The Flying Spaghetti Monster

by Brian 15. March 2010 16:35

Have you run across one of these lovely little gems on the back of someone’s car? The first time I saw one I asked: “What the heck is it?” But my question quickly changed to: “What sort of insult is this on the Christian worldview?” (It’s obviously meant to resemble the Ichthus.) So I looked it up and sure enough it is one of the atheist’s new parodies on religion. It originated in response to the Intelligent Design (ID) movement as a substitute to an ambiguous unspecified creator. Since ID focuses on design-detection instead of the attributes of the designer, why couldn’t the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) be an acceptable proxy? If teachers can invoke God as the unspecified Designer; why not the FSM? So goes the joke. In recent debates between theists and atheists I’ve noticed the FSM has been re-tasked. The argument goes something like this: “I do not need to present a case for the nonexistence of invisible pink unicorns or the flying spaghetti monster; therefore I do not need to present a case for the nonexistence of God.”

Let’s first deal with the intelligent design case since it’s relatively trivial to put to bed. ID focuses on the methodology of design-detection and not the designer. Dembski’s Design Inference (DI) is a mathematical filter to determine chance, necessity or design causation from its effects. I’ve read his works and as an engineer the filter makes sense to me and I just don’t see the controversy. ID may have their work cut out for them in showing how the DI filter is applicable to biology, but the idea design can be detected without knowledge of the designer’s attributes is straightforward. Many ID proponents are theists, so when asked to go off topic and speculate about the designer of the universe or complex cellular machinery, they look to God. Some teachers conflate ID with Creation Science giving the Darwinist an opening to draw attention away from the real debate. Can a design inference be drawn in biology or in cosmology? That’s what the ID community is trying to answer. When the Darwinist’s arguments are lacking, they turn to a somewhat humorous red herring.

In regards to the atheist-theist debate I believe the FSM is more interesting. Here the atheist argument is more likely to sound reasonable at face value. If a follower of the Greek gods were to demand I present a case for the nonexistence of Zeus, I might initially dismiss it on similar grounds. Why should I have to make a case for the nonexistence of such an entity? Now I could easily make a case against entities such as invisible pink unicorns and the flying spaghetti monster. We simply know these to be fictional characters. I could also make a case against Zeus, though requiring more effort than the FSM. It is an entirely different matter regarding God as atheists have tried for centuries and failed to make a lasting case for nonexistence. This has led them to philosophical positions like atheism as a default and silly arguments involving fictional entities.

If you were to ask the average atheist if he or she believed in the existence of the ajolote – a mysterious creature found under Mexico City that can regenerate most of its body parts; do you suppose he or she would say: “No way such a thing exists and I don’t need to make a case for its nonexistence any more than I have to prove the nonexistence of the flying spaghetti monster.” I doubt it. They would rather most likely ask: “What is an ajolote?” This sort of inquiry does not take place with the FSM because we know immediately it’s a fictional entity. If an atheist concludes the nonexistence of the ajolote after a case is made for its existence, one would expect his or her conclusion to be based on some sort of rational argument – not an a priori rejection because one need not disprove unicorns or ajolotes. Such an opting-out of the debate leads to ignorance. However unlike the ajolote, assuming incorrectly about God is far more significant.

 

A Test for Unguided versus Guided Mechanisms

by Brian 30. January 2010 21:22

Darwinists falsely accuse Intelligent Design (ID) theorists of promoting non-science. ID proponents have shown certain evolutionary theories lack the hallmarks of a good scientific theory (i.e. verifiability, falsifiability.) They ask how large-scale change in complex specified information can be shown in a lab if by definition the material mechanisms require small change over vast time periods. Darwinists point to the fossil record and put their science on par with forensics. Yet interestingly, design theorists appeal to forensics as well, yet somehow this is unacceptable science. It seems to me the methodologies for testing the opposing views need improvement. I propose a possible candidate for testing unguided and guided (designed) mechanisms. As an electrical and software engineer, this test would have to be adapted by experts in the field. But essentially, the test would require cataloging functions and associated schemas into two categories:

1.       Independently arising function employing different schemas: examples catalogued in this category support the unguided view

2.       Design-reuse function employing comparable schemas: examples catalogued in this category support the guided view

A conclusion drawn from the results would be inductive. If one category received far more examples cataloged than the other, one could reasonably assume the associated view was the better explanation. The terms used in this test are as follows:

1.       Complex Function: biological systems requiring input and producing beneficial output for the survival of the organism. Optimal candidates would be more complex than mere building blocks (e.g. individual proteins) and less so than large-scale systems (e.g. an eye)

2.       Difference in Complex Function: a methodology would have to be developed to quantify function so they could be compared and identified as “minimally different.” For example, comparing the human eye with the eye of an eagle would show sufficiently large differences in function (size, acuity, articulation, spectral response, etc.) to rule out as functions with minimal difference.

3.       Schema: this refers to the information originating a function (e.g. sequence of genetic information)

4.       Difference in Schema: difference in the information originating a function. Here again, a methodology would have to be developed to quantify this.

5.       Common Ancestor: for the sake of this analysis; this would be the current scientific genealogy of organisms employing functions under test. In other words, one would suspend any sort of spontaneous creation assumption and instead assume something akin to the neo-Darwinian account.

 

Cases catalogued here would support the unguided view. The assumption: Unguided mechanisms should lead to the origination of novel schemas for minimally-different complex function. Since natural selection is blind to engineering best-practices, one should expect to find random mutation producing varying results for minimally-different complex functions. Now, some may argue there are yet-to-be discovered affinities and constraints within the material universe limiting the gambit of possible schemas. Two things can be said here:

1.       These affinities and constraints have not been discovered and one should not appeal to future scientific discovery.

2.       If found, the metaphysical implication smacks of purpose (telos), and would likely harmonize better with a guided view anyway 

 

Cases catalogued here would support the guided view. The assumption: Guided mechanisms should lead to the reuse of novel schemas for minimally-different complex function. From the perspective of the proponent of the guided view: The lack of schema reuse in comparable function ought to indicate poor design skill or showiness on the account of a designer. Of course the Designer reserves the right to be showy! But, it seems reasonable to grant the unguided view the benefit of the doubt here. Furthermore, it seems highly unlikely, random mutation should lead to the same or very similar complex schema in independently arising function. Natural Selection cares nothing about schema, only function.

Of course as I noted, a test like this would not be definitive but could be part of a cumulative case for a particular view. And, having very little expertise in this field I cannot tell you if this test has been tried and if so, what the results might be. I hope someone out there reading this might shed some light.

 

Atheism a worldview?

by Brian 31. December 2009 19:13

I just finished watching the April 4th, 2009 debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens at Biola University. I must say Craig gave Hitchens such a serious beatdown it was truly embarrassing by the end of the DVD (the photo hints at the juxtaposition.) In fact Hitchens ran out things to say and forfeited his time during the concluding remarks. Even though this was not a fair matchup, (Craig is a top-notch philosopher and Hitchens simply isn’t) the debate generated excellent material for discussion. I hope to cover some of it in the coming days. For now I want to focus on the statement: Atheism is a worldview. Craig alluded to this in his rebuttal by stating one should not judge a worldview, Christianity or atheism, by its social impact. Rather one should judge a worldview by whether or not it is true. Hitchens agreed. Yet in the exchange portion of the debate when Craig pressed Hitchens to clarify his position as an atheist, you saw an angered opponent trying to backpedal. Hitchens was clearly trying to have his cake and eat it too and show atheism as a positive assertion (i.e. "there is no god") without the use of sound argumentation. When arguments are lacking, the best one can do is retreat into atheism as a default position (i.e. "you have not convinced me there is a god, therefore we should assume there isn't.") Unfortunately the later leaves a lot to be desired for such a debate.

So which form of nontheism does Hitchens fall under?

1.       A-theist - one who positively asserts the nonexistence of God (i.e. one who claims to know there is no god)

2.       Agnostic – one who has no net belief in the existence or nonexistence of God, in other words, no decisive knowledge on the matter due to balanced-belief or ignorance

3.       Skeptic (new atheist) – one who has no belief or insufficient belief in the existence of God to justify the extraordinary and momentous implications resulting from affirming said belief

Now clearly #1 is a worldview as much as theism is. It makes foundational claims about ultimate reality - such as the material universe being the initial brute fact by which all existence is based. There is no objective morality. There is no ultimate justice. Life ends at the grave, etc. As for #2 and #3, their relation to worldview is unclear. But, I have yet to meet an honest agnostic. Those who claim to be one usually live their lives as #1-atheists and reveal the doubt of #3 far more than honestly required to null out any positive belief. So apart from the truly ignorant, most nontheists are honestly in camp #1 or #3. However, based on my once self-proclaimed skepticism and my experience with others; under the cover of #3 is usually a closet #1-atheist. For the most part, nontheism is a worldview or foundational to one's worldview.

During the debate Hitchens claimed to be in camp #3 – which was not really fitting. After all, the title of the debate was “Does God exist?” Craig's opponent really needed to present a valid argument for the nonexistence of God and rebut the arguments for the existence of God. Craig prepared himself for this approach to only be disappointed. Since Hitchens did not rebut Craig or offer anything resembling an argument (apart from several assumptive ones with appeals to emotion), he showed he was not prepared to answer the question. By using the cover of #3 he exempted himself from having to take on Craig substantively and deal with the real debate - Does God Exist?

If Hitchens claims to be a #3-skeptic, why does he vehemently fight theists? Why did he debate Craig? He said during the debate that he didn't want a bunch of fellow primates telling him what to do in the name of God and basically he is on a mission to free us all from the shackles of religion. Fair enough, I do believe this is his real motivation. But it sure seems to me a genuine worldview clash between Hitchens and theist is key to that motivation, and such a clash only seems reasonable if Hitchens were a #1 atheist with a good degree of certainty about the nonexistence of God. But if he has that sort of certainty, he sure didn't substantiate it at the debate. Interestingly, he said to the audience multiple times during the discourse, “you are perfectly free to believe” as a backhanded way of saying “if you are an idiot, I cannot stop you.” Hitchens would like for you to think he cannot stop the believer because of their dogmatic ignorance, but the truth is; Hitchens is ill-equipped to defend atheism and it is a lot easier to simply bash the believer.

Finally, Hitchens commented on how he does not like to argue with liberal protestants because, in effect, their worldview is so watered down there is not much left to clash with his. I completely relate, but would point out it cuts both ways. Hitchens ought to come out of the closet as a rip-roaring #1 atheist and boldly proclaim what he already believes and not hide behind default #3 atheism. But if he does so, and decides to debate Craig again, he should come prepared. 

 

About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, a partner and lead architect of EasyTerritory, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, avid kiteboarder and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs)

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