This is part four of my response to Voice in the Wilderness Ministries’ One Hundred questions to ask an atheist.
Last time, we explored morality, or the closest approximation the questioner is aware of. This time, the questioner moves to science, an undoubtedly foreign matter to them.
This is the last part of this series, as we cover all the remaining questions in this part.
Section 3: Science
1. Try to imagine nothing exists. No earth, sun, moon, stars, or galaxies. There are no elements such as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, or oxygen. No such things as time, space, or matter. No universe, no God, there is nothing! If there was ever a time when nothing but nothing existed, then what would exist now?
Immediately there’s a problem with this: you’ve explicitly removed ‘time’ from the equation, then ask about a ‘time’ when this was the case. By definition, there could have been no such situation.
I’ve yet to see any evidence that absolute nothingness is even possible. Space weighs something.
Your implicit argument here is an Appeal to Incredulity. No-one understands everything about the start of the universe, or what may exist outside of it, that doesn’t mean we can posit whatever fanciful notion most appeals to us.
There are many books on this subject. I recommend A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss. The apparent problem here can be explained and rationalised, and even partially evidenced.
a. There is one thing that all scientists, philosophers, and theologians agree on, and it’s this: you only have two choices: either God is eternal and uncreated, or matter is eternal and uncreated, right?
I’ve never heard this quandary posited before. It seems just a teensie bit loaded.
“Matter” is too specific. If we replace “matter” with “the universe”, it might make more sense, but our universe may not be the only one. You could instead use “existence” or “the cosmos”, but that would actually include God (if he existed).
Space and time are mutually necessary, meaning one cannot exist without the other (even if such was possible, in both cases it would be functionally identical to neither existing). Since therefore space has existed as long as time has, it’s fair to say that space has ‘always’ existed, though the ambiguity here is understandable. The English language evolved in such a way that past time was thought of as eternal, or at least innumerable, so usual past-time words don’t always mean what they normally do when discussing the beginning of time. Yes, in this sense, space is ‘eternal’, but only insomuch that there was no time that it didn’t exist.
b. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity which is a mathematical equation (math being a perfect science) provided proof that the universe and time itself had a beginning. Since we know that nothing comes from nothing, what option does that leave you?
Something more complicated.
This is simply a matter of perception. Your perception is fixed to the mundane, the perception of science expands according to the evidence. Usual expectations of causality do not apply at the borders of time and space.
I think your characterisation of Mathematics is not necessarily wrong, but unhelpful. I suspect tactically so.
Positing God here would make the problem infinitely more complicated. God is not a workable explanatory device.
c. Einstein’s discovery revealed that we live in a three-dimensional world–time, space and matter (which is energy). Interestingly, the Bible starts out, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the beginning (that’s time), God created (that’s energy) the heavens (that’s space) and the earth (that’s matter). How do you suppose the Bible got that right?
Here we see rabid Apologetics in action. The problem is very simple: Your interpretation is massively biased towards seeing what you want to see.
The main problem with this sort of Scriptural Matching is that you can do it with almost anything. It’s just a placebo, the significance is entirely within the mind of the target. How about this common start to every story: “Once Upon A Time”, which probably hundreds of fictional stories begin with. You can easily rationalise matching Time, Energy, Space, and Matter to parts of that phrase. You can do this with any sufficiently vague book, letter, speech, etc. As long as the writing style is within a certain spectrum, and the content is general enough, you can match almost anything to any part of it.
The Quran is very often credited with making scientific predictions, too. If the logic you apply here was actually effective, Islam would be just as true if not more so than Christianity.
The same page of genesis also claims that photosynthesising plants existed before the Sun. That seems better evidence of the inaccuracy of Genesis than some semantic coincidence about some very vague fundamentals of existence are for its accuracy.
Also… “world—time”…? From whence pluckest thou this putrid turd?
2. If the material universe is all that there is and all there ever will be as Carl Sagan claimed, then why is the material universe governed by immaterial laws?
a. Where did these laws (not suggestions) come from?
b. Don’t these laws show power, authority, design, and mathematical precision beyond anything man can conceive of?
The laws are theoretical constructs contained within our minds. Their existence as such is based on the interactions of physical things in the real world, which conform within certain boundaries, for natural and often blatantly evident reasons.
Your problem is that you think that abstract concepts are real things. This is a common argument of theists and supernaturalists, usually about ‘purpose‘ or ‘information‘. The physical existence these things have is simply a common and distinct pattern of brain activity, to which we have assigned names.
I doubt that Sagan claimed that the physical universe is all there is or ever will be. A quote similar to this was in his definition of the word ‘cosmos’:
The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.
But that would include supernatural entities, like God, should they happen to exist.
So, could it possibly be that you’re lying in misrepresenting a dead genius to make your point? Is that how low you have to go to be a theist debater? It would still be an Appeal to Authority, even if it had been said.
3. How and when did life begin?
I don’t know.
A. How do you know that?
B. What existed before that?
Lots of stuff.
C. If at one time nothing existed, how could anything exist now?
You already asked this, I already explained it.
D. Where did the chemicals come from for life to begin?
The elements came from stars, then combined naturally.
E. What are the odds of them coming together by chance to form life from non-living matter?
1 in 1, since it happened.
Quick-fire rounds are fun!
For clarification, life on earth began about 4 billion years ago. I answered “I don’t know” because the question was asking for the specific event of abiogenesis, the details of which are unknown.
(F.Y.I. Using the laws of mathematical probability, the odds of the random assembly of genes, both physical and chemical, coming together for spontaneous generation to occur, is not within the realm of possibility.)
Judging probability is a risky area, especially for events for which the outcome is known. There are so many different ways you can perceive chance, and practically infinite scopes of detail in which you can calculate a probability.
For example, if we look on the level of molecules coming together to form the correct protein sequences, you could probably generate an extremely high number of chance, but then, surely we must also consider the chance that each of the atoms within those molecules did exactly what they would have to do among themselves, which drives the number even higher. We can go even further, to whatever the smallest unit of causality is.
The problem is: this doesn’t tell us anything about the likelihood of these events.
You could apply the same logic to mundane events, which happen every day, or in some cases, hundreds of times a second. You could generate just about any number for the probability, based on your interpretation. Put simply: this is a misapplication of the concept of probability.
What’s more, it would seem that causality is deterministic, that is: every event is determined only by its physical causes. If so, then the chance of everything happening (that has happened) is 1 in 1. If determinism is false, then there still exist physical laws to constrain events to within a small margin, but who’s to say that those other possibilities wouldn’t have produced very similar results?
Another important concept to grasp here is that just because you are what occurred, doesn’t mean you were the target of the process. If some other life had arisen from the process, would they not be asking about the probability of them existing? There may well have been an extremely high number of possibilities of different forms, though I suspect there was just one: us.
4. Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead?
yeah, it happens 1000 times a year in the US due to medical science.
A. Why not?
B. What is, spontaneous generation?
An obsolete hypothesis about how, for example, maggots ‘formed’ from meat. We have an accurate understanding today.
(F.Y.I. Spontaneous generation is the idea that living cells sprang spontaneously from non-living matter, something evolutionists must believe).
You’re trying to conflate spontaneous generation with abiogenesis (which is a Strawman Fallacy). Abiogenesis is not involved with evolution, the two are separate phenomenon, and can be true independent of each other.
C. How is spontaneous generation significantly different from the idea of the resurrection of the dead?
Spontaneous generation doesn’t happen. (Resurrection doesn’t happen without medical science, though.)
D. Has spontaneous generation ever been observed in a laboratory?
E. What evidence do you have to support the idea of spontaneous generation?
None, it’s an obsolete hypothesis.
F. Since spontaneous generation has never been observed in a laboratory, how can it be called a scientific fact?
G. Since it requires faith to believe that, how is that significantly different from religion?
No-one believes that spontaneous generation happens. The same should be true of gods, but isn’t – not everyone is rational.
H. If scientists ever were successful in producing a living cell from non-living matter, wouldn’t that only serve to confirm that intelligence was necessary to produce it?
Not even slightly. If you drive a car, does that prove that you specifically are necessary to drive it? One instance doesn’t even equal a trend, much less a necessary condition.
5. Can you explain the differences between a hypothesis, a theory, and a scientific law?
(F.Y.I. A hypothesis is an educated guess, based on observation, but has not been proven. A scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis when that hypothesis has been supported with repeated testing. A theory is valid as long as there is no evidence to dispute it. A law generalizes a body of observations. At the time it is made, no exceptions have been found to that law.) […]
Surprisingly, a lot of this explanation is actually accurate. Let me give a more definitive answer, though:
a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.
Your wording for it is good enough.
A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation.
Again, you were close enough, but you seem to avoid the fact that a theory is necessarily supported by evidence.
A scientific law is a statement based on repeated experimental observations that describes some aspects of the universe. A scientific law always applies under the same conditions, and implies that there is a causal relationship involving its elements.
Again, you were close enough with this.
[…] Some scientific laws, or “laws of nature,” include the law of gravity, the laws of motion, and the laws of thermodynamics.
Calling it the “law of gravity” is somewhat misleading in this context, there’s the theory of gravity (which can be referred to as the “law of gravity”), and there is the law of universal gravitation. The distinction seems minor, but it is important – the former is the entire area of study of gravity, the latter is a derived rule about any given gravitational interaction.
6. Can you explain the difference between Micro-Evolution and Macro-Evolution?
We did this in part 1, but I’ll go over it briefly again. Microevolution is evolution within the same species. Macroevolution is evolution in higher taxonomic categories.
A. What scientific evidence is there that Macro-Evolution has ever occurred?
Lots and Lots and Lots. Here’s a summary of it all. Here’s how you can believe in it even without the evidence.
B. Can you provide one observable example of macro-evolution occurring today?
That’s like asking for an observation that a tree grows within one second of observation. Speciation has been observed a lot, but it’s necessarily not a single event. It’s a pattern of events over a long period of time.
C. Why don’t we see hundreds and even thousands of transitional forms of animals (or humans) walking around today?
We do. All animals and plants are transitional forms.
D. If man evolved from apes, why do apes still exist?
Because not all apes evolved into humans. You might as well ask how Europeans exist if Australians were originated from them. This is a simple matter of lack of comprehension of evolution on your part.
E. Since Macro-Evolution has never been observed, how can it be taught as science?
It has been observed. It’s taught because it’s proven true.
On the other side, there is zero (that’s zero) proof of creation, which I’m sure you’d be in favour of teaching to children. Is it just me who finds systematically lying to children disgusting?
7. What did Darwin say the fossil record would certainly reveal if his theory of Macro-Evolution were true?
No idea, and it would make no difference to anything what he said. Wise as he was, his word isn’t believed, the evidence is believed. There are no actual authorities in science, just experts on what the ‘authority’ of nature indicates to be true.
A. Isn’t it true that Darwin said, in essence, that his theory of Macro-Evolution would stand or fall on what the fossil record would show?
Again, I don’t know. It doesn’t make any difference what he said.
B. How do you account for the fact that there are virtually no fossils showing any intermediate forms?
Oh, except all of them? (links from earlier: 1 2)
C. Isn’t it true that the fossil record reveals fully formed kinds in their own right?
This question demonstrates a complete lack of comprehension of evolution.
- Every organism ever has been ‘fully formed’. (with the obvious exception of those with significant birth defects, which would usually not survive.)
- The word ‘kind’ has no meaning whatsoever in science. It is tactically undefined nonsense for the benefit of the evolution-denier.
- The fossil record contains species which are definitely intermediate between humans and our ape ancestors. Many of them.
8. Can you explain the laws of thermodynamics?
(F.Y.I. Many atheists believe that matter and energy originated from nothing. The first law of thermodynamics states, “matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed.”)
According to Isaac Asimov, “Another way of stating the second law is: The universe is constantly becoming more disorderly.” According to the second law, energy could not be eternal, because the universe is running down like a clock.
First law of thermodynamics (the conservation of energy).
Second law of thermodynamics (the tendency towards entropy).
Responses to the implied questions about the supposed violation of these laws by cosmology and evolution are answered below, as they are asked explicitly in the next two questions.
9. Have the laws of thermodynamics ever been proven wrong?
Not that I know of.
A. How do you explain the clear contradiction between the laws of thermodynamics, which are among the most well established laws of science, and the theory of Macro-Evolution?
There is no contradiction.
The law about entropy describes a tendency, not a universal process. It also requires a closed system, which the Earth is not. The universe as a whole tends towards it for understandable reasons, but parts of the universe can tend away from it without straying anywhere near breaking the law itself.
If your logic made sense, then it would stand to reason that no human could ever construct anything. That’s a pretty gaping flaw, I would say.
10. What is energy?
You could probably safely state that energy is the fundamental ‘stuff’ of the universe, as it also comprises matter. There may be alternatives to energy in existence though, so you might need a higher category for those.
A. Astronomers tell us that there are 100 billion galaxies in the “known universe,” and hundreds of billions of stars in each galaxy. According to the laws of thermodynamics, if energy can neither be created nor destroyed, where did all the energy in the universe come from?
There are two potential solutions:
First, since the laws of thermodynamics apply to the universe itself, they may not apply around the borders of the existence of the universe.
Second, there are early indications that the total energy of the universe may be zero – all that this would require is some sort of abundant negative energy, and there are reasons to believe such energy exists, but nothing proven yet.
God would most definitely defy the first two laws of thermodynamics. Oh, what’s that? The laws of thermodynamics don’t apply to God? Well, if you can say that, why not just say they don’t apply to the beginning of the universe either? Special Pleading often works both ways.
11. Why is it that the vast majority of us die between the ages of 40 and 80, no matter where we live or what we eat?
That’s quite a large range, though, isn’t it?
Where we live and what we eat make a huge difference to life expectancy.
Not sure what your point is supposed to be, but your statement is just all wrong.
A. If evolution were true, why don’t we see some people who live in relatively unpolluted areas living to be 200 to 300 years old?
Humans just don’t work that way.
12. What do we know about cells today that Darwin did not?
F.Y.I. Darwin believed that life could have originated by chance, in large part because he mistakenly believed that cells were very simple life forms.
It really doesn’t make any difference what he believed, and I highly doubt that you’re representing him honestly.
A. So then, was Darwin correct in his assessment of the simplicity of cells?
They’re relatively simple, yes.
B. Since Darwin was wrong about cells, which are the basic building blocks of life, how does that affect his theory of Macro-Evolution?
In what way was he wrong about cells? Something specific, please, not a vague general observation that you’ve interpreted in the most favourable way to your position.
The fact of evolution is unaffected by what anyone says about it.
13 & 14.
13. “Logic and mathematics are abstract principles that have been discovered rather than invented. We cannot do science, communicate, or navigate this world without them. They appear to stand outside of nature to describe and measure it. As Albert Einstein said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”
Since this is not a question, but the next question is about the exact same matter, I’m combining the two.
14. “What is the source of math and logic? The existence of this remarkably fine-tuned universe aside, how is it that we have these ‘languages of reality’ to so elegantly describe and interact with it?”
Such is certainly an interesting philosophical quandary.
I would disagree that mathematics is discovered, but the discipline of mathematics, created by humans, is derived from nature. I think quantity is inherent to the universe, and mathematics is derived from it.
As to logic, my opinion on such is not fully formed. Provisionally, I will say that it’s probably a very similar situation as mathematics, only in a far less concrete sense, as it doesn’t rely on anything obviously intrinsic (like quantity in the case of mathematics).
Positing God as the source of these things does not simplify the problem, it makes it more complex, or it makes intelligent minds give up in trying to find the full truth.
15. For more than 50 years, scientists from the S.E.T.I. program (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) have been using radio telescopes to send out radio signals across the universe, hoping to receive radio transmissions back. If these scientists ever received a radio signal with a pattern as simple as the musical notes from the children’s song, “Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are,” they would unashamed, unabashedly, without fear or reservation, proudly announce to the world that they have positively identified intelligent life in outer space!
A repeated pattern that simple, coming from something or someone they have never seen, would rule out random chance because coded information requires intelligence. Yet, these same scientists can look at the pattern found in a cell’s DNA, knowing that within every cell there is a code with three billion bits of information that not only determine your genetic makeup, but continually instruct your cell’s behavior, then turn around and deny that this is the result of an intelligent designer. How do you account for that?
Radio waves don’t evolve.
Code (and information) are not intrinsic to the universe, they are derived by intelligent minds. It is well understood how DNA became as complex as it is, and is explained through naturalistic processes.
A radio wave sequence showing a clear indication of a similar understanding of music and/or mathematics to that of humans would almost certainly have to be intelligently designed. However, I doubt the scientists in reality would be as absolutely sure as they are in your example.
Of course, any intelligent designer of these radio signals would almost certainly have evolved by natural selection, although everything else about the way they exist biologically could be different.
Some repetitive signal patterns have been found, but they were the result of pulsars, which are stars which spin incredibly fast, sending radio waves in our direction at regular intervals. It’s possible that even seemingly intelligently designed patterns could be a result of the same, but it becomes more unlikely the more seemingly-purposeful the patterns are.
16. Do you think this could be the “Missing Link?”
Once I was a tadpole begining to begin. Then I was a frog with my tail tucked in. Then I was a monkey in a bannana tree, now I’m a professor with a PhD.
Science doesn’t care about made up things. God, for example.