BYU Wheatley Institute brings in “Intelligent Design” expert to combat New Atheism—Alas

Last week by some convergence of irony and slapstick naivety the Wheatley Institute at BYU brought Michael Behe to their symposium “Responding to the The New Atheism.” Here’s the write-up in the Studies & Doctrine section of Mormon Times. Why did they report on the only talk not worth hearing?

This is ironic because few people have done more to indirectly support the new atheism than Michael Behe. His promotion of the idea of “Intellegent Design (ID),” mocks everything for which science stands and feeds into the agenda of the new atheism perfectly. They want the faithful to look irrational and unscientific. It allows them to hold up the fiasco of ID as an example of the irrationality, intellectual dishonesty, and idiocy of believers—indeed, they use it as an example theism’s failures. The New Atheism that the Wheatley institute wants to fight just gained a great victory by their center-piecing Michael Behe. By suggesting that he has something to say to Mormons, they’ve also done a great disservice to members of the Church, as evidenced by the Mormon Times post. Ack. What a disaster. The Symposium actually had some outstanding thinkers, including Karl Giberson, author of Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, who argues from a Nazarene perspective, as I do from a Mormon, that evolution and faith are fully, and without compromise, compatible. In the panel discussion I asked both Behe and Giberson to respond to the question, (these are loose quotes because I can’t recall my exact wording but the gist is accurate), “Doesn’t ID provide a wedge for the new atheists to attack faith because it suggests that we have to do bad science to support our beliefs?” Behe of course argued that he was just following the data (laughable) but Giberson responded, “Yes. I think it does,” and elaborated on how that kind of bad science leaves an impression in the public mind that science and faith are incompatible.

A couple of points. So called, Intelligent Design is not just the idea that there is a Creator. I think Mormons look at the label “Intelligent Design” created by the evangelical Discovery Institute and think, “Hey we think God was Intelligent! We must believe in Intelligent Design too!!” No. Their intelligent designer has nothing to do with the glory and beauty of our conception of God. Thiers is a bit of a hack who couldn’t get creation right the first time and has to keep dabbling with the process to get it right.

Intelligent design is really an attempt to requisition the legitimacy of science in order to teach evangelical creationism in the schools. Nothing more. Their claim is that there are hurdles over which evolution cannot jump and therefore God must have come down and tinkered with the biochemistry to get things to jump over the gap. Behe used as examples in his talk things like blood clotting and the flagellum of a bacteria (a little filament used in locomotion) as examples of things that evolution could not have produced because they are too ‘irreproduciblally complex.’ The trouble is all his examples have been shown to be evolvable. As the Judge in the Dover trials said about his blood clotting claims,

Accordingly, scientists in peer-reviewed publications have refuted Professor Behe’s predication about the alleged irreducible complexity of the blood-clotting cascade. Moreover, cross-examination revealed that Professor Behe’s redefinition of the blood-clotting system was likely designed to avoid peer reviewed scientific evidence that falsifies his argument, as it was not a scientifically warranted redefinition.

His bacterial flagellum argument was dismissed completely by a detailed study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by Renyi Liu and Howard Ochman.

In his 1996 book, Darwin’s Black Box Behe claims that examples of ‘irreducible complexity’ will be found more and more often. Well, the opposite has happened and these are all being explained by good old-fashioned scientific work. His examples of irreproducible complexity are falling like dominoes.

But do these refutations cause him any consternation? No. If he were doing science it would, but he’s not—again from the Dover trial: “defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology.” But he continues to use the same examples in his talk, as he did in the Wheatley Symposium that have been repeatedly shown to be false. The Dover judge said it best, “This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.”

And

After this searching and careful review of ID as espoused by its proponents, as elaborated upon in submissions to the Court, and as scrutinized over a six week trial, we find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community. ID, as noted, is grounded in theology, not science.

This kind of intellectual dishonesty is why the evangelical atheists love him, saying in effect, “If believers are on such weak ground that they have to continually use falsehoods to promote their beliefs, something must be wrong with belief in God itself.”

The trouble with ID it tries to set up a God of the Gaps. “Look this bit of biochemistry! It is too hard to have evolved! God must of stirred things up here and done a bit of biochemical creation work!” But then when the gap is filled (as have all of the claims of irreproducible complexity that Behe has used) he has to retreat into the places where science yet has to figure things out. Irreproducible complexity has yet to be demonstrated in the real world.

I feel that God infuses creation and the assumption that god must work like we do is a sad view of divine involvement. Behe has created a Harry Potter potions master God who continues to have to stir the pot to get things to work out. Hardly the conception of deep divine action in which Mormon’s believe.

Why is it that the Wheatley Institute and the Mormon’s Times feel that bringing in this horrifying fiasco of a defense of faith will do our beliefs justice? ID is in fact both an embarrassment to thought, science and rational discourse on the one hand, and an abuse of faith, testimony and belief on the other. As well might they have brought in witch astrologist Sybil Leek to fight the New Atheism as Behe. They are both based on as firm of metaphysical and scientific foundation and, heck, she hates the atheists too.

I can just see the Mormon Times article, “Astrologist says Atheists are Bad!”

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45 comments to BYU Wheatley Institute brings in “Intelligent Design” expert to combat New Atheism—Alas

  • Excellent. You’re passionate, but logical. I appreciate that.

  • Kevin Barney

    BYU has a Wheatley institute? It must be named for my second Mission President, Jack Wheatley, who’s a big-time $$$ contributor to the university. I wasn’t aware there was an institute named for him.

  • Excellent report. I agree with your analysis on Behe and Intelligent Design. Both strengthen the new atheism, even if inadvertently.

    If theologians build straw men, then the new atheists will knock them over with pleasure and take full credit.

    Theologians’ arguments will stand only if they are firmly built on the Rock of Gibraltar and the fossils embedded therein.

  • If I may quote Behe from the Kitzmiller case:
    ————–>
    Q. And I’m correct when I asked you, you would need to see a step-by-step description of how the immune system, vertebrate immune system developed?

    [Behe] A. Not only would I need a step-by-step, mutation by mutation analysis, I would also want to see relevant information such as what is the population size of the organism in which these mutations are occurring, what is the selective value for the mutation, are there any detrimental effects of the mutation, and many other such questions.

    Q. And you haven’t undertaken to try and figure out those?

    A. I am not confident that the immune system arose through Darwinian processes, and so I do not think that such a study would be fruitful.

    Q. It would be a waste of time?

    A. It would not be fruitful.
    <————–

    Give Behe information only an omniscient being could know, and he'll reconsider his position. Sounds reasonable to me.

  • SteveP

    Here’s the Wheatley link. They do loads of good things. Bringing in Behe was not one of them however.

  • David H Bailey

    Shortly after the exchange mentioned above by Jared, a particularly amusing scene occurred in the trial. Here is the account from Laurie Lebo’s book “The Devil in Dover”:

    Rothschild [prosecution attorney] trudged to the witness stand, plopping down a number of peer-reviewed articles and stacks of thick books on the subject of the evolution of the immune system. …

    After stepping back, Rothschild asked, “Now, these articles rebut your assertion that scientific literature has no answers on the origin of the vertebrate immune system?”

    “No, they certainly do not,” Behe said. “My answer, or my argument, is that the literature has no detailed rigorous explanations for how complex biochemical systems could arise by a random mutation and natural selection, and these articles do not address that.” …

    So Rothschild tried again. And again. He continued piling material onto the stand until the pile dwarfed the professor. By the time he was done, Rothschild had stacked up ten textbooks such as Origin and Evolution of the Vertebrate Immune system and fifty-eight articles from prestigious journals like Science, nature, and Molecular Cell, all of them detailing research on the evolution of the immune system. Rothschild stared at Behe over the material. “Is your position today that these articles aren’t good enough?” he asked.

    Attorneys would later refer to it as the Miracle on 34th Street moment.

  • [...] Steve critiques Behe at BYU. I honestly didn’t know he’d been invited to speak. Good discussion as ever by Steve. [...]

  • Anonymous

    Have any of you read Bradley Monton’s (a philosopher at U of Colorado, Boulder) new book _Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends intelligent Design_? If so, what do you think of it?

  • SteveP

    Thanks for the comments all. Anonymous I just ordered it, but I’m not hopeful he has anything substantial to add. He’s a philosopher of physics and isn’t really credentialed in this area (looking at this CV he’s a long ways from his area of expertise with this book, sort of like me writing a book on the philosophy of Quantum Mechanics), but thanks for the heads up, it looks worth looking at.

  • Anonymous

    If you haven’t already seen it, you may also be interested in the bloggingheads dialog between John McWhorter and Michael Behe:

    http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/22075.

  • Bro. Jones

    Outstanding post, Steve. Thank you very much for putting it together.

  • Mark D.

    One can only imagine what a defense of the reality of spiritual things would look like…

  • Mark D.

    What I mean to say here is how can anything distinctively spiritual be real if it “mocks everything for which science stands and feeds into the agenda of the new atheism perfectly”?

    Isn’t immortality exactly just such a belief? Inspiration? Free will? Moral responsibility?

  • Mark D. Remember ID claims to be a science. Science does not touch spirituality, neither should it. Same with belief, inspiration, free will, and morality. We get our values from other places. Science is a value, but it does not define them for us. The mistake ID makes is in its claim to be a science, which means specific things and sets up specific expectations and standards. ID mocks those expectations and standards.

  • SteveP

    I’ve removed several trolls from this list who like to call names and make inflammatory comments (none of you currently here), and do multiple page-diatribes. Just warning them if they are not going join the conversation in productive ways, they can’t play here. I enjoy good debate and discussion. I can’t stand trolls.

  • Anthony

    Good overall post, but I disagree with the assertion that the belief in a God who “meddles” in his creation is inherently incorrect. Isn’t the restoration itself an instance of God “stirring things up”. Believing in an involved God doesn’t mean we believe in an imperfect Creator. While there aren’t many facts supporting God’s intervention in evolution, and ID is a poor theory to base one’s faith on, we shouldn’t attack people’s view of what God is like, because we could be inadvertently attacking our own view of God. To me, a God who appears to Joseph Smith and initiates the restoration could very easily be the same God who intervenes in his own creation. It seems to me wiser to attack ID based directly on the facts, and not to attack the God-views of those who espouse ID.

  • Mark D.

    SteveP, that is the classical “separate magisteria” argument, which if true implies an extreme dualism where material and spiritual things meet very rarely, if at all.

    But if free will is real, for example, it has a causal affect on material events in the brain every time one makes a decision. In such cases, do we chalk up free will to some sort of magic, intrinsically and forever beyond the reach of rational understanding?

    The same goes for inspiration. If God is real, and actually embodied, then presumably some sort of communication is going on when people are divinely inspired. Is this communication consistent with some sort of natural phenomenon, or is it more suspension of reality?

    That is the problem with the “separate magisteria” of inquiry argument – it assumes, from the very outset, that spiritual things are magical by their very nature, and thus hopelessly beyond all sort of rational inquiry. It condemns the believer to some sort of magical world view.

    James E. Talmage didn’t think very much of that proposition, which is why he famously (within LDS circles) argued that miracles did not involve the suspension of natural law at all.

    And if such things (more notably more regular things, such as consciousness and free will) are natural phenomena, then surely they are a legitimate subject for natural philosophy.

    I agree that natural philosophy is not empirical science in the contemporary sense, but on the other hand many contemporary scientists engage in it an awful lot, practically every time they open their mouths in a public forum. The philosophy of science is natural philosophy.

    If free will is natural, for example, it is legitimately part of the philosophy of science as well. ID in any form is certainly not empirical science yet, but the questions it raises go to the very heart of the natural philosophy of psychology and consciousness, for example.

    And there is certainly no shortage of legitimate academic debate there. So why should the biology of consciousness be less subject to philosophical review than any other science? Or horror of horrors the big picture with regard to abiogenesis or evolution?

  • Mark D.

    I guess what I am saying is that those ID advocates who argue that “ID” is super-natural in the strict sense of the term are legitimately excluded from science (any form of rational inquiry that is subject, in principle, to empirical review), but that those who maintain that, say, free will and intelligence are natural, are not so excluded. Whether free will is natural is a fundamental question of natural philosophy, one that has not been closed yet.

  • SteveP

    The key to the spiritual/material meeting place is subjective consciousness which many mainstream philosophers think that science can’t touch, in the sense that we cannot examine personal subjectivity in any objective way. This is where inspiration comes, belief, testimony, free will and it’s effect in the world are mediated through consciousness producing individual action. I’ve written to papers on this over on the left bar the Zygon is on science and subjectivity and the Dialogue article on consciousness. Of course the material and spiritual meet, but only in the individual in subjectivity.

    Science only deals with the material world and its interaction. That’s not to say there are not other truths, but if you are going to do science, it’s methods are for and assume materialism.

    ID people can believe anything they want religiously. Just don’t try and call it science without evidence and research methodology.

  • That blogging heads tv exchange with Behe was pretty dang embarrassing and ended up in a big controversy with Wright doing several episodes just about the Behe exchange. How McWhorter managed to go through that exchange without offering even one challenging question stunned people. (Afterwards, realizing how badly he’d come off, McWhorter asked that the episode be taken offline although Wright put it back up as if felt his journalistic ethics demanded it)

  • m&m

    Hm. I hadn’t heard Behe was invited to BYU. So, one question I have is if BYU brought him agreeing w/ or supporting all that he says, or just allowing him to speak as part of the discussion about these issues.

    While I think it’s important not to dismiss science (!! — I’m married to a scientist — I’d better not!), I read the MT summary and frankly, the summary itself seems more benign than what is being addressed here.

    I know enough about ID as presented that it has a lot of holes and is used by extremist creationists to dismiss evolution altogether. And I know there have been those who have debunked some of what he has said (as delineated in this post).

    In short, Behe may be looking at the wrong things to try to “prove” the notion of an intelligent designer, but I think that none of us should really argue with the notion that science can’t explain everything. It can’t, and even as creationists can go to extremes, I think scientists can, too.

    Sometimes I feel like the anti-ID position sort of ignores some important principles that it upholds.

    Again, I’m not arguing for ID as presented by Behe from the scientific standpoint, but neither do I think science can really explain anywhere near what sometimes science thinks it can.

    And my scientist husband would agree with me, I think. ;)

    I’d be interested to see if the Institute will have someone who disagrees w/ Behe, though, to present a different point of view and explain where holes may exist in his logic…to present both sides of this issue, because I do think some folks hear Intelligent Design and think they must believe in that, w/o understanding that, as presented, it does have some problems.

  • m&m

    I guess I should have processed the title better — ‘a response to new Atheism’ probably sort of answers my first question, huh?

  • m&m you bring up a really, really important point. Why shouldn’t we bring in a diversity of thought to BYU. What’s wrong with hearing Behe? In part my writing this was a counter balance. I suppose my complaint really lies in the realities that many in the church already are inappropriately and unreflectively drawn to ID and his coming to BYU is seen as legitimizing ID rather than as a counter point, or a unique perspective among many. The invitation was also flawed in that he was brought in as a supposed refutation of the new atheism when he is really one of their greatest wedges in their war against faith. I would really have no problem with Behe coming, along with people, with differing perspectives (imagine the fun of bringing Behe and Dawkins both in to BYU for example to sit on a panel together), but as is stands Behe reinforces harmful stereotypes already intrenched in the church and therefore would have been better left uninvited. But thanks for bringing this up. It needed addressing.

  • RoDeO

    SteveP,

    I am interested in the merits of ID because of a lot of the language seems fitting in with LDS doctrine (intelligence, designer/creator, etc). It also seems quite unique that LDS doctrine is bound in with the scientific understanding of many of the past prophets like that found in the D&C (Joseph Smith) the BoM (Nephi, Mormon, etc) and the PoGP (Abraham). What I mean is that these past prophets seemed to mesh the creator into the scientific understanding of men.

    What say ye?

  • m&m

    Steve, I think we agree about how a balance of perspectives would be helpful on this issue. Being the type who likes to give the benefit of the doubt, I’d be interested to find out if the people who invited him were actually aware of the controversy surrounding his work.

    ??

  • RoDeO,

    It’s not God as creator that is really at issue, it’s their brand of evangelical creationism that is trying to make claims that they are a science. That makes them dangerous. Their kind of creator is not one we would recognize as Mormons (or catholics, or more reflexive christians). ID turns on its claims to being a legitimate science, but they are dishonest, sneaky, and wrong about fact.

  • RoDeO

    I was not aware they had a brand of evangelical creationism. Does this mean they are trying to prove as science that the creation took 7 literal days by a supreme supernatural being?

    I know in the past there was a fine line between ID and creationism, but it seems nowdays that ID is settling into more of a fact finding mission that is based off of scientific understanding. Am I wrong? If so, where?

  • They literally can’t find any of the facts they are looking for. None.

  • Mark D.

    SteveP, This is a much more complicated issue than we can discuss here, but the main point is that ultimately science has to deal with everything that has empirical consequences, or it starts from a defective premise.

    Banishing spiritual things to the internals of consciousness is one way of saying they are epiphenomenal. That is fine for science if they are.

    But if they are not? If free will is substantively real (i.e. libertarian) that is something that science will eventually have to deal with, because it has macroscopic empirical consequences – civilization for example.

    Of course free will can only be real if something like “intelligence” is substantively real as well, i.e. not epiphenomenal (as scientific orthodoxy suggests).

  • “Banishing spiritual things to the internals of consciousness is one way of saying they are epiphenomenal. That is fine for science if they are.”

    I think you are wrong about the popularity of epiphenominalism. I’ve followed this literature for about 10 years and just don’t see it as a major movement. It’s only a minority position in the set of consciousness theory and not a popular one, especially the last five years. Most philosophers of consciousness consider consciousness something more than epiphenomenal and think it a vital part of being human. They may think it emerges completely from neurology, but that it does not have real world conscience is a very minor opinion.

    “If free will is substantively real”

    I’m not following you, real in what sense that it would appear outside human consciousness? Is is out there under the ocean? In space? Between the atoms? Freedom has to play out in human subjectivity–I know that’s where I do all my deliberations and make my free choices :-).

    Science can only handle material cause and effect. Science can only look at neural correlations with consciousness (my brain lights up when I see red). It can never know what it feels like for me to see red and does not claim to do so. I’m not sure what you are getting at. Are you saying that subjectivity is something science should be studying? How? Free will is also not something Science can make claims about, just human behavior in the face of choice but deep metaphysics is not something science even claims to get its hands on.

  • Jeremy

    Great post, Steve. We’ve never met (that I know of), but I take great comfort in knowing that you work on the same campus as I do.

  • RoDeO

    SteveP,

    I think it could be argued that there is plenty of evidence on the table, but no real presenatble “facts” from either side to establish the evidence into the stone framework of history (factual and indisputable). There are some things which are clearly observed in nature like adaptation and even variance that can be linked to studies in natural selection. But the facts needed to present species evolution across taxa (ie; monkey to man evolution) are nonexistant. The same can be said however for ID proponents-

    There are no presentable facts stating exactly why and how specified complexity or irreducible complexity in nature works other than eliminating some obviously tested hypothesis. That is why we use theorims/ hypothesis in our testing to try to understand the evidence and the observable we see.

    So what I am left with is trying to understand why we need to eliminate or cut ties with the creator in scientific understanding. It appears that some of the best and smartest men that walked the earth like Joseph Smith, Moses and Abraham understood scientific principles and phenomena to be directly linked to purposeful and intelligent design and purpose. It seems that to be a legitamate Christian believer, that scientific understanding must be done so with a conscious underlying aknowledgement of the Creator. Some things that we will eventually run accross in science will have to aknowledge some different measure of understanding.

    For instance- We know that the resurrection and faith healing are real phenomena in nature- they are not just some make believe area of hallucination or dillusion like Richard Dawkins believes in. We also know about the terrestrial state of men in the millennium- that there will be no actual death but instead an instant transformation of the body.

    What will science teach during the millennium when the knowledge does come to pass about immortality, a state of aging but no death, resurrection, faith healing, etc? It appears to me that at some point relevent to the very near future science is going to have to come into a mutual undersatnding with certain actual phenomena that as of now they just disregard as non-scientific or dillusional or mythical/supernatural.

    From a godly aspect, it would seem most relevent to espouse a dialect with all sides to come into an agreement of sorts as to what is known (factual) and what is not and try to come to an understanding of what may really be true like resurrection, faith healing, etc. and treat it all with a scientific theological understanding like Joseph, Moses and Abraham of old all applied to.

  • CJ Douglass

    SteveP, thanks for the right up.

    I take comfort in the fact that YOU are a faculty member at BYU. They must be doing something right…

  • Jeff G

    RoDeO,

    The real knack of the problem is that it is difficult for people to decide on whether ID is bad science (science which is wrong) or whether ID is not science at all.

    ID, especially as advocated by Behe, certainly makes claim ABOUT science, specifically by claiming that science hasn’t/can’t demonstrate the undirected evolution of some traits. Nevertheless, the complete lack of any kind of fruitful research program makes one very hesitant to believe that these criticisms of science amount to scientific claim as such.

    There are, however, many naturalists who want to say that ID can’t be science because it is actually religion in disguise. This line of reasoning makes me uncomfortable. What IDer’s are at pains to claim about themselves is that they are different from creationism for the following reasons:

    1) ID is based in science, whereas creationism is based in sacred text.

    2) The religious implications of ID are unconnected to ID itself.

    I find myself having a hard time disagreeing with either of these claims. As noted above, while I would allow that ID is “based” in science, I wouldn’t be willing to call it constitutive of science. As for the religious implications as well as the religious origins of ID, I see no reason why ID can’t be divorced from such things, just as Newtonian science was divorced from it somewhat religious origins and implications.

  • RoDeO, part of the problem is what the ID folks demand as evidence. If one follows the typical scientific process where many theories have strong evidence but evidence that is inductive then certainly standard evolutionary theory has tons of evidence. The trick is that ID folks pretty much demand deductive evidence of a sort that is rarely part of science. However the indirect arguments are all on the evolution side and not the ID side.

    Mark, while I’m sympathetic to the broad points you are making, my personal belief is that science shouldn’t claim to address everything material. Rather it has to limit itself to a subset of the material which is open to empirical investigation. Right now to the degree ID makes empirical claims it is wrong, to the degree it makes statistical claims it is naive (missing all the potential pathways), and to the degree it does anything else it simply is philosophy done without careful philosophizing.

  • Clark, you said it wonderfully well. I’m always glad when you bring in these clarifications.

    RoDeO:
    “What will science teach during the millennium when the knowledge does come to pass about immortality, a state of aging but no death, resurrection, faith healing, etc?”

    Beats me.

  • Mark D.

    Steve, certain phenomena (the works of Shakespeare for example) may only be explainable if free will is substantively real.

    Alternatively, if science can conclusively demonstrate (as a matter of mathematical certainty) that a deterministic universe and the laws of nature are sufficient to turn the big bang into works of literature as deep as the works of Shakespeare, that would be a pretty decent evidence in support of the idea that free will and creativity are epiphenomenal (as for example compatibilism suggests).

    Now Clark says that ID folks are naive – many of them may be. But most hard materialists are at least as naive or worse, and *especially* about statistics.

    We start with a ball of gas with typical statistically random distribution of positions and velocities and a handful of laws of nature.

    Now this gas coalesces under gravitational attraction to make a few stars, planets, and what have you. That is all explained by the spherical symmetry of the law of gravitation, and so on.

    And then, totally out of the blue, a cell forms and starts reproducing, without the benefit of anything beyond a few random strings of hydrocarbons. So tell me, which law of physics makes that a statistical certainty?

    Why does the first cell have any survival “instinct” at all? Why not just decompose back into glue?

    Allowing for the enormous statistical accident of the first viable cell reproducing in a reliable manner, how do we statistically get from the first viable cell (which has complexity less than a typical cell phone) to War and Peace?

    The *only* things acting on this ensemble of cells are a handful of laws of physics and random noise. It doesn’t matter how much free energy you can borrow deterministic laws of physics cannot turn a single cell into human civilization with anything less than astronomical improbability.

    For example, all known laws of physics *guarantee* that devolution is equiprobable with evolution. It is called the Poincare recurrence theorem. If the universe is deterministic, it will repeatedly return infinitely close its state at any given time.

    That means that all biological life will devolve back into “random” noise, that noise will re-coalesce and re-form the earth just as it is, a cell just like the first one, the natural history of the world, every species, Rome, France, the Cold War, every detail just as it did the previous time.

    This is the sort of science that the hard materialist set hangs their hat on. It is statistically absurd in every conceivable way. The works of Shakespeare, every word, immanent in the noise of the big bang?

    Maybe if God created the universe out of nothing, otherwise we are talking about the greatest absurdity ever perpetrated. LFW of some sort is the only way out, other than the hardest of Platonism imaginable. The works of Shakespeare written in the sky – eternal forms just waiting to be materialized…Determinism is Platonism.

  • SteveP

    Catch up Mark. I’ve dealt with your silly statistical arguments from the beginning of this blog over a year ago. David Bailey makes the slam dunk in this post. Of course he uses Dickens instead of Shakespeare but that will do.

  • Mark D.

    Steve, My apologies for not taking your word for it.

    Bailey’s little example is dubious in the extreme. It is like, if I start out with a universe that contains the works of Charles Dickens, I can do something even more miraculous, I can produce the works of Charles Dickens!

    Inventing a random procedure to turn the works of Charles Dickens (as implicit in the rules of the system as any Platonic form ever was) into an incoherent set of Dickensian sentences demonstrates nothing.

    So I suppose if one were a particular sort of Platonist, or a creatio ex nihilo guy, Bailey’s demonstration shows how self-existent Platonic forms could be injected into the evolutionary process. Beyond that, it is completely irrelevant to evolution as we know it.

    Have you ever met a physicist who thinks that the fundamental laws of physics are as extensive as the works of Charles Dickens? Hundreds of thousands of fundamental physical laws?

  • For example, all known laws of physics *guarantee* that devolution is equiprobable with evolution. It is called the Poincare recurrence theorem. If the universe is deterministic, it will repeatedly return infinitely close its state at any given time.

    If and only if the system follows Newtonian mechanics. Interestingly Poincaré used this to argue the universe wasn’t a mechanistic system in the sense on Newtonian mechanics. As physics evolved we discovered that was indeed the case and that his intuition was correct. (The theorem doesn’t hold in either GR or QM)

  • To add, a discussion of Poincaré recurrence without a sufficient discussion of recurrence time is misleading at best. Let us say recurrence does happen but it takes so long as to be negligible. Then it becomes a moot point.

  • SteveP

    “Steve, My apologies for not taking your word for it.”

    Touché

    I also have a five part series that started last March on this blog in which I explore determinism, theology and how evolution without teleological can result in explorations of design space that can produce design and specific forms. The trouble with your physics comparison is they are all close system results. Open systems can and do become more complex. A great place to see this dissected is Dennett’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (he’s an evangelical atheist, but his description of why evolution works from a philosophical perspective is peerless).

    Clark, Thanks for the Poincaré reference I’ve not seen that and am going to look into it.

  • Mark D.

    If and only if the system follows Newtonian mechanics.

    It applies to all Hamiltonian systems (energy conserving, deterministic, time symmetric laws). Schroedinger’s equation is Hamiltonian. QM itself is Hamiltonian – or at least no one has demonstrated that it is not. Bohmian mechanics, q.v.

    The thing is, if we were to discuss alternate non-Hamiltonian systems we would reach equally absurd results. For example, you (Clark) have suggested that a Fibonacci function is a deterministic process that generates things that are uniquely “new”.

    The only problem is that it is impossible to physically realize a Fibonacci function, because any physical realization of a function like that isn’t energy conserving. At some point the system hits the wall due to lack of additional energy, and starts retrogressing. Unless the universe is infinite, of course.

    That said, where is anyone who can convincingly address the astronomical improbability of the first viable cell forming from a pre-biotic soup in a deterministic universe with neutral initial conditions? Abiogenesis anyone?

  • Mark that’s true for that kind of artificial situations one deals with in undergraduate calculations where it is possible to fully specify the state exactly of the system. However for any real object that’s just not that case. That’s why I said it doesn’t work with QM. A QM view of real world objects always has them not as a single microstate but a collection of microstates and thus the system can’t be specified in the fashion necessary to get Poincare Recurrence.

    But let’s ignore that problem of the difference between “real” QM and artificial models within QM. The recurrence time will be on the order of e^entropy. But for most real world entities of the sort evolution deals with the entropy will be greater than 10^26. That’s why I said injecting Poincare without considering the magnitude of the recurrence times is misleading at best.

  • Hi Steve,

    I came across this entry while searching for “the beauty of science is the understanding it brings” (that’s a line I came up with for a grad school paper and I thought it was so good I wasn’t sure I’d really made it up myself).

    Anyway, I really enjoyed spending a few near-deadline minutes reading this article. My favorite part was:

    “Their intelligent designer has nothing to do with the glory and beauty of our conception of God. Theirs is a bit of a hack who couldn’t get creation right the first time and has to keep dabbling with the process to get it right.”

    I’ll have to break that out in some future “civil discussions” with my extended family. :)

    Nice work.

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