Saturday, July 14, 2012

6 Reasons to Believe in God - Reason 1 - Example 3 and 4 - Brains and Eyes!

Ad for weird website
Lately, I've been deconstructing a webpage that describes six reasons to believe in God. I first saw it as an ad, and decided to look into it.

My prior two posts are:
As mentioned before, this entire "reason" is an Argument for Fine Tuning. Let's see what he says about brains and eyes! I say "he", because I'm picturing the guy in the ad as the author.
The human brain...simultaneously processes an amazing amount of information. Your brain takes in all the colors and objects you see, the temperature around you, the pressure of your feet against the floor, the sounds around you, the dryness of your mouth, even the texture of your keyboard. Your brain holds and processes all your emotions, thoughts and memories. At the same time your brain keeps track of the ongoing functions of your body like your breathing pattern, eyelid movement, hunger and movement of the muscles in your hands. 
The human brain processes more than a million messages a second.7 Your brain weighs the importance of all this data, filtering out the relatively unimportant. This screening function is what allows you to focus and operate effectively in your world. The brain functions differently than other organs. There is an intelligence to it, the ability to reason, to produce feelings, to dream and plan, to take action, and relate to other people.
And the author has this to say about eyes:
The eye...can distinguish among seven million colors. It has automatic focusing and handles an astounding 1.5 million messages -- simultaneously.8 Evolution focuses on mutations and changes from and within existing organisms. Yet evolution alone does not fully explain the initial source of the eye or the brain -- the start of living organisms from nonliving matter.

Argument for Fine Tuning

Dead tree
My protocol here has been to confront the overarching problem - in this case, an Argument from Ignorance, then dive into the details of the section. My mind is definitely geared towards beating a dead horse. In this case, my brain has been churning over the problem of "fine tuning" since the past post, and, behold, I have yet more to say! I'll get to the brain and eyes in a bit.

Perceptual Problem

I do not grant that the universe, or this planet, or water, are "fine-tuned". The phrase itself is implying the thing it's trying to prove - that there is a  "fine-tuner" (God).

These apologists are looking at the world/universe, seeing that it seems to be reasonably compatible to life, and perceiving fine-tuning. I emphasize "perceiving" because the question remains - is the perception only an illusion or misinterpretation? It could be that this particular planet, and this particular universe, happened to be suitable by random chance. Of course we're not going to look at a universe that isn't suited for us - we wouldn't exist if it wasn't! It's a question of availability bias.

The apologists don't grant the possibility everything occurred by chance. "Nope", is their answer, without any real rhyme or reason, "It simply could not have happened by chance!" Why not? "Because!" - Okay!

We don't know how many unvierses there are, or how many planets, or how universes form (or if they form at all). We don't know whether there's an entity at work, or whether there's some natural underlying mechanism that generates life-supporting universes. We don't know whether any alternative forms of life could spawn, such as using liquid NH3 as a basis. We have really no clue about anything, except by what is demonstrably true.

And yet, despite all that, apologists will start flinging around probabilistic statements that usually degenerate into Arguments from Personal Incredulity. How do they figure the probability? What's the denominator, and how did they determine it?

Instead of framing the result of whatever happened as "finely-tuned", a much less assuming question would be "We see that our planet is capable of supporting life - how did this come to be?" 

My answer - I don't know. Let's investigate and find out. The apologist answer - make up some magical man in the sky and say he did it, with no supporting evidence or demonstration.

Seriously, this is the apologists' #1 reason to believe in God?

Disconnect from Reality

One of the main aspects of scientific theory is that it must account for as much as possible (within the context - the theory of Evolution doesn't need to account for semiconductors, for instance).

Any critically thinking person would start to see some issues with a finely-tuned universe.
Bamboo
Bamboo in my backyard
  • What's with the rest of the universe? Why are there extrasolar planets? Why bother?
  • Why are there galaxies and stars everywhere?
  • Why is only 10-40% (I made this number up) of the visible universe dedicated for our existence, and the rest is downright lethal?
  • If anything, the universe is finely tuned for the production of black holes. Why?
  • Why is my backyard finely tuned for bamboo to grow like crazy, and I get viciously attacked by mosquitoes while I try to chop it down? Is this supposed to benefit me somehow?
  • If this universe is fine-tuned for life, why do we keep getting smacked by meteors/comets that cause mass extinctions?
Projecting this "purpose" upon reality causes stark inconsistencies with what we observe. This means that it's probably not true, even despite a plethora of ad-hoc rationalizations.

Alternatively, if our model is that we have a universe that has a set of rules, whether randomly or not, these instances are just to be expected. Life exists despite the universe, and all it's meteors and black holes. All these issues that I brought up are resolved under this model - the biggest problem of which was the "purpose". In a purposeless universe, they aren't issues anymore.

This is why many apologetics tend to be disconnected from reality.

Let's look at those facts about the brain

Chimpunk gnawing on a seed
I guess this has something to do with brains
The human brain...simultaneously processes an amazing amount of information. Your brain takes in all the colors and objects you see, the temperature around you, the pressure of your feet against the floor, the sounds around you, the dryness of your mouth, even the texture of your keyboard. Your brain holds and processes all your emotions, thoughts and memories. At the same time your brain keeps track of the ongoing functions of your body like your breathing pattern, eyelid movement, hunger and movement of the muscles in your hands. 
That is all basically true!

Okay... I don't understand what the point is. That's what brains do - yes.

The author of this website appears to have difficulty making a point, or some kind of connection between some fact and an assertion he/she/it is making.
The human brain processes more than a million messages a second.7 Your brain weighs the importance of all this data, filtering out the relatively unimportant. This screening function is what allows you to focus and operate effectively in your world. The brain functions differently than other organs. There is an intelligence to it, the ability to reason, to produce feelings, to dream and plan, to take action, and relate to other people.
This is true too, besides some minor details.

...and? The point is coming right around the corner, I assume! 


Wait, no? That's it. They talk about the brain, and then... moving right along! What's the connection to God? That it's complex? Isn't that begging the question as to whether God is required for complexity?


It's possible that the brain is supposed to be an example of fine tuning, but that wouldn't really work because evolution accounts for the functionality of the brain. Each of these capacities lends itself to survival, and is thus selected.


Apparently I have to sit around and make the apologist's points for him, so that there's something to talk about.

Let's look at those facts about the eye

Chipmunk eye
I can see my house from here!
 (Chipmunk eye from far away)
The eye...can distinguish among seven million colors. It has automatic focusing and handles an astounding 1.5 million messages -- simultaneously
I haven't heard these tidbits of information before, but what the hell, let's say they're true.


That's right, eyes are fairly impressive!
Evolution focuses on mutations and changes from and within existing organisms. Yet evolution alone does not fully explain the initial source of the eye or the brain -- the start of living organisms from nonliving matter.
Finally! Something I can fact check of relevance!


Yes, it does. Unambiguously. In fact, it may be one of the most well understood evolutionary lines we know (since it's been studied so much). Here's a starter below with demonstration, by everyone's favorite - bloody Richard Dawkins! One might dismiss it because it's Dawkins, but I re-iterate, the stages are actually demonstrated.


Above and beyond the mere fact that the author is just straight up mistaken, there's a deeper and more damning problem with this argument.

You know what? I'm so sick of this phrase, but it keeps coming up over and over and over.


It's an Argument from Ignorance!

In this particular case, the author doesn't mention it, but the implication is that the eye is irreducibly complex, and therefore, needs a designer. We don't know how else it could have happened, therefore let's make something up, and call it true!

Let's say, hypothetically, that evolution is completely disproved. The entire theory is debunked and there's nothing left. If that were the case, how much progress would be made towards demonstrating/proving/providing evidence that there's a god?

Zero.


It's right back to that same problem of positive and negative evidence. If evolution were disproved, our current status on the origins of life and species would be, "We don't know". We'd be back to the drawing board and investigating again.

The apologist has established a false dichotomy between evolution and God. It could be that there's a third mechanism, and a forth, and a fifth! It could be that there's 37 different mechanisms, including God, all playing a role in the establishment and divergence of life.

The question is - what do we have evidence for? What concepts are supported?
Answer - Evolution.

Do you know what's not evidence? A website filled to the brim with logical fallacies, incorrect information, and reasoning errors.

To say that God is real because evolution doesn't (currently) explain something is like saying that my refrigerator is full of food because yours is empty. It's assuming that there aren't other refrigerators, that there's food in any of them, or that there can't be food in both.

In fact, one has to make a plethora of assumptions before the argument even remotely appears to be cogent. These arguments are chalked full of presuppositions, assumptions and logical fallacies. It's a miracle that these people can dress themselves in the morning! (though clearly I'm taking it on blind faith that they do)

Recap

One Argument from Ignorance after another. What was I expecting?

No wait! They threw in some false dichotomies and undemonstrative assumptions, complete with the erroneous approach of providing negative evidence. Way to mix things up!

Maybe I shouldn't be so snarky, but these apologetics can get blood-curtlingly ridiculous.

Logical Fallacies

This whole section (Reason 1) has been about how complexity indicates a god. As I mentioned before, that's begging the question (another logical fallacy) as to whether a god is required for complexity. The author appears to be presupposing that fact without any consideration that complexity can arise from simplicity on its own. Why couldn't it? Because the author doesn't understand how? That would be an Argument from Personal Incredulity - yet another logical fallacy.

I'm wondering if the author has even heard of these terms - Argument from Ignorance, or Begging the Question. Perhaps if he was more familiar with the common logical fallacies, he'd be less likely to invoke them.

I would heavily recommend that anyone who isn't familiar with these fallacies read up on them. They're quite enlightening. Don't just know what they are - try to understand why they're fallacies.

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