Ruse admits that faith and science are irreconcilable, but messes up on human “inevitability”

Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse discusses a new piece by Michael Ruse at PuffHo: “Evolution and Catholic theology.”  Surprisingly, Ruse, who’s always been an accommodationist, admits (as I’ve argued many times) that official Catholic doctrine is incompatible with science, for that doctrine not only invokes a literal Adam and Eve, but posits some divine tinkering with or guiding of evolution that guaranteed it would cough up humans.  Ruse sees this teleology as Intelligent Design Lite, and I agree completely:

To put direction into evolution is to be a supporter of the non-scientific theory of Intelligent Design. I should add incidentally that this does seem to be the position of Benedict’s friend Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna, who a year or two back in an op-ed piece in the New York Times came right out and endorsed Intelligent Design. The point I am making is that, as things stand at the moment, there is a flat-out contradiction between the claims of modern biological science and the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. And the fact is that the Pope, for all of his vaulted theological expertise, is either ignoring this fact or is glossing over it, probably because he has made the decision that, when push comes to shove, theology trumps science.

This is why I see theistic evolutionists like Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins,  and the officers of BioLogos as “creationists.”  And I’ve never considered the Catholic Church particularly evolution-friendly.  But, as Jason notes, if Ruse really feels this way, why has he spent his career arguing for a compatibility of faith and science, and excoriating those of us who see an implacable incompatibility?  The man has some ‘splainin’ to do!

There’s one more issue, though: Ruse claims that Richard Dawkins and others have attempted (perhaps unwittingly) to reconcile theology with science by positing that the evolution of complex—ergo God-worshipping—humans was inevitable, so that no creation was necessary.  Ruse argues:

Note what I am saying and what I am not saying. I am saying that “as things stand at the moment” there is a clash and that the Pope is not helping. I am not saying that the clash could not be resolved. Although as it happens — and I have said this on many occasions — I don’t think the clash can be resolved by trying to get more out of science. Richard Dawkins (following Darwin) seems to think that humans are more than chance because evolution works through “arms races” — the prey gets faster and so the predator gets faster — and that ultimately this will produce human-type brains. Simon Conway Morris thinks that there exist always niches waiting to be occupied, one of these niches is for humans, and so at some point it was bound to be filled. Even Gould thought that complexity increases and so at some point, if not here on earth then somewhere in the universe, humans would appear.

This is true for Conway Morris, who happens to be a Catholic, but certainly not for Dawkins or Gould.  Gould was very clear that he saw the evolution of humans as a contingent event, not at all inevitable. He wrote this (in Wonderful Life, I believe):

Wind back the tape of life to the early days of the Burgess Shale; let it play again from an identical starting point, and the chance becomes vanishingly small that anything like human intelligence would grace the replay.

And of course I have Richard Dawkins right here behind this sign, attesting that Ruse knows nothing of his work.  Here’s Richard’s response (quoted with permission) to Ruse’s piece:

I’m astonished that he could attribute such a view to Gould, who strongly advocated the opposite. He is a tiny bit nearer the mark with me because, like Conway Morris but unlike Gould, I do believe in something that could be called progressive evolution, mainly because of arms races. Unlike Conway Morris, however, I haven’t gone so far as to suggest that humans were inevitable.

The main place where I have written about progress is the last chapter of The Ancestor’s Tale, called ‘the Host’s Return.’

Ruse, of course, doesn’t give up there.  He helpfully suggests that theology should be tweaked instead.

My own thinking is that if you are going to get anywhere then you need to work on the theology. I have suggested that, since we have appeared, we could appear. Hence, God (being outside time and space) could simply go on creating universes until humans did appear. A bit of a waste admittedly but we have that already in our universe.

As the parent of this idea, I am expectedly rather fond of it. But I am not promoting it now because it is right, but simply to say that some solution needs to be found. At least, some solution needs to be found by Christians. Otherwise, the New Atheists are right, and science and religion cannot be reconciled. Hence, you must take your choice, and since science is right the appropriate conclusion follows at once.

Well, there may indeed have been multiple universes, one or more of which could contain humanlike creatures, but they needn’t have been created by God.  But few religious people are going to accept Ruse’s “solution,” for most Americans, at least, believe in an interactive, theistic God, one who shaped the universe to makes humans its centerpiece.  And for that vast majority of people, even Ruse must admit that science and religion are irreconcilable.

77 Comments

  1. Greg Esres
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    “God (being outside time and space) could simply go”

    I’d cut off the thought right there. What does “being outside time and space” mean? It’s not a coherent idea.

    • Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Have you been reading Stephen Law’s new book?

      :- )

      • Greg Esres
        Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        Stephen never writes anything without consulting me first. Didn’t you know?

    • Nick B.
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      I’d cut it off after “God”. It’s not a coherent idea either. An immaterial mind is no more plausible than an immaterial liver.

    • Tulse
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      And if such a god is “outside time”, what does the “until humans did appear” mean? Doesn’t “until” imply a temporal sequence of events?

      When people make theological statements about their god being outside of time and space, it is like the use of time travel in science fiction — it may seem really cool at first, but it ultimately makes absolutely no coherent sense.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Actually it is. Read “Flatland” sometime.

      Now, at this time we have no evidence suggesting that there is any reality outside our universe. So it’s a coherent idea, but not one that seems to correspond to anything in reality.

      • Posted May 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        Simply occupying higher dimensions does not put you “outside space and time” in the sense that Ruse is using the phrase, i.e. somehow beyond or apart from causality. Brane cosmologists don’t handwave the bulk away like that, for example, and Flatland never implied that the sphere was an eternal, atemporal being.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted May 17, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

          Right, but once you start with that concept, you can imagine a universe external to ours (or encompassing ours) that has more than four dimensions, from which someone or something could observe our universe and see a static four-dimensional thing where we (on the inside) experience three spatial dimensions and perceive time’s arrow and causality.

          I said it was coherent, I didn’t say it existed.

          • Posted May 17, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

            The secondary problem* is that you can’t stop at just one level of meta-reality.

            It’s trivial to prove, using the exact same diagonalization-based logic as Turing used for his Halting Problem, that there is no way we can eliminate the possibility that we’re in a Matrix-style simulation (or Alice’s Red King’s dream, or Lao Tzu’s butterfly, or whatever).

            However, that exact same logic applies equally well to the programmers of the Matrix (or to the King or the Butterfly): they may well themselves be part of a Meta-Matrix, which is in turn part of a Mega-Matrix, and so on. Or not — but that’s the point: there’s no way to rule out the possibility.

            Theologians claim that one or more of their favorite gods created everything. In an extremely abstract sense, that’s not perfectly impossible. However, theologians also want to claim a “get out of jail free card” whenever you ask them what Super-Gods created their own pantheon, and there’s no way they’ll admit that they even heard you ask the question.

            Cheers,

            b&


            * The primary problem, of course, is that not only is there no evidence whatsoever to support any religious descriptions of a dualist universe, there’s overwhelming neverending volumes of evidence contradicting their claims. b&

      • Greg Esres
        Posted May 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        “Actually it is. Read “Flatland” sometime”

        A five dimensional existence still includes the fourth dimension, so it isn’t “outside time and space”. And the two-dimensional universe of “flatland” was, in actuality, a three-dimensional universe, because time passed there, too.

    • Wowbagger
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      According to Josh’s resident apologist Anthony McCarthy, God is outside time and space because ‘lots of people of different religions have believed it for a long time’ and therefore we aren’t allowed to to just dismiss it as incoherent.

  2. Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    As the parent of this idea, I am expectedly rather fond of it [!]. But I am not promoting it now because it is right [!], but simply to say that some solution needs to be found. At least, some solution needs to be found by Christians. Otherwise, the New Atheists are right, and science and religion cannot be reconciled. Hence, you must take your choice, and since science is right the appropriate conclusion follows at once.

    Talk about giving the game away! “Our self-flattering eligious beliefs contradict science, so we religious people just have to make up some new self-flattering ones that superficially seem less contradictory.” It doesn’t make religion and science compatible because it completely ignores a fundamental aspect of the contradiction between them: science is fundamentally opposed to believing stuff you just made up.

  3. Andrew B.
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    “My own thinking is that if you are going to get anywhere then you need to work on the theology. I have suggested that, since we have appeared, we could appear. Hence, God (being outside time and space) could simply go on creating universes until humans did appear. A bit of a waste admittedly but we have that already in our universe.”

    Yes, we COULD say that a being that somehow exists outside of spacetime (HOW?!) kept creating universes until he got what he wanted. This would provide an excellent basis for a series of science fiction books. Go for it, Ruse!

    Also, why assume that human beings were God’s goal? Why couldn’t we say that he was trying instead to create a universe in which birds talk and fish sing, or one with turtles who walk on their hind legs and animated mushroom people? Maybe OUR universe is one of the failures in God’s trial-and-error method to generate his desired universe.

    • Tulse
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Maybe OUR universe is one of the failures in God’s trial-and-error method to generate his desired universe.

      That seems like an interesting notion for some variation on gnosticism — this universe is actually a failed attempt by a creator who has abandoned it, which is why things can sometimes suck so much.

      • Posted May 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        That would seem to address a lot of theological problems, theodicy among them.

        We live in the nth of all possible worlds.

        /@

  4. Sastra
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Ruse wrote:
    My own thinking is that if you are going to get anywhere then you need to work on the theology. I have suggested that, since we have appeared, we could appear. Hence, God (being outside time and space) could simply go on creating universes until humans did appear. A bit of a waste admittedly but we have that already in our universe.

    “Bit of a waste” is an understatement. Why would God have apparently been constrained to work within the laws of nature? It had a goal, but its (metaphorical) hands were tied, and it had to keep making rejects before it gets it right.

    As long as you’re going to “work on the theology,” you might as well take advantage of its Calvinball rules. Why not say that God has no especial interest in humans per se, because God is a Creative Principle at Work in the Universe and Creative Principles have no wishes. Or minds. Or values.

    You could even call God “Nature” for short. Then you’d really be “getting somewhere.”

    And you could call yourself a “faitheist.”

    Wouldn’t that be fun?

    • Jud
      Posted May 19, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      “…it had to keep making rejects before it gets it right.”

      Sastra, you reminded me of one of my favorite cartoons of all time, one of the “Far Side” strips, of course.

      It shows a child with glasses standing in front of a table with a broken test tube, and there are feathers *everywhere*. The caption is “God as a kid tries to make a chicken in his room.”

  5. Sigmund
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Any universe that produces something like humans will probably be stable enough to allow the development of numerous conscious life forms at various locations across the galaxies.

  6. Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Hence, God (being outside time and space) could simply go on creating universes until humans did appear.

    Yeah? And while we’re on the subject, how much Kryptonite do you think Superman has to mix in with the latex in his condoms?

    I mean, seriously. What’s the point in fantasizing about such nonsense (outside of literature or other forms of storytelling)? Aren’t we grown up enough that we can give up on Jesus Claus, the Tooth Spirit, and the Easter Christ already?

    Ooooh — I know! What if this really really big woman squeezed milk out of her boobs and sprayed it into the sky? How neat would that be?

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Andrew B.
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Not as neat as Kohe-Malamalama, whose name means glowing vagina in Hawai’ian according to my pervert brother. She created created the islands by throwing her glowing vagina into the ocean, also according to my pervert brother.

      I suspect lots of creation myths are based on the genitals of Gods. At least that’s what my pervo brother tells me.

      • Sajanas
        Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        I seem to remember some Babylonian gods masturbating the Universe into existence.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 17, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

          Too monotheistic – it is called the Big Bang.

          I want flying sweat, at the very least!

          • BradW
            Posted May 17, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

            In other words, a supernatural orgy?

      • sasqwatch
        Posted May 17, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

        Wasn’t “Genitals of the Gods” a 70s book and TV show written by Eric vag Daniken?

    • Deepak Shetty
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      how much Kryptonite do you think Superman has to mix in with the latex in his condoms?

      As a superman fan I cant stop laughing at this (blasphemy!) Reminded me of Larry Niven’s take http://www.rawbw.com/~svw/superman.html

    • jose
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Posts like this are needed. They give perspective. Sometimes we are so used to certain concepts (like the christian god) that we don’t see just how out of touch with reality they are.

  7. Frank
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    To posit that humans, as one animal species out of 10 million (who knows?), occupies an ecological niche that “needs” to be filled is downright silly. To say there is a human niche waiting to be filled is the same as saying is that there is a ‘wolverine niche’ needing to be filled. It is a perversion and overly literal application of the concept of an ecological niche.

    If one goes down that path, all of evolution becomes deterministic, which is ridiculous. I suspect that Ruse does not fully comprehend the zillions of contingencies that MUST be involved in evolution and, for that matter, any historical process. Was Paul Revere born in order to fill the “riding through the streets of Boston” niche?

    A big thanks to Woody Allen for the “I have so-and-so right behind this sign” metaphor. I love it.

    • Tulse
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      To say there is a human niche waiting to be filled is the same as saying is that there is a ‘wolverine niche’ needing to be filled.

      And if wolverines has a religion that is precisely what they would believe.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted May 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        Right before they bit your nose off.

      • BradW
        Posted May 17, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        I can just picture wolverines and badgers arguing about which religion is correct! Wouldn’t want to get in the center of that one!

  8. H.H.
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Why is Ruse intent on helping Christians save their failed hypothesis with ad hoc excuse making?

    But I am not promoting [this untestable excuse] now because it is right, but simply to say that some solution needs to be found. At least, some solution needs to be found by Christians. Otherwise, the New Atheists are right, and science and religion cannot be reconciled.

    But generating hypothetical premises is trivially easy. Substantiating them to any degree of confidence is the difficult part. I have no idea why Ruse would be “proud” of inventing an excuse even he himself can’t believe is true. Seems a rather sad accomplishment to take pride in. Nor can I understand he feels the god hypothesis must be salvaged except that it would mean gnu atheists were correct all along, and he really, really doesn’t want to admit that for some reason.

    • Andrei
      Posted May 18, 2011 at 5:29 am | Permalink

      It looks like Ruse’s main point is that Catholic theologians must defeat Dawkins at all costs. Work harder, make more stuff up to reconcile your theology with modern science, otherwise Dawkins is right.

  9. Frank
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    To posit that humans, as one animal species out of 10 million (who knows?), occupies an ecological niche that “needs” to be filled is downright silly. To say there is a human niche waiting to be filled is the same as saying is that there is a ‘wolverine niche’ needing to be filled. It is a perversion and overly literal application of the concept of an ecological niche.

    If one goes down that path, all of evolution becomes deterministic, which is ridiculous. I suspect that Ruse does not fully comprehend the zillions of contingencies that MUST be involved in evolution and, for that matter, any historical process. Was Paul Revere born in order to fill the “riding through the streets of Boston” niche?

    A big thanks to Woody Allen for the “I have so-and-so right behind this sign” metaphor. I love it.

    • Sastra
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      If you follow their reasoning down, there was not only a human niche waiting to be filled. There was also a Frank niche waiting to be filled, a Sastra niche waiting to be filled, a Michael Ruse niche waiting to be filled, and of course a Jerry Coyne niche waiting to be filled as well.

      It simply cannot be coincidence that the laws of physics, the existence of the universe, a habitable earth environment, AND the presence of our respective parents just “happened” without the obvious goal in mind.

      • Tulse
        Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Absolutely. If the Anthropic Principle is supposed to convince us of the divine creation of humans by how unlikely humanity in general is, how much more convincing must it be that I exist? My existence involves all the improbabilities of homo sapiens in general plus all the highly contingent events that brought me into the world. Clearly I am the purpose of all of creation — I call this the Tulse Principle.

        (To be fair, Calvin got there first.)

        • eric
          Posted May 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

          But there are many species that require more specific and narrow conditions for life than humans. The “unlikeliness = made for it” logic would imply this universe is made for them, not us.
          So, for instance, domestic animals like dogs would need need ‘current universe + humans,’ to survive, whereas humans only need ‘current universe.’ So they have a stronger claim to be the chosen species than we do.

          Sadly, this argument doesn’t work for cats. They neither need us nor the conditions under which we thrive. They are not the chosen species.

          • Lenoxus
            Posted May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

            Of course they aren’t. That would necessitate the some sort of higher being to do the choosing, which any cat will tell you is nonsense.

  10. Sastra
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Hence, God (being outside time and space) could simply go on creating universes until humans did appear.

    If God is outside of time, then how does the referential timeline for “go on creating … until” come into it? And, while God is waiting for a bit of time — while outside of time — occupying His time — while outside of time — WHERE is God waiting, seeing that the poor guy is also outside of SPACE, all space, any concept of space?
    Also … “He?”

    A/s/l ???

    • YourName's notBruce?
      Posted May 18, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      That’s something I’ve wondered about the YEC position. God’s supposedly been around forever, but only creates Everything 6,000 years ago? But if he’s omniscient, he knows he’s going to create it, but he has to wait until 6,000 years ago to do it because he’s busy doing….what?
      Why wait at all? Shouldn’t god get busy and create the universe as soon as it comes to mind to do so?

      Of course for an eternal being, even a universe created billions of years ago would have been preceded by an infinite amount of time before which it was brought into existence.

  11. Sigmund
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    What about the clueless gobshite niche?

    • steve oberski
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      That niche is over subscribed.

  12. Zoe
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    As a psychologist, I am far from convinced that human beings have actually evolved, ‘intelligence'; ‘consciousness'; ‘free will’ etc. although, obviously, we have evolved something ‘like’ these. The Giant’s Causeway looks ‘like’ it has been constructed by something ‘intelligent’ and ‘conscious’ through the employment of ‘free will’. We know that it was not, of course. How do we know that the ‘creativity’ exhibited by humans is anything other than an artefact of natural processes? It all looks ‘like’ the product of intelligence, conscious and wilful brain activity but can we be sure of that? The evidence seems to point the other way. We act then we rationalise our behaviour.

    What if our brain activity is really just an epiphenomenon of behaviour determined by external factors? Doesn’t it make sense that a complex behaviour might have a side-effect of ‘believing’ that it is self-aware? Brain activity is functionally a way of avoiding the repetition of errors. Human discourse is simply the process whereby individual errors are avoided by the species as a whole (potentially) by data pooling.

    The question I am asking, really, is, “Wouldn’t this process of data pooling and avoidance of the repetition of errors work just as well without there being a ‘ghost in the machine’ of any kind of thought, consciousness, intelligence or free-will? Does not it already work like that with evolution anyway? And if it would work without such a ‘ghost in the machine’ isn’t the logical and parsimonious conclusion to draw that human thought is an illusion?”

    So can even ‘belief’ really exist? If I behave in a way that appears to be consistent with a certain ‘belief’, am I not really behaving in a way that is consistent with other people’s behaviours?

    We tend to think that the complexity of our mental activity is irreducible. Perhaps it is not? Perhaps even a book like The Selfish Gene’ is a product of the very evolutionary process it describes and would have occurred as a corrective of behavioural errors in the species whether Richard Dawkins had been its agency or someone else?

    • Sastra
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      And if it would work without such a ‘ghost in the machine’ isn’t the logical and parsimonious conclusion to draw that human thought is an illusion?”

      I think it is far more logical and parsimonious to accept human thought, consciousness, intelligence etc. as existing in terms of our experience of them, and then go on to try to understand what they are, how they work, and how they got the way they are. Talk of “illusion” always brings up the question of “illusion of what?” — and now you’ve got to define something into existence that doesn’t actually exist.

      Dan Dennett once wrote “if you make yourself small enough, you can externalize anything.”

    • Lenoxus
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      A lot of Zoe’s assumptions are harder to accept if you uncouple free will from those other things she mentions. Intelligence need not require the free will of the sort that determinists consider illusory.

      Also, I’m not aware of anyone in the non-theistic/materialist camp who would consider our consciousness irreducible.

      The point about a book like The Selish Gene seems only like a confirmation of that book’s views, in a very indirect way. After all, one consequence of scientific models being true is that they can be discovered by anyone working in the relevant field. Rewind the tape from some time after the appearence of DNA, and I do think that you would eventually get a species one of whise members would produce a glonk (being that Earth’s equivalent of a book) detailing a gene-centered view of evolution.

      Behaviorism (which appears to be what Zoe’s comment advocates) is still, I suppose, a valid view, but it’s a weird one. Would Zoe actually deny that there is something it is like to be Zoe? If not then (to echo Sastra) exactly what is the “illusion” we’re talking about? I don’t think, I only think I think?

      • BradW
        Posted May 17, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        As a human, if you don’t think that you think, are you?

  13. Michieux
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    In spite of many decades of non-belief in god or other magical creatures, I am still staggered to see some of my fellows discussing god as though there were some smidgin of reality to be found in such a concept. Seeing this leads me to think that religion is the exercise of power, or at least the desire to exercise power, over others by otherwise impotent people.

    Metaphorically shaking my head.

    • wift
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      Theology is pliable as evidenced by the many diverse and splintered religions down through recorded time.

      If you don’t like it, change it.
      ~ King James

  14. Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Interesting; Ron Lindsay was pressing Chris Mooney on exactly this point in the Point of Inquiry interview last week. I wonder if that’s what prompted Ruse.

  15. Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    My own thinking is that if you are going to get anywhere then you need to work on the theology.

    So here is an accommodationist atheist telling Christians that they’re doing theology wrong. And yet, it’s the New Atheists who are arrogant. Yeah, right.

    Besides, why would an atheist advise Christians to fix their theology, instead of ditching it all together? It’s what the atheist did, after all.

    • Screechy Monkey
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      Exactly! And I’m not sure why telling people “you’re doing your theology wrong” should be considered any more civil or respectful or any of those other things Gnus supposedly fail to be. (I don’t think “you’re doing your theology wrong” is disrespectful; I just think it’s a contentless assertion.)

    • truthspeaker
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Because that’s strident, I guess.

    • Posted May 17, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Besides, why would an atheist advise Christians to fix their theology, instead of ditching it all together? It’s what the atheist did, after all.

      For that matter, when you have an “atheist” seriously proposing — with pride, no less! — how one particular god most likely created humanity (in other words, manufacturing a creation myth)…what sense does it make to call that person an atheist?

      I’m sorry, but if you’re inventing and espousing theology (outside of fiction), there’s no way I can think of you as an atheist. You’re as bad as those Christians who aren’t religious because they’re just a bunch of people who get together to share their personal relationships with an ancient eviscerated zombie.

      Cheers,

      b&

  16. Helena Constantine
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    “My own thinking is that if you are going to get anywhere then you need to work on the theology. I have suggested that, since we have appeared, we could appear. Hence, God (being outside time and space) could simply go on creating universes until humans did appear. A bit of a waste admittedly but we have that already in our universe.

    As the parent of this idea, I am expectedly rather fond of it. ”

    Parent of the idea! A plagiarist too.

    This is the recycling of an old Kabbalsitic idea. The original held that God’s judgement applied to any created universe is too severe and that the first several billion he tried to make were burned up by his wrath. Then a committee of angels came up with the idea of having the messiah use mercy to shield god from the true knowledge of how awful and corrupt the world is and this one finally got through, with divine judgement limited to mere acts of genocide like the flood.

    • Posted May 17, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      Wait, what? Ok, where can I read about this? That is just too amusing for words.

      • Helena Constantine
        Posted May 18, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        Try Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism

  17. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    “the New Atheists are right, and science and religion cannot be reconciled.”

    Nuff said.

  18. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Simon Conway Morris thinks that there exist always niches waiting to be occupied, one of these niches is for humans, and so at some point it was bound to be filled.

    “Platonic forms” is one idea I really detest, since it is non-empirical untestable.

    Or rather, as the equally detestable “intelligent design”, it fails as soon as it is pinned down. Now latest I am reading about protein folds, where similar ideas is claimed to be around – while synthetic AAs and new folds should show it isn’t so.

    But as soon as that is evident, the goalpost moving starts. “Oh, the niches depend on the environment.” Well, duh!

    Hence, God (being outside time and space) could simply go on creating universes until humans did appear.

    As expected denialists (here, of evolution) pick up the analysis that goes against them.

    But this version of anthropic principle fails, as it isn’t environmentally selected on likelihood. It is no better than the idea that a fundamental theory would pin down parameters “just so”, while also here dragging around an enormous overhead of multiverses and unnecessary agents alike.

    there may indeed have been multiple universes, one or more of which could contain humanlike creatures,

    As a humorous aside, Tegmark assures us that we will have other humans around in our very universe.

    The universe is to our best science likely infinite. While the finite observable universe contains a finite amount of particles. (Some ~ 10^100 of them, say.) If you travel far enough you must therefore encounter a similar sized volume with exactly the same particle configurations.* So not only humans, but your exact twin!

    Moreover you realize that there will be an infinite number of exact copies in an infinite universe.

    All these multiverse ideas (which it ties into) is AFAIK still on his personal website.

    * Personally I think the Hilbert infinite state space of quantum mechanics makes the idea invalid. But then you get into the whole soup of distributions over infinite spaces, Boltzmann Brains, and whatnot.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      And of course you know what Tegmark’s multiverse cosmology means – there will be an infinite supply of Intestinally Fondled Zombies™. I wonder if that would attract christians or make them cut and run?

      “Oh noes, we aren’t privileged! And who is The One True Zombie God?

  19. hallucigenia
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    A couple of points re: Ruse’s interpretation of Gould: First, Gould did argue that evolution produces greater complexity, although not because evolution is progressive. Rather, he argued that if you begin the system from a point of extreme simplicity, the only real ‘direction’ it could move was towards increasing complexity. That’s an argument from constraint and probability, so it’s very different from Simon Conway Morris’s convergence argument.

    Second, while Gould famously argued that humans (or even intelligent life) were not an inevitable evolutionary result, he did acknowledge that some kind of intelligent life was likely to pop up somewhere in the universe. Ruse has inaccurately paraphrased this view in the quotation above by using the word ‘human,’ but elsewhere Ruse has more carefully characterized this as ‘human-like intelligence.’ In The Flamingo’s Smile, Gould wrote that

    “I can present a good argument from ‘evolutionary theory’ against the repetition of anything like a human body elsewhere; I cannot extend it to the general proposition that intelligence in some form might pervade the universe…. does intelligence lie within the class of phenomena too complex and historically conditioned for repetition? I do not think that its uniqueness on earth specifies such a conclusion. Perhaps, in another form on another world, intelligence would be as easy to evolve as flight on ours.”

    Finally, I’m not sure that Conway Morris is a Catholic (although I could be wrong). I thought he was some kind of Anglican–though perhaps he’s one of those English intellectual converts (he seems to idolize G.K. Chesterton).

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Intelligence seems more basic than flight though, especially if insect nerve nodes are homologous to ours. I wouldn’t be surprised if other biospheres, of which we currently expect many of, would often have multicellularity* and so nervous system equivalents. And then an arms race happens… ;-)

      It is the evolution of human equivalent intelligence, whatever that means, that seems overkill.

      * It seems that you need mitochondrial type organelles to get enough energy for massive protein turnover/large genome utilization. However, the simplest way is endosymbiosis, which seems to happen frequently even among prokaryotes.

      Maybe niche competition explains why mitochondria only looks like it evolved once? Isn’t that how the DNA LUCA is explained as well?

  20. Charles Sullivan
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Doesn’t Ken Miller think that if the evolutionary tape were rewound that Homo sapiens wouldn’t necessarily arise?

    In other words, he thinks there may be no reason for god not to pick another species for ensoulment.

    I can’t remember where I read that.

  21. sailor1031
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    “most Americans, at least, believe in an interactive, theistic God, one who shaped the universe to makes humans its centerpiece.”

    I’m always amused at the anthropocentric arrogance of this viewpoint. With five billion years to go (at least) before the sun destroys the inner planets and then burns out, can we assume that the end of evolution has been reached with the appearance of humans? Does doG or whatever canid creator there may be outside of space and time, now stop evolution, walk away with a stuffed codpiece saying “mission accomplished”?

  22. Posted May 17, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Well, there may indeed have been multiple universes

    Isn’t that just what Hawking argues in The Grand Design?

    Quite apart from the uncountably many parallel universes postulated in the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum theory, which means that there are uncountably many Earths (but uncountably many more universes without Earth) on which evolution will have taken uncountably many possible courses (and uncountably many on which life never arose).

    • Posted May 17, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

      I’m amazed that the Many Worlds hypothesis was ever given any serious consideration in the first place, and absolutely flabbergasted that it persists to this day.

      It’s trivial to evidentially prove it to be complete and utter bullshit.

      In short, the hypothesis states that every time something happens at the quantum level, all possible outcomes occur; they just occur in parallel universes.

      Thus, one unit of Planck time* after you start Shrodinger’s cat experiment, the atom decays in one universe and the cat observes that it is dying; in the other universe, the atom doesn’t decay and the cat lives. We now have two universes, one with a living cat and one with a dead cat.

      The next unit of Planck time later, the universe with the living cat again splits in two. We have three universes, only one of which has a living cat.

      After one second, we have the 10E44th Fibonacci number of universes, only one of which has a living cat. The odds of the cat surviving even one second are a number so large it’s physically impossible to represent it to one against.

      And of course, we’ve got the same sort of bifurcation going on with every radionuclide in the universe. And the protons, too, if they decay.

      And that’s just radioactive decay. Do you have any idea how many other kinds of quantum phenomena there are?

      No matter how you slice and dice it, the Many Worlds hypothesis demands that statistics, most especially at the quantum level (which is the most statistically reliable source of phenomena we’ve encountered), must be so radically different from what we actually observe that…well, you know those calculations IDiots use to “prove” that the odds are astronomically against life evolving without divine guidance? They’re nothing compared with the odds you need for all these quantum events to “just happen” to always be statistically predictable.

      Many Worlds would have been a great thing to think of in the midst of an acid trip. But it should have been forgotten the next morning, along with the observation that the walls were brown.

      Cheers,

      b&


      * Yes, yes. I know. The split only happens when an “observation” occurs. But an observation has nothing to do with an intelligence, and everything to do with interaction with another particle. Outside of the lab, it’s damned rare to find situations where an “observation” doesn’t happen practically immediately. In a sample of a radioisotope, the “observation” occurs as soon as the particle emitted from the decaying atom gets close enough to something else to interact with it. In uranium fission, for example, that’s the time and distance it takes for a neutron to make it (or not — remember, every possibility always happens) to a neighboring atom. b&

      • Posted May 18, 2011 at 1:15 am | Permalink

        That sounds more like an argument from incredulity to me, Ben!

        Your initial analysis makes the mistake of assuming the universe forks only when the nucleotide within the Schrödinger’s cat experiment decays. In fact, it’s forking anyway, even while the cat stays alive.

        In fact, you almost get there yourself: “And of course, we’ve got the same sort of bifurcation going on with every radionuclide in the universe. And the protons, too, if they decay.”

        So, summing over all bifurcations of the universe, we have a live cat in 50% and a dead cat in 50%.

        Remember that Schrödinger put forward this experiment as a way of showing the ridiculousness of the Copenhagen interpretation. It’s unphysical to say that the cat is neither alive nor dead (or both) until we open the box and “collapse the wave function”. The reality is that just before we open the box, the cat is either alive (in 50% of universes) or already dead (in 50% of universes); opening the box only allows us to see which (subset of) universe(s) we are in.

        In The Fabric of Reality, David Deutsch notes:

        The fruitfulness of the multiverse [= Everett’s Many Worlds] theory in contributing to the to the solution of long-standing philosophical problems is so great that it would be worth adopting even if there were no physical evidence for it at all. Indeed, the philosopher David Lewis, in his book On the Plurality of Worlds, postulated the existence of a multiverse for philosophical reasons alone.

        • Posted May 18, 2011 at 1:37 am | Permalink

          *for “nucleotide,” read “radionuclide”.

          :-(

          /@

        • Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:01 am | Permalink

          In fact, you almost get there yourself: “And of course, we’ve got the same sort of bifurcation going on with every radionuclide in the universe. And the protons, too, if they decay.”

          So, summing over all bifurcations of the universe, we have a live cat in 50% and a dead cat in 50%.

          Erm…you do realize you’ve just made things exponentially worse, don’t you?

          T = 1: one universe

          T = 2: two universes, one with the decayed radionuclide and one with the intact radionuclide

          T = 3: four universes, two from the branch with the decayed radionuclide (which is still decayed), plus two from the branch with the intact radionuclide — three universes with decay and one without

          T = 4: eight universes, only one of which has an undecayed radionuclide

          T = N: 2**N universes, only one of which has an undecayed radionuclide

          The interval for T? The shortest possible time for the radionuclide to decay and the decay products to interact with something not already in an entangled state.

          Radioactive decay is very well studied by now, and it has never ever ever ever ever ever ever even pretended to hint at the remote possibility that it statistically behaves in such a fashion.

          Many Worlds can only possibly make sense if you only ever consider the single measurement as a singular event restricted to a binary temporal dimension. In the universe where cows aren’t perfect spheres, what you have to do is total up all possible outcomes and count how many times they occur to derive their probability. The Many Worlds hypothesis inevitably predicts that in 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999%+ of universes, all radionuclides will have spontaneously decayed millimicronanofemtoseconds after they came into existence. Call it personal incredulity if you like, but I think the observation that radionuclides strictly obey statistical decay profiles not even vaguely remotely like the one that the Many Worlds hypothesis predicts is more than ample reason to reject it out of hand.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted May 18, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

            No. You’re still making the mistake of assuming the universe forks only when the nucleotide within the Schrödinger’s cat experiment decays.

            (And you should’ve started at T=0! But keeping with your numbering…)

            At T=2 there aren’t just two universes, but N universes because of forks due to an uncountable number of events across the universe, and in only x of these has our cat’s nucleotide decayed, and x ≪ N/2.

            And it proceeds in this way until the end of the experiment when we still have just 50% of universes in which the nucleotide has decayed and our poor cat is dead.

            /@

            PS. I feel we owe Ceiling Cat an apology for running these semi-felinicidal experiments.

            • Posted May 18, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

              *for “nucleotide,” read “radionuclide”.

              Again.

              :-( :-(

              Clearly being on a biology bl— er, website prompts vocabulary errors.

  23. sailor1031
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    “Sadly, this argument doesn’t work for cats. They neither need us nor the conditions under which we thrive. They are not the chosen species.”

    I discussed this with Summer the little stripey cat and she explained that indeed cats do need people. She asked, pointedly, “who else would fill the food dish and water bowl when they are empty?” Looking at me pityingly she went on “they don’t fill themselves you know!” As for not being the chosen species she informed me that is quite wrong. “Cats” she said ” have chosen themselves”.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted May 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      My cat told me that it’s just too much work to catch one’s own food any more.

      Between the cats and the humans, there’s simply little left out there to eat that isn’t in a nice shiny can.

  24. Robert Hagedorn
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Adam and Eve? Do a search: First Scandal.

  25. Ichthyic
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    This is why I see theistic evolutionists like Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins, and the officers of BioLogos as “creationists.”

    It’s amazing the amount of flak I’ve taken over the years for saying exactly the same thing.

    “Butbutbut…creationists are ONLY fundies! You’re wrong!”

    no, not wrong. It was wrong to create a uniquely narrow definition of what a creationist is to begin with, and guess who were the primary people responsible for doing so?

    yeah, that’s right, accomodationists.

  26. Ichthyic
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    The man has some ‘splainin’ to do!

    *pictures Jerry as Ricky Ricardo and Ruse as Lucy*

  27. Posted May 18, 2011 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    “My own thinking is that if you are going to get anywhere then you need to work on the theology.”
    And this really really really needs to be an exercise for the believer.

  28. davelong
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Perhaps Ruse feels more comfortable with religion because he has an obvious and perhaps innate tendency to be intellectually dishonest, and this makes him feel a bit of a misfit among the science crowd?


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