My faith is falsifiable, Professor Coyne. Is yours?
|October 12, 2010||Posted by vjtorley under Intelligent Design|
I’ve never met a Christian, for instance, who has been able to tell me what observations about the universe would make him abandon his beliefs in God and Jesus. (I would have thought that the Holocaust could do it, but apparently not.) There is no horror, no amount of evil in the world, that a true believer can’t rationalize as consistent with a loving God.
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Vincent Torley, and I’m a Christian whose faith in God, Jesus Christ and Intelligent Design is falsifiable. I have the greatest respect for your acknowledged expertise in the field of biology, and I don’t wish to question it for a moment. My Ph.D. is in philosophy, not science. For the record, I accept that the universe is approximately 14 billion years old, and that all living things spring from a common ancestor that lived approximately 4 billion years ago. However, I do not believe that non-foresighted processes (random mutations plus natural selection, in popular parlance) are adequate to account for the complexity we observe in organisms today, or that natural processes suffice to explain the origin of life. Here is a list of observations that would cause me to abandon belief in God, belief in Christianity and belief in Intelligent Design.
Observations that would cause me to abandon belief in God
1. The discovery of a naked singularity – a point in space which could literally spew forth anything “out of the blue” – chairs, pizzas, computers, works of literature, or whatever.
2. The discovery that it was possible for intelligent agents (such as human beings) to go back in time and alter the past.
3. The invention of a machine that could read the propositional content of my thoughts – or those of any other human being who is currently capable of exercising their faculty of reason.
4. A scientific demonstration that our thoughts, words and actions are completely determined by external circumstances beyond our control (heredity plus environment).
5. The invention of a machine that could control the propositional content of my thoughts, and make me believe anything that the machine’s programmer wanted me to believe – or do the same to any other human being who is currently capable of exercising their faculty of reason.
6. The invention of a machine that could control my actions, without impairing my ability to reason and without impairing the link between my beliefs/thoughts/judgments and my actions – or do the same to any other human being who is currently capable of exercising their faculty of reason. Which brings me to…
7. The invention of a machine that could turn me into a person who would willingly perpetrate atrocities like those those committed by the Nazis, without impairing my ability to reason and without impairing the link between my beliefs/thoughts/judgments and my actions – or do the same to any other human being who is currently capable of exercising their faculty of reason. In answer to your question about the Holocaust, Jerry: Nazis wouldn’t destroy my faith in God, but a machine that could turn me (or anyone else) into a willing Nazi, would.
Observations that would cause me to abandon belief in Christianity
1. The discovery of Jesus’ dead body in Palestine.
2. The discovery of archaeological proof that any of the following individuals never existed: Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Jonah, Ezra and Nehemiah – e.g. a letter by a scribe, confessing to having made them up as a work of fiction. (I haven’t included Noah on this list because I suspect that the Biblical Noah is a “telescoping” of two individuals – one of whom lived two million years ago and another who lived 5,000 years ago. I’ve included Daniel and Jonah, because Jesus Christ referred to them as historical individuals.)
3. A human being coming back to life, with an indestructible body. (This human being would also have to contradict one or more of the claims of Christianity.)
4. Documentary evidence of 3., which was at least as strong as the documentary evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.
5. Observations confirming that the universe is infinitely old, or is infinite in size.
6. Scientific proof that human beings did not spring from a common stock, and that the human race had a polyphyletic origin.
7. Scientific proof that the following distinctively human abilities arose at different times in the past: the ability to create a language with rules of discourse and a structured grammar; the ability to engage in logical argument (and not just means-end reasoning); the ability to entertain abstract concepts such as “truth,” “goodness” and “beauty”; the ability to entertain a concept of God who is worthy of worship and who punishes wrongdoing; and the ability to believe in a personal after-life. (As a Christian, I believe that all of these human abilities emerged literally overnight, although some of these abilities may not have manifested themselves in the fossil record until long after they appeared.)
8. The discovery of a non-human animal (e.g. a dolphin) possessing one or more of the abilities listed above.
9. The discovery of a race or tribe of human beings who are currently capable of exercising their faculty of reason, but who are utterly incapable of even comprehending – let alone accepting – the Gospel message.
10. The creation of a machine that was capable of conversing at length about any topic – including its own mental states and life story – in such a way that it could fool an audience of intelligent people into thinking that it was human.
Observations that would cause me to abandon belief in Intelligent Design
1. An empirical or mathematical demonstration that the probability of the emergence of life on Earth during the past four billion years as a result of purely natural processes, without any intelligent guidance and starting from a random assortment of organic chemicals, is greater than 10^-120.
2. An empirical or mathematical demonstration that the probability of the emergence of any of the irreducibly complex structures listed on this page, as a result of non-foresighted processes (“random mutations plus natural selection”) is greater than 10^-120.
Observations that would cause me to abandon belief in Christianity and/or Intelligent Design
1. A scientific demonstration that the human brain was sub-optimally designed for a human primate – in other words, that it would have been possible for an Intelligent Designer to have manipulated our ancestors’ genes in such a way as to generate human beings which looked just like us, but whose neural architecture was much more efficiently wired.
I could go on, but I think that’s about enough for one day. Suffice it to say that my faith is falsifiable. What about your atheism?