Friday, July 26, 2013

Questions For Atheists - Part 3 (Fossil Record, Archaeology, Information, The Immaterial)

In part 3 of answering Phil Fernandes' challenge to atheists, we cover several new topics like the fossil record, archaeology and information. I didn't notice until now that at the bottom of the web page it says, "Can you answer all these questions and maintain your disbelief with full intellectual integrity? We pray that many of these inquiries might nag at your atheism. If you feel so bold, we invite you to submit a full answer-set to todd(at)" Well I'm not done yet so we'll have to see if when I'm done these questions will be able to challenge my atheism. And I just might take him up on his offer. Now onto the questions!

1. How do you account for the Cambrian Explosion? What is your evidence?

The Cambrian explosion, which occurred about 540 million years ago is the period in which most of the major phyla began appearing in the fossil record. Some creationists who've given up trying to disprove macroevolution as a whole have tried to make the case that the "explosion" of so much variety of new phyla must be evidence of god. First, the "explosion" took place over a period of about 20-30 million years. And second, we have ample evidence of the evolution of some of the phylum found in the Burgess shale in Canada and other deposits in China. There are also vast resources out there available to anyone looking to conduct research like books, blogs, Wikipedia and for the lazy, YouTube. Given the vast amount of resources available online, there's really no excuse to be totally ignorant of evolution. If one wants to find answers, it is almost certainly out there online. 

I've written more about the Cambrian explosion here.

2. Can you provide specific evidence for species-to-species transitional forms in the fossil record?

Phil is apparently resting his personal case for theism on evolution being false, so he's not even a sophisticated theist like Dr. Francis Collins, or Dr. Ken Miller. So I guess this means that if evolution is true, Christianity is false, since it seems like Phil is making it a dichotomy. So he wants evidence for one specific fossil record indicating speciation. Well OK. Here's the evolution of the whale from land dwelling animals: 

There are additional resources here on whale evolution:

I must say that any theistic position that wants to lay its foundation on creationism, whether old earth or young earth, is automatically committing intellectual suicide.

1. How do you account for the vast archaeological documentation of Biblical stories, places, and people? 

Since no sources are mentioned I can apply Hitchens' Razor here: What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. But since I've recently written on this I can say that archaeology has not been kind to the Bible. There is no archaeological evidence supporting some of the most famous tales of the Old Testament, including the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt, the exodus and wandering in Sinai for 40 years, and the military conquest of Canaan. We can confidently say that these tales were written fabrications. This was documented by Israel Finkelstein, Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, and Neil Silberman, contributing editor or Archaeology Magazine in their book and documentary called The Bible Unearthed.

1. Regarding the information encoded in DNA, if a supernatural transcendent Almighty God did not author it, what did? How do you know?

Since I am not a biochemist I can only give a layperson's answer. No one is quite sure exactly how DNA formed, but it certainly doesn't help us one bit to assume god did it. That attitude would destroy science. For example, until the 1980s there was a chicken and egg problem with respect to DNA: nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) are necessary to build proteins, and proteins are necessary to build nucleic acids. So which one came first? Now imagine if we adopted the creationist mindset. Biologists would have simple given up and said "God did it" and called it a night. But the chicken and egg problem was solved when according to Berkeley University's evolution page, "a new property of RNA was discovered: some kinds of RNA can catalyze chemical reactions — and that means that RNA can both store genetic information and cause the chemical reactions necessary to copy itself."

We know that RNA can form naturally, and RNA is believed by some to be the precursor to DNA. So we have no shortage of theories that can explain how DNA evolved, but "God did it" is sure not one of them. 

2. Do you object to the notion of Intelligent Design because of your lack of religious values?

I reject intelligent design because it is a complete failure at explaining anything significant about biology. It literally works on magic, and when faced with the explanatory power of evolution, it is blown out of the water. It's also continually refuted by scientists who believe in god like Dr. Ken Miller. So no, even if I had religious values, I'd still reject ID.

1. Are there subjective or immaterial experiences and entities? How do you know?

This question is odd. Experiences happen when we visit physical places, interact with physical beings, and these cause electro-chemical reactions in our brains. Even though consciousness itself is not material, it needs to be feed by information like photons bouncing off of people and places that hit our eyes and those are physical. Now we can experience dreams, but dreams are just our brains regurgitating our experiences back to us in new forms.

2. In an all-material Universe, how do YOU account for the immaterial Laws of Logic, Science, Math, Morality and Uniformity of Nature? 

Well no atheist has to subscribe to an all-material universe, which is physicalism. Like I said before, I am a naturalist, and naturalism accounts for things like abstract concepts which are not physical in themselves, or relational properties, which are not physical either, but are all natural. Since nothing can be illogical, logic exists necessarily; the laws of science may differ in other universes, so they may be contingent. Mathematical logic exists the same way logic does, they are necessary truths; moral laws are dependent on the species and are therefore fundamentally relative; uniformity in nature is due to the fact that the laws of physics as far as we know are universal. In total, naturalism accounts for all these things.  

3. What or whom is your final reference point required to make facts and laws intelligible? 

Facts and laws are intelligible because we evolved the ability to comprehend them. 

4. Is love material? Beauty? Consciousness? Logic? Reason? How are they empirically measured? How much does the number nine weigh?

Love is at least partly bio-chemical, but it has to be consciously experienced, so there seems to be some part of it that is not purely physical. Same would be true of course of consciousness and logic as they are dependent on physical minds to know. I'm not saying that we invented logic, it's more like we discovered logic, it is embedded into reality because it not being there is impossible. We can measure brain activity in people who are in love but I'm not sure that we can assign "love units" as a way of measuring people in love. The number nine weighs nothing, because it exists as an abstract concept. If this is an attempt to trick the atheist into admitting that some things are immaterial, I'll be the first to say yes - some things are immaterial. But they're not conscious entities, they're concepts and relationships between physical things. No deity required.  

5. Where does thought come from? Is there a non-material mind that transcends the physical brain? How do you empirically know?

Thoughts come from the physical brain. We have absolutely no evidence that a mind can exist independent of a physical brain. 

6. Can you empirically observe your mind (not your brain)? If not, does it exist?

No I cannot observe my mind. The mind is the thinking aspect of the physical brain. But it does exist, because my brain exists. All of these questions are like repeats of the same thing. It's like Sye Ten Bruggencate's attempt to use the existence of logic to prove god exists, that I responded to here. Minds are emergent properties of physical brains. Concepts like god, likewise exist only in our minds.

So far my atheism has not been seriously challenged and I'm about halfway done. The reason why I'm responding to these questions is to show anyone who reads them that the atheistic position can maintain its intellectual integrity and withstand serious challenges to its tenets, and because I personally like being challenged. We'll see if Phil will be able to achieve his goal, but I have a feeling he's going to need to pray a lot harder.


  1. Man... just an astounding collection of arguments from ignorance. Even if non-believers had no answers to any of these questions, that would in no way make "God" a valid explanation by default.

    Also, that's the first time I've heard the Hitch quote referred to as "Hitchens' Razor". Well played, my friend. Well played.

  2. #4 in the IMMATERIAL section is just fantastic!

    I wonder whether he believes a material relationship, such as the distance between New York and Boston, has a weight, or whether he things that relationships between material things require supernaturalism.

    A mind boggling display of idiocy!



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