Friday, August 20, 2010

Miracle by Design

A follow up to my "Miracle" post from the James Randi Foundation.
It seems to me, and I'm sure many of you, that if a higher power was involved, she/he/it deserves credit for the tragedy as well as the remarkable survival.  Unfortunately, people don't want to focus on the tragedy, and that's why today's article in USA Today entitled "Engineers: Passengers' survival was miracle by design" and the linked ABC Nightline video are so interesting.


  1. Interesting that you credit the high level of complexity and functionality of safe aircraft to design when you credit something that's dozens of orders of magnitude more ordered and complex and functional, like even the simplest forms of life, to the random ordering of simple biomolecules.

    (I know you abhor the complexity argument-PZ spins his contempt to make it seem like complexity is the focus of everything we say-a lot of things that are natural occurrences are complex-but none of them have any kind of structure or order that is significant in terms of complex functionality. It's the degree of order, structure and functionality that accompanies the complexity that creationists focus on-not just the complexity. Even by scientific measures, the abiotic genesis of that degree of biologic order is so statistically improbable (on the order of 1 chance in 1 followed by tens if not hundreds of zeros), that in any other scientific realm, somebody proposing such a low probability occurrence would not be in science very long-analogous to what you consider "woo.")

  2. Yes, yes, yes. I've heard it all before. Because the statistical probability of an entity with the complexity of your god, that is capable of creating all of the universe is far, far greater than the statistical probability of life forming on our humble little planet. It is almost comparable to the statistical probability that Noah had dinosaurs on the Ark.

  3. Er, evolution isn't random. Evolution is natural selection, of the random mutations that are the best fit to the environment. Evolution is bootstrapping; the mutations that aren't at least neutral with respect to survival die out, and the mutations that are beneficial to survival replicate.

    That's why it's called "evolution by natural selection." Because it's not random.

  4. If you re-read my response I think you’ll see that I didn't say anything about "evolution" being random--I would never question the concept that there is genetic variability within populations of organisms and that the environment has the ability to “select” from this variability those organisms with the features that are best suited for that environment (whether the advantageous features are already present in the particular gene pool-which is almost always the case-or an advantageous feature happened to arise as a result of mutation, which is exceedingly uncommon). While natural selection easily accounts for speciation that we see (which is not really evolution), and we observe it all around us constantly in action, the ability to create completely new features that provide a selective advantage through mutation is a much more difficult task. The vast, vast, vast majority of mutations we are aware of either do not change the function of a protein at all or are deleterious. Although this process COULD be a mechanism that could lead to the biologic diversity we observe, I do not believe that it WAS the mechanism responsible. Natural selection needs a degree of biologic order to begin working with. Every organism, every cell that we are aware of, requires dozens to hundreds to thousands of proteins to perform its functions. Every cell that we are aware of requires extraordinarily complex structures called ribosomes (which themselves are complexes of proteins and RNA) to make these proteins (never mind the complexity of the instruction set). It is estimated that the earliest primitive cells would have to have had at least 20 to 30 proteins to carry out basic metabolic functions, a way to make these proteins, and some form of a primitive means of replication. Most functional proteins are at least 100 amino acids in length and there are 20 possible amino acids meaning that the total possible number of protein sequences from which natural selection could select is at least 20 to the hundredth power. The total number of protein sequences that have some type of potential, meaningful functionality is likely in the range of hundreds of thousands to millions-an almost infinitely small number compared to the total possible number of sequences. Even under the best circumstances, with no ribosomes present and limited instructions, the environment would have to select 20 or more proteins that actually do something and work together, from this extraordinarily large population of sequences, the majority of which don’t do anything, and place them inside something like a cell membrane—the best circumstances meaning that there are large numbers of these proteins just floating around in close proximity.

  5. (continued from above)

    Here’s where the “random” part comes in. The 20 or so proteins would have to have been created by the random association of amino acids (remember, there isn’t actually anything like a ribosome to put them together yet), which means a large number of amino acids would also have to be present in close proximity. The bonding together of amino acids itself is an unlikely event because it requires the right set of circumstances and the input of a lot of energy. Also, amino acids come in two forms—an “L” form and an “R” form. All biologic proteins are made of “L” amino acids. The random generation of amino acids in the oceans would have created both L and R amino acids, and the presence of R amino acids inhibits the joining together of L amino acids. In all of this, the only thing that has significant laboratory evidence suggesting possibility is the formation of individual amino acid molecules from small, non-organic molecules. So, getting lots of L amino acids together in close proximity (highly unlikely), forming ANY protein sequences of significant length (highly unlikely), creating large numbers of randomly generated protein sequences in close proximity (highly unlikely), selecting 1 protein sequence from 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 random sequences that actually does something—(let alone doing this 20 times in the same physical space), to me represents creation of a degree of order not even remotely possible without an intentional, directive power. Regardless of the evidence for evolution, if the first step is an impossibility, nothing else matters—something else created the biologic diversity we see—I believe it was God.

  6. Right, so you've used complexity as an argument to state the improbability, therefore God! Got it. I certainly don't want to overstate the complexity argument. You have also somehow avoided stating the probability of the existence of your primary assumption for your argument.

  7. Yeah, the overstated thing was in response to whoever it was that I said evolution was random-sorry about that-I couldn't help myself. I wouldn't begin to know how to place a "probability" on the existence of God and I guess I never really thought about it before. What I consider to be my source of information is the inspired Word of God and because of that my certainty is 100%. There are those that would suggest that the accuracy of Bible prophecies and eyewitness accounts of the events described in it approach the strength necessary for arguments of proof in a court of law-but I know apologetics is not very persuasive to you and you feel the Bible is too full of contradictions to be reliable. I've always said it ultimately boils down to faith and that is my starting point-none of this other stuff. I'm just curious, do you have a probability figure in mind for the likelihood that an intense collection of energy started all of this off? It's all just circumstantial anyway because no one was around to see it. And ultimately I end asking where did God come from and you end up asking where did the collection of energy come from and we both just throw up our hands. :)

  8. I did read your post; you summarized Karl's view as follows: "Interesting that you credit the high level of complexity and functionality of safe aircraft to design when you credit something that's dozens of orders of magnitude more ordered and complex and functional, like even the simplest forms of life, to the random ordering of simple biomolecules."

    But those molecules are not randomly ordered; they're naturally selected.

    The rest of your argument is an argument from personal incredulity; you don't believe that it could have happened, therefore it couldn't have happened. But of course all of the time things are true whether or not we believe that they are true.

  9. The earliest combinations of amino acids to form the earliest peptide sequences absolutely would have been put together randomly-there was nothing like a ribosome present to specifically order the amino acids.

    I agree that because I don't believe it could have happened, my conclusion will obviously be that it couldn't have happened. However, if you came to a conclusion that had that low of a probability of occurrence in any other realm of science, science would say it couldn't happen either.

  10. Since there are two anonymouses, I'll refer to them as Creationist-anonymous and Evolutionist-anonymous.

    Creationist-anonymous says that he/she accepts that natural selection amounts to "the speciation we see" by which I assume he/she means to indicate something like the micro/macro evolution distinction. However, he/she insists this isn't really evolution. But evolution is simply change in allele frequency over time. So it is evolution. Furthermore, part of the argument supporting natural selection is that there seems to be no reason at all why change in allele frequency can't cross species boundaries, or, for that matter, boundaries at any taxonomic level. So far as we can tell, there aren't any boundaries to be crossed.

    I think Creationist-anonymous was also too quick to call foul against Evolutionist-anonymous. Though Creationist-anonymous didn't specifically claim that the process was random, that would be the only reading of the argument that could justify its being made so briefly. Creationists commonly do make an argument that just amounts to "It's too complex to happen randomly, therefore it couldn't have happened."

    Happily, Creationist-anonymous's argument is somewhat more sophisticated than that, and he/she has filled in some of the missing details in subsequent posts. It isn't just that it couldn't happen randomly, but rather that it would be too improbable even given the acknowledged forces of natural selection.

    However, this more detailed argument relies on a rough "statistical calculation" that relies on several questionable premises and poorly defined categories. For example, much weight is placed on the idea that novel features that provide an advantage are rare, without saying what exactly being a novel feature or providing an advantage amounts to. These are non-trivial questions. Every mutation or novel gene combination introduces a novel trait, and every such trait will have lots of consequences. When one of these consequences provides an obvious benefit, we call it an adaptation. But the gene combination continues to have all of its consequences, and as environments and organisms change, some that we might not have called adaptations before can become adaptive later without any further genetic change. The calculation also ignores the possibility of non-biological effects that make various evolutionary stages less unlikely. For example, there are several proposed mechanisms for decreasing the binding energy required for the formation of early complex biological molecules. Certain common clays, for example, tend to bind and hold them so that their interactions with other molecules occur at lower velocities.

  11. Yes, at its broadest level to evolve simply means to change so speciation or adaptive radiation is a form of evolution. And yes, forces that select an allele in one species could be expected to affect the same allele in other species in the same or either other taxa. But it's the descent with modification aspect that most people think of when the term evolution is used, and that requires new genetic information, and that it's more difficult to accomplish was my only point. If my original argument was too incomplete for more clarity about what I was calling random I apologize-my response could have been more civil. Unfortunately, better definition and more thorough discussion also require more time and a lot more typing. I certainly agree that deleterious mutations can persist and provide an adaptive advantage in other circumstances-the sickle cell mutation is the example most commonly used. There's a lot about the "process" of evolution that has a great deal of support. Could the process create the diversity we see? Maybe-but I think only if it had something to start with (BTW, I am a new earth creationist, not one who thinks God just plopped the starting materials down and set it in motion) It's the probability of the initial steps I'm not buying (although again, I freely admit, I'm heavily influenced by my belief in what the Bible says, and that's my beginning point). And yes, I'm aware of some of the proposed mechanisms hypothesizing how formation of complex biomolecules could have occurred, and the fact that some RNA molecules both have the ability to self-replicate and have catalytic properties. But for all of the work put into it up to this point, all of it still represents what are probably highly artificial situations-directed activities-and the level of complexity required still hasn't been believably approached. Even under the best circumstances, no matter how "rough" a statistical calculation I've provided, the probability is still at a level that all other forms of scientific inquiry would consider an "impossibility."

    Jay (BTW, Joel, I think we've talked before--not sure who the other anonymous is)

  12. Well Jay, if you want to hang your hat on biological origins, I'll grant you that no one knows exactly how that happened. Of course, natural selection doesn't have anything to say about the very earliest origins, since it doesn't apply until there are replicators to select. The pre-selective process, if it's going to be natural, has to be common enough to generate replicators (not necessarily RNA or DNA or anything with similar fidelity in copying, but replicators nonetheless).

    What I think is dubious about the sort of creationist argument you're employing is this concept of "new information." Absolutely every event encodes information. The only thing that's (comparatively) rare is what we might call "useful" information. But this is the point about exaptations (traits that get co-opted to serve new purposes). What is or isn't a useful bit of information depends on the environment and organism in which that bit of information manifests itself. Analogy: The information content of a particular sequence of dice roles is the same no matter when it's made, but it only makes people yell "Yahtzee!" in the context of a particular game. So in very early stages of evolution, useful information is hard to come by, but we don't really need that much of it at the stage of early replicators. A little later, we need the information for, to take one of your examples, building ribosomes, since complex replication of a certain sort requires them, but by then, we have natural selection working to detect and preserve the (momentarily) useful information that's harder to come by. Then as living systems become more complex, the preserved information available for exaptation gets more and more complex.

  13. Jay, you get into substantial trouble here: Even under the best circumstances, no matter how "rough" a statistical calculation I've provided, the probability is still at a level that all other forms of scientific inquiry would consider an "impossibility."

    Regardless of the likelihood (and an awful lot of scientists would dispute your calculations of the odds), scientists know that abiogenesis has happened, because we see existing life. Regardless of how unlikely it might be, it has obviously happened.

    The alternative to this assumption is to postulate a vastly more complex and unlikely and utterly untestable explanation, namely something like "God did it." Since this is a claim about something that cannot be tested, something nonmaterial by definition, scientists don't make it. But they're working on abiogenesis, and are happy enough to admit at the moment that they don't know what happened, precisely.

    They're not about to violate Ocaam's Razor and assume the vastly more complex explanation of a God. Untestable assumptions based on no reason whatsoever (i.e. faith) are completely out. Some things may remain a mystery, but I'd say we've come too recently to this problem to dismiss the possibility that we might solve it.

  14. In case they don't flag properly: "dispute your calculations" should link here:

    and "working on abiogenesis" should link here:

  15. Anonymous-thanks for the links. I was only able to glance at them (and won't be able to do more than that for a little while). Regarding the calculations-some of it I was aware of but some of it was new to me. This is material I should probably be more familiar with before being as dogmatic as I was, and yes, this information makes the odds "trend" toward something more believable. I didn't have time to look for it but one question I have is where do the estimates of the concentrations of amino acids used in the calculations come from (I think 10-6 M was used). I will give this its due consideration when I have time. I have always considered that the process would be a stepwise progression rather than a gigantic leap from abiotic components to a modern cell (pretty sure that didn't come across in what I said) but am still highly skeptical about the idea that somewhere along the line there isn't some "irreducible complexity." The other article, (The Origins of Life) is a lot of very new information (most of the references are from the last few years). While it is really cool and interesting it still seems to be very speculative and many of the conclusions seem to still be in a state of flux. I certainly understand that "science" can only address hypotheses that are testable, and which reside in the natural world (which is why a teach at a Christian school-but I guarantee you that my students come away with a much more thorough understanding of evolutionary principles than they would get in the public schools here). Obviously I believe that there are ways to "know things" other than through scientific investigation and that has to be my starting point-no matter how feasible I think the entire process or parts of the process of evolution are, for me it will always be, evolution is just one possible explanation for biologic diversity, and not the one I choose to believe actually occurred. Christians will never be successful arguing from a point of trying prove the existence of God or trying to disprove evolution. It really does have to be about our faith. Having said that, learning and talking more about this stuff is a blast. BTW, I'm curious and would like to be able to put a name to your posts.


  16. Jay, when you say your belief in creationism is based on a non-scientific way of knowing, that denial of evolution is a starting point based on a religious viewpoint, etc., I greatly respect your ability and willingness to make this distinction. If I understand you correctly, you're not claiming that creationism is well-supported by scientific evidence and reasoning, and you may even be willing to admit that evolution is the most scientifically reasonable account of biological origins and diversity, at least given current evidence. Of course, you deny that the scientific case for evolution is conclusive, but then no scientific case for anything is completely conclusive, so this is something that an evolutionist can happily agree with. If that's right, (and I don't mean to be putting words in your mouth, so stop me if I do) then perhaps you see your scientific criticisms as healthy skepticism meant to stimulate research. I'm even willing to admit that some creationist challenges have yielded interesting research by biologists seeking to fill in gaps that creationists try to use to discredit evolution.

    But if you're going to be consistent about this, then shouldn't you just say that you have a philosophical, rather than scientific difference with evolutionists? That doesn't mean giving up on trying to decide who's right, but it does mean realizing that a different sort of argument and evidence is relevant.

  17. Absolutely! And one of the biggest traps creationists get into in their own journey and understanding of how they are supposed to approach things is to believe that they can actually base their "case" on any other authority than the Bible. To do so takes the focus off of God's Word and places it on the "wisdom" of man, which is kind of frowned upon in the Bible. It says that we are to simply present the Gospel and God's love, and He will take care of the rest. Once we leave that we are on pretty shaky ground-unfortunately we manage to screw that up pretty badly. On the other hand, the Bible does suggest that our "knowledge" of God's creation is meant to strengthen our belief in His power and omnipotence. (For example Romans 1:20-For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.) But, in any case, you have to admit, if nothing else the discussion is a whole lot of fun and provides one with opportunity to learn about some pretty cool stuff. BTW, having heard what Richard Dawkins and some of his colleagues have to say regarding the conclusiveness of the evidence for evolution, I'm skeptical that they happily agree that it is not completely conclusive. Take Care, Jay

  18. Well Jay, doesn't that leave you in a pretty precarious position as a science educator, or for that matter, as just someone trying to make his way in the world? After all, if scientific investigation is unreliable as a way of figuring out how life originated and developed, why think that it is a reliable way of figuring out which chemicals blow up when mixed, or what happens when a plane's wings fall off, or whether your car is going to turn into a penguin when you turn the ignition switch? All of these inferences involve applying the scientific method (some more rigorously than others).

    This is really the main point that Dawkins et. al. are trying to make. Choosing to ignore scientific reasoning, in and of itself, may be something that people have a perfect right to do, and may be harmless. But people don't just form religious beliefs. Their beliefs guide their actions, and those actions affect others. If science isn't going to be the standard for judging the reasonableness of beliefs, and especially beliefs used as justifications for interfering in each others' lives, what other standard could take its place?

    For example, suppose that Karl decides that Harry Potter really exists, and that, as a matter of fact, Karl is Harry. It will be easy to provide scientific evidence that Karl isn't really Harry. But suppose he admits that science doesn't support his claim. He doesn't claim that he actually has any observable Harry-like properties. But he insists that while he retained all his Karl-properties, he has Harry's soul. We can't disprove this scientifically, but you wouldn't let Karl lead you off on a quest to destroy Voldemort.

  19. Oh! That would be so cool. Let me go dust off my wand...

  20. In fact I make my biology students keep observation journals to make them aware that they are constantly using the scientific process-daily, they have to acknowledge that they made an observation, record what question that observation made them ask, the hypothesis that came to mind, the prior knowledge or source of information that inspired the hypothesis, and what they would do to test it-for example, additional observations. The journals then become a source of information for learning about basic scientific writing. I offer extra credit if their parent calls me and tells me they are sick of hearing about how their child is “using the scientific process in their daily life. I don't see my position as precarious at all. I have every faith in what I teach and believe about science-I believe God gave us the ability in the first place. I believe that science accurately perceives and determines the nature of the universe as God intended it to appear-as a "mature" universe. If God created a 25 year old Adam 30 seconds ago, is he 30 seconds old or 25. Is there evidence that suggests that he had gone through all of the tissue differentiation and development it takes to become an adult? Are the epiphyseal plates closed? All would suggest 25 years of life as opposed to 30 seconds. Believe me, I do understand that the evidence for evolution really occurring entails a lot more obstacles than can be dealt with by just proposing a mature universe-but I trust my other way of "knowing" something. And that's another point. Although I'm sure you could probably make my head spin by taking the Bible to task (I don't have sufficient skill and knowledge to provide the best defense against any attack your skill could mount), because I do understand some things about the Bible and there are other more knowledgeable than me that I trust, I think most of its apparent inconsistencies go away by using the Bible to interpret itself. My source of other knowledge has a trustworthyness for me that supersedes the conclusions of science. Many believe it is a fairy tale but the accuracy of many of its prophecies and the testimony of eyewitness accounts provides more evidence than the whim of Karl believing he's Harry Potter. Plus, there is the action of God in my life and others that I have seen and experienced that adds to this conviction. For me, rather than tearing God down, science serves to glorify Him all the more. (more to follow)

  21. (continued)

    How can I convince students of the validity of science when I don't believe its explanation for the origin of life? I think simply discussing the concept that there are other ways of knowing things goes a long way to that end. Science has no ability to judge right or wrong. Yet clearly, most of us have at least a sense of that, so there must be other ways of obtaining knowledge. I present the evidence for evolution in a pretty thorough manner and I tell them that it’s strong evidence and seems to make sense, and I tell them why I choose not to believe it-they can make up their own mind-whether or not creationism belongs in a science classroom is not something I have to worry about (and no, I don't buy into the watered down version of creationism that is ID).

    Non-Christians commonly use the argument that because Christian beliefs might cause some Christians to act in zealous, very non-Christian ways in the "service" of Christianity, those that profess Christian beliefs should sort of be sequestered into their own little space where they can't bother anyone. While the Bible does direct people to share the message of the gospel with the world it absolutely doesn't direct them to do that by trying to impose moral law by whatever means necessary. The rule of the Bible is love your neighbor as yourself. If Christians stuck to that and simply proclaiming the gospel, there would not be much to this idea of interference. Unfortunately, all of us being the creatures that we are, seem to think that the message itself and its author are not adequate and so want to add some additional teeth to it-crusades, terrorism and other hateful behaviors, etc-and so make Christianity appear to be something that it's not-just a code of morality rather than a release from the judgment of that moral code. I am not that interested in trying to force a certain behavior on anyone-I just want people to know there is a Savior. The only place Christians should be applying law is to their own lives and in helping other Christians in their walk. The message is not the problem-it's the people inserting their own agenda into it that messes things up. But peoples' twisting of the message does not invalidate it any more than a scientist misusing scientific conclusions invalidates science. You can use the same argument about scientists. Plenty of atrocities have been committed in the name of science as well, but neither of us is going to condemn science for that.


  22. Many believe it is a fairy tale but the accuracy of many of its prophecies and the testimony of eyewitness accounts provides more evidence than the whim of Karl believing he's Harry Potter.

    So wait, do you believe by faith alone, or do you believe because of evidence?

    Here's what always bothers me about this. You're saying that you accept a way of knowing things, an epistemology, that's not the scientific one. You claim that it's possible to have a true and justified belief where the justification is simply that you trust the Bible over the world.

    You hope to convince Karl that he should abandon the scientific epistemology (where the justification comes from evidence that is always confirmed by multiple people looking at the same problem and is always subject to revision on new data etc. to rule out the possibility of crappy eyewitnesses or confirmation bias or sloppy method), or at least should subordinate it to the justification of trusting the claims of the Bible.

    So then you need to make a case for trusting the claims of the Bible.

    But you're not going to do it by showing that they map the world better than any other form of knowing, because you've admitted that where the world gives us a different answer, the Bible should still win.

    But then you switch to evidence from the world to support your claim.

    If the Bible is always going to trump scientific epistemology -- because as a way of knowing trusting it is better, and where it gives contradictory answers it must be right and the world must be wrong, because it isn't supposed to map the world but the truth -- then evidence is irrelevant, isn't it?

    What you've got is a thing you trust on faith, for no reason. Why should anyone adopt that way of knowing things? I thought the Christian answer was something like: you should have faith because your salvation depends on faith -- on believing this for no reason -- by definition. You can have a personal conviction. It will be irrational and you can't really hope to convince anyone else to share it, because you can't share your own conversion experience with other people in a way that shares the feeling of justification with them.

    (I don't usually like to give my name in these conversations, because then the argument becomes personal. I'd rather stick to the argument itself, if you don't mind. I'm a long-time friend of Karl's for what that's worth, and I can see why he's friends with you.)

  23. Christians believe they are justified before God by faith in His Grace, and that the faith "comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ," and also that even the faith is a "gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." But the Bible also supports the idea that eyewitness accounts of the actions of God throughout the Bible are actually presented to support that faith. There may be philosophical reasons for this combination of faith and evidence to be a problem, but I don't see it as inconsistent that faith intersects and is strengthened by accounts of Biblical events that also happen to be verifiable. (By the way, I have virtually no "knowledge" of philosophical argument-all of you have me at a severe disadvantage simply through your obvious skill in construction of arguments-I may not be understanding your points as clearly as I could be and, my statements may not be as clear as they could be!) So I'm not sure I'm convinced the evidence is irrelevant (although I guess for any entity that had "perfect" truth evidence would be irrelevant-so maybe from the perspective of the Bible or God evidence is irrelevant, but for what it means for my faith it is highly relevant). Because of this, I don't see why it would not be useful in sharing Christianity. In fact, the Bible itself says that the very Word of God has power. And again, I actually can testify to events in my own life and in others where it's clear to me that God is acting so I can share my conversion experience in a meaningful way. The other thing Christians have to keep in mind is that it is not up to us to do the convincing-we are supposed to simply be able to "give an account for our hope"-that is, just simply share the gospel. In fact, when we start to put faith in our own abilities to win people over by what we say or do, we're not putting our trust in God. But, being selfish humans, we can't help ourselves-we still spend large blocks of time composing carefully worded posts that we hope will do the work for God. Rather than saying I hope to convince Karl (or anyone) that they should abandon their scientific epistemology, I would rather say that I simply care enough about Karl (or anyone else) that I would rather not see him have to suffer what I believe are the consequences of non-belief. And I would a lot less than honest if didn't also admit that sometimes he just pisses me off the degree that he goads me into posting!

    One other point-you also said, "I thought the Christian answer was something like: you should have faith because your salvation depends on faith -- on believing this for no reason -- by definition." It's a subtle thing, but to say that we should obtain faith so we can obtain salvation is placing the action on us, not God. Christians believe that not only is the salvation a free gift, but the faith itself is also from God and we can't do anything to "get" more faith.

    Anyway, I respect your wish not to make things personal. Take Care,


  24. There may be philosophical reasons for this combination of faith and evidence to be a problem...

    Yep. As I understand you, you're saying that where evidence from the world is consistent with the Bible, it's to be taken as confirmation of the strength of faith in the Bible as a way of knowing true things. But where evidence from the world is inconsistent with the Bible, it's to be ignored because the Bible is a better way of knowing true things.

    So evidence from the world might be consistent with the Bible, but where it isn't consistent that's simply not relevant because, on your view, the Bible is *the* most well-justified source of knowledge. Contradictory evidence could be there to be read as a parable, or could simply be reinterpreted as a test of faith (YECs believing that the Earth appears old but was really created more recently to look as if it were old, etc.)

    But if this is true, then there's really no reason to talk about evidence from the world at all. Lots and lots of books have parts of them that are consistent with evidence from the world, and parts of them that are not. It doesn't make those books divinely inspired or the best possible source of knowledge about the natural or supernatural worlds, though. Take, for example, just about any biology book from the 1960s, which will have parts that continue to be confirmed by evidence from the world and parts that have been superceded by new evidence. Some of the book is consistent with the world, and some is not -- and it is not the best possible source of knowledge *about the world*.

    Presumably this doesn't bother at least some Christians because they are looking for a source of knowledge about supernatural truths moreso than a source of knowledge about natural truths. But it does mean that pointing at natural truths that are confirmed in the Bible is simply a form of confirmation bias.

    If you want to convince a skeptic like Karl that the Bible is a source of supernatural truths and a better source of natural truth than science, you'll have to start by convincing the skeptic that there's a reason to believe in the existence of the supernatural, and that the Bible gives a good account of it. This is tricky. To a skeptic, it's like arguing for the existence of fairies at the bottom of the garden, based on an old book that says some true things about gardens in addition to postulating the existence of completely unconfirmed fairies. With the hope that perhaps the fairies will grace such skeptics with faith in their existence because you've talked about your personal faith in the fairies...