When one moment defines a worldview...
I’m thinking of an event that decides the validity of an entire worldview. If this event did not occur, then the worldview which depends on it is necessarily false; those who subscribe to it would be 'of all men most miserable'. Those holding to that philosophy confidently and dogmatically state that it happened, and those who question it risk being labeled heretics. For all of that confidence, this event is not only contrary to all we know of modern science, but provides no reasonable evidence that it even occurred. The event doesn’t have anywhere near the kind of evidence that supports, say, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. What is it? None other than abiogenesis: the naturally caused generation of life from non-life.
The similarities between the Resurrection and abiogenesis, in terms of their importance to their respective worldviews, are striking. Both are absolutely necessary for their worldview to be true. If abiogenesis is impossible, then atheism is necessarily false. Both are, presumably, singular incidents. Both atheism and Christianity would say that their respective “ground zeroes” are unique. Both require a measure of faith to believe in, since the evidence for or against them is subject to varying levels of interpretation. In both cases, the worldviews are defined in large part by their attitude towards the imbuing of life, as it happened in their respective occasions. The purpose and meaning, or lack of these, behind those events is associated with everything else in that worldview.
The differences between these two episodes are also very important. Abiogenesis is an event that logically follows atheism. That is, if one is to believe in atheism, one has to believe in abiogenesis. The resurrection, on the other hand, precedes Christianity. Christians believe in Christ as a result of the resurrection - a truth that produces belief. Atheists believe in abiogenesis as a result of atheism - a belief that presumes a truth. The evidence for the Resurrection involves real people, real history, and can be found both within and without the Bible. The evidence for abiogenesis is, truly, non-existent. There are theories about how it might have happened, but no reason – other than a pre-commitment to atheism – to believe that it actually did.
The article I wrote for GotQuestions.org has an overview of the many problems facing the concept of abiogenesis. There are no reasonable explanations for how self-replicating life could have formed on earth – or off of it. It’s fascinating to see that ideas like directed panspermia are discussed with a straight face by the same people who sneer at the Bible for being ridiculous. The experiments that supposedly lend believability to abiogenesis actually go a long way towards disproving it. Creating amino acids in conditions that would kill a living cell doesn’t do much other than solidify the impossibility of life rising from non-life.
Case in point: The Miller-Urey experiment, which showed that some basic proteins could be formed by delivering massive electric shocks to controlled proportions of chemicals. Miller-Urey is often touted for demonstrating that abiogenesis is at least physically plausible. Then again, mudslides often mix water, dirt, and rock into something that looks a lot like wet concrete. Miller-Urey did as much to prove the plausibility of abiogenesis as mudslides prove the plausibility of an avalanche building a brick house. The cold, hard reality is that science has absolutely no answers for how life could have really begun, lacking some deliberate intervention. If the only way to create the most basic building blocks of life is under controlled, contrived, non-natural circumstances, isn’t the possibility of intelligent action important to consider, logically?
Part of the irony I see in the controversy over Intelligent Design is this very contrast. Abiogenesis HAD to happen for naturalism to be a valid worldview. Unfortunately for naturalists, science not only has no clue how it could have happened, but it has plenty of good reasons to think that it couldn’t. Debate over the particulars of evolution is one thing; the possibility of abiogenesis is fundamental to the entire philosophy of naturalism. And yet, given the lack of answers on such an important topic, naturalists have the nerve to snicker at those who believe that life shows evidence of intelligent intervention. I’m not much for shallow caricatures, but... At this point belief in abiogenesis is tantamount to having blind faith that sludge can learn to walk and talk.
In my post on "Hopeless Hypotheses", I discussed how any worldview leading inescapably to a non-truth is automatically invalid. For atheism to be true, then so must abiogenesis. If abiogenesis is impossible, then atheism is simply false. If the Resurrection really did occur, then Christianity is absolutely true as well. If Jesus Christ died and stayed dead, then the faith built on Him is a tragic lie. How ironic, that both worldviews are secured by a lynch-pin event. Even more ironic is how the evidence for the resurrection is orders of magnitude more supportive than that for abiogenesis. When believers are being beaten around the head and shoulders, it’s reassuring to remember that those opposing us don’t have the higher ground. We have an empty tomb – they have a puddle of mud.
March 31, 2008
When one moment defines a worldview...
March 29, 2008
I recently wrote an article regarding abiogenesis, or the rise of life from non-life, for GotQuestions.org. There's more to be explored in this issue, which will probably happen in the next post.
March 22, 2008
Guess which side you're helping more?
There are experts, and there are non-experts. On both sides, there are those who realize that they don’t know it all, and they need to learn, adapt, and grow. There are also those who think that nothing they come up with could possibly be wrong. The semi-capable are often referred to with the expression, “he knows just enough to be dangerous.” That is, they’d be dangerous if they forgot their limitations and started going beyond their ability. Even worse, they might forge ahead, despite the calamity, because they’re so convinced that what little they know is all they need to know. If there was ever a voice in the Evolution-Creation debate that could be described this way, it’s Kent Hovind. Not only does he know just enough to be dangerous, but he’s always insisted on clinging to bad arguments, no matter what. While the intentions might be good, we really should be saying, “thanks, but no thanks” to people like Hovind.
Kent Hovind is not an expert on science, apologetics, philosophy, logic, or really anything else. Now, of course, neither am I, but there’s a major difference between the approach that Hovind takes to his work and the approach I take to mine. Namely, I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong, and ready to adapt my arguments based on rationality and evidence. Hovind has been challenged by skeptics and believers alike for refusing to do just that – yet, he hasn’t changed his strategy, and isn’t likely to. Proverbs 27:17 says that “iron sharpens iron”. When people allow ideas to interact openly, it knocks off the “dull parts” and leaves the sharp, useful stuff. There are some pro-creation, anti-evolution, or pro-Bible arguments that are, simply put, wrong. There are plenty that are valid, but if you mix the two together, the message gets muddled and no one takes you seriously.
Let me say briefly that Hovind’s tax troubles, while they don’t necessarily have anything to do with his arguments about religion and science, should be noted for a good reason. Hovind is not one for transparency, or for adaptation to new information. There are a lot of people who get in tax trouble, but not as many who get nailed for tax evasion and obstruction. Again, the tax issue itself isn’t really relevant to Hovind’s arguments, but it sheds some insight into the approach he takes to someone challenging his “correctness”.
Hovind puts Christians at large in an uncomfortable position. On one hand, he rightly questions the way in which evolution is presented, criticizes the assumption of atheism in popular science, and upholds the Bible as an infallible source of knowledge. On the other hand, Hovind knows little about the topics he discusses, uses highly flawed arguments, and refuses to accept his own limitations. This makes him an easy target for skeptics of Christianity. Despite what may be sincere efforts on his part, Hovind winds up hurting more than he helps.
In general, much of what is wrong with Kent Hovind’s approach is his unwillingness to mature his approach. That is, Hovind persists in using arguments and “facts” that have been disproven. Hovind has been justly criticized for his promotion of conspiracy theories, urban myths, out-of-context quotes, and misinterpreted science. Many fellow believers, and fellow opponents of atheistic evolution, have challenged Hovind about his use of half-truths, logical errors, and misinterpretations. Yet, he has generally refused to discard these bad arguments. Rather than allowing his arguments to follow the evidence, Hovind tends to let his arguments judge the evidence. As a result, he fulfills the skeptical stereotype of a closed-minded Christian posing as an expert on matters of science.
We should be careful about judging Hovind’s motivations. What happens in his heart is between him and God, and so it’s not for us to say whether his arguments are founded on sincerity or just stubbornness. However, we are more than justified in judging the truth of what he says, and the effect it has on others. The Bible is the infallible word of God, and it doesn’t need to be protected from the truth – it is the truth. Open, honest, and objective examination of evidence, as a part of science, has never proven the Bible wrong. It has proven some of our fallible human interpretations wrong, and probably will again. Men like Kent Hovind, who rely on poor reasoning and closed-minded stubbornness, are not helping to prove the truths of the Bible. They “know just enough to be dangerous”, and cause more harm than good.
March 21, 2008
Some things are hard to sell...
Slate’s online magazine published an article by James Martin on the relative lack of commercialization of Easter. The sub-heading, at first, made me wonder what rock the author had been living under for the last few decades: “Why Easter stubbornly resists the commercialism that swallowed Christmas”. A moment later, though, I had to admit that he was right. Compared to the cash-stravaganza that Christmas has become, even a million pounds of inedible Peeps and an ocean of jellybeans is fairly tame. More importantly, he’s right that the religious implications of Christmas are almost totally obscured, whereas Easter’s are uncomfortably (for some) impossible to ignore.
Granted, the article is coming from a Jesuit priest, but it’s still rare to see some honest and fairly sound theology presented on a site like Slate. Martin makes three points that are particularly interesting: One, that the commercialization of religious holidays has a tendency to overshadow their original purpose. Two, that Easter has partially resisted this tendency because the religious background is more or less impossible to “cute-up” for marketing purposes. Three, that this is partly because the Easter narrative doesn’t allow the kind of bland response that Christmas does.
It’s certainly true that Christmas is losing, or has lost, its real significance for most Americans. Mentions of the birth of Jesus and the implications that event had for humanity are footnotes to the decorations, gifts, parties, gifts, carols, and gifts. Note that Christmas is very often the holiday celebrated with the most energy and attention in Christian churches, despite the fact that Easter is the more important religious holiday.
Martin’s observation that Easter’s back-story isn’t as commercial-friendly as Christmas is likewise true. I can understand why advertisers have an easier time tying in babies and angels than they do tools of execution. The pagan origins of Easter, though, are extremely commercial-friendly. Christmas blends secular symbols like snowmen, Santa (who switched sides a long time ago) and strings of lights with nativity layouts and angels. Easter, though, is symbolized commercially by only the non-Christian elements: fuzzy bunnies, cute chicks (the avian variety), and truckloads of eggs. Outside of the Christian community, there’s no cutesy version of a tortured savior or an empty tomb.
The most important point that’s made in Martin’s article, though, is in regards to the reaction people get when presented with the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. There’s no middle ground in the story – either you believe it, or you don’t, and both have major implications for your life. To believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead is not something you can just nod your head to. That’s a worldview-defining belief, and how you respond to it speaks volumes about your faith. To reject this, though, does the same. The claims of Christianity are inescapably tied to the resurrection, and rejection of Jesus’ return from the dead is tantamount to a rejection of the entire Christian faith.
As Martin says:
Even agnostics and atheists who don't accept Christ's divinity can accept the general outlines of the Christmas story with little danger to their worldview. But Easter demands a response. It's hard for a non-Christian believer to say, "Yes, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead." That's not something you can believe without some serious ramifications: If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, this has profound implications for your spiritual and religious life—really, for your whole life. If you believe the story, then you believe that Jesus is God, or at least God's son. What he says about the world and the way we live in that world then has a real claim on you.
Easter is an event that demands a "yes" or a "no." There is no "whatever."
Hopefully, this year, Christians will make a conscious effort to treat Easter as what it is – the most sacred celebration in the calendar. There has never been an event of more importance in human history, because whether or not Jesus rose from the dead is the answer to virtually every other spiritual question mankind has.
Echoes and analysis from Tom Gilson
Tom Gilson's "Thinking Christian" recently discussed the question of how to recognize the "one true religion". I provided my two cents, based on prior posts regarding the Core Apologetic. Tom got some interesting feedback, which he presented with his own analysis.