An email to Tony about Proof of God

I’ve been having an email discussion with a Christian who emailed me out of the blue with the following:

I sent you this because I care where you spend eternity.

Where will you be three hundred million years from now? Will it matter how much money you made? Will it matter what kind of car you drove? Will it matter how big your house was? Will it matter who won the NCAA football and basketball games this year? Will it matter who you took to prom?

No!

The only thing that will matter is who is in heaven and who is in hell. Shouldn’t this be your first priority?

This gentleman’s name is Tony, and he cared so much about my immortal soul and the possibility that it would end up in Hell that he went out of his way to contact me.

Unfortunately Tony’s delivery was pretty poor. In general it was just poor writing. It is an excellent example of how Christians should NOT witness to atheists. It was poorly formatted, difficult to read, different colors and fonts. I did what I have done with previous emails of this nature – I made fun of it, and then posted it to the Rational Valley online forum.

Usually in making fun of an email, you completely cut off the conversation. But Tony seems to be made of sterner stuff. After an initial return salvo, he decided to have a conversation – which I also posted at the link above.

Sadly, that conversation petered out – Tony was unable to prove that God exists, and he seemed to get a little frustrated with that.

But then I found out that Tony had mailed the Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics a real live letter! The letter contained exactly the same text that he emailed in his first email to me, but it also contained a booklet by evangelist Mark Cahill called, “One Second After You Die“.

After reading through Cahill’s book I determined two things. He is at about the same level of evangelist as Ray Comfort. In other words, his theology is at about the same (poor) level as The Way of the Master, he denies the findings of science while misunderstanding the scientific method.

And Cahill, like Comfort, is deceptive in that both are willing to quote mine, or quote out of context an opponent’s words in order to make them seem like they are saying something other than what they actually mean. This deception is a form of lying that Cahill does not seem uncomfortable with.

This deceptive theology and willingness to lie explained so much to me about Tony’s poor ability to defend what he believes.

I thought that Tony should know this, so I emailed him the following: (Rest of the text is below the fold)

————-
Update 21 Feb 11
Tony has decided to double down on his words, not only standing by Mark Cahill’s lies, but cutting and pasting lies from others for good measure.

I want to emphasize that I know most Christians are very ethical people – but there are a few (loud) evangelists who are willing to lie for Jesus.

Tony,

Today CVAAS received the envelop of information that you sent to us.

I read with interest the booklet that you sent, “One Second After You Die” by Mark Cahill, because Cahill says he will provide solid evidence that there is a life after death. I was so happy – finally someone had solid evidence!

Let us go together through this book and examine Cahill’s evidence…

1. Is there a God?

“Every time you see a creation, like a building, you know there is a creator. Every time you see a design, like a cell phone, you know there is a designer. Every time you see art, like a painting, you know there is an artist. Every time you see order, like 20 plates in a row, you know there was an orderer.”

This is exactly what you tried to pass off on me as good logic. Unfortunately it fails terribly. As I’ve said before, we can examine things – like a snowflake – that looks as if it were created even though we know it is not. A snowflake is self-organized through a natural process. No gods required.

And we’re not just talking about snowflakes here – self-organization happens in all areas of science, from self-organizing computer software (using genetic algorithms, among other things) to physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics. Take a look at Conway’s Game of Life to see how a universe with simple rules creates order.

To say that everything that is ordered requires an orderer is an example of a stupid statement made by someone who has not bothered to spend 5 minutes with Google to determine whether what he or she is saying is true or not. It is said by someone who does not care about what is true.

2. We live in a perfectly designed world

Cahill next quotes various different authors. First he quotes Marilyn Adamson’s work on Everystudent.com. Ms. Adamson says things like:

The Earth…its size is perfect. The Earth’s size and corresponding gravity holds a thin layer of mostly nitrogen and oxygen gases, only extending about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. If Earth were smaller, an atmosphere would be impossible, like the planet Mercury. If Earth were larger, its atmosphere would contain free hydrogen, like Jupiter.3 Earth is the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.


As an exercise in physics, I’ve created an Excel spreadsheet that calculates planetary gravity based upon mass and diameter of a planet. If you follow that link you can play with different planetary diameters and mass. Here is an interesting tidbit. A planet with 4 times the mass of Earth, and twice the radius of Earth, will have exactly the same gravity as Earth. Neat, huh? Even better, this world would have 4 times the surface area of Earth!

Whether a planet loses atmosphere or retains atmosphere is a function of that planet’s gravity, not physical size. Gravity is determined by density and radius of the planet. A planet that is larger than Earth, and masses more than Earth, but is less dense than Earth, could have Earth’s gravity. The reverse is true. A Mercury sized planet might be perfect for human life if it were much denser… dense enough to have a gravity that could retain an atmosphere.

The basic problem here is in thinking that because you are comfortable, that everything was made just for you. In 1998, author Douglas Adams gave an example of this sort of thinking in a speech in England.

“(…) imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in – an interesting hole I find myself in – fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.” — Douglas Adams


Cahill goes on to quote Ms. Adamson again:

Water…. (…) has an unusually high boiling point and freezing point. Water allows us to live in an environment of fluctuating temperature changes, while keeping our bodies a steady 98.6 degrees.

Water is a universal solvent. This property of water means that thousands of chemicals, minerals and nutrients can be carried throughout our bodies and into the smallest blood vessels.

Water is also chemically neutral. Without affecting the makeup of the substances it carries, water enables food, medicines and minerals to be absorbed and used by the body.

Water has a unique surface tension. Water in plants can therefore flow upward against gravity, bringing life-giving water and nutrients to the top of even the tallest trees. Water freezes from the top down and floats, so fish can live in the winter.

Ninety-seven percent of the Earth’s water is in the oceans. But on our Earth, there is a system designed which removes salt from the water and then distributes that water throughout the globe.


The human brain… (…) Your brain takes in all the colors and objects you see, the temperature around you, the pressure of your feet against the floor, the sounds around you, the dryness of your mouth, even the texture of your keyboard. Your brain holds and processes all your emotions, thoughts and memories. At the same time your brain keeps track of the ongoing functions of your body like your breathing pattern, eyelid movement, hunger and movement of the muscles in your hands.

The human brain processes more than a million messages a second. Your brain weighs the importance of all this data, filtering out the relatively unimportant. This screening function is what allows you to focus and operate effectively in your world. The brain functions differently than other organs. There is an intelligence to it, the ability to reason, to produce feelings, to dream and plan, to take action, and relate to other people.


Ms. Adamson then starts discussing how the eye evolved on her website – but Mr. Cahill declines to quote THAT part. I find this amusing – since Cahill does not believe in evolution, he will not discuss it. But he seems perfectly happy to quote out of context a religious person’s words that support his argument while ignoring those words that do not support his argument. This dishonest practice is known as “quote mining” and I bring your attention to it because Cahill does this more than once.

What Cahill seems to miss is Adamson’s statement about the brain. “Your brain holds and processes all your emotions, thoughts and memories.” This statement would seem to negate the idea of a soul. Do all of your thoughts, emotions and memories require a brain? I would say “yes”. To put it in more simple terms, “every thought process requires a processor”.

As for the necessity of water – perhaps life requires water. Scientists are currently unsure. The chemistry of self-organizing processes would seem to indicate that complexity and self-replication is possible using other “solvents”. But water is a natural byproduct of Stellar Nucleosynthesis. Oxygen and Hydrogen are some of the most common elements in the universe. It is more rational to say that life has found a way to use this most abundant chemical, much like life found a way to survive the Oxygen catastrophe on Earth, and turn a deadly poison into a required element.

What Mr. Cahill does quote about the complexity of the eye comes from a book by Lawrence O. Richards, “It Couldn’t Just Happen” (1989 – updated in 1994)

The quote from Mr. Richards is mostly about how staggeringly amazingly complex the eye is. He winds up with this:

Incredibly, the eye, optic nerve and visual cortex are totally separate and distinct sub-systems. Yet together, they capture, deliver and interpret up to 1.5 million pulse messages a millisecond! It would take dozens of Cray supercomputers programmed perfectly and operating together flawlessly to even get close to performing this task.

Well – the amount of information processed may be staggering for a human. But what about an animal that depends on just a bit of photoreceptor protein? Some bacteria have light sensitive patches. The gardener’s favorite animal, Eisenia fetida – the common Redworm – has light sensitive patches that allow it to know when it is too close to the surface and in danger of predators. These are also “eyes” – and they are based on the same photoreceptors that are in Human eyes. But I daresay that the computer in your digital watch could probably handle the data rate.

And our eyes are far from perfect. First, we are trichromatic – the sensors in our eyes see the various shades of only 3 different colors. With those shades combined we are only able to distinguish between a million different colors. But there are animals (and a few human females) who are tetrachromatic. Tetrachromatics have sensors in their eyes that can see 4 different colors, and because of this they can distinguish between 100 million different colors.

Our eyes also have a blind spot – an area that lacks sensors. Our brain edits this spot out. Better yet, things that cross over that blind spot are actually added by our brains, as if they were there. You can see that happen in this video. What this means is that your brain is making things up – putting in things that the eye is not really seeing.

Also, our eyes lack sharp and clear vision through all of our detectors. Instead we have a little patch of detectors, called the Fovea, that are dedicated for sharp and clear vision. Because this patch of clarity is so very small (it has a field of view about the size of your index fingernail, held at arm’s length) our eyes must constantly scan in order to build up a 3D image of our surroundings in our mind.

Compare the Human eye to that of the Mantis Shrimp – a creature that has a tetrachromatic eye that lacks a blind spot, whose whole eye sees sharp detail, and who can see far into the infrared and ultraviolet while also seeing the polarization of light – and you have to wonder why – if our eyes are designed – why this design is so bad.

Lastly, Mr. Richard’s book was written in 1989 – he talks about how many Cray computers it would take to compute “1.5 million pulses a millisecond”. This is another way of saying 1.5 billion pulses per second. Let’s call each pulse an “instruction” that must be processed. In computing terms, this is measured in “Floating Point Operations per second” – also called a “Flop”. Also, in computing terms the word Billion is replaced with the prefix “Giga”. In 2003 a sub-hundred dollar GigaFlop processor became available. By 2009 it became possible to own a TeraFlop processor for under a dollar. “Tera” is the computer prefix for Trillion. This increase in computing power is a function of Moore’s Law, and it is affecting all areas of computing and electronics.

One of these areas is the capture of visual information. You may not know it, but television standards are way behind the times. HDTV 1080i is defined in America as a 2 megapixel image. This is far behind what our current imagers are capable of doing. Modern video imagers are quite capable of 40 megapixels or higher, and digital SLR cameras can capture 60 megapixels or more.

But honestly, we really don’t need these higher pixel resolutions for anything more than a new way to zoom. You see, our eyes just are not good enough to actually see more than 4 or 5 megapixels worth of an image on a 65 inch screen. And 2 megapixels is more than we can resolve on a 32 inch screen from more than a few feet away.

This is an excellent example of how human technology is better than the resolution of our eyes.

3 – the Uncaused Cause

Cahill again quotes Mr. Richards about DNA:

Just as the Britannica had intelligent writers to produce its information, so it is reasonable and even scientific to believe that the information in the living world likewise had an original compositor / sender.


This is not only a silly statement, it is certainly not a scientific position, and it demonstrates that Mr. Richard either lacks comprehension of the scientific method, or misunderstands it entirely. This is the position of, “I think it is so, so it must be true” – scientists do not work in this manner.

In reality, one example of the appearance of new information in existing DNA is through Polyploidy – the duplication of genes. We have abundant examples of this.

Mr. Richards continues:

There is no known non-intelligent cause that has ever been observed to generate even a small portion of the literally encyclopedic information required for life.

Perhaps Mr. Richards believes this statement to be truthful. I would hope that is the case, because it is not. There is a non-intelligent cause for generating complexity in DNA. It is called evolution. Evolution is a blind, undirected process that works through random mutation regulated by the filter and ratchet of natural selection. Evolution has been observed in the lab, and is a theory that has more evidence behind it than the theory of Gravity.

Cahill follows this all with a Carl Sagan quote, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” implying that Sagan may be talking about God. Cahill completely misses that Sagan was a skeptic, and at best an agnostic non-believer. Carl did say something during his Cosmos TV series that is relevant to Cahill’s work, and has come to be known as “Carl’s Law” – “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence“. Life after death, a supernatural creator, a young Earth – these are all extraordinary claims that lack even ordinary evidence.

Cahill does go on to talk about evolution. His first bit of evidence is a quote from Charles Darwin that he cribbed from the thinkexist.com website of common quotations:

“To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selections, seems, I confess, absurd to the highest degree.”


This is, of course, an incomplete quotation – taken out of context from Darwin’s book, “On the Origin of Species”. If we refer to the 6th (and latest) edition of Darwin’s book, we see that the quote is continued (on pages 143-144):

When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.


As you can see, the full quotation from Darwin goes on to show that biblical beliefs held by popular opinion “cannot be trusted in science”. He then explains that evolution of the eye from a light sensitive patch to a full modern eye is no difficulty to evolution as long as every intermediate step is useful in itself. My example of the Red worm doesn’t share our eyesight, but light sensitivity is still a useful survival trait.

Cahill then goes on to say in his own words:

As we mentioned before, the eye is way too complex to have evolved, and even Darwin knew that by his own admission.

Clearly, Cahill is either lying here, or he never practiced due diligence to understand the whole quote from “Origin of Species”. If I say that Cahill didn’t understand that he was quote mining, and that he didn’t realize that his statement about Darwin was false, then it shows that Cahill is an idiot at best. At worst, Cahill is a knowing liar.

Cahill quotes Darwin again:

Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely-graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory.


This is also from “Origin of Species”, 6th edition, chapter ten, pages 264 & 265. And again, Cahill quote mines Darwin’s words. Darwin finishes this paragraph by saying:

The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record.

Darwin then spends all of chapter ten discussing the problems with the geological record, and how it would be a stupid and non-scientific idea to expect a constant flow of intermediate forms in the geological strata. Still he shows us that in his time the collecting of fossils is a brand new endeavor, and he explains how fossils are only part of the evidence of evolution.

In fact, we have become pretty good at understanding geology and we have a great deal more fossils than Darwin had. We have been able to see transitional forms in fossils.

But even if there were no fossil evidence, the evidence in biology and DNA would be more than enough evidence to satisfy the theory of evolution.

Cahill’s deceptive quote mining of Darwin is not enough. He also uses deceptive and selective quotes from several authors, scientists, and proponents of evolution – bending their words in order to make his point. He finishes with the statement:

And there you have it. Time and time again, the evolutionists themselves are admitting there is not any evidence of transitional forms to back up their theory. (…) Since there is no evidence of animals and man transitioning into another kind of creature, we had to have gotten here some other way.


This quote demonstrates that Cahill is not just poorly informed. Instead this shows that Cahill is being intentionally deceptive to meet his own agenda. He has lied, and the evidence is right there in print.

Isn’t the truth important?

Cahill goes on with a bit of philosophy. He says:

One of the concepts that I learned in a philosophy class in college was the law of cause and effect. And what it means is that every material effect had to have an adequate cause before it to make that effect occur. In other words, it takes something to make something. You can’t get something out of nothing.

So if your parents made you, and your grandparents made your parents, (…) you eventually have to reach what is called the first cause or an uncaused cause that got the whole thing started. So when you reach that Cause, you now have your answer on who God is.


Cahill’s philosophy may be okay, but logic does not seem to be his strong suit. Either everything has to have a creator, or it does not. If everything has to have a creator, then all things must have a creator. There is no reason why there must be an uncaused cause. It is just as reasonable to say that all causes must have a cause. In other words – who made God?

Another problem is that on the quantum level some things happen in an uncaused way. For example, a single particle may experience radioactive decay in a manner that is uncaused (and apparently random). Quantum mechanical events may happen that result in an effect, and when the event is duplicated exactly, it will result in a different effect.

I’ve also mentioned in a previous email that we do get something from nothing all the time. Virtual particles appear from nothing, and usually annihilate each other and disappear again. But sometimes they become separated (as in Hawking radiation, for example) and then they become real.

Cahill says on page 20 of this booklet:

Most scientists now believe that the universe had a beginning. Of course that is a real problem to many of them. Why? Because if it had a beginning, it had a beginner! It is really that simple.

On page 17 of this booklet, Cahill quotes astronomer Fred Hoyle’s writing in his book, “The Intelligent Universe“, about how impossible it would be for a tornado in a junkyard to assemble a working Boeing 747 out of bits. I find it interesting to find Cahill’s following words on page 20 – because Hoyle absolutely rejected the idea of the universe beginning, and worked against the Big Bang theory until his death in 2001. Although this isn’t strictly quote mining, it is a selective presentation of an authority in order to attempt to give credence to Cahill’s words.

The rest of Mark Cahill’s booklet assumes that he has met his burden to prove that a god or God exists, and goes on to describe the Christian God of the Bible. He uses the Bible as evidence of God, and uses God as the reason why the Bible is an authority – clearly this is circular reasoning.

However, as I have shown, he has not only failed to prove that there is a God, Cahill has demonstrated that he is willing to actually lie in order to meet his agenda.

Cahill lied. The evidence is in print in his booklet.

Please tell me why I should believe anything else this man has to say or write?

Tony, I now understand why your argument about the afterlife was so fatally flawed. If this is what you take to be evidence, then you have been lied to. I’m sorry to be the one to bear this bad news to you.

I hope you read this email in its entirety. I’ve tried to be clear and as succinct as the material will allow.

I do sincerely thank you for Mark Cahill’s booklet, “One Second After You Die”. I think that this book demonstrates the deceptive methods that religious figures will go to in order to meet their agenda. And to demonstrate this, I have posted a copy of this email on my blog, “The Calladus Blog”.

I have also posted our email discussion to www.rationalvalley.com, the discussion forum supported by Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics. I will also link to that discussion from my blog in order to demonstrate the problems with your argument for god, and the deception practiced by Mark Cahill.

I do this because I think truth is important, and because when people work against that truth it should be spotlighted.

I think that you also believe truth to be important too, Tony. And although I’ve poked fun at you, I hope you realize that I wish you nothing but the best, and my hope for you is that you will try to better defend that which you believe using evidence that no one can refute. If you honestly search for this evidence, if you expend real effort to understand how the scientific method works, and how we know what is true, then I know you will become a more critical thinker.

Sincerely,

Mark Boyd
President, Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics

Just to make things balance out, I’ve made a copy of this email and posted it to the Rational Valley forum. You can go there and read the whole conversation between Tony and I, from start to finish.

And I really do wish the best for Tony.