Blackford on Gnu-baiting

By and large, Brother Blackford is a gentle man, not given to the strident invective that supposedly characterizes the rest of us. But he doesn’t suffer fools lightly.  Over at the Religion and Ethics website of the Australia Broadcasting Corporation, Russell reacts to recent criticisms of the Gnus in a piece called, “With friends like these: atheists against the New Atheism“.

Russell’s special concern is Michael Ruse’s ridiculous argument that any connection between atheism and evolution (and note that this connection is made far more often by the faithful than by evolutionists!) would mandate that evolution could not be taught in American science classrooms, for that would be tantamount to teaching a “religious” view.  And it’s forbidden under our Constitution to bring religion into public school classrooms.  Therefore evolutionists should STFU about their atheism or evolution will get the boot.

Blackford first notes that drawing a strict line between science and religion is impossible given that scientific advances affect religious dogma:

For Ruse, the whole point seems to be that a bright line must be drawn between religion and science, but this is not merely simplistic, misleading and wrong – though it is all of those. It is impossible.

Whatever we find out about the universe we live in, whether through science as narrowly-understood, through work in the humanities (such as archaeology and historical-textual scholarship), or other means, is potentially grist to the mill of theologians and philosophers.

If physicists find that the fundamental constants are just right for the emergence of complex chemistry, and hence of life, certain philosophers and theologians will claim that this is evidence for the existence of God.

If physicists then find that the alleged “fine-tuning” of the constants does not exist, or that it can be explained in some independently attractive way, that will then undermine one argument for God’s existence.

If geologists find – as they certainly have – that our planet is four to five billion years old, that renders highly implausible a particular theological approach which, based on a literalist approach to the Bible, claims it was created by God about 6,000 years ago. Less literalist theologies thereby benefit.

If archaeologists and historians ever find good evidence for the Egyptian captivity, the decades that the Jews supposedly spent wandering in the wilderness, and the conquest of the promised land, all as described early in the Hebrew Bible, that will provide ammunition to theologians who take the relevant biblical accounts literally. If they don’t, it helps less literalist theologians and may also help some atheist arguments.

The theory of evolution provides an explanation for the intricately functional diversity of life on Earth. Accordingly, it undermines certain arguments for the existence of God based on that diversity – there is no reason to posit a supernatural designer of life forms.

Other theistic arguments will be undermined when and if we get a truly robust scientific theory as to how life arose from non-life in the first place.

And only someone like Ruse could object to Russell’s conclusions:

The point of the First Amendment is not to prevent the state and its agencies from saying anything that might be seized upon to support a theological position or an anti-religious one. It is to ensure that the state acts for secular reasons, not, for example, out of religious favour or with a persecutory intent.

When it comes to science education, public school systems in the United States and other liberal democracies generally have the secular goal of teaching students well-established findings, those that are generally accepted by working scientists.

In other words, students are provided with secular knowledge. The theological and philosophical chips can then fall where they may – outside of class.

I’ll add that this holds not just for science, but for almost any area of human thought.  There’s hardly any aspect of education, particularly higher education, that doesn’t have effects—mostly inimical ones—on religious thought.  So should we ban all colleges on First Amendment grounds?

56 Comments

  1. TheBlackCat
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    “In other words, students are provided with secular knowledge. The theological and philosophical chips can then fall where they may – outside of class.”

    Isn’t that the whole point!? Aren’t all the gnu atheists are drawing their conclusions outside of class? How come it is okay for religious people to draw any conclusion they want outside of class, yet atheists cannot? How come religious people saying some scientific fact or theory supports or contradicts their conclusion, and that is a-okay under the first ammendment, but the second an atheist says the exact same thing suddenly we have to throw science out of science classes? I don’t get it.

    • Posted April 28, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      “How come it is okay for religious people to draw any conclusion they want outside of class, yet atheists cannot? How come religious people saying some scientific fact or theory supports or contradicts their conclusion, and that is a-okay under the first ammendment, but the second an atheist says the exact same thing suddenly we have to throw science out of science classes?”

      Good point. I hadn’t thought of it like that.

    • tomh
      Posted April 28, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      TheBlackCat wrote:
      How come it is okay for religious people to draw any conclusion they want outside of class, yet atheists cannot? … I don’t get it.

      It’s easy to get – religious people enjoy privileges in America that the nonreligious can only dream about. And not just outside of classrooms. Evolution may have won in the courts, but with up to 20% of high school biology teachers routinely teaching creationism in science class, (many for more than an hour a day), another 50% afraid to touch evolution in class, (a large number claim that students are free to choose evolution or creationism based on their own beliefs), it’s clear that science is rapidly losing this battle. And, regardless of the law, this religious indoctrination is firmly endorsed by many school boards and parents. It’s ironic that with US law being awash in religious exemptions and privileges in most areas, in the one area that religion is firmly held in place, (the evo-creo battles), the law is widely ignored. 21st century America – all religion, all the time.

      • Posted April 28, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        “And, regardless of the law, this religious indoctrination is firmly endorsed by many school boards and parents.”

        In addition, there’s the fact that the kids are hearing the religious “arguments” routinely (from parents, religious leaders, etc.) while evolution might be brought up in one particular chapter in the biology book.

      • Dominic
        Posted April 29, 2011 at 1:39 am | Permalink

        What is the qualification required to teach science in school in the US?

        • tomh
          Posted April 29, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

          What is the qualification required to teach science in school in the US?

          Public high school biology teachers must hold a bachelor’s degree and a state teaching license (requirements vary by state). According to Education-Portal “Biology Teachers typically have a bachelor’s degree in Biology with an education minor or emphasis.” Private schools set their own qualifications and a state teaching license is not required.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 28, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      TheBlackCat wrote:

      How come it is okay for religious people to draw any conclusion they want outside of class, yet atheists cannot?

      In addition to what’s been mentioned, it’s also possible that part of the reason for the double standard is that people are expected to know that, deep down, any argument believers make for the existence of God based on scientific evidence is really based on faith. Unlike a real empirical case, it won’t convince a skeptic and it’s not supposed to convince skeptics or gain consensus: it’s supposed to persuade people who are “friendly” to the idea. Open. Willing.

      They’re not being serious, because they’re not really putting anything on the line.

      Empirical Apologetic is a sort of game. “The evidence leads to the conclusion that God exists! By which we mean, that if we were going to treat God as a hypothesis (wink wink nod nod), then the evidence supports it beyond reasonable doubt. Plus, grounded in faith. But, the evidence really and certainly supports it — IF (wink wink nod nod) we were approaching the existence of God as if we were investigating it, and confirming it. And faith also, of course.”

      Atheists, on the other hand, aren’t going to pull any punches when it comes to approaching and testing explanations. None of these little winks and nods to “if” we were investigating the likelihood of God, and none of those little false-humility references to “faith.” No category errors where God suddenly turns into a way of feeling or something.

      We don’t think you have to be “friendly” to our case to find it compelling — or that you ought to be. We’re serious. We’re going for objectivity and mean it. We’re not appealing to faith — either up front, or at the last minute when it looks bad. We’re appealing to honesty. So sit up. Show where this is wrong and no — you don’t get to suddenly complain that belief in God is not an inference based on evidence after all and it’s really just faith. You made a case, and we’re answering it.

      And then we’re running with it into areas you hadn’t anticipated, and don’t like. As often happens when you do science.

      They think that’s so unfair. It’s uneven.

      Could this be part of the justification for the anger at atheists and their untoward ‘scientism?’ The other side doesn’t mean it? I don’t know. Maybe.

  2. saintstephen
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    I always navigate over to Dr. Blackford’s excellent blog whenever I need a break from Professor Coyne’s strident hysterics.

    😉

    • Posted April 28, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      On the minus side: fewer cats on Russell’s blog

      But to make up for it: more commentary on Marvel comics

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted April 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        That must be why I read both while not caring about cats or comics.

        • Dominic
          Posted April 29, 2011 at 1:44 am | Permalink

          You are not like the pope then who reads this website & is a cat[a]holic!

      • Tim Martin
        Posted April 28, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        And occasionally the two come together, and it’s AMAZING.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted April 28, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

          “Spider-Cat, Spider-Cat, does whatever a Spider-Cat does…”

  3. Insightful Ape
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Yeah, but any times there is any kind of scientific report in the media either having to do with evolution or suggesting the world is more than 10,000 years old, hordes of evangelicals show up condemning it for “attacking their faith”.
    This is called “theological correctness” and is actually more pernicious than its better
    known political counterpart. But I see no objection to that coming from our anti-gnu “friends”.

    • Sajanas
      Posted April 28, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      I think the biggest problem that Hoffman and Ruse have is that they *did* object to it, in flowery, respectful language in the 1980s, in university publications. No one read their books. Gnu Atheism has far more foundation in Asimov, Feynman and Sagan than in any of these unappreciated non-Gnu atheists.

      • Dan L.
        Posted April 28, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        Now that’s a trinity I can believe in.

  4. Frank
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I have never understood how Ruse acquired the positive reputation that he has enjoyed. His reasoning skills are not very impressive.

    • Egbert
      Posted April 28, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Ah, well he has the term philosopher behind his name, as well as a Ph.D. And he’s written some fabulous books for Oxford and Cambridge. Although he’s no scientist of course, he must know what he’s talking about right? Because he’s an authority on the subject, he must be right. He’s mightily important, don’t you forget that.

  5. Posted April 28, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    There they go again, conflating non-stamp collecting with being employed by the post office.

  6. Posted April 28, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    “So should we ban all colleges on First Amendment grounds?”

    Yes! No thinking! No learnings! No anything; just bible and faith. Iz much better way.

    • daveau
      Posted April 28, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      What about bible college?

      • Posted April 28, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        Too liberal! A Bible “institute” should be enough for anyone.

        They warned Bart Ehrman against going to Wheaton College, and look at happened to him.

        • daveau
          Posted April 28, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          I’m sure he’s not on their Wall of Fame.

  7. Tulse
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Is Ruse completely unfamiliar with The Lemon Test, the judicial standard for evaluating separation of church and state issues in the US? If he knew anything about the area and its history, he’d know his position is idiotic.

    • Posted April 28, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      That was my first reaction, too.

      How anybody could offer an opinion about the religious implications of public school science curricula and not mention Lemon v Kurtzman and still expect to be taken seriously is beyond me.

      Now, maybe Ruse’s position is that he’s afraid the Supreme Court will overturn Lemon; there’s been some speculation that such might happen if the court continues its shift to the far right. But, if that’s the case, he should first of all make his position clear on that point. And, I would respond: the Court upheld Lemon as recently as Y2K, and, though Obama is well to the right of Nixon and Reagan both, he’s unlikely to appoint justices to the right of the court’s current center. Lemon should be safe for decades to come.

      Oh — and I challenge anybody to find a single prominent Gnu who disagrees with Lemon. Indeed, you could summarize my own personal ideal method for determining how to handle the intersection of religion and public education as being the Lemon test.

      Cheers,

      b&

      P.S. The court’s holding on the case is: “For a law to be considered constitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the law must have a legitimate secular purpose, must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and must not result in an excessive entanglement of government and religion.” b&

      P.P.S. Apply the Lemon test to this page at the NCSE and tell me if it passes. b&

      • Tulse
        Posted April 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        I challenge anybody to find a single prominent Gnu who disagrees with Lemon. Indeed, you could summarize my own personal ideal method for determining how to handle the intersection of religion and public education as being the Lemon test.

        I agree, and anti-gnus should note that it doesn’t require no mention of religion in the public sphere, just that such mention have a primarily secular purpose and be religion-neutral.

        Apply the Lemon test to this page at the NCSE and tell me if it passes.

        It wouldn’t if it were actual government policy. But of course the Lemon Test doesn’t apply to private organizations, only to government action.

        • Posted April 28, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          It wouldn’t if it were actual government policy. But of course the Lemon Test doesn’t apply to private organizations, only to government action.

          True, but the whole point of the NCSE is that they’re advocating for a particular public school science curriculum. Yet the curriculum they’re advocating is flagrantly unconstitutional.

          I think that just might maybe perhaps be a problem. Don’t you?

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Tulse
            Posted April 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

            the curriculum they’re advocating is flagrantly unconstitutional.

            I am by no means a fan of the NCSE’s accommodationist streak, but I don’t think your characterization is accurate — the page you link to says nothing about curriculum. The page is simply the justification for their position, and they aren’t advocating that the justification itself be taught in schools.

            • Posted April 28, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

              Sorry, I just don’t see it that way — especially in the context in which it is presented:

              There are as many perspectives on the creation-evolution issue as there are disciplines and denominations. Religious Studies and its sub-disciplines (e.g. history, biblical studies, ethics) raise a host of fascinating questions relevant to the discussion of science and religion, and to the teaching of evolution. For example, how are we to read creation stories from the many cultures of the world? How should we read different accounts of universal floods? What is the literary history of the Hebrew bible and its many different books?

              Here are some resources for getting started:

              * God and Evolution
              * Reading the Bible
              * Denominational Views

              A science education advocacy organization has no business having any materials at all about religions, gods, bibles, denominations, or anything else of the sort. Yet they devote as much space on their Web site to proselytizing non-denominational ecumenicalism as they do to science education.

              For that matter, their stance on creationism itself fails the Lemon test. Anything beyond a simple observation that creationism is a religious proposition and therefore not a suitable topic for science education gets into the territory of inhibiting religion. Yet the NCSE is all about promoting a particular theology at the expense of certain popular ones.

              Don’t believe me? Eugenie Scott herself has a guide she recommends teachers use as an exercise in public schools that is a critical analysis of different kinds of creationism. Her advice? “[T]eachers are encouraged to use the continuum exercise to educate students away from an erroneous dichotomous view of the relationship of creationism to evolution.” That’s a purely theological position, one that’s probably rejected by a majority of religious authorities in America.

              If you want more examples, just click at random on their Web site. It won’t take you long to find them….

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Tulse
                Posted April 28, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

                I agree that the NCSE may be on shaky ground if some of their positions were taught in the classroom, but in the specific piece by Scott, she says:

                It is unconstitutional to promote or denigrate religion in the public schools – although it is legal to teach about religion, which is all the Creation/Evolution Continuum is intended to do.

                I think it’s a reasonable question to ask if such exercise would be OK constitutionally if challenged, but clearly Scott thinks it would be.

              • Posted April 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

                And thus we get to the heart of the matter.

                Scott doesn’t think that encouraging teachers “to use the continuum exercise to educate students away from an erroneous dichotomous view of the relationship of creationism to evolution” is advocating a theological position.

                …aaaaand, that Scott doesn’t see that as a problem completely blows my mind.

                I mean, the entire point of the controversy is that vast numbers of people have religious beliefs that creationism and the Theory of Evolution are incompatible.

                She’s siding with the minority of theologians who believe there is some form of compatibility and telling teachers that this particular set of theologians has it right and all the rest have it worng.

                She’s obviously doing this — and directing the NCSE to to this — because she thinks this will increase the number of students taught something that more closely resembles the ToE than more unapologetic creationism.

                But what I don’t get is why she thinks it’s good to advocate for hot dogs that only contain 10% rat shit as opposed to current standards of 20% rat shit — especially since the courts, for over four decades, have insisted that hot dogs must be entirely free of rat shit.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Explicit Atheist
                Posted April 30, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren
                Posted April 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm |

                “…aaaaand, that Scott doesn’t see that as a problem completely blows my mind.”

                You are absolutely correct about the EC and about the NCSE. Ruse sounds terribly naive about law and he sounds like he may even be somewhat nutty given how ridiculous his arguments are. But Scott should, and probably does, know better. Advocating for some religious beliefs because they comport better with studying biology and against competing religious beliefs because they more directly conflict with biology isn’t neutral and it isn’t secular. Public school teachers should not, and legally cannot, do that.

        • Sastra
          Posted April 28, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

          I think Ben Goren’s “lemon test” could and should be rephrased to fit the different situation:

          “For a position to be considered a reasonable position for a science-based organization to promote, the position must have a legitimate scientific purpose, must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and must not result in an excessive entanglement of science and religion.”

          How Do I read the Bible? doesn’t pass.

          • Posted April 28, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

            <AOL>I agree with Polly-O!</AOL>

            b&

          • Tulse
            Posted April 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

            Excellent suggestion, Sastra!

            For greatest memetic impact, I think we should come up with a fruit-based backronym to both honour the connection to original Lemon test and give a catchy way of identifying these principles. I propose the Grapes Test (Goren’s Rules for Associations Purporting to Educate in Science).

            (If someone can come up with a backronym that also covers Sastra’s name, that would be optimal.)

            • Posted April 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

              Gosh — I don’t think I’ve ever had anything named after me like that.

              Erm…how ’bout: Goren’s Rules for Associations Purporting to Educate in Science, endorsed by Tulse and Sastra?

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Sastra
                Posted April 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

                No … just keep it as the G.R.A.P.E.S (Grapes) test. I like it.

              • articulett
                Posted April 28, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

                I like it…

                Is there a way to add a clause about not vilifying those without religion. It seems that the NCSE is so concerned that evolution not be connected with atheism that they spend much energy demonstrating how they find the new atheists just as “strident” and “shrill” and “immoral” as the religionists do. This furthers bigotry against an already marginalized group.

                I know that the faitheist crowd imagines this request means that we are asking them to promote atheism, but we’re asking for a “secular playing field”. Atheist students should be as free to voice their opinions as their religious counterparts.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted April 28, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

          it doesn’t require no mention of religion in the public sphere, just that such mention have a primarily secular purpose and be religion-neutral.

          “Theocracies suck.”

          – The democratic secular world.

  8. Curt Cameron
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    The Bible teaches us that there is a firmament above our heads, which separates the waters above from the waters below, and God makes it rain by opening windows in that firmament and letting the water fall down to Earth.

    Atheistic science claims that there is something called a “water cycle” involving evaporation and condensation.

    We should be careful not to associate the water cycle with atheism, because we may not be able to teach about the water cycle in elementary school science anymore.

    Is that sufficiently Ruseian?

    • Tulse
      Posted April 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      The problem is that, by Ruse’s logic, it shouldn’t matter if we “associate” the water cycle with atheism — the mere fact that the water cycle contradicts a religious belief would be sufficient for it to be unconstitutional to teach it.

  9. RFW
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Why the fundies are responsible for the rise of the Gnu Atheism:

    After all, it’s the fundies that insist that evolution contradicts their religious beliefs. Let a kid hear that enough times, then actually look into evolution, realize that it makes sense from top to bottom, and next thing, that kid thinks “gee, if evolution is so clearly true, but Gramma and Granpa both said it’s incompatible with Fundamentalist Raving Young-earth Creationist Baptist belief, I guess I’ll put the FRY-ECB beliefs in the waste can.”

    It wouldn’t surprise me that this is why the fundies resist the teaching of evolution in school.

    A belief in the truth of the theory of evolution isn’t incompatible with religion, per se. It’s incompatible with fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible, which is a very narrow viewpoint that admits no compromise.

    QED or something

    This may be an example of being hoist by one’s own petard.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 28, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      There is NO god-believing religion that subscribes to a 100% god-free view of evolutionary theory. (Buddhism, being a non-theistic religion, is excepted in this instance.)

      All theistic religions — even the mildest, most-liberal sects — regard their god as an actor on the stage. Either via creating the conditions by which evolution could take place, or by “guiding” the evolutionary process so that man is the ultimate and desired endpoint, or by overtly creating a man and a woman at the beginning of human history. Or some other point along that continuum.

      Teaching evolution without regard to religion must, by definition, contradict religious tenets. It just can’t be done any other way.

      Even Karen Armstrong’s god-who-does-nothing inserts itself by using evolution to allow us to see god more clearly (how’s that for nailing the landing on a double back-flip with a twist?).

  10. Kevin
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Well…according to some imams, those books which are consistent with the Koran are not needed, since all of the information they contain is within the Koran.

    And those books that contradict the Koran are not allowed … because the contradict the Koran.

    Therefore, only the Koran should be taught.

    Sounds like Ruse is arguing the exact same position.

  11. Mirik
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    All that outsiee of he fact that atheism means WITHOUT religion, so claiming it is a religious view is lunacy. Like saying being bald is a hairstyle is stupid. It’s a view ON religion (by lacking the need or interest for/in it), but not of it.

    It’s also not dogmatic to conclude there is no fairies unless it’s proven, hence the argument that it is even similar to religious certainty and thought is absurd. I feel confident in belIevng there is no god in the same way I don’t believe there is no other randok absurd fantasies that exist without evidence. That is not a faith position, that is the definition of sanity.

  12. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Well, this subject is skewered already, and NCSE got caught under its carcass.

    Remains to poke protruding parts:

    There’s hardly any aspect of education, particularly higher education, that doesn’t have effects—mostly inimical ones—on religious thought.

    Well, there is always courses on knitting.

    • The Bear
      Posted April 29, 2011 at 1:12 am | Permalink

      Mixed wool and acryllic yarn!

  13. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    And now for something completely different:

    Other theistic arguments will be undermined when and if we get a truly robust scientific theory as to how life arose from non-life in the first place.

    I have started to wonder about that.

    ————

    First:

    Analogously to cosmology, there seem to be several reasonable pathways to “something from nothing”. Of course there are outstanding questions and one can always find details that can seem prohibitive. But there are large frameworks.

    The difference then would be that we lack something like multiverses that assures us that “what we see is what we get” in all cases. I.e. that those prohibitive details doesn’t matter. Say, lack of understanding how phosphorous would be enriched enough for early metabolism.

    Then:

    PZ has belatedly reviewed an interesting piece of genomics that shows an Archean Expansion. Meticulously tracing possible, influential events in gene families they can estimate gain and loss rates and ages (and find an Archean peak in both).

    [David LA, Alm EJ (2011), Rapid evolutionary innovation during an Archaean genetic expansion. Nature 469(7328):93-6.]

    Among other things it supports early RNA (DNA), and chemistry of phosphorous/ion gradients. Pretty much suggesting RNA world stuff with early protocells.

    Here is a recent meeting between bottom-up chemistry of self-assembling protocells and top-down behavior of simplified cells. Even suggesting enough of the selective pressures from such simple systems to robust cells and cell division functions to suit.

    And problems with the nominal rates involved are taken off the table with the recent discovery that the slowest biochemical reactions are speeded up most at higher temperatures, combined with natural enthalpic cofactors selected at lower. Exactly what an RNA parasite would like to live off.

    [Randy B. Stockbridge, Charles A. Lewis, Jr., Yang Yuan, and Richard Wolfenden, Impact of temperature on the time required for the establishment of primordial biochemistry, and for the evolution of enzymes. PNAS December 21, 2010 vol. 107 no. 51 22102-22105.]

    So:

    Here we have yet another possible pathway, with suggestive possibilities. But it, or similar pathways, will have an intriguing property: the “annealing” behavior of the first and last work is sufficiently alike the multiverse case that prohibitive details doesn’t matter.

    For instance, the genomic paper tracks how genes changed metal use and finds that the prediction passes a test against geochemical models. Now it is reasonable to predict that if phosphorous was utilized by early (proto)cells, it was available in sufficient amount to be a likely choice.

    Unless I’m mistaken, it is feasible that the proto-metabolic result of the last paper supplies the multitudes of possibilities tried that more or less guarantees for this to happen. I.e. that “what we see is what we get”.

    [Note that this differs from Koonin’s et al misunderstanding of physics application of environmental selection, selection on the environment aka the anthropic principle, in their Biological Big Bang papers.

    Here it is the environmentally likely chemistries that is predicted to be selected because this seems to happen.

    Not a multitude of possible genetic fates that finds a putative useful pathway (Koonin). Maximizing likelihood vs attempt at finetuning.]

    ———–

    Long speculation short: Doesn’t it start to look awfully like we approach the same situation in abiogenesis as in cosmology? Maybe the heyday of this particular creationist argument will run its course pretty soon.

    • Posted April 28, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Wish I could share your optimism, but it’s still a very common and widespread belief that the ToE can’t possibly be true because Darwin himself admitted in the Origin that it’s simply impossible for the eye to have evolved without divine intervention.

      Cheers,

      b&

  14. articulett
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    I think the next “big” issue in science is going to be the notion that we are our brains…

    There is no evidence for souls. As this becomes more obvious, expect more vilification of nonbelievers or anyone who doesn’t yield to respecting the idea that we are souls. Neuroscientists will become the “villains” that “evolutionists” are now.

    Religious memes are very selfish memes. They will encourage their vectors to silence those who speak the truth, and they’ll suck in the accommodationists to fight for faith.

  15. Posted April 29, 2011 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    Actually I think Ruse’s comments are smack on the money, and the NCSE needs to shut up about how evolution contradicts a literal interpretation of the Bible.

    • Posted April 29, 2011 at 3:10 am | Permalink

      Interesting.
      My sarcasm detector is broken.
      Are you serious?

      • Posted April 29, 2011 at 4:22 am | Permalink

        I’m far too civil to be sarcastic, and I am deeply offended by your suggestion. I demand an apology!

  16. Dominic
    Posted April 29, 2011 at 1:47 am | Permalink

    On an un-related note but cheerful I saw a pile of pope Benny’s book about Jebus in a bookshop yesterday – remaindered! If anyone wants a copy…
    🙂

    • Posted April 29, 2011 at 4:24 am | Permalink

      On a less cheerful note, I saw Sam Harris’s Moral Landscape (which, while having its flaws, I found an interesting and thought provoking book) on sale in a $AUS5 book sale today.

      On the bright side, there was only one copy left of what I think was a 10-15 copy stack judging by other books around it.


%d bloggers like this: