Victor Stenger continues to diss religion (and theistic evolution) at HuffPo

When Arianna Huffington launched the science section of her website, she explicitly said it would be accommodationist in tone:

I’m particularly looking forward to HuffPost Science’s coverage of one of my longtime passions: the intersection of science and religion, two fields often seen as contradictory — or at least presented that way by those waging The War on Science. A key part of HuffPost Science’s mission will be to cut through the divisions that have resulted from that false war.

Rather than taking up arms in those misguided, outdated battles, HuffPost Science will work in the tradition of inquisitive minds that can accommodate both logic and mystery. It’s a tradition exemplified by Brown University biology professor Kenneth Miller, who, when I visited with him last year, told me that he sees Darwin not as an obstacle to faith but as “the key to understanding our relationship with God.”

But she didn’t count on Victor Stenger, the skunk in the accommodationist woodpile.  I wonder if Arianna has seen his latest piece at Puffho, “Science and spirituality,” taken from a talk he gave at Humboldt State University.  It takes no prisoners, and mocks the consilience of science and faith.

Now it’s true that the great founders of modern science–Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and Kepler–were devout if unconventional believers. And actually, only Galileo tried to separate his science from his religion, to make a distinction between the two. Newton and the others tried to incorporate God into their theories.

But gradually science separated from religion, and from philosophy for that matter, to the point where today the three are clearly distinct. Those scientists who are believers have compartmentalized their brains into separate science and religion modules. They leave their critical thinking skills at the door when they go to church in Sunday, and leave their religion at home when they go back to work Monday morning. God never enters their equations.

And I’m glad to see that Stenger has no truck with welcoming theistic evolutionists into the stable of “evolution believers” to swell the ranks of our allies:

Critics of the New Atheism also fail to understand why we do not try to work with moderate Christians, who after all say they accept science and, in particular, have no problem with evolution.

But when surveys ask moderate Christians what they really believe, they all say that evolution is God-guided. Well that’s not Darwinian evolution. That’s intelligent design. There’s no guidance in Darwinian evolution. It’s all accident and natural selection. In particular, and this is what is unacceptable to all Christians and just about every other religion: humanity is an accident. Start up life on Earth all over again and humans would not evolve.

Well, I don’t think that all moderate Christians believe that evolution is god-guided. Further, not all god-guided evolution is necessarily theistic, with God sticking his hand in to cause new mutations and the like.  Some theistic evolutionism might shade into deism, asserting that God simply set up the process from the beginning, rigging it so that humans would eventually emerge. But even that is contrary to scientific views of evolution, in which the process proceeds through the disposition of random mutations via natural selection and genetic drift. (I do think, though, that the word “guided” implies a more active theistic intervention. I’d like to see a survey of Americans about how, exactly, they think that God “guides” evolution.) But regardless of whether theistic evolutionists see a rigged process or an actively manipulated one, their views are incompatible with science, and I’m glad to see Stenger say so. Theistic evolution is simply a watered-down version of intelligent design.

And this is why science and religion are forever incompatible. They have totally opposing views of the world and the role that humans play in that world.

Why don’t I just take the Matzke-ian view that we shouldn’t criticize theistic evolutionists? Because they are enabling superstition—just like creationists, but to a lesser degree. Science should not be polluted with religion, and that’s precisely what theistic evolution does.  Some accommodationists are willing to look the other way when the Pope, for example, says that God created through evolution but tweaked it just a tad, handily inserting a soul into the hominin lineage.  But the same accommodationists would bridle if believers said that God played a role in the evolution of other species besides humans, guiding the evolution of squirrels, oak trees, and warblers.  Creationism applied to one species is apparently okay; applied to all species it’s a no-no.

The sooner we see humans as they are—as products of natural evolution like other species—the sooner we will finally put away our childish beliefs. There’s not the slightest evidence for a soul, or for directed human evolution (how about all those other species of intelligent hominins that went extinct?), so why would scientists countenance those things?


  1. Posted May 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Stenger is like the last molecule of sense in the homeopathic dilution that is the Huffington Post.

    • KP
      Posted May 10, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink


    • Tim
      Posted May 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      I hope that you posted this gem on HuffPo.

    • Achrachno
      Posted May 10, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

      I have trouble thinking of him as a “last molecule”. How about an added quart?

        Posted May 11, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

        There was in 1999 a discussion between a Gregory Neal and an Achrachne, about the writings of G. A. Wells, reported in Wells’s article on “Replies to Criticisms of his Books on Jesus” (Secular Web).
        Any connection on account of the name?

        • Achrachno
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

          Might be. 😉

  2. Posted May 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Did HuffPo really expect otherwise when they signed Victor up?

  3. Grania Spingies
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Just don’t read the comments on the HufflePo page if you are prone to facepalming when confronted by Teh Dumb. You face cannot take that kind of continuous abuse.

    • CR
      Posted May 10, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      I truly wish I had read your comment before I read the comments there. This facepalm mark is going to last a while.

    • mandrellian
      Posted May 10, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

      I think one should approach the Puff comments the same way one approaches comments on youtube videos: with extreme caution, if at all.

      Nothing less than an all-out WEIT/FtB/Pharyngula invasion could make a Puff comment thread bearable.

  4. Bill
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I’m a long time reader of your blog and a follower of your ideas and thought that this picture would be perfect. I saw it first on the Democratic Underground website but I don’t know who owns it….

    • gbjames
      Posted May 10, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      Link fail.

  5. Posted May 10, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    “Start up life on Earth all over again and humans would not evolve.”

    But looking at the remarkable convergence of the Madagascar hedgehog to the European in a previous post (or the various animal eyes), some solutions to different problems seem inevitable. Wasn’t intelligence almost inevitable – given the prehensile hand? (Or tail, or trunk?) And wasn’t prehensility almost inevitable, given trees with branches? (But why elephants?) And aren’t branches on trees pretty much inevitable, come what may?

    I grant that humans probably would not evolve, but what is the (im)probability of an intelligent, communicating, prehensile animal at about this point in Earth’s history, perhaps a warm-blooded reptile that diverged from flying ones – or from some other line that never evolved on this timeline?

    • gbjames
      Posted May 10, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      Assuming that by “intelligence” you mean “something pretty much like human intelligence”, then no, it doesn’t seem inevitable at all. It has only happened once in billions of years of evolution on Earth.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted May 10, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

        “Once in billions of years” is overstating it. For most of those billions of years, there wasn’t enough oxygen in the atmosphere to support anything beyond unicelluar life. Once enough oxygen accumulated, bam! Multicelluar life and the Cambrian explosion. And a few hundred million years later, here we are.

        So there’s at least a plausible case to be made that intelligence appeared pretty much as soon as it became energetically feasible, on a timescale that’s short compared to the expected habitable lifespan of the Earth.

        (That of course says nothing about the inevitability of human life as we know it, i.e. vertebrate, mammalian, bipedal, etc.)

        • gbjames
          Posted May 10, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

          “Billions of years” doesn’t overstate anything. It is a pesky fact. Unlike vision, flight, bipedalism, etc., human-like intelligence has evolved only once on a planet teeming with other adaptations. A far cry from inevitable.

          • Griff
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:04 am | Permalink

            Human beings WOULD NOT evolve again. I’d be willing to bet my life and all that I possess that the exact same sequence of mutations would not occur again.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:18 am | Permalink

              Nobody’s claiming it would. The question is whether some life form of equivalent intelligence and dexterity would emerge eventually, and whether that eventuality is likely to be realized before the Earth becomes uninhabitable.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:13 am | Permalink

            It’s a “pesky fact” that the universe existed for nine billion years before the formation of the Earth. But we don’t count that against the likelihood of life emerging on Earth once it did form. The billions of years that came before are simply irrelevant to that question.

            Similarly, the billions of years of unicellular life that preceded the Cambrian explosion tell us nothing about the possibilities open to multicellular life once it emerges. Indeed, all of those adaptations you mention — vision, flight, bipedalism, etc. — evolved in the last half-billion years, just as intelligence did. It simply was not physically possible for them to evolve earlier.

            Note that “inevitable” is not a synonym for “common”. There’s no requirement that something happen many times in order to be considered inevitable. The only requirement is that it must happen at least once. There’s only one winner in a footrace, but it’s inevitable that somebody wins.

            In my view, intelligence is probably something like that. With millions of lineages randomly walking through complexity space, it may be inevitable (given enough time) that one of them will eventually cross the threshold of human-like intelligence. The question is how long that takes. And again, in our case it did not take that long — only a few hundred million years — once the metabolic infrastructure to support it was in place.

            This argument isn’t conclusive, obviously, but I find it suggestive. I don’t think you can just wave it away by pointing to the billions of years when no complex adaptations of any sort were possible.

            • gbjames
              Posted May 11, 2012 at 5:33 am | Permalink

              I’m not waving anything away. If waving is going on it is happening in your argument which dismisses all of time except a few millions of years prior to the appearance of intelligence as being irrelevant.

              Then you shift over to: “given enough time everything is going to happen”. Well, maybe. But we’re talking about whether intelligence was “almost inevitable”. The fact that it has happened only once however you decide to slice time, while other adaptations have appeared repeatedly, suggests pretty strongly that “inevitable” is not a particularly well-chosen adjective.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

                If I may summarize: you’re claiming that intelligence is not inevitable because it had billions of years in which it could have evolved but didn’t.

                I say you’re wrong. It had at most a few hundred million years in which it could have evolved — and did. (Nowhere have I claimed that only “a few millions of years” are relevant.) That’s not a handwave; that’s an argument based on evidence: the geologic record tells us that Precambrian oxygen levels were insufficient to support high-energy aerobic metabolism.

                I don’t dispute that it took billions of years to set the stage for the evolution of intelligence. But again, that says nothing about the likelihood of intelligence once the stage had been set.

                You keep repeating the “only once” mantra as if it means something. It doesn’t. Inevitability is not about frequency. The only number that matters to inevitability is zero: if something can happen zero times, then it’s not inevitable. If there’s no way it can happen zero times, then it is inevitable. If it’s very unlikely to happen zero times, then that reasonably qualifies as “almost inevitable” in my view, even if it happens only once.

                Personally, I’m agnostic as to whether intelligence is “almost inevitable” in this sense. We have no examples of life-bearing planets where it happened zero times. So I think it’s premature to conclude that it’s not inevitable. And the speed with which it appeared on Earth (once the metabolic stage had been set) suggests the opposite.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

                “If there’s no way it can happen zero times, then it is inevitable”

                You have a peculiar definition of “inevitable”. I prefer something more like what the dictionary says: Certain to happen; unavoidable

                The claim that human-like intelligence was in some way certain to happen given the prior existence of (what, exactly?…oxygen?) just doesn’t pass the sniff test. Everything that has non-zero probability of evolving is inevitable? I don’t see how any of that makes sense without altering plain-English word meanings.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

                My definition is the dictionary definition. “Certain to happen” means the same thing as “no way it can happen zero times”.

                “Everything that has non-zero probability of evolving is inevitable” is indeed nonsensical, but it’s not what I said.

                My point is about whether intelligence is probable enough that it becomes virtually certain when compounded over planetary lifetimes. You seem pretty confident that it isn’t; I’m saying that one data point (and a positive one at that!) is not enough to warrant that level of confidence.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

                I guess I don’t quite understand what really is your point. I guess it is that if a planet manages to have a history that produces significant amounts of oxygen then there will with certainty be human-like intelligence to be found on that orbiting rock if you just wait a while. There is no evidence that this is true, as far as I know. The closest thing to evidence that I’m aware of is the fact that on this particular rock this happened and so it clearly is possible. But possible and certain are adjectives that have very different meanings. You seem to be happy using them as synonyms.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

                If I’ve given the impression of certainty, then I apologize. I’ve tried to be careful to use phrasing like “a plausible case”, “may be inevitable”, “almost inevitable”, and so on.

                The argument is a probabilistic one. Tiny probabilities can be amplified to near certainty by many repeated attempts. The odds of flipping 30 heads are a billion to one, but if you keep flipping it will happen within a couple of centuries. That’s the sort of inevitability I’m talking about.

                So again, the question is how long does it take to amplify the tiny probability of intelligent life to near certainty? A billion years? A trillion? In the one example we have, it took roughly half a billion years from the time the planet first became able to support complex life of any sort. That’s a fairly short time compared to planetary lifespans. So it seems at least plausible (not certain) that it could happen again with relatively high (cumulative) probability.

                It’s not a matter of conflating “possible” with “certain”. It’s a matter of trying to quantify the uncertainty, using the timescale for the evolution of intelligence on Earth as a jumping-off point. And for that purpose, I claim, the appropriate timescale should be measured from the emergence of multicellular life, not from the origin of life itself. Hence my objection to the “billions of years” argument.

                I hope that clarifies things.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

                Well, what’s missing is some mechanism for determining probabilities here. Normally one looks to the past to guide one’s estimate of the probability of something happening or not…. “Based on the history of the US economy over the past century, the chances are good that the national debt will increase if we elect a Republican president”. “I flipped a coin 1000 times and half the time it came up heads. I think I have a 50/50 shot for heads the next time I flip.”

                If we could look at the past 600 million years (you say) (billions, I say… why is multicellular life the place to start the clock?) of history and see that this feature had evolved (say) 50 times, then we could with some reasonable confidence say that this is highly probably given some common conditions. But seeing one example in the history of the planet really doesn’t give us much to work with if we want to talk about high probability.

                But here’s my point…. What else is there to base a probability estimate on? There just isn’t enough data to quantify this. And I think that the fact that it HASN’T occurred as many times as eyes have developed or flight has evolved is telling us something.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

                “why is multicellular life the place to start the clock?”

                Because before then the evolution of intelligence wasn’t just improbable, it was flat-out impossible. It became possible only after free oxygen accumulated and aerobic metabolism evolved. Evolutionary probability was not the limiting factor in the Precambrian; geochemistry was. The oxygen had to be available before organisms could exploit it to power big brains.

                Or to put it another way, the control for this thought experiment is not empty space, or a lifeless lunar landscape, or a methane-shrouded slime world. It’s a world like Earth in every essential except the presence of intelligent life. That’s the variable we’re trying to isolate: the probability of intelligence given a thriving metazoan ecosystem. So we have to take the Cambrian explosion as a given for that purpose and start our clock there.

                Take your example of a feature that evolved 50 times in the history of the Earth. Should we then say that it appears on average once every 90 million years? That would be nonsensical if all of those 50 occurrences happened in the last half-billion years, with roughly 10-million-year gaps between them. The sensible place to start that clock is at the first point in time when the feature in question reasonably could have appeared.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

                You’re drawing an arbitrary line and pretending it is significant. But more to the point, you are ignoring the main point… what basis do you have to claim to be able to assert that this was inevitable? Were vermiculite patterns on Neanderthal brow ridges also inevitable? Is every feature that has ever evolved inevitable? If not, why not? If so, this conversation has fallen down the rabbit hole.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 12, 2012 at 12:58 am | Permalink

                I certainly didn’t mean to imply that everything that happens at least once is therefore inevitable. Mostly I’ve been trying to refute the idea that happening only once is sufficient to show that it’s not inevitable.

                Be that as it may, you do raise a good point about why I should feel that intelligence is more likely to be inevitable than any other one-off adaptation. I guess the answer is that I don’t think of intelligence as a specific adaptation but rather as a general class of adaptations that includes things like tool use, dexterity, language, cooperation, imagination, etc. The specific form of the peacock’s tail is not inevitable, but the general class of adaptations for sexual display almost certainly is.

                So why don’t we see more instances of adaptations in the same class as human intelligence? Maybe we do. Octopuses are clever and dexterous; crows use tools; whales communicate over long distances with complex utterances; elephants cooperate to solve problems; and so on. None of these rises to the level of human intelligence (as far as we can tell), but they seem like instances of the same general class.

                So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that a replay of life’s history would very likely produce more instances of this class, some of which (given enough time) may eventually rise to human level. Again, I’m not making any claims to certainty. But I find the idea at least plausible.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 12, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

                I need to throttle back on my tendency to argue for the sport of it. 😉

                Still, I’ll just note that if you define “human-like intelligence” broadly enough you can cover a all manner of things from beavers to (why not?…) social insects. I don’t see that our version of smarts is particularly common and the “just once” argument seems perfectly valid when comparing our-smarts with multiple evolutionary “inventions” of flight, eyesight, or bipedalism. But maybe we are thrashing around poorly defined terms (what does “human-like” mean?).

                (Also, I reacted to a faint hint of teleology, which from your more recent comments I don’t think you are intending.)

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 12, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

                No, I’m not intentionally espousing any sort of teleology. If hints of it have leaked into my argument, that’s an error on my part.

        • Mike Lee
          Posted May 12, 2012 at 12:43 am | Permalink

          And I thought that asteroid colliding with Planet Earth 65 million years ago – contributing to the extinction of the Dinosaurs – resulted in the growth in numbers of warm blooded mammals and ultimately – us….
          That we are here at all is primarily by chance – humankind nearly didn’t survive the Lake Toba mega-volcano eruption….figures vary between 4000 and 10,000 individuals who are responsible for the 7 billion around today.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted May 12, 2012 at 4:55 am | Permalink

            Recent research shows a stagnation in some, but not all, dinosaur clades before the impactor.

            Btw, the surviving avian dinosaurs are more diversified than we are. Just saying. =D

            The Lake Toba hypothesis can safely be rejected IMHO. Anthropological evidence suggest the area itself wasn’t even depopulated, the same type of local culture inhabited it right before and right after.

            Besides that, the extreme bottleneck you speak of happened well before IIRC. It must have happened before Modern humans moved out of Africa. So at least 100 000 years ago, and Lake Toba was, what, 70 000 years ago?

            All 3 known subspecies (Moderns, Neanderthals, Denisovans) that went into us had bottlenecks at one time or other.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 12, 2012 at 4:44 am | Permalink

          The problem for astrobiology is that an eukaryote type of endosymbiosis are necessary for complex multicellularity as predicted by Lane’s energy theory. That is, mitochondrial eukaryotes can create ~ 10^5 times as high energy density if necessary, for protein turnover and thus large and so many-traited genomes as well as mechanically efficient cells. And that only happened once.

          It could very well have been a lock in effect, as I understand it. Endosymbiosis is observed in bacteria and many times in eukaryotes. It doesn’t seem extremely difficult in general.

          If it was a lock in effect without extremely difficulty, we can predict that: 1) It likely happened early. 2) Competitors within and without the clade will be few.

          1) Eukaryote type of heterothroph metabolism is as old as Archaea, and it was ushered in by the start of the GOE some 2.5 – 2 billion years ago. (“The Emergence and Early Evolution of Biological Carbon-Fixation”, Braakman et al, PLoS Comp Bil 2012.)*

          Megaviruses are now claimed to be parasitically simplified organisms that derive from cellular ancestors derived from stem eukaryotes. They should have a few mitochondrial genes with the ~ 40-50 eukaryote metabolic et cetera genes they still carry, but they have none AFAIU. (Note: Private assessment, not a biologist. And it only passes a 2 sigma test.)

          I assume it is because they derive from before the endosymbiosis event. Presumably then, since there is just this amitochondrial clade surviving, it happened early. And the surviving amitochondrial descendants adopted a parasitic life style on their more competitive relatives.

          2.1) There are few if any surviving amitochondrial organisms within the clade.
          See 1).

          2.2) There are no mitochondrial type endosymbionts outside the clade.
          Well, that is why we have this discussion in the first place.

          So I dunno about complex multicellularity. On the face of it, it seems exceedingly rare and I believe it is the consensus.

          But as seen alternative hypotheses works with the available observations and predicts more. So I like that outcome better, besides the more exciting stage for astrobiology research it implies!

          * Note that the paper predicts a chicken-and-egg situation: oxygenating photosynthesis evolved _after_ the GOE started.

          The resolution comes in a suggestion that the global glaciations at the time liberated massive amounts of oxygen (by photolysis I think).

          It is thus a funny reversal of the usual cyanobacteria – GOE – global glaciations scheme. Yeah, maybe. Maybe not.

      • Jim Jones
        Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

        It’s not unreasonable to conclude that the benefit of intelligence would eventually win out over the benefit of ferocity. However it might have taken many more billions of years without the meteor/mass extinction.

        OTOH there’s Marilu Henner. If only a dozen people in the world have her “superior autobiographical memory” how long will it take before such people create a new strain of humans who dominate the world?

        Is human intelligence as unlikely to develop as that? I assume it is recessive since her children don’t share her ability.

        Perhaps Jerry Coyne will discuss?

        • truthspeaker
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

          Marilu Henner isn’t the only person with an eidetic memory. It’s probably not caused by just one gene. And it might not provide much, if any, reproductive advantage. Evolution selects traits that are good enough for survival and reproduction, not traits that impress other humans.

    • Achrachno
      Posted May 10, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

      “And aren’t branches on trees pretty much inevitable, come what may?

      Palms show that trees can get along fine without branches. Inevitable? No.

      • Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:46 am | Permalink

        Not 100% sure Palms qualify as “true” trees.

        • gbjames
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

          I fear we’re treading close to the “no true Scottish tree” fallacy.

          • chebghobbi
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:02 am | Permalink

            ‘No true caber’.

    • DV
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      Intelligence better be a sure thing or SETI is all a waste of time.

      • microraptor
        Posted May 11, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        Really? Didn’t it lead to the discovery of Pulsars?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted May 12, 2012 at 4:59 am | Permalink

        No observation is a waste of time, and it is informative on astrobiology. AFAIU the SETI institute estimates that the observation (as in, established small likelihood for radio communicative ETIs or a detection) can be finished within a few decades. It is rather cheap research, albeit sloooow.

  6. Posted May 10, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Some theistic evolutionism might shade into deism, asserting that God simply set up the process from the beginning, rigging it so that humans would eventually emerge.

    I have to say that if that is the case, it is one hell of a billiards shot!

    • Jer
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      Billiard shots like that aren’t all that impressive if you assume that the shooter has perfect aim and perfect foreknowledge of where every ball is going to go after he hits it. (Omnipotence and omniscience)

      That form of deism is the “you can’t prove we don’t all live in the Matrix” form of deism – an assumption of God as the ultimate computer programmer, where we’re all part of his simulation. He knew his simulation would lead to human life because he built the rules that way to begin with.

      (And no, I don’t know why there are some deists out there who have a problem with the idea of humanity being an “accident” formed by mutation and natural selection but seem to have no problem with humanity being the product of some deity’s desire to create his own version of Dwarf Fortress.)

  7. Ken Pidcock
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to see a survey of Americans about how, exactly, they think that God “guides” evolution.

    Nah, I don’t want to be reminded that most Americans don’t know enough evolutionary theory to even say what they think.

  8. KP
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Religion has always been a negative force in society, with its inquisitions and holy wars. The ancient Greeks and Romans were well on their way to science when Christianity took over the Roman Empire at set back progress of a thousand years. Think of where we would be today without Christianity.

    WOW. Go Victor! So much for “the tradition of inquisitive minds that can accommodate both logic and mystery,” eh, Ariana?

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted May 10, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      I am hesitant about that one – do we have some corroboration?

      Krugman criticized Ron Paul for “Argument from Roman Empire”…

      • andreschuiteman
        Posted May 11, 2012 at 1:34 am | Permalink

        Exhibit 1: The Antikhytera mechanism.

        Think of all the Greek and Roman manuscripts that Christian monks destroyed by scraping off the original texts and replacing them with psalms and gospels. It makes you weep.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 2:47 am | Permalink

          But was Christianity the cause or the symptom? I think that’s a legitimate question.

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

            Given the overwhelming power of the Church between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, Christianity is clearly a major factor in the lack of scientific progress made during most of that period. It created an intellectual climate in which asking questions could be an unhealthy business. It is hard to do science if disseminating your findings may result in persecution and torture, isn’t it?

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted May 11, 2012 at 4:46 am | Permalink

              @ andreschuiteman

              Oh yes, no argument there. Christianity taking state power (because that’s what essentially happened) meant the end of rational and scientific inquiry. And Church was IMO the main factor for the Dark ages both in the (collapsed) Western and in the Eastern Empire.

              But that’s not what I was talking about, perhaps I should have been more clear. By the time Christians took over the rational/humanist world view may already have been experiencing death throes and Christianity just delivered the coup de grâce. Furthermore Christianity and similar cults may have been the symptoms of this decline in rationality rather than it’s direct cause. For example, the antikythera mechanism dates from the first century BCE, about 500 years before Theodosius. There are arguments that ancient science reached its peak during the Hellenistic Era and then declined. I’m not a historian, but reading mathematics works from the Hellenistic and Imperial eras I see a gap not only in their quality but also in their “methodological modernity” so to speak.

              • andreschuiteman
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 4:58 am | Permalink

                I fully agree. The Romans were already less interested in pure science and mathematics than the Greeks, so there was some kind of decline already. In that sense, Christianity may have found and exploited a niche of anti-rationality that was created by the Romans. But it is more complicated than merely distinguishing between causes and symptoms, I think.

              • Posted May 11, 2012 at 5:03 am | Permalink

                It can be both – a feedback mechanism, creating run-away nonsense and eventually barbarity in a vicious cycle.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted May 12, 2012 at 5:07 am | Permalink

                I thought the Romans were supportive of science and great engineers as well, reinventing or adopting plumbing, standardization of road sizes, et cetera?

                The disappearance of science, such as it was at the time, seems much more tied to Christianity than Roman empire building.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

          Antikythera mechanism what?

          Care to give some refs on the defacings?

          • Nikos Apostolakis
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

            Sorry but I’m not sure what you’re objecting to and what kind of evidence you’re seeking. Care to elaborate?

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

              I mean is this the kind of evidence you’re asking for?


            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

              Something besides your word or Wikipedia entries and references therein.

              A critical essay, article, that ties things together so I can wield it when this sort of thing comes up instead of merely saying Hitchens said Constantine made Christianity the official religion of RE therefore you lose.

              Also : WordPress commenting sucks, and sucks worse on mobile. … Oh man it is infernal.

              • andreschuiteman
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

                What’s wrong with Wikipedia entries? Unlike the Gospels, for example, they give references to sources that actually exist.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

                off-topic : again, commenting sucks here, I have to reply somewhere else. anyways:

                I object to Argument from Roman Empire. I am not the only one – Paul Krugman objects to using it in an economic context – and please read this if I am quoting out of context or comparing bananas to apples:


                ” […] but it’s also the fact that because we don’t really know what happened — what really did go down during the Diocletian era? — you can project what you think should have happened onto the sketchy record, then claim vindication for whatever you want to believe.”

                As long as there is something more – Hitchens says Constantine made Xtianity the main religion. Ok interesting – I go read Wikipedia – its great, I love wikipedia, and your links are great, the palimpset, great – lots of interesting things – but soon its all over the place, far from the original point.

                However, you are a living thinking person who has a book or essay that’s particularly good and has led you to a position on the RE here vis-a-vis scientific progress – I don’t think you read some facts on wikipedia and concluded something larger on the RE.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

                Something besides your word or Wikipedia entries and references therein.

                Well you might want to do your own research on the things you’re interested. Wikipedia is usually a good place to start, look the references there and the references within the references, but of course it takes time.

                Anyway I still don’t understand on what topic you would like references for.

              • Pete Cockerell
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

                Hmm, so by induction any document that can ultimately be found starting from a Wikipedia entry is not to be trusted? I’m pretty sure most of Einstein’s papers can be reached that way. And Origin, of course.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

                gah – what a bramble bush I have stumbled into.

                a book like JAC’s for the Roman Empire, Greeks, etc.

                so when people argue – and when I argue – along the lines of what happened then, I have something cohesive to back it up with.

                look : the wikipedia page for evolution has over 250 references, only at number 179 does JAC’s book get listed. so you mean to tell me in a discussion on evolution, if someone asks “is there a good starting point”, you wouldn’t say “oh, you know this book is particularly good?” and I’d be perfectly happy going away to read it? instead, you’d say “oh, read all those books and figure out the struggle between science and religion in ancient Greece and Rome by yourself”?

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted May 12, 2012 at 5:11 am | Permalink

                I don’t think it is a projection but a well tested hypothesis that religion has suppressed facts for beliefs throughout the ages. And that very mechanism would predict the stasis of science.

                There is neither correlation nor mechanism predicting that earlier society would suppress science. It happened when Christianity infested the world, which it was ripe for due to the social insecurity following the fall of a large empire.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink


      >The ancient Greeks and Romans were well on >their way to science when Christianity took >over the Roman Empire at set back progress of >a thousand years.

      … is a substantial claim – is there a critical, scholarly, focused, substantial book, essay, talk, something, which tells an ignoramus on the RE such as I, a rich story of the apparent struggle between science and religion in the ancient times?

      note that *I* *am* *not* *doubting* *this* – just as I am not doubting Wikipedia articles, or “refusing to accept evidence” – I am looking for something richer, just like what Jerry’s book on evolution did for ignoramuses of evolution, surely, there must be a book for ignoramuses on the RE, the Greeks, etc.? Wikipedia articles are only so good – would one use the Wikipedia article on evolution in place of JAC’s book? certainly not.

      • Posted May 11, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        Richard Carrier is an expert on ancient Roman science (I believe his PhD was in a directly related area). You should shoot him an email.

        However, I think the claim that “The ancient Greeks and Romans were well on their way to science when Christianity took over” is false. The dude who we get the word “empiricism” from — Empiricus — lost the philosophical debates a bit prior to Plato. It was the opponents to empiricism whose philosophical legacy shaped the philosophical world of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and subsequently Christianity.

        The Roman empire was already on the decline when Christianity gained political power. Some were hoping that the adoption of a new religion would stem the tide. They were wrong.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

          thanks, this is the kind of thing i was looking for…

          … not accusations of being lazy, not doing research, runaway skepticism, refusing evidence, …

        • ROO BOOKAROO
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

          What a confused view of history. Where does this come from? Not Carrier, for sure.

          Yea, the Greeks and Romans didn’t have mathematics, they had no physics, no medicine, no astronomy, no architecture, no urban planning, no sports, no military power. They all lived in the higher atmosphere of the pure ideas of Plato.
          Alexander never conquered and ruled the whole Mediterranean basin, and the Romans after him for nearly a thousand years (much longer than Europe or the USA have existed and may ever exist).

          And when did Christianity “gained political power”? What canard! The Emperors were in control, and the Church was controlled by the Emperors, in the West and even more so in the East. The only power the bishops ever had was to use the holy talk of the “Lord,” “the Father,” and “the Holy Spirit” and try to gain favors for themselves and intimidate and influence the Emperors and military heads of the legions.
          The Church established its own little state in the center of Italy through donations (the famous “Pepin donation” of 754-6), and gradually became a rich temporal power, fighting against the other states, etc…

          “Some were hoping that the adoption of a new religion would stem the tide. They were wrong.”
          Who are those “some”? This sounds so much like the illusory argument of Dorothy Murdock in “The Christ Conspiracy”. Edward Gibbon, who knew more than everybody here, on the contrary, judged that the displacement of the traditional religions by Christianity weakened and contributed in part to the decline of the Roman Empire.

          Christianity, before and after the two Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, (where it is the Emperors who enforced unity on the warring Christians) was always torn by various sects that were never eliminated, on the contrary.
          When it comes to dogmas, there are always active brains busy with criticizing them, modifying them, or even rejecting them. Especially at a time, when writing about religion was the only game in town for bright and ambitious Church men.
          That the concept of the Christian religion was designed, from the very start, to act as a “unifying” force in the Roman Empire — the fiction propagated by Dorothy Murdock (a.k.a. Acharya)that is a complete illusion. The unity of the Empire had always been maintained by its armies and its generals, and the provincial governors put in place by Rome. Not the uniformity of beliefs, but the acceptance of a de facto polytheism, and the tolerance of ancestral ethnic cults within annexed populations, were the mainstay of Roman policy in maintaining the social unity of the Empire.
          Ironically, the forced imposition of the new Nicene creed (325 and 381) resulted in immense social unrest, and renewed disputes within the Catholic Church itself, with new schisms repeatedly exploding in various corners of the Empire.
          Christianity, far from becoming an “empire-unifying” religion according to the popular misconception endorsed by Murdock, contributed to more tensions and fractures of the political unity, irrevocably splitting the imperial dominion into two parts, the Western Empire centered in Rome, Milan and Ravenna, and the Eastern Empire based in Constantinople.
          Christianity did have a certain part in the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (a thesis made popular by Edward Gibbon). 100 years after Theodosius’s Edict of Thessalonica, the Western Roman Empire had been crushed out of existence.

          The key details can be found in four great books by historian Charles Freeman:

          – A.D. 381: Heretics, Pagans, and the Dawn of the Monotheistic State (Overlook TP, Jan. 2010)
          – The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason (Vintage, Feb. 2005)
          – A New History of Early Christianity (Yale Un. Press, 2011)
          – Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe [Yale Un. Press, 2011]
          Charles Freeman

          In particular, “A.D. 381” focuses on the remarkable years of the Emperor Theodosius (reigned 379-395) who created and established the Catholic Church as the only legal form of Christianity in the Roman Empire; and who initiated the persecution of all other Christians as “heretics”, subject to the threat of execution. He later embarked on the suppression and persecution of “pagans” in the Roman Empire, which turned into a raging mania of destruction over the next few centuries that culminated in the annihilation of the ancient Greco-Roman civilization, its monuments, its buildings, its libraries and books, its art, its science, philosophy and its knowledge.
          This is a fundamental period when the Emperors created a military Catholic Church as an additional agent of their control of the Empire, alongside the imperial administration and the army.
          A period that most Christians don’t know or simply ignore.

          Describing Christianity as a magical power that came from nowhere and triumphed everywhere is such a simplistic view of history.
          Carrier would be a knowledgeable voice for this whole discussion.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

            … orrrrr, something like this would be good too!

      • Nikos Apostolakis
        Posted May 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

        Roo gave a few references for the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. A god comprehensive book about Hellenistic Science is Lucio Russo, The Forgotten Revolution. I can’t think at the momment of a similarly comprehensive book about Roman science, not sure there is any. You might also look at the first two volumes of Science and technology in World History by David Deming (the third volume is also good but it deals with more modern times).

        Of course you should bear in mind that history is not exactly science, a lot of it depends on interpretation and not all books make always clear what is established fact and what is the author’s interpretation.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

          *A god comprehensive book*

  9. Mel_M
    Posted May 10, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Science always seeks understanding through natural causation; miracles, therefore, in any form, are implicitly rejected. If “God did it,” every attempt at a scientific explanation of something would fail. Also, considering conditions, every scientific law has the implicit preamble “in every instance”; miracles are rejected.

    The entire rational scientific perspective seeks understanding and guidance through reason and is the complete opposite of such understanding and guidance through “scripture.” Scripture just freezes a pile of primitive ideas about all sorts of things. So, in history and today, we have the absurd spectacle of rejecting rational evidence-based views about all sorts of matters just because they must follow “scripture.”

  10. Posted May 10, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    “It takes no prisoners, and mocks the consilience of science and faith.”

    There’s plenty of room to reconcile science and faith! For instance, we can look to cognitive psychology, the panoply of cognitive biases and the human tendency to see agency where there is none and how the error of seeing minds as simple fundamental elements evolved … plenty of science to do there. I look forward to the full and convincing reconciliation.

    • lamacher
      Posted May 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      You’re going to ‘look forward’ for a very long time.

      • Posted May 10, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

        As I outlined, we pretty much understand it now. However, people are enormously convinced by personal revelation, rather than thinking that if God speaks to them personally they’re having a delusion. Also, a fear of death.

        We have the explanations, the believers just throw more and more epistemology over the side as the gaps for God narrow. (In 1862, an intelligent educated person could be a creationist; in 2012, it’s strictly for the hard of thinking.)

        I don’t expect we’ll convince everyone even with every detail of how faith actually manifests in the stupid human brain set out in detail. But oh well.

    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted May 10, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think what you’re describing is reconciliation so much as “explanation” (for faith). To me, reconciling science and faith implies that faith has some underlying validity for its beliefs that science can uncover, i.e. there is something out there. Since this is manifestly untrue, all science can hope to do is explain why people have these strange beliefs. I doubt if many believers would regard that as reconciling science with their faith. More like science demolishing their faith 😀

      (But if that’s what you meant, it’s just a word-choice issue, I think.)

      • Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:35 am | Permalink

        It may not be the reconciliation that faith wants, but it’s going to be the one it gets!

        • Pete Cockerell
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 1:15 am | Permalink

          That sounds slightly Rumsfeldian!

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 12, 2012 at 5:26 am | Permalink

          rec·on·cil·i·a·tion (rkn-sl-shn)

          1. The act of reconciling.
          2. The condition of being reconciled.
          3. See penance.”

    • truthspeaker
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Using science to explain why some people have faith is not the same as reconciling science and faith.

  11. Posted May 10, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Some accommodationists are willing to look the other way when the Pope, for example, says that God created through evolution but tweaked it just a tad, handily inserting a soul into the hominin lineage.

    As long as the tweaking consists only of adding a purely imaginary component, that part never bothered me. I can treat it as a bit of face-saving. However, it is my impression that the current Pope expresses many more reservations than that, and would probably oppose evolution except that he doesn’t want to say that earlier popes were wrong.

  12. Posted May 10, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to repeat this but theistic evolution only requires that consciousness is uncreated.

    That’s it.

    If this is the case, nothing prevents evolution to happen like it happened. No intervention is needed because consciousness being an uncreated property of the universe, it would be in its nature to make emerge, via random mutations, complex organic machines.

    • Posted May 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      Sorry to repeat this but:

      1. You’re using “theistic evolution” to mean something different from what most everyone else means, which includes intervention by definition.

      2. You have yet to adduce any evidence for this uncreated consciousness; worse, you’ve all but admitted that it’s the product of your own wishful thinking.

      That’s it.

      Please don’t feel the need to reply unless you have something fresh and compelling to add.


      • Posted May 10, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

        It is not fresh but it would be refreshing if you could experience in a non-dual mode your own consciousness. On that mode, perception isn’t driven by the grasping of opposites, which means that you can see that time is caused by our space/time plane and that it is not in itself absolute, which also mean that at its core, reality emerges from a forever now that our dual perception split between after, now and later…

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 12, 2012 at 5:32 am | Permalink

          You are equivocating on time as it results out of standard cosmology and quantum mechanics with mere clock time.

          SC and QM with its local clock and universal but not lock-stepped cosmological clock is complicated but still locally absolute.

          Clock time is, of course, absolute.

          • Posted May 12, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

            Time requires space and matter. If consciousness is an uncreated property of the universe, when it doesn’t interact with matter, it is in a no time zone, it is in a forever now.
            Eternity isn’t a very long succession of moments (separated by what exactly..?) but a constant present that our dual mode of perception and our material plane prevent us to figure.

            You believe that time is absolute like our default conscious state but you would have to experience your self another mode of consciousness (the oriental traditions teach that) to see that time is dependent on consciousness and is not absolute.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted May 12, 2012 at 5:39 am | Permalink

          Excuse me, but are you a French neo-Dadaist literary theorist?

          Me, I’ve got nothing against members of the French nation, Dada, literature or theory, but it sure reads like you’re full of shit.

          • ROO BOOKAROO
            Posted May 12, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

            Bravo! Very pertinent.

          • gbjames
            Posted May 12, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink


    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted May 10, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      If you’re saying (human) consciousness is an emergent property of the workings of the most complex structure in the universe (the human brain), then I’d agree. I just don’t see what theism has to do with it.

      • Posted May 10, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

        No. I’m saying that consciousness is like energy, it is uncreated. It can manifest its complexity proportionally to the organic equipment that can manage it.

        • Posted May 10, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

          Even if “consciousness is like energy”, you’ve yet to explain what that has to do with theism.

          And you’ve yet to offer evidence for this assertion they consciousness is like energy.

          Our brains are capable of giving us an astonishing variety of experiences. You are trying to draw grand and overreaching conclusions from the subjective (!) experiences you’ve apparently had.

          • Posted May 10, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

            *that consciousness is like…*

            • Posted May 10, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

              I’m saying that consciousness shares like energy an uncreated quality. I don’t know if energy is truly uncreated but that is what I’ve heard.

              As for my subjective experience, since it deals with consciousness , you’ll understand that it can only be subjective since consciousness is what allows you to have subjective and objective experiences.

              We make a distinction between those 2 categories because we grasp the world through opposites. That is what the oriental traditions mean by our default mode of perception and this is probably what the doctrine of the original sin is ll about since the sin is questioned was caused by the intoxication of the (mythic) fruit of knowledge of what is good and evil (the grasp of opposites).

              A non-dual perception could make you see that our default dual mode isn,t absolute and is conditioned by some… conditions…

              A non-dual perception could be described as superjective, beyond objectivity and subjectivity since it is both impersonal and experienced. words fail to describe what is beyond the average dual mode because language is itself a dual mode of communication. What is dual can’t speak about what is non-dual.

              I’m not inventing anything. What I’m saying isn’t new. It is present at the core of many spiritual traditions and described with a lot of details, especially in buddhism, sufism, kabbale and mystic christianity. You could read about it and have difficulty to know what tradition is expressed when it comes to non-dual experiences since they describe pretty much the same phenomenon. Which means that it can be experienced outside a tradition because at its core, consciousness is uncreated. Contrary to the religions that speak about it…

              • mandrellian
                Posted May 10, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

                Want some dressing with your word salad?

              • Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:13 am | Permalink

                +1 @ mandrellian

              • gbjames
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink


              • DV
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

                +++1 @madrellian. or is it +3.

        • Pete Cockerell
          Posted May 10, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

          That’s the end of that discussion, then.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 12, 2012 at 5:54 am | Permalink

          ++++1 @ mandrellian, and the world salad starts here.

          Energy is not a property, it is a measure of the number of microstates a system can permute over over time without interaction with the environment. (See Nöether’s theorems.)

          That it appears as a property (not to be confused with your emergence) is because there is a physics tie to the recurrence time of the microstate assembly. (Again, Nöether’s theorems.) A thermodynamically “hot” object will more easily interact with the environment as it has fewer non-interactive permutations to choose from. On the other hand a zero energy object such as our universe is essentially eternal.

          Since we got into energy vs mysticism theology here, as the universe is likely zero energy it can be “uncreated” too. And admits no theological miracles or spacetime would unravel (which we don’t see).

          I don’t see how unnecessary deism would enter such a picture. Especially if the presumed multiverse would happen to be backwards eternal as it can be.

          But throw some word salad over that, will you.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      Yes, and there’s no evidence for that, which is why it’s unscientific.

      • Posted May 11, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        The reason why you can’t see the uncreated nature of consciousness is caused by the dual mode with which you are experiencing right now your own consciousness. That mode isn’t absolute.

        It would be like denying that volume could exist if you were a bi-dimensional creature because you wouldn’t be able to see it even if volume would be all around you.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 12, 2012 at 5:37 am | Permalink

      As a random but contingent aside, physics of computer science tells us, precisely as evolution has, that consciousness, however you define it, is not exclusive to humans. A human brain is trait equivalent to other, differently templated, complex machines as predicted by the Church-Turing theorem.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted May 12, 2012 at 5:43 am | Permalink

        ‘Thesis’ or ‘Conjecture’, not ‘Theorem’ afaik.

        Otherwise, I quite agree.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 12, 2012 at 5:58 am | Permalink

          Ordinarily, yes.

          But I happen to be a fan of Scott Aaronson’s take on the physics of computer science. In his take it is a testable hypothesis, as it is tied to time travel computation. And as such it is failed by physics (as ftl is seriously problematic for much anything).

          I’m sorry for the inadvertent confusion, I’ll try to stick to the conventions for clarity.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted May 12, 2012 at 6:04 am | Permalink

            Speaking of confusion, I mean “computation by time travel” there, not how to analyze time travel. D’oh!

      • Posted May 12, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

        I agree that consciousness is consciousness. What makes the difference is the organic machine that manages it. The human brain allows a higher quality of self-awareness that in return allow humans to experience it on other modes.

  13. Posted May 10, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    It’s odd that religion, out of all magical belief systems, is treated in such a patronizing and accepting manner.

    It appears that everyone is avoiding causing religious folks any anxiety or emotional discomfort.

    Now HuffPo has a sales goal — to sell theri media so they want to avoid upsetting as many people as possible. Touting silly platitudes and giving lip service to childish magical beliefs seems is a simple sales tactic – like all religions and ideology/political ideas.

    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted May 10, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s more than a sales tactic. I think it’s a sign of how successful the religious have been at playing the wounded victim card whenever someone has the temerity to point out that a lot of their ideas are just a leetle bit silly. Muslims have mastered this to the point where they managed get the UN to adopt the ridiculous Resolution 16/18 ( And the Catholics pulled off a similar trick in Eire, with real legal consequences for anyone calling a religious spade a spade.

      The huge irony is, of course, that in the past, when Christians had all the power, their brutality in suppressing the thoughts and deeds of anyone who didn’t toe their particular weird and wavy line knew no bounds. And now they cry bloody murder if anyone so much as utters a small doubt about the wackiness of their beliefs, the poor loves.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted May 12, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

        ++++1 to you too.

  14. Posted May 10, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    From Victor in the HuffPo:

    “Religion has always been a negative force in society, with its inquisitions and holy wars. The ancient Greeks and Romans were well on their way to science when Christianity took over the Roman Empire at set back progress of a thousand years. Think of where we would be today without Christianity.”

    ??? As we all know, Greeks and Romans were atheist peaceful people before christiannity turned them into cruel believers…

    • Mike B
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:20 am | Permalink

      You have successfully grasped the wrong end of the stick with both hands.

      The point being made isn’t that the Greeks and Romans were atheistic, peaceful etc. It’s that their – often cursory – beliefs didn’t get in the way of progress from science.

      Christianity brought Europe the 1000 years of the Dark Ages. An analogous process brought an end to the Islamic enlightenment. Stenger is correct.

      • Pete Cockerell
        Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:32 am | Permalink

        Oh, come now! You’re saying little things like the sacking of the Library at Alexandria, losing thousands of irreplaceable documents, and the brutal slaying of Hypatia, the greatest mathematician of her age, both by the Christians, somehow held back the advancement of science? They we just exercising their free speech!

        • Posted May 11, 2012 at 1:03 am | Permalink

          I can have nothing but utter respect for someone who brings up Hypatia Of Alexandria. *goes on to watch “Agora” for the umpteen time*

          • Dave
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 2:21 am | Permalink

            Anything with Rachel Weisz in it is worth watching umpteen times.

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

              Even The Mummy 2?


              • Jer
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

                Yes! Even the Mummy 2!

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

          Oh, come now! You’re saying little things like the sacking of the Library at Alexandria, losing thousands of irreplaceable documents, […]

          I sympathise with your sentiment and one can point a lot of “little things” that Cristians did, but I don’t think that sacking the Library of Alexandria is one of them. IIANM nobody really know what happened to it, a less dramatic (but maybe no less depressing) possibility is that it just withered away the manuscripts decaying for the lack of interest in preserving/copying them…

          • Pete Cockerell
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

            True, it seems there are several stories about its destruction, of which the Christian hypothesis is but one. It’s mentioned here as one of several stories surrounding the fall of the library:


            I think my main thesis holds though, that throughout the era dominated by Christian (=mostly Catholic) thought, many “natural philosophers” and mathematicians were either physically (and often violently) prevented from disseminating their ideas, or cowered enough to censor their own thoughts for fear of the consequences. Even Darwin delayed publishing partly out of fear of the theological backlash over his theory (but presumably not out of fear for his life by then).

      • Posted May 11, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

        And it is real mystery that despite their faith, people like Leibniz, Newton, Gallileo, Pascal, even Bohr, were able to do some logical and mathematical operations.

        But the greatest mystery is algebra. How is it possible that those advanced mathematical operations came out of boiling muslim civilization..?

        • Heintje
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

          Because even brilliant scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, etc. can compartmentalize their minds to accomodate conflicting beliefs?

          Even you have been hanging around here for a while, you should have seen that mentioned many times over.

          • Posted May 11, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

            I agree. I was just being ironic… If read Stenger’s argument, if it wasn’t of christianity, we could have gone directly to renaissance from antiquity… And some people are are defending that…

            • truthspeaker
              Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

              Makes sense to me, and Stenger is not the first to say it. Carl Sagan said something similar.

              • Posted May 11, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

                This is absurd because science especially flourished in Occident that was as you know a deeply christian land…
                It sound like Stenger says that there is something in christianity that prevented science to pop out. If that was true, Occident should nave been the last place to adopt the scientific method…

              • truthspeaker
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

                Science flourished in the Occident? Really?

                It only flourished after some works of the Greeks were re-discovered.

              • Posted May 11, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

                Thanks the the muslims who did the copies…
                You really have to be deaf and blind to not accept that science has it is now known has deep roots in Occident, at a time when christianity still had a huge influence!

                Are we really debating about this..?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

                No, its roots go back to pre-Christian times.

              • Posted May 11, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

                Of course, like everything in Occident…

              • truthspeaker
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

                …and that was the whole point.

              • Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

                But to say that it is christianity that put science into parentheses is simply not true.

                First, science, math and medecine continued to progress during those “dark ages”,

                Secondly, Renaissance was happening in Occident while it was massively a christian land. There is nothing good or bad to say about this.
                It is just a fact.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

                They didn’t progress at all during the Dark Ages, they regressed. There’s a reason Roman-built bridges and buildings fell into disrepair.

              • Pete Cockerell
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

                JF Fortier
                Of course, like everything in Occident…

                So you’re saying that the development of science was just an occident of birth?

              • Posted May 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

                No. First, not sure if this is a fault or a wordplay 🙂 but in any case we can assert that the Occident is the place on earth where science became a dominant practice. It wasn’t always the case, Chine and the arabic world had their moment but the Occidental world became the leaders in that domain. It appears that the Occident is also a christian land and the church was still influential when science started its boom. So I say it is false that christianity is what prevented science to become what it is. The fall of the Roman Empire is one thing, but I don’t think that this was Jesus fault…

                @ truth: though it is commonly said that the middle ages were dark ages, you’ll find a lot of historians claiming that it wasn’t that dark…. Printing was invented in the middle ages to name just one example… Music became complex during the middle ages…
                The fall of the roman empire brought chaos for a long time but things continued to progress. the plague didn’t help too, but the plague is said to be at the basis of a lot of democratic revolutions and helped a more egalitarian development of the society. That is a popular new thesis.

    • couchloc
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      Stenger writes (and others seems to approve):

      “Religion has always been a negative force in society. . . .”

      This is just an absurdly strong claim and I’m surprised by anyone here who thinks they are “scientific” that they would accept such a thing. Notice that all it takes to refute this claim is one example from the history of the west (one!) that conflicts with it. Do you really think that’s impossible to find? Seriously? How about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s religious beliefs and the civil rights movement? St. Francis of Assisi’s treatment of animals? Religious charities that have helped many low-income people over the years? And, not least, the fact that the medieval religious university formed the basis of the modern university which we all now attend. What a negative influence this was! We can certainly debate the extent to which religion has been a negative force and in which respects, but these sorts of overly bloated claims are not helpful to anyone.

      • Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        They did these things because they were humans with morals and ethics, not because of religion. Religion at best encouraged them. The Jews didn’t require the Ten Commandments to become ethical, their society wouldn’t have survived if theft and murder were just fine up till then.

        • couchloc
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          Martin Luther King did his work “because he was a human with morals and ethics, and not because of religion”? This claim is not plausible in the least. Dr. King had a PhD in theology and was completely steeped in the catholic natural law tradition, directly from which his arguments against the treatments of blacks in society were developed. His whole system of ethics is specifically catholic based (not just some general “humans with morals” system, as you suggest). Your case would be plausible if his arguments made appeal merely to the Golden Rule or something, which is a generic moral principle. But he argues from directly within the natural law tradition as to why the laws of the pre-civil rights era were unjust. You can’t just wash these facts out of history in this way.

          • pulseteresa
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, doesn’t everyone know MLK Jr. was a catholic?

      • Pete Cockerell
        Posted May 11, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        Your reasoning is incorrect. It doesn’t take a single example of good inspired by religion to refute Stenger’s claim. You could cite any number of them (though it’s debatable in many cases how much credit religion can take versus evolving human nature), but those examples don’t show that religion hasn’t been a net negative force. Of course, people on different sides of the debate will give different weights to, say, the Catholic church giving alms to the poor against Catholic priests anally raping 8-year-olds, but I think there’s a strong case for our being much better off, on balance, without religion. As someone else pointed out, humans are quite capable of developing (what we currently regard as) ethical systems without the input of a religious mythos.

        • Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

          Now now, be fair. The Church itself found they were mostly anally raping 10-15 year olds, which therefore apparently defined it as not “paedophilia”. So apparently that’s all right then.

          (Really. Anyone who gives money to or even shows up at a Catholic church shares direct moral culpability, as and until they stop doing so.)

        • couchloc
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          “….those examples don’t show that religion hasn’t been a net negative force.”

          Maybe this is the case but note you are changing the subject here. Stenger didn’t say that on balance religion has been a negative force (that would permit that sometimes religion has been a positive force in society). What he claimed was that religion has *always* been a negative force, which is something different.

          • Pete Cockerell
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

            Well, you could still argue that at any particular point in history religion has always been a net negative force, but I agree that might be harder to prove.

            You could argue, as an early example, that the group cohesion resulting from village-sized groups gathering to worship a life-giving river was a vital step toward the social, cooperation-based development of our species, but on the other hand you could claim that it encouraged and perpetuated just the kind of magical thinking that retarded (and retards to this day) the development of evidence-based rational thought, of the kind that gave us the exponential progress based on science.

            Similar pros and cons comparisons could be made for almost every aspect of religion throughout history, and it’s highly doubtful to me (and I suspect most who read this website) that religion would come out as a net positive force (while not denying its inspirational effect on those steeped in the religious milieu). The case becomes stronger the closer you get to the modern era. I suspect that’s what Stenger was getting at.

          • Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

            @ couchloc
            I don’t think your interpretation is right since Greeks and Romans were religious people too. Again the quote:

            “Religion has always been a negative force in society, with its inquisitions and holy wars. The ancient Greeks and Romans were well on their way to science when Christianity took over the Roman Empire at set back progress of a thousand years. Think of where we would be today without Christianity.”

            So according to Stenger, there was something in christianity itself that prevented science to blossom. But that science emerged as we know it in a strong christian context, this alone dismiss this claim.

            Following Steger’s thought, cars would now be an invention of the 16th century,
            we would have walked on the moon in 17th century and we would now fully understand quantum mechanics…

            It is surprising that the other cultures who weren’t christian couldn’t achieve this before the occidental world did.

            Honestly, Stenger’s claim isn’t very wise…

  15. Griff
    Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    I’ve never been able to understand how a scientist can reconcile “random mutation” with “directed evolution”.

    Does anyone know how Ken Miller rationalises it? I mean, he must ACCEPT that mutations are random – he’s not an idiot.

    You cannot accept evo by natural selection AND think human beings have been specially selected amongst all lifeforms.

    • godskesen
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 3:29 am | Permalink

      If I remember correctly, Miller has speculated that God does a sort of quantum diddling of DNA-molecules in order to produce the mutations that coincide with His Plan(TM). … Which would be a pointless way of doing it, because those mutations would still only be successful in evolutionary terms if they aided their own reproduction to a greater extent than their competitors. … So basically, Miller is doing some Chopra-ish woo in order to insert his god in evolution.

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

        I always get nervous when biologists start talking about quantum physics!

        I’m a simple man – but it’s my understanding that at least at the level of DNA, quantum effects wouldn’t be relevant.

        I like to think either things are deterministic or they are random. I know it’s a simplistic world view, but it’s the only way I can stay sane.

        • Posted May 11, 2012 at 3:39 am | Permalink

          Sorry about your sanity! (Paper.)

          • Griff
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 4:01 am | Permalink

            I never claimed it I was correct – it’s more of a religious thing! I stopped trying to understand the universe a long time ago.

          • Griff
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 4:04 am | Permalink

            Actually, I’d be interested in Professor Coyne’s “spin” on that paper!

            • Posted May 11, 2012 at 4:27 am | Permalink

              It sounds wootastic on the face of it, but I figured being in Science gave it a non-negligible probability of being worth taking notice of.

              • Griff
                Posted May 11, 2012 at 4:36 am | Permalink

                I think I need a degree in biology and physics to keep up these days.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted May 12, 2012 at 6:26 am | Permalink

            Yes, but chiral molecules are known to distinguish between spins of photons too. (Aka polarization.)

            That didn’t get people starting to go all “quantum” on biology, I think.

            I dunno about DNA, IIRC there has been some speculations or observations. But FWIW chlorophyll has passed several tests for quantum effects.

    • SLC
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      Just for the record, Miller rejects the term theistic evolutionuar as applied to him. Several years ago, he posted a comment on Larry Moran’s blog in which he made this clear.

      • Griff
        Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

        I have a lot of respect for the man, I thought his book was excellent. I just can’t figure his religion.

    • Jer
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      I’ve heard it explained this way:

      “Random mutations” (indeed, all random events) only look random to us because we’re inside the system (i.e. inside the universe) an outside observer (like God – who is outside the universe) would be able to see that it’s actually a pseudo-random process. Like the way the random number generator in your computer produces numbers that look random, but if you use the same random number seed over and over again you get the same results – it’s actually a deterministic function producing random-looking results. God produces random mutations in the same way – they look random to us, but if we were outside the system looking in we could see that they were not random at all.

      I personally find this answer unconvincing, but like almost all of theistic evolution it’s an unfalsifiable statement of religious belief, not a testable scientific theory.

      • Pete Cockerell
        Posted May 11, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        I’m confused about how it’s supposed to look different depending on whether you’re “inside” or “outside” the system. Random is random. Even if God were using a pseudo-random sequence, if it looks truly random then it will have maximum entropy, so it’s hard to see where he would be injecting the required information into the system.

        I guess you could argue that from our vantage point we don’t have enough data points on, say, genetic mutation, to do a true randomness test. But lack of data can’t be used to prove that God did it.

      • Griff
        Posted May 11, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        But pseudo-random is not random. And Darwinian evo is random not pseudo-random. (mutations of course)

        So if Mr Miller thinks it’s pseudo-random, then he doesn’t accept Darwinian evolution. And that’s what I don’t get.

        I just don’t see how the two are reconcilable.

        • Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

          I won’t talk for Miller but here is a scenario where God and random mutations can co-exist.

          Of course, for the sake of argument, we presume God exists. Which also means consciousness would be an uncreated property of the universe.

          With that basis, you just have to let interact consciousness with matter and you obtain random mutations that will inevitably lead to more and more complex organic machines because the motor of evolution being consciousness, it is in the nature of consciousness to know itself. So it will do whatever it can to push for the emergence of more conscious beings. That is why you’ll finish by having in the process complex conscious organic machines like humans.

          You don’t need any divine interventions for that. Evolution can happen like we think it happened, and God, who would be an uncreated conscious process, can act without calling the shots.

  16. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    God could guide the mutations ? (or, maybe, just selected important mutations). I’ve no idea if that’s what Ken Miller thinks, but – presuming the existence of God – that seems an obvious way for it to work. I doubt if we could detect whether the mutations are random or not?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:48 am | Permalink

      Oops, that was in answer to Griff at #15. WP trips me up again….

      • Griff
        Posted May 11, 2012 at 1:29 am | Permalink

        But then they wouldn’t be random!

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 2:17 am | Permalink

          Quite so, but how could we tell? (In other words, we might be supposing the mutations are random, and Goddidit all the time). Admittedly that’s a bit less showy than walking on water or chariots of fire or stuff…

          • Griff
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 2:33 am | Permalink

            True, we wouldn’t be able to tell (after all god can do anything 😉 )

            But it still wouldn’t be Darwinian evolution, because that IS random mutation acted upon by natural selection.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

            For all we know, there are tiny invisible angels propelling photons through space. So long as they scrupulously follow the trajectories prescribed by Maxwell’s equations, how could we tell?

            But the addition of such angels adds nothing to the predictive power of Maxwell’s equations. His theory explains the world perfectly well without them. So any physicist who proposed we take the angels seriously, just because we can’t disprove their existence, would rightly be dismissed as a crank.

            Similarly, any biologist (or philosopher) who argues that God meddles with mutations in a way that’s indistinguishable from true randomness should be dismissed as a crank, for exactly the same reasons.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted May 11, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink


            • gbjames
              Posted May 11, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

              +1, too.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

              I didn’t say ‘random’, I said ‘could we tell if they were non-random’? Obviously if we had full information, we could, but I doubt if we do? (I genuinely don’t know the answer to that, by the way).

              (Disclaimer: I personally don’t think God is needed anywhere in the process. It seems to me the enormous power of natural selection – which is IMO the major part of Darwinism – is such that any source of variation, random, pseudo-random, whatever – is enough. In that respect Ken Miller’s view – if I understand it aright – appears to be very much god-of-the-gaps).

  17. Mel_M
    Posted May 11, 2012 at 3:04 am | Permalink


    Agora is, at this time anyway, available for free on Hulu. There is also a Wikipedia page for Hypathia.

  18. Logicophilosophicus
    Posted May 11, 2012 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    “Human beings WOULD NOT evolve again. I’d be willing to bet my life and all that I possess that the exact same sequence of mutations would not occur again.”

    Since materialist explanations for fine tuning seem these days to depend on an infinite multiverse, yoy can be certain not only that human beings have evolved infinitely many times, but also that you yourself – despite the wager – have infiniely many lives with all that you possess. It’s a funny old world: you must lose your bet but you can’t pay up.

    Or maybe the multiverse doesn’t exist, and you have to account for fine tuning some other way?

    Or (I haven’t heard this one from a Christian yet) maybe the multiverse IS God’s way of directing evlution…

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

      I don’t think they do “depend” upon multiverses. I have heard it say that the fine tuning argument is hugely overplayed, and the “tuning” is nothing like as fine as people claim. But I cannot be sure of this, as my understanding of cosmology is very limited.

      As regards the universe we’re living in – which is the one we were discussing. If you re-ran 3.5 billion years of evolution an INFINITE number of times, humans would re-evolve (at some point). However, I would still be willing to take that bet for any finite number of iterations. What odds are you offering?

      • Logicophilosophicus
        Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        Actually humans would evolve at an infinite number of points.

        I am surprised that you have a confident opinion based on no knowledge of cosmology.

        What odds? I don’t know. I find it surprising that an awful lot of our genes have been around for a very long time – evolution seems as much a matter of recombination as new mutation. I think something intellectually equivalent to a human being would almost certainly evolve, probably of similar structure. Hands and tongues seem to be a good route to intelligence.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      “Since materialist explanations for fine tuning seem these days to depend on an infinite multiverse”

      This is categorically untrue.

      There IS no fine tuning to explain.

      The infinite multiverse idea comes from one interpretation of the uncertainty principle.

      • Logicophilosophicus
        Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

        “NO fine tuning to explain”?

        You need to get a library ticket. I haven’t read any recent (say last quarter century) book by a serious cosmologist that doesn’t mention the fine tuning issue.

        • Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

          Well, I just finished The Fallacy of Fine Tuning by one Victor Stenger … precis: there are very few apparently-arbitrary constants, and the ones we know could be a few magnitudes range and still have something like chemistry possible.

          • Logicophilosophicus
            Posted May 11, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

            And that’s it? It seems to me that Victor Stenger is your Bible. I haven’t read his book, but I have read his thoroughly unconvincing essay “Is the universe fine-tuned for us?” Were you convinced by his statement that just four constants of nature define any universe which can exist? Ask around.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted May 12, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

              It isn’t just Stenger, but about every serious non-religious scientsit there is.

              The religious finetuning argument doesn’t hold water, since you can take ratios of such constants and observe, as davidgerard says, vast volumes where life is possible. You can even turn of one of the four fundamental forces, the weak force, and famously have a “weak-less universe” with stars.

              Finetuning in physics on the other hand can be precisely predicted by environmental selection over multiverses. Such as the observed small (aka finetuned) value of the cosmological constant compared to the natural value expected from other cosmological parameters.

              There are some 6-7 cosmological parameters that have been predicted that way. (See Bousso et al, there are too many papers to mention.)

              So, assuming multiverses, will exactly the same mutation (and fixation) sequence happen again? Not in a physics sense, since the combinatorial space blows up very fast. Hence it can be rejected, if biologists are correct on many and roughly equal choices for m&f, on the usual empirical basis of comparing with an uncertainty level. Say, having a cut off of ~ 10^-30 would certainly exhaust the number of habitable planets within the observable universe.

              It is only if you are dead set of making a fool of yourself by claiming philosophical certainty that you are technically correct. It will happen again, many observable universes away. Very many universes away. [Shrugs.]

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted May 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

                Tegmark at MIT certainly disagrees with your dismissive approach. Likewise Bousso at Berkeley, Vilenkin at Tufts, Susskind at Stanford, Kleban at NYU… and over here in the UK Rees, Penrose, Deutsch, etc, etc.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

          They mention it and then dismiss. The “issue” is made up.

          • Logicophilosophicus
            Posted May 12, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

            “Tegmark at MIT certainly disagrees with your dismissive approach…” See above.

  19. BradW
    Posted May 11, 2012 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    I really don’t care how minuscule the probability of life evolving again just as it has is, I don’t think that any scientist (especially a Victor Stenger)should use a phrase such as “. . . and humans would not evolve.” That is an “absolute statement” and scientists should be above that.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 12, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      It is a perfectly fine empirical observation. You are discussing philosophy, but science is above that. =D

      • Posted May 12, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

        And since empirical = absolute…

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted February 14, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

          Ha, but empiricism works. And no, it isn’t absolute, there are things like relative fitness et cetera.

  20. Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    I agree with Stenger on everything but this:

    “Start up life on Earth all over again and humans would not evolve.” Univironmental determinism always produces variations in intelligence, which is the ability of a microcosm to interact successfully with the macrocosm. Intelligent life forms are inevitable (not an accident) wherever there are life forms.

    • Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      “Intelligent life forms are inevitable (not an accident) wherever there are life forms.”

      Are you sure? You’re basing this claim on a sample size of one.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      I don’t think that’s true, but even if it is, that doesn’t mean humans would evolve again. It could just as easily be sentient relatives of raccoons, or pigs.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

        Oh yes. I take the statement to mean ‘something analogous to humans would evolve’. If Stenger means ‘humans would not evolve’ in the sense of homo sapiens he’s almost certainly right. But a species of approximately our size and intelligence is I think highly likely, sooner or later. It might even regard itself as ‘God’s chosen creation’ for a while, ‘God’ having the appropriate number of tentacles / suckers / pseudopodia.

        Why ‘approximately our size’? Well, given our planet’s environment, I suspect there’s probably an optimum size for an intelligent being and we’re probably near it. Got to be big enough to support our size of brain, bigger than that is probably a waste of resources. But the physical details could vary, as could the ancestry.

        And intelligence gradually evolves so our level would be reached at some stage.

    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      You are Simon Conway Morris and I claim my prize!

  21. Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Why don’t I just take the Matzke-ian view that we shouldn’t criticize theistic evolutionists? Because they are enabling superstition—just like creationists, but to a lesser degree.

    I’d have to disagree somewhat with the “enabling superstition” basis, though not the conclusion. Sure, the notion of theistic evolution involves pollution of the science with theology. However, people (in the US) who are purely exposed to science without any religion are rarer than hen’s teeth. Contrariwise, people who are brought up with a highly religious view are quite common, as reflected by the evolution-vs-creationism statistics.

    Yes, theistic evolution does allow someone to retain some of their religious modes of thinking. (And you’d probably think that if they threw out everything they associate with their religion, it would be bad — particularly if that included the golden rule. That’s a more complex discussion, though.) However, by triggering less cognitive dissonance in the minds of the religious, it’s an idea less likely to be rejected – and making it easier to introduce atheistic evolution to the next generation. Thus, it is more correct to say (at the current ~30:15:15:25:15 YEC:OEC:ID:TE:AE ratios in the US) that the likely primary effect is less often to enable superstition, but more frequently to enable starting to accept more of the science by the superstitious.

    There seems an analogy in biology/ecology, where an ecology is dominated by species A, such that species C is unlikely to gain a foothold directly, but species B can enter and gain a foothold, and in turn be dislodged by species C. Throwing some keywords at Wikipedia suggests the ecological succession entry as possibly relevant. I’m thinking of a parallel using “memes” instead of species carrying genes. Excessive criticism from try getting rid entirely of the theistic evolutionists too soon might have ecological consequences.

    Now, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t criticize theistic evolutionists; such criticism does facilitate the eventual transition. However, it would seem more nuanced degrees of criticism, emphasizing the “to a lesser degree” aspect, and lobbing out criticism in proportion, might allow for a smoother ecological transition, rather than a violent one.

    Of course, I don’t have solid sociological data on whether theistic or atheistic evolutionists contribute more to YEC transitions; and this is a complex model such that sociological measurement of the parameters would be difficult (and direct experimental measurement probably wouldn’t get human subject approval from any IRB worth its salt). Still, the model seems conceptually plausible.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 12, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      I just happened to disagree vehemently on another thread.

      The short version is that we lack evidence for that accommodationism works (while New Atheism do seem to work).

      Also, we can just sit back and watch the enlightenment happen, as I describe over there. Sure specific strategies could work and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. But they aren’t strictly necessary, and we should find out if they instead do harm.

      • Posted May 18, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        True, there’s not much data about the particular case of accommodationism effects. Contrariwise, there is data from the broader study of conceptual change (such as on the Order Effect) that generally supports the thesis, and there’s relatively few sociologically rigorous studies out there specifically dealing with changes in religious attitudes. Thus, it’s more that the specific question has not been studied; and it’s reasonable to expect general principles to hold until there is such study showing they don’t.

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