For Those Who Reject Evolution

If you are somebody who rejects the Theory of Evolution, I have several questions I’d like to ask you. I’m interested in determining several things about your position. I’m also willing to work with other areas of scientific discourse, like Big Bang cosmology, as the questions only need to be tweaked slightly.

What is your scientific background? Have you earned any PhD’s in any field related to biology, and if so, where did you earn these degrees from? Is this institution accredited by any government recognized accreditation agency, like the New England Association of Schools and Colleges? Getting a PhD from a degree mill, like Patriot Bible University, really isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, even if you spent thousands of dollars on it.

Have you ever had any papers published in reputable, peer reviewed, journals on topics related to biology? If so, approximately how many, and when was your last paper published?

If you have a PhD or have published papers

Congratulations. You’re among a very elite group of people in the world that has sufficient background to actually understand the scientific evidence, and the theory, to be able to take a reasonably informed position on evolution. You may be correct in your position regarding evolution, but I have no way to know. As a layman, I do not have the background knowledge to properly evaluate the evidence, so I’m forced to accept the scientific consensus.

The rest of this post isn’t for you. Your job is to go out and convince the rest of the scientific community that the Theory of Evolution is not correct. I probably don’t need to tell you that you have your work cut out for you. Evolution has been an accepted scientific theory for well over 100 years, and doesn’t appear to have been falsified. If you can reverse the consensus of your fellow scientists on Evolution, I’ll gladly come along and accept whatever new theory becomes the consensus.

If you don’t have a PhD and haven’t published papers

If you do not have a PhD in some field of biology, and you have never published any papers related to biology, do you recognize that you are not an expert when it comes to matters of biology? What has convinced you to believe that you have sufficient expertise to evaluate the evidence for the Theory of Evolution?

Do you current accept any other position to explain the diversity of life on Earth, like Intelligent Design? Keep in mind that I do understand that rejecting one theory does not mean that you accept any other.

Have you taken any post-secondary courses that deal with evolution, that try to explain it to non-scientists, or explain why scientists accept the theory?

Do you reject all of science, or is it only particular theories in science that you have trouble accepting? Do you accept the theory of Special Relativity which tells us that time is not absolute, and that “now” is a relative concept?

What would it take to convince you that you, an admitted non-expert, should accept the scientific consensus, in this case, that the Theory of Evolution is the best explanation we currently have for the diversity of life on Earth? Could you ever be convinced to accept the position of expert scientists on this matter, or are you convinced that you know better?

Please feel free to leave your answers in the comment section below!

Pascal’s Wager Isn’t a Good Defense

I’d rather believe in God and be wrong than not believe and be wrong. If I’m wrong, no harm no foul, when I die I’m just dead. But if you’re wrong, what happens when you die? It’s too sad to even think about.”
– A Christian believer

I don’t know if I can tell you how many times I’ve come across this type of defense for the Christian faith. It’s probably in the thousands, and every time I hear it I cringe just a little bit.

There are a number of problems with Pascals wager, and in case you haven’t heard them before I’d like to enumerate some of them:

It’s Not Evidence

It doesn’t present any compelling reason to believe, rather it simply tries to argue that one should believe because the costs of not believing are greater than costs of belief. It completely ignores that beliefs should be true, and instead attempts to make an appeal to emotion, and undesirable consequences. “Remember, if you’re wrong about the Christian God then you risk eternal torture, and you don’t want that, do you?”

God The Mafia Boss

If you’re going to believe things because of threats, and intimidation, then I have to say that you don’t honestly value truth, you value being comfortable. I’d rather have good reasons, and evidence, behind my beliefs, and not be scared into believing things.

If I need to be scared into believing that something is true, as a last resort, then God is more like a mafia boss than an all loving being. Threats don’t work as a reason to believe.

It Assumes There Aren’t Other Possibilities

By far, the strongest reason to discard the wager is that it is, fundamentally, a false dichotomy. The wager assumes that there are only two choices: Christianity, or atheism. It’s entirely possible that God exists, but that there is no afterlife, or that there is an afterlife and different criteria are used for judgement. There are plenty of alternative choices to Christianity, and atheism isn’t the only alternative.

Consider the possibility that Islam is true. If Islam is true then Christianity is necessarily a false religion, and everyone who is not a Muslim faces the possibility of the Islamic Hell. For the Christian, even though they have been faithful Christians, they have spent their entire life believing something false, my be punished for not holding the correct beliefs.

Another possibility is that God exists and actually understands how bad the evidence for its existence actually is. Such a God may value skepticism and reward those who understood that the evidence doesn’t support religious beliefs, or punish those who are too credulous. If this is true, only the non-religious are rewarded, and the religious have wasted their lives believing nonsense once again.

It Assumes Belief Is A Choice

The wager relies on the assumption that someone can just believe whatever they want. It ignores the reality that beliefs are not a choice. I don’t have the power to just believe whatever I want. I have no control over what I think, or what I believe. Those are things that just happen inside my brain. I can no more choose to believe that God exists than I can believe that an invisible giant purple elephant is sleeping in my closet.

It Assumes That False Beliefs Have No Cost

Even if there is no God, it’s not like false beliefs have no cost. If this is actually the only life that we will ever have, do you really want to waste it believing that you’re going to get another life? Think of the plethora of alternatives that you have, and how you could have spent that time instead. If God doesn’t exist, every time you prayed for something you could have been actually doing something about it.

Think of all the time you could have spent with loved ones, and enriched their lives. How much of your precious time are you willing to sacrifice to things that aren’t real? A minute? A day? A year? 20 years? Your entire life? Don’t believe something just because of possible, yet unknowable, consequences. Believe because the evidence really does support an idea, rather than retreat into “I’d rather believe.”

It’s Not Meant For The Skeptic

I’ve become rather convinced, having heard this line of reasoning so many times, that it’s not actually meant to convince the skeptics. The argument is the last bastion of defense for beliefs. Its job is to reassure believers that, regardless how badly they are beaten, they always have a good reason for their Christian beliefs. It’s a safe space that provide a protective cocoon.

If you had good reasons, and compelling evidence, you wouldn’t need to retreat into Pascal’s bomb shelter wager.

Why I Care About Beliefs

Many times, while engaging with Christians, I’m asked something like “why do you care?  If what you believe is true we just go to the ground and rot.  Why can’t you just leave our beliefs alone?

The answer is really easy.  I care because what we believe matters.  Our beliefs inform our actions, and our actions have objective consequences for both ourselves and others around us.  When we believe things that aren’t actually true we risk causing real harm to other people, including those we care about.  I care about what I believe because I do not want to cause harm to others.  I care about what I believe because I’d be a hypocrite if I told people to believe something that I myself didn’t care about. As Matt Dillahunty has said many times “I want to know as many true things and as few false things as possible.

If you value truth, and you care about yourself and those around you, then it stands to reason that one should try to make sure that all of their beliefs are true, or at least very likely to be true.

I Make Mistakes Sometimes

I’ll admit that I make plenty of mistakes, including mistakes about beliefs.  Even at this moment I almost certainly hold beliefs that are not actually good descriptions of reality.  I hope that these beliefs are benign, but ultimately it’s hard to know.  Knowing what’s actually true is hard, and we make a lot of errors in the process.  After all, nobody ever said that learning was easy.  We should all be willing to admit that we could be wrong about just about anything we believe!

Why I’m A Skeptic

Because knowing what is true is so difficult, and reliable means to establish truth are so limited, I try to be very careful about what I “allow” myself to believe (not that belief is actually a choice.)  Being a skeptic, and forcing your brain to justify every belief, seems to be one of the best tools we have to protect ourselves from bad beliefs, but even that isn’t perfect.

I’m sure all of us like to think that our beliefs are a good modeling of reality.  Nobody wants to think that their beliefs are unfounded, or wrong.  The thing is every one of us almost certainly believe something incredibly stupid, and we’d probably feel embarrassed when we realize the truth about some of these things.  Here’s the rub: we all make mistakes, and it’s very unlikely that anybody is going to stop loving you, or is going to think less of you, for admitting that you held a wrong belief.

Commit yourself to having true beliefs, and always making sure that your most important beliefs are true.  Commit yourself to good epistemological methods, so that we can stop believing silly things.  We owe it to ourselves, and to those around us!