My “Where the Light Is” post received a lengthy reply from Josh, the man who inspired the original discussion. Below is my open letter reply:
Josh, I’m going to reply to what you wrote, but I want to say something here at the outset. I like you. I like James. I like your family. In fact, you and your family are some of my favorite people on Planet Earth. So I’d like to fashion this reply in a way that will allow me to continue to like you, and, hopefully, for you to continue to like me, assuming you did in the first place.
Maybe I’m misreading your tone, but much of what you wrote is snarky and condescending. You speak to me as if I were an imbecile, too stupid to live. That tone is not helpful for productive discussion. It doesn’t make your argument more persuasive; it often makes you look a little silly, and at times, it’s hard for me not to be personally insulted by what you write. I like to think it was not your intent to insult me, so I’ll try to fashion a response that treats you respectfully in attempt to focus solely on the issues at hand.
I cannot guarantee I will succeed.
Your words are in dark, forest green.
Ji…er, Stallion? Josh here. James sent me a link to this blog post. Since it appears to be sort of addressed to me, and it has ignited a heated debate in your comments section, I guess I’ll add my two cents to the flood of responses.
Thanks for taking the time to reply at length.
… James’s paraphrasing of my beliefs are inaccurate… Such is the bane of my existence.
I seem to have stepped into the middle of a fraternal feud, and such was not my intent.
I’ll respond to a few of your questions and statements that you have brought up here.
Stallion: “Josh believes…there is no material evidence of [God’s] existence….To which my response is, ‘Sez who?’”
The answer is in the statement: Josh sez.
Well, you got me there. In my defense, I was using a colloquial expression to suggest that different people can reach different conclusions from the same set of facts, and I was well aware that you were the one who sezzed it.
… you go on to demonstrate I’m wrong by producing the evidence [of God’s existence], because “all things” is evidence?
To which I say: That’s a pretty low standard of criteria…in fact, it may very well be the lowest standard possible.
Three verses later, Alma clarifies by what he means by “all things:
All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator. – Alma 30:44
In other words, the very fact that things exist, whether or not you like them, or whether or not they’re nice, or whether or not they kill people, is evidence that something created them.
You then proceed to cite examples of bad things as proof that God doesn’t exist: the Holocaust, colon cancer, hermaphrodism, Battlestar Galactica, Chaz Bono. You’re confusing the existence of God with the character of God. If you find a house built in the middle of the desert, proving that the builder was a felon who deep-fries puppies doesn’t mean the house happened by accident.
Oh. I see.
Here’s where your snark really begins.
But wait, that wasn’t the BEST evidence.
Oh, well what IS the best evidence, Stallion?
It must be pretty lousy evidence for you to draw it out like this.
“The best evidence for God’s existence is internal [moral standards], not external.” After all, C.S. Lewis says so.
The BEST evidence for God’s existence to a Mormon comes not from the rationale of another Mormon, but from a non-Mormon? Maybe the Church of England is the one true church?
I don’t believe for an instant that you really think I’m claiming the Church of England is the one true church. Was that a joke? It just comes off like a snide, superior gibe.
C.S. Lewis is a great writer, and he described this phenomenon clearly and effectively. Mormons have done that, too. It’s the message, not the messenger, which interests me. If Hitler had said the same thing, it would still be true.
And BEST evidence?
I guess it’s a simple equation: M (morals)=G(God). Or simply: M=G. But does M really equal G?
No. You guess wrong. The existence of “morals” isn’t proof of God. What’s proof is that everyone intrinsically has the same morals. It’s the universality of basic morality that demonstrates that there is a God, and what’s more, that said God is interested in how you behave. It’s also evidence of God’s character – he wants us to be good and wants us not to be bad.
Animals don’t have this internal morality. When a python eats a baby, it’s not wracked with guilt for taking a human life. Good and Bad exist only as intellectual ideas, yet everyone on earth has the same ideas on this subject. That demonstrates a universal order, an order that clearly shares agrees with those ideas.
Stallion: “That’s why you will not find a civilization that applauds murder for material gain…”
Sure, you’ll find INDIVIDUALS who murder (1 Nephi 4:10, 18), but not CIVILIZATIONS. And that’s the key qualification to this equation of M=G.
Wait a sec…what’s this? “[T]he Nephites who had escaped into the country southward were hunted by the Lamanites, until they were all destroyed.” (Mormon 8:2). Oh, so civilizations DO murder?
Here’s where your snark makes you look silly. Do you really think I don’t realize that civilizations commit murder?
Please reread my sentence. I stated that “you will not find a civilization that applauds murder for material gain.” (Emphasis added.) You have decided that applauds is synonymous with commits. Your misreading informs your argument for two more paragraphs:
But just a sec…they didn’t do it for material gain did they? Maybe THAT’S the key qualification to M=G. Let’s read a bit further in Mormon here…oh, wait, verse 9 mentions something about robbers?
It’s only confusing for people who can’t use a thesaurus. My point still stands.
All civilizations, even the nastiest ones, have laws on the books against murder for material gain. Again, it’s not just the act that matters – it’s the intention behind the act. Killing someone who is about to kill your family is applauded. Killing someone because you want their tennis shoes is not. Being able to make a moral distinction between those two acts is evidence that there is a God who cares about the difference between right and wrong.
When talking about acts of aggression and murder by the civilizations – wars of plunder, et al – even the most evil civilizations don’t frame their acts of aggression in terms of sheer love of plunder. They cite ancient wrongs or their genetic nobility or some other rationalization for evil. They wrap their aggression in noble terms because they know that simply robbing people because you want their stuff is a bad thing to do. Those who are brazen enough to admit their evil intentions make no pretense that they are noble and should be applauded for doing so.
I dunno, M=G doesn’t seem to hold up to scrutiny.
If M=G is the same as “applauds=commits,” then you’re right. Otherwise, you look silly.
So is there ANY evidence God exists?
Stallion: “Evolution’s inability to offer a plausible alternative also ought to be put in the ‘plus’ column as evidence in God’s favor.”
Oh? Go on.
How is “Oh? Go on,” helpful? (Clearly I’m about to say something stupid, I guess.)
Stallion: “Intelligent Design proponents have pointed out several different biological constructs that are irreducibly complex. Michael Behe points to the flagellum…”
So the evidences produced by Intelligent Design proponents are evidence in God’s favor? Or in favor of some Intelligent Designer? Because it seems to me these are not exactly the same things. I mean, isn’t Satan, hypothetically speaking, an Intelligent Designer? Or Xenu? Or Allah? Or Thor? Or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Or sadistic Aliens?
What’s confusing is that you seem to have ignored a good chunk of my original post, where I say exactly that. Allow me to quote me.
“So have I proved God exists? Not at all. I think I’ve effectively demonstrated gaps in Darwinian theory to explain the origins of life, and I’ve offered a suggestion that biological constructs are designed by intelligence. But the theories to explain that intelligence are endless, and only a few of them would include a God who sent His only son to die for our sins. Some have proposed the idea of aliens seeding the earth with life in a theory called “panspermia.” There’s the theory of the Flying Spaghetti Monster who made us for fun and then used his noodly appendages to plant fake dinosaur bones to freak out paleontologists. There’s Scientology, which says the evil galactic emperor Xenu trapped billions of spirits on here on Earth – or Teegeeack, as they say it in Scientologese – with Hawaiian volcanic explosions.”
The reason I say the best evidence for God is internal is because that internal evidence gives us a picture of what kind of God we’re dealing with. A prankster of a flying spaghetti monster or an evil galactic overlord with a volcano fetish wouldn’t imbue us with a fundamental understanding of the difference between good and evil.
Fortunately, we need not worry about that little conundrum since all these “irreducibly complex” constructs are, in fact, reducible. You say, “The flagellum is constructed of 46 moving parts. If you only have 45 of the 46, you don’t have a slightly-less-useful flagellum; you’ve got nothing but genetic junk that doesn’t do anything.” Accept that when you remove about 20 of those protein components of the bacterial flagellum, you get a highly effective “syringe” that is used by the bacteria that transmits the bubonic plague (which is estimated to have killed 30-40 percent of the European population in the 14th Century, incidentally. Evidence of God? Hmmm…). Here’s a link to a Nova documentary that will help you visualize this reducibility of the bacterial flagellum:
I watched the Nova clip, and I decided perhaps I truly am as obtuse as you’re implying. Their premise seems to be that since a flagellum with only ten pieces can serve another biological use – one unrelated to the use of the flagellum – that the appearance of thirty more parts to create an outboard motor is something well within the possibility of natural selection.
I say that even the 10-part syringe is hard to explain in strictly Darwinian terms. Suppose you put those ten separate parts in a paper bag, and you shook that paper bag and then opened it. Would those parts have formed themselves into a syringe? Do it again. Do it until the end of time. At what point would the parts align themselves to perform their syringey biological function? The answer is never. Without intelligence, those parts don’t know they’re supposed to be a syringe. They don’t learn something new or adapt each time the bag is shaken. Without intelligence, they remain useless.
In the meantime, I’m still open and waiting for evidence of God’s existence. And if he does exist, the question of his benevolence is a whole other topic.
Yes, it is, and your entire response conflated the two. You repeatedly argue that God allowing bad things to happen is proof that He doesn’t exist. What, then, would the perfect world look like? Would it be a world where no one could choose to write snarky responses, where the ability to choose to murder would be eliminated, and where nothing ever aged, got sick, or died? Because I belong to a church that teaches that such a world was proposed in a preexistent life, and it was rejected by a vast majority who saw purpose in adversity, and who realized that all suffering in this life would be a mere blip on the journey toward divine perfection. There is a lot more to this argument, but Mormonism has a lot more to say on the subject than ex nihilo Christianity. (See http://stallioncornell.com/?p=18)
In any case, I still think you’re a great guy, and I apologize for occasionally fighting snark with snark.