Saturday, August 25, 2007

Melanie Phillips - Life in a random Universe?

"Moreover, since science essentially takes us wherever the evidence leads, the findings of more than 50 years of DNA research — which have revealed the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life — have thrown into doubt the theory that life emerged spontaneously in a random universe."
See the whole piece here.


Anonymous Brian said...

"These findings have given rise to a school of scientists promoting the theory of Intelligent Design, which suggests that some force embodying purpose and foresight lay behind the origin of the universe."

In other words; "God did it"

End of science! How long is this nonsense going to persist?

10:12 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

God did it = end of science.

Do you mean that scientists cannot be scientists and theists at the same time?

Can science identify intelligent agency?

11:23 am  
Blogger psiloiordinary said...

Ever heard of the "argument from ignorance" logical fallacy?

How about the "argument from personal incredulity" logical fallacy?

1:46 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...


Yes and Yes.

I think that personal incredulity can be a useful spur to research and investigation.

2:15 pm  
Anonymous Brian said...


How simple can this be? Science is based in reality whereas religious belief is based on faith. I wouldn't take away anyone's right to hold a religious belief (I don't understand the need) but how strong is your faith if you have to go searching for proof of what every holy scripture dictates - god made everything. Why not let science do it's thing - which is not to identify intelligent agency - anything supernatural is irrelevant to science. Yes, of course it's possible to be a scientist and a person of faith but some do not know where to draw the boundaries.

The only mileage left in ID is to play politics and to make money for its gurus (Behe's latest expert witness report comes at a $20,000 price tag - I'm not against anyone making money but if you read the report it's certainly not value for money)

7:34 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...


1. It is not at all simple. The greatest minds have wrestled with these questions as the BIG questions.

2. You seem to have swallowed the Dawkins simplistic charicature of faith... your sentence here:
"Science is based in reality whereas religious belief is based on faith" faith is all to do with the unreal and (naturalistic) science has the monopoly on reality. Strong faith believe despite evidence and even in the teeth of evidence... is a Dawkins idea of faith and far from my understanding of what faith is.

3. There are clearly areas of science where identification of intelligent agency is important.

8:23 pm  
Anonymous Brian said...


I have been of this opinion long before Dawkins entered the fray but it's not a bad association!

As you stated, "Strong faith believe despite evidence..." - what better distinction could you have between science and religion? I don't know of any real scientist that would hold the opinion '...well, the evidence doesn't support my hypothesis so the evidence must be wrong..'. Being wrong is a driving force in science as new discoveries are made and old ideas are discarded. Never the case in religion.

I'm intrigued by your last statement - please name one scientific question that is relevant to there being/not being a supernatural agent. (Again, I refer back to my comment about weakness of faith if evidence is a requisite.)

9:49 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...


1. Faith is basically the reliance on personal testimony and includes an assessment of the evidence as to personal trusworthiness. My comment of "faith believes in the face of evidence" is a Dawkins caricature of faith and is far from reality. We are using the word "faith" with two entirely different meanings which does not aid communication.

2. Christianity claims to be based on the evidence of the resurrection of Christ.

3. I said "There are clearly areas of science where identification of intelligent agency is important."

You said: I'm intrigued by your last statement - please name one scientific question that is relevant to there being/not being a supernatural agent.

You assume the intelligent designer = supernatural agent.

My understanding would be that intelligent activity can be identified irrespective of the nature of the agent.

SETI, Archaeology, forensic science, AI, and cryptology are areas where detection of intelligent activity is crucial.

10:06 am  
Anonymous Brian said...


I think we are talking about the same 'faith' - where personal testimony and contradictory evidence meet then 'faith' is choosing to ignore facts. This is also where christianity (et al) is on shaky ground - the only evidence for a resurection is the hearsay of a few believers - not very convincing to me but for those who want to believe it then that's their right.

I know the DI want to infer that the intelligent designer is not necessarily supernatural but do you honestly expect anyone to believe that? There is plenty of evidence that the ID gurus mean god when they refer to the designer. I don't think that is even an issue any longer?

Scientific methodology, such as archaeology, forensics, AI etc, is applicable to detection of intelligent agency that is human. If you are suggesting that these disciplines are ID in all-but-name then you have to concede that the designer is merely 'human'. To my knowledge they are incapable of unearthing evidence that is not human? It would take a leap of faith to suggest intelligence that is beyond human and that takes you full circle to a faith position again? SETI has yet to bear fruit and should it find it then that would put the wishful belief that we are unique firmly in the realms of fantasy.

9:44 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...


You said:
"I think we are talking about the same 'faith' - where personal testimony and contradictory evidence meet then 'faith' is choosing to ignore facts. "

You define this kind of "faith" very well but that is not the sort of faith that I believe in.

Have you read the first section of the 15th chapter of the Apostle Paul's letter to Christians at Corinth. This is one of the earlist Christian documents and describes his understanding of the eye witness testimony regarding the resurrection of Christ.

With regards to identifying intelligent activity... you are missing the point of what I was trying to say. I was suggesting that intelligent activity can be recognised irrespective of the nature and origin of the designer. This is what SETI assumes I imagine. The issue is not primarily WHO the designer is but whether we can identify intelligent activity reliably.

9:07 am  
Anonymous Brian said...


Having been raised a catholic I probably have read the scripture you refer to but I am no longer familiar with it. As an atheist I would no longer read too much into it beyond a literary reference.

I think the issue of WHO the designer is is crucial to this debate - getting ID discussed is a political position, not a scientific one. In spite of the wealth of evidence against it's rhetoric you seem to still hold it in high regard - isn't that a 'faith' position? Also, how can you detect non-natural intelligent agency using techniques that only apply to natural (human/protohuman) intelligent agency? It would be like trying to detect ghosts?

9:42 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...


The paragraph in 1Corinthians argues that the Christian position on the resurrection of Christ was based on 515 eye witness reports many on whom were still alive at the time of writing.

You regard SETI as a scientific operation though the intelligence which is being serached for is extra-terrestrial and (presumably) non human. Thus intelligent activity can be identified independently of the type of being that produces it.

What is the wealth of evidence against intelligent design?

The distinction between natural and non-natural designers seems to me to be a red herring. The important point is whether the designer can leave real and material evidence of intelligent design in the observable world.

10:37 am  
Anonymous Brian said...


How can the distinction between natural/non-natural designer be irrelevant. Mankind has been around for a fraction of geologic time so the designer would have to supernatural to achieve anything?

I'm sure you are aware of TalkOrigins ( and the Dover trial but I guess that doesn't count as contradicting the scientific claims of ID. In reality though there is no need for any counter-science as ID has yet to produce anything that counts as science - plenty of rhetoric but no science.

As for Corinthians; there are probably more than 515 eye witnesses to sightings of Elvis but does that make it true?

11:56 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

The 500+ Elvis sightings are hardly of the same calibre of witness nor are there many who have to choose between their Elivis testimony and their life.

You said:
"How can the distinction between natural/non-natural designer be irrelevant."

I was arguing that the important thing is the evidence. The nature of the designer is not unimportant but it is secondary. The real question is whether there is evidence of design in biology or not. Can the designer leave objective evidence of his activity in the natural world. That is the crucial question.

1:22 pm  
Anonymous Brian said...


Personally I'd have more faith in the Elvis sightings.

As for your other point, surely the nature of the designer is paramount to how/what you detect? He/she obviously pre-dates human appearance on earth so you would have to know something of their nature (or non-nature) to derive anything tangible?

To-date all the evidence we have so far suggests that a designer is irrelevant at best and incompetent at worst?

6:37 pm  
Blogger Antony Latham said...

The evidence from physics for a designer is very strong... The fine tuning of the universe we are in is a very powerful indicator of intelligent design. One of the many examples would be the very precise perturbations in the initial conditions of the universe milliseconds after the Big Bang - the measure of these is commonly called Q. Q had to be exactly as it is for there to be any galaxies. Change its value by 1/1,000,000,000 (that is 9 zeros)in either direction and you fail to get conditions for galactic formation and planets etc. Books by Martin Rees, former Astronomer Royal, are helpful in showing this.

In fact - the fine tuning arguments should lead any serious enquirer to at least a deist form of theology.

11:15 pm  
Anonymous Brian said...

I think the argument that we exist alone in the universe at the benevolence of an omnipotent/omniscient being is indicative of the arrogance of our species and the stupidity of a small sub-set. Yes the fine-tuning of the universe (as we presently understand it) indicates we are here - you-re reading this - but how does that equate to the existence of god (please let's not get into this silly argument that the designer doesn't have to be god). Were we to be here and the physics said that we shouldn't be then maybe there would be scope for supernatural intervention, but there isn't.

If you wish to credit a designer with our existence then the evidence would suggest that it's a not-very-intelligent designer. We live on a planet that has seen at least two mass extinctions and the creation of the moon from earth collisions with large meteorites. If it's clever enough to fine tune the universe for our existence (an extremely arrogant assumption) it must be pretty malevolent to plan our eventual demise in such a manner.

10:22 pm  
Blogger Antony Latham said...

I feel that you are evading the issue here. The fact that we are here in no way accounts for why the universe is fine tuned. Martin Rees does not have much time for the atheist who says "we are here and so of course the universe is the way it is". When an archer sends an arrow repeatedly at the center of a bull's eye - we do not doubt that it is because of design and skill of the archer. Rees' way is to imagine multiple universes, of which we are just one of many. This allows one to cope with the possibility that the fine tuning of this one is pure chance. Of course by dong so he allows a philosophy to take over from his science. There is no evidence for more than one universe.

Brian - it depends on how you look at the world whether you see just evil or good. There is so much beauty and often great altruism and goodness...none of which accords with a purposeless and purely material cosmos.

As for the nature of the designer - the Christian view has always been that God is Spirit and he is eternal. He is not material. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...." This is where Dawkins constantly falls down in his repeated question of - who designed the designer? We can see evidence for his design but we cannot restrict him to the physical created order and impose the same criteria to him.

9:32 am  
Anonymous Brian said...

Please explain the issue I am evading? "in the beginning......" is the word of man, nothing more. If you choose to read more into it that is your choice but how that relates to a justification of a god created universe escapes me. Personal faith is of no consequence to me until it starts getting into areas, such as science, it deliberately fails to consider in deference to revealed wisdom. That is arrogance. Should not this knowledge of our creator be innate within us all from birth? It takes man's influence to expose it and, being highly dependant on where you are born as to what version you receive, suggests it is man-made all along.

I don't know what issue I am evading but I am still waiting to hear any evidence for the claim you make that the fine-tuning argument is indicative of a supernatural intervention? You are conflating scientific reasoning with faith here. Scripture is irrelevant to this question and the multiverse digression is a red herring. If you wish to hold it as a position of faith that god created the world please leave science to draw other conclusions.

Thank you for finally admitting that the designer is god - unless you are suggesting the designer and god are not one-in-the-same? Your last paragraph was ambiguous, in which case if the designer is not god then it must be a physical entity whereby Dawkin's argument for infinite regress is perfectly valid. Which is it? If you wish to invoke a scientific rationale then the nature of the designer is critical - you cannot scientifically explore the supernatural.

Altruism is not restricted to humans so there is obviously an evolutionary link that negates a divine explanation. The same can be said for all the ills of the world - it all pre-dates us. Assuming you accept that we, as a species, have only been around for a fraction of geologic time (and time with life in it) then we have little right to assume dominion over anything. Tell it to the bacteria and viruses.

11:37 am  
Blogger Antony Latham said...

The issue I feel you are evading is how the fine tuning came to be? I am not clear as to your position on this. Just because we are here observing the fine tuning is no answer to this.

I am not asking you to believe the bible - I merely used it to show that what it says accords with a pre-existent God who made the universe. This ties in well with the empirical scientific evidence for design at the very first nano second. You ask for scientific evidence - the exquisite fine tuning is exactly that.

Altruism is a huge subject. I agree there may well be such behaviour in certain animals - but then the 'Designer' (yes that for me is God) made them as well. The real question is whether such altruism is explicable in evolutionary terms. Dawkins et al of course have to assert that any altruistic behaviour has to be ultimately for the 'selfish gene' to be more successful in getting into more generations. And so for the pure Darwinian altruism is merely a technique for gene preservation and is ultimately without any real meaning apart from that. It is seen as either preservation of kin (wherein the organisms genes are spread) or for reciprocal benefit (you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours). In this savage and ruthless Darwinian world there cannot be any real self-sacrifice for others (unless you are a Darwinian failure, soon to be selected out). I would maintain that there are demonstrably folk who exhibit real self giving love to others, at the cost of their own lives and in a way which has nothing to do with gene preservation. Such altruism is real and has no evolutionary explanation.

10:38 pm  
Anonymous Brian said...

I'm no expert in this field but I suspect that 'how' the fine-tuning came to be is simply a fortuitous quirk of physics! Who knows the answer to such a question. You are imposing an a priori assumption into the mix - one that is superfluous to the argument in anything other than a theological context. This only goes to show the true colours of the ID
premise but that is not unexpected. The empirical evidence for a designer as a causal agent in the big bang is as scientifically vacuous as astrological predictions.

Again, if we are awaiting another existence-threatening meteorite collision does that really indicate that we are on a privelidged planet or did the designer have a bad day at the office? How do you account for the 8 billion year gap between the big bang and our planets' existence and a further 4 billion+ years before our species came into existence? It hardly puts us at the centre of things but it does suggest that we are nothing more than an insignificant part of the cosmos - we just happen to be very creative.

IIRC the selfish gene theory is an explanation for altruism in an evolutionary context - it doesn't 'define' altruism, which can be seen in everyday life, just as religion doesn't define morality. It's a theory borne out of evidence, not vice-versa. My point is that it is a trait that we, as very latecomers to this evolutionary treadmill, have acquired not passed on and however it manifests itself it does not require the need for a designer.

11:50 pm  
Blogger Antony Latham said...

Sorry Brian - that is not an adequate reply. There is nothing 'a priori' about the observation, scientifically, that the universe is exceptionally fine tuned - to a degree that is simply astounding. Tweak it any other way and neither we, nor the earth, would be here. This requires much more than saying it maybe a quirk of physics. I have tried to explain to you that cosmologists such as Martin Rees would not take such a lazy view as that. They admit that either there is a designer - or there are an incalculable number of other universes out of which, by chance, we happen to have struck very very very (multiply a million or more times) lucky with the tuning. Needless to say there is absolutely no evidence for more than one universe.

If there is just one universe then one simply has to come to the conclusion that there is a designer of it. It could not be an accident. This has nothing to do with religion - simply a fact. If you then want to ask what kind of designer this is - fine, but that is a secondary issue.

5:14 pm  
Anonymous Brian said...

Of course that is an a priori assumption - I would rather live with the fact that it is an unanswered question rather than accept a designer - that works for me. Are you saying Martin Rees has personal knowledge of the designer?

I don't buy into this 'tweak it a bit either way and we wouldn't be here..' It has nothing to do with tweaking - we ARE here. It astonishes me that you continue to use 'scientifically' and 'designer' in the same sentence. Science does not deal in the supernatural, religion does. If you wish to adhere to the principal of a designer then I still contend that it is anything but intelligent given the catastrophes we have endured and still face - an issue you keep avoiding?

5:55 pm  
Blogger Antony Latham said...

I suggest you read Rees' books: Just Six Numbers and Our Cosmic Habitat. Rees is either an agnostic or an atheist - so I am not trying to use someone with ID sympathies. He likens your attitude (that we are here, let us not worry if it looks amazingly tuned) to the person who when put before a firing squad of crack shots, finds that they all miss. The prisoner then says - "OK I am alive, so they must have missed!" - and then walks away without a further thought. Rees says this is just inellectually lazy - and agrees that the fine tuning requires an answer and very serious thought. He comes up with the multi-verse theory (on a priori philosophical grounds, not scientific)... because he knows the alternative is design. I am not sure I have got through to you about this! The evidence is SCIENTIFIC and has absolutely nothing to do with religion!!

As for the problems of evil and natural disasters - these are old theological problems which have been addressed by more able people than I over the last few thousand years. They are important questions but are actually nothing to do with whether there is a designer.

For the Christian, the fact that God himself went to be crucified, throws light on whether God is caring or uncaring about suffering.

6:33 pm  
Anonymous Brian said...

You must have had a very confused teacher of science - the supernatural designer-did-it argument doesn't come into ANY area of science I have encountered, a priori or a posteriori. If you want intellectual laziness you need look no further than ID. Also, having been through the catholic education system I always thought that god sent his son to die for us? I thought you were arguing from a scientific perspective so why all the theology?

I wasn't talking in general terms in referring to catastrophes (biblical or otherwise) but specifically about the this planet being a sitting target. Let me try to expand on the 'theory' of ID; assuming the big-bang is evidence for a designer at what point did his designing stop (a rigorous theory should have something to say about this?) It can't have stopped nanoseconds after the event because it (allegedly) has some input into the fine-tuning of it's special creation - us. Hence, to go to all that trouble and then abandon us to the fate of rogue bits of space debris seems a little incompetent in my mind?

Capable minds have wrestled with theological arguments for millenia but if you remain convinced that ID is a scientific solution can you please comment without the theology.

8:05 pm  
Blogger Antony Latham said...

But there have been so many great scientists who have thought the universe spoke to them of God. They did not call it ID but it amounted to the same. Faraday and Maxwell come to mind. Both ground breaking geniuses of science who proclaimed a what is new or strange? It seems to me that it is the atheist scientists of latter years who are out of kilter with the vast majority.

God sent his Son - as you say - but the Son is God. Such is the magnificent mystery of the Trinity.

It was not me who brought up theology but you when you questioned the nature of a designer who allows death and suffering. Good questions! - but essentially theological.

Yes we are potentially at risk of anihilation from asteroids - but we are here still despite that. Quite amazing really.

8:51 pm  
Anonymous Brian said...

Scientists who spoke of god lived in a time when it was expedient to do so and the distinction between science and religion was not so clear cut. It's of historical context and is hardly applicable to today's society. Science today thrives without supernatural tendency but to invoke history wasn't it Laplace who said '..I have no need for that theory' when asked about divine intervention in his work.

9:48 pm  
Blogger Sacchiel said...

She speaks the truth.

2:26 am  
Anonymous Brian said...

But why does she write such nonsense?

2:55 pm  
Anonymous Sue said...

I agree with Sacchiel... Melanie is telling the truth

9:12 am  

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