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Belief in God in an Age of Science: John Polkinghorne, Part Three

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June 20, 2013 Tags: Divine Action & Purpose, Problem of Evil
Belief in God in an Age of Science: John Polkinghorne, Part Three
Hans Sebald Beham, Fortuna (1541), the Roman goddess who brings good and bad luck. As Polkinghorne points out, Richard Dawkins goes beyond science when he interprets the universe in terms of “blind physical forces” in which “some people are going to get hurt, [and] other people are going to get lucky…”

Today's entry was written by Ted Davis. You can read more about what we believe here.

This third excerpt from John Polkinghorne’s book, Belief in God in an Age of Science, focuses on biology rather than cosmology, moving (as he says) “from natural theology to a theology of nature.” I explained that distinction some time ago. Where natural theology tries to demonstrate God’s existence from reason or nature, apart from the Bible, theology of nature starts from God and seeks to understand nature in light of God’s existence. A central topic in this part of the book is theodicy, the problem of reconciling divine goodness and power with evil and suffering in the world. I talked about this at some length last year in my series on “Science and the Bible,” especially in columns about Concordism and Theistic Evolution (part 2 & part 3). Readers who want more background for this excerpt should review those columns before going further.

Theodicy is hard enough to tackle by itself, but it can’t really be separated from another difficult subject—divine action, understanding how God acts in the world. Christian views on theodicy and divine action are quite diverse, even among those Christians who do not accept evolution. There simply is no consensus on how best to formulate conceptions of God and nature in light of these challenges, which often arise in the conversations about science but are not answered by science (whether or not evolution is true). As the variety of viewpoints expressed in columns on our site suggests, BioLogos does not endorse one given position on theodicy or divine action. We believe in a God who is both immanent and transcendent—a God who acts in & through, but also sometimes apart from, “natural” causes—but we realize that multiple positions on theodicy and divine action are consistent with this core commitment. Few have thought as much about this as physicist and theologian Robert Russell, whose careful analysis is well worth reading in full.

Like BioLogos, Polkinghorne sees God acting both transcendently and immanently. As we have already seen (in the four columns starting with part 1), his view of the Resurrection makes sense only if God sometimes acts transcendently. At the same time, he is a “bottom-up thinker” (as he likes to describe himself) who also believes in “top-down agency” (as he calls it) that takes place immanently, within the created processes of nature. He elaborates on this in the third chapter of Belief in God in an Age of Science (not presented here), entitled “Does God Act in the Physical World?” There he unambiguously affirms that “the Christian God is not just a deistic upholder of the world” (p. 49) and explores how we might understand this claim in light of modern science.

Polkinghorne’s specific position on theodicy, however, takes readers into some of the more controversial aspects of Theistic Evolution (or Evolutionary Creation). His conception of nature as a “free process,” rather than “the puppet theatre of a Cosmic Tyrant,” finds significantly less support among proponents of TE, who often share his enthusiasm for cosmic design arguments and his affirmation of the bodily Resurrection. For Polkinghorne, however, it is a consequence of the self-limiting love that God has for the creation.

My editorial policy for these excerpts is explained at the bottom of this post.

Belief in God in an Age of Science (part 3)

Physical scientists, conscious of the wonderful order and finely tuned fruitfulness of natural law, have shown significant sympathy with the attitude of the new natural theology. Biological scientists, on the other hand, have been much more reserved. Their attention is focused on the process of the world (particularly, the evolutionary processes of developing terrestrial life) and they pay scant attention to the fundamental physics that underlies that process. [Polkinghorne cites two works by Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker and River out of Eden.] They seem to regard it as unproblematic that the chemical raw materials for life are available in our universe. Instead, they look to the variety of life, both in its marvelous fecundity and ingenious strategies for living and also in its wastefulness and suffering, exemplified by the extinction of species and the existence of painful parasitisms. Beneath it all some of them discern no more than the strife of selfish genes struggling for continuing survival. Joy in nature and sorrow at its apparent tragedies are alike, to them, vain human musings on the meaningless tale of cosmic history:

If the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies like the crashing of a bus are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. [Dawkins, River out of Eden, pp. 132-33]

Whatever this bleak judgment is, it is clearly not a conclusion of science alone. It was not his knowledge of genetics that enabled Richard Dawkins to make this pronouncement. Rather, it represents his metaphysical judgment on the significance of the scientific story which is presented to us. In fact, it is science that is “blind,” for as a self-defining methodological strategy it has closed its eyes to the possibility of discerning evil or good or justice or intention. Those who construct metaphysical theories of wider meanings, or lack of meaning, must take science into account, but there is certainly more than one way in which to do so.

The theologian’s response to the biologist’s unbelief must lie in proposing an alternative interpretation of the history and process of the universe. Here we are concerned, not with metaquestions about the pattern and structure of the physical world, but with metaquestions about how its historical process is to be understood. This shift of attention corresponds to a transition from natural theology to a theology of nature. [For more on this, see my comments in the introduction to this column.] We are not now looking to the physical world for hints of God’s existence but to God’s existence as an aid for understanding why things have developed in the physical world in the manner that they have.

Anglican clergyman Charles Kingsley, photograph by Robert
White Thrupp (1860s), National Portrait Gallery, London (source)

It has been an important emphasis in much recent theological thought about creation to acknowledge that by bringing the world into existence God has self-limited divine power by allowing the other truly to be itself. [Polkinghorne cites Ian G. Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science (chap. 6, subsequently revised); Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, chap. 4; Arthur R. Peacocke, Creation and the World of Science, chaps. 2 & 3; W.H. Vanstone, Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense; and his own book, The Faith of a Physicist, chap. 4.] The gift of Love must be the gift of freedom, the gift of a degree of letting-be, and this can be expected to be true of all creatures to the extent that is appropriate to their proper character. It is in the nature of dense snow fields that they will sometimes slip with the destructive force of an avalanche. It is the nature of lions that they will seek their prey. It is the nature of cells that they will mutate, sometimes producing new forms of life, sometimes grievous disabilities, sometimes cancers. It is the nature of humankind that sometimes people will act with selfless generosity but sometimes with murderous selfishness. That these things are so is not gratuitous or due to divine oversight or indifference. They are the necessary cost of a creation given by its Creator the freedom to be itself. Not all that happens is in accordance with God’s will because God has stood back, making metaphysical room for creaturely action.

The apparently ambivalent tale of evolutionary advance and extinction, which Dawkins sees as the sign of a meaningless world of genetic competition, is understood by the Christian as being the inescapably mixed consequence of a world allowed by its Creator to explore and realize, in its own way, its own inherent fruitfulness—to “make itself,” to use a phrase as old as the Anglican clergyman Charles Kingsley’s response to Darwin’s Origin of Species. The cruciform pattern of life through death is the way the world is, not only in the familiar tale of biological life on Earth but also cosmically. We are here today because some five billion years ago a star died in the throes of a supernova explosion, scattering into the environment those chemical elements necessary for life, which it had made in the nuclear furnaces of its interior.

​The Crab Nebula, the remnant of a supernova explosion from the year 1054 (source).

The suffering of the world is such that we might be tempted to think that less freedom would be a worthwhile cost to pay for less pain. But do we really wish we had been automata? The well-known free will defense in relation to moral evil asserts that a world with the possibility of sinful people is better than one with perfectly programmed machines. The tale of human evil is such that one cannot make that assertion without a quiver, but I believe that it is true nevertheless. I have added to it the free-process defense, that a world allowed to make itself is better than the puppet theatre of a Cosmic Tyrant. [Polkinghorne cites his book, Science and Providence, chap. 5.] I think that these two defenses are opposite sides of the same coin, that our nature is inextricably linked with that of the physical world which has given us birth.

The fact that we wrestle with the problem of pain and suffering shows us that the cold scientific story of a universe of some losers and some gainers, as presented to us by Dawkins, is far from sufficient to satisfy our human longing to understand to make sense of the world in which we live. Questions of meaning and justice cannot be removed from the human agenda. The success of the apparently objectified account of science should not tempt us to commit the Enlightenment error of rejecting the subjective as a source of real knowledge. We are thinking reeds, and our thoughts far exceed impersonal evaluation of logical entailment. In fact there seems to be a principle of mutual exclusion between what can be established beyond a peradventure and what is of real significance for the gain of understanding. Kurt Gödel has taught us that even pure mathematics involves an act of intellectual daring, as we commit ourselves to a belief in the unprovable consistency of the axiomatic system under consideration. The Cartesian program of seeking to found knowledge on the basis of clear and certain ideas has proved to be an unattainable ideal. “Nothing venture, nothing win” is the motto of the intellectual life.

I do not think that this realization of the necessary precariousness involved in human theorizing, condemns us to a post-modernist belief in the personal or communal construct ion of a variety of views from which we are free to make our a la carte selection. There is a middle way between certainty and relativism, which corresponds to the critical adherence to rationally motivated belief, held with conviction but open to the possibility of correction. Michael Polanyi spoke of such a way when he set out to describe and defend “a frame of mind in which I hold firmly to what I believe to be true, even though I know that it might conceivably be false.” [Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, p. 214.] Significantly, he called this epistemological stance “personal knowledge.” One of its most striking exemplifications is science itself.

Looking Ahead

When I return early next month, Polkinghorne will discuss aesthetic judgment in science, our moral instinct, and briefly reply to Richard Dawkins’ idea of “the selfish gene”. Overall, he will argue that “Theism presents an adequately rich basis for understanding the world in that it readily accommodates the many-layered character of a reality shot through with value.” There is plenty to discuss in the interval, but my schedule will probably limit me to the role of occasional listener rather than active participant. 

References and Credits

Excerpts from John Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science (1998), copyright Yale University Press, are reproduced by permission of Yale University Press. We gratefully acknowledge their cooperation in bringing this material to our readers.

Editorial Policy

Most of the editing for these excerpts involves breaking longer paragraphs into multiple parts, altering the spelling and punctuation from British to American, removing the odd sentence or two—which I indicate by putting [SNIP] at the appropriate point(s)—and sometimes inserting annotations where warranted [also enclosed in square brackets] to provide background information. Polkinghorne uses footnotes a bit sparingly, and I usually find another way to include that information if it’s important for our readers.


Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #81499

July 1st 2013


Good exposition of your position.

My problem with the Darwinian explanation is that it denies the existence of the Logos, Who is the key to the Christian understanding of reality.

The denial of the Logos also denies the basic claim made by philosophy and backed by science that Reality and Nature are rationally structured.  Thus Darwinism as understood by Dawkins and Dennett has not only theological problems, but also deep philosophical problems and presents serious issues as to how science works.

Very possibly Darwinian thought could accept an absolute Deistic God.  I have heard that Dawkins has indicated this.  However it is the Logos, Who is God with us, and thus the Trinity that makes the difference between Deism and Christianity. 

The Logos is what Darwinism attacks and this is why it is wrong.  This is why it is necessary to find the real scientific explanation of evolution like ecology to avoid the serious spiritual, philosophical, and scientific problems caused by Darwinian thinking.       


Jon Garvey - #81500

July 1st 2013


Yes, although not expressed in the summary my view of creation is irreducibly Trinitarian.

At a minimum that means that since “all things [in heaven and earth, visible or invisible] were made by, through and for Christ,” who is the word and wisdom of God, I believe Christians need to be exceedingly careful not to dismiss as “evil”, “erroneous”, “accidental” etc anything we find in creation.

That applies, in my view, both to Creationists who view creation as fallen with mankind (against both Scripture and the first 1500 years of Christian theology) and to the “free-nature-theology” guys who propound a Deistic form of Neodarwinism and point to “natural evil” as evidence that God is not involved.

As for Darwinism attacking the Logos, I don’t doubt that’s true historically and sociologically, whatever the strengths of the science itself. Have a look at the third paragraph of the piece by population geneticist David L Willcox I linked to further up the thread.

Lou Jost - #81502

July 1st 2013

Roger, “Darwinian” thought has nothing to say about a deistic god, so yes, such a god could be accepted without affecting evolution, if there were evidence for it.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #81503

July 1st 2013


The evidence for God is that you and I and the universe exist.

Lou Jost - #81504

July 1st 2013

That’s just not true, Roger. But that is an old debate, let’s not waste time on re-hashing it.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #81512

July 1st 2013


Thank you for the article by David Wilcox, but I do not understand the point you are making by refering to the third paragraph.

The article confirms my view that Darwinian evolution does not offer a good explanation for how it takes place.  The is much confusion about what Natural Selection is and what it does as opposed to Variation. 

If I understand what the article is daying it goes against what Merv and Lou are trying to say concerning Dawkins.  Nowhere do I see that evolutionists have integrated ecology with genetics to give the best explanation for how evolution works and the best way to understand our bioworld. 

Jon Garvey - #81531

July 1st 2013


I’d have cut and pasted the bit I meant but it doesn’t work. Manually:

For the “Naturalist” (Materialist of Huxley’s Young Guard, natural selection was not simply a theory of mechanism, but a replacement for the Creator.”

My point is that from the start the popularity of Darwin’s theory was about much more than the science. Hixley in fact welcomed the theory whilst taking several years before accepting its mechanisms: the attraction was “rejection of the Logos”.

Lou Jost - #81550

July 2nd 2013

It is very attractive to be able to explain the unknown in terms of the known and verifiable. Surely you can see the attractiveness of that.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #81514

July 1st 2013


That is the evidence. It may not be convincing to you, but it is valid evidence.

Lou Jost - #81519

July 1st 2013

Eddie, re your comment on teleology on the preceding page, I agree that biologists strongly resist teleological explanations, but I think this is justified. Teleological causes would have to affect matter or probability distributions, but there are apparantly no such effects in physics. If we stick to what we know, we should not invoke teleology in biology unless forced by the evidence, but the evidence does not force us to, as far as we can tell. I have to do some work now but will try to come back to this tomorrow.

Lou Jost - #81520

July 1st 2013

Can’t resist an analogy: Suppose the concept of phlogiston seemed to make intuitive sense of some biological phenomenon. Should biologists adapt phlogiston and say those silly physicists are mistaken to have abandoned it? Or should they resist the intuitive, easy appeal of this concept, and look more closely, since physicists had long ago shown that phlogiston did not exist?

Teleology, like phlogiston, is appealing because it is intuitive. Physicists rejected it not because of prejudice but because it didn’t work. In biology, Darwin showed that there is a non-teleological mechanism that could concievably produce the observed results. Biologists are justified in pushing that alternative mechanism until it hits a brick wall. It hasn’t yet.

Eddie - #81522

July 1st 2013

I reject the phlogiston example.  Phlogiston theory was fairly straightforward.  It made falsifiable predictions, and it was falsified.  It was right to abandon it.  The question of teleology in living organisms is much more complicated and subtle.  Our knowledge is nowhere near the point where we can abandon it.

You also miss the point that Darwin was eager to find a non-teleological mechanism.  A non-teleological explanation was not, at his stage of research, nearly as much a result as an agenda.  And the reason for the agenda, which is a very old agenda, going back to the ancient Epicureans, is not that “teleological causes would have to affect matter or probability distributions.”  There are much more visceral and less cerebral reasons for rejecting teleology than that!  But hopefully you will deal with this at more length later.

Lou Jost - #81524

July 1st 2013

Teleology of the Aristotelian variety was also falsified in physics. Yes, it was certainly a goal of Darwin to find a local, forward-in-time causal explanation for speciation and adaptation, but this is because the physical sciences of his day didn’t have teleological explanations.  An “explanation” of a phenomenon meant a local, forward-in-time causal explanation, not a teleogical one. If there were such teleological effects in biology, they would have to affect matter or probability distributions, and hence have to be part of physics as well.

More tomorrow.

Eddie - #81527

July 1st 2013

This leads to a huge discussion, hardly capable of being carried out in a forum such as this.  It could only be carried out in a graduate seminar on the history/philosophy of science.  All of the terms:  “teleology” “Aristotelian” “causal explanation” “falsified” etc. need careful discussion, and the many meanings that attach to them need to be carefully distinguished and analyzed.

The economical historical term for the kind of causality you are talking about is “efficient causality.”  Aristotle did not think that efficient causality was adequate for a full and satisfying explanation of even phenomena we now call phenomena of “physics”; and certainly it was clear to him that living beings could not be discussed outside of “final causation”—which we usually connect with “teleology.”  It would however be possible to partly disagree with Aristotle, e.g., to conceive of physics in the modern sense as involving efficient-cause explanation only, but to insist that biology as we know it requires also final-cause explanations.  Certainly this was generally agreed upon in early modern times, after Bacon and Descartes, but prior to Darwin.  In this light, the fact that Darwin wanted biology to be explicable in the same terms as physics is revealing.  Why the desire to exclude final-cause explanations, well in advance of the knowledge which would be necessary to accomplish this goal?  What didn’t Darwin etc. like about final causes in biological systems?  This takes us deep into not only the biography of Darwin but also the ethos of his time.

Lou Jost - #81547

July 2nd 2013

“Why the desire to exclude final-cause explanations, well in advance of the knowledge which would be necessary to accomplish this goal?” Eddie, this is part of what it meant to “explain” something unknown in terms of known processes. Of course “Darwin wanted biology to be explicable in the same terms as physics is revealing”. I don’t see that there is anything sinister or unexpected or unjustified about this. The physical sciences do not include teleological forces, and it would not be proper to invent them in biology unless there was very good evidence (not mere evidence from incredulity) to support it. People have had 150 yrs to find such evidence but it just isn’t there. On the contrary, there is evidence that the process is not goal-oriented (thoug we can’t ever empirically rule out very rare, very weak nudges).

It is more empirically honest to try to explain an unknown in terms of known causes rather than invoking a magical new kind of causation with no known underlying physical mechanism.If the attempt to explain in terms of known forces fails, then sure, let’s consider unknown ones. Or if someone really feels strongly about the unknown force, let them take it as a hypothesis and derive new verifiable insights from it. IDers and other proponents of teleology have failed miserably to turn their idea into a productive research program that generates new discoveries or insights. This is damning evidence against the truth of their paradigm.

Our disagreement here goes back to one of our past arguments about where the burden of proof lies. I and most other scientists would say the burden of proof is on the party that proposes completely unknown forces.

Eddie - #81553

July 2nd 2013


You are missing my meaning here.  I don’t know how to make it clear to you without changing the discussion over from modern science to history of science, and in particular the changing notion of “scientific explanation” over the ages.  This is something I have spent a great deal of time studying academically—the thought of Plato and Aristotle on nature, the transformation wrought by Bacon and Descartes, etc.  Your comments above make all kinds of assumptions (assumptions you draw from the practice of modern science, and take for granted, as if no thoughtful person could doubt them, when in fact they are assumptions that have a history, and which have not been shared in all times and places by men of science.) 

Thus, you write as if discussing biology in terms of teleology is some sort of illegitimate novelty in science, when in fact, the teleological understanding of biology was the default understanding by all men of science up to the time of Darwin.  From the historical perspective, it is the Darwinians and their successors who have to justify *stripping* biology of teleology, not the other way around.

You also confuse teleological explanation with “magical new kinds of causation.”  A grandfather clock exhibits teleology, but there is no “magic” involved in its operation, no supernatural forces, no appeal to the mystical or ineffable etc.  And if I said that a grandfather clock was designed, you would not say:  “You obviously don’t know any science, since you don’t realize that the clock works by known mechanical principles.”  You would never understand the assertion of design in that case to be an attack on natural causation. So why would you do so in biology?  

One could believe that the cell was designed, yet believe that all its operations are explicable in mechanical terms, without supernatural causation.  One could believe that the whole evolutionary process was designed, without believing that God performed miracles to make it work.  Belief in teleology does not equate to belief in miracles, interventions, supernatural forces, etc.  It simply indicates belief that organic beings have built-in aims or goals.  ID people impute those built-in aims or goals to an intelligent designer.  That has nothing in itself to do with unknown forces, supernatural matters, breaking natural laws, etc.  For example, there is no appeal to such things in Denton’s second book, *Nature’s Destiny*, which is both naturalistic *and* teleological in its conception of evolution.  (As opposed to Darwinism, which is naturalistic and anti-teleological.)

I am not going to try to batter you into accepting teleology in nature.  I’m merely trying to point out that some of your objections to the concept are based on misconceptions about what it means.  In the end, I suspect that, even after those misconceptions are removed, you will probably still reject it.  But at least then you will be rejecting the real thing, and not a creationist strawman version of the real thing.  

Lou Jost - #81557

July 2nd 2013

I appreciate the clarifications. I am not an expert in philosophy and have forgotten a lot of what I had learned.

“...in fact, the teleological understanding of biology was the default understanding by all men of science up to the time of Darwin.” As I’ve argued elsewhere, before Darwin there was no alternative to teleology or special creation, so it is understandable that scientists accepted it. After Darwin, there was a very simple, elegant, and hence attractive potential explanation of the  facts that did not need to invoke mysterious processes.

No part of the grandfather clock exhibits movements contrary to the laws of physics. Teleological explanations of mutations, etc necessarily invoke forces that are not known in physics. That is one reason why I am skeptical of them. The other reason is the lack of demonstrated predictive successes under teleology or ID-based research programs.

You say that teleology does not need to invoke new forces, and I agree that certain kinds of teleological explanations may not need to do this, but I can’t see how this particular application of teleology can avoid it.

Eddie - #81562

July 2nd 2013

Re your last question, at the risk of repeating myself:  Read Denton!  Teleological evolution, but no new forces!

I can lead you to water, but I can’t seem to make you drink.  :-)

Re the grandfather clock, no part of the cell exhibits movements contrary to the laws of physics, either; and I’m as convinced that the cell is designed as I am that the grandfather clock is.



Lou Jost - #81579

July 3rd 2013

If that is true for your cell, Eddie, then you are positing front-loading and ordinary forward causation, not irreducible teleology, right?

Eddie - #81595

July 3rd 2013


I don’t know the phrase “irreducible teleology”  —I’ve never encountered it in any of the authors I’ve read.

Regarding the cell, I’m saying that the cell functions in such a way that the most most reasonable hypothesis is that it was designed for such a function.  (The alternative hypothesis, i.e., that the cell came into being essentially by a series of accidents, is at present almost entirely without plausible empirical foundation.)

Now, regarding the historical origin of the cell (within a design supposition, I mean), I can imagine (1) a supernatural designer literally assembling the first cell out of molecules; I can also imagine (2) a natural process by which inanimate matter has in it certain tendencies of association and self-organization such that it is bound to, or very likely to, eventually produce a cell on some planet or other.  In the latter case, my view would be that the self-organizational powers of matter were programmed into the universe at the beginning, by a mind whose intelligence is so far beyond ours as to stagger the imagination.

The latter view is Denton’s view.  The first view may be Behe’s (though he grants the possibility of a Denton-like scenario as well).

My sense is that most of the ID proponents who accept evolution imagine that there has been, at some point other, some “direct tinkering” with the evolutionary process, at the origin of life and at least a few points later on.  However, I have known a few who lean to a Denton-like scenario.  And many probably envision a process that is partly Dentonesque, but also involves some tinkering for detail later.

From a theological point of view, all of these scenarios are equivalent, because they all give God complete control over outcomes.  (TEs, of course,  equivocate over just how much control God has, which is why they earn the wrath of traditional, orthodox Christians of all stripes.)

So you can see why I’m theologically indifferent to “tinkering” versus “wholly naturalistic.”  To me, the deal-breaker for Christians is not the denial that God tinkered.  The deal-breaker is the denial that God designed.  If God didn’t design, then let’s just say Christianity is false and get on with secular humanism.  I reject any halfway-house position which cannot make up its mind whether or not God designed anything.

melanogaster - #81700

July 5th 2013

“Read Denton!”

Been there, done that! Boring!

“Teleological evolution, but no new forces!”

No new data! No new predictions! Not science!

“I can lead you to water, but I can’t seem to make you drink. ”

No water! The water in your metaphor is new data, not rhetoric!

“Re the grandfather clock, no part of the cell exhibits movements contrary to the laws of physics, either; and I’m as convinced that the cell is designed as I am that the grandfather clock is.”

You aren’t convinced at all, because you’re afraid to test your hypothesis!

If you’re convinced, Eddie, go do some real empirical work.

Eddie - #81704

July 5th 2013

You mean, like the empirical work you claim that you have done, but are unwilling to document?

melanogaster - #81825

July 12th 2013

I’m perfectly willing to document it as soon as you are willing to risk serious money on your assertion that the work doesn’t exist.

Eddie - #81826

July 12th 2013

No one with a scientific record worth mentioning would make such a demand as a condition of presenting his qualifications.  I’ll draw the logical inference.

melanogaster - #81827

July 12th 2013

If you believed the first sentence you wrote, you’d bet on it. 

Your logical inference is that you believe me, just as your logical inference that ID is hooey leads you not to lift an empirical finger to test an ID hypothesis—or even look at the most relevant evidence.

Eddie - #81848

July 14th 2013

I have religious and moral objections against gambling, even in cases like the present, where there is almost no chance that I could lose.  And if you are a Christian—as you say you are—you shouldn’t encourage me to violate my conscience.

Why are you afraid to let the readers here see your record of scientific achievements?  Other scientists here haven’t hidden theirs.  Not Lou.  Not Sy.  Not Dennis.  Not Denis Alexander.  Not Ard Louis.  You’re pretty nearly the only one here who has claimed great scientific expertise but who refuses to put his track record up for examination.  What’s the reason for that?

melanogaster - #81851

July 14th 2013

“I have religious and moral objections against gambling, even in cases like the present, where there is almost no chance that I could lose.”

Eddie, that’s the lamest excuse you’ve come up with, and that’s saying something. There’s no way, given your claims of certainty, that this meets any definition of gambling:

1 play games of chance for money.
2 take risky action in the hope of a desired result

1 an act of gambling.
2 a risky action undertaken with the hope of success.

“And if you are a Christian—as you say you are—you shouldn’t encourage me to violate my conscience.”

And if you are a Christian, you wouldn’t repeatedly make claims that you so clearly don’t believe to be true.

“Why are you afraid to let the readers here see your record of scientific achievements?”

No fear at all, Eddie, you’re projecting as usual.

Why are YOU afraid to let readers see your record of philosophical achievements? And why are you not-so-subtly calling Darrell Falk a liar about my achievements?

“Other scientists here haven’t hidden theirs.”

Other philosophers here haven’t hidden theirs either, but you do. You constantly (and snootily) refer to your alleged achievements, though, while I make no arguments from authority.

“Not Lou. Not Sy. Not Dennis. Not Denis Alexander. Not Ard Louis. You’re pretty nearly the only one here who has claimed great scientific expertise but who refuses to put his track record up for examination.”

You’re the only one here who has claimed great philosophical and Biblical expertise but refuse to put up your track record.

“What’s the reason for that?”

I think there is empirical value in inducing your outbursts of rank hypocrisy and dishonesty, Eddie.

It’s not gambling at all. Show us the money!

Eddie - #81855

July 15th 2013

I never said or implied that Darrel Falk was lying about anything.  I don’t think he is the kind of man to lie.

Whether or not Dr. Falk has always  relayed correct information is another matter.  One can sincerely believe that the information one relays is true, even when it is not; and there are various possible reasons (some of them, I stress, quite innocent) why some information relayed by Dr. Falk might not be entirely true.  

I affirm neither the truth nor the falsehood of any information provided to Dr. Falk.  I don’t make judgments when I don’t have sufficient information.  But I will only be convinced of the truth of the information when I see the hard paper trail that will allow me to verify it.

There is of course no reason why you should try to convince me, except to publically dispel the doubts which may have occurred in some readers’ minds.  But that is your business.  

I would remind you that I only mentioned your research because you keep demanding that I produce some, and because you keep denigrating the research of others, and your demand/denigration is backed by your claim that you have produced many important research papers and therefore know good science from bad.  It is your own drawing of attention to your research accomplishments that has brought up the question of their existence.

If you were content merely to debate the issues, without raising the question of who is and who is not a successful research scientist, questions about your own record would not come up.  The predicament you are in—being in difficulty whether you reveal your publications or not—is a predicament of your own making.  I’m willing to drop the subject of “research record” the moment that you drop all requests to me to produce such research, and the moment you stop belittling the research achievements of others (Behe, Denton, Shapiro, etc.).  But if you continue to stand in judgment on what is good or bad research, I will keep asking you for evidence of your own.  The choice is yours.

Have a nice summer, Fruitfly.

melanogaster - #81871

July 15th 2013

“One can sincerely believe that the information one relays is true, even when it is not; and there are various possible reasons (some of them, I stress, quite innocent) why some information relayed by Dr. Falk might not be entirely true.”

But your refusal to put up the money, which you’ve tried to justify by a false claim that it would be gambling, says that you don’t sincerely believe that the claims you make about me are true.

Ethically, that’s quite damning.

“I affirm neither the truth nor the falsehood of any information provided to Dr. Falk. I don’t make judgments when I don’t have sufficient information.”

You do all the time, Eddie, when it comes to evolution and ID. In fact, you actively avoid the relevant information—again because you don’t sincerely believe your claims. Your faith is laughably weak.

“But I will only be convinced of the truth of the information when I see the hard paper trail that will allow me to verify it.”

Too bad you don’t apply that to your claims about evolution.

“There is of course no reason why you should try to convince me, except to publically dispel the doubts which may have occurred in some readers’ minds. But that is your business.”

I don’t think any readers have any doubts, Eddie.

“I would remind you that I only mentioned your research because you keep demanding that I produce some,…”

Yes, that would be the logical and ethical course of action if you believed your claims about evolution and ID. Instead, you and the entire IDCreationist movement, produce nothing but stale rhetoric and falsehoods.

“… and because you keep denigrating the research of others, and your demand/denigration is backed by your claim that you have produced many important research papers and therefore know good science from bad. It is your own drawing of attention to your research accomplishments that has brought up the question of their existence.”

And your drawing of attention to your own academic accomplishments brings up what, then?

“If you were content merely to debate the issues, without raising the question of who is and who is not a successful research scientist,…”

Eddie, YOU bring those things up. You should seek professional help.

“… questions about your own record would not come up.”

You’re back-pedalling. You’ve expressed certainty about my record.

“The predicament you are in—being in difficulty whether you reveal your publications or not—is a predicament of your own making.”

I’m not feeling any predicament at all. You’re the one backing away from your claims that this would be gambling. You also haven’t explained your own use of a pseudonym. It appears that you are projecting your discomfort onto me.

“I’m willing to drop… The choice is yours.”

I choose to continue exposing your rank hypocrisy, Eddie.

Eddie - #81872

July 16th 2013

Well, anyone can see that this conversation is going nowhere.  For whatever reason, you are unwilling to document your putative scientific achievements.  But it’s a free country.  You don’t have to tell anyone anything.

However, in a free country, inferences are also free.  So I’ll draw my own conclusions from your silence.  And I don’t think they are very far off the mark.  

You get the last word.

melanogaster - #81699

July 5th 2013

“And if I said that a grandfather clock was designed, you would not say: “You obviously don’t know any science, since you don’t realize that the clock works by known mechanical principles.” You would never understand the assertion of design in that case to be an attack on natural causation. So why would you do so in biology?”

1) Because grandfather clocks don’t reproduce.

2) Because biological systems are not bolted together by a mechanic like a grandfather clock is.

Living systems simply don’t assemble the way you assume they do, which in fact constitutes an empirical test of your ID hypothesis. You’re just afraid to look because you have no faith in your hypothesis.

Eddie - #81705

July 5th 2013

Your comment “Living systems simply don’t assemble the way you assume they do” is fatuous when applied to the subject of the first cell.  Unless you can give an account of the assembly of the first cell, you can’t say whether they did or didn’t assemble in any way whatsoever.

I don’t have “faith” in hypotheses.  I examine them.  And I haven’t found any hypothesis for the formation of the first cells plausible, except those which include design as one of the causes.  For people of your religious persuasion, who (based on your comments, as far as I can make sense of them) are repelled by the idea that God would have designed anything, my hypothesis will of course be ruled out dogmatically.  But for the open-minded, it remains, in my view, “the best explanation” we have at the moment.  And it’s rational to stick to the best explanation, until a better one comes along.  You are welcome to provide that better explanation, whenever you are able.  I will look for it in the peer-reviewed journals.  

Lou and I get along pretty well, because he is able to vigorously oppose and criticize my views without sneering at me and belittling me.  I enjoy talking with him.  I can’t say the same about you.  I wonder why.

melanogaster - #81785

July 9th 2013

“Your comment “Living systems simply don’t assemble the way you assume they do” is fatuous when applied to the subject of the first cell.”

I was applying it to your talk of cells in general. Your focus on some mythical “first cell” is fatuous, Eddie.

“Unless you can give an account of the assembly of the first cell, you can’t say whether they did or didn’t assemble in any way whatsoever.”

You haven’t given an account of the existence of any bright white line separating acellular from cellular life, so your focus on some “first cell” is fatuous.

“I don’t have “faith” in hypotheses. I examine them.”

No, you don’t, Eddie. You are afraid to TEST them. That’s what hypotheses are for. In your blathering you’ve repeatedly stumbled into empirical tests of your hypotheses, because you make blatantly false claims about the evidence.

“And I haven’t found any hypothesis for the formation of the first cells plausible, except those which include design as one of the causes.”

I don’t find the idea of a sharp transition between acellular and cellular life plausible, so your premise is fatuous.

“For people of your religious persuasion, who (based on your comments, as far as I can make sense of them) are repelled by the idea that God would have designed anything,...”

Your personal comment is weak and false. Unlike you, I work from the evidence. You should try it sometime!

“… my hypothesis will of course be ruled out dogmatically.”

No, Eddie, as I noted above, you stumble into making empirical predictions.

“But for the open-minded, it remains, in my view, “the best explanation” we have at the moment.”

But your view is based on avoidance of the evidence.

“And it’s rational to stick to the best explanation, until a better one comes along.”

Science is about testing our explanations. We don’t wait for better ones, we produce them from our tests. Do you have any idea how your anger causes you to reveal your complete rejection of science, while you are dishonestly pretending to be using it?

“You are welcome to provide that better explanation, whenever you are able. I will look for it in the peer-reviewed journals.”

You seem to have forgotten that you have confessed to your avoidance of the peer-reviewed journals. You don’t no how to search the literature, remember? And yet you claim to be a competent scholar!

Lou Jost - #81525

July 1st 2013

Quick question—why are religious people interested in positing teleological causation? Their god could tweak and direct evolution using ordinary local causal nudges without teleology. Accepting teleological causation could result in a naturalistic (but teleological) explanation for evolution that could resolve the perceived improbability of the normal locally-causal version of evolution, thus making god even more unnecessary than before (this is Thomas Nagel’s position, I think).

Eddie - #81530

July 1st 2013

I use “teleology” sometimes more narrowly, sometimes more broadly.  In the broadest sense, “teleological” evolution would include any evolutionary process which was directed to certain ends, whether by an internal dynamic, or by the interference of an intelligence, i.e., “local causal nudges” (aka “tinkering” or “tweaking”).

In the narrower sense, teleological evolution would be evolution driven by some internal dynamic (which might be variously characterized).  Denton’s evolution is teleological in the latter sense.

What teleological causation and Christian theology of creation have in common is “directionality”: Christian theology (of a non-heretical kind) insists that God knew what he wanted, and directed nature to produce it (whether by built-in properties or by tweaking); teleology says that natural processes don’t wander about by chance, but have natural ends, towards which they unconsciously tend.  In neither case does nature have the “freedom” to thwart the predetermined end.

So if, for example, you take teleology out of Aristotle’s non-evolutionary context, and try to bring it into an evolutionary context, you come up with something like the idea that the first life had a natural tendency toward more complex life and ultimately intelligent complex life, i.e., man.  It is easy to see how this could be integrated with the Christian notion of God’s plan or providence.  God’s providence is achieved through an evolutionary process in which the earlier forms have a natural telos—they tend over time (on average, not in every case) to become more and more complex, articulated, intelligent, self-conscious forms.  The bacterium has a tendency to become us—because God set it up that way.

So that’s the thematic connection between Christianity and teleology, as it would apply to God-designed evolution; but of course one can be in favor of teleology without being Christian or even theistic in the normal sense:  Aristotle’s God doesn’t care about human beings in the slightest, and is not their creator; but Aristotle affirmed teleology in nature.

As for your comment about “religious people,” I adduce teleology as a reasonable explanatory principle not primarily in order to harmonize biology with Christianity, but because I think teleology is “the best explanation” for some features of living systems.  If you could show me Jesus’s bones tomorrow, and proof that the Gospels were all deliberate fictions, I would still think teleology was “the best explanation” of living systems.  It isn’t religion that drives my thought on the question.  My critique of Darwinism and my defense of religion do overlap and reinforce, but they are entirely separate conceptually; whereas for creationists the religion by itself necessitates the rejection of Darwinism, and science must therefore be answerable to religious dictates.  That is not my position at all.  

Lou Jost - #81549

July 2nd 2013

The comment about “religious people” didn’t refer to you. I had Jon in mind. See my 81548 below for some additional thoughts.

Eddie - #81551

July 2nd 2013

Well, I will let Jon defend himself, since he is quite capable of doing so without my help; but my understanding of his position is that he, too, thinks there are reasons independent of Christian faith for doubting Darwinian explanations and for suspecting a deep teleology within living nature.  

Lou Jost - #81555

July 2nd 2013

I’d really like to see a concrete teleological theory, so we could test it. Do you know of any?

Eddie - #81561

July 2nd 2013

I’ve told you one example, Denton—but so far you haven’t read him.

Try also Conway Morris, whom I haven’t read, but who, I’m told, has teleological motifs in his thought.

Lou Jost - #81573

July 3rd 2013

I just spent my lunch break writing a long response, and a review of Denton’s BIO-Complexity article, but BioLogos ate it (“You have waited too long to post this comment…”) Will try again tonight or tomorrow if I have time and energy…

Eddie - #81582

July 3rd 2013

With BioLogos it’s always wise to save every few minutes, it happens often that postings are destroyed by the timer or for other reasons.

Denton’s BioComplexity article is only a sketchy summary of the ideas in his book.  I recommend the book, which I think presents his case much more convincingly.

Even someone who disagrees with Denton’s views on evolution can learn a lot from reading him.  In both of his books, Denton shows an impressive mastery of the history of evolutionary theory, from pre-Darwinian times to the present.  I can’t think of anyone on the Darwinian side who appears to have read so broadly and deeply, except for Stephen Jay Gould.  (And even Gould voiced some criticism of neo-Darwinism; there seems to be a connection about deep historical/philosophical reflection on the foundations of evolutionary theory, and doubts about the adequacy of ND.)

Unlike some of the other ID folks, Denton maintains an active publishing career in regular journals.  He does not depend on ID-sympathetic venues to get published.  

I don’t have any illusions that you are going to agree with Denton; you have pretty well indicated your firm commitment to the neo-Darwinian approach to evolution, and he doesn’t take that line.  My only point in mentioning Denton is to disabuse you of the notion that all of those who infer design from nature are anti-evolution, or demand miraculous interventions.  Denton clearly is a supporter of macroevolution and even a naturalistic origin of life, so he doesn’t fit the stereotype of ID that ID’s enemies so often promulgate.  

melanogaster - #81701

July 5th 2013

Eddie, the request was for a theory. I’ll bet my house that Lou meant the term in the true scientific sense, as something testable with a long track record of making successful, empirical predictions.

Denton doesn’t offer a theory. Morris’s motifs in thought are not theories.

Eddie - #81706

July 5th 2013

You obviously haven’t read Nature’s Destiny, where Denton does indeed offer a theory of evolution.  Whether the theory can endure criticism is another matter, but he does offer a theory.  So you are wrong once again.

You might be wrong less often if you would actually read the authors you are rejecting instead of dismissing them based on the mere fact that they have associations with ID people.

melanogaster - #81754

July 7th 2013

“You obviously haven’t read Nature’s Destiny, where Denton does indeed offer a theory of evolution.”

Eddie, that’s simply a blatant lie. Denton offers a “design hypothesis,” which is nowhere near a theory. It has no track record of empirical predictions. Denton lacks the courage to offer a hypothesis that makes empirical predictions. He offers ways it could be falsified, but they are not empirical predictions and you know it.

“Whether the theory can endure criticism is another matter, but he does offer a theory.”

He does no such thing. Criticism is irrelevant. A theory or hypothesis has to offer empirical predictions, then scientists test them. Denton’s does neither.

“So you are wrong once again.”

Nope. You are grossly misrepresenting Denton’s book.

“You might be wrong less often if you would actually read the authors you are rejecting instead of dismissing them based on the mere fact that they have associations with ID people.”

You haven’t shown that I’m wrong. If you disagree, your course of action is simple: articulate the alleged theory, cite its track record of successful empirical predictions, and articulate its current testable empirical predictions.

You’ll never do that.

Eddie - #81769

July 7th 2013


If you really have read Denton’s book, you would be discussing passages from the book, not making sweeping generalizations about it.

You continue to pepper your comments here with unwelcome personal remarks.  Now you are accusing Denton of lacking courage.  That is a personal remark.  Personal remarks are no substitute for arguments.

In fact, Denton has published two books and scores of articles with his name on them.  His thoughts on evolution are linked with his name in the public mind.  That shows courage.  Your thoughts on evolution, on the other hand, are offered from behind the cloak of pseudonyms.  Your thoughts on Christianity are offered from behind the cloak of pseudonyms.   Your personal insults against Behe and all the ID people are offered from behind the cloak of pseudonyms.  If you are trying identify people who lack “courage,” perhaps you should look in a mirror.

melanogaster - #81782

July 9th 2013

If you disagree, your course of action is simple: articulate the alleged theory, cite its track record of successful empirical predictions, and articulate its current testable empirical predictions.

You’ll never do that.

“If you really have read Denton’s book, you would be discussing passages from the book, not making sweeping generalizations about it.”

As I wrote, Eddie, if you disagree, your course of action is simple: articulate the alleged theory, cite its track record of successful empirical predictions, and articulate its current testable empirical predictions.

You’ll never do that.

“You continue to pepper your comments here with unwelcome personal remarks.”

Your hypocrisy is astounding.

“Now you are accusing Denton of lacking courage.”

I am. If you disagree, your course of action is simple: articulate the alleged theory, cite its track record of successful empirical predictions, and articulate its current testable empirical predictions.

“That is a personal remark. Personal remarks are no substitute for arguments.”

Arguments are no substitute for testing hypotheses.

“In fact, Denton has published two books and scores of articles with his name on them.”

In fact, he does not offer a theory and you know it.

“His thoughts on evolution are linked with his name in the public mind.

Thanks for implicitly admitting that you intended to deceive when you claimed that he offered a theory.

“That shows courage.”

No. Testing his Design Hypothesis would show faith and courage.

“Your thoughts on evolution, on the other hand, are offered from behind the cloak of pseudonyms.”

Your hypocrisy knows no bounds. Doubly so, as you are offering a personal remark instead of supporting your claim.

“Your thoughts on Christianity are offered from behind the cloak of pseudonyms.”

Your hypocrisy knows no bounds. Doubly so, as you are offering a personal remark instead of supporting your claim.

“Your personal insults against Behe and all the ID people are offered from behind the cloak of pseudonyms.”

Your personal insults against real scientists who test their hypotheses are offered from your real name, then?

“If you are trying identify people who lack “courage,” perhaps you should look in a mirror.”

I can do so with no problem. So articulate the alleged theory, cite its track record of successful empirical predictions, and articulate its current testable empirical predictions.

You won’t.

Eddie - #81804

July 9th 2013

Denton’s theory is articulated in the 400 pages of his book.  If you won’t take the time to read the book, you won’t know the theory.  I’m certainly not going to do your reading work for you.

But then, it seems clear that you aren’t really interested in engaging with Denton at all.  You haven’t made one comment that shows even the slightest acquaintance with his ideas.

But that’s OK.  Denton goes on rolling out publication after publication on evolutionary theory.  He already has a new article out this year.  The opinion of someone with no publications in the field really isn’t going to bother him.

I will, however, accede to your demand and make a testable empirical prediction:  you will never disclose to us your list of scientific publications.

melanogaster - #81829

July 12th 2013

“Denton’s theory is articulated in the 400 pages of his book.”

No, Eddie, there is no theory in the book. There’s a half-baked hypothesis with phony predictions that leave Denton wiggle room.

It also doesn’t take 400 pages to articulate a theory.

“If you won’t take the time to read the book, you won’t know the theory. I’m certainly not going to do your reading work for you.”

There’s no “work” required to briefly articulate Denton’s alleged theory and its predictions. I’ve read it and it’s a nothing burger. Do you realize that you’ve written far more in personal attacks?

“But then, it seems clear that you aren’t really interested in engaging with Denton at all. You haven’t made one comment that shows even the slightest acquaintance with his ideas.”

There is no theory in the book. There’s a half-baked hypothesis with phony predictions that leave Denton plenty of interpretive wiggle room. He abandoned the silliest idea of his first book.

If I’m wrong, it’s easy for you to show everyone.

But you won’t.

“But that’s OK. Denton goes on rolling out publication after publication on evolutionary theory. He already has a new article out this year.”

Already this year? It’s JULY, man. Does it have a test of a hypothesis? A testable hypothesis? BIO-Complexity is a joke, Eddie.

“The opinion of someone with no publications in the field really isn’t going to bother him.”

“I will, however, accede to your demand and make a testable empirical prediction: you will never disclose to us your list of scientific publications.”

That’s not an empirical prediction!

My offer stands. Show us how much faith you have in your claims…

melanogaster - #81698

July 5th 2013

“The question of teleology in living organisms is much more complicated and subtle.”

Not really.

“Our knowledge is nowhere near the point where we can abandon it.”

This is just hilarious coming from someone who whines that he does not know how to search the literature to even sample the vast amount of relevant knowledge required for such a conclusion.

“You also miss the point that Darwin was eager to find a non-teleological mechanism.”

You’re missing two far more important points:

1) Darwin found one while No one in the ID movement is even proposing a teleological mechanism, and

2) NO ONE belching forth rhetoric in favor of a teleological mechanism is eager to find anything. They (including you) are afraid to look.

The only hypothesis that explains this behavior is a lack of faith.

GJDS - #81536

July 2nd 2013


“..  any process that involves chance is formally indistinguishable from any process that involves teleology,...”


I have been thinking about teleology and purpose, and have asked myself a simple question, “Can I (or any research scientist) come up with an experiment or series of experiments designed to provide data (or evidence for Darwinians) to show purpose or teleology?”

So far I cannot come up with an affirmative answer. I am putting this out here as a useful topic for discussion – perhaps someone can provide a better answer than my negative conclusion.

If not, than I would think that any discussion of purpose, or absence of purpose, regarding insights of science, would be a pointless one. I want to make this very clear – if experimental data that clearly shows purpose cannot be obtained, than any discussion on purpose OR absence of purpose in the physical world is meaningless.

It is instructive to understand Darwinian thinking within this context – the notion of chaotic of random subverts this central point. If science cannot do something, it is impossible to argue for or against that point. In other words, it is pointless for Darwinians to argue an absence of purpose based on the inability to show this scientifically.

Once again I make the same point – the argument that Darwinian evolution has removed (or can prove) teleology from the physical realm is plain wrong and those that continue to argue in this way are either dishonest, or worse; they are ignorant of what science can show.

Thus it is wrong to construct a view that Darwin has proven some type of ‘random’, ‘purposeless’, ‘meaningless’, and so on, in nature. The data obtained in such studies may be handled using known mathematical methods ... I have commented on this previously.

Unless of course, someone can carry out that experiment that would prove that science can identify either purpose, or an absence of purpose.

The Aristotelian view is obviously a metaphysical one, and Aristotle’s writing has been done with the clear purpose, which was to expound such metaphysical insights. This comes, as is well understood, before physics (or physical sciences).....

Lou Jost - #81546

July 2nd 2013

“..  any process that involves chance is formally indistinguishable from any process that involves teleology,...” Let’s just nip that one in the bud. This is false. One can often construct or derive the probability distribution of the outcomes based on ordinary non-teleological physics, and run the experiment many times, and see if the probability distribution is skewed significantly from that null hypothesis. This would be evidence of teleology. Lack of observed skewing would put limits on the strength of the teleological “force”.

Jon Garvey - #81541

July 2nd 2013


I think you’re right, but ...

My feeling is that with the Enlightenment, “reason” took on a newly restricted meaning covering perception and logic applied thereto, and then became privileged as not itself requiring explanation or justification. You’ll probably remember that for Aristotle “reason” included the intuition of beauty and order, too.

So I agree that observation and logic cannot demonstrate teleology, the limiting case being that some materialistic scientists deny the reality even of the teleology we exercise consciously as people.

But… science is not sufficiently rigorous to exclude other axiomatic human sources of knowledge than “reason” altogether. Thus physicists, at least, often prefer a theory because of the beauty of its maths - which is purely aesthetic, there being no rational reason why the universe should be founded on beauty rather than cobbled together.

Similarly, I think, humans function by teleological inference from the very earliest developmental stages - children discern purpose long before they learn reasoning. That shows up, amongst other things, in the near-universality of teleological language in describing both function and evolutionary outcomes, as well as Dawkins famous description of life as what looks designed but isn’t. So scratch the surface, and I’m sure that it is the apparent function and purpose of biological systems that often prompts the search for the sequence of efficient causes, and then gets consciously set aside once the “real” causes have been found.

So I would say the “evidence” for or against teleology is quite a complex issue, depending not only on the scientific metaphysics being consciously applied, but also on how much people allow themselves be ruled by it. In other words, to what extent are they functioning as Enlightenment rational beings, and to what extent as complete humans? On one extreme might be the eliminative materialists like Jason Rosenhouse - on the other “guided evolutionists” like David Wilcox. It is entirely possible that natural science as a discipline will leave the Enlightenment model behind some day and that teleology would then be utterly demonstrable because regarded as within science - after all, teleology was perfectly acceptable in science in Newton’s time, and could be again.

At present, though, I think my assertion that chance and design are formally indistinguishable stands. Does this post show teleology? Not according to Rosenhouse et al: it clearly doesn’t have the simple order of a lawlike process, so its complexity must ultimately be due to chance, because will is an illusion. Does a genome show teleology? Nobody’s shown a lawlike order to it, so if all that remains to form its complexity is chance (or chance linked to necessity), then its function is ultimately due to chance… And if the odds for that look too slim, you can be like Eugene Koonin and invoke the multiverse, though it’s more plausible to say that when we know more the odds will look better.

Does that give matter for discussion?

Merv - #81542

July 2nd 2013

So does the implication follow from the Rosenhouse flavor of teleology-denial that a teapot cannot be on the stove for the purpose of making me tea?   Or that any such alleged purpose must be illusory?

I’ve grown accustomed to reductionists being hardened into their mindsets, but this sounds like a radical departure from empirical experience for such a group.  I must be missing something. 

Jon Garvey - #81564

July 2nd 2013

Merv, surely they’d put it in the same category as “apparent” animal intentionality: the only causes of the teapot being on the stove are the chain of efficient causes back to the big bang. Our “I fancy a nice cuppa” is an epiphenomenon.

Ed Feser does accept that Rosenhouse is at the extreme - but also that the logic of materialism is on his side. Most people live as if their exclusion of teleology wasn’t true - which was my point, really. Whatever our rational position, we’re still irreducibly human beings, who have inbuilt teleological sensitivity together with inbuilt moral sensibility and, probably for the most part, inbuilt awareness of the divine.

Lou Jost - #81548

July 2nd 2013

“I think my assertion that chance and design are formally indistinguishable stands.” No, I don’t see that at all. See my comment above, 81546.

I do agree that teleology can come back into science. Twenty or thirty years ago, when we thought the universe might eventually collapse on itself in a reverse “big bang”, some physicists including myself entertained the idea that there may be some special boundary conditions at the end of the universe, perhaps linked somehow to the beginning of the universe for symmetry reasons. We imagined that as the universe approached the end, the final boundary conditions might cause maatter to behave strangely from our current forward-faacing time perspective—matter would seem to undergo mysterious organization and ordering in order to match up with the final boundary conditions. Out of the set of all possible universes, the boundary conditions would pick out a small subset, and this subset would behave in ways that were improbable if they had not been constrained by the boundary conditions. This kind of “causation” would be teleological.

My point is that the resistance to teleology today does not go too deep, and is based mostly on simple lack of evidence and the sterility (and lack of imagination) of the teleological hypotheses proposed so far. The anthropocentric versions, inspired by old mythologies, are especially difficult to take seriously.

GJDS - #81560

July 2nd 2013


Clearly the matter of “teleology, purpose and meaning” is a complicated dicussion - again however, I am trying to focus the discussion on what I understand to be science. In this context, I begin with, ‘science is something that scientist do’. During these type of discussions, I sometimes think back to my first classes in science. We were always taught to write down the following, as the teacher explained the latest experiment: Heading (when water boils). The first heading on my book reads: (1) Purpose, (2) apparatus, (3) method, (4) results and conclusion.

Remarkably, this format is very similar to that adopted for research papers.

This simple example shows that a scientist ALWAYS has a purpose in mind when doing science. It would be odd if someone thinks otherwise. 

However, a scientist deciding to purposefully examine purpose within his experiment (or theory) is an odd think. Thus one aspect of purpose may be put to one side.

When the bio-world is discussed, we seem to posit our sense of purpose on the entity studied. Thus, the purpose in measuring the size of some animals neck is to see if the neck and its size came about for some purpose. It sound oddly like we are asking the animal to take the place of the scientist. Instead, we probably mean, can we decide the function of the neck, and how this may or may not be appropriate for this animal. This becomes descriptive, and has little to do with genuine purpose of meaning.

The converse is borderline perverse: The reason for a neck is that there is no purpose or function and thus it proves something about purposeless and pointless and chaotic stuff that the proponent wishes to foist upon others.

We have discussed lawlike observations and I have tried to point out (with little success on this site) that Darwin’s thinking is semantic and it is exxtremely difficult to argue from a position of a law of science. Seeking an ultimate purpose through chance is odd semantics indeed - if we as scientists conclude on functionality, we remove the proper meaning of chance - we seek to make the functionality meaningful by using the various tools of science. If our data does not show a clear correlation (e.g. a= function(x) - a linear one) we may seek to show some correlation(s) using stochastic methods. These are tools, and not meaning in itself.

Metaphysics will always be found in human reasoning - science strives to be rigorous in its study of natural phenomina - even this is given meaning and purpose by human beings practicing science.   

Roger A. Sawtelle - #81545

July 2nd 2013


Since the teapot is a human contrivance, it does not count.

However they do say that teeth are not designed for chewing and legs for running. 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #81552

July 2nd 2013


Even so Dawkins does say that evolved creatures do have the appearance of being designed, just as some YEC admit that the earth has the appearance of old age. 

Now Dawkins and YEC need to know that there is good reason why evolved creatures appear to be designed and the earth appears to be very old and this is because they are.  Neither should allow their ideology override their senses.   

Lou Jost - #81554

July 2nd 2013

Science is all about not trusting first impressions or superficial observations, but testing them and trying to find their flaws. The design idea hasn’t held up, while the old earth idea has. Even when a theory is hard to test directly, we can often use it to generate new predictions and see if the predictions are true. The design theory has not led to a fruitful set of predictions, while the “chance variation + natural selection” theory generates a very productive science. It is worth comparing the content of the ID journal “BIO-Complexity” (four or five  articles per year in a good year, none of them very striking—no empirical research articles so far this year) with the non-ID literature on evolution (thousands of articles per year, with exciting new discoveries almost weekly).

Roger A. Sawtelle - #81558

July 2nd 2013


You are lookingin the wrong place for teleology.

Ecology is the right place, and ecology is the science of the present and the future.

Jon Garvey - #81565

July 3rd 2013


Two points. Firstly you’re making the assumption that chance normally operates independently of God, so that his “interference” would noticeably change statistical distributions. But in fact, the Christian doctrine of providence is that God is active in every instance of chance, just as he is in every instance of lawlike events. So the laws of provbability, like physical laws, are the outworking of God’s purpose - you have never seen a chance event that operated independently of God, so *that* would be the oddball result.

Nevertheless, such kinds of chance event are not intuitively seen as purposeful by people, which is why they’re called “chance”: to see them as under God’s control is a theological inference. Historically, many cultures have seen chance as a force independent of the gods, to which even they are subject. However, biblical monotheism never admitted that, and Hebrew religion specificaly, if not uniquely, taught God’s providence as inclusive of chance events.

However, the above situation wasn’t what I meant when I talked of chance and purpose as formally indistinguishable. Take a situation like the origin of life, for which we have no current natural explanation. On the face of it, the odds of a self-reproducing molecule forming from chemisty are more than astronomical. Yet I’ve often heard materialists say, whilst accepting the probabilities, that the world just got lucky.

Note I’m distinguishing that from those who say we’ll one day discover something that lowers the odds - that’s maybe a justifiable faith position. I’m talking about the person who accepts cosmic fine tuning in a single universe, but says that there’s nothing to explain because stuff happens. Or about the proverbial typing ape that produces a Shakespeare sonnet (probability 1:27^n, where n is the number of characters), which most of us would immediately say was a human fraud. No drug would be credited with a therapeutic effect at that probability. But yet it cannot be formally distinguished from a chance event because every random sequence is as likely as every other random sequence. It is always possible to invoke low-probability chance, though well outside the usual distributions, rather than purpose.

Lou Jost - #81583

July 3rd 2013

Jon, to your first point, it would still be possible to detect an effect in the probability distribution, if god cared about the outcomes. If Mind rather than blind chance drove the world, we should see some effect of this.

On your second point, yes, given just a single instance of a random process, we can’t be sure if we just got lucky or if the odds are fixed. But sometimes we can make or observe repeated trials, and this can test the randomness. Of course we can never be absolutely certain, but that is true of any empirical claim. 

As for the origin of life on earth, we have no idea what the probabilities are, given the conditions of the early earth. It appeared surprisingly early in earth’s history, and this suggests that life’s appearance under those conditions is not improbable at all.  Hopefuly some day soon we will have more than one data point to look at!!!

GJDS - #81590

July 3rd 2013

The curious thing about evolutionist’s arguments for origin of life (beside the astronomical odds against ‘chance’), is the fact that these arguments inevitably argue AGAINST the known and proven facts of science. How is that for irony?

And here we are, arguing from a position of faith in Christ, when we can learn something from militant anti-theists who argue from a faith in .... nothing but astronomical odds  ...against what?!!!!

Jon Garvey - #81601

July 4th 2013


I’ve sometimes noticed that discussions on probability (when they aren’t met with “We believe in the hope of a perfectly simple explanation - let him who says otherwise be anathema”) often end up with criticising the other’s maths on the basis that what they say is completely impossible is only extremely impossible.

Lou says that if God were behind apparently chance events, it would show up in what results. But I say “what results” is in the eye of the beholder. To me, for example, multiplying random mutations, nearly all near-neutral and not subject to selection, and many subject to pleiotropic complications, most controlling multiple overlapping genes… etc etc, and getting a giraffe that works a treat in the African biosystem, is a result. But I can’t prove it formally.

GJDS - #81604

July 4th 2013

Jon, as you probably realise, I have not been able to get the meaning or sense behind statement such as, “if God were behind chance events”, or “science should detect teleology”, and similar statements. I have mentioned phrases such as “the arrow of complexity” as indicators of what science may be able to detect - beyond that, we are left with a metaphysical outlook that either: (1) accepts causality, and seeks a ‘chain of causality”, which to a theist would eauate with the Thomist synthesis of causes, or (2) seeks to provide a basis for a non-causal universe. On (2), it may be possible to provide a rational, but my view is that the rational is ONLY grounded on an anti-theistic outlook. Putting it bluntly, a person would be motivated by his anti-theistic outlook in developing (2), and not the other way around (would not conclude from reason and argumentation of a non-causal universe).

I cannot see a way out of the obvious contadiction that (2) presents. On (1), I do not see this as anything more that reason agreeing with faith, and not replacing faith, or providing any ‘proofs’.  

Jon Garvey - #81605

July 4th 2013


I think we’re saying the same thing from different angles: the choice of teleological or non-teleological is not reason-based, unless one has limited “reason” in specific ways - and that arises from underlying metaphysics/worldviews.

On a theistic basis (a la Aquinas) reason will agree with faith by definition, since reason is that which is in accord with the nature of God… but since human “reason” through sin is unreasonable, that convergence does not always appear in reality.

I suppose the question with issues like probability is whether materialistic reasoning has to go out on a limb, ie end up appearing unreasonable even to itself.

Lou Jost - #81633

July 4th 2013

The correction we all made to Roger’s math is just standard textbook stuff. If we are going to talk about such things, I am sure you agree we should get it right, especially when it is a well-known provable result.

Anyway, back to the real world: we do have plenty of information about these probabilities, and they are not so small as you think. Taxonomic studies of natural species, and artificial selection of domestic animals, gives us lots of evidence about the amount of variation in a population. Artificial selection also gives us great data on the ability to achieve large changes in morphology over very short periods of time. The breeds of dogs are excellent examples. A pit bull and a slender greyhound are dramatically different yet they shared a common ancestor only a few thousand years ago. Imagine if they had a few million years to evolve further. There is no empirical reason to think that the divergence between an okapi and giraffe, which had millions of years to evolve separately, could not have also happened by random variation and selection. The selection might be weaker than the artificial selection imposed on the greyhounds and pit bulls, but there is lots of time for it to act. The interesting thing is the large amount of variation present in animals and plants. This struck Darwin, who made long studies of it. It still strikes breeders today. It strikes me when I study natural species of orchids and when I make my own hybrids, and when I look at people from different parts of the world.

Lou Jost - #81634

July 4th 2013

This was a response to Jon’s 81601.

Jon Garvey - #81651

July 4th 2013


Victorian breeders noticed variation, but they also noticed absolute constraints to the plasticity of breeding species, and they (and scientists of the time) severely criticised Darwin for assuming nature coulod overcome what selective breeding could not.

150 years later, it can still be observed that selection reaches a boundary condition for any species where further selection pressure leads to extinction. So there are good reasons for doubting the continuity of macroevolution with microevolution (I’ve read papers on that only this week), and the question is only whether evolution has found a way of bucking that - in other words, are there occasional parthways through the limits of adaptation?

If there are, finding them and avoiding extinction is yet another constraint to add to the vast preponderance of deleterious mutation, pleiotropy, neutral mutation, alternative splicing and other forms of multiple coding etc. Are those not empirical reasons for doubt?

Lou Jost - #81683

July 5th 2013

Those are better reasons than the ones given earlier, and I agree with them in part. (Want to share your citations?) However, it is not true that selection runs into a hard boundary. Darwin and the Victorians were well aware of “sports”, big jumps which are rare but still observable on human timescales. These are sometimes caused by single point mutations, sometimes not. Polydactyl and loss of digits are small examples.

There is a continuum of rarity between these dramatic mutations and less dramatic ones. In artificial selection, initially one is basically working with the available variation in the present population, because new mutations are very rare on human timescales. This available variation can be quickly exhausted by breeding, especially since Victorian breeders often repeatedly used the “best” parents over and over again, resulting in loss of genetic diversity. At that point, selection does hit a wall temporarily. But new mutations do arise eventually, sometimes even big ones, and the barrier can be broken. Furthermore, the  wall can be postponed or avoided entirely by using very large populations and avoiding inbreeding. The dramatic transformation of Brassica oleracea into such different plants as kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and others, shows how large the changes can be even over very short time scales. For a bit of history (and recipes!) see


Some sports are advantageous. An orchid that grows in my yard, Phragmipedium lindenii, is an example of an interesting “sport” that outcompetes the normal form. It is a ladyslipper orchid, which normally has two long stringy petals, each with a basal anter, and one  petal looking like a pouch. In this sport, there is a mutation that changes the symmetry of the flower. Instead of two petals, each with a basal anter, and one pouch, this orchid has three normal petals, each with an anther, and no pouch. The extra anther grows straight into the stigma, making a self-fertilizing flower that produces lots of seeds. It is the most common Phragmipedium in my area.

Jon, we know that all mammals came from a common ancestor; there is no reasonable doubt about that. We can compare their genomes, and they really do look like they have been transformed by small genetic changes of the kind we observe happening today, not rewritten from scratch. These changes include point mutation, gene duplication, chromosome duplication and fusion, and others. You might think that these changes required divine intervention. But the burden of proof is on those who insist that divine intervention is needed for this transformation, rather than natural processes.

Lou Jost - #81684

July 5th 2013

Jon, surely you don’t think that the divergence of cabbage and broccoli required divine intervention, right?

Jon Garvey - #81687

July 5th 2013

Want to share your citations?

I thought you’d ask that, but I’ve been filling in a blog-free week by browsing and can’t remember where I read it. It was there though, honest injun.

Raising the issue of mutations is fair enough except that it it rather defeats your point that domestic breeding is a model for macroevolution. At least, you say, there are constraints owing to the requirement for evolution - but don’t let any population geneticists hear you.

Sports were an issue for Darwin, of course - but I was, of course, differentiating the higher vertebrates of our discussion from the issue of plants. We don’t see many viable polyploid giraffes, AFAIK, and we know we’re dealing with very many mutations in mammal transitions) especially once the “99% similarity” in genomes is broadened to the functioning non-protein coding genes.

Probable common ancestry shows changes - not how and when they occurred. For example it might suggest genome duplication or symbiosis, but not how extinction was avoided in the process.

Finally, I remind you that this sub-thread is not about divine intervention, and my initial theological comment wasn’t either - you’re falling into the TE trap of assuming that what is a natural process is not also a divinely guided process, which is the whole thrust of the historical doctrine of providence.

What I’m questioning here is the adequacy of the theory we have - and if I were right about that I’d prefer a new (ie more complete) theory to invoking supernatural tweaking of one that can’t deliver naturally.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #81571

July 3rd 2013


Let me make one observation.  The old saw about the typing ape or apes is as you say based on the equation of 27 to the nth power.  

However this does not work, because random chance each time a key is pressed there is equal chance that x or e will be typed.  Thus over the typing of a multiple of 27 letters the probability that there will be the same number of E’s as there are X’s and Z’s is 1.    

We all know that languages including English do not work like that.  Therefore the probablity of the random typing of usable language is 0.

The only way to get around this is to somehow weigh the letters by usage, but this is guidance, not random.

Also language is more than letters.  It is also punctuation, spacing, and capitalization, that is grammar.  We have found that DNA also has its own grammar, which makes it more complicated than a simple assembly  of proteins.    

Jon Garvey - #81572

July 3rd 2013


You mean I’ve got to sell the monkey? I wondered why it was only typing me kisses.

It’s slightly academic though, isn’t it? I estimate approximately 600 letters and spaces in a typical sonnet, which makes the crude probability of the ape typing it on my system 1:27^600, which (excuse my maths) is in the order of all the subatomic events that have ever happened in something in excess of 10^450 universes the same age as ours.

And now you’re telling me it’s actually less likely than that - I may as well give up trying ...

The truth is, of course, that things require causes, and even Thomas Aquinas knew that kind of chance was never a cause of anything. But it’s still formally possible - though the likelihood of its happening would seem a good deal less likely than unicorns and firebreathing dragons evolving by saltation from siblings… every other week.

Merv - #81575

July 3rd 2013

Technically this isn’t correct, Roger; or rather—- the original assertion about pure likelyhood of hammering out a sonnet is correct.  While you are right that letters do not occur with the same frequency in English text, this is also likely true of any finite string of random characters.  Think of it this way:  just because the probability of a coin flip is 50%, this does not mean that a long string of coin flips with say all heads is now impossible.  It still has the same probability as any other completely specified string of coin flips of that length.  Or just because every base ten digit as equal frequency of occurrence in pi does not mean that there aren’t a thousand nines in a row somewhere in pi  (there almost certainly are, in fact). 

So the chance of a monkey pounding out your post above assuming correct case, spacing, and the minimal punctuation used would actually be about 1 in 67^879.

Now ... this is so astronomically slow that only mathematicians would quibble about equating it to zero.  But to insist that it is exactly zero is not exactly right, and the difference can actually come back to haunt a person (in the practical world no less!)  When a virtual zero is multiplied by a virtual infinity, a multitude of possibilities can result as any calculus student will attest.

Interesting tidbit from a sight called futilitycloset.com

Apocryphal but entertaining: During one of Norbert Wiener’s talks on cybernetics, a student raised an esoteric point.

Wiener said, “Why, that’s as improbable as a bunch of monkeys having typed out the Encyclopaedia Britannica.”

The student said brightly, “But that’s happened once, anyway.”

Of course, Wiener should have said ‘apes’ rather than ‘monkeys’; but anyway…

Lou Jost - #81580

July 3rd 2013

Roger, your math is quite off….Merv is right, see below.

Lou Jost - #81581

July 3rd 2013

Oops, “above”.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #81586

July 3rd 2013

While it is true that unusual groups of letters or numbers are possible in the short run, in the long run I am correct. 

Indeed that is an important test to determine if something is random or not.  I would be very suspicious if a die always came up as a 3 or 4.  I would be very suspicious if a coin always comes up heads. 

I repeat.  Random really only applies to the next event.  It does not apply the long run.  Random evens out over the long run.  Check it out. 

Lou Jost - #81589

July 3rd 2013

I don’ty really know what you mean in 81586. The math you gave above in 81571 is wrong, period. Jon’s formula is right, changing 27 to a slightly higher number k to account for dashes, other punctuation, etc. If a machine taps each key randomly n times, where n is the number of characters and spaces in the target sonnet, then the probability that the machine types out the target sonnet is 1/(k^n). Not 0, and not 1.

One other thing, “random” doesn’t necessarily mean “equally likely”. In math and science we have random variables with all kinds of distributions, like the normal distribution, where values near the mean are more common than values away from it.  Many of these distribution, including the normal distribution, can be built by combining random variables that are equally likely.

Lou Jost - #81591

July 3rd 2013

To ward off misunderstanding, note that the formula above does assume that all keys are equally likely to be hit by the key-tapping machine.

Merv - #81592

July 3rd 2013

...And you would be correct, Roger, to be suspicious of a die coming up as only 3 or 4 for, say, twenty rolls in a row.  But you would not be correct to reject that die.  But do this “twenty-toss” experiment 14 billion times, and then search among all those, and there is (if I did my calculations correctly) a better than 98% chance that among all of those you will find at least one instance of all threes and fours;  AND you would be incorrect to suspect the die because of this.  (In fact you also have a 98% chance of finding one with all fives and sixes, or with any two specified.)  So it does all even out, but this doesn’t prevent the outliers from existing.

The difference between your scenario and this, is that yours happened right away:  All threes and fours after just one trial of twenty rolls.  THAT is beyond suspicious.  But after twenty billion we begin to expect it.  And for longer strings of things, just mulitply the math up farther.  There is no cutoff on this in math.

Merv - #81593

July 3rd 2013

Error correction:  My second sentence in 81592 above should have read “you WOULD be correct to reject that die.”  Don’t know how that ‘not’ slipped in there.

Merv - #81598

July 3rd 2013

I fired the last set of monkeys and now have a fresh and larger crowd furiously pounding away.  My future posts should be more astute and error free.   (Egads, though!  You all have no idea how long it takes to sift through all that to find the appropriate message to post.)

Jon Garvey - #81600

July 3rd 2013

Roger, Merv, Lou

As in so many of these problems, any fool knows instinctively that a run of 100 heads isn’t going to happen in real life, and the problem is working out why it shouldn’t if all strings are equally likely. In that view, any result we expect is equally unlikely, that is 2^100.

One useful approach, it seems to me, is to realise we’re not looking for specific strings when we instinctively think the result “fixed”, but for the commonness of types of string. Specifically, the astromomically vast majority of strings can only be decribed by writing them out in full. Far, far less common are those that can be specified algorithmically, eg “all heads”, or “alternating heads and tails” etc. In other words it depends on Kolgomorov complexity. We are virtually always (ie, in a lifetime) going to get a complex string, and almost never a describable one.

The situation is even more marked when it comes to a written text of 14 lines - there is even more hyper-astronomical loading of strings in favour of Kolgomorov complexity rather than algorithm-specified order. Of course, mathematically our sonnet has very high Kolgomov complexity, just like a random string. But actually, since you can describe it as “Shakespeare Sonnet XX” I suggest that accounts for the practical impossibility of its actually turning up despite Merv’s zoo, or a bigger multiverse than the one I estimated above.

You could apply the same logic by asking the expectation of getting “the same random string as last time”: you’ve described your 600 character string as, effectively, an algorithm to search a database. The chimps will fail, but you could do it in one if you kept your results.

It’s notoriously hard to define the “meaning” content of information, but I speculate that the above might be applied approximately to OOL, if of course you could pin down what the first life was. Let’s suppose there was found to be an RNA string that self replicated and had no obvious law-driven chemical reason to form - say 100 nucleotide, for the sake of argument. You then ask what proportion of 100-nucleotide RNAs can be described as “self-replicating”.

On the principles above, even present experience is sufficient that you wouldn’t need to check them all out to say “an astronomically small proportion”.

Maths of course is only part of the issue - if there was some easy-peasy chemical effect in the Precambrian that made every one a winner, then there is no problem: you get a sonnet every time, or at least within a standard deviation or two. On the other hand, there are actually far more problems than merely the order: homochirality, stability of RNA in any natural conditions etc… plus, of course, the assumption that life could start from such a simple origin, even if one could exist.

Merv - #81610

July 4th 2013

You are right, Jon, that some sequences (like all heads) do seem inherently special to us—that achieving fifty all-heads tosses in a row just isn’t going to happen in a lifetime if the coin is fair.

But here is another difference that helps us see why the “all-heads” results are really no different from any other *specified* result.

Thought experiment:  I toss a coin 12 times with this result:  THHTHTTHTHHH

Nothing special there.  BUT if I had announced this to you all in advance of the event itself and then proceeded to get this *predicted* result, you would all rightly conclude “Ahhh—Merv’s got a trick up his sleeve and is controlling the coin somehow.  The show is rigged!”

It’s the same event; the same probability (1/2^12) as any other specified string including all heads.  The difference is in the specification, and more importantly: when that specification occured.  As a prediction it is amazing; as an observation it is ‘ho-hum’—unless it is all heads or a Shakespearean sonnet or something like that.

Our real-life problems involving DNA do involve inherently amazing things (like self-replicating molecules).  Evolutionists are no doubt hoping to discover loaded dice, rigged coins.  If we discover the quarter is heavier on the tails face causing that face to be on the bottom more often, or we discover that some agency is eliminating some of the tails results from our observed strings, then we are no longer as amazed at an all-heads string of rolls.  So biologists looks for these agencies (like natural selection, adaptation, and such) that are the “loaded dice”; and of course Christians will always praise the One who did the loading or attended to getting the necessary results in the first place.

Lou Jost - #81629

July 4th 2013

There is another challenge to understanding probabilities in the real world. That is the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which is now one of the most popular interpretations among physicists. Its popularity has nothing to do with philosophy or religion (in fact when it was initially proposed, it was widely regarded as crazy). In this interpretation, all physically possible events happen. So no matter how improbable the origin of life is, there are branches of the world’s state vector where it happens, and we  must be in such a branch.

I know, this interpretation seems to require as much faith as a Christian’s. But this interpretation is a fairly natural inference from the equations and from some recent experiments on the reality of the wave function. Anyway I am not saying we need to invoke that argument in order to explain the origin of life, nor that I believe in it. Just putting it out there.

Life started early on earth, so most scientists think it must not have been an improbable process under the conditions existing at the time.

Jon Garvey - #81650

July 4th 2013


The damper for this (apart from its complete lack of evidence) is that any solution that increases the probabalistic resources enough to make the impossible inevitable destroys probability itself. If completely infeasible events can happen, then they will happen all the time and one has to explain why elephants do not give birth to mice, stones fall upwards once in a while.

In other words we’d be so used to living in a world of exceptions that OOL would be no exception. It’s a counsel of desperation for biology, though Eugene Koonin suggested it to explain DNA replication… even got published in a scientific journal rather than a fantasy magazine for some reason.

Lou Jost - #81667

July 5th 2013

No, that part can be handled. All probabilities will be conditional probabilities, though. Given that there is human life on earth, the probability of X is Y. Given that there are elephants and humans on earth, the probability that an elephant gives birth to a mouse is Z. This probability Z will still be vanishingly low. It will indeed happen in some universes, but these will be a vanishingly small proportion of all the universes, so we will almost surely find ourselves in one of the universes where it does not happen.

By the way, there actually is some evidence for this. That is why physicists have slowly been drawn to it, against their philosophical preferences. As I said, when first proposed by Everett, and championed by John Wheeler and Bryce DeWitt (who were both in my physics dept), nearly everyone thought it was crazy. Now it is more widely accepted.

Jon Garvey - #81672

July 5th 2013


You have no evidence that Z is vanishingly small in any Universe except this. We could well be the only one in which like gives birth to like, for all we can tell from any evidence in this Universe.

But if it were recorded just once in this Universe, it would undermine our understanding of genetics completely. But if there are an infinite number of Universes, in each of which totally inexplicable things happen, than one would expect science to have a very much more provisional feel to it.

But you also forget that if the multiverse is being used to account for OOL as a lucky fluke, then all the Universes in which Z happens regularly have already shared in the lucky fluke of being a universe containing life, so it wouldn’t be at all odd for it to happen here.

It is, it seems to me, still a complete non-explanation of any phenomenon to say that though impossible statistically, it’s OK if we just multiply Universes. Especially when what’s being thus explained away is the most significant feature of our world.

Lou Jost - #81676

July 5th 2013

The multiverse is not the same as the many-worlds interpretation of QM. In the latter, the laws are given and fixed and the same in all branches.

“You have no evidence that Z is vanishingly small in any Universe except this.” Not so, the laws of physics apply in this branch and every branch, and we can calculate the conditional probability of Z given our existence, and it is vanishingly small  (but probably not zero) if Z is “elephant gives birth to mouse”.

The issue of multiverses is different though still very interesting….

Lou Jost - #81685

July 5th 2013

It is interesting to try to think about what detectable differences there might be between these two hypotheses:

1. Our universe is drawn from a random sample of the ensemble of universes suitable for intelligent life.

2. Our universe was designed to support intelligent life.

Cosmologists are seriously thinking about this question. One suggestion is that if #1 is true, the universe would most likely be “mediocre”, with fundamental constants appropriate for life but not exactly optimal, whereas if #2 is true, the constants could actually take their optimal values. There may be other differences. Obviously not an easy thing to think about or test. But discussion of multiverses is a huge subject and belongs in a fine-tuning thread, not this one.

Jon Garvey - #81686

July 5th 2013

Except that

(1) This might be the one mythical universe in which the constants were optimal - and materialists would say. “Hey! Whaddya know - we’re even luckier than we thought.” And

(2) It’s an arrogant man who tells God what tolerances he must put on design - or indeed that he knows every constraint under which the Creator decides to work. Too many TEs and atheists do that already with the confidence of hald-knowledge. For example, what might seem like a suboptimal protein-coding gene suddenly looks more efficient when you realise the sequence is serving half a dozen diffent coding functions by  alternative splicing, RNAs etc.

Lou Jost - #81690

July 5th 2013

What is the alternative? Throw up our hands? I didn’t say the evidence would be iron-clad, but it might tip the balance in favor of one or the other of the alternatives.

GJDS - #81603

July 4th 2013

These arguments from (im)probability and what have you have been done (to death) by everyone who gets involved in arguments on Darwinism. Apart from some recycled humour, and as a scientist, I ask, “is there a way of getting past this non-sense and seek a better understanding of nature, particularly the bio-world. While Darwinsm imo has little to offer in the way we may tackle the big problems bedeviling our planet, I hope that some other approach from experts in the bio-world sciences may ‘get their heads around’ these matter and instead contribute to solving problems. One area is to obtain insights on CO2 fixation and perhaps by following the staggering elegance found in Nature, we may turn the problem of increasing Greenhouse gases into a way to synthesis useful materials for people to use, while saving our environment.

I think such effort would be far more profitable than this endless argument about what Darwin thought and what have you.

Lou Jost - #81628

July 4th 2013

Thinking about evolution/religion and doing something to help save the planet are not mutually exclusive.

GJDS - #81636

July 4th 2013

Gasp - how easy it is for you to miss the point. I have said that ALL of the so called science done on your evolution does not provide anything useful on vast problems such as the impact of increasing levels of CO2. Why not accept what is obvious?

Lou Jost - #81645

July 4th 2013

Actually, to understand the impact of rising CO2,  we must take into account natural selection’s ability (or inability) to adjust species’ behaviors in response to a changing environment.

GJDS - #81647

July 4th 2013

Actually to understand the impact of rising CO2 we trn to the Greenhouse effect - NOT natural selection. If, as you keep claiming, natural selection is a ‘law of science’, all of the adjustments would take place to ensure your fictious selections confrom to such a law. Instead we have a planetary system that we have yet to fully understand, and a species called the human species that (to borrow part of Eddie’s phrase) ‘spits’ on any evolution, let alone natural or unnatural selection.

I can catagorically state that nothing that even seems like a solution to the problem of CO2 is based on. relies on, or can be derived from, any Darwinian thinking. I write this as I carry out computations on ways to reduce (hopefully) emissions to less that 10% of the carbon in a fossil fuel. This is not a philosophical position - it is hard science.

Perhaps a dark humour may be used to suggest that, as the planetary system is destroyed by rising CO2 levels, atheists/evolutionists may cry out, “we may revise some things re Darwin, but the rest is spot on”. Yeah ye, yeah ye. Let the atheists reign!

Lou Jost - #81674

July 5th 2013

Your answer as usual goes right past what I said. I didn’t say evolutionary theory would solve the problem of rising of CO2, I said it will be essential when trying to understand the impact of rising CO2.

GJDS - #81677

July 5th 2013

I will give you marks for an obstinate attitude - and hubris to the very end. I suppose you have all sorts of scientific proofs that evolutionary theory will do that. And here I am, spending money and time doing decades of research, without this essential theory of yours. Lou, I cannot say this in a kinder way, so here goes - you have deluded yourself and you are determined to show this to the world.

Can you even allow the possibility (with your open mind and empirical evidence driven intellect) that if I thought for one moment evolutionary theory would help in understanding the impact of CO2, that I and others would not jump into it ‘feet first?’. My faith would demand it - but perhaps you have more imagined laws of science and proofs that we have not been able to obtain, until you came along.

What is it about you Dawinists that prevents you from accepting plain facts when they are presented to you - even better still, why indulge in such nonsense? I am not debating this point; I am stating a plain fact that evolutionary theory has not, and cannot, be of ANY use in research on the impact of rising CO2 levels (NOTE< ANY USE<<<). Why not read the volumes writen on the subject - there are free reports provided by the UN body. It is good to be informed before trying to project yourself as the authority on all matters scientific, philosophical and theological.

Lou Jost - #81682

July 5th 2013

“I am not debating this point; I am stating a plain fact that evolutionary theory has not, and cannot, be of ANY use in research on the impact of rising CO2 levels (NOTE< ANY USE<<<).”

You have quite a sense of humor. I suppose you would also deny (in all capital letters) that evolutionary theory has any use for evaluating the impact of  pesticide application? For you, evolution of resistant bugs is not possible…the farmers who have experienced resistance will enjoy your joke.

For you, evolution can be of no use for analyzing impact of drug choice  (for you, the rapid evolution of drug-resistant malaria is just another Darwinist/liberal lie), etc.

Changing environment will certainly drive evolutionary change in many organisms. Species are not static and immutable. Hire a biologist for that part of your work.


GJDS - #81694

July 5th 2013

Changing the topic under discussion will not do - if you are interested in facts, see my post below.

I can only say I am glad someone like you is not in my group; if this were not the case, I suspect that after numerous failures and a waste of lots of money and time, the group would finaly realise the utterly useless approach that evolutionists try to foist on us. But then the damage would be done - still you would say someone took notice of Darwin, so it must be worhtwhile!!??

Lou Jost - #81695

July 5th 2013

If you have a biologist on your team (which I am beginning to doubt), I feel sorry for him or her.

melanogaster - #81702

July 5th 2013

Me too.

GJDS - #81711

July 6th 2013

Do not so wickedly - I do not have a biologist for you to feel sorry for. I do have a collegue who is an atheist, and I must remeber to mention the pity you have expressed - good for a laugh this. Funny thing is, he would be upset if we took on a biologist/evolutionist. Something about waste of money.

By the way, the Uni Depat is running a seminar on multivariant analysis relevent to ecosystems and the environment. Quite a software package from what I hear. I dare not state to much, but (gasp and wonder) not a speaker or discussion group on evolution - let alone working with this fanciful ‘law of natural slecetion’. Perhaps these chaps are harsh, ill mannered etc non-scientist while poor Lou and the mega-monstrosity are the real deal. Who knows?

Lou Jost - #81738

July 6th 2013

Why does it not surprise me that you don’t have a biologist working with you?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #81611

July 4th 2013


I am in total agreement with you. 

It is my view that what we, meaning BioLogos, need to do is show how Ecology and the genetic part of Darwinian thinking belong together as the basis of a whole theory of how our bioworld works. 

We need to undrstand how God works to create and regulate God’s Creation.  We need to combine the concern for ethics and salvation of Christians with the concern for the truth and good science of non-Christians.

What we need to do is be willing to seek new answers, rather than be content with disproving the old answers.  God works in a mysterious way His wonders to perform, which means in part that we do not understand how God works.

Still while some sort of randomness is part of the universe, the ideas that randomness is a primary source of order in our world is prepostorous and easily refuted. 

The isue is not whether the universe is ordered or not, but How is it ordered?  The question should not be whether we can work together or not, but How can we work together?      

Lou Jost - #81637

July 4th 2013

Eddie, I really want to discuss your teleology scenarios more.  Let’s consider them as purely scientific theories and see how they fare.

From the start, they have a big mark against them. One of the best indicators that a theory has captured something true about the universe is that it leads to surprising predictions and new results and new insights. A really good theory is productive. It generates lots of additional knowledge and inspires new research programs that lead to more discoveries and new theories and, often, new modifications of the original theory. We see none of that in ID or any teleological explanation of life in the 150 yrs after Darwin.The journal BIO-Complexity, allegedly a showcase of the ID research program, publishes a handful of articles per year, most not original empirical research. Two articles so far this year. None of them cited much by any other articles in science. This is not what a productive research program looks like. They have 30 people on their boar…what do they do with their time? Not research, apparently.

That aside, let’s look at some of your teleological scenarios. First, one thing that is absolutely clear is that teleology, if it existed, would not replace Darwinian evolution. There is no either-or here. There is variation, lots of it, and natural selection on this variation is an inevitable law of science (to use GJDS’s term). So the question will be, is there evidence of a teleological influence on Darwinian evolution?

We have to be concrete about the kind of teleology under consideration before we answer this. Let’s suppose the first cell was designed, and everything else happened according to the known laws of physics. I think this is your “grandfather clock” scenario, if I understand it correctly. I think under this scenario, it is very unlikely that humans would come out of it if we “ran the tape again”. There are too many contingent accidents that shifted evolution in certain directions. So if someone is proposing this for theistic reasons, I don’t think it would serve their purpose. But it could explain life in general, but only at the cost of introducing a designer/builder which itself requires explanation. It is only pushing the mystery of the origin of life one step farther back, not solving it, as I am sure you know.

Another kind of teleology posits an organizing force in nature. If assemblages of matter were goal-directed, this involves violations of physics (unlike the previous scenario), but perhaps does not require a designer (which is an advantage of this scenario in terms of its explanatory power). Again it wouldn’t necessarily produce humans. I think there is evidence against such a force (or at least, evidence that it is much less powerful than Darwinian evolution), because many lineages of animals and plants have become much simpler rather than more complex over time. Internal parasites are good examples. Evidence against the existence of specific goals in evolution is that evolution on different continents, and on islands, has produced very divergent things, even when physical habitats are similar. Chance seems to play a huge role.

Human-like creatures only evolved in one lineage, on one continent; human-like things  never evolved even in other primate lineages on Madagascar or South America. This is evidence against evolution having the general goal of producing humans. It is also a bit of evidence against Denton’s view that the universe is designed specifically to produce human-like creatures. Only a tiny corner of one planet managed to produce human-like creatures, and that only once, in spite of a universe supposedly optimized for human evolution.

In these cases, the Darwinian  evolutionary theory without extra teleology seems to describe the actual pattern of biodiversity better than the scenarios with teleology. Origin of life is a separate problem, and I don’t pretend to have a solution to it. Positing a designer does not solve that problem, though. 

GJDS - #81643

July 4th 2013

I must object to the blantently wrong (and dishonest) reference to what I have posted. I have said repeatedly that no-one has given a scientific law termed ‘natural selection’. I have given references, including Rosengerg, to show that this is a semantic formulation that has been demonstrated to be inadequate (some models work, others do not). I insist that this ‘inevitable law of science’ statement referred to me, be removed, as it is obviously incorrect.

I can only say that this atheist must be desperate to say what he has said.

Lou Jost - #81644

July 4th 2013

GJDS, I wasn’t saying that you think natural selection is a law of science. Quite the contrary, you keep demanding to be shown a “law of science” in evolutionary theory, and insisting that there aren’t any. “Law of science” is a phrase you use a lot. It is MY claim that natural selection is a “law of science” in the sense you used the term.

GJDS - #81648

July 4th 2013

I reject your explanation and again state that you are indulging in error - and your error regarding this fanciful ‘law of science’ is recognised by scientists in all walsk of life - your again demostrate your dogmatic possition re Darwin. Not the behaviour of someone with an ‘open mind’.

Lou Jost - #81666

July 5th 2013

I gave you a mathematical proof that alleles conveying higher fitness will, on the average, increase in the population at a known rate. This is also intuitively obvious. Fuller proofs are available in any genetics textbook. It is indeed a law of science.

GJDS - #81678

July 5th 2013

Obstinate to the very end

Lou Jost - #81681

July 5th 2013

Yep, but always open to refutation if you can point to where my earlier haploid moss example was mistaken.

Lou Jost - #81646

July 4th 2013

Another noteworthy feature of teleological hypotheses is the lack of seriousness of the ID or theistic community in testing or developing these hypotheses. The situation is similar to the creationists’ treatment of creation/flood theories. They don’t take their own ideas seriously. There is no consensus teleological or ID explanation for biodiversity, nor debate about fine details or differences; as long as evolution isn’t “Darwinian”, that is enough for them. It is like they are play-acting at being scientists. In real science, people argue with each other about every detail of a theory, and work hard to find observations that can distinguish between competing variants. I don’t see much of that here.

Eddie - #81649

July 4th 2013

Well, for one thing, if you thought that living organisms were designed, you would predict that a high percentage of the DNA had a definite function, either for coding or for something else.  Whereas if you thought that organisms arose through random shuffling of genes, filtered by natural selection, they you would expect a smaller percentage to have a definite function—especially if you believed that a large number of mutations were “neutral” and therefore could accumulate unused, as free riders within the genome, since they wouldn’t be selected against.  So there’s an example where an ID perspective would in principle encourage people to be skeptical about views that vast stretches of the genome are useless passengers or broken old junk in the attic that isn’t harmful enough for natural selection eliminate.  It would encourage people to look vigorously for function.

At present, it looks as if the balance is tipping from “probably most of the non-coding DNA is without function” to “probably most of the non-coding DNA is functional”—which is what someone working on design premises would predict.  (And no, I am not claiming that it was ID researchers specifically who uncovered all the new uses for DNA, but we are talking about theoretical expectations based on different models, and so I think the point is sound.)

An ID perspective would also make one hesitant to quickly accept the idea of “vestigial organs.”  The first assumption would be that all organs, or the vast majority, have some function, even if the function is unknown.  And again, as far as I’ve heard, the number of alleged vestigial organs has been steadily shrinking as functions have been identified.  Which is what a design theorist would expect.

An ID perspective would make one skeptical of claims for knock-down, drag-out “proofs” of “bad design” (of the sort that a Darwinian, cobble-together process would often produce—cf. Miller, Collins, etc.).  So when people claim that the wiring of the eyes is designed badly, etc., a design theorist would take a more comparative approach, and say, “Yes, this feature is not ideal, BUT ...” and if alternatives, which seemed to solve one problem with greater efficiency, would actually produce OTHER problems which were just as great, then the claim of “bad design” would lose its force. I’m told—but I claim no knowledge—that in at least some cases where the scientific/medical community used to think there was “bad design” they now think that the existing system is as efficient as can be expected once all engineering tradeoffs are taken into account.  I don’t affirm this as a fact, but if it is a fact, it is what a design perspective would predict.

I suspect that someone who knew biology better than I do could come up with many more ways in which a design perspective might provide a useful heuristic.

Regarding your point about Denton, his thesis is not that nature is everywhere on on every patch of ground on every planet trying to produce humanlike creatures.  His thesis is that nature is striving to produce humanlike creatures in at least some places in the universe—and of course that entails all the supporting cast of non-human creatures, which are required for ecological purposes.

Of course, saying that “nature is striving” is an animistic metaphor, which I don’t think Denton uses very often.  The metaphor he prefers is that of the computer program—the products of evolution are, as it were, the products of the most complex computer program ever written, and the hardware and the software required to make it work span the cosmos.

This distinguishes Denton’s view from that of vitalistic evolutionists such as Bergson, who spoke of a “life force” guiding evolution.  Most biologists would scoff at the idea of such a “force”—but because of the rise of a computer-driven society, and of the information theory that sustains it, the computer program metaphor is more attractive to some scientists.

Denton’s thesis does not require that on every planet where life evolves, humanlike creatures will eventually evolve.  Conditions vary from planet to planet.  But because there are a vast number of planets capable of supporting life, the probability that humanlike creatures will appear on at least one planet, and probably many more, approaches one.

But I’ll tell you right now that I don’t enjoy conversations where someone who has not read a thinker tries to get a shorthand version of the thinker and then jumps quickly into criticism.  I think that when a thinker spends decades of his life studying biochemistry and medicine (and doing much research in things such as the genetics of retinal cancer) and reading the whole history of evolutionary theory (not just the theory of the last 20-30 years) and vast amounts of earth sciences and cosmology as well, and articulates a vision of evolution of his own based on that combination of technical science and broader insight, it’s only respectful to read his full presentation before jumping into faultfinding.  If he has put thousands of hours into his synthesis, it’s not unreasonable to ask other scientists to spend 10-20 hours reading it.  I made a point of reading all of Darwin’s Origin of Species, at only a few pages a day, slowly and carefully, and looking up technical terms as I went along, before I started finding fault with Darwin.  (And I very much like Darwin even though I disagree with much of him, because he is such a good writer and has such a disciplined mind in many ways.)  I read Dawkins’s Blind Watchmaker with equal slowness and care.  As earlier I had read the cosmic evolutionary books of Sagan etc.  So I really would like you to read Denton’s second book, and I want to put off debating or defending his ideas until you have.

Lou Jost - #81673

July 5th 2013

Eddie, I’ll break my response up into small parts. First a broad comment. It was really important to me to start with concrete scenarios. This is the only way we can make progress in evaluating them. Your observations in your first few paragraphs do not address either of the scenarios I was discussing (and I know scenarios I discussed do not exhaust the possibilities, this was only the first installment). If the first cell was designed, and after that we had naturalistic evolution, some junk would be likely in today’s gemomes. If the universe is designed for humans, and after that everything is naturalistic, the prediction is again that some junk is likely. Same with vestigial organs, in both scenarios.

My scenario 2 was not specifically Denton’s, and I did not claim it was. It is still a scenario that needs discussion. I did mention that the evidence also counted slightly against Denton’s view (”...a bit of evidence against Denton’s view…”). I did read Denton, as I told you earlier; not his book but his much more recent writing in BIO-complexity. So do not criticize me for not reading Denton. (I’ve also read other stuff by and about him.) My statement of Denton’s thesis was the same as yours. I agree that he does not predict human-like creatures will evolve everywhere, but I still think the actual story of human evolution on this planet counts a bit against his thesis. I agree with you that it is not a disproof; it could be that earth is not the optimal place, and that other planet were the ones that really fulfilled the goals of the designer (though I doubt that will go over well with religious people). And perhaps, in many millions of years, something human-like might have evolved in the New World as well.

But I just wanted to stick to a couple of scenarios at a time, and examine them. I probably should not have mentioned Denton in my second scenario.

I do think that it should be IDers’ job to gather and compare scenarios. Surely somebody has done this?

melanogaster - #81714

July 6th 2013

“At present, it looks as if the balance is tipping from “probably most of the non-coding DNA is without function” to “probably most of the non-coding DNA is functional””

Most? No, it isn’t, Eddie, not even close. It only looks that way because you pathologically avoid the evidence and misuse basic terminology. 

“—which is what someone working on design premises would predict.”

Yet AFAIK no such person predicted it! They just jumped on the ENCODE bandwagon based on the hype in press releases. Why is that?

“(And no, I am not claiming that it was ID researchers specifically who uncovered all the new uses for DNA, but we are talking about theoretical expectations based on different models, and so I think the point is sound.)”

The problem with your wishful thinking is that you’ve got the most fundamental quantitative facts wrong. The other problem is that NO new functions are being uncovered by “ID researchers,” which shows that even if you had the facts right, your dichotomy is still bogus.

No one is doing ID research, Eddie. It’s all just bloviation. Let’s say that they were just not bright enough to get into the field. Are they flocking into the field after the fact? Are you?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #81639

July 4th 2013

The results of a new study concerning the genome of the mealybug found in an article in the 7/4/13 NY Times entitled: How Simple Can Life Get?  It’s Complicated.

It shows that this insect is dependent on two symbiotes for its existence, and its genome contains genes from 6 other different species.  This indicates that its development was based on a mutual symbiotic process as opposed to the linear trial and error Darwinistic view.

This study confirms the ecological views of Lynn Margulis and others.  Symbiosis appears to be a form of change which is more common than mutation. 


Lou Jost - #81640

July 4th 2013

Horizontal gene transfer is indeed turning out to be more common than people thought. More exciting sources of variation for natural selection to work with!

Jon Garvey - #81652

July 4th 2013

Horizontal gene transfer is indeed turning out to be more common than people thought. More exciting sources of variation for natural selection to work with!

But Lou, we don’t need that variation, because it’s always been known that point mutations would give all the variation needed for everything that’s occurred in evolution. Those who doubted it a few years ago were labelled as gainsayers and anti-science.

But since the theory appears to remain unassailable (and all-encompassing) so long as there is variation from any source and at least some natural selection, how about:

Divine mutation selection is indeed turning out to be more common than people thought. More exciting sources of variation for natural selection to work with!

Looks like we still have a watertight theory.

Lou Jost - #81665

July 5th 2013

As you know, Darwin’s theory does not say anything about mutations. It is based on actually looking at the amount of variation (regardless of mechanism) and directional change in artificially selected species of plants and animals over short periods of time, and observing that natural selection was analogous, and that this process seemed more than adequate to explain biodiversity if continued over millions of years. This process, based on known mechanisms that did not require miracles or divine intervention, explained and tied together a vast body of observations, and was testable, and made surprising predictions which have often been verified in great detail. It did not matter what the source of the variation was, as long as the elements of heredity were discrete.

Genetics fleshes it out. Point mutations could never have been the whole story, as this does not explain length variation in the genome. I am not sure if people used to say that point mutations were the whole story. They are sufficient for the most commonly seen (not all) of the kinds of changes we see in short-term lab experiments. Gene duplication events are a rich source of novelty and have been known for a while. Lots more natural sources of variation are known now, and  new ones makes direct divine intervention more and implausible.

Perhaps there are still those who want to blame Zeus for thunderbolts, but physics shows Zeus is unnecessary, even though we cannot disprove the idea that maybe, mixed in with natural thunderbolts, there are a few actually thrown by Zeus. As we learn more and more about the physics of lightning (quite a complicated subject, by the way, as there are unexpectedly many varieties of lightning, as we now know from things like observations from space), the bolts thrown by Zeus seem more and more unnecessary to explain the phenomenon. But the initial physical explanation of lightning in terms of natural electricity, with its verified predictions and its tying together of many seemingly unrelated observations, rightly convinced most people (indeed, everyone except stalwart believers in Zeus or competing mythological beings) of the correctness of the overall theory and the superfluousness of Zeus et al in this particular phenomenon. Someone could rightly express confidence that Zeus was not needed, even before every phenomenon related to lightning had been figured out.

I imagine you will say everything is all god anyway (but just the god you happen to believe in, no Zeus or Hindu monkey-gods allowed).

Jon Garvey - #81675

July 5th 2013

Hanuman the monkey god is a lesser member of a pantheon and an enemy of the demon King, another lesser deity and devotee of Shiva, the Destroyer. In Hinduism this world is maya, illusion.

Zeus is chief god of the Greeks, but is so lacking in authority that he couldn’t even prevent Prometheus stealing fire from him for man. He is also the grandson of Gaia (earth) and Uranus (sky), so could hardly be responsible for creating them.

The point being that science depends on one harmonious reality with consistent laws, and polytheism breeds competitive and changing governance of the Universe. That’s why science arose in the Christian world - Islam already having succumbed to occasionalism under the influence of al-Ghazali.

In other words, western science is a product of Christianity, not polytheism, and it’s no accident. So there are very rational grounds for being specific about the God who created all things, even if there weren’t non-scientific grounds for faith in him.

GJDS - #81679

July 5th 2013


I suspect that Lou will give us his unique (and obviously deep) view on all religions, what they mean, their history, and after this, show with blinding clarrity why Christianity is just another version of his fanciful notions of religion. What it must be like, to know with such depth everything that has taken place on this earth, and all of humanity (in case Lou responds - this is my unique sense of humour Lou, so do not get all insulted again). And oh, I nearly forgot, it is all due to evolution - emmergence and wait until the octopus finally ousts mankind - then we will learn something.

Lou Jost - #81680

July 5th 2013

No offense taken, I am starting to get used to your humor.

Lou Jost - #81689

July 5th 2013

The very concept of teleology you advocate comes comes most famously from a polytheistic Zeus-worshipping culture. And Christianity itself is not spotlessly monotheistic, with Satan having some power to interfere with creation and screw things up.

Whatever the historic roots of science (and some of those roots are undoubtedly found in ancient polytheistic Greece), modern science crosses multiple cultures and religions. When science does help us distinguish the fact-claims of one religion from that of another, Christianity is often on the losing side.

Eddie - #81691

July 5th 2013

Just a historical note:

Those parts of modern science which come to us from ancient Greece come to us from the parts of ancient Greek thinking which were the furthest from conventional Greek mythology and polytheism: from atomism and Epicureanism, which were effectively atheist, from Stoicism which was close to pantheism or monism; from Aristotle who never discusses “the gods” and whose God is the opposite of the mythological gods in that he does not act and you do not pray to him or expect help from him; and from Plato whose portrait of creation demotes the mythological gods to mere servants of the purposes of the Demiurge.  Modern science doesn’t spring from the popular religious practice of the ancient Greeks or from the writings of their poets.

I don’t know where Christianity has ever been falsified by science.  I know of certain passages in the Bible which cannot, if taken literally, be true, because they conflict with geographical or scientific knowledge.  I know of certain beliefs widely held by Christians at times in the past have been disproved by science, but those views came from Aristotle or other sources and were actually not required by Christianity.  But I don’t know of anything central to Christian faith which has been disproved by science.  

History is another matter.  Depending on what parts of the Biblical narratives Christians insist upon as required to be historically true, it could be that the evidence of history would conflict with Christian faith.  But if we are talking about natural science, I can’t think of anything obvious.

Of course, this is the same with some other religions.  Depending on how you understand Hinduism—whether you emphasize millions of Gods or the Brahman of Advaita Vedanta—Hinduism can be in conflict with, or perfectly harmonizable with, modern science.  There are good modern scientists who are Hindus of the Brahman or Kshatriya class, as there are good modern scientists who are Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Greek Orthodox, etc. There probably aren’t as many good modern scientists who are low-caste Hindus wrapped up in cults of various gods, or who are Pentecostals or members of Christian Science or Mormons.    But what that shows is not that science conflicts with religion, but that science conflicts with religions that deny a unifying principle behind events in the world, and see the world as either a conflict of warring spirits with individual wills, or as ruled by a supreme God who is capricious and doesn’t exert his will in an orderly but in an arbitrary way.

There seems to be a historical correlation between “high religion” (whether monotheistic or pantheistic) and high development of the sciences (in the West, in India, and arguably in China with its notion of the Tao).  Religion seems to positively help, or at least not hinder, scientific development when it is of a certain character.  And in the Christian West, I think the historical evidence that theology positively helped science is overwhelming, as the historical work of Collingwood, Oakley, Hooykaas, Duhem and many others has shown.

I would also add that to speak of Greek mythology’s view of the world as “teleological” is very obscuring.  If all that is meant is that “there are Gods who intervene” then “teleological” too precise a term to deal with such a broad general notion.  When we speak of teleology in nature we mean either that particular parts of nature are directed to appropriate ends (as in Aristotle), or we mean that the overall development of nature (e.g., via an evolutionary process) is directed to a certain end posited by a supreme mind.  Neither of these uses of “teleological” applies to the Greek Gods.  None of them had the power to direct the whole universe to certain ends, not even Zeus—at least, not until much later in antiquity, when Zeus had ceased be the Zeus of mythology and had become a quasi-monotheistic concept.  And of course the Aristotelian idea of telos in nature was incompatible with the notion of capricious gods running around making anything turn into anything.

Part of what bedevils this discussion is that we are arguing about teleology when we haven’t yet defined it.  I tend to take a certain understanding for granted because the philosophy of nature / history of science is one of my fields of study.  But not everyone may define the word as I do.

Teleology comes from “telos”—the Greek word for end or goal.  If there is teleology in nature, then either it is local (as in acorn tends to oak) or cosmic (as in molecules tend to man); and of course it could be both.  

Denton is positing a cosmic teleology, and to some extent local teleology (though the local is explained in non-Aristotelian terms).  Aristotelians posit a local teleology, but not a cosmic one, since they do not believe in creation of the existence of a governing universal will.  Bergsonians of the original type posit a quasi-teleology of the “life force” but it is a teleology whose ends are malleable and varied.  Bergson later in life, and later Bergsonians such as de Chardin, try to Christianize this notion to yield a full-fledge cosmic teleology, with man (and possibly other intelligent beings) as the end of the cosmic process ordained by God.

There are many conceivable ways of combining teleological concepts with an evolutionary process; but diehard Cartesian-Baconian reductionists will reject them all as superfluous, believing that mechanical-materialistic efficient causation is entirely competent to explain all organic change.  

Denton is worth reading as one example of a way of thinking of evolution teleologically.  I don’t say his is the best possible way of doing this, but it’s the current way I know the best.  There are also people such as Conway Morris.  Conway Morris’s ideas are apparently couched within a more orthodox neo-Darwinian framework and therefore might be more appealing to you, Lou.  But as I haven’t read his book (Life’s Solution) I can’t say more.

What I do know is that if I were a biologist (which I’m obviously not), I would spend at least as much time thinking about and reading people like Paley, Chambers, Whewell, Darwin, Lamarck, Bergson, Spencer, Gould, Monod, Gaylord Simpson, Lecomte du Nouy, Denton, Conway Morris, Shapiro, some of the Altenberg people—“big picture” biologists, if you will, who work on the boundaries between biology, physics, cosmology, philosophy, and theology—as I would reading technical material on genetic mechanisms and evolutionary clocks and so on.  To me it is the “big picture” that makes any science or field of study worth pursuing.  I suspect that you conceive of the study of biology more technically and narrowly, and that this is at the root of many of our disagreements.    

Lou Jost - #81722

July 6th 2013

Eddie, my comment about polytheistic Greece contributing to science was a response to Jon’s remarkable statement “In other words, western science is a product of Christianity, not polytheism, and it’s no accident. So there are very rational grounds for being specific about the God who created all things…” I did not mean that polytheism per se had any role in promoting science, just that (as you confirm) science is not the product of Christianity.

When I say Christianity has often come out on the losing side of science, I mean that things most Christians believe (special creation, global flood, Adam and Eve as first people) are falsified. But let’s not discuss that, we both know there are ways to get around this.

“Part of what bedevils this discussion is that we are arguing about teleology when we haven’t yet defined it.” Yes, I agree, and that is why I started with two very specific scenarios above. Unfortunately in your criticism you didn’t take their specificity seriously and made predictions based on other scenarios. Your predictions about vestigial limbs and junk DNA do not follow from my two scenarios,and as I argued in the original comment, they do not follow from any realistic ID scenario, because ordinary naturalistic evolution will also happen whether or not the first cells were designed, or the universe was designed. Your predictions would only follow if all species were specially created very recently, so that messy naturalistic processes did not have time to make junk or vestigial organs.

So again, I stress the importance of having a clear hypothesis, and I find it telling that the ID community doesn’t have much agreement on this.

Your last comments sound condescending Eddie, though that may not have been your intention. Yes, I think it is really important to get the details right in a science, but I’ve spent my whole life on interdisciplinary big-picture study, probably in at least as much depth as you. I think one root of our disagreement is your willingness to accept arguments based on personal incredulity, which in turn is based on a certain Darwinian fundamentalism similar to the Biblical fundamentalism you attribute to me.

Eddie - #81730

July 6th 2013

Hi, Lou:

I didn’t mean to be condescending at all.  It’s just that most of your arguments tend to focus on the details of processes and mechanisms and testing hypotheses and mathematical modelling etc.  You don’t seem to talk about the larger borderline biology/philosophy questions unless I push the discussion in that direction, whereas other biologists, such as Denton or Scott Turner or even Gould or an atheist like Gaylord Simpson seem to make those larger questions more prominent in their presentation of evolution.  Whenever you have spoken for “evolutionary thought” or “evolutionary science” you have tended to push the discussion in the direction of “known mechanisms” etc.  Even now you seem to me to be trying to get me to somehow conceptualize teleology as a mechanism that can be tested for, rather than as a useful overall perspective that biologists should not reject out of hand.

I’m not denying that you’ve read or thought about the other things I’ve mentioned, but they don’t seem to be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of “evolution”.  Yet they are the first thing that comes to the mind of ID people such as Denton, Sternberg, and Behe when they think of “evolution.”

If you browse through the comments on Panda’s Thumb, and Pharyngula, and the reviews of ID books on Amazon, you will very rarely find the representatives of “evolution” talking about philosophical issues in biology at all.  All they want to talk about is genomes and fossils and exaptation and drift and so on.  They aren’t even much interested in the historical aspects of evolutionary theory; the vast majority of them have never read Darwin or Wallace and have no intention of doing so.  (For that matter, one has the strong impression that they have not read the historical chapters in Gould’s Structure of Evolutionary Theory, or Jacques Monod’s book, or the borad thematic writings of Gaylord Simpson or Mayr.)  The vast majority of them are sure that Darwin disproved Paley though they’ve never read a line of Paley; none of them will acknowledge that there are serious, major conceptual issues in evolutionary theory today (as the Altenberg meeting focused on); they all treat evolutionary theory as a straightforward scientific field like fluid dynamics or electrochemistry, well-established with mainly the details to clean up.  I find the whole ethos of the anti-ID movement on the internet to be lacking in intellectual and academic depth and breadth.  It seems to consist largely of yahoos who worship a crude version of “science” and enjoy attacking creationism and ID as a kind of blood-sport, all the more enjoyable because, hidden behind pseudonyms, they can say vile and dishonest things which they would never say if their wives, parents, friends, teaches, employers, etc. were listening and knew who they were.   I’m trying to elevate the discussion to something higher than “science rules” and “religion is crap.”

I’ve been appealing to you because you seem to be more thoughtful than the typical, atheist, materialist Darwin-groupies that dominate the anti-ID side.  I’m not expecting you to entirely agree with me but I hope to at least get you to see that someone can argue for teleology in nature without being an idiot or scientifically ignorant.  I certainly won’t get an agreement like that from the vast majority of internet anti-Darwinists.

I do not accept arguments based on personal incredulity.  You are mischaracterizing my view.  I think, rather, that classical neo-Darwinism was based entirely on personal credulity—the belief that by establishing minor degrees of microevolution empirically, and then projecting that back into the past with mathematical techniques, one could establish that macroevolution could have been achievable by random mutations and natural selection alone.  I think that was never credible, yet from the 1930s through to the 1970s it was preached as uncontestable science by the world’s leading biologists.  At the 1966 Wistar Conference—whose proceedings I’ve read—the neo-Darwinists dug in their heels and wouldn’t yield an inch to the criticism of their mathematical models by world-class physicists and engineers from MIT and Los Alamos whose math training was at least as advanced as theirs and probably a good deal more advanced.  Yet in the past few decades, as it has become clear that that the pure ND model was too crude and couldn’t account for the phenomena, new mechanisms have been suggested and things have been modified, and no one would now defend the crude neo-Darwinism of the Wistar era.  Yet the gang at Wistar—ranging from the elderly Waddington and senior Mayr down to a young Lewontin—were sure that their model was fundamentally adequate.  So when today’s evolutionary biologists are sure that their model is fundamentally adequate, why should I believe them?  The certainty of a reigning orthodoxy is no guarantee whatever of truth.

My argument is not “I can’t imagine how the first cell could have come about purely by blind natural processes, therefore it required design.”  My argument is that those who believe that the first cell did come about purely by blind natural processes, and have dedicated their research lives to proving it, have so far utterly failed to prove their contention.  Their conclusion is speculative, their arguments are sketchy, and they are conjecturing in an area for which there is little reliable data.  (Even the composition of the early earth atmosphere is not agreed upon—“consensus science” has changed its mind on that question since the days of Miller and Urey, and may change its mind again.)  I have no scientific or academic obligation to disprove such a weak conjecture.  If the origin of life guys want me to believe it, they had better start producing plausible chains of events that are confirmed by lab chemistry, not wishful thinking generated (in most cases, if people would just be honest) by the desire, at all costs, to keep the divine foot out of the door.

I’m sorry if I misunderstood your request for ID predictions.  The answers I gave were in good faith, but obviously you wanted something different, and I didn’t pick up on that.  No evasion was intended.  

Regarding teleology, I guess I am far more interested in having a philosophical discussion with you and determining how you really feel about it on a priori grounds than bickering about mechanisms of teleology and tests for teleology.  I have a feeling you just plain don’t like the idea, and if I’m right I’d like to know why you don’t like it.  Are you determined to find a seamless non-teleological explanation for everything?  Is that an outcome that would be both emotionally and intellectually satisfying for you?  Would you be personally and intellectually distressed if it started to look as if there really was teleology?  Would you be even more personally and intellectually distressed if the teleology looked more and more like the imposition of order by a designing mind?

I mean, you have the account of Sagan and the account of Denton.  Both are evolutionary, and both naturalistic.  No miracles in either account.  But the one account is teleological and the other non-teleological.  You definitely prefer the non-teleological account, even in advance of having read Denton’s full-blown and clear teleological account.  And yes, I know you will say that you haven’t seen evidence for teleology etc. but I can say the same thing:  I’m not persuaded that a completely non-teleological account can explain things satisfactorily.  So the question is why I’m open to teleology and you are highly suspicious of it.

You can blame it on my religion, but I can blame the same thing on your atheism.  And probably we would both be partly right.  What I can’t get you to admit is that what we are as human beings, our total vision of life, our total commitments, influences everything, including our theoretical conclusions, including how we do science.  Yet you keep representing these debates as all about data, models, testing, evidence, etc.  I simply don’t accept that anyone is neutral in that way.  And if you keep insisting (or at least strongly suggesting) that your religious commitments influence your scientific judgment either not at all or only perhaps to a very small extent, we are not going to get anywhere.  You can’t keep suggesting (directly or indirectly) to Jon and myself that we are heavily and unduly influenced by our religious assumptions or beliefs to be hostile to certain forms of evolutionary theory, and expect us to believe that you aren’t equally strongly influenced by your own anti-religious beliefs.  That just won’t fly.  And it would also be condescending, to use your term above, because it would imply that you are much more in control of your emotions and wishes, much more “objective,” whereas we are so deeply invested emotionally in our religion that we don’t have the discipline to look at the evidence of nature fairly and objectively.  

Lou Jost - #81773

July 8th 2013

“What I can’t get you to admit is that what we are as human beings, our total vision of life, our total commitments, influences everything, including our theoretical conclusions, including how we do science. ” Eddie, I have never disagreed with that. But I think iyou are making some false equivalences in your comment. I am under time pressures again, will try to answer in detail soon.

Jon Garvey - #81713

July 6th 2013

Christianity itself is not spotlessly monotheistic…

Lou, you really were badly taught when you were thinking of becoming a priest. Somebody really told you that Christianity is dualistic and that Satan is an independent agent? Did you never read Job?

I admit that since, probably, Wesley’s time an idea crept into much Christianity that Satan somehow was responsible for “fallen creation”, and that Creationists and others take it as read, but even the idea of fallen creation itself was absent for 1500 years of the Church’s history until early modern humanism’s influence on theology (I have work in progress on that). It is not taught in the Bible.

Anyway, it seems that one of my favourite bloggers has been covering the ground of this sub-thread recently Here’s a link - I particularly like the tongue-in-cheek “scientistic proof of God” at the end, since I wrote something similar, though less refined, myself a while ago. 

Lou Jost - #81721

July 6th 2013

“Not spotlessly monotheistic”... I am just saying that there is another supernatural player in the background of your religion, and also to a lesser degree in Judaism since the Babylonian captivity. Satan was real enough in your story to lead Jesus to a mountaintop and talk business with him. I didn’t use the word “dualistic”, that was your interpolation, but I stand by my statement that there is more than one supernatural player, even though not on an equal footing.

But that’s not important to me. What is important is your astonishing claim that since science flourished in the western world, the Christian mythology must be true. Some aspects of science developed under Islam, others in non-Christian ancient Greece.

One could just as well argue that Christianity is false and Judaism is the correct religion, since Jews form the ethnic group that has most distinguished itself in science (especially fundamental physics).

I’ll look at those links later….probably I’ll be frothing at the mouth and will have more to say then.


Lou Jost - #81723

July 6th 2013

Well, I’m frothing already, couldn’t even get through the first sections of either of them without grinding my teeth. Will get back to them later if I have time, but yours starts out with the assertion that the multiverse idea cannot be tested and counts as a myth. Above I showed that this is not necessarily true, People used to say that about theories of the origin of the universe too, and about the existence of neutrinos, and lots of other things. As cosmologist Susskind says, in relation to this accusation, “In each case that I described—quarks, inflation, Darwinian evolution—the accusers were making the mistake of underestimating human ingenuity. It only took a few years to indirectly test the quark theory with great precision. It took 20 years to do the experiments that confirmed inflation. And it took 100 years or more to decisively test Darwin (Some would even say that it has yet to be tested). The powerful methods that biologists would discover a century later were unimaginable to Darwin and his contemporaries. What people usually mean when they make the accusation of un-falsifiability is that they, themselves, don’t have the imagination to figure out how to test the idea. 

Eddie - #81726

July 6th 2013


No competent historian denies that major elements of science came from Greece, and that Greek science was developed and transmitted by Islam.  Certainly it is true that without the Greeks the West would not have had science.  But the historical argument is not that Greece made no contribution; it is that the Greek contribution wasn’t sufficient.  It wasn’t until the 17th century that modern science really got going, and that was under Christian auspices.  The early modern scientists all took it for granted, as the Greeks did not, that nature was created by an omnipotent God who gave it its laws as well as its matter.  The Greeks never developed a clear idea of “laws of nature” as the 17th century did.  The argument of the historians I mentioned is that the conception of laws is from Christian thought.  (Not simply Biblical thought, but Biblical thought as developed and expanded through centuries of Christian commentary and reflection.)

As for Judaism, while some Jews wrote able commentaries on Greek and Muslim science, Judaism per se did not contribute much to the development of science.  Once science got going, and once Jews became influenced by the Enlightenment and joined the party, they of course made many contributions.  But it is dubious that their contributions come out of anything specifically Jewish, as the majority of Jewish scientists today are pretty secular.  

The point is that modern science (as opposed to predecessors such as Greek science) did not arise in Hindu or Chinese or Jewish or Muslim culture.  It arose in a Christian culture.  And it appears that the Christian transformation of the idea of nature—understood as created and given lawlike and mathematical order by the will of God—played a major role in initiating the scientific project.  As I said, you can read more about this in Hooykaas, Duhem, Collingwood, Jaki, Oakley, Osler, etc.

I am not arguing from the success of science that Christianity must be true.  (And I don’t think that Jon is arguing that, either, but he can speak for himself.)  In fact, even if this argument did imply the truth of Christianity, it would imply the truth of only part of Christianity.  The Christian doctrine that contributed most to modern science was the doctrine of creation.  Doctrines such as the Fall, Original Sin, Redemption, etc. are not generally considered to have had any role in the birth of modern science.  But the doctrine of creation did.  Of course this has nothing to do with a literal Genesis or modern creationism.  Just the doctrine that the world was created by a rational God whose will gave nature its laws, and whose reason gave those laws their mathematical character.  This gave Christian thinkers the confidence that nature could be explored and successfully interpreted by empirical methods coupled with mathematical reasoning.

Later on, of course, many drew the conclusion that we could keep the laws and the empiricism and the mathematics, but drop the God part and the creation part.  That’s a later phase of scientific history, beginning in the later 19th century.  But it only really becomes a dominant view in the 20th century.  Even Darwin still seemed to believe (some of the time, anyway) that God had created the broad structure of the universe and its laws (after which he left evolution on its own).  The idea that we can simply dispense with an ordering mind and still keep modern science is quite recent.

As for the debate about the degree to which Christianity is a pure monotheism, I’ll let you and Jon argue about that.  I don’t think it’s relevant to the main point here, which is that a key element of the  three historically relevant monotheisms—the doctrine of creation—was a major cause of the origin of modern science.  I think that is not only historically defensible, but fairly well established among historians of science and historians of ideas.

melanogaster - #81786

July 9th 2013

“But Lou, we don’t need that variation, because it’s always been known that point mutations would give all the variation needed for everything that’s occurred in evolution. Those who doubted it a few years ago were labelled as gainsayers and anti-science.”

That makes no sense to me, Jon. Can you kindly provide an example?

“But since the theory appears to remain unassailable (and all-encompassing) so long as there is variation from any source and at least some natural selection, how about:”

How about grasping the fact that Darwinian evolution works independently of the source of heritable variation, which no one can deny exists? Once you bring yourself to understanding this truth, IDCreationism falls apart.

“Divine mutation selection is indeed turning out to be more common than people thought. More exciting sources of variation for natural selection to work with!”

You’re still not making any sense.


“As you know, Darwin’s theory does not say anything about mutations.”

Lou, once they accept this, Darwinian evolution is undeniable. That’s why Jon et al. keep so busy going on about the godlessness of “random mutations.” That’s the point I was trying to get across to Hanan.

“It is based on actually looking at the amount of variation (regardless of mechanism)…”

This. Endlessly.

“It did not matter what the source of the variation was, as long as the elements of heredity were discrete.”

This too. The relentless focus on the source of the variation shows their panic.

“Genetics fleshes it out. Point mutations could never have been the whole story, as this does not explain length variation in the genome. I am not sure if people used to say that point mutations were the whole story.”

You’re so diplomatic. I’m quite sure that if anyone was saying it, that someone wasn’t a geneticist.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #81656

July 5th 2013


I am glad you accept the ecological dimension of evolution.  It amuses me that evolutionists have their own jargon (horizonal gene transfer!) for ecological concepts, thus they don’t have to acknowledge the source of the idea.

What you haven’t done is demonstrate in any way shape or form that Pro. Dawkins accepts these new realities and thus the fact that his Selfish Gene’s eyeview concept is kaput.  

Nor have you or BioLogos or my friends on this blog absorbed the theological/philosophical implications of these new facts, but Denis Noble has.

God can do anything, but God does not go against God’s own character.  Dawkins is right in that God does not create through the selfishness and chaos of Darwinism.  God creates through the mutuality and harmony of symbiosis of the ecological system that God created.  I wish BioLogos would learn this lesson. 

GJDS - #81692

July 5th 2013

I mentioned work on the impact of increasing CO2 emissions and the absence of anything useful from evolution/Darwin thinking to any research carried out in this important area. The major point I am making is that no ‘law of science’ can be found regarding natural selection – if there was such a law, than it is inconceivable that any significant work could be carried out without reliance to such a law. It seems that atheists and Darwinists would argue against this obvious statement.

This is not the first (or last) time such spurious and error driven statements have been made. For the sake of factual based discussion (and not Darwinian anti-science dogma), I have carried out an electronic search of documents I have produced by the UN Panel on climate change. These documents are publicly available and anyone can check the data.

Reference to biology is found in TR-03 (marine biology and ocean acidification, fertilising effects of atmospheric CO2 and nitrogen deposition, our inability to predict future changes in ocean biology), TR-07, “Physical Climate Processes and Feedbacks”, in which models for Land-Surface Parametrization are discussed – page 441-22… “shown that living plants appear to actively control stomatal widths (conductance) in response to changes in water vapour and CO2 concentration to optimise the ratio of water vapour losses to CO2 uptake, and simple, robust models of the photosynthesis-conductance system in plant leaves have been constructed based on this idea,...” I will add that I and others have been eager to examine photosynthesis, as this area may provide insights into ways that we may mitigate the serious problems posed by rising CO2 levels. In TR-14, areas for additional research are identified…, “Eddy-resolving ocean models with chemistry and biology need to be tested and validated in a transient mode, and the prognostic aspects of marine ecosystems including nutrient dynamics need greater attention at basin and global scales.”

I do not have the time for an exhaustive search and examination of all reports on the Greenhouse problem associated with rising GHG levels. However, if evolutionary outlooks or Darwinian ‘laws of science’ were serious scientific notions, these would occupy entire reports, and not a passing reference to photosynthesis, or our poor understanding of the marine environment. I would also add that my research (and the body of literature I have reviewed) fails to provide anything like a law of natural selection, nor anything but a passing (and slavish) reference for common origins – without any evidence that could be taken seriously by scientists.

I have taken time for this discussion to dispel one point that is a favourite for Darwinists and atheists – in that the vast majority of scientists are somehow wedded to Darwinian thinking, and that the current inadequate theory somehow can provide insights into every aspect of nature. Such claims are contrary to facts; what we have is this nonsense of culture wars and ideology .... and in such activities, truth is the first casualty.

Lou Jost - #81696

July 5th 2013

One day maybe you will respond to a comment by giving actual reasoned arguments instead of bluster or random quote mining.

GJDS - #81712

July 6th 2013

Good heavens above - this is based on one of the largest reports produced on this planet, involving thousands of scientists in every discipline. Just how self-deluded are you, that when I refering to it, I reading it, and I spending decades, and involve thousands of manhours of multi-disciplinary effort working in this area, you dismiss it with a contemptuous, “bluster and quote mining”.

Why not read the report, and if you think I have not provided the correct information, show me up to the entire world. I think the reason you do this is because you know that my comments are correct and yours are indeed dishonest.

What a chump you are, Lou Jost!

Lou Jost - #81719

July 6th 2013

I did’t say your chemistry is wrong. I said you are dismissing an entire science based on your obstinate hatred of evolution, which virtually all biologists accept.

GJDS - #81728

July 6th 2013

Again you show a talent for making a mess of these (unwelcomed) insertions of yours - my point has consistently been that the universal relevance and scope of Darwinian thinking is incorrect, a myth, made up etc., and this is easily shown by the fact that those of us, like myself, who work in areas that impact on the environment, have not found a use for it. Can you at least get this point? THUS, IF there is a ‘law of natural selecction’ as science has laws, it has mysteriously dissappeared when we carry out our research. Do you get it now???????

Lou Jost - #81735

July 6th 2013

Do you get that it mysteriously disappeared from your work because you don’t bother to look at it? Virtually all biologists understand that evolution is the framework around which modern biology is built. The fact that you are ignorant of this doesn’t matter.

GJDS - #81744

July 6th 2013

You would have made a prominant inquisitor a few centuries ago (I think you would have been exceedingly religious in those times) - a real talent for ignoring facts, denigrading the work of thousands of first rate scientists, contemptuous of seminars in University Departments and the course content - and now you decide that work that has achieved world recognition and interest from investors is based on ignorance.

You would have to be one of the most close mined, obnoxious, and ignorant scientist on this planet - Lou, my initial impression has been correct; you are a dissapointed ex-believer who has found fault with God, because He would not perform a song and dance act for you, and now you spend an innordinate amount of time telling the world just you upset that has made you.

Even a ‘nut’ like you must at least understand that if my work (or that discussed in the UN report on Climate change) was ignorant of the framework for a large part of science, such work would have been greeted with howls of derision. Yet here were have, all scientists agreeing, without a passing reference to evolution, and you begin this tirade, accusing others of ignorance.

I really wish you would not include me in your endless and pointless discussions - perhaps I need a miracle for such a result.

Lou Jost - #81758

July 7th 2013

GJDS, you said I am “ignoring facts, denigrading the work of thousands of first rate scientists, contemptuous of seminars in University Departments and the course content…” I guess you don’t see the irony that this exactly describes how you treat evolution.

GJDS - #81790

July 9th 2013

Lou. This is odd even for you - how does it get from, “I nor others rely on Darwinian thinking for our research”, with hatred, for something that is irrelevant to my work.

Surely even you would realise that if my ‘hatred’ caused me to ignore an essential aspect of science, my science would suffer accordingly. Instead, my scientific research has attracted sufficient acknowledgement (and funding-investment) to ensure (for even you and the ‘fruit fly’) that it is good, genuine, and not clouded by hatred, ignorance, and any other fancies that take hold of you lot.

Again I restate the obvious - one of the largest research projects carried out by the UN on Climate change (consisting of more that 14 volumes), taking input from every discipline of the sciences, and dealing with the most important problem facing us (Climate change); and yet this has the scant remarks I have posted, that may be related to your Darwinian thinking.

Ask yourself - who is deluded into thinking that evolution is the central notion in science (and now people like you must ‘pollute’ the way people think and understand the faith)? I think you are in that corner Lou, not myself.

And again I remind you and others, that I have made it a point to read ONLY good quality material from people who are obviously in favour of the Darwinian outlook, not seeking those who may oppose it. And again I restate my overall outlook (that seems to enrage some of you lot) that it is the current paradigm in the bio-area, AND it is inadequate - it will be a great day when someone in this area has the brains to get past it.

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