Saturday, January 08, 2011

A rejoinder to Professor Clark: Is this the best you have?

Last week, I wrote an article in the Salt Lake Tribune (listed here: and then all week dealt with more than 20 different atheists who criticized the piece online. In today's internet edition (1/8/11) and published in Sunday's 1/9/11 edition, a scientist from the University of Utah (Gregory A. Clark) responded to me, linking me with Brian David Mitchell, the guy who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart (listed here:  

I have listed his article (in bold) and responded to his assertions. 

Science and the empirical evidence against a divine being

Atheists who have been writing on the Tribune's website like to make it a big deal to say that they have no point to make, that the burden of proof lies on the theist to show that God doesn't exist. As I have pointed out a number of times on the Tribune's blog, to say that "God does not exist" is actually a positive assertion, just as much as it is a claim that "the defendant is not guilty." In the court case, both sides present their evidence. In the same way, the atheist may not believe there is a God just as he may not believe in Santa Claus, but he still needs to provide the evidence that the entity really doesn't exist (i.e. provide evidence that parents put the presents under the tree, that there are dozens of Santas in malls all over town, etc.). As theists, we should not allow atheists to get away from having to produce their own evidence of the theory they propose. When the headlines reads "empirical evidence against a divine being," we should expect that he's actually going to present some scientific evidence that will make the reader think. As it will be seen, Clark is short on "empirical evidence" but tall on diversion.

It is curious but telling that theists who so stoutly proclaim evidence for the existence of an Almighty God then fail to provide any. Of course, this depends on the definition of the word “evidence,” as it does on the definition of “God.”
Fascinating, but in my short (700 words) article, I included the design, kalam, and the moral arguments as well as my testimony and a hint to Pascal's Wager. That's not a lot of space when writing about something as complex as God's existence.  But it's disingenuous to say none was provided, since his piece appears to be a direct critique of mine. I think we can go with basic definitions: "Ground for belief" (first definition in would adequately define "evidence," and "the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe" stands for "God." Remember, I never said that I was arguing for any particular version of God (which is why I referred to Mormons, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims as examples). In his article, Clark seems to presuppose that he just needs to eliminate the Jewish/Christian God and his work is done, but the biblical God is not the topic of conversation in my original article. 

Eric R. Johnson (“A reason for the season,” Opinion, Dec. 31) and Brian David Mitchell are among those who claim that they have personally experienced the Almighty.
This is a low blow, attempting to make me "guilty by association" with the rapist/kidnapper to minimize my position. Can anyone say "ad hominem"? Suppose that, in my article, I linked Clark with, say, the atheists Stalin, Mao, or Manson. Think anyone would complain? I'm sure I would never hear the end of it.

Their statements could be entered as “evidence” in a court of law. But such claims do not constitute “evidence” for God in the objective, scientific meaning of the word.
The problem I see with this statement is that he wants to make science "God." Evidence used to support any theory is evidence; it could be “weak” or “strong” evidence, but it is whatever each sides uses to support their respective cases. In the court of law, which he references, each side brings its claims to support its case.  To claim that the arguments given in my previous article should not be considered "evidence" is silly. He needs to show the design, kalam, and moral arguments to be inadequate evidence for support in the existence of God. In addition, the very idea of saying that "science" is factual is not a scientific statement but a philosophical one.  Clark blusters about me not providing “evidence,” but the reader ought to consider the fact that his “evidence” is more innuendo than anything else. Before he starts complaining about a lack of "evidence," he needs to look in the mirror first.

As soon as considerations move from God as a metaphor into real-world specifics, scientific evidence becomes directly relevant. In reality, compelling empirical evidence indicates that the interventionist God of “Mormons, Catholics, Protestants, [and] Jews” (among others) does not exist — at least if the Bible is the literal word of God, as one-third of Americans believe.
His point here is muddled. What exactly is he trying to assert? That when real "evidence" is considered, it doesn't include God or the Bible? Instead of making blanket assertions, perhaps he could begin giving us his "evidence," of which he does not provide specific examples. I'm also not sure what the Bible has to do with the argument against God--perhaps a red herring? So what if one-third of the American public believes in a literal Bible. What this proves, I'm not sure, unless he's saying many Americans are stupid.

Scientifically, the Bible is wrong from the very first sentence, and goes downhill from there. The earth was not formed “in the beginning” of the universe; fruit trees did not grow on earth before the sun and stars; birds and sea mammals did not precede land insects and reptiles.
What empirical evidence does the author have to show this assertion? What this shows is that there was a beginning to the universe. Science has much to explain on how the universe came to be "out of nothing" or out of "eternal matter," which are the only two possibilities. At least theism dictates that Something outside of time, space, and matter created the universe. As far as the exact order of the Days of Creation, there have been internal debates within the camps of those who believe in the Bible. In a debate about God's existence, however, his point doesn't mean much since many theists don't believe in the Bible. Yet it's true that maybe there is a Higher Power who is not the God of the Christians and Jews who use the Hebrew Bible. Remember, we're arguing for a God's existence, not for the biblical God. We can save that debate for another time. Let's deal with the issues that were on the table, i.e. is there Something outside the universe that is timeless, spaceless, and not containing matter? We will leave the idea of the definition of God to the theologians. Don't move onto red herring land, Clark. If, somehow, you are able to prove that the Christian God doesn't exist because the Bible is faulty, you still haven't cleared yourself of the Muslim, Jewish, or Taoist gods. Instead of attacking only one type of theist, why don't you go after all of us?

The empirical evidence indicates a fundamentally different order. Likewise, there is no physical evidence that Yahweh (or Zeus, or Thor) hurls lightning bolts from the sky, causes rain via divine intervention, or stops the sun so that God’s chosen people will have more daylight to slaughter infidels.
My article never claimed there was physical evidence for God, just as Clark cannot provide physical evidence for Evolution. Again, another slap is intended by the phrase, "...more daylight to slaughter infidels." Is this a suggestion that anyone who holds to a Higher Power believes in the efficacy of terrorism? It might be his twisted sense of humor coming through, but if this is the case, it actually is quite sick in conjunction with all that's going on in the world. It should be pointed out that "Infidels" is typically limited in use with Islam.

But there is solid empirical evidence for the natural causes of meteorological events, and for a heliocentric solar system in which earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way around — even if it did take the Catholic Church till 1992 to vindicate Galileo.
Since when did the Catholic Church represent all theists? And actually, Galileo remained a Catholic despite his problems with the Roman hierarchy and was defended by other scientists and theologians who were also faithful Catholics. Science and the discovery he made fit into Galileo's belief that there was a God who did create everything. In addition, my denial of a scientific fact--such as gravity--doesn't make the law invalid. Just because there were many Catholics who denied Galileo doesn't make Galileo (or the existence of God) wrong. It just means more information was provided to clear up the issue. God exists or doesn't exist regardless of whether or not people believe in Him.

There is no empirical scientific evidence for a “Designer” of the universe. As the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial in Pennsylvania demonstrated, “intelligent design,” like creationism, is not science.
A general statement is made, with no scientific proof to support it. If I said, "There is no empirical scientific evidence against a Designer," what would Clark's reaction be? Again, I provided evidence (not empirical, as it would be impossible to do) to show God's existence. His general statement that "intelligent design" is not science is pure silliness. In addition, is he insinuating that courts have always been correct? He ought to be more careful. Just because a court said there was a God, for instance, would that sway the scientist Clark?

In contrast, there is strong empirical evidence for the cumulative power of natural selection and evolution. Again and again, biology screams unintelligent “design”: eye sockets for eyeless cave fish; sea mammals that breathe air; the panda’s “thumb,” jerry-rigged from a wrist bone; and men’s nipples. Such flaws are natural consequences of evolutionary and developmental constraints, but not of an omnipotent, benevolent designer.
How does "eye sockets for eyeless cave fish" or nipples on men show unintelligent design? How are these considered "flaws"? He doesn't explain. Suppose I said that humans really needed only one arm, one eye, and one leg, insisting that they could have gotten by with just one of each? Is having a pair of each a sign of a lack of design? Indeed, what if I made the argument that we really could have used three arms and three legs? Would this "prove" the lack of a designer?

Consider if I, a car lover but not an expert, looked at the new Ford Focus and said, "Wow, it's sort of designed, but the way they built the grill is so sadly formed that this car must have been designed by nobody." But what if the designer of the car had a reason for making the grill the way he/she did, unbeknownst to me? In addition, just because we may think there is an inadequate design does not negate the fact that there was a designer. It would be ridiculous to say that, even with a grill we thought was weakly designed, this car had no designer. Somebody still had to have designed it! Obviously, Clark could point to many, many things and say, "Lack of design." Yet what he sees as inadequacies does not prove his point that God doesn't exist. At best, it shows that the designer didn't design perfectly. This is not the same as showing that there was no designer.

There is no empirical evidence that progressing from simple to complex (from single cells to humans, for example) necessarily violates the second law of thermodynamics or requires divine intervention.
What evidence do you have?

Dear reader, you did it yourself in only nine months.
Oh, here's the evidence: Look at the nine-month gestation period. I get it. Very cute. Yet if Clark is actually a scientist, he must certainly know a little bit about DNA and the intricate details that comprise an embryo. Is he really going to claim that this embryo and the intricate DNA (that no computer could hold all of its identifying marks and information) making up this preborn human being is just a simple mass of matter? This is a lie used to justify the killing of unborn human beings on a regular basis. Irreducible complexity, as defined by Michael Behe, is another good argument that shows even what appears to be the simplest instrument, such as a mousetrap or, yes, a ballpoint pen, required great design in order for it to work. One error in the design and you're left with meaningless matter, such as a single cell with a dysfunctional flagellum.

The earth is a not closed system, and neither are you. The energy driving your progression came from external sources, most notably the sun.
I agree that external forces are needed for me to exist. I call Him “God.” And it begs the question: Who made the sun? Using Okham's Razor, the idea that there was Something outside of this universe that came into time to create it is much simpler than the sun came from nothing.

And even theists acknowledge that the universe is expanding. The total entropy (disorder) of the universe is also increasing in accord with the second law, but this does not preclude an increase in localized order.
The Second Law says that things digress rather than progress, that it goes from complex to simple. Nothing moves from "simple" to "complex," which is why it's called a "law." As far as the universe expanding, yes, we agree. How does this show evidence that no God exists? Once more, Clark is short on evidence.

There is no empirical evidence for an omniscient Supreme Being.
For fun, let me provide the exact quote from my article: "While I won’t take any particular side with the Mormons, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims or any other religious group that acknowledges a Supreme Being, just because it is impossible to empirically prove God’s existence does not mean faith in a Higher Being is a losing proposition." So why does Clark insist on creating this Straw Man and make it appear that I ever claimed that God could be proven empirically? If he only read my article closely, he would have attempted to attack my views in other ways.

Like other primitive religious texts, the Bible is full of blunders and contradictions, and is wholly devoid of modern knowledge such as Einstein’s equation or the genetic code. As with alien abductions, there is no tangible evidence that any advanced Being has communicated inside information to Mr. Johnson or others in their more recent close encounters with Him, Her, or It.
OK, here we go back to name-calling. Once more, he insists on using the Bible when theists don't all agree on the Bible. So why bother? The genetic code is a great example why there is a God. This is one reason by long-time atheist Anthony Flew became an agnostic. Before he died recently, he said, "What I think the DNA material has done is show that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinary diverse elements together...The enormous complexity by which the results were achieved looks to me like the work of intelligence." He later said, "It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design." While he did not become a theist, per se, it was scientific evidence that persuaded him to leave his atheism.

Thus, in rejecting God’s existence, most skeptics don’t worry much that they’re “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” A look in the tub readily confirms that there’s no baby there.
A witty way to end his article, but I believe Clark's rationale--while good at raising up a number of fallacies--does nothing to show there is no baby in the tub. His system is completely faith-based and cannot be empirically proven. Next time, perhaps he ought to avoid the name-calling and cutsie construction and concentrate on presenting a case that produces evidence against a God.

Conclusion: While I believe Dr. Clark could be a competent scientist--I don't know because I've never heard of him before--he is nowhere close to being a competent philosopher. His evidence is makeshift, at best, and it appears that his article was meant to impress as an appeal to authority. I, for one, am not in awe. When considering his arguments, I realize the strength of the theistic position. I stand by my original article.

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Blogger R. M. Sivulka said...

1. Einstein once said that "[t]he problem with us scientists is that we are very poor philosophers." Clark confirms Einstein.

2. The scientific evidence is empirical evidence for God. It is evidence base on the empirical. This is the evidence that persuaded Flew. Other notable empiricists that have used empirical evidence for God's existence are Aquinas and Locke. I think what you mean Eric is that there is no direct perception of a non-physical being. But certainly a being of this sort may be indirectly seen similar to any other person being seen. I've never seen a person in my life, technically speaking. I've seen bodies and their behaviors, and from that I have imperfect *knowledge* of persons rather than simply robots.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Eric Johnson said...

Thanks Rob. Point two is noted, as I modified my first point.

6:56 PM  

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