Friday, January 30, 2015

Ratio Christi and Militant Christian Apologetics: Does God Exist? (Disc 1)

(That title will make sense as you read on.)


Surprise! Fortunately for me, I was excused from my second class so I would be allowed to attend the meeting held by Ratio Christi. I left my class at 6:50 PM so I'd have a safe 10 minutes to get to the meeting at 7:00 PM. I went to the room on the card, carelessly read the sign that said "... panel after video" outside of the room, went inside, and sat down.

It was a documentary, already halfway through, about some girl who had gone missing and was suspected to be involved in prostitution and human trafficking. It was a private case, attempting to locate her. It was upsetting to me, but I kept watching, knowing that there would be a panel at the end. I noted that there were only a few people in there, and thus it was a bit of a disappointment, but I continued on, confident and ready. Someone got up and left while I sat there, and so I caught a glimpse of a sign across the hall. "Christ-" was the only thing I could read.


I left the room with my stuff to look at the sign. "Ratio Christi meeting relocated to B001" it read, or something to that effect. I looked at the time. 7:05. Crap, I'm late, and I was too stupid to look around for confirmation that this was the place!
Joker indeed.

So I rushed out of the room, headed to B-wing, found the room and walked inside. I was met with two smiling faces and cheerful "hellos!" by two guys at the front of the room, as well as four other people sitting in the front row of the classroom. Let's call the two guys "Thing 1" and "Thing 2," since I can't recall their names for the life of me, and because I'm unnecessarily a dick. They introduce themselves, I tell them my name, and I sit there awaiting the meeting to begin. It turned out that they weren't even aware of the room change until that day, which sucked for them, but hey, what can you do? I don't want to demarcate when during this meeting more people came in, but by the time I left, there were 11 people, including myself. "Not exactly taking over the mind of this 'university,'" I thought to myself with a smirk. They had even been there for several semesters, as I learned from overhearing conversations between some of the other members. I was the only new attendee.

Finally the meeting started, and I began to feel a bit concerned. On the projector screen was a PowerPoint on "History of Islam and the West." Oh boy, I thought to myself. Not only will I have nothing to write about, but I'll also be subjected to a Christianocentric interpretation of the historical events surrounding Islamic scripture. Thankfully, this wasn't the entirety of the meeting, and it also wasn't that bad. The only thing that was bad about it was the lack of knowledge many people in the room had of Islam (not even knowing who they think Mohammad is), and the one comment made by Thing 2 where he tried to excuse the Crusades by explaining how Mohammad's wars were much worse by comparison. Ugh.

So after reviewing the material they learned in the prior meeting and going over the last bit of information for the day, they moved onto the good stuff. They played Disc 1 of "Does God Exist?" by TrueU, which is a disc set dedicated to establishing a scientific basis for Christian faith. In my last post covering these guys, I explained why this is a failure to begin with. If you haven't read that post yet, I'd recommend doing so now. It's not as substantive as this post will be, but it's still important.

They had already watched the first four sections of the disc: Faith & Reason, and Big Bang Cosmology parts 1-3. The first section was an introduction, and the second through forth sections were covering the scientific merits (or presumably, lack thereof) of the Big Bang Theory. The fifth section, however, was perfect for me: DNA by Design Part 1. The reason this was perfect for me is because only a few months ago, I was convinced by the very arguments that were made in the video, and began seriously reconsidering the idea of intelligent design (ID). I later learned that it's all a bunch of rhetorical nonsense, and I was a fucking dip for listening to any of it. Now, I will share with you all what those arguments were. I was hoping I could find a copy of the video so I could record a response to it for YouTube, but alas, I'd have to pay for it, and I'm poor. A text refutation will have to suffice, for now, based on the notes I took.

The Video

Look at his tiny ass head! God damn!
So the video starts off by introducing Dr. Stephen Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell, which is a book covering the same topic. Dr. Meyer is an intelligent design advocate and helped establish the Discovery Institute. He has a B.S. in physics and earth science (and, presumably, BS), and a PhD in history and philosophy of science. He is in no way, shape or form a credible source of information for genetics and evolutionary biology. However, an argument is to be judged based on its merits, not on who the person arguing is, no matter how disproportionate their head is to their torso. Let's examine those arguments, then.

He starts off by talking about proteins and DNA, noting that they require a specific order (which he later denotes as sequence specificity), and that they contain "information" (which he notes is the key word in this video). I put "information" in quotes for a specific reason myself, and that is that "information" is never defined once in this video. While this may seem tedious to someone not familiar with information theory, it's actually very important, because we can't conflate multiple types of information that have well-established definitions (such as Shannon or algorithmic information) together, as well as with the common interpretation of the word. It's a rhetorical device that these guys commonly use, and in fact will go out of their way to avoid defining what "information" is most of the time because of what it would mean for their arguments. Thankfully I don't need to go into a refutation of that bullshit here because it was rarely applicable.

Moving on from this, Dr. Meyer kind of beats around the bush with an exhaustive introduction into genetics, talking about how "a garden needs a gardener," etc. I won't waste my time reviewing those parts of the video, but instead I'll get to the meat of his fatuous argument. He goes on about proof of the origins of life, or that "soup of amino acids" that formed the first proteins. This is referring to abiogenesis which, I should state right now, is not something that has been rigorously proven yet. I'll talk about that after I'm done reviewing the video.

Meyer refers to the Miller-Urey experiment which allegedly showed that the environmental conditions necessary in early earth for the origins of life were possible. Basically, they passed an electrical discharge through a synthetically arranged atmosphere made up of methane, ammonia, hydrogen and water. After doing so, what came out was a pool of amino acids with some other biomolecules. In essence, they showed that the alleged soup that life came crawling out of could have been created from the atmosphere of gasses that were assumed to be present on early earth. The problem is, as Dr. Meyer noted to one student, that since that experiment, we are now aware that the earth had a different atmosphere than what was used in the experiment, and thus the amino acid pool wouldn't have come about in the way the experiment displayed. Still, the experiment serves some use: it shows that, under some conditions, the basic building blocks of life can form spontaneously without intervention from an intelligent designer. This, in itself, invalidates any need to defer to ID for the answer to the origins of life.

Wrong gasses, same point. Checkmate, atheists! Wait...

He continues on by talking about the creation of proteins, and how in order to make sense, the arrangements of amino acids need to line up in a specific way. He then draws an analogy to language, and how letters of the alphabet have to be arranged in specific ways to be useful. If you need more information on this, look up "Complex Specified Information" (CSI). It's more bullshit from the Discovery Institute.

Anyway, so he hammers in this point, highlighting that the most important feature of proteins are the sequences, how DNA directs them (drawing an analogy to code and Boeing machines which are coded to create other machines, etc.). The problem with this is that he's using an analogy that, functionally, isn't valid. DNA is only a language or a code insofar as to how we interpret it. TCAG does not naturally occur, represented the way it is here, in the genetic "code." Instead, there are valid sequences which can function properly, and we simply choose to represent the four amino acids that form this sequence by the letters TCAG. We could do the same thing for chemical reactions (and we do). We could also do the same thing for something like tornadoes: there has to be a very specific arrangement of environmental factors which can lead to the creation of a tornado. They can't just spontaneously appear out of nowhere from random environmental factors. Instead, it has to be specified. Unfortunately for Dr. Meyer, this doesn't mean that tornadoes are intelligently designed; and if they were, that'd only make God more of a douchebag.

The only reason the "coding" analogy works is because the information that comes from DNA is preceded by DNA itself, as opposed to the other way around. That doesn't mean it's actually a code or a language though, because that language still needs to be represented and interpreted by another language - our language - in order for it to be valid as such. In much the same way, the environmental factors which create a tornado can be seen as "code" which produces the "information" which leads to the creation of a tornado. We must then interpret that information from that code in order for that interaction to make sense.

TL;DR: On its own, DNA is not a real "code" in the sense that it is not a valid language with linguistic properties. The same goes for chemical interactions, weather events, and shit like whether or not the Goo Goo Dolls will come to play at your college's spring concert (which, for my college, they did, yay!). These things must all be interpreted by us, humans, for that analogy to make sense. It has no inherent linguistic properties in the way English does. It's a fucking analogy guys. Give it a rest.

One thing that was noted at the end of the video for the next part of this topic was whether or not "undirected" processes, such as what Darwin suggested, can explain all of this. This was something I wanted to mention during the meeting, but by the time I decided to give my input, that part of the conversation was long gone. At the beginning of the video, Dr. Meyer claims that life came about via the undirected process of natural selection. The problem with this is that this component of evolution, natural selection, is the only component that actually is directed! The very premise of the question he's answering is flawed because it's so glaringly wrong that you'd think he never took a course on evolutionary theory, or even made the slightest attempt to understand it.

After the Video

So concludes the video, and so concludes my sanity. Afterwards, there were several talking points raised by Thing 1 and Thing 2 in opposition to scientists in general, and evolutionary theory. I'll paraphrase them here, just to give you the gist:

Scientists just arbitrarily define new species. They get research money to find a new species; therefore, they're going to find a new species and get that money.

Nope. This is affirming the consequent. Just because it is in someone's financial interest to do something, that does not mean they would do it. Scientists by and large do what they do to expand on the scientific body of knowledge. A lot of people in the room didn't even know how species are defined, and so I had to step in to clarify, even though I promised myself I wouldn't try to correct them and instead let them defend their own cases. Thing 2 talked about how stupid it is that we have so many species of bees just because of simple differences like wing length. This isn't all that goes into the definition of species. What also goes into it: how often the two populations interact, what their ecology is (diet, behavior, etc.), their morphology, their potential to interbreed, etc. It's not just a simple difference in a single phenotypic trait that decides whether or not a species is a species.

In fact, it's not easy to define a species at all, hence the species problem. The fact that they were so blissfully unaware of this scientific dilemma explains why they'd think it'd be so easy for a scientist to get grant money to find a new species. It was funny really, but I felt bad too, since there were a lot of people in that room I could tell were only coming there because they felt at home. I hate to burst their bubble. I'll talk about one person in particular in a minute.

Scientists say "we don't know the answers to the mysteries of the origins of life, but we have faith that one day we'll find it," therefore we don't believe in ID, creationism, etc.

The first part of this statement is absolutely noncontroversial, except the part about "having faith." Instead, scientists admit to not knowing the answer, and accept that. They don't assert any solid answers that they don't have, and they find this perfectly acceptable; therefore, just because we don't have the answer to how the origins of life came to be doesn't mean we have to accept ID. That's a god of the gaps argument.

Another one that I just want to briefly mention is hand wringing over what the definition of a scientific "theory" is. I never suspected I'd ever encounter this level of stupid in real life; however, the girl who was pounding her chest about it rather scared me, so I decided it'd be best to not try to challenge her again.

The argument over which came first, the first protein or the first protein to create that protein, is like the "which came first, the chicken or the egg" debate.

This nearly made me pee myself. It's such a bad argument, especially because I can come up with an answer to both on the spot if asked. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Neither. We understand the chicken and the chicken's egg by a modern snapshot of what it means to be a chicken. Becoming a chicken was a much longer, more gradual process, and at no point could you say that the egg was a chicken egg, or the organism that came out of it was a chicken. Only now can we make that determination. It's a fundamental principle of evolution.

On a more advanced note, though, this is the correct answer; however it depends on how you define the egg.

So which came first, the protein or the protein that made that protein? Ignoring how bad this question is to begin with, the answer would be neither. Instead, the first protein would've arisen out of a spontaneous chemical reaction, such as what could've been the case from the Miller-Urey experiment.

What was even more hilarious about this one was that the scary girl that was crying for war over the other bullshit continued on for this one. She was asked, "if you were a scientist, which would you say came first, the chicken or the egg?" Her answer? "If I were a scientist, I'd say neither, instead they both came from a unicellular organism."

No, no, no! You were half right, and then you skipped millions of years of gradual change which covers the very concepts of micro-evolution! The very concepts that you supposedly agree with! Agh! It's so embarrassing.

It's astronomically improbable for the proper sequences of amino acids to form functioning proteins.

To anyone with statistical knowledge, this is just rhetorical nonsense, again. An example a friend of mine (as well as Lex) brought up recently was a deck of cards, and this is something you can do in front of you right now. Get a deck of cards and shuffle it well, for about two minutes. Make sure the cards are randomized to the best of your ability. Now, lay out the cards in order and make note of the order (you don't need to remember it, just acknowledge that there is, indeed, an order to them).

The probability of you having gotten that precise order is 1 in 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,403,766,975,289,505,440,883,277,824,000,000,000,000. If you want to impress your friends with your counting abilities, that's ~80.7 unvigintillion. To illustrate it for them, explain that 1 billion has 3 sets of zeroes (one set equals 3 zeroes), while 1 unvigintillion has 22 sets. If you thought your chances of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning were unlikely, check this shit out.

The thing is, this isn't at all surprising to anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of statistics, as I said. The difference is between ex ante and ex post probabilities. Prior to having shuffled the cards, the ex ante probability of you getting that exact order is represented above. After shuffling, the probability of you having gotten that exact order of cards is 100%, or 1 in 1. The point being, no matter how unlikely something seems, it can happen. Unlikely things happen all the time.


I honestly don't think I'm missing anything, but if something else returns to my memory, I'll add it here. Towards the end of the meeting, a quiet girl attempted to display her findings from her research that she was so happy to have found, but kept getting talked over, even as she was writing it on the board. In the end, she never actually got to talk about it out loud. I felt so bad for her, because she seemed really sweet, and in a way reminded me of someone else who's important to me. After the meeting was adjourned, Thing 2 came up to me over a comment he made during my spiel about the species problem about me sounding like a guy on the radio. We talked, found out that we went to elementary school not too far from each other, and had a grand old time. He asked me if I wanted to join them for Bible study, and said he assumed I was Catholic.

Right here is where I had to make a choice. I decided earlier that if I went to the meeting and someone asked me what my beliefs were, I would refuse to answer and state only that I was an objective observer. I didn't know whether or not I'd be judged for my beliefs, and I honestly didn't want to be. However, by the end of this meeting, I was feeling comfortable enough to say something, especially considering two things:

1: It'd be a good social experiment.
2: This was the first, last, and only meeting I'd ever be able to go to, honestly.

So I went ahead and told him no, I'm an atheist.

Atheism - my inner demon, apparently.
Immediately, his expression, voice, essence - everything just fell. He became less talkative, things got more awkward, and at every possibility, he tried getting someone's attention to point me out and bring up that I'm an atheist. The only thing that delayed him from telling nearly everyone was that I had told him I skipped out on most of my second class that day just to come to the meeting. He told that to Thing 1, to which Thing 1 replied, "you're a guy that I can deal with." I'm under the assumption that he now regrets those words.

The shy girl came up to me and asked me about a comment I made earlier on, with very interested eyes, about how I went to CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, basically a weekly elementary school education based on Christian doctrine and teachings). I told her yes, to which Thing 2 interrupted and said I'm not Catholic. The thing about that was that I wasn't even mad he was still making a big deal out of that. I was pissed that he interrupted the girl I was talking to, like everyone hadn't been doing that enough all night.

Anyway, so I had to clarify that I was an atheist again, to which the girl replied "Oh... aw..." She then proceeded to recommend a book to me, which I promptly wrote down and fully intend on reading, even though it was basically a post-confessional attempt to convert me.

Before Thing 2 could tell more people, other students from the meeting came up to me overhearing how I wouldn't be able to attend future meetings, saying I could still come a little around after 8 and still catch the videos, and then go to Bible study with them after. I told them I'd consider it, but really, it's so late that I just want to go home and get dinner by that point. Aside from that, I don't feel comfortable with them anymore.

I didn't think I'd care that much, but walking home from the meeting with my girlfriend (who, forgive her soul, waited for me for over half an hour), it started to sink in. It wasn't overt discrimination, but it was a very clear change of heart that I experienced from people who were otherwise friendly and seemed genuinely interested in having me around in the future. Whether it was intentional or not, they really were affected by my lack of faith, and that hurt. Especially that shy girl - the one who was so opposed to trying to assert herself and speak up when people interrupted her, made it very clear that she was disappointed by the fact that I didn't share the same beliefs as her. It seemed awkward, and instead of trying to talk to me, it seemed clear that she was trying to leave as fast as possible after that, even as I was trying to get the names of the authors for the book she recommended. It was disheartening.

So concludes my experience with Ratio Christi, at least for now. If I happen to get my hands on those videos or accidentally come across more of their literature, I'll respond to it here. I have a few final messages, though, to conclude this post.

To the people who were at that meeting, thank you for being so hospitable. It's unfortunate that the majority (or perhaps the totality) of you are ill informed and not prepared to defend your faith. I wish you would expose yourselves to better sources of information than the speaker and his resources. It was a shame to hear you all speaking so poorly of the scientific community at large.

To the individuals I specifically mentioned, thank you for taking the time to get to know me, but your treatment of me after discovering that I wasn't amongst your ranks was pretty detestable, whether it was conscious or not. It's no way to make a dissenter feel welcome. "Atheist" shouldn't be a boogeyman to you people.

Add caption
To Ratio Christi in general, it seems my prejudgments of you were correct. You failed to provide any convincing argument on behalf of your faith, and displayed how impossible it will be for you all to "take the mind of the university for Christ," because you couldn't take mine, and for anyone who is even mildly informed in the subjects you discussed, you won't convince them either. You're going to have a very difficult time convincing anyone, really, who doesn't already share your views, of your scientific knowledge and backing. Especially in college, where students have access to resources and materials, whether they be books or professors, to help answer the questions they have, the quality of your arguments and claims isn't good enough to win the majority of the informed public.

And to everyone else, thank you for reading, and I'll see you next time!


  1. I'm glad to see you're expanding your horizons, Nick. You need to get your intellect out there.

    I'm sorry, however, that you first experience only reaffirmed what your expectations might have been... It's sad indeed, and I don't blame you for feeling hurt.

    Amazing post. I'll look back on this in the future.

    1. Thanks for the support Lex. Yeah it sucked to have to tell the ending of this story the way I did, but there's nothing I can do. This was less about me, more about their arguments, to begin with. It doesn't matter much what they thought of me.


WARNING: Please read the Comment Guidelines page before posting!

Sometimes comments won't go through properly, so if you write a lot and are concerned about losing your work, please save your comment in a separate text document before posting. Keep it saved until you're sure your comment has been received/published.