Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the first of a two-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link to read the next part of the reply.

(R) People would no doubt agree there *could* be life on the moon, but very few indeed would agree if you emphatically stated there *is* life on the moon. Very few.
(MB) Wouldn't they would be correct to be skeptical in the absence of any evidence to support such a claim? After all, to simply make a claim is not the same thing as presenting evidence to support an idea. This applies equally to the God theory as to the idea that life exists on the Moon. Both ideas are positive positions which must bear the burden of proof before it will be reasonable to accept them.

If there is no evidence on either side, then it is difficult to say that *either* position is valid on anything more than a purely emotional level.
(R) You've just stumbled upon a rather important reality about our argument, one which I have no problem acknowledging. Do you?
(MB) Yep, because it doesn't apply. My position has evidence to support it. Yours does not. My position is not one which is based upon emotional appeal. Yours is based entirely upon emotional appeal.

(R) We are talking about a belief being accepted as fact. Without conclusive evidence to prove it to be fact, it remains a hypothesis.
(MB) A "hypothesis" is an idea which has some evidence to support it but which does not yet have enough evidentiary support to gain general acceptance. If enough such evidence exists, the former hypothesis becomes a "theory". When proof is attained, it now becomes a "law". Something such as belief in God is nothing more than a claim since there is no evidence at all in support of it.

(R) Casting doubt upon its competitors can perhaps make it the best hypothesis around, but that is all.
(MB) There is another consideration here. An idea doesn't have to be supported to the level of being acknowledged as a "fact" before it can be accepted as being the best alternative between competing ideas. That's why science refers to the level of evidentiary support for an idea rather than demanding absolute proof.

(R) It doesn't become a fact because you cast doubt on its opposition.
(MB) That's correct. However, you have often claimed that, for you, God's existence is a fact and that you support it as being just as valid as the facts that science has uncovered about the nature of the universe. That means such a belief must play by the same rules that apply to supporting any other idea as being a fact.

From Carl Sagan, "The Burden of Skepticism", Pasadena lecture, 1987:
[First paragraph deleted]
"On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish useful ideas from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all."

(R) I agree with Mr. Sagan on the need to balance healthy skepticism against open-mindedness, but fail to see how this provides any support for such statements as, "It is impossible to prove something does not exist," "If something exists it can be easily proven to exist," or "The burden of proof rests on the claim something exists."
(MB) Did you completely miss Sagan's comment [requoted above] about being unable to distinguish useful ideas from worthless ones? Don't you often claim equal validity for your ideas? You can't dispute his comments simply because you choose to bring up something else that they do not address.

From David Hume, "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding", [1758] 1952:
[First paragraph deleted]
"When anyone tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion."

(R) Once again, Hume makes an important point concerning miracles, but I can't find any support for your maxims in what he has written.
(MB) Amazing! The quotation from Hume is one of the most famous arguments against the validity of believing in things for which there is no evidence in support. This is *exactly* what I have been saying all along. How you can find "no support" here is beyond me. Perhaps you simply don't understand what Hume said in the second paragraph of the original quotation [requoted above].

From Michael Shermer, "Why People Believe Weird Things", 1997:
"Who has to prove what to whom? The person making the extraordinary claim has the burden of proving to the experts and to the community at large that his or her belief has more validity than the one almost everyone else accepts.

(R) This statement, regarding burden of proof, is the only thing which comes close to support for your ideas in any of these quotations, and even here, Shermer indicates the minority opinion is the one which bears the burden of proof, putting you in the position of making the extraordinary claim, not me.
(MB) You are attempting to lump together all of the thousands of mutually-exclusive religions and deities that Man has invented in order to create a spurious "majority" opinion. Since there are more people who believe in science than who believe in any one version of religion, it is still the religious believers who must first justify their own version as being "best" before they can even begin to compare their beliefs to science.

(Shermer, cont.) You have to lobby for your opinion to be heard. Then you have to marshal experts on your side so you can convince the majority to support your claim over the one that they have always supported. Finally, when you are in the majority, the burden of proof switches to the outsider who wants to challenge you with his or her unusual claim. Evolutionists had the burden of proof for half a century after Darwin, but now the burden of proof is on creationists. It is up to creationists to show why the theory of evolution is wrong and why creationism is right, and it is not up to evolutionists to defend evolution. The burden of proof is on the Holocaust deniers to prove the Holocaust did not happen, not on Holocaust historians to prove that it did. The rationale for this is that mountains of evidence prove that both evolution and the Holocaust are facts. In other words, it is not enough to have evidence. You must convince others of the validity of your evidence. And when you are an outsider this is the price you pay, regardless of whether you are right or wrong."
(R) The key to this quotation lies where Shermer points out that mountains of evidence prove evolution and the Holocaust are facts, and therefore, any claims to the contrary bear the burden of proof. I agree. If something is a generally accepted fact and backed up by hard evidence, I would expect anyone who claimed otherwise to bear the burden of proof.
(MB) So, what's your problem with accepting that the belief in God must bear the burden of proof? The scientific explanation of the universe has mountains of hard evidence in support and is a generally accepted fact among thinking people. Why shouldn't anyone who believes otherwise bear the burden of proof for their contradictory opinions?

(R) This puts those who claim the Holocaust never happened (i.e. it doesn't exist) in the position of bearing the burden of proof, and provides another disproof of the maxim, "The burden of proof rests on the claim that something exists."
(MB) Nope. The burden of proof has already been shouldered by the positive position that the Holocaust is a fact. Since this basic requirement has been satisfied, the burden of proof now shifts to those who would deny it -- just as Shermer writes.     The positive position that God exists has not successfully shouldered the burden of proof. Until it does, the more logically correct and rational position is one of skepticism.

As do most people. However, we must be careful that we draw from valid and logical arguments. Morris does not qualify in that regard. It doesn't matter what process builds the plane. Since it is neither an animate object nor composed of self-ordering molecular parts, its construction can not be compared to that of the building blocks of organic life.
(R) Well, it turns out that you're wrong, Morris wasn't the first person to come up with this analogy. I stumbled across the following quotation the other day:
"The current scenario of the origin of life is about as likely as a tornado passing through a junkyard beside Boeing airplane company accidentally producing a 747 airplane."
Sir Fred Hoyle, "Intelligent Universe," c1988.

(MB) Morris' book was written in 1974. That is 14 years prior to 1988. I guess I'm not wrong after all, eh?

(R) Hoyle has quite an impressive academic and scientific pedigree. I don't know if Morris cited him or not in his book, but since it was published eight years later, I assume so.
(MB) 1974 is not "eight years later" than 1988. Therefore, it would have been appropriate for Hoyle to cite Morris. However, for the Creationists, it's the argument itself and not who first advanced it that is the important consideration. Of course, this is all incidental to the fact that the argument is a load of fetid dingo's kidneys.

(R) Notice that Hoyle has the tornado passing through a junkyard by a Boeing plant, which is presumably filled with 747 parts. I think this example, along with the example of the watch, perfectly illustrate the point that it is just as reasonable to believe the universe was created, as it is to believe it arose purely through chance.
(MB) How a nonsensical argument can "perfectly illustrate" any point is beyond me. If it's meant to justify the idea of God, all that is being shown is that that idea itself is also a load of fetid dingo's kidneys.

BTW, I find it interesting that you claim to give no credence to Creationists, but you have obviously read their leading book and seem to have no difficulty in using arguments lifted almost verbatim from its pages.
(R) You're wrong, I've never read it, although I've seen his (actually Hoyle's) example used many times. Have you read it? If so, why? If not, how did you know where the reference came from?
(MB) I know where it comes from (Morris, not Hoyle) because of the extensive research that I have conducted over the past couple of decades. To debate an issue successfully, one must be well read and must be familiar with both (or all) sides of the issue. If you say that you haven't read Morris' book, I'll believe you. At least now you know the source of the argument you tried to use.

(R) Also, let me give my definition of creation science, so there will be no confusion over what I mean when I use that term. I consider creation science to be attempts to scientifically prove the creation stories in the Bible are literally true. No, I do not give such attempts any weight whatsoever.
(MB) And it is well that you should not do so. Creationism, however, is more than just a belief in Biblical literalism. It is also an attempt to denigrate science or anything else which they feel runs counter to their ideas about God. The evolution (or not) of Man is their major focal point, but certainly not their only concern.

This is correct. Evolution is what's called an "irreligious" theory in that it says nothing pro or con about the existence of God. It is a theory to describe and predict the development of life on planet Earth after it has first appeared.
(R) It's great when you make my points for me. So tell me, what scientific theory is there which is not irreligious, and which proves that God doe not exist?
(MB) I'm not making your point for you, because science does not "prove" that God does not exist, nor is it the objective of science to disprove such a thing. Science would be exactly the same discipline and its findings would be exactly the same whether or not there was any such thing as religion.

Organic life is not a random assemblage of molecules -- it contains self-ordering parts. A 747 does not.
(R) Hoyle's example of the windstorm and the 747 is an excellent analogy for the creation of the universe.
(MB) Morris' (not Hoyle's) example is an excellent demonstration of the ability to mangle and misunderstand statistical probabilities and to draw invalid comparisons between living and non-living things.

(R) The vast majority of the universe is not organic, but inorganic.
(MB) Since "organic" refers to the chemistry of carbon-based compounds (such as living beings on planet Earth) and since hydrogen accounts for about 75% of all matter in the universe, your statement is technically correct.

(R) In fact, the only place we know for certain that organic life exists is on Earth, although there is recent evidence it may also have existed on Mars, and speculation that it could in other places as well.
(MB) Again, this is correct. Of course, this does not mean that such life can not or does not exist elsewhere in the universe.

(R) The organic life on Earth rose out of inorganic materials.
(MB) Since life on Earth is carbon-based, that statement is incorrect. Organic compounds can not be produced without carbon.

(R) Atoms and molecules indeed have rules which govern the ways they combine, but these rules apply in all situations -- including the random assembly of a 747.
(MB) True. However, a 747 is not made of the same stuff as is an organic lifeform. Therefore, its component compounds should not be expected to combine or react in the same way as those which make a living organism.

Quantum theory actually predicts that a 747 *could* be assembled by random motions of its component molecules. But, since there is no self-ordering procedure to help the process along, it would require so many trials and so much time before it could be expected to happen that it is, for all practical purposes, properly described as being impossible.
(R) I agree wholeheartedly -- the random assembly of a 747 by a windstorm can be properly described as impossible.
(MB) So, what's your point? Or, are you simply agreeing that the 747 example or the watch example or any other such nonsense is invalid as a comparison to how living organisms are created?

First you invoke random events to create the 747 and then draw a conclusion that a creator must be involved. Which is it?
(R) Isn't it obvious which I think it is? But still, the analogy needs to be fair, and give randomness a chance.
(MB) No, it's not obvious. That's why I want you to state it directly. I also want you to show how any answer applies to living organisms.

(R) Yes, it is logical to conclude a 747 has an intelligent creator, isn't it?
(MB) Yes, it is. That's because a 747 is an inorganic object whose components do not self-assemble. Since the 747, for all intents and purposes, can not create itself, the only alternative is to conclude that it was created by some intelligent being. This, however, says nothing about organic lifeforms (or, indeed, about any other inorganic object), nor does it say anything about the identity or nature of the being that created it.

However, the universe is another story. Its creation and development is completely guided by the fundamental laws of physics. There are really a relatively small number of these fundamental laws. In fact, if superstring theory is correct, there is only *one* basic law of physics from which all others derive. Something that inherently simple requires no outside creator and is the way we see it because it couldn't be any other way. This should be fairly obvious to Joe.
(R) The venturi principle is the single physical law which makes the flight of a 747 possible, but this dependence on a single principle for its design and function doesn't make the end product any less complex -- or change the logical conclusion about the its origin.
(MB) The Venturi principle applies specifically to the motion of fluids in the science of hydraulics. Since you are referring to flight, we must delve into aerodynamics, where the similar principle as applied to gases is known as Bernoulli's Law. This law explains the effect that governs lift -- one of the four fundamental principles of flight (lift, thrust, drag, and gravity). The design of the 747 must take all four principles into account -- not just lift. This doesn't even begin to address all of the other things that are important parts of the 747, such as passenger amenities, cockpit controls, cargo management and the flight crew.

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