Category: apologetics

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Although it’s been out now for 13 years, The God Delusion  by Richard Dawkins still sets the standard for 21st century atheist polemics. Both lionized by atheists and demonized by some believers, he is deserving, I think, of neither.

I’ve followed Dawkins for a while, mostly because of his particular pronouncements on the “improbability” of God. This thought intrigued me, because as someone  who has studied advanced probability (all right, I took a senior level math course in college), I was curious how that improbability was determined, and the methodology behind it.

Dawkins’s argument appears in Chapter 4, and reduces to this:

  1. The origin of life is an extremely improbable event. (on that we all agree).
  2. The history of life has been an inexorable progression from simple to complex. (conceded by most, except for young earth creationists).
  3. Darwinian evolution is the one thing we know that builds increasing complexity over time. (highly tendentious).

And finally, in his own words:

4. “The designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable.”

Elsewhere, he states (more clearly) that a cosmic designer would have to be more complex than life, so it seems [to him] illogical to explain complexity by postulating something even more complex. The latter is probably true, as far as it goes.

In a way, I was disappointed. I hoped he might have something interesting to offer on calculating the probability for or against God’s existence, but instead he merely offers a philosophical argument, and not a very good one.

In making his case, Dawkins commits three logical fallacies:

  1. Begging the question. Dawkins assumes what he sets out to prove. His thesis on Darwinian evolution assumes it happened without divine intervention. Even if we know evolution happened, which is almost certainly true on some scale, we don’t really understand how it happened. Natural selection, which Dawkins so reveres, is the black box, but inside is the biochemistry. Dawkins is no biochemist. (He’s no mathematician, either). If evolution was actively guided by the same designer, the case for improbability collapses. One has to assume it was not, which is begging the question.

2. Category error. Truly, I’ve been surprised that theologians would try to refute his argument by insisting that God is simple, not complex. How about neither? The words “simple” and “complex” as we apply them in the physical realm have no meaning with regard to an immaterial being that exists outside of space, matter, energy, and time. It’s as meaningless as talking about the “color” of God. Drop the assumption of material complexity, and the case collapses.

3. Equivocation fallacy. All Theists define God as uncreated, self-existing, and the first cause. Dawkins brushes right past by asking “who designed the designer?”This is just an unimaginative restatement of the old “who made God?” argument. A God that was “made” would not, by definition, be God. Dawkins own twist is to try and add a patina of authority by reframing it in scientific verbiage. The argument is purely a philosophical one. There is no way in the realm of science or mathematics to assign a probability to the solution.

This little discussion is neither intended as proof of theism nor a refutation of atheism. There is but one point to conclude. Dawkins’s many references to the extreme “improbability” of God amount to nothing more than an expression of personal feeling, not mathematics or science.

By U.S. Army, Post-Work: User:W.wolny - Archivesnormandie 1939-45, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=765569

It is early spring of 1943. The Axis powers are beginning to crumble against the massive and unrelenting Allied onslaught. Plans for the imminent invasion of Sicily are underway, establishing a base for the invasion and liberation of continental Europe.

Meanwhile, back at US military intelligence, a tightly knit group of outliers have been poring over captured Nazi military communications. They conclude that Berlin is a Potemkin facade – the entire brain trust of the Nazi war machine is hiding away in the Canary Islands. “That is their true vulnerability,” they determine. “Capture the Canaries, and victory is assured.”
 
The Allied command views the minority report as pure nonsense, but a third of the officer corps is persuaded and defects. Soldiers, seaman, and marines are transferred to the Canary Islands and commence their assault. Strangely, the beaches are deserted except for driftwood, dead starfish, and a noisy flock of seagulls. The befuddled Germans sense an opportunity too great to pass up, and begin to airdrop a few unfortunate paratroopers to keep the Allies distracted.
 
Meanwhile, with a third of Allied forces diverted, the Germans retake North Africa. The Japanese overrun India, then Australia. With the British Empire in full collapse, German warships and troop carriers begin to amass at Cherbourg for the final amphibious assault upon the British Isles.
 
In this counterfactual scenario, faulty intelligence led to a commitment of resources to fight the wrong battle in the wrong location, snatching defeat from the very jaws of victory. In other words, kind of like Christians fighting over the age of the earth.
 
This should be the golden era of science apologetics. Never has there been more evidence in support of a Divine Creator and the wisdom of His plan for humanity. Astronomy and physics have established beyond doubt that our universe of space, time, matter, and energy had a beginning. There is nothing in our realm of understanding to explain it. The universe and our planet are exquisitely designed for human civilization, with nearly a thousand specific parameters tuned in perfect alignment. In the realm of theoretical physics, the nature of fundamental physical reality looks too complex for comfort.
 
Biology, biochemistry, and genetics have revealed unfathomable complexity in the nature of life and reproduction. There is no working model for the origin of life. The problem of human consciousness remains so intractable we don’t even know where to start.
 
Medical research confirms beyond any doubt that the Biblical model of heterosexual monogamy is uniquely conducive to the mental and physical health of adults and their children and to social stability. Psychology and the social sciences corroborate the Biblical view of human nature as naturally proud and self-serving, with a propensity toward evil.
 
Every year more scientists and intellectuals come to embrace Christianity as the only adequate explanation for all they know and see.
 
With overwhelming firepower at our command, what do we do? A tiny contingent  with quasiscientific credentials insists that the Earth is really only six thousand years old (faulty intelligence). Their strategy has engaged a large proportion of the Christian community (diversion of resources). They make that hill the one upon which the Truly Faithful must stand or die (wrong battle in the wrong location). Opponents of Christianity are gleeful to engage, knowing full well their real vulnerabilities lie far from that battlefront. Young people raised in the Church are losing their faith in college, being persuaded over this one peripheral issue that Christianity is anti-scientific. Non-Christians simply roll their eyes and groan. And no one seems to get why.
 
To the apostle Paul, the Truth of Christianity stood on the resurrection of Christ. He penned those words when eyewitnesses to the risen Christ still walked the Earth, of whom Paul was one. For some Christians today, the Truth of Christianity stands or falls on a six thousand year old Earth. There’s only one way to lose this war, and we’re making great headway. The seagulls are getting nervous.

Sexual orientation and health

October 2, 2018 | apologetics | No Comments

Here, as anywhere, the wisdom of the great C. S. Lewis should be taken to heart:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. .. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind…which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”  C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory. [italics added]

Mental health

§  “A twofold excess in suicide attempts in lesbian, gay and bisexual people”
§ ” Lifetime prevalence of suicide attempt was especially high in gay and bisexual men (RR 4.28, CI 2.32, 7.88)”
§  “The risk for depression and anxiety disorders (over a period of 12 months or a lifetime) on meta-analyses were at least 1.5 times higher in lesbian, gay and bisexual people”
§  “Alcohol and other substance dependence over 12 months was also 1.5 times higher
§  “Lesbian and bisexual women were particularly at risk of substance dependence (alcohol 12 months: RR 4.00, CI 2.85, 5.61; drug dependence: RR 3.50, CI 1.87, 6.53; any substance use disorder RR 3.42, CI 1.97–5.92)”
Scapegoating the Church for LGBT Suicide and Stigma

This June 27, 2019 article by Family Practice physician Andre van Mol, MD reviews nearly two dozen research publications in the areas of suicidal behavior and intimate partner violence in LGBT-identifying individuals. Studies show an across-the-board increase in suicidality that is unaffected by liberal community attitudes. All studies to date either show no effect, or a protective effect, from religious faith. No one has been able to conclusively demonstrate a causal connection between stigmatization and mental illness in the LGBT community.

Domestic violence

CDC, The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010:

Sexual minority respondents reported levels of intimate partner violence
at rates equal to or higher than those of heterosexuals.

•Forty-four percent of lesbian women, 61% of bisexual women, and 35% of
heterosexual women experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an
intimate partner in their lifetime.
•Twenty-six percent of gay men, 37% of bisexual men, and 29% of heterosexual
men experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner
at some point in their lifetime.
•Approximately 1 in 5 bisexual women (22%) and nearly 1 in 10 heterosexual
women (9%) have been raped by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Rates of some form of sexual violence were higher among lesbian
women, gay men, and bisexual women and men compared to
heterosexual women and men.

•Approximately 1 in 8 lesbian women (13%), nearly half of bisexual women
(46%), and 1 in 6 heterosexual women (17%) have been raped in their lifetime.
This translates to an estimated 214,000 lesbian women, 1.5 million bisexual women,
and 19 million heterosexual women.
•Four in 10 gay men (40%), nearly half of bisexual men (47%), and 1 in 5
heterosexual men (21%) have experienced SV other than rape in their lifetime.
This translates into nearly 1.1 million gay men, 903,000 bisexual men, and 21.6
million heterosexual men.   

Sexually Transmitted Disease

Mojola SA, Everett B. STD and HIV risk factors among U.S. young adults: variations by gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Perspect Sex Reprod Health. 2012;44(2):125-33.

  • “In the United States, sexual minorities, such as gay and bisexual men, as well as racial and ethnic minorities, such as blacks and Hispanics, have higher rates of STDs and HIV than their majority counterparts.”
  • “People who have multiple minority identities are at disproportionate risk of acquiring STDs, including HIV.”
  • “Gay males of every race or ethnicity reported a higher number of sexual partners than heterosexual white males”

Ritter, L. J., & Ueno, K. (2018). Same-Sex Contact and Lifetime Sexually Transmitted Disease Diagnoses Among Older Adults. Journal of Aging and Health.

  • “Older adults who report any SSC have higher lifetime counts of STDs. This difference persists even when controlling for sex, race, education, age, military status, and incarceration. Propensity matching models show that this difference persists when respondents are matched on several factors that may influence SSC prior to STD contraction.”

 

Marriage and Health

October 1, 2018 | apologetics | No Comments

A glimpse of current literature regarding the benefits of monogamy:

Effects on adults

What Do We Know About the Link Between Marriage and Health? Journal of Family Issues 31(8):1019-1040, 2010:

§  “Marriage reduces depression”
§  “Unmarried adults are more likely to drink, use marijuana, and drive recklessly”
§  “Married men and women experience lower mortality at every age relative to those who remain unmarried or lose their spouse through widowhood or divorce”
§  “A number of rigorous studies reveal that marriage can also lead to better general physical health and better outcomes for some specific health conditions, including arthritis, hypertension, and heart disease”

The impact of polygamy on women’s mental health: a systematic review | Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences 22(1):47-62, 2013

“Individual studies report a higher prevalence of somatization, depression, anxiety, hostility, psychoticism and psychiatric disorder in polygynous wives as well as reduced life and marital satisfaction, problematic family functioning and low self-esteem.”
 

 Effects on children

Parental Divorce or Death During Childhood and Adolescence. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 204(9):678-695, 2016:

“Participants reporting a history of parental divorce present a significantly higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders, particularly alcohol and drug use disorders compared with control subjects. While participants experiencing the death of a parent reported a poorer overall health, the prevalence of psychiatric disorder after 17 years of age was not significantly higher than that of the control subjects.”

The consequences of fatherlessness:

“Children from fatherless homes are more likely to be poor, become involved in drug and alcohol abuse, drop out of school, and suffer from health and emotional problems. Boys are more likely to become involved in crime, and girls are more likely to become pregnant as teens.”

Economic benefits

Marriage and divorce’s impact on wealth. Journal of Sociology 41(4):406-424, 2005:

“Married respondents experience per person net worth increases of 77 percent over single respondents. Additionally, their wealth increases on average 16 percent for each year of marriage. Divorced respondents’ wealth starts falling four years before divorce and they experience an average wealth drop of 77 percent.”

On human nature

September 11, 2017 | apologetics | No Comments

In the realm of logic there is a principle known as the fallacy of the false dilemma. The rules of logic are violated when a complex question is restricted to an arbitrary number of answers, typically just two.
This occurs regularly in the public discourse and is a major contributor to polarization. Either global warming is a hoax, or global warming is the gravest threat to human existence. Either the complete neo-Darwinian paradigm is a fact or a total fabrication.  With both issues, there is a broad continuum of enlightened opinion that attracts little notice – because moderate people are boring. Recent insights from social psychology account for why we tend to gravitate toward extreme positions. It requires greater mental effort to parse complex issues, and we are naturally lazy. It enhances our ego when we can claim the mantle of moral superiority and vilify our opponents. That’s a lot less satisfying if your opponent might be even partially correct.
A recent columnist asserted that liberals think Wall Street is the source of moral decay, and conservatives believe the decay stems from Washington. Are we facing a false dilemma?
Let’s look a little closer. Taken at face value, the premise immediately leads to contradictions. The upper echelons of our federal government have been dominated by wealthy business types under both Republican and Democratic administrations, and for many a short career in government has been a Launchpad to success in business. Wall Street and Washington are more symbiotic than antagonistic.
If we pause to think but a second, both right and left harbor a list of villains that extends far beyond Wall Street and Washington. Liberal villains include pro-lifers, most Christians, white males, married white females, the military, Republicans, and pretty much anyone who hasn’t drunk the newest flavor of Kool-Aid. Conservative villains include Socialists, Communists, most of the media, sexual revisionists, Democrats, climate alarmists, and any liberals not otherwise listed. Clearly it is false that either side sees the “rot” as confined to a particular group.
Everyone with a pulse knows about the Holocaust. But the Holocaust was not the first genocide of the 20th century. That dishonor falls to the Turks, for their slaughter of over a million Armenian Christians starting in 1915. Nor was the Holocaust the largest mass slaughter. At least 20 million human souls perished at the hands of Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin between 1917 and 1953.
In the wake of the Holocaust, Western society was gripped with the question “what could drive normal people to such evil?” That concern prompted the famous Milgram experiments of the early 1960’s. In the initial experiment, 65% of participants willingly inflicted a fatal electric shock (fake, but they didn’t know) on a pretend “student” when instructed to do so by a man in a white coat. Shocking, indeed.
If you seek comfort in the belief that violence is mostly caused by radical ideologies or authoritarian regimes, forget it. Between 2001 and 2016, more Americans were killed in Chicago than the Middle East. Anthropologists have come to accept that murder has been a common cause of death throughout history and even prehistory. If anything, it has declined with more powerful states.
Psychologist David Buss of the University of Texas at Austin reported in 2005 – based on a survey of over 5000 people – that 91% of men and 84% of women have entertained at least one fantasy of committing murder. That most haven’t followed through has more to do with our personal comfort and fear of consequences than the strength of our character.
Of course, murder is merely the most dramatic manifestation of “rot”. Lesser manifestations – greed, deceit, infidelity, lust – permeate all of human society. All of history, science, reason, and experience lead to the inevitable conclusion that deep within every human spirit lies an inclination toward evil.
Few could have spoken with greater authority – or greater eloquence – than Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, survivor of the Soviet Gulag, who wrote: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” For two thousand years this principle has been known by a particular name. The theologically inclined may still recognize it as the doctrine of original sin.
This reality lead 17th century political philosopher Thomas Hobbs to argue for strong authoritarian central governments to keep the darker human impulses in check. Others saw a different path – if the population was religiously observant. (The founder of modern political science, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”)
A century ago the London Times inquired“What’s wrong with the world today?” Noted Catholic writer and Christian apologist G. K. Chesterton responded:
“Dear Sir,
I am.

Yours, G. K. Chesterton.”

By the light of the beautiful moon

August 14, 2017 | apologetics | No Comments

Question: How does a procrastinating, crowd-averse father get his family from Edwards, CO into the path of totality for the 2017 total eclipse? Via Denver and I24? Heaven forbid! Back roads to Casper? No rooms or campsites for 50 miles in any direction.


Answer: By schlepping northward to Shoshone, WY and pitching camp in the ersatz “Bill’s RV Park”. A mere sheep pasture until two days earlier, it was now a sheep pasture…with a PortaPotty.

For our efforts we were rewarded with down-home hospitality and front row seating for one of nature’s most stunning spectacles: a total eclipse of the Sun.

Now, you may think the Moon is quite ordinary. From an astronomical standpoint, nothing could be further from the truth. For starters, our Moon is 50 times larger than any other moon in the solar system, compared to its host planet.

Even to have a perfect eclipse is quite remarkable  As luck would have it, the Sun is both 400 times larger in diameter than the Moon and 400 times farther, so that the Moon can perfectly occlude the Sun while allowing us to see and study its corona. Because the Moon is slowly pulling away from Earth, in about half a billion years there will be no more total eclipses. This may seem like a long time – it is, actually – but in geological terms we’re 90% there. 
 
Until quite recently the origin of the Moon was a complete mystery. The prevailing theories during my youth – capture of a floating celestial body, or simultaneous formation out of the same cosmic building blocks – were eventually proved impossible. Then came the moon landings. Between 1969 and 1973, the Apollo missions returned over 800 pounds of lunar material. The lunar crust exhibited chemistry virtually identical to Earth’s mantle, yet was strikingly different from other bodies in the solar system. Chemical analysis and computer modeling led to a startling conclusion: long ago, the infant Earth may have been struck by a celestial body about the size of Mars. For the physics to work, it had to be moving relatively slowly and strike the Earth at just the right angle. Too fast, and both are vaporized. Too steep, and it is completely absorbed. Too shallow, and it bounces off like a billiard ball. Most of the object had to be assimilated into the Earth. Our Moon would be formed by remnants ejected into space.
Within our solar system Earth is uniquely conducive to life, and much of that we owe to our silvery Moon. The Moon’s gravity exerts a stabilizing effect on the Earth’s spin. Otherwise, it would teeter like a top. So long as the Earth’s axis of spin is oriented to its orbit at an angle of 23 degrees, we have a stable four-season climate in temperate regions with ice confined to the poles, where it belongs. Without that stable axis life at all would be difficult; advanced intelligent life nearly impossible.
 
The planet closest to Earth in size and structure is Venus. Yet Venus is clothed in an incredibly dense atmosphere composed of CO2 and sulfur dioxide  The thick atmosphere traps the Sun’s energy resulting in a runaway greenhouse effect and surface temperatures of almost 900°F. As best as we can ascertain, the primitive Earth would have been similar. Something in Earth’s early history blew away most of the atmosphere, making life possible. An early collision event would have done exactly that.
 
Precise measurements reveal that the Earth’s rotation is gradually slowing down. Rewinding the clock tells us the early Earth was spinning much faster: one complete rotation every 6 hours or less, perhaps much less. At that rotation speed, the Earth’s surface water would amass around the equator,  completely submerging the temperate regions. Volcanoes and earthquakes would be far more frequent and severe. Advanced civilization would, again, be nearly impossible. We can thank the Moon for this. Gravitational friction from the Moon slowed the Earth’s rotation to a very comfortable 24 hour period.
 
We may even have to thank the Moon for the carbon that is the basis of all life. Under the conditions of the early Earth, most of the carbon should have evaporated into space or sunk to the core. A colliding object of similar composition to Earth may have replenished the mantle with enough carbon for life to exist. 
 
Since the theory took off in the mid-1970’s, the evidence for an ancient collision event has become increasingly compelling. There are details to be worked out and mysteries yet to solve, but there is no competing alternative in the astronomical community.
 
Based on all we have learned, human life and civilization would have been impossible without the benefits conferred by our lowly Moon. Still, some scientists are concerned that the sole surviving explanation demands far too many “cosmic coincidences”. Coincidences? Maybe, maybe not.