Eric Hedin is back, now asserting that there is zero chance that life originated through natural processes, so God must have been responsible

August 13, 2021 • 11:30 am

I’ve tried to avoid writing about this, as Intelligent Design advocates really love getting publicity from me, and I’m tired of the muddleheaded lucubrations of Discovery Institute flacks like Michael Egnor and David Klinghoffer. But I have to call attention once again to Eric Hedin, ID advocate and former professor of physics at Ball State University, a public school.

Way back in 2013, I discovered that Hedin was teaching a general science class to nonmajors that not only promoted intelligent design, but religion itself. That was a violation of the Constitution, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation and I informed the school’s President that they were breaking the law. The result: Hedin’s class was ditched, as it should have been. I never called for him to be fired or not promoted (he was subsequently given tenure), but I didn’t want him teaching creationism as science, which the courts have repeatedly forbidden. I didn’t try to get the man dumped or permanently demonized, which is what cancellation is about.

This site has a gazillion posts over several years on the fallout; if you want to see some, go here.

As I wrote a short while back, Hedin is now trying to cash in on this incident by claiming he was canceled: he’s published a book called Canceled Science: What Some Atheists Don’t Want You To See. I’m apparently one of those atheists, for the Amazon blurb says this:

Eric Hedin was enjoying a productive career as a physics professor at Ball State University when the letter from a militant atheist arrived and all hell broke loose. The conflict spilled first onto the pages of the local newspaper, and then into the national news. The atheist attack included threats from the Freedom from Religion Foundation [FFRF], which targeted Hedin after learning his Boundaries of Science course exposed students to an evidence-based case for design and purpose in cosmology, physics, and biochemistry. Canceled Science tells the dramatic story of the atheist campaign to cancel Hedin’s course, reveals the evidence the atheists tried to bury, and explores discoveries that have revolutionized our understanding of the nature and origin of matter, space, and even time itself.

I am indeed the militant atheist (see below), and for my part in this “cancellation” the Discovery Institute named me “Censor of the Year” in 2014, an honor I’m quite proud of. Meanwhile Hedin’s new book isn’t selling very well, and never did (it was published by the Discovery Institute in February and now ranks about 17,000 on Amazon). In the meantime, Hedin moved from Ball State to the Christian college Biola University (formerly the Bible University of Los Angeles), where he can teach all the Jesus he wants as a Professor of Physics and Astronomy and also Chair of the Department of Chemistry, Physics and Engineering. The Lord works in mysterious ways, eventually leading Hedin back to Home.

BTW, whenever I’m called a “militant atheist”, I remember this cartoon, which is great:

Perhaps to boost his sales, Hedin just gave an interview to the right-wing college-monitoring site The College Fix, which to its discredit has a palpable dislike for evolution, and makes the following claim (click the screenshot to read):

Hedin’s argument is familiar: it’s the “fine-tuning” argument, which claims that the laws and parameters of physics are too “fine-tuned” for life to be an accident, so God must have tuned the parameters (as for the rest of the Universe where life doesn’t exist, well, that’s just collateral damage). Further, the universe hasn’t always existed, and its finite time and space make it even unlikelier for life to have originated “by accident” (it wasn’t an accident, of course: life requires both accident and then natural selection). I’ll quote some of his argument, but I’ve argued before against this nonsense many times and am not in the mood to do so again:

As the title of your book suggests, what is it that atheists don’t want us to see?

Evidence that points to something beyond nature as being responsible for major aspects of our universe, in particular the origin of the universe. The laws of nature all seem to be finely tuned to a value that of course allows life, but there’s some razor sharp or knife-edge tuning to these parameters that really can’t be explained by saying, “Oh, it’s just luck.” The level of biological information that is within the cell far exceeds what can be attained by any natural process we can think of, and actually there are laws of physics that claim that natural processes cannot generate that level of complexity that is functional, specific, information-rich, resembling machines, architecture and coding. There’s also the esoteric aspects of human nature: a mind, a consciousness, emotions, a spiritual sense. These go beyond what can be explained by appealing to random interactions between particles guided by the push-pull forces that we find in nature. We see the universe, we look at it, we study it, and we find evidence of intelligent design. The more we study nature, the more evidence for something beyond nature comes into the picture.

He keeps citing “randomness” as an unlikely explanation for consciousness, emotions, and the like, but why does he leave out selection? And why is he so damn sure that these features couldn’t arise either as a direct product or a byproduct of selection? This is the ID argument: we can’t explain it now, so God must have done it. But is it really God? Yes! See below. First, though, more argument:

Do people who have not studied this issue in depth truly understand the mathematical enormity of the fine-tuning argument? It’s not just “the chances are low” that life arose by chance.

Honestly, as a physicist I would be willing to say the physical reality chance of life originating on its own by natural processes within this universe is zero, not just low. It’s because the universe is not infinitely big. There is a finite universe. We don’t have an infinite amount of time, the universe has a finite age, roughly 13.8 billion years. That limited time, limited spatial extent of the universe means that there’s a limited amount that any natural randomness could generate. The probabilistic resources of our universe fall short of what is necessary to develop even one large functional protein molecule that would be just one of tens of thousands of different protein molecules that are needed for human life to exist. It’s almost to me desperate to keep trying to think that this could have happened by chance.

I do not think that these people know what “enormity” means. But at any rate, 13.8 billion years of Universe and 4.5 billion years of Earth, combined with a gazillion gazillion gazillion planets suitable for life—that seems like a lot of opportunity for me. And why did God wait so long between the stromatolites and the appearance of humans?. But Hedin, who makes no calculations, just says that the fine-tuning and limited-time-and-space arguments convince him that God Did It. And yes, it is God:

The intelligent design movement does not endorse a particular religion per se, just that all this could not have happened by accident, correct?

That is the main thrust, although my own personal conviction is that the designer is the God of the Bible. That comes through in a few places in the book but I don’t start with that.

No of course not. He wouldn’t want to reader to think his book is tendentious!

Finally, why do so many scientists reject Hedin’s claim that life absolutely proves the existence of God? He has an answer: atheists are religious!

It’s been said that it takes more faith to be an atheist. Why do your peers in the scientific community ignore all the evidence that points to design in life and nature?

Atheism has some similarities to a religion. The teaching of evolution and the teaching of naturalism is ingrained in the sciences and the educational system. There are people who want to keep it that way because they know if it didn’t happen naturally, then it’s happening supernaturally, and that opens the door for a divine designer and they are very opposed to that. A lot of times they think, “Well, we just need to keep studying and we will find some, almost vital force, some emergent system of complexity that explains it all naturally, even though what we already know dictates against that.” That was why I called my course at Ball State “Boundaries of Science.” There are boundaries to what nature can accomplish naturally.

You can see why Hedin’s course at Ball State was a violation of the First Amendment.  And he doesn’t explain why religious scientists like Ken Miller or Francis Collins are firm adherents of evolution. In fact, there are a fair few religious scientists who accept evolution. I guess Hedin would say they’re just conforming to the predominant view to be able to get along. But if you know Miller or Collins, you wouldn’t say that!

Meanwhile, over at the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News, Klinghoffer touts the interview and Hedin’s book:

Physicist Eric Hedin talked with Jennifer Kabbany at The College Fix about Hedin’s recent book, Canceled Science: What Some Atheists Don’t Want You to See. She asked him to estimate the chances that life originated without intelligent guidance. His answer: a bold zero.

. . .  As Kabbany points out, Hedin was “canceled before the term cancel culture was even coined.” Atheists led by Jerry Coyne at the University of Chicago meddled with Hedin’s department at Ball State University in a pretty despicable power play. Read the rest at The College Fix.

Despicable power play my tuchas! All I did (along with the FFRF) was call the University’s attention to a potential legal violation of its academic program. Ball State and its President did the rest.

27 thoughts on “Eric Hedin is back, now asserting that there is zero chance that life originated through natural processes, so God must have been responsible

  1. Whenever I see the name “Biola University” in the news, I’m reminded of MarJoe, which Hitchens called a “cretinous lumping” (much better than “portmanteau”).

  2. . That was a violation of the Constitution, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation and I informed the school’s President that they were breaking the law.

    Doing the ‘lord’s’ work! Seriously, this is why I love FFRF and give them my money. Congrats on Militant Atheist achievement. I hope to someday be similarly recognized.

  3. Militant atheist. You better watch out or they will be coming for your guns. What the heck is a militant atheist anyway. Do you have to wear military looking clothing and have a large number of weapons? Maybe you attack churches and shut them down. You run around in large packs at night, not believing in g*d. Sounds very scary. Where can i join?

  4. Honestly, as a physicist I would be willing to say the physical reality chance of life originating on its own by natural processes within this universe is zero, not just low.

    That’s it. I’m convinced. Which means that the chance of god originating on its own is even more unlikely.

    1. And the chances that Hedin-the-metaphysicist provides all the details of the calculation needed to support his claim are even smaller than that.

  5. Their views are entertaining. To think, seriously believe, that God created a vast playground the size of a Sahara desert but actually only truly cares about a square foot somewhere in it. He spend a lifetime’s work shaping far-away dunes with apparent great care, even though nobody would ever see them.

    After all this time, he suddenly decided to tend to his ‘special square foot corner’ and again took his time with all sorts of nonsense, that was absolutely pointless in the truest sense of the word. He created creatures and wiped them out again. God doesn’t learn anything, since he knows everything. And yet He created and destroyed, unseen for billions of years.

    He also doesn’t need a sapling of the tree of life to grow fruits he really cares about. Such a tree might have branches that are pointless regards to the prized fruits. Those branches may need trimming. But the Creationist God doesn’t create that way. He could really skip everything, including dinosaurs or Jupiter, and just make earth right away the way he wants. It’s a hilarious view these people have.

    1. I like your comparison, but the scale is a bit off. If you compare the universe to the Sahara desert the Earth is not a square foot, not even a square micrometer. It’s way less than that: sub-atomic.

  6. I recently listened to an interview with Hedin on a Christian radio channel. It was about how modern cosmology suggested the existence of God. In effect, even though that is not how he put it, it was equivalent to saying that there are many things we don’t know. His explanation was God. I understand that the concept of god has been around for a long time, but what Hedin did was almost as bad as inventing a word and calling it an explanation. He was speaking grammatically correct nonsense.

    Recognizing our ignorance is important. Then we can go on to formulate good questions and seek knowledge. In religion (and maybe even in politics), people feel the need to commit to a position rather than keep questions open. They don’t like ignorance but they have no idea how to go about dispelling it. They may not see it that way, but they are stuck in an intellectual backwater.

  7. It just seems so improbable to me that someone who has the intelligence, and has assimilated the knowledge necessary, to be a professor of physics could make claims that are so incongruent with modern science. The only thing that makes sense to me is that he is lying. What I mean is, someone with his knowledge being able to compartmentalize enough to honestly make the claims he is making is nonsensical to me.

    For example, molecules don’t assemble randomly any more than rocks roll down hills randomly, and there is no way that a physics professor doesn’t understand that.

  8. Fine, he’s made an extraordinary hypothesis. If he claims to be a scientist, then he should know that the next steps are to find evidence and then present his findings to others for verification, all of which should happen before publication. He’s no scientist.

    1. He has an argument that absolves him from having to provide evidence. According to him it’s beyond the limits of science.

  9. So let me get this straight: The universe is just too incredible to have just come into existence on its own, but “god” who is the most incredible thing that’s ever existed, somehow came into existence on his own.

    Yeah, sounds about right.

  10. Well, there is a lot to snort derisively about. But I was amused at the hook that the book promises information that is “what some atheists don’t want you to see”. We often see that kind of spin for quack medicine “that doctors don’t want you to see”, or for get rich quick schemes “that your boss doesn’t want you to see”. Plain as day targeting of the disenfranchised sort that is suspicious of earned expertise.

  11. Like what this guy can’t fathom carries some weight. Tell me where Nick Lane or Jack Szostak are wrong, for instance, or any of the other 400+ references on the Wikipedia page for Abiogenesis, for starts.

    1. Also, since complaints are frequently leveled at Wikipedia here, take note of the first line on the Abiogenesis page:

      “Origin of Life” redirects here. For non-scientific views on the origins of life, see Creation myth.

  12. It’s funny, isn’t it. They’re doing the wrong thing from a legal perspective, yet it’s the atheists who draw attention to it that are the problem.

  13. We don’t actually know that the universe is finite in time or space. It’s just that we can’t see anything that happened before the cosmic microwave background originated, nor can we see further than the cosmological event horizon of an expanding universe. You can, of course, stipulate a definition of “universe” to make Hedin’s claim about our finite universe true by definition, but then nothing interesting follows theologically.

  14. “This is the ID argument: we can’t explain it now, so God must have done it.”

    Sorry…this is specifically NOT the argument. Rather, you‘ve demonstrated your misunderstanding of it.

    How does SETI distinguish noise from signal? Answer that, and you will begin to grasp Intelligent Design.

    1. Sorry, but my explanation is correct: if you can’t evision it happening by natural porocesses, God must have done it. And that’s how SETI works. Except ID uses stupid examples that do have natural explanations. Flagella prove God! Gag me with a spoon.

      Now go away.

    2. I think there are two separate issues.

      The first is the design inference, where we infer from particular patterns that there may be designers behind it. A SETI signal may be the sign of being created by an intelligent life form. A gene may be modified to give a particular effect. etc. From a pattern to a probable cause.

      The second issue is how we can apply that inference to nature. And with intelligent design we’ve seen the same argument time and time again “We don’t have a good explanation for how X could come about naturally, so we infer that it must have been design”. We see this time and time again with the examples ID proponents use – the eye, the immune pathways, the bacterial flagella. All of which are making an argument from ignorance (at best – with many of these examples there are good evolutionary pathways articulated in the literature, so the argument often boils down to personal incredulity) of how something in particular came about.

      The problem ID proponents have is that there are no examples that aren’t arguments from ignorance – it’s finding an example of something like the bombardier beetle and asserting that there’s a particular complexity that couldn’t possibly have evolved, which at best means that they are waiting for researchers to find an evolutionary pathway to justify the assertion.

      So even if the design inference is to take the appearance of design to mean a designer, in practical terms they turn out to be arguments from ignorance. The inference isn’t an argument from ignorance on its own, but its application for real-world examples repeatedly is.

  15. Hedin’s argument is a bait-and switch between finetuning and the observation that natural processes evolved life. Indeed, evolution is a natural process and since early Earth was sterile from its accretion heat and now has life we know that only natural processes were involved. The alternative would be unobserved magic.

    So contra Hedin we see that the likelihood that life originated by natural processes is a big fat one. The cosmological finetuning argument as well as the question of the universe lifetime is interesting and has physical answers too as Hedin should be aware of – the recently deceased Weinberg answered both and is quoted in recent cosmological surveys [eBOSS*] – but has nothing to do with the likelihood for life in an already habitable universe.

    *For the record, Weinberg’s later well tested prediction for the finetuned cosmological constant is that the larger, evidently eternally old multiverse contain accidentally habitable, low cosmological constant value pocket universes.

    The superstitious friendly and perhaps therefore long arguing against multiverse theory physicist Paul Davies was recently quoted as that the majority of cosmologists now lean towards it:

    Laura Mersini-Houghton, a cosmologist and theoretical physicist, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has popularized the idea that multiverse bubbles may crash into each other continually, writes Davies. Since most cosmologists now think our cosmos is part of such a multiverse, it makes sense that if a wayward bubble bumps into ours, it might even swallow our own cosmic bubble universe whole, he notes.

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