Francis Collins pollutes science with religion

In today’s New York Times you’ll find Sam Harris’s op-ed piece on Francis Collins’s appointment as director of the National Institutes of Health, explaining why he thinks Collins is a bad choice.  When I read a preliminary draft of the piece, I was struck by the list of five slides taken from Collins’s lecture, and so I went to YouTube to watch it. (The link is below.)  The slides are taken from a Berkeley lecture in which Collins aims to break down the walls between science and spirituality, areas that he says should not be “walled off” from one another.

After watching this talk (it’s about an hour long, starting at 6:00 and ending at 1:13:00, with the beginning and end occupied by introductions and questions, respectively), I am more certain than ever that Collins really does pollute his science with his faith. By speaking with the authority of a scientist, by discussing science at length, and above all by describing in the same talk the evidence for evolution and the “evidence” for God, acting as if they are of similar epistemic significance, he is confusing his audiences about the nature of evidence and the nature of science. (See his comment at 51:30 that “My role here is to tell you what I as a scientist and a believer have learned about science and what I have learned about my belief in the context of that and vice versa.”) It’s a disquieting performance, even more distressing because Collins is an affable and genial speaker, conveying his snake oil is with a dose of sugar.  And it’s scary (but not incomprehensible) to see how a smart man has managed to convince himself of a set of superstitions that are completely unsupported by evidence.

Before I dissect his arguments, let me give Collins credit for one thing: he isn’t a straight-up wackaloon creationist.  He recognizes that intelligent design is not science, and gives some arguments against it. He doesn’t do nearly as good a job as Kenneth Miller, but at least he tries, and that’s good. But then he undercuts the whole business by proclaiming that the evidence points to the hand of God on the tiller.

If you want to avoid having to watch the whole megillah, scroll forward until about 27 minutes in, when Collins starts laying out the “questions” that science cannot answer, e.g., What happens after I die? Is there a god?. Of course the implication is that faith can answer them, but he’s wrong.  How can faith tell us what happens after we die?  Do our bodies get taken to heaven? If so, do we show up with our bodies at the age at which we died, or as an infant, or as something in between?  If we’re cremated, do we appear before St. Peter as a cinder?  How can we tell for sure that we’re not going to be boiled in molten sulfur for eternity?

The whole tenor of Collins’s argument is that his acceptance of God is based on empirical evidence. In this sense he puts it on the same plane as his science, and this is the pollution that has always troubled me.  (Look at Collins’s five slides, highlighted by Sam Harris, and see if they don’t look like flat assertions about reality.) Collins begins laying out the “evidence” for God at 28:39.  It is, briefly, this:

1.  There is something instead of nothing.

How does that prove there is a God? Physics tell us that something can indeed come from “nothing” (that is, the absence of matter).  The origin of the universe is of course a problem that physicists are still working on.

2.  Mathematics is “unreasonably effective”.

Well, how ineffective would it have to be before it didn’t point to God?  Didn’t Gödel show that it wasn’t perfect anyway?

3.  The Universe was put together by a mathematical mind.

How does he know this?  Why do regularities in the Universe testify to the existence of a celestial being? After all, isn’t the suspension of regularities — that is, miracles — also taken as evidence for God? You can’t have it both ways.

4.  The physical constants seem to have “precisely chosen values” that enable the existence and evolution of complexity.

Note the word “chosen”, which assumes what the argument is trying to prove. There are, of course, numerous scientific theories for why the values are as they are (and they don’t appear so “precise,” anyway).  This work is in its early stages, and so Colllins is advancing a God-of-the-gaps argument — a form of argument that he pretends to abjure (see below).  Since we don’t understand why the “constants” of physics are as they are, says Collins, their “precision” must constitute evidence for God.  Note Collins’s assertion that scientific hypotheses like multiverses require more faith than do religious explanations

Too, there are already good scientific explanations for “fine tuning,” including Lee Smolin’s hypothesis that new universes are constantly coming into being (the “multiverse” theory), and those whose physical constants allow them to last a long time will eventually, though a process analogous to natural selection, enrich the population of universes with those having “tuned” constants.  This is not a “desperation” or a “faith” move, as Collins implies; rather, as Sean Carroll has pointed out, multiverses are a natural prediction of some classes of physics theories.

5. The Big Bang shows that the Universe had a beginning.  Therefore it must have had a creator; that creator would have to have been supernatural, and “that sounds like God.”

So much for all the physicists who are trying to figure out how the universe could have arisen through natural causes.  Give up, folks — Collins says that he knows the answer!

6.  The existence of a “moral law” (which Collins defines as the universal observance by humans of codes of right and wrong) can be understood only by the existence of a creator.

This is the most bizarre of all his arguments, and the one which most strenuously evades both science and reason.  The existence of human morals can be understood as a result of either evolution, evolved rationality, or both.  One common explanation involves the evolution of reciprocal altruism in small communities of hunter-gatherers.  Another, advanced by Peter Singer and others, invokes rationality itself — recognizing that nobody has a moral claim to be special — and the extension of that in interdigitating societies.  There are perfectly good non-God reasons for individuals and societies to adopt and adhere to moral codes.  Collins pretends that these reasons don’t exist.  Indeed, he cites the existence of “extreme altruism,” as demonstrated by Oskar Schindler’s saving Jews at risk to his own life, as evidence that altruism isn’t evolved.  This shows no such thing.  Some people choose to adopt children, a manifestly nonadaptive act, but that doesn’t show that the drive to be parents didn’t evolve.

The most inane and disingenuous part of Collins’s argument is his claim that without religion, the concepts of good and evil are meaningless. (Collins’s slide 5 in Harris’s piece: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution,  then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”)  That’s palpable nonsense.  Good and evil are defined with respect to their effects and the intents of their perpetrators, not by adherence to some religious code.  It is beyond my ken how a smart guy like Collins can make a claim like this, even going so far as to argue that “strong atheists”  like Richard Dawkins have to accept and live their lives within a world in which good and evil are meaningless ideas.

There are, of course, also statements made without evidence, including this one:  “God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the Moral Law), with free will, and with an immortal soul”  And this (slide 4): “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God.” How does he know? What’s the evidence? Isn’t the distinction between the science slides and the faith slides being blurred here?

Look at it this way:  suppose Collins gave a talk sketching the evidence for evolution, and then went on to say how “evidence” points to the past existence of a space alien ruler named Xenu, who kidnapped some of his people, preserved them in antifreeze, and transported them to Earth, where they were stored in volcanoes. The souls later escaped and are now wandering around, clinging to humans, and this is what causes all the trouble of the world.  Only by detecting this soul-infestation with a fancy instrument, and subsequent deprogramming, Collins might say, can we root out these disembodied vestigial souls and find happiness.

If Collins said this, you might well think he’s a wack-job, too ridden with crazy ideas to hold down an important government job.  But of course the beliefs I described constitute the theology of Scientology, and are no different in kind from the beliefs of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or of any other faith.  The reason why it’s ok for Collins to profess evangelical Christianity is because Christianity is a superstition that is common and socially sanctioned.

The great irony of this talk is the contrast between Collins’s entirely reasonable dismissal of intelligent design as being based on God-of-the-gaps arguments, and his credulous acceptance of those same arguments when it comes to matters like morality, multiverses, and the so-called fine-tuning of physical constants. At one point he avers that scientists should not invoke supernatural causes if natural causes will do, but then abandons this stand when it comes to physics.  Shouldn’t we give physicists a few decades to figure out why the “constants” are as they are, just as we gave biochemists some time to figure out how the flagellum evolved? Apparently not.  Collins has decided that science will always be impotent before certain problems, whose continued existence must therefore prove God.

This kind of evasion and use of double standards is of course de rigueur for religious scientists who insist on publicly harmonizing their faith with science.

If Collins continues to go around giving talks like this as head of the NIH, I will no longer give him the benefit of the doubt.  He is polluting science with faith — and hurting public understanding of science — by pretending that empirical evidence points to the existence of God.

OTHERS WEIGH IN:  See P. Z. Myers’ take on Pharyngula (and a new one here) and Russell Blackford’s post on Metamagician and the Hellfire Club. Newsweek weighs in here.

215 Comments

  1. Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Well, what a coincidence … I was blogging on exactly the same topic.

  2. SLC
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    One of the things I would like to hear is a commentary by Prof. Harold Varmus on the topic of the Collins appointment. Prof. Varmus is the co-chairman of the presidents science advisory council and was also Dr. Collins’ supervisor when the former was the Director of NIH and the latter worked under him as the Director of the Human Genome Project. Given these two facts, I would find it hard to believe that Prof. Varmus was not consulted on the Collins appointment and gave his approval. I think it would be of considerable interest to direct these sorts of questions to Prof. Varmus, who by no stretch of the imagination is an Evangelical Christian. After all, Prof. Varmus certainly is far more familiar with Dr. Collins record and capabilities then are myself or Prof. Coyne or Prof Myers or Mr. Blackford.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      What is your actual point, SLC. It is not clear to me. Are you arguing for an argument by authority, where you advocate for a different authority? What is wrong with different points of view? Varmus is certainly accomplished in his field and elsewhere (PLoS, etc) and I would love to hear his views.

      • SLC
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 7:30 am | Permalink

        The point is that Prof. Varmus is is in a much better position to evaluate Dr. Collins then the commentors, pro and con on this blog and PZ Myers’ blog. This is because of his previous supervisory position over Dr. Collins at NIH; one of Prof. Varmus’ tasks was to produce performance evaluations of Dr. Collins. Is Mr. NewEnglandBob going to argue that, in evaluating someone for a position, one shouldn’t be bothered contacting individuals who were his/her supervisors at his/her previous places of employment?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        No, of course I am not advocating contacting supervisors. I just think dismissing views of other prominent scientists like you are doing is wrong.

    • Darek
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      His record should not be tarnished, if that’s what you’re getting at, but he certainly should be prepared to be criticized if he continues to participate in these kinds of topics. Especially when he uses the lines of reasoning pointed out above.

  3. Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    I don’t see how people can deny that there is a scale of creationism. Collins may be towards the science end of the scale (not trying to destroy or incapacitate an understanding of religion,) but is still a creationist.

    • Cafeeine
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      Collins himself has conceded the point in his book, that ignoring the specific connotations of the term to be the 6000 year old opponents to evolution, in the broad sense, he like all theists and deists, would be considered a creationist.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        Could you post the quote from Collins that says this?

        Thx.

      • Cafeeine
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        Its from his book “The Language of God”, in the beginning of his chapter on creationism.

        The actual passage goes like this:

        “Taken at face value, the term “creationist” would seem to imply the general perspective of one who argues for the existence of a God who was directly involved in the creation of the universe. In that broad sense, many deists and nearly all theists, including me, would need to count themselves as creationists.”

        He then goes on to specify that the term has come to mean mostly Young Earth Creationism that denies evolution, and that that is incompatible with science.

      • Cafeeine
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        Just adding, its pg. 171 of the paperback edition.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        If the quote isn’t too long, could you paste it in here, just to immortalize it? I don’t have a copy of his book.

        thx

      • Cafeeine
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        it’s a couple of pages long, I’ll give it a go, when I have some time.

      • bueller007
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        I’m just adding that this is probably the closest description of Collins’ beliefs on evolution:
        http://www.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/3EvoCr.htm

  4. NewEnglandBob
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    The Sam Harris Op-Ed piece was OK, but I felt it was too restrained. He could have added more points, but, of course, it is a limited newspaper piece.

    This post by Jerry Coyne is more in line with what I expected, and it has gone beyond my expectations to an amazing degree.

    I am now frightened by what Collins represents. I would not support him for school janitor, let alone director of the NIH, now that I see where his thought processes have become so derailed.

  5. Posted July 27, 2009 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    I quite look forward to the new NIH project to sequence the genome of Homo divinus ( http://biologos.org/questions/death-before-the-fall/ ) and the subsequent sequence comparison with its ancestral Homo sapiens relatives.
    I’m afraid we are missing something in our language to adequately describe the technique Collins uses to mix science and religion. Just as ‘faitheist’ described an atheist who believes in belief, we need a word to describe the way the religious can mix reality and supernaturalism within the same context but allow themselves enough room to immediately backtrack into metaphor if confronted with their erroneous thinking.
    The best I can come up with is buntingism – after Madelaine Bunting, an Olympic champion of Nadia Kominech standards in this sort of mental gymnastics. Collins buntington abilities aren’t quite at this level (compared to Ken Miller who simply sounds embarrassed to be asked for a scientific explanation of christian miracles Collins tends to sound a little errr… slow – to put it mildly).

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      we need a word to describe the way the religious can mix reality and supernaturalism within the same context but allow themselves enough room to immediately backtrack into metaphor if confronted with their erroneous thinking.

      That word is “delusional”.

      • Veronica Abbass
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

        How about “ambivalent”

    • Michael K Gray
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

      We already have a host very servicable terms:
      * Deceptive
      * Hallucinting
      * Wrong
      * Sociopathic
      * Stoopid
      etc

  6. Posted July 27, 2009 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Collin’s argument from mathematics confuses the nature of mathematics. Mathematics is a language for describing relations, shapes, quantity, change and so on, but is special compared to other languages in their non ambiguity and component simplicity. If anything, this implies philosophical naturalism, since god could at any time change the facts of reality which would then change mathematical truth.

  7. JefFlyingV
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    From what I’ve read of Collins’ statements, he appears to be 2 people. On the one side we have the scientist of genetics and on the other we have the evangelical. Which Collins will be the head of the NIH? Will Collins be the U.S. equivalent of Lysenko derailing science?

  8. Darek
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    What Collins’ arguments boil down to (to me, anyway) is that what science tells us about the world isn’t enough. That human beings, even by accumulating knowledge through science (which enables us as a whole to better ourselves), are still left somehow unsatisfied with themselves (insert things like spirituality, religion, morality etc here), and to be more fulfilled in some way, we need to make things up about the world so that there can be room for solipsism.

    • Posted July 27, 2009 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

      Maybe not room for solipsism, but certainly “God of the Gaps”-style religion. Even if I was religious, I don’t see why I would go the route Collins wants to walk.

  9. Hameer
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    So according to Dr. Coyne, it is “polluting” science when someone who is a respected scientist tries to integrate science with his spiritual philosophy, but it is NOT “polluting” science when people like Dawkins and Stenger bring in their atheistic philosophy to science and brain wash the masses with that?!!

    This is getting hilarious. As an agnostic, there are many ways to integrate Science with Spirituality at a personal level, Collins’ and Miller’s is just one way. Science is quite compatible with various notions of God (theism, deism, idealism)

    The question of God is ultimately a philosophical question and one of personal faith. Trying to catch hold of God using Science is like a dog going in circles trying to catch its own tail – a waste of time. Any person educated in basic philosophy will tell you that. I am sorry but the New Atheist movement is nothing but a sham! Promote Science by all means, but do not impose atheism in the name of Science!

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      *headdesk*

    • Darek
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      I don’t recall any philosophy material saying anything like that with respect to the question of god, unless of course its to point out epistemological flaws – to which that dog analogy would maybe be useful.

      And I would assume that one would at least be able to better account for what atheism means if they indeed have taken any ‘basic’ philosophy.

    • Screechy Monkey
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      So according to Dr. Coyne, it is “polluting” science when someone who is a respected scientist tries to integrate science with his spiritual philosophy, but it is NOT “polluting” science when people like Dawkins and Stenger bring in their atheistic philosophy to science and brain wash the masses with that?!!

      Interesting rhetorical tricks there. You refer to Collins as “a respected scientist”; no such adjectives for Dawkins and Stenger. Collins is trying to “integrate science” with “spiritual philosophy”; Dawkins and Stenger are trying to “brain wash” people.

      Is there any doubt that if Dawkins or Stenger (or pick your American equivalent) was appointed head of NIH, we would here expressions of concern about their (New, Militant, Fundamentalist, etc.) atheism interfering with their job? Of course we would. And I wouldn’t blame them for wanting assurances that such a person would not allow his or her theological opinions to affect the job. (I think that’s a much easier assurance for an atheist to provide, given that atheism doesn’t declare certain questions to be “off limits” or “unanswerable” by science, but that’s a debate we could have.)

      But of course, it’s an absurd hypothetical because no politician would DARE to appoint an outspoken atheist to any position of prominence.

      • Posted July 28, 2009 at 7:10 am | Permalink

        [quote]Is there any doubt that if Dawkins or Stenger (or pick your American equivalent) was appointed head of NIH, we would here expressions of concern about their (New, Militant, Fundamentalist, etc.) atheism interfering with their job? Of course we would.[/quote]

        I agree that this is how it SHOULD be, but I’m not so sure this is what would really take place. Certainly some people would express concerns, but I doubt of the magnitude that we are seeing here with Collins.

        [quote]But of course, it’s an absurd hypothetical because no politician would DARE to appoint an outspoken atheist to any position of prominence.[/quote]

        This is most likely true. :)

      • Carl Troein
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 7:35 am | Permalink

        no politician would DARE to appoint an outspoken atheist to any position of prominence.

        Correction: no American politician would dare to do so. And the same certainly goes for many other countries, but there are places where such a thing would be no more controversial than appointing a moderately-to-strongly religious person and where quiet agnosticism (or indifference, if you wish) would draw the least attention.

      • Michael K Gray
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

        …no politician would DARE to appoint an outspoken atheist to any position of prominence.

        Australia had a Prime Minister who won four consecutive Federal Elections whilst proudly proclaiming his atheism.

        Methinks that narrow parochialism is in evidence in your comment…

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Once again, Hameer’s comparison is invalid.

      On one hand you have Collins who is ABSOLUTELY SURE about his beliefs in god. He needs no proof beyond his current bible plus what he fabricates (see video).

      On the other hand, Dawkins and Stenger et. al. always express themselves with evidence and logic and are prepared to change their minds given contrary evidence.

      Neither Collins or Miller or Hameer have successfully demonstrated “ways to integrate Science with Spirituality”.

    • Fr. Ted
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      As a Theist, I do understand the non-believing scientists’ concerns over which beliefs/superstitions various religions might wish to impose on scientists. I think the risk is real. “Pure science” I suppose could even argue it is amoral (as versus immoral) in that science studies and tells us about what is or could be rather than what should be. This of course is a dilemma – for what if anything should guide scientific research? A democratic majority rule vote? Government? Scientists? Why? On what basis?
      It is not just religion that is a threat to scientific research. Politics (including democracy or tyranny), economics, nationalism, racism, ideologies and a host of other irrational fears and powers can push science in all kinds of directions for all manners of reasons. Did that not happen in 20th Century Fascist Germany and imperial Japan? Is it not happening now in North Korea? Functioning without religious constraint and following perfect scientific methods does not guarantee truth, humanitarian ideals, human rights or benefit to humanity.
      Science has to function within societies and all their foibles. It has to co-exist with all kinds of ideas, philosophies, and superstitions, just like the rest of society has to do. And because science cannot function outside of society, politics, nationalism, economics, and democratic debate, scientists will have to co-exist with “superstitious” people (including fellow scientists) in the same way that the various “superstitions” have learned to co-exist in the American political experiment which James Madison did envision as a separation of religion and government.
      Sometimes a totally unbelievable idea for which no evidence existed is shown to be correct – the tectonic plates theory comes to mind. The idea only became accepted after the proposing scientist had died. And it was other scientists who led the opposition against his idea. Newtonian physics seemed at one time unassailably true, yet its understanding of the universe was incomplete.
      As Hameer said, promote science by all means, but don’t impose atheism as some kind of value neutral philosophy or objective truth. Atheists are humans and have just as many prejudices and fears as anyone else which will color their “objectivity.” If scientists –or “ the new atheists” – feel they cannot co-exist with religionists, will that not simply lead to another intolerant ideology? And what will guide this new ideology in how to treat those who don’t believe like they do?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        Fr. Ted, I like and agree with most of what you said until your last paragraph.

        No one is ‘imposing’ atheism. Atheism is a lack of belief. What is being resisted is Collins’ type of ‘knowing’. It interferes and tarnishes what exists and the future of free expression and scientific methodology.

        No one says that religion and science can not coexist. All that is being asked it to keep personal beliefs and religion out of science where it does not belong. Keep religion and beliefs private and personal and stop trying to foist upon others.

      • Posted July 27, 2009 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

        I’m with NEB on this one. Most of your post makes sense, but the outcry over Collins’ possible appointment to the position of head of the NIH is much more than an attempt to “impose atheism as some kind of value neutral philosophy or objective truth”. Yes, humans are ALL fallible, but Collins’ blend of science and religion displays a startling lack of critical thought. If you want to try and show the compatibility of science and religion, you need to do so on ACTUAL EPISTEMIC GROUNDS, not merely the platitudinous hand-waving Collins’ slides display.

      • bilbo
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

        NEB, I think the intolerance Fr. Ted is referencing is more the trend for New Atheists to relish spitting in the face of theists first rather than engaging in any kind of useful debate, all in the name of intelligence (my apologies if I’m putting words in Ted’s mouth).

        That kind of intolerance is worthless, disgusting, and useless…no matter what banner you fly it under.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:44 am | Permalink

        …trend for New Atheists to relish spitting in the face of theists first rather than engaging in any kind of useful debate

        There is no trend doing that. It is actually just the opposite. Atheist engage in talking about the issues, many theists either say godddit it or make up fictitious arguments with no evidence and little logic.

        Most of the time it is the theists who engage in “… worthless, disgusting, and useless” behavior.

      • Posted July 28, 2009 at 7:48 am | Permalink

        promote science by all means, but don’t impose atheism as some kind of value neutral philosophy or objective truth.

        How about imposing science on science? Whatever a person believes, science is methodologically naturalistic. You can believe in the tooth fairy, so long as that belief does not become part of your scientific hypotheses.

        When someone claims that science provided evidence for supernatural beliefs, as Collins has apparently done, he has demonstrated that he is incapable of separating supernatural from natural.

        Methodological naturalism is the way science is done because it works. If vision quests, or prayer, or dowsing, or whatever worked, it would be part of science. But none of those things give reliable results.

      • Fr. Ted
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:28 am | Permalink

        Perhaps the attitude needed by scientists is “whether or not God exists, what do we know and what can we know about human origins and evolution?” If evolution is true, it will be true whether or not there is a God. Evolution is not dependent on God for its verification.
        Conversely for believers, the existence of God is not dependent on the certainty or impossibility of evolution.
        Collins or any believer can realize this truth.

      • articulett
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        Fr. Ted you said:

        Perhaps the attitude needed by scientists is “whether or not God exists, what do we know and what can we know about human origins and evolution?” If evolution is true, it will be true whether or not there is a God. Evolution is not dependent on God for its verification.
        Conversely for believers, the existence of God is not dependent on the certainty or impossibility of evolution.
        Collins or any believer can realize this truth.

        But you could just as easily insert other undetectable entities instead of “God” and it would make the same sense. Try Xenu or The Devil or demons or fairies or alien visitors. Don’t you see how it’s a rationalization for magical thinking because science can’t falsify it? When conflicting beliefs can use the same argument or believers in things you don’t believe in, then it’s a very bad argument for understanding what is true.

        Science certainly can say that there is no more reason to believe in one brand of “invisible undetectable entity” over any other including the myriad of such entities that people no longer believe in.

        Yet you and FC have pretended to yourselves that belief in “god” is different than those other misperceptions, myths, beliefs, etc. But you haven’t given a scientific argument as to why this is so.

        Religious beliefs tend to make people feel saved for believing childish things, and damned if they lose that faith. Consequently, they have a vested interest in a certain type of ignorance along with an interest in vilifying any one or any information that threatens to shake the faith (or causes them to realize that the god they believe in is just as fanciful as the gods (and other “ghosts” they reject.)

      • Fr. Ted
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        I am not sure how you can know what I or FC think about God or any other belief, and I know I cannot speak for FC.

        I agree with our assertion that you can substitute any name/belief for where I mentioned God. My comment remains the same – if evolution is true, it is just as true no matter what other beings exist in the universe. And I agree with you that science cannot give any more credence to one undetectable entity or another. Science might on the other hand be able to detect powers, forces whatever that it can’t explain – black matter, black energy, the puzzling and unpredictable “behavior” of sub-atomic particles. It seems to me that quantum mechanics has pointed out that the universe is far more mysterious than we imagined at one time.

        You also make an assertion about what religious beliefs do – do you have some scientific proof that this is all religious beliefs do or can do? People believe for many different reasons, some sound and some not so much. You seem to dismiss all believers as if you know them all. Your comments lack the rationality you say religion lacks.

        It is not only religious leaders who have a vested interest in their beliefs. Do not all evolutionary biologists have a vested interest in defending the truth of evolution? I mean they certainly would not be happy if someone actually could disprove some of the major tenets of evolution and they were shown to have been charlatans and peddlers of non-sense all along. Again I would say isn’t that what happened to the scientist who proposed the tectonic plates theory? Most other scientists ridiculed him as way off base.

        I have embraced a particular understanding of the universe which includes the notion of theism. Some of the reason I’ve embraced my particular faith has to do with people I’ve encountered in my life whom I trust – they spoke of their own experiences and seem to me to be reliable witnesses. People do not all believe based on blind faith – they do look at the lives of others who have believed and sometimes see something in those people’s lives which they find attractive and beneficial.

        It is not unlike how I and many non-scientists approach evolution. I do not have the training to evaluate many of the claims (some contradictory) of scientists. I have read books on DNA by Watson as well as several science books on evolution. I cannot evaluate all their claims. I have also read books by scientists criticizing certain points of evolutionary theory, and by some who think evolution totally lacks the evidence and is composed of conjecture and postulations. Again I cannot evaluate their claims. I end up having to decide who do I think is reliable in these writings. It is really the same way that I end up approaching religion. I read this blog rather than some others because of what I hope to find here.

        Evolutionary scientists do function something like the priests of old – they alone hold the mystical knowledge and determine what is true and false. And they do attack those who threaten their “sacred” ideas and their “sacred” income producing positions.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        Fr. Ted said:

        Do not all evolutionary biologists have a vested interest in defending the truth of evolution?

        No, not at all. Scientists will except the evidence, no matter which way it comes out. They are willing to say “I/we are wrong”.

        Newton was not labeled a charlatan when Einstein proved him wrong. No scientists call Darwin a charlatan when it was proved that a few of his hypotheses were shown to be wrong.

        Some scientists were treated poorly but were eventually vindicated when the data proved them correct (Fred Hoyle, Fritz Zwicky, Alfred Wegener – plate tectonics).

        I do not have the training to evaluate many of the claims (some contradictory) of scientists.

        Evolution, surprisingly is not very controversial at all amongst scientists. There are few valid major contradictory claims. The ones that claim otherwise are non-scientists or scientists far outside their own field.

        Read Jerry Coyne’s book “Why Evolution is True”

        and “Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body” By Neil Shubin.

        Also: “The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals A Universe Without Design” By Richard Dawkins.

      • Posted July 28, 2009 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        I mean they certainly would not be happy if someone actually could disprove some of the major tenets of evolution and they were shown to have been charlatans and peddlers of non-sense all along. Again I would say isn’t that what happened to the scientist who proposed the tectonic plates theory? Most other scientists ridiculed him as way off base.

        One reason Wegener (whose idea wasn’t new with him, nor was it “plate tectonics,” it was the far less-supported “continental drift”) is brought up a lot is that most such grand ideas don’t actually run into that much opposition.

        Of course there are vested interests in staying with the status quo, and Darwin himself ran into both that and religious opposition.

        What you’re not accounting for are the considerable rewards for overthrowing an established system. Nobels are won for bucking the system. Most scientists would love to come up with an idea that destroys a major reigning theory, because that’s how plaudits and immortality are won. The costs of fighting entrenched forces are worth it, in many minds.

        That’s where religion and science differ. The same human foibles exist in both, but science makes fraudulent and wrong ideas very risky via peer review and attempts to replicate results, and revolutionary new ideas are highly rewarding due to both internal and external reward systems.

        That’s why ID is so weird compared to most other ideas, because it has been given far more consideration than many legitimate ideas have received. And the mere fact that it can’t withstand scrutiny has no effect on the vast majority of its proponents, while even a highly biased and egotistical scientist would typically still take into consideration at least many legitimate criticisms, trying to either overcome these or to shift the hypothesis to fit the problems (this can itself get weird in some cases).

        It’s easy enough to see why, though, because ID is a religious belief that isn’t open to falsification or to significant modification. Any good science is, and although one may end up with delusional scientists pushing a useless idea, rarely will you find a whole body of scientists doing the same. Even the opponents of plate tectonics had a number of good ideas and observations, these simply weren’t as successful–especially in a global sense–as plate tectonics has proven to be.

        Glen Davidson
        http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

      • bilbo
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        NEB, you said:

        “There is no trend doing that (ridicule and vitriol on the part of atheists). It is actually just the opposite. Atheist engage in talking about the issues, many theists either say godddit it or make up fictitious arguments with no evidence and little logic.

        Most of the time it is the theists who engage in “… worthless, disgusting, and useless” behavior.”

        Go take a look at PZ’s blog, many of the comments to his posts, or many of the comments to posts on this blog, for that matter. I’m sure you have, and find them entirely acceptable (the old “we’re just poking fun” argument). But I guarantee if a theist called you a “moron,” an “imbecile,” or told you to “fuck off” simply based on your worldview (which many theists indeed do), you would get a bit confrontational.

        Stand back from your own worldview for a moment and look at such comments objectively. Is that really objective philosophical debate? It’s more a cheap rallying cry to the troops than it is intellectuality. I’m not necessarily saying to make such comments is wrong – I’m simply saying that it’s wrong for one to disguise them under some cloak of intellectualism and pretend they’re being civil.

      • articulett
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

        There is something that all religious believers have in common… and it’s something they have in common with all believers of superstition and myths past: They believe in something for which there is no empirical evidence… If there was empirical evidence then science could refine and hone our understanding as it has with “invisible” things like atoms, DNA, mental illness, etc.

        Religion promotes this idea that there are “other ways of knowing”– but there is no evidence that there actually are “other ways of KNOWING anything”. Moreover, religion tells people they are saved for their BELIEF; it conflates and confuses belief with action (sinning in the heart is the same as sinning in realty?!–really?!– sinning in your heart doesn’t cause pregnancy venereal disease or psychic scars in children. I’d prefer sinning in the heart to “sinning” with me.) Religionists are also very confused about objective facts and everything else (opinion, mottos, human constructs, beliefs, parables, etc. I think religion encourages this muddying of water so flowery lies are confuses with “higher truths”.

        Most scientists who understand the problem with this will want to teach to inoculate against such faith in faith. It causes a lot of harm. How many people are accused of demon possession, for example? How many people have suffered because of these types of beliefs. How much suffering and ignorance has been caused because people think they know what god wants them to do and believe? And why the hell do these believers not agree with each other–it speaks terribly of their god. How can you support the idea that god talks to people and then remove yourself or claim it wasn’t god when the results end up so horrifying (9-11, prayers instead of medicine for sick kids, modern day witch hunts in Africa, etc.) Shame on everyone who promotes this magical thinking. We have no means of distinguishing god’s voice from a schizophrenic delusion… and at the time most holy books were written, no on had a clue about schizophrenia, but you can bet some people had it. (You’d think an omniscient overlord would mention such a thing.)

        You can bet if FC turns out to have a form of dementia, no one will consider his god belief as symptomatic… and yet it’s indistinguishable from such symptoms.

        I was a believer… Catholic, in fact… baptized in infancy as I imagine you were. The teachings caused me a lot of angst and I refused to do the same to my child. I grew up to study science because I believed that my eternal soul depended on believing the right guru and following the right nebulous rubric, and I figured if anyone could sort it out and figure out who the truly “infallible” prophets, etc. were–then science could.

        But there is nothing to test, is there? All gods are the same as imaginary entities. Souls are the same as demons and ghosts. It’s all stories, and anecdote, and indoctrination, and fear, and wishful thinking. There is no reason to believe that ANY kind of consciousness can exist without a brain and lots of reason to propose that ALL such entities are made up because humans have a propensity to see agency and confuse correlation with causation. Gods disappear and get more nebulous as science works to uncover the facts that god supposedly explains. Is it not obvious where this is going. How much longer can responsible scientists and honest people promote this childish thinking in people? You can’t make god real by believing in him, you know. You can’t save your soul when you don’t have one and there’s nothing to save your soul from. You can’t suffer nor feel joy without a working material brain. You can’t have virgins in paradise or play harps or anything else.

        I prefer the truth. The kind I can understand. Science makes sense… anyone can understand it; there are no divine truths that must not be questioned– you are not called arrogant for probing. The only punishment for not knowing is ignorance.

        You’d think religion would care about whether it’s teachings are true… or at least truer than the conflicting faiths and the faiths they reject or no longer “cherry pick” from (the Inquisition). But it can’t. Religion and religionists can’t do that, so they are stuck maintaining their ignorance in gaps where they stick their god and vilifying all those who threaten that faith.

        I’ve believed a lot of things I no longer believe, and I think much of it has to do with the “belief in belief” meme incorporated in every faith–this idea that you can “feel” or “know” the truth through subjective means. Also, there’s this idea that faith makes one humble or moral or special or respect-worthy. But none of this is supported by the evidence. The earth “feels” flat… objectively it appears flat, but empiricism tells us this is not so. All of the eons of belief could not make it flat. And it cannot make gods real.

        Science is the only tool we have for separating illusions from objective truth–the kind that is the same for everyone no matter what they believe.

        Your rationalizations might work on you, but they can’t work here. Even if you are a nice guy, you can’t make god belief more rational or worthy of respect than demon belief or fairy belief… because there just isn’t anything there to distinguish it from such.

      • SLC
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

        I will quote Enrico Fermi who said that a scientist who has never been wrong is a scientist who has never accomplished anything.

        Even the 3 most important scientists who ever lived were occasionally wrong.

        1. Issac Newton was wrong in claiming that a particulate theory of light could explain diffraction and interference.

        2. Charles Darwin was wrong about inheritance. He thought it was an analog process whereas we now know it is a digital process.

        3. Albert Einstein was wrong in claiming that black holes could not exist. We now know that massive black holes lie at the center of most of the galaxies.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 3, 2009 at 4:11 am | Permalink

      As an agnostic, there are many ways to integrate Science with Spirituality at a personal level, Collins’ and Miller’s is just one way. Science is quite compatible with various notions of God (theism, deism, idealism)

      Thanks for making my point when I analyze philosophical (here probably “idealistic”) agnostics to be relying on declared faith. (I.e. declaring “science can’t” this or that, to achieve “compatibility”.)

  10. Posted July 27, 2009 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Those last two points from Collins sound worryingly like something Ray Comfort would say.

  11. bueller007
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    FC’s most blatantly stupid drivel, like the garbage about “moral law” proving the existence of God is taken directly from C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”.

    The argument is so patently ridiculous in the original book, I really have a hard time figuring out why anyone would copy it.

    I fully expect that FC will become an IDist after the onset of senility.

  12. Posted July 27, 2009 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    “1. There is something instead of nothing.”

    I might be wrong, but the idea that “nothing” is not only a possible state of things but that it is the default state of things is based on some pretty sloppy inductive reasoning, imho. In some manner related to our largely debunked primitively intuitive sense of time as an arrow (we get hung up on the whole “before” and “after” canard more than contemporary physics deems necessary).

    Is there any evidence to support the adoption of the presupposition that a true and pure form of nothingness has occurred and must have in the past (it’s illogical for a start)? Because reason certainly suggests otherwise, which means that a swipe with Occam’s Razor should leave us with the assumption that “something” is a persistent and default state of things, and that “nothing” is likely an abstract human construction with no true meaning.

    • bueller007
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      My argument against “something instead of nothing” has simply been:

      There are an infinite number of ways for there to be “something”. There is only one way for there to be “nothing”. Therefore, all things being equal–and the theist has given us no reason to believe this is not the case–”something” is infinitely more likely than “nothing”.

      Of course I’m not a philosopher, but I think the argument is generally sound.

    • Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      As I understand it (and my understanding in this field is extremely limited) the problem is that matter and antimatter should have been produced in equal proportions, which would mean that they would annihilate each other and nothing but gamma radiation would be left.

      There are an infinite number of ways for there to be “something”. There is only one way for there to be “nothing”.

      I’m thinking there’s some equivocation going on there, but as I said, I’m no expert.

    • Posted July 29, 2009 at 4:49 am | Permalink

      The question “why is there something instead of nothing” can not be answered with “God”. Clearly, God is “something” as well, even if you can’t agree on whether that something is natural, supernatural or even abstract or imaginary.

      So even if you grant the premise that there was nothing else before the beginning of the universe, the question remains: why was there something (God) instead of nothing?

  13. Sili
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Well, Sean Carroll recently weighed in on the Multiple Universes deal – it’s not a hypothesis in itself – it’s a prediction of the current working hypotheses.

    As for finetuning, I’d like to see some evidence that there’s indeed such a thing. What does it even mean? Would the Universe not be here is G was off by 1 ppm? Would I sink through my chair if h was twice as big?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      Victor Stenger has written at length about this. I don’t know if his views on this are considered mainstream, but they’re worth reading.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      “God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist” By Victor J. Stenger

      Well written, informative, entertaining.

      “Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness” By Victor J. Stenger

      Not as good as previous book – God: The Failed Hypothesis.

      “Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe” By Martin Rees

      Written at a high school level makes this very short book a basic primer.

  14. Posted July 27, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”

    Um, yeah, until that point we evolved as social creatures with no social rules. I mean, lemurs and monkeys just kill each other for fun, don’t they?

    “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”

    My god no, I couldn’t stand to live without illusions like free will, or an absolute moral law that clearly is viewed extremely differently by different cultures.

    And isn’t that what’s wrong with Collins? Most of all, that he’s unable to live with the implications of evolution?

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  15. Posted July 27, 2009 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I might be wrong, but the idea that “nothing” is not only a possible state of things but that it is the default state of things is based on some pretty sloppy inductive reasoning, imho.

    An anthropocentric bias.

    Indeed, the miracle might be if there were nothing at all. Not a miracle that anyone would care about, of course, but it could very well be the least likely state of affairs of all.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

    • cag
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      There is proof that god is perfect:

      1. Nothing is perfect.

      2. God is nothing.

      Ergo, god is perfect.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        Very funny, cag, but who is the Ergo god?

  16. Posted July 27, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    “5. The Big Bang shows that the Universe had a beginning.”

    inre: the “anthropocentric bias.” (hat tip to G Davidson), this is like Square in Flatland watching the circle appear and expand out of thin air, and coming to the conclusion that he had witnessed a miraculous “beginning”.

    But in fact Sphere was there all along, and I daresay there was a lot going on befo… (ahem) … beyond(?) the Big Bang. We just need better prepositions to describe it.

  17. Soil Creep
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I find nothing controversial with the statement that certain philosophical questions are outside the normal purview of science.

    However I do find it astounding that these metaphysical questions in themselves are misrepresented by Collins as evidence for God.

    Christians make the worst philosophers.

  18. Tacroy
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”

    People who say things like that scare me. Do they actually think that all humans are just complete and utter bastards, whose horribleness is barely restrained by some vague higher power? It reeks of projection – “I know that if I didn’t believe in Hell, I’d be out there pillaging and destroying, so clearly everyone else feels the same way.”

    Do we really want to give any sort of power to people who loudly proclaim that their morality hinges on the existence of something that cannot be independently verified and not, for instance, on their empathy for their fellow beings? I mean, what happens if one morning Mr. Collins wakes up and just knows there’s no God? Can we really risk him taking all these years of repression out on his co-workers?

    • Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, … ”

      Just a side effect? Morality, or the inner rules that direct how we relate to each other and survive, are not some sort of tacked on peripheral ‘side effect.’ What the hell? Our ability to cooperate, care for our young, not steal what is not ours, not murder everyone who pisses us off, yada yada, is arguably the major reason we have succeeded as a species. No god needed.

  19. sheridan
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone asked Mr. Collins what people do in heaven? There are no births, hence, no birthday parties. No graduation parties, no weddings, etc.

    Also, there would be no sports – no baseball, no football, no basketball.

    No swimming, no picnics, no movies, no internet, no YouTube. No new songs written, no new novels written, no inventions, no science.

    Heaven seems to consist of nothing but “nos.” So what do people do in heaven? I really wish one of those fundamentalists would answer that question since they seem to know everything else.

    • ritebrother
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      I often wonder about this myself. Supposedly you don’t want for anything, but what’s the fun in that? Does everyone get to do what they want? Can I drink beer, go fishing, and try to get laid all the time (which is what I would probably do on Earth by default if all of my needs were met)? Will I get bored with my heaven wardrobe? Heaven never sounds too good to me as presented; like hell, but without the excitement.

    • Trismos
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      Presumably, if you are so disgusted with the human condition and hate your life, heaven, where you have no wants or desires, might be a tempting consolation prize.

      People who enjoy life are invariably those who have wants or desires and are, at least to some degree, able to fulfill some of these.

      What would be the point to existence, to ‘being’, if there were no desires. If there was nothing to pursue?

      It’s exactly for the reasons that we are able to experience emotion; happiness, sadness, anger, joy, that sets us apart from the rest of existence.

      I do not want to be a rock. And that sounds like what you’ll be reduced to in their heaven.

    • Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      It gets to be like the three body problem with gravitation. If what makes me happy (absolutely no country so-called music) conflicts with what makes a country music fan happy, who wins?

      • ritebrother
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        You, I hope :-)

  20. Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Logically, Collins should dump Jesus and accept the creation story of Genesis. The creation story is fairly straightforward whereas the gospel is full of illogic, inconsistencies, ambiguities, and unintelligibility. And the creation story is consistent with the idea of an all-powerful god (except for the fact that god had to rest after all that hard work of ordaining creation for six days) whereas the god of the gospel is a weak, limited god who must struggle against Satan for control of the world.

    It doesn’t matter how good the evidence for evolution is (IMO the evidence is not good, but that is another matter), because the fundies will always be able to claim that there can be no absolute proof of evolution because no one was there to see and record it.

    • KP
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

      Larry, the fundies can say what they want. Every claim made in evolutionary biology is supported by a mountain of evidence. Genesis requires a mountain of assumptions just to make the contradictions in the first four chapters work, and you’re still left with a pretty absurd story.

      • Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:36 am | Permalink

        KP said,
        –Larry, the fundies can say what they want.–

        Exactly — and what they want to say is not conducive to public acceptance of evolution theory.

        –Every claim made in evolutionary biology is supported by a mountain of evidence. –

        But the fundies can claim that the evidence is indirect and circumstantial and hence is not absolute proof of evolution. That was my point. Also, the evidence for evolution theory is not that good — that evidence is full of holes. And Darwinists cherry-pick the evidence that they use to support evolution theory — they choose only the strengths and ignore the weaknesses.

        –Genesis requires a mountain of assumptions just to make the contradictions in the first four chapters work, and you’re still left with a pretty absurd story.–

        Actually, only the first two chapters — Genesis 1 & 2 — correspond to evolution.

        You call the creation story “absurd,” but it is actually fairly straightforward and only requires a belief in the supernatural. On the other hand, the gospel is full of illogic, inconsistencies, ambiguities, and unintelligibility, as I pointed out.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 7:13 am | Permalink

        Larry, your statements about the evidence of evolution being weak just shows your ignorance. There are hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence.

        DNA alone shows the relationships between species and embryology and evolutionary development point out the gradual changes that add up over time and confirm evolution.

        There are millions of fossils that point out reams of evidence of evolution despite the fact that an extremely small percentage of living things become fossils.

        Geographical displacement of species is yet another confirmation.

        Evolution can be viewed directly in bacteria and viruses.

        Anatomy studies into form and function also point out evolutions effects.

        The bible, whose stories are not even well written, are contradictory in themselves and many pronouncements in the bible have been proven wrong.

        I have to laugh at you saying “evidence is indirect and circumstantial” when the bible, all of it, is the epitome of indirect and circumstantial references.

      • Darek
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        Feel like you have something to add to biology, Larry? I warn you though, it’d doing pretty darn well as it stands…

      • KP
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

        Larry said:
        “You call the creation story “absurd,” but it is actually fairly straightforward and only requires a belief in the supernatural.”

        Gen 1 and G2 give a different order of creation. That this is truly a canard can be evidenced by the ways in which fundamentalists contradict each other in trying to explain the discrepancy.

        G4 (Cain & Abel) mentions the existence of all sorts of other people who don’t exist until after (according to G5) Abel’s replacement is born.

        Absurd because you have to make all sorts of loose interpretations to make it work.

      • KP
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

        ps. sorry to get off topic in this…

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 29, 2009 at 3:43 am | Permalink

        Larry said:
        >blockquote>I never said otherwise about the bible, but the same is true about evolution theory: the evidence is indirect and circumstantial.

        And you would still be wrong. I gave you examples. DNA is direct evidence.

  21. mattincinci
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    this collins guy to be polite…is a religious nutcase

    • articulett
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      You can bet that if FC’s waterfall revelation had “revealed” that the Quo’ran was the truth rather than Christianity, lots of people would have problems with his faith. And yet a waterfall is no more a revelation for virgin births and crucifixion blood atonement then it is for Mohummed and his donkey.

      FC uses identical arguments that a Muslim who is forced to acknowledge the truth of evolution (because it’s staring him in the face) could use.

  22. Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Raised on a small farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

    Here’s the problem with the man. This explains everything.

  23. elizabeth
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s an important omission that you didn’t say what the lecture topic was for his talk – it’s at a Veritas Forum, where the express purpose is to “engage students and faculty in discussions about life’s hardest questions and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life.” It’s not like this was a lecture at a scientific conference. I haven’t read the NYT piece, and I don’t know hardly anything about this guy, but getting to being head of NIH is less about what kind of scientist you are and much much more about what kind of administrator, advocate & fund-raiser you are.

    • Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      Um, that’s the Intelligent Design creationist move: play the religion theme to religious audiences, but claim you’re just doing science to secular audiences. Collins’ talk explicitly claims to be providing scientific evidence for (his version of) God. It doesn’t make a damn what audience he’s talking to: he’s making specious claims about science in service of his religious beliefs, claims made with the explicit cloak of scientific authority by Collins.

    • bilbo
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

      Very good point, Elizabeth. I don’t like Collins’ creationism as much as anyone else on this nlog, but Jerry (willingly or not) presents this like it was some sort of keynote address at an evolution conference. It’s important to keep this in context.

      As for me, I’ll feel free to challenge Collins’ authority as the NIH head the same day I achieve the same level of scientific acheivement as Francis Collins.

  24. Neal Blanchard
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Only an atheist can deduce the existance of a god. If you start with a blank slate, no cultural input, would a god ever be considered? Gods are for story telling and myths.

    • articulett
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 1:32 am | Permalink

      I’d like to see evidence that consciousness CAN exist absent a material brain before I’d care to hear what someone has to say about such an entity–whether they call these invisible things gods, demons, souls, angels, sprites, Thetans, or anything else.

      I can’t tell one such a belief from any other, and I’d prefer not to hang out with people with call the voices in their head “god” and imagine miraculous signs in the form of natural phenomena.

      You cannot make new memories without a small brain structure called a hippocampus, so how can anyone be anything at all without a brain? That’s a question that should be of concern to Francis Collins as head of the NIH. Why isn’t the magical soul stepping in to do anything when the brain is damaged?

      And what does Francis Collins views say about mental illness– is he likely to imagine demon belief in lieu of a more useful diagnoses (a brain tumor perhaps)? Or maybe someone is just using their “freewill” unwisely because they haven’t accepted FC’s brand of Jesus.

      What data does FC use to differentiate the supposed invisible entity whose gave him the waterfall sign and demons said to be responsible for homosexuality? Aren’t these both explanations that leave a lot to be desired as far as veracity is concerned. Shouldn’t the head of the NIH be especially interested in how people fool themselves so that we can find real answers to real problems instead of being calling it “magic” and ensuring a vested interest in not learning more.

  25. Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Collins begins laying out the “evidence” for God at 28:39. It is, briefly, this……..

    OR… the missing cosmological structure principle is an energy conservation law that requires carbon based life at a specific time in the history of the universe to perform some specific task.

    For examples only:
    http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2004/09/30/2003204990

    http://www.lns.cornell.edu/spr/2005-06/msg0069755.html

    This is also a very good way to find how you find out just how much politics plays into both sides of this… ;)

  26. Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Godel: if I am not mistaken, he showed that mathematics was not logically closed; that is, any consistent logical system has to start with some unprovable axioms and that, if the number of axioms are infinite, there must be some questions that cannot be resolved.

    On the other hand, science uses mathematical modeling, and mathematical models are surprisingly applicable.

    So, I am not so sure that Godel’s result applies to science (but I am very much a non-expert here)

  27. Posted July 27, 2009 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    The “Cafeteria Christians” who take the gospel literally but do not take the creation story literally are being anti-Semitic, because that is the exact opposite of what true orthodox Jews believe and hence these Christians are mocking the religious beliefs of orthodox Jews. And as I showed in my previous comment (#20), the creation story makes more sense that the gospel.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      Jumping off a 200 foot cliff makes more sense than jumping out of an airplane at 35,000 feet but that doesn’t make either of them sensible.

    • Stephen
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      “as I showed in my previous comment (#20), the creation story makes more sense that the gospel”

      You didn’t show anything, much less this. You made a statement. You offered no proof. You made no argument.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 29, 2009 at 3:47 am | Permalink

        I did offer proof and I made an argument…. Anyone familiar with the bible knows that these things are so.

        The creation fantasy stories are not even well written. They are children stories. Why any thinking adult would go by them is delusional.

        You did not offer proof. What proof? Something someone wrote 13.7 billion years after the event? Or is it the 4.5 billion? Please. You insult us with that stuff.

      • Posted July 29, 2009 at 4:34 am | Permalink

        NewEnglandBob said,
        –The creation fantasy stories are not even well written. They are children stories. –

        Well, you know what they call evolution theory — a fairy tale for grownups (or atheists). LOL

        Anyway, I don’t know what you mean when you say that they are not “well written.” Anyway, my point was not that the creation stories are “well written” — my point was that they are fairly straightforward. In contrast, the gospel is full of illogic, inconsistencies, ambiguities, an unintelligibility. So if one is going to believe in something supernatural on the basis of what makes the most sense, then one should believe the creation stories before one believes the gospel. But of course, “cafeteria Christians” like Francis Collins and Ken Miller are just the opposite. They are too dumb to understand their own contradictions.

        –You did not offer proof. What proof? Something someone wrote 13.7 billion years after the event?–

        You do not offer proof either.

    • SLC
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      Ah, Larry Fafarman, the Holocaust denier making claims of antisemitism.

  28. Karl Polivka
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Wow, the “Moral Law” and “Good vs. Evil” crap are right out of C.S. Lewis’ condescending “Mere Christianity.”

  29. Craig
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    * “nothing” (that is, the absence of matter). *

    But “nothing” is less than the absence of matter…it’s the absence of energy, it’s the absence even of physical laws.

  30. Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Your analysis assumes a certain view of epistemology that is surprisingly optimistic. I am just saying that life is not as easy to figure out as you present it and you could use, in my opinion, a bit more realism about the ambiguity of things and the limitations of “certain” knowledge. Collins’ ideas are at least as possible as your own and if they are not, you will need more than an I-demand-proof to dismiss them.

    Derek Leman

    • Trismos
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see where it is presented that life is not difficult to figure out. But please … elucidate on how one would go about….figuring it out? Would you make things up? Would you blindly follow what’s been made up or told to you without seeking validation? Is it good enough for you that some things just ‘feel right’?

      …”realism about the ambiguity of things and the limitations of “certain knowledge”…

      What does that mean? One cannot appreciate the ambiguity of things without attempting to know something about those things. And what are the limitations of “certain knowledge”. Wait … what is “certain knowledge”?

    • Darek
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      Sounds like casuistry to me. Must be theology.

      • Trismos
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

        ‘Casuistry’ Great word!

  31. lenbilen
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    The evolution of evolution. A personal journey.

    In my early childhood in Sweden we lived is a small community where grades 3-6 were taught together in one class. This meant that the teacher did allow a lot of freedom to explore on my own books in the school library. They had not thrown away any old books the last forty years, so I had quite a selection of old textbooks to choose from. One in particular caught my eye. It was about anthropology and classification of races by skull index. It was originally based on the works of the Swede Anders Retzius (1796-1860). His research was to classify old bone fragments, but his findings were now extrapolated to explain the evolution of man. There were pictures of people of all kinds of races, with the Nordic, blond and blue eyed being the most evolved, and the black race, with some exceptions much closer evolutionary to the apes. Not only that, but since men have 40% larger brain volume than women, men are further evolved than women. Being 9 years old I believed everything, since it was in a book. I especially liked being superior to girls.
    The next time evolution was taught it was the standard stuff with the horse’s hoof being a nail; fishes grew legs instead of fins and so on. We also had a lot of rudimentary organs, not only the appendix, but tonsils and tailbones too. And this time dogs can look quite different, but people are all equal, and girls are as smart as boys (especially the blond Lithuanian girl that emigrated to Canada. I had to admit she was both cute and smart).
    The third time around we tackled some of the hard stuff, mutations being a necessary ingredient for evolution. I read up on radiation gardens, where we can grow superior plants, since we know that at least 10% of mutations are beneficial, just weed out the bad ones and superior plants will emerge.
    The radioactive gardens are now but a memory, since it was discovered that nobody could find any positive mutations that way. The closer you got to the source, the worse it got.
    It turns out that positive mutations are rare indeed. The ones most commonly found are in viruses, but they are positive only from the virus’s point of view. Survival of the fittest tends to weed out bad mutations, but does nothing to explain the mechanism for speciation creep; it tends to reinforce the speciation boundaries. The genetic code that allows adaption in species is already there, so when the changed environment occurs, we are changed accordingly. None of the mechanisms we have used to explain evolution holds up to examination. The mathematics is just not there. And a system this complicated and beautiful, where so many parts of it are at a mathematic optimum is not possible to bootstrap. We are left with the humbling fact that we do not know the mechanisms. Yet the textbooks still explain discredited mechanisms as evolutionary facts to yet another generation of kids, thus depriving them of the wonder that there is something beyond themselves, which they can try to grasp, but realizing that there is always one more level of understanding that is beyond them.

    • Trismos
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      Forgive my multiple posts … I’m stuck in a hotel room in Inuvik Canada.

      Lenbilen: How do you come to the conclusion that by attempting to teach children evolution as we understand it, it is somehow depriving them of the “wonder that there is something beyond themselves”? What exactly does that mean?

      There is more wonder to be had in the knowing of things than can ever be had in ignorance. The northern lights are no less beautiful to me for understanding the magnificence of the universe that comes together at a precise moment for my eyes to see them.

      What is it about people who share your view that so scares them about knowing and knowledge? How have you come to the conclusion that it somehow reduces what is real to something that is cold, hard and un-inspiring?

      For the religious and superstitious, I understand why they hate science (the term we’ve given to the art of knowing): it shines a light into their dark little closets and show’s them that their imaginary friends are just that.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted July 27, 2009 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

        Len – Var god läsa “Why Evolution is True”

  32. MadScientist
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    I think I’ll have to find time to watch it just so I can answer the “questions science can’t answer”. But here’s a start:

    “What happens after I die?”
    The universe goes on without you. Odds are that for the next few million years we can say “life goes on” – for others (or even for other life forms).

    “Is there a god?”
    NO. At least not as a physical reality; gods exist in many works of fiction just as the tooth fairy and santa claus exist in popular fiction.

    So I would say that science can in fact answer those questions; it is just that religious people wish that science couldn’t answer them and love to delude themselves by claiming that science cannot answer those questions. Claims that a handful of people from a generation long gone were somehow privileged to receive a message from a deity are just a load of hokum like the claims of homeopathy, and like homeopathy people just aren’t easily giving up these foolish notions.

  33. Hempenstein
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Three things:

    1) Absent the Templeton Prize, would we be hearing this from FC?

    2) Media from an outfit that calls itself Veritas scares me at the outset just as much as ones with Pravda or The Plain Truth on the masthead. (And before any creationaries jump up to say WEIT falls in that category, it most decidedly does not – the first word is “Why”

    3) All this business with physical laws is every bit as political as jumping on Jefferson a couple weeks back. It displays a sense of having run the course trying to counter the biological arguments. What better than to go to a discipline far more dimly understood by the average person, and a discipline less likely to jump to counter the claims. Biology has had 150yrs experience swatting creationary gadflies. Can Physics claim even a years experience? The DI is probably writing highschool physics books as we speak.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

      There are some pretty smart guys in the Physics bullpen. Lawrence Krauss, Victor Stenger, Brian Greene, Lee Smolin and Leonard Suskind will make mincemeat of the gadflies (ugh, a mixed metaphor).

  34. MadScientist
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    I’d just like to add to the points:

    1. There is something instead of nothing.

    Big deal, do you want the Nobel Prize for Stating the Obvious? The Tasmanian Devils are dying of a really nasty disease and therefore there must be a god. Hey, one bad non-sequitur deserves another, eh?

    There is something and therefore there is something – that’s the only logical conclusion – why bring in that unnecessary god to create things? Besides that stupid lack of logic, if followed through, is “proof” of meta-gods – the gods which created the gods which created the gods …

    2. Mathematics is “unreasonably effective”.

    Humans invented an incredibly useful tool and therefore there must be a god. Yeah. What does he mean by “unreasonably effective”? It is a meaningless phrase. (I almost called him a moron, but I remembered the new rules for posting.)

    3. The Universe was put together by a mathematical mind.

    First show that the universe was put together by a mind, then we’ll discuss whether or not it was a mathematical mind.

    4. The physical constants seem to have “precisely chosen values” that enable the existence and evolution of complexity.

    If the constants weren’t just right we wouldn’t be around to discuss them. But please provide examples of how much various fundamental constants must vary by before we cannot exist and do tell us why we wouldn’t exist. The origin of this silly claim is in the “goldilocks hypothesis”: earth is in a spot in the solar system which is neither too hot nor too cold but juuust right and therefore goddidit. Some people like Collins have decided that they could make the claim more universal by leaving out any mention of the solar system and saying instead that “everything is just right”.

    5. The Big Bang shows that the Universe had a beginning. Therefore it must have had a creator; that creator would have to have been supernatural, and “that sounds like God.”

    Gee, we’re back to #1 and the existence of the meta-gods. God exists and therefore must have been created by a greater god (therefore rendering god a damned liar when he claimed to be the only god). The hypothesis that an intelligent creator is not necessary is surprisingly consistent with observations and is also self-consistent. Hypotheses involving gods, strangely, are usually not self-consistent.

    6. The existence of a “moral law” (which Collins defines as the universal observance by humans of codes of right and wrong) can be understood only by the existence of a creator.

    “I cannot understand how this can develop, therefore goddidit.” I think Collins is demonstrating that the problem with “Intelligent Design” is that it is not *his* version of Intelligent Design. Many humans (I wouldn’t say all) have the capacity to imagine the consequences of their actions and can for a pretty good idea of what actions are detrimental to relations or good for relations in the long term. In addition to that, sensible parents try to teach their kids such distinctions rather than leaving them to experiment within society and discover everything themselves. Where is the god there?

    Other animals, such as chimps, and even insects have developed their own behaviors as individuals and groups and the behavior often allows them to thrive. Over millions of years if they generally exhibited behavior which was self-destructive we’d be surprised to see that they manage to exist. In recent history we have seen how bad behavior can lead to incredible losses in population (world war 2, wars in Africa, Asia, etc). The global nuclear weapons stockpile can conceivable kill off all humans and it only takes a few people with screwy heads to destroy civilization. At the moment overpopulation is a threat to civilization as we know it. So where is this god of morals when you need it to save humanity from itself?

    • Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      MadScientist said some stuff:
      4. The physical constants seem to have “precisely chosen values” that enable the existence and evolution of complexity.

      If the constants weren’t just right we wouldn’t be around to discuss them. But please provide examples of how much various fundamental constants must vary by before we cannot exist and do tell us why we wouldn’t exist. The origin of this silly claim is in the “goldilocks hypothesis”: earth is in a spot in the solar system which is neither too hot nor too cold but juuust right and therefore goddidit. Some people like Collins have decided that they could make the claim more universal by leaving out any mention of the solar system and saying instead that “everything is just right”.

      Actually, the Goldilocks Enigma is much more specific than that, since it constrains the parameters to a balance of extremes that only apply to the ecosphere of galaxies that formed on the same evolutionary time/location “plane” as we did. Planets orbiting stars in galaxies that are too old or too new, too large or too small, do not fit the “coincidentally balanced” nature of physics that define the ecobalances of the ones that do, and life will only arise on planets in galaxies, (and/or universes), where ALL of the anthropic coincidences are simultaneously in effect.

      http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/2007/02/goldilocks-enigma-again.html

      These are, of course, falsifiable extensions of Dicke’s original observation, but it is the commonality between the “near-flat” balanced structure of the universe, itself and our local environment that implicates that there is a bio-oriented cosmological structure principle in effect, that supercedes all other interpretations of the physics until or unless one of them is justified with a complete or final theory, because the implications of the observations are much stronger without a lot of grand theoretical speculation that isn’t yet justified by a complete or final theory.

      Course, Vic Stenger will simply deny that he can see his hand in front of his own face, while Lenny Susskind will be “hardpressed to answer the IDists if the landscape fails”… so reality hasn’t got much of a shot at helping science when scientists are too wrapped up in theoretical and ideological righteousness to take notice of the above listed FACTS that lie clear of hands in front of their faces.

      After all, what’s another 50 years without significant progress in theoretical physics, besides a way to make a living chasing rainbows?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        ..a way to make a living chasing rainbows?

        I like that phrase. I will use it to describe how priests, rabbis, pastors, reverends, mullahs, etc. occupy their lives.

      • Posted July 28, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

        NEBob says:
        I like that phrase. I will use it to describe how priests, rabbis, pastors, reverends, mullahs, etc. occupy their lives.

        Yes, it seems to be universally applicable to the real problem.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted August 3, 2009 at 4:34 am | Permalink

        Quite an impressive bloviating of “it’s finetuning because it looks like finetuning”, if I read that mess correctly. Then, quite opposite of your implication (ie you seem to be lying), Stenger isn’t denying that it looks like finetuning. “In short, much of the so called fine-tuning of the parameters of microphysics is in the eye of the beholder.” ["God- The Failed hypothesis", p 146.]

        He is instead proving that looks are deceiving. By simply modeling these essential parameters, 4 parameters of microphysics is enough “to specify the broad features of the universe”, he arrives at the testable conclusion that a range of ten (10 !) orders of magnitude around present values will result in universes where half will have stars of enough lifetime for life. [Ibid, pp 144-149.]

        There testably _is_ no finetuning! (In the sense that parameters have an unexplainable narrow range of an order of magnitude or so.) Never was, never will be.

  35. V
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    I’m amazed that the author tries to say that ‘good and evil exist because we define them’ to refuse Collins’ proposition. It’s apples and oranges. What humans define as ‘good or evil’ is entirely relative, the good and evil that Collins refers to is objective. There’s little difference in the approach of Collins and the article’s author: both have faith in their point of view and extol it.

    There is a piece of cloth in a closed box, it maybe blue or green. If some believe it to be blue and some green, until it is opened and proven, it doesn’t matter which they believe if you have an open mind, yet the author would have you believe that ‘if you believe it’s blue, you’re a fool, since there’s lots of evidence to why I think it’s green’ while discounting even the *inquiry* into the possibility that it is blue. Until God is proven or proven impossible, I think the only ones with a clue are the ones who have their faiths and admit they may be wrong, evolutionist and creationist alike.

    Closed minds like the authors are a waste of time.

    • Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      One wonders how anyone could get through life if their approach to all matters was approached like this. But of course, no-one does; in *most* matters everyone evaluates the world around them according to the evidence that is presented, and that is all that Coyne and rational thinkers request.

      In your example, imagine that there was lots of evidence lying around pointing to the fact that the cloth was green, and none that it was blue. Would you still decry those who said the cloth was probably green, and castigate them for being close-minded? Would it be fair to point out that if one insisted the cloth was blue without evidence, one would be equally at liberty to declare it red?

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      Your analogy is what is apples and oranges, V. It appears to me that you are intellectually lazy and don’t want to recognize the difference between Collins’ pronouncements of absolute dogma verses Harris’ call for reasoned analysis and logic and the affect that Collins could have on science.

  36. Neal Blanchard
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    If you leave room for God you will get more funding. Lets face it to a layman science looks like magic and in some cases black magic. Having an NIH director who is trying to connect science and religion is a good thing. He is keeping the God fearing masses happy while at the same time pushing for good science. Though this is not seem rational to some, it appears that irrationality can support rationality in this case.

    • Bill
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      Sure, he may keep the god fearing masses happy but how is that pushing for good science?

      Is evolutionary psychology good science? Seems FC thinks it’s a waste of time. Morality? god did it, QED.

  37. csothbeg144
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed reading this post. But it did not destroy one of my trepidations: science and religion cannot be “walled-off” from one another. At least, not in the sense that one can be completely divorced from the other, since they share many of the same ideological nodes in history, even if they are inversions of one another. What I am trying to say is, our social understanding (i.e.–the distillation of science from other types of ‘knowledge’… indeed, from other types of sciences!) is deeply rooted (along with dominant religious and political ideology) in the historical process that brought these contradictory ‘sectors’ to the forefront of our society. And that this case is an interesting example of the fundamental inability of science (as it exists today) to function without being in some ways affected by/connected to other ideological nodes, would be interesting to study the contradictions latent in this particular case. It offers an opportunity to dissect the competing values of religion, politics, and science (as well as their underlying connectiveity!), all of which are very much alive and active in one man.

  38. Robert
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I think everyone’s looking at this the wrong way. The Veritas Forum talks shouldn’t be taken as a religious person talking about science, but a scientist talking about religion. There’s a big difference there.

    The talk he gave is clearly not a scientific talk. Everybody knows that what he presented is highly debatable. Everyone has their own opinion of how stuff was created or how stuff happens. He’s just showing how science works into his religious ideas. At least he isn’t changing the science parts when he’s inserting his own made-up stuff.

  39. ritebrother
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    One thing always baffles me regarding the fine-tuning argument for the directed emergence of a “life-friendly” planet: Since the evolution of carbon-based life as we know it on this planet is derived from and thus contingent upon the conditions under which it occurred, isn’t it trivially obvious to say that if those conditions did not exist, this contingent phenomenon that we operationally call life could not exist? How does this preclude a entirely different, but analogous, contingent process under other sets of conditions? Can someone clarify this for me?

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      Let me give a try answering what I think you are asking, ritebrother.

      Yes, it is trivially obvious to say that if those conditions did not exist, this contingent phenomenon that we operationally call life could not exist.

      But what does it mean to have those conditions exist? Some conditions can vary widely with no or little effect and other conditions could have disastrous effects with small perturbations.

      But then one must look at what could happen outside of those conditions. There could be similar life but it might look, act and evolve very differently. Some other conditions could change things drastically and the result could be, for instance, silicon based life or arsenic based life or whatever.

      It is possible that different conditions could produce life that is so different that we might not even recognize it. An example could be a type of life in an environment that is close to absolute zero temperature. This life’s metabolism could be so slow that what we do in one second could take them several millennium. We might not recognize that as life and see it as inert material.

      • ritebrother
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        NE Bob,

        I agree entirely with your perspective – why then does this argument persist? Is there a component to it (beyond the trivially obvious part) that addresses the possibilities you describe? Or are these just ignored out of hand, since we have no evidence for other life forms? ;-)

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        All I can say is that we don’t know beyond what we can detect from here. There are people who speculate (some based on mathematical possibilities, some based on nothing).

        The best thing for us to do is to keep on asking, looking, testing and hypothesizing for more answers and be grateful for what has been accomplished so far.

      • Posted July 28, 2009 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Some conditions can vary widely with no or little effect and other conditions could have disastrous effects with small perturbations.

        Nope, the anthropic balance points include a runaway effect that sends conditions racing so far away from anything you could imagine in your wildest dreams would ever be conducive to life of any kind that you could imagine that any sustained deviation would make your head literally swim:

        http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/images/instability.gif

        This can be tested and falsified simply by finding life, past or presents on Mars or Venus or anywhere else that is a lot less similar to Earth. How that going BTW?… find anything on Mars yet… hmmmmm?

        Other than that… there is very good reasons why “exotic life forms” are not expected, but this also serves as a falsification, so knock yourself out… although I’d start looking right here on Earth, since the ratio elements is more in favor of said “exotic life” than it is for carbon based life by a ratio of 10:1 in favor of Silicon, which makes one wonder why on Earth would carbon chains and molecules form more readily when Silicon based life has the clear advantage… other than the anthropic balance points, that is….

      • ritebrother
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        Ricky-

        I’m still unclear. The pictures you link (a pencil on its point, a ball on a hill) are too rudimentary to be meaningful. Are they supposed to illustrate local minima in an energy landscape? Or transition states in that landscape? What is this “anthropic balance point” you speak of that these images supposedly represent (i.e. what is the parameter(s) that define this “balance point”)? Also, what is the significance of there being 10x more Si than C on Earth? Do Si and C possess identical chemical and physical properties? What is the chemical advantage of Si? I’m a biochemist, so you can use all the chemistry and thermodynamics jargon you want.

      • articulett
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        Ricky, you are limiting yourself to our solar system…

        Do you know how many stars in our galaxy? Do you know how many galaxies there are? Each of these stars is a sun to any planets around them. We have lots of reasons to suspect that life could be abundant in our universe, since the basics for molecules for life get started pretty easily– it’s just that most planets are too far away for us to even know about them.

        You provincialism due to faith is keeping you from learning some mighty exciting things.

        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090309104434.htm

        That’s a problem with the arrogant backwards thinking inspired by religion… it has to make humans the point of the universe… and that’s as backwards as if my dog thought the purpose of the universe was canines… and yet, her world does seem perfectly designed for her.

        And roaches, and e. coli.

        I imagine any life form on any planet could develop the same bias because it “appears” as such.

        But grow up. Little kids have a hard time intuiting that the world existed before them. But we expect them to evolve the understanding that they are not the reason for the universe (or anything else’s) existence.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        I agree with articulett. Ricky’s anthropic balance points comment is meaningless.

        There are two anthropic principles, the weak and the strong.

        The weak anthropic principle quote from Roger Penrose:

        “The argument can be used to explain why the conditions happen to be just right for the existence of (intelligent) life on the earth at the present time. For if they were not just right, then we should not have found ourselves to be here now, but somewhere else, at some other appropriate time…”

        The strong anthropic principle says that everything in the Universe is tuned for our (human) existence. In other words “the universe exists for Us”

        I agree with the weak anthropic principle that we are ‘lucky’ to be here.

        I reject the strong anthropic principle that arrogantly says we are the center of everything and it is all here just for us.

      • Posted July 28, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

        I’m still unclear. The pictures you link (a pencil on its point, a ball on a hill) are too rudimentary to be meaningful.

        You are correct, and your questions are very good ones!

        Start here, while I attempt to answer the rest of your questions intelligently because this is the citable source where that .gif came from:

        http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/21st_century_science/lectures/lec28.html

      • Posted July 28, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        That’s pretty funny Bob, since the weak interpretation isn’t what is observed and is only valid with the assumption of a multiverse unless you can produce the mysterious missing cosmological principle that David Gross calls “the single biggest failure of science in the last “twenty” years”:

        Seriously Bob, read these links for a change and educate yourself just a little bit first because we are only looking for evidenced for plausibility for a bio-oriented cosmological structure principle… not freaking god:

        http://dorigo.wordpress.com/2008/06/23/guest-post-rick-ryals-the-anthropic-principle/

      • Posted July 28, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        Ricky, you are limiting yourself to our solar system…

        No, I’m not, and this reference has already been given once:

        http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/2007/02/goldilocks-enigma-again.html

      • Posted July 28, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        Lenny Susskind does NOT say that “we will be hardpressed to answer the IDists if the landscape fails” because the weak interpretation is what is observed.

        duh…

        http://www.newscientist.com/channel/opinion/mg18825305.800.html

      • Posted July 28, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        What’s wrong with this argument?

        quote from Roger Penrose:

        “The argument can be used to explain why the conditions happen to be just right for the existence of (intelligent) life on the earth at the present time. For if they were not just right, then we should not have found ourselves to be here now, but somewhere else, at some other appropriate time…”

        There is no other “appropriate time” as the physics is extremely specific about “when”, per Dicke’s observation, (not to mention about a hundred similarly balanced others that have been discovered since), that the universe is not random, but is constrained by biological factors that constrains the evolution of the universe to very narrow range of time in the history of the universe.

        There is no “other appropriate time”.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        Ricky, you do not know what you are talking about.

        Do not tell me to educate myself. I have read many books on Theoretical physics and cosmology by Smolen, Susskind, Greene, Krauss, Hoyle, Plait, Rees, Stenger, Feynman, Sagan, Penrose, Rosenblum & Kuttner.

        It is obvious you do not understand what the weak anthropic principle is.

        But the key is “self-regulation” and Lynn Margulis’ “Gaia” differentiation between Homeostasis and Homeorhesis is the difference between keeping up with time, (surviving), and cold stagnate extinction.

        It is now clear, Ricky, from your spew of posts that you are into new-age mumbo-jumbo nonsense. You are not worth talking to. Good bye.

    • Posted July 28, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      what is the parameter(s) that define this “balance point”)?

      The parameters that define the balance ponts are diametrically opposing runaway tendencies that work against each other to counterbalance and prevent disaster;

      This is how they are expressed by the Venus, Earth, Mars system, in terms of the runaway greenhouse effect vs., runaway glaciation:

      http://www.astronomynotes.com/solarsys/s9.htm

      But the key is “self-regulation” and Lynn Margulis’ “Gaia” differentiation between Homeostasis and Homeorhesis is the difference between keeping up with time, (surviving), and cold stagnate extinction.

      It isn’t that we are a living planet… it’s just thermodynamics and I’ll have to cut this off to link another reference.

      • Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        Also, what is the significance of there being 10x more Si than C on Earth?

        Silicon based life is the next most plausible form of life that we have ever been able to imagine, so we should expect to find it here if anywhere, since it has more opportunity for happening on goldilocks planets than anywhere else in the carbon dominated universe, were it not for the carbon-life oriented ecobalances that enabled us to arise and evolve instead.

        That might seem weak and maybe it is a little, but I’m not a biochemist, and I rarely get any help with this because everybody is already in denial mode before the important relevant facts actually make it to the surface.

      • Bill
        Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

        The parameters that define the balance ponts are diametrically opposing runaway tendencies that work against each other to counterbalance and prevent disaster;

        The question was, “What are the parameters?” Or “What are the diametrically opposing runaway tendencies that work against each other to counterbalance and prevent disaster”.

        Yin & Yang?

  40. Matti K
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    For Collins, religion is obviously not a very private thing. On the contrary, he clearly uses his scientific fame to promote religion. Or does someone think that Collins’ theological ideas would interest anyone, in case he would be just a low rank, indistinguished scientist?

    I don’t think a head of NIH preaching a particular religious view (theistic evolution) will necessary gather any extra goodwill from the religiously very heterogeneous masses.

    Instead, if the head would take an agnostic stand and answer all questions regarding religion in the style “not my field, next question”, it might convince also the general public that science and religion are different entitites altogether and should not be mixed.

  41. articulett
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Why are the atheists being asked to soften their view on Collins or faith… When will our numbers be reflective of our actual percentage of the population in higher offices?

    The faithful should understand exactly how the scientists feel towards their faith and the faith of Francis Collins–it’s exactly the way they feel towards Scientology and other conflicting faiths/superstitions/cults.

    Sure, most Scientologists are nice and we understand why they believe– and Scientology has, apparently, gotten a lot of people off drugs. It’s not as responsible for as many deaths as Christianity, (it’s a new religion with fewer members). But Scientology, like Francis Collins, uses the respect granted to science to pretend that their faith is scientifically respectable… and no honest person wants to enable such a delusion in anyone. We want to help them out of their mind lock.

    FC enables delusional… he’s arrogant in that he can see how the Scientologist, Muslim, Moonie, Buddhist, etc. might be wrong, but he cannot seem to extrapolate that his own beliefs are equally unsupportable! This is a blindness obvious in all people of faith. They are arrogant in that they imagine they’ve somehow tapped into or discovered some higher truths that aren’t available to scientists by normal empirical means– rather it was “injected” into them by supernatural or some sort of subjective mystical process, but all those with conflicting faiths apparently have fooled themselves.

    Or perhaps they read it, and it “resonated” with them –this was my own personal excuse for when I segued out of religion into New Age woo. I told myself that other believers are believing what they “need to believe” for this particular life time. What can I say? –reincarnation made more sense then the pass/fail heaven/hell story.

    Sure everyone wants consideration for the beliefs they have… I’d have been miffed to have my above beliefs challenged, but believers do not want disbelievers in their religion to treat them or regard them the way they, themselves, treat believers in conflicting faiths!

    It’s hypocrisy disguised as humility. To a naturalist, FC is as deluded as Deepak Chopra or the “Mormon Prophet”. And, as far as the evidence shows, he IS. It’s only arrogance that makes him feel humble for his brand of delusion.

  42. NewEnglandBob
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Bilbo said:

    Go take a look at PZ’s blog, many of the comments to his posts, or many of the comments to posts on this blog, for that matter.

    Don’t be absurd, bilbo. I am talking about the prominent atheists like Coyne, Dawkins, Myers, Harris, Dennett, Grayling etc. not every Tom, Dick and Harry who posts on any blog.

    If one uses that criteria of anyone on any blog, then every group is bad mouthed and vitriolic including politicians, teachers, doctors, nurses, nuns, priests, Republicans, Democrats, swim coaches etc.

  43. articulett
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Bilbo,

    the problem is that theists posts the inane arguments that were used to brainwash them on scientific forums… and they spread the same prejudice against lack of belief– as though it were another faith and not the equivalent of their own lack of belief in fairies or Scientology.

    A science or skeptic forum is not the place to post your magical thinking… keep it private, amongst your own the same way you want those other crazy cultists to do. Your argument shouldn’t hinge on what you feel special or humble for believing in. We shouldn’t have to know about your lunacy… we should be able to presume you are rational on such forums as this.

    But you guys demand respect for your delusions when you know full well you’d never respect some conflicting faith bullshitting you with the same lame arguments, straw manning, and self-aggrandizing commentary.

    You are just blind to how little you actually add to a conversation… you are too busy trying to prove that your faith is fact and the problem really is those mean old atheists and not your own delusional thinking.

    I think PZ has some of the smartest commentary around… but it sure isn’t coming out of the mouths of the theists (except for Scott Hatfield). Though they do generate some fabulously brilliant responses from the smarter folks.

    Keep your woo out of science. Then you won’t get your tender feelings hurt and you might learn actually learn something. Your magical thinking has nothing to contribute to science, –nor does your whining about how your magical thinking, poor arguments, and biases are dismissed. We are actually doing what any you would do to anyone whom you readily recognized as having been programmed by a cult. To me, you guys are like rain dancers trying to convince the scientists that you’ve truly figured out the exact magical steps to get the rain to fall when you want it. And your just as impenetrable as such a hypothetical rain dancer might be.

    • articulett
      Posted July 28, 2009 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      If you or FC or Fr. Ted don’t care to know if your beliefs are true, then don’t spout them around scientific types who might feel obliged to tell you where your thinking has gone astray.

      Keep your beliefs private if you don’t want them challenged by people who actually might know more than you on the subject.

  44. articulett
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Sorry Ricky, I can understand real physicists like Sean Carroll https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/07/16/sean-carroll-on-the-nature-of-science/ and Victor Stenger.

    And real astronomers like Sagan, Tyson, and Phil Plait. They find the goldilocks theory self serving… just like god theory… it’s a theory fashioned to support a belief in god, and it’s not justified. Life could well exist on other planets, and much of life on this planet is rather… icky… plus it took a long time of trial an error to get what we have, and it’s still not spectacular.

    Do you know how many sperm a man makes in his life time to produce 1 or 2 possible kids. And we are supposed to imagine that’s part of some goldilocks plan? Have you seen some of the specimens. Yes, you in particular are a 1 in gazillion being, but beings are guaranteed to exist and evolve once the process is started, you know.

    It might be unlikely that YOU will win the lottery, but it’s likely that SOMEONE will win it… and given human nature, it’s likely that that someone will imagine it’s something they said or did or some god that made them win that lottery. This is the position all humans are in when it comes to life we know of. But so are all life forms.

  45. robomaster
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Your post is full of holes.

    “Physics tell us that something can indeed come from “nothing” (that is, the absence of matter)”

    First of all, I do not believe that ‘nothing’ is the absence of matter. If that were true, then spacecraft would be moving through ‘nothing’ whenever in space. That is not possible.

    “The origin of the universe is of course a problem that physicists are still working on.”

    ‘Still working on?’ You just said right there that you have no clue on what you’re talking about.

    “The existence of a “moral law” (which Collins defines as the universal observance by humans of codes of right and wrong) can be understood only by the existence of a creator.

    This is the most bizarre of all his arguments, and the one which most strenuously evades both science and reason.”

    You, sir, are evading both science and reason. Evolution would have absolutely nothing to do with right and wrong if it is as you say it is. Since evolution supposedly improves life forms, why on earth would it have anything to do with deciding whether something is morally right or wrong?

    • Posted July 28, 2009 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      robomaster wrote

      Evolution would have absolutely nothing to do with right and wrong if it is as you say it is. Since evolution supposedly improves life forms, why on earth would it have anything to do with deciding whether something is morally right or wrong?

      Interesting hw one can packl misconceptions into just two sentences. First, evolution does not “supposedly improve things” in any sense except that critters that are better adapted to their existing circumstances are more likely to successfully reproduce. The progressive assumption underlying “improve” is fase of evolution.

      Second, “right” and “wrong” are labels that humans, evolved critters with cognitive capabilities that evolved, assign to acts. They are not properties of acts, they are labels, and the question is how does the practice of labeling some acts “right” and some acts “wrong”, with the concomitant social rules concerning which acts are desirable and which are not, come to be. That’s the interesting question, not whether some invisible fairy is or is not concerned with who sleeps with whom.

  46. anthonzi
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    From what I watched so far of the lecture the thing is a long sequence of nerdy pareidolia, with Francis finding significance in every mathematical and geometrical curio.

  47. charleyjk4
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    The Irish writer,Oscar Wilde once wrote that Religions die when they are proven to be true.Science is a record of dead religions.In a way he knew what he was talking about.Science has debunked ‘the nonsense’ about the six day creation.
    What surprises me is the stark and desperate way most people cling to a faith and religion that has been so discredited.Heaven does not exist and Hell is other people(Sartre).The Hegelian concept of faith holds no sway with me.I have never been moved by the concept of the ‘inward certainty which anticipates infinity’.God?.The chap died millions of years ago.

  48. Leon
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Well said!!

  49. Posted July 30, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    If evolution is true and humanity is the pinnacle of the evolutionary process, why does a process as basic as human reproduction fly in the face of everything that evolution holds true? Does it?

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 30, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      No one here claims humanity is the pinnacle of the evolutionary process.

      We are just one of the current millions of species inhabiting the planet at the moment, just one of the branches of the tree, equal to all the other branches, including the 99% of the species that have gone extinct.

      Our species, like all others, past and present, will continue to change over time.

      Why would you ask a question on whether “human reproduction fl[ies] in the face of everything that evolution holds true” ?

      What point are you trying to make? What evidence can you supply us about your thoughts on that statement?

    • articulett
      Posted July 30, 2009 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      I’d say that the trillions of sperm a man makes in a life time only to have one or two end up as a person bespeaks of unintelligent design. So does deformity, suffering, waste, brutality, disease (which also evolves), etc.

      If one believes in an intelligent designer, he sure does have some ‘splaining to do. Why, for example, has he made creotards so unintelligent?

      You may as well ask, “if the earth is round, how come the oceans don’t spill out?” It’s an equally silly question and equally unlikely to elicit understanding in anyone stupid enough to ask it.

  50. Hameer
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    FC: 1. There is something instead of nothing.

    JC: How does that prove there is a God? Physics tell us that something can indeed come from “nothing” (that is, the absence of matter). The origin of the universe is of course a problem that physicists are still working on.

    ME: The presence of something instead of nothing is an interesting scientific as well as philosophical question. For those scientists who restrict themselves to think in terms of naturalism, then that question may not be that significant at a personal level. But for those who are more philosophically inclined, it is an interesting question. Dr. Collins admits that this does not prove “God” but is suggestive of “God” or the very least worth pondering about (if you are philosophically minded and are open to possibilities beyond naturalism)

    Contrary to what Dr. Coyne is suggesting, the notion of something coming from nothing is indeed mind boggling to physicists. In fact in quantum mechanics, there are various paradoxes that exist (such as the measurement problem, the EPR paradox, etc) as a result of our materialistic/naturalistic paradigm. Things at the quantum level do not make sense from a naturalistic perspective, which is why physicists are rest-less in trying to solve the paradoxes by ideas like the multiverse theory because the fact is, their naturalistic ground is beginning to crack at the quantum realm.

    FC: 2. Mathematics is “unreasonably effective”.

    JC: Well, how ineffective would it have to be before it didn’t point to God? Didn’t Gödel show that it wasn’t perfect anyway?

    FC: 3. The Universe was put together by a mathematical mind.

    JC: How does he know this? Why do regularities in the Universe testify to the existence of a celestial being? After all, isn’t the suspension of regularities — that is, miracles — also taken as evidence for God? You can’t have it both ways.

    ME: Again Dr. Coyne here fails to see Dr. Collins’ point. The mathematical regularities of the universe does raise interesting questions to the philosophically inclined. No wonder even Einstein said “the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible!” The idea of mathematical order in the fabric of the Cosmos is consistent with or suggestive of the presence of a mathematical Mind. It does not prove it of course, but it is consistent with the idea. That’s all Dr. Collins is saying. Is it that hard for Dr. Coyne to see that?

    FC: 4. The physical constants seem to have “precisely chosen values” that enable the existence and evolution of complexity.

    JC: Note the word “chosen”, which assumes what the argument is trying to prove. There are, of course, numerous scientific theories for why the values are as they are (and they don’t appear so “precise,” anyway). This work is in its early stages, and so Colllins is advancing a God-of-the-gaps argument — a form of argument that he pretends to abjure (see below). Since we don’t understand why the “constants” of physics are as they are, says Collins, their “precision” must constitute evidence for God. Note Collins’s assertion that scientific hypotheses like multiverses require more faith than do religious explanations

    Too, there are already good scientific explanations for “fine tuning,” including Lee Smolin’s hypothesis that new universes are constantly coming into being (the “multiverse” theory), and those whose physical constants allow them to last a long time will eventually, though a process analogous to natural selection, enrich the population of universes with those having “tuned” constants. This is not a “desperation” or a “faith” move, as Collins implies; rather, as Sean Carroll has pointed out, multiverses are a natural prediction of some classes of physics theories.

    ME: Well, the mutliverse hypothesis is extravagant in its assumptions and when compared with the hypothesis of a single eternal/transcendental Mind behind the fine-tuning of the Cosmos, the latter does seem to be the simpler of the explanations.

    Why was the multiverse hypothesis postulated? If Dr. Coyne does a bit of research in to quantum physics, he will see that the philosophical implications of quantum theory do not fit well with the classical Newtonian/naturalistic paradigm. According to quantum physics, objects are not determined things, instead they are possibilities (as Heisenberg called them “tendencies” and that they exist in “Potentia”). In other words, there’s no such thing as “matter”. Niels Bohr remarked, “everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real”.

    Moreover, “objects” somehow seem to be entangled with the observer/the subject in order for the quantum wave function to collapse from possibility in to what we call “matter”. Intellectuals like Bohr, Heisenberg, John Von Neumann, John Wheeler and Eugene Wigner entertained such notions of reality. This indeterminacy of the quantum realm annoyed intellectuals like Einstein and Schroedinger, because its implications were discomforting to the naturalistic scientists.

    Hence, the mutliverse hypothesis has been postulated, to avoid sacrificing the philosophical paradigm of naturalism/materialism. That there are infinite universes out there, each accommodating for the infinite possibilities of “objects” as necessitated by quantum mechanics. However, for me the mutliverse theory is extravagant in its assumptions and I favor other hypotheses. The best solution I have heard so far comes from Physicist Amit Goswami (author of The Self-Aware Universe) who makes the observation that the various paradoxes of quantum mechanics only exist as long as we cling to our philosophical outlook of materialistic realism/naturalism. If we flip our world-view, and instead posit that “Consciousness/Mind” is the ground of reality (rather than “matter”), ALL of the paradoxes of quantum mechanics are no more! (see the ‘The Self-Aware Universe’ for more on how this philosophy of Monistic Idealism resolves the various quantum paradoxes). This is the most simplest and elegant solution I have seen and if true then God /Consciousness/Mind is NECESSITATED by quantum mechanics in order for quantum mechanics to make sense. It is a valid possibility.

    FC: 5. The Big Bang shows that the Universe had a beginning. Therefore it must have had a creator; that creator would have to have been supernatural, and “that sounds like God.”

    JC: So much for all the physicists who are trying to figure out how the universe could have arisen through natural causes. Give up, folks — Collins says that he knows the answer!

    ME: Dr. Collins never suggested that science should stop to figure our naturalistic origins of the big bang. All he said was the idea of the Big Bang is CONSISTENT (not proof) with the idea of a Creator. That’s all.

    Bottom line: Dr. Coyne is totally misrepresenting Dr. Collins’ arguments.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 31, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Hameer, you are giving arguments using only one possible theory of the multiverse that has been proposed, the “parallel worlds” multiverse. It is probably the least supported one. There is the branes multiverse and the one where universes are born from other universes. Most of your statements about the multiverse only apply to the “parallel worlds” multiverse.

      Where you do address one of the others, you make a completely defenseless statement like:

      Well, the mutliverse hypothesis is extravagant in its assumptions and when compared with the hypothesis of a single eternal/transcendental Mind behind the fine-tuning of the Cosmos…

      That is your opinion and it is not shared by many rational people. You have no evidence for your transcendental mind and no basis for how simple or complex it is.

      Your last statement about “the Big Bang is CONSISTENT (not proof) with the idea of a Creator” leads me to say it is also CONSISTENT with a huge fart by a dog who lived 14 billion years ago.

      The idea of mathematical order in the fabric of the Cosmos is consistent with or suggestive of the presence of a mathematical Mind.

      This is another argument from ignorance. It is also consistent with a materialistic universe devoid of woo.

      • Hameer
        Posted July 31, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        Your comparison of the existence of a “God” to a “dog who farted 14 billion years ago” is STUPIDITY at its best. If thats the best the New Atheists can do, then you lot are a joke and a disgrace.

        Your pathetic analogy is flawed for two reasons:

        (1) We have intelligence and consciousness. It is not unreasonable to entertain the possibility that an intelligence and consciousness also gave rise to the Universe.

        (2) If your argument of there being no God is to be taken seriously, then by definition, the idea of God has to be taken seriously. Its like the night and day. Either there is no God or there is one. It is an important philosophical (not a scientific mind you!) question.
        Using pathetic comparisons of “dog farts” or “unicorns and fairies” (like Dawkins does) is an intellectual disgrace and simply shows you are loosing the argument. It is no wonder the atheist philosopher Michael Ruse said that ‘The God Delusion’ made him embarrassed to call himself an atheist! The new atheist movement is a embarrassment, both intellectually as well as philosophically.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted July 31, 2009 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        I was just using YOUR argument to show how your argument to show how YOU are a joke and a disgrace. Apparently you are also ignorant enough to fail to see how the belief in a god who started it all is no more stupid than my dog. We are laughing at your comments.

  51. Posted August 1, 2009 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    I live in Japan, and it bothers me when bad theologians and religious nuts espouse: The existence of a “moral law” (which Collins defines as the universal observance by humans of codes of right and wrong) can be understood only by the existence of a creator.

    I always like to teach the religious that what they talk about as “moral” laws are actually ethical standards. Standards which vary depending on culture, and the ebb and flow of trends within societies, separated and distinguished by the procession of time.

    In Japanese culture they have the custom of bathing publicly, nude, in relaxing spas called ‘onsen’. Men, women, and children can go to these places to bathe and get clean. It’s an ancient custom, a hygienic necessity, and a cultural norm for the Japanese.

    Whereas in Western and predominantly conservative cultures, most often religious, bathing naked with others would be a “moral” crime. It would tarnish the whole notion of bodily sanctity and chastity, of modesty, and of propriety. In Christian circles, I’ve positted this cultural juxtaposition only to find Christians shocked and snidely commenting about how the Japanese are hedonists, unsaved, and will likely burn in hell for such “culturally backwards” and “degrading” practices. But the point is lost on them.

    The cultures are different, so too the cultural norms of what is considered acceptable and contemptible, and all this directly effects what the standard of ethical thought will be.

    But for a person of faith to admit that there is no “universal” moral law would put into doubt their entire notion of morality. It would challenge their notion that they are the morally acceptable because they have God. And so to adapt to such a naturalistic blow they go about demonizing those who are different, instead of embracing the differences and taking a curious interest into why it is so.

    And this way of thinking, of holding your beliefs to be inviolable and above the rest, as the religious inevitably do, I find, breed intolerance, xenophobia, and prejudice… and is a direct consequence of believing God is a higher source of morality, and that people are not the progenitors of moral conduct. To the contrary, we humans have developed the concept, and moral standards and ethical concepts do vary from culture to culture. There is no universal.

    • Hameer
      Posted August 1, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Tristan,

      I am an agnostic and I agree with your line of reasoning (for the most part). However, if morality is ultimately “relative” in EVERY aspect, then why should an atheist value “ethics” and “morality”, or “fairness” and “justice”? If there is no inherent/archetypal aspect of morality in this universe, then one has no firm ground to stand on, no reason to call anything ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and thus no criteria to make any ethical/moral judgment.

      Even atheists view the world as “good” and “bad”, at a personal level. Why should they be ethical then if the whole notion of ethics is an evolutionary delusion? Are we ethical and moral just for mere FUNCTIONAL reasons? I find that an impoverished view of human life.

      • articulett
        Posted August 1, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        I find you an impoverished example of humanity.

        Morals are no more an “illusion” than “justice”. Even monkeys and dogs show a sense of justice and get angry when given a lesser reward for performing the same task as a peer. They risk their life for their offspring and refrain from killing others all without belief in a giant sky daddy. They never engage in warfare either.

        Atheists repeatedly come out on top morally no matter what measurement you use, so either belief in a sky daddy isn’t working as advertised(it sure doesn’t keep priest from molesting kids) or the atheists have superior morality because they don’t need promises of eternal rewards and threats of hell to behave civilly. Moreover, atheists never cause suffering under the illusion that they are following the will of god as the hijackers on 9-11 did. What wouldn’t a person do if they were truly convinced that their “happily ever after” depended on it?

        Atheists have all the depth, intelligence, ethics and morality as their theistic counterparts; they just don’t delude themselves into thinking it came from an invisible man. Moreover, they average a higher I.Q. than their more theistic peers which could explain why more secular populations are plagued with fewer social ills and greater functioning.

        And regarding “something from nothing”… Atheists don’t have to know or care where the universe came from to recognize that no guru does either. Gurus have been making up answers to such questions for eons to control people, but only science gives real answers which, so far, has never entailed anything supernatural–

        People like you are forced to dress your gods in straw men suits and jam them in the few gaps left and post your “faith in faith” blather on rational websites in an everlasting attempt to feel good about your invisible friend.

        Say, are you as “agnostic” about demons as you are about gods? Fairies?

      • Hameer
        Posted August 2, 2009 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        articulett: “Atheists repeatedly come out on top morally”

        But WHY should they be so, if there is no such thing as “good” or “bad”??? You have no reason to be ethical or moral. Are you atheists moral, just for mere FUNCTIONAL reasons?If so, that is indeed an impoverished life you all live.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted August 3, 2009 at 4:56 am | Permalink

        “Are you atheists moral, just for mere FUNCTIONAL reasons?”

        We all are observably moral, so reasons are ultimately irrelevant. (I don’t find ethics useful, so I won’t go into that.)

        Reasons that have been given in this thread is that morals is a result of evolution (animals show morals) and a result of rationality.

        Of course all of that entails exactly the same reasons for atheists as for religious persons, except for the dogma and authority figure part. I.e common things are empathy, sympathy et cetera.

        If you are arguing that your emotions are of purely functional relevance for you, regardless of social implications such as morals, that is fine. Or if you by extension would like to argue instead that society is of pure functional relevance for you, that is fine too.

        Don’t expect others to agree regarding themselves or the population in general though. For myself, I *like* society.

  52. Murray
    Posted August 1, 2009 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Physics tell us that something can indeed come from “nothing” (that is, the absence of matter).

    Can someone please expand on this for me? How does physics tell us that something can come from nothing?

    • Posted August 1, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Virtual particles. More generally, as someone noted, that there is something is generally assumed to be the state to be explained and the state where there is nothing the default. There’s no reason in physics or metaphysics that I know of to den the reverse: that something exists is the default state and that nothing exists (if that state occurs) is the state to be explained.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 1, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      Here is an explanation from Physicist Victor Stenger: Go here.

  53. Cafeeine
    Posted August 2, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    @Hameer
    “that is indeed an impoverished life you all live”

    How is it impoverished? Considering the opposing view, that morality is just adhering to a standard based on the whim of a higher being, there is nothing impoverished about realizing that what we call a moral stance is better for functional purposes. Is it impoverished compared to that? I don’t see it.

    • Hameer
      Posted August 2, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Actually for me, being moral for fear of a God’s retribution is just as impoverished as being moral for functional reasons. Both are dead-ends for me. I am talking of the possibility that some aspects of morality are inherent and archetypal within the fabric the of the Cosmos (the Platonic view).

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 2, 2009 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      Hameer’s pronouncements about atheist’s morality are nonsense. Morality comes from kin selection and near-group altruism. It is the same for everyone. There is no morality from theism, it is usurped by religions.

      • Fr. Ted
        Posted August 2, 2009 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

        Though NEB has not always appreciated Hameer’s comments, I do think he has presented very rational dialogue.

        NEB – I have a question, which is now far away from the original topic on FC or evolution, science and reason. It does have to do with atheism and ethics.

        I don’t want to get off on a discussion of a specific issue, but rather want to keep this a generic question about ethics. Religious folk have their tradition – whether the ideas came from God, or voodoo popes who wanted to control people. This tradition is now accepted as having authority in the lives of believers. Atheists see this as being irrational, but it does fit a human pattern of how societies are built and held together.

        Religious tradition does have a problem in dealing with new information that science can offer about an issue. It is hard to incorporate new scientific discoveries when they (appear to) oppose “revealed” truth. There has been a long history of religion retreating on issues as the scientific evidence came in – Copernicus and Galileo come to mind.

        My question to you: on what basis will atheists determine what behaviors are acceptable or not? Will it end up being a democratic vote? Will there be some standard determined – a certain amount of scientific evidence will mean all decisions must now follow this parttern, no exceptions?

        I am trying to think of an issue that won’t get tangled in current debates. Say in the future tests are developed for fetuses that can with 98% accuracy determine what diseases that fetus would have if they were allowed to live. Say with that information insurance companies, governments or employers decide that they really don’t want to have to pay for the birth of individuals with certain genetic diseases. Science says we can identify the fetuses with those diseases and so mandatory abortions are ordered for all such babies. (I am not questioning abortion here, the issue is purely the decision to end certain pregnancies because of the genetic information obtained). Also just for the sake of argument, let us say these are certain cancers that are detectable, not some anencephaly or terrible defect that would terminate life shortly after birth.

        But say some parents don’t want to terminate the lives of their babies since they know the babies would grown into at least young adulthood. How will such an issue be decided in a totally rational/scientific world? (I am asking, this is not a trick question nor a trap – I am trying to understand what you would say is envisioned).

        I ask because having read the the collected writings of founding American father James Madison, he is a constant advocate for the minority. He continually says the problem on moral issues is that the majority will try to force the minority to live by their values. He found that unacceptable and so argued for the protection of the minority opinion. It is why he concluded the separation of church and state was the only way to prevent the majority from forcing their religious/moral judgments on the minority.

        But I am wondering if in a totally rational world, the minority opinion would be totally disrespected because the powerful would argue they are being totally rational, totally objective and thus no one has the right or arguments or reason to resist them. Human “feelings” of the parents would count for nothing. It would be argued, “science says this is the most reasonable path…” It would then be a totalitarian state based on this supposedly totally objective and un-arguable science. There would be no room for and no toleration of any other ideas or opinions. Minority ideas would simply be stamped out as reason would demand. Do you think it would work differently?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted August 3, 2009 at 3:30 am | Permalink

        Fr. Ted:

        But I am wondering if in a totally rational world, the minority opinion would be totally disrespected because…

        You completely get it wrong about atheism and about morality. Your premise is that atheists in “totally rational world” would discount minority views. Why do you come to that conclusion for atheism? It is wrong, by far and it is offensive to me.

        Morality is innate in our species, at least for those who are not mentally deficient or criminally inclined. Although atheism is defined as lack in belief in gods and no assumptions should be made on other stances, most philosophical naturalism atheists stand for personal freedoms. They would far more likely stand up for minority representation than would religious fundamentalists.

        You ask how to decide? It is acceptable to me when theist practice their beliefs in private and keep them out of the public arena so that secularism is allowed to govern and people have the freedoms to live their lives without constraint by arbitrary rules of woo and dogma as long as they do no harm to others.

        Fr. Ted, your attribution on how things would operate in that last paragraph is disgusting.

      • Fr. Ted
        Posted August 3, 2009 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

        NEB,

        I actually agree with you that it would be disgusting, but that doesn’t answer the question.

        It seems to me – may be just speculation – that humans being what they are the issue of power or absolute power would corrupt just as readily in a world run by atheists. I am not saying it would be worse than the current world, but I expect it would all work out much the same. Kind of like the old adage that in Capitalism man oppresses man, but in Communism it is just the reverse. So too I suspect that in the world run by religious people, man oppresses man and in a world run by atheists, it would be just the reverse.

        My original question probably can be found in many science fiction stories – what would a world based totally in scientific rationalism be like? I would guess that if science, or all rational people, had to base all thinking purely on the facts, that the facts would become in some sense an Infallible Truth, that would then be required to be believed. Minority opinions would be seen as not being based in fact, and thus of no value in a totally rational world.

        The earth revolving around the sun – once was thought of as a heresy, then a scientific theory, now a fact. Anyone who would hold an alternative view would be considered a wacko, if not perverse or demented. What would a totally rational world do with people who insisted on this viewpoint? Marginalize? Institutionalize? Euthanize?

        Maybe too much science fiction, but I just wondered how you would envision the world dealing with alternative viewpoints on any issue if you believe that every thing you think is based in undisputed fact. I just wonder how that world would be different humanly speaking from say living as a Christian in Pakistan where the Muslim majority is totally certain its position is indisputably correct and the minority has no protected rights.

        I am not trying to be offensive to the atheist by saying they would be worse than anybody else. However, since we are all human, I am not sure they would be different than anybody else when they came to power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely will still be the rule.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted August 4, 2009 at 4:51 am | Permalink

        I think that the ultimate goal is to do the opposite of your speculation of “Marginalize, Institutionalize, Euthanize”. The goal is a society where everyone is free to live their lives where they do not harm themselves or others and do not force their views upon others. Any rational society has to make laws, and there has to be some discussion on such things like pharmaceutical control (which ones, what are the penalties, etc.) or traffic laws and many other issues. But a rational society would not penalize someone with an alternative view. It takes religious nonsense to proscribe that behavior. No one should care what someone else’s views are as long as they do not force them upon others. For instance, my personal view of gambling is that it is idiotic and time wasting and that it points out weak character but I don’t think people should be jailed for it. I just laugh it off as human behavior.

        Your contention that “every thing you think is based in undisputed fact” is also a poor premise. The world has nuances everywhere. a Christian living in Pakistan is not an equivalent model because that is the theist dogma totalitarian way, not a rational secularist society.
        Yes, absolute power does corrupt and that is why a rational, secular, humanistic democratic society would not be an absolute society.

      • Fr. Ted
        Posted August 4, 2009 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        NEB – thanks for the answer, that does help me to understand how you see the world. You may assume I am more hostile to your view than I am.

        I have noticed in some writings of atheistic rationalists a tendency to say the only way of knowing the world is based in sceintific fact and that is the only thing worth knowing. Yet fact and truth in this sense will become infallible truths to be enforced by those who accept them and imposed on those who dissent. This seems to be the human way. Just read Jerry Coyne’s comments on those questioning Obama’s birth – facts don’t seem to matter. Conspiracy theorists believe their conspiracies no matter what evidence is brought forth (and you would say religious believers do the same). People are frustratingly people, which means they don’t always act rationally nor are they always interested in the facts. That is why I am skeptical that a world governed totally by rationalism would be all that different form our current world.

        True skepticism is the saving grace in a purely rational world, or so it seems to me. I know you find it hard to imagine that rational people would follow the intolerant and reactionary mistakes of religious people in the past. But I think that is because you underestimate how rational and factual the claims seemed to those folks when they made them. They were not trying to be irrational or superstitious. They believed their truths and so did a large segment of society around them. Evidence can change many opinions, but not all. For example NEW SCIENTIST magazine reported how the Darwin’s “tree of life” model is not supported by the evidence and will eventually be replaced, but meanwhile some scientists doggedly hold to it. (BTW, if interested, you can read some comments I made about this at http://frted.wordpress.com/2009/01/27/the-tree-of-life-darwin-vs-genesis/). If people want to disprove evolution, the answer seems to me: do the science – digging deeped into the bible won’t help.

        My contention is only that people are people. There seems to be (genetic, evolutionary?) tendency for people to be intolerant of those who are different, which humans have to consciously overcome. I would offer that religion (among the many things it is has done good and bad) has tried to resist “the natural” tendencies in people and to consciously choose a better way of behavior. That is what I think you would find the argument for love, brotherhood, altruism in religion to be an overcoming self interest for the good of the larger social need and population, or perhaps expressed negatively suppressing self interest to the interst of the community. That gets twisted into religions trying to control people, but I would say that was not the original impulse.

        A final nudge – you wrote: “No one should care what someone else’s views are as long as they do not force them upon others.”

        Does this apply to FC as well? It seems some are not quite so willing to offer him that favor.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted August 4, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        Once again Fr. Ted you make quite invalid assumptions and attribute motives to atheists and rational secularists that are not there.

        Example:

        Does this apply to FC as well? It seems some are not quite so willing to offer him that favor.

        People question FC’s irrational statements and ASK if he will use those positions to force his will upon science. If you can’t understand that difference, there is little hope for you.

        Example:

        atheistic rationalists a tendency to say the only way of knowing the world is based in sceintific (sic) fact and that is the only thing worth knowing.

        Yes, it is the only VALID way of knowing so far and NO, no one says it will forever be the only way of knowing.

        Example:

        …and imposed on those who dissent

        Yet another false attribution. I am tired of correcting every sentence of yours Fr. Ted and I do think you are maliciously trying to goad responses to your hostile statements, so I will no longer respond to your negative and wrong comments and premises and assumptions.

      • articulett
        Posted August 4, 2009 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

        Fr. Ted, I have to agree with NEB… you seem to be going out of your way to prove to yourself that atheists can’t be moral. You seem to need to believe that your faith is responsible for your morality. You’re engaging in dishonest digressions and purposely mishearing others.

        It doesn’t matter where you think your morality comes from… or where the atheist thinks it comes from… what matters is the result. And no matter what measurement you use, the atheist comes out on top. They are less likely to murder, go to prison, rape, divorce, have an abortion, etc. The more secular the societies are healthier by almost every measurement you look at.

        The biggest predictor of criminal activity in an individual is a Y chromosome… not faith or lack of faith. Males commit more crimes and are more violent on average than women regardless of which invisible beings they do and don’t believe in. But still it would be wrong to accuse Y-chromosomed people of being immoral just as it’s wrong to continually insinuate it about atheists.

        Atheism cannot be a moral guide any more than your lack of belief in Scientology or lack of belief in fairies can be a moral guide! In the same way, god can’t be responsible for your morality even if you believe he is… if he does not exist.

        If religion aided morality, I doubt you’d see such a strong strain of pedophilia in the clergy. After all, what good is a threat of hell, if it can’t control people from inflicting their sex drives on those whom it harms? Where is the evidence of this supposed morality that comes from theism? And can’t this be achieved without magical beliefs, promises of salvation, and threats of hell? Atheists seem to manage without such things, after all.

        I think the superior morality in atheists may have to do with the fact that, on average, atheists have higher IQs and a better education. Moreover, they tend to be more honest (they don’t spend their lives lying to themselves). But that’s just a guess. I’ve never had the desire to pillage, rape, murder, etc. so it seems like god/devil belief is irrelevant in regards to helping me refrain from such activities. Plus, I find life tends to work better when you follow the law and treat others the way you want them to treat you and your loved ones.

        I feel happy when I aid in another sentient being’s happiness (even a puppy), and I hurt when I witness others suffering. I understand that these feelings evolved in most humans and are regulated by hormones like oxytocin. We like others who we see as feeling the same way that we feel about things. I never saw the need to add an invisible guy into the equation, and I think it’s chilish (Santa-esque) to do so.

        You are trying to spin a delusion by negating the harms of faith and imagining harms in atheism that aren’t there. You do this because you’ve come to need the belief that your faith makes you a better person–but there is no evidence for such a claim.

        You are asking insincere questions, like every faitheist… not because you want an answer– but because you want to use your dissatisfaction with the answer to prove some point in your head… and so you can imagine that FC is being discriminated against because of his christianity, and not because he is very vocal about some very antiscientific beliefs that you, yourself, would fight against if made by someone of a conflicting faith.

        It may not seem dishonest to someone whose brain is seeped in faith, but it sure looks dishonest to someone like me who used to do the same thing, before I learned to think rationally.

        Let me paraphrase you to show you how insincere you sound: My question to you: on what basis will priests determine whether they can fondle young boys or not? Will it end up being a democratic vote? Will there be some standard determined – a certain amount of scientific evidence will mean all decisions must now follow this pattern, no exceptions? Why are threats of hell not enough to stop them? Are people who refrain from molesting kids exercising the same free will as those who don’t even if they have no desire to molest kids?

        How would you answer this?

        Why in the world should an atheist take your similar queries more seriously?

      • Fr. Ted
        Posted August 5, 2009 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

        I was away for the day so only now am catching up to your comments. I will offer an apology – you think I’m intentionally trying to be offensive, but not so. I was purely engaging in the speculative “what if the world was free of religion.” Contrary to your claims, I am not trying to paint atheist as immoral. If you read my comments, rather than reading into them or just reacting to them I think you would see my contention was that a world in which rationalism ruled would be a lot like the world we already have because people are people. Tyrannies and abuses and misunderstandings would continue. Getting rid of religion is not going to change the fact that humans are still what they are and they would still believe in conspiracies and have minds that are hard to change. I mentioned the article from NEW SCIENTIST which seems to make that point.

        Articulett – I will say that some of your comments are ad hominem comments. I guess you want to insult me by bringing up RC priests molesting boys.

        Here’s a fact for you – I am not Roman Catholic. I am a father of 4 now grown children. So if you hoped to hurt my feelings and get me to respond to your attack, sorry, I have no sympathy with abusive priests. I agree with your questioning, “what good is a threat of hell, if it can’t control people from inflicting their sex drives on those whom it harms? Where is the evidence of this supposed morality that comes from theism?” But the answer may surprise you. Because on one hand those who oppose religion accuse it of being all about control, but then argue that it doesn’t control. So which way is it?

        You also mention that you believe atheists have higher IQ’s then believers. I don’t know what that proves. Here are some more facts for you. I started college with a scholarship in chemistry, though I really wanted to be a math major. I got my bachelor’s degree at age 20. I had a 3.95 GPA in college. I have 2 master’s degree (summa and magna cum laude) and am a Mensan. So instead of talking averages, let’s you and I compare on education and IQ. What say you?

        I said I don’t know what your comment about intelligence proves, except maybe to make you feel good. When I became a Mensan what startled me was that there are Mensans who are Creationists and ID adherents, pagans, UFO believers, and a host of other things. Intelligence does not change the fact that people are people – very intelligent people believe all kinds of things.

        I considered myself an atheist in college but for many different reasons didn’t find that to be personally satisfying. I had many questions about being human, meaning in the universe, etc, which eventually moved me into accepting a faith in God.

        I will say though that I sill find atheism logical and can understand why some embrace it.

        My questions on this forum were not insincere but apparently you think you can determine my motives which is not very rational.

        I can agree with many criticisms poised against religion. But the comments I’ve seen here do not make me think that religionless people would run the world all that differently than faithests because people are people. I see the same kind of intolerance I can find in religion. Too many faithests on this site I think you said. I guess you would eliminate them if you could.

        I can tell you a story against my own tradition, Christianity. Christians were outlawed in and persecuted by the Roman Empire for about 300 years. When the Christians came to power sometime after the Emperor Constantine granted a toleration of Christianity and then it became the empire’s official religion, were they tolerant of other religions? Did they remember what it was like to be persecuted, falsely accused, maligned? Apparently not, for they begin their own persecution of other faiths. I’ve read in history, I am not totally sure of the accuracy of the claim, in the late 4th/early 5th Centuries the Christians supposedly crucified some pagans who refused to cease and desist their practices. I don’t know what you know of Christianity, but that story defies all logic to me because of the method used for the punishment. I know very well stories of terrible cruelty done by religionists of all kinds. It is what leads me to conclude that people will be people. People believing themselves to be totally logical can do some very irrational things.

        Mixed in with some of your insults and assumptions, you made a few rational points, but truly the level of discourse was disappointing.

        My apologies though for having offended.

  54. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 3, 2009 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    I’m late to this party, so I will try to keep short. Just some notes about the physics though.

    I recommend Stenger’s “God – The Failed Hypothesis” on this, see NEB for a link that gives some taste of the answer to #1. I have already given Stenger’s testable and tested hypothesis that there _is no finetuning_ in the sense given in #4.

    Finetuning _in the science sense_ is why a need for balance to achieve parameter values and so sometimes why there are “unnatural” parameters, i.e. not close to 1 in natural units. ‘Nother story, but it shows that Collins perverts science.

    An urgent note:

    there are already good scientific explanations for “fine tuning,” including Lee Smolin’s hypothesis that new universes are constantly coming into being (the “multiverse” theory), and those whose physical constants allow them to last a long time will eventually, though a process analogous to natural selection, enrich the population of universes with those having “tuned” constants.

    I would try to stay away from Smolin, who has been commented by people who seems to be in the know that he is a laughing stock in the theoretical physics community. (Read: crackpot.) His general idea of a fecund universe (using black holes as “white holes” gates into other universes) is fairly disproved. Without a sensible mechanism it isn’t an “explanation” nor “good”.

    Finally, #2 and 3, here blueollie is perfectly correct. Gödel doesn’t apply to science in that way. It applies in the opposite sense, by adding axioms he shows you can use math for modeling anything physical. (Algorithmic Turing equivalent for “can be resolved” is “result in finite time”, which physical systems must obey, so we are fine there.)

    And that is all that math does. By picking specific formal models it is “effective”, never mind all the math that doesn’t find use. It is an observer selection effect.

    But more to the point, theoretical physics has been found to be algorithmic at heart. Whoopee dee woo, what else do you expect from Stenger’s observation that “nothing” by its very nature is the most symmetric, conserving, state there is? Physical laws and so algorithms are unavoidably tied to “nothing and something”, born out of symmetry, without superfluous supernatural assistance.

  55. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 3, 2009 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    The Big Bang shows that the Universe had a beginning.

    Uups, I also meant to say something specific on #5. (So much for “short”.)

    “Big Bang” shows no such thing. First, as evolution it is an ongoing process, of expansion. Then and if inflation theory is tested OK, we will know about the local end of inflation, out of which the observable universe was born.

    Second, any singularities before that remains to be tested. For example chaotic inflation embeds the observable universe in an infinite “pocket universe” multiverse process, so no singularity needed.

    [And yes, there is a simple theorem (as I, as a layman, can understand the gist of it :-o) that any semiclassical worldline going back must start from a singularity because of the expansion. But that can AFAIU be circumvented by simply pushing the upper boundary of such a set towards negative eternity.

    Or, if chaotic inflation fails to be consistent with Planck, one can substitute Stenger's observation. Universes of our type, standard cosmology, have been found to be null energy. (Thus explaining more basically why they are flat and potentially eternal.) This is prime country for quantum fluctuations from other, potentially non-expansive universes. _And_ it makes creation by "agents" impossible: no energy so no action is allowed by thermodynamics.]

    Again Stenger perverts science.

  56. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 3, 2009 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Duh! _Collins_ perverts science.

  57. Deborah
    Posted August 3, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I have kids who could easily deconstruct his arguments for a creator.

  58. Posted August 3, 2009 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Fr. Ted wrote

    Maybe too much science fiction, but I just wondered how you would envision the world dealing with alternative viewpoints on any issue if you believe that every thing you think is based in undisputed fact

    Father, you’re conflating “omniscient” and “rational” and that conflation is leading you into any number of strange assertions. We can be fully rational but still have incomplete data and therefore differences of opinion. We must make decisions then on the basis of the best partial evidence, recognizing that as we learn we may have to change our minds and that alternative viewpoints may better account for the current evidence. That’s a core difference between scientific/skeptical/rational thought and religious thought. The former recognizes circumstances under which it’s rational to change one’s mind. Further, those circumstances don’t depend on idiosyncratic subjective feelings, but on a shared conception of the way to resolve conflict: look for more relevant evidence. Reflect, Father, on why the main method of resolving theological conflicts is schism.

    • Fr. Ted
      Posted August 4, 2009 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      I appreciate the answer. That rational does not mean omniscient is a helpful insight. I am just trying to understand a world in which scientific rationalism rules. As I said, it might be science fiction, but in such a world do mercy, forgiveness, compassion, love really have a place? These are often irrational, though very human and sometimes very beneficial, ways of decision making and I would probably say of knowing/relating to the world. But in some of the comments I’ve read from atheists, they make it sound as if being a Vulcan or a automaton is pinnacle of human social evolution. Everything must be based in or on fact period. No other way of knowing or relating can ever be valuable. It that is the case, and facts are irrefutable, it seesm to me an easy jump into totalitarianism as fact trumps skepticisim every time.

      That is one issue for me, will skepticism remain part of the totally rational world? Will we become so confident in our scientific knowledge that skepticisim will be viewed as heresy? Atheists may think I am being unfairly critical of them, but I am not. I am simply making an observation about how humans behave.

      Genetics under political or social pressure becomes the “science” of eugenics applied with ruthless rationalism as observed in the 20th Century.

      Interesting that some of the theistic evolutionist I’ve read argue exactly that evolution is good science. However it is sometimes hijacked for philosophical ends (like atheism, for example or eugenics). They argue science and religion should both be concerned that evolution remain scientific rather than as a tool of or proof for philosophical assumption.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted August 4, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        Genetics under political or social pressure becomes the “science” of eugenics applied with ruthless rationalism as observed in the 20th Century.

        That is just plain wrong. It was under totalitarianism modeled after theistic autocratism.

  59. Michael Xavier
    Posted August 4, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    This comment thread is littered with far too many pseudo-scientific Anti-Theists.

    Who clearly don’t understand that Science and Religion are not even remotely incompatible, this reveals THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND RELIGION /OR/ SCIENCE.

    Clearly, if you poll these pseudo-scientific-comment-Nazis on whether or not God exists, you will (continue to) receive a resounding NO.

    Yet no REAL scientist will ever make this statement because the evidence, is currently insufficient to draw a scientific conclusion.

    /One way or the other/.

    If you want to proclaim yourself a science-tist, at least have the courtesy to display that you adhere to its basic principles.

    The quasi-scientist comments aside I would just like to point out that you lost me at Hello.

    The implication behind opening argument 1. in the column above is completely unsubstantiated and false.

    re:

    “1. There is something instead of nothing.

    How does that prove there is a God? Physics tell us that something can indeed come from ‘nothing’”

    [no it can't. Completely false -Ed]

    “(that is, the absence of matter).”

    [attempt to re-define "nothing" to a much narrower definition than is meant, notwithstanding - Ed]

    “The origin of the universe is of course a problem that physicists are still working on.”

    [agreed, which is why your counter-point 1 is invalid - Ed]

    This is a poor point made poorer by its disingenuous nature.

    We won’t waste time debating the qualifiers that the author snuck in to “re-define” the concept of “nothing”

    what matters is this:

    Despite the initial statement; the claim implied; and the back-out at the last moment., the REALITY IS THERE ARE NO SCIENTIFIC THEORIES that account for how something can come from nothing.

    None. Not a single one.

    There are a few unsubstantiated expostulates, but in REAL scientific-parlance at this point, they can only be seen as equivalent to SCIENCE FICTION and/or SCIENCE FANTASY Fiction.

    NONE, not a single expostulate, has the necessary SUPPORTING WEIGHT OF SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE to render them “science”.

    To those that would assert -in the name of science- that they do, you clearly have become the very thing you claim to be railing against: Uninformed; Narrow-Minded; Dogmatic.

    All you need now is a cloak and a staff.

    • articulett
      Posted August 4, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      Actually, I think this comments section is polluted with too many faitheists like you, but I hope your little rant made you feel special and sciency.

      Science CAN say that there is no more evidence for gods than there are for demons and fairies. Science can say that there is no evidence that consciousness of any sort can exist outside of a material brain so all such entities are in the same “supernatural” magisteria–the one that doesn’t overlap with science.
      Science can say that Francis Collins delusions are no more scientifically acceptable than conflicting delusions or the notion that the emperor’s magical robes are pink and sparkly.

      All imaginary entities are cut from the same invisible cloth.

      Your need to protect some brands of faith is affecting your ability to reason, communicate, and follow the conversation. No one here seems to think you’ve made the valid points you’ve imagined you’ve made–you sound far more arrogant to me than those you seem to think are arrogant. The nice thing about opinions is that everyone gets to have one… and people tend to care about your opinions about as much as you care about theirs.

      Facts are a different thing, of course. Got any?

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 5, 2009 at 3:40 am | Permalink

      Wow, another one who makes up lies to support his bizarre beliefs.

      Michael Xavier produced a laughable comment devoid of any logig or reason or evidence, just dogmatic spews. One can feel the hate that goes along with his ignorance.

      Join me in a big laugh at Michael Xavier.

  60. articulett
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    How would Francis Collins belief in “souls” and “free will” impact on studies such as this:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090804090946.htm

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090226141108.htm

    or http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/22/science/22brain.html?pagewanted=all

    And his belief in “ensoulment”– how does that affect his stance on stem cells?

    Will he ignore or disregard these issues and funding for them because they don’t support his heartfelt-waterfall-inspired beliefs? How can his beliefs NOT impact his scientific understanding in these areas. Francis Collins has demonstrated a steadfast ability to remain ignorant of any scientific knowledge that challenges his faith.

    This should concern everyone.

  61. Michael Xavier
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 2:25 am | Permalink

    Hi,

    I was THE LATEST to post, not as you obviously assumed, the first.

    Not that this would matter even if I had posted first and received no replies.

    My disdain for the anti-theist pseudo-scientist is so clearly outlined in my msg, I really don’t expect a reasoned response. At least not from anyone who sees themselves in the mirror of that description and naturally takes offense.

    Until the anti-Theists with a childish axe to grind..

    (who confuse members of organized religion / religious authority figures that they apparently have a personal problem with, with the concept of a creator)

    ..until that sort vacate intelligent-discourse blogs like this, there is little point in having any discussion with them.

    My post contains a very important fact:

    THERE ARE NO SCIENTIFIC THEORIES THAT _EXPLAIN_ HOW SOMETHING CAN COME FROM NOTHING.

    None. Not a single one.

    This is a very important fact.

    Why?

    Because it ought open up the REAL scientific/analytical mind out there.

    We need to ask the question, “how do you get something from nothing?” to understand what the question tells us/what the implications are of this question.

    The first thing it ought do (to the scientific mind) is bring about a realization that science understands NOTHING (as yet) about the ultimate origin of the universe.

    Zero.

    The Big Bang is a big blind spot in many amateur scientists who seem to stop thinking there.

    The real question that The Big Bang ought invoke is:

    1. where did the stuff that exploded come from?

    &

    2. what did it explode into?

    Both primary entities _pre-exist_ in The Big Bang theory.

    This is very important, as it reveals, that the big bang theory does not explain origin, that therefore, contrary to populist belief:

    _Ultimate origin_ remains WIDE OPEN for thought, speculation and scientific analysis.

    There are other important items the question raises concerning the nature of the universe and the nature of science itself.

    For example, science as we know at its core is an analysis of natural phenomenon.

    Essentially what science does is observe something to be true, accumulate evidence to support that it is true, and then provides a name for that truth.

    Gravity for example is an observable natural phenomenon, we then test it, define its parameters, and give it the name Gravity.

    Whether a scientist “Believes” in gravity should not be an issue.

    In the same way, we must consider that if the big bang theory is correct, and we take it back to its ultimate origin

    (read: even accounting for multiple universes that feed into eachother and that spawn new universes, at its origin point you come back to the same source, an original big bang that spawned a multiverse re-action, if you like the multiverse idea)

    The point here is that the NATURAL PHENOMENON that “something appears into nothing” is _ultimately_ postulated by the Big Bang Theory.

    Yet the axe-grinding pseudo-Scientists (where applicable, you know who you are) haven’t examined the implications of that, or simply don’t like the answer and so choose to ignore it.

    In effect they STOP THINKING.

    Why? perhaps because when you deconstruct The Big Bang theory, there are only two possible scientific answers concerning the ultimate origin of the universe, contained in it.

    1. The fundamental law of the universe (or multiverse) is that: Something IS born from nothing.

    2. The fundamental law of the universe is that: Something always existed.

    These are the only 2 ways to explain how anything exists in our universe, if you rely on the big bang theory and follow it back to its ultimate origin.

    Both answers sound too much like incomprehensible “magic” to many scientists who then pervert science, because they refuse to follow the rules of science at this point.

    The big bang theory implicitly carries with it the natural occurring phenomenon that: _something is born from nothing_

    or that _something always existed_

    and THAT is not commonly understood or mentioned.

    Yet it is an extremely revealing part of the big bang theory in relation to ultimate origin, and the nature of existence, because we ought begin to realize that the universe does NOT operate as seemingly logically as many pseudo-scientists would like to “believe”.

    WORSE The Big Bang theory ultimately opens the door up to the concept of a creator.

    Why? because if it is the nature of existence / a natural phenomena that a universe ultimately appears out of nothing and into nothing, to create everything we know..

    (as postulated by the big bang theory)

    then.. the same natural phenomena that created the universe via the big bang can JUST AS READILY create an intelligent life-form and launch it into existence at an earlier (or later) point.

    It doesn’t sound “logical” but that should be _irrelevant_ science at its purest SHOULD NOT BE concerned with pre-conceptions of what is logical and what isn’t, at its purest it should simply examine implied phenomenon, observe it, test it, define it and name it.

    This part is hard for the pseudo-scientist to accept, but pre-conceived notions of “Reason” have no place in science, it either happens or it doesn’t.

    Ultimately, what the big bang theory really implies about ultimate origin

    (that something appears out of nothing into nothing to form everything – or that something always exists)

    In either case: Ultimately, THE EXISTENCE OF GOD IS NO MORE (seemingly) “MAGICAL” THAN THE EXISTENCE OF THE UNIVERSE ITSELF.

    God is consistent with the big bang theory from a purely scientific analytical level.

    (when you take the time to examine what the BBT says about ultimate origin)

    When the pseudo-scientists understand that they have to throw away their preconceptions of “rational” (in a universe that BBT science itself ultimately states came about “irrationally”)

    THEN we can have a reasoned discussion, until then, there’s just too much anti-theistic axe grinding and narrow-minded bigotry masquerading as science, to have a meaningful discussion.

    imo.

    Michael Xavier.

    • articulett
      Posted August 5, 2009 at 2:42 am | Permalink

      It’s hard to have any kind of discussion with someone who sounds insane. You sound as insane as this theist to me:

      I can’t make sense of what you are saying, and I’m not sure anyone else can either… nor can we discern how it is relevant to the topic.

      Nobody has to know a thing about how the universe came to be or have any thoughts on it whatsoever to come to the conclusion that no guru, priest, or shaman knows either.

      All believers in “woo” are in the same magisteria… none of them have revealed information that science has later come to confirm. There is only one truth about how the universe came to be, and lots of wackaloon theories.

      I think I’ll get my information from the actual experts. Not the self-important nobody’s who think that scientists are claiming something I’ve never heard any scientist claim.

      I understand the big bang. I also understand that NO ONE can explain what happened before the big bang or even whether it makes sense to use the word “before” when time started with the big bang. “God” makes no more sense than “Xenu” as far as the evidence is concerned.

      • articulett
        Posted August 5, 2009 at 2:46 am | Permalink

        By the way, I’m no more of an anti-theist than I am an anti-scientologist, anti-rain dancer and anti-astrologist. I think magical thinking is childish and it makes people incredibly incoherent and arrogant as they imagine themselves “in on” higher truths and humble.

        But I can see why believers in woo would want to believe that those who don’t believe in their woo are persecuting them. It’s a lot easier to imagine that the doubter is a bad guy than to realize the doubter has good reasons to doubt.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 5, 2009 at 3:42 am | Permalink

      More pointless dogma from the mixed up mind of Michael Xavier.

      What a joke that comment is. It is not coherent.

  62. Michael Xavier
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    Time as Douglas adams said is an illusion, Lunch time doubly so.

    At the end of this message, I will respond to the quiet answer you will inject into the lunch air (in response to the above text, 20 years from now)

    You know, when you have gone through your axe-grinding against religious nutjobs stage; have moved beyond your axe-grinding against scientist nut-jobs stage

    and finally decide to sit down and think about actual science.

    Instead of being so concerned with the personalities or the beliefs of the people on either side of them.

    …You’re Welcome.

    Michael Xavier.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 5, 2009 at 3:43 am | Permalink

      This comment by Michael Xavier is just a word salad. He has completely lost the ability to converse.

      So sad, so pathetic.

  63. Michael Xavier
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    Two attacks at me Bob? ‘ell one was acceptable and sufficient.

    Bad Bob.

    OK, Will try to Explain another way.

    1: Science know Zero about ultimate origin of Universe.

    this mean scientists know zero about ultimate origin of Universe.

    this mean scientists that think they know more than zero about ultimate origin of universe NOT REAL SCIENTISTS.

    Real Scientists not pretend, not prejudge. That is traditional domain of religious zealots.

    That funny irony, considering many scientists start out not liking religious zealots, but have no problem becoming scientific zealots.

    2. Big Bang Theory leading scientific theory for origin of Universe.

    BBT deconstructed implicitly contain within it idea that “something is born from nothing” or that “something always exist”

    that the universe just appear out of thin air, no, not even air, that it appear out of thin nothing, into thin nothing, and create everything.

    This is point we must thunk.

    3. If SCIENCE leading theory on Universe origin carry with it idea that “something is born from nothing” then

    Question 1: that something can be what?

    hello, echo, is mic on? why scientists so quiet now.

    Question 2: Does UNIVERSE appearing out of thin nothing into thin nothing to expand and create big everything (Big Bang Theory) make ANY MORE SENSE than GOD (ALSO) appearing out of thin nothing into thin nothing..too?

    Rational pseudo-scientific answer: Yes, big difference.

    PROBLEM: Answer is WRONG. It seek to inject scientist personal definition of “rational” or “sane” into answer.

    REAL scientist answer: NO, no difference.

    BBT (and EVERY human “rational” scientific theory on origin) carry with it LARGELY UNEXAMINED inherent implication that the nature of ultimate origin, is: that something appear out of nothing.

    That this be way universe operates.

    This cause problem because some people think not sound “sane” / not sound “rational” and not sound like “science”. So they ignore or talk about evolution or baseball or porn.

    REAL scientist know it _irrelevant_ whether it seem sane or rational because REAL SCIENCE about what happen, not about what happening looking sane or rational.

    PRELIMINARY CONCLUSION: Science FALL APART when you take it back to the ultimate origin of the universe.

    Some scientists fall apart too.

    Flailing arms and shouting “noooo, this not sound good to me, plus me hate religion, let’s talk about that instead!”

    RESULT: Science has NO EXPLANATION for how something can come from nothing, or how something can always have existed.

    Yet THESE ARE THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS.

    Science think things change over time, like in evolution, it comfortable, it make sense, scientist scratch bum and head when have to look at things just appearing willy-nilly into existence, ..like Big Bang imply.

    (if you spend 10 minutes thinking a stage before BBT origin and thinking about ultimate origin)

    But things appearing willy-nilly into existence is precisely how Universe operate.

    This according to leading Science BBT theory.

    QUESTION: Why stop at Universe appearing willy-nilly into existence?

    Why draw line there?

    Why not God appear willy-nilly into existence?

    You think Universe appearing not as magical as God appearing?

    I think they equally magical-sounding in terms of appearance from out of nowhere.

    But what think is irrelevant, science not supposed to be concerned with politics or sanity sounding things, science just s’posed to say,

    “this is where ALL the current theories on origin ultimately point, so let’s name it and examine it without prejudice”

    Conclusion: Not only is there no inherent conflict between science and religion

    There is no conflict even WITHIN the Big Bang science, and God.

    If it be NATURAL PHENOMENON / the nature of existence, that a singularity can pop into existence, that the UNIVERSE can pop into existence, that /something is born from nothing/ (ultimately) and that be unfiltered unprejudiced examination of ORIGIN SCIENCE, then perhaps begin to realize Universe very interesting place, when talking about ultimate origin.

    ..of life, the universe, and everything.

    Michael Xavier.

    Post Script: If this still not make point in a manner that is acceptable, I can semaphore the next version if like.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 5, 2009 at 6:05 am | Permalink

      Completely incoherent mush from Michael Xavier.

      Most sentences are incorrect English:

      “this mean…” instead of “this means…”.

      Michael Xavier has not given even ONE logical argument in all that swill.

      What a bunch of delusional crap. A five year old child can put together a more reasoned sentence that this nonsense.

      No one needs to rebut anything he says because he says absolutely nothing.

  64. Michael Xavier
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    you no like me cro-magnon speak Bob?

    Yes, I was being enunciationally facetious up there throughout the text.

    You’re not the only one who can be naughty, ya know Bob.

    Anyway, yer either 4chan Lulz’ing or you’re a bit off your game today.

    Either way, no worries, you’re not anywhere near as mean-spirited as typical 4chan Lulz’ers.

    Anyway, made my points *scribble* *scribble* *erase* carry the 42, uh twice now, if you still don’t recognize what they are, can’t help you further.

    Maybe you should start with “what happened _before_ the big bang?”

    then follow up EVERY answer you come up with, “and before that, and before that and before that”

    FINALLY you’ll get to the question of _ultimate origin_ and might have a better idea of what I’m on about up there.

    If not, well, as you were, and peace big luvable fellow.

    Michael Xavier.

  65. articulett
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Fr. Ted… I think you need to worry about how religion makes people immoral while imagining they are being moral before going off into a spin about what morality would be like if everyone were an atheist.

    There is no evidence that religious people are more moral and lots of evidence that many can be influenced to cause horrific suffering specifically because of their beliefs.

    And it’s not just Muslim terrorists…
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/08/another_mass_murder.php#comments
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/08/what_to_expect_when_you_hire_a.php#comments

    I think it’s fair for rational people to wonder how irrational beliefs affect the behavior of people in charge. Francis Collins has some very irrational beliefs… they may even be quite similar to the men in the above article.

    Shame on you, Fr. Ted for blinding yourself to the harms of faith while imagining harm coming from lacking such beliefs. Just because your religion tells you this is the case, it doesn’t make it so. Worry about your fellow religionists before tsk- tsking those of us who don’t believe that life is a pass/fail test where the objective is to BELIEVE in Jesus.

    • Fr. Ted
      Posted August 5, 2009 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

      Maybe you’ll see my comments above. I am not blind to the harms of faith and I did not imagine harm coming from the lack of faith. You read into rather than just read my questions. You have no idea about my thoughts about fellow religionists.

      But perhaps that is the problem with Internet discourse. We don’t know each other and so we have to fill in the gaps.

      Someone, maybe NEB, suggested I read YOUR INNER FISH. It happens I already own that book and will get around to reading it. Jerry’s WHY EVOLUTION IS TRUE is on my list of books to buy but there are only so many dollars to spend on books.

      • articulett
        Posted August 5, 2009 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

        Okay, maybe I over-reacted. It just seemed like you were doing that thing that so many faitheists do. They pretend to want information about something or other, but they don’t really want the information that they ask for–they want to skirt the topic at hand and imply something unsavory about nonbelievers.

        You seem to believe that religion makes people more moral, but there is no evidence that this is the case. You presume a sort of conclusion that atheists are less moral or have a different means of making choices, but you are very nonspecific about what choices you are talking about and how your religion influences your choices. But you infer that they make you or the faithful more moral or objective. We don’t buy that.

        The original post was about Francis Collins and it was pointed out that his faith makes him have a vested interest in not understanding how morality evolves. You and he both seem to need to believe that morality has something to do with religion, god, souls and “free will”. But you cannot support this claim with evidence, and scientific information suggests that these concepts are illusions that get in the way of actual understanding. So, instead, you spin a pretend discussion implying the stuff that you want to be true. Or at least that’s what it looks like to me.

        I don’t care what you believe or what your religion is any more than you care about my supernatural beliefs. I care about what is true. Your assumptions and questions about atheism are no more sincere than my pedophilia examples–so if you felt insulted, you might have a clue as to how atheists might feel with your similarly loaded queries.. These questions aren’t really directed at helping you discover answers… rather, they are questions designed to imply your own predetermined answer and make you feel good. It’s a common technique used by faitheists. Perhaps you don’t see it or won’t admit to it, but can you honestly claim that you wanted an answer to those questions?

        If you were really an atheist before as you claim, then you would know the answer, wouldn’t you? How did your decisions differ then than now? Did you go to an atheist committee and vote? Why would you ask such silly questions of us? However we were making our decisions, we seemed to be making as good as or better choices than the folks imagining that they were following god’s orders.

        Sometimes people do crazy things because they think it’s what god wants. We have no method of telling what Francis Collins is going to think god wants from him next.

  66. articulett
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Don’t confuse rationalism or atheism for nihilism, lack of emotion, lack of compassion, lack of humor, or dampening of feelings. Rationalists feel all the same feelings other humans feel, they just don’t attribute them to mystical forces. They have the same depth, feelings of love, attachments to other people and animals, etc. as you… we just haven’t been brainwashed to attribute all good mysteries to god and all “bad stuff” to evil forces of not following god’s will or a test from god the way religionists have.

    The feelings are the same… they evolved… they are the same no matter what your language or religion or what you don’t believe in. You don’t have to imagine that your kid is a miracle from god to feel overwhelmed with love for your child. It happens for us heathens too. I have been moved by waterfalls just like Francis Collins… but I didn’t imagine that it was a “sign” for me from an invisible guy in the sky about which religion was true!

    It is your own brainwashing that has lead you to believe that rationalists are vulcan-like in their feelings and emotional depth. It has no bearing in reality. You are confirming your own biases to proffer such a claim here.

  67. Michael Xavier
    Posted August 6, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Morality of Atheists vs Morality of Christians?

    Even if one were to leave aside that Christians have an embedded structured morality that is reinforced on a regular basis, some people talk a good talk against organized religion But the majority of these same people that narrow-focus and attack, in particular, Christians, for believing in something greater than themselves have NOT DONE 1/100th of what Christians have done to HELP people.

    That’s the real point of Jesus as a figure to look up to, have empathy with, and try to be like.

    When was the last time you saw a standard everyday Atheist donate money OR time to help people? COMPARED to Christians (who donate money EVERY SUNDAY and do volunteer work)

    + Christian Charities

    + Christian Aid Organizations (both local and global)

    that

    supply food

    and

    clothing

    and

    housing

    and

    medical aid

    to HELP people that desperately need it.,

    _comparatively_ Atheists are some of the most selfish/self centered people on the planet.

    Atheists have not earned the right to be respected for their belief in themselves above all else. No matter how many other self-centric people they get to scream at Organized Religion with them.

    There is simply no comparison.

    The majority of Christians do far more to help people than Atheists do, and that is the bottom line.

    If you want to see a comparison (and have a good laugh) look up “Atheist Charity” or “Atheist Aid Organization” on Google or Yahoo.

    Then look up Christian Charity/Aid.

    I’ll give one guess which group contains a list of numerous charities and aid organizations from around the planet,

    and which group starts with references to Science-and-Fantasy FICTION works and authors.

    There is simply no comparison between Christians and Atheists when it comes to morality.

    But it ought not be surprising, the very nature of self-first Atheism has thus far resulted in precisely what you’d expect: Atheists that pride themselves for thinking _for_ themselves yes,

    and that thinks largely _of_ themselves.

    Atheists/anyone can readily convince themselves they are morally equal to Christians, but there is no evidence to support this.

    Quite the contrary the evidence points the precise opposite way.

    To be morally equivalent to Christians (or any other equivalent group) to be moral _period_ requires that you put your time or money where your moral-mouth is.

    You can be morally well intentioned, but Morality is about ACTION not about words.

    Without action it is merely self-serving empty and meaningless lip-service.

    In Morality as in everything else, Money and Time Talks, Bull-excrement Walks.

    Michael Xavier.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 6, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      What a pile of malicious lies this comment of Michael Xavier is.

      …Christians have an embedded structured morality that is reinforced on a regular basis…

      Such as the assignment to hell to burn for eternity for non-belief.

      Atheists have not earned the right to be respected for their belief in themselves…

      This numb nut still does not understand the definition of atheist: the lack of belief in any gods. Period.

      The majority of Christians do far more to help people…

      Like the crusades. Like the predatory priests. like persecution and murder of non-believers, etc. etc.

      There is simply no comparison between Christians and Atheists when it comes to morality.

      This is true, since most devout fundamentalist Christians have no morality whatsoever.

      Actually, Jewish philanthropies have a much higher percentage of giving per person than Christian charities. Muslims give multi-billions to other Muslims, although their intentions are suspect.

      What a crock of bullshit Xavier’s comment is.

  68. Michael Xavier
    Posted August 6, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Still laughing too hard at the list of Atheist Charities and Aid organizations starting with SCIENCE FICTION references, to respond to you.

    Give me a moment Bob.

    I don’t think anything more really need to said to more clearly illustrate that despite the mistakes that have taken place in organized religion, when it comes to actionable morality, Athests claiming they are equal to or superior to Christians, simply cannot be taken seriously.

    Putting your money and time where your moral-mouth is, is the lit-myst test.

    When Atheists display they can think about people OTHER than themselves,

    Until Atheists display they can do 1/100th of what Christians do to help people

    (do try to understanding the difference between /a/ Christian and the organized religion’s NUMEROUS proxy-figureheads over the millennium(s), some very good, some very bad, as one might expect per the human norm – because when/if Atheists ever have an Atheist pope/figurehead, you will quickly learn the difference between Atheists and the Atheist figureheads)

    The Bottom Line remains: Until Atheists TAKE ACTION to help people with more than words, in the way that Christians do, they will never be morally equal to Christians or any other people that actually put their time and money where there mouth is, to HELP OTHER PEOPLE.

    That will always be the bottom line.

    Michael Xavier.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 6, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      The bottom line is that the most immoral people are those who do things in the name of religion. Period.

      Controlling, lying, deceitfulness, dishonesty, murder – that has always been the providence of the religious.

  69. Michael Xavier
    Posted August 6, 2009 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    P.S: The idea that you go to hell if you don’t believe, is completely false, though a common misunderstanding, bottom line is that is NOT part of Christianity.

    You might want to look that up.

    But it’s irrelevant anyway, we’re not talking about what Christians or Atheists believe, if you hadn’t noticed, we’ve moved on to talking about what people DO. Today. Now.

    Why?

    We know what a part of the world run by Christians looks like.

    It has made mistakes, as you would expect from anything nearly 2 millennia old, no doubt it will continue to make mistakes, though one would hope to lesser degree, but when you look at the pros vs cons, when you look at the larger picture, when you compare it to other systems, you can see that Christian morality has resulted in a world in which people try to help other people.

    For all its errors, this is not a bad legacy. A saving grace if you like.

    It’s certainly better on average than many other systems.

    And when it comes to helping other people, Christians get top marks.

    Now, If you want to posit a world run by Atheists, you have to look at Atheism’s track record.

    On the issue of free-thought they score top marks, on the issue of Actionable Morality? on the issue of helping others? they fail miserably (if providing a google search chuckle).

    If we could get to a world in which people thought freely AND helped others, it would be much better, but until then, the Atheists track record indicates a much more SELF-centered world, and a world in which people DO NOT HELP EACHOTHER.

    I’ll take Christianity or any other group that teaches ACTIONABLE morality in helping others, with its warts flaws and all, over an Atheism run society anyday.

    There’s simply no evidence that an Atheist run world would be morally better.

    Indications are we’d have all of the human flaws associated with any ism, and NONE of the moral benefit.

    So far, comparatively they’ve been all criticism of others and self-fladulating talk and NO MORAL ACTION.

    Particularly in the one key area that really matters: to help make peoples lives on this planet better, to put their time and money where their mouth is and HELP OTHER PEOPLE.

    When Atheists display they can do that, and they’ve had 2000 years or so in which they make no mistakes, I’ll applaud them.

    Right now, I’m concerned with THIS life, with the people on THIS planet.

    Atheists have not yet displayed through ACTION that they care much about anyone else on it but themselves.

    Start up atheist charities, donate time and money regularly, and you’ll get my respect and the respect of the world.

    Until then, I prefer a system that incorporates MORAL ACTION, that donates time and money towards helping other people.

    And Atheists are at the bottom of that pile.

    Michael Xavier.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 6, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      More lying by Michael Xavier – so typical. Sorry you are so blind to the murder and lies and deceit and treachery of religious people. The most horrific acts are perpetrated in the name of religion.

      The fundamentalist Christians and Muslims are the bottom of the pile. These are the people who show very little humanity. They gleefully murder for their fake gods.

      Of course Xavier, you didn’t answer when I called you out on rates of charity – You prefer to make shit up rather than face facts – how very Christian of you – for that is the meaning of the term.

      We are all rolling around the floor laughing at the fool Xavier who says going to hell is not part of religion – what a bald face lie. How do you live with yourself – oh yeah, you are religious, so you have no morals and no ethics.

  70. articulett
    Posted August 6, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Like all theists, MX, thinks that if you affirm a lie often enough it will become true.

    Some of the top philanthropists in this country–including Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are atheists. And atheists give freely without hoping to get heaven bonus points. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/religion/post/2009/07/68495858/1

    It must suck for religionists that their lies can be so easily dismantled.

    I will presume that FC is not the liar that MX is and I will try not to use MX as an example of theists in general since he is such a poor example of humanity.

    • articulett
      Posted August 6, 2009 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Fr. Ted and other theists/faitheists: please read MX and it will help you understand why a person would be concerned as to how how Collins religion might affect his thought process.

      Religion is clearly, at least partially, responsible for MX’s lies, hubris, impenetrability, unlikability, failure to reason, and inability to converse on this topic. I dare you to tell me how he sounds any more sane than Tom Cruise in his wacko Scientology clip. Does you think he has any less of a Messiah complex.

      Not all religionists are crazy, but there are some types of crazy that only religion is responsible for… and it’s the kind of crazy that people feel “special” for being afflicted with.

      Or is MX making sense to someone other than himself? Do any of his fellow religionists thinks he is making more sense than the average Scientologist going on about scientology? Does anyone want to sound more like him or think that his faith has made him a better person? I think if I were a believer, and I read someone like MX, I’d start to wonder whether my faith was making me sound as insane.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted August 6, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        MX is near the bottom of the barrel. I have to wash up after reading each of his comments so the stench of his lies doesn’t stick on me.

      • articulett
        Posted August 6, 2009 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        I think you are the only person reading him.

        (At least, while he’s composing his diatribes here, the real people in his world are free of his outbursts. You have contributed positively to their lives! :) )

    • articulett
      Posted August 6, 2009 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      Fun with faith–

      Pharyngula posted this recent Edward Current satire:

  71. Michael Xavier
    Posted August 6, 2009 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    The truly disturbing part is that
    Neither of you realize that it’s You two that have consistently displayed the disregard for evidence and the traditional display of narrow-mindedness that you simultaneously attempt to ascribe to religionists.

    And all this, _while_ engaging in rampant blatant hate-speech against entire groups of peoples?

    If you two intend to defend and thus represent Atheism, you might want to either present some facts to back up your claims, or simply stop making ludicrous unsupported proclamations.

    (hint: going ballistic when someone asks for evidence to support your claims, instead of actually you know, countering it with evidence, is a clear sign to anyone ELSE watching, that you have none)

    1. God and Science aren’t compatible?

    why was that again? ah yes, I recall now, because religious people are nuts.

    That was a good reason, backed up by solid science.

    2. Atheist morality superior or equal to Christian? that was a good one. All of Google research laughed too.

    Ah yes, you two prefer another index than actually helping people yes? the “I meant to help others, but I uh had to return my movie” Morality index.

    3. “I have free thought! Christians don’t, I am therefore intellectually and morally superior”

    Yes, I’m sure those starving kids in Africa that Christians donate money to help, while other Christians travel half way around the world to put bread in their hands, and provide medical aid and shelter for, I’m sure they REALLY appreciate YOUR superior free thought.

    But you’re intellectually and morally superior of course. So you keep telling us.

    4. The hordes of altruistic charitable Atheists en moral par with Christians!

    They must be like God, invisible, sure as ‘ell aren’t to be found on Google or Yahoo. Except in Science Fiction.

    Great set of arguments you lads put forward.

    Now, I’m sure you think launching personal attacks against those you don’t agree with, and playing off eachother in this comment section will somehow obfuscate the incredible utter hollowness of your presented arguments,

    (or lack there-of of ANY presented argument supported by evidence, whatsoever in ANY of the issues discussed here)

    but I can assure you, your poor reasoning skills, your disregard for evidence to support your blanket statements, your attacks on individuals AND your attacks on ENTIRE peoples will not be lost on Everyone.

    I would suggest You recuse yourselves and let someone take over that doesn’t sully the name of Atheism any further than you two have already done.

    In any case, aside from the public display of lack of knowledge on matters science, and your lack of willingness to adhere to even the most basic of science requirements, ie. the need for evidence, and your displayed close-mindedness when it comes to analyzing science.

    Aside from that, I s’pose I ought thank you two for making the point concerning the dangers of self-centered Atheists and self-centered Atheism far better than I could have done.

    Thank You.

    Honestly, two uninformed narrow-minded bigoted hate-speech spewing self-proclaimed defenders of Atheism in the same place?

    Better hope too many others with a political agenda don’t head in here, You two are the gift that keeps on giving.

    Michael Xavier.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 6, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Of course, not a single bit of truth or facts there, Michael.

      You are so bad at your lies too. You mis-characterize and put disgusting filthy words in the mouths of others that they never said. You are one piece of filth, for sure.

      Michael Xavier, consummate Liar for Jesus™

      • articulett
        Posted August 6, 2009 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

        The truly disturbing part is

        what faith can do to thinking.

        Could you ask for a better example than MX for an illustration as to how faith and fact don’t mix? It’s like we have our own Fred Phelps right here on WEIT.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 6, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Time for Michael Xavier, consummate Liar for Jesus™, to do as his religion commands him to do and go on to his next life of rewards in heaven. Do it today, time is wasting.

  72. Posted August 11, 2009 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    (Khimiya, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 305-310 (2006)

    This paper, “A Fourth Law of Thermodynamics,” rationalizes self-ordering in nature. It explains the genesis of dissipative self-ordering in all far from equilibrium systems and provides an explanation for the genesis of life from cells to civilizations on bio-friendly planets. Taking this a step further, the law says that virtue is embedded in the cosmos and subsequently in moral repertoires of intelligent beings. I call it the hand of a minimal god.

  73. Posted August 25, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I feel as if a lot of people are over-reacting to Collins’s “context of faith.” The issue is over how he treats evidence, right? Well most of his “evidence for God” statements are *reasonable* claims in my opinion, even if false. The only one of his “evidence” statements that seems bothersome to me and relevant to political issues is the “moral law” nonsense, implying that we can’t be good without God. As if moral reasoning and wisdom are somehow impossible for Buddhists and atheists who live very moral lives without either a God or a belief in one.

    As dumb as that last one is, it’s probably a common opinion even among scientists, so I’m not sure I’d single out Collins as an extremist for it.

    Relax, we have worse enemies than good scientists who happen to possess religious feelings as well. Be more concerned about the pseudo-scholars like Jon Wells who are obsessed with de-legitimizing textbook science and really do observable damage to culture.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted August 25, 2009 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      You have to understand that the problem is not that people have religious beliefs, because having them, in private, is just fine.

      The problems is two-fold.

      One problem is when someone like Collins goes out of his way to publish his thoughts and to create a foundation like Biologos that bases nearly everything on unfounded belief instead of reason and logic that tries to convince others that they should also think like they think, then we need to worry.

      The other problem, which is not the case here, is one where religious practitioners like evangelicals and other fanatic theists try to force their definition of morality upon others.

      • Posted August 25, 2009 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, I don’t mean to minimize people’s concern. I know it’s not harmless. I’m not thrilled with semi-theistic fluffy oddball science, but I don’t think it does all that much harm either. Yes it wastes resources but I think it serves a useful and real purpose for a lot of people even if it doesn’t specifically advance theory. I’m not at war with it, and I guess I simply don’t buy the “theism domino theory” that it will slide us into theocracy.

        I think the real problem is building scientific literacy and curiosity, which we are really bad at in many places. People thinking “maybe the universe is fine tuned for us” is trivial compared to “why doesn’t my textbook have dinosaurs with saddles?”

  74. Posted February 19, 2010 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    What if atheism fostered a complete rethink on our relationship with the environment… and did so in a way that encouraged people to use fact based reasoning instead of blind faith? Perhaps it would assist our “species” in our quest for survival instead of push us towards “judgement day”. I know which future I’d prefer. Videos on my blog talk about this issue

  75. Dave
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    Collins is still trying to reconcile a horrible act of violence against his daughter and he needs to believe in a loving god that listens to him. His God arguments are non-scientific, they are based on personal need. The world is a challenging place and when the unimaginable happens we try to find reason for the unreasonable.


15 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Francis Collins pollutes science with religion By speaking with the authority of a scientist, by discussing science at length, and above all by describing in the same talk the evidence for evolution and the “evidence” for God, acting as if they are of similar epistemic significance, he is confusing his audiences about the nature of evidence and the nature of science. (See his comment at 51:30 that “My role here is to tell you what I as a scientist and a believer have learned about science and what I have learned about my belief in the context of that and vice versa.”) It’s a disquieting performance, even more distressing because Collins is an affable and genial speaker, conveying his snake oil is with a dose of sugar.  And it’s scary (but not incomprehensible) to see how a smart man has managed to convince himself of a set of superstitions that are completely unsupported by evidence. [...]

  2. [...] da comunidade científica naturalista nos Estados Unidos (podem ser vistas mais opiniões recentes aqui, aqui [...]

  3. [...] beyond scientific inquiry? These questions worry Harris and some others like evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, and they worry me. Some of Collins’s statements from a set of [...]

  4. [...] Francis Collins pollutes science with religion In today’s New York Times you’ll find Sam Harris’s op-ed piece on Francis Collins’s appointment [...] [...]

  5. [...] Jerry Coyne takes on the assertions by Francis Collins about science and [...]

  6. [...] as director of the National Institutes of Health because of his irrational religious belief. Then Jerry Coyne takes a shot at Collins. And of course this whole issue of whether science should actively discourage religious faith leads [...]

  7. [...] to PZ Myers for the links to this Jerry Coyne piece on Francis Collins (Obama’s choice for NIH Director) lecture at Berkeley. (And a review by Sam [...]

  8. [...] ORIGINAL STORY [...]

  9. [...] Posted on July 29, 2009 by Michael Hawkins Jerry Coyne has a post about why Francis Collins pollutes science with religion. It’s a succinct piece that basically nails Collins for all his silly, childish, [...]

  10. [...] Coyne’s blag on Francis Colloid: https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/07/27/francis-collins-pollutes-science-with-religion/ Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Worth the WaitAngry at God?On being [...]

  11. [...] of Francis Collins new appointment as director of the National Institutes of Health as well as Jerry Coyne’s criticisms of Collins. Well now Ken Miller has written a response, where he essentially accuses those opposed to [...]

  12. [...] impulse—common among Christian newcomers to religious studies but also considered by some to be found in higher places—to be “je-changin’ the rules” in the workplaces of scientific and [...]

  13. [...] a comment » In thinking about biologist Jerry Coyne’s recent forays into the realms of PZ Myers-like religion bashing, I can’t help but [...]

  14. [...] est étonnant que la John Templeton Foundation, qui compte dans ses écuries aussi bien Collins, Conway-Morris, Miller et Staune, deux darwinistes et deux qui ne le sont pas donc, et qui a [...]

  15. [...] of the news means that prominent online Collins critics, such as University of Chicago’s Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers of the University of Minnesota, Morris, have yet to post a response as of press time, [...]

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