Ah, Creationists

By Chris Mooney | October 31, 2009 11:28 am

The audio from “To the Point” is now up, so you can listen to my dust-up with the creationist from AIG–Terry Moretenson–and see what you think. I think I handled him well, but there are so many more things that might have been said.

For instance, I wished I’d set aside purely scientific matters and remarked upon how intolerant it is for some Christians to contend that their particular scripture–to which not all of us subscribe–is a science manual. Basically, this means that if they’re right, those of us who aren’t Xians aren’t capable of scientific knowledge about the origins of the world and so on. That’s not just wrong, it’s offensive.

In any case, I didn’t expect to encounter a full-on creationist on the show–but it does get your juices flowing. About a year or so after Republican War on Science came out in 2005, I was growing pretty tired of debating the anti-evolutionists, the anti-global warming folks, and so on, because intellectually, it just isn’t that stimulating. So I went off and tried to do some more interesting things–but it is cool nevertheless to go back to the roots now and again.

NOTE: AIG refers to “Answers in Genesis,” not the much despised insurance company….

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Comments (53)

  1. Luke Vogel

    >”That’s not just wrong, it’s offensive.””but it does get your juices flowing.”<

    I thought I could tell that in your voice. There was a hint of a tremble there and what sounded like you were either ready to laugh at the comments or tell 'em he was insane. I was impressed actually that you stayed on point. But, your points well taken and it is offensive.

  2. Jon

    That’s the thing, what do you do with people who are that crazy?

    Bill Buckley said, “I’ve spent my entire lifetime separating the right from the kooks.”

    Nowadays, it’s like the right is built out of affirmative action programs for kooks.

  3. Sean McCorkle

    I can certainly understand your sentiments about engaging these guys directly (and I thought you did a decent job). My experiences have always been frustrating and disturbing. In college I had a landlord who was a creationist who was always challenging me about evolution and the age of the Earth. Trying to “argue” with him was like trying to box with a blob of taffy: the “logic” was so distorted I would get stuck and tangled up and would usually end up giving up in disgust. And it really disturbs me when I realize that this person in front of me, who I assumed to be rational, is insane in that they refuse to recognize evidence and try to explain it away with what is clearly fantasy.

    I’ve never been able to convince a creationist. I think that recent movements by the NSCE and others to try to put more focus on the “silent majority” of Americans who embrace science and belong to the more mainstream religious institutions or who have some sort of religious belief, is a good strategy.
    Try to take the limelight away from the extremists.

    However, this makes me think again about the whole issue of direct engagement. Has anyone ever swayed a creationist? I don’t mean that in a negative sense, rather are there any success stories? If so, what tactics actually work? I’ve seen lots of stories of people growing up in literalist families, who throw off the shackles and turn towards modern science. I wonder if there are any statistics of those cases at all.
    What were the critical moments of conversion?

  4. Jonathan

    Quote: “For instance, I wished I’d set aside purely scientific matters and remarked upon how intolerant it is for some Christians to contend that their particular scripture–to which not all of us subscribe–is a science manual. Basically, this means that if they’re right, those of us who aren’t Xians aren’t capable of scientific knowledge about the origins of the world and so on. That’s not just wrong, it’s offensive.”

    As a creationist, I’d like to say: Agreed. The ability to study truth, be it scientific, philosphical, theologoical, etc. does not hinge upon your belief system.

  5. Gaythia

    I think “conversion” is the wrong term to use. It isn’t about switching one belief system for another. Science is about evidence. All you need are eyes, ears and an open mind.

  6. Anthony McCarthy

    Bill Buckley said, “I’ve spent my entire lifetime separating the right from the kooks.”

    Someone who worked for decades with William Rusher and hired him to edit his rag wasn’t trying very hard.

    You can’t work with creationists, they’re a hopeless cause. You might be able to work the margins, but the ones that will really yield results are the borderline cases.

  7. Chris Mooney

    Sean,
    I suspect our knowledge is extremely unsatisfactory when it comes to what it takes to change an individual mind. I wonder what the scientific literature has to say about this, if anything.

  8. Sean McCorkle

    Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” was eye-opening for me, and is kind of a road map of what we’re up against. I think he did some of his research at the U. of A. I wonder if any other psychologists have worked in this subject, especially with respect to rejection of science. Unfortunately, most of Cialdini’s “weapons of influence” strike me as tricks to change minds. Gaythia is right in #5, the issue is really about opening minds

  9. magistramorous

    @Sean: I was able to change the mind of a young-earth creationist, but maybe I just got lucky. I estimate that it took more than 50 hours of arguing over the course of several months. Maybe it was a waste of my time, but he’s a pastor, so I didn’t just get through to him; I probably also got through to some of his followers when he gave a talk on evolution at his church. Of course, this is just anecdotal and only one case, but here’s what I did. I promoted Francis Collins’ book, “The Language of God,” which argues that science and faith are more compatible than most people realize, in addition to providing readers with the old C.S. Lewis arguments for the existence of God, updated for a modern audience. In addition, I tried my best to follow the advice of Spinoza, who said, “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them” and I made that a participatory process, where we were both learning from one another. Try this approach and get back to us at the Intersection with the results and remember: no one knows everything about everything. We’re all flawed in some way, so we’re in this together. Good Luck.

  10. The Sine

    @magistramorous: You’ve renewed my faith in the world. :)

  11. The Sine

    @magistramorous: You’ve renewed my confidence in the world. (I think the f-word got caught in the language filter. ;)

  12. jon

    the sad fact for you atheists is that nothing in this universe can be proven scientifically to have originated by chance. all the chemicals, physical properties, laws, matter, energy, atoms, consciousness, life, intelligence, DNA — none of it makes any sense from the standpoint of “just because.” This is why 90% of the population believes in God and why darwinism is nothing but a fringe, kook, unscientific philosophy. If anyone here has any evidence that any gene or trait came about by blind chance, please let me know and provide the link.

  13. magistramorous

    @ 13. jon: Few atheists think that everything happened by chance. There are those who think that there were/are many different universes with different sets of laws and that a natural-selection-like process created/s life in some of them, which would make a universe like ours almost inevitable. Some say that this leaves out an explanation for why there is something, rather than nothing. I say why would anyone suspect there would be nothing and what is “nothing” anyway? Can nothing even exist?– I do like philosophy. Others, like Stephen Hawking, have argued that the universe has always existed in “virtual time” as we proceed through real time. I don’t know what to make of these arguments, since I am not a physicist. So, I am open-minded about the possibility that a god or set of gods exists to explain the origin of the universe, even though I lean toward philosophical materialism.
    As for the origin of life, this is mostly a separate issue. There are amino acids in outer space and both amino acids and nucleotides have been produced in laboratories from simple molecules. Amino acids can combine under high-pressure conditions and RNA can even catalyze its own reproduction. This suggests to me that life was inevitable somewhere in the universe, especially given how many planets there must be. Still, I’m open-minded about the possibility of supernatural intervention here. However, once life began, there is an ever-increasing-in-size mountain of evidence in favor of all life being created by a natural and unguided process. What do I mean by unguided? I mean that, if a supernatural being created life, he/she may have wanted to create life by means of natural selection, knowing in advance what would happen. This being could have made variation random with respect to the environment and could have planned out the environmental conditions in advance, thereby guiding the process in an indirect way. Still, to me, this seems too convoluted to be true, which is one of the reasons why I lean toward materialism. This is a philosophical decision and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me here. Nonetheless, I’d like for people to eventually come to a point where we can agree to disagree on the existence of god and the origin of the universe, but all accept the truth of evolution and an old earth. It’s not good for the country to be so polarized.

    Sources: Lawrence Krauss AAIC09; Stephen Hawking “The Universe in a Nutshell” and “A Brief History of Time;”Richard Dawkins “The Blind Watchmaker;” Francis Collins “The Language of God;” The Urey-Miller experiment, the Joan Oro experiment and others.

    Happy reading!

  14. Sean McCorkle

    magistramorous @9: thats positively inspirational! I have to admire your dedication and congratulate you on the success. It strikes me that taking a humble, sympathetic attitude – and patience – are the most important compents in the mix. I would fault many scientists (this my own tribe – I am also guilty) of often failing on the first two points.

  15. Sean McCorkle

    whoops: that should have been “components” in the mix

  16. Chris Mooney

    # 9–i agree. just incredible. maybe I’ll elevate this comment to a post, and call it an “exhibit,” and see what happens ;>

  17. Sean McCorkle

    jon @13:

    When my general relativity professor at college introduced cosmology he shocked us with a statement about how outrageous it was to assume that we can extrapolate all the known physical properties which we measure here on Earth all the way out to the farthest reaches that we can see (and therefore back to the earliest times that we can see). It was his attempt to give us a reality check. That was back in the 70s. Instrumentation has greatly improved and we’re able to make much better observations out at such distances (and times) but I think his cautionary attitude is still valid. There’s a lot of uncertainty at the frontiers of great distances and early times. Many outstanding and important questions remain about fundamental physics and the origin of the universe. Likewise, the origins of life seem somewhat beyond the “evidence horizon”. We can pose plausible models based on our best understanding of the chemical and physical environments back then, but it remains difficult to say what happened with any kind of certainty. So I guess I’m kind of agreeing with you on that.

    However, evolutionary biology is notin this category; it is on much more firm evidential ground. While the origins of the first self-replicating organism(s) may be unknown to us, there are oodles and oodles and oodles of publications and works describing how those organism’s offspring would have diversified after eons of gene duplications, horizontal transfers, mutations, recombinations etc. under selection pressure to give us the flora and fauna we have today. The evidence trails are in the DNA and protein sequences that we have today. Given the first organism(s), what followed is no mystery.

  18. Just listened, and you did a fine job. My suggestion: it was great when you added the attack creationists make on geology, but as soon as Mortenson said climate change was also debatable, you could say “this is why scientific illiteracy is a problem – it’s not just about biology, it’s about paleontology and geology and astronomy and even climatology, where people quickly reject science recognized by a near-unanimity of experts in those fields because they find the implications difficult.”

    Again, nice tie-in to geology, but you could go even further. I think astronomy is even less congenial to the ridiculousness of young-earth creationism than biology.

  19. Anna K.

    @magistramorous,

    Few people are willing to take the time, energy and charity — in the philosophical sense — to have such an extended, respectful conversation. Kudos to you. One of the most enjoyable exchanges I’ve had was a long discussion (over several months) with someone who is an atheist (I am no longer one). Key to this was that we each treated the other with dignity and good faith in the philosophical sense.

    We both came away with some new ideas.

    @The Sine,

    You’ve renewed my pistis. ;-)

  20. Wil

    Why on earth would anybody set aside time to argue with a strict Creationist? What is the point? Is it an attempt to make oneself feel superior?

    Why would anybody care what they believe or do not believe? It is none of my (or anyone else’s) business either way. What is made better if one “loses” the argument? What is made better if one “wins” the argument?

    One might as well set aside some time to seriously argue with a dog or a cat. That is equally as productive, and it isn’t that hard to feel superior to a dog or a cat.

  21. toasterhead

    21. Wil Says:
    November 1st, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    Why would anybody care what they believe or do not believe? It is none of my (or anyone else’s) business either way. What is made better if one “loses” the argument? What is made better if one “wins” the argument?
    _____________

    Because these idiots vote.

  22. it isn’t that hard to feel superior to a dog or a cat.
    Er… do you actually have a cat?

    Anyway – not in terms of changing creationist minds, but not irrelevant, since I just stumbled across it again looking for something else entirely:

    High School Teachers Influence Student Views Of Evolution & Creationism

    Students whose high school biology class included creationism (with or without evolution) were more likely to accept creationist views as entering college students. Similarly, students exposed to evolutionism but not creationism were more likely to accept evolution in college. For example, 72 to 78 percent of students exposed to evolution only agreed that it is scientifically valid while 57 to 59 percent of students who were exposed to creationism agreed that it can be validated.

    It really does make a difference.

  23. GUDFIZX

    I was an old-earth creationist who believed that God created at ‘time zero’ and all life evolved overtime from there….then I gravitated to the ID movement…It wasn’t until I really understood the tenants of the latest science of the EVO-DEVO movement AND recently read Dr. Darrel Falk’s book, “Coming to Peace with Science” that I’ve finally fully embraced evolution from the beginning. I still believe God created, but used evolution from the beginning as the mechanism….Thus, can a creationist change their views? absolutely… I’ve found peace with the understanding put forth by Francis Collins “biologos” movement.
    Check it out at http://www.biologos.org and pick up Dr. Falks outstanding book…..

  24. It is rather shocking that the only person on the panel with a scientific research background (as opposed to science journalism) was Terry Moretenson – the AIG representative.
    Surely a discussion of science and religion should have at least one (real) scientist on the panel?

  25. magistramorous

    @ 21. Wil: Be careful about using dehumanizing metaphors. I hope you don’t come across that way when trying to convince people of something. It matters because science education is important for the economy. We literally can’t afford to let so many people continue believing that the earth is young, nor that evolution is “just a theory.” Let’s try to bring down the percentage of creationists to a minimum both for Darwin’s sake and for our own.

    @ 22. toasterhead: I used to believe that all young-earthers were stupid idiots, until I met one who started a multi-million-dollar biotech company out of his garage. Additionally, I know young-earth creationists with life-science degrees from fine secular universities, including UCSD. Furthermore, disbelief in evolution continues to be a problem as IQ increases three points every decade (Flynn Effect). There may still be a correlation between biblical literalism and low IQ, but that can’t be the entire story.

    One more thing: even people who seem like idiots can still achieve greatness or, at least, have greatness thrust upon them, to quote Shakespeare. So, let’s not be too quick to label others. These people may very well have positive qualities that we ourselves lack or they may just get lucky in obtaining the power to control the world according to their own agenda– and we want people with power on our side, even if they really are complete idiots.

  26. Anna K.

    @magistramorous #26,

    Right, I’ve also met a fair number of young earthers and ID folks with advanced degrees, and all but one are in science and technology fields. That really surprised me. One was in the medical field; you’d think a doctor would be on board with evolution but not all are.

    It’s not necessarily due to a lack of intelligence or even a lack of understanding of the science behind evolution. I wish I could remember the studies, but there have been surveys showing that even when people can explain correctly what evolution is as it’s taught in a reputable biology class, they reject it. From what I’ve seen and heard they reject it on philosophical/theological grounds. We’ve got to deal with their philosophical objections to what they think evolution implies to get them to accept the science — which of course is exactly what you did by acquainting this person with Francis Collins. That’s why it’s such a problem for science education when evolution is equated with atheism, and that’s why creationism and ID are so attractive to so many well-educated people.

    A couple of people here have mentioned Biologos. It’s a helpful resource because it presents the science within the philosophical/theological arguments many people need to hear before they’re willing to consider that evolution might be the case.

  27. Chris Mooney

    Anna K,
    See chapter 7 of the 2008 edition of the NSF’s Science and Engineering indicators, p. 20
    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind08/pdf/c07.pdf

    “Respondents were much more likely to answer correctly [about evolution] if the question was framed as being about scientific theories or ideas rather than as about the natural world. When the question about evolution was prefaced by “according to the theory of evolution,” 74% answered true; only 42% answered true when it was not. Similarly, 62% agreed with the prefaced question about the big bang, but only 33% agreed when the prefatory phrase was omitted. These differences probably indicate that many Americans hold religious beliefs that cause them to be skeptical of established scientific ideas, even when they have some basic familiarity with those ideas.”

    This is a major reason why, in Unscientific America, we reject the notion that ignorance is the sole problem.

  28. Anthony McCarthy

    —- Some say that this leaves out an explanation for why there is something, rather than nothing. I say why would anyone suspect there would be nothing and what is “nothing” anyway? Can nothing even exist? magistramorous

    Like that various ideas of why things are like they are in the physical universe, the problem is that our concepts of such basic things as “nothing”, in this sense, and “exist” don’t seem to be concepts that can close our understanding of the entire universe. You can’t falsify the concept of “existence”. You can’t imagine what you can’t imagine. I wonder if a lot of the problems that science has run up against isn’t actually due to the limits of our abilities to conceive of the necessary ideas that cover many of even the most basic aspects of reality. I don’t know if filling in for the unknown and likely unknowable with various esoteric theories without any basis other than equations is all that much different from the more sophisticated levels of theology when those break away from merely advocating a specific tradition. I tend to suspect they are just two manifestations of the same attempt to go past our limits.

    In light of this the post-war “skeptical” tradition, the tradition that imagines we’ve reached the end of physics, that our knowledge of cosmology, evolution, brain physiology, chemistry and neurology are at the stage where the unpromised land of reason and freedom is in sight is premature at best, delusional most plausibly.

    In one of her pieces Marilyn Robinson pointed out that it’s not that remarkable a phenomenon that as nuclear, climatological, over-population and other very possible apocalypses loom over our species that junk religion like “End Times” and other such stuff flourishes. It’s an irony that the possible ends of the world that have resulted from various successes of science might have produced an equally extreme anti-scientific reaction from their results. Unless science starts delivering on those problems soon, don’t expect that the reaction to them will just go away. But science can’t do it alone, it won’t do it without people being convinced to change their self-centered, selfish behavior. And recent, especially commercially successful, pop-science has done just the opposite.

  29. jon

    I’m still waiting, by the way.

  30. Sorbet

    -In light of this the post-war “skeptical” tradition, the tradition that imagines we’ve reached the end of physics, that our knowledge of cosmology, evolution, brain physiology, chemistry and neurology are at the stage where the unpromised land of reason and freedom is in sight is premature at best, delusional most plausibly.

    Any scientist who thinks that we have reached “the end” of any science is clearly wrong. I agree, and I can’t say I know any scientist who thinks that way.

  31. Passerby

    -It is rather shocking that the only person on the panel with a scientific research background (as opposed to science journalism) was Terry Moretenson – the AIG representative.

    Goes to show much credibility “scientists” with all their sophisticated financial models can bring to an organisation like AIG, which ultimately had to be saved by a publicly funded bailout.

  32. 26. magistramorous Says:
    November 2nd, 2009 at 6:03 am

    @ 22. toasterhead: I used to believe that all young-earthers were stupid idiots, until I met one who started a multi-million-dollar biotech company out of his garage. Additionally, I know young-earth creationists with life-science degrees from fine secular universities, including UCSD.
    __________

    Idiots can still do amazing things – I’m not denying that. But the basic fact is that these people are denying basic facts. People are certainly entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts (to paraphrase Pat Moynihan). To disbelieve evolution and the established age of the Earth is to fundamentally misunderstand geology, biology, epidemiology, and human psychology. I call that idiocy.

    I understand the need for tolerance, but tolerance also needs a limit. Should we tolerate those who believe the Earth is flat? Those who believe Africans are not human? Those who believe the world will end in 2012? If people can’t agree on the essential baseline of what we are and where we come from, how can we possibly hope to solve problems of conflict, disease, and climate change?
    _______________

    30. jon Says:
    November 2nd, 2009 at 10:33 am
    I’m still waiting, by the way.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/10/1004_TVlanguagegene.html

    Here ya go. A random mutation on the FOXP gene of chromosome 7 has rendered half the memberes of a large family in the UK with the inability to produce the oropharyngeal movements necessary for human speech.

    It’s a copying error. They happen all the time, usually in the ATATATATATATATATATAT parts of our genes that (as far as we know at this time) serve no purpose. Or is it “God’s plan” that a few unfortunate individuals are genetically incapable of one of the most fundamental human abilities?
    ______________

    32. Passerby Says:
    November 2nd, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Goes to show much credibility “scientists” with all their sophisticated financial models can bring to an organisation like AIG, which ultimately had to be saved by a publicly funded bailout.

    I’ve heard that lot of the people who designed the complex derivatives that got us into this mess were physicists. Something about the equations for brownian motion also describing the behavior of hedge funds.

  33. Ah, my bad. Mortensen is from the Answers In Genesis AIG, not the American International Group AIG.

    Which of the two AIGs is more dangerous to the American public is certainly up for debate.

  34. Sean McCorkle

    jon @13,30: I’m not sure exactly what you’re going to require as “proof” but I’ll try.

    A new gene with a new function can arise from a duplication followed by mutation of one of the copies. gene duplication mechanisms are pretty well established. Once you have a duplicate gene, either the original or the new copy can continue to produce the original protein as before. The extra copy is under no selection pressure.
    Unlike the other copy, when it experiences random mutation events, they’re not deleterious to the organism. So over time, the extra copy can diverge quite a bit from the original sequence. If one of the organisms descendants gets a mutated copy which can perform a new function, it may have a a biological advantage that causes its line to survive better, thus putting it under selection pressure and “locking in” the new function.

    It doesn’t necessarily take many mutations to change a gene’s function. For example, in this work,
    Catalytic Plasticity of Fatty Acid Modification Enzymes Underlying Chemical Diversity of Plant Lipids by Pierre Broun, John Shanklin, Ed Whittle, Chris Somerville
    Science 13 November 1998: Vol. 282. no. 5392, pp. 1315 – 1317

    the authors studied two paralog groups of plant enzymes and found that only 4 amino acid substitutions are necessary to convert a desaturase enzyme to a hydroxylase.
    These amino acids were identified by looking at the sequence alignments of many examples
    of both paralogous proteins and identifying those sites highly conserved within each group but differing between groups. That such an analysis can be performed at all is evidence that two different genes arose from duplication followed by mutation.

  35. 35. Sean McCorkle Says:
    November 2nd, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    jon @13,30: I’m not sure exactly what you’re going to require as “proof” but I’ll try.
    ____________

    It’s exactly one piece of evidence more than you can provide. If you give him A, B, and C, he’ll ask for D. If you give him D, he’ll ask for E. If you give him E, he’ll ask for F. On and on through the Greek, Cyrillic, Arabic, Sanskrit, and any other alphabets he can think of.

  36. TB

    @ 14. magistramorous
    “However, once life began, there is an ever-increasing-in-size mountain of evidence in favor of all life being created by a natural and unguided process. What do I mean by unguided? I mean that, if a supernatural being created life, he/she may have wanted to create life by means of natural selection, knowing in advance what would happen. This being could have made variation random with respect to the environment and could have planned out the environmental conditions in advance, thereby guiding the process in an indirect way. Still, to me, this seems too convoluted to be true, which is one of the reasons why I lean toward materialism. ”

    Actually, if you postulate an infinite god, then this does seem to be the way it would have been done. Consider, this would be a being existing in the past, present and all possible futures at the exact same time. Who sets things in motion already knowing that the processes would work to create life. Certainly there are timelines where life wouldn’t occur, but remember – infinite being. There is no need to guide any process because time is only a concern to those bound to it. Especially if you toss in the concept of free will. And for there to be true free will and all the good and bad that stem from it, you would have to let things develop unguided.
    Not arguing pro or con on this, mind you, but as an interesting exercise. If anything, I think creationists limit their notion of god too much.

  37. Sean McCorkle

    As a followup, I’m sorry that I’ve not so far been able to locate a nice published multiple alignment of two paralog groups, but here’s an example alignment of for two proteins MurD and MurE from different species. These two genes are in the same pathway but have different chemical functions. The alignment shows a great deal of similar sequence between the two groups, clear evidence that they are divergent copies of a single gene. These genes are discussed in
    Evidence of a functional requirement for a carbamoylated lysine residue in MurD, MurE and MurF synthetases as established by chemical rescue experiments, Dementin, et. al 2001 European Journal of Biochemistry Vol 268, 22 pp 5800-5807

  38. Sorbet

    Nice references. Some other important examples of gene duplication are proteins in the blood clotting system, and the globins.

  39. Jon

    There’s a difference between real debate, which involves evidence, standards, logical inference, and culture-war-based theater, which projects a certain outrage on the part of a supposedly wronged party: “Elitists be damned! Flat Earth believers are people too!!”

    That’s why the debate is so intellectually unstimulating, as Chris says.

  40. 28. Chris Mooney Says:
    November 2nd, 2009 at 9:38 am
    “These differences probably indicate that many Americans hold religious beliefs that cause them to be skeptical of established scientific ideas, even when they have some basic familiarity with those ideas.”

    ____________

    In my opinion, part of the problem we have in this debate is that we in the English-speaking world have fundamentally misdefined what “believe” means.
    The proto Indo-European root of the word is “leubh,” which means “love,” or “embrace.” It doesn’t derive from “know,” or “truth,” which is what we currently use it as.

    If you look at it from that perspective, it becomes easier to see how someone could know what the theory of evolution or climate change or string theory states but not embrace it.

  41. 37. TB Says:
    November 2nd, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Consider, this would be a being existing in the past, present and all possible futures at the exact same time. Who sets things in motion already knowing that the processes would work to create life. Certainly there are timelines where life wouldn’t occur, but remember – infinite being. There is no need to guide any process because time is only a concern to those bound to it. Especially if you toss in the concept of free will.
    ___________

    Interesting thought. But if this infinite being doesn’t guide any processes, then it can’t really be said to “set things in motion” either, since that would imply pushing the universe down one of an infinite number of timelines, which would be guidance. So either the prime mover would have to move the universe in all directions at once and let quantum sort it out, or there are infinite universes existing encompassing all possible timelines.

    And does this infinite being exist within time or outside time? Before the universe, there was no time, so if this being exists within time it would have to have come into existence after the universe was created, negating its role as creator. And if this being exists outside time, then how can it be said to have acted to create the universe – action requires time.

    So you’re left with a non-creating, non-guiding, do-nothing God who is all-powerful and yet powerless. Not exactly pew-filling material.

  42. Anthony McCarthy

    If anyone here has any evidence that any gene or trait came about by blind chance, please let me know and provide the link. Jon

    When Dennett was peddling the “God gene” a few years back I wondered why it didn’t seem to glimmer as a possibility to him that the idea wouldn’t be used as physical evidence that there was a God who so wanted to be known to us that the possibility was encoded in our very molecules and that predestinarians would point to the lack of belief as proof that those carrying that congenital defect were the damned.

    It makes as much sense as the creation myths those guys tell to accompany their words made flesh in the form of adaptive genes.

  43. Anthony McCarthy

    – Actually, if you postulate an infinite god, then this does seem to be the way it would have been done. Consider, this would be a being existing in the past, present and all possible futures at the exact same time. Who sets things in motion already knowing that the processes would work to create life. Certainly there are timelines where life wouldn’t occur, but remember – infinite being. There is no need to guide any process because time is only a concern to those bound to it. TB

    I’d think that an infinite God could contain all of the parts of time but not only that, if there could be alternative time lines there could also be alternatives to time as well. What those would be, ?.

    It’s like trying to conceive of what, if anything, a far larger number of dimensions would be like in terms of experience. We don’t seem to be equipped to do more than try to conceive the rudest sketches of some of those. Maybe a good way to think of it was the world before the atomic level of matter had been postulated. They were there, our physical reality depended on them but our ancestors didn’t perceive that reality because it was outside of their experience. It’s possible that other dimensions, times, etc. permeate our reality unnoticed by us. And there’s no reason to believe that it makes one bit of difference to the universe or to a possible God that we will never know about them. Maybe they’re not really any of our business.

  44. Christian Scientist

    Well said Anthony. I have always thought that an infinite God would be particularly adept at applying the participatory anthropic principle which was embodied in Wheeler’s delayed choice experiment. To me that is one of the greatest pieces of evidence supporting an infinite God. I would suggest reading the excellent writings of two Templeton Prize winners, Bernard D’Espagnat and John Polkinghorne.

  45. TB

    @ 42. toasterhead
    “So either the prime mover would have to move the universe in all directions at once and let quantum sort it out, or there are infinite universes existing encompassing all possible timelines.”

    If you’re postulating an infinite being, then neither would be a problem since it would already know all possible outcomes. Or, another way of thinking is that there wouldn’t need to be infinite universes, just knowledge of all possible timelines for one universe. As the universe progresses, you still have a huge amount of possibilities for how all this plays out.

    “And does this infinite being exist within time or outside time? Before the universe, there was no time, so if this being exists within time it would have to have come into existence after the universe was created, negating its role as creator. And if this being exists outside time, then how can it be said to have acted to create the universe – action requires time.”

    Kind of the same answer as above. As it set the clock running, so to speak, it could experience time but also wouldn’t be bound by it.

    “So you’re left with a non-creating, non-guiding, do-nothing God who is all-powerful and yet powerless. ”

    No, you have an infinite being who has created an everything that has no need for tweaking (it’s a feature, not a bug ;) ) and chooses to allow the universe/universes to proceed without direct interference as the “gift” of free will.

    If anything, an infinite being who created a universe that needed direct guidance/constant correction or was bound by the constraints of time/no time would be less than infinite or all-powerful.

    Fun conversation, toasterhead! Kind of like the theological version of Calvinball.

    @44 Anthony. Interesting point.

  46. 45. Christian Scientist Says:
    November 2nd, 2009 at 2:51 pm
    Well said Anthony. I have always thought that an infinite God would be particularly adept at applying the participatory anthropic principle which was embodied in Wheeler’s delayed choice experiment.

    _______________

    Is that really what the delayed choice experiment showed? I thought it just proved the idea that the act of observing a photon changes the nature of the photon. It’s not that the photon cares whether or not humans are observing it, it’s that the process of detection irrevocably alters the photon. It’s not like you can take a picture of a photon – pictures ARE photons.

    This analogy may be completely bogus, but I liken it to watching a really really fast NASCAR race, one that’s moving so fast that the cars are just a blur. You can’t even take a photo of them – they’re moving too fast. The only way to determine who is winning is to drop a giant brick wall into the middle of the track and see which car slams into it first. While you will definitely see an example, the condition of both car and driver will be irrevocably altered by the detection process.

    Again, that may be a completely bogus analogy. But it would certainly make NASCAR more fun to watch.

  47. TB

    “Again, that may be a completely bogus analogy. But it would certainly make NASCAR more fun to watch.”

    Now THAT’S Calvinball!

  48. 46. TB Says:
    November 2nd, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    No, you have an infinite being who has created an everything that has no need for tweaking (it’s a feature, not a bug ) and chooses to allow the universe/universes to proceed without direct interference as the “gift” of free will.

    If anything, an infinite being who created a universe that needed direct guidance/constant correction or was bound by the constraints of time/no time would be less than infinite or all-powerful.
    ______________

    But an infinite being who doesn’t actually do anything isn’t much of a deity, is it? It’s just the same as having no deity. Whether or not something pushed the Big Bang Button or not is irrelevant to everything in it. And to that deity, what is the purpose of creating the universe if not to do something with it? Since we’ve put this deity outside time and space, the deity already knows what the universe will do from its beginning to its end, so why bother making it at all?

    Unless I’m understanding cosmology incorrectly, all objects in the universe are subject either to Newtonian law (planets, asteroids, stars, etc) or quantum mechanics (particles). After the first few milliseconds after the Big Bang, there was no more choice – energy coalesced into matter and from there was guided by natural laws of gravity and electromagnetism into the universe we observe today. The way matter clumped together made stars, and the way stars grouped together made galaxies, and the way they interacted and exploded and re-formed made other stars with more complex elements and planets and organic compounds, all based on the initial configuration of the Big Bang.

    It’s only when life enters the picture that we have at least the illusion that a different law of motion can exist at the greater than subatomic level – free will. But free will is still limited. Living creatures can’t do anything – there are limits. Here’s an analogy:

    If you toss a baseball out of a second-floor window, you can be reasonably certain that it’s going to hit the ground. If you can control for velocity and angle of release and spin and atmospheric conditions and ensure that a dog isn’t going to run up and catch it, you can predict exactly where that baseball will land.

    You can’t quite do the same thing if you’re tossing a bird out of a second-floor window. It might fly up to the roof. It might fly into a nearby tree. It might land in your garden or poop on your car. It might land in a tree two miles away. There are many possibilities, but not an infinite number. It definitely won’t land on the Moon. It’s probably not going to fly to Beijing. It’s probably not going to land in Antarctica. It’s probably not going to hover in midair and start singing Beatles songs.

    Free will, it would seem, is more of a quantum probability cloud. A living thing has an illusion of free choice, but really just has a large finite number of options to choose from.

    Fun conversation, toasterhead! Kind of like the theological version of Calvinball.
    ______________

    And you, sir, have just entered a Vortex Zone. :)

  49. TB

    @ 49. toasterhead

    Sorry, I sang a tiger song in the Rosalyn zone, now I have babysitter privilege!

    “But an infinite being who doesn’t actually do anything isn’t much of a deity, is it? It’s just the same as having no deity. Whether or not something pushed the Big Bang Button or not is irrelevant to everything in it. And to that deity, what is the purpose of creating the universe if not to do something with it? Since we’ve put this deity outside time and space, the deity already knows what the universe will do from its beginning to its end, so why bother making it at all?”

    Well, no, it would be both outside and inside time and space – again, no limits except what that infinite being chooses to impose on itself.

    As for whether it’s actually doing anything, well, my children are growing up and someday will move out and get on with their own lives. I love my kids and they’re a joy to watch and be around. But at some point I won’t be a necessary part of the lives – in the sense that they depend on me for food and shelter. And maybe we’re actually doing something for that infinite deity. Maybe it’s good for something that exists in the past, present and future to be able to focus on something that can only perceive the present. How comfortable are you with uncertainty?

    But I absolutely agree, it’s just as valid to postulate no deity.

    The one thing I do know is that science can help us discover real things about the natural world. Everything else has to agree with that.

    “Free will, it would seem, is more of a quantum probability cloud. A living thing has an illusion of free choice, but really just has a large finite number of options to choose from.”

    Sure, free will that’s within the bounds of what’s possible as a human being. I am free to choose among the things it’s possible for me to choose. What’s interesting is how we humans have expanded those choices – 200 years ago I couldn’t get in an airplane and fly around the world.

  50. Anthony McCarthy

    You shouldn’t forget that “free will” is a vague explanation of something that would have to be larger than what we can consider within our concept. Or it wouldn’t be free.

    I think the most convincing evidence of free will is the awful stuff that happens when people figure that, usually other people, don’t have the right to make up their own mind. What happens in real life is so much more impressive than the theories we come up with about it.

  51. magistramorous

    @ 33. toasterhead: You’re right: tolerance must have a limit. I personally have a very low tolerance for young-earth creationism- so low, in fact, that it almost cost me my job once. I also agree with you that believing in YEC constitutes idiocy, but I would never use the word or any of its derivatives in front of a creationist, nor would I assume that a young-earth creationist was idiotic in all ways, nor even in most ways. Some people are more than intelligent enough to understand evolution, but are just delusional when it comes to this subject, due to some sort of mental block caused by the particular way they view the bible. Some creationists have even admitted that as a possibility, including Dembski on The Daily Show. Let’s all try to remember, though, that we’re all flawed in some ways, so if we expect others to change, we should offer to change ourselves as well.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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