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Monday, February 21, 2011

Rich Debunks His Own Theology

Rich used to believe and preach that it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to believe in god. Now he doesn’t believe that, and obviously doesn’t preach it anymore.

I don’t remember who I stole the illustration in the sermon from, but here’s how it would go:

(Preacher Mode ON)

Imagine you have the finest Rolex watch ever made, and I run it through a super-powerful shredder that rips it into tiny pieces no larger than the head of a pin, or the eye of a needle.

Then I give you the expensive pile of metal, tightly sealed in a plastic box, with the instructions to shake the box until it becomes a watch again. But not just any watch, YOUR watch, and running at the correct time.

If you have any sense, you will tell me that is impossible.

I agree.

Now, Imagine how much more complex the human hand is than your watch. Or the eye, for that matter. And the human brain.

I find it much easier to believe shaking watch bits in a box will produce a watch than thinking the emptiness of space will spontaneously produce atoms and molecules from nothing, then those will rush together to make a hand, eye, brain -- whole humans, not just running with the clock set, but LIVING.

But go a step further, not just living, but living in a planet that yields to the efforts of that hand, and gives man his desires -- a planet that can be understood by that brain, so man can make things that bring him comfort and pleasure. But not just that, a planet that is not only pleasing, but gorgeous to that miraculous eye.

(Insert half an hour of random non-sense “Tide goes in, tide goes out,” statements, catch the praise singer’s eye, start altar call)

(Preacher Mode OFF)

There are people who still feed me my own lines and ask HOW can I not still believe that.

If all you do is listen to my argument, it sounds good (to believers who don’t believe god allows critical thought). But the second you start to think about it, it falls apart.

Here are some reasons why.

First, it assumes the end product before the process begins. The universe does not operate with the concept that man is the completion of it’s process, and earth is the height of its potential. The universe just is. When the big bang happened, it didn’t happen with goals and specifics in mind. There was no mind. There are no goals or specifics. It just is. What we are is a product of where we are and that is a product of trillions and trillions of random events over untold eons of time.

Next, to compare shaking a box filled with a limited amount of stuff to the practically infinite energy and stuff in the universe is a foolish analogy.

There is nothing going on inside that box that could produce a watch. There is no heat to melt the metals, no chemical processes to combine stuff, nothing that can possibly cause a watch to pop out.

With the universe, there is perhaps unlimited space, time and chemical process of all types happening. And while these processes seem best at creating black holes and piles of gunk, those piles of gunk find some order and become other stuff, like stars and planets.

I recently had a christian wrongly quote “facts” about how a single change of unmeasurable proportions in the earth’s position to the sun, the angle, speed or rotation would render the planet unsuitable for any life at all. First, that isn’t even true. Scientists have discovered that there is a pretty wide range of things you could change about the earth, and she would still be suitable for life.

But even if it were true, all that would mean is that earth was not a planet with life on it. It wouldn’t eliminate the possibility of other planets hitting that magic “life-spot” in relation to their stars. When you put the argument to the entire scale of the universe, it loses it’s punch.

Finally, the box illustration assumes everything that is in the box is all that is needed to make a watch. That’s not true.

There are tons of rock that were mined to get at that metal, and that’s not in the box. There are centuries of human knowledge and study that went into making the watch, and they aren’t in the box either.

There’s a watch factory that is strangely missing from the box. Basically, while there is a shredded watch in the box, there isn’t anything in the box that can make a watch.

The universe is just the opposite. There’s plenty of stuff to make worlds and stars and moons and hands and eyes and brains. Not only are the raw elements and atoms and molecules there, but the processes needed for them to come together are all there as well.

I realize my writing here is not anything close to scientific. I’m not trying to write science.

One thing I’ve realized is that in our religious lives, we signed on to arguments like the one I cite above, and sometimes we hear them again, and they call to our sense of familiar. We might catch ourselves thinking for just a moment, “Maybe the eye IS too complex!” Then we banish the thought as silly.

Just like we were taught in church to do with thoughts that go contrary to our current way of believing.

This article really isn’t about creation versus cosmology, or creation versus evolution. It’s about having the courage to look at the arguments that once comforted your christian heart, and googling and reading your heart out to find true answers that may not be as comforting at the moment, but will take you miles, even light years ahead in your ability to skeptically understand the world around you.

Here’s a challenge. Think about the “arguments” for your previous faith. Post them here, with your argument why they are bogus, and let’s discuss.

Extra credit: Rip my “watch in a box” argument up!

Let’s have fun!



  1. Hey Rich!

    Just found your podcast and blog. I'm am an atheist, former theist, and have suffered from depression for my whole life. Needless to say, religion did nothing to help my depression, and usually only made it worse. Resources such as your podcast, is exactly what I was looking for.

    Your Monday, February 21, 2011 post made several good points.

    One comment you made really interested me was: "I realize my writing here is not anything close to scientific. I’m not trying to write science."

    This started me thinking, and I realized that this is why religion hooks several people, and why science often fails to help. Science doesn't always offer easy to understand answers, and when the science is simplified so it is easier to understand, it then becomes less scientific.

    Religion, on the other hand, IS easy to understand. Because there is no real actual factual content to religion, it can be simplified without harm. Religion is little more than homeopathy. What do you get when you water down water...?

    You do a great job of picking apart the watchmaker argument from design. I think that it was Fred Hoyle that uses a similar "747" argument, where he compares the genesis of life to a tornado creating a Boeing 747 after blowing through a junkyard.

    As you mentioned in your post, these kinds of arguments leave out the fact that atoms and molecules are not simply mechanical parts in a box or junkyard that are very unlikely to be accidentally assembled into something useful.

    These arguments use a faulty analogy. Atoms and molecules in reality do "self-assemble". The rarest thing in the Universe is a scenario where atoms and chemicals are NOT interacting and "self-assembling".

    My favorite, easy to understand, counter-argument is the game of Yahtzee.

    Just like the game, some combinations SEEM more likely than others, but in reality rolling a Yahtzee or a Full House is no more likely or unlikely than rolling any other combination.

    Pick any combination and try to achieve it in one roll. Odds are it will take a relatively long time. However, when a player is allowed to keep the desired dice, and can re-roll the undesired dice, ANY combination can be achieved relatively quickly.

    Actually pulling out a Yahtzee game and experimenting is the best way to illustrate this.

    Now then, the theist likes to point out that their god is the one that rolls the dice, and chooses which dice to keep or re-roll, and this is where their fatal assumptions can be pointed out.

    Atoms and molecules are perpetually rolling the dice, so there is no need for a cosmic "dice roller". Natural selection accounts for how and why some dice are kept and some are re-rolled without the need of any intelligence.

    If atoms and molecules were mechanical parts of a pocket watch or a 747, then mechanical parts actually would eventually self-assemble into working time pieces and flying machines.

    The game of Yahtzee can also be developed into a philosophy of life:

    If one realizes that they have the power to keep the desired dice, and re-roll the undesired dice, ANY desired combination of dice can be achieved if one keeps on rolling. If things are really bad, one can even re-roll all five dice.

    The only way to not get the desired combination of dice is to quit playing. As long as one keeps on rolling the dice, not only is the desired combination possible, but it is INEVITABLE.

    Thanks for all you do, and looking forward to your future podcasts...

  2. Does that watch box happen to have something to melt the metal and mold it to form? Or the tools to put the formed parts together into a watch? I didn't think so...

    Now the argument that I could never understand was “there had to be a beginning, so there must be a god that created everything in that beginning.” The obvious question is, “Did God have a beginning?” People say God was always there. Well, if you can imagine God always being there, then why can’t you imagine the universe always being there? “It HAD to have a beginning!“ Well, how come God doesn’t HAVE to have a beginning? Then the copout comes. “God transcends space and time.” Well, what if the universe transcends space and time or, at least, used to? It seems silly because we observe a universe constrained by space and time, but just like you can imagine a God that transcends space and time, even though we have never seen this happening, it is possible that the universe has transcended space and time without us seeing it. My point was not that I knew whether the universe had a beginning or always was, but that God was not “necessary” no matter which situation is true.

  3. Extra credit: The implication is that this there is a design in mind (the original watch before it was broken up) that is created from random events (shaking up the box of pieces). The problem is that the theory of evolution does not say that there was a design of life in mind when beings were evolved through random chance. In essence, we didn't HAVE to exist. It just turned out that way. Even if it is “very unlikely” that things would turn out how they did through evolution, very unlikely things happen. In the case of life, a very unlikely random mutation can be replicated infinitely through reproduction so that what was once “unlikely” is now “the way things are.”

    Here's a proper analogy between the watch in the box and evolution: If you took a human being and smashed them up into tiny pieces, put the pieces in a box, then shook it, the chances are terrible that you will recreate that human being. This broken watch comparison to evolution is just ridiculous. First of all, the theory of evolution doesn't say that humans evolved from just their parts randomly mixing together. There are outside influences and tools, such as chemical reactions, that include materials not part of the human body. You need your mother's womb to be born, but your mother's womb is not a part of your body. If the watch's "mother's womb" isn't in the box, the analogy is faulty already.

    Second of all, you can spend your whole life shaking that box of watch pieces, but the pieces will never change. When it comes to evolution, we have seen humans evolve to be resist diseases that were fatal to previous generations. We see viruses evolving in many ways, including becoming resistant to vaccines, because they have life cycles so incredibly short that evolution happens faster for them than it could ever happen for us. The point is that there is evidence that evolution happens in nature. There is no evidence that watch pieces "evolve" in shaken boxes. People think that evolution possibly explains the past because evolution of some level has been observed in the PRESENT. Nobody thinks you can shake a watch into existence because nothing like that has been observed in the present.

    Third of all, if people just said that they thought we evolved from random mutations that survived through survival of the fittest, or natural selection, it would be a nice theory, but it would be a stretch for many people to be expected to believe “on faith.” The difference is that scientists have seen many connections between human beings and other forms of life, from the similarities in our and other animals’ DNA to the gills and tails in the early stages of human fetuses. There‘s nothing about a watch that even seems like it could have come from something being shaken in a box. It’s just not the same thing. And evolution just doesn’t take more faith than a god that doesn’t reveal him/her/itself in any way observable and/or testable. It just doesn’t.

  4. Retro, your Yatzee is perfect. I give you five sixes!

  5. It should be noted that shaking a box with watch bits inside could potentially produce a working watch (ask any particle physicist). The probability of that happening is, of course, unfathomably small, but it's not zero.

  6. "I don’t remember who I stole the illustration in the sermon from..."

    William Paley?

    I think that makes it a little less impossible to understand why young earth creationists cling to the absurdity of belief in a 6000 year old earth. The more you limit the time, the more you limit the potential for evolution to produce dramatic changes in life.

    "Think about the “arguments” for your previous faith. Post them here, with your argument why they are bogus, and let’s discuss."

    The "arguments" for my previous faith were largely because they made better sense of the world *in ways I needed it to make sense*. To use a bit of a raw example, sexuality for me was frought with intense emotions based on longings and mistakes (unlike other adolescents? :^) ). Evangelical Christian morality provided explanations and solutions to those difficulties at that time, so it made sense.

    And if that meant adopting beliefs that seemed impossible, that was secondary. I was willing to believe in the historicity of the gospels because it was part of the package of beliefs I had already decided I was willing to accept. I guess I didn't see at the time that they could be separated, though now I think they can.

    Factual arguments always seemed bogus to me as a Christian (I converted in my early 20's). I remember reading Josh McDowells infamous book and putting it away embarrassed. Scared to admit to myself how bad his arguments were, and the possiblity that my new beliefs were poorly grounded in reality. And embarrassed thinking of how silly the arguments would sound to my non-Christian family and my former non-Christian self. So I shuffled that stuff under the carpet for a long, long time, until the pile got to big to ignore.

  7. Good posting Rich, I remember a minister using the watch analogy many years ago, at the time I thought it made sense, but now that I better understand evolution and how it isn't just a matter of chance, but a long process of natural selection, I can see how wrong I was to accept the biblical creation story as anything more than a myth.

  8. Argument from past faith:
    Archeological evidence proves this city in the Bible existed, and this battle happened!
    That means the whole Bible is a literal historical account!

    If a science book had 10 claims in it, and we went through and could prove one of the 10 claims, that in no way means the other 9 claims are going to be true.
    If we could prove 9 of the 10 claims, that doesn't mean the 10th claim is true.
    Each claim made needs to be independently verified.
    And here's a little quote from good ole Matt Dillahunty: "New York exists. That doesn't prove Spider Man is real."
    And to top it off: "If you read an account of a modern war, and the victors claimed God helped them win, would you believe them? No? Then why should I believe that just because the Bible has a battle that really happened that the story about God helping them win is true? There's insufficient evidence to prove that. HOW STUPID CAN YOU BE FORMER SELF, DAMN!!" haahah

  9. So Now I Have Children:

    My huge problem is that as a collage student I was won over by an evangelist and became a true believer. I battled my logical, science trained mind and held tight to my faith all the while reading up on atheist vs. theist controversy. But sure as shootin', the day came when I began collecting the promises of the Bible that were not kept. I looked at the long experiences of people I knew and that of the faithful departed, and all of those who had not been properly blessed in this life were more than happy to be free of their chains in the next. This is not good enough, in fact it puts the Bible solidly in the camp of the liars (and deceivers.)

    So now I have kids, great kids who are talented and loving, noble and kind. My spouse and I have raised them on the word of God which I now know to be totally myth. But my kids, who go to a Christian high school, are faithful, true believers themselves. They genuinely love the lord. My spouse remains steadfast but I feel I have set my kids up with a ridiculous belief which will direct their choices and affect their life in ways that I, and maybe they themselves, will regret.

    I already regret it.
    So now what?