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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label debate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label debate. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dismantling the Pro-Abortion Argument of Saving Children vs. Saving Embryos



Is a fertilized egg a new human being at its very first stages of life? The answer, of course, is yes. Left to its natural course, a fertilized egg will grow and mature into a fetus, an infant, a child, and ultimately an adult. Each stage adds complexity and capabilities, but they are all stages in the development of the same referent—a human being.

However, pro-abortion folks don't like the idea that a fetus is a human being. They want to deny that the developing baby in utero is really a baby. This morning I saw a series of tweets from New York Times Op-Ed writer Patrick S. Tomlinson posting what he thinks is the ultimate defeater to the pro-life position that life begins at conception. There, he offers what he thinks is a knock-down argument against the position that a fertilized egg is a human being. The original thread begins here, but I've reproduced it below to make it easier for you:
Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I've been asking for ten years now of the "Life begins at Conception" crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly. 1/

It's a simple scenario with two outcomes. No one ever wants to pick one, because the correct answer destroys their argument. And there IS a correct answer, which is why the pro-life crowd hates the question. 2/

Here it is. You're in a fertility clinic. Why isn't important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help. 3/

They're in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labeled "1000 Viable Human Embryos." The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one. 4/

Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no "C." "C" means you all die.

In a decade of arguing with anti-abortion people about the definition of human life, I have never gotten a single straight A or B answer to this question. And I never will. 5/

They will never answer honestly, because we all instinctively understand the right answer is "A." A human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. Or ten thousand. Or a million. Because they are not the same, not morally, not ethically, not biologically. 6/

This question absolutely evicerates their arguments, and their refusal to answer confirms that they know it to be true.

No one, anywhere, actually believes an embryo is equivalent to a child. That person does not exist. They are lying to you. 7/

They are lying to you to try and evoke an emotional response, a paternal response, using false-equivalency.

No one believes life begins at conception. No one believes embryos are babies, or children. Those who cliam to are trying to manipulate you so they can control women. 8/

Don't let them. Use this question to call them out. Reveal them for what they are. Demand they answer your question, and when they don't, slap that big ol' Scarlet P of the Patriarchy on them.

The end. 9/9

Choices Don't Determine Essence

Is Tomlinson right? Is his thought experiment the death-knell for the concept that life begins at conception?

Spoiler alert: no.

Tomlinson has made a big mistake in his thinking as he believes choosing to save the five year old somehow denies the humanity of the embryos. How does that follow? How does one's choice determine the essence of the thing that is not chosen? It is a classic non-sequitor.

Now, I agree that almost all people would grab the child first, but that doesn't prove the point that the embryos are not humans who hold intrinsic worth, too. To demonstrate this, let me offer a counter-scenario:

The set-up is basically the same as Tomlinson's, except you're in a hospital not a fertility clinic. On one side you have the five year old child. On the other, a series of ten beds, each with a geriatric patient in a vegetative state. Because the hospital had built safety precautions into their building for evacuations,hazards, the comatose group are positioned on top of an elevator platform. You can either A) save the screaming child or B) you can run to the other side of the room and pull the lever, lowering yourself and the ten comatose patients to safety. There is no C. Which do you choose?

Again, I think most people would choose A. Some may choose B and let the child experience the agony of burning alive. But for most of us, it is as Tomlinson said: instinctively we go for the child. This in no way means the others have somehow lost their humanity. It only means that rational people weigh various criteria, including consciousness and the ability to feel pain when making such decisions.

Like the comatose patients, embryos in test tubes are handicapped. Their ability to naturally grow and develop has been artificially halted, and they have been denied the womb. Just because they have yet developed cognition or the capability to feel pain doesn't make them any less human than my patients in comas. If it were true that those patients were no longer human, then we wouldn't mind at all harvesting their organs as we desire for transplants. (If you shudder at that, then maybe destroying embryos for scientific research should give you pause.)

Ultimately, Tomlinson's thought experiment fails to prove his point. I've answered his scenario honestly. Should I "call him out" and "demand he answer" and admit this doesn't prove what he's hoping it will?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Starting God Conversations: State it Back to Them



Certainly we've all heard the bromide that one should never discuss politics or religion in polite conversation. It's been around for quite some time. In Thomas E. Hill's 1884 book on how to communicate properly in social and business settings, under the section entitled "Etiquette of Conversation" he warns his readers against such exchanges because "to discuss those topics is to arouse feeling without any good result."1

Most people would be inclined to agree with this. Even evangelical Christians wince at sharing their faith. Many times they can remember striking up a conversation with a friend or family member, hopeful that they'll get to share the Gospel, only to have it degenerate into a tense, loud, back and forth where there's more heat than light exchanged.

But it doesn't have to be that way. With respect to Mr. Hill, conversations about faith don't have to be disagreeable even when the participants disagree. I've had many extended conversations with atheists who have actually thanked me for discussing those issues with them. Previously, I explained how Christians can easily and graciously start God conversations by taking the" class photo" approach. Today, I'd like to continue in that vein by discussing a second step that will help keep the level of discourse high and the hurt feelings at a minimum.

Making sure you understand

Atheist Peter Boghossian likes to tell Christians their faith is "belief without evidence" or "pretending to know something you don't know." 2 But this isn't what faith is and it isn't the faith the Bible describes. In telling Christians what they believe and misrepresenting their understanding of their own belief, Boghossian has created a caricature of the Christian understanding of faith. He's set up a straw man that is easy to knock down. Of course, being told that you are pretending to know something you don't know is actually insulting and it shows the other person isn't interested in really knowing what you believe or why you believe it.

But atheists aren't the only ones who are guilty of such moves. Christians can be equally as culpable. It's easy to dismiss atheists as people who only want to live without any rules or some similar charge. Unless they've told you, you don't really know what they believe about the point in question.

This means you need to ask them not only what they believe but why they believe it. In fact, asking probably isn't enough, since we tend to interpret what we hear through our own viewpoints and experiences. The best thing to do is repeat their beliefs back to them using different wording and perhaps even an example. Make their argument as if you held the same view they did use phrases like "Do you mean..." and "So you believe X because you think Y is true."

By repeating their argument back to them, you'll find out a few very positive things happen:
  • First, the other person will feel as though they're heard. They know you're listening to them.
  • Second, it shows you care about them. You aren't simply trying to "put another notch on your Bible" but are truly trying to understand where he or she is coming from.
  • Third, if you can accurately represent someone's views before you've made your case, it will removes a lot of his or her objections to your stance as being uninformed.
  • Lastly, it helps you know where you need to focus your attention in the discussion. I've previously written how asking questions of a Jehovah's Witness radically changed the direction of our conversation.
So, don't be afraid to ask about a person's beliefs and the reasons they hold them. Repeat them back. If you've misunderstood, then they will most likely correct you. But make sure you get their position right before you attempt to tell then why your position makes more sense. To do otherwise is simply insulting.

References

1. Hill, Thomas E. Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms: A Guide to Correct Writing. Chicago: Hill Standard Book, 1884. Print. 151.
2. Boghossian, Peter G. A Manual for Creating Atheists. Durham, NC: Pitchstone, 2013. Print. 23-24.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Is It OK for God to Kill and Torture People?

One of the things I enjoy most when watching debates is the Q&A time afterwards. It allows people to ask questions that may not have been directly addressed in a debate format. In my 2012 debate against Richard Carrier, we also hosted a Q&A time. Questions for each participant were alternated and the participant was given two minutes for a reply with a one minute rebuttal from the opponent. This seemed fair and would allow more audience member to ask questions. Of course, the format is also limiting, as a recent article that criticized one of my responses shows.


In the Q&A, I was asked, "You stated that you believe torture to be wrong in every situation, correct?" I corrected the questioner that my claim in the debate was torturing babies for fun is wrong in all situations. In the debate I had used this illustration to show that all moral values are objective. The questioner responded, "Given that, your Bible-God tortures babies if you're of the predestination camp. Why do you admire a god that does things you would despise in a man?"

The question is obviously a loaded one. As I immediately said in my reply, to assume that God tortures babies is a false assumption. There are many issues with it, but let's take them one at a time.

God Does Not Torture People in Hell

The idea of Hell is painted as God torturing people. That's a misunderstanding of Hell itself. To understand Hell, one must first understand God. God is the source of all goodness and perfection. James 1:17 tells us "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." That means all the pleasure and goodness we experience ultimately has its source in Him. When a person rejects God and His provision for atonement, God will not force himself upon that individual.

After a person dies his soul must reside somewhere. So God will, for lack of a better word, quarantine him in a place where he's separated from God's relational presence. But in so doing, the person is also separated from God's good gifts. Thus the restlessness and anguish experienced by those in Hell are a direct result of their separation from God. Hell is symbolized as a place of eternal fire, but theologians don't hold to that as a literal description.

For those that are interested, you can read a more extensive answer in this 1997 article posted at the Come Reason site. God is not like some gleeful Dungeon-Master placing people on the rack or in an Iron Maiden. He is not executing tortures. He separates those who themselves have chosen to separate themselves from him. The consequences of that separation are what become agonizing.

God Does Not Send Babies to Hell

Notice that the questioner asked specifically about babies in his question. He qualified his claim with "if you're of the predestination camp." I believe the questioner was trying to point to the view of certain people who hold to a specific Calvinist theology. Such a theological position certainly isn't reflective of all of Christendom. It isn't even held by the majority of Christians. To universally impugn a belief in God for the position of a minority is grossly unfair. It isn't my position, either. I don't believe God sends those who die as babies to Hell. I argue that in this article,, so I won't take the time here.

Is the Author of Life Allowed to Take Life?

Most of my response to the questioner focused on whether God should be allowed to take a life, such as the life of a child. I had thought death was the focus of his objection. I therefore argued that God, as the author of life could also take life. I said, "The idea of giving life and taking life, if you're the creator of life it's in your purview to do so." At the end of my response, he clarified that he was talking about Hell, not simply death. My time had run out, but I was able to repeat I don't believe his premise is true.

When I say God is the creator of life, I don't mean only that God created specific lives. I mean God is the one who created that thing that animates living beings, the vita if you will. Science fiction stories often talk about this as a "life-force." Job 12:10 declares in God's hands "is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind."

Atheist blogger James Kirk Wall saw the debate exchange and challenged my answer. He asked "I'm [my dog] Frankie's owner. Now, just because I'm Frankie's owner does that mean I can be cruel or harmful to Frankie? Would it be OK since I'm his owner for me to torture the poor guy? ... What if I created Frankie; what if I created him in a test tube in some laboratory? Would that then make it OK? And of course, the answer is ‘no.'"1 (One wonders how consistent Wall's position on this topic is when we turn from dogs to abortion.)

But this analogy is incorrect. While we may be able to use IVF or even clone dogs in a lab, we do not have the power to bestow life. No one can take a bunch of non-living material and make something that's alive. That was one of the six points I argued in the main debate. As the giver of life itself, it is well within God's authority to take life as well. And as I sought to argue, God may have morally sufficient reasons to take a life at a particular time.

The scratched car analogy I used was perhaps clumsy. It wasn't referring to a person, but to life itself. Life is the car that God owns. Unfortunately, when I better understood the questioner's objection was focused on the agonies of hell, I had run out of time. Still, it should be clear that God doesn't "own" people. That's why people go to Hell; they can of their own free will reject him. But he does have the power over life and death and it is properly his to use as he sees fit.

References

1. Wall, James Kirk. "Is It OK for God to Kill and Torture People? Lenny Esposito vs. Dr. Richard Carrier." Chicago Now. Chicago Now, 21 June 2015. Web. 08 July 2015. http://www.chicagonow.com/an-agnostic-in-wheaton/2015/06/is-it-ok-for-god-to-kill-and-torture-people-lenny-esposito-vs-dr-richard-carrier/.

Monday, June 29, 2015

How Not to Get Mad When Talking with Non-Believers


The recent decision by the United States Supreme Court to recognize same sex unions across the country has changed our nation. Corporations and government institutions that had previously provided an appearance of neutrality displayed their applause by adopting a rainbow colored version of their logos on social media and their web sites. The White House became the Rainbow House both virtually and in reality for an evening. Of course, many people followed suit and also cheered for the decision.

I believe that the Supreme Court decision will cause more discussions about the nature and definition of marriage, not less. Like many contentious issues of our day, this will cause emotions to rise, quickly devolving disagreements into exchanges that are more venomous and less Christianly. I was speaking with one online friend who told me how difficult it had been for him in such exchanges. He admitted, "I worked so hard to show [their] flawed thinking but they refused to see their error. I know I'm not ready for debate because I get too angry."

It is difficult to engage others when passions are high. It is harder when the other side has produced a rather consistent campaign of name-calling ("bigot, hater!") that slander you instead of wrestling with your arguments. But just as we are told homosexual practice is wrong, we are also commanded to love our enemies.

How do we do this? We must look at others and see them the way Jesus did. The Woman at the Well was a bit arrogant with Jesus. She was flippant in their exchange, even though she was the one who had a problem with morality and keeping a husband! Yet, Jesus didn't yell at her, he loved her but stood firm in his conviction.

Dallas Willard explains this approach:
We must see the soul and the person in its ruined condition, with its malformed and dysfunctional mind, feelings, body, and social relations, before we can understand that it must be delivered and reformed and how that can be done. One of the greatest obstacles to effective spiritual formation in Christ today is simple failure to understand and acknowledge the reality of the human situation as it affects Christians and nonChristians alike. We must start from where we really are. And here we recall that all people undergo a process of spiritual formation. Their spirit is formed, and with it their whole being. As I said earlier, spiritual formation is not something just for especially religious people. No one escapes. The most hardened criminal as well as the most devout of human beings have had a spiritual formation. They have become a certain kind of person. You have had a spiritual formation and I have had one, and it is still ongoing. It is like education: everyone gets one—a good one or a bad one. We reemphasize that those are fortunate or blessed who are able to find or are given a path of life that forms their spirit and inner world in a way that is good.1
Jesus saw the woman at the well as someone who didn't know about the things of God. In talking with her, Jesus was able to lead her to repentance. Whenever I engage others online or in person, I've found it better to see people as deceived. They're deceived by the world, by the Devil and by themselves. Like a young child, they are simply regurgitating a lie they want to believe. That's the beginning of compassion.

References

1. Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs: Navpress. 2002. 45.
Image courtesy Jessica Flavin [CC BY 2.0].

Sunday, June 28, 2015

How to Debate Same-Sex Marriage After SCOTUS



This afternoon, I had a mini debate on Twitter with a gentleman about same-sex marriage. I wanted to reproduce it because it was a good and respectful dialogue; these are the kinds of conversations that help clarify Christian beliefs and positions to those who may not be familiar with all the reasons why so many are deeply concerned about the SCOTUS decision to redefine marriage.

To set up the conversation, I had tweeted an article entitled, Labeling peaceful proponents of traditional marriage “religious extremists” is as misleading as it is mean-spirited. That lead to Chip's first comment:
ChipSalonna: Labeling it "traditional marriage" is as funny as it is misleading. http://t.co/7qEomYUJlm

Comereason: No. Marriage has been traditionally recognized as one thing for all of human civilization...
However, I use the term natural marriage because there a biological component involved as well.

ChipSalonna: Riiiight. Ever hear of Mormons? Or Muslims? Or Solomon?

Comereason: Yes, I have. So?
Can I ask you a question? How many wives did a Mormon or a Muslim or Solomon need to take before he was considered married?

ChipSalonna: After the first wife, how many more wives did a Mormon or Muslim have to take before they weren't considered married anymore?

Comereason: You make my point. The reference to traditional marriage is not a reference to NUMBER, but to the TYPE of union. 1 man, 1 woman..
2,000 years of western civilization is enough to claim something is tradition(al). Still, natural marriage a better descriptor.

ChipSalonna: So, you're ok with polygamy/polyamory? I find it hard to imagine that's true but I can't wait to see where this goes.

Comereason: No, I'm not Ok with it. It is a deviant form of marriage, a distortion of the ideal. But it is a kind of marriage.

ChipSalonna: "Deviant". But "traditional". At least polygamy has THAT going for it.

Comereason: None of this is relevant to whether the union of two people of the same sex should be called a marriage.

ChipSalonna: See my other tweet w/link to Wikipedia.

Comereason: It's easy to Google things and Wikipedia is notoriously inept at being factual in hot button issues.
For example, Rome had marriage laws spelled out in the patria potestas, but those laws did not apply in same sex issues.
I agree that Greece, China, and even parts of India today have homosexual relationships. No one called it marriage, though.

ChipSalonna: As you wish. We call it "marriage" now.

Comereason: Do you have a Social Security number?

ChipSalonna: Rhetorical. What's your point?

Comereason: How many Social Security numbers should each person in the U.S. have?

ChipSalonna: [Waiting...]

Comereason: The IRS reports that there are many thousands of people who are issued multiple SS#'s. It doesn't make any of those NOT a SS#.
Further, you SHOULD only have ONE. But they are all real SS#s. What you are trying to argue is that because there have been...
...multiple SS#s in the past, its OK to call a driver's license a SS#. Both are identification, both issued by the govt.
There are so many similarities, who cares about the little differences?

ChipSalonna: I get the point with your analogy. And I've already accepted that you view 1MnW as "deviant" but "traditional". The *big*...
...difference is that we're talking people &their feelings & freedoms, not numbers or pieces of paper. I assume that...
...ultimately you view SSM as bad b/c God says so. So, here's a hypothetical for you. If God came to you and said "Hey,...
...Lenny, the Bible had a few mistakes with the homo stuff. It's really ok for them to get married." Would you continue to...
...make the "secular" arguments you're making now?

Comereason: You're absolutely right that this isn't about pieces of paper but about people. We can agree on that.
My argument isn't just procedural. I'm concerned about the people involved. Do you know why Govt got involved w/marriage at all?
Or (to be more specific) why they continue to be involved?

ChipSalonna: I'll come back to your question. But would you abandon your arguments given God's "retraction"?

Comereason: Actually, the Bible really doesn't say anything about same sex unions. If we were discussing a purely civil contract...
...such as CA's civil unions, I wouldn't be fighting it--and I didn't when it was passed. Marriage is different, though.

ChipSalonna: So, you consider your arguments to be *purely* secular? You don't trace any anti-SSM thoughts back to God? Truly curious here.

Comereason: No. I believe all truth is God's truth and he designed the world to run a certain way. We get a clearer picture from the Bible.
But I believe I have arguments that can be accepted even if one doesn't hold to the Bible as a moral principle....
... Marriage has a consistent basis across all cultures and all faiths. Thus I can offer secular arguments.

ChipSalonna: Ok, so in my hypothetical, if God "clarified" the issue, you'd have to say your secular arguments were somehow wrong. Yes?
(Not a trap. Just getting a clear picture.)

Comereason: I don't doubt your sincerity. I'm just trying to understand. I have a hard time seeing how that would be possible, though...
Human beings are created in a specific way. God would be saying something that argues against his created order.
The only institution that all of humanity has recognized as proper to creating and rearing children is the family. That's it.
The primary reason Govt gets involved is for the welfare of the child. That's why deadbeat dad laws are on the books....
The Govt recognizes marriages because it then knows who he responsible parents are for the child, unless otherwise stated.

ChipSalonna: Except that you said biblical teaching isn't clear on the marriage issue.

Comereason: I said God didn't explicitly say "no same sex unions." The Bible is clear on sexual activity between those of the same sex.

ChipSalonna: So, it seems to matter little (from a secular point of view) whether we're talking about civil unions, marriage or shacking up.

Comereason: I don't gamble and I don't drink but I'm not pressing for prohibition.
I don't condone shacking up, but there should be no law against it.
There's a difference between tolerating an action and changing the definition of an existing institution.

ChipSalonna: I meant civil unions, marriage or shacking up w.r.t SSC.

Comereason: Right. All of those are in a different category from marriage.
But it hurts kids. It takes two people to create them, yet they're denied the right to have even a chance at a mom & dad.

ChipSalonna: Gotta run. It's been fun. I'm sure we can have Round 2 later.

Comereason: I really appreciate the respectful tone, Chip! That's why I'm willing to converse. Thanks for that.

I want to again thank Chip Salonna for his respect and genuine sincerity in trying to at least understand my positon. he is to be complimented for being a gentleman.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Talking Faith Without Fighting (video)



Sharing your faith can be difficult - passionate discussions can sometimes lead to angry words or hurt feelings.  But is this the way we should share the Gospel?

Watch this recent message where Lenny offers some specific tactics for sharing your faith to help you present the truth in a loving, winsome way.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Mostly Lethal Universe Does Not Disprove Design

One of the proofs of God has been how the universe has been incredibly finely-tuned for the existence of life. I've written on this in several different posts, and highlighted Robin Collins' argument that given the extremely improbability of a single universe coming into existence without a God, it is irrational to believe in a such an atheistic universe.


Most atheists have responded to this problem in one of two ways. The first is to claim that while the values of several dozen parameters are indeed uniquely positioned for life, this isn't a problem because there are an infinite number of universes that exist—all with different parameters—and we just happened to live in the one that will sustain life. I've already shown why this claim fails. But it's the second response that I've been hearing more often lately. Many atheists to day simply claim that our universe just isn't designed for life. Many Internet atheists have made such arguments, but I will use the one Richard Carrier presented in our debate as typical of them:
With regard to the nature of the universe and it supposedly being finely tuned for life, it really isn't. I want you think about the cosmology in astrophysics for a moment.  99.9999 percent (a large percentage) is filled with a lethal radiation-filled vacuum. Life can't exist in it. That means that a vast quantity of the universe is inhospitable or lethal for life. That aside, if you look at the other material in the universe, 99.9999 percent consists of stars and black holes in which life cannot live. So, a vast amount of the material in the universe is inhospitable for life. And even if you look at the remaining stuff, most of that also is inhospitable for life. In fact, if you were to put the entire observable universe into a house and do the math, the amount of volume in that house that would be hospitable for life would be smaller than a proton. Now, if you walked into a house and there was only one proton in there that was hospitable for life, you would not conclude that the house was designed for life. The universe is clearly not designed for life.1

Missing the Point

First off, objections like this miss the point of a universe designed for life. The claim of not only theologians but scientists such as John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, Paul Davies, and Martin Rees2 is not that the majority of the universe is set up so that life could thrive, but that the parameters that govern all aspects of the universe are set precisely with life permitting values. Robin Collins breaks this down into three areas: The fine-tuning of the laws of nature, of the constants of nature, and of the initial conditions of the universe.3 Collins goes on to use the gravitational force as one example, explaining that if there were no force attracting bodies at long ranges, no stars would ever be able to form, there would be no heat for life, there would be no way for a planet to hold water or an atmosphere, and thus life would be absolutely impossible no matter where you are in the universe. It isn't the ratio of inhabitable verses uninhabitable space is great or small, the fine-tuning question centers on a binary answer: Can life exist anywhere at all ever? With just one or two minor changes to any of 20 or more constants or laws, the universe becomes unable to put forth any life at all.

Large, Uninhabitable Areas Don't Disprove Design

While Atheists like Carrier are misunderstanding the argument, their responses may still provoke another question. After all, if the universe is designed for life, then wouldn't one expect God to create more than a minuscule area able to support life? However, this objection also draws the wrong conclusion. One cannot argue that simply because there are vast areas that are lethal for life that therefore the universe was not designed with life in mind. That doesn't follow. In my debate, I answered Carrier with this example:
Now Richard asks, “Why make the universe so lethal in so many parts? This obviously argues against God.” Well that doesn't follow at all. Picture a rancher in Texas—a man who lives alone and has 5,000 acres of land and a 100,000 head of cattle. Why would one man need so much land that's arid, desolate, and one where he can't survive in? How can you imagine that there is a 5,000 acre ranch only dedicated for one man? Well maybe it's there because that's what he desired. That serves his purposes. So just because the universe is vast, it is not an argument against God. People will move great mounds of earth to get to one diamond. You see, it's the value of the thing that matters and not how much space is taken around it.4 
Thus, the conclusion is shown to be false from the premises. Simply because the majority of the universe is not life supporting doesn't mean that supporting any life wasn't the original purpose for the universe. It could be that God wanted to support life, but He also wanted to give us the beauty of the stars for our enjoyment. Of course scientists like Stephen Hawking have argued that the rate our universe expanded is actually just right for life, thus implicating that vast uninhabitable areas are part of what it takes to allow life to exist.5  Or God could have had another purpose for the expanse of space. But no matter. It's clear that the expanse of life-prohibiting space is not an argument against the universe's design. It only shows that we are rare and therefore highly valuable.

References

1. The Great Debate: Does God Exist? Dir. Come Reason Ministries. Perf. Lenny Esposito and Richard Carrier. Come Reason Ministries, 2012. DVD. Available at http://www.comereason.org/tools/default.asp?mode=category&dt=4&pcid=20
2. For books on this subject by these authors see The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986) by Barrow and Tipler, The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? (London: Allen Lane, 2006) by Paul Davies, and Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (New York: Basic, 2000) by Rees.
3. Collins, Robin. "The Teleological Argument." The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. By William Lane. Craig and J.P. Moreland. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. 211. Print.
4. The Great God Debate, ibid.
5. Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. Toronto: Bantam, 1988. 128. Print.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Review of the Ken Ham-Bill Nye Creation Debate

Yesterday, Ken Ham and Bill Nye debated their concepts of creation and evolution at Ham's Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. I watched the debate live with a group at a local church (you can watch a recording for a few more days here), and given that there were nearly 500,000 streams of the event around the globe, it would be easy to estimate that well over half a million people viewed the exchange. Many have commented on the event, but as someone who has previously participated in a formal debate, I thought I would put down some of my observations here.

The Good

I thought the debate was very well run and it went better than I expected. Both Mr. Ham and Mr. Nye were respectful in tone and were genuine in their approaches. I think each participant understood that this event was important and each wanted to make his best case. CNN's Tom Foreman moderated and did an excellent job as well.

The debate platform was clean and the podiums for the speakers were spaced comfortably for both audience viewing and the television cameras to get a two-shot. (The graphics on the front of the podiums were my favorite part.) Using a pre-submitted set of questions from the audience allowed the Q & A time to flow quickly and more questions were presented in the 45 minute allotment than could be had with a queue in front of microphones.

I thought some of Bill Nye's arguments concerning the ice core evidence for 680,000 of winter/summer cycles and the abundance of species variation that argues against such diversification taking place in only a few thousand years were his strongest points. I thought that Ham did a great job in showing how science education today does hold a bias against a creator, even including a clip from a previous interview Bill Nye did. He was particularly strong when referencing a new study that shows all dogs came from a single ancestor and declaring how changes in finch beaks are variations within an instruction set. He also notes that cave fish "evolving" to have no eyes is not a net gain; there is no new information there. The fish have only lost the capability of seeing. Ham was also bold enough to present the gospel a few times during the evening, which I appreciated.

The Bad

The most unfortunate thing in this debate is that neither debater focused on the actual debate question! At the beginning of the debate, Foreman clearly stated that the debate question was "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?" Ham was to argue the affirmative and Nye was to take up the negative. Neither person in their initial opening five minute speech nor in their longer thirty minute second presentations built an argument focused on this question. Ham continually claimed that one must start with certain assumptions when trying to understand the past. However, this doesn't address whether or not creationism is a viable model. Several times throughout the night he highlighted scientists who were also creationists, although most of those had specialties that had nothing to do with creationism or evolution at all. If the debate question were "can good scientist hold to a creation model?" this would be prime evidence. Alas, that was not the topic at hand.

Nye actually changed the question when he began his 30 minute presentation. He begins by saying, "Let's take it back to the question at hand. Does Ken Ham's creation model hold up?" What? Is that now the topic of the debate? If so, I wouldn't have bothered watching because I'm not interested in Ham's version. Nye offered several strange lines of evidence, such as the shipbuilding capabilities of Noah and his family. Huh? What in the world does that have to do with creation as a viable model in science? In any account of Noah and the flood, the creation has already been established.

Nye also went off on a tangent about fish reproducing asexually versus sexually with others. He notes how asexual reproduction is less desirous but sometimes necessary (that's a straight line for too many jokes.) But again, how does this prove or disprove the question at hand? Could the fish not be designed for such contingencies? It shows neither evolution nor creation but the fact that certain fish in a certain environment have the capability to reproduce asexually. There are other animals that reproduce asexually, too. This completely misses the question.

Neither presenter provided an actual argument—you know, a series of premises and a conclusion—that I would have expected in a debate. It would have been a much more powerful presentation had the opponents laid out their arguments first and then expounded on them. And it was clear that both presenters were guilty of something I've stressed before: creation conflation.

The Ugly

There were a few missed opportunities in the debate that could have been capitalized on. The first is Nye's claim that if you can find "even one example" of a fossil crossing layers you would change science forever and "the scientists of the world would embrace you." Well, polystrate fossils have been well-documented, and it hasn't led the scientific community to embrace creationism. There are simply new theories that justify the find as a natural, not a supernatural occurrence.

The point that made me laugh out loud, though, was how Nye insisted that scientist WANT to embrace new ideas. We know that scientists resist upsetting their current models, as this 1961 article from Science shows. The more relevant work is that of Thomas Kuhn. In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn demonstrates how the history of science is not one gradually increasing understanding of the world, but it is more how a certain model becomes the status quo and is accepted until someone (whom Kuhn labels "an outsider") upsets the status quo by offering a new paradigm. Thus science advancement comes in fits and stages as those who hold the existing model are forced to give way to the newer paradigm.

Two examples of Kuhn's paradigm shifts were items that Bill Nye mentioned in the debate: the emergence of plate tectonics and the abandonment of spontaneous generation after Louis Pasteur's experiments. Another I could add was the emergence of the Big Bang model from the previous steady state theory of the universe. Like the other models, the theory was not met with open arms by the scientific community, but by much resistance. Nye seemed to imply that Fred Hoyle liked the idea, when he actually named it in derision and was one of its most vocal opponents. Though it was first proposed by Roman Catholic priest Georges LemaƮtre in 1927, it took Wilson and Penzias' discovery of the cosmic background radiation in the 1960's that led it to be the primarily accepted model among cosmologists.

Another wince-inducing point was how Nye tried to assert that the Biblical text was transmitted to us through a method like the telephone game. This is simply, demonstrably false and even non-believing scholars l flatly reject such an assertion.

Ham had some egregious moments as well. When he for the third and fourth time referred to his small sampling of scientists who were also creationists, his argument moved from a non-sequitur to a fallacious appeal to authority, and it became annoying from the audience's standpoint. Ham never answered Nye's stronger points above, but simply dismissed them with the rhetorical "how do we know, we didn't see it!" Well, if that's the criteria for knowledge about historical events, then we need to fire all the CSI lab technicians and set the murderers free.

Ham also lost points in my opinion when he was asked if he was provided evidence, would he still believe in God. Instead of beginning with the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus, Ham stated that everyone has to have certain presuppositions and the Bible was his presuppositional choice. But doesn't that beg the question? Nye similarly begged the question when asked about things like the emergence of consciousness or how the Big Bang happened from nothing. He simply claimed these were "great mysteries" and we should be glad they are there to study.

The final question of the night, "What is the one thing, more than anything else, upon which you base your belief" was offered to both participants and they basically responded the same way they had been all night long. Ham said one must presuppose the truth of the Bible in order to know history and origins. Nye answered that he based his beliefs on the joy and love he receives from the information and the process of science. Their presuppositions are noted, but each is rather subjective. I know that many creationists also feel Nye's excitement and love of scientific discovery. I know there are many other people who presuppose the Qur'an, the Book of Mormon, or some other text as their starting point for interpreting history and creation. Neither answer satisfies a seeker who is honestly trying to make heads or tails out of all this, and while this question may be tangential in itself, neither response helps us answer the question of the debate.

Conclusion

In all, I am truly excited that the interest in this debate was so high. I think there are many, many people who really want to discover the facts that are out there and that we as Christian communicators can find fruitful ground in providing some of those answers. There are a lot of holes left open by the participants in the debate. Let's see if we can go out and close some of them with good evidence.
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