02 April 2013

Pastor Carl Broggi confirms my worst suspicions


In my continual hunt for blog fodder I listen to a lot conservative, and conservative Christian radio. While hunting a month or two ago, I heard a familiar line, it comes up at least once a week on these shows, but this iteration of it was on the ill-informed show Search The Scriptures. Hosted by Carl Broggi (obviously a pastor, as well as some kind of doctor), this show offers all the typical answers to life's most pressing questions. It even offers pseudo-profundities on questions that don't matter. What I learned while listening to Pastor Broggi was this.
Atheists don't exist.

I know, I know, some of you will be saying, "Now wait just a damn minute. I'm an atheist, and I am pretty sure I exist." Not according to the enlightened Pastor Broggi. This is such a bizarre thing to do, to assume that the person with whom you are arguing is lying that I had to ask him if this was a wide spread belief among evangelicals. He was kind of enough to respond to my question on his podcast (at least I think that is what it was). Broggi thinks people who claim to be atheists actually know in their heart (he means mind) that God exists. God stamps an awareness of himself on us through the wonder of Creation. Broggi's proof of this amounts to nothing more than mere assertion backed by a few dubious scriptures.  I don't want to steal too much of this thunder (you can hear his response here -luckily my question gets "answered" first so you won't have to wade through a lot nonsense) but I do want to point out a common mistake in part of his response to me.

In his effort to demonstrate his point, the good doctor Broggi wheels out the rotting corpse of William Paley (1743-1805) whose utility for Christian apologists has never really waned even though the content of Paley's argument has been completely exploded and eclipsed by actual science.  Nevertheless, and generally without attribution, Paley has given the tenacious fundamentalists, what probably remains their best case for a creator, "The Watchmaker Argument."  This argument, also referred to as "The Teleological Argument,"or the argument from design, adduces a deity (or at least an extremely powerful creative agent) from the design, real or imagined of natural things.  On the off chance you have lucked into avoiding this gem let me give you a brief synopsis/refresher. Actually lets just quote the old man himself:

"In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there."
-Natural Theology

Paley probably thought the rock and the watch both needed an explanation from the standpoint of a designer.  But he might have known that rocks are sometimes formed from that activity of volcanoes, or  geological processes may have been well elucidated enough at that time that he couldn't really invoke a designer in the case of the rock. Rocks were and are simple.  The hypothetical watch on the ground though was different. Its complexity, and the purposefulness of its parts cried out for a design explanation.  That is to say, watches are designed by intelligent minds who had in mind a purpose in mind.  Watches are for something. A watch couldn't just have chanced together.  This isn't a terrible observation by Paley.  The watch does need a explanation from design. Paley, of course, was trying to draw an analogy with biologically complexity and his carelessly discarded watch.  If a watch needs a designer how much more must the biota need a designer as living things are vastly more complex than even the most intricate watch?  Paley was right by the way.  Living things do need an explanation for their, apparent design.  Paley's mistake, and the mistake of his intellectual descendants,  was and is to think the designer was a who (and a very specific who at that) and not a natural algorithmic process.

Paley's mistake is wholly excusable.  He was, after all, not privy to all the facts (On the Origin of Species wouldn't be published for another 54 years after Paley's death). Living things really do look designed. There really is no excuse for Pastor Broggi and his ilk to make the same mistake and then wallow in it.

In his response to me, Broggi says atheists (who don't exist) know there is a god because, essentially, nature is so awesome. Out comes Paley's watch, needs a designer, blah, blah, whoa nature, look how big and complex, it must need an even bigger, greater and awesomer designer.  I, and all atheists, must know God (at least a god) exists,  Broggi insists, because the living world, and the universe generally, are so intricate that the only thing we can do to explain them is to invoke a supernatural designer.  "You know in your heart that all this can't have come about by chance." God does this, I guess to ensure that people are without excuse when they reach there judgement seat of Christ. There can be no honest mistakes.  One wonders what the people in countries not immediately adjacent to Palestine were supposed to do with this alleged inkling of gods banging around in their heads. Why wasn't Christianity independently discovered by other people if this knowledge is innate in humans?
I digress.

As it happens Dr. Pastor Broggi, I don't think the biota came about by chance, if by chance we mean produced by completely and utterly random events. No atheist/agnostic believes this. Broggi's false dichotomy assumes only complete randomness on the one hand, or "God did it" on the other.  It is this mistake, this false framing I mainly want to address. The explanation most atheists (indeed most scientists atheist, agnostic or believer) find consistent with the evidence is found in evolutionary biology. Evolutionary processes are the designer Broggi and his ilk seem to miss or at least to mistake as random. The only random element of evolutionary process is mutation (I'm intentionally ignoring drift, and other stochastic events that alter gene frequency; they do little to perpetuate the illusion of a purposeful designer). Local environments create certain selective pressures on individuals in a population. Some individuals, owing to a random differences in their genetics, handle these processes better than others.  The former leave more offspring than the latter. And thus any genetic component of that evolutionary success is likely to find its way into the offspring, spreading generation after generation. Selective processes are ongoing and constant, gradually shaping the behavior and morphology of species. Natural processes certainly explain the biota (natural processes explain a great deal more than just this). More than just sounding like a plausible explanation, evolutionary processes are wholly supported by the scientific evidence.

We are actually really convinced by this evidence Dr. Pastor Broggi. It is not an act of rebellion. One cannot assume, on the basis of scripture, that atheists/agnostics/freethinkers are actually lying about this. We are not, as the pastor claims later in his response to me, suffering under a moral problem and trying to find an out from god belief and thus dodge our responsibilities to God.. Hard as it may be to believe, atheists/agnostics/freethinkers have sincerely examined the evidence and have come to a different conclusion.  It really is the height of arrogance for evangelicals to assume they can know what we are thinking, and why we think it.  If nothing else it makes conversation pointless. It absolves such pastors of the responsibility of understanding, or trying to understand our position in any real or significant way. These are not the actions of intellectually honest sparring partners.

I continue to want to bring these things up to Pastors like Carl Broggi because I think this idea (that athests/agnostics really do know that god exists but are foolishly choosing to reject God) he and others promote is pernicious bullshit for which there is no evidence aside from a few passages of scripture. And lets face it, quoting scripture is no kind of evidence at all.

I've written elsewhere that I thought this tactic was St Paul trying to expiate the guilt he and other believers surely must have felt at the notion that so many people would be going to hell simply because they hadn't heard the good news. Or having heard it, rejected it often with good reason.  Burning someone in hellfire for eternity for the minor transgression of being mildly wrong must have seemed like an extreme over reaction on the part of God, even to a fervent believer like Paul. I wonder if these oft quoted scriptures weren't some attempt to alleviate this guilt?

An aside: Isn't it strange that believers of this sort harp incessantly on complexity and purpose needing a conscious designer.  According to them, complexity of the kind found in our universe, from the origin and structure of solar systems and galaxies, to hummingbird bumble bees, and quarks definitely requires a designer to explain it all.  However, any god  capable of creating our cosmos would also have to be enormously complex itself.  Wouldn't such a being also need a design explanation. No question invites special pleading more than "Uh, okay, but who created God?" There is no answer to this question that doesn't try to exempt God from the question.  I am not the first person to point out that such special pleading is not justified and unconvincing.


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14 Comments:

At 8:13 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I listen to Broggi's podcast all the time and I remember hearing his reponse to your question. interesting I came across this

 
At 7:03 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's amazing that you assert how wrong it is for Pastor Carl to know what atheist think however you have the priviledge to assert that you know what St. Paul thinks. Double standard. You called his show already arguing in your mind and you're still arguing. If all this "creation god stuff" is so unbelievable then why don't you leave evangelicals like Pastor Carl alone and just be content with your own world view. Sounds like you just can't stay away.....hmmmm. If you look at science just as God believers do (yes, we actually do) yet come to a different conclusion from the proven evidence, not theories & assumptions then so be it but none of us are "free thinkers." You're not a free thinker just because you're in a group that thinks different and neither am I.

 
At 8:08 PM , Blogger Max II said...

Annonymous #2, Let me set the record straight.

I don't pretend to know what St Paul thinks. I was merely guessing. I could be completely wrong in my assessment. Regardless, his reasoning isn't sound however we may want to parse it. If god is known to all, it would suggest that Christianity ought to have been independently discovered by cultures living far from 1st century Palestine. The idea offered by Broggi would indicate that mission work would be broadly unnecessary. There is no good news to spread. Everyone knows.

I can't leave the creationism alone because fundamentalist Christians won't quite trying to force it into science classrooms where it has no business.

 
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At 1:09 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

But isn't your "science" pushed down the throats of school children? Why not offer both views with their pros and cons and allow the students to decide for themselves?

 
At 1:11 AM , Anonymous Darren Jones said...

The last question was mine. Didn't want to post anonymously

 
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