No evidence for God’s existence, you say? A response to Larry Moran
|February 15, 2015||Posted by vjtorley under Intelligent Design|
Despite my disagreements with Professor Larry Moran over the years, I respect him as a fair-minded, intelligent and generally sensible person. Recently, however, he said something which can only be described as rather silly. In a post titled, Evidence for the existence of god(s), he wrote:
I am always on the lookout for evidence that some sort of god actually exists. The reason I’m an atheist is because I’ve never seen any evidence that’s the least bit convincing. I keep asking for evidence but nobody ever supplies any.
Now, had Professor Moran merely remarked that he found the evidence for God’s existence less than compelling, or unsatisfactory, he would have had a leg to stand on. But he went much further: he declared it to be not in the least bit convincing, which can only mean that he sets its evidential value at zero. He then added: “I keep asking for evidence but nobody ever supplies any.” The only conclusion I can draw is that Professor Moran really thinks there is no evidence for God. This interpretation is confirmed by a remark he makes in another post, where he declares that “[s]o far, the scientific way of knowing has uncovered no evidence of anything that exists outside of the natural world” (emphasis mine – VJT), although he allows that science may discover evidence of the supernatural, “at some time in the future.”
In his recent post, Professor Moran then proceeds to enumerate ten items of evidence listed by Barry Arrington in a post titled, Astonishingly Stupid Things Atheists Say, before throwing the floor open for discussion. According to Larry Moran, none of the items below counts as evidence – let alone good evidence – for the existence of God, or a supernatural reality:
- The fine tuning of the universe.
- The moral sense.
- The fact that a natural universe cannot logically have a natural cause.
- The fact that there is something instead of nothing.
- The overwhelming odds against the Darwinian story being true (estimated at 10^-1018 by atheist Eugene Koonin).
- The irreducible complexity of biological systems.
- The vast amounts of complex computer-like code stored in DNA.
- The miracles that have been reported throughout history.
- My subjective self-awareness.
- The fact that we do not even have plausible speculations to account for the origin of life.
In this post, I won’t be saying much about arguments for God based on the moral sense and subjective self-awareness, because (a) in my experience, attempting to convince atheists of God’s existence on the basis of these arguments is a waste of time, and (b) the arguments need to be formulated very carefully in order for them to work. I”ll just say a little about these arguments, at the end.
That leaves eight arguments, which I’ll address in my own order. I”ll begin with the scientific arguments.
The fine-tuning of the universe (Argument 1)
I’ve written a lot on the fine-tuning argument, and my recent post, Professor Krauss Objects, explains why I think that the various scientific objections to the argument – including the multiverse hypothesis – all fail miserably. I’m not going to repeat myself here. But I will say that anyone who could read Dr. Robin Collins’ essay, essay entitled, The Teleological Argument: An Exploration of the Fine-Tuning of the Universe (in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, edited by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, 2009, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.), and say that there is no evidence for God is really being rather uncharitable.
I might also mention that the late Christopher Hitchens, who was a self-described anti-theist, had a healthy respect for the argument from fine-tuning. In a post titled, Fine Tuning the Multiverse Theory, Christian apologist Peter May narrates the story of an amicable discussion between the late Christopher Hitchens and pastor Douglas Wilson, after one of their debates:
Hitchens raised the question as to which was the strongest argument used against atheists and he had no difficulty in identifying it. “The fine-tuning argument we all agree is the most intriguing. It is not trivial – we all say that.” Here he is clearly speaking for his New Atheist friends. Hitchens is emphatic and repeats the point, “We all agree about that.”
Christopher Hitchens considered the fine-tuning argument to be the best evidence for God, and he also regarded it as intriguing – even if he himself was not convinced by it. Professor Moran, on the other hand, thinks that the argument doesn’t even deserve to be called “evidence,” since he writes: “I keep asking for evidence but nobody ever supplies any.” I’ll let my readers judge whether Professor Moran is being unreasonably fussy, when it comes to what qualifies as “evidence.”
The origin of life (Arguments 5 and 10)
In his post, Barry Arrington refers to the work of evolutionary biologist Dr. Eugene Koonin, whose peer-reviewed article, The Cosmological Model of Eternal Inflation and the Transition from Chance to Biological Evolution in the History of Life, Biology Direct 2 (2007): 15, doi:10.1186/1745-6150-2-15, is available online. Using a “toy model” which makes some very generous assumptions, Dr. Koonin estimates that the odds of even a very basic life-form – a coupled replication-translation system – emerging in the observable universe are 1 in 1 followed by 1,018 zeroes. Dr. Koonin evades this difficulty by positing a multiverse – a “solution” which fails on no less than five grounds, which I discussed in detail in my recent post, Professor Krauss Objects.
Dr. Koonin’s paper passed a panel of four reviewers, including one from Harvard University, who wrote:
In this work, Eugene Koonin estimates the probability of arriving at a system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution and comes to a cosmologically small number…;
The context of this article is framed by the current lack of a complete and plausible scenario for the origin of life. Koonin specifically addresses the front-runner model, that of the RNA-world, where self-replicating RNA molecules precede a translation system. He notes that in addition to the difficulties involved in achieving such a system is the paradox of attaining a translation system through Darwinian selection. That this is indeed a bona-fide paradox is appreciated by the fact that, without a shortage [of] effort, a plausible scenario for translation evolution has not been proposed to date. There have been other models for the origin of life, including the ground-breaking Lipid-world model advanced by Segrè, Lancet and colleagues (reviewed in EMBO Reports (2000), 1(3), 217–222), but despite much ingenuity and effort, it is fair to say that all origin of life models suffer from astoundingly low probabilities of actually occurring…
…[F]uture work may show that starting from just a simple assembly of molecules, non-anthropic principles can account for each step along the rise to the threshold of Darwinian evolution. Based upon the new perspective afforded to us by Koonin this now appears unlikely. (Emphases mine – VJT.)
Think about that. A leading evolutionary biologist has calculated that the odds of even a very basic life-form – a coupled replication-translation system – emerging in the observable universe are 1 in 1 followed by 1,018 zeroes. To avoid the theistic implications of his argument, he posits a multiverse – a solution which, as I’ve argued, is shot through with holes. And Professor Moran thinks this doesn’t even constitute evidence for God’s existence, let alone proof? Frankly, I’m gobsmacked.
I’d also like to quote from an interview with Anthony Flew, who was arguably the leading philosophical atheist of the 20th century, and who converted to deism in 2004, when he was 81. Here’s a short excerpt from a 2004 interview between Flew and Christian philosopher Gary Habermas:
HABERMAS: … Which arguments for God’s existence did you find most persuasive?
FLEW: I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries. I’ve never been much impressed by the kalam cosmological argument, and I don’t think it has gotten any stronger recently. However, I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.
HABERMAS: So you like arguments such as those that proceed from big bang cosmology and fine tuning arguments?
HABERMAS: So of the major theistic arguments, such as the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological, the only really impressive ones that you take to be decisive are the scientific forms of teleology?
FLEW: Absolutely. It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account. Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.
Finally, I’d like to quote the testimony of Professor Richard Smalley (1943-2005), winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Towards the end of his life, Dr. Richard Smalley became an Old Earth creationist, after reading the books “Origins of Life” and “Who Was Adam?”, written by Dr. Hugh Ross (an astrophysicist) and Dr. Fazale Rana (a biochemist). Dr. Smalley explained his change of heart as follows:
Evolution has just been dealt its death blow. After reading “Origins of Life”, with my background in chemistry and physics, it is clear evolution could not have occurred. The new book, “Who Was Adam?”, is the silver bullet that puts the evolutionary model to death. (Emphasis mine – VJT.)
“Puts the evolutionary model to death”?! These are pretty strong words for a Nobel scientist. And yet, despite this testimony from a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, Professor Moran thinks that there is no evidence for the existence of a supernatural Designer of life.
The irreducibility of biochemical systems (Argument 6)
I’d like to quote from ID advocate Casy Luskin’s article, Leading Biologists Marvel at the “Irreducible Complexity” of the Ribosome, but Prefer Evolution-of-the-Gaps over at Evolution News and Views. The article is about a roundtable symposium on the origin of life, entitled, “Life: What A Concept!”, which was held in 2008 and hosted by John Brockman. The participants included some very prominent people in the field of origin of life research and genomics, such as Freeman Dyson, J. Craig Venter, George Church, Robert Shapiro, Dimitar Sasselov, and Seth Lloyd. Here’s what George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Center for Computational Genetics, had to say about the complexity of the ribosome:
The ribosome, both looking at the past and at the future, is a very significant structure — it’s the most complicated thing that is present in all organisms. Craig does comparative genomics, and you find that almost the only thing that’s in common across all organisms is the ribosome. And it’s recognizable; it’s highly conserved. So the question is, how did that thing come to be? And if I were to be an intelligent design defender, that’s what I would focus on; how did the ribosome come to be?
Craig Venter then suggested that by sequencing the genomes of more organisms, scientists might be able to reconstruct a primitive precursor ribosome, but Church was doubtful:
But isn’t it the case that, if we take all the life forms we have so far, isn’t the minimum for the ribosome about 53 proteins and 3 polynucleotides? And hasn’t that kind of already reached a plateau where adding more genomes doesn’t reduce that number of proteins?
The conversation that ensued reveals the frustration of the participants, who are all convinced naturalists. Interestingly, the term “irreducible complexity” crops up:
VENTER: Below ribosomes, yes: you certainly can’t get below that. But you have to have self-replication.
CHURCH: But that’s what we need to do — otherwise they’ll call it irreducible complexity. If you say you can’t get below a ribosome, we’re in trouble, right? We have to find a ribosome that can do its trick with less than 53 proteins.
VENTER: In the RNA world, you didn’t need ribosomes.
CHURCH: But we need to construct that. Nobody has constructed a ribosome that works well without proteins.
SHAPIRO: I can only suggest that a ribosome forming spontaneously has about the same probability as an eye forming spontaneously.
CHURCH: It won’t form spontaneously; we’ll do it bit by bit.
SHAPIRO: Both are obviously products of long evolution of preexisting life through the process of trial and error.
CHURCH: But none of us has recreated that any.
SHAPIRO: There must have been much more primitive ways of putting together.
CHURCH: But prove it.
I think it’s fair to conclude that the irreducible complexity (as far as we can tell) of the ribsome constitutes powerful prima facie evidence for an Intelligent Creator of the first life.
The vast amounts of computer-like code stored in DNA (Argument 7)
Let me begin with a quote from agnostic Bill Gates. Nearly twenty years ago, he wrote:
Biological information is the most important information we can discover, because over the next several decades it will revolutionize medicine. Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.
(Gates, The Road Ahead, Penguin: London, Revised, 1996 p. 228)
ID advocate Casey Luskin’s article, A Response to Dr. Dawkins’ “Information Challenge” (Part 1): Specified Complexity Is the Measure of Biological Complexity over at Evolution News and Views, contains a very interesting quote from New Atheist Professor Richard Dawkins:
… [t]he machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal.
(River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, pg. 17 (New York: Basic Books, 1995).)
Dawkins himself believes that processes of random mutation and unguided selection generated the information in genes. But is he right? I’d like to conclude with a quote from an article in a creationist journal by CSIRO botanist Alex Williams, titled, Astonishing DNA complexity demolishes neo-Darwinism (Journal of Creation 21(3) 2007). Some of the material in the article (including the ENCODE findings on junk DNA) remains hotly contested, but when I came across the article eight years ago, I was electrified by this passage:
The traditional understanding of DNA has recently been transformed beyond recognition. DNA does not, as we thought, carry a linear, one-dimensional, one-way, sequential code — like the lines of letters and words on this page… DNA information is overlapping – multi-layered and multi-dimensional; it reads both backwards and forwards… No human engineer has ever even imagined, let alone designed an information storage device anything like it. Moreover, the vast majority of its content is metainformation — information about how to use information. Meta-information cannot arise by chance because it only makes sense in context of the information it relates to.
Information that reads both backwards and forwards, and which is multi-layered and multi-dimensional? And meta-information too? As someone who worked for ten years as a computer programmer, I have to say that sounds like the work of an intelligent agent to me.
The argument from the total contingency of the cosmos (i.e. the modal cosmological argument, as opposed to the kalam cosmological argument) (Arguments 3 and 4)
In his original post, Barry Arrington cited as evidence for God the fact that fact that a natural universe cannot logically have a natural cause, as well as the fact that there is something instead of nothing.
Now, I imagine many atheists would have retorted, “Of course a natural universe doesn’t have a natural cause! That’s because it doesn’t have any cause! And as for why there is something rather than nothing, that’s just a brute fact. For anything that exists – God included – you could always ask why it exists.” But these objections miss the underlying point that Barry Arrington was making: the universe is totally contingent. Absolutely nothing about the universe has to be the way it is. The laws could have been different, the initial conditions could have been different, and the entities populating it could have been different. A totally contingent reality, such as our universe, cries out for an explanation.
For those readers who are looking for a good introduction to the argument from the contingency of the cosmos, I would recommend Professor Robert Koons’ Western Theism lecture notes (lectures 2 to 10, and especially lectures 6 to 10), as well as Professor Paul Herrick’s highly readable article, Job Opening: Creator of the Universe—A Reply to Keith Parsons (2009).
For those who think they know what’s wrong with the argument, I would recommend Thomist philosopher Edward Feser’s excellent blog post, So you think you understand the cosmological argument? (July 16, 2011). A few highlights:
1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.”
Lots of people – probably most people who have an opinion on the matter – think that the cosmological argument goes like this: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists. They then have no trouble at all poking holes in it. If everything has a cause, then what caused God? …
Here’s the funny thing, though. People who attack this argument never tell you where they got it from. They never quote anyone defending it. There’s a reason for that. The reason is that none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this stupid argument. Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne. And not anyone else either, as far as I know.
2. “What caused God?” is not a serious objection to the argument.
The cosmological argument in its historically most influential versions is not concerned to show that there is a cause of things which just happens not to have a cause. It is not interested in “brute facts” – if it were, then yes, positing the world as the ultimate brute fact might arguably be as defensible as taking God to be… What [the argument] seeks to show is that if there is to be an ultimate explanation of things, then there must be a cause of everything else which not only happens to exist, but which could not even in principle have failed to exist…
So, to ask “What caused God?” really amounts to asking “What caused the thing that cannot in principle have had a cause?” … or “What imparted a sufficient reason for existence to that thing which has its sufficient reason for existence within itself and did not derive it from something else?” And none of these questions makes any sense.
3. “Why assume that the universe had a beginning?” is not a serious objection to the argument.
The main reason this is a bad objection …is that most versions of the cosmological argument do not even claim that the universe had a beginning. Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Thomistic, and Leibnizian cosmological arguments are all concerned to show that there must be an uncaused cause even if the universe has always existed.
4. “No one has given any reason to think that the First Cause is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, etc.” is not a serious objection to the argument.
Aquinas in fact devotes hundreds of pages across various works to showing that a First Cause of things would have to be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and so on and so forth. Other Scholastic writers and modern writers like Leibniz and Samuel Clarke also devote detailed argumentation to establishing that the First Cause would have to have the various divine attributes.
5. “The argument doesn’t prove that Christianity is true” is not a serious objection to the argument.
No one claims that the cosmological argument by itself suffices to show that Christianity is true, that Jesus of Nazareth was God Incarnate, etc. That’s not what it is intended to do.
6. “Science has shown such-and-such” is not a serious objection to (most versions of) the argument.
…[M]ost versions of the cosmological argument do not in any way depend on particular scientific claims. Rather, they start with extremely general considerations that any possible scientific theorizing must itself take for granted – for example, that there is any empirical world at all, or any world of any sort at all.
7. The argument is not a “God of the gaps” argument.
Since the point of the argument is precisely to explain (part of) what science itself must take for granted, it is not the sort of thing that could even in principle be overturned by scientific findings. For the same reason, it is not an attempt to plug some current “gap” in scientific knowledge…
The point is that the kind of criticism one might try to raise against [the argument] is simply not the kind that one might raise in the context of empirical science. It requires instead knowledge of metaphysics and philosophy more generally.
8. Hume and Kant did not have the last word on the argument. Neither has anyone else.
…I don’t think anyone who has studied the issue would deny that Elizabeth Anscombe presented a serious objection to Hume’s claim that something could conceivably come into existence without a cause. Nor is Anscombe by any means the only philosopher to have criticized Hume on this issue.
…Hume’s objection that the cosmological argument commits a fallacy of composition … assumes that the cosmological argument is concerned with explaining why the universe as a whole exists, and that is simply not true of all versions of the argument.
9. What “most philosophers” think about the argument is irrelevant.
The atheist philosopher of religion Quentin Smith maintains that “the great majority of naturalist philosophers have an unjustified belief that naturalism is true and an unjustified belief that theism (or supernaturalism) is false.” For their naturalism typically rests on nothing more than an ill-informed “hand waving dismissal of theism” which ignores “the erudite brilliance of theistic philosophizing today.” Thomists often emphasize that the argument of Aquinas’s On Being and Essence requires only the premise that something or other exists – a stone, a tree, a book, your left shoe, whatever.
Atheist Dan Linford, author of the blog article, How should one respond to the Argument from Contingency?, doesn’t think much of the sophomoric “Who made God?” objection, either:
This fails for a few different reasons.
First, we are talking about the argument from contingency. The argument from contingency argues that all of the contingent facts that there are require a non-contingent explanation. But any sort of non-contingent object that explains all of the contingent facts will not have an explanation for its existence beyond its non-contingency. It could not fail to exist.
Secondly, when we provide a scientific explanation E for some phenomenon x but we do not provide an explanation for E, often, this is not reason to reject E. For example, if we see a trail in a cloud chamber that curves a particular way in a magnetic field, an electron might be the best explanation of our observations, but it would be inappropriate to reject the electron-explanation if we were unable to answer what caused the electron. Likewise, if God is what explains the universe’s existence, yet we cannot explain God’s existence, this does not mean that we should reject theism.
Unfortunately, this last response has become quite popular since it was published in Dawkins’s God Delusion (it had previously appeared in Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian and in David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion). While it may be able to target some forms of the Cosmological Argument, it is not an appropriate response to the Argument from Contingency.
A better objection, argues Linford, is to ask the theist: “From whence did God’s reasons for creating the universe come?” If the reasons came from within God’s essence, then this means that God had no choice but to create, since God’s essence exists necessarily. But if they didn’t come from within God, then in creating the universe, God may have been acting freely, but He/She was also acting arbitrarily and capriciously. However, this objection has already been answered in Professor Paul Herrick’s highly readable article, Job Opening: Creator of the Universe—A Reply to Keith Parsons (2009):
…[W]e typically account for the free choices of others in terms of the reasons they have for their choices (along with their powers or capacities to implement those reasons), and that when we cite good reasons for a choice, along with adequate powers or capacities, we typically attain a rationally satisfying explanation for the choice, an explanation that makes sense of the choice and ends the questioning (with respect to the choice). Look and see for yourself: This is how we reach explanatory finality with respect to choices; this is how we make choices intelligible.
Now this is important: Unlike scientific explanations, which do cite sufficient conditions, notice that a personalistic explanation — an explanation of a choice — does not cite a causally sufficient condition for the choice. Common sense says that the fact that the father loves his children, that he knows how to make a sled, that he knows that a sled would be good for them, and so on, that does not in itself constitute a sufficient causal condition for his choice to build the sled; these factors do not completely cause him to build a sled, for (at least from the common-sense standpoint) we normally suppose that the father could have had those very same reasons and yet could have chosen not to act on them. Likewise, he could have had those same powers and could have chosen not to put them into effect. This is what we normally mean when we say that under the circumstances, he could have chosen otherwise. And this is why we normally suppose that the reasons and capacities of a chooser are not in themselves sufficient for the choice; we suppose that by themselves they do not guarantee that the choice actually gets made. Indeed, isn’t this why we give the father moral credit for making the choice — because he didn’t have to, that is, under the circumstances, he could have stayed inside to watch TV instead? Again, a personalistic explanation explains a choice not by citing a sufficient condition for the choice, but by making sense of the choice (by making the choice rationally intelligible), and it does this by making sense of the choice in terms of good reasons.
No evidence for God, you say? I can only ask: what is your alternative hypothesis?
Miracles (Argument 8)
Finally, we come to miracles. Because miracles are events that take place in the world, the investigation of miracles certainly falls within the purview of science.
The philosophical arguments against the possibility and/or credibility of miracles, have been dealt with by Dr. Timothy McGrew in his article, Miracles in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, so I won’t waste time on them here.
Professor Moran will want to see good evidence of miracles, so I’ll confine myself to one case: the 17th century Italian saint, Joseph of Cupertino, who was seen levitating well above the ground and even flying for some distance through the air, on literally thousands of occasions, by believers and skeptics alike. The saint was the phenomenon of the 17th century. Those who are curious might like to have a look at his biography by D. Bernini (Vita Del Giuseppe da Copertino, 1752, Roma: Ludovico Tinassi and Girolamo Mainardi). The philosopher David Hume, who was notoriously skeptical of miracle claims, never even mentions St. Joseph of Cupertino in his writings. Funny, that.
The evidence for St. Joseph’s flights is handily summarized in an article, The flying saint (The Messenger of Saint Anthony, January 2003), by Renzo Allegri.
The earthly existence of Friar Joseph of Cupertino was rich in charismatic gifts. However, the phenomenon which attracted the most attention occurred during his disconcerting ecstasies. Chronicles recount, as we have already said, that he need only hear the name of Jesus, of the Virgin Mary, or of a saint before going into an ecstasy. He used to let out a wail and float in the air, remaining suspended between heaven and earth for hours. An inadmissible phenomenon for our modern mentality.
“To doubt is understandable,” Fr. Giulio Berettoni, rector of the Shrine of St. Joseph of Cupertino in Osimo tells me “but it isn’t justifiable. If we take a serious look at the saint’s life from a historical point of view, then we see that we cannot question his ecstasies. There are numerous witness accounts. They began to be documented in 1628, and this continued until Joseph’s death in 1663, i.e. for 35 years. In certain periods, the phenomenon is recorded to have taken place more than once a day. It has been calculated that Joseph’s ‘ecstatic flights’ took place at least 1,000 to 1,500 times in his lifetime, perhaps even more, and that they were witnessed by thousands of people. They were the phenomenon of the century. They were so sensational and so public that they attracted attention from curious people from all walks of life, Italians and foreigners, believers and unbelievers, simple folk, but also scholars, scientists, priests, bishops and cardinals. They continued to occur in every situation, in whatever church in which the saint prayed or celebrated Mass. It is impossible to doubt such a sensational and public phenomenon which repeated itself over time. It is also worth noting that these events occurred in the seventeenth century, the time of the Inquisition. Amazing events, miracles and healings were labelled magic and the protagonists ended up undergoing a trial by the civil and religious Inquisition. In fact, St. Joseph of Cupertino underwent this very fate because of his ecstasies. But he was subjected to various trials without ever being condemned; final proof that these are sensational events, but also real, extraordinary and concrete facts.” (Emphases mine – VJT.)
In view of the fact that miracle claims can be found in many different religions, it would be imprudent to cite St. Joseph’s levitations and flights in support of any one particular religion. But miracles like this, which could be prompted by St. Joseph’s hearing – the name of Jesus, of the Virgin Mary, or of a saint – certainly constitute evidence for God’s existence. Professor Moran may or may not be persuaded by such evidence, but evidence it certainly is. In the meantime, he might like to have a look at an article by Dr. Michael Grosso, entitled, Hume’s Syndrome: Irrational Resistance to the Paranormal (Journal of Scientiﬁc Exploration, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 549–556, 2008).
Finally, I should mention the Resurrection of Jesus, of which former atheist Anthony Flew (who nevcer accepted Christianity) declared in 2004: “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity, I think, from
the evidence offered for the occurrence of most other supposedly miraculous events.” He then adds that he thinks this evidence can be discredited, since we lack “evidence from anyone who was in Jerusalem at the time, who witnessed one of the allegedly miraculous events, and recorded his or her testimony immediately after the occurrence of that allegedly miraculous event.” Nevertheless, even Flew acknowledges that there is evidence for this miraculous event – he just doesn’t happen to think it’s very powerful evidence.
The moral sense
Atheists are fond of claiming that we don’t need God in order to be moral, because we have an independent guide: the Golden Rule. But although the Golden Rile allows us to distinguish good from evil in most situations, it cannot define the meaning of good and evil. For the Rule itself can only bind us if there are certain things which are objectively good for us as human beings – for instance, food, knowledge and companionship. In the absence of objective goods, the Rule degenerates into a pathetic exhortation to respect people’s subjective preferences – which invites the obvious riposte, “Why should I?” There is no reason why I should respect an individual’s subjective preferences – after all, we don’t give cocaine to drug addicts. Natural law is the only sensible foundation on which an atheist can build morality. But such an ethic only works if we treat Nature Herself as normative. The Golden Rule, taken by itself, cannot tell me whether it is morally permissible for me to change my nature by transforming myself into, say, a hyper-intelligent, hyper-sentient cyborg who is nonetheless devoid of empathy (and hence no longer bound by the Golden Rule). Only if we take as a given the fact that this is God’s world, can we view our natural ends as ethically normative, and as objective goods which we tamper with at our peril. In other words, we need to foster belief in God in order to cultivate true respect for Nature.
My subjective self-awareness
The point I’d like to make here is that from a purely naturalistic standpoint, the behavior which promotes survival in humans and other animals could have evolved, regardless of whether they were sentient or not. Currently, there is no conclusive scientific evidence showing that any non-human animals are conscious – a point which is explicitly acknowledged by Marian Stamp Dawkins, Professor of Animal Behavior and Mary Snow Fellow in Biological Sciences, Somerville College, Oxford University. Marian Dawkins is herself sympathetic to the view that a large number of animals may be conscious. Nevertheless, she writes:
“[F]rom a scientific view, we understand so little about animal consciousness (and indeed our own consciousness) that to make the claim that we do understand it, and that we now know which animals experience emotions, may not be the best way to make the case for animal welfare. Anthropomorphism (seeing animals as just like humans) and anecdote were assuming a place in the study of animal consciousness that, it seemed to me, leaves the whole area very vulnerable to being completely demolished by logical argument…
It is, perhaps, not a comfortable conclusion to come to that the only scientific view of consciousness is that we don’t understand how it arises, nor do we know for certain which animals are conscious.“
(Marian Stamp Dawkins, Professor of Animal Behavior and Mary Snow Fellow in Biological Sciences, Somerville College, Oxford University, writing in an online article entitled, Convincing the Unconvinced That Animal Welfare Matters, The Huffington Post, 8 June 2012.)
In her recently published book, Why Animals Matter: Animal consciousness, animal welfare, and human well-being (Oxford University Press, 2012), Professor Dawkins discusses the different issues relating to animal consciousness. Throughout the discussion, she maintains a skeptical outlook, because the scientific evidence is “indirect” (p. 111) and that “there is no proof either way about animal consciousness and that it does not serve animals well to claim that there is.” (p. 112). Summarizing the data surveyed, she writes:
The mystery of consciousness remains. The explanatory gap is as wide as ever and all the wanting in the world will not take us across it. Animals and plants can ‘want’ very effectively with never a hint of consciousness, as we can see with a tree wanting to grow in a particular direction. Preference tests, particularly those that provide evidence that animals are prepared to pay ‘costs’ to get what they want, are perhaps the closest we can get to what animals are feeling, but they are not a magic entry into consciousness. They do not solve the hard problem for us because everything that animals do when they make choices or show preferences or even ‘work’ to get what they want could be done without conscious experience at all. We have seen (Chapters 4 and 5) just how much we humans do unconsciously and how powerful our unconscious minds are in making decisions and even in having emotions. What is good enough for us may well be good enough for other species.
… The similarity between the behavioral responses of animals and humans to such drugs make it tempting to assume that because the behavior is similar, the conscious experiences must be similar too. Of course they may be, but there is no more ‘must’ about it than in the claim that animals ‘must’ consciously experience thirst before they drink or ‘must’ consciously experience hunger while they are searching for food. They may well do so, as we saw in Chapter 8. But there is no must about it. Animal bodies have evolved by natural selection to restore imbalances of food and water and to repair wounds and other kinds of damage. Neither food deprivation nor water deprivation, nor the symptoms of inflamed joints, are necessarily accompanied by any conscious experiences at all, although they may be. Just as our wounds heal up without any conscious intention on our part and we like certain foods without knowing why, so other animals, too, have a variety of mechanisms, for repairing and restoring their bodies to proper working order. Preference and choice and ‘what animals want’ are part of those mechanisms. They may well be accompanied by conscious experiences. But then again, they may not be. Once again, our path to finding out the answer is blocked by the implacable, infuriating obstacle known as the hard problem.” (pp. 171-174)
Professor Marian Dawkins concludes that since at the present time, scientists don’t know which (if any) animals are conscious, it is better for animal welfare advocates to refuse to commit themselves on the question of which animals are conscious: “… it is much, much better for animals if we remain skeptical and agnostic [about consciousness] … Militantly agnostic if necessary, because this keeps alive the possibility that a large number of species have some sort of conscious experiences … For all we know, many animals, not just the clever ones and not just the overtly emotional ones, also have conscious experiences.” (p. 177)
Viewed from a naturalistic perspective, the existence of consciousness is a surprising fact – one which we have no reason to expect. From a theistic perspective, on the other hand, it makes perfect sense: one would expect a personal Creator to make beings who were capable of knowing and loving their Creator, if He were going to make a world at all. Since each of us possesses not only awareness but also subjective self-awareness, we can apply apply Bayesian logic and deduce that the existence of God is highly probable, unless it can be shown that God’s existence has a very low a priori probability, in the first place. Now, if a skeptic wants to argue that, then they are welcome to do so, but in that case, the onus is on them to put forward a case against God.
In this post, we have looked at several lines of argument which point to the conclusion that God exists. Leading scientific and philosophical atheists have acknowledged that these arguments count as evidence, even if they remain unpersuaded by this evidence. I can only conclude that Professor Moran’s recent claim that there is absolutely no evidence for God or the supernatural flies in the face of what intelligent, open-minded atheists have to say on the subject. Professor Moran is obviously an intelligent man, but I wonder if he is as open-minded as he claims to be.
What do readers think? Is there any evidence for God?