Monday, February 12, 2007

Can Islam be promoted without intellectual dishonesty? Not at Manchester!

This week's edition of Student Direct features the Islamic Society on its Societies page. The article is written by one Walead Quhill who stood for Life Sciences secretary in the Student Union council elections in 2006, and thankfully he wasn't elected given he doesn't seem to accept evolution as a valid scientific theory (or indeed understand probability theory either). Here's some choice quotes.

Some people argue that this world was created through and chance there is no logic or science that can prove that this universe has come about by any divine purpose or design. That this great universe with all its orchestration just came together aimlessly without any direction. How can this be? For instance, if I took ten different coloured marbles, numbered them 1-10, placed them in a bag which then shook and asked you, with your eyes closed, to pull out marble number one and then marble number two and then three in order do you know what the chances of you pulling out these ten marbles in order are. The probability is 26 000 000:1!!! So what are the chances of the Universe being thrown together in a big bang and for the planets to all fall together perfectly in place just like that. Think about it.
First of all, those aren't the odds. The odds for the given example are actually around 3.6 million to one, almost ten times more likely to occur than posited. But the real fallacy made here is that the formation of stars and planets is due entirely to chance. There is nothing lucky or unlucky about how gravity works. Gravity pulls objects together, even incredibly light ones, it just takes a lot of time. Fortunately we've had a lot of time - 13.7 billion years is the scientific consensus for the age of the universe.

The next argument is a rehash of the old teleological argument. Bridges, skyscrapers and cars are designed, and aren't space stations impressive too for good measure. The human body is obviously much more complex than this, therefore it had to have been designed too! For someone who supposedly studies biology I am astounded. Firstly, complexity does not imply design. Evolution through natural selection is a simple and elegant explanation for how complexity can arise through random mutations in our DNA. Mutations are often random, but natural selection is quite clearly not random or due to chance. Time for some basic biology 101. Mutations which are useful in surviving and reproducing are more likely to be passed onto children, while mutations which are not useful will not be passed on. Therefore advantageous characteristics will be inherited while disadvantageous ones will not. If a bacterium has a mutated gene for resistance to a certain antibiotic while other bacteria do not and the antibiotic is added, the bacterium with the gene will survive and be able to reproduce, while the other bacteria will die. That's natural selection.

The teleological argument is so ridiculous that even its supporters like the fine folks at Answers in Genesis have to resort to the biggest intellectual cop-out in history by just flat out asserting that since only things that have a beginning have a cause, they'll just say that God didn't have a beginning.

The article continues with its assertions like "Think about the stars and planets which are all in order, all precise and are not colliding or conflicting with each other but are all swimming along in an orbit which has been set for them". Has he never heard of the Moon? It's covered in craters! No collisions there then. In fact the most widely accepted theory for the origin of the Moon is that it was created in a giant collision between a Mars-sized object and Earth.
Think about the oceans, the fish, the insects, the birds, the plants, micro-organisms, the alternation of the night and day, the chemical elements some of which have not yet been discovered and cannot be detected with the most sophisticated of instruments and yet each one of them has a law which they follow. Did all of this synchronisation, balance, harmony, variation, design, maintenance, operation and infinite numeration happen by chance? Also, do these things function continuously and perfectly and keep on reproducing and maintaining themselves all by chance. Of course not, that would be totally illogical and in the least I hope we can all agree that which ever way the Universe came to be, it is totally outside the realms of human capability.
Presumably in addition to not knowing about the Moon, he has also not heard of disease.

What is totally illogical are his assertions and his conclusion that just because he doesn't understand things, they obviously must have been created by a divine being. Well I don't really understand how come glue is sticky, but I'm going to find out, I'm not going to just make it up.

I would have more respect for religion including Christianity and Islam if they did not have to resort to misrepresenting scientific facts and theories in frequently dishonest ways in order to gain adherents. Maybe there is a place for religion; but it certainly does not deserve a place in intellectual discourse. I finish with a quote from the writer Kahlil Gibran:
Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors. But today we kneel only to truth, follow only beauty, and obey only love.


Jen said...

Show anyone who believes in intelligent / godly design how the human eyeball is structured.

Everything is the wrong way round for clear, effective vision - if it was designed, it was designed by a muppet.

Andy said...

Excellent post.

Yas said...