Pharyngula

I could hardly believe it when I saw it, but the BioLogos site uses the familiar creationist second law of thermodynamics argument.

Francis Collins has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, and he should know very well what the meaning of entropy is (he should be far more familiar with the concept than a mere biologist like me should be), and he’s using the concept of entropy to argue against natural causes in the expansion of the universe … and then he turns around and explains that it is not an obstacle to biological evolution. The man is confused and inconsistent. This is crap I’d expect from Ken Ham or Ray Comfort, but not from a well-respected scientist.

Comments

  1. #1 MosesZD
    April 29, 2009

    Religion poisons everything and, like syphilis, it has the potential to rot the mind of everyone it ensnares, including the mind of a “well-respected scientist” when one of them catches it…

  2. #2 SocraticGadfly
    April 29, 2009

    “If God did not exist, I, Francis Collins, would not exist.”

    Take THAT, Descartes!

  3. #3 C. M. Baxter
    April 29, 2009

    Jesus frickin Christ in a waterfall, what’s wrong with that guy? Oh!

  4. #4 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    PZ. Francis was speaking about how the universe started out in a state of low entropy.
    He never used it as an argument. Other physicists like roger Penrose have confirmed that the universe began with low entropy.
    I don’t see Collins arguing anything controversial.
    Could you point out what exactly was wrong with his statement that the universe began with low entropy.

  5. #5 Objection!
    April 29, 2009

    @1 the religion and syphilis comparison is quite apt. As a child I got both from my priest.

  6. #6 SocraticGadfly
    April 29, 2009

    On another subject:

    Just a bit of overreaction by Tejas? Pre-election year posing by Lil Ricky Perry? Texas has postponed all of its spring HS playoffs.

    http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2009/04/swine-flu-texas-postpones-high-school.html

  7. #7 Anonymous
    April 29, 2009

    “and he’s using the concept of entropy to argue against natural causes in the expansion of the universe ”
    Collins never argued against natural causes.
    Where exactly does he argue this. He doesn’t. He is simply stating a scientific fact that the universe began with low entropy

  8. #8 Glen Davidson
    April 29, 2009

    It’s the usual with some specialists. They wouldn’t tolerate BS like the SLOT “argument” against science in their own area, like evolution.

    But give them a chance to locate god in some other discipline, and the woo possesses them.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  9. #9 squall25
    April 29, 2009

    Hey PZ:

    Has anyone in the field contacted Francis Collins and called him on this fallacy?

  10. #10 Glen Davidson
    April 29, 2009

    He never used it as an argument. Other physicists like roger Penrose have confirmed that the universe began with low entropy.
    I don’t see Collins arguing anything controversial.
    Could you point out what exactly was wrong with his statement that the universe began with low entropy.

    Didn’t you go to Collins’ link? It’s part of his “fine-tuning” argument.

    It is true that this is not as bad as the creationist SLOT argument, because the issue of low entropy in the beginning is a genuine problem. There are ideas for how it could happen, of course, but no clear answer.

    But it remains a false dichotomy to say, problem = god.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  11. #11 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    Let me just quote it in full so everyone can see what he is saying
    “There is a law of physics called the Second Law of Thermodynamics that states an isolated system?s entropy can never decrease, it can only increase or stay the same. In other words, all changes in isolated systems lead to states of higher disorder. Therefore, the same must be true of our entire universe. However, it is also known that the formation of stars and galaxies, essential for the development of life on Earth, requires a high degree of order. This implies that the universe was once much more ordered than it is now, and therefore it began with a very low entropy. What makes this fact significant is that there are so few possibilities for a low entropy universe.”
    Collins is arguing that the universe began in a state of low entropy. He later cites physicists like Roger Penrose to make his point. He then points out entropy is one of the parameters that has to be “fine-tuned” for a universe like this to form.
    PZ and Andrew’s posts are a bit deceptive

  12. #12 LtStorm
    April 29, 2009

    Well, really, Collin’s statement is deceptive too. I’m not sure what the issue is; an isolated system implies there’s no energy being injected into it. The Big Bang injected a metric assload of energy into the universe. We’ve been coasting on that for the past ~15 billion years. And will continue to until the theoretical Heat Death of the universe. It’s not that there had to be high order, there just needed to be a whole lot of energy coming in (much like the Sun blasting the Earth with energy) to generate “order”.

  13. #13 F
    April 29, 2009

    No, he’s misstating the nature of disorder in terms of the Second Law, and using this as an argument that Gawd is “keeping order” so that complex cosmic and biological structures can develop.

  14. #14 Glen Davidson
    April 29, 2009

    Here are parts of Collins’ “argumenent” via SLOT:

    Therefore, unless there was some currently unknown reason for universes to favor low entropy states, the initial condition of our universe was extremely unlikely.

    This, along with other “fine-tuning” issues, become “pointers” in his discussion, and he later states:

    While an argument of irreducible complexity would be shattered by a scientific explanation, these pointers to God are much less vulnerable to dismissal on the basis of future scientific explanations. However, pointers to God also draw attention to the splendid precision of nature?s laws towards the evolution of life.

    The only thing I’d add now is that the issue of entropy in cosmology is neither better nor worse than the other fine-tuning points, and is not the egregious argument used by creationists. It’s still fails as the fallacy of the “false dilemma,” however.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  15. #15 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    “But it remains a false dichotomy to say, problem = god.”
    It would indeed be fallacious to use a false dichotomy
    However from what I know most fine-tuning advocates use a method of Baynesian inference (Robin Collins calls it the principle of confirmation).
    They do not pose a false dichotomy.
    For example see this philosophy paper on fine-tuning by Robin Collins
    http://home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/FINETUNE/chapter%203%20how%20to%20rigorously%20define%20fine-tuning.htm

  16. #16 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 29, 2009

    Collins is arguing that the universe began in a state of low entropy. He later cites physicists like Roger Penrose to make his point.

    And goes on to say that individual stars and planet need a high degree of order. Yet he is talking about the whole universe while focusing on small parts.

    Who is to say that the small amount of order in stars formation leads to greater disorder as those stars go dead across the whole universe, tending towards disorder.

    So no. Collins is still using the same tired old 2ndLT just like the creationists do, but replacing humans with stars and the planet with the universe.

  17. #17 LtStorm
    April 29, 2009

    Who is to say that the small amount of order in stars formation leads to greater disorder as those stars go dead across the whole universe, tending towards disorder.

    Yeah, it’s all about balancing the equation in the end. Small clutters of “high” order can form, as long as they’re balanced by massive swaths of disorder. Such as intergalactic space.

  18. #18 Chris Davis
    April 29, 2009

    To produce low entropy all you need is energy and time. Steady, medium levels of energy over long times make small quantities of highly-ordered things like plants and animals. Brief outpouring of massive energy produces large quantities of less ordered things, as with the production of transuranic elements in supernovae.

    The Big Bang produced stupendous quantities of not very ordered stuff, and that stuff has been condensing into smaller quantities of more ordered stuff ever since.

  19. #19 LtStorm
    April 29, 2009

    Which, I do commend Collins for not falling for the less-expansive misunderstanding of the Second Law. I’ve heard people claim before the Earth couldn’t form and evolve life as an isolated system, which is true.

    They somehow missed the massive nuclear furnace in the sky that made this all possible.

  20. #20 The Science Pundit
    April 29, 2009

    Collins is simply using the anthropic principle to make a connection between the 2nd law of thermodynamics and dog. This is pretty standard fare for theologians and apologists.

  21. #21 Dr.Woody
    April 29, 2009

    Is this a sort of post hoc-propter hoc argument?

    Are what we describe as these implacable “laws of nature” actually any more than post hoc abreviations of the ways things happen to have worked out?

    just axin…

  22. #22 Blake Stacey
    April 29, 2009

    Pointing out that the visible universe apparently began in a state of low entropy is fairly uncontroversial. Pretending that the folk tales of ancient Canaanite nomads provide an explanation for that is remarkably daft.

  23. #23 Dr.Woody
    April 29, 2009

    Doncha just love how cosmological discussions now unabashedly throw around terms like “stuff”?

    This always reminds me of George Carlin’s riff on shit n stuff…

    Ya think “shit” will join “stuff” in the official cosmological vocabulary? Stuff they can’t understand they’ll call “fucking shit.” Shit they figure out they’ll call “fucking stuff.”

    The permutations accrue…

  24. #24 Chuck
    April 29, 2009

    The fine-tuning argument is nonsense. Honestly, any conceivable set of laws that could have resulted in a cosmological natural history yielding human observers would by necessity look fine-tuned to those observers. This is like arguing that God chose your license plate number, because, after all, of all the numbers that could be conceived, you ended up with this particular one.

    Granted, I?m ignostic with regard to physical theories utilizing multiple universes, and as an empirical scientist I am skeptical of them as introducing too many unobservables, but arguing that the answer must be an equally unobservable invisible pink unicorn is not progress.

  25. #25 Glen Davidson
    April 29, 2009

    It would indeed be fallacious to use a false dichotomy
    However from what I know most fine-tuning advocates use a method of Baynesian inference (Robin Collins calls it the principle of confirmation).
    They do not pose a false dichotomy.

    No, Robin merely insinuates it, and covers it over with meaningless analogies:

    One might respond that when the only non-arbitrary distribution of degrees of belief violates the axiom of countable additivity, the most rational alternative is to remain agnostic. After all, one need not assign epistemic probabilities to all propositions. I do not believe this is an adequate response, since I think in some cases it would be irrational to remain agnostic. To illustrate, suppose that God creates an infinite lottery by creating a truly random number generator that randomly picks the winning number from the integers. (Never mind for now whether you think the creation of such a generator is possible.) Further suppose that you have no reason to believe that this number falls into one range instead of any other and that each ticket sells for $20, with a $100,000 jackpot. Finally, suppose that your sister decides to buy lottery tickets, spending $20 a month on them. I am sure you would try to persuade her not to. You would not merely be agnostic about her winning; you would be sure that she would lose. And this certainty could be substantiated with significant arguments. For example, you might reason that if the lottery had a trillion, trillion, trillion tickets, it would be a waste of money to buy tickets, since the chance of winning would be so small you could say with confidence that she could be certain of not winning. Moreover, the larger the number of tickets, the more you would be certain that she won?t win. Certainly, in the limit as the number of tickets becomes infinite, you should not merely become agnostic about whether she will win. You would be absolutely certain she would lose. Compare this with the case in which there is a lottery, but you are given no idea of how many tickets there are. In such a case, you would be truly agnostic about your sister?s winning. You might simply hope she would win, without any idea of what her chances are. In the infinite lottery case, it seems clear that you should have no hope whatsoever of her winning, which is not the attitude of agnosticism.

    Here is another argument against requiring agnosticism in these cases. Suppose you adopted the agnostic alternative. Then for any finite range [M, M + N], you should be agnostic about whether the winning number is in that range, where M and N are positive integers. Even though agnosticism does not commit you to a degree of belief, to be agnostic is to be less than certain. Now consider some given number k that is in the range [0, M], and let k* be the proposition that k is the winning number. If you were certain that the number was in the range [0, M], but did not have any information about which member of the range it was, then you would assign every member of this range an epistemic probability of 1/M for being the winning number. If you were agnostic about whether it fell into that range, then your probability would obviously be less. Thus, you could reason as follows: ?If I were sure k was in that range, then k* would have an epistemic probability of 1/M. But, since I don?t even know that the winning number is in the range, I have even less reason to believe the winning number is k ? that is, my epistemic probability P(k*) should be less than 1/M. Now, for any positive integer N, k will be a member of some range [0, M + N]. Thus, for every N, the probability of k being the winning number will have to be less than 1/(M + N). The only consistent value I can assign to the probability of k*, therefore, is zero or an infinitesimal, since P(k*) is less than 1/(M + N) for all N.?

    Of course, one might object that no such random number generator could ever be constructed, even by God. As Williamson notes, however, this objection is irrelevant [1999, p. 407]. The issue is not whether some objective random number generator could be made, but whether the agent in question believes that such a random number generator exists, since epistemic probability is a relation between propositions held by some agent in a set of specified epistemic circumstances. Further, many of the arguments would go through even without having a random number generator: one could simply believe that God picked some finite number, and that God picked the number independently from any foreknowledge of what number one would guess, and that one?s choice was causally independent of what God chose.

    Given the formidable set of arguments above for rejecting countable additivity for epistemic probability, those who (like the McGrews and Vestrup) insist on countable additivity need to show that distributions that violate this axiom are rationally incoherent.

    While it’s true that I only quickly scanned the piece, I have to say that I saw absolutely nothing that could justify bringing god into it. If you know of something that actually does, point me directly to it, as I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on what is apparently worthless apologetics. I realize the above quote is not the part where the supposed Bayesian inference appears, but that part is equally noxious and devoid of any honest justification, at least from what I saw of it.

    Perhaps the real issue would be to tell us how one could inductively arrive at “God,” or to use “Bayesian inference” (which some prefer to “induction,” ignoring the fact that we need what is generally called “induction” to arrive at a state where “Bayesian inference” is justified) to get to it. The seeming blithering nonsense apparently meant to obfuscate the lack of evidence for god, and thus to smother the false dilemma, really won’t do.

    IOW, Bayesian inference actually depends upon evidence for god, not upon an “argument” that the universe is really really unlikely. So cough up the evidence, or you and Collins are guilty of the fallacy of creating a false dilemma.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  26. #26 natural cynic
    April 29, 2009

    After perusing several other sections, Collins can be summed up by:

    Well, it couldda been God and that gives me the warm fuzzies, so that’s what I believe”

  27. #27 'Tis Himself
    April 29, 2009

    There’s whole shitloads of entropy in the universe. There always has been and it’s getting greater and greater as the universe ages. This is in accordance with the SLOT. Decoupling of the four forces is an example of entropy in action. However, that doesn’t mean there can’t be localized order. As long as entropy for the entire universe increases, what happens in (relatively) small areas doesn’t contravene SLOT.

    If this is obvious to a non-scientist, why doesn’t Collins understand it?

  28. #28 SocraticGadfly
    April 29, 2009

    Ineffable, Victor Stenger’s already shot that all to hell.

  29. #29 RBH
    April 29, 2009

    There’s a good discussion of the entropy issue and the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang here.

  30. #30 Otto
    April 29, 2009

    The arguments Collins and his friends present strike me
    as very unsatisfying and quite convoluted, not surprising
    when these arguments are driven by emotion.
    It is sad to see so much wasted effort on something absurd.
    Last year there was a talk by Richard Dawkins on Public Radio,
    followed by a reply by Collins.
    There too I found him very disappointing.

  31. #31 Pdiff
    April 29, 2009

    Was going to comment to Ineffable, but Glen D. has covered it quite well :-)

    Fine-tuning arguments are always complete speculation. These people are making conclusions based on n=1 observation. We have one universe to observe and our understanding of that one observation is woefully incomplete. Douglas Adams said it best
    “. . . imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ?This is an interesting world I find myself in?an interesting hole I find myself in?fits me rather neatly, doesn?t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!?”

  32. #32 dtlocke
    April 29, 2009

    Reposted from my comment over at Evaluating Christianity:

    Sorry, but you?ve dropped the ball on this one. Collins?s argument is bad, but not for the reasons you cite.

    1. ?Entropy is not really about order in the cosmological sense.?

    Sure. So just put ?lower entropy? in the argument everywhere you see ?higher order?. No harm, no foul.

    2. ?Stellar formation is really well-understood (and not threatened at all by the increasing entropy of the universe).?

    And Collins never said otherwise.

    3. ?The Big Bang model postulates the lowest possible initial entropy of the universe.?

    So what you?re saying is that the Big Bang model actually agrees with the conclusion Collins reaches in the passage you quote! (Surprise, surprise?there is after all a reason that the Big Bang model is as it is, and that reason is precisely the one that Collins mentions: given the Second Law, the universe had to have been in a much lower entropy state than it is now.)

    As I said, Collins?s argument is bad, but not for the reasons you give. The real reason his argument is bad is not to be found in the passage you quote. It?s to be found in where he goes from there. From the conclusion that the universe was initially in a very low entropy state, Collins reasons that, since this was so very improbable, there must have a been a fine-tuner. Now that is where the argument goes wrong.

  33. #33 Otto
    April 29, 2009

    “In fact it fits me staggeringly well,
    must have been made to have me in it!”

    Thanks for that quote, Pdiff!
    I need to remember that.

  34. #34 JackC
    April 29, 2009

    Of course, you had to know that this was coming

    JC

  35. #35 Anonymous
    April 29, 2009

    It is not only a false dichotomy to say, problem = god,
    What Collins is saying, that not only does the problem = god, it=Collins own particular god ergo Jesus/Yaweh,which is nothing but a huge leap of faith.

  36. #36 Pete
    April 29, 2009

    The problem isn’t that Collins is misapplying the 2LoT to the early universe — it’s the religious conclusions he tries to draw from it. Postulating a magic man to explain an early source of low entropy is just begging the question (where did the magic man come from?).

    But the evaluatingchristianity blog author is sloppy when he says “No serious astrophysicist would write something that stupid.” No, that part from Collins (quoted by Ineffable at #11) is pretty acceptable. In isolation, that paragraph itself is not stupid.

  37. #37 JD
    April 29, 2009

    Err…it’s decreased entropy in an OPEN system like our solar system.

    The observed positive mass/energy density is equal to the critical density in which positive kinetic and rest energy is balanced by the negative, potential, gravitational energy.

    In other words, god didn’t have to do shit.

  38. #38 Alex
    April 29, 2009

    Some relevant quotes:

    “Unless someone can establish the limitations of the universe as a whole, it would be presumptuous to point to the cosmos and declare it incapable of existing without an external cause.” Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin, Wisdom
    Without Answers, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1998), p. 39

    “[I]f all order, without exception, requires a designer, then God, too, requires a designer. If God were the intelligent designer of the universe, God would have to be even more perfectly ordered than the universe. But if
    God were even more perfectly ordered than the universe, and God could exist without an external designer, then why not the universe?” Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin, Wisdom
    Without Answers, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1998), p. 40

    “[W]hich is simpler: the idea of a well-ordered universe somehow ordering itself, or the idea of a well-ordered universe plus an even better-ordered (and self-ordered) being who ordered it?” Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin, Wisdom Without Answers, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1998), p. 40

    “All the reasons we’ve considered thus far for the existence of God clearly do not establish that God exists. It is surprising, then, and somewhat disturbing, that these reasons are so often presented as if they were good reasons… The reasons we’ve considered begin by confronting the mystery in front of our noses–the mystery of the existence and order of the universe around us–and then quickly move in a direction that take us away both from our experience and the mystery itself… The hypotheses we’ve considered about God do not solve the puzzles but complicate them.” Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin, Wisdom Without Answers, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1998), p. 41

  39. #39 Dr.Woody
    April 29, 2009

    does the fact that the universe apparently is still expanding have any bearing on the increase or stability of entropy?

    does it mean the universe is not a ‘closed’ system?

  40. #40 Cannabinaceae
    April 29, 2009

    Speaking of the symmetry-breaking with the Relationships of Nature, who’s to say that as the 13.7 light-year bubble we appear to be in expands, that the energy density won’t get so low as to phase-change another sort of happenin’-stuff out of the whole mess?

    Maybe that would look like a low entropy origin to any of the non-equilibrium thermodynamics beings that precipitate therefrom.

    I could explain a lot of that with a lot more words, but simply think: Prigogine, Mandelbrot (and their intellectual descendants).

  41. #41 Jadehawk
    April 29, 2009

    oh. wow.

    when a high school dropout understands entropy better than a Chemistry PhD, you just KNOW someone got their brains badly scrambled.

    and this is why religion and science do not mix well, generally to the detriment of science.

  42. #42 RamblinDude
    April 29, 2009

    does the fact that the universe apparently is still expanding have any bearing on the increase or stability of entropy?

    does it mean the universe is not a ‘closed’ system?

    Perhaps you’re thinking that the universe is expanding out into something?

    It’s not. Space itself is expanding. There is no out there, so yes it could still be a closed system.

  43. #43 SocraticGadfly
    April 29, 2009

    On another subject:

    New Hampshire and Maine moving closer to gay marriage; and both via the legislative route.

    Are Congressional Dems ready to stand up to the GOP-Religious Right shitstorm? And, for that matter, are Obama and Biden ready to change THEIR tunes about gay marriage vs. civil unions if two more states OK gay marriage via the legislative route? Because that will be the bottom line.

    Oh, and what if married gay ppl want in the military? DADT is going to be under yet more pressure, too.

  44. #44 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    “Ineffable, Victor Stenger’s already shot that all to hell.”
    @SocraticGadfly
    i recommend you read some of Robin Collin’s paper in journals (I think the newest one is his chapter on fine-tuning in “The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology”). He hands Victor Stenger’s ass back to him on the physics of fine-tuning.

    @Glenn Davison
    “While it’s true that I only quickly scanned the piece, I have to say that I saw absolutely nothing that could justify bringing god into it. …IOW, Bayesian inference actually depends upon evidence for god, not upon an “argument” that the universe is really really unlikely. So cough up the evidence, or you and Collins are guilty of the fallacy of creating a false dilemma.”
    If you actually read the whole paper you can see Collins is comparing theism and atheism as hypothesis and is using a Baynesian inference to show that evidence for fine-tuning counts for theism over atheism.
    It doesn’t PROVE god with a capital “p” and perhaps there are some other good arguments against God. However this is some positive evidence for God to be considered.

  45. #45 Ray
    April 29, 2009

    The fact that the universe is expanding means that its entropy can increase even if the amount of structure everywhere in the universe is also increasing. It does not however mean that the universe is not a closed system.

    This topic is aggravating, because even the good guys get needlessly confused about this stuff. You can say that entropy is disorder and the intuition would be pretty much right. The problem is when you assume that “disorder increases” and “order decreases” are synonymous. Entropy is the discrepancy between a real system and a system that is fully specified by its macroscopic properties. Order or structure is better described as the discrepancy between a real system and one that is maximally disordered given its size and energy content. The bigger and more energetic the system, the more its size and energy content do not fully specify its state. IOTW, as the universe gets bigger its maximal allowed entropy goes up. As long as the universe and its maximal allowed entropy grows faster than its actual entropy, structure will spontaneously form. No need for an intelligent designer.

    The other thing that really gets on my nerve is the claim that entropy loss on earth is made up for by entropy gain in the sun. The sun’s entropy is decreasing too. Excess entropy shed by the biosphere goes almost exclusively into waste heat expelled as infrared radiation in interstellar space. This confusion arises from the erroneous conflation of the free energy formulation of the second law and the entropy formulation. Free energy is a bookkeeping trick invented because heat sinks are much more common than high quality energy sources, it is NOT the same as order, structure or negative entropy.

  46. #46 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 29, 2009

    If you actually read the whole paper you can see Collins is comparing theism and atheism as hypothesis and is using a Baynesian inference to show that evidence for fine-tuning counts for theism over atheism.
    It doesn’t PROVE god with a capital “p” and perhaps there are some other good arguments against God. However this is some positive evidence for God to be considered.

    Depends on who is deciding if that is actual evidence for fine tuning or just confirmation bias.

  47. #47 MadScientist
    April 29, 2009

    Pfff. So many chemists these days don’t know much of anything:

    * quantum mechanics: too hard; only for teh g33k
    * Maxwell’s laws: what’s that?
    * Boltzmann: who?
    * Avogadro: didn’t he paint the walls of the Sistine chapel?
    * statistical mechanics: I’m a chemist, not a car repair guy

    Even 8 years ago, before I had enough of the university scene and thought I’d better get away, someone asked me a very simple question in physical chemistry and when I drew an integral sign he just stared blankly. When chemists don’t even understand basic math, how can they possibly understand concepts such as entropy?

  48. #48 SocraticGadfly
    April 29, 2009

    @ Ineffable… Since,
    A. Collins probably already has his ass on backwards, and,
    B. I’ve actually HEARD Stenger speak in Dallas, and not just read him, I think your description of events would be called…

    Counterfactual history.

    ===

    And, you STILL haven’t responded to Pascal’s Wager being the biggest false dilemma in the history of false dilemmas in this type of argument.

  49. #49 JD
    April 29, 2009

    Rev.BDC is right. Bias = Biobullshit.

  50. #50 bobxxxx
    April 29, 2009

    This is crap I’d expect from Ken Ham or Ray Comfort, but not from a well-respected scientist.

    Not that anyone cares but Francis Collins is not respected by me. He’s part of the problem, and there’s no excuse for it. A scientist should know better than anyone that Christianity is pure bullshit.

  51. #51 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    “B. I’ve actually HEARD Stenger speak in Dallas, and not just read him, I think your description of events would be called…
    Counterfactual history.”
    I’ll give this to Stenger. I’ve read his book and disagree with much of his reasoning
    (Leibiniz:Why is there something rather than nothing?
    Stenger: Nothing is unstable)
    But of all the “New Atheists” Stenger seems the only one willing to assess the evidence for and against God.
    Sam Harris and Hitchens spend a lot of time and rhethoric attacking the ills of religion but never actually assess the evidence for Christianity or reasons for atheism , Dawkins’ only argument seems to be “Who made God?” and Dennett doesn’t really spend much time (what 11 paragraphs?) on God’s existence.

  52. #52 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    Read the article Rev BDC

  53. #53 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 29, 2009

    What about the idea that the universe started out with infinite entropy?

    If you actually read the whole paper you can see Collins is comparing theism and atheism as hypothesis and is using a Baynesian inference to show that evidence for fine-tuning counts for theism over atheism.

    Couldn’t possibly distinguish theism from deism.

  54. #54 eNeMeE
    April 29, 2009

    I’d say the worst part is how the answer to question 19 starts off by quote-mining Stephen Hawking.

    Jumping Jeebus on a pogo stick, you know you’ve gone a long down the rabbit hole at that point.

  55. #55 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    “Couldn’t possibly distinguish theism from deism.”
    Either way atheism is false.

  56. #56 Holbach
    April 29, 2009

    If Ken Miller can show that his god is behind it all, so can Francis Collins. Sure, biology and chemistry are most certainly scientific principles, but they are deigned endorsements from their god. Science can have no worse endorsements for validity than these two disingenous purveyors of science tainted by religious crap. Shame on the both of them with deserved contempt.

  57. #57 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 29, 2009

    I’ve read his book and disagree with much of his reasoning
    (Leibiniz:Why is there something rather than nothing?
    Stenger: Nothing is unstable)

    That’s at least an argument.

    If you answer Leibniz’ question with “God”, then the question merely moves on to “why is there God rather than nothing?”, and you’re in an infinite regress. That’s… not an argument.

  58. #58 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 29, 2009

    Either way atheism is false.

    I don’t think so Tim…

  59. #59 Glen Davidson
    April 29, 2009

    Oh Christ, Ineffable/Facilis, you simply admitted that the false dilemma is now atheism vs. theism. As if god existing has the same level of evidence for it as god not existing has for it. Or rather, as if the demand for evidence in favor of god were equal to the unending lack of evidence for god, so that the upshot of the utter lack of evidence for god is that demand for evidence is now nullified. From this false equality, or false dilemma, we are then to decide that god is more likely, simply because you insist that an unperceptible being is as likely to exist as to not–and since invisible beings are magical, they can do anything, so the unfalsibiability of the “hypothesis” once again trumps any science.

    And still no evidence whatsoever for god.

    I’ll chalk this up as another obvious fraud, and leave it be. There’s no point in following you idiots in your endless circles around the too-obvious point that you have as much evidence for god as ever, nil.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  60. #60 amphiox
    April 29, 2009

    Has it been proven that the observable universe (or everything we think was produced by the big bang) is actually a closed system?

    In a multiverse scenario, for example, the big bang itself could be a massive injection of energy into our universe from another universe.

    And since when is our universe fine tuned for life? If anything, our universe is fine tuned for enormous voids of empty near-vacuum.

  61. #61 SocraticGadfly
    April 29, 2009

    @ Ineffable. Nonsense. Hitch looks at empirical evidence arguing against God, for example. What’s more, of the Big Four new atheist writers, he’s the only one to tackle Eastern non-monotheisms, at least in sketch form, too. (Sam Harris is pretty much “spinning”/full of crap about Buddhism, but that’s another topic for another time.)

    And an “I said so” Red Queen statement isn’t an argument, not in the logical sense.

  62. #62 Heraclides
    April 29, 2009

    Haven’t time to read the comments, but, erm, isn’t Collins and administrator, not a scientist? My understanding is that he left research science quite early in his career to be an administrator.

    Not that excuses his error: anyone should do their homework before making claims.

  63. #63 Chiroptera
    April 29, 2009

    Ineffable, #55: “Couldn’t possibly distinguish theism from deism.”

    Either way atheism is false.

    Except that atheism is a closer approximation to deism than is theism.

  64. #64 Nusubito
    April 29, 2009

    And since when is our universe fine tuned for life? If anything, our universe is fine tuned for enormous voids of empty near-vacuum.

    And that is one of the biggest problems with all religious thinking, no matter how sophisticated it might seem. Because no matter how pretty they make it look, how dressed up it is, it still views human affairs and human existence to have profound significance in our universe. In other words, the spotlight, for them, is upon our planet, for no other reason than the fact that they happen to live here.

    Rather than the correct view of our species, and all life, as just a chemical phenomenon on a backwater planet of no particular importance, except to us.

    Eventually, the sun will go nova, and all life here will die. And the childish idea that everything else out there was designed with this one little rock in mind will die with it. Because existence will continue to go on just fine without us.

  65. #65 dave souza
    April 29, 2009

    Signs of a disordered mind… Ambiguities in the terms disorder and chaos, which usually have meanings directly opposed to equilibrium, contribute to widespread confusion and hamper comprehension of entropy for most students. “Dieorder” was used as an analogy for engergy levels in molecules at a time when the existence of atoms was very controversial. We understand a bit more more than a century later, and “disorder” just confuses the subject. The 2nd. law of thermodynamics is about thermodynamic entropy, not sort of looks a bit disordered entropy which only exists in the minds of the misinformed.

  66. #66 Timcol
    April 29, 2009

    Hi PZ – Thought you should see this link if nobody has brought it to your attention yet:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/morning-coffee-a-snippet-from-salvo/#comments

    Looks like your “journalist” friend O’Leary mentions you and also quotes an extract from an article one Terrell Celmons wrote in a magazine called Salvo. I’m registered to comment on UD (it’s hard to behave myself though), so would be happy to link over any comments you might like to say about this.

  67. #67 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    April 29, 2009

    And since when is our universe fine tuned for life? If anything, our universe is fine tuned for enormous voids of empty near-vacuum.

    Quite right. Those countless trillions of stars, the billions of cubic light years of vacuum…that’s just scaffolding that’s there to support life on Earth, the focus of the cosmos.

  68. #68 dave souza
    April 29, 2009

    Oops about spelling: “Dieorder” is a floydian misstype for “Disorder”, not a deathwish

  69. #69 Ichthyic
    April 29, 2009

    Either way atheism is false.

    …and thus we see the inherent bias that leads to the post-hoc arguments we see with Collins as well.

    you’re caught out, fraud.

    I have been vehemently speaking out against using Collins as a figurehead to represent “scientists” ever since I fist started hearing him interview about his “conversion”; long before he ever published his book.

    The man does an good enough job of communicating how genetics research (all of it, including the human genome project he oversaw) supports modern evolution theory, but it’s been obvious for some time that he is one of those who simply feels there MUST be evidence for the Abrahamic God out there somewhere, and he’ll be damned if he isn’t going to create some to fit!

    I mean, seriously, has “ineffable” ever read Collins’ “Moral Law” argument?? Here, scroll down to the moral law section and read:

    http://home.planet.nl/~gkorthof/korthof83.htm

    same lack of understanding, same ignorance of entire fields of endeavor that have collected data counter to his claims.

    It’s quite sad, and exactly WHY we shouldn’t be encouraging theism and science to be compatible. It’s fucking inevitable that a theist will begin to warp their view to try and fit their preconception that their deity exists in some meaningful, tangible form.

  70. #70 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    If anyone had read the paper I linked you above know that fine-tuning has absolutely nothing to do with the VOLUME of the universe that supports life.It has to do with the constants.
    To quote R Collins
    “We say a constant of physics C is fine-tuned for life if the width, Wr, of the range of values of the constant that permit, or are optimal for, the existence of intelligent life is small compared to the width, WR, of some properly chosen comparison range R: that is, if Wr/WR << 1. [Wr could also stand for the sum of the widths of the intelligent-life-permitting regions.]“

  71. #71 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    “We say a constant of physics C is fine-tuned for life if the width, Wr, of the range of values of the constant that permit, or are optimal for, the existence of intelligent life is small compared to the width, WR, of some properly chosen comparison range R: that is, if Wr/WR << 1. [Wr could also stand for the sum of the widths of the intelligent-life-permitting regions.]“

  72. #72 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    Wr/WR << 1.[Wr could also stand for the sum of the widths of the intelligent-life-permitting regions.]“

  73. #73 Ron Hager
    April 29, 2009

    My brother likes to point out the obvious, that 50% of all PHD’s graduated in the lower half of their class. Clearly some do not grasp all of the concepts of science and still manage to squeek by.

  74. #74 CalGeorge
    April 29, 2009

    Francis Collins has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry and should know that questions like this one on the BioLogos site are complete bullshit:

    “When Did Humans Receive the Image of God?”

  75. #75 Jason A.
    April 29, 2009

    We say a constant of physics C is fine-tuned for life if the width, Wr, of the range of values of the constant that permit, or are optimal for, the existence of intelligent life is small compared to the width, WR, of some properly chosen comparison range R: that is, if Wr/WR

    Now, show how you actually come up with the numbers for Wr and WR to turn this into something useful. How do you know what values of the constants are acceptable for life, and how do you know what the allowed values for those constants are? Perhaps you have some other universes you’ve been looking at and comparing to?

  76. #76 JD
    April 29, 2009

    Francis Collins found a waterfall on Gliese 581c with the words “ex jebus” splashed in heavenly font.

    Therefore, god exists.

  77. #77 j a higginbotham
    April 29, 2009

    “[F]ood spoils if not eaten soon enough” may demonstrate an increase of some type of disorder but does necessarily have to be an increase in entropy. Foods that oxidize will usually have a lower entropy when spoiled than unspoiled food and oxygen gas. Using building or food “order” as examples of entropy is confusing and leads to a false impression of the nature of entropy.

  78. #78 Eric
    April 29, 2009

    “Francis Collins has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, and he should know very well what the meaning of entropy is (he should be far more familiar with the concept than a mere biologist like me should be), and he’s using the concept of entropy to argue against natural causes in the expansion of the universe ? and then he turns around and explains that it is not an obstacle to biological evolution. The man is confused and inconsistent.”

    On the specific point of Collins’s use of entropy, Sean Carroll, a physicist at Cal Tech, agrees with Collins and Ineffable:

    “Collins isn?t using the typical dumb-creationist argument that evolution is incompatible with the Second Law. He?s just explaining that the universe near the Big Bang was in a very special state, one of extremely low entropy. Nobody knows why that is true. You can use it (as Collins does) as a ?gap? that God should step in and explain, but that?s as likely to come out right as all the previous gaps have been.”

    Note, the fact that Carroll disagrees with Collins’s *conclusion* is irrelevant wrt whether he understands entropy, and whether he has used it properly.

  79. #79 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 29, 2009

    Ray’s post (#45) is superb. Everyone should read it, as the failure to correctly conceptualize ‘entropy’ leads to no end of mischief.

    I would just add one thing to Ray’s comment. The 2nd Law is often used as a counter-example to the seeming ‘negentropy’ of life, in that the arrangement of matter and energy in living systems seems to become more highly ordered over time. The traditional response to that is to point out that the 2LOT refers to the universe as a whole, not an isolated part of that universe.

    But I have found an even more cogent response to creationists that completely blind-sides them: point out that evolution, rather than contradicting the 2nd Law, actually relies upon it. Mutations, after all, are copying errors! (The look on their faces is especially priceless if they have been using mutations as an ‘argument’ against evoluiton….what can they do, suddenly claim that mutations are generally positive?)

    Sometimes, this leads to information theory arguments, another area where multiple definitions becomes a problem. I like to point out that the apparent ‘increase in information’ is only due to a vast surplus of available energy sweeping through the environment, which preferentially ‘scrubs’ out arrangments of matter that are less efficient at promoting energy flow. Creationists who say we are inferring ‘information gain’ are conveniently ignoring all of that death and decay, and this is very effective rhetorically against the sort of young-earthers who go on and on about death and decay resulting from the Fall.

  80. #80 John Morales
    April 29, 2009

    Jason @75, indeed. The argument implicitly assumes the only possible form of intelligent life is akin to our own in an environment similar to our own. It seems facile* to exclude consideration of other than Earth-type life from such a vast Universe, or to presume to know that a different kind of life could not exist under different constants.


    * cf. Glen @59

  81. #81 MosesZD
    April 29, 2009

    While an argument of irreducible complexity would be shattered by a scientific explanation, these pointers to God are much less vulnerable to dismissal on the basis of future scientific explanations. However, pointers to God also draw attention to the splendid precision of nature?s laws towards the evolution of life.

    ARRRRGGHHHH!!!! That is so blindingly stupid. For all we know the chances life happening are so astronomically slim that we’re the only life in the universe even if there are trillions of planets otherwise capable of sustaining life. Nor do we know if other potential universes, with laws of nature operating in vastly different ways could have life evolve or not.

  82. #82 Holbach
    April 29, 2009

    The indifferent, uncompromising, uncaring, and most definitely unknowing of the universe in regards to it’s contents, especially to life it knows nothing about who presumes to give meaning to what the universe represents. Only with religion is the universe straddled with meaning.

  83. #83 bobxxxx
    April 29, 2009

    Sorry, this is totally off-topic.

    I just spent the past hour watching what had to be the most competent presidential press conference in United States history. I continue to be amazed at the intelligence of our new president. For the first time in decades, thanks to President Obama, I’m proud to be an American.

    On topic: The god-soaked Francis Collins is a disgrace to his profession.

  84. #84 Eric
    April 29, 2009

    “I continue to be amazed at the intelligence of our new president. For the first time in decades, thanks to President Obama, I’m proud to be an American…
    On topic: The god-soaked Francis Collins is a disgrace to his profession.”

    Our god-soaked President on his Christian faith:

    “I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the *redemptive death* and ***resurrection*** of Jesus Christ. I believe that that **faith** gives me a path to be **cleansed of sin** and have ***eternal life***.”

    Here’s another quote:

    “I’m a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.”

    Off topic — and on topic: Do you now think as little of our President as you do of Collins, or do you now think as much of Collins as you do of our President?

  85. #85 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    April 29, 2009

    I am rather more neutral on the subject of religion than many here. I really don’t care what folks believe, and I am more than capable of defending my own agnosticism on grounds ranging from epistemological to biblical. However, when folks start dusting off the fine-tuning argument, I can’t help but slap myself on the forehead–mainly because it represents such an astounding failure of imagination.

    1)The strongest refutation of the strong anthropic principle is the weak anthropic principls–namely, the probability that the laws of this Universe favor life is 1 because life exists in this Universe. The idea that physical constants of the Universe could somehow be “tuned” is such pure metaphysical hokum that if I found it in a sci-fi novel, I’d toss it across the room.

    2)Our universe gave rise to a particular form of “intelligent” life whose primary skill is rationailizing rather than thinking rationally. Are we to assume from this that even if the laws of physics were detuned, some other type of intelligence might not arise–maybe one we could note even conceive of?

    3)Inflation does indeed seem to be real. There are likely multiple universes, and we have no idea how many or how the physics might vary from one to the other. What is more, we’ll likely never know. Where the physics favors it, we have convesations like this (maybe as Douglas Adams suggested, some involve super-intelligent shades of the color blue). Where it doesn’t, it’s probably pretty boring.
    Note that this has nothing to do with the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum theory–another exercise in metaphysical masturbation.

    Look, if Collins wants to believe, great. If not, that’s great, too. I would suggest that if he’s looking to the pi-meson triplet as a justification for your belief in the trinity, I will laugh at him. Granted, it’s no wierder than St. Augustine’s argument for the trinity based on the three sections of a banana, but I got some giggles out of The Confessions, too.

  86. #86 Holbach
    April 29, 2009

    Ineffable @ 55

    To your religion soaked brain, anything that smacks of reason is false, and atheism represents this belittling of your pathetic unreason. Your god is not even false, it just does not exist. It is not your fault that there is no imaginary god, so why burden your insignificant mind with something that you will never cause to exist? Atheism is here to remind you with blatant reason that your existence is false and only possible because of evolution, not something that evolution knows anything about.

  87. #87 eddie
    April 29, 2009

    Thank you Ray @45.
    People mostly get confused and think entropy and order add up to a conserved quantity so that an increase in one necessarily means a decrease in the other. The same problem arises with information.
    It is easy to see this is not the case when you try to put entropy or information into a 1 – 1 correspondance with total energy, which is conserved.
    Those looking for more on this may wiki ‘Gibbs free energy’. Yes, you can all look. That information is not conserved.

  88. #88 John Morales
    April 29, 2009

    arids @85,

    … The idea that physical constants of the Universe could somehow be “tuned” is such pure metaphysical hokum that if I found it in a sci-fi novel, I’d toss it across the room.

    So, have you read Contact by Carl Sagan? ;)

  89. #89 Ichthyic
    April 29, 2009

    Do you now think as little of our President as you do of Collins, or do you now think as much of Collins as you do of our President?

    show me where Obama makes the same mistaken god-of-the-gaps arguments as Collins does, and then show me how Obama is supposedly a scientist, and then we’ll have something to discuss.

    otherwise, your rather poor attempt at analogy gets a…

    Fail.

  90. #90 Nova
    April 29, 2009

    Maybe this couldn’t have come at a better time in making some fence-sitting atheist accommodationists see where we’re coming from…

  91. #91 tmaxPA
    April 29, 2009

    David@57

    If you answer Leibniz’ question with “God”, then the question merely moves on to “why is there God rather than nothing?”, and you’re in an infinite regress. That’s… not an argument.

    Actually, it kind of is, and helps explain why this whole issue comes up. As I just mentioned yesterday, the religionists have given in to (at least some of) the losses they’ve suffered refuting biology. They’re moving on to cosmology. And the post by Collins helps make the point about why.

    You see, IF you presume that ‘God’ means a self-aware entity, such as, say humans, or Gods, or Flying Piles of Noodly Goodness, then what you’ve done is assign agency to it. And what that means (both linguistically and philosophically) is that it becomes a cause of things, without antecedent. I do things simply because I want to, and that motivation doesn’t have to be caused by anything but my whim (another term for cause-without-cause).

    So here we have a universe which is demonstrably not behaving according to what we think of as fundamental laws. Which is to say either the energy of The Big Bang came from somewhere (or, alternatively, that it was caused ), or it didn’t. In which case, you appear to have a cause without cause.

    Now, you may be able to get a lot of people to overlook the fact that you have no argument, because you are, just as much as the most hardened godbot, insisting that something came from nothing. You can get away with this bit of rhetorical legerdemain because what you do have is lots of data and scientific observations. So we know the Big Bang happened more than we know that God exists.

    But when it comes to explaining why that is, their argument makes more sense than yours. Because theirs ignores physics and goes straight to psychology. God doesn’t need any antecedent, just as my will does not need any antecedent. And for exactly the same reason. And when you try to deny one, you run aground, because you are forced to deny the other.

    I don’t know many scientists who would be willing to state that they have no free will. And those who think about this long and hard enough HAVE to come up with the reasonable probability (not just possibility) that there is A God. Deciding that it must be the one they were taught about as a child is largely optional.

  92. #92 Holbach
    April 29, 2009

    Here is a quotation by Thomas H. Huxley which I can aptly apply to Ken Miller and Francis Collins in their attempt to reconcile their science with religion.

    “Science is simply common sense at its best, that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.”

    He was more than Darwin’s bulldog in defending science.

  93. #93 Michael Kremer
    April 29, 2009

    Would any Pharyngulites (or PZ for that matter) care to comment on Sean Carroll’s view quoted in comment #78 (and appearing in the comments on the blog reached from PZ’s first link)?

  94. #94 Ichthyic
    April 29, 2009

    God doesn’t need any antecedent, just as my will does not need any antecedent.

    uh, wut?

    you’re saying two human conceptualizations don’t need any antecedent?

    that’s so lame it gives me a headache.

    *sigh*

  95. #95 Ineffable
    April 29, 2009

    “a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    1)The strongest refutation of the strong anthropic principle is the weak anthropic principls–namely, the probability that the laws of this Universe favor life is 1 because life exists in this Universe.”
    Of course all I have tpo do is reword the argument to
    ” What are the probabilities of Life existing?”

    “2)Our universe gave rise to a particular form of “intelligent” life whose primary skill is rationailizing rather than thinking rationally. Are we to assume from this that even if the laws of physics were detuned, some other type of intelligence might not arise–maybe one we could note even conceive of?”
    Nope go here and.
    http://www.fine-tuning.org
    If the constants were not in a specific range and the nuclear force was too weak then there would be no atoms other than hydrogen and no such thing as chemistry. It would be impossible for intelligence to arise. Similar situations result from the fine-tuning of gravity or the cosmological constant.

    “3)Inflation does indeed seem to be real. There are likely multiple universes, and we have no idea how many or how the physics might vary from one to the other. What is more, we’ll likely never know. Where the physics favors it, we have convesations like this (maybe as Douglas Adams suggested, some involve super-intelligent shades of the color blue). Where it doesn’t, it’s probably pretty boring.
    Note that this has nothing to do with the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum theory–another exercise in metaphysical masturbation.”
    Of course even if we assume inflation and multiple universes, the laws and initial conditions that cause the inflationary mechanism must also be fine-tuned or inflation would not happen.You just push the problem back a step to who fine-tuned inflation.

    “But there is a problem with that scenario: a ?skeleton in the closet,? Carroll said. To begin inflation, the universe would have encompassed a microscopically tiny patch in an extremely unlikely configuration, not what scientists would expect from a randomly chosen initial condition. Carroll and Chen argue that a generic initial condition is actually likely to resemble cold, empty space?not an obviously favorable starting point for the onset of inflation. ”
    http://chronicle.uchicago.edu/041118/entropy.shtml
    (BTW you should read Sean carroll’s blog. Its great)

  96. #96 John Morales
    April 29, 2009

    Michael @93, I see it as akin to the issue of abiogenesis in biological evolution – though in this case it refers to cosmological evolution – the argumentative basis is the same: an argument from incredulity based on perceived likelyhood and based on a sample size of 1.

  97. #97 tmaxPA
    April 29, 2009

    Ichy: It’s is always best to first ridicule. Understanding is optional.

    Your headache is all the worse for how tiny your brain must be, but try to keep up:

    The concept of will is as much in conflict with physics as the concept of God . They are related concepts, in that they grant agency to an entity, making it capable (at least semantically) of doing things, prompted not by the laws of physics but by volition . A cause that is not cause. My will, your will, anybody’s “will”. Free will doesn’t exist any more than God does. But scientists that defend free will aren’t ridiculed the same way that scientists who defend God are. I think it is because most of the people who abandon (or never acquire) belief in God aren’t willing to abandon free will.

  98. #98 John Morales
    April 29, 2009

    I should’ve said acosmogenesis :)

  99. #99 tmaxPA
    April 29, 2009

    And I should have said “cause that is not caused .

  100. #100 John Morales
    April 29, 2009

    tmaxPA @99, cause that is not caused, eh? :)

  101. #101 John Morales
    April 29, 2009

    tmaxPA, one more thing:

    Free will doesn’t exist any more than God does. But scientists that defend free will aren’t ridiculed the same way that scientists who defend God are. I think it is because most of the people who abandon (or never acquire) belief in God aren’t willing to abandon free will.

    Free will is a subjective state no one denies exists. Whether it’s objectively so is ponderable, but that the sensibility thereof is real is undeniable – i.e. it certainly exists, for most practical definitions (e.g. legal ones).

  102. #102 tmaxPA
    April 29, 2009

    But on that note, John, why is it that their argument is the incredulous one? I’ll admit that I don’t think the issue of abiogenesis is controversial: we don’t know how it happened precisely, but there are plenty of plausible scenarios in context. But I think the issue of acosmogenesis is a thornier issue.

    This isn’t a ‘god of the gaps’ argument, if only because we’ve successfully pushed the context back to the very beginning of time [sic]. I can understand that claiming ‘God did it’ when we don’t know why something happened is an argument of incredulity. But here we’re talking a point where it isn’t that we don’t know why, it is that we can’t ever know why, because the question ‘why’ doesn’t make sense in context. Sure, our instinct to ascribe agency to unknown occurrences is just an algorithm selected by nature for survival in our species. That doesn’t mean it actually makes sense to insist there can be no agency involved when things look ‘fine tuned’ cosmologically.

  103. #103 Holbach
    April 29, 2009

    If Francis Collins did not exist, his god definitely would not exist.

  104. #104 Glen Davidson
    April 29, 2009

    Free will doesn’t exist any more than God does. But scientists that defend free will aren’t ridiculed the same way that scientists who defend God are.

    First of all, I don’t know that scientists who defend God are often ridiculed. I thought it rather the opposite, in fact.

    Secondly, there are good reasons and bad reasons why those who at least accept free will are not typically ridiculed. I know I changed the words from what you used, but I don’t recall many actually defending free will, not in the usual sense that religionists do. True, I read about some defending it recently, at evolutionnews.org, however I can’t use that to suggest that many actually defend traditional free will.

    I can’t imagine very many neuroscientists defending anything like traditional “free will.”

    Getting back to good reasons and bad for not criticizing scientists who accept free will. Bad reasons are the frequent deference to religion, and of course, the fact that enough scientists accept free will tacitly that it becomes difficult to criticize it.

    A good (well, somewhat good) reason is that there are no data which directly contradict free will, even though it hardly accords with physics–while hard data taken collectively suggest that god does nothing (unless in areas like “free will”). Another good reason, probably, is that neuroscience is not threatened by “free will believers,” and tacitly has no place for it at all. So neuroscience gets on with the science, giving scant heed to claims of “free will.”

    Remember, few scientists ever cared about creationism, until it directly threatened science education. That may well be argued to be a mistake, and ignoring “free will,” which can’t possibly exist in the traditional way, perhaps should also not be ignored. Still, creationism is the more immediate threat, and it is the one which opposes hard data.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  105. #105 John Morales
    April 29, 2009

    tmaxPA,

    why is it that their argument is the incredulous one? I’ll admit that I don’t think the issue of abiogenesis is controversial [...] But I think the issue of acosmogenesis is a thornier issue.

    To the first, because they can’t accept that not knowing is preferable to a guess; did you see the video I linked to?
    To the second, it’s thornier because it’s much harder to get evidence, not to mention experiment, but I think there’s a qualitative similarity, if different in magnitude.

    That doesn’t mean it actually makes sense to insist there can be no agency involved when things look ‘fine tuned’ cosmologically.

    Do they really look fine-tuned? I think it very much depends on your suppositions and your evaluation function.
    I certainly think the opposite, that life seems fragile and inconsequential, and that most of the Universe seems utterly hostile to it. That’s just as arbitrary a viewpoint as the other, of course, I just think more reasonable.
    More notably, I don’t think reasonable people “insist there can be no agency involved”, I think we say we see no need for any agency to be involved.

    Were I a betting man, I’d bet that things just are, in whatever ultimate sense, not that things were caused by an uncaused thing that just is and made things as they are.

  106. #106 tmaxPA
    April 29, 2009

    John@100: Indeed. You should note that by ’cause that is not caused’ I was referring to free will. And pointing out, as does the youtube clip, that it also describes God.

    Do you really think that is a coincidence? Or that you can claim one makes sense but the other doesn’t?

    That people claim to have free will doesn’t make it a ‘subjective state’. Just a common claim. As far as I know, there is no subjective feeling or experience /of/ free will. Just a rock-solid conviction based on no solid evidence whatsoever (but lots of coincidental correlation). And there is no pondering over whether it exists objectively, either. It has been conclusively disproved in a number of ways.

    It is a myth, as imaginary as God. So perhaps if you have an urge to save it, you can empathize with why some people are willing to push God back to the moment of Creation, but no further.

  107. #107 Voldemort13
    April 29, 2009

    I may be wrong about this but I thought that the inflation theory explained the low entropy state of the early universe. Either way Collins argument basically points to some phenomena that isn’t understood completely and then says God did it. That doesn’t sound that scientific but he has already admitted that he didn’t come to believe in God through scientific means. I find it interesting that he is trying to justify something with science that he came to accept through a combination of a some backassword moral argument, and a waterfall.

    p.s. Collins is a biologist so he should be able to know why saying that God exists because we have morals is a bad argument.

  108. #108 John Morales
    April 29, 2009

    tmaxPA,

    As far as I know, there is no subjective feeling or experience /of/ free will.

    Not even when undergoing the trepidation of signing up for a mortgage? Not even when considering whether one is too inebriated to drive legally? Not even when deciding whether or not to say “I do”? :)

    Interesting claim. Care to explain how someone in my examples above doesn’t subjectively experience the choice faced as an exercise in free will (aka an experience of free will)?

  109. #109 llanitedave
    April 29, 2009

    As one who is normally a defender of the concept of “Free Will”, I don’t see any reason to argue that it is uncaused or without antecedant. It is, rather, an emergent property of intelligence, training, self-awareness, social empathy, and behavioral flexibility. Each of these are evolutionarily derived traits.

  110. #110 tmaxPA
    April 29, 2009

    I don’t recall many actually defending free will, not in the usual sense that religionists do. [...] I can’t imagine very many neuroscientists defending anything like traditional “free will.”

    They don’t defend it, because they are humans, capable of all the kinds of self-deception we use to maintain our narratives. They don’t think about it. It doesn’t come up. When they’re doing neuroscience, the idea of free will would be ludicrous. When they’re not, the idea of not having free will is equally ludicrous. We are inculcated before we even know what the words mean, far more than any religious indoctrination could ever accomplish, built into the very thoughts in our head, this mirage of being in control of our selves . And just like the religious get caught up on ‘the problem of good’ that atheism has, most people get caught up on ‘the problem of responsibility’ if you try to point out that, no, there isn’t any free will. It isn’t like love or beauty or other emotion-related concepts, either. These are just abstractions of things that actually do happen, neurobiologically. But free will is just a fiction.

    A good (well, somewhat good) reason is that there are no data which directly contradict free will

    Denial – it ain’t just a river in Egypt. ;-)

    My favorite (I consider it conclusive, TBH) is the thumbswitch experiment. They hook subject up to some brain monitoring stuff, give them a thumbswitch, and have them watch a slideshow. Then they switched the slide whenever they hit the switch. After a while, they changed control of the slideshow from the thumbswitch to the brain monitors, so that it was triggered by the neural activity which caused (necessary and sufficient, blah blah blah) the voluntary motor signals for the thumb. They let it run like that and asked the subjects for their subjective reports of what happened. Their impressions were identical and unanimous.

    Now, had there been a little humonculi in their brains somewhere, whether some distributed neural network or some centralized executive function, capable of controlling things, (which is to say if free will existed) they should have reported that the slideshow was almost magic, that as soon as they decided to change the picture, viola, it was done. Or they could have reported that suddenly the thing went wild, switching sometimes when they even thought about changing it. Instead, what they all reported without exception was that it REALLY WAS MAGIC. From their perspective, the slideshow consistently and unerringly predicted their decision. AFTER they had ‘decided’, but before they KNEW they had decided.

    It turns out “they” (being their rational minds) were finding out what their brains had ‘decided’ a few important milliseconds AFTER their brains had started the process of moving their thumbs.

    Now I ask you, how can we be at all “in charge” of our decisions if we don’t even find out what we’ve decided until afterwards?

    There isn’t anything ‘classical’ or ‘religious’ about the free will which doesn’t exist. The one you think you’re using right now to ‘decide’ things doesn’t exist, either. But since you have decades of practice predicting what you’re going to do (who would know better than you, with special access to internal states like emotions that the rest of the world can only guess at) so the issue seldom comes up.

    But on those rare occasions when it does come up, you’ve been trained as well as any neuroscientists (including the ones that did the thumbswitch experiment) to “just look away.”

  111. #111 CalGeorge
    April 29, 2009

    Question 7: What factors should be considered in determining how to approach a passage of scripture?

    “…because the Old and New Testament scriptures are considered by many people to be divinely inspired, biblical interpretation falls short without an understanding of this divine inspiration. The Bible is not simply a work of literature, but for faithful readers it is a means by which one can learn more about God and communicate with God in a personal way. Many believe it is important to pray before reading passages of the Bible, in order to prepare oneself to receive the words with the proper state of mind and spirit. It is also important to consider the generally accepted interpretations of Christians in the past.

    Whahahahahahahahahahaha!

  112. #112 windy
    April 30, 2009

    tmaxPA, you started out arguing against contracausal free will, and now you’re arguing against conscious choice. You are right that the role of the latter in decision making is clearly overestimated, but you are arguing against a strawman if you say that anyone who advocates the latter must also believe in the former.

    I don’t know many scientists who would be willing to state that they have no free will. And those who think about this long and hard enough HAVE to come up with the reasonable probability (not just possibility) that there is A God.

    How does that follow?

  113. #113 CalGeorge
    April 30, 2009

    Question 16: Was there death before the Fall?

    “…human death did not occur before the Fall as long as the definition of fully manifest humanness is not granted until Adam appears.”

    Whahahahahahahahahahaha!

  114. #114 tmaxPA
    April 30, 2009
    As far as I know, there is no subjective feeling or experience /of/ free will.

    Not even when undergoing the trepidation of signing up for a mortgage? Not even when considering whether one is too inebriated to drive legally? Not even when deciding whether or not to say “I do”? :)

    You think indecision is the experience of free will? Because it seems to me it would be the opposite. If we had free will,

    Sure you can experience things as abstract as “an exercise in free will” (or rather you can describe an experience like that.) I can experience something ‘soul-shattering’, too, but that doesn’t mean I have a soul. So, no, that isn’t experiencing free will.

    It isn’t a subjective experience, it isn’t an emergent property. It is a convenient fiction.

  115. #115 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    he should be far more familiar with the concept than a mere biologist like me should be

    Quite so, and you have no idea what he’s talking about here.

  116. #116 John Morales
    April 30, 2009

    tmaxPA,

    Now I ask you, how can we be at all “in charge” of our decisions if we don’t even find out what we’ve decided until afterwards?

    As I said above, the subjective experience (generally) is that we make deliberative choices consciously, regardless of the underlying process. And even if it’s not the conscious self that makes such choices, it doesn’t mean whatever other aspect does isn’t part of oneself, or that one is less responsible for one’s choices.

  117. #117 tmaxPA
    April 30, 2009

    Windy;

    You are right, I am confabulating ‘contracausal free will’ and ‘conscious choice’. For good reason, though; without the former, the latter, while a valid subjective experience, is only that. If we don’t have free will, we don’t make conscious choices. We observe our brains make choices and then concoct explanations as to why.

    The last part, I muffed the grammar bad enough, it isn’t even really worth trying to fix. I was just trying to intimate that there is a conflict that is built into our language which relates to this issue. As soon as you start talking about people as opposed to objects, you have to start flipping teleologies back and forth to maintain a certain level of dignity or else somebody sooner or later is going to get angry enough to attack you. My thought was that a scientist who wants to be truly consistent has to either keep both free will and God, or abandon both of them.

    Obviously, all scientists without exception disagree with me, as far as I know. ;-)

  118. #118 hje
    April 30, 2009

    ?When I hear of fine-tuning , I reach for my gun.? Not a Stephen Hawking quote ; )

  119. #119 Nate
    April 30, 2009

    And religion claims yet another victim.

    This is a pity, I do not have a science background – but I was in absolute awe of the human genome project. I was particularly in awe of the findings on human “ethnicity” and “race”. And how they are figments of the mind.

    How a highly rational person in the lab can come up with this piffle out of a lab-coat scares me. It seems even intelligence isn’t immunity enough from superstition.

  120. #120 JD
    April 30, 2009

    So does this mean god speaks in swinefluency?

  121. #121 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    Now, had there been a little humonculi in their brains somewhere, whether some distributed neural network or some centralized executive function, capable of controlling things, (which is to say if free will existed)

    This is somewhat confused. The brain surely is a control system and/or contains neural networks that are control systems — that has nothing to do with free will. What the thumbswitch experiment shows is that consciousness is not a control system — that there is no mental prime mover, an autonomous self, a contracausal (“free”) will. Down goes dualism. But beyond that, it shows that consciousness is neither on the control system path nor fed in parallel by the control system; rather, our actions and their consequences are fed into consciousness, woven into a narrative around a “self” that makes decisions. There is such a self, but unlike the autonomous self of that narrative, it is the entire body, brain included, a physical mechanism operating in the physical world — and, as the experiment shows, that self made those decisions before awareness of them entered into consciousness.

  122. #122 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    As soon as you start talking about people as opposed to objects

    Ah, but see, we’ve unnecessarily inserted dualism into our concept of persons, by thinking of a person as distinct from the physical object, the animal of species homo sapiens. Like, inside that body, somewhere in the head apparently, is this mystical homunculus with a will, and that is the person. We could achieve some clarity if we discarded the mystical component and viewed the person as, well, the actual person, the object that enters the car and is transported to the store, the object we take a picture of, the object that is bruised by a rock, the object that articulates in such a way as to impact keys on a keyboard, driven by a control mechanism, a physical thing largely located in the skull cavity — but that thing isn’t the person, it’s just part of it.

  123. #123 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    And even if it’s not the conscious self that makes such choices, it doesn’t mean whatever other aspect does isn’t part of oneself, or that one is less responsible for one’s choices.

    This can only make sense if “one” and “oneself” refer to the whole person, the physical object, an “aspect” of which, a “part” of it, makes choices. But then, what exactly do you mean by “responsible”? Because the sort of responsibility attached to people’s choices is usually viewed as entailing metaphysical autonomy — people are at fault, they are held accountable, etc. But there’s another sort of responsibility, like a fox being responsible for chicken feathers flying about or a falling rock being responsible for someone’s death — causal responsibility. Note that absence of some sort of metaphysical moral responsibility doesn’t preclude our taking action — we might shoot or cage the fox, and build a barrier or place netting to impede the action of rocks, much as we might put a person in jail to prevent their undesirable actions, even while viewing them as completely physical objects that are constructions of their genetics and history.

    With people, it’s hard to disentangle the notion of responsibility, removing the metaphysical aspects and leaving just the causal ones, but some people are trying; see, e.g., naturalism.org

  124. #124 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    . Collins is still using the same tired old 2ndLT just like the creationists do, but replacing humans with stars and the planet with the universe.

    That is absurd and grossly ignorant; he is doing no such thing. He is only using the 2LOT to argue that the universe started with low entropy, which is quite uncontroversial. What he is doing is taking the unlikelihood of certain features of the universe as “pointers to god”, which is anti-scientific question-begging Ockham-defying gotbottery.

  125. #125 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    The fine-tuning argument is nonsense. Honestly, any conceivable set of laws that could have resulted in a cosmological natural history yielding human observers would by necessity look fine-tuned to those observers. This is like arguing that God chose your license plate number, because, after all, of all the numbers that could be conceived, you ended up with this particular one.

    Not really. It’s a lot more like tossing a deck of cards in the air and having them land in a perfectly symmetric pattern. It can happen, and if it does happen one can simply say that, of all the many possible outcomes one of them had to happen and that’s the one that did, but that’s not very satisfying; it seems to beg for an explanation beyond that. Of course, “god did it” is no explanation at all.

  126. #126 Kagato
    April 30, 2009

    Stating incredibly slim odds of an event occurring as proof that it probably could not occur seems particularly silly to me, if said event only needs to occur once, given no constraints on how many attempts might be made. And utterly ridiculous if applied to an event that has already occurred.

    The odds of dealing yourself any specific 5 card hand is 1 in 2,598,960.
    After dealing yourself 5 cards, lo! How incredibly unlikely that you should hold that hand! But the odds of you holding a 5-card hand of some sort are of course 1:1.

  127. #127 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    natural cynic #26 for the win. (And Glen offers his usual high quality of analysis. Never flashy enough for the meaningless shiny award, I guess.) Most of the other characterizations of Collins’ argument, including PZ’s and the one at evaluatingchristianity, are foolishly ignorant, along the lines of “Collins is a Christian, Christians are stoopid, Collins uses a 2LOT argument, the usual 2LOT arguments from Christians are stoopid, Collins’s argument is stoopid like that” — being an atheist is no guarantee of rationality or intellectual dishonesty.

  128. #128 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    being an atheist is no guarantee of rationality or intellectual dishonesty

    Or of avoiding double negatives, sigh.

  129. #129 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    The odds of dealing yourself any specific 5 card hand is 1 in 2,598,960.
    After dealing yourself 5 cards, lo! How incredibly unlikely that you should hold that hand! But the odds of you holding a 5-card hand of some sort are of course 1:1.

    You folks don’t understand the fine tuning issue. It isn’t simply about a configuration that is no more or less likely than any other configuration, it is about configurations that are much less likely than others — like stirring your coffee and cream and ending up with all the cream on the left and all the coffee on the right — the number of such configurations are a tiny fraction of all the possible configurations.

  130. #130 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    Err…it’s decreased entropy in an OPEN system like our solar system.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with Collins’ argument.

    I know it’s hard to accept, but Collins, despite his absurd godbottery, is a lot smarter than most of you.

  131. #131 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    when a high school dropout understands entropy better than a Chemistry PhD, you just KNOW someone got their brains badly scrambled.

    No, what I know is that the high school dropout doesn’t understand the Chemistry PhD’s argument but irrationally hasn’t considered that possibility.

  132. #132 dave souza
    April 30, 2009

    Arguably, Collins is being a good Darwinist…

    Official line ? “the laws impressed on matter by the Creator”

    More nuanced comments in letters ?

    “I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide.”

    “I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can…… But the more I think the more bewildered I become; as indeed I have probably shown by this letter.”

  133. #133 Kagato
    April 30, 2009

    You folks don’t understand the fine tuning issue. It isn’t simply about a configuration that is no more or less likely than any other configuration, it is about configurations that are much less likely than others

    I get that. But barring some major advances in cosmology, we can’t say if there have been previous “attempts” before arriving at this universe (eg. the various cyclic models). The fact that we happen to live in a “winning” universe would therefore be the weak anthropic principle, not the strong.

    If you think it’s amazing how fine-tuned the universe seems to your existence, imagine how astounded a lifeform would be in a universe where the principle didn’t hold true. :)

  134. #134 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    I’d say the worst part is how the answer to question 19 starts off by quote-mining Stephen Hawking.

    Jumping Jeebus on a pogo stick, you know you’ve gone a long down the rabbit hole at that point.

    Indeed. It’s a shame that Collins is being taken to task for arguments he didn’t make, by people who have little idea of what they are talking about and are making silly errors left and right, when here we have a truly horrendous, transparent piece of blatant disgusting dishonesty. Omitted portions of Hawking and Hertog’s statement in bold:

    In fact if one does adopt a bottom-up approach to cosmology, one is immediately
    led to an essentially classical framework, in which one loses all ability to explain
    cosmology?s central question – why our universe is the way it is. In particular a
    [A]
    bottom-up approach to cosmology either requires one to postulate an initial state of
    the universe that is carefully fine-tuned [10] – as if prescribed by an outside agency – or it requires one to invoke the notion of eternal inflation [11], which prevents one
    from predicting what a typical observer would see.
    Here we put forward a different approach to cosmology …

    They are arguing against a bottom-up approach — that fact is completely obscured and the argument misrepresented in Collins’ quote mine. What a foul scumbucket he is. (But he’s still smarter than the people offering their ridiculously wrong mischaracterizations of his 2LOT argument.)

  135. #135 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 30, 2009

    Truth Sacred Machine Guy:

    OK, I know in advance you probably could care less, but I just felt like telling you I was impressed by your comments here. You were scrupulously fair to Collins and pointed out where your fellow non-believers weren’t meeting your standard of inquiry. If all of us could try to give the other guy a fair hearing now and then, I know I would learn more.

  136. #136 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    I get that.

    Then why did you misrepresent the issue? As for the rest — no argument (I’m not Collins), but not the point.

  137. #137 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    You were scrupulously fair to Collins

    You only seem to notice it when it’s one of your guys.

    If all of us could try to give the other guy a fair hearing now and then, I know I would learn more.

    Fair hearing would imply yournot repeating your idiotic arguments about morality needing god that have been responded to and refuted over and over and over and over …

  138. #138 Richard Eis
    April 30, 2009

    - The BioLogos Foundation promotes the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms, and seeks to harmonize these different perspectives.-

    Thats not religion…it’s WOO. If it morphs anymore, Orac will be commenting on it. Quick, someone ask what they think of homeopathy.

  139. #139 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    P.S. to Kagato

    As for the rest — no argument (I’m not Collins), but not the point.

    But I agree it’s to the point. What you’re talking about is like stirring the cream and coffee googleplex times, waiting for an occasion when all the cream is on the left and all the coffee is on the right, and when it does happen, then exclaiming “Wow! Amazing! Pointer to God!”

  140. #140 dave souza
    April 30, 2009

    Mischaracterised by some or not, Collins’ argument is ridiculously wrong as shown on his website. Follow the links.

    “Overall, the entropy of a physical system is a measure of the system?s disorder….. However, it is also known that the formation of stars and galaxies, essential for the development of life on Earth, requires a high degree of order.”

    Gibberish. The 2LOT is about thermodynamic entropy, which is about the tendency for energy differentials to even out. Stars and galaxies form as the gravitational potential energies are evened out, and matter clumps together, thus increasing entropy in accordance with 2LOT. “Disorder” is a flawed 19th century analogy for molecular energy, confusing people like Collins.

  141. #141 Rorschach
    April 30, 2009

    NS @ 124,

    He is only using the 2LOT to argue that the universe started with low entropy, which is quite uncontroversial

    Im no specialist in this stuff by any means,so feel free to correct me,but I remember reading in Stenger’s book that for its size the universe’s entropy was actually maximal at the time of the BB.

    @ 28,

    Ineffable, Victor Stenger’s already shot that all to hell.

    Stenger said however,that the entropy of the universe at the time of the Big Bang(Planck time) was maximal for its size(=black hole),and has been increasing ever since with the universe’s expansion.
    This bit has always confused me a little.

    The counterintuitive part is that while the total entropy of the universe increases,in concordance with the 2LOT, as it expands,the maximum possible entropy,writes Stenger,increases even faster,leaving more room for order to form.

    Collins citation from the link PZ gave above:

    However, it is also known that the formation of stars and galaxies, essential for the development of life on Earth, requires a high degree of order. This implies that the universe was once much more ordered than it is now, and therefore it began with a very low entropy.

    That would,in light of the Stenger quote above,indeed seeem a silly thing for such a clever man to say.

  142. #142 dave souza
    April 30, 2009

    Stenger’s argument makes more sense if you focus on the thermodynamics and don’t worry about “order”. Taking a black hole as a system, all the matter is clumped together, with no gravitational differences to perform work, so entropy is high.

    Spread that matter out as the universe expands, and there’s a lot of gravitational potential energy available as the matter tends to fall together, therefore entropy is low, and will then tend to increase as matter falls together into the clumps we call stars and galaxies. Doubtless gross oversimplification, but a better analogy.

  143. #143 Lotharloo
    April 30, 2009

    I read the comments here and I agree that there has been a misrepresentation of Collins. His arguments are not as ridiculous as Ray Comfort or Ham Bacon, just typically silly for a theist.

    The fine-tuning is not a scientific theory. To blast ineffable, Wr and WR values are imaginary. Nobody knows what is WR, nobody knows what would happen if all the parameters change (in mathematical terms, we have no idea what is the probability space). We also do not know whether our universe is unique or is one of the many possible universes that happen to hit the initial conditions right.

  144. #144 Ineffable
    April 30, 2009

    “The odds of dealing yourself any specific 5 card hand is 1 in 2,598,960.
    After dealing yourself 5 cards, lo! How incredibly unlikely that you should hold that hand! But the odds of you holding a 5-card hand of some sort are of course 1:1.”
    Imagine playing cards and somehow the guy next to you keeps getting dealt consecutive royal flushes. When you ask he responds “Any combination of 5 cards is equally unlikely, but the odds of me holding any hand are 1:1″
    Do you make a design inference or leave it to random chance? The point is that it is not just any configuration, ALL of the constants land in the configuration they need to be to support intelligent life , just as the configuration of card your opponent needed to win keep landing in his hand.

  145. #145 dave souza
    April 30, 2009

    When you ask he responds “Any combination of 5 cards is equally unlikely, but the odds of me holding any hand are 1:1″
    Do you make a design inference or leave it to random chance?

    So presumably you accuse fellow card players of cheating if they win more than you like. Chances can happen, get used to it.

  146. #146 Jason A.
    April 30, 2009

    The point is that it is not just any configuration, ALL of the constants land in the configuration they need to be to support intelligent life , just as the configuration of card your opponent needed to win keep landing in his hand.

    And there’s the difference. On the one side, you’re talking about the universe getting all the ‘right’ constants (whatever that means) once, i.e. a single royal flush. On the other, you’re talking about your opponent repeatedly getting a royal flush.

    What does it even mean to talk about the probability of a single event that has already happened?

  147. #147 Jason A.
    April 30, 2009

    At any rate, it’s a stretch of the imagination to call a universe in which we’ve existed for a thousandth of a percent of the total age, and 99% of the living space of our own planet is inhospitable to us, as being specially created for us. More reasonable to conclude we happen to have evolved to fill a tiny little niche in an infinitesimal fraction of a percent of the total fourspace (space + time) of the universe.

  148. #148 Sigmund
    April 30, 2009

    It is incorrect to characterize this particular Collins argument as the same as the classic creationist 2nd Law fallacy.
    The real problem for theists with the idea of fine tuning is that it creates a dilemma regarding miracles. What they want to suggest is that while all these laws need to be ever so exactly tuned or else all matter falls apart, this tuning is occasionally changed by a God who temporarily alters everything to intervene to impregnate a virgin, walk on water or reverse three days of necrotic cell death, bringing several trillion cells present within a rotten corpse simultaneously back to life.
    Look at the ridiculous answer he gives to the question of miracles. He suggests that God can intervene to suspend natural laws in this way but that this intervention should be ‘rare’.
    Rare? I really don’t get that. Can a theist explain that to me?
    Either God can intervene whenever He wants or he can’t intervene at all. Why should He only got a few chances to do it?

  149. #149 TigerRepellingRock
    April 30, 2009

    @Ineffable

    If you’ll excuse the old saw: What do you get if you divide 987654321 by 123456789? Extraordinary, isn’t it? Looks rather fine tuned. Would you infer design from that?

  150. #150 Rorschach
    April 30, 2009

    Either God can intervene whenever He wants or he can’t intervene at all.

    I hear god cures back pain now.If he’s in the mood,that is.

  151. #151 Lilly de Lure
    April 30, 2009

    Jason A said:

    At any rate, it’s a stretch of the imagination to call a universe in which we’ve existed for a thousandth of a percent of the total age, and 99% of the living space of our own planet is inhospitable to us, as being specially created for us.

    Well, on a universal scale the fine-tuning argument seems to be applied as imagining that the unvierse has been designed specifically for self replicating entities, which will eventually evolve into intelligent life.

    However, in the absence of a universe with different fundamental constants available for examination how do people positing this argument possibly know that the conditions in our universe are the only ones which could produce these entities? How do we know that another universe with different fundamental constants (ones which precluded planet formation for example) that would be terrible for the evolution of organic creatures, wouldn’t be teaming with self replicating (and thus evolving) gas clouds, or whatever?

  152. #152 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    April 30, 2009

    Ineffable@95, OK, I’ll join your metaphysical wankfest…if you’ll just tell me how we (or your sky pixie) would go about changing the physical constants of the Universe. What values could they assume? What are correlations and constaints between them? How is probability distributed over the different values?

    Bzzzz! Time’s up, but thank you for playing.

    Big problem here, Ineffable: A unique occurrence cannot by definition be used as the basis of a probabilistic treatment/analysis. And at last count, the count on the number of universes where we had some idea of the physics was…hmm, let me check…ah, one. Oops, guess probability can’t tell us anything other than the probability that the physical constants have their observed value in this Universe is 1. The probability of life evolving in this universe…1 again.
    I don’t care if you are a Bayesian or a frequentist–there’s no probabilistic argument possible, and all anyone reveals by making such an argument is that they don’t understand probability…or that they understand it and are being disingenuous.

    If you want to get all woo while reading physics, fine. Just don’t fool yourself that you are DOING physics or even coming up with a valid argument BASED ON physics. Physics cannot say anything about “anything” outside the physical world. It can’t say God exists or doesn’t exist, and it can’t say anything about the probability God(s) exist.

    BTW, if you did want to construct a probability argument based on physics, the minimum number of universes you’d have to be able to measure is 3. Let me know when you have observations of physical constants in at least 3 universes. Then we’ll talk.

  153. #153 Rorschach
    April 30, 2009

    Lilly de Lure @ 151,

    I actually think it is a beautiful argument against the anthropic principle that we homo sapiens were the ones that thought it up in the first place.

  154. #154 Lilly de Lure
    April 30, 2009

    Rorschach said:

    I actually think it is a beautiful argument against the anthropic principle that we homo sapiens were the ones that thought it up in the first place.

    Indeed – when you first hear it it does sound like an “argumentum ad raging-egotism” doesn’t it? ;-)

  155. #155 Bob Evans-aka Metsguy
    April 30, 2009

    PZ said of Francis Collins: “The man is confused and inconsistent. This is crap I’d expect from Ken Ham or Ray Comfort, but not from a well respected scientist.”

    While we’re on the subject of “confused and inconsistent” statements uttered by Francis Collins, and for the benefit of even one lurker who might be unaware, let’s not forget this statement which Collins made as recently as 2006: “The Big Bang cries out for a divine explanation. It forces the conclusion that nature had a defined beginning. I cannot see how nature could have created itself. Only a supernatural force outside of space and time could have done that.”

    In essence, what Collins is saying is that there had to be a cause for the Big Bang itself.

    Collins also wrote that: “…no current hypothesis comes close to explaining how in the space of a mere 150 million years, the pre-biotic environment that existed on earth gave rise to life.”

    Similarly, Robert Jastrow wrote in his book, “God and the Astronomers,” that, “the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same; the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”

    And, theologian, Thomas D. Williams, author of “Greater Than You Think,” points out that, “…the Nobel Prize–winning scientist, Arno Penzias, who co-discovered the cosmic microwave backround radiation that lent strong support to the Big Bang, said: The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.”

    Williams concludes: “Thus the following quotation cited by Dawkins himself retains all its relevence: Hoyle said that the probability of life originating on earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747.

    As a non-scientist, I have no idea how God created the universe, and I haven’t a clue as to how He created human life. As a Christian, however, I do support the efforts of scientists to continue in their quest to find out. I would welcome the day that science might offer a conclusive explanation as to how life began. And that would in no way compromise my Christian faith.

    It’s clear to me, though, that “…a well respected scientist,” such as Collins, himself a former atheist, and the other scientists I have cited, have shown that this has not yet been accomplished. As a Christian, I firmly believe that: “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3)

  156. #156 Rorschach
    April 30, 2009

    Confused guy @ 155,

    While we’re on the subject of “confused and inconsistent” statements uttered by Francis Collins, and for the benefit of even one lurker who might be unaware, let’s not forget this statement which Collins made as recently as 2006: “The Big Bang cries out for a divine explanation

    Good point.
    Oh,that wasnt what you meant?
    LOL

  157. #157 Alex Besogonov
    April 30, 2009

    Ok, stand aside. I’m a physicist, so I can’t be wrong! :)

    “Francis was speaking about how the universe started out in a state of low entropy. He never used it as an argument. Other physicists like roger Penrose have confirmed that the universe began with low entropy.”

    First, it’s impossible to correctly define the entropy of the whole universe since there’s a long-range gravitational force. We can try to ignore it _now_ because it’s not very strong and in fact some parts of the Universe are now casually disconnected,…

    …but we CAN’T ignore the gravity during the first moments of the Big Bang. Thermodynamical entropy during the BigBang was indeed very low (a _single_ number described the _whole_ Universe pretty well), _however_ a lot of entropy was stored in the gravitational field. We can try to calculate it and it’s an ENORMOUS number.

    And then there’s the whole question of inflation – interaction between space and matter. Again, it’s not clear how to define entropy in this situation.

  158. #158 MosesZD
    April 30, 2009

    Posted by: nothing’s sacred | April 30, 2009 1:37 AM

    As soon as you start talking about people as opposed to objects

    Ah, but see, we’ve unnecessarily inserted dualism into our concept of persons, by thinking of a person as distinct from the physical object, the animal of species homo sapiens. Like, inside that body, somewhere in the head apparently, is this mystical homunculus with a will, and that is the person

    Speak for yourself, Horatio. I am me. All of me. There is no “me” separate from myself and I am well aware of the post-action narrative my brain constructs to tell itself stories to make sense of its actions, the plasticity of memory, the illusion of “choice” and “freewill.”

    Metacognition, it is your friend. And a curse. Better I think, at times, to have been unaware and believe there was a little me separate from myself guiding myself through life. Then I could fire him for listening to my parents… Idiot…

  159. #159 MosesZD
    April 30, 2009

    Posted by: nothing’s sacred | April 30, 2009 4:04 AM

    P.S. to Kagato

    As for the rest — no argument (I’m not Collins), but not the point.

    But I agree it’s to the point. What you’re talking about is like stirring the cream and coffee googleplex times, waiting for an occasion when all the cream is on the left and all the coffee is on the right, and when it does happen, then exclaiming “Wow! Amazing! Pointer to God!”

    You know for someone parading his dick around and implying other people are stupid, what you just wrote is ludicrous. Cream, especially the fat in cream, has certain properties that demand results contrary to the results of your example. So, unless you change the laws of physics and food chemistry, or engage in a sophisticated refining process and erect barriers within your cup, your example is impossible. So, barring human refining and mechanical solutions, for you example to have happened, it would require suspending the laws of nature and would be incontrovertible proof of God.

    Also, beyond that, you’re pretty damn arrogant for someone talking out his ass about things he doesn’t know. Especially when you’re attacking the education of others. Collins, for all your kow-towing to his education, is no more educated than my wife, myself, many of my cousins, a number of my uncles, my father and a host of other relatives including many college professors at top-notch Universities. I have no need to bow to the alter of his education. Nor do many of the people on this board. Your argument is a fallacy and is used to attack others to lift yourself up.

    So next time you start waving your dick and insulting the intelligence of others… You can shove your arrogance where the sun doesn’t shine. You haven’t earned it.

  160. #160 Aquaria
    April 30, 2009

    #155:

    This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in – an interesting hole I find myself in – fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.

    –Douglas Adams, speech at Digital Biota 2, Cambridge U.K., September 1998

    An apt description of your so-called thinking, and better written than the Hebrew Fairy Tale.

  161. #161 Lotharloo
    April 30, 2009

    @Bob Evans-aka Metsguy

    As a non-scientist, I have no idea how God created the universe, and I haven’t a clue as to how He created human life. As a Christian, however, I do support the efforts of scientists to continue in their quest to find out. I would welcome the day that science might offer a conclusive explanation as to how life began. And that would in no way compromise my Christian faith

    In other words, the fine-tuning argument is the ultimate retreat of the theist. It is the master of the god-of-the-gaps argument. As it is unlikely that science can discover anything substantial about what lies outside our universe anytime soon, God can hide in this gap for a very long time gap.

    By experience, religious people will use all the opportunity to grasp at these gaps until they are filled with science. This is the unfortunate state of our being that as mammals evolved to see pattern and intention in all things, we will have to deal with our scientists falling for these fallacies.

  162. #162 Boson Arroz
    April 30, 2009

    I never understood why some people are so impressed
    by the observation that there is some brain activity
    just before the switch is flipped. We are watching
    an experimental subject deciding to flip a switch, but
    under (in essence) higher magnification. WRT low entropy
    near the time of the big bang–I thought inflation was
    introduced in the first place to address the flatness
    problem by tacitly throwing away most of the universe so
    as to allow our little patch of it to have the properties
    we observe. I don’t see how this relates to YHWH, sorry.

  163. #163 AtheistPride
    April 30, 2009

    “…but not from a well-respected scientist.”

    Soon to be not-so-well-respected I’d guess.

  164. #164 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 30, 2009

    Nothing’s Sacred:

    Fair hearing would imply yournot repeating your idiotic arguments about morality needing god…

    Sorry, but I’ve never made that argument here or elsewhere. You must be confusing me with some other ‘godbot’. In fact, I’ve indicated many times I’m convinced that human moral systems are a product of natural selection, and contra Gould, I don’t want to see that line of inquiry stifled. Quite the contrary! E.O. Wilson is one of my scientific heroes, and I think the book he wrote with Charles Lumsden (“Promethean Fire”) has been unjustly neglected by mainstream biologists.

  165. #165 Rorschach
    April 30, 2009

    Scott Hatfield and NS/TM are trying hard to find some common ground,but its not working out…:-)

  166. #166 Rey Fox
    April 30, 2009

    “casually disconnected,…”

    Casually or causally?

  167. #167 Alex Besogonov
    April 30, 2009

    “causally”, of course.

    Sorry, English is not my native language.

  168. #168 Ryan Egesdahl
    April 30, 2009

    From what I have seen, the reason people do not understand thermodynamics is that nobody explains why the law exists and where it applies. They just see the word “law” and assume it to mean that it is a constant.

    All the Second Law states is that what we normally take to be a “closed system” is not really a closed system. The Second Law reminds us that energy is going to be transferred to somewhere outside the system we are focused on – we just call it “entropy” because we don’t know where or precisely how much. The Laws of Thermodynamics don’t really apply on a universal scale at all, despite Wikipedia’s insistence that it does.

    What people are calling “entropy” on a universal scale is actually just a consequence of the Zeroth Law, which talks about thermal equilibrium. The reason the Universe tends to a state of order (thermal equilibrium) is simply this fact alone – the concept of entropy is really just an extension of this idea in the first place.

    So, in short, the fail is strong with this one.

  169. #169 SteveM
    April 30, 2009

    You folks don’t understand the fine tuning issue. It isn’t simply about a configuration that is no more or less likely than any other configuration, it is about configurations that are much less likely than others — like stirring your coffee and cream and ending up with all the cream on the left and all the coffee on the right — the number of such configurations are a tiny fraction of all the possible configurations.

    Yes, and if the cream did all end up on one side of the mug, maybe we should question the assumption that all possible mixtures are equally probable. I mean when we see oil floating on water we don’t immediately say “God is keeping them seperate”, we look for chemical forces keeping them seperate. Similarly with these “arbitrary” constants, the fact that they appear to be constrained to very specific values may well be for some physical reason that we don’t currently understand and not because “God did it”. The fallacy is assuming that these constants could assume any value with equal probability. There is no reason to assume that.

  170. #170 Kagato
    April 30, 2009

    I’m a total amateur when it comes to this stuff, so maybe I’m just lacking some foundational knowledge; but another thing nags me about this whole ‘fine-tuning’ argument — it treats the universal constants as being dials where you can pick any of a wide range of values.

    Do we even know if this is a sensible proposition? We don’t yet have a Grand Unified Theory of everything, so maybe we just don’t know if there’s a deeper underlying structure that limits these parameters to their observed values.

    Is pi considered ‘finely tuned’? After all, if you give any other value to pi, it is impossible to represent a circle at all! Of course, we know that pi is a mathematical consequence of geometry, not a defining parameter as such. Might there not be a similar situation with the physical constants?

    (I’m way out of my depth. I should probably just pull my head in.)

  171. #171 Lilly de Lure
    April 30, 2009

    Might there not be a similar situation with the physical constants?

    (I’m way out of my depth. I should probably just pull my head in.)

    Me too, but I think you’re right. basically the anthropic principle relies on two massive assumptions:

    a) The values of the fundamental constants in this universe are the only ones that could allow for the conditions which would allow form of self-replicating entity to exist and evolve.

    b) The fundamental constants are completely free to vary and do not depend on anyway upon each other, the initial conditions of the universe or any other limitation or constraint

    I have yet to see any evidence that anthropic principal proponents can point to to back up either one of these assumptions and yet if either one of them is wrong their principle is blown out of the water.

  172. #172 Spaceman Spiff
    April 30, 2009

    #140:

    “Gibberish. The 2LOT is about thermodynamic entropy, which is about the tendency for energy differentials to even out. Stars and galaxies form as the gravitational potential energies are evened out, and matter clumps together, thus increasing entropy in accordance with 2LOT. “Disorder” is a flawed 19th century analogy for molecular energy, confusing people like Collins.”< \blockquote>

    dave souza (and #45 ray) hits the nail squarely on the head. Collins is describing, and too many teachers of science continue to use, an old and outdated description of what entropy is and how it operates. In the case of Collins, I find this bizarre given that he is a physical chemist.

    Over the past decade or so the correct description of the nature of entropy has been slowly making its way into physics and chemistry textbooks. Frank Lambert, professor Emeritus of Chemistry (still publishing), maintains a website that illuminates the concept of entropy, here:
    http://www.entropysite.com/#supplements .

    Try these two articles:
    http://www.entropysite.com/entropy_is_simple/index.html
    http://www.entropysite.com/boltzmann.html , the latter providing some of the history of the (mis)understanding of entropy.

  173. #173 tmaxPA
    April 30, 2009

    NothingSacred@121: Yes, which is what I said, and I appreciate your rephrasing it so well.

    NothingSacred@122: No, there is nothing unnecessary about reversing teleologies for people. If we don’t, then there really is no basis for what we think of as “responsibility”.

    NothingSacred@123: “But then, what exactly do you mean by ‘responsible’?” See what I mean?

    You have a choice; you must make this choice, not delay it some how, in order to not be inconsistent, somehow someway, in your philosophy. The choice is:

    A) Humans have free will and responsibility comes from control
    B) Humans have no free will and responsibility does not come from control

    “With people, it’s hard to disentangle the notion of responsibility, removing the metaphysical aspects and leaving just the causal ones, but some people are trying; see, e.g., naturalism.org”

    Not hard; impossible. It requires vocabulary and methods of reasoning we haven’t even invented yet.

  174. #174 tmaxPA
    April 30, 2009

    MosesZD: FTW!

    Honorary Mention to Kagato for this gem:

    “We don’t yet have a Grand Unified Theory of everything, so maybe we just don’t know if there’s a deeper underlying structure that limits these parameters to their observed values.”

    Like the ‘missing links’ that don’t really exist in evolution, the religionists are using the lack of a GUT to pretend cosmology supports theology. So, yes, you understand things quite well, I think.

  175. #175 Scott Hatfield, OM
    April 30, 2009

    Re: #165

    (giggle)

    It’s probably a form of co-dependency.

  176. #176 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 30, 2009

    For the first time in decades, thanks to President Obama, I’m proud to be an American.

    No. You’re glad to be an American, and you’re proud to be an American who has voted for Obama.

    (And Glen offers his usual high quality of analysis. Never flashy enough for the meaningless shiny award, I guess.)

    Wrong! :-) He got it in the month right after you got yours.

    Truth Sacred Machine Guy:

    :-D

    ??????????????????

    Ineffable, two words: Lithic Principle. If we grant for the sake of the argument that the universe is fine-tuned (though see comment 171), it doesn’t follow that it’s fine-tuned for us, or for life in general.

  177. #177 Tulse
    April 30, 2009

    We don’t yet have a Grand Unified Theory of everything, so maybe we just don’t know if there’s a deeper underlying structure that limits these parameters to their observed values.

    True, but I don’t think that solves the problem, it only pushes the problem back to why those limits exist, why the universe has that deeper underlying structure as opposed to another.

    (Of course, postulating a sky fairy doesn’t solve the problem either.)

  178. #178 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    So, unless you change the laws of physics and food chemistry, or engage in a sophisticated refining process and erect barriers within your cup, your example is impossible.

    Put a barrier in the cup and fill each side, one with cream and one coffee. Remove the barrier and they will mix. Since the laws of physics are bidirectional timewise, they can also unmix. Incredibly likely, but not impossible. Even if it weren’t true for this example (which I took from Davi Ruelle’s “Chance and Chaos”), it’s just an example; the point still holds about the fact some states are less likely than others — which is the basis of the argument by Collins and Penrose that aren’t touched by talk about card hands, where all outcomes are equally likely.

    As for the rest of your comment, a) look up the word “most” in the dictionary, and b) try to understand the difference between education and intelligence.

  179. #179 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    Davi Ruelle -> David Ruelle

  180. #180 nothing's sacred
    April 30, 2009

    some people are trying; see, e.g., naturalism.org”

    Not hard; impossible. It requires vocabulary and methods of reasoning we haven’t even invented yet.

    So you’ve already read all the essays at that site? You don’t even seem to have read my comments about responsibility as causal. We can talk about bugs in computer programs being responsible for various outcomes, or mutations in genomes being responsible for giving rise to various traits and organisms; responsibility can be freed from notions of free will. One can also approach it the other way by reconceptualizing free will to be compatible with determinism, as Daniel Dennett attempts to do in Elbow Room and Freedom Evolves, although I think that’s a more problematic strategy.

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