Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Does God Exist? Friel-Barker Debate - Friel Rebuttal

Friel began his rebuttal by asking Barker how many fingers he was holding up. When Barker answered 'four,' Friel concluded that "the human eye seems to be working pretty well to me." This was followed by much applause from the audience.

Friel commits a logical fallacy here. In his opening remarks, he stated that the human eye was too complex to have evolved and was thus evidence of an intelligent designer. When Barker explained that the human eye was a poor example of intelligent design, Friel's one-liner rebuttal was to demonstrate that Barker's eye was good enough to see his fingers. This ignored what Barker had explained was that we also have a complex brain that has to expend resources to compensate for our blind spot. Since other species are able to have an eye without a blind spot, their brains don't have to plug it in with added resources, thus making their design more efficient.

Furthermore, Barker's eye is not able to see in the infared like the eyes of reptiles, nor does it come with a transparent eyelid for seeing clearly underwater like the eyes of beavers. Friel's logic problem is equating "good enough" with "perfect," something he would never accept in other circumstances. If Friel bought a car that belched black smoke, jarred his teeth on smooth roads, and dribbled copious amounts of oil on his driveway--but it operated just well enough to get him to work--he would never declare the engineer of his car to be a good designer, particularly since there are other automobiles on the road that appear to work much more efficiently.

Based on photographs of Dan Barker that I've seen, he doesn't appear to need vision correction. Had Friel asked me how many fingers he was holding up, I would have taken off my glasses (I'm near-sighted), squinted at him, then declared that I couldn't count them because my eyes were inexpertly designed to see at that distance, thus skewering Friel's argument.

Friel's argument stems from ignorance and incredulity. Friel is impressed with the complexity of the human eye and can't think of how natural selection could have evolved it. Since Friel can't think of it, then no one can think of it, therefore it never happened. Friel sets himself up as the Absolute Standard by which all complex ideas are to be judged. He proves this by continuing with more questioning about the eye:

"How did we know there was anything to see? Which evolved first, the eye or the brain to receive the signal? The eyelids or the cornea?" Friel lists the major parts of the eye which work in conjunction and concludes, "No way did the eye evolve by chance."

Again, no evolutionary scientist has stated that anything evolves by chance. Chance and Natural Selection are not the same thing. We know and have confirmed that mutations happen from one generation to another. Some mutations are beneficial, most are neutral or harmful. Those mutations that assist an organism to live long enough to reproduce are passed on. Friel's listing of body parts is Irreducible Complexity, the principle that any organism or body part that uses multiple parts can't have evolved. IC has yet to gain purchase in the scientific community because it is based on faulty premises. Body parts need not always be working in conjunction even if they are so now, and organisms can exist with limited or rudimentary body parts that later evolve complexity. The first true eyeball to evolve did not come with a complex retina and cornea--those evolved later because they provided comparative advantages.

Friel then announces a mock auction of his wristwatch, declaring it to be evolved. His proof? "Because nobody saw it evolve." Friel seems to be saying that because no one has sat over a cage and watched an animal sprout a new body part therefore evolution never happened. The problem is, no evolutionary scientist has ever suggested that that is how evolution occurs. Organisms don't evolve--the genes you are born with are the genes you die with. It is species that evolve, over generations. What's more, scientists have observed speciation in the lab using short-lived organisms such as bacteria, so it's incorrect to say that no one has ever observed evolution.

"Evolution is an insult to the intelligence," Friel declares, which itself is an insult to the vast majority of people--including countless Bible-believing Christians--who accept the tenets of evolution based on the preponderance of evidence.

Friel tells a long joke involving a breached calf appearing to have run into the back of the mother cow, presumably to illustrate that looking at some issue from the wrong angle can lead to wrong conclusions. He then questions the entire field of cosmology by declaring that the idea that Nothing became Something to become Everything is absurd. The problem is, he's correct, but in the wrong way. Cosmologists state that the Big Bang theory is not a creation event but rather an expansion event--the entire contents of the universe were compacted into a single point which then expanded, cooled, and condensed into the stars and galaxies we know today. As far back as we can observe, there has always been Something. What happened before the Big Bang is still being explored. Cosmologists don't know--not with certainty, for sure--but Friel doesn't know either. To say that Nothing became Something is a caricature, just like Friel caricature's of Evolution, and caricatures are all too easy to disprove.

Friel continues the caricature by observing that when we wake up from sleep our hair isn't in better condition then when we went to bed. In other words, disorder always increases. First off, it isn't correct that our hair necessarily becomes more disordered in bed. A woman could go to bed with a complicated hairstyle that defies gravity due to the use of petroleum products, but wakes up with her hair comparatively ordered, pressed flat and close to the head from the pillow.

But despite that poor example, Friel is arguing from the Second Law of Thermodynamics which of course is a incorrect application of that law. Friel knows the difference between a closed and open system--he states as much later in the debate--but he wants to ignore the difference in order to advance his argument. Closed systems, argues Friel, increase in entropy, therefore open systems (such as the universe itself) must also increase in entropy. This is, of course, incorrect, and Friel appears to know better.

Friel then agrees with Barker that Christians are failing when it comes to issues of morality and ethics (such as divorce) but the reason is simple, he asserts. "They never understood the Ten Commandments and God's Law." Here Friel commits the No True Scotsman fallacy, stating that if a Christian doesn't behave the way he thinks she should, then she wasn't a true Christian to begin with. This is, of course, absurd. Not even Moses, Jesus, and Paul could agree on the principles of marriage and divorce, so to blame Christians for not agreeing is unfair. Once again, Friel sets himself up as the Absolute Standard--he knows the right thing to do in all situations. Anyone who disagrees is either living in sin or not a true Christian.

"Hell is not a threat," Friel continues, "Hell is Reasonable Justice." Friel makes an unwarranted leap from declaring that no one wants violent criminals to walk the streets to declaring that anyone who disbelieves in God deserves to go to an everlasting torture chamber.  

"If God did not punish us he would not be loving," Friel states. "Love and justice go together." This is also incorrect. A criminal judge does not both love the accused and judge the accused's case. If a judge found himself presiding over an accused person that he loved--his own son, for example--he would rightly recuse himself. Barker and Friel get more into the morality of Hell later in the debate.

Next Friel addresses Barker's distrust of the Bible for matters of truth and morality. He stated that Barker relied on G.A. Wells for biblical scholarship.  

Barker interrupted by saying, "I don't rely on him."

"You quote him," Friel quipped back, followed by laughter and applause from the audience.

I have to ding Barker here for interrupting Friel during his rebuttal, as that shouldn't be allowed by the debate rules. However, Friel did direct his statement toward Barker as a casual question, to which it would be natural to respond. Friel did it again shortly thereafter when he said, "Correct me if I'm wrong, Dan, but if I've read right you don't believe in the existence of Jesus," which would be another natural point to allow Barker to respond when technically he wasn't supposed to. Combining these interchanges along with the applause and cheering from both sides of the audience shows that this debate quickly became informal, particularly since the moderators of the debate never stepped in to enforce any rules.

As for Friel's response, "You quote him," meaning G. H. Wells, I know from reading Barker's work that he also quotes Jesus and Adolph Hitler if he feels it will help him make his argument. Friel disparages Wells' lack of education and credentials, calling Wells' work "fringe scholarship," but Barker also referred earlier to Bart Ehrman who most certainly has the education and credentials to criticize New Testament documents.

Friel then goes on to compare historical documents. First he asks Barker if he believes that Julius Caesar existed. When Barker nods affirmative, Friel chortles wickedly, "Oh really!" He declares that "this is how we test whether or not a manuscript from antiquity is authentic." He states that there is a 1000-year span between the the accepted date of when Julius Caesar wrote The Gallic Wars and the existence of our oldest copy, and we only have 10 of those. He states that there is a 1200-year gap between when Plato wrote his tetralogies and we have only seven copies. For the New Testament, it was written between 40 AD and 100 AD, and our oldest copy is dated to 125 AD, a difference of only 25 years. Number of copies? Fifty-six hundred in the original language, nineteen thousand in other languages. "If you believe in Caesar," Friel concludes, "you can trust the Bible," again to thundering applause from the believers in the audience.

There are several problems with this entire line of argument. First, what Friel doesn't tell his audience is that we don't have the original manuscripts of the New Testament, nor the copies of the manuscripts, nor the copies of the copies of the manuscripts. The oldest copies we have are three generations removed from the originals, some of those are mere scraps containing only a couple of verses from one book. What's more, textual criticism has found that no two of those copies are identical. All of them have differences from each other, some minor, some major. Entire passages of the New Testament, from the final sixteen verses of Mark to the Gospel of John's story about the woman caught in adultery, were inserted into later copies and do not appear in the older, more reliable manuscripts.

Second of all, even though there is "only" a 25-year gap between a copy and the original (interesting how Friel only counts the lower range--it could be as high as 85 years if his figures are correct), comparing the New Testament to Julius Caesar or Plato is a false comparison. For one thing, we are not asked to worship Julius Caesar. We are not asked to stake the fate of our eternal soul on the teachings of Plato. If Caesar's The Gallic War turned out to be a complete fabrication, that wouldn't disprove that Caesar actually existed because of the other lines of evidence, such as neutral historical reporting and the writings of hostile enemies of Caesar, neither of which exist in the case of Jesus of Galilee. And even if we could conclude that Caesar never actually existed, that would be irrelevant to a twenty-first-century person.

Third, the proximity of a copy to its source has no bearing whatsoever on the accuracy of the source. An error-filled manuscript could be well-preserved and copied, and it would still be an error-filled manuscript. A large gap between a source that's been lost to us and to its nearest copy means that we can have little trust in the integrity of the copy. Even New Testament scholars have found that passages are changed as copies are passed down from one generation to another. Friel would have us believe that if there's a small gap between a missing source document and its oldest copy, then we have to trust the source as error-free. But he would never accept this claim with regards to any other religion.

Joseph Smith translated the golden plates given to him by the angel Moroni in 1823, and the Book of Mormon was published in 1830. That's a gap of only seven years. L. Ron Hubbard wrote Dianetics in 1949 and it was published in 1950, a gap of only one year. But I don't think that Friel is going to convert to Mormonism or Scientology based on that "evidence" because he doesn't think those works are reliable, no matter how well preserved and copied they were. But he wants everyone to accept completely the Bible--including the first book of the Old Testament which has a gap of as much as three thousand years between the time of its reported events and its final form--based on the same fallacious thinking.

Finally, Friel makes an emotional appeal coupled with a threat. "Just be simple," Friel pleads. "Lose your presuppositions and if you'll read the Bible it's so obvious." He claims that if we read the Bible without skepticism we'll see it's true. Even if we don't, he warns, we'll glorify God either way, either when "the smoke of your torment rises before the Lamb for all eternity," or when we live forever with God in heaven because he has forgiven us.

In other words, Believe or Burn. Don't question if the Bible is accurate and true--just believe it and then you will see the Bible is accurate and true. And if you don't, you'll spend all eternity in a torture chamber while Jesus looks on in pleasure. How anyone could then say that this same God loves us and forgives us is beyond me. It's this same threat that has tormented people for centuries, so terrified of hell that even Bible-believing Christians agonize over the possibility that they are damned ("Not all who call me 'Lord, Lord' will see the kingdom of heaven.")

Again, Friel asks us to do what he would never do himself--a classic case of hypocrisy. Friel would never drop his presuppositions against Islam, reading the Koran like a child and just believing in its teachings, or else die with the knowledge that the smoke of his torment in the Islamic Hell will rise up and glorify Allah. Nor should he. But he wants you and me to do the same for Christianity.

Friel was asked to bring evidence that God exists. Having failed to do that, he then pleads with one hand and clenches a fist with his other and expects us to uncritically accept his assertions or else pay the everlasting price.


Prev: Barker Rebuttal

Next: Questions for Each Other: Friel

No comments: