Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Stephen C. Meyer and Peter Atkins debate intelligent design

This dialog occurred in 2010 on the Unbelievable radio show.

I made a rough transcript, so please see below for that.

The MP3 file is here. (60 minutes)

Details:

The documentary film “Expelled” is presented by US Actor Ben Stein and makes the case that scientists who question Darwinian orthodoxy and support Intelligent Design are being “expelled” from academia.

As the UK edition of the DVD is released we ask “Is freedom of thought at stake or is Intelligent Design out of bounds when it comes to biological science?”

Stephen C Meyer is co founder of the Discovery Institute in the USA and a major proponent of Intelligent Design.

Peter Atkins is Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University and an outspoken atheist.

They both feature in “Expelled” and join Justin to debate the pros and cons of Intelligent Design theory.

Mark Haville who is bringing the film to the UK also joins the discussion.

Note: The transcript below is quite snarky and may include paraphrases of Dr. Atkins for the sake of humor.

My rough transcript of the Meyer-Atkins debate

Stephen Meyer:
- started researching on ID while doing his PhD at Cambridge
- the question is whether the information-bearing properties in DNA require a designer
- what cause is adequate to explain the digital code that in the simplest living cell
- alternative explanations like self-organization and RNA-first have failed
- so the best explanation for functional sequences of parts is an intelligent designer
- Darwinists have responded to this argument with insults and suppression of dissent

Peter Atkins:
- intelligent design is creationism
- there is no science at all in it
- information can emerge without an intelligent designer
- structures emerge spontaneously, no agent is needed to generate the structure
- information in DNA is also a structure

Stephen Meyer:
- structure and information are two different things
- many structures emerge spontaneously
- structure may be like the vortex that occurs when water goes down a drain

Peter Atkins:
- the vortex is information

Stephen Meyer:
- structures are different from functionally-specified digital information
- in DNA, there is a 4-digit alphabet that is used to create code sequences
- the thing to be explained is where do the functional sequences come from

Peter Atkins:
- information can grow without an agent
- the second law of thermodynamics
- the universe is falling into disorder
- but there are local abatements of chaos that create information
- evolution can cause the amount of information to grow

Stephen Meyer:
- that’s just an assertion
- I agree that energy flow through a system can produce spontaneous order
- but spontaneous order is not the same thing as information

Peter Atkins:
- spontaneous order is the same as information

Stephen Meyer:
- it’s not order that needs to be explained it’s specified complexity

Peter Atkins:
- what do you mean by specified complexity?

Stephen Meyer:
- the chemical bonds that connect to each letter do not determine the letter
- the chemical bonding sites will accept any letter as easily as any other
- any one of the 4 bases (letters) can attach at any place along the backbone

Peter Atkins:
- the selection of which letter comes next is determined by evolution

Stephen Meyer:
- that is just an assertion
- there is no physical process that sequences the letters to have a function

Peter Atkins:
- do you believe in evolution? YES OR NO!

Mark Haville:
- for him to answer the question you have to define the word
- do you mean macro or micro? biological or stellar? directed or undirected?

Peter Atkins:
- undirected molecules to man evolution by natural processes

Stephen Meyer:
- but even Dawkins doesn’t believe in evolution then
- you’re including the origin of life from non-living matter in evolution
- Dawkins says that there is no known naturalistic explanation for that

Mark Haville:
- you need to define your terms

[They discuss of the movie Expelled and the case of Richard Sternberg]

Stephen Meyer:
- the problem is people don’t want to talk about the science
- they denounce dissent as unscientific
- they will not debate about whther natural causes can explain the information
- I want to talk about the science

Peter Atkins:
- ID people raise interesting questions for naturalists to work on
- but you want to tell us what the answer is (intelligence) before we begin
- you start from the idea that an intelligence was involved

Justin Brierley:
- but you start with the idea that natural mechanisms can explain everything!

Stephen Meyer:
- for Dr. Atkins, only explanations based on material processes are valid

Peter Atkins:
- that is correct

Stephen Meyer:
- but we think that the activities of mind can explain some effects
- e.g. – the best explanation of the Rosetta stone is a mind

Peter Atkins:
- but we naturalists think of minds as material as well

Stephen Meyer:
- that’s a materialist pre-supposition on your part
- we would have to have a debate about mind and body

Mark Haville:
- I think that the materialist position is socially dangerous
- the problem with naturalism is that it is an ideology
- the ideology pushes absurdities, e.g. – the universe came from nothing uncaused
- and naturalists exert power over others to force them to believe nonsense

Stephen Meyer:
- science progresses as the result of scientists disagreeing
- both sides agree to the facts
- the debate is about the interpretation of those facts
- and one side is being ruled out a priori based on the pre-supposition of materialism

Peter Atkins:
- why do you say that an intelligence is involved in DNA but not general relativity

Stephen Meyer:
- it is always logically possible that intelligence can be invlved in any effect
- the main thing is that explanations based on intelligence should not be ruled out

Peter Atkins:
= well you can’t appeal to any non-material process in expaining anything
- those are the rules

Moderator:
- what does intelligent design have to do with religion?

Stephen Meyer:
- creationism is about understanding the istory of life using the Bible
- intelligent design is about using the same method of inquiry as Darwin
- we know that information arises from intelligent causes
- humans create information all the time by using intelligence to sequence parts

Moderator:
- are intelligent design proponents disreputable?

Stephen Meyer:
- what’s disreputable is shutting down debate by setting arbitrary rules

Peter Atkins:
- we are both interested in the same questions

Moderator:
- why won’t you let Stephen publish his papers then?

Peter Atkins:
- because it breaks the pre-suppositions of naturalism and materialism

Stephen Meyer:
- you’re shutting down inquiry by using an arbitrary definition of science

Mark Haville:
- we need to define the word science
- science should be based on what we can observe empirically
- we can observe micro-evolution empirically
- but Darwinism goes beyond what is observable to postulate macro-evolution

Peter Atkins:
- but paleobiology is replete with evidence

Stephen Meyer:
- paleobiology uses a method of inference that I think is valid
- but intelligent design uses the same mode of reasoning which is also valid

Peter Atkins:
= you’re intellectually lazy
- we’re smart, we’re using our brains

Moderator:
- you’re saying that appeals to intelligent causes ends science?
- is ID the view that some things are too complex to be explained with naturalism?

Peter Atkins:
- yes, and to teach children that materialism is false is child abuse

Stephen Meyer:
- let’s drop the insults and the rhetoric and focus on the arguments
- the ID argument is not based on what we don’t know, it’s based on what we DO know
- first, we can ask what undirected natural processes can and cannot do
- second, we can ask what we know about intelligent causes from our own experience
- what we do know seems to me to require an intelligent agent as a cause

Peter Atkins:
- GOD! Do you mean God!? Do you mean God!?

Stephen Meyer:
- I personally mean God, but all that the arguments proves is a generic intelligent cause
- and I am using the same method of investigation that Darwin used to get there
- what we know from our experience is that a mind is needed to create information

Peter Atkins:
- NONSENSE! ABSOLUTE NONSENSE!

Stephen Meyer:
- in my book, I list 10 predictions made by ID, so it’s not a science-stopper
- furthermore, the enterprise of science began with th goal of understanding God
- consider the earliest scientists, people like James Boyler and Johannes Kepler

Peter Atkins:
- that was 300 years ago, we’ve moved on

Mark Haville:
- what about Max Planck then?

Stephen Meyer:
- how about James Clark Maxwell?

Mark Haville:
- we need to focus on the facts

Peter Atkins:
- what do you mean by the facts?

Mark Haville:
- well the fact is that Darwinism has no mechanism to produce new information

Peter Atkins:
- well copying errors introduces beneficial mutations

Stephen Meyer:
- let’s focus on where we get the first information from the simplest organism
- you can’t account for the first organism by appealing to copying errors
- to add functionality to a program, you need new lines codes from an intelligence
- once you have life, you can generate some new information
- but you can’t generate macro-evolution either

Peter Atkins:
- if we give you your explanation for teh origin of life, will you give this up

Stephen Meyer:
- of course! I’m a former theistic evolutionist
- but right now the evidence is not there for it
- we have to decide these questions based on what we see with our own eyes today

Peter Atkins:
- but I pre-suppose materialism as the starting point of all explanations
- you’re just intellectually lazy to abandon my pre-supposition

Stephen Meyer:
- why is it is less intellectually lazy to insist that materialism is true
- we are making plenty of predictions, and isn’t that what science is about?
- consider Junk DNA – you guys said it had no use
- now we know it has a use

Peter Atkins:
- naturalists were open to the idea that junk DNA might have a use before ID

Moderator:
- Dr. Meyer, what about the wall that locks out intelligence as an explanation?

Stephen Meyer:
- if these are interesting questions, then we should allow freedom of inquiry
- that’s how science advances

Peter Atkins:
- for all their science-talk really they are just saying God did it
- people who don’t agree with me are not using their brains, like I do
- to give up on my pre-supposition of materialism is a denial of humanity

Mark Haville:
- there are important issues that are affected by our view of origins
- everyone who hasn’t seen Expelled movie should definitely see it

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Stephen C. Meyer and Marcus Ross lecture on the Cambrian explosion

Access Research Network is a group that produces recordings  of lectures and debates related to intelligent design. I noticed that on their Youtube channel they are releasing some of their older lectures and debates for FREE. So I decided to write a summary of one that I really like on the Cambrian explosion. This lecture features Dr. Stephen C. Meyer and Dr. Marcus Ross.

The lecture is about two hours. There are really nice slides with lots of illustrations to help you understand what the speakers are saying, even if you are not a scientist.

Here is a summary of the lecture from ARN:

The Cambrian explosion is a term often heard in origins debates, but seldom completely understood by the non-specialist. This lecture by Meyer and Ross is one of the best overviews available on the topic and clearly presents in verbal and pictorial summary the latest fossil data (including the recent finds from Chengjiang China). This lecture is based on a paper recently published by Meyer, Ross, Nelson and Chien “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang” in Darwinism, Design and Public Education(2003, Michigan State University Press). This 80-page article includes 127 references and the book includes two additional appendices with 63 references documenting the current state of knowledge on the Cambrian explosion data. 

The term Cambrian explosion describes the geologically sudden appearance of animals in the fossil record during the Cambrian period of geologic time. During this event, at least nineteen, and perhaps as many as thirty-five (of forty total) phyla made their first appearance on earth. Phyla constitute the highest biological categories in the animal kingdom, with each phylum exhibiting a unique architecture, blueprint, or structural body plan. The word explosion is used to communicate that fact that these life forms appear in an exceedingly narrow window of geologic time (no more than 5 million years). If the standard earth’s history is represented as a 100 yard football field, the Cambrian explosion would represent a four inch section of that field.

For a majority of earth’s life forms to appear so abruptly is completely contrary to the predictions of Neo-Darwinian and Punctuated Equilibrium evolutionary theory, including:

  • the gradual emergence of biological complexity and the existence of numerous transitional forms leading to new phylum-level body plans;
  • small-scale morphological diversity preceding the emergence of large-scale morphological disparity; and
  • a steady increase in the morphological distance between organic forms over time and, consequently, an overall steady increase in the number of phyla over time (taking into account factors such as extinction).

After reviewing how the evidence is completely contrary to evolutionary predictions, Meyer and Ross address three common objections: 1) the artifact hypothesis: Is the Cambrian explosion real?; 2) The Vendian Radiation (a late pre-Cambrian multicellular organism); and 3) the deep divergence hypothesis.

Finally Meyer and Ross argue why design is a better scientific explanation for the Cambrian explosion. They argue that this is not an argument from ignorance, but rather the best explanation of the evidence from our knowledge base of the world. We find in the fossil record distinctive features or hallmarks of designed systems, including:

  • a quantum or discontinuous increase in specified complexity or information
  • a top-down pattern of scale diversity
  • the persistence of structural (or “morphological”) disparities between separate organizational systems; and
  • the discrete or novel organizational body plans

When we encounter objects that manifest any of these several features and we know how they arose, we invariably find that a purposeful agent or intelligent designer played a causal role in their origin.

Recorded April 24, 2004. Approximately 2 hours including audience Q&A.

You can get a DVD of the lecture and other great lectures from Access Research Network. I recommend their origin of life lectures – I have watched the ones with Dean Kenyon and Charles Thaxton probably a dozen times each. Speaking as an engineer, you never get tired of seeing engineering principles applied to questions like the origin of life.

The Cambrian explosion lecture above is a great intermediate-level lecture and will prepare you to be able to understand Dr. Meyer’s new book “Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design“. The Michigan State University book that Dr. Meyer mentions is called “Darwin, Design and Public Education“. That book is one of the two good collections on intelligent design published by academic university presses, the other one being from Cambridge University Press, and titled “Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA“. If you think this lecture is above your level of understanding, then be sure and check out the shorter and more up-to-date DVD “Darwin’s Dilemma“.

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Is Mormonism supported by evidence from science, philosophy and history?

This post presents evidence against Mormonism/LDS in three main areas. The first is in the area of science. The second is in the area of philosophy. And the third is in the area of history.

The scientific evidence

First, let’s take a look at what the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, believes about the origin of the universe:

“The elements are eternal. That which had a beggining will surely have an end; take a ring, it is without beggining or end – cut it for a beggining place and at the same time you have an ending place.” (“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 205)

“Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos – chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existance from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beggining, and can have no end.”
(“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 395)

A Mormon scholar named Blake Ostler summarizes the Mormon view in a Mormon theological journal:

“In contrast to the self-sufficient and solitary absolute who creates ex nihilo (out of nothing), the Mormon God did not bring into being the ultimate constituents of the cosmos — neither its fundamental matter nor the space/time matrix which defines it. Hence, unlike the Necessary Being of classical theology who alone could not not exist and on which all else is contingent for existence, the personal God of Mormonism confronts uncreated realities which exist of metaphysical necessity. Such realities include inherently self-directing selves (intelligences), primordial elements (mass/energy), the natural laws which structure reality, and moral principles grounded in the intrinsic value of selves and the requirements for growth and happiness.” (Blake Ostler, “The Mormon Concept of God,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17 (Summer 1984):65-93)

So, Mormons believe in an eternally existing universe, such that matter was never created out of nothing, and will never be destroyed. But this is at odds with modern cosmology.

The Big Bang cosmology is the most widely accepted cosmology of the day. It is based on several lines of evidence, and is broadly compatible with Genesis. It denies the past eternality of the universe. This peer-reviewed paper in an astrophysics journal explains. (full text here)

Excerpt:

The standard Big Bang model thus describes a universe which is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a finite time ago. Moreover,–and this deserves underscoring–the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo. For not only all matter and energy, but space and time themselves come into being at the initial cosmological singularity. As Barrow and Tipler emphasize, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.

[...]On such a model the universe originates ex nihilo in the sense that at the initial singularity it is true that There is no earlier space-time point or it is false that Something existed prior to the singularity.

Christian cosmology requires such a creation out of nothing, but this is clearly incompatible with what Mormons believe about the universe. The claims about the universe made by the two religions are in disagreement, and we can test empirically to see who is right, using science.

Philosophical problems

Always Have a Reason contrasts two concepts of God in Mormonism: Monarchotheism and Polytheism. It turns out that although Mormonism is actually a polytheistic religion, like Hinduism. In Mormonism, humans can become God and then be God of their own planet. So there are many Gods in Mormonism, not just one.

Excerpt:

[T]he notion that there are innumerable contingent “primal intelligences” is central to this Mormon concept of god (P+M, 201; Beckwith and Parrish, 101). That there is more than one god is attested in the Pearl of Great Price, particularly Abraham 4-5. This Mormon concept has the gods positioned to move “primal intelligences along the path to godhood” (Beckwith and Parrish, 114). Among these gods are other gods which were once humans, including God the Father. Brigham Young wrote, “our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father, and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on…” (Brigham Young, The Seer, 132, quoted in Beckwith and Parrish, 106).

[...]The logic of the Mormon polytheistic concept of God entails that there is an infinite number of gods. To see this, it must be noted that each god him/herself was helped on the path to godhood by another god. There is, therefore, an infinite regress of gods, each aided on his/her path to godhood by a previous god. There is no termination in this series. Now because this entails an actually infinite collection of gods, the Mormon polytheistic concept of deity must deal with all the paradoxes which come with actually existing infinities…

The idea of counting up to an actual infinite number of things by addition (it doesn’t matter what kind of thing it is) is problematic. See here.

More:

Finally, it seems polytheistic Mormonism has a difficulty at its heart–namely the infinite regress of deity.

[...]Each god relies upon a former god, which itself relies upon a former god, forever. Certainly, this is an incoherence at the core of this concept of deity, for it provides no explanation for the existence of the gods, nor does it explain the existence of the universe.

Now let’s see the historical evidence against Mormonism.

The historical evidence

J. Warner Wallace explains how the “Book of Abraham”, a part of the Mormon Scriptures, faces historical difficulties.

The Book of Abraham papyri are not as old as claimed:

Mormon prophets and teachers have always maintained that the papyri that was purchased by Joseph Smith was the actual papyri that was created and written by Abraham. In fact, early believers were told that the papyri were the writings of Abraham.

[...]There is little doubt that the earliest of leaders and witnesses believed and maintained that these papyri were, in fact the very scrolls upon which Abraham and Joseph wrote. These papyri were considered to be the original scrolls until they were later recovered in 1966. After discovering the original papyri, scientists, linguists, archeologists and investigators (both Mormon and non-Mormon) examined them and came to agree that the papyri are far too young to have been written by Abraham. They are approximately 1500 to 2000 years too late, dating from anywhere between 500 B.C. (John A. Wilson, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, p. 70.) and 60 A.D. If they papyri had never been discovered, this truth would never have come to light. Today, however, we know the truth, and the truth contradicts the statements of the earliest Mormon leaders and witnesses.

The Book of Abraham papyri do not claim what Joseph Smith said:

In addition to this, the existing papyri simply don’t say anything that would place them in the era related to 2000BC in ancient Egypt. The content of the papyri would at least help verify the dating of the document, even if the content had been transcribed or copied from an earlier document. But the papyri simply tell us about an ancient burial ritual and prayers that are consistent with Egyptian culture in 500BC. Nothing in the papyri hints specifically or exclusively to a time in history in which Abraham would have lived.

So there is a clear difference hear between the Bible and Mormonism, when it comes to historical verification.

Further study

There is a very good podcast featuring J. Warner Wallace that summarizes some other theological problems with Mormonism that I blogged about before. And if you want a nice long PDF to print out and read at lunch (which is what I did with it) you can grab this PDF by Michael Licona, entitled “Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock“.

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Theistic evolutionists and the two-platoon strategy

What should we make of theistic evolutionists telling us that you can believe in God, while still knowing that matter, law and chance explain the full development of all of life?

Consider this quotation from Phillip E. Johnson.

Quote:

The National Academy’s way of dealing with the religious implications of evolution is akin to the two-platoon system in American football. When the leading figures of evolutionary science feel free to say what they really believe, writers such as Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Carl Sagan, Steven Pinker, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin and others state the “God is dead” thesis aggressively, invoking the authority of science to silence any theistic protest. That is the offensive platoon, and the National Academy never raises any objection to its promoting this worldview.

At other times, however, the scientific elite has to protect the teaching of the “fact of evolution” from objections by religious conservatives who know what the offensive platoon is saying and who argue that the science educators are insinuating a worldview that goes far beyond the data. When the objectors are too numerous or influential to be ignored, the defensive platoon takes the field. That is when we read those spin-doctored reassurances saying that many scientists are religious (in some sense), that science does not claim to have proved that God does not exist (but merely that he does not affect the natural world), and that science and religion are separate realms which should never be mixed (unless it is the materialists who are doing the mixing). Once the defensive platoon has done its job it leaves the field, and the offensive platoon goes right back to telling the public that science has shown that “God” is permanently out of business. (The Wedge of Truth, IVP 2000, pp. 88-89).

So what naturalistic scientists believe is that God didn’t do anything to create the diversity of life – that nature does all of its own creating. In fact, it doesn’t matter if the best naturalistic explanation is improbable or implausible – scientists must bitterly cling to materialistic explanations of natural phenomena.

The problem for these scientists is that they are taxpayer-funded, and religious people don’t like paying to have scientists shoehorn reality into a pre-supposed naturalistic framework. Sometimes, religious people get annoyed about being told that sparking gases can create functional proteins. And sometimes, religious people get annoyed about being told that the universe oscillates eternally despite observations that falsify that speculative theory. And sometimes, religious people get annoyed about being told that there are as yet undiscovered fossilized precusors to the Cambrian era fossils.

Naturalists think that opposition to these lame naturalistic theories only ever be religiously-motivated. They cannot accept that people might question their naturalistic just-so stories on scientific grounds. So what do the naturalists do when faced with scientifically-motivated dissent that they think is religiously motivated? Well, they trot out “religious” scientists. These “religious” scientists claim to have a deep personal faith in God, and a belief in miracles. But these religious scientists believe that what actually happened is that law, matter and chance did all the creating of life. This is the “second platoon”. They are sent out to mislead the public by talking about their personal faith, and what God could and couldn’t do, and how evolutionists can believe in God without any evidence of intelligent causes in the history of life. The one question they most want to avoid is whether science, done in the ordinary naturalistic way, can discover evidence of intelligent agency in the history of the development of life.

Now, take a look at this article by Jay Richards. He cites some theistic evolutionists.

Excerpt:

Biologist Ken Miller:

For his part, [Ken] Miller, a biologist, has no qualms about telling us what God would do: “And in Catholicism, he said, God wouldn’t micromanage that way. ‘Surely he can set things up without having to violate his own laws.’”

I am unaware of any tenet of Catholic theology that requires God not to micromanage. It is, however, a tenet of deism.

Got that? What really happened is that God didn’t do anything. How does he know that? From the science? No. Because he assumes naturalism. Oh, it’s true that he says that God is lurking somewhere behind the material processes that created life. But God’s agency is undetectable by the methods of science. And he is hoping that you will accept his subjective pious God-talk as proof that a fundamentally atheistic reality is somehow reconcilable with a robust conception of theism.

More from Richards:

Then we get Stephen Barr offering his private definition of “chance.”

It is possible to believe simultaneously in a world that is shaped by chance and one following a divine plan. “God is in charge and there’s a lot of accident,” said Barr, also a Catholic. “It’s all part of a plan. . . . God may have known where every molecule was going to move.”

What does Barr really believe? He believes that what science shows is that nature created life without any interference by an intelligent agent. Barr then offers believers his subjective pious God-talk to reassure them that evolution is compatible with religion. He has a personal belief – NOT BASED ON SCIENCE – that the material processes that created all of life are “all part of a plan”. He cannot demonstrate that from science – it’s his faith commitment. And more speculations: “God may have known…”. He can’t demonstrate that God did know anything from science. He is just offering a personal opinion about what God “could have” done. The purpose of these subjective opinions is to appease those who ask questions about what natural mechanisms can really create. Can natural causes really account for the development of functional proteins? Never mind that – look at my shiny spiritual-sounding testimony!

That’s theistic evolution. What really happened is that no intelligent causes are needed to explain life. What they say is “God could” and “God might” and “I believe” and “I attend this church” and “I received a Christian award” and “I believe in miracles too”. None of these religious opinions and speculations are scientifically knowable – they are just opinions, speculations and biographical trivia. Atheists and theistic evolutions agree on what science shows about the diversity of life – intelligent causes didn’t do anything.

The quickest way to disarm a theistic evolutionist is to refuse to talk about religion or God, and to ask them to show you the naturalistic explanation of the Big Bang. And the naturalistic explanation of the fine-tuning. And the naturalistic explanation of the origin of life. And the naturalistic explanation of the Cambrian explosion. And so on. Focus on the science – don’t let them turn the conversation to their personal beliefs, or to the Bible, or to religion, or to philosophy. Ask them what they can show in the lab. If naturalistic mechanisms can do all the creating they say it can do, let’s see the demonstration in the lab.

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Evidence from science, philosophy and history against Mormonism

This post presents evidence against Mormonism/LDS in three main areas. The first is in the area of science. The second is in the area of philosophy. And the third is in the area of history.

The scientific evidence

First, let’s take a look at what the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, believes about the origin of the universe:

“The elements are eternal. That which had a beggining will surely have an end; take a ring, it is without beggining or end – cut it for a beggining place and at the same time you have an ending place.” (“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 205)

“Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos – chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existance from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beggining, and can have no end.”
(“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 395)

A Mormon scholar named Blake Ostler summarizes the Mormon view in a Mormon theological journal:

“In contrast to the self-sufficient and solitary absolute who creates ex nihilo (out of nothing), the Mormon God did not bring into being the ultimate constituents of the cosmos — neither its fundamental matter nor the space/time matrix which defines it. Hence, unlike the Necessary Being of classical theology who alone could not not exist and on which all else is contingent for existence, the personal God of Mormonism confronts uncreated realities which exist of metaphysical necessity. Such realities include inherently self-directing selves (intelligences), primordial elements (mass/energy), the natural laws which structure reality, and moral principles grounded in the intrinsic value of selves and the requirements for growth and happiness.” (Blake Ostler, “The Mormon Concept of God,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17 (Summer 1984):65-93)

So, Mormons believe in an eternally existing universe, such that matter was never created out of nothing, and will never be destroyed. But this is at odds with modern cosmology.

The Big Bang cosmology is the most widely accepted cosmology of the day. It is based on several lines of evidence, and is broadly compatible with Genesis. It denies the past eternality of the universe. This peer-reviewed paper in an astrophysics journal explains. (full text here)

Excerpt:

The standard Big Bang model thus describes a universe which is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a finite time ago. Moreover,–and this deserves underscoring–the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo. For not only all matter and energy, but space and time themselves come into being at the initial cosmological singularity. As Barrow and Tipler emphasize, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.

[...]On such a model the universe originates ex nihilo in the sense that at the initial singularity it is true that There is no earlier space-time point or it is false that Something existed prior to the singularity.

Christian cosmology requires such a creation out of nothing, but this is clearly incompatible with what Mormons believe about the universe. The claims about the universe made by the two religions are in disagreement, and we can test empirically to see who is right, using science.

Philosophical problems

Always Have a Reason contrasts two concepts of God in Mormonism: Monarchotheism and Polytheism. It turns out that although Mormonism is actually a polytheistic religion, like Hinduism. In Mormonism, humans can become God and then be God of their own planet. So there are many Gods in Mormonism, not just one.

Excerpt:

[T]he notion that there are innumerable contingent “primal intelligences” is central to this Mormon concept of god (P+M, 201; Beckwith and Parrish, 101). That there is more than one god is attested in the Pearl of Great Price, particularly Abraham 4-5. This Mormon concept has the gods positioned to move “primal intelligences along the path to godhood” (Beckwith and Parrish, 114). Among these gods are other gods which were once humans, including God the Father. Brigham Young wrote, “our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father, and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on…” (Brigham Young, The Seer, 132, quoted in Beckwith and Parrish, 106).

[...]The logic of the Mormon polytheistic concept of God entails that there is an infinite number of gods. To see this, it must be noted that each god him/herself was helped on the path to godhood by another god. There is, therefore, an infinite regress of gods, each aided on his/her path to godhood by a previous god. There is no termination in this series. Now because this entails an actually infinite collection of gods, the Mormon polytheistic concept of deity must deal with all the paradoxes which come with actually existing infinities…

The idea of counting up to an actual infinite number of things by addition (it doesn’t matter what kind of thing it is) is problematic. See here.

More:

Finally, it seems polytheistic Mormonism has a difficulty at its heart–namely the infinite regress of deity.

[...]Each god relies upon a former god, which itself relies upon a former god, forever. Certainly, this is an incoherence at the core of this concept of deity, for it provides no explanation for the existence of the gods, nor does it explain the existence of the universe.

Now let’s see the historical evidence against Mormonism.

The historical evidence

J. Warner Wallace explains how the “Book of Abraham”, a part of the Mormon Scriptures, faces historical difficulties.

The Book of Abraham papyri are not as old as claimed:

Mormon prophets and teachers have always maintained that the papyri that was purchased by Joseph Smith was the actual papyri that was created and written by Abraham. In fact, early believers were told that the papyri were the writings of Abraham.

[...]There is little doubt that the earliest of leaders and witnesses believed and maintained that these papyri were, in fact the very scrolls upon which Abraham and Joseph wrote. These papyri were considered to be the original scrolls until they were later recovered in 1966. After discovering the original papyri, scientists, linguists, archeologists and investigators (both Mormon and non-Mormon) examined them and came to agree that the papyri are far too young to have been written by Abraham. They are approximately 1500 to 2000 years too late, dating from anywhere between 500 B.C. (John A. Wilson, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, p. 70.) and 60 A.D. If they papyri had never been discovered, this truth would never have come to light. Today, however, we know the truth, and the truth contradicts the statements of the earliest Mormon leaders and witnesses.

The Book of Abraham papyri do not claim what Joseph Smith said:

In addition to this, the existing papyri simply don’t say anything that would place them in the era related to 2000BC in ancient Egypt. The content of the papyri would at least help verify the dating of the document, even if the content had been transcribed or copied from an earlier document. But the papyri simply tell us about an ancient burial ritual and prayers that are consistent with Egyptian culture in 500BC. Nothing in the papyri hints specifically or exclusively to a time in history in which Abraham would have lived.

So there is a clear difference hear between the Bible and Mormonism, when it comes to historical verification.

Further study

There is a very good podcast featuring J. Warner Wallace that summarizes some other theological problems with Mormonism that I blogged about before. And if you want a nice long PDF to print out and read at lunch (which is what I did with it) you can grab this PDF by Michael Licona, entitled “Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock“.

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