Deism's Just Alright With Me

Over at Bora's House of Round-the-Clock Blogging, we find the sensational headline Beaten by Biologists, Creationists Turn Their Sights On Physics. On seeing that, I headed over to the editorial in The American Prospect that it points to, expecting to be scandalized. When I got there, I found this:

U.S. creationists have changed tactics. Though none have explicitly abandoned ID in public, the focus of their scientific cover arguments has shifted from organic change to the creation of the universe. They have picked up on the controversial claim that human life could only have evolved because some constants of nature -- the electron's charge or the strong nuclear force in a hydrogen atom, for example -- have very precise or "fine-tuned" values. The fine-tuning claim has been around since the 1930s and is called the "anthropic principle" in physics. [...]

Together, Gonzales and Richards published The Privileged Planet in 2004, which has since become the sacred text of the new stealth creationism. According to Gonzales and Richards, conditions on Earth have been carefully optimized for scientific investigation in such a way that it is "a signal revealing a universe so skillfully created for life and discovery that it seems to whisper of an extraterrestrial intelligence immeasurably more vast, more ancient, and more magnificent than anything we've been willing to expect to imagine." The evidence for creation, in other words, now comes from physics, not biology.

My reaction to this is, basically, "Is that it?"

I'm sorry, but I'm just not bothered by this. Basically, what's being put forward here is a theory that the constants of nature have the values they do because God set it up that way. I know this makes me a bad culture warrior, but I'm just not seeing this as a huge threat.

I mean, it's not like we have a better model to explain this stuff. Despite the best efforts of a lot of smart people, we don't have a fundamental physics model that tells us why, say, the fine structure constant is almost 1/137. "God did it" is about as good as any other explanation we have. It makes the same number of testable predictions as any existing physics theory, so if it makes you happy to think that God twiddled the knobs on the ACME Universe-O-Matic to allow for life as we know it, go nuts.

This is in stark contrast to the situation in biology, where we actually do have a perfectly good and well-tested theory that explains the observable phenomena in a consistent and scientific manner. Throwing that aside in favor of the non-theory of "Intelligent Design" is stupid, and attempting to mandate teaching of "Intelligent Design" in schools is downright offensive.

If the creationists in question were pushing a new physics model that says that, say, like charges repel one another because God subtly nudges the particles apart, that would be stupid. We've got an exquisitely tested theory that explains the electromagnetic interaction between particles, that's good to twelve or thirteen decimal places, and replacing that with a non-theory where God personally intervenes in every particle interaction would be idiotic.

But in the absence of a good scientific model for what went on before the Big Bang, I'm not going to get too worked up about people developing non-scientific models. You say it was a quantum fluctuation? Great. You say God did it? OK. You say the Big Bang was the hatching of the egg of a cosmic butterfly, and eventually our universe will sprout wings and fly away to dream of Chinese philosophers? Terrific. Try not to operate heavy machinery while believing that last one, but other than that, knock yourself out.

The other reason this doesn't particularly upset me is that it's a huge retreat for the creationists. I mean, if they're going to fall back to saying that God set the parameters, but the universe has evolved according to the normal laws of physics since then, they're basically conceding the last thirteen billion years of cosmic history to science. Why should I be upset that they're trying to hang on to that first 10-35 seconds for religion? I'll take the parts we already understand, and call it a victory for the Enlightenment.

Call me if they start trying to push false claims about laws of physics that we actually understand. But if the "new stealth creationism" is just Deism in a funny suit, I've got better things to do with my time.

More like this

Be sure to have a look at Sahotra Sarkar's essay at The American Prospect. He describes the recent shift of emphasis on the ID side away from biology and towards physics instead. Sarkar writes: Initially largely unnoticed by their critics, creationists began to co-opt the fine-tuning argument…
They never rest, and you know the creationists are constantly probing, trying to find the next likely inroad into the schools. Sahotra Sarkar offers some concerns about what's coming next in creationism—these seem like quite probable strategies to me. As the physicist and astronomer Victor Stenger…
"Bright Scientists, Dim Notions" is the title of a NYT article from a few days ago prompted by the recent controversy over scientifically unfounded and racist remarks made by James Watson about the supposedly inherently inferior intelligence of the African race as compared to Caucasians. The…
The current issue of Scientific American has an article, by George F. R. Ellis, expressing some skepticism about the multiverse. Sadly, it seems that only the beginning of the article is freely available online. However, replies to the article by Alexander Vilenkin and Max Tegmark are available…

It's the camel's nose in the tent. Let them establish the epistemology of "in the absense of evidence I can believe what I want" in any area of science, and they will try to press their advantage to other areas. It doesn't take too much creativity to imagine this future Discovery Institute press release:

"Intelligent Design is experiencing a resurgence. Many scientists are giving this new biological theory a second look after its groundbreaking work in fundamental physics, establishing a source for cosmological constants."

Now is not the time to let up, because they never do. It's time to move the lesson to physics that they were taught in biology: in the absense of evidence, a good scientist, or for that matter, a reasonable person, says "I don't know", not "I'll make something up to believe until the evidence comes in".

Guillarmo Gonzalez is a full-on, Discovery-Institute-fellow Intelligent Designer. No sympathy for him here.

I was briefly on the chr-astro list, in hopes of finding people willing to talk about the whole notion of being Christian while being a good scientist. I discovered that at least half that list didn't fit my definition of "good scientist." They were intelligent designers or worse. I got dogpiled by Guillarmo Gonzales and others when I mentioned that I thought that intelligent design was harming the cause of those who maintain that it's OK to be religious while being a good scientist. "Clearly Dr. Knop has closed his mind on the subject of evoluiton and intelligent design," I was told. I unsubscribed pretty quickly. It was very depressing.

I don't know much about the book Rare Earth, but I thought it was reasonable. I suppose I should read it or look more into it and find out. In any event, it's entirely scientifically reasonable to make arguments that perhaps intelligent life arises only once per galaxy per Hubble Time, or even less. There are a lot of things we have to get just right. Many planetary systems, we now know, have gas giants in elliptical orbits close to the star. Not condusive to life. We don't really know anything about planetary systems outside of our region of the galaxy, and there are plausible reasons why it may be hard for life to arise elsewhere.

Re: intelligent life, using our sample size of 1, we can conclude that intelligent life occupies a life-bearing planet for less than 1% of that planet's life-bearing years.... In other words, we don't know anything there either, but we do have an example of a planet where over hundreds of millions (or billions? When did life start?) of years of evolution, a species we'd call "intelligent" has only been around for a few million years... and has only been using radio waves for a hundred years.

So... it can be fully scientific. Indeed, although many people get into arguments about this, I'm of the opinion that the Weak anthropic principle is fully scientific. (See my blog post on the matter.)

When it comes to the Big Bang... scientifically, we know nothing. However, I'm still not comfortable with sitting back and saying, "aha! There we have God saying 'Let There Be light!'" Not so much because it's bad science-- it's only bad science if you pretend it's science, as really it's not science at all. But, rather, because I fear it's bad religion. It's a classic "god of the gaps" strategy. It's entirely plausible to me, and indeed I think it likely, that someday humanity will have figured out this whole quantum gravity thing well enough to make serious scientific statements about the pre-inflationary epoch... at which point we may be dethroning God yet again from something he was supposed to have done. (Already, there are people who say things, such as the eternal inflation model, but none of those are really tested.)

If you're going to be religious in a scientific age, it doesn't make sense to find the things currently unexplained by science, and to say, "aha! God did it!" One of two things will almost inevitably happen. Either, your faith will be undermined, or, you will turn into an advocacy group advocating bad science education. It happened with evolution. I'd hate to see it happen with the Big Bang.

Now, as a matter of everyday practicality, I have no objection whatsoever for people using religious guidance in their lives for questions science hasn't answered. Answers to questions like "what is our purpose in life" aren't provided by science, but do affect how people live their lives. We all answer those questions differently, and if some use religion, well, great. But there are other things-- what is the nature of human consciousness, what is the best way to live in a free and just society, etc.-- that may one day be answered unambiguously by science (or social science). They aren't, and they do affect everyday life... so we use what cructhes we have. If the questions are answered, as e.g. evolution was, religion had better adapt; otherwise, it looks stupid.

As scientists, I think it is our duty to say as scientists that "we don't know" is the only reasonable answer to what happened before the inflationary epoch. Yeah, some theorists are working on other things, and can give longer answers, but that epoch isn't like evolution, in that the question isn't unambiguously answered scientifically. But it might be, and it doesn't make sense to wall it off as a "region of religion."

Keep an open mind, either as an atheist, or as a theist.

-Rob

If the creationists in question were pushing a new physics model that says that, say, like charges repel one another because God subtly nudges the particles apart, that would be stupid.

By the way, that was basically what somebody on the chr-astro list said to me at one point. Let me see if I can pull out the quote... ah, here it is. It wasn't on the list, but in a private e-mail:

So, I claim, as Christians, we are not naturalists. God is the soverign creator and sustainer. So I don't believe in 'Natrualistic falling rain'. I believe that rain drops fall (and even exist) because of the active soverign will of God, not because of physical laws. To atribute rainfall to physics is to attribute the cause of rain to its behavior. 'Rain falls because rain falls' does not explain rainfall, no matter how detailed our description of rainfall becomes. The same goes for Evolution. But I have no reason to believe that the modern *description* of the process of evolution is not mainly correct.

Perhaps my grasp of philosophy is simply too weak (Janet, are you reading this?), but this sounds to me like enough double-talk that it doesn't describe my theology, nor does it describe my views on science.

I can understand the idea that the laws of Physics are the creation that God did in order to make the Universe (although "did" implies some sort of linear time that doesn't make sense with God. Indeed, while Relativity has a well-defined notion of "past" and "future" relative to a single point in spacetime, it does tell us that there is no such thing as absolute time. The situation only gets murkier with entangled states in quantum mechanics. So, I'm not trying to propose some model that God wrote down the laws of physics, and then after that, somehow, the Universe came into being. Or anything like that.)

However, the notion that the laws of Physics are really the suggestions of Physics, the mechanism that God usually uses to make things go, but which he's deciding all the time to keep running... I don't like that notion. It makes me feely yucky as a scientist. I like to think that the laws of Physics are more than the default behavior of the players in Madden before you push the "A" button and take control of them explicitly. (Although the quote above suggests that God has pressed the "A" button, and is every moment choosing to follow the laws of Physics. One merely only logically think forward through the tsunami a few years ago to realize that if this is your view of God, it is a God that you should be deeply afraid of, and not one that you should love.)

The discussion I saw on chr-astro, saying we shouldn't close our mind to ID, almost gave me sympathy with the hard-assed PZ-like position that the moderate religious are inevitably giving ground to the creationists to the detriment of science. However, I just think that chr-astro wasn't quite the list I was looing for. I have met other religious science-types who make me think that I'm not an oddity, and who make me believe that the "Neville Chamberlain" school of atheists (to which I would belong if I were an actual atheist) is the right approach.

But, still, there are many out there who do exactly what PZ and his ilk say: give too much ground on science in the name of religion.

Maybe I should just become a Unitarian or something.

-Rob

Even the ID cosmological fine-tuning anthropic arguments don't do what they want them to; see this essay by mathematician Michael Ikeda and astronomer Bill Jefferys.

By Ambitwistor (not verified) on 11 Dec 2006 #permalink

So, we have this 'tweaked' universe here, just for us, because if the constants were a little different we wouldn't exist.

That's cool, I'm down with it.

The part I don't accept is that in a differently built universe, there would be no life. Um, no. There'd be no life like what exists here, because what exists here couldn't there. And vice versa. We don't actually KNOW what the result of slightly different constants would be, since we don't live there.

As for this being the only place intelligent life exists, I'm pretty sure that's complete bullshit as well. In a universe with billions of galaxies each consisting of billions of stars, this planet, while rare, will not be the only one capable of spawning and sustaining life.

We may never meet any of our potential neighbors, but that doesn't mean there aren't any out there.

The part I don't accept is that in a differently built universe, there would be no life. Um, no. There'd be no life like what exists here, because what exists here couldn't there. And vice versa. We don't actually KNOW what the result of slightly different constants would be, since we don't live there.

There was actually a recent attempt (the "Weakless Universe") to work out the parameters of a universe that could support some of the same structures and processes that were important for life in our universe -- without the weak nuclear force. The authors argued that by tweaking certain other physical parameters, they could actually get something plausible: stars would form and create heavy elements would get constructed, supernovae would disperse these into the interstellar medium, etc.

Of course, it's rather difficult to actually test such a hypothesis, but it suggests that there could, in principle, be other life-hosting universes with rather different physics. If so, it's an indication that the Anthropic Principle might fail to explain (if the AP can be said to actually explain things) at least one part of the Standard Model -- the weak nuclear force.

(See the Wikipedia article I linked to if you want details, including a link to the actual paper.)

Wasn't part of the priveledged planet planet argument that the earth was positioned in the galaxy in such a position to optimize our ability to observe the rest of the galaxy and the universe? That's complete bullshit, as an ideal position would lie outside the galaxy.

This version of ID goes beyond the anthropic principle. It's not just universal constants.

Basically, what's being put forward here is a theory that the constants of nature have the values they do because God set it up that way.

That's not a theory. It's an assertion.

The "position in the galaxy" argument is not trivial - and being outside the galaxy is not actually ideal.
But, the argument as posed was flawed in detail, and in retrospect given the out-and-out creationism of some of the proponents I am personally worried that the argument was based on selected data rather than a fair review of what was known about the relevant astrophysical processes.
There was a fairly quiet behind the scenes discussion on this back when, but it is one of the arguments that when it got pushed out stuck and the proper rebuttal is a lot of effort although the argument is wrong in a lot of detail.
Make a good book some decade.

Alright, I suppose there ought to be one creationist in this discussion, so I'll volunteer.
This is in stark contrast to the situation in biology, where we actually do have a perfectly good and well-tested theory that explains the observable phenomena in a consistent and scientific manner.
Remind me again what laboratory tests have been done which demonstrate how life started?
--sdc

By Scott Coulter (not verified) on 11 Dec 2006 #permalink

I think Chad is refering to natural selection.

You can find N creation myths if you look hard enough, each one exactly as plausable as any other. Either you need to take them all seriously or none of them seriously.

Relgion is great for some things (morality ect) so long as you treat it as what it is, a bunch of stories. Why do the creationists (who mostly seem to be christian in this country, but i'm sure there have counter parts in other relgions) belive their little stories and not the stories of the aincent greeks?

Of course all of this, if you argue it in circles long enough ends you back up at how do you tell science from religon but I diverge

By a cornellian (not verified) on 11 Dec 2006 #permalink

Scott if you're trying to make a reference to evolution you have missed the mark. Evolution makes no statements about how life began. That's abiogenisis. If for example the crack team of DI creationists decided to try and attack the big bang theory, then we would have a situation that just like the one we have in biology, where creationists try and attack an incredibly well supported theory.

Here though we have them trying to cram theology into one of the last remaining gaps: "Where did everything come from?" And our theories to answer that question just happen to be at the edge of science and lack the overwhelming strength of evolution or the big bang.

In short, it's classic god of the gaps. "God did it" explains nothing and then creates a god who then needs it's own explanation, pushing the problem one step back and making it worse. It's less of an answer than a grade schoolers best guess.

Chad, you've got to be kidding. Are we really to accept supernatural explanations in science, regardless of how benign they seem? Do you really want to argue that, anytime there is no current naturalistic explanation for something, it is fair game to consider supernatural explanations? Must we, as Scott Coulter implies, view deistic theories of abiogenesis as equally valid to naturalistic ones? Is it possible in a scientific sense that the unification of the four forces of nature could involve leprechauns, or Cthulhu, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? If there's a gap, does that mean that God (and/or gods) could in principle be there?

If you really want to go that route, then I'd argue that you really don't have a full commitment to naturalism, and thus don't have a full commitment to rationalism and science. If you don't believe those things, but still don't feel compelled to object to a deist Big Bang, then you're just pandering to the believer. Either one seems disingenuous to me.

Ok, so ignore my abiogenesis tangent, and discuss laboratory tests that show the development of new species through natural selection. I'll be very quick to admit that I'm a computer scientist, not a biologist, and am not even all that well read in this area, but from what I have read, I'm not inclined to agree that it's all as neat-and-tidy as referenced by Chad's original statement.
So, educate me. What's the state of the art in "well-tested theory" as relates to biological evolution?
--sdc

By Scott Coulter (not verified) on 11 Dec 2006 #permalink

This isn't really Deism, as they are claiming the fine tuning as evidence of God, rather than a possible example of him acting. A full Deist would believe in their god regardless of if the universe had to be fine tuned or not. For them, interaction is not important. For someone who believes in a fine tuning God, it is vital to retain some interaction so that they can retain their importance in the universe. It is a salvaging of the idea that God created man; He many not have done it directly, but he sure wanted us to be here. We are still the point.

The only argument I use against this particular viewpoint is that we don't have a scientific model YET. We probably will in the future. Feel free to speculate about it now, but when we find that model, you will have to give yet more ground, and there may not be much left to give.

Essentialy, those who choose to believe in a God-of-the-Gaps to this extent are resting their theology on the hope that we will never fill in that gap, just as gap creationists relied upon science not going in a particular direction. It always managed it in biology, and I don't see physics sitting around and letting one of the biggest questions today go unanswered.

By Paul Schofield (not verified) on 11 Dec 2006 #permalink

Another tangent and a question for "a cornellian" -- if you disagree with the Bible (or any other 'holy book') in its basic premise about who God is and where the world came from, then why would you accept its teaching on morality?
I, for instance, am not at all interested in the moral teachings of the Koran, because I believe that it is based on false premises about God. Why would you accept part of the Bible if you believe the rest of it is false?
--sdc

By Scott Coulter (not verified) on 11 Dec 2006 #permalink

Scott;

Well, I always say start at Talk Origins and then slowly work your way across the web. Hitting up Google scholar is always a good idea (some first page results).

And your field is quite useful as well. Computer models have described natural selection and population evolution very successfuly for years now. I am guessing you would be the best one to find sources for that, although these two came up in the search I did above.

By Paul Schofield (not verified) on 11 Dec 2006 #permalink

Ah, you keep posting while I am busy.

I disagree with the Bible and the Koran, yet I study both. Why? To understand the people who actualy follow them. Understanding the moral teachings therin gives you a better idea of why people who accept them act the way they do.

Both have moral teachings which are based in various moral philosophies. It is possible to follow those philosophies without buying into the supernatural backing that they are granted by the religion. Look up the Jefferson Bible. He cut all references to the supernatural (more or less) out of Jesus teachings and kept the rest as a set of moral philosophies which he respected.

By Paul Schofield (not verified) on 11 Dec 2006 #permalink

Scott, if your criterion for science is "lab tests", then you'll have to throw out most of astronomy, a lot of geology, almost all of paleontology, etc. etc. etc. There are plenty of domains of study that are considered "science" yet are, because of their nature, restricted primarily to historical approaches. Being able to manipulate a process, or directly observe changes in a process, are not necessary in order to do science. They're great to have if available, but they aren't necessary.

In any case, it is relatively easy to demonstrate the creation of new species through "artificial" selection -- it is up to you to argue how such a process differs so fundamentally from what might occur in nature that "artificial" selection is possible but "natural" selection in principle isn't.

Basically, what's being put forward here is a theory that the constants of nature have the values they do because God set it up that way.

While this is a true statement, I don't think it's really the issue. If the claim were only that God explains fine-tuning, I wouldn't have a problem with it (other than finding it unconvincing). But what's being put forward is stronger than that: they are claiming that fine-tuning is evidence for the existence of God. It's an argument very close in form to the argument-from-design employed by ID creationists: the idea that complexity implies a designer. I agree that this one isn't as threatening as ID, but it's promoting the same faulty reasoning.

While this idea is compatible with Deism, nobody's using it to argue for Deism; as Rob Knop pointed out, the people pushing this have a broader creationist agenda.

I mean, it's not like we have a better model to explain this stuff. Despite the best efforts of a lot of smart people, we don't have a fundamental physics model that tells us why, say, the fine structure constant is almost 1/137. "God did it" is about as good as any other explanation we have.

I'm not a physicist, as Chad is, but I must still take issue with this statement. Taking this argument to it's logical conclusion would mean that "GODDIDIT" is also a plausible "explanation" for the beginning of life on the prebiotic Earth. The thing is, "GODDIDIT" is not an explanation at all, but a baseless conjecture. It provides no testable, reductive, physical mechanism whatsoever, and is not at all different from saying "PINKUNICORNDIDIT".

For me, this is more of a "give an inch, and a mile will be taken" issue. Given the fact that creationists will likely not be satisfied with such scientific table scraps (look to their past behavior), and the external costs imposed on scientists in other fields that will almost inevitably follow, I think physicists should be a bit more weary about ceding group the creationists.

Tulse writes: "? Do you really want to argue that, anytime there is no current naturalistic explanation for something, it is fair game to consider supernatural explanations? "

I suspect he only means in cases where there are no possible testable hypotheses in the offing, not cases where there are lots of possible testable hypotheses and we just haven't found the right ones yet.

Like it or not, hypotheses about conditions before the Big Bang are pretty much entirely speculative right now. Not really testable, and it's rather difficult to make predictions of post-Bang conditions based on such hypotheses - so you can't even look for evidence that the hypothesis was true.

So, basically, such hypotheses - or many-universe theories, etc - aren't much different from religious FSM-based theories. They just claim naturalistic causes, when really it's more like hand-wavium causes.

- Jon

PS: Spare us the tiresome "scientificer-than-thou" attitude.

Tulse: If you really want to go that route, then I'd argue that you really don't have a full commitment to naturalism, and thus don't have a full commitment to rationalism and science. If you don't believe those things, but still don't feel compelled to object to a deist Big Bang, then you're just pandering to the believer.

By your definitions, I suppose I don't have a full committment to rationalism and science. The tone I pick up from your phrasing suggests that I'm probably happier that way. You just go do your thing without me.

Arcane Gazebo: While this is a true statement, I don't think it's really the issue. If the claim were only that God explains fine-tuning, I wouldn't have a problem with it (other than finding it unconvincing). But what's being put forward is stronger than that: they are claiming that fine-tuning is evidence for the existence of God. It's an argument very close in form to the argument-from-design employed by ID creationists: the idea that complexity implies a designer. I agree that this one isn't as threatening as ID, but it's promoting the same faulty reasoning.

I realize that, I'm just not particularly bothered by it. I don't personally find the argument from design all that convincing, but if people want to see the hand of God in the structure of the Universe, I don't particularly care, so long as they're not promoting anything that's at odds with actual science in the process.

If someone tries to claim that the structure of the eye, or the orbit of the Earth are evidence of the direct working of God, that I'll object to. We have perfectly good models for how the eye and the Earth got the way they are, that don't require any miraculous steps.

But somebody who wants to see God in the fine structure constant is perfectly welcome to do so, in the absence of a coherent theory that predicts the value we see from first principles. I wouldn't be all that happy about them trying to get this non-theory taught in the public schools, but if they get warm fuzzy feelings from believing God set 1/α to be just a smidgen more than 137, who am I to harsh their buzz?

Scott Coulter writes:"Why would you accept part of the Bible if you believe the rest of it is false?"

Because some parts of it are intuitively sensible (the golden rule, for instance), while other parts are barbaric or risible (much of the Old Testament's bloodthirsty laws; approval of slavery; patriarchs knocking up their wives, their servant girls, and their wives' servant girls; St. Paul, Revelation). I'm sure the even the Koran has some bits that make good sense, like its handling of charity.

Of course, even if you believe parts of the Bible are not true, you could still believe them to be usefully illustrative stories meant to engage the reader while conveying a moral or other point. (That'd be especially important in a world of illiterates, where it was told verbally, not read. Dramatic stories would work a lot better, and be retained better, than dry statements of fact. Noah's Ark works a lot better than a brief statement that God used to be a real merciless hardass when mankind misbehaved.)

Nobody believes a tortoise ever raced a hare, but the story's point gets across.

Full-blown religious conversion is hardly necessary for someone to adopt practices and beliefs - just look at all the crazy fad diets and self-help trends that people jump on - they don't need to believe in the divinity of Dr. Atkins to adopt his diet.

I was preparing to respond, but Jon H said about what I was going to say more eloquently.

By a cornellian (not verified) on 11 Dec 2006 #permalink

But somebody who wants to see God in the fine structure constant is perfectly welcome to do so, in the absence of a coherent theory that predicts the value we see from first principles.

But surely scientists aren't just committed to coherent theories, but coherent theories of a certain type, namely naturalistic ones. I guess what I'm asking is whether you really believe that God (or Azathoth, or the FSM) is really a possible explanation, or whether you're just tolerating deists to be polite.

I wouldn't be all that happy about them trying to get this non-theory taught in the public schools, but if they get warm fuzzy feelings from believing God set 1/α to be just a smidgen more than 137, who am I to harsh their buzz?

And here's where I think this position is politically dangerous. If you're actually going to say "Eh, it's OK if you want to believe God was there at the beginning", then I don't see why proponents of the view wouldn't rightfully argue that the view should be taught in schools, since "scientists say that the God hypothesis makes as much sense as any other explanation". If you let the camel's nose in, the rest will follow.

Tulse writes: " If you let the camel's nose in, the rest will follow."

Perhaps, but they bear the risk that the people in the tent will see it and go (English child voice) "That's not a camel! It's just burlap sacks and wood! Cheeky monkey."

Retreating to a pre-Big Bang quasi-deistic stance is a significant concession - one they may have difficulty recovering from. They're moving the goalposts in our favor for a change.

I'm sure this thread is dead by now, but I'll just restate once more that it was Chad who referred to (I guess) darwinian evolution as "well tested", and I'm just not sure that is a valid statement. I'll grant you "theory that explains the observable phenomena" (or at least many of the observable phenomena). But, as other commentors have already stated in slightly different contexts, there may be many theories which explain the observable phenomena. From my perspective, a finch with a long beak and a finch with a short beak are both still finches. I'm just not sure it's valid to say that darwinian evolution as a source for all the species on earth is "well tested". One of my issues with darwinian evolution is that it's not particularly falsifiable.

By Scott Coulter (not verified) on 12 Dec 2006 #permalink

And yeah, I'm well aware that creationism isn't particularly falsifiable either. That's why they call it "faith."
--sdc

By Scott Coulter (not verified) on 12 Dec 2006 #permalink

One of my issues with darwinian evolution is that it's not particularly falsifiable.

A fossil bunny from the Precambian. That would completely and utterly destroy the theory of evolution. Also, if

From my perspective, a finch with a long beak and a finch with a short beak are both still finches.

Are you trying to suggest that there is some kind of magic force that says "Okay, you two finches are now different species. However, if you collect any more changes and diverge even more, I will open a can of whupass on you!" Or that orangutans and humans are the same because they are both primates?

Scott-

If you want proof of evolution, look at domesticated animals. If you saw a toy poodle or some other such silly looking "dog" and then say a wolfhound, and did not know they were both dogs you would almost certinally declare them different species (as a note, I have never seen a good definition of speciation).

It is indisputable that selection can cause a change the dominate (and I mean that statistically not genetically) traits in a population (heck, this is in the bible, names are eluding me, but it is in the story about guy who got married to the wrong sisster and ended up working 14 years for his father in law, it's in Genesis.) Some traits make individuals more likly to succed breeding, and hence these traits are selected for.

What in there is disputeable? From your post above I surmise that you mostly have issues with large numbers, something like "Well, I havn't seen anything speciate (which i dind't bother to define) sence last tuesday so clearly it can never happen" (ok, so that is a strawman but it gets the point across)

By a cornellian (not verified) on 12 Dec 2006 #permalink

"Basically, what's being put forward here is a theory that the constants of nature have the values they do because God set it up that way."

That's not a theory. It's an assertion.

No, it is an unavoidable fact that the anthropic coincidences are observed to be uniquely related to the structure of the universe in a way that defies what our projected models expect. If you disallow unproven and speculative physics theory, then an evidentially supported implication does necessarily exist that carbon-based life is somehow relevant to the structure mechanism of the universe, and weak, multiverse interpretations do not supercede this fact, unless a multiverse is proven to be more than cutting-edge theoretical speculation.

That's the "undeniable fact" that compells Richard Dawkins and Leonard Susskind to admit that the universe "appears designed" for life! There is no valid "weak" interpretation without a multiverse, because what is otherwise unexpectedly observed without the admission of speculation, is most-apparently geared toward the production of carbon-base life, and even intelligent life.

~

heh... per the usual stringer hype, Rob Knop thinks that we DON'T live in a strongly anthropically constrained universe until his wishful thinking is proven to be more than speculation. That just goes to show how gone in the head stringers are over their unproven or unprovable assumptions about the true nature of the universe.

The weak interp. isn't even a cosmological principle, since it tells us virtually nothing about structure and dynamics from first principles. It is nothing more than a yet to be proven falsification of the strong AP, but the fact remains that both, Lenny Susskind, and now Richard Dawkins, as well, have stated publically that the universe appears designed, and that "we will be hard-pressed to answer the idists"... without a multiverse to lose the MOST APPARENT significance of the physics in.

Lenny doesn't seem to be aware that *natural bias* is the default if we're not here by accident, so ID doesn't even enter the picture and can't be inferred without direct proof.

There is no valid basis for invoking weak multiverse interpretations to wipe-away the otherwise indicated significance, unless you're just debating with an extremist creationist. A scientist is obligated to accept the fact that she or he is being directed toward a bunch of balance points in nature that are intricately related to both the structure of the universe and the existence of carbon based life, and this is expected to somehow account for the otherwise completely unexpected structuring of the universe.

You can know that you're dealing with a self-dishonest scientist if they do not recognize that the above statements are factual and correct.

There was actually a recent attempt (the "Weakless Universe") to work out the parameters of a universe that could support some of the same structures and processes that were important for life in our universe -- without the weak nuclear force.

Motivated science always shoots itself in the foot, just like Lawrence Krauss most recent attempt, they never consider what any sustatianed deviation does to ALL of the vast multitude of anthropic balance points:

Problems in a weakless universe
http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-ph/0609050

The fact that life has evolved in our universe constrains the laws of physics. The anthropic principle proposes that these constraints are sometimes very tight and can be used to explain in a sense the corresponding laws. Recently a "disproof" of the anthropic principle has been proposed in the form of a universe without weak interactions, but with other parameters suitably tuned to nevertheless allow life to develop. If a universe with such different physics from ours can generate life, the anthropic principle is undermined. We point out, however, that on closer examination the proposed "weakless" universe strongly inhibits the development of life in several different ways. One of the most critical barriers is that a weakless universe is unlikely to produce enough oxygen to support life. Since oxygen is an essential element in both water, the universal solvent needed for life, and in each of the four bases forming the DNA code for known living beings, we strongly question the hypothesis that a universe without weak interactions could generate life.

phhhhhhht... try as they domatically might, the strong implication just won't go away.

What I was trying (perhaps too briefly) to say with my remark about the finches is that, I don't think we have any direct evidence of radically new genetic information appearing, leading to a really new species appearing from an existing one. I know there are different populations of finch, fruit fly, canine, etc., that eventually diverge so much they no longer cross-breed, but the fruit flies are still fruit flies, and the wolf and the toy poodle are still (in general terms) dogs. My assertion is that no amount of selective breeding or natural selection would ever turn a poodle into a winged poodle (yeah, straw man, but you know what I mean... whatever a poodle would "evolve" into). That would imply new genetic information in a way that is essentially different from long-beaked finches and short-beaked finches.
I understand the going theory is that this speciation stuff takes a "long time" and so I'm not supposed to be surprised that I've never observed it happening. My point is that *nobody* has *ever* observed it happening, and yet everybody keeps saying that there's evidence for it.
--sdc

By Scott Coulter (not verified) on 12 Dec 2006 #permalink

I don't think we have any direct evidence of radically new genetic information appearing

How about the ability to digest a novel nutrient?

I know there are different populations of finch, fruit fly, canine, etc., that eventually diverge so much they no longer cross-breed, but the fruit flies are still fruit flies, and the wolf and the toy poodle are still (in general terms) dogs.

In what way? The various species of fruit flies can't interbreed -- how are they not different species? How can one even talk about the similarity of fruit fly species (and the difference between those species and other similar-looking flies) except with a notion of common descent?

Likewise, wolves and chihuahas don't interbreed, and anyone looking at those two animals would, without knowing their evolutionary history, think that they are completely unrelated creatures. I don't understand how you are abstracting some sort of idealized "dogginess" from them, or at least how one can do that without knowing that they do indeed share common descent.

"New genetic information" arises all the time, as genes get reshuffled and mutations appear. Over enough time, those changes can produce radically different organisms. But it does take time, and it is unreasonable to expect to see an organism change into a radically different species over the course of a few generations.

That said, we have extremely good evidence that such changes do take place -- genetic evidence, biochemical evidence, fossil evidence, etc. etc. etc. This evidence is no more "indirect" than the evidence that the continents were once in different locations ("no one has directly seen the continents in their earlier positions!"), or that our sun was once a ball of cold gas ("no one saw the Sun acrete mass and start fusion!").

If you want to attack evolution, attack the evidence, not the approach. Attacking the basic means of inference involves giving up a lot of scientific disciplines that also rely on historical and indirect evidence.

"My assertion is that no amount of selective breeding or natural selection would ever turn a poodle into a winged poodle"

How about turning lactose-intolerant adult humans into lactose-tolerating adult humans?

The appearance of the mutations allowing adult milk digestion has recently been pinned down to about 5,000 years ago, around the time certain groups started domesticating cattle.

This might seem like a trivial matter, but the ability to digest milk as adults is a significant advantage, especially for people in cold climates, such as Europeans, for whom lactose tolerance is predominant.

This isn't *speciation*, but it is significant.

I would expect speciation requires a series of genetic changes, not just a single mutation. And probably some degree of physical separation, otherwise new mutations will just be blended into the genome of the original species.

If you want to attack evolution, attack the evidence, not the approach.
I thought that's what I was doing. Like I have said, this is not my field of specialty, so I'm probably not always accurate with my use of the terms. Actually I wasn't so much trying to attack the evidence as to ask what the evidence is.
And, I would assert that the lactose thing supports my point better than yours. The ability to digest milk is not new. All human babies have always been able to digest milk.
I'm still looking for my (metaphorical) winged poodle, and that ain't it.
--sdc

By Scott Coulter (not verified) on 12 Dec 2006 #permalink

And there are still plenty of lactose-intolerant humans around. Want to tell any of them they're close to being a different species? Joking, I'm joking...
--sdc

By Scott Coulter (not verified) on 12 Dec 2006 #permalink

Chad: Were you asleep when the creationists announced their Wedge Strategy to the world, or what? These people aren't pushing Deism. Deism is not even remotely involved in this. It's nowhere near the discussion. The whole point of this strategy, from the creationist perspective, is to trick people like you into thinking that, oh, it's just Deism, big deal, but it's not. It's the same old creationist crap all over again.

I wasn't so much trying to attack the evidence as to ask what the evidence is.

There are a plethora of books on this topic, if you are genuinely interested. Most of Stephen Jay Gould's works are collections of short pieces that, for the most part, illuminate various pieces of evidence regarding the specifics of evolution for various organisms. They're very readable and a great place to start. There are plenty of other writers in this area as well.

However, I will emphasize again that, if your criterion for evidence is "seen it directly happening in a lab", you won't find that for evolution (at least not for large, long-lived organisms), but neither will you for much of geology, astronomy, paleontology, archeology, or any of the other sciences where historical inference is the primary tool.