May 8, 2009

More on Francis Collins: “Mumbo Jumbo”

Posted in Atheism, Creationism tagged , , , , , at 12:55 pm by Andrew

In New Scientist, Andy Coghlan says that Collins’ BioLogos website (which I previously discussed here) “strays into the realms of mumbo-jumbo” in presenting quantum arguments for the existence of God:

But the idea that God can undetectably intervene when he wants to is having your cake and eating it. It disappoints me that such a gifted scientist could make this argument.

The entire (short) article is worth a read.

April 30, 2009

A Short Response to the “Fine-Tuning Argument” (thanks, Siamang)

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, Creationism, The Universe tagged , , , , , at 12:14 pm by Andrew

I think I was less than clear in my previous post on Francis Collins using creationist rhetoric to argue for the fine-tuning of the universe. That post was not really about the merits of Collins’ argument (which I think are dubious), but about Collins employing tactics that are indistinguishable from those trotted out by the garden-variety creationists against whom Collins still seeks to distinguish himself, including misappropriation of scientific credentials and intentionally misleading language.

With respect to the so-called “fine tuning” argument itself, I’ve noted that the universe is, to 37 significant figures, completely, 100% uninhabitable by humans. It strikes me as a very strange view of the facts when Christians characterize “100% uninhabitable” as “fine tuned for our unique benefit!”

Commenter Siamang makes another terrific point: the fine-tuning argument is vacuous because if the facts were exactly the opposite of what they are, creationists would be able to make the exact same argument! If the constraints of the universe were such that life was incredibly likely, that stars and planets would always form, then the very same Francis Collins-style creationists who declare that the universe is finely-tuned “on a razor’s edge” could make the exact same claims about divine providence in establishing a universe that would always be able to support us. But here, I’ll let Siamang say it, because he’s much pithier than I am:

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:

[1.] The universe is fine-tuned for life. Therefore YAY GOD!
[2.] 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.

I don’t see a way, in principle, to rescue the “fine-tuning” argument from this criticism.

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.