googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: They're Looking in the Wrong Place

Monday, February 22, 2010

They're Looking in the Wrong Place

I know I'm dating myself but here's a joke you may not have heard in a while:
A man was crawling around looking for something. Another man walked up and asked, “What are you looking for?”
The man answered, “I dropped a dollar. Would you help me find it?”
“Sure. Where were standing when you dropped it?”
“Over there by those bushes.”
“Then why are you looking here?”
“Because the light is better here.”
I shouldn't have to explain what makes the joke funny: it's ridiculous to search in the wrong place simply because the light it better. No rationally thinking person would do that, right? You'd be surprised. Evolutionists do it every day!

I've cited this quote before (here) but let me remind my readers of it:

“"Creation science" is a contradiction in terms. A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism--it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms.” Scientific American Magazine, July 2002 [emphasis added].

Every time I hear an evolutionist tell me there is no evidence for creation, I remind myself of this quote. When evolutionary scientists study the issue of origins, they do so with starting assumption that everything must have a natural explanation. They admit as much. The reason they do this (or at least the reason they offer) is because only natural processes can be tested. Supernatural events (i.e. miracles) are beyond the reach of scientific inquiry. Yet does that premise alone mean that miracles do not occur? Of course it does not. It's a not so subtle attempt to define creation away.

I see a striking similarity between the attitude of evolutionists and the man looking for his dollar. They both claim to be earnest looking for something but they both search in vain for the sake of convenience: the man in the joke searches in the light for something that was lost in the shadows and the evolutionists search only in the natural realm for something that was supernatural. It's funny when you think about it. If the miraculous explanation for the origin of the universe happens to be the correct one, it's no wonder evolutionists can't find it. They're looking in the wrong place!!

8 comments:

Steven J. said...

When evolutionary scientists study the issue of origins, they do so with starting assumption that everything must have a natural explanation.

Not quite. Many things currently -- and perhaps some things always will -- lack an explanation.

But for things that have an explanation, an explanation is an account of why things are one way rather than some other possible or at least (since one explanation why things aren't some way may be that that way isn't, in fact, possible) conceivable way. Supernatural causes are conceivable, but since part of being "supernatural" is that we cannot learn how they work, what constraints, if any, they have, and what effects they ought to be expected to produce, supernatural causes are not explanations. No supernatural cause will tell you why, e.g. the gorilla GULO pseudogene is disabled the same was as the human version, but the guinea pig version is disabled differently, since a supernatural cause was, for all we know, just as likely to have done it just the opposite way around.

Another point is this: what if you actually find your dollar in the lighted area? Common descent is supported by many different lines of evidence: shared pseudogenes and ERVs in humans and other primates, skulls so intermediate (in the shape of face and jaws, and size of braincase) between the human and ape condition that creationists cannot agree among themselves whether they are "fully formed humans" or "fully formed apes," vestigial structures like the plantaris tendon (in apes and monkeys it clenches the foot into a fist; in humans it usually doesn't even connect to the foot). You're not just asking us to consider supernatural causes, you're asking us to discard a natural explanation despite abundant evidence because you'd prefer a supernatural cause.

Of course, you can posit a supernatural cause behind the natural cause: "God sends the rain on the just and the unjust" is not usually seen by Christians as either a reason to reject modern meteorology (which attempts to explain rain in terms of purely physical, natural causes) or as refuted by meteorology.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

Thanks for visiting my blog. When I said, “[evolutionary scientists start with the] assumption that everything must have a natural explanation,” you said:

“Not quite. Many things currently -- and perhaps some things always will -- lack an explanation.”

It's true that some things will forever be beyond our reach. Consider the issue of abiogenesis: certain for evolution to be true, a first living life form must have appeared on earth sometime in the past. Exactly how such a thing supposedly happened can not possibly be known. Even if we someday create life in a lab or discover living cells appearing amidst non-living chemicals, we cannot be certain that was how the first abiogenesis allegedly occurred. But even though we cannot possibly know how the first life form arose (according to your theory), secular scientists still assume there is a natural explanation. Perhaps you personally might allow for a supernatural explanation but your more militant cohorts like Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers certainly would not consider that as a possibility. And what about the quote from Scientific American Magazine? According to them, methodic naturalism is a “fundamental tenet” of science. So even though you admit some things lack an explanation, “science” still assumes the unknown explanation is a supernatural one. It will never allow a divine foot in the door.

You said, “Supernatural causes are conceivable, but since part of being "supernatural" is that we cannot learn how they work, what constraints, if any, they have, and what effects they ought to be expected to produce, supernatural causes are not explanations. No supernatural cause will tell you why, e.g. the gorilla GULO pseudogene is disabled the same was as the human version, but the guinea pig version is disabled differently, since a supernatural cause was, for all we know, just as likely to have done it just the opposite way around.”

You just finished saying that some things may never have an explanation; why then do you object to a supernatural cause for not offering an explanation? And what kind of objection is that anyway? It sounds like you're saying that God could not have supernaturally created the universe because that's not a sufficient explanation.

But remember that I'm specifically referring to supernatural origins. I'm not claiming that every process and phenomenon that occurs today is a “miracle.”When God created the universe, He also created the natural processes that continue to operate today. If naturalism were true, why would there be an orderly universe? Why, for example, would we expect gravity to operate in a predictable way or chemicals to always react the way they do?

You said, “Another point is this: what if you actually find your dollar in the lighted area?”

If a dollar were found in the lighted area, it likely would not be the same dollar the man lost. He found a different dollar than the one he was searching for. In the case of the origin of the universe (and man), there is either a natural explanation or a supernatural explanation. There are no other options. If we search for the origin of the universe, but only search among natural explanations, it's no surprise that you only find natural explanations. It's too bad that you will never find the correct explanation!

Thanks again for visiting. Please come again and tell all your friends there's this “stupid, YEC guy who has a blog...”

God bless!!

RKBentley

Steven J. said...

RKBentley replied to me:

But even though we cannot possibly know how the first life form arose (according to your theory), secular scientists still assume there is a natural explanation. ... You just finished saying that some things may never have an explanation; why then do you object to a supernatural cause for not offering an explanation?

I fear I was unclear; I meant to distinguish between "causes" and "explanations."

An "explanation" is an understandable account of a cause; it tells us how a cause works. Miracles can't be explanations because we can't tell how they work, what effects they are likely to produce or what effects they will not produce. That's a different point either from the claim that miracles cannot happen, or from the rather different, Humean point that one can never show that a miracle has happened.

A "supernatural foot in the door" is a declaration that we can never have an explanation of some causes because they are "supernatural;" we should stop looking and just accept that something supernatural and unaccountable happened (and perhaps, additionally, that God as you worship Him made it happen). Science doesn't work by declaring that problems are unsolvable just because they haven't yet been solved, or even because no one yet knows how they might be solved.

There is a distinct but related point. Things that, in the past, seemed like insoluble mysteries and were attributed to direct divine intervention turned out, after enough time and discoveries, to have natural explanations. Lightning is a physical phenomenon of the atmosphere, not a supernatural visitation. A similar point applies to epidemics like the Black Death of the Middle Ages.

A problem that seems intractable now may yield to new investigative techniques in the future (Auguste Comte, noted atheist philosopher, offered, as an example of something that humans could never know, the composition of the stars; a few years later, spectroscopy was invented, and it was discovered what stars are made of). That we don't know the cause of something now is not, logically, sufficient justification for asserting that the cause is, or probably is, supernatural.

Oh, and evolutionary theory does not, on the one hand, include or depend on any particular account of the origin of life; just as one can write a history of the American Civil War without any explanation of why English-speaking people are in North America in the first place, one can reconstruct phylogenies or argue over evolutionary mechanisms regardless of how the first life form arose. On the other hand, evolutionary theory does not, so far as I know, imply that the actual cause of life's origin must be undiscoverable.

Steven J. said...

RKBentley replied to me:

“Another point is this: what if you actually find your dollar in the lighted area?”

If a dollar were found in the lighted area, it likely would not be the same dollar the man lost. He found a different dollar than the one he was searching for. In the case of the origin of the universe (and man), there is either a natural explanation or a supernatural explanation. If we search for the origin of the universe, but only search among natural explanations, it's no surprise that you only find natural explanations.


Well, I don't follow abiogenesis research in detail. What they have achieved so far, that I have heard of (e.g. spontaneous assembly of RNA from simple precursor molecules, or the -- so far deliberately guided -- assembly of RNA sequences that can copy themselves without the help of other large molecules), probably impresses me much more than it would you.

A point I think you should consider, though, is this: Christians for centuries accepted spontaneous generation. It seemed obvious to them that God could build into the world the ability to generate life from nonliving matter through processes which, though created, were entirely natural. The failure of medieval models of spontaneous generation does not seem to me to vitiate the broader point: there might conceivably be both a supernatural cause and a natural explnaation. An example given by (the creationist) theologian J.P. Moreland is that Christians accept both the biblical assertion that "God sends the rain on the just and the unjust" and more generally exercises sovereignity over the weather, and that modern meteorology explains the weather in terms of purely material phenomena, and that the deficits in meteorology are not to be filled with a "God of the gaps," but rather than divine providence and material causes are to be seen as complementary.

Evolution is not so much an explanation for the origin of life, as for the origin of species and biological adaptions: not why we have life itself, but why, given life, we have hummingbirds and howler monkeys. And as I noted in my original post, there is certainly a lot of evidence for the explanations evolutionary theory provides in this area. If I find a dollar in the lighted area, it might indeed not be the one I lost; there are lots of dollar bills out there. Some are even counterfeit. But if there's a counterfeit explanation for the origin of life, and there are literal mountains of evidence for it, who (or Who) planted that evidence? The assumption that evolution cannot be the cause of evolution implicitly accuses God of weaving, into the very fabric of the heavens and Earth (and our own bodies and genes) "one vast and superfluous lie."

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

Thanks again for visiting my blog. I always appreciate your comments: they are both civil and thought provoking. I wish I could answer all of them in more detail but you understand the limits of space and time. Even so, I try to always address the key points you've raised.

You said,

“An "explanation" is an understandable account of a cause; it tells us how a cause works. Miracles can't be explanations because we can't tell how they work, what effects they are likely to produce or what effects they will not produce. That's a different point either from the claim that miracles cannot happen, or from the rather different, Humean point that one can never show that a miracle has happened.

A "supernatural foot in the door" is a declaration that we can never have an explanation of some causes because they are "supernatural;" we should stop looking and just accept that something supernatural and unaccountable happened (and perhaps, additionally, that God as you worship Him made it happen). Science doesn't work by declaring that problems are unsolvable just because they haven't yet been solved, or even because no one yet knows how they might be solved.”

You have voiced a common objection raised by critics. Somehow, the notion has persisted that if there is a supernatural cause for something then it ends scientific inquiry. I have never quite understood that claim. Why is it believed that if God created life then we cannot have biology? If God created matter then we cannot have physics? If Adam were still alive today, why could we not study him? Likewise, God created the universe and we are at liberty to use science to examine it.

“There is a distinct but related point. Things that, in the past, seemed like insoluble mysteries and were attributed to direct divine intervention turned out, after enough time and discoveries, to have natural explanations. Lightning is a physical phenomenon of the atmosphere, not a supernatural visitation. A similar point applies to epidemics like the Black Death of the Middle Ages. 

You said, “A problem that seems intractable now may yield to new investigative techniques in the future.... That we don't know the cause of something now is not, logically, sufficient justification for asserting that the cause is, or probably is, supernatural.”

Again, I am primarily addressing the issue of origins. I have blogged before that unique events of the past cannot be studied directly because they are no longer observable nor repeatable. By no means can we ever know “scientifically” the origin of matter. Therefore, it is not logical to insist something with an unknown cause MUST have a natural cause. You cannot credibly say, “I don't know how this happened but I know that God didn't do it.”

You said, “Oh, and evolutionary theory does not, on the one hand, include or depend on any particular account of the origin of life;”

It's true that evolutionary theory does not include the origin of life but it does very much depend on it. The belief that all present biodiversity has descended from a common ancestor necessarily requires a common ancestor! It's very convenient that scientists excuse themselves from having to explain the origin of such a critter.

Continued in next comment

RKBentley said...

You said, “A point I think you should consider, though, is this: Christians for centuries accepted spontaneous generation. It seemed obvious to them that God could build into the world the ability to generate life from nonliving matter through processes which, though created, were entirely natural.”

Hmmm. It's interesting that you pin this on Christians. I would have said, “scientists” had believed in spontaneous generation for centuries though perhaps some Christians agreed with them. God ultimately sustains the universe but I am reluctant to ascribe a supernatural cause to every phenomenon; I feel I would have been particularly reluctant to belief in spontaneous generation. The Bible says that after the sixth day, God rested from His work (that is, He ceased to create). There are a few occasions since the Creation where God has intervened in history and suspended the natural laws He created; we call those events miracles.

You said, “Evolution is not so much an explanation for the origin of life, as for the origin of species and biological adaptions: not why we have life itself, but why, given life, we have hummingbirds and howler monkeys. And as I noted in my original post, there is certainly a lot of evidence for the explanations evolutionary theory provides in this area. If I find a dollar in the lighted area, it might indeed not be the one I lost; there are lots of dollar bills out there. Some are even counterfeit. But if there's a counterfeit explanation for the origin of life, and there are literal mountains of evidence for it, who (or Who) planted that evidence? The assumption that evolution cannot be the cause of evolution implicitly accuses God of weaving, into the very fabric of the heavens and Earth (and our own bodies and genes) "one vast and superfluous lie."

You have expressed still another common criticism. God not only has created the universe, He has also told us how He did it (supernaturally over six days). You have chosen to reject that explanation and sought instead to look for another – a natural one. That was the very attitude I addressed with this post. In another post, I addressed how you and I have exactly the same evidence (same DNA, same fossils, same everything). Just because you seek to explain the data via a natural cause does not make God a liar.

God bless!!
RKBentley

siriusknott said...

I wrote on modern science's presumption of bias and the affects it has on their search for answers.

Basically, if they start with a game that only allows natural explanatiions and God [the supernatural] exists, they will not only be wrong about their answers to some questions [for some problems would require a supernatural explananition if the supernatural exists], they will not recognize their error! Wrong assumptions lead to wrong conclusions.

The full discussion is here: http://siriusknotts.wordpress.com/2008/06/15/there-is-no-science-but-naturalism-and-darwin-is-its-prophet/

Rev Tony Breeden
DefendingGenesis.org

RKBentley said...

Sirius,

Thanks for visiting my blog. I'm flattered because I've visited you blog many times and very much enjoy it. Having you visit and leaving a comment is sort of like having a celebrity guest.

Keep up the good work, brother! God bless!

RKBentley