Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Argument from "Duh"

WMAP Cosmic Microwave Background Map - NASA
Brief Aside: I have the slides for the presentation prepared in full, and I'm merely working out whether to give a narration or not. I know that most popular youtube videos on related subjects do use voiceovers, but I myself have a problem in (a) not knowing how to sync the voice to the slides, and (b)not having enough private time to actually do the recording. I hope to have the video up either way by week's end. Thanks for being patient.

I've seen one argument in particular cropping up lately, as I cruise for my daily fix of the nerdish in arguments over differing cosmologies. The argument is particularly prevalent among Young Earth Creationists in "debate" (which it can only loosely be called) with those who consider modern cosmology to be accurate, though it is by no means their invention, nor is it their sole province. The argument goes something like this:
Party A: You believe that the Big Bang began the universe, so what caused the big bang? or You believe that life began from nothing, so how did life begin?
Party B: The big bang "began" when a quantum singularity that contained all matter and energy in the universe began to expand. or Life began with the first self-replicating molecular systems.
Party A: So how did that happen? 
Usually, Party A's second question takes the form of "who created X", which is a form of begging the question and a logical fallacy in its own right - and it cuts both ways, with the obvious response being "who created God?", at which point you're no longer involved in debate but verbal one-upsmanship. For another, it demonstrates some fundamental misunderstandings of cosmology and abiogenesis theories in their present form. The state of the universe before the big bang is presently unknown, and potentially un-knowable, as the Big Bang also changed several universal laws. In abiogenesis, the precise mechanisms are known, even if the precise molecule itself is not.

Almost invariably, either no answer or the above justifications are given. Party A then declares that the answer (either involving the term unknown, or not existing), is not really an answer. Science doesn't know that, and therefore, science is thoroughly flawed, and should be discarded to the limits of whatever Party A's cosmology considers. Party A considers themselves to have won the debate in that instance, and therefore patiently waits for an act of contrition and conversion from Party B.

However, an answer was given. "I don't know yet" is an acceptable answer in science. If it wasn't, there would be no more scientists, and no call for multi-million dollar or even multi-billion dollar projects like the CERN LHC or the International Space Station. Saying that "Science is wrong about X, therefore they cannot possibly know about Y" is a little bit like saying "Modern Medicine cannot treat prion diseases effectively, therefore it cannot assess nutritional impacts, either"... which, by the way, is an actual argument I've had to counter.

There are so many things wrong with this argument, that you could write a book on it. For one thing, assuming that God must be the answer to question X, stated or otherwise, is an appeal to tradition. It presupposes a need for intervention in natural systems for certain things to take place. That, as a viewpoint, is fine, if you are some manner of determinist, but even then, it applies only to philosophy. Science has determined that there are physical laws at the mechanical and quantum level. It has determined the value of the bulk of those laws, and it has determined a sort of backward-forecast of the early universe, by looking at the modern evidence in light of those laws. You cannot expect science to tell you what happened before there was a physical universe for it to operate in, any more than you can point a calculator at the wall and ask it what colour it is.


  1. I also like what you say here about the assumption that God must be an answer to certain questions. I find that a lot of dialogues and debates of a religious nature are heavily influenced or skewed by unstated or unspoken assumptions.

    What you say here reminds me a bit of how I reacted when I first heard about Pascal's wager. The reasoning behind Pascal's wager never sat well with me, because it makes certain assumptions about the nature of God, it assumes that if God exists, that God must necessarily fit certain attributes (which are, of course, those of Western culture and mainstream Christianity at the time).

  2. Woah, I'm surprised you wandered this far back!

    My problem here is that I don't have a problem with the idea of a diety, God, or even Christianity specifically. My problem is that people tend to use God as an excuse not to think. Let's ask this: if we were created with such unique minds, shouldn't we use them?