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Column 103
Ignorance is not evidence of God

Debating God's existence (iii)

By © Martin Foreman
Word Count: 794 words
Publication date: April 15, 2007

Last week I pointed out that believers defending their faith give five primary reasons for claiming that God exists.

We saw that three of these reasons – personal experience of God, the existence of miracles and the First Cause argument (“something must have created the universe”) were false. That leaves two - the apparent impossibility of evolution and the stability of the universe – to be examined.

Evolution-is-impossible breaks down into two very similar arguments. One is that God created the world with all the species we see today in the form that they now exist. The other is that many aspects of evolution occurred as depicted in scientific texts, but God either started the whole process or interfered at certain moments.

The first argument comes from Creationism and the Young Earth Theory – the idea that the world is less than 10,000 years old. The second arguments is closely aligned with Intelligent Design.

The debate between Creationists and Intelligent Designers is like two groups of Trekkies arguing obscure points in Klingon history and cosmology. It’s great fun and can be intellectually challenging for those participating, but no-one should kid themselves that the discussion has anything to do with reality.

We should not be distracted by the many secondary arguments put forward by either side to support their belief, To demolish their position, we need focus only on the key point which they both adhere to – some, if not all, elements of evolution cannot be explained by current scientific knowledge; ergo the universe must have been created by a supernatural force: God.

There is a two-staged response to that claim. The first is that the evidence for most evolution does exist, but Creationists and ID’ers fail to understand it – and often they do not even try to understand.

Take the bacterial flagellum – a means of propulsion that C & ID’ers claim can only be the result of intelligent design. But, as arch ID’er Michael Behe’s testimony in the 2005 Dover Area School District trial reluctantly conceded, the flagellum can be shown to be the result of natural evolution. (Read the relevant portion of the trial transcript at, page 81 onwards.)

The details vary, but the same principle applies throughout biology – even the most complex systems can be shown to derive from simpler precedents.

The C & ID argument is down, but not yet out; their last argument is both relevant and accurate – there are processes, including the development of life itself – where there is still uncertainty as to how they occurred.

Surprise, surprise! Human knowledge is incomplete and we do not yet understand all aspects of evolution!

But the fact that we do not understand a phenomenon does not mean that the phenomenon is proof that God exists. Ignorance is not evidence of God, it is only evidence of ignorance itself.

Creationists and ID’ers are like impatient children who want the answer to everything now. If science cannot tell them they rush to the conclusion that God’s hand is at work. In that they are the modern equivalent of our credulous ancestors who stared at the sky and insisted that the sun was borne across the sky by an invisible chariot.

In short, honest scientists – and the best scientists – admit their ignorance and strive over years, generations and centuries to resolve it. Less capable and less honest scientists say that God did it.

Believers are left with one argument for God’s existence – the stability of the universe. The basic argument here is that if certain physical laws, such as the gravitational constant, differed even minimally from their current state, the universe could not have come into existence.

The chances of the various physical laws combining in this fashion are so minimal that the universe cannot have come into existence by chance; ergo it was created; ergo there is a God.

Again, any ten year old with reasonable intelligence and a good education should spot the fallacy in this argument. Improbability is not impossibility.

The odds of a particular structure surviving a severe earthquake are small, but some structures still survive. The odds of winning a multi-state lottery are also tiny, but someone still wins.

We exist in this universe. There was a very small chance of this universe coming into existence. We struck lucky. The laws of chance, not God, explain our existence. End of story.

None of these arguments – experience of God is not proof of God’s existence; miracles do not exist; the First Cause argument is false; evolution is a fact; the stability of the universe is unlikely but not impossible – will change the mind of most believers.

That should not surprise us. The more interesting question – which we will look at next week – is why, despite all the evidence, believers continue to cling to faith rather than reason.

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

wear the Scarlet letter

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