Debating evolution, intelligent design and cosmology with a JW
This is the final version of my reply (I toned some of it down a bit):
I'm a bit confused by your email. I took great effort to answer your questions and explain the reasoning and evidence behind my answers. I wrote over 60 pages explaining the evidence for evolution, and I wrote over 12 pages explaining why I do not believe the existence of matter/energy proves an intelligent designer (did you actually read the attachment?). My emails were, I think, polite and respectful and I was very patient with you not answering any of my questions (or even acknowledging them in some cases). But my email still seems to have upset you for some reason and I'm quite not sure why. Have I misread the tone of your email?
You have not offered any reason for why I am wrong on any particular point, but your last email seems to suggest that I am ‘unable to explain the (basis) for my beliefs in simple terms’. It seems unfair to me to make this claim but offer no reason, example or explanation for why this is the case. Particularly so considering the effort I have put into answering all your questions and when you have repeatedly failed to answer any of my questions. For example, I explained in my evolution email how ERVs confirm evolution and I asked you several times to explain how ERVs could be reconciled with intelligent design. You have not made any attempt answer this question or explain why ERVS do not support evolution - but you still accuse me of being unable to explain my beliefs.
If you could show me any error in my thinking it would allow me the opportunity to reconsider my beliefs on a particular point but I can't do this if you don't tell me why I might be wrong. So please tell me, in what way am I unable to explain the basis for my beliefs? What beliefs in particular do you feel I have not explained? What claims have I made that I have not substantiated with sufficient reason or evidence?
Your email also implies that I am unable to point to a solid basis underpinning my beliefs but I do not think this is true. I can very easily point to the principles upon which my beliefs are based; they are reason, logic, evidence and critical thinking. Not faith.
This means that when there is insufficient evidence from which to draw a conclusion with any confidence, I reserve my judgement and do not commit myself to any particular position. Such is the case regarding the origin of the universe. I openly admit I do not know the answer and I acknowledge the possibility of an intelligent designer. In fact, I think there is a reasonably strong chance that there was some creative intelligence involved.
But I also accept the possibility of alternative explanations that I personally consider to be slightly more plausible. I'm not sure why you find so objectionable - so much so that you no longer want to discuss the matter with me? Because I believe differently than you?
I can't offer any proof that a universe from nothing is more likely than an intelligent designer but I've given several the reasons for why I believe this to be the case:
• The net energy/mass of the universe appears to be zero (meaning no pre-existing energy or matter was required to create it)
• At the quantum level, the normal rules of causality break down so it is demonstrably not true that all events must be preceded by a cause. The quantum world is probabilistic not deterministic.
• The conclusion that an intelligent designer can exist without a cause breaks the premise upon which the intelligent designer’s existence is predicated. For example, the argument that 'the universe must have a cause therefore God exists; but God has no cause' is logically inconsistent.
• If an intelligent designer can exist without a cause then so too can the conditions from which a universe could emerge. To admit one is possible and not the other is inconsistent.
• The ‘universe from nothing’ hypothesis seems more likely to me than an ‘intelligent designer from nothing’ because it assumes fewer conditions (both assume the possibility of something from nothing). For example, quantum fluctuation and virtual particles have been detected and fit our current understanding of physics. There is also a mathematical proof demonstrating that virtual could in theory create a universe very similar to our own under certain conditions. There is however no experimental evidence demonstrating the existence of an intelligent designer and no understanding of the laws or conditions from which an intelligent designer could emerge.
• The multiverse hypothesis explains the fine tuning of our universe as well as an intelligent designer. Therefore the fine tuning of our universe is not proof of an intelligent designer.
Maybe these reasons are invalid but it would be nice if you could explain to me why this might be the case rather than just asserting my reasoning is baseless. Because I'm really not sure how you can claim my beliefs are baseless when you have not even addressed the reasons that I have given for them.
Your email also seems to imply I should just accept whatever you say because 8 million people happen to share your beliefs. This is a poor reason to hold a belief because the popularity of a particular belief is not a reliable indicator of its truth. For example, in Sweden the majority of people are either atheist of irreligious whereas in North America the majority of people believe in God. Does this mean God exists in America but not in Sweden or is it more likely that popular belief is driven by culture to some degree? Should I be swayed by the prevailing secularism in Sweden or the religiosity in America? To which group should I defer my own judgement?
Truth is not subject to popular opinion. And 8 million people is not an impressive number in either case. As of 2012 there were over 7 billion people on this planet so 8 million people represents a tiny minority - just 0.11% of the overall population! Just one tenth of one percent. There are 320 million people in North America and Pew poll data indicates that 3.1% of them are atheists. This means there are more atheists in North America alone than there are members of your religion in the entire world. I would never claim this is evidence for atheism (which is generally a minority view in most countries and a tiny minority globally) but you seem to think 8 million people agreeing with you is somehow evidence. It is not. It's quite possible that the 8 million people who agree with you are simply wrong.
Besides this, how do you know 8 million people are in complete agreement with you? If any of those 8 million people openly disagreed with you then they would be liable to be shunned by their entire family and social network. If members if the group are not free to express their beliefs how can you know how many are true believers?
The reason I mentioned God holding my family hostage is because many religions teach this to be case. Your own religion teaches that all non-members will die at Armageddon (this is in print - I have seen it with my own eyes on the Watchtower CDROM - it is a matter of fact). Your analogy about my family's safety travelling on a plane seemed to imply that their real life well-being is somehow related to my personal beliefs regarding the universe. This was the analogy you were making, not me. It was an appeal to my emotions rather than my intellect. But perhaps I misunderstood the point. Perhaps you could clarify?
You are right about one thing however; science will never disprove the existence of God. But this is because God is an untestable and unfalsifiable proposition and therefore beyond the purview of scientific investigation. Science will never disprove the existence of the Christian god in the same way it will never disprove the existence of Zeus or Raa but this not a valid reason to believe in one particular God over another. The burden of proof is on the believer or the proponent of a particular claim not the other way around.
Like I've said before, you are an atheist regarding every God except for one. You do not need to disprove every other God to hold this position because the burden of proof is on the believers of those other gods to prove their Gods exist - not on you to prove them wrong. Likewise, the burden of proof is on you to prove your God exists. I can't prove he doesn't exist but neither can I prove Zeus doesn't exist - but the question is; what reason can you give me that I should believe in Jehovah over Zeus? The burden of proof is one you.
And you keep quoting scientists or linking to articles about scientists who happen to believe in intelligent design like this fact in itself counts as evidence. The fact that some scientists believe in intelligent design does not make intelligent design a legitimate scientific idea. There are standards of evidence in science and ideas are measured against those standards, not the personal authority of individual scientists who happen to believe in those ideas. Intelligent design does not meet scientific standards of evidence because it is unfalsifiable and generates no predictions that can be tested. This does not disprove intelligent design but it makes it a metaphysical philosophical claim that is beyond the scope of Scientific enquiry. So citing the fact that some scientists believe in it counts for very little.
Besides this, you still completely ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of scientists disagree with creationism and intelligent design in general. The National Academy of Science charted belief in God as low as 5.5 percent among biologists and 7.5 percent among physicist and astronomers in a 1998 survey. If you think scientists are a group who should be listened to on these matters why do you ignore what the majority of them actually say?
Rather than trying to argue in favour of intelligent design by claiming other people believe it to be true, it would be better if you perhaps explained the reasons why you personally believe intelligent design to be true and why you believe the evidence for evolution to be false. It would be good to start by explaining why the evidence in my evolution email does not support evolution. Because if you don't address the actual reasons why I believe evolution to be true, how can you ever hope to convince me that evolution might be false?
This brings me back to my questions. I'm not sure if you will answer them but I will ask them any way:
1) do you accept that scientific theories can confirmed via the testing of their predictions
2) in what way does evolution not meet the definition of scientific theory? (the Encyclopedia you keep referring to does not support your position).
3) are there any arguments against evolution (for example, a lack of fossils) you would no longer use after reading my evolution email?
4) you claim there is no evidence for evolution - In what way do homologous Endogenous Retrovirus Insertions (ERVs) not qualify as evidence for macro evolution? How can homologous ERVs (and their phylogenetic distribution) be explained by an intelligent designer?
I hope you were not upset by my previous email or this email. That was not my intention. But if critical examination of personal beliefs upsets you maybe it is better we avoid these conversations in future.
Thestumbler: Your email is very good, but do you think he is reading what you are sending him?
I would recommend that you back way up and think about what each of your are claiming. Boil the discussion down to one substantial point each of you will agree is fundamental to your differences. This is *not* for instance if evolution is a scientific theory IMO since this is just an etymological point (how each of you define theory) and at any rate he can just claim it is an unproven theory.
I think you should spend time to explore his view on religion. Does he for instance think God can rationally be demonstrated to exist beyond reasonable doubt? Does he think it is merely possible god exist, but he choose to do so because it is more prudent? (see his example with the plane). If you want to discuss evolution, does he believe evolution is something which can be demonstrated to be false by considering it as a scientific question, or does he believe evolution is false because he thinks (for other reasons) the bible is true and the bible contradicts evolution? Does he believe evolution is basically a big conspiracy and any evidence you present will be dismissed as invented? Does he believe evolution is something egg-heads do on the university and he is basically indifferent to whatever you produce?
You are obviously very knowledgeable and your posts are what someone would write to convince a reasonable person. However you got to explore where your Dads at regarding evolution, the evidence, etc. and build your case from that in order to be rhetorically effective with him. I have a policy that IRL I never engage with anyone about a subject relating to religion unless two conditions are met: (1) they themselves have said it is the best evidence for their position and (2) they claim their position is rationally true and not just possibly.
What it took a long time to come to grips with is that the vast minority of people don't trend toward logical thinking and nuance, but trend towards emotional thinking and easy answers. Even when people supposedly are "logical" in one area (ie. evolution), you can often see them abandon that in other areas that they personally hold close (things like social issues or relationship issues).
The only thing you can do is avoid directly "attacking" their beliefs, because people like that view beliefs as an extension of themselves and feel like you are attacking them, personally, but, instead, ask brief questions that might hopefully start a crack and create a chink in their armor.
For one personal example, my dad was a "weak" JW and questioned everything for quite some time. Then his mother died, and he went on full board and became completely illogical about everything he questioned before. After the point of his mother dying, questioning his faith meant questioning him ever seeing his mother again, and so any logic, etc. was immediately shut down.
You could read the book "A manual for creating atheists"; just be aware some parts of it is pretty preachy and hard to stomach, like that the author supposedly had a debate with himself if he should argue his dying mother out of Christianity(!).
You presented some great stuff but in my experience, including my very own outlook, you can lead a JW horse to water but you will never make it drink unless it wants to. If your father is not prepared or ready to take your eloquent reasoning on board then I think (sad to say) your chances of helping him see reason right now are low.
All the best with your efforts anyway of course!
Best ever description of a discussion with a JW about scientific theories or life in general really! Thanks Thesrumbler83 😊😊😁Talking to him about religion and science is a bit like playing chess with a pigeon, he knocks the pieces over, shits all over the board and struts around like he won.
Any chance of emailing me your second post as I cannot read it and it looks fantastic, I wish someone would do a post on how to formatt, I rubbish at it too
Rejecting Intelligent Design was pretty easy for me, actually, because after taking a good look, nature - quite frankly - didn't seem all that intelligently designed.
"your last email seems to suggest that I am ‘unable to explain the (basis) for my beliefs in simple terms’."
There may be a hidden fallacy here. Have you ever heard JWs say something along the lines of: "the truth is simple"? He might be discounting your explanations based on this fallacy that truth has to be simple and your explanations are not as simple as that provided by the bible and Watchtower.
The problem is that how simple your explanation seems to him largely depends on how educated he is on scientific matters. Respectfully tell him that his ignorance on scientific matters is perhaps at the root of him finding your explanations to be not simple. Also, reality does not owe us simple explanations. The reality of the origins of physical existence may indeed be quite incomprehensible and counter-intuitive to the human mind but that doesn't make it any less real or truthful. Just because the bible offers an explanation that he can understand, does not necessarily make it correct. Truth does not have to be comprehensible to the human mind. It only has to be scientifically provable.
When gauging the credibility of a truth claim, more important than simplicity, is the claim's scientific plausibility. Highly implausible claims, however simple, are still less likely to be true than complex claims that are scientifically plausible.
Welcome, The Stumbler.
I think it's fairly safe to assert that the vast majority of JWs are scientifically illiterate.
JWs are all over the place with regard to evolution.
They also confuse (either deliberately or in their ignorance) evolution with abiogenesis.
Let's just run with the JW worldview - God created everything, included Adam & Eve, all life ultimately comes from God, the Noachian flood occurred as described In Genesis, Jesus walked on water, etc.
When I was doubting, I used to ask JWs re the flood: "Did Noah take two individuals of every species onto the ark or not?"
The answer I got: "No - he took two of every kind. Kind doesn't necessarily correspond to species"
Me: "So Noah took, say, two or three pairs of cats onto the ark. These then evolved over the last 4,000 years or so into all the cat species we know today - tiger (Panthera tigris), lion (Panthera leo), leopard (Panthera pardus), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), cougar (Puma concolor), house cat (Felis domesticus)"
If someone doesn't WANT to see it, they WON'T see it. It's why I don't argue with creationists any more.