Who is Open Minded, the Believer or the Scientifically Minded Skeptic?

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33 comments:

Kenn said...

Those who begin with the conclusion are not open minded.

Al Moritz said...

What a silly and false either/or choice. There are also scientifically minded believers.

Al Moritz said...

...and there are believer scientists (including Nobel Prize winners). Of course, atheists can only cope with that phenomenon by falsely claiming that these "compartmentalize". They have no clue.

John W. Loftus said...

Hi Al, I've been reading your comments. You are definitely scientifically minded, but have you read through this thread yet?

J.L. Hinman said...

you are just feeding steriotypes

Lorena said...

There are also scientifically minded believers.

Sure there are. The problem is that these Christians are scientific minded about everything but the precepts of their religion.

It is as if their brain had a backdoor where Christian dogma was allowed in directly and stored as absolute truth. Dogma has been given an unconditional entry pass to show to brain's doorkeeper.

Al Moritz said...

Hi Al, I've been reading your comments. You are definitely scientifically minded,

Thank you, John, for acknowledging that.

but have you read through this thread yet?

It is interesting, but it would take a lot of time to not just contribute there, but to defend the contribution. I do have other projects to do as well, such as writing an update of my article on the origin of life for a book to be published by Springer later this year. I now only posted a correction to Steven and will leave it at that.

I just wanted to address some misunderstandings regarding science vs. religion and atheism. I thank you for the opportunity on this blog.

Let me just briefly say, regarding to that Bible thread, that I am all for applying methodological naturalism wherever possible, but that the methods has its limitations. It cannot be applied to one-off events that do not leave any trace to investigate, such as certain miracles.

And yes, methodological naturalism does not equate philosophical naturalism. Intellectual honesty and analytical thinking demands to constantly be aware of the distinction between the two. You can extrapolate from the first to the second, but awareness must exist that the extrapolation was made, and that this is not a scientific extrapolation, but a philosophical one.

Al Moritz said...

You can extrapolate from the first to the second

should read:

You can extrapolate from the results of the first to the second

Russ said...

Oftentimes a school highlights their determined opposition to open-minded inquiry by requiring all students, staff and faculty to sign a "Statement of Doctrine" or a "Statement of Faith." Included below are the statements of faith and doctrine for the Denver Seminary. All students, staff, faculty, trustees and administrators are required to affirm and sign one or both of these statements each year.

The believers at Denver Seminary are told what they are required to believe. They are not permitted to change their minds, regardless of any change of heart they might experience or anything they learn. This demand to believe and think a specific thing or in a specific way is the complete opposite of open-mindedness.

Denver Seminary faculty member, Douglas Groothuis, PhD, was a recent guest blogger here on Debunking Christianity(Guest Post by Dr. Douglas Groothuis: "The Straw God: Understanding the New Atheism"), and in the post Douglas Groothuis on "Who Designed the Designer?" Mr. Loftus linked to a Groothuis article in "Think" magazine. Every year Groothuis must dutifully affirm and sign the statements of faith and doctrine, and thus, he assures himself and those around him that his thinking is in a box and that it will not leave that box.

In essence, Dr. Groothuis commits himself to uniformity of thought among his Denver Seminary fellows, while simultaneously asserting to all others that nothing deserves honest consideration if it conflicts with the Denver Seminary's "What We Believe" statements.

This is intellectual dishonesty at its most obvious. Think of how he restrains his own thinking when he signs these things. Number 1 in the Statement of Faith: "We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God." Number 1 in the Denver Seminary Statement of Doctrine: "THE WORD OF GOD - We believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God, inerrant in the original writings, complete as the revelation of God's will for salvation, and the supreme and final authority in all matters to which they speak." Infallible? Really? Inerrant? Really? Supreme and final authority in all matters to which they speak? Really? This is not open-mindedness at all. This is farce.

The opening sentence from the Statement of Faith is,
"Denver Seminary is committed to the great truths and abiding fundamentals of the Christian faith."(emphasis added) Anyone who is informed at all knows that there is no such thing as THE Christian faith. There are thousands of Christianities, few of which believe in Biblical inerrancy. Besides that, no sane moral person can possibly live a life guided by Biblical inerrancy. My guess is that nearly all the people associated with Denver Seminary are actually sane moral people, so even agreeing with Biblical infallibility is dishonest.


Here are the statements of faith and doctrine from the Denver Seminary website. (I've added bolding for emphasis)

What We Believe

Statements of Faith

Denver Seminary is committed to the great truths and abiding fundamentals of the Christian faith. Each year trustees, administration and faculty are required to affirm and sign Denver Seminary's doctrinal statement without mental reservation.

Students and Seminary staff are required to affirm and sign the National Association of Evangelicals' Statement of Faith.

National Association of Evangelicals' Statement of Faith

1. We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
2. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
3. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
4. We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
5. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
6. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
7. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.


Denver Seminary's Doctrinal Statement

Denver Seminary is committed to the great truths and abiding fundamentals of the Christian faith as evidenced by its confessional platform:

1. THE WORD OF GOD - We believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God, inerrant in the original writings, complete as the revelation of God's will for salvation, and the supreme and final authority in all matters to which they speak.
2. THE TRINITY - We believe in one God, Creator and Sustainer of all things, eternally existing in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that they are equal in every divine perfection, and that they execute distinct and harmonious offices in the work of creation, providence, and redemption.
3. GOD THE FATHER - We believe in God the Father, an infinite, personal Spirit, perfect in holiness, wisdom, power, and love. He concerns himself mercifully in the affairs of men and women, hears and answers prayer, and saves from sin and death all who come to him through Jesus Christ.
4. JESUS CHRIST - We believe that Jesus Christ is God's eternal Son, and has precisely the same nature, attributes, and perfections as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. He is not only true God, but true Man, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. We believe in his sinless life, his substitutionary atonement, his bodily resurrection from the dead, his ascension into heaven, his priestly intercession on behalf of his people, and his personal, visible, premillennial return from heaven.
5. HOLY SPIRIT - We believe in the Holy Spirit, his personality and his work in regeneration, sanctification, and preservation. His ministry is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ and implement Christ's work of redeeming the lost and empowering the believer for godly living and service.
6. HUMANITY - We believe God created humanity, male and female, in the image of God and free from sin. We further believe all persons are sinners by nature and choice and are, therefore, spiritually dead. We also believe that the Holy Spirit regenerates those who repent of sin and trust Jesus Christ as Savior.
7. SALVATION - We believe in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This salvation is based upon the sovereign grace of God, and was purchased by Christ on the cross, and is received through faith apart from any human merit, works, or ritual. We believe salvation results in righteous living, good works, and proper social concern.
8. THE CHURCH - We believe that the church is the spiritual body of which Christ is the head and is composed of all persons who through saving faith in Jesus Christ have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. This body expresses itself in local assemblies whose members have been immersed upon a credible confession of faith and have associated themselves for worship, instruction, evangelism, and service. The ordinances of the local church are believers' baptism by immersion and the Lord's Supper. We also believe in the interdependence of local churches and the mutual submission of Christians to each other in love.
9. SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE - We believe that each local church is self-governing in function and must be free from interference by any ecclesiastical or political authority. We also believe all men and women are directly responsible to God in matters of faith and life, and they should be free to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences.
10. CHRISTIAN CONDUCT - We believe that the supreme task of every believer is to glorify God in life and conduct and be blameless before the world. Each Christian should be a faithful steward of all possessions and seek to realize in every area of life the full stature of maturity in Christ.
11. LAST THINGS - We believe in the bodily resurrection of the saved and lost, the eternal existence of all people in either heaven or hell, in divine judgments, rewards, and punishments.

Thus saith the Denver Seminary.

Of course, none of this is unique to the Denver Seminary or Douglas Groothuis, PhD. These same circumstances abound among believers of all stripes in seminaries everywhere.

Committing to any notion as eternally unchanging is counter to both our human experience and our scientific understanding of our universe. Doctrinal or faith statements like those above bind those who avow them to disregarding, rejecting and actively denying disconfirming or contradicting information. Many reject entire fields of accepted, proven science due only to their obligation to defend their unwarranted notions like "What We Believe."

Jon said...

Hey, John. I'm Eddie Bratton from a long time ago. I read the summary of your unbelief, and found a whole lot of questions that I had confronted and resolved on a personal level. A couple of observations: You have almost a theistic faith in naturalism, and seem to allow no place for an "I don't know," or "naturalism cannot explain." While there are a lot of things I don't know and questions I cannot answer, my faith in God gives me confidence that He knows.
Secondly, I have been reading a series on the origin of "information" from the Answersingenesis.org web cite. It makes a very strong case that, in addition to energy and matter, information and volition are necessary ingredients for discussion origins. He concludes that information cannot, by its nature, have a merely physical origin - it must have a cognitive source. If that is so, the answer to your 3 questions about origins would necessarily be #1.

David Golightly said...

I personally don't see any reason to think that Christianity or any other traditional religion has anything to offer in terms of explaining the natural world, but it's a non-sequitur to believe that atheists are without their own beliefs and prejudices. Human belief and myth-making is a universal activity, and the rational mind is but a tip of the iceberg of the whole human mind - see C.G. Jung, Joseph Campbell, Stephen Larsen, Karen Armstrong, and Wade Davis, among others.

I think it's a fallacy to believe that with the rejection of traditional religion one has automatically achieved a state of infallible rationality. No, we humans have too much baggage riding under the surface: emotional attachments to social and political affiliations, aesthetic reactions, and so on.

So let's not present things in terms of "one side is all bad, therefore the other side has no problems". It just confuses things further to see things in such a dualistic fashion.

J.L. Hinman said...

I personally don't see any reason to think that Christianity or any other traditional religion has anything to offer in terms of explaining the natural world, but it's a non-sequitur to believe that atheists are without their own beliefs and prejudices.

why would it be the job of religion to expalin the natural world?

J.L. Hinman said...

Denver seminary is Christianity? If you don't like them there's no alternative right?

just go across the street to Ilif.

David Golightly said...

@J.L. Hinman - I don't think the job of religion is to explain the natural world - that's precisely my point, I believe many atheists go astray when they believe that they can "prove" people out of religion by debunking the "naturalist" claims of religions as so much superstitious hooey. Clearly, people are deeply attached to their religions for many reasons that have nothing to do with a literal reading of their texts.

Atheists do themselves a disservice by equating literalism with religious piety. The roots of religion run much deeper than that, deep into the believer's psychology, and they don't necessarily go away when one superficial belief system is exchanged for another.

John W. Loftus said...

Hi Eddie, nice to see you online! And nice to hear from you! Here's hoping you and Lois are doing well. I've recently become friends with your kids on facebook.

I remember you to be quite scientifically minded so I'll not try to convince you about that which you've studied for so many years.

However...

There is a huge difference between denying something and affirming something. You and I both deny with equal levels of assurance the religious faiths of Hinduism, Islam and Mormonism. The denial is the easy part and we all do it. In my case I deny your faith with the same level of assurance you deny other faiths.

But when it comes to affirming what I accept when the denials are over I hesitantly affirm atheism. No, I don't know there is no God at all. As far as I know this universe was the last act of a dying God who created the quantum wave fluctuation that resulted in what we see today. I'm an agnostic atheist when it comes to what I affirm. I could be wrong about what I affirm. But I no more think I'm wrong about that which I deny than you are. It's just that I deny your faith using the same standards of evidence that you use to deny all of the religious faiths that you do. Hence, the Outsider Test Faith.

Cheers, my friend.

Vic said...

Anything other than an agnostic would be close minded, wouldn't they? And how does that help anyone? It is commonly affirmed that being "open minded" is a favorable trait, but at some point a stand needs to be taken on issues. Otherwise we, as a species, would never be able to build more complex concepts. We should be willing to hear contrary views, but unless good evidence is given we do not owe it to anyone to but all of our mental decisions on hold.

Ebratt said...

Jon, you seem to imply that my faith in Christ is based only on a denial of alternatives. I have tried to be honest with God all my life by challenging my faith when confronted by other belief systems. My faith has only grown stronger as I have found the truth claims of Christianity far superior to others - including that of atheism. So I would say I affirm Christianity because of its claims, not simply a denial of alternatives.
I would like to see you address the origin of information as put forward in the web page mentioned above. If it can be established that information comes only from an intelligent, non-material source, then materialistic naturalism would seem to be falsified. Strange that you should posit the possibility of God creating information, then conveniently dying off to make way for atheism.
I'm glad you have made contact with some of my kids. Aren't they great? All are involved in their faith communities. Lois and I went to hear Alan preach at his church in Atlanta, GA, and Andrew is now ministering at the church in Brownsburg, IN. Thank you for your contribution to the strength of their faith commitment. Perhaps you'll find your way back there some day.
Ed

John W. Loftus said...

Ed said…Jon, you seem to imply that my faith in Christ is based only on a denial of alternatives.

It’s John, not Jon, by the way. I was merely responding to your comment that you don’t think I have room to say “I don’t know.” When it comes to what I affirm, as opposed to what I deny, there is a lot I don’t know, of course. That makes me an agnostic atheist.

When it comes to the origin of information, I don’t know, but what I deny is that this information did came from the triune God we find in the Bible.

Ed said…I'm glad you have made contact with some of my kids. Aren't they great?

Yes they are. Tell Alan I said “hi,” since I haven’t heard from him.

Ed said…Thank you for your contribution to the strength of their faith commitment. Perhaps you'll find your way back there some day.

Who knows?

Have you seen my book yet? It explains everything, both the personal loss and the reasons why I reject Christianity and now embrace atheism.

Cheers.

J.L. Hinman said...

@J.L. Hinman - I don't think the job of religion is to explain the natural world - that's precisely my point, I believe many atheists go astray when they believe that they can "prove" people out of religion by debunking the "naturalist" claims of religions as so much superstitious hooey. Clearly, people are deeply attached to their religions for many reasons that have nothing to do with a literal reading of their texts.

Atheists do themselves a disservice by equating literalism with religious piety. The roots of religion run much deeper than that, deep into the believer's psychology, and they don't necessarily go away when one superficial belief system is exchanged for another.

I see what you are saying. Yes, that's good point!

Ebratt said...

Sorry, John (Our preacher at church spells his name Jon),
Do you agree with the assertion that information can only come from an intelligent, non material source? If so you must at least affirm the existence of some kind of Intelligent Being capable of producing the information in DNA, laws of logic, etc., which takes you out of the realm of atheism. If not it is a faith statement, no more valid than my faith that the God of the Bibe is the source.
I scanned the summary of you reasoning, but I don't think I'll read the book - I am sad enough for you already. God bless.
Ed

John W. Loftus said...

Ed, if you think for a moment that information can only come from an intelligent, non material source, then where did your God get his information? I don't think Christians appreciate the inportance of this question. According to Christian theology God never learned anything, as in Never; Learned; Anything. He never had a new thought. Ever. According to Christian theology he is omniscient having always known everything that can be known.

Does this not trouble you? Do you not see the problems here? Your God cannot think, since thinking involves weighing alternatives where the goal is to come to a conclusion that hasn't been reached before. If God always has known everything then he cannot think.

It's a non-answer to just say that this triune God is, and that he just knows. If you can do that with your God then I can do that without one. Besides, the word "information" is a loaded term, for it presupposes your answer. A non-loaded term would be the word "complexity," and I do think that while there are indeed difficulties with the universe just existing (not insurmountable ones), once something exists then evolutionary forces have been proven to be successful in producing the biological complexity we see in the world.

I know you are much more capable than I with regard to the creation/evolution debate, but would you please tell me how many books you've read by evolutionists versus those written by creationist/ID theorists?

Have you read The Tower of Babel?

Have you read Why Evolution is True?


Have you read Evolution: What the Fossils Say?

Have you read The Making of the Fittest?

Have you read Your Inner Fish?

Have you read The Selfish Gene?

Have you read Darwin's Dangerous Idea?

I'll confess that I haven't read all of these books, but then I don't claim to be an expert on this topic. If you were truly up on the opposition then I would think you have read them (and others) along with the creationist books. Read them side by side if you will, or back to back. Then let's talk about this issue.

I don't mean to overwhelm you with reading material but evolution is an assured fact of biological life and explains so very much.

Cheers my friend.

MH said...

The information thing is a complete non-starter.

By the experts in the field, a random string has maximal information. This can be seen if you try and compress a random bitstring, it will not compress at all.

Jeffrey Shallit took the best try of the ID crowd, and proved that you can take a string S and create a string S' with more information and CSI in it.

Ebratt said...

John, The trouble with using the word "complexity" as an alternative for "information" is that there is no reason to expect that a complex collection of data should be coherent - in fact the odds are that any random set of data would contain no usable information whatsoever. It only has value when intelligent beings agree on a meaning, which makes it a sharing of information.

I am not troubled by the thought of an all knowing God. It is too much, though, to say he has no alternatives to weigh and no opportunity for new thoughts. Involved in the mystery of our free will is God's reaction to our free choices, and sharing information and emotions with us as the rational beings He created us to be.

I suspect it was Strauss' influence that helped me conclude that there are two alternatives for our beginnings: either we were created as intelligent beings by an intelligent Creator, with the power to create the world as we know it; or at some point before time, nothing became something on its own, and something came alive on its own, and life increased in complexity on its own, and complexity became self aware on its own. If we start with God, it makes sense to me. If we start with nothing, nothing makes sense.
Ed

David Golightly said...

Ed,

Mathematicians have long understood the basic mechanisms needed for evolution to occur: 1. a source of quasi-random "noise" or information, and 2. a preservation/reproduction mechanism which filters out the tiny amount of useful information from the noise. Therefore, once you have something that can reproduce itself once in an information-rich environment, you have the potential for all the diversity that you see in the biosphere today.

The interesting question is therefore not "why is genetic information coherent" (a lot of it, so far as we can tell, isn't, or at least isn't anymore) -- genetic information is simply the result of the filtering mechanism of random mutations being selectively preserved in reproducing organisms. Mutations that assist further reproduction are generally favored; mutations that hinder reproduction are generally weeded out. Feedback is the mechanism and computer models are now able to demonstrate this at work; there are numerous examples from other domains (culture, language, etc.) showing that this is how nature works. We exist in a giant math machine.

What this question leaves unanswered, of course, is where the math comes from. It could be that the math itself - going down to the quantum level - is a result of its own natural-selective feedback process, but then, that feedback process too - which seems so axiomatic to us, since we experience it all the time everywhere - needs a source.

The question doesn't get easier when you add God, it just defers it to a further step. I think the question is fundamentally the same - "Where does God come from?" vs. "Where does the math come from?" - but it's not a question that anybody is in a position to answer, though a thorough reading of Plato might be in order if you wish to understand why early Christians - and therefore you - think the way you do.

John W. Loftus said...

Ed, in such a brief comment you make a good case. It's indeed troubling to me, I'll admit that. However, a fully formed all-knowing God who never developed but always existed is a non-answer to me. But yes, those are our two choices.

When we think about it we must start with something. Victor Stenger starts with the laws of nature and concludes that since nothing is unstable (nothing being defined as an equal amount of positive and negative energy) then bsed on the math there is a 60% chance that something should exist. See his book here. In fact he argues that for there not to be a physical universe it would require a God to keep that from happening!

Now I know that this answer starts with the laws of nature and this definition of nothing, yes. But I prefer the most basic starting point than the kind of God you believe exists.

Even if there was an intelligent creator, there is nothing about that kind of God that leads us to think he still exists, or that he's all powerful (whatever that means), or that there isn't a string of creators stretching back in time, like some family of successive gods, or that the creator was actually a committee of divinites, like polytheism, or that this God intervenes in history, did miracles, became incarnate (100% God and 100% man?), atoned for our sins (no sense can be made of that), or that he resurrected and is coming again. Such a God may be equivalent to a deistic God. In some ways I might even grant such a deistic God too, but trying to get from that kind of God to your God is like trying to fly a plane to the moon. You cannot do it.

Anyway, a deistic God is not much different than no God at all, so even if he might exist I will protest his lack of care and the lack of evidence for his existence by declaring myself an athesit just like theologian John Roth has developed a Protest Theodicy in the face of horrible evils in our world.

Cheers, and thanks for the stimulating discussion.

Gandolf said...

If there is (a) god he sure leaves us no real good evidence to believe in (him).

We have plenty of so called divine information supposedly given to very many men of very many gods to (try)to choose from.

But without (this god) supplying good present day evidence to help the cause its surely within the law of nature also that many folks will very likely believe in the wrong one or even none.

What kind of all knowing god would likely allow this to happen?

It just doesnt make any sense !

Its then got little to do with any matter of free will and a whole lot to do with a big lack of good evidence.

A god that would likely punish people for not catching on when offered so very little to go by, is about as much sense as the universe coming from nothing

David Golightly said...

...either we were created as intelligent beings by an intelligent Creator, with the power to create the world as we know it; or at some point before time, nothing became something on its own, and something came alive on its own, and life increased in complexity on its own, and complexity became self aware on its own. If we start with God, it makes sense to me. If we start with nothing, nothing makes sense.

O Magnum Mysterium! I think the mystery of evolution - of a dynamic, changing, often violent universe generating delicate, beautiful life - is far more meaningful, poetic, and awe-inspiring than the first chapter of Genesis, read literally.

But that's my subjective view. You're not obligated to agree with me, and I will respect your viewpoint - BUT you must recognize that your viewpoint is subjective, and other people may not see it the same way.

I must detract slightly from some of the atheist commenters here. I think what is needed for greater persuasion is not more "evidence" of evolution, or "evidence" debunking Christianity - but rather more poetry in the science we already have, so that people begin to see how meaningful and powerful these discoveries are on a human scale. Give me Neil deGrasse Tyson over Richard Dawkins any day.

Jon said...

John & David,
I'm getting in way over my head with you two guys. I'm sure you are more well read and more intellectual than I. But let me give it a shot.
It is interesting, David, that you posit 2 things necessary for evolution to occur: 1. a source; and 2.a preservation/reproduction mechanism. That describes precisely one of the task of Jesus Christ as shown in Hebrews 1:2,3 in the Bible. I must say to both of you I am suspicious of Computer models. They are written by people who cannot possibly know all the variables in complex questions. They are intelligently designed by people with a desired outcome in mind, then attribute the outcome to random chance. If the process is known and can be "simply" understood, why have not real life attempts at genetic mutations (beyond the Biblical "kind") been successful? In all the attempts to create useful changes to millions of fruit flies, they remain fruit flies - and when left alone tend to revert back to their starting form. Since by far most mutations (copying errors) are harmful or neutral, have some math geek run the odds of even getting a beneficial one - let alone enough lined up to make a birds wing. Can you cite even one observable, repeatable favorable mutation?
John, you are not an "atheist/agnostic," but an agnostic/atheist. It sounds to me like it is not that you don't know whether God exists, but whether you are an atheist or not. You have abandoned God for his "lack of care" - I am sorry that you feel so abandoned. God has cared for me and many far more than I deserve. Your complaint of the "lack of evidence for His existence" seems really against overwhelming proof. You know what the Bible says about that. (The only way I know of to know God personally is through His revelation, the Bible.) Those who come to Him must come by faith. They must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him. Romans 1:19-23 declares that we can know at least enough to believe, though many of the questions you have surely remain unanswered.
Gotta get ready for Resurrection Sunday. Have a good one.
Ed

Jeff said...

Ed,
Another factor to remember in the processing of DNA "information" is the actual physical characteristics of the molecules involved. DNA translation is not just about reading base pairs off of a string (although that's part of it, of course). It's also about the physical shape of the enzymes that work on it - and the shape of the DNA molecule itself. These have very real effects on how the "information" is produced - although I don't claim to be an expert on what these effects are, if you read up about epigenetics, you can see just a taste of it. So we can see that there is "information" stored even within the physical characteristics of atoms, molecules, enzymes, etc. that can have very real effects. And these physical characteristics are a result of the natural laws of the universe - not necessarily from some intelligent source.

And as far as the beginning of the universe is concerned, I think the most important thing to remember about this event is that it was WEIRD. I know that sounds fairly obvious, but it's actually quite easy to argue that there was never any point in time where nothing existed. Why? Because the "beginning" of the universe was also the beginning of time itself. Hence, at t=0, the universe existed. There are no negative values of t to talk about. Therefore, there was no "before" the universe, and it was not composed of "nothing." It's not at all intuitive, and it sounds so absolutely ridiculous, but it's the result of dealing with the very beginning of time itself.

And finally, Jon:
You ask for an example of a "observable, repeatable favourable mutation." That's fairly simple, and there are plenty of them. Acquired bacterial resistance would be one. Over time, bacteria develop resistance to anti-bacterial agents. This is a favourable mutation, and it is hereditary, and it has been observed hundreds if not thousands of times. The catch is that it's only favourable in certain conditions - when the anti-bacterial agent is present. This is not a problem, however. Creationists will say "Well it's not really favourable then, is it!" But they forget that evolution is a combination of living beings interacting with the environment. In one situation, the acquired resistance IS favourable. In another situation, it is NOT favourable. But evolution will select for the appropriate condition within each situation. If we take the resistant bacteria and move them into a place where it is no longer favourable, they will grow less resistant over time as the new "favourable" one is selected. The important thing to remember is that there is no mutation that will become favourable under all circumstances - it's all about environmental interaction.

Alright, I think I'm done my science lesson for the day :)

Ebratt said...

Interesting, John. But even if there was "stuff" before time began, why should there be "laws of the universe" governing it? Sounds pretty God like to me.

Instead of "favorable mutation" I should have said "information increasing" mutation. Mutations (copying mistakes) do change the genome, but the have not been shown to add information.You cite bacterial resistance as an example, and rightly say that it is favorable only in certain situations - i.e. when the antibiotic is present. But it has lost the characteristic that the antibiotic was made to attack - a loss of information. It is like a porcupine backing through a fence. A porky that was born without quills has the advantage, but not through gaining information.
Ed

Kel said...

Ebratt, if you want to see how information is "added", get onto PubMed and search for the term "gene duplication". Last time I checked, there were about 30,000 papers on this matter.

Take for example your sense of smell. In the genome, there are about 1,000 genes that govern smell, yet all those genes are the duplication of just one single gene. In humans over half those genes have become inactive as we simply do not need them. Yet it all started with just one gene, and I'm willing to bet that gene is a modified copy of a duplication of another more primitive gene.


There is another way to "increase information", and it makes up about 8% of our DNA. That is horizontal gene transfer, where retroviruses insert their DNA into our code and that will also get passed down through the generations. But that's another story entirely.

In any case, point mutations are not the only form of mutations that can happen.

Jeff said...

Ebratt, if you are convinced that mutations never add information, you really need to go back and do some high school biology. I don't mean that as an insult, but I learned about gene duplication in high school - it's elementary stuff, and anyone who denies that needs to actually read real scientific research on mutations.

David Golightly said...

Ebratt, Jeff and Kei have already given good answers -- your genetic examples are already well understood by scientists. However, I should also add two things: that the only advances we've ever made in science have come from admitting to ourselves that there are questions to which we don't yet know the answers. This goes for modern science too. People for whom certainty is a virtue will always be able to point to things that scientists openly admit that they don't fully understand, not realizing that these open questions are precisely the areas where modern science is continuing to work. Science, by its very nature, is always subject to revision, and should a better explanation come along that better fits the evidence at hand, the scientific community will always be glad to throw out their old theories and embrace the new. That's how science works. If the ID or creationist community really wanted to be taken seriously by the scientific community, they'd be focusing on doing actual scientific research and getting published in peer-reviewed journals. Should they establish that their explanation is the best given the evidence, they will win out. However, the problem - the reason why ID is not taken seriously - is that the explanation is assumed before the evidence is even considered. All good scientists have to be willing to throw out their assumptions in the face of evidence.

Furthermore, the ontological/metaphysical problems you raise are indeed good ones, ones that continue to concern physicists and philosophers. However, the fundamental mystery of existence - why there is something rather than nothing - remains a giant question mark. Nobody really has "the" answer. I personally subscribe to a form of deism or pantheism; I don't think it's unfair to say "the universe is a vast living intelligent system; the name we have for that is God, and we constitute an organ that the universe has evolved in order to experience itself". This is a purely personal belief, one which I don't expect everyone to subscribe to, but it's at least as adequate as a literal Biblical reading. Nearly every society in every age has developed its own version of answers. Your problem is that I don't see how you get from the fundamental mysteries of existence to the Bible, which was written in a different place and time altogether, borrowing heavily from Sumerian and other Levantine myths, and never meant to be read scientifically.