t f p g+ YouTube icon

Science and The Truth Project, Part 1

Bookmark and Share

November 4, 2013 Tags: Christian Unity, History of Life
Science and The Truth Project, Part 1

Today's entry was written by Dorothy Boorse. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

“Would you be willing to do me a favor?” an administrator asked me several years ago. “Could you watch Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project videos and review the part on science?” It turns out that a friend of the college where I work was much impressed by the Truth Project, a DVD-based small group curriculum designed by Focus on the Family and intended to provide a look at life from a biblical perspective, and had been showing the DVDs in their home. My colleague was uneasy about whether the program represented the interaction between science and faith well. He wondered if I could offer any wisdom.

I sweat bullets (so to speak) writing this review. My goals were to accurately reflect concerns about the content, but also to use a tone that modeled the respect for other’s opinions that I hope I am able to teach to my students. In contentious issues, I believe it is even more important to be kind and loving than in everyday issues. Science and faith relations are, unfortunately, oftentimes very contentious and I wanted my work to reflect the highest level of generosity of spirit as well as truth. When I completed the review, I sent it with a polite email to Del Tackett, the narrator of the Truth Project. I received a quick response that it had been received and would be read at a later time, but no other response. The original friend of the college, and several others in the college community, though, found my review to be very helpful, and at least one person changed their point of view as a result.

It is always painful to disagree with sincere people, but I hope this review reflects truth-seeking, a search for places of agreement, and a spirit of love in an expression of disagreement.

Note: We’ll be reposting Dorothy’s Boorse’s review in full today and tomorrow on The BioLogos Forum.

The Truth Project is a multi-DVD lecture series put out by Focus on the Family that addresses a number of aspects of modern life and thinking from a Christian worldview. Because I am both a scientist and an evangelical Christian, and because I have been closely following the cultural discussion on evolution for years, I was asked by a colleague to write a brief review of one of the parts of the project, Lesson Five, called “Science: What is True?”

The web site for the project describes Lesson Five this way:

Lesson Five - Science: What is True?
Science, the “systematic study of the natural world,” brings to light innumerable evidences of Intelligent Design. But Darwinian theory transforms science from the honest investigation of nature into a vehicle for propagating a godless philosophy. (Part One)

A careful examination of molecular biology and the fossil record demonstrates that evolution is not a “proven fact.” Meanwhile, history shows that ideas, including Darwinism as a social philosophy, have definite consequences – consequences that can turn ugly when God is left out of the picture. (Part Two)

Both sub parts of Lesson Five - Science: What is True? are videos of lectures given by Del Tackett, a senior administrator at Focus on the Family. The lectures include a PowerPoint presentation with a series of quotes from famous people and film clips. The clips include bits of television shows, interviews with a variety of people, animations, and a montage of images and voices.

Part One begins with a reading of part of Psalm 119, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Tackett then asks the central question, ”Why is there something rather than nothing?” The answer to this, he says, is because of a creator. As we look at the natural world, we should be able to see evidence of a creator because of patterns and design.

Tackett contrasts this view with the views of several renowned scientific naturalists, particularly Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. He differentiates between science and philosophy, two ways of getting at truth, which should complement each other.

He says that science consists of truth claims about particulars, while philosophy addresses truth claims about ultimate reality such as, “Where do we come from?,” “Why are we here?,” or “What is the meaning of life?” Tackett quotes a number of scientists claiming that evolution is a “fact” and instead says that it is only a “theory.”

Tackett goes on to explain that he will focus on evolution because it is one of the primary reasons people believe there is no God. Tackett declares that people who accept evolution will not accept any of the evidence that might lead to belief in a creator. The world around us is like a box. As we look into the box, evidence of design becomes plain. We know that the world is designed simply by looking at it. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is contrasted with William Paley’s watchmaker analogy (described in his book, Natural Theology), as the “argument from design” (Paley 1802).

Part Two of Lesson Five - Science: What is True? picks up where Part One stopped. All around us we see complexity and design. Kepler, a famous seventeenth century scientist and Christian, had been quoted in part one and is referred to again. “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.” (The part in italics not used in the lecture) (Kepler 1601).

Much of Part Two is a response to two quotes, one from Carl Sagan and one from Charles Darwin. Sagan said, “Evolution is a fact amply demonstrated by the fossil record and molecular biology” (1977). Darwin said, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down” (1858).

Tackett uses Sagan’s two main lines of evidence, molecular biology and the fossil record, to give several examples of systems that he believes are too complex to have evolved, such as the clotting system of human blood, the eye, a peacock feather, and a bacterial flagellum. He features a number of interviews with scientists and computer animations that illustrate the complexity of such features. In the area of the fossil record, Tackett disputes Archaeopteryx as an example of a transitional form and the variety of Galapagos finch characteristics as an example of evolution. Finally, Tackett repeats his assertion that Intelligent Design and evolution are opposing worldviews. Evolution, he contends, is a lie that makes people believe that, “scientific evidence allows me to reject worldview of God.” While Tackett claims that Darwinism is opposed to God, he does not actually connect the lecture to the description on the web that claims that “Darwinism as a social philosophy” has consequences that “turn ugly when God is out of the picture.”

There are some laudable moments in Lesson Five - Science: What is True? Tackett is very clear that the scriptures and the natural world are valuable to understanding truth. He differentiates between philosophy and science. He is entirely correct that some prominent scientists are atheists, and are outspokenly opposed to religion. In one of the clearest moments in the second lecture, Tackett describes the distress of Christians who are, “belittled and made to feel foolish” because of their beliefs. Tackett is right that some scientists overstep the bounds of science and make philosophic claims.

Furthermore, the concept of Intelligent Design in its broadest form is worthier of attention than some parts of the scientific community give it credit for. It is an attempt to ask the question, “If there were sources of truth outside of natural laws, or causes outside of natural laws, would we be able to identify them or learn anything about them using scientific methods?” Many people answer “no” while ID proponents answer “yes.” Either way, the question, “Could we see evidence of design and would we recognize it if it occurred?” is a reasonable one for philosophers to ask. Finally, the film is warm and accessible. Tackett has a friendly tone, and uses a range of slides, film clips, and demonstrations to illustrate his points.

Overall, though, I was disappointed by the lectures. They had a chance to answer the question, “How do top scientists who are believers form a whole, coherent world view?” They could have looked at scientists from many disciplines and could have included a range of ways biologists deal with modern evolutionary theory. Instead, the lectures repeat an oversimplification of the relationship between science and faith and promote a false dichotomy. These concerns deserve longer discussion than the brief overview I can give them here, but the main issues are that Tackett uses only the most extreme voices, uses poor or inconsistent definitions for words, makes errors about the science, and fails to provide a legitimate alternative.

Tackett rightly claims that some scientists, including Richard Dawkins, are opposed to the idea of God, and view evolution as a “fact” that in some way allows us to disbelieve God. However, since Tackett strongly disagrees with these scientists about a number of key points, it is unfortunate that he then turns to them to define evolution and describe a worldview based on it. When he does so, Tackett commits the same error he accuses these scientists of doing; he confuses science and philosophy. Unfortunately, throughout both lectures, Tackett uses the term “evolution” to mean, “a worldview that denies God.” This definition is poor. Tackett should have used “evolution” for “a natural process resulting from selection pressures acting on genetic variability” or any one of several similar definitions. In contrast, a worldview that denies God should have been defined as “scientific naturalism,” “materialism,” or “evolutionism.” The distinction is an important one. Because evolution is a process bounded by natural laws, it makes no philosophic claims whatsoever, no more than precipitation or evaporation do.

Likewise, a better lecture, while still disputing the claims of Sagan, Dawkins, Asimov and others that evolution is a “fact,” it would have approached the dispute differently. The problem is not that evolution isn’t well supported by science; because the problem is that evolutionary theory is a large conceptual model used to explain myriad “facts,” which are measurable bits of information. A theory is not a “not-yet-proven-fact.” A theory explains facts. This problem with vocabulary is typical of the rancorous debates over evolution and is described by Frey (1986) and Miller (2000).

Tackett’s lectures on science create a false dichotomy between worldviews by not reflecting the actual range of beliefs in the Christian scientific community. On the scientific and philosophic level, there are many scholars with intermediate positions, which are entirely ignored in this film. For example, molecular biologist Kenneth Miller has written a book strongly critical of the science included in Michael Behe’s Intelligent Design book, Darwin’s Black Box(Behe 1996). Miller is a Christian who believes evolution and faith are compatible. Howard Van Till has an interesting alternative view that God created what he calls “a fully gifted universe.” Paleontologist Keith Miller at Kansas State, also a Christian, is one who believes the fossil record does support the theory of evolution. In addition, Stephen Barr’s essay, “The Design of Evolution” is an attempt to diffuse tension between Christian faith and evolutionary theory (Barr 2005). Richard Wright, author of the much-used Christian college text, Biology through the Eyes of Faith (2003), and Darrel Falk, author of the very accessible book, Coming to Peace with Science (2004), would also have been great additions to Tackett’s conversation.

The most noticeable omission to Lesson Five- Science: What is True? is the voice of Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project (now head of the NIH) and a proponent of theistic evolution (Collins 2006). Collins is an outspoken evangelical Christian and explains his own conversion to Christ and the reasons he believes in God in the book, The Language of God: a scientist presents evidence for belief (Collins 2006). He specifically refers to an intelligent creator and particularly sees God’s handiwork in the Big Bang and in the possibility of miracles. This is such an unusual thing for a prominent scientist to write about that Collins has opened a great deal of public discussion on science and faith. At one point, he debated Richard Dawkins in an interview read by millions in Time magazine (Van Biema 2006). If Tackett’s view of the world is correct, however, Collins is on the same side of the discussion as all of the atheists—an assertion Collins roundly denies.

I also would have liked see in Tackett’s treatment some reference to scientists who may not be Christians but who disagree with the strong dichotomy represented by Sagan and Dawkins. Michael Ruse, for example, a prominent writer on evolution and creationism, makes the case that there is no reason an evolutionist could not also hold traditional Christian beliefs (Ruse 2004).

Check back tomorrow to read part two of this in-depth review!



Dorothy Boorse is Professor of Biology at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. She studies wetland ecology, invertebrates, vernal pools and salt marshes. She was the lead author on Loving the Least of These: Addressing A Changing Environment published by the National Association of Evangelicals. She holds a Ph.D. in oceanography and limnology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a graduate of Cornell University and Gordon College.

Next post in series >

View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Page 1 of 1   1
Lou Jost - #83418

November 4th 2013

This is a very polite review of an odious project. I would have had a hard time being so nice about it!

One small quibble. You wrote

“If there were sources of truth outside of natural laws, or causes outside of natural laws, would we be able to identify them or learn anything about them using scientific methods?” Many people answer “no” while ID proponents answer “yes.”

Many atheist scientists (including me) would also answer “yes” to this question. We would say not that the question is misguided but that we have not seen good evidence for non-physical, intelligent causes at work in the physical universe.

Sounds like the lectures roundly misrepresented evolution. There are two parts to evolution, and it is helpful to keep them separate. One is the historical fact that evolution happened. This is a fact like any other in science; we are as sure of the common descent of all higher organisms (including us) as we are of the existence of atoms.

The second part includes theories about the mechanisms that produced the observed history of diversification and adaptation. This is a vibrant subject for research today, with much to learn. We have not found good evidence that non-physical causes have ever operated in this process. However, it would be impossible to rule such a thing out. So there is still room for a god of the gaps there. However a Christian would be hard-pressed to show that this god of the gaps, if it existed, was a good match for the Christian god as conceived by most believers.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #83419

November 4th 2013

The primary problem in this whole discussion is that we do not recognize the real problem which is Western dualism, often respresented by the mind/body question.

Materialists claim that the body dominate this dualism and many today claim that the dualism must be resolved into a materialistic monism because for them there is no evidence for a non-material mind.

Other than this I think that very few really deny that their is no dichotomy between the body and the mind.  This does not mean that they are opposites, but the are different.  The mind is not the body and vice versa.

While secularists tend to see dualism as between the mind and body, Christians see the dualism between God and the world or nature.  We know that God and the world are different, yet our theology prevents us from demonizing the world.  God’s Creation is good.

What we have now is Physicalists who point to the physical nature of reality and say that this side of Western dualism is good and all that we need to understand Reality and Idealists who point to the intellectual nature of reality and say this is all we need to understand Reality and Religionists who say that the spiritual is all we need to understand Life.

Reality is more than the Physical. Reality is more than the Intellectual.  Reality has a Spiritual dimension, but it is more than Spiritual.  Life is more than Mind and Body, Life is Mind, Body, and Spirit. 

I really do not understand why Christians of all people cannot accept this truth and see the necessity of creating a non-monist, non-dualist Trinitarian world view to embrace all facets of Reality.

Plato is not God. 

There is a dichotomy between God and the universe, which cannot be denied.  There is a dichotomy between Humans and Nature, and between God and Humans which cannot be denied. 

We need to know how to bridge or reconcile these dichotomies or we are lost.  Dualism recognizes to some extent these dichotomies but does not indicate how they can be overcome.       



Paul Lucas - #83423

November 4th 2013

Among the suggested reading list, I would add:

1.  Science Held Hostage by Van Till, Meninga, and Young.  It is out of print but used copies are available.
2. The Fontispiece in Origin of Species.  It would have helped immensely if Trackett and Focus on the Family would read those they would see standard Christian theology at work:  “natural” is how God works.

“ “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Tackett then asks the central question, ”Why is there something rather than nothing?” The answer to this, he says, is because of a creator. As we look at the natural world, we should be able to see evidence of a creator because of patterns and design.”

For “design”, read “direct manufacture”.  Tackett thinks we can only see God when He is performing a miracle.  Intelligent Design requires that God directly manufacture things, that some things are not made “naturally”.  However, in the Fontispiece Darwin deliberately quotes theologians to show that Christians believe God is working when “natural” happens.

Ironically, Tackett is an atheist at heart.  Tackett doesn’t like evolution because it is “natural”, and thus if evolution is working then God is not involved.  That is the basic statement of faith of atheism:  natural = without God.  This quote from the Fontispiece states Christian thinking: God is also necessary for “natural”:

“The only distinct meaning of the word ‘natural’ is stated, fixed, or settled; since what is natural as much requires and presupposes an intelligent agent to render it so, i.e., to effect it continually or at stated times, as what is supernatural or miraculous does to effect it for once.” Butler: Analogy of Revealed Religion.

Let’s go back to the Psalmist:  “The heavens declare the glory of God.”  I submit that glory is declared by our discovering the “natural” processes God used to create and not by a dogmatic approach that God’s glory can only be declared by “miracle”.

GJDS - #83429

November 4th 2013

The limitations of the scientific method is rarely discussed in these exchanges; if a scientist believes God exists, this would (or should) in no way determine his conclusions. The same should (is) true for an atheist who is a scientist. However, the notion of intelligence is embedded in science, and any statment must reflect this. I view any geometric shape as requiring aspects associated with design - extending this to questions of who and what may have designed such a thing seems ‘stretching things to a breaking point’.

Natural as a term has been employed since the time of Hellenic thinking and can mean almost anything that we associated with physical objects. To see of hear the Glory of God in and from nature must, by necessity, include a belief in God. I will again use my favourite phrase, ‘the absence of belief’ in (anything) cannot be discussed as something that can be dsicussed (I admit it is a mouthful).

I confess I am more comfortable with Darwin’s book (I read this twice over many years ago) than many statements made by current proponents of evolution. I think acknowledgeing it as the current paradigm in the bio-area is not the same as declaring it a fact or so close to it as to not warrant debate of skeptical outlooks. Science benefits from a skeptical outlook in all areas, and this includes curent paradigms.

Paul Lucas - #83424

November 4th 2013

Lou: ““If there were sources of truth outside of natural laws, or causes outside of natural laws, would we be able to identify them or learn anything about them using scientific methods?” Many people answer “no” while ID proponents answer “yes.”

Many atheist scientists (including me) would also answer “yes” to this question. We would say not that the question is misguided but that we have not seen good evidence for non-physical, intelligent causes at work in the physical universe.”

I would say that scientists are able to detect some actions of “intelligence”.  Forensic science can detect the difference between death by heart attack and death be a bullet shot thru the heart.  I can detect the difference between a mouse arising from evolution and the ROSA mouse as a product of human genetic engineering.

BUT, there are 2 caveats:
1. What if the “natural” processes require an intelligence to happen?  Look at the above post and the quote from the Fontispiece to Origin of Species.   How do we do the experiment to determine whether the “natural” causes also require an intelligent agent for them to work?  How do I make a test tube that I am sure God is excluded from?  Until I can do that, there may be lots of evidence for an “intelligent agent”, but I am unable to see it by the methodologies of science.   This is Methodological Materialism.  It is the reason Eugenie Scott stated “Neither God did it nor God did not do it” are scientific statements.”

Yes, you may not have “seen good evidence for non-physical, intelligent causes at work in the physical universe”, but that may be because the tool you are using—science—is incapable of seeign those causes.   It would be like trying to see mitochondria with the Hubble telescope.  True, you wouldn’t see any evidence for mitochondria, but that is the fault of the tool, not that mitochondria don’t exist.

2. What if an “intelligence” uses “natural” processes to do the job?  IDers are looking for direct manufacture of something.  Thus, they are looking for a situation where the processes at work in the area cannot make the object—there is nothing on a heath that will make a watch, for instance.  IDers tend to focus on the object alone, but they are really looking at the object and the environment.  Michael Behe says as much:

“For a simple artificial object such as a steel rod, the context is often important in concluding design. If you saw the rod outside a steel plant, you would infer design. Suppose however, that you traveled in a rocket ship to a barren alien planet that had never been explored. If you saw dozens of cylindrical steel rods lying on the side of a volcano, you would need more information before you could be sure that alien geological processes—natural for the planet—had not produced the rods.” Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, pp 195-196

(Notice how Behe equates design with manufacture.)  Now, I would say that Behe misses the mark because the chemical composition of steel cannot be produced by a geological process.  However, the point here is manufacture.

Suppose we have a group of people that use slings and stones to hunt.  Now, you can manufacture rounded stones by knocking them together.  This produces characteristics marks of the manufacturing process.  But suppose the inhabitants live by a rapidly flowing stream.  Every month they throw stones into the stream.  Now, over the course of years, erosion is going to smooth and round the stones.  yes, it’s a long term project that way, but the people have been living there for hundreds of years.  They put in rough stones, and they take rounded stones out.   Looking at the stones, and the stream, we would say that no intelligence was involved.  But it is. 

So, once again, the “see no evidence” is limited by what we are looking at and what we are using to look.

What ID states is that God directly manufactured either whole organisms or parts of them AND that evolution by natural selection (the environment) is insufficient to do so.  However, the Christian belief is 1) God is necessary for natural processes to work and 2) that God creates through those “natural” processes.  In fact, Christianity cannot have ID, because that would mean God did not create a complete universe, and must become a creature of the universe to keep it running.  Yes, we can use science to say “God did not directly manufacture species or parts of organisms”.  However, that does not translate to “have not seen evidence” to justify atheism.

Lou Jost - #83427

November 4th 2013

Paul, thanks for the comment. When you say that science may not be the proper tool to detect certain kinds of design, I would have to ask you why you think any other method would be better or more reliable. We know that “revelation” and intuition are not reliable.

You said “Yes, we can use science to say “God did not directly manufacture species or parts of organisms”.  However, that does not translate to “have not seen evidence” to justify atheism.” I think maybe you miswrote the last sentence with one too many negative. Anyway, if the concept of a god is suffciently vague and non-interactive, there is no way to disprove its existence. We probably all agree on that. But what then would be the reason for postulating such a god, if it made no difference to the world? If you want to call the universe and its collection of natural laws “god”, go ahead.

sy - #83428

November 4th 2013

Lou<!—?xml:namespace prefix = “o” ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /—>

“We know that revelation and intuition are not reliable” I dont think I know that at all.You may be defining reliability in a scientific sense, but that’s circular. Ways of knowing the truth outside of the scientific approach will not (by definition) satisfy the classic scientific definitions of truth. They will likely violate the fundamental (unproven, but taken as faith) scientific axioms of reproducibility, objectivity and causality.

So, if I have a spiritual mystical experience that opens my soul to the reality of God’s presense, such an experience might not be reproduced at will  might not be objective, in that the same results will always be obtained using the same conditions, and it might be impossible to discern the cause of the vision. So it fails all scientific tests of reliability. But is it true? I maintain that it is. Not because I dont follow the scientific method. I do, when I am doing science. But not when Im at a museum looking at Kandinsky, or listening to Bach, or admiring the fall foliage, which makes me wonder why the world is so beautiful, not just in the scientific sense, (which I admit it is) but also in the purely esthetic sense of color, contrast and harmony that we see around us.

To me the tragedy of the lectures reviewed in this article is that the lecturer is blind to the majesty of the Creator revealed by the wondrous evolutionary art that makes biology beautiful. Darwinisim in not atheistic at all. It is a great source of worship of the living, active God.

Lou Jost - #83433

November 5th 2013

 Sy, your view of science is not right, and I am surprised you would have such a naive view of the reliability of revelation.

First your claims about science: “You may be defining reliability in a scientific sense, but that’s circular. Ways of knowing the truth outside of the scientific approach will not (by definition) satisfy the classic scientific definitions of truth. They will likely violate the fundamental (unproven, but taken as faith) scientific axioms of reproducibility, objectivity and causality.” Science is just a method to keep from fooling ourselves. There is nothing circular about it. Reproducibility and causality are not axioms of science: we can scientifically study geology and paleontology even though some of the events we study cannot be reproduced, and we now have evidence that causality does not always apply to every kind of event. Objectivity, however, is important when making claims about the public world (such as that a god tinkers with it). The methods of science are not taken on faith, they are subject to change and are just whatever methods we can develop to bring us closer to objective truths about the universe (note that we never expect to get to the absolute truth). But these are side issues.

You brought up science because you think we should not apply its criteria to personal revelation. You seem to want to take personal revelation at face value, and not even try to avoid fooling ourselves about its content. I can’t imagine how you can say this. The history of the world is full of people having visions and revelations about absurd things, and of course many revelations which contradict others’ revelations. We therefore know (without even appealing to more sophisticated scientific reasoning)  that revelation per se is unreliable, and there is nothing circular about this conclusion. Do you believe in the revelations experienced by Muslims, visions confirming their belief that judaism needs to be wiped out? Do you seriously believe in the ancient jewish visions telling them that they are the chosen people of god? Do you believe in the revelations of Joseph Smith, even though they make incorrect fact-claims about the past? What do you think of the visions of Jim Jones and his hundreds of followers, revelations that were so subjectively convincing that he and his followers were willing to die for them in Jonestown? When Vishnu appears to a Hindu and tells him something distinctively Hindi, do you take it at face value?

We know visions or personal revelation are unreliable, and this is not circular reasoning. When visions include fact claims about the world, they are often wrong, and persoanl revelations contradict one another in fundamental ways, especially across cultures. I could go on and on.

If revelations about religion were ever real, this would imply that a deity actually wanted to communicate with us. Yet the revelations never include a means of validation, perhaps some novel fact about the world or a clever math theorem. Religious people claim that their gods don’t want to be too obvious, but the act of revelation, if it were real,  shows that the god does in fact want to communicate. These kinds of half-hearted revelations really don’t even make sense from the perspective of a believer, especially a Christian believer whose god was not shy about revealing himself in the past. Frankly, all the available evidence strongly suggests that these personal revelations, convincing though they may be as subjective experiences, are “made from within” and are not really coming from anything beyond.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #83436

November 5th 2013

Lou wrote:

Yet the revelations never include a means of validation….

Lou, that is not true.  The best example of this is the story of Abraham.  YHWH made two promises to him.  One is that he and Sarah would the parents of a great nation that would bless humanity and the second related promise is they would have a son.

The thing about promises is that they are kept or they are not.  It seemed unlikely that both of these promises could be kept, history seems to indicate that they were.

Abraham and Sarah could only know if the promise of a son was kept and they had their doubts as was clearly recorded.  However YHWH kept this promise and the story of the rest of the Bible tells how YHWH kept the other promise.  

YHWH made a covenant with Abraham and Sarah and their descendants and YHWH has been faithful to this covenant and the promises implicit in this covenant. 

This does not mean that there have not been any problems.  We know that Hitler and his cohorts killed millions of Jews, but the Jewish people still thrive while Hitler is dead and Nazism is on the ropes, even it will never completely die out.  

Faith is a relationship to YHWH.  You know it when you have it.  The NT makes it clear that the character of this relationship is love.  (See 1 Cor 13)  So our relationship to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is not scientific or philosophical, but spiritual.

This does not make it unreal, because Love is real, although it is not physical, just as knowledge is not physical. 

Revelation as prophecy is valid if it is true.  Revelation as salvation is valid if it brings real positive change in one’s life. 

The problem with this is often only you know for sure if God has changed your life.  Others might be able to observe that change, but it really cannot be scientifically measured, which of course does not mean it does not exist.

Revelation brings change.  This is its validation.  However there are always many who doubt the nature and the cause of the change, because they do not want to accept the existence of YHWH.   

Many do not accept a relational covenantal YHWH, but instead accept God as the Absolute Philosophical Being, very similar to Allah.  For them you are right, there is no way to validate revelation.


Lou Jost - #83437

November 5th 2013

You have the story backwards. The stuff about Abraham was written long after the supposed events, and was written by a culture in order to justify to themselves why they are the chosen people. This is a common theme throughout world mythology. It is most certainly not a first-hand contemporaneous record of a revealed prophecy that later turned out to be true.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #83441

November 5th 2013


While it is true that people have a fertile imagination, they do not make up stories out of whole cloth. 

They are not mythological stories, but historical narratives based on real events passed down by oral tradition.  At one time we sophisticated Westerners thought that the works of Homer were “myths” until we found out they were not.

You say that they were written with the purpose to prove that they are God’s Chosen People, and guess what? They are.  Thus the revelation proved true and thus makes my point.  

There are many prophetic passages in the OT which are fulfilled in the NT.  The Truth of faith is found in promises kept.  

Science did hot suddenly make humans smart and wise.         

Lou Jost - #83442

November 5th 2013

“At one time we sophisticated Westerners thought that the works of Homer were “myths” until we found out they were not.” Scilla and Charabdis are real, then? Cyclops too? Myths can have grains of truth, but it is crazy to take them literally. Origin myths really are very common around the world, and they often do have some grain of truth after you strip out the fantastic parts.

“There are many prophetic passages in the OT which are fulfilled in the NT.” The gospels, written decades after Jesus lived, could just as well have invented details of Jesus’ life to make them fulfill the OT prophecies. This seems especially apparent in the stories of his place of birth, where fantastic, otherwise-uncorroborated plot devices are invented to make sure his parents go to the birthplace that fulfills the OT prophecies.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #83447

November 6th 2013


Let me be the first to admit that I overstated my case when I spoke of Homer.  I should have spoke only about the Illiad. 

The point that I was trying to make was that the ancient epics were not make up of whole cloth as you seem to indicate. 

Myths are not the same as sagas and epics.  The sacred history of Israel is not the same as the epics and sagas.  However they all lived at least for a time in the oral tradition of a people, which we should not trash because we moderns do not share it.

The story of Abraham is not an origin myth and needs to be studied as history, not as literature.  I believe that it stands up very well on this basis.

While the gospels were written down in their current form years after the death of Jesus, stories about Him were shared repeatedly in the form of sermons.  We think that there was a collection of His sayings collected before the gospels were written which we call Q.  The Gospel of John is from a different tradition from the other three, but is in basic agreement as are the letters of Paul which were the earliest gospel writings we have.  Also we see how later writings which claim to be gospels miss the mark.

The issue here and generally is Covenant.  The covenant is the validating key of the Jewish and Christian scriptures ande it is what makes Life meaningful.  It is the Jewish Covenants, beginning with Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants that validate the OT and the Covenant of Jesus that validates the NT. 

Science does have tests of scientific knowledge, but thess test do not work with other types of knowledge.  It cannot determine if life is meaningful.  Because of this some have said that life is not meaningful, which is not true.

I have argued that Darwinism does not meet the test of good scientific knowledge.  This does not mean that evolution is wrong or science is wrong, but science needs to do a better job of testing information and improving its theories.

Nothing in this world is perfect.  We need to stop defending the old and instead be willing to improve our understanding of ourselves and our world.       



Lou Jost - #83451

November 6th 2013

Roger, thanks for acknowledging the overstatement. Actually, I think your original analogy was quite accurate. The Bible too contains grains of historical truth mixed with fantastic mythic elements. When you take those fantastic elements literally, you are making a big mistake (and perhaps even distorting some of their meaning, as some of the fantastic elements may be symbols for other things).

Paul Lucas - #83457

November 7th 2013

Lou:  What I said was that science cannot detect whether “natural” requires an intelligence or not. 

There are difficulties with how people use the word “design”.  The way you, GJDS, and IDers use the word, there is an unspoken prepositional phrase attached “by an intelligent entity”.  Now, pre-chemistry, physics, and Darwin, that was how “design” was always used.  Paley used it that way: only an intelligent being could “design”.

But we know differently now.  GJDS sees “design” in geometrical shapes.  BUT, that does not justify the inferrence of an intelligent being.  Let’s take snowflakes.  Very intricate geometrical shapes, all based upon a hexagon.  However, those shapes do not arise from the action of an intelligent being, but rather from the chemistry and physics of water.

What Darwin did was discover an unintelligent process that gives design.  Let’s call it “Darwinian selection”.  “natural selection” is a subset of Darwinian selection—Darwinian selection that takes place in populations of organic beings.  But Darwinian selection can take place in other places.  I am using it to design these sentences.  However, genetic algorithms are another manifestation of Darwinian selection, and humans use Darwinian selection when the design problem is too tough for them.

Darwinian selection is an algorithm to get design.  For a fuller (and thus more convincing) exposition of this, see the first 3 chapters of Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.

What this means is that, unlike Paley, we cannot assume that “design” means it was done by an intelligent being.  Yes, by GJDS, snowflakes show “design”, but they are design by chemistry.  Yes, plants and animals show design, but they are designed by natural selection.

The limitation in science is that we cannot, by the methods of science, say that a “natural” process does not require God.  Maybe the natural process happens by itself (the belief of atheists) but maybe the natural process requires God to will it to happen (the belief of theists).  It’s just that God wills it to happen each and every time. 

Lou Jost - #83461

November 7th 2013

Paul, sure, agree that “design” can be ambiguous. In the context of this website, I think it is usually shorthand for “designed by some intelligent agent”.

What is the practical difference between the god of your last sentence, and a deist god who sets up the laws of nature but does not intervene?

Hanan D - #83462

November 7th 2013

>What is the practical difference between the god of your last sentence, and a deist god who sets up the laws of nature but does not intervene?


A deist God sets up laws and doesn’t care one way or another

A theist God sets up laws for his ultimate goal. 

Lou Jost - #83464

November 7th 2013

I’m no theologian, obviously, but I always thought a deist god was one who set up universal laws and then did not violate them, while a theist god did violate them sometimes. I didn’t think the distinction had anything to do with the ultimate intentions of the god. Is the definition you gave standard?

Hanan D - #83467

November 7th 2013

Well, the theological core of a desim vs theism is that one has an ultimate goal while one simply created and left the lights on for anything to happen. A deistic God clearly has no goal if he doesn’t intervene. A theistic one HAS a goal first, HENCE he may intervene, not in the affairs of nature, but in the affairs of man. 

If you ask me personally, I don’t know what “intervention” means. Did he put a rock someplace for someone to slip? I don’t konw. I think in general, theism is a belief that all of nature is goal oriented from the very beginning. The goal is hard wired in. So how does intervention work? I don’t know. For Jews, I can tell you, even amongst many secular Israelis, the war of 48’ and 67’ were seen as miraculous. That the Jews returned to their land and in 67’ reclaimed their lost city in a couple of days. Now, were any natural laws broken? Did the sun stop? Were the arabs magically frozen in their tracks? Everything that happened then can be seen through some sort of naturalistic A led to B which led to C. And yet, God plays his will in history. I can’t say more than that. 

Hanan D - #83469

November 7th 2013

I should say for “observant” Jews. Most Jews in USA are secular. But secular Israelis tend to be different than secular American Jews.

Lou Jost - #83470

November 7th 2013

“A deistic God clearly has no goal if he doesn’t intervene.” Is that really right? An omniscient deist god could set up the laws so that they led to his goal without the need for later intervention.

beaglelady - #83472

November 7th 2013


In Deism, God creates the universe and then WALKS AWAY FROM IT FOR GOOD. There is no communication between creator and creation, no concern for it, no caring, no commandments, no expectations,  and certainly no incarnation or communion. 

Lou Jost - #83474

November 7th 2013

Hi Beaglelady, yes, that is almost what I said. Everything except the “no concern”, “no caring”, “no expectations”. If he sets up laws and then lets things run, presumably he could still have set up the laws to fulfill expectations, and he could still care about it (why else would he set it up?).

I’m just trying to get the terminology exactly right. The important thing seems to be that he walks away from it, with no further intervention. And in that case, the deity Paul describes in the first part of his post is a deist god. Anyway, from the point of view of science, the important issue is not what a god thinks of his creation but whether his current activity is detectable in principle. If someone believes in a god that is undetectable in principle, there is not much to debate.

GJDS - #83475

November 7th 2013

Both of these statements are either a odd type of circular reasoning (a such and such a God is such and such ... insert what you wish for such), or simply incoherent. If such a God set up laws, just how do we come to know this? And how do we attribute goals to a being who we also infer is beyond us or our capacities? If God creates, just how do we decide that He created this way or that? Such a god must, by necessity, be subjected to our scientific method, for any such statement to be valid - but if He is, we are gods and He is our subject for study using our methods and capabilities.

GJDS - #83465

November 7th 2013

I think you may have mis-understood my comment - design is a concept that human beings have brought into discussions. If we go beyond this, the notion becomes dubious or nebulous, and it certainly cannot be taken for or against some extra-human agency.

I welcome you statement that atheism can be considered a belief. However, you are mistaken of going beyond a notion when you say ‘Darwinian selection can take place in other palces” (but you may nonetheless believe this statement). A peoson may believe that such selection is observed, but many people would see such observations are of of human action and the observations results would not be understood as some sort of biological based process.

Hume has said many things, but his comment on habitual (or same) events, such as the sun was observed everyday, is a useful starting point regarding various types of beliefs expressed by human beings. A skeptical outlook can also lead to an absence of belief (a person makes a conscious decision to suspend belief, or simply refuse to believe, or remove some notions from his/her outlook). This too is human based and not a bio-based act. 

If the limitations of science were understood, scientists would not conflate the methods of science, “natural” processes, and matters which are best spoken as ones of faith. 

Faith in God is a personal matter based on subjective experiences, but the Christian teachings also state that this is insufficient to meet its criteria - indeed the actions of a human being are used as a basis for any statements concerning his/her faith. This is where proof, if you wish, may be taken as observations of the acts of those who profess a faith. By believing in God, and acting on ones faith, one THEN may consider other matters, such as ‘things happen by the will of God’. Thus we may find examples of people who profess faith and belief, but their actions contradict this. 

These matters have been discussed in great length over centuries and this blog comment is made to show that we as human beings express various views. I think science should be understood as a disciplined affair and its subject matter clearly defined - the subject matter does not, and cannot, include faith.

GJDS - #83466

November 7th 2013

I should have stated Reply #83465 is to Paul Lucas

Paul Lucas - #83459

November 7th 2013

Roger: “Science does have tests of scientific knowledge, but thess test do not work with other types of knowledge. ”

I would say (and I will make the same argument to Lou in the next post), that science works with a subset of knowledge: intersubjective experience.  Science has decided to limit itself to intersubject and not work in areas where the experience is personal.  However, the basic method used by science—the hypothetico-deductive—does work in any and all areas where people agree on what is “data”.  For instance, the Documentary Hypothesis in Biblical studies is the result of the hypothetico-deductive method applied to the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch.  DH is not part of “science”, but it was derived and tested basically as scientific theories are.

“I have argued that Darwinism does not meet the test of good scientific knowledge. ”

This depends a bit on how you view “Darwinism”.  Biological evolution has been tested more than any other scientific theory, from the basic concept of common ancestry to natural selection.  We see thousands of papers each month still testing parts of evolution.  It has gained the status of other well-supported scientific theories such as heliocentrism, DNA as hereditary material, Relativity, Atomic Theory, etc.

The evidence is overwhelmingly against your argument.

Paul Lucas - #83460

November 7th 2013

Lou: “When you say that science may not be the proper tool to detect certain kinds of design, I would have to ask you why you think any other method would be better or more reliable. We know that “revelation” and intuition are not reliable.”

I wasn’t talking “design”, but rather the actions of an intelligent being—God.  If God (or in the case of the sling stones, humans) act in particular ways, then science can’t detect it.

Now, in the case of the sling stones, if the villagers had made pictures of them throwing stones in and then taking them out and using them as sling stones, that would be sufficient, wouldn’t it?  Or if a villager had written about it.  BUT, that wouldn’t be science.  Yet wouldn’t you accept that non-scientific evidence?

But what is that evidence?  A form of revelation or intuition!  People are telling you what they experienced.

ALL evidence is personal experience: what we see, hear, taste, touch, smell, or feel emotionally. David Hume (an atheist BTW) showed this in the early 1700s.  Science limits itself to personal experiences that are the same for everyone under approximately the same circumstances.  So if you and I both follow the same recipe for Tris buffer and put the solutions on pH meters, we will both see the same number.

Personal experiences that are not intersubjective can be, and usually are, reliable.  Historians have learned that oral histories are pretty reliable, for instance. 

Personal experiences may differ from person to person, however.  If you and I ate Brussels sprouts from the same plate (same preparation), I can pretty well guarantee that we will have different experiences.  In that case, we have no basis for saying who is “wrong” and who is “right”; we simply have to live with the difference.

 “Anyway, if the concept of a god is suffciently vague and non-interactive, there is no way to disprove its existence. We probably all agree on that. But what then would be the reason for postulating such a god, if it made no difference to the world? If you want to call the universe and its collection of natural laws “god”, go ahead. “

That is a misrepresentation of what I said.  The hypothesis put forward was that God is supremely important to “the world”:  if God stops willing it to exist, the universe disappears!  On a personal level, if God stops willing your ATP synthetase to work, you drop dead.  That is supremely important to your world, isn’t it?  What atheists commonly do is make the mistake of “since God does it every time, then God doesn’t do it.”

It’s not that Yahweh (the Judeo-Christian deity) is vague and non-interactive, but rather that science is incapable of falsifying it.  The deficiency is in science, not the concept of Yahweh.  We have already seen that the hypothesis that God is necessary for any and every “natural” process to work is precise and ultimately “interactive”, but science cannot test it.  Similarly, the essential historical claims about Yahweh also cannot be tested by science.  Take, for instance, the essential historical claim of Christianity:  Jesus resurrected.  Very specific.  Very interactive.  Science can’t touch it.  Why?  Because the event left no intersubjectiveevidence we can study today.  We can study the meteor impact at Meteor Crator.   A one-time event in the past, but Meteor Crator exists today.  We can study gradual evolution among trilobites, but the fossils exist today (PR Sheldon, Parallel gradualistic evolution of Ordovician trilobites. Nature 330: 561-563, 1987.)  Nothing is left of the Resurrection.

As to postulating deity.  I’ve given one reason to do so: the evidence of the personal experience of those present at the Resurrection.  However, that is relatively late in time.  Long before that people were having (and continue to have today) personal experiences that they infer are due to deity.  This inferrence only comes after the individuals eliminated other possible causes.

Now, since you are an atheist, I am going out on a  limb and say you have never had such personal experience.  Now we are at a situation similar to that of the Brussels sprouts.  Your experience and that of theists differ.  Just like you will believe your experience of how Brussels sprouts taste, you believe your experience about God.  But notice I used the word “believe”.  Atheism is a belief.

I’ll close by noting that, within science, there are still 2 questions where it is valid to hypothesize direct action by God:
1.  Why does the universe exist?  (God created it)
2. Why does the universe have the order it does instead of some other order? (God chose this order.)

I said these were hypotheses.  I will reiterate that science is agnostic.  So I’ll leave you to consider why science is agnostic in the face of these 2 questions and those possible answers.

Lou Jost - #83463

November 7th 2013

I was with you here until your stone example. That is a very public process, eminently within the domain of science to confirm or disconfirm. Photos or reported experiences are data, and the reality of the reported behavior can be easily tested. Would a self-report be sufficient to lead us to accept the hypothesis that they are sticking the stones in the river on purpose? Depends on the prior probability of the hypothesis. In this case there is nothing exceptional or unusual about the hypothesis, so the evidence would be sufficient for most purposes. Additional tests could easily be devised if desired. Science does not exclude evidence by fiat, even evidence from personal experience. Even the taste of Brussel sprouts may some day be publicly testable, to the point where we could obtain evidence (not proof, though) that a person was lying when he said he didn’t like them, or that they taste like some other food. We might even be able to convince a person that he is wrong when he says that Brussel sprouts taste like X. If we know a lot about his brain, we might be able to suggest to him that for him, Brussel sprouts actually taste more like Y. And he might suddenly say “I hadn’t thought of that, but you are right!”

Anyway, we recognize the many ways that personal experience can mislead the experiencer. Even if we accept that a person had experience X which leads him to make a claim about public truths, we have to ask whether his inference to the truth claim is valid.

Then you say “What atheists commonly do is make the mistake of “since God does it every time, then God doesn’t do it.”” No, we say “If the physical world always strictly obeys universal laws, then there is no need for (or evidence for) the hypothesis of a theistic god.” As I said before, you are welcome to redefine god as the entity that constantly ensures that these laws are obeyed. This assertion cannot be disproven, nor can it be proven.

But one thing we can try to confirm or disconfirm is your claim that this is the Judeo-Christian god. Frankly, if this god is correctly described by the Bible, it cannot be the kind of god that simply enforces mindless physical laws. Many of the events described there violate the impersonal laws of nature that the god you described above supposedly enforces.

“Take, for instance, the essential historical claim of Christianity:  Jesus resurrected.  Very specific.  Very interactive.  Science can’t touch it.” I strongly disagree with this. First, there could theoretically be physical remains which bear on the story. Second, careful textual analysis could show that important parts of the story were plagiarized from ancient sources, or we might slowly learn of so many historical inconsistencies in the gospels that their evidential force on the resurrection diminished to zero. (I think we are already very close to this point.) We might some day find another letter by Paul making it clearer that the resurrection he and the apostles believed in was of a new spiritual body, known through visions (hallucinations) rather than physical experiences. We might someday find Pilate’s letters which could cast doubt on some part of the story, and these letters could perhaps be independently confirmed in some other independent unknown source.

Or it could go the other way. We might someday find a skeptical Roman’s diary describing the mysterious 3 hr darkness and earthquake during the passion, or the zombies marching on the city, or the phenomena associated with the resurrection, or the appearances of Jesus afterward, or the ascension, any of which would help confirm the resurrection story.

The point is that the resurrection story is a story of dramatic physical interventions, which left traces which science could theoretically some day uncover, or disconfirm. I won’t hold my breath for it, but it is concievable.

You say “As to postulating deity.  I’ve given one reason to do so: the evidence of the personal experience of those present at the Resurrection.” As you know, there are no first-hand reports of those experiences, and the second-hand report in Paul is ambiguous about whether a spiritual body or physical body is meant. As for other mystical experiences, it suffices to point out that these often contradict each other and are often the products of mental illness or just plain stress. How do you distinguish between the truth-claims conveyed by the visions of Mohammed, Jim Jones, an alien abductee, an Indian guru, or a Christian saint?

I grant your last point, which is essentially also your first point: if your idea of god is one who just sets up the laws and lets them run (or always makes them run), science cannot distinguish this from the atheist alternative. You break this indistinguishability, though, the moment you claim that this god interferes in human experiences.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #83468

November 7th 2013

O am very interested in this topic but I come to it from a different perspective.

Einstein is widely quoted as saying, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is its comprehensibility.”  [The original quote is, “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprensibility… That it is comprehensible is a miracle.”]

Now if you believe that Einstein was right, and the whole of Western philosophy, science, and theology is based on that premise, one needs to ask why?

The simplest answer to this question is that humans are rational beings who are able to understand a rational universe.  However Monod and those thinkers who say they believe his position say that the universe cannot and does not think, so it is not rational in that sense. 

I would certainly agree that the universe does not think, but as most people observe it is rational in that it is comprehensible.  It is rational in that it is rationally structured, which means it has a purpose, if only to produce and maintain life.

If this a true and I can think of no reason not to think that it is, then from whence does the rationality of the universe come? 

Right now I would posit only two possible sources, the rational Creator or Source of the universe, YHWH God, or a rational product of the universe, Humanity.  YHWH God is the obivious choice. 

Thus I would reason thusly.  Is there strong evidence that the universe has a rational structure?  Yes.  Is it most likely that this rational structure is the result of a rational Mind?  Yes.  Does the universe have a rational mind?  No. 

Would an All-Wise, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and Loving YHWH God be able to create the universe we live in?  Yes.  Who or what else could do so?  None.       

Or if the universe is rational and its rationality did not originate in itself, then it had to come from us or God, and we know that humans can discover rationality that already exists, but not create it out of nothing.      



Roger A. Sawtelle - #83495

November 9th 2013


As far as I can from the science that I have read Evolutionary science and the Darwinist strain in particular has not been able to verify by experiment or field study how Natural Selection actually works. 

Since this is one half of the Theory this is a serious problem.  If I am mistaken, please give me an instance where Natural Selection has been clearly demonstrated.      

Lou Jost - #83496

November 9th 2013

Roger, many of us here have at various times, and in multiple comment threads, answered your bizarre complaint about natural selection. Two that spring to mind are my demonstration that natural selection is a necessary logical/mathematical consequence of heretible genetic variation in reproductive success, and Beaglelady’s comment about different-colored rodents having differential survival rates depending on whether their color matched their background or not, due to predators preferentially capturing animals that were easier to see against their background. Where is the mystery in understanding how and why that works?

You have not moved one iota from your initial position, which is that NS is something mysterious and unexplained. You have chosen to make a mystery of the one part of evolutionary theory that is crystal clear.

Paul Lucas - #83523

November 14th 2013

Roger, the ideas that the universe is rational and accessible are 2 of the assumptions about the physical universe necessary to do science.  That is the basis of Einstein’s quote: ““The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is its comprehensibility.”  [The original quote is, “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprensibility… That it is comprehensible is a miracle.”]”

If the universe is not rational and accessible (able to be understood by humans) then science is impossible. 

Historically, science got the 5 assumptions about the universe from Judeo-Christianity.  In this case, the religious rationale is that humans created in the image of God are able to understand God’s universe.

Now, you seem to infer that the universe must be rational.  This is the Anthropic argument.  From the pov of science, there is no requirement the universe for the universe to be rational.  If it were not, we simply would not be able to do science.  Just as there is no requirement for God to make a universe that is comprehensible by humans.

So there is no argument for God in the comprehensibility of the universe.  If you believe in God first, then you can make a logical argument that the universe would be comprehensible to sapient beings that God creates.  BUT, if you start from the universe first, the comprehensibility doesn’t lead you to God.

One of the other candidates for First Cause are the physical laws themselves.  This is sometimes called Logical and Mathematical Necessity and is summarized by Hawking: 

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence? ” Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, pg 174.

In this idea, it just happens that the unified theory is comprehensible by humans.


Lou Jost - #83527

November 14th 2013

Paul, I argue that the rationality and accessibility of the universe are not assumptions of science, but rather are conclusions drawn from its success.

And wouldn’t you agree that especially the Greeks, but also to a certain extent the Chinese, and Amerindians all had the idea that the universe was rational and accessible? I think any society that calculates and predicts astronomical phenomena is using those concepts. And certainly the Pythagoreans and other Greeks had quite a strong concept of the rationality of the universe. I don’t think Christianity can take credit for that.


Paul Lucas - #83524

November 14th 2013

Roger, I can only conclude that you have deliberately avoided any reading on natural selection.  There is a massive number of papers and books on how natural selection works.  In fact, it is understood so well that there are a whole set of equations describing precisely how it works.  Douglas Futuyma’s textbook Evolutionary Biology has 2 whole chapters devoted to this.  Or you can read Ronald Fisher’s The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, published back in 1930.

Basically, it works this way:
1. Individuals vary in many, many ways.
2. The variations are heritable.
3. Individuals are in populations of similar (but not identical) individuals.
4.  Resources to support the population are limited.
5. In each generation more individuals are born than there are resources to support.
6. This mismatch between individuals and resources sets up a “struggle for existence” or competition for the resource(s).
7.  Some individuals have variations that help them do better in the competition.
8.  Those individuals who do better in the competition will survive and leave more offspring than those individuals who do poorly.
9. Because those variations are heritable, more individuals in the next generation will have the variations than the preceding generation.

If you want, we can go into some of the equations that allows you to precisely know the shift in traits (alleles) from generation to generation.

Now, natural selection is so well understood that, in some cases where we know what the struggle for existence is, experiments have been done in the wild where the outcome of natural selection has been predicted in advance:

Evaluation of the rate of evolution in natural populations of guppies (Poecilia reticulata). Reznick, DN, Shaw, FH, Rodd, FH, and Shaw, RG. Science 275:1934-1937, 1997. The lay article is Predatory-free guppies take an evolutionary leap forward, pg 1880.

Case, TJ, Natural selection out on a limb. Nature, 387: 15-16, May 1, 1997. Original paper in the same issue, pp. 70-73 (below). Discusses natural selection in the wild where lizards were introduced to various islands in the Bahamas.&nbsp; Length of limbs varied according to the plant life present on the islands. JB Losos, KI Warheit, TW Schoener, Adaptive differentiation following experimental island colonization in Anolis lizards. Nature, 387: 70-73,1997 (May 1)

Lou Jost - #83528

November 14th 2013

Paul, I wish you luck in that. I spent a lot of time doing a mathematical example for him in another thread, and his answer was something like “math isn’t real life”. Others gave him real-life examples, but he still didn’t buy it. I gave up after that episode. I hope you have more energy/time/patience than me.

beaglelady - #83549

November 18th 2013

I just love watching well-meaning, rational people stumble into their first Roger Conversation.  Believe me, I feel your pain.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #83532

November 15th 2013

Lou and Paul,

Math is fine, but math does not do the whole job.  Newton had the math for the most part, but Einstein had the theory that best explains gravity. 

By the same concept one can have the tidal charts that can predict tides in the future, but do not explain in themselves how tides work. 

Lou, I have looked at the books that you suggusted and the books themselves said that mathematical models are not the same as working models why explain how processes work.

The real life examples confirm what I have said which is Natural Selection is the result of adaptation to ecological changes.  This is the opposite of the theory which Paul gave where Natural Selection is a response to genetic variation.   

The question is not whether it exists, but how it works.  The other example using e. coli demonstrates how a particular strain of e. coli was able to adapt to a unfriendly environment. 

Details important in science.  Sloppy thinking results in confusion of the facts.   

The earth’s environment is changing.  Crops are failing.  Are we going to act and slow down the change and adapt in other ways, or are we going to wait and become extinct?   

Lou Jost - #83539

November 16th 2013

Roger, math is essentially logic: it draws conclusions from premises. In the case of natural selection, the premises are the ones Paul mentioned (though #s 4-6 are not needed), and those are all quite simple premises that you would presumably agree with. From this, plus knowledge of the genetic mechanisms of heredity, we can use math to draw inferences about what will happen. What happens is that the more fit alleles become relatively more common than the less fit ones, on the average. This process is called natural selection. It does not deny the role of ecology, as you claim. Ecological factors often drive it. No one except you thinks there is some contradiction between NS and ecology.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #83534

November 15th 2013

Lou wrote:

And certainly the Pythagoreans and other Greeks had quite a strong concept of the rationality of the universe. I don’t think Christianity can take credit for that.

Lou, you are quite right.  We must give the Greeks much credit for philosophy and math.  However it was Christianity which combined the Greek point of view with the Jewish perspective which resulted in  Western culture and civilization.

The Jewish God ruled by the Moral Law, while the Greek gods did not.  What Christian thinkers were able to do is combine the concept of Moral Law with Natural Law.

This is abundantly clear when we read John 1 where gosple writer combined the Jewish concept of the Messiah/Savior with the Greek concept of Logos/Word/Meaning. In this way Christianity reconciled Hebrew faith with Greek thought. 

This is the kind of thinking we need to be doing today. 

The world is rational but I am concerned that many people, inspired by atheism which takes meaning out of nature, are claiming that it is not. The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions claims that Scientism, his point of view, says there is no right or wrong or no meaning of life.  

Scientism would reduce science to description, including mathematical models, which was the way it was before modern science began.  Modern science is prescriptive, because it seeks to understand how things work and tests to make sure thais is accurate. 

Natural Selection as understood by Darwinism could not be tested because it was not falsifiable.




Roger A. Sawtelle - #83556

November 19th 2013

I just love watching well-meaning, rational people stumble into their first Roger Conversation.  Believe me, I feel your pain.

OK, Beaglelady,

How does the ecology generated genetic changes of the pocket mouse and the stickleback verify Darwinian Natural Selection as described by Paul, which does not involve ecology?

bren - #83560

November 19th 2013


I’m having trouble making sense of some of your statements;

(1) “This is the opposite of the theory which Paul gave where Natural Selection is a response to genetic variation.”

I’m not sure that anyone here thinks that natural selection is somehow a response to genetic variation, and I’m not sure how you extract that from Paul’s post.  Natural selection is interesting in that it can be formulated as a logical inference from a set of premises, and provided that you accept the premises as true, you have no choice (although you still seem to be opting out) but to follow the inference.  You throw around the word ecology as though it is unfairly given no say in this picture and is therefore an idea that opposes and even replaces natural selection, but the interaction with the surrounding environment and differential survival and reproduction is front and center in the points that Paul laid out above.  Only a small part of it deals with genetic variation (the “raw material” on which natural selection acts).  So what’s the gripe and where’s the flaw?

(2) “ecology generated genetic changes”.

I’m afraid I don’t even know what this means.  What on earth is an ecology generated genetic change as opposed to, say, a UV light generated genetic change?  This phrase doesn’t seem to convey anything currently known to biologists.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #83603

November 21st 2013

Paul, Bren, and Lou,

Beware of “scientific statements” that are based on inferences, rather than observation and/or experimentation.  Modern science is not based on logic, but logic backed by tested experience.

Please read my comment #83581.  I think you can put the nember in the search engine or look in the From the Dust from Chaos to Order for my understanding of how Natural Selection works based on a scientific understanding of real situations, not logical speculation.   

Page 1 of 1   1