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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Dawkins’

Koukl is a religious man and the main point of disagreement is based upon the idea the new atheists make assumptions in order to make their argument work. In particular he attacks Dawkins in the God Delusion based on the summary on page 188, although it is clear that most likely a summary of what is being said is only as strong as the arguments that precede it, he does not concern himself with that in this presentation. Unlike Koukl I’ve actually read the argument before I got to the summary so I understood where these comments came from. By the same measure I would be guilty of committing the logical fallacy of ‘straw man’ by suggesting that Christianity is appalling as it teaches that it does not matter what actions you perform, no matter how morally wrong they are, after all if you say sorry then you will be forgiven. Of course this is not true and is an oversimplification based on not knowing enough about Christianity. Koukl is making it seem very easy to discount what Dawkins is trying to put across, the fact that people are listening to him worries me greatly since he does not actually show why it is wrong. Saying “this does not advance the argument” over and over again as a criticism of Dawkins is at least hypocritical since, as Robin Ince puts it, the suggestion is the religious argument is “the magic man done it”. For this reason I think it is fair to cite religion has an inhibitor of generating knowledge as it is normally the end of the conversation never the start. Let’s go to Koukl’s points:

Dawkins summary point 1 is “One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how one of the complex, improbable appearances of design in the universe arises” Koukl responds to this by saying that statement does not advance the argument, it’s just an opening assertion and has nothing to do with the conclusion [post hoc: god does not exist]. This is really relevant, to give you a taste of it what Dawkins meant, he wrote about why it took us so long to see evolution as the possible creator of the complex things that are in our environment. That first makes it clear that it is difficult to understand the place we find ourselves in and also that we have the need or want to understand it at least in some form. In particular God is one of the possible answers, it fills the need that we all have. Dawkins highlights the argument of the worship of the gaps, in other words when we cannot explain something either by lack of intelligence, knowledge or ability then it is very simple to argue God did it. From what we do understand about our place in the universe it seem so difficult to us to imagine the forces that created the complex objects in it. I think this speaks to our psychology and it is relevant because it shows us explaining things is not only difficult it also goes to explain that we often get it wrong. This is why religion is here, not as a true account for things but as a useful tool set (to an extent).

Dawkins summary point 2 is “The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design with actual design itself…” Koukl responded by saying it is natural to assume design when things look like they have been and therefore, again this does not advance the argument. Dawkins is very clear on this point, mostly because Koukl missed out the second half of this statement. We see complex objects that are designed by us, for example a watch or computer, using this same form of logic we can then assume that in order for humans to exist therefore, something more complex than us must have designed us. In other words we cannot see that the horseshoe could have made the blacksmith, it is not how our experience allows us to think. Just because something comes to us naturally that does not result in it being true. Taking an example from another Dawkins book, the blind watchmaker, it is perfectly logical to see a beach where the large stones are set further away from the water and the smaller stones closer to it. If you don’t understand roughly the ideas of wave power and gravity then how could you assume anything other than someone sorted the stones out to make that pattern. Just seeing something which appears to be designed does not mean that it has been designed, that is just another assumption. It advances the argument because it challenges our assumptions of the forces that could have created living things, including us and the universe.

Dawkins summary point 5 is “although we currently have no natural explanation for the appearance of design but we should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.” Koukl responded by saying we don’t have evidence but maybe we will get some, these are irrelevant features of the dispute because yet again this does not advance the argument. Dawkins and Koukl, at least I think Koukl is, referring to the key numbers that allow for the right chemical and physics conditions which allow for living things to exist, such as the power of certain forces that appear to be constant everywhere. I have a problem with Dawkins, which I don’t have with many other writers, rather than sticking to the subject Dawkins talks about science as almost the replacement for religion. Don’t get me wrong it is and I can see how this argument is formed, it is just most people don’t understand science and it creates comments like Koukl’s. I think the correct response to Koukl is in the summary point made by Dawkins; we as yet do not know how the universe was created to which we may not have answers for a long time. Still the point is before evolution we did not see how the complex objects on earth could have been created without a creator, so the door is open for an explanation similar to that of evolution to explain the universe. This I suggest is much more of an honest approach than God done it. If we can get to an explanation for the universe which is equal to evolution in terms of its power, then the requirement for God is once again reduced.

Koukl misses out large parts of the summary points, there is of course 187 pages before Dawkins makes the summary points so no one is better to explain how Dawkins got there than Dawkins. The point is missed and although I have only highlighted certain issues you can see the general direction and how it does provide the all important advancement to the argument. Koukl argues that all these points of at fault due to Circularity still this is not how I see it. Go and read the book for yourself because the answers are all in there, it is a shame that Koukl did not really bother to do that. Stating Dawkins summary point 1 is the start of the argument does show that he either did not read or did not understand all the pages leading up to summary points on page 188. Koukl is guilty of not advancing the argument and circularity, he does not understand critical thinking and reasoned thought, and that is what is wrong with Christian views – they are unable to see how other people don’t think like them! Dawkins added something to the debate, Koukl did not!

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There is an old Irish saying, religion is the superstition of fools and I cannot help but think that should be religion is the religion of fools! I will give religion one point though, not that I’m actually keeping a record of points awarded or anything, at least for the most part it is perhaps a clearer distinction to where certain thoughts or behaviour come from, this is certainly not as clear when you consider luck for example. That is to say if you hate gay people then it comes completely justifiable once the understanding of a religious belief becomes apparent, even though such a position is easy rejected under the broad label of a modern society. If you believe some things are lucky and others are not, then it’s a little more difficult to see the thought process that has gone on in order for that to be justifiable to anyone especially to those that believe it. I think that I will start off with Superstitions since under my own broad definition this includes Luck, horoscopes, homeopathic medicine, anyone that argues they can speak to the dead, faith healers, Reiki, card reading and anything that can come up along those lines. I want to argue that these things have never been proven to work, at all, from what I hear people argue it works as there is a kind of feeling that it does. Rather than simply putting my focus in to that, I want to answer the question of what harm these things can do and the investment which is placed within these superstitions. In general I am not celebrating despair, rather extreme levels of hope which can be achieved by removing these things from people’s minds. If anyone points the finger at me saying that I am trying to remove their hope I wish to comment that this is not the case, there are real benefits to abandonment and also real empowerment to be taken back from both superstitions & religion.
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I like this analogy; if you go and get health care treatment in America and increasingly in Western European countries as well, once your condition is found out the burden of deciding on treatment is pushed back to the person who is ill, this is not the issue of consent which should always happen unless it is agree that you no longer can give it, it is a list of treatments that you can pick. This comes from the fear that doctors or hospitals might be sued if they get things wrong and you suffer in this event. This might sound really good, still consider who is more likely to make mistakes a doctor with at least 7 years of training who is at heart a professional or a sick person who knows next to nothing about medicine? It might seem an empowering notion to go through after all what is bad about choice, nothing and it does give the ill person a sense that they are in control of the situation. Even so you can see why this is illogical and perhaps wrong; a doctor who might make a mistake is always in a better position to make decisions than a sick person who is more than likely completely unaware of what is involved in the medical treatments offered. It is these supernatural things that create their own inbuilt despair as the same thing is happening, things like Reiki, faith healers and homeopathy give people who are ill or suffering the feeling of control over their own lives, still do we ever consider the possibility that an ill person is no good at deciding what one of these treatments will be best for them? Who is to say that Reiki will work and faith healing will not. This might seem like an overlaboured point to make but it is not as empowerment and control is so important to us. This leads me to the next objection; the level of hope that is given to people by these superstitious treatments often falls short of expectation, so they create despair often. Richard Dawkins puts this best by saying that people in India are choosing scientific medical treatment over useless superstitious treatments in overwhelming numbers, mean while in the west we are stuck in the reverse!

There is no evidence to suggest luck, horoscopes, homeopathy, Reiki or the other things ever work or are real reflections of the world. If these things are not based on truth, then it is perfectly possible to reduce them down to personal feelings and ‘I thinks’, this is a move towards the metaphysical. There is no evidence to suggest that someone’s metaphysical feelings are real, you might have really strong personal feelings that black people should not share the same space as you, that is just racist and if we end up deciding what is true based on our personal feelings then to me that is just a judgement call and ultimately dangerous to us all. The human brain is an amazing inability to decide what is true or not. Let’s take the case of 9/11 where almost 3000 Americans died, this is sad and deserves our action in every way. Only three days later, exactly to the minute after these attacks 3,300 Americans had died as a direct result of cigarettes, a further 1,100 would die every single day for the rest of the year (Chris Jordan). Since these terrorist attacks the American budget for health care has been reduced in real terms and homeland security has been increased by a significant amount, even though if a small percent of the homeland security budget was direct at healthcare prevention it could save more people. Of course we must stop terrorists, I am not suggesting we don’t, still is an example of how sometimes we can worry more about the things that are not really all that much of a threat to us. We think that smoking cigarettes is a choice, it might be in the start but often turns out to be an addiction, still we assume that it is controllable thus making it a safe known rather than perhaps an unsafe unknown. We have an error in our understanding when it comes to threats to safety of ourselves and the people we care about. In order to remove judgement from within our personal feelings we must check science and in order to remove errors in our understanding, even at national level, we must come to understand what logic is showing us – these create true things unlike personal feelings!

I use the word investment when we are talking about superstitions; this describes the situation the best since I don’t think that you walk into these superstitions not giving up things, this could be time, energy, money or your mental ability to cope in a rational way. Please keep in mind the idea of truth when I talk about these things here. When I talk about luck, I assume that most people do things that they hope will result in good things happening to them still when they don’t do these things it can often result in changes in thoughts, behaviour and a great deal of anxiety. The loss we make is great, we change our thoughts with the end result being irrational thinking, we change our behaviour as a result making us do things that are not justifiable and if we put our hope into something that is not true how can it be anything other than despair. Let’s go to Reiki for example, the process where someone puts their hands over your body and it heals you magically, people put time and often money, our hopes and often ill people go there in order to receive treatment. I think it is dishonest to say that you can treat someone when there is no evidence that you can, it scares me that someone can do Reiki who could possibly not be going through proven treatment or spending the time & money into going for a nice massage that would make their life better without the false hope. Of course both luck and Reiki can provide us with something but at what cost to ourselves. All these things chip away at the thing we call science and that will harm everyone in the end, you move the mind set away from the logic and towards the irrational. If you think that computers, vaccines, antibiotics, Cognitive behavioural treatments, MIR scans, X-ray scanners either at airports that keep you safe or at hospitals, possible fusion energy in the future, gene therapy, disease, chemical & infection control and much more are not only useful but saving people’s lives every single day, then how can you reject what all these things that are based on rational and reasoned thinking. To accept superstitious rubbish is the full face rejection of science, there is one proven thing that has improved & saved the lives of millions of people – science. There is nothing that as caused more suffering and death than superstition, and this brings me to the biggest one of all time, Religion!

www.issr.org.ukReligion is not based on the hope that there is a supernatural being rather extreme fear that there is not, with the wish that belief is not wasted. Religious people see the same evidence that God is not real as the rest of us; still it suits their needs to promote the irrational idea, it is indeed a real problem and why should anyone settle for this? Either you make the decision to give your life, mind or often death over to someone else or you do not. The debate should never be about morality or the evidence that a certain religion is either right or wrong, the evidence is clear for all to see. Focus should be on the implications of belief, we should not be scared into religion since it is our only hope in explaining things, I even reject this idea, it ends up explaining very little. If the result of belief is anything negative then it must answer for this, many people claim to be good Christians unless you are homophobic, racist and don’t agree with the idea of women’s rights then you are not a good Christian at all, this is God’s word and you cannot pick what you want from the bible. Religion can make people do the upmost stupid things, there justifications comes from faith even though morality tells us that these things are wrong and I am not talking about extremists that blow themselves up, I am talking about the everyday believers here. Bringing up your child in just one religion is child abuse, you have no evidence that you are picking the right religion so how can you justify placing rules & guide lines for a child without knowing whether it is right or not! Mutilation of children’s genitals is wrong no matter how many metaphysical feelings you, as a parent, might have. I object to religion on so many grounds, you can read some of it on my blog or go look on the internet for yourself. Now let us turn to science.

A lot of crap science is out there and this is not the result of science at all, rather people claiming that something is science when it is not. So I will give you a little rule to remember; if you come across something that is claiming to be science in order for you to check whether it is or not, ask yourself under what conditions could this be completely wrong! If you can’t work out how it could be wrong then it is not science, for example a new drug that helps people with depression this can be proven false if it is found not to work correctly. The creationist’s argument that dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark umm… dinosaurs lived before humans and around 64 million years ago? Ok you know that or you think the earth is only 4000 years old. I think you get the picture there is no condition in the creationists approach that allows me to say that would be false thus it is not science. If you go up to anyone that claims to be a true scientist and ask them the most important factors are the fact it can be wrong is the most significant, followed by peer review, reason and reliability of both method & result. You might not understand it at all but if you wanted to then you could go out and repeat the experiments of science. The method is always published within the peer review in order so others are able to find the same findings. Other than that it is a rational & reasoned response, not always but the things that go to create general laws or known facts are checked and the feedback loop checks them well so you can take from it that they are true things. To me the wonders of science far surpass that of anything else, the beauty of the surface of Mars or viewing atoms through powerful electron microscopes, how can anything else challenge these things? The hope that science brings is also amazing, around the time of the Enlightenment was a period were humans took control of the world they found themselves in, no one should ever want to lose that power, it is so important to us. I have gone on about how useful it is, I will end with this; it is thanks to science that I am still alive and that most of us are, we don’t owe science anything but we do owe the method of thinking that allow humans to think, imagine and create the things that saved so many people and that will save many more in the future. You should feel optimistic about the future; with science and its reasoned thinking we can do almost anything we can dream.

I have written about science and religion so far, I hope to write more about the things I consider as Superstitions soon. I decided to write this post now since I felt ready and confident about these issues. I have really enjoyed the journey that has being going on with me in the last six months, I hope it will continue. It is a little sad though that my posts offering insults about religion seem to get more views than anything else, so if you are reading this and have not done so already, please go read a science post. Thank you for reading my blog!

A little more on this matter….


Michael Shermer – Why we should think before we believe things. I like this man, he also thinks that intelligent design is the end of the conversation and science is an attitude rather than anything else. He discusses UFO and other things along that nature. Humans tend to see patterns and use their cognitive abilities to make sense of unclear data, this does not, as he suggests, be the end of investigation or be used as evidence. Our brains change the things we perceive into a workable pattern and this is what is happening, the more difficult it is to hear or see something clearly the more likely it is we will start to see with our brains and not our eyes.

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Humans by our very nature really don’t understand what random chance means, still let me provide an introduction to the topic. What set of numbers are more likely to win the lottery you can pick either 7 13 17 23 32 41 or 1 2 3 4 5 6? Ok you might try to catch me out here, but be honest the first set of numbers, at least to most people, would be considered to more likely be the winning lottery numbers even though both sets have an equal chance of winning. They are statistically equal in their likeliness although most people would pick the first set as a less risky and more likely to win than the second set of numbers. I was introduced to randomness by a lecturer who got the whole room to put 20 random dots on a blank piece of paper, being of course a lecturer in psychology the results were rather predictable, either the dots where all in one corner of the paper or pretty much equally spaced throughout the page. No one decided that randomness would result in all 20 dots being in the same position or that they could be clusters. In all humans have a hard time understanding what random really means, this is much like evolution in many ways.

evolution vs creationI recently got hold of a magazine named “Creation or Evolution” produced by the United Church of God, which has members across the world [EV/0511/1.1], although there are a lot of things which I object too I will pick the one I am most confused by. Overall the whole thing directs you to either the acceptance of either creation or the blind chance of lucky accidents which is cheerfully named ‘evolution’. I‘m sure I will talk about some of the other issues that came to me while reading this magazine at another time, still statements like Blind chance and this, which I will quote confused me greatly: “..upon thousands of lucky chance mutations happened coincidentally so that the lens [and the eye could work]..” Now I understand that it has been argued that the eye could have only come to existence if the whole thing came about at the same time, this is not the issue that I want to focus on really and since many scientists have already discussed this I will settle with talking about blind chance of evolution and natural selection. Natural selection has never been the same as blind chance. Chance is the idea that you gain something positive from random events or possible events that could occur; it is in effect the end result of randomness. Blind is also a puzzling word in this sense it is the unguided and unthought-of process that we happen to follow, there are no rules and whatever happens just happens. So according to the United Church of God evolution is the result of an unguided random process that just happened to produce the living things that we can see today, is that a true reflection of evolution?

Well the answer is a little no here – around half of all pregnancies in humans result in the natural abortion of the embryo or fetus which is the consequence of abnormalities, where maladaptive combinations or growth results in it simply not working. Extra or missing genetic material can also lead to natural abortion. The human body and indeed most other living things will not bare or produce young if there is not a strict following of the rules which allow for the normal growth of the embryo or fetus. Only smaller variations will result in successful birth of young, if there is something really wrong with the genetics then it will never end in successful reproduction. In this way the occurred changes must be more gradual and build up over time. Darwin never really discussed this quite like that, still this is not an unguided process, and the laws of nature provide the rules in which adaption must take place. This also means that randomness is excluded since abnormalities of genetic combination have to take place within this process. The conclusion here is that natural selection is not an unguided or random process.

Well the answer is a big no here – there is one big condition that exists within the theory of evolution, that is environment is the most important factor in the development of species, living things must be able to live and survive in the environment that they are born into otherwise they will not bare young and the species will die. Darwin called this process adaptive, this implies that there is some intelligence to the change which there is not; its more like the environment is changing & developing and the resulting effect are successful changes within a line of ancestors resulting in successful reproduction. This is how we got to the level of many species on earth; it’s the changing environment which includes things like the temperature, oxygen level and also the level of food available. The slow change is the creator of species and anything that counteracts successful living in a particular the environments means the likelihood of a successful survival is diminished. Since the environment governs natural selection, natural selection is therefore, not a random and unguided process. It has specific rules.

Let’s now turn to the building up process, I said before I don’t really want to discuss the eye so I will just give you an outline to how such things as eyes or anything else can build up over time. This from Richard Dawkins book the blind watchmaker, he provides an interesting and powerful analogy; let us take the case of a monkey through random chance being able to type the sentence ‘Methinks it is like a Weasel’, the odds of the monkey being able to do that successfully are so unlikely I can’t even count the zeros. Needless to say it is very unlikely to happen within 100 years of non-stop monkey typing. This is effectively what the United Church of God is suggesting and thus the argument of natural selection having odds for success which is far past me being able to write all the zeros down in my life time. Now let’s use the true non-random and guided process of evolution to suggest that every time the monkey gets a letter right, it works and therefore, it stays. So the first letter of ‘Methinks it is like a Weasel’ is M – since it’s a successful letter, it works in the sentence and the M stays; this is a 1in27 chance of the monkey hitting the M key (26 letters and the space bar). At some point the monkey will hit the second letter E since this is again successful it will also stay, the odds of that happening is 1in27 by 1in27. Each time the monkey gets a letter right it stays and the odds & necessary time for the whole sentence to be completed is reduced significantly, rather than millions of years perhaps a few weeks of non-stop monkey typing. This is how natural selection works by each successful change adding up over time to create an overall successful difference, each change being governed by rules of success.

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So when creationists argue that Coelacanth fish which was found recently although thought to be extinct 70 million years ago thus proving evolution is therefore wrong, we can simply argue that the main condition of evolution, being that of environmental change being the driving force, was not present for these populations of fish. Crocodiles are thought to be around 200 million years old overlapping with the dinosaurs that became extinct 65 million years ago. Why did the Coelacanth and Crocodiles survive all this time? The answer is once again this was not random chance. Both are suited for their environments, they are so well adapted that they have not changed, any change would be of negative effect and such variations are less suited so they have pretty much stayed the same. Random chance plays very little in the particulars of evolution and natural selection, so the conclusion that random or blind chance has anything to do with it is always a wrong assumption. We must reject this notion of blind chance!

A little more on this matter…

I’ve found a blog post that deals with some of the other issues that tends to pop up in regards to evolution, in particular the writer addressed some of the common anti-evolution ideas that are around. I like the idea that the blogger suggests that most creationists that become critics of evolution have never actually studied biology in any form. Great blog post read it here:

http://naontiotami.wordpress.com/2008/05/17/revolution-against-evolution-the-limits-of-microevolution/

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