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Swallowing camels


Over at Why Evolution is True, in an article crassly titled, Why God hurt Japan, Professor Jerry Coyne takes pastor Adam Hamilton to task for his personal perspective on the recent magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11.

Now, I’ve already argued here that suffering does not make it absurd to believe in an omnibenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent God, and I’ve attempted to address the problem of suffering here in an article I wrote in response to Professor Anthony Grayling on the recent disaster that affected Japan, so I shall say no more about the matter in this post. By the way, readers can donate to the Japanese Red Cross here and here, or donate to the American Red Cross earthquake relief response here and here.

The phrase “swallowing camels” is often used to refer to believing incredible things. Professor Coyne appears not to realize that he is a camel-swallower extraordinaire. For the difficulties in accepting the existence of an Intelligent Designer of Nature who is also (as many ID supporters like myself believe) omnibenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent, pale in comparison with the sheer impossibility of a world with no Designer at all. For that reason, I regard Professor Coyne as far more credulous than any of the religious fundamentalists whom he regularly lambastes in his posts. Today, I’d like to briefly explain why.

Near the end of his article, Professor Coyne asks:

What would our world be like if God had not created it, and it had arisen in a purely natural manner?

Talk about leading with your chin! This one’s easy.

First, if God hadn’t created the world, then it wouldn’t exist, period. Everything about the world is contingent. That fact alone makes it legitimate to ask for an explanation of the world’s existence. Only a necessary Being will do, as an explanation. For an excellent article on why we need a Necessary Being to account for the universe and what this Being would be like, see A New Look at the Cosmological Argument by Professor Robert Koons. For background reading on the cosmological argument, readers who are new to philosophy might like to have a look at the Lecture notes and bibliography from Dr. Koons’ Western Theism course (Phil. 356).

Second, if God hadn’t created the world, then there wouldn’t be any laws of Nature. Instead, we’d be living in a “Hume world”, with no necessary link between causes and their effects. From time to time you might see patterns arising, by chance (like a sequence of ten heads when tossing coins), but you’d be crazy to expect them to continue holding in the future. Induction would be totally irrational, as the number of different ways in which Nature could go wrong the next time would vastly outnumber the number of ways in which it could go right – and you’d have no special reason to believe that you were living in a universe in which generalizations hold true for all time. In his essay, A New Look at the Cosmological Argument, Professor Koons spells out why a multiverse (or “junky cosmos” as he calls it) renders induction unreliable:

Now take any well-established scientific generalization. Among the universes that agree with all of our observations up to this point in time, the number that go on to break this generalization is far greater than the number that continue to respect it. The objective probability that every generalization we have observed extends no farther than our observations is infinitely close to one. Thus, relying on induction in such a universe is demonstrably futile. (pp. 21-22)

But when scientists assert that there are laws of Nature, they mean something more than the mere assertion that there are regularities in Nature. To say that there are laws of Nature is to say that that processes of a certain kind are invariably associated with a certain regular pattern of events, which serves to characterize that particular kind of process. The pattern is thus normative: it tells scientists how they should think about processes of that particular kind when engaging in model-making, and how they should describe these processes, in mathematical language. But there could not be norms in Nature without an Intelligence sustaining the cosmos in existence. No mind, no norms, and hence no laws.

Third, if God hadn’t created the world, then even if there were laws, there’s an overwhelmingly high probability that they’d rule out the existence of life. And before skeptical readers ask, “What about the multiverse?” I suggest that they have a look at this paper by Robin Collins: 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., ISBN: 978-1-405-17657-6). Collins shows that a multiverse makes the emergence of life no less problematic: in order to generate any life-permitting universes at all, it requires us to postulate extra laws underlying its superstring/M-theory, and these extra laws must also be “just right.” Thus a multiverse only moves the fine-tuning problem one level up.

Fourth, if God hadn’t created the world, then even if there were a life-permitting universe, it would not be able to create new biological information. As Professor William Dembski and Bob Marks argue in their 2010 paper, Life’s Conservation Law: Why Darwinian Evolution Cannot Create Biological Information:

The challenge of intelligent design, and of this paper in particular, is to show that when natural systems exhibit intelligence by producing information, they have in fact not created it from scratch but merely shuffled around existing information. Nature is a matrix for expressing already existent information. But the ultimate source of that information resides in an intelligence not reducible to nature. The Law of Conservation of Information, which we explain and justify in this paper, demonstrates that this is the case. Though not denying Darwinian evolution or even limiting its role as an immediate efficient cause in the history of life, this law shows that Darwinian evolution is deeply teleological.

So there you have it. Without God, there wouldn’t be a world, there wouldn’t be laws, life would be an impossibility and biological information could never be created – which means that evolution in any meaningful sense could never take place, and therefore Professor Coyne would not be here to write about it, and we wouldn’t be here to read about it either.

Mr Coyne is Jewish and so doesn't understand historical Protestant ideas on suffering. First it comes from Satan. In cases like this God didn't intervene as much as usual. This is the equation taught by the book of Job. Christianity makes a difference in how nations are extra protected from disasters. Japan isn't Christian. There were greater disasters in the past and it never much influenced peoples belief in God. If people believe in God even while knowing they will die and there loved ones then big disasters don't make a difference. Robert Byers
Hi bevets, Thanks for the quote from Richard Dawkins. DonaldM and Jonathan M, Thanks for your kind remarks. So far there's been no response from Jerry Coyne. vjtorley
The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if not in practice -- or not yet -- a decided one. ~ Richard Dawkins bevets
A stellar piece of writing and a great response to Coyne, vjtorley! Thanks for this! J Jonathan M
I'm tempted to say "Other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" Great response to Coyne's question. The problem with folks like Coyne is that most often they are unable (or maybe just unwilling) to take their suppositions to their logical conclusion. Hence, they end up swallowing the camel...or is it drinking the kool aid? Coyne would be most unhappy with VJ's response here, because I'm pretty sure the response that Coyne would expect is something like "Why, the world would look exactly as we find it." That it might be possible that without God there would be no world at all doesn't even enter the darkest, most remote recesses of Coyne's mind. Hence, I doubt he'd even comprehend VJ's reply. DonaldM

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