Loosely off topic conversations with a “Christian” on Facebook

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In response to the absurd tweets by trade unionist Zwelenzima Vavi and former Gauteng Premier and ANC member of Parliament, Dr Mathole Motshekga, I made a post to Facebook as follows:

We are all grandchildren, children and parents of apes. What is the big deal? Better than than the creations of a stupid, wicked god who is unable to communicate with his children through normal channels and means. I am much prouder as an ape than as a child of a foolish god.

The conversation that ensued is hopefully of benefit to others who may be thinking using the same flawed arguments as the person who replied. So I post the conversation here. I don’t normally reply to this kind of questioning, because it is usually obvious that the person has made up his mind ahead of time, and is uninterested in rational argument. But in this case, I was curious as to the thinking that was behind the question.

RESPONDENT 1: Was that post just some chest-beating from you?

Derek Keats: It was a reply to Zwelenzima Vavi and the former premier of Gauteng

RESPONDENT 2: Derek Keats ?

Derek Keats: yes?

RESPONDENT 2: Please indulge me for a second… may I kindly ask, to the best of your scientific skills, knowledge, education and learnings… what description would you attach to any challenge and/or situation and/or phenomena and/or natural objects that the best of human beings have no reasonable explanation for existence?

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2 that is impossible to address in the abstract. Give me an example of a natural object that we have no reasonable explanation for and then I might be able to answer. I can’t think of anything, so it is hard for me to imagine what you might have in mind.

RESPONDENT 2: Simple example: The orderliness and design of the human body system in body parts, their placement/location, function and human bodily processes e.g. reproduction, digestion etc

Derek Keats: Those are VERY well understood. How can you conceivable think that “we have no reasonable explanation” about that?

Derek Keats: And by the way, there is no design there, there is only adaptation on a pre-existing pattern.

RESPONDENT 2:  Simple example: The orderliness and design of the galaxy and planetary system in the being/existence of planets, placement and process phenomena e.g. rotation round the sun or round other planets with precision and routine.

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2,  there is no design in the galaxy, and its origin and the origin of star systems and the formation of planets and other objects from accretion disks are well understood. What is your point? You are asking about well understood phenomena, and implying that there is no explanation for them.

RESPONDENT 2:  Pre Existing pattern… comment on the first existence.

Derek Keats: First existence of what?

RESPONDENT 2:  You mentioned adaptation to pre existing pattern… this implies there was an earlier pattern existing… It this is logical, please comment on its source.

Derek Keats RESPONDENT 2, well, as you know, Homo sapiens evolved from earlier vertebrates, which already had the patterns you asked about.

Derek Keats What is your point of asking questions to which the answers are known?

NOTE: RESPONDENT 2 ignored this question. 

RESPONDENT 2:  To the best of your analysis, the placement of parts on a human body vis a vis their function and existence of bodily processes does not elicit an appreciation of some design? including that ability of adaptation you mention?

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2, No.There is no design. It is well known and understood that natural selection creates the illusion of design, and the mechanism for that is well understood. What is your point?

NOTE: RESPONDENT 2 ignored this question. 

RESPONDENT 2:  E.g. With a jawbone and teeth, and for eating the placement of the mouth is perfect… and the reproduction and processes are perfect in ensuring our continued existence…

NOTE: I had already answered this, and the answer was not responded to, only repeating the question with an example.

Derek Keats Please read a first year biology text book. Those things are as well understood as can be. Just because you are ignorant of something, doesn’t make it evidence for some other explanation, such as explanations by magic that you seem to be trying to get to. That is known as ‘argumentum ad ignorantiam’ (argument from ignorance), and it cannot be used as evidence for anything. See Wikipedia for more on the argument from ignorance, commonly used by religious people to try to bolster a weak case for the existence of their particular god — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance

NOTE: There is no evidence in further discussion that my invitation to learn more was taken up.

RESPONDENT 2: I may not know much, nor read as much as you have done, hence my apparent ignorance to you…

NOTE: The respondent takes insult rather than solving the problem of lack of information.

You need to al least consider that incremental change pre-supposes a first existence of something… however rudimentary, tiny or minute…

My point… please look keenly for the FIRST blue prints of these natural things and processes, including natural selection… there in somewhere, and due to the perfection of the INTELLIGENCE visible in the DESIGN, I think there is some creator. You may try hard to academically explain away…. but at the point where explanations stop… God starts. Maybe you have a different word for Him.

NOTE: Despite my pointing out the problem with the ‘god of the gaps’ argument, and giving a link where it was explained, this person ignored all that and deliberately persisted with the ‘god of the gaps’ argument.

I sorry for sounding argumentative and ignorant but I don’t have better words to explain what I mean.

NOTE: Of course, reading the recommended piece would have solved that problem, and made the person understand why the argument was flawed.

First existence. First blue prints, if you will.

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2, So you are talking about the god of the gaps argument. Your particular god lives where-ever you think there is no explanation.

There are no blueprints. You cannot tell me to look at first blueprints, the concept is meaningless, it has no basis in reality. By using the term blueprint, you already have assumed design. EXACTLY what blueprint are you referring to, assuming that you actually imagine one existing?

You are looking for perfection, which does not exist in nature. It is in fact the ubiquitous imperfection that is good evidence for the absence of magical intelligence.

There are only two reasons a person could argue as you are doing:

1. You don’t understand nature and living organisms.
— Solution, as I said, spend a few hours reading a first year biology text book.

2. You understand but it doesn’t fit with your preconceptions, in other words, you are practising self-delusion.
— Solution, spend more time trying to understand.

3. You understand but you are lying.
— Solution, lie to people more gullible than me.

Do you have any other possibility?

Note: Ignoring everything I said the person then suggests separation of religion and science. Note also that the points I raised and the questions I asked were not addressed in any subsequent reply.

RESPONDENT 2:  Maybe Christians should stop ever trying to prove God exists… Maybe Scientists should prove conclusively that He doesn’t.

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2:  You cannot prove that n(gods) = 0 because you cannot prove that n(anything) = 0. You cannot prove that Baal, Zeus, Unicorns, or flying elephants with pink ears don’t exist either. So you just resort to the same nonsense that religious people tend to resort to in the face of evidence, ignore it and talk nonsense like “Maybe Christians should stop ever trying to prove God exists… Maybe Scientists should prove conclusively that He doesn’t.” You don’t even realise that you are an atheist.

RESPONDENT 2:  I am laughing at the 3rd item. I am sorry… and honestly you actually think a collection of first year books in different domains can explain away this universe… please be serious.

Note: I was pointing out that reading up on the subject, and gaining some understanding of it might be a good idea. Not that first year books would “explain away this universe”, but when delusions are strong, ignorance becomes a deliberate choice.

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2:  “Explain away the universe”?

Derek Keats: Just to end this conversation… I have answered everything you have raised, and you have preached ignorance at me. You are unwilling to engage with the evidence, so why bother asking?

RESPONDENT 2:  Why are you so free with this ignorance label? I am thinking if we tried tracing backward on the geography of earth, on the biology of life, etc…. on the science of everything… how far are you willing to go… big bang? and what existed before that in form of objects and processes?

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2,  What is your point? We don’t know about anything before the big bang, and neither do you. But just because we don’t know something doesn’t mean god did it, I tried to explain that with the ‘god of the gaps’ above. Google it.

Why I am free with the ignorance label is because you present me with information that is WRONG, that is known to be wrong, for which there are perfectly good explanations. You are either ignorant, deluded or lying. I asked if there was any other explanation, and you offered none. Ignorant is not an insult, as you seem to think, it simply means you don’t know enough about it.

RESPONDENT 2:  And please assume I have at least read some basics.

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2,  “And please assume I have at least read some basics.” – it doesn’t show in your arguments or lack of interest in answering anything I asked by way of answering your questions.

RESPONDENT 2:  Please consider, and be open to, the possibilty that what is written (going back) maybe a very tiny fraction of what there is…

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2, I am always open to evidence. Show me some.

RESPONDENT 2: If today was caused by yesterday… yesterday by the day before…
If this artefact/object/animal is caused by what there was…
It surely must have started somewhere…
And that it happened in this manner and no other way…

RESPONDENT 2:  Where did it all start?

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2, Your logic is flawed. Today was not caused by yesterday, it was caused by the same cause, which is the rotation of the planet Earth around its own axis. You are confusing sequence with cause.

“If this artefact/object/animal is caused by what there was…” this statement is not meaningful. Sequence is not cause.

RESPONDENT 2:  Derek… remember incremental… natural selection… What is TODAY… is because of what was YESTERDAY… evolution, if you will.

RESPONDENT 2:  Where did it all start?

Derek Keats: That is sequence not cause. Cause would be male birds developing bright colours because of sexual selection by female choice (for example). But ignoring the semantics of the word ’cause’, what are you getting at?

RESPONDENT 2:  I am afraid of giving specific examples because you get lost in them. Lets take everything in totality, lets trace each backwards to its beginning… what circumstances led to the start?

RESPONDENT 2:  If, MAYBE, all things existing converge at a single point, what was this single point? and what activated or ignited it to start and eventually produce what we now have?

NOTE: This is getting a little tedious, I know. The ‘god of the gaps’ again despite me explaining why it is wrong and pointing to reading materials that were then ignored.

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2, I suggest you watch David Christian’s TED talk covering the Universe’s 13.8 billion year history in 18 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qt6MZ3dJaoU

RESPONDENT 2:  I watched. So please educate me, I know everything after… BANG!… So what is Bang? what caused Bang? and in that manner…

NOTE: I struggle with patience. The ‘god of the gaps’ again. Bloody hell!

RESPONDENT 2:  Is big bang scientific? an effect without a cause?

RESPONDENT 2:  Is big bang scientific? a unitary point, a singularity, that ends with diversity?

RESPONDENT 2:  Is there probability that… something existed before big bang? some energy to create matter? to give the explosion a base?

RESPONDENT 2:  How, sir, did NOTHING create SOMETHING and in effect ( and in fact) EVERYTHING you have, EVERYTHING you know? EVERYTHING there is?

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2,  “Is big bang scientific?” Yes, the evidence for it is consistent with the theory. Cosmic microwave background radiation and expanding universe to name but two. If you want to know more, I suggest you read ‘A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing’ by Lawrence M. Krauss. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Universe_from_Nothing

“an effect without a cause?” – depends on what you mean by cause. In general, cause in science means “how” but in religion it means “why”. So your cause any my cause are unlikely to coincide in meaning. Just because this is stuff that is fairly a recent scientific discovery, and we don’t know how it happened, and have no current scientific means to find out, doesn’t mean that we never well. But the fact that we don’t fully understand it DOES NOT MEAN that it was god. Asserting so, is known as the “god of the gaps” reasoning. It is a logical flaw that is common to poorly read religious people. You can find out more about the ‘god of the gaps’ at http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/God_of_the_gaps

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2, “Is big bang scientific? a unitary point, a singularity,” YES. I think Stephen Hawking explains it quite well. http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html

“that ends with diversity?” – we don’t know how it ends. But if you mean diversity – sensu lato – has increased since the big bang, that is probably true. In the early days, as far as matter is concerned, there was only hydrogen and helium, but as stars were born, grew old, exploded, heavier elements came to be, including those that make up our bodies. Is that what you mean? There is a good explanation here http://sciencelearn.org.nz/…/How-elements-are-formed

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2: “Is there probability that… something existed before big bang? some energy to create matter? to give the explosion a base?”

We don’t know. That doesn’t make it any particular god though. See “the god of the gaps” argument.

Derek Keats: RESPONDENT 2, “How, sir, did NOTHING create SOMETHING and in effect ( and in fact) EVERYTHING you have, EVERYTHING you know? EVERYTHING there is?”

Please read Krauss’ book. According to him, nothing is unstable and decays into something. It happens all the time on a more dispersed scale. But the thing is, we don’t understand the physics of the singularity, and we have no methods to find out right now. That doesn’t make it any particular god though. See “the god of the gaps” argument. Some poorly read religious people still claim the god of the gaps even though it is a moving target.

What makes a person harp on and on with a discredited argument, despite being given the tools to understand why the argument is flawed? There are only three possibilities: delusion or lying. The ignorance option is no longer available, since the deliberate choosing of ignorance is delusion. Religious people who argue this way, must be either deluded or lying to protect their particular god-concept. In this case, being charitable, I assume delusion, even though it is not materially better than lying.