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The Language of God: Some Reflections on Francis Collins’s Perspectives on God and Science

I recently received an email from someone who asked me what I thought of Francis Collins’s 2006 book, The Language of God. Let me say, first, that I have great appreciation for Collins. A committed Christian, he is head of the Human Genome Project and has done pioneering work in genetic research. I can identify with his indebtedness to C.S. Lewis, whose writings challenged Collins to rethink his own naïve atheistic arguments. He now writes with boldness, testifying to Christ’s transforming power in his life and to the power of the Christian worldview to give answers to life’s most important questions. One such question is the God and science issue: Collins has concluded that science and Scripture do not conflict but are in harmony with each other.

Collins, as you may know, holds to a BioLogos (theistic evolutionary/evolutionary creationist) view of life-“the belief that God is the source of all life and that life expresses the will of God” (p. 203). He’s not too keen on the “Intelligent Design” movement (which he pejoratively subtitles “science needs divine help”). I’m not sure that he’s correctly understood the ID movement, but let that pass. He does, however, help himself to three aspects of divine design in the book-indications of divinely powerful, intelligent activity in the universe in its fine-tuning, in biological evolution, and in the Big Bang. First, “for those willing to consider a theistic perspective, the Anthropic Principle [the universe’s fine-tuning that makes human life possible] certainly provides an interesting argument in favor of a Creator” (p. 78). The options, according to Collins, are three: (a) there’s a multitude of universes; (b) we’re incredibly lucky to get it right-first shot out of the box; and (c) the constants are finely-tuned-that is, designed! Second, Collins has referred to design in biology as well. He mentions this, perhaps most notably, in his discussion with Richard Dawkins in TIME magazine (2 Nov. 2006). Collins says, “I don’t see that Professor Dawkins’ basic account of evolution is incompatible with God’s having designed it” (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1553986-2,00.html). Third, Collins acknowledges that the Big Bang itself points us to a Creator. So he’s on track with two of three major planks of the Intelligent Design movement.

That said, let me hasten to add that Darwin himself was no atheist when he wrote his Origin of Species (1859). At the end of this work, he assumes that a Creator got the evolutionary ball rolling: “To my mind, it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes . . . .” And again: “There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one . . . from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.” Ultimately, the issue isn’t creation vs. evolution, but God vs. no God.

Given Collins’s evolutionary perspective, I wonder about several issues. First, how do miracles fit in? Collins sees no problem here: “Miracles do not pose an irreconcilable conflict for the believer who trusts in science as a means to investigate the natural world, and who sees that the natural world is ruled by laws. If, like me, you admit that there might exist something or someone outside nature, then there is no logical reason why that force could not on rare occasions stage an invasion” (p. 53). He goes on to say that for a miracle to be a miracle, these must be uncommon. Miracles come on “great occasions”-at the “great ganglions of [spiritual] history” (p. 53). But, I ask, why limit miracles to spiritual history but exclude natural history? The first great miracle was the Big Bang-the very beginning of natural history. Why couldn’t we talk about the emergence of life as another such miracle? But in general, why restrict miracles to biblical history?

Another issue is this: Although Collins says that evolution can’t explain ethics, perhaps we should pause to ask, Why not an evolution of morality? (Some Christian thinkers like philosopher Terence Penelhum [in his Christian Ethics and Human Nature] believe that our animal natural is still with us from our non-human biological predecessors, and thus Penelhum rejects the historical Adam and our ancestor’s primal sin as well as Paul’s perspective on original sin.) Is the moral law encoded into our genome? Collins assumes that divinely-given objective moral laws are in place from the beginning; this must mean that DNA can’t be the “language of God” as far as moral instincts or intuitions go. Why can’t the naturalist, using Collins’ own logic, argue that ethical beliefs and sentiments have developed around the bundle of survival instincts possessed by humans? Collins dismisses naturalistic attempts to explain objective ethics in the same way he dismisses the purported reasoning of Intelligent Design advocates (“I can’t imagine how this gap could be bridged gradualistically; therefore there must be a God who intervened”). But it seems that here, Collins must acknowledge not only design but divine intervention: If human beings and their moral constitution can’t be explained evolutionarily, exactly when did hominids actually come to possess the image of God? Mustn’t there be some divine interventionist activity to explain it?

A third issue is deals with methodological naturalism: to avoid a God of the gaps, believing biologists should continue to seek material/gradualistic explanations for things. Collins writes: “ID is a ‘God of the gaps’ theory, inserting a supposition of the need for supernatural intervention in places that its proponents claim science cannot explain.” He adds that its proponents have “made the mistake of confusing the unknown with the unknowable, or the unsolved with the unsolvable.” I think that Collins misconstrues the God of the gaps (which I discuss this in my book Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Religion [Chalice Press]). The particular assumption here is that only naturalistic explanations should be sought; there can be no “science-stoppers,” as philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls them. This strikes me as question-begging: why can’t direct acts of God be allowed as explanations? Isn’t the Big Bang the ultimate “science stopper” for the naturalist? And how will Collins proceed to explain Jesus’ resurrection or the crossing of the Red Sea without inconsistency? I wonder where Collins stands on these issues, and how he seeks to reconcile the alleged conflicts.

I could add my disagreements with Collins’s views expressed at the end of his book regarding bioethics. He, for instance, doesn’t acknowledge the full moral status of the human embryo, which is certainly troubling. That’s a topic for another time, and I won’t say any more about it here. I did want to raise some of the God-and-science issues that Collins seeks to harmonize. I’m just not sure his particular approach is the most consistent way of going about it.

34 Responses to “The Language of God: Some Reflections on Francis Collins’s Perspectives on God and Science”

  1. “A third issue is deals with methodological naturalism: to avoid a God of the gaps, believing biologists should continue to seek material/gradualistic explanations for things.”

    I’ve been annoyed by this argument in the past; like you, I don’t believe that ID is about a “gap” in science that we use God to fill, but is rather about a discoverable impossibility (specifically, that common descent could not possibly explain many features of the natural world). The problem with my annoyance, it turns out, is twofold. First, none of ID’s arguments actually allow for proof of impossibility. Second, it’s a God of the Gaps argument to suggest that God can only operate where there IS a gap! (And that’s a fallacy we should catch atheists falling into, not ourselves!)

    Let me give some detail on these two points.

    First, I claimed that none of the ID arguments prove anything about impossibilities. Except for the earliest forms of the “Irreducible Complexity” argument (to be addressed later) they all make only probabilistic arguments, and none of those arguments have had error margins established by experimentation. We’re all handwaving here — it’s quite possible that although it LOOKS “impossibly” unlikely for (random example) a flagellum to form from another structure, there might be a path we’ve overlooked. The “Irreducible Complexity” argument makes absolute claims, but it’s mathematically untenable, because it proves only that you can’t _disassemble_ a complex structure, not that you can’t build it. For example, suppose that it’s impossible to disassemble a building because all of its elements are load-bearing. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to build; it just means you need a framework to build it. Once again, the argument reduces to a probabilistic argument, and one for which we don’t even know how big our possible errors are.

    Second and much more importantly, I claimed that ID does work out to a God of the Gaps argument by accepting the atheistic premise that God could only possibly work where we don’t know how a thing is being accomplished. This superficially makes sense, especially for a miracle, which MUST be unexplainable in order to be miraculous, but the Bible clearly speaks of non miraculous things being under the complete control of God. Consider, for example, the casting of the lot in Proverbs: God is said to control it, even though of course the lot is fully under the power of the laws of physics. If God controls those and takes glory for them, then he may also control and take glory for more impressive natural causes — after all, he created and designed the laws that constitute the natural causes. And to cap things off, God is explicitly given the glory and credit for having “knit my innermost form” while I was unborn; this process is fully understood naturally, yet it is still true that God is to be given the credit and glory for his active design of each of us.

    This is important; it is the atheists that are falling into a “God of the gaps” argument. A robust Christian theology needs not appeal to gaps.

    God designed me, personally, and built me as I am today. The same is true for you. Not a hair on your head is missing without His design — even the ones that snagged on your comb this morning.

  2. Good summary, Paul, and I appreciate your views on this book and Collins generally.

    The issue of God of th Gaps can be a bit tricky, because it comes down to the difference between forcing God into gaps in our knowledge and accepting He might be there, but not insisting upon it. And then distinguishing that from miracles of Scripture (when a gap is involved we believe as a matter of faith God filled it, because we trust Scripture’s statement that He did) and possible miracles outside of Scripture, where we have no such guidance whether this was God or merely an unexplained gap.

    And then, of course, the question of whether we allow a supernatural explanation to “stop” science is tricky as well. We have to balance accepting that a supernatural explanation can exist, while still allowing science to do its job of seeking naturalistic explanations. Consider if science had simply accepted supernatural explanations for rainbows, etc, and not provided us with the naturalistic explanation, such as “light refraction”.

    Science is not the study of ultimate answers, but is a very limited and focused inquiry into what the best naturalistic explanation for events in our natural existence. And this has to necessarily be the case since science is limited in its useful methodologies. Rather than expect science to do more than it is equipped to do, or expand our definition of science to include non-natural inquiry, I think it is much better to simply accept science’s limited role and realize that any scientific conclusions will have that big asterisk next to it that indicates it’s “natural” limitation.

    Then we can consider that the ultimate truth will require both a scientific and a theological analysis. To do otherwise is to elevate science beyond it’s scope and useful ability and feed into the “cult of science” that has become the hallmark of the Modern times. We make science as the “arbiter of all truth” and then want it to consider all aspects of evidence.

    This is asking too much of science and giving it, ironically, too much pride of place.

  3. BTW (and I always have to add this in when Intelligent Design is discussed), the most fascinating thing about ID to me is that its leading proponents who are actual relevant scientists tend to accept the evolutionary (yes, macro) development of life here on earth over billions of years, including humans. Behe (Darwin’s Black Box) accepts evolutionary development basically intact, but simply insists that the evidence for design means that this evolution could not have happened without God (or, a “designer”). And Michael Denton, who became a creationist darling with “Evolution: a Theory In Crisis”, has reversed somewhat to accept evolutionary development, but also argues the evidence for a designer.

    In fact, when it comes right down to it, the ID scientists are really much closer to theistic evolution than anything else. I doubt seriously if the bulk of Christians who would claim to accept the ID label really understand this.

  4. “In fact, when it comes right down to it, the ID scientists are really much closer to theistic evolution than anything else. I doubt seriously if the bulk of Christians who would claim to accept the ID label really understand this.”

    I don’t think they do. A friend of mine at church has been on an ID kick lately, and was quite horrified when I pointed this aspect of it out to him. I’ve seen many Christians do the same thing, unfortunately. I think this hurts our witness very much.

    In regards to biological evolution, I don’t see the need to invoke God’s direct interventions just yet. I think Behe’s work is a glorified God of the Gaps argument, taking advantage of the true notion that all the mechanisms of evolutionary change aren’t yet fully understood. If Behe’s observations are still confounding biologists fifty years from now, I’ll be ready to consider it as a possible explanation.

    I’m very comfortable believing God’s will manifests itself within creation through the use of secondary causes in nature. At the quantum level though, that may be another story!

    Paul, if you are interested in reading what I thought was a very good book on this subject, pick up Terence L. Nichols’ “The Sacred Cosmos” (ISBN = 1587430460).

    Nichols refuses to compromise on both science and theology, getting past the religious and naturalistic biases of both groups in order to weave together a view of the universe that restores God as its creator and sustainer. He finds more than enough room in science for God’s existence, free will, miracles, and the human soul, and does a very good job presenting and critiquing naturalistic views of the universe, explaining how a theistic model is better able to explain the data.

    He talks a lot about quantum indeterminacy, which I found fascinating, and he thinks it’s an excellent way for God to effect change in creation through ways that do not violate natural laws.

    A very interesting book, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who likes this subject!

  5. “I think Behe’s work is a glorified God of the Gaps argument, taking advantage of the true notion that all the mechanisms of evolutionary change aren’t yet fully understood.”

    Not quite. His first book made specific mathematical claims that would have made it possible to disprove an evolutionary origin for some features; unfortunately, they weren’t mathematically valid. His “No Free Lunch” book made the argument mathematically correct (and at the same time defeatable), but at the same time made it almost impossible to use on any actual structure due to mathematical complexity. The bad thing is that in “No Free Lunch” the book focused not on the revision to the theory, but rather on a rather advanced mathematical theorem that Behe was not qualified to interpret — the author of the theorem has claimed that it doesn’t apply to biological evolution (just as it’s experimentally been proven to not apply to some designed “evolutionary computing” processes).

    Behe’s doesn’t fall for God of the Gaps easily — but unless some major breakthroughs occur in mathematics, it’s unlikely that his theories will be of any use. Dembski’s work is more mathematically tractable, but is definitely vulnerable to a God of the Gaps charge; not only is his only conclusion probabilistic, but he doesn’t even provide any way to estimate how precise his probability claims are (they’re not precise because he’s estimating the probability of assembling structures by evolution based on the probability of assembling those structures by de novo coincidence, and it’s not clear that the two models are anything close to equivalent). This means that as more accuracy in estimating the optimization power of mutation and natural selection is acquired, Dembski’s argument _may_ become weaker.

  6. I am just not sure I can accept the whole anthropic/probability argument. But, then again, maybe I am just not “getting it”.

    It seems to be saying that what we have now is uniquely and amazingly well-suited to fit, well, the way things are now. “If X was even very slightly different, we would not be able to live on this planet”, etc, etc. This makes a very large logical fallacy, it would seem to me: that this end product was a necessity.

    They start with the current state of things as if this state of things was the ultimate goal, and then work backwards to show that everything fits what we now have perfectly, and the ODDS of things turning out this way is so tremendously low, that it MUST have come about by design. The whole watchmaker argument.

    Even though I am a Christian and believe that God DID create everything, I have to admit that the entire ID argument just doesn’t seem to hold up logically without a pre-existing belief. The presupposition is that the “current” was the “goal” (a position that is not self-evident, but a matter of belief, and a belief which I happen to hold, btw). The response would seem obvious: that everything fits because if it did not fit, we would not be here and, here is the kicker, SOMETHING ELSE WOULD BE HERE! At each stage of possibilities, something else could have happened and the universe would then fit THAT instead of what we have now.

    What I mean is that whatever path the development of the universe took, everything would fit that path or it wouldn’t be there. And, the odds of ANY particular end result would be similarly (if not equally) ridiculously low. And, yet, ONE of those ridiculously unlikely events WOULD happen. So, unless someone argued that the odds are astronomically against ANY complex thing happening, even given the billions of years for it to happen within, rather than simply arguing that this particular complex event is astronomically unlikely, I don’t see how it holds up.

    And, maybe folks ARE arguing against any complex result, but I have only seen odds against our specific complex result.

    Now, I do believe God created the universe and everything in it. And I DO think that God designed every process that is now in place in this universe and He knew exactly how it would all turn out. And I also believe that He has purposefully intervened in His creation when and where it fit His plan to do so (a particular event 2000 years ago, for example), and that He will do so again.

    But I also have to recognize that God very well may have created the world to work exactly as it would work without his Divine involvement. He created it so perfectly that He needs no “fine tuning”.

    In short, this whole argument would seem to only be convincing to those, like myself, who already believe that this current state of the universe, with Man sitting here as we are, is how it had to end up. Thus, it is an argument that can only preach to the choir, but has no logical or persuasive effect to those who do not share this pressuposition.

    Atheists, it would seem to me, are right to reject it. What am I missing here that makes the anthropic/probabilities argument compelling to those without the same teleological presumption?

  7. i appreciate the comments here. i recently attended an intelligent design seminar at a local university and challenged the speaker with some of the same questions and issues being presented here. i believe strongly that christians are in danger of isolating themselves from the scientific community unnecessarily and fighting a battle which is utterly irrelevant to the faith.

    if you’re interested, i commented more in a short video here:

    http://tinyurl.com/6m2apf

    and then in a short follow up post here:

    http://tinyurl.com/6j3nu9

  8. “I am just not sure I can accept the whole anthropic/probability argument.”

    Your objection seems to be that those arguments compute the probability only of our precise universe. Actually, though, they don’t — or at least the good ones don’t. Computations can be made to roughly predict possible conditions for a huge range of possible values; for the enormous majority of them, there is no possibility for matter; in others, only hydrogen can form, but stellar nucleosynthesis cannot begin; and so on. Without at least the elements up to carbon, life — meaning material metabolic processes — would certainly not be capable of forming.

    Might there be other possible ways of forming life? Perhaps a universe composed of dark matter might … but I digress. The point is that on this topic science seems to be reaching a consensus: a universe that can support processes complex enough to enable life is a very, very long shot, when measured against the known data. There might be a secret hiding in the gaps…

    Is this a theistic argument? It’s not a strong one. It might be overturned tomorrow. It’s not something to base one’s faith on. But it’s also not a mere “God of the gaps” argument; it’s based on what we know, not what we might not know.

    Again, I prefer philosophical arguments, like the argument from design or the argument from beginnings.

    -Wm

  9. Ah, that is very interesting, and very good to know. Most of the anthropic/probability arguments I have heard have been the degree to which this universe and this planet is suited for human life in particular, not complex life in general, or even complexity in general (since there could be incredibly complex universes without life). I would assume, of course, that that if you broaden it out from the “likelihood of US” to the “likelihood of complexity” in general that the numbers would drop exponentially. It would be like comparing the odds of ME winning the lottery to the odds of a white male willing the lottery. Still very long odds, but not even in the same realm of improbability.

    If we started over from scratch with a new Big Bang and let the results run for the billions of years this universe has run, what are the odds that we would have some comparable level of complexity (with or without life)? Do we have some reasonable idea of that?

  10. Vance, we’d have to start “before” (that is, logically before) the Big Bang — many of the parameters that determined the effects of the Bang seem to be implicit in the cosmos. Yes, cosmology is all about doing that — they try to compute the ranges of possible “settings”, and what “dials” depend on other dials (I’m going to switch into the “dial” metaphor), and how sensitive they are. Right now it seems that there are on the order of 10 dials that can be tuned completely independently (if some extreme unification hypotheses are correct), each of which has billions or in some cases trillions of settings; and to call the fraction of the settings that allows complexity “tiny” would be to strain the word.

    Most cosmological models give results in “complexity allowed/no complexity allowed” within a second after the Big Bang. Some failures can take a few years to become obvious (for example, in some hypothetical universes you have stars burn, but fail to form heavy elements).

    It’s an interesting field of study. The problem is that although all is going “our way” now, some discovery tomorrow might unify all the fields and discover that it all comes down to a 100% chance of complexity (in other words, a completely naturalistic theory of origin)… Would that refute God? It would, to borrow a quote, make it “possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist,” but it wouldn’t make it mandatory.

    -Wm

  11. That is very interesting and I agree that such a state of knowledge would not refute God in the least, and my belief is that God created in a way that does not mandate any faith in God at all. That would be making it all too easy! :0)

    But I would hesitate to call it a “naturalistic” theory of origins simply because there was no compelling “need” for God to be present to make it work. Consider a particular natural process, like photosynthesis. Do we consider it any implication for the existence of God that we have a very well understood and entirely accepted, and entirely naturalistic, explanation for the event? Yes, it is naturalistic in one sense, since it is an entirely naturalistic explanation, but it is not naturalistic in the sense of negative evidence against God (since that is often the way the word is used, unfortunately). It is simply an absence of positive evidence.

    And that is how I see origins in general. I don’t think there can ever be any negative evidence for God in any degree of knowledge we arrive at. All I can see is a greater or lesser degree of positive evidence for God. And I am perfectly comfortable with there being a complete absence of evidence altogether, for the same reasons we accept such a state of affairs with photosynthesis. We don’t EXPECT to see positive evidence of God in such a process, but for some reason people expect to see such evidence in the largest pictures and the absence of such evidence disturbs a lot of people, it seems.

    But getting back to the point, I honestly thought we were already at the point of accepting that complexity would be the norm, not the exception, much less a rare exception. I am not sure where that comes from, though. But, I would assume that, were that the case, you would agree basically with my post #6 above?

  12. Atheists used to try to deal with the anthropic problem by using EXACTLY
    the same argument that Vance uses in comment 6: ‘the universe only looks special to us, because otherwise we would not be here to see it – if it was any different, we would not be here to see it’.

    The problem with this argument is best shown up by the analogy of the
    man lined up in front of a firing squad who hears the order given to shoot, hears the guns go off and then finds himself still alive. What explanation does he give for the fact that all the guards failed to shoot him? It obviously will not do to say that ‘they must have all missed because otherwise the man would not be around to notice the fact’ – the man would hardly use this platitudinous explanation to describe the event when talking to his grandchildren. The only explanations that offer any satisfying explanation are (1) a complete and utter miraculous fluke – they all missed or (2) DESIGN – the marksmen all intended to miss. Which explanation would any sane person opt for? Number 2, obviously.

    Atheists have given up on this little argument now it has been exposed
    for the semantic sophistry it really is. Instead, they opt for the multiverse option – the probabilities are indeed incredible for our universe to have turned out this way, and that is why we believe there must be an almost infinite number of possible parallel universes out there (the multiverse theory). There is not one iota of evidence for this idea – but any idea is preferable to Divine DESIGN.

    Collins’ idea that the cosmological design argument is compelling but that
    there is little evidence of intelligent design in biology is astonishing – the levels of design in the biosphere are orders of magnitude greater than among the wastes of space – earth simply teems with brilliant feats of biological engineering.

  13. But, clearblue, it is not platitudinous in the least. Consider the lottery. The odds of any given person winning the lottery are absolutely staggering. But, the odds of SOMEONE winning the lottery eventually are 100% in favor. That person standing there with the winning ticket can say “wow, what are the odds of ME winning” and he would be right. But, no matter if the odds were exponentially greater, it would be illogical to insist that, since the odds were so great, it must have been the result of some type of teleological goal, or a design to cause him, in particular, to win.

    The fact is that we have no idea, really, how likely complexity is, or even life is. We can come up with probabilities of our own flavor of complexity or our own flavor of life having come to be, but that is no more than the guy with the winning lottery ticket coming to a conclusion about HIS odds. We can say that ANY complexity or ANY life would be unlikely, but we honestly can not say this since we have a sample of exactly ONE universe to work with.

    I have no use for multiverses, really, but the probabilities arguments just really don’t seem to work, the more I think about it.

    Again, if we started the universe over again, and let it run entirely randomly, we have no idea how likely it would be for complexity (equal to our own, or greater) to develop. And, without that knowledge, it is impossible to say whether our own level of complexity is rare in the least.

    The bottom line is that calculating the unlikelihood of our OWN version of complexity is basically useless in this discussion since it can tell us nothing about the likelihood of such complexity overall. And this is because IF it were true that randomly complex universes would be the norm were we to run it over and over, then ANY end result would have the same degree of unlikelihood.

    So, the only way for the ID movement to show that the anthropic principle can be persuasive at all, absent a teleological presupposition, is to provide convincing evidence that complexity WOULD be prohibitively rare. I really have seen no sufficiently strong evidence of this. And, of course, the burden would be on the ID scientist to provide that evidence if they want to use the anthropic argument.

  14. Stan G from NJ August 5, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    God in the Gaps. Now that is a line I have never heard before so much thanks to all of you that posted on this very interesting blog today. I “read & digest” more then I post and truly appreciate those that present their ideas as well as most of you do.

    good night & God bless, Stan

  15. Dear Vance,

    The lottery analogy is also not up to scratch – here’s why:

    The anthropic problem is that there are around 40 variables that have to be
    exactly right for life to even be possible. So, the lottery analogy should go something
    like this:

    One person wins 40 different lotteries being simutaneously conducted all around
    the world.

    The difference here is that there is no reason why one person MUST
    win all 40 lotteries at the same time – they are all independent. (Yes, Mr Tanksley
    might wave his hands and invoke some unifying principle, but that is atheism of the gaps – there is no evidence of any such Theory of Everything).

    This amended version of the lottery analogy is a truer reflection of the anthropic
    problem, and that is why even the atheists have stopped using this flawed logic.

  16. By the way, Vance

    The ID people (and other non-ID people long before them) have done the work of calculating the numbers – its very simple and you can see the figures on the internet. There is no excuse for remaining in ignorance. Have a look under the Anthropic Principle on the internet; for an ID perspective, read The Priveleged Planet.

  17. But, clearblue, that is still based on the assumption that an equal degree of complexity would necessarily mean the existence of life, or that the life we see is the only type of life possible. My point is that you are still starting from an assumed end point of a particular type of life and/or complexity, and one that happens to be existing in our one sample. We simply do not have sufficient information regarding the likelihood of equally complex results if we pressed the “restart” button. I have read many of the calculations I believe you are talking about, but they only address the existence of life, rather than other forms of complexity, and then only life in the form that we know it.

    In a very similar discussion, someone pointed out the following:

    its ironic that ID’ers often fault people for only addressing our own specific universe, but then go on to mention conditions that would only prevent the type of life that forms…. in our own specific universe.

    it seems kind of strange for an IDer who would obviously hold the position that science is nowhere near an answer on abiogenesis to proclaim that he has enough knowledge about abiogenetic processes in *other hypothetical universes* to claim that they cannot exist.

  18. Hi Vance,

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding, but are you saying that the argument of the anthropic principle needs to be considered in light of other forms of life, that is, IDers need to include odds of something existing that doesn’t exist?

    My question comes from the following:

    “but they only address the existence of life, rather than other forms of complexity, and then only life in the form that we know it.”

    It is just that “other forms of complexity” are not alive and “only life in the form that we know it.” is the only form of life we know.

    How do you consider the likelihood of something existing if it doesn’t exist? This supposed irony seen by the person you quoted is not irony at all, it is a completely logical presumption, that is, if the odds against an actual phenomenon happening spontaneously are so far in the realm of the outlier so as to make the presumption of spontenaity preposterous, to continue to assume spontenaity is to ignore the conditions in this universe, and assert the profoundly unlikely, which is in fact not “addressing our own specific universe” and avoiding what actually happens altogether.

    Again, maybe I am misunderstanding, but if not, how do you include the unincludable (?!) in your calculations?

  19. Yes, I think one of us, or both of us may be misunderstanding. :0)

    One basic tenet of the ID movement is the resort to the old watchmaker argument, or the anthropic concept, that calculates the odds of a universe and earth particularly suited to human life as we know it. It basically takes our very specific end result (out of the infinity of possible results) and calculates the odds of THIS very thing happening. Of course, the odds of THIS happening in particular are enormous.

    But let’s consider it this way. Let’s say we could “roll the dice” on an “undesigned” or randomly running universe over and over billions of times. And then let’s say we let each one run for billions of years. Now, at the end of each “roll”, we would have some greater or lesser degree of complexity, some with life of some type and some without. Now, if you looked at the state of each and every one of those universes, down to every little detail, you could say about each “wow, what are the odds of THIS exact result happening!?” And in each case, the odds would be enormously against.

    So, the odds of any GIVEN end result would be singularly rare. The odds of SOME end result happening would be absolutely 1. You WILL get a result.

    So, to calculate the odds of what we have NOW, exactly, having come to be is a non-starter. We would necessarily end up with some result, and this end result is as likely as any other, it could be argued. Which raises the next question, which is not how likely our very specific flavor of life/complexity is, but how likely ANY life/complexity is. After all, if it turned out that even an undesigned universe would produce this LEVEL of complexity (even though not this particular complexity) the majority of time, then the entire anthropic principle doesn’t work.

    But that is where I have ended up: we just don’t know what the likelihood of a comparable level of complexity would be. All we have is a sample of one, as you say. We could possibly calculate the likelihood of THIS happening, but that does not get us very far, really.

    So, ultimately, the ID folks are the one doing exactly what you are arguing against: they are making assumptions and predicting results about what would happen if the whole thing started over, or to put it another way, by arguing for extreme odds against what we have now, they are making very definite statements about something that doesn’t exist: the other alternative possibilities. They are making all kinds of statements about stuff that doesn’t exist, such as the likelihood of complexity or life in alternative universe scenarios. I am agreeing with you that we really have no way of knowing how rare that level of complexity would be, so we have no way of knowing if what happened with THIS universe was dramatically unlikely or just one of the billions of “likely” scenarios.

    And so, I agree with you that we can’t make those calculations, so we can’t possibly conclude (as the ID folks do) that our level of complexity is so incredibly rare.

  20. Thanks for your reply, Vance,

    It was very helpful.

    However, I still disagree.

    The issue cannot be seeing the endpoint and calculating the likelihood of that endpoint. Their is no observed outcome, just the outcome, true enough. But determining the likelihood of an outcome based on the amount and types of material and time available to obtain that outcome does not need other observed variations, it only needs the existing one.

    As a for instance you say, “we just don’t know what the likelihood of a comparable level of complexity would be”, which begs comparable to what?, and you also write “but that does not get us very far, really,” which begs ‘far…to where?” How far can you go while discussion life, if there is no place else to go. How can you criticize the statistical analysis of an outcome because other outcomes weren’t considered?

    More examples:

    “roll the dice”

    Which is a facile analogy, of course. We know what snake eyes looks like, we have no idea what the most basic atomic structure of Nitrogen or Silicon based organic compounds would look like.

    “randomly running universe over and over billions of times”

    But Vance what does this even mean? Can you give an example of how such imaginary musings would facilitate better statistical analysis?

    Your examples seem to compare carbon-based apples to nitrogen-based apples, that is, science fiction or non-analogous examples.

    Perhaps provide some of the comparable outcomes against which the IDers should be measuring to determine -about 3000+ would be best so that outliers and statistical significance can be determined. I know it is ridiculous, but as far as I can tell that is exactly what you are expecting of IDers, that is, imagine the non-existent and analyze the unimaginable.

  21. No, you have it backwards, I believe. The ID’ers are the ones who are comparing apples against non-existent apples. They are saying this existing state of affairs is SO rare and unlikely that it must be designed. This is actually what begs the question: so rare and unlikely compared to what? We only have this one sample, so what exactly are they comparing our universe to so as to arrive at this prohibitive rarity? There are only two possibilities that I can see:

    1. They are comparing it to every other thing besides what we have, and then saying what we have must therefore be rare. Thus, the ideas that if the chemical mix or the gravitational pull or a few dozen other variables were even slightly different, WE (notice that “we”) would not be here. Life could not exist (begging the question of the definition of “life”, of course). Basically, this only leaves us with “if things were even slightly different than they are, then things would be different than they are.” This is where they would be assuming that “life as we know it” was some sort of desired end result and then calculating how likely THAT was to happen. Question begging the whole way.

    2. The only other thing they can be comparing our universe to in order to come up with that prohibitive rarity are other possible universes. Thus, not merely showing that what we ultimately ended up with is unlikely, but that ANYTHING complex is unlikely. Usually they point to the likelihood of life in general being unlikely, but this is still begging the question of whether we even know all the ways “life” can come to exist, not to mention begging the question that the existence of life is even relevant, rather than just an equal level of complexity.

    So, if they are arguing number 1, I would say the position is illogical to begin with. If they are arguing number 2, then they need to come with the evidence which you and I both seem to agree that they can’t, since we simply don’t know how rare our scenario would be.

    After all, if a random, undesigned universe was LIKELY to result in extreme complexity (as opposed to the rarity the ID’ers are asserting), then it would be akin to my original lottery analogy: the odds of any one result would be extremely rare, but the odds that *something* complex would happen would be almost assured. And, if you stood at the end product of that likely occurrence, you could look back and legitimately say that the odds of THAT particular occurrence was extremely unlikely, and that would be true, but it still would have happened. And happened entirely randomly.

    Now, I am not saying there is any particular data that the such complexity would be likely, I am just saying that we do not have enough data to argue either way. So, without such data, it is impossible for the ID’ers to assert the rarity of our level of complexity as they do.

  22. Hello again, friends. Thanks for your excellent responses and exchanges! Let me say a few things about the “God of the gaps” and then offer some other comments. I can’t get to all of them, but let this suffice.

    Regarding the God of the gaps, first, it’s important to remember that we shouldn’t posit God as an explanation unless we have good theological and philosophical reasons for doing so. To simply say, “Because I can’t figure out what caused an explosion in a chemistry lab, therefore God must have done it” is wrong-headed.

    Second, it is precisely because the theist has good theological and philosophical reasons for positing God as the explanation for certain things in the universe that we are not committing the God of the gaps fallacy. First, there is the beginning of the universe itself. As Bill Craig and I argue in Creation Out of Nothing (Baker Academic), contemporary science –as well as good philosophical argument—offers support for the biblical doctrine of creation out of nothing. (Paul Davies argues that the only two options we have regarding the universe’s beginning is that something outside the universe caused it or it is uncaused.) We also have good reasons for positing the universe’s design. Cosmologists and astrophysicists have noted the remarkably delicate balance of cosmic conditions that are astonishingly biofriendly (called the “Goldilocks effect”: the many conditions are “just right” for human life). This reinforces the biblical theme of God’s creating a world for human habitation. Then there is the origin of first life, which also seems to have good biblical support. Is this 100% certain that it can’t be naturalistic? No. It seems, however, that the conditions once again have to be so precise to allow for life’s emergence that even if a gradualistic process could be discerned, it would obviously not preclude God from consideration. It would reveal that this sort of thing appears to take a lot of careful planning! This is why folks like Dean Kenyon abandoned his *Biochemical Predestination* (naturalistic) view in light of the evident design he detected in the processes of arriving at first life.

    Third, just because other gradualistic scenarios are *logically* possible, this is much different from their being plausible or even remotely likely to come off. Daniel Dennett considers the staggering contingencies and acknowledges that “we almost didn’t make it!” In other words, there’s no way life could emerge with all of these contingencies if, on a second go-round, it was left up to natural processes alone:

    “As more and more has been learned about the development of the universe since the big bang, about the conditions that permitted the formation of galaxies and stars and the heavy elements from which planets can be formed, physicists and cosmologists have been more and more struck by the exquisite sensitivity of the laws of nature. The speed of light is approximately 186,000 miles per second. What if it were only 185,000 miles per second, or 187,000 miles per second? Would that change much of anything? What if the force of gravity were 1 percent more or less than it is? The fundamental constants of physics – the speed of light, the constant of gravitational attraction, the weak and strong forces of subatomic interaction, Planck’s constant – have values that of course permit the actual development of the universe as we know it to have happened. But it turns out that if in imagination we change any of these values by just the tiniest amount, we thereby posit a universe in which none of this could have happened, and indeed in which apparently nothing lifelike could ever have emerged: no planets, no atmospheres, no solids at all, no elements except hydrogen and helium, or maybe not even that – just some boring plasma of hot, undifferentiated stuff, or an equally boring nothingness. So isn’t it a wonderful fact that the laws are just right for us to exist? Indeed, one might want to add, we almost didn’t make it!” (http://www.investigatingatheism.info/danieldennettchapter.html)

    Even atheists like Richard Dawkins and (the late) Francis Crick have acknowledged that biological organisms look designed, but are not. Could it be that much of this turns on whether we allow God into the equation or not? If God exists, then it seems we’re dealing with more than appearances.

    Part II is to follow….

  23. On to some additional comments here:

    Vance makes the good point of science not being an enterprise that seeks ultimate answers, and that’s correct. Science is limited and only offers a partial glimpse into the big metaphysical picture. Just before this, a rainbow was mentioned as a “supernatural” explanation (as opposed to refracted light). It was a sign, but that doesn’t mean that there hadn’t been rainbows in existence before. It was just a naturally-occurring phenomenon that was given a new significance in light of what had just happened. Consider the stones that the Israelites would assemble as a sign of what God had done. Or, circumcision was also a sign (to Abraham/Israel), but this didn’t mean it was necessarily (divinely) unique to God’s people.
    The comment was made: “[The fine-tuning argument] seems to be saying that what we have now is uniquely and amazingly well-suited to fit, well, the way things are now. ‘If X was even very slightly different, we would not be able to live on this planet”, etc, etc. This makes a very large logical fallacy, it would seem to me: that this end product was a necessity.’” No, not necessity, I would reply, but rather design. The difference is enormous. God didn’t have to create at all, let alone create a universe with life in it. But the kind of bio-friendly balanced arrangement we see in the universe is perfectly understandable and to some degree predictable if God exists, but not so if he doesn’t. Remember that Antony Flew changed his mind about God’s existence precisely because of the design implicit in the bio-friendliness of the universe.

    In response to the comment, “I also have to recognize that God very well may have created the world to work exactly as it would work without his Divine involvement. He created it so perfectly that He needs no ‘fine tuning.’” First, this doesn’t strike me as too much different than Deism. Also, it seems to rule out miracles of the Red Sea-parting and resurrection-of-Jesus type.

    What about the question that our science could overturn our claims to God’s involvement in/design of the universe. This strikes me as a double-standard in this way: Why is it that when science seems to support theology, then we’re warned against not holding on to scientific discoveries too strongly since they could be overturned? But then the secular scientist, whose only game in town is gradualistic undirected evolution, confidently champions science as certain and fixed. In response, the Christian should say that the Christian faith is SUPPORTED by current scientific study, NOT that it is BASED UPON this. I think that we Christians can appropriate science to point people to God’s existence and involvement in the universe, but also that we remember that science should not be elevated to some pedestal of secular omniscience. Keep in mind that there was a time when many assumed the world never had a beginning, but the Christian assumed it did for theological reasons. Science came to the support of this assumption. Science didn’t determine this for the Christian, but helped reinforce it.

    Vance, you say, “I don’t think there can ever be any negative evidence for God in any degree of knowledge we arrive at.” Don’t you think there could be negating evidence? If, say, the universe were eternal, that would be problematic for at least the Jewish-Christian doctrine of creation out of nothing, which the Scriptures affirm. Also, why wouldn’t we think we could expect to see positive evidence of God in these processes (Psalm 19:1)? Keep in mind that, as Robert Jastrow wrote, the discovery of the Big Bang surprised everyone except the theologians, who had been affirming that God created it all from nothing. If the heavens are declaring the glory and wisdom of God, shouldn’t there be some positive evidence to scope out?

    Regarding the claim that we would have complexity no matter what, this isn’t the way the evidence points (again, see Dennett’s earlier quotation). As physicist Paul Davies acknowledged in *The Mind of God* (p. 16), “Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact.” Shock and surprise *are* appropriate when we see the remarkably delicate balance in the universe. Clearblue’s use of John Leslie’s firing squad example is indeed apt. Furthermore, Vance’s use of the “lottery” incorrectly suggests that the universe’s arrangement is a one-shot deal. As Clearblue suggests, the more appropriate analogy is winning the lottery over and over and over again. The delicate balance is an ongoing requirement for the conditions of life, and even if we have a life-*permitting* universe, that’s no guarantee that it’s going to be life-*producing*. If God exists, however, this is the kind of phenomenon we can reasonable *expect*; we wouldn’t rightfully expect this given unguided naturalism—and this strikes me as an important argument favoring design. This is important: Given the backdrop of naturalism, we wouldn’t expect such a universe; given God’s existence, however, we are much better positioned to expect such fine-tuning.

    Also, science in the past couple of centuries has come to rule out final (teleological) causation in favor of efficient (productive) causality alone. However, this is a philosophical move, not a scientific one. In our everyday lives we are familiar with both mind-directed (final/teleological) causes and efficient causes. In one case, personal agents are involved; in the other, non-conscious processes are involved.

    Well, that’s about all I have time for right now. Thanks again for your terrific interaction. I’ll try to interact with any follow-up comments. I’ll be posting soon on a different topic—on taking Calvinism too far, indeed to heterodox conclusions.

  24. Thanks for the detailed response, Paul! Just a few comments.

    First, on the deism/miracles issue. The fact that God could create in a way that He need not tinker and fine-tune does not in any way preclude purposeful decisions to intervene in miraculous ways when He sees fit. And, it is SUPERnatural and miraculous precisely because it overrides the existing, entirely natural processes God has created. If we accept that there is any process that God has set to run without direct micromanagement (like biological processes of birth, photosynthesis, the weather, etc), then I see no reason why this could not apply to every other process as well.

    On the lottery issue, even if it as billion tickets (representing a billion factors), the analogy still works because the degree of improbability does not matter. You said

    “Third, just because other gradualistic scenarios are *logically* possible, this is much different from their being plausible or even remotely likely to come off. Daniel Dennett considers the staggering contingencies and acknowledges that “we almost didn’t make it!” In other words, there’s no way life could emerge with all of these contingencies if, on a second go-round, it was left up to natural processes alone.”

    But this begs the question that we *needed* to make it, that life, and human life in particular, is a teleological goal. Again, the logical response is that if we didn’t make it, if something else happened, then something else would be here. Take every single one of those “dials” and let them randomly adjust to something else and, very true, WE would not be here. But something else WOULD be here. And, if you followed any given path of billions of random options for billions of years, you could stop at any point and calculate enormous odds against THAT particular, exact state of affairs happening.

    You point to life-producing universe scenarios. My point is that we have no evidence regarding what other types of equally complex universes could have resulted, and the probability that they would have resulted. All we can do is sit in our one universe and point out how finely tuned everything is to keep things the way everything is. Yes, the odds of THIS exact universe, with its existing balance, are phenomenal. But, that does not establish (as the ID proponents would have to do) that such a complex universe is prohibitively rare, only that our exact flavor is rare.

    What I am saying is that, absent a teleological goal, “if it ain’t one thing, its another”. And we have no idea what would have happened if all those dials were randomly turned or if everything had happened differently. We have no idea if an equally complex and amazing state of affairs would have existed. We just know that OUR state of affairs would not have existed. But, for the non-believer, there is no reason to figure that what we DID end up with was somehow a goal.

    Imagine that we could watch the whole universe develop again. And just nudge something so that it happened differently, then sure, it would very possibly result in dramatic differences. But then those differences would be equally fine-tuned to those new circumstances, and viewed independently would seem equally improbable.

    Now, I think what you say along the way is what I was getting at right up front. For those of us with theological reasons for knowing that humans WERE an end goal, a planned results, then yes, of course, the numbers are very convincing. In fact, they are even more amazing and powerful when you consider its development over billions of years than an instant creation, but that is another discussion.

  25. Vance,

    Thanks for your comments–thoughtful and well-articulated!

    As for the deism issue, I think that even if we have a front-loaded universe from God, the opposite need not to be seen as “micro-managing” at all. Rather, it’s God’s displaying his revelatory, loving (and judging) acts to humans—not God’s tinkering with the details. I do think that given the nature of certain biblical miracles, a step-by-step unfolding (as Polkinghorne suggests for Jesus’ resurrection) seems a strained explanation.

    Regarding the cosmic lottery, there is, as you know, the problem in Multiple-Worlds scenarios of having no empirical evidence in support of them (that is, we have a bloated ontology, multiplying worlds unnecessarily). Furthermore, we have the problem of a universe generator—a mechanism that would actually produce such worlds. Also, we’re left with the problem of how finite matter got here in the first place. Now, one may metaphysically help himself to the universe’s emergence from nothing (which is a borrowing from and a pointing toward, theism), and then he may further take a view that there is only possible shot—and only one—to “get it right” all the way down the line (rather than resorting to multiple worlds options). In doing so, one is taking quite a metaphysical gamble that this process was produced naturalistically; a leading alternative is a Creator—the One who actually brought the universe into being—as the One responsible for this fine-tuning to produce any kind of life offers a ready context.

    When you say that if we could start another universe from scratch (which, again, begs for some Originator), it’s misleading to say that “those differences would be equally fine-tuned to those new circumstances, and viewed independently would seem equally improbable.” If these circumstances produced chaos and no life at all, I would say that this is the more likely scenario—even if the equally-probable details differ as to what is involved in the chaos. Fine-tuning for life is far more precise than this and hardly predictable given naturalism.

    Additionally, you mention “absent the teleological goal”; that’s part of the point: this seems to arbitrarily exclude God from consideration. I would like to know why one does so. If one says that it’s possible to explain the origin and fine-tuning of the universe without appealing to God/design, I would say, “Well, the universe’s origin is a big problem; it points to God. Furthermore, it’s a metaphysical choice that’s being made to exclude God and telic explanations when it’s precisely such a scenario that is far simpler and offers a decent context for such a phenomenon. To leave God out isn’t scientific; it’s metaphysical. Indeed, because we something outside the universe brought the universe about, we may be on to something regarding its design/fine-tuning.”

    Well, there are my thoughts. I am grateful for your gracious, engaging discussion!

  26. Let me butt in a little.

    I think part of the argument here is a disagreement about the lottery ‘set’ we’re dealing with. If the lottery set is a variable set between 1 and 50 billion, then it is true, if the lottery system is validly random that each number is very improbable to come up, but that one will come up has a probability of 1. That seem obvious to me and I agree fully with Vance on that point.

    Now, if we want o compare one outcome with any other, that ‘standard’ or teleologically desired outcome has to be justified. Otherwise the comparison is arbitrary, and so the argument is circular. Again I agree with Vance.

    Now I think the reason Theists find the Design Inference compelling (to use Dembski’s phrase) is for a non-arbitrary reason of likeness division. Say we divide the lottery number outcomes into two categories: Those that support life (where the Goldilocks concept obtains) and those that do not. Now this is in one sense relative, in that universes with life are better because they are better for US. However in another sense it is objective, in that it isolates two groups that are radically differentiated in probability. By categorizing the 50 billion possible outcomes this way, instead of having 50 billion possibilities with equal outcome potential, you have only two possible outcomes with vastly differing outcome potentials. The life-fostering outcome being in the low priority range.

    Now if one possibility has a 49,999,999,900/50 billion of occurring and the other has a 100/50 billion probability of obtaining (and my understanding is this is generous to the non-life possibility), then if the 100/50B obtains, that is a very improbably occurrence. And I think theists will argue, like me, that this is improbable enough that I am inclined to look for another explanation than that we happened to get the most wildly improbably outcome we might have expected.

    Now you may not agree with all the details here, but my point is that if you subcategorize the possible outcomes, then the response ‘well we had to get somethign, and everything had an equally likely chance of happening.’, though it is philosophically valid in one sense, doesn’t take into account all the theist is getting at.

  27. Paul, I think I see where you are coming from. I think it is clear to point out that I am not in any way arguing that the state of the universe argues *against* a creator, but arguing instead that the state of the universe does not necessarily *require* a creator (other than, very possibly, the origin of matter in the first place). In short, my devout belief in the creator is not based on, or even really bolstered, by the anthropic nature of this universe. And, I would argue, that absent other reasons to believe in such a creator, the anthropic nature of the universe would not be evidence one way or the other.

    On miracles, I have no problem whatsoever with God coming in and doing full-on miracles with absolutely no naturalistic explanation possible. Of course, every single such miracle we have heard of (including those in which I believe entirely), can not be proven to have happened, so we are a bit stymied there, and are left with probabilities, circumstantial evidence and faith. I think NT Wright has done wonders for the resurrection evidence, but it could not be conclusive for the non-believer.

    On the multiple worlds, I am not positing multiple worlds in the least. I think you still misunderstand a bit where I am coming from with the probabilities of complexity. It is only when you assume life as a goal that the odds against it become outrageous. We have no evidence how likely complexity was (versus, as you say, chaos or possibly just a simplistic universe), but the conclusion that the existing complexity proves anything assumes that complexity would be rare. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that complexity would be the norm, it is what we would expect to happen in an entirely random universe. Complexity of the level of existence of life, although it need not be that. If that level of complexity was to be expected, even randomly and entirely naturalistically, then *whatever* we would have ended up with would look equally unlikely.

    So, to say that we got it “right” on the one and only attempt is begging the question that there is a “right”. The entire argument is based on assumption that the level of complexity that developed this time was, indeed, against the odds. I agree entirely that any ONE of the varieties of complexity (including our own) would be dramatically against the odds (as with the lottery), but the anthropic argument ONLY works if it can be established that such levels of complexity would not be the norm. And I have seen no real evidence showing this. So, the whole lottery example really is applicable:

    the odds of any one person winning the lottery could be 100 million to 1 against. The odds of SOMEONE winning the lottery are 100%. And, no matter who wins, you can look at that person and say “wow, what are the odds that this person won!”.

    But I do agree that the choice to exclude the option that a creator exists is a metaphysical one. My point is simply that there is nothing about the nature of the universe (again, other than the existence of matter in the first place, possibly) that forces one metaphysical choice over another. If you choose to accept the creator option (as I do), it really would have to be based on other evidences and faith, I think, and not because the anthropic nature of this universe compels it.

  28. It sounds like you’re saying that the teliologicl argument does not point to a certain metaphysical end, but the Cosmological argument might:

    “but arguing instead that the state of the universe does not necessarily *require* a creator (other than, very possibly, the origin of matter in the first place).”

    Is that right?

  29. Well, if I understand you right, Nic, I would say that there is much more traction in the idea of the creation of matter itself than in any anthropic argument. I am not sure what the response from atheists on that point are, really, and whether they have a pat reply to why the existence of matter is not a problem. I just know that, if I was an unbeliever, there is nothing about the anthropic nature of the universe which would compel me to believe in a creator.

    My general approach in these areas is that if we are looking for proof of God, we are looking in vain. If God was provable, we would all believe, and faith would not be necessary. What I see is that there is nothing in the nature of the universe which PRECLUDES God, therefore the door is open to belief.

  30. Vance and Nic,

    Thanks for the comments. I won’t say much as I’ll be posting my next piece soon.

    Vance, I wasn’t saying that you held to a Multiple-Worlds Hypothesis. I was saying that if we exclude this problematic view from consideration and just have a single shot to get things right, we would far more readily expect such a scenario given a context of theism than naturalism. As for “proof,” if you’re thinking 100% proof, no. Again, if I were a betting man, I’d go with intelligent planning over chance.

    When you say that having proof for God leaves no room for faith, I think you have a view of faith that seems like a blind leap in the opposite direction. If we define faith as a kind of blind and/or arbitrary leap, then when do the book of Acts and Paul in 1 Cor. 15 set forth evidence for the resurrection–not 100% foolproof from all skepticism, but certainly a more plausible scenario than the alternatives. And if the universe is so religiously ambiguous, then how could God hold people accountable for going against something without having a clue? (Regarding the lottery, first, it’s not necessarily a guarantee that someone will win–remember my quotation from Dennett! Second, if the lottery winner was the son of the president of Lotto, we might suspect that something intentional was afoot rather than saying, “Well, SOMEONE had to win the lottery!”)

    Well, those are a few questions and thoughts that you raised in my mind; so I thought I’d offer a few closing thoughts. Many thanks–and on to my next posting.

    Best,

    Paul

  31. I bought that book last year, and I would have to say I like that Collins has realized the importance of a Creator, but I do think he tends to overlook the complexity of things as well. Haven’t finished the entire book at moment though.

  32. Thanks for your input, Jeremy!

  33. Sorry Im coming late to this topic..Why is it that some Christians attack those ID proponents at the Discovery Institute.The research done there is becoming more compelling that this Universe is designed.Its true that they dont say it points to the Judeo/Christian God but thats not the reason why they do the research even though atheists like Jerry Coyne call their research “creationism”. Stephen Meyer has been outstanding and has defended the institutes work as true scientific discovery.

  34. Frank, thanks for your input. It probably wouldn’t be helpful to divine the motives behind such hostility and negativity.

    I do find it strange that people like Coyne will attack anything that smacks of design as unscientific. (According to the quotation I cited above, Coyne would have to call Darwin a “creationist” too!). What’s more even naturalistic scientists routinely refer to design analogies (cells are like factories, brains like computers, the information in a cell’s nucleus like the entire 30 volumes of the *Encyclopaedia Brittanica*)). Timothy Lenoir (philosopher of science, Stanford University) points this out: “Teleological [design/purposive] thinking has been steadfastly resisted by modern biology. And yet, in nearly every area of research biologists are hard pressed to find language that does not impute purposiveness to living forms.” Dawkins himself says: “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” But Dawkins is actually going outside of science to make this assessment; this claim enters into the realm of philosophy and theology. Science by itself cannot guide us in making the distinction between what is designed and what is apparently designed.

    Furthermore, modern science began with the assumption that a rational God created an orderly, predictable world that could be studied. Dawkins and Coyne make their anti-design claims as amateur philosophers. Their dismissal of design comes from their “scientism,” not from “science.”

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