Creationist Wisdom #445: A Great Big Miracle

Today’s second letter-to-the-editor appears in the Wall Street Journal. It’s titled: Are Science and God Incompatible?

The Journal is not the place where we’d expect to find the typical letter we have in our collection, and this one isn’t really a letter — it’s a column, by a mathematician named Amir Aczel. But due to its content, it certainly belongs in our collection, so that’s how we’ll treat it.

If his name seems familiar, that’s because it turned up in one of our posts a couple of months ago — Klinghoffer: Math and the Intelligent Designer. The Discoveroids like Aczel, and that tells you what you need to know.

We’ll give you a few excerpts from Aczel’s column, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

A barrage of recent books, newspaper and magazine articles, videos, public lectures, and even a widely-viewed documentary will have you think that science has by now disproved the existence of God. And some of the people making these claims are well-known scientists, such as the British biologist Richard Dawkins, who has made a career of arguing that modern science makes religion obsolete.

Science can’t prove or disprove God, and it doesn’t attempt to do so. It does, however, provide well-tested explanations for things that had previously been thought to be inexplicable miracles. And sometimes it clearly demonstrates that certain religious beliefs are incorrect — flat Earth, young-Earth, six-day creation, etc. But none of that is — or is intended to be — a disproof of God’s existence. Is Aczel fighting against a straw-man? We shall see.

Then he provides a list of scriptural tales that have been proven wrong, after which he says:

But has modern science proved that there is no God, as some scientists are now claiming? The answer is a resounding no! Science is a wonderful undertaking: it teaches us about life, the world, and the universe. And it has brought us immense amounts of information … . . But none of it has so far disproved the existence of some kind of supreme force that exists outside our universe — a force some people choose to call God.

So far, we agree. But that won’t last long. After discussing the Big Bang, the age of the universe, and the Higgs boson, none of which he challenges, he tells us:

The mechanism that formed the universe is so precise, so complex, so incredibly fine-tuned and highly improbable, that it begs the question of the existence of a supreme intelligence that brought it all into being. Based on only one of the many parameters of a life-giving universe, the probability that such a cosmos would appear by chance is much smaller than that of winning the jackpot in the Mega Millions lottery on every single day for more days than the age of the universe.

Aha! It’s the fine-tuning argument, coupled with “the odds are against it” argument. We’ve discussed — and dismissed — that stuff in Common Creationist Claims Confuted, so we won’t bore you by repeating ourselves. Let’s read on:

On planet Earth, condensed from clouds of matter created in earlier stars, primitive life forms emerged through a process we have absolutely no understanding of and could never replicate in the lab.

Biologists may be closer to creating life in a lab than Aczel thinks. But whether that happens soon or a long time from now, the only question Aczel needs to consider is whether that chemical process is literally impossible. If it is, then okay, he’s got something to say. If it’s not impossible, then regardless of what he thinks of the probabilities, it’s not a miracle.

Then, in a few breathless sentences, he dashes through the history of evolution until humans emerge, at which point he declares:

Could all of this have emerged by chance out of sheer nothingness? The probability of it all is extremely close to zero.

So there you are. Never mind that every little step along the way was totally natural and understandable. When you drool and gape at the whole thing — by golly! — it’s gotta be a miracle! At least, so it seems to Aczel. It’s not surprising that the Discoveroids like him.

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26 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #445: A Great Big Miracle

  1. waldteufel

    Aczel: “Blah blah hrumph blah God blah drivel grumoph design blah purpose blah blah improbable grump blah!

  2. waldteufel

    Aczel’s total misunderstanding of probability shows us that in addition to being generally scientifically challenged, he’s not the sharpest pencil in the box as a mathematician.

  3. I am amused when I see offering up as an argument for the intelligent design of such-and-such …
    The only intelligent designers that we know of, humans and other animals …
    Cannot design such-and-such.

    One might think because intelligent design has not done such-and-such, it would not be an argument that ID has to do it.

  4. Aczel may just be using the article to bump sales for his current book.

    Since the book appears to be on the same subject and coincidentally the same title as the commentary, there may be little hope that it is any more intellectually honest than the commentary was. It will likely be another rehash of topics that have already been debunked.

    I would like to be the first to predict thunderous applause from the D.I. over Aczel’s latest book.

  5. Ceteris Paribus

    Maybe it is just random chance that the name of the WSJ section which embraced Aczel’s article is called “Speakeasy”.

    But it is surely divine kismet that at the end of that column the WSJ closes with an editorial note:

    Amir D. Aczel is a mathematician, science writer and the author of, most recently, “Why Science Does Not Disprove God“
    For the latest entertainment news [follow a twitter link]

  6. waldteufel

    Wanna start a whirlwind of stupid and a whirlpool of drool? Ask an IDiot “who designed the intelligent designer?”

    As the little old lady said . . .”It’s turtles all the way down.”

  7. Charles Deetz ;)

    Saw on facebook yesterday someone posting a link to ‘first’ scientific proof of god. Didn’t click, couldn’t find it again … but its out there, waiting on the peer reviewed publication.

  8. Being a math (and physics) teacher myself it always embarrasses me when a mathematician like Azcel refuses to understand probability, as pointed out by Waldteufel above. For starters Azcel is doing probability analysis with population n = 1 (namely the one and only universe we know).
    Also note that

    “The mechanism that formed the universe is so precise, so complex, so incredibly fine-tuned and highly improbable”
    depends on the Cosmological Argument – ie the natural constants that define that mechanism need to have a First Cause. As there are about 30 of such natural constants fine-tuning rather argues for polytheism than for monotheism.
    So Mark Germano’s question needs to be revised a bit:
    “which gods?”

  9. If we were really intelligently designed, we could live on cosmic rays, see the entire electromagnetic spectrum, and travel through space without ships. We certainly wouldn’t need to carry around billions of microbes in our guts to help us digest our food.

  10. A similar question arose here a couple of weeks ago, and I wrote a similar analogy then as well.

    Aczel argues that because the odds are so vanishingly small for everything in the universe turning out just the way it did, so “finely tuned” and all, that the “Hand of God” is evident. But that’s not necessarily so. Here’s why:

    If you flip a coin one thousand times, the odds of getting the sequence of heads & tails that you wind up with is 1 : 2^1000. In other words, vanishingly small odds. Yet, you got that exact sequence!! But then, your odds of getting some sequence are 1 : 1. It just so happens you got the particular sequence you did. So, if you flip the coin another 1000 times, what are your odds of getting the same sequence again? 1 : 2^1000. But even that wouldn’t require a divine miracle. It would be highly improbable, but still would not be proof of divine intervention.

    As far as we know, the universe is a one-time happening. It just so happens that it turned out the way it did — just like our one-time sequence of one thousand coin tosses. We wouldn’t be here to argue the point if it didn’t.

    Or, perhaps the universe has happened 2^1000 times already, and this is the one time that things worked out right to support intelligent life on at least one planet out of 8 around one star out of 200 billion in our galaxy that itself is one galaxy out of (perhaps) 500 billion galaxies in the observable universe.

    Heck, with odds like that, life was bound to happen.

  11. The entire idea of intelligent design is so silly as to be stupid.Man likes to think he is an intelligent designer. An not one of them can design anything as complex as what I can do using just random chance…Mandelbrot pattern.
    Ya I know the dim xtians may say BUT But but GAWD!!! Which is one of those silly words they have no real concept of nor any real idea of what the word means.

  12. The whole Discoveroid schtick is pure scam. A bunch of also-ran guys who can’t or won’t get honest jobs producing things or helping people have figured out a way to milk money out of their credulous donors. Grifters and scammers who lack a moral compass or an intellectually honest way to contribute to society. They are without shame, morals, or purpose other than to use the rubes’ money to line their pockets.

  13. Doctor Stochastic

    How fine was the tuning to allow God to exist?

  14. From a review of Aczel’s latest book

    “Mathematician Aczel … debated atheist Richard Dawkins in 2010. Here, he presents his arguments, and prominent atheists, Dawkins above all, do not come out well.

    Aczel wins the rematch by the infallible technique of misstating his opponent. Science cannot ‘disprove’ anything; only mathematicians do that. …”

    (Emphasis added.)

    Methinks since a trip to Stockholm is not imminent for Aczel, he might secretly be shooting for a Templeton instead.

  15. When I see an argument against a natural origin (evolution, Big Bang, leaky faucet, whatever) – well, to take an example, that it is such a small probability that such-and-such would come about by natural causes – I ask for the probability that it would come about by supernatural causes.

    Unless they can give some supernatural mechanism, or some way of limiting what the supernatural can/did/would do – then the probability of supernatural causes doing such-and-such is less than the probability of natural causes doing it.

  16. Rikki_Tikki_Taalik

    […] primitive life forms emerged through a process we have absolutely no understanding of and could never replicate in the lab.

    In other news, where people actually want to know what we are learning and capable of rather than use what we don’t know to assert this and that in service of propping up unfalsifiable beliefs, it seems we are still at work picking things apart quite nicely.

    Evolution of life’s operating system revealed in detail

    The evolution of the ribosome, a large molecular structure found in the cells of all species, has been revealed in pathetic unprecedented detail in a new study
    “The history of the ribosome is tells us about the origin of life,” said Loren Williams, a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We have worked out on a pathetic fine level of detail how the ribosome originated and evolved.”

    PNAS: Evolution of the ribosome at atomic resolution

  17. “On planet Earth, condensed from clouds of matter created in earlier stars, primitive life forms emerged through a process we have absolutely no understanding of and could never replicate in the lab.”

    As some others have noted above, we understand more than Prof. Aczel thinks. Functioning viruses have actually been synthesized in the laboratory, and it’s only a matter of time before more complex single-celled creatures are. Even multicellular organisms-perhaps even humans–might be created synthetically by putting together an artificial version of the fertilized egg and then implanting it in an appropriate womb for gestation.

    Synthesize viruses present all sorts of potential issues, such as the possibility of pandemic disease if they escape. Synthesis of “higher” organisms offers moral and ethical challenges, just as, for example, cloning does. But Aczel is kidding himself if he believes that the technical challenges can never be overcome. (When they are, expect to hear screaming from creationists about “usurping the power of God” and so on. And on. And on.)

  18. Garnetstar

    “….primitive life forms emerged through a process we have absolutely no understanding of…..”

    Speak for yourself, Mr. Mathematician. Every chemist has some understanding of how that is possible.

    And, for the gazillionth time, chemical reactions are NOT random and do not occur “by chance”.

  19. docbill1351

    It’s worth reading the comments on the WSJ article, especially mine! No, not really, Diogenes has a very nice discussion of the misuse of probability. It’s a keeper. I copied it for my files. He completely destroy’s Amir’s argument and the Tornado in a Junkyard argument, too. It’s worth repeating any time a creationist claims that “x is improbable.”

  20. docbill1351 says: “It’s worth reading the comments on the WSJ article, especially mine!”

    Well worth the time. Aczel never should have published in the Journal. It has intelligent readers.

  21. docbill1351

    Aczel is still out there arguing! He’s getting trounced. He was on Science Friday a few weeks ago. Even gentle Ira Flatow was surprised by what Aczel said. The callers were not kind to him, either.

  22. Go, Diogenes, go!

    “it’s only a matter of time before more complex single-celled creatures are .”
    Ah, I hope to live long enough to witness it, if only for the creacrap reactions.

    “Even multicellular organisms-perhaps even humans–might be created synthetically ”
    But please postpone that until after my death – I’m too old to ponder the ethical problems connected to this.

  23. But why in the world would you want to make humans synthetically???

    It’s so much more fun making ’em the old-fashioned way!

  24. docbill1351: “Aczel is still out there arguing! He’s getting trounced.”

    Absolutely! And this guy has a Ph.D. in mathematics? Makes you wonder why he would risk whatever professional credibility he had by writing this “stuff”. Oh, duh — that’s right! He’s trying to sell his book.

    BTW, Doc’s right — Diogenes shredded Aczel, compressed the shreds into a cube, wrapped him up in baling wire, and spit him out the back, awaiting pick up by the hay wagon.

  25. When a living thing is manufactured in the lab, here are the creationist reactions:
    1. This was not made from scratch. Complex materials were used – some may have been obtained from living things.
    2. This used intelligent design. It didn’t happen by random chance, as evolution demands.