Saturday, October 3, 2009

Review of my Creation Museum talk at Ken Ham's blog

Ken Ham again is talking about my Creation Museum presentation over at his blog. He posted some commentary by Brent Aucoin, the pastor who attended my talk and has commented a bit here. I think Brent was pretty fair in his description, even though we ultimately disagree on the validity of the scriptures and the Creation Museum's message. I'm also glad that he's passing judgment after actually seeing my talk, rather than Ken Ham who called me a godless atheist (redundancy, anyone?) who presented that Christianity is bad. That's a whole other debate, and not something I discussed in my talk. I guess Ham was too busy globe trotting to read my email where I linked him to my blog and the video of my talk...oh well.


  1. Seems mostly fair. At least I couldn’t detect any ridiculous or derogatory ad hominems, at least not at a first glance.

  2. ;) Thank you. I will be content with "mostly fair" and "pretty fair"

  3. I was hoping Kenny had some of his usual rantings. But Brent, your commentary is completely fair from your point of view, and polite. It's the kind of discourse I wish everyone on your side had.

  4. It’s important that Mr. Aucoin continue to visit this blog and other sites like it. One hopes that continuous encounters with reality will some day have an effect. That being said, one important distinction that must be made is that Science is not a world view! Science is instead the best method we currently have for determining which world views are more likely to be correct. Christianity itself is not a world view, either, but is based upon several world views with which Science has already dealt: Can you watch a man die, bury him, then expect to see him walking about after three days? Are women really a sort of inferior species not fit to instruct a man? Could there really be a culture so obtuse as to miss the real meaning behind a short collection of Bronze-Age mythology and instead take it literally? No to the first and second, apparently yes to the third!

  5. Love the redundancy. I am also a stampless aphilatelist.

  6. I've been in a computer lab for over 20 of the past 48 hours staring at pictures of transistor networks (and anticipating doing it again shortly), so I'm not sure how cogent I'll be... but I wanted to reply to this.

    Mr. Aucoin's reply is indeed interesting, and I'll agree that it's a very fair reply from his point of view.

    I simply can't understand why he has that point of view in the first place, and it seems to me that his reply is positively dripping with cognitive dissonance.

    Another key thing to pick up on is where he says something along the lines of (I'm paraphrasing) "I expected them to react to me in the way they did; even the bible tells us to expect that sort of reaction", with the implication that that makes those reactions somehow less valid.

    I do not understand how he could have attended your talk and still fail to see all of the logical flaws in the Creation Museum's reasoning. For the record, I am not referring to religion here at all - I simply want to know how somebody with a decent education is still unable to see through such shaky arguments. The answer to THAT is probably religion, but I shouldn't speculate; that's impolite.

  7. I still feel skeeved out due to the 'visit' Ham had here in nearby Tualatin last week. Nothing like lying to a captive audience of children by promising dinosaurs and force-feeding them garbage.

    Fortunatly, the venue was too far off the busline so I couldn't infiltrate.

  8. ...forgot to add:

    The infiltration would have been to provide flyers for our local REAL science museum (yay OMSI)and a list of books to check out at the library.

  9. @mcbender,
    Thank you for the kind assessment of my report and your very good questions. Last week, I also commented on a few other responses to me (including your question about Gen 1-2) on the original blog entry regarding Jen’s Creation Museum lecture. Many of my comments were “tongue in cheek” to lighten things up some. Genuine understanding of each other will probably not happen over a blog so again, I offer to anybody who is local that I would be happy to discuss these things face to face over Starbucks.

    Now, I know my belief system seems logically contradictory to you. I would submit that it IS from your frame of reference and world view. But, I know as I say this, I will receive objections. As ElGordo says above, “Science is not a worldview.” Well, for a moment please, consider this. For “science” to be possible one has to assume the following non-provable (empirically) axioms: 1. Knowledge is possible (epistemological assumption), 2. The universe is ordered/regular (metaphysical assumption) 3. Mankind’s sense experiences are reliable (anthropological assumption). Based upon axioms like these that form the scientific worldview, we proceed then with the scientific method. Now you may say these axioms are “self-evident.” Well then so be it—but don’t say that everything that you now know is a result of the scientific method. Because you didn’t start with science. You started with unproven axioms that you accepted by “faith.” Now these axioms are indeed warranted (not proven) by what we sense around us. But we all start with “faith.”

    ElGordo makes the assertion above, “Science is instead the best method we currently have for determining which world views are more likely to be correct.” I understand El Gordo’s sentiment and I am all for science (as a scientist myself). But his assertion is self-defeating because his own truth claim/assertion cannot be proven by his stated “best method.” All I have to do with ElGordo is say, “Prove your assertion scientifically.” He will not be able to prove this empirically.
    (Continued in next post)

  10. continued from last post

    There is much more going on philosophically here than just “creation vs. evolution.” As I have maintained since I first was introduced to all of you that night… “A clash of worldviews is occurring.” All of us whether we are conscious of it or not (or simply don’t admit it) have a worldview that is comprised of starting assumptions/axioms about 1. Theism (assumptions about God or not), 2. Epistemology (assumptions about knowledge), 3. Anthropology, (assumptions about the nature of man) 4. Ethics (assumptions about right/wrong) and 5. Metaphysics (assumptions about reality).

    Now once #1 above is taken out of one’s world view (resulting in atheism/naturalism) then what is left is the world view of naturalism which typically assumes axioms like 1. only nature exits, 2. nature is a materialistic system, 3. nature is a self-explanatory system, 4. nature is characterized by uniformity, 5. nature is a deterministic system. Now with these axioms in the naturalistic worldview, my assertions regarding theism would indeed be illogical.

    But, I would like to suggest that naturalism will fail as a viable worldview. Here is why. If one of the axioms of naturalism is “nature is self-explanatory.” All I have to do is to press the naturalist on “the origin of life.” The naturalist, like Richard Dawkins, will not have an answer. His worldview begins to fail at this point. His worldview will never be able to account for the origin of life. Its starting axioms are not comprehensive enough to account for all the data in the universe including what scientist believe now that the universe had a beginning. The universe is not eternal. Thus, as many philosophers have concluded over the millennia, naturalism will not be worldview that is sufficient to handle the evidence of a non-eternal universe.

    Now it is fine to say, “We don’t know” like Richard Dawkins says occasionally or “we are still working on this.” But then, a naturalist should not claim that naturalism is the best explanation for what we see when it cannot answer fundamental questions of life.

    I do believe that Dawkins senses this tension and that is why he begins to concede when pressed on origins that, “I might be persuaded to believe in a deist type of god…but not this petty god of the Bible.” (paraphrased a bit)

    So mcbender, this is a “brief” stab at why a “decently” educated man like me does not see things from a limited naturalist perspective.

    You guys can rip this apart now if you desire. I will be out of town for a while now--how convenient right?! Dump all this out and then run away ; ) So I may not respond immediately. I will be out speaking at a conference on Biblical Counseling--a whole different issue : ) I can hear the groans starting already ; )

  11. Mr. Aucoin, you're just not getting it.

    First of all, there's a very important thing that you're glossing over. It's very different to say "we don't know what the first cause of everything is (if one existed) and therefore we'll call that God" and to say "science does not have a complete understanding of how things began, therefore we'll call its cause God, and God must have had attributes X, Y, and Z (as in, reading thoughts, answering prayers, writing a book and so on)". The first position is reasonable (though I would not accept it, in similar vein to Dawkins; this is precisely what he says), the second is clearly a non-sequitur and, additionally, violates the principle of Ockham's Razor.

    I am more than willing to grant you that we do not have a full understanding of the origin of life or the origin of the cosmos; to say otherwise would be sheer arrogance and conceit (yet this is what Christians and other religious people do!). The only proper position with respect to such questions is one of CURIOSITY and INVESTIGATION. We may not know the answers yet, but we can damned well try to figure them out!

    I believe, however, that you misstate what it means to be a naturalist. I personally only use the word in contrast to "supernaturalist", and what I tend to mean is to say that any "supernatural" phenomenon, if discovered to exist, will also be capable of being studied empirically through "natural" means and its effect on them, and is therefore not supernatural. The very concept of "the supernatural" is logically incoherent to me.

    On your point regarding axioms: this would be a very interesting discussion to have. I think the word "faith" is the wrong one to use here, because (in theory) the axioms one chooses to use would be selected via logical reasoning (not the same as "faith"!) and subject to revision if later rendered invalid. Hypothetically, if the scientific method were proven to be a useless and counterproductive endeavour and some other methodology were shown to be superior, do you really think we wouldn't switch over and begin using it? Obviously that's a facetious question, but the concept in general does warrant some thought.

  12. His worldview will never be able to account for the origin of life.

    How do you know this? Are you willing to bet that science will never work out a full theory of abiogenesis? Does this not seem like the God of the Gaps to you? Do you think it is wise to say that science will NEVER discover something?

  13. Hi Jen!
    long time reader, first (I think..)

    Mr. Aucoin, I've seen these objections elsewhere and all they seem to do is try to weaken the scientific approach in order to give a breather to the other ways of knowing, like faith. God knows
    they need it :p
    1. Knowledge is possible (epistemological assumption),
    the minimal assumption (i.e. that some form of basic knowledge is possible) is necessary for any worldview, therefore it's irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Unless you want to argue that in the christian worldview everything is up for grabs.
    2. The universe is ordered/regular (metaphysical assumption)
    a) this isn't an assumption but a conclusion based on observation. It's pretty clear that we don't live in an Alice in Wonderland kind of universe. At least, to my knowledge, no observation so far has contradicted
    this conclusion
    b) this isn't even a necessary assumption. If the same experiment yelded everytime a different result we would have to cope with that. We'll cross that bridge when (and if) we get there.

    3. Mankind’s sense experiences are reliable (anthropological assumption).

    a) again, this isn't an assumption, but a conclusion based on evidence. Once you process them through the scientific method, sense / perceptory experiences offer a highly coherent view of the world. (currently 6,7 billions to 1 more coherent than the religious experiences).
    Yes, we might all be wrong about there being an external reality or some other philosophy 101 scenario, but we couldn't tell the difference, so who cares.
    b) as an aside, there are ways around relaying on senses alone, (e.g. statistics).


  14. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...Eh? What? Oh, is he finally done? Sorry, I dozed off there... What the...? What is all this mutilated straw doing here? What a mess! Look over there - a little straw boot with the bloody stump of a straw leg still inside! And here's part of a straw hand and arm! C'mon, Brent, this is Jen's place! The panelling may be ugly in here, but you still have to clean up your messes when you leave!
    Now, where is that stone sculpture I was working on? Ah, here it is and not a scratch on it. All I need to do is finish the title on the base:

    "Christianity is built upon sand"

    Jen, dear, I leave this sculpture here for you, in this thread, until - as is the way with science - a better argument comes along. I think you'll have it for quite a while! Enjoy!

  15. @Rev Ouabache—I’m baaack!

    @ Elgordo—creative humor, but the rumor of my demise is greatly exaggerated.

    @ gaga—1. even with a minimalist assumption, gaga you made my point that not all things are scientifically provable and you admitted that there are starting axioms/assumptions. 2. ; ) I’m glad you have scientifically tested the entire universe—that is quite and amazing feat and conclusion. 3. ; ) How do you test the reliability of sense experience? By sense experience? Fascinating. If a “statistic” falls in a forest and nobody is there to sense it, is it real?

    @ Mcbender,
    Mcbender, you have not read me carefully enough. I have not yet argued that this “God” should have characteristics X, Y, Z. While I believe in the one creator God who is manifested as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I have not based my argument up to this point on this creator God being the god of the Bible. I have simply been arguing theistic versus atheistic worldviews.

    You make a startling concession as does Dawkins. Why do you think postulating a first cause is “reasonable?” On what evidence is there to postulate a “first cause” and then claim this might be “reasonable.” Why might Dawkins be persuaded for a deist position? On what evidence? If it is “reasonable” (aka “logical”) why then, would not this deistic/theistic axiom be a viable axiom selected by “logic?”

    “You could possibly persuade me there was some kind of creative force in the universe with some kind of physical mathematical genius who created everything—the expanding universe, devised quantum theory, relativity, and all that. You could possibly persuade me of that. But that is radically and fundamentally incompatible with the sort of god who cares about sin, the sort of god who cares about what you do with your genitals, the sort of god who is interested, who has the slightest interest in your private thoughts and your wickedness. Surely you can see that a god who is grand enough to make the universe is not going to give a (undecipherable ) cuss about what you are thinking about and your sins and things like that. (Dawkins, Oxford Discussion 37:00 minute mark

  16. Brent, you're insisting on "arguing for a theistic worldview", which means by definition that you're adding more to the picture. I'll go through this slowly...

    I concur with Dawkins. The fact that you do not see the difference between my (and Dawkins') position and your own is very telling.

    What I am saying is this, and nothing more:

    We do not yet know what the "first cause" of the universe was, if there was any (although one could quibble about the definition of "universe" also). If that first cause was a "something", so be it, and if you would like to call that potential something "God", be my guest.

    That's what Dawkins means when he says that he thinks "a serious case, but not one he would accept" could be made for the deist position. It's like Russell's teapot: it could potentially exist and cannot be disproven, but that is not to say that it is likely to exist.

    However, even if I am willing to concede that a deistic position is philosophically defensible in that respect, that in no way gives credence to a theistic position. The theistic position(s) all claim to know something about the nature of "God" (see your holy books and so on if you don't understand what I mean by this).

    The argument you are making is a colossal bait-and-switch. In essence, what you are trying to say is this:

    "It is theoretically possible that some sort of entity may have existed that caused the universe. Therefore, the Christian God that I believe in is plausible."

    Sorry. Nope. Bzzt. Wrong. That's not how it works. Your Biblical sky-daddy is still just as logically contradictory and impossible as it was before.

    NonStampCollector makes this point much better than I can and I highly recommend watching this short video of his:

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. @ Mcbender
    Here is the understanding on which I am operating. Classic deism flourished in the Enlightenment period when the foundations of rationalism and empiricism were laid. Deism was the belief in a transcendent divine being who was the first intelligent cause of all but then simply left the universe to run its course. This is different than the theism of the Scriptures. Some of the framers of the US Constitution were deists. Deists denied the immanent nature of god as opposed to the distant, detached transcendent nature of god. Deists also denied any supernatural revelation and ongoing activity by this god (i.e. Scriptures, theophanies, miracles, etc.). Deists suggested that it is only empiricism and reason that lead one, logically, to believe in an intelligent, divine first cause. By definition, the deists still holds to a “doctrine” about the nature of god—i.e. transcendent but not immanent and the first intelligent cause. Thus, “the watchmaker” analogy was used with deists—i.e. a watchmaker who made the watch and wound it up and simply let it run. We can debate whether or not deism is a sub category of “theism” but that would end up in simply semantics. Deists believe in an intelligent divine being that started all that exists and then let the universe take its course.

    If Dawkins is using the terminology of deism as “whatever the non-intelligent first cause of all things ends up to be right now and let’s call it ‘god’”, then that is not what he said.

    His articulation of “deism” seems to be in accordance with what I understand to be the classical definition.

    Transcendent, intelligent divine first cause….
    “You could possibly persuade me there was some kind of creative force in the universe with some kind of physical mathematical genius who created everything —the expanding universe, devised quantum theory, relativity, and all that. You could possibly persuade me of that …”

    Denying the immanent nature of this being…
    “… But that is radically and fundamentally incompatible with the sort of god who cares about sin, the sort of god who cares about what you do with your genitals, the sort of god who is interested, who has the slightest interest in your private thoughts and your wickedness.”

    Transcendent, intelligent divine first cause…
    “Surely you can see that a god who is grand enough to make the universe…..”

    Denying the immanent nature of this being…
    “… is not going to give a (undecipherable) cuss about what you are thinking about and your sins and things like that.

    I wonder what “evidence” MIGHT persuade him? Maybe he is opening the door to possibly see that there is actually a gardener behind the garden’s beauty instead of a fairy. Maybe not, how could anybody believe there is actually a gardener behind a beautiful garden ; ) Darwin has persuaded us that this is counterintuitive and doesn’t have to be the case ; )

  19. Perhaps then I differ with Dawkins here. However, I do not think I do; I think you are misrepresenting him (regardless, it does not particularly matter what Dawkins says on this: if I disagree with him, then it is me against whom you must argue and not Dawkins).

    I got the impression that he mainly mentions deism in order to highlight the absurdity of theism by contrast, however: (paraphrasing) "deism, I could maybe see an argument being made for that (not one I'd accept, but not a wholly foolish one and we could have a reasonable discussion about it)... but contrast that with all of these other things that people believe, look how ridiculous they are in comparison!"

    He said that explicitly in a speech at one point, under the heading of "the Eddington Concession". His point is not that he finds deism plausible - far from it, as he stresses - but that it's not as philosophically naive as theism, and he discusses it in order to highlight the contrast. He then complained that, as a result of his making this argument, he was quote-mined along the lines of "Dawkins thinks deism is plausible! Dawkins is moving away from atheism!"

    This is precisely what you are doing as well. You are not presenting his views accurately.

    I don't think an intelligent first cause is plausible, precisely because it would be subject to the same kind of regress as it is supposed to terminate. Postulating such a thing to explain why something exists gains you exactly nothing in terms of explanation, because it is then necessary to explain why the designer exists. If we handwave that by saying that the designer always existed, then why can we not "just skip a step and say the universe always existed"? (quote from Carl Sagan).

    Do not multiply entities beyond necessity (Ockham's Razor).

  20. @ mcbender,

    Individuals, can listen to the audio of Dawkins and make up their mind as to if I was misrepresenting him. I think he is still "evolving" : )

    You have been abundantly kind, gracious, and fair in your dialogue and discussion. You make points worthy of further discussion. I hope to meet you in person someday. If you are local (i.e. here in Lafayette/West Lafayette) I would be happy to take you to Starbucks.

    I'm checking out of the discussion now for sake of time. But if you ever want me back to know what your token, local, creationist, Christian thinks, you can click on my profile and email me or find me on facebook or at church on Sunday :).

    God bless....uh never long and prosper? Or maybe this...a paraphrase of Numbers 6:24ff...

    May science bless you and keep you and may its face shine on you and be gracious to you and give you peace as you invoke its name.