Chapters 6 & 7

The full title for this book should have been “God’s Undertaker: Has science stopped Lennox invoking god of the gaps?” for that is what these last two chapters have been. Chapter 6 asks if “evolution can carry all the weight put upon it” (96: italics Lennox) because if it can’t then the answer is god. Rinse and repeat for chapter 7 which is about the origin of life and how god did that, too.

He even asks on page 119 if this is god of the gaps, and decides in a flash of logic reminiscent of the last time he decided his ideas weren’t god of the gaps, that it isn’t because if the evidence demands a supernatural explanation then that is what it must be. If at first you don’t know the answer, blame god. Now, I’m not going to pretend to know the answers to the questions that Lennox asks about evolution, but he doesn’t pretend to even give a balanced account of the possible answers. “God’s Undertaker” is not a cutting-edge book about evolution, and as such the answers to the questions he’s asked must have had some treatment by others, but Lennox presents no other case except for god. Not such a problem if you never intended to inform the reader of any opinion that differed from your own, but not a good way to write a book purporting to examine the issue from the perspective of science.

Another worry is that the same scientists’ names keep popping up in both chapters. Foremost among them is Michael Behe whom Lennox obviously puts a lot of faith in. Behe is known as a proponent of Intelligent Design and for his theory of Irreducible Complexity, both of which Lennox swallows wholeheartedly, and for his own goal in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. If you don’t know the case then there’s a wikipedia article on it and there’s also an excellent site here that has a documentary about the case and interviews with people from both sides. Lennox mentioned the Dover case long ago on page 12, and his opinion is that the judge made a mistake in ruling that ID was not science. The case concluded in 2005 and the edition of “God’s Undertaker” that I am using is the 2009, so it seems that even after having at least 3 years to consider Judge Jones’s ruling, Lennox remains adamant in his support for Behe. I’ll leave the reader to make up their own mind about ID and Irreducible Complexity. As for myself, I think Judge Jones had an excellent understanding of the issues, and obviously made the right decision.

My opinion of the book just hit a new low.

13 thoughts on “Chapters 6 & 7

  1. Marco

    I have had a good think about these chapters, and I have reread most of it, and I am not convinced your version of God of the gaps is a fair assessment. The term originates, after all, from a Christian’s leader telling his flock to not think that way. I think a fair, unbiased between atheism and theism definition of god of the gaps, would say that *interpolation* ie. the invoking of the Supernatural between species which we have good confidence of existing in time and space with a gap *between* them is much more God of the Gaps than is *extrapolation*, where we only have scientific confidence only on one side, eg. Last common ancestor vs what there was before.
    For this one major extrapolation case of abiogenesis, Lennox just has to make the case that that it is as scientifically implausible as an upward falling waterfall, and the fact that we are here, is not admissible as evidence that denies the implausibility of a particular process to get us here.

    I am not saying that his arguments be taken as evidence of God, but that it is much less God of the Gaps than the interpolation case that he also makes.

    To say that nothing more than randomness and the laws of physics are required for abiogenesis is lazy Naturalism of the gaps.

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      I have had a good think about these chapters, and I have reread most of it, and I am not convinced your version of God of the gaps is a fair assessment.

      Probably because you continue to confuse which meaning I am using. The meaning you refer to is the original meaning. The term has two other meanings, either of which are applicable in this case and both what Lennox himself refers to when he says that there is no gap in the scientific knowledge. So even Lennox is not using the meaning you are.

      The other two meanings, both taken from wikipedia from the page on “god of the gaps” are:

      1) The term “God of the gaps” is sometimes used in describing the incremental retreat of religious explanations of physical phenomena in the face of increasingly comprehensive scientific explanations for those phenomena.

      and

      2) The term God-of-the-gaps fallacy can refer to a position that assumes an act of God as the explanation for an unknown phenomenon, which is a variant of an argument from ignorance fallacy.

      If you review the two chapters with these definitions in mind, I think you’ll agree that this is what Lennox is doing. He posits no other solution for the problems he perceives except for god. Further he doesn’t even suggest that there could already be naturalist explanations for the perceived problems.

      The explanation that Lennox does put forward in regards to evolution is ID, which in the court case I linked to (and which Lennox himself refers to negatively) was ruled as religion and not science. If you aren’t familiar with the case I highly recommend looking at the materials on the NOVA site. The documentary is especially interesting.

      Reply
    2. Marco

      I don’t really agree with you that Lennox is doing that. I did read these chapters only considering naturalistic explanations for the issues he brings up. So when he says “intelligent” I read into it that it is intelligence within the DNA or other informational aspects of life. I consider whether “random” is an appropriate or provable aspect of conventional evolutionary thought. I don’t buy into the logic that just because the consensus among prominent biologists is that blind processes, random mutation and natural selection are provably sufficient, that we should just accept that. I’m quite happy to side with Intelligent design even though I don’t believe in the supernatural, because I think the evidence he brings up refuting some naturalist claims is entirely valid.
      So in chapter 6, I do think he is invoking god of the gaps, but I believe he is right in saying it is no worse than naturalism of the gaps.

      In chapter 7, it’s closer to a conventional invoking of theism, because the gap is so much bigger.

      Reply
      1. winstoninabox Post author

        I don’t really agree with you that Lennox is doing that. I did read these chapters only considering naturalistic explanations for the issues he brings up. So when he says “intelligent” I read into it that it is intelligence within the DNA or other informational aspects of life.

        But Marco he doesn’t present a naturalistic explanation; he presents ID. The intelligence in Intelligent Design is god. If you want to make another meaning for ID then fair enough, but that is your own version, and quite clearly not what Lennox is talking about.

        Or to look at it another way, if the intelligence isn’t god then what’s Lennox using ID for in a book about god?

        I’m quite happy to side with Intelligent design even though I don’t believe in the supernatural, because I think the evidence he brings up refuting some naturalist claims is entirely valid.

        If you side with ID, then you’re siding with the supernatural. If you believe the evidence Lennox presents but don’t want to side with the supernatural, then you’ll need to find another theory.

        Reply
      2. Marco

        If you side with ID, then you’re siding with the supernatural. If you believe the evidence Lennox presents but don’t want to side with the supernatural, then you’ll need to find another theory.
        I’ll split this up in two. Lennox on the one hand is challenging naturalistic claims about the adequacy of evolution (in chapter 6) and evolution’s extension to abiogenesis (in chapter 7) and on the other hand, only giving ID as an alternative explanation.
        Forcing myself to choose between two world views is not something I am ever going to do. All I can do, is see the grains of truth if any are revealed to me in whatever I read, and perhaps in this case see where Lennox’s world view overlaps my world view in idea space.
        The truth is that I identify with the inadequacy of the naturalistic narrative of evolution, and especially abiogenesis much more than I identify with those scientists that think ID is dangerous to science or society. For science, ID is mostly harmless, even if the court case you mention had gone the other way, and there will be anyway a “gradual retreat of religious explanations”, where science hits some good new information or proves relevant theories.
        For society, ID may be mainly beneficial, but we are arguing that on another thread, so you know what I believe so we don’t really have to go into that in this thread.
        As far as “finding another theory” goes I don’t see why I one needs an alternative theory if you know one is “wrongheaded”.
        I just feel very confident that new astrobiological discoveries within our lifetime will turn our abiogenesis theories on their head, and there will be a “gradual retreat of blind watchmaker, geogenesis, random mutations, selfish gene, natural selection explanations” similar to the description of God of the gaps in definition 1, but for evolution of the gaps.

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          My reply references the supernatural because in your previous reply you said that you don’t believe in the supernatural.

          In this last reply you say that you agree with the grains of truth of ID where they overlap with your ideas.

          Marco, ID is all supernatural. There’s no way to agree with ID without believing in a supernatural being, so to say that you agree with ID is to say that you believe in the supernatural.

          Reply
      3. Marco

        In some ways I am siding with ID more out of protest than logical necessity.

        I don’t accept that just because I’m presented with two refined philosophies each with associated problems, that I have to accept the dogmas of either one.

        It’s like in politics. I have to choose someone to vote for, and just because I vote Labor doesn’t mean that I believe *any* of the claptrap that unions come up with. And I don’t have to create my own party, or vote for a minor party. I can sum up the good and the bad, ignore what may be an important political partisan point and make my two bits count.

        I can pick and choose how I interpret what Lennox says and I can read intelligent design with a small i and small d to mean design by a different form of natural intelligent life, rather than God like he implies. After all, he didn’t even define God. I can pick and choose where he is wrong and right and come to a slightly different conclusion defining God as a super intelligent life form that is not supernatural.

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          It’s not siding with ID that is my quibble. It’s siding with ID, but saying you don’t believe in the supernatural. There is nothing more to ID than the supernatural. ID isn’t the part that questions evolution, ID is the part that answers those questions with, and only with, god. If you accept ID’s answers, then you accept that god is the answer, and so you believe in the supernatural.

          So even if that siding is a protest, that doesn’t negate it also being a siding with a belief in the supernatural. You can’t change the definition of the ‘i’ and the ‘d’ just because you yourself want to protest naturalist explanations of evolution. Otherwise it’s not ID anymore.

          And while Lennox doesn’t give an explicit definition of god, he amply shows (and I have too so many times that you guys got bored with it) that he is referring to the Christian god.

          Reply
      4. Marco

        In the context of chapter 6 and 7, ID is a gap filler. Where there is a gap in the scientific knowledge- ie we don’t know the mechanisms, and we don’t know when or if we will know, humans like to put in a preferred mechanism in there regardless. It doesn’t matter whether it is fairy pixies, random natural phenomena, or smart leptons – if and when a discovery is made which shines a light on it, the gap filler is doomed as a theory anyway, and can be modified to fit the remaining gaps.
        Thus if I am happy that the supernatural is invoked for unanswered questions until they can be satisfactorily answered, while still believing that the supernatural is just a convenient fiction which may or may not have aspects which can fit in with new realities, does not mean I am contradicting my own beliefs.

        The fact that you or anyone else cannot pick and choose what you agree about in an argument and what you don’t is not my issue, it is your own. If Lennox’s arguments are solid for a need of a “designer” the arguments work just as well for my definition of a designer. I can separate the logical arguments from the evangelism, and I am not sure why you can’t.

        Reply
        1. winstoninabox Post author

          Thus if I am happy that the supernatural is invoked for unanswered questions until they can be satisfactorily answered, while still believing that the supernatural is just a convenient fiction which may or may not have aspects which can fit in with new realities, does not mean I am contradicting my own beliefs.

          I’m sure you’re happy if the supernatural is invoked when it’s just us shooting the breeze. It costs nothing to support anything in this forum.
          When it does cost something is when you see the commitment to supernatural that theists have. Your health is one case where you may be a little more reticent to invoke the supernatural. Your business, too.

          If you felt a lump in your armpit and the doctor you saw told you that you are the victim of a witch’s curse I doubt you’d accept that diagnosis. Likewise if your accountant told you that your business is going through a rough patch because god wants you to forsake materiality, again you might look for a second opinion. So yes, I do pick and choose what to agree with, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t. You only think you do because it costs nothing. The next time you or your family need medical care, let me know how invoking the supernatural worked out for you.

          I can separate the logical arguments from the evangelism, and I am not sure why you can’t.

          Of course I can separate them. The difference is I don’t then go and re-conflate them and say it’s ok.

          Reply
      5. Marco

        When it does cost something is when you see the commitment to supernatural that theists have. Your health is one case where you may be a little more reticent to invoke the supernatural. Your business, too.
        Well, we weren’t talking about health, nor business. Since neither of those issues came up in those chapters, it is really changing the subject from where science does not have an explanation (yet) to where it does, and it is that repeatable science thingummy at that.
        However, when I did have a shoulder that was painful and immobile to the point that I had to wear a sling, I went to a physio rather than a doctor. On the first visit, he strongly urged me to go to a doctor. The best treatment that I got off him was acupuncture, and the best advice I got was what his naturopath partner would have advised me, which was to let the frozen shoulder heal on its own given time. Basically science was not very helpful because it was a very unusual case, so the not so scientific alternative of acupuncture seemed to help the healing process the most.
        The question I ask myself is did I reject science in this case and default to faith? I think yes.

        But we were talking about the case made in chapter 6 and 7, and if it is not extended arbitrarily and straw man fashion like you have, I agree with what I described as ” theistic gap filler” in place of “naturalist gap filler” preferred by you.

        Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s