An ID advocate writes in, claiming that the designer is behind every adaptation

September 13, 2022 • 9:15 am

I didn’t post on my website the comment you see below. For one thing, it had nothing to do with the post it was supposed to be under (“Mencken on nonexistent gods“). The name the reader wanted used was “Midhun”.  And he has a theory that is his (see my bolded bit below). The commenter’s writing is indented, while mine is flush right. Spacing is as in the original.

(This comment isn’t directly related to the thread. Sorry for that)I’m a college student studying biology. I became interested in the Evolution v/s ID debate during the pandemic lockdown & have been reading the publications from both sides of the debate. Found this blog in that process.

Now comes Midhun’s theory that is his. Here is his theory:

Finally I settled in a ‘hybrid’ model (that incorporates both Evolution & ID) as the most rational position.Sir, I know you are an ID critic. Thats why I’m describing my model here. I welcome healthy criticisms from you so that I can change my model accordingly.

If Midhun thinks I’m going to write a long response, he’s sorely mistaken. I’d normally respond, “Read my book” and add “there are plenty of criticisms of ID and your views already on the Internet and in papers. Do your homework.” But I see that my neurons are driving me to say a bit more.

Midhun goes on, limning the theory which is his and nobody else’s:

This is the brief summary of my model: The origin of life and other major innovations happened in the history of life (such as origin of photosynthesis, origin of eukaryotic cell, eyespot, origin of animal phylas during cambrian etc) had the direct involvement of Intelligent Designer. The reason I infer so is summarized in two points

(1)those events were accompanied with quantum leap in biological information.(2) In agreement with ID theory, I believe that Intelligent Design is the most rational explanation for the origin of large amount of biological information in a geologically short time period.

Unfortunately, Midhun doesn’t define what he means—I’ll assume Midhun is a male—by “a quantum leap in biological information”. If he means ONE HONKING BIG MUTATION THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING, that’s very unlikely, but if he means mutations themselves are “quanta”: one DNA base changes at a time (or, in some cases, we have an insertion or hybridization event which can change many bases in the genome) then that’s okay. But this isn’t what he means.  So his first premise is unevidenced and most likely wrong.  The concept of “macromutations” disappeared around 1940 for good reason: lack of evidence.

As for #2, we have explanations for all those phenomena in naturalistic terms. If he thinks that Intelligent Design, which involves a creator, is the most “rational” explanation for stuff like phyla and eyespots, then he’s obliged to tell us where the Designer came from. Was the Designer’s origin also through a quantum leap? And the answer, “The Designer was just there” is not sufficient.

Midhun goes on:

That being said, I do not think all traits that originated in life’s history need the direct involvement of designer.The explanation I have for the origin of those traits is:Organisms directly designed by designer have the built-in ability to evolve w.r.t changing environments. In other words, organisms are designed to evolve.The reason I say so is: Increasing number of scientific papers points to the active role of organisms’ pre-existing informational systems in the process of evolution.This is in contrast to the idea of passive role of organism in evolution that was implied by the classical darwinian mechanism of accidentally generated variation plus fixation.The informational systems within organisms have the potential to generate variations in an active way. In short, organisms have the built-in ability to generate variations.Examples are: Mutations generated by regulated biochemical processes during the time of non-lethal stress, stress induced gene amplification, stress induced transposition, recombination, epigenetic modifications, HGT, releasing cryptic variations during stress, alternative splicing during stress and other cell-mediated genomic rearrangements.In addition to that, variations generated by phenotypic plasticity- which is an intrinsic property of the developmental systems.A 2021 Bioessays paper calls the active role of organism in evolution as “biological agency”.This doesn’t mean organisms are intentionally or consciously generating variations. Rather, its a property of developmental and other cellular systems to respond to changing environments or stress.

The idea of “evolvability”, that organisms were designed to evolve by natural selection when the time was appropriate, is appealing to some, but there’s virtually no evidence for it, especially in non-microbial species. It is true that, in some mathematical theories, an organism can evolve to have a higher mutation rate during times of environmental change, but this happens only when environmental change is rapid and recurrent. There are two further problems:  most mutations are at best neutral and often maladaptive; very few are advantageous. A gene designed to jack up the mutation rate in bad times will, in general, be LESS fit than its alternatives unless the “mutator” gene somehow acts specifically on the genes “needed” to meet the environmental challenge.  We know of no such mutators. Further, the mutator gene, unless it is tightly physically linked on the DNA to the genes “needed” to change during environmental stress, will be separated from it, and then will be a generalized allele making errors all over the genome. That would also be maladaptive, and the mutator would be eliminated by natural selection.  Notice that Midhun adduces no evidence for the theory, because there is none, at least not in eukaryotes. (There is disputed evidence that a higher mutation rate has evolved under stress in bacteria, but it’s not widely agreed that this happens. Further, in bacteria a new mutation doesn’t often recombine away from other genes, as there is virtually no recombination.)

I don’t know why people like Midhun have to postulate a complicated and unevidenced mechanism for natural selection that requires an undescribed Designer. Not only is the Darwinian mechanism of variation plus selection more parsimonious, but we can actually see it happen in both the lab and the wild. When we map adaptations that have evolved in real time (either in flies or humans as in lactose tolerance), we find that they are based on simple DNA changes in structural or regulatory genes. They are not quantum leaps, nor are they generalized mutator genes. The last sentences that Midhun proffers, “This doesn’t mean organisms are intentionally or consciously generating variations. Rather, its a property of developmental and other cellular systems to respond to changing environments or stress”, are wrong.  We have no evidence of a generalized property of ability to respond to stress by increasing the mutation rate. (They can respond to stress via evolved responses, like rotifers growing spines when they detect the presence of fish in their lake. But that’s due to evolved plasticity, not a sudden increase in mutations.) While some factors, like exposure to mutagens or high temperatures, can increase the mutation rate, they do so only by passively increasing the error rate of DNA replication; there are no signs that these are anything other than the unavoidable effects of chemicals on nucleotides.

Midhun continues to expound the theory that is his:

Although the authors of all papers that describe the aforementioned mechanisms believe that the ability to evolve itself was evolved, they do not offer an explanation. In fact how can they?If evolution we observe today are actively mediated by various biomolecules, one cannot invoke the same process to explain the origin of those biomolecules in the first place. Doing so would be a logical contradiction.

But I thought Midhun was offering a non-Designer (i.e., straight neo-Darwinian) mechanism for some traits. Instead, he drags in the Great Designer to explain evolvability!  In fact, it’s God all the way down! And it has to be, for Midhun cannot see adaptation as a process that can occur naturally, even though we’ve seen it happen. Rather, to him it looks teleological and purposeful.

I believe that Intelligence is the most rational explanation for the origin of the informational systems that actively facilitates this mode of evolution.

This raises the question of what he means by “most rational”. I won’t make any disparaging remarks here, but will note that it’s not rational to posit a designer for which there’s no evidence whatever, and plenty of evidence for the classic evolutionary process of natural selection (or other evolutionary forces) acting on mutations that happen to be around, but which originate at “random”: through accidents of DNA replication that have nothing to do with natural selection.

Finally, coming to the classical darwinian mechanism, I believe that a strictly darwinian mechanism is incomplete and it alone cannot generate evolutionary novelties. As far as I know, no complex novelties have emerged through strictly darwinian mechanism.(By the term darwinian evolution, I mean the standard textbook theory)

Of course, he doesn’t define “complex”, which I’m sure he means “adaptations for which nobody can or has offered a Darwinian, gradualistic step-by-step process, which makes his claim tautological. We certainly know of fairly adaptations (e.g., antifreeze proteins in Antarctic fish) that have arisen this way, and we can also model the evolution of complex traits like the camera eye of molluscs and vertebrates by a Darwinian process with conservative assumptions. Such models create complex adaptations remarkably quickly. For one example using the eye, see here (or ask for a pdf) and here. Fortunately, Midhun is coming this his Big Finish:

Quoting the aforementioned 2021 Bioessays paper:“…key evolutionary innovations such as the vertebrate eye, the insect wing, and the mammalian placenta cannot be explained by selection on random genetic mutations per se.”(https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/bies.202100185)

That paper, though in a scientific journal, is simply an ID screed whose tenor is “anything whose evolution we don’t understand constitutes evidence for a designer.” But people used to say that about all manner of phenomena, like lightning, infectious disease, and earthquakes. If we didn’t know how they came about, it must have been God. Then, one by one, science provided the correct explanation. The BioEssays paper is dreck. 

As for complex adaptations like eyes and wings, I could explain Darwinian scenarios for their origin, but many others have already done so in print: Dawkins goes over the eye and the wing in previous books (see his latest, Flights of Fancy), and Googling will give you theories about how the placenta evolved via natural selection (i.e., see here and here).

Why do I waste my time refuting creationist nonsense like this, all of which is contradicted by the scientific literature? Don’t ask me—it’s the laws of physics, which have vouchsafed me a neuronal configuration that automatically responds to ID nonsense. Now I’ve wasted an hour.

Shoot me again—more creationists adduce evidence for God.

July 18, 2022 • 9:20 am

For some reason I don’t comprehend, my critique of Stephen Meyer’s Newsweek article, “Stephen Meyer in Newsweek: Three scientific discoveries point to God. As usual, his claims are misleading” prompted a fair number of emails and comments, some of which, like the submitted comment below, I didn’t deem fit to put in the comments section but did find worth a standalone post because of what it says about the thought process of some humans.

First, reader Coel corrected me when I said the Big Bang was the “beginning” of the Universe, and Coel was right. He also corrects Arno Penzias (a Nobel Laureate!), whom Meyer quoted with approbation:

Evidence for what scientists call the Big Bang has instead confirmed the expectations of traditional theists. Nobel laureate Arno Penzias, who helped make a key discovery supporting the Big Bang theory, has noted the obvious connection between its affirmation of a cosmic beginning and the concept of divine creation. “The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses…[and] the Bible as a whole,” writes Penzias.

Here’s a comment by Coel:

“If the Big Bang did occur, which seems likely since we have tons of evidence for it, then that shows only that the Universe began, not how it began.” {From my post]

The Big Bang doesn’t even establish that the universe “began”. Most cosmologists would say something along the lines that the observable universe came from a quantum-gravity fluctuation around the Planck time, where that fluctuation occurred within a pre-existing state.

Thus “our universe” only had a beginning if one uses the term to refer narrowly to the products of that quantum fluctuation, not to “everything”.

By the way, if one checks what that Penzias quote was actually about (see here), it wasn’t about the universe having an origin, it was about how many “universes” there are. But since the time of that quote, the best data today do favour an “eternal inflation” multiverse, and thus now dis-favour Penzias’s argument.

Lastly, the fine-tuning argument has to start with the axiom that there would be something wrong if the universe did not contain human-like life. The conclusion (that the universe started with human-like life in the form of a god) is thus entirely circular.

Okay, and that’s a good and substantial comment. But then someone called Aeiutuz responded to Coel, and here’s the unposted comment I’m highlighting:

Aeiutuz

In reply to Coel.

I’d go a step further. I think modern cosmology gives at least a 50% chance God exists. Nearly all cosmologists believe the big bang began after a period of cosmic inflation. We know absolutely nothing about what the universe was like before inflation. But we do know, it was incredibly hot. So hot that all of our laws of physics break. There existed a state of mass/energy we can’t describe. The mass/energy was imaginably large, possibly/probably infinite. Inflation could have been going on for an infinite amount of time. Or maybe not.

Modern cosmology tells use, before the big bang, there was an unimaginably large, possibly infinite state of mass/energy that we can’t describe. Some part of that mass/energy broke off creating the cosmic inflation and when the inflation ended, it created the big bang. There was no intelligence in that mass/energy.

Most western religions tell us that before the universe we know today began, there was God. A state of something, maybe mass/energy beyond our description that was unimaginably large. Probably infinite. With intelligence. Some part of the broke off to create the universe, perhaps in a big bang.

Modern cosmology says the universe began from a state of mass/energy that we can’t describe that was unimaginably large, possibly infinite. But there was no intelligence behind it.

Modern religion tells us the universe began from God, as state of spirit, or possibly mass/energy we can’t describe that was unimaginably large, probably infinite. But had intelligence.

The difference between cosmology and religion is this: before our universe began, was there intelligence in the mass/energy that existed before the big bang or not? Religion says yes. Cosmology says no. But if you have an infinitely large amount of energy, or an unimaginably large amount of energy almost indistinguishable from infinity, is it so hard to imagine there wasn’t intelligence behind it? I say the chance is at least 50-50.

Now the state of the universe before the Big Bang is above my pay grade, but not far enough that I can’t criticize a bizarre analogy between what physicists think and what “most Western religions tell us.” For example, I can’t find any hint of this in Genesis:

Most western religions tell us that before the universe we know today began, there was God. A state of something, maybe mass/energy beyond our description that was unimaginably large. Probably infinite. With intelligence. Some part of the broke off to create the universe, perhaps in a big bang.

God was “infinite”? In what sense? Was he also “incredibly hot”? (He must have been a looker!). And where does it say that “some part of God broke off to create the universe, perhaps in a big bang”? You have to have a pretty loose interpretation of Genesis to see that!

Further, where does modern religion tell us that God was either a “state of spirit” (whatever that is) or “possibly mass/energy that was large, probably infinite”? Again, Aeiutuz is tailoring his view of God to what physics says. (I doubt that this was his a priori conception of a deity.) He might as well just go the Einstein route and say that the laws of physics and history of the Universe are God, cutting out the anthropomorphic middleman.

The part I find weirdest, and somewhat humorous, is that after these labored analogies, Aeiutuz says that if we can’t determine if there is a God or not since his God comports with what physicists tell us, then the chance that there was a divine intelligence is “at least 50-50”.

Let’s leave the analogies aside: the real fallacy is this: “If we have two hypotheses and we can’t distinguish between them, then the chance of each being true is roughly 50%. Is there a name for this fallacy?

In fact, the chance that there’s an intelligence seems less than 50% since we’ve never seen any evidence for it, yet we have plenty of evidence that naturalistic physics, which ignores an idea of a Big Intelligence, still leads us to the truth about the Universe. You could obtain the same probability for any imaginary being, like leprechauns (after all, who makes the rainbows?)

Come to think of it, I think I saw this fallacy highlighted by my late Ph.D. advisor Dick Lewontin in a form like “If you have two explanations for something, that implies that the truth lies somewhere near the middle.” For lack of a formal name, I’ll call this The Centrist Fallacy.

There’s another fallacy here as well: “If we don’t understand a physical phenomenon, then God is one explanation worth considering.” The problem is that that hypothesis has been used for centuries, explaining things like the “design” of organisms, lightning, the Black Death, and so on, and one by one these unexplained phenomena got explained—not by invoking a god but by using the tools of science. You’d think that people would have become wary about equating “unexplained scientific question” with the assertion “God exists.”

But now my craw is full of these people and their weird arguments for God. I will stop and move on.

 

The faithful write in about my post on Intelligent Design

July 17, 2022 • 9:30 am

Nothing gets me more angry comments or emails than when I write about transgender women in women’s sports or take apart creationism or intelligent design. In the latter case, the faithful are out there in droves, and of course 81% of Americans believe in God. If you attack their arguments for God, they see it as you attacking both them and God Himself.

It’s not surprising, then, that when I critiqued the intelligent-design creationist Stephen Meyer in a recent post, “Stephen Meyer in Newsweek: Three scientific discoveries point to God. As usual, his claims are misleading.” the faithful came for me—this time in the comments. Here are three that you won’t see on the post but that I’m highlighting here. I’ll let the writers know that this post is up, and you can reply below if you wish. (But please be courteous.)

Oh, and remember that Meyer’s three arguments for God from science are not new; they are the old chestnuts of the Big Bang, the “fine-tuning” of the laws of physics, and “intelligently designed features of organisms”—the old Behe argument—whose appearance apparently requires a miracle to explain.

Misspellings, poor grammar, and so on are from the original emails and aren’t typos.

Comment #1 from “Mike Cohen”:

Hmm. I wonder what caused these atheists to find it a life ambition to argue against the existence of G-d against the absence of an explanation of what caused the Big Bang. When they can prove that it is not G-d that caused the Big Bang, I will take them more seriously.

I have a Ph.D. In science and engineering, mastered thermodynamics, theoretical physical and the depth of mathematics from tensors to matrixes, to abstract mathematics. I believe in a power that causes the Big Bang. We are still in the process of reaching an equilibrium and life as G-d has designed is a transient of the process. Even people like Albert Einstein who is much smarter and more intelligent than I am by orders of magnitude believed in G-d.

To the atheists, please donate to Tom Cruises nonsense, or maybe you do belong to his church pimping a young and attractive money grabber.

My response:

Dear Mr. Cohen,

You are exaggerating when you think that atheists make it a “life ambition to argue against God and about what caused the Big Bang”. Sure, I spend time arguing about that, but only because creationists like you try to delude people with bogus arguments. Turning your words back on you, I will take you more seriously when you prove that it is God (why are you leaving out the “o”?) who caused the Big Bang? And, you know, we don’t prove anything in science; we make the best inference that we can from the evidence. That’s in contrast to religious people like you, who think God is proven because somewhere along the line they were either taught it or find the idea of God irresistible. As for your Ph.D. and lists of your studies, that don’t impress me much; they make you no more credible as a witness for God.

As for Einstein, he believed in God as a metaphor for the laws of the universe. As I show in my book Faith Versus Fact, he didn’t believe in a personal god at all, and certainly not the Yahweh you are touting above. Einstein said as much. Do a bit of research!

Finally, Scientology. It’s just another form of unevidenced delusion, like Judaism. And the beliefs of Scientologists, from Xenu on down, are just as ludicrous as the claims of the Old Testament. I’m not sure what you mean by “pimping a young and attractive money grabber,” but it’s a gratuitous remark—even a rude one if you’re implying that any atheists here belong to the Church of Scientology. I sure don’t. I’m assuming you’re a Jew, and my belief is that your own religion’s tenets are no more credible than those of Scientology.

Yours,
Jerry Coyne

**********

 

Comment #2 from “Constance”:

I found the smug responses illogical. I’m not a churchgoer, but since science can’t explain where the anti-matter is (and it’s the scientists that insist it has to exist) that opens the door for alternative explanations. Waxing poetic about how Genisis (a book written by a bunch of guys a couple thousand years ago) doesn’t perfectly match the Big Bang as evidence of no God is beyond silly.. First, that asserts that God is Christianity or bust, second it assumes humans having any concept of God has to match what God really is.

Pro & Anti based on this kind of illogical tripe may win a published article, but serve no one.

My response:

Dear Constance,

The responses were not “illogical” (where are the violations of logic?); I simply gave alternative and plausible naturalistic explanations for observations that Meyer says are irrefutable evidence for God. The mistake you’re making is arguing that when scientists don’t understand something, our ignorance must be evidence for God. That’s not a good argument, for the history of science shows, starting with evolution, that many once-enigmatic phenomena or processes that were once seen as evidence for God were found to have plausible (and, in the case of evolution, true) scientific explanations.  (Look at lightning, microbial infections like Black Death, and so on.) So I’m not particularly bothered by not knowing “where the dark matter is”. I trust that some day the physicists will figure it out.

As for the Designer being identified with the Abrahamic God or Christian God in particular, you obviously aren’t aware that I was responding to Meyer’s claim in his article that it’s not an “intelligent designer” but God himself who made the flagella spin and the blood clot. And Meyer, being a Christian, is clarly touting the Christian God. Further, As I noted in the post, Meyer mentions one scientist saying that the Big Bang and a “divine creation” matches the Bible as a whole:

Nobel laureate Arno Penzias, who helped make a key discovery supporting the Big Bang theory, has noted the obvious connection between its affirmation of a cosmic beginning and the concept of divine creation. “The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses…[and] the Bible as a whole,” writes Penzias.

Finally, you say we don’t know what God really is. You are correct, but I’d go further. We don’t have any evidence that God exists. Until we do, I prefer to group him with leprechauns and Santa Claus as appealing myths supported by—nothing. As Wittgenstein said, “Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.” Meyer can’t say anything about the nature of God, and he should have kept his gob shut in Newsweek. Because he didn’t, I replied to his fatuous arguments.

By the way, “Genesis” is spelled with one “i”, not two. Have you read your Bible lately?

Yours,
Jerry Coyne

**********

Comment #3 from “Lars”:

I am a fan of vigorous debate and I enjoyed reading the article. I am not a fan of name calling. When the author called the other side “wing nuts”, I truly thought that his name calling hurt his argument, as individuals from the other side would be alienated immediately by his words, and truly if the author is trying to make a point, one would hope he would try to convince the other side rather than insulting them.

My reply to Lars:

Dear Lars,

First of all, I did not call Meyer a wingnut. Here’s what I said:

Meyer has managed to con the right-wingnuts at Newsweek into publishing the article below. . .

I was referring to the editors at Newsweek who were conned, not to the “other side”, i.e., ID creationists. Can you read? Second, I made a number of arguments against Meyer’s claims, not calling him names at all. The people I was writing for are not those on “the other side,” as IDers and creationists don’t usually change their minds. I was writing for those on the fence, or those who need to know how Meyer’s arguments for God can be refuted by science. Those are the people for whom I wrote Why Evolution is True.

Finally, you’re clearly looking for any excuse to dismiss my article. Saying that I hurt my argument by calling the editors of Newsweek “right wing nuts” is a pathetic attempt to dismiss the many naturalistic arguments I advance in my post.  People who say, “His argument is bad/worthless/loses force because of name calling” are people looking for an easy way to dismiss something. I am sorry I hurt your tender feelings by using a bit of sarcasm, but you got its object of that sarcasm wrong anyway. And does our withholding of sarcasm also include Donald Trump, too, when people are attacking his policies? If so, then nearly every liberal op-ed columnist in America should get a letter from you. Get busy writing them!

Yours,
Jerry Coyne

Stephen Meyer in Newsweek: Three scientific discoveries point to God. As usual, his claims are misleading.

July 15, 2022 • 9:30 am

Stephen Meyer is an intelligent-design creationist who has spent his career trying to squelch the teaching of evolution in the U.S. and advancing the big mission of his employer, the Discovery Institute (he’s director of the Center for Science and Culture): debunking naturalism and materialism in favor of religion, preferably Christianity.

Meyer has managed to con the right-wingnuts at Newsweek into publishing the article below, which list three scientific discoveries that, says Meyer, point directly to God. They’re apparently the subject of his new book (published by HarperOne, the religious wing of Harper), Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Discoveries that Reveal the MInd Behind the Universe. If you go to its Amazon site, you find it highly lauded by those looking for any reason to believe in God. Since that is most Americans, these books usually get high ratings and sell respectably.

But,in truth, Meyer’s “Discoveries” have been long known, and have been debunked insofar as there are more plausible, naturalistic, and non-Goddy explanations for all of them.

Moreover, before we start accepting the God hypothesis—note that Meyer explicitly calls the Intelligent Designer “God”—he has (as Hitchens used to say) “all his work before him.”  For even if the three examples pointed to an intelligence operating in the Universe, that doesn’t mean it’s God, much less the Christian God. As the Discovery Institute used to say before its mask slipped, the Designer could be any form of  unknown cosmic intelligence, including space aliens.  Before you decide that an observation confirms the God Hypothesis instead of the Science (naturalistic) Hypothesis, you better show us that there’s a God that conforms to traditional belief. Otherwise it could confirm yet another supposition: the Xenu Hypothesis.

I’ll deal below with the features of the Universe, not mentioned by Meyer, that show how the Universe fails to conform to what we’d expect if there were a God.

Click to read.

Meyer begins by bemoaning the well-known decline in belief in God in America, which, as I noted recently, has fallen to 81% from 92% just 11 years ago. Meyer blames this on atheistic scientists:

Perhaps surprisingly, our survey discovered that the perceived message of science has played a leading role in the loss of faith. We found that scientific theories about the unguided evolution of life have, in particular, led more people to reject belief in God than worries about suffering, disease, or death. It also showed that 65 percent of self-described atheists and 43 percent of agnostics believe “the findings of science [generally] make the existence of God less probable.”

It’s easy to see why this perception has proliferated. In recent years, many scientists have emerged as celebrity spokesmen for atheism. Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Bill Nye, Michael Shermer, the late Stephen Hawking, and others have published popular books arguing that science renders belief in God unnecessary or implausible. “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if, at bottom, there is no purpose, no design… nothing but blind, pitiless indifference,” Dawkins famously wrote.

This cannot  be allowed to stand, and so Meyer goes back and recycles three old chestnuts that, he argues, points to a designer who just happens to be God. They tell, Meyer says, “a decidedly God-friendly story”. (He’s totally unbiased here!)

I’ll give alternative naturalistic explanations for each of the three “proofs of God”. We don’t know the materialistic answers for sure, but at least the scientific explanations are in principle testable, and there is some evidence behind them.

Meyer’s words are indented.

1.) The Big Bang. 

First, scientists have discovered that the physical universe had a beginning. This finding, supported by observational astronomy and theoretical physics, contradicts the expectations of scientific atheists, who long portrayed the universe as eternal and self-existent—and, therefore, in no need of an external creator.

Evidence for what scientists call the Big Bang has instead confirmed the expectations of traditional theists. Nobel laureate Arno Penzias, who helped make a key discovery supporting the Big Bang theory, has noted the obvious connection between its affirmation of a cosmic beginning and the concept of divine creation. “The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses…[and] the Bible as a whole,” writes Penzias.

Before we get to the alternate explanations, let’s look at what Genesis I says about the creation (King James version):

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And 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.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

It’s a stretch to harmonize this with what we know of the Big Bang, since there appears to have been water, Earth was created before light, and light was created before the “firmament” (presumably stars like the sun), and, importantly, before the Night and the Day, which are caused by the rotation of the earth. And that water deeply disturbs me. Is it metaphorical water or real water? The only thing that harmonizes with the Big Bang here is light (presumably accompanying the Big Bang) followed by the firmament. (And yet earth was created before the light and the Big Bang!) And later on, we see that the plants are created before the stars and the Sun. It’s a big mess. There are actually several sequences of creation here, and they don’t harmonize.

As for Penzias, he apparently never read the “five books of Moses”, because the creation story is absolutely contradicted by evolution, for which we have tons of evidence. (I wrote a book about that.). That’s why creationists and their subspecies Intelligent Design advocates fight against evolution. If Penzias’s statement is correct, he was a theological ignoramus.

The naturalistic alternatives to the Big Bang for the origin of the Universe involve a number of theories that you can find here, here, here, and in other places.  Now there’s little doubt that the Big Bang occurred; the question is whether this is how our present Universe began, and whether there are other universes originating in similar (or other) ways. The alternatives include a pure quantum fluctuation (“nothing is unstable” as Krauss noted), Brane models, and eternal inflation, in which different universes are created at intervals (the “multiverse”). If you ask most cosmologists, they’d sign on to the Big Bang, but whether that completely describes the origin of our universe, or is an incomplete description of our universe (and there could be other universes), is something we don’t know. If the Big Bang did occur, which seems likely since we have tons of evidence for it, then that shows only that the Universe began, not how it began. If you say, “God did it,” that stops all research on how the Universe began, and it’s not an answer, just a fill in for “we don’t know” based on people who want to believe in God. Finally, the Bible is a really lousy description of how the Universe, the Earth, and then life on Earth came to be.

2.) Fine tuning:

Second, discoveries from physics about the structure of the universe reinforce this theistic conclusion. Since the 1960s, physicists have determined that the fundamental physical laws and parameters of our universe are finely tuned, against all odds, to make our universe capable of hosting life. Even slight alterations of many independent factors—such as the strength of gravitational or electromagnetic attraction, or the initial arrangement of matter and energy in the universe—would have rendered life impossible. Scientists have discovered that we live in a kind of “Goldilocks Universe,” or what Australian physicist Luke Barnes calls an extremely “Fortunate Universe.”

Not surprisingly, many physicists have concluded that this improbable fine-tuning points to a cosmic “fine-tuner.” As former Cambridge astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle argued, “A common-sense interpretation of the data suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics” to make life possible.

First, we do not know how “fine-tuned” the Universe is, and whether other parameters might also allow a kind if life to exist. Second, if there is a multiverse, alternative universes may have different physical properties, and we happen to live in one that permits life.

In the 8.5-minute debate video below, Sean Carroll gives five arguments in favor of naturalism and against the theistic argument for God from fine-tuning (the latter he calls a “terrible argument”). In fact, he shows that only naturalism supports the idea that life is permitted by certain physical parameters, for God could have done anything that he wanted regardless of the laws of physics. Finally, Carroll argues that the physical properties of the Universe are not those predicted by an a priori theistic theory, but comport better with the predictions of naturalism. (One of these is that theism predicts that “God should be easy to find.”) That is an important argument against Meyer’s thesis!

3.) Intelligently designed features of organisms.  This is just the same old ID argument reprised:

Third, molecular biology has revealed the presence in living cells of an exquisite world of informational nanotechnology. These include digital code in DNA and RNA—tiny, intricately constructed molecular machines which vastly exceed our own digital high technology in their storage and transmission capabilities. And even Richard Dawkins has acknowledged that “the machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like” — implying, it would seem, the activity of a master programmer at work the origin of life. At the very least, the discoveries of modern biology are not what anyone would have expected from blind materialistic processes.

Saying that the “machine code of genes” has features of computer code is not, as Meyer argues, evidence for a designer, and Dawkins would be the last to argue that.  In fact, the discoveries of modern biology, in particular the jury-rigged features of life (just taking humans, the recurrent laryngeal nerve, the swelling of the male prostate, and so on), show that the designer was not intelligent. But features like the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which in giraffes is about 15 feet longer than it should be if it were intelligently designed, support the evolutionary origin of these features, for they make sense under the theory of evolution. I cannot think of a single feature of organisms, nor can other non-ID biologists, that could not in any way have evolved by naturalistic processes. Behe and his DI friends have suggested several in the past, like blood-clotting and the bacterial flagellum, but all of these have been shown to have possible origins through naturalistic processes including natural selection. True, we don’t understand the origin of some features, but the most parsimonious explanation for these is that we don’t have the historical evidence (we weren’t there when they evolved), not that we should give up trying to explain them scientifically, go to church, and thank the Lord God for his Intelligent Design.

I reiterate Carroll’s thesis that there are many aspects of the Universe that testify against the existence of a Biblical God, including His absence when we should have been able to detect his presence (Stenger’s argument), the unexplained existence of physical evil—evidence for naturalism and against theism—and the arrogant view that the whole universe was created as a stage for the dramas one of millions of species on one of a gazillion planets in our Universe.

Wail about the secularism of America as he does, Meyer is not going to stop the relentless rise of unbelief in the West.  And he doesn’t mention that one reason people are leaving churches and giving up God is simply what I said in the above paragraph: there are many more ways that the God hypothesis doesn’t make sense than that it does make sense. People simply have grown up and stopped believing fairy tales. Science is one reason for this, but there are also others, like the fact that people in the world are generally better off, both morally and materially, than they were in the past, and religion depends on people’s lack of well-being, the sense that no human or human state cares about them.

The unresolved question that I have is why Newsweek purveys this palaver to its audience. It is scientifically irresponsible to mislead readers this way without giving the naturalistic counterarguments.

h/t: Steve

Jason Rosenhouse’s new anti-ID book

June 28, 2022 • 11:00 am

I may have mentioned Jason Rosenhouse‘s new book before, but I just finished it and wanted to give it two thumbs up. The image below links to the Amazon site:

This book is a withering critique of the so-called “probabilistic” arguments against evolution promoted by Intelligent Design advocates like Michael Behe and William Dembski. Jason is ideally equipped to write about them as he’s both a professor of mathematics at James Madison University and a diligent reader of creationist and ID literature. An earlier book of his, Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line, describes his many visits to creationist meetings and gatherings and his attempt to suss out the psychology of anti-evolutionists without being judgmental.

In this book, though, Jason pulls no punches, analyzing and destroying the arguments the evolution simply could not have occurred because the probability of getting organisms, proteins, or “complex specified information” is too low to be explained by materialistic processes. Ergo, the ID arguments supposedly point to the existence of the Intelligent Designer, who we all know is God. (IDers like to pretend that it could be a space alien or the like, but it doesn’t take much digging to descry the religious roots of ID, sometimes described as “creationism in a cheap tuxedo”.) The real target of ID is not just evolution, but naturalism or “materialism”, as they sometimes call it. Their ultimate goal is to sneak religion into public schools and into mainstream science. But they’ve already lost.

Still, the religious motivations aren’t important when the calculations are wrong—or rather, can’t be made. Jason’s main point in this book is that although complex-looking mathematics is often invoked to show the improbability of naturalistic evolution, IDers lack information about probability space to plug into their equations, so they can’t come to any mathematically-based conclusions. (And when we do have information, like that bearing on the claim that evolution violates The Second Law of Thermodynamics, or that the evolution of chloroquine resistance to malaria is impossible, that evidence doesn’t support the IDers’ and creationists’ claims.)

In the end, all IDers do, argues Jason, is throw sand in the layperson’s eyes with fancy equations, and then simply assert, without actually making valid calculations, that evolution by natural selection is too improbable to have occurred.

Other arguments that are less mathematical, for example that bacterial flagella could not have evolved in an adaptive, step-by-step process, are also discussed, and Jason shows how they’ve been refuted.

Another admirable aspect of the book is that Jason writes very clearly and elegantly, so it’s easy to read. Here are two specimens of his prose that also make his main point:

What about specificity? Dembski’s theoretical development of this concept essentially required graduate-level training in mathematics. He helped himself to copious amounts of notation, jargon, Greek letters, and equations. Anyone unaccustomed to wading through prose of this sort could easily come away thinking it represented work of depth and profundity just from the level of technical detail in its presentation.

However, when it came time to discuss the specificity of an actual biological system, the flagellum in this case, all of the technical minutiae went clean out the window. For all the use Dembski made of his elaborate theoretical musings, they might as well never have existed at all. He just declared it obvious that the flagellum was specified and quickly moved on to other dubious claims. At no point did he attempt to relate anything in reality to the numerous variables and parameters he included in his mathematical modeling.

As Jason shows, the lack of parameters needed to show that evolution is too improbable to have happened in a Darwinian way is a ubiquitous problem for iD. One more quote:

This pattern, of introducing difficult mathematical concepts without ever really using them for any serious purpose, is ubiquitous in anti-evolution discourse, and this fact goes a long way to explaining why mathematicians an scientists are so disdainful of it. Professionals in these areas strive for the utmost clarity when presenting their work. Used properly, the jargon and notation permit a level of precision that simply cannot be achieved with more natural language. This might seem hard to believe, since a modern scientific research paper will be unreadable for anyone without significant training in the relevant discipline. But the problem is not a lack of clarity in the writing. Rather, it is just that the concepts involved are difficult, and experience is needed to become comfortable with them.

. . . In section 2.6, I remarked that anti-evolutionist arguments play well in front of friendly audiences because in that environment the speakers never pay a price for being wrong. The response would be a lot chillier if they tried the same arguments in front of audiences with the relevant expertise. Try telling a roomful of mathematicians that you can refute evolutionary theory with a few back-of-the-envelope probability calculations, and see how far you get. Tell a roomful of physicists that the second law of thermodynamics conflicts with evolutionary theory, or a roomful of computer scientists that obscure theorems from combinatorial search have profound relevance to biology.

You will be lucky to make it ten minutes before the audience stops being polite.

If you want a clear and convincing response to IDers’ (and earlier creationists’) claims that evolution could not have happened without God or a Designer because it’s simply improbable via naturalism, read this book.

It will convince you, as Laplace supposedly tried to convince Napoleon about astronomy, that science—in this case, evolution—has no need of the God hypothesis.

I get (creationist) email

June 3, 2022 • 8:30 am

I don’t trash many comments at the outset unless they’re either obtuse, uncivil, overly religious, or creationist. This one falls in the last class.  Actually, there were two attempted comments from someone with the handle “See Noevo; both were aimed at the thread after the post, “The intellectual vacuity of mathematical arguments against evolution.”  See was responding to an exchange with another commenter about Michael Behe.

See Noevo’s Comment #1: not posted.

My prediction is that one day evolution will be shown to ALL to be perhaps the greatest embarrassment and shame in the histories of science and of rational thought.

But I have to ask about
“An alternative approach is to flip all 100 coins, leave the ones that landed heads as they are, and then toss again only those that landed tails.”
I thought evolution was constant. Why is Mother Natural Selection keeping the heads as heads for, well, forever?

To explain: the metaphor was one way Jason Rosenhouse explained how a random process can be winnowed by a nonrandom process to produce the appearance of “design”. The randomness (mutational variation) was represented by the tossed coins, while the nonrandom process involves keeping the heads and re-tossing the tails.  Eventually you get to all heads, which is the analogy to an adapted organism.

My best interpretation of this comment is that “See Noevo” is pointing out out that evolution is always occurring, so the heads won’t be kept forever. Some of the coins will get turned over when evolution occurs over the long term. Ergo a seeming contradiction; ergo God Did It.

But DUH! We’re talking about the short-term build up of the appearance of design, not the fact that any one gene sequence will remain the same until the end of time. Nobody believes that.

At any rate, this evolution critic apparently doesn’t know what he/she/they are talking about, and I didn’t allow that ambiguous and obstreperous comment to appear.

But I did allow this comment to appear, and even answered it.

Here’s “See Noevo”‘s comment #2, posted:

In reply to whyevolutionistrue.

To whyevolutionistrue:

Do all first-time commenters have their post put into “awaiting moderation”?
How long should they expect to be in this state?

My response:

In your case, forever.

But he did get his say above. However, that’s the last thing he will post.  (I’ll assume “See Noevo” is a male.)

The intellectual vacuity of mathematical arguments against evolution

June 2, 2022 • 12:00 pm

UPDATE: Somehow I missed that Jason has a new book that expands on this problem (I didn’t see it on the Amazon site). Here’s the cover, and click on it to go to the site:

*****************

Jason Rosenhouse is a professor of math at James Madison University in Virginia and also a friend. Besides teaching and researching in his field, he’s also written a lot about applying math to popular culture, including books on Sudoku and the perplexing Monty Hall Problem. But to me his biggest contribution has been his series of books and writings about creationism. Jason has not only immersed himself in creationist culture, attending lots of meetings to suss out the psyche of anti-evolutionists, but also written about it in both books and articles (see his 2012 book Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line).

He’s just come out with an article in the Skeptical Inquirer (see below) in which he summarizes how Intelligent Design creationists use mathematical arguments to show that evolution is impossible, and then Rosenhouse debunks the tactics they use. Jason writes very well and very clearly, so this article is accessible to the layperson. It’ll give you a strarter background on the creationists’ arguments (yes, IDers are creationists), and why those arguments re misguided.

Click to read (it’s free).

Jason explicates and then demolishes two ID arguments against evolution. Quotes from Jason are indented, my own prose is flush left.

1.) The probability of evolution producing complex features, like bacterial flagella, is almost nil. 

The ID argument rests on the idea that if the probability of an amino acid in a protein, say tyrosine, being in a specific position is small, then the probability of getting a protein of 100 amino acids with tyrosine in the right position and the other 19 amino acids in the other right positions is effectively zero. (They simply multiply probabilities for each site together.) But, as Jason shows, that’s not the way that evolution works. Proteins are built up step by step, with each step adopted only if it incrementally improves fitness. The probability-multiplying argument is so transparently false that I’m surprised people believe it, but of course most people don’t have a decent understanding of probability.

Jason:

However, this argument is premised on the notion that genes and proteins evolve through a process analogous to tossing a coin multiple times. This is untrue because there is nothing analogous to natural selection when you are tossing coins. Natural selection is a non-random process, and this fundamentally affects the probability of evolving a particular gene.

To see why, suppose we toss 100 coins in the hopes of obtaining 100 heads. One approach is to throw all 100 coins at once, repeatedly, until all 100 happen to land heads at the same time. Of course, this is exceedingly unlikely to occur. An alternative approach is to flip all 100 coins, leave the ones that landed heads as they are, and then toss again only those that landed tails. We continue in this manner until all 100 coins show heads, which, under this procedure, will happen before too long. The creationist argument assumes that evolution must proceed in a manner comparable to the first approach, when really it has far more in common with the second.

That’s a very good explanation.

IDers, however, have made the argument a bit more sophisticated:

Let us return to coin-tossing. Suppose we toss a coin 100 times, thereby producing a chaotic jumble of heads and tails. It was very unlikely that just that sequence would appear, but we do not suspect trickery. After all, something had to happen. But now suppose we obtained 100 Hs or a perfect alternation of Hs and Ts. Now we probably would suspect trickery of some kind. Such sequences are not only improbable but also match a recognizable pattern. ID proponents argue that it is the combination of improbability and matching a pattern that makes them suspect that something other than chance or purely natural processes are at work. They use the phrase “complex, specified information” to capture this idea. In this context, “complex” just means “improbable,” and “specified” means “matches a pattern.”

As applied to biology, the argument goes like this: Consider a complex, biological adaptation such as the flagellum used by some bacteria to propel themselves through liquid. The flagellum is a machine constructed from numerous individual proteins working in concert. Finding this exact functional arrangement of proteins is extremely unlikely to happen by chance. Moreover, they continue, the structure of the flagellum is strongly analogous to the sort of outboard motor we might use to propel a boat. Therefore, the flagellum exhibits both complexity and specificity, and it therefore must be the product of intelligent design.

That is, natural selection, say critics like William Dembski, can’t create “complex specified design”. But we have no idea what organismal features would imply intelligent design (“specificity”) rather than selection. Further, as for “complexity”, Jason says this:

The argument likewise founders on the question of complexity. According to ID proponents, establishing complexity requires carrying out a probability calculation, but we have no means for carrying out such a computation in this context. The evolutionary process is affected by so many variables that there is no hope of quantifying them for the purposes of evaluating such a probability.

In summary, any anti-evolutionist argument based on probability theory can simply be dismissed out of hand. There is no way to carry out a meaningful calculation, and adding “specificity” to the mix does nothing to improve the argument.

2.) Because mutations are degrading processes, much more likely to make DNA coding for a protein less adapted to the environment than more adaptive, there is no way that new genetic information can be created. Ergo, complexity, much less adaptation, can’t increase. rgo God—the Creator of Complexity. In some ways this resembles the old Second Law of Thermodynamics argument against evolution: entropy must increase, and evolution appears to violate entropy by making matter less random.  Thus we need God to get the entropy down.

The problem with that is, of course, the Second Law holds only in a closed system, but evolution occurs in an open system: the Earth in its surrounding universe. Evolution is fueled by radiation from the Sun, which involves an increase in entropy, and any decrease in entropy produced by evolution is more than compensated for by the increased entropy produced by generating evolution’s fuel: solar energy.  Ergo, in the whole system, the Second Law is obeyed.

There’s already one way known whereby new genetic “information” can increase: gene duplication.  Sometimes due to errors in replication, a gene is duplicated, and we have two copies instead of one (there are always two copies in a diploid genome, but I’m talking about what happens when a gene on one chromosome duplicates in addition. When this happens, there is an opportunity for that new copy of the gene to diverge in function from the old one, for the old one’s still around doing its thing. The new copy can do a new thing. Ergo, new information.  This in fact has happened a gazillion times in evolution: all of our globins, for instance (alpha, beta, fetal hemoglobin, and myoglobin) were produced by gene duplication and subsequent divergence. In Antarctic fish, an enzyme used to digest food has, after duplication, evolved into a blood antifreeze protein to allow them to inhabit waters below the freezing point.

Jason mentions gene duplication (I’m just giving examples), and then goes into the “No Free Lunch” ideas of Dembski and others, showing that these ideas irrelevant to the possibility of evolution.  I’ll let you read that part for yourself (read the whole thing!), and will just give two more quotes from Jason:

Even if we accept everything Dembski and his coauthors are saying about these theorems, this whole line of attack simply amounts to nothing. Most of us did not need difficult mathematical theorems to understand that Darwinian evolution can work only if nature has certain properties. The search problem confronted by evolution arises ultimately from the laws of physics, but it is well outside biology’s domain to wonder why those laws are as they are. Dembski and his cohorts argue that the fundamental constants of the universe encode information of a sort that can arise only from an intelligent source, but they have no more basis for this claim than they did for the comparable claim about genetic sequences.

He finishes like this:

Everyone agrees that complex adaptations require a special sort of explanation. Scientists argue that actual biological systems show copious evidence of having resulted through evolution by natural selection. Anti-evolutionists reject this claim, but the ensuing debate, such as it is, has nothing to do with mathematics. This makes you wonder why anti-evolutionists insist on padding their work with so much irrelevant and erroneous mathematical formalism. The answer is that their literature has far more to do with propaganda than it does with serious argument. Mathematics is unique in its ability to bamboozle a lay audience, making it well suited to their purposes. But for all its superficial sophistication, anti-evolutionary mathematics is not even successful at raising interesting questions about evolution.

Jason knows whereof he speaks, as he knows both math and evolution.

A good anti-creationist tee shirt

May 19, 2022 • 9:15 am

While I’m writing a post on free will (up next), I thought I’d show you one of my favorite tee shirts that I chose to wear today. I can’t remember where I got it, but I’m sure you can still order them. It’s a funny one that makes fun of fundamentalist creationists, and I’ll let you figure out what it’s saying. It’s not hard!

“Teach the controversy” was, of course, the mantra of creationists after they failed to get creationism taught in public schools, either as Biblical or “scientific” creationism. They then started saying this mantra, hoping that teachers would think there was a real scientific controversy about whether evolution was true or not. Like all their other machinations, that one failed too.

I’ll leave the rest to you. This is the first time I’ve worn this shirt. I have an aversion to wearing new tee shirts, for fear that they’ll begin to wear out. But that’s stupid because I’m 72, have a gazillion tee shirts, and won’t be around before my collection even begins to wear out.

Anyway, enjoy. Maybe you’ll want one of these:

Eric Hedin beefs about being “canceled” at Ball State by the FFRF and me, but forgives me, showing a cat leading me to Jesus!

May 7, 2022 • 12:15 pm

You’d have to be a long-time reader of this site to remember the story of my interaction with Eric Hedin, a physicist at Ball State University (a public college) in Muncie, Indiana. It’s recounted in many posts here going back 2013 (see here and here, for instance).

In short, Hedin, a deeply religious Christian, couldn’t bring himself to leave God out of his non-major’s honors course at Ball State: “The Boundaries of Science”. I got hold of his syllabus, did some investigation, and realized that Hedin was teaching his students a form of Intelligent Design in a public university.  Much of the course was directed, as the title suggests, at showing why phenomena in nature could not be explained by science, naturalism, or materialism—implying that a supernatural God was responsible.

Now the 2005 case of Kitzmiller v. Dover, argued in a federal district court in Pennsylvania, ended in a ruling by John Jones (a Republican judge!) that intelligent design, being taught in the school, was “not science”. ID was instead, ruled Jones, a disguised form of religion whose teaching violated the First Amendment.

As Wikipedia notes,

On December 20, 2005, Jones issued his 139-page findings of fact and decision ruling that the Dover mandate requiring the statement to be read in class was unconstitutional. The ruling concluded that intelligent design is not science, and permanently barred the board from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring ID to be taught as an alternative theory.

Another happy ending: all eight of the school board members who had approved the use of an ID textbook in the Dover High School lost their election bids to candidates who opposed the teaching of ID. Further, the Dover Area School district had to pay over a million dollars in fines. Faced with similar outcomes and bankrupting of schools, no more cases like this were adjudicated. The defendants indicated they would not appeal, and since then teaching ID in public schools has been a legal no-no.

So, eight years later, when I saw that Hedin was teaching ID at a state University, I wrote to his chairman (and, as I recall, his colleagues), calling attention to this violation. I was blown off, but then the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) got involved (Ceiling Cat bless them). Note that at no time did I call for Hedin’s firing or desired to damage his career; I simply wanted the school to stop teaching creationism as a form of science.

The FFRF wrote one of its official (and implicitly threatening) letters to the President and officials of Ball State, them that Hedin’s course was violating the Constitution. The President launched an investigation, and it transpired that Hedin was ordered to stop teaching that course. A rare victory for good science!

Hedin was later promoted to associate professor, a promotion I supported so long as he didn’t drag religion into his teaching. Still, he beefed all the while that he, a “young assistant professor”, had been hounded and harassed by the likes of an established professor (me) and the FFRF.

Hedin eventually gave up his job at Ball State and moved to teaching physics at Biola University in Los Angeles (the name comes from its former one: The Bible Institute of Los Angeles). There he apparently found a congenial niche, since it’s a private religious school and he can drag God and Jesus into any science course he wants. (I weep for the poor students subjected to this nonsense.)

Then Hedin went public with his “story”—the story of how a assistant professor just trying to do his job was canceled by the FFRF and a well- known professor. The implication was that the FFRF and I were trying to destroy Hedin—to “cancel” a man.

But he wasn’t canceled—his course was. The man was promoted, for crying out loud!

Hedin recently published a whole book about this dustup: Canceled Science: What Some Atheists Don’t Want You to See, published in February of 2021 by the Discovery Institute (presumably no reputable publisher wanted it). It didn’t sell very well, hardly got any reviews, and is way down there in the rankings of creationist books, many of which have sold well in the past (e.g. Darwin’s Black Box, and Signature in the Cell; the books, I suspect, are snapped up by the many anti-evolution and religious Americans who seek confirmation of their views).

I also suspect that the poor sales and lack of reviews of Canceled Science are the reason that the Discovery Institute continues to flog the book on its website (e.g., see here, and here), at the same time denigrating the FFRF and me for trying to “cancel” Hedin. I have to laugh when I see this campaign; nobody got canceled, for it was all about the separation of church and state. But it’s too late for Hedin to beef, as nobody’s interested, and his 15 minutes of fame are up.

Here’s the book:

Recently, the Discovery Institute taped a 45-minute lecture by Hedin on his book and his persecution (he sees himself in the tradition of Christian martyrs tortured for their faith), and I put the video below. Its YouTube notes:

Eric Hedin, author of Canceled Science, explains how he was canceled by the scientific establishment and reflects on the lessons he learned during the experience. He also discusses scientific evidence which points to a Creator. This talk was presented at the 2022 Dallas Conference on Science and Faith in January 2022.

You can listen to it if you want, though the “evidence” for ID, filtered through a physicist rather than a biologist, is even more risible than usual. The reason I’m putting it up is because reader Beth sent me the video link adding, “Eric Hedin drew a cartoon for you, showing you with a cat being invited by Jesus to “come Home” (22:47 in the video).”  Now how could I resist that?

Actually, it was Hedin’s wife who drew the cartoon, as a “picture for Jerry Coyne” as well as “offer of forgiveness” for me (in good Christian tradition, Hedin forgives all of us who “persecuted” him). And the cartoon is below, captured from a screenshot of a slide:

LOL! Well, I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Hedin, but I ain’t coming home to Jesus, and neither is any cat: it’s well known that all cats are atheists.

Now that you’ve seen that, you may, if you wish, listen to Hedin’s talk, heavily larded with references to God, Jesus, and the Bible. (As I said, he’s found a good home at Biola.)

If you want to skip the self-serving and humble beginning, I’d listen to the last 20 minutes, beginning at 24:40 (before The Picture), and listen to Hedin tick off the things that science can’t ever explain and therefore prove Jesus.

Here are a few of Hedin’s “failures of naturalism”:

  • It can’t explain the beginning of the Universe, and thus of space and time, using principles of physics within space and time. You have to go outside that stuff—i.e., you have to invoke God.
  • The existence of complex living things can’t be explained by naturalism. Hedin apparently sees evolution as a “random” process, and has forgotten about natural selection, which acts to order random changes in the DNA into well adapted organisms.
  • Materialism can’t explain the “information barrier”: the suggestion that if there are more ways for a process to go wrong than right, then the process will go wrong. Thus there can be no increase in “information” under evolution. No anteaters, dandelions, or humans. That takes God. But this is wrong. Of course there can be an increase in information over evolutionary time; there’s just no decrease in entropy. 
  • Materialism can’t explain the ability of humans to think rational thoughts.

I won’t waste my time rebutting this all in detail; Google is your friend here. All I can say is that, as a physicist, he makes a damn poor critic of evolutionary biology. Years ago I wrote a critique of ID, “The case against Intelligent Design,” which appeared in the New Republic and is now reprinted on the Brockman Edge site. If you want my views on ID, see that.

One of the most telling statements by Hedin occurs at the end of his talk, when he confesses that his Christianity is based not on evidence, but on “faith”, euphemistically called “the witness of the spirit”:

“I’ve written a lot more about evidence for design in my book and I’ve even made the connection with my own faith there. I believe that what we see in nature can strengthen our faith, but that my faith is really based is really based on my relationship with God: through the witness of the Spirit in my inner being.”

So, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, here’s the video of Dr. Hedin, a man of soft manner and amiability, showing how he’s become the modern equivalent of Christians thrown to the lions. (I’ve recently read, however, that the Roman scenario of lions and Christians is false.)

Start 24 minutes in, and then you have to listen for only 20 minutes:

h/t: Amy

Neil deGrasse Tyson osculates religion, arguing that dissing religion impedes accepting science

August 17, 2021 • 9:15 am

Neil deGrasse Tyson prefers not to go after religion very strongly (though he has on rare occasions), believing that if you diss somebody’s religion, it prevents them from accepting the science you want to purvey—especially evolution. And he’s probably right, at least if you try to cover both subjects in a single lecture. The result is that Tyson is soft on faith, as you can see in the video below.

This video was put on YouTube last year, but I don’t know the venue or the title. Tyson shows a ranking of 34 countries and the degree of acceptance of evolution of their inhabitants. It’s well known data, but Tyson cherry-picks it to try to show that “religious” countries can be relatively high in accepting evolution, touting accommodation and giving us “hope in the world”. At least that’s how I understand his aim. Examples he adduces are these:

a). Britain is high in accepting evolution but was the country where the Anglican religion was founded. Tyson said that this shows that Britain was “a quite religious community” but is still “very high in this evolution support.” (That was centuries ago, and Britain is no longer so religious!)
b.) Likewise in Germany, where Protestantism was born under Luther, acceptance of evolution high as well. Ditto with Catholic Italy.
c.) Eastern bloc countries are low on religion, as you might expect as they were largely atheistic countries under communism, but fall in the middle on accepting evolution

Tyson finds this “hard to understand”, presumably because religion is supposed to be inimical to accepting evolution. He gives an anecdote about sending people who question the absence of God in the AMNH’s Big Bang exhibit over to the “human evolution” exhibit, concluding that the AMNH’s evidence for evolution is much stronger than the Big Bang in buttressing acceptance of evolution (he doesn’t mention physics). I grant him that, but so what?

Tyson then boasts about how he bested Dawkins in a panel discussion, showing a video of their verbal fencing. Tyson asks Dawkins whether, though Dawkins wants badly to promote evolution, doesn’t he undercut that purpose—and his role as “Professor of the Understanding of Science”—by being a vociferous anti-theist? Doesn’t criticism of religion dispel the “sensitivity” needed to get people to accept science?

It’s a fair question, and one that I’ve faced. Dawkins responds by saying, “I gratefully accept the rebuke” and then goes on to give his own anecdote. In the meantime, Tyson narrates the video by showing how successful he was in “dissing the dude” (Dawkins). Tyson is clearly showing off, but implicitly arguing that you can’t criticize religion if you want people to accept evolution.

The answer that I give is that you can be both an antitheist and a promoter of evolution—you just don’t do it at the same time. Does Tyson think that Dawkins should simply take off his antitheist hat and never criticize religion at all? That idea neglects the fact that the downside of religion goes far deeper than merely preventing acceptance of evolution. Look at what the Taliban does, for instance, or how Catholicism has led to all kinds of inimical restrictions on sex, to the terrifying of children, and to pedophilia. Look how hyperorthodox Jews turn women into breeding stock.  Religious wars and disputations have led to the death of millions. Next to that, creationism is small potatoes.

So no, Dawkins shouldn’t shut up. After all, The God Delusion was one of the best sellers of our time, moving more than a million copies.  And as the old Dawkins site “Converts Corner” attests, it helped dispel the religiosity of many people.  So Richard’s antitheism was instrumental in helping drive people away from faith and towards rationality—and science. (Note how many people in the Corner link the rejection of religion with the acceptance of science.)

At the same time, with his evolution books like The Selfish Gene, Climbing Mount Improbable, and (my favorite), The Blind Watchmaker, Richard not only educated people about science, but got them to accept evolution and its marvels. How many people have attested that it was Richard’s writings that brought them to accepting evolution and appreciating science?

So while Tyson may be right about dissing religion and selling evolution in the same lecture, Dawkins has been inordinately successful in not only helping drive religion from our world, but in getting people to accept and love science. You can say that without the first activity he would have been more successful at the second, but Dawkins, like me, has more than one goal in his life.

By the way, if you analyze the data Tyson presents in his talk above, it actually provides some support for the incompatibility of science and faith. What I did in the Evolution paper below (click for free access) was to correlate these 34 countries’ acceptance of evolution with their religiosity. And the correlation was negative. (As President of the Society for the Study of Evolution, which publishes the journal, I got the privilege of publishing one article, and I wrote this one. As you can imagine, it took some trouble to get it accepted, but the journal did print it!).

If you take Miller’s data shown in Tyson’s talk, and correlate it with the religiosity of the 34 countries, with each dot representing a country, you see a strong and significant negative correlation: the more religious a country is (moving right on the X axis), the less likely its inhabitants are to accept evolution (moving down on the Y axis). Here is that plot with the caption from my original figure:

Figure 1. The correlation between belief in God and acceptance of human evolution among 34 countries. Acceptance of evolution is based on the survey of Miller et al. (2006), who asked people whether they agreed with the statement, “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” (Original data provided by J. D. Miller.) “Belief in God” comes from the Eurobarometer survey of 2005, except for data for Japan from (Zuckerman 2007) and for the United States from a Gallup Poll (2011b). “US” is the point for the United States. The correlation is −0.608 (P = 0.0001), the equation of the least-squares regression line is y = 81.47 − 0.33x.

Now this shows a correlation, not causation, so it may not show, for example, that belief in God makes people resistant to accepting evolution. Another interpretation is that acceptance of evolution is the causal factor, and that leads people to become atheists (this may be true for some folks). But I think, as I said in the paper, a third factor is in play here that leads to the correlation: human well being. For if you plot either various indices of well being, like the UN’s “Happiness Index” or the “Successful Societies Scale” (a measure of social support) against religiosity, you find out that the happiest people, and the healthiest societies, are the least religious. (See my paper for the evidence) And if you lose your religion because your society, as a healthy and happy one, makes religion superfluous, you naturally begin to accept evolution. (As I always say, “you can have religions without creationism, but you can’t have creationism without religion.”) In support of the idea that low well-being makes one religious, I often cite the full quotation from Marx (most people leave out all but the last sentence):

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

At any rate, I believe Tyson distorts the data by cherry-picking individual points.

Therefore, my explanation for the correlation above, including social causation, is this, written in my Evolution paper:

Creationism in America, then, may be a symptom of religion, but religion in the modern world may itself be a symptom of unhealthy societies. Ultimately, the best strategy to make Americans more receptive to evolution might require loosening the grip of religion on our country. This may sound not only invidious but untenable, yet data from other countries suggest that such secularism is possible and, indeed, is increasing in the United States at this moment. But weakening religion may itself require other, more profound changes: creating a society that is more just, more caring, more egalitarian. Regardless of how you feel about religion, that is surely a goal most of us can endorse.

If you’re interested, read the paper, for it’s written not for professional evolutionary biologists but for the educated layperson.

By the way, the correlation between acceptance of evolution and religiosity also holds strongly for the 50 American states as well. I couldn’t get the data for religiosity of individual states, but in my lecture on the incompatibility of faith and science, I do show a slide in which I there is a bar graph depicting the acceptance of evolution in each state. I found separate data for the ten most religious states (red arrows) and the ten least religious states (blue arrows), and put the arrows next to the states in the bar chart.

As you see below, all the blue arrows are above all the red ones. That is, every one of the ten least religious states has higher acceptance of evolution than all of the most religious states. Why? I think the reason is the same as for the correlation among countries.

 

Thus endeth today’s sermon. Praise Ceiling Cat, and may fleas be upon him. Amen.