Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Creationism" defended and "evolution" attacked


Here's a comment from author@ptgbook.org on my post on Darwin, creationism and evidence. Reminds me of Spencer Tracey towards the end of Inherit The Wind (the Tracey character puts to the blustering old creationist prosecutor that perhaps the "days" of the Bible lasted millions or billions of years). I am posting it here as it deserves special treatment, I feel. I'll respond further in next post...

Your article is interesting and makes some good points, but it is missing the larger picture.

Not all Bible literalists believe in a six thousand year old earth. A literal understanding of Genesis allows a time period of unspecified length between verse 1 and verse 3. This could have been billions of years. In other words, in verse 1 God created the earth. The earth could have become filled with life. At some point, the surface of the earth became covered with water as described in verse 2. Then starting in verse 3, God restored the earth to a condition of having life on it.

Those who believe in a 6,000 year old earth do not believe this because they literally believe the Bible. They believe it because they believe the religious traditions they grew up in.

A literal reading of the Bible fully allows for an earth billions of years old even with life forms that existed for hundreds of millions of years.


You are correct in saying that more is required for evidence to confirm a theory than that the theory be consistant with the evidence. So far, you have avoided the word "proof". Has science proved evolution has occurred? And if not, is it right to teach children in tax supported public schools in a country that prohibits government from hindering the free exercise of religion, that evolution is a fact if you are unable or unwilling to say you have proved that it happened?

You gave a definition of creationism that includes belief in a 6,000 year old earth, even tho not all creationists believe in a 6,000 year old earth. But that definition is convenient for you because the idea of a 6,000 year old earth is the easiest for you to try to refute. It is also the majority opinion among creationists who claim to believe the Bible literally, so that is no doubt another reason you define creationism that way.

I will also give a definition of evolution that I think expresses the majority thinking of evolutionists and the teaching of science in the public schools. Evolution is the teaching that life in all its variety arose on the earth only through natural causes. In other words, evolution as taught in the public schools does not allow for supernatural intervention by God in a process of new species descending from other species. If someone suggested that God intelligently and supernaturally made genetic changes over millions of years to produce new species descended from older ones, that is not "evolution". To prove evolution is how life came to be, you have to prove that there was no supernatural intervention or creation in the origins of species.

How can science do that if the scientific method does not allow for consideration of supernatural causes? You have to consider and examine the possibility of supernatural causes in order to rule them out. But science cannot even discuss the supernatural.


Many of those who believe in a literal reading of the Bible also see confirmation of the inspiration of the Bible in the predictive value of its prophecies, and these predictions and their fulfillment serve as evidence for the Bible just as scientific predictions about fossils suggest to scientists that more complex life forms appeared gradually on the earth.

Many thanks for this contribution. Here's a question to the author to kick things off:

My question: I take it the author has no objection to teachers in public tax-funded schools teaching children that species have evolved over millions of years and that natural selection has played a important role in that process, for of course that would not rule out supernatural intervention of the sort proposed by the author, and also by I.D. theorists such as Michael Behe?


Secondly,
I'll make a point. The author says: "How can science do that if the scientific method does not allow for consideration of supernatural causes?"

Well, as I understand it, the scientific method, as such, does allow for consideration of supernatural causes. There could be a scientific investigation into the existence of ghosts or reincarnation, for example.

40 comments:

The Barefoot Bum said...

I find it useful to differentiate between supernatural and paranormal. The supernatural is any idea the truth of which which cannot be decided by any natural means (human perception and human reason). The paranormal is any idea that contradicts some natural-means-supported belief, but could in principle be supported by natural means.

In my experience, IDiots spend a lot of time hopping from leg to leg of the equivocal meaning of "supernatural". By insisting on a terminological difference, we encourage them to commit to one meaning or the other.

Steelman said...

"Not all Bible literalists believe in a six thousand year old earth. A literal understanding of Genesis allows a time period of unspecified length between verse 1 and verse 3. This could have been billions of years."

So, does six days "literally" mean six days, or does it "literally" mean billions of years? I don't see how creationism can be taught in public schools, using our tax dollars, with such a large, foundational discrepancy between the OEC and YEC camps' accepted age of the earth (to name just one problem). Perhaps they could work out such a trifling detail and get back to the school board then? Just to match the rigor of scientific theories, in the interest of fairness, of course.

And please share their methods for doing this as well; figuring out just which of the thousands of Christian denominations out there is reading the Bible right would eliminate a lot of strife. And not just between Catholics who claim Protestants aren't "true Christians", and Protestants who claim the Catholic church is headed by the anti-christ.

"Many of those who believe in a literal reading of the Bible also see confirmation of the inspiration of the Bible in the predictive value of its prophecies, and these predictions and their fulfillment serve as evidence for the Bible just as scientific predictions about fossils suggest to scientists that more complex life forms appeared gradually on the earth."

If a "literal reading" of the Bible can produce absolute certainty in two different groups, one professing 6 = 6, and one professing 6 = 3.5 billion, then the above statement is unsurprising. What the author calls confirmation, I call retrojection and selective thinking. I think we could go back, decade by decade, and find priests and preachers shoehorning current events into prophecy fulfilment (e.g. Hitler is the anti-christ; no wait, it's Stalin, Saddam Hussein, George Bush, etc.). For goodness sake, it's been the "end times" for nearly 2000 years!

It seems there's a significant difference between what scientists and Christian apologists consider sufficient evidence for believing something to be true. The epistimologies are miles apart. Also, one method is self-correcting, the other literally set in stone (though amazingly elastic with the current proliferation of sects).

Considering the difference in knowledge gained about the world between just a few hundred years of Enlightenment age science, and thousands of years of revealed religion, I think one of those methods has a reliability issue. They simply aren't on par with one another.

author@ptgbook.org said...

You ask if I would have any objection to teachers in public tax-funded schools teaching children that species have evolved over millions of years and that natural selection has played a important role in that process, for of course that would not rule out supernatural intervention of the sort proposed by the author.

To use "evolve" would be misleading in that case. Evolution as taught by science really does not acknowledge possible supernatural intervention. Maybe that could be a discussion in itself. I have heard the term "guided evolution" in this context, but I do not think that came from a scientist. But it illustrates that the words "evolution" and "evolve" can mean different things to different people, so some might call the gradual divergence of species guided by God "evolution".

But that is not the ordinary sense of the word when it is used in scientific teaching.

From a legal and constitutional perspective, it might be better to simply teach that science is basing its belief in evolution on the assumption that there are no supernatural causes involved in the development of species and that science is not equipped to examine the theology of creation because it only studies physical processes. Thus, science cannot look at both sides. Students can draw their own conclusions. See my article "Why Evolution Is a Faith".

I may be using the term "scientific method" loosely here. I am not referring to any particular published description of the scientific method and quoting from it. But it is the way science operates. Look at any discussion of the big bang or origin of the universe. The possibility that God simply created the universe at some point is never considered or mentioned. Possible supernatural causes are never considered. It is not part of the scientific culture.

author@ptgbook.org said...

Hi Steelman,

I am not proposing that creation be taught in the public schools. That would not be constitutional. I am simply saying that if science is going to teach evolution in the public schools, it should be not be taught as proven fact but as science's best theory as to how life came into existence if there were no supernatural causes.

As far as the six days are concerned, they are literal days, 24 hours each. But the six days are not the original creation.

Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth". This is the original creation of the earth. It does not say in this verse how long ago this was, what state the earth was in when it was originally created, or how long it existed this way. This could have been billions of years ago, and the time span would allow God to create all the life forms in the exact order as found in the fossil record. So far, I am not reading anything in the Bible figuratively.

Verse 2 then says, "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." This verse describes a condition of desolation with water covering the surface of the earth. This could have been the result of an event that happened long after the original creation and long after God created life and the fossil record was laid down. Again, there is no figurative interpretation. I am reading these verses literally and showing what they allow to have happened.

Incidently, there is evidence elsewhere in the Bible that suggests that an earth covered with water was not the original creation in verse 1.

So there could have been billions of years after verse 1 during which life came into existence and the fossil record was laid. At some point, the surface of the earth was destroyed and covered with water and the earth came to be in darkness. Then after that, the account continues.

Verse 3: "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." This is the beginning of a period of six days when God renewed the surface of the earth, repairing the damage, and restoring life to the surface of the earth. This is the six literal 24-hour days that occurred about 6,000 years ago. Again, there is no figurative interpretation. This is a literal reading consistant with the fossil record. And I might add, there would be no reason for God to redesign the genetic code from scratch. It would make more sense to simply reproduce the exact genetic code that existed before and produced a working ecology. This would be consistant with genetic evidence.

During the millions of years prior to the six days, God may have developed the species not by individually creating the genetic code for each species from scratch, but by modifying the genetic code in succeeding generations. He would re-use genetic code much as a computer programmer might write a new program, not from scratch, but by taking a similar program and making modifications. And while this was happening, a fair amount of random genetic changes due to natural causes would accumulate along with designed changes. This would explain genetic similarity between species including genetic coding that seems to be of random origin and serves no useful purpose. If such "junk DNA" due to radiation and other natural effects does no harm, it continues, but if it is harmful, it will die out. The process becomes self-correcting.

For what it is worth, I would get almost as much opposition and hostility from traditional fundamentalist Christianity and those who claim to believe the Bible literally as from scientists for my writings. I get it from both sides.

Paul C said...

From a legal and constitutional perspective, it might be better to simply teach that science is basing its belief in evolution on the assumption that there are no supernatural causes involved in the development of species and that science is not equipped to examine the theology of creation because it only studies physical processes. Thus, science cannot look at both sides.

I think you lack ambition. We should also teach that science is basing its belief in quantum physics on the assumption that there are no supernatural causes involved. In fact, we should also teach that history is basing its belief in Near Eastern history, geography is basing its belief in plate tectonics and medicine is teaching its belief in epidemiology on the assumption that there are no supernatural causes involved.

As we know, many Christians believe that God has been and continues directly involved in history, earthquakes and plagues. The fact that this is not taught in our schools clearly shows that these subjects are not equipped to examine these subjects from both sides.

Of course, another reason that these things are not taught in our schools is because there is absolutely no substantive evidence for God's involvement in any of them. Yet if that lack of evidence is insufficient for you in the case of evolution, you should also find it no barrier in the case of these other disciplines?

Paul Power said...

"Evolution is the teaching that life in all its variety arose on the earth only through natural causes".

No it doesn't. Evolution has nothing to say about how life started. It confines itself to how life forms change, including the disappearances of old species and the arising of new species and the changing of existing species.

This is not a trival distinction as it shows how fare gone into religious stupidity has to be to reject evolution. Anyone rejecting the idea of a 6000 year old death on biblical grounds has no good reason to reject evolution.

This whole question, from biology through American constitutional law, is gone through at the Panda's Thumb website http://www.pandasthumb.org/

DrBen said...

I don't mean to be picky... Well I suppose I do actually but I think its a vital point. Evolution and Natural Selection are two very different things. Evolution is simply the change in genes of a population, there is no explanation of mechanism given at all. That genes change is I would suggest hard to doubt as we evidently have different phenotypes, and hence different genotypes to frogs and daffodils. The mechanism behind it is unstated though and I think if you wanted to work in a god there then there's plenty of room. That implies there is a god in the first place which I disagree with, but in itself evolution and religion are not incompatible. Theories of evolution were around long before Darwin. Indeed there are records of similar veins from 6th century BC Greek philosophers.

Darwin's great work was the mechanism of evolution: natural selection. The idea that the initial genotype of a population is varied and that some genotypes are better adapted to the niche that an organism occupies than others. These organisms reproduce and pass on aspects of their genotype. Even this seems compatible with a god to me, either one who decides that natural selection would be a good method of bringing about evolution or one who is ensuring that evolution is selecting the best possible traits to create a supposedly "greater" being that's us.

I do not see how these two things are incompatible. I do not believe in god and think this idea explains a lot that I can see about the world. If one does believe in god then evolution by natural selection is not impossible however. I would suggest that a clever god would use this mechanism anyway because it works really well, leaves him with less work to do so he can take his weekends off, and doesn't require him showing off how brilliant he is by designing everything individually. I'm sure god is too classy to show off...

I'm getting off the point. I just want to ensure that everybody, creationist, rationalist, scientologist or whatever uses the term evolution with its correct definition. If we do not agree on that then discussion is impossible as we would all be talking about different things.

So again: evolution is simply the change in genes of a population of organisms. There is no mention of whether the change in genes is beneficial, how long it takes, and most of all no mention of the mechanism by which it occurs.

anticant said...

"The possibility that God simply created the universe at some point is never considered or mentioned."

Oh yes it is, and dismissed by rational people as too improbable and lacking in any convincing proof to be worth serious consideration.

It really is up to those who prattle endlessly of the 'supernatural' to provide some tangible evidence of its existence.

Stephen Law said...

Yes the word "evolution" is being used in an odd way by author@ptgbook.com.

As I understand it, "the theory of evolution" simply means something like - (all) species emerge by increments from a common ancestry.

As for the mechanism, it could be Darwinian natural selection, or it could be Lamarckian, or whatever. Evolution even allows for a Michael Behe type intelligent designer to intervene on occasion to facilitate the process.

I thought that kids get taught this kind of evolution, plus the Darwinian account of evolution via natural selection. That doesn't rule out the possibility of Behe-type I.D. being involved (after all, even Behe accepts the theory of evolution, as I define it, and accepts natural selection plays a big - if not the only - role).

So to repeat my question: does the author object to the "theory of evolution", as I define it here, being taught in schools and to natural selection being presented as the leading scientific theory of how evolution works?

Author says they don't like the word "evolve" - so swap it for "the emergence of new species by gradual changes to common ancestors" or whatever.

Yes or no?

splittter said...

Your attempt to justify that a purely literal interpretation of the bible can include a period of millions of years neccesary to create the fossil record seems to turn on the idea that, unless it is explicitly denied, we are free to assume whatever we like happened in between sentences ... regardless that this means some fairly interesting stuff was just left out, or that surely the most common interpretation of a passage that says "First x happened, and it was y" implies that y was the state of things immediately after x happened ... not that there was some unspecififed time period between the two events.

Kiwi Dave said...

If I understand author correctly s/he seems to be saying that the fossil record started before there was (sun)light on the earth.

Some animals do exist on geothermal energy rather than sunlight, so presumably all the fossils are these sorts of creatures rather than ones dependent on the sun's energy. Is that what's being claimed here?

For some reason, a biblical quotation came to mind: "strain out a gnat and swallow a camel".

My apologies if this is a double post.

jeremy said...

Yes, "evolution" as understood by biologists is a broader term than "natural selection".

"Evolution" is simply the change in the gene frequencies of a population over time. As drben says, it says nothing about why these gene frequencies change.

"Natural selection" is Darwin's contribution, and provides one such mechanism for the above change. Significantly, it is the only known mechanism that is *directed* - i.e. certain alleles are positively selected, on the basis of their phenotypic effects, over their rivals (for that same locus). This selection, when cumulative, can lead to what biologists refer to as 'adaptive complexity' (e.g. the formation of the vertebrate eye) - something unattainable via other mechanisms of evolution, like genetic drift, etc.

Similarly, evolution (see above definition) assumes there is a population of genes to work on, and so takes over the role of explanation once life has already started. The theory of how life itself started is called abiogenesis. This was paul power's point.

I know all this isn't directly relevant, but thought it may be interesting anyway...

jeremy said...

"...science is basing its belief in evolution on the assumption that there are no supernatural causes involved in the development of species and that science is not equipped to examine the theology of creation because it only studies physical processes. Thus, science cannot look at both sides."

Personally, I think this point is wrong.

Let's take an example: prayer. Surely it is perfectly possible to design an experiment in which you could evaluate whether or not praying for someone's health works? A well-designed large study would be all that was needed - indeed, such studies have already been done.

Or choose, say, telepathy. It isn't very hard to think of a way to test whether the purported mind-reader could guess my mind more often than chance (and training) would dictate.

The essential point is this. In so far as supernatural events are worthy of the name, they must induce a change in the natural world. For instance, God must create a species, or the mind-reader must gain knowledge of my thoughts. But if this is true, then science is perfectly qualified to detect and evaluate these changes. (If on the other hand a supernatural event changed nothing in our world, it would be entirely irrelevant to us.)

I also take paul c's point that it isn't up to me to exclude a supernatural cause for a phenomenon. If I can adequately explain it using natural mechanisms, surely Occam's razor demands I stop there?

Enigman said...

As far as the six days are concerned, they are literal days, 24 hours each.

A day as it is today, or a day as it was when the Bible was written, or a day as it was on the eight day; or do such details not really matter? Was it a day more or less?

Or choose, say, telepathy. It isn't very hard to think of a way to test whether the purported mind-reader could guess my mind more often than chance (and training) would dictate.

You could test for nonrandomness, but that is allowed by chance, if not training. Hume's point was that we'd pick the improbable over the miraculous, if such a test gave positive results - in fact, we'd just suspect some trickery or other. Negative results would be OK, but then the telepathist would prattle on about negative vibrations and such. (It's not hard to think of ways in which the predictable reactions to positive and to negative results resemble each other.)

Stephen Law said...

Not sure about *defining* "evolution" in terms of "gene frequencies" etc.

Surely you can have a theory of evolution - and even natural selection - while remaining ignorant about genes.

Darwin was of course ignorant about genes. So he would not have defined evolution that way.

Paul C said...

Stephen - yes, you can have a theory of evolution without even mentioning genes. However the modern evolutionary synthesis is the combination of Darwin's original theory with our more recent knowledge of genetics. To all intents and purposes, when a biologist talks about evolution now, they are usually (although not exclusively) talking about evolution mainly (although not exclusively) in terms of genes. (There seems to me little doubt that Darwin would have welcomed this, since he had been unable to identify precisely the mechanism of evolution.)

Steelman said...

Hello, Author, and thanks for the response.

"For what it is worth, I would get almost as much opposition and hostility from traditional fundamentalist Christianity and those who claim to believe the Bible literally as from scientists for my writings."

Yes, well, I don't doubt that. :)
I see from your response to me that you're trying to find an explanation for the diversity of life that allows you to harmonize Genesis 1 with the fossil record. However, if you're trying to reconcile science with the Bible, your explanation goes against all the different disciplines of science which agree with how such a fossil record could be formed (Kiwi Dave pointed out one of the problems).

My point here is that science is, so far, the best method for understanding how the world actually works. An ancient religious text, like the Bible, can only tell us what ancient people thought (about god(s), government, ethics, the human condition, etc.). It was written by men who were ignorant of the methods of science, and wouldn't agree with the values of modern day people, including Christians.

Do you value democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and racial equality? They sure didn't; those things are not in the Hebrew Bible. If being ruled by kings and prophets, not being able to express yourself freely in speech or religious beliefs, and being possessed of a raging xenophobia aren't good ideas these days, why is what those ancient folks thought about the way the world was made still considered literally spot on?

I'm sure you or I could dream up dozens of different kinds of gods, with their attendant methods of creating life, and compose explanations for the diversity of living things that would be consistent with at least some of the scientific evidence, but not supported by that evidence.

Here's an example of what I mean by this:
Psychologists claim that watching violent TV programs is a causal factor in increased violent behavior in children. They say children imitate what they see on the screen.

But wait, the scientists are missing the secretive, supernatural influence of the Television Gnomes! These silent, invisible creatures are attracted to the emotional content of the programs being viewed.

When violent programs are watched often, a malevolent TG will arrive on the scene, take up residence inside the television, and begin projecting its powerful thought waves into the brains of any innocent, young viewers present.

The time between when a household begins viewing violent programs, and the arrival of a TG, is consistent with the time lag researchers have found between the introduction of such programs and the resultant "imitation" of violent acts in children's play.

I could go on with this scenario, including the methods necessary to evict the malevolent TG's and install benevolent TG's in their stead, and make it all consistent with modern scientific evidence, but not in any way supported by that same evidence...or any evidence.

What you're proposing isn't even a "god of the gaps"; it's just a superfluous, speculative entity riding on top of an already sufficient explanation. I don't think supernatural explanations go against science, necessarily, it's just that they so far haven't proven to be fruitful avenues of knowledge about what the world is really like. That, and explanations that require faith, as opposed to rigorous scientific evidence, are anything goes propositions. That makes the Flying Spaghetti Monster as likely a candidate for the title of "creator of the universe" as Yahweh.

Kyle P. said...

splittter said, "Your attempt to justify that a purely literal interpretation of the bible can include a period of millions of years necessary to create the fossil record seems to turn on the idea that, unless it is explicitly denied, we are free to assume whatever we like happened in between sentences ..."

I just wanted to point out that this makes me laugh pretty hard. What an awesome thing to say. In other words, between the first and second days that Jeebus was dead, a billion years had passed. Also, Paul the Apostle became a Beatle. Peter ate a whole pumpkin in one sitting, while President Bush mistakenly went to war in Iraq.

I also wanted to point out that I started a new blog at Scientific American. I deal with some philosophy, some atheist arguments, kittens/cats, and will be putting up some computer programming stuff, too!

http://science-community.sciam.com/blog/Wolfgangsenffs-Blog/570002924

jeremy said...

Yes, I think you can certainly define evolution without reference to genes. You could, for example, try something like "evolution is the change in heritable traits of a population over time." This would be something like Darwin's definition. Note however, that genes are implicit in this definition anyway ("heritable"). Also, I think that the 'gene' definition is more accurate, and the only one that will support the rigorous mathematical analyses of population genetics.

Interestingly, the related (but distinct) ideas of speciation and common ancestry don't form part of the conventional definitions of evolution. However, they tie in closely with it, since with a bit of thought, evolution is the only decent theory that explains how they would come about.

Anonymous said...

"Evolution is the teaching that life in all its variety arose on the earth only through natural causes"

I'm sure more learned contributors will correct me if I am wrong but I thought it was the case that the theory of
evolution through natural selection was sufficient to to explain how life arrived at its present variety. It is simply not necessary to invoke the supernatural.

author@ptgbook.org said...

Paul C: "I think you lack ambition. We should also teach that science is basing its belief in quantum physics on the assumption that there are no supernatural causes involved..."

I am not concerned with how quantum physics, history, geography, and medicine are taught in the public schools. I am concerned with how evolution is taught. Quantum physics is a repeatable process. So is medicine. History and geography are not science. None of these subjects are as controversial as the evolution vs. creation issue.

"Of course, another reason that these things are not taught in our schools is because there is absolutely no substantive evidence for God's involvement in any of them."

Not true. There is evidence. Most people have not found it or even seriously looked for it. But some have found it. Without trying to list every type of evidence for God's existance and His intervention in this physical world, I can mention a few that people have found, such as personal answers to prayer, human consciousness (which science cannot explain), the obvious design choices that have been made in the laws of the physical universe, and fulfilled biblical prophecy.


Paul Power: "Evolution has nothing to say about how life started. It confines itself to how life forms change..."

Most evolutionary teaching does focus on how life forms change or disappear and new species emerge. That is why I emphasized "life in all its variety" in my statement about evolution teaching that this occurred only through natural causes. Perhaps I should have been more clear that I was primarily talking about the emergence of new species.


DrBen:

You are correct in saying that evolution and natural selection are two different things. Natural selection and survival of the fittest is actually a repeatable process that can be proven in the laboratory. An example is the resistance to drugs that disease organisms can develop. But evolution teaches that species came into existance through natural selection only. I have never seen evolution taught any other way.


splittter: "Your attempt to justify that a purely literal interpretation of the bible can include a period of millions of years neccesary to create the fossil record seems to turn on the idea that, unless it is explicitly denied, we are free to assume whatever we like happened in between sentences ... regardless that this means some fairly interesting stuff was just left out..."

I am not assuming whatever I like happened between sentences. I am only pointing out what the language allows. It simply does not literally contradict the fossil record. Also, it is God who inspired the Bible and decided what would be included and what left out, and His criteria is not necessarily what we think is most interesting. He has His own purposes for what He reveals and what He does not reveal and how and when He does it. And all of this is outside the scope of science. Understanding this can involve understanding God's will, which science is not equipped to study and does not want to study because science has limited itself to the study of physical processes only.

author@ptgbook.org said...

Kiwi Dave: "If I understand author correctly s/he seems to be saying that the fossil record started before there was (sun)light on the earth."

What I am saying is that a literal reading of the Bible allows for a period of time millions of years ago when the earth was much as it is today, with sunlight, water, land, atmosphere, and populated with species the same or similar as today. At some point an event may have occurred that destroyed the surface of the earth, destroying all life forms, covering the earth with water and putting the earth in darkness. This could have been supernatural destruction from God (such as occurred with Noah's flood) or a natural event that God allowed for some reason. But it resulted in the earth being in a desolate condition. Then six thousand years ago God restored the earth in six days to its prior condition, repairing the damage that had occurred, and restoring the species that had existed just prior to the destruction. I am saying that a literal reading of the Bible allows for this possibility.


Steelman: "My point here is that science is, so far, the best method for understanding how the world actually works. An ancient religious text, like the Bible, can only tell us what ancient people thought (about god(s), government, ethics, the human condition, etc.). It was written by men who were ignorant of the methods of science, and wouldn't agree with the values of modern day people, including Christians."

I agree that science works very well with everyday, repeatable processes, what you call "how the world actually works". But it does not work so well is saying definitely what happened in past as far as origins are concerned. There are huge theological issues involved if you bring a creator God into the picture, issues that science cannot address. I believe, and I feel I have found evidence for this, that God exists, that He created the universe, the earth, life, and mankind for a great purpose, and that He is working out that purpose, actively and intelligently intervening in physical processes as it suits Him. God is not forcing mankind to acknowledge His existence at this time (He could) and He has reasons for that. He also wants man to be able to work with physical matter and energy, and He has designed physical laws that make physical processes consistant and predictable, but He can still intervene when He chooses for His particular reasons, and that would include His supernatural intervention to create life and all the species as well as the earth and the universe.

I also do not believe that the Bible is just an ancient religious text that just tells us what people thought, but that it was written by men under the direct inspiration and supervision of God and is in effect the word of God, God speaking to men in other words.

You illustrate your point with the example of Television Gnomes who take up residence inside a TV. There is a significant difference between your example and the idea of God creating life, and that difference is the Bible. The Bible says nothing about television gnomes taking up residence in TV sets, but it has a lot to say about God as creator of all that exists and the miracles He performs.

This isn't about just anybody's ideas they make up about the spiritual realm vs. evolution. This is about the evidence of the Bible vs. evolution.

You can't can learn about the supernatural thru physical experiment. You can't do experiments to learn what God will or will not do because God makes those decisions Himself in each case individually according to His own reasons. A man may be able to know what God will do in an overall sense by what God says He will do in the Bible (prophecy), but we cannot learn the details of what God will do by experiment as if He was a predictable machine.


Anonymous: "...I thought it was the case that the theory of evolution through natural selection was sufficient to to explain how life arrived at its present variety. It is simply not necessary to invoke the supernatural."

I am not saying that I agree that evolution and natural selection are sufficient to explain the species, but let's say for the moment that it is. Does that mean it actually happened? If creation by God is also sufficient to explain how life arrived at its present variety, then how can we know that life came through evolution and natural selection and not intelligent design by a creator God?

If both evolution via natural selection can explain the species, and also intelligent design by God can explain the species, then either of these is possible and evolution via natural selection has not been proved to be the origin of the species. Then it is wrong to teach it as a fact.

As an illustration, if there was a crime committed, it is not sufficient to prove a suspect guilty only by showing that he could have committed the crime. Maybe a second person also could have committed the crime. You prove which one did it by eliminating the possibility that the other did it. You narrow it down to one by eliminating any other possibility. Science has never done that. It has never eliminated the possibility that God created the species by intelligent design.

author@ptgbook.org said...

A number of commentators have separated "natural selection" from "evolution" and seem to be saying that evolution allows for God as a cause for the genetic change that resulted in the emergence of new species. In other words, we can call it evolution as long as we keep the teaching that all species arose through common descent, and that evolution does not state HOW the genetics were changed. Some have pointed out that the theory of evolution existed centuries before Darwin introduced natural selection as a mechanism. But the theory of evolution before Darwin is not the theory of evolution today. Natural selection is so intertwined with evolution in today's science that you cannot separate them. And whether you call it "evolution" or something else, science teaches that life arose and all the variety of species arose through natural processes only. There is study, discussion, and teaching on how scientists believe this happened through natural selection as much as there is study, discussion and teaching on the concept of common descent. They go together, and the common thread is: natural causes only. This is the theme you will find in textbooks, science journals, scientific discussion. No they don't always say, "natural causes only" in those words. But they only discuss causes in a way that automatically excludes considerations of intelligent design and intervention from God. That is the message that comes through. And there is one label for this whole package of thinking that the public understands: "evolution".

You can break down this body of belief into finer distinctions such as "common descent", "natural selection", "Darwinism", and "evolution", but there is a term that the public understands in its wider sense that groups all these things together, and that is, "evolution", and that is how I am using the term. And this package that is taught is schools really does teach natural causes only and excludes intelligent design by a creator God. Intelligent design is rejected even if that intelligent design is incremental through many generations.


Stephen Law: "Does the author object to the 'theory of evolution', as I define it here, being taught in schools and to natural selection being presented as the leading scientific theory of how evolution works?...Yes or no?"

If I understand you, you are asking if I would object to public schools teaching that there was a common descent with species emerging gradually and that natural selection is science's best explanation for how it happened, but the possibility of intelligent design by God as the mechanism for this gradual emergence of species through common descent is allowed.

That is a tough question for me to answer, and I will tell you why. Although the possibility of common descent and gradual emergence of species over millions of years prior to the account of the six days in Genesis seems plausible to me, I am not 100% sure it really happened that way. The reason I am not 100% sure is that I am not firmly enough trained in the details of fossil and genetic evidence to feel sure in my mind that this is proved beyond any doubt. I know the basics of evolutionary thought and I get a feel for the culture and way of thinking from my reading. I know the weak points at the high level. But I am not suffiently grounded in the details to be absolutely certain that there was a common descent or that it took millions of years.

I never dug up a fossil. I never did laboratory experiments with DNA. I have never been on the inside of the scientific community specializing in evolution to know it extremely well, to know what skeletons may be in the closet for example, or to know all the hidden assumptions that can affect the interpretation of evidence.

I do believe that there is strong peer pressure in the educational and scientific communities for students, teachers, and scientists to conform to the prevailing view, and I think there is strong bias in the scientific and educational communities against belief in God or the Bible. And for a lay person, all the evidence and explanations for evidence is filtered through this community.

Also, I do not know everything God might have done or why He has done it. The Bible does not explain everything, and there is a lot that is unknown about the details of what God has done in the past and how He has done it and when.

So no, I do not feel 100% comfortable with science teaching common descent over millions of years as established fact. That doesn't mean its wrong.

Rather, I would prefer to see them teach that neither common descent nor natural selection as a mechanism are proven facts, but both are science's best theory based on their assumption that there is no God that has actually designed and either created the species or miraculously modified genetics to produce the species that exist. That would simply be a statement of what science actually believes. Put their assumptions on the table, and don't call evolution a fact. Students who agree with those assumptions can accept evolution and all its trimmings and those who do not will know that evolution has not been proved.

I think what I am saying is that science has put limitations on its methods of investigation and interpretation, and it should acknowledge those same limitations in its conclusions. It has restricted itself to examination of physical, repeatable processes only, and it should restrict its conclusions to repeatable processes and not be dogmatic about origins.

Sometimes it is hard for me to articulate accurately what I am trying to get across, so bear with me. These discussions help me to learn to put into words what I am thinking.


jeremy:
"Let's take an example: prayer. Surely it is perfectly possible to design an experiment in which you could evaluate whether or not praying for someone's health works?"

You make an interesting point. But look at if from a the point of view, hypothetically if you do not believe in God, of a God who is working out a plan on the earth for His purposes, choosing even to what degree to allow men the freedom to choose whether or not to believe in Him, and individually deciding to answer each prayer or not, using every fact available to Him in His decision. You can't determine by experiment whether He answers prayer or not. He does not answer every prayer, for one thing, and He may not choose to reveal His existence to the human race so strongly that it forces humanity to acknowledge Him. He knows if this is an experiment, if it would be written up in a paper, etc. Even when you are testing drugs you use a control group that does not know it is receiving placebos, and even the doctors who give them out do not know which are placebos and which are not, lest they inadvertantly signal something to the patients. God is not a machine you can study and predict.

Paul Power said...

"But evolution teaches that species came into existance through natural selection only."
No it doesn't. Darwin, in Origin of Species, describes unnatural selection - where humans guide drive a species in a particular direction by breeding for certain traits. Darwin's example was that of domesticated pigeons. See e.g. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/_0/history_14.

This is all of a kind with the level of everying author writes. It's so sloppy. He wants "proof" of scientific theories. There is no proof for any theory. Evidence can disprove a theory or be consistent with a theory. Evidence cannot prove a theory because it's always possible to construct other theories consistent with all the evidence. That's why science uses Occam's razor and goes with the simplest theory.
Which leads us to this: "Without trying to list every type of evidence for God's existance and His intervention in this physical world, I can mention a few that people have found, such as personal answers to prayer, human consciousness (which science cannot explain), the obvious design choices that have been made in the laws of the physical universe, and fulfilled biblical prophecy."
Personal answers to prayers: do all the times there was no response not refute this idea? If not what ever could?
Human consciousness not explained by science? The fact that science cannot explain something now is not the same as the unfounded claim that it never could.
Obvious design choices in the laws of the universe: perhaps author might consider the arguments against all the forms of the cosmic anthropic principle before rejecting them out of hand like this.
Fulfilled biblical prophesy: what about the unfulfilled ones ? What about the notion that in the absence of evidence Jesus even existed, we have to rely on the self-contradictory stories of his followers that he fulfilled any prophesies?

Cassanders said...

@ Author...,
Let me suggest a field where you can study evolution without having to hang arond for millenia of eons: MICROBIOLOGY.

If I recall, the fastest growing bacteria have a generation time of some 30 min. (I don't know if anyone have knocked "Pseudomonas putida" off the podium, but it held the "world record", way back when.
Quite unsurprsingly, you can observe evolution literally before your eyes when looking at organisms with this short generation time.
I don't recall the authors or the year of publication at the moment, but a research group did a remarcably study a couple of decades ago. When leaving a pure strain (i.e. a clone) of bacteria in a dilute nutrient broth "on the lab shelf" for a sufficient time, they could observe genetic differences in the populations inhabiting various "strata" (probably reflecting "niches") in the jar after a sufficient number of generations. I woud suggest they did indeed observe evolution taking place. How would you interprete the results?

Cassanders
In Cod we trust

Steelman said...

Oh, dear, Author, you're all about having your cake and eating too, I think. :)

In your 4/25 4:30pm post you state:
"I also do not believe that the Bible is just an ancient religious text that just tells us what people thought, but that it was written by men under the direct inspiration and supervision of God and is in effect the word of God, God speaking to men in other words."

You insist that the Biblical account of the diversity of life be taken as authoritative, but when it proves woefully inadequate against scientific evidence (for the reason I stated, and you deny above), you freely add on:

"What I am saying is that a literal reading of the Bible allows for a period of time millions of years ago when the earth was much as it is today[...] Then six thousand years ago God restored the earth in six days to its prior condition[...] I am saying that a literal reading of the Bible allows for this possibility."

By this standard, a "literal reading of the Bible" allows anyone to fill any gaps in its narrative with anything they like, no matter how theologically or scientifically unorthodox, as long as it can be loosely imagined to be consistent with some of the scientific evidence.

As I said, your prologue to Genesis might be consistent with the physical evidence of bones in the ground, but it denies all the rest of the science regarding those bones:
Geology (stratification), physics (radiometric dating), genetics (DNA - molecular biology).

You pick and choose which parts of the science fit your theory, rather than considering all the evidence, and even rewrite the Bible as needed! I can see why, as you said, your ideas are considered controversial by both sides.

"You can't can learn about the supernatural thru physical experiment. You can't do experiments to learn what God will or will not do because God makes those decisions Himself in each case individually according to His own reasons."

I've heard that God answers all prayers. He gives one of three responses: yes, no, or wait. With that standard, a world with a God who answers prayers is indistinguishable from a world without one. Science is based on the assumption that the universe is consistent, and so can be rationally investigated. You seem to be saying, above, that the universe is, in fact, inconsistent. I think that's a very solid reason why supernatural causes cannot be included in the science classroom. There's no way to reliably know anything about them; they are consistently inconsistent.

You said to anonymous:
"If both evolution via natural selection can explain the species, and also intelligent design by God can explain the species..."

But it can't, for the reasons I stated just above.

Here are some basic questions that are asked whenever the police arrive on a crime scene: when, where, who, what, how, why.

The theory of evolution answers:
When: over the course of millions of years, and continuing today.

Where: so far as we know, only on Earth, but possibly many places in the universe.

Who: a natural, unguided process, as evidenced by some not so intelligent designs.

What: the diversity of life.

How: Random mutation, gene duplication, natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift.

Why: No known intentionality, just natural processes.

Intelligent Design's "big tent" answers:
When: over the course of millions of years; over the course of a few days; both; neither.

Where: so far as we know, only on Earth, but possibly many places in the universe; only on Earth.

Who: God guided everything; God, as well as a natural, unguided process engineered by God; Allah was in charge; an unknown designer, now dead; aliens from outer space; etc.

What: the diversity of life.

How: Random mutation, gene duplication, natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift, only occurring within "kinds", after an unarticulated "special creation" event; the previous, but with all necessary evolutionary information "front loaded" into a primordial life form; special creation alone.

Why: For a super being's express purpose (e.g. pleasure, art, science experiment, personal glory); for an unfathomable purpose.

ID in the U.S. is commonly discussed in Christian churches as proof the Bible is correct, and is beginning to be spread in the middle east as proof the Qur'an is correct. It's not good science or good religion. It is incoherent as a scientific theory, and does nothing to solve theological problems for believers.

"As an illustration, if there was a crime committed, it is not sufficient to prove a suspect guilty only by showing that he could have committed the crime. Maybe a second person also could have committed the crime."

What must be proven is that the suspect committed the crime, beyond a reasonable doubt according to the evidence presented, not that an infinite line of other possible suspects did not commit the crime. Criminal justice would be impossible if this were not the case.

Scientific theories are similar in that the explanation offered succeeds or fails according to the evidence, and is contingent on that evidence (new evidence may be offered, or current evidence proven invalid). Disproving every possible speculation that challenges a theory, no matter how comparatively weak, wouldn't be terribly efficient. An alternative theory must stand on its own merits, and be a reasonably better explanation (be parsimonious, have broad power and scope, and be inclusive of all the evidence) to succeed a current theory.

The main evidence you've offered so far is your own personal version of the Bible, along with the proposal that this evidence be given equal footing with present scientific evidence. If your evidence is sufficient for consideration in the classroom, then we are, once again, back to an anything goes proposition: the Qur'an, the Bible, the Rig Veda, the Chinese cosmic egg, and anything that is at least as consistent with some of the evidence as a Television Gnome. ;)

larryniven said...

author: (apologies to others who've probably made these points already)

"What I am saying is that a literal reading of the Bible allows for..."
"...an event may have occurred..."

So, here, you're speculating pretty wildly about what the Bible might possibly mean. This leads to two problems. First, why speculate in this manner? We suspect it's because you already know the truth and are reading it into the text. Second, why should we trust your speculations? We could equally wildly speculate that it means something totally different if we needed it to, based on the same methods.

"There are huge theological issues involved if you bring a creator God into the picture, issues that science cannot address."

Great - it never tried to. This point is way out of place here, but you don't seem to understand why. To illustrate, let's look at another thing you say...

"If both evolution via natural selection can explain the species, and also intelligent design by God can explain the species, then either of these is possible and evolution via natural selection has not been proved to be the origin of the species. Then it is wrong to teach it as a fact."

You say earlier that you don't want this to apply also to things like quantum physics, but observe how well that paragraph works if you switch out evolution for quantum physics:

"If both quantum physics can explain things, and also God can explain things, then either of these is possible and quantum physics has not been proved. Then it is wrong to teach it as a fact."

The underlying structure of the argument is the same, and yet you apparently disagree with its conclusion - as well you should. The reason, of course, is that science teaches as fact the best known experimental hypothesis. Evolution via natural selection and all that jazz is, right now, the best known experimental hypothesis. Moreover, almost anything would qualify for that before an appeal to God, so any sort of intelligent design - including religious ID - falls outside of what sciences teaches (or, perhaps, should teach). You seem to understand this when you begin a sentence, "I would prefer to see them teach that neither common descent nor natural selection as a mechanism are proven facts, but both are science's best theory," but then you go and say, "based on their assumption that there is no God that has actually designed and either created the species or miraculously modified genetics to produce the species that exist." That's not what the theory is based on whatsoever. The theory is based on the facts, for one, and also the idea that, if we never tried to look for a mechanism beyond God, there would be no science at all. Your discussion of the prayer experiment reveals this perfectly. No matter what the results are, the hypothesis in question remains untouched. With that kind of thought process, we get nowhere. Why, then, should we choose it over a far more productive one?

author@ptgbook.org said...

Steelman:

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

You made one point perfectly, and I wish everyone participating in this discussion would read what you have written and believe it, on this particular point.

You said: "The theory of evolution answers:...Who: a natural, unguided process,...How: Random mutation, gene duplication, natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift. Why: No known intentionality, just natural processes."

I agree with you completely. That is exactly what the theory of evolution teaches. Not just common descent with the "how" and "why" left unanswered. Not common descent with maybe some intelligent design from the supernatural mixed in along the way. Common descent through natural forces only. And since you, a believer in evolution, understand that this is what the term "evolution" includes, I wonder why other participants seem to think that the theory of evolution does not teach that life evolved through natural forces only.

The fact is, you are correct. Evolution is taught as a process of natural forces only, no supernatural design or intervention by God. This is exactly they way scientists and textbook writers treat the subject. They do not leave the "how" and "why" unanswered. They assume natural forces only and try to understand how those natural forces worked. And this assumption, stated openly or not, comes through loud and clear to anyone who reads much of the teaching and research on evolution, including the students in classrooms who read and hear this teaching.

But not every believer in evolution in this discussion agrees with you (and me) on this.

DrBen said "Evolution is simply the change in genes of a population, there is no explanation of mechanism given at all....The mechanism behind it is unstated though and I think if you wanted to work in a god there then there's plenty of room."

Stephen Law said "Yes the word 'evolution' is being used in an odd way by author@ptgbook.com. As I understand it, 'the theory of evolution' simply means something like - (all) species emerge by increments from a common ancestry. As for the mechanism, it could be Darwinian natural selection, or it could be Lamarckian, or whatever. Evolution even allows for a Michael Behe type intelligent designer to intervene on occasion to facilitate the process."

jeremy said..." 'Evolution' is simply the change in the gene frequencies of a population over time. As drben says, it says nothing about why these gene frequencies change."

This is critical to the point I am making. Students are taught that species came into existence through natural forces only, just as you stated, "Random mutation, gene duplication, natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift. Why: No known intentionality, just natural processes." No supernatural intelligent design. And whether or not the word "proof" is used, they are taught this as fact, something that definitely happened, period. Yet there is no proof that only natural forces were involved. And in the absense of proof, it should not be taught to students as fact.

Paul Power says my writing is sloppy. He says I want proof of scientific theories. No I don't. I agree with him, that there is no absolute logical proof for any scientific theory. As he correctly points out, evidence can disprove a theory or be consistent with a theory. What I want is for science to be more open and clear in teaching that "natural causes only" has never been proved. And since he points out that evidence can disprove a theory, I would like to ask, has science ever disproved intelligent design and supernatural modification of the genetic code by God, even if God did this gradually over time through common anscestry? If it has disproved it by showing that the evidence is inconsistant with this, I would like to know how. And if not, then I want science to be more open and clear with students that intelligent design has never been disproved.

Steelman said...

Author said:
"Yet there is no proof that only natural forces were involved. And in the absense of proof, it should not be taught to students as fact."

While it's true that absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence, it's also true that absence of evidence isn't evidence of anything.

"What I want is for science to be more open and clear in teaching that "natural causes only" has never been proved."

It's never been proved that there aren't actually invisible space aliens assisting my muscles to move my body around, but there's no good reason, considering what science tells us about human anatomy, to think the aliens are really there.

I guess you skipped over my courtroom analogy, what evidence means (not wishful thinking or holy books, rewritten or otherwise), and how the way Intelligent Design answers the basics questions exposes it as an incoherent mess?

"...has science ever disproved intelligent design and supernatural modification of the genetic code by God, even if God did this gradually over time through common anscestry? If it has disproved it by showing that the evidence is inconsistant with this, I would like to know how. And if not, then I want science to be more open and clear with students that intelligent design has never been disproved."

Again, theories must be supported by evidence, not merely consistent with it. There must be some sort of predictive quality to them: what future evidence would we expect to find if our theory is true? Falsifiability is also important: what future evidence would we expect to find if our theory was not true? You completely destroyed your position's ability to satisfy these criteria by positing an unpredictable (and apparently undetectable) God.

FYI, The Panda's Thumb website has many articles, written by scientists and about scientific research, that refute both general principles and specific evidence presented by the top Intelligent Design proponents. Intelligent Design is not about science, it's a socio-political movement built on religious ideology. It's bad science and bad religion, for reasons I've already stated. There's a reason that a Christian, Republican judge, and scientists who are Christians, like Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller, accept evolution; they did what ID proponents only say they're doing: following the evidence wherever it may lead.

Are you a True Believer, Author, or are you just pulling our collective leg?

author@ptgbook.org said...

larryniven: "So, here, you're speculating pretty wildly about what the Bible might possibly mean. This leads to two problems. First, why speculate in this manner? We suspect it's because you already know the truth and are reading it into the text. Second, why should we trust your speculations?"

There are two reasons why I speculate this way. One, there is evidence in the Bible outside of Genesis that suggests that a desolate earth covered in water was not the creation of the earth mentioned in verse 1 before the six days. Two, there is the fossil and genetic evidence that strongly suggests to me that there was a long period of time when life existed on this earth, far longer than 6,000 years. It is perfectly natural that I would try to reconcile these things. If there is another way to reconcile these things, I would have an open mind about what that might be. Also, I am not asking anyone to trust my speculations, only to acknowledge the possibility or show my why it is not possible.

There are reasons why I think differently about quantum mechanics and evolution. Quantum mechanics deals with everyday repeatable processes, while evolution deals with origins. Also, there is no inconsistancy between quantum mechanics and the Bible, and there are no constitutional issues about freedom of religion involved in quantum mechanics.

Science has limitations, but those limitations do not hinder it in learning about quantum mechanics because quantum mechanics deals with the way things work right now, every minute and every day. By experimenting and theorizing in this field, science can learn useful things that help man produce sophisticated devices in computing, communications, etc. We learn the pattern of how matter and energy work and we make use of this knowledge to alter our environment. How does this fit with my belief in God? God designed and maintains the laws of quantum mechanics because He wants mankind to be able to work with matter and energy to design and build everything from DVD players to atom bombs. It is part of God's plan and purpose for man to give man a certain amount of power over the environment at this time. Man sometimes makes wrong choices with that power, and God allows us to make right or wrong choices. But for us to do this, everyday processes need to be consistant and predictable. God can and sometimes does make exceptions, called miracles, but they are rare and do not prevent man from using the knowledge he has to control his environment. And God does not make so many exceptions that mankind is forced to acknowledge His existence. He stays in the background.

But God is the originator and designer of everything that exists, the universe, the earth, and all life. How He did this has not been revealed in detail. Some things are revealed in the Bible, and the physical evidence such as fossils and DNA can give additional information, but many details are unknown.

When science investigates everyday processes such as chemistry, quantum mechanics, heat, light, gravity, etc. it works well within its limitations. When it tries to say dogmatically what happened in the past, discounting possible intervention by God, it is trying to do something it is not capable of doing logically.

Science as it exists today simply cannot know whether or not God has intervened in the past to intelligently design species and implement that design supernaturally and miraculously. Correction. Science might be able to know if God's invervention was required if it could demonstrate that natural forces are not adequate to explain the emergence of the species. But science teaches that natural forces are adequate. Whether science is being honest about this or not I do not know. But in any case, science cannot logically rule out intelligent design by God. Yet students are taught evolution in a way that gives the message that intelligent design has been ruled out. That is what I object to.

You say that evolution is not based on the assumption that there is no God that has actually designed and produced the species that exist, but is based on facts. But what facts show that God did not design and miraculously create species consistant with the fossil record and genetics? Let me rephrase that. What facts about the fossil record, genetics, or any other facts show that God did not create the species through miraculous intervention?

I do not advocate never looking beyond God for truth about physical processes. I agree that the current thought process in science is very productive in investigating everyday physical processes, and we should keep it. I only want science to acknowledge its limitations regarding the origins of things.

I will break off for the weekend now, but I hope to continue this Monday.

anticant said...

"I believe, and I feel I have found evidence for this, that God exists, that He created the universe, the earth, life, and mankind for a great purpose, and that He is working out that purpose, actively and intelligently intervening in physical processes as it suits Him."

What evidence?

Is a person who makes such unsubstantiated assertions worth arguing with? I don't think so, and shall not bother reading any more of this verbose twaddle.

jeremy said...

Author,

Thanks for replying to all of us. To be fair though, I don't think you've answered Stephen's original question on the testing of the supernatural. I asked a similar question, and you pointed to some (valid) difficulties with measuring prayer.

Again, I don't think testing the supernatural is intrinsically more challenging than testing many other things. For instance, all your objections notwithstanding, you could still easily get a prelimary idea of whether or not prayer works simply by testing whether there is a statistically significant increased tendency for things prayed for to come true. Not all prayers need answering for this test - the event (say recovering from a heart operation) would only need to occur more often than occurs without any prayer. (On your hypothesis, there has to be some tendency to answer prayers on the part of God. If his divine plan always trumps our requests, there would be no point in praying.)

And it would also not help to say that God is (for what reason, I don't know) trying to elude our tests by not answering prayers when examined. This would mean that he would be leaving victims of heart disease to die just so that we would still have no evidence of his existence.

So I still think it is very much possible to test supernatural things, at least in principle. Thoughts?

Paul Power said...

author writes that scientists "believe" in evolution. They most certainly do not. They accept the theory as the best explanation we have so far for certain aspects of the physical universe. They will abandon it if something better comes along. Unlike author, who will never give up his belief no matter what happens or fails to happen.

As I wrote before, sloppiness is the hallmark of everything author writes.

Stephen Law said...

I have just posted a new response...

author@ptgbook.org said...

Steelman:

I didn't skip over reading your courtroom analogy. I wasn't sure how to explain that showing evidence that a certain suspect definitely committed the crime and ruling out any other suspects are the same thing. You can't do one without the other.

Suppose a shot is heard, a passing police car hears the shot, sees a man running, and picks him up. In a nearby alley, a man is found shot dead. The man the police picked up has a gun in his pocket. Ballistics matches the gun with the bullet found in the dead man. The police determine that the gun was recently fired, and the man they picked up has traces of powder burns on his hand. His fingerprints are all over the gun, on the trigger, and on the shells in the gun, and the gun was recently purchased by the man and is registered in his name.

This would be an example of what you wrote: "What must be proven is that the suspect committed the crime, beyond a reasonable doubt according to the evidence presented...".
Right?

But my point is that any evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect committed the crime automatically excludes any other suspects. If a reasonable case could be made that someone else could have done it, that means that the evidence is not sufficient to convict the suspect. In the above case, all other possibilities are excluded because fingerprints are unique and because each gun leaves unique scratch markings on a bullet as it travels through the barrel of the gun, so the bullet in the dead man could not have come from any other gun than the gun the suspect had in his pocket.

Suppose the suspect was not picked up, but he and the gun were found hours later in his house, and it had no fingerprints on it. If there was another man living in the house, it would be harder to get a conviction. Why? Because the defense attorney could counter that it could have been the other person who used the gun, then wiped it clean of fingerprints. How could the prosecution counter that and get a conviction? By ruling out the second man as being the killer. He could do that if the second man had an alibi, for example, he was with friends at a restaurant at the time of the shooting.

In the case of evolution vs. creation, creation would have to be ruled out in order to prove evolution.

This is not a case of ruling out an infinite number of possibilities. There are only two:

1) Evolution / natural selection / "natural causes only" (as actually taught in public schools)

2) Design and supernatural intervention by God (creation)

There are no other possibilities and they are mutually exclusive. If you try to mix them, you go back to number 2, because number 1 allows no mixing. And number 1 is what is taught in the schools.

If you cannot rule out number 2, you cannot logically prove number 1. If you cannot logically prove number 1, you cannot teach it as fact to public school students contrary to their religious beliefs without violating the U.S. constitution. You can only teach it as the unproved opinion of science.

Some might argue that in science there are no "proofs". Is this made clear to the students when evolution is taught? I do not think so. Textbooks teach evolution as if it is a certain fact that it happened. In the minds of students, that implies that science believes it because it has proved it, whether or not the word "proved" is used in the text.

"While it's true that absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence, it's also true that absence of evidence isn't evidence of anything."

Those students and their families who believe in creation believe they have evidence, and there are millions of them.

You use terms like "predictive quality", "falsifiability", etc. which are important elements of the scientific method. These are excellent principles when investigating everyday processes, which is science's proper domain. But you are locked inside the scientific method box. You seem to think that the scientific method is the only logical way of discovering truth. The entire scientific method including "predictive quality", "falsifiability", and all the other principles do not work well in determining the truth of origins.

Science has a methodology for discovering knowledge. It is not the only one anyone can use for discovering truth, but it is the one that science has adopted. It is the scientific method. It is an excellent way of discovering knowledge but it has limitations. It is ideally suited for learning about everyday physical processes, such as in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, etc. It can be used to learn how organs of the body work, what effects medicines can have, how to treat injuries and illnesses, how to be more productive growing crops, etc.

But it is poorly suited for exploring the larger issues of religion, theology, and the origins of things in the past.

Quantum mechanics, how muscles move our bodies around, are all everyday processes that are well addressed by the scientific method. They are science issues only.

But evolution is not just a science issue. It is also a theological and religious issue and it is a legal and constitutional issue. Science has no right to try to impose its scientic method on those other fields. It does that when it uses only the scientific method to investigate the origin of species, reaches a conclusion that species came from natural forces only, then teaches that conclusion as if it were fact in public schools to students who are taught by their families and religious traditions just the opposite.

In matters of religion, the government and its agencies should be neutral. The entire evolution vs. creation issue is as much a domain of religious thought as it is a domain of scientific thought. Public schools should not teach a philosophy that contradicts the belief that God designed and supernaturally intervened to create the species unless they can show evidence that disproves God's intervention. Private schools can teach what they want.

The scientific method should be used only to address questions of how physical matter and energy work today, right now. Experience shows that it works well when used that way. The scientific method should not be used to determine how things originated in the past, except maybe to produce speculations, as long as those speculations are not taught as fact.

You wrote, "The Panda's Thumb website has many articles, written by scientists and about scientific research, that refute both general principles and specific evidence presented by the top Intelligent Design proponents. Intelligent Design is not about science, it's a socio-political movement built on religious ideology. It's bad science and bad religion."

Do you think I am an Intelligent Design proponent? Are you talking about Intelligent Design or intelligent design?

When I use "intelligent design" I am simply referring to the concept of God designing species and supernaturally implementing His designs. But Intelligent Design is also a label for a body of teachings that certain others hold and promote with that label. If you lump me with them, you may be misjudging my positions because I do not necessarily agree with or even know about all the teachings that are promoted under the label Intelligent Design. I do know that some arguments against evolution are uninformed and naive, and I haven't studied the Intelligent Design camp well enough to know if they endorse some of these uninformed and naive arguments. I am only responsible for what I say in my own writings, not for the teachings of others. I endorse no one.

"Are you a True Believer, Author, or are you just pulling our collective leg?"

I am not pulling anyone's leg. If you want me to purposely be funny, I can try (some might think I am funny without trying), but that is not my purpose here. And you have to tell me what a True Believer is for me to answer that one.

author@ptgbook.org said...

anticant:

"What evidence?....and shall not bother reading any more of this verbose twaddle."

What a contradiction! You ask for evidence, then say you don't want to read anymore.

I guess your question about evidence is just rhetorical.


jeremy:

Thank you for your thoughtful response.

Let's suppose you did a statistical study on prayer for healing and found that there was no increase in healing due to prayer. Would this be scientific proof that either there is no God, or if He exists He never intervenes in physical events?

You wrote, "And it would also not help to say that God is (for what reason, I don't know) trying to elude our tests by not answering prayers when examined. This would mean that he would be leaving victims of heart disease to die just so that we would still have no evidence of his existence."

Would God let victims of disease die to limit the evidence of His existence? I say "limit", because I think that the design of the laws of the universe is evidence. So I would not agree that even if such a statistical test about prayer showed no difference in healing that there is no evidence of God. Even so, would God limit miraculous healings to hide Himself?

That is a theological question, and science cannot determine how God thinks by doing experiments. Those who want to know how God thinks and why He might hide himself that way have to look to the Bible. Does God allow death from disease and suffering? Does He allow injustice, murder, war, atrocities, starvation, disease, accidents, etc. to occur on the earth? Yes He does. And if you want to know why, you won't find the answer in science or by doing experiments. You have to look to the Bible. And even then, the person who looks to the Bible for answers better have a respectful attitude or he won't understand it anyway. And it would take time in any case.

That kind of study is completely out of science's domain. The scientific method is completely unsuited for studying the Bible or theological issues. Some scientists or science advocates would disagree with that. They would say that the scientific method is very good for studying the Bible. If I am not mistaken, Isaac Asimov did a commentary on the Bible. But they would be wrong. If you approach the Bible as you would approach a problem in physics or chemistry, using the scientific method, you will not understand it.

As you probably know, many people have chosen to be atheists because of the suffering and evil in this world. They reason, "if God exists, He would not allow so many innocent to suffer". As I point out in my book, many Jews in concentration camps during the Holocaust lost faith in God because they could not believe in a God that would allow them to be tortured and killed that way.

There are answers, but science will never discover them. Science is a limited field of study that is suited for a limited purpose: the study of the everyday natural physical processes, nothing more.


Paul Power: "author writes that scientists 'believe' in evolution. They most certainly do not."

I think most of them do.

"They accept the theory as the best explanation we have so far for certain aspects of the physical universe. They will abandon it if something better comes along."

No, most of them will not.

"Unlike author, who will never give up his belief no matter what happens or fails to happen. As I wrote before, sloppiness is the hallmark of everything author writes."

You don't know me personally. How do you know I will never give up my beliefs? I've changed my beliefs before. How do you know I wouldn't change my beliefs again? Also, have you read everything I have written? If not, how do you know all of it is sloppy?

If you think I am a sloppy writer because I disagree with you about most scientists believing in evolution and not being willing to give it up, it almost appears that you think sloppiness is disagreeing with you.

Paul Power said...

author:

you have shown yourself to be in factual error about evolution numerous times in your writings. So your claim that scientists "believe" in evolution requires more than your say-so, which is evidently made from a position of considerable ignorance. Indeed I hesitate to describe this as a "claim" since all you've done is contradict - without evidence - something I wrote. I've got a B.Sc and M.Sc in experimental physics so it can be said I've made some effort to acquaint myself with science. How about you ?

Paul Power said...

author wrote:
"Those who want to know how God thinks and why He might hide himself that way have to look to the Bible."

Why not the Koran or some other supposedly "holy" book?

Paul Power said...

One more thing:
author complains that since I do not know him I should not claim he will never change him opinion on this topic.

Yet he holds himself to a far lesser standard. He has already claimed that scientists will never abandon the Theory of Evolution when circumstances require that they do. Apparently it's ok for him to make the same claim about hundreds of thousands of people he does not know.

author@ptgbook.org said...

Paul Power:

"Scientists" is a general term, and I never meant that there are not individual exceptions. I am firmly convinced that scientists in general, as a whole, the vast majority of them, believe in evolution and will not give it up even if shown logic or evidence that they are wrong.

You might complain that I used the term "scientists" without qualifying that term with the word "majority", but I didn't qualify it with "all" either, and most people can tell from the context if a word is used in a general sense or not.

I would not say that "Paul Power" will never change his beliefs, or "Stephen Law" will never change his beliefs since I do not know you or him personally. You or he may be exceptions to the general rule.

If you had made the general statement "creationists will never change their beliefs even if shown to be wrong", I would not have objected since I would understand you would be speaking in a general sense of creationists as a group, not every single individual without exception. But you spoke of me personally as an individual, and would have no way of knowing if I might be the exception to the rule even if most creationists will never change their beliefs if shown to be wrong.