Creationist Wisdom #612: What Is Truth?

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of St Louis, Missouri. It’s titled Scientific measurement is not only criteria for truth. The newspaper has a comments feature, with only one comment so far.

Because the writer isn’t a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name. His first name is Jack. Excerpts from his letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

If something is measurable, and the results of making measurements are identical at all times, everywhere, under all conditions, we may have an absolute scientific truth.

Jack is probably thinking of a scientific law, but let’s find out where he’s going with this. He says:

However, our religious beliefs are not measurable, nor are our philosophical ideas measurable. However, we all know that despite what most scientists claim, measurement is not the only criteria for truth. The unique ability of humans to conceive ideas have resulted in many ideas that are true, though they cannot be measured.

It seems that Jack is starting off with a serious confusion of terms. A philosophical or religious “truth” is totally unlike a scientific law. Let’s read on:

Both scientists and theologians have reached conclusions that were subsequently proven incorrect. Sometimes scientists reach erroneous conclusions from their measurements, and the belief of theologians is proven false. These include conclusions that the Earth was flat, that the Earth was at the center of the universe, that heavier objects fell quicker than lighter ones, and that the atom was indestructible.

We have more confusion here. Flat-Earth, the geocentric universe, and Aristotle’s assertion that heavy objects fall faster than light ones weren’t “scientific” conclusions — they were crude, pre-scientific guesses, some of which found their way into scripture. But it’s also true that some scientific ideas are proven to be wrong. What’s Jack’s point? He continues:

Scientists believe that creation originated with a big bang, and they have spent billions of dollars trying to prove this. Theologians believe that if there was a big bang, it was caused by God.

Billions have been spent trying to prove the Big Bang? We doubt it. But there’s a lot of evidence that it happened. On the other hand, there’s zero evidence that it was caused by a deity. Again we ask: What’s Jack’s point? He’d better get to it quickly, because there’s not much left of his letter. Here’s more:

Some scientists, including Albert Einstein, who spent the last 20 year of his life searching for a Theory of Everything and failed to find it, agree with the theologians.

Einstein agreed with the theologians? BWAHAHAHAHAHA! This is the rest of Jack’s letter:

Reporters and editors should perform the required research to properly present a complete story to their readers.

We never did figure out what Jack was trying to say, but his last sentence is good advice. He should follow it himself.

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

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62 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #612: What Is Truth?

  1. I*f you look at some of the Post-Dispatch‘s other stories, it becomes swiftly obvious that St. Louis, Missouri, is not so much a pillar of the Enlightenment as just a pillar.

  2. Scientists believe that creation originated with a big bang, and they have spent billions of dollars trying to prove this. Theologians believe that if there was a big bang, it was caused by God.

    So what? Even if the Big Bang was “caused by God,” how does that validate pinhead creationist ideas that the universe is 6,000 years old and that every plant and animal species ever to live on Earth was present, in its present (or in the case of extinct species, final) form by the end of the sixth day of the planet’s creation?

    It doesn’t, of course, and most modern theologians have no problem accepting a God who created the universe billions of years ago complete with natural laws which allowed it to grow and evolve and eventually produce living things which could also grow and evolve. Only fundamentalist theologians insist that the time scale given by Archbishop James Ussher in the 1650s is, ahem, gospel.

  3. It is shown once again that creationists have no clue about science or how it works. I think this is because they are fundamentally (lol) opposed to the conclusions of science, and hence its methods, and as a result refuse to learn very much about it.

    This makes for amusing comments, like one I saw a creationist make many years ago stating positively that the odds against evolution were 1^720. He couldn’t understand why he was being laughed at…

  4. @Eric Lipps

    how does that validate pinhead creationist ideas

    Now, now now: show some respect.

    How dare you smear pins this way?

  5. “Both scientists and theologians have reached conclusions that were subsequently proven incorrect.”
    Of course I’m a bad reader, but in Jack’s “analysis” I failed to find any theologian conclusion that was subsequently proven incorrect. The four examples Jackety Jack mentions are all scientific ones, because measurable!

  6. However, we all know that despite what most scientists claim, measurement is not the only criteria for truth.

    Poor Jack must have slept through science class or perhaps he was home schooled as a young lad but it appears like some many of his ilk he confuses science with faith. The very definition of a science is that it’s verifiable, i.e. observable, measurable and repeatable. Everything else in life is basically opinion and rumor and not necessarily the criteria for any truth.

  7. Many of your criticisms were educational and well thought out. I would appreciate comments on the key statement I made: “The unique ability of humans to conceive ideas have resulted in many ideas that are true, though they cannot be measured.” That was the main point of my letter to the editor.

  8. So, given all the denominations in just Christianity alone;, add to that all the sectarian divisions in all other of the major world religions; and then add to that all the religions and their sectarian divisions that have existed throughout human history; I guess Jack is saying that there are many “truths;” is that right?

    And which one of these sectarian divisions has the “TRUE” truth; and how long does it remain “true?” Can I take any one of these “truths” and make something unique out of it that others can then verify by following the course of my reasoning?

    Do centuries of blood-warring, suspicion, splintering, and hatred of “infidels” prove that all religions are true; or that only one is TRUE? Which one? How do you know?

    On the other hand, by knowing something about science, I can go into the lab or my shop and design and build something that has never existed in the history of our planet and have it work perfectly right from the beginning. I and millions of other scientists have done exactly this kind of work. Furthermore, any scientist or layperson, regardless of sectarian background or racial or national origin, can follow the new recipe and repeat the results and continue to repeat them over time and space. How can that be possible if the knowledge of science doesn’t approach some reasonable approximation of what is true about the universe around us?

    How has sectarianism contributed to all of our modern technology?

  9. @Jack

    “The unique ability of humans to conceive ideas have resulted in many ideas that are true, though they cannot be measured.”

    Could you produce a few examples, please?

  10. michaelfugate

    Jack, what do you mean by the following: idea, true & measure?

  11. All the above comments show that the commentators have brains and communication skills. These abilities are not measurable attributes that will repeatedly give the same result. I believe that God bestowed this unique ability on humans. I do not believe we inherited this ability from apes, nor did it evolve from the mind given by God to the apes. Lord Byron published a well-known statement about truth in Don Juan (1826). He wrote, “Tis strange – but true, for truth is always strange; stranger than fiction” (p. 316). This idea of Byron’s is not measurable. Nor is there a scientific measurement for the ability to innovate, or the ability to lead.

  12. Does one find any conflict between these two ideas:

    The body of each one of us is the result of natural processes such as reproduction.

    Each one of us stands in an individual relationship with one’s creator and redeemer.

  13. I’m still not getting Jack’s point.

    Scientists and others who pay attention to the world around them are far more effective at making things work in a way that comports with reality.

    There are also lots of charlatans and peddlers of various kinds of “philosophies” and “religions” that know how to identify gullible people and drag them into a following that will make the charlatan extremely rich. These characters have the ability to repeatedly find their “marks” and reel them in. You can measure their “success” by the number of their followers and the money they generate from these followers.

    There are “pedigrees” in the scientific community; charts linking talented, Nobel Prize winning people who are linked by their knowledge and way of looking at the world around them and successfully zeroing in on important insights about the natural world.

    There are also “pedigrees” of people who constantly get reality wrong. These are the kinds of people you find linked together in places like the Discovery Institute, Answers in Genesis, and the Institute for Creation Research. Everything they do and say regarding the world around themselves is dead wrong; measurably dead wrong because their “science” is totally sterile in its ability to generate any sort of viable research program. They can’t solve even high school level problems and get high school level concepts right.

    There are schools of musicians and artists; all measurably better and more lasting than other schools. There are craftsmen and skilled tradesmen that have produced products that have had high value and desirability lasting for centuries. There are other such schools that are forgotten within a few weeks, months, or perhaps as much as a year.

    Such things are measurable by their durability and desirability among human cultures spanning hundreds of years. Not all of it – particularly some “religions” and “philosophies” – has anything to do with reality; but they are “measurable” because large numbers of people “buy” into them; sometimes wrecking their own lives and the lives of others in the process. What they perceive as “truth” is measurably wrong because it generates rationalizations that try to explain away its failures. These ideas are measurably false because of the numbers of people whose lives are impoverished by the sterility of the ideas in making contact with reality.

    So, many things that Jack seems to be asserting are not measurable are indeed measurable by how many people buy into them; but that doesn’t mean what is measured is “true” in any sense of comporting with reality. Large numbers of people can be deluded; and that includes being deluded about what is “true.”

    The concept of “natural selection” can also be applied to the ideas, philosophies, and religions floating around in people’s heads. What remains constant and comports with reality over time regardless of “philosophy” is some approximation of “truth.” Religions don’t meet this criterion because over time they all splinter into literally thousands warring sects that all claim to have THE TRUTH.

    The only possible “truth” that one can extract from the phenomenon of religion is that humans need a community of sorts in order to survive. But religions provide that community at great cost over the long haul; and that fact is measurable by the number of unnecessary wars and deaths it generates over nothing that can be demonstrated objectively..

  14. @Jack

    All the above comments show that the commentators have brains and communication skills.

    Congratulations (and I mean this quite seriously)! You’ve just made a scientific observation and based a conclusion upon it. Leaving aside such rank implausibilities as that the comments have been generated by Turing machines, your conclusion is probably correct. If you collected up enough of the comments, you could start making some measure of the relative intelligence and communications abilities of each commenter. Whatever the system of measurement you devised, it would likely (and rightly) be challenged by rival researchers. Eventually, after much toing and froing, you might even between you attain some objectivity in your combined measurement schemes.

    It would be a waste of time, of course, but . . .

    He wrote, “Tis strange – but true, for truth is always strange; stranger than fiction” (p. 316). This idea of Byron’s is not measurable.

    And nor is it demonstrably true: it’s merely an opinion. Change “always” to “often” and it’s an opinion I’d be happy ro agree with, but my worldview would be in a sorry state if I thought that my opinions had the status of truth.

    I believe that God bestowed this unique ability on humans. I do not believe we inherited this ability from apes, nor did it evolve from the mind given by God to the apes.

    Another opinion. I see that you’re less humble than I am in your demarcation between your opinions and truth.

    Nor is there a scientific measurement for the ability to innovate, or the ability to lead.

    But I’m sure one could be devised.

  15. All the above comments show that the commentators have brains and communication skills. These abilities are not measurable attributes that will repeatedly give the same result. I believe that God bestowed this unique ability on humans.

    In what way is it unique? Surely all animals have communication skills, some to a remarkable degree (e.g. Koko the gorilla and Alex the parrot).

  16. michaelfugate

    All one need do is find a scale to measure something on – so that someone else can critique and/or refine the scale or repeat the measurements. Many species can make and use tools, many species can communicate amongst themselves and with other species. Human exceptionalism is a delusion.

  17. I agree that Byron’s conclusion was just his opinion, and may not be true. I feel that way about all the comments expressed above. This is a good website (just my opinion).

  18. Jack tells us: “The unique ability of humans to conceive ideas have (sic) resulted in many ideas that are true, though they cannot be measured.”

    I ask: how can an idea be said to be true, if it can’t be measured? For certainly, the ability of humans to conceive ideas has also resulted in many ideas that are false, in the sense that they are now discredited. How does that happen? How can a decision be made to retain or discard an idea, if it can’t be measured?

    Consider classical Marxist-Leninism. It’s an idea, or perhaps a group of ideas. Can it be measured? Some of its historical outcomes can be, but the ideas themselves? “The means of production and distribution must be held in common”? “From each according to his means, to each according to his needs”? “All power to the Soviets”? You can only measure them by their effects: by what actually came of them. That isn’t bulletproof, of course, but is it enough?

    Here the word of a certain Galilean nabi may be helpful: “You shall know them by their fruits”. That’s an idea, too, of course. But if we accept it, then we can measure all ideas, even ones that are not measurable directly. What we have to measure are their effects – that is, their practical effects, the actual “fruits” they produce, not the supposed theoretical ones.

    Now, maybe Jesus was wrong to propose such a method of assessment. It’s only an idea in itself, of course. But it seems to have been the go-to method for western civilization generally; and it has a valuable effect: all ideas become measureable, when actually applied.

    Ideas like “Heavy weights fall faster than light ones”; “Flies are spontaneously generated in rotting garbage” can be measured directly. But ideas that we can’t measure directly, we may measure indirectly. We measure effect, in the practical upshot – that is, by the fruits we actually see the idea produce.

    Can we apply this method to the idea of religion, specifically Christianity? Clearly, yes. The actual measurements are very voluminous, for many, many effects must be taken into account. They would include Chartres Cathedral and the Michaelangelo Pieta and the Bach St Matthew Passion and Handel’s Messiah and Father Damien and Martin Niemoller and Albert Schweitzer and Elizabeth Fry and legions of others; but they would also include the Crusades and the Inquisition and the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre and the Wars of Religion and the Gordon riots and the “troubles” in Ireland and the agonised deaths of children not taken to a doctor because their parents were convinced of the power of prayer. I have measured these effects for myself, and balanced them. The calculation is very complex, and the result is after all a balance, not an absolute. Your mileage may vary, but me, I’m not prepared to live on the difference.

    Can we apply it to the idea of the scientific method? Again, yes. Now look around you. Yes, the “fruits” include nuclear weapons and internet porn, to name but two; but the balance? Again, your mileage may vary; but Jack has cast his vote. Here he is on the internet, after all.

    So Jack and I differ. I would hold that a method does exist for measuring all ideas. That method is not itself theoretically rigorous; but it works well enough to be useful. I apply it; I assess the results; I abide by my assessment.

  19. Any idea or “world view” that has a means of implementation is going to come up against the hard world of reality. Ideas in the form of actions have consequences; and those consequences can be measured by how much they mesh with or conflict with reality.

    “Opinions” kept to themselves inside one’s head are just opinions; and if you live only inside your head, you can come to the conclusion that the things other people believe are only “opinions.” That is why so many people who think scientific knowledge – and other beliefs that have been honed against reality by repeated implementation – is “only opinion” don’t have anything to show for their own “opinions.” They can’t formulate their “ideas” in any kind of operational process that brings them into contact with the external world for testing and validation. These are the people who always live inside their heads and who have no direct experience with what others have discovered by actually doing things and exposing their ideas to the real world.

    It is interesting that the Atomists of ancient Greece already knew something of this process; but Democritus, Epicurus, and the Roman poet, Lucretius, were banned by the Christian church for centuries because their ideas were considered heresy. Instead, the imaginations of the “authorities” of the church were deemed real without a speck of evidence and testing. Emotionalism and fear of unobserved beings were the tools of control; and if you didn’t express explicit fealty to those ideas, you could be punished by death.

    The seeds of the scientific kind of thinking go way back in history to at least 450 BCE; but untested ideas in the form of “authoritative opinion” stifled reality-based thinking for centuries.

    Opinions are not the same as real knowledge; and real knowledge exists and survives the crucible of reality-based testing. People who live in the real world know how to do that; those who don’t live in the real world simply express their opinions.

  20. @Jack:
    In science, an idea is conceived within a brain after the senses feeding into that brain bring information gathered through observation. Such an idea based on observation is properly called a hypothesis.

    Further observations and testing may support the hypothesis, or perhaps contradict it. If the observations are accurate and they contradict the hypothesis, the hypothesis needs to be revised. After many such observations, testing, and revisions, a hypothesis may emerge that withstands all challenges. In general usage, many would call such a hypothesis a theory.

    A theory is a scientific idea that has withstood all challenges. It is not “just a theory,” as many choose to say with derision seemingly dripping from their voice. The theory may well be TRUTH, but the careful scientist will not call it such because future observations may contradict it.

    Evolution is a good example. It has been supported by so many observations made by thousands and thousands of dispassionate scientists for well over 150 years that it is now accepted by science as the grand organizing idea of all biology and paleontology. The only reason there is any controversy is that the idea of evolution is in conflict with some religious traditions.

    Which brings us to the religious idea. Such an idea is not based on observation, nor is it testable. For instance, some religious traditions claim there is an afterlife. The only way this idea can be tested is to die, but then no one who has died has ever figured out how to communicate to the still living what he or she may have observed in the afterlife. To my way of thinking, the most plausible explanation of how the whole idea of an afterlife got started in the first place was as a way for the elite (priests, kings, rulers) to control the behavior of the masses. Can I prove it? No. But can anyone prove otherwise? As stated above, only by dying. And I am trying very diligently to avoid that line of research.

  21. Mike Elzinga:
    “Emotionalism and fear of unobserved beings were the tools of control; and if you didn’t express explicit fealty to those ideas, you could be punished by death.”

    Thus, the more gullible were likely to survive and have offspring, while the more independent and skeptical were taken out of the gene pool. Seems to me a reasonable explanation of why so many today claim to be religious. It’s also reasonable to think that the more independent and skeptical have higher IQs than the gullible, and if so, we can blame religion for lowering the average IQ of the human species. This would be the absolute worst Holocaust of our entire time on earth.

  22. Arrrgh! I beseech thee, Curmy, to de-italicize the last paragraph. I thank you in advance.

    [*Voice from above*] As you wish, so shall it be!

  23. Dave Luckett says: “we can measure all ideas, even ones that are not measurable directly. What we have to measure are their effects …”

    That’s good. Very good. (Not merely according to my subjective reaction, but based on a lifetime of experience and a knowledge of history.)

  24. I don’t want to pile on Jack but if you believe in science there is only one truth and that’s the scientific method. As I said earlier any other so called truths are more a matter of opinion and rumor. Science can even explain how religion manages to dominate and many times subvert human thought, often to the detriment to the parties involved. Our primate evolution and subsequent genetically based desire for a strong Alpha male readily explains much of our more abhorrent behavior and even the need for an imaginary father figure in the sky. For a believer this is, of course, heresy but if you want to pursue the truth you often have to reject the simplistic yoke of childhood mind control.

  25. @Bert Younger: Insightful; well-said.

  26. @Jack: that’s brave to enter this den.

    “That was the main point of my letter to the editor.”
    I’m willing to grant you that point, though perhaps for another reason than you. That’s why I remarked that you don’t mention any theological statement that has been proven incorrect. See, I’d like to know how you (or any other believer) decides whether a theological statement is correct or incorrect. Ie what’s your method?
    Example: Einstein’s “God doesn’t play dice”, which is a metaphor against probabilism. How do you know this is correct or incorrect?
    It can’t be the scientific method. You already rejected it with “nor [do I believe] did it evolve from the mind given by God to the apes.”

  27. @ retiredsciguy:

    It’s also reasonable to think that the more independent and skeptical have higher IQs than the gullible, and if so, we can blame religion for lowering the average IQ of the human species. This would be the absolute worst Holocaust of our entire time on earth.

    There seems to be plenty of direct evidence for this notion in places where there is an intense concentration of sectarian apologetics dictating the course of “scientific theorizing;” i.e., in places like the ICR, AiG, and the DI.

    One of the more peculiar notions that seems to dominate the activities that go on in these “think tanks” is that all the ability of humans to think, reason, and do science comes from the Christian god which planted that capacity into the human brain.

    This notion is, however, belied by the fact that all of ID/creationist “science” is egregiously dead wrong because it is made up of scientific notions that have been bent and broken to comport with sectarian dogma. The result of all this concentrated “god-given ability to think and reason” no longer has anything to do with the real world; ID/creationist “science” is completely wrong and sterile in its ability to describe anything real.

    So much for the notion that the ability to think and reason was given to humans by a specified deity.

  28. The good commentary continues. Thanks to all those who have given me much to think about. The following ideas, and the individuals who conceived them, may give others some things to think about.
    Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project from 1993-2008, disagreed with the conclusion reached by the majority of scientists.
    Collins currently serves as Director of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He is a physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes. He was born in Staunton, Virginia on 14 April 1950. In Collins (2006) The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, he concluded that Darwinian evolution did occur; and it was an evolution directed by God. In the introduction to his book, he describes the ceremony with President Bill Clinton when the project was completed. President Clinton said, “Today, we are learning the language in which God created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, and the wonder of God’s most divine and sacred gift.”
    Collins commented about this statement by the President, “Was I, a rigorously trained scientist, taken aback at such a blatantly religious reference by the leader of the free world at a moment such as this? No, not at all. In fact I had worked closely with the president’s speechwriter in the frantic days just prior to this announcement, and had strongly endorsed the inclusion of this paragraph. When it came time for me to add a few words of my own, I echoed this sentiment: ‘It’s a happy day for the world. It is humbling for me, and awe-inspiring, to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God.’ ”
    Morris (2012) writes, “ Carolus Linnaeus (1707 – 1778) is widely regarded as the father of biological taxonomy. The standard classification system of plants and animals still used today is known as the Linnaeus system. He was a man of great piety and respect for the Scriptures. One of his main goal in systemizing the tremendous varieties of living creatures was to attempt to delineate the original Genesis kinds. He attempted, in fact, to equate his species categories with the kind, believing that variation could occur within the kind but not from one kind to another.”
    Francis Crick (1981), one of the discoverers of the genetic code wrote, “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.
    Leon M. Lederman received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1988, along with Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger, for their research on neutrinos. He is Director Emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.
    He wrote The God Particle in 1993 about the history of discoveries made while scientists studied the Universe. He introduces his book with the following statement, “When you read or hear anything about the birth of the Universe, someone is making it up. We are in the realm of philosophy. Only God knows what happened at the Very Beginning (and so far She hasn’t let on)” (P. 1).
    Lederman concludes with a discussion about the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle forecast by Professor Peter Higgs to provide an explanation about the origin of mass. Lederman referred to this particle as The God Particle. Professor Higgs, an atheist, criticized this name. He does not believe that God created the universe.
    In addition to the scientists quoted above, Mark Twain initially agreed with Darwin. However, he published, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1885. It included the following observation by Huckleberry Finn, “It’s lovely to live on a raft. We have the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they were made or only just happened” (p. 162). Later, he answered the question in The Secret History of Eddypus; he wrote, “Evolution is a blind giant who rolls a snowball down a hill. ….”

  29. @Jack

    I think most of us around here are familiar with those nuggets.

    As you say, “Francis Collins . . . disagreed with the conclusion reached by the majority of scientists.” So you found an outlier.

    Linnaeus: An 18th-century European was a Christian. This is not wholly surprising. It was extremely unusual to find an 18th-century European who wasn’t a Christian.

    Francis Crick (I trust your quotation) says: “. . . the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle . . .” Note the word “almost.” We’re very lucky to live in an era where we might quite soon find out if it’s an “almost-miracle” that’s near-inevitable under the right circumstances.

    Leon M. Lederman may have coined the term “God Particle” but he’s a self-professed atheist.

    And your Twain quote, “Evolution is a blind giant who rolls a snowball down a hill,” is something with which most of us would agree.

    Can I echo what someone else here said: I respect your courage in entering the lions’ den and (to stretch the metaphor perhaps too far!) in being prepared to engage in civilized debate with the lions.

  30. michaelfugate

    Jack – Francis Collins is a case in point – you can be a Christian and accept evolution. Sharing common ancestry with apes is a better fit to the evidence than your belief in separate creation. I think you might admit that Collins probably knows more than you do when it comes to biology. Why don’t you accept evolution?

  31. I’d just like to note on the origin of life. That is a completely different issue from the common descent of all varieties of life. We don’t know much about life of a couple of billion years ago, what it was like, and where it came from. But things are much clearer if we restrict ouselves to, let’s say 500 million years (starting from the Cambrian, to be very conservative about it). While a lot of people would be surprised if the laws of nature were such that they would make the appearance of life impossible, we don’t know enough to say how it did happen by natural causes.

  32. Lederman concludes with a discussion about the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle forecast by Professor Peter Higgs to provide an explanation about the origin of mass. Lederman referred to this particle as The God Particle. Professor Higgs, an atheist, criticized this name. He does not believe that God created the universe.

    Neither does Leon Lederman.

    I happen to know Leon Lederman and have had conversations with him. Leon has a rather witty a sense of humor and can be a hilarious stand-up comic when giving talks.

    He has already related the story of how his book got named the “God Particle:” it was because his editor wouldn’t allow Leon to name it the “Goddamn Particle.”

    Within the physics community that is quite funny because of the experimental difficulties required to find it. As Leon well knows, finding the neutrino was difficult enough.

    Hearing the assessments of science from ID/creationists who are totally outside the science community – despite the fact that some of them waggle PhDs – is quite strange and unfamiliar; ID/creationists have absolutely no clue about what goes on inside the science community.

  33. Michael – When Collins wrote that it was an evolution directed by God, I thought he disagreed with evolution as formulated from Darwin’s theories. I believe that if there was an evolution directed by God it would not violate creation as described in Genesis.

  34. @Jack
    The description in Genesis says nothing about the changes in heredity of populations (that is, evolution), nothing about common descent, nothing about the origins of species (or other taxa) or their relations, nothing about natural selection. Nothing positive or negative.

    What Darwin’s theories were is only of historical interest. Science is not beholden to any person’s authority.

    I see no reason to single out evolutionary biology from all of the other naturalistic accounts of they way the world works without mentioning God’s direction, whether they be reproductive biology, history or plumbing.

  35. Doesn’t it all come down to how one defines “God”? To me, if indeed there is a “God”, “God” would need to be defined as “The natural laws of the physical universe that determine the nature of the universe.”

    If that is the definition of God, then yes, God created life, and God determined how life would change, or evolve, over time. This is a far different “God” from the one imagined by a typical religionist.

    Bert Younger said it above:
    “Our primate evolution and subsequent genetically based desire for a strong Alpha male readily explains … the need for an imaginary father figure in the sky. “

  36. Oh — I meant to add to the post immediately above —

    “Welcome the the conversation, Jack.”

  37. @retiredsciguy
    IMHO, more interesting is what “creation” means.
    If every one of us is a creature of God, that means that each one of us, individually, is in a relationship with God.
    If it means that some abstraction, like life or a baramin is what God is concerned about, that is something else.
    Insofar as ideas slip past the protective barrier that creationists put up, they seem to prefer the abstract creation rather than the personal one.

  38. @ Jack:

    Other commentators here have already pointed out some of the distortions in your previous ‘gallop’ of selectively-edited quotes—but they don’t go far enough. For just one example, let’s look at the little nugget you tossed in from Sir Francis Crick, a passage from his 1981 work, Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature. I would guess you’ve never read this book but have gleaned this quote from some Creationist website, for you also fail to provide the immediately following sentence (which I have bolded here):

    An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going. But this should not be taken to imply that there are good reasons to believe that it could not have started on the earth by a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions.

    By omitting that following sentence, the clear intent is precisely to imply what Crick explicitly stated cannot be reasonably implied; this is a classic exemplar of quote-mining. It is a form of lying and is utterly contemptable. And to consistently rely on such distortions and misstatements, despite the fact they are regularly pointed out to the perpetrators of such fraud, is a major reason why Creationists earn such disdain from scientists. One cannot hold a reasoned discussion with anyone who not only lies but persists on repeating those same lies and distortions again and again.

    The passage in Crick’s book continues:

    The plain fact is that the time available was too long, the many microenvironments on the earth’s surface too diverse, the various chemical possibilities too numerous and our own knowledge and imagination too feeble to allow us to be able to unravel exactly how it might or might not have happened such a long time ago, especially as we have no experimental evidence from that era to check our ideas against.

    That was an honest assessment of our knowledge in 1981, and still largely true today. But what it most assuredly is not is a call to reject science and its methods.

    As it happens, for the past three years on my journey to work I have watched the construction of the magnificent Francis Crick Institute, which is nearing completion. When finished, it will pursue world-class biological and medical research employing a wide range of expert scientists and technicians. And among those employees will be Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, Pastafarians &c &c—and that matters not one jot, because they will all share an understanding of science and its methods, and as a result they will continue to advance our knowledge and apply it to the worthy ends of relieving human suffering. They share their commitment to the scientific method for the simple reason that science works.

    Creationists, on the other hand, have the arrogance to believe they can overturn centuries of solid science with dishonest ‘quotations’ from scientists and a few letters to the editors of local newspapers…

  39. I’d just like to add that the quote from Crick has an entry in the “Quote Mine Project”:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quotes/mine/part1-4.html#quote74

  40. Evolution is descent with modification. We can trace the genetic continuity – the common ancestry of life on earth. Any action by gods would need to be consonant with that evidence. God-directed evolution could mean any number of things – from completely naturalistic with no intervention to continuous supernatural fiddling. The problem with the latter is that it makes God deceptive; it is making alterations that are made to appear as if no intelligent agent is involved.

    Belief in God is one thing – accepting the evidence for evolution is another. You can agree to both if you want, but without much discarding of evidence you can’t deny evolution.

  41. Megalonyx – Thank you. You are right, the source I copied the quote from omitted the sentence you added. It was not deliberate on my part. Only expedient to copy and paste. The source I copied from did leave out the missing sentence without the … to indicate they had done so. That does seem manipulative. It did have the rest of what you quoted. Perhaps the Francis Crick Institute will find the evidence that scientists have been searching for to prove that we have common ancestors with the chimpanzees, or that the big bang occurred as described by scientists. If that proof is presented in my lifetime I welcome it. If not, I will continue to believe as I do. I pray everyday for the health and happiness of friends and loved ones. Tonight, I will add a prayer for the health and happiness of the commentators on this website. We may disagree; but we are not enemies. Thank you for your information and for your courtesy.

  42. @Jack
    About the evidence that we have common ancestors with chimpanzees, or that there was a Big Bang:
    There is no need to wait for that. The evidence has been convincing for quite some time. A lot of us don’t like the word “proof” about anything outside mathematics, but we would say that we are as comfortable with the reasons for accepting common ancestry as we are with the heliocentric model of the Solar System or the existence of atoms in ordinary matter.
    The question of how things happened a few billion years ago concerning life on Earth, such as the origins of life other issues, that nobody claims to know. Just as knowing that the Earth goes around the Sun does not mean that we know much about the details of the formation of the Solar System … what happened after the Big Bang up to there being a Solar System is difficult to say.

  43. TomS:
    “Just as knowing that the Earth goes around the Sun does not mean that we know much about the details of the formation of the Solar System … “

    But — it is one piece of evidence toward that end, especially when taken together with the fact that all the other planets are revolving around the Sun in the same plane and in the same direction. It’s strong evidence that the Solar System formed from the gravitational collapse of a huge cloud of slowly rotating gas and dust. Gravity collapses the cloud into one plane, while the angular momentum keeps it from all collapsing to the center. Kind of like the way pizza dough is spun into a flat disk.

  44. michaelfugate

    Jack, long before Darwin, naturalists recognized the overwhelming similarities between humans and other great apes and to a lesser extent old world and new world monkeys. The subfamily Homininae (Human, Pan), Gorilla), family Hominidae (Human, Pan), Gorilla), Pongo), and the superfamily Hominoidea (Human, Pan), Gorilla), Pongo), Hylobates) were all erected in 1825 (almost a half century before the Origin was published). Linnaeus put humans in the order Primates in 1756. Genetic data has only further confirmed the close relationships within these groupings.

    Humans are mammals – are vertebrates – are chordates – are deuterostomes – are eumetazoans. None of this is in doubt and hasn’t been for 100s of years.

  45. @michaelfugate
    Yes, but.
    It is one thing to appreciate the relationship, another thing to recognize that common descent accounts for that, another thing that no one has suggested any explanation for the relationship other than common descent, and finally that common descent has made numerous predictions about what will be learned about the world of life.
    I think that a lot of people think that the only evidence for evolution is from the fossil record – and even that that is all there is to evolution. Paleontology is interesting and it tells us much that we would not had guessed, but it is not
    (IMHO, and I’m not a scientist) the totality of evolution.
    Just the obvious fact that there is a “nested hierarchy” of gross anatomy of life – I’ll just restrict myself to the skeletal structure of the tetrapods (the air-breathing vertebrates: the amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds) is something which nobody has thought of explaining without reference to common descent with modification. (All that anybody has been able to say is “that’s just the way that it turned out”, and “whatever happens, it isn’t evolution”.)
    As far as DNA evidence, I’d just point to the Wikipedia article on Chromosome 2, which is really startling.

    Oh, by the way, I think that you overstated the case about humans being eumetazoans and deuterosomes – for we didn’t know anything about even the existence of cells before the invention of microscopy. But yes, even as far back as Aristotle, “man” was recognized as an animal.

  46. michaelfugate

    Gastrula was coined in 1872, Deuterostomia in 1908, Eumetazoa = Animals minus Sponges. Metazoa = Animalia. Had I said Eukaryota – another story. So hundreds maybe not for embryological development, but a long time well over one hundred years – long enough for creationists to know better.

    Darwin of course used evidence from comparative anatomy and embryology, biogeography including islands, the fossil record, and hybridization. The rapidly cumulating genomic data is overwhelmingly in favor of common ancestry.

  47. Jack thinks:

    Perhaps the Francis Crick Institute will find the evidence that scientists have been searching for to prove that we have common ancestors with the chimpanzees, or that the big bang occurred as described by scientists. If that proof is presented in my lifetime I welcome it. If not, I will continue to believe as I do.

    This misconception about science “proving” things is probably the most common misconception among sectarians attempting to avoid leaning how science works and how scientists know what they know. It reveals an acquired emotional fear of learning things that might change one’s ideas about one’s religion as well as increase their awareness of the world in which they are immersed.

    That kind of fear prevents a person from learning how to live in the real world of uncertainty and incomplete knowledge. And further, it stifles one’s natural, inborn curiosity and prevents that individual from acquiring and mastering that hard-earned template of the skeptical, scientific processes that are needed to find and assess answers to the important questions humans have been asking for centuries.

    This fear is induced by sectarian religion; the kind of religion that hangs onto its followers by use of fear and self-enforced ignorance. These religions demand PROOF from science; yet they ask for no proof of what their leaders assert.

    But there is so much more to be learned from studying beyond the narrow confines of one’s sectarian religion. The world is far richer than they can ever imagine because they are afraid to look. They are afraid of the truly caring attitude that says, “If you love them, let them go.”

    Some forms of religion can produce nurturing communities bound by traditions and frameworks for living and growing up; and they can do it without enslaving their followers by fear and ignorance of the millions of ideas and discoveries of others outside of religious networks. Such religions can often help people to grow; including growing beyond the confines of their religion.

    But those religions that induce their followers to write letters to the editors of newspapers decrying the vast universe of enriching knowledge and insights acquired by others over the course of centuries simply betray themselves as religions of ignorance and enslavement; religions that people would be wise to avoid if they ever wish to grow.

  48. Mike – I understand that scientific theories are not guesses, they are the result of conclusions scientists reach after careful observations. Some theories survive the test of time; others are found to be erroneous. It is also my understanding that no theory will ever become a scientific law.
    In 1876 in Origin of Species Darwin wrote ”Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved” (p. 430).
    This led me to conclude that Darwin believed in God. However, it seems from some of the commentators on this website that Darwin’s theory of evolution depends on rejection of the belief that God created the Universe. I am sure that I need not apologize for being a curmudgeon; as I would appreciate your viewpoint on all this.

  49. @Jack

    You ought to give Darwin a bit more credit than you do.

    At one point in his young life he trained for the clergy; he even bought into the “watchmaker” argument. But then, after what he’d learned during the Beagle voyage, he realized that the “watchmaker” argument simply didn’t hold water. Over the decades that he worked on the theory of natural selection (“theory of evolution” is a bit of a misnomer, because by tyhen lots of people had hit on the notion of evolution), he came to the conclusion that it was difficult to meld this with the notion of a beneficent god, or any god at all. He also had to cope with the fact that his beloved wife Emma was devout; what he had found out was hard for her to accept. They must have been wonderfully in love with each other, because somehow the pair of them worked it out. (If you ever lay hands on the movie Creation, starring Paul Bettany as Darwin, please do watch it: it makes a very somber attempt to portray this dilemma faced by the Darwins.)

    By the way, Curmy is wrong to portray Darwin as anything other than a lefty. The Darwins and the Wedgewoods (Emma’s lot) were two of the noted liberal families of the British nineteenth century.

  50. michaelfugate

    It doesn’t matter whether Darwin was a theist, an agnostic or an atheist. It has absolutely no impact on his science. His science is sound for the time and place. Of course, we know more now.
    Any claim that a god created the universe is too vague to be of use – in some versions it could deny evolution and in others it could be compatible. You might want to check out Prof. Tertius on the other thread and his blog – he understands both creationism and Christianity better than most.

  51. Jack says:

    This led me to conclude that Darwin believed in God. However, it seems from some of the commentators on this website that Darwin’s theory of evolution depends on rejection of the belief that God created the Universe. I am sure that I need not apologize for being a curmudgeon; as I would appreciate your viewpoint on all this.

    Darwin was well aware of the effect his insights would have on religious folks, his wife was deeply religious, as were many of his colleagues and friends. Darwin himself seems to have struggled with the implications of evolution for what a deity would be like. There are a number of insightful biographies of Darwin as well as many of his own writings that illuminate what he was thinking about. It would be good to read these.

    Lots of people, religious and non-religious, understand the implications of the natural origins of life and its subsequent evolution. The science is undeniable; but still there are many people who have found ways of accommodating their religion – it isn’t just an issue within Christianity – with the findings of science. How they do that depends on their individual backgrounds and the cultures in which they are born. Everybody starts at a different place; and everybody has their own path to follow.

    But it is not possible to hang onto some specific forms of religion in the light of the findings of science; those religious beliefs must change. That doesn’t mean that one thus has to become irreligious, immoral, or evil in any way. If it also means that someone decides not to belong to any religion, that decision should not be considered in any way bad. Religions, especially the more enlightened ones, recognize the learning curves of humans over the course of their individual lives and over the course of human history and the Enlightenment. People have to grow up and get away from the forms of religion that keep them ignorant and in a childish, dependent state that relies only on what their priesthoods tell them.

    No human knows the mind of any deity despite their claims; they know only what has been handed down to them by other people throughout the long and complex histories of human civilizations; and much of that information doesn’t stand up under closer scrutiny.

    We have learned over many centuries the template of a form of skeptical inquiry that gets us objective answers to many of the questions that some religions abhor and cloak in mysteries not to be questioned. Disparaging that template without making the slightest effort to learn how to use it or to discover that vast universe of understanding it has provided is an unmistakable hallmark of those religious sects that are out of touch with reality.

  52. I accidentally (or did some force guide me?) found your website right after you published my letter to the editor. I believe in the age of the universe as measured by scientists, and I believe in the transition of living things from simple to complex. I find both of those completely compatible with biblical scripture, and as a volunteer teacher at a synagogue taught that to my students for 25 years. I also taught them that God blesses all persons based on their actions, and not based on whether they believed in Him. My students learned that they should never try to convert anyone to their beliefs. They learned that those of some religions who condemn everyone of different beliefs are violating the Golden Rule.
    For the most part, your commentaries have been educational, and did not ridicule me. or try to convert me to your beliefs. Thank you.

  53. Jack you have been a wonderful guest and I’ll remind you that many of us in a former lifetime could have been described as somewhat religious. Fortunately for us, most of us have realized the error of our ways and now heartily embrace our atheism or agnosticism. In any case, any diatribe raged against you could have been directed against us in that former lifetime, something one should always consider when vehemently arguing with other people. If you haven’t changed your opinions in life about something at least once then you’re just not paying attention.

  54. @Jack

    On a completely different tack: I don’t know if it’s your error or the newspaper’s, but “criteria” is a plural; the singular is “criterion.” As I’m an editor (among other things), it’s been driving me nuts!

    I’ve very much enjoyed this discussion. For my part, I do hope you’ll join in the discussions elsewhere on this blog.

  55. @Bert Younger
    I do not know (do I care) how many of us “heartily embrace” atheism or agnosticism.

  56. @realthog
    A writer, especially a non-professional, should expect that a professional editor should make silent corrections to one’s manuscript. I blame the editor.

  57. Tom S says:

    I do not know (do I care) how many of us “heartily embrace” atheism or agnosticism.

    Same here. As most of our regular readers know, this isn’t an atheist blog. I’m untroubled by denominations that don’t deny science, of which there are many. If they promote rational ethics, concern for the bereaved, charity, and a sense of community, and if they’re not bothering anybody or interfering with anyone’s rights, that’s fine with me.

  58. @Tom S
    I blame the editor.
    I’d agree. But I wasn’t trying to blame anyone.

  59. I do not know (do I care) how many of us “heartily embrace” atheism or agnosticism.

    I do care only in the sense that for too long atheism and agnosticism have always been held in a negative light. And now that the Pope has embraced us I think non-believers will be the next great freedom movement worldwide! Also, I do think Darwinists and scientists in general are more likely to be of the agnostic persuasion and I would wager money on that opinion! Okay, I’m off my soapbox now and I will embrace the rainbow!

  60. Also, I do think Darwinists and scientists in general are more likely to be of the agnostic persuasion and I would wager money on that opinion!

    I have heard it said that many church organists fit into that category as well; but I haven’t been able to check it.🙂

  61. Gentlemen and Gentlewomen. Lets continue to welcome Jack. While he is off track, he is the most balanced of all the other “visitors” to this site. There is hope for Jack.