Monday, March 18, 2013

Moving The Goal Posts

It's amazing to see Christians and Muslims debate the existence of god today, especially the formidable ones. They have to concede that evolution is now a fact and that it happened, and that Big Bang cosmology accurately describes the history and evolution of our universe - meaning that it is not thousands of years old, but billions. And in order for them to make the case for the Kalam Cosmological Argument, they must use science that actually disproves their own religions, at least in their literal contexts.

This is particularly problematic for Muslims, because they must show their own Qur'an to be false on its claim to scientific "facts" to argue the Kalam. For example, the Qur'an says that the heavens and the earth was made in 6 days in chapters 7:54; 10:3; 11:7; 50:38; & 57:4, then it says it was made in 8 days  in chapters 41:9-12. A Muslim might then say that a "day" might mean a period a lot longer than a literal 24 hour day that we experience, but luckily we also have in the Qur'an the definition of just exactly how long a "day" is for god. The Qur'an says that a day for god is the equivalent of 1000 years for us in chapters 22:47 and 32:5, and then it says that a day for god is 50,000 years for us in chapter 70:4.

Now aside from its own failure at consistency, neither set of numbers given anywhere in the Qur'an accurately describe the real numbers that science gives us. The Muslim can do two things here - they can deny the science that our universe is billions of years old, or they can make the claim, as most Christians already do, that these verses in their holy book are not meant to be taken literally. If they take the former option, and deny the science, they will have to deny the very same science that they use to make the case for the Kalam, thus diminishing its potency by their own hands; if they take the latter option, and water down their religion, then in some ways they can't be called true Muslims anymore. The reason why is that Islam is a religion where literalism is to a much greater extent imbued because Muslims claim to posses a literal transcript of god's will in the Qur'an and not just mere words inspired by god. Furthermore, when you water down your religion and dilute its teachings, you're essentially moving the goals posts back making your opponent have to kick harder than they expected they had to.

This is all kind of like how many Christians today have completely conceded the argument against evolution, and then they take the position that evolution was all part of god's plan after all. A growing number of Muslims are doing this now although they are in the minority. When you can concede an entire argument that undermines some of the roots of your theological worldview by moving the goal posts, your argument approaches the realm of becoming unfalsifiable. But, I suppose we can give credit to some theists for at least being persuadable by evidence.

Do atheists move the goal posts? Well, it's slightly different with us since we don't have a book or a very strict set of dogmatic beliefs that are believed to be the literal or inspired ideas of anyone infallible. We understand that no minds are perfect and that mistakes can be made. The only time in history I can think of when religion may have changed the mind of scientific thinkers, was after Edwin Hubble noticed the red shifting of other galaxies that indicated that the universe was expanding, and a Catholic scientist named Georges LemaĆ®tre used this evidence to help convince Einstein and many physicists who were steady state theorists that the red shifting was evidence that the universe had a beginning. But even then if it weren't for LemaĆ®tre, the evidence itself would have eventually convinced the majority of the scientific community that the universe had a beginning.

Scientists can get things wrong, they do all the time, that's the nature of science and learning. Before Edwin Hubble's discovery, most atheists were steady state theorists who believed the universe existed eternally into the past. Scientific evidence forced physicists and cosmologists to change their view and accept that the universe had a beginning, a position monotheism held for centuries. While this may sound similar to the concession of evolution made by theists, the difference is that atheists of course didn't have any dogmatic beliefs that the universe must have existed eternally, there just wasn't any evidence prior to Edwin Hubble's discovery that the universe had a finite past. Humans can make such a mistake, but I'd hold god to a much higher standard.

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