Creationist Wisdom #520: The Physicist

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the News Sentinel of Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s titled Science points to creator God. There are more than 50 comments at the end.

We usually won’t embarrass letter-writers by using their full names — unless they’re politicians, preachers, or other public figures, but this one is an exception. His name is Neal Caldwell, and in his letter he describes himself as a physicist. We found some information about him at the website of the Tennessee Inventors Association: Neal Caldwell of Dalen Products, which describes him as “a local inventor and owner of Dalen Products, a company located in West Knoxville.” Regarding his status as a physicist, it says: “He started out going to engineering school and quickly moved to working for Robertshaw Controls in Knoxville.”

That’s somewhat ambiguous, but the website of the Knox Area Rescue Ministries, of which he’s a Director, says: “He is a graduate of Knoxville High School and the University of Tennessee, with majors in physics and mathematics.”

He wrote an earlier letter to the same newspaper back in June of 2011, and somehow we missed it. That one is Evolution doesn’t add up. It’s even funnier than today’s letter, but we’ll let you enjoy that one by yourself. Oh, in that letter he describes himself as a “physicist/mathematician.”

Anyway, in today’s letter Caldwell says he’s physicist, and he seems prominent enough for full-name treatment. Excerpts from his letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

The letter “Evolution’s scientific proof is overwhelming” is interesting but significantly misleading.

We can’t find the letter he’s talking about, but we don’t need it. Then Caldwell says:

Given that evolution has multiple meanings, it is easy to choose ones to claim scientific proof. Two simple ones that cooperate are change over time, and micro-evolution (small changes that accomplish tiny results, explaining bacteria becoming resistant to drugs, the reshaping of finch beaks or changes in coloration to aid survival). These are, as the [other] writer says, overwhelmingly proven.

Then what’s the problem? Let’s read on:

But evolutionary tidbits fall dramatically short of proving evolution’s ability to account for life’s diversity and complexity, which is, of course, where the real argument lies. Since most life forms appeared suddenly in the Cambrian period, with zero evidence of Charles Darwin’s required gradualism, he certainly might amend his adjective to underwhelming.

Lordy, lordy — Caldwell is overstating what happened in the Cambrian, and at the same time he’s ignoring the inevitable cumulative effect of all those “micro” changes. He’s also ignoring the fossil record and DNA evidence. He continues:

As we learn more about life’s unbelievable complexity, the writer could say he believes that Darwin did it, but science itself would remain embarrassingly un-affirming. If I were to assert that such complexity could only have been designed, I would have perhaps more standing in the provable scheme of things than the [other] writer would in his materialistically based speculations.

Right — science is “embarrassingly un-affirming,” but Caldwell’s claim of non-materialistic design is provable, so it has far more standing. This guy is amazing! Here’s more:

The more we learn about life, the more it escapes naturalistic explanation. We have not the least idea how DNA came into being, then not even a scenario about how it could have been encoded with the information of life, such encoding in the simplest cell being magnitudes greater than everything Microsoft spent years designing into its Windows platform.

No, life does not “escape naturalistic explanation.” It hasn’t been created in the lab — not yet — but only creationists claim that it’s a supernatural miracle. And of course he mentions “information,” whatever he thinks that is. Hey, Caldwell — DNA is not a computer program. It’s a perfectly natural string of atoms in a huge molecule, most of which seems to do nothing, and its functions aren’t miraculous.

Here’s one final excerpt from the end:

As a physicist, I believe that science increasingly points toward a creator God. Disputations aside, we might all agree that each of us has an overwhelming personal belief.

Well, dear reader — do you have an “overwhelming personal belief”? It’s clear that Caldwell does, and he thinks you do too.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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24 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #520: The Physicist

  1. I think it’s reasonable to ask Neal Caldwell what his qualifications are as a physicist. I’ve known plenty of physicists talk BS, especially after they’ve had a few, but never one who seems so lacking in the basics of scientific reasoning.

    Could the News Sentinel‘s subeditors have served him ill by subverting his meaning?

  2. I just printed myself a PhD in physics on my computer, I bet mine is just as good as his and better earned than his.

  3. such encoding in the simplest cell being magnitudes greater than everything Microsoft spent years designing into its Windows platform.

    The old “life is so far from anything designed that it must be designed” argument.

  4. [Most] life forms appeared suddenly in the Cambrian period, with zero evidence of Charles Darwin’s required gradualism, he certainly might amend his adjective to underwhelming.

    Nonsense. Mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish–none of these “appeared suddenly in the Cambrian.” There was indeed a sudden proliferation of fossils, but this reflects the evolution of hard body parts which, like bones, would readily fossilize—and it’s estimated to have occurred over tens of millions of years, hardly “suddenly” except on a time scale of billions of years.

    We have not the least idea how DNA came into being, then not even a scenario about how it could have been encoded with the information of life such encoding in the simplest cell being magnitudes greater than everything Microsoft spent years designing into its Windows platform.

    Wrong again. Scientists have created nucleotides in the laboratory and even assembled them into simple strands of RNA and DNA. They’ve even created so-called “XNAs” which use entirely different nucleotide bases not found in nature (shades of Evolution the movie, with its alien life with “10 base pairs”). As for how it came to be “encoded with the information of life,” DNA pretty much automatically is “the information of life”—and it acquired greater complexity through evolution. No, Darwin didn’t do it—he never said he had, and neither has any other evolutionary biologist—but that doesn’t mean evolution didn’t happen. And who cares about “such encoding in the simplest cell being magnitudes greater than everything Microsoft spent years designing into its Windows platform. Considering that life has been around something like 100 million times as long as Windows, why shouldn’t it be far more sophisticated, even though fashioned by nature rather than some conscious Designer?

    None of this, of course, will persuade creationists. If, for example, scientists actually did create life in the lab, true believers would say it was faked—and if they couldn’t say that, they’d say instead that it was animated by demonic magic, and he researchers would have to worry about being firebombed or shot at in the name of the Prince of Peace and His loving Father.

  5. Charles Deetz ;)

    So this super-complex code that the physicist is talking about, it had to be designed? Gotcha. And then millions of iterations instantaneously for plants and animals to seed the earth to get things going … and all function together as a system.

    So one ‘programmer guy’ had to create a super-complex coding system, write millions of programs, meet the launch date simultaneously, and the only bugs would be the ones that were designed. Then he doesn’t make good on updates of the software except for ‘micro’ patches. And the programs run for thousands of years (or millions if not YEC) with just one reboot required. YEP, that sounds so much more likely than extending ‘micro evolution’ over millions of years.

  6. Wow, with “reasoning” like that, I would bet he is no better than Salvador T. Cordova.

    All ID/creationists seem to have an over inflated image of their qualifications.

  7. Again, why oh why do these dumbass Podunkville editors keep publishing these breathtakingly ignorant letters?

    Neal Caldwell should go to his local library, check out all thirteen episodes of David Attenborough’s Life On Earth series, and devote a weekend to learn a little something about that which he so fervently rails against.

    At least he would learn not to say most life forms appeared in the Cambrian. It’s unclear whether he got his PhD. in Physics from the U. of Tenn., Knoxville High School, or Robertshaw Controls, but there is no doubt that he got his BS in evolutionary biology from the Discovery Institute.

  8. retiredsciguy wonders—

    Again, why oh why do these dumbass Podunkville editors keep publishing these breathtakingly ignorant letters?

    Controversy, whether actual or confabulated, is good for distribution figures and/or page hits, as the case may be, and those in turn attract advertising bucks. Integrity must defer to capitalist priorities waving freedom-of-expression pennants. Ironically, the situation can be cast in an evolutionary struggle-for-survival metaphor.

    That said, the “controversy” would soon evaporate under the glare of well-informed critical scrutiny, so it’s in certain quarters’ interests to keep it on life support.

  9. Christine Janis

    “None of this, of course, will persuade creationists. If, for example, scientists actually did create life in the lab, true believers would say it was faked”

    Actually, here’s what creationists actually *do* say, to reports of people like Craig Venter approaching this situation: “see, scientists have created life in a lab — this proves that life can only be created by an intelligent agent.”

    Heads I win, tails you lose, as well as some atrociously bad logic.

  10. @Christine Janis
    This reminds me of the argument that points to engineers looking to nature for how to build something.

    “Isn’t nature so wonderful, it must be designed.”

    When what they are pointing is that nature is so wonderful that it is beyond the capacity of mere design.

    What is known as Orgel’s Second Rule: Evolution is cleverer than you are.

    My guess is that when life is engineered in the lab, it will be done by taking clues from nature. Not by designing it from scratch. It will contain something like DNA/RNA, not some totally new way of doing it. And the creationists will either say, as you report: “That proves that life is designed”, or else, in that charmingly self-contradictory signature way of creationists, “But they designed it only by imitating nature.”

  11. IDeologues have on occasion cited biomimetics as evidence supporting ID (e.g., here). The non sequitur goes something like this: “We’re designing clever and (near-)optimal engineering solutions by copying nature. Therefore nature itself must be a product of clever and (near-)optimal design.

  12. Neil is a physicist? I don’t think so.

    “Nothing is truer than gravity,”

    Similar to Realthog I don’t think any physicist would write such a thing.

    Eric Lipps is mistaken, because he underestimates what creacrap is capable of:

    “If, for example, scientists actually did create life in the lab, true believers would say it was faked.”
    No, true believers will say “that’s by far not enough – show me how life did arise in nature.” I know from experience – this is the answer I got several months ago.
    Plus what Christine writes.

  13. I continue to be amazed by those who point to the Cambrian explosion, accept that today’s fauna are descended from organisms in the Cambrian record, and then deny macroevolution.

  14. Christine Janis

    @ Paul. Something that Stephen Meyer never quite seems to wrap his head around, either!

  15. Christine Janis says:

    Actually, here’s what creationists actually *do* say, to reports of people like Craig Venter approaching this situation: “see, scientists have created life in a lab — this proves that life can only be created by an intelligent agent.”

    It’s a waste of time to respond to anything they say, because they’ll never learn and they’ll never stop. But a proper understanding of such things should be promoted, so when the trick is done, by Venter or someone else, the press release should say that this demonstrates: (a) we understand life well enough that we can create it naturally; and therefore (b) there’s nothing incomprehensible about life or miraculous about its appearance.

  16. I predict that creationists will not say This shows how the laws of nature are fine-tuned to being life-friendly.

  17. The whole truth

    Paul, your points are good of course but, as I’m sure you’re aware, evolution deniers, and especially ‘macro-evolution’ deniers, have a distorted understanding (to put it mildly) of evolution and evolutionary theory, and they have their own definition of ‘macro-evolution’. You’ve likely noticed that IDiot-creationist’s arguments against ‘macro-evolution’ often go something like this, even though this isn’t what they actually believe:

    ‘All of the phyla appeared suddenly at the beginning of what evolutionary scientists call the Cambrian Period. Any and all diversification that has occurred since then is only micro-evolution, at most. Any and all diversification within a phylum is only micro-evolution, at most. Macro-evolution would be the evolution of new phyla from non-living matter or, at the very least, the evolution of new phyla from the original Cambrian phyla.’

    Of course there are variations of their arguments but it really doesn’t matter to what they actually believe, which is this:
    ‘There is no such thing as evolution. My God-did-it, I believe it, and that settles it!’

  18. The whole truth

    While I was typing my comment above I thought of an article that I saw the other day. Check this out:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150203155925.htm

  19. I thought we already knew that bout the green seaslug: PNAS 105, 17867, Nov 2008. As for the idea that everything since the Cambrian Explosion or even since the first carnivora, is microevolution; all I can say, like Judy Garland, is “Lions and tigers and bears”

  20. I just remembered an old creationist joke.

    A scientist is challenging God, saying that we humans can now make life from scratch, so God is no longer needed. The scientist is about to demonstrate this by scooping up dirt, when God says, “Get your own dirt.”

    @The whole truth, I think of the scenario of the intervention of the Intelligent Designers at the Cambrian, what “dirt” – presumably, the already existing forms of life – attracted their design capabilities. Why, after billions of years of life, was there interest in dividing up animal life into phyla, and giving the various phyla distinctive body plans.

    Why wasn’t animal life created in the first place belonging to those phyla?

  21. Why wasn’t animal life created in the first place belonging to those phyla?

    Ah, but you see, God works in mysterious ways!

  22. The whole truth

    TomS said;

    “Why, after billions of years of life, was there interest in dividing up animal life into phyla, and giving the various phyla distinctive body plans.

    Why wasn’t animal life created in the first place belonging to those phyla?”

    Those are very sensible questions, and the honest answer from a creationist would be something like: ‘The only interest I actually have in that evil evolution stuff is in denigrating it and replacing it with my theocratic agenda. I believe that all kinds were created in the beginning by my God, The One True God, and that all living things have remained true to their kind ever since. Neither billions nor millions nor thousands nor hundreds nor any other number of years passed before living things acquired distinctive body plans. There is no such thing as evolution. Any diversification that has occurred since the original creation is just minor, front-loaded and/or manually directed variation, by my God, within separate, created kinds, and especially the specially created in God’s image human kind. My God-did-it, I believe it, and that settles it!’

    Of course they could just avoid the questions, as they so often do, and use the line that retiredsciguy pointed out: God works in mysterious ways! 🙂

    IMO, all of their ‘sciency sounding’ (but not actually scientific) interpretations and assertions about the Cambrian Explosion and everything else they say in their lame attempts to portray themselves as being honestly and seriously interested in scientifically interpreting evidence, and following the evidence where it leads, is a dishonest mask over their actual beliefs. Their only interest in science, or at least evolutionary science, is in finding ‘gaps’ (whether real or imagined) and other things to distort and attack so that they can further their theocratic agenda.

  23. I’ve always figured that the Intelligent Design types want people to accept that the Cambrian Explosion was the result of something other than natural selection, than it follows that every other time period was also. (Kind of like the Goddidit theory of uniformitarianism.) Thus, no macroevolution.

  24. Michael Penner

    Science is not a belief system defined by opinion or coming to conclusions based solely on inference. Sure, many ideas start with such things, but conclusions are not defined by them. Complexity is relative to your perspective of the system you are observing. Fractals show that even chaos has patterns that can be discerned and understood once we have the right perspective. Complexity is not the opposite of entropy, as many things pass through increasing to subsiding complex states, sometimes repeatedly, as they move toward less energy and less organization. Complexity follows known laws of physics, and a few laws we are still figuring out. Therefor, complexity is not a characteristic trait of the proof of God and a new premise will need to be found; preferably one that does not take liberties with logic.