bookmark_borderPlease Support the Ultimate Counter-Creationism Resource, Troubles in Paradise (TIP)!

The following is a guest post by James Downard, who is spearheading the Troubles in Paradise (TIP) project.

I’ll put the #TIP project into as small a nutshell as possible. I’m assembling the ultimate counter-creationism resource (think Talk Origins Archive on a gigantic updated scale, if you need proof of the scale, open up the main TIP bibliography & see what 37,000 sources looks like) aiming to squash antievolutionists between two vise prongs: the evidence for evolution on one side, and their consistently pathetic evasion of that on the other. You can see what I’ve done so far at and Nick Matzke did a great interview at
TIP 1.3 & 1.7 modules give the thrust of what I’m up to (Richard Lenski contributed at once having seen those postings & said somebody should hire me to do this as my work). That’s what is for (need more Richard Lenskis obviously), for the secular crowd to “hire” me to keep going, collectively accomplishing things so I can keep at it (I’m a new retiree on way inadequate Social Security). The big plan is to cover all the people and topic that arise in antievolutionism, TIP 1.7 covers the ID movement’s hijinks up through the Dover case, how they coddle their YEC wing. Most of the future work will be covering specific technical issues and showing how ALL antievolutionists gum up, covering everybody. TIP 1.3 does that for the Punctuated Equilibrium case.
So far though there have been only 53 people who have stepped up to help #TIP financially, about half local people who know my work & reputation, the rest those online who have begun reading the work or have noticed how the methods approach actually does short-circuit antievolutionists in a way not possible so long as things stay on a God or Science philosophical battleground.
I welcome all questions & comments, by email, on my Facebook page, or on @RJDownard on Twitter. #TIP intended to be totally open access, free for all to use & share freely, no adverts or baggage, just pure info honestly & openly available for all. That’s my dream & goal.

Editor’s Note: To help support TIP, please go to

bookmark_borderJerry Coyne Blocking: Episode II

I’ll make this very brief and to the point. Jerry Coyne wrote something on his website. (The details don’t even matter, but if you’re curious, you can read the article here.) A scientist named Ben Allen disagrees with something Coyne wrote. Allen submits a comment critical of Coyne’s claim in the combox on Coyne’s website. Allen is subsequently blocked from his site. Because of the scientific nature of the disagreement and Allen’s scientific credentials, however, Allen attracts the attention of PZ Myers, who agrees to publish Allen’s critique as a guest post on Myers’s blog. The comments on Allen’s post are as interesting as the post itself: many other people report being blocked by Jerry Coyne for similar reasons. And readers of this blog will remember that I described my own experience being blocked by Jerry Coyne over a minor issue.
I have great respect for Jerry Coyne’s intelligence and knowledge of biology. I have no respect for his thin-skinned moderation and comment blocking policy, however. Virtually all Christian apologists I’ve interacted with have been much more tolerant of publishing criticisms in their comment boxes, Twitter feeds, discussion forums, etc. than Jerry Coyne is. Jerry Coyne is not acting like a freethinker who has nothing to fear and everything to gain from the honest pursuit of truth.
Jerry Coyne should be ashamed of himself. Kudos to PZ Myers for helping to expose Coyne’s behavior.

bookmark_borderThe Seven Deadly Sins of Christianity

Lust, sloth, gluttony, anger, pride, envy, and greed: These are the sins which Christian teachers and preachers have long cited as “deadly,” that is, the ones most urgently to be avoided since they are vicious in themselves and lie at the root of so many other sins. Of course, precisely defining and delimiting these transgressions has occupied armies of casuists. For instance, just what is gluttony? As Bertrand Russell once observed, if gluttony is eating just for fun, then we risk damnation with every salted almond. Also, it might be more helpful to look at these failings in an Aristotelian way, that is, as the extreme ends of activities or feelings that in more moderate forms may be harmless or even good. A modicum of pride, for instance, in the sense of due respect for one’s own abilities and achievements, seems to be an ingredient of genuine well-being. It is only when self-esteem becomes overbearing and slides into hubris that it transforms into something censurable. Likewise, as Aristotle observed, anger is not a vice if it is displayed in a proportionate degree, at the right time and place, for the right reason, and is directed towards the appropriate object. Some things should make you angry.
At any rate, whenever someone presumes to instruct others on sin and its avoidance, attention is inevitably reflected back on the teacher. Of course, individual Christians are subject to the same temptations as everyone else, and they all too often succumb. Such individual lapses are not terribly interesting except in cases of gross hypocrisy—like a TV evangelist, famous for belaboring vice, who is found in a back seat with a cheap hooker. More interesting than the transgressions of individual Christians are the collective or institutional sins, those that arise within the cultures or shared practices of Christian groups. Christians behaving badly is a major part of any history of Christianity that aims to be a truthful account and not an apologetic whitewash.
One excellent example of such history, written by a Christian determined to tell the story “warts and all,” is Paul B. Johnson’s A History of Christianity (1976). Johnson is a politically conservative Roman Catholic who has recently written a book on Darwin, a detestable hatchet job which I had the misfortune to read. However, A History of Christianity is a masterpiece of scholarly popular history, and first-rate instruction on the sins of Christianity. From reading Johnson, and other historians, I identify the following seven deadly sins of Christianity. Not all Christian groups have committed all of these at all times, of course, but over the 2000 year history of Christianity each has resurfaced time and again and done much harm, not least of all to Christianity itself.
1) Certainty. I once heard a quip about cosmologists to the effect that they are often wrong but never in doubt. What puts the sting in this line is that it implies that scientists are acting like religious controversialists, pronouncing with dogmatic certainty on claims that nobody knows for sure. The ringing tone of apodictic certainty entered Christian controversy with Paul, and has resounded through the ages. Paul seldom suggested; he declaimed. In his letters he assures his readers that he is not speaking on his own authority, but on the Lord’s (Galatians, 1: 11-12). Though he sometimes adds the qualification that he speaks by “permission” and not of “commandment” (I Corinthians, 7:6), he generally commands.  When he commands he will brook no discussion or debate; there is nothing to be decided; it is his way or the highway to hell. When you speak for the Lord, why tolerate the cavils of mere humans? He even reproached Peter to his face (Galatians 2:11). And what justifies Paul in his assurance that he speaks for the Lord? Well, you see, he was on his way to Damascus and he saw this really bright light and thought he heard a heavenly voice…While this may strike us as rather flimsy justification for claims of divine authority, note that very many others have adopted a Paul-like tone of God-like certainty—without seeing or hearing anything!
            When people adopt an attitude of absolute conviction about unsure matters, bad things happen. Montaigne said, “We rate our conjectures highly if we burn people alive for them.” You rate them even more highly if you damn people to everlasting hell for disagreeing with them. When dealing with the most recondite matters, like the fine points of metaphysics or theology, the appropriate attitude would seem to be one of humble, hesitant, even diffident inquiry and openness to dialogue with fellow seekers. Instead, all too often, precisely the opposite attitude holds. The Christian virtue of humility seems to stop short at epistemic humility. Surely, Montaigne was right to note that our views on such abstruse matters must be conjectural. If we say that we are certain because God tells us so, then, obviously, we need to show why we can say this but not others. Clearly, what is happening here is that a strong religious need, the craving for certitude, trumps the epistemic duty not to feel more strongly about a belief than the evidence warrants.
2) Servility. Jesus consistently supported the down-and-out. The Christian Church, however, has all too often truckled to the up-and-in. Christianity is most attractive as a counterculture, a community of protest against the business-as-usual system whereby the strong victimize the weak, the rich exploit the poor, and the insiders exclude the outsiders. Christianity is least attractive when it carries water for the rich and powerful, even offering them the blessed assurance that their wealth and power are not illicit, but are divinely ordained or even rewards for their superior virtue. You know:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate;
God made them high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.
When the Church became part of the establishment in the Fourth Century, it naturally began to support the establishment, and vehemently, even violently opposed all revolutionary movements and uprisings. The Reformation did not change that. Luther realized that the success of his movement depended upon the support of the German rulers, so, when the peasants rose in revolt, he penned the tract “Against the Murderous and Thieving Hordes of Peasants,” which contains some of his finest invective:
Therefore, let everyone who can smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you don’t strike him, he will strike you, and the whole land with you.
Serving the privileged and the powerful certainly has its rewards, and takes a good deal less courage and character than championing the oppressed or marginalized. Of course, some exemplary Christians have dedicated their lives to the poor and outcast, and they are rightly praised. Far too often, however, the churches have served as cheerleaders for the political and economic elite. This is why progressives and radicals have long seen secularism and anticlericalism, if not atheism, as essential for fundamental change. Kings and tycoons, on the other hand, almost always endorsed religion because it taught obedience to rulers and submission to employers. In our day, the unholy alliance continues. “Free market” fundamentalists are very often also religious fundamentalists (Ayn Rand’s militant atheism is conveniently swept under the rug.). Jesus admonished building up heavenly riches and cautioned against the accumulation of earthly ones. It is clearly an ideal situation if you can do both! Surely, the smug and self-righteous enjoyment of privilege is one of the most sublime pleasures life has to offer, and this is one earthly delight that the Church has too seldom discouraged.
3) Dis-enchantment. Perhaps the greatest sin of Christianity was to put the sacred under lock and key. For pre-Christian pagans, the sacred was where you found it, and you could find it everywhere—in water, earth, and sky. For the pagans, the world was literally enchanted, shot through and through with the divine. Pagan spirituality is essentially pantheistic. Though pagans recognized individual gods like Zeus or Odin, the numinous could be found in the cycle of the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon, the mysteries of sex and childbirth, the surge of the sea, and the whispering of wind in boreal forests. Christianity stripped the world of its sacredness and placed all holiness in a distant deity, one that could be approached only through the Church and its appointed sacraments, rites, and ministers. Christians, of course, can be inspired by nature, but it is sin and heresy to regard the creation as holy rather than the Creator.
The numinous belongs collectively to all sentient creatures. It belongs no more to the Pope than it does to you and me. It cannot be shrunk to a creed or parceled out into dogmas. Most of all, it cannot be reduced to a single anthropomorphic super-person as Christianity and the other Abrahamic religions futilely attempt. Pagans wisely had many gods because they recognized that the divine is too large to be enclosed in any one being, however many grandiose titles and attributes are lavished upon him. For far too long Christianity has claimed that the sacred is its exclusive possession and has made it available only on its own terms and under its control. There are subtle signs that perhaps the tide is turning. In Iceland, a temple to the Old Gods will soon open:
For the first time in a thousand years, the Norse will openly worship the gods of their ancestors—Odin, Thor, Freya, and Fricka. Perhaps the conquest of paganism by Christianity is not permanent.
4) Sexism. In many ways the arrival of Christianity was a boon for the status of women. In most ancient cultures (Egypt was a partial exception) women were little more than chattel, goods that a man counted along with his cows and camels. Even the great Aristotle, whose work represents the acme of pre-Christian intellectual achievement, regarded a woman as a sort of defective man. In that context, the Christian view was comparatively (but only comparatively) enlightened and egalitarian. Consider Paul’s advice to husbands and wives from Ephesians Chapter 5:
Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord; for the man is the head of the woman, just as Christ also is the head of the church.  Christ is, indeed, the Savior of the body; but just as the church is subject to Christ, so must women be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for it, to consecrate it…in the same way men also are bound to love their wives as they love their own bodies.  In loving his wife a man loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own body: on the contrary he provides and cares for it; and that is how Christ treats the church, because it is his body, of which we are living parts.  Thus it is said in the words of Scripture “a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”  (verses 22-31)
So, a wife must defer to her husband’s authority (“in everything”), just as the church must defer to the authority of Christ.  So, the man is still the boss. Yet, just as Christ selflessly loves the church and seeks its good always, so must the husband exercise his authority towards his wife.  The husband leads to serve, just as Christ led to serve (Southern Baptists regard the husband’s role as that of a “servant leader.”)  In the end, the relation of husband and wife is so close that they are really “one flesh.”
Unfortunately, Paul’s comparative—but very incomplete—egalitarianism was not adopted and expanded by some of the most influential later theologians and teachers. Quite the contrary, in fact. Uta Ranke-Heinemann was the first woman to hold a chair in Catholic theology at a German university (a position she later lost due to her interpretation of Mary’s virgin birth). In 1988 she published Eunuchen für das Himmelreich (trans., Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, 1990). In this powerful study, backed by enormous scholarship, Ranke-Heinemann demonstrates that fear of sexuality and hatred of women were built into the foundations of Christian theology.  She notes that Augustine’s attitudes were codified by Aquinas and continue to influence Christianity today:
Women may well have been astonished to know that they were good only for reproduction, and unqualified for anything having to do with mind and intelligence. This idea was formulated by Thomas Aquinas…in connection with Augustine as follows: Woman is simply a help in procreation…and useful in housekeeping. For a man’s intellectual life, she has no significance. Thus Augustine was the brilliant inventor of what Germans call the three K’s (Kinder, Küche, Kirche–children, kitchen, church), an idea that still has life in it, in fact it continues to be the Catholic hierarchy’s primary theological position on women. (Ranke-Heinemann, 1990, p. 88)
For Augustine, by the way, sexual pleasure was so horrible that even married couples should endure it only if, both before and during the sex act, they are wholly motivated by the desire for children (Ranke-Heinemann, 1990, p. 92). As he put it with casuistic precision: “What cannot occur without lust should not, however, occur because of lust (quoted in Ranke-Heinemann, 1990, p. 92).” Ranke-Heinemann comments on such doctrine: “It has warped the consciences of many men and women. It has burdened them with hairsplitting nonsense and striven to train them as moral acrobats instead of making them more humane and kinder to their fellow human beings.” (Ranke-Heinemann, 1990, quoted on back cover) Sex-phobia, in addition to being bad in itself, also leads to sexism since women are blamed for men’s lust.
5) Theocracy. For the first three centuries of its existence, Christianity was marginalized, outlawed, and sporadically persecuted. The Christianization of the Roman Empire was both the greatest and the worst thing to happen to Christianity. On the one hand, it guaranteed that Christianity would become one of the world’s major religions. On the other hand, as Johnson notes, the Late Roman Empire was an absolute, oriental-style despotism that crushed antinomian elements with ruthless cruelty (116). As the imperial religion—in an age that had no concept of the separation of church and state—Christianity naturally adopted a theocratic ideology. The theorist of theocracy was Augustine. For Augustine, the total Christian society could tolerate no disunity, and physical coercion was justified to suppress heresy and dissent. Johnson sums up Augustine’s reasoning:
If the State used such methods for its own miserable purposes, was not the Church entitled to do the same and more for its own far greater ones? He [Augustine] not only accepted, he became the theorist of persecution; and his defenses were later to be those on which all defenses of the Inquisition rested (116).
For Augustine, then, the use of state power to crush religious dissent was not only justifiable but laudable and necessary. He did demur at the employment of some of the harshest tortures. For instance, he held that heretics need not be racked, burned, or torn with iron claws. He thought that beating them with rods would probably be sufficient (Johnson does not record whether they could be iron rods or had to be wooden) (116). Sadly, some of Augustine’s inquisitorial successors did not display his delicate sensitivity. Augustine’s vision of a total Christian society was enthusiastically adopted by the Church and practiced vigorously for many centuries. It has not yet been extirpated. We still struggle with church/state separation issues, and the United States certainly contains its own neo-Augustinians who would love to use the power, prestige, and authority of the state for theocratic purposes. The rhetoric of today’s religious right is often a dim and distant echo of Augustine’s theory of Christian totalitarianism.
6) Fanaticism. These days, if asked to imagine a fanatic, the individual most would probably picture to themselves would be a Muslim. However, any religion or ideology can foster fanaticism. There are fanatical Buddhists and fanatical Hindus. I have met fanatical atheists, feminists, communists, libertarians, and vegetarians. On second thought, some of these may have just been crackpots, and you have to distinguish between a crackpot and a fanatic. A crackpot is someone who develops an irrational obsession to meet a psychological need, like those who are convinced, beyond all evidence and logic, that the moon landings were hoaxes, that Elvis lives, or that JFK was killed by the CIA, the KGB, and the Martians. A fanatic is not illogical, but, on the contrary, one whose logic is impeccably consistent and who does not shrink from the full implications of his premises, however odious. You cannot debate with a fanatic, not because, like the crackpot, he is illogical, but because given his initial premises you will find no flaw in his reasoning. Consider Augustine again. Once you grant his concept of a total Christian society and the efficacy of physical force in obtaining it, he has you and you are along for the whole ride.
If, then, any ideology can become fanatical, why pick it out as a particular sin of Christianity? The reason is that some doctrines are more prone to be taken to extremes, and Christianity is one of those, as are all monotheistic religions. Monotheism may well be the worst idea anyone ever had because its inherent logic makes religious conflict inevitable. From the assertion that there is one God, the all-powerful creator of all things, who has provided us with a definitive revelation, it follows that nothing can be more important than to know the nature of that being and his will for us. Naturally, his followers attempt to define his nature and articulate his demands, and they urgently want to get it right. When disagreement about these matters arises, as it inevitably will, no more than one party to this argument can be right about any particular tenet. All others must be wrong, and wrong about matters of supreme importance. For instance, Christians say that God’s nature is triune, that he is three persons in one substance. Muslims, on the other hand, say that God’s nature is absolutely unitary with no distinction or division. Christians and Muslims cannot both be right on this matter. At least one side must be wrong. Further, since such disagreements appear absolutely impervious to rational resolution, then there is no choice but for proponents of such irresolvable theological differences but (a) to agree to disagree, or (b) to attempt to eliminate the other side. The problem with (a), coexistence, is that it appears to concede, tacitly at least, that a fundamental difference in belief is rationally and morally tolerable. Many have been unable to accept this consequence, and so are led to (b), i.e. fanaticism.
7) Anti-Judaism. Of all the Church’s sins, this one is the most bizarre. After all, Jesus was a Jew–born of a Jewish woman, he worshipped in the Temple and observed Jewish holidays. Two of the four Gospels provide lengthy genealogies to establish Jesus’s descent from King David. In fact, Christianity began as a reform movement within Judaism. Yet by the late first century the Church was largely gentile, and these gentile Christians saw the Jews as perversely stiff-necked in their rejection of Christ. The Gospels themselves begin the demonization of the Jews. John 8:44 literally calls Jews the children of the devil because they will not believe in Jesus. Matthew 27:25 depicts the Jews as saying that the blame for Jesus’s crucifixion should fall on them and their children. Thus did the inflammatory charge of deicide–the murder of God–become Christians’ excuse for the persecution of the Jews.
Catholic layman James Carroll, in his book Constantine’s Sword, carefully shows how the Church “Fathers,” vilified the Jews, sometimes in the crudest terms. For instance, St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Antioch in the early fifth century, said “…a place where a whore stands on display is a whorehouse. What is more, the synagogue is not only a whorehouse and a theater; it is also a den of thieves and a haunt of wild animals…(quoted in Carroll, p. 213).” Small wonder that after such calumny riots broke out against the Jews and the great synagogue at Antioch was demolished. St. Augustine, the most influential of the Fathers, argued that Jews should not be killed, because, he said, their own scriptures testify to the truth of Christianity. Yet, they should be scattered throughout the earth, to live as exiles everywhere, and to have a home nowhere. In the thirteenth century, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the Summa Contra Gentiles, a compendium of Christian apologetic. His aim was to make the case for Christianity rationally compelling, and therefore to deny Jews any excuse for their unbelief. At the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther expressed sympathy for the Jews, but reverted to his specialty, rabid denunciation, when they proved no more receptive to Lutheranism than to Catholicism. Here is one of his gems:  “Know, my dear Christian, and do not doubt that next to the devil you have no enemy more cruel, more venomous and virulent, than a true Jew (quoted in Carroll, p. 368).”  Carroll leaves no doubt that the hatred sown by such diatribes was abundantly harvested at Auschwitz.

bookmark_borderReligious Experience – Recognizing God

Sam said to me and our gathered friends:
Give me someone who is willing to sit down and take a three-hour Chemistry test, and another hour to review the test after it is completed, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry.
This claim was plausible; it made sense to me, especially in view of the fact that the Graduate Record Exam Chemistry Test has about 130 multiple-choice questions, and students are given two hours and fifty minutes to take the test.  The GRE Chemistry Test does NOT attempt to assess all current knowledge of chemistry.  It has a somewhat more limited scope:
 Scores on the tests are intended to indicate knowledge of the subject matter emphasized in many undergraduate programs as preparation for graduate study.  (p.3, Graduate Record Examinations Chemistry Test Practice Book, copyright 2009 by Educational Testing Service.)
Because of the diversity of undergraduate curricula, it is not possible for a single test to cover all the material you may have studied.  The examiners, therefore, select questions that test the basic knowledge and skills most important for successful graduate study in the particular field. (p.4, Graduate Record Examinations Chemistry Test Practice Book, copyright 2009 by Educational Testing Service.)
So, I was inclined to believe Sam’s claim.  But then Jack made a stronger claim:
Give me someone who is willing to talk with me about chemistry for twenty minutes, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry.
If it takes professional educational testers about three hours to determine the level of “the basic knowledge and skills most important for successful graduate study” in chemistry, then I am skeptical that Jack can provide a reliable assessment of a person’s knowledge of chemistry based on  just one twenty minute conversation.
Then Cheryl made an even more incredible claim:
Give me someone who is willing to talk with me about chemistry for just ten minutes, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry.
I flat out did not believe Cheryl’s claim; there is simply no way that a ten minute conversation could provide enough information about a person’s knowledge of chemistry to make a reliable estimation of the extent of that person’s knowledge of chemistry.  Then Bob chimed in with an even more unbelievable claim:
Let me talk with someone about current politics for just five minutes, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry.
Not to be outdone, across the room I hear Cindy pipe up:
Let me just sit in the same room with a person, not talk to them, just observe them for five minutes, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry.
Apparently, there was some sort of extreme bullshitting contest going on, and my friends were all seing who could make the most ridiculous claim.  Now it was Tom’s turn; he shouted out:
I don’t need to even see the person.  Just put me in the same room with a person, with a blindfold over my eyes, and ear plugs in my ears, and give me just five minutes sitting in the same room with the person, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry.
I thought that surely Tom had won the contest, but I was mistaken.  It was Shannon’s moment to shine; she proclaimed:
Put me in the same room with a person for five minutes while I’m blindfolded, and with my ears plugged, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry, physics, and biology.
But this wild claim was quickly topped by Jason, who boasted:
Put me in the same room with a person for five minutes while I’m blindfolded and have my ears plugged, then I will be able to give you a reliable estimation of how much that person knows about chemistry, physics, biology, geology, astronomy, mathematics, pychology, sociology, linguistics, political science, history, philosophy, literature, art, and music.
Finally,  Lisa went for the golden ring and made a claim so absurd that the room, finally, fell silent:
Put me in the same room with an invisible and intangible spirit for just five minutes, and I will determine whether that spirit is omniscient, whether that spirit possesses more knowledge than all the knowledge ever possessed by human beings.
Lisa, you see, claims to be able to recognize when she is in the presence of an omniscient spirit simply by sensing the presence of a spirit for a few minutes.
Do you think that Lisa won this bullshitting contest?

bookmark_borderGeisler & Turek Rebuttal, Part 7: Chapter 8

Chapter 8. Miracles: Signs of God or Gullibility?

As I read them, Geisler and Turek (G&T) seek to establish four points: (1) If God exists, then miracles are possible; (2) Hume’s argument against the credibility of miracle claims is a failure; (3) miracles can be used to confirm a message from God (i.e., as acts of God to confirm a word from God); and (4) we don’t observe Biblical-quality miracles today because such miracles are not needed to confirm a new revelation from God.
(1) The Possibility of Miracles and Legends: As Geisler and Turek rightly argue, if God exists, then miracles are possible. Furthermore, Spinoza’s pantheistic objection to the possibility of miracles fails. There’s nothing here I want to dispute. Indeed, I want to expand their point. As New Testament scholar Robert M. Price asks, “If miracles are possible, are legends impossible?”[1] If some skeptics are guilty of an a priori commitment to metaphysical naturalism (and so rule out even the possibility of miracles), some Christians are guilty of an a priori commitment to Biblical inerrancy (and so rule out the even possibility of errors in the Biblical miracle stories). But both sides are wrong: miracles and legends are possible. The lesson to be learned here is that we should try to avoid a priori commitments per se and instead look honestly at the evidence.[2]
One Evangelical Christian scholar who looked honestly at the historical evidence about Biblical miracles is Michael Licona. Licona is the author of the 700-page book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.[3] While Licona defends the resurrection of Jesus, he proposes that the story of the resurrection of the saints described in Matthew 27 just might be metaphorical rather than literal history. To his credit, Licona did not allow the potential implications of his commitment to Biblical inerrancy to get in the way. While some Evangelical scholars, such as Paul Copan and Craig Blomberg, rallied to Licona’s defense, others were highly critical. As reported by Christianity Today,[4] other evangelical scholars, most notably Norman Geisler, publicly accused Licona of denying the full inerrancy of the Bible. As a direct result, Licona lost two jobs. Not only did he lose his job as research professor of New Testament at Southern Evangelical Seminary, but he was also ousted as apologetics coordinator for the North American Missions Board (NAMB).
In light of what can only be described as Geisler’s instrumental role in getting Licona fired (twice!) for following the historical evidence wherever Licona thought it leads, skeptics can hardly be blamed for questioning Geisler’s open-mindedness when it comes to evaluating the historical evidence about alleged Biblical miracles.
(2) Hume’s Argument Against the Credibility of Miracle Claims: Even if miracles are possible, it doesn’t follow that they are probable. Geisler and Turek know this and so they consider one objection against the credibility of miracles: Dave Hume’s famous argument against miracles. Following Geisler’s reconstruction of Hume’s argument, Geisler summarizes his critique, originally delivered at Harvard University’s divinity school: (i) Hume confuses believability with possibility; (ii) Hume confuses probability with evidence; and (iii) Hume, without justification, makes it impossible to have sufficient evidence for rare events (205-08).
(a) The Nomological Evidence Argument (against Miracles): Since I have no interest in defending Hume, I shall ignore Geisler’s critique.[5] Instead, I want to present my own argument for the prior improbability of miracles. I call this argument the Nomological Evidence Argument; its name is derived from the Greek word nomos, which means “law.” The argument is not called the “Nomological Argument,” however, since the focus of the argument is not the laws per se, but the evidence for the laws.
Following Geisler and Turek, let’s define a “natural law” as a description of “what happens regularly, by natural causes” and a “miracle” as a description of “what happens rarely, by supernatural causes” (201). The basic idea of the Nomological Evidence Argument is not that the natural laws themselves are evidence against miracles; rather, the evidence for the laws of nature is evidence against the occurrence of miracles. For example, all of our observations and other evidence for the law of gravity is evidence against Superman flying through the air. Similarly, all of our observations and other evidence for the laws of statistical mechanics is evidence for the complete post-mortem decomposition of Jesus’ body and hence evidence against Jesus’ resurrection.[6] In this sense, then, the evidence for the laws of nature is evidence against the occurrence of miracles. We can generalize these points into a simple inductive argument against miracles according to the following schema:

For any law of nature L, the vast majority of relevant observatons (O) has been such that God did not will that events happen contrary to L.

Therefore, prior to investigation, the (epistemic) probability that the next O will be consistent with L is high.

While even many theists would admit that the above argument follows from the definition of “miracle,” Geisler and Turek might object. Allow me to consider some potential objections.
The Naturalistic Fallacy Objection: This argument confuses believability with possibility (207).
Reply: The whole point of the argument is probability (and hence, in Geisler’s and Turek’s terms, “believability”); it says nothing about possibility. As an objection to the Nomological Evidence Argument, this objection commits the “Naturalistic Fallacy” Fallacy, by falsely accusing the defender of the Nomological Evidence Argument of committing the naturalistic fallacy, viz., presupposing that naturalism is true.[7] Even if a defender of this argument were a ‘committed’ metaphysical naturalist, however, it doesn’t follow that the argument presupposes that naturalism is true. In fact, this argument is logically compatible with the assumption that God exists and that we know God exists with certainty. It could be the case that God exists and, for whatever reason, God often wills that all or almost all Os are consistent with L. Rather than assuming that miracles cannot occur, this argument presents defeasible, prima facie evidence that God, for whatever reason, often wills that miracles do not occur.
The Irrelevance Objection: The argument confuses probability with evidence. Prior probabilities are irrelevant to assessing whether miracles have actually happened.[8]
Reply: This objection is itself based upon a confusion, for the Nomological Evidence Argument is solely about the prior probability of miracles. The argument says nothing about the final (or posterior) probability of any given miracle. In any case, using Bayes’s Theorem, we can mathematically prove that final probability is determined by multiplying prior probability and likelihood (i.e., how likely the evidence is to obtain, on the assumption the miracle actually happened). So assessing the prior probability of miracles is not only appropriate, but necessary for a proper assessment of their overall (final) probability.
The Extreme Skepticism Objection: The argument makes it impossible to have sufficient evidence for rare events.
Reply: This is false. First, since the final probability is the product of prior probability and likelihood, we can have sufficient evidence for rare events if the likelihood is sufficiently high. Second, there is another, technical reason why this objection fails, a reason which will probably only be of interest to philosophers. I’ll mention it briefly. This objection presupposes a frequentist interpretation of probability, whereby probability means relative frequency.[9] But that’s not the only definition of probability. According to an epistemic interpretation of probability, probability means “degree of belief.” The epistemic interpretation makes it possible to have a high probability (i.e., high degree of belief) for rare events.
The Divine Interference Objection: The argument confuses the probability of miracles, which are by definition supernatural events, with the probability of unusual natural events. It only shows that miracles as natural events have low prior probabilities. It does not show that miracles as supernatural events have low prior probabilities. Therefore, the evidence for natural laws provides no evidence at all against God’s intervention in natural affairs.[10]
Reply: Consider the following hypothetical conversation between Christi, a Christian, and Skep, a skeptic.

Christi: Jesus walked on water.

Skep: What’s the evidence for that?

Christi: The report in Matthew 14:22-33.

Skep: That’s pretty weak evidence for a miracle.  Besides, the evidence for gravity is evidence against that miracle ever occurring.

Christi: You’re confused about the nature of the miracle claim.

Skep: What do you mean?

Christi: The claim of Matthew 14:22-33 is that Jesus supernaturally walked on water. It is not the claim that Jesus walked naturally on water. That Jesus walked naturally on water is fantastically improbable. But I see no reason whatsoever to think it is improbable that God enabled Jesus to walk on water.[11]

Skep:  All of the evidence in which natural laws provide an accurate description of natural affairs are “ipso facto cases in which an external agent (i.e., God) has not intervened in natural affairs” and hence cases where God has not willed a miracle. So the observed frequency of non-miracles “automatically factors in the frequency with which external agents (e.g., God)” will that miracles do not occur. [12]

Christi: But the only antecedent factor that is relevant for a miracle is whether He wills for a miracle to happen. If God wills a miracle to happen, then there is a 100% chance it will occur.[13]

Skep: I agree that if God wills a miracle to happen it must happen. But that does not refute the Nomological Evidence Argument; it supports it. The empirical evidence—the extremely high observed frequency of non-miracles—shows that God  “has an exceptionally strong tendency not to supernaturally intervene in natural affairs.”[14] Therefore, the prior probability that God would will a miracle is “astronomically low.”[15]

The Free Will Objection: Whatever the probabilities are, God is free to choose otherwise.
Reply: This objection fails for essentially the same reason as the previous objection. Yes, God, if He exists, can will that a miracle occur “anytime He wants” (216). The observational-relative frequency of non-miracles shows that God has an extremely weak tendency to will that miracles occur. It is beyond reasonable doubt that, prior to investigation, the evidence we have for any law of nature L is at least some evidence against God’s miraculous intervention contrary to L. But this entails that miracles have a low prior probability, conditional upon the evidence for natural laws, which serves as the relevant background information.
In sum, then, Geisler and Turek are able to create the appearance that “disbelief in miracles is probably more a matter of the will than of the mind” (209) only by ignoring arguments other than Hume’s. The Nomological Evidence Argument isn’t dependent upon Hume’s argument, however.  Furthermore, mining Geisler’s and Turek’s material for other potential objections turned out to provide no good reason to reject the Nomological Evidence Argument. Geisler and Turek are going to need to come up with bettter arguments for the credibility of miracles if they are going to answer contemporary skeptics.
(3) Miracles as Authenticated Messages from God: As I read them, G&T make two points. (i) On the assumption that theism is true, we should expect that God would “reveal more of himself and his purpose for our lives”(200). (ii) Miracles provide a way to confirm that such revelations are “message[s] from God” (201).
Regarding (i), I’m inclined to agree with Geisler and Turek that theism provides us with reasons to expect that God would reveal His existence and His purpose for our lives. It isn’t obvious, however, why God would need to use a miracle to reveal His existence and purpose, as opposed to some other, mundane alternative.
Furthermore, the theistic expectation that God would reveal His existence and purpose is a double-edged sword for theism; it raises the “problem of divine hiddenness” and associated arguments for atheism. For now, I will mention two. First, if a perfectly loving God exists, then why are there reasonable nonbelievers? As J.L. Schellenberg has argued, this fact implies atheism.[16] Second, in addition to the general fact of divine hiddenness, the more specific fact that God is silent about His purpose(s) for creating humans is evidence favoring atheism over theism.[17]
As for (ii), Geisler and Turek present a very interesting discussion of six different categories of unusual events: anomalies, magic, psychosomatic, Satanic signs, providence, and miracles (210). Overall, I agree with what I consider to be Geisler’s and Turek’s most important point (albeit one they didn’t state in quite this way), namely, that there’s a difference between an unusual event and a bona fide miracle; in order to establish that a miracle has occurred, one has to do more than show that a mere anomaly has taken place.
In his book, The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day, David J. Hand describes what he calls the “Improbability Principle,” a set of laws of chance which, together, tell us that

extremely improbable events are commonplace. It’s a consequence of more fundamental laws, which all tie together to lead inevitably and inexorably to the occurrence of such extraordinarily unlikely events. These laws, in principle, tell us that the universe is in fact constructed so that these coincidences are unavoidable: the extraordinarily unlikely must happen; events of vanishingly small probability will occur. The Improbability Principle resolves the apparent contradiction between the sheer unlikeliness of such events, and the fact that they nevertheless keep on happening.[18]

(4) The Lack of Biblical-Quality Miracles Today: Finally, Geisler and Turek seek to respond to a common objection to Biblical miracles: “If there are no public, biblical-quality miracles happening today (and if they were, they’d be on the Fox News Channel), then why should I think they happened in the past?” (215).
According to Geisler and Turek, most of the Bible’s 250 miracles occurred

in very small windows of history, during three distinct time periods—during the lifetimes of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus and the apostles. Why then? Because those were the times when God was confirming new truth (revelation) and new messengers with that truth. (216)

They speculate that, “if the Bible is true and complete,” then God may not have a reason to perform miracles today because God is not confirming any revelation today (216).
Speculative as it is, this “What If?” explanation amounts to a quasi-theodicy, viz., an attempt to offer a theistic explanation for potential evidence against theism.[19]  I agree with Geisler and Turek that their explanation is logically possible; the fact that Biblical-quality miracles do not happen today does not contradict or disprove the historicity of Biblical miracles.
But Geisler and Turek ignore a philosophically more interesting question, namely, “Is the lack of contemporary Biblical-quality miracles evidence favoring naturalism over theism?” It seems to me that the answer is very likely, “Yes.” If metaphysical naturalism is true, then there are no supernatural beings to perform miracles. Thus, metaphysical naturalism entails that there would be no Biblical-quality miracles today. In contrast, if theism is true, miracles are, at the very least, possible. (And note that this is true even if Geisler and Turek are correct that Christian theism provides very little or no antecedent reason to expect Biblical-quality miracles today.) Thus, if there are indeed no Biblical-quality miracles today, that is more probable on naturalism than on theism and hence evidence for naturalism and against theism.
Summary and Conclusion

  1. Both miracles and legends are possible. If some skeptics are guilty of an a priori commitment to metaphysical naturalism (and so rule out even the possibility of miracles), some Christians are guilty of an a priori commitment to Biblical inerrancy (and so rule out even the possibility of errors in the Biblical miracle stories).  We should try to avoid a priori commitments per se and instead look honestly at the evidence.
  2. Both nontheists and theists alike have good reason—a reason not based on Hume—to be skeptical of an alleged miracle prior to an empirical investigation. This reason is the Nomological Evidence Argument, which states that the evidence for natural laws is defeasible, prima facie evidence against alleged miracles. This argument does not presuppose naturalism; on the contrary, it is logically consistent with the presupposition that God exists and that we know God exists with certainty.
  3. In this chapter, we read about three new lines of evidence (or potential evidence) for metaphysical naturalism and against theism: (i) the reasonableness of nonbelief (i.e., nontheism); (ii) God’s silence about His purpose(s) for creating humans; and (iii) the fact (if it is a fact) that there are no Biblical-quality miracles occuring today. Each of these three lines of evidence are more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true and so are evidence against theism and for naturalism.


Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

[1] Robert M. Price, “By This Time He Stinketh: The Attempts of William Lane Craig to Exhume Jesus” The Secular Web (1997),
[2] It is noteworthy that this philosopher of religion lists Geisler’s book, When Critics Ask, as one of several books which contain just-sostories to explain away indicators of errors in the Bible.
[3] Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010).
[4] Bobby Ross, Jr., “Interpretation Sparks a Grave Theology Debate” Christianity Today (, November 7, 2011.
[5] For a technical critique of Hume’s argument, see John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). For a defense of Hume against Earman’s critique, see Peter Millican, “Hume, Miracles, and Probabilities: Meeting Earman’s (July-August 2003), Cf. Elliott Sober, “A Modest ProposalPhilosophy and Phenomenological Research 118 (2004): 489-96.
[6] Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos Colombetti, “The Great Mars Hill Resurrection Debate” The Secular Web (2013),, 316-21.
[7] Cavin and Colombetti 2013, 15.
[8] Norman L. Geisler, “A Critical Review of The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005), ed. Robert Price and Jeffrey [sic] Lowder” Dr. Norman L. Geisler (n.d.),
[9] See, e.g., “Frequentist Probability” Wikipedia,
[10] I owe the name of this objection to Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos Colombetti 2013, slide 15.
[11] Cf. William Lane Craig’s similar objection to skeptics who claim that the resurrection of Jesus has a low prior probability, as stated in several of his debates, e.g., his debate with Bart Ehrman.
[12] Cavin and Colombetti 2013, 271.
[13] Geisler n.d.
[14] Cavin and Colombetti 2013, 103.
[15] Cavin and Colombetti 2013, 105.
[16] J.L. Schellenberg, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1993, 2006).
[17] B.A. Trisel, “God’s Silence as an Epistemological ConcernThe Philosophical Forum 43 (2012): 383-393. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9191.2012.00433.x.
[18] David J. Hand, The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day (New York: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), 5.
[19] I call this a “quasi-theodicy” and not a “theodicy” since the word “theodicy” is normally used only in the context of arguments from evil. The (alleged) lack of contemporary, Biblical-quality miracles is not a species of the genus known as arguments from evil, however.

bookmark_borderRape them Atheists!

Here is something from the Huffington Post about somebody named Phil Robertson. Caution: if you have a sensitive stomach you may want to position an appropriate receptacle nearby.
I don’t know much about this guy. He apparently is on some show about a duck or something. He looks like an ayatollah and sounds like an idiot. I am pretty sure he is not an ayatollah.
The interesting point here is that the scenario he imagines is a low-I.Q. version of an actual anti-atheist argument I have heard many times, namely, that atheists have no basis for moral judgments or no way of grounding moral values. Maybe the next time you hear a sophisticated (?) theist cite this argument, perhaps you could recommend Robertson’s scenario as a clearer, more forceful statement.

bookmark_borderWhat if you Saw a Miracle?

I recently saw this posted on Victor Reppert’s Dangerous Idea site. I haven’t got a copy of The Brothers Karamazov on hand so I cannot quote it directly from the (translated) original. Nevertheless, it is a succinct statement of a charge that many have made, namely that unbelievers—naturalists in particular—would not believe even if confronted with a miracle that “stands before him as an irrefutable fact.”
In my opinion miracles will never confound a naturalist. It is not miracles that bring a naturalist to faith. A true naturalist, if he is not a believer, will always find in himself the strength and ability not to believe in miracles. And if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact. And even if he does admit it, he will admit it as a fact of nature that was previously unknown to him. In the naturalist, faith is not born from miracles, but miracles from faith. Once the naturalist comes to believe, then precisely because of his naturalism, he must also allow for miracles. (Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov)
Now, many unbelievers would just dismiss this passage out of hand as a gratuitous smear. Is the quote a smear? Would naturalists behave that way if confronted with a miracle as an “irrefutable fact?”
The best way to find out whether such a hypothetical is true would be to test it experimentally. I am thinking of something like the “crucial experiment” performed by Elijah in I Kings, chapter 18. Elijah and the priests of Baal set up altars prepared with a sacrifice. The priests call upon Baal to send fire to consume their sacrifice, but no fire appears. Elijah calls upon Yahweh, and WHOOSH! The “fire of the Lord” falls from heaven and consumes not only the sacrifice, but the wood and stones of the altar! We could have such a public demonstration that could be attended by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and many other prominent atheists. Skeptical stage magicians could check out the altars to make sure that nobody had a hidden flamethrower or similar gadget. If, after such an event, the atheists head directly to the church, synagogue, or mosque of their choice to confess their faith, then we would have an answer. Likewise, if they still refused to believe, we would have the answer also. Sadly, the prospects of any such experiment seem dim. Nobody seems to be offering to stage one. You know: Don’t put the Lord thy God to the test, etc.
So, if the issue cannot be settled by experiment, how do we decide, other than simply by consulting our gut feelings? Each of us could ask “How would I react?” but it is not clear that introspection would give a reliable answer here. I like to think that had I been in the phalanx at Marathon, I would have skewered my quota of Persians, but who really knows how they will act until they are in the situation? Perhaps all we can do is to state what would be the rational thing to do when confronted with a miracle that stands before us as an irrefutable fact, and make a serious commitment to do what is rational.
The problem is to get clear on just when a miracle would stand before us as an irrefutable fact. For this to happen, we would have to know two things, as implied by the above quote: (a) that the event had actually occurred, and (b) that it cannot be plausibly construed as an event with a natural, physical cause. Obviously, both conditions will have to be met before we can say definitely that a miracle, as the actual occurrence of a physically impossible event, stands before us as an irrefutable fact.
In real life, as opposed to the imaginative scenarios beloved of philosophers, meeting these conditions is generally damned difficult. As we say, believers seem unwilling to stage miracles as public experiments, so being present when a miracle occurs is difficult. Generally, then, we do not have ocular evidence of an event, but only someone’s testimony, and we know the multifarious failings of human testimony. People lie; they misperceive; they jump to conclusions; they form false memories; they confabulate; they are subject to mass delusion and the madness of crowds; they see what they want to see or what they expect to see rather than what is actually there. All of these frailties of witnesses are confirmed by copious psychological inquiry and are well known to every competent trial lawyer. Further, as Hume insisted, we do have to consider the background probability of a claimed event judged, as the Bayesians put it, in the light of our own “priors.” That is, when told that something has occurred, we have no rational choice but to put a burden of proof on the claimer that is proportionate to what we take to be the background probability of the event.
Secondly, even if the occurrence of an extraordinary event has been confirmed beyond reasonable doubt, it often remains possible, indeed entirely plausible, that the event has a natural cause. It is well known that there are rare cases of the spontaneous and rapid remission of advanced, metastatic cancer. Yet it seems more than plausible to hold that such rare and extraordinary events have natural but presently unknown causes.
Still, we can imagine cases where, in principle, the two above conditions could be met. We could have an event so public and well-documented, and so contrary to the laws of physics that we otherwise have every reason to continue to accept, that we can say that, here indeed, at least prima facie, is a genuine instance of the miraculous. Maybe something like this: While billions of us watch either live or by TV, the Pope commands in the name of the truth of the Roman Catholic religion, and Mount Everest rises up, leaving a huge hole in the ground that we all can inspect, and flies at Mach three to the Pacific, where it is deposited in the Challenger Deep, where submarines confirm its presence. Is this a hallucination? If it is, then everything we perceive is a hallucination. Could it be explained by the laws of physics? Not in terms our best-confirmed and most solid physical knowledge, the knowledge that guides in everything else. Here, then we would seem to have a very good candidate for a miracle. What would be the appropriate response? I think that even the most ardent skeptic should begin to consider conversion to Catholicism as a very live option, if not an urgent priority.
The upshot is that, for me, and I think for most unbelievers, we can indeed imagine events that would, or at least should, knock us out of our unbelief. We wait for them to happen.

bookmark_borderApologetics Infographic #1: Atheism and Nothingness

If you spend enough time on Twitter following hashtags like #atheism, #theism, #apologetics, and the like, you’ll eventually see what I will call, for lack of a better term, ‘infographics’. They are usually light on images but heavy on words, in order to get around Twitter’s 140 character maximum length for tweets. Think of them as the extended edition of bumper stickers.
Some infographics are pro-atheism while others are anti-atheism. Some are pro-Christian while others are anti-Christian. I thought it might be interesting to subject some of these infographics to the sort of logical analysis that is pretty much impossible on Twitter, where each message must be less than 140 characters.
So, with that introduction, here is Apologetics Infographic #1.
Feel free to debate in the combox.

bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 6: Chapter 7

Chapter 7. Mother Theresa vs. Hitler

In this chapter, G&T present a version of the moral argument for God’s existence which I call the “Moral Laws Require a Moral Lawgiver Argument,” which they formulate as follows.

1. Every law has a law giver.
2. There is a Moral Law.

3. Therefore, there is a Moral Law Giver.

Like the earlier arguments, this argument is deductively valid. Like the earlier chapters about this argument, I plan to briefly summarize G&T’s defense of this argument before offering my critique.
(i) Moral Laws, Lawgivers, and Obligations: For the most part, G&T defend premise 1 through the use of simplistic slogans, such as “every prescription has a prescriber” (170) and “there can be no legislation unless there’s a legislature” (171). The most charitable interpretation of G&T’s appeal to these slogans is that these slogans function as arguments from analogy. But the analogies with the Moral Law are weak. “Laws” require a “lawgiver” only if they are, in fact, given (made). Statutory (governmental) laws are the paradigm example of laws that require a lawgiver, but, to use one of William Lane Craig’s trademark expressions, statutory laws (“legislation”) began to exist. Not all laws are made, however. The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics are three examples of laws that are discovered, not invented. Not only do these examples undercut the support for premise (1), they actually provide the basis of an argument from analogy against premise 1, based on the following negative analogy.

4. The laws of nature, logic, mathematics, and morality did not begin to exist.
5. The laws of nature, logic, and mathematics also do not have lawgivers.

6. Therefore, the laws of morality do not have a lawgiver.

This entails, accordingly, that premise 1 is false.
G&T’s second supporting argument for premise 1 implicitly appeals to what’s known as a “social theory of obligation.”[1] That G&T make this appeal isn’t obvious, so I first need to defend that interpretation before addressing it. Although they don’t use the phrase, “social theory of obligation,” they do argue, “if there are moral obligations, there must be someone to be obligated to” (171).  That argument presupposes a social theory of obligation, which holds that “obligations” are made in the context of a relationship between persons in which a demand is made. Thus, I think the most charitable interpretation of this statement is to treat it as a second supporting argument for premise 1.
I’m inclined to agree with G&T that obligation is inherently social, but notice there is a difference between individual obligations and the concept of obligation itself. Thus, let us distinguish between (a) the source of obligation in general; and (b) the source of specific obligations.
Regarding (a), the important question, a question that J.L. Mackie asked, but that most defenders of divine command theories of moral obligation have ignored, is how obligation in general could be created by the commands of any person (including God).[2] Let us suppose that God exists and commands us to perform action A. God’s commandment to perform A could make A morally obligatory if and only if there were a prior moral obligation to obey God’s commands. But if there is a prior moral obligation to obey God’s commands, then that entails the existence of at least one autonomous moral obligation. It follows, then, that God is not the source of all moral obligations. Thus, as a potential explanation for all moral obligation, the appeal to divine commands reduces to “The reason there are moral obligations is because there is at least one true moral obligation,” which is no explanation at all. At best, this explanation merely describes the relation between religious moral obligations (i.e., obligations based on God’s commands) and an autonomous, secular moral obligation (i.e., an obligation which is not based on God’s commands). We’re still left with the prior obligation to obey God’s commands, an obligation which cannot be justified by God’s commands. So the appeal to divine commands does not explain the deeper issue of why there are any moral obligations at all. This blatant circularity renders God’s commands worthless as an explanation for moral obligation in general.
As for (b), individual obligations are created by persons, but the obligations need not be the result of conscious acts by those persons. If the relevant prior obligation exists, then a person can create an obligation through a conscious act like commanding. For example, if God exists and has commanded that humans observe the Sabbath, then that command creates a further moral obligation because of the prior obligation to obey God’s commands. Or again, to pick a secular example, if a parent tells a child to take out the garbage, then that command creates a further moral obligation because of the prior obligation children have to obey reasonable requests made by their parents.
But other obligations do not seem to be the kind of obligations which need to be commanded. One example is the prior obligation to obey God’s commands, despite the fact that no person created that obligation. Another example would be the prima facie moral obligations which parents have to their children, despite the fact that infants obviously cannot command anything. These examples show that the source of obligations can be relational (i.e., grounded in a personal relationship) but not dependent upon a conscious act. This also explains why impersonal objects—what G&T call “materials” such as atoms, molecules, and other physical particles—cannot be the source of obligations. Obligations cannot come from an impersonal universe, but it doesn’t follow that there are no obligations in an impersonal universe.
In sum, if even one moral obligation can exist without God, then there’s no reason to think that most moral obligations can’t exist without God.
(ii) The Existence of a Moral Law: G&T offer eight reasons in support of the Moral Law: (1) the Moral Law is undeniable; (2) we know it by our reactions; (3) it is the basis of human rights; (4) it is the unchanging standard of justice; (5) it defines a real difference between moral positions (e.g., Mother Theresa vs. Hitler); (6) since we know what’s absolutely wrong, there must be an absolute moral standard of goodness; (7) the Moral Law is the grounds for political and social dissent; and (8) if there were no Moral Law, then we wouldn’t make excuses for violating it.
While there are various points of detail in G&T’s case for the Moral Law’s existence I would dispute, I’m going to skip over them. I agree with their overall point that what they call the “Moral Law” exists.
(iii) Confusions about Absolute vs. Relative Morality: G&T identify and address what they call six “confusions” about absolute morals: (1) absolute morals vs. changing behavior; (2) absolute morals vs. changing perceptions of the facts; (3) absolute morals vs. applying them to particular situations; (4) an absolute command (what) vs. a relative culture (how); (5) absolute morals vs. moral disagreements; and (6) absolute ends (values) vs. relative means.
I’m not sure that there is much to argue with here. Like their defense of the Moral Law, there are various minor points I could make but, again, I’m going to let them pass. I agree that, as they stand, many objections to the Moral Law are weak because they confuse various distinctions.
(iv) ‘Darwinist’ Explanations of the Moral Law: G&T offer a multi-pronged critique of E.O. Wilson’s Darwinian explanation for the evolution of a moral sense. (1) The Moral Law is immaterial and so cannot be reduced to matter. (2) Morality cannot be merely an instinct. (3) Darwinism cannot explain self-destructive or altruistic behaviors. (4) There can be no “real good without the objective Moral Law” (188). (5) Darwinists confuse moral epistemology (how one comes to know the Moral Law) with moral ontology (the existence of the Moral Law). (6) “Darwinists cannot explain why anyone should obey any biologically derived ‘moral sentiment’” (188).
Following prominent moral philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, let’s divide moral theory into two branches: substantive ethics and metaethics. Substantive ethics is probably what the average nonphilosopher has in mind when thinking about “morality;” it has to do with what is morally good and bad, right and wrong, and so forth.  Metaethics is literally “about ethics,” in the sense that it is focused on the nature of substantive moral claims. Sinnott-Armstrong has identified six branches of metaethics, shown below in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Of those six branches, three are relevant to various moral arguments for God’s existence. First, moral ontology “asks whether any moral properties and facts exist and, if so, what metaphysical status they have.”[3] Second, moral epistemology “concerns roughly whether, when, and how substantive moral claims and beliefs can be justified or known.”[4] Finally, third, moral psychology “asks about the nature and sources of moral beliefs and moral emotions, such as guilt and shame, as well as about our motivation to be moral.”[5]

Corresponding to these three branches of metaethics are three types of moral phenomena which are sometimes claimed as evidence for God’s existence.

Branch of Metaethics Fact to be Explained
Moral Ontology Moral Values, Moral Law, Moral Obligations
Moral Epistemology Moral Beliefs
Moral Psychology Moral Emotions (such as guilt, shame, obligation)

G&T’s moral argument is an argument about moral ontology. Wilson’s sociobiological explanation for morality is about moral psychology and epistemology. It follows, therefore, that objections (1), (2), (4) and especially (5) are irrelevant. (5) is particularly heinous since Wilson wasn’t even trying to explain moral ontology.
Let’s turn our attention to (3), the objection that  Darwinism cannot explain self-destructive or altruistic behaviors. In fact, as Paul Draper argues, Darwinian naturalism offers a much better explanation for the distribution of self-centered and selfless behaviors among human beings.[6]
In order to see why that is so, let’s begin with the fact that humans are effectively self-centered; our tendency to behave in self-centered ways is usually much stronger than any tendency to behave in selfless ways. Next, let’s divide altruistic behaviors into two types: kin altruism and non-kin altruism.
On Darwinian naturalism, the mixture of selfish and selfless (altruistic) behaviors we find in Homo sapiens is easy to explain.  The Darwinian naturalist explanation for our overwhelming tendency towards self-centered behavior is obvious. Kin altruism is also easy to explain: behaviors that promote the survival and reproduction of my kin make it more probable that my genes will be inherited by future generations. Non-kin altruism is weaker than kin altruism and also absent more often than kin altruism. Given that kin altruism exists, this pattern or distribution is exactly what we would expect on Darwinian naturalism.
With theism, however, things are quite different. On theism, either God created humans directly (special creation) or indirectly (Darwinian theism or theistic evolution).  Since God is omnipotent and omniscient, He could create humans without making them inherently self-centered. Since God is morally perfect, He would have good moral reasons for creating altruistic humans. Furthermore, He would not create inherently self-centered humans unless He had a morally sufficient reason for doing so. So given that humans are inherently self-centered, theism entails both that God is not constrained by biological goals like survival and reproduction (and hence does not need to create human beings who are inherently self-centered) and that He had a morally sufficient reason for creating inherently self-centered human beings.
While that is a logical possibility—it doesn’t disprove theism—that’s also a really big coincidence that Darwinian naturalism doesn’t need. The distribution of selfish and selfless behaviors among human beings is much more probable on naturalism than on theism. Therefore, that distribution is strong evidence favoring naturalism over theism.
Finally, what about G&T’s sixth objection, that  “Darwinists cannot explain why anyone should obey any biologically derived ‘moral sentiment’” (188)? There is much to be said about this topic, too much to address here. Instead, I will simply make one point: I think G&T are being uncharitable to the idea of “biologically derived moral sentiments.” G&T are saying that if contemplating a certain action, such as bestiality, causes a person to feel disgust, that feeling of disgust provides no reason at all for the person to avoid bestiality. But that’s false.  The desire to avoid the emotions of guilt, shame, and disgust are often powerful motivators. If G&T disagree, then I invite them to attempt to do something they find disgusting! They will quickly discover that their feeling of disgust does, indeed, provide a reason for not doing an action.
(v) The ‘Consequences’ of Darwinist Morality: According to G&T, Darwinist morality implies that the following are morally permissible: (1) racism and genocide; (2) infanticide; (3) using “retarded” people as laboratory subjects or food; and (4) rape. G&T support the claim that each of these alleged implications is an actual implication of Darwinist morality by appeals to authority.
I will make some general comments regarding this section as a whole before addressing each of these alleged consequences of Darwinist morality.
Some General Comments:
First, G&T, like many (but not all) theists who engage in moral apologetics, misuse the word “implication.” In logic, to say, “X implies Y,” means that Y is true whenever X is true. A corollary of this point is this: if it is possible for Y to be true when X is not, then X doesn’t imply Y. As a professional philosopher, Geisler is surely aware of this point, but he (inexplicably) seems to forget it when he (and Turek) repeatedly refer to what they call the “consequences,” “implications,” or “logical outworkings” of Darwinism. Each of their claims regarding the alleged “implication” of Darwinist morality is refuted by this simple point. If atheism is true, the Holocaust, infanticide, the abuse of the mentally disabled, and rape can still be morally bad. Since that is even possible, it follows that none of those things are “implications” of atheism.
Second, contrary to frequent claims in moral apologetics, atheism is neither moral nor immoral; rather, it is amoral. By itself, atheism does not make it obligatory, permitted, or forbidden to do anything. It’s neither a (substantive) ethical theory nor a metaethical theory.[7]
Third, in order to justify their claim that “Darwinism” has such outrageous moral consequences, G&T rely upon a series of arguments from authority. Again, as we saw earlier, arguments from authority can be logically correct (inductive) arguments in some circumstances, such as (a) the argument correctly quotes and interprets the authority; and (b) there are no equally qualified authorities who disagree with the authority quoted by the argument. As we shall see below, however, each of their arguments from authority fails to satisfy these requirements. It follows, therefore, that none of their arguments from authority make their conclusions probable: they fail to establish that “Darwinism” has the moral implications which G&T claim that Darwinism has.
Regarding (1) (racism and genocide), G&T quote the following passage from Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf:

If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such cases all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.
But such a preservation goes hand-in-hand with the inexorable law that it is the strongest and the best who must triumph and that they have the right to endure. He who would live must fight. He who does not wish to fight in this world, where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist.[8]

Based on this passage, G&T conclude that “Adolf Hitler used Darwin’s theory as philosophical justification for the Holocaust” (189).
This example is multiply flawed, however. First, remember that G&T define “Darwinism” as a belief in impersonal, unguided evolution. In the passage just quoted, however, Hitler talks about nature’s “wishes.” Since the idea of nature (or Nature) as a conscious being with “wishes” and “efforts” is incompatible with Darwinism, this passage contradicts the claim that Hitler was a Darwinist, much less someone who subscribed to ‘Darwinist morality.’
Second, in the passage quoted above, Hitler commits the is-ought fallacy, viz., by moving from exclusively non-ethical premises to an ethical conclusion.[9] In its logical form, Hitler’s argument may be summarized as follows.

All living things are engaged in a struggle for survival; only the fittest survive. [non-ethical premise]

Therefore, it is right to allow the strongest to survive and wrong to allow the weakest to survive. [ethical conclusion]

This argument is deductively invalid, however. Its conclusion does not follow from its (sole) premise.
Third, Hitler (and his racist followers) were (and are) factually incorrect. A key part of his argument is the presupposition that some human races are ‘superior’ to others. Not only is that presupposition false, but notice that it does not follow from evolution, much less Darwinism.
Fourth, as an argument from authority, G&T’s appeal to Hitler is logically incorrect. If we abbreviate the conclusion of Hitler’s argument as G, then the logical form of G&T’s corresponding argument from authority is as follows.

(5) The vast majority of statements made by Adolph Hitler concerning metaethics are true.
(6) G is a statement made by Adolph Hitler about metaethics.

(7) Therefore, G is true.

Even if Hitler had been an authority on metaethics, this argument would fail because all or virtually all competent authorities disagree. But Adolph Hitler was not an authority on metaethics. So G&T’s argument from authority is evidentially worthless: it provides no evidence at all—nada, zero, zilch, zip—for the claim that “Darwinist morality implies that racism and genocide are ethically right.”
Regarding (2) (infanticide), G&T quote moral philosopher Peter Singer’s statement, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”[10] G&T then go on to argue that a consequence “of Singer’s outrageous Darwinian ideas” is infanticide: “He believes that parents should be able to kill their newborn infants until they are 28 days of age!” (190).
This argument is only marginally better than the last. G&T’s quotation of Singer fails to establish the conclusion that “Darwinist morality implies that infanticide is morally right or permissible.” (a) While Singer is an authority on moral philosophy, this argument from authority fails because equally competent authorities, including Darwinists such as James Rachels, disagree. (b) G&T commit the is-ought fallacy by moving from an exclusively non-ethical premise (“Darwinism is true”) to an ethical conclusion (“infanticide is morally right or permissible”).
Reading (3) (the moral status of the mentally disabled), G&T reach this remarkable conclusion by quoting the late moral philosopher James Rachels. Here is what G&T write (190):

Speaking of retarded people, Rachels writes:

What are we to say about them? The natural conclusion, according to the doctrine we are considering [Darwinism], would be that their status is that of mere animals. And perhaps we should go on to conclude that they may be used as non-human animals are used–perhaps as laboratory subjects, or as food?22

As horrific as that would be–using retarded people as lab rats or food–Darwinists can give no moral reason why we ought not use any human being in that fashion.

22 James Rachels, Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 186.

Suffice it to say that G&T nowhere say or even hint at the fact that Rachels opposed the very view which G&T attempt to saddle Darwinism with.
As someone who has read Rachels’ important book several times, I am baffled how G&T could possibly justify this outrageous, slanderous interpretation of Rachels. First, notice the bracketed word [Darwinism]. Rachels was not considering the doctrine of ‘Darwinism’ at this point in his book. Rather, he was talking about the doctrine of “qualified speciesism.” Here is how Rachels defines it.

But there is a more sophisticated view of the relation between morality and species, and it is this view that defenders of traditional morality have most often adopted. On this view, species alone is not regarded as morally significant. However, species-membership is correlated with other differences that are significant. The interests of humans are said to be more important, not simply because they are human, but because humans have morally relevant characteristics that other animals lack.[11]

With that definition in mind, let’s review what Rachels actually wrote about qualified speciesism.

There is still another problem for this form of qualified speciesism. Some unfortunate humans—perhaps because they have suffered brain damage—are not rational agents. What are we to say about them? The natural conclusion, according to the doctrine we are considering, would be that their status is that of mere animals. And perhaps we should go on to conclude that they may be used as non-human animals are used–perhaps as laboratory subjects, or as food?[12]

This leads to my second objection to G&T’s quotation of Rachels. Not only was Rachels talking about qualified speciesism, not Darwinism, but Rachels was describing a problem with qualified speciesism. In other words, Rachels was arguing against qualified speciesism. There is simply no justification for G&T trying to saddle Rachels with a view he explicitly calls a “problem” and, in fact, rejects.
A few pages later, Rachels goes on to make a distinction between “having a moral obligation” and “being the beneficiary of a moral obligation.” In his words:

… we must distinguish the conditions necessary for having a moral obligation from the conditions necessary for being the beneficiary of a moral obligation.
For example: normal adult humans have the obligation not to torture one another. What characteristics make it possible for a person to have this obligation? For one thing, he must be able to understand what torture is, and he must be capable of recognizing that it is wrong. (Linguistic capacity might be relevant here; without language one may not be able to formulate the belief that torture is wrong.) When someone–a severely retarded person, perhaps–lacks such capacities, we do not think he has such obligations and we do not hold him responsible for what he does. On the other hand, it is a very different question what characteristics qualify someone to be the beneficiary of the obligation. It is wrong [to] torture someone–someone is the beneficiary of our obligation not to torture–not because of his capacity for understanding what torture is, or for recognizing that it is morally wrong, but simply because of his capacity for experiencing pain. Thus a person may lack the characteristics necessary for having a certain obligation, and yet may still possess the characteristics necessary to qualify him as the beneficiary of that obligation. If there is any doubt, consider the position of severely retarded persons. A severely retarded person may not be able to understand what torture is, or see it as wrong, and yet still be able to suffer pain. So we who are not retarded have an obligation not to torture him, even though he cannot have a similar obligation not to torture us.[13]

The above passage proves that Rachels was opposed to “using retarded people as lab rats or food,” the exact opposite of the picture painted by G&T’s selective, misleading quotation of Rachels. In fact, rather than “downgrading” the moral status of mentally disabled humans to that of animals without rights, Rachels went in the opposite direction by “upgrading” the moral status of intelligent animals so that they, like even severely mentally disabled humans, can be the beneficiary of moral obligations.
At this point, I can only come up with two explanations for why G&T would do this: either they’re ignorant (they didn’t read or understand the book) or they’re dishonest (they knew full well that Rachels was talking about limited speciesism, not Darwinism, and Rachels opposed using the mentally disabled as lab rats or food). Neither of these explanations reflects well upon G&T.
Regarding (4) (rape), Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer wrote a controversial book, A Natural History of Rape. G&T apparently haven’t read the book, for instead of quoting it directly, they quote Nancy Pearcey’s quotation of Thornhill and Palmer. Pearcey quotes the following passage: rape is “a natural, biological phenomenon that is a product of the human evolutionary heritage,” just like “the leopard’s spots and the giraffe’s elongated neck.”[14] G&T are, once again, committing the is-ought fallacy. The argument seems to be this.

If Darwinism is true, then rape has a biological explanation. [non-ethical premise]

Therefore, if Darwinism is true, then rape is ethically right or permissible. [ethical conclusion]

Like the previous arguments, this one is fallacious. The fact, if it is a fact, that rape has a biological explanation does not ‘imply’ that rape is ethically right or permissible. And it’s far from obvious that rape has a biological explanation. Again, if Pearcey’s quotation of Thornhill and Palmer is supposed to be an argument from authority, that argument is weak. First, if G&T are suggesting that Thornhill and Palmer believe that rape is morally acceptable, the former have misinterpreted the latter. As Pearcey explains, “The authors are not saying that rape is morally right.”[15] Second, as Pearcey’s own article admits, equally well qualified authorities disagree with Thornhill and Palmer. To cite just one example, evolutionary biologist (and Darwinist) Jerry Coyne has produced two scientific critiques of Thornhill’s and Palmer’s biological claims.[16] It’s unfortunate that G&T’s readers won’t know about this from reading their book.
Unlike G&T, Pearcey herself actually tries to bridge the is-ought gap. She writes, “to say that rape confers a reproductive advantage sounds perilously close to saying that it is useful or beneficial.”[17] At best, however, Pearcey’s statement merely expresses a half-truth. To say that rape confers a reproductive advantage may mean that it is useful or beneficial to the rapist. It does not mean, however, that it is useful or beneficial to the victim or to society at large. Furthermore, as Wilson, Dietrich, and Clark point out, even if rape confers evolutionary benefits on the rapist,

it does so at great expense to others, not just the rape victim but society at large. The fact that the actor benefits does nothing to change its moral status, since morality is defined in terms of common welfare. In fact, some of our most severe moral judgements are reserved for behaviors that obviously benefit the actor at the expense of others (e.g., betraying one’s country for a large financial reward), and therefore require an exceptionally strong moral response to counterbalance the personal gain.[18]

So in order to show that ‘Darwinism’ implies that rape is ethically permissible, G&T would need to show that, on ‘Darwinism,’ whatever may be useful to an individual is ethically permissible. G&T haven’t shown that.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

[1] Robert M. Adams, “Divine Commands and the Social Nature of ObligationFaith and Philosophy 4 (1987), 262-275; cf. Robert Merrihew Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 245-246.
[2] J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 114-15.
[3] Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Moral Skepticisms (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 6.
[4] Sinnott-Armstrong 2006, 6.
[5] Sinnott-Armstrong 2006, 6.
[6] Paul Draper, “Darwin’s Argument from Evil” in Scientific Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion (ed. Yujin Nagasawa, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 49-70 at 61-63.
[7] Atheism does entail that overtly theistic metaethics (or, to be more precise, theistic moral ontologies), such as Divine Command Theories and Divine Will Theories, are false. By itself, however, atheism does not tell us which metaethical theory is true. If one defines “atheism” in a way that is compatible with theological noncognitivism, then just any nontheistic metaethical theory could be true. If, however, one defines “atheism” in a way that presupposes theological (and hence ethical) cognitivism, then the most we can say affirmatively is that atheism entails that ethical cognitivism is true. Even so, atheism still leaves wide open the question of which cognitive metaethical theory is true. Cf. Theodore Drange, “Atheism. Agnosticism, Noncognitivism” The Secular Web (1998),
[8] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1939), 239-240, 242, quoted in G&T 2004, 189.
[9] Cf. David Sloan Wilson, Eric Dietrich, and Anne B. Clark, “On the Inappropriate Use of the Naturalistic Fallacy in Evolutionary PsychologyBiology and Philosophy 18 (2003): 669-682 at 671.
[10] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (1st ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 122-23, quoted in G&T 2004, 190.
[11] James Rachels, Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 184.
[12] Rachels 1990, 191-92. Italics are mine.
[13] Rachels 1990, 191-192.
[14] Thornhill and Palmer, quoted in Nancy Pearcey, “Darwin’s Dirty Secret,” World magazine, March 25, 2000, quoted in G&T 2004, 191.
[15] Pearcey 2000.
[16] J.A. Coyne, “Of Vice and Men: Review of A Natural History of Rape, by R. Thornhill and C. Palmer,” The New Republic (April 3, 2000) 27-34, republished electronically at; and Jerry A. Coyne and Andrew Berry, “Rape as an Adaptation: Is This Contentious Hypothesis Advocacy, not Science?Nature 404 (2000): 121-22.
[17] Pearcey 2000.
[18] Wilson, Dietrich, and Clark 2003, 678. Italics are mine.

bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 5: Chapter 6

Chapter 6. New Life Forms: From the Goo to You via the Zoo?

Drawing upon the work of sophisticated Intelligent Design (ID) theorists such as William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Jonathan Wells, this chapter uses many of the state-of-the art Intelligent Design (ID) arguments against evolution by natural selection. It also defends ID against various objections.
(i) Objections to Natural Selection: G&T argue that macroevolution is defeated by the following objections: (a) genetic limits; (b) cyclical change; (c) irreducible complexity; (d) the nonviability of transitional forms; (e) molecular isolation; and (f) the fossil record.
(a) Regarding genetic limits, G&T repeat the standard creationist claim that there are natural limits to genetic change. In their words:

Unfortunately for Darwinists, genetic limits seem to be built into the basic types. For example, dog breeders always encounter genetic limits when they intelligently attempt to create new breeds of dogs. (142)

This is not a good objection to evolution, however. The dog breeding example is just confused. The whole point of dog breeding is to produce dogs, not new species of dog-like animals. But let that pass. The much more important point is this: G&T, like most creationists, admit that microevolution occurs. If microevolution occurs, then we already have good antecedent reason to expect macroevolution also occurs: macroevolution just is microevolution carried on for a longer period of time. If a species accrues enough “small” changes over time, eventually all of those “small” changes added together become “big” changes and the result is another species. In other words, the difference between microevolution and macroevolution is a difference in degree, not a difference in kind.
(b) Regarding cyclical change, G&T claim that “the changes within types appears to be cyclical.” They take this to be evidence against macroevolution since macroevolution “requires” that changes be “directional toward the development of new life forms” (144). That is a very weak objection to evolution, however.  First, while cyclical change can and does occur, it hardly follows that all evolutionary change is cyclical. Second, contrary to what G&T imply, macroevolution does not require that all evolutionary change is “directional toward the development of new life forms.” If a species lives in a cyclical environment, then evolution predicts the species would display cyclical changes in response to the cyclical environment.
(c) Regarding irreducible complexity, G&T draw upon biochemist Michele Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution.[1] Following Behe, they argue that the cell is an “irreducibly complex system,” i.e., a system that is “composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the systems to effectively cease functioning” (145). Furthermore, they argue, objections to Behe’s argument, such as those made by biologist Kenneth Miller, are unsuccessful.
Contrary to G&T, however, I don’t think that Behe has successfully shown that there are any irreducibly complex systems. To say that a biological system is “irreducibly complex” assumes that if the system was missing a part, it could not have been functional in any environment forany reason. But a predecessor to that system could lack a part and yet still be functional because some part of its environment is different than the environment of its descendants. In fact, this is precisely what the Darwinian naturalist claims happened. What Behe calls “irreducibly complex systems” evolved indirectly from systems that performed slightly or very different functions in our ancestors. In order to justify his claim that a system is irreducibly complex, Behe must show that precursors could not have performed different functions in those ancestors. Behe hasn’t shown this.[2]
(d) Regarding the viability of transitional forms, G&T argue that transitional forms could not survive.

For example, consider the Darwinian assertion that birds evolved gradually from reptiles over long periods of time. This would necessitate a transition from scales to feathers. How could a creature survive that no longer has scales but does not quite have feathers? Feathers are irreducibly complex. (148)

The question, “How could a creature survive that no longer has scales but does not quite have feathers?”, is just that: a question, not an argument.  This question can give the illusion of having refuted the possibility of transitional forms only by ignoring the relevant scientific evidence available at the time I Don’t Have Enough Faith was written: (1) the 1861 discovery of a reptile-bird Archaeopteryx, which had both feathers and reptilian features (such as teeth, claws, and a long, bony tail); and (2) the 1996 discovery of Sinosauropteryx, which had evidence of primitive feathers (“a layer of thin, hollow filaments covering its back and tail”).[3] Additionally, since the publication of the book, we may add (3) the 2009 discovery of Tianyulong, a small dinosaur with hairlike “feathers,” which some scientists believe is evidence that all dinosaurs may have had hairy or feathery bodies.[4] The fact that such creatures existed refutes the idea that such creatures could not survive.
Regarding the claim that “feathers are irreducibly complex,” G&T provide no argument to justify that claim, but it’s not hard to imagine what such an argument would look like. For example, such an argument might appeal to two claims: (1) reptile-bird transitional forms could not use their less-than-fully developed feathers (“proto-feathers”) for flight; and (2) reptile-bird transitional forms could not have used their proto-feathers for other functions (besides flight). The second claim is false. Scientists have no problem identifying other uses for proto-feathers, including insulation and sexual selection,[5] and G&T provide no reason at all to reject such explanations. But this entails that G&T have not shown that such indirect routes for the evolution of modern feathers are improbable.
(e) Regarding molecular Isolation, G&T appeal to Michael Denton ‘s 1986 book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.[6] Commenting on Denton’s work, they write:

If all species share a common ancestor, we should expect to find protein sequences that are transitional from, say, fish to amphibian, or from reptile to mammal. But that’s not what we find at all. (150)

In his review of Denton’s book, however, Philip Spieth, a geneticist at the University of California at Berkeley, argues that Denton’s conclusions are erroneous. It is worth quoting Spieth at length:

These conclusions are erroneous: in his interpretation of “molecular equidistance,” Denton has confused ancestor-descendant relationships with cousin relationships. The telltale clues of molecular data are not, directly, concerned with parents and offspring, intermediate forms, and “missing links.” They are, instead, reflections of relative relatedness between contemporary cousins. Twentieth-century bacteria are not ancestors of twentieth-century turtles and dogs: they are very distant cousins, and, as the data in Denton’s presentation show, the bacteria are roughly equally distant cousins of both turtles and dogs (and all the other organisms that Denton included in Table 12.1).
Cousin relationships between contemporary individuals are governed by the number of generations since there last was an ancestor in common to the individuals. Different members of a group of close relatives always have the same relationship to a more distantly related individual who stands outside the group. Two sisters are equally related to a mutual first cousin. Members of a group of siblings and first cousins are all equally related to a mutual fifth cousin. Lampreys are equally distant cousins of both fish and humans because the last ancestor that lampreys had in common with humans was the same ancestor lampreys had in common with fish. The “molecular equidistance” argument that Denton invokes is invalid, resulting from making comparisons between a single distantly related organism and various members of a more closely related group.
There is an irony in Denton’s presentation to anyone familiar with the data of molecular evolution. Reflections of genealogical relationships are so strong in molecular data that Denton, in spite of his arguments to the contrary, is unable to hide them. The missing “trace” of which he speaks is not a trace; it is a shout. Simple inspection of the data in Table 12.1 will reveal that cytochrome C found in horses, for example, is quite similar in its molecular structure to that found in turtles, slightly less similar to that in fish, still less similar to that in insects, and very much less similar to that in bacteria. The traditional evolutionary series is very much in evidence.
Denton provides a series of diagrams (pp. 282-87) in which nested e[l]lipses, arranged on the basis of molecular data, are used to illustrate his spurious “molecular equidistance” thesis. In these delightful figures organisms are seen to cluster fully in accord with the genealogical relationships that evolutionary biologists deduced from comparative anatomy and paleontological evidence long before molecular data were available. In the final figure, humans and chimps are seen side by side as each other’s closest cousin. Anyone who wants to argue that these nested groups of organisms constitute separate, distinct, and unbridg[e]able groups has to contend with obvious hierarchical patterns of relatedness among the various groups. Notions of relatedness are, of course, antithetical to a typological view of organisms.[7]

(f) Regarding the fossil Record,G&T make three points: (1) gradualism predicts that we should find “thousands, if not millions, of transitional fossils by now,” but that prediction is false; (2) the so-called “Cambrian explosion” is inconsistent with Darwinism because “nearly all of the major groups animals known to exist appear in the fossil record abruptly…, fully formed, and at the same time;” and (3) the fossil record cannot establish ancestral relationships.
I shall argue that each objection is unsuccessful.
(1) is an argument from silence. Given the enormous popularity of this argument (hereafter, “the missing links argument”) in the anti-evolution literature, it is worth showing in detail that it is not successful.
As I have pointed out elsewhere, arguments from silence are a special version of a type of inductive argument known as an explanatory argument. If we let be our background information; S be some truth about the silence of a potential source of evidence; H1 and H2 be rival explanations; Pr(x) be the epistemic probability of some proposition x;[8] and Pr(x | y) be the epistemic probability of x conditional upon y, then we can define arguments from silence according to the following argument schema.

(1) S is known to be true, i.e., Pr(S) is close to 1.
(2) The prior probability of H1 is not much greater than H2, i.e., Pr(H1 | B) is not much greater than Pr(H2 | B).
(3) H2 gives us more reason to expect S than H1, i.e., Pr(S | H2) > Pr(S | H1).
(4) Other evidence held equal, H1 is probably false, i.e., Pr(H1 | B & S) < 1/2.

Like any other explanatory argument, an argument from silence can be logically correct if there is good reason to believe that premises (1)-(3) are true.
With this schema in place, let’s return to the missing links argument. If we abbreviate “the fossil record does not contain any transitional fossils” as S and let E represent evolution, then the missing links argument can be summarized as follows.

(1′) S is known to be true, i.e., Pr(S) is close to 1.
(2′) E is not intrinsically much more probable than ~E.
(3′) ~E gives us more reason to expect S than E, i.e., Pr(S | ~E) > Pr(S | E).
(4′) Other evidence held equal, E is probably false, i.e., Pr(E | B & S) < 1/2.

In support of the first premise, G&T use another type of inductive argument, the argument from authority. Their authority is the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould; they claim he agrees with S on the basis of the following quotation.

The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1). Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they appear; Morphological change is usually limited and directionless. 2). Sudden Appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.'[9]

Commenting on this quotation, G&T conclude, “In other words, Gould is admitting that fossil types appear suddenly, fully formed, and remain the same until extinction without any directional change…” (152). We shall abbreviate this conclusion as P.
The most charitable formulation of this argument from authority would be to formulate it as a special version of the inductive argument form known as the statistical syllogism.[10]

(5) The vast majority of statements made by Stephen Jay Gould concerning the fossil record are true.
(6) P is a statement made by Stephen Jay Gould concerning the fossil record.
(7) Therefore, P is true.

While some arguments from authority are inductively correct, this one is not. A careful reading of the Gould quotation does not support G&T’s interpretation. Gould wrote, “The history of most fossil species …,” not, “The history of all fossil species…” This basic distinction is crucial to a correct understanding of Gould’s point (and punctuated equilibrium in general), but anti-evolutionists often fail to recognize it. Indeed, Gould himself repeatedly stated that critics of evolution were quoting him out of context. In 1984, Gould wrote, “It is infuriating to be quoted again and again–whether through design or stupidity, I do not know–as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms.”[11] He continued, “Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups.”[12] Note that Gould does not say that transitional forms are completely lacking at the species level, only that they are generally lacking. More recently, in 1994 Gould gave a specific example of a transitional sequence in the fossil record:

I am absolutely delighted to report that our usually recalcitrant fossil record has come through in exemplary fashion. During the past 15 years, new discoveries in Africa and Pakistan have added greatly to our paleontological knowledge of the earliest history of whales. The embarrassment of past absence has been replaced by a bounty of new evidence– and by the sweetest series of transitional forms an evolutionist can find. Truly, we have met the enemy and he is now ours. Moreover, to add blessed insult to the creationists’ injury, these discoveries have arrived in a gradual and sequential fashion– a little bit at a time, step by step, from a tentative hint, 15 years ago to a remarkable smoking gun early in 1994.[13]

It is a misuse of arguments from authority to misquote or misinterpret an authority.[14] Since G&T have misquoted or misinterpreted Gould, their argument from authority is fallacious. It does not support (1’).
But G&T have an independent supporting argument for (1’). Citing molecular biologist Jonathan Wells,[15] G&T also appeal to the so-called Cambrian “explosion” in support of (1’). In their words,

… nearly all of the major groups of animals known to exist appear in the fossil record abruptly and fully formed in strata from the Cambrian period (which many scientists estimate to have occurred between 600 and 500 million years ago). (152)

Again, G&T do not provide the logical form of their argument, so, again, I will offer what I believe to be the most charitable formulation. Let RC be the reference class of “the major groups of animals known to exist” and AC be the attribute class of “appear in the fossil record abruptly and fully formed in strata from the Cambrian period.” Then we can formulate the argument in the above quotation as an inductive argument type known as the statistical generalization.[16]

(8) Nearly all of the observed members of RC are AC.
(9) Therefore, nearly all RC are AC.

I have four replies.
First, the name Cambrian “explosion” is misleading insofar as it suggests to popular audiences—who are not used to thinking in geological timescales (i.e., tens to thousands of millions of years)—that there was a single event. In fact, this “explosion” represents a series of events over the course of 15 -20 million years. Alan Gishlick explains:

The Cambrian Explosion is, rather, the preservation of a series of faunas that occur over a 15-20 million year period starting around 535 million years ago (MA). A fauna is a group of organisms that live together and interact as an ecosystem; in paleontology, “fauna” refers to a group of organisms that are fossilized together because they lived together.[17]

Second, the fact—if it is a fact—that there are no known Cambrian transitional fossils is compatible with the existence of other, later transitional fossils. In other words, even if there are no known transitional fossils which can be dated between 600 and 500 million years ago, it doesn’t follow that there are no later transitional fossils, i.e., fossils which can be dated between 500 million years ago and the present. In fact, the fossil record does contain numerous transitional forms, forms which G&T do not acknowledge, much less refute, in their book.[18]
Third, as written, this statement is false: “most of the major groups of animals known to exist” do not appear in the fossil record in strata from the Cambrian period. Amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals do not appear in the fossil record until very much later than the Cambrian period, just as evolution predicts. The most charitable interpretation I can give to G&T’s statement is to assume that it is a typo. Instead of “nearly all of the major groups of animals known to exist,” I assume that what G&T meant to write is “nearly all of the animal body plans known to exist.” Thus, we should revise RC as follows:

RC’: the reference class of “the animal body plans known to exist”

And the revised statistical generalization becomes:

(8’) Nearly all of the observed members of RC’ are AC.
(9’) Therefore, nearly all RC’ are AC.

I take this revised statistical generalization to be charitable, since it would make G&T’s point consistent with the recent, published work of Stephen Meyer, another leading ID theorist.[19]
Fourth, even (8’) is false. As Gishlick points out, many of the Cambrian body plans—including those of cnidrians, molluscs, sponges, wormlike metazoans, bilateral animals, and possibly arthropods—do not appear “abruptly.” We have fossilized remains of their precursors from fossils dating 10-60 million years older than their Cambrian descendants. As Gishlick explains:

Sixty million years is approximately the same amount of time that has elapsed since the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, providing plenty of time for evolution. In treating the Cambrian Explosion as a single event preceded by nothing, Wells misrepresents fact – the Cambrian explosion is not a single event, nor is it instantaneous and lacking in any precursors.[20]

The upshot is that both supporting arguments for (1’) fail. Thus, G&T have not given any good reasons to think (1’) is true. Furthermore, again, there is very good reason to think (1’) is false, namely, all of the fossilized intermediate and transitional forms, including reptile-birds, reptile-mammals, ape-humans, legged whales, and legged seacows.[21]
Let’s move onto the missing link argument’s premise (3’). G&T write:

If Darwinism were true, we would have found thousands, if not millions, of transitional fossils by now. (2770-2771)

Since it is implied that if Darwinism is false, we would not expect to find transitional fossils, it seems reasonable to interpret G&T as asserting (3’). For convenience, here it is again.

(3′) ~E gives us more reason to expect S than E, i.e., Pr(S | ~E) > Pr(S | E).

As it stands, however, (3’) is not obviously true. By itself, evolution doesn’t predict how many transitional fossils we would find today. Rather, by itself, evolution predicts that there were “thousands, of not millions,” of transitional forms, i.e. living beings. After a living being dies, its remains may or may not be destroyed (such as being eaten by other animals or by decay). If its remains are not destroyed, the remains may or may not become fossilized. If a dead organism is fossilized, that fossil may or may not survive intact to the present day. If the fossil survives intact to the present day, that fossil may or may not be found. If the fossil is found, it may or may not have preserved enough information to determine whether it is transitional. If the fossil preserves enough information to identify it as transitional, it may or may not have been examined yet by someone knowledgeable enough to identify it as such.[22]
The hypothesis of evolution says nothing about any of this. We get predictions about the number of transitional fossils only when we combine evolution with one or more auxiliary hypotheses about the frequency of fossilization, fossil preservation, fossil discovery, and fossil classification. G&T do not defend any of these auxiliary hypotheses and so their case for (3′) is, at best, incomplete.
So why should we believe (3’) is true? According to G&T, the answer is “because Darwin said so.”

… [Charles Darwin] did recognize that the fossil record posed a big problem for his theory because it didn’t show gradualism. That’s why he wrote, “Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain, and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.”(152)

There is little doubt that G&T’s quotation of Darwin has great rhetorical value; it is analogous to the courtroom strategy of obtaining testimony from a hostile witness. What this quotation has in rhetorical value, it lacks in logical or evidential value.  Once again G&T making an argument from authority and, once again, the argument is logically incorrect because G&T have quotemined that authority.
The quotation appears in Darwin’s Origin of Species, sixth edition, in chapter 10, “On the Imperfection of the Geological Record.” As Jon Barber points out, “Darwin’s writing style was to ask a rhetorical question and then give an answer.”[23]  In order to show Darwin’s tendency “in action,” I’m going to quote a longer excerpt of the book than G&T did, with the portion quoted by G&T in italics.

But just in proportion as this process of extermination has acted on an enormous scale, so must the number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed, be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against my theory. The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record.
In the first place, it should always be borne in mind what sort of intermediate forms must, on the theory, have formerly existed. I have found it difficult, when looking at any two species, to avoid picturing to myself forms DIRECTLY intermediate between them. But this is a wholly false view; we should always look for forms intermediate between each species and a common but unknown progenitor; and the progenitor will generally have differed in some respects from all its modified descendants. To give a simple illustration: the fantail and pouter pigeons are both descended from the rock-pigeon; if we possessed all the intermediate varieties which have ever existed, we should have an extremely close series between both and the rock-pigeon; but we should have no varieties directly intermediate between the fantail and pouter; none, for instance, combining a tail somewhat expanded with a crop somewhat enlarged, the characteristic features of these two breeds. These two breeds, moreover, have become so much modified, that, if we had no historical or indirect evidence regarding their origin, it would not have been possible to have determined from a mere comparison of their structure with that of the rock-pigeon, C. livia, whether they had descended from this species or from some other allied species, such as C. oenas.
So with natural species, if we look to forms very distinct, for instance to the horse and tapir, we have no reason to suppose that links directly intermediate between them ever existed, but between each and an unknown common parent. The common parent will have had in its whole organisation much general resemblance to the tapir and to the horse; but in some points of structure may have differed considerably from both, even perhaps more than they differ from each other. Hence, in all such cases, we should be unable to recognise the parent-form of any two or more species, even if we closely compared the structure of the parent with that of its modified descendants, unless at the same time we had a nearly perfect chain of the intermediate links. (boldface mine)

The extended passage, especially the sentence I’ve boldfaced  above, exposes the inaccuracy in G&T’s selective quotation of Darwin. Not only does the extended passage fail to support (3’); it provides clear and decisive evidence against it. Furthermore, Darwin’s explanation also directly refutes the familiar creationist claim, parroted by G&T, that “All animal groups appear separately, fully formed, and at the same time” (###).
G&T also object to the fossil record as evidence for evolution for another reason. Following Michael Denton and Jonathan Wells, G&T argue that “the fossil record cannot establish ancestral relationships” (###).  As Mark Vuletic has argued, however, Denton relies upon “unreasonably strict criteria” for recognizing transitional forms. I will quote Vuletic at length.

Now to the fossil record. Similar to the creationists, Denton proposes that there are not enough transitional forms in the fossil record, and that what transitional forms do exist are rather dubious in nature because they do not show soft organ changes (since organs aren’t fossilized) and are not intermediate in every single characteristic. Thus, Archaeopteryx lithographica, perhaps the most famous transitional form of all time, is inadequate because its wings and feathers were fully formed. Never mind that Archaeopteryx sported more reptilian skeletal characteristics than it did avian ones, and ignore the fact that its skeletal characteristics very closely match a class of wingless reptiles called therodonts that existed around the same time and in the same geographical location. It is apparent, then, that Denton’s standards for labeling a fossil a “transitional form” are unreasonably restrictive.
As far as soft organ characteristics go, researchers can indeed also obtain information on a fossilized organism’s soft anatomy and behavior by paying attention to structural characteristics. Thus, the recent find of Ambulocetus natans (Berta, 1994) lends further credence to the ungulate-to-whale transition that Denton finds so incredulous, because the skeletal arrangement of the creature is such that it could undulate its spine to produce a motion not unlike that of the whale’s tail motion (not to mention that Ambulocetus was found geographically and temporally just about where evolutionists hoped to find it). Similarly, examination of the configuration of basal ridges in fossilized reptile-mammal transitional form skulls shows how endothermy developed gradually, even though the evolution of the soft, complex endothermic apparatus could not be directly observed (Hillenius, 1994).
Denton’s denial of the fish-to-amphibian transition as demonstrated by Eusthenopteron (a late Devonian fish) and Icthyostega (a late Devonian amphibian) is a striking example of the excessive demands he makes on transitional forms. He echoes creationist Duane Gish’s criticism that Icthyostega has well developed limbs for terrestrial movement, while Eusthenopteron has mere fins. In the first place, it is unreasonable to expect a transitional form to be transitional in every single skeletal characteristic it exhibits. Secondly, the correlation between the skull and vertebral characteristics of the two creatures is impossible to account for in a framework of typology:
The crossopterygian fish Eusthenopteron is linked to the early amphibian Icthyostega by a number of characteristics: (1) same pattern of skull bones as Icthyostega, (2) internal nostrils (found only in land animals and sarcopterygians – a taxonomic group encompassing lungfish and crossopterygians), (3) teeth like amphibians’, (4) a two-part cranium (icthyostegids are the only other vertebrates that have this characteristic), and (5) same vertebral structure. (derived from McGowan, 1984, 152-153)
Every once in a while, a new transitional form turns up and strengthens the evolutionary pattern inherent in the fossil record . But in any case, to deny that the ones that already exist are what they appear to be is a sure indication of unreasonably strict criteria for transitional forms.[24]

In summary, then, all of G&T’s objections to biological evolution fail.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

[1] Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Free Press, 1996).
[2] Paul Draper, “Irreducible Complexity and Darwinian Gradualism: a Reply to Michael J. Behe,” Faith and Philosophy 22 (2002), 3–21.
[3] Carl Zimmer, “Evolution of Feathers: The Long Curious Extravagant Evolution of Feathers,” National Geographic  (February 2011). Republished electronically at
[4] Zimmer 2011.
[5] Zimmer 2011.
[6] Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Chevy Chase, Maryland: Adler & Adler, 1986).
[7] Philip T. Spieth, “Review: “Evolution — A Theory in Crisis” Zygon 22 (1987), 249-68. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9744.1987.tb00849.x. Republished electronically at
[8] By “epistemic probability,” I mean this. “Relative to K, p is epistemically more probable than q, where K is an epistemic situation and p and q are propositions, just in case any fully rational person in K would have a higher degree of belief in p than in q.” See Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure” in The Evidential Argument from Evil (ed. by Daniel Howard-Snyder, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996), 27.
[9] Stephen J. Gould, “Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History 86 (1977): 13-14, quoted in G&T 2004, 152.
[10] See Wesley C. Salmon, Logic (third ed., Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1984), 98.
[11] Stephen Jay Gould, Hens Teeth and Horse’s Toes (New York: Norton & Co., 1983), 260. Reprinted in “Evolution as Fact and Theory” in Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 123-24. Italics are mine.
[12] Gould 1983, 261.
[13] Stephen Jay Gould, “Hooking Leviathan by its Past” Natural History 5/94, 11.
[14] Salmon 1984, 98.
[15] Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth?: Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2000).
[16] Salmon 1984, 90.
[17] Alan Gishlick, “Icons of Evolution? Why Much of What Jonathan Wells Writes About Evolution is Wrong” National Center for Science Education (October 23, 2008),, 11-12.
[18] See L. Beverly Halstead, “Evolution–The Fossils Say Yes!” Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 240-254; Roger J. Cuffey, “Paleontologic Evidence and Organic Evolution” Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 255-281; Laurie R. Godfrey, “Creationism and Gaps in the Fossil Record” Scientists Confront Creationism (ed. Laurie R. Godfrey, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1983), 193-218.
[19] Meyer argues that Cambrian animal forms contain “functionally specified information” and so are irreducibly complex systems; moreover, this morphological irreducible complexity is independent of the sort of biochemical irreducible complexity argued by Behe. Meyer’s argument, however, fails for the following reasons. (i) Even if the origin of Cambrian animal forms were evidence favoring ID over naturalism, at best Meyer’s argument commits the fallacy of understated evidence. Meyer neglects to mention other known facts about Cambrian animal forms, facts which favor naturalism over ID. For example, (a) the Cambrian era did not include animal forms much more impressive than known Cambrian forms; (b) the creation of new information is habitually associated with embodied minds; and (c) all living animals on Earth are the gradually modified descendants of Cambrian animals. (ii) According to Meyer, an unknown Intelligent Designer used an unknown, mysterious mechanism to design Cambrian animal forms for an unknown purpose. It follows, therefore, that Meyer’s intelligent design “hypothesis” is, at best, an explanation name, not an actual explanation, because the Intelligent Designer’s methods and purposes are unknown and, indeed, mysterious. As philosopher Paul Draper pointed out (in an unrelated context), “Mystification is the opposite of explanation.” See Stephen L. Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life (New York: Harper One, 2013); and Paul Draper, “A Darwinian Argument from Evil,” unpublished paper. Cf. Gregory W. Dawes, Theism and Explanation (New York: Routledge, 2009).
[20] Gishlick 2008, 13.
[21] See Douglas Theobald, “29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: Part 1: The Unique Universal Phylogenetic Tree,” The TalkOrigins Archive (2013),
[22] Mark Isaak, “Index to Creationist Claims: Claim CC200.1” The TalkOrigins Archive (2005),
[23] See Jon Barber, “Quote #75” in The Quote Mine Project: Or Lies, Damned Lies, and Quote Mines at The Talk.Origins Archive (2003-2004),
[24] Mark I. Vuletic, “Review of Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis,” The Talk.Origins Archive (1996-97),