5. ARGUMENT FROM INCREDULITY
In reviewing the "Talk Origins" web site referred to above i repeatedly found reference to something called "argument from incredulity".
The explanation of this is as follows:
It is inconceivable that ____ (fill in the blank) could have originated naturally. Therefore, it must have been created.
This argument, also known as the argument from ignorance or "god of the gaps," is implicit in very many different creationist arguments. In particular, it is behind all arguments against abiogenesis and any and all claims of intelligent design.
Really, the claim is "I can't conceive that. . ." Others might be able to find a natural explanation; in many cases, they already have. Nobody knows everything, so it is unreasonable to conclude that something is impossible just because you don't know it.
The peril of negative arguments is that they may rest on our lack of knowledge, rather than on positive results. [Behe 2003]
The argument from incredulity creates a God of the Gaps. Gods were responsible for lightning until we determined natural causes for lightning; for infectious diseases until we found bacteria and viruses; for mental illness until we found biochemical causes for them. God is confined only to those parts of the universe we don't know about, and that keeps shrinking." (http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA100.html)
I encountered the response that something was an "argument from incredulity" in many locations on the Talk Origins web site. A search on Google identified approximately 578 web sites containing the exact phrase "argument from incredulity". Brief visits to a few of these indicated similar definitions to that above.
I find myself severely challenged by the concept of "argument from incredulity" on two fronts.
Firstly, "Argument from incredulity" is used to directly refute a number of aspects of what i believe about life that i hold to be fundamentally and verifiably true. Some of these points i hold to reinforce my belief in a creator although the fundamental basis of my belief in creator is based on a series of experiences that are intensely personal and not provable or verifiable.
Thus, in the context of a commitment that i made in one of my emails to provide "solid provable evidence" of creation, i found my thesis seemingly largely and possibly entirely neutralised.
Secondly, I experience "argument from incredulity" to be in direct conflict with the principle of "reductio ad absurdum". This is a mathematical problem solving technique that i learned, i think in my second year in high school, and which i have applied repeatedly and effectively in solving problems in the physical realm in engineering and in many other areas of my life.
A search on "Google" for the exact phrase "reductio ad absurdum" identified approximately 41,000 web sites dealing with this subject.
A brief visit to "The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy" at http://www.iep.utm.edu/r/reductio.htm gave the following definition "Reductio ad absurdum is a mode of argumentation that seeks to establish a contention by deriving an absurdity from its denial, thus arguing that a thesis must be accepted because its rejection would be untenable. It is a style of reasoning that has been employed throughout the history of mathematics and philosophy from classical antiquity onwards."
The first part of this definition is basically what i recall from school.
This same web page makes reference to "Per Impossible Reasoning" and indicates that "reductio" style argument or analysis is important in many areas beyond mathematics, including in classical philosophy and in law.
Thus, i find myself confronted with "argument from incredulity" which seems to me to be directly in opposition to and contradictory to "reductio ad absurdum".
Previously i would probably have resolved this contradiction on the basis of citing that there are 41,000 web sites referring to "reductio" and "only" 578 referring to "incredulity" and used some language that would have been positional and judgmental.
Having realised that this approach probably does not work much of the time and that i have concluded that it is not particularly constructive, i now find myself with a challenge.
Since much of what i would previously have argued in support of creation based on "reductio ad absurdum" is, in the opinion of some, neutralised by "argument from incredulity", what do i do?
I would like to demonstrate my dilemma by reference to a few examples that i personally hold to be fundamentally verifiably true.
My life experience is as an engineer, designer, problem solver, analyst and consultant. I have been designing and making things since the age of five. I have at various times spent considerable time designing things and creating things. At times the things that i have designed have worked exceptionally well. At other times they have not worked at all or have not worked nearly as well as i thought they would.
I hold that this entire experience tells me that even relatively simple structures, mechanisms, computer software, etc require the input of a well trained and knowledgeable person in order to succeed.
I hold that i find no evidence anywhere to suggest that if i take a pile of timber of various shapes and sizes together with a diversity of appropriate fasteners and tools and place this material and equipment in a pile in my garden that i will return at some time to find some sort of practical and usable structure. I have never heard of such a case. All my experience tells me that to create even a very basic dog kennel requires at least a basic set of knowledge and experience and some tools. I hold it to be "absurd" that material can assemble itself into anything significant without external assistance.
My whole life experience tells me that if i leave the above mentioned material and equipment in my garden for years or decades the wood will rot and the fasteners and tools will corrode and deteriorate to a point where, in time, they will become increasingly unusable. If i live in a dry desert area these items may survive for decades while if i live on a tropical beach they may all but disappear within a decade. Another outcome would be theft of some or all of the items by humans or even some types of animal. I have no information that there is any possibility of a constructive outcome unless there is some human intervention.
Accordingly, i hold that this example proves that since i hold that man is much more complex than any structure or system that i have ever been exposed to directly or through television or books, that there IS a creator.
However, i find that "argument from incredulity" says that just because i cannot "conceive" that this is possible does not prove it is not possible.
I can follow the same argument with regard to the development of motor cars and aircraft.
I can argue that dwellings around the world differ and therefore that there is no evidence that a single form will become dominant across isolated continents with no communication and that this disproves non-intelligent evolution.
I can argue that all my experience tells me that to create a human being, in two genders, who have reproductive organs that fit together perfectly and which give rise to sensation that most people find pleasurable, cannot happen by accident. I hold that it is my understanding that virtually any man on the planet can join himself sexually to virtually any woman on the planet and, if they do it by choice, they can have a pleasurable sexual experience, to be only possible if there is a highly sophisticated engineer who designed this system.
I hold that the sun is consuming energy and that all my experience and education tells me that all things decay from a state of higher order to a state of lower order. I hold that i can verify that my motor car deteriorates, my house deteriorates, human beings deteriorate, etc and that this proves the existence of a higher power that created all these things.
I hold that the very existence of matter and the universe proves the existence of a creator.
"Argument from incredulity" neutralizes all these things and many others that i hold to be fundamentally true and it requires that i either have a head-on argument or that i see if i can find another way to prove my thesis that there is a creator.
I could also resort to arguing that arguments that there cannot be a creator are also an "argument from incredulity". It seems that way to me.
One conclusion that i drew during my research was that in very simplistic terms:
- It seems to me that in essence those who subscribe to creation believe something like "i am here, the universe is here and therefore there must be a creator, however i cannot explain where the creator came from and i choose not to think about this".
- It seems to me that in essence those who subscribe to evolution believe something like "i am here, the universe is here and i believe there was a big bang and i cannot explain where the material in the 'big bang' came from and i believe one day i will figure it out".
To me it seems that it requires as much faith to believe in a creator as it takes to believe that someday there will be an explanation for how uncountable billions of tons of matter came into existence from nowhere.
This causes me to wonder if there really is much of a gap at all between those who subscribe to creation and those who subscribe to evolution. It seems to me that at some level both subscribe to something that can be neutralized by "argument from incredulity".
However, since i have chosen to seek to do the best i can to avoid positioning myself and to avoid passing judgment, i choose to explore whether there is a way to prove my thesis without confronting whether "argument from incredulity" is valid or not.
I hope to do this in the remainder of this article.