Creationist Wisdom #498: Grand Synthesis

Today’s letter-to-the-editor, like a recent one we wrote about (#496: Strange Analogy) appears in the Journal Star of Lincoln, Nebraska, the state capital. The letter is titled Creationism and science together. There’s a comments section at the end, with 5 comments so far — but the newspaper makes you answer some annoying questions before you can see them.

Today’s writer isn’t a politician, preacher, or other public figure, so we won’t use his full name. His first name is Joshua. Excerpts from his letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

A recent letter to the editor (“Science over Creationism,” Dec. 6) seems predicated on a common logical fallacy, a false dilemma, that deserves to be clarified.

This is the letter that has Joshua so upset: Science over Creationism. It’s a rational and well-informed response to the same letter that we wrote about earlier, so we’re looking forward to what Joshua has to say about the “false dilemma.” Here it comes:

Logic informs us that we, and all things of which we are aware, are finite, which means that literally all things were brand new at one point and that something existed before them. This includes you, me, our planet, our universe and even time itself.

We’re not certain, because Joshua seems to be inventing his own terminology, but we think he’s saying that everything has a cause. Let’s read on:

When we look for where it all began, whether that was the Big Bang or something else, we’re just looking for that first domino. What preceded that first domino? Who or what set that domino up in the first place?

In his own way, presumably because he’s unfamiliar with the literature on the subject, Joshua is talking about the First Cause. Wading into what he imagines are unexplored waters, he boldly answers the ancient question:

The only possible answer is an infinitely powerful being most of us call God. It is the only logical answer for how something can come from nothing.

Yes, that’s “the only possible answer.” Here’s more:

Now, how did God bring everything into existence? With regard to humans, evolution was almost certainly a part of the process. As early as 1953 (and probably before then), clergy in the Catholic Church affirmed that there is no contradiction between evolution and creationism.

[…]

So logic tells us who created us, the Bible tells us why, and science seeks to find out how.

Verily, none can deny it. Moving along:

So, it isn’t religion vs. science; religion and science work together to inform us about who we are and where we came from.

There it is — the grand synthesis our title promised you. Isn’t it wonderful? Then Joshua tackles another problem:

As for whether this should be taught in schools, the answer should be self-evident.

Indeed! And now we come to the end:

While the author of “Science over Creationism” is correct that the courts have decided that the logic of creationism be kept out of schools, that doesn’t mean those decisions were correct.

Aha! Joshua is right, and all the courts are wrong. The logic is undeniable.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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18 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #498: Grand Synthesis

  1. The God-as-a-domino theory… at least it is a logical derivation from the latin “dominus”, so he’s got that. However, as long as one seeks to identify a “first cause”, one must do so for everything, including gods and other supernatural entities. They require first causes as well. No free passes.

    Clearly the big bang came from something, but there is no reason not to believe it was natural. Also, since time was created (for our universe, anyway) with the big bang, it is somewhat tricky to argue that something existed before time itself, since that would have no meaning in the conventional sense.

  2. I won’t ask Joshua who he thinks brought God into existence, but I will point out that in the Supreme Court’s opinion, creationism is a religious belief, and therefore it is a violation of the First Amendment for it to be taught as truth in state-supported schools.

  3. I just finished an interesting book, “God’s Planet,” by Owen Gingerich, well known and respected historian of astronomy. Not a large tome by any means, but it surprised me when his conclusion was that the universe had to be fine tuned for life and the inevitable deity was responsible for it all. It pointed out it was his personal opinion only, but throughout I felt his reasoning lacked substance and he was just grabbing for straws to support his belief. He gave a brief summary of Copernicus, Darwin, and Hoyle, their times and their beliefs, and how each could not help but cross the border between religion and science. I was disappointed in his analysis and conclusions, given his many other works.

  4. “all things were brand new at one point and that something existed before them.”
    Oooohhh! I love this. WL Craig on primary school level. Pssst Joshua – that “something” you’re talking about according to yourself was brand new at one point as well – so something else existed before that “something”. Now what?

    “What preceded that first domino?”
    Excellent question! And what preceded that “what” – the 0th domino, so to say?

    “The only possible answer is an infinitely powerful being most of us call God.”
    Righty right. And what existed before god? Because god is a “thing” too and hence was brand new at one point, so that something existed before god. So what preceded god?

  5. “So what preceded god?”

    SUPERGOD! And before that, Supersupergod, preceded by Supersupersupergod, which was preceded by…

    Kinda like turtles all the way down.

  6. Like all creationists who try to use this kind of argument, “Joshua” trippy-toes away from an obvious problem with his logic: If all things in existence were new at some point and had to be created, and the universe was created by God, who or what created God? And if God didn’t have to be created, who says the universe did?

  7. DavidK:
    Please be aware that Owen Gingerich is (or at least has been) a member of the loony evangelical ASA (American Scientific Affiliation), an organization that requires their voting members[*] to subscribe to a religious oath about biblical inerrancy. Gingerich has also been peddling a religious apologetic for decades that Galileo Galilei was not being censored by the Catholic church for his heliocentric views, but rather because he had committed an error in reasoning that the church recognized!

    Jerry Bergman (the creationist with the PhD from a diploma mill) is a “fellow” of the ASA and he has written papers showing the Catholic church was not wrong in the Galileo condemnation, evil secular scientists have misrepresented what happened to discredit the poor church. Also, discrimination against homosexuals is actually moral since there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is biological, to give you an idea of the “scientific” validity of this organization. Ironically, Bergmen claims that he was being discriminated against is religious views when he lost tenure at Bowling Green University for publishing a large volume of low quality papers (the irony here being that he failed to even attempt to show that his religiosity is actually biological in origin). Gingerich has been a part of the belief system industry for a long time – so caveat emptor.

    *NOTE: The ASA originally formed from a fundamentalist Lutheran synod nearly 70 years ago to battle evolution since it wasn’t in the bible. For many decades the ASA only allowed “evangelicals” as members. After a LOT of criticism they decided that women and non-evangelicals could also be members, but anyone who refused to subscribe to their specific biblical inerrancy oath could not be allowed to vote (while all of the animals are equal, some are obviously more equal than others). Also note that the majority of their membership are scientific illiterates and the organization publishes a lot of apologetics defending their ludicrous (and often asinine) views. One of their crowning achievements was the publication of their apologetics in “Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy”, which they distributed to around 55,000 public school teachers. They have also described the ASA is a “moderate” organization, between fundamentalist creationists (i.e. strict young earthers, they have to expel one of these from their organization periodically) and fundamentalist evolutionists, whatever that obvious oxymoron is supposed to mean. These days the ASA seems to be leaning pretty strongly towards Intelligent Design.

  8. @retiredsciguy You took the words right out of my mouth. Who do we mean when we say,” Mother of god, what is poor Joshua talking about?”

  9. Gingerich mentioned his affiliation in the book.

  10. Good Glod, will this Betty Boopian logic never die?

  11. @Zetopan: The Wikipedia article on Owen Gingerich is instructive:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owen_Gingerich

    While the ASA may seem “to be leaning pretty strongly towards Intelligent Design”, Owen Gingerich personally does not:

    “Accepting the common descent of species, Gingerich is a theistic evolutionist. Therefore, he does not accept metaphysical naturalism, writing that

    Most mutations are disasters, but perhaps some inspired few are not. Can mutations be inspired? Here is the ideological watershed, the division between atheistic evolution and theistic evolution, and frankly it lies beyond science to prove the matter one way or the other. Science will not collapse if some practitioners are convinced that occasionally there has been creative input in the long chain of being.[12]

    Gingerich’s beliefs have sometimes resulted in criticism from young earth creationists, who dissent from the view that the universe is billions of years old. Gingerich has responded, in part, by saying that “the great tapestry of science is woven together with the question ‘how?’” while the biblical account and faith “addresses entirely different questions: not the how, but the motivations of the ‘Who’.”[1]

    True, Gingerich is not an atheist; far from it. But he is a very careful and thorough scholar, and having spoken with him personally as well as reading quite a bit of his writings, I can assure you that he does not believe the Bible is inerrant. Concerning Galileo in The Great Copernicus Chase, he wrote:
    “He [Galileo] conceded the Bible had its place, but he also believed the Bible told how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

    In my opinion, that also accurately describes Gingerich’s views. (Not necessarily mine, however, but that is immaterial.) In brief, although the American Scientific Affiliation may be “looney”, Owen Gingerich definitely is not.

  12. Ah yes, that ole science-and-religion-aren’t-enemies-shimmy-on-a-tightrope. The problem in this awkward little dance is that religion has a way of putting its clubfeet in all the wrong places instead of getting out of the way, and then complaining bitterly about having its toes trodden on, while (hard) science usually just carries on waltzing and reluctantly reacts only to the most clamorous grumblings.

    There is one point of order in these First Cause origins squabbles that is usually overlooked and even more usually left entirely unchallenged. That would be the implicit assumption that “nothing” is somehow a more “natural” state of affairs than “something”. This assumption is blatantly contradicted by direct observation: Very clearly, there is something rather than nothing. Consequently, the First Cause advocate cannot simply assume it; s/he has first to provide a convincing demonstration that nothingness is indeed the preferred state — or at least supply good reason to suppose it so. And that’s quite a tall order without which the assumption boils down to mere ontological question-begging, probably based much less on sound reasoning than on psychological factors involving knowledge of our own individual past and future non-being. Moreover, the proposal that there’s an infinite supernatural Ol’ Grandy behind it all seems to me a nod of recognition towards the lameness of assuming nothingness as the “ground state”.

    Cast in more pedestrian terms, Big Bang cosmogony patently does not assert “everything came from nothing”, nor that it was “uncaused”. (Which of the four Aristotelian causes are we talking about, anyway!?) For now, the questions concerning the state “prior” to BB and its attendant “causality”, if any, remain entirely open.

    And there’s far less shame in open questions than in fanciful feel-good pseudo-answers uttered with solemn gravity.

  13. Zetopan informs us—

    “Jerry Bergman (the creationist with the PhD from a diploma mill) … has written … discrimination against homosexuals is actually moral since there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is biological…”

    In that case, all of these will one day end up in Ol’ Grandy’s Terminal Barbecue.

  14. Aaargh, fried HTML!

    [*Voice from above*] Most garbled link ever, but all is well.

  15. Why be concerned if this writer accepts evolutionary biology (and, I assume, heliocentric astronomy, atomic chemistry and tectonic geology)?

  16. Thanks retiredsciguy for clarifying a bit about Gingerich. I know Owen and would certainly classify him as a Biologos/TE/EC type regarding evolutionary biology. And since he is a Mennonite, I am fairly sure that he is not the literalist/fundamentalist type regarding the Bible. What I don’t quite understand is his fascination with the fine-tuned universe and the anthropic principal – seems pretty low-brow for an otherwise bright scientist.

  17. Diogenes Lamp

    RSG, Gingerich seems loony enough. You quote him saying “Most mutations are disasters.”

    No, the overwhelming majority of mutations are neutral. The average human baby has 100-200 novel mutations that its parents did not, and twice that relative to its grandparents, etc. So that quote is loony enough. If Gingerich doesn’t know genetics, he ought to know the limits of his expertise. I would be suspicious of any claims he makes about Galileo. Don’t trust but verify.

  18. Well, Gingerich is not a biologist, and he should know the limits of his expertise. However, he is a careful science historian. He definitely is religious, though, and that most likely accounts for his opinions concerning “fine-tuned” universe, etc.

    Personally, I don’t buy the idea that there’s a Grand Designer tinkering with DNA to give one critter some advantage over another species. Why would a god want to do that? For sport?

    No, natural selection is the only cause of species change that makes any sense at all. I think Gingerich’s religious upbringing keeps him from ruling out the hand of God entirely, but then again, he’s not a biologist. And from my conversations with him and what I have read of his writings, I don’t get the feeling that he is an evangelist.

    As for a fine-tuned universe made especially for life, why would a god set things up 13.7 billion years ago so that 9 billion years later a planet would form that eventually would harbor life? Why not just make it all in the beginning?

    Of course, there’s no way to prove it one way or the other, so that’s why someone invented agnosticism.

    It’s too darned late tonight and I start rambling, so don’t jump down my throat.