Saturday, March 7, 2009

Natural vs. Supernatural

[Regla 2.718]

Wandering through the web I happen upon this website, which repeats the tired drivel about how atheism is based on faith and whatnot. Nothing too unusual, but it annoyed enough to write a response to the most moronic, uniformed and illogical excerpts. So, let's start from the beginning, shall we?

"Atheism is a lack of belief mentality which rejects the existence of anything supernatural. By default, atheists are also naturalists and evolutionists."

WRONG! Atheism rejects one specific type of supernatural entity, gods. This bothers me to no end, because it's a mistake made by theists and non-theists alike. One can be an atheist and believe in souls, healing crystals, the monster under the bed, homoeopathy, psychics, astrology, ID, and leprechauns. Sure, most (myself included) don't, because the strongest motivations for atheism are rationality and scepticism, which discard all of the above. But I despise over-generalisation with a passion worthy of a better cause.

"If matter and energy cannot be created, how did they originate? Where did the entire physical universe come from?"

We don't know yet. It is necessary to point out that scientific laws are only a provisional understanding of how the world works and are changed to account for new evidence constantly. We don't know enough about the circumstances at the beginning of the universe (if there even was such a thing) to explain why, if at all, it goes against conservation of matter and energy.

"It would seem to the unbiased either matter and energy made themselves from nothing or a supernatural creator made them"

Holy false dichotomy, batman! How about matter and energy always existing is some form or the other? How about being caused by something other than a supernatural creator?

"Why couldn't the universe have always existed? Because nothing that has a beginning and an end could have always existed."

True, yet irrelevant. The universe could be the result of the collapse of a previous universe, for example.

"Today, virtually all scientists accept the Big Bang theory which says the entire universe came into existence at a particular point in time when all of the galaxies, stars and planets were formed."

10 points for blatant misrepresentation of science. Galaxies, starts and planets took quite a while after the Big Bang to form. The universe didn't come into existence from nothing, it expanded from a singularity.

"There is not even one generally accepted scientific theory on the origin of matter and energy."

And this is what we know as the "God of the gaps" argument. It is, in essence, saying "We don't know what causes X, therefore X is caused by God". Problem is, we keep filling the gaps with naturalistic explanations, so God keeps getting smaller and smaller. Back in the good old days, everything from the weather to catching the flu was the fault of some god or the other. Over time, we discovered that lightning isn't Zeus' rage, disease is not demonic possession, rainbows are caused by the refraction of light and earthquakes are caused by tectonic plates. How long until we convince you the same principles apply to evolution and the Big Bang?

"The Law of Biogenesis
This law is composed of two parts. The first part states that living things only come from other living things and not from non-living matter. Life only comes from life. The second part of this law states that when living things procreate, their offspring are the same type of organism they are."

Ah, fundies love this one, even though it's so patently made up it hurts. There is no such law in biology, period. Biology is based on the theory of evolution, which states the exact opposite of the second part of your "law". And evolution has been observed, repeatedly. As for the first part, look up "abiogenesis". Thousands of experiments have shown that you can create organic molecules from non-organic chemicals in an environment similar to the early Earth. Though we yet have to fully create life artificially, it has been shown that every step in the way is possible.

"Some people feel biogenesis is not a scientific law, but biogenesis is a law because no one has ever documented a single case of non-living matter coming to life in self-replicating form."

You haven't a fucking clue how science works. We have shitloads of evidence showing abiogenesis is possible. The simple fact that life exists is pretty compelling evidence for abiogenesis, don't you think? Am I assuming that the cause of abiogenesis is naturalistic? Yes, much in the same way you are assuming it is supernatural. So what's the difference? Easy.
A) The evidence shows that entirely natural processes can have as a result self-replicating molecules
B) In the entire history of science there have been exactly zero instances of a supernatural explanation replacing a natural one, and endless examples of the opposite.

"How could DNA and RNA evolve from something very rudimentary into their present day intricacy when the organism containing the basic genome would require the more complex, present day DNA and RNA to replicate?"

It wouldn't. Any molecule that creates imperfect copies of itself evolves. Replication does not require DNA and RNA.

"The scientific method is held in high esteem by most atheists and it is composed of the following parts...

1) Careful observation of a phenomenon.
2) Formulation of a hypothesis concerning the phenomenon.
3) Experimentation to demonstrate whether the hypothesis is true or false.
4) A conclusion that validates or modifies the hypothesis.

Nobody has ever observed the creation of matter or energy.
Nobody has ever observed a molecular cloud collapse or any planet form.
Nobody has ever observed abiogenesis.
Nobody has ever observed the evolution of any genome.
Nobody has ever observed any phylum, class, order or family change. "

First of all, you apparently are working with a primary school understanding of the scientific method. Check wiki if you want something resembling the common understanding of the method.

Second, you are getting the "observation" phase completely wrong. The phenomena observed in this case would be the existence of the universe, planets, and the existence and diversity of life. The hypotheses (which have become theories after thorough testing, retesting and modification) imply all of the things you've mentioned. Some of them have yet to be directly observed, but we know they happen or happened in the past because that's where all the evidence points. If we get new evidence that points somewhere else, we'll reconsider. Until then, shut the hell up.

"The definition of a miracle is an event which is inexplicable by the laws of nature."

And as I explained before, our understanding of the laws of nature is in constant evolution. Time dilation would've been thought of as a miracle before Einstein, but now it is an observed and explained phenomenon.

"If you want to believe in naturalism it is fine with me but please don't make the erroneous claim that "science" is on your side."

Science is naturalistic. Naturalism works. No supernatural event can withstand scientific scrutiny. And anyone who can prove otherwise can go ask James Randi for a million dollars. Yes, science is on our side.

"Can God be scientifically proven? No, it would be nice but his existence cannot be proven scientifically. The reason is God is supernatural; he exists outside the natural, scientific world."

Whoopsie, know what that means? You just admitted that
A)Science is naturalistic and therefore on our side, when you stated the opposite two paragraphs previous.
B)A universe without God would be exactly the same as a universe with God. That's exactly what you are saying when you claim that something cannot be analysed scientifically. Otherwise, the differences between both universes could be measured and tested, thereby providing us with the necessary evidence.

"It is interesting how atheists reject any notion of the supernatural because of what they perceive to be a lack of evidence when they could use that same objectivity to reject their naturalistic world view. Most atheists are not even honest enough to apply the same burden of proof for naturalism that they demand of supernaturalism."

Oh really? Since science exists, the supernatural has been continuously tested and found lacking. The natural, on the other hand, is always there for us. Every single last accepted scientific theory is naturalistic. The score stands 65,536 to 0. Methinks someone needs to reconsider the burden of proof.

"Both naturalism and supernaturalism require faith and which one you place your faith in is one of the two most important choices you will ever make."

A statement that is not only irrevocably wrong, as shown above, but also leaves a tiny hint of Pascal's wager, which is one of the things I despise even more than over-generalisation and shitty translation.

That's it for now, folks. Checking the rest of the site later, may end up making this a multi-part series.

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