There are reasonable Christians who realise the limitations of their knowledge and freely admit this. They claim faith, yet have the good sense to realise science has given humanity the sight to discover the secrets of nature and how it works. Christian fundamentalist crusader Ian Wishart is not one of those people.
Ian wishart is so certain he is right about his interpretation of the bible and the world at large that he writes articles for his magazine Investigate to that effect and a number of books exposing “the real truth”. He comes across as the investigative journalist yet when you read his work you have to duck to avoid an assault of conspiracy theories, logical fallacies and fiction dressed up as science. For a more investigative look at Wishart and the weird shit he really believes, visit the Silly Beliefs website entry on him.
Wishart’s brand of sophistry
A great example of how misguided Wishart really is (and how Christian fundamentalists think) can be seen in his attempt to refute claims made by Richard Dawkins. Professor Dawkins made his way down to New Zealand recently and of course is famous for his book The God Delusion among others.
Dawkins states that God cannot be used as an explanation for complexity because he would have to be more complex than that which he is supposed to explain.
Wishart’s nugget in response to this: “Dawkins claims there is no god yet seems to be an expert in the complexity of God”.
This shows how naive Wishart really is. Dawkins assertion is both Philosophically and experientially sound. Firstly, adding an unobserved entity to any explanation is unjustified as the entity too requires an explanation. Apologists seem to use God as a get out of jail free card – by making the God claim they can then duck for cover and claim they have no need to explain further. This is special pleading in action.
What Wishart doesn’t grasp is that for everything we have an observed scientific explanation for emerged from simpler factors via natural processes or was created by something of greater complexity. Stars, galaxies, planets and life evolved from simpler origins. Living things evolved and everything created by these organisms is observed to be simpler. In other words, the creator in these cases was always more complex.
It therefore violates experience and logic to posit a creator that is less complex than the creation he is credited with. To say God is simple is, again, special pleading.
Besides that, God cannot escape the infinite regress – God’s arrival on the scene must also be explained – yet the apologetic mind simply asks for more wiggle room by saying “well, he exists outside of time and space and therefore didn’t have a beginning”. Vague pseudo-philosophical musings such as these just reveal how unintelligible the entire “God exists, honest” argument has become. Any claim of an unobserved entity existing for eternity can equally be applied to the universe – the advantage being we know with a high degree of certainty the universe actually exists.
The Divinity Code
It is evident that Ian Wishart has a very tenuous relationship with the truth. This is hardly surprising given the conservative Christian bias he applies to all topics. His love-hate affair with Richard Dawkins is clear – he wrote an entire book – The Divinity Code – as a response to Dawkins’ God Delusion, yet despite the tag line “the explosive new evidence” The Divinity Code treads over tired old creationist arguments with a thin veneer of science to make it sound academic.
The approach Wishart takes in the book is to prove god’s existence by looking into the natural world for “the fingerprints of God”. This is termed natural theology – a philosophy continually eroded by scientific inquiry. For, if we cannot prove or disprove supernatural entities, Wishart claims that we should at least be able to see evidence of his work in the natural world.
The bedrock of natural theology is thus:
- alternative explanations for natural phenomenon as explained by science (typified by science denial)
- speculative explanations where science currently has no answer (argument from ignorance)
- selective examination of the evidence, e.g. trying to prove a designed universe by looking only at examples that seem to prove the hypothesis and avoiding inconvenient examples that falsify the design hypothesis (observation selection bias)
Alternative explanations to nature often requires the denial of established scientific theories (evolution/big bang cosmology are the two most targeted by Christian fundamentalists) and Wishart injects his arguments with a healthy dose of denial, selection bias and speculation, because, as he points out, the supernatural cannot be definitively proven or disproven.
Evidence of the supernatural?
The problem with looking for evidence of the supernatural is that the evidence always has a subjective, non-scientific element. This is where speculation often enters the room – apologists posit supernatural causes at the point where the natural explanation has stopped. You can go that extra distance and say that “we don’t know what causes X, therefore God [or enter alternative supernatural explanation here] did it” but this is trivial and ultimately adds nothing. Besides that, it seems a little premature to invent a cause that hasn’t been observed because this is a natural human tendency with a long record of being trumped by science.
In principle, there could be evidence that we can consider consistent with a supernatural agency* (or an agency external to the universe). Natural theologists comb through nature looking for examples that could be considered evidence, but where they veer away from science is that they cannot rule out plausible natural explanations first. Occam’s razor doesn’t favour explanations that go beyond the testable evidence so natural theology cannot escape the injection of faith to complete the circle.
Our current ignorance (or incredulity) on a subject is never a valid reason to inject an imagined explanation, unless one is seeking to confirm their own prejudice. I wish Mr Wishart luck, but I fear his arguments in their present form aren’t new and aren’t likely to overturn explanations for the natural world based on observation and sound logic. Nice try though Ian.
* The next post will tie this post and the previous one on the arguments of Jeff Tallon by looking at what science has to say about the “fingerprints of God” in nature.