ genetic code). Over time new versions of the OS come out and there are problems with backwards compatibility. If you transferred information from one OS to another a computer might not be able to handle it correctly. However, the information is not lost.

    To go back to biological terms; let’s say that gene A is transferred from one situation of codon usage to another. Gene A still carries information but it is read in a different way so as produce a new protein that is very likely to be non-functional. This gene will most likely be selected against and may be lost completely. However, the negative selection may simply deactivate the promoter of the gene so that it is not transcribed. Gene A becomes a pseudogene and is effectively passenger DNA and not acted upon by selection. It may therefore accumulate mutations and may one day become a functional gene. The reactivation may require some kind of faulty excision of a transpositional viral element in order to place it in the vicinity of an active promoter.

    This account is speculative: here is some evidence.
    1) Pseudogenes are observable
    2) Most of the human genome does not code for protein (~99%)
    3) Gene duplication is a common mechanism of evolution – similar to the selection argument I have used here (for an example see the various chains of human haemoglobin)
    4) Viral transpositional elements are common (the human genome is littered with viral Alu (and other) sequences)
    5) Faulty excision of viral elements is a well described

    There is no evolutionary reason why other OS (e.g. MAC OS and LINUX – analogous to alternative genetic codes) could not exist also.

    For the sake of this argument you can assume I am a naturalist Bill – although I am a bit confused as to your definition. I’ll define it as a belief that science can ‘explain everything’ within reason. This is not necessarily my point of view. I am playing devil’s advocate.

    There is much evidence to suggest that human emotions arise as a result of electrical brain activity and biochemistry. For example, performing a frontal lobe lobotomy results in a severe loss of higher brain function. Different regions of the brain have been linked with different functionalities (including emotion) such as Broca’s area, found to be absent in many speech deficient individuals post mortem. Similarly, functional MRI data have shown different areas of the brain ‘light up’ with electrical activity when certain specific tasks are performed or in response to (emotional) stimuli. Mood altering drugs such as prozac pharmacologically alter the way in which an individual experiences emotion. This evidence suggests to me that human consciousness is the biological sum of the parts. Please bear in mind that this is not my area of expertise and, as I understand it, there are still many gaps in ‘our’ knowledge.

    However, in many respects I like to think that brain function is more than the sum of the parts when considering the human experience. For example, a human being can become self-aware, ‘de-centre’, empathise with other individuals, feel compassion for them and behave in an altruistic manner. The fact that these characteristics may have a biological basis and maybe even selection pressures for them to evolve does not necessarily diminish their significance. As human beings I believe that awareness of our brain chemistry and neurology does not detract from the human experience and if anything enhances it. For example, if we believe that altruistic behaviour has arisen as a result of selection (i.e. kin selection and reciprocal altruism) and yet we still choose to be kind to someone not related to us and with no desire for reciprocation is that not a fantastic human achievement? I am strongly of the belief that our lives are not determined by our genes and we have the freedom to make our own choices (as too, incidentally, does Dawkins). I would also like to stress the human ability to create (e.g. art) which may be a by-product of our consciousness and intelligence which transcends the sum of the parts idea.

    Tom Roberts

  47. Thanks Tom

    So we take it then that you are not married. Imagine coming home and your wife asks you, “Do you love me Tom?” And Tom says, “Well, actually love is nothing more than ‘electrical brain activity’. And to be honest, there is no ‘I’ or nonmaterial self which makes me a person, and for that matter, there is no ‘you’ either. All we are is molecules in motion.”

    While no one denies that there is a connection between brain and mind, between physical states and mental states, the reductionism of naturalism is simply absurd. We are more than mere matter. We are more than physical. Not only do theists reject the reductionism of both scientism and naturalism, but so do most philosophers and most human beings simply going on common sense.

    The commitment to the materialist worldview demands too high of a price, and no one can live that way consistently anyhow. Again, I urge you to candidly and carefully examine your presuppositions here. In your desperate desire to keep God out of your life, you have to posit a worldview which is neither coherent nor consistent. It does not explain the world we live in. Indeed, it makes us deny reality.

    If we are all merely the products of a materialistic process of natural selection, then it is simply your genes or memes making you argue for your naturalism, while it is simply my genes or memes making me argue for by supernaturalism. In which case, end of story. Why waste our breath?

    And sorry, but not only is altruism not compatible with strict naturalism, but certainly non-reciprocal altruism is not. Sacrificial love which seeks nothing in return makes absolutely no sense in a materialistic universe of the survival of the fittest, but makes perfect sense in the theistic worldview, where we are created in the image of a loving and self-giving God.

    Dawkins is simply being inconsistent here when he speaks of free will. He cannot hold to free will and at the same time make claims such as this: “The universe is nothing but a collection of atoms in motion, human beings are simply machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self-sustaining process. It is every living object’s sole reason for living.”

    More honest naturalists/atheists like Francis Crick should rather be heeded for the sake of consistency: “The astonishing hypothesis is that you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will are, in fact, no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules”

    And if you are really interested in exploring these things further, instead of just pushing an agenda from a mind already made up, then you might have a look at Australian philosopher David Stove’s Darwinian Fairytales (1995, 2006), or English philosopher Mary Midgley’s Evolution as a Religion (1985, 2006), or neuroscientist Mario Beauregard’s The Spiritual Brain (2007).

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  48. 2. I do not follow the logic of the statement that naturalism (probably need a brief definition for my benefit) necessarily excludes self, free will, mind, love, beauty etc. Could you clarify please?

    Hi Tom,

    I’ll have a stab at it (although, please note, I am not trained in philosophy, I just read it for ‘fun’). Firstly, one of the best references I have found for definitions of philosophical issues (whether terms, or beliefs) is the Plato server at Stanford in the USA:


    Typical of most areas of philosophy, “naturalism” covers a variety of positions … e.g. various sub-categories of ontological and methodological naturalism. You might like to peruse the site above and see which category (or categories) your particular set of beliefs falls within (if any).

    But to the layman, its really quite simple. Broadly speaking, the naturalist thinks that the physical universe is all there is. We have energy, matter, really nothing more than that. The human mind is just an artifact of a particular combination of energy+matter which we call the human brain. The idea of a spiritual realm, where a mind could exist without needing a physical (energy/matter) representation, is rejected.

    Lets say you accept a broadly naturalistic position. Odds are you are then likely to be reductionist … meaning that your thoughts are the stirrings of energy/matter in your brain, the idea that something is beautiful can be reduced to “that brain state which causes me to think something is beautiful” … if you see what I mean. In other words, this conversation we are now having, is really just particular combinations of letters on a page which were put there because certain blobs of energy/matter (namely, Tom’s brain and Steve’s brain) had certain states at certain times.

    Now not all naturalists will necessarily agree with all that, and that is where all the philosophical nuances come in. There are various positions on questions of free will and so on. Hard to nail down. But broadly speaking, I think it would be fair to say that most naturalists would take a position of denying genuine human free will … the most natural conclusion they could draw is simply that the matter/energy in their brain moved to a certain configuration which gave rise to them having a particular thought.

    Prof. Alvin Plantinga has probably been the foremost Christian philosophical critic of the very common position held where people put both Naturalism and Evolution together. He has argued quite forcefully that taking that position is logically incoherent (i.e. self-refuting). Simplistically, the argument is like this:

    1. Naturalism is true
    2. Evolution is true
    3. If evolution is true, then my thoughts are the end product of natural selection … they are selected for survival/reproductive capacity, not for truth
    4. Therefore I have no good reason to think that my thoughts are true, only that they give me a survival advantage
    5. Therefore I have no reason to think any longer that 1 and 2 are true
    6. Therefore the argument is self-referentially incoherent

    If you Google “Plantinga, Naturalism, Evolution” you will get some links to follow up on, both for and against his argument(s). I’d recommend reading both his original argument, some critics, as well as his replies to criticisms, in order to get a balanced picture of the pros and cons of the argument.

    Regarding other aspects of “self, free will, mind, beauty” and so on, if you have a read of the original link I posted, then perhaps let me know if/where you fit into the naturalist scheme of things, that would help. I’m happy enough to attempt to do the same from a theistic perspective if it would help this discussion along.


    Steve Frost, Melbourne

  49. I feel like a straw man again because you have argued against a position I have not taken on ‘self’. I deliberately did not respond initially to your comments about love on the grounds of definitions but as you’ve stated them twice I will give it a go. I’ll assume that spousal love initially starts with a physical attraction (I’m sure I don’t need to explain the biological significance of this). However, science does not describe what happens next (nor does it pretend to). The couple get to know each other, share experiences, become fond of each other and maybe marry. A combination of physical attraction and human experience is what I would call love in this case.

    Before commencing this debate I had never used (or heard) words like materialist and naturalist in a philosophical sense and I am still learning. From what I understand I don’t think what I have said in these last two posts constitutes ‘strict materialism/naturalism’ that you describe. I think the position I have taken is best described as materialism + value of the human experience. These are just my own ideas (since you asked) and I don’t think they are particularly important. I do think you may have a tendency to miss the subtleties and complexities in your opponents viewpoints. Complex problems very often do not have simple solutions in my experience.

    I don’t believe you’ve really responded to my points as you continually attack ‘reductionism’, ‘naturalism’ and ‘materialism’ that are not clearly defined and as far as I’m concerned do not necessarily reflect the position I have taken. Incidentally, with no qualifying remarks.

    A brief digression; I can think of biological problems were a reductionist approach has been superseded by more ‘holistic’ (wish I had a better word here) thinking. Namely, metabolic control analysis of flux through enzymatic pathways.

    The discussion of mind being a non-corporeal entity is an interesting one. There is, however, no supporting evidence for this (by definition) and I see no reason why it needs to be necessarily true given the empirical evidence stated above (previous post).

    You’re remark about consistency is interesting here as you direct it towards both ‘naturalists’ and Dawkins explicitly. I see no reason why a scientist needs to be consistent other than with the evidence. Scientists change their minds all the time. The idea of radical theory change that McGrath discusses comes to mind here with the most obvious examples I can think of being Darwinsim, relativity and quantum (which he (rightly – I guess) uses as an argument against the so-called ‘infalibility of science’.

    This leads on to your statement on presuppositions. I have examined my statements and I do not see presuppositions in the two arguments in my previous post (with the exception of the OS analogy which is fairly trivial and still stands without the sentence on ‘progressing versions’). These are grounded in empirical observations. What you want me to say is that I presuppose that evolution is correct (although I didn’t for the above arguments). Although I am open to criticism, I do agree with this statement.

    Immediately you will be thinking ‘faith statement!’ so I would like to explain why it is not. Science is cumulative. Current work builds on what has been done before. When a scientist does a piece of work it is not necessary (or logical) to have to derive all the preceding relevant material from scratch so as to put it in context. If this were so nothing would ever be done. Evolution is supported by a mountain of empirical evidence (I have listed some of this above). The objections raised by creationists are typically contradictory pieces of evidence cited (often tenuous but not always – I am being very generous here) or, alternatively, gaps in our knowledge are combined to present an unrealistic, out-of-context argument so as to try and prove evolution to be false. A reality is that there are often contradictions in experimental data. Sometimes different groups cannot reproduce each other’s work (part of the peer review system) or are downright hostile to their competing contemporaries there can be all kinds of reasons for this. These approaches do not come close to refuting the evidence in favour of evolution.

    The only scientific idea I have encountered in intelligent design is again a negative argument against evolution; irreducible complexity. However, wherever applied the IC hypothesis has been utterly refuted to the extent whereby a cynical (and slightly mischievous) observer might rename it reducible complexity and incorporate it into evolutionary theory. Rather than supporting design, IC has publicly brought together answers to some of the trickier parts of evolution to explain and, in doing so, achieved the very opposite of what it was intended for.

    With this in mind presupposing evolution to be true is totally reasonable.

    Neither I, nor Dawkins, argue that memes or genes are deterministic. I am applying logic and reasoning in my arguments here and have changed my mind on many issues in my life so I disagree with your ‘waste of breath’ argument. Indeed McGrath, using Dawkins’ own words, states that the meme idea is now moribund. Whereas it may have been an interesting way of thinking in Selfish Gene it is not a serious academic tool and the terminology should probably be dropped and I think I agree.

    If it is true that there is no purpose to life we still have to get on with it. Why should love, beauty and all the other properties/concepts you listed not still exist? I don’t think your logic follows there.

    You will notice that I have deliberately not mentioned God in my discussion.

    My marital status is irrelevant.

    Tom Roberts

  50. Sorry I’ve just seen your post Steve. An excellent response. I’m looking into it and will get back.
    Tom Roberts

  51. Steve,

    Point 3 in your example, would be considered a kindergarden example of a false dichotomy so I am a little unsure as to why you are presenting it here.


    Chris Mayer

  52. Thanks Tom

    You keep complaining that you are being misunderstood and/or misrepresented here. Guess what Tom? As long as you keep refusing to show your hand and tell us where you are coming from, that will probably continue. You are forcing us to do a lot of second guessing here. Given that you keep saying you want an honest debate, then being open with us would certainly help toward that end.

    So we are at a bit of an impasse here. I have told others on my site that if they have honest questions, I am happy to provide honest answers. But if people just want to argue for argument’s sake, then I am not interested. Life is short and truth matters. Whatever excuses we may want to provide for our unbelief now, we will simply have to provide to our creator and judge in the next life. It is much better to get things sorted out in this life.

    I do not say that as a threat, but out of concern for others, and out of concern for the truth. The decisions we make in this life are hugely important. Life is far too short to get involved in mind games and the tickling of intellectual palettes. I hope that is not where you are coming from.

    I am not a scientist, so I defer to others on any scientific objections you might raise. But I am a bit conversant with the broader issues, and am happy to engage with you there if you so desire.

    As to your comment: “If it is true that there is no purpose to life we still have to get on with it. Why should love, beauty and all the other properties/concepts you listed not still exist? I don’t think your logic follows there.”

    I am afraid it is your logic that is difficult to follow here. Out of nothing, nothing comes, is one response. Another is this: how do you get the personal from an impersonal beginning? How in a totally material, impersonal, random, chance-filled world, can one get any of these non-material things? What in the world does beauty mean if we are nothing more than “gigantic lumbering robots,” and “survival machines” for our “selfish genes” as Dawkins puts it?

    Once again, take your starting points (as best as we can ascertain them from your guarded responses) and follow them through to their logical outcomes. I have respect for those evolutionists and atheists who are at least consistent with their worldviews. They are at least honest about where their naturalism takes them. Let me just offer a few examples from names no doubt familiar to you:

    “We may yearn for a ‘higher answer’ – but none exists. . . . We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers for ourselves – from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.” (Stephen Jay Gould)

    The universe “seems pointless” and we are “a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes [after the big bang]”. (Steven Weinberg)

    “No God. No life after death. No free will. No ultimate meaning in life and no ultimate foundation for ethics.” (Atheist biologist Will Provine)

    Indeed, as I said before, if we reject supernaturalism and the metaphysical, then we are left with only nature and the physical. In which case, we would not even be aware of it, much less discussing it. As evolutionary biologist J. B. S. Haldane remarked, “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

    Indeed, the very thing that seems to so enthral you – science – is itself something that is based on non-scientific premises. Science cannot prove itself – it rests on unproven assumptions.

    As to ID, most unbelievers I know who reject it have not actually carefully read the works of those promoting it. They instead have rejected it out of hand because it does not fit in with their naturalist worldview. Again, I appreciate the honest atheists here, such as Scott Todd, who wrote in Nature: “Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic.” That of course is scientism, not science.

    So again, worldviews matter greatly, and our starting point will determine how we look at the evidence. If one chooses a naturalist starting point, then the evidence will only be read in the light of such a restrictive worldview. Real scientists, on the other hand, will allow the evidence to lead where it may. Which is why arch-atheist Antony Flew discovered that ID is not only fully rational and plausible, but it accounts for the facts far better than his naturalism did. So he did the right thing, and dumped his naturalism.

    So I again urge you to examine your starting point. And it would be awfully nice if you stopped being so coy with us about it.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  53. Thank-you Steve for that fantastic response. I was unfamiliar with Alvin Plantinga and this argument and I have spent some time thinking about it. Here are my objections to it.

    Point 3

    I see that one of the cited objections to this is that there may be a survival advantage to ‘truth’ so that it is selected. Personally I find that unconvincing. More fundamental is the question:

    ‘Are thoughts subjected to natural selection?’

    I think this may be a case of overstretching the theory of evolution where it does not belong in a similar manner to Dawkins’ treatment of memes.

    Some animal behaviour is innate i.e. encoded within its genes. An example of this is a particular breed of butterfly (sorry can’t remember species – help me out if anyone knows this) the cocoon of which is partially submerged in water or, at least, resides in a wet environment. When the butterfly emerges from the cocoon it performs a very specific set of movements so as to brush water droplets from its wings. This behaviour is highly reproducible with differing individuals. As the butterfly had previously been in a non-butterfly state and cocooned there is no way that this behaviour could have been learned. Human behaviour and social interactions is, of course, immensely more complex.

    With the sequencing and annotation of the human genome(s) we now know that there are ~23,000 human protein encoding genes and many other RNA encoding genes. Most of these we know the function of but it is possible that some of the remaining genes are involved in behaviour determination (or, more likely, predisposition to certain behaviours). These ideas are fairly vague and I don’t think they carry much weight. (There have been some controversial papers on predispositions to alcohol abuse and violent behaviour – I think). I doubt that a hypothetical God (or atheism) gene will be identified for example.

    In other words: genes do not encode thoughts, only the ability to think. As I discussed briefly above (and see McGrath) the meme concept is redundant and unhelpful. Whereas some ideas may be inherited in Darwinian like manner this is way to simplistic to effectively deal with information transfer and other less accessible (or exciting) theories do a much better job. In fact McGrath (and Dawkins in post Selfish Gene works) points out that information transfer is often better described by Lamarckism. From personal experience thoughts and ideas are accumulated in a reactionary way. By this I mean that new thoughts are formed/learned in response to stimuli (i.e. social interactions and experiences) and so are not predetermined in the genes. Even if there is some degree of innate behaviour in humans the number of genes left with unknown functions does not leave room for many ideas.

    If anyone reading this knows anything about theories of information transfer some interjection might be helpful here.

    Point 4

    Even if genes did code for thoughts, or memes exist and are inherited in a Dawinian way, this does not necessarily mean that they have to confer a survival advantage. I see no reason why they cannot be neutral or ‘passenger thoughts’ in a way analogous to pseudogenes in genetics proper. For example does the statement, ‘I don’t believe in God’ confer a survival advantage. The answer is possibly. You could form some argument for this that probably would not be particularly robust. The survival advantage of this idea would be completely dwarfed by that of thoughts such as ‘hot things burn’. The same goes for atheistic statements. For something to be selected there must be a pressure. In this example the selection pressure on the philosophical statements would be very low in my opinion.

    Point 5

    The statement ‘I have no reason to believe…’ is untrue in the light of empirical evidence in support of points 1 and 2.

    Tom Roberts

  54. Point 3 in your example, would be considered a kindergarden example of a false dichotomy so I am a little unsure as to why you are presenting it here.

    Chris, I find your comment rather misleading. I specifically said, in the phrase immediately preceding the example argument:

    Simplistically, the argument is like this:

    n.b. emphasis now added. Did you miss this, or just ignore it? I have specifically directed readers (e.g. Tom) to go and look up Plantinga’s argument,criticisms, and his responses to criticisms. If you think that his argument suffers from, as you put it, a “kindergarden example of a false dichotomy”, then you’re badly misstaken. It has been published and discussed in various fora, including peer reviewed philosophical journals such as Faith and Philosophy. Plantinga is/was a tenured full professor of philosophy at Notre Dame.

    Stephen Frost, Melbourne

  55. How convenient for you. You are allowed to have something uncaused as the base of your entire belief system, but nobody else is.

    Reading back through the comments near the start of this discussion, I noticed this comment from Chris and thought it was worth further comment.

    I’m curious to know what is at the base of your entire belief system. I can see two possibilities:

    1. an uncaused cause (which theists call God); or
    2. a caused cause

    If you can see an alternative, I’m listening. In the absence of alternatives, its clear that “us theists” have decided that (1) is the best of the two alternatives.

    If you don’t agree, and you choose (2), then what you’re saying is that there is an endless series of cause/effect. Now this series might be linear (i.e. infinitely unique events), or it could conceivably be a loop (i.e. infinitely repeating events).

    The first thing I would ask is whether you have any actual evidence for (2)?

    The second question I would ask is whether you have considered that, for any infinite series, the mathematical probability of eny event (e.g. your reading this) is indistinguishable from zero. If the universe is an infinite series of events, the probability of you reading this is excruciatingly minute.

    The logical arguments to draw from that run as follows:

    1. if the universe is an infinitely linear series of events, then the probability of me reading this argument is indistinguishable from zero
    2. the universe is an infinitely linear series of events
    3. therefore, I am not reading this argument

    But since you know, on the evidence of your senses, that (3) is false, then since the argument is formally valid, one of the premises must be false. Since (1) is a straight piece of mathematical knowledge, it seems (2) is false.

    Since the universe clearly does have the property of a “series of events”, the part of (2) which must be false is the phrase “infinitely linear”.

    Theists ditch the infinite bit. That would leave you with the option of an infinitely repeating universe, yes?

    Alternatively, you seemed to be complaining that “us theists” are permitted to have an uncaused cause, but nobody else is? What kind of uncaused cause would that be? Do you have a proposal for something of a non-material nature that would be a sufficient explanation for the universe, yet would not be “God”?

    Stephen Frost, Melbourne.

  56. To Bill.

    ‘Out of nothing, nothing comes’

    This is not what has been said. Evolution describes complexity arising from simple origins. Abiogenesis is a theory of how we got to these simple origins from just ‘chemistry’. Big bang (and related) theories attempt to describe how we got to ‘chemistry’. Then maybe there is nothing (or god?). Before this point no one has said that you get something from nothing. I consider the cosmological argument for God briefly below.

    ‘How do you get the personal from an impersonal beginning?’

    By personal I presume you mean ‘self’ and perhaps ‘individuality’. The latter is a social construct but ‘self’ is more interesting. I see no reason why ‘self’ cannot be a by-product of evolved intelligence and capacity to reason. Prejudice and subjectivity are key facets of human consciousness and I believe these are probably important for our survival. By this I mean that science is socially constructed and in a hypothetical ‘struggle for existence’ (that doesn’t really exist now in most human cultures) being able to make a quick decision in the absence of all relevant information was/is probably advantageous. I think this is an important consideration when considering such concepts as ‘truth’ or ‘beauty’.

    I am concerned that you use descriptors like ‘honest’, ‘consistent’ and ‘real’ only to scientists that accept your worldview. I think it’s a dangerous way of thinking and I recommend you don’t continue it as it detracts from your arguments.

    I think the Stephen Jay Gould quote sort of describes what I have called ‘the value of human experience’.

    I agree with Weinberg’s statement.

    I believe in free will and don’t see a problem it coexisting with naturalism.

    I’m surprised Haldane said that. The argument resembles a cruder form of the Plantinga argument I have discussed above (possibly predating Plantinga?).

    What non-scientific premises underpin science?

    In my experience, the work of creationists on these issues is poor. For example, I read an article on abiogeneis on creationontheweb.org. There were some very interesting arguments raised (e.g. concerning the origins of chirality) which I hadn’t thought about much. These are real issues that the scientific community must (and is) address(ing). However, the article did not even mention RNA catalysis. This is one of the most exciting ideas in this area of science and critical to the RNA world hypothesis. In fact, the empirical observation that RNA molecules can act as catalysts (ribozymes) and act as hereditary molecules is such a profound one that it has forced a (radical) theory change on the subject of the central dogma of biology (DNA->RNA->Protein). To omit this undermines the legitimacy of the work and exposes it as polemic.

    I don’t agree with the statement by Scott Todd. Design is a testable hypothesis. It is not supported by evidence. I don’t think that statement should have been published in Nature.

    I think you have misrepresented Flew. He has repeatedly stated that he is far from a Christian theist. Rather his beliefs (deist) seemed to be based on the cosmological first cause argument (i.e. like a harder version of Einstein’s ‘god’) coupled with an inability to understand the origins of heredity through DNA. He has since given up some ground on the latter point as new evidence has come to light although not really altered his deist position. I actually think this is totally reasonable. The cosmological argument is difficult to refute but has its own weaknesses. Personally, I think it is grounded in a misguided attempt to force our reality on to an event that is so far from the human experience for this way of thinking to be meaningful. It is also an infinite regress (those who disagree with me on this will probably do so because they arbitrarily define God in such a way that he is ‘unknowable’ or something of that sort – I actually think that this represents complete academic surrender). Either way if ‘god’ is the first cause I agree with Flew that Christianity does not logically follow. I’m surprised that you cite Flew as his views seem to be very distant from your own. Again I didn’t really want to bring my own opinions into this specific area of the debate as I don’t consider them especially important to the debate.

    Tom Roberts

  57. Thanks Tom

    After reading your latest theoretical offerings, I am again convinced that I really don’t have enough faith to be an atheist. It always amazes me how they come up with such convoluted, far out and bizarre arguments, all because they simply do not want to posit God. Any ordinary human being knows exactly what the self is, or personality, or the’I’ or the soul is. Everyone knows we are more than just a slab of meat, except it seems for our unbelieving intellectuals. They have to go to such extreme lengths to deny the obvious. Sorry, I will never have that much faith to believe in such preposterous ideologies.

    Most people know that we are both physical beings, as well as non-physical beings. We have physical brains, but non-physical mental states. We have so many other immaterial aspects to our being: volition, rationality, emotions, memory, insight, intuition, an aesthetic sense, and so on. The reductionists either have to deny all these non-material realities, or they have to come up with amazingly complex and far-fetched theories to deny the obvious.

    For example materialism of necessity implies determinism. You do not get free will out of a purely material universe. Volition entails the capacity of rational reflection, the stuff of persons, not rocks. Rocks nether reflect nor choose. They just are. What makes humans unique is our ability to understand, to reflect, to make choices, to form conclusions, to weigh up options, to evaluate truth claims, and so on. All of this is ruled out in a naturalistic paradigm. Selfish genes do not reflect or ponder or choose anything: they just are.

    Those who simply have decided ahead of time that only matter matters have to go to great lengths to explain the real world. Thus we have multiverse theories, and patent nonsense of ‘directed panspermia’, etc. Common sense realism requires far less faith, and much better fits the evidence.

    The whole notion of “evolved intelligence” is really intellectually bankrupt. Sorry, but matter plus time plus chance do not being about intelligence or rationality. Dawkins goes on and on about all the “illusion of apparent design”. He sees design everywhere, yet denies the obvious inference: an intelligent designer. He has simply ruled that option out ahead of time, so all this design is only “apparent” design. Talk about needing a truck load of faith to believe something so foolish.

    This is just where ID comes in. If we see examples of complex biological things exhibiting all the hallmarks of intelligent design, complexity and purposefulness, then one very plausible and rational explanation is an intelligent designer. Personhood begets personhood. Personality does not come out of non-personality. But those with materialist presuppositions simply refuse to see the obvious. Their faith in naturalism has blinded them to the real world.

    And I am surprised that being such a great lover of science, you appear to be not very up on the philosophy of science. Modern science could never have taken off but for a number of critical assumptions, none of which are themselves provable by the scientific method. Direct observation will not come up with any of these assumptions:

    -the objective existence of an physical world (which is independent of the observer)
    -the premise that we live in a rational universe
    -the reliability of human reason (to understand the world)
    -the belief in the order and uniformity of nature; the principle of uniformity (thus it is capable of being studied and observed). That is, the assumption that the laws of nature remain constant.
    -the reality of cause and effect, or the law of causality
    -the senses are reliable; the reliability of observation
    -the laws of logic
    -the adequacy of language to describe the world.

    On and on goes the list. That science is even possible needs to be explained. And the interesting thing, as so many non-Christian philosophers have pointed out, it was the Christian worldview that made modern science possible. All the above assumptions nicely cohere with the Biblical worldview.

    And who said Flew was a Christian? He is a theist, which I remind you is the exact opposite of an atheist. He saw the absurdity of his reductionism, scientism and naturalism, because he was honest enough to follow the evidence where it leads. I wish all atheists were as ruthlessly honest.

    By the way, the more I read Dawkins, and the more I read you, it is interesting how much you seem to defer to or rely upon Dawkins. So many atheists have absolutely trashed his latest book, whether Thomas Nagle or Terry Eagleton. Indeed, Michael Ruse said that he God Delusion “makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.” Perhaps you need to move beyond Dawkins et al here. Even fellow atheists find them too far out to be of much help.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  58. For Tom:
    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’m knee deep in configuring a new notebook computer today, so cannot give your reply the attention it deserves. I will need to do a little more reading. A few links that may be helpful to you … Calvin College (USA) has a very good site dedicated to Christian philosophy, and have quite a number of papers and other documentation there related to Plantinga:


    There;s quite a lot of material there relating to either Naturalism and Evolution. In particular, the articles entitled:
    — An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism
    — Darwin, Mind and Meaning
    — Evolution, Neutrality, and Antecedent Probability
    — Methodological Naturalism: Part 1
    — Methodological Naturalism: Part 2
    — Naturalism Defeated
    — On Rejecting the Theory of Common Ancestry

    There is also a rather good summary paper:
    — Theism, Atheism, and Rationality

    Now if you were ever in Melbourne (Australia), I would be very keen to sit down and chat with you at some length, to hear your questions/objections in some depth. Several of my good friends are out-and-out atheists. Some (like Bill) are Christians, as am I. Being an INTP, I tend to prefer asking leading questions, rather than giving answers … it just doesn’t suit my temperament to be overly sure of myself.

    I think I agree with you that Flew is more in the deist category … but then again, all these philosophical categories make my eyes roll back in my head sometimes, as there are just so many subtle variations of position on various topics. Lets just say “He now believes in God in some form or other” and perhaps we can leave it at that.

    Regarding your comments on the (rough) argument that Naturalism+Evolution=Incoherent … one important factor will presumably be your concept of “truth”.

    I believe that there is some kind of objective or transcendental truth (things can be known as they really are), as opposed to just a perceived truth (things as you or I perceive them), or relative truth (things that might be more true than other things, but not absolutely true). Because of this foundational idea of truth, the argument carries significant weight for me. If matter+energy is all there is, then your thoughts/ideas/logic are fundamentally no different to my thoughts/ideas/logic … they are all just the stirrings of atoms in a brain. Truth is lost. At least, for me it is … your mileage may vary.

    Stephen Frost, Melbourne

  59. What non-scientific premises underpin science?

    I’ll have a stab at that question too, if I may. Scientists must first have a set of beliefs that underpin their work. Simple beliefs like “My visual faculties are reliable” need to underpin their work with a microscope, and so on. These baseline beliefs are not themselves scientific. There’s a certain amount of argument about what science is and how it works … and this argument is not itself part of operational science … its part of philosophy of science. The main camps:

    — rational realists (or scientific realism, the majority position)
    — rational nonrealists (or instrumentalists)
    —- sub-group phenomenalism
    —- sub-group operationalism
    —- sub-group pragmatism
    —- sub-group constructive empiricism
    — nonrational nonrealists

    Now the funny thing is, I don’t think that any one group actually accurately describes how science really works. For most of the work of operational science is adequately described by the scientific realism viewpoint, yet nonrational nonrealists (Kuhn, I think?) do have some good points about some of the aspects of how science works (paradigms and so on).

    So I am a fence-sitter on that front.

    In order to “do science” you must have some underpinning beliefs about the possibility (and reliability) of observation, logic, rationality, and so on.

    If the universe is the plaything of the “gods”, and storms are merely an indication that Poseidon is angry, then there’s not much science to be done. The history of science shows that it made some very big leaps forward on the back of Christian/theistic views about God’s nature … He is not capricious, He does not change, therefore we can expect the universe to also reflect some of those aspects of His nature.

    Stephen Frost

  60. Firstly, Bill, if you read what I have written you will see that I have actually been quite critical of Dawkins. I critically read Dawkins as I have critically read Wilson and McGrath and anyone else.

    ‘Most people know…’

    ‘…deny the obvious’

    It’s interesting you refer to my ideas as ‘intellectually bankrupt’ when you use language like this.

    ‘All of this is ruled out by a naturalist paradigm.’

    How? I have given repeated examples of how these concepts could arise as a result of natural processes. Incidentally, arguments that say nothing about the existence of God or the validity of Christianity.

    It is true that ‘…selfish genes just are’. But, the ‘survival machine’ encoded by those genes can have gene-encoded consciousness and (probably acquire) rationality. This ultimately serves the tautological ‘purpose’ of selfish DNA to perpetuate itself but in an indirect manner, such that, the thoughts of an individual are not the direct result of a gene(s).

    Rocks don’t have brains. There is no evidence for rock consciousness. The argument is massively straw man.

    ‘Common sense’ arguments are generally misleading and rhetorical in my opinion. So many complex phenomena have been found to have highly counter-intuitive scientific explanations (e.g. quantum theory) such that the everyday human perception of reality must be ‘suspended’ when thinking about quantum problems. Why should we assume that everyday common sense arguments will help us solve complex origins problems? You accuse me of having a presupposition here that I don’t necessarily have.

    Multiverse and panspermia are fairly weak theories (very much so compared to evolution) in my opinion. However, they are not just concocted out of hand. For example, the basis of the multiverse hypothesis is grounded in the mathematics of quantum theory (as my understanding goes) and panspermia is suggested by amino acids and fatty acids found in meteorite fragments + possible bacterial-like fossils found on mars. There is insufficient evidence to make strongly worded statements regarding them.

    As I stated already evolution is not just chance. No evolutionists believes that. You need to look at the theory again as it is a fundamental principle. Intelligent designer is not a logical inference from ‘appearance of design’ + evidence for evolution. It is not a truck-load of faith, it is a truck-load of evidence. ID has not come close to scientifically positing a designer. It may try to refute evolution and may use evidence to try and infer design but that’s all.

    ‘Not very up on the philosophy of science’ is an ad hominem cheap shot. Why do you suppose I am bothering to post here?

    Your points on the presuppositions of science are quite interesting and helpful to this debate. I think they are something that requires constant re-evaluation. I’m going to have a think about them.

    ‘On and on goes the list’ is unnecessary rhetoric and possibly misleading.

    It is true that Western science is to some extent founded in a Christian worldview. Other posters have acknowledged the influence of other cultures on science (see above). However, that worldview seems to me very different from your own. To use the words of Chris Mayer (posted above – although to be fair to Steve Frost I don’t think they teach this in ‘kindergarten’) you consistently present false dichotomies in your arguments. I don’t believe that your black-and-white thinking is sufficient to adequately deal with some of these issues and another reason why I refuse to define myself under your terms.

    A deist is not the exact opposite of an atheist. Flew is a deist.

    Tom Roberts

  61. To Steve,

    I sympathise Steve. I too have increasingly little time to think about these issues. As to your offer, I would love to come to Melbourne. I fear it is pretty unlikely though. Should you wish to continue this discussionin the future I give permission for Bill to disclose my email to you (by private communication).

    I think that the idea of ‘truth’ is fascinating. I have some sympathy for your point of view (probably for the ‘wrong’ reasons) in that I do (sort of) believe in a form of transcendental truth. Mathematics is a scientific discipline (which, of course, provides a framework to all sciences) that is not based on the empiricism proper of the biological and physical sciences. Mathematical statements, if sound, are ‘true’ in themselves (I’m assuming that the labels we use are just socially constructed language tools to understand this ‘truth’). For example, a counting statement or a simple arithmetic statement (?number theory) would still be true in a hypothetical alternate universe (I’m not in any way implying that this exists) with differing physical (and/or natural) ‘laws’ (I am, of course, using ‘natural law’ in a different context to CS Lewis or Catholic theologians). Simple math(s) does not need to be discovered in the traditional sense – it can be readily inferred through logic. Complex maths is more ‘discoverable’ although still dependent on logical inferences.

    You and Bill cover the same presuppositions for science and I will address Bill’s list as it is more extensive and includes all of your points.

    1) the objective existence of an physical world (which is independent of the observer)

    I think this is your strongest point. Do theists think differently?

    2) the premise that we live in a rational universe

    I don’t think we have to assume this. Much of the universe (at least seems) irrational and chaotic. This is no reason to give up the attempt to understand it.

    3) the reliability of human reason (to understand the world)

    I have stressed the fallibility of science and the falsifiable principle. I guess your statement is true to an extent. I should point out that the scientific community represents a spectrum of views on many issues.

    4) the belief in the order and uniformity of nature; the principle of uniformity (thus it is capable of being studied and observed). That is, the assumption that the laws of nature remain constant.

    I don’t think anyone need assume the uniformity of nature. I think we have discussed points of non-uniformity already (e.g. non-universality of genetic code). I don’t think something has to be uniform for it to be studied. The ‘laws’ are empirically derived so they are not a presupposition other than being ‘previous scientific work’ to be built upon. I see no reason why natural/physical laws cannot be broken or bent in theory. Some physicists may be on my back about thermodynamics which, as I understand it, presents a remarkably robust set of physical laws.

    Not sure I have fully understood you’re point her Bill – might need some clarification.

    -the reality of cause and effect, or the law of causality

    I think you are correct here. Do theists think differently?

    -the senses are reliable; the reliability of observation

    The senses are totally unreliable in my experience. The genetics, and now genomics, revolution(s) that have transformed the biological sciences have been permitted by (less immediately exciting) advances in the technology of the physical sciences. We now have advanced laser excitation, resonance energy transfer techniques, CCD detection devices, nucleotide microarrays and these have helped to address this problem (that you very correctly identify). Reliability in data is achieved through repetition and analysed using statistics to ascertain significance. I have already mentioned the importance of reproducibility (by others) with respect to peer review publication.

    -the laws of logic

    I’ve tried to discuss the ‘transcendental truth’ of logic above. Do theists not accept logic as a presupposition?

    -the adequacy of language to describe the world.

    True. But language is not static. In principle I don’t think there is any problem so esoteric that it cannot be explained (or at least tackled) using language as a tool. The alternative to this seems to me to be, ‘things are just too complicated for us to explain’ which I again think is intellectually irresponsible and defeatist.

    Tom Roberts

  62. Thanks Tom

    I have at least one major problem here, which other readers keep kindly point out to me: We continue to violate one of my rules: keeping comments short! Of course this is hard to do with complex topics like this. But even though you do not want to fully declare your hand, I think we are getting your drift, and you are getting ours.

    Thus we might have to wind things up a bit. We have offered you a number of things to peruse, if you have the time or inclination to do so. Science is only a small part of the overall debate. There are larger philosophical, and dare I say it, theological concerns that must be addressed as well.

    As I said, you might try Stove’s book. The late Australian philosopher was quite interesting: an atheist who believed in evolution. But he did a terrific job of demolishing so much foolishness tied to evolution, such as evolutionary psychology and sociobiology. He also did a great job of dismantling the mistaken notion of “selfish” genes, or any other personal attributes we might try to affix to what is simply a chemical part of DNA.

    It is getting personality out of the impersonal that we find so patently unhelpful here. Dawkins and Pinker and others can speak on the one hand of the biological determinism of genes, but on the other hand speak of how we can somehow override our genes, and determine our own fate. It seems hard to reconcile that. If we are simply gene-replicating machines, there is no “I” to override them. Stuff just happens, end of story.

    But we have been down this path before. Again, space does not permit an endless back and forth on every point you raise. As I say, if you really are asking more than rhetorical questions here, then following up on some of these titles might be a helpful beginning.

    And it may indeed be tough to make it down under for chats. But can I suggest you do that where you are? Why don’t you get in touch with someone like McGrath, the former atheist and Marxist, and pick his brain a bit? Another Oxford prof you should have a chat to is John Lennox. His book God’s Undertaker is well worth a read if you cannot do a face to face.

    But I leave you with a final challenge. As I already asked, are you really seeking truth here, or are you just enjoying the argument? I suggest you take up a few of the pro-offered readings, or meet a few of these thinkers. Then come back to us and tell us what you think. Thanks again

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  63. A brief clarification:

    Selfishness of genes is a tautological explanation of their behaviour in certain situations. Genes are not conscious and therefore not selfish. The analogy is useful because DNA appears to act in a selfish way in many occasions (I have mentioned some above).

    I would like to make a few concluding remarks. Contrary to what Dawkins says (or indeed what I believe myself) the theory of evolution does not say anything about God or Christianity. There is no reason why the two cannot coexist.

    I appreciate that many lay-people will not have been exposed to the kind of evidence that I have regarding evolution. I have tried to make my posts clear and not too technical and, most importantly, in the spirit of current opinion within the scientific community. I hope that if they have not persuaded you in the direction of evolution they have, at least, illustrated some of the fascinating things that exist beyond the reach of the naked eye.

    One last point regarding evolution. The real power of the theory is in its application: evolution has been fundamental in our continuing understanding of genetic disease, sequential mutations in cancer tumorigenesis, the molecular basis of aging, the ‘struggle for existence’ or ‘molecular arms-race’ between humans and bacteria like MRSA and viruses like HIV. In computer science genetic algorithms have helped to ‘design’ highly complicated, evolved computer programs far beyond what could be produced by a human alone. There are too many examples to list.

    I do enjoy a good debate but I am very serious about truth. I am very interested in philosophical ideas and shall research them when I can – thanks to those who have suggested readings.

    I would also like to thank Bill for tolerating my posts on his website that clearly represents diametrically opposed views to my own.

    Tom Roberts

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