February 27, 2005

GOD IS AS WE FIND HIM, NOT AS WE'D LIKE HIM:

Unintelligent Design (JIM HOLT, 2/20/05, NY Times Magazine)

From a scientific perspective, one of the most frustrating things about intelligent design is that (unlike Darwinism) it is virtually impossible to test. Old-fashioned biblical creationism at least risked making some hard factual claims -- that the earth was created before the sun, for example. Intelligent design, by contrast, leaves the purposes of the designer wholly mysterious. Presumably any pattern of data in the natural world is consistent with his/her/its existence.

But if we can't infer anything about the design from the designer, maybe we can go the other way. What can we tell about the designer from the design? While there is much that is marvelous in nature, there is also much that is flawed, sloppy and downright bizarre. Some nonfunctional oddities, like the peacock's tail or the human male's nipples, might be attributed to a sense of whimsy on the part of the designer. Others just seem grossly inefficient. In mammals, for instance, the recurrent laryngeal nerve does not go directly from the cranium to the larynx, the way any competent engineer would have arranged it. Instead, it extends down the neck to the chest, loops around a lung ligament and then runs back up the neck to the larynx. In a giraffe, that means a 20-foot length of nerve where 1 foot would have done. If this is evidence of design, it would seem to be of the unintelligent variety.

Such disregard for economy can be found throughout the natural order. Perhaps 99 percent of the species that have existed have died out. Darwinism has no problem with this, because random variation will inevitably produce both fit and unfit individuals. But what sort of designer would have fashioned creatures so out of sync with their environments that they were doomed to extinction?

The gravest imperfections in nature, though, are moral ones. Consider how humans and other animals are intermittently tortured by pain throughout their lives, especially near the end. Our pain mechanism may have been designed to serve as a warning signal to protect our bodies from damage, but in the majority of diseases -- cancer, for instance, or coronary thrombosis -- the signal comes too late to do much good, and the horrible suffering that ensues is completely useless.

And why should the human reproductive system be so shoddily designed? Fewer than one-third of conceptions culminate in live births. The rest end prematurely, either in early gestation or by miscarriage. Nature appears to be an avid abortionist, which ought to trouble Christians who believe in both original sin and the doctrine that a human being equipped with a soul comes into existence at conception. Souls bearing the stain of original sin, we are told, do not merit salvation. That is why, according to traditional theology, unbaptized babies have to languish in limbo for all eternity. Owing to faulty reproductive design, it would seem that the population of limbo must be at least twice that of heaven and hell combined.

It is hard to avoid the inference that a designer responsible for such imperfections must have been lacking some divine trait -- benevolence or omnipotence or omniscience, or perhaps all three.


Mr. Holt's objection that "any pattern of data in the natural world is consistent with his/her/its existence" is obviously true of Darwinism as well, but still sillier is that even as he notes the doctrine of Original Sin he manages to ignore its implications. No one who's read the Bible would claim that the God described therein is especially benevolent, omipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. Thus:
002:025 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not
ashamed.

003:001 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field
which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea,
hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

003:002 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit
of the trees of the garden:

003:003 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the
garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall
ye touch it, lest ye die.

003:004 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

003:005 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your
eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good
and evil.

003:006 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and
that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to
make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and
gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

003:007 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they
were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made
themselves aprons.

003:008 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden
in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves
from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the
garden.

003:009 And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where
art thou?

003:010 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was
afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

003:011 And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou
eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou
shouldest not eat?

003:012 And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me,
she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

003:013 And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou
hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I
did eat.

003:014 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done
this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast
of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt
thou eat all the days of thy life:

003:015 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between
thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou
shalt bruise his heel.

003:016 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and
thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and
thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over
thee.

003:017 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the
voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I
commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is
the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all
the days of thy life;

003:018 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and
thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

003:019 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou
return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for
dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

003:020 And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the
mother of all living.

003:021 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of
skins, and clothed them.

003:022 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us,
to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand,
and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

003:023 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden,
to till the ground from whence he was taken.

003:024 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the
garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned
every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.


Then:
004:003 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of
the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.

004:004 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and
of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to
his offering:

004:005 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain
was very wroth, and his countenance fell.

004:006 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is
thy countenance fallen?

004:007 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou
doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be
his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

004:008 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass,
when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel
his brother, and slew him.

004:009 And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he
said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?

004:010 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's
blood crieth unto me from the ground.

004:011 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her
mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;

004:012 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield
unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou
be in the earth.


And:
006:005 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth,
and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was
only evil continually.

006:006 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth,
and it grieved him at his heart.

006:007 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from
the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping
thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I
have made them.


Capped, most importantly by:
Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

A God who can despair of Himself is a radically different being than the one Mr. Holt has summoned from the pamphelets full of vapid objections such folk hand around.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2005 12:00 AM
Comments

Mr. Holt thinks he is making a scientific/engineering objection to design; what he is actually doing is making a theological objection to design, and is out of his depth.

I remember a previous Bros Judd conversation about the shortcomings of Neo-Darwinism, featuring Rand Simberg. When asked what might falsify Darwin, he replied to the effect that a series of spots on a creature that formed the first few prime numbers would do the trick, or perhaps a geometrical pattern. What he was actually stating in a roundabout way was Dembski's Design Inference; if the probability of the occurrence is quite small, you may safely infer design. I'm equally sure he would be aghast to be in agreement with Dembski - but he is.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at February 27, 2005 7:19 AM

Whenever I hear someone state that pain and suffering disproves the possibility of a loving God, I have to think of Bertrand Russell saying "better red than dead." Dime store philosophy that appeals only to base human nature.

Kind of like educators or politicians believing that by removing all competition we create utopia.

How about, "Better a universe that, according to all physical law, must be dispersed and -273 Kelvin, but isn't, than allowing for the more likely possibility of a God."

Posted by: Randall Voth at February 27, 2005 8:08 AM

"Some nonfunctional oddities, like the peacock's tail or the human male's nipples, might be attributed to a sense of whimsy on the part of the designer."

Remember David Warner in "Time Bandits"?

"God isn't interested in technology. He cares nothing for the microchip or the silicon revolution. Look how he spends his time, forty-three species of parrots! Nipples for men!....If I were creating the world I wouldn't mess about with butterflies and daffodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o'clock, Day One!"

Posted by: carl at February 27, 2005 11:04 AM

The rationalist's temptation is to believe they are capable of re-engineering reality so that it approaches 'perfection'. Rather than accepting the fundamental nature of things as they are along with our own limitations, the conceit is to imagine we could be more thorough in the 'planning'. The writer obviously feels competent in giraffe design, why not human nature itself? In a nutshell, hubris is the tragedy of rational/materialism.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at February 27, 2005 11:44 AM

Tom:

Which is why Rationalism is inherently evil--its rejection of Original Sin.

Posted by: oj at February 27, 2005 11:49 AM

As we don't know the Purpose, it's a little hard to judge the Design.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 27, 2005 12:41 PM

> In mammals, for instance, the recurrent laryngeal nerve does not go directly from the cranium to the larynx, the way any competent engineer would have arranged it.

I fear Holt may not be aware of the kinds of challenges encountered by competent engineers.

Posted by: Guy T. at February 27, 2005 2:19 PM

So God, if He exists, is at worst a vindictive so-and-so, and at best a no more than averagely-competent engineer.

I don't think you'll find too many atheists disagreeing with that synopsis.

Posted by: Brit at February 28, 2005 5:52 AM

Brit-

That's the point. An atheist engineering type would have done it better, nicer. Heaven on earth.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at February 28, 2005 11:25 AM

Tom:

Or a benevolent and competent God would have.

So there's no interfering God, or he's not benevolent and competent.

He's:

a) incompetent, or
b) vindictive, or
c) both, or
d) non-existent, or
e) existent but didn't have anything to do with evolution.

I guess you go for b.

I pass.

Posted by: Brit at February 28, 2005 11:39 AM

Brit:

Ever read the Bible? He's incredibly vindictive.

Posted by: oj at February 28, 2005 11:57 AM

Yes, b is a valid position to hold.

Posted by: Brit at February 28, 2005 12:04 PM

Brit-

Benevolent and competent in your eyes?

a) you belive a competent benevolent engineer could do it better

b) you believe it wrong that the world is as it is
(with pain and imperfection and death)

c) you believe that there is no such thing other than the ways of man.

I'll guess mainly c but with a little bit of a and b.


c)

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at February 28, 2005 12:06 PM

They're all valid.

Posted by: oj at February 28, 2005 12:06 PM

Tom:

Yes to a.
No to b and c - I think that 'right' and 'wrong' are irrelevent terms when it comes to evolution. What is, is.

Orrin:
Correct - well, I should have said 'coherent'. But yes, that's why I listed them.

Posted by: Brit at February 28, 2005 12:11 PM

Brit:

Yes, so you choose the ones that render a decent world. Your choices don't.

Posted by: oj at February 28, 2005 12:23 PM

Ah well, that's a different argument. A utilitarian line. I happen to disagree.

Posted by: Brit at February 28, 2005 1:00 PM

Brit:

No, not utilitarian. Aesthetic.

Posted by: oj at February 28, 2005 3:50 PM

"Better a universe that, according to all physical law, must be dispersed and -273 Kelvin, but isn't, than allowing for the more likely possibility of a God."

Randall, do you think entropy is a physical law regardless of whether God exists?

Posted by: creeper at February 28, 2005 4:43 PM

creeper:

Entropy isn't a law.

Posted by: at February 28, 2005 5:11 PM

My apologies, that was sloppy. I'll rephrase it:

Randall, do you think the second law of thermodynamics is valid regardless of whether God exists?

Posted by: creeper at February 28, 2005 5:17 PM

Orrin, you really should keep this under your hat. Make sure Randall doesn't find out - he's basing his notion that the universe can not have existed for all eternity - and hence the existence of a creating entity - on the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 6:33 AM

Started?

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 9:06 AM

The only other instance of 'started' in this thread is "I would have started with lasers, eight o'clock, Day One!", which is a quote from a movie and I dare say not terribly objectionable.

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 9:26 AM

BTW, Orrin (of all people) has started arguing against the validity of the 2nd law of thermodynamics over here: http://www.brothersjudd.com/blog/archives/021045.html


No one believes in entropy.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 9:34 AM

Randall believes in entropy.

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 9:39 AM

No he doesn't. Creation is anti-entropic.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 10:03 AM

"No he doesn't."

Perhaps Randall knows better what he believes than you do.

"No one believes in entropy."

Perhaps a lot of other people know better what they believe than you do.

Randall can speak for himself. He was quite clear about it on the other thread. He observes entropy, takes it as a fact, and concludes that it necessitates an act of creation. I think I've paraphrased that correctly; Randall, please correct me if I got that wrong.

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 10:26 AM

creeper:

No, they don't.

For instance, you think you believe in it and in Darwinism, but then turn around and say things like Man "earned" his especially evolved status, which denies both.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 10:37 AM

You do like digging that up over and over again, don't you? Once again I'll point out that it was in the context of you comparing evolution vs. creationism as moral narratives (which is more beautiful?), and I gave a possible interpretation of evolution as a moral narrative. That does not mean that it can not also be a scientific theory.

What this has to do with the argument at hand, though, is another question. So you're telling me straight out that you do know better what people believe than they do themselves. Maybe you want to explain to Randall why he believes what he doesn't believe, or doesn't believe what he believes, or has yet to be told what his beliefs are. I'm sure he'll appreciate you setting him straight on the issue.

BTW, why do you think the universe has to have had a beginning?

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 11:58 AM

creeper:

Yes. Peoples views are rather consistent and unremarkable with the same general sources and reasons for holding them.

Both reason and Faith confirm the Beginning.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 1:43 PM

1. "Peoples views are rather consistent and unremarkable with the same general sources and reasons for holding them."

That may well be, but what on Earth makes you think that 'no one believes in entropy' when it's pretty clear that a large number of people do, even if you do think that Creation is anti-entropic (a rather debatable point unto itself, but I'll let Randall fight that corner if he feels like it)?

2. How do you define the difference between the beginning and the Beginning? By 'the Beginning' do you simply mean 'the beginning of the universe'?

How does reason confirm the beginning of the universe?

There are ways of making that case, but I'd be interested in hearing your version.

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 2:27 PM

creeper:

1. Listen to them (listen to you)

2. The Big Bang

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 2:30 PM

1. So you've listened to, say, Randall, who just got done talking about how the 2nd law of thermodynamics has convinced him that the universe had to have a beginning, and you've concluded that he doesn't actually believe in it?

2. So you believe reason confirms the Big Bang theory?

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 3:49 PM

Creeper:

I looked at the links OJ cited.

They don't have anything to do with existence above the quantum mechanical level.

You are trying to conduct discourse whilst OJ is spewing noise.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at March 1, 2005 4:31 PM

Jeff:

The notion that the small bits are uncertain but the big stuff they make up is certain is too silly for words.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 4:42 PM

creeper:

yes

yes

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 4:48 PM

"You are trying to conduct discourse whilst OJ is spewing noise."

No way!

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 5:45 PM

Orrin,

what do you make of this?

"The point that Thomas Aquinas was making is obvious enough: that nothing moves on its own. You seem to stumble on the fact that we are already moving, and therefore assume it to be indisputable that we have always been moving."
Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 5:48 PM

Would you say that, if the 2nd law of thermodynamics is inoperative, it is possible that the universe has always existed?

If not, why not?

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 5:49 PM

No. Because God Created it.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 6:07 PM

creeper:

That something or someone set the Universe in motion.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 6:27 PM

Would you say that, if the 2nd law of thermodynamics is inoperative, it is possible that God created a universe that has always existed?

If not, why not? Keep in mind that God does not obey any rules known to us. If we say 'everything has a cause', it doesn't apply to Him.

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 6:35 PM

"That something or someone set the Universe in motion."

How do you figure Thomas Aquinas could make an observation such as 'nothing moves on its own' in a universe in which absolutely nothing ever stands still?

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 6:40 PM

No. God is external to the Universe and its Creator. God has a cause, as did that cause.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 6:42 PM

creeper:

Observation, intuition, reason, and faith. How do we know anything?

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 6:54 PM

"God is external to the Universe and its Creator."

Did I get that right, that part of this is:

"God is external to the Creator of the Universe"

So now you've backed into a 'First Cause Argument plus X'?

Well if "God has a cause, as did that cause", may I take it that you plan to extrapolate this chain back indefinitely?

Then what is the point in saying that there had to have been a First Cause?

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 6:58 PM

My apologies, I read that wrong. It should be read like this:

"God is external to the Universe and is its Creator."

Still, this part stands: if "God has a cause, as did that cause", may I take it that you plan to extrapolate this chain back indefinitely?

Then what is the point in saying that there had to have been a First Cause?

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 7:08 PM

The Chain extends back infinitely and there is a First Cause. It's just a paradox. It's sufficient though that we know God was our First Cause, even if not His own.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 7:15 PM

In other words, the First Cause argument is not a rational one, just another way of saying "I believe what I was told, and I'm sticking to it".

No problem, as long as we've got that straight.

Posted by: creeper at March 1, 2005 7:23 PM

It's rational as well. Nothing is causeless in nature.

Posted by: oj at March 1, 2005 7:36 PM

A circular argument can not be a rational one.

Posted by: creeper at March 2, 2005 2:12 AM

creeper:

All rational argument is circular, because, as we've shown, there's no rational basis for reason.

Posted by: oj at March 2, 2005 7:40 AM

Where have we shown that?

Posted by: creeper at March 2, 2005 9:04 AM

No rational basis for reason?

Of course there is.

You've said that we can't absolutely prove, using reason, that some things such as "the universe exists". I've agreed.

But there's still a rational basis for believing that it does. Its rational to make those basic assumptions, because there's no reason not to make them.

There's a big difference between being able to doubt something, and saying "therefore it doesn't exist".

Posted by: Brit at March 2, 2005 10:50 AM

Geez, you're regressing.

You've acknowledgedthat you can't prove you exist using reason--indeed, it's the classic problem with reason, that it proceeds from faith, not reason. Reason is useful, just irrational.

Posted by: oj at March 2, 2005 10:56 AM

Not regressing, Orrin. Just getting closer to pinning down the issue.

I prefer not to use the term 'based on faiths' because you could confuse it with "Faith".

I prefer to say that there are some basic assumptions which cannot be proven. They have to be taken as read.

But it is perfectly rational to make those assumptions. Without them, we may as well not get out of bed.

Posted by: Brit at March 2, 2005 11:13 AM

Brit, a nice step to nailing Orrin's little shell game there, trying to conflate the initial assumption that we exist with the notion of faith in a religious context.

Posted by: creeper at March 2, 2005 12:15 PM

Orrin, if you don't exist, how can you believe in God?

Posted by: creeper at March 2, 2005 12:18 PM

Brit:

No, it's irrational, or faithful, to make the assumptions. It simply demonstrates that reason is subsidiary to faith.

creeper:

It is faith in a religious context, yours just differs from mine.

Posted by: oj at March 2, 2005 12:21 PM

creeper:


Each of us believes we exist. Everything begins from that faith.

Posted by: oj at March 2, 2005 12:22 PM

So is Reason the same as Faith?

Posted by: Brit at March 2, 2005 12:46 PM

No. It is to faith as an orange is to fruit.

Posted by: oj at March 2, 2005 1:20 PM

Ah, and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, I geddit.

No sorry, don't see it that way, and though I've tried to give your view a fair crack, you haven't convinced me with your rational argument (ironic, eh?) that reason is inferior to faith because there are some things you cannot rationally prove to positively be the case.
Faith and Reason are alternative ways of looking at the same thing. They're alternative ways of looking at the same thing.

Reason is to Faith, as working out the answers to a multiple-choice mathematics exam is to randomly sticking a pin in A, B or C.

Posted by: Brit at March 2, 2005 2:11 PM

"Each of us believes we exist. Everything begins from that faith."

You like to use religious terms like faith to claim this ground as a religious one, but "I think, therefore I am" is rational and no less valid.

Unfortunately, it happens not to fulfill your expectations of grandeur and your insistence on you and your worldview being massively superior to everyone else's.

Posted by: creeper at March 2, 2005 2:12 PM

I think therefore I am proceeds from two statements of faith that are neither demonstrable by reason. Your problem is pretty rudimentary--you think that makes them less true than if they were rational. It doesn't. Faith is a sufficient basis for subsequent reasoning as it is for all our knowledge. But these are points you've already conceded, so I repeat myself.

Posted by: oj at March 2, 2005 2:24 PM
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