Month: May 2010

“Scientists create life. We are God” (part 2)

In the first part of this response, I mentioned a few of the arguments atheists use to discredit theists; For the most part, their contentions lack evidence and their convictions are just as religious as any Sunday morning Christian. We are not fooled.

Now that the groundwork has been laid, let’s ask the question the article brings up: Did the scientists  indeed create life in the laboratory;  Was this a precursor to artificial intelligence? I know this may seem surprising, considering the way the article words it, but the answer to both of these questions is no.

First of all, the idea of a true AI has already been demonstrated to be untenable. John Searle demonstrates this with his famous thought experiment: Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese. He’s locked in a room full of boxes. Each is covered with Chinese symbols (a data base of sorts). At his disposal is a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (a program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols, which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (input). Now imagine that by following the instructions in the program, the man in the room is able to arrange and pass out Chinese symbols which happen to be correct answers to the questions sent in (the output). The program does enable the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese. However, he still doesn’t understand a word of Chinese.

Searle goes on to explain that the man in the room is similar to a computer. While computers can process information at an incredible rate, they don’t have the capacity to think about what they process. True “Artificial life” shouldn’t just produce inputs and outputs. In order for it to be what most consider real, it must have independent thoughts about those inputs and outputs; Or more precisely, this AI must participate in a function found only in humans: the use of second order mental states.

Second order mental states are essentially thoughts about thoughts; It would be impossible for a machine to do this. A machine can evaluate evidence and determine probabilities concerning various outcomes. That, however, is hardly a second order mental state. Now, in time, machines, androids, or some other type of AI could become so anthropomorphized that they are barely distinguishable from humans. Once again, this is not a true artificial intelligence, but rather the result of very clever and careful programming.

Back to the article. While there are some very intriguing uses for the molecular science mentioned in the article, this is in no way creating life. Essentially, this is more like the photocopying of a cell. In a nutshell, the process includes: Taking existing DNA, sequencing it, rebuilding and programing it, and  placing the DNA into an existing live cell and watching it grow. It isn’t anything new and it only acts according to how it was programmed. Now, it’s not my intention to diminish this fascinating work, but in no way does this article describe creating life; After all the hype is stripped, it merely describes how scientists can rearrange existing life.

“Scientists create life. We are God”

Originally posted by IBD Vice President Matt Coombe on mjcoombe.com

I recently read about this article on an atheist forum. It is provocatively titled: “Scientists create life. We are God.” I’m not sure if their intention was to mock theists or to disprove God (or both). Either way, I have every intention of dismantling not only the title but the evidence presented in the article as well. Before I can do that, however, we need to understand where these arguments come from. We should first take a look at current trends in atheist argumentation.

There are many trends in atheist thought today. That said, there appear to be two getting the most media attention. These are the incoherent claim: “Look at this amazing scientific breakthrough! God surely does not exist!” and the ever popular: “Look at these religious cooks! They’re part of some obscure cult! It’s obvious that all religious people are mentally deficient … and God surely does not exist.”

The first argument, the science disproves God claim, is usually spouted by atheists without any thought given to the actual evidence; I’m convinced most don’t even realize they’re using the argument. It forces me to respond with comments like: “Why is this subject being discussed under the guise of atheism?” Of course, I usually await atheist responses in vain.

As for the article (linked above), my response was: “Why is this article being discussed on an atheist forum?” Not that atheists aren’t free to discuss whatever they wish; Don’t get me wrong. I was just wondering why such an obviously religious article, as its title makes clear, is so popular among a group that abhors religion … unless, of course, they are engaging in the religious practice of apologetics.

At times it seems like atheists are similar to those “religious” people who claim to see miracles everywhere (i.e. “I found my car keys, it’s a miracle!”).  In the same way, an atheist claims: “Science did something really cool, therefore God does not exist!’” It’s beyond the scope of this essay to argue this point further, but science and theism are in no way fundamentally contradictory.

As for the second popular argument, where religious people are viewed as deficient, I always tell my students: “If you want to refute something, you must refute it at its best. If you had the choice to refute a ‘moral’ atheist who loves his wife, provides for his family, and gives to the poor, or refute an atheist who is a murdering rapist, we should choose to refute the better example of atheism.” When I first ask my students which of the two we should  refute, they usually miss the mark (atleast at first) and assert the immoral atheist should be refuted. But I remind the student, Christianity can measure up to and overcome any other worldview at its best; After all, the most superior being in all of existence should bestow a superior worldview or lifestyle.

Atheists like to point out pedophile priests or suicide bombers, but such claims are informal fallacies, stemming from (but not limited to): The “red herring”, “poisoning the well”, and “straw man” arguments; None address the fundamental evidence for theism. Atheists (and at times Christians too) think that if they were to sink another’s boat it would entail that their own boat is floating. But this is not the case. Poking holes in the Christian worldview will in no way seal the holes of atheism (or vice versa). While lifestyle or actions should play somewhat of a role in determining the relative superiority of a worldview, the debate should come down to evidence. Who is more justified in believing what they believe?

It seems at best strange for an atheist to make the assertion, “We are God.” As people that openly voice their hated of religion, they certainly do seem to make alot of religious claims. For example, I hear atheists refer to their conversion to atheism or make large, sweeping metaphysical pronouncements. Despite the very similar terminology and subject matter, atheists still vehemently maintain: “Atheism is no religion.” Really?

I recently read a popular atheist argument that goes like this: “Atheism is as much a religion as not collecting stamps is a hobby.” Okay, I understand the statement. However, I disagree; Atheism is more than merely a lack of participation. Consider the example presented and imagine it this way: Atheism is like a man confronting a stamp collector and saying, “Why do you collect stamps? That’s a child’s hobby! Who even collects stamps, anyways?” As soon as someone is willing to fight for a belief, whether in a verbal or physical way, the belief begins to enter into the realm of religion.

In fact, whatever belief is most important to a person, if it shapes their worldview and guides their actions, that belief is for all practical purposes their religion. It isn’t just having a belief in one or many supernatural beings that necessitates a religion; In fact, many traditional Buddhists are atheists. Buddha himself was an agnostic; To him, the existence of God wasn’t even an important question. Even so, who would claim that devout monks, spending hours in meditation each day while secluded in cloistered monasteries are not religious people? Clearly, atheists can be highly religious people.

However, are all atheists religious? Maybe it’s just the vocal minority. Maybe it’s not. Many people aren’t aware of this, but the original humanist manifesto clearly referred to secular humanism as a religion. Mankind’s salvation would be found through reason and technology. Since the atheists making the “We are God” claims are obviously secular humanists, it appears that they are denying the very definition of their own beliefs. As Ravi Zacharias once said, “It’s not me you have a problem with. It’s reality.”

So even if an atheist isn’t an activist, they still espouse a religious worldview. As Dr. Fernandes has questioned, “If the statement, ‘There is a God’ is a religious statement, then why is the statement, ‘There is no God’ not a religious statement?” Well said. After all,  aren’t both statements making judgments about the same metaphysical truth?

Anyways, since I spent so much space on tangents here, I’ll have respond the article tomorrow.

The “Nature of Reality” Series Continues

After a month-long hiatus to care for his new baby daughter, your friendly Webmaster has returned to duty. Many thanks to the Institute staff for their patience while I endured both the sleepless nights and endless diaper changes. It is truly amazing how the miracle of life, given from the Lord, changes your perspective on everything; The only thing of yours that will follow you into eternity are your own children. I pray that, through His power, I will raise my children the knowledge and fear of the Lord.

That said, during my time off, IBD Vice President Matt Coombe has been a busy man. He has finished the “Nature of Reality” series. In the latest upload, part 2, Mr. Coombe starts with the basics of reality and moves to the two philosophies behind modern Christian thought.

He starts with this statement: “Where do we begin: Truth or Reality?” Can we use truth to determine reality or does reality determine truth? Through this examination of the search itself, Matt examines the philosophy of famous doubter Renee Descartes and the earliest philosophies of Aristotle and Plato.

You should begin to see the foundation of Christian and solid philosophical thought as you listen.