April 29, 2009

Francis Collins, Creationist

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, Creationism tagged , , , , , at 3:00 pm by Andrew

Many atheists are familiar with the conversion story of the brilliant geneticist Francis Collins; if not, here’s a recap:

Nobody gets argued all the way into becoming a believer on the sheer basis of logic and reason. That requires a leap of faith. And that leap of faith seemed very scary to me. After I had struggled with this for a couple of years, I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains on a beautiful fall afternoon. I turned the corner and saw in front of me this frozen waterfall, a couple of hundred feet high. Actually, a waterfall that had three parts to it — also the symbolic three in one. At that moment, I felt my resistance leave me. And it was a great sense of relief. The next morning, in the dewy grass in the shadow of the Cascades, I fell on my knees and accepted this truth — that God is God, that Christ is his son and that I am giving my life to that belief.

[emphasis added]

Okay, got that? Collins tells us that (a) he was not “argued all the way” into becoming a believer on the basis of evidence, but rather that (b) his personal experiences changed his mind.

Now — as I’ve said elsewhere on this site — I can’t argue with that. Personally, I don’t think I would have had the same reaction to what strikes me as a relatively ordinary experience, but I can’t second-guess Dr. Collins’ personal motivations and conclusions. If he wants to do good science with one part of his brain and accept Jesus with another, so be it; that’s a concession that atheism is a rational response to the world.

But Dr. Collins doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t leave faith as a personal experience, to be divined from a tripartite waterfall or the equivalent; no, he’s got a new apologetic website in which he attempts to “argue all the way” to Jesus. Worse, on that site, Dr. Collins deliberately attempts to use his legitimate and unimpeachable scientific credentials in one field (genetics) to buttress standard schlock creationist arguments in an entirely different field in which he has no expertise whatsoever (astrophysics). This is standard creationist stock in trade, but it’s disheartening to see Collins using the same sleazy tactics.

Think I’m overstating the case? Here, let Collins speak for himself:

There is a law of physics called the Second Law of Thermodynamics that states an isolated system’s entropy can never decrease, it can only increase or stay the same. In other words, all changes in isolated systems lead to states of higher disorder. Therefore, the same must be true of our entire universe. However, it is also known that the formation of stars and galaxies, essential for the development of life on Earth, requires a high degree of order. This implies that the universe was once much more ordered than it is now, and therefore it began with a very low entropy.

No serious astrophysicist would write something that stupid. First, entropy is not really about ‘order’ in the cosmological sense; second, stellar formation is really well-understood (and not threatened at all by the increasing entropy of the universe), and third, the Big Bang model postulates the lowest possible initial entropy of the universe in any event.

In his apologetics, Collins protests that he is neither an ID creationist or a Biblical creationist. Why, then, is Collins peddling a classic ID creationist argument; one that has been debunked for over a decade (including Penrose’s garbage probability calculations)? And notice that when it comes to his own field, genetics, Collins ably refutes the creationists. But he rips a page from their playbook when he pretends to be an astrophysicist and regurgitates stuff you’d find at Answers in Genesis.

I don’t begrude Dr. Collins his personal beliefs; if he wants to be a Christian, that’s his business. But I do wish he’d honor his own reasons and leave it up to the personal experiences of others to affirm or reject, and I really wish he hadn’t crawled into bed with the tactics of the sleaziest creationists in peddling thorough-going dishonest, misleading nonsense.

HT: Pharyngula, of course.

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70 Comments »

  1. Chayanov said,

    “But Dr. Collins doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t leave faith as a personal experience, to be divined from a tripartite waterfall or the equivalent; no, he’s got a new apologetic website in which he attempts to “argue all the way” to Jesus.”

    Well, there are none so fanatical as those who have been converted. Of course, Collins doesn’t want to take a chance that we mere dumb mortals will miss such a subtle revelation from the divine (a frozen waterfall? Really? No burning bushes available?), so he’s appointed himself as the prophet who will show us all how to be good Christians and scientists.

  2. Facilis said,

    “No serious astrophysicist would write something that stupid.”
    Yes Roger Penrose teaches mathematical physics at Cambridge and developed many theories with Hawking. What have you done in astrophysics…..
    I think I’ll go with the expert.
    “First, entropy is not really about ‘order’ in the cosmological sense”
    They are related but they are not the same, I’ll give you that.

    “second, stellar formation is really well-understood”
    Collins never said that it wasn’t. What he is talking about is the initial entropy.

    “third, the Big Bang model postulates the lowest possible initial entropy of the universe ”
    And you know waaay more about the singularity that Penrose and Hawking who proved it. What are your credentials again??

    “Why, then, is Collins peddling a classic ID creationist argument; one that has been debunked for over a decade”
    Are you ignoring all the responses that have been given to them?For a start check out some papers published by Robin Collins recently in journals and his upcoming chapter in the “Blackwell companion to Natural theology” to see how much new material has come out in the decade you have been hiding under a rock

    “(including Penrose’s garbage probability calculations)?”
    Oh yes you are such an expert on mathematical physics,(unlike Penrose)

    “I really wish he hadn’t crawled into bed with the tactics of the sleaziest creationists in peddling thorough-going dishonest, misleading nonsense.”
    So Penrose , Hawking ,Martin Rees, Paul Davies (some of whom are only arguably theists in a deistic sense and Rees is an atheist) who write books on the fine-tuning are all part of this dishonest scheme.
    This sounds rather like the creationist who claims that all biologists have a dishonest scheme.
    And when people like Lee Smolin, Anderei Linde and Martin Rees postulate multiple universes to solve the problem of fine-tuning, there is no real problem, they are just being dishonest……
    You are liek a comspiracy theorist

  3. Facilis said,

    Correction
    “You are like a conspiracy theorist”
    It is really hard to believe that all those astrophysicists are in on this conspiracy to think that fine-tuninbg is real huh??

  4. Blake Stacey said,

    Facilis,

    Deduce from the fine-tuning principle the proton half-life, the electron/muon mass ratio, the charge of the top quark, the energy scale of supersymmetry breaking and the mass of the Higgs boson. Show your work.

  5. That Other Guy said,

    Oh god. Facilis is HERE too?

  6. Chuck said,

    The fine-tuning argument is nonsense. Honestly, any conceivable set of laws that could have resulted in a cosmological natural history yielding human observers would by necessity look fine-tuned to those observers. This is like arguing that God chose your license plate number, because, after all, of all the numbers that could be conceived, you ended up with this particular one.

    Granted, I’m ignostic with regard to physical theories utilizing multiple universes, and as an empirical scientist I am skeptical of them as introducing too many unobservables, but arguing that the answer must be an equally unobservable invisible pink unicorn is not progress.

    • Boko999 said,

      I love it, I love it, I love it. Consider the license plate thingy stolen.

  7. Bradm said,

    I don’t really see the problem with the statement you quoted. As the wikipedia article you linked to suggests, “order” and “disorder” are commonly used to describe entropy. Perhaps you could explain a little more about why Collins’ use is wrong. You also agree with Collins that the universe began with low entropy, as we all should. What is the problem with that paragraph?

    I didn’t read the rest of that article because I have no real interest in “fine-tuning” but that paragraph seemed fine to me.

  8. dtlocke said,

    Sorry, but you’ve dropped the ball on this one. Collins’s argument is bad, but not for the reasons you cite.

    1. “Entropy is not really about order in the cosmological sense.”

    Sure. So just put ‘lower entropy’ in the argument everywhere you see ‘higher order’. No harm, no foul.

    2. “Stellar formation is really well-understood (and not threatened at all by the increasing entropy of the universe).”

    And Collins never said otherwise.

    3. “The Big Bang model postulates the lowest possible initial entropy of the universe.”

    So what you’re saying is that the Big Bang model actually agrees with the conclusion Collins reaches in the passage you quote! (Surprise, surprise—there is after all a reason that the Big Bang model is as it is, and that reason is precisely the one that Collins mentions: given the Second Law, the universe had to have been in a much lower entropy state than it is now.)

    As I said, Collins’s argument is bad, but not for the reasons you give. The real reason his argument is bad is not to be found in the passage you quote. It’s to be found in where he goes from there. From the conclusion that the universe was initially in a very low entropy state, Collins reasons that, since this was so very improbable, there must have a been a fine-tuner. Now that is where the argument goes wrong.

    • Andrew said,

      dtlocke,

      Maybe I just didn’t quote enough from the Collins article. Let me go through the points you make and show how I think this is a fair reading of what Collins has said.

      1. “Entropy is not really about order in the cosmological sense.”

      Sure. So just put ‘lower entropy’ in the argument everywhere you see ‘higher order’. No harm, no foul.

      But it is a harm and a foul, at least in the way Collins uses it. He states: “In other words, all changes in isolated systems lead to states of higher disorder. Therefore, the same must be true of our entire universe. However, it is also known that the formation of stars and galaxies, essential for the development of life on Earth, requires a high degree of order. This implies that the universe was once much more ordered than it is now, and therefore it began with a very low entropy.”

      Now that may be consistent with the technical definition of entropy, but I think it’s very clear from context that he is trying to play on the connotation of entropy as “disorder” and stars as highly “ordered.” Nevermind, of course, that stellar formation and lifecycle increases entropy in the universe!

      2. “Stellar formation is really well-understood (and not threatened at all by the increasing entropy of the universe).”

      And Collins never said otherwise.

      See above; he explicitly says: “However, it is also known that the formation of stars and galaxies, essential for the development of life on Earth, requires a high degree of order.” That’s a stock creationist canard, and I don’t see any other way to spin that.

      3. With respect to the Big Bang model, Collins says: “What makes this fact significant is that there are so few possibilities for a low entropy universe.” I find this a strange statement in light of the Big Bang model, since as far as we know, all possibilities are for a universe with the minimum entropy. So the notion that there are “so few possibilities” just seems very weird to me.

      Hope this clarifies things..

      • skepsci said,

        I agree with locke. Stars and galaxies display a lower degree of order than their precursors, but a high degree of order compared to, say, the “heat death.” Since high is a relative term and he doesn’t specify a basis for comparison, this is perhaps imprecise, but it’s not wrong. All he is saying is that there is a certain amount of entropy in the universe today (whether you characterize this as “low” or “high” is besides the point, since it depends entirely on your frame of reference) and that before today, there must have been less. This is all correct – where he goes awry is going on to argue that this implies the existence of a designer, rather than being an obvious consequence of big-bang theory.

    • qbsmd said,

      “The Big Bang model postulates the lowest possible initial entropy of the universe.”

      I remember reading something that postulated the initial state of the universe was at maximum entropy, but as the universe expanded, its maximum possible entropy increased so much faster than its actual entropy that the universe had a fairly low entropy later on.
      I also read another hypothesis that the universe has infinite entropy, and that it can continue to increase its entropy by generating new big bangs as the old ones reach heat death. I don’t remember if or how that hypothesis handled conservation of energy.

  9. Siamang said,

    What I want to know is, if the universe is fine-tuned, Who decided what settings the Tuner had to set the knobs to?

    I mean, if God was really God, couldn’t He create life in any kind of universe, not just the tuned ones?

    If God was merely following a recipe, then who wrote the laws that God was following?

    I see these as fundamentally flawed competing claims:

    The universe is fine-tuned for life. Therefore YAY GOD!
    The universe is NOT fine-tuned for life, but life exists anyway. Therefore REALLY YAY GOD!

    In any universe where life existed, beings using this argument are only extrapolating a God from the fact of their own existence. You don’t need to run this supposition through physics to come to this conclusion. That’s running around the barn to get a tool you’re already holding.

    Running the argument through physics is mere slight-of-hand.

  10. Sean Carroll said,

    I have to agree with some of the commenters. Collins isn’t using the typical dumb-creationist argument that evolution is incompatible with the Second Law. He’s just explaining that the universe near the Big Bang was in a very special state, one of extremely low entropy. Nobody knows why that is true. You can use it (as Collins does) as a “gap” that God should step in and explain, but that’s as likely to come out right as all the previous gaps have been.

    There’s no reason to make up bad arguments and attribute them to people who are perfectly willing to make bad arguments on their own.

  11. amphiox said,

    Except that the universe isn’t fine tuned for life. Unless there’s some organism we haven’t discovered yet that thrives in hard vacuum and derives energy from gamma rays.

  12. saurabh said,

    What dtlocke said – you badly misread this and tripped over your own feet in your haste to make Collins look like an idiot. Wipe the cake off your face and try again.

    • Andrew said,

      See above. And I would tone down the rhetoric, since the failure on my part is not having quoted more of Collins’ wrongheadedness.

  13. Robotczar said,

    Given that the Universe had very low (actually high) entropy, please tell me how exactly we know that is have higher (or lower) entropy now? We know that stellar material (and all other known matter) is but a small part of the universe. So, how do are we able to deduce the current entropy of the universe by looking only at stars and associated gas?

  14. Paul Wright said,

    Sean Carroll’s probably too modest to link to his own SciAm article on the subject, so I just did. Collins is not making the usual silly creationist argument (although he seems to get confused with “However, it is also known that the formation of stars and galaxies, essential for the development of life on Earth, requires a high degree of order”, since my understanding is that clumping is expected as entropy increases in universe with gravity). He’s pointing out a gap in our current scientific understanding and inserting God into it. Ironically, it was a Christian who pointed out to other Christians why this was a bad idea, but it doesn’t seem to stop them.

    • Andrew said,

      That is indeed a terrific article; thanks for linking. Hopefully the above comments clarify my point. I do agree that Collins is not making the Ray Comfort “evolution violates the SLoT” argument, and I don’t think I’ve accused him of doing so. I also think he’s employing standard creationist trickery as described above, and in particular trying to parlay his actual scientific expertise into an area where he possesses no such expertise.

  15. trj said,

    The Big Bang model does not require the universe to initially be in a state of low entropy, so this is is not an argument for a finely tuned universe, despite what Collins claims. Furthermore, Collins is misusing Penrose (which I’ll not go into here), so to me he does come across as using the standard creationist procedure – using invalid premises and misappropriating science. So he should be criticized, although I also think Andrew’s criticism of him misses the mark.

    Regarding entropy, the 2nd law of thermodynamics applies to systems which are in (thermal) equilibrium. Because the universe is expanding in volume it is not in equilibrium. As its volume increases, the physical room for possible configurations also increases (more particle states become accesssible), which means the universe’s maximum ALLOWABLE entropy increases over time.

    If we go all the way back to the Big Bang, the earliest point in time at which we can say anything meaningful about the universe is at the Planck time (at 10^-44 sec) at which time the universe was the size of a Planck length (10^-35 m). Earlier than this time, due to the uncertainty principle, we can say absolutely nothing about the internal state of the universe. In fact, you could argue that by definition the universe had MAXIMUM entropy at that time (entropy being an arbitrary measure of the unknown state of a system).

    But as the universe expanded into being billions of light years across, the allowable amount of entropy increased, which is how we can start with a system with maximum entropy and still not violate the 2nd law by steadily increasing its entropy over time. The upper limit of allowable entropy increases with the growing volume, making it possible for total entropy to increase.

  16. JackC said,

    Reading only the excerpts here (I promise to do more shortly!) I had a suspicion – and it appears correct. Collins has been listening to this guy (I surely hope html references work here – being as this is my first time posting – apologies sincere if not!)

    That may be explicit elsewhere and I just haven’t seen it yet, but this page was telling.

    The “threeness” was indicative, really. If you want to see some really horrific cosmology, google “Everything is Spiritual”. The short video link with excerpts usually gives a link for the full thing – over an hour. I urge only those with strong constitutions to attend the entire thing however.

    Along with several others, I wrote up an extensive, but by no means complete, analysis of many points made in the video. To take on all of them would have been really too much.

    JC

  17. danielg said,

    As a former life scientist and a Christian, I find Collins book and approach the least internally consistent – he’s essentially a theistic evolutionist, and this position has practical problems (like how do you know where God intervened along the way – is it only at the points of least probability of natural processes creating life of great advancement?), not to mention the standard religious and philosophical problems with trying to integrate evolution with a Biblical World View.

    I think he is duped by the illusion of common descent, while trying to hold his Christian convictions. In the end, he won’t make anyone happy. And again, I think this middle position is the least internally consistent.

    • Your Mighty Overload said,

      I think he is duped by the illusion of common descent

      Yes, he’s a trickster apparently, that god of yours. Hey, maybe you can enlighten us as to why he created everything just to look exactly the way it would not look, if he were real and created the universe for the sole enjoyment of humans?

      • danielg said,

        Are you mentally unstable, or do you just act that way? Come back when your sarcasm stops clouding your judgment. Your straw men are showing.

      • Your Mighty Overload said,

        What’s the matter Daniel? No answer?

        You claim that common descent is an “illusion”, when all the evidence clearly and unequivocally points to it. Physiology, biochemistry, genetics, paleontology – they all point to common descent.

        So, if God created all this, in his ineffable wisdom, why did he copy so many non-functional genes between species – in exactly the pattern they would be copied if evolution were true?

        Believe me, I have a thousand questions like this, for which there is no reasonable answer to be found by invoking a god.

    • jackd said,

      I think he [Collins] is duped by the illusion of common descent

      Is your position that common descent is illusory purely a matter of faith, or do you think that it is a conclusion that can be reasoned from the evidence?

      In the spirit of this blog, the former is your privilege and you would be welcome to it.

      But if you take the latter position, I would be interested in hearing how you reached your conclusion. A link to an appropriate site would be fine.

      • danielg said,

        As with all things related to origins, there is a mixture of evidence for and against. Common descent is assumed, not proven, and cannot be witnessed empirically.

        So just as many evolutionists talk about the ‘illusion of design’ (perhaps calling it an illusion based on their Bayesian predisposition against design), us creationists talk of the ‘illusion of common descent.’

        But the creationist position (if you can say there is only one) is that, while descent within created ‘kinds’ (roughly at the Order level?) is seen, there is no relationship among the higher taxa.

        Some of the evidence against common descent is found in the following articles. Not entirely conclusive, but I think enough to allow for reasonable dissent rather than mockery.

        How molecular biology has ‘annihilated the tree of life’
        Post details: What can cladograms tell us about the past?
        ‘Junk’ DNA proves functional

        The last article may be a little of a stretch, but the functionality of ‘junk’ DNA contradicts the prediction that we have inherited a bunch of nonsense DNA over the millenia, as common descent has predicted (and why it interfered with and delayed our understanding of it, as I discussed in Darwinism Impeding Science III – Junk DNA defies evolution’s predictions.

        And thank your for being civil.

      • Michael Fugate said,

        I didn’t realize that the best place to get science information was from Christian blogposts…
        We witness common descent every day – how do you think got here? A deity forming you from the dust of the ground and blowing into your nose? If we find an allele in a mother and a son would you conclude it is present due to common descent? Now what about an allele in a human and a chimpanzee?

      • Siamang said,

        danielg posted as evidence of “the illusion of common descent” a link to his own blogpost quoting a discovery institute press-release quote-mining some science articles in magazines.

        Danielg,

        when you talk about annihilating the tree of life, and then follow the quote-mined links to their source.. one of which is:

        http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126921.600-why-darwin-was-wrong-about-the-tree-of-life.html

        You find (quelle surprise) they aren’t actually talking about problems with common descent. What they are talking about is horizontal gene transfer. Like by viruses and hybridization. They aren’t saying that common descent is in trouble. Much to the contrary. They are saying that gene transfer isn’t solely vertical.

        My goodness, what a sleazy dishonest tactic. You should be ashamed of yourself.

      • danielg said,

        >> Siamang: danielg posted as evidence of ‘the illusion of common descent’ a link to his own blogpost quoting a discovery institute press-release quote-mining some science articles in magazines.

        I am glad you can trace articles back. But I was merely tracking back to what I’d previously written on the post. And btw, making at hominem attacks about my sources is not an argument against the data.

        The fact that it traces back to the new scientist should be good enough for you. But if you want to hide behind ‘I don’t trust your sources’ that’s fine.

        What you may igore are the many quotes from the Darwinists, which are not misrepresented, speaking candidly about the mess that the trees are in.

        While they may be reluctant, nay, unable to see that their primary assumption of common descent is in trouble, they do admit that the CURRENT state of the charts based on their assumptions are abysmally ‘obsolete and in tatters.’

        I provide this as evidence that the common descent model is faulty if not bogus, even if evolutionary believers and scientists are not ready to admit that.

        That’s reasonable to me, even if you want to hide in ad hominems and disgust that I would refer you to my previous writings on it rather than reposting them here.

        >> SIAMANG: when you talk about annihilating the tree of life, and then follow the quote-mined links

        It’s only ‘quote mining’ if I’ve misrepresented the data. Otherwise, it’s called ‘excerpting.’

        >> SIAMANG: You find (quelle surprise) they aren’t actually talking about problems with common descent.

        The fact that the authors (mis)interpret the data with evolutionary presuppositions does not mean that I have misrepresented the data.

        And as I said, the plain quotes of the awful state of cladograms speaks for itself. I am not making them say such things, nor misrepresenting these statements. Again, this may not be enough for THEM to conclude that their models suck, but I think it is reasonable for me to think so and present this as evidence.

        >> MICHAEL: We witness common descent every day – how do you think got here? If we find an allele in a mother and a son would you conclude it is present due to common descent?

        We see inheritance every day, but that is not common descent in the evolutionary sense. Does the fact that I inherit genes from my mother prove that men came from chimps? Not in the least.

        Can you tell me where we see humans directly inheriting genes from chimps? What, you just INFER it from the similarity and your proposed mechanism, even though it is impossible to replicate, and has never been accomplished even in microorganisms that can simulate millions of years of mutations? You do not witness it ever, you just assume it. That’s one of my points.

        >> SIAMANG: My goodness, what a sleazy dishonest tactic.

        No, I hid nothing. You are just eager to jump on the “I’m so much smarter than you and can just ridicule rather than respond, educate, and dialogue.” It is truly said that intelligence does not create maturity.

        >> YMO: ID links Daniel? Well, I guess you are a creationist then.

        I am a creationist sympathizer, and an evolutionary skeptic. But I would not let either of those be my primary identifier.

        >> YMO: if we look at, for example, the Dover vs Kitzmiller trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, then we can clearly see that ID proponents employ dishonest tactics.

        First, I think that kangaroo court decision was a joke. Allowing judges and politics to decide matters of the scope of science is at best inadvisable. You may think the decision was just about education, but it was a miscarriage of bigger proportions, but I digress.

        >> YMO: wonder what you think is so special about the order level? I mean, if we can have common descent from the order level down, why not above??

        It’s an approximation. Some say Family. Establishing different boundaries for those distinctions is an interesting science, and one that creationists try to address through Baraminology.

        >> YMO: And why does cladistic analysis work at every level it is employed in?

        Depends on what you mean by ‘work.’ If you organize by morphology, you don’t have to prove that things are related, just outwardly similar. Now that we can actually try to trace inheritance at the gene level, we are finding that the cladograms are not only wrong, but the ones created by the genetic data are nonsense – a mess, as the many excerpted quotes (not quote mined, that’s just a cheap tactic used to ignore the content).

        >> YMO: here is no reasonable answer to be found by invoking a god.

        I am not invoking a god, merely stating that I think common descent is a poor model, contradicted by genetic evidence so far, and at worst, and illusion.

        >> YMO: why are plant, animal and fungal cells so similar?

        Why should they be different? Common descent provides one possible answer to ‘why’, but you have to do more than propose a solution. You have to suggest mechanism (which you’ve done) AND you have to show that the data fits it. But this is where the whole thing breaks down. The data clearly does NOT support it at this time. Yet you are so sure. That is called ‘belief.’

        I understand that ‘invoking an intelligence’ can be a cheap, anti-intellectual solution, but IF that were the case, how would we use empiricism to determine that? That is what IDers are trying to do. In addition, as you may be aware, creation science is more than just assuming a creation event. It proposes many other things that can be tested with science, including such claims as:
        - the genetic code is deteriorating over time from a more ‘perfect’ state
        - there was a global flood
        - this flood may have caused many of the geological features that Uniformitarians believe took long ages
        - all animals within a ‘kind’ have descended from a common ancestor, but are NOT related to other ‘kinds’ (so, we might see common descent within an Order but not between the higher taxa).
        - we would see ‘irreducible complexity’ even at microscopic levels, evidence of intelligence – highly complex machine-like systems of amazing efficiency

        Now, these predictions may be postdictions in some cases, but we can make predictions from some of the major assumptions of creation science and see if they come true. And the list of claims above can be tested, proving that CS is more than just ‘god did it.’

        But I am not here to defend ID or creationism, only to say that I think I have grounds for believing that common descent has not been proven, and quite to the contrary many of the secular experts as well as the genetic data itself testify to the contradictions of the data when compared to the common descent model.

        At the very least, it needs to be significantly modified – perhaps it is MUCH more complex than we had imaged, as we are finding DNA functionality itself to be. Or perhaps it needs to be discarded as a model altogether.

        >> YMO: Of course, things like archaeopteryx directly stand against your idea

        Do you HAVE to bring that up? Even scientists who have published in Nature can’t agree as to whether Ax was a bird or just a reptile. Supposed intermediates make somewhat of a historical case, but again, it often does not prove any more than variation within a ‘kind’ or species, not inheritance. You’re just assuming that, and have to show the mechanisms to actually work. Otherwise, it’s just ‘belief.’

        And with the little bit of evidence I’ve provided, I think there is already enough reason to doubt, that’s all.

        >> SIAMANG: embryology, … all reinforce *the same cladistic relationships*.

        Are you saying ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny? I thought that mistake died with Haeckel ;)

        OK gentlemen, I’ve taken enough time trying to explain my incendiary use of “illusion” now I have to work. But I will watch the comments here. My main point, again, was to point out that Collins theistic evolution stance is probably less defensible than either full on evolution or creation, since the middle ground is so fraught with logical difficulties, if not outright contradictions. Don’t you argee?

      • Michael Fugate said,

        So how did the same allele arise in a chimp and a human? Magic?
        Why would you invoke one mechanism for mother to son, but another from species to species? Please elaborate on what prevents speciation? Especially since we can easily both witness it in nature and replicate it in the laboratory (have you ever heard of these organisms called plants – they speciate by ploidy changes and hybridization frequently).
        Your creation model is so completely refuted by the available evidence – try reading something not written by or filtered through creationists. I would suggest Arthur Strahler’s “Science and Earth History” to throughly wipe your brain of creationism.

      • jackd said,

        danielg,

        Thanks for the response. If the New Scientist article is your best source of information which you believe argues against common descent, I’m afraid your case is very weak.

        The NS article, as others have pointed out, is about the difficulties that Horizontal Gene Transfer poses for Darwin’s original “tree of life”. The people arguing for the importance of HGT think the “tree” is really more of a web, with ramifications and articulations dominating over simple branching patterns. (By the way, I think it’s become commonly accepted that HGT must have been dominant in the early stages of life’s formation.)

        But this does your case no good at all. Different patterns of descent don’t change the “common” part. For common descent to be challenged, someone must produce at least one species that shows no signs of relation to any other.

        You seem to understand this when you say the creationist position is that “there is no relationship among higher taxa”. (Which in itself is kind of curious when their most vehement claim is that humans are unrelated to the other great apes.) The problem is that creationists have utterly failed to counter the evidence *for* the relationships between taxa.

        I must add that I’m disappointed but not surprised by some parts of your response. Take the leading statement “Common descent is assumed”. This is false. Common descent is a conclusion based on the evidence, not an assumption. It is tested each time a genetic comparison between species is made, or a new fossil discovered, and so far it has held up very well, the NS article not withstanding.

        Yes, the “junk” DNA parts are worse than “a bit of a stretch”, they’re entirely irrelevant. Like virtually every bit of real science creationists latch on to, the actual discoveries challenge our understandings of the mechanisms of evolution, not the facts of life’s changes over time.

        Finally, it’s deeply disappointing to see your references to a “global flood”. Please do read a bit of the history of geology and see how the early natural scientists (who were frequently Christian clergy) discovered that the geological record does *not* support a universal deluge.

    • Your Mighty Overload said,

      Ahh,, ID links Daniel? Well, I guess you are a creationist then.

      But here’s the thing, if we look at, for example, the Dover vs Kitzmiller trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, then we can clearly see that ID proponents employ dishonest tactics. Michael Behe, the father of ID, was pretty much laughed out of court, when he admitted that his definition of science included astrology, and that he had never read the copious work which effectively refuted all his claims.

      I wonder what you think is so special about the order level? I mean, if we can have common descent from the order level down, why not above?? And why does cladistic analysis work at every level it is employed in? Come to think of it, if common descent only comes from the order level down, and nothing above that level are related, why are plant, animal and fungal cells so similar? I mean, with a wonder creator like yours, he could make anything, right? So why stick making the same thing over and over again – he must have known people would take this as a sign of common descent – why is he trying to fool us into thinking he doesn’t exist? Of course, things like archaeopteryx directly stand against your idea – and when the evidence goes against an idea, then burying one’s head in the sand won’t make it any better an idea.

      Why do we share some 70% of our genes with brocolli, if common descent is wrong?

      And what’s your alternative, and what experiments have been done / what independent evidence of the existence of this thing do you have?

      • Siamang said,

        YMO, why stick just to genes?

        Biogeography, comparative anatomy, the chronological nature of the fossil record, embyology, etc… etc… etc… all reinforce *the same cladistic relationships*.

        The hole danielg’s dug is too deep to refute literally an entire planet of data with a couple of links to his creationist websites.

      • Your Mighty Overload said,

        I agree completely Siamang, every day, every week, every month we find more and more stuff which backs up the theory of evolution. Heck, later this month an extended review article / book chapter I wrote on the comparative biochemistry / physiology / life cycles of parasitic plants plants will come out, and I used evolutionary theory as the basis for it. I junked all the old functional classifications and replaced them with a more evolutionary / functional based model – and shock horror – everything falls into place and makes sense.

        Parasites, now there is another interesting topic, for believers in an omnibenevolent God.

  18. Your Mighty Overload said,

    I just don’t know why apparently clever people get all hung up on the “fine tuning” argument, and don’t just see it for the hand-waving anthropic argument that it is.

    There is *absolutely nothing surprising* about the fact that we live in a universe in which we could evolve. The surprising thing would be, as mentioned above, if we existed in a universe where we couldn’t have evolved – where the laws of physics and chemistry were too unpredictable to allow complex chemistry.

    To be surprised about the fact that the universal constants are just those which would allow humans to evolve is to get the argument 180 degrees the wrong way – we have no idea how many universes there are, or even if the constants could be vastly different. This is basically the cosmic equivalent of crying out “miracle!!” every time you manage to correctly call the toss of a coin, but worse that that, the coin may will turn out to be heads on both sides.

    • Facilis said,

      No. It would be the equivalent to having a squad of trained marksmen pointing a you , firing and then missing despite the low probability of them missing and the crying “Miracle!!” (Collins uses this analogy in his book) In contrast you say “Well if they had not missed me I would be dead and not here so “there s absolutely nothing surprising” about them missing.”

      • Your Mighty Overload said,

        What a load of crap, as usual from you.

        It is more like having a group of trained or possibly not trained marksmen, who may or may not exist, blindfolded, who may or may not be shooting real guns with what may or may not be real bullets, perhaps in the same county, heck perhaps even in the same location (or possibly not), and they might even be pointing the right direction, although they might not be. And even at that, we know more about the risks of me being shot than we do about the chances of any given final outcome being realized. Your analogy only makes any sense if we assume that humans are the inevitable outcome (or desired outcome), and we can accurately define the range of possible universes.

        The fact is, we have absolutely no idea what range of universes might or might not be able to exist. The only way that we for sure know that existence can exist is this way (because it does), and this way allows for the evolution of humans.

      • Jason Black said,

        Facilis said,

        April 30, 2009 at 1:58 am

        No. It would be the equivalent to having a squad of trained marksmen pointing a you , firing and then missing despite the low probability of them missing and the crying “Miracle!!” (Collins uses this analogy in his book) In contrast you say “Well if they had not missed me I would be dead and not here so “there s absolutely nothing surprising” about them missing.”

        And where is your well reasoned theory based on observation to back this up?

      • qbsmd said,

        The problem with that is that you, and everyone else, have no idea what the probability of different types of universes forming is. From a frequentist interpretation of probability, you can’t even begin to guess those probabilities without having a sample of universes to look at. All we know is that at least one universe formed, and have some idea about what it looks like. Therefore you have to be arguing from a Bayesian interpretation of probability, and your conclusions are based on some assumed prior probability distribution for different types of universes. Since your conclusions can only be as good as that assumed prior knowledge, for your argument to be at all persuasive, you must describe your assumptions and why you think they are good ones.

      • Facilis said,

        @qbsmd
        Fine-tuning uses epistemic probability , not statistical probability.

  19. Phil said,

    I find suspect this blog’s claim to be “evaluating” anything, as its author appears to uncritically accept whatever PZ “spread daily propaganda for atheism” Myers says. Collins’s statement about low entropy has actually been overwhelmingly confirmed by many scientists (but by no means all), even if they wouldn’t accept this as evidence in a fine-tuning argument. Contrary to what was said above, this is not something Penrose just invented. The earliest states of the smooth universe actually would generate low entropy conditions.

    • Your Mighty Overload said,

      Well Phil,

      When PZ starts covering up the molestation of small children, when he starts making proclamations against scientifically proven disease prevention methods, and when he starts lobbying the government to teach ideas completely unsupported by any sort of empirical evidence whatsoever, then feel free to start your own blog and spread propaganda for whatever it is you want to believe.

      In fact, feel free to start that blog right now. If you’ve got anything better than PZ, I imagine your daily traffic will exceed his quite quickly. If you’re not willing to do that, then why not do us all a favour and quit your bitching.

      • awfrick said,

        +1

        The idea that ID or Creationism is actually sound science is absurd; both ideals are everything BUT science. In fact, they require the absence of science in order to properly operate.

      • Phil said,

        And PZ’s credulous followers stumble in…

  20. Jason Black said,

    Phil, PZ Myers writes more common sense than a whole gaggle of christian apologists and IDiots.

  21. aquellashistorias said,

    Hello. If you want to read stories of wonderful ordinary people, this blog is yours. Enjoy it! you´ll like it!
    Is http://aquellashistorias.wordpress.com

    PD: You can also send your stories! Thank you!

  22. Bored by balls said,

    Christianity is one of the best examples I know of how intelligent people can be made to look so stupid. Strip the God concept of all its garbage and their might be truth to it. The universe is fine tuned to life (or our bit of it is), but so what. Inventing magical beings isnt going to answer it and if it was made by aliens as an experiment we will probably never know. Multi-universe theory might by in its infancy experimentally, but at least its a real effort.

    The second law states that isolated systems will ‘trend’ towards disorder, but it doesnt mean that order cannot arise on its own. Even in a gas with randomly moving molecules order will arise and evaporate in places. This argument can only reveal the stupidity of the person using it. The universe features gravity, while the second law doesnt. Gravity pulls things together, creating order. Gasses can eventually undergo fusion releasing energy when confined within a strong gravitational field. This energy output can create decreasing pockets of energy.

    It is not difficult to understand what it means when someone says ‘I believe in God’. They are not talking about the universe anymore. The statement refers to themselves. Contortions of physical theory based on giving your limbic system over to a magical principle are likely to be garbage. This is easy to understand.

  23. Sabio said,

    Nicely put ! And you did it with style. Thank you..

  24. Andrew said,

    For comparison, here’s The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) on the same subject. Yes, there’s an extra-strength-stupid argument here that Collins does not make (but doesn’t refute, either), but I would say that Collins’ rhetoric is certainly compatible with what the people who think the earth is 3,000 years younger than some trees are saying.

    • Facilis said,

      “Yes, there’s an extra-strength-stupid argument here that Collins does not make (but doesn’t refute, either)”
      I’m not a young earth creationist but even I recognise that the argument ICR makes in this post is well within mainstream science
      ICR says
      “The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system, such as the universe, that is not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium. The Third Law of Thermodynamics states that as the temperature approaches absolute zero, the entropy of a system approaches a constant.Fortunately for us, the temperature of the universe is not zero. It is moving that way each moment, but it is not there yet.At some prior time, all the energy in the universe was available. Energy must have been created at some finite time in the past; otherwise we would have died long ago.”

      Compare this to a statement from a lecture by mainstream astrophysicist and science writer Paul Davies
      “Today, few cosmologists doubt that the universe, at least as we know it, did have an origin at a finite moment in the past. The alternative—that the universe has always existed in one form or another—runs into a rather basic paradox. The sun and stars cannot keep burning forever: sooner or later they will run out of fuel and die. The same is true of all irreversible physical processes; the stock of energy available in the universe to drive them is finite, and cannot last for eternity. This is an example of the so-called second law of thermodynamics, which, applied to the entire cosmos,predicts that it is stuck on a one-way slide of degeneration and decay towards a final state of maximum entropy, or disorder. As this final state has not yet been reached, it follows that the universe cannot have existed for an infinite time.”
      Paul Davies, “The Big Bang—and Before,” The Thomas Aquinas College Lecture Series, Thomas
      Aquinas College, Santa Paula, Calif., March 2002.

      I’m sure you are a brilliant lawyer but you should read more on physics.

      • Matt said,

        I’m pretty sure the problem isn’t the description of the universe (nobody disputes that), but the fact that the genius-level intellects at the ICR use that argument to prove that the entire universe is 6,000 years old!

        Andrew: as a side note, this is why you shouldn’t do any more posts on creationism; we get a distinctly lower class of Christian here at EC whenever that happens!

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM said,

        the argument ICR makes in this post is well within mainstream science

        How can it be within mainstream science, when they speak of “creation of energy” but apparently mainstream science finds that the universe has exactly zero energy? (See the linked paper.)

        Or when they speak of available energy at some prior time, if the universe originated with exactly maximum allowable entropy (available microstates)? (See the discussion on Stenger’s claim.)

        it follows that the universe cannot have existed for an infinite time.

        Sure, and no one argues differently.

        However, if you try to imply creation this argument fails. There are as of yet valid multiverse cosmologies such as chaotic inflation where there are worldlines going unboundedly backwards. In other words there is no assured creation moment in “mainstream science”.

        [And of course the zero energy content of the universe will in any case make an origination possible by stochastic quantum processes from another, possibly eternal, universe without any dependence on a third system.]

        Incidentally, Davies seems to have an annoying habit of raising arguments like the above without discussing the many alternatives. (IIRC he is a supposed to be a deist, which may explain the behavior.) For that reason I find his tendentious works quite unreadable.

      • Facilis said,

        @Torbjörn Larsson
        “How can it be within mainstream science, when they speak of “creation of energy” but apparently mainstream science finds that the universe has exactly zero energy? (See the linked paper.) Or when they speak of available energy at some prior time, if the universe originated with exactly maximum allowable entropy (available microstates)? (See the discussion on Stenger’s claim.)”
        Apparently there was supposed to be a link in here.
        “Sure, and no one argues differently. ”
        Huh. A lot of atheists I know argue that the universe is eternal and uncaused. Off the top of my head I can think of Ray Comfort’s debate with the RRS and several debates with William lane Craig where atheists say the universe is eternal.

        “There are as of yet valid multiverse cosmologies such as chaotic inflation where there are worldlines going unboundedly backwards. In other words there is no assured creation moment in “mainstream science”.”
        From what I’ve read even Andrei Lindei admits tha inflationary cosmology scenarios would require a beginning (the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theeorem predicts this)

  25. [...] Chemiker Francis Collins eingeschaltet und eine Website zum Thema aufgemacht, wo er einige von Kreationisten bekannte Argumente übernimmt. „Das ist Mist“, kommentiert P.Z. Myers und Jerry Coyne schreibt sogar: „Bitte erschießt [...]

  26. [...] Francis Collins, Creationist Many atheists are familiar with the conversion story of the brilliant geneticist Francis Collins; if not, here’s [...] [...]

  27. Your Mighty Overload said,

    Daniel said
    “My main point, again, was to point out that Collins theistic evolution stance is probably less defensible than either full on evolution or creation, since the middle ground is so fraught with logical difficulties, if not outright contradictions. Don’t you argee?”

    Actually, this is the only part of your post which I do agree with. At least creationists are intellectually honest (if completely mistaken) in what they believe.

    One point I shall make, is that you constantly say that you have to be able to “see” the evidence for it to be science. This is an all too common mistake. We cannot see electrons, or even atoms directly, yet no-one doubts this is science. We cannot see microwaves, or infra-red light, but no-one seems to doubt these things. Science, and especially palaeontological sciences, is more akin to a detective solving a murder case. In your worldview, if the murder was not witnessed by another person, it would be impossible to get a conviction. This is a terribly 1st Century BC perspective on criminality. I need go no further with this point for you to see how silly a viewpoint yours is.

    Secondly, Judge Jones was a Bush appointee – a real “red through and through” kinda guy. If a Conservative (with a capital C) judge like Judge Jones can see that ID is creationism in a cheap tuxedo (what with the cdesign proponentists “typo” and all), then it’s very clear that that’s pretty much what it is. Feel free to mount a legal challenge to the decision – go out and spend all your money on it – I’m suuuuuuure you’ll win.

    The rest, I shall let die – mainly because I’ve become bored with rehashing over the same old stuff.

  28. Your Mighty Overload said,

    Daniel,

    If you doubt our common ancestory with the other apes, how do you explain this??

    Oh, and my point about everything being so similar is simply that for an omniscient being there would be no requirement for this to be true – we should not expect it – while with common ancestry it is absolutely essential for it to be true. As it is true, it counts as evidence which is consistent with common ancestry.

    • TheThomas said,

      I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  29. TheThomas said,

    Danielg teaches us the lesson that, if you want to accept lies, there are plenty to listen to.

    @Daniel–Scientists read science news articles. The articles you put forward do not contain information that the professionals have missed.
    It is akin to telling me the big bang doesn’t work because the first law of thermodynamics. The physicists know the first law of thermodynamics. You haven’t out-thought them, you have confused yourself.
    Just remember, the professionals have all the information you have, plus a grand amount more. If you disagree, it likely that they know something you don’t.

    -The

  30. Torbjörn Larsson, OM said,

    Apologists should really stay away from science to ‘prove’ religion, if anything it predicts the reverse. Using gap arguments will always be a losing battle.

    see it for the hand-waving anthropic argument that it is

    Mistaking a posteriori anthropic principle probabilities with a priori religious ones is precisely why I refer to this as the “religious anthropic argument”.

    Incidentally I believe “fine tuning” should be “religious fine tuning” as well.

    Physics fine tuning is IIRC finding that parameters have to be finely balanced to get the observed result.

    And any useful anthropic principles as such doesn’t result in fine tuning AFAIK, for example at most the weak anthropic principle results in a however constrained distribution where the observed result should be close to the likeliest. Nothing more.

    In fact, you could argue that by definition the universe had MAXIMUM entropy at that time (entropy being an arbitrary measure of the unknown state of a system).

    I just read about this argument from Stenger (but have yet to see the derivation). Of course, he confines himself to the visible universe, and admits that it is debated. But if true I’m not sure what the fuzz is about.

    If an expanding universe can always outrun the initial entropy (increase the number of available microstates as per the statistical physics definition) it doesn’t matter what the initial entropy is, it will always be lower than the reference maximum by definition.

    Incidentally, Collins refer to the universe as isolated. I wasn’t aware until recently that one could judge between a thermodynamically closed or open universe by way of defining a total energy, but apparently one can.

    OTOH, if the universe is isolated at all times, and the paper is correct on the zero energy result, there is no gap left for religious actions from creation to any later time:

    It seems inconceivable that the cosmos could emerge from any physical system
    that has nonvanishing total energy. This would require an exchange of energy between the universe and a third system, making a cosmological spacetime an open system from the thermodynamical point of view.

  31. Daniel said,

    Actually the BioLogos site has a whole section on why the 2nd law DOESN’T disprove evolution. Please see Q #23 on the site. You are mistaken.

    http://biologos.org/questions/evolution-and-the-second-law/

    • Andrew said,

      None of us are making that argument.

      Collins is also arguing (in the section I’ve quoted) that the SLoT is some sort of impediment to stellar formation, and that’s (a) wrong and (b) straight out of the creationist playbook.

      • Facilis said,

        “Collins is also arguing (in the section I’ve quoted) that the SLoT is some sort of impediment to stellar formation”
        No Collins is not. He s arguing that if the universe had started out in a state of high entropy it would impede stellar formation

  32. Facilis said,

    Oh and if anyone want to see a lecture on entropy and the Big Bang and early universe Roger Penrose (that physicist Andrew doesn’t like ) has a lecture on it online.

    http://www.newton.ac.uk/webseminars/pg+ws/2005/gmr/gmrw04/1107/penrose/

  33. Foobear said,

    Collins is an evolutionist. Any attempt to paint him as a Creationist means that you’ve either 1) Not actually read is book or 2) Are an idiot.

  34. good luck being end users


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