The Argument from Personal Incredulity

[I came back from India yesterday and I was astonished to find that my relatives have suddenly become proponents of Intelligent Design(ID). I have not finished reading a book my uncle gave me – titled “A Case for Creator”, which I believe is an abridged compendium of existing & well-known arguments against Darwinian evolution. But I was inspired to post this even before hearing ID arguments fully. I guess I must learn to listen with more patience.]

The Probability of God by the Bishop of Birmingham, Hugh Montefiore is an earlier work than a A Case for Creator by Lee Strobel. It is a sincere and honest attempt by a reputable and educated writer, to bring natural theology up to date. Unlike some of his theological colleagues, Bishop Montefiore is not afraid to state that the question of whether God exists is a definite question of fact. He has no truck with shifty evasions such as ‘Christianity is a way of life. The question of God’s existence is eliminated: it is a mirage created by the illusions of realism’.

He makes heavy use of what may be called the Argument from Personal Incredulity. The argument from Personal Incredulity is an extremely weak argument, as Darwin himself noted. In some cases it is based upon simple ignorance. For instance, one of the facts that the Bishop finds it difficult to understand is the white color of polar bears.

As for camouflage, this is not always easily explicable on neo-Darwinian premises. If polar bears are dominant in the Arctic, then there would seem to have been no need for them to evolve a white-colored form of camouflage.

This should be translated:

I personally, have not so far managed to think of a reason why polar bears might benefit from being white.

In this particular case, the assumption being made is that only animals that are preyed on need camouflage. What is overlooked is that predators also benefit from being concealed from their prey. Polar bears stalk seals resting on the ice. If the seal sees the bear coming from far-enough away, it can escape. I suspect that, if he imagines a dark grizzly bear trying to stalk seals over the snow, the Bishop will immediately see the answer to his problem.

The polar bear argument turned out to be almost too easy to demolish but, in an important sense, this is not the point. Even is the foremost authority in the world can’t explain some remarkable biological phenomenon, this doesn’t mean that it is inexplicable. Plenty of mysteries have lasted for centuries and finally yielded to explanation. For what it is worth, most biologists wouldn’t find it difficult to explain every one of the Bishop’s 35 examples in terms of the theory of natural selection, although not all of them are quite as easy as the polar bears. But we aren’t testing human ingenuity. Even if we found an example that we couldn’t explain, we should hesitate to draw any grandiose conclusions from the fact of our ow inability. Darwin himself was very clear on this point.

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2 thoughts on “The Argument from Personal Incredulity

  1. the writing just b4 going 2 ur home held a diff. attitude.

    that’s what family is. whatever happens the’ll b behind u 2 hold u from a fall if ever there’s a fall, god forbid! there’s none.

    the family loves u just 4 u. May b there’s a diff. in opinion, but that’s ok.

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