Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Air Argument

A gentleman by the name of Karl gave me another theological puzzle and asked for my response.  I love to do this kind of stuff, so I gladly obliged.  Here is it!

"A debate over biblical creation is a lot like a debate over the existence of air. Can you imagine two people debating whether or not air exists? What would the critic of air say?

Whatever his arguments, he would have to use air in order to make them. Not only is air crucial to the survival of the critic, but air would have to exist in order for his arguments to be heard and understood . . . . In order for the critic of air to be able to make an argument, it would have to be wrong.

Likewise, the evolutionist must use biblical creation principles in order to argue against biblical creation. In order for his argument to make sense, it would have to be wrong. Ironically, the fact that evolutionists are able to argue against creation proves that creation is true!"

Karl, thanks for another fun puzzle!  I read and thought about this just this evening as I was making my way to the Student Organization Leadership Meeting for club funding. 

Obviously I whole heartedly disagree with the premise, heh.  And actually, yes, I can imagine two people debating about the existence of air.  Are we really required to use air to debate about air?  No.  First of all, why is air considered to be used to be heard?  Speech doesn’t magically appear from our person for others to hear, so there must be something more specific happening.  Our vocal cords vibrate, and those vibrations generate sound waves that are carried up our throats, over our tongues, past our lips and out of our mouths.  The vibrations, in sequence throughout that entire process, form the specific sound waves that are associated with different kinds of sounds (augmented by our vocal cords, throat, tongue posture, and lip position) our ears are able to detect.  These particular waves require a specific kind of conductive medium in order to propagate outwards from the focal point of our mouths.
Now, when it comes to “air” in this case, it is the gaseous form of oxygen, which implies a certain temperature and pressure range, and may or may not include trace elements.  Sure, an environment permeated in gaseous oxygen of this kind is well suited for propagating the sound waves that we as land mammals use to communicate.  But what if this environment was rich in other gaseous elements, like helium, for instance, or nitrogen?  Those would influence our speech patterns, as easily demonstrated with inhaling a balloon full of helium and then attempting to speak.  We are organisms that have evolved to deal with the specific environment that we have.  If we had a planet with an atmosphere a little bit richer in other elements, like nitrogen, our “blue” planet would be a different color altogether.  This, however, is only partially related to the point.

Do all carbon based oxygen dependant creatures on this planet communicate by using vibrations carried through a gaseous form of oxygen rich “air”?  No.  Without getting too crazy on all the amazing living things on this planet, let’s talk about dolphins.  Or rather, fish in general even.  They have nothing to do with “air”, yet they too depend on the element we have named oxygen for life; siphoned from the liquid state of "water" which is really oxygen bonded with two hydrogen atoms, it is processed and then treated much like our bodies treat oxygen.  Dolphins do, in fact, make vocalizations as well.  However, there is no “air” to propagate those vibration waves.  So what is going on here?  Creatures who are, for all intents and purposes, the same kind of living creature using the same kind of vocal communication systems as we do… but through a completely different environment.  Interesting to consider!  (Yes, this is bending the frame of the context in the initial argument, sure, but it is required to make a point and expand certain thoughts)

Alright, so we have established that vocal communication doesn’t require “air” to carry vibrations, but it does require oxygen molecules.  Or does it?  Yes, oxygen is required by our bodies at a constant rate in order to spread that particular element through the rest of our body which is then consumed as one kind of fuel.  As a side note, this "air" is partially toxic to us... which is why we exhale the waste product our body produces while consuming the gases from our environment that we need (just as are bodies remove waste from all three types of fuel consumption from this particular environment: liquid, solid, gas).  But it is not required to carry sound for communication.  How so?  Sound travels in "air" and water, sure, but will not travel in outer space as space clearly lacks "air" or water.  Well sure… but sound isn’t speech, it is vibration.  Vibrations come in a large variety of forms… like earthquakes, explosions, glass shattering, wind, and anything on this planet that has a possibility of generating vibrations.  The fact that we use “air” to communicate our particular kind of vibrations created by our bodies is mere happenstance.  Vibrations can be transmitted through various solids, liquids, and gases, and have several degree programs at universities across the world devoted to expanding on vibration waves and their quirks.

This, however, is still assuming that the author meant to include only vocal communication.  What if the two people arguing about “air” were deaf?  They certainly wouldn’t be using vocal communication; they would be using hand signs.  Yes, they still need “air” to breath and keep functioning for longer than thirty seconds or so before their brain sends the system into a shutdown mode (blackout) and leaving it on automatic, at which point it will draw in anything near the lung access points in a last ditch attempt to keep itself alive.  Human to human communication methods have improved in complexity and variety over the years, too.  We do not even need to be in the same room in order to communicate with each other.  We can use photons, light signals you might see on boats during a storm flickering on and off in a predetermined series (no, that doesn’t require vocalization either-they could sign that all out as well hehe).  We can use electricity in a number of ways now too: music CDs, computers, any digital medium, etc.  And there are more examples, but I'll stop there.

All of that is the glorious cake of details regarding this “air” thing, so now… for the icing.  When the author talks about “air” in the context of being the foundation of communication for humans and a life giver, the thing that he or she neglects to realize is this; it isn’t “air”, and it isn’t even this particular gaseous form that we need, it is atomic element number 8, weighing in with an atomic weight of 15.9994.  I say that a gaseous form of breathing isn’t even required because we have developed liquid breathing ventilation systems for deep sea diving.  Bringing this all in to the final point that aligns with all the other points on Creationism vs anything else: every time the theist tries to frame the argument in their favor, they fail to consider the foundation upon which they are resting that argument.

This argument can be taken much further than a simple deconstruction of the proposed argument and premise itself, too.  When the author mentions “biblical creation”, they are invoking a specific set of beliefs from a very specific interpretation: literalistic Christian bible verses found in Genesis.  Asserting that this one particular flavor of human religion is the one and only answer for the formation of the universe, and everything it contains, is fallacious at best.  This is the problem I have with Creationists asserting their religion.  I've even heard Christian apologists like Greg Bahnsen* in an old debate actually say that he calls all other religions "internally incoherent" and not "philosophically defensible", and I have since heard most Christians simply automatically assume their religion is the only one worth talking about and it is to be assumed to exist as a foundation of and where all arguments could possibly arise.  This is why a lot of debate with Christians fails to even begin well, because as non-Christians, we require a neutral field that is by definition at odds with any religious viewpoint.

So, rounding this all up into a point.  Here is the "moral" of my entire position:
Theistic apologists will almost always initiate their points from a specific location and assume that position is the irrefutable foundation for their premise.  In reality, just like the argument with "air", this fake foundation is mired in a lack of understanding and over generalizations that cripple its intellectual stability, thereby offering innumerable weaknesses any astute observer can use to cripple it.

Anyone arguing the point that "evolutionists" or "darwinians" (as laughably childish and telling for how ignorant a title they are) require a specific sect of a religion's creation story in order to even begin to talk about the question of origins will simply be met with amused pity, rolling eyes, and gentle pats on the head.  Why is this?  It is because we know that the theists view the world through the perception that it all started with their religion.  We, however, know that their religion consisted of just a few people in the distant past which eventually grew into a cultural tradition which has drawn upon older cultural traditions that made the exact same boasts of being the "true" beginning.  Just as the Mormon and Scientologist cults have grown into "religions", they, just as every single religion in human history, began with an individual, all of them influenced by the cultures and religions that preceded them.

This isn't about saying "nuh uh" to a theist's assertions that their religion is the core foundation to everything, its about realizing that every single one of the religious sects in the world, through all the monotheistic and polytheistic, currently practiced or not, all make the very same claims.  We, as non-theists, are forced to treat all of the tens of thousands of assertions of the "one true version of origins" as equals especially when they have nothing but their assertions to validate themselves: a good story.

I could go on, but I think thats good heh.  I hope this continues to help frame my perception of religious arguments, Karl!  Thanks again!

*side note... wow!  I hadn't thought about Bahnsen's embarrassing debate performance for over five years, but was very glad I could find it for use here!  Yes, I stopped listening to the guy after identifying a great number of fallacious arguments. 
You can listen to it here:

No comments:

Post a Comment