Grayling’s Hypocritical Humanism

Book ReviewThe God Argument

The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and For Humanism by A. C. Grayling

There’s a short section in A. C. Grayling’s The God Argument where I was cheering him on. It was near the start of the book’s second part, after he had finished his argument against religion and was opening up his case for what unfortunately turns out to be Grayling’s hypocritical humanism.

It wasn’t right at the beginning of Part Two, where he offered up nonsense such as, “the major religions influential in today’s world … derive ultimately from the superstitions of illiterate herdsman living several thousand years ago.” Such a silly thought.

A Grand Vision of Humanism

No, it was in the next chapter, where he said,

Humanism is above all about living thoughtfully and intelligently, about rising to the demand to be informed, alert, and responsive, about being able to make a sound case for a choice of values and goals, and about integrity in living according to the former and determination in seeking to achieve the latter.

And again, from Plutarch,

The duty of a guest is to be a good conversationalist — that is, someone well-informed, who can articulate his views, express and explain them, make a case for them, and be prepared to change them if offered better arguments and evidence; but who is also a good listener, who hears what his interlocutors say (not what he thinks they have said), can engage with their views, discuss them, debate them, challenge them if necessary; but along with them seek clarity, understanding and truth.

There was once a tradition of Christian humanism, which may come as rather a shock to readers who have grown up with humanism being attached at the hip with atheism. But if these two descriptions really do “beautifully illustrate the humanist ideal,” as he goes on to say (on page 110 of the Nook version), then there is no reason for Christians not to aspire to the same.

Grayling Against Religion

Grayling’s vision is not always so broad as that, however, for though he requires that our understanding of the good be “in accord with the facts of humanity as these are shaped and constrained by the world” (p. 111), and though most thoughtful Christians would certainly agree with that, nevertheless he concludes that “this entails that humanism rejects religious claims about the source of morality and value.”

Thus he sets “religion” at odds with the good. His problem, however, is that he hasn’t heeded his own advice. He is not a good listener, he has not heard what his Christian interlocutors say, but what he thinks we have said. Thus when he thinks he is engaging with our views he is engaging instead with a straw man. Though he champions clarity, understanding, and truth, he presents a very poor model of those virtues.

Hypocritical Humanism

Let me illustrate with some examples. The page numbers are all from the Nook version, and my perspective throughout is that of a Christian. If what he says is true about any or all other religions, I neither know nor care; but these things are misrepresentations of Christianity.

Page 8: “Throughout history the religion-inspired suppression of women has robbed humanity of at least half its creativity and genius.”

Rubbish. The suppression of women throughout history has been the result of a completely different universal human flaw: the powerful domineering over the weak. Men’s physical power over women, and throughout most of our labor-intensive history, men’s economic power as well, explains it well enough.

The early Christian church, archaeology shows us, was heavily populated with women. In a time and place where women were hardly more than children or chattel, Jesus Christ gave them dignity far beyond culture. Today sexism is arguably at least as great a problem in the atheist movement as in any Christian circles.

And where have women’s freedom and dignity been most freely championed? Atheist Russia or China? Not a chance. No, it’s been where Christianity has had its deepest influence. As David Marshall argues at length, Christianity is the best thing that ever happened to women.

Page 9: “And indeed, everywhere that science and education have advance, so religion has dwindled in influence”

Page 16: “The major reason for the continuance of religious belief” includes “ignorance — of science, of psychology, of history in general, and of the history and actual doctrines of religions themselves.”

He labels these “considered facts,” but he cannot have considered the centuries of Christian leadership in education, right from the fall of Rome until the Western world was ready, not too many decades ago, to take it over from Christianity. Christianity is anything but a religion of ignorance.

Page 12: “That religion has survived so long is remarkable evidence of how effectively it inculcates a mindset in which criticism or questioning, and the recognition of contradiction or unacceptability, is suppressed.”

Really? I wonder if Grayling were to take a survey of all the high-schoolers studying rigorous logic in America, where he would find the great majority of them? In Christian home-schooling and in Christian schools, I am quite confident.

Not so sure about that? Never mind. I can offer a book-length refutation of atheism’s claim to superior rationality.

Page 21: Jesus “is not unique, for in the mythologies pre-dating Christianity many heroic figures underwent apotheosis and joined their fathers or fellow gods in heaven or on Olympus.”

Supposed parallels between Jesus and other gods and heroes are wildly overblown. And the idea that this could be sufficient to nullify Jesus’ uniqueness is silly in the first place. It would be like suggesting that Barack Obama is not unique, for there have been dozens of other presidents. Sure: but isn’t he the first black president? Some similarity does not negate all uniqueness. And Jesus was indeed one of a kind in many ways, at least one of which even a Grayling could assent to, for it doesn’t require believing the New Testament record.

Page 59: “Having faith — holding beliefs and accepting doctrines either without evidence or even in the face of countervailing evidence — which most religious people actually regard as a virtue …”

This is the grainiest straw man in the atheist’s barnyard.

Page 86: “Religion took the view that it was right and science was wrong, and anyone who disagreed might be killed (for example, Giordano Bruno) or obliged to recant under threat of death (for example, Galileo).”

The Bruno story is false. He was killed, yes. That was not good. But it wasn’t for his science; it was for pagan mysticism. Galileo, a believer, was not threatened with death, and he was not sentenced with anything worse than house arrest. His troubles had as much to do with his impolitic mockery of the pope as with his science.

But suppose the Galileo story were as bad as Grayling claims, or even worse. Grayling calls it an example. An example of what? Can you name one other person persecuted by Christians for the sake of science? (I thought not.) The scientists of Galileo’s day and for centuries before and after were mostly churchmen. Christianity welcomed and nurtured science (one exception does not deny centuries of truth on that point). Augustine cautioned centuries earlier against the view that religion must always be right and science always wrong.

Page 139: “The claim that the greatest moral problems in our world are human rights violations, war, injustice, and poverty hardly needs justification. What is unjustifiable is the way the problems continue, even indeed grow, because the self-interest of the parties who might be able to resolve them trumps everything.”

If this is an argument against a philosophy founded on self-sacrifice and built on agape love, it misses badly.

Page 156: “It is to the dead hand of oppressive institutions such as religion that one must look for an explanation of why [freely practiced sexual] love can be a problem: which generally speaking, it only is when rationed and starved.”

Grayling crows the virtues of science; I wonder if he knows science has left Freud long behind? There is no evidence that a surfeit of sexual practice does a person any more good than any other indulgence. One of the tragedies of pornography is the way it’s ruining real relationships. Cohabitation degrades marriages. Hooking up denigrates the glory of sex by making it impersonal and common.

Page 186: If Christianity had gone the way of other mythologies of its time, Plato’s and Aristotle’s academies would not have been closed down in 529 ce because of their ‘pagan’ teachings.”

The academy in 529 was neo-Platonist, which was highly amenable to Christian theology at the time, if I understand correctly. I searched for any hint that Grayling’s charge here was true, and found none. I’m open to correction on this if anyone has any.

Page 189: When it was proposed by Copernicus, and empirically demonstrated by Galileo with his telescope, that the Earth is one modest member of a vast swarm of astronomical bodies, occupying an insignificant corner of a huge universe, the affront to human self-importance, and with it to the primacy of theology, was incalculable.”

Prior to Copernicus, most people believed the Earth was at the most unworthy place in the universe, at the center, closest to hell. After Copernicus, God’s glory was magnified: a huge boost to theology! Humans’ place in God’s plan was never determined by our geographical location in his cosmos anyway; it was in Christ’s incarnation.

Conclusion: Publish, Then Duck

I’ve gone on long enough, and I am bracing for the inevitable flurry of outrage from atheists objecting to every one of these points. There’s enough controversial topics here for a month of blog posts. The point is, Grayling is hypocritical with respect to his treatment of religion. He gives it the most uncharitable and (frequently) documentably false presentation possible.

This is humanism? Not according to Grayling’s definition.

Comments 183
  1. John Moore

    Humanism means focusing on human concerns above all. Grayling throws in a lot of feel-good fluff about “living thoughtfully and intelligently,” and you’re right that this vague language could apply to so-called Christian humanism too. But he’s really talking about being human-focused and not god-focused.

    A bit later Grayling makes this clear:

    Humanism is the concern to draw the best from, and make the best of, human life in the span of a human lifetime, in the real world, and in sensible accord with the facts of humanity as these are shaped and constrained by the world. This entails that humanism rejects religious claims about the source of morality and value.

  2. Tom Gilson

    If only that were the only thing he had said about humanism, it would have been better than what he wrote.

    The really interesting thing is how much human good has been done by God-focused men and women.

  3. JAD

    What happened to Galileo was tragic, but it had more to do with the politics of the time than science. It’s a mistake to think that the church had a policy that was anti-science. For example, to launch his career Galileo as a young man traveled to Rome to meet and obtain a letter of recommendation from Jesuit mathematician Christopher Clavius.

    Who was Clavius?

    Clavius was the scientist chosen by Pope Gregory XIII to reform the calendar. At the time the old Julian calendar from the Roman era was about ten days out of date with the solar calendar. Clavius headed a commission of astronomers and mathematicians, who relied upon the most up to date astronomical data to try to find a solution. The calendar that they developed will not require any additional corrections for 3000 years. That calendar, known as the Gregorian calendar, is not only still in use but it has been adopted world wide by modern culture. It was one of the great scientific achievements of the late 16th century. It would not have been possible if the church had policy that was anti-science.

    Galileo had an ego. On the positive side it was his ego that fueled his drive and ambition. It’s what made him successful and famous. On the negative side it made him enemies. Galileo did not suffer fools kindly. The problem was not everyone he treated as a fool was one, and they resented it. For example, in the autumn of 1618 three comets appeared in quick succession. Galileo incorrectly believed, like the Aristotelians, that comets were a meteorological or atmospheric phenomena. On the other hand, Jesuit astronomer Orazio Grassi after observing the comets , argued that they were interplanetary objects, with orbits outside the orbit of the moon. Galileo, thought that was silly. He wrote a book, The Assayer, which mocked, attacked and ridiculed Grassi’s conclusions even though Grassi had written nothing attacking either Galileo or the Copernican theory. Ironically we now know that Grassi’s conclusions were the scientifically correct ones.

    Galileo’s attack on Grassi alienated the Jesuit’s many of whom up till then, at least tacitly, had been his allies. But at the time Galileo thought he had a better friend, Pope Urban the eighth, who had his own feud with the Jesuits. Fifteen years later when Galileo’s enemies were able to turn Urban the eighth against him, Galileo could have used some powerful friends and allies.

    After his trial in 1633 one of the Jesuits wrote, “If Galileo had known how to keep on good terms with the Fathers of the College, he would live gloriously in this world. None of his misfortunes would have come to pass and he would have been able to write as he wished about anything, even about the motion of the world.”

  4. BillT

    But isn’t this what we regularly see from the modern atheist crowd. Misinformation about religion in general and Christianity in particular. Christianity was central to the rise of science, the establishment of universities and forms the ethical backbone of the entire human rights movement. And as far as Grayling’s humanism, can he explain in any coherent way why we should care about humans or humanism at all.

  5. bigbird

    It’s a pity, I enjoy A.C.Grayling’s philosophical writings when he isn’t trying to bash religion. But he seems to lose it whenever he writes about religion.

  6. Ray Ingles

    The Bruno story is false. He was killed, yes. That was not good. But it wasn’t for his science; it was for pagan mysticism. Galileo, a believer, was not threatened with death, and he was not sentenced with anything worse than house arrest.

    (Note that Galileo was threatened with torture. He recanted and agreed to house arrest pretty fast after that.)

    You’re correct, though, that the Church (and religion in general) hasn’t persecuted science per se very much. It’s only when a perceived threat to religious authority is presented that the persecution (and, in the worst cases, execution) happens. As with Bruno, the threat doesn’t have to be scientific – but it doesn’t make a big difference when it is.

    In the West in particular, the ideal of freedom of conscience – not always accepted by the religious, btw – means that torture and imprisonment isn’t usually available for enforcement of dogma. But where science (or anything else) is perceived to be a threat to the authority of a religion, well, expect some friction.

  7. Tom Gilson

    There was a threat of torture. There was no threat of death. Grayling was wrong.

    And for what was he threatened with torture? And from what did he recant, if any thing? From James Hannam, God’s Philosophers (sold in the U.S. as The Genesis of Science), page 326f:

    His trial began on 12 April 1633. During the hearing, he was given comfortable quarters but this did not lessen the seriousness of his position. He started off by claiming that he did not agree with Copernicanism and that his book refuted the position. No one believe him but he stuck to his guns. Lying to the Inquisition was an extremely dangerous thing to do. There was adequate proof of his guilt and he could not expect mercy if he refused to own up. One of the inquisitors decided to meet Galileo informally to talk him around. As a result, at his next interrogation Galileo admitted that an uninformed reader of his book might get the impression that he thought Copernicanism was true. He also admitted to arrogance and vainglory in making his arguments appear stronger than they were. On 21 June, the Inquisition gave Galileo a final chance to admit that he did hold to Copernicanism. When he refused, he was reminded that the the evidence against him was sufficiently strong for torture to be justified in obtaining a confession. Still he refused but stated that he would submit to whatever the Church decided to do with him. The Inquisition decided that this was a sufficient reply and Galileo was not to be tortured.

    I thought I’d throw that in to give more background on a side story here. Let’s not make it the main one, though.

    As to “error has no rights” in your linked article, I think he gives a good accounting of his position, including, “Now, of course, just because an individual may not have a moral right to spread error, including religious error, that does not mean that he will always lack a civil right to spread it.” (For after all, when does one have a moral right to do wrong? But then, the concept of moral rights is probably far too unfamiliar to make sense to many.)

    But this too is a side story. The main thing is that Grayling fails to live up to his own standard of “humanism.”

  8. JAD

    Page 186: “If Christianity had gone the way of other mythologies of its time, Plato’s and Aristotle’s academies would not have been closed down in 529 ce because of their ‘pagan’ teachings.”

    It’s a moot point. “If Christianity had gone the way of other mythologies of its time” there would be no modern science. I can back up that claim better than Grayling can his.

  9. Modestinus

    Since I see my blog was linked to, let me clarify that the expression “error has no rights” has nothing to do with liberty or freedom of conscience, which is entirely a private matter.

    The liberal principles with respect to an individual’s right to be free from being forced to act against his conscience in public and private are entirely consistent with the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church. So, too, does Catholicism and liberalism agree that an individual must not be prevented from acting in accordance with his conscience in private. Where the two sides differ is with respect to the right of an individual to act in accordance with their conscience in public. This can, in principle, be restricted.

  10. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    There was a threat of torture. There was no threat of death. Grayling was wrong.

    I’d say Grayling was right for the wrong reason. Being threatened with torture at age 70, in the 1600s with its medicine, was not exactly a prescription for long life. But I’d say you and Grayling are being about equally misleading about the case of Galileo. He wasn’t threatened with execution, and he wound up ending his life in house arrest. But it was a choice between house arrest or torture.

    For after all, when does one have a moral right to do wrong?

    Is someone doing a moral wrong when they propagate a viewpoint that they genuinely believe? Being mistaken is not the same as being evil. Take, say, the debate among Christians today about what ‘social justice’ means in Christian terms. Are the people who advocate for a larger role for government evil, or mistaken? Are the people who want to reduce welfare and cut off immigration evil, or mistaken?

    But I supposed I should focus on the guy who actually wrote the words in question.

  11. Tom Gilson

    Ray, you’re doing your best to make a false statement true. Grayling could have said he was threatened with torture, and that would have been correct.

    Is someone doing a moral wrong when the propagate a viewpoint that they genuinely believe? Sure: if the viewpoint is evil, and they propagate it, then they’re committing a moral wrong. I’m sure you can think of examples easily enough.

  12. Ray Ingles

    Ray, you’re doing your best to make a false statement true. Grayling could have said he was threatened with torture, and that would have been correct.

    As I said before, “I’d say you and Grayling are being about equally misleading about the case of Galileo.” He’s overstating the case (with an incorrect assertion), and you’re understating it (with an incomplete account of the facts).

    So, yeah, Grayling was wrong. But you’re underplaying the situation.

    Is someone doing a moral wrong when the propagate a viewpoint that they genuinely believe? Sure: if the viewpoint is evil, and they propagate it, then they’re committing a moral wrong.

    No, there’s a difference between a mistake, however misguided or even tragic, and an evil. Consider poor Will Chapman, who accidentally ran over his sister. No charges were filed, not even manslaughter, because all he did was make a tragic human mistake.

    Being honestly mistaken or misguided can lead to tragic consequences, but it’s simply not the same thing as evil. From that blog link: “It is something else altogether to hold that manifestly false religions such as Islam and Mormonism ought, by moral right, to be spread across the face of the earth.” If a Mormon genuinely believes in their religion, wouldn’t they be morally remiss in not following it? Including the evangelizing portion?

    Note, we’re talking about heresy here – advocating a viewpoint. There’s a difference between that and, say, forcibly converting people. There’s a rather critical distinction between speech and action.

  13. SteveK

    Ray,

    Being honestly mistaken or misguided can lead to tragic consequences, but it’s simply not the same thing as evil.

    You’d have to qualify what form of evil you’re talking about. Evil, generally speaking, is a privation of good. A tragic consequence would be evil in the sense that it is less than the good that could have otherwise transpired. It may not be a moral evil in the sense that it was purposely intended. That’s about all I know on the subject so if you ask me to get into the details I can’t.

  14. Tom Gilson

    Ray, no one has a moral right to propagate evil. Sure, your answer here raises the question, “when is it evil?” That’s a fine question, sometimes easy to answer and sometimes very difficult. Where there is evil, however, no one has a moral right to propagate it. And yes, error can be evil, or else why is it so offensive on the streets of Tel Aviv to say there was no Holocaust?

    But this is all a sideshow! Can you connect this to Grayling?

  15. JAD

    Notice what Grayling and other militant (or so called “new”) atheists are trying to do. They need to have a conflict with religion to advance their agenda. Not only do they need to have a conflict, it needs to be anti-science and it needs to be something that religion started. However, an objective reading of history simply does not support this kind of narrative, so they have to make it up. This is why they are so attracted to the Galileo incident. It does seem to lend some support to their preferred narrative. But preferred narratives are not history they are propaganda.

  16. bigbird

    This is why they are so attracted to the Galileo incident. It does seem to lend some support to their preferred narrative.

    If they have to go back 400 years to find a good example (which historians seem to agree is exaggerated) then it doesn’t say much for their thesis. That was rather a long time ago.

  17. Tom Gilson

    Rather, indeed.

    Of course now they’ll say that Creation Science is Christianity’s anti-science attitude in action today. To press that case, though, they have to set aside all the Christians working in science today, all the long history of pro-science Christianity, and all the Christians who look askance at young-earth creation. And to top it all off, they have to equate philosophical naturalism with “science,” requiring science to be the search for natural truth to the exclusion of any other truth it might hint at or touch upon. By that false light, to be pro-science is by definition to be anti-Christian. It takes them all the way to their conclusion conveniently without benefit of evidence, which makes it a most unscientific way to reach a conclusion; but hey, it does give them rhetorical cover for the label they want to pin on Christianity, doesn’t it?

  18. bigbird

    Of course now they’ll say that Creation Science is Christianity’s anti-science attitude in action today. To press that case, though, they have to set aside all the Christians working in science today, all the long history of pro-science Christianity, and all the Christians who look askance at young-earth creation.

    In *The Magician’s Twin* they point out that if people want to criticize groups for daring to question evolutionary theory, then Darwin should also be criticized for questioning the dominant paradigm of his day. There is no such thing as a settled fact in science, and the suggestion I’ve often seen that evolution is as well demonstrated as gravity I think is ridiculous.

    As an aside, I think Christians need to be careful in their criticisms of young-earth creationists. They may or may not be correct, but they take the most obvious reading of Genesis seriously, and I think that stance deserves respect. Science needs long ages for evolution to make any sense, and that need likely has a significant influence in conclusions that are made.

    And to top it all off, they have to equate philosophical naturalism with “science,” requiring science to be the search for natural truth to the exclusion of any other truth it might hint at or touch upon.

    Fortunately Thomas Nagel is doing his bit to blow holes in that point of view, to the horror of many 🙂

  19. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    In *The Magician’s Twin* they point out that if people want to criticize groups for daring to question evolutionary theory, then Darwin should also be criticized for questioning the dominant paradigm of his day.

    It matters whether the questions have some rational basis, though. It’s not ‘questioning’ itself that’s a problem, it’s poor questions that are problems.

    the suggestion I’ve often seen that evolution is as well demonstrated as gravity I think is ridiculous.

    Well, common descent is established more precisely than gravity, in point of fact. Given 20 different organisms, there are 8,200,794,532,637,891,559,375 (over 8 sextillion) possible ‘trees’ that could obtain. Being able to narrow that to even 50 possible trees is ridiculously good confirmation. And the more methods you add, and the more different creatures you add, the stronger the congruence becomes. The odds of common descent being wrong have become absurd.

    The data could easily have contradicted common descent – but it hasn’t. At all. Either common descent is true, or an Intelligent Designer went astronomically far out of Its way to make it look that way.

    Science needs long ages for evolution to make any sense, and that need likely has a significant influence in conclusions that are made.

    Ah, but physics doesn’t need evolution to be true. But young-Earth creationists need almost all of mainstream science to be wrong to preserve their view of the Bible, and that demonstrably does have “a significant influence in conclusions that are made.”

    See Answers in Genesis, which points to both the fine-tuning argument for God and the notion that radioactive decay rates varied significantly in the past.

    Apparently TFBW doesn’t see the contradiction; that surprises me because it seems obvious to me.

    The fine-tuning argument claims that changing the physics we observe in the universe by even minuscule amounts would alter the universe’s behavior drastically, making life as we know it impossible. Whereas the notion that radioactive decay rates varied in past, making radiodating invalid, requires changing the decay rates by six orders of magnitude. (That’s what you need to compress 4.5 billion years of decay into a few thousand years.) And yet, somehow, this altered physics still allowed human life to exist.

    At most one of those propositions could be true, not both. If physics can change wildly while leaving humans alive, then the fine-tuning argument is perforce invalid. Whereas if physics can’t change much without destroying the universe’s habitability, then nuclear decay rates could not have changed enough to make the Earth a few thousand years old.

    I think we can safely dismiss anyone who advances both notions as confused at best, and intellectually compromised by bias at worst.

  20. JAD

    What is most hypocritical about the militant atheists, in this debate, is that they want to have it both ways. On the one hand, they want to condemn the persecution of Galileo by the church 400 years ago, but then on the other, launch their own persecution of Christians involved in science. Here is a recent example:

    There is a very disturbing affair going on at Ball State University that everyone needs to know about. The public university in Muncie, Indiana, has been under pressure from a rabid national atheist group and from atheist activist Jerry Coyne to discipline an assistant physics professor for teaching about intelligent design. Coyne and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) claim it’s a legal, constitutional matter, no less: teaching about ID violates the First Amendment! “It’s religion taught as science in a public university, and it’s not only wrong but illegal,” writes Coyne. “This will now go to the lawyers…”

    The course that Hedin has taught looks substantive and intriguing. It’s called “The Boundaries of Science” and it seeks to probe arguments and evidence that reality may extend beyond the limits set by rigid naturalism. Hedin teaches about cosmology and the Big Bang, cosmic fine-tuning, the enigma of life’s origin, theistic evolution, the limits of science, and most provocatively: “Beauty, complex specified information, and intelligent design: what the universe communications about God.”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/05/at_ball_state_u072381.html

    So teaching about religion and modern controversies concerning the modern the science-religion conflict is unconstitutional? Since when?

  21. JAD

    Ray,

    There are plenty of atheists who disagree with both Hedin’s course, and disagree with Coyne’s approach for ‘disciplining’ him.

    How does that make it any less hypocritical?

  22. Ray Ingles

    JAD –

    How does that make it any less hypocritical?

    Um… because you’re accusing an entire group of hypocrisy when not all of them are guilty of it? I could find an example of Christian hypocrisy in a few seconds of googling, would that prove that Christians in general “want to have it both ways”?

  23. JAD

    @#23 I wrote: “What is most hypocritical about the militant atheists…”

    Please note: Militant atheists are not all atheists.

  24. JAD

    So, Coyne and Stenger etc. are not being hypocritical because a few of there fellow militants won’t go as far as they have? Myers and Moran are guilty because they share the same religious intolerance and anti-Christian bigotry. In other words, they have helped create the atmosphere in which the extremists like Coyne and others can thrive.

    BTW please notice what Myer wrote:

    Hedin ought to be dealt with internally, and not for being a Christian…but for being a bad teacher and colleague. He is not contributing to the education of the students in his class; if we had someone like that at my university, he’d be considered a massive problem who was disrupting the progression of our student’s education. And if the university refuses to deal with it, if the rot spreads, it should be publicized so that prospective students know they won’t get adequate instruction, and it should also be brought to the attention of accreditation agencies.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/05/26/uh-oh-now-victor-stenger-disagrees-with-me/

    That sounds very “inquisition like” to me. The Catholic church finally did away with the inquisition. The new atheists want to bring it back, albeit under a different guise, to advance their own ideology. There is more than enough hypocrisy to go around.

  25. Ray Ingles

    JAD –

    So, Coyne and Stenger etc. are not being hypocritical because a few of there fellow militants won’t go as far as they have?

    I didn’t say that. What I’m saying is you can’t accuse atheists in general of hypocrisy on the basis of a case where a couple might be hypocritical. Particularly when other atheists are calling them on it!

    That sounds very “inquisition like” to me.

    They aren’t “showing the instruments” (of torture) to Hedin. They are accusing him of being a bad teacher, and going through the established procedure for correcting that.

    Now, are you claiming that process is fundamentally, structurally unfair, the way the Inquisitions were? How about accreditation agencies – do they employ modern-day Torquemadas? What exactly are you claiming?

  26. JAD

    Ray:

    I’m saying is you can’t accuse atheists in general of hypocrisy on the basis of a case where a couple might be hypocritical.

    Once again, my criticism is not of all atheists. There are many atheists that respect the freedom of religion and conscience.

    Well, fortunately (maybe unfortunately from the new atheist perspective) they can’t resort to torture. However, the point of torture was to use coercion to bring about a change of belief, the “correct” non-heretical belief. In P.Z. Myer’s world anyone teaching science in higher education is a heretic unless he adopts “a strictly natural/materialist understanding of biological processes.” In my opinion, adopting a view that scientific theories are to be treated as if they are now sacrosanct is a very dangerous view. The one place skepticism and agnosticism should be welcome is of the sciences within the sciences.

    Furthermore, you know that Myers is being disingenuous here. His only concern is that the Freedom from Religion Foundation might open up a legal can of worms. He has no concern whatever for the rights of Eric Hedin and would like to suppress thinking like Hedin’s. In that way Myer’s thinking is identical to Coyne’s.

  27. bigbird

    It matters whether the questions have some rational basis, though. It’s not ‘questioning’ itself that’s a problem, it’s poor questions that are problems.

    And the history of science shows that we can’t tell the difference between a good and a poor question, because the current paradigm defines what is a good question – and the current paradigm can be wrong. Even crackpots are sometimes right. Remember Barry Marshall, and his theory about bacterium causing stomach ulcers?

    the suggestion I’ve often seen that evolution is as well demonstrated as gravity I think is ridiculous.

    Well, common descent is established more precisely than gravity, in point of fact.

    As a “point of fact”, I can easily experimentally confirm the theory of gravity. I cannot do so for common descent. At best I can make inferences about events in the past that can’t be observed or repeated.

  28. Tom Gilson

    Really. I didn’t respond to that numerical analysis on common descent and gravity earlier, but I can’t help wondering how many decimal places physicists have computed G to, and how many equally precise calculations they evolutionists have confirmed experimentally.

    But it’s not just precision, it’s also probability. And I also can’t help thinking that (1) the “eight sextillion possible trees” computation most likely requires a whole raft of incredibly over-generous biological and probability assumptions, and (b) the p-value (probability) for gravity, given equally over-generous asssumptions, would be even less than 50 in eight sextillion.

  29. bigbird

    Tom – yes. I’d like to see the assumptions that have been made in Ray’s calculations. I’d be surprised if long ages were not an implicit part of the assumptions.

    I’m not a YEC myself, but I know quite a few YECs and I have respect for their intelligence and their view of the Bible. They aren’t all crackpots, and may well turn out to have a point.

    But young-Earth creationists need almost all of mainstream science to be wrong to preserve their view of the Bible

    Really? What “mainstream science” do they need to be wrong, other than evolutionary theory?

  30. Tom Gilson

    But don’t you understand, bigbird? Mainstream science is strictly defined as evolutionary theory. That’s why Christians are “science-deniers” even if we accept everything but the evolutionary mythology! That’s why the “science bloggers” define “science illiteracy” as the denial of evolution, regardless of what else a person or population knows about nature and science. That’s what “mainstream science” means.

  31. Ray Ingles

    You know, if y’all followed the link in #22 – the visible text is “more precisely than gravity” – you would see “how many decimal places physicists have computed G to” (guess what – it’s probably less than you’d think) and also the assumptions involved in “the “eight sextillion possible trees” computation”. They aren’t “incredibly over-generous”. It’s actually pretty straightforward math.

    Or, you could just assume you’re right, and handwave it all away without investigation, I guess.

  32. Alex

    I can’t help but POI that “the structure of the phylogenetic tree of common descent is known more precisely than the gravitational constant” is not synonymous with “the truth of common descent is established with more certainty than the truth of gravity”.

    And the “precision” of the structure of common descent is only analogous to the precision of a physical constant, so while there is greater numerical precision whether there is more significant precision is debatable.

    That being said, the staggering congruence of independently derived phylogenetic trees does seem quite compelling evidence for common descent without any obvious criticisms available.

  33. bigbird

    Ray, your claims remind me of a cynical definition of an actuary – someone who produces incredibly precise calculations on quantities that can’t easily be measured.

    It seems not everyone thinks common ancestry is beyond dispute. I’m not aware of any scientists disputing gravity.

  34. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    Ray, your claims remind me of a cynical definition of an actuary – someone who produces incredibly precise calculations on quantities that can’t easily be measured.

    Describe the quantities involved, and explain why they can’t be measured. (If you need help, see here.) Again, so far I’m seeing a lot of gratuitous skepticism and precious little actual grappling with the claim. (I thought it was atheists who dismissed claims without examining them?)

    I’m not aware of any scientists disputing gravity.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modified_Newtonian_dynamics

  35. Ray Ingles

    Alex –

    I can’t help but POI that “the structure of the phylogenetic tree of common descent is known more precisely than the gravitational constant” is not synonymous with “the truth of common descent is established with more certainty than the truth of gravity”.

    Of course not. They are established about equally well, with complications making G hard to measure. (Though other quantities like the mass of an electron aren’t established as precisely, either.)

    That being said, the staggering congruence of independently derived phylogenetic trees does seem quite compelling evidence for common descent without any obvious criticisms available.

    If someone can, in fact, explain why we have such a congruence without recourse to common descent, I would really like to hear about it. Any takers?

  36. Tom Gilson

    That congruence may not be as complete as you think, Ray. I’m not a biologist, so I’m not equipped to remark on it one way or another. I am, however, well aware of the rhetorical situation surrounding this matter, so I have developed some skepticism toward claims that evolution has been proved, or even common descent. Call me a hard case if you like. Michael Shermer, a prominent atheist, leads a skeptics society. I think in this matter skepticism is well deserved.

    Anyway, suppose my skepticism is unwarranted and we really do have this congruence among trees. What could explain that other than common descent? Design. Why not?

    If you want to mount some theological argument as to why God wouldn’t do it that way, please go for it. I don’t know where you’ll get it from, though.

  37. JAD

    If someone can, in fact, explain why we have such a congruence without recourse to common descent, I would really like to hear about it. Any takers?

    What exactly does this have to do with the subject of the OP?

  38. Tom Gilson

    Good question. It all started in comments 17 and 19, on Christianity’s relation to science, which bigbird took another riff on in 21.

    And I think it comes back round to that issue in this manner:

    Ray is making a point in favor of common descent. He is quite sure that universal common ancestry is the only explanation for phylogenetic congruence. I think it could be an explanation, no doubt of that, but it’s not the only possible answer. It could be a feature of design in the world of biology.

    And that’s not an anti-science position. It’s an open-minded position.

    I would suggest that open-mindedness and skepticism toward “settled answers” might be healthy for science, when the “settled answer” has prematurely and unscientifically excluded other possible answers.

    But if you really want to go back to the point of the OP, Grayling was just completely wrong about Bruno, he was wrong about the “death threat” to Galileo, and he was wrong to cite either of them as examples of Christian anti-scientism. Real historians of science know that the “conflict thesis” was an 18th century invention by Draper and White (primarily) who had axes to grind against religion and made it up out of whole cloth. There was no conflict between science and religion until at least Darwin.

    Even now, conflict is limited to that one circumscribed issue, which (in spite of its centrality to so-called “mainstream science”) really doesn’t matter much in any practical science. The world of science could go on fairly well identically to what it is now, if biologists spoke of relationships between species without concluding historical connections. All that would be affected would be the field of evolutionary science itself.

  39. bigbird

    Describe the quantities involved, and explain why they can’t be measured. (If you need help, see here.)

    Perhaps Ray you should read the section of your own link titled “Caveats with Phylogenetic Inference”.

    Again, so far I’m seeing a lot of gratuitous skepticism and precious little actual grappling with the claim.

    I posted a link that clearly showed that some scientists do not consider the evidence as conclusive as you suggest.

    And your link on MOND certainly does not suggest that the theory of gravity is wrong.

  40. SteveK

    Further off topic, but I’m curious…can universal common descent be part of ID theory or Christian theology – is there a necessary conflict between any of these?

  41. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    I’m not a biologist, so I’m not equipped to remark on it one way or another.

    Right, you’re just equipped to dismiss it by assuming that it’s based on “a whole raft of incredibly over-generous biological and probability assumptions”. (How would you feel if I dismissed Biblical scholarship that way?)

    What could explain that other than common descent? Design. Why not?

    Books used to be copied by scribes, and (despite a lot of care) sometimes typos would be introduced. Later scribes, making copies of copies, would introduce other typos. It’s possible to look at the existing copies and put them into a ‘family tree’. “These copies have this typo, but not that one; this other group has yet another typo, though three of them have a newer typo as well, not seen elsewhere…” This is not controversial at all when dealing with books, including the Bible. Indeed, you praise that kind of methodology; at least, when it comes to the Bible.

    Now, this process of copy-with-modification naturally produces ‘family trees’, nested groups. When we look at life, we find such nested groups. No lizards with fur or nipples, no mammals with feathers, etc. Living things (at least, multicellular ones, see below) fit into a grouped hierarchy. This has been solidly recognized for over a thousand years, and systematized for centuries. It was one of the clues that led Darwin to propose evolution. (Little-known fact: Linnaeus, who invented the “kingdom, phyla, genus, species, etc.” classification scheme for living things, tried to do the same thing for minerals. But minerals don’t form from copy-with-modification, and a ‘nested hierarchy’ just didn’t work and never caught on.)

    Today, more than a century later, we find another tree, one Darwin never suspected – that of DNA. This is very like a ‘text’ being copied with rare typos. And, as expected, it also forms a family tree, a nested hierarchy. And, with very very few surprises, it’s the same tree that was derived from looking at physical traits. (That doesn’t hold for the designed objects we see, BTW. ‘Traits’ jump willy-nilly among lineages there. For example, intermittent wipers appeared in all makes and models of cars pretty much simultaneously, because the designers all grabbed – stole – the idea for them at the same time. Go ahead and try to build a ‘nested hierarchy’ for cars sometime. See if the ‘phylogenies’ converge.)

    It didn’t have to be that way. Even very critical genes for life – like that of cytochrome C – have a few neutral variations, minor mutations that don’t affect its function. (Genetic sequences for cytochrome C differ by up to 60% across species.) Wheat engineered to use the mouse form of cytochrome C grows just fine. But we find a tree of mutations that fits evolution precisely, instead of some other tree. (Imagine if a tree derived from bookbinding technology – “this guy used this kind of glue, but this other bookbinder used a different glue…” – conflicted with a tree that was derived from typos in the text of the books. We’d know at least one tree and maybe both were wrong.)

    The details of these trees are – as I’ve pointed out – very specific and extremely numerous. There are billions of quadrillions of possible trees… and yet the two that we see (DNA and morphology) happen to very precisely match. This is either a staggering coincidence, or a Creator deliberately arranged things in a misleading manner, or… universal common ancestry is actually true.

    (Single-celled organisms are much more ‘promiscuous’ in their reproduction and spread genes willy-nilly without respect for straightforward inheritance. With single-celled creatures, it looks more like a ‘web’ of life than a ‘tree’. But even if the tree of life has tangled roots, it’s still very definitely a tree when it comes to multicellular life. Go read the ‘questioning’ links you gave me. You’ll find that almost all of them talk about single-celled life…)

  42. Tom Gilson

    Ray, I’m not dismissing it yet. Did I say I was dismissing it? Or are you just dismissing me because I’ve expressed some skepticism? Who’s being dismissive here, anyway? I’ve contacted someone behind the scenes to ask them for a research expert’s opinion.

    Besides all that, I’m really content with an agnostic position on this. I’m not a biologist or geneticist. I am aware that there’s controversy over this, and I’m aware of the way that controversy is viewed from both the mainstream side and from the evolution-skeptical side. How it comes out doesn’t matter much to me. It doesn’t have any impact on my beliefs as a Christian, it doesn’t affect my daily life, I have no bias against science.

    So whatever case you’re trying to make, I don’t have a stake in it (see #48), unless you think UCA implies naturalism, which you haven’t said, and which would take us further off the OP’s topic in any case.

  43. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    Ray, I’m not dismissing it yet. Did I say I was dismissing it?

    Ah. So, you didn’t mean “a whole raft of incredibly over-generous biological and probability assumptions” in a negative way. That clears things up… :-/

  44. JAD

    I thought I’d point out that there are ID’ists like Behe and Denton
    who accept CD, but are skeptical that natural selection is the main driving force behind evolution. For example, Behe has written

    “… EVIDENCE OF COMMON DESCENT IS NOT EVIDENCE OF NATURAL SELECTION. Homologies among proteins (or organisms) are the evidence for descent with modification–that is, for evolution. Natural selection, however, is a proposed explanation for how evolution might take place–its mechanism–and so must be supported by other evidence if the question is not to be begged. This, of course, is a well-known distinction (Mayr 1991). Yet, from reviewers’ responses to my book, the distinction is often overlooked. Knowledge of homology is certainly very useful, can give us a good idea of the path of descent, and can constrain our hypotheses. Nonetheless, knowledge of the sequence, structure, and function of relevant proteins is by itself insufficient to justify a claim that evolution of a particular complex system occurred by natural selection. Gene duplication is not a Darwinian explanation because duplication points only to common descent, not to the mechanism of evolution.
    http://www.discovery.org/a/442

    So Ray, what exactly does common descent prove?

  45. Ray Ingles

    JAD –

    Once again, my criticism is not of all atheists.

    Just ‘militant’ ones. And when they agree with you, it doesn’t count.

    In P.Z. Myer’s world anyone teaching science in higher education is a heretic unless he adopts “a strictly natural/materialist understanding of biological processes.”

    In science classes, yeah.

    Furthermore, you know that Myers is being disingenuous here.

    No, I don’t know that. Myers has shown remarkably little aptitude for concealing his feelings and opinions ere now, so I have no reason to suppose he’s suddenly being all subtle.

    Frankly, all I can see in your rant is ad hominem. You don’t grapple with what Myers actually says at all. You just assume bad faith, and even if the arguments were offered in bad faith, they could be valid anyway and you don’t address them.

  46. JAD

    What is happening to Eric Hedin is happening because of the bigotry and intolerance of militant atheists like Myers. You can argue all you want that Coyne is a loose canon, but without an environment of intolerance he could not exist. Yes, I hold the “new” atheists as a group responsible.

    Ad hominem? What is the attack against Hedin all about? Why is he being singled out?

  47. Tom Gilson

    They aren’t “showing the instruments” (of torture) to Hedin. They are accusing him of being a bad teacher, and going through the established procedure for correcting that.

    Right. Straight from accusation to sentencing. Due process? His attackers have no time for that.

  48. Tom Gilson

    Ah. So, you didn’t mean “a whole raft of incredibly over-generous biological and probability assumptions” in a negative way.

    Ya know, Ray, if you’re going to quote mine, you might at least include the whole sentence.

  49. Melissa

    Ray,

    I’m going to preface my remarks with the statement that my position on evolution is pretty well reflected by Tom’s statement at #50.

    I see a couple of problems with your argument against design. The first is your incredulity that the trees obtained from morphology and DNA match up. What else would you expect? I mean you’re not looking at two independent variables here.

    The second is your dismissal of the possibility of design based on what we see in the human world of design where there are lots of human designers. In case you hadn’t realised we are not proposing lots of little gods running round making stuff.

  50. bigbird

    The first is your incredulity that the trees obtained from morphology and DNA match up. What else would you expect? I mean you’re not looking at two independent variables here.

    This was my thought as well. This result could actually be taken as a strong confirmation of design rather than evidence for common descent.

    I thought I’d do a quick browse around on how phylogenetic trees are constructed, and the results were very interesting, e.g. this paper. There are many methods, many models, and many parameters for each model. Results from different models often contradict each other.

    This summary is also interesting. It says “Ultimately, there is no way to measure whether a particular phylogenetic hypothesis is accurate or not, unless the true relationships among the taxa being examined are already known (which may happen with bacteria or viruses under laboratory conditions). The best result an empirical phylogeneticist can hope to attain is a tree with branches that are well supported by the available evidence”.

    Not what I expected after Ray’s claims of astounding precision.

  51. Ray Ingles

    Melissa –

    The first is your incredulity that the trees obtained from morphology and DNA match up. What else would you expect? I mean you’re not looking at two independent variables here.

    Actually, to a very large extent they are independent.

    DNA codes for proteins, right? Proteins are chains of amino acids. Three DNA nucleotides in a row, a ‘triplet’, correspond to a particular amino acid. So a string of DNA gets translated into a string of amino acids.

    But here’s the thing. There are 64 possible DNA triplets, ‘codons’, and only 22 amino acids that are used in proteins. There’s a lot of redundancy in the code. The amino acid Leucine, for example, is represented by six different codons. Only two amino acids (Methionine and Tryptophan) have unique codings.

    So, the identical protein can be produced by thousands of different DNA sequences. (The way a protein is coded can have some effect on how efficiently the protein is produced; this will very likely become important to vaccine production in the future.) This is one reason why there can be ‘neutral mutations’.

    There’s no a priori reason for human DNA to closely match chimpanzee DNA, even if they all use the same proteins. They could be functionally indistinguishable, be composed of exactly the same proteins, and still have wildly different DNA.

    That’s what I meant when I said: “It didn’t have to be that way. Even very critical genes for life – like that of cytochrome C – have a few neutral variations, minor mutations that don’t affect its function. (Genetic sequences for cytochrome C differ by up to 60% across species.) Wheat engineered to use the mouse form of cytochrome C grows just fine. But we find a tree of mutations that fits evolution precisely, instead of some other tree.”

    Somehow, the relationships we see in the DNA we examine fits the ‘common descent’ model, and not any of the trillions of other possibilities. If species, or even major families of life, were created separately, the creator(s) went well out of their way to simulate common descent very precisely.

    The second is your dismissal of the possibility of design based on what we see in the human world of design where there are lots of human designers. In case you hadn’t realised we are not proposing lots of little gods running round making stuff.

    Why not?

    Based on the trees we see, if there’s design going on, it seems like every time a population diverges a separate god takes over each new line. Even when two lines converge on the same design, they get there by different paths. I’ve already talked about the case of Prestin, a protein in the hairs of the inner ear of mammals. Turns out that both whales and bats – the echolocating ones, anyway – have the exact same version of that protein, a very stiff one suitable for picking up high frequencies.

    If you look at a tree based on the amino acid sequence alone, the ‘tree’ you get puts dolphins and bats as siblings. But the genes for it – the actual DNA sequences – are different. If you look at the actual genes for Prestin, you can see that bats and dolphins code for it differently, and have unquestionably taken two different genetic paths to the same amino-acid ‘location’. And that tree fits common descent. It’s an excellent example of convergent evolution.

    So, if there’s one God doing all the design work, It makes sure to redo the work over and over again every time a population splits, usually reaching different solutions. And if it’s not working by common descent, It must be deliberately misleading us so we think It is.

  52. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    Results from different models often contradict each other.

    Ah, but how much do they contradict each other? Recall what I said back in #22, “Given 20 different organisms, there are 8,200,794,532,637,891,559,375 (over 8 sextillion) possible ‘trees’ that could obtain. Being able to narrow that to even 50 possible trees is ridiculously good confirmation.”

    If nothing less than absolute perfection will satisfy, then I’m afraid I can’t help you… but I’m afraid I don’t feel guilty for not meeting that standard. Again, experimental measurements for the gravitational constant G have been contradictory, and to a much lower precision than the statistical congruence of phylogenetic trees by different measures. That doesn’t mean we suppose gravity varies, or invoke other theories.

  53. Ray Ingles

    JAD –

    So Ray, what exactly does common descent prove?

    It proves that evolution happened – as your own quote says: Homologies among proteins (or organisms) are the evidence for descent with modification–that is, for evolution.

    We know that evolution happened as well as we know anything in science. Not everybody accepts that. Let’s first get on the same page about evolution actually happening, then we can start talking mechanisms.

  54. Tom Gilson

    You said “correcting,” not “challenging.” There’s an assumption that something is wrong that needs correcting, before due process discovers whether that’s the case.

  55. Ray Ingles

    Hang on. If someone makes an accusation, don’t they think someone’s guilty of what they’re accusing them of? (Corrupt prosecutors aside, I suppose.)

    That’s why there are formal procedures to decide if the accusation is correct. Which – I point out again – is what Myers is suggesting happen: formal frickin’ procedures.

  56. Ray Ingles

    The “established procedure” is due process, for crying out loud! Did you even try to read what Myers wrote? Do I have to quote the entire thing here?

  57. Tom Gilson

    No, I didn’t read any of it. I didn’t know that was who you were talking about. You mentioned (via JAD) Coyne and Stenger, who are in fact jumping due process, in that comment (#31), and no other names.

    I guess I missed the part where you were intending that comment to be about Myers instead (“other atheists,” apparently). I didn’t see his name in there anywhere, so I thought the antecedent to your pronoun “they” was “Coyne and Stenger,” the only persons named.

    Apparently I misunderstood you. Sorry.

  58. Tom Gilson

    So the problem seems to be with my misunderstanding of who it was you were talking about.

    If it were Coyne and Stenger, I believe my read on it would be accurate: they’re saying “Sure, let’s give him a fair trial if you insist, but then let’s hang him!” (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)

  59. Melissa

    Ray,

    There’s no a priori reason for human DNA to closely match chimpanzee DNA, even if they all use the same proteins. They could be functionally indistinguishable, be composed of exactly the same proteins, and still have wildly different DNA.

    Be honest Ray, we do not know this. You’re extrapolating way past the a available evidence.

    Somehow, the relationships we see in the DNA we examine fits the ‘common descent’ model, and not any of the trillions of other possibilities. If species, or even major families of life, were created separately, the creator(s) went well out of their way to simulate common descent very precisely.

    We have no way of telling whether those trillions if other possibilities are even live one let alone why the creator would choose to create in this way. You are overreaching.

    Why not?

    Why aren’t we proposing lots of little gods? Because we’re Christians.

    So, if there’s one God doing all the design work, It makes sure to redo the work over and over again every time a population splits, usually reaching different solutions. And if it’s not working by common descent, It must be deliberately misleading us so we think It is.

    Overreaching again. Look I have no beef with common descent, I think the evidence is in the main consistent, my point is that you can’t rule out design based on the evidence we have and your arguments to that effect are weak. It wouldn’t be the first time science has been wrong about something. That doesn’t mean that Gid has somehow deliberately misled them.

  60. SteveK

    If species, or even major families of life, were created separately, the creator(s) went well out of their way to simulate common descent very precisely.

    The same could be said about cars, but it wouldn’t be true. It just looks that way. As Melissa said, you are overreaching, Ray.

  61. Tom Gilson

    Overreaching? Nah.

    He’s operating from a secure knowledge base. Ray knows creators well enough to know that no creator would ever do that.

  62. Ray Ingles

    Melissa –

    Be honest Ray, we do not know this. You’re extrapolating way past the a available evidence.

    Melissa, I honestly don’t think you understand what I said.

    Look, the triplets TCT, TCA, TCC, and TCG do, in fact, all map to Serline. This isn’t just a guess, there’s been a huge amount of testing – experimenting with both existing DNA and then engineering it. For example, we know that a mutation that substitutes one single base pair, one single ‘letter’ – turning a GAG (one of two codons for Glutamic acid) into GTG (one of four codes for Valine) – causes sickle-cell anemia by changing the structure of the hemoglobin protein.

    We really do know the genetic code.

    We use that knowledge already to engineer bacteria to make insulin, and human clotting factor, and human growth hormone, in order to make medicines. If we had the code wrong, we couldn’t do that. But we can and do.

    And because we know the code, we really do know that the same protein can be coded for in multiple ways. For example, the ‘normal’ HBB sequence – the one that’s modified in sickle-cell – is “CTG ACT CCT GAG GAG AAG TCT”. But you could get the exact same amino acids from “CTC ACC CCC GAA GAA AAA TCC” – that’s a neutral mutation in every single triplet. Indeed, if you multiply it out, that same sequence of seven amino acids can be coded for in 4*4*4*2*2*2*4 = 2,048 ways. That’s just seven amino acids – 21 bases. The full Hemoglobin gene is 1,600 base pairs – it has over 2^1600 possible codings. Much of that gets trimmed out (junk DNA, doncha know) and the actual protein code is 444 base pairs – which is still over 4.5*10^133 possible codings.

    Again, we’ve tested that the variant sequences work. I pointed out an example already – genetically engineering wheat to use the mouse form of the cytochrome C gene. The wheat grows just fine. A lot more along these lines has been done.

    More, we see those neutral variations all the time when we examine sequences between species. And the pattern fits into the nested hierarchy of evolution. Splendidly. The same proteins, different coding thanks to neutral mutations.

    No, seriously, you can’t just handwave this one away. It really is that solid. You could resequence an entire organism in a stupefying variety of ways and get the same organism made of the same proteins. But we don’t see any of that nigh-infinite possible variety in practice; we see sequences that fit common descent, and only a Vanishingly small number would. You could pick random codings for longer than the lifetime of the universe – longer than millions of times the lifetime of the universe – and you wouldn’t get the codings we see today by chance.

    (I haven’t even brought up endogenous retroviruses yet!)

  63. Tom Gilson

    Oh.

    Based on your last sentence, it’s a choice between common descent and chance.

    I guess that’s because you’re sufficiently familiar with all the creators that you can rule them all out.

    I know, you’re going to say that doesn’t address what you were directing specifically toward Melissa here. It doesn’t.

    But I’m seeing a pattern of careless communication here. In this case your language assumes, with no rational justification whatsoever, that the pattern of DNA evidences rules out a creator. It wasn’t your main topic but it slipped through anyway.

    You were similarly imprecise in #31, on a different topic.

    Are you possibly saying what you really mean, without realizing that you are?

  64. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    Based on your last sentence, it’s a choice between common descent and chance.

    No, no. Just that the particular pattern we see is Astronomically (to use Dennett’s spelling) unlikely if the only way to get it is chance. I mean, way more unlikely than playing poker every night for a year and always drawing royal flushes.

    Now, common descent explains it handily, simply, and consistently.

    If the pattern does not result from common descent – e.g, humans and chimpanzees don’t actually have a common ancestor, but instead were created separately, in their current forms – then the pattern is Astronomically unlikely to have happened by chance.

    It doesn’t rule out a creator, of course. It just means that the creator must have gone well out of his/her/its/their way to produce a pattern precisely consistent with common descent. Over and over again, for all the species of life we’ve studied on the entire planet. He/she/it/they made sure there was a morphological nested hierarchy, and a genetic nested hierarch, and they both formed the same tree to a stunning degree of statistical congruence.

    As I said originally in #22, “Either common descent is true, or an Intelligent Designer went astronomically far out of Its way to make it look that way.”

  65. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson – Oh, and in #31 I was responding to JAD, right. He quoted Myers, then said “That sounds very “inquisition like” to me.” We weren’t talking about Coyne or Stenger at all. I don’t think I’m ‘saying what I really mean’.

    I think you’re reading what you really want me to mean. Whether I actually say it or not.

  66. Melissa

    Ray,

    Melissa, I honestly don’t think you understand what I said.

    We really do know the genetic code.

    I understand perfectly what you wrote and whether we know the genetic code or not is irrelevant to my point. You are extrapolating wildly beyond the data, but then, you have a history of presenting “evidence” that doesn’t show what you think it shows. For the record I am not scientists knowledge of the genetic code, I am not disputing that proteins can be coded for in different ways, nor am I disputing that genes can be replaced and you still get wheat the grows. These facts do not support your statement that “There’s no a priori reason for human DNA to closely match chimpanzee DNA, even if they all use the same proteins. They could be functionally indistinguishable, be composed of exactly the same proteins, and still have wildly different DNA.” and this “You could resequence an entire organism in a stupefying variety of ways and get the same organism made of the same proteins.”

    If the pattern does not result from common descent – e.g, humans and chimpanzees don’t actually have a common ancestor, but instead were created separately, in their current forms – then the pattern is Astronomically unlikely to have happened by chance.

    That assumes that a creator is grabbing codes for proteins and putting them together randomly every time a new creature is made. Why think that is what a creator would do? You don’t know whether the pattern is due to design factors. As I said, you’re extrapolating beyond the evidence.

  67. JAD

    Let me try to clarify what the dispute is between me and Ray. It appears that Ray objects to me referring to Coyne and Stenger as “militant” atheists. Here is how our exchange started out:

    @#24 Ray: “There are plenty of atheists who disagree with both Hedin’s course, and disagree with Coyne’s approach for ‘disciplining’ him. Even atheists that might surprise you…”

    @#25 JAD: “How does that make it any less hypocritical?”

    @#27 Ray: “Um… because you’re accusing an entire group of hypocrisy when not all of them are guilty of it? I could find an example of Christian hypocrisy in a few seconds of googling, would that prove that Christians in general ‘want to have it both ways’?”

    @#28 JAD: @#23 I wrote: “What is most hypocritical about the militant atheists…”

    Please note: Militant atheists are not all atheists.

    Apparently, Ray is upset because using the word “militant” suggests that anti-religious bigotry is behind the persecution of Eric Hedin, and apparently not all of them like that particular way of persecuting a religious person. What other word should we use then to describe Coyne’s and Stenger’s brand of atheism?

  68. SteveK

    Many of these look very random. If you look at the pattern arrangement and crunch the numbers, the odds are very, very much in favor of “created by chance”. Designers can do that.

  69. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    The same could be said about cars, but it wouldn’t be true.

    From comment #49: “For example, intermittent wipers appeared in all makes and models of cars pretty much simultaneously, because the designers all grabbed – stole – the idea for them at the same time. Go ahead and try to build a ‘nested hierarchy’ for cars sometime. See if the ‘phylogenies’ converge.”

    Show me your car phylogeny, and show me the statistical congruence.

  70. Tom Gilson

    Show me why that’s relevant to the probability of a creator using common design principles.

    I mean, where do you get your theology from? You say

    It doesn’t rule out a creator, of course. It just means that the creator must have gone well out of his/her/its/their way to produce a pattern precisely consistent with common descent.

    What makes that “out of his … way”? Just what or where is his way, out of which you claim he has gone? If he went out of that way, do you think he had to fill up his car an extra time at the pump to get there? Do you think it strained his budget for that month?

    I’m being intentionally provocative, Ray, because you have got to become aware of the assumptions you’re bringing here. You think you understand enough about the creator to conclude that this is unlikely.

    But in fact you don’t, unless you have a firm grasp of the possibility space the term “creator” fills, which is more than unlikely, if Christianity is true; for if so, then there is no possibility, there is necessary being.

    Your analysis here assumes that probabilities can be applied meaningfully to this question, which is tantamount to assuming Christianity is false.

  71. Tom Gilson

    I’m not even opposed to UCA in principle, Ray. I don’t care if it’s true or not. I think I’ve said that. What I do oppose is this kind of economically-driven theology you keep espousing. I’d rather you understand Christian theism than misunderstand it.

  72. SteveK

    If statistics can prove “created by chance/randomness”, it can prove the opposite and ID is solid science. It’s a nasty Catch-22 that many naturalists don’t really want to admit. It’s no fun giving up ground on one argument only to lose ground on another that is also important.

  73. Ray Ingles

    JAD –

    It appears that Ray objects to me referring to Coyne and Stenger as “militant” atheists.

    No, that’s not what I’m objecting to. Let’s see if you can spot it if I make the same mistake in another context.

    “Christians protect child abusers. Look at Cardinal Law in Boston.”

    Obviously I can’t say that “Christians” protect child abusers based on that case, or even several cases. I can’t even say “Roman Catholic Christians protect child abusers.” What I can say is some Christians have protected child molsetors from discovery and prosecution.

    You can call Coyne and Stenger ‘militant’ if you like. (Though I note that generally, to be called a ‘militant’ believer you actually have to pick up a gun and shoot someone. To be called a ‘militant’ atheist, all you have to do is maybe write a book.) But considering that other so-called ‘militant’ atheists are not doing what they are doing – are, in fact, disputing with them about it – you can’t just say ‘militant atheists are persecuting Hedin.’

    The most you can say is that, arguably, some atheists – militant or otherwise – are directing something that you believe is like persecution at Hedin.

  74. Tom Gilson

    Webster on militant

    1 : engaged in warfare or combat : fighting
    2 : aggressively active (as in a cause) : combative <militant conservationists> <a militant attitude>
    — militant noun
    — mil·i·tant·ly adverb
    — mil·i·tant·ness noun
    See militant defined for English-language learners »
    See militant defined for kids »
    Examples of MILITANT

    an angry and militant speech
    <political radicals with a militant unwillingness to compromise on any issue>
    <an angry and militant speech>

    Further,

    Synonym Discussion of AGGRESSIVE

    aggressive, militant, assertive, self-assertive mean obtrusively energetic especially in pursuing particular goals. aggressive implies a disposition to dominate often in disregard of others’ rights or in determined and energetic pursuit of one’s ends <aggressive in his business dealings>. militant also implies a fighting disposition but suggests not self-seeking but devotion to a cause, movement, or principle <militant protesters rallied against the new law>. assertive suggests bold self-confidence in expression of opinion <the more assertive speakers dominated the forum>. self-assertive connotes forwardness or brash self-confidence <a self-assertive young upstart>.

    (Since you were being technical about the use of the term)

  75. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson – You touched on a side issue in my reply to JAD, not the meat. But regarding the side issue – I actually wasn’t “being technical about the use of the term”. I was pointing out the use of the term in practice.

    Do a Google News search for “militant Islamist” (including the quotes), you get terrorists. Do a Google News search for “militant atheists”, you get… authors and people who post on blogs. Do a search Google News search for “militant christian” and you get three hits about a Christian accused of undermining North Korea’s government.

    In practice, it’s like I said. “…generally, to be called a ‘militant’ believer you actually have to pick up a gun and shoot someone. To be called a ‘militant’ atheist, all you have to do is maybe write a book.”

    Check out this essay on the usage of ‘fundamentalist’. It really seems to me that ‘militant’ is used in a very similar manner, when applied to atheists. The technical usage is weird – definition 1 is used when talking about religious people, but definition 2 is used when talking about atheists. The split isn’t perfect but is dramatically biased.

  76. Ray Ingles

    Let’s take a look at ‘common design principles’ for a moment. How about in computer code, something widely claimed to be similar to DNA?

    Every programming language has the ability to ‘comment’ code; you can add little notes and explanations to the code in English or whatever to document what you’re doing. You put a special marker on them to tell the computer ‘ignore this stuff’. It doesn’t affect how the program runs, but it allows other programmers (or you yourself, a few months later) to understand what the code is doing and how to change it.

    There are other things that don’t affect how the program runs – say, variable names. One programmer might call a particular data item ‘name’; another might call it ‘StudentName’, or ‘Sname’, or ‘student_name’ or ‘s_name’ or ‘name_of_student’, or almost anything else.

    And even in the areas that affect how the program runs, there are a practically infinite number of ways to get the same results. If you need to process a list of student names, you might read the whole list into memory, or just a chunk at a time; you might store it in memory continuously in an array, or in a ‘linked list’ of little chunks that ‘point’ to the next item in the list. This affects how efficiently the program runs, but doesn’t affect the end result, the output.

    Give two programmers the same non-trivial problem, and the odds that they will hit upon the exact same ‘algorithm’ – the mechanism of the solution – is practially nil. Add in considerations like comments and variable names, and the odds are terrible even for trivial problems. (Naive programming students often get caught plagiarizing in just this way.) Heck, even the same programmer given the same problem at different times won’t come up with the exact same solution.

    This is used in courts all the time to prove that someone copied someone else’s code – to prove “common ancestry” of two different programs. If you find the same comments in programs ostensibly written by two different programmers, it’s pretty much a ‘smoking gun’.

    Now, if a creator created humans one day, and chimps another day – wrote the DNA code for both – why would it include the exact same neutral variations that don’t affect function? Out of a ludicrous number of possibilities, the creator just happens to pick the same ‘comments’ (junk DNA) and ‘variable names’ (DNA codons)?

    Why can we not use the same procedures we use to determine common ancestry everywhere else to determine common ancestry in living things?

  77. JAD

    Here are some relevant observations from another blogger:

    [T]he term militant is not reserved for atheists and is not restricted to those who commit violence. The reason many theists, agnostics, and atheists refer to the New Atheists as militant atheists is because reason and evidence tell us that New Atheists are militant atheists. The evidence clearly shows that Coyne, Dawkins, and all their followers, are part of a movement that has a cause – to rid the world of religion. And the evidence clearly shows that to carry out their cause, the New Atheists leaders and their followers are combative, extreme, confrontational, and aggressive. Thus, reason tells us that these New Atheist activists are militant.
    http://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/militant-atheist-doesnt-like-being-called-militant/

  78. Tom Gilson

    What’s hard to believe is that you brought this upas a point of contention, Ray, and that you’re pressing it this way.

  79. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson – To which point are you referring?

    The point that common descent is established beyond any reasonable doubt by the same techniques that are used in Biblical scholarship and computer forensics? Or the point that not all atheists, or even all militant atheists, are ‘persecuting’ Hedin? Or the minor aside that the term ‘militant’ is frequently applied inconsistently to atheists?

  80. Tom Gilson

    The “militant atheist” term, Ray.

    Militant atheist returns 479,000 results in Bing. (Google didn’t give me a count.)

    Militant pacifist(!), 145,000 results

    Militant consumerism, 207,000

    Militant reformer, 225,000

    Militant conservationist, 298,000

    Militant environmentalist groups, 375,000

    Militant Catholic, 612,000

    Militant civil rights leader, 6,160,000.

    Your insistence on the inequitable use of “militant” with “atheist” seems a bit over-sensitive, in view of the word’s frequent usage in other contexts. I was expressing surprise that you came back to this “minor aside” the way you did.

    I’m not sure what you mean about it being “inconsistently applied to atheists.” There’s a whole lot of militancy among a whole lot of interest groups, including Catholicism. And atheism.

  81. Tom Gilson

    By the way, you might want to look at some of those numbers and re-evaluate this:

    The technical usage is weird – definition 1 is used when talking about religious people, but definition 2 is used when talking about atheists. The split isn’t perfect but is dramatically biased.

  82. Ray Ingles

    Whoops, you missed a tick. If you search for just “militant catholic” – without the double quotes – you get pages that have both ‘militant’ and ‘catholic’ somewhere on the page, e.g. ‘catholics decry militant atheists’.

    If you include the double quotes – so it looks for the exact phrase “militant atheist” or “militant civil rights leader”, you get:

    “militant atheist” 127,000
    “militant pacifist” 3,750
    “militant consumerism” 76
    “militant reformer” 8,050
    “militant conservationist” 215
    “militant environmentalist groups” 56
    “militant catholic” 4,130
    “militant civil rights leader” 3,690

    Those numbers look a little different, don’t they?

    Try limiting it to just a “News” search, too; covers recent articles in the press. “Militant atheist” – 605. “Militant catholic” – 18. (Make sure to include the quotes!)

  83. Tom Gilson

    Granted. You are correct, and my numbers were skewed, as you said.

    There’s still a lesson in here. The word “militant” has proper usage as an adjective in contexts that don’t involve guns. That’s clear from Webster, and it’s clear from the usages identified here.

    But “militant atheist” is used far more frequently than all these other adjective-noun combinations.

    Apparently a whole lot of people think that “militant” and “atheist” go together in certain contexts.

    JAD (above) has very specifically denied that the terms go together in all contexts, and of course he’s right. There are militant atheists and non-militant atheists. If an atheist is not militant, then that atheist should not be described as militant.

    Some atheists, however, have written highly polemical best-sellers advocating an end to religion.

    Some of them operate highly offensive websites.

    Some led a rally in Washington where a song about the Pope included 72 instances of the f-word, where attendees carried signs describing religion as lunacy, where a headline speaker advocated open derision, and where the principal leader threatened me personally with being escorted by security to the “First Amendment” pen when he found out I was leading a group there to have non-disruptive conversations with individuals along with offering them free water.

    Some have written books describing Christian political activism as “theocracy” (as if!), and calling for a complete overhaul of the First Amendment’s interpretation to limit Christianity’s place in the public square.

    That’s militant atheism. I hope you can accept the reality for what it is.

  84. Tom Gilson

    Now, suppose you were to describe me as a militant Christian. I would accept that in some senses of the term. I think we’re in a life-and-death battle for men’s and women’s eternal souls. I will fight for them in every way possible consistent with the principles for which I am fighting. Those ways include prayer, demonstrating acts of kindness, persistent persuasiveness according to evidences and logic, love for my opponents, humility, etc., among those who “have ears to hear,” that is, those who care to listen.

    I intend to be as militant as I can possibly be in those terms, because this is a fight that matters.

  85. Melissa

    Ray,

    Now, if a creator created humans one day, and chimps another day – wrote the DNA code for both – why would it include the exact same neutral variations that don’t affect function? Out of a ludicrous number of possibilities, the creator just happens to pick the same ‘comments’ (junk DNA) and ‘variable names’ (DNA codons)?

    You’re surprised that a creator might use a modified version of what he has already created?

    You might also want to remember that I am not disputing that the evidence is consistent with common descent but rather your claim that it is inconsistent with a designer.

  86. Victoria

    Hi all
    I haven’t had much time to comment for a while, but I browse from time to time. Y’all might find this article some food for thought…

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v497/n7449/full/nature12130.htm, and here too: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130515094809.htm

    Also, if you are going to use the analogy of computer software, you might remember that the best software designers make use of Design Patterns, (see here: http://www.uml.org.cn/c++/pdf/DesignPatterns.pdf) especially for those of us who construct software using the Object-Oriented paradigm.

  87. JAD

    Why is Ray nitpicking over the word militant? I think it’s a way of deflecting our attention away from the fact that his some of his fellow atheists are trying to destroy the career of Ball State physics professor Eric Hedin because of his religious belief. That’s the only reason that they are going after him. It’s not because of the course he’s teaching which is perfectly constitutional. Dan Barker of the Freedom from Religion Foundation admitted as much on the Michael Medved Show last week. To paraphrase, they are okay with the course Hedin is teaching, “The Boundaries of Science” ; the problem they apparently have is with the way Hedin is teaching the class. What evidence do they have? Barker didn’t really provide any. If you are going to go public with a charge that a professor is using his classroom to proselytize, shouldn’t you back up that charge?
    http://intelligentdesign.podomatic.com/entry/2013-05-31T16_24_49-07_00

    Isn’t trying to get someone fired from his job, (Hedin doesn’t have tenure) because of his religious belief, discrimination? Isn’t it persecution? If it isn’t, I don’t know what is.

  88. Victoria

    Biologos has an interesting article related to the common descent discussion as well
    http://biologos.org/questions/why-should-Christians-consider-evolutionary-creation

    A noteworthy excerpt:

    At BioLogos, we view evolutionary creation as a description of how and when God brought about all the creatures on earth. We do not see God as distant from this process, for God did not just set up the universe at the beginning and let it go. Instead, he upholds the universe moment by moment, sustaining all things by the power of his word. The regular patterns in nature that we call natural laws have their foundation in the regular, faithful governance of God (see Jeremiah 33:19-26). Thus we believe that God created every species and did it in such a way that we can describe the creation process scientifically. The scientific model of evolution does not replace God as creator any more than the law of gravity replaces God as ruler of the planets.

    Here are three examples of biblical attributes of God emphasized by studying evolutionary science:
    God is extravagant. God did not create just one type of flower, but uses the system of evolution to create a huge variety of flowers, of every size, shape, color, and scent. As opposed to being “wasteful,” a biblical view of evolution helps us appreciate it as a pointer to the extravagance of God’s loving gift of life to the whole earth. God’s creation does not reflect a cold efficiency, but the transformation of such “waste” into worship, just as Jesus honored the woman who poured expensive perfume on his feet4 (Mark 14:3-9, John 12:3-8).
    God is patient, and most often works gradually rather than instantaneously. In the natural world, we see God creating life over billions of years, not instantly, and grand geological processes playing out slowly over time, as well. Similarly, in the Bible we read of the centuries that passed between God’s covenant with Abraham and his covenant with David and the centuries more before Jesus appeared “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). In individual lives, God often works by planting his Word deep in us and letting it grow slowly over time. God seems pleased with the slow but extraordinary unfolding of his universe, just as he is patiently unfolding his plan of redemption.5
    God is the provider. He provides for his creatures in each moment, giving them what they need to survive, adapt and thrive in communities of life. The Bible speaks of God feeding and caring for animals (Jonah 4:11, Psalm 104), and modern evolutionary science is shedding light on how God has arranged complex ecosystems that support many different kinds of creatures together. But God provides for his creatures even at the genetic level, giving species a measure of biological “creativity” to help them respond to new challenges. As biologist Richard Colling says, “Evolution is not about the imposition of death and destruction and survival of the fittest. Those things are a part of it, but not the main core of what evolution is. . . [The] evolutionary process of creating duplicate genes that give rise to new possibilities [is] redemption, it’s possibility, and it’s hope.”6

  89. SteveK

    From Biologos:

    God did not create just one type of flower, but uses the system of evolution to create a huge variety of flowers, of every size, shape, color, and scent.

    They aren’t using the term evolution in the same way most naturalists would, so I imagine naturalists scratching their head wondering how God can use random chance to create something intently / purposefully.

  90. BillT

    The above from Biologos is part of the reason I can’t understand why ID is such a popular idea among Christians. Remember, it was Christianity and Christian philosophy that undergirds the entire enterprise of science. Science not only became a viable field of study during what is generally referred to as Christendom but became a viable field of study under Christendom and no where else. We don’t need alternatives to classic science to avoid conflicts. There not only is no conflict between science and Christianity but science depends for it’s existence on the framework only God could provide.

  91. Victoria

    In a book by physicist / Christian Alan Hayward (written about 30 years ago, which is when I first read it 🙂 ), he had a rather picturesque description of the relationship between God and His creation. He (Alan, that is) used the metaphor of a man and his dog walking through the forest to get home. The man walks purposefully, following a planned trail. The dog follows along, but wanders back and forth across their path, exploring side trails, interesting scents, chasing small animals, and whatnot, and sometimes the man whistles for the dog to catch up. For every mile the man walks, the dog has run two or three; nevertheless, the dog still ends up at home with his master. Perhaps God and His Creation are like that. God could be so clever as to design the adaptive programs of life to make that possible, using the properties and dynamics of space-time/matter-energy to build the systems upon which the programs will run.

  92. Tom Gilson

    BillT, I agree with everything you say, and I’ve taught it in schools, churches, and conferences.

    Except for this: I think ID has real philosophical and scientific viability, as a research program if nothing else. Time will tell how it stands up to scrutiny.

    I do not believe the answer is in yet: the biological science establishment is too highly committed to an opposing paradigm for now.

    But I also do not believe there’s any essential disagreement between ID and science, except where “science” is construed to require that all findings and conclusions be naturalistic — which is a metaphysical position, not a scientific one.

    So I don’t know why you say what you have said about ID.

  93. Tom Gilson

    Victoria,

    I’m sure God is wise enough to do that.

    The question ID is trying to answer is whether naturalism is. And whether there is compelling evidence of intelligence behind the design apparent in nature. They are not the same question, though they do partially overlap

  94. BillT

    I remain convinced by Francis Collins’ arguments in “The Language of God” (as well as our own Holopupenko) that ID is not a viable enterprise. However, I am sympathetic to the reason for the aversion to evolution by many on the Christian side. It’s not really a problem with evolution. That is, as far as we can tell, pretty good science. It’s the very false insistence by the scientific community that evolution means that naturalism is true, God is false, that abiogenesis explains the origin of life and a number of other fallacies. That has driven many Christians to believe that evolution as an explanation to the development of the species is false as well. Baby, bath water.

  95. bigbird

    The above from Biologos is part of the reason I can’t understand why ID is such a popular idea among Christians.

    I can’t understand why Christians such as yourself are so critical of ID. Have you read any of their key publications? Are you familiar with their arguments? At the very least you should have read Steven Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell.

    I remain convinced by Francis Collins’ arguments in “The Language of God” (as well as our own Holopupenko) that ID is not a viable enterprise.

    Collins isn’t a philosopher of science so I’m not sure why you’d find his view particularly credible.

    Bradley Monton is a philosopher of science, and an atheist. He’s far, far better qualified to give an unbiased opinion. Perhaps you should read his book, rather than rely on Collins’ 15 pages or so.

    If you are going to publicly criticize a movement like ID, intellectual honesty requires you become familiar with what they have written, and to consider what others besides Collins have written about ID.

    Of course, if you are very familiar with their work and have your own views on difficulties with ID, go right ahead and post them. In that case I’d appreciate knowing it, as my recollection (which might be incorrect) is that you were not too familiar with ID.

  96. Ray Ingles

    Melissa –

    You’re surprised that a creator might use a modified version of what he has already created?

    But isn’t that… common descent? Humans and chimps weren’t created separately, “from scratch”, but both derive from a common ancestor.

    I think BillT’s right. Many Christians have almost an allergic reaction to anything that smacks of evolution. Take techniques that everyone accepts applies to Biblical scholarship, computer forensics, even detecting plagiarism, and apply them to living things, and suddenly they’re considered ‘unreliable’.

    You might also want to remember that I am not disputing that the evidence is consistent with common descent but rather your claim that it is inconsistent with a designer.

    From #61, to JAD: “Let’s first get on the same page about evolution actually happening, then we can start talking mechanisms.”

    In #22, my reply to bigbird that started this whole discussion, I very specifically talked about common descent. And I didn’t dispute intelligent design bigbird was talking specifically about young-Earth creationism. What I said was “young-Earth creationists need almost all of mainstream science to be wrong to preserve their view of the Bible, and that demonstrably does have “a significant influence in conclusions that are made.””

    Go back and read what I wrote here. I have not said that common descent is inconsistent with a designer. All I have done is defend common descent specifically. Despite that, everyone has assumed that I was arguing that common descent implied ‘no designer’. But I only said that common descent was inconsistent with young-Earth creationism.

    If common descent isn’t that important, why is everyone contesting it with me? Because you’re worried about an argument I might make later? Why are you so scared to grant me any ground at all?

  97. BillT

    If memory serves bigbird (and I’m quite sure it does) it was you that had so little understanding of Theistic Evolution that you equated it to some concept that had nothing to do with it and tried to use that to quite unsuccessfully discredit what I said. This on top of the fact that you quite clearly were incapable of even understanding Holopupenko’s philosophic repudiation of ID which remains unrefuted by anyone on this site, much less you.

    On the other hand, I have read dozens and dozens of articles about ID attended lectures by William Dembski and read Dembski/Wells “The Design of Life”. Further, what I said was I hadn’t read much recently because I did that research on ID more than a half dozen years ago and wasn’t still up on all that content.

    So as far as your point that I should be familiar with ideas I criticize, perhaps you should take your own advice and maybe try one of those memory improvement courses while you’re at it. And that you don’t find Collins’ arguments credible while you’re touting Meyers and Monton is laughable.

    ID, in the big picture, fails because it is at it its core a “God in the Gaps” argument. It’s a quite sophisticated “God in the Gaps” argument but one nevertheless. It also fails, as Holo explained, because it asks science to do what science cannot do, i.e., “see” design.

  98. Ray Ingles

    But “militant atheist” is used far more frequently than all these other adjective-noun combinations. Apparently a whole lot of people think that “militant” and “atheist” go together in certain contexts.

    About an order of magnitude more than any other religious belief, as it happens. It seems to be the “go-to” adjective… in my experience, whether or not there’s a good reason for it. Generally all an atheist has to be, to be called ‘militant’, is ‘outspoken’.

    Let’s take a quick example. You say that “Some atheists, however, have written highly polemical best-sellers advocating an end to religion.”

    Sure. Now, how many Christians have written books advocating that everyone in the world convert to Christianity?

    If that is not automatically “theocracy” – and you claim it isn’t – then simply advocating for an end to religion isn’t automatically ‘militant’, or despotic. or nefarious, or even necessarily strident.

    That’s militant atheism. I hope you can accept the reality for what it is.

    Note that I haven’t denied that militant (by definition 2) atheists exist. I haven’t even denied that many prominent atheists are ‘militant’. Heck, I’ll even grant that militant (by definition 1) atheists have existed (e.g. all the communist regimes I’ve heard of).

    My contention, however, is that militant gets used way out of proportion to the number of times it actually applies. The same way Plantinga points out that “fundamentalist” gets used approximately like… a word I won’t even try to get past the filters.

    Why is Ray nitpicking over the word militant?

    I put one sentence, in parentheses, about the overuse of the word militant and you and Tom promoted it to a full topic. I pointed out the numbers in response.

    And I haven’t even contested that some atheists have gone after Hedin’s job. What I have done is point to other atheists – one in particular that can be fairly called ‘militant’, even – who says “No, sorry, not right — academic freedom is the issue here, and professors have to have the right to teach unpopular, controversial issues, even from an ignorant perspective.”

    It’s impressive how often I’m attacked for things that other people seem to wish I had written instead of what I actually wrote.

  99. JAD

    Ray wrote:

    how many Christians have written books advocating that everyone in the world convert to Christianity?

    Who? What are the titles of the books? Have you read them? Do they advocate coercion? Persecution?

  100. Tom Gilson

    Further, Ray, stop it with the dishonesty, okay?

    Here’s what I wrote about theocracy:

    Some have written books describing Christian political activism as “theocracy” (as if!), and calling for a complete overhaul of the First Amendment’s interpretation to limit Christianity’s place in the public square.

    Here’s what you said I wrote about theocracy:

    Sure. Now, how many Christians have written books advocating that everyone in the world convert to Christianity?

    If that is not automatically “theocracy” – and you claim it isn’t…

    I made no claims about whatsoever about “books advocating that everyone in the world convert…”

    I could have; I have some definite opinions on that subject. But I didn’t.

    (To quote: “It’s impressive how often I’m attacked for things that other people seem to wish I had written instead of what I actually wrote.”)

    Now with that out of the way, hopefully, maybe you could enlighten us as to your view of theocracy, and whether Christians using our voice in the press, and our votes in the polls, fits that description.

  101. Tom Gilson

    I guess we were to let the emotional impact of this slide by simply because you enclosed it in parentheses: “(Though I note that generally, to be called a ‘militant’ believer you actually have to pick up a gun and shoot someone. To be called a ‘militant’ atheist, all you have to do is maybe write a book.)”

  102. Tom Gilson

    I’m well aware of Plantinga’s take on fundamentalism.

    I accept that you do not think all atheists are militant. No one does.

    I contend (as I did previously) that some are, and that they have become very prominent through best-selling books, websites, speaking, TV programs and other appearances, and more.

    I contend that there is nothing disproportionate about describing those militant atheists as militant atheists. There’s nothing disproportionate about the frequency with which they are described as such: after all, they have become very prominent through best-selling books, websites….

  103. Ray Ingles

    JAD –

    Do they advocate coercion? Persecution?

    Ah, but there’s a symmetry. How many atheist “bestsellers” advocate coercion or persecution?

  104. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    I made no claims about whatsoever about “books advocating that everyone in the world convert…”

    Ah, so you think it would be a bad thing if everyone in the world became a (Biblical) Christian? You think it’s better that some people wind up unsaved?

    I didn’t say that there were a lot of Christian books advocating that everyone be forced to convert. Just that everyone be persuaded to accept Jesus into their hearts.

    Similarly, thinking that it would be a good thing if religion went extinct is not the same thing as thinking people should be coerced or persecuted into ‘deconverting’. There’s some missing steps in your accusations in #110.

  105. Tom Gilson

    Ray, you’re being dishonest and on the border of being a jerk.

    I wrote,

    I made no claims about whatsoever about “books advocating that everyone in the world convert…”

    I could have; I have some definite opinions on that subject. But I didn’t.

    You put words in my mouth.

    Cut it out.

  106. JAD

    How do you destroy religion, which Dawkins, Harris and Krauss etc. all advocate, without coercion?

  107. Tom Gilson

    That was the second time you did that here (putting words in my mouth), I remind you. See my #113. It wasn’t very long ago, and it was about the very same kind of maneuver on your part.

    It’s tiresome to have to explain these things; it would be much more interesting for you to respond to what I have said rather than (I quote again) to “for things that other people seem to wish I had written…”

  108. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson – I didn’t put words in your mouth. I asked questions. That’s why there were no blockquote tags, or double quotes, and I put question marks at the end.

    Let me ask you explicitly: Do you think it would be a good thing if everyone on Earth converted to Biblical Christianity? (I’m fine with an answer of ‘Yes, but…’ or ‘No, but…’; still, I hope the words ‘yes’ or ‘no’ appear in your response.)

    I admit would be very surprised if the answer was “no”. I would also be very surprised if you thought coercing people was a reasonable way of pursuing that goal, though.

    JAD –

    How do you destroy religion, which Dawkins, Harris and Krauss etc. all advocate, without coercion?

    Persuasion and argumentation. Demonstration by example. The closest I’ve seen to ‘coercion’ mentioned is Harris saying that teachers should correct students about matters of fact. That’s not the same thing as taking kids away from their teachers. Even there, Dennett wants comprehensive religious education covering a broad range of the world’s religious beliefs!

    Setting a (long term!) goal is not the same thing as selecting the most brutal possible means. Just because Jesus said, “Go forth and make disciples of all nations”, I don’t just assume that meant ‘conquer the world and force people to become Christian’.

  109. Tom Gilson

    See #113. That wasn’t a question you asked. You said I had claimed …

    And to say that #117 was merely a question is transparently disingenuous. Doubt that? You shouldn’t; it really is transparent, after all. But if you still wonder, you might study your use of “Ah, …” in comments on this blog. You consistently use it to introduce a statement disputing another’s position with a mild sort of “gotcha.”

    That’s a common usage of the interjection, so examples might not be necessary — but examples we have nonetheless. You are quite consistent in it. It’s here on this page four other times. See also,

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/05/getting-the-moral-argument-wrong-again/#comment-60170
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/02/science-materialism-and-myth/#comment-58271
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/03/further-on-atheism-is-not-a-belief/#comment-57187
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/02/science-materialism-and-myth/#comment-56758
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2012/12/happy-birthday-piltdown-man/#comment-44918
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2012/11/atheistic-challenges-and-actual-human-beings/#comment-44146
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2012/11/atheistic-challenges-and-actual-human-beings/#comment-43862

    The lone exceptions:

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/02/science-materialism-and-myth/#comment-58319
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2012/11/atheistic-challenges-and-actual-human-beings/#comment-43873

    In #117 the “gotcha,” clearly was that you thought I was being wrapped up in self-contradiction — a direction you could only go if you thought I was implying those conclusions. Meanwhile you clearly overlooked my (again) clear statement that I had opinions that I was not taking the time to share.

    They are still, by the way, not very germane to the current discussion. I think you know what they are anyway.

  110. bigbird

    So as far as your point that I should be familiar with ideas I criticize, perhaps you should take your own advice and maybe try one of those memory improvement courses while you’re at it. And that you don’t find Collins’ arguments credible while you’re touting Meyers and Monton is laughable.

    No need to be rude BillT – I did enquire what your knowledge of ID was because I wasn’t sure. It is true that I have not memorized the positions of all the posters on these forums on every topic they post on. And there is no need to make spurious claims about my knowledge of other topics.

    We are talking about the philosophy of science, not science. If you think “touting” a philosopher of science who has no theistic bias and who has written a book on intelligent design as laughable compared to the opinions of a geneticist, you are sadly mistaken. Scientists are generally not the best people to give opinions on what is or is not science.

    As for Steven Meyer, his book has been quite influential, and received praise from Thomas Nagel, another atheistic philosopher. If you haven’t read it, you should.

    ID, in the big picture, fails because it is at it its core a “God in the Gaps” argument. It’s a quite sophisticated “God in the Gaps” argument but one nevertheless.

    ID consists of a wide variety of arguments across a number of fields, and to classify ID as a “God of the gaps” argument indicates to me that you have more reading to do.

    It also fails, as Holo explained, because it asks science to do what science cannot do, i.e., “see” design.

    Holo was arguing from the perspective of a Thomist (AFAIK), and his arguments are by no means widely accepted.

  111. Melissa

    Ray,

    But isn’t that… common descent? Humans and chimps weren’t created separately, “from scratch”, but both derive from a common ancestor.

    You could call it common descent if by that you mean that ideas used in earlier creations are used in later creations but I don’t think that is what you mean by common descent is it? Creationism does not require that God starts”from scratch” in the sense that he never makes use of designs ideas that he has used before.

    I think BillT’s right. Many Christians have almost an allergic reaction to anything that smacks of evolution. Take techniques that everyone accepts applies to Biblical scholarship, computer forensics, even detecting plagiarism, and apply them to living things, and suddenly they’re considered ‘unreliable’

    I think I have been quite clear about what my issue with your comments is but I’ll spell it out again. My argument is not that the techniques you have referred to are “unreliable”, nor do I have any issue with the evidence you put forth, what is unreliable is your analysis of the significance of that evidence. What seems to be the problem here is what you think special creation entails, although you haven’t specifically spelled this out. For the purpose of this discussion the only thing it does entail is that, for instance, humans and chimpanzees do not have a physical ancestor.

    Go back and read what I wrote here. I have not said that common descent is inconsistent with a designer. All I have done is defend common descent specifically.

    No, you have made the claim that either common descent is true or the creator deliberately made things so they appeared as if common descent is true. God (if He exists) is trying to trick us, that is the only other explanation for the evidence, it couldn’t possibly be a feature of design. See for example:

    #22

    The data could easily have contradicted common descent – but it hasn’t. At all. Either common descent is true, or an Intelligent Designer went astronomically far out of Its way to make it look that way.

    #49

    This is either a staggering coincidence, or a Creator deliberately arranged things in a misleading manner, or… universal common ancestry is actually true.

    #60

    And if it’s not working by common descent, It must be deliberately misleading us so we think It is.

    #76

    It doesn’t rule out a creator, of course. It just means that the creator must have gone well out of his/her/its/their way to produce a pattern precisely consistent with common descent.

    I hope now that it is quite clear what we are disputing. I think Tom’s comments at #82 and #83 are most pertinent to the point. I realise you responded to him in comment #88 with respect to what “common design principles” might be. You offer a valid response there, if by “common descent” you mean something that encompasses a relationship between species that is not physical. That’s not the way the term is usually used in the biological sciences. That still also misses the important theological questions that were Tom’s main point in these comments.

  112. bigbird

    Now, if a creator created humans one day, and chimps another day – wrote the DNA code for both – why would it include the exact same neutral variations that don’t affect function? Out of a ludicrous number of possibilities, the creator just happens to pick the same ‘comments’ (junk DNA) and ‘variable names’ (DNA codons)?

    It is a huge assumption on your part that they are neutral variations that don’t affect function. That’s almost arguing from ignorance. And what about the claims made by the ENCODE project about functionality?

    As for your analogy, as a software developer I reuse code libraries as much as possible. Those libraries that get used everywhere include the comments associated with those libraries. So different running programs have the identical libraries loaded in their address space. Why wouldn’t this be the case with genetic codes?

    While I’m writing, I’ve not found any recent publications citing your probabilistic calculations on the likelihood of common descent. Is there anything published on this that isn’t from an atheist website?

    I would also appreciate your comments on the statement that “Ultimately, there is no way to measure whether a particular phylogenetic hypothesis is accurate or not, unless the true relationships among the taxa being examined are already known (which may happen with bacteria or viruses under laboratory conditions). ” This seems to make any claims of astonishing accuracy completely spurious.

  113. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    You consistently use it to introduce a statement disputing another’s position with a mild sort of “gotcha.”

    Yup, I do. And I still think there’s a couple gotchas, here.

    Part of it’s on me, in that you didn’t make claims about trying to evangelize the world, and it’s relationship to theocracy. You’re right, I over-read there.

    And I suppose there are Calvinists who think that God picked some people to be unsaved. That’s why I asked you that question. I’m still not clear on what your answer would be.

    And yeah, the quotes of Harris are problematic even read in a charitable light. I’m even less impressed with him than I had been. But also, as I said, he’s not my pastor or pope either. Other “thought leaders” dispute with him all the time.

    The key point remains, though. Wanting religion to be eradicated is simply not the same as advocating forcible conversion, and more than wanting to evangelize all nations and save everyone is the same as advocating forcible conversion.

  114. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    It is a huge assumption on your part that they are neutral variations that don’t affect function.

    No. It’s an experimentally verified fact. Hell, we know the genetic code and how codons work to the point where it’s commercialized.

    And what about the claims made by the ENCODE project about functionality?

    What about them? Their claims are, well, junk.

    As for your analogy, as a software developer I reuse code libraries as much as possible.

    To everyone talking about software engineering, I pose a simple question: Why does the Creator eschew multiple inheritance when designing multicellular life?

    It virtually never happens. Occasional hybrids of closely-related species (if they’re too separate, the offspring if any are sterile), and the endogenous retroviruses I mentioned in #74. That’s pretty much it. Why is multiple inheritance verboten?

    I would also appreciate your comments on the statement that “Ultimately, there is no way to measure whether a particular phylogenetic hypothesis is accurate or not…

    It’s the difference between guaranteed perfect truth and high probability. From the same source: “In general, the more data that are available when constructing a tree, the more accurate and reliable the resulting tree will be.”

  115. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    Why does the Creator eschew multiple inheritance when designing multicellular life?

    This is just surreal…

  116. Ray Ingles

    G. Rodrigues – Victoria brought up “Design Patterns” and bigbird brought up “code libraries”. Are they surreal, too?

    Supposedly, studying creation can give us some information or insights into the Mind of God. So, why can’t we look at the techniques we see?

  117. Tom Gilson

    Ray, thank you for recognizing and acknowledging what you did in #127.

    I think you know my answer to the question you’ve asked more than once. I’m having trouble seeing how it adds to the topic under discussion, so I’m just going to let it stand at that. I have no problem owning up to my position, but I think it’s a tangent, and the best way to avoid going off on tangents is by not going off on tangents. If it’s substantively connected to the OP, please remind me of what that connection is, for I’ve lost track of it if it was ever there.

  118. Tom Gilson

    I’m curious who the other atheist thought leaders who dispute with Harris all the time. That would be new information for me.

  119. BillT

    bigbird,

    You may tout all the philosophers you like and deny the reality of ID as a “God in the Gaps” argument. You may continue to disregard the opinion of one of the world’s elite scientists. You may continue to insult me my knowledge of ID. You may dismiss the Thomist view of it as well. None of it, however, does anything to enhance the validity of your opinion.

  120. Melissa

    Ray @ 130,

    I think probably G. Rodrigues read your question as just another riff on your repeatedly stated incredulity that God would do it that way. (I know I did.) Maybe that was not your intention but I’m sure you can understand why it might be read that way and, given that reading, the response.

  121. bigbird

    BillT, your rhetoric is no substitute for logical argument.

    if you are going to appeal to authority (which I have also done), you need to appeal to an authority that has expertise in the domain of the question. Francis Collins does not, despite his status as an elite scientist (geneticist), and your repeated use of his name does not help your case.

    I find sad and ironic that theists such as yourself snipe from the sidelines about ID, when some of the world’s elite (atheist!) philosophers are acknowledging the significant impact ID is having. In the case of Antony Flew, it was instrumental in his rejecting atheism.

    I also find it curious that someone on these forums is so utterly dismissive of elite philosophers, and yet so keen to embrace the view of an elite scientist – on a non-scientific question.

  122. bigbird

    To everyone talking about software engineering, I pose a simple question: Why does the Creator eschew multiple inheritance when designing multicellular life?

    Why did James Gosling eschew multiple inheritance when designing Java? Why did Xerox PARC eschew multiple inheritance when designing Smalltalk?

  123. bigbird

    And what about the claims made by the ENCODE project about functionality?

    What about them? Their claims are, well, junk.

    My, you don’t think it is a little bit early to make that conclusion??

  124. BillT

    “BillT, your rhetoric is no substitute for logical argument.”

    But yours is I suppose? You’re a hypocrite as has been shown by virtually every one of your posts in our exchange. It’s you that has failed to offer any argument. It’s you that has used an appeal to authority while criticizing me for the same. It’s you that has used personal insults. It is you that has misrepresented my statements.

    You know what I find sad and ironic? I find it sad and ironic that theists such as yourself don’t have the personal integrity to refrain from this kind of behavior.

  125. bigbird

    BillT, it appears that I have severely offended you by your reaction to my posts. I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to offend, however disappointed I am when theists attack ID.

    I questioned your knowledge of ID because I recalled a post of yours from a while back that seemed to imply you were not familiar with ID’s arguments. I qualified that with a request for you to clarify, and later suggested you read the more recent ID works which you implied you were not familiar with.

    My argument is a simple one, and I clearly stated that it was also an argument from authority. Elite philosophers have given qualified support to ID as to its influence and usefulness. That is significant, far more so than the opinion of a scientist, no matter how elite they are.

    I’m going to leave the discussion at this point as we don’t seem to be making any progress either way.

  126. BillT

    My sincerest apologies to you as well.

    It seems to me that you took my position on ID as somehow a personal attack on you. I was conversing with Tom on the subject and he didn’t take it that way. You interjected yourself into the conversation, which is fine, but your personal disappointment with my position is not germane here.

    ID is a controversial idea that has supporters and critics. Those supporters and critics don’t fall neatly along the theism/atheism axis. Francis Collins is one of the world’s preeminent scientists, a believing Christian and his expertise is more than appropriate to form a valid critique of ID. That critique is shared by many, many prominent scientists, philosophers and theologians. That you or Bradley Monton don’t agree with him is fine but that doesn’t invalidate his position any more than his position invalidates yours.

  127. Ray Ingles

    bigbird –

    My, you don’t think it is a little bit early to make that conclusion??

    Nope. That’s not to say that currently-unknown functions might be found, but experiments like that – along with the wildly varying genome sizes I already linked to – shows that a huge amount of the genome really is unnecessary.

    Why did James Gosling eschew multiple inheritance when designing Java? Why did Xerox PARC eschew multiple inheritance when designing Smalltalk?

    Because humans have a hard time managing complexity. Are you saying that applies to the creator of biological life?

  128. Tom Gilson

    Are you saying that humans’ difficulty managing complexity is the one and only reason software designers would take that route? That if God can manage complexity, therefore he must not do things that way?

    Your theology is very, very deep indeed if you can reach that conclusion.

  129. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    Are you saying that humans’ difficulty managing complexity is the one and only reason software designers would take that route?

    No, it can also be avoided to conserve resources (memory, execution time).

    But here’s the thing. It’s not that the creator doesn’t ever use ‘multiple inheritance’. Horizontal gene transfer happens all the time… among single-celled organisms and viruses. (That’s why I asked the question the way I did: “Why does the Creator eschew multiple inheritance when designing multicellular life?”)

    Yet it pretty much never happens in multicellular organisms. There’s the occasional hybrids I mentioned, of not-too-separated lineages. And then there’s endogenous retroviruses, which still involves viruses.

    In the simpler and resource-constrained case, there’s multiple inheritance all over the place. (Unfortunately. Spreads antibiotic resistance really well. 🙁 ) In the more elaborate organisms, hardly ever.

    So, why is that technique used for most organisms on the planet, but almost entirely avoided for the multicellular organisms? What does that tell us about the creator?

  130. Melissa

    Ray,

    Nope. That’s not to say that currently-unknown functions might be found, but experiments like that – along with the wildly varying genome sizes I already linked to – shows that a huge amount of the genome really is unnecessary.

    It suggests that a huge amount of the genome really is unnecessary, it does not show it. I think you’ve been reading too much popular science, you’ve adopted their propensity for overstating the case.

    So, why is that technique used for most organisms on the planet, but almost entirely avoided for the multicellular organisms? What does that tell us about the creator?

    What do you think it tells us Ray? Or was that a rhetorical question?

  131. Ray Ingles

    Melissa – I’m not the one who holds the position that we can learn about God by studying creation. To anyone who does, though – especially anyone who thinks there’s something to ID – well, there’s a very clear pattern begging for an explanation there. Can anyone offer one?

    (I’ll note that common descent accounts for that pattern handily; indeed, it predicts it.)

  132. Tom Gilson

    Your question at the end of #144 — was it rhetorical?

    Here’s my answer: it doesn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about him, and therefore your question is totally irrelevant.

  133. Melissa

    Ray

    If people who believe in special creation can’t provide an explanation for the pattern what would that mean? The answer is not much really except to confirm that we are not able to read the mind of God. Since we believe that already anyway and we worship a God whose ways are above our ways, as Tom already stated we don’t learn much that we didn’t already know.

    But I don’t think you really are interested in the answer to the question. I think you pose the question to imply once again that God wouldn’t do it that way.

  134. Ray Ingles

    Melissa –

    It suggests that a huge amount of the genome really is unnecessary, it does not show it.

    Is there anything that would show it?

  135. SteveK

    So, why is that technique used for most organisms on the planet, but almost entirely avoided for the multicellular organisms? What does that tell us about the creator?

    I don’t know that this fact, if true, tells us anything more. How would you answer, Ray, and what relevance does your answer have with respect to the conversation?

  136. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    If it’s substantively connected to the OP, please remind me of what that connection is, for I’ve lost track of it if it was ever there.

    One of the offenses you listed as being ‘militant’ was “Some atheists, however, have written highly polemical best-sellers advocating an end to religion.”

    But if “advocating that everyone in the world convert to Christianity” is not “‘militant’, or despotic, or nefarious, or even necessarily strident” then “simply advocating for an end to religion isn’t automatically ‘militant’, or despotic, or nefarious, or even necessarily strident.”

  137. Tom Gilson

    You’re being dishonest again, Ray. You’re not getting away with it this time, either.

    You’ve substituted out “highly polemical” and replaced it with “simply.”

    You’ve ignored the preceding and following context.

    You’re trying to manipulate our position to suit yours.

    Look, if you can’t dispute our position for what it is, without distorting it, maybe that means you can’t dispute our position for what it is.

    Ever thought of that possibility?

  138. Ray Ingles

    That was a typo – the double-quote should have gone after the word ‘simply’, and I apologize.

    The “highly polemical” is not relevant, though – e.g. Edward Feser is “highly polemical” too, and certainly argues for an end to atheism. Should I be afraid?

  139. Melissa

    Ray,

    Is there anything that would show it?

    I’m sure you can think of at least one way, even if it not practically possible given current technology but that us even further off topic. The point is you routinely overstate the case in favour of your own position and the jury is still out on whether most of the genome has been shown to be unnecessary. What I want to know is why you feel the need to overstate your case. Are you unaware that you are doing it? Expect us to be gullible enough to accept every overblown statement you make just because it’s wrapped in lots of sciency stuff?

  140. bigbird

    I thought I’d better go back to The Language of God to see exactly what the book is about. My recollection of reading the book a few years ago was that it was some kind of argument from design itself.

    It turns out that Collins is rather confused about much of what ID proponents are actually saying, because a considerable part of his book is actually promoting arguments usually used in ID.

    For example, chapter 3 promotes the fine tuned universe as a pointer to a creator – a core feature of ID. And Collins’ use of “God’s instruction book” for DNA is something an ID proponent would say.

    Collins also seems totally unaware that many (if not most) IDers are theistic evolutionists, and hold views very similar to his “BioLogos” theory. In fact Michael Behe himself is a theistic evolutionist who agrees with common descent.

  141. Ray Ingles

    Melissa –

    The point is you routinely overstate the case in favour of your own position and the jury is still out on whether most of the genome has been shown to be unnecessary.

    Depends a whole lot on the jury, and their standards. There’s ‘doubt’, and there’s ‘reasonable doubt’.

    So, you think my standards are too low. That’s why I’m asking about your standards. What would convince you that most of the genome is unnecessary, when cases like this don’t?

  142. Melissa

    Ray,

    You’ll notice that the the author of the post you linked to and the authors they quote use words like “likely” and “may”, somehow that gets translated to “is” when you report the results.

  143. Ray Ingles

    Melissa – For any one paper, or result, “likely” and “may” are appropriate. When there’s a lot of them pointing the same way, though, patterns can be discerned.

    But, in any case, I’ll ask for the third time: What would convince you that a significant portion of most animal and plant genomes is unnecessary ‘junk’?

  144. SteveK

    What would convince you that a significant portion of most animal and plant genomes is unnecessary ‘junk’?

    As for me, I would be convinced if the term “junk” actually meant something distinctively different than everything else that existed in a naturalistic universe. There cannot be junk if there isn’t non-junk, and naturalism fails to account for the latter.

  145. Melissa

    Ray,

    For any one paper, or result, “likely” and “may” are appropriate. When there’s a lot of them pointing the same way, though, patterns can be discerned

    Well then why not quote a respected geneticist in a peer reviewed journal who states that the pattern shows beyond reasonable doubt that a huge amount of the code is unnecessary? Your conclusion here is premature Ray. You admitted so yourself when you said previous unknown functions might be discovered.

    But, in any case, I’ll ask for the third time: What would convince you that a significant portion of most animal and plant genomes is unnecessary ‘junk’?

    I haven’t bothered answering because it is irrelevant to whether you tend towards exaggeration of “what science shows”. It’s just a blatant attempt to change the subject.

  146. Melissa

    Ray,

    Further to my comment above. As a scientist I learned many things. Two of those being the importance of accurately representing the current status of scientific findings and also the need to avoid over interpreting the results. Both of these mistakes are very easy to do, I’ve done them myself and I’m sure I’ll do them again. The important thing is to able to acknowledge and correct those errors when they occur, not dig my heels in.

    I’m sure, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll acknowledge that your statement that ” it has been shown that a large portion of the code is unnecessary” is not an accurate representation of the current status.

  147. Ray Ingles

    Melissa –

    Well then why not quote a respected geneticist in a peer reviewed journal who states that the pattern shows beyond reasonable doubt that a huge amount of the code is unnecessary?

    Well, OK. “This claim flies in the face of current estimates according to which the fraction of the genome that is evolutionarily conserved through purifying selection is under 10%. Thus, according to the ENCODE Consortium, a biological function can be maintained indefinitely without selection, which implies that at least 80 – 10 = 70% of the genome is perfectly invulnerable to deleterious mutations, either because no mutation can ever occur in these “functional” regions, or because no mutation in these regions can ever be deleterious. This absurd conclusion was reached through various means…”

    I haven’t bothered answering because it is irrelevant to whether you tend towards exaggeration of “what science shows”.

    Let’s assume you’re right, and I do exactly that. Why would that mean you could not be guilty of having too high a burden of proof? I don’t understand why we’re limited to discussing just my potential flaws and biases.

  148. Melissa

    Ray,

    Let’s assume you’re right, and I do exactly that. Why would that mean you could not be guilty of having too high a burden of proof? I don’t understand why we’re limited to discussing just my potential flaws and biases.

    You made a claim and in the process produced supporting “evidence” from science. You seem to be under the impression that I am disputing the science. I am not. Once again I will state that my counter-argument to your claim is that you have misrepresented the science. I’m not sure what you think my “too high a burden of proof” is in this case. Neither of us are experts in the study of the human genome and as such rely on the opinion of experts. I think you are misrepresenting the experts on this question. I have asked you to provide evidence to support your claims, that is all.

    A case in point: in your last comment you provided a quote. You have given no explanation for why you think this satisfies my request. I am left assuming that you think that declaration that a large portion of the genome is currently thought to be not functional according to the “selected effect” is the same as a declaration declaring that a huge amount of the genome has been shown to be unnecessary.

    A couple of points that you may wish to consider. Firstly I am not adopting a hyper-skeptical stance on this issue – I realise you cannot prove a negative and I don’t expect you to. Secondly, historically the percentage of the genome labelled junk has tended to decrease not increase as understanding of the way DNA works was progressed. I’m sure you’ll agree that this research is still progressing rapidly therefore it is premature to conclude that areas of the genome that are considered junk now are actually unnecessary. Thirdly, defining functional according to the “selected effect” does result in very conservative results. Scientists know that some parts of the genome that are known to be functional would be declared non-functional using that criteria. (To head off any potential objection, I am not suggesting use of the causal effect concept to establish function, that produces results at the opposite extreme of the spectrum).

  149. urbanus

    Grayling’s vision is not always so broad as that, however, for though he requires that our understanding of the good be “in accord with the facts of humanity as these are shaped and constrained by the world” (p. 111), and though most thoughtful Christians would certainly agree with that…

    Really?

    I thought that for you, moral ideas are based on the bible. When you talk about “good”, are you seriously suggesting that “facts of humanity as these are shaped and constrained by the world” are the correct grounds for forming moral judgments?

    (Or are you saying — not wanting to put words in your mouth here — that because the bible is infallibly correct in all matters then there can be no contradiction between the bible and the facts of humanity? If this latter is true, then I don’t think you have genuine agreement with humanists.)

  150. Tom Gilson

    The answer is “(d) all of the above,” except you left out “(a) the moral character of God.” That’s the real grounding of the good. The Bible properly interpreted (it’s a proper noun in this context, by the way) reflects the character of God. We are created in his image, made to fit in a good way the world he created. Although we have introduced evil into it, so that the world can only imperfectly reflect God’s intentions at this time, still our best flourishing is when we act in accord with his character.

  151. urbanus

    If it is as you say, then the only room for argument is around the details. The fundamentals are unquestionable.

    Logic, reason, and evidence etc. would also have a different role in any debate for you than for a humanist. For you, these things can only serve in advocacy of the underlying truth. If a very clever and knowledgeable humanist were to refute every one of your arguments, this would not (could not?) change your fundamental position.

    In a context where one side is unquestionably correct, is there room for genuine debate?

    I would further note that the system you describe is internally consistent yet fragile: if one part starts to crack, then the whole thing shatters.

    Say for instance that a man marries a young woman and later he decides he doesn’t want her. He can have her stoned to death if her father cannot produce a blood-spotted sheet (Deuteronomy 22). Note that the burden of proof is on the family to prove the girl’s purity. Also I would observe that girls in those days must not have played much sport (vigorous physical activity can rupture the hymen).

    That’s just one example to illustrate why I can’t understand how the system you describe works. If it is as you say — that morality is based on the moral character of God, that the Bible reflects God’s character, and that we (including me) are created in God’s image — and if I feel that some parts of the Bible are brutal, primitive and barbaric, then where does the fault lie? With me? Is it because of my sinful nature that I cannot feel that stoning people to death is morally good (neither now nor back in those times)?

    If I interpret humanists like Grayling correctly, it is this sort of disparity that must give them reservations that religion has a role to play in public moral debate.

  152. Tom Gilson

    Sophistry.

    First of all, urbanus, if you have some complaint about logic, reason, and evidence serving nothing other than the underlying truth, what would that complaint be?

    If all of my arguments were refuted, then my position would be refuted. I would change my mind. Do you treat your position any differently than that? Do you see any indication from me that I would do anything different than that?

    You speak of a context “where one side is unquestionably correct.” I would suggest there is no such context except the mind of God, if he exists, which of course I believe and which you do not. Now, if it happened that one of us were unquestionably correct, then you would be right: there would be no room for debate. But I never said my position couldn’t be questioned, did I?

    But speaking of positions that can’t be questioned, what is it that makes your interpretation of Deut. 22 correct beyond all questioning? (Do you see how you’ve committed the very error of which you’ve accused me?) The first rule of interpreting texts from thousands of years ago and a completely alien culture is to realize that they come from thousands of years ago and an alien culture; therefore it might take a bit of study to discover just what to make of them. A 21st century Western approach might not fit this ancient Hebrew context. It’s foolish to take one verse out of historical and literary context and to assume that its meaning in that excised form is its actual meaning.

    The short answer to your challenge there is that there are sound exegetical reasons to conclude that that command is no longer normative (see John 8, for example).

    A long answer would explore the historical and cultural context to discover what it meant at the time, how it was practiced, what mitigating or extenuating circumstances might have surrounded it, what good it might have accomplished that we cannot imagine at this time, whether and to what degree it was a moral advance over other cultures’ practices, whether any other instruction could have conceivably made sense to that culture at its stage of moral development, and so on.

    Now, if you can’t understand how the “system” of Christianity works, I suggest you consider studying it with a view to understanding rather than dismantling. By way of a quick hint, the New Testament is much less culturally distant from us than the old, and so there are fewer opportunities for the gross kind of cultural mistake you have made with Deut. 22. Not that it’s impossible even there to take things badly out of context, but that the cultural context is rather easier for us to imagine than that of the Hebrews in Moses’s time.

    Grayling gets Christianity wrong over and over again. His model is not one a good one to follow, if you care to know what it’s about.

  153. urbanus

    Sophistry.

    Dismissive.

    If all of my arguments were refuted, then my position would be refuted. I would change my mind. Do you treat your position any differently than that? Do you see any indication from me that I would do anything different than that?

    Are you suggesting that if I presented convincing arguments to you that the Bible is NOT the infallible word of God, then you would change your mind? That if you claim something based on the Bible and that I can show you that your position is clearly wrong, then you would conclude that for people to base their beliefs on the Bible is a flawed approach? If that were the case, would it not be fair to say that human reason has primacy over the Bible?

    That’s what I mean when I say you can’t be beaten. Your beliefs are like a pillar of logic, reason, thought, facts and evidence that is built on the top of a foundation of Biblical “truth” (as you see it). If someone dismantles all your arguments and logic absolutely, will you reject the Bible? Or will you say, “Clearly I was mistaken. Time to find better arguments!”

    But speaking of positions that can’t be questioned, what is it that makes your interpretation of Deut. 22 correct beyond all questioning? (Do you see how you’ve committed the very error of which you’ve accused me?)

    Do you see that you are being completely disingenuous, since I never even suggested that my position can’t be questioned? As a human, all I have is uncertainty. I don’t know for sure if anything is right or wrong. I’m fumbling my way through trying to find answers, unconvinced that anyone can hand me an easy, pre-prepared set.

    A long answer would explore the historical and cultural context to discover what it meant at the time, …

    It would have to be a pretty long answer.

    In the meantime, perhaps you can appreciate why you’re struggling to convince humanists — who obviously don’t operate from the same premises as you — of the value of using the Bible as the source of moral authority.

  154. Tom Gilson

    Sophistry deserves dismissal. Maybe you intended something other than what I interpreted you as having written.

    If you presented convincing arguments against Christianity I would reject it, yes. If I presented convincing arguments for Christianity, I think you would accept it, right?

    But we are in a position where there are no knock-down proofs for either side. Even that is telling.

    I apologize for misinterpreting your intent in bringing forth your point from Deuteronomy.

    You’re right about it being a pretty long answer. Here are two extended versions for you to look at. I hope you will.

  155. urbanus

    @SteveK

    Dismissive.

    Reactionary.

    Communist!

    Hang on, that’s not right. You’re a… uh… oh I don’t know. What page are we on? I’m lost.

  156. urbanus

    @Tom:

    You’re right about it being a pretty long answer. Here are two extended versions for you to look at. I hope you will.

    OK thanks.

    In consideration for the time you’ve taken to reply to my questions, the least I can do is to promise to read those links (and the “telling” one) carefully and with an open mind. Cheers.

  157. SteveK

    urbanus,

    Dismissive.

    Reactionary.

    Communist!

    Chowderhead 🙂

    Okay, I’m done now. I was just having some fun. No harm intended.

  158. urbanus

    I promise it won’t happen again, Tom…

    …But before we return to normal, I would like to say one other thing that could be interpreted as nice. I found the telling link very thought-provoking. A lot of things in there hadn’t occurred to me. So thanks for that.

    And now, back to business. 🙂

  159. urbanus

    I read the “Strange Stuff” and “God Behaving Badly” posts and yeah: the topic seems very detailed. So detailed that I don’t think I could grasp your arguments fully without having read those books. But I believe I get the gist of it: that it was a significantly different social context, and that because of God’s relationship with those people, at that time, the laws and other strange stuff in the Bible made sense.

    I perceive a number of difficulties with these arguments — two in particular.

    The first difficulty is that if an argument is made in favour of a sort of cultural situatedness to the Bible, doesn’t that diminish the relevance of the Bible to us today — proportionately with the force of the argument? That is to say, the harder you argue that the Bible was a book of its time, then the more compelling would be the conclusion that the Bible’s time is now passed. Is that right?

    This would seem to both bolster and counter your arguments against humanists like Grayling, simultaneously. If you argue against Grayling that the Bible is not as horrible as it seems because of the cultural context of the time, aren’t you in a sense also agreeing with Grayling that the Bible is no longer relevant?

    The second difficulty is that by making a fairly relativistic argument based on an interpretation of the context and what you believe to be the theological underpinnings of the situation, aren’t you placing yourself in a position where you wouldn’t have a strong argument to make against another person who took an extreme view?

    For example, say that some Christian decided to take the extreme approach of a full return to the Old Testament style of justice — stoning and all. How could you argue against that, given that you support the justice of the Old Testament in principle (if no longer in practice)? If their actions are based entirely on (what you believe to be) the Word of God, what could you say? That you have a different opinion about the implementation? Isn’t it really just your opinion against theirs?

    On what basis would you be able to denounce such misguided barbarism?

  160. Tom Gilson

    Good questions, urbanus.

    If all of the Bible were culturally contingent the way some of it is, then yes, that would diminish — no, it would completely eliminate — the Bible’s relevance to us today. I agree with you when you put it “proportionately with the force of the argument,” for to the extent that the Bible is culturally situated rather than timeless, to that same extent it is of no value to people like us today.

    Here’s the distinction that needs making, though. Some portions of the Bible are culturally contingent. It is an historical record, the account of real people in real history, so it would be very odd if there were nothing in it that was tied to those people’s real experiences in their own cultural settings.

    Much of the Bible, however, is timeless and transcendent. The New Testament repeatedly makes clear, for example, that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ fulfilled a plan from before creation. (See Ephesians 1 for one good source on that.)

    Part of the challenge of exegesis is sorting out the contingent from the absolute. Take the creation accounts in Genesis 1-3, for example. The fact of creation could hardly be culture-bound; it preceded all human culture. The way in which the account was recorded and should be interpreted, however, could very well be dependent on the ways in which people communicated at the time it was written. That makes the first chapters of Genesis difficult to interpret. (I’m being honest in pointing to one of the most vexing interpretive challenges we face.)

    That difficulty does not necessarily mean impossibility, however; nor does the fact that one place is challenging to place in its cultural context mean that every portion is likewise difficult.

    And that leads to the answer I would give to the second question. Our ethics are drawn from the timeless principles, not the culturally contingent ones. The great majority of these are pretty clear from the New Testament. For the stoning question, I would point to John 8:1-12. I would also point to the fact that it was a matter of civil (governmental) law, not a “church” command, and that such laws can change. It’s not that there was any change in whether premarital sex was wrong, though; the alteration was in what government does about it.

    That’s a partial answer, I suppose, but I want to give you opportunity to respond before I go off on some topic you might not even have been asking about.

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  162. urbanus

    Your argument makes perfect sense and I can’t refute it. Things could be exactly as you say. And for people who already believe in God and share your views about the Bible, your explanation of the role of the Bible in modern ethics would probably be a perfect fit. (People who don’t share your ideas about God and the Bible won’t see it the same way though, of course.)

    However it’s possible to construct other explanations for Old Testament law based on culture, politics, and human nature which don’t require a belief in God or a theological explanation of the role of the Bible. Men, being wicked, have always wanted to lord it over other men and impose their will on others through the law or force. In a theocratic context, this could include the claim that the laws are the word or will of this god or that, and that anyone who questions the law is a blasphemer.

    This isn’t a particularly strong counter-argument though because it doesn’t necessarily contradict your view, i.e. it’s possible you could agree with me that men have abused and manipulated others through harsh laws in the name of god(s), while still maintaining your specific beliefs about God and the Bible.

    So is there a way to decide the issue? Are ideas about Old Testament law and their place in society a matter of belief and interpretation? Or can you provide some compelling point in favour of the role of the Bible in modern ethics? Something that will make a person who doesn’t see this role for the Bible stop and say, “I don’t really have a good answer to that”?

    P.S. polygeyser smells like blog spam.

  163. urbanus

    @Melissa,

    Thanks for the link. If I’ve interpreted the lecture correctly, it explores perspectives on what it means for the Bible to be “authoritative”, and what that means for the church and its interaction with the world today.

    There were many fine thoughts expressed in that lecture. It had a very conciliatory tone: productive about how the Bible relates to the world today. I feel that there is a place for fine words, conciliation, and “coming together”: focusing on the positive ideas that we can share. There are also problems, difficulties and areas of contention.

    I railed against the church in another thread (on the subject of loving the sinner, and how saying that can sometimes sound insincere). In retrospect I was too harsh, and I’m sorry for that. But I will maintain that a veneer of fine words is not enough. If there are genuine feelings beneath fine words then that’s worth something; but on the other hand there has also been a lot of hatred, pain and suffering, and a fine word or two doesn’t fix that.

    This thread is itself an example of the problems that exist between us. It’s not for me to defend Grayling (and I’m certainly not defending Tom 🙂 ), but it shows there is a deep division between humanists and Christians on the role of the Bible in public life. So all I can say is that I welcome the good things in that lecture and I thank you again for the link.

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