Saturday, May 27, 2006

Purpose inherent or purpose imposed?

Are purpose and design inherent in the universe, as theists believe, or do humans impose the idea of purpose on the universe as we look at the world through rose tinted glasses?

Many Christians that I’ve spoken to appeal to creation as evidence for God. They list examples of incredible and intricate structures found in nature, such as the cell or DNA, and then argue that these structures, that work together so efficiently, indicate purpose and design. “If this is design, who is the designer?” the theist asks. The natural answer is God.

On the other hand, Michael Shermer, in his book, Why People Believe Weird Things, argues that purpose is imposed. The human mind is a skilled, pattern and causal finding machine. This ability allowed humans to detect connections between things and events in the environment, which made us extremely successful animals. However, the pattern-seeking ability of the brain is so good that it sometimes makes the error of observing patterns where none actually exist.

For example, if we look at clouds we automatically see recognizable shapes, but few would argue that clouds are intentionally created by an intelligent designer to look like dragons or cars. We know that clouds are created purely by natural means, through processes that we know well. In other words, when we look at clouds, the brain automatically thinks it observes design when in fact there no design at all.

What does the cloud below remind you of?

Could the theist’s belief that purpose and design are evident in the universe be a cognitive mistake of the same nature? As in the case of clouds, is it possible that the universe had a purely natural beginning, without a creator, but the human mind mistakenly imposes the belief that design is present?

So which is it? Do we live in a purposeless universe in which we impose design, or do we live in a created universe in which we discover design?

What do you think?

Monday, May 22, 2006

A question for young earth creationists

This is a humble question for those who advocate a literal interpretation of the Global Flood as recorded in the Bible, and who believe that geological strata were a result of this flood: how do you explain certain oddities and patterns that we see in the geological record, such as:

  • Pollen and spores found alongside fossils of each age (stratum). Surely these would have floated to the top of the flood waters and settled in the top strata? See here and here.

  • The fact that light organic fragments, such as feathers and pieces of egg shell, appear in the same strata as the species that produced them. One would expect these fragments to be spread haphazardly through the geological column by the violent deluge of water. See here.

  • The fact that whale fossils are found above marine reptiles such as Ichthyosaurs and Plesiosaurs. What attribute of the flood kept these animals separate from each other? See here and here.

  • The fact that fossils of trilobites appear below fossils of dinosaurs and mammals. Again, one would expect some mixing to take place. See here.
  • The fact that therapsid reptile fossils became sorted in a sequence that looks like evolutionary decent. See here and here.

  • Only recently has molecular evidence confirmed the ancestry and relatedness of some animals. The evolutionary tree created from protein sequencing closely, but not always, matches that of the tree deduced from the fossil record. How did the Flood manage to roughly sort living organisms according to their proteins? See here.

  • The fact that we find 140 -150 meteor craters scattered through the various strata. If all these meteors fell during the short period of the Flood (which is a logical conclusion if the geological strata were the result of the Flood), the energy released would have incinerated everything on the surface of the earth. How did Noah and his Ark survive this quick and savage meteor bombardment from the skies? See here and here.

I am asking this in an attempt to understand your belief. To me, the idea of a worldwide flood seems inconsistent with what we presently observe in the geological record.

(Much better lists of Global Flood problems can be found
here and here)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Verses of ambiguity

One of the things that blew my mind away about the Bible – when I left the faith, that is – was suddenly realising that the Bible is not 100% complete or certain. There are still verses and sections of the bible for which meaning is still ambiguous. To see this for yourself, all that you have to do is compare different translations of the Bible. In this post, three ambiguous verses will be explored.

1 Samuel 13:1 – How old was Saul when he became king, and how long did he reign over Israel? According to the NIV (New International Version), Saul was thirty years old when he became king but according to the ASV (American Standard Version), he was forty years old. The KJV (King James Version) does not mention his age and the GNB (Good News Bible) has omitted this verse entirely. In fact, the original Hebrew text states that Saul was one year old when he became king, which is impossible. It has been suggested that the original numbers in this verse have been lost in transmission. An interesting discussion on this verse can be found
here and here.

2 Samuel 15:7 – How many years went by before Absalom spoke to King David? According to KJV and NIV, it was forty years. According to the GNB, it was four years. In Kiel and Delitzsch’s Commentary on the Old Testament, four years is argued for, simply because King David only ruled for just over forty years, and it is improbable that Absalom’s rebellion took place in the final weeks of David’s rule.

Judges 14:15 – When did the Philistines speak to Samson’s wife? According to the KJV and NIV, it was on the seventh day. According to the GNB, it was the fourth day. The Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge says the following:

The LXX reads “on the fourth day;” with which the Syriac and Arabic agree. This . . . is certainly right; for it appears from Jdg 14:17, that she wept the remainder of the seven days; for which there could have been no time, if they did not threaten her till the seventh.

These are just three of many discrepancies that I have come across. I must stress that I’m not using these discrepancies to disprove the existence of God, or to pass judgment on the relevance of the Bible. I am just raising the following question for possible discussion: is there such thing as a correct translation of the Bible?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Was I a true Christian?

This is a response to a comment left by an anonymous writer (see here).

Anon wrote:

When you were a Christian, did you ever personally accept Christ as the lord of your life and savior from sin, or did you merely belong to the group known as "Christianity?" That is, did you really believe in your heart that your sins had been forgiven and that you were saved, or did you simply go to church with your family on sundays. I ask because I have never before heard of someone who had a personal relationship with Christ leaving it later on.

The simple answer to this question is yes. I did personally accept Christ as my Lord and Saviour. I did believe, with all my heart, that my sins had been forgiven and that I had a relationship with the creator of the universe. I took my faith quite seriously: I worked on the committee of our church’s youth group, building youth ministry in our area, as well as spending an entire year travelling around South Africa, with a Christian drama and music team, spreading the Gospel in schools, prisons and old age homes. I even led a few people to Jesus. Yes, I was a ‘true’ Christian – just like Anon. And yes, I did leave Christianity.

I’ve heard the argument from some Christians – and I must point out that Anon was not necessarily using this argument – that ex-Christians, before they left the faith, were not really Christians to begin with. There are two things I would like to say in response to this claim:

Firstly, when one clings with all their strength to a specific ideology or belief, which they view as absolute truth, they cannot accept the possibility that they could be wrong. When some fundamentalist Christians see others leaving Christianity, they naturally place the fault on the person leaving the faith (i.e., “she was never really a Christian”), instead of considering the possibility that the belief being rejected could be at fault (i.e., “maybe Christianity is false”). In other words, in the mind of a Christian making such an argument, Christianity is absolutely true and perfect; therefore, the fault of unbelief has to lie with the ex-Christian. Is it not possible that Christianity itself is the cause of believers leaving the faith?

Secondly, I believe this argument acts as a type of protection mechanism in the mind of the believer. Inherent in the argument is the fear: “If Mrs X can loose her faith, then it’s possible that it can also happen to me!” In an attempt to rid oneself of this fear, all that one has to do is believe that they are a true believer, who can never possibly backslide into unbelief, and that ex-Christians were not really Christians to begin with. In this way, one fashions the false belief that they will be immune to ever reaching the point of rejecting God.

Anon set out very clear criteria of what defines a true Christian. When I was a Christian I passed these criteria with flying colours. I lost my faith. No one is immune to paradigm shifts.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Does evolution depend on abiogenesis?

When discussing ‘new life forms’ that are supposed to arise from evolution, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, in their apologetic work, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, point out that the most difficult problem for evolution is that Darwinists can’t explain where the first life came from:

If Darwinists don’t have an explanation for the first life, then what’s the point of speaking about new life forms? The process of macroevolution, if it’s possible at all, can’t even begin unless there’s preexisting life. (pg 139)

This argument is similar to one used in this article on evolution, posted on the apologetic website, Stand to Reason. Gregory Koukl, the author, states that for evolution to be a fact, two things are needed: (1) life coming from non-life (i.e., abiogenesis), and (2) change in that life from simple forms to complex forms over time. He then states that nobody knows how life arose, and then argues:

Evolution is claimed to be a fact, but you can't have the fact of evolution unless you have the fact of abiogenesis. Yet nobody knows how such a thing could ever take place. And if life can't be shown to have come from non-life, then the game can't even get started.

One thing is correct in the above argument: scientists don’t yet know how first life arose, although there are some tantalising theories (see here). But is it then valid to argue that evolution is not true because we don’t know how abiogenesis occurred? I don’t think it is.

The above argument does not consider the fact that we can actually observe evolution happening. Many new species have been observed to have formed through evolutionary processes (see
here for examples). Not only can we see evolution happening but there are many clues, from many different spheres of research, that suggest that evolution has occurred throughout the ages (see here). The evidence for evolution is so good that evolutionary theory does not depend at all on the validity of abiogenesis. In other words, evolution happens, irrespective of what we know (or don’t know) about the formation of first life.

I will highlight the weakness of the argument further with this analogy. It is not a perfect analogy but it will do the trick. Humankind has only recently, over the last few centuries, discovered the exact process involved in conception. Would it be logical for someone in the Middle Ages, for example, to deny that humans physically grow from babies into adults because Middle Age society lacks complete knowledge of how life begins in the womb?

No. This conclusion is fallacious in that we can observe people growing and developing physically all around us. In other words, physical development in a human individual happens, irrespective of what we know (or don’t know) about the formation of life in the womb.

So not only is this argument an appeal to ignorance, but it also wrongly assumes that the truth of evolution somehow depends on the validity of abiogenesis.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Some general comments

Will soon be back on track
Apologies that I haven’t been updating my blog as regularly as I like. I’ve just returned from an exciting four-day hike, with my wife and a group of friends, in the Monk’s Cowl region of the Drakensberg. I will soon get back to posting at least one or two articles a week, and I will also respond to some of you who left comments on some of my older articles. So please bear with me, and thank you to all who have commented and taken the time to read my endless ramblings :-)

New email subscription service!
For those of you who would like to know when I update this blog, there is a new option where you can subscribe to email updates (see the top of the side bar). All you need to do is add your email address to the text box, press ‘Subscribe me!’, and complete a simple registration form. You will then receive an email every time this blog has been updated, informing you that a new article has been posted. This service is supplied by
Feedblitz, and you can, if you wish, easily deregister from this service via a link on the email that you receive.

What to look forward to
At the moment I’m working through a few articles that will be posted soon. Some of the topics include:

  • Does evolution depend on the validity of abiogenesis?
  • A question for a young earth creationist.
  • Some reasons to why I don’t accept scientific creationism.
  • A list of what I think are weak arguments used by atheists.
  • Skeptic in training.
  • Pondering Pi Pup.

All the best