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Searching for Motivated Belief: Understanding John Polkinghorne, Part 2

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March 14, 2013 Tags: Divine Action & Purpose, Science & Worldviews
Searching for Motivated Belief: Understanding John Polkinghorne, Part 2
Matthias Grünewald, The Small Crucifixion (c. 1511/1520), National Gallery of Art

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

In my last post, I presented John Polkinghorne’s attitude to scientific and religious knowledge and explained his approach to natural theology. Today, we briefly examine his theology of nature and his attitude toward the Resurrection.

Understanding John Polkinghorne: Theology of Nature

John Polkinghorne’s interest in natural theology is important, but what really sets him apart from most others is that he combines it with an equally strong interest in theology of nature, which is not the same thing. Where natural theology involves, “metaquestions about the pattern and structure of the physical world,” theology of nature involves, “metaquestions about how its historical process is to be understood.” Rather than “looking to the physical world for hints of God’s existence,” we look “to God’s existence as an aid for understanding why things have developed in the physical world in the manner that they have.” (Belief in God in an Age of Science, p. 13)

On this front, Polkinghorne advances a strongly Christocentric theology of creation, stressing Jürgen Moltmann’s notion of The Crucified God . In the context of Polkinghorne’s theology of nature, the point is that the Creator is the crucified and resurrected second person of the Trinity. Since I devoted a column to this before, I won’t say more here, except to alert readers to the singular importance this particular idea has for him—especially when facing the problem of suffering. “The insight of the Crucified God lies at the very heart of my own Christian belief, indeed of the possibility of such belief in the face of the way the world is.” (Belief in God in an Age of Science, p. 44)

Situating John Polkinghorne: The Resurrection of Jesus

Many Christians today see science as posing dangerous threats to their faith, challenging their understanding of the Bible and undermining core tenets such as the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, the historical basis on which the Christian faith stands or falls. “Evolution” is often identified as the problem, but the real danger is unbridled naturalism. A commitment to naturalistic methods, known as “methodological naturalism,” (MN) has been an integral part of science and medicine since the ancient Greeks. Those methods have been highly successful at producing a coherent, often very convincing picture of nature and the history of nature.

Advocates of Intelligent Design and some other Christians reject MN, but many Christians who work in the sciences and related fields (such as engineering, medicine, or the history and philosophy science) support MN as a properly grounded and properly limited way of understanding reality. In their view, a robust Christian faith is consistent with a commitment to MN, provided that the limits of scientific inquiry are not simply equated with the limits of rationally grounded belief. Polkinghorne fits squarely in this category.

To understand more clearly where Polkinghorne lies on the larger landscape of science and religion, let’s consider his approach to the Resurrection. Many contemporary thinkers, including some theologians and clergy, believe that “science” has somehow made it impossible to believe in the Resurrection, the deity of Jesus, and even belief in the transcendent God of the Bible.

A prime example is John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopalian bishop whose books have sold more than one million copies. Spong sees the bodily Resurrection as a figment of the disciples’ imaginations, a vestige of a theism that now we must throw away like a threadbare suit of clothes. For Spong, Christians today need to go “beyond theism” throwing out the baby of divine transcendence—the fundamental truth of monotheism—along with the bath water of the credulity and mythology of the pre-modern authors of the Bible and the ecumenical creeds. Spong’s message is that “Christianity must change or die,” and all in the name of “science.”

As Spong likes to say, his work is very controversial, and not just among rank-and-file Christians. Scholars have also railed against him. “I have been attacked in books from the religious right by such people as Alistair MacGrath [whose surname is actually spelled McGrath], N.T. Wright, and Luke Timothy Johnson,” he complains (Why Christianity Must Change or Die, p. xvi).

I understand (with much sadness) that we live in a highly polarized age. Nevertheless, it’s difficult for me to grant much credibility to an author who identifies McGrath, Wright, and Johnson as representatives of the “religious right.” Indeed, if anyone here is distorting the news it is Spong, not they. As the (late) great Catholic biblical scholar Raymond Brown once observed, “I do not think that a single NT [New Testament] author would recognize Spong’s Jesus as the figure being proclaimed or written about.” (Birth of the Messiah, note 321 on p. 704)

Matthias Grünewald, The Resurrection (a wing of the
Isenheim Altarpiece, ca. 1515), Unterlinden Museum,
Colmar, France

Polkinghorne certainly understands science far more than Spong does, and his conclusions about the implications of science for Christian beliefs are markedly different. With respect to the Resurrection, he is basically on the same page with his friend Wright, whose profound book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, he cites with appreciation. Belief in the Resurrection is well supported by the evidence, and the Resurrection, itself, is “the pivot on which the claim of a unique and transcendent significance for Jesus must turn.” Considering authors like Spong (although he does not explicitly name him), he adds, “it would be a serious apologetic mistake if Christian theology thought that operating in the context of science should somehow discourage it from laying proper emphasis on the essential centrality of Christ’s Resurrection, however counterintuitive that belief may seem in the light of mundane expectation.” (Theology in the Context of Science, pp. 135-6)


Looking Ahead

This is the Easter season, and I’ll return in a couple of weeks to begin examining Polkinghorne’s approach to the Resurrection more fully, using excerpts from the chapter on “Motivated Belief” from his recent book, Theology in the Context of Science.


Raymond E. Brown, Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. (1992).

John Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science (1998).

John Polkinghorne, Theology in the Context of Science (2009). My review for First Things online is here.

John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die (1998).


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 - #77563

March 17th 2013


I certainly will not argue with your analysis, but to say that it is incomplete.

To argue about which is right, science or theology?, bottom up or top down?, materialism or idealism? is pointless, because this is the dualist trap.  It is like arguing whether directions are east/west or north/south.

I see signs that P is attempting to escape the dualist trap by looking for a third way.  This is very important and we must not try to paint him into the box of our thinking.       

Ted Davis - #77588

March 18th 2013

I have two short comments about testing prayer scientifically. I don’t have time to pursue it more fully, although it’s an important matter, even if peripheral to this column.

First, I call attention to this recent study by a prominent scholar of religion, Candy Gunther Brown: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674064676 (with links to more information).

Second, this issue has a fairly long history, going back at least as far as the death of Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) in 1871. Those wanting an introduction to the 19th-century debate are invited to read Robert Bruce Mullin, “Science, Miracles, and the Prayer-Gauge Debate,” in this book: http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/W/bo3635190.html


Ted Davis - #77590

March 18th 2013

Concerning what the authors of the New Testament understood by “resurrection,” in relation to pagan beliefs about spirits and a spirit world after death, listen to a short clip in which N. T. Wright explains the difference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVhgAiGihoA

Merv - #77609

March 19th 2013

Thanks, Ted, for that link to Wright’s video. 

I started looking through Lou’s resurrection list and hadn’t gone far on the web before I found Lou’s exact list in order (probably the same place he found it) from a work by Gary Habermas (Liberty University no less).  So it could hardly be considered neutral territory and many will dismiss it for that reason.  But had Lou read on they discuss all the other resurrection claims in detail and with much supporting detail and citation.  Indeed some resurrection claims seem to involve no more than ‘apotheosis’ or are so sparingly supported (e.g.  one maid in the house) as to hardly register as a claim.


I will let the conclusion from the work above speak for itself.  I included one paragraph from that below.  Since the ‘paste’ messed up the formatting I just ended up retyping it.  So any typos and loss of a couple citation superscripts are my fault.

It is an interesting phenomenon that some scholars who are otherwise critical in their approach to Christian claims are somewhat less so when it comes to non-Christian claims of apotheosis and resurrection.  But it must be said that such claims have not fared well in terms of historical investigation.  Now this does not disprove such beliefs; it only reveals that they cannot be established (or known) by historical methodology.

I also was curious to visit Wikipedia for that central event:  Christ’s resurrection, stealing myself for a barrage of mostly anti-theist propaganda.  But as is so often the case, Wikipedia delivered impressively with an objective and fully informative tone echoing much of Habermas’ work above, in fact, among some of the authoritative voices on the subject.  I noticed Spong’s name among the listed citations of the chosen resurrection skeptics.


Merv - #77610

March 19th 2013

I forgot to include one other paragraph I found in Habermas’ work that most captures the point I was intending to make in the first place.  I’ll try the paste again:

One more example is provided by Charles Hartshorne who, while also discussing the resurrection of Jesus, relates that all religions report miracles. Because of this, Hartshorne states, ’ I do not feel that I can choose among such accounts… .‘3 But this last statement appears to assume that, just because miracle reports abound, they are on a similar footing. However, such a view (regardless of whether any miracles have ever occurred) forgoes the process of critical interaction. Are they all to be either accepted or rejected en masse simply because a variety of such reports does exist?

Lou, I don’t know if you are still reading, but this exactly addresses your much expressed concern and our exchanges here.  It may not satisfy you, of course.  But you should at least be able to acknowledge that not all claims are equal in any field, much less on the more difficult religious questions


Lou Jost - #77619

March 19th 2013

Yep, I am still here (just returned home after being on the road for a week). You said “Are they all to be either accepted or rejected en masse simply because a variety of such reports does exist?” No, of course not. My points were that 1) resurrection accounts are a recurrent theme among religious sects; 2) Christians can easily recognize the evidential weaknesses of non-Christian resurrection accounts; and 3) many of these same weaknesses appear in the Jesus account.

Ted Davis - #77613

March 19th 2013


Thank you for doing the legwork on this. I don’t know Gary Habermas personally, but I know some of his publications, including some work on the Resurrection. I found all of it  excellent. I’m not a philosopher, which obviously limits my ability to judge his work, but I have studied some philosophy of science at the graduate level and I’ve read extensively in theology. (This is just to contextualize my opinion.)

Lou Jost - #77618

March 19th 2013

Hi Merv,

I did look at that article when I wrote my comment. (And yes, I read it even though it came from Liberty University.) Of course I agree with you that resurrection accounts vary greatly in detail and reliability; some are weaker than the one you believe in, while others are stronger. My point was that most Christians reject all of these accounts except the Jesus account. Even Christians can see that none of those other accounts is documented well enough to establish that a real resurrection happened. I invite the reader to exercise the same skepticism when evaluating the evidence for the Jesus account.

Merv - #77629

March 19th 2013

Well, your invitation to skepticism has been well received throughout biblical history and into the present.  Very few events in history have had more skepticism leveled at them than Christ’s resurrection.  In fact when you suggested that some stories were weaker while others were stronger—perhaps you were just using hyperbole here, but I’m curious what resurrection story you know of that could possibly have more historical evidence piled up for it?  None of the ones you listed seemed to me to even come close!


Lou Jost - #77630

March 19th 2013

Some involve accounts written by the eyewitnesses themselves, rather than second-hand accounts like the Bible’s. First-hand accounts are generally more accurate than second-hand accounts. On the other hand, the Biblical second-hand accounts talk about groups of witnesses rather than just one, so in that sense they could more reliable. But in any case, the evidence for all of them is quite weak. I guess we will talk more about this in a later post.

Ted Davis - #77650

March 20th 2013

We will indeed talk more fully about specific features of the biblical stories, Lou, most likely in April and May, when my presentation of Polkinghorne’s chapter gets to that point (I’ll be serializing the edited excerpts, and the Resurrection is later in the chapter).

I regard the larger picture (what we can assemble from the various pieces in the New Testament) as well supported historically, not scientifically. I think it’s impossible to find scientific support for non-repeatable events that don’t conform to our conceptions of how nature works and doesn’t work. I take that as a given. This is however a different question from whether a given event actually happened. That is more of an historical question, not a scientific one, and certain features of the piece argue for actual historicity, IMO, rather than for a fictional narrative, made up after the fact, to advance a new religion. We’ll spell those out at the proper time.

Ted Davis - #77651

March 20th 2013

Should read “certain features of the pieces” ...

Lou Jost - #77652

March 20th 2013

I guess the distinction you are making is that, if we ignore the claim’s prior improbability as determined by science (or by everyday experience), the evidence we have for it suggests it really happened. Is that right?

I think it is difficult but not impossible to find historical evidence for a one-of-a-kind event that violates our expectations. It all depends on how badly it violates what we know. A resurrection from the dead violates expectation in a big way, but one might be convinced of at least something appearing to be a resurrection, if there were several independent, mutually consistent contemporary written accounts by neutral observers (people who, prior to the event, did not have a close connection to the “resurrectee”). Even then, probably the best we could do from this distance is conclude that he appeared to physically rise from the dead. But so far as I know today, it looks like we don’t even have enough evidence to feel confident that Jesus appeared to rise physically from the dead. I look forward to the discussion in April.

And I hope that by that time I will have done my homework to read more of Wright. So far, what I have read of his seems to be strongly biased by his religious outlook. More on this in April.

Ted Davis - #77718

March 22nd 2013

Please keep in mind, Lou, that your own view on this topic—and your view of Wright’s view—might turn out to be"strongly biased” by your “relgious outlook.” I regard atheism as a religious outlook, no less than theism. If you prefer the term worldview (Weltanschaung), that’s fine, but all the same IMO. Genuine neutrality on this issue is, as you’ve admitted, difficult to achieve; this means that genuine objectivity may also be diffcult to achieve.

I don’t mean to imply that a firmly sceptical position such as yours is not rationally justified; I do mean to imply that a less sceptical position such as mine can also be rationally justified. I expect you may disagree with what I just said, but IMO that would simply mean that rational people do not always agree about what actually constitutes rational belief. If this were not so, the discipline of philosophy would not exist.

Indeed, as far as I can tell, when certain scientists express disgust with the discipline of philosophy, or when they simply dismiss its relevance to a specific (often scientific) topic, they are IMO really expressing their frustration at the fact that the philosophical claims they are making themselves—but not acknowledging as philosophical claims—are opposed by others on philosophical grounds that they do not accept.

GJDS - #77655

March 20th 2013

Ted and Merv,

I think that sometimes we get so involved in discussing atheists’ point of view(s) regarding evidence that we forget the point of the discussion - in this case the ressurection. I do not think that even if we had independent observors who recorded facts thaey presented for a ressurection, that the Christian faith would have spread througout the earth. The point is the teachings of the faith, in that God came amongst us as a human being, lived with us, died for us, and now lives at the right hand of God. This involves everyting that we human beings understand about ourselves, the Law of right and wrong, our outlook towards each other, and the forgiveness of our sins while we are living this life _ and the faith that we would avoid doing wrong with God’s help. I am not being unkind when I say that these things would be foolishness to atheists - the ressurection would be a novel talking point for them.

I agree that discussions that question us are interesting and at time useful - but in the end, picking one or two point for discussion can often miss the point of the discussion regarding the Christian faith. People won’t change their life on questions that seek to differentiate between parlour tricks and one-of events.

Ted Davis - #77685

March 21st 2013

Please see what I quoted (back up there) from Wright, about this being a “self-committing” event as well as a “self-involving” event, GJDS. We agree, and I think Wright said as much already.

GJDS - #77622

March 19th 2013

Reply Lou #77620

Boyle is clear in his statement: “....Government of Systemes, that for ought we know may be fram’d and manag’d in a manner quite differing, from what is observ’d in that part of the Universe that is known to us..” He is saying in that part of the Universe that is known to us, not the multi-universe notion, and he recognises that we may know things relevant to this world, but this knowledge may be limited in its application. It is curious to say the least that an un-testable notion is put forward by atheists to counter a hypothesis of gods that is also conceptualised to fit in with non-testability. This type of muddled thinking would not be acceptable in science – nor would a null-hypothesis that is based on the assumption that gods are created by human beings, and this assumption is then taken as proof (or at least solid grounds for an argument) against faith. 

I won’t go into details of this notion, but to regard this as elegant is astonishing (!!??). And how do you get Ockham’s razor into this; I suspect this notion fits in well with belief in fairies (people can make up their minds on this, but seriously Lou, is it a deity called maths?) “Scientists have debated whether mathematics is simply a useful tool for describing the universe, or whether math itself is the fundamental reality, and our observations of the universe are just imperfect perceptions of its true mathematical nature. If the latter is the case, then perhaps the particular mathematical structure that makes up our universe isn’t the only option, and in fact all possible mathematical structures exist as their own separate universes.

“A mathematical structure is something that you can describe in a way that’s completely independent of human baggage,” said Max Tegmark of MIT, who proposed this brain-twistin gidea. “I really believe that there is this universe out there that can exist independently of me that would continue to exist even if there were no humans.”

Lou Jost - #77625

March 19th 2013

Faith in a very particular, detailed religion is obviously not the point we should start from, when evaluating the range of religious beliefs (and lack of belief) open to us.

GJDS - #77628

March 19th 2013

The notion(s) put forward for things such a multi-universes is (are) based on a belief that there is an independent reality termed ‘mathematical structure’ - Boyle and others did not advocate such a belief. Just how do you any seperate sets of belief (open to us) unless you consider the details of each one of them? How would anyone ‘evaluate them’ whatever that may mean? If we accept that human concepts (and I take it you agree that maths is derived from human activity) cannot form the basis for religious diety of gods, how would belief(s) that atheists put forward qualify as anything but human concepts that form belief systems. 

Lou Jost - #77648

March 20th 2013

I’m sorry but I don’t understand your last question.

GJDS - #77658

March 20th 2013

Once again I am astonished by your statements - faith is the central issue, and without it we cannot have a conversation - and how do we evaluate a range of beliefs (theist or atheist) without considering particular (and very detailed) religion(s)? This does not make any sense. I again refer you to my statement regarding ‘mental gymnastics’.

Lou Jost - #77660

March 20th 2013

Once again, we seem incapable of understanding each other. I was saying that it is not appropriate to start out with a position of faith in a particular religion, evaluating other religions against this pre-chosen faith.

GJDS - #77662

March 20th 2013

I have not made such a suggestion - I have pointed out that faith is an integral part of the Christian religion, and have extend this thinking to other religions, in that they also proclaim their faith. You have conflated with with evaluating other religions - whatever that may mean. Remember it has been your position all along that various religions need to be evaluated - an odd position for an atheist. I understand that your position is odd, not one that involves mis-communication. I have made a number of statements about faith, and have asked you to provide a scientific definition of faith. I gave a Biblical one - why is this conversation difficult to understand? 

GJDS - #77632

March 19th 2013


A couple of references to the fine tuning argument (FTA); Staley also considers the approach by R Collins. An approach to fine tuning this has been to postulate that a small variation in the overall set of physical constant may be contemplated, and the variation may be considered using statistical approach. Just how can we have the constants know to such a degree of precision, and yet hypothesise that there may be a probability that these would exist with other values? I have used lengthy quotes to try and give a reasonable impression of these papers (as far as this is possible). I think these two are atheists so we would see them as critical and sceptical of FTA.

I make no statements on the technical arguments regarding this approach; from Bradley Monton, “God, Fine-tuning, and the Problem of Old Evidence.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57:405–424 (2006), The fine-tuning argument is generally not taken, even by its proponents, to provide a definitive proof of the existence of God. .... As a result, the fine-tuning argument is well-suited to be represented in a probabilistic framework…”.

 K. W. Staley, “Probability in Fine-tuning Design Arguments,” Saint Louis University, May 21, 2007. “A variant of this probabilistic version of the argument is an argument that appeals to likelihoods rather than probabilities of hypotheses. Elliott Sober has argued that design arguments in general are best understood as likelihood arguments, and the “Fine-tuning Design Argument” offered by Robin Collins is an example of a formulation in these terms.” 

“A fine-tuning argument for design begins with the observation that certain physical parameters or initial conditions have values that could not differ very much without rendering human life impossible. This is to infer from this observation that the universe is a product of a designing intelligence whose purpose it was in creating the universe to bring about or allow for human life.”

“Suppose that the universe is not the work of a Creator whose purpose it is to bring about the conditions in which life is possible. Would you then expect fine-tuning to obtain? Many people find it natural to say that under those circumstances they would not expect finetuning, so that a low probability seems correct.”  

I think the most poignant remark on this topic is Staley: “I might take myself to know the relevant science but without committing myself to any particular belief about how I know it. But then in what sense does this constitute knowledge for me? If I were to remove from my background information all beliefs about material procedures that connect my experiences to physical phenomena that serve as evidence for the relevant sciences, it would seem also to involve the elimination of my beliefs about those physical phenomena and hence the theories that explain them. This consideration is perhaps not conclusive, but the FTA advocate owes us a more detailed story here about how such an approach would work.”

Lou Jost - #77645

March 20th 2013

The FTA is right at the cutting edge of statistics, philosophy, physics, and biology, and the divergence of opinion about FTA among serious scientists is much greater than divergence of opinion about evolution, age of the earth, etc. I do hope Ted and/or his colleague R Collins writes at least one post specifically on this subject.

There is still even disagreement among physicists about whether the universe really is fine-tuned. If it is, we must wonder what is it fine-tuned for? This is not a trivial question; the universe certainly does not look like it is fine-tuned for human life, since humans are limited to a tiny, utterly insignificant fraction of the universe, and there are many other species that also share our little corner. 

Evolution is still going on today. Even if the universe were designed, we still don’t know if we are the desired end product, or an intermediate stage, or even an obsolete stage that has outlived its usefulness. We know that eventually, we will become quite unlike present-day humans, perhaps even diverging into several species, and eventually we will almost certainly become extinct. Surely the earth is not the only planet with intelligent life. Theorists on other planets will  conclude that the universe is fine-tuned for them. If we are still around when they make their argument, how would we argue with them about who it was designed for? I suppose we would have to agree  that if the universe is fine-tuned, it is not fine-tuned to produce one particular race but rather to produce conditions generally permitting the occasional evolution of intelligent beings. Indeed we see that even on our own planet, multiple intelligent lineages have appeared already. A human-centered fine-tuning argument seems parochial.


GJDS - #77653

March 20th 2013

Your last paragraph has answered my question - it is extroadinary that you would display such belief - I could begin the usual response, such as, “what scientific evidence do you have for these beliefs?”. I think we would both realise the futility of such a discussion, because we all know there is no such evidence, In fact the banality and scientific sloppiness I have seen regarding thse type of questions has astonished me. Obviously we do not have any data for theorists on other planets, whatever it means to “we will become unlike present-day humans”, to mention just two points.

It is difficult for me to accept your position, since you apply extraodinary critical methods to religion, and then forget this and begin to make belief statements that violate the very critical methods you insist must apply to other people’s beliefs. 

Lou Jost - #77656

March 20th 2013

There is an immense amount of evidence that species change through time. In another few hundred million years, there is no chance at all that humans will be the same as they are today. Genetic drift alone ensures that this will happen. How much drift will happen depends on future population size, but it could only be doubted by ignoring the science of genetics. The fossil record also clearly shows that over hundreds of millions of years, nearly all species change. Though there are a few “living fossils”, even these show some morphological evolution, and theoretical population genetics indicates that they must show much  genetic evolution.


Regarding theorists on other planets, it should be obvious that I was making a philosophical point.

It is not extraordinary to ask for evidence for belief in the claims of an ancient book, since many of those claims contradict everything we have learned in the last 2000 years.

GJDS - #77657

March 20th 2013

Your statement (or perhaps a mantra that borders on a creed of faith) is touching - however since you are a scientist, give me testable ‘evidence’ that ‘there is no chance at all that humans will be the same’. This I assume is your area of specialisation, so it should be an easy thing for you to do.

It is important to show us how you differentiate between scientifically testable statements, from your so called philosophical points, and also from atheists version of fairly tales.

There is no argument about your request for evidence for belief - from anyone - as long as you have some reasonable basis for such requests. Ancient books, by definition, are just that, ancient. The contradictions you place such faith in need not become a central point for anyone except those who become obsessed with outlooks of the physical world held many thousand of years ago. Since reasonable people have grasped the meaning conveyed withing this 2000 yr old setting, is it you ‘calling’ in life to decide how they should meet some sort of arbitrary standard you have set, especially when reason shows you fail to apply it to your beliefs. (this has not been spell-checked).

Lou Jost - #77659

March 20th 2013

As I told you, both the fossil record and population genetics show that species change through time. This is not in question. Look up “genetic drift”; even if our habitat does not change over time, our genetic make-up will necessarily hange due to random sampling of our genome from one generation to the next. The mathematics of this is well-known. The loci that change the most will be those that are neutral or nearly neutral, and the effect will depend on population size and on the strength of selection at that locus. The formulas for this are in every genetic textbook.  In addition, if our habitat changes over time, natural selection will also cause our species to change. What part of this do you doubt? 

As you say, this is my scientific specialty. Of course you are free to dispute my statements, but you can’t resist saying things like “especially when reason shows you fail to apply it to your beliefs” when I tell you about a standard scientific result. I wish you would engage what I say, and perhaps do some research and dispute some specific part of it, rather than just insulting me and atheists in general.

GJDS - #77661

March 20th 2013

I do not think asking you or any atheist to keep to the standards of testibility you ask of others is insulting, and the remark was most certainly not given as an insult. I asked you for a testable piece of evidence. I have serched various publications that speak to the matters you mention, and again I state that in these publications I see a great deal of uncertainty. I accept that this may be a subjective assessment as in my speciality I exercise greater doubt regarding scientific verification and falsefication than I detect in evolutionist literature (I have give examples of this and have recieved a great deal of abuse and insult - nontheless the details of some mesurements leave me unimpressed with so called scientific data). However, testability is the question that I have raised, not questioning the value and quality of other peoples work. We have between 10,000 and 40,0000 years of earth history and human remains that is relatively easy to access - at the very least this should provide evidence from you on significant changes to the human species that we can test and evaluate in detail. Even then how would you provide a testable ‘thing’ based on mathemetical models and calculations? This is a reasonable question, since you posit a prediction that you believe should occur many million of years in the future.

My remarks have endeavoured to address the importance of beliefs and how we deal with these in discussions such as motivated belief. You have avoided questions that seek to examine such beliefs (e.g. the view that maths presents something that is idependent of us, and also similar remarks about the Universe.) You have instead chosen to follow another tack and I have responded to that. 

Lou Jost - #77664

March 20th 2013

The fossil record shows that species change over time (or become extinct). Population genetics shows mathematically that change will  happen over time, at neutral or nearly neutral loci, due to genetic drift. Do you know what genetic drift is? If not, please look it up and you will see that it is a simple consequence of the way that genes are inherited in finite populations. It is not an assumption but a fact.

GJDS - #77668

March 20th 2013

I guess humour sometimes helps in situations such as this (but would it work on this occasion). You made a prediction and I asked for your scientific proof that atheist are so keen to discuss - now I get a short gartuitous lecture on undergraduate genetics. Is this (as someone remarked) the best that you can do? As to my other remarks that seem to be central to most of your posts, I guess in this case your silence may be golden!

Ted Davis - #77687

March 21st 2013


I have it on good authority that Ted isn’t qualified to write a column (at the level of sophistication you will probably want) about either the FTA itself, or about the state of opinion about it “among serious scientists.” He probably can’t even (at least without a lot of further work) write about the history of the FTA idea, since I don’t think he’s studied it very much hithterto. 

Robin Collins, of course, is highly qualified to write about the FTA itself, and he probably has a decent sense of the state of opinion about it. He doesn’t blog, and he’s presently on sabbtical anyway, so unfortunately we probably won’t get that any time soon. However, I can point you to this site of his: http://home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/Fine-tuning/ft.htm

Lou Jost - #77699

March 21st 2013

Hi Ted,

 That’s disappointing, but we should be grateful for your modesty and self-awareness. Like I said above, the FTA is technically challenging and require a heck of a lot of background work.

I did look at Robin’s site when you mentioned it earlier. I read one article and found it disappointing. Do you still want us to comment here on the FTA? I also approach this argument with much trepidation, because the technical details often go well beyond my knowledge. Some general observations regarding Robin’s arguments can be made, though.

Ted Davis - #77720

March 22nd 2013

And I’m grateful, Lou, for your active participation here as a dialogue partner. On these particular matters we probably will agree not very often, but (unfortunately) there are not many places when disagreements such as ours can be aired with civility and respect. In all too many places, the gallery is simply full of leering and jeering, not listening and appreciating honest differences of opinion.

I also appreciate the fact that you speak under your own name, Lou, as I also do when I visit other blogs (I could hardly speak anonymously here). As many of my readers already know, I do not believe that posting comments under the cover of a pseudonymous user name is a generally good thing. I have to accept that it’s a general practice, here and elsewhere, but I really don’t like it. Here is why: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/opinion/sunday/this-story-stinks.html

Few things wrankle me more than cowards who through slime behind masks. There’s far too much of that out there. This is just one more thing we are losing, by moving from handwritten letters, telephone calls, and sitting down over coffee to “social media,” which can be so anti-social.

By all means, Lou, say what you wish about the FTA. In the summer, when we get to presenting the chapter on natural theology from Polkinghorne’s Belief in God in an Age of Science, you will have an ideal opportunity to give your two cents’ worth (or more) on that topic, but there’s no reason you need to wait. I don’t want to get into that again now, since we will later, but others might want to.

Ted Davis - #77723

March 22nd 2013

Obviously I meant “cowards who throw slime,” not “through slime.” Errors like that mean it’s time for me to give it a rest today…

Lou Jost - #77724

March 22nd 2013

Thanks, I have appreciated your openness and sincerity. I agree about anonymous commenting, though I understand that some people have good reasons for doing it. It tends to make people less civil and less likely to listen to each other.

I have a ton of work now, and lots of trepidation about entering the fray on the FTA, but in a day or two I would like to say a few things about Robin’s stuff. And I’ll look forward to summer.

Ted Davis - #77721

March 22nd 2013

Adding to what I just said, perhaps the most important thing that Robert Boyle ever wrote is not about chemistry, or even about theology, although it clearly reflects his convictions as a Christian: “For I love to speak of Persons with Civility, though of Things with Freedom.” Would that more people—including more than a few scientists—had a similar attitude. Would that I could even say myself that I always consistently practiced what I’m preaching now.

I’d love to continue that thought further, with more from Boyle, but I’ll leave it with that for the time being.

Lou Jost - #77670

March 20th 2013

Since my “prediction” is an obvious consequence of undergrad genetics, and is confirmed by the fossil record, what else can I do?

GJDS - #77672

March 20th 2013

You can provide a scientifically testable piece of evidence - for something that you believe is certain, this should be an easy thing.

Lou Jost - #77684

March 21st 2013

Just go backwards in time and look how our ancestors differ from present-day humans. By the time you go back a few hundred thousand years, the differences are enormous. As for drift, look in any genetics text for the mathematical proof that drift will occur. If you don’t believe math (and I guess you may not….) you can still test the theory by computer simulations. It works. And you can see it in action in the lab and in nature as populations are subdivided and left to evolve on their own. If you think genetic drift isn’t real, you must not understand it.

Lou Jost - #77689

March 21st 2013

You might also look at geographic variation among humans today. Since all humans started from a common ancestor, the geographic variation you see arose relatively recently through drift and selection.

GJDS - #77693

March 21st 2013

Varaiation occurs today and yesterday and is a natural observation - this is hardly a testable piece of evidence that would prove your point. I use maths everyday; you on the other hand look to correlations that have error and your guesses will not substitute for testability. I had given you ‘a free hit’ by suggesting you look at human tribes that have been shown to have existed within  the normal variations of these human beings for tens of thousands of years - you have not and yet you continue with this fiction that you can make predictions over millions of years. I will not continue this boring subject with you.

Lou Jost - #77698

March 21st 2013

I told you drift is a necessary mathematical consequence of heredity in a finite population. One can prove it mathematically. You “use maths every day”...well, then you should be able to follow the proofs given in any genetic textbook. I am not sure why you are being so obstinate on this simple point, and I am not sure why you also obstinately ignore the fossil record going back millions of years. And even without looking at fossils, the obvious differences between humans and other apes shows how fast species can change over time, since we had a common ancestor a less than ten million years ago.

GJDS - #77673

March 20th 2013

R Collins argues for teleology and fine tuning (FTA) and is well worth reading and I will continue to try and understand his lengthy presentation (R Collins, THE TELEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT: AN EXPLORATION OF THE FINE-TUNING OF THE COSMOS, found on Messiah website .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)). For this post, I present his summary: “This precise setting of the structure of the universe for life is called the “fine-tuning of the cosmos.”  This fine-tuning falls into three major categories: that of the laws of nature, that of the constants of physics, and that of the initial conditions of the universe. Life, for the argument, is that of embodied moral agents, of which humans are one example, and not origins of life.

The major issue I think is that of embodied moral agents; the arguments however are set in terms of certain conditional epistemic probabilities, the appropriate background information to use in the argument, and range of values for the constants of physics. This is a technically challenging approach, and while I find Collin’s approach persuasive, I cannot give an opinion on the technical merits of his argument.

As I understand it, the alternative to FTA is the so-called multiverse hypothesis, or at least as a way of undermining the fine-tuning argument for theism. I have shown previously that this multiverse hypothesis seems grounded in a belief that mathematics and the Universe that give rise to these are somehow independent of the human beings who exercise their intellect to arrive at these maths. This assumption is highly contentious. 

My outlook is mainly based on the accuracy and certainty with which we may regard the laws of nature and the physical constants. I point out the shortcomings of modelling such as of quantum mechanics in that general treatments are not only extremely difficult, but the actual models cannot be considered as ‘packets’ of reality. For example, QM provides a general solution for the hydrogen atom, but we cannot postulate a reality that consists of one hydrogen atom. I also point out that constants of physics and chemistry, and understanding of the basic material of the creation, is know with a great deal of certainty and is consistent with a reality that points to its Creator.

Lou Jost - #77711

March 22nd 2013

From a scientific point of view, the FTA does not involve embodied moral agents. It concerns the “specialness” of universes that can produce entities capable of making fine-tuning arguments.

GJDS - #77712

March 22nd 2013

I am emphasising the distinction between origin of life and that of moral agents - in terms of the latter, I prefer to begin the discussion/argument with the intelligibility of the Universe and how it is that we come to ‘know’ what it is, and then continue to the free moral agents aspects. My remarks however, are more to that of Collins and his lengthy treatment for now.

Lou Jost - #77714

March 22nd 2013

I am just noting that as far as I know, moral agents are not involved in any aspect of the FTA, from a scientific viewpoint (though this may be of interest from the viewpoint of a particular religion). The FTA asks why the universe is such that intelligent entities (intelligent enough to ask about FTA) arose. Nothing about moral agents, as far as I can see.

GJDS - #77715

March 22nd 2013

Lou #77714

If you look through the Collins paper, you will find a great deal on moral agents, e.g.:

“section 5.2, the sort of life that is most significant for the argument is that of embodied moral agents, of which humans are one example.” 

Page 4:  “The existence of a Life-Permitting Universe (LPU).  This will always mean the existence of a material spatio-temporal reality that can support embodied moral agents, not merely life of some sort.”

Page 12: “embodied moral agents is that there exist material systems that can sustain a high level of self-reproducing complexity—something comparable to that of a human brain.  Given what we know of life on earth, this seems a reasonable assumption….. The laws and principles of nature themselves have just the right form to allow for the existence embodied moral agents.”

Page 54: “we shall need to argue that God has some reason to bring about a life-permitting universe..”

And many other statements in the Collins paper. 

Lou Jost - #77717

March 22nd 2013

Thanks for the citations. The last one on your list shows that Robin’s purpose in introducing embodied moral agents is theological, not scientific. Moral agency plays no role in the scientific debate about FTA. I think you will find few if any references to “embodied moral agents” in FTA papers not written by Robin or theologians. A quick Google search seems to confirm this. 

Anyway your third citation suggests that practically speaking, it doesn’t make any difference to most (all?) of Robin’s arguments about FTA if we just substitute “intelligent observers” for “embodied moral agents”, since Robin says an “embodied moral agent” is just a self-reproducing material system with a high level of complexity.

Ted Davis - #77722

March 22nd 2013

I fully agree, Lou, that moral agency is not part of the scientific debate. That doesn’t make it irrelevant to the overall argument, b/c the overall argument goes “beyond science,” to borrow (again) the title of a Polkinghorne book. The same is true, no less, when Krauss or Hawking claims to have explained away God, b/c (they say, quite erroneusly) they have fully “explained” the universe by assuming that a certain set of physical “laws” and their consequences need no further explanation, as if “laws” have explanatory efficacy over matter, in and of themselves.

When someone like Collins or Polkinghorne or George Ellis advances an argument for theism on the basis (partly) of the FTA, they do not see it (and they don’t present it as if they did) as a purely scientific claim. They understand that they are placing science in itself within a larger metaphyical framework, a framework that in their opion make better ultimate sense of science itself as well as of the subject science studies—namely, the universe.

When someone replies by saying that Collins (or anyone else) has not established the existence of God scientifically, and therefore they cannot rationally claim that they’ve provided evidence for God’s existence, it sounds to me like they are begging the question, and big time. If the argument involves likelihoods (as it does for Collins), and assumptions about God are embedded in the hypothesis under evaluation, then it won’t do to say at the start that you can’t assume (even hypothetically) the existence of a key entity in your hypothesis, whose likelihood is being established (or argued for) by the argument itself. That’s what is often looks like to me, at least.

Lou Jost - #77725

March 22nd 2013

Fine-tuning 1

I’ll start with the Mars biosphere analogy which opens Robin’s “God, Design, and Fine-tuning”. This is a really bad, borderline dishonest analogy, reminiscent of creationists’ analogies between evolution and a tornado in a junkyard. Contrary to Robin’s claim, the universe is not analogous to the Mars “biosphere” in any relevant way: pre-existing oxygen-breathing, room-temperature-loving creatures didn’t randomly stumble upon those conditions. Rather, those conditions caused oxygen-breathing, room-temperature-loving creatures (us) to evolve. We are adapted to it, not the other way around. Furthermore, contrary to Robin, the universe is not at all like his Mars biosphere, because it is not friendly to us; the proportion of the universe that is naturally capable of supporting human life is vanishingly small, less than 1 part in 1034 (a few-meter-thick shell around the surface of the earth, 1015 m3, divided by the volume of a sphere whose radius goes half the distance between our sun and the nearest star, 1049 m3). That is an almost unimaginably tiny fraction of the universe, much less than one drop of water in relation to all the world’s oceans.  Suppose Robin’s Mars biosphere was a hollow sphere 1034 cubic meters in size (much bigger than the whole earth). Would we really conclude that its designer had built it for us, if only one or two cubic meters of that enormous biosphere were habitable to humans? Such a conclusion would require enormous hubris and self-delusion.

Don’t get me wrong, FTA is still interesting. It is just not as clear-cut as Robin’s analogy would have us believe. And the lack of objectivity shown in his opening paragraph makes me wonder about the rest of his article.

Ted Davis - #77810

March 25th 2013


As I’ve said, I don’t want to go further into FTA things right now, partly b/c the focus of this column is elsewhere and partly b/c we will definitely come back to those issues in subsequent columns over the summer. However, I feel compelled to reply to your statement that Robin Collins’ essay opens with “a really bad, borderline dishonest analogy,” leading you to conclude that “the lack of objectivity shown in his opening paragraph makes me wonder about the rest of his article.”

First, that particular essay was written not for a technical journal, but for a philosophy of religion anthology used by undergraduates. The opening analogy, which is catchy, is seems to me nothing more than a hook to get the reader interested in actually looking at the detailed argument. He doesn’t open any of his research articles with this analogy. Any philosopher knows that analogies are not substitutes for arguments, there will always be lots of disanalogies for any analogy, or the analogous situation would be identical to the original situation. And despite what you seem to think, Lou, Collins really is an excellent philosopher, or he wouldn’t have been invited to this highly specialized conference: Universe or Multiverse? Symposium, Stanford, California, in March 2003. That symposium was partly covered in http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=parallel-universes. So, I’d be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Nevertheless, if Collins’ argument were based only on the analogy, your point would be well taken. But, it is not, as readers can easily see for themselves. As for your claim that we adapted to the universe, adaption can only occur if complex, reproducible structures exist to begin with. The FTA, however, is about the laws and values of the constants the universe must have for the existence of such structures. 

(I don’t see how the size of the universe is relevant at all, since it would be relevant only if God had finite resources, in which case creating unused matter would be a waste of resources. But God does not have finite resources. Perhaps I’m reading too much into what you said.)

I should also point out that the “anthropic” principle is poorly named, at least as it is generally used. The point isn’t about human beings, but about the very conditions that make carbon-based life possible at all. Perhaps somewhere there are silicon-based complex life forms, but I doubt that silicon can do that. Or, perhaps somewhere there is a very different set of chemical elements, consistent with Boyle’s musings (quoted above). In that case, all bets are off, but we can bet here only on our knowledge, not our speculations.

Finally, Lou, you said this above: “Surely the earth is not the only planet with intelligent life. Theorists on other planets will conclude that the universe is fine-tuned for them.” That’s interesting, especially in light of your comment about Robin’s essay: “the proportion of the universe that is naturally capable of supporting human life is vanishingly small, less than 1 part in 1034 (a few-meter-thick shell around the surface of the earth, 1015 m3, divided by the volume of a sphere whose radius goes half the distance between our sun and the nearest star, 1049 m3). That is an almost unimaginably tiny fraction of the universe…”

From the juxtaposition of these two thoughts, Lou, I gather that you make sense of these apparently contradictory thoughts by appealing to an essentially infinite multiverse? (I’m just curious.)

Lou Jost - #77815

March 25th 2013

Ted, thanks for responding. OK, I will not judge the rest of his work on this introduction. But it really strikes me as an unwarranted  rhetorical effort to “load the dice”, even if (or especially if)  it is aimed at non-specialists.

Thanks also for pointing out the apparent contradiction between the two statements I made about the universe’s suitability for life. Other readers may have thought there was a contradiction there too. My statements are actually consistent.  One part in 1034 works out to one earth-sized life-supporting planet per star. There are hundreds of sextillions (200 *1021) of stars in the known universe. So my number would mean hundreds of sextillions of habitable planets in the known universe (no multiverses considered).

Now obviously we don’t really have a large enough sample (one planet in one solar system) to have much confidence in my number. It could be much bigger or much smaller. My point here is just that the number I gave leads to as many habitable planets as there are stars in the universe. I don’t believe for a minute that every star has a habitable planet, but even if only 1 in a million stars do, or one in a hundred trillion, that would still make for unpronouncably many habitable planets!

I think the anthropic principle is not about carbon-based life forms, or carbon + silicon life forms,  but rather about any life forms capable of making the FTA. However, the limitations of our knowledge about life end up forcing us to limit our discussion to carbon or silicon forms of life, for purely practical reasons.

Eddie - #77726

March 22nd 2013

Lou Jost:

Just in case you missed it, I mention that I did post a reply to your last comment on the previous Polkinghorne thread:


March 20th, #77644

Lou Jost - #77739

March 23rd 2013

Thanks, Eddie, I hadn’t seen it. Will check it out next time I can take a break. First I want to reply to the comment by GJDS below, which finally shows me why he and I have so much trouble communicating.

Lou Jost - #77752

March 23rd 2013

Eddie, I now answered your comment over there…


GJDS - #77727

March 22nd 2013

Your reading of Collins on the Mars analogy is misleading – he commences with an argument typical of these type of discussions: “What conclusion would we draw from finding this structure? Would we draw the conclusion that it just happened to form by chance? Certainly not.”

It seems to me that you are making the case for FTA against atheism, by noting the extreme improbability of a situation required for life, and that the only conclusion we may draw is that it did not come about by blind chance.

I have mentioned in other posts the contradictory worldview needed by atheists just to account for simple facts of science, such as for examplethe chemical affinities for a system contain C, H, O and N. The blatant dishonesty (and this is not a personal remark directed at you Lou, but at the argument itself) is to believe that in such a situation we can believe both the well established laws of chemistry and also believe that hydrocarbons would form when we have an excess of oxygen. Undergraduate chemistry shows (without doubt) that oxygen would consume all of the hydrogen and then continue to react with carbon to form carbon dioxide – after all H and C were consumed would we have oxygen in the system. The atheist (and Darwin’s disciples) know this and so they invent all sorts of fairy tales to get around simple dumb facts of science – then they add to their nonsense by claiming Darwin’s ideas have the same foundation in science as the theories of chemical bond formation, chemical kinetics, and all else. This is not objective scientifically based stuff; it is the stuff of modern day fiction and superstition.

Collins is making generalised statements that are derived from our established understanding of physics and chemistry. Darwin’s disciples and atheists are arguing against what is clearly established, invoking some things that are so improbable as to defy belief, and then underpin this position with a self-referential claim that theirs is a scientific position while others are doing ‘theology’ (and again you often admit that you do not understand what theology may be, but continue to use the term in your arguments).

This is the untenable position of people like Dawkins. Collins on the other hand is making a details argument for his position (some interesting papers can also be found on the on the site Faraday Institute for Science and Religion). I do not know what you would consider a clear-cut position, especially when atheist’s arguments are untenable. I will sound unkind by assuming that the atheist will again make spurious claims of having scientifically testable evidence and thus he is on a sure footing and others must threfore be wrong?

Lou Jost - #77742

March 23rd 2013

You’ve misunderstood my post completely. I showed that Robin’s analogy is a bad one because the universe (unlike his biosphere) is almost entirely hostile to human life. The parts that support life are vanishingly rare. A better analogy would be to have the visitors find a biosphere on Mars where only 1 part in 10^34 is suitable for humans. Would anybody who runs into such a biosphere ever think that it must have been designed for them if almost all of it would kill them immediately?

The rarity of conditions for life in this universe does not have any bearing on the likelihood of a naturalistic explanation for life.

The rest of your comment, alongside some things you said in earlier comments, finally gave me some clues about our constant failure to understand each other. I am beginning to suspect that you deny evolution, common descent, and maybe even an old earth (one that is billions of years old). I hope I’m wrong but it sure seems that way from your comment. If those are your beliefs, I suggest we go over to Dennis’ excellent series of posts on evolution, and the other great material about evolution on this site, and argue about these details point by point. I won’t say more without knowing for sure that you reject entire sciences.

GJDS - #77744

March 23rd 2013

I have said before Lou that your assumptions and ascertains at times are breathtakingly absurd - and now instead of sticking to the point of this discussion you are taking the typical road of atheists. Soon we will need a declaration of faith before we can expect a straightforward answer from you. My views have been stated on numerous occasions and I will not bring them here for your benefit. The point of the FTA is to show the extremely small probability that this Universe could be the result of blind chance - you make what is an absurd statement, assume that someone can come to a biosphere that cannot sustain life, and wammo we have an analogy on life? humans? naturalistic explanations, and heaven only knows what else.

Blind faith of an atheist vs scientifically testable statements - that is our difference - although your dogma comes through (atheists must be definition know it all and all of others, non-atheists who dissagree must be defintion reject science). I suggest you stick to dealing with your flowers and leave scientists to deal with science, and as for your comments on theological issues - your position simply beggars belief. Just how can someone like you, who confesses his theological ignorance, take so much time to deny the ressurection and make such nonsensical statements on prayer (these are the central tenets of the Christian faith). It is time you made your position clear Lou - you are you simply blindly anti-Christian and seek to cloak yourself in odd arguments that shift from post to post. 

Lou Jost - #77749

March 23rd 2013

It is very helpful to know a person’t prior beliefs before discussing evolutionary subjects with him. I based some of my earlier arguments with you on the fact of common descent. If you don’t believe “Darwin’s disciples” on this subject, then of course you will reject my argument. I would first have to convince you of common descent before I could hope to discuss other things that depend on this. But of course, you are under no obligation to make clear arguments here, so no need to tell me what your position is on these basic points.

Regarding my “absurd statement” about Robin’s biosphere analogy, you didn’t actually explain why you think it is absurd. I said the universe is not analogous to a friendly biosphere, but to a hostile one with a tiny habitable corner. If you came upon such a hostile biosphere, would you really think it was designed for you? Would you?

I’ve always made my position clear about Christianity. I regard all religions based on “revealed” holy books to be cultural and psychological phenomena, with no supernatural component. I did not come to that conclusion blindly; I was once an enthusiastic and devout Christian who had the same kinds of intimate conversations with god that you do. Eventually I realized that it was all in my head, and that I had been brainwashed by a religious upbringing. I

GJDS - #77755

March 23rd 2013

I have made general statements on the subject of Darwin and do not feel it is central to Polkinghorne’s notion of motivated belief. Your personal views are just that and I am not making any comment, with the exception that you realise other peopel, (such as myself) have the same right to our personal views. If you question them you should have a sound basis; otherwise simply refer to your personal expereince and if you leave it at that I (we) would understand.

Your biosphere suggestion is made on what I consider an absurd notion, which I tried to see as a hypothetical (albeit odd) attempt at illustrating blind chance leading to life. If I take it in this way, it would support the ascertain that blind chance is extremely improbable to lead to a biosphere that sustains life as we know it. This seems obvious to me and yet you object to this and instead present the notion as an argument against FT.

On your other points, it is customary when you put forward a predictive hypothesis to provide scientific support for it. I asked you to do this regarding a prediction you made about us millions on years in the future. You could not - that is the end of that.

On design I have not given an opinion and in a general sense regard this as an additional controversy in the bio-sciences, which seem to me to be involved in endless arguments. I will again re-state my position; I do not, nor have, nor will, refer to, or use, any of Darwin’s ideas, or neo-Darwnism, in my research. I have carried out research that includes models of iron based enzymes, QM molecular modelling, and have invested a great deal towards a lower carbon based technology. I am an enthusiastic ecologist; as a bystander in the bio-sciences, I think that this is the area where significant progress will be made. I think eventually Darwinian thinking and natural selection will be a historical curiosity and science will have progressed beyond this padestrain concept.

Hopefully this will provide you with my position. (warning, spelling and grammar have not been checked and I must leave in a hurry).  

Lou Jost - #77758

March 24th 2013

Thanks for telling a bit more about your position. So first you insult me about my “breathtakingly absurd” (77744) inference about your position, and then in your next post you tell me I was right, you don’t believe natural selection or Darwinian evolution is real. Look, since you reject the core of modern biology, we have to fix that before we can have rational discussions about fine points of evolution. Dennis Venema just put up a post on artificial selection. Go over there and argue that natural selection is not real. I am sure you can be convinced that you are wrong about natural selection, and if you don’t believe in common descent, you can soon be convinced of that too. The evidence is overwhelming.

But even if you reject almost everything about evolution, you should still be able to understand my argument that drift is mathematically certain to occur, so humans will continue to change over the next millions of years. It is a mathematical necessity based on sampling from a finite population.

“Your biosphere suggestion is made on what I consider an absurd notion, which I tried to see as a hypothetical (albeit odd) attempt at illustrating blind chance leading to life.” That is a wild misreading of what I said (three times now). For the fourth time: Robin’s analogy was that the friendly biosphere was like the universe, and a human visitor stumbling upon it wouldassume it was designed for us. I criticized that analogy because the universe is not like a friendly biosphere; conditions for life are very very rare in it. A more accurate picture would be to come upon a biosphere where only a tiny fraction was suitable for human life.  In this more accurate analogy, we would be much less likely to think that the biosphere was designed for us.

The rarity of conditions suitable for life has nothing to do with the claim that life arose naturally. Double or triple stars are relatively rare in the universe; is that evidence they did not arise naturally? Of course not.



Eddie - #77757

March 24th 2013


I won’t enter into the dispute between you and GJDS because I am unsure what his position on evolution is and don’t entirely understand his theology.  However, I will make a comment on your last two sentences.

Your religious upbringing was clearly different from mine.  I was never taught to have “intimate conversations with God.”  Prayer, yes; but that was not conceived of in terms of the “Jesus is my buddy” mentality that pervades American evangelicalism.  Prayer was for confession of sins, for baring one’s soul before God, not for asking Jesus to help one win a football game or for asking his advice on whether to study engineering or computer programming.  I have never heard God’s or Jesus’s voice in my head and I never expect to.  And whenever a “Christian” tells me that last night Jesus told him he should take this or that program of study, or told her that this or that boyfriend was the one she was meant to marry, I’m as skeptical as David Hume.  It is far too easy to imagine that God is putting the stamp of approval on decisions we wish to make for less than spiritual reasons.  I much more trust the maturity and judgment of Christians who admit to uncertainty about the right course of action to take.  

And I hope you will go back to the previous page on this thread, and answer my question:  where is it that Christian religion goes “against reality”?  You still haven’t given a single example of where genuine Christian religion—as opposed to some of the vulgar fundamentalist and evangelical forms of Christian religion—goes against “reality.”

Lou Jost - #77759

March 24th 2013

Eddie, actually my religious upbringing was probably similar to yours. I wasn’t an evangelical and I never heard the “voice of god”. My conversation with god during prayer was pretty much one-way.

Sorry for losing track of the unanswered posts. Things are very busy for me here. I claimed that many things in the Bible contradict reality. I am sure you agree. From the claims of Genesis about creation, the claims in Luke that zombies overran Jerusalem after Jesus’ death, to the claims about a universal flood,  claims of people flying in the sky, Jesus’ failed claim that he would return and establish his kingdom while some of his listeners were still alive, the contradictory claims of the resurrection accounts in the gospels (at least some of these claims MUST be wrong), etc. As I understand it, whenever a biblical claim contradicts reality, you simply say that the claim was meant figuratively and had some didactic function. That’s fine (it makes more sense than trying to interpret everything literally, which is  impossible and naive), but then the statement “The Christian religion does not contradict reality” becomes a tautology.

Lou Jost - #77761

March 24th 2013

After re-reading my comment, I see that I probably misrepresented your position. You would say that some of the conflicts I mentioned between the bible and reality are genuine conflicts (eg Noah’s flood), and those passages should be interpreted literally. But you may believe that Jesus really did bodily fly into the sky (and you do believe he rose from the dead), and so you think this does not conflict with reality, but rather that our standard concept of reality is mistaken. In either case, you have insulated the bible from claims that it contradicts reality: when it contradicts known history or laws, you either re-interpret the bible figuratively or you reinterpret reality. You have made an epistemic, unfalsifiable principle out of the claim that the bible cannot contradict reality. This is the same thing an American fundamentalist does, but you have a bit more respect for reality (a fundamentalist doesn’t allow himself to interpret non-poetic passages figuratively in order to respect some well-evidenced fact about the world).

Eddie - #77762

March 24th 2013


I must have misunderstood your remark to GJDS.  I didn’t recall his speaking of having intimate conversations with God, so I inferred that you were projecting that belief onto him and that it came from your “religious upbringing” which you characterized (rhetorically, and pejoratively) as “brainwashing.”  The sort of religious belief I was brought up in—mainstream Christianity—no one could fairly characterize as inculcated by “brainwashing,” so I assumed that you had been brought up in, or were converted to, some more aggressive form of fundamentalism or evangelicalism.  But leave that aside.

I’ve already made clear that there is a “does not equal” sign between “Christianity” and “a mechanical understanding of the narrative sentences of the Bible,” so I would still maintain that Christianity does not “contradict reality.”  The only “claims” that Genesis 1 makes about creation, as far as I can tell, are (1) that it is the product of the activity of a rational mind which aimed at functionality and what was “good,” not the mere result of chance and necessity; and (2) that man has a special kinship with that rational mind.  What you are calling “claims” I am calling narrative details which should not be understood as reports of individual events.  And this has been the position of most mainstream churches on Genesis 1 for quite some time now.  You will find very few Catholic or Protestant clergy or scholars—outside of fundamentalism—who think the sky is a hard dome with windows to let in the rain, that literary sequence of Genesis 1 corresponds to a historical sequence, etc.

Internal contradictions would prove what you say only if the writers of those accounts conceived of what they were doing as writing investigative or eyewitness journalism.  The genealogies of Matthew and Luke are contradictory—no doubt about that.  All attempts to rescue them both as literal accounts fail.  But the moment one understands that both Matthew and Luke understood themselves to have the freedom to construct genealogies—the same freedom that the writer of Genesis 1-11 assumed for himself—the contradiction vanishes.  The differing 1938 and the 1951 film versions of A Christmas Carol do not indicate that there was no internally consistent original Christmas Carol written by Dickens; they indicate rather that two different directors felt free to treat their source material in different ways, for different purposes.

As for the Flood, while the story describes a worldwide Flood, it is not clear to me that the story meant to teach the historical reality of a worldwide Flood.  And most of the miracles in the Bible (e.g., walking on water, parting the Red Sea, raising Lazarus, healing the lepers, calming the storm, manna from heaven) were not, like the Flood, such as would leave any trace with which modern science or history can deal, and since an omnipotent God can, ex hypothesi, do anything in the way of one-time miracles, the only way one can deny that individual miracles happened is to deny the existence of the kind of God who could perform such miracles.  But that argument cannot be made by science or history; it can be made only by metaphysics.  So evolution, cosmology, etc. have nothing to do with it.  It comes down to a debate between the metaphysics of Spinoza and the metaphysics of, e.g., Newton.  And that’s not a debate that modern scientists are trained to handle.  It is rational to say, “I don’t believe that this miraculous event actually happened”; it is not rational to say, “I know that this miraculous event could not have happened.”  Neither science nor history has the methodological tools to make the latter claim.  Their own self-imposed methodological limitations preclude their making it. 

Lou Jost - #77764

March 24th 2013

Eddie, note my main point, which you haven’t addressed: you have made your interpretation of the Bible immune to refutation. Some biblical claims  that clearly violate the laws of physics or the evidence of history will be classified by you as miracles; the rest of the biblical claims that contradict reality will be classified by you as figurative, as you abstract away the lessons that you wish to see in the Bible. By treating the text this way, you rule out in advance the possibility that the bible contradicts reality, even though you do still take parts of it more-or-less  literally (like the Resurrection). Sort of the opposite of methodological naturalism.  As I have argued earlier in this post, it is wrong for science to rule out miracles a priori. It is just as wrong for you to rule out in advance the possibility that parts of the Bible are in error.

I was surprised by your rationalization of the logical contradictions in the Bible. Your analogy with the “Chrismas Carol” is inappropriate, since the contradictions in the Bible purport to be of real historical events, such as the resurrection story. Thus, if two accounts clearly differ, at least one of them must be wrong on the detail in whic they differ. Each of the four gospel accounts differ about what the women saw when they first rrived at the tomb. Thus, at least three of the four are wrong about this allegedly historical fact. There are of course many other contradictions in the resurrection accounts. This means at least three of the four are wrong about many things that supposedly happened after the resurrection. This does not make the whole story false, but it does prove beyond any doubt that the bible can be wrong when it describes real events. I conclude that at least three of the four accounts conflict with reality; you insulate yourself by saying that the writers have the freedom to treat their source material in different ways. We are both right; but you will say the same thing no matter what the bible says, so you have taken a position that is unfalsifiable.

Regarding evidence for miracles, I disagree that there could be none for most miracles. If the Red Sea really parted, there could be an account of this in Egyptian writing. There could be a long narrow stripe of slightly compacted sediments forming a line underwater from one shore to the other. There could be bits of 2500-year-old trash scattered along a line from shore to shore, buried under sediment. There could be chemical signs that sediments at a certain 2500-year-old layer under the Sea were briefly exposed to oxygen, along a stripe from shore to shore. Heck, there could even be chariot ruts and footprints buried beneath the sediment.

Other miracles also present opportunities for evidence. When all those dead zombies started walking through Jerusalem after Jesus’ death, some Roman or Jewish observer might have (indeed, should have) noticed, and written about it. Yet nothing about this singular event is noted by any contemporary writer, or even by the other three Gospel writers and Paul.  Note: I made an error in my comment, it was Matthew, not Luke, who mentions the zombies: ”And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” Matthew 27:52-53.

What about the day God made the sun stand still? The astronomical consequences of this would have been enormous and catastrophic if it had really happened as described. Surely some other culture would have noticed, but no. The same can be said for the miracle of the moon splitting in two in the Quran; nobody else seems to have noticed.

My point is that both positive and negative evidence can exist for miracle claims of all religions. Cross-cultural evidence for them is seemingly always missing, even when the miracle is something which should have affected other cultures.This is telling.

You say that science and history have self-imposed methodological limitations which preclude accepting claims about miracles. I’ve argued earlier that there is (or should be) no such methodological limitation; the common rejection of supernatural claims is based on the lack of evidence proportional to the claim, and on the empirical observation that invoking miracles has always been in error in the past, when we have been able to adequately test the claimed miraculous event.

Eddie - #77765

March 24th 2013


There are too many points here to do justice to in one reply. I therefore may post more than one reply to you.

Part of our communications problem is difference in background training. Though I, like you, started out in the natural sciences, I ended up elsewhere, and spent a dozen years training in history, languages, ancient literature, etc. at a very good secular university. A good deal of my time was spend reflecting on how to interpret ancient texts. The methodological discussions we had, in seminars, in professors’ offices, at conferences, etc., were quite frequent and intense. And it strikes me that you have adopted a rather simplistic hermeneutic. To be sure, you have some excuse for this: a good number of Christians over the ages, and even more so, modern American Protestants, have adopted the same simplistic hermeneutic, along with critics of the Bible from Tom Paine through to modern people such as Dawkins. But I find such ways of reading the Bible unsatisfactory. And so do many of the best modern scholars, who teach at world-class universities.

Now, regarding the broad issue you raise: I do not rule out, a priori, any possible conflict between the Bible and “reality” or even more narrowly between the Bible and scientific truth or between the Bible and historical truth. My position is thus different from that of many TEs, including many at BioLogos. They have dealt with the problem of potential conflict between theology and science by the use of something like Gould’s NOMA—non-overlapping magisteria. Science, they say, deals purely with efficient causes, the “how” of things; theology, they say, deals with “ultimate purpose, meaning, and value.” Thus, the scientist and theologian describe the same reality from two very different points of view. This solution achieves peace between science and theology, not by an adequate synthesis, but by compartmentalization, and I find that, as you do, deeply unsatisfying.

To give just one example: most TEs place “design” in the category of “ultimate purpose, meaning and value” and therefore outside of science. They then adopt a Darwinian account of origins which implicitly rules out design (cf. Darwin, Mayr, Ayala, etc.), and say this is no problem because we can impute design to evolution by faith rather than science. But this is doubletalk. To say that God guarantees the actualization of his design by using a process devoid of design is simply to promote intellectual confusion.

I reject this approach. I think that “design” is very much part of the “how” of the way things have come to be. It is in my view a genuine causal factor (albeit an immaterial one, being neither matter nor energy). And it is a causal factor which Christians and Jews cannot abandon, without abandoning the doctrine of Creation which is vital in both their theologies. If the whole world can be explained in terms of utterly non-designed, unplanned processes and events, then I have no interest in trying to “save” Christian theology by arbitrarily grafting a “faith” position on top of an already-adequate purely stochastic account of origins. And that’s what a good deal of popular TE writing amounts to, special personal pleading in the absence of evidence: “As a scientist, I see no evidence that any design was needed to build even the most complex life-forms, but because I know that Jesus has saved me—praise the Lord!—I nonetheless believe that God in some mysterious way designed the most complex life-forms.”

Another way of putting it is this: if there is evidence of design in the universe, that does not itself prove the truth of any revealed religion, but it is certainly compatible with revealed religion; but if the evidence is all against design, then the case for revealed religion looks very bad. So there is potential conflict. It’s because I recognize that potential conflict that I’ve taken the ID rather than the TE side.

Continued later ...

Lou Jost - #77767

March 24th 2013

”...if there is evidence of design in the universe, that does not itself prove the truth of any revealed religion, but it is certainly compatible with revealed religion; but if the evidence is all against design, then the case for revealed religion looks very bad.” I agree with that.

As for my having a simplistic view of the bible, I am not saying it should be read literally. If anything, I’d suggest you read the parts about resurrection and second coming as metaphorical, with extra stuff added later to address divisions within the early Christians (eg Gnostics).

What I would really like you to expand on is your claim that you “do not rule out, a priori, any possible conflict between the Bible and “reality” or even more narrowly between the Bible and scientific truth or between the Bible and historical truth.” Can you give me a concrete example where you agree that the bible conflicts with historic or scientific truth? If you think there are no such examples (even among the self-contradictory details of the resurrection account), can you at least give a hypothetical example of some kind of conflict with reality that would convince you to revise your thinking about the “inspired” nature of the bible? If you can’t give even a hypothetical example of something that would cause you to change your mind about it, then I think my claim about your position would be correct, right?

I can think of many things that would convince me that a purely naturalistic worldview is false.

Eddie - #77766

March 24th 2013

Lou Jost (Part 2 of 3):

So there is potential conflict between Christianity and science regarding one broad scientific claim: the claim that there is design in organic nature, and/or in nature generally. But I would go further. I would agree with you that in principle there can also be conflict regarding certain historical matters. However, we differ in that I think that those historical conflicts can never, or hardly ever, be addressed by the methods of the historical sciences (history, archaeology, etc.).

Certainly a worldwide Flood would have left traces (unless God deliberately covered up those traces to test our faith—a fundamentalist solution to “rescue” the Bible that I despise and reject). I therefore deny that there was a worldwide Flood. And if I thought that the author of Genesis meant to teach, as a necessary point of Jewish or Christian theology, the doctrine that there was a worldwide Flood that covered even Mt. Everest, I would simply say that the Bible was wrong on that point. I’m not an inerrantist in the American sense, and I’m quite capable of believing that the Bible contains error on matters not central to theology and morals. However, I don’t think the author of Genesis (God if you please, and some scribe if you don’t please) intended us to regard the Flood story in that way. And I base that argument on much good narratological study of the Flood—and of Genesis generally—which has appeared in Biblical studies literature over the past 40 years. (Not to mention my own detailed study of the early chapters in Genesis in Hebrew.) To me, the story is didactic through and through, though it may of course reference an actual large local inundation in the Near Eastern area.

Regarding the Red Sea, your proposed bits of evidence are possible but their absence would not prove that the event did not happen. All the chariots might have eventually been washed out to the deeper sea, etc. And the bit about contemporary Egyptian records does not apply, since, if the Biblical story is correct, every last Egyptian who witnessed the miracle was destroyed by it—there would have been no record of any parting waters.

Most of the Biblical miracles are not of the sort that would leave traces that a historian or scientist could examine. How do we find the bodies of the nameless lepers and paralytics that Jesus healed, and tell, from their remaining bones and teeth, that a healing of their skins or nervous systems took place? How could there be remaining evidence that on one particular afternoon over the Sea of Galilee, Jesus calmed a storm? How could there be surviving evidence of Jesus’s miraculous feeding of the 5,000? All the food was consumed, and the consumers are long since dead and decayed, their atoms scattered around the globe. He could have given them 5,000 Big Macs, and there would be no traces of it. And if we found the bones of Lazarus after his second and final death, would they look any different from the bones of a man who had died only once, without a resurrection in between? And what evidence could still survive to verify the speech of Balaam’s donkey or Samson’s feat at Gaza?

I agree that the stopping of the sun, if understood as a physical event in the solar system, would have left definite traces! But the consensus of Biblical scholars has long been that the words in question are a poeticization of the actual historical event. I’m not big on adopting consensus for its own sake, but I see no objection to the consensus in that case.

Regarding the “zombies” in Matthew, I have always found that story very peculiar, and actually out of tune with the general character of the Synoptic Gospels. If you want my personal opinion, I would say that the event never occurred. Did Matthew intend it as a literal record, or was it some sort of poetic heightening of the effects of the death of Jesus. “Pathetic fallacy” is a literary device well-known to students of literature; perhaps it was nothing more than that. But if it was meant as a news report then I would simply say that it was false.

The Resurrection of Jesus itself is virtually impossible to prove or disprove. (If we found a coffin with bones in it marked “Jesus of Nazareth, healer, teacher, Messiah,” that would certainly count against the Resurrection. But I don’t expect that this will ever happen.) The Gospel accounts can be easily doubted on the grounds that they lack sufficient corroboration in non-Christian literature. As for the fact that early Christians believed in the Resurrection, that does not prove that their belief was sound. I don’t think there is or ever can be proof of the Resurrection. Ultimately it is broader theological considerations and personal faith which determine whether or not a person accepts it.

Continued later ...


Lou Jost - #77768

March 24th 2013

That all makes good sense. My comment to your first response crossed your Part 2 in the ether…

Eddie - #77770

March 24th 2013

Lou Jost (Part 3 of 3):

Finally, regarding internal contradictions in the Bible. I have already granted that if two different Biblical accounts, both purporting to be eyewitness or investigative journalism, say different things, then at least one of them must be wrong. But the premise that the Biblical writers were doing journalism is very questionable. Many features of both style and contents suggest that the Biblical writers, even the Gospel writers, employed what we would call literary license. By this I do not mean that the Biblical stories are out and out lies or fabrications. I mean that the writers feel a certain freedom to retell a story told to them, as divine inspiration directs them.

Chronicles does not exactly match Kings, because the spiritual purpose of the writer of Chronicles is different from the spiritual purpose of the writer of Kings. Genesis 1 does not exactly match Genesis 2 in many details, because their purposes are different. And the four Gospel writers differ from each other in the selection of stories about Jesus to include, in the order of events, in theological vocabulary and framing, etc. You see “contradictions” in these differences, because you are held by a 19th-century German historiographic notion of “what actually happened” (von Ranke); but I do not believe that the Gospel writers had as narrow a view of their task as von Ranke had of his.

Thus, some fundamentalists bend over backwards, trying to reconcile the genealogies in Matthew and Luke by means which I consider to be at best intellectually pathetic and at worst outright dishonest. They want the Gospels to be free of “historical error.” And that is your demand as well. My view is quite different. I don’t think the genealogies were written as “history” at all. I see them as after-the-fact additions, once the Christian community had become established—additions meant to bring the life of Jesus into the standard form of the Jewish Scriptures, where all the important people have genealogies, often with spacings of a certain number of generations (ten, fourteen, etc.). And I see them as utterly unimportant to the main Christian teaching, for a number of reasons, not least of which is that if Jesus’s biological father was not Joseph, genealogical “proof” that he is descended from David on his father’s side is rather pointless. Mark and John, who have no interest in the infancy of Jesus, have no interest in his genealogy, either. This shows that the genealogy was not considered essential to early Christian writers about Jesus.

I don’t regard it as my mission in life to defend every single sentence in the Bible, and prove that it is historically compatible with every other sentence in the Bible. Such an effort would be a waste of spiritual and intellectual energy, as, in my view (a) it can’t be done; and (b) it was never meant to be done. I reject the understanding of religious literature which underlies the attempt. It’s an understanding of religious literature deeply shaped by the mindset of modernity. The fundamentalists are in many ways the most modern people I know. And I regard fundamentalism, Dawkins-style atheism, and most forms of TE as variations on Enlightenment thinking, and therefore as deeply misleading understandings of the Bible and of Christian teaching.

Lou Jost - #77771

March 24th 2013

The main thing I disagree with is you repeated charge that I and other atheists favor a fundamentalist reading of the Bible. Nothing could be further from the truth. We fully recognize that it is a culturally-based document, not meant as history, with many later modifications inserted for political and sectarian purposes. We think it is you who are still being too literal—-you claim that there are divine messages in there, while we claim that it is all a product of human culture and should be taken that way.

When I bring up contradictions and stories that didn’t happen, it is to show that the Bible can’t be taken literally. As a corollary, its interpretation involves a great deal of freedom and projection.

But I ask again, my main question: what kind of evidence (either textual or in the real world) could convince you that the Bible is not inspired?

Eddie - #77775

March 24th 2013


The reason I have drawn attention to the similarity between your reading and that of the fundamentalists is that you, like the fundamentalists, continually focus on what sort of “tests” could verify or falsify the Bible, and the “tests” you propose always seem to revolve around historical or scientific claims that you believe the Bible to be making.  The fundamentalists believe that the Bible passes such tests, and you believe it fails them.  And what I seem unable to make you understand is that I am not interested in “testing” the Bible in that way.  

I certainly do not agree that the Bible is “all a product of human culture,” but in any case there is no contradiction between seeing “divine messages in there” and reading certain passages non-historically.  You still seem to be equating the claim of historical truth of all individual statements in the Bible with the claim of divine inspiration, and I reject that correlation.  If that’s not the correlation you are making, you aren’t writing very clearly.

What would convince me that the Bible is not inspired?  Well, what do you mean by “inspired”?  It’s a slippery term.  I don’t believe that the Bible is fully “inspired” in the sense that some people use the term.  I think that it is inspired in the sense of “informed by God”; I don’t believe that every word is inspired in the sense of “dictated by God”.  I think it’s the result of the co-operation between the unerring mind of God and the spiritual and intellectual shortcomings inevitable in human writers.

God, in my view, communicates to human beings mostly indirectly, and the Bible is one of those indirect means.  The full truth is seen only through a glass darkly, and the Bible is one of those dark glasses.  But even if each of the 66 books of the Protestant Bible (more in other Bibles) contains only one extended passage which speaks luminously of God, then the Church was right to include that book in the canon.  We cannot afford to pass up such rays of light as are available to us.

Are there parts of the Bible whose inspiration by God I doubt?  Of course.  And most Christians, when they are being honest, will admit to such doubts.  It is hard to accept passages which suggest that God directly ordered (as opposed to condoned, in the light of the military realities of the time) the destruction and enslavement of men, women, and children.  One cannot help but wonder whether the human recorder of the Bible—who is Israelite—has let lower conceptions color the account in such passages.  The story about Jesus cursing the fig tree is another one whose spiritual purpose I cannot discern, and has the aroma about it of the free invention of a human being, writing “creatively” rather than under divine inspiration.  But the general answer to your question is:  I would doubt the inspiration of those passages of the Bible which seem to present an unworthy conception of God—unworthy not merely by external standards but by the high standards of other passages of the Bible.  

Unlike most modern “conservative” Christians, who tend to affirm either a flawless Bible or a flawless Mother Church, I find myself, a conservative, stuck with a less-than-perfect Bible and a less-than-perfect Church.  But this situation does not prove the Bible to be worthless or even largely worthless, and does not prove Christianity to be largely false.  The Church and the Bible are means, not ends in themselves; they point to a perfection greater than themselves.  I can live with that, even if most conservative Christians can’t.  And I feel much better off with Christianity as my guide than with Dawkins, Coyne, Myers, Dennett, Hitchens, Krauss, Hawking, Weinberg, Shermer, etc. as my guides.  I think that these people are very unwise, often malicious, and mostly spiritually vacuous human beings who dangerously mislead others, and I intend to keep countering their baleful influence for as long as I can.  

The question I have for you is:  if your real motivation is not to shoot down the Bible, but only to show that it can’t be taken literally, are you trying to live your life in accord with the teaching of the Bible as understood non-literally?  I get the impression that you are not, and that the Bible has no authority for you, or even much influence over you, even when read non-literally.  So what does your concession of non-literalism amount to?  It merely moves you from “the Bible teaches a bunch of supernatural events which never happened, and I therefore reject its teaching as non-inspired” to “the Bible teaches a bunch of stuff in the form of stories which aren’t meant to be taken literally, and are therefore non-offensive to good science and history, but even so, I reject its teaching as non-inspired.”  Either way, you are not going to be interested in Christianity/science discussion.  There is nothing to discuss, if Christianity is not true, while the current results of science are largely true.  Your advice to BioLogos and to TE generally seems to be:  “TE is great, if only you TEs would drop the T and just keep the E.”  Do you really expect BioLogos to change its stance in response to such a position?

Lou Jost - #77807

March 25th 2013

Lots here to discuss. I’ll start with this “you, like the fundamentalists, continually focus on what sort of “tests” could verify or falsify the Bible, and the “tests” you propose always seem to revolve around historical or scientific claims that you believe the Bible to be making.”

What I am actually doing is just trying to find out what evidence religious people have for their beliefs, for example your belief that the Exodus or the Resurrection were real events. I gather that the Bible really is your main source for those beliefs, in the sense that you wouldn’t have thought of them if they weren’t in the bible. We both agree that many parts of the bible are actually penned not as history but as hagiography, and much of it is motivated by sectarian interests. I commend you for your honesty in this, and as we both know, there are many religious people who would not be honest enough to admit this. I just go farther in my non-literary reading of the bible: I see the forces of myth-building at work throughout its pages. There are grains of truth, including some decent moral advice, hidden in a lot of chaff, including some truly horrible moral advice.

Here is my problem: You agree that the main events that shape your theology are not really supported empirically, but you believe them anyway because of broader, non-evidential considerations. You put so much weight in these broader considerations that you are willing to believe in miracles that violate known laws of physics, and willing to criticize empirical sciences like biology because some of its conclusions do not fit into your non-empirically-derived framework. So I think my earlier claim is right, that you have insulated your views from refutation. You pointed out how you might be convinced that some Bible claims are false, but you have not pointed out how your central worldview could be changed by evidence. 

Eddie - #77823

March 25th 2013

Lou Jost:

I can’t speak for all “religious people” and therefore can’t say what they would give as the reasons for their beliefs.  Clearly some American evangelicals are of the “evidence that demands a verdict” school and think in terms of proving Biblical events by the methods of historical investigation etc.  That’s not where I come from.

I would think that most Christians would place weight on personal testimony, understood not as “proof” in some objective sense, but as the communication of things witnessed by good, honest and trustworthy people.   In the first place, they would rely upon the testimony of the Bible; for even those Christians who interpret some parts of the Bible non-historically generally assume that certain key parts, e.g., the Exodus and the story of Jesus, are meant largely historically.  And so they would say the Biblical books represent contemporary or near-contemporary (at least in the New Testament case) written testimony.  In the second place, they would rely on the ongoing oral testimony of the Church.  Not all the teachings of the early Church are in the New Testament; some were passed down in the form of ethical and social and liturgical and prayer practices and so on.  So there is a chain of oral testimony, theoretically going back to the first disciples, running through the Apostolic Fathers, the Greek and Latin Fathers, the various early liturgies and creedal formulas, etc.  In sum, then, testimony is a large part of the basis of belief.

But there is also the confirmation of testimony in religious experience.  The claim of many Christians is that the risen Christ is no mere proposition of history, to be measured by purely objective means, as we would determine, say, the existence of Napoleon; the claim is that the risen Christ can be actually known and experienced.  Paul himself experienced the risen Christ before the Gospels were written; and many Christians since have felt the presence of Christ—or believe they have, and some claim to have seen Him or heard His voice.  And once you are convinced that you have seen or heard the dead person, arguments about whether there is good historical evidence for his Resurrection are going to seem rather silly.  

For others, the reason will be that the conformity of one’s life to the teaching of the Gospels seems right; it seems to promote an integrated personality, mental and moral health, good family life, good social life; just as for some people, involvement in a political party or in the environmental movement or in the civil rights movement seems right.

For others, the reason will be that the teaching of Christianity pulled them out of a very deep hole.  I once read an account of a former alcoholic whose life had been shattered by unemployment, a ruined marriage, etc.  After he became Christian, his life turned around; he got off the bottle, regained his job, salvaged his marriage, became a good father, etc.  His fellow-workers at the office made fun of his new religion.  They scornfully asked him (in the spirit of wanting “evidence”) if he really believe that Jesus turned water into wine.  He answered:  “I don’t know if he turned water into wine, but I know that he turned booze into groceries and paychecks.”  He felt certain that Christian belief, and only Christian belief, had reoriented his life.  Arguing with taunting skeptics over the possibility of a chemical transformation in ancient Galilee was for him a red herring, a distraction from the real issue.  Doubtless he did believe that Jesus changed the water into wine, but his co-workers were missing the point.

Now all of this might be called “evidence” of the truth of Christianity, if “evidence” is interpreted in a very broad sense, to include religious, moral, social, and aesthetic experience, and testimony understood not as rigorous proof but as the word of honest and trustworthy people.  But it is not “evidence” as scientists or historians usually mean it.  So I would say that Christians in one sense do, and in another sense do not, base their beliefs on “evidence.”  Certainly they base their beliefs on what they take to be “reality.”

Eddie - #77825

March 25th 2013

Lou Jost (continuing on your 77807):

As for the laws of physics, if those laws were instituted by a Creator God, then ex hypothesi he can suspend them at will; and where they are suspended, “science,” which can only proceed where those laws are in force, can say nothing about what is possible or impossible under such conditions.  Science can only say:  “If the laws that obtain most of the time remain in force, a man cannot rise from the dead, and the Red Sea cannot part”; but clearly the entire premise of the Bible, i.e., that God is absolute sovereign over the universe, does not allow one to assume that the laws will always be in force; so there is no scientific objection to miracles.  This is well-covered by philosopher Alvin Plantinga.  

Of course, this does not mean that scientists have to roll over and play dead every time something is claimed as a miracle.  There is always the possibility of fraud, error, optical illusion, unknown natural causes, etc.  Skepticism has a role, and even the Catholic Church brings in hard-nosed scientists to test all miracle claims before it validates them (in the case of canonizing someone to whom miracles have been attributed).  But this is not the point I am making.  The point is that science has no intellectual authority to pronounce upon the impossibility of miracles.   That is outside its epistemological competence.

What would change my worldview?  On the cosmic side, proof (not speculations covered in literature bluffs and technical jargon) that the unguided, unplanned, movement of particles can produce life, all species, and the self-conscious, spiritual entity that is man.  (And a reason why, if I really am merely the product of unguided, unplanned movements of particles, I should live my life based on any other principle than to look out for myself, and live as long and as comfortably as possible before I am erased for all eternity.)  And on the social side, proof that secular humanism provides a more realistic description of the human condition than genuine Christianity does, and produces a better society than genuine Christianity does.

Lou Jost - #77808

March 25th 2013

“I feel much better off with Christianity as my guide than with Dawkins, Coyne, Myers, Dennett, Hitchens, Krauss, Hawking, Weinberg, Shermer, etc. as my guides.  I think that these people are very unwise, often malicious, and mostly spiritually vacuous human beings who dangerously mislead others, and I intend to keep countering their baleful influence for as long as I can.”

Those are amazing charges. The ones I know best, Coyne, Dawkins, and Weinberg, are good people who are sticking up for truth and willing to confront the intellectual dishonesty of  many Christians and Muslims. They are trying to undo centuries of brainwashing by these and other religions. That’s a tall order and I admire them very much for taking the time to do it, at the cost of recieving so much hatred and invective from “religious” people.

“are you trying to live your life in accord with the teaching of the Bible as understood non-literally?  I get the impression that you are not, and that the Bible has no authority for you, or even much influence over you, even when read non-literally.” As I’ve mentioned many times, the bible (or any other holy book) has no non-human authority. I read it like I would read any other collection of cultural observations. As a moral guide, much of it is terrible, and some of it is wise. I find more wisdom in Thoreau’s Walden or On the Duty of Civil Disobedience than in most books of the bible. But you surely recognize this too, and pick the parts of the Bible that seem wise to you, and discard the rest.

Funny, but I don’t know a single Christian who really acts on some of the central teachings of Jesus, such as his thoughts on materialism. I actually think there is a lot of wisdom in those ideas, which are even better expressed by Thoreau and the teachings of many other wise men in other cultures. I can’t remember the last time I met a Christian who had given everything he owned to the poor. Most aspire to owning a house, a car, a TV, a refrigerator, and a host of other fancy things. Furthermore, in the US, the people who favor wars are largely fundamentalist Christians; atheists tend to be the pacifists. I am less of a materialist and more of a pacifist than most Christians. But that is unimportant; I know the hypocrisy of some is no reflection on the validity of the underlying belief.

“Your advice to BioLogos and to TE generally seems to be:  “TE is great, if only you TEs would drop the T and just keep the E.””  Yep. Or at least, if someone wants to defend the T in TE, he or she should present actual reasons and not imaginary wishful thinking. I think it is theoretically possible for good arguments to be made to support the T (or at least some unknown mechanism at work, not necessarily a T but maybe an A); but I haven’t seen any good ones yet. I’ll keep watching and waiting here for them, though.

Eddie - #77829

March 25th 2013


I know many Christians who act on the teachings of Jesus.  You and I must hang out in different circles.

I also know many secular humanists who claim to uphold all these noble values you stand for—peace, the environment, etc.  Many of them are university professors.  I have seen these secular humanist professors speak on behalf of women’s rights or saving the whales or feeding the poor in the Third World etc., and the next day cheating on their wives with their pretty young grad students, or striking back at colleagues who disagree with them academically by trying to sabotage the careers of those colleagues’ graduate students.  And you speak of hypocrisy on the Christian side?    

Neither Dawkins nor Coyne are standing up for truth.  Dawkins and Coyne are standing up for the materialist worldview which they would like to be true.  Dawkins proved beyond a doubt that he is not interested in finding out the truth about religion when he published The God Delusion.  As Antony Flew (himself a former atheist, but still no Christian) said:  Dawkins committed the cardinal academic sin of representing his opponent’s position at its weakest rather than its strongest, thus making his opponent far too easy to knock down.  That’s not the action of a man who is truly open to what religion might have to teach.  

Lou Jost - #77774

March 24th 2013

For example, I think you are mistaken to take the parting of the Red Sea, or the  Resurrection account, so literally, minimizing their cultural and sectarian context. From the atheist side of the aisle, you still seem pretty much of a literalist, though not quite as strict a literalist as the American fundamentalists you rightly criticize.

Eddie - #77778

March 24th 2013


I made no statement regarding which parts of the Bible I take literally and which non-literally, nor do I intend, at the moment, anyway, to make such a statement.   What I have argued is that even if we ditch the Flood, the genealogies, the Garden of Eden, Joshua and the sun, the talking donkey, the fig tree, Jesus talking to Satan on the mountain, and many other passages, and strip down the claim of historical truth to include only the Exodus events (central to historical Judaism), and the miracles of Jesus, especially the Resurrection (central to historical Christianity), these events are beyond verification or falsification by science, history, or any combination of the two.

One could be an excellent scientist or historian and believe that these events happened more or less as described.  Many excellent scientists and historians do.  And they are logical in doing so.  If God could create the universe out of nothing, then he could, at will, break or suspend any of its laws, and make literally anything happen.  Belief in the possibility of miracles is logically implied by belief in the kind of God described in the Bible. One can reject that God; but if one accepts such a God, occasional miracles are not only possible but probably to be expected.  And as long as they are merely temporary interruptions in the normal course of things, they need not disrupt 99.99% of the activity of scientists and historians.

There are no scientific or historical disproofs of the possibility of miracles.  Only a metaphysical proof would be possible.  But that is not a proof that Krauss, Dawkins, etc. would be capable of offering.  They don’t have the philosophical ability to engage religion at that intellectual level.  You need someone on the level of Spinoza or Heidegger for that.  And unfortunately, no one participating in religion/science discussions these days, at least on the internet, is on that superlative intellectual level. 

By the way, for a scathing reply to the dogmatic scientism of the New Atheists by a secular Jewish agnostic, see David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion.  Entertaining as well as informative.  Best wishes.

Lou Jost - #77781

March 24th 2013

Time for bed, will answer tomorrow. But out of curiosity I looked at what people said about Berlinski’s stuff on the internet. Looks dire. Is it true he doesn’t even accept the evidence for common descent of humans and chimps? Sounds like a flat-earther telling rocket scientists who have travelled to the moon and back that they are all wet….

Eddie - #77783

March 24th 2013

The book I mentioned by Berlinski—The Devil’s Delusion—is not about evolution, except in passing; it is a critique of the New Atheists overall.  So whatever you think about Berlinski’s views on evolution, you could read the book and get something out of it.

Berlinski has never, to my knowledge, denied common descent.  He has criticized biologists for their uncritical assurance regarding the mechanisms of evolution.  You can find his writings about evolution collected in the volume The Deniable Darwin.  I assume you will not like that book, so I’m not recommending it.

I picked Berlinski because he is (a) a Jew rather than a Christian; (b) a secular agnostic rather than a religious believer (you’ll be pleased to know that he does not pray); (c) not an ID proponent, though he is sympathetic with some of ID’s concerns and works with ID people from time to time.  So you can read Berlinski feeling “safe” from ID and Christian propaganda, if that is what you are worried about.

Regarding his qualifications to write about science and scientism, his website has this:

“Berlinski received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and was later a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University. He has authored works on systems analysis, differential topology, theoretical biology, analytic philosophy, and the philosophy of mathematics, as well as three novels. He has also taught philosophy, mathematics and English at Stanford, Rutgers, the City University of New York and the Université de Paris. In addition, he has held research fellowships at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques. He lives in Paris.

Lou Jost - #77804

March 25th 2013

Berlinski is currently a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute (the main pushers of ID, and famous for the dishonesty of many of their arguments).  I just now listened to Berlinski on Youtube speaking about homologies. He is a pretentious fraud. Almost everything he said was meant to obfuscate the issue and hide the extraordinary tools we now have  (molecular, genetic, and fossil evidence) for studying and verifying homologies, and hide the evidence produced by those tools (evidence that is very well presented here on the Biologos site, by the way). I listened to parts of a few other videos of his regarding evolution. He is simply lying with a straight face. This is not a man who will have something deep to say about the nature of truth or how we should search for it.  I appreciate the recommendation (and I try to take everyone’s recommendations seriously) but this guy is as intellectually dishonest  as any I have seen.  Worse than Behe by quite a lot.

By the way, judging by these videos, it seems he indeed does not believe there is good evidence for common descent.


Eddie - #77809

March 25th 2013


I’m disappointed in your response.  I hoped for better from you.

I recommended Berlinski to you as a culture critic and philosopher.  He has a Ph.D. from Princeton in Philosophy.  I told you that you would not like his views on biology, and recommended that you not read his work there.  So what do you do?  Go out and listen to what he says about evolution, instead of reading his culture criticism in a book I’ve recommended to you.

You know, Lou, I have a Ph.D. in Religion.  You are an autodidact in the field, and have said many things about religion which I find—having rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest religion scholars in the world—to be amateurish and shallow.  Yet I don’t conclude from this that your scientific work on genetic diversity is not worth reading.  Yet here you are, more or less dismissing Berlinski overall—including his philosophical work—on the basis of something he said relevant to your field of biology.  Would you like to be treated the same way?

Your other statements show a partisanship that is unworthy of a serious debater.  You speak to Berlinski’s motives (you say he is intellectually dishonest) when you don’t even know the man (typical of culture-war debating).  And the fact that Berlinski is a fellow of Discovery (which neither he nor I nor anyone else has denied, or tried to conceal) does not counteract the fact that he has explicitly denied being an ID supporter.  So you can’t brand him as “Discovery guy, therefore ID supporter”—which is more or less what you are trying to do above.

You should also be aware that the standards of demonstration are higher in philosophy than they are in biology, and that many of the arguments you would take as having “proved” something would be regarded skeptically by a trained philosopher.  For example, underlying the modern notion of homology is the notion that genomic similarity is a slam-dunk indicator of historical relationship; from a strictly logical point of view, this is not a sound inference.  I am not denying historical relationships—merely pointing out the inadequacy of the basis for those relationships that is typically presented in popular accounts of evolution.  Berlinski as a philosopher is playing the gadfly to the certainties of the modern age—certainties which rub you the wrong way when they are the certainties of your specialty.  But this is nothing new.  The specialists all hated Socrates in his day, as well.

In any case, Berlinski’s critique of the New Atheists is very good.  The shallowness of their scientism is laid bare for the world to see.  And he’s witty as well.

Lou Jost - #77814

March 25th 2013

I accept some of those criticisms. However, not your criticism that I should have gotten his book. I don’t have access to his book. I live on an isolated mountain in a country whose few libraries (the nearest one is more than a hundred kilometers away) will surely not have it. I don’t have money to order a book to be sent here right now. So I did the logical next-best thing: listen to what he actually says on the subject of evolution. Your point is well-taken that he may be speaking as a philosopher when he criticizes the evidence for common descent. He may merely be making the uncontroversial claim that nothing is certain in the sciences. If so, fine. But I think he is trying (dishonestly) to imply a stronger claim, namely that common descent is not likely based on existing evidence. He seems to be deliberately distorting the nature of the evidence. Maybe I am wrong about his dishonesty, but it is difficult to put a charitable spin on his statements.

And as you probably know, he does consider himself to be something of an expert on evolution, and has written several essays on the subject in one of his books (which he titled “The Deniable Darwin”).

Eddie - #77818

March 25th 2013


Thanks for your willingness to listen.  

I certainly don’t blame you for not buying anyone’s book.  I just wanted to make clear that the book I mentioned is primarily a criticism of scientism rather than science per se, whereas the material you were looking at concerned his actual critique of Darwinian evolution.

I don’t think he considers himself an expert on evolution.  I think his position is that even the so-called experts on evolution aren’t experts on evolution, because evolutionary science is nowhere near the theoretical and empirical precision and coherence of modern physics and chemistry, and much of what poses for explanation of evolutionary mechanisms is speculation and guesswork.  He sees himself as a gadfly to the evolutionary biologists—and not only to them, but all who are over-certain.

What he does is particularly important, because the claims of modern science—in cosmology, biology, etc.—are being used, both by scientists themselves and by their popularizers—to justify all kinds of philosophical positions—positivism, reductionism, atheism, etc.  —that are not science at all.  And the average lay person, without technical competence to argue against these misuses of science, and dazzled by the impressive jargon and the sounds of degrees from august institutions, is being bullied into accepting this scientism.  Thus, Berlinski’s book is devoted to an attack upon Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Stenger, Dennett, Weinberg, etc.

Note that Berlinski does not move from “There are flaws in evolutionary theory, therefore Christianity is true.”  Or, “There are flaws in evolutionary theory, therefore, God exists.”  Or, “There are flaws in evolutionary theory, therefore life must have been designed.”  He offers no positive doctrine.  Instead, he limits his to role to negating the negators—those who preach that science has sunk God and religion and free will etc. once and for all.

Lou Jost - #77820

March 25th 2013

What bothered me about Berlinski is that his negating is wrong in most of the cases I listened to, and articles I read after that. He badly misrepresents the state of knowledge about the things he criticizes.

Also, I’d like to point out a double standard here. The claims of religions have far less evidence behind them than just about any claim in science. Shouldn’t fans of Berlinski’s hyper-skepticism towards science apply the same standards (or better, a more honest but still aggressive version of it) to their own beliefs? I never see that.


GJDS - #77784

March 24th 2013

And if rocket scientists dissagree with an atheist, they too must be wet - priceless stuff this.

GJDS - #77769

March 24th 2013

Lou #77758

This is tedious. “It is a mathematical necessity based on sampling from a finite population.” I asked you to provide something scientifically testable, you did not. Let it rest Lou. And what does it say for the ‘pinnacle’ of scientific thought (Darwinism) when the majority of the Sciences do not even refer to this for their work and thinking? You lot are not the centre of the scientific Universe, but do you feel insulted when this becomes obvious! You think that unless we take note of drivel that proclaims measurements that are the level of noise in an instrument is proof of Darwin. Or is questioning the most basic notions that you lot put forward (including textbook chemistry) shows anything else but your dogmatic outlook? I have stated that atheist collegues and I have worked in equanimity and reason for decades, and most acknowledge to varying degrees that Evolution is more of a belief system than clearly articulated science. Where does this leave you, be you atheists or theists?

Your insistence has all of the hallmarks of a “true believer of Darwin” who cannot deal with the scepticism that is inherent in scientific research. And talking of insults, your continuous gratuitous remarks, that I need a mundane and frankly ideological and pathetically mundane presentation of Darwinism found on this site, before I can understand science, is sufficient to warrant the label of breathtakingly absurd. I have listened to arguments about Darwin’s ideas since my University days – it is difficult to avoid arguments from the more ‘strident’ advocates. It seems to me that the miracle of a resurrection applies more to Darwin’s ideas, (as they have been recycled and redone time after time). The notion of his ‘strident’ disciples is well supported by their actions, as they will throw any rubbish at those who do not agree.

Now will you even acknowledge that the FTA is about the probability that all of the known and measureable data from science argues against blind chance? I have given you other sources that you can examine – yet you obsess with an analogy regarding Mars. You may think that giving a schoolboy’s version of a biosphere answers this, but that is incorrect. I have re-read your treatment of this subject and you are simply wrong. Arguing that the Universe is hostile to life does not magically mean that life is not found on earth. Are you saying that because the Universe is hostile to life, that life does not exist? Just what is your point to all of this?

Lou Jost - #77772

March 24th 2013

If you want to argue about evolution, let’s go over to the posts of Dennis’ course and work it out. Your name-calling is not an argument, and your continued misinterpretations of my FTA posts are indeed “tedious”. Bye.

GJDS - #77773

March 24th 2013

Bye bye

Lou Jost - #77776

March 24th 2013

Fine-tuning 2

More on the Introduction to Robin Collins’ “God, Design, and Fine-tuning”: He mentions that there are four fundamental forces in physics, and states that “The existence of each of these forces is necessary for complex life.” Then he descibes why they are necessary. But he only explains why three of them are necessary; he leaves out the weak force. I suppose he leaves it out in response to recent modelling that shows the weak force is not needed. So why does he say in the same paragraph that all four are “necessary”? Then, at the end of this paragraph about the four (or three) forces, he retreats a bit and says that without these forces “intelligent life would be much less likely, if not impossible.” This is a more tempered conclusion than his nearly-adjacent claim that all four forces are “necessary”. This is a lot of inconsistency, all in a single paragraph. Again, like his misleading Mars biosphere analogy (see my Fine-tuning 1 above), this does not bode well for a careful objective discussion of these very challenging issues.

GJDS - #77777

March 24th 2013

This remark is not directed to any specific person, but in view of the ‘contradictions’ that atheist claim regarding the Bible, I offer the following for meditation.

Prov 26: Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes The Revised Standard Version. 1971 .

I do not need to discuss why the two phrase (answer not a fool, as opposed to answer a fool) can be read by some as a contradiction). However I ask that we consider what is meant by the two proverbs.  

Lou Jost - #77779

March 24th 2013

Very classy.

GJDS - #77785

March 24th 2013

Seems you cannot stay away from my posts Lou - let me elaborate: it is a wise saying, it is meaningful, it is instructive, and yes you atheist, IT IS BIBLICAL…....

GJDS - #77791

March 25th 2013

This is a contribution to the notion of motivated belief and especially to FTA, and not part of a dispute with anyone. I will start my comment by quoting Collins:

“Thus, in analogy to our ethical intuitions, faith should be considered a mode of knowing, not just a mere leap of belief under insufficient evidence.”

“In any case, this essay has shown that we have solid philosophical grounds for claiming that given the fine-tuning evidence, the existence of a life-permitting universe provides significant support for theism...”

Generally arguments on FT consider the constants and values provided by Physics and Chemistry (and I include all values that have been unambiguously measured with great accuracy, including speed of light, charge on an electron, proton, bond-lengths, etc., we can find at the back of all standard science texts). 

We may recall Ted Davies quoting Boyle who mused on the data and measurements that we make on this planet, and if they are the same in other areas of the Universe. These days, we are most likely to agree that, e.g. the charge on an electron would be the same throughout the Universe, and also the values of other such measurements. 

If we extend our thinking on FT, we may ask two questions: (i) just why is this Universe so particular regarding these values? And (ii) why is it that human beings are asking these questions, and making these measurements? 

This approach adds to the overall FT argument – we are not discussing a few values, nor are we strictly speaking, focussing on constants that we used when considering the formation of the Universe. Instead, we are making an extraordinary statement that the Universe, for some reason, must be what it is. This leads to the question – is the Universe what it is because we can measure it to be this? By this I mean why should Boyle, you, or me, come up with the same values? It cannot be a magical aspect of science, or some supernatural entities in nature making us do this. It is an ‘is-ness’ about us as human beings; this is within the context that we are able to add and remove from our world. It is not possible for any entity or object in nature to do this and also be subjected to the laws of nature we discuss so often.

The ‘knowledge’ that I have discussed here is unambiguous, certain, measured by many scientists, and is not subject to controversy. This knowledge does not require anything from us, except that we use our intellect to come to our own understanding. I offer these aspects as worthy of consideration within the FT discussion.

Ted Davis - #77812

March 25th 2013

This post, GJDS, is much better than many of the others (for tone and content). Please try to duplicate this rather than some of the others, henceforth. Thank you.

Ted Davis - #77811

March 25th 2013


This is starting to sound like a shouting match you are having with Lou, and you seem to be doing more of the shouting. Please be careful to stick with arguments and respectfully stated expressions of opinion.

GJDS - #77819

March 25th 2013


I will inevitably respond forcefully to any atheist who states on your blog, or anywhere else, that paryer is a form of mental decease - you may have another (and I may say an odd view of respectful dialogue) approach, but I am dissapointed that you seem do so. Generally, I have stated that Lou should keep to his posts and not obsess with what I may wish to say. I do not enjoy discussions which leave one opponent freedom to not only discuss topics that others consider important, but you simply accept language such as zombies and catavras as respectful dialogue - Ted I have to ask, are you the person leading this blog or is it Lou?

Ted Davis - #77859

March 26th 2013

I’m the person monitoring my own columns, GJDS, not Lou. I assure you that my request for less shouting pertains also to Lou—and he knows this. You’ve been a regular reader of my columns all the way along, GJDS, and I don’t recall you being this aggressive before, so I was a bit surprised. I understand that you think I over-reacted. Perhaps I did, perhaps I didn’t. Let me put my cards on the table: I’d rather err on the side of caution than risk having things escalate. I very much value your contributions and I hope we’ll have many more of them.

Ted Davis - #77861

March 26th 2013

It isn’t hard for me to understand why you responded farily sharply to some of Lou’s claims, for he has given sharp expression to some of them, inviting sharp replies. I am also bothered by some things he has here. Indeed, I will be challenging Lou in a few moments to defend something he said in an exchange with Eddie. I’ll put it as a separate comment, so it should show up down below.

I am espeically disturbed by the kinds of things that one often encounters on many other sites, where the expression of sharply different opinions leads some advocates of those views openly to doubt the intelligence, good will, or even the basic honesty of those whose views are on the other end. In a few cases, such conclusions could perhaps be warranted, but far too often (IMO) they are made out of a deep desire to silence people, or at least to drive them away, b/c their opinions are offensive to those on the opposite end. This is especially true for political conversations, especially since the rise of the internet and cable television, where the business model only encourages polarization. People can literally choose never even to encounter a viewpoint on a given topic that diverges very much from their own. I don’t see this as healthy for the future of our democratic republic; it only makes it harder and harder for us to make progress on tough problems, when the electorate are constantly being advised to think ill of those who think differently.

I don’t want to start a separate conversation about politics, so please don’t anyone take this in that direction. Rather, I’m putting more of my cards on the table. I want BioLogos to be known as a place where people are free to dissent from one another’s opinions—including mine—without having the exchanges deteriorate into character assassination or other efforts to intimidate or to smear. I absolutely don’t see you doing that, GJDS. I’m simply explaining my uber-cautious approach.

Lou Jost - #77813

March 25th 2013

Fine-tuning 3

In the last paragraph of the Introduction of Robin Collins’ “God, Design, and Fine-tuning”, there is an analogy of a radio with multiple dials. Each one needs to be set precisely to a small range of settings, or else there would be no life. The more dials there are that need to be set, the less likely that all would be properly set to produce a life-supporting universe.

However, this leaves out something important, the possible lack of independence between the dials (this is not a criticism of Robin, who is well aware of this issue, but just an alert about the analogy). Suppose we throw an ordinary gambler’s die, and we record the number on the side of the die that faces upwards, and we also record the number on the underside of the die (the side that lies against the table). Each number from 1 to 6 has a probability of 1/6 for appearing on the top of the die after a throw. Each number from 1 to 6 also has a probability of 1/6 for appearing on the underside of the die. We might be tempted to say that the probability of a 5 appearing on top, and a 3 appearing on the bottom, is 1/6 * 1/6 = 1/36, a very small number. But this would be wrong, because the two numbers are not independent. There is a “higher law” about die-making: opposite die faces add up to seven. On any given throw of the die, if we know the number on top, we can determine the number on the botton exactly. So the probabity of rolling a 6 on top and a 1 on the bottom is 1/6, not 1/36 as it would if they were independent. Once one is determined, so is the other.

Over the last century and a half physicists have been working hard to find links between the fundamental forces, and between these and the important constants of physics. The first fruits were the union of electricity and magnetism through the speed of light, by James Clerk Maxwell in the 1860’s or so.  More recently this combined electromagnetic force was united with the weak force. More unifications may follow in the future. Our understanding of these relationships is very very poor right now, but we need to keep this possibility in mind when we think about the improbability of all those dials being set to particular narow ranges suitable for life. Yes, this is surprising. But if some of those dials are connected to each other, the surprise about their settings is not as great as it would be if all the dials were independent. We would still need to explain why the dials are connected to each other in this particular way, but as the example of electromagnetism shows, their relationship may follow from some simple law.

Ted Davis - #77885

March 27th 2013


Your point about the possiblity of some (presently hidden) connections involving certain finely tuned aspects of the cosmos is well taken and potentially on target. I simply want to add that, having taught frequently with Robin, I sense that the analogy of radio dials is at least partly inspired by Roger Penrose’s emphasis on the extreme unlikelihood of fulfilling all of the conditions necessary for life. Penrose puts this in terms of phase space & entropy, if I recall correctly (I hope if I am confused in this someone will set me straight). I haven’t read the relevant part of Penrose myself; I’m simply reporting.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #77857

March 26th 2013


Last time we discussed this issue, I referred you to Jacques Monod and his influential book, Chance and Necessity.  You said that you were not familiar with it.  If you are serious about discussing this topic, particularly from the scientific perspective, I would suggest that you barrow or buy a copy.  There is a Penguin Paperback edition.

I do not suggest this because I agree with Monod.  Far from it, but because his thought provides a useful reference for communication.  I do agree with some aspects of what he says, but not others.

Monod as I said before says that the universe is not rational or meaningful because it is composed of matter/energy and matter/energy cannot think and thinking is necessary for meaning and purpose.  Now Monod’s thinking is not scientific, but metaphysical. 

He claims to base his thought on observation, namely that objects do not think.  He goes from there to say that because nature is solely composed of objects, nature cannot think, and since thinking is necessary to meaning and purpose, nature has no meaning and purpose. 

The reason why I bring this up is because you and most people look at nature from the opposite point of view.  We see that nature does have rational order as you have amply demonstrated.  The metaphysical question raised is: From whence comes this order?  You seem to believe that this order just Is, so it does not need to be discussed or explored, even though that is what basic science does, “Seek the face of God.”

Speaking as a Christian I agree with science that the universe rationally ordered.  Whereas science does not have the metaphysical task of explaining and exploring the Source of this order, theology and philosophy do, and this is the basis of my rational faith.  This is the basis of the harmony as well as the tension between science, philosophy, and theology.    


Lou Jost - #77865

March 26th 2013

Roger, if you are talking about the origin of the laws of physics, we have to admit that we don’t know where they come from. What we can say, though, is that many of these mathematical laws follow from some very simple characteristics of space and time. The conservation of momentum and conservation of energy laws are nice examples; see “Noether’s theorem” on the internet.

If you are instead saying that particles have to “think” in order to follow these laws, I don’t understand that position. The particle is a passive entity that has no choices.

The additional order found in animate nature seems well-explained by non-teleological processes that do not require any kind of “order-giver”, except in the sense of my previous paragraphs (animate objects follow the laws of physics).

I can see why someone would believe in a higher power, a “lawgiver”. Personally, I don’t see that this idea actually helps as an explanation of why the universe follows laws; to me it seems like it just pushes the problem into the more familiar sphere of personal agency, giving the illusion of solving it. But I wouldn’t argue much if someone disagreed and  thought a “lawgiver” was a good explanation.

However, even if there were good reasons for believing in this kind of power, I am sure you would agree that they would not point specifically to Christianity, but to religions in general.

GJDS - #77860

March 26th 2013

Reply to Ted (I do not know what happened to the reply button).

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