• The ‘New’ Atheism: 10 Arguments That Don’t Hold Water?: A Refutation, Part 9

    Chapter 9: Back to the drawing board – but whose?

    A9 ‘Darwin has removed the main argument for God’s existence.’

    Michael Poole begins,

    The final two chapters will consider ‘the central argument’ of Dawkins’ book which sets out to explain the origin of the universe’s apparent design without invoking actual design. (69)

    He then begins to discuss William Paley and the watchmaker argument, next quoting Charles Darwin as no longer being impressed by Paley’s arguments since his discovery of natural selection. Poole then quotes Darwin again from a letter to Asa Gray,

    Darwin’s theory altered Paley’s from of an argument for God from design but did not remove the idea of design altogether. Darwin suggested that the design lay in the laws God created – ‘the Creator creates by…laws’ – commenting that ‘I can see no reason why a man, or other animal, may not have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who forsaw every future event and consequence.’ (70)

    This quote seemed suspect to me so I looked it up. At the Darwin Correspondence Project website this letter is archived. Here is the latter half of the letter in full so you can see the context.

    […] With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.— Let each man hope & believe what he can.—

    Certainly I agree with you that my views are not at all necessarily atheistical. The lightning kills a man, whether a good one or bad one, owing to the excessively complex action of natural laws,—a child (who may turn out an idiot) is born by action of even more complex laws,—and I can see no reason, why a man, or other animal, may not have been aboriginally produced by other laws; & that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event & consequence. But the more I think the more bewildered I become; as indeed I have probably shown by this letter. [1]

    It appears that Poole has correctly interpreted Darwin’s views, in that god may have created the laws that govern man, beast, and the universe, but the quote itself appears to take Darwin out of context by wrongly quoting him as saying that he could “see no reason why a man, or other animal, may not have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator […],” seemingly contradicting his own statement quoted by Poole about Paley’s argument.

    I find the phrasing of the quote strange and I was unable to find the book Poole cited for this quote on the internet, Darwinism and Divinity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985). If anyone has it please check it out for me. Poole says it occurs on page 56.

    Either way, citing Darwin’s beliefs about his own theory is, once again, nothing but an appeal to authority. Furthermore, much more has been learned since Darwin’s time so to cite his opinions on whether or not god has a hand in the workings of the laws of nature is pointless.

    Poole continues to argue that it’s still possible that this “appearance of design in nature” could have “resulted from actual design.” He argues that god could have created “a universe involving a Big Bang” and all that took place – the particles colliding, etc. – could have been caused by god. (70)

    Following this argument, he continues by arguing that even though there are cancers and “[t]he presence of consequences unintended (but not unforeseen) by God does not, however, rule out divine design, even though Dawkins claims that ‘natural objects… have imperfections which you wouldn’t expect to get on objects designed by a real designer.’” (72)

    Poole fails to provide any evidence for this all-powerful being so this argument’s fatal flaw is the lack of evidence of Poole’s god. With science closing the gaps in our knowledge, the tasks that god was needed for are no longer. Those many tasks are nature’s do to now. Given these facts theists have had to reinvent their god. Yes, some theists have made this same argument throughout history, but that fact does not cause the evidence for their god to come bursting forth. That’s the key that’s missing if Poole’s argument is to hold any water.

    He continues to argue that god may have created the process of evolution to create life and quotes a few Christians as coming to this conclusion. He also claims the bible contains passages that speaks of evolution, one being Mark 4:26-28, but this is a very vague passage that is only speaking of the fact that corn grows after a seed is planted and man is clueless as to how this process takes place. This is just one out of countless examples of Christians’ spurious reading of modern day science into the bible. The mechanism of evolution hadn’t been discovered until hundreds of years later so it would be impossible for the bible to contain such knowledge.

    The final topic under discussion is Intelligent Design. Because Poole is a theistic evolutionist he is hostile to the Intelligent Design movement and gives a few criticisms I agree with, such as the apparent shrinking of the number alleged “irreducibly complex” systems that I.D. supporters can point to due to our increasing knowledge. However, I find Poole’s criticisms of I.D. to undermine his own arguments since our expanding knowledge of the universe itself, and not just of evolution, is closing many gaps, leaving less and less room for a god to hide. In addition, there is no evidence in the universe or our biology of any tinkering of any god, as I mentioned earlier. These facts entirely undermine Poole’s argument.

    I agree with Victor J. Stenger who says,

    [M]ost science-savvy theologians agree with most scientists that intelligent design, at least as it has been formulated so far, is a failure. Theologians are far more impressed by the fine-tuning argument and they have received support from a number of prominent scientists who profess not to be believers but admit that the facts are puzzling and require explanation. [2]

    More recently Stenger has published a new book explaining why all of the fine-tuning arguments in use are factually incorrect and he did so without resorting to the controversial multiverse theory. [3]

    In conclusion, Michael Poole writes,

    In short, evolution is a broken crutch for supporting atheism. (77)

    As I’ve said, there is no evidence of Poole’s god so his argument leaves him spinning his wheels and he fails to get anywhere. Furthermore, I am well aware that evolution has been assimilated into Christian belief but the fact is that evolution contradicts the original Christian belief in human origins. The fact that Christians have to reinvent their beliefs is proof that evolution is a problem for Christian dogma. It is intellectually dishonest to include new scientific discoveries into a supposedly truthful revelation from their god about human origins as told in their bible. If this was a revelation from their all-knowing god, why didn’t he include the fact of evolution? Not just evolution but all scientific discoveries are a problem for Christian belief. It is not a virtue to adapt to new discoveries when it comes to religion, it is a disgrace.

    1. Darwin to Asa Gray, May 22, 1860 – accessed 6-10-13

    2. The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2009; 88

    3. The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe is Not Designed for Us, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2011

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist