Tim Ball and Archimedes principle

Richard Littlemore has the latest on Tim Ball's antics. Check out this bit from Ball:

The point I made was with regard to the Antarctic and Greenland ice
sheets. I posed the question about what happens to the water level
when an ice cube is placed in a glass which is then filled to the brim
and the ice melts. The correct answer is the water level drops because
the space occupied by the ice is greater than that occupied by the
water it contains. Water expands when it freezes.

But the ice is floating in the water. The extra space that the frozen water takes up is, by Archimedes principle, exactly the volume that sticks out of the water. So the water level doesn't change.

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I've seen the "ice cube in water" argument trotted out as a reason why we shouldn't worry about ice melting on Greenland and Antarctica. Usually it helps to point out that the latter ice is on LAND, and when it melts, will roll downhill into the sea, raising sea level.

It's actually more nonsensical than that.

"I then applied that analogy to Antarctica and Greenland since a majority of that ice is already in the water. Lettinga identifies them as land-ice, which is technically correct, but they are grounded on the land below sea level for most of their area. His claim about portions of the ice slipping into the oceans and raising sea levels is speculative nonsense as is his claim there is already evidence this is happening."

My thorough grounding in physics courtesy of the Alberta School System tells me that what Ball is describing is ice which, if melted, will in fact raise the water level.

I believe the concept he is searching for is ice which is somehow trapped under a layer of rock which prevents it from floating.

Excuse me one second.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Thanks, I feel a bit better now.

Oh god, there's more:

"He then claims I said, "There is no evidence for the ozone hole (over Antarctica)." I hope his students are better at listening and recordingwhat is actually said.
I never said that at all. I said there was no hole in the ozone because even at its thinnest the so-called hole is one third the average thickness of the ozone layer. The concept there is an actual hole with no ozone is simply incorrect. He then totally incorrectly defines the hole "as the area over Antarctica where stratospheric ozone is reduced by 50 per cent." First, it often extends well outside Antarctica and often doesn't even cover the continent; second, it varies in size and shape with
atmospheric circulation, temperatures, and formation of Polar Stratospheric Clouds among other factors, and third there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that these changes are caused by CFCs."

Once more:

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

That didn't help as much as I had hoped this time.

Tim Ball is confused.

He's talking about 'melting ice' and 'ozone hole', when what he actually is trying to find is an 'ice hole.'

He needs a better mirror.

There actually is a complete lack of O3 at what normally would be the peak of the concentration (14-20 km as I recall) some remains above and below these altitudes. In that sense it is a hole.

"ice hole," hmm? To find that, I'd say he needs both hands and better enunciation. The mirror would be a help, though.

BTW, what TB may have been trying to refer to is that much of the GIS and most of the WAIS are grounded below sea level, and that melting/collapse of this ice would not in and of itself raise sea level. That's true enough, but neglects the fact that the vast majority of the ice in both cases is above sea level.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 18 Jan 2008 #permalink

Pointless nitpick time: Tim L., you write "The extra space that the frozen water takes up is (...) exactly the volume that sticks out of the water." Is this a precise statement? I think the outcome (no change in water level) is correct, but isn't it better to say that the difference in level is equal to the water-equivalent (i.e. post-melt)volume of the above-water portion of the ice rather than the volume of the ice itself, IOW accounting for the change in density of the above-water portion as the ice melts?

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 18 Jan 2008 #permalink

much of the GIS and most of the WAIS are grounded below sea level, and that melting/collapse of this ice would not in and of itself raise sea level. That's true enough

No, it isn't. It means that melting of the ice won't raise sea level as much as ice that is grounded above sea level, but it will raise sea level more than melting of floating ice will (depending on how much of the grounded ice is above sea level).
(There's still that pesky thermal expansion of seawater as the average temperature rises.)

rfguy, I don't think we're disagreeing. I was trying to refer only to the below sea level portion of the ice as not contributing to sea level rise (ignoring minor effects). The key point is that all of that ice is overlaid with a far larger quantity that is above sea level.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 18 Jan 2008 #permalink

Steve Bloom:

If the ice is floating (e.g. the Arctic polar cap), then NONE of it melting would contribute to a sea level rise. That's exactly what the Archimedes principle implies.

In order to float, in fact, a body must receive a "push up" exactly equivalent to its own weight; the Archimedes principle states that the amount of "push up" corresponds exactly to the weight of the water displaced by the body.

In other words, the weight of the Arctic polar cap corresponds exactly to the weight of the water displaced by it (i.e. a volume identical to the UNDERWATER ice). What happens when you melt the ice? Its weight does not change, so you have water weighing exactly as much as... the former underwater portion of the polar cap!

No change in sea level, period.

By Aureola Nominee, FCD (not verified) on 18 Jan 2008 #permalink

As regards GIS and WAIS, Ball would have a point if and only if the underwater portions of these two ice sheets were to be exactly equivalent in volume to what they would be if the ice were floating.

If they were larger than that, good ol' Archimedes would make them float away...

By Aureola Nominee, FCD (not verified) on 18 Jan 2008 #permalink

re 11, iced volumes. Actually, sea ice tends to be fresher than sea water, and therefore lower density, when melted.

In my good old familiar boat design units, fresh water is about 62.4 lbs/ft3, and sea water about 64 lbs/ft3.

The volume of sea water displaced is that necessary to balance the weight of the floating ice. The volume of fresh water released when the sea ice melts is slightly larger (because lower density) than the salt water displaced by the sea ice. Melting floating sea ice composed of lower-density fresher water will tend to cause a slight increase in sea level.

OK, so we all know the vast majority of Antarctic and Greenland is, uh, not in the water (currently). The Antarctic plateau is generally about 2km thick. That's lots of water, and if it ever starts melting, well, I for one will welcome our new watery overlords.

The big story in melting sea ice is not the (relatively) small change in sea level, but the significant change in the salinity in the top level of the water column, and the implications that has for biological cycles and the water column vertical stability. There is also the question of whether dramatic changes in sea ice serve as a warning for the stability of the 2 great ice sheets.

CFCs? Heh. Really not worth responding to. See also: google.

The fact that most of Greenland is below sea-level directly contradicts claims that most of Greenland was vegetated during the MWP.

I'm sure Tim Ball will be sure to point that out to all his denialist mates.

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 18 Jan 2008 #permalink

Oh my, Tim Ball is even stupider than I thought. Lettinga should have an easy time picking his arguments apart. If they let him answer.

By Flavius C (not verified) on 18 Jan 2008 #permalink

I was trying to refer only to the below sea level portion of the ice as not contributing to sea level rise (ignoring minor effects).

Off the top of my head, no.

Isostatic rebound.

Best,

D

Lee in #12 makes an excellent point that I was planning to make myself had he not done so.

However, there is yet another complication of the question. Everyone who has taken a freshman physics class learns what Lambert explains here: that the floating ice, with weight W, displaces a volume of water with weight W, so that when the ice itself becomes water, it occupies the same volume that the solid was displacing. This argument glosses over one fact, though: The volume of liquid water is not exactly constant, even though it is close enough for the demonstration with an ice cube in a glass to have no visible change in water level.

In fact, for temperatures above 4 degrees Celsius, water expands when heated and contracts when cooled. When ice melts in a body of water, the body of water becomes colder and thus contracts. So, when you let an ice cube melt in a glass of freshwater, the water level does drop, very slightly, until the water warms back up to the temperature it was before the ice melted.

17:

Ice nine is real and even Vonnegut is dead. Strange things lurk in the Rabbet hole.

Actually, Ball and Lambert are both wrong: the water level is lower, but that's because I usually drink most of the water by the time the ice-cube has melted.

Ben, Creationism is the theory that you, Ben, didn't descend from an ape. Can you tell us the error in that theory?

"Ben, Creationism is the theory that you, Ben, didn't descend from an ape. Can you tell us the error in that theory?"

Nope, I see nothing wrong with that proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact, as you call it.

Or did you mean that as a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena? If that is the case, then I don't see anything wrong with this theory, it is plausible, but I don't know that it is true either.

Wait, darn it, I was answering the question "Ben, Evolution is the theory that you, Ben, descended from an ape. Can you tell us the error in that theory?"

Unfortunately I didn't read the question correctly and I answered a question that was not asked.

As to the question that was asked, I dunno. I suppose it's possible that I didn't descend from an ape, I never really thought about it, to be honest. I don't really see how it affects my life, nor anyone else's, any more than, say, what brand of toothpaste I choose at the supermarket. Maybe we're just all brains in vats, and an eeeevil scientist is making us think that there's evidence that we descended from apes. Or maybe we really did descend from apes. I used to think that I might have descended from an Orangutan, given that I'm somewhat hairy, and that my beard gets a few orange strands in it. But then I became allergic to bananas, so now I'm not so sure.

I suppose it's possible that I didn't descend from an ape, I never really thought about it, to be honest. I don't really see how it affects my life, nor anyone else's, any more than, say, what brand of toothpaste I choose at the supermarket.

Once again, Ben puts his amazing ignorance and absolute lack of curiousity about the world around him out on open display for all to see.

I still want to start a troll race theme, but in addition to jc's "pro" division i will have to include an "inadvertent troll" division. Maybe pro, amateur, and unrated/inadvertent. Because some trolling, even if it's meant to deceive, is so lame it's got to reflect ignorance of where the plausibility line is.

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 19 Jan 2008 #permalink

I think that the trolls are actually hibernating, or at least preparing to do so. I tried a bit of a tickle of them myself on the Open Thread to plumb the depths, but nary a whimper...

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 20 Jan 2008 #permalink

Just for the record, humans and apes all evolved from a progenitor much more like a lemur than a primate.

Tim Ball and ben seem intent on disproving evolution by personal example.

By luminous beauty (not verified) on 20 Jan 2008 #permalink

Troll? Maybe, but I don't think so. At least I'm polite, and I've learned some things here. Ball's thing about the water/ice was so dumb that there really wasn't much more to say about it. Just thought I'd liven up the back-slapping a little.

Yes, I was being a bit flip about evolution. Man's origins are interesting, but people sure get fired up about it. I just don't think it matters enough to get emotional over people who want to think that we didn't descend from apes, even though to the lay person, the evidence seems to support it. I've also read some interesting critiques of contemporary evolutionary theory which I haven't seen good answers to, but I haven't looked that hard either, so I simply don't have much of an opinion, since it doesn't really matter anyway.

See, we all have a limited amount of time to spend on things, and I'd rather spend my free time with my family, hunting, etc. than learning about evolutionary theory. I pick up a little here and there, but I'll never be an expert. A lot of people (not saying you guys here) who have even less expertise in evolutionary theory get a heck of a lot more fired up about it, which seems dumb to me.

Ben,

There are two things about Tim Ball and Creationism. 1) This piece appeared in a Canadian on-line publication so far to the right that most mainstream Conservatives don't know it exits, and 2) Ball is speaking directly to the ID crowd, with all the standard ID talking points in place (like: the fact that ID is not talk in schools is OPPRESSIVE). The fact that his audience has dwindled to this tiny crowd, and that he must pander so hard to it, tells you alot about the state of the political debate over AGW in Canada (or at least I hope it does).

Read the Tim Ball article that mentions creationism.

I'm not sure if he's "embraced" creationism so much as he's embraced the talking points to frame his message. He's framed "Darwinism" as something akin to environmentalists who believe that slow change is natural where rapid change is unnatural. Of course, he creates a strawman because climate scientists, even those that support AGW, understand that rapid climate change can happen completely naturally.

Yes, Tim Ball is a turd. But I don't believe that he's a creationist. We'd have heard more about it by now. The IDiots would be using him as an expert to boost their cause if he was.

By Miguelito (not verified) on 20 Jan 2008 #permalink

Miguelito, he claims that: 1) Darwinism is JUST a theory, 2) That alternative theories (Creationism) should be taught in school, and 3) that if these alternative theories are not taught, its because fearful scientists are trying suppress debate.

Dude, that is THE official ID position.

"Ban, if you did not evolve from an apelike creature, you would not have to worry about syphilis."

I have to worry about syphilis? I better tell my wife :)

No, he repeats creationist talking points that have been raised over and over and over again for the last few decades, though they've become more finely honed every time they lose a First Amendment court case.

Even though it is still just a theory and not a law 148 years after it was first proposed, Darwinian evolution is the only view allowed in schools. Why? Such censorship suggests fear of other ideas, a measure of indefensibility.

Creationism all the way.

The combination of long time frames and slow development resulted in a philosophical view known as uniformitarianism.

If such a term sounds more appropriate to religion than science, that is because it is, in essence, another form of belief system.

Not only creationism, but specifically YEC-ism.

Leaves out the troubling point that Lyell's principle of Uniformitarianism is based on observations in the physical world. It's not just a "philosophical view".

Employing a version of uniformitarianism adapted to their needs, environmental extremists can point to practically any change and say it is unnatural, which implies it is man-made.

Which rather ignores obvious facts like I can watch loggers cut down trees, I can watch industrial plants spew crap into rivers, I can watch industrial plants spew crap into air, etc.

> Once again, Ben puts ....

His ability on display.
He catches the big ones, over and over.

Rearranged Ben:

> we all have a limited amount of time to spend on things,
> and I'd rather spend my free time ...
> being a bit flip about evolution ...
> people sure get fired up about it....
> I simply don't have much of an opinion ...
> it doesn't really matter ...
> thought I'd liven up the back-slapping

You all are on his trophy wall.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 20 Jan 2008 #permalink

BigCityLib: He's framing the issue to speak to his audience. He's playing with semantics. Evolution is a theory. It's the best theory. It works from the bottom (chemistry) to the top (populations and environment). It's so good that there are no competitors. But it's still a theory and not Law. It's dirty, it's misleading, but he isn't wrong.

Is there any other evidence that he's a creationist?

Again, if he was one, IDiots would be championing this guy.

By Miguelito (not verified) on 20 Jan 2008 #permalink

Ball is plainly worse than an idiot, missing basic Archimedes like this.
But, hoping to move on from the "let's all laugh at the idiot" freak-show, I'll mention that the fact that the GIS and WAIS are grounded below sea-level (*way* below sea-level in the case of the central WAIS) does have important consequences for modelling ice-sheet melt, and therefore for forecasts of sea-level rise this century.
In particular, the deep grounding raises some interesting questions about the possible mechanisms and rate of a catastrophic melt, and about the speed of the consequent rise in sea-level.
Consider: during a melt the grounding line of (say) the WAIS at the boundary of the Ross ice shelf will move towards the interior. How fast? How gradually? What sort of momentum does that process have once it has begun? Does sea-water infiltrate under the ice?
Consider: ice flows (glaciers, ice streams) are lubricated by meltwater from surface melt water which has penetrated through the ice (e.g. through moulins). But if an ice sheet is sitting in a bowl (as the GIS and WAIS both are), which way will it flow?
Finally consider: any given cubic kilometre of ice sheet doesn't need to *melt* to add its full volume to sea level rise. It just needs to *float*.

By Nick Barnes (not verified) on 20 Jan 2008 #permalink

was I being too subtle? I think Ben missed my point...

I was trying to call you an ape, Ben, and get you to admit to same. But your responses were so mealy-mouthed I couldn't tell if you agreed with me or not!

How 'bout I just come out and do it: SG, you're an ape. There.

Me, I dunno. I look an awful lot like an ape, but I don't like bananas.

But it's still a theory and not Law.

At the risk of uselessly derailing the thread, evolution is an observed fact, and evolutionary theory our effort to account for that observation. "Does life evolve" is no longer a valid scientific question.

Evolution will never be a "law" in the scientific sense because it's far too complex a mechanism to be so expressed. The fact that it's a "theory" and not "law" in no way weakens it, as you and Ball seem to assume.

In particular his statement "Even though it is still just a theory and not a law 148 years after it was first proposed..." is a classic creationist strawman which assumes a hierarchy that does not, in science, exist.

It is a statement meant to cause the reader to think "oh, it's still JUST A THEORY! This means biologists have not found any real evidence to support it, because if they had, after 148 years, it would be a LAW!"

It's possible that Ball is simply ignorant of science, not strictly speaking a creationist, but the fact that he spouts creationist nonsense is not a good sign.

Let's just say that it's evidence supporting the hypothesis that he's a creationist. It certainly is not evidence supporting the hypothesis that he understands or agrees with evolutionary biology.

"evolution is an observed fact"

At some level, this is true for certain. Life does evolve. This does not mean that all changes in life forms on earth were due only to evolution though. Maybe space aliens came down and tinkered at some point, who knows?

"I just don't think it matters enough to get emotional over people who want to think that we didn't descend from apes"
HOMONIDS DID NOT EVOLVE FROM APES.
HOMONIDS, MONKEYS, AND APES SPLIT OFF FROM A COMMON ANCESTOR.
YOU FRICKIN' IDIOT.

By Laser Potato (not verified) on 21 Jan 2008 #permalink

Maybe space aliens came down and tinkered at some point, who knows?

Well, sure, and it's equally true to state that perhaps an alien caused that apple to hit newton on the head, not gravity, and that it's really an alien manipulating electrons in your computer that makes it appear to you as though you're reading this post written by me.

Or that it's really aliens that hold up airplanes, and that your PhD is meaningless.

Sure, of course all of this is possible.

Believe what you want, dude.

There's a reason why Michael Behe, on the stand during the Dover trial, had to agree with the statement that if the definition of science were changed so that intelligent design creationism would meet it, then astrology would meet the definition as well.

If Behe and his friends were to succeed in so changing the definition of science, then you could invoke your aliens tweaking life on earth, or aliens holding up airplanes so they don't fall, as being part of "science".

Until, then, prate away but do realize it has nothing to do with science. It's simply mysticism and the denial of empirical evidence that no outside "alien" need be invoked to explain what's been observed in the real world.

But I'm not surprised to see you cozying up to the ID-creationism world view. Not at all.

"HOMONIDS DID NOT EVOLVE FROM APES. HOMONIDS, MONKEYS, AND APES SPLIT OFF FROM A COMMON ANCESTOR. YOU FRICKIN' IDIOT."

Way to get emotional, Potato. Are you calling my good buddy SG an idiot for claiming we descended from apes? That's mighty mean of you. I think all he meant was that we descended from ape-like creatures. Try to read between the lines next time.

"and that your PhD is meaningless."

Heh, that'd be the truth. At least at this point, with two months to go, the piece of paper is meaningless.

"Until, then, prate away but do realize it has nothing to do with science."

Um, duh.

"But I'm not surprised to see you cozying up to the ID-creationism world view. Not at all."

I am? That's like saying that Tim Lambert is "anti-gun". I'm not, and he's not. I'm just anti-give to much of a shit about evolution to get worked up about it.

evolution is an observed fact

No, it isn't. Observed fact is a piece of datum. The average weight of a certain species of bird is an observed fact. The size of a skull found in an archeological dig is an observed fact. Evolution, like any scientific theory, is a model that attempts to account for those facts and make predictions about what other facts we can observe.

By the way, I'm Ben's sister, and I am also a Christian who is about to get a Ph.D. in science (astrophysics). I'm curious what y'all think about something. One of the professional associations I belong to, the American Astronomical Society, is a member of the Coalition Against Intelligent Design, whose stated goal is to keep "science only in the science classroom." This is fine with me except that it seems to care only about promotion of biblical stuff in the classroom and not promotion of anti-theism. I asked them if it was their stance to oppose professors and teachers who make anti-theistic pronouncements in class, like a certain biology professor at my university who, during class, states unequivocally that science proves there is no God. They didn't have an answer for me, but promised to look into it. I'm curious whether any of you see this kind of thing as a violation of "science only in the science classroom." Would you oppose this as vigorously as you oppose ID in the classroom? Not trying to start an argument, I'm really just curious to know.

I'd definitely see it as a violation of that. I wouldn't oppose it as vigorously, though, because that particular lobby doesn't have as deep pockets, as long a history, nor many adherents.

BTW, I think you're wrong about evolution. There is the fact of evolution (populations of living things change over time) and there are a variety of theories that attempt to describe how it happened. Theories of evolution are indeed theories, but that doesn't make the fact any less fact, just like theories of gravity don't make gravity non-factual.

No, it isn't.

Uh, yes, it is.

But, please, don't go argue with me, go argue with those biologists who have actually observed evolution in action. Those who have generated the Holy Datums that you demand.

This is fine with me except that it seems to care only about promotion of biblical stuff in the classroom and not promotion of anti-theism. I asked them if it was their stance to oppose professors and teachers who make anti-theistic pronouncements in class, like a certain biology professor at my university who, during class, states unequivocally that science proves there is no God. They didn't have an answer for me, but promised to look into it.

I'm amazed that you've progressed to the point of being "about to get a PhD" without understanding the context of "science only in the science classroom".

This speaks to the teaching of science in public schools, not universities. The rules are different in universities. By law, you're required to go to public school through 12th grade, and you are required to take a certain number of science classes, including biology (in my state). You're not doing something of your own free will.

If a high school science teacher teaches that science disproves God, of course they should be made to stop. Science has nothing to say about the existence of God.

And if creationism is taught as science, same thing.

If a teacher happens to mention that she, personally, is an atheist when in a science class, that's not a problem. It's not a claim that this is SCIENCE, but one of personal belief.

Likewise, if a science teacher happens to mention that he's a christian, but doesn't say "science proves that the earth was created 6,000 years ago", no problem for me. Simply stating one's faith is not teaching religion AS THOUGH IT IS SCIENCE.

University is optional. You pay tuition. There is tax support for state universities but all but the worst have substantial private funding, too. No one forces you to take science. Academic freedom is a tradition in the university environment, but does not apply to K-12 teachers.

If the professor you mention is tenured, there's not much to be done. If he's not tenured, his statements might weigh against him when his Inquisition begins.

They same would be true if the professor stated that science proves that the world was created Last Tuesday.

Either is bullshit and a misrepresentation of science, but the legal, political, and (if you will) moral issues are a bit different than with K-12. Hard as it is for some of us older folk to believe, at 18 (which, for most, is the end of the K-12 period of life) we let kids do things as though they're not really kids. Vote. Go to war. Go to university where they might have their minds bent by hearing professors speak weird shit.

And given this response:

I asked them if it was their stance to oppose professors and teachers who make anti-theistic pronouncements in class, like a certain biology professor at my university who, during class, states unequivocally that science proves there is no God. They didn't have an answer for me, but promised to look into it.

How does the conclusion that

This is fine with me except that it seems to care only about promotion of biblical stuff in the classroom and not promotion of anti-theism.

"We'll look into it" means "we need to find out the facts here". As though "we won't kick this professor in the balls (if the professor happens to be male) simply on your say-so".

My guess is they'd say the same if you said that your professor was claiming that science proves the universe is only 6,000 years old and God gave Joey Smith a couple of tons of gold tablets with the True Gospel on it etc etc.

"we'd better check up on the facts before saying anything".

And, they may not have much to say, because first and foremost they're a professional organization, not an enforcement one.

Right?

I wouldn't oppose it as vigorously, though, because that particular lobby doesn't have as deep pockets, as long a history, nor many adherents.

Interesting point, though I'm not sure I agree about the length of history. Here's the problem I see with your position. If you don't oppose anti-theism in the classroom as vigorously as you oppose ID, then organizations like the Coalition Against ID will almost certainly be perceived as anti-religious rather than pro-science, and will only firm the stance of the ID people even more. One of my colleagues commented that a particular survey shows that belief in creationism is actually on the rise in America, despite all the anti-theistic stuff being promoted by Hitchens, Dawkins, etc. What this shows is that devoutly religious people are not backing down, but are galvanized by these attacks. You want to see how deep the pockets of this lobby go? Let the attacks keep coming. The only hope of ever accomplishing "science only in the science classroom" is if people are sincere about this. Fair or unfair, this means folks will have to come down just as hard on anti-theism in the classroom.

As for fact vs. theory, maybe I just misunderstood the statement. I agree that it is an observed fact that "populations of living things change over time," but the theory that provides a mechanism for this is not fact. The latter is what I thought the statement referred to.

["Science only in the science classroom] speaks to the teaching of science in public schools, not universities.

Mostly, yes. Though it is contentious at the university level, as well. I have many more reports (which I document every year) from incoming freshmen who complain that their science teachers hijack a portion of the curriculum to promote anti-theistic ideas. This, too, I discussed with the AAS president. As for his response, I really don't care what they do with this particular professor. He is a sour, hateful old creature who is loathed by students, and so I'm sure the university will let him ride out his tenure until he retires and disappears. I didn't even name him during the discussion. What I asked was whether, presented with a situation like this, they would consider this a violation of "science only in the science classroom." In other words, I wanted them to elucidate their position. Thus far, their only concern has been addressing theology in the classroom. They are going to get back to me on what exactly their position is with respect to anti-theism in the classroom. Does this make things clearer?

If you don't oppose anti-theism in the classroom as vigorously as you oppose ID, then organizations like the Coalition Against ID will almost certainly be perceived as anti-religious rather than pro-science

So you agree that ID isn't science, then?

Though it is contentious at the university level, as well. I have many more reports (which I document every year) from incoming freshmen who complain that their science teachers hijack a portion of the curriculum to promote anti-theistic ideas.

So which brand of christian creationist are you? YEC? OEC?

In other words, what do you document as an "anti-theistic idea"?

That the earth might be billions of years old?

That abiogenesis is a possibility?

That humans and apes share a common primate answer?

Which parts of science are you labeling as being "anti-theistic"?

Or is it the scientific method itself you have a problem with (in which case you might consider a new career).

They are going to get back to me on what exactly their position is with respect to anti-theism in the classroom. Does this make things clearer?

Yeah, he's tenured, and they and you can't do anything.

Just as Lehigh University can't do anything about Michael Behe, their tenured creationist professor of biochemistry.

I don't see academics, no matter how much they despise Behe, suggesting he should be forced to shut up or suppressed, etc.

He's a buffoon, he's a fool, but he's also a tenured professor and like it or not, he and the professor you don't like are pretty much guaranteed a job for life.

What I asked was whether, presented with a situation like this, they would consider this a violation of "science only in the science classroom." In other words, I wanted them to elucidate their position.

I think the position of professional organizations is clear:

only science TAUGHT AS SCIENCE in the classroom.

You assume that this insistence extends to requiring professors to shut up about their personal beliefs as well.

It doesn't.

That's not the issue.

Since you are documenting "anti-christian" behavior by professors, could you at least take the time to understand what the issue really is?

WHAT SHOULD BE TAUGHT AS SCIENCE IN SCIENCE CLASS.

Not what people should say about their personal faith.

Got it, yet? How much damage to the innocent are you responsible thus far, BTW?

So you agree that ID isn't science, then?

Nobody has defined for me what exactly ID is and says, so, in the spirit of your previous comments, I have to "look into it" and "get the facts" before I say anything about it. If you want to discuss my views on science and scripture, I'm happy to -- you can ask me directly. But that's not the point of my visit here.

My point here is that it has to go one way or the other in the classroom, and people have to be very clear about this. Either 1) God's existence is a question open to scientific scrutiny -- which means you can't stifle one side while letting the other have the say-so -- or 2) we remove ALL theological discussion from the classroom, including anti-theism. I really don't care which way it goes. But if a group is going to use a portion of my (substantial) membership dues to take up a position on this -- ostensibly option #2 -- then they are obligated to be very clear about what their position is and what they're doing.

dhogaza -- ??? Not sure what your problem with me is, but you're arguing against things I have not said. I never said anything against professors having or stating personal views. Re-read my comments.

I really don't care what a teacher or professor's personal views are. We have some excellent atheistic professors in my department, and I have no problem with them. I don't care if they announce their atheism in the classroom. Personal views are not in contention here. My point is that you cannot be on the side of "Science Only in the Science Classroom" (SOSC to make it easier) while at the same time ignoring professors or teachers who claim that science has a position on the existence of God. The professor in question said: "Science proves there is no God." The question was, do you see this as a violation of SOSC? It doesn't matter that it was a tenured prof who said this, because I have documented cases of high school teachers doing likewise. It serves as an example. Does it violate SOSC? I despair of getting a straight yes or no from you on this, so I'll move on and ask if anyone else has an opinion on this.

Oops, I didn't see these questions...

So which brand of christian creationist are you? YEC? OEC?

It's not germane to this discussion, but I'll answer this anyway. I trust science and believe what the data and theory indicate, which is that the universe is somewhere between 10 and 20 billion years old, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and that life has emerged and evolved on earth in that time. Whatever label that confers on me, I don't know, and frankly I don't care.

Which parts of science are you labeling as being "anti-theistic"?

It is not possible for science to be anti-theistic. Science is the pursuit of truth -- it says what it says impartially. People can be anti-theistic, and what I mean by that is telling students -- most of whom do not have the intellectual capacity to deal with this -- that science claims there is no God, or has rendered God's existence superfluous, or that they can't have their religious faith and believe science. I have one such case where a teacher outright told a student that she could not be Christian and believe in science. That is how I define anti-theistic.

Or is it the scientific method itself you have a problem with (in which case you might consider a new career).

Please, don't be patronizing. I could not have gotten to the position that I'm in if I had a "problem" with the scientific method.

Sarah, you'd accept though that the more science can reasonably reliably explain, the smaller the space is that God can reasonably occupy? I'm using the word "reasonably" advisedly, because I think, having agreed that you accept that, that you might have to agree that it's reasonable for a scientist to believe that the space that the god you believe in can occupy is sufficiently small that he cannot exist in the form you believe him to have. This is not to say that your disagreement with him would be unreasonable.

Well, then, you exceed expectations ...

Based on your bro's ignorance-based posts here on all sorts of subjects. Not your fault, but if you start posting with "oh, I'm Ben's brother", don't be too disappointed if I think that perhaps you share certain traits...i.e. lack of knowledge outside a very, very narrow set of interests.

Perhaps now, for instance, I'll assume that you wouldn't be so silly as to post that taxes in Canada are 3x higher than in the US, as your bro did, and which is so obviously false (as he eventually admitted).

But when you opened with "I'm Ben's sister" and "I'm a christian who ..." (as opposed to "I'm a scientist and a christian") and well ... all the other stuff ... I wasn't too optimistic.

Please, don't be patronizing. I could not have gotten to the position that I'm in if I had a "problem" with the scientific method.

Actually, not true. Michael Behe at Lehigh University is a case in point. There are folks like Jonathon West who pursued a science PhD at the request of Moon, in order to fight from the inside (in essence lying throughout his graduate career).

I'm glad, though, that you don't believe you could reach the position you're in by being dishonest as those types are. Just remember that the basic premise behind your statement is that you're HONEST.

Don't change, OK?

One of my colleagues commented that a particular survey shows that belief in creationism is actually on the rise in America, despite all the anti-theistic stuff being promoted by Hitchens, Dawkins, etc. What this shows is that devoutly religious people are not backing down, but are galvanized by these attacks.

It doesn't show that creationism is on the rise as a result of galvanization caused by anti-theist book published by a few authors. In fact, I would guess (and we're both guessing, aren't we?) that it's more likely the books have come about as a result of the increase of creationism - not the other way 'round. Or it could just be a coincidence of publishers being willing to publish anti-theist books at the same time that U.S. science education sucks.

I think you'll find that, for the most part, atheists want highschool science classes to avoid both pro and anti-theism. I would hazard a guess that it's also true for christians, but since the number of christians is much higher than atheists in the US, there are simply more christians pushing their agendas into the science classroom, even if both groups (atheists and christians) have a mere 1% who are part of the "lobby".

But when you opened with "I'm Ben's sister" and "I'm a christian who ..." (as opposed to "I'm a scientist and a christian") and well ... all the other stuff ... I wasn't too optimistic.

In other words, prejudice is alive and well.

You're not scoring points with me for insulting my brother, who is an extremely intelligent and competent scientist -- and all-around nice guy -- whatever you think of his forays here.

pough,

It's more likely the books have come about as a result of the increase of creationism - not the other way 'round.

Admittedly, you're guessing, but I'm not. As a Christian who speaks on science at churches and other faith groups -- and who has engaged fundamentalists to find out what exactly they believe and why -- I can tell you that it is the case that creationism/ID is on the rise specifically in response to what is perceived as aggressive promotion of secular humanism in the public square. The more Dawkins, Hitchens, and the like promote their anti-theism and the more anti-theistic stuff is snuck into school curricula, the more inclined these people are to respond with their own aggressive stance.

I think young-earth creationism, or whatever you want to call it, is stupid and dangerous, and I do my best to discourage it. You probably agree with me that it's in everyone's best interests to have a scientifically literate population. But the anti-theistic stuff is getting in the way of that. With some effort, I can convince most Christians that science is not a threat to their beliefs, but it's difficult for me to counter the anti-theistic stuff with some of the more conservatively religious folks, who have become very wary of mainstream science because of it. So think about this. Why aren't the fundies content to say the hell with science and just read their bibles? Why do we get these ridiculous creationist "theories"? It's so they can fight back against what they perceive as attacks to coerce them -- and much more importantly, their children -- out of their faith. That's really how they see it.

I think you'll find that, for the most part, atheists want highschool science classes to avoid both pro and anti-theism.

You'll forgive me if I don't quite buy that. I need to see some evidence, and so far the non-response response I got from the AAS about their and CAID's position on anti-theism in schools isn't encouraging.

I'm curious, who do atheists think they're representing in this battle over education? Themselves only? Everyone? What's ironic about this is that atheists -- who make up a small proportion of the population, and who tend to have fewer children than religious folks -- are so vehement about what is taught in schools. What do you think is the justification for a small percentage of the population dictating what the majority should learn? Or are you implying that most of the believers in the U.S. are on board with the anti-ID movement?

Dr Zen,

Sarah, you'd accept though that the more science can reasonably reliably explain, the smaller the space is that God can reasonably occupy?

You are referring to the God of the gaps, and I don't subscribe to that view.

Just so you know where we're coming from, Ben and I were raised in a socialist, agnostic family. Our family never went to church, never talked about God -- except that I remember in my later teen years our dad did say some disparaging things about God and religion. Anyway, we both converted to Christianity about a year and a half ago, independently of each other. Speaking for myself only, I came to my belief in God mostly because of my experiences in the physical sciences. The more I observed the order of the universe, the more I came to believe that its existence is no accident. Maybe you could call that a sort of atheism of the gaps.

I rely on vast cosmological simulations (galaxies crashing together, large-structure formation) to inform my research. What struck me in watching these sims and writing my own codes is how very much like a computer simulation the universe is, and that it's so precisely tuned for life. Large-scale evolution of the universe essentially runs on a base-2 code: hydrogen on/hydrogen off. And what is DNA but a base-4 code? Couple this with the implications from string theory, which says that the materialism of the physical universe is an illusion -- that it's really all just information -- and this suggests a universe that is a giant, sophisticated program. A program implies a programmer. So I see God very much as a master programmer, who wrote the code (the laws of nature) and set it in motion. And I see myself as the subroutine "Sarah," which God designed for some purpose.

None of this is to say that my belief in God is 100% objective. As I got older, I discovered a deep need to believe that I and the people I care about are not byproducts of the machinations of an accidental and indifferent universe. My own observations of the workings of nature are consisent with the idea of God -- and what God provides for me that nothing else can is purpose.

I'm still interested in answers to my initial question, so if anyone has thoughts on that, I'd like to hear them.

I discovered a deep need to believe that I and the people I care about are not byproducts of the machinations of an accidental and indifferent universe.

As we all know, a need to believe in something proves that it exists.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 21 Jan 2008 #permalink

Personally I think IS should be given equal time in science classes at the same time Jehovah's Witnesses and Santaria practitioners are given equal time in medical schools to explain their theories of the origin of disease.

After all, the germ theory of disease is just a theory.

Why should people who believe that diseases are caused by demonic possession be bombarded with antitheistic propaganda about bacteria and viruses?

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 21 Jan 2008 #permalink

VERY very glad to see the troll family here confirming that climate denial goes hand in hand with other science denial. Thanks, Ben and Sarah, your posts are definite keepers.

The people that are more harmful are those like Penn Jillette - who seems semi-normal until you get him into climate denial. Then you discover he's a Randite economic nut cultist generally. How long before that whore embraces, say, the DDT cult? Not long, if not already.

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 21 Jan 2008 #permalink

Oh, dear. Penn Jillette, that blowhard? I got heartily sick of him some years ago when I figured out his shtick. His being a Randroid was just icing on the cake. Denialism is all of a piece with that clown.

Sarah,

Have you noticed that there are two aspects of God being considered and argued about?

On the one hand there is an interventionist, judging, punishing God as perceived and promoted by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Every time it is alleged that such a God did something here in the natural world, such claims can be addressed by Science. So far, to the best of our knowledge, no such claims have been affirmed by properly using the Scientific Method. On the other hand for example, the efficacy of prayer in double blind studies has been shown to be zero.

It is this type of God that is subject to the Gaps effect. All those 'Acts of God' in your insurance policy are now explained as natural phenomena with no need for supernatural causes to be invoked. Science has greatly diminished this God and the claims that can honestly be made about His abilities. It might reasonable to claim that Science has had so much success against claims for this God that He has been proven not to exist.

Then there is the favourite fallback of the theologians, the non-interactive entity that set all the initial parameters of the experiment and then pushed a big button. May or may not still exist and may or may not have ever paid any attention to the results.

This type of God can be constructed such that there is no possibility of proving its non-existence, not logically and not by experiment.

Dishonest apologists duck back and forth between the two God types depending on the particular argument they are facing.

Science classes in public schools should not mention religion. It should not be taught in these classes that gods do or do not exist. Likewise creation science and its offspring, ID are dishonest religiously motivated attempts to counter the perceived threat of evolution. They are not science and there is no controversy, except as manufactured by religious proponents. Reference the 'Wedge Document' and the Dover decision.

I believe that your hypothesis that anti-theist stances by K-12 science teachers are so prevalent that they need to be condemned by the AAS is lacking in supporting evidence. What would you estimate the ratio of theist to anti-theist proselytising to be, in public schools? You blur your arguments with anecdotal evidence of anti-theist pronouncements of tenured profs. By the way, why are you so concerned? It's not your ox that is getting gored. All the fuss is over that type 1 God. You believe in type 2, the aloof and untouchable one.

The most common remark that I have heard ascribed to undergraduate biology profs on the subject of evolution is that students don't have to believe it, just be able to describe and explain it in accurate and adequate detail. I could well believe that some fundie kids would feel some martyrdom overcoming themselves upon hearing this.

Theism and science in the same head usually result in compartmentalisation to solve the cognitive dissonance. Hope it works out for you.

By JohnnieCanuck, FCD (not verified) on 21 Jan 2008 #permalink

...wait, how did we go off on this tangent again? This started out as discussion of the Archimedes Principle applied to melting ice sheets.

By Laser Potato (not verified) on 22 Jan 2008 #permalink

Sarah writes:

[[I asked them if it was their stance to oppose professors and teachers who make anti-theistic pronouncements in class, like a certain biology professor at my university who, during class, states unequivocally that science proves there is no God. They didn't have an answer for me, but promised to look into it. I'm curious whether any of you see this kind of thing as a violation of "science only in the science classroom." Would you oppose this as vigorously as you oppose ID in the classroom? Not trying to start an argument, I'm really just curious to know. ]]

I certainly would. The science teacher's role is not to instruct the kids in his own metaphysical outlook; it's to teach science. Claiming "science proves there's no God" is just as much intruding religious questions into the science classroom as teaching creationism would be.

Dhogaza comments to Sarah, in his usual charming manner:

[[In other words, what do you document as an "anti-theistic idea"?
That the earth might be billions of years old?
That abiogenesis is a possibility?
That humans and apes share a common primate answer?
Which parts of science are you labeling as being "anti-theistic"?
Or is it the scientific method itself you have a problem with (in which case you might consider a new career).]]

She specifically said she was referring to a teacher claiming that science disproved God. She said NOTHING to indicate that she is ANY kind of creationist. She may, like me, believe in creation, but that's a different thing altogether. You're letting your knee-jerk prejudices get in the way of listening, as you so often and repeatedly do.

Dr. Zen posts:

[[Sarah, you'd accept though that the more science can reasonably reliably explain, the smaller the space is that God can reasonably occupy? ]]

Why should she accept such a ridiculous proposition? What does "God of the gaps" have to do with the Christian God? You seem to be operating under the assumption that theism is some kind of early, failed science. It isn't.

Johnnie writes:

[[All the fuss is over that type 1 God. You believe in type 2, the aloof and untouchable one.]]

Rather than set up your own simplistic dichotomy and then tell Sarah which group she falls into, why not try asking her what she, in fact, believes?

[[Theism and science in the same head usually result in compartmentalisation to solve the cognitive dissonance. Hope it works out for you.]]

Ad hominem crap. Science studies nature. The religious question is whether something exists IN ADDITION TO nature. No "cognitive dissonance" required, any more than it was required for Roger Bacon, William of Ockham, Robert Grossteste, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Alfred Russel Wallace, Louis Pasteur, Teilhard de Chardin, Jane Goodall, Alan Sandage, John Polkinghorne, Theodozhius Dobzhansky, Francisco Ayala or Ken Miller -- all Christians, all scientists, none of them having problems with "cognitive dissonance."

She said NOTHING to indicate that she is ANY kind of creationist.

This coming, of course, after Sarah makes clear that she IS "a kind of creationist".

Gee, Bart, I was right about her!

She's just god's little subroutine, in a universe that's just god's little computer program.

How'd you miss that, man?

Sarah: arguments from analogy in no way provide evidence for the existence of God.

Not that it matters, it's your personal faith that's important, and I have no idea why one needs anything more than that. It's the whole point of faith. I respect faith - my sister's a fundamentalist who for years was an assistant pastor in a Foursquare church. But it's hard to respect arguments of the "well, DNA can be mathematically described therefore it was designed" kind.

As far as your brother being an intelligent guy, I have no doubt he is. He's gotten a PhD in a difficult engineering field, after all.

However, he is an IGNORANT guy, and shows it here all the time in his posts. His knowledge seems to be very narrow. I'm sure he knows a lot about his field, but once he strays beyond it, he exposes his ignorance.

Encourage that bright brother of yours to read and study more, and post less, that's the cure for ignorance.

It doesn't matter that it was a tenured prof who said this, because I have documented cases of high school teachers doing likewise. It serves as an example. Does it violate SOSC? I despair of getting a straight yes or no from you on this, so I'll move on and ask if anyone else has an opinion on this.

It is obvious that it violates SOSC. I should think it's clear that my response was in regard to the PRACTICAL aspect.

It *does* matter if the teacher's a tenured professor or high school teacher. One is protected by a long tradition of academic freedom to do very much as he damn well pleases once tenure is attained. The other does not.

You say you have evidence of high school teachers doing likewise. Go get them. They deserve what comes down if they're teaching that science proves god doesn't exist.

What's ironic about this is that atheists -- who make up a small proportion of the population, and who tend to have fewer children than religious folks -- are so vehement about what is taught in schools. What do you think is the justification for a small percentage of the population dictating what the majority should learn?

Your conflating of concern over what's taught in high school with "atheism" will come as a huge surprise to those christian scientists who fight hard to keep religion from being taught as science in science class.

There are plenty of evolutionary biologists who are "religious people", specifically Christian people, and who see no conflict between their science and faith.

Those who are activists seem even *more* offended by efforts to replace science with creationism in high school biology classes than the minority of activists who are atheists.

"...wait, how did we go off on this tangent again? This started out as discussion of the Archimedes Principle applied to melting ice sheets."

Because that was like arguing about how 2+2=4 and got boring fast. We established that Tim Ball is a doofus, and then moved on to bicker amongst ourselves. Well, I did anyway.

Sarah,

I have been reading these comments with interest and am slightly puzzled by your words.

>"...we both converted to Christianity about a year and a half ago..."

You then go on to speak about your cosmological interest and view of the universe as a series of codes, it is very interesting.

>"So I see God very much as a master programmer, who wrote the code (the laws of nature) and set it in motion. And I see myself as the subroutine "Sarah," which God designed for some purpose."

What I don't get is *why* Christianity? Or any other religion for that matter? It seems to me that you have come to your own unique spiritual realization on the nature of the universe that is quite independant of any classical dogma. The only thing that I can deduce from your comments is that you have chosen a religion you are most culturally familiar with. Christianity doesn't seem to me to be one that is entirely consistent with the refreshingly individual evolution of your own sense of order in the universe.

I am not having a pop at your beliefs. I am quite fascinated by what you have said.

oops. what happened with my formatting?

Sarah,

While I agree science class is no place for a discussion of the metaphysical it certainly is the place for explanations that rely on empirically verifiable natural phenomena. Indeed science presupposes a non-theistic universe. Supernatural events are clearly outside of the realm of science and hence non-starters in any "scientific" discussion whether it is about butterfly behavior or the origin of the cosmos.

If the origin of the universe is to be investigated by the scientific method, and discussed in classes on the subject, these discussions must by necessity exclude theological constructs while embracing empirically verifiable, and hence naturalistic, models of cosmological origin.

While I am not familiar with your complete set of views on this topic it seems you insist that to exclude theistic explanations from discussion of cosmology one must also exclude naturalistic explanations (non-theistic) as well. What exactly would such discussion include?

Wow Davide,

Your thought provoking comments have torn a hole in the blog-time continuum!

The singularity has closed. What did you do Davide? It might be a good guerilla tactic to disrupt adversarial blogs.

We established that Tim Ball is a doofus

Finally, Ben and I agree on *something*. Let "Tim Ball is a doofus" be writ in tall, bold, lettering where all can see it.

I just put 4 spaces at the start of the quote (following the markdown link).

Looks like some god has been checking the 'davide' subroutine for errors tho' so all is well :P

Johnnie,

Theism and science in the same head usually result in compartmentalisation to solve the cognitive dissonance.

As Barton kindly pointed out, this is not always true -- though I have observed this occasionally in some of my more liberally religious peers. But my own study has indicated that there is nothing in science that invalidates scripture, or vice versa, so I don't suffer from this problem.

As for the rest of your comment, I can believe that the universe proceeds on its own without any monkeying by God, and that God is still very much present in our spiritual lives. I believe it is atheists and anti-theists who insist on compartmentalizing and categorizing more than theists, because it is difficult for you to conceive of how a God can be both remote and present.

davide,

What I don't get is why Christianity? Or any other religion for that matter?

You are the first person to ever ask me that. What it comes down to is a need for a philosophical basis for my life -- some kind of moral framework from which to operate. A computer-like universe is fascinating, but it doesn't get me all the way to morality.

Early on, I was opposed to the idea of religion. Then I started reading Gerald Schroeder, and the writings of ancient biblical commentators like Maimonides and Nahmanides -- I found quite a bit there that compelled me to consider the Judaic God, and I almost converted to Judaism. In the end, I was drawn to Christianity -- not necessarily out of cultural familitary, though that may be true. I was quite the little anti-Christian in my late teens and early twenties, with an anti-Christian website that won me a small following, and I even went so far as to leave anti-Christian writings at churches, and so on. The transformation is something that took several years. The acceptance of Christ is something that is deeply personal and subjective, so much so that it is almost impossible to describe to someone who isn't already Christian or considering conversion. This wasn't made easier by the fact that many Christian individuals act like total nitwits or worse, but in the end this is what I was drawn to.

Christianity doesn't seem to me to be one that is entirely consistent with the refreshingly individual evolution of your own sense of order in the universe.

You may be surprised to know that I agree with you on this. I graduate (hopefully) with my Ph.D. this April, and have decided to forego a research career in favor of a personal campaign to change Christianity's current relationship with the scientific realm. Many Christians, particularly the more religiously conservative types, take the view that all they need to get by in life is Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This is pure intellectual laziness. Christianity needs a new reformation, one that embraces science, and one that takes Judaic wisdom a whole lot more seriously. Maybe I can bring some of my own personal evolution into the faith. We'll see.

Lance,

Indeed science presupposes a non-theistic universe. Supernatural events are clearly outside of the realm of science and hence non-starters in any "scientific" discussion whether it is about butterfly behavior or the origin of the cosmos.

I assume what you mean by this is that we don't need angels to push the planets around or God's intervention to miraculously change one species into another? Given my previous statement, obviously I don't subscribe to such silly explanations for natural phenomena. But you are quite wrong about the origin of the cosmos. Not only is there nothing in accepted cosmology that refutes a theistic origin to the cosmos, cosmological theory is actually consistent with it. The Big Bang model is the current accepted theory for the origin of the universe, and it says that time, space, energy -- all of nature -- had a beginning. Logically, this implies something beyond nature as the creative force for the universe. Strictly speaking, the word for this is supernatural since this force is above nature. The Big Bang model has some detractors, most of them atheist, for precisely this reason. (Curiously, some Christian fundamentalists also oppose the Big Bang model.) The great astrophysicist Geoffrey Burbidge expressed his dismay over the theory by accusing scientists of rushing off to join the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang, or something to that effect. These scientists hate it precisely because it implies a moment of creation, which is a little too reminiscent of Genesis.

I don't need God to explain how things work -- science does that quite adequately on its own. But I do see religion and science together as a way to understand why things work the way they do. If we are using science to understand the program, then ultimately we can understand something about the programmer, too.

'This coming, of course, after Sarah makes clear that she IS "a kind of creationist".'

Actually, she didn't. Nothing in Sarah's post indicated that she was a creationist. If you want to put a word on what she is, she's a deist.

And she's making pretty interesting points, and her (and Barton) are spot on with their comments on the nonrelevance of science to belief. You can't use the material world to prove or disprove the immaterial. You *can* use science and the material world to disprove the Bible if you interpret said text naively and literally, but neither Sarah nor Barton appear to be naive belivers.

By Sock Puppet of… (not verified) on 22 Jan 2008 #permalink

Sarah,

Admittedly, you're guessing, but I'm not.

Fine; I'm guessing and you're relying on anecdotal evidence. My point was that neither of us has any actual evidence (beyond anecdotal) and christianity dominates in terms of sheer numbers. Also, even with said books galvanizing, the trend towards creationism may have started before then. Did it? Did it not? Do you know? If you claim that it's a response, then the one should come before the other in the timeline.

Sarah,

I appreciate your open answer to my post. Your civil tone is unfortunately uncommon on this blog, especially when contentious topics, such as religious faith, are in play.

However, I think you are trying to have your cake and eat too when you say

Not only is there nothing in accepted cosmology that refutes a theistic origin to the cosmos, cosmological theory is actually consistent with it.

How can any empirically unverifiable and unfalsifiable proposition be "consistent" with the scientific method? Perhaps you mean to say that the philosophical premise of a "creator" cannot be excluded from possibility by a scientific framework?

But that isn't saying very much is it? I could say the same thing about any ad hoc supernatural explanation I care to invent. How could any "supernatural" theory be falsified? If the deity whose trail you are attempting to measure doesn't have to obey even the rules of self-consistency He/She/It is a little bit hard to pin down or refute.

Such theories are completely useless, or worse, in scientific terms. I think it is quite revealing, and I say this with some degree of empathy for your candor, that you say that the reasons for your conversion were "...deeply personal and subjective, so much so that it is almost impossible to describe to someone who isn't already Christian..."

While this explains your personal feelings about your conversion and why you feel that a personal god is consistent with your personal experience, I'm afraid it puts it out of play to rational discussion and wholly "inconsistent" with scientific inquiry, despite your claims to the contrary.

Sarah,

I think I know where you are coming from here:

*What it comes down to is a need for a philosophical basis for my life -- some kind of moral framework from which to operate. A computer-like universe is fascinating, but it doesn't get me all the way to morality.*

The difference between us I think, is that I see morality implicit in the code. Behavioural ecology guides me to the conclusion that many other animals, particularly primates and highly likely our common ancestor, are endowed with the seeds of morality. Kinship and altruism has been differently evolved in humans to an extreme as with other traits that make us unique in this respect.

Judaic wisdom it would seem to me is just the human vocalization of the morality that is built into our (animal) behaviour via evolution. None of this of course precludes the existance of a God beyond the Big Bang (or however the universe came into being) that included the structure for the eventual expression of the morality part of the equation into the design.

I should probably make it clear that I am content with this idea of the universe existing without a need for a creator or designer, capable of and indeed bound by probability to give rise to moral lifeforms, capable of gaining an accute awareness of the intricacy of the code.

I am curious still tho' as to how you reconcile your appreciation of science with the what I find to be the most difficult aspect of Christianity; Jesus Christ himself.

I can my head around a clockwork universe set in motion by a supernatural entity as a concept, but throw in a human expression of the entity, born to a virgin, who can cheat death and has a bunch of other tricks up his sleeve that defy rational thought - that's where it breaks down for me.

PS. Maybe you should start your own blog - seems you'll get some customers. :)

Sorry, folks, but

A program implies a programmer. So I see God very much as a master programmer, who wrote the code (the laws of nature) and set it in motion.

is a variant of creationism, i.e. intelligent design creationism. Her argument is the classic intelligent design argument by analogy, "it looks like a (machine/program/etc)" and thus must've been engineered/programmed.

It's not biblical literalism, of course, and I never said she was a traditional christian YEC/OEC creationist.

Nothing in Sarah's post indicated that she was a creationist. If you want to put a word on what she is, she's a deist.

Actually, she says she is a Christian. Who are you to say she's not?

But, again, I never said she was a traditional christian creationist of the six-day creation, gawdawful big flood with dinos rocking noah's boat type.

Sarah,

But my own study has indicated that there is nothing in science that invalidates scripture, or vice versa, so I don't suffer from this problem.

That is a joke, right? You can read Genesis and say this with a straight face?

The "descended from apes" thing.
I'm willing to be corrected, but IIR Ancestors Tale correctly, not only do we have ancestors rightly called apes but WE are rightly called apes. We are more closely related to chimps and bonobos - in terms of how far you go back to a common ancestor - than they (or we) are to gorillas or to orang-utans. So if the category "apes" is to include chimps and gorillas, and not have weird ad-hoc holes in it, it includes humans and the nearest common ancestor of chimps and humans.

By Matt Heath (not verified) on 22 Jan 2008 #permalink

"is a variant of creationism, i.e. intelligent design creationism. Her argument is the classic intelligent design argument by analogy, "it looks like a (machine/program/etc)" and thus must've been engineered/programmed."

Naw, intelligent design is a different beast: it argues that the *could not have come about through natural laws*. She's not arguing that: if I can interpret for yer, she's arguing that the natural laws have such narrow tolerances for life to exist that there was a creator behind them. She's a deist or theistic evolutionist, not a creationist.

One requires suspension of natural laws; the other doesn't. Until you or I know what Sarah's attitude is to the rest of the Bible, whether she believes in miracles or other suspensions of natural laws, or whether she interprets those as metaphorical, you can't accuse her of inconsistency.

"But, again, I never said she was a traditional christian creationist of the six-day creation, gawdawful big flood with dinos rocking noah's boat type."

Come on dhoghaza, y'know what you were implying.

I'm not a believer (I'm an agnostic), but let's be fair here.

By Sock Puppet of… (not verified) on 22 Jan 2008 #permalink

Naw, intelligent design is a different beast

Given the choice between a) believing you, or b) my own research, or c) the informed opinion of a bush-appointed federal district judge, I'll pick what lies behind doors b) and c).

Sorry.

Until you or I know what Sarah's attitude is to the rest of the Bible

Well, she does say that nothing in science contradicts the Bible, and therefore the Genesis account of Creation, the Biblical account of a global flood and Noah's ark, etc, doesn't she?

Lance posts:

[[ science presupposes a non-theistic universe. ]]

Actually, it doesn't. It just rules out theistic explanations for natural phenomena. Whether the universe is theistic or not is outside the scope of science's concern.

sarah posts:

[[Christianity needs a new reformation, one that embraces science,]]

Sarah, traditional Christianity not only embraces science, it made science possible in the first place. The scientific revolution happened in four places -- ancient Greece, the dark ages middle east, medieval China, and Christian Europe -- and the only one it succeeded in was Christian Europe. And that wasn't a coincidence. Christianity had come up with the doctrine of secondary causation, that natural things could act on themselves and one another without God's direct intervention. Please look into the writings of Albertus Magnus, Robert Grossteste, Jean Buridan, and Nicholas of Cusa. I wish I were at home right now so I could post some relevant quotes from them, but they were very aware of the problem that stopping with "God did it" creates for any type of natural investigation. I can remember one quote offhand: "It is not enough to say, we know that God can do it. You fools, God can make a cow out of a tree, but has he ever done so? Therefore give a reason why a thing is so, or cease to hold that it is so."

matt writes:

[[if the category "apes" is to include chimps and gorillas, and not have weird ad-hoc holes in it, it includes humans and the nearest common ancestor of chimps and humans.]]

I disagree. There are major differences between humans and the great apes. Great apes have 48 chromosomes, humans have 46. Humans are obligate bipeds, great apes are only occasionally bipeds. Apes have an estrus cycle, humans have a menstrual cycle. Apes have thick hair amounting to fur, humans have sparse hair. Apes have pronounced sexual dimorphism (especially in the gorilla), humans have reduced sexual dimorphism. And humans are about three times as encephalized as apes, and exhibit an intricate culture and technology which apes have never even come close to achieving. The latter especially is a non-trivial difference. We are closely related to apes, but we are not apes, whatever the cladists say.

"The scientific revolution happened in four places -- ancient Greece, the dark ages middle east, medieval China, and Christian Europe -- and the only one it succeeded in was Christian Europe. And that wasn't a coincidence."

No, but not for the reasons you suppose. Those are post hoc rationalizations. The real reason science failed in the rest of the world was imperialist expansion. The core of mathematic and scientific understanding in Europe was booty from the Crusades, which was in turn booty from the Islamic incursion into India. What the Muslims began by destroying the academic foundations of Indian science, was completed by the Portuguese, French and English destroying the economic foundations of Indian technology.

By luminous beauty (not verified) on 23 Jan 2008 #permalink

"Naw, intelligent design is a different beast
Given the choice between a) believing you, or b) my own research, or c) the informed opinion of a bush-appointed federal district judge, I'll pick what lies behind doors b) and c)."

Exactly where does Sarah state that natural laws don't explain the observed state of the world?

ID'ers like Behe or Dembski try to use misrepresentations of natural laws to assert that natural laws alone aren't sufficient to explain the presence and development of life, and there had to be a Hand of God mucking around.

Theistic evolutionists or cosmologists don't require suspension of natural laws to explain life: they see these natural laws as part of God's work.

"Well, she does say that nothing in science contradicts the Bible"

Until you know what kind of theist/deist Sarah is, or what she finds important in the Bible that tells you precisely squat: from her words, her image of creation probably owes more to the Gospel of John than to Genesis.

By Sock Puppet of… (not verified) on 23 Jan 2008 #permalink

The Big Bang model is the current accepted theory for the origin of the universe, and it says that time, space, energy -- all of nature -- had a beginning. Logically, this implies something beyond nature as the creative force for the universe.

Well...no. The classical Big Bang model does indeed have a singular beginning, but nobody actually believes that the classical model is an accurate description of reality. There are various attempts at semi-classical treatments, but we can't really expect anything definitive until a fully quantum theory of gravity is available. Of the existing semi-classical models, some are past-eternal (eg chaotic inflation), some are finite, unbounded models (eg no-boundary proposal), and some have singular beginnings. Whether the Universe is past-eternal is still an open question, and even if the answer is 'no,' that doesn't imply a beginning, as such.

The Big Bang model has some detractors, most of them atheist

Do you have any evidence to support this claim? Almost all of the detractors I've encountered were YECs.

luminous posts:

[[ The real reason science failed in the rest of the world was imperialist expansion. The core of mathematic and scientific understanding in Europe was booty from the Crusades, which was in turn booty from the Islamic incursion into India.]]

Nope. Long before the Crusaders arrived, the Islamic world had already abandoned the scientific revolution -- see if you can find the classic treatise "Against the Philosophers." Their reasoning ran that the pen does not write because your hand moves it -- the pen writes because Allah is moving both your hand and the pen, and the apparent connection is not intrinsic. They explicitly rejected the idea of secondary causation, and as a result, empiricism became useless.

And China was only colonized by the west in the 19th century, long after they had shut down their own scientific revolution in a series of fiat proclamations from the Emperor. There's a Ray Bradbury story about the latter, if you're interested, true in essence if not in detail.

Lastly, the scientific revolution in ancient Greece petered out because the Greeks disdained manual labor as fit only for slaves -- and thus disdained empirical fieldwork. The idea was that you had to be able to prove something by logic alone, without recourse to the evidence. The evidence could be misleading, as philosophers from Zeno on maintained, but pure reason would always get the right result. Which was quite wrong, of course.

Christian medieval Europe had the doctrine of secondary causation, and respect for work -- "ora labora est," "work is prayer," later generalized by John Calvin into the concept of Vocation. When people started doing empirical research in Europe, it kept on, building on itself, because the social forces that had destroyed it in Greece, China and the middle east didn't exist there.

Exactly where does Sarah state that natural laws don't explain the observed state of the world?

That would be here:

Logically, this implies something beyond nature as the creative force for the universe. Strictly speaking, the word for this is supernatural since this force is above nature.

There are major differences between humans and the great apes.

Which has bugger-all to do with it. Classification is based on similarities; all you've made a case for is that we are a particular type of ape. Which is entirely true, but also entirely vacuous.

Martin M. posts:

[[[[The Big Bang model has some detractors, most of them atheist]]
Do you have any evidence to support this claim? Almost all of the detractors I've encountered were YECs.]]

I think she meant detractors in the scientific community. Fred Hoyle explicitly rejected the Big Bang because it was "religious." People looking for a "macroverse" theory to provide something outside the Big Bang often do seem to be coming from a worldview which finds creation per se distasteful -- Hawking, Weinberg, Andrei Linde. Note that, so far, none of those theories (e.g. brane theory) has any empirical evidence in its favor, or even a way to test it empirically. They're unfalsifiable. Their only virtue -- in the eyes of their creators -- is that they have something natural instead of supernatural creating the universe.

Martin M posts:

[[[[There are major differences between humans and the great apes.]]
Which has bugger-all to do with it. Classification is based on similarities; all you've made a case for is that we are a particular type of ape. Which is entirely true, but also entirely vacuous.]]

No, I maintain that each of the great apes is more like one another than any of them are like humans. They all have Jerison encephalization quotients in the 2-3 range compared to 7.3 for humans, they all have 48 chromosomes, they all spend most of their time in non-bipedal stances, they all have sexual cycles instead of the human constant sexual receptivity. It makes sense to classify humans separately, which is why Linnaeus did so in the first place. He catalogued orangutans as Homo troglodytes, but that was because he never saw an orangutan and was going on what he heard from travelers. (Orangs are neither human, nor live in caves.)

Lance,

How can any empirically unverifiable and unfalsifiable proposition be "consistent" with the scientific method?

If you accept Big Bang theory -- the theory that the universe (i.e. nature) came into being in a moment of creation -- then logically this implies some creative force that is above and beyond nature. We do not observe things in nature giving rise to themselves.* Logically, I don't see how you cannot have the supernatural if the Big Bang model is correct.

As for what exactly that creative force is, that's the difficult part. You are correct that this force is not directly testable by conventional scientific means. But, like I said, studying the program may provide clues about the programmer.

[* Whenever I say this, inevitably someone brings up spontaneous particle production as a counter-example. The problem with this is that the particles didn't give rise to themselves, the vacuum energy did through quantum fluctuations. These particles are momentarily borrowing energy from the vacuum energy to become particles, and then returning that energy after a very brief time. So even if one uses this line of reasoning to argue that the universe popped into existence as a fluctuation, that still logically implies some kind of super-universe with its own vacuum energy field to give rise to our universe. It's still supernatural.]

davide,

Excellent questions -- morality is one of my favorite topics -- but if I were to provide answers, this would open up a big debate that I just don't have time to deal with (finishing my dissertation). I've toyed with the idea of creating a blog for topics like the ones we've been discussing, and even have a domain name set aside. Maybe in May I'll start posting on this stuff.

I am curious still tho' as to how you reconcile your appreciation of science with the what I find to be the most difficult aspect of Christianity; Jesus Christ himself.

I haven't yet reconciled it. I sympathize with this difficulty, because that's where I was for years even after I had accepted the God of the Old Testament. The best way I can describe my relationship to Jesus Christ is that I was "called" to Him. To some degree, this is where compartmentalization occurs. I don't need to compartmentalize in order to believe in both a Creator and science, but as far as scientific explanations for Christ, you've pretty much got me there. I do have a rationale, but as I said, explaining this would open up a huge debate. I'll save it for later.

StuV,

You can read Genesis and say this with a straight face?

Yes. If you are at all curious, Gerald Schroeder's The Science of God explains this very well. His books were what converted me from deism to a belief in the biblical God. I'm not suggesting any of you would want to read it to be converted, but if you want to understand the position of those who have no difficulty reconciling science with Genesis, this is the book to read. What I appreciate about Schroeder is that he plays no games with the science -- it's all taken at face value. What he brings to the argument is a much better understanding of Genesis through an ancient, well-established interpretation of the Old Testament that is not very well known by Christians or anyone else who relies on a superficial translation of, say, the King James version of the Bible.

Barton,

Sarah, traditional Christianity not only embraces science, it made science possible in the first place.

I agree completely. Where I think Christianity has taken a wrong turn is in recent times, particularly with Creationism and the idea that all we need are the Gospels. To be fair, not all Christians are this intellectually lazy, but I really want to divorce mainstream Christianity from this kind of silliness and put it beyond reasonable consideration.

I also want to create a much better general awareness of the current state of science, so that believers can defend themselves against criticism and attack. The vast majority of these attacks can be countered quite easily, because it's not only Christians who are ignorant of the state of science, it's atheists, too. I was listening to a radio call-in program last night wherein an atheist caller explained his rationale for not believing in God. He said it was because the universe is so vast. There are all these galaxies, and we inhabit only one tiny little speck in the outer reaches of just one of them, so how can there be a God. The host asked him where all the galaxies came from, and the caller said they were created in the Big Bang. (Wrong.) The host then asked him where all the matter that makes up stars in galaxies came from, and the caller said that it's always been around. (Wrong.) The caller didn't even recognize his error in reasoning, that you can't have matter that's always been around if the universe hasn't always been around. But the host, who is a believer, also didn't have the knowledge to point out the errors and the illogic of this guy's argument. It was frustrating to listen to this exchange, because even a college freshman who has taken Astro 101 would know enough to refute the caller's argument. Christians need the tools to defend their beliefs, which is why I want to engage them in science.

Bart,

In response to my statement that science presupposes a non-theistic universe you say,

Actually, it doesn't. It just rules out theistic explanations for natural phenomena.

The word universe, in the scientific sense, means the set of all matter and energy existing in the fabric of space-time. Science is the process by which the scientific method and logic are employed to explain the nature and interaction of the elements of this set.

Science "presupposes" that these elements and the forces between them can be described, and understood, by a self-consistent set of underlying relationships that can be mathematically described.

Theology is the study of supernatural and mystical constructs and their interactions with the "spiritual" and physical universe. It is based on "revelation" and "faith" with only incidental non-obligatory correlation to the physical world.

Theological constructs are clearly outside of the universe as described by science and are therefore meaningless to any scientific description of the universe or any subset thereof.

Thus your statement is not self-consistent.

Note that, so far, none of those theories (e.g. brane theory) has any empirical evidence in its favor, or even a way to test it empirically. They're unfalsifiable.

Is the classical Big Bang model testable? The simplest model is infinite in spatial extent; can we test that? Well, no. Strictly speaking, the best we can do is say that either a) the Universe is spatially infinite, b) the Universe has non-trivial topology, c) our laws of physics are inaccurate at large spatial scales, or d) magic!

Oddly enough, d) doesn't get much play in the scientific community. We're in exactly the same position with respect to time, but people haven't quite got used to relativistic thinking yet, and so insist on treating time as a special case. Which is the only reason I can see that magic is seen as a respectable option there.

Their only virtue -- in the eyes of their creators -- is that they have something natural instead of supernatural creating the universe.

Scientists prefer scientific answers to scientific questions. Shocking!

No, I maintain that each of the great apes is more like one another than any of them are like humans.

Which is still irrelevant. If true for the great apes, it's even more true for the mammals, but we are still mammals.

It makes sense to classify humans separately, which is why Linnaeus did so in the first place.

...and so do we. We're not the same species as the other apes. We're not even the same genus. But 'ape' is a superfamily.

We do not observe things in nature giving rise to themselves.

Strictly speaking, we don't observe things in nature giving rise to anything at all. At the most fundamental level, nothing is created or destroyed, merely transformed. Do we then conclude that the Universe must be past-eternal? No, because it's a false analogy. One has to be very careful when discussing the Universe as a whole.

The problem with this is that the particles didn't give rise to themselves, the vacuum energy did through quantum fluctuations. These particles are momentarily borrowing energy from the vacuum energy to become particles, and then returning that energy after a very brief time.

That's not really accurate; QM respects energy conservation. No energy is being 'borrowed' from anywhere, pop-sci descriptions notwithstanding. A more correct description is that, as virtual particles are off-shell (that is, they don't respect the usual relationships between energy and momentum), intermediate states which would be classically forbidden are accessible to quantum systems. This means that processes like pair production are truly acausal, of course.

So even if one uses this line of reasoning to argue that the universe popped into existence as a fluctuation, that still logically implies some kind of super-universe with its own vacuum energy field to give rise to our universe. It's still supernatural.

No, it isn't. A 'super-universe' which obeys well-defined laws of physics is entirely natural.

What I appreciate about Schroeder is that he plays no games with the science

Well, as long as you don't count attempting to sync the days of Genesis with modern cosmology by attaching God to an obscure reference frame (chosen for no apparent reason other than producing an acceptable answer) and invoking time dilation (backwards, IIRC) to be 'playing games,' sure.

the caller said that it's always been around. (Wrong.)

'Always been around' is not necessarily synonymous with 'past-eternal.' Something which had existed since the beginning of time could reasonably be described as always having been around.

Sarah,

Any attempt to describe or explain what "caused" the "Big Bang" must be verifiable and falsifiable to be called scientific. I think we both agree on this point.

Of course strictly speaking space-time did not exist prior to the singularity and hence discussions of what happened "before" the singularity are nonsequitters.

My biggest problem with the "creator" model is that it really brings nothing to the table. If you believe, with deference to your personal favorite deity, He "existed" independently of our universe this is consistent with, and in my opinion inferior to, other multi-verse models.

Your insistence that these models are "supernatural" is only true in that we presently cannot, and perhaps never will be able to, observe these other universes by scientific means.

It is only this limitation that places your "creator" beyond scrutiny. It does not however afford to Him any special status among arbitrarily assorted multi-universe scenarios.

I suspect that your "calling" is the reason for your selection of this particular deity among possible explanations. Clearly this was not a scientific choice.

As I said it remains beyond the purview of science to evaluate your claim. Your inference that examination of the "code" can somehow affirm the "existence" of this creator is also non-scientific. I suspect you will judge these "signals" on how well they resonate with your mystical beliefs.

I will leave it to you to divine these phantoms. I only insist that you make no claim to this being a scientific endeavor.

[[Scientists prefer scientific answers to scientific questions. Shocking!]]

What saddens me is that some scientists prefer scientific answers to non-scientific questions, as well.

These are the kinds of discussions/arguments I would like to get into with my own family and friends, but those always seem to end badly, so I'll toss in my 1 cent here.

First, as the price of admission: I'll agree that public school teachers should not try to influence their students for or against theism. However, my anecdotal evidence is overwhelming on the side of the former instead of the latter. That may be due to the kinds of blogs I read. In my own case, I can't recall any blatant instances either way from my public schools days, but I also don't recall that the word "evolution" was ever used or referred to in my high school biology class. There was one event in my HS senior history class where a teacher's remark was mis-interpreted by one zealot (the rest of us backed up the teacher's version), causing a huge fuss, so I am pretty sure any teacher who did say anything critical of Christianity in my school would have been fired.

Others have made good responses to Sarah's reasons for espousing theism, and I am not sure I have anything new to offer, but the appeal to the wonderful, elegant complexity of this universe as an argument for theism no longer resonates with me, for a long time now. IMO, the only way that theism logically follows from this, is by assuming theism as a premise. Theism adds no explanation for me, because if it follows that everything which is complex, elegant, sensible (or however else one might describe the structure of this universe) must have been created, then what created the Creator? Is she not also complex, elegant, et cetera? (I have heard that Dawkins has posed a similar question. I think I stumbled on it independently, but maybe not.)

As for atheists falling into the trap of guessing at answers to questions for which the better answer would be, "I don't know (and neither do you)", that's a human failing, one that is largely responsible for theism in the first place (IMO). The fact that there are things humans are never going to be smart enough to figure out is not a valid argument for theism. Similarly, just because chimpanzees could watch things fall for thousands of years and never figure out gravity, doesn't mean they would be justified in assuming that there is a god that makes things fall.

The last time I was in a church, on a visit to some relatives, I pulled a bible out of the rack on the back of the pew in front of me, opened to a page at random, and read a story from near the end of King David's reign. It seems God was angry and had caused a famine because of some injustice that Saul had done to some tribe who were upright and righteous in God's sight. Being apprised of this by his priests, King David called representatives of the tribe before him, and asked what they would like done to remedy the injustice, After some hemming and hawing, they asked for seven close relatives of Saul to be given up to them for torture and execution. This was done, and God was pleased, and the famine ended.

The Brahma-the-Creator, Vishnu-the-Preserver, Shiva-the Destroyer stuff sounds to me like a better religion for a cosmologist, from what little I know of it. It probably has some seamy parts too, but I'm sure they can be rationalized away just as well.

I don't mean to insult anyone, and don't expect to change anyone's beliefs, but it is a relief to speak my mind occasionally, in a place and time when five of my 77 cable channels are all televangelists, all the time.

MartinM said:

'[Me] Exactly where does Sarah state that natural laws don't explain the observed state of the world?
[Martin M]That would be here:

'[Sarah] Logically, this implies something beyond nature as the creative force for the universe. Strictly speaking, the word for this is supernatural since this force is above nature.'

OK, Martin: what natural laws were in place before the Big Bang, and which need to be suspended for there to be a creator? I'm really keen to know.

Look, I'm not a theist, I'm an agnostic/atheist, but it pisses me off that atheist are arguing with straw men rather than engaging on the level that the theists here are arguing, which (with the exception of say, Lance and JimV) is a much lower one than Bart or Sarah, and personally I want to them to explain their position and thoughts, 'cos the scientifically educated thinking Theist isn't exactly given a lot of primetime.

To me, whether you believe in a creator (or a specific creator) is an aesthetic and emotional question rather than a scientific one.

By Sock Puppet of… (not verified) on 23 Jan 2008 #permalink

"Nope. Long before the Crusaders arrived, the Islamic world had already abandoned the scientific revolution -- see if you can find the classic treatise "Against the Philosophers."

Averroes was still a great Arabic mathematician and scientist and philosopher, and post-dated Ghazali's skepticism on the power of rationalism by a century (and wrote a book refuting Ghazali): Averroes died around the time of the Third Crusade. If there'd been no Crusades, who knows how Averroes critique of Ghazali would have been received?

It took time for Ghazali's skepticism to be accepted, and Ghazali and the Asharites didn't direct their ire at the sciences and technology: innovation was still permitted there. Some Asharites (like Ibn al-Haytham) were significant scientists (or natural philosophers, if you like) themselves. The 12th-14th centuries still had notable advances in the sciences and technology in the Islamic world. I think the crusades and the much later opening up of alternate trade routes played a role (but not the primary role) in the ossification of Islamic thought.

[And without the Arabic philosophers, we'd have lost the Greek classical inheritance: some classical works were preserved by the Irish monks, but very few of the Irish monks read Greek.]

By Sock Puppet of… (not verified) on 23 Jan 2008 #permalink

'[Me] Exactly where does Sarah state that natural laws don't explain the observed state of the world? [Martin M]That would be here:

'[Sarah] Logically, this implies something beyond nature as the creative force for the universe. Strictly speaking, the word for this is supernatural since this force is above nature.'

OK, Martin: what natural laws were in place before the Big Bang, and which need to be suspended for there to be a creator? I'm really keen to know.

We don't need to know what those natural laws were in order to observe that Sarah herself said "Logically, this implies something beyond nature" ...

The discussion is about what Sarah said, not about what is true, and in this context it's clear that you're not reading what she says very closely.

As for me, I think she's entitled to her beliefs, and I don't know why you're trying to pin things on her statements that aren't said.

Sarah, I have some minor comments for you (and the others too, I suppose).

1) Teaching your students that the world was created in 7 days because God said so is very different to teaching them that "science disproves the existence of God". One represents incompetence at teaching, and one doesn't. The two infractions are of different severity

2) I think that anything which can be done honestly and non-oppressively to stamp out, eradicate and destroy religion, and particularly the religion of the society I was raised in, is good. Our religious heritage carries with it nothing that is good and much that is bad

3) I don't know what you are talking about with mainstream christianity, because as far as I know all the mainstream churches respect science and accept it without criticism. Besides a few cults, the only churches I know of which reject science are the baptist ones, and to the best of my knowledge they are not "mainstream". Maybe you should leave the fringe cults to their own devices and do something useful, like continue working in science.

Remember the discovery of the cosmological microwave background?

That doesn't address my point at all. CMB observations have done an excellent job of establishing that our Universe belongs to the class of Big Bang models (and most probably the inflationary variety), but it certainly hasn't pinned down the specific point I was discussing, namely the spatial extent of the Universe. The options there basically break down to infinite, or finite and unbounded, each coming in various flavours. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has proposed finite, bounded, and beyond the boundary 'here be dragons.' And yet that mysteriously becomes a respectable solution when asking precisely the same question about time.

OK, Martin: what natural laws were in place before the Big Bang

If you really want to know about the various pre-Big-Bang scenarios, you could try reading my comments, where I've mentioned several. Since it's at such a low level, you should have no trouble understanding the implications.

In any case, as dhogaza points out, this is a non sequitur. If the observed state of the world implies the existence of the supernatural, then the natural is not sufficient to explain it, by definition.

Sg posts:

[[ I think that anything which can be done honestly and non-oppressively to stamp out, eradicate and destroy religion, and particularly the religion of the society I was raised in, is good. Our religious heritage carries with it nothing that is good and much that is bad]]

Yeah, take that, religious heritage! The heck with the doctrine of secondary causation that permitted modern science to arise, the Abolitionist crusade, Handel's Messiah, Michelangelo's David,, spirituals, M.L. King Jr.'s sermons, How Great Thou Art and the Narnia books. It's all bad!

the bad things are christian; the good things are human. You can't claim that Michelangelo's work was the result of christianity, but you can't deny that the Inquisition was about God.

Also Barton the doctrine of secondary causation is a debate between co-religionists about whether or not humans can affect the universe. Were it not for their own stupid superstitions, these people could have just got on with the job. It's the height of arrogance to suggest that atheists or scientists should care to thank these people for managing to overcome their own superstitions sufficiently to permit science.

"You can't claim that Michelangelo's work was the result of christianity, but you can't deny that the Inquisition was about God."

But SG surely you realise that the entire literary, intellectual and artistic output of non-christians, unenlightened as it is by the divine light of the One True Faith, is worthless filth that needs to be wiped from the face of the Earth?

The Oddysey - blasphemous filth

The Daibutsu - a graven idol

The Bahagavada Gita - degenerate nonsense

The rubaiyat - Satanically-inspired pornography.

By Ian Gould (not verified) on 24 Jan 2008 #permalink

SG posts:

[[Also Barton the doctrine of secondary causation is a debate between co-religionists about whether or not humans can affect the universe. ]]

No it isn't. It's about how God affects the Universe.

[[Were it not for their own stupid superstitions, these people could have just got on with the job.]]

You're making the mistake of thinking the scientific outlook is the natural habit of humanity. It isn't.

[[ It's the height of arrogance to suggest that atheists or scientists should care to thank these people for managing to overcome their own superstitions sufficiently to permit science. ]]

See above.

Ian Gould posts:

[[But SG surely you realise that the entire literary, intellectual and artistic output of non-christians, unenlightened as it is by the divine light of the One True Faith, is worthless filth that needs to be wiped from the face of the Earth?
The Oddysey - blasphemous filth
The Daibutsu - a graven idol
The Bahagavada Gita - degenerate nonsense
The rubaiyat - Satanically-inspired pornography.]]

I didn't expect a straw man like that from you, Ian. I never said anything of the sort. For one thing, I quite like the Bhagavad-Gita. You have to like a book where the scene is on the verge of a tremendous battle and the protagonist stops to argue philosophy.

SG's contention was that Christianity had added nothing positive to the world. Why do you assume that my viewpoint would mirror his, and I would just embrace the opposite fallacy? Don't put words in my mouth, please.

Barton Paul Levenson wrote:

"Whether the universe is theistic or not is outside the scope of science's concern."

Why? Any "supernatural" being is hypothetical unless it influences our natural universe, at which point it would be fair game for scientific inquiry just like any other observable phenomenon. Religious people claim that either a deity interacted with man at one point in the past, or that this deity is still active in the world today. Why should these claims be exempt from scientific scrutiny?

OK - Back to archimedes for a second. I didn't see anyone mention the correct answer to the sea ice/melting ice cube problem. Forgetting the temperature effect #18 (negligible for sea ice anyways since the surrounding water is so cold), there are two effects 1) the freshness of sea ice #12 - correct and 2) The buoyancy effect felt by the part of the ice in air - thus the ice also experiences an upthrust equal to the mass of air displaced, this in addition to the mass of water displaced causes the level of water even in the glass of fresh water to go UP ever so slightly...NOT stay the same! Most textbooks have this wrong.

So yes Ball is an idiot - there are two effects acting here causing sea level to rise when sea ice melts...

Sarah - I absolutely agree with you that your professor violated SOSC, there is no place for any such non-scientific claim in a science class. I am very interested in the way you rationalize your faith, your conversion experience and most importantly your desire to improve science knowledge and literacy among religious people so we can move beyond these Evol. vs ID debates to larger questions regarding the place of religion in modern society with everyone on the same scientific page. I am interested in discussing such issues with you if you're keen to start a dialogue. I am also v. busy with PhD stuff right now but we have time...

MartinM,

This means that processes like pair production are truly acausal, of course.

Admittedly, QM is not my strong subject, however I always understood that pair-production is not acausal, because it requires extreme conditions, say, near event horizons of black holes. If certain conditions are required for something to happen, then it doesn't make sense to say it's acausal.

No, it isn't. A 'super-universe' which obeys well-defined laws of physics is entirely natural.

You're playing games with words. "Natural" refers to our universe. Anything above and beyond our universe is, by definition, supernatural, even if it obeys its own laws of physics.

Schroeder isn't using an obscure reference frame. He's considering the universe as a whole, which is necessarily how God would view the universe. And I don't understand how his invocation of time dilation is problematic. I have to correct for the effects of time dilation in my observations of distant objects, so it makes perfect sense to me.

'Always been around' is not necessarily synonymous with 'past-eternal.' Something which had existed since the beginning of time could reasonably be described as always having been around.

Someone who thinks galaxies were created in the Big Bang probably doesn't understand the difference between 'always been around' and 'past-eternal.' I think he meant 'always been around' quite literally.

Lance,

It is only this limitation that places your "creator" beyond scrutiny. It does not however afford to Him any special status among arbitrarily assorted multi-universe scenarios.

True, but that wasn't my point. My point is only that, logically, one must accept the supernatural -- whether that consists of a conscious creator or multi-universes -- if one accepts the Big Bang model. This is important, because I get this argument from materialists all the time: there's no such thing as the supernatural, and only religious nuts entertain such ideas. Clearly, this is not true.

Your inference that examination of the "code" can somehow affirm the "existence" of this creator is also non-scientific.

I didn't say "affirm the existence," I said give clues as to the nature of the programmer. Note that this leaves open the possibility for a programmer that is a non-conscious creative force. You aren't at all curious enough to try to find out which it is? I think it makes all the difference in the world if our universe is the purposeful product of an intelligence or if it's just some statistical fluctuation in an infinite series of physical realms.

I suspect you will judge these "signals" on how well they resonate with your mystical beliefs.

Possibly, but not necessarily. Remember, science drew me to religion, not the other way around. I'm interested in the truth.

JimV,

... what created the Creator?

Unless you think the universe is eternal, we're stuck with this problem regardless of what we posit the creative force of the universe to be. If it's a super-universe/multi-universe scenario, then what created that? And what created that which created the super-universe? And so on. The assumption of an eternal creative force has a philosophical advantage here.

As much as I've enjoyed discussing stuff with y'all, this will likely be my last response here. I formally started a new faculty job today, and the burden of teaching and finishing the dissertation won't allow for much extra-curricular stuff. If I get my own blog up and running, I'll ask Ben to make a plug for it here. Thanks for the good conversation.

Barton, this is a classic christian dodge. Some poor bastard scientist finds a way to shake the church off his back long enough to publish a result, and you claim that christianity "enabled science"? Merely permitting someone to say something without burning them at the stake is not enabling anything.

Similarly, scholars fighting it out for a couple of centuries over whether the real, observable universe could be affected by anything except God's will is not a case of christians "furthering" science. It is a case of christians arguing over whether to allow science into their world view.

So don't present the doctrine of secondary causation as proof of christianity enabling or furthering science. It is an example of how long it took christianity to merely accept science.

(Also, I think you may be exaggerating the importance of occasionalism in holding back scientific inquiry, but I'm no expert so I shan't dispute you on that).

Thanks, Sarah, for the reply, and thanks to our host for tolerating this massively off-topic thread.

I completely understand that you have much more productive things to do then clear up my confusion, so I won't expect a further response, but it is still unclear to me why "The assumption of an eternal creative force has a philosophical advantage here." If we get to just assume an eternal, incomprehensible, complex entity or force, why not just assume the cosmos we actually observe, whether finite or eternal? Or better yet, just admit that we do not understand, and will probably never understand, everything about the universe we inhabit, much less whether anything lies beyond it, but that assuming something else which we understand even less is responsible for it adds no explanatory value (in the absence of good evidence for the existence of such, which so far I have not encountered).

If it's a super-universe/multi-universe scenario, then what created that? And what created that which created the super-universe? And so on. The assumption of an eternal creative force has a philosophical advantage here.

And what created the eternal creative force? Sorry, I don't see any philosophical advantage in that. The only difference is that one view makes an assumption of never-observed supernatural processes and the other only assumes natural processes. Looks more like a philosophical disadvantage to me.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 24 Jan 2008 #permalink

SG posts:

[[Some poor bastard scientist finds a way to shake the church off his back long enough to publish a result, and you claim that christianity "enabled science"? ]]

I have no idea what you're talking about, and I rather suspect you don't, either.

JimV posts:

[[ If we get to just assume an eternal, incomprehensible, complex entity or force, why not just assume the cosmos we actually observe, whether finite or eternal?]]

Because we have empirical evidence that the cosmos we actually observe wasn't always here, and we don't have such evidence for the creator. Therefore, it is logical to posit an eternal creator but not an eternal universe. God was always there. The universe wasn't.

Admittedly, QM is not my strong subject, however I always understood that pair-production is not acausal, because it requires extreme conditions, say, near event horizons of black holes. If certain conditions are required for something to happen, then it doesn't make sense to say it's acausal.

No, pair production happens all the time. What you're thinking of is the promotion of 'virtual' particles to 'real' status. This can happen if, say, one of a pair falls into a black hole, which is the source of Hawking radiation. There are other ways, of course.

You're playing games with words. "Natural" refers to our universe. Anything above and beyond our universe is, by definition, supernatural, even if it obeys its own laws of physics.

I think this rather depends on what you mean by 'Universe.' If you mean our observable neighbourhood, I certainly don't agree that anything beyond it is supernatural - but I agree we're getting into semantic games here.

Schroeder isn't using an obscure reference frame. He's considering the universe as a whole, which is necessarily how God would view the universe. And I don't understand how his invocation of time dilation is problematic. I have to correct for the effects of time dilation in my observations of distant objects, so it makes perfect sense to me.

Schroeder has to consider different reference frames to invoke time dilation in the first place. He meshes 6 days with cosmological time-frames by taking the ratio of the scale factor at present to that at the time of quark confinement, then multiplying 6 days by that factor. Leaving aside the fact that this doesn't actually give the correct answer at all, there's no a priori reason to choose quark confinement as the starting point. It's done simply because any other choice gives unacceptable answers.

Someone who thinks galaxies were created in the Big Bang probably doesn't understand the difference between 'always been around' and 'past-eternal.' I think he meant 'always been around' quite literally.

You're almost certainly right on that point; I just think it's an important distinction.

As much as I've enjoyed discussing stuff with y'all, this will likely be my last response here. I formally started a new faculty job today, and the burden of teaching and finishing the dissertation won't allow for much extra-curricular stuff. If I get my own blog up and running, I'll ask Ben to make a plug for it here. Thanks for the good conversation.

Good luck in your new job. If you do start your own blog, I'd certainly be interested to read it.

Because we have empirical evidence that the cosmos we actually observe wasn't always here

As mentioned above, 'always here' and 'past-eternal' are not synonymous. Under no cosmological model I can think of was there a time when the Universe did not exist.

Because we have empirical evidence that the cosmos we actually observe wasn't always here,

Evidence that the cosmos had a different form is not the same as evidence that the amount of mass-energy was different. Just because the Big Bang obliterated a lot of information about the Universe, doesn't mean it violated any natural laws, e.g. the law of conservation of mass-energy.

and we don't have such evidence for the creator. Therefore, it is logical to posit an eternal creator

What a contorted piece of [il-]logic. I don't have any evidence that there is no celestial teapot on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth. Therefore there is such a celestial teapot.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 25 Jan 2008 #permalink

the law of conservation of mass-energy

To be picky, there is no global principle of mass-energy conservation in GR. Mass-energy is conserved only in the case of time-translational symmetry, which is manifestly not the case in an expanding Universe. Still holds locally, though.

Chris O'Neill posts:

[[Evidence that the cosmos had a different form is not the same as evidence that the amount of mass-energy was different. Just because the Big Bang obliterated a lot of information about the Universe, doesn't mean it violated any natural laws, e.g. the law of conservation of mass-energy.]]

In the standard model of the Big Bang, mass-energy and space-time both originate at the Big Bang. That's not having a different form before the starting point.

In the standard model of the Big Bang, mass-energy and space-time both originate at the Big Bang.

Models can have these characteristics but that doesn't mean any supernatural process must occur.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 25 Jan 2008 #permalink

It is interesting that Sarah and Bart both recoil from the "God of the gaps" description of their deity but hurl him into the largest void they can find!

Lance posts:

[[It is interesting that Sarah and Bart both recoil from the "God of the gaps" description of their deity but hurl him into the largest void they can find!]]

To which I reply:

Huh? What? Come again?

BPL,

The old god of the gaps ploy is when "God did it" is no longer plausible as an explanation of a physical phenomenon you hide him behind the next "gap" in a never ending shell game.

Now that everything in the universe has, at least plausible, natural explanations you run, deity in satchel, to the safety of the "multi-verse" theory and toss your invisible friend into the void, safe from prying eyes and possible falsification.

Lance posts, inexplicably:

[[The old god of the gaps ploy is when "God did it" is no longer plausible as an explanation of a physical phenomenon you hide him behind the next "gap" in a never ending shell game.
Now that everything in the universe has, at least plausible, natural explanations you run, deity in satchel, to the safety of the "multi-verse" theory and toss your invisible friend into the void, safe from prying eyes and possible falsification.]]

What in the world are you talking about? I don't even accept a "multiverse" theory. Your whole argument is a straw man.