Questioning ‘How to debate a creationist’ by Michael Shermer
A skeptic’s advice is self-refuting, showing a religious bias
Published: 25 April 2013 (GMT+10)
Naturalism is a self-refuting (irrational) religious stance.
[CMI Editor: Murk Post, from Canada, wrote to Dr Michael Shermer, editor of The Skeptic, who wrote a booklet titled, How to debate a creationist, asking him some questions and making some observations. It is a very interesting, incisive response, presented here with a couple of editorial additions, but substantially as Murk wrote it.]
Shermer: “With so many mutually-exclusive creationist doctrines all claiming infallibility and final Truth, a logical default position to fall to is science because it never makes absolutist truth claims. In science, all conclusions are provisional, subject to new evidence and better arguments, the vary antithesis of religious faith.” (p. 22 in the booklet).
You present 6 points:
- Conflicting truth doctrines exist
- Logical default position = science
- Because it never makes absolutist truth claims
- In science all conclusions are provisional (tentative)
- Science is subject to new evidence and better arguments
- Science is counter proposition—in direct contrast to religious faith (antithesis)
Inspecting the six points:
- Since many counterfeit moneys exist should we then say real money does not exist?
Is the counterfeit not dependent on the real? How can science be the real one if it cannot tell us what ought to be? How can something that is ‘always tentative’ be authoritative?
[CMI: Also, there are many conflicting evolutionary positions: atheistic evolutionists, theistic evolutionists (whom atheists co-opt as ‘useful idiots’ but regard with complete contempt), New Age evolutionists, astrology-believing evolutionists (New Ager astrologers nearly all have an evolutionary mindset), crystal-power–invoking evolutionists, Raëlians, and even flat-earth evolutionists …]
- Invoking logic means you invoke a universal, conceptual limitation—thus an absolute truth—the very thing you are attempting to deny.
- “Because it never makes absolutist truth claims”. This one is so obvious I’m sure you already realize this.
This is an absolutist truth claim—therefore it is not science by your own standard. So what religion are you then pushing?
- “All” says it all. The whole of science is tentative—but this statement is not. As above, this statement cannot therefore be scientifically known, yet your science rests on this statement. You’re OK with this? Your religion professes the dogma of non-certainty supported by certainty. To be an irrationalist (no a priori exists) you must first be a rationalist (a prioris exist) because to hold as true that no a prioris exist is an a priori position.
- “Subject to new evidence”—sounds an awful lot like a prediction about the future that cannot be scientifically confirmed because science is ‘always tentative’. Do you have a scientifically verified crystal ball?
“Better arguments”? To have a better argument means an argument that conforms more with the truth than another argument. You must assume absolute truth to deny absolute truth. Your dizziness tolerance is admirable.
- By your own standards, it is revealed that your asserted “antithesis” actually rests on ‘just so’ statements that are based on a belief that the statement itself attempts to deny.
‘Science is always tentative’ is a position about the nature of reality that is not tentative—therefore it is not science. This is sufficient to expose that science requires belief.
Everyone starts from faith. It is not given to man to do otherwise—this is the nature of reality. God has set limits to possibility and no matter how we humans may try, we cannot get around it. It is not a matter of starting from belief or not, rather if we start from a belief that is true or not.
The irony of this is glaring; asserting that only naturalistic explanations exist requires the metaphysical belief that the nature of reality is only material.
A rebuttal comes in these forms:
- absolute truth does not exist (absolutely? )
- absolute truth cannot be known (and this is absolutely true? )
- there is no certainty (this much must be certain )
- we cannot know anything for sure (are you sure? )
- we should believe only claims that can be verified scientifically (can you verify this claim scientifically? )]
Are you interested in finding truth? Or have you determined beforehand that only naturalistic explanations are allowed? (Again the irony of this is glaring; asserting that only naturalistic explanations exist requires the metaphysical belief that the nature of reality is only material.)
You see, metaphysical (religious) assumptions cannot be avoided—to deny the possibility of them requires invoking them (it is one of the limits of possibility that God has determined so that all people can plainly see that He did this).
[CMI: Also, your faith in science ignores the meta-science issues of what makes science possible. Historically and logically, science grew out of the biblical worldview you try to undermine.]
Truth can only be guaranteed by one possible source. He has revealed himself.
If you substituted science with naturalistic explanations you would be a little more accurate—however, as I’m sure you already know, this would expose the fact that you are pushing a religion. This position does not allow for looking for truth ‘where it may be found’ because it limits the search to material explanations—before the search has even begun!
Truth is necessary—no man can avoid it. Truth can only be guaranteed by one possible source. He has revealed himself. If you are looking for truth you will find Him. If you do not wish to find truth—it is not because of an intellectual problem or logical difficulties (as I’ve shown your religion is incoherent and self refuting) rather, it’s a problem of your will.
You know He exists—you have an axe to grind and do not want to face Him. You cannot escape the reality that you are made in His image—you cannot but work for Him, which you are doing, though unwittingly. Wouldn’t it be nice to be in agreement with the one who determines reality?
With him this futility ceases. “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (Jesus)
I hope we can discuss—thank you,
Overall a good read! One point I picked up:
Murk: ' “Better arguments”? To have a better argument means an argument that conforms more with the truth than another argument. You must assume absolute truth to deny absolute truth. Your dizziness tolerance is admirable.'
What are your assumptions here? You seem to be assuming that 'better' is approaching truth, and assuming a fair and level playing ground. Surely a 'better' argument is the one that sounds convincing and wins the debate, regardless of how close to truth it is? All it needs to do is have a strong enough persuasion, and persuasion doesn't need to be based on truth. Or am I wrong?
People can twist anything but end up chasing their tail.
Eg. Is it true that persuasion does not need to be based on the truth?
If persuasion is king—we have a form of rule by might (or a "Mad Max" world)
As you can see the intellect is ethical.
Absolute moral law can only come from one place—the God of the Bible
An attempt to deny the existence of absolute morals requires invoking them.
God made it plain: we must nudge the two legged stool, on which truth suppressors attempt to rest, out from under them.
Jesus made it clear: "Whoever is not with me is against me".
Neutrality is impossible.
I must say I slightly disagree with one or two of Murk's points here, I think he's going a bit too far in trying to make Dr. Shermer's claims seem self-refuting. They aren't - quite - but Murk is absolutely correct that all beliefs start with metaphysical assumptions which cannot be proven. The only question is: are miracles acceptable or not (ie, are you a metaphysical supernaturalist or a metaphysical naturalist?)
If one starts with the assumption that truth is absolute but human knowledge is all finite, so thus science can only provide tentative knowledge of truth, this isn't self-refuting (in fact, anything which makes claims about absolute knowledge of truth pretty much IS self-refuting, whether that's "there is no objective truth" or "no truth can be held true without
The major problem with Dr. Shermer's "advice" is that, as ever, he hides behind "science" and uses it as a cloak for "naturalistic explanations" (as Murk notes). This makes it seem like the claim that science supports naturalism is not tautological, when if "science" is defined as "non-miraculous explanations for ALL events in history" (rather than just those which can be observed and repeated) then, of course, it absolutely IS tautological.
Fact is, in the study of history (especially unobserved history), "science" doesn't come into it. It's metaphysics, all the way. Do you trust the Bible, or not? Nice simple dichotomy!
That's the way to do it. Expose the lie by cutting away all adornments and thereby also removing any handholds for excuses.
I just hope that Mr. Shermer read and absorbed what was being said to him because the message is so very powerful, which truth usually is.
I've seen Michael Shermer on various programs and it's always the same with him. His mode of debunking is based on pre-conceived ideas concerning the subject, so it never has a fair chance. It is worth noting that his magazine is called, "Skeptical Inquirer" and not, "Skeptical Inquirer, For Now". In other words, this mag has to always debunk whatever it's investigating. If they ever came across anything that threatened the world view that the mag stands on, do you really think that they would present it?
Does Michael Shermer REALLY believe that these points could be successfully used to debate a creationist???
All they show is that Evolution is not science!!!
Sadly, most staunch evolutionists would be unwilling or unable to see, let alone admit, this obvious fact. Not because of being intellectually lacking but because of a degree of blindness that is normally only found in members of a cult.
Evolutionists say that evolution:
1. Makes absolutist truth claims – Its devotees claim that it is absolutely true
2. Is an undisputable fact, which means its conclusions are not provisional.
3. Is not subject to new evidence and better arguments; because its followers refuse to accept the evidence and arguments showing that “molecules to man” Evolution is scientifically impossible.
4. Is, for many of its proponents, religious in nature
I have no training in logic, (and initially missed the illogical aspects that Murk Post pointed out), but the six points left me completely bemused!
It's like the boss of a car (automobile) sales business who instructs his trainees to persuade potential customers by telling them:
1. Not everyone agrees that this car is the most reliable, but he happens to believe that it is.
2. His car business is the best because it’s the only one in town - probably
3. He never ever claims that his cars are the best.
4. But he can assure you that this is a good car; and he can assure you that he is not sure of that
5. In fact, he believes this is the best possible car you can buy – unless of course a better one comes along
6. The other car sales business in town is the direct antithesis of his business, and therefore not worth bothering with.
Articles like this have been very helpful to me in my ministry. I suppose that there may be some Atheists who are actually open-minded and looking for truth. Among the ones I have seen trolling on the blogs I have never seen an open-minded one, however. In fact, the ones I have seen appear to be quite comfortable being totally irrational so long as they don't have to know that God is their Creator. When they are shown to be in error, they don't admit it.
I can relate to the apparent frustration. Since only God can grant repentance (no one come to the Father except by Jesus and no one can come to Jesus except the Father draw them) i find it helpful to remember the distinction of what God needs of us (nothing) and what He requires of us (testify to the truth). It keeps me from being discouraged knowing that He determines what will be - It is His job - i can be replaced by a rock:) And it is an adventure to boot - you never know when He does things.
I love that you guys at CMI never ever back down from an argument. It is a remarkable and admirable thing to witness. You guys have inspired me with your article about logic, and really opened my eyes on how to witness and debate non-believers. I was talking to a fellow peer of mine (an atheist) about works of art and meaning. I claimed that a work of art means whatever a person declares that work of art to mean, yet he vehemently refused. He then proceeded to show me a piece of his art and ask what I thought it meant. I told him what I thought, and he said I was wrong. My peer purported that since he was the creator he had full control about what his artwork meant. I rebutted but what if I saw it as to mean something else? My peer stated that regardless of what I think it means, he created the work so he claims the true meaning of his artwork. But then I flipped the script. I said you just proved why God can be the creator and give true meaning to life regardless of what man claims it to be. Since He is the creator and artist, what he decrees as meaning is truth. After this my peer went into an uproar and so did others in the room listening to us. They each attacked my position with mostly ad hominems and elephant hurling yet they couldn't come up with a valid argument and conclusive statement. Thanks CMI for bringing to my eyes the wonderful assets of logic and reasoning. Keep the faith strong and do battle against the enemies strongholds. Maranatha.
An excellent and impressive response that is easily understood. Furthermore, the response has been done in a constructive, factual, polite and compelling manner.
Kudo's to you Murk!
Very well done.
I have seen your comments on several articles before, and felt I had to drop a line of encouragement.
You folk are equipping the bretheren, and most certainly illuminating "the meat" of knowledge through the scriptures.
God Bless as always.
What a great reply. I especially liked this comment ~ "Your dizziness tolerance is admirable." I debate evolutionists on an online Christian Apologetics Ministry and that comment is soooo apropropriate. It can be mind blowing to see how contradictory their beliefs really are. I thank the Lord Jesus Christ for your ministry and pray that He will provide for your continuance. It has been such a blessing to me personally and I am sure to so many others. Grace and peace to you all in His precious and beautiful Name.
"Since many counterfeit moneys exist should we then say real money does not exist?"
technically it doesn't. depending on where you live your nation may use a fiat currency that is money with no inherent value that only has value that the consumers apply to it. or perhaps you live in a gold/silver/ect standard with a currency that only has value assuming the commodity backing it has value either either way the currency on it's own has no value.
further you present a false dichotomy. either absolute truth exists or there is no truth is the dichotomy you are trying to present even when you talk about science. the problem is science DOESN'T deal in truth it deals in the predictive utility of models. truth is a meaningless statement anyway. beyond establishing my own existence through my ability nothing can be established as true. the observable universe must be assumed to actually exist and not just be a simulation of some kind. with that said this is not a weakness of science it is a weakness of reality, you must make exactly the same assumption, whether you admit it or not.
IS: "Since many counterfeit moneys exist should we then say real money does not exist?"
IS: technically it doesn't. depending on where you live your nation may use a fiat currency that is money with no inherent value that only has value that the consumers apply to it.
Murk: You are confusing source of value with real. Real in the context I wrote signifies genuine. Furthermore the consumer does not apply value to fiat money. It is 'by decree' – in Canada this is communicated on every bill with the words 'this note is legal tender' The legally sanctioned government attributes the value (and they are also good at eroding it by inflating the currency base but that is another story)
My argument still stands – if there was no legal fiat money to copy there could be no counterfeit.
Similarly if there was no truth there could be no attempted twist of it.
IS: or perhaps you live in a gold/silver/ect standard with a currency that only has value assuming the commodity backing it has value either either way the currency on it's own has no value.
Murk: Fiat or backed by another item of value – A given State's money is legal tender and therefore genuine. eg. if you had a real US five dollar bill you could spend it on a real bottle of Coca Cola.
IS: further you present a false dichotomy. either absolute truth exists or there is no truth is the dichotomy you are trying to present even when you talk about science. the problem is science DOESN'T deal in truth it deals in the predictive utility of models.
MurK: Is it true that science deals in the predictive utility of models?
Dealing in the predictive utility of models requires the necessary underpinning – or absolute truth – of the uniformity of nature, validity of induction, reliability of the senses, universal/invariant/immaterial laws of logic, reality of external world, correspondence of noumenal and phenomenal realm, existence of perceptible events, and the truth that the future will be like the past (there are others as well)
IS: truth is a meaningless statement anyway.
Murk: So I shouldn’t take this statement as true? Why do you write or speak?
Was hoping to read some discussion of the book's "arguments."
This deals with the philosophical framework, which if it is faulty, which it clearly is, then any arguments based on them are also.
It would be a great step in Science if they could admit that they start with assumptions about things in the past that only exist in the present. They have an overly emotional Smithian Response instead of a logical Spockian response because they know the inspiration for the hypothesis comes from scripture. They insist their hypothesis comes from observation and nothing more. I have yet to see any observation of an explosion doing the type of things they believe the Big Bang did. Where was the inspiration for that unobservable belief.
Thank you CMI for all your hard work. A simple rebuttal for those philosophic men who deride Christians.
This was so incredibly good! :-)
Just another clear example of the naturalist or atheist standing firmly on supernatural theistic presuppositions in order to deny what God has manifest to him. All points offered by Dr. Shermer are glaringly contradictory.
#2 is very strange; almost claiming that first we must use science in order to be logical, when in fact we must already demand logic and uniformity in order to use science. Both science and logic are dependent on the promises and thinking of the Biblical God respectively. A great and logical rebuttal, by Mr. Post to a strangely inconsistent paragraph, but also a clear reminder that Dr. Shermen and others deeply need our prayers and the Gospel of Christ, as we all do. There but for the grace of God is the futility of all of our thinking!
Was there ever a reply from Shermer, or did the he simply transition into a fetal position in some corner and ignore the message sent to him?
Yes, he replied.
He quoted the quote from Jesus and added:
"Seriously? This is your rebuttal to my writings? I'm afraid we are too far apart to dialogue about science."
I wonder if he drives a "Dodge" :)
A rebuttal comes in these forms:
absolute truth does not exist. (so gravity is just made up? also you're saying god is either A. not true, making me wonder why you follow him or B. is true falsifying this statement)
absolute truth cannot be known (and I'm sure why light bends around the moon during a full solar eclipse is still a mystery, back to god, by this logic you can't know he exists same as I know he doesn't exist, and do you really want to agree with an atheist on something like that?)
there is no certainty (pretty certain you'll come up with a [expletive deleted] argument for my previous statement)
we cannot know anything for sure (Pretty sure I'm alive, and that argument you came up with was [expletive deleted])
[CMI: or: we should believe only claims that can be verified scientifically (can you verify this claim scientifically?)] <--- OOOO fancy arguing there, too bad it's not a very good argument. can you verify the claim "only noobs argue on the internet"? no? not surprised, cause it's a sentence written on the internet, not a thoroughly peer reviewed paper. should we believe claims that can only be verified scientifically? why not? show me a damn good reason not to and I'll stop believing them, but as far as I've read, none of you are coming up with good arguments.
John S: A rebuttal comes in these forms:
John S: absolute truth does not exist. (so gravity is just made up? also you're saying god is either A. not true, making me wonder why you follow him or B. is true falsifying this statement)
Murk: You need to read this in context…”a rebuttal comes in these forms:” (i.e., a rebuttal to exposing the contradictory nature of holding self as ultimate and attempting to make this view coherent via empirical means)
John S: absolute truth cannot be known (and I'm sure why light bends around the moon during a full solar eclipse is still a mystery, back to god, by this logic you can't know he exists same as I know he doesn't exist, and do you really want to agree with an atheist on something like that?)
Murk: Jumping into your worldview:
Is it possible that the God of the Bible (all powerful, all knowing, ultimate etc.) exists?
If not – by what standard do you know the limits of the nature of reality?
If so could He reveal things to us so we know them for sure?
How can you know anything for sure?
You are right I cannot know anything unless He reveals it – good news He has; read His book.
John S: or: there is no certainty (pretty certain you'll come up with a [expletive deleted] argument for my previous statement)
Murk: again context from the truth suppressor – I am certain that certainty exists and can certainly be known via revelation by God’s initiation.
John S: or:
we cannot know anything for sure (Pretty sure I'm alive, and that argument you came up with was [expletive deleted])
Murk: Expounding on why it is not true would be honest, I’ve revealed my hand – you scared?
Are you pretty sure? Not certain? Could you be in a brain vat having your perception of reality pumped into your brain?
John S: [CMI: or: we should believe only claims that can be verified scientifically (can you verify this claim scientifically?)] <--- OOOO fancy arguing there, too bad it's not a very good argument. can you verify the claim "only noobs argue on the internet"? no? not surprised, cause it's a sentence written on the internet, not a thoroughly peer reviewed paper. should we believe claims that can only be verified scientifically? why not?
Murk: You miss the point – science is valuable but it rests on something more ultimate.
Murk: As Dr. Shermer alluded to – science always tentative. This is so because no person has comprehensive knowledge and new information can come to light that may change theories. However the statement that science is always tentative is not subject to change due to new information – it is deductive. Science is supported by this metaphysical constraint. Now this speaks into the very nature of reality thus universal – no person can justify knowing this apart from accepting what we all know clearly because He revealed it to us clearly. So now we can only profess or suppress the ultimate starting point for knowledge. (Prov 1:7) People who do good science and deny giving credit to the one who makes it possible are standing on borrowed capital.
Murk: Science is also supported by the reality that the future will be like the past. Yet science cannot verify or demonstrate this necessary support. (David Hume tried and ended in utter skepticism because he refused to acknowledge the One who revealed Himself so that Mr. Hume knew it for sure. He thus was forced to hold as certain that certainty is impossible. No wonder so many philosophers go mad in their old age.
Murk: Science also rests on uniformity of nature – yet change is a property of the universe – steel rusts, people age, fires burn out, babies are born etc. So how can one account for uniformity in light of this? You cannot without the revelation of the determiner of reality – The God of the Bible – who has revealed Himself to you clearly. One way He did this is through a promise given to Noah; “As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest , cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” – Genesis 8
Murk: Also God does not change: James 1:17, Heb 3:8
John S: show me a damn good reason not to and I'll stop believing them, but as far as I've read, none of you are coming up with good arguments.
Murk: I have – believing any scientific claim requires one first;
1. have a comprehensive scheme of the universe (metaphysical commitments),
(as Shermer revealed his metaphysical commitment – to him it absolutely true that absolute truth does not exist and we know this empirically at the same time we don’t know this because empirical avenues to knowledge are tentative and at the same time empirical things are supported by absolute truths)
2. have a philosophy of how we know things (epistemological commitments)
(if the universe is all there is and it is constantly changing knowledge is impossible – hint this is a knowledge claim therefore self refuting)
3. hold to an ultimate standard of morality (ethical commitments)
(since you cannot test everything you must rely on the honesty of other data recorders, reporters, makers of the instruments used, accuracy of data recorders etc.)
Everyone has these (everyone does philosophy but not everyone does it well or can articulate it)
And these necessary supports cannot be empirically verified or be accounted for in any way apart from the One in whom “all things hold together” (Col 1:17) and without whom we “can do nothing” (John 15:5), more over we exist in Him – thereby the believer can account for continuing identity over time because the self existing One ensures it (Acts 17:28).
But your will is reluctant to accept the only possible source of truth, until you do you’ll keep flipping around gasping for an anchor point of what you already know – much like a fish out of water.
You also destroy any avenue to knowledge if you reject the One who limits possibility and has determined the end before it has arrived. For example your knee will bow before Jesus and any attempt to deny this is egotistical and naïve. It will also be dreadful when the day comes unless you repent. Repentance precedes knowledge – therefore to know this, God has to reveal it to us depraved people.
Just like sailors can only navigate by an external source (north star, earth’s magnetic field), God fashioned us in a way that we need Him to know anything. So how about it? Keep bobbing in a shoreless ocean or submit to the One “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3)?
brilliant analysis :-) I already have bumper-stickers reading "METAPHYSICAL NATURALISM IS SELF-REFUTING"
"QUESTION DARWINIAN EVOLUTION"
- if only I could carry this whole article on my bumper, I would!!
What do those atheists want? Infest others with their misery? They always fight if they would lose something. What thorn is it in their eyes that people know and believe in a Creator? Why are they scared? No Creator = no fear....!? But they are coming back....yea, the Creator masters you by troubling you, it's called RESTLESS.
Good response. Regarding point 1, Could we also add additional evolutionary beliefs including ‘Epicurean, Lamarckian, Traditional Darwinism, Neo-Darwinism, Punctuated Equilibrium, and Hopeful Monster’? Many well-educated evolutionists [some with PhD’s] still believe in Lamarckian evolution as interviewed on Dr Carl Werner’s documentary ‘Evolution: The Grand Experiment’. I wonder which one Shermer holds to & does he consider all the other’s to be wrong & why?
When I teach interested people about the basics of the Christian faith I keep to the faith and distinguish between it and the customary expressions of faith we call religion. This distinction helps people to understand the central importance of the person of Jesus and the peripheral importance of the traditions of men.
All of humanity is right to be deeply suspicious of religion as it is a man-made construct to express our faith/s. That is not to say religion is all bad. No, for the most part it helps us to develop in our faith by expressing it. The bad arises when we dogmatically act in religious intolerance. I am constantly struck by the strong parallels between the dogmatic, reality warping beliefs and behaviors of the orthodox christian inquisitors and the ultra-socialists of more recent history. I am even more concerned though that these ultra-religious behaviors are now being so commonly evidenced in the Athiestic faiths under the false heading and guise of science. Well done Murk for delivering a barrage of rational death-blows to this false version of science, at best called conjectural but at its base premise truly just another atheistic religious expression.
For some reason throughout the whole article my mind was thinking "BURN".
Enjoyed this relatively short article very much. One of the best if not the best smack-downs against atheism in general and the secular science of untruth. It's now no wonder evolutionists and atheists are now too scared to have intelligent live debates with creationists and believers. The evolutionists and atheists can't win. So now they resort to writing booklets and hide behind the lack of an immediate response. No matter. We have the likes of CMI to counter their false religions very effectively and in the true spirit of factual and honest science.