Martin Nowak, evolution, and God

January 25, 2014 • 1:48 pm

Sorry, folks; I published this prematurely (hitting “publish” rather than “save draft”), so all 11 comments have been lost. I apologize, but feel free—if you remember what you said—to repost your comments.


Martin Nowak is a well-known professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard, specializing in theoretical models for the evolution of cooperation. His work has been funded by one of the largest Templeton Foundation grants I know of: 10.5 million dollars!

Nowak’s latest notion is to discard an idea that’s been immensely productive in evolutionary biology, the idea of inclusive fitness—that the “replicability” of a gene has to take into account the effects of the gene’s fitness not only on its carrier, but on related carriers who also carry copies of the gene. (Selection based on this kind of relatedness is called “kin selection”.) Selection for parental care is one example, as is selection on any genetic variants producing behaviors that favor relatives.

I’ve written extensively on my differences with Nowak and his co-authors Coina Tarnita and E. O. Wilson about this issue; I, along with many others, think that inclusive fitness has been a seminal idea in evolutionary biology and has led to a lot of new understanding (just search for “Nowak” on this site if you want to see this discussion).

I see that Nowak is still crusading against kin selection and inclusive fitness (he, Wilson and Tarnita favor “group selection”): Nowak’s answer to the latest Edge question: “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” was “inclusive fitness.

But I don’t want to talk about inclusive fitness today. I’d rather talk about accommodationism, or rather the failure of trying to accommodate science and religion.  Those failures are evident in a new article also published by Nowak, one that appeared in the  January 13 edition of Big Questions Online, the “popular science” outlet of the John Templeton Foundation.  Templeton, as you know if you’re a regular, is an organization devoted to blurring the boundaries between science and religion, and doing that by co-opting scientists congenial to their message by giving them big grants and lots of money for their writing (I hear that Big Questions Online pays quite a lot for articles).

Nowak’s article, “How might cooperation play a role in evolution?“, perfectly exemplifies the problems with accommodationism.  The meat of it is decent, straightforward science: a recounting of what Nowak sees as the major steps in evolution (e.g., the evolution of multicellular organisms, the origin of human language), a discussion of the various ways cooperation might evolve, and a list of the “open questions” in evolution (e.g., how did life begin?). But then Nowak, an observant Catholic (one reason Templeton likes him), drags in God, and the whole article goes down the tubes. God first sticks in His nose in the first paragraph:

Evolution is a powerful and correct scientific approach. Yet our current understanding of evolution is incomplete. We are confronted with many open questions. I will discuss some of them in this article. I will also argue that a purely scientific interpretation of evolution does not constitute an argument against Christian theology, which holds that God is creator and sustainer of the universe. Science and religion are fundamental components in the search for truth. They should work together to solve the challenging problems that mankind is facing.

Well, there you go. What is this doing in a piece on evolution? (The answer, of course, is that the piece was commissioned by Templeton.) The evolutionary questions raised by Nowak have answers, at least in principle, but how does he know that there is a God, much less that said God is creator and sustainer of the universe?

Nowak doesn’t; he’s just assuming it’s true because that’s what his Church teaches. It’s superstitious nonsense. And as far as science and religion being complementary ways to find the truth, that’s also wrong, for religion cannot and has never been able to find truth. If it had, all religions would have produced the same truths.  If we want to solve the problems that face mankind, science had best stay as far away from religion as possible, except, perhaps to enlist the faithful in helping us implement empirical solutions. What was Nowak’s church’s solution to AIDS in Africa? Don’t use condoms!

But the end of the article is where Nowak really goes off the rails.  Imagine, after reading a fairly solid article about the major steps in evolution and the evolution of cooperation, seeing this:

God and Evolution

In Christian theology, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. According to St. Augustine, God is atemporal and created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing). According to St. Thomas, God is the ultimate cause for everything that exists.

God has chosen to unfold his creation in time according to laws of nature. Humans, created in the image of God, have begun to understand some aspects of these laws of nature. Evolution is an organizing principle of the living world. God uses evolution to unfold life on earth. The creative power of God and the laws of evolution are not in conflict with each other. God acts through evolution. God is the ultimate cause for evolution. In this world view, without God there would be no evolution at all.

Similarly, God uses gravity to organize the structure of the universe on a large scale. Without God there would be no gravity. Neither gravity nor evolution constitute challenges for Christian faith.

A purely scientific interpretation of evolution does not lead to an argument against the existence of God. Scientific atheism is a metaphysical position, which goes beyond a scientific interpretation of the available evidence.

God is not only creator, but also sustainer. God’s creative power and love is needed to will every moment into existence. God is atemporal. In my opinion, an atemporal Creator and Sustainer lifts the entire trajectory of the world into existence.  For the atemporal God, who is the creator and sustainer of the universe, the evolutionary trajectory is not unpredictable but fully known.

This just deflates me immensely. And the God stuff sticks out like a sore thumb.  As a whole, though, I think the piece is about the best demonstration one could have of the incompatibility of science and faith. Here’s a smart guy, a Harvard professor who does hard and respected science, and then he tacks on a bunch of medieval superstition, with no evidentiary basis, at the end of a science piece.  And it’s a glaring addition, for none of the stuff in the paragraphs above is supported by the merest scrap of evidence. How does Nowak know that God is using gravity to control the universe, or that God is required for gravity? How could you falsify that? And how does he know that Augustine was right and God is “atemporal”? God could, after all, be temporal. How does Nowak know that God is loving? There’s a lot of evidence against that supposition.

In fact, a lot of what Nowak writes here doesn’t even make sense—and is in complete opposition to what he says about science. His ideas about kin selection (not on display in this piece) might be wrong, but at least you can test them. You can’t test all this palaver about God’s love and atemporality and status as the Giver of Gravitation.

And there you have the great breach between science and religion.  In half of his article Nowak relies on evidence and reason, but at the end abandons all that rationality in favor of medieval superstition that happens to make him feel good.  It’s a mystery to me how any scientist trained to value reason, logic, and evidence can produce such a bunch of babble about God.

And, by the way, scientific atheism is not a metaphysical position that “goes beyond the evidence”.  Scientific atheism is simply the view that there is no evidence—scientific or otherwise—for a God, and therefore no reason to believe in one. If that’s a metaphysical position, then so is our provisional refusal to accept the existence of Santa Claus, Bigfoot, aliens in flying saucers, and the Loch Ness monster.

155 thoughts on “Martin Nowak, evolution, and God

  1. This is just the old God Of The Gaps argument again.

    The problem with Theological Evolution is that like ID and Creationism, it has no working theoretical model.
    Unlike ID and Creationism, most of its adherents are well-educated and intelligent.

    However, even TE’s most scientifically knowledgeable and literate proponents have zero to offer on its mechanisms or its measurable effects. The best they ever argue on its behalf is a variation of the simplistic and fallacious God of the Gaps appeal. I suspect that the more scientifically sophisticated ones already know that God of the Gaps is an ever vanishing plea to ignorance that is demolished incrementally with every advance in natural understanding of how the universe works.

    It is rooted only in an emotional desire that science will not utterly annihilate all possibility of their chosen deity existing. It has nothing going for it except fearfulness in the face of knowledge obliterating superstition.

    1. That is an excellent analysis. The gaps keep getting smaller, but some people still want to stuff some god into them. How many gods can fit in a gap the size of a pin point?

      1. I agree with you but would argue that a multi-billion dollar, extremely powerful, worldwide operation (e.g. the catholic church), needs to co-opt science in an attempt to keep its credibility with the masses (and control thereof). This inevitably leads, as Nowak has shown, to a cobbling-together of science and religion. A bit like trying to shove an LP into a cd player – it ain’t gonna fit and you shouldn’t even try.

    2. Creationists are just deluded, but theological evolutionists actively delude themselves: At least the creationists understand that if life evolved by natural selection, then god couldn’t have done it.

      And it seems breathtakingly silly to imagine that almost everything evolved by natural selection, but god stepped in to design such things as the bacterial flagellum, just because you can’t envisage an evolutionary pathway on the spur of the moment. It’s a bit like someone who understands the workings of a television claiming that most of the time it works according to physics, but there’s a little man inside that reads the news.

    3. It seems to me that it’s even worse than the god of the gaps. With GOTG there’s an unknown ergo goddidit.
      Nowak is describing perfectly plausible explanation then saying that god is the ineffingly mysterious architect of the thing that isn’t a mystery.
      I was looking at my car the other day and I noticed that the tires are perfectly round except for the bit on the pavement which is kind of flat. How do they know how to do that? A perfectly round tire would only have a one dimensional contact with the pavement so my life would be in danger due to inadequate traction.
      God is obviously intervening to save my life. OK Templeton, where’s my money?

  2. In Christian theology, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. According to St. Augustine, God is atemporal and created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing). According to St. Thomas, God is the ultimate cause for everything that exists…

    …Scientific atheism is a metaphysical position, which goes beyond a scientific interpretation of the available evidence.

    He’s completely ignoring the god of the bible and jumping straight to G.O.B. and in the process doing away with all the evidence pointing against the claims in the good book.

    And as for the existence of a god, he’s misconstruing the lack of evidence as available evidence.

    If only he’d apply his scientific training to the god hypothesis….

    Btw, what’s up with Harvard these days?

  3. Reading that tacked on bit was awful. It made my stomach churn in the same way that entering a Christian church does. I think it’s not even because of what it says but that it’s so startling, you can’t help but think that the science half abducted you and threw you into this dark dungeon that is the God section of the article!

  4. Oh, Boy ! What a muddle! Mixing-up supernatural beings and science, just as they used to do in the olden days. Reading Nowak is like going to the opera, but after an hour the Three Stooges come on to do a turn!

    First up, it is clear that the writer, Nowak, is suffering from a serious delusion, mimicking reality, in which, he, together with his chums, have been able to form a cult. The delusion leaves its sufferers with an utter conviction that there are ‘beings’ running everything; and the depth of belief somehow resembles the delusions suffered by those with paranoia, or any other condition involving a bizarre departure from the world around us. How could the idea of gods be anything other than bananas? And it surely cannot escape the truly religious that their beliefs are so very like Ufology, astrology, witchcraft, crop-circles, and other convictions concerning ‘malicious influences from outside ourselves’. Religion itself seems a matter of logic. Once you have accepted rubbish claims like we ‘live in an intentional universe’, then it is logical to invent the gods who intended it all!
    Religion seems not to be indoctrination, and nor is it ‘memes’, nor social pressure, or ‘reasonable deductions from the world around us’ It is crazy. But it has distinct origins. My own hypothesis is that such religious conviction is the result of an error in the calibration of the brain during the time of the formation of core beliefs in the brain, called ‘adolescence’.
    My time spent in many cultures in many countries brought home to me just how those cultural beliefs (in conflict with common knowledge) come about.

    Sherlock Holmes, the celebrated fictional detective once said something like…
    “If all the possible explanations have been discounted, then the last explanation must be the truth of the matter!”
    Hell no! Human beings are NEVER privy to all the possibly explanations for what is going on. Unknown unknowns, and all that. Don’t fall for obvious explanations; they are rarely correct. The truth about things is usually slippery and quite unwelcome. Truths often grate against our comfortable vision of ourselves and our tribe. In order to reach for new truths we usually have to abandon much of what is treasured ‘knowledge’.
    And so to the idea of indoctrination. It seems a compelling explanation for religion; after all religion seems to run in families. But it is clearly wrong. Similarly, the natural world may look as if it had been designed and created by a higher intelligence, but that is clearly wrong. The real explanation tends to be more complicated; and unavailable to most people.
    Religion is best described as a calibration error in the formation of consciousness. That calibration error occurs in the forming and reforming of the human consciousness. In order to understand religion, we need to understand human consciousness. The following may sound too simple, but it does have all the character of an unpalatable truth going for it.
    The appalling truth of human consciousness is that it is the result of a booting-up process based upon random and irrational assumptions concerning the nature of the world around us, gathered prepubescently, often by observing our families and neighbours. Not indoctrination, but the absorption of certain assumptions concerning the nature of reality. A kind of calibration error. The human race endlessly copying false assumptions about the nature of reality. For generations. All those limping assumptions for the way things are; and all those ensuing gods to explain it all!!
    Here’s the thing… It is no coincidence that modern American religious folk have the same nasty prejudices against gays, women and non-believers as to be found in Middle Eastern texts three millennia ago. Americans are not indoctrinated with those nasty prejudices by reading those holy books. The oddity is that those sharing similar Brain Operating Systems come to the same conclusions. Modern American religious folk usually have reasoned-out the same hatreds as the ancients who wrote the bible and other holy books, simply by making the same calibration errors. Not indoctrination; just a Brain Operating System drawing from the same false assumptions concerning the nature of the external world.
    In that respect the human brain is like a computer; able to be booted-up on any number of alternative running systems; PC, MAC, Linux, etc. And so the human brain can run on any number of operating systems. Depends what is fed into it at start-up. I have spent years all around the world studying first-hand the many Brain Operating Systems, from one continent to another.
    A second serious reversal to traditional thought is to realise that the best part of the human brain is dedicated to producing ‘solution-ideologies’. Boy, did Social Scientists get that one wrong! The brain has little or no interest in going for the truth of anything; being dedicated to assembling comfortable falsehood. No wonder that the History of Ideas charts a slow, pathetic, and feeble progress of human knowledge, beset with extravagant and wasteful adventures into religion, wars against other cultures, and preposterous ideas of how the body works whereby the Four Humours Theory held all medical minds without the smallest scrap of evidence for two and a half millennia. Only science moves out of the shadow of the human brain’s dedicated search for comfortable falsehood. Science is intriguing because it decouples survivalist desires for a hoped-for advantage in getting to the bottom of things without having to build ‘solution-ideologies’ In that respect, for scientists, the pursuit of ‘truth’ is a strategy.
    One of the most important Brain Operating Systems gave rise to civilisation. It is called the ‘Drone’ system. It is often mistaken to be Middle Classness. That is because it is widely recognised to be highly represented in the ‘Cleric-Admin-Professional-Educational’ field.
    All religious people are Drones, but few escape and begin to think for themselves. Drones tend to grow up in households that are highly organised and with structured days. Their living conditions are usually controlled by forms of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) which is a large part of religion, with its emphasis on order, obedience, contamination-phobias and the washing of sins. They tend to relate, one to another, with formalised and traditional means of emotional expression; namely, office language.
    Many readers may balk at the notion that most teachers, doctors, admin people and clerics, are Drones, but remember, two centuries ago almost every teacher in the world was content to draw all teachable knowledge exclusively from the Classics and holy books, just as most of the world’s teachers do today! They we wrong then, just as the intellectual world is largely wrong today!
    It has been a puzzle to many on this site why so many fundies happen to be in the medical profession; Texas dentists putting their gods into science books, and the fundie surgeons and doctors who talk of embryology being ‘lies from hell’. The European suicide-bombers contain a high proportion of medics. Someone even wrote a book about it. The two who drove a car bomb into Glasgow airport were doctors working for the national health service.
    Other great concentrations of Drones are to be found in academia, in I.T., in the professions of law and accountancy, and in the civil service. Those of you who work in academia should be more vigilant in recognising Dronedom in other faculties, particularly in the Social Sciences. My studies in Muslim and Hindu countries confirms that most aggressively religious people are of those same professions.
    Drones have clear and disturbing characteristics. They work to conceal the fact that they universally believe that all knowledge comes from authority; such as from medical and legal set texts, and from those of higher qualification. They have an ability to dissemble. They are unable to process experiential information (learn from external facts). Their world is based upon the false assumptions taken from the family around them during adolescence, when the ‘adult’ brain is formed. And they try to depersonalise their lives and deny their personalities, which is so typical of religious folk. They are unreflective, absolutist, and unable to communicate with anyone outside their self-selected group. Drones are often instantly recognisable from their group-identifying ‘uniform’, and from the interior of their homes, which come to resemble hotel-rooms.
    The true horror of religious belief is the way it takes human minds and turns them into babbling jelly. Perhaps we should have a modicum of understanding that they suffer from early calibration errors in their thinking to the level that there is no way back.

    I could, of course, always be wrong…

    1. “I could, of course, always be wrong…”

      I’m pretty sure you are. It would help your case if you could provide some sort of evidence to back up all these claims. Or are we just supposed to take your word for it?

  5. Sorry to repost a comment; this is more appropriate here. The conflation of kin selection and inclusive fitness is significantly hindering research in the field.

    The logic of kin selection is that the effects of a behavioural trait on close relatives can matter for whether that trait is selected, and so, for example, altruistic behaviour can be selected for if it affects close relatives sufficiently more often than random members of the population. This logic, which is not disputable, is *independent* of mathematical formalizations of it, such as inclusive fitness. These formalizations are disputable: one can argue against the generality of the mathematics of inclusive fitness, while still accepting the logic of kin selection.

    You’ll note that the phrase “kin selection” does not appear once in Nowak’s Edge response. Also, see his latest paper on inclusive fitness in PNAS:

    1. Thank you for clarifying this, Carl. If anyone wants

      I will also add that Nowak and Tarnita do not “favor group selection” as Coyne claims. Kin selection and group selection are two distinct mechanism for the evolution of cooperation. (There are claims that the two are “mathematically equivalent”, but these claims are not based on good math.)
      Nowak and Tarnita (and myself) are not arguing for one mechanism or the other; we just want the model to be mathematically correct and to fit the biology at hand.

        1. “If anyone wants a basic description of the mathematical issues with inclusive fitness theory, I give an explanation here: ……”

          And if anyone wants to know exactly why Nowak’s own ideas on the “inappropriateness of inclusive fitness theory” are incorrect, unoriginal, and misguided I provide the link here:

            1. Hmmmm… how very odd. The link works on Chrome but not on Firefox. If you’re using Firefox try a Google search on:
              Much ado about nothing: Nowak et al.’s charge against inclusive fitness theory F. ROUSSET* & S. LION
              Then click on the search result…
              This works fine.

              1. What a bizarre little paper! Apart from the odd tone of it (for an academic journal article), it makes the usual points: ‘straw man’ versions of Hamilton’s rule/inclusive fitness are not robust to nonlinear fitness effects, etc (and this has been known for x years), but the regression method is general.

                This is the approach Allen, Nowak and Wilson are arguing against in the PNAS paper I linked. The regression method generates a form of Hamilton’s rule that is tautologically true and general, and therefore empirically void. It is also, in some cases (detailed in the paper — look for the ‘hanger-on’, ‘jealous’ and ‘nurse’ trait examples) at odds with Hamilton’s rule as initially formulated.

                Did you read the paper, howiekornstein? Do you have a response to the ‘nurse’ etc examples in the paper?

  6. That religion is a component, let alone fundamental, in the search for truth is rich. Religion, as experience by everyone except theologians I guess, isn’t a search for truth, but the truth revealed. After all, Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.”

    At the very least Christians, it appears, have already found “the truth”. This must be that Sophisticated Theology I’ve been hearing so much about. I’ll be damned if I can find any daylight between Sophisticated Theology and Sophisticated Snake Oil Sales.

  7. Well, it really sounds like someone just copied and pasted two different articles into one. It somehow is an indication how the human mind can dwell in rationality and irrationality at the exact same time.

    By the way, I love “palaver” — it was origined in the Portuguese word “palavra” (“Word”). You can say: In the beginning there was The Palaver.

    1. O, I concur.

      I adore having new ( to me ) words — to check out in the dictionary — from within nearly every post of Dr Coyne’s.

      No one ( I know of has ever ) owned a vocabulary as massive as my own father’s, a simple Iowa agrarian. His favorite book ? A piece of scripture ? Hardly !

      Well, sort of, actually. Daddy’s idea of “scripture,” that is … … : Noah Webster’s versions — at least seven o’ ’em — of the dictionary stocked up in the northwestern corner of the gargantuan barn’s haymow. To study daily by way o’ the setting sun streaming through the bales’ aperture.

      But. Dr Coyne comes mighty, mighty close.

      ps I wonder if there is a chromosome for ones’ loving etymology ? My favorite book is the dictionary, too.

      And one of my three kiddos’ favorite book is same, and that child grew from 15 months of age through to an undergraduate degree in Spanish, a masters in linguistics and finally a law degree — by which he continues in his late 30s to practice the most correct of discourses in both English and Spanish.

      1. A older cousin of Said Kiddo’s, too, is an attorney, a blood – nephew of mine and, thus, dna – grandchild to my father.

        This man, also, speaks and writes — and always, always since his childhood has personally as well as professionally — using only the Queen’s English.


  8. It’s debatable whether the bible teaches creation ex nihilo. Genesis 1 can be plausibly translated as ‘when God BEGAN to create the heavens and the earth’, implying there is something already there. This would bring Genesis into line with other ancient near eastern religions who had a similar view of the gods shaping already pre-existent material.

    1. The Sabbatical creation account comes from the P source, related to the rise to prominence of the Temple priests. Circa 530-500 BCE perhaps. At around the same time that Israelite monotheism was first attested in the 2nd Isaiah forgery within the Book of Isaiah.

      So, assuming that the Temple priests also believed by then that there was only one God (and not several, like El, Asherah, YHWH etc.), the Sabbatical creation account appears to be a Judaistic tweak of the Middle Eastern creation stories: genesis by one god, not a pantheon. Unless of course the then emergent Zoroastrianism had something similar – possible, in view of the recent return from Babylonian exile of the leading elements of the Israelites.

      Even if the Israelite Sabbatical creation account is unique, so what? It merely means that the priestly source had an exceptional imagination and a gift for story-telling. And, in the wake of the disaster of the Babylonian Exile, excellent authority for tithing, ritual observation, social cohesion, reconstruction of the state and political power.


      1. To clarify, from the Sabbatical creation account, Yehud as Israel was known under the Persians, developed the idea of the Sabbath: a day off per week from labour, copying God’s example. A day in seven when no work was to be done.

        Similarly, in one year in seven the fields were laid fallow; subsequently, all debts every seven years were null. Centuries later this latter rule was rescinded for obvious practical reasons.

        By the time of Jesus, the Jews were viewed across the Roman Empire as being inexplicably lazy for their refusal to work on one day per week: and usually exempted from military service due to this ancient custom.

        A couple of centuries later the Romans started adopting the Jewish weekly day off work: the ancestor (with huge detours) of our concept of the weekend.


    2. 1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

      2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

      Unless the “deep” and “the waters” are part of heaven or earth, then they preexist. (As they would have in the earlier myths from the area.)

  9. Without God there is no gravity, and without grapes there is no grappa.

    I guarantee you, if you drink enough grappa you will fall prey to gravity and wake up with a God-awful headache.

    It appears that in all this the grapes are innocent.

  10. Poor Nowak. Can we also expect a Feser takedown in the future? Unlike Nowak, that’s one Catholic who is a nasty piece of work. His latest post is almost too much to bear.

    By the way, what’s the difference between scientific atheism and scientific agnosticism? Some scientists simply have no opinion about God, so I hesitate to call them “atheists” in any meaningful sense.

  11. Striking display of cognitive dissonance. One must wonder how many people live in his [Knowak’s] head?

    I think that this kind of extreme bifurcation of personality must be common among those whose rational training and experience betray “beliefs deeply held” aka bad prior programming.

  12. Following up on Carl’s comments above (8) but also making a more general point, it seems that Nowak’s faith-based view of the world may explain some of the issues that come up with his science, and particularly kin-selection/inclusive fitness. When he writes about kin selection he often seems to present a false or muddled version of the idea (this was a problem with the notorious paper with EO Wilson in Nature a few years back). It seems that what he BELIEVES is more important that what the field actually thinks, in terms of the history of kin-selection and what the idea actually is. It does not help that the man seems insufferably arrogant—in his recent Edge piece on inclusive fitness, he arrogantly identifies people who find value in kin-selection as cult-like and disses WD Hamilton for being a lousy mathematician. He also falsely tells us the inclusive fitness (i.e. kin selection) only applies to individuals and that we need to think about the gene instead. Funny, I thought kin-selection was a gene-centered view of the world.

    1. The point I was making, Bruce, is that kin selection and inclusive fitness are not the same thing, and that presenting them as the same thing has hindered research in theoretical biology. You continue this conflation when you say “inclusive fitness (i.e. kin selection)”.

      Nowak’s arguments are against inclusive fitness, which he claims is non-general, non-useful mathematical characterization of selection. The clearest exposition of his arguments is in his latest PNAS paper with Ben Allen and E.O. Wilson: To a mathematician, the arguments in the paper are simple and watertight. It’s well worth reading.

      On the individual/gene-level understanding of inclusive fitness, my interpretation is that, if we are committed to a gene-level view of selection (from which the logic of kin selection inexorably follows), having to talk about individuals (as we do when using relatedness in calculating inclusive fitness, for example) is superfluous. Inclusive fitness is necessarily an individual-level concept.

  13. Evolution is an organizing principle of the living world. God uses evolution to unfold life on earth. The creative power of God and the laws of evolution are not in conflict with each other. God acts through evolution. God is the ultimate cause for evolution. In this world view, without God there would be no evolution at all.

    This embarrassing passage could have been lifted vebatim from a school essay written by a 7 year old — assuming he had a spellcheck. As Jerry says, no greater contrast to a scientific approach towards understanding could be had than sticking this bit of extraneous garbage at the end of a paper on biology, where it sounds like a hasty sort of “BytheGloryofGodAmen” tacked on in sudden fear that Mom and maybe the Pastor may have been watching.

    And yet it’s conceivable that yes, the entire piece may have been written just for the express purpose of showing science happily comporting with religion, God and evolution frolicking together in the sunny fields while expressions of faith holds hands with something which has … some actual content.

    Cut to the chase, dammit. How, Dr. Nowak? HOW does “God use evolution to unfold life on earth?” What’s the mechanism, what’s the explanation, where are the details to be found and the argument to be made? Take advantage of the forum to try to persuade the skeptics. Yes, yes — we know it’s your “world view.” Presumably you would not have been DONKEY enough to just stick it in though without explaining how the process you’ve just described works, would you? Would you??

    I am being rhetorical. And Dr. Nowak is being cringeworthy.

    A purely scientific interpretation of evolution does not lead to an argument against the existence of God. Scientific atheism is a metaphysical position, which goes beyond a scientific interpretation of the available evidence.

    No, this doesn’t wash. Consider the fact that the dreadful paragraph on “God acts through evolution” was deliberately included BY YOU in a discussion on the process of evolution and so you have yourself included “God” into a “purely scientific interpretation of evolution.” Unless you have something to back it up it gets thrown out of the discussion. Not just the discussion on evolution, but the more significant one on the nature of reality: what exists — and how we know that.

    Theism “goes beyond a scientific interpretation of the evidence.” You don’t get to just trot it up and shove it in to an adult discussion and earn points of some kind. Not clever, not brave, not cute, and not meaningful.

    But they pay you well, no doubt.

    1. They pay him well because he’s profitable. He’s a vital cog in the operation. He’s the guy in the white lab coat with the clipboard reading off the dials on the perpetual motion machine — an essential prop in any get-rich-quick scheme.

      The only difference here, of course, is that they’ve been getting rich, quickly, for a looooooong time….


    2. Not clever, not brave, not cute, and not meaningful.

      and not humble.

      An eloquent, incisive and terribly narrow viewpoint once again, Sastra.

      It is obvious this adult and those of like mental wavelength know better, yet choose to take The Buybull seriously (if not literally). Many on this wavelength seem to have a very rosy picture of history, at least prior to the last century.

      What mechanism does doG use? Mystery. One of His greatest is people like Nowak.

  14. I will also argue that a purely scientific interpretation of evolution does not constitute an argument against Christian theology, which holds that God is creator and sustainer of the universe.

    But it does constitute an argument against some of the scriptures, such as the tales of Adam and Eve, which in turn demolishes the concept of Original Sin and the need for redemption. Doesn’t leave much of Original Christianity(TM) standing.

  15. Dear sweet humpin’ Jesus on an atomic-powered pogo stick, that coda is painful!

    It’s even worse than that parody Richard likes to make of “if science worked like theology.” You know the one? “It has been divinely revealed to the authors that gravity is responsible for the orbits of the planets.” I’m sure somebody will helpfully link to a video example.

    If it weren’t for Nowak’s and Templeton’s histories, I swear I’d be invoking Poe’s Law, and that this was something done by the authors of the Onion trying to out-Richard Richard.



  16. I think Nowak had some good points regarding cultural evolution. I think it’s fair to say that group selection *is* a driver of cultural evolution, but it’s way too common for people to reason by analogy back-and-forth between cultural and biological evolution. The physical mechanisms of transmission are fundamentally different, and analogies can fail.

    Now, it is interesting to think that, by driving cultural evolution, group selection could affect biological evolution indirectly by dragging the genes of the associated group along with it,.

    1. I’m no expert in the field of cultural evolution studies, but I don’t think it has much to do with biology, or evolution for that matter. And when you say group selection plays a role in cultural evolution, are you talking about group reproduction and extinction, or does group selection mean something else in the context of cultural evolution?

  17. > Scientific atheism is a metaphysical position, which goes beyond a scientific interpretation of the available evidence.

    Anyone else thought “Sproing” ?

  18. “Without God there would be no gravity.”

    I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said “God is Love”. Does that mean that Gravity is Love? All the mass in the universe is attracted to every other bit of mass by the power of love. What a beautiful thought! The hippies were right! I hereby rename the proposed quanta of gravity the ‘graviton’ to the ‘loveitron’.

    Also, I have a complaint to make. God could have created gravity as a simple inverse square law force. Instead he did it with all that curvature of space stuff that ruined Euclid’s beautiful geometry. That forced me to have to learn horrible topology and tensor algebra at great cost to my sanity. Surely a loving God would make the fundamental forces a bit nicer for physics students to deal with.

    I claim that without the FSM there would be no strong force and atoms would all fly apart. (We know that ‘String Theory’ should really be called ‘Spaghetti Theory’) I will write up my theory as soon as the Templeton foundation gives me my grant.

    1. If God is Love, and love is blind…and Ray Charles is blind…does that mean that Ray Charles is God?

      At least we have evidence that Ray Charles is real…and has soul! At least, that’s what I’d say.


    2. No, if you are going to claim that “without the FSM there would be no strong force and atoms would all fly apart” on Templeton’s dime, then you don’t need to write up THAT theory. That’s too much work and it’s not what His Noodly Presence demands from you, let alone the Templeton Foundation.

      No, all you need to do is deliver a perfectly unobjectionable scientific paper on atomic forces and THEN … at the END … add in that “the Flying Spaghetti Monster uses strong forces to keep the atom together because the creative power of the FSM and the laws of atomic energy are not in conflict with each other — the FSM acts through atomic forces, is the ultimate cause for atomic forces, and without the FSM there would be no atomic forces at all.”

      Why, I can hear Templeton now:

      “The theme I’ve been waiting for all my life! Listen to this sentence: “Without the Flying Spaghetti Monster … there would be no atomic forces at all.” Poetry — sheer poetry! Stuartcoyle, an A+ … how happy you’ve made us, stuartcoyle. A++++++++!”

      Maybe the Templeton Foundation in their ecstasy will excuse you from scientific article writing for the rest of your life.

    3. God did create gravity with a simple inverse square law. That space curvature stuff was because of … wait for it … Satan! (After Eve corrupted everything, of course.)

  19. Several improbable propositions before breakfast.

    “According to St. Augustine…”

    “According to St. Thomas…”

    The quintessential informal fallacy jumpstart kit.

  20. It seems to me that Prof Nowak’s grasp of the evolution of human language is simplistic. Over the years I have been educated by Prof Michael Arbib who argues for the prior development of signalling, esp in hunting scenarios. He suggests mirror neurones as a precursor. To which I would add the need for mechanical changes in the lowering of the larynx for human speech. See more at his page:

    He often throws in a disparaging joke on those who gesticulate whilst talking are somewhat earlier in the hominin line . . .

  21. St. Augustine and St. Thomas were somehow able to make truthful assertions about god, but at the same time knew nothing about evolution, gravity and quantum physics. Out of ignorance they made the most ridiculous statements about basic biology, yet when they rambled about god their pronouncements suddenly made sense, apparently. It’s like children being able to handle Tensor Calculus but not simple fractions.

    How credulous does one have to be to believe that this is possible?

    1. To be fair, a good deal of the requisite credulity is driven by fear.

      In those who don’t know better, the fear of infinite torture. In those who should know better, the fear of diminished returns on the confidence scam.


    2. Maybe a small illustration is enlightening.

      St. Thomas wrote:

      Woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence, such as that of a south wind, which is moist.

      The person who wrote this doesn’t sound like a paragon of wisdom to me. More like a blatherer who makes up rabid nonsense out of whole cloth.

    3. St Augustine wasn’t much on geography either according to a book I was reading this morning, happy to assert (along with many others at the time of course) the actual existence of mythical lands such as Gog and Magog without a scintilla of evidence. Makes you realise how little he knew about actual stuff. Of course he had a better excuse than his idealogical descendants.

  22. “In Christian theology, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe.”

    By. What. Process.

    “Humans, created in the image of God,…”

    By. What. Process.

    “God uses evolution to unfold life on earth.’

    By. What. Process.

    “God acts through evolution. God is the ultimate cause for evolution.”

    By. What. Process.

    “God’s creative power and love is needed to will every moment into existence.”

    By. What. Process.

    1. Hallelujah brother (or sister).

      By. What. Process.

      Start the engines and listen to the inner voice of circularity when defenders of god arrive. They never provide knowledge. Ever.

  23. “Evolution is an organizing principle of the living world. God uses evolution to unfold life on earth.”

    Ah. Ok, then. Case closed. But I wonder what would Nowak would say if that Precambrian rabbit was ever discovered.

    “Neither gravity nor evolution constitute challenges for Christian faith.”

    Course not. No finding ever will: “oh, you scientists discovered phenomenon x? Isn’t god amazing? Phenomenon x is just the sort of thing you’d expect god to use to accomplish goal y!”

      1. Yeah, an all-loving, all-merciful source of beauty, truth and morality…who also likes to pull perverse and infernal pranks.

        (See what I did there?)

        (Also, how did that extra “would” find its way into my original comment?)

  24. Yes indeed,as Grania Spingies (comment 3) says, the God of the Gaps. There are Gaps, therefore God exists. QED.

    1. In days of yore, we at least had a god for each gap — one for the wind, another for the thunder, yet another for the Sun, and so on.

      Then we had some massive consolidations and acquisitions, with the predictable reduction in the number of gods. Now we’re down to just a few competing monopolies, none of them with any real concern for the end worshipper (even whilst they continue to mouth platitudes to that effect).

      Sad state of affairs, really.



      1. Some people think that it was people that created God. I doubt it. If it was people, God would have been a lot more helpful to us.

        1. DoG has been immensely helpful to those who invented it – and to their descendants. They are called ‘priests’. Easy living for 4000 years. Inheritors of the largest and richest criminal organization in the world but immune from prosecution because doG.

  25. “God is creator and sustainer of the Universe”

    I never understood what God was supposedly sustaining in the Universe? Answering prayers? Ensuring the physical constants don’t drift? Soul collector and evil compactor?

    And now Nowak gives it to us: God wills every moment into existence. Sounds like a lot of work for God to maintain given that creating the Big Bang took some planning but this moment-to-moment business with inflation and all is a colossal pain. And if God stopped willing existence into being, how would we know?

    And humans evolved or were created or were created to evolve in the image of God. Therefore, God either looks like Andre the Giant, homo habilis, Sarah Silverman, or an Australian aborigine.

    1. Mr. Nowak, here is your assignment for today:

      Demonstrate how God’s love and will created and sustained the universe on Nov 14th, 1947, at 0430:05 GMT.

      Show your work. No partial credit.

    2. Yeah, it’s nice to know that God, being everywhere and sustaining everything in the universe, is also “sustaining” all those serial killers as they torture and kill innocent people, along with all the mass murderers.

      I wonder what God is thinking as he looks down upon their work, continuing to sustain them.


      1. (And before a Christian jumps in and says “ will” I would also point out how God sustains all the non-free-willed horrendous pathogens and other natural afflictions that have tormented billions of humans).


    3. According to Catholic theology, and other groups are similar, the position really seems to be that “without god, the universe will wink out of existence”. That this is a species of occaisionalism (and hence is morally horrendous in addition to being scientifically absurd) is not noticed.

  26. Before I say anything of substance, I should be upfront that I am Martin’s collaborator and friend. I co-authored (with Nowak and Wilson) the recent PNAS article pointing out further problems with the mathematics of inclusive fitness theory ( , see also ). I do not, however belong to any religion and I’m completely agnostic about any untestable metaphysical claims. I think we’re all searching for meaning in our lives, and different people search in different ways.

    All that said, I’m confused why Martin’s “Big Questions” article is being characterized as a science article. It is clearly a science-and-religion article, written in a forum for science-and-religion articles. I don’t think Martin is putting forth his theological positions as testable scientific claims. They’re his beliefs—which, as Jerry says, are untestable and therefore unfalsifiable.

    1. Whoa, buddy. Beliefs are falsifiable (and Jerry has said that). E.g., there is a false belief out there that vaccines cause autism. Science has falsified that. Oh, you mean SUPERNATURAL beliefs. Let’s see: prayer will make you heal faster from major surgery than you would without prayer. Wait, Study of the Therapeutic Efficacy of Prayer. Funded by the Templeton Foundation. Sorry, prayer did not come off too well in that study or others of a similar nature. And, of course, this supports anecdotal evidence that no amputee has ever re-grown a missing limb (prayed for or not). Religious beliefs, unsupported by strong and repeatable evidence can safely be dismissed as false. So, how many gods are there? Which religious beliefs are true? Without evidence, the simplest answer is none.

        1. You keep harping on this “not falsifiable” bit as if it’s something to be proud of, or at least excusable.

          For a scientist, it should be the utmost badge of shame. “You can’t prove me worng!” is the cry of charlatans and hucksters and confidence artists of all stripes, not of honest seekers of knowledge. Whenever that’s the strongest argument in favor of a position, you know for certain that it is a lie — even if only the same category of lie that a child might tell himself about the love his favorite comic book superhero has for him.


          1. My philosophical position is that on matters that are not measurable or falsifiable, our human creativity can fill in whatever explanations we wish. These explanations do not belong in the same category as science, but that doesn’t mean scientists can’t personally believe or express such explanations.

            As an example, Jerry Coyne believes that counterfactual free will does not exist. I consider this belief to be unfalsifiable, because how could one possibly prove that something could have happened but did not?

            1. Science is about evidence, not “proof”. And the evidence points to brain operations being deterministic. How could you falsify that? Discover some mechanism in the brain that couldn’t in principle be simulated on a computer by a deterministic program.

              1. Such a discovery is indeed what it would take — and is as unlikely as observing the Sun rise in the West.

                We know, thanks to the LHC, that the Standard Model is a complete explanation for all human-scale phenomenon. While we can be confident that we don’t know everything there is to know about physics (see, for example, quantum gravity), we can be confident that, just as Relativistic and Quantum Mechanics both reduce to Newtonian Mechanics at human scales, so, too, will any new discoveries similarly reduce to the physics we already know at the scales at which they’re applicable.

                And the Standard Model is Turing-computable.

                Therefore, anything that comports to the Standard Model is also Turing-computable.

                We already had very good reason to suppose that this should be so; this is otherwise known as the “Church-Turing Thesis.”



            2. Ignoring your oversimplified mischaracterization of Jerry’s position on free will — a position I mostly but not entirely agree with, so I won’t defend — you’re committing a cardinal sin against academic and scientific integrity.

              When you don’t know something, the only acceptable position to take is, “I don’t know.” Ignorance is most emphatically not license to just make shit up.

              Now, of course, making shit up is often an useful step in probing the unknown. And, in those early stages of exploration, “What if?” games of whatever strikes your fancy are entirely appropriate.

              But stopping at that stage and never testing those hypotheticals against reality is the very definition of infantilism.

              Yes, sure — what if an ancient Jewish zombie will infinitely torture after they die those who have sex in an unapproved fashion? As difficult-to-test propositions go, that one’s certainly right up there with Russell’s famous teapot.

              Except, of course, as it turns out, these sorts of propositions aren’t that hard to test after all. While you can’t rule out Matrix-style brain-in-a-vat types of conspiracy theories, that’s the extent you have to go to to come up with an internally-consistent model that’s also consistent with everything else we know about reality. Zombies violate conservation laws and the LHC has ruled out all possible forms of magic that could support cognition disconnected from brains and / or transfer of consciousness from a brain to never-never land.

              So, no. Don’t expect respect for “Neither of us know, so therefore my fantasy is reasonable.” It’s not. It’s wishful thinking, and not a very healthy type of wishful thinking, either.



            3. The “sustaining” bit *is* falsifiable – and false to boot. We know (since the 19th century, at the latest) that the universe is patterened with conservation laws, none of which have a special “expiry date” or condition.

    2. How does that change anything written above?
      When it comes to science he relies on evidence, reason, and logic. When it comes to religion, he drops all three. There is no compatibility between the two. That is the issue here.

      Science is a way of knowing. Religion is a way of hoping for what’s true in the spaces between the science. But the truth is that science leaves no spaces for the sort of god he believes in.

    3. If a scientist posts an article that purports to deal with science, then it deserves to be criticized as science, wherever it happens to appear. And if one was being cynical and followed the money, one might be less than charitable about the reasons for posting such an article in such a place.

    4. A scientist of all people should know better than to make statements like “God’s creative power and love is[sic] needed to will every moment into existence” for which there is not the slightest evidence. Also, a scientist like prof. Nowak should not use his credentials as a scientist to support his pronouncements about non-science (or rather, nonsense).

        1. A scientist should not write “God’s creative power and love are needed to will every moment into existence” as if it were a known fact and without making it perfectly clear that this statement is not informed by science. A scientist should not write such things while sporting his or her credentials as scientist as if these were relevant. The prestige of science should not be abused to prop up theological speculations.

          Otherwise, scientists are just as free as anybody else to believe what they want and to express those believes in the same way other people are allowed to express their’s. I just happen to think that scientists have a responsibility to be extra careful in making statements in public that are not supported by evidence and logic. They should take off their lab coat first.

        2. It’s wrong for anyone to expect to express unsupported views without rebuttal. Almost all magical thinking is “completely non-falsifiable,” so that’s not a particularly meaningful standard. It is neither rational nor justified to believe in unevidenced, non-falsifiable entities.

          Theists are free to proclaim spurious beliefs, and we are free to point out their spuriousness. Are do you think religious claims should be given special exemption from critical consideration?

          1. “do you think religious claims should be given special exemption from critical consideration?”

            No, of course not. Critical consideration is totally fine by me. I just don’t understand the line of attack that these beliefs don’t belong in a “science article”, because to me it’s clear that this is not a science article (despite containing some science).

            1. Not a science article? Yet the title is a scientific question (How Might Cooperation Play a Role in Evolution?) and the article ends with posing three ‘discussion questions’ that are all scientific ones as well. Try again.

    5. In that PNAS paper you try to knock down a ridiculous strawman of inclusive fitness theory. We had some good laughs over it in our literature club.

      Especially your claim that “In short, the regression method generates a “just-so-story”, which is often wrong, for an outcome that is already known.” is nonsensical. Have you even read the Gardner, West & Wild JEB paper? All their example models contain unknown parameters (e.g. B, C, allele frequency, etc.). Without knowing specific values of those parameters the outcome of selection is unknown, so I am at a loss to know how you can talk about “an outcome that is already known” when referring to those models.

      I could go on, but this is not the place.

      1. Are you arguing that Gardner, West and Wild would have analyzed the “straw man” examples in the PNAS paper differently? If so, how?

      2. Of course I read that JEB paper; I cite it extensively. For all of the models they discuss, the outcome of selection is completely known in terms of the model parameters before any regression is applied. The regression generates superfluous B and C values that tell you nothing you nothing you don’t already know. I stand by that statement 100%.

        1. For the examples in the JEB paper, the outcome of selection is indeed known in terms of the parameters before any regression is applied, but only in a very trivial sense: the outcome was known from modeling the same scenarios with a non-inclusive fitness (IF) approach. By authors that claimed it couldn’t be done with an IF approach – and they were wrong as shown in the JEB paper. If you would apply the IF method to a new (non-trivial) scenario that hadn’t been analyzed before, you wouldn’t know the outcome of selection in terms of parameters before doing the regressions, and the resulting B and C values would therefore not be superfluous at all.

          I’m not saying the IF method is always or even usually the preferred method for modeling social evolution, but I dislike the strawmannish way the method has been portrayed in your paper and other work by Nowak et al. Nowak seems to be on a witch hunt for some reason that I can’t fathom.

          1. “If you would apply the IF method to a new (non-trivial) scenario that hadn’t been analyzed before, you wouldn’t know the outcome of selection in terms of parameters before doing the regressions, and the resulting B and C values would therefore not be superfluous at all. ”

            Not true. From the very JEB article you cite, “…in most cases the aim of the evolutionary theorist will be to develop readily testable, concrete predictions for particular scenarios, and here the mechanistic causes of the relationship between trait and reproductive success will be of more interest. In such cases, it is more appropriate to build a mechanistic, dynamically sufficient model and to use any standard evolutionary methodology, such as
            neighbour-modulated-fitness, theoretical population genetics, quantitative genetics or evolutionary game theory to analyse the model and derive predictions” (p. 18)

            In other words, one should first determine the outcome of selection using direct methods, and then calculate B and C once this outcome is already known. Gardner et al. claim these B and C values will be useful as “conceptual aids”, but I dispute their usefulness (based on the reasons presented in our paper).

            I know Martin’s thoughts on this very well. The reason he dislikes inclusive fitness theory is that it gets in the way of doing clear and meaningful analysis of mathematical models. That’s the long and short of it.

            1. “I know Martin’s thoughts on this very well. The reason he dislikes inclusive fitness theory is that it gets in the way of doing clear and meaningful analysis of mathematical models.”

              This is really quite absurd. There is a really unpleasant sort of arrogance arising from the Nowak camp that unless Biological theory is backed up by mathematics, and their own very pure version of mathematics at that, that the theory or concept is invalid. But the reality is that all such scientific mathematics is merely modelling, and the mathematics is only useful if it describes behavioural phenomenon accurately- and better still, if it can predict further behaviours with precision and with variables that can be measured in the real world. The use of heuristics or even curve fitting is perfectly acceptable if it can be shown to provide empirically verifiable results or can lead to them. Some sciences prove more fortunate in the models that are applicable, in that only first order effects are in play and hence solutions are more complete. Biology IS NOT SUCH A SCIENCE- far from it. In biology SELECTING and DEFINING these first-order variables to be modelled is the greatest challenge, rather than the challenge of setting out the relationships between them. Inclusive fitness theory works under these criteria, in spite of the fact that, as Alan Grafen puts it, the mathematics is somewhat “rough and ready”.
              The great usefulness of IF theory has been well documented in the response letter to Nature to the Nowak et al paper. The greatest criticism of Nowak’s alternative of eliminating Inclusive fitness is that it is a backward step in explanation or in prediction. It not only destroys, it adds nothing new.

              Let me give an example of “mathematical untidiness” from physics. In 1885 a formula was produced which described the spectrum of Hydrogen- the Balmer series. The Balmer formula was nothing but a form of curve fitting – but it worked and it predicted additional spectral lines that were later verified. But the variables of the Balmer formula were ill defined. It was untidy mathematics but it was USEFUL; nobody in the field of physics demanded that it not be considered relevant. Much later Bohr produced further equations that could actually derive the Balmer formula as a result and completely explained the variables of the Balmer formula. The explanation was completed.

              It seems to me that in Biology “total mathematical correctness” or perfectly clean mathematics is NOT the be-all and end-all. Heuristics, verbal models and verbal explanations are totally valid as are statistical correlations, and are in a large number of cases these are the ONLY descriptions of phenomena available. Mathematics serves Biology only as a modelling tool, correct Biology is what matters.

              1. I agree up to a point. I agree that mathematics serves biology only as a modelling tool, and that verbal arguments and heuristics are perfectly acceptable when one is first approaching the problem. Inclusive fitness (IF) is one such heuristic, which has proven useful in guiding people’s intuition as to evolution of social behavior.

                But IF was developed in 1964. 50 years later, we are at the point where we can look for more precise explanations using better data. It turns out that IF only applies to systems that satisfy a certain kind of linearity. Other mathematical modeling approaches can go way beyond this limitation—and yet there are some that insist that we should still be using IF in all situations, even when we know it is untrue or meaningless. Our beef is with this people.

  27. When Nowak says that he will “argue” that a purely scientific account of evolution does not constitute an “argument” against Christian theology he flatters himself. He doesn’t offer any argument. He gives a fly-by tour of evolution and the same of Christian theology and announces that they are compatible.

    Atheism – based on the totality of all scientific understanding, however limited it may be – does not go beyond the scientific evidence, limited as it may be. Atheism stays strictly within the limits of science. There simply is no scientific evidence for the existence of God. Add in the suffering inherent to life and the notion of a loving God is a wretched absurdity; add in the fantastic absurdities of the supposedly divinely revealed biblical texts, which can be perfectly well explained in terms of human religiosity as a psycho-social phenomenon, and the conclusion that God is a human creation is a perfectly sound one, from the scientific point of view.

    Christian theism, based upon supposed revelation of a non-natural nature, necessarily goes beyond the limits of science. Or else it indulges in pure metaphysical speculation. Atemporal first causes logically necessary, indeed. Did Aristotle-Aquinas reveal an existential truth or not? Who knows? They made an abstract argument. That much is definitely true.

    All the proposed answers to the big questions on the list to which Novak contributes are exercises in accommodationism. The money flowing out of Templeton can only be judged as a naked bribe for scientists of a certain kind to step forward and publicly express their religiosity.

    Martin Luther wouldn’t like it

  28. ‘ pacopicopiedra
    Posted January 25, 2014 at 9:23 pm | Permalink
    “I could, of course, always be wrong…” George Rumens
    I’m pretty sure you are. It would help your case if you could provide some sort of evidence to back up all these claims. Or are we just supposed to take your word for it?’

    Paco is referring to my earlier post, Letter 7, discussing ‘Human Sub-Set Theory’ that the many Brain Operating Systems (BOS) apparent in the social world are the result of calibration faults in the adolescent brain. He kindly, and understandably asks for evidence. He must be new to this site because I offered evidence and links, but not one person felt moved to follow the evidence, and some criticised me for pushing the ideas; ideas that may well dominate human understanding for the next hundred years.
    Of course there is evidence. 2200 pages of evidence, collected in a book called ‘Origins of Belief and Behaviour’ 2005. For those who don’t know, that is the length of ten books. But there is a problem. You cannot get to that evidence from here! You have to move to a place where you abandon so much of what is considered ‘contemporary academic knowledge’ in the Social Sciences, before the world can move forward in understanding the complexity of human belief and behaviour.
    And there is a problem with the ‘nature’ of the evidence, which is not derived from the philosophy departments of a major university, (like the world of William Lane Craig) but is the result of detailed observations upon humankind in many countries over a period of 50 years (Like Darwin)
    It goes like this… In 1859 almost every scientist in the world knew for an absolute fact that the gods created the earth and its contents. No question. But how did such a malevolent consensus come about? My book explains that the human brain is largely dedicated to forming ‘Solution-Ideologies’. Many of them, in many cultures. Think of Islam? Or the Western equivalent, the Tea-Party. Even science itself is a specialised form of solution-ideology. Most solution-ideologies such as the religions, the Social Sciences, astrology… are introduced to the adolescent brain by default, drawn from one’s immediate culture, and become an interpretive mechanism in understanding the physical and social world around us. Who dared stand up in 1858 and say that theology was wrong? Who dare stand up today and say that the Social Sciences are wrong?
    Many of the brightest people today are convinced that fresh understandings will come from the work of Einstein, or the evidence for Higgs Boson at CERN, but sadly, -and as interesting as those discoveries are, – they will never lead to an understanding of human belief and behaviour. In fact such theoretical pursuits are terribly like the historic pursuit of ‘absolute authority’, – the pursuit of the nature of the gods! Be aware that basic religious understandings are intellectual poison represented in all humans, perhaps excepting profound sceptics like me.
    Briefly, my computer-book, called ‘Origins of Belief and Behaviour’ 2005, covers The ‘History of Ideas’, and also the details of the various discrete, and often overlapping, group beliefs extant in modern society; the religious, the academic, those on the ‘Clerical-Admin-Professional-Educational’ spectrum. The book goes into great detail upon the appearance, lifestyles, beliefs and behaviours of the different groups.
    Here’s the interesting thing. Those with whom I have discussed the ideas say that it has changed the world around them. But most people are so dependant upon ‘Old thinking’ that they will never even bother to acquaint themselves with the ideas. My book has to wait until the present generation has died away, along with their contemporary beliefs, before a whole new generation arrives, more familiar with the ideas, and less likely to be entrapped by the all-embracing academic ideologies of our day. Same as with ‘The God Delusion’.
    It may come as a shock to those who have given their lives to the Social Sciences, that it is all without intellectual foundation. But its replacement is ever more spectacular, intriguing and satisfying. I have proposed that we rename ‘psychology’ as ‘Psychography’ and ‘sociology’ as ‘Sociography’ to remove the ideological foundations of the Social Sciences, and also to take into account these new understandings.
    I could, of course, be wrong. (But I doubt it!)

    1. “Who dared stand up in 1858 and say that theology was wrong?”

      RG Ingersoll produced this in 1872, close enough?

      These gods have been manufactured after numberless models, and according to the most grotesque fashions. Some have a thousand arms, some a hundred heads, some are adorned with necklaces of living snakes, some are armed with clubs, some with sword and shield, some with bucklers, and some with wings, as a cherub; some were invisible; some would show themselves entire, and some would only show their backs; some were jealous; some were foolish; some turned themselves into men, some into swans, some into bulls, some into doves, and some into Holy Ghosts, and made love to the beautiful daughters of men. Some were married-all ought to have been-and some were considered as old bachelors form all eternity. Some had children, and the children were turned into gods and worshiped as their fathers had been. Most of these gods were revengeful, savage, lustful, and ignorant. As they generally depended upon their priests for information, their ignorance can hardly excite our astonishment.

    2. Yeah, I must be new here. Anyway, maybe you could link to your data once again. I’m sure no one will be upset with you for posting a link. You know, for the newbies like me.

  29. Nowak is a practicing catholic? So

    “For the atemporal God, who is the creator and sustainer of the universe” – therefore Yeshue? why not Glooscap? the ‘evidence’ is the same.

    My question is simply an echo of Sastra, way above; an atemporal doG must be outside the bounds of the universe otherwise it could not be atemporal. How then does it (a purely spirit i.e. non-physical entity) manage to control physical processes inside the universe? Surely there must be some physical inputs from outside the universe that could be detected by science? So why waste time in religious speculation rather than expending Templeton millions to find this mechanism?

  30. This is an excellent post Jerry – it’s exactly why I find WEIT here such an invigorating place to visit.

    I must say, of the things that I do find depressing when I consider the topic of “science versus religion” it’s the fact that there actually are individuals like Martin Nowak or John Polkinghorne who are highly intelligent trained scientists, with all the discipline of scientific method and evidence based rationality, and yet they spout out this sort of nonsense. When possible I make it a point to attend a lecture given by such a “scientist believer” just to try to get a sense of their mindset – it’s such a puzzle. If asked a question concerning the more absurd concepts of their faith (transubstantiation, immaculate conception, etc.) their responses are even more inane and illogical than that you might receive from the likes Ken Ham. The emotive pull of faith and childhood indoctrination must be incredibly strong to create individuals with such logic tight compartments in their thinking.

    BTW, one of my favourite lectures on evolutionary for the layman is one given by Nowak at Catholic institutions. Up to the point where he brings in god it is beautifully concise and explanatory, then comes the religious bit (the second 50%) – absolute shite. If you don’t want to lose the hope that with intelligence and science humankind can finally rise out of the pit of irrational absurdity, do NOT ever watch such a Nowak lecture.

    1. It’s down to the new atheists. Time was when politeness ruled. Atheist scientists thought of the religious as weird birds but kept their thoughts to themselves. Then a few of them spoke their minds. The proverbial hit the fan and so we have Templeton’s millions and minions.

  31. “The creative power of God and the laws of evolution are not in conflict with each other.”

    Even if we grant him that, it is reasonable to argue that the (supposed by his theology) loving & moral attributes of God are in conflict with evolution. Before Nowak can even consider bringing up his Christian God he needs to give a response to the evolutionary problem of evil.

  32. Paula Kirby: While I welcome anyone who recognizes that the evidence for evolution is such that it cannot sensibly be denied, to attempt to co-opt evolution as part of a divine plan simply does not work, and suggests a highly superficial understanding of the subject. Not only does evolution not need to be guided in any way, but any conscious, sentient guide would have to be a monster of the most sadistic type: for evolution is not pretty, is not gentle, is not kind, is not compassionate, is not loving.

    I have to assume that Nowak and his fellow accommodation scientists understand this and are counting on the superficial understanding of the audience.

  33. I read Jerry’s comment in response to Martin Nowak’s piece, “How might cooperation play a role in evolution?“, and responded almost exactly as Jerry himself, —”The meat of it is decent, straightforward science: a recounting of what he [Nowak] sees as the major steps in evolution….”
    And no less than Jerry I wondered why Nowak, whose summary account of evolution seems much like my own(strictly a layman’s) take on the subject, I wondered why he did, why he does bring God into this and other such discussions? There is no place for God here, and certainly not the God that Nowak envisions, the “creator and sustainer of the universe.”
    So how are we to understand this, what’s going on? Is this simply a hedge on Nowak’s part, for that time when he too has to meet his maker? Nowak is clearly a highly intelligent and capable thinker, so why doesn’t he realize the complete inappropriateness of his bringing God into this discussion? He might much better have said, agreeing say with Stephen Jay Gould, that both science and religion, each, had “a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority,” but that the two domains were completely separate, did not overlap, and certainly ought not to be treated as if they were addressing the same topic. They’re not.
    Why doesn’t Nowak get it? Religion has nothing to tell us about how life evolved (and certainly not how life began) whereas evolution has everything to say about this, and is still our best bet to answer some of the still unanswered questions that Nowak mentions.

  34. Human Sub-Set Theory

    Answer to gbjames…

    Why are you advising me to read Jacoby’s book ? It is utterly irrelevant to the discussion to hand. Can I, in turn, recommend you read J R Hartley’s ‘Fly Fishing’? 

    Answer to Paco.
    Posted January 26, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
    “…Yeah, I must be new here. Anyway, maybe you could link to your data once again. I’m sure no one will be upset with you for posting a link. You know, for the newbies like me….”
    Assuming that you do not have a plastic sword in your hand and are setting yourself up to be the assassin to new ideas such as in the famous first attack on Darwin….
    “Tell us, Darwin, are you descended from an ape on your grandmother’s or your grandfather’s side…?”
    I did say that you cannot begin to understand Human Sub-Set Theory without dismantling around a hundred common assumptions concerning the beliefs and behaviour of humankind. You cannot get there from here. You have to abandon much of what is assumed and embedded in your brain. Just as the majority who truly believe in Y.E. Creation cannot get close to Evolution. Let’s start with a common misconception; the first one of approximately a hundred…

    1. The first easy assumption to dismiss is called ‘The Homogeneity of Humankind’ The whole of the social sciences is predicated upon the belief that humans are all the same, and have just different ideas! And yet you all have a large amount of evidence that this belief is false. Look at the differences in the use of the brain by the atheist and the religious. The folks who believe in supernatural beings certainly do not play by the same rules as we on the WEIT site. Their free use of lies and half-lies, often repeated even after they have been soundly refuted; the parodies of science and evolution told one to another; and the whole colourful panoply of quote-mining; distortions of fact, bogus examples; ever-changing definitions of their gods to keep them from derision; and deeply-held but ludicrous propositions such as original sin that can be washed away by sacrifice.
    And look around you at the well-documented differences in the use of intelligence and reason by men versus women; by straight and gay; by white-collar and blue-collar; hippie and capitalist; and by politically left and right. It should be glaringly obvious that human groups share characteristics of brain function that differ fundamentally from other groups. The different brains operate upon vastly different sets of assumptions concerning the nature of reality, and, your delight in your own powerful grasp of reality is, sadly, delusional.
    On the men and women differences, it is observable that the few women in male-dominated circumstance such as committee, tend to confine their observations within male perceptions of reality. The future is 50:50.
    The real clincher is to live abroad, away from fellow countrymen, and within another culture. One quickly becomes ‘multi-cultural’ in that many of your national assumptions concerning the nature of the world around you, fall away, and to your surprise we find that you best mix and socialise with other multi-cultural people. There are clusters of multi-cultural people, for example in Geneva, Switzerland, international home of the agencies of the UN, and the World Health Organisation. People from all over the world, speaking in a second language, and closer to each other in worldview, than to their own countrymen.
    And so the idea of differing Brain Operating Systems (BOS) is born. You come to realise that there are many Brain Operating Systems, each complete and fully operational, but lacking most or all of the assumptions carried by your fellow-Americans.
    For many the idea that ‘humans are not homogeneous’ is difficult to take, because it corrodes our usual perception of our position up a notional scale of universal knowledge, and our intelligence in keeping us there. Look at the high and mighty powerful positions assumed by religious leaders. They cannot deconvert by being exposed to the facts. It is because their brains operate upon a different system. They believe that their faith puts them on top of you all.
    The mistake in believing in the homogeneity of humankind is best described as the ‘Bus-load of Pastors, Fallacy’ Those on the bus can claim huge differences between themselves, but from outside we see only extraordinary conformity in belief an behaviour. And yet they will always believe that they are typical of humans anywhere, which they are not! In the same way, Americans tend to believe that American cultural beliefs are universal values. And you can see that illusion embedded in the work of the greatest academic philosophers. Ten minutes with me, and I leave them with their heads in their hands as they begin to realise the awful truth that they have not produced original ideas concerning human belief and behaviour, but are confined to group-think. What they believe to be original perceptions is all owed to mistaken assumptions. Dr Dawkins made a brilliant leap by voicing his observation that religious folk shared a belief in an ‘Intentional Universe’. And that one deadly assumption, subsumed by so many human brains, has held humankind in chains for centuries.

    Discuss this and ask again and I will outline the second of about a hundred great assumption blocking human intellectual progress. Remember, Human Sub-Set Theory is 2200 pages, and you cannot get there from here.

    1. “Why are you advising me to read Jacoby’s book?”

      Because it seems that you are unaware of there having been a deep history of atheist critique. You said “Who dared stand up in 1858 and say that theology was wrong?”

      Perhaps I misunderstood you, but those are your words. I just concluded that you had written them intentionally.

      1. Gbjames…
        “…Perhaps I misunderstood you, but those are your words. I just concluded that you had written them intentionally….”

        First up, the happy face icon was replaced by a square box at the end of my comment. The face was intended to show that it was a tease. I suspect it was deleted by the French who do not like mirth in any form.

        Your enthusiasm in listing dissenters from religion in the UK in 1848 may be a disappointment to you; in which case you have set sail upon rotten planks, and your voyage may come to disaster. While up at Oxford I entered many a flyblown theological bookshop, and bought many leatherbounds for pennies. Among them is a delicious ‘Meditations and Contemplations’ about 1748 Which is the most successful I.D. book of the time. The author, Rector Hervey, explains his gods’ purpose in everything, except why people are starving. We could recommend it to Nowak.
        My long search for the works of dissenters, in the Bodleian Library, turned up little. Theology outnumbered dissent by billions. Few had the courage to dispute the poison cloud of belief that had engulfed humankind. It is my contention that we live through similar times. The universities of the world have developed a similar all-embracing system of thought that is completely without intellectual merit, and it is founded upon the Social Science, and in part, upon The Humanities. And I have collected evidence. For the fun of it here is my take on modern academic thought…

        “…it isn’t what we know that’s important, it’s what we believe that is not true that’s important”

        – Estimated Knowledge-Content of Common Academic Subjects…

        Mathematics 75%
        Physics 50%
        Chemistry 50%
        Biology 30%
        Economics 20%
        Medicine 20%
        History 5%
        English Literature 5%
        Media Studies 5%
        Political Science 5%
        Philosophy 5%
        Archaeology 5%
        Anthropology 5%
        Sociology 2%
        Psychology 1%
        Theology 0%

        It would be good to commit this to memory so that ten years after retirement you can understand what many older folk understand. That outside the sciences, all academic work has a half-life of forty years, and that the ‘accumulation-theory’ of knowledge does not work.


        1. I recommend you save the suggestion that commenters will understand something “when they are older” for young people, if you want to use it at all. It is lol-worthy when directed at grey-haired old farts like me.

          1. I’m sure that you are not grey-haired. And have you started J R Hartley upon my recommendation? And I am glad to see that you have abandoned the Good Ship, ‘Lost Causes’.

    2. The format of Nowak’s lectures to a religious audience is always the same:

      It starts with an extensive and embellished introduction by the host (a theological personage) who points out in exhaustive detail Nowak’s “eminence” as a scientist. The inference is he speaks FOR science, and he speaks with authority

      Nowak begins – Phase 1:
      First a joke to build a relationship with the audience and show what a regular guy Nowak is. Following this is a lecture itself –which forms an introduction to an Evolutionary subject. The target audience is the scientifically naïve layperson. It is a good lecture and is bound to impress the audience with its logical flow and the continuity of the scientific ideas covered.

      Nowak begins – phase 2 –
      With the same adopted certainty displayed in Phase 1 Nowak goes on to describe the behaviours of god e.g. why god created gravity. The audience, who are fellow believers, are in essence being given a marketing message – “if this smart scientist believes in these things it’s correct for you to do so too”

      The use of a scientific “snow-job” to sell people ideas that are totally against the evidential ideals of science is totally corrupt and evil. It’s the same old formula used by the Discovery Institute when it cherry picks a bit of science (e.g. bacterial flagella), then “blinds the audience with this science” and follows off with a religious message –by linking the two subjects.

      Without a doubt, what Nowak hucksters at his lectures is just another form of intelligent design, only one that kindly allows Evolution to exist.

    3. Fascinating! Can you expand on the differences in how men and women, or straight and gay people use their brains? Or how about blue collar / white collar? I wanna hear about that one, too.

      Thank you in advance.

        1. Human Sub-Set Theory

          Paco and Drosera, the scarcely concealed tone of scorn in your letters, along with the fact that you are both hiding under false names, suggests to me that you are a pair of trolls ; not interested in new ideas, but content to play upon denial and to expose your innocence of the world. I assume that you are aware that Darwin received many thousands of letters, equally scornful and equally shallow, telling him that he was wrong about evolution. Someone has collected many of those letters, so I recall, and they make interesting reading on how many are so mired in the beliefs of their day that that fear new ideas.
          I put forward Human Sub-Set Theory tentatively, even though the hypothesis arose after many, many years of travel, and residency among several foreign cultures, including many States of the USA.

          If you are telling me that you are not aware of the differences apparent in the worldview and lifestyle of different groups in human societies, then I am astonished by your naiveté. Perhaps you have never met a woman, which is a possibility. Or perhaps you are simply not up to drawing information from the world around you.

          But to you question: if you have worked with clever women at a high level of intellectual endeavour, you may realise that women tend to have a different take to men, on almost everything. Many women have developed a concept to address the masculine intransigence; they call it ‘chauvinism’. Characteristically women defer to men, and try to phrase their insights, and their take upon the world, its objects and its processes, in a way subtly to endorse the masculine view of things. But it women are ‘allowed’ to speak, their understanding and worldview is often better than those of men. It is often nuanced, insightful, but mostly it is lacking in the testosterone-fuelled aggression. I have experience of this; I ran a television production company, making TV programs, and all the producers were women. Simply because women are usually better at producing television than men.
          As to the differences between white-collar and blue-collar, if you are unable to recognise profound differences in worldview and lifestyle of those groups, then you have not been paying attention. Of the two, I favour the Blue-Collar version of reality. How about straight and gay? Hippie and businessman?

          The whole point in recognising that all human societies, anywhere on the planet, are made-up of quite similar social groups, each characterised by remarkably similar belief-systems. Take the religious; Christian and Muslim, both sharing an intolerance of dissent, a dislike for pluralism, and a hatred of gays. Take ‘administrators’, worldwide. It is astonishing just how similar their worldview, their beliefs and behaviours are country by country. You can pluck a Local Government Worker from outside the Federal Building in Cincinnati, and drop her in an office in Jakarta, and she would feel instantly at home and ready to work right away. The paperwork, office procedures, and line of authority-command would make instant sense to her, even if it makes no sense to the rest of us. Take teachers worldwide. Astonishing similarities in personality types country by country. I can recognise a teacher in India or Africa after just the first few seconds of conversation.

          The real puzzle is why such common knowledge is unavailable to you both. Since you have such a long way to go in understanding the world around you, I suggest a period of observation and discussion before you reveal yourselves to be so out of your depths again.

          1. Mr. Rumen,

            I ask you once again to keep your comments short and lay off the snark and implicit insults. There is no need for you to tell other commenters that they are dense and not as smart as you are. Okay? The last paragraph above is simply rude. Or don’t you see that?

  35. Nowak’s assertion, “God’s creative power and love are needed to will every moment into existence,” suggests that every moment experienced by people in concentration camps, torture chambers, hospital beds, disaster zones, etc., is willed into existence by God’s love and creativity. Nowak must be using a non-standard definition of ‘love’ there.

    1. Not especially non-standard…it’s the abusive spouse’s definition. “I love you so much, honey, but why do you make me so made that I have to hit you like that? Don’t you know that I love you?”

      Perverted, definitely. But not uncommon.


      1. Then I call it “non-standard” by the standards of decent, caring people. It’s a perverted kind of love indeed that wills every moment in the life of a kid dying from cancer in existence.

        1. Yes, but is this surprising?

          By their very own holy book, it’s also the kind of “love” that drowned every kitten, puppy, and butterfly on the planet because YHWH’s clay golem toys started sleeping with his cousins. And this “love” is taught to young children with colorful pictures of cute animals walking onto a boat with fluffy clouds overhead and a rainbow shining from the sky.


          1. Surely Prof. Nowak is more sophisticated than that. His god is an Atemporal Sustainer, after all. He knows this because St. Augustine said so. Well, at least the atemporal bit. And St. Augustine was never wrong, as we know.

  36. How ironic that precisely religious are the worst to describe the boundaries between science and religion.

    and a list of the “open questions” in evolution (e.g., how did life begin?).

    It is “open”, but note that it is no longer open in the sense of insufficient theory. Among astrobiology the notion is that the area has passed into testing. Cf “Many Paths to the Origin of Life”, Gollihar et al, Science 2014: “we increasingly know about too many possible mechanisms”.

    Russell et al alkaline hydrothermal system theory is an excellent example. He predicted the existence of alkaline vents and their production of organics before they was observed. And Lane & Martin’s phylogenetic prediction of AHS methanogene and acetogene root metabolisms was used to predict a AHS UCA metabolism. So that’s 2-3 tests already there.

    In fact, while the constraints are loose, Russell has got grant money (but not so much as Nowak, I note! 8 vs 10.5 MUSD) for experimental tests.

    Scientific atheism is a metaphysical position, which goes beyond a scientific interpretation of the available evidence.

    As noted the last part is simply erroneous, while the first part is then an erroneous theological claim. Nowak should know better than to try to push theology in matters of science!

    1. Oy. “before they was observed” – before they were observed. [/too much blood in my coffee system]

  37. I think Dr. Nowak’s point regarding scientific atheism has less to do with whether there is reason enough one way or the other to determine God’s existence than it does with his understanding of scientific pursuit more generally. I take his position to be that science endeavor is only equipped to study the natural world (which I assume includes various multiverses, dimensions, and any number of things we end up discovering in the sciences), and that God would be beyond the natural world in the relevant sense. Thus, as I understand him, however we come to knowledge of God, it couldn’t be through scientific endeavor.

    Of course, as Dr. Coyne has said elsewhere, and as Sam Harris wrote in “Edge”, that understanding of science might be too narrow, but then it seems the disagreement ultimately rests upon the scope of science and what sorts of inquiry fall before its transom. If Nowak is right, then scientific atheism makes claims that require first principles, assumptions, or anything of the sort that must be found outside of scientific study. If Coyne, Harris, and the like, are right, then scientific atheism could be the result of scientific inquiry concerning God’s existence. In short, I’m not sure that Nowak is trying to sneak theology in through the back door, but rather working from different beliefs regarding the extent of scientific study, making this disagreement less about theology than it is about science.

    Or, perhaps I’m completely off base. That’s at least as likely as anything!

    1. Hello Dr. Krogh,

      I read with interest your post. Your thoughts and your questions.

      Permit me to respond to one statement in your post –

      “Thus, as I understand him, however we come to knowledge of God, it couldn’t be through scientific endeavor.”

      First, only appropriate to give some background about myself regarding a religious background – I was raised in a family of Lutherans. Going to church each Sunday was a normal thing to do. Now, lets fast forward about 60-70 years. Things have changed a bit. I’m still a Lutheran in name, however, because of health issues and for other reasons I no longer attend church.

      Enough of that. Now back to your statement that coming to knowledge of God couldn’t be through scientific endeavor. True, perhaps in part. However, for me personally it is BECAUSE of my work as a chemist that I KNOW there is a God. For me the existence of God has more to do with my observations as a chemist working in the lab. It is not about if I believe there is a God, but rather that there is a God who has created the universe and all that is a part of it. I am awed by the simplicity of the periodic table. That arrangement of elements with their electrons, protons and neutrons in such an orderly manner just is not going to happen on a random basis. The incredible “fit” of each element’s chemical and physical properties is truly amazing. That is not going to happen on a random basis. And then we get to molecules and their chemical and physical properties is even more awesome.

      For the vast VAST majority of molecules they become more dense going from a liquid state to a solid state. ESCEPT for a very few like water. Without that physical property of water being less dense as a solid,
      there would be no life in the seas and oceans.

      I have given a very simple scientific basis of why there is a God. The list goes on and on.


      1. The mistake you are making is to assume that elegant complex order must arise from an equally (or more) complex designer. Other areas of science (chaos theory, for instance) show that ordered complexity arises naturally in processes with very simple underlying rules (think of crystallization, for instance).

        But also, your intelligent design solution doesn’t actually explain how order arose in the first place, since it just puts back that question one step and leads to an infinite regress of designers. Any beautiful design must be represented somehow in the designer’s brain. That’s really why such attempted explanations are so unsatisfying, if you are really interested in why reality is at it is.

        And if you are going to say that some structured *entity* is necessary, then one might just as well say that some underlying dynamic state is necessary and that the necessity for ordered processes can hardly be stretched to things like having a son called Jesus or going to heaven.

  38. So science is just the day job and when you get home from work you can go back to believing in the fairies at the bottom of your garden?

    I’d say that last paragraph has it about right.

    1. To be clear, roqoco, I’m not *defending* Nowak should my interpretation of his argument be the correct one. Rather, I only meant to suggest that it is an interpretation of his position that is coherent while also preserving his claim that questions concerning God are not available to scientific scrutiny. I didn’t comment one way or the other whether I think such an argument works.

      In light of this, do you think I’ve misunderstood Nowak’s argument, or am I in some other way off base?

  39. It has taken this amateur a bit of research to get a clearer understanding of the “picture” that is being presented.

    Dr. Martin Nowak “published” his “How might cooperation play a roll in evolution” article in Big Questions Online (BQO). From my understanding BQO is an “arm” of the John Templeton Foundation (JTF).

    AHHHhhh, and Dr. Nowak has received a huge grant of $10+ million from JTF. SOOooo Dr. Nowak “greased the skids” so to speak with the above article in BQO. Mention God in a positive light and he would stay on the good side of JTF.

    Rare would be the researcher who has not done that to stay on the good side of the organization who has provided funding in the past. I certainly do like how the game is played, but unfortunately that is reality. I don’t care who the grantor is – government, industry, a private person or nonprofit organization – STRINGS ARE ALWAYS ATTACHED!!!! Again, I don’t like it, however reality is reality.

    You the researcher must decide which of the “hands” is least distasteful.

    Okay a bit of background about myself – Back in my working days I was a research chemist with the federal government. It didn’t take long to learn that to survive I would have to do things that I found distasteful and never thought I would do when just fresh out of school.


    1. My statement “I certainly do like how the game –” was incorrect. I meant to say “I certainly do NOT like how the game —.”

      My apology for the error.


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