Posted June 8, 2004
When I posted an article on Talk Reason, in July 2002, on the peculiar brand of old-style apologetics mixed with pseudo-science that is Harun Yahya, I did not expect the response I would get. A flurry of appeals was made, however, to all the sites I contributed to, in an attempt to get published a refutation of my article by Harun Yahya himself. This was rather surprising at the time but, given the level of hostility that Islamists manifest time after time towards my writings, I should not have been surprised.
I have not, however, answered to that reply until now. The necessity, or lack thereof, of this article is left to the reader's judgment. You can see for yourself, as Mr. Yahya's reply is available at http://www.harunyahya.com/mediawatch_response_tremblay.php, at least at the time of this writing.
Harun Yahya's reply is rather unsatisfactory. He reaffirms most of his positions with little consideration to the facts. When he does take consideration of the facts, he retreats into the fantasy non-explanation that "it must be a miracle" or "it is the way of God". This is hardly becoming of such a prominent theologian.
A good example of this approach is his very first point, where he addresses my remark that promoting God's wrath and peace at the same time is rather hypocritical. In reply, he posits that:
The concepts of Muslims treating other people well and these people being punished by God for the sins they have committed are very different. God has commanded Muslims to treat people well, because it is only our Lord, with His infinite justice, Who will judge them.
After telling us this, he also says he finds it incredible that I cannot grasp such a simple concept. How ironic: I find it incredible that Mr. Yahya dares to write such arguments. He insults the very notion of justice itself by treating it as the tool of a wrathful and impetuous god. As the maxim says, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If justice from our standpoint demands that we treat people well, then a god, to be just, must also do this towards his creations.
Of course, theologians often use words in "divine" meanings that they do not see fit to circumscribe or justify. Perhaps this is what Mr. Yahya is doing with "justice". If that is the case, he should simply admit that he does not believe that his god is infinitely just, but rather that his god's subjective appreciations are to be considered infinitely just by fiat. Granted, such rationalizations taste flat to the mind of a logical man, but the position that a god is justified to do anything by virtue of being Creator is highly illogical to begin with.
To believe that a genocidal, warmongering, authoritarian deity uses perfect justice requires a gross dulling of one's moral sense that is beyond my mundane atheistic mind. My close-minded, godless worldview squarely holds that wiping out entire cities when other solutions are obvious (as is the case for an omnipotent being) is a very great evil. And I think most reasonable people would not side with Mr. Yahya on this, even Islamic theologians.
In my original article, I pointed out that Mr. Yahya's use of scientific data to illustrate complexity is interesting, but does nothing to prove the existence of design. In fact, such data shows the majesty of natural law in bringing about these states of affairs. Unless one can prove that natural law is deficient in some way, one cannot presume that anything else, let alone an undefined deity, is involved in these states.
He begins by pointing out that there is no possible objection to the Argument from Design. This is patently false, since I have given one such objection, and a fundamental one at that: there is no need to invoke design given that we already can explain most states of affair with natural law. Insofar as natural law acting alone is the most parsimonious explanation, Mr. Yahya must provide us examples that prove design, not simply assume it.
He does, however, cursorily invoke both fine-tuning and the origins of life as such evidence. Apparently Mr. Yahya is ignorant that there is an entire scientific discipline -- abiogenesis -- that concerns itself with the study of the origins of life. Surely he does not need my help to read up on it? There have been no reasons found so far to reject natural law as the driving force of abiogenesis.
As for fine-tuning, well, that is simply an argument from ignorance. We may excuse Mr. Yahya, since it is such a widespread fallacy. But the state of cosmology so far simply does not permit us to say by what range natural law could have differed, if it could have at all. Assuming that natural law is finely tuned for life requires us to accept that this "tuning" is possible at all.
Even if we assume that it is possible, the argument from fine-tuning reduces itself to an argument from design, in that it attempts to prove design from natural facts. By doing so, it suffers from the same flaws: it is not sufficient to simply jump from complexity to design, one must demonstrate that natural law is insufficient. We have sufficient evidence, in Big Bang cosmology as well as more advanced theories such as the Hartle-Hawking wave function model of the universe, showing that this "fine-tuning" must be natural, and we have no evidence that natural law is insufficient.
In his examination of Qur'an embryology, Mr. Yahya falls back to a "God did it" position by saying that the embryology as described by the Qur'an only applied to God's miraculous creation of the first man. He is going to have to discuss this with his fellow Islamic theologians, who often use the verses in 23: 12-14 to "prove" that the Qur'an is scientifically accurate.
However, his attempt to evade the issue by invoking miracle is disingenuous, since, as I pointed out in my article, Mr. Yahya uses the verses in the exact same way and for the exact same reason -- to try to "prove" the Qur'an as applying to childbirth. After raving on and on about how science is impotent to explain the growth of the foetus, betraying an ignorance of high-school-level biology, he quotes the Qur'an verses and says:
This being so, it is clear that there is no difference between ourselves and that man in the story, who was "suddenly" created and become curious about who had created him and everything around him. Of course, he found himself as an adult and without any parents who gave birth to him and raised him. But now that we also know that our coming into existence can in no way be explained by parents, we can consider our situation similar to that of the man in the story.
While it is possible that he was only discussing here the similarity in psychological states, the physical association -- in that both are creatures of Allah, according to his extremist Creationist biology -- is obvious as well. I suppose Mr. Yahya can claims that Allah creates individuals in different ways, but I'd be interested in seeing his scriptural support for this. But whatever justification he can present us, it will not change the fact that 23 12-14 is nonsense.
Mr. Yahya also invokes the "spiritual effect" of the Qur'an, as well as the fact that it "contains many miracles". If a book has a spiritual effect on someone, or even many people, should we consider it divine? Surely not. Otherwise Mr. Yahya is forced as well to accept the Bible and the Torah, which both have "spiritual effect" and "contain many miracles". And of course any book can "contain miracles": such argument is circular and proves nothing except that a book claims miracles for itself.
Mr. Yahya answers to each of my points in turn, and I will continue doing so here.
1. Darwinism is based on chance.
He answers to my metaphysical objection against "chance" in this way:
There are indeed no coincidences in the universe, since everything is included in God's infinite knowledge and design. From human beings' point of view, however, there is a difference between planned actions and spontaneous ones, and that is what we call "chance."
Another retreat to miracles, another non-explanation. But his perspective on "chance" from a human viewpoint is even more mysterious. What do the motives of our actions have to do with "chance"? How does motive change the fact that there is a probability of approximately 0.5 for a coin to fall on one side or the other? Or more to the point, what can motive possibly have to do with Neo-Darwinism? Unless Mr. Yahya assumes that a god exists and gives evolution a teleological motive, which is circular reasoning, we must reject this distinction as fallacious.
Mr. Yahya also seems to concede that evolution is not based on chance, but rather its "critical mechanism", mutations. Why he designates this mechanism, as opposed to any other, as "critical", is not only arbitrary, but a misrepresentation of the debate on this subject in the field. Most biologists would not agree with him that the issue is settled -- some, like Richard Dawkins, say that natural selection is more important, while others, such as Stephen Jay Gould, say that the process of extinction is more important. Yet he makes it appear as if the issue is settled.
Finally, he concludes by pointing out that my listing of mutation types does not prove that mutations are not chance :
In the above list, Tremblay categorizes mutations according to their effects. Yet this arrangement does not change the fact that mutations are random. People could categorize traffic accidents according to their effects, but that would not show that these accidents are not "coincidental."
But my point, as I stated clearly in my answer, was that we are quite aware of the genetic processes that regulate mutations and their effects. We can explain when and how these mutations occur, and we can associate the location of a mutation with its effects. We can explain the kinds of mutations that take place. This show sthat mutations are not "chance", but rather are a cause and effect of natural law. Mr. Yahya's argument, once again, seems to rely on fundamental ignorance.
2, 10, 11. Punctuated Equilibrium, Special Creationism, Cambrian Explosion.
In my article, I pointed out that Mr. Yahya contradicts himself when he states both that Allah created each species individually, and created them all at the Cambrian Explosion. In this reply, he now contradicts himself even further by acknowledging that some species did exist before the Explosion:
It is believed that before the Cambrian Explosion there were two or at most three phyla on earth.
So which one is it? Did God create all species at once, or did he decide to create some and then the rest, and where is this in the Qur'an?
In support for his assertion of a "fossil fiasco", he can only produce one quote from Robert Carroll, which tells us that Darwin expected more transitional forms than we have today. What does Darwin's expectations have to do with Mr. Yahya's supposed "fossil fiasco"? The fossil record is detailed enough to permit us to draw the inevitable conclusion that the changes in phenotype (and therefore genotype) tend towards greater adaptation.
In answer to the simple explanation about the Cambrian Explosion, he quotes one Jeffrey S. Levinton (whose name he misspells as "Levington") saying that this event seems to require a profound explanation. Why Mr. Levinton's personal opinion should be considered meaningful is not explained. In fact, this paleontologist has co-authored a study that shows that the Cambrian Explosion is not as impressive as it seems at first glance (see "Molecular Evidence for Deep Precambrian Divergences Among Metazoan Phyla", Gregory A. Wray, Jeffrey S. Levinton, Leo H. Shapiro). Why Mr. Yahya thought that invoking Levinton would help his case is a mystery.
3. Order = Creation.
Mr. Yahya claims that I am using evolutionist presuppositions when I state that there is no design in living things. He fails to grasp the fundamental issue once again. As I explained:
Since evolution explains the adaptation of organisms sufficiently, there is no need to invoke design. Also, it is not obvious that animals have "goals", except if we again assume Creationism -- a goal implies a goal-giver. Order and design are in fact both staples of natural law, not design.
The proposition that there is no design is not a presupposition. It is based on scientific fact. The Creationist position is not based on any such fact.
Mr. Yahya also did not answer the lack of specificity of his argument, as I pointed out in my article.
4. Religion and science.
Mr. Yahya has no answer to this point, preferring to claim that he uses science to prove his arguments -- when in truth all he does is use disparate facts and calculations to jump to assertions of design with no evidence whatsoever to do so -- and that I should abandon the idea that science is the same thing as materialism. Yet I never stated that science was materialism, I stated that science was based on materialism.
5. Instincts are divine in nature.
To support his assertion that instincts have a divine creator and sustainer, Mr. Yahya proposes two arguments. His first argument is to circularly assume design and conclude that animals do not have the intelligence necessary for such design:
[Talking about camouflage behaviour] ...the animal has no intelligence with which to design such behavior...
Of course the animal has no intelligence with which to design such behaviour. It is an instinct, and thus a product of selection instead of a product of intelligence. The only way that Mr. Yahya could even begin to prove his objection would be by pointing out instincts with no evolutionary advantage. Camouflage behaviour has obvious evolutionary advantage, and therefore there is no question at all that such instincts evolved.
His second objection is that the building of genetic information has never been observed. This is false. Both the fossil record and laboratory experiments are sufficient evidence of this process.
6. No beneficial mutations exist.
I gave an example of beneficial mutation that I personally possess, Sickle-Cell Anemia (SCA), as a counter-example to Mr. Yahya's absurd universal claim. He gives various side-effects as proof that SCA is not a beneficial mutation, yet he fails to demonstrate that this makes SCA non-beneficial, given its aid in preventing malaria.
Since Mr. Yahya fails miserably at this simple task, bringing up the numerous beneficial mutations in micro-organisms, which he should have read about if he had any real interest in evolution at all, would be unsporting.
7. No vestigial organs.
I pointed out that in evolution, a vestigial organ is an organ whose function is reduced compared to its previous uses in evolutionary ancestors. In answer, he quotes Darwin. How does that answer the point? What Darwin thought has no relevance to Neo-Darwinism today, except as historical basis.
8, 9. Proteins, cells, DNA could not arise by chance.
Evolution does not state that proteins, cells or DNA arose by change, since it works by small successive changes. Rather, the real issue is what entities come prior to proteins, cells and DNA. His answer consists of this:
The fact that Tremblay prefers not to understand is "irreducible complexity." The formation of only 10%, 25% or 50% of the protein Cytochrome-C will serve no purpose. In the same way, there can be no question of life in the absence of genetic information, the DNA sequence to encode that information and the enzymes to decipher that code.
I fail to grasp what this is supposed to prove. Obviously 50% of the protein Cytochrome-C fulfills half of the evolutionary advantage than Cytochrome-C provides, and therefore does "serve a purpose". As for his point about DNA, I repeat that no theory of evolution proposes that DNA sprang from chance. That is simply not evolution at all, and Mr. Yahya is therefore mounting a straw man in his answers.
Mr. Yahya ends his article with some bold claims:
Tremblay rejects the connection made by Harun Yahya between lack of faith and immorality, but this is a mistaken and superficial objection. Moral degeneration begins with people wishing to satisfy their passions in an unrestricted manner. The divine religions teach us to rein in those passions. In a society which is not shaped by these religions it is quite probable that selfishness will become the norm, bringing with it degeneration of morality.
He did not, however, address the point that belief in the afterlife and salvation are fatal to the "religion is moral" position, as well as answer my other moral arguments.
He also fails to do anything here except assert that religion teaches us to rein in passions. The empirical data simply does not support it -- Christians, for example, have been proven to indulge in criminality, divorce, drugs, illicit sex, cheating, overeating, and other such "passions". But we also observe that religious moral rules, due to their amoral, inhuman and contradictory nature, are followed or not according to social trends, thus failing to rein in people's "passions".
For a full account of the subjectivity of Christian morality, which is beyond the subject of this article, see my opening case against Jason Gastrich at http://www.objectivethought.com/debates/gastrich1a.html. These arguments apply to Islamic morality as well.
Finally, Mr. Yahya posits that Social Darwinism is indeed alive and well, in the form of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology today. Yet these topics do not propose a "necessary relation between the behavior of lower animals and ours", or as he says, "account for human behavior in terms of animals' behavior", which was my objection in the first place. Sociobiology and evolutionary psychology are purely descriptive studies, while Social Darwinism is inherently prescriptive.
Insofar as Mr. Yahya has replied to my objections, he has proposed that miracles explain away inconsistencies. But "God did it" is a non-explanation. It does not help us discover new facts, but rather stops the discovery of facts by pushing all causality on a transcendent, unknowable being. Furthermore, positing miracles is unwarranted unless one can reject the power of natural law in some way, something which Mr. Yahya has been unable to do in all his work.
Unless he can give a rational basis for his belief in divine creation and divine design, based on a scientific criteria of design, we cannot take his arguments seriously. The power of natural law stands untouched, indeed rather enhanced, by Mr. Yahya's arguments.