Science versus ignorance

Where this faulty story goes wrong and why.

If you believe in the christian god, you are truly believing in something irrational and at odds with science.

Here’s why: Religion requires faith. When logic can prove something, you don’t need faith.

Faith is the crutch with which religion props up the belief in something that not only makes no sense but is also unnecessary. So how do you pull that off? Make it seem like faith is a virtue and lack of it a vice.

That said, it amuses me to see christians try to employ logic to prove their god as I watch them miss several steps either intentionally or through ignorance (guided by the arrogance that makes them believe they were right before they even started employing reasoned argument).

I came across this email someone had sent me and it made me both laugh and cry a little. It’s a tired and fictional account of some valiant christian student, standing up to the bullying domination by an atheist college professor.

Science vs. God

“Let me explain the problem science has with Jesus Christ.” The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.

As with many flawed and half-baked attacks, we start by demonizing our opponent. The word “atheist” is a loaded one in christian circles. It is code for “going to hell” and/or “evil”.

This “evil” philosophy teacher is- we are to believe- not altruistically interested in spreading knowledge amongst the youth in his charge. No, he’s apparently set on furthering his own wicked agenda. If he can do this while humiliating some kid in the process- so much the better.

How many classes have any of us been in where an individual was singled out for ridicule based on his or her religious beliefs? I’ve never seen it and can hardly imagine it happening in the real world. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, so if anyone has such a real-life case where something like this actually happened to them (not a cousin or friend of a friend), I’m just dying to hear about it!

This whole passage is so obviously fiction, yet you all are just ready to lap it up when the “bad guy” gets his comeuppance in the end. Can’t you feel your emotions being toyed with? How can you guys not see this?

“You’re a Christian, aren’t you, son?”

“Yes sir,” the student says.

Enter our hero. Standing up and defending the faith. An intellectual David to this monster Goliath with all his fancy-schmancy book-lernin. Ohhhh, I just already hate that bully soooo much!

“So you believe in God?”

“Absolutely.”

“Is God good?”

“Sure! God’s good.”

“Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?”

“Yes.”

Classical Aristotelian logic. By agreeing, you are already just one step off a path that will sustain you with logic in the absence of faith (i.e. believing something that defies logic).

“Are you good or evil?”
“The Bible says I’m evil.”

True dat. One of the reasons I feel this religion is at its heart a bad thing for mankind… though few christians will admit this is what they are taught.

The professor grins knowingly. “Aha! The Bible!” He considers for a moment.

 

“Here’s one for you. Let’s say there’s a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?”

“Yes sir, I would.”

“So you’re good…!”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“But why not say that? You’d help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn’t.”

This is a solid point that we are led to think gets resolved at the end, but it does not. It is still true that no creature could be all good if he is also all-powerful, yet allows needless suffering.

Some people suffer in true silence. No one benefits from a young child dying a painful death because his parents have no access to healthcare or sanitary conditions.

Further, most any human would not ignore such suffering if he or she could stop it or prevent it. Yet this god seems quite happy (for whatever reason) to let it continue.

The student does not answer, so the professor continues. “He doesn’t, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?”

The student remains silent.

Because he’s truly stymied here. As a christian, you’re holding two contradictory beliefs on this one and deep down, you know it.

You must make up things to assuage your conscience because here’s an example of where your supposedly evil humanity trumps the presumed beneficence of your own almighty god.

If the cancer patient experiences a remission, it’s god’s miracle. If he dies, it was part of his plan. Win-win.

The “logic” in the rest of this note does not come back to address the problem of ‘evil’. Gee, wouldn’t that be great if some viral email could resolve a philosophical chestnut that has been around for thousands of years.

“No, you can’t, can you?” the professor says.

He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax.

Timing.

That evil bastard.

Look at him all smug up there. I’m really starting to hate (even though my religion tells me not to) this smug bastard. I just want to punch him on the nose and show him my own version of logic.

“Let’s start again, young fella Is God good?”

“Er…yes,” the student says.

“Is Satan good?”

The student doesn’t hesitate on this one. “No.”

Watch him play out more line.

We all know our young hero is being set up here and we feel as powerless to save him as a movie where you see the baby carriage rolling onto the railroad crossing in one scene and the roaring locomotive in another one. We know the two are destined to meet each other in a scene agonizingly soon…

“Then where does Satan come from?”

The student : “From…God…”

Yep, gotta be true. If he created everything, he created evil. Evil humans and evil satan.

Unable or unwilling to see that they would turn out evil, he made them anyway… and all this after he had supposedly created perfectly serviceable angels. Was he just goofing around? Why bother with men?

“That’s right. God made Satan, didn’t he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?”
“Yes, sir.”

“Evil’s everywhere, isn’t it? And God did make everything, correct?”

The point this paper tiger setup (where you represent your opponent’s view in a less than strong light in order to tear it down easily later) misses, is that we also have omni-presence to deal with.

If god is everywhere, and he is all-good, there would literally be no room for evil to exist.

Every “where” is filled with all-good god. How can you logically say there is all-good yet some evil in places? Mutually exclusive.

“Yes.”

“So who created evil?” The professor continued, “If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.”

Well, here some of the strands of the paper-machier of our tiger’s argument have started to show.

Those who argue against the existence of an all-good god cannot prove god is all evil either. Since both good and evil appear to exist, it is untenable to say that anything is all-good or all-evil… especially something that fills the entire universe.

In reality, good and evil are relative concepts that all of us adjust according to the situation and the individuals involved.

It was evil torture when Japanese officers water-boarded US GI’s during WWII.

We actually executed many of these officers for that “evil” act done under circumstances they believed to be fully justified. It would have, in their minds, saved Japanese lives.

Yet when we in the USA do it for the similar reasons, it’s suddenly justified and no longer even close to evil- it’s practically required.

(this reference is a bit dated, of course. I wrote this during the W Bush administration)

Without allowing the student to answer, the professor continues: “Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?”

The student: “Yes.”

How rude. More bullying. More emotional pull as we root for the underdog and increase our contempt for this jerk of a prof. Notice how nothing about these words is purely logical? We’re delving further and further into emotions so the author can later pull a switcher-oo on you because you are distracted.

“So who created them?”

The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question.

“Who created them? ”

There is still no answer.

Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized.

“Tell me,” he continues onto another student.
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?”
The student’s voice is confident: “Yes, professor, I do.”

Okay, the emotional tide is starting to turn. It looks like the class isn’t a bunch of demonic atheists after all. Maybe the group will rise against this evil man of science and smite him the way he deserves to be smote! I can hardly wait to see our hero vindicated!!

The old man stops pacing.

“Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?”

“No sir. I’ve never seen Him”

“Then tell us if you’ve ever heard your Jesus?”

“No, sir, I have not.”

“Have you ever actually felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?”

“No, sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.”

“Yet you still believe in him?”
“Yes.”

Again- paper tiger. Trying to make our “evil” professor claim that the only things that are real must be validated by human senses. Scientists do not claim this.

There are plenty of phenomena that cannot be directly experienced by human perception. These phenomena can, however be proven to exist by consistent, replicatable experimentation.

I have personally never dropped two different sized balls from a height to see if gravity pulls them at the same speed. However, others have and they have repeated their experiments with documentation that has been reviewed by other scientists backing up the claim.

Other times, there are theories where we have speculation and predictions- such as the theory of gravity. (you thought I was going to say evolution, didn’t you? Though it’s much closer to the same thing than you probably realize)

“According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?”

This is simply not true. Science and logic cannot be used to prove a universal negative.

What they can do is cast significant doubt that a certain condition truly exists.

For example, we’re all now pretty sure that disease is not in fact caused by wicked thoughts. Nor are diseases cured with wishful thinking.

If you take a group of terminally ill people, divide them by half and pray for one half while administering current scientific medicine to the other half, more will survive the ordeal with medicine (science) than with prayer. Okay, okay- actually we’d divide the group into thirds with one group acting as a control and receiving no attention whatsoever.

You don’t believe this is likely to be true for you? Refuse medical treatment next time you come down with a serious illness, opting instead for prayer-only treatment. Lost a limb? Pray for it to be returned.

Science also cannot prove there is no giant teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars. That doesn’t mean it’s not there- but it seems so highly unlikely, most wouldn’t bother trying to defend the supposition.

“Nothing,” the student replies. “I only have my faith.”

Yep. This is true.

But fear not, people of faith. This is all you EVER had, so why should it be seen as an admission of defeat?

Let’s review the pattern of this story: Introduce villain, introduce hero, villain strikes a number of heavy blows against the hero, hero finds an ally or two- then, hero with the help of his friends vanquishes the villain.

This is supposed to be seen as a “defeat” for your hero. But in fact, it truly is all there is here. You could end the story here.

“Yes, faith,” the professor repeats. “And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.”

This is just silly. Science has no real problem with god. Though it’s true, there is no evidence for his existence. That’s why you need faith to believe in something so mind-bogglingly at odds with reality.

The student stands quietly for a moment, before asking a question of his own. “Professor, is there such thing as heat?”
“Yes,” the professor replies. “There’s heat.”

“And is there such a thing as cold?”

“Yes, son, there’s cold too.”

“No sir, there isn’t.”

This is true, and suddenly our smarmy professor isn’t so smart, now is he? In fact, our hero is correct as any high school graduate who paid attention in class could confirm. Funny how our proff just got stupid, isn’t it?

The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested. The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain.

Build the drama. This is going to be logical-icious!

“You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don’t have anything called ‘cold’. We can hit up to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.”
Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the classroom, sounding like a hammer.

Dun-dunnnnn. Drama! This is it! Our villain is about to be put down.

“What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?”

“Yes,” the professor replies without hesitation. “What is night if it isn’t darkness?”

Sure, that sounds like a real professor, doesn’t it. Someone who doesn’t know that the darkness of night is just the rotation of the earth to face away from the sun? Hmmmm, that’s an unusually weak paper tiger. Now our religious hero is able to whip this asshole professor at his own game. Hell, he doesn’t even know his own beloved science!

“You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light,

flashing light, but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it’s called darkness, isn’t it?

That’s the meaning we use to define the word. In reality, darkness isn’t. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?”

The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester.

“So what point are you making, young man?”
“Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.”

Um, no- I’m gonna have to correct ya there. It is possible to arrive at a true conclusion with a false premise- it’s just unlikely.

Consider this:

  1. The world is made of cheese
  2. this thing in my hand came from this worldtherefore 

  3. I am holding a piece of cheese

I may well be holding a piece of cheese when I say this, but my premise A is wrong and premise B is irrelevant.

So we see an example where the logic is apparently correct in form, but the argument is flawed, yet the conclusion turns out to be correct.

Note, this is equally potentially true of christians. You might turn out to be correct (stating that god exists), even if your logic was faulty getting there. It’s just not very likely.

The professor’s face cannot hide his surprise this time. “Flawed? Can you explain how?”

“You are working on the premise of duality,” the student explains. “You argue that there is life and then there’s death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure.

Sir, science can’t even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing.

Death is not the opposite of life, just the absence of it.”

Well, you could almost score a small one for the student here. It would be a fallacy of the false dichotomy were if not for the fact that claims of god say he is everywhere. So in this case you have a true dichotomy. There can be no absence of god if he is everywhere in the universe. If he is all good, then there is simply no room for any evil. Nice try, junior.

“Now tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?”
“If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do”

Wow. Now you’re going nuts! Evolution does NOT suppose that man evolved from monkeys.

This is just willful ignorance of evolution.

Plus, we learned at the start of this howler that he is a professor of Philosophy, not biology. And with an answer like that, we can safely deduce that he is neither.

The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that man and all the other primates evolved from a common ancestor that was neither monkey nor human. In fact, go back far enough and every living thing on this planet (including bacteria, you and trees) shares a common ancestor. It’s way cooler than the christian creation myth.

“Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?”

The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.

“Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavour, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a preacher?”

Yeah, let’s equate mountains of evidence and the conclusions of the vast majority of the scientific community with religion and faith.

Not only is it a false analogy, it is like you’re admitting the weakness of using faith to understand reality. Hmmm. Just a minute ago, our hero was bragging about having it. Now he condemns anyone for having it … in science.

The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided.

Yeah, baby! Now we get to see the start of the comeuppance of this arrogant bastard. He’s backing up against the ropes and our hero is landing body-blow after rib-cracking body-blow.

“To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean.”
The student looks around the room. “Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor’s brain?” The class breaks out into laughter.

Well, to be fair, his brain does seem to have left the scene mid-way through this story, though let’s acknowledge – no professor with a brain or a heart would single out a student in his class to ridicule in front of his peers for no good reason.

“Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor’s brain, felt the professor’s brain, touched or smelled the professor’s brain? No one appears to have done so.

So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir. So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?”

Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable.

Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers.

“I guess you’ll have to take them on faith.”

No! No, you don’t. We can easily prove the man has a brain- both in the literal sense and in the figurative. He’s talking and breathing for a start- nobody can do that without gray matter. Also, an MRI image will let you see a visual representation of the matter actually in his skull if you demand specific evidence from his body.

In the figurative sense, he must have achieved certain milestones and demonstrated skills in his field before any reputable university would hire him. Skills in this example, were it real life, that would easily allow him to make mincemeat of this punk’s faulty logic.

But let’s read on, shall we?

“Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life,” the student continues. “Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?”

I guess I missed the part where anyone denied there was such a thing as faith. The implied assertion on the part of science is that faith is not a reliable way to understand the universe- not that faith doesn’t exist. After all, faith is simply wishful thinking. Real, but not a good strategy for arriving at the truth.

Now uncertain, the professor responds, “Of course, there is. We see it everyday. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.”

To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God.

It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God.

God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.”

The professor sat down.

Ahh, at last we have it. Forget how we used to believe that god is everywhere.

Now, apparently there are places you can go and not find god. Hmmmm.

Even if this is so, we haven’t escaped the problem just by accepting a limit to your god. He still knows everything, right?

Also, he could still put himself in those empty places if he so chooses, right? (remember, we haven’t conceded that he is all-powerful)

So why doesn’t he just go and end that suffering in the places he is absent? Why doesn’t he put himself there to replace the painful crying of that starving, abandoned infant? Why not ease the suffering of millions each year from earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts and rampant epidemics?

Faith is a piss-poor alternative to simply shaking off mythology and accepting the world as it really is.

The closest we’ve ever gotten to understanding this world has come from employing the tools of science and applying the resulting technology with the compassion that already seems to be in our hearts.

Maybe some god put it there in the first place. I don’t claim to know for certain one way or the other. But if you are satisfied with such kindergarten-theology, fine. Enjoy it. I’ll be busy working to make the world a better place because I don’t have faith that your god does a very good job of it.