Debate postmortem III: BioLogos weighs in, but not helpfully

The people at BioLogos have weighed in with a group reaction to the Ham/Nye debate on evolution. “Ham on Nye: Our take,” which gives the separate reactions of six associates.

BioLogos has always fascinated me because it’s an organization that has immense potential for cognitive dissonance. While dedicated to helping evangelical Christians accept evolution—an admirable task—they insist at the same time on adhering to evangelical Christianity. In other words, they promote science with one hand and promote superstition with the other. They don’t experience the discomfort of cognitive dissonance because they’re believers, and it always mystifies me how smart people can retain such primitive superstitions. (Yes, I know that reader Sastra tells us, via Michael Shermer, that smart people are better at deluding themselves!)

At any rate, I’ll summarize a few of BioLogos’s reactions. The first is from Jim Stump, the content manager for the site:

So no amount of evidence about the age of the universe will convince [Ham] otherwise. The argument instead needs to focus on his interpretation of Scripture before he’ll even consider the science. If Nye’s naturalism is accepted, then it isn’t reasonable to think that God has any role in the world today. So no amount of quoting Bible verses to him will be effective. Perhaps his concerns about suffering and Christian exclusivism need to be addressed before he’ll even consider a Christian view of creation.

At BioLogos we are not just seeking to defend what seems reasonable to us, but we’re seeking truth from Scripture and from the natural world to form a coherent picture of God’s action in the world.

Here Stump falls into the same trap as did Ham, except the issue is not the age of the earth but naturalism. Stump, like Phillip Johnson and other Intelligent Design advocates, sees the enemy of religion not so much evolution, but materialism and naturalism—in other words, the rejection of the supernatural. So what evidence would it take to convince Stump that there is no evidence for the supernatural, aka God?  And why would “concerns about suffering” move anybody towards Christianity? If anything, they should move people away from that faith, for no Christian God would allow such undeserved suffering.

In the second paragraph, Stump is acting precisely like Ham. While Ham’s a priori commitment is to Biblical literalism, Stump’s is to a theistic god (“God’s action in the world”).  Science has no a priori commitment to any truths about the universe, and whatever “truth” Stump has managed to squeeze from scripture is countermanded by the “truths” wrung from the Qur’an by Muslims, or from the Book of Mormon by the Latter-Day Saints. In his whole critique of Ham, Stump seems oblivious to the fact that he is in fact behaving identically to Ham: evincing an unscientific commitment to an a priori religious belief, and then determining to hold onto that belief no matter what the facts may show.

***

From John Walton, a “BioLogos advisor”:

The only comment that I want to make in that regard is that it was evident that Ken Ham believed that all evolutionists were naturalists—an identification that those associated with BioLogos would strongly contest.

Again, those BioLogos adherents who aren’t naturalists are aligning themselves here perfectly with the Wedge Strategy of Intelligent Design, which is to oppose materialism and naturalism as the true enemies of Christianity.

Walton also decries Ham’s Biblical literalism because Ham simply isn’t reading the Bible as it should be read: as a document reflecting the limited understanding of its writers:

I commend Ken Ham’s frequent assertion of the gospel message. His testimony to his faith was admirable and of course, I agree with it. I also share his beliefs about the nature of the Bible, but I do not share his interpretation of the Bible on numerous key points. From the opening remarks Ham proclaimed that his position was based on the biblical account of origins. But he is intent on reading that account as if it were addressing science (he truly believes it is). I counter by saying that we cannot have a confident understanding of what the Bible claims until we read it as an ancient document. I believe as he does that the Bible was given by God, but it was given through human instruments into an ancient culture and language. We can only encounter the Bible’s claims by taking account of that context. . . What appears to Ham as a “natural” reading, is extremely debatable if one attempts to read the text of Genesis as the (God-inspired) ancient document that it is.

So where, exactly, does Walton get the idea that he, and not Ham, knows that although the bible is written by humans, it was somehow “given by God”? What’s the evidence for that? And why is the story of Genesis so obviously wrong but the story of Jesus so obviously right? The reason is, of course, that science has disproved Genesis but not Jesus. But of course we have no evidence at all, save in that book, of any “Jesus” who was the son of God, worked miracles, and was resurrected. Other scriptures, like the Qur’an, are also reputed to be “given by God.” Why does Walton think they’re wrong?

Those like Walton who cherry-pick the Bible, winnowing what they see as truth from metaphor, need to tell us on what basis they’re proceeding. If they argue that anything in the Bible not disproved by science is true (like the story of Jesus), then they’re on very shaky—and unscientific—ground. For one thing, they’d have to accept all kinds of dubious stuff like Lot’s wife being turned into a salt pillar, and the remarkable longevities of Moses and his peers, as being “true.”

Finally, Walton admits, that he, too, could never change his mind about certain foundational truths of the Bible; they’re just different truths from the ones accepted by Ham:

When Ham was asked what it would take to change his mind, he was lost for words because he said that he could never stop believing in the truth of the Bible. I would echo that sentiment, but it never seemed to occur to him that there might be equally valid interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis, or maybe even ones that could garner stronger support.

Right there Walton has lost all his credibility as a supporter of science.

***

Dennis Venema is BioLogos’s “Fellow of Biology,” which I think means he’s the guy in charge of all the biology at the site. And he makes some good points about what ammo Nye could have used against Ham. Venema says, for instance, that Ham should have been challenged with the observation of “vestigial genes”: genes that aren’t functional in a species because they’re inactivated, but are functional in relatives. The inactive genes for making yolk proteins in humans, an example Venema cites, is in fact something I mention in my book. It would be hard for creationists to deal with these, as they clearly show evolutionary transitions between “kinds.” (A bird is certainly in a different “kind” from a human!) Venema might have added that transitional fossils like Tiktaalik and the feathered theropod dinosaurs are just as hard for creationists like Ham to explain, for they also show transitions between “kinds,” however broadly one defines that term.

Venema also mentions how Ham dismissed the work of Rich Lenski and his colleagues showing the evolution of new functions in the bacterium E. coli. But Ham and other creationists (though not IDers, who argue that evolution can’t produce “new information”) might accept that work as showing mere “evolution within kinds.” Reader Jim has informed me that both Lenski and his colleague Zachary Blount, who did the citrate-evolution studies, have published rebuttals of Ham’s assertions; you can find them here, here and here.

Finally, Venema gives us his recipe for converting evangelical Christians to evolution:

. . . overall I had the general feeling what is really needed for the conversation on evolution among brothers and sisters in Christ is twofold. First and foremost, evangelicals need a deeper understanding of the Bible, especially the Ancient Near Eastern context and setting of the original audience of Genesis (for which I am glad for the work of others with expertise in that area, such as my colleague John Walton). Secondly, evangelicals need a deeper understanding of how science works in general, and specifically how the lines of evidence for evolution converge on a robust picture of how God used this means to bring about biodiversity on earth.

I’m amazed that Venema thinks this will work.  He wants to tell evolution-rejecting Christians that a). the Bible is a human document and doesn’t necessarily convey scientific truths, since those weren’t known when it was composed; and b). that there is lots of evidence for evolution, evidence that denies the story of Genesis and—though BioLogos won’t admit it—the historicity of Adam and Eve. But BioLogos has been doing these things since its inception. It hasn’t worked, and won’t, for Christians have already heard that stuff and rejected it.

***

Finally, the new president of BioLogos, Deb Haarsma, weighs in, and in an unfortunate way. Among other things (which include praising Ham for pointing out that “the scientific method grew out of the Christian context of medieval Europe”), she says this:

Our belief in the Bible and Jesus is more fundamental than our views on science. When Bill Nye referred to religion as a source of social connection and comfort for millions, I wished that he had a deeper understanding of what Christianity is all about. Our faith is much more than a social club; it’s about absolute truth and salvation from sin through Jesus Christ.

What does “more fundamental” mean? Does that mean that if evidence cropped up showing that there was either no historical Jesus or that Jesus was really an apocalyptic preacher who was neither divine nor the son of God, she would reject her Christianity? I doubt it. Her Christianity, like that of BioLogos itselfis a given that no evidence could dispel. And yet it’s certainly evidence-based, for she says that her religion is “about absolute truth.” It’s the way that people like Haarsma find that truth, through dogma and revelation, that make science and religion incompatible.

If Haarsma’s statement means what I think (I’d love to ask her to explain it), then she, too, has no credibility when pronouncing science and religion compatible.

h/t: Lou Jost

181 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    sigh. or sub. or whatever.

    • Posted February 8, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      May I ask why you keep placing the word ‘sub’ on these pages?

      I cannot fathom how you could possibly be subscribing to Jerry every single time, so you must mean something else?

      • gbjames
        Posted February 8, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        If you don’t subscribe to a posting you don’t get following comments sent to your email.

        • Posted February 8, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

          (I have no idea how to express my “Oh!” in a complete and meaningful way.)

          Thanks :-)

          • Richard Olson
            Posted February 8, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

            Many others red of face, burmanbush, preceded you.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted February 8, 2014 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

              For the longest time, I couldn’t figure it out either. I thought it had to do with pointing out something below (curse you Latin!)

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        Sometimes gbjames just wants a nice type of sandwich. Or a boat that goes under water.

        Oh and sub.

  2. Posted February 8, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    I believe as he does that the Bible was given by God, but it was given through human instruments into an ancient culture and language.

    …and how’s that supposed to have worked, actually?

    God stepped into these peoples’s dreams, and they still remembered them when they woke up and wrote them down? How do we know that they wrote down the right dreams?

    God guided the pens of the scribes as they sat stupefied in a trance-like state? How do we know that the scribes weren’t just making shit up out of boredom?

    Hell, for that matter, how do we know that everything in the Bible is there with God’s consent? What’d he do to keep Satan from, oh, say, slipping in the whole story of Jesus?

    And all this, of course, comes long before we get to questions about why somebody as smart as God would have the mind-blowingly idiotic idea of putting all this “great wisdom” in the form of a really bad faery tale anthology and opened it with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard….

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Sastra
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      God guided the pens of the scribes as they sat stupefied in a trance-like state? How do we know that the scribes weren’t just making shit up out of boredom?

      Or, more likely, how do we know that the “inspiration” they thought were getting from their trance-like state wasn’t a product of their own brains mingled with their cultural expectations, the way we discovered it works when we studied this phenomenon through modern science?

      In religion sincerity is everything — can we trust the word of this person who claims they heard the voice of God? In real life, we know that someone can be sincere … and yet still be mistaken.

      • Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        Exactly.

        And, worse, we know that people regularly fake sincerity for their own personal gain. “Would you buy an used car from that man?”

        Whenever the most important reason for something is, “trust me,” you know you’re being scammed. The more important the trust in relation to objections, the more obvious the scam. Religion, far from being a notable exception, is the very archetype of the rule.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Sastra
          Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

          People can often be very good at ‘reading’ other people. It seems that the easiest and best way to fool other people is to fool yourself first.

          Sure, there are scammers who know they’re crooks. But as soon as you’ve got something like “spirituality” which lowers people’s skeptical guard, I think the first assumption should be that it also lowered the skeptical guard of the scammer. You need more to go on if you’re going to conclude deliberate fakery.

          Sincerity is over-rated.

          • Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

            I’ll grant that the masses are generally sincerely deluded, and that that likely extends to significant percentages of the clergy. But we also hear from a great many sources that the best way to create atheists is to send Christians to seminary. Many drop out, but an awful lot remain.

            And all that aside, the evidence shows that the overwhelming norm is for new religions to be created by sociopathic confidence artists. L. Ron Hubbard and Joseph Smith are prime examples, of course, but we also have powerfully compelling evidence that at least a very significant portion of Christianity was the invention of exactly the same sort of scammer:

            http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/lucian/peregrinus.htm

            It was then that [Peregrinus aka Proteus aka ...] learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And — how else could it be? — in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.

            Many have attempted to figure out who, exactly Peregrinus was. My own theory, which is mine, is that he’s none other than Paul. In light of Lucian’s passage above and this one below from Justin Martyr’s First Apology:

            For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

            I invite you to read the first mention in the historical record of the Last Supper, and the most substantive biographical snippet of Jesus to be found in the genuine Pauline Epistles:

            1 Corinthians 11:18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.

            19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

            20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.

            21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

            22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

            23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

            24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

            25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

            26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

            …and now, also recall that Tarsus, as in, “Paul of,” was the home port of the Cilician pirates whom Plutarch recorded as being most Mithraic….

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Sastra
              Posted February 8, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

              I don’t know enough about the history or sources of the era to judge a conspiracy theory on its merits. I tend to think that anything with genuine credibility would be a well-known controversy among respected experts.

              As for Hubbard and Smith, it’s quite possible for someone to start a con and eventually come to buy into it themselves. A lot of psychological tricks go into that, including getting so much positive feedback you more or less forget you once had “doubts.”

              I remember reading an article written by an evolutionist who traveled around with the creationist Gish — listening to him be corrected in one debate, accept the mistake, but then use it again in the next debate. He assumed at first that the man was a deliberate liar. But over time it slowly dawned on the writer that no, Gish really didn’t seem to remember anything which went against his original beliefs. It was like a mental skip in his brain. It couldn’t sink in.

              Maybe. Our biases often mislead our memories. To this extent? Could be. Especially if you made a habit of one-dimensional thought, I’d think.

              • Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

                “Conspiracy theory” implies a secretive cabal operating out of smoke-filled rooms. I don’t think that’s a particularly good term to apply to what I’m describing.

                Rather, I’m pointing out that the origins of Christianity are no different from the origins of any other religion. Hubbard was a conman who invented Scientology and heavily drew on the popular fiction of his time. Joe Smith was a conman who invented Moronism and heavily drew on the popular fiction of his time. Well, guess what? Paul et al. were conmen who invented Christianity and heavily drew on the popular fiction of that time.

                As for the “respected experts”…remember that they’re almost exclusively employed by seminaries and schools of divinity, and they almost all swear fealty to Jesus and their priesthood on a weekly basis (if not more often). They’ll not only tell you that Jesus really was a real person, but that he was a real zombie, too.

                But that’s the great thing about modernity. You don’t need to take their word for it, and you don’t need to take mine. I provided you to links of the full original source material (in non-controversial English translations).

                Lucian’s satire is a short and delightful read; if you’ve got a few spare minutes this afternoon, take the time to read it — you won’t regret it. And not only do Christians not dispute his work, they regularly trot out the very passage I quoted as “evidence” of the historicity of Jesus.

                Martyr is a very clear and forceful writer, even if he’s completely batshit fucking insane. You can make it through his stuff very quickly. His basic thesis comes across loud and clear: Christianity is the real deal, especially including all the impossible-to-take-seriously supernatural stuff. The Pagans believe the exact same things about other gods, but they’ve been deceived by demons with the power of foresight whose purpose is to lead honest men astray by making it appear that Jesus is the copycat. (Incidentally, this remain the official line of the Church to this day, best I know.)

                And Plutarch, I hope you already know, is the gold standard of ancient historians. Not perfect, of course, but not seriously questioned, and certainly not on these types of things.

                So feel free to do some independent verification of your own, and decide for yourself if you think it more reasonable that Jesus’s is the only god’s story in history largely based on fact, or if his genesis is actually akin to all the rest.

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Marella
              Posted February 8, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

              Roger Parvus on Vridar has suggested that Peregrinus was in fact Ignatius, slightly rewritten to cover up his ignominious departure from the faith and given a new and rather punny name. I am by no means an expert on the era but I found these posts very interesting and convincing, for what that’s worth. You may find these posts of interest.

              http://vridar.org/other-authors/roger-parvus-letters-supposedly-written-by-ignatius/

              • Posted February 9, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

                Your link is broke, but, yes, I’ve read that before. His case is compelling, but far from a slam dunk. And, it’s the sort of matter where we’ll likely never know.

                One thing is clear, though: Paul was engaging in the exact same type of behavior attributed to Peregrinus: the wholesale interpolation of Pagan religion into Christianity. That example of the Eucharist is practically archetypal.

                It’s also not at all unreasonable to suggest that this type of thing ran rampant. Consider, for example, the radical differences between not just the Synoptics and John, but between the Fab Four and all the others. Perhaps Peregrinus wasn’t accepted into the orthodoxy at the Council of Nicaea, but instead was Marcion or one of the other heretics.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Marella
                Posted February 10, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

                Indeed, the first couple of centuries of Christianity were obviously extremely creative with every man and his dog putting their two bob’s worth in. The details of exactly how it all went down are unlikely to ever be known for sure since the winners made sure that losers works were buried as thoroughly as possible and apparently co-opted where appropriate. Robert Price has written a new book suggesting that Paul was in fact Simon Magus. I haven’t read it yet, but the man knows his stuff so it is at least a defensible idea. The whole thing is fascinating.

                Sorry about the link.

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

                No worries about the link.

                The fun thing about this kind of speculation is that the solid data is so sparse that it’s unlikely anybody’s particular pet theory will be proven worng. So long as you’re smart enough to not invest in any of it emotionally, it can be a grand old game.

                Yes, it’s got many parallels to the “You can’t prove me worng!” theistic evolutionists such as in that other thread, but most of the people playing this particular game are happy to admit right up front that at least some of what they’re suggesting is quite possibly pulled from various nether-bits. It’s the difference between fantasy and delusion….

                Cheers,

                b&

        • Kevin
          Posted February 8, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

          Sincerity from politicians about their religion. How unfortunate that quite a few more politicians are atheists than people realize simply because people know part of the ingredients that get them elected is to play the role of ‘good-Christian’.

    • Scientifik
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      “…and how’s that supposed to have worked, actually?”

      Command hallucinations?

      “A similar inhaling of motifs is present in schizophrenic ‘command hallucinations’. Here people feel they are told what to do by any imposing or mythic figure. They are ordered to assassinate a political leader or a folk hero, or defeat the British invaders, or harm themselves, because it is the wish of God, or Jesus, or the Devil, or demons, or angels, or – lately – aliens. The schizophrenic is transfixed by a clear and powerful command from a voice that no one else can hear, and that the subject must somehow identify.”
      – Carl Sagan, “The Demon-Haunted World”

      • Scientifik
        Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        Let’s not forget that in one of those command hallucinations God “told” Abraham to kill his son Isaac.

        • Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

          To be fair, Abraham and Isaac are as fictional as Romulus and Remus. But, yes, those sorts of incidents are common today, and we can be extremely confident that they’ve been common for longer than there’ve been humans.

          …well, of course, they’re actually highly uncommon…but you get my point….

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Scientifik
            Posted February 8, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

            What about Moses?

            Exodus 32:27–28:
            “Thus saith the lord God of Israel, put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor. And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.”

            • Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

              Moses is one of the more famously fictional characters of the Bible. And about his only redeeming quality is his fictional nature…if you think that passage is nasty, try Numbers 31….

              Cheers,

              b&

      • Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        Of course, but that’s hardly the sort of honest answer anybody at BioLogos would think to give.

        b&

    • MrHolbyta
      Posted February 9, 2014 at 1:15 am | Permalink

      The mechanismis irrelevant to me. We need look no further than the text itself to identify the problem. Walton is spot on when he says we need to approach the text as an ancient document. We must read it as the implied author (we don’t know who wrote it so all we can deal with is the author implied by the text) intended it to be read.

      Many people suggest that, when reading Genesis 1, we should keep in mind that “with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.” The problem is that 2 Peter (which is a forgery) was written 7-8 centuries after Genesis and its author could have known nothing about it. It’s anachronistic to read the later passage into the earlier.

      Even more problematic for that notion is that each day ends with the phrase “There was evening; there was morning: the Nth day.” How much more explicit can you get that the text is referring to six 24 hour periods?

      As much as liberal theologians (as I used to be) want to make this passage fit with modern science, the reality is that the only reason people come up with these theological gyrations is not grounded in exegeting the passage. It is an attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole. Science has utterly refuted this passage.

      As for Walton’s notion that we should read this as an ancient text which tells us God’s revelation as interpreted by fallible humans (a position I once held), the simple fact is that just such an imperfect, fatally flawed account is exactly what we would expect if someone just made it up on their own. Ham is spot on. Either the bible is a special book which was inspired by the divine creator of the universe and paints a more accurate picture of reality than other books, in which case it is the manual by which we should live our lives, or it isn’t special: it’s just another attempt by ancient people to make sense of the world with what little data they had available, in which case it is interesting for literary and anthropological reasons, but no more sp than the Tao-te Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, the Quran, the Greek Epic Cycle, the Mabinogion, and numerous other such texts.

      This is just one example of how the bible is just like the rest. Between this issue, the deafening silence in the archaeological record of the Egyptian captivity and conquest of Palestine, the deafening silence regarding the three hour darkness and zombie evangelism of Jerusalem, the pethora of forgeries and misattributions of books, and the clear intertextual interaction between the author of Mark and Homer, it’s hard for me to see how anyone who even barely investigates the bible from a scientific or historical perspective can believe any god had anything to do with its authorship.

  3. Hempenstein
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    If everyone on the planet bought the same supernatural and acted on it in the same way, while also displaying the same amount of cognitive dissonance enabling them to accept that for which there is evidence, it probably wouldn’t matter so much. But they don’t. And they’re willing to kill over those differences.

    And that is why it has to go – it keeps the rest of the planet from moving forward, too, not just those shooting at each other, (who could otherwise be moving forward as well).

  4. francis
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    //

  5. Posted February 8, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    “… there might be equally valid interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis.”

    And there might be equally valid interpretations of David Icke’s oeuvre. Just ask Bill Cooper.

  6. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    You’ve got to give Walton and Haarsma credit for one thing: they forthrightly agree with Ham on the statement that most completely undermined his credibility: nothing will change his mind.

    Will accomodationists take note?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      Oh, that is good!

      But no, I don’t think they will – and now I have another problem with accommodationist/agnostics.

  7. Notagod
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    One of the things that bothers me about christianity verses natural evolution is how the conflict plays out within our cultures. Christians say that they are opposed to “survival of the fittest” conceptually. Yet, they model their actions such that the concept is practiced and encoded within government by embracing suffering as a necessary part of their “life on earth”, as if there was some other life. On the other hand, people that accept natural evolution and understand “survival of the fittest” to be the actual processes of evolution. (Although, not as the christians understand “survival of the fittest” but, more as Nye described fitness, as the best fit to a given environment, not necessarily the strongest or smartest.) Those people, the natural evolutionists, realize that we could probably be more compassionate than nature and could build societies that minimize suffering and allow all life to find as much happiness as possible.

    It’s like so much of christianity, it twists reality and truth until it isn’t possible to build a better society as long as christianity is deemed to be an influential part of the structure.

  8. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    From Biologo’s “What we believe” page:

    6. We believe that God typically sustains the world using faithful, consistent processes that humans describe as “natural laws.” Yet we also affirm that God works outside of natural law in supernatural events, including the miracles described in Scripture. In both natural and supernatural ways, God continues to be directly involved in creation and in human history.

    Because that’s how evolution works.

    Hypocrites.

    • Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      So, according to Biologos, God is always faithful except for when he isn’t, and the Bible is an account of him having a string of affairs. And he’s still fucking us over to this day…but that doesn’t mean he’s not faithful!

      What horseshit, with apologies to any horses who may be reading this. Even the horses’s asses should be able to see right through this one. With more apologies to horses and asses, if you’ll forgive my continuing expression of faith.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Kevin
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      The vaccination for these people comes at a huge cost. Tearing them away from their faith sealed hope is an arduous process. Convictions that follow Biologos’ point 6 are psychotic and almost unapproachable by reason.

      So much easier is to make sure children are provided some chance, some modicum of reason that builds their immunity from this crap.

  9. Steve Gerrard
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I used to think that accommodationism was not great, but maybe we could accommodate the accommodationists. But this is sad; they are really no different from other religionists. Absolute Truth? No one gets to claim that.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, who can accommodate the accommodationists and who can be agnostic about the agnostics?

      No one no more.

  10. Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    ” …The inactive genes for making yolk proteins in humans, an example Venema cites, is in fact something I mention in my book. It would be hard for creationists to deal with these, as they clearly show evolutionary transitions between “kinds…” ‘

    I have often wondered how a creationist can look at a video of a walking catfish – a fish that walks and lives for hours on land – and still believe in “kinds”. Or not see an icon of evolution?

    How can he view a flying fish and not question his premises?

    Or a legged snake, a “kind” punished by God to *forever* crawl in shame, yet now can sometimes sprout legs. Not to mention vestigial legs and skinks.

    Or penguins, birds that can not fly in the air, but swim in the sea, yet are not fish.

    Would hitting them on the head with a two by four make an impression?

    • Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Sadly, the clue-by-four seems ineffective against Cretinists. Forcing them to watch Sagan and Attenborough might do the trick…but the techniques required to ensure they don’t close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears, and chant loudly are…well…frowned upon….

      b&

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 9, 2014 at 3:33 am | Permalink

      I’m not sure how Creationists define ‘kinds’ but I think a couple of your examples are a bit shaky.

      A flying fish doesn’t really fly, it glides using well-developed fins. It quite clearly is still a fish and not partway to becoming a bird.

      Similarly penguins are flightless birds that can swim – they still have rudimentary feathers and breathe air. Again, clearly not transitional to becoming a fish.

      Your first example – walking catfish (and lungfish) are probably better.

  11. Sastra
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    As I was reading the analysis and recommendations of the BioLogos theistic evolutionists I struggled to find an analogy from outside of religion which might serve to highlight the problems with their reasoning to an approving accomodationist. And the analogy I came up with was “Complementary Medicine.” Or, as it’s often called: “Integrative Medicine.”

    The category of “Alternative Medicine” was invented for the sole purpose of allowing certain kinds of “medicine” to avoid the need to meet scientific criteria for testing. What do you call alternative medicine which works? “Medicine.” The category then contains only those therapies, nostrums, cures, and ideologies which either have not yet been tested — or which have been tested and discarded. Stuff like reiki, homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, energy healing, and herbs which don’t really do what they’re said to do (‘pharmacognosy is the branch of medicine which deals with discovering herbs which DO do what they’re said to do.)

    Alternative Medicine then is a lot like religion. 1.) It’s based on personal empirical experiences and the use of other methods of “knowing” than science (such as ancient tradition or wisdom.) 2.) A lot of the claims turn out to contain supernatural or spiritual assumptions about how nature works and connects with human concerns. 3.) It tries to co-opt perfectly secular or scientific modalities like massage, exercise, caring, and diet and claim that these are “alternative” (much like religion tries to claim morals, meaning, values, community, and emotions.) and 4.)Skeptics are sooner or later attacked not on the basis of their arguments, but for their stubborn and perverse unwillingness to open their hearts.

    But Truth is supposed to be truth. Both religion and alternative medicine have the same problem: how do they deal with the fact that an objective analysis of their claims regularly shows that there is no good reason to believe them? The self-satisfying reassurance that belief involves being the kind of sensitive, loving, open-minded person who sees the Truth when others are so blind will only go so far when your claims keep knocking up against reality.

    Enter the fix: accomodation. In the case of alternative medicine we get “Integrative Medicine” — a form of treatment which uses BOTH alternative and science-based medicine. It picks whatever works from either side!

    And in the case of religion, you get the Science-AND-Religion accomodationists, the BioLogos crowd. They choose whatever works, too. They keep the parts of religion which are true and the parts of science which are true. Harmony! What could be more reasonable than making sure nothing in the Special ways of Knowing directly contradicts modern science?

    Well … keeping only the science-based stuff would be more reasonable. Because the categories of “alt med” and “religion” contain and will always contain things which are supported by evidence and experience and are supposed to be real — but they’re not. The whole POINT of having the categories in the first place was in order to place certain claims in a position of PRIVILEGE. It was to protect them from the skeptical scrutiny of people who weren’t ready and eager to accept them if they seemed to be working for them.

    What you’re going to get with an attempt to make alternative medicine more scientific through Complementary or Integrative Medicine is a hodge-podge of methods and a constantly shifting line of what is and is not reasonable. And integrating religion and science will have the same problem. If you get TOO scientific then you lose the very thing which defines the category in the first place. Can’t leave out God, can’t leave out souls, can’t leave out miracles. So you have to balance along a thin edge — and different colleagues are going to skate on a different beam.

    There’s no objective way to draw the line.

    To cite Science-Based Medicine advocate Dr. Mark Crislip on Complementary Medicine:

    “If you integrate fantasy with reality, you do not instantiate reality. If you mix cow pie with apple pie, it does not make the cow pie taste better; it makes the apple pie worse.”

    Exactly.

    Theistic Evolution is the Integrative Medicine of religion.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      To carry my analogy further, BioLogos arguing that we need to help fundamentalists interpret Scripture the right way in order to encourage them to accept evolution would be like an Integrative Medicine Director saying that we need to help homeopaths interpret their theory the right way in order to get them to promote vaccinations.

      You might get more acceptance of evolution and vaccinations — but it’s a dodgy strategy which only reinforces the underlying problem of thinking the wrong way about how we know things. That can backfire.

      • Posted February 8, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        Even more to the point, it’s going to be at least as much work (if not more) to convince the wooists of an accommodationist position as it is to convince them to embrace reality. But the former approach only papers over one small set of symptoms whilst the other cures whole classes os mental diseases.

        Indeed, seen in that light, accommodationism is itself yet another branch of the same woo they themselves decry, offering ineffective solutions to serious problems based on their own philosophical preferences rather than any sound evidence….

        b&

      • gluonspring
        Posted February 8, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        Good analogy.

      • Steve Gerrard
        Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

        “Theistic Evolution is the Integrative Medicine of religion.”

        Yup, that says it nicely.

  12. Daryl
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Our faith is… about absolute truth and salvation from sin through Jesus Christ.

    This is certainly a good sentence-long summary of Christianity, but how is it any more likely to be true than the world being 6000 years old and the occurrence of a global flood? The Christian proclamation elucidated above (the kerygma, if you will – god, I’m pretentious) is about the craziest part of the whole religion, yet Haarsma seems to think it a completely reasonable assertion. Amazing.

    • NoAstronomer
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      Just what is it that we need salvation from and why is Ms Haarsma so sure that this Jesus person has the ability to give it to use?

      Where are the papers analyzing who was saved and why? Where are the saved? Where’s the data?

      Mike.

      • Posted February 8, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        I believe she was referring to a “study” — if I may use the term loosely — done in the second century by a quartet of pseudonymous Greeks whose true identity remains a mystery. Their methodology is naively superstitious, not at all rigorous, and has yet to be replicated in the nearly two millennia subsequent to original publication. Suffice to say, this work would not today make it anywhere near the peer-reviewed literature.

        Cheers,

        b&

  13. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    That was a wholesome analysis.

    Except possibly for an attempt to poison the well when pointing out that BioLogos acts as unDiscovery unInstitute. It’s a nice observation though!

    Moving on from doctor Ceiling Cat™ to my own Kreationist Kicking™:

    I counter by saying that we cannot have a confident understanding of what the Bible claims until we read it as an ancient document.

    What does Walton mean with “the Bible” and “ancient”?

    The pivotal question is indeed why Walton accepts the later but not the former parts of the text. Seeing how, according to anthropological finds, the latter wasn’t finalized 400 years earlier. (The average dating of the Dead Sea scrolls.) Even religious “biblical historians” accept that incomplete state according to Wikipedia on the historicity of these texts. [I'm no scholar in this.]

    What difference does 4 centuries make?

    Or does Walton want to go back to the sources of the oldest myths, which would be the flood myth of Sumer? (As attested by the boat construction, as WEIT recently informed us about.) It’s earliest historical root is AFAIK the poem “Epic of Gilgamesh”, which seems to have originated ~ 4 000 years ago. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_Gilgamesh ]

    Seeing how the poem was secular, why wouldn’t Walton then embrace secularity?

    First and foremost, evangelicals need a deeper understanding of the Bible, especially the Ancient Near Eastern context and setting of the original audience of Genesis (for which I am glad for the work of others with expertise in that area, such as my colleague John Walton).

    Oh, the irony!

  14. Posted February 8, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    “Our faith is… about absolute truth and salvation from sin through Jesus Christ.”
    ____

    With all the helpful and enlightening information coming from neuroscience and other disciplines shedding light on the human condition, they unabashedly embrace this emotionally and intellectually impoverished perspective? Their out-dated superstition is based on aspects currently regarded as illegal in a court of law: scapegoating and holding innocent descendants guilty for ‘crimes’ committed by their ancestors.

    If that was not enough, Christians insist that their gussied-up black magic is love. If humans could come up with and sustain such a terrifyingly and ugly belief system and successfully palm it off as the opposite, what can we expect to be cobbled up in the future to fool the gullible? Sigh.

  15. Posted February 8, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    While the author of this article faults Biologos for falling into the same trap as Ken Ham, I think that, ironically enough, this author commits another of Ham’s same faults insofar as he/she dismisses whole swaths of possibilities about the compossibility of Christian theism with evolution based simply on what he/she can’t understand about those views!

    • Posted February 9, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Well, thanks for expanding my vocabulary (“compossible).

      But I think Jerry has grounds for such dismissal: There is no discernible evidence that evolution is anything but a random, dysteleological process. Which Christian views are compossible with that? (Or are you counting the liberal Schroedinger’s Christians that superpose a deistic Gob with an intercessory God?)

      /@

      • Posted February 9, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

        See my reply to gbjames below…

    • gbjames
      Posted February 9, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Please provide some examples of the compatibility (I assume you mean) of Christianity and evolution. And remember, it has to be real evolution… the kind that doesn’t have any magic in it.

      • Posted February 9, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        Ant and gbjames: thanks for asking. And congratulations for not committing Ham and Coyne’s joint fault of being contentedly uncurious about how unfamiliar views are supposed to work!

        In sensing a conflict with traditional theism (as opposed to Deism), I think you have in mind that if such a God were to exist, he would have to have interventionistic involvement in creation. As it happens, this is the very assumption also shared by all manner of creationists from Young-Earthers to “Intelligent” “Design” “Theorists” and such.

        But I don’t find such an assumption satisfactory, on theological grounds alone. Take “Intelligent Design.” As far as I can tell, this seems to tell the story that God made evolution to work fine by itself *until* certain points at which he *had to jump in miraculously* and tinker with things to get evolution across certain hurdles. This seems a pretty impoverished view of God, one which limits him exactly to those areas of nature that we don’t yet understand fully (or think we don’t) – a classic “god-of-the-gaps.”

        And it’s easy to rail against *those* views for their antiscientific methodology, too. But if that’s the only sense allowed in which all of nature can be said to be God’s “creation,” then you end up just tearing down a strawman.

        Now, suppose that causal processes at the fundamental level are just plain indeterministic (as some interpret quantum physics to mean). If this is the case, the theist can easily posit God as selecting certain outcomes over others in order to “guide” the process overall, while not breaking any physical laws and working within the constraints of the definitive boundaries of nature itself. Stephen Jay Gould has said that if we were to turn back the clock and let evolution run again, there’s no reason to think that anything like human beings would have come to be. I’ve heard creationists rail against that idea because it seems to them to imply “purposelessness,” but I take a quite different interpretation: prima facie, there are many ways evolution could have gone, so to observe that it has in fact produced uniquely gifted beings as ourselves should fill one with wonder and awe, especially if we can make sense of that theistically as being the eventual outcome that God intended all along.

        Alternatively, if the whole universe is purely deterministic, then we can think of God as “frontloading” all of creation with the initial conditions of the Big Bang, along with all the causal powers inherent therein, to give the exact outcome he wanted. (This is to me far more impressive than to say he had to snap everything into existence fully formed, or miraculously tinker at certain points where the nature he himself made did not have the resources of its own to get where he wanted it to be.) This is compatible with Deism so far but does not necessitate it, since what’s essential to Christianity is not God’s continual intervention in nature per se (except in a general metaphysical sense of “sustaining” it), but rather God’s revelations and inspiration to human beings. Now, if you’re an atheist you’re not going to believe for a second that there’s a God who did any such things, but the point is that evolution per se doesn’t rule any of it out.

        • Posted February 10, 2014 at 7:00 am | Permalink

          Now, suppose that causal processes at the fundamental level are just plain indeterministic (as some interpret quantum physics to mean). If this is the case, the theist can easily posit God as selecting certain outcomes over others in order to guide the process overall, while not breaking any physical laws and working within the constraints of the definitive boundaries of nature itself.

          It’s a nice thought, but it would stand out like a sore thumb in any of the statistical analyses that are usually the main point of computational genomics.

          Worse, there’s no physical mechanism to permit that sort of thing. Not that there’s no known physical mechanism; but that there actually isn’t any physical mechanism at all. The Standard Model was completed by the LHC’s discovery of the Higgs, and that constitutes a complete and exhaustive audit of all forces over a given energy range. Just as you can be confident that there aren’t any elephants in the room with you, we can be confident that there aren’t any forces that could be used for such a thing.

          Of course, that doesn’t rule out extreme paranoid conspiracy theories, such as we’re all brains in vats hooked into the Matrix. Then again, even any hypothesized gods are equally logically incapable of ruling out the possibility that they’re themselves victims of that type of conspiracy.

          Alternatively, if the whole universe is purely deterministic, then we can think of God as frontloading all of creation with the initial conditions of the Big Bang, along with all the causal powers inherent therein, to give the exact outcome he wanted.

          That would be the hidden variable to end all hidden variables, and we have overwhelming experimental evidence to know that there aren’t any hidden variables.

          Now, if youre an atheist youre not going to believe for a second that theres a God who did any such things, but the point is that evolution per se doesnt rule any of it out.

          That’s rather like claiming that Evolution doesn’t rule out jumping over the Moon, either. It might be a true statement if you define your terms carefully and narrowly enough, but it doesn’t make Moon jumps any less fantastic (in the faerytale sense of the word).

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted February 10, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

            >> It’s a nice thought, but it would stand out like a sore thumb in any of the statistical analyses that are usually the main point of computational genomics.<> Worse, there’s no physical mechanism to permit that sort of thing. Not that there’s no known physical mechanism; but that there actually isn’t any physical mechanism at all. The Standard Model was completed by the LHC’s discovery of the Higgs, and that constitutes a complete and exhaustive audit of all forces over a given energy range. Just as you can be confident that there aren’t any elephants in the room with you, we can be confident that there aren’t any forces that could be used for such a thing. <> That would be the hidden variable to end all hidden variables, and we have overwhelming experimental evidence to know that there aren’t any hidden variables. <> That’s rather like claiming that Evolution doesn’t rule out jumping over the Moon, either. It might be a true statement if you define your terms carefully and narrowly enough, but it doesn’t make Moon jumps any less fantastic (in the faerytale sense of the word). <<

            The original issue that was broached is how evolution is compatible with Christian faith. How supernatural claims per se strike you is a logically separate issue.

            • gbjames
              Posted February 10, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

              I sympathize with the italics fail, having fallen victim to the error myself recently.

              However, I must note that Christian faith is a subset of supernatural claims in general and, as such, incompatible with evolution and science in general to a level dependent on one’s particular cherry-picked collection of faith-driven beliefs.

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

                You seem to be just re-stating your original assertion. Was there an argument you meant to make that I didn’t pick up?

              • gbjames
                Posted February 10, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

                It seemed that you hadn’t understood.

                Please indicate why my assertion is wrong.

                And please tell us which tenants of Christianity you think are the critical ones? (Which cherries do you pick?)

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

                I don’t understand why you would think I hadn’t understood your claim. As for reasons why I reject the claim, see my previous comments.

                The “cherry-picking” trope is an easy gambit, but ultimately self-defeating. If we can’t distinguish between essential (necessary and sufficient conditions) vs. accidental properties of a thing, then we’re not talking about a *thing* at all, and then you’ve got no target except a bunch of random stuff that people happen to say (which are often easy to criticize if taken in isolation) – and then you are cherry-picking yourself.

                The “tenants” [sic] of Christianity I think are central are that God is responsible for all other existences, that he had a special relationship with mankind, that mankind due to some primordial event is out of joint with both God and nature, and that one of the Persons of the Trinity became incarnate as an essential means for humans to restore a right relationship with God. Clearly, it is not obvious that a logical inconsistency can be derived from that set of propositions plus the further proposition all diversity of life on Earth is due to “change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.” So that’s why I would ask for an argument rather than a mere assertion. Otherwise, you are doing the same thing as both Ham and Coyne by dismissing the logical possibility of a view by way of “personal incredulity” about it.

                And as I’ve stated already in other comments, the issue being discussed here is the compossibility of a set of propositions *together*; insisting simply that you see no reason to believe the essential Christian propositions themselves does not shed any light on that issue.

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

                The tenants [sic] of Christianity I think are central are that God is responsible for all other existences, that he had a special relationship with mankind, that mankind due to some primordial event is out of joint with both God and nature, and that one of the Persons of the Trinity became incarnate as an essential means for humans to restore a right relationship with God.

                I’m sorry, but all of that, individually as well as collectively, is mostly logically incoherent…with the rest being no more than a very childish faery tale. Insisting that that — “Christianity” — doesn’t contradict evolution makes as much sense as insisting that Harry Potter or Star Wars doesn’t contradict evolution. Even if you could twist the stories in such a way as to make that something vaguely resembling a true statement, you’ve so far missed the origins and purposes of the fictions it’s not even funny.

                Look at it from our perspective. If somebody else were insisting to you that physics is completely compatible with Star Wars because we don’t yet have a theory of quantum gravity and gravity is so weak compared with the other forces that it’s not impossible for a green puppet who cryptic ways in speaks to lift spaceships with a wave of his hand…well, how would you respond?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

                I would dispute your claims about those propositions, although I don’t have nearly the time to go into that, and it would be way off topic from the OP anyway. You see, your contentions about the plausibility of Christian theism have nothing to do with evolution per se. Whereas the point of the OP was simply the issue of “how can any Christian accept evolution?”, you keep changing the issue to “how can anyone be a Christian in the first place?” which, if this needs to be answered *first*, then the issue raised by the OP is irrelevant to anything anyway.

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

                But that’s just the point.

                Christianity is just as fundamentally incompatible with modern science, including biology, as any other faery tale.

                And it’s not like you can extract biology from the other sciences and consider it in such an incredibly narrow manner. Biology doesn’t make sense but in light of Evolution, sure, but it also doesn’t make sense but in light of chemistry, which in turn only makes sense in light of atomic theory, which in turn requires Quantum Mechanics. And biology also doesn’t make sense if you ignore Newtonian-scale mechanics as well, including all sorts of other offshoots including climatology and plate tectonics and geology and and and and and.

                The distinction you’re trying to make doesn’t exist. It’s like a Flat Earth proponent claiming that you can believe in a Flat Earth and also accept that the force of gravity is about 10 m/s/s. Maybe so, but that doesn’t make Flat Earth theory congruent with physics.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted February 10, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

                For any of that to hold even a molecule of water you first must demonstrate the existence of this deity you assert. Sorry… I mean, the three deities.

                You would need to specify exactly what “special relationship” means, and follow up with some non-word-salad description of the indicated “primordial event”.

                But basically, what you’ve got is a collection of very old and poorly composed documents full of demonstrable fictions. Sophisticated Theology™ isn’t worth a good goddamn if you can’t get off the ground with some coherent descriptions of what you actually believe. There is no way to “make compatible” any scientific understanding of anything with a plate of word salad.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 10, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

                I’ve been wondering. Isn’t the tale of Hansel and Gretel equally compatible with evolution as Christianity is? And if Christianity is so compatible, why do so damned many Christians say it isn’t?

                Micah, do you think Islam is compatible with evolution to the same extent that you think Christianity?

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

                I’ve been wondering. Isn’t the tale of Hansel and Gretel equally compatible with evolution as Christianity is?

                Maybe so. But this would only be to the point if I were trying to argue for Christianity at all, which I’m not. Keep in mind the fundamental logical principle that the truth of a given proposition is independent of the validity of arguments that use it as a premise. The standard logical procedure is that you assess logical validity *first* before deciding on the truth of the premises. And the logical issue itself is well worth addressing, but to do this properly we have to not conflate it with the issue of whether any given proposition is in fact true. If you focus on the latter first, you are saying that logic is irrelevant and the point of the OP is useless and irrelevant, which it is not.

                And if Christianity is so compatible, why do so damned many Christians say it isn’t?

                Because those are the most vocal and impassioned and have made a career out of saying it isn’t, so they have a lot riding on it. And they’re not even a majority. Ultimately we have the Protestant “Reformation,” and all the anti-intellectualism it has entailed, to thank for any “huckster” coming out of the woodwork and claiming that only HE has the right interpretation of the Bible, and taking a mantle of legitimacy just because of his own charisma as measured by the ability to attract followers. I think this article is very insightful in that regard: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/09/ken-ham-the-making-of-an-american-religious-huckster.html
                And this is one major reason why I’m Catholic, as opposed to “every-man-for-himself” Protestant. As it happens, the Catholic Church does not see the need to deny the truth of evolution. If you wonder why Protestants don’t agree with that or with the Church’s authority itself, I’d say “ask them.”

                The point here, of course, is that if you think fundamentalism is representative of historical Christianity, you end up with a real easy strawman to bash.

                Micah, do you think Islam is compatible with evolution to the same extent that you think Christianity?

                I’m given to understand that many Muslims are Young-Earth Creationists, but I don’t know enough about Islam to say with any assurance whether Islamic orthodoxy (whoever determines that) *requires* that view.

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

                The standard logical procedure is that you assess logical validity *first* before deciding on the truth of the premises.

                It may work like that in some philosophical circles, but there’s no need to be picky about what order you do things. If the claim is logically incoherent, you don’t need to bother looking for evidence; that’s how we know that there aren’t any omni-whatever gods. But, on the other hand, if you’ve got evidence that contradicts the claim, it doesn’t matter how logical it might be. It’s perfectly logically valid that I might have the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge for sale, but that doesn’t mean you’d consider the proposition seriously enough to give me a briefcase full of cash in exchange for it.

                As it happens, the Catholic Church does not see the need to deny the truth of evolution.

                Except that it does. In every official statement I’ve ever encountered, the “evolution” the Church “embraces” is the same “theistic evolution” you’ve been pedaling here, and that’s as incompatible with actual, real biology as “intelligent falling” is with physics. Sure, you can (maybe) construct a logically-self-consistent analog that superficially resembles real biology as long as you don’t poke it very hard, but it’s still not real biology. Real biology leaves no room for any gods, most especially any of the many in the Christian pantheon.

                But it’s not just biology that demonstrates that Christianity is a faery tale. Every other tangentially relevant empirical discipline does so, too, from physics to cosmology to archeology to geography to history to….

                And, yes. Once again, just as with any other faery tale, you can easily build any fantasy world you like that picks and chooses which bits of reality you’re going to keep and which you’ll ignore. That’s how Harry Potter works, or any other. But the instant you make the mistrake of taking it seriously as anything other than fiction, you’ve missed the boat.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

                It may work like that in some philosophical circles, but there’s no need to be picky about what order you do things. If the claim is logically incoherent, you don’t need to bother looking for evidence; that’s how we know that there aren’t any omni-whatever gods. But, on the other hand, if you’ve got evidence that contradicts the claim, it doesn’t matter how logical it might be.

                This is the last time I’m going to try to say this: the issue of the OP is not whether Christianity is true but whether it’s *logically consistent* with evolution. Asserting that it’s false tells us *nothing* about its compatibility with anything else. You are in fact saying in effect that the question raised by the OP is irrelevant to anything.

                Except that it does. In every official statement I’ve ever encountered, the “evolution” the Church “embraces” is the same “theistic evolution” you’ve been pedaling here, and that’s as incompatible with actual, real biology as “intelligent falling” is with physics.

                But you still haven’t demonstrated the unsoundness or invalidity of the argument I took great pains to spell out, to the effect that what you’re asserting is *not* the case.

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

                Maybe we should take another step back.

                How would you define, “evolution”?

                I ask because it seems that you’re arguing for compatibility with something that doesn’t comport with what I understand to be the way biologists use the term.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

                “As it happens, the Catholic Church does not see the need to deny the truth of evolution.”

                But thats just not true! See my previous comment.

                /@

              • Richard Olson
                Posted February 10, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

                The next time I encounter an argument made for the existence of the supernatural that does not depend upon the condition of universal acceptance of a supernatural (entity) something-or-other, no matter how sophisticated or metaphysical or logically coherent the argument’s presentation, will be the first time I encounter an argument for this sort of agency that I will think has merit.

                After all, if I presuppose a little green man placed a teapot into orbit around the sun, and I am not required to provide evidence that establishes either the man or the teaport (let alone where or how), then that green man/teapot claim has to be accepted as at least possible.

                And if I can persuade others to accept this possiblility, then exactly what criteria result in any claim statement that is too preposterous to be outside the capacity of that little green man?

                Unless some party-pooping stickler for evidence butts in and insists on falsification. At that point, of course, I simply resort to the ol’ “You can’t prove the little green man and the teapot don’t exist, now can you? Checkmate, atheist.”

              • gbjames
                Posted February 10, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

                Catholic doctrine supports something called “theistic evolution”. That is not evolution as understood by science. It attempts to mix actual science up with incompatible notions like the actual existence of Adam and Eve, characters who are central to the whole storyline. No Adam and Eve, nobody to commit the inheritable sin, no reason to go of and do some blood sacrifice, no reason to have mock cannibalism ceremonies.

                Biological evolution contains not a bit of supernatural woo. It does not incorporate “souls” in the explanation.

                Catholicism is rife with magic. Saints are created at an ever-increasing rate each one claiming that some miracle has occurred. Every one requires the suspension of everything science recognizes as true.

                Pardon my language, but give me an effing break. Can’t we at least be honest with ourselves? If you are going to advocate for magic, just admit it.

                Now, I’m off to make some toast for lunch. Maybe Mother Mary will make an appearance.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 10, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

                “Asserting that it’s false tells us *nothing* about its compatibility with anything else.”

                Maybe I’m hallucinating.

                Since when does something being false not tell us quite a bit about its compatible with things that are (provisionally) known to be true?

                Micah, your claims in support of (one specific brand of) Christianity Catholicism are indistinguishable from those that can be made with equal validity for ANY fictional claim.

              • Sastra
                Posted February 10, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

                Micah wrote:

                This is the last time I’m going to try to say this: the issue of the OP is not whether Christianity is true but whether it’s *logically consistent* with evolution. Asserting that it’s false tells us *nothing* about its compatibility with anything else. You are in fact saying in effect that the question raised by the OP is irrelevant to anything.

                The “logical inconsistency” lies in using two opposing methods to answer one question: what explains the diversity of life? The methods of faith and the methods of science are not compatible when you apply faith up to a certain point and empirical rationalism beyond that — or vice versa.

                The contradiction is an internal one, and similar to that found in the concept of “integrative medicine.” Can a science-based doctor say that homeopathy works but insist that its efficacy “can’t” be demonstrated by science because science doesn’t seem capable of doing so? Yes. In one sense, the doctor is epistemically allowed to do this because they’ve set up a division and made the rules work in one area but not another.

                But on the other hand, this is epistemically forbidden because the division of what science “can” and “cannot” observe is arbitrary and self-serving. There are no prohibitions structure in up front. Get some studies supporting homeopathy and the doctor will spin on a dime.

                In theory, if God had chosen to reveal itself through science, it could have done so. What’s happening here with “theistic evolution” is the thing which should not happen in an objective approach: backtracking, special pleading, and inventing rules on the sly. You believe in God because the evidence seems to point that way: it makes sense. It explains.

                Theistic evolutionists switch methods when it suits them. They introduce magic not when it is called for, but only when they can get away with it. This is a fundamental inconsistency similar to a science-based doctor carving out a niche for homeopathy and then claiming to ‘integrate’ his medicines.

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

                Yes, exactly. Once you actually pay attention to the man behind the curtain, the logical inconsistencies are impossible to ignore.

                If you start with nothing but empiricism, simply observing what you can of your surroundings, you never get to a point where it becomes necessary to invoke any gods. If you start with supernaturalism, it’s never necessary to justify or excuse the gods for what you observe; it’s simply an expression of divine will, magicked to be thus.

                The thing is, supernaturalism is powerfully unhelpful, whilst empiricism is wildly successful.

                Pick your poison, but your best bet lies with science.

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Posted February 10, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

            It’s a nice thought, but it would stand out like a sore thumb in any of the statistical analyses that are usually the main point of computational genomics

            I don’t see why. The point is that if there is true randomness at the fundamental level, then a wide variety of outcomes are possible, and then we would not be able to tell *just* by statistical analysis if certain outcomes were favored over others *at each causal nexus*. It seems you’re thinking of such intervention as requiring a hypothesis just like an “intelligent design” one where it would be empirically detectable as such. But again, if processes themselves are *fundamentally* random, then I don’t see why it should be. It would look just the same as if it were up to a coin toss, except each result as it actually happened would in fact be selected.

            Worse, there’s no physical mechanism to permit that sort of thing. Not that there’s no known physical mechanism; but that there actually isn’t any physical mechanism at all. The Standard Model was completed by the LHC’s discovery of the Higgs, and that constitutes a complete and exhaustive audit of all forces over a given energy range. Just as you can be confident that there aren’t any elephants in the room with you, we can be confident that there aren’t any forces that could be used for such a thing.

            You seem to be requiring any selectivity to be itself a physical mechanism, and in that case any divine selection is ruled out by definition. But this seems to beg the question against the issue. Explain further what you mean.

            That would be the hidden variable to end all hidden variables, and we have overwhelming experimental evidence to know that there aren’t any hidden variables.

            You mean the initial conditions of the universe can’t be what they are because they were selected that way? We have no idea how the initial constants and conditions are the way they are, and however far back you push the issue, I don’t see how you can empirically exclude the possibility that they are what they are due to purposive intent.

            This is exactly why “fine-tuning” arguments are possible. I read a lot of philosophy and it’s my impression that the current state of play on the issue is that such arguments have not been defeated. If you have some scientific, empirical basis (not _a priori_) for invalidating fine-tuning arguments, I’d like to know what it is.

            That’s rather like claiming that Evolution doesn’t rule out jumping over the Moon, either. It might be a true statement if you define your terms carefully and narrowly enough, but it doesn’t make Moon jumps any less fantastic (in the faerytale sense of the word).

            The original issue that was broached is how evolution is compatible with Christian faith. How supernatural claims per se strike you is a logically separate issue.

            • Posted February 10, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

              But again, if processes themselves are *fundamentally* random, then I dont see why it should be. It would look just the same as if it were up to a coin toss, except each result as it actually happened would in fact be selected.

              Erm…you either don’t understand what “random” means, or your knowledge of statistics is extremely shallow.

              To run with the coin toss example, statistics verified by experiment demonstrates that it’s not just the total number of heads and tails that are (roughly) equal, but that the frequency of distribution of all sorts of patterns can be predicted. Flip a coin ten thousand times, and you’d expect a certain number of streaks of seventeen heads in a row, a certain number of streaks of heads and tails alternating seven times, all that sort of thing.

              The way that computational genomics works is that it looks not just for those types of statistical patterns but for deviations in those patterns. Those deviations can then be used to identify relatedness of organisms, including how many generations separate the two.

              And, it sets upper bounds on how much non-random fiddling there’s been in the genomes. Any such effects are far less statistically significant than other well-known sources of genetic variation. For example, cosmic rays play no significant role in evolution; the single-nucleotide base pair germline DNA mutations caused by cosmic rays are dwarfed by the variation from sexual recombination. And any divine intervention would be even less significant than cosmic rays. Otherwise, evidence of such intervention would be blindingly obvious and would have been one of the earliest discoveries by genomics researchers.

              You seem to be requiring any selectivity to be itself a physical mechanism, and in that case any divine selection is ruled out by definition.

              Well, yeah. Of course it’s got to be a physical mechanism. Either direct changes are made to the genome (which would be blindingly obvious) or else “somebody” is busy breeding the organisms like we do with domesticated plants and animals. That sort of thing is perhaps even more obvious.

              How else do you propose that changes be made to population genetics over time? (Hint: the relevant definition of “Evolution” for this context is embedded in that question.)

              That would be the hidden variable to end all hidden variables, and we have overwhelming experimental evidence to know that there arent any hidden variables.

              You mean the initial conditions of the universe cant be what they are because they were selected that way?

              No, I mean “no hidden variables” in the sense used in quantum mechanics. The initial conditions of the universe determining when a particular radioactive atom would decay would constitute an astoundingly huge hidden variable. Quantum mechanics rules out the initial conditions of the universe necessarily resulting in the conversation you and I are engaging in in so many ways it’s not even funny.

              The original issue that was broached is how evolution is compatible with Christian faith. How supernatural claims per se strike you is a logically separate issue.

              But that’s just it: Christianity is nothing but one giant exercise in soundly-debunked supernatural claims. There’s no more scientific nor intellectual respectability to be found in Christianity than there is in Bigfoot, alien abductions, or the Loch Ness Monster. Much less, in fact; Christianity demands far more spectacular and obvious violations of logic and physics.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

                Quantum mechanics rules out the initial conditions of the universe necessarily resulting in the conversation you and I are engaging in in so many ways it’s not even funny.

                But the supposition under which that was headed is that the universe is deterministic, in which case the initial conditions of the universe *could* necessitate such an eventuality, right? I guess you mean we need to go with an indeterministic picture instead? Okay, we’ll assume that for the sake of argument.

                So, I think I do understand the basic concepts of statistics, plus what is meant by “random.” Your contention seems to be that in terms of relatively long-term stochastic processes, we should be able to empirically tell if some prior “tinkering” has taken place in order to select a desired outcome. I get that. But it seems to me not to follow because it seems to require the false supposition that a violation of true metaphysical “randomness” would have be detectable statistically in terms of the epistemic sense of “random” that science is only equipped to detect (so it seems to trade on an equivocal use of “random”).

                Let me state my reasoning in explicit argument form so you can tell me exactly where my premises or wrong or logic invalid.

                (1) If fundamental causal processes are indeterministic, then any number of outcomes of said processes are possible, meaning that no given outcome violates any physical laws. (definition of “indeterministic”)
                (2) Fundamental causal processes are indeterministic. (assumption)
                (C) Therefore, a variety of outcomes of fundamental causal processes are (equally) possible without violating any physical laws.

                (3) A variety of outcomes of fundamental causal processes are equally possible, meaning that actuation of any one of them would not violate any physical laws or show up as a statistical anomaly. (Conclusion of the previous argument)
                (4) If a variety of outcomes of fundamental causal processes are equally possible in this sense, then an even greater variety of outcomes of long- and wide-scale processes are equally physically possible.
                (C) Therefore, a tremendous variety of outcomes of long- and wide-scale processes are equally possible, such that actuation of any one of them would not violate any physical law or show up as a statistical anomaly (for short henceforward, “physically possible”).

                So far, we can make perfect sense of what Gould said when he said if you turned back the clock and let evolution run again, we should in no way expect the outcome to be the same as it did before.

                (5) A tremendous variety of large-scale outcomes are (equally) physically possible. (Conclusion of the previous argument)
                (6) If a tremendous variety of large-scale outcomes are physically possible, then the preselection of any one of them by an outside force is physically possible and need not show up as a statisticaly anomaly.
                (C) The preselection of any given overall outcome by an outside force is physically possible and need not show up as a statistical anomaly.

                So selected outcomes need not be empirically detectable as such. We already know that any given overall outcome is vastly improbable relative to the whole set of physical possibilities, given indeterminism. This means that it “could have gone any other way” without violating physics or being more statistically improbable than any other. And we already know that the actual outcome is not any particularly wildly improbable overall result, such as flipping a coin 100 times and getting all heads. But we also know highly “information=laden” outcomes like that are not necessary to get things to be the way they are, evolutionarily speaking. So the overall outcome can be “guided” in terms of fundamental indeterminacies without it showing up statistically.

                Part of my point is that “indeterminacy” and “randomness” are empirically indistinguishable, as per the epistemic sense of the word “random” which just means “ignorance of prior causes,” yet it does not entail “randomness” in the full-blown *metaphysical* sense of the word which would indeed rule out any outside “involvement.” But science by definition cannot establish *metaphysical* randomness – that takes the further *philosophical* thesis of metaphysical naturalism, which science by itself cannot establish.

                I am open to new ideas, so point out where my reasoning/premises has gone wrong.

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

                A variety of outcomes of fundamental causal processes are equally possible, meaning that actuation of any one of them would not violate any physical laws or show up as a statistical anomaly.

                This is where you go awry.

                Dealing a fairly-shuffled deck of cards in perfect suit order is physically possible, and is as statistically likely as any other ordering of the deck — including the ordering that you actually get when you perform this experiment.

                However, actually observing such a deal is so phenomenally unlikely that you can be absolutely certain that, if you ever do witness such an event, prestidigitation is the reason, not randomness.

                With respect to Evolution, we know what exceptional “hands” look like as opposed to ordinary ones. And the hand that humans have been dealt is depressingly, crushingly ordinary. Yes, we’re a rather remarkable species in a great many ways, but neither any single one of those ways nor the combination of the lot of them is any more remarkable than being dealt a particularly good hand at poker. Doesn’t happen often, but it does happen — and the way it happens one time isn’t any more remarkable than the way it happens any other time.

                If humans demonstrated some sort of radical departure from other species, that would be reason to start to get suspicious. But the simple fact of the matter is that there’s never been any child born that wasn’t nearly indistinguishable from its parents, and that it takes the cumulative changes over countless generations to differentiate one species into another. And, even then, typically, there’re hugely overlapping gray areas where calling an individual one species as opposed to another doesn’t make an awful lot of sense, and then mostly only in hindsight. Indeed, there was less difference between modern Europeans and Neandertals than there is between the same Europeans and pygmies, with similarly minor differences between any other pair of sibling or progenitor species going all the way back to the last universal common ancestor.

                In other words, there’s nothing exceptional on which to hang an hat of specialness needing to be appealed to to explain any observation anywhere in all of biology. It’s like you’re getting all excited that you drew a straight in a poker game. That sort of thing happens all the time; no need to invoke magic space faeries to explain it. Now, if every hand you drew was a straight, no matter who shuffled which deck, then there might be reason to start to get excited — but that’s so far from what we actually see in real biology that there’s no comparison.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

                None of this undermines my argument, as far as I can tell. You seem to have missed the point. Notice that I already granted the empirical point that we can’t distinguish the actual set of outcomes from a metaphysically and statistically random process. Again, we already *know* that it doesn’t *take* a statistically surprising outcome like shuffling a deck and having it come out in perfect suit order in order to get us to where we are, evolutionarily speaking. My point is simply that it is not inconsistent to suppose that these processes being just as we observe them, being as stochastic and epistemically “random” as they are, were in fact selected to obtain by an outside power. I am *not* claiming that you *need* to appeal to an outside power in order to account for it from a strictly scientific and observable standpoint. Again, I am not appealing to a “god of the gaps” that we *must* appeal to in order to explain the scientific data. I am not trying to argue *from* evolution to there being an outside power – I happily grant, contrary to “creationists” of all stripes, that you can’t scientifically prove that. The point is that it’s merely *logically consistent*, that being the point at issue in the OP.

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

                Your claims amount to one that, of the trillions of pieces of sand on the beach, none particularly different from any other, Jesus specially picked out just this one, and it’s especially special, even though there’s no way even in principle to distinguish it from all the others. Accidentally drop it and it’s lost forever amongst all the other grains.

                If it was the only grain made from solid unobtanium, sure. But this grain is very generic silica of the same basic composition and size and shape as all the rest. It’s unique, sure, but as generic as generic can be.

                Even if true, the claim is meaningless. It might have some special emotional significance to Jesus, but it’s still just a grain of sand, no different from any other.

                b&

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

                You’re equivocating on terms. The “grain of sand” can be “special” if it was part of the evolutionary process that in fact led to the emergence of human beings, even if taken in isolation it was one of very many statistically equally possible events.

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

                Now you’re back to misunderstanding the statistics and the biology.

                There were no such events, and humanity is but one of the many grains of sand.

                Remember, if nothing else, that humanity is a small slice of a continuum that encompasses all of life on the planet for the past few billion years. There’s no more dividing line between “human” and “not human” than there is between “green” and “yellow” on the rainbow.

                Yes, the terms, “green,” and, “yellow,” are very useful in certain contexts. But there’s no wavelength that you can point to and say, “Light with a longer wavelength is yellow; shorter is green.” Wherever you draw the line, the light on either side will both be indistinguishably greenish-yellow, and an equally valid argument can be made for moving the line a significant amount in either direction.

                The same problem presents if you try to draw a line between green and greenish-yelow, and between greenish-yellow and yellowish-greenish-yellowish-yellowish-green, and so on. When you get to that point, you have to stop using the fuzzy language and start specifying exactly the spectral power distributions — in which context, “yellow” and “green” are irrelevant.

                Biology is the same.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

                I don’t think you’ve understood my argument if you think any of this is relevant to it. If so, I guess we’re at an impasse, which is unfortunate.

                It would be *nice*, however, if someone were to address the logic of my actual argument and show me where I’ve gone wrong, so I can learn something new and be freed from my perfidious superstitions.

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

                *ahem*

                Youve still not shown that the Gob implicit in either of your compossible scenarios is actually the Christian God or how that Gob can also be responsible for souls, the Fall and Jesus redemption.

                All youve shown so far is that some vaguely deistic Gob is possibly compossible with evolution !*not*! that any real view of Christianity is.

                Your here (almost literally): http://www.evaluationtoolkit.org/illustrations/4/original/miracle_cartoon.jpg

                /@

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

                OK, so none of you understand or care what “logical compatibility” is or means, even though that’s the whole issue on which the OP was predicated. Would have been nice if that had been made clear up front. I get paid to teach the fundamentals of logic to undergrads, and I’ve already wasted almost a whole day trying to do the same for free to people whose position apparently relies on *not* understanding it. And yet I am supposed to be impressed by your asserting that my own position is internally inconsistent.

                Again, I will look with eagerness to see whether someone wants to address my actual argument. Other than that, I’m done.

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

                Bollocks.

                You’ve made precisely !*no*! argument to show that the Gob in either of your scenarios is any kind of God recognised by Christians!

                You’ve done exactly what I suggested you shouldn’t.

                /@

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

                Micah,

                Again, I now strongly suspect that you’re using some definition of “evolution” that we don’t share. Perhaps if you could offer your definition we’ll be able to spot the difference.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

                I already did: “change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.” Such occurs within the boundaries of natural laws, granted. The purpose of my argument above is to show how, assuming indeterminism, natural laws can be obeyed all the way up and down while given outcomes are actuated by an outside force. But nobody has been able to show me where I’ve gone wrong.

                In order to engage with the actual argument I gave (as opposed to simply asserting the conclusion to be false), here’s what you’d need to do:

                The argument is logically valid overall because it is a chain of reasoning in which each of its constituent subarguments are instances of the form _modus ponens_. What this means is that you cannot just say you disagree with the conclusion and leave it at that. Since it is logically valid, one must EITHER accept the conclusion OR deny one of the premises. Since premises (3) and (5) are derived from (identical to) conclusions of the previous subargument, you have to refer it back to the previous subargument, to which the same logical rules apply – i.e. in order to deny the conclusion you must deny at least one of premises. Therefore, bottom line, if my overall conclusion is false then you must deny either my starting assumption (2) or at least one of the conditional (if…then…) statements (1), (4), or (6).

                It would greatly help me understand *your* position if you could point out which of those you consider false, and why.

                Previously, you took issue with my premise (3) and I tried to address that independently, but what really has to happen in order to maintain that (3) is false is you have to show either or both of (1) or (2) is false.

              • Richard Olson
                Posted February 10, 2014 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

                ‘outside force’ = the God of Christianity

                Case closed.

                What is there to debate with anyone who reasons from the above truth claim?

                Anything too preposterous to be de facto excluded from the belief claim is limited only by the subjective preferences of the belief adherent.

                And not one single thing imaginable, as well as everything that is humanly unimaginable, by definition is unable to exceed the capacity of an ‘outside force’ which is capable of ex nihilo creation on the scale of our universe.

                Nor is there anything about a claim of the existence of an ‘outside force’ that one may test for falsification. Or any imaginable or humanly unimaginable prediction that can be excluded from its scope. For the believer, at any rate.

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

                ‘outside force’ = the God of Christianity

                Case closed.

                What case, exactly?

                What is there to debate with anyone who reasons from the above truth claim?

                How many times do I have to repeat this: I am not arguing for the truth of Christianity. Nor is such truth an assumed premise in any argument I’m making.

                Free logic lesson continued: the point at issue is the mutual logical consistency of a set of propositions {A, B,…} – this is *logically independent* of the actual truth or falsity of any one of those claims. Understanding logic only requires understanding of the meaning of the word “IF.” Either a convinced atheist or a hidebound Young Earth Creationist should, in principle, be equally able to agree with the logical consistency of the presently-mooted set of propositions even though one disbelieves A and the other disbelieves B. (Or somebody who disbelieves both.)

                Put simply: you can evaluate the truth of a CONDITIONAL statement (if…then…) without being committed to the truth or falsity of the antecedent or the consequent. I hammer this home as many times and in as many ways as I can to my logic undergrads, and if they do not get the significance of this, they will not succeed in the class.

                Once again, with feeling: If the supposed falsity of the Christian claims is all that interests you, then the truth of evolution is irrelevant to anything. I am trying to deal with the question raised in the OP, to which the truth of evolution IS relevant: IF we grant evolution is true and IF one is a Christian theist, can we derive a contradiction from those claims JOINTLY?

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

                I already did: change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.

                While there are absolutely a great many contexts in which such a definition is ideal…this is not one of them, for a very simple reason: it lacks a critical element of specificity.

                Where is this evolution taking place?

                If it’s taking place in some hypothetical theoretical construct, then, yes. You could trivially create a computer program in which the frequency of alleles change from generation to generation, but in a non-Darwinian manner. Lamarckian, even, if you please.

                But if the evolution in question is the actual history of the actual life here on the actual Earth — that is, the fact of Evolution as opposed to the theory, to use the common distinction biologists make — then the claim of compatibility doesn’t even get out of the starting gate before it’s refuted by unimaginably immense mountains of evidence.

                So, if you’re arguing that one can imagine a logically-consistent system that includes some form of evolution guided by something resembling the Christian pantheon, I’ll certainly grant you that very, very narrow and useless point.

                But I had been under the impression that we’ve been discussing the actual compatibility of actual evolution in the real world, and there’s not even the remotest hope of any such compatibility.

                That is, in fact, evident in your next sentence:

                The purpose of my argument above is to show how, assuming indeterminism, natural laws can be obeyed all the way up and down while given outcomes are actuated by an outside force.

                First, I’ve already explained that there is no natural mechanism by which an “outside force” could influence genetic material. If I may, let me recommend to you a superlative lecture by this Website’s Official Physicist:

                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

                Sean is an engaging and entertaining speaker. You’ll not regret the not-quite-an-hour the lecture lasts.

                But your last two words are really the dead giveaway. An “outside force” interacting with the system must necessarily constitute a violation of the conservation of energy.

                There is no form of woo more potent than conservation violation. It’s the stuff that powers not only perpetual motion machines but all other forms of magic. There is not a single facet of nature that you can’t trivially alter if you have access to even the tiniest of violations of conservation.

                Any claim that reduces to one of a violation of conservation not only can but must be vigorously rejected in the most emphatic of terms. It is bullshit, a scam, unadulterated fraud.

                So, that’s, fundamentally, where you go off the rails. Any logical consistency you might care about isn’t even a blip on the radar in the face of a violation of conservation.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 10, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

                I’ve already explained that there is no natural mechanism by which an “outside force” could influence genetic material.

                This is true, but essentially tautologous and thus uninformative. Evidence is irrelevant to it. What I’m positing is a *nonphysical* force (indeed, it would probably be misleading to call it a “force”), operating *within* the space of possibilities generated by indeterminism. Can we rule out _a priori_ or by other means that the nonphysical could affect the physical?

                I watched the Sean Carroll lecture, which was quite interesting and enlightening. However, granted that completion of QFT by discovery of the Higgs “particle” (or rather, *field* as he emphasizes) rules out any further interesting fundamental physical forces, in and of itself it doesn’t seem to entail that the nonphysical couldn’t affect the physical. Which brings us to your central point…

                An “outside force” interacting with the system must necessarily constitute a violation of the conservation of energy.

                In the way I worded the premises of my argument, I supposed that the nonphysical could in principle affect the physical without attendant violation of any physical laws, again due to the space of possibilities allowed by indeterminism. You don’t seem to have contested that point. (If you do, please do point to where in the argument I am wrong about natural laws of the causal-process type.)

                What you seem to be claiming is that having one outcome out of several equally physical possible ones selected by an outside force must needs involve addition or subtraction of energy from the system. But from the assumptions we’re working with, it seems hardly obvious that this is the case. If it is, I’d to see it explained in more detail.

                I suspect the issue might come down to, “well, if something has physical influence it must itself be physical and a detectable force, which we haven’t detected.” And then the real question goes back to whether a nonphysical influence could affect physical things. I don’t see how it would bring the whole edifice of science crumbling down to suppose that it can.

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:36 am | Permalink

                “if something has physical influence it must itself be physical and a detectable force

                A simpler premise is “if something has physical influence it must itself be detectable.

                Lets not get sidetracked by the (super)nature of that something.

                If something has physical influence which I take to mean influence on the material (anything composed of particles described by the Standard Model: us, our genes, our instrument, &c.) — it must necessarily be detectable, at least in principle.

                If something has no influence on the material, how would it be possible for material beings or instruments to detect it?

                /@

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

                Evidence is irrelevant to it.

                Evidence is the only reliable means we have to answer questions of existence. Evidence trumps all else — including logic.

                For example, for the longest time, logic insisted that things only move when you push (or pull) on them. Newton discovered evidence to the contrary, and evidence beat logic. For an even longer time, logic insisted that parallel lines cannot meet; Arthur Eddington, acting on a most insightful hunch of Albert Einstein’s, found evidence to the contrary.

                Indeed, the entire history of science is nothing more than a continuous series of examples of evidence forcing the abandonment of principles arrived at by logic — though, to be sure, that evidence also inspires new logical principles that are demonstrably (thanks to evidence) more robust.

                But it is always and only evidence that is ever sacred; nothing else.

                However, granted that completion of QFT by discovery of the Higgs particle (or rather, *field* as he emphasizes) rules out any further interesting fundamental physical forces, in and of itself it doesnt seem to entail that the nonphysical couldnt affect the physical.

                Actually, he addressed that directly. Your claim is, essentially that a non-physical force can change, in some way, something physical — say, change the position of an electron. There’s a Feynman diagram that is a precise, mathematical, logical equivalent of that previous sentence. But the thing is, Feynman diagrams can be rotated, in the exact same way that you can re-write “2 + 2 = 4″ as “2 = 4 – 2.” And, when you do that, you learn that two electrons colliding at relative energies in a certain relationship with the force in question will, of necessity, create a wave in the force that you’re hypothesizing, and that wave will manifest itself as a new type of particle with a certain mass. Any such particle corresponding to a force capable of significantly altering everyday matter (quarks, electrons, gluons, and photons) would have been detected by the LHC by now. Anything new the LHC (or other experiments) discovers will either be too weak or work over distances too small to be meaningful to our lives. (Those with better QM chops than me, please jump in if I’ve misrepresented anything!)

                If you choose to claim that you’ve got some as-yet-unknown force that actually does interact with the Standard Model but in such a manner that there’s no associated field and particle, you are making a claim no different from that of any charlatan — whether astrologer, homeopath, spoonbender, water dowser, or whatever. Your claim is that the most successful theory in all of physics, one confirmed with every experiment to date with the most rigorous and torturous methodologies ever constructed by any human…your claim is that that theory is as spectacularly worng and incorrect as the Flat Earth theory.

                Again, it is impossible to eliminate the possibility that you’re right; however, the only possible ways you could be right are if the most insane imaginable conspiracy theories hold, and that we’re all raving lunatics in an asylum (or otherwise hopelessly deluded). And while that could hypothetically be the case, it is such an amazingly unhelpful theory to work with that I don’t see the point in dwelling upon it.

                What you seem to be claiming is that having one outcome out of several equally physical possible ones selected by an outside force must needs involve addition or subtraction of energy from the system.

                Yes, exactly.

                Indeed, the example you’re proposing is the very textbook definition, in the thermodynamic sense of the word, of “work.”

                The classic thought experiment on the subject is perfect for illustrating the error of your ways. I refer, of course, to Maxwell’s Daemon. I’ll make this as brief as I can.

                Think of a gas as an assemblage of particles freely moving about in a contained space. Some particles will be moving faster than others. In the real world, we see a classic Bell curve distribution of velocities, with the peak of the curve representing the average velocity, and that corresponds to the temperature of the gas. The direction of motion is equally well distributed. The particles collide with each other; when they do, they bounce away, with the new directions and motions what you’d expect from Newton. The distances between particles are, again, well distributed, and the average distance corresponds with pressure. It’s easy to see how decreasing the volume while holding the number of particles constant will decrease the average distance between them and thus increase the pressure. In fact, there’s a law, the Ideal Gas Law, that describes how all those variables inter-relate: PV = nRT. Pressure times volume equal the number of particles times a universal constant times the temperature. Hold all else equal save for the temperature, and the pressure will, of necessity, rise or fall in inverse proportion; other permutations are trivial to deduce with elementary algebra.

                An uniform gas is uninteresting; there’s not an awful lot you can do with it. But, imagine that our container now has an impermeable barrier down the middle, sealing each half from the other. If the two halves have equal numbers of particles at the same pressure and temperature, again it’s boring. However, if there’s an inequality between the two, you can extract work from the pair of them. For example, assume that the barrier, though impermeable, is moveable. Heat just the one side and the pressure increases on that side; the barrier will be pushed (just by the random motions of the particles hitting it) away from the hot side and towards the cold. Of course, this decreases the volume on the cold side, thus increasing its pressure and / or temperature (both, in practice). Eventually, a new equilibrium will be reached — but the barrier will have moved, and you can use that movement to do work.

                But, even before we heat the one side of the chamber, there’s still a distribution of velocities of particles; some are faster than others. What if, instead of heating the one side (such as with an external flame), we hired an imaginary being to act as a gatekeeper between the two sides? This Daemon, as Maxwell named it, would have a door somewhere in the barrier between the chambers. Whenever he saw a really fast particle coming from the left side, he’d open his door and let it escape to the right; whenever he saw a really slow particle coming from the right, he’d again open the door and let it escape to the left. He’s not actually interacting with any of the particles; he’s just intelligently selecting one random possibility from all the others. But, with time, the right side gets hotter and the left side colder…and you can now use that difference to perform work. Hey-presto, perpetual motion.

                What’s been demonstrated is that the Daemon itself can only work if it extracts energy from the gas proportional to the difference in energy between the two chambers. You could build a device that works exactly as I described (and, indeed, I seem to recall some research team doing just that in the past year or so)…but you need to supply energy to the Daemon in order to actually make it work.

                If, on the other hand, Jesus could select just the right random result he wanted from the entire set of possibilities, he could trivially do the same thing as the Daemon, but without the energy transfer required. And we’re right back to the perpetual motion machine.

                This all applies to thermodynamic mechanics, of course. The other primary source of randomness in the real world is quantum. Applying your suggestion to that realm would mean that Jesus could decide when a particular radioactive nucleus would decay, which in turn would mean that there are “hidden variables” (as the physicists use the term) in quantum mechanics. But the possibility of such hidden variables has been, experimentally, as absolutely ruled out as that of the Sun rising in the West.

                So, there you have it. No matter how you slice or dice it, the only way to sustain a claim of supernatural intervention in the evolution of life on Earth is by retreating into soundly-refuted pseudoscience of the rankest kind, or into the most utterly self-defeating of paranoid delusions. The one makes you a crank; the other, a crazy.

                I don’t know about you, but neither possibility appeals to me, which is why I’m happy to stay moral and sane here in the real world.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

                OK, what you say in terms of Feynman diagrams seems to make sense.

                Say more about “hidden variables” – I’m not too familiar with that term. I’m not yet getting how actuating one outcome out of several equally possible ones requires anything of the kind. If each causal nexus has several possible outcomes, how would we be able to tell empirically that what actually occurred was selected or not?

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

                I’ve got a busy schedule for the rest of the day, so I’ll likely not have time for a thorough response until evening. Torjorn Larson, a regular here, might be able to step in with more on the matter of hidden variables; that’s a particular area of interest for him.

                But the short version of the answer to your last question is that we can examine the results of huge numbers of interactions and plot the distributions of frequencies of occurrences, much like tossing a coin a brazilian times and tallying up every time that you get a pattern of three heads followed by one tails four consecutive times. We’ve done those experiments on massive scales and found no unexpected deviations.

                Plus, there are ways to approach the problem from the other end; rather than tallying individual events, you can examine large-scale systems for anomalies that could only be explained by cumulative small-scale “tweaks.” While that, of course, doesn’t rule out the possibility of inconsequential tweaks, it does let you rule out consequential tweaks. Think of a political election where the electorate splits 80% / 20% for a particular pair of candidates. Even if there’s fraud that disproportionately flips 25% of the votes, the outcome of the election is still the same. That kind of fraud would be painfully obvious with any sort of honest audit, but it still wouldn’t be electorally significant.

                Similarly, thanks to the amazing amounts of genetic material analyzed by countless labs all over the globe, we can be overwhelmingly confident that there’s no systemic jiggering of DNA in any organism, especially humans…and that, if there really is any of that type of hanky-panky, no matter the mechanism (direct flipping of base pairs or smiting of selected people or whatever), it’s nowhere near enough to be statistically significant, let alone evolutionarily significant.

                Gotta run….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

                But the short version of the answer to your last question is that we can examine the results of huge numbers of interactions and plot the distributions of frequencies of occurrences, much like tossing a coin a brazilian times and tallying up every time that you get a pattern of three heads followed by one tails four consecutive times. We’ve done those experiments on massive scales and found no unexpected deviations.

                But, as we’ve covered before, we already know that the actual outcome is not only as statistically likely as any other, but also doesn’t show any “loadedness” like flipping a coin a hundred times and getting all heads. So, independently, we wouldn’t expect to see anything like that anyway. For me, that’s what it means to say that God works *through* nature – not needing to violate any causal laws or statistical regularities in order to do so. Your argument relies on the premise that if individual quantum outcomes were selected to be the way they actually happened, statistical anomalies would necessarily result, and this just doesn’t seem to me to follow.

                To illustrate, return to the my original argument. Was I wrong to add “actuation” to the conclusion of the first subargument, yielding my formulation of premise (3)? What is the statistically-detectable difference that would *necessarily* result as a difference between a certain outcome just *happening* as a result of true metaphysical randomness, as opposed to *that same outcome* being *actuated* by an outside force? I can’t see that there need be any.

                Surely, some *subset* of possible “tinkered-with” outcomes *would* result in empirical evidence of statistical “loadedness,” but, again, we already know that no such statistical result was even *necessary* to get evolution to work the way it in fact has. *Requiring* such a result to look statistically “loaded” sounds anthropomorphic, but I reject that conception of God’s working through nature (which is why theological grounds are alone sufficient for me to reject “Intelligent Design” and Young-Earth Creationism).

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

                But, as weve covered before, we already know that the actual outcome is not only as statistically likely as any other

                That’s just it — you keep asserting that, but thermodynamics vigorously demonstrates otherwise.

                You might not have any problem with your claims that Jesus can be used to power a perpetual motion machine. But I’m pretty sure that any other claims of a perpetual motion machine in any other context would instantly clue you to the fact that there’s unquestionably a scam going on. You owe it to yourself, if nothing else, to figure out how you can be so sure that all other perpetual motion machines are obvious frauds, but that your own perpetual motion machine is beyond question.

                also doesnt show any loadedness like flipping a coin a hundred times and getting all heads. So, independently, we wouldnt expect to see anything like that anyway.

                I keep trying to drill into you that it’s not just sequences that blindingly obvious that are statistical neon signs, but you don’t seem to be getting the message. I’m left thinking that you’re likely one of those people who thinks that you could become a millionaire by skimming every fractional penny in electronic banking transactions into some other account and there’s no way any audit could detect it. In reality, that’s the sort of rank amateur fraud that auditing agencies expect their interns to find as they’re making their first cursory inspection of the books.

                Have another look at this graph:

                If it weren’t for the red lines, would you be able to spot the bumps at 125 GeV? I doubt it. But those are statistical sore thumbs, and how we know that the Higgs is real.

                The modifications to the genome that you’re proposing would have to be far more statistically significant than that in order to have the effects you’re claiming. They would be loaded, so heavily loaded that there’s absolutely no way even in theory that they could be missed. But they’re not there, which is how we know that your own theory is as falsified as the Higgs would have been had there been no bump anywhere on that graph.

                [...] I reject that conception of Gods working through nature (which is why theological grounds are alone sufficient for me to reject Intelligent Design and Young-Earth Creationism).

                There may be some theological or philosophical difference between those three positions — yours, ID, and YEC — but there’s no scientific difference between them. Sure, they differ on ages of events and the total degree of intervention, but that amounts to arguing over the color of the Emperor’s robes when we haven’t even established that there is an Emperor in the first place.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

                The modifications to the genome that you’re proposing would have to be far more statistically significant than that in order to have the effects you’re claiming. They would be loaded, so heavily loaded that there’s absolutely no way even in theory that they could be missed.

                I don’t see why. Maybe I’m just being simplistic. We have the actual world as one possible outcome. God could have selected this one out of many, a wide parameter leaving some things to pure chance. How exactly does the actuating of *this* possible outcome *need* to leave a statistical trace? Surely the actual outcomes of evolution weren’t statistically inevitable.

                Also thermodynamically, there are many ways things could have turned out while keeping within the bounds of thermodynamic laws. Again, unless thermodynamics itself makes this precise actual outcome inevitable, how does the selection of one out of many violate thermodynamics or necessitate an addition of energy?

                In terms of quantum indeterminacy, how is that one outcome needs the addition of work where the others do not, if they are all equally physically likely?

                I feel we’re unfortunately talking past each other. Maybe in the end we’ll be reduced to just saying “yes it is,” “no, it isn’t.” That is, after all, the inevitable fate of any discussion between two people holding differing ideas who can’t both agree to present their case in terms of logical arguments.

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

                Also thermodynamically, there are many ways things could have turned out while keeping within the bounds of thermodynamic laws. Again, unless thermodynamics itself makes this precise actual outcome inevitable, how does the selection of one out of many violate thermodynamics or necessitate an addition of energy?

                This is the simplest one to answer; once answered, it should be obvious how to apply it to the others.

                If you have the power to change (or choose or whatever) the state of a thermodynamic system but keep it at the same energetic potential, then whatever you did to make that change (or choice, etc.) can just as well be applied to change the energetic potential.

                Remember, the thermodynamic energy of a system is nothing more than the average value of the individual particles — principally, for this discussion, their vector (speed + direction). If you imagine the simplest possible of thermodynamic systems, you have a single particle in the chamber. Change its direction but not its speed relative to the chamber, and this system has the exact same thermodynamic energy potential as before the speed. But we know that change in direction is the very definition of acceleration, requiring a force in a proportion defined by Newton’s famous F(orce) = M(ass) * A(ccelleration).

                So, now we explode it. Rather than a near-perfect vacuum in the chamber, it’s filled with air at standard pressure and temperature. You’ve just accelerated one particle, keeping its velocity the same but changed its direction. Which other particle are you going to accelerate in which direction to offset that change in the system’s kinetic energy?

                There might be some answer to that, but look at what we’re doing. Now, instead of simply changing the vector of a single particle, you’re looking at changing the vectors of every particle in the entire chamber, but in a coordinated manner so as to maintain the exact same pressure and temperature.

                And all for what? Why go through this entire exercise, just to change one homogenous gaseous state into another one? We’re right back to the “unique” grain of sand on the beach.

                The only rational reason to change the state of such a gas, by whatever means, is to make it significantly different in some way, not to make something indistinguishable from what you had before.

                But there’s the rub: if it’s significantly different, the fact of its difference is enough to recognize that it’s different.

                That’s what your proposal distills to, no matter the mechanism you might wish to propose: something worse even than a married bachelor. You’re asking for something that’s too insignificant to matter but also significant enough to be the whole purpose of the Universe. Even logically, you just can’t make that work.

                Lastly, that points to an huge aesthetic objection to the approach you’re taking: it’s the same sin as committed by the geocentricists. Your whole theory only makes sense if you, Micah, are the center of the Universe and the very reason for its existence. Or, if not you, then at least humanity.

                Sorry, but neither you nor us are that important. Not even vaguely remotely close. I’d send you on a personalized trip through the Total Perspective Vortex, but this post is already too long. The short version is that the Universe is overwhelmingly devoted to absolutely nothing — vacuum. Statistically speaking, that’s all there is. Of the negligible bit that’s left over, it’s all dark energy. The remaining fraction that’s neither vacuum nor dark energy is dark matter. Continuing the pattern, we come next to free hydrogen and helium, stars, neutrinos, gas giant planets, rocky planets, habitable rocky planets, this habitable rocky planet, the outer crust of this habitable rocky planet, the outer crust of this habitable rocky planet that’s solid ground and not excessively hot or arid or what-not, bacteria, plants, beetles…lots more organisms, then finally several billion humans, and, lastly, you. Each stage represents the overwhelming majority of everything else that’s left over, in many cases well over 99.999…999%.

                In other words, there aren’t enough zeroes on your calculator to even come close to accurately expressing your true insignificance or even the insignificance of humanity…and yet we’re supposed to take seriously the proposition that we’re the focus of it all? Please.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

                You seem to be assuming that equally thermodynamically or quantumly or whatever, possible eventual states are all equivalent in every sense. That seems to imply that the actual outcome of evolution, along with everything else, was inevitable from the getgo. But I thought we were assuming indeterminism.

                So if the actual outcome of the past wasn’t inevitable, thermodynamically or otherwise, then a whole host of other possibilities could have become actual, and satisfied the same thermodynamic constraints. OK so far? Now, take the eventuality in which only single-celled organisms ever evolved. If this on the one hand and the actual products of evolution on the other are equally possible from a prior standpoint, then neither one is going to look privileged, statistically or thermodynamically or whatever, whichever one happens to obtain. Right? So your analogies, such as heating a gas in a closed space, don’t seem to be apt. You seem to be assuming that thermodynamic equivalence (equally satisfying the constraints of the relevant laws) equals biological equivalence in terms of which organisms have evolved. But that just doesn’t seem to be true.

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

                Now, take the eventuality in which only single-celled organisms ever evolved.

                That would be a far more radical departure, both statistically and thermodynamically, than simply tossing a fair coin an hundred times and each one coming up heads.

                If you’re taking a big picture perspective of how else life could reasonably have evolved on Earth, the closest analogy would be the evolution of life elsewhere in the Universe. And while we have no observations in that respect (due to the perhaps-insurmountable engineering challenges involved), we can make a number of very reasonable and conservative guesses about what we might expect to find. Simply, for any and every planet with a similar chemical composition and temperature gradient and age, we should expect to see a biosphere every bit as diverse and complex as ours. There might or might not be a technological species, but there almost certainly will be intelligent problem-solvers and tool users. We see those properties repeatedly independently evolving in very diverse lineages, from primates to birds to cephalopods, which is why we should expect to find them anywhere else reasonably similar to our home. I could keep speculating; there will be lots of eyes, for example, though it’s very likely that color perception will have significant variation. It’s also likely to be at least bizarre to common human experience as lobsters and jellyfish.

                The farther back in time you go in human history, the more “bang” for the buck you’d get with your changes…but, at the same time, the less control you’d have over the outcome. Selectively kill all the flatworms alive an half a billion years ago, and animal life today would look nothing whatsoever like what it actually does, though you’d have no way to predict what life would actually look like.

                Once you get into recent history — say, the last few million years — then there’s no significant wiggle room. You could probably get away with making inconsequential single base pair flips in non-coding DNA without us being able to detect it today…but even something as minor as a measurable change in the distribution of adult lactose tolerance would be painfully visible.

                If you want to continue to pursue this line, you’d likely be best off by offering some specific examples. What sorts of features do humans possess that you think are the result of divine selection?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

                Now, take the eventuality in which only single-celled organisms ever evolved.

                That would be a far more radical departure, both statistically and thermodynamically, than simply tossing a fair coin an hundred times and each one coming up heads.

                Certainly. But if we’re to maintain that the actual products of evolution were not completely inevitable, we can make sense of the differences in the possibilities in terms of very different, but more or less equally possible, sets of earlyish conditions. The fact that one of them obtained instead of the other hardly shows that it couldn’t have been selected to turn out that way – quite the contrary.

                If you want to continue to pursue this line, you’d likely be best off by offering some specific examples. What sorts of features do humans possess that you think are the result of divine selection?

                Just the general facts that made it possible for there to be creatures like us: chordates, furry mammals, large-brained primates, the “chance” jaw mutation that made room for even larger brains in hominids. None of these were inevitable so it could have been directed as such, even though all within the bounds of what we would statistically call “chance.”

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

                Actually, at least by the time you get to hominids if not long before, the genetic changes for the types of morphological changes you’re describing are significant enough that we’d see the evidence of the unnatural selection pressures that would be necessary to force them to occur. We’re not talking single-nucleotide bit flips, but rather the sum collection of a great many small changes that accumulate over hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of generations — with most of those changes coming from the pre-existing plasticity of the genome in the process referred to as “genetic drift.”

                What you’re talking about is the active breeding of a very specific human form, exactly as if a dog breeder set out to breed a dog that looked, say, uncannily like a baboon. You might be able to get there from here, but only with some very, very aggressive breeding that would show up in the lineages and DNA like a giant flashing neon sign.

                The one recurring theme in biology is that evolution is non-teleological. There’s no quest to improve vision; rather, if a particular animal happens to see better than its siblings, and if that fact happens to help it survive, then the fact of its survival is going to result in a very small shift in the average for that species towards better vision.

                Indeed, what you’re describing is Intelligent Design Creationism, period-full-stop, which is possibly the single most thoroughly debunked pseudoscience still popular today.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

                “Theres no quest to improve vision”

                Moreover, if a particular animal starts to living in caves, then having poorer eyes — or none at all — can save energy in growth and development and so help it survive better.

                /@

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

                Exactly.

                Organisms are, as much as anything else, a reflection of their environment. Proposing that specific changes occurred implies that those changes aren’t necessarily a reflection of their natural environment, which is yet another way that sort of thing would be obvious — in the exact same way that domestic turkeys and bananas and teacup poodles are.

                Humans, in contrast, are superbly adapted to our natural environment. The unnatural environment we’ve built for ourselves has some problems, but we’re working on changing that….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

                Again, and I feel like I keep saying this, I’m not saying divine involvement *requires* unnatural selection pressures. I don’t see why it would, necessarily. But this is what you need to maintain in order to successfully argue that the actual evidence *proves* that the actual outcome wasn’t selected out of many possible.

                My central question is: If any number of possible outcomes *wouldn’t* require artificial selection pressures to bring about, why is it that a selection of any of those actual outcomes, again as one out of many possible, *must* show up as a statistical anomaly? You seem only willing or able to understand the question in anthropomorphic terms. What you keep insisting sounds like implying that the actual outcomes of evolution were more or less inevitable, but that’s not on the table, is it?

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

                What you keep insisting sounds like implying that the actual outcomes of evolution were more or less inevitable, but thats not on the table, is it?

                After a certain point, and in a certain manner, yes, they were inevitable.

                Think of it like a rockslide. When the whole thing starts, you don’t necessarily know that a certain pebble is going to wind up on the left or right side of the ridge. By the time the pebble is ten feet above the start of the ridge, yes, it’s inevitable that it’ll wind up on that side.

                But here’s the thing. At the point that it’s not inevitable (if, indeed, that’s ever the case), which side of the ridge it winds up on is meaninglessly insignificant. It might not wind up on the other side of the ridge, but some other pebble practically indistinguishable from it will.

                So I’d suggest that it’s inevitable that there should be intelligent tool-using problem solvers on Earth given the conditions that prevailed four billion years ago. It’s not inevitable that they should have been Homo sapiens sapiens. But, by about five million years ago, it was pretty much inevitable, barring an extinction event, that a species of hominid was going to develop technology. Not necessarily in the next five million years, but certainly sooner rather than later. The environment of our ancestors shaped them, and the mutual fit was such that the only way they were going to survive was by going down the path that leads inexorably to technology. And they were already well enough adapted to their environment that extinction wasn’t likely.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

                Think of it like a rockslide. When the whole thing starts, you don’t necessarily know that a certain pebble is going to wind up on the left or right side of the ridge. By the time the pebble is ten feet above the start of the ridge, yes, it’s inevitable that it’ll wind up on that side.

                OK, so this analogy is apt only if statistically indistinguishable (that is, equally likely) outcomes are equivalent to empirically equivalent outcomes.

                But you suggest this condition to be false:

                So I’d suggest that it’s inevitable that there should be intelligent tool-using problem solvers on Earth given the conditions that prevailed four billion years ago. It’s not inevitable that they should have been Homo sapiens sapiens.

                That’s because *which* intelligent tool-using problem-solvers should have evolved is a question to which all possible outcomes are empirically *not* equivalent to each other; as nonequivalent as one species is from another hypothetical species with a completely different evolutionary history from the first.

                And this is all granting your claim that “it’s inevitable that there should be intelligent tool-using problem solvers on Earth given the conditions that prevailed four billion years ago,” an interesting claim, to be sure, but one that seems doubtful to me. What exactly leads you to think that?

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

                And this is all granting your claim that its inevitable that there should be intelligent tool-using problem solvers on Earth given the conditions that prevailed four billion years ago, an interesting claim, to be sure, but one that seems doubtful to me. What exactly leads you to think that?

                Because we have the evidence supporting that conclusion.

                It’s been 800 million years since humans and octopussies shared a common ancestor, yet the icositetrapedlians are notoriously intelligent problem solvers. Crows (especially from New Caledonia) are rather more closely related to us; our common great-great-…great-grandparents lived an half a billion years after our family split with the House of Hexakaidecapus — yet corvids not only use tools but manufacture them as well. Otters are even closer cousins; you only have to go back to the great mammalian breakup of about an hundred million years ago to find where we parted ways. And otters are most emphatically in their own Stone Age, though it’s not clear how long they’re going to be stuck there. The other Great Apes, of course, are farther along than where we all were ten million years ago, but nowhere near as far as we’ve come. They also haven’t had the ecological, and thus evolutionary, success that we’ve had.

                That we should see intelligent problem-solving independently evolving in so many species with such great diversity tells us that, just like eyes (which have also independently evolved multiple times), it’s a significant evolutionary advantage that will somewhat-reliably get selected for.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

                Great; as I said, I’ll happily grant that for the sake of argument (even though it seems doubtful that tool-making-problem-solving-beings-who-make-art-and-do-science-and-are-generally-religious-and-so-on was truly “inevitable” that far back, but none of my claims rely on that doubt, so bracket that).

                Now, do you have any response to the rest of my previous comment, to the effect that statistically equivalent (equally possible) outcomes do *not* line up in a one-to-one correspondence to empirical outcomes?

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

                BTW, I reject your suggestion that logic doesn’t apply to everything. You don’t seem to understand what’s really meant by “logic.” It’s not just some exercise in mental masturbation we do in “the philosopher’s room.” If an argument’s logic is valid, and its conclusion is false, then at least one of its premises must also be false. Period. So that’s why it would be most helpful to indicate which of my premises are false (presumably if you’re right, one of them must be) instead of appearing to want to sidestep it entirely.

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

                If an arguments logic is valid, and its conclusion is false, then at least one of its premises must also be false.

                But don’t you see? You’re just agreeing with me that logic is useless for this sort of stuff. Logic is incapable, even in theory, of determining the truth of the nature of reality. It can be a very useful tool in telling you what sorts of things to look for and what not to waste your time on, but until you go out and look you have no clue if your assumptions have even the slightest resemblance to reality.

                Imagine trying to tell somebody even just a century and an half ago what we now know to be true about Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. You can’t even start the discussion without running headlong into flat-out logical contradictions of the most fundamental sort. Non-contradiction, even; electrons are both particles and waves. The speed of light is practically incomprehensible, at least not without a great deal of study. Einsteinian geometry brutally violates Euclidean geometry at every opportunity. And so on. In short, without some damned powerful evidence, somebody from the Civil War era would have thought you were talking as much nonsense about physics as if you were describing the antics of married bachelors on the other side of Alice’s Looking-Glass.

                So, yeah. Logic has its uses, to be sure…but the reason we know that it’s useful is because we have the empirical evidence to demonstrate its utility. And that same empirical evidence demonstrates that its utility is far more limited than the philosophers and theologians would have us believe.

                In practice, any more, at best it can be used to tell you that you’ve probably (but not certainly) gone awry somewhere. It absolutely can’t be used to tell you that you’re correct about anything.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

                OK. We’re referring to different things when we talk about “logic.” I’ve studied it at the graduate level (I have an MA in philosophy), so I have a pretty good handle on what it is and what it’s for. You seem to think it corresponds to “whatever shit I happen to come up with on an _a priori_ basis that sounds reasonable at the time.” But that’s just absolutely not what logic is. Since you clearly aren’t interested in learning about from *me*, you can just find out about it on your own time any time you feel so inclined.

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

                What makes you so certain that you’re not the one who needs to learn from me?

                No, don’t answer that question.

                Answer this one, instead: how do you know that logic is (at least occasionally) useful and / or valid?

                When you have a reasonable answer to that question, you’ll understand the point I’m trying to get across. You’ll also be in a far better position to put your logic to actual use in the real world in an useful manner.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

                I *am* learning from you. And I learned a lot from that Sean Carroll video. I have a Bachelor’s in biology but you clearly have a better grounding in contemporary physics. That’s why I’m asking all these questions. It’s just that you’re making claims that are not materially equivalent to what the facts by themselves demonstrate, which is why you need to argue *from* one *to* the other.

                I rely on logic because I believe that there are real necessary connections between nonidentical things, and general principles that the facts instantiate, which can be used to establish further facts that aren’t equivalent to straightforward empirical data or observation. Science itself relies on all these things.

                If there were no such things as necessary connections or true “if…then…” statements, there would be no such thing as reasoning and we’d be left with free association. Facts almost never “speak for themselves,” at least in any very interesting way. It takes reasoning to put them together into a coherent picture of the world, and logic is indispensable to that process. That’s why in philosophy we use the term “theory” in a way exactly analogous to how it is used in science. In both cases, we seek to explain the data.

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

                You haven’t answered the question; instead, as I rather expected, you rattled off a list of reasons to support your case.

                The fact that you did so very strongly points to the answer, but the catalog is not itself actually the answer.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

                OK, I *thought* I did, but I’ll try again. How do I *know* that logic is useful in telling us about the world? Because the world obeys the laws of non-contradiction. Even the example you gave earlier – wave/particle duality – is not a contradiction. A contradiction is a statement of the form “p and not-p.” So it *would* be a violation of non-contradiction to say that something is a particle and not-a-particle.

                A logically valid argument is such that IF the premises are true, the conclusion must also be true on pain of contradiction. (This is what I mean by “necessary connections.”) A successful argument narrows down the possibilities drastically to either a conclusion being true, a premise being false, or contradiction. So it can tell us informative things about the world.

                Now, if you think that natural science is the only way to find out anything true about the world (what they call “scientism,”), then, sure, logic will look useless anyway because all we need to do is observation, observation, and more observation. But science can’t in itself establish scientism. That takes philosophy, and argument.

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

                Because the world obeys the laws of non-contradiction.

                Close enough.

                You have empirical evidence that logic is useful.

                If the laws of non-contradiction didn’t apply, you’d be using some other form of logic that didn’t have that law. (And, indeed, there are alternative logic systems that lack the prohibition on non-contradiction; see the field of paraconsistent logic. It might even have some practical applications in artificial intelligence and related fields.)

                Now, if you think that natural science is the only way to find out anything true about the world (what they call ‘scientism,”), then, sure, logic will look useless anyway because all we need to do is observation, observation, and more observation. But science cant in itself establish scientism. That takes philosophy, and argument.

                The reason why I’m convinced that the only way to learn anything true about the world (which you label with a term, “scientism,” that I and many others find pejorative) is because that’s what an objective empirical analysis of the history of humans seeking knowledge demonstrates.

                We don’t know that a^2 + b^2 = c^2 because of logic; we know it because, if you draw squares on the sides of a right triangle and compare the areas they cover, there really is enough area in the big one to cover (exactly) the other two combined — and every experiment in which that principle has been tested (which would be every time anybody’s ever used trigonometry) has confirmed the utility of the short form of that theory. And we don’t know that the rest of math and geometry and logic are valid because of the philosophical purity of their subjects; we know them to be valid because, when we put them to the test, we get useful results.

                Or, in the immortal words of Randall Munroe, famously quoted by Richard Dawkins: “Science. It works, bitches.

                More colloquially, if you prefer: the proof of the pudding is in the eating; or, show me the money.

                Logic is incapable of validating anything; as you yourself have observed, it can only help you come to conclusions if your premises are valid. And how do you know that your premises are valid? You go out and test them against the only standard that matters: reality itself.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

                Alrighty, then. Philosophy and logic are all completely superfluous. I’ll be sure and spread the word to all the philosophers and logicians I know. :-)

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

                Philosophy, please do, but not logic.

                We have empirical evidence of the superlative (limited) utility of logic. Computer science is a subfield of applied logic, and modern technology, society, and science would be impossible without computer science.

                Philosophy is and always has been utterly useless (and often worse) until the empirical loop is closed — but, once you do that, you’re doing science, not philosophy. Consider the origin of species: philosophers weren’t even close, even though they wrestled with that as one of the biggest problems they could imagine, and fought that battle for millennia. Then a scientist came along, made a bunch of observations, and used his expertise in the field to connect a bunch of mental dots, and the problem of the origin of species was solved. And the answer wasn’t even remotely like anything the philosophers had ever proposed.

                The same story applies to each and every other “big question” the philosophers (and theologians) have ever attempted to tackle, from cosmology to astronomy to geological history to atomic theory to the vacuum and all the way back up and down again and again and again.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

                Logic is incapable of validating anything; as you yourself have observed, it can only help you come to conclusions if your premises are valid. And how do you know that your premises are valid? You go out and test them against the only standard that matters: reality itself.

                And what are the constituents of reality? Only what science can tell us of, you say. So you are in fact making an argument, meant to establish what it is to count as real, which unfortunately sounds a bit circular. It is, in fact, philosophy you are relying on in the final analysis, only very poor philosophy.

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

                The constituents of reality — at least, those bits that constitute your reality — are nicely summarized by the Standard Model. And we know that because that’s what we observe when we actually look. You can confirm much of it for yourself; you could likely build your own tabletop accelerator and Wilson cloud chamber and do some elementary particle physics. You can also do the oil drop experiment, the two-slit experiment, or even just drop shit and time things with a stopwatch.

                It’s a made-up philosophical problem that only bothers philosophers that there’s something impurely “circular” about learning how the world works by working with the world. But we already know that philosophy is useless because it’s done fuck-all in actually understanding how the world works, so why should we care about what upsets the philosophers?

                Again: Science. It works, bitches.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

                But we already know that philosophy is useless because it’s done fuck-all in actually understanding how the world works, so why should we care about what upsets the philosophers?

                You’ve decided this is true by defining away philosophical conclusions as “useless” because the only conclusions that count are empirical ones. But you yourself are relying on argument to establish a philosophical conclusion – that philosophy is “useless.” Whether you realize this or not, you are reasoning to establish conclusions that go beyond what science itself tells us. You can’t get away from reasoning – the best policy is to understand you are doing it and to be sure you are doing it well, and this is what philosophy is for.

                In the past, mostly due to overreliance on Aristotle, philosophers considered all natural-science questions to fall under the umbrella of “philosophy.” Today, philosophers normally understand science pretty well and the hallmark of philosophy itself is to distinguish live philosophical issues from empirical ones, and from pseudo-questions that are simply poorly formulated. How on earth would you settle by scientific, empirical, means which are the correct normative principles, whether there any “moral facts,” what are the epistemic conditions required for justification of knowledge to obtain, whether Goldbach’s Conjecture is true, and so on and so forth? People like Sam Harris just embarrass themselves when they go out and proclaim you settle normative questions empirically: doing philosophy without realizing it, and thereby doing it very badly.

                So, at the very least, you circumscribe your dialectical range considerably if you simply refuse to consider philosophy worthwhile.

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

                How on earth would you settle by scientific, empirical, means which are the correct normative principles, whether there any moral facts, what are the epistemic conditions required for justification of knowledge to obtain, whether Goldbachs Conjecture is true, and so on and so forth?

                Oh, that’s easy.

                Morality is an optimal strategy (in the game theory sense of the word) for an individual living in a society, and mathematicians (especially game theorists, again) are making an awful lot of progress in that field. And, don’t worry; your intuitions that it’s not a very good idea to go around on a violent thieving rampage are some of the first conclusions to emerge.

                Empirically, we know that the only knowledge that’s ever been justified is that which has been empirically confirmed. Whether or not that offends the delicate sensibilities of the philosophers is irrelevant; we’ve got the evidence that evidence is the way to go.

                And the Goldbach Conjecture may or may not ever be solved by human mathematicians; however, if it is, it’ll be no fundamentally different than a solution to any other mathematical problem. In the mean time, we’ve got empirical evidence that it holds up to some ludicrously large number, so, at the least, if need be, you can treat it as valid over that range.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

                Morality is an optimal strategy (in the game theory sense of the word) for an individual living in a society, and mathematicians (especially game theorists, again) are making an awful lot of progress in that field. And, don’t worry; your intuitions that it’s not a very good idea to go around on a violent thieving rampage are some of the first conclusions to emerge.

                This is purely descriptive. Either you don’t know what “normative” means, or you think it’s a pseudo-issue since it can’t be empirically settled, in which case you’ve undermined the whole point of caring about morality in the first place.

                Empirically, we know that the only knowledge that’s ever been justified is that which has been empirically confirmed. Whether or not that offends the delicate sensibilities of the philosophers is irrelevant; we’ve got the evidence that evidence is the way to go.

                Again, you’ve defined the issue itself to *be* empirical in nature, leading to a circular justification of the proposed foundation itself. In which case “justification” need not play any role at all in your overall epistemology. See? Philosophy, only badly done. “Science is the only way of knowing anything, because science” is itself a piece of epistemology, done badly.

                And the Goldbach Conjecture may or may not ever be solved by human mathematicians; however, if it is, it’ll be no fundamentally different than a solution to any other mathematical problem.

                Right, in that it takes proof by logical argument, not by pointing to something in nature. So mathematicians are also wasting their time, unless they are also physicists?

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

                Your philosophical objections to the way that science actually works are as relevant to modernity as Plato objecting that a 747 is clearly incapable of flight because it lacks feathers.

                And, no, mathematicians aren’t wasting their time; they’ve got a superlative record of doing useful work, often being a few decades ahead of the physicists. The philosophers, on the other hand, when they disdain all that dirty empiricism stuff, are consistently several millennia behind everybody else.

                That the people who so regularly and so spectacularly get so much so completely worng object to the way that the people who get stuff done get stuff done means much less even than Monday morning quarterbacking.

                On the other hand, if you manage to successfully philosophize a solution to the question of dark matter or limb regrowth for amputees, then you might regain some of the respect that philosophy lost ages ago. “Good luck with that,” as the saying goes.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

                In an attempt to tie it all together, return to my argument. Its conclusion is:

                “The preselection of any given overall outcome by an outside force is physically possible and need not show up as a statistical anomaly.”

                Now, this seems to me to not be equivalent to any strictly empirical claim or set thereof (Disagree about that? Present the data that are inconsistent with it. NB: The data you *have* presented thus far are *not* inconsistent with it). You contend for its falsity, which is therefore also not an empirical claim. Thus both claims are philosophical in nature. Since the argument is logically valid, you must show one of the premises (either the starting assumption of indeterminacy or one or more of the conditional claims) to be false. Empirical claims themselves that are inconsistent with any of these premises are fair game.

                If you can’t present evidence or any other argument that shows them to be false, you can’t convince me that my conclusion is false, plain and simple. And if you stick to your guns and say that nonempirical claims are senseless, then you’ve got absolutely no ammunition to attack my claim *with*. Maybe in the end you’ll have to rest content with that. And I have no doubt that will content you just fine, but our entire discussion would have served no purpose.

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

                The preselection of any given overall outcome by an outside force is physically possible and need not show up as a statistical anomaly.

                Now, this seems to me to not be equivalent to any strictly empirical claim or set thereof (Disagree about that? Present the data that are inconsistent with it. NB: The data you *have* presented thus far are *not* inconsistent with it).

                We may be getting to the “did not / did too” phase of the discussion, but I’ve presented evidence, the most hallowed (if you’ll excuse the phrase) in all of science.

                Here, again, is the evidence that the force you propose does not exist:

                http://www.atlas.ch/news/images/stories/1-plot.jpg

                That blip on the graph means that the Higgs Boson is real (and has a mass of 125 GeV). That the Higgs is real means that the Standard Model is as correct and complete as Newtonian Mechanics for their respective domains — and the Standard Model encompasses all domains over which evolution operates as well as quite a few more. That “and complete” is the kicker: just as Newton ruled out the Hand of God as the reason the apple falls from the tree to the ground, aka “Intelligent Falling,” the Standard Model rules out the Hand of God as the reason that anything else happens in the Universe, at least at scales that matter to humans.

                It’s good to cross-check your results; indeed, the LHC team did exactly that with the Higgs, and used two different experiments that both came up with the same 125 GeV “bump.” In our case, we can consider the implications that your theory would have for thermodynamics. Even if your gods were super-special pinky-swear careful to never actually “preselect” any outcome in a way that measurably changed the energy of a thermodynamic system, any method that they would have at their disposal to do so could just as well, in principle, be used (say, by Satan) to power a perpetual motion machine. I shouldn’t have to explain why such a proposal is an absolute non-starter.

                One last cross-check is that the entire discipline of biology only makes sense if there is absolutely no teleology involved; if you make an assumption of teleology, suddenly nothing makes sense — not the recurrent pharyngeal nerve, not citrate metabolism, not anything.

                So, if the evidence from which the foundational theories of the three most important scientific disciplines has been built isn’t enough to convince you that there aren’t any mysterious forces at work in life on earth, then it’s reasonable to suggest that your embrace of supernaturalism and rejection of science isn’t anything I nor any other rationalist is capable of overcoming.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

                I don’t “reject science,” I accept the conclusion that discovery of the Higgs Boson completes physical theory such that postulating any further significant regular physical forces is doomed to fail.

                Now, convince me that no *nonphysical* force can possibly affect the physical in any way, either by argument or empirical data, and I’ll become an atheist on the spot. But I don’t see how anything you’ve said thus far establishes that. You require proof in terms of which we would discover further *physical* causes that since we haven’t discovered we’re pretty sure don’t exist, but why think that any nonphysical causal powers that may exist would have to entail the existence of a natural-law-obeying wave/particle that the LHC team didn’t detect?

                Even if your gods were super-special pinky-swear careful to never actually “preselect” any outcome in a way that measurably changed the energy of a thermodynamic system, any method that they would have at their disposal to do so could just as well, in principle, be used (say, by Satan) to power a perpetual motion machine.

                This doesn’t seem to follow. If the overall energy of a thermodynamic system is *not* going to be changed, you certainly *couldn’t* use the same means to power a perpetual motion machine. Or am I misunderstanding you?

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

                Now, convince me that no *nonphysical* force can possibly affect the physical in any way, either by argument or empirical data, and Ill become an atheist on the spot.

                The instant something acts upon the physical world, the effect is a physical effect. And here’s the kicker: science has no way of detecting the forces of gravity or electromagnetism or what-not, but only the physical effects they have. So Jesus snapping his fingers and turning water into wine would constitute a physical effect of the wine that was water. A scientist would, given the chance, observe that physical effect and perhaps be able to figure out that Jesus’s finger-snapping is somehow related to it. How much more could be discovered…well, this example is so far off the beaten path that the analogy is already ready to fall apart, but the point is that science isn’t even aware of the possibility of a distinction between physical and non-physical or natural and supernatural forces. Science only cares about the actual things it actually observes, and draws its conclusions accordingly.

                As such, if a force actually does influence the physical world, in so doing it makes itself possible for scientists to observe and investigate. The corollary is true; if the force cannot be observed, then it can only be because it isn’t actually influencing anything. Again: it is the influences that science deals with.

                This doesnt seem to follow. If the overall energy of a thermodynamic system is *not* going to be changed, you certainly *couldnt* use the same means to power a perpetual motion machine.

                But why> isn’t the overall energy changed?

                Remember, the thermodynamic energy is the sum of the vectors of the individual particles. If you are changing the thermodynamic state, whether or not you are changing the extractable energy, you are, of necessity, changing the vectors of one or more of the individual particles. A change in vector is the very textbook definition of acceleration.

                Therefore, if you can change the thermodynamic state of a system, even whilst leaving its extractable energy the same, you still have accelerated something. Either that acceleration was done in the manner Newton described, and it was accompanied by a force proportional to the mass and acceleration, or else your perpetual motion machine comes in the form of energy-less acceleration.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

                So Jesus snapping his fingers and turning water into wine would constitute a physical effect of the wine that was water. A scientist would, given the chance, observe that physical effect and perhaps be able to figure out that Jesus’s finger-snapping is somehow related to it.

                Surely. So all that the completeness of the Standard Model rules out is additional physical lawlike forces that we haven’t discovered yet. So there’s no literal “God Particle.” But this just why that name for the Higgs Boson is so inapt, and is just how we tell the difference between rational agency and natural causes – the latter is regular and predictable, whereas the former is not. And I’m not even talking about *miracles*, but working within the bounds of indeterminacy to select one outcome out of many possible. Again I ask, does the *actuation* of one possibility out of many need violate the physical laws, causing us to need to revise the whole Standard Model, when the mere obtaining of one possibility out of many does not?

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

                Well, this is the nub, quite apart from the rabbitt-holes you and Ben have been going down.

                What does it mean to *actuate* (or *preselect*, as you said earlier) one possibility out of many?

                !*How*! would God do that?

                You cannot just say that it is a logical possibility that He could – – exactly how He does it is going to determine whether or not that actuation/preselection is detectable. Prima face, it is doing work of *some* kind, which is putting energy into the system. And we know (Planck) that we are living in a net-zero-energy universe.

                Even if your logic were perfect (and it is not, for all your vaunted teaching skills), it must (the thrust of Bens objections) be tempered by the reality that physics reveals.

                (And even then, even if you show that a God could have actuated/preselected evolution to result in *us*, you still, as I said before, have all your work before you to show that this God is anything like the moralistic, intercessory Christian God, in order to justify your contention that evolution is compossible with Christianity.)

                /@

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

                Again I ask, does the *actuation* of one possibility out of many need violate the physical laws, causing us to need to revise the whole Standard Model, when the mere obtaining of one possibility out of many does not?

                Yes. It does. Unquestionably and unambiguously, and of the most firmly established physical laws.

                The systems you’re describing are overwhelmingly classical systems, best described by Newtonian Mechanics. “Spooky” quantum effects don’t come into play; treat them as quantum systems and all the weirdness cancels out and you’re left with the exact same predictions that Newton would have made. Same thing if you apply Relativistic Mechanics; you’ll do an awful lot of extra work just to get a Newton-equivalent answer, because all of the high-energy stuff gets reduced to a difference in the umpteenth decimal point, much smaller than your ruler can actually measure.

                And, inevitably, either directly or indirectly, atomic matter will have a different vector of motion after the “actuation of possibility” than if no such “actuation” took place. A change in vector is more commonly known as acceleration, and all forms of physics — Quantum, Relativistic, and Newtonian — tell us that accelerating atomic mass is, in the most fundamental possible sense, a change in energy and that said change must be accounted for.

                And if you’re angling for some sort of variation on the “Many Worlds” quantum hypothesis, that doesn’t even begin to apply to these systems; it’s like trying to diffract an elephant through a doorway.

                The only forces capable of accelerating atomic matter — that is, the forces that are both strong enough and work over the applicable distances — are the familiar ones of gravity and electromagnetism. If there were other forces, they would have shown up long ago in countless experiments.

                By adding “possible actuation” on top of the Standard Model, you are doing as much violence to it as if you added Helios’s chariot on top of Newtonian Mechanics. Your only self-consistent defense of such a model is the most obscene of paranoid conspiracy theories

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

                That reminds me of an old sf series by – I think – Alan Dean Foster, where a sisterhood worked to increase the number of possible futures that included their desired outcomes, even if it did not come to pass in *this* particular future.

                /@

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

                Foster is one of my favorites, but I don’t remember that one…but it’s been years….

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

                And, inevitably, either directly or indirectly, atomic matter will have a different vector of motion after the “actuation of possibility” than if no such “actuation” took place.

                By adding “possible actuation” on top of the Standard Model, you are doing as much violence to it as if you added Helios’s chariot on top of Newtonian Mechanics.

                I don’t see how it does either: you pressed the point earlier that all science does is detect *effects*. And if the effect is the same whether it is actuated or happens by pure “chance,” how does one need to make a physical “imprint” where the other does not? I sense you may well be defining nonphysical causes out of possibility. Same thing an ancient Epicurean would do.

                Look, you’re not sympathetic to my worldview and I’m not sympathetic to yours, and we have to stop somewhere. But truly, I do appreciate all the time you’ve taken with someone you obviously consider on a par with an astrologer or worshipper of Kali. It has been educational.

              • Posted February 13, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

                I sense you may well be defining nonphysical causes out of possibility.

                The physical / nonphysical divide is irrelevant — except, of course insofar as it’s useful for the theologians to urge us that we should pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The problem for the theologian is that there isn’t even any smoke or mirrors distracting us, let alone any signs of any curtains or any men behind them…just the theologians insisting that there’s no way we can possibly see the invisible man behind the nonexistent curtain, even though we’re all puppets dancing at the ends of his strings.

                The divide is irrelevant, because science doesn’t have any a priori commitment to the ultimate nature of reality; rather, that’s the fault of the theologian. ‘Tis the theologian whose edifices would crumble were it not for the existence of the natural and the supernatural with a sharp divide between them.

                Rather, science only cares about that which does and doesn’t actually do anything. If it does something, we see what is done, and try to understand it. If it doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t matter, and is no different from any other fantasy about that which doesn’t actually do anything.

                Same thing an ancient Epicurean would do.

                I very much doubt you want to bring Epicurus into this. Centuries before your Christianity was invented, he made the empirical observation that there are no powerful agents with the best interests of humanity at heart, yet Christians still insist that there are supremely powerful agents who are the source of everything that’s good about humanity. You will likely respond with some sort of bafflegab, typically including the words, “free will,” in an attempt to excuse your gods, yet never daring to admit that all you do is but attach a label to the incompetence and / or malfeasance of your gods. Your response will also likely desperately attempt to put as much distance as is possible between reality and Christianity, with all sorts of promises of justice delayed (which all civilized people recognize as justice denied). And yet, a trivial question belies the utter vapidness of any such attempt:

                Why does Jesus never call 9-1-1?

                As I hope you’ll soon discover for yourself, there is no answer to that question which acknowledges Jesus’s ability to perform even the most trivial of non-miraculous acts, let alone spectacular miracles, nor which acknowledges in him even the slightest hint of a sense of moral responsibility, let alone humanity.

                Coming back to the question that, I sense, we’re now about to leave behind: your theory truly is invalidated by observation. I’ve tried to explain the basic science involved, but I don’t seem to be doing a very good job at it. The big-picture perspective is that the events you’re describing as random aren’t, and that which is random isn’t responsible for the events you’re describing. Further, your god-who-controls-the-random is very bit as utterly superfluous to modern science as a god-who-brings-the-rain; worse, a god who could control the random would have the power to do that which we are certain cannot be done, with every bit as much certainty as that dancing cannot compel a god to bring the rain.

                On top of all of that, your theory isn’t even internally consistent. You’re simultaneously claiming that your gods conspired to make profound changes in what would have been the natural evolution of life on Earth in order to ensure the arrival of modern humans with our exact physiology, even down to facial features; that these gods were supremely careful to do so in a perfectly undetectable manner; and yet that one of these gods went out of its way to reveal itself to these same humans from whom it had remained hidden and that you yourself are aware of the fact and mechanism of the modifications; and that these same gods who so desperately wished to remain hidden now want all people to know them intimately yet will not provide credible evidence of their existence and nature.

                I’m almost sorry to bring out this next bit as I’m sure it’ll bring this discussion to a close, but it truly cuts to the heart of the matter and lays bare the nature of your self-deception.

                And that is that it’s highly unlikely you yourself actually believe that Christianity is true. For a modern human living in today’s technological society to do so is practically inconceivable.

                Why?

                Because the only significant evidence for any of it…has been collected in a certain anthology. But that anthology is nothing more than an ad-hoc assemblage of fourth-rate faery tales. It opens, fer chrissakes, with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard — and, from this nonsense, we’re somehow supposed to divine the actual history of a baker’s dozen billion years since the Big Bang and some lesser billions of years of the development of life on Earth. As if to drive home the point even more emphatically, the editors shortly thereafter included another story about a talking plant (on fire!) that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero. And the grand finale is this utterly bizarre zombie snuff pr0n fantasy which tries to convince us that it’s really true with a scene in which one of the thralls fondles the zombie king’s intestines through a gaping chest wound.

                As incomprehensible as such fantasies are to the modern mind, science would still embrace it if the evidence supported the claims. Quite the contrary in this case, though. There’s not a single breath of an hint of a reference to any of this in the contemporary record, and that record is particularly extensive in the case of the Jesus incident. Neither Philo nor certain of the Dead Sea Scroll authors nor Pliny the Elder nor the Roman Satirists nor many others could possibly have missed anything so spectacular happening right under their noses, and yet all did. Worse, we have the earliest of Christians themselves — Justin Martyr in particular — confirming the blindingly obvious: that Jesus is nothing but a patchwork quilt made up of all the other popular stories of the day. Perseus gave him his virgin birth, Bacchus his water-into-wine trick, Bellerophon his Ascension, Mercury his intercession with the higher-still gods, and so on. That the Gospels can’t even come to consensus with less than a decade of when all of this was supposed to have happened isn’t remotely surprising, considering that they’re all just third-party-omnisicient fantasy faery tale retellings of popular Pagan heroic myths. They don’t even pretend otherwise; Luke opens with the then-already-archetypal “I heard it from a friend of a friend of a friend so you know it’s true!” formula used to indicate that what follows is purest fabrication.

                And if that’s not enough to convince you that Christianity is rank and primitive superstition and pseudoscience as disreputable and discredited as any other, then all I can do is encourage you to grow up and take the responsibility of educating yourself in the manner that modern civilization expects of adults. Yeah, it’s a bit of work, but it’s worth it. And besides, we have cats!

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

                I posted another reply to this that for some reason has been placed outside the thread hierarchy and now appears as comment #20; see below.

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

                Also, I must mention that the Law of Non-Contradiction is an _a priori_ principle, independent of experience. We didn’t look to the world to find out whether it is true.

                (But if your contention is correct that we can’t know anything true _a priori_, then the Law of Non-Contradiction would be uninformative and useless, wouldn’t it?)

                To illustrate how the Law of Non-Contradiction could not have been discovered _a posteriori_, consider the use of language. We know what a dog is, but we don’t have to find everything that is not a dog and what they are all like in order to know what “not-a-dog” *means*. We didn’t canvass the whole world for examples and arrive inductively at the truth that there is nothing that is both p and not-p.

                Now, one may well ask, how, then, can it also be that (classical) logic, founded as it is on the Law of Non-Contradiction, can help us arrive at informative truths about the world outside the mind? We know because we know what it is to speak truly of the world – it is to speak not-falsely about it. And since contradictions are all false, avoiding contradictions is a reliable means to zero in on truths, *whatever* we’re talking about.

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

                We know what a dog is, but we dont have to find everything that is not a dog and what they are all like in order to know what not-a-dog *means*.

                You couldn’t have picked a better example to demonstrate my point if you had tried.

                “Dog” is a very convenient label, just as “green” is. But where’s the boundary between “dog” and “not-dog,” or between “green” and “blue”?

                Is the wolf still a dog? How about a coyote? A bear?

                Cats and dogs share a fairly recent common ancestor, a mere 50-60 Mya. Was that ancestor a cat or a dog? If neither, which of its descendants was the first dog?

                The answer, of course, is that there’s (almost) never a “first” of any species. Each animal’s children are as alike as you are like your parents and your children (if any) are like you. The changes are minor, and undirected. Yet, with Deep Time, those inconsequential changes accumulate with the end result being what we observe as the Fact of Evolution.

                What you’re left with is a most important and most real reality in which the law of non-contradiction (dog / not-dog) is, as we say, “Not even worng.”

                Don’t misunderstand me: there are contexts in which non-contradiction is superbly useful. You can’t be both married and a bachelor, at least not as those terms are typically defined. But, as with the parallel line postulate, its utility, though generally intuitively obvious, is decidedly limited.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

                What you’re left with is a most important and most real reality in which the law of non-contradiction (dog / not-dog) is, as we say, “Not even worng.”

                I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting at. Are you saying that evolution provides counterexamples to Non-Contradiction? I can’t see that it does at all. Rather, I think the example demonstrates the importance of the philosophy-of-biology question of which “species” concept best reflects reality by “carving nature at its joints.” Defining, and getting clear on the role of, theoretical terms in our theories takes more than just empirical input. So scientists themselves have to rely on some philosophy or other to get an overall grasp of what their subject matter is about.

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

                My point is that non-contradiction doesn’t even apply to the question of “What is a dog?” You claimed that non-contradiction means that an animal can’t both be a dog and not-a-dog. In evolutionary terms, that statement is so emphatically incorrect it hurts.

                For example, in very serious and very real evolutionary terms, you are a fish. You are as much a fish as you are a vertebrate, a tetrapod, a mammal, a monkey, and an ape. Yet you are clearly, also, not a fish nor a monkey — in equally serious and very real evolutionary terms.

                Attempting to apply non-contradiction to questions of species is as spuriously and spectacularly inappropriate as attempting to apply the parallel line postulate to Einsteinian geometry. You are guaranteed incorrect conclusions if you attempt any such thing.

                …and, again, how do we know that this is the case? Because we have the empirical fossil and DNA evidence demonstrating that the type of cut-and-dried distinctions necessary for non-contradiction to be applicable don’t exist on the one hand, and because Arthur Eddington on the other.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

                Inconsequential pedantry: Dogs are now regarded as a subspecies of gray wolf — _Canis lupus familiaris_ rather than _Canis familiaris_.

                Although I think that rather supports your point.

                /@

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

                Persackly!

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted February 10, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

                OK, here’s the exercise that will clarify things for you, Micah.

                Go get a good book on evolution. You could do no worse than Jerry’s book after which this website is named. But many others exist. Make sure it wasn’t written by a theologian but by an actual evolutionary biologist.

                Now, go look up “theistic evolution”. The part that is changed by the inclusion of “theistic” in our understanding of evolution is the part that is incompatible with actual, biological, scientific evolution.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

                “Now, convince me that no *nonphysical* force can possibly affect the physical in any way, either by argument or empirical data, and I’ll become an atheist on the spot. But I don’t see how anything you’ve said thus far establishes that.”

                Jesus Christ, Micah!

                Substitute “invisible pink unicorn” for “*nonphysical* force” in that first sentence. The result has EXACTLY the same rhetorical value. Why do you expect to be taken seriously?

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

                I don’t think I’m engaging in “rhetoric,” nor indeed, AGAIN, trying to convince you that my religious beliefs are true.

                You just substituted some arbitrary stipulation for my belief system of which the only thing had in common between them is that you don’t believe in either. How do you expect *me* to take *you* seriously?

              • gbjames
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

                Micah, I did not say you were trying to convince us of your religious beliefs. However I think your religious beliefs are allowing you to say things that are, frankly, absurd. As I suggested… do the replacement I suggested. Notice that the argument is equally valid. It is not an argument worth taking seriously.

                “If you could prove that there isn’t a civilization of Hindu ants living under the ice of Neptune, then I’d stop believing in them.”

                Jesus Christ, man! Get serious!

                This tread is way too long.

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

                Do Neptunian Hindu ants worship Ganesh, the eleph-ant god?

                /@

            • gbjames
              Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

              “You can’t be both married and a bachelor, at least not as those terms are typically defined.”

              This sentence provoked me to ponder Catholic nuns who are said to be “married to Christ”. Do they file “married” tax returns? Do they check the “widow” check box? Just wondering. ;)

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

                “Married” in the “bachelor” context simply means “married to an ordinary man or woman in the natural sense,” so we don’t have to revise our definition of “married” in cases of nuns or religious.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

                I guess you didn’t see the tongue in my cheek.

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

                No, I did; I always try to look for a substantive point first. :-)

        • Posted February 10, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

          Apart from Ben’s reply above, and assuming for arguments sake that either of those scenarios aren’t falsifiable, even in principle, I think you’re left with a number of problems in reconciling either one of those view of Gob with the view of God central to Christianity in any meaningful way:
          * The origins of souls (and thus the afterlife). No mechanism for them to arise except by God’s intercession.
          * Original sin. No human population less than a few tens of thousands; certainly not two.
          * Jesus. How was e conceived if not by God’s intercession? What’s the point of his death?

          If Jesus didn’t die for our sins, a blood-sacrifice for Adam and Eve’s original transgression, and allow us life everlasting, what’s left of Christianity qua Christianity?

          As Christopher Hitchens might have said, even if you can demonstrate that either of those view of a deity is compossible with evolution (and Ben’s arguments, which I don’t disagree with, suggest that’s not a given!), then you still have all you work before you, to show that such a God is the Christian God.

          Bon chance!

          /@

          • Posted February 10, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

            To further build on Ant’s point: there’s a world of difference between “not impossible” and “remotely plausible.”

            It’s not impossible for there to be a perfect Delft teapot orbiting the Sun between Mercury and Venus. Some very, very, very rich and resourceful and joker certainly could have funded such a launch. It’s just so amazingly implausible that any sequence of events has actually played itself out in that fashion.

            Christianity’s problem, though, is that it’s not just a Delft teapot, but an entire tea party complete with an unmarried bachelor zombie doing the hosting. Just to get to the realm of “not impossible,” you have to discard so many pieces of Christianity that what you’re left with is as unlike Christianity as rugby is unlike quiche Lorraine.

            Cheers,

            b&

          • Posted February 10, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

            * view/s/ of Gob [“Gob” /is/ correct]
            * was /h/e conceived
            * view/s/ of a deity

            sheesh!

  16. Vaal
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    And so Biologos demonstrates the folly of trying to merge a discipline that attempts objectivity (science) with a way of thinking that exults subjectivity and faith (religion). The religious belief, unfettered from any way of establishing one interpretation as more sound than another, remains a wild card that undermines the whole project. Like building your castle on quicksand.

    In essence, Biologos just becomes yet another new Christian sect.

    Not that they’ll ever learn.

    Vaal

  17. Peter Ozzie Jones
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I read Dr Zachary Blount’s rebuttal (led to from the OP):

    http://telliamedrevisited.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/zachary-blount-on-ham-on-nye-debate-follow-up-3/

    of Ham’s use of the work on changes for E. coli to live on citrate & noticed this arming of the blunderbuss aimed at Ham’s foot:

    His current research is funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation Program on Foundational Questions in Evolutionary Biology.

  18. Jimbo
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    I love that Biologos is calling out Ham’s incorrect reading of the Bible. To hear Ham, fundamentalists, Pat Robertson, and Biologos all duke it out in the public square is fantastic. Nye might just have delivered a wedge strategy to Christianity. Jerry himself has lamented that Christians won’t challenge one another on articles of faith but they’re doing just that now. I want to next hear Robertson challenge William Lane Craig on Divine Command Theory.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted February 9, 2014 at 12:25 am | Permalink

      Remarkable isn’t it. Ken Ham is unquestionably a dumb as a box of rocks; he’s probably the stupidest of them all. But I think he senses one thing that the others don’t seem to realize at times: If Ken Ham, William Lane Craig, the weasels at Biologos, the Sophisticated Theologians™ amongst the Catholics, Orthodox, all kinds of Protestants, Mormons, not to mention the Jews, Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, and the rest of the characters in the world’s religious menagerie can’t agree on just wtf God means, God must be a pretty shitty communicator for an omnipotent supreme being.

  19. jpete79
    Posted February 9, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Please be aware that this is a long comment but describes why I no longer believe as I once did:

    Much of the reason that I no longer have faith is due to Biologos. When I was having difficulty reconciling religion (as my Church taught Creationism) with modern science it was Biologos that I researched to try and and learn if and how the two could be reconciled. I looked up various pastors and teachers (many who I admired such as Tim Keller, Scott McKnight and Peter Enns) to see how they reconciled religion and science and they continually promoted critical thinking in a willingness to embrace theistic evolution.

    Ironically, it was this approach in studying the rest of the Bible that really had me turn away from faith. As I studied, I learned the Bible really did not stand up to criticism as being true.

    First, if the Bible is true it should be a historical document. However, there is no outside proof of various Biblical events. An example of a lack of historical evidence is that there is no Egyptian record of the Passover or the great plagues of Egypt. Also, archaeological evidence shows that the Kingdom of Israel was nowhere near the size that the Bible describes it when David and Solomon ruled. Finally, while there are a few outside references to Jesus or Christianity, there is no outside proof that Jesus ever died and rose again.

    It’s interesting that many Christians will point to a lack of evidence and have reasons for not needing evidence but will take it where they can get it. So, while the Egyptians were great record keepers, they would not want the outside world to know that there was a terrible point in their history where a Pharaoh lost his son or their economy was crippled. It will be claimed that the Israel monarchy was as big as the Bible showed, however; much of the archaeology from that period was lost. Last, there are other sources like Josephus that show Jesus existed (and other evidence of Gospel figures like Pilate) even though the language of the one place where Jesus is mentioned is nothing like any verses around it and is likely a forgery (and that just because a person existed doesn’t mean the stories of that person are true).

    Second, if a Bible is true, whatever scientific verses it contains should be true. Even if creation stories are simple mythological origin stories, there are many more scientific errors that are anatomical in error. For example, in identifying clean and unclean birds, Moses was told that bats are an abomination among the birds. How are bats birds? Another verse mentions all fowl that crawl on four legs are an abomination. Is there a four legged bird that I somehow missed? Of course, many apologists will say that the word should be translated insect and not bird (how is it that an omnipotent GOd couldn’t come up with different words to describe such different things? To me it seems obvious the two should each have their own word). Even if the word should mean insect, there is another verses that states that all flying insects that crawl on all fours should be an abomination such as leaping insects (grasshoppers). Simple counting on a hand will show that grasshoppers have more than four legs.

    I haven’t heard many of the apologist remarks on these subjects. I think most people completely overlook these “little” mistakes as they are not paying attention to details such as anatomy. However, while I can even understand a mythological creation, I cannot understand these rather simple anatomical observations being wrong.

    Third, when speaking about authenticity where can a Bible stand on its own? Scholars have now shown Genesis was likely written by multiple sources (not Moses as most traditions still hold) and compiled over time. Many scholars even think that those redactors who compiled it (during the Babylonian exile) likely added certain verses. Also, books have constantly been added or removed from what we have as our Bible today. This is the history many don’t know about or protect so others don’t find out about it. An example of an authenticity issue is that it looks like the original story had Abraham follow through with sacrificing his son Isaac. The angel that appears was an addition at a later time by a redactor. There are plenty more issues than this when talking about these topics (additions to the Gospels, the history of 1 Enoch and the Pseudepigrapha).

    Most Christians do not know the history of how a Bible was compiled or came about. They trust whatever they are taught in Churches blindly. The same fight that goes on with scientists over evolution goes on with scholars over authenticity. Their argument simply states that there is a conspiracy in scholarship that is used to lead people away from faith. They will use circular reasoning and absurd answers pleading with supernatural causes before coming to the conclusion that the Bible maybe nothing more than a work of literature.

    Fourth and finally there are issues of authority. The issues that arise here are ones that don’t have much underlying evidence, however, these are more common sense and logical in nature. What is it about Christianity that makes it true over Judaism and Islam? What is it about Christianity that makes it more true than Buddhism or Hinduism? What makes it more true that Greek or Roman mythology? Why should I believe in one more than another?

    Christians will tell you its the Bible (which is why the last point I made on authenticity is so important. Why is it acceptable to change a Bible as the Jews and Christians have through the years but when Mohammad redacts it saying there were errors, it is unacceptable?). They will also say what other religion promotes love of others and self-sacrifice? What other religion shows a loving God and gives people morals? The truth is that we don’t need God in order to live lives of love or self-sacrifice. Besides, why should we trust a God in treatment and relation to others when he ordered genocides and stood by as countless numbers of peoples suffered?

    Looking at a Bible through a critical and logical eye has really shown me that it cannot be relied on. Ironically, much of the reason why began with thinking a Bible could be relied on and it could be reconciled with science. That was due to Biologos. I wonder if they realize their effort may backfire more than help.

    I think for people to escape the confines and imprisonment of religion it takes small baby-steps. Instead of battling them proving there is no God, it starts with evolution is true, or the history of the Bible, or if a Bible can be relied on. The transition starts with just one small aspect of what was believed being shown as incoherent or false and then the dominoes can start falling.

    Besides, don’t people ever get tired of everything being a conspiracy against them?

    • Posted February 9, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Congratulations on coming to your senses!

      Since you’re interested in this sort of thing…well, it seems you still haven’t wandered too far from the officially-sanctioned path with respect to historical evidence surrounding the Jesus incident.

      May I suggest?

      Read Lucian’s The Passing of Peregrinus, in its entirety. It’s a delightful satire, and not too long. It’ll set the stage for the mechanism by which the stories came to be.

      For confirmation, read Justin Martyr’s First Apology. You can judge for yourself if he’s really correct about how close the parallels are between Jesus and the many “Sons of Jupiter,” and if Martyr’s explanation for why that should be so holds water or not. Pay particular attention to what Martyr has to say about the Eucharist; compare with 1 Corinthians 11, and be aware that Tarsus (as in, “Paul of”) was the home port of the Cilician pirates who were the most infamous Mithraists of the first centuries BC and AD.

      Lastly, see what you can find of Jesus and the Gospel stories in the actual contemporary record — of works composed during and within a decade after the reign of Pilate. Most notable is Philo as well as a subset of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but also relevant are the writings of Pliny the Elder (the Younger has more to say about Christianity, but it’s the Elder’s works that’s more significant) and the Roman Satirists.

      Have fun!

      Cheers,

      b&

      • jpete79
        Posted February 9, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        B:

        I will look into your recommendation. These things still interest me but I would much rather read scientific studies and journals(in regards to genetics, DNA studies and evolution – again recommendations would be welcome). I have a lot of catching up to do after being held back for so long. On another topic, before reading up on those topics, another thing I would like to spend time doing is learning to brew my own beer. I think there maybe more reward there than understanding the various mythologies that I once vested myself in.

        Another funny fact, I don’t know if I would be able to dig up the comments but when I started leaving the fundamentalist side of my faith and catered to my accomodationist roots (before giving up faith altogether), we had plenty of disagreements and arguments on this site. Looking back, I’m actually surprised Jerry let some of my original comments go. I am positive there was no evidence whatsoever in them and broke many to most of his commenter rules. Good thing Jerry showed some grace (unlike many in my former religion whom I asked questions about evolution and who completely shut me out).

        • Posted February 9, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

          Beer is good, as is science. There’s even an awful lot to combine the two. For example, there’s no sign of any adverse impact of Noah’s Flood on the Egyptian breweries’s production. I imagine there’s some efforts, quite possibly successful by now, at reconstructing the ancient Egyptian beer recipes — and I further imagine, what with their lack of modern technology, that said recipe should be amenable to home brewing.

          If you remember enough details, Google can probably help you find old posts here. You could click back through history page by page, but you’ve likely got better things to do with your time.

          …such as: you might want to think about writing up your story of how you went from a fundamentalist to a (as your words suggest) quasi-troll here at WEIT to a rationalist, and send said story to Jerry. I know he gets a kick out of those sorts of stories, and he’s been known to post them before (with permission from the submitter).

          Again, welcome to your senses! I get the impression it’s been a long time coming….

          Cheers,

          b&

  20. Posted February 12, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Your philosophical objections to the way that science actually works are as relevant to modernity as Plato objecting that a 747 is clearly incapable of flight because it lacks feathers.

    I am *not* objecting to the way science works – I am objecting to your claim that that’s all the knowledge that’s possible, which itself is not equivalent to any empirical claim nor set of them however large, and is thus a philosophical claim. Non-adherents to scientism are not in any way hampered in the way they do science as compared to devotees of that philosophy (that’s an empirical claim that I would challenge you to falsify, and without committing the No True Scotsman Fallacy).

    And, no, mathematicians aren’t wasting their time; they’ve got a superlative record of doing useful work, often being a few decades ahead of the physicists. The philosophers, on the other hand, when they disdain all that dirty empiricism stuff, are consistently several millennia behind everybody else.

    So rationality is good and right in its pure form – mathematics – as is its application to empirical studies – science – but somehow illegitimate when it gets applied to a whole host of nonempirical questions, even it relies on arguments that have empirically falsifiable propositions as premises (like my argument I presented)? I don’t see this as a principled approach to knowledge itself. Which you can’t get without philosophy anyway, so, figures.

    Empiricism itself *is* a philosophy with a long and hallowed tradition. And a great number of philosophers are atheists, and empiricists, yet reject “scientism.” Try convincing one of them they are wasting their time and see what happens. You’ll have to rely on philosophy to do so, but having disdained its usefulness, and therefore unwilling to play by its rules, you’ll be shredded to pieces. And, having rejected the utility of arguments, will be powerless to convince anyone of your views who doesn’t already agree with you. The usefulness of philosophy per se should be quite evident at this point.

    • Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure how to address this any further than with an analogy — that of an astrologer insisting that everybody at NASA is practicing astrology, whether they know it or admit it or not.

      That, according to the rules of astrology, astronomers (and astrophysicists and cosmologists and the rest) are practicing astrology is of no consequence nor significance; despite the insistence of the astrologers, the astronomers really are doing science, not running a cold reading scam operation.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure how to address this any further than with an analogy — that of an astrologer insisting that everybody at NASA is practicing astrology, whether they know it or admit it or not.

        Again, terribly inapt analogy. You can’t possibly successfully rebut my claims if you don’t understand them.

        To repeat what I just said in my previous comment, I am *not* saying that scientists *when doing science* are relying on some substantive philosophical position. In fact, I just said the opposite – there are all kinds of philosophical views about matters nonempirical that are perfectly compatible with doing science.

        It’s when you make claims that are not equivalent to any empirical claims that you are doing philosophy. Scientists, going beyond what their specialty and training is *about*, often do make such claims without realizing that is what they are doing, as you yourself are doing.

        But recognizing the difference between such claims itself requires philosophy: if you yourself can’t distinguish between strictly empirical claims and those that go beyond that, then of course in that case you’ll think philosophy is useless – you already “know” the “right” answers to what and cannot be the case without any argument at all. There is no hope for having a fruitful discussion with such a person who doesn’t already agree with you on everything.

        • Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

          Its when you make claims that are not equivalent to any empirical claims that you are doing philosophy.

          That’s actually a superb definition of the term.

          Scientists, going beyond what their specialty and training is *about*, often do make such claims without realizing that is what they are doing

          Indeed, they do. ‘Tis a common human failing.

          But scientists are generally (though, of course, not always) better than most people — and nearly universally better than the philosophers — at replying with, “I don’t know,” when they don’t know. From there you can offer up hunches, and test the ones you think are most likely to bear fruit…but honesty demands “I don’t know” as the honest answer when you don’t know. Ask Sean Carroll how to reconcile quantum gravity, and practically the first words out of his mouth will be, “I don’t know,” but he’ll likely just as eagerly offer up some of his favorite hunches along with what would demonstrate or invalidate them.

          Philosophy’s foundational mistrake is assuming that you can get from “I don’t know” to “therefore I know” without the hard work of checking the wild-assed guesses against reality. Theology is an indistinguishably-close cousin; it just adds “but I want” somewhere in the middle. Philosophers often do that, too, but the theologians would seem to be philosophically required to do so.

          as you yourself are doing

          While it’s certainly possible that I’ve misunderstood the science we’ve been discussing, I’m quite confident I’ve got it right. I’ve independently performed a number of experiments confirming many of the basic principles of Newtonian Mechanics, Thermodynamics, and even the more accessible bits of Quantum Mechanics. I don’t have any personal hands-on experience in biology, but I’ve seen enough skeletons and fossils and the like first-hand to have confidence in the pictures (and other analyses) of evolutionary biologists. Much of the rest of the basics of the relevant fields are equally accessible; you can count tree rings for yourself, you can see the sedimentary layers at the Grand Canyon and elsewhere, you can measure rates of radioactive today (though perhaps not as easily as when I was in school), and so on.

          The claims you are making are ones that have been repeatedly considered (or are minor variations on similar themes), in various forms both stronger and weaker, in all those disciplines. And, at every possible juncture, literally over the course of centuries, the evidence has proven inconsistent with not just your specific claims but broad classes of related claims.

          Honestly, whether or not you can philosophically justify your belief in your claims is as irrelevant to the Universe as it is to science and to me personally. You’re worng, as worng as if you were claiming that the Sun rises in the West, any no insistence on your part that your claim is reasonable can possibly put a dent in the huge mountains of evidence to the contrary.

          At this point, one might suggest that you exercise additional caution at the next zebra crossing.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

            Philosophy’s foundational mistrake is assuming that you can get from “I don’t know” to “therefore I know” without the hard work of checking the wild-assed guesses against reality.

            That’s simply false. “Arguing from ignorance” is considered a fallacy for that very reason. Philosophers aren’t trying to argue with science, they’re trying to establish truths that are *not* equivalent to empirical claims. You may think all such claims are senseless, but at least get that much right about your target.

            While it’s certainly possible that I’ve misunderstood the science we’ve been discussing, I’m quite confident I’ve got it right.

            Once again, I’m not *saying* you’re doing the *science* wrong. It’s going *beyond* science although not realizing it.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      At some point someone got Ben to substitute some other word — I think it was “Reason”(?) — for “philosophy” and temporarily solved the antipathy towards philosophy. Didn’t stick, I guess.

      • Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

        Actually, it was the other way ’round, as I recall. Said person (whose name, I’m afraid, I’ve already forgotten) suggested he and / or she generally meant “reason” for most of the situations where it was common to use the term, “philosophy,” and we agreed that reason is useful and not so all-encompassing as to incorporate the baggage of philosophy.

        I’m quite confident I’ve never argued against reason, but philosophy is, empirically, unreason unmoored from the bounds of reality — atheistic theology, really.

        b&

        • Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

          Wow. If you think philosophy is essentially “unreason,” you have no idea what philosophers do. But keeping swinging at strawmen if that’s what you prefer.

        • Sastra
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

          I found a definition of philosophy as “the rational investigation of questions about existence and knowledge and ethics.”

          So if this definition is accepted, wouldn’t it be fair to say that “reason” and “philosophy” could be considered synonyms?

          Micah?

          I suspect your objection is not to philosophy per se, but to a subset popularly called “Armchair Philosophy,” a variation of Pure Rationalism which doesn’t stand up to philosophical scrutiny when used on empirical questions.

          • Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

            Sure, I could go with that. Reason is used in both science and philosophy, albeit in different domains of inquiry.

            Philosophers today commonly rail against “armchair philosophy” and try to take account of the deliverances of natural sciences insofar as they are relevant. This just means that philosophical conclusions may rely on one or more empirical premises, which is perfectly fine because we’re all trying to deal with the same reality, ultimately.

            • Sastra
              Posted February 12, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

              Micah wrote:

              Reason is used in both science and philosophy, albeit in different domains of inquiry.

              No, I was suggesting substituting the term “reason” for “philosophy,” thereby placing “science” under the wider category of “philosophy/reason,” as a more precise form of rational investigation.

              Could you go with that?

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

                Well, if I understand you correctly, that’s how people in prior ages conceived of philosophy – as a single overarching discipline encompassing *everything* (that’s historically why doctorate degrees in most academic fields are called “Doctor of Philosophy” – “PhD”).

                Nowadays philosophy has a somewhat narrower denotation having to do with all manner of nonempirical claims, which all cluster around being centrally normative in nature (“shoulds”), and not in competition with what we now call “science” – which itself has narrowed in definition (used to just refer to any systematic knowledge – _scientia_ – of any kind).

                So to avoid confusion due to the fact that most people think of words in terms of their denotation rather than connotation, I’d place both science and philosophy under the common heading of “reasoning.”

          • Posted February 12, 2014 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

            I found a definition of philosophy as the rational investigation of questions about existence and knowledge and ethics.

            Questions of existence can only be answered with empirical evidence. We know the Higgs exist because of that data plot I keep linking to. Before that plot, we had good reason to be pretty sure that it probably existed, but only evidence and no amount of reason could ever actually answer that question.

            Information science and empirical ethics have both left the philosophers so far in the dust it’s not even funny. On the one side we’ve got Claude Shannon and patient outcome surveys; on the other, we’ve got debates over what the meaning of “is” is and fat men being murdered by choo-choo crush.

            Again, the ones actually making progress are those reasoning from the evidence. The philosophers, unhindered by the evidence, are evidently fantastic. And not in the pleasant sense of the word.

            Cheers,

            b&


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