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Retreats to Miracles
By Francois Tremblay
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.
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
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:
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
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.
Argument from Design
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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."
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.
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
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
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 =
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
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.
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
4. Religion and
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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:
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
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
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.
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.