March 26, 2008

Anybody Need a Reason to Believe?

"The following probabilities are taken from Peter Stoner in Science Speaks (Moody Press, 1963) to show that coincidence is ruled out by the science of probability. Stoner says that by using the modern science of probability in reference to eight prophecies, "we find that the chance that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled all eight prophecies is 1 in 1017." That would be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000. In order to help us comprehend this staggering probability, Stoner illustrates it by supposing that "we take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep.

"Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man."

Stoner considers 48 prophecies and says, "we find the chance that any one man fulfilled all 48 prophecies to be 1 in 10157, or 1 in

000,000,000,000, 000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

The estimated number of electrons in the universe is around 1079. It should be quite evident that Jesus did not fulfill the prophecies by accident."

From Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell


Random me said...

Hve you read C.P Swansons review of Science Speaks in the Quaterly review of Biology?

"Author(s) of Review: C. P. Swanson
The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Dec., 1953), pp. 408-409"

John said...

I have not but I will look for it this week. What's he got to say?

Random me said...

Here it is, just a different point of view on this...

"Each of us in his own way and according to surrounding experiences, environment and tradition builds a base upon which a code of living rests. This base may be broad or narrow, may have at its core a religious faith, or may involve only an areligious code of ethics. To the Fundamentalist, however, and such is Professor Stoner, the Bible provides the pored concrete which both firmly fastens this base to the solid ground at the same time that it provides an outward form to the structure. The various splinter factions among the Fundamentalists attest to the fact that the outward form differs as interpretations of the Bible differ. Professor Stoner, however, is not concerned with this outward aspect; rather he is seeking to reinforce his poured concrete with the steel rods of Scientific fact. He seeks to do this be providing a scientific basis for the 13 claims made in Genesis. It probably will not be out of place to recall to scientists that in Genesis, Chapter I, God is claimed to have created heaven and earth, and all its inhabitants therein; but what is more important to Professor Stoner, God is also claimed to have created things in a definite order. Thus the creation of heaven and earth was followed in order by light and darkness, firmament and water, plants, sun, moon and stars, fish, fowl, earthly creeping things, and finally man in his own image. There are of course minor discrepancies such as the sun coming after the plants, and whales being included among the fishes, but in general these can be interpreted so that on the face of things the order of creation is much as we would have expected on the basis of what we now know of astronomy, geology, and evolution. Genesis, on the other hand, was written long before we knew of these things, and it is Professor Stoner’s contention that the only recently discovered facts of astronomy and geology now permit us to see that some of the early disputes about the authenticity of Genesis, as the word of God, resulted from imperfect scientific knowledge. Genesis and scientific fact, however, are now in complete rapport and Professor Stoner has marshalled his evidence with the result that he has calculated on the basis of probability that anyone seeking to predict the correct order of creation without a previous knowledge of existing facts would have about one chance in 311 million of collecting a bet. Ergo, the writer of Genesis was guided by the hand of God. In fact, the author states, “If it were written by man, representing the scientific ideas of the time, we should expect to find all of its definite statements in error.” His opinion of his fellow man is low.
Those who have seen the light will find the present arguments superfluous; indeed the intelligent Protestant will find that the author has fallen into the commonest error of using only these facts which bolster his hypothesis, and of discarding or controverting those which do not. For example, his discussion of the theory of evolution is not only misleading; it displays an abysmal ignorance of recent evolutionary studies. One can only presume that his treatment of astronomical and geological facts is similarly biased, and those who might feel the need for reassurance in such matters are likely to find the authors rods of steel to be nothing but crumbling pencils of clay."

John said...

Interesting quote but misses the mark. You may have been sending it along as general critique of Stoner's process - if so, objection noted. In the piece I posted Stoner was dealing with the issue of prophecy and the probabilities of fulfillment associated with it. That's a horse of a different color as it does not deal with the changeable vagaries of science and religion but with the mathematical certainties of probability calculations (Insurance companies bank their profitability on such mathematical processes.)

However, on the issue of the Genesis passage, I for one, do not read it as a modern (nor ancient) science lesson. It is interesting that the biblical creation account is almost a mirror image of the Babylonian creation account (The enuma elish) with one startling difference - the relationship of God and man. For the Babylonians man was an afterthought of the gods and was a plaything for them. For the writer of Genesis man is a crowning creation and is designed for a unique relationship with God. It's almost as if the writer of Genesis was saying, "You Babylonians are great scientists (and they were!) but you are rotten theologians."

Here's a "back at you" critique of some of the sources you cite. Just for the interest of the conversation....

In January 2005, two remarkable events occurred. The first was that Oxford atheist and Darwinian scientist, Richard Dawkins, was publicly asked what he believed to be true but could not prove. This was an interesting question because he is on record as saying that you should not believe anything without evidence. Now he concedes, “I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all design anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection.” He continued, “ Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.” In other words, he admits that much of what he believes, including his fundamental assumptions about the universe, are a blind leap of faith, unsupported by evidence.

The other extraordinary event was that the international doyen of philosophical atheism, Prof. Anthony Flew, now aged 81, publicly announced that he has abandoned his atheism, and had done so on the basis of scientific arguments, which now persuade him that there is a God.

So two of the most prominent atheists in their fields have made startling confessions. The scientist admits that much of his belief cannot be supported by scientific evidence, while the philosopher abandons the very atheism that made him famous, precisely because of the scientific evidence. How much intellectual fun is that?

What Dawkins cannot verify concerns the creation of the universe. What persuades Flew that there is a God is the current scientific evidence about the origins of the universe.

Dr. Peter May, Has Science Disproved God?

Random me said...

Hi John,

Yeah, mostly it was to highlight some of the concerns I would have about Stoner’s use (misuse?) of scientific evidence, I think for me that most important part of this article was ‘the author has fallen into the commonest error of using only these facts which bolster his hypothesis, and of discarding or controverting those which do not’, not wanting to be guilty of the same I thought I post the article in full! :)

To your comments on the Genesis passage I will honestly say I can’t fully respond, it has quite honestly been years since I read these, but I’ll go away and educate myself more fully on these and come back to it!

I think, when it comes to Dawkin’s, (who I should point out that I esteem as a scientist but certainly do not revere as an ultimate authority on anything at all!) for me the most important point he has ever made is where the burden of proof lies. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and if one believes in something extraordinary one cannot insist that non-believers prove you wrong in an argument, the burden of proof lies with the believer and its not enough to say ‘faith’ or ‘I just know’. I haven’t heard the quote that you attributed to Dawkin’s before (though I don’t mean to suggest that I doubt its validity), I wonder what the context was but to me it seems logical to follow the proofs of evolution with the intelligent assumption that design cannot precede evolution, and have little doubt that science will find the proof that is there. (but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see if that statement becomes validated!)

I think the major difference is that Science strives to prove itself wrong, and it often does, no leaps of faith required as the actual proof (or disproof) of a theory will be forthcoming, faith does not try to find those same proofs and disproof’s.

I also want to go and read up on Prof. Anthony Flew, and his circumstances, before I comment on him.

For now, all in the name of intellectual fun, to quote Douglas Adam, ‘Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it too?’

(I trust that nothing I may say will be taken as anything other then conversation here, I’d hate to be considered as a fundamentalist in my own views, and I can assure this is all chewing gum for the brain here for me!!)

Siobhan. (Aka, Random Me)

Random me said...

Just as an aside to my previous post, I looked up that Dawkins quote you gave, here is an interview he gave about this on British Radio (BBC Radio four) Make of it what you will!

"Professor Richard Dawkins: Good morning.

BBC Radio 4: What was your own response to the question?

Richard Dawkins: Well, my response was about Darwinism, which is my own field. Darwinism is the explanation for life on this planet, but I believe that all intelligence, all creativity, and all design anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe. That was my response.

BBC Radio 4: So this might take us toward a discussion of faith and the notion of faith. And being able to prove the substance of that faith is particularly relevant at the moment. I mean the Archbishop of Canterbury last week alluded to the fact that the tsunami should make every Christian question the existence of God. Would you or could you follow the same path of thinking, given what you have just told us.

Richard Dawkins: I think first one should say that the Archbishop of Canterbury was traduced and maligned by various people who said that he had questioned his own faith in God, which of course he did not. He said something much more cautious than that. And I'm sure he's right that this will cause people to question their faith in God.

However, the Edge question is about beliefs that are true even though you can't prove them. Faith is obviously an aspect of that and quite a number of the responses were beliefs that probably will be proved one way or the other one day, but we don't have yet the evidence to prove them. For example, more than one person conjectured that there was life elsewhere in the universe than here and that's a belief which doesn't require faith; it's something which in principle one day could be demonstrated.

On the other hand, if somebody said, "I believe that the way you see red is the same as the way I see red," then that seems to me to be in principle unprovable, which is a different kind of unproveability.

BBC Radio 4: It is a fantastically stimulating question isn't it? And although we might believe that science acts as a bastion of provable theory in a world that contains many mysteries, as you've just said, this often isn't the case, is it? Scientists start out with theories and seek to build the proof around them. And that's the excitement of science often.

Richard Dawkins: Very much so. It would be entirely wrong to suggest that science is something that knows everything already. Science proceeds by having hunches, by making guesses, by having hypotheses, sometimes inspired by poetic thoughts, by aesthetic thoughts even, and then science goes about trying to demonstrate it experimentally or observationally. And that's the beauty of science; that it has this imaginative stage but then it goes on to the proving stage, to the demonstrating stage.

BBC Radio 4: The Edge foundation, and the website, makes this statement that great minds can guess the proof before they have evidence or arguments for it. But is it only great minds? Don't most people function on a series of things they believe to be true, but never even seek to prove.

Richard Dawkins: Well, they do; you've got to be very careful about that because a lot of people really do simply assume things to be true, without really having any evidence, and that can be very dangerous. So, these intuitive feelings always should be followed up by an attempt to gather evidence. We should never go to war, we should never take drastic action on the basis of what we just, as a matter of faith, believe."