What’s new at Biologos?

February 28, 2011 • 1:38 pm

Not much, actually. There are three items of marginal interest.

1.  They’ve stopped arguing about Adam and Eve, and now they’re onto the interpretation of Cain and Abel.

2.  There’s a very short video by MIT physicist Ian Hutchinson on what’s wrong with New Atheism (he redefines it as “militant atheism”).  He beefs that it’s not really “new” (yes, we all know that what’s new is not the arguments, but the Gnu’s willingness to engage religion directly, as well as the widespread public acceptance).  A snippet from the video:

One can analyze lots of reasons why there’s this renewed edge to the criticism of religion.  I think there are many different countervailing forces. One certainly shouldn’t rule out what’s been happening in this decade in the confrontation between, for example, Islam and the West, and those kinds of things. And that’s certainly been one factor in provoking these kinds of reactions.  But, by and large, the arguments that are put forward to justify the viewpoint of the militant atheists—they are not particularly new, even though the situation is perhaps new.  The arguments that they put forward mostly are not terribly new—to say that some of their arguments simply don’t work. They don’t make sense philosophically; they don’t make sense scientifically. The arguments in their favor simply aren’t very strong.

By and large, you don’t make New York Times bestseller lists based on proving that somebody is wrong or putting together careful arguments to show that they’re wrong.  That’s perhaps part of their attraction to a certain segment of the population—that is, that’s what makes it a new kind of phenomenon in that it basically shows no respect for religion whatsoever, because militant atheists think that religion is basically a bad thing and needs to be condemned.

Jealousy!  How often does it come down to the fact that Gnu books have been best sellers, while accommodationist tomes linger, unbought, in the “Religion” section?  The curious thing is that Hutchinson seems to assume that we must have respect for religion, and that the lack of that respect it is a very serious failing.  Sadly, the margins of Dr. Hutchinson’s video were too small to contain the New Atheist arguments that supposedly don’t work.   (And, as you might suspect, he’s also had a ride on the Templeton money train.)

3.   Finally, Uncle Karl and Francis Collins have a new book!  It’s called The Language of Science and Faith (the subtitle is Straight Answers to Genuine Questions), and appears to be based largely on the “frequently asked questions” section of BioLogos.  Now Collins wasn’t supposed to be engaged in this Jebus-proselytizing after he took up the reins of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but I’ve seen assurances (I can’t find them at the moment) that his contribution to the book preceded his NIH directorship.  I doubt, however, whether the volume will do much for his reputation.

Here’s the list of other books bought by those who viewed Collins et Giberson (LOL!):

h/t: Sigmund

59 thoughts on “What’s new at Biologos?

  1. Well, I’d say that compatibilists have difficulty selling their wares. But average religious piffle aimed at the “spiritual self help” demographic (like Rick Warren and his ilk) is still selling like hotcakes.

    1. I’d imagine people buy the fluff a lot more readily, because when people try to accommodate science and religion it seems like an awful lot of “Well, the Bible is a metaphor” and “Well, there are religious scientists”, and not a lot of “Why would God create the Bible and have it say things about the world that are completely different than the way it actually is?” You could remake the Epicurus quote with stuff like that.

  2. ..that’s what makes it a new kind of phenomenon in that it basically shows no respect for religion whatsoever

    You got that right Dr Hutchinson.

      1. Amen. I have no more respect for adults who believe zombie snuff porn fantasies are literally true than I do for adults who believe the Christmas Bunny really does steal children’s teeth to build his rainbows.



  3. The arguments in their favor simply aren’t very strong.

    Right, because they aren’t making shit up. That’s always been the problem. You construct elaborate, strong arguments, and the atheists just ask about evidence. It’s infuriating, I tell ya.

    1. To be fair, I’ve yet to come across even a definition of the term, “god,” that is actually coherent. At least, that is, a definition actually used by theists, and not something that would have us deifying the latest teen heartthrob.

      It should be obvious that, without even a definition from which to start, all “arguments” fall down before they even begin.

      It’s like defining an Emperor as a person who wears invisible green frotznobbings with elegance and grace. Where do you even begin?



      1. I had a lot of philosophy majors as friend’s in college, and they spent a lot of time trying to ‘win’ an argument by changing the semantic meanings of the words we used. I felt it to be the debate equivalent of just blaring a bullhorn, and something that theologians have been using for centuries to avoid having agree on the concepts and principals that they actually believe in.

        1. It’s like they put the goalpoasts on power sleds. And then fly in with a heavy lift helicopter to transport them to the freight train, where they get taken to Canaveral and loaded on the Shuttle…but they somehow mysteriously go missing before the helicopter pilot files his flight plan.

          And then the camera pulls back, and we realize it’s just a couple kids playing with G.I. Joe dolls and some twigs in a big mud puddle.

          It’s why I don’t even pretend to take theology seriously any more, and why I have no respect for it whatsoever.



          1. When I was a kid, I assumed God looked like my pastor, and sat in a little room surrounded by TVs. That’s what sophisticated theology produces in kids, and no matter how frequently they try and dress it up with language, the Man in the Sky is how they pitch it, and what people grow up with.

            1. That reminds me of that funny story that Ken Robinson tells about a six-year-old girl drawing intently for twenty minutes or so in art class. Her teacher, surprised by her concentration, walked over and asked what she was drawing. “I’m drawing a picture of God,” came the reply. “But nobody knows what God looks like!” exclaimed the teacher. “They will in a minute!”

              Yay for six-year-olds!

              1. Reminds me of the story about the new supercomputer that was placed in Grand Central Station with a sign inviting people to ask it questions. One fellow peppered it with abstruse and complex questions, all of which it answered fully. Finally, in exasperation, he said, “If you’re so smart, tell me this: Is there a God” To which the computer roared, “There is one now!”

        2. I had a lot of philosophy majors as friend’s in college, and they spent a lot of time trying to ‘win’ an argument by changing the semantic meanings of the words we used. I felt it to be the debate equivalent of just blaring a bullhorn, and something that theologians have been using for centuries to avoid having agree on the concepts and principals that they actually believe in.

          That’s always been my experience with philosophers. After we vanquish the theologists, can we take on the philosophers?

          1. Sure, get rid of all the philosophers. No one will miss Dan Dennett or Sam Harris, true? When I read Sam Harris, he always strikes me as a philosopher first, and a scientist second. Remember, his undergraduate degree is in philosophy. Victor Stenger is also a Professor of Philosophy, in addition to his Physics background.

            “First, we should observe that a boundary between science and philosophy does not always exist.”

            –Sam Harris (The Moral Landscape, pg. 179)

      2. I hear from good sources that *I* am consistently god. Or at least, that is what partners most always tell me in confidence (“oh god, oh god,…”; you get the idea 😉 ).

        Now to refute me: I am not omnipotent, or I would *always* get to hear that.

        QEI (Quod Erat Illudere)

      3. Frotznobbings? Oh my! Is that a real word? Never mind–I don’t care whether it’s real or not. If it’s not– *bing!*, the Word Faerie says it is! And Mr. Ben, if you made that word up, then you are now my Wordsmith Hero;-))

  4. “Straight Answers to Genuine Questions.” In other words, it will contain nothing but waffling and confident mumbling to questions that only an idiot would think to ask.

  5. Dr Coyne, are you going to write another book, with even less respect for religion. Let’s make them even more jealous.

  6. While I enjoy a good “just so” story as much as anyone, I fail to see how Cain and Abel is the conflict between Good and Evil. It’s obvious from the subject matter it is the age old conflict between the pastoral and the sedentary; i.e., the nomadic and the settled. I mean look at the materials involved – grain and lambs. And good ol’ Yhwh favored the the pastoral (nomadic) tribe that invaded the lands of the settled farmers.
    BTW – how Cain dies is funny as they come. Nothing like a blind hunter to ruin a man’s day. The Duomo d’ Modena has a great depiction of the front facade. The depiction of Cain is my avatar on Gmail.

    1. Cain and Abel should have addressed how the first three men produced the rest of the species.
      Didn’t Cain just wander off and find some other bride somewhere? Even though there were exactly 3 people in existence at that point? I bet the Cain and Abel story was a completely different myth (maybe like Romulus and Remus) that was integrated with the others during the creation of the Bible.

      1. Of course it was–something like the Olympian gods triumphing over the older race of Titans, only without any mention of who Yahweh is triumphing over… that snake in the garden? You know he’s a god in his own right, don’t you? He is the consort of Eve (“the mother of all living”), the Mother Earth Goddess from whose body all came (hence her appelation “mother of all living”). That’s why Yahweh puts enmity between her seed and his seed (ever wonder what exactly that bit was about). Yahweh is taking over as Eve’s (Ishtar, Demeter, they’re all the same goddess) consort. Remember all those bare-breasted goddess statues holding snakes?

        Read The Masks of God–suddenly the whole bible makes sense. As mythology. Fits right in with all other world mythology.

    2. Yeah, I found this story troubling, not because of the murder, but because of how G rejected Cain’s offering – didn’t he work hard to produce that grain? And what did Abel do but sit around watching sheep all day long? Very unfair.

  7. I bet this is some of that Sophisticated Theology we keep hearing about.

    Still, it’s civil; so I bet it’s teaching lots of science to loads of people.

  8. So I’ve been reading Dr. Coyne’s (and others) postings on Biologos for, I dunno, about a year now. I finally went to the Biologos site for the very first time today. (It sounded as interesting as Police Academy 6.)

    OMG, it is even worse than I had ever imagined. And I’m an imaginative guy too!

    “Claptrap” is far too generous. Now I’m wondering, does anyone — ANYONE AT ALL — take that shit seriously?

    Looks like I’m going to have rent Police Academy 6 — it can’t worse.

  9. ‘by MIT physicist Ian Hutchinson’

    I’m not a physicist so there’s probably a perfectly good answer to this question.

    If the 1st law of thermodynamics, which seems to be pretty important in physics, holds that the energy in a closed system is constant, and matter is energy, and the universe is all there is energy wise, then how does the immaterial mind/soul interact with and be interacted with by the material body given that energy is required to do work? The immaterial isn’t energy, so can’t do work, can’t move the body or brain. And the brain being energy can’t interact with not-energy to pass on feelings of pain and so on.

    It seems to me that a physicist, on pain of contradiction, has to either throw out the 1st law of thermo and all that entails if s/he wants immaterial interaction or through out immaterial and keep the 1st law.

    Simply put, holding the 1st law of thermo and that interaction between immaterial and material occurs is an inconsistent set. N’est-pas?

    I’ve never had an answer that didn’t boil down to ‘magic happens’. Anybody know how sophisticated physicist theologians get around this. It’s probably quite trivial, but I haven’t understood it if I’ve seen it.

      1. Speaking of physics, appealing to magic here is a category mistake.

        Since we can test physicalism by observation in simple cases we don’t have have to “prove” “truths” to 100 %, merely test facts to some significance of 95 % or so. So what is taken as a philosophical counterclaim (the possibility that “magic is indistinguishable from science”) isn’t a concern, even in philosophical terms.

    1. I’m sure he has a perfectly good answer to that question.

      It think, paraphrased, it’s


    2. If the 1st law of thermodynamics, which seems to be pretty important in physics, holds that the energy in a closed system is constant, and matter is energy, and the universe is all there is energy wise,

      As a physicist, Hutchinson would likely point out that since the universe thermodynamically is neither open nor closed (no boundary), energy is not necessarily conserved in such conditions. Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll on dark energy/cosmology:

      “It’s clear that cosmologists have not done a very good job of spreading the word about something that’s been well-understood since at least the 1920′s: energy is not conserved in general relativity. (With caveats to be explained below.)

      The point is pretty simple: back when you thought energy was conserved, there was a reason why you thought that, namely time-translation invariance. A fancy way of saying “the background on which particles and forces evolve, as well as the dynamical rules governing their motions, are fixed, not changing with time.” But in general relativity that’s simply no longer true. Einstein tells us that space and time are dynamical, and in particular that they can evolve with time. When the space through which particles move is changing, the total energy of those particles is not conserved.

      It’s not that all hell has broken loose; it’s just that we’re considering a more general context than was necessary under Newtonian rules. There is still a single important equation, which is indeed often called “energy-momentum conservation.” It looks like this:

      \nabla_\mu T^{\mu\nu} = 0\,.
      The details aren’t important, but the meaning of this equation is straightforward enough: energy and momentum evolve in a precisely specified way in response to the behavior of spacetime around them. If that spacetime is standing completely still, the total energy is constant; if it’s evolving, the energy changes in a completely unambiguous way.

      This bothers some people, but it’s nothing newfangled that has been pushed in our face by the idea of dark energy. It’s just as true for “radiation” — particles like photons that move at or near the speed of light. […] At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how bothersome it is, of course — it’s a crystal-clear prediction of general relativity.

      And one that has been experimentally verified! The success of Big Bang Nucleosynthesis depends on the fact that we understand how fast the universe was expanding in the first three minutes, which in turn depends on how fast the energy density is changing. […]

      Energy isn’t conserved; it changes because spacetime does. See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

      OTOH, we also know that FRW universes have exactly zero energy. [I don’t have the reference handy at the moment, but can get it if asked.] So while energy isn’t conserved in ‘thermodynamical universes’, it is conserved in our cosmology. (For very deep reasons connected to our common intuition – for once.) Now I don’t think that Hutchinson would bother mention that.

      1. Stenger cites Faraoni and Cooperstock. On the total energy of open Freidmann-Robertson-Walker Universes. Astrophysical Journal. 2003;587:483-586.
        With a note that technically, the total energy of the universe cannot be defined for all possible situations in general relativity.

        1. Yes, money shot!

          Thanks, I didn’t know that Stenger was discussing this, so that is useful. (Even more, if I had a ref to Stenger.)

          Stenger’s note is useful to patch F&C analysis back to Carroll’s. They, of course, look at FRW universes as a dynamical system, so that they can sidestep the GR difficulties of defining a total energy (from the equation Carroll mention).

          [One should also note during reading that they use “open” in the “no boundary” sense, not the thermodynamical sense which relies on said boundary.

          The question is if one can put such when discussing a universe larger than the observable. OTOH it may suffice for the observable universe specifically, since at infinite time it will encompass a boundary on world lines. Maybe one can stitch such volumes together meaningfully for TD.]

          I like F&C because they show that a GR Lagrangian is highly useful. One can also extract gravitons I believe, not only classical GR gravity waves, from quantization of the Lagrangian. (Distler, who paid a recent visit here, do that on his blog, or at least the quantization part.)

          Unfortunately it is linear low-energy only, or people wouldn’t have such trouble with GR+QM elsewhere…

        2. Also, isn’t it awful that such a beautiful result as F&C had to wait 90 years between realizing universes are no simple systems and the resolution of a simple question?

          Makes you think. Currently there is the analogous problem of doing statistics on (anthropic) multiverses. Like thermodynamics it looks trivial for finite objects and many infinite ones, but you can’t do it easily on universes.

          Either we have to wait some decades before knowing if there are multiverses out there? Or someone will come up with a similar shortcut!

          1. I need to learn a lot more phsyics it appears. Still, even if energy isn’t conserved – something that seems against the idea that quantum vacuum fluctuations are OK because they conserve energy – it still doesn’t answer the question as to how non-energy interacts with energy. How is it even possible that the immaterial acts or is acted upon by the material? Magic?

  10. How exactly are the arguments of atheists nonsensical scientifically and philosophically?

    Does he ever go into specifics about this or is he just a lying duplicitous weasel?

    1. Well, no, they don’t explain that. Considering the way religious leaders attain and maintain their religious authority is to just state loudly and repeatedly that they have it, they don’t feel the need to EXPLAIN why atheist arguments are nonsensical because your role as the listener is to shut your face and nod.

      1. Well, that just pisses me off!

        Is having basics of rational discourse too much to expect from a theist physicist?

        For fuck’s sake.

  11. “…and that the lack of that respect it is a very serious failing.”

    Hey! Fix that before I get angry! You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!

  12. Biologos: “In fact, it is Cain’s act of wickedness that, in the minds of many ancient interpreters, was the cause of the flood in Genesis 6. We will begin next week by looking at this episode.”

    Oh, I can’t wait…

    1. Oh, I can’t wait…

      It is with bated breath that I await an explanation of why an omnipotent being found it necessary to exterminate every man, woman, child (and infant!) on the planet because Cain pissed him off.

          1. Only of the edible things…hey, they had to eat on the voyage, you know.

            Hard to believe we’re still arguing over the verity of a Bronze Age myth that assumed that every species on the planet lived within walking distance of Noah’s house.

    2. First time I’d heard THAT one. I think atheists have more respect for the bible than theologians do- after all, we at least read what it says rather than what we wish it would say.

  13. The arguments that they put forward mostly are not terribly new—to say that some of their arguments simply don’t work. They don’t make sense philosophically; they don’t make sense scientifically.

    MIT physics professor Ian Hutchinson, meet MIT physics professor Alan Guth. Perhaps you should walk down the hall and have a chat with him:

    The question of the origin of the matter in the universe is no longer thought to be beyond the range of science — everything can be created from nothing … it is fair to say that the universe is the ultimate free lunch. —Alan Guth, The Inflationary Universe

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