I was recently given a scan of a bible lesson from a Church of Christ on god and his creation. This lesson attempts to show the “evidence” of the fingerprints of god by looking at what they call “design” in the world. In the lesson, man is seen as having some sort of priority and privilege in the animal kingdom, and that we only have one accurate account of how life began, and of course, that is the bible. The lesson is rife with general scientific illiteracy, misunderstandings of evolution, and logical fallacies. As with the lot of apologetics, this lesson uses long debunked and straw arguments, arbitrary presuppositions, circular reasoning, and scientific ignorance. Although these types of apologetics have been thoroughly debunked in the past, they nevertheless get recycled and passed around in society. Some even acknowledge that their positions have been refuted, but cling to them anyway out of emotional defense mechanisms. Some will outright stick their fingers in their ears and ignore rationality altogether. Be that as it may, in the face of futility I will nonetheless endeavor to present the facts and point out the baselessness of these long debunked apologetics. Challenging one’s views is necessary in uncovering the truth, and it’s rational to correct flawed positions and thinking. The decision to cling to preconceived notions and beliefs is a dishonest one to make. Don’t just take my word on the matters discussed here, research them yourself and think about them critically.
The lesson begins by quoting Genesis 1:1, that god created the heavens and the earth, and says that the bible never attempts to prove that god exists; it is assumed beforehand. It questions that why should this assumption be a strange one if man knows that for each thing in existence there had to be a higher power behind it. Naturally, the conclusion reached is that god was the cause. Let’s break this first paragraph of the lesson down in the form of a syllogism.
1. It’s assumed that god exists.
2. Every thing in existence requires a higher power behind it.
3. This higher power is god.
The first order of things is to establish the burden of proof. The burden of proof lies with the party doing the claiming. For instance, in a court of law, the burden of proof is placed upon the prosecution, who has to demonstrate that the defendant is guilty. The defendant is never assumed to be guilty, the default position is presumption of innocence. In the same way, the theist position has a burden of proof to demonstrate their claims that a god exists. The default position is not the assumption that a god exists; the default position (atheism) is that until such time that a god has been demonstrated to exist, belief shall be withheld. This is true for all kinds of claims. Similarly, we don’t just assume leprechauns or unicorns or magic exists. The default position is the withholding of belief until such time that these claims have been demonstrated to be true. The conclusion reached in the argument is that god is the higher power responsible for everything in existence. Well, anyone can draw conclusions. My position is: can you demonstrate the evidence supporting this claim?
Secondly, the syllogism implicitly references the Cosmological argument (the uncaused cause), that is, everything which exists has a cause, and if you follow the chain of events back far enough, you’ll reach a necessary uncaused cause responsible for everything, and that is god. The first problem with this is that we just don’t have enough data to say what exactly got the ball rolling. The Cosmological argument is an argument from ignorance. What’s being said is that we don’t know what kick-started the birth of the universe, therefore we’ll say that god did it, and our brand of god in particular. If, for the sake of argument, that the Cosmological argument were true, it says nothing about the uncaused cause being a deity and it most certainly doesn’t get you to the god of the bible.
The second problem with the syllogism, and a subtle difference from the Cosmological argument, is that it equates existence with a higher power. To be clear, it needlessly invokes a more difficult “top-down” approach (e.g. god) to explain existent things like living and inanimate matter. It leaves out the possibility of a simpler, “bottom-up” approach to explain things, such as simple building blocks, simple organisms, and a few general theories predictive of how these simplistic systems will evolve into more complex systems. In fact, there are theories that state that life and the universe were inevitable due to these simplistic systems and natural laws governing them.
The third problem with the syllogism is that it assumes the existence of god (and as we read on we’ll will find deeper-seated reasons for this assumption in observing “design” in the world). Assumption is not how we get at what’s actually true in the world. It can be equated with having “faith” in the existence of god. Faith and assumption are dishonest starting points. You can never discover the truth of a matter (or an error in thinking or method) if you assume or have faith in a prefabricated conclusion. It’s critical to examine positions, especially when they’re arbitrarily assumed.
The second paragraph of the lesson explains that Genesis gives the account of how everything came to be, and that we don’t need to know everything about the “creation” to know that it was the work of god, and also that Genesis is the only accurate record of what happened.
The first problem here is about verification. We know that the Genesis account is patently wrong. Human beings were not “created” as is, neither were other organisms. The various species evolved slowly over a huge amount of time to the point at which they are now, and evolution is the only theory that explains the diversity of life and offers predictions that we can look for in the fossil record. On the other hand, creationism (or intelligent design) isn’t even a model. If offers no testable hypotheses, makes no predictions we can verify, and includes no descriptive laws. The claims that it does make have already been shown to be false, such as the species were created as is. By the way, if just one fossil were shown to be out of place then the entire theory of evolution would be turned on its head. So far, evolution has had mountains of confirming evidence of its claims and predictions. Furthermore, if evolution was to be shown false, that doesn’t mean that creationism wins by default. Creationism would still be wrong.
We ultimately do not know the origins of life, what the catalyst was that got life started. Evolution doesn’t say anything about the beginning of life, it only deals with the diversity of it. Abiogenesis is a theory which addresses the question of the origin of life arising from non-living matter, and is the current theory of life’s origin. The idea is that complex organic molecules found in the solar system and interstellar space may have been starting material for the development of life on earth.
Just because we don’t know the details as of yet about how life or the universe ultimately came to be doesn’t mean you get to say a god did it, or some other panacea. Again, it’s a very dishonest position. As established, Genesis is not the only accurate record of the diversity of life.
The third paragraph of the lesson begins by saying that god placed man above everything else, above all other life. It says that all other life, even life much larger than man, can be tamed; all fear man.
Sure, I would agree that we are capable of taming other life. However, as stated at the beginning of this work, there is no evidence that points to a god setting up man in a privileged position. Moreover, I would argue that man isn’t that significant to begin with. In fact, this is one of the fundamental problems with religion in general, it promotes an unrealistic bolstering of importance, a collective religious narcissism. This can be an existentially damaging view if extrapolated to things such as meaning to life. In example, it is often argued by apologists that if no god existed then life necessarily would be worthless. This can additionally be carried further into the realm of morality, where they argue that if a god doesn’t exist then one necessarily can’t be a decent human being or have a grounding for morality. This isn’t argued in this particular lesson, and I don’t want to make a straw-man; I do however want to point out this absurdity.
In the fourth paragraph, the lesson explains that there are many reasons to believe in god. It’s prime example is nature itself. “Just look around you.” The lesson sees everything in existence as confirmation of god’s divine working. It goes on to say that we may reason that since we cannot directly see god we may not believe god exists. It says, “I cannot see your brain but I believe you have a brain by that which you do. When I look at my watch I cannot see its maker but I believe that it had one.” The lesson argues that just because we can’t see these things doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and that god is behind the world existing. As before, let’s break this down into a logical syllogism.
1. Nature is a good reason to believe in god by the design we see.
2. When we see things such as a watch, we believe they were created, even if we can’t see their creator.
3. God is the creator of the designed universe.
We’re now presented with the meat of the lesson, and that is the argument from design. The first problem with the design argument is that the design observed in the world is only inferred. The argument is looking at things that do actually have creators, such as watches, and then looking at the universe as a whole and inferring the same kind of intentionality behind it. The problem is that the “design” in the world needs to be demonstrated as such, having evidence that leads to the conclusion that things were in fact designed, that they are teleological – that they were created and have purpose in the same way a watch does. We know a watch has a creator because we have plenty of examples of watches being created by humans. We know what’s designed by contrasting it with things in nature that self-assemble, such as trees, grass, clouds, stars, galaxies, etc. These things occur naturally in nature by themselves. Again, the design being claimed in the universe is only inferred and hasn’t actually been demonstrated as design. Much like with the issue of assumption, we don’t just infer things arbitrarily about the universe to get at what’s factually true. These inferred assumptions and positions are egregiously dishonest.
Furthermore, the watchmaker analogy is self-affirming. When you look at a watch and infer it was designed, and then look out into the universe and infer the same design, you then stand on a ground of watches in a universe of watches, where everything is confirmation of design. It’s easy to see why this argument could be convincing, but when we plunge the ground we see the error. There’s a sort of confirmation-bias inherent in the whole argument from design.
Additionally, on the topic of observation, I can actually see a watch being crafted, or look into the brain with an MRI. We have zero examples of universes being created by a deity.
On the other hand, what about all the bad “design”? If a god existed and it created everything, it’s a really bad engineer. Take human beings. We breathe out of the same place that we intake food, creating an inefficient “design” where choking and dying occurs. What about all the fatal genetically inherited diseases? What about the infrastructure of the animal kingdom, which abounds with needless suffering? Examples of bad “design” are endless. It seems that if one wishes to prop up all the beautiful “design” of the world, one must also take into account all the inefficient, unintelligent “design”.
The fifth paragraph adds more to the previous argument, telling us to look at the beautiful flowers, the heavens, and new born babies. It asks how one could not believe in an eternal, omnipotent being.
As already stated, what about all the bad “design”? It can’t be a one-sided thing. You also have to take into account all the inefficiencies, redundancies, and infrastructures of needless suffering. It seems to me that if a god did exist and designed the universe as is, this god doesn’t deserve worship or adoration. If we say, for the sake of argument, that the god of bible did create everything, then why did this god create cancer? If this god was able to create a world in which there was no needless suffering, and yet this god created the world we inhabit with this suffering, then this god is a moral monstrosity.
In the sixth paragraph, the lesson tells us that god exists because the bible says god exists. The lesson says that god is a spirit, that he is omnipresent, omniscient, and eternal.
The claim that god exists because the bible says god exists is a circular argument. It’s begging the question. I could say the same thing but replace god with Spider-man. Spider-man exists because the Marvel comics say Spider-man exists. You need to have evidence outside of a single source which confirms the validity of that source. Outside of the bible, there is zero evidence to support the claim that any gods exist, let alone the god of the bible.
Additionally, we have zero evidence of the supernatural: of things like spirits. It is true that many have claimed to have knowledge or to have actually seen spirits and the like, but we don’t take their word seriously because all claims of the supernatural so far have been unconfirmed. If one were to observe a phenomenon of a “spiritual” nature, all one could say is that an observation was made and there is no explanation for it. The claim that god exists and is a spirit and has the characteristics of all the omnis adopts a burden of proof to demonstrate that claim. As it has been said by Christopher Hitchens: “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”
The seventh paragraph says that god exists because that’s the only logical conclusion that can be reached. It says that to say there is no god is truthfully to say that there is a god. To say that there is no god is to say that an impossible thing has occurred – that existence came into being uncreated. It goes on to argue that we don’t point at houses and say they have no creator or that they just appeared spontaneously. Once more, let’s construct a syllogism out of the argument.
1. God exists because it’s the only logical conclusion.
2. To say a god doesn’t exist is to say, in fact, a god does exist.
3. To say a god doesn’t exist is to say the impossible happened.
4. We don’t say things like houses came into existence spontaneously.
5. Therefore, god exists.
First of all, as we can see in our investigation of these arguments, it has not been established that the only logical conclusion is that a god exists. It still needs to be demonstrated to be the case. As stated, we have scientific models of how the universe came into existence and we can understand them through natural laws and phenomena. Propping up the claim that god did it doesn’t explain anything meaningful about the universe. As established by now, it’s also a dishonest claim.
Second, the claim that to say X doesn’t exist, in fact, is to say X does exist is a contradiction in terms. Again, I could substitute god for the Flying Spaghetti Monster and say that to deny FSM’s existence is to say FSM exists. As we can see, this argument breaks down. I suspect though that the lesson is hinting at a passage in scripture that says every man already knows in his heart that god exists. This is something that is passed around in presuppositionalism, and Sye Ten Bruggencate is a pioneer of this argument. Once again, I’m not attempting to straw-man the argument, just pointing out a suspicion.
Third, obviously the third premise is automatically refuted. If it was an impossibility for the universe to have happened without a god then it would not have happened. But, here we are. I should clarify though, atheism does not say that a god doesn’t exist. Atheism is a response to god claims, namely that there has not been any evidence to point to a god or to merit god belief. There is a difference between “I believe no gods exist” and “I don’t believe any gods exist.” Atheism is the latter. As stated elsewhere in this work, this is an argument from ignorance. You don’t get to prop up “god did it” as a response to a question of which we don’t know the answer. The most honest thing to say is that “I don’t know.”
Fourth, we don’t say things like houses come into existence spontaneously because we have evidence of people building them. We don’t have examples of them materializing. Similarly, we have not observed any gods creating houses or universes. The burden of proof still needs to be employed.
The eighth paragraph asks how evolution could be true when all living things have been the same for thousands of years. The lesson gives an anecdote to a visit of a museum where there were mummified organisms that lived 5,000 years ago, and says that they were the same then as they are now. The lesson says that according to evolutionary theory that monkeys should be evolving into man or there should be no such thing as monkeys today as they should have evolved into a higher plane. It then asks us if man has reached his highest state or is he to evolve into something better, all while concluding that this is foolishness.
At the outset I will agree that is is foolishness, as the person who wrote the lesson doesn’t have an understanding of what evolution is. First of all, evolution takes place on a very, very large timescale. I’m talking millions of years.
Second, evolutionary theory does not say monkeys should be evolving into humans or that they shouldn’t exist today as they would have evolved into something “higher”. Human beings share a common ancestor with apes. In fact, all life shares a common ancestor. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. The theory does not state a species should be evolving into “a higher state”. Evolution is not inherently a beneficial thing to a species. In fact, evolution can cause detrimental effects to a species. The lesson makes it out as if evolution has some purpose or ultimate goal it’s striving for, but that isn’t the case. These aren’t hard to find facts. A simple Google search would reveal the nature of evolution. These straw-arguments reveal either deception or willful ignorance. There’s no such thing as a “more evolved” species. All life evolved the same. All living organisms evolved just as they were supposed to. In this sense we’re all “equally evolved”. The prime distinction is that humans evolved the capacity for rationality. And so the question of what man is supposed to have evolved into is answered: evolution takes place on a very large timescale, millions of years in scope, and all species evolved equally to adapt to their environment.
By the way, we have observed evolution occur in the lab with populations of E. coli evolving the ability to metabolize citrate. Evolution is now widely considered an undisputed fact. Those who deny this are simply delusional.
The ninth paragraph urges us to accept facts and stop relying on theories, and continues that the bible claims that the person who says there is no god is a fool.
There is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the word theory means in science. A theory is a body of knowledge, a model, which includes laws. A theory is the highest you can go in science. We have the theory of gravity, atomic theory, germ theory, etc. Again, this reveals either deception or willful ignorance. We live in the age of information. A single Google search would clear the majority of these problems up.
The ninth paragraph ends on a bible verse, but this isn’t relevant to the subject matter.
The last paragraph ends the lesson by giving scriptures and saying that everywhere we turn we’re confronted by god with his work, blessing, and mercy, and that he lives.
This talk of blessing and mercy is masturbatory. The fundamental point still stands: theists have a burden of proof where they need to demonstrate the evidence of their claims.
And so there we have it. These arguments have been refuted time and time again, but they nevertheless are still being circulated in churches and throughout the culture. Theism in general is shoddy. There is a burden of proof in place that needs to be exercised. There is zero evidence that we have which warrants god belief. I would encourage anyone reading this who subscribes to god belief to think critically about your positions and do your own research. These are long tired arguments and have been put to rest many times over.