Scientists and Religion

I have now had a chance to read Elaine Howard Ecklund’s new book Science vs. Relgion: What Scientists Really Think. It is worth reading, despite her annoying decision to include social scientists, but not mathematicians, in her definition of “scienitst.” I also did not care for her obvious preference for those scientists willing to talk sweetly about religion, but what can you do?

Most interesting to me were the statistics she gathered regarding the religious beliefs of scientists at major American research universities. The picture I had prior to reading this book was that scientists were vastly more likely than the public generally to be nonreligious, and that where you did find religion it would be mostly of the theologically liberal sort. That picture is overwhelmingly confirmed by Ecklund’s data.

Asked about their beliefs in God, 34% chose “I don’t believe in God,” while 30% chose, “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out.” That’s 64% who are atheist or agnostic, as compared to just 6% of the general public.

An additional 8% opted for, “I believe in a higher power, but it is not God.” That makes 72% of scientists who are explicitly non-theistic in their religious views (compared to 16% of the public generally.) Pretty stark.

From the other side, it is just 9% of scientists (compared to 63% of the public), who chose, “I have no doubts about God’s existence.” An additional 14% of scientists chose, “I have some doubts, but I believe in God.” Thus, it is just 25% of scientists who will confidently assert their belief in God (80% of the general public.)

For completeness, the final option was “I believe in God sometimes.” That was chosen by 5% of scientists and 4% of the public. Make of it what you will.

Now explain to me, please, how anyone can look at that data and write this:

As we journey from the personal to the public religious lives of scientists, we will meet the nearly 50 percent of elite scientists like Margaret who are religious in a traditional sense…. (p. 6)

This claim, that fifty percent of scientists are traditionally religious, is repeated in the jacket copy. The expression, “religious in a traditional sense” is never precisely defined, but I would have thought that a belief in God is a minimal requirement. With 72% of scientists explicitly nontheistic, and an additional five percent professing to believe in God only sometimes, it looks to me like 23% would be the most generous figure for the fraction of scientists who are traditionally religious.

Also stark is the data on religious affiliations. Here we find that 53% of scientists claim no religious affiliation at all. I was very surprised by that number, since religious affiliation is as much about cultural identity as it is about specific beliefs. For example, when asked for my religious affiliation I always say that I am Jewish even though I am also an atheist. (Apparently I have this attitude in common with a lot of Jewish scientists, fully 75% of whom are atheists according to Ecklund’s data.) This tells me that for more than half of scienitsts none of the traditional religions play any role at all in their identity. It was only 16% of the public that claims no religious affiliation.

From the other side, Evangelical Protestantism is the religion of 28% of the public, but only 2% of scientists.

Here’s another interesting finding:

On the whole, scientists tend to view themselves as religiously liberal. For example, when asked to compare themselves to other Americans along a continuum of religion from liberal to conservative, a seven-point scale on which 1 represents extremely liberal religious beliefs and 7 represents extremely conservative, most of the scientists I interviewed saw themselves as measuring around 2. This means that when they are religious, scientists tend to see themselves as religious liberals. (p. 35)

Again, pretty stark. Religion is poorly represented among scientists, and where it appears it is of a vastly more liberal sort than among of the public generally. It is beyond me how anyone can look at all of these numbers and persist in denying that there is a conflict between science and religion. Of course there is a conflict.

As I have written here before, I am all in favor of religious scientists speaking out about their beliefs. I do not like religion in any form, but if I am stuck with it then it is far better that it be Ken Miller’s sort of religion than Ken Ham’s. If they can have some success moving people to more moderate forms of religion then I am all for letting them try.

But don’t be surprised when so many people reject what they are selling, and don’t blame Richard Dawkins for their lack of success. Evolution poses problems for religion that go well beyond conflicts with the Bible. A thorough appreciation of the scientific method makes it very hard to accept faith and revelation as reliable routes to knowledge. A simplistic notion like NOMA, in which we are expected to segregate our best understanding of nature from our religious beliefs, is not workable for most people. These are just a few issues. Very clever people constrained only by their imaginations can concoct ways around such objections. But there is a big difference between showing that science does not rule out religion, and claiming that there is no conflict between them.

Another one of Ecklund’s findings is that 22% of atheists describe themselves as spiritual. In his jacket endorsement for the book, Ron Numbers cites this as the book’s most surprising finding. Personally I find this neither surprising nor interesting. “Spiritual” is not at all the same thing as “religious.” The term is often used as a way of describing awe and wonder at the mysteries of nature, and does not necessarily connote any supernatural belief at all. Atheists are as capable of such strong emotions as anyone else. Typically, using a term like spiritual is specifically a way to distance oneself from traditional religion.

There is much more to Ecklund’s book than just these numbers, and I recommend it even though I think her attempts to minimize the extent of the conflict between science and religion fall flat. The data alone is very valuable, and I enjoyed reading her accounts of what different scientists had to say about this topic.

Comments

  1. #1 Tyro
    May 20, 2010

    There was a not too bad interview with her and Chris Mooney on Point of Inquiry: http://www.pointofinquiry.org/elaine_howard_ecklund_how_religious_are_scientists/

    Considering Mooney was key in the “framing” debacle, it wasn’t that bad. I had much the same reaction as you did, wondering why she (and Mooney) were portraying this as if the scientists were fairly religious. She also tried to make the point that education doesn’t make people all that much more religious because even though scientists were much more atheistic, they started out that way. But right after, she said that science and religion aren’t (or don’t need to) conflict. While not definitive, doesn’t her earlier figures raise the troubling question of whether a religious upbringing makes people reject science or at least a scientific education?

  2. #2 Russell
    May 20, 2010

    The alternatives are dishonestly put from the outset. “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out” can consistently be followed by “so I choose to believe,” which is the tactic taken by many Christians, or by “so it is silly to believe,” which makes the agnostic also an atheist. By making that an alternative to the first, rather than a separate question, Ecklund has purposely conflated the issue of belief on the subject matter directly with belief about the possibility of knowledge of the subject matter.

  3. #3 KennyG
    May 20, 2010

    [i]It is beyond me how anyone can look at all of these numbers and persist in denying that there is a conflict between science and religion. Of course there is a conflict.[/i]

    How do you know it isn’t the case that atheists, agnostics, nontheists, and religious liberals are, for some reason, much more likely to pursue science than more traditional believers?

  4. #4 GAZZA
    May 20, 2010

    I dunno Jason, I’d say “no religious affiliation” is low at only 53%. I’ve heard of the concept of “secular Jew”, but I’ve never really understood why anyone would consider that a religious affiliation. Surely that’s a contradiction in terms? At the very least, IMHO, it’s a wrong headed association akin to Dawkins’ observation of “Catholic babies and Protestant babies”, so we can cast it in those terms: would you have an issue if they said they had no soda affiliation at all, even though liking Coke or Pepsi is a cultural phenomenon? ;)

  5. #5 Alisdair
    May 20, 2010

    “Religious in a traditional sense” could mean “I go to church but don’t think about it too hard”, I suppose ….

  6. #6 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 20, 2010

    KennyG –

    That question is not relevant to my argument. I have no doubt that in some cases people reject religion because of what they learned in science classes, in other cases people’s rejection of religion leads them to find a career in science more appealing, and in still other cases people’s scientific views and their religious views are essentially independent of one another. Ecklund discusses this issue in the book. The fact remains that scientific culture is vastly more secular and atheistic than American culture generally. That strongly suggests that, for whatever reason, the sort of people who find a career in science appealing are also the sort of people who do not find religion appealing. I call that a conflict between science and religion.

    GAZZA –

    I consider it a religious affiliation because I have had a Jewish upbringing and a Jewish education, and both of those facts affect how I view the world. Sometime I even participate in Jewish ceremonies, like Passover seders and Hanukkah candle lightings. It means something to me to be Jewish even though I am not observant.

  7. #7 GAZZA
    May 20, 2010

    Jason – mate, whatever floats your boat, but I doubt most of us that buy chocolate eggs around March/April and presents on December 25th necessarily consider that that means we have a Christian religious affiliation. I get that you have a Jewish cultural affiliation, but (correct me if I’m wrong) I don’t think you really go for the religious aspects of it.

  8. #8 hibob
    May 21, 2010

    “An additional 8% opted for, “I believe in a higher power, but it is not God.””
    How many Hindus, Wiccans, Poly/pantheists and perhaps even some monotheists put themselves in this category? In the US, when you mention capital-G God, you can’t really fault people for thinking you are implying specifically the Christian god, and responding accordingly. On the other hand, people might get testy if the question was phrased more inclusively: “but it is not a god, goddess, or collection thereof”.

  9. #9 Maurizio Morabito
    May 21, 2010

    “Very clever people constrained only by their imaginations can concoct ways around such objections”

    One may just as well turn the concept around and state that people find a problem between Science and Religion simply because they are not clever /imaginative enough. Therefore discussions about a “conflict” should be left to social scientists and psychologists…

  10. #10 csrster
    May 21, 2010

    GAZZA: attending a seder and lighting chanukkah candles are religious obligations. Eating chocolate eggs at Easter isn’t.

  11. #11 Alex
    May 21, 2010

    I can’t remember where I heard the numbers, but isn’t there something like a ‘dose-response’ between how elite a scientist is and how religious he’s likely to be? This seems to suggest that the deeper your thought embodies the scientific ideal, the less likely you are to find religion appealing. If that’s not what conflict between two modes of thought is, I don’t know what is.

  12. #12 NewEnglandBob
    May 21, 2010

    “GAZZA: attending a seder and lighting chanukkah candles are religious obligations. Eating chocolate eggs at Easter isn’t.”

    No, it is NOT a religious obligation. I am a hard core “New” atheist and was brought up culturally Jewish. I attend seders and participate in Channukah candle lighting out of respect to my elder family and my in-laws (who barely survived in Europe in concentration camps). I also discuss and argue with them about how their religious views are irrational and based on fictional accounts and fear. My children are mostly atheistic (one attends services a couple times a year) and I am beginning to inform my very young grandchildren on their choices and freedoms.

  13. #13 Maurizio Morabito
    May 21, 2010

    Alex (#11): One might as well argue that “embodying the scientific ideal” is just another form of religion, i.e. the two concepts of science and religion are not in conflict but fight for the same mental space simply because one is a form of the other. So just as you can’t follow Hinduism and Christian Protestantism at the same time, you can’t follow Science-ism and any other religion at the same time either.

    I am not saying that’s necessarily the case. I am just pointing to a flaw in your reasoning as expressed here.

  14. #14 eric
    May 21, 2010

    I was very surprised by that number, since religious affiliation is as much about cultural identity as it is about specific beliefs.

    From my own experiences, I don’t think Christianity has the strong cultural connection that Judaism has. Maybe thats because Christianity is more sectarian (IMO Christians fight about belief more than Jews do). Or, maybe thats because Christianity has been the dominant religion of Western Europe for many hundreds of years: it makes sense to say minority communities will try and maintain their distinct cultural identity, but the whole idea of ‘distinct’ makes less sense when applied to the majority. Distinct from who?

    A thorough appreciation of the scientific method makes it very hard to accept faith and revelation as reliable routes to knowledge.

    Just a word of caution, the last PEW survey on the subject showed the trend towards less religiosity was equivalent for pretty much all fields of higher education. Getting a Ph.D. in Biology was not any more effective at removing faith than getting a Ph.D. in English. OTOH, both are fairly effective. So its probably not an understanding of the scientific method per se which is important; instead, whats important is probably the general academic training, which involves analyzing and critiquing one’s own position(s) for possible errors – seeing your own thesis from the perspective of the critic.

  15. #15 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    May 21, 2010

    Typically, using a term like spiritual is specifically a way to distance oneself from traditional religion.

    I draw the exact opposite conclusion on that point. Since spiritual is ambiguous, and its use may or may not include belief in the supernatural, use of the word serves to emphasis the similarity of the speaker to the traditional religious viewpoint. If one wanted to distance oneself from that view, one would use a less ambiguous term which excludes the supernatural component. The word emotional, which you yourself use in that paragraph, would cover the portion of the word spiritual with which I could agree.

  16. #16 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    May 21, 2010

    The data alone is very valuable, and I enjoyed reading her accounts of what different scientists had to say about this topic.

    Yes, she quickly switches from the hard numbers, which do not support her conclusions, to warm anecdotes and fuzzy stories.

  17. #17 rork
    May 21, 2010

    “despite her annoying decision to include social scientists, but not mathematicians” as scientists.

    Crap, do I have to do real-world experiments to ‘valdiate’ my proofs now? Say it ain’t so! My professors promised this had no bearing on the real world, which is why I signed up. Now I have to use this science stuff?

    Seriously: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v394/n6691/full/394313a0.html surveyed National Academy of Science members:
    “We found the highest percentage of belief among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality)”
    They did not break out “social scientists”, but I am suspicious of them as well.
    Still we conclude, the math folks are not the most reality-based. Perhaps these elite rather-pure mathematicians anyway.

    I might like the question “do you think any shred of your ego survives death” to try to tighten up what “immortality” means.

  18. #18 Dan L.
    May 21, 2010

    @rork:

    1) Many scientists work in pure theory while some mathematicians work on practical applications. The dividing line between math and science is fuzzy (as is the line between math and computer science and math and philosophy). I have no doubt there are many mathematicians out there who do more science than some scientists. Excluding mathematicians a priori doesn’t seem quite right to me.
    2) “Not reality based”? Compare God belief in mathematicians against God belief in engineers. I bet a higher proportion engineers are believers. But aren’t engineers supposed to be more “reality based” than mathematicians?

  19. #19 Rob
    May 21, 2010

    That strongly suggests that, for whatever reason, the sort of people who find a career in science appealing are also the sort of people who do not find religion appealing. I call that a conflict between science and religion.

    Call it what you like, but your naming ritual is not based upon very precise reasoning. Since science is, by its nature, a subversive activity, I would be very surprised if scientists didn’t disproportionately reject any number of cultural norms, including those in the area of religion. Moreover, science conflicts with religion at any number of specific points (e.g., a 6,000 year-old earth). But the claim that science and religion necessarily conflict is unsustainable (unless you think science and Deism are somehow incompatible?).

  20. #20 Tyro
    May 21, 2010

    But the claim that science and religion necessarily conflict is unsustainable (unless you think science and Deism are somehow incompatible?).

    Jason clearly drew a distinction between deism and theism in his article and if you check, he considers deism more akin to atheism than to theism.

    There have been many discussions about the philosophical conflicts between religion and science in the past so no need to get into that now. What Jason hinted at (and I noticed in her interviews as well) is that, if theists are significantly less likely to go into science, this hints at other powerful conflicts with religion or religious communities. Perhaps a methodological conflict? I don’t see people asking this question enough, we certainly don’t have many answers but we know enough to see there’s something going on.

  21. #21 Michael Kingsford Gray
    May 21, 2010

    @rork:
    I remember a study showing that Engineers display a far more ‘black & white’ mindset than other professions.
    Perhaps it is this that makes them more likely to bask in the false security of religion?

  22. #22 Dave
    May 22, 2010

    @#22 Are you a complete idiot? I am. Like an idiot, I followed the link at the end of your bullshit post. You people would fail kindergarten debating class. If you are this Moriano character, then I am not surprised by the incoherent inanity of the above which is so poorly written I can’t tell whether you did it on purpose or your brains fell out onto your keyboard. Shove your head back up your ass and go away.

    PS. Some of your defecation above comes close to making threats.

  23. #23 Dave
    May 22, 2010

    @#22 Well, I guess if you are going to remove #22 while I am writing my response to it then you should now remove my #22 which makes it look like I am talking to myself!! :-)

  24. #24 Jr
    May 22, 2010

    “That strongly suggests that, for whatever reason, the sort of people who find a career in science appealing are also the sort of people who do not find religion appealing.”

    That is too simplistic a statement. After all, don’t we usually argue that religous scientists like Ken Miller does not disprove the existence of a conflict?

    If science and religion really were NOMA there is still nothing that says that for sociological reasons there can not be a correlation between being a scientist and holding certain relgious views.

  25. #25 JBL
    May 22, 2010

    hibob @8 wrote:

    “An additional 8% opted for, “I believe in a higher power, but it is not God.””
    How many Hindus, Wiccans, Poly/pantheists and perhaps even some monotheists put themselves in this category?

    In my experience, religious Hindus invariably agree with the statement “I believe in God,” and disagree with the quoted statement. In fact, many Hindus do not self-identify as polytheists.

  26. #26 chas
    May 22, 2010

    More generally, can anyone tell me how they know that they or anyone else has the ability to know whether or not they were created?

  27. #27 AL
    May 22, 2010

    @28, It’s possible we could have been created by intelligent alien beings from another planet, but there is neither causal evidence we were put together by such beings, or teleological evidence that we serve some kind of purpose for them. The absence of evidence for this coupled with the fact that there exists a parsimonious explanation that can account for our existence without invoking intelligent creators (i.e. naturalistic evolution) should lead reasonable people to conclude that the claim we were created by intelligent alien beings is at best untenable and at worst, very likely to be wrong.

    As for belief that we were created by a non-material disembodied “higher” or “transcendent” intelligence that is not a biological alien, that is even less defensible given what we know about intelligences: they require a brain, we have yet to identify anything that is intelligent that does not have a brain or something that operates analogously to a brain or some brain process, we know that even very minor damage to a brain is quite disruptive of intelligence, and we know that intelligence is only useful when it’s grounded in a material world where it can learn and interact (what could a disembodied intelligence “learn” about the nether aether it’s floating in? It’s like the proverbial brain in a vat with no sensory input).

  28. #28 chas
    May 23, 2010

    @29 –

    Very interesting. But, do you know that you have the ability to know whether or not you were created?

  29. #29 H.H.
    May 23, 2010

    Rob @ #19

    But the claim that science and religion necessarily conflict is unsustainable (unless you think science and Deism are somehow incompatible?).

    Since deists irrationally believe in a supernatural creator against all available (or indeed, possibly available) evidence, then yes, I think we can safely lump deism in with all the other religions which conflict with science. Deists ostensibly eschew miracles, but the mere existence of a cosmic disembodied mind that can create Universes ex nihilo using magic would certainly violate that prohibition. Deism is still amounts to primitive magical thinking.

  30. #30 Tatil
    May 23, 2010

    Moreover, science conflicts with religion at any number of specific points (e.g., a 6,000 year-old earth). But the claim that science and religion necessarily conflict is unsustainable (unless you think science and Deism are somehow incompatible?).

  31. #31 chas
    May 23, 2010

    H.H. said –

    “Since deists irrationally believe in a supernatural creator against all available (or indeed, possibly available) evidence, ”

    All living things have limits on what they are able to know or conceive. Cows & monkeys cannot conceive of germs, etc. Do you know that there are no limits on your ability to know or conceive?

    To say that there is no scientific proof of a creator is one thing. To claim that you know a creastor doesn’t exist is a completely different thing.

  32. #32 chas
    May 24, 2010

    Al,

    That there is no scientific proof of a creator is really no big surprise. What would lead “reasonable people” to conclude that their creator would give them the ability to know that a creator created them?

  33. #33 Maurizio Morabito
    May 24, 2010

    Could anybody please post a link to a blog or article where the issue about “science” occupying the same mental space as “religion” is discussed, and I suppose disproved?

    Otherwise, that possibility remains open. Scientists might on average not declare themselves religious simply because they have substituted “religion” with their own form of “religion”, otherwise known as “science”.

  34. #34 g
    May 24, 2010

    Maurizio, there is no need for a “blog or article” to disprove the idea that ‘”science occup[ies] the same mental space as “religion”‘, because it’s perfectly obvious (a) that there’s no single “mental space” occupied by “science” nor by “religion” (especially the latter, I think), and (b) that religion-as-generally-understood has a bit of overlap with science (e.g., in so far as it makes claims about the early history of the universe) but not very much.

    Here are a few characteristics shared by most religions. They tend to involve: beings superior to ourselves but not made of matter; things that are to be believed on the strength of tradition; ritual observances; concern with some sort of afterlife; holy places; use of altered states of consciousness; arbitrary-looking restrictions on speech and conduct; sacred texts.

    Science has none of those, unless you stretch meanings to breaking point.

    Now, for sure, science has some things in common with religion. Religions sometimes purport to tell us how things were at the very start of the universe; how human beings came to exist; what the ultimate nature of reality is. Science has a thing or two to say about those too. But that doesn’t mean that scientists’ only reason for not calling themselves religious is that they’ve got a religion-substitute.

    Of course, you only said “might”. Well, scientists “might” on average not declare themselves religious simply because they’re part of a vast anti-religious conspiracy. Or they “might” on average not declare themselves religious simply because most of their brains have been damaged by evil aliens in such a way as to make it impossible for them to do so. Or … well, any number of other crazy things might be true. The interesting question is not what “might” be true but what might *plausibly* be true, and your theory doesn’t look at all plausible to me.

  35. #35 hoary puccoon
    May 24, 2010

    chas– Did it ever occur to you that a scientist, at least in his or her professional capacity, might not *care* whether he or she was “created” (whatever that means)?

    Scientists know the approximate age of the earth (around 4 and a half billion years.) They know that apes are shaped (gross morphology) more like humans than like other mammals. They know chimpanzees have DNA which is more similar to humans than even to monkeys, let alone lizards, birds, or fish. They also know– and this came as a huge surprise– that all animals, including insects, have far more similar DNA than their appearance would suggest.

    Scientists know they have thousands of fossils that have characteristics intermediate between apes and modern humans. They know how to date rocks to find the age of particular fossils, and they know that the dates they find fit well with the physical shape of the fossils to indicate species have changed over time.

    All of the facts scientists have accumulated in the last 150 years regarding where we came from are perfectly congruent with descent with modification from a common ancestor. Of course, the facts don’t fit exactly with what Darwin wrote 150 years ago, but when Darwin’s words don’t match the modern scientists’ well-replicated results, the scientists just say, “well, Darwin was wrong about that (shrug)” and move on.

    Some scientists, in their spare time, may mull over the meaning of life. Some think there may have been a supernatural “creator.” Lots of others don’t. But none of that interferes with the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution.

    So the questions you are asking may interest you, but don’t expect them to make a difference to any field of science. If you want to convince scientists we didn’t all come from a common ancestor, you’d need something like, “I’ve discovered a single-celled extremeophile that has a completely different genetic code from the rest of us.” Then, believe me, scientists would sit up and take notice. It wouldn’t disprove the theory of evolution, of course. But it would probably get you a Nobel prize.

  36. #36 chas
    May 24, 2010

    hoary puccoon,

    “chas– Did it ever occur to you that a scientist, at least in his or her professional capacity, might not *care* whether he or she was “created” (whatever that means)?”

    I not sure what this statement has to do with anything. You give no proof that a “scientist” has the ability to know whether or not they were created.

    Your post is very interesting but it doesn’t prove to me that there is no creator or that you are able to know if there is a creator or not. It also doesn’t prove to me that what you believe is evolution is not really creation.

  37. #37 csdx
    May 24, 2010

    chaas – “That there is no scientific proof of a creator is really no big surprise. What would lead “reasonable people” to conclude that their creator would give them the ability to know that a creator created them?”

    I think your question basically is just solipsism. To ask a similar question, how do you know that you can know that the chair your sitting in is real? Ultimately, you can’t answer that, because it could be a hallucination, you could really just be a brain in a jar fed false inputs. But, based on the evidence you can collect, the most reasonable course of action is to behave as if it is real. Just as we can’t prove the sun will rise tomorrow, it’s still reasonable to assume it will continue to do so.

    “…it doesn’t prove to me that there is no creator or that you are able to know if there is a creator or not. It also doesn’t prove to me that what you believe is evolution is not really creation.”

    That level of metaphysics is unprovable. But there are an infinite number of similarly unknowable things, so evolution or creation is a false dichotomy. It could be pure chaos and it’s all actually just random chance, or heck even the flying spaghetti monster did it. Unless there’s a consequential difference, how’s it not just a different word for the same thing?

  38. #38 chas
    May 24, 2010

    csdx –

    Solipsism? No scientific proof of a creator not being a surprise is not solipsism. I’m not sure what knowing you know you’re sitting in a chair has to do with knowing you have the ability to know? You demonstrate your ability of knowing how to walk by walking. to run by running. You demonstrate your ability to know whether or not there is a creator with scientific proof. I have not seen any.

    A false dichotomy? You mention “an infinite number of similarly unknowable things”, then you mention two. “Random chance” which is another word for evolution and “the flying spaghetti monster”, which is another word for creation. I’m afraid your “infinite number of similarly unknowable things” would fall into one of these two categories.

    “But there are an infinite number of similarly unknowable things”.
    This is my point. We do not have the ability to know if there is a creator or not.

    Of course this is more about abiogenesis, which in spite of Mr. Venter’s efforts, still hasn’t won any cigars.

  39. #39 AL
    May 24, 2010

    What would lead “reasonable people” to conclude that their creator would give them the ability to know that a creator created them?

    We have an ability to know. Whether it was given to us by a creator or whether we developed it without one is another matter, but clearly we have the ability to acquire knowledge. If you disagree, then define knowledge and explain how it is that we are not capable of it. I suspect any attempt to do so will be self-refuting, but you are welcome to try.

    If you are asking what would lead reasonable people to conclude that our creator, if we had one, would leave behind evidence of our creation rather than obscure it and hide from us, I have already addressed this above, so this is just redux. Disembodied intelligence is an incoherent concept and a non-starter, so I won’t address that. Intelligent aliens could very well have made us and hid from us, I am certainly open to this possibility, but you still have to contend with the fact that a more parsimonious explanation for our being here that does not invoke alien intelligence exists (that would be molecular and biological evolution). Moreover, if the aliens that made us came down in spaceships tomorrow to reveal themselves, we’d still have to ask the followup questions of “who made them?” or more ultimately “where does intelligent agency ultimately come from?” Once again, the parsimonious explanation of evolution by drift and selection of hereditary genetic material that we keep pushing back is going to enter the picture at some point.

  40. #40 chas
    May 25, 2010

    Al,

    Lets see, we’ve considered “intelligent alien beings from another planet”, “non-material disembodied “higher” or “transcendent” intelligence that is not a biological alien” as possible creators. Is this all you can come up with with you ability to know & acquire knowledge? Could it be none of the above? Could it be beyond your comprehension? Or are you able to comprehend all things?

    So it seems you believe that you in effect created yourself or that you oldest ancestors created themselves? And your proof of this is in explaining how you & all other living things have changed since your oldest ancestors created themselves, the parsimonious explanation.

    The last time I heard abiogenesis was still looking at “Genes first models”, “Metabolism models”, “autocatalysis”, “clay theory”, “Gold’s Deep-hot biosphere” model, “Primitive extraterrestrial life”, Extraterrestrial amino acids, Lipid world, Multiple genesis, etc.

    In effect, if a creator out there created you, and hasn’t given you the ability to know the creator created you, how would you know your creator created you?

    As Frederick Neitzche wrote: “To trace something unknown back to something known is alleviating, soothing, gratifying and gives moreover a feeling of power. Danger, disquiet, anxiety attend the unknown — the first instinct is to eliminate these distressing states. First principle: any explanation is better than none…”

  41. #41 GravityIsJustATheory
    May 25, 2010

    Re #38 by chas

    “Random chance” which is another word for evolution

    AAAARRRRRGGGHHH!!!!!!

    EVOLUTION IS NOT THE SAME AS RANDOM CHANCE!

  42. #42 g
    May 25, 2010

    chas,

    1. It would be helpful if you’d explain (a) whom your arguments are aimed at — all scientists? all atheists? everyone in the world? — and (b) how you think those people ought to adjust their beliefs in the light of those arguments.

    2. I’ll hazard a guess that the great majority of (e.g.) people who are impressed by science and unimpressed by religion would, in fact, agree that we cannot know absolutely for certain that we weren’t created, and indeed would say that we can’t know *anything* absolutely for certain. So unless you’re saying something more than that, you’re not telling us anything we don’t already know.

    3. If you *are* proposing something more specific than generalized skepticism, then you really need to say what. I know that the particular proposition you’re keen on is that if we were created then we might not know it (because, e.g., our creator might not want us to know); but it’s equally true that if the US government were being run by lizard-men from the planet Uranus with magical powers then we might not know it (because, e.g., they might not want us to know; or, indeed, because there might be an all-powerful creator who doesn’t want us to know). Hence, generalized skepticism. Is there some reason why your arguments do more to undermine disbelief in a creator than they do to undermine anything else at all?

    4. What exactly is your complaint about abiogenesis? That scientists haven’t figured out yet exactly what happened billions of years ago?

    5. Obviously AL did not say that he created himself, or that his oldest ancestors created themselves. Whatever makes you say he did? (Apologies to AL if s/he happens to be female.)

    A little hint, by the way: name-dropping Friederich Nietzsche is not going to impress anyone if you can’t spell either of his names.

  43. #43 AL
    May 25, 2010

    Lets see, we’ve considered “intelligent alien beings from another planet”, “non-material disembodied “higher” or “transcendent” intelligence that is not a biological alien” as possible creators. Is this all you can come up with with you ability to know & acquire knowledge

    No, those two possibilities cover everything. Either an intelligent agency is material, in which case we can consider it a biological alien, even if its chemical or energy makeup is totally different from ours, else the intelligent agency is immaterial and disembodied. This is a true dichotomy, it covers everything and you seem to be arguing for the possible existence of some third thing that you refuse to define or explain but want to insist is meaningful in some way.

    So it seems you believe that you in effect created yourself or that you oldest ancestors created themselves? And your proof of this is in explaining how you & all other living things have changed since your oldest ancestors created themselves, the parsimonious explanation.

    What? Where did I claim I or my ancestors “created themselves?” Please address the things I said, not some strawmen of your own creation.

    In effect, if a creator out there created you, and hasn’t given you the ability to know the creator created you, how would you know your creator created you?

    I’ve answered this question twice already. So once again for the third and I suspect not the last time as you’ll probably ask again, if a creator made us and then decided to hide from us and remove all evidence, then no, obviously we can’t know about the creator. It really doesn’t matter, as at the end of the day, we’d still have to address the question of what made any creator. If they are alien beings, there would still have to be something like abiogenesis for them. If they are immaterial and disembodied, then let me know when some philosopher has come up with a coherent notion of what it means to have disembodied intelligence, and then I might begin to consider this something more than a non-starter.

  44. #44 chas
    May 25, 2010

    Agreed. We can’t know anything about our creator if the creator doesn’t want us to.

    The question of what made any creator relates to the origin of time & space. Neither have a beginning or an end. Why would a creator?

  45. #45 llewelly
    May 25, 2010

    Dave | May 22, 2010 10:47 AM:

    @#22 Well, I guess if you are going to remove #22 while I am writing my response to it then you should now remove my #22 which makes it look like I am talking to myself!! :-)

    And a superb example of why you shouldn’t refer to comments by their number. It looks like a neat, convenient, friendly way of refering to a specific comment. But no. As soon as some moderating is done, all the comments following the deleted comment have their number changed. The comment number is a traitorous affordance. Don’t trust it.

  46. #46 llewelly
    May 25, 2010

    chas | May 25, 2010 12:57 AM:

    As Frederick Neitzche wrote: …

    Why didn’t you just quote Ayn Rand, the author of Nietzsche For Dummies? Then you wouldn’t have been caught looking like you didn’t know how to use a spell checker.

  47. #47 chas
    May 25, 2010

    g,

    Interesting. At some point in time no animate molecules existed on earth. At some point some of the inanimate molecules became organized into animate beings. They replicated & metabolized. Seems there are two possibilities. They either organized themselves into animate beings without external assistance or were organized by someone or something. Call this event or sequence of events what you like. I call them creation. So either our earliest ancestors created themselves or were created by what I will call a creator. To me spontaneous equals created themselves. I know this is unnecessary but am responding to your point on Al creating himself. The abiogenesists are & have been working hard on this. They need to try to keep up with the evolutionists .

    I think we should all be free to be skeptical & have & share our opinions & beliefs. That’s all I’m doing here. Hope the Senate doesn’t change that.

    I’m aiming my comments & opinions at the bloggers on this site & think they should adjust their beliefs as necessary.

    You seem to talk a lot about “green lizards” & “all powerful creators” who “don’t want us to know”. Awfully skeptical I’d say. How about a benevolent creator who can’t let us know because we wouldn’t have much of a life if we knew. Like what would all the evolutionists & abiogenesist do for a living?

    In fact, I think the best scientific proof of a creator or intelligent designer is no “scientific” proof. Think about what your life would be like if you knew your creator. At least now you have something to work on.

  48. #48 chas
    May 25, 2010

    llewelly,

    Very good quote though. Of course he authored that quote before he went insane.

  49. #49 g
    May 25, 2010

    chas,

    I think you are using “created themselves” in a very unusual way, one which will simply result in misunderstandings.

    So far as I can tell, no one here is saying that we should not be free to be skeptical, or to have and share opinions. (I’ve no idea what the Senate has to do with that.)

    Do you really think that “I think they should adjust their beliefs as necessary” is any sort of answer to “how do you think they should adjust their beliefs?”? It seems like you’re deliberately avoiding the question. If you don’t want to answer it, I suggest that you just say so.

    Why yes, I am awfully skeptical. I’m glad you noticed. I think a benevolent creator who can’t let us know of his existence is about as likely as those lizard-men. If you have some actual reason to think that a benevolent creator would be likely to hide his existence, do please feel free to share it. (It might be worth remarking that if there is in fact an all-wise all-powerful perfectly benevolent being who has taken steps to hide his existence from us, one obvious conclusion might be that we shouldn’t believe in his existence.)

    And I have plenty to work on already, thank you.

  50. #50 chas
    May 26, 2010

    g,

    Only the creator would know why we weren’t given the ability to know the creator existed.

    Interesting web site on the probability of life creating itself.

    “Mathematical Probability Shows Evolution is Ridiculous

    Evolution is mathematically impossible.

    The mathematical probability of a SINGLE CELL coming about by chance is 1/10340,000,000, the fraction 1 divided by 1 followed by 340 million zeros!

    And then this cell must live long enough to reproduce.

    And then the reproduced cell must live long enough to do the same.

    And then more “accidents” must happen to cause more complexity.

    And then more “accidents” must happen to cause more complexity.

    And long before the first “accident” evolution is nothing but a silly, mystical fairy tale.”

  51. #51 g
    May 26, 2010

    chas,

    1. I didn’t ask anything about knowing why we weren’t given the ability to know the creator existed. I asked whether you have any actual reasons to think that a creator would want us not to have that ability. Or indeed any actual reasons to think that a creator is likely. Because in the absence of those, what you’re saying is no more interesting than this: “Only the lizard-men would know why they don’t want us to know of their existence and involvement in the US government.” Probably true; certainly not any sort of reason to think the lizard-men any more likely.

    2. Remember that list of theories of abiogenesis that you cribbed from a Wikipedia table of contents? Why don’t you tell us how many of those theories describe the origins of the cell in a way that makes your source’s calculation correct?

    Here’s why you don’t. The answer is: None of them.

    3. You may not have noticed, but every time you make an argument that’s supposed to support creation you undermine your skeptical thesis. If learning X makes P more probable, then *necessarily* learning not-X makes P less probable. For instance: if learning that the complexity of cells means they couldn’t have arisen by natural processes makes it more probable that life on earth was created, then *necessarily* learning that the complexity of cells doesn’t mean they couldn’t have arisen naturally makes it less probable that life on earth was created. So if it’s even possible for your creationist arguments to work, then it is also possible to get evidence that life was not created; that happens any time one of those arguments fails. Which, by the way, it turns out they always do.

  52. #52 chas
    May 26, 2010

    g,

    Until you are able to explain how we created ourselves none of these arguments prove that we were not created. And that there is no scientific proof of a creator does not mean the creator is hiding.

    Actually all of the theories of abiogenesis make the probability calculation correct.

    “I asked whether you have any actual reasons to think that a creator would want us not to have that ability.”
    “Only the lizard-men would know why they don’t want us to know of their existence and involvement in the US government.” Probably true; ”

    Some of your statements don’t add up.

  53. #53 g
    May 26, 2010

    chas,

    I have not claimed to have proved that we were not created, and I do not believe that we created ourselves, and I did not claim that the only options are “scientific proof of a creator” and “creator is hiding”.

    The probability calculation is pure weapons-grade bullshit.

    I think you have misunderstood the statements that you think don’t add up. I agree that IF there is a creator who doesn’t want us to be able to find out about him, THEN it may well be true that only the creator knows why he doesn’t want that; similarly, IF the US government is secretly being run by alien lizard-men who don’t want us to find out about them THEN it may well be true that only they know why they don’t want that. I do not see any reason to think it likely (1) that there is a creator or (2) that if there is a creator then he doesn’t want us to be able to find out about him.

  54. #54 chas
    May 26, 2010

    g,

    Square one – again. At some point there were only abiotic, inorganic molecules on Earth. Through some unknown process or processes some of these inanimate molecules became biotic. They replicated & metabolized. These processes required movement of matter & therefore, forces & also required inserting the genetic code in DNA among many other changes to the inanimate molecules. These forces, DNA genetic code insertion & other changes were either provided by the inanimate molecules themselves or some unknown entity. The source of these processes is not known. Evolution only exists to try & explain how living things have changed since they first appeared on Earth, using the mechanisms built into the first biotic organisms at creation.

    What is your calculated probability of life creating itself?

    “”For roughly fifty years secular scientists who have faith in the power of dumb atoms to do anything have been carrying on scientific research aimed at finding out how the dumb atoms could have initiated life without any outside help. Since they believe that this really happened, they believe that it was inevitable that the properties of atoms, the laws of physics, and the earth’s early environment should bring forth life. More sober minds, however, have realized the immense improbability of the spontaneous origin of life (called “abiogenesis”). Some have made careful investigations and mathematical calculations to estimate what the probability is for abiogenesis to occur. Their calculations show that life’s probability is extremely small, essentially zero.
    To understand these results let us explain what we mean by probability. What, for example, is the probability of tossing a coin and getting “heads”? There are two possible outcomes of tossing a coin, either the head side or the tail side will be up. The sum of the probabilities of these two outcomes is 100% or 1, unity. Then, since for a perfectly balanced coin the two probabilities must be equal, and their sum is 1, the probability of either heads or tails in one flip of the coin is ? , and the sum of the two probabilities is ? + ? = 1. Simple. Now you understand probability!?

    Now let’s ask what the probability is for flipping the coin twice and getting two heads in a row. It is the product of the two probabilities of getting heads both the first time and the second time. That is, P2H = ? x ? = ?. Now you understand how to calculate the probability that both of two independent events will happen. It is the product of the probabilities of the two events.

    Next we will calculate a probability for the chance production of a single small protein molecule. A protein molecule consists of one or more chains made up of amino acid molecules linked together. There are 20 different amino acids molecules which the cells use to construct the protein molecules needed for the life of cells. We will think about a small protein molecule with only 100 amino acid molecules in its chain. Assume we have a reaction pot containing a mixture of the 20 different amino acid molecules, and they are reacting at random to form chains. What is the probability, when a chain with 100 amino acids is formed, that it will by chance have the sequence of amino acids needed to form a particular working protein molecule?

    There are 100 positions along the chain. What is the probability that a particular one of the 20 different natural amino acid molecules will by chance be placed at position number 1 in the chain? It will be P1 = 1/20. When the complete chain has formed, what is the probability that the necessary par ticular amino acids will be placed at each of the 100 positions in the chain? It will be the product of the probabilities at the 100 positions. Thus the probability will be the fraction 1/20 multiplied by itself 100 times. So P100 = (1/20)x(1/20)x(1/20)x…x(1/20) = (1/20)100 = (1/10)130 = 1/10130. This is an extremely small fraction. It is the fraction formed by the number 1 divided by the number formed by 1 followed by 130 zeros!

    But we have oversimplified a little bit. In actual fact a protein molecule can have a substantial variability at many of the positions on its amino acid chain. In 1975 I examined the data for a particular protein molecule called cytochrome a which has about 100 amino acids in its chain. This is an important enzyme molecule in all living cells, and the sequence of amino acids has been determined for cytochrome a molecules in about a hundred different species. From the quantitative data I made a rough estimate that on the average up to five different amino acids could fill a particular position on the chain of the enzyme molecule. Thus the probability that an acceptable amino acid would be found by chance at a particular position would be 5/20 = ?. So the probability for a working enzyme molecule to be formed by chance would be (?)100 = 1/1060. This is still a very, very small probability. It is the fraction formed by 1 divided by the number 1 followed by 60 zeros.

    In 1977 Prof. Hubert Yockey, a specialist in applying information theory to biological problems, studied the data for cytochrome a in great detail.1 His calculated value for the probability in a single trial construction of a chain of 100 amino acid molecules of obtaining by chance a working copy of the enzyme molecule is 1/1065 , or the fraction 1 divided by 1 followed by 65 zeros. This is a probability 100,000 times smaller than my very rough estimate published two years earlier. Prof. Harold Morowitz estimated that the simplest theoretically conceivable living organism would have to possess a minimum of 124 different protein molecules. A rough estimate of the probability of all of these protein molecules to be formed by chance in a single chance happening would be P124P = (1/1065)124 = 1/108060, the fraction 1 divided by the number 1 followed by 8060 zeros. Truly these are extremely small probabilities calculated through a statistical approach. They tell us that the probabilities for the chance formation of a single working protein molecule or of a living cell are effectively zero.Prof. Morowitz made a careful study of the energy content of living cells and of the building block molecules of which the cells are constructed. From this thermodynamic information he was able to calculate the probability that an ocean full of chemical “soup” containing the necessary amino acids and other building block molecules would react in a year to produce by chance just one copy of a simple living cell.2 He arrived at the astronomically small probability of Pcell = 1/10340,000,000, the fraction 1 divided by 1 followed by 340 million zeros! Yet he still believed in abiogenesis. Back in the 1970s Prof. Morowitz admitted in a public debate at a teachers’ convention in Honolulu that in order to explain abiogenesis, it would be necessary to discover some new law of physics. At that time he still believed in abiogenesis, the spontaneous formation of the original living cells on the primeval earth. However, some ten years later he finally stated that in his opinion some intelligent creative power was necessary to explain the origin of life.

    There are yet more mysteries in life’s probability(or improbability) which science has not plumbed. One mystery is how one virus has DNA which codes for more proteins than it has space to store the necessary coded information. A gene is a portion of the long DNA molecule which carries the code for the sequence of amino acids in a chain that folds up to produce a particular protein molecule. The DNA molecule is itself made up of four code letter molecules called nucleotides. These provide the four-letter alphabet of genetics. Their names are abbreviated by the letters A, C, G and T. A three-letter “word” called a codon codes for a particular one of the twenty amino acids used to build protein chains.

    The mystery arose when scientists counted the number of three-letter codons in the DNA of the virus, fX174. They found that the proteins produced by the virus required many more code words than the DNA in the chromosome contains. How could this be? Careful research revealed the amazing answer. A portion of a chain of code letters in the gene, say -A-C-T-G-T-C-C-A-G-, could contain three three-letter genetic words as follows: -A-C-T*G-T-C*C-A-G-. But if the reading frame is shifted to the right one or two letters, two other genetic words are found in the middle of this portion, as follows: -A*C-T-G*T-C-C*A-G- and -A-C*T-G-T*C-C-A*G-. And this is just what the virus does. A string of 390 code letters in its DNA is read in two different reading frames to get two different proteins from the same portion of DNA. Could this have happened by chance? Try to compose an English sentence of 390 letters from which you can get another good sentence by shifting the framing of the words one letter to the right. It simply can’t be done. The probability of getting sense is effectively zero.

    Reasoning from these and other mathematical probability calculations, we can conclude that, without God the Creator, life’s probability is zero.”

  55. #55 g
    May 27, 2010

    chas,

    I don’t have a “calculated probability of life creating itself” because we don’t yet know (and maybe never will know) the details of how it happened. What is quite clear is that it *didn’t* happen by 124 proteins coming into being at the same place and time, each of them being formed by a bunch of amino acids coming together in a random order — but that’s the scenario implicitly assumed by your source’s calculation. There are other things badly wrong with the calculation and how your source uses it, but that’ll do for now.

    As for the last bit of the article: DNA is not English; proteins are not meanings; the structure is very different. In particular, almost any sequence of nucleotides represents some protein; many different sequences of nucleotides represent the same protein; useful proteins are much more common in the space of possible proteins than meaningful English sentences are in the space of strings of letters. The comparison is daft. Yes, certainly, it’s startling that an organism uses the same stretch of DNA at different frame-shifts to make two useful proteins. But you can’t validly get from “X is startling” to “X could not have happened naturally”, not without something a lot more rigorous than a crude analogy to something that’s actually very different.

    (It was not necessary to copy-and-paste the entire text of that stupid article. A URL would have sufficed.)

    Since you’ve switched from slightly nonstandard philosophical trollery to old-hat creationist trollery, I think we’re done here.

  56. #56 chas
    May 27, 2010

    g,

    Typical evolutionist ploy. When they are exposed as nothing more than spectators observing the results of the magnificent mechanisms created billions of years ago to perpetuate life here on Earth they claim that by using “science” they can prove that these wonderful mechanisms created themselves. But they present no proof whatsoever, scientific or otherwise. Then when their assertions are challenged they respond with demeaning rhetoric and accusations implying that the creator of these magnificent mechanisms might be a green lizard or alien from outer space.

    And when they are presented with evidence that shows the probability of life creating itself here on Earth is essentially zero (is it 1 divided by 1 followed by 340 million or only 240 million zeros?) they respond with more bluster & hyperbole & attempt to run off & hide.

  57. #57 chas
    May 27, 2010

    g,

    I left out probably the most important part of this discussion. That is that all the actions described & thought processes used in this discussion were included in those magnificent mechanisms created billions of years ago.

  58. #58 NJ
    May 27, 2010

    Typical evolutionist ploy.

    ….aaaand a stereotypical creationist tactic. Copy and paste something they do not understand and declare victory.

    All you have done is proved that you can multiply. You have not proved that you understand what you are multiplying. At the risk of trespassing on the mathematical grounds of our host, let’s do a simple thought experiment.

    Take one (1) regulation deck of cards. Shuffle it thoroughly. Turn over the top card. The probability of selecting that card randomly is 1/52. A small, but not astronomically small number. With me so far? Good.

    Take another regulation deck of cards. Shuffle it thoroughly. Turn over the top card. The probability of selecting that card randomly is also 1/52. A small, but not astronomically small number. Considering both steps, the probability of selecting those two cards randomly is 1/52 x 1/52 or 1/2704, a drastically smaller number. Still with me? Wonderful.

    The probability of specifying those two cards ahead of time is very small, but yet there they are. Miracle? Hardly. To say that it would be miraculous is to confuse the probability of one specific combination (small) with the probability of any combination (certain – because of the instructions).

    Now, you say this small probability isn’t small enough? Fine. Repeat for n decks of cards until the probability (1/52n) is as small as required.

    You have convinced yourself that you have a winning argument, but it has long been refuted; see the TalkOrigins site for details. You choose to ignore the fact that the processes for evolution (and by extension, abiogenesis) are not random, and accept a numerical smokescreen as the silver bullet to save your preferred religious belief.

  59. #59 AL
    May 27, 2010

    Wow, chas, seriously. At first I thought you were some concern-troll agnostic who worried we were “absolutely certain” there was no creator (no one here actually asserted this, but you have a fetish for strawmen, as you don’t appear to understand anyone’s position here and prefer to make up our positions for us), but now you reveal your true colors as a copy/paste Creationist. If you’re going to copy/paste random articles that discusses concepts that in all likelihood (how about “essentially zero” likelihood) you probably haven’t studied formally (biochemistry, probability), then at the very least, can you choose one that hasn’t been thoroughly trashed ad nauseam, including right here by scienceblogs’ own MarkCC over at goodmath?

  60. #60 g
    May 27, 2010

    chas,

    Lying about what I said again, eh? You haven’t said what variety of creationist you are, but I take it you aren’t an adherent of any of the religions that prohibit lying.

  61. #61 chas
    May 27, 2010

    g, et al.

    My whole point in commenting on this blog was to determine if evolutionists believe that life created itself & if so to ascertain what they were basing their beliefs on.

    — one has commented that ” we don’t yet know (and maybe never will know) the details of how it happened.

    — one has commented “we were “absolutely certain” there was no creator (no one here actually asserted this ”

    — one has said “You choose to ignore the fact that the processes for evolution (and by extension, abiogenesis) are not random”

    My dictionary defines random as –

    STATISTICS having definite probability: relating to or involving variables that have undetermined value but definite probability

    So I guess all three agree that there is no proof that life here on Earth created itself.

    Of course “life creating itself” might be misunderstood so I’ll address that here. The inanimate molecules that were first converted to biotic beings did so either on their own in the environment that existed then or with the assistance of an unknown entity. There are no other choices.

  62. #62 Owlmirror
    May 28, 2010

    So I guess all three agree that there is no proof that life here on Earth created itself.

    Parsimony.

    The inanimate molecules that were first converted to biotic beings

    What’s a “biotic being”?

    did so either on their own in the environment that existed then

    Environments. The Earth is not and was not a sphere of uniform composition and temperature.

    or with the assistance of an unknown entity.

    An unknown entity… that created itself?

  63. #63 g
    May 28, 2010

    chas,

    “Life created itself” is an altogether ridiculous way to describe what anyone believes. No one has used that expression other than you. When describing someone else’s beliefs, I suggest that you not use it; it’s likely to cause confusion. (Unless your goal is to cause confusion.)

    From your first appearance here, lots of people have taken pains to say: no, of course we don’t have *proof* that there’s no creator; it’s not the kind of thing you can have proof of; what we have is evidence and reasons.

    Yet you’re still going on about “proof”.

  64. #64 GravityIsJustATheory
    May 28, 2010

    Oh, and chas, can you please learn to use proper English language and proper mathematical notation.

    Your description of what you mean by “life created itself” doesn’t match what would be the normal English meaning of the words “life” “created” and “itself” when strung together in that order.

    And “1/1060″ is not “the fraction formed by 1 divided by the number 1 followed by 60 zeros”. It is the fraction formed by 1 divided by the number one thousand and sixty.

    “The fraction formed by 1 divided by the number 1 followed by 60 zeros” would be 1/10^60 (which can alternatively be written as 1/1e60, or as 1e-60).

  65. #65 g
    May 28, 2010

    The “1060” thing is almost certainly the result of doing a copy-and-paste operation on something with superscripts into something plain-text-only. The error was made not by “chas” but by the author of the wretchedly wrong article he in turn copy-pasted into here. Of course, the fact that they could make it, and “chas” perpetuate it, without noticing the absurdity, is just one more indication of the level of scientific and mathematical ignorance we’re dealing with here.

  66. #66 chas
    May 28, 2010

    Gravityetc, Owletc, et al.

    I guess the thing that surprises me most about these discussees is that with all the alleged knowledge & years of formal training in science, exponentials, math, English, abiogenesis, probability, & on & on, all these brilliant intellects (pseudo-intellectuals?) are unable to explain how some inanimate molecules converted themselves into animate ones. They can discuss ad nausea how these same magnificent mechanisms that were created billions of years ago and still exist today are still changing life with the code that was built into them those billions of years ago. But these obnoxious intellectuals have no clue as how to explain how the magnificent mechanisms were created or how the code was built into the once inanimate molecules

  67. #67 TGT
    May 28, 2010

    I think the main issue is that chas is creating a false dichotomy based on his conclusions.

    Chas is assuming creation. His two options are:
    1) something created life, and
    2) life created itself.

    There’s also the possibility that various matters that we would consider non-living happened to rearrange into something that we consider living. I don’t find that odd, and I don’t use the word creation to describe it.

    There was matter. Things occurred with that matter for billions of years causing new structures and combinations. Some of those new structures and combinations are classified by us now as alive. At the time these new structures occured, life wasn’t even a concept. These were just new possible structures.

    As for Chas’s 3:55pm post, when one ignores the continued assumptions that the “molecules” were created and things were built into them, and also ignores the ad hominem attacks and poisoning the well, there is one actual argument: If life came into existence without a creator, we would know by now.

    I find that just as ridiculous as saying “if life came into existence WITH a creator, we should know by now,” but I’ll tackle it anyway.

    1000 years ago, we didn’t know what stars were made out of. 500 years ago, we didn’t know that germs existed. 100 years ago, we didn’t know what DNA was. 30 years ago, we didn’t know what aids was. 1 year ago, we didn’t know that yeast and our blood cells use identical genes for different purposes.

    The same argument could have been used for each of the above examples at some point in the past. At each time it would have been just as valid as the proffered argument. Really, it would have had less problems. Learning about the world as it is is considerably simpler than learning about the world as it was. Clearly, the argument fails.

  68. #68 chas
    May 28, 2010

    TGT, et al.

    I see no proof in any of this that life created itself here on Earth or that anyone knows how life was created if you prefer. Also, there is no proof anyone ever will.

    Sorry.

  69. #69 chas
    May 28, 2010

    Owletc, et al.,

    “An unknown entity… that created itself?”

    Why not?

  70. #70 chas
    May 29, 2010

    Owletc, et al.,

    Time & space have no beginning or end, why should a creator?

  71. #71 Owlmirror
    May 29, 2010

    I guess the thing that surprises me most about these discussees is that with all the alleged knowledge & years of formal training in science, exponentials, math, English, abiogenesis, probability, & on & on, all these brilliant intellects (pseudo-intellectuals?) are unable to explain how some inanimate molecules converted themselves into animate ones

    Your argument from ignorance is noted.

    When a scientific explanation for abiogenesis is given, will you agree that there is no reason to posit a creator?

    But these obnoxious intellectuals have no clue as how to explain how the magnificent mechanisms were created or how the code was built into the once inanimate molecules.

    You’re an obnoxious pseudo-intellectual who offers a pseudo-explanation from ignorance and incredulity.

    “An unknown entity… that created itself?”

    Why not?

    If it is incredibly improbable for molecules to undergo reactions over time in different conditions that eventually become what we call life, it is even more improbable that an intelligence that simply knows how to assemble molecules into life should create itself.

    After all, it took several billion years before collections of molecules called “human scientists” arose with sufficient intelligence to understand what molecules were and that they themselves were indeed made of molecules.

    So you’re positing something intelligent enough to know what molecules are, and knowing how to create life from them, even though you have no evidence whatsoever that intelligence can even exist without molecules. And this intelligence creates itself… how? Using magic? And knows about molecules how? More magic? And knows how to combine molecules into life how? Still more magic?

    Time & space have no beginning or end

    I note that you have no proof of this; you simply assert it.

    Are you a Big Bang denialist as well?

    why should a creator?

    This makes no sense unless you are arguing that infinite time and space are the “creator”.

    And while this makes as much sense as any of your other nonsense, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from sexed-up atheism.

  72. #72 Malvoin
    May 29, 2010

    Well I know a fanatically christian astronomer, but he is a very poor scientist, who now teaches science classes at christian girls high schools.

    Anytime the subject of evolution or natural selection occurred in general discussions amongst his peers, he’d snarl “It’s just a theory!” and storm out of the room.

    It’s entirely possible that some of the scientists I work with are religious in some way or other, but none of them make it known, even those from places such as India and the Middle East.

    To me it seems as if it would be exceedingly difficult to be a good scientist and yet still remain religious. Perhaps it’s even more difficult to become a scientist at all if you’re already religious in any way.

  73. #73 chas
    May 29, 2010

    Owlmirror,

    “no evidence whatsoever that intelligence can even exist without molecules.”

    The same amount of evidence you have that life created itself.

    “Are you a Big Bang denialist as well?”

    Are you asserting that nothing existed before the big bang?

    “If it is incredibly improbable for molecules to undergo reactions over time in different conditions that eventually become what we call life, it is even more improbable that an intelligence that simply knows how to assemble molecules into life should create itself.”

    So you’re admitting it’s not impossible? Of course you’ve calculated this probability.

  74. #74 AL
    May 30, 2010

    chas, why are you so deliberately obtuse and willfully ignorant? It’s been pointed out to you numerous times that we are talking about evidence and inference to the best parsimonious explanation, and yet you go on about “proof.” It’s been pointed out to you numerous times that your use of the phrase “life created itself” is at best confusing, and at worst, a deliberate strawman of our position.

    I realize you are a run-of-the-mill copy/paste Creationist, but you are simply perpetuating negative stereotypes of Creationists and really, you are enforcing the position that religion is not compatible with science, as clearly you have a very poor grasp of basic elementary science, which is likely a direct result of your desire for your religion to be vindicated. Aside from the ridiculousness of stating that “life created itself,” you copy/pasted an article that completely abuses the concept of probability and basic biochemistry by fabricating numbers about the likelihood of protein formation. Now you attempt physics by asking about “before the big bang” in an attempt to defend your naked assertion that time has no beginning, all the while failing to realize that if time had a beginning, there is no meaningful “before” that you can speak of.

    Chas, in all seriousness, have you ever taken at least an undergraduate level class in statistics, biochemistry or physics? And what were your grades?

    And this is momentarily leaving out that you lack a basic grasp of logic and how to reason non-fallaciously. You are guilty of:

    1) Strawmen. I don’t think you’ve represented any opposing position correctly. Certainly, every reply of yours “addressed” to me was really addressing a straw argument.

    2) Category error. You seem to think that empirical claims of science require “proof” of an a priori analytical sort, like maths or tautologies. This has been pointed out to you several times and you still pretend it’s fine and dandy for you to speak of scientific “proof” and not appear to be the least bit ignorant about science.

    3) Arguments from both incredulity and ignorance. You seem to think that the inability of current science to make an organism from simulated natural environments is proof that it is impossible to do so. Nonsense. It is simply evidence that it cannot be done in those particular ways tried. Of course, being as predictable as you are, at this point you will counter by objecting that all this still isn’t proof that abiogenesis occurred, in which case you need to go back and read 2) regarding “proof” in science.

    4) Begging the question. The numbers in your copy/paste job are dubious. Do you really believe that the probability of a particular amino acid being in a particular position in a peptide chain is 1/20? This naive number means nothing without knowing the assumed context (if I handed you a jar of nothing but glycine in solution, what is the probability of glycine being in any particular position in a peptide chain extracted from that jar? Hint: Not 1/20.), and is simply question begging. In other words, there IS an assumed context here, and that is that abiogenesis is impossible and that goddundiddit.

    5) False dichotomy and the special plead. Note that like all typical Creationists, you attack science under the presumption that if science fails to account for something, god (or magic intelligent being, or whatever your preferred euphemism for god is) must somehow be the explanation. Nevermind that Creationists never both to explain how god answers any of the questions he is put forth as an answer to. So the odds of a particular 100 amino acid protein forming is some ridiculously small number? OK. Now how does god account for this? Isn’t it the case that god could arbitrarily choose any of these combinations? So why that particular one of the many he is free to choose from? What are the odds? As is typical of a Creationist explanation, it is no explanation at all. It’s a special plead. God isn’t a better explanation, but we’ll just pretend he is and hope no one notices.

    Well, chas, it’s too late to hope no one notices.

  75. #75 AL
    May 30, 2010

    Owlmirror,

    “no evidence whatsoever that intelligence can even exist without molecules.”

    The same amount of evidence you have that life created itself.

    This is a very weak false equivocation, chas. Another in a long list of fallacies I should’ve included in my non-exhaustive list above. Ignoring the ridiculous “life created itself” bit, regarding abiogenesis, we know that life is a system of chemical and chemical processes, we know what those chemicals are, and we know of naturalistic means by which any one of those chemicals can be made. So research on abiogenesis isn’t a search for some exotic hypothetical substance that is not known to exist and whose very existence is questionable. Research on abiogenesis is mainly about finding the right combination of known chemical compounds and environmental parameters (temperature, pressure, pH, etc.) that are conducive to making a self-replicating enclosed chemical system, or cell. Notice that we are dealing with knowns here.

    The same cannot be said about disembodied non-material intelligence, because all the knowns of neurobiology tell us that you need a brain or brain-like substrate to be intelligent. To say you don’t need these things is worse than simply invoking an unknown. You are blatantly defying what is known. It’s one thing to travel without a map. It’s a whole other thing to travel without a map and deliberately go in the opposite direction that the roadsigns indicating your destination are telling you.

    But it’s even worse than that, as any careful reflection on what it means to be intelligent, and what it is that intelligence does should tell you that disembodied intelligence is an incoherent concept. An intelligent system learns by correlating stimuli. If it is disembodied, what are its stimuli? If it has no connections, what does it correlate? The idea of disembodied intelligence is not only completely unsupported and contradicted by empirical evidence, it isn’t even logically consistent and coherent with itself. It’s a fuzzy and poorly conceptualized notion.

    So no, chas, our support for abiogenesis is not at all equivocal with your support for non-material intelligence.

  76. #76 Owlmirror
    May 30, 2010

    “no evidence whatsoever that intelligence can even exist without molecules.”

    The same amount of evidence you have that life created itself.

    AL answered your nonsensical false equivalence very well, so I don’t have much to add here.

    Are you asserting that nothing existed before the big bang?

    I have no idea if anything existed before the big bang, or if “exist” is even an appropriate term. I do know that you don’t know either, and I also know that as you are a finite being, you cannot possibly know with any certainty.

    So you’re admitting it’s not impossible?

    I don’t know for certain if it’s impossible, but I do know that as you and every other apologist has presented it, it’s completely incoherent, and as such, might very well be impossible.

    It is certainly less possible than chemicals undergoing various reactions and interactions to become life. You have to test, and rule out, every single possible combination of such chemicals reacting and interacting, before declaring it impossible.

    All I have to do is note that you have no evidence for a disembodied intelligence that exists. Since you offer nothing that can be tested, I can reject your nonsensical and incoherent notion out of hand.

  77. #77 chas
    May 30, 2010

    Al, et al.

    Simply amazing. All this seeming intelligence was programmed into that first DNA billions of years ago. I just wonder if it programmed in enough intelligence to ever figure out how it programmed itself?

  78. #78 chas
    May 30, 2010

    Al, et al.,

    I say seeming intelligence, not in disrespect, but simply because intelligence is not absolute but relative. As we all know those scientist who thought the Earth was flat were sure that they were highly intelligent also.

  79. #79 chas
    May 30, 2010

    Al, et al.,

    The only absolute intelligence would be the creator.

  80. #80 NJ
    May 30, 2010

    The only absolute intelligence would be the creator.

    Ah, but an absolute lack of intelligence is exemplified in chas…

  81. #81 chas
    May 30, 2010

    NJ, et al.,

    I’m intelligent enough to know you’re not intelligent enough to know how life created itself

  82. #82 Owlmirror
    May 31, 2010

    All this seeming intelligence was programmed into that first DNA billions of years ago.

    Except that you don’t know any such thing, and you lack the intelligence to know that you don’t know.

    I just wonder if it programmed in enough intelligence to ever figure out how it programmed itself?

    Since your premise in nonsense, your hypothetical based on that nonsense is even more nonsensical.

    As we all know those scientist who thought the Earth was flat were sure that they were highly intelligent also.

    Except that there were no scientists who thought the Earth was flat, which demonstrates yet another thing that you’re ignorant of, and arguing unintelligently about.

    The only absolute intelligence would be the creator.

    The “creator” which you still have neither logic nor evidence for even the possibility of existing, let alone it being intelligent, let alone that intelligence being “absolute”, whatever that even means. No doubt something stupid.

    I’m intelligent enough to know you’re not intelligent enough to know how life created itself

    But you’re not intelligent enough to know that your arguments are nothing more than a rather unintelligent collection of multiple logical fallacies.

  83. #83 red pepper
    May 31, 2010

    Except that there were no scientists who thought the Earth was flat, which demonstrates yet another thing that you’re ignorant of, and arguing unintelligently about.

  84. #84 chas
    May 31, 2010

    Owl, et al.,

    I’m not really interested in any of this meaningless, diversionary nonsense. Do you know how life created itself or not? Don’t be timid. Just say so.

  85. #85 Owlmirror
    May 31, 2010

    I’m not really interested in any of this meaningless, diversionary nonsense

    All you’ve offered is meaningless diversionary nonsense, so that’s obviously all that you’re interested in.

    Do you know how life created itself or not?

    When a scientific explanation for abiogenesis is given, will you agree that there is no reason to posit a creator?

    Don’t be timid. Just answer.

  86. #86 chas
    May 31, 2010

    Owl, et al.,

    An entirely predictable responce from a egomaniac, pseudo-intellectual evolutionist when presented with a question they can’t handle. When their claims to know everything about everything are challenged. They go into cognitive dissonance & denial. Rather than standing up like a man or woman as g did when he said, ” —– we don’t yet know (and maybe never will know) the details of how it happened.”, when talking about the beginning of life.

    Instead they attempt to besmirch & demean those who in effect challenge their claim to know everything about everything. It just doesn’t work now, never has & never will. They just don’t know how life created itself & maybe never will. But, they won’t admit it

  87. #87 Owlmirror
    May 31, 2010

    An entirely predictable responce from a egomaniac, pseudo-intellectual evolutionist when presented with a question they can’t handle.

    Ha! You just offer an entirely predictable response from an egomaniac pseudo-intellectual creationist when presented with a question you can’t handle!

    When their claims to know everything about everything are challenged.

    The only one claiming to know everything about everything is you!

    They go into cognitive dissonance & denial.

    And you project your own cognitive dissonance and denialism on everyone who isn’t you. Very funny!

    Rather than standing up like a man or woman as g did when he said, ” —– we don’t yet know (and maybe never will know) the details of how it happened.”, when talking about the beginning of life.

    And you obviously are exactly such an intellectual coward, because you offer no such honest admission of ignorance.

    Instead they attempt to besmirch & demean those who in effect challenge their claim to know everything about everything.

    You have offered no such “challenge”, since the claim you claim has been made has not been made by anyone except yourself.

    It just doesn’t work now, never has & never will.

    Your pretended presupposed “creator” indeed does not work now, and never has, and never will.

    They just don’t know how life created itself & maybe never will. But, they won’t admit it

    Indeed, you refuse all such honest admission.

    •  Given that all the evidence we have of life is that of interacting chemicals, do you understand that a chemical hypothesis of abiogenesis is a parsimonious inference from the evidence?

    •  Given that all the evidence we have of life is that of interacting chemicals, do you understand until all possible scenarios of chemical abiogenesis are tested and demonstrated as failed that it remains the most probable hypothesis?

    •  Given that all the evidence we have about intelligence as a phenomenon that arises from matter that has undegone evolution, do you understand that it is incoherent to posit an intelligence for which you have no explanation for its origin?

    •  Given that there is no evidence whatsoever that intelligence can exist without matter, do you understand that it is incoherent to posit an immaterial intelligence at all?

    •  Given that there is no evidence whatsoever that a creator exists, let alone can have intelligence, do you understand that it is incoherent to posit this creator as existing and having intelligence?

    •  When a scientific explanation for chemical abiogenesis is given, will you agree that there is no reason to posit a creator?

    I’ll bet a cookie that you will ignore those questions, and instead maybe whine some more. Go ahead, prove me right — or wrong.

  88. #88 chas
    June 1, 2010

    Still no proof that you know how life created itself. Still no proof that you know how the code got into that first DNA. Still clinging to the pompous belief that you’re highly intelligent & therefore know everything about everything. Sad.

  89. #89 NJ
    June 1, 2010

    Chas @ 88:

    you know how life created itself

    Chas @ 86:

    don’t know how life created itself

    Chas @ 84:

    Do you know how life created itself

    Chas @ 81:

    know how life created itself

    Chas @ 77:

    programmed in enough intelligence to ever figure out how it programmed itself

    Chas @ 73:

    evidence you have that life created itself

    Chas @ 68:

    no proof in any of this that life created itself

    Chas @ 61:

    if evolutionists believe that life created

    Chas @ 56:

    these wonderful mechanisms created themselves

    Chas @ 52:

    able to explain how we created ourselves

    Chas @ 50:

    on the probability of life creating itself

    Chas @ 47:

    They either organized themselves

    Chas @ 40:

    you believe that you in effect created yourself

    Chas @ 28:

    do you know that you have the ability to know whether or not you were created

    Chas @ 26:

    to know whether or not they were created

    A-ha! I get it now!

    Chas = Raymond

    Fifteen minutes to Judge Wapner = How did life create itself?

  90. #90 chas
    June 1, 2010

    All right. So now you’ve figured out the question. All we need now is your answer.

  91. #91 ildi
    June 1, 2010

    All we need now is your answer.

    Wikipedia has a good summary of the current state of the field of abiogenesis. Definitely a lot of interesting research going on.

  92. #92 Owlmirror
    June 2, 2010

    Still no proof that you know how life created itself.

    Still no proof that you even understand anything about science or logic.

    Still no proof that you know how the code got into that first DNA.

    Still no proof that you have any intellectual honesty or courage.

    Still clinging to the pompous belief that you’re highly intelligent & therefore know everything about everything.

    Still talking about yourself.

    Sad.

    Yes, you are.

  93. #93 Bruce
    June 17, 2010

    Short chas:

    “Science can’t answer my meaningless question, therefore God”

  94. #94 mk
    June 28, 2010

    Ha ha!! Bruce totally wins!

  95. #95 Kevin
    June 28, 2010

    Ah, the old fallacy of retrospective improbability.

    What are the odds that chas has been reading Dumbski, Axe, Wells, et al?

    Pick up a grain of sand along the beach…what are the odds that you chose THAT grain of sand out of all the grains of sand along that beach, much less all the beaches of the world, or all the sand on all of the planets that have sand? ENORMOUS!!! Way more than 10 to the bazillionth.

    Yet you chose it.

    The odds of life arising are 100%. Exactly and precisely. YOU are the evidence of that fact.

    No credible scientist claims that the first cell composed itself whole and complete out of constituent parts. Not one. So, you compound your lack of mathematical skills with a strawman in order to create an argument from incredulity.

    Four logical fallacies all rolled into one. Not bad: If you use “Hitler” in your next post, I can fill my Creationist Bingo Card and win a toaster!!

  96. #96 llewelly
    July 2, 2010

    Tyro | May 20, 2010 9:54 PM:

    I had much the same reaction as you did, wondering why she (and Mooney) were portraying this as if the scientists were fairly religious.

    It is part of a larger effort to pretend “new atheists” argue that all scientists must always be perfect atheists. A giant strawman, in other words.

  97. #97 dimitar zdravkov
    July 10, 2010

    RELIGION & SCIENCE CONNECT!BIBLE CODE UNLOCKED!-According to the Bible the world has been created in six days,but according to the Science this process has taken billions of years.If we exclude the difference in time and we pay attention to the SEQUENCE,we will see that there is no contradiction between both,but only the question-why in the Bible things happened so fast?There is an answer and it`s in the Bible itself.Moses described the Creation from his own sight as an eyewitness.Where and when he saw It,how could he have seen something happen before his existence?Answer:For forty days he has been at the mount Sinai where he got information about the past,present and future.The Creation had been REcreated to him in six days there,he had seen how the already existing world had been made.The long process of evolution had been shown to him in the first six days and the SEVENTH day had been dedicated to human`s appearing.After that he had seen the difference between Adam`s origin and Eve`s one.Adam comes from the dirt in the process of evolution,but Eve comes from DNA material out his body,which marks another jump for the evolution or in other words-the”missing link” which Science is looking for.The Creation continue and The Next Jump Is Coming…2012 ?!

  98. #98 Wez
    October 10, 2010

    how do you explain the big bang, because there must have been someting to trigger it? and supposedly there was nothing before it? so what other explanation is there than a super being who could have created it?

  99. #99 NJ
    October 10, 2010

    How do you explain a super being who created the big bang? What other explanation is there than an even superer being who created the super being who could have created it?

    Turtles all the way down…

  100. #100 Johnson Helper
    October 17, 2011

    Babaganoosh here and this was such a treat, boost out another one asap

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