Elliott Sober argues again that God might have caused mutations

It no longer baffles me why philosophers like Elliott Sober and Michael Ruse, both professed nonbelievers, spend their time telling the faithful how they can reconcile God and evolution.  To me it seems like a complete waste of time, especially for atheists and agnostics, but Sober explains his reasons at the end of this post.  I completely disagree with them, but first let’s revisit the controversy.

Last April, Elliott, a distinguished philosopher at the University of Wisconsin, gave a talk at my university about the possibility of God-guided mutations. His thesis was that science could not rule out the possibility that some mutations had been engineered by God, and although they look random, we can’t rule out that God created a few of them in his desire to get certain forms of life—presumably us. (Note: by “random” mutations, evolutionists mean that mutations arise irrespective of whether they’d make an individual more or less fit.  A fruit fly made to live on medium containing high concentrations of toxic alcohol, for instance, doesn’t suddenly experience more mutations for alcohol tolerance.)

Elliott thought that God’s actions might be “hidden variables” in the mutation process.  Thus, although most mutations might be random, a few might be made by God to foster adaptation (say, if an ancestral primate obstinately refuses to experience those mutations producing bipedal walking).  And we wouldn’t be able to detect God’s actions.

Now Sober doesn’t really believe this happens, but he wants to argue that one can’t rule that out as a logical possibility, nor can we rule it out as an empirical issue—so long as God-driven mutations are sufficiently rare.

I took severe issue with Elliott’s thesis (see here and here), as did Jason Rosenhouse at EvolutionBlog (see here). Elliott replied in a post on my website.

Elliott wrote me yesterday calling attention to a new paper on his website about the issue: “Evolutionary theory, causal completeness, and theism—the case of ‘guided’ mutation” (free pdf at the site). Ironically, the paper is intended for a Festschrift for Michael Ruse, his brother in theistic apologetics. It’s short and clear (15 pages of text), and easily accessible to philosopher, biologists, or laypeople interested in science.

The arguments haven’t changed, but I wanted to offer a final critique, and explain why I think Elliott is misguided.

The thesis is “the idea that God intervenes in the evolutionary process by causing this or that mutation to occur in a given time and place.” He emphasizes again that he doesn’t really believe this, but presses on nonetheless, claiming that evolutionary theory “is logically compatible with this type of divine intervention.”

Sober then describes a thought experiment that could show (and in fact real experiments have shown) that mutations look random: if it’s good to be red rather than green, an green organism put in a red environment shows no increase in mutations to red coloration, nor does the reverse situation obtain for a red organism in a green environment. Neverthless, Sober argues that:

These models, old and new, describe the effect of manipulating an organism’s natural environment and how those manipulations affect (or fail to affect) mutation probabilities. None of these models rules out hidden variables. So none rules out supernatural hidden variables. Just as a model can be true without being causally complete, so too can a model be both true and inductively generalizable without being causally complete.

Yes, of course science can’t prove that God didn’t have a hand in some of these mutations, especially if they’re rare. But considering this possibility is a waste of time for five reasons:

1.  There is no evidence that God exists—at least a theistic God, which is the type demanded by Sober’s thesis.  Ergo, we needn’t consider the rest of his hypothesis. We don’t have to consider that tiny, fire-breathing dragons actually ignite the gasoline in your pistons once every 10,000 ignitions, because we’ve seen no evidence for them.

2.  Experiments have repeatedly showed that mutations do appear to be random: we don’t jack up the probably of an adaptive mutation by putting an organism in an environment where such adaptive mutations would be useful. (The immune system, often cited as a counterexample, isn’t: the shufflings of antibodies against the body’s invaders are random, but those shufflings that produce adaptive antibodies are fed back to the genome so that the organism makes more of the useful molecule.)  This rules out the possibility that mutations could be massively nonrandom.

Sober would presumably respond that yes, well, they look random, but some rare ones might be caused by God. And of course we can’t logically or empirically rule that out, but there’s no evidence for it.  We needn’t consider all logical possibilities in science that have no evidence supporting them, particularly because in this case the biggest piece of evidence—the existence of an interventionist God—is so implausible as to be unworthy of consideration.  Theist-apologist are always confusing what is logically possible with what, given the evidence, is probable.

3.  If you’re a theist, and thus have some idea of how God works, then you have to ask, “Why would God do it that way, rather than just bringing new species or complex adaptations into existence de novo?”  The answer, “God works in mysterious ways,” is not only unsatisfactory but unparsimonious. If you appeal to God’s unknowable ways, then you have to give some evidence for an interventionist God in the first place.  The whole business is simply an attempt to rescue God from the palpable fact that his actions have always remained hidden.  As Delos McKown said, “The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.”

4. If you’re going to make an argument that God intervenes rarely to cause an outcome—so rarely that the process looks random—then you might as well argue that God intervenes everywhere in a rare fashion: in the rolling of dice at Las Vegas, at coin-tossings in the Superbowl, and so on.  We can’t rule out a rare God-effect there, either, but we don’t see Sober arguing for such things.  Why not? Because that idea is scientifically sterile.  If a hypothesis is compatible with all conceivable outcomes, it’s not a hypothesis worth entertaining, for there can be no evidence against it. As such, there’s no reason to accept it.

5.  Because Sober considers the idea of God-guided mutations one that science can’t reject, our assertion that those mutations don’t occur doesn’t come from science, but from philosophy. Further, the question isn’t within the ambit of science:

If the existence of guided mutations doesn’t show that God exists, then the nonexistrence of guided mutations doesn’t show that God does not exist. Atheists and theists should agree that the biological question is separate from the theological question.

This is the old “the absence of evidence isn’t evidence for absence” argument.  And yes, the nonexistence of guided mutations doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but militates against it in a Bayesian way, particularly since there’s no evidence for a guiding force. As others have noted repeatedly, the absence of evidence is evidence for absence if that evidence should be there. There really isn’t a distinction between biological and theological questions here, since the action of the supernatural on mutation rates is a biological question.

I believe firmly that science doesn’t rule out the supernatural a priori (see here, for instance); our concentration on natural rather than supernatural causes for phenomena comes not as an accepted a priori fiat of scientific research, but as a result of centuries of experiments. We have found that invoking the supernatural has never helped us understand anything about the real world, and hence we’ve stopped invoking it because it hasn’t proven useful. As Laplace said, “We don’t need that hypothesis.”

Now some misguided souls define “supernatural” as “that which can’t be investigated by science.” That’s not only tautological but wrong.  The supernatural was not only been part of science in its earlier years (natural theology as an explanation of organismal diversity, God’s supposed tweaking of the planetary orbits, and so on), but has also been tested repeatedly (finding out the age of the earth, refutations of precognition, ESP, and the efficacy of intercessory prayer, and so on).  None of these studies has shown the slightest evidence for the action of the supernatural. Science can test the supernatural, so long as gods are supposed to affect the universe.  (We can’t of course, look for evidence for a deistic, hands-off god.)

In contrast, assuming there are natural and material causes for material phenomena is a strategy that has been immensely productive in science.  We don’t invoke the supernatural not because science forbids us to do that, but because it has never helped us understand the universe.  Again, “methodological naturalism” is not something science has assumed as a fiat from the outset, but is a research strategy that has been productive.  In the same way, plumbers and electricians don’t assume that God causes power outages and plumbing blockages.  As Hawking says, “Science wins because it works.”  Religion doesn’t work in that way, and never has.

Why, then, does Sober (and his confére Michael Ruse) write papers and book on this topic? It becomes clear at the end of Sober’s paper:

It is important to distinguish the evidential grounds one has for accepting a proposition from the practical reasons one has for asserting it in public. This essay has considered accommodationism under the first heading, but I want to close by saying something about the second. I bother to publish in defense of accommodationism in part because I want to take the heat off of evolutionary theory. The more evolutionary theory gets called an atheistic theory, the greater the risk that it will lose its place in public school biology courses in the United States; if the theory is thought of in this way, one should not be surprised if a judge decides that teaching evolutionary theory violates the constitutional principle of neutrality with respect to religion. Indeed, the risk is more profound, since what happens in public education often has ramifications for what happens in the wider culture. Creationists have long held that evolutionary theory is atheistic; defenders of the theory are not doing the theory a favor when they agree. Atheists who think that evolutionary theory provides the beginning of an argument for disbelieving in God should make it clear that their arguments depend on additional premises that are not vouchsafed by scientific theory or data. Philosophy is not a dirty word.

Evolutionary theory is no more atheistic than are the theories of chemical bonds or plate tectonics.  It’s just perceived that way because evolution is the strongest evidence ever adduced against the existence of a theistic god. If you think God created the world and helps bring new species into existence, the observations of evolutionary biology show that you’re mistaken.  If that causes people to disbelieve in God, well, so be it. But the theory isn’t more atheistic than any other scientific theory—it’s just seen that way because of its implications for beleivers. (That reminds me of Jessica Rabbit’s statement: “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way!”) If evolution is an atheistic theory and shouldn’t be taught in schools on those grounds, then we can’t teach cosmology, physics, or geology, either.

As philosopher Maarten Boudry said in a recent “quote of the week“:

[Robert] Pennock’s concern about the perceived conflict between science and religion is a legitimate one, but muddled philosophical reasoning will do little to avert that conflict. Science educators should not equate evolution with atheism, but neither should they pretend that the conflict between science and religion is wholly imaginary. Most religious believers would find out for themselves in any case.

And no, philosophy is not a dirty word, but Sober’s recent work on God-guided mutations is making it one, at least among scientists.  What a waste of a good mind to produce such papers, and how immensely disingenuous to toss believers a life preserver when Sober himself isn’t holding the rope!

242 Comments

  1. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    Sober’s argument, if accepted, has implications for theists too.

    If the theists god operates through ‘supernatural hidden variables’ who is to say that that particular god is in turn super-supernaturally operated upon by the ‘super-supernatural hidden variables’ of a super-god? Theology could not dispute the *logical* possibility of this…

    This could go on for an infinite number of gods; every time I encounter an ‘infinite’ in a philosophical argument I suspect the argument is valueless.

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      It’s super-super- … super-gods all the way up.

  2. BilBy
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    These sort of posts are my favourites – when’s a book of these measured debunkings or theistic/accomodationist ramblings coming out?

    • Christian
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      I second that :)

  3. Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    Perhaps Elliot Sober might like to argue that while airplanes might fly according to the rules of aerodynamics, there are also lots of little invisible angels sitting on the airplane wings, flapping their little angel wings. Oh, and the result comes out exactly the same as predicted by aerodynamics. And you nasty atheists can’t disprove these angels, can you?, so there!

    • Sigh
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      The flying spaghetti monster eats those angels for breakfast.

  4. Christian
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    Oh cripes, who knows what other bogeymen hide below the noise floor. :roll:

  5. juhavs
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    As a philosophy teacher (who is keenly interested in philosophy of science), I am often often forced to sympathize with philosophers (of science), when they debate with scientists. Not this time: Sober’s position makes very little sense.

    Not to say anything about its American parochialism: why should one give up perfectly good principles, just to accommodate the very peculiar (and perverse) conditions that prevail on that side of the Atlantic?

    Indeed, it reminds me of a story of Keynes meeting some of his younger British colleagues at Bretton Woods, who had become quite frustrated by the perceived obdurateness of the Americans. When being told that Americans won’t listen to sense, Keynes reputedly replied: “Well, what are you going to tell them – nonsense?”

    • juhavs
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      Well, not often often, but just often!

    • RF
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      The term “philosophers of science” is a bit ambiguous, since “science” was originally called “natural philosophy”.

  6. John K.
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    Such a blatant god of the gaps argument, it is a wonder anyone takes this seriously.

    God works in mysterious ways. “Mysterious” in that they are only ways that are functionally indistinguishable from natural processes.

    The whole “appease the believers” trope is condescending and insulting to all sides. I want to treat the disease, not apply a band aid just for evolution.

    • sailor1031
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 4:55 am | Permalink

      Is it just me or is there really much more of this kind of accommodationism since the establishment of the Templeton prize? just askin’…

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      But are ther even gaps? What is the NEED for these “guided” mutations that ordinary unguided mutations cannot do?

  7. Christian
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    I guess (see here, for instance) was supposed to contain a link.

  8. newenglandbob
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Philosophy is not a dirty word.

    …But there are dirty philosophers like Elliott Sober who joins the ranks of rank philosophers like Plantinga. He bends over so far backwards that his head meets his rear.

    • Christian
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      Maybe he should join a Chinese circus. These mental gymnastics even seem to improve with age.

  9. gbjames
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    sub

  10. Christian
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    What a waste of a good mind to produce such papers, and how immensely disingenuous to toss believers a life preserver when Sober himself isn’t holding the rope!

    Excellent metaphor!
    And it seems the life preserver is just a ring of ice – barely floating and rapidly melting away.

    • Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      Ha ha. I was going to say the life preserver was full of holes, but your description is far better. :-)

  11. Tim
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    My problem with Sober’s line of reasoning is this:

    Mutations are associated with particular chemical events. Those events will likely have deleterious effects on an organism’s probability of survival in most genetic contexts, but in a few cases will produce a mutant with greater fitness. Those of you who are biologists can correct me if I’m wrong (or enough just isn’t known), but couldn’t one just gather evidence about rates of various known chemical events that yield mutants? Can one, at least in principle, show that any particular mutation being attributed to God’s intervention didn’t actually require God’s intervention because we know about the frequency at which the chemical process occurs randomly?

    Are there a manageably finite number of physicochemical mechanisms by which mutations occur? Are the processes that underlie “Godly mutations” really rare as mutation processes go? Or is it just that the number of genetic contexts where such mutations improve fitness that is “rare”? If so, who needs God to induce chemical processes that occur at a predictable rate anyway?

    • Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      Mutations are associated with particular chemical events. Those events will likely have deleterious effects on an organism’s probability of survival in most genetic contexts, but in a few cases will produce a mutant with greater fitness

      Most mutations are actually neutral.

  12. Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Now Sober doesn’t really believe this happens, but he wants to argue that one can’t rule that out as a logical possibility, nor can we rule it out as an empirical issue—so long as God-driven mutations are sufficiently rare.

    Sober’s contention that you can’t rule it out as a logical possibility is a worthless truism. Everything is possible. Not everything is probable. It’s possible that we are all actually living inside the Matrix right now, or I’m a brain in a vat, or the world was created last Thursday (or any other unfalsifiable hypothesis like god-guided mutations). It’s just that none of those things are probable. <a href="And they aren’t probable because they’re unfalsifiable.

    • Sajanas
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

      People like Sober aren’t helping evolutionary biology, they’re hurting philosophy. Every time I see arguments like this coming out of a philosopher, I think ‘What good is philosophy, if it not only can’t prove reality exists, but it can’t even prove the most absurd, stupid concept is real?’

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

        I’ve recently taking to asking apologists for philosophy what it is that philosophy and philosophers can do (or do better) than science and scientists.

        The resulting silence has been as informative as it has been deafening.

        All y’all philosophy apologists reading this, feel free to provide the answer.

        Let me add another one to that challenge: what’s the most important thing to have come out of philosophy that isn’t empirically validated?

        Cheers,

        b&

        • DV
          Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

          We have free will.

          • Posted July 3, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

            Considering that philosophers can’t even define what that term is supposed to mean or agree upon whether or not we do or don’t have whatever it is, that hardly seems an example in favor of philosophy.

            b&

            • DV
              Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

              You didn’t ask for unanimous, just important. Which is just as well because there’s hardly anything unanimous in philosophy.

              Anyway, that’s one thing philosophy can do better than science: explain how we have free will. Specifically on this topic Dan Dennett (philosopher) illuminates better than Sam Harris (neuroscientist) and Jerry Coyne (biologist), in my opinion.

              However, as I said suggested in some previous post Dan Dennett could just as well be said to be merely applying clear-thinking as he could be said to be doing philosophy. I’m not a fan of the traditional subject matters of philosophy that are not subsumed by other disciplines.

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

                Which is just as well because there’s hardly anything unanimous in philosophy.

                A more resounding condemnation of philosophy I could not have hoped to have written, myself.

                Thank you; I rest my case.

                b&

              • DV
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

                You haven’t heard of the First Law of Philosophy? For every philosopher, there exists an equal and opposite philosopher.

              • bernardhurley
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

                Hmm.. I think Dan Dennett’s explanation of free will is incoherent.

              • bernardhurley
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

                For every philosopher, there exists an equal and opposite philosopher.

                And of course one who agrees with both and one who agrees with neither.

              • DV
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

                >>Hmm.. I think Dan Dennett’s explanation of free will is incoherent.

                That’s OK. See First Law of Philosophy.

              • Dan L.
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                Dan Dennett has some really good conjectures about the nature of free will. What actual knowledge has he adduced about free will?

                None. That is Ben’s point I think. That philosophers don’t produce knowledge.

                Arguably that’s not what they’re supposed to do anyway, but until you guys get around to that you’re talking at cross purposes. You’ve failed Ben’s challenge in the spirit in which it was posed.

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

                This reply is to Ben Goren (but there isn’t a reply under his comment)
                So because you cannot unanimously decide some questions , that makes it worthless ? (for e.g. should we have capital punishment or not – or is being vegetarian more moral than non vegetarian or not? should we always tell the truth or is a white lie ok?).
                All of these questions and more are informed by good philosophy – far more interesting and far more challenging than the exact age of the earth.

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

                should we have capital punishment or not – or is being vegetarian more moral than non vegetarian or not? should we always tell the truth or is a white lie ok?

                Those are questions for ethicists, not philosophers. And they are, of course, valid questions and ones perfectly suited to empirical analysis.

                Capital punishment, for example, has been shown to increase violent crime; be more fiscally expensive than lifetime imprisonment; and be responsible for the deaths of innocents. If, as advocates of capital punishment claim, it is their goal to reduce violent crime, save money, and not kill innocents, then you certainly don’t need a philosopher to figure out that the right thing to do is to stop executions.

                b&

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

                Oh, come now, Ben! Stop moving the goalposts.

                Ethicists are philosophers. Ethics is “the philosophy of values” (chapter heading, p. 67, Teichman & Evans, Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide, Blackwell 1991).

                /@

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

                According to philosophers, everybody who thinks is a philosopher. Jerry, an evolutionary biologist, is a Doctor of Philosophy and thus a philosopher.

                Bullshit.

                An ethicist is somebody who studies ethics. A logician is somebody who studies logic. Just because lots of ethicists and logicians teach in departments that have “philosophy” in their names is as meaningless to the question of whether or not they’re doing philosophy as Jerry’s diploma is to what he does in the lab.

                b&

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

                PS. And can you empirically resolve all the questions deepakshetty offered as examples?

                /@

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

                I suppose you know very well that the degree harks back to a time when science was “natural philosophy”. (It still was, at Glasgow, when I was at university.)

                But if you eliminate natural and social sciences (including political science aka political philosophy), ethics, logic, … anything for which there’s a more specific term than “philosophy”, aren’t you left with ∅?

                So… what is the compass of what you criticise when you criticise “philosophy”?

                /@

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

                The argument tends to be, in response to “oh, philosophers talking a load of cobblers again“:

                1. You say I’m talking cobblers.
                2. I have all these scientists who’ve actually achieved something
                3. I hereby claim them as philosophers
                4. Therefore, I am in a class of people not talking cobblers.
                5. Therefore, you should take me seriously.

                It’s the same class of argument as:

                1. You say my Absolutely Fabulous/Farscape mpreg fanfic is terrible.
                2. Shakespeare wrote what could be considered fanfic!
                3. Therefore fanfic is not terrible.
                4. Therefore my fanfic is not terrible.

                To which the answer is “come back when you can write like Shakespeare.”

                If you want a dividing line, philosophy departments might be a good one. There has possibly been something useful out of a philosophy department. But ambit claims that try to retcon arbitrary scientists for the label “philosophy” are unconvincing.

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

                again replying to Ben
                Ethics is a branch of Philosophy.

                Good we agree on capital punishment but someone could easily argue what if it’s a serial killer paedophile , proven by empirical DNA tests to be the killer , has confessed to his crime and shown no remorse?
                Are you ever going to achieve unanimity?
                Are you going to be able to empirically observe what happens if you don’t execute this person v/s if you did?
                The fact that questions may not have unanimous answers makes Philosophy more interesting and more challenging , not less.

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

                PS. And can you empirically resolve all the questions deepakshetty offered as examples? /@

                Of course. Such studies have already been done, correlating crime and recidivism rates with the death penalty, comparing the costs to imprison somebody for life as opposed to executing the person, and on and on and on.

                Really, it’s more of an engineering problem than a scientific one, of course. What do you wish to accomplish? Science will help you figure out the possible means, and engineering will help you figure out which of those are most effective.

                But if you eliminate natural and social sciences (including political science aka political philosophy), ethics, logic, … anything for which there’s a more specific term than “philosophy”, aren’t you left with ∅? So… what is the compass of what you criticise when you criticise “philosophy”? /@

                Aye, there’s the rub. I’ve yet to get a philosopher to explain what, exactly, it is that a philosopher does, except rattle off lists of other completely unrelated disciplines (logic, for example, belongs to math and computer science, not philosophy) or take credit for the scientific method itself. They mumble bullshit about “Big Questions,” but, when pressed, they never come up with anything that science hasn’t answered far better (like questions on the origins of the universe or the nature of matter).

                In short, it would appear, at least based on empirical evidence, that philosophy is indistinguishable from bloviating and bullshitting.

                but someone could easily argue what if it’s a serial killer paedophile , proven by empirical DNA tests to be the killer , has confessed to his crime and shown no remorse? Are you ever going to achieve unanimity?

                As I mentioned above, this gets more into engineering than science (which is even farther removed from philosophy, if I at all understand what philosophers think they’re thinking of). And you’ll note that, in your specific example, the question of the certainty of guilt is but one small part of the equation. Is the society really better off by having one of its members kill another? What’s actually accomplished, other than satiating somebody’s blood lust?

                b&

              • RF
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

                “Of course. Such studies have already been done, correlating crime and recidivism rates with the death penalty”
                Surely you’re aware of the difference between correlation and causation?

                “comparing the costs to imprison somebody for life as opposed to executing the person”
                That’s an argument against a particular implementation of the death penalty, not the death penalty itself.

            • Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

              Thanks, Ben, but I did ask, “And can you empirically resolve all the questions deepakshetty offered as examples?” now you addresed the first one … twice … but not the others.

              And you’re still vague about which philosophical disciplines are merely bloviating and bullshitting…

              (Also: How did you decide – empirically? – that logic is a branch of maths and computer science and not a branch of philosophy? Or maybe logic has maths-philosophy duality… ?)

              /@

            • Posted July 5, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

              And you’ll note that, in your specific example, the question of the certainty of guilt is but one small part of the equation. Is the society really better off by having one of its members kill another?
              Why ask me? It’s you who say that the answers should be unanimous and empirically demonstrable .(my answer is no)

              What you really need to prove is that for this particular case society is better of not executing someone v/s executing them. You are giving a “in general” answer.
              You also have to provide an empirical study where societies who execute serial killer paeodphiles are worse than those that don’t
              Also you really need to empirically demonstrate is that the values you are using in your studies are better than say “justice” or “revenge”.

        • blitz442
          Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

          Consider a tree falling in a forest with no one there…

          I don’t know. Maybe philosophy asks the questions that propel science. Perhaps philosophers are uniquely trained to identify errors of thought and reasoning and are therefore good referees of intellectual output.

          I guess another way of looking at it is this – let’s take the philosophers that many of us admire (such as Dennett or Kitcher) and ask whether their most productive output required specific philosophical training as opposed to scientific training. Would Darwin’s Dangerous Idea be better if Dennett was trained as a scientist instead?

          • Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

            Could you give some examples?

            Who was the philosopher who propelled CERN to (presumably) discover the Higgs, and what questions did he or she ask to propel them? Do you expect him or her to be named on the paper?

            Or how about NASA and their Martian probes? Or Lemaître to figure out that the observable universe started with the singularity that Hoyle dismissed as the “Big Bang”? Or Darwin with the Theory of Evolution, or van Leeuwenhoek and germ theory, or Newton and mechanics, or Einstein and Relativity or Bohr et al. and quantum theory?

            I’m hard pressed to think of bigger questions than these, and, best I know, philosophers had no meaningful input whatsoever in any of them.

            Other than, of course, modern philosophers taking vicarious credit for them by claiming that they “ask questions that propel science.” Who asks which questions?

            b&

            • blitz442
              Posted July 3, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

              I don’t have any examples and I tend to agree with your take on the issue.

              I also struggle with the difference between philosophy and plain old critical thinking.

              You’d think that coming up with a good definition of philosophy would be right in the philosopher’s wheelhouse.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

                A self defeating subject. I like it! =D.

          • DV
            Posted July 3, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

            >>Would Darwin’s Dangerous Idea be better if Dennett was trained as a scientist instead?

            I don’t think that book required much scientific training, just serious layman’s interest. But I think Dennet could have written than book too with just a reading on the history of philosophy.

      • Sajanas
        Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        oops, meant to say ‘disprove the most absurd, stupid concept’. But I suppose Sober’s gambit can’t prove anything either… it can only offer up unprovable scenarios.

  13. Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    So…Sober is advocating a position he doesn’t hold in an attempt to persuade theists to adopt a position he knows is false.

    In other words, Sober is a liar.

    Granted, it’s a Platonic sort of a lie, such as what Eusebius advocated. Tell a lesser lie in order to convince your victim to accept a greater truth.

    But it’s still lying, and equally despicable.

    Jerry, you nailed it. If the fear is that Christians will wake up and realize that Jesus isn’t necessary for the hypothesis that life evolves, just imagine their horror to realize that Jesus has fuck-all to do with gravity as well!

    Teach the controversy — intelligent falling!

    b&

    • Sajanas
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      And its an insulting lie, not just to people who accept evolution without needing pixies to make mutations, but to the believers that Sober presumes are smart enough to watch his video, but too stupid to read his article and see that he’s doing it in a cynical ploy to stop judicial activism, or to notice that his argument is entirely constructed to give them a balm to their doubts, rather than something he actually believes in.

      • Sajanas
        Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

        Given below… perhaps it would be better to call it ‘doublespeak’, or something like that… I don’t mean to imply that Sober is a bad person, but geeze, this whole thing seems really like a really cynical position to hold, and explaining it seems even more cynical.

        A better thing to spend his time on would be to explain exactly how different evolutionary biology is from religion, and how atheism is not a religion. Because those arguments would be much more of a strong rebut to ‘evolutionary biology promotes atheism and thus violates the 1st amendment’ than ‘it isn’t impossible that evolution is incompatible with religion’ while ignoring that his arguments don’t imply any particular god, and that evolution is vastly different from any previously described type of divine action.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      Several people have called Sober a “liar,” and I think that’s unfair. It’s also the kind of invective I don’t like on this website when it’s leveled against a colleague (creationists are okay). I don’t agree with Elliott’s arguments but I’d ask people to refrain from such name-calling, regardless of how accurate they think it is.

      Thanks.
      C.C.

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

        But it’s right there in Sober’s own words! He doesn’t believe that God caused any mutations, but he wants Christians to rest assured that it’s reasonable to think that God causes mutations. That’s a textbook definition of lying.

        Or am I mischaracterizing his description of his personal beliefs and his actions? Does he instead claim to believe that God causes mutations, or that it’s unreasonable to think that God causes mutations?

        And, it’s also the textbook definition of Creationism, too. It’s exactly how Creationists explain genetic diversity: genetic variation isn’t random, since random mutations can’t create new information. Rather, God changes genes to suit his will.

        Is Sober’s acknowledgement that he’s lying (even though he of course doesn’t use the “L” word himself) when he puts forth Intelligent Design Creationism as a respectable hypothesis something that somehow makes him more worthy of respect than those Intelligent Design Creationists who claim to actually believe that nonsense?

        I really am puzzled by your position here.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

          My position is simply that I know Elliott and like him and don’t want to see names hurled at him. “Deliberate misrepresentation,” while perhaps a euphemism, might be okay.

          I haven’t yet formulated a policy on name-calling here, but I’m trying to think of one that will prevent the kind of invective that plagues other websites.

          • Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

            Fair ’nuff.

            Sober is a deliberate misrepresentationist who’s providing unwarranted philosophical respectability to Intelligent Design Creationism. And a poopyhead.

            Okay?

            b&

            P.S. In the event that he hasn’t thought through all the implications of arguing in favor of a position he knows to be false, I think the best thing for him is to slap him in the face with the “liar” label. If he’s worthy of your friendship, he’ll realize that that’s what he’s doing and remedy the error of his ways. b&

            • papalinton
              Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

              That’s better.
              Now, on your way.

              :o)

          • rhetoric
            Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

            Looking at several dictionaries, the definition of ‘lie’ is pretty consistent:

            1. A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood.
            2. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression.

            If someone who actually understands evolution says that it is somehow compatible with intelligent design creationism because “anything is probable” then they are a liar. They are intentionally given the wrong impression of evolution. Their intentions for doing so have absolutely nothing to do with it. For example, a ‘white lie’ is still a lie.

            It is just unsettling to see so much professional bias. This is the exact same reason interviewers on news networks allow politicians to answer questions with questions. Wouldn’t want to rustle any feathers – after all, you may need him to scratch your back someday when he gives you that ‘exclusive’ interview.

            • gbjames
              Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

              Ruffle. …wouldn’t want to ruffle any feathers…

              Rustling happens in leaves. Or with cattle.

              • newenglandbob
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

                Or potato chips. They also have Wavy to help during the wave function.

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

                Or with cowboys (with or without paper chaps)… ;-)

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

                Come on, Ant! You can’t have cowboys without cattle!

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

                Come on, Ant! You can’t have cowboys without cattle!

                You can if your hat’s big enough…or so some philosophers would have you believe….

                b&

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

                I just wanted to get the “paper chaps” joke in.

                So sue me.

                /@

          • Marta
            Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

            I disagree with you, and strongly.

            It is not a good thing, to characterize “lying” as “invective”. It isn’t. Our friends may be wrong, inaccurate, or wear their butts for a hat, but if they intentionally give us false information, they are lying to us, making them “liars”, and it is not “invective” or “name-calling” to say so.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted July 3, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

              Agree with this 100%.

            • DV
              Posted July 3, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

              Doesn’t “liar” suggest inveterate lying? if so then it’s a more serious charge to say that someone is a liar versus saying merely that he was lying (in this particular instance).

              I do note with interest the way we are so sensitive to the issue of lying. It’s our social instincts (or rather individual instincts for social living, to not give aid to group selectionists) honed by evolution at work here.

              • Marta
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

                “if so then it’s a more serious charge to say that someone is a liar versus saying merely that he was lying”

                Is it?

                Are you arguing that it’s possible to tell a lie (or lies) without being a liar?

                If this is your argument, then what (in addition to actually and intentionally not being truthful) is also necessary to meet the definition of “liar”?

              • bernardhurley
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

                Speaking of lies and liars is really rather simple minded. Our attitude to lies is hangover from divine command morality. I would prefer to think in terms of questions such as:

                1. Is it in practice necessary to say something either true or false?
                2. Does the hearer (or reader) have the right to the truth?
                3. To what extent is the hearer harmed by not being told the truth?
                4. Is there any other harm caused by what I say, whether true or false?

                There are several other questions that can be asked, but these will do for now. Thus, for instance, if you take the classic dilemma of what you say if the SS knock on the door and ask if there are any Jews hiding in your house. Well, obviously you have to say something, but in this situation I would say that the SS have forfeited the right to the truth. It might do the SS some harm if they are not told the truth (e.g. they might not reach their target), but this pales into insignificance compared with the harm done by saying “Yes there are three hiding in the cellar.” I would hesitate to call the answer “No” a lie because of the derogatory associations of the term. I would hesitate to call anyone who answered like this regularly, as may be necessary in a dictatorship, a liar.

                I know people who will agonise over so called white lies but simply accept that politicians or religious leaders will lie to them. In any case divine command morality doesn’t work. According to official RCC theology it s always wrong to say something you know to be untrue, but it doesn’t seem to stop them doing it.

              • Marta
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

                “take the classic dilemma of what you say if the SS knock on the door and ask if there are any Jews hiding in your house”

                Thank you, bernardhurley. This is a very good reminder that lying is not so binary as I think, or it IS binary by definition, but context matters. Eh, time for a hotdog.

              • RF
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

                “Are you arguing that it’s possible to tell a lie (or lies) without being a liar?”
                Well, I suppose most people would consider the term “carpenter” to imply more than merely that someone has made a single table, so in the same way, the term “liar” implies more than merely that someone has made a single lie.

              • John Scanlon, FCD
                Posted July 4, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink

                Does ‘liar’ imply inveterate* lying?

                * (I’ll assume you mean something precise by this fuzzy term)

                No. Even if all Cretans are [implicitly constant, pure] liars, I would contend that not all liars are Cretans [in this sense… apologies to actual natives of the southern Aegean].

            • David Leech
              Posted July 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

              Sober seems to be indulging in a ‘thought experiment’ so accusing him of lying is a bit too much.

          • Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

            Say he’s egregiously disingenuous, then!

            /@

        • DV
          Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

          >>He doesn’t believe that God caused any mutations

          True, this is what he thinks.

          >>it’s reasonable to think that God causes mutations

          if you replace “reasonable” with “not unreasonable” (allowing for neutral reasonableness), then it is true this is what he thinks.

          Note that there’s no contradiction between these two statements. One doesn’t need to accept everything that one thinks is reasonable, much less just “not unreasonable”. So technically he’s not lying. He didn’t say anything that’s he believes is false.

          • DV
            Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

            He’s more being disingenuous than lying.

            • Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

              My dictionary defines “disingenuous” as, “not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.” I would suggest that that’s a distinction without a difference.

              I’d also suggest that he really doesn’t think that it’s reasonable to think that God causes mutations, for the exact same reason that he (presumably) doesn’t think it’s reasonable to think that there’s a dragon in his garage.

              Maybe he thinks it’s reasonable to refrain from absolutely rejecting either hypothesis, but I’m fairly sure he thinks that those hypotheses are comparably reasonable. That is, comparably silly and / or batshit insane.

              b&

              • JonLynnHarvey
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

                It seems the issue is this.

                Part of the case for atheism is that religious claims are either unverifiable or have been discredited.

                Not only does science give verifiable knowledge- this knowledge is also the most
                !*reliable*!

                The wider our knowledge of the world, the more religion seems to be mired in subjective personal issues, which might be better resolved without a religious referent.

                This is because scientific !*method*! has proven a better guide to truth, even if you can reconcile (some) improbable theologies with current scientific findings.

                Still, it is correct that scientists should not
                !*in their role scientists*! not act as advocates for atheism. Let folks add up the numbers for themselves. So I think Sober is right (although bending wayyy to far over backwards to make is case) when he says

                “Atheists who think that evolutionary theory provides the beginning of an argument for disbelieving in God should make it clear that their arguments depend on additional [albeit quite reasonable-JLH] premises that are not vouchsafed by scientific theory or data.”

              • bernardhurley
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

                I would agree with Bertrand Russell’s contention that science does not prove the non-existence of a God but instead takes away any good reasons you might have for such a belief.

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

                Still, it is correct that scientists should not
                !*in their role scientists*! not act as advocates for atheism.

                Why on Earth not?

                Should astronomers also refrain from advocating against astrology? Should chemists bend over backwards to avoid offending the delicate sensibilities of alchemists? Should a doctor look the other way if a patient decides to sprinkle himself with pigeon blood in order to cure skin disease? Should a psychiatrist counseling a patient ignore the patient’s sincere beliefs that she was abducted by aliens and probed in the vicinity of Uranus and apologetically assume that her beliefs are valid?

                What’s so special about this one popular form of delusion that it deserves different treatment from all other popular forms of delusion?

                b&

              • Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

                I would agree with Bertrand Russell’s contention that science does not prove the non-existence of a God but instead takes away any good reasons you might have for such a belief.

                I would only agree with that to the extent that science has similarly taken away any good reason to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

                Rhetorically, it is important that people understand that saying that science doesn’t disprove gods is as technically-true-but-actually-misleading as saying that science doesn’t disprove leprechauns, either.

                Sure, science hasn’t formally disproven the possibility that there’s a dragon in your garage. But do you really expect any rational person to respect you when you persist in claiming there is one?

                b&

              • bernardhurley
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

                But there aren’t any good reasons for believing in Santa or the Easter Bunny period. Without science there might appear to be good reasons for believing in the supernatural. Actually I’m not sure that the reasons were that good.

              • JonLynnHarvey
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

                Reply to Ben Goren

                Rightly or wrongly, society tends to immunize religious beliefs from criticism because they are so totalistically encompassing all aspects of the believer’s life. The problem with that reasoning, I admit, is that it means that when religion goes bad, it goes very very bad indeed (to paraphrase something Hitchens said about clergy).

                Religion tries to satisfy (some would say psychologically hijacks) people’s desire for a system of moral guidance, meaning, and their sense of gratitude and awe at being in the universe. It is a more !*totalistic*! type of thinking than alchemy or astrology. Hence, our culture’s tendency to immunize specifically religion from criticism.
                (And BTW psychaitrists often try subtle strategies to get their patients to slowly find their own way out of delusional thinking rather than directly attacking it.)

                Unfortunately, in the past 50 years we’ve had three religious cults in America that committed mass suicide, an incompetent religious president whose aide mocked the “reality-based community” (Carter and Obama have been OK as religious presidents), religion-motivated 9/11, and a new style of American fascism in the Republican party rooted in religion. Ergo, there’s now a tendency to rethink our habitual immunizing of religion and take the gloves off.

                It remains my own tendency to be scathing towards specific dysfunctions of religion rather than religion in general, but I really have mainly only my temperament & disposition to account for that. It’s a product of a very benign religious upbringing I have discarded, living in San Francisco where most churches are fairly benign, and my continued engagement with Buddhism (although the Association for Secular Buddhism would be the organization that best fits my views even though I’m not a member.)

            • Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

              Egregiously so! (I commented above before I read this!)

              /@

        • Hawks
          Posted July 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

          But it’s right there in Sober’s own words! He doesn’t believe that God caused any mutations, but he wants Christians to rest assured that it’s reasonable to think that God causes mutations. That’s a textbook definition of lying.

          This is what Sober is saying:
          (1) He doesn’t believe that any gods has caused any mutations.
          (2) Since science is not causually complete, it is possible to accept science and an intervening god.

          That’s hardly lying.

          …he puts forth Intelligent Design Creationism as a respectable hypothesis…

          I know for a fact that he thinks that ID is not a scientific hypothesis. He has, after all, written extensively on the subject.

      • RF
        Posted July 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

        “It’s also the kind of invective I don’t like on this website when it’s leveled against a colleague (creationists are okay).”
        Wow. That’s really disturbing. We should overlook someone’s lies if they’re “on our side”? It seems to me that that itself is a form of dishonesty.

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      You don’t believe God exists – you dont believe it i reasonable to think so either.
      You would hopefully admit that we can say nothing about a deistic God and would have to admit that it is possible that a deistic God could exist.

      Would that make you a liar?

  14. Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    Does Sober show any understanding that random mutations won’t help the hypothetical god’s cause unless those mutations are then selected for? Or has he just completely misunderstood evolution by natural selection.

    • bernardhurley
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      I suppose Sober could reply that God could have only have helped along the mutation when He knew they would be selected for or that He kept trying out the same or similar mutations until it worked. But the whole thing just gets silly. If I were Almighty God I think I would go for magic manipulation of the environment rather than magic mutations, and with Me guiding it, it would not have taken so darned long.

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        But Bernard, you’d have to work in mysterious ways. It’s part of the job description!

        /@

        • bernardhurley
          Posted July 3, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          I assure you I am no stranger to working in mysterious ways! Its a mystery how I do any work at all!

          • Posted July 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

            That you’re not working is no mystery. The real mystery is how you keep getting paid!

            b&

            • bernardhurley
              Posted July 3, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

              I’ve often wondered about that!

  15. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    And no, philosophy is not a dirty word…

    Perhaps not, but sophistry is, and that is what Sober is up to.

  16. Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    “Elliott is misguided.” Pun surely intended.

    Turner Syndrome = Jebus

  17. Caroline52
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Sober explicitly admits that he’s making an untrue argument for political reasons. Thus he’s a philosopher who explicitly admits he doesn’t love truth. Since, as we know, philosophy is Greek for “truth lover,” If philosophy were a licensed profession, he’d have to lose his license. It’s a married person who admits to cheating on your spouse, and then claims it was for the spouse’s own good!

    • Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      Nitpick: Philosophy is Greek for wisdom lover (or friend of wisdom). Truth lover would be philaletheia.

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        Well, if you’re being pedantic, isn’t philosophy Greek for love of wisdom, rather than wisdom lover? ;-)

        /@

        • Caroline52
          Posted July 4, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          I suppose Sober could argue that it is wiser to be an accommodationist, from a political point of view, and thereby keep his license. Fair enough.

  18. Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    To me it seems like a complete waste of time, …

    But perhaps you could say that about all philosophy, not just that part.

    Jerry Coyne spends a lot of time posting about cats, and to me that seems like a complete waste of time. And he just posted something about the Beatles, which likewise seems like a waste of time.

    I’m puzzled why you see this a problem. If Sober and Ruse want to dabble in metaphysical speculation, I can’t see why that should bother me any more that does Coyne’s dabbling in felid speculation.

    Personally, I like classical music, but I don’t go around wringing my hands at the existence of rock accommodationists.

    Diversity is good, and I welcome it. It doesn’t matter if some of the diversity is with Sober and Ruse saying things about religion that seem pointless, or if some of it is Coyne saying things about felids that seem pointless or PZ Myers saying things about cephalopods that seem pointless.

    • gbjames
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      Suggesting that Sober’s professional work product is equivalent to JAC posting a picture of a cat doesn’t say much for the quality of the former’s professionalism, does it?

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

        Beside which, Sober is openly advocating intelligent design creationism in his official professional capacity. That’s a big problem, especially for the president of the Evolution Society.

        Jerry, can we stop referring to Sober merely as a philosopher and start calling him the creationist that he is?

        Either that or a liar. I’m fine with either.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Hawks
          Posted July 7, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

          May I suggest that you read what Sober has written.

          He is not advocating ID. He is not a creationist. Nothing you have presented shows him to be a liar.

    • Posted July 3, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Do you mean classical specifically, or one or more of ancient, mediæval, renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic, twentieth-century, modern or contemporary?

      /@

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        Symphonies, concertos, chamber music, traditional folk music. I’m not a fan of baroque music nor of some atonal modern symphonies.

        • Posted July 3, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

          There’s stuff I like in all of the eras, even baroque (Handel, Bach, et al.). And stuff I dislike – I agree on the atonal stuff. But then I’m pretty catholic* and my tastes run through rock, prog, metal, dance and ambient – even some jazz (swing).

          /@

          * Or indiscriminate… :-/

  19. zendruid1
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    “an green organism put in a red environment”

    “The supernatural was not only been part of science in its earlier years”

    “Why, then, does Sober (and his confére Michael Ruse) write papers and book on this topic?”

    [Sorry. I’m in one of those states….]

    • RF
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

      I also think that “Because Sober considers the idea of God-guided mutations one that science can’t reject” should have “to be” between “mutations” and “one”.

  20. Hempenstein
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    This guy needs to visit a major university library, and behold The Metabolic and Molecular Bases of Inherited Disease. (list price new @ Amazon is $768, used start @ 212.

    Many of you already know this one, now in the eighth edition. One by one, this set details the genetic etiology of a myriad of heritable disorders.

    The New England Journal of Medicine’s review starts: “The first impression this book makes is one of hugeness: it is huge in size, huge in scope, and huge in vision. This set of four volumes, which weighs in at 16 kg (35 lb) and is too large to carry to one’s car without advance planning, is no vade mecum. In the preface to this edition, there is mention of an informal survey of owners of the seventh edition, of whom 70 percent used the book at least weekly. This book has become indispensable to those in the field, as well as to a much broader audience…”

    You can read the rest of the review @ Amazon, but as to Sober, behold those tomes, and tell me again about this imaginary benevolent entity that can poof a beneficial mutation here and there (presumably in moments of sobriety), while letting all these other mutations muddle along from generation to generation, inflicting disaster whenever they converge in homozygosity, and sometimes in heterozygosity.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      Hear, hear.

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Lethal mutations could “logically” arise via the shenanigans of Draghinazzo.

  21. Tim Harris
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    But, Neil Rickert, posting about interests that you – and I – don’t share (Jerry Coyne doesn’t, by the way, ‘speculate’ about ‘felids’)is not the same thing as constructing an argument for or against something and presenting it in public for serious consideration by others and in the hope of persuading others to agree with you and to take action on tha basis of that agreement – although I certainly agree that Sober’s and Ruse’s efforts in this connexion are pretty trivial. You surely would not be so airily dismissive of, say, Darwin’s ‘Origin’ or Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ or their modern equivalents (just let the dear chappies get on with what interests them – it provides a bit of diversity!).

  22. blitz442
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Science really has destroyed the intellectual respectability of religious claims.

    In days of yore, theologians and philosophers used to argue that God was necessary for the processes that we observe in nature.

    Now, God is merely not inconsistent with these processes. Spain’s third goal in the Euros could, logically, have been directed by God for mysterious reasons.

    If I attempted to published a paper arguing that it cannot be ruled out on a logical basis that God does not interfere with the results of American Idol, would this not be regarded as a giant waste of time?

  23. Sigmund
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure why he thinks unguided evolution should be equated with atheism. It is equally consistent with deism or pantheism (it’s other aspects of science and philosophy that push the balance in favor of atheism.)
    Just because a particular religion or philosophical world view claims it is consistent with evolution by natural selection (and plenty of religions claim they are!) where is the justification for equating the science with the religion.
    Roman Catholicism is consistent with the spherical Earth model – does this mean we need to cancel geography lessons if a Flat Earther objects on religious grounds?

  24. Kevin
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Let’s cut to the chase.

    Sober’s notion is wrong.

    1: A god that directs mutations would want to optimize the outcome of its direction. Not just the creation of humans, but optimal humans.

    2: Any non-optimal outcome would be evidence that no godly intervention has occurred.

    3: The appendix (a vestigial trait that can kill you unexpectedly) is a nonoptimal outcome. Any god wanted to direct the outcome of mutations would have mutation the appendix out of man completely.

    4. The vitamin C pseudogene is a nonoptimal oucome. Any god that wanted humans to evolve would have kept the vitamin C gene intact and functional.

    There are dozens, perhaps hundreds more examples, but in the interests of brevity…

    5. Therefore, the notion that there is a god directing evolution is patent obscene nonsense. We have no need for that hypothesis.

    It also violates the rules of parsimony. What does “god directed evolution” look like? It looks exactly like non-god directed evolution. That’s proof of nothing. It doesn’t even rise to the level of an interesting hypothesis.

    Seriously, this is the best philosophy can do? Declare something unprovable therefore possible? What crap.

    • DV
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      >>A god that directs mutations would want to optimize the outcome of its direction

      You’re assuming a god without sneaky, capricious motives to hide his presence and toy with his creations.

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        Even less parsimonious to assume such!

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        Can you provide any living examples other than of atheist philosophers who seriously propose the reasonable existence of such a god?

        b&

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

          Remove sneaky motives and the idea of a hidden God has been played with by the Templeton foundation. But as a strategy to deal with various folks !*conflicting*! notions of God, I find this very desperate and unconvincing.

          • Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

            I would suggest that Templeton is being as…”disingenuous” as Sober in proposing such an argument. Ask them whether or not they really think that Jesus flies so far beneath the radar that he’s perfectly undetectable, and they’ll sing a different tune.

            b&

        • DV
          Posted July 3, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          Believe it or not there’s a lot of apologetics around the hiddenness of God. I would think this is as old as the problem of evil and not something new that Templeton was the first to address.

          • bernardhurley
            Posted July 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

            The more hidden God is the more faith it takes to believe in Him. It’s a bit like when He deliberately refuses to answer your prayers just to test your faith.

            • Posted July 3, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

              So, a kind of homeopathic God?

              /@

              • bernardhurley
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

                Yep, He’s so powerful He can save you without even having to exist.

    • Hawks
      Posted July 7, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      I don’t suppose that you’d care to justify assumptions (1) and (2)? The sort of theism Sober talks about sure doesn’t require them to be true.

  25. Sastra
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Since belief in God requires a prior belief that the “Mind” is a mysterious, fundamental aspect of reality disconnected from the material world, approaching the gradual history of brain development in living species through an evolutionary framework will eventually kill off whatever remains when you take away the need for a “Designer.” As Dennett says, the Theory of Evolution is a universal acid which will eat away at any ‘skyhook’-style metaphysical theory which tries to contain it. Religion and other supernaturalistic views of reality can be reconciled with the naturalistic discoveries of modern science only if you want to play sly little games with what it means to “reconcile” one view with another. Throw out the need to be consistant and bend over backwards with strained attempts to point out that “anything is possible” if there is no logical contradiction and you can now “reconcile” anything with anything.

    This bending over backwards to protect the “Little People” from having to give up their faiths (they cannot of course handle the truth like WE can) seems like a stealth sort of arrogance, and I doubt it will be effective over the long run. Religious views have been politically handled in a very awkward way: we do not want any debate in the public square for such personal, sacred, private matters while we simultaneously encourage the belief that the entire focus and meaning of life is an absolute commitment to these matters in how we live. Sooner or later, something’s got to give. You can’t have it both ways.

    The religious have never been shy about taking whatever encouragement they can from any scientific discovery which kinda sorta seems like it might support the existence of the supernatural and running it to the media like public relations advisors on speed, but they are shocked — shocked I say– when the nonreligious sagely point out that the entire weight of the scientific consensus firmly goes in the opposite direction — and it’s okay to follow it. In fact, it’s not just “okay” to do so: it’s intellectually honest and thus MORE ethical than otherwise.

    This latter position is what so terrifies Sober and other accomodationists. They want to go back to the liberal idea of the spiritual smorgasbord, where everyone’s position on God and the supernatural is simply a matter of taste and we are all free to take the dish we prefer and put it on our plate with no judgments or complaints from those who have put other things on their plate. It’s a position which would work just fine if religious beliefs were not supposed to be amazing and valid insights into the way things really are — and those who hold them far superior to those who don’t.

    Encouraging a fundamentally intolrant and dogmatic setup for the sake of pragmatic convenience is, I think, very risky.

  26. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Well, it’s fairly obvious Sober’s not holding the rope to this life preserver for believers. Any one who grabs it has to swim to a different ship than the one from which he tossed it.

    I say let the believers use the life preserver to swim to their ship, then let’s see which boat is more seaworthy with better navigation and nautical maps (which will be different from which has attractive accomodations).

    • Posted July 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      Nice extended metaphor!

      Could I add that the ship the believer is making for has hit the ice floes of science – including the icebergs of evolution and cosmology – and is now listing very badly.

      /@

  27. Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Nominations for this years Templeton Prize closed two days ago on the 1st July. Eight weeks ago [on 15th May] Sober gave a Faraday Institute public “research” seminar called “Naturalism and Evolutionary Theory”. HERE’S a 5-minute interview prior to the seminar.

    These Faraday gigs are probably very, very well paid if they are anything like the invite-only Templeton study weekends [or are they a week long can’t remember the details]

    Background cobbled together from various Wiki pages: The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion was established in 2006 by a $2,000,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation. It describes itself as an interdisciplinary academic research institute based at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, England. It conducts “research”, holds seminars and lectures, and disseminates publications on various topics at the intersection of science and religion.

    The Institute’s Director is Denis Alexander, who is also an Editor of Science and Christian Belief. Alexander has stated that he believes “that the Bible is the inspired Word of God from cover to cover” and that this position is consistent with his support for evolution

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Alexander wrote some very strange stuff for BioLogos, trying to reconcile Adam with anthropology.

      Why would scientists want to do this kind of stuff? Isn’t the real world fascinating enough?

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

        Faith doth that to people! They just revel in lunacy,because they won’t face the reality that none need God!
        Yes, we need to suggest to theists and their accommodationists that other means exist to help us have that more abundant life. Psychology enters this scence! Intellectually, we won this war eons ago! Psychologically, we’ve only just begun to help the superstitious.
        Such as the late Dr. Albert Ellis are the key to get people to overcome their superstiton called religion.

  28. bernardhurley
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    The problem is that logical possibility is a very weak constraint. All it means is that it can be asserted without a formal contradiction. Most fairy stories are internally consistent and can be made formally consistent with what we know simply by assuming there is a special place called never never land which we cannot detect and where the normal rules don’t apply. Relying on logical possibility really is clutching at straws and is not an option for anyone who, as Russell once put it, prefers the truth to a consistent fairy tale.

    • Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Your island universe works for faery tales, but not for any god worshipped today.

      By very definition, all gods worshipped today are omnipresent (and omnipotent and omniscient). (And we’ll ignore for the moment that each of those terms is as meaningless as “married bachelor” or “square circle” or “largest prime number.”)

      Therefore, these gods, according to their worshippers, are playing the utmost in active roles in this here real universe. That they could logically have much power over Never-Never Land is irrelevant; the logical question involves their role here in this real world.

      And it is in this real world that they are logically proven nonexistent (such as by Epicurus centuries before the invention of Christianity).

      b&

      • bernardhurley
        Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        Well, Epicurus is somewhat ambiguous on the question of gods, as is his follower Lucretius. I think there is a great temptation to project modern opinions onto their writings very often by cherry picking the atheistic sounding bits. For instance, De Rerum Natura, Lucretius’ great “atheistic” poem, starts with a hymn to Venus, which is reprised several times, but you can find parts of the poem that make him look like an atheist. True the Epicureans were called atheists in antiquity but then so were Christians.

        As to the logical possibility or impossibility of gods, it really depends on how exactly they are defined. While according to some definitions a god may be logically impossible according to another it may not. Since there seem to be an many definitions of god as believers I personally have better things to do than to go through all of them and try to decide on their logical possibility. Besides, there is no need to, logical possibility is such a weak claim that, in itself, it can be effectively ignored. After all, from my point of view, it is logically possible someone scooped up and Inuit in a big net, wrapped him in cling film and them parachuted him into the middle of the Sahara during the last few hours. But I would be a complete idiot if I relied on such a possibility to inform my beliefs about the world.

        In other words it is irrelevant whether Sobel has shown it is logically possible for divine intervention to have occurred in evolution or not. If he has, it gives one absolutely no reason to suppose that it has actually happened. As I said anyone who uses such an idea to bolster his or her beliefs really is clutching at straws.

        • Posted July 3, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

          I’ve yet to encounter even a coherent definition of the term, “god,” that anybody actually believes in, let alone one that’s plausible. All the popular definitions start off with their own incoherencies such as, “omnipotence.” (An allegedly omnipotent being can’t commit suicide, so saying a god is omnipotent is as meaningless as saying it’s a married bachelor.)

          That is, of course, an empirical observation. I suppose somebody might present me a coherent definition of the term. But, at this point, I’d consider that as somebody coming up with verifiable evidence that Jesus is a genetic engineer.

          And if nobody can even define the term, how is it that we’re supposed to have a discussion about evidence or anything else?

          b&

          • bernardhurley
            Posted July 3, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

            According to official Roman Catholic theology, the term “omnipotent” does not include the ability to perform logically inconsistent actions. It’s not obvious to me that omnipotence implies the inability to commit suicide, but, if it does, so what? I’m not prepared to argue with the religious about how many angels you can get on a pin-head. Especially when the onus of proof for their assertions is with them.

            If a theist wants to assert that it is logically possible for a divine agent to have done something then I am not prepared to discuss it with him/her; it is too silly. If said theist can show me actual evidence of this divine agent’s activities then that is another matter.

            It’s unlikely that you have thought up a logical objection to any of the “omnis” that the Jesuits have not heard, and, from their point of view, answered centuries ago. In fact the Catholic Truth Society published a pamphlet in the late 60’s called something like “The Meaning of Terms Predicated of God,” which was all about how you can tweak the definitions of the omnis to make them logically consistent. If you want to logic chop with a believer, that’s up to you. Personally I have better things to do than to disappear into a black hole full of verbal diarrhea, which is precisely what is likely to happen if you happen to take on a Catholic theologian. Unless and until there is evidence, I’m not interested.

            • Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

              No need for any black hole sucking.

              The whole point of a god is that it can do anything a mere mortal can, and then some. That’s especially true of the omni-gods.

              But mere mortals commit suicide every day, and princes throughout the ages have (permanently) abdicated the throne for all sorts of good and not-so-good reasons. Neither option is open to Jesus, so what sort of a joke is it to think that he’s able to do everything and anything?

              The Jesuits have a poor time with basic set theory, in my experience. For example, Jesus also can’t create a perfect test for Satan where Satan thinks that he (Satan) is the all-powerful omni-everything but isn’t really. Either Satan gets Jesus’s power to see through the charade, or the power doesn’t exist and Jesus has no way of knowing that Satan isn’t the one running the show. Or Jesus creates a less-than-perfect test without said power and is incapable of creating the perfect test.

              And even their “only logically possible” retort is ludicrous. Forget Jesus who’s bound by logic; show me the super-duper god who created the rules of logic and thereby made Jesus his bitch.

              The Jesuits are masters at bloviation, nothing more. The only way to lose their game is to play it by their own rules.

              Cheers,

              b&

        • Posted July 3, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

          Epicurus’ gods exert no power in our affairs, so he was then an adeist.
          That is no logical possibility as science prohibits it! It flaunts science.

  29. Ken Pidcock
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    We don’t have to consider that tiny, fire-breathing dragons actually ignite the gasoline in your pistons once every 10,000 ignitions

    I’ll hold onto that one. Sober:

    if the theory is thought of in this way, one should not be surprised if a judge decides that teaching evolutionary theory violates the constitutional principle of neutrality with respect to religion.

    I’m genuinely perplexed by this, and by Michael Ruse’s similar concern. I know it’s a creationist wet dream, but I just don’t see how it happens, how teaching good science is going to be argued as establishing materialism. It’s just nonsense.

    • Christian
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      I don’t get it either. If their fears had any basis in reality then you’d just need a religion or world-view to incorporate some scientific theory as part of their core doctrine and presto – the courts would rule that this theory (although it is proper science) can no longer be taught in science class because it favors this particular religion/world-view.

    • DV
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Who said anything about materialism? And why would materialism be bad anyway?

    • RF
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      What constitutional principle of neutrality with respect to religion is he talking about? The constitution has two main clauses dealing with religion: the establishment clause, and the free exercise clause. The establishment clause prohibits the promotion of a religion, and that’s not relevant because atheism is not a religion. The free exercise clause is not relevant because simply teaching students that their parents’ religious beliefs are wrong does not stop anyone from exercising their religion. If religion makes factual assertions that are objectively false, the government has the right to contradict those assertions.

  30. MAUCH
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    I stil need to do some reading to understand what is meant by unguided mutation but I would like to ask everyone out there whether they are stating that when it cones to mutations lack of evidence is evidence of god? If that is what they are inferring then that would be one lame theory.

  31. Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Sober worries that

    “The more evolutionary theory gets called an atheistic theory, the greater the risk that it will lose its place in public school biology courses in the United States; if the theory is thought of in this way, one should not be surprised if a judge decides that teaching evolutionary theory violates the constitutional principle of neutrality with respect to religion.”

    As Jerry says, it isn’t evolutionary theory but science in toto that affronts supernatural religion, since there’s no evidence for the supernatural in any domain of empirical inquiry. But as Sober points out (and Jerry agrees) science can’t categorically disprove the existence of the supernatural; science is perpetually open minded on that score since it’s (logically, barely) conceivable new evidence might come in in favor of the supernatural, http://www.naturalism.org/Close_encounters.htm

    Moreover, in teaching science we’re not forcing anyone to take it as their only way of deciding facts about the world (although if you want reliable beliefs about reality you will). So teaching science really isn’t equivalent to preaching naturalism in public schools, violating worldview neutrality, which is what Sober and Ruse worry the courts might conclude. We don’t need to be accomodationists to forestall another Scopes or Dover trial.

  32. Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    I give Sober some credit for clearly stating why he devotes time to writing such papers, viz, to tell religious people that science can’t rule out the possibility that God occasionally makes a lepton zig when it would have otherwise zagged. But if I were a religious believer with an IQ above 75 I’d be horribly offended but such condescending BS.

  33. Sigmund
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    “Any probability statement you please (perhaps with the exception of the laws of quantum mechanics, which raise special questions that I won’t address here) can be true without being causally complete.”
    Why on Earth would he try to separate quantum mechanics from the question of mutations?
    Many mutations are caused by effects such as the decay of an unstable atom and release of a radioactive particle.

  34. David T.
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Well there is putting the cart before the ox type of thinking. You’re not going to get an instant mass exodus from religion, I’m sorry but its not going to happen, people will put their head in the sand before they reject god.

    So what’s the solution? How do you can get the retarded fundies to stop trying to teach absurd creationism? Well make it where they can accept evolution AND god.

    To continually pit evolution against god is a losing battle, why not just give them the god line they want and then move on (of course its bad science but you don’t have to agree with it just list it as a possibility and truthfully if the highly likely notion of god is true then its a very distinct possibility). Overtime once they accept evolution they will start to realize that god isn’t needed.

    I guess I’m okay with accommodating the religious folks if it will get them to stop being so ignorant and start using their critical thinking skills (eventually).

    • gbjames
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      “why not just give them the god line they want”

      Uh…. because it isn’t, you know, true?

      There is no evidence that I am aware of that supports the notion that being dishonest about this subject will lead to religious folks stoping being so ignorant.

    • Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      people will put their head in the sand before they reject god.

      That’s a rather elitist position to take, and not in a good sense.

      It’s also demonstrably false.

      The unwashed masses have rejected all sorts of nonsense over the millennia, including the demonic theory of disease, geocentricism, and more. And even religion today is far less insane than it was in the past.

      The masses are also not miserable at figuring out when you’re lying to them, especially when you’re being open at your lies. And they really, really, really hate being lied to.

      If you think lying to people that there’s a place for the god hypothesis in science, you’re free to try it. But don’t expect those who devote themselves to the search for truth that is science to give you any help.

      b&

      • David T.
        Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        It’s also demonstrably false.

        Not saying I’m right, this has just been my experience living in Texas. I could be very wrong and I’ll admit it.

        As for your examples while valid forms of the ignorance that has been rejected, none of them are ideas which directly go against the idea of a creator deity, they just simply help us know more about the world around us.

        Out of those only Heliocentrism goes directly against what’s in the bible and that’s not as obvious of a part as the genesis creation account.

        But like I said, this is only been my experience and in no way is that a proper study.

        • Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

          There are certainly significant numbers of people set in their ways who are determined to not change their position, no matter what. And those who take a perverse position of digging in their heels when shown how they’re worng.

          But those who’ve come around to rationality have not done so because they’ve been lied to. Maybe they’ve lied to themselves as part of their transition, but others lying to them hasn’t helped.

          For mountains of data, see the Convert’s Corner on Richard Dawkins’s Web site.

          b&

    • blitz442
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      “Well make it where they can accept evolution AND god.”

      Ok, so could a science teacher state the following in a science class:

      “There is no evidence that evolution is a guided process. The copying errors that provide the necessary genetic variation for natural selection to operate on are blind to their effects on the phenotype.”

      This is exactly how modern science views the process of evolution. But this view is not consistent with, say, the theistic guided evolution that many Catholics have adopted (if you think it is please state why).

      So without materially distorting or suppressing the teaching of evolution, how could it be made so that it is palatable to the religious?

      • David T.
        Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        “Ok, so could a science teacher state the following in a science class:”

        Good point, and I’d be fully against any public teacher stating that mutations are god driven. I was thinking more of a church trying to say that evolution could be true if its god driven, in no way would this be acceptable for a classroom type of atmosphere.

        And I have to ask myself when you start accommodating when do you stop? Its a valid question.

        I just get frustrated by the instant rejection of evolution from theists because they believe god created the world although this still goes against a 7 day creation so it probably doesn’t matter anyways. If you can get a theist to actually study up on evolution many of them would stop the rejection, the problem is getting them to take that first step, if they think it disproves god, from my experience (very limited at that), they instantly reject it.

        • Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

          Rome was not built in a day, and people don’t change their positions in a single conversation.

          b&

          • papalinton
            Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

            Ah! But
            “Creationism: The theory that Rome WAS built in a day.”

            • Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

              The theory that the stork brought me to my mother!

        • blitz442
          Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

          “If you can get a theist to actually study up on evolution many of them would stop the rejection, the problem is getting them to take that first step, if they think it disproves god, from my experience (very limited at that), they instantly reject it.”

          That’s a valid point. I guess my reply would be that evolution certainly disproves certain types of Gods, but that other definitions of Gods could be made consistent. I would then put it back to the religious to define their God.

          What you may find is the religious folks who we wish to “convert”, the ones that are hostile to evolution, are unfortunately the ones who are going to hold firm to the definition of God that evolution clearly falsifies.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      To continually pit evolution against god is a losing battle, why not just give them the god line they want and then move on

      Well, (1) it’s disrespectful, and (2) it has been demonstrated not to work. And I’m not sure it’s such a losing battle. You look at BioLogos and the Clergy Letter Project. What motivates those folks? I’d submit it’s because they don’t want to lose their educated children. It is the association of evolutionary theory with naturalism that compels them to promote acceptance of evolutionary theory as compatible with their fate, lest their kids become atheists.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

        That would be faith.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      David T. #34 wrote:

      To continually pit evolution against god is a losing battle, why not just give them the god line they want and then move on … Overtime once they accept evolution they will start to realize that god isn’t needed.

      I can think of several reasons not to just give the religious the “god line,” but I’ll bring up this one: it solidifies contempt for atheists by removing our real motivation and substituting their insulting one.

      Why do we not believe in God? Many if not most of us will say that it’s because the concept of God ought to be approached like any other hypothesis or claim … and it fails. We are atheists because we see a clear conflict between science and religion (or reality and religion.) It’s an intellectual issue.

      But what remains if this is removed — if it is granted — it is a social given — that there is no such conflict and this is the “scientific” consensus? In that case, atheists have no legitimate argument and lack all “excuse.” We’re atheists because we’re closed-minded/bad tempered/arrogant/ hurt/angry at God/emotionally stunted/feel no joy/want to sin/are spiritually unevolved/lack awareness/insert insult here. The existence of God or the supernatural isn’t an intellectual issue to be carefully evaluated on its own merits: the sides are divided by the quality of the character/essence of the proponents, not by the quality of their arguments.

      We’ve abandoned the arena of reason and accepted their arena of faith.

      I am not so sure that selling “God works through evolution” as a winning argument will eventually wean people from belief in God. I suspect it would instead entrench the belief that it is very, very important to remain a person of faith, because it says so many positive things about you if you are. And it says so many negative things about you if you aren’t.

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        Has anybody awarded you with your Internets today? If not, permit me….

        b&

        • Sastra
          Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

          Thank you :)

      • bernardhurley
        Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        … We’re atheists because we’re closed-minded/bad tempered/arrogant/ hurt/angry at God/emotionally stunted/feel no joy/want to sin/are spiritually unevolved/lack awareness/insert insult here.

        For all you or anyone else knows those may be the reasons I am an atheist. However it is irrelevant to the question of whether God exists.

        • Sastra
          Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

          Exactly. And psychological reasons are all that remain if it’s granted, up front, that the rational reasons aren’t there.

          Several writers (including CS Lewis) like to invoke the analogy of the Psychiatrist from Hell, who tries to explain your belief that there is butter in the fridge by exploring your childhood, talking about your relationship with your mother, bringing up your traumas — in short, doing everything but opening up the fridge to see if maybe you believe the butter is in there because it IS in there.

          Dismissing the claim that there is a serious conflict between science and religion essentially locks the refrigerator. Now we’re left with the Psychiatrist from Hell — not just one of them, but hundreds of thousands of believer-psychiatrists, all of them glad they’re not guilty of the cold-hearted sin of scientism, and thinking that there’s any problem at all with a friendly and easy compartmentalization.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      But isn’t that the job of clergy and theologians?

      Science teachers, textbooks, and most books about evolution teach it in a way that is neutral with regard to religion. They teach the facts as we know them and don’t make any effort to integrate them with their students’ various religious beliefs.

      And the creationists still see that as attacking their religions.

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        Well, it is, because their religions’ teachings are at odds with those facts. Just like ships are “attacked” by icebergs…

        /@

  35. Greg G
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Perhaps we should reincarnate Christopher Hitchens to tell him “what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence” and Carl Sagan to remind him that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

  36. RFW
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Claiming Dog governs one random phenomenon implies that he governs all random phenomena. Suddenly there is no randomness in the Universe at all. Hardly believable.

    I’m sure many readers have seen the classic high school science fair project where ball bearings are dribbled in at the top of a grid of brads, between two sheets of plastic. Bins at the bottom catch the ball bearings, which by the sheer randomness of the opeation are distributed in a Gaussian bell curve.

    If Dog guides mutations instead of mutations being random, chance events, then he must also decide just how each of those balls progresses, bouncing from pin to pin. Thus, we conclude that Dog is a micromanaging fool of the worst type, far beyond anything Dilbert has experienced.

    And what about all the mutations that have no point? What about the embryos with significant chromosomal aberrations that are spontaneously aborted?

  37. Explicit Atheist
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Regarding arguments that there is a possibility of other people can doing irrational and ugly things such as this one by Elliot Sober:

    “The more evolutionary theory gets called an atheistic theory, the greater the risk that it will lose its place in public school biology courses in the United States; if the theory is thought of in this way, one should not be surprised if a judge decides that teaching evolutionary theory violates the constitutional principle of neutrality with respect to religion.”

    Has Elliot Sober considered that every time he walks out the door he increases the risk that he places himself within sight of someone in a bad mood who possesses a weapon and will injure or kill him? Does Elliot Sober stay indoors? The fact is that we should be surprised, extremely surprised, if judges are such totally incompetent morons that they make such a thoroughly irrational decision. There is no general constitutional principle of neutrality that applies to the contents of knowledge to justify any legal ruling that knowledge must not favor one conclusion over others. The principle as applied here would be that government sponsored curriculum represent that knowledge accurately and fairly, regardless of what conclusions the knowledge itself favors.

  38. H.H.
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand the point of this either. Sure, in the philosophical sense, we cannot prove God doesn’t intervene with 100% certainty. But because humans aren’t omniscient, we cannot know anything with 100% certainty except purely logical formulations. Which is why the philosophical standard is utterly useless in practice out in the real world.

    But what Sober neglects to mention is that to believe a positive assertion (such as “god guides mutations sometimes”) on the basis of *nothing* is a kind of insanity and should be rejected by any thinking person. What sort of philosopher goes around encouraging people to believe anything they can’t disprove with 100% certainty? (Which is everything!) Anything can be justified with the “undetectable magic” clause. Literally anything. It makes a mockery of the very concept of “knowledge.”

  39. Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I too have nescient friends!
    Sober is playing the John Hick game of epistemic distance- that He hides Himself ambiguously so as not to overwhelm our free wills. What swill! The Coyne-Mayr-lamberth argument illuminates why that reflects the absurd. What free wills anyway?
    Ah,did God intervene to save some Jews and other in the Shoa? Allah and Yahweh are moral monsters, so why would they’d make some guided mutations just for amusement!
    Sober and Hick soberly engage in solecistic, sophisticated sophistry of woeful,wily woo!
    Ti’s baneful to engage in such sophistry, as that blasphemes the truth!
    Their arguments from ignorance back up the personal incredulity argument that why, we poor,not intelligent enough humans just cannot fathom His mysterious ways!
    How absurd to use a mystery for the ultimate explanation and primary cause when natural cause themselves are the sufficient reason and primary cause themselves!
    Were there God, then He’d be in Space, meaning He’d be a secondary cause to Nature,depending on natural laws and causes to operate! As Space is eternal- that eternal quantum energy, no cause necessitates itself for causing it to exist.And as Lamberth’s ignostic-Ockham notes, either He is factually,albeit semantically meaningful or else,despite the sophistry of Alister Earl McGrath, would be needlessly redundant!Thus, He’d be no meaningful explanation whatsoever!
    None can square that circle nor cause bachelors to be married! Thus, just as we dispense with unicorns,we can dispense with that superstition!What contradicts itself and is incoherent cannot exist! Here in line with Charles Moore’s auto-epistemic rule and Victor Stenger’s sagacious maxim that where mountains of evidence should exist and none does, absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence and I add, no argument from ignorance!
    I add as Leucippus of Ga., that necessity, including randomness,rules,not that superstition!
    Furthermore, as the teleonomic argument notes, as the evidence shows Him with no divine intent, then Sober just wallow in woo for the sake of woo-meisters and their flocks!
    Thus in the end, as Lamberth’s reduced animism argument notes, theism is just reduced animism under one grand spirit instead of the may of full animism and polytheism! Thus, theism is just another superstition worthy of the intellectual garbage bin!
    Lamberth’s non-genetic argument notes that theists themselves affirm unwittingly naturalist ideas of why they believe with their arguments from happiness-purpose and from angst, and thus we make no genetic argument!
    Sober should “repent,” because otherwise he betrays reason!
    I now rest my arguments here.I encourage others to use them. They make explicit what is implicit in the naturalist literature.
    Nescience= ignorance. The Church of Nes
    cientology ; the Christian Nescient Church
    WEIT,unlike Keith Parsons, we both continue to lambaste that superstition!And lambaste Ruse and Sober and the NSCE for their accommodationism- enablers of woo!

  40. Posted July 3, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Thales Today.

  41. FastLane
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    WRT item 4 in your list, some people do argue that. :)

    None of these models rules out hidden variables. So none rules out supernatural hidden variables.

    I didn’t follow any of the links (but I read your previous posts). Does Sober, at any point, at least acknowledge that there could be millions of gods? One could be tweaking the cheetah to be a bit faster, and that god is competing against the patron god of the antelopes, who is also trying to make them faster…..

    Cuz if Sober rules that idea out based on parsimony, he’s only got one more tiny step to take….

    • Sastra
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Since Sober is himself an atheist, he’s not concerned here about what the proper conclusion is: he’s concerned with being diplomatic and not alarming the theists.

      In which case he’d be just fine with someone believing in millions of gods — as long as this person blends those gods into evolutionary theory well enough to have no objections to it being taught in school without them. If the “God-causes-mutations-in-a-way-we-can’t-detect” card can be played by MANY religions, then that is a feature, not a bug.

  42. stevenjohnson
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Sober is upfront in talking about “logical compatibility” and “causal completeness.” The whole corpus of scientific discovery is merely provisional (and JAC vociferously agrees,) therefore it does not rule out the logical possiblity of another (non-natural, aka super-natural) cause. The evidence does show that the chances are slimmer than your chances of winning the lottery. But how can we condemn people for not betting the way we would? Especially when they’re not betting money?

    I reject the idea that we need a logical a priori proof validating scientific explanations. The only proofs of what corresponds to reality come from science. I hold that it is entirely misleading to call the whole corpus of scientific discovery “provisional.” I even think that some areas of science can be said to be causally complete. For instance, we know all the physical processes that can cause information to travel from one brain to another. Therefore we can rule out ESP, no matter how “logically compatible” an argument is produced. Of course this is why I personally disagree with Sober and Ruse and such. What I cannot understand is why someone can agree that “science” is provisional, yet disagree with Sober.

    The attempt above? 1. There is testimony about the existence of a theistic God. The assumption this is not good evidence relies on tacitly assuming naturalism is valid.
    2. This rests in the end on the notion that since a theistic God is unsupported, then hypotheses logically compatible with them are intrinsically improbable and need not be considered. 3. This asserts the unparsimoniousness of a theistic God and his motivations rules out such hypotheses. Parsimony is a not clearly understood generalization about how science works. If science is merely provisional, how much more so is a contentious generalization like parsimony? 4. Yes, accomodationism means one can accommodate the whole theisitic God. An undesired consequence does not invalidate the arguments. I think this one is actually a named fallacy. 5. This runs up against the concession that science is provisional. This principle decrees that metaphysical answers are merely provisionally ruled out.

    • Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      But how can we condemn people for not betting the way we would? Especially when they’re not betting money?

      Um…because they’re using Sober’s “You can’t prove I’m worng!” types of arguments to bolster their effort to get this lunacy taught as fact in the science classes?

      Not to mention all the other social injustices perpetuated in the names of various gods….

      b&

      • stevenjohnson
        Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        Mr. Goren, my second paragraph agrees with what I’ve seen of your position in various threads. But I think that the very common insistence that science is provisional concedes the issue. And that I, and you (if I understood your posts correctly,) are outside the mainstream.

        That said, accommodationists like Sober want people who hold their view of science as provisional and of naturalism as one optional strategy, to be consistent and admit that atheism is logically impossible. They want to accommodate believers by ducking the issue. Their position is logical according to their view of science. It is the most commonly held view of science. The reasons that require one to insist that science are provisional are the same reasons that rule out any notion of posteriori justification of scientism (the claim that science is the main or only path to knowledge.”

        I also agree that a social critique of religions is a proof of the necessity for atheism. But how do you prove such a contention? By scientific investigation of religion in society, now and historically. But, most natural scientists and people who hold to the natural sciences, disbelieve every bit as strongly in the “social sciences” as religious believers disbelieve in the natural sciences. And, it seems to me, for pretty much the same kinds of reasons.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      stevenjohnson #42 wrote:

      But how can we condemn people for not betting the way we would?

      Because the more ‘unreasonable’ they think their position is, the more they invoke moral privilege for making it.

      1. There is testimony about the existence of a theistic God. The assumption this is not good evidence relies on tacitly assuming naturalism is valid.

      Both theists and atheists assume the existence of the natural world, both groups agree that the supernatural is an extraordinary claim, and both groups agree that personal testimony is poor evidence for extraordinary claims. The theists, however, are then inconsistent, engaging in special pleading for the extraordinary reliability of those who give personal testimony only for certain supernatural claims — the one’s they’re emotionally committed to.

      They know this is wrong in other contexts.

      • stevenjohnson
        Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        There are apparently a few in both camps who profess to disbelieve in the existence of the natural world. If you take a narrow view of what constitutes the “natural world,” there might be quite a few dissenters.

        However, theists would not agree that the supernatural is an extraordinary claim, but that naturalism is the extraordinary claim, particularly in the case of evolution.

        Lastly, of course they are inconsistent. The thing is, their view of reality is that it can be inconsistent, that indeed claims of knowledge are foolish presumption. Most natural scientists believe that society and history can be inconsistent, that claims to knowledge of society and history are folish presumption. On what grounds do natural scientists believe this? And, aren’t these grounds sufficient to support the believers?

        • bernardhurley
          Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

          Most natural scientists believe that society and history can be inconsistent, that claims to knowledge of society and history are folish presumption. On what grounds do natural scientists believe this? And, aren’t these grounds sufficient to support the believers?

          What on earth are you talking about? I am pretty sure that the Norman invasion took place in 1066, that King Harold got shot in the eye, and that the English finally surrendered to the Normans at Berkhamsted. Of course historians can make inconsistent claims but the same is true of chemists or biologists. But that does not mean that the subjects themselves are inconsistent or that justifiable knowledge claims cannot be made.

          • Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

            Quibble: My understanding was that there was still some doubt amongst historians about Harold’s being shot in the eye…

            /@

            • bernardhurley
              Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

              I bow to your superior knowledge.

          • stevenjohnson
            Posted July 4, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

            Historical facts such as 1066 are the equivalent of measurements and other observations in the natural sciences. What most natural scientists reject is the notion that society and history display the kinds of regularities that are briefly tagged “natural law.” Most natural scientists, like most believers, accept the causal role of nonmaterial forces (ideas, for example,) that have some sort of autonomy from previous history or the existing society. I daresay the very notion that there might be some sort of lawfulness in society and history seems outre, if not subversive of decency.

            Thank you for your feedback. I’m not a believer in evolutionary psychology, so I will not be returning to this website.

            • bernardhurley
              Posted July 4, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

              Who was talking about evolutionary psychology?

        • Sastra
          Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

          stevenjohnson wrote:

          However, theists would not agree that the supernatural is an extraordinary claim, but that naturalism is the extraordinary claim, particularly in the case of evolution.

          Theists would agree with atheists regarding the objective reality (or the apparent objective reality) of a physical world we can all see and measure. They think their inference to another world behind (or above) the profane world of the senses is an inference which requires a special insight or revelation in order to see that it’s “obvious.”

          The thing is, their view of reality is that it can be inconsistent, that indeed claims of knowledge are foolish presumption.

          The problem doesn’t lie with the nature of reality, but with how they know it — and how sure they can be. When they credit evidence which they would normally dismiss, they’re borrowing a bit of infallibility from God.

          I’m not sure I understand the rest of your comment. It seems like you’re saying that, since we can be absolutely sure of nothing, then all beliefs are a matter of faith — and the theists can rightly feel as justified in believing in God as historians can feel when they believe in slightly dodgy history. Is that what you mean? If so, then they ought to know the analogy is flawed.

          • stevenjohnson
            Posted July 4, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

            “When they credit evidence which they would normally dismiss, they’re borrowing a bit of infallibility from God.” But many theists do credit the same kind of evidence from others who don’t share their theistic beliefs. That’s why many believers also believe in ghosts, astrology, reincarnation, etc. ad nauseam. Sometimes they accuse the other supernatural entities of being evil, lying. Sometimes they credit the other testimony as disguised forms of the same God. This last is not an obscure notion. It is even enshrined in one of a very popular series of Christian children’s books!

            As for the rest, let me first rephrase: Logical consistency is not absolute proof. Proof comes from the massive accumulation of facts that require a reasonable person to adhere to naturalism, philosopical materialism. The frontiers of discovery are provisional til confirmed. The explanations organizing this corpus of knowledge has a certain provisionality but the necessity that all revisions must retain the acknowledged facts severely restrict the options for such revisions. A return to supernaturalism is not one that is permitted.

            Most natural scientists do not believe in causality, natural causal completeness, any form of determinism or even probabilism in society and history. Stuff just happens. Well, if stuff just happens in society and history, why can’t it just happen in nature? I do not believe the natural scientists who think this are justified. But I also believe that their reasons for thinking so are pretty much the same kinds of reasons believers have for rejecting naturalism. I think both are wrong.

            Thank you for the feedback. But as this website is committed to evolutionary psychology, which I believe to be as good science as parapsychology, I no longer find it to be reliable. I like the pictures but that’s not enough. Farewell.

  43. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Note: tiny fire-breathing dragons ignite the gas-air mixture in your CYLINDER HEAD, above the pistons.

    I’m not willing to read through all the posts for a similar observation.

    Jerry nails it right away. Theistic Supernatural Entity does not exist, so why consider the possibility of actions by a not possible agent? It’s like arguing over the colors of shoes, and if certain colors offend Mr. Go-Dee. Or, do whales grab objects, and write messages??

    • Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      Good catch.

      If they were dæmons rather than dragons, would that make it an infernal-combustion engine?

      /@

  44. corio37
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    When I studied science I was taught that in order to be published a paper must make a significant contribution to its field.

    Obviously they have changed the rules since then.

    • RF
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      Has this been published? Other than in the sense of being put on his website?

  45. Alex SL
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Evolutionary theory is no more atheistic than are the theories of chemical bonds or plate tectonics.

    That cannot be said often enough.

    If somebody is still following this thread, they might be interested in something Bryan Lambert wrote on his YAD blog just yesterday, as it seems awfully relevant if a bit blunt:

    People with limited experience with the cognitively limited, like [accommodationist commenter], think that if we just made science non-threatening to these people, they’d leave their attached meanings and pre-assumptions at the door and accept the concept of, in this case, the Higgs boson. But attached meanings and pre-assumptions are all they have. They’re dipshits. That’s what dipshits do, that’s who dipshits are. They are the modern descendants of witch-burners, and anything they don’t understand goes on the bonfire, even if you give it a dipshit-friendly name.

    Of course calling the reactionaries and fundamentalists dipshits is sooo counter-productive…

  46. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Good article. I especially like “Theist-apologist are always confusing what is logically possible with what, given the evidence, is probable.”

    he wants to argue that one can’t rule that out as a logical possibility, nor can we rule it out as an empirical issue—so long as God-driven mutations are sufficiently rare.

    Let me list the many reasons we can rule this out empirically or logically in some order of strength [HT Greg G].

    Empirical possibility:

    1. It conflicts with observable evidence, all mutations to date are random.

    2. And the theory describing them explicitly predicts that they are, and need to be, to be consistent with observations.

    [If not; Sagan’s observation goes here: extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence.]

    3. It is deliberately non-testable. Hence it doesn’t rise to an explanation of observations.

    4. Goren’s Angel. A perpetual motion machine of the first kind would produce work without input of energy. In a local, closed system it would mean a violation of conservation of energy.

    The first kind violation is what religious magic have to be able to do, creating new system configurations ex nihilo. A Goren’s Angel hooks up an angel doing magic, say pushing up masses against a gravity potential without using engines (or ratchets), to produce a perpetual motion machine of the first kind.

    It is a fun demonstration of how we know creationism/ID is impossible and a crazy sell.

    Logical possibility:

    5. What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. Logical existence doesn’t mean physical existence. There are minimum requirements for the latter, such as having energy (see 4).

    • Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Of course!

    • Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      Goren’s Angel — I like! Thanks!

      b&

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        No problem!

        [Unless of course it turns out you don’t have priority to the idea. The web is large today.]

        • Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          I’m not aware of anybody else being as fond of testing the supernatural with perpetual motion machines as I am. I’ve been using the concept long enough that I don’t remember where I originally came up with it, though I’m pretty sure it came from ruminating on the implications of Maxwell’s Demon. It’s certainly possible, though, that I stole it or drew inspiration from somebody long since forgotten, or that I re-invented a wheel that somebody else first discovered.

          b&

          • Sastra
            Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

            Have you ever seen the movie Thrive?

            I don’t agree that a perpetual motion machine would be an example of “magic” — at least, not ordinarily. But this film’s convoluted claims about a torus shape which permeates the universe, knitting together life, ancient civilizations, alien worlds, and free energy could change my mind on that. If you use the standard definition of magic (powers, forces, symbols, homeopathic and sympathetic connections, etc.), then it’s about as close to a magical perpetual motion machine as you’re probably going to get.

            I’ve read that the film is available online — and the free energy woo is in the beginning. You really should see it, if the subject interests you. It’s the most amazing piece of amalgamated crap, and is sure to astonish and delight even the most jaded.

            • Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

              There’s a corollary to the whole perpetual motion machine.

              Anybody who claims to have a limitless supply of energy too cheap to meter, if only it weren’t for the conspiracy keeping them down, is a scam artist, pure and simple.

              How do you know this empirically?

              All the scam artist would have to do is build a power plant and start selling energy. And, just like that, said person gets rich beyond dreams. Start small, start big, doesn’t matter — just start selling.

              Even if you’re paranoid or “they” really won’t let you sell energy into the grid or whatever, use your free energy to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and turn it into syngas and sell the syngas — you’ll make even more money that way.

              And you’ll be the planet’s hero, with Nobel prizes thrown at you and all the rest.

              It’s much like all those psychics who haven’t won the lottery and who still need you to tell them your name….

              b&

              • Sastra
                Posted July 3, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

                An evil oil company would not waste time trying to suppress a free energy machine: they would quickly and viciously plot to STEAL IT FOR THEMSELVES AND GET RICH!!111!!1!

                Conspiracy theorists often fail to consider how the evil mind works: thus they put their conspiracy in the wrong place and give it to the wrong people, so that it makes no sense even on its own terms.

  47. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    We can’t of course, look for evidence for a deistic, hands-off god.

    I think we can start to question this.

    We should probably start to question this in the same manner that question theistic gods. Most gods are theist “world botherers”. Similarly most deist gods seem to be hands-on when it comes to choosing physical laws.

    Theist gods are neither necessary nor very likely to create universes. Universes appear spontaneously out of known physical laws.

    But, I have come to realize, in the same manner deist gods are neither necessary nor very likely to create physical laws.

    – Physical laws appear spontaneously out of known physical theories such as anthropic selection on eternal inflation multiverses or Hawking’s post-selection of universes.

    Susskind, the theoretical physicist who more or less took string theory into its modern form and who champions anthropic theory, recently suggested that eternal inflation is past-eternal. Linde did it before him, but Susskind improves on that considerably during a discussion with Vilenkin & Bousso.

    Crucially, he claims that he doesn’t know if the concept of an initial condition is unnecessary or not. In his Tree Model of an eternal inflating multiverse it is the existence of terminal lowest energy vacuums that selects a “master vacuum”, not so much a fix point for the process as much as a frozen in selection done “in the eternal past”.

    Long story short: we don’t necessarily need initial conditions, no a priori selection of physical laws.

    – Goren’s Angel. A deist magic would select on a background of natural selection, whether a priori (“theory of everything”) or meanwhile (anthropic selection) or a posteriori (Hawking).

    But that takes work without input of energy, since universes are thermodynamically closed (zero energy universes) and the agent has to create new system configurations ex nihilo. (See my earlier comment.)

    It can be that Goren’s Angel rules out magic up to and including deist gods.

    We should keep pushing here too, because physics is pushing this as a line of empirical investigation.

    I suspect that eventually deism will fall, at least as an intellectually acceptable alternative. Or at least be forced into the corner of pantheism, not interacting at all and parsimoniously equivalent to take the universe as “god”.

    • Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      Deist gods also fail in terms of set theory.

      For these types of discussions, the only definition of the term, “universe,” that can possibly be useful is the one Sagan used for “Cosmos:” all that is now, ever was, and ever will be.

      And, obviously, to create something means to cause it to come into existence.

      So, how does one create the Cosmos? In order to create it, it must not already exist. But if the Cosmos doesn’t exist, then the deistic god (part of all that is now, ever was, and ever will be) doesn’t either and so the god isn’t there to create it. But if the deistic god somehow isn’t part of the Cosmos or is “outside” it, then (by definition) the deity again doesn’t exist.

      One can hypothesize local gods creating baby universes, but that’s no different from the programmers of the Matrix creating a simulation. Interesting, sure, but all it does is push the question back a level: whence the programmers?

      Only an evolutionary process can account for origins; top-down skyhooks are as futile in logic as they are in practice.

      b&

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        That’s pellucid!
        By he way, have my comments been hard to understand? Some fools over at TheologyWeb prefer insults instead of answering opinions.
        I’d welcome decent comment!
        morganlynngriggsl@gmail.com
        WEIT, what do you find about my style?

      • bernardhurley
        Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        Deist gods also fail in terms of set theory… etc

        Sorry, as far as I can see you’re just playing with words. I can’t see why an argument like this has any more merit than the traditional so-called proofs of the existence of God.

        • Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

          How so?

          A deist god is one that created everything. But who created the creator?

          The theological version is that everything needs a creator and that, by special pleading, the infinite regression has to stop at Jesus. I fail to see the equivalence between demonstrating the fault with the illogical argument equates with the illogical argument itself.

          b&

          • bernardhurley
            Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

            By the “theological version” I assume you mean some version of the ontological argument. There are many versions of it but in general they run along the following lines:

            It is (allegedly) an empirical fact that every physical event or object has a cause, therefore the physical universe, the totality of all physical objects has a cause.

            An obvious flaw in this argument is that there is no reason to suppose that the physical universe is a physical object in the same sense that, say, my teapot is. So whatever the cause of my teapot is supposed to be there and whatever a cause for a physical object is supposed to be, the existence of such causes gives me no reason to think that the universe has a cause. Even if the phrases such as “cause of my teapot” had a clear sense, and I’m not sure that they do, then it would not make the phrase “cause of the universe” have a clear sense. But even if it did then it would not follow from the alleged fact that everything inside the universe had such a cause that the universe itself has such a cause.

            Now if, for the sake of argument, you concede the ontological argument you have a problem because the deist does not even make the claim that his god is a physical object. In fact, logically, it would seem that it can’t be. Since that is so claiming that it must in turn have cause is to commit precisely the same error as is made in the ontological argument.

            We tend to be able to spot errors in arguments whose conclusions we don’t like and to overlook those in arguments whose conclusions we do like. But a bad argument is a bad argument whatever its conclusion.

            • RF
              Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

              Well, there are several different renderings of the ontological argument, and not all of them restrict their claim that things need causes to physical things. Interestingly, Dinesh D’Souza presents the following argument:
              1. Everything needs a cause
              2. If A has cause B, then B needs a cause, ad infinitum
              3. There must be some ultimate cause setting off this chain
              4. This cause is God
              5. If you object to this by asking “What caused God?”, the response is that God is not physical, and only physical things need causes

              Never mind that he quite clearly did NOT include that “physical” part in the beginning of his argument, or that if physical things can have nonphysical causes, then everything could have a nonphysical cause, and that would be the end of that.

              • bernardhurley
                Posted July 4, 2012 at 4:42 am | Permalink

                Yes there are lots of version of it and most of them try to disqualify “What caused God?” in some way. In D’Souza’s case, if pressed, he would have to say he was talking about physical things in (1). Apart from the fact that (1) is incredibly vague, he would need to show that an infinite chain of causes was itself a physical thing in order to argue for (3). If he can’t then (3) can be blocked by exactly the same move as he makes in (5). In other words I could accept (1) and (2) and continue as follows:

                3′. This infinite chain of causes is God.
                4′. If you object to this by asking “What caused God?”, the response is that God is not physical, and only physical things need causes.

                This turns the argument into one for some sort of pantheism instead of one for monotheism. In terms of their cogency there is nothing to choose between them. D’Souza is not a pantheist, but he would have a difficult time explaining why his argument is sound but mine isn’t.

                I have a sneaking suspicion that D’Souza realises that his argument can be objected to in this way, which is why he doesn’t mention physical objects until (5).

              • RF
                Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

                I think it’s clear that D’Souza is playing a pathetic game of rhetorical fallacy. Even if we’re willing to believe that he didn’t remember until after he wrote 1 that it only applies to physical things, it’s difficult to believe that he was unable to edit his manuscript before sending it to the publisher. Clearly, he split up his argument because he thought the reader would be too stupid to realize the inconsistency. If everything needs a cause, then its cause needs a cause, and the first part of his argument is valid. But if only physical things need causes, then the cause doesn’t need a cause, unless the cause is physical (so there isn’t even an infinite chain of causes to explain). If the cause is required to be physical, then God is ruled out. His argument is basically “First, I assume proposition A, which I have no proof for. From that, I conclude X. Now I will introduce proposition B, which contradicts proposition A, and pretend that was my original proposition, and I will still assert conclusion X, even though it depends on a proposition that I’ve discarded.” Either he’s a moron, and/or he thinks his readers are.

              • Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

                What about Edward Feser’s defense of Aquinas’ five ways failure?

              • Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

                What about Edward Fesers defense of Aquinas’ five ways failure?

              • bernardhurley
                Posted July 5, 2012 at 12:11 am | Permalink

                I’ve never read Feser’s writings, life is too short. I first came across the five ways when i was about 12. I was expecting Aquinus’s “proofs” to contain something meaty and was quite surprised to find out how superficial they were. I don’t think there’s much point in studying peoples’ “proofs” of the existence of God as it is usually quite easy to pick holes in them on the fly.

  48. uva3021
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    I can’t help but feel that the ultimate motivation for this type of paper is fear of America losing any sense of scientific values. So philosophers are merely pacifying the (sadly) majority who believe in fairy tales. Its truly pathetic, its like academics now are responsible for telling bedtime stories to a bunch of three-year-olds

    • bernardhurley
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      No, Sober’s motivation is that he hasn’t any original ideas and so has to content himself with writing what is technically known as as load of old cobbler’s.

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

        Old cobbler’s what?

        /@

        • bernardhurley
          Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

          Cobbler’s awls, sir, cobbler’s awls.

          • Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

            I know… I was just taking a dig at a seemingly aberrant apostrophe. I’d always used “cobblers” (like davidgerard, above) … and my Collins English Dictionary bears me out, citing the original phrase as “cobblers’ awls”. But we do say, for example, “fisherman’s friends”, not “fishermen’s friends”, so the singular construction is defensible.

            I’m not sure if our international friends realised it was rhyming slang, so this might have been incidentally educational.

            /@

  49. truthspeaker
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    It is, of course, worth remembering that the people who started calling evolutionary theory an atheist theory were clergy and theologians. I won’t deny that PZ, Jerry, and a few other atheists have been saying that evolution, and science in general, are not compatible with belief in the Christian God, but Christians have been doing it over a hundred years longer.

    • mandrellian
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      +1

      Definitely worth remembering.

      Perhaps Sober would like to mention that we didn’t start the damn war the next time he implicitly blames atheists for turning believers off of evolution. Perhaps he’d like to mention that all the scientists victimised by the Vatican when they ran Europe were more or less all devout believers seeking to understand God’s creation? Or perhaps that even Darwin himself didn’t completely renounce belief?

      To return to turning believers off evolution, if finding out that you’re not the special product of the designer of the Universe that you thought you were, there’s no sense in either blaming the facts or shooting the messengers. You’d think that one hallmark of a mature adult is that you can experience disappointment without throwing a tantrum.

  50. Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Holy crap. Sorry to change the topic a bit. But I was doing casual research on something, and I ran across this article. On Google Scholar!! I started reading and I was like, what the hell?

    How in the world did this end up on the Scholar site?

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/arj/v3/n1/neanderthals

    • gbjames
      Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

      If I understand correctly, Google Scholar just searches against data that _seems_ academic. It doesn’t have to be academically legitimate.

      • Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

        If that’s the case, then we’re about to see a bit of evolution in action.

        Either Google will figure out a way to exclude pseudoscience bullshit “journals” from Scholar, or Scholar will rapidly acquire the same “useless” status of Wikipedia in academia.

        b&

        • Posted July 4, 2012 at 5:37 am | Permalink

          I agree with you Ben, what the heck. Standards, anyone? Not that I expected much from Google, but this is pretty low.

          I used to make cracks about Wikipedia (and most university professors don’t allow it, in fact one who I had would take a whole letter grade off papers if a student referenced it) but they DO have decent references; links to journal sites and IUCN for wildlife references.

          The hilarious thing is what they link to often directly contradicts what’s in the Wiki article.

        • gbjames
          Posted July 4, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

          Google’s just running some algorithms that detect the formal qualities of an academic publication out of the universe of web-accessible material. There aren’t any peers doing any reviewing.

      • Posted July 4, 2012 at 5:34 am | Permalink

        That sort of dawned on me after I posted that. Not that I expected legitimacy from Google, but in the back of my mind I hoped for better.

        • Posted July 4, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

          Everything you wanted not to know about ARJ: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Answers_Research_Journal Links to reviews of every article published in this noteworthy pseudojournal.

          • Posted July 4, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

            Thanks for the link. The tone of the Wikipedia article was about as scolding as I’ve ever seen them. That’s funny. I knew the Creation nutjobs would have to make their own journal eventually. I just didn’t think it would be so goofy.

            • bernardhurley
              Posted July 4, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

              When you’re a creationist it’s quite difficult not to be goofy!

  51. Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Sweet jesus! This is just looney. How does a public university pay for this kind of delusional thinking!?

    Also is “the notion of a god” not “God” – there is no such thing as “God.”

  52. mandrellian
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    On the “liar” question: perhaps Sober does meet the definition of a liar as, regardless of motive, he is presenting as reasonable and believable something he personally rejects as false and unreasonable. Lying? Perhaps. Disingenuous? Certainly. I freely admit it may be down to personal taste as to how kindly this behaviour should be described.

    Sober’s argument (such as it is) appears to be an attempt to reassure the faithful that no, evolution does not equate to atheism (further, that acceptance of evolution does not necessarily lead to abandonment of belief), all in the service of lessening religious opposition to evolution. While defending evolution against creationist assault is an admirable and necessary goal, I question the effectiveness of this strategy because a) the most vociferous opponents of evolution are creationists who are unlikely to change their minds just because one or a number of scientists is attempting to reassure believers that their faith isn’t in danger just because they’re an ape and b) I would assume that most people, believer and otherwise, wouldn’t see much credibility in a scientist who argues for a position that is not only unscientific but also is opposite to the scientist’s personal views. In fact, were I such a believer I’d see Sober’s argument as condescending, disingenuous and hypocritical.

    A further weakness in Sober’s approach relates to creationists’ propensity to quote-mine and misrepresent the words and arguments of scientists. I see nothing stopping a creationist or ID’er portraying Sober’s argument as “major dissent within Darwinism” or evidence that evolution is a “theory in crisis” or that there’s a “controversy” within evolutionary biology that has to be to taught. While Sober may think he’s helping, he may be unwittingly providing creationists with ammunition against that which he seeks to protect. I’m not saying scientists should say nothing at all lest they be quotemined, but given the current US political/religious/educational climate (see: Texas and Louisiana) I think soft-peddling evolution and attempting to accommodate faith is counterproductive, disingenuous and naive, and that what’s required is universal and unequivocal opposition to overtly religious creationism and covertly religious ID in equal measure.

  53. MNb
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    You forget one point. Apologies if it has been mentioned before, I haven’t read all reactions. It stems from Einstein, who had some problems with the first theory (Quantummechanics) that included randomness. “God doesn’t play dice”. That’s what the Sober argument implies: god plays dice via mutations. No abrahamist can accept that.
    The only two religions I can think of which can be combined with randomness are the Greek Pantheon and pastafarianism. Somehow I doubt that any christian will reconvert.

  54. RF
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    1. The term “random” doesn’t have any fundamental meaning. It’s just another way of saying “we don’t know what caused it”. Clearly, it’s possible that there is some hidden variable. Of course, if the hidden variable is indistinguishable from “randomness”, then asserting that the hidden variable exists is as meaningless as saying that the phenomenon is random.

    2. How do you define “supernatural”?

  55. Posted July 4, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Update: Over at Choice in Dying, Eric MacDonald has a nice discussion of this whole strategy: “Philosophy should not be in the business of making the world safe for religion.

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      Eric knows his theology whilst Feser spouts his foolishness.

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      I liked your original,“Religion should not be in the business of making the world safe for religion”! :-)

      In fact, I like the first four words a lot.

      /@

  56. Kevin
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    “If you think God created the world and helps bring new species into existence, the observations of evolutionary biology show that you’re mistaken.”

    What do observations of evolutionary biology tell us about the creation of the world, or the creation of life?

    The plumber analogy is good, though. He may not believe, without evidence, that an intelligent being caused a plumbing blockage, but he certainly believes an intelligent being installed the plumbing. He might even observe that the confidence with which he took up his trade depends entirely on the predictability of an intelligently designed system.

    • gbjames
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Are you quibbling that the origin of planet Earth is properly the subject of cosmology and physics, not evolutionary biology? If so, fair enough, but trivial.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief Discount.Elliott Sober argues again that God might have caused mutationsvar base_url_sociable = 'http://koipondsandgardens.com/wp-content/plugins/sociable/'function […]

  2. […] like Michael Ruse and Elliott Sober trying to make the scientific world safe for religion. As Jerry Coyne points out, Elliott Sober has written a new paper which comes to the conclusion that there is no reason to […]

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