Thursday, January 04, 2007

The 2nd Law of Thermodymamics and Abiogenesis.

I commented on William Crawley’s “Sunday Sequence” and its aftermath here.

William Crawley has put several posts up following this. “Finding Darwin’s God” a piece on Ken Miller. Richard Dawkin’s letter to the Guardian. A piece on Andy Macintosh. A piece on the letters defending Andy Macintosh. Andy Macintoshes reply. Since then William Crawley has chosen Richard Dawkins as his Blog’s Person of the year. He has linked to a Salon interview with Ron Number’s the author of “The Creationists” and blogged on the letter from senior academics defending TiS.

Clearly William Crawley has a more than passing interest in the brewing "Biological Origins War" in the UK.

I was very interested in the exchange between Richard Dawkins (RD) and Andy MacIntosh (AM) and its aftermath. RD clearly thought that he was on to a big hitting winner with AM mentioning that the 2nd Law of thermodynamics rules out an unintelligent origin for biological information systems. RD seemed to be keen that Leed’s University should take action against one of its professors speaking in this way about a subject that is clearly within his own area of special competence- thermodynamics.

I got the impression RD really wanted AM to say something like “The 2nd law of Thermodynamics means that evolution is impossible.” RD could then show watertight evidence for micro-evolution and initiate a national UK science day of laughter at the silly creationists. However this is not what AM actually said. He has further clarified his position with a comment which has been published on William Crawley’s blog.

This is what he said:

Now that the 2nd law has had time to work on the Turkey this Christmas . . . maybe a few words are in order on thermodynamics and living machinery which I spoke about on the Sunday Sequence program on Dec 10th. I don't usually enter lots of blog discussions, but I see that you are having quite a debate here, so perhaps a word is in order from me. I do not on principle enter into any ad hominem attacks or respond to such against me. They do not add weight to any arguments and it is the science which is important.

The reason of course why this subject of origins will not go away is that there is a scientific case, whether Dawkins likes it or not, which is a challenge to the neo-Darwinian attempts to explain life in terms of common descent. It is a straightforward case of testable science versus the modern evolutionary ‘just-so’ story telling. Scientists like myself who believe in Creation have no problem with natural selection. It is simply the natural equivalent of artificial selection. But natural selection has no power to create new functional structures. It does not increase information and does not build machines which are not there already (either fully developed or in embryonic form).

The principles of thermodynamics even in open systems do not allow a new function using raised free energy levels to be achieved without new machinery. And new machines are not made by simply adding energy to existing machines. This was the point at issue in the programme of Dec 10th. Intelligence is needed.

And this thesis is falsifiable. If anyone was to take an existing chemical machine and produce a different chemical machine which was not there before (either as a sub part or latently coded for in the DNA template) then this argument would have been falsified. No one has ever achieved this.

I suggest that all the listeners read again if they have not done already, the excellent book by Wilder Smith called 'The natural sciences know nothing of evolution'. It is available on Amazon.

Clearly this kind of argument has been bubbling around for some time since Wilder Smith raised it. I do not think that when scientists of the standing of AM and Granville Sewel (University of Texas El Paso) are willing to stick their necks out over this that it can simply be dismissed as "showmanship bluffing" to a willing audience.

It is a also a subject which has also been raised by Walter Bradley (2004) "Information, Entropy, and the Origin of Life" pp 331-251 in Dembski and Ruse (eds) "Debating Design" Cambridge University Press.

I became interested in the concept of entropy in my A-level Chemistry classes but I really have only a very basic understanding of the concept. It seemed to me however that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics ruled out the idea that matter is eternal.

Those who believe that life originates without intelligence argue that all that is needed to produce life is energy plus matter plus lots of time. They tend to argue that the demonstration that this is true is the fact that life is here on earth!

AM, Wilder Smith, Walter Bradley,Granville Sewell and others clearly have the conviction that this formula is flawed and something else is needed.

Energy + Matter + Time + ? = Life (with its computer like information system)

The needed ingredient they say is a plan, an idea…intelligent design.

Labels:

30 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a hack! The thermodynamics equations say *nothing* about "new function." You might as well say "gravity equations don't allow new functions to emerge."

2:20 am  
Anonymous Hrafn said...

"But natural selection has no power to create new functional structures. It does not increase information and does not build machines which are not there already (either fully developed or in embryonic form)."

This is a mind-numbingly stupid statement. It is "not even wrong"!

The role of natural selection within evolution is not the increase of new information. New information is created by mutation. The role of natural selection is to winnow through that new information, eliminating the new information that is harmful, and increasing the dissemination of the new information that is advantageous.

In making such a statement MacIntosh displays an ignorance of even the basics of evolution.

"The principles of thermodynamics even in open systems do not allow a new function using raised free energy levels to be achieved without new machinery. And new machines are not made by simply adding energy to existing machines. This was the point at issue in the programme of Dec 10th. Intelligence is needed."

The "principles of thermodynamics" have nothing to say about "machines" (let alone "new machines" or "existing machines") or "intelligence". There is nothing in the principles of thermodynamics that differentiates between a natural process and an artificial one!

My general impression is that MacIntosh has completely lost it. He is spouting utter nonsense.

7:00 am  
Blogger allygally said...

"The reason of course why this subject of origins will not go away is that there is a scientific case, whether Dawkins likes it or not, which is a challenge to the neo-Darwinian attempts to explain life in terms of common descent."

As far as I understand it, evolution is not about origins.

Darwin and the ToE explain the DEVELOPMENT of life in terms in terms of random mutation combined with natural selection. Origins is a separate issue.

9:08 pm  
Blogger allygally said...

PS if Prof MacIntosh doesn't know that evolution is not about origins, but develpment of life, what worth is his support. Notalot I would say..

10:21 pm  
Blogger DiscoveredJoys said...

Anyone who argues that the second law of thermodynamics (2LoT) prevents increase in complexity is either terribly misguided, or is trying to misguide others.

Look around you - two sex cells fuse and under the right circumstances, including the input of external energy, after a period of gestation you get a baby or young organism. One containing possibly trillions more cells than the original.

Similarly an asexually reproducing cell grows, splits, and voila two cells, doubling the 'information'.

Now look back in time... sinle cells spend billions of years happily growing and dividing and evolving, then multicelled organisms evolve, some of which reproduce sexually, and so on to the current day. From the beginnings of life to billions of tons of protoplasm in millions of species. The 2LoT didn't prevent that happening!

4:09 pm  
Blogger allygally said...

Hrafn said: "The "principles of thermodynamics" have nothing to say about "machines" (let alone "new machines" or "existing machines") or "intelligence". There is nothing in the principles of thermodynamics that differentiates between a natural process and an artificial one! My general impression is that MacIntosh has completely lost it. He is spouting utter nonsense."

I'm no scientist but I have heard others, more qualified than me, say the same as hrafn, i.e. that MacIntosh has got his thermodynamics wrong. For a professor of thermodynamics that's a serious accusation. Of course the brave prof says he "cannot enter into correspondence" about this post...so no--one can challenge him...

But. Should not his university be asking him a few questions, starting with: do you know really your subject, professor?

And. What are you teaching your students, if your grasp of the subject is subordinated to your religuious beliefs, as appears to be the case in this post?

11:12 am  
Blogger Mike said...

"Similarly an asexually reproducing cell grows, splits, and voila two cells, doubling the 'information'." (says discoveredjoys above)

This is not a doubling of information. Just a doubling of size. Both cells share the same information.

12:24 pm  
Blogger Mike said...

"What are you teaching your students, if your grasp of the subject is subordinated to your religuious beliefs, as appears to be the case in this post?" (allygally above)

For "religious beliefs" read "world view". It is surely impossible for anyone to teach - or do anything else for that matter - without reference to their own beliefs; unless they are complete hypocrites.

It's clear for example that Richard Dawkins is motivated primarily by his beliefs when writing about religion.

As Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis) is fond of pointing out, creationists and evolutionists are working with the same evidence (the fossil record, etc.). It's how that evidence is interpreted (by one's beliefs) that is important.

12:43 pm  
Blogger allygally said...

Mike said..." For "religious beliefs" read "world view".

You say potayto and I say potaato...

"It is surely impossible for anyone to teach - or do anything else for that matter - without reference to their own beliefs; unless they are complete hypocrites."

If I believe (world view, religion, whatever ), that the world is flat, should I teach Geogrgaphy?

Anyway. Total rubbish. Many scientists are also religious people. They believe in "miracles". But you would never get an honest physics professor insisting that you can turn water into wine just by looking at it.

Unless what you are saying is: all Christians and Hindus and Muslims and Jews who teach science, but do not interpose miracles, are hypocrites?

BTW are you saying that the prof is letting his religion get in the way of teaching his subject? And you think that's all right?

"It's clear for example that Richard Dawkins...."

AH! The Dawkins obsession. Again.

"...is motivated primarily by his beliefs when writing about religion."

What else would you be motivated by when writing about religion?

When writing about science, Dawkins, like all scientists, (not creationists) is motivated by the facts as he sees them.

"As Ken Ham..."

Would that be Ken Ha-ha-ha-ha-ham? The man who believes that dinosaurs shared the world with men 6000 years ago when the world was created?

"(Answers in Genesis)"

Yes it would.

"is fond of pointing out, creationists and evolutionists are working with the same evidence (the fossil record, etc.)..."

No they are not. Scientists look at the evidence. Creationists look at the Bible, and bend any suitable evidence to suit their religion (worldview). There is a difference.

"It's how that evidence is interpreted (by one's beliefs) that is important."

No it is not. It's what the evidence shows, how it is tested, whether it stands up to scrutiny. Your beleifs have nothing to do with it. If the evidence takes you away from your beliefs then that is the direction you must go. So if the evidence disproves the theory, the theory must be changed or dropped. Not so with religion... See the difference?

1:49 pm  
Blogger DiscoveredJoys said...

Mike,

"This is not a doubling of information. Just a doubling of size. Both cells share the same information."

The genetic information in each cell is almost certainly identical, but it is not shared. If one cell's genetic information be changed by cosmic rays etc this change will not be reflected in the other cell.

In addition each cell has its own location in space, which is separate and diffent information from the other.

Do identical twins share one social security number? No they are treated as two individuals.

3:21 pm  
Blogger Mike said...

discoveredjoys said ... "The genetic information in each cell is almost certainly identical, but it is not shared ..."

Yep, I agree, I used the wrong word. What I was trying to point out, though, is that there's no new information here. And even if you were to repeat this process millions of times you would still not get any new information.

11:09 pm  
Blogger Mike said...

allygally said ... "No it is not. It's what the evidence shows, how it is tested, whether it stands up to scrutiny. Your beliefs have nothing to do with it. If the evidence takes you away from your beliefs then that is the direction you must go. So if the evidence disproves the theory, the theory must be changed or dropped. Not so with religion... See the difference?"

Thanks for taking the time to respond.

Let me try an example. Humans have 5 digits on each hand. So do frogs. So do lots of other creatures. If I put on an evolutionist hat (i.e. come at it with a naturalistic world-view) I can conclude that all these different animals must somehow be related. If I put on a creationist hat (i.e. with a Christian world-view) I can conclude instead that there is consistency of design. I hope you can see where I'm coming from.

(As an aside ... In some cases it is possible to delve further into a problem. For example, in this case it is possible to look at how these digits develop in different embryos. There is no common pattern of development, which adds extra weight to the creationist view.)

11:24 pm  
Anonymous Hrafn said...

"If I put on a creationist hat (i.e. with a Christian world-view) I can conclude instead that there is consistency of design. I hope you can see where I'm coming from."

How does your "creationist hat" account for the the inclusion of the same, broken, genes (e.g. that for making vitamin C in great apes, including humans)? Why would a designer consistently include a broken gene in cloesly related species?

1:21 am  
Blogger Mike said...

Hi hrafn. You asked, Why would a designer consistently include a broken gene in closely related species?.

The short answer is, "I don't know". Perhaps - as in the case of organs that were previously thought to be vestigial (e.g. the appendix) - these pseudogenes are not "broken" at all, but have a different function.

There's an article about them at http://www.creationontheweb.com/content/view/1578 which may hold the answer.

12:37 pm  
Anonymous Hrafn said...

Mike:

So let me get this straight. The designer hid some unknown function in a gene, cleverly disguised as a broken version of a gene that is functional in other, slightly less closely related species. However, by replacing this originally-functional gene, the designer exposes these species to scurvy. And you expect me to take this hypothesis seriously?

And no, the article you doesn't "hold the answer" to anything at all. It at best presents an apparent evolutionary oddity, and on the basis of this claims that "it is obvious that the major premises on which evolutionary pseudogene-based arguments rest are steadily crumbling" - without ever offering an alternative explanation!

As it happens there is an easy scientific explanation for this "oddity":
"However, the sections quoted from Inai et al. (2003) suffer from a major methodological error; they failed to consider that substitutions could have occured in the rat lineage after the splits from the other two. The researchers actually clustered substitutions that are specific to the rat lineage with separate substitutions shared by guinea pigs and humans."
http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2004/09/scurvy_guinea_p.html

Scientists 1
Creationists 0

2:32 pm  
Blogger allygally said...

Mike said: "Humans have 5 digits on each hand. So do frogs. So do lots of other creatures. If I put on an evolutionist hat (i.e. come at it with a naturalistic world-view) I can conclude that all these different animals must somehow be related."

No you can SURMISE that there may be some reletionship. Then you look for the evidence. Then you make your hypothesis and then you get it peer reviewed and etc...


"If I put on a creationist hat (i.e. with a Christian world-view) I can conclude instead that there is consistency of design."

Depends on what you mean by "design". RMNS "designs" the organism to survive better in the environment it inhabits... but there is no conscious "designer".

"I hope you can see where I'm coming from."

Striaght out of church, methinks...

"There is no common pattern of development, which adds extra weight to the creationist view."

How does it "add weight" to the creationist POV? Similar creatures have developed in different ways to "solve" the same problems in different regions or times, all explainable by evolutionary theory. Dawkins quotes the human and octopus eye and echolocation in bats in different continents and also in birds, whales and dolphins among others.

"There is no common pattern of development, which adds extra weight to the creationist view."

More interestingly, there is no exact duplication, which you would logically expect from a designer, (designers use the same part as often as they can in different products - it's more economical). Look at your car's fuel pump or your PC memory.

On the other hand, with evolution you might expect some convergence, but not exact duplication, reflecting the different starting points and developmental pathways.

5:36 pm  
Blogger Mike said...

Hrafn ... (sorry for the delay) As I said in my earlier comment, I don't know what the reason for these pseudogenes is. The jury still appears to be out as far as determining their real function. Even to call them broken, may be to assume too much. But I'm not a microbiologist, so I'll have to leave further comment on that to someone else.

However, you have demonstrated the point of my earlier post. Your evolutionary presuppositions lead you to deduce that there must be an evolutionary cause for these genes. My creationist presuppositions will lead me to look for another cause.

You will say I should leave God out of the equation. For a variety of reasons, though - his presence is part of my presuppositions. So, sorry - no I won't. I suppose what I'm saying is that, if you allow for the existence of God, then the creationist view is consistent with the known facts. Would you agree at least with that?

(Actually, to introduce this line of thought may all be a bit unfair to Andrew. This is a blog about ID, which I recognise does not necessarily want to identify the "designer")

12:26 pm  
Blogger allygally said...

Mike, letting you and hrafn discuss the finer points of pseudogenery, ban i make some comments on this post?

You say: "Your evolutionary presuppositions lead you to deduce that there must be an evolutionary cause for these genes."

It's not a "presupposition". All the previous eviedence and experience is that the ToE covers these types of situations. Therefore, best plaace to look first? ToE. Naturally.

"My creationist presuppositions will lead me to look for another cause."

Your religion makes yo look for religious solutions. Fair enough, but it is not science, and it's a lot less reasonable than hrafn looking to natural philosophy to solve natural problems.

"You will say I should leave God out of the equation."

Not if you are pursuing theology. If you are pursuing science...what do you think?

"I suppose what I'm saying is that, if you allow for the existence of God, then the creationist view is consistent with the known facts."

If you allow for the Christian god, anything is possible since he can do miracles and therefore nothing is falsifiable. But it's not science.

"Would you agree at least with that"

"the known facts" are that evolution has resisted all challenges up 'til now. It's not perfect or complete, but it is the best science we have.

"Actually, to introduce this line of thought may all be a bit unfair to Andrew. This is a blog about ID, which I recognise does not necessarily want to identify the "designer"".

Not at all. At least you are honest in revealing your religious intentions. It makes it a lot easier to dismiss your arguments, but that's the reason that the DI mob pretend that their "designer" is a space alien. They don't want to reveal the weaknesses in their position.. which, BTW is not really a scientific or even religious position: it's political and aimed at public school education in the USA and ultimately the US constitution.

4:12 pm  
Anonymous Hrafn said...

"The jury still appears to be out as far as determining their real function. Even to call them broken, may be to assume too much."

What evidence have you that the jury is still out on the broken vitamin C gene? As far as I was aware, there is no serious scientific dispute on this. Can you cite credible scientific evidence to the contrary (hint: notorious Creationist manglers-of-science such as John Woodmorappe aka Jan Peczkis do not count as credible).

"Your evolutionary presuppositions lead you to deduce that there must be an evolutionary cause for these genes. My creationist presuppositions will lead me to look for another cause."

My scientific predisposition leads to a fairly simple and straight-forward explanation of the broken vitamin C gene.

Your medievalist presupposition leads you to an absurdly convoluted explanation.

This same medievalist presupposition also explains mental illness with demonic possession. This presupposition would probably explain "consistent" symptoms of groups of mental patients with possession by a consistent type of demon.

"You will say I should leave God out of the equation. For a variety of reasons, though - his presence is part of my presuppositions. So, sorry - no I won't."

Fine. Then bugger off to the Theology department because you have no place whatsoever in Science. Theists (along with Pantheists, Deists, etc) are all welcome in Science, but only if they are willing to leave their religious presuppositions at the door. To do anything else would lead to a chaos of conflicting presuppositions.

"I suppose what I'm saying is that, if you allow for the existence of God, then the creationist view is consistent with the known facts. Would you agree at least with that?"

No I wouldn't. Creationism is generally thought to be bad theology as well as bad science.

For myself, I wouldn't be seen dead believing in a God so incompetent as to not only need to continually tinker with his Creation, but to be caught out doing so.

5:18 pm  
Blogger Malcolm said...

Mutation is surely loss of information (genes or proteins being knocked out) NOT new information.

By the way have you considered how a newly fertilised egg as it divides knows which cell is to become heart, which cell is to become foot etc. This is based on a wonderful plan, where did the plan come from?

11:51 pm  
Anonymous Hrafn said...

"Mutation is surely loss of information (genes or proteins being knocked out) NOT new information."

No.

Mutation alters the gene to create a novel new gene (i.e. one with new information), which may be helpful, neutral or harmful to the organism's survival.

Natural selection then acts to reduce the frequency of harmful genes, and increase the frequency of helpful genes.

A recent example of a helpful mutation was in a strain of bacteria that allowed it to digest nylon.

7:04 am  
Blogger Mike said...

Hi, I've been away from this discussion for a while. But I'd like to comment on some of the different threads that have emerged...

allygally said that the ToE is his/her (?) starting point from which to start looking at the use of pseudogenes. However, the ToE itself is the product of presuppositions - in particular, the product of people who want to push God out of the agenda. So this doesn't help your argument.

By the way, I should make it clear that I have no quarrel with some of the claims of the ToE. In particular, natural selection does occur: so you can produce Great Danes and Chihuahuas by selectively breeding from an initial mongrel dog form. But this involves loss of genetic material. You cannot then breed a Great Dane from a pure bred Chihuahua.

Hrafn seems to have a problem with miracles. Yet the Bible and other sources suggest that miracles have happened in human experience. So either miracles can occur, or you have to discount all of these accounts as spurious.

You both seem to want to drive a wedge between religion and science. But what the Bible says and what we see around us are in harmony. The Christian religion provides a clear basis for rational thought. It is natural philosophy that has problems in this area: For example, it cannot explain how non-living matter suddenly became alive. It does not explain where thought comes from. It cannot explain why we have a concept of right and wrong.

To return to pseudogenes. Again, I have to repeat that I don't know what they are for or how they came about. I'm not a microbiologist. However you might be interested in a discussion that I've been party to elsewhere. It may not be the right answer, but is an intriguing possibility. The Bible not only teaches that God created a perfect world. It also tells us about the fall of man, and how that introduced death. To quote from that other thread: "The fall is not to be thought of as mankind and the animals being left to chance mutation to bring about the degradation under which the whole creation now groans. This means that the design for living in the creation has a corresponding 'design for dying' applied at the fall. The intelligence of the design is obvious when we consider what happens when we discover a means of getting round some of its provisions. No matter how good the health service, all die eventually. No matter how severe the disease, some survive. Our need for vitamins is a particularly nice illustration of the way designed organic death works. I am especially impressed by the idea of Adam, liable to scurvy because of his misuse of the tree in the midst of the garden. The need for an external source of ascorbic acid because we can no longer produce it internally certainly illustrates the poignancy of having been driven away from the garden and no longer having access to the tree of life."

1:21 pm  
Anonymous Hrafn said...

"Hrafn seems to have a problem with miracles."

I have no problems with miracles whatsoever, as:

1) I have no reason (either rational or theological) to believe that they exist; nor

2) any reason to believe that, even should they exist, that science should be able to explain them.

"Yet the Bible and other sources suggest that miracles have happened in human experience. So either miracles can occur, or you have to discount all of these accounts as spurious."

Yes but these suggestions tend to be heavily mutually contradictory, in that if the accounts of miracles contained in the sacred books of one religion are true (and that religion is thus true) then the accounts of miracles contained in the sacred books of other religions must be false (as these religions would be false).

An atheist only disbelieves in the sacred books of one more (out of many) religions than you do. How is his disbelief more unreasonable than yours?

The scientist believes that, whatever sacred books and miracles they personally believe in, they are not available to scientists of other religions and therefore must be left at the laboratory door.

"But what the Bible says and what we see around us are in harmony."

No it is not.

The Bible says that the Earth is a few thousand years old. It is not.

The Bible says that pi=3. It is not.

The Bible says that rabbits chew their cud, they do not.

The Bible says that insects have four legs, they do not.

The Bible says that it is all right to own slaves. It is not.

The Bible says it is all right to commit genocide. It is not.

The Bible says it is all right to attempt to kill your own son. It is not.

"The Christian religion provides a clear basis for rational thought."

This is the same religion that gave us Credo quia absurdum (I believe it because it is absurd)?

"However you might be interested in a discussion that I've been party to elsewhere."

This discussion makes no attempt to explain why closely related species have the same broken gene. It is therefore a complete non sequitor.

Further, as it has as its basis 'The Fall', which is the part of Christian theology that I find the most nonsensical, it is about as convincing as the plot of a Marx Brothers movie.

4:49 pm  
Anonymous Hrafn said...

An example of how pseudogenes really behave:

Evolutionary Scrap-heap Challenge: Antifreeze Fish Make Sense Out Of Junk DNA

Science Daily -- Scientists at the University of Illinois have discovered an antifreeze-protein gene in cod that has evolved from non-coding or 'junk' DNA. Since the creation of these antifreeze proteins is directly driven by polar glaciation, by studying their evolutionary history the scientists hope to pinpoint the time of onset of freezing conditions in the polar and subpolar seas. Professor Cheng will present her latest results at the Annual Main Meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology in Canterbury on Tuesday the 4th April [session A2].

Fish such as cod that live in subzero polar waters have evolved to avoid freezing to death by using special antifreeze proteins that work by binding to ice crystals to prevent the crystals growing larger and causing problems. Most of these antifreeze proteins evolve by natural selection from existing proteins when the DNA coding for them duplicates itself and changes over time to give new functions. However, Professor Christina Cheng and her group have found the gene for the cod antifreeze protein has come from a non-coding region of their DNA known as "junk DNA".

"This appears to be a new mechanism for the evolution of a gene from non-coding DNA", says Professor Cheng, "3.5 billion years of evolution of life has produced many coding genes and conventional thinking assumes that new genes must come from pre-existing ones because the probability of a random stretch of DNA somehow becoming a functional gene is very low if not nil. This cod antifreeze gene might be an exception to this because it consists of a short repetitive sequence that only needs to be duplicated four times to give a fully functioning protein"

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060404090831.htm

6:30 am  
Blogger Smokey said...

Mike wrote:
"This [cell division] is not a doubling of information. Just a doubling of size. Both cells share the same information."

Hi, Mike.

Would you mind explaining to me where the information comes from when your body develops an immune response to an antigen, such as a protein on the surface of the virus (and on infected cells)?

A second question: I presume that you believe that God designed your immune system. Do you believe that you are a more intelligent designer than God Himself?

You also wrote:
"For example, in this case it is possible to look at how these digits develop in different embryos. There is no common pattern of development, which adds extra weight to the creationist view."

Really? Please explain how you determined that digits do not develop in a common pattern, involving orthologous genes and common molecules.

4:28 am  
Blogger Mike said...

hrafn, I'd like to comment, if I may, on some of your assertions about the Bible.

"The Bible says that the Earth is a few thousand years old. It is not." Here - or somewhere similar - is where our conversation started, isn't it? I suggest again that it's your presuppositions that won't allow this. You cannot know that this is not true from the evidence alone.

"The Bible says that pi=3. It is not." I assume you're referring here to the description of the "sea" that the priests used for washing in 1 Kings 7: "He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it. ... It was a handbreadth in thickness, and its rim was like the rim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It held two thousand baths." So what is described is a large, thick basin with some kind of lip to it. It seems obvious that the measurements here - and elsewhere in the description of the temple - are approximate; I don't think there are any fractions of cubits mentioned apart from halves. They're not taken from an architect's drawing. And it's not clear whether the rim-to-rim measurement is on the inside or outside or somewhere in between. So, I really don't see why people get excited about this.

"The Bible says that rabbits chew their cud, they do not." This is a reference to the Jewish food laws, I guess? It appears to be a translation issue: i.e. the Hebrew wording has a wider meaning than our modern, narrow definition of chewing the cud and includes refection - which allows essentially the same thing to occur (i.e. allows partially digested food to be chewed again and further digested)

"The Bible says that insects have four legs, they do not." I assume, again, you're referring to the food laws. James Holding has dealt with this quite well.

"The Bible says that it is all right to own slaves. It is not." Yes, slavery existed at the time of Moses and later; but in Israel it was a mild and merciful system as compared to that of other nations. The generally accepted view is that the Mosaic laws of slavery were intended to regulate the practice with a view to curbing the worst excesses. The Jubilee laws for example, were intended to ensure that Hebrew slaves were set free every 50 years.

"The Bible says it is all right to commit genocide. It is not." I guess you're referring here to the way in which the Israelites were commanded to wipe out the people who inhabited Canaan at the time of the Exodus. God used this as a way of judging the evil practices of these people and also to ensure that the fledgling Jewish nation would not follow those same practices.

"The Bible says it is all right to attempt to kill your own son. It is not." I'm not sure what you're referring to here. Certainly some of the Mosaic laws for gross sin require the death penalty - even if it is your own son.

I guess you know that the purpose of much of the Mosaic law is to show the holiness and the purity of God and to demonstrate the seriousness of sin. Obviously, no one now lives in a theocracy: the ceremonial and civil laws no longer apply, but their principles live on. We do need to recognise that sin is serious and has serious consequences.

I hope that's of some help.

In closing, can I please ask a few questions? You seem very sure that owning slaves, genocide and the killing of your own son is wrong. I'm glad about that! But why? If there is no God and all living things arose from purposeless matter in a meaningless way, what makes one thing wrong and another right? If one nation can kill all the people in another nation and take over its land, why shouldn't it? If I can murder my wife for material gain, why shouldn't I? Why is one action better or worse than any other? In short, why do we have a concept of right and wrong?

There are some related issues in an earlier post, which I don't think anybody has commented on yet. How does natural philosophy, materialistic naturalism, or whatever you want to call it, explain how non-living matter suddenly became alive? Where does thought or consciousness come from?

11:11 pm  
Anonymous Hrafn said...

"Here - or somewhere similar - is where our conversation started, isn't it? I suggest again that it's your presuppositions that won't allow this. You cannot know that this is not true from the evidence alone."

No Mike it isn't. Creationism in general only denies Biology (and more particularly Evolutionary Biology). Its most extreme form, Young Earth Creationism, also denies the fields of Geology, Astrophysics and Atomic Physics in their entirety. That the Earth is Billions of years old is a fact and to deny it is a religious fantasy.

Your "presupposition" thus amounts to a wholesale rejection of science. You are of course free to hold such a presupposition, just as you would be free to hold a presupposition that faeries exist.

I am under no obligation to accord either presupposition the least credence.

"I assume, again, you're referring to the food laws. James Holding has dealt with this quite well."

James Holding attempts to deal with it by reference to a piece of classic Orwellian Doublethink from Animal Farm. I think this a stunning indictment: the YEC employs the very mindset that Orwell was writing to condemn. In any case, the Orwellian "wings count as legs" proposition would lead to insects having up to ten "legs". Holding's "attempt" thereafter gets even more tortuous & unsubstantiated.

"It appears to be a translation issue: i.e. the Hebrew wording has a wider meaning than our modern, narrow definition of chewing the cud and includes refection - which allows essentially the same thing to occur (i.e. allows partially digested food to be chewed again and further digested)"

Nope.

1) There is no evidence that the ancient Hebrews were even aware that refection (a little known and difficult to observe phenomena) occurs.

2) As it involves reingestion of faeces, it is a fundamentally different process from chewing the cud.

Can you find substantiation that the ancient Hebrews did know about refection and did consider it a form of "chewing the cud"? I thought not.

"...but in Israel it was a mild and merciful system as compared to that of other nations."

Nope.

It was only in the least bit merciful as it was applied to Hebrew slaves, the standard applied to foreign slaves was a lot lower.

Read http://www.evilbible.com/Slavery.htm for further details.

But even under the most "merciful" application under Biblical law, slavery is clearly and unambiguously immoral.

"I guess you're referring here to the way in which the Israelites were commanded to wipe out the people who inhabited Canaan at the time of the Exodus. God used this as a way of judging the evil practices of these people and also to ensure that the fledgling Jewish nation would not follow those same practices."

No Mike.

Genocide is always immoral.

If your religion says otherwise then your religion is likewise immoral.

That the inhabitants of Canaan were purported to indulge in "evil practices" (the exact nature of which seems to be vague, and do not seem to be more pernicious than many common in the Middle East in ancient times), is no excuse for genocide.

Many primitive societies have practised cannibalism (one of the more repugnant of practices), but it is widely, and has long been, agreed that this is still no excuse for genocide.

Further, it also is not even an attempt to justify the killing of newborn Canaanites, who would not have committed any purported "evil practices".

"I'm not sure what you're referring to here. Certainly some of the Mosaic laws for gross sin require the death penalty - even if it is your own son."

Nope.

Abraham attempting to kill Isaac (who was too young to have committed any "gross sin"), at God's direct command.

But while we're on the death penalty, here is what the passage that you are referring to actually says:

18 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard." 21 Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

There is no mention of "gross sin", only of being "stubborn and rebellious", not obeying and being "a profligate and a drunkard".

"I hope that's of some help."

Yes, it has helped convince me that the Biblical Literalist position is even more logically vacuous and morally bankrupt than I thought.

Given the mutability of meaning that supposed Literalists apply to so many words and moral dilemmas, I find it unsurprising that the Bible has been used (and in some cases continues to be used) to justify slavery, racism, spousal and child abuse and other such pernicious beliefs and practices.

It reduces the Bible to being no more than a religious crutch for the believer's prejudices.

"If there is no God and all living things arose from purposeless matter in a meaningless way, what makes one thing wrong and another right?"

Because life makes its own meaning. Because we are related to all life and because we share common experiences and thus feel empathy towards it all. When a species or a culture is lost we are all diminished. No God is necessary to come to this conclusion.

"How does natural philosophy, materialistic naturalism, or whatever you want to call it, explain how non-living matter suddenly became alive?"

Given the lack of any concrete information on this event, we may never know with certainty. The best that we can do is to speculate how it might have happened.

What we do know with certainty however is that it happened many millions of years ago, and that it involved lifeforms far more primitive than the vast majority of those alive today. I therefore have not the least inclination to trade my uncertainty for your fantasy.

"Where does thought or consciousness come from?"

Most probably as an artefact of increasing complexity of brain functioning. An interesting mystery, but one long since shorn of any metaphysical implications.

7:40 am  
Blogger Mike said...

Hi Smokey,

You asked, "Would you mind explaining to me where the information comes from when your body develops an immune response to an antigen, such as a protein on the surface of the virus (and on infected cells)?"
Ah, I see where you're going with this. I think (is this right?) that the body's cells have the ability to produce different shaped other cells (sorry - I don't know the correct technical terms). There are many of these different-shaped cells (macrophages?) in the body at any one time. When an infection occurs, and one of them "fits" the virus sufficiently well that it can disable/kill it, then multiple copies of this are produced (by T Cells?) to eliminate the intruder. That's probably incredibly simplistic, but is essentially correct?

I don't see that there's new information here, though. The body has the ability to produce the macrophages already, and does so on a regular basis. It's just that when one "fits" a new intruder, it is replicated many times.

"A second question: I presume that you believe that God designed your immune system. Do you believe that you are a more intelligent designer than God Himself?"
Umm ... no. Sorry, you've lost me there.

"Please explain how you determined that digits do not develop in a common pattern, involving orthologous genes and common molecules."
My previous post said there was no common pattern of development. My meaning was that I understand that in some embryos, digits are formed from initial stubs that then grow longer. Whereas in others they are formed from what looks like a webbed "hand"; the material between the digits then disappears. I appreciate this may well be an overly simplistic approach, as this is not my field. No doubt you'll enlighten me, if so!

1:16 pm  
Blogger Mike said...

Hrafn,

I'm interested in your list of "it is nots", etc., relating to the Bible. Rather than try to give brief and probably misleading explanations here I'm going to try to address them more fully on my own blog when I find the time. Since the Bible has been subject to misrepresentation and various accusations over the 2000+ years that it has been existence, none of which has ever been shown to be true, I'm confident that they can all be addressed to the satisfaction of a reasonable enquirer. (And, by the way, that's why you're wrong to throw the Christian baby out with the man-made religion bath water. The Bible is not just one more sacred book.)

I'm pleased that you introduced the subject of Abraham and Isaac. Here was a man who had been told that he would father a great nation, who knew that Isaac was the means by which that promise would be fulfilled - yet he was willing to obey the command to sacrifice him. Why? Because he trusted God. I'm not sure exactly what went through his mind - whether he expected God to provide in the way he did, or whether he expected God to raise Isaac from the dead - certainly he said to his servant, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you" (Genesis 22:5). He knew that the sacrifice would not be the end of the matter. As the writer to the Hebrews says, "Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death". (Hebrews 11:19) By the way, it seems clear that Isaac was not too young to understand what was going on by the way he questions Abraham. He seems to have had a similar trust to his father and was willing, if necessary, to be the sacrificial victim.

All of this, of course, prefigures the sacrifice of Jesus: There is a sense in which God the Father was willing to "give up" his only son; and, of course, Jesus willingly went to the cross in order to save his people from their sins.

To turn to some of your later statements:

You say, "life makes its own meaning". I have to remind you again that you are saying that life somehow arose from dead, purposeless matter. You cannot talk about something like this making its own meaning. It makes no sense.

"When a species or a culture is lost we are all diminished." I assume you are speaking morally in some sense here. But if it wasn't good that this lost species came into being, it can't be bad when it dies out. Why should you care that another species has died out if it and you are just the result of random events and don't have any ultimate meaning anyway?

You mention, "increasing complexity of brain functioning". How can a chaotic system, with no purpose and no order, become more complex in and of itself? There must be some external influence acting on it.

You say we can never know with certainly how life began. I suspect that you realise that in a chaotic environment, subject as it was to the laws of thermodynamics, non-life could never have produced the kind of order required in and of itself. Please, hrafn, consider the possibility that you might be wrong: that there is a God, that he has spoken and that he has the right to make demands of you.

12:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crawley is a long standing opponent of creationism. The fundamentalists hate him but they can't ignore him because he knows the Bible better than they do. I listen to his programme on the BBC (though I am in the US) and he's the most informed critic of creationism in journalism.

1:59 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home