I’ve recently run into a Christian named Diana Lesperance. She is the classic evangelical Christian, creationist, and sure that her version of Christian is the only “right” one. She’s written a book “The Narrow Way: biblical and historical proof that God is Great” as a response to Chris Hitchens’s book.
That book must be quite a train wreck. I suppose I could get a copy for a penny on Amazon but then I’d still have to spend $3 getting the silly thing. Luckily, we can see some of Diana’s evidence and logic in her blog and it’s a great demonstration of how a religion needs to rely on fear, ignorance and lies to keep going. Her blog is also a fascinating lesson on how Christians create their religion to fit them.
I’ll address one of her recent blog posts in its entirety but the most interesting points in it is that Diana wants to focus on what evidence we have now and not what we might discover or what we have discovered that she ignores through willful ignorance. This is the only way a creationist, conservative Christian can function, to deny anything and grudgingly move forward as their god is squeezed to nothing in gaps that are ceasing to exist. It is only by saying that we can’t find something out that they cling to what they have left for a little longer. Her post also points out the hypocrisy since we have no evidence of the essential events in her bible and she requires that we accept those claims. She also conveniently forgets that her creationist compatriots have been promising evidence for creationism for decades now and still haven’t produced one bit. The Discovery Institute, the Institute for Creation Research, etc not one dribble of fact that their god created anything.
In her one blog post “The false religion of naturalism”, we can see that it starts out with quite a bang, the good ol’ accusation that atheists are practicing a religion. Naturalism is, well, let’s let the OED say it “the philosophical belief that everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted.” Nothing in it about religion, which is the “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious (“relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity”) attitudes, beliefs, and practices “. In this definition (from merriam Webster), it talks about faith, which is the belief in something without evidence. It also shows that no matter how a theist may claim that their god hates religion and that they have a “relationship”, they indeed have a religion. It always seems that the best argument that theists have is that atheists aren’t any better than they are, not that they are actually correct.
In this, there is no conflict between those who believe in the basis of naturalism and in experimental evidence that indicates that this is how the universe works. Diana, and some of the folks she quotes, do their best to gin up some conflict between the two, and all it boils down to is that humans don’t know everything, so their gods must exist. There is no “war between science and naturalism”.
Diana claims that the following are evidence which supports her claims of war:
- The origin of the universe
- The cosmic fine-tuning
- The origin of life (biological information)
- The sudden origin of the Cambrian phyla
- The habitability/observability correlation
The short version is Diana is depending on the god of the gaps argument, that if we don’t’ know everything, then her god simply must exist. She also depends on ignorance of what she claims. If she was truthful about being concerned about understanding science, she’d already know that her claims fail in basic ways.
In number 1, the evidence we have now supports the conclusion that physical laws can explain the origin of the universe. We may not know all of the details *yet*, but we working towards knowing. Theistic belief depends on the idea that we don’t look any further than what the theist wants us to. We also know that there is no evidence for a supernatural e.g. outside of physical laws and the universe, source for the universe’s creation, especially not for one version of one god of one religion.
There is no evidence for “fine-tuning”, #2. This is the usual creationist nonsense that the universe was built for humans and nothing else. There is evidence that we fit in quite well with a universe that has these physical laws and arose because of them; they did not arise because of us or because of a magical being liked us a lot. Another problem with the “fine-tuning” argument is that much of the earth and the universe is entirely inimical to human life. This is the usual creationist “goldilocks” earth argument that depends on utter ignorance of the cosmos. What we usually get is “golly, the earth is perfect for us, the orbit is perfect, the sun is perfect, etc.” which ignores that people regularly die because of normal physical action on this earth, that the sun is not stable and can really screw up our lives, etc. I mean, really, what kind of a god creates a supposedly perfect world where the primary source of light causes a lot of cancer? (and no, I certainly didn’t come up with that pithy observation).
Number 3 is another attempt at the god of the gaps argument. We do not yet know how life originated, but that doesn’t mean “goddidit”. Nor does this mean that Diana’s version of a god did it. Again, we are getting closer and closer and the gaps are getting smaller and smaller.
The origin of Cambrian phyla, ala the “Cambrian Explosion” trotted out in #4 is another one of those creationist claims that requires a willful ignorance of the subject. It seems that so many creationists seem to think that scientific research into these things stopped with Darwin. Alas for their arguments, it hasn’t. This “explosion” has been noted to have taken from between 5 million to around 40 million years, quite a slow-motion bang. Fossils from the Ediacarian period show evolution, and multicelled critters and evolution just seems to just keep on going. (http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC300.html) There is evidence that there was a massive glaciation event that may have killed off most of the Ediacarian critters and then left plenty of niches for others to fill, and fill them they did just like evolutionary theory predicts. And in any case, these fossils show that the creationist claim of man appearing by magic fully formed and woman made from a rib is still hilariously wrong. Of course, even creationists can’t agree on what the bible is “really” saying, and they have no evidence to prove any one of their nonsense hypotheses. Young earthers think old earthers are wrong. We have a bunch of different guesses on what a “day” means in Genesis. It’s like watching fans of Star Trek try to work up excuses for why the series’ stories don’t make much sense in shared universe. (and I am one of those fans)
Now, Diana does mention something called “The habitability/observability correlation” in #5. Now this idea is often claimed by creationists but is seldom explained, mostly because it fails so badly if one knows what it really says behind those big words. It seems to be that since humans are alive right now, we have some kind of ‘special’ chance to observe the universe, and therefore “goddidit”. This is part of the goldilocks planet nonsense, and we have no idea or ability to prove that the earth is special in anyway. This idea seems to be mainly that of William Dembski, with his website “uncommon descent” which also seems to advocate that the earth is the center of the universe too. The problem with the claim of habitability/observability is that we don’t have a very nice view of the universe. That pesky atmosphere has made it very hard to do observations for a very long time. Surely this god could have made it clearer? It’s taken lots of time and research to compensate for natural obstructions. It takes a certain ignorant arrogance to think that we have some special place. It’s like the common theist who thinks it’s okay his god doesn’t heal amputees because we have c-limbs and antibiotics now. They forget that people have been suffering with and dying from amputations for millennia.
So, despite Diana claiming that one has to cultivate a genuine interest in science, she has not done so and has intentionally ignored all of the arguments that show her nonsense to be false.
Unsurprisingly, she repeats the common creationist claim that one only needs to look at nature to see their god. And each religion says you can see their particular god; Christianity says this directly in Romans 1. Can they prove that it is their god and no other? No. Diana claims that the evidence is that JC existed, but alas, there’s no evidence for that either. The bible also presents claims that are demonstrably false if one uses science (the scientific method: observe, hypothesize, predict, experiment, reproduce). There aren’t any magical warehouses that store hailstones like the bible claims, and there is no reason to think that this is anything but what a primitive human believed, not some pre-thought out metaphor. This disagreement presents a problem, should one believe one source or the other if one is a Christian?
Diana then tries to insist that one must place the above in a “historical context”. This is her history:
- In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the universe was eternal
- In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that a life-permitting universe was as likely as a life-prohibiting universe
- In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the cell was a simple blob of jello that could spontaneously emerge in some warm pond
- In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the sudden origin of the Cambrian phyla would be explained by subsequent fossil discoveries
- In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that there was nothing special about our galaxy, solar system, planet or moon
The one problem with this is what does “pre-scientific times” mean? Is this 50,000 years ago? Is this 200 years ago? Is this 87 years ago? There is no way to know. It also seems that Diana wants to conflate the term atheists with scientists
- It was not only some, not all, atheists who said this (Fred Hoyle being the most famous). Religions have claimed the universe to be eternal and other ways for the universe to be created/recreated. Hoyle is also the fellow whom creationist constantly cite as evidence for creationism, the infamous tornado in a junkyard quote.
- I’m not sure why it shocks Diana that some people thought that a lifeless universe was as likely as one with life. It seems that some hypotheses now do the same thing (multiverses) and we may be able to prove them true. Does she have some evidence that one is preferred over the other?
- No, no one thought there was jello in a pond. This demonstrates that Diana is quite ignorant about the original and current ideas about abiogenesis. She presents a strawman to ignore the fact that the gaps are closing on this too.
- This is the weird one in light of the vagueness of whatever “pre-scientific times” means. If pre-scientific is 50000 years ago, then it seems unlikely that anyone made any kind of claim about fossils. If it were 87 years ago, we would still be finding fossils. If it’s a minute ago from *now*, then we are still finding fossils, and Diana’s faith depends on never finding another. We also do have fossil evidence that this rapid specialization has occurred before and since. These multiple times show that the idea of a singular “genesis” as creationists try to claim is nonsense. And again, 5-40 million years isn’t “sudden”, not as Diana uses it.
- Yep, and we are seeing that that is the case that the sun, earth, moon and solar system aren’t special at all. All follow physical laws that we know. All act like we predict. All don’t need some magical force. There are bunches of galaxies, solar systems, and thus bunches of planets, and likely bunches of moons as soon as we get instruments good enough to sense them. The gaps are squeezing in. The bible mentions none of this, and indeed can’t even get that stars aren’t specks of light on a layer of something else. There is no reason to think that the bible is anything but a series of writings by people who didn’t know any better, and no god told them otherwise.
- Astronomers and astrophysicsts have discovered redshift and the cosmic background radiation. It indicates that the universe is billions of years old. Creationists can’t agree on how old the universe “ought” to be.
- No, scientists haven’t discovered the “fine-tuning of gravity and of the cosmological constant.” There is nothing to say that something designed them that way.
- Biologists have discovered protein sequencing. The term “junk DNA” was rarely used by actual biologists. It was a short hand term used to say that there is DNA that we do not know the function for *yet*. We discovered that it often does have functions and there are parts that may still have none. The gaps are getting smaller.
- No, paleontologists haven’t discovered a “shorter Cambrian explosion”. It’s still under debate on how long it took, and it’s still millions of years. We now have evidence of an earlier diversification than that one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avalon_explosion And one wonders just how much Diana knows about fossil formation. Soft things don’t leave many fossils. The burgess shale and similar sites are very unusual for their preservation. Again, this is the god of the gaps argument and still doesn’t show her god exists or that the bible is correct in its nonsense.
- And oh this one “Scientists discovered galactic habitable zones and circumstellar habitable zones and more!” Yep, more of the goldilocks nonsense. Ah, the simplistic arrogance of so many Christians. Again, we live in those ranges because we can, not because they were “made” for us. We have no idea about other life. At this point, it seems that liquid water is very useful to have life. We don’t know if that is always the case.
It’s hilarious that Diana wants to claim that the “trend of discoveries” is going against naturalism. It isn’t. We have plenty of data that shows that our theories are correct. There is still no evidence of creationism, Christian or otherwise, despite years of claims of “we’ll get it real soon now” from people like Michael Behe, William Dembski, etc. Diana has intentionally decided not to look at the evidence we have “today”, so much for her insistence that anyone who really want to know the truth will do that. She has demonstrated she is not guided by reason and has demonstrated that she has constructed a worldview that does leverage speculations about what she wants to pretend doesn’t exist. Since it is quite a bit more probable to believe in evidence in hand, rather than in speculations about a god that has none to support it, it makes more sense to not believe in an improbable god.
And finally more lies about other people told by a Christian. I guess that ol ‘thou shalt not bear false witness” and Romans 3 are a bit inconvenient, when you want to try to support your religion and have little else. She says that atheists “worship” science. I’m an atheist and nope, I don’t. Diana wants to claim that everyone who doesn’t agree with her is “filled with rage and enmity against what science has revealed about nature.” Nope, not at all. I’m very happy to see that Rosetta and Philae have done well, and I am very happy to note that science has revealed that what Diana claims is not true at all.
Alas for Diana, atheism is not rooted in religion. Not in the least. Naturalism isn’t even a religion but I guess that doesn’t stop such nonsense if you need to tell a lie. What we do see is that science is always corrected by science. It wasn’t some pastor who said that the Piltdown man was a fake, it was science.
But let’s ask Diana to provide some of this evidence that science supposedly presents that supports that her version of her Christian god exists. Where is the evidenced arrived at by the scientific method that supports a supernatural entity that created the universe and made a magic flood and came to earth be temporarily killed as a sacrifice to itself? I’m waiting and I’m sure others are too. We’ve been promised this evidence for a long time now and still haven’t gotten it.
I suspect we still won’t now.