Sunday, January 25, 2009

Is There Any Way to Reconcile Science and Lies?

Ah, Veritas Forums. Is there any amount of silliness you won't speak about? Last night they hosted a lecture with the title "Is There Any Way to Reconcile Science and Faith?". What a joke that was. It was put on by Craig J. Hazen, Ph.D. who's now the Director of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, as well as a professor there too. With a slogan of "Above All Give Glory to God" Biola being is designed to spit out conservative christians who can spin apologetics and testify the good word. Sadly it seems Hazen got his Ph.D. from UCSB, a legitimate institution. Look, I got some pictures of myself with him on my laptop's webcam! I forgot to bring my normal camera, and happened to have my webcam on me, so I recorded the whole thing and took a video of me with him, and picked a few more stable stillshots.



I rode my bike to the lecture hall and arrived about half an hour early. I like listening to music as I ride, so I had been listening to my SanDisk Sansa on the way there and left in my earbuds - I have trouble getting the one in my left ear to stay so I'm always hesitant to take it. Hazen was talking with the fellow who seemed to have organized the event, and they both ignored me assuming that I was listening to music and unable to hear them. If they had only known about me, I'm sure they would have kept their mouths shut. Hazen started talking about his two kids who were taking biology classes and telling him that they believed in some of the bits about evolution, and upon his request they started mentioning "the pepper moths and rattling off all this stuff". To which apparently Hazen dropped his jaw in disbelief that they would get taken in by reality and let them know, "Well we've got some homework to do!" I find this overheard anti-science revelation especially interesting considering one of the questions at the end was, "Do you believe in evolution?" and his answer was a brusque dodge of, "I save that for other people."

The most interesting pre-show gossip I overheard, however, was them discussing manipulation techniques when it came to arguing for intelligent design over evolution of evolution. "The trick is," bragged the organizer, "not to mention God. Just say that it couldn't have come about through natural processes." He went on to claim that, "In fact, natural processes inhibit evolution" and that theists needed to approach this in a scientific way. Fewer more salient admissions that intelligent design is just about shoving in god instead of science could not have been blurted out by these guys. And what about that blatant lie that "natural processes inhibit evolution", what the hell reasoning could they give to explain that out, I would have liked to know? They do need to approach this in a more scientific way, and that means not making assumptions that you believe to be true and finding the data to fit that, but looking at the data and drawing conclusions from that.

Then a mixed crowd of people started filtering in, some carrying bibles, some wearing crosses; I wondered if I should have had some sort of bible handy in case he quoted scripture. I then felt like I was in a church service instead of a university lecture, which foreshadowed the second half of the lecture when he got more preachy than sciency. I felt a bit alone in the sea of believers and glanced around in case there was anybody who might look like an atheist mole like myself. I saw a few nerdy people, but they turned out to be theists. Mid-lecture I was joined by someone I knew from my campus's secular club and we commiserated together.

He started off the lecture with a "heartwarming" story of how he called his wife in the car on his way here, which is now illegal in California. I thought about informing him of this, but figured I'd let him find out in his own time. After a horribly corny joke, he launched into the meat of his argument.

He claimed that he had been in Miami and performed a miracle for everyone, and that he would repeat it here. He then proceeded to step out to the podium and raise his arm. That was his miracle. He went on to explain that the miracle was that he moved his arm of his own free will - that his soul had caused the arm to move, and that science couldn't explain the thoughts that made him initiate that arm-moving action. He went on to decry that people had become physicalists: that they only believed in the stuff that can be studied by chemistry and physics - the stuff of the physical world and that they didn't believe in "minds and souls and such". He then told about how this student stood up and gave a perfect biological explanation of how the body produced that movement down to how muscles and neurons work and the parts of the brain that send movement.

Being the snot-nosed theist he was, he told the student, "but that's not a very good explanation overall, is it? I know a little bit about physics and biology, and I know that things need an outside force to move them. How did that happen? Was it just chemical and physical activity? What started that activity?" He went on to claim that his soul of course, started the movement and that it's something science and physics and chemistry alone cannot explain. That there's no machine you can hook up to that will measure your thoughts. He went on to claim that, "If the world view can't explain something, then we need another view."

Later a student asked if he thought that science could ever measure thoughts and he said, "Can it ever be investigated using science and tools? I would not get it, I can't get my mind around how a scientist could ever study a thought. It could be a category science will never have access to. How would I study a number? We use numbers all the time, but how do we study those things?"

There were four stupid, stupid statements in that train wreck, so let's look at them one by one:

1. Things need an outside force to move them. Ummm... what? He is completely misinterpreting biology on such a grand scale I can't even begin. His statement reminds me of this similar nutter. First of all, he must realize that we do have an external source of energy: food. Food gets its energy from other food or from the sun. Food has energy that gets stored as ATP and glucose that the muscles use to move. You can read entire books about how that works. But when he mentioned "outside force" he seemed more to be claiming that there has to be an outside force that starts the thought moving, which leads us into...

2. There has to be a first cause (of the individual thought). No there doesn't; your brain is constantly in motion, one thought leading to the next. He thought about raising his arm because before that his brain thought about doing the example and before that was another thought, and then one before that and one before that. The brain is constantly in motion all its own; it doesn't need soul guidance to tell it what to do. Sure at some point there was a first neural firing while your brain was developing, but that's because of the movement of biological processes happing way before that. Things don't just happen in isolation, they are caused by something else preceding.

3. Science cannot explain thoughts, so it's a soul. Science is getting pretty good at explaining thoughts, actually. Just because we can't measure them precisely yet doesn't mean that we can't at some point in the future. Here's about as blatant of a "god of the gaps" argument possibly in existence - because science currently doesn't have a grasp, instead of admitting we don't yet know, we should grab onto any old world view if that will explain it to us. Great. Now you just have to explain how a soul would work since you proposed it, please and thank you.

4. Since I don't get it, it must be wrong. This is just like the argument for intelligent design - since I don't understand how it works, it must have been something supernatural. If you don't understand something, then defer to people who do or admit the limits of your own knowledge. Don't just make shit up to fill in that gap.

Having just done part one exposing the problems of a soul, I should have asked him some of my concerns at the end of the lecture. I had difficulty during the lecture condensing my argument down to a simple enough question that the speaker and audience could immediately recognize the fallacy, so I decided not to touch on the soul. Here is the question I should have asked, that I've realized after the fact: "If the soul is the primary causer of the movement, then what is the point of the parts of the brain that cause that movement? Why doesn't the soul just directly move the muscle?"

Next he switched gears into telling a story about telling off this guy at his wedding. The offender told Hazen, "You're a religion guy and I'm a science guy." and Hazen said that what he meant by that was, I'm the rational one looking for answers, and you're the one banking on leprechauns and fairies and such on stuff you will never know." So Hazen's grand smackdown was, "Tell me, do you think it's ok to torture babies for fun?" The guy froze up, couldn't answer then and then supposedly came back later and told Hazen that he had wondered at the strangeness of the question and had figured out that, "If I say yes, it's ok to torture babies for fun, I will be admitting that there's something science can't tell me is wrong. Not wrong because it's part of our culture, wrong because it's morally wrong. Moral knowledge you can't get for a scientific investigation."

Three things wrong with this.

1. I believe the story to be a lie, possibly like other stories he's told (including the guy giving the science explanation). Christians have no qualms telling stories that are made up (after all Jesus did it) just to make their point. The guy's conclusion is just so off-the wall and fits so well into the story that Hazen is trying to tell that it's patently absurd. I seriously doubt rationalist would say, "oh yeah, science can't explain morality."

2. You can't have morality without some sort of supernatural influence. Ha. Morality is a product of evolution. It's rationally beneficial to the secular society. To the fellow asking me at the end about how you'd get morality without a god, here's the more succinct answer I should have given: Assume that you have two separate etherial beings, one's god, one's the devil, and they both claim to be god (God A and God 1 since you can't tell the difference). God A tells you one set of morals, God 1 tells you a separate set. How would you know which one to choose? You'd have to use your own compass.

3. I chose to ask him my question at the end about this topic. I asked him, "You said that it's wrong to torture babies, with no exception, so I will assume that means drowning and killing them too, correct?" And he stalled and never really gave me an answer. After pressing he told me that he wouldn't answer because every time someone brings up some sort of 24 situation where you have to torture a baby to stop a terrorist or something. So I got to my point and said, "I'm just going to say then why is it ok for god to drown and kill all the babies in the flood, or kill all the first born in Egypt?" He tried to refer me to what I think was a journal discussion page and skip out, but I pressed again, "So what's the consensus of that discussion?" He gave me the answer I expected, "Well, if God gives us life, He can take it away." How fantastic of God - he can smother us to death with water if he takes a fancy to. Scary and powerful yes, but loving and deserving of respect no. After the talk when I went to go get my picture with him he thanked me for asking the "most difficult question Christianity and Judaism has to answer", to which I responded, "any time." I guess for some reason Islam doesn't have to answer it.

After talking about how much he loved science and modern medicine, he put on his preacher hat and talked about faith. He went on and on about how faith is not blind leaping. He said that several times faith is not blind leaping, faith is not blind leaping, it's knowledge. He gave the example of the burning contest Elijah had with the prophets of Baal. I believe that he had to really focus on faith as not blind leaping because that's what it really is, and he needs to repeat it as often as possible because repetition is one of the biggest manipulation double-think techniques. He knows that there's no evidence, so he's just got his manipulation. He mentions that there's tons of evidence for the resurrection, and only after someone asks him for it does he mention the empty tomb as evidence. Wow. I guess an empty grave is evidence for zombies then too, eh?

He then told a story about giving evidence for the resurrection to medical students (notice his subtle transition from faith to christianity?). He told them that "Jesus was alive at point A, dead at point B, and alive at point C" and was excited to tell us that their jaws just dropped. I can tell you why their jaws dropped, it's a stupid claim which you given no reasonable evidence for.

Then his next argument that christian faith is that christians really believe it! He told a story about a guy with a degree in myth and folklore, who when he started reading the bible said, "wow these people write like they really believed it!" and that's what converted him. I guess if you just really hope and believe in something, that makes it true? A more dangerous message could not be made. What about the breatharians - people who believed that all they needed to do was breathe to stay alive, not eat or drink? Some of them died from something they genuinely believed in. And what of all the other mythologies? Believing something strongly does not make it true.

Then he went on to talk about how Christians were the more broadminded ones because they were open to the idea that a miracle might happen. He said that he knew someone who had witnessed a resurrection first-hand. A resurrection first-hand? Really? That's just so asinine I can't even believe. Then why do we get stories about people keeping dead bodies in their houses in the hopes that they will be brought back and don't?

He goes on to give the stupidest example ever - that if he could repeatably grow hair on a billiard ball in front of James Randi and everything, it would be a miracle but not something as amazing as a resurrection because it doesn't "speak to the human condition".

First of all, you can't even manage that sort of miracle, it's stupid to give it an an example of an inconsequential miracle. Second, if you could do that, it would be the most amazing thing ever. Scientists would be flipping shit. You would be manipulating the very fabric of reality - matter from nothing, spontaneous rearrangement of chemicals from no physical source! That would be the most amazing thing in the world, and if you could James Randi would gladly fork over his million (if you get it in before the challenge closes).

He ends by talking about the parable of the blind men and the elephant - all rationally trying to grasp at the theological reality but they really need an objective outside source who tells them what they're really groping at (christianity). The parable is especially amusing, since he's the one not even trying to grasp at reality and assuming to know about an objective observer who's not really there.

12 comments:

  1. Miracles are certainly getting less spectacular these days. Raising an arm eh? Not quite parting the Red Sea.

    TRF

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  2. Actually the only miracle that I can accept is that it's a miracle that people still believe some of the crap.. It's gone downhill (I didn't think it was actually possible) since I 'experimented' in the area in the 80's..

    Nothing changes. God is all knowing, all powerfull and deeply interested in everyones sex life..
    People can believe what they want to but do they really need to push it down everyones throat all the time..

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  3. Luckily raising an arm with a voluntary motion is done with the most primitive part of our brain, the brain stem and cerebellum (i.e. the reptilian brain). Sounds like this guy doesn't have the mental capacity for the critical thinking necessary to understand why this doesn't require a "soul".

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  4. If this bloke's "soul" made him raise his arm, does that mean my dog's "soul" is making her lick her privates on the couch when my parents are visiting?

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  5. Actually, Mandrellian, someone asked him if elephants and bacteria have souls as well. He said that sure animals have souls - they think about things and do them with their own free will too. He admitted uncertainty about bacteria. He might be nuts/stupid/gullible, but I was impressed by his consistency.

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  6. Good summary. Reading through his arguments he sounds like the wettest kind of apologist there is.

    Something I would add is the widespread misconception that we should in some way take our moral cues from the natural world anyway. So many theists rail against evolution because natural selection is apparently 'immoral' and justifies genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other awful things, like bunny killing perhaps. Yet when you point out that many scientists - Dawkins, for example - argue that it should be our purpose to fight against natural selection, they curiously go silent!

    Anyway, good stuff. Keep it up!

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  7. Just curious . You said morals came from evolution. Do you think it would be OK to torture babies for fun if we evolved that way?

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  8. No more than you believe that it would be OK to torture babies for fun if God commanded it.

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  9. MrFreeThinker... there's no way torturing babies for fun could ever come about through evolution. Just think about what would happen to a society that did that - they'd wipe themselves out pretty quickly.

    What you seem to be asking however, is "could unethical but evolved behaviors be viewed as moral?"

    Yes; there used to be religious moral dictates to kill adulterous females, kill women who engage in premarital sex, or marry raped women who were not betrothed. The brunt of the punishments are on the women who is unfaithful or the man who causes the woman to be unfaithful... why?

    Evolution is about passing on genes. Women know when they have a kid, they will pass on their genes. Men don't know that the woman they're with is necessarily going to pass on their genes, so it's evolutionarily beneficial for men to prevent women from cheating. And so, an unethical, religious moral code that harmed women was founded on this evolutionary principle unknowingly.

    Of course, evolution has given us something else - minds that can think and ration above these sorts of unethical moral systems. Instead of just sticking with "what God said", we are able to think about how women should be treated and escape from the paternity rat race that is prevalent in much of the rest of the animal world. We are now able to use our minds and reject what would otherwise have been an unquestionable dictate from god.

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  10. I'd also add that it's not just biological evolution at play here: it's also cultural evolution. Society's concepts of right and wrong change over time, and that INCLUDES within religious societies.

    For example, it was once widely understood that slave ownership is right. It's even encoded within the Bible, rules for how to treat your slaves. Now it's not regarded as right anymore. Society changed because slavery didn't turn out work towards generating a healthy culture where people were comfortable living.

    Nothing about the biology changed. It was purely a cultural shift. People changed their minds, and it was movement AWAY from traditions that were upheld by their religion.

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  11. @MrFreeThinker:

    Are you sure you're not Rhology in disguise? Maybe Rhology's cousin or something? Torturing babies for fun is wrong because it would lead to the almost immediate demise of any culture that tried to implement it.

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  12. I understand completely! I had 2 biology professors apologize for evolution and say that you don't have to believe just know to pass the test. This was in a biology for biology majors class. I wanted to scream!

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