Saturday, November 6, 2010

Making Watches with Faith

I heard a story fairly recently about two sister missionaries.  They were driving out in the middle of nowhere when their car ran out of gas.  Not immediately knowing what to do, they consulted.  It occurred to one of them that they had some drinking water in bottles in the car.  Why don't they pray that the water be turned to gasoline, and pour it into the gas tank?  They fervently prayed, and emptied the bottles into the fuel port.  Full of faith, they entered the car and attempted to start it.  The water was pulled into the engine, where it caused ruinous damage.  The car, needless to say, did not run.

Everyone laughed at the silly sisters.  Then I said, to test them, "we all know that prayers for real things don't get answered.  Only imaginary things."  The group awkwardly ignored my statement, a little shocked at the suggestion.  But isn't this the case?  Pray for help on your test, and you suddenly remember something you had studied.   Pray for comfort on a hard day, and a friend comes calling.  See?  Prayer works!  But pray for something that probably would not  have happened anyway... you silly person!  That's absurd!
It is postulated that prayers are only answered when they are in accordance with the will of god.  But why would he make his will dependent on prayers of antlike mortals?
"Okay, this is what I want to do.  But I won't do it unless someone prays for it.  Okay... so now how do I do this?  Maybe prompt someone to pray for it?  *prompt prompt*  It worked!"
So god does things only after he gets someone to ask for it.  Doesn't he have better things to do?  That's the same as your friend who says "I had a crazy dream last night."  and looks up at you hopefully, and then further prompts "Man, it was such a crazy dream!" and again pauses.  You throw up your hands and say "I've been listening!  If you want to tell the dream just do it already!"

On an entirely unrelated note.  I despise the Watchmaker Argument.  It goes like this:
You walk up a tall, remote mountain and find a beautiful gold watch, still running, on the ground.
Do you assume that it formed there spontaneously?  No!  You just  know someone made it!
The [universe/humans/earth/etc] is the same way!  You can't tell me someone made it, it's too complex!

Okay, may I please point out how this is a ridiculous straw-man?  Put down with a little less sugary rhetoric:
1. Object X exists.
2. Object X is complex.
3. There exists at least one intelligent being who makes object X.
4. It is very unlikely that object X could exist spontaneously. (from 2)
5. Object X was most likely made by an intelligent being. (from 4,3)
6. An intelligent creator of object X most likely exists.  (from 1,5)

Lovely, isn't it.  But wait?  Looking at the steps of this proof, we notice that one of the assumptions (step 3) is exactly the same as the conclusion (step 6), which depends on step 3!
This is what we call FREAKING CIRCULAR!

I'll throw in an extra two bits for good measure. This argument implies that the existence of a watch spontaneously by chance is unlikely because of its complexity and perfection.  Same with us, right?  But wait, isn't god the most ultimately perfect and complex being in existence?  Hmm.  So while it is unlikely that the watch would exist spontaneously, it is less likely that a creator of watches spontaneously exists!  And it is further unlikely that someone who could design and build the creator would exist spontaneously, without being made.  So if you're going to appeal to probability, you'd better know that while yes, the spontaneous existence of intelligent life like ours is unlikely, you are not getting better odds by assuming a creator.


  1. That's a good analysis of the circularity of the argument. Pointing out that the watch (respectively, the world or humans) is being treated as a variable X is a key point. People who make this argument don't acknowledge how dependent it is on your prior knowledge of how watches are made.

    They also make the point that if we know that complex machines must be designed by humans, the something far more complex than any machine must need an intelligent designer even more. But that doesn't follow at all. If a human is an order of magnitude more complex than anything we know to be deliberately designed, then, for all we know, [intelligent, deliberate, conscious] design may not be capable of producing one.

  2. The other problem with the watchmaker argument is the moving of the goal posts.
    (1) Watch looks created. Why? By contrast to the stuff around it, like the tall, remote mountain (rocks, dirt, whatever).
    (2) If it was a created, it must have a creator.
    (3) The universe looks like it was created, therefore...
    (4) The universe must have had a creator.
    But in step (1), we decided the watch was created because it was _different_ than everything around it! But if everything around it was created, why would it look any different, created-stuff-wise?

    And besides, humans can create machines that are far more complex than they are, at least in terms of interacting parts.