Monday, January 15, 2007

`If I were a religious man, I would say that everything we have learned about life ... shows that we are ... special in God's sight'

This is one of the most amazing quotes I have ever read by a non-theist.

[Above: "Are we alone?" The Poetry of Rick Ellis]

Physicist James S. Trefil, who describes himself as "[not] a religious man," nevertheless concludes that "we are alone in the galaxy" and that "everything we have learned about life in the past twenty years shows that we are unique, and therefore special in God's sight" (my emphasis)!:

"What if We Are Alone? The most common argument that I have seen advanced against the proposition that we are alone in the galaxy is that it is anti-Copernican, and, therefore, goes against five centuries of Western intellectual tradition. There are a number of retorts that can be made against this argument. First, ideas are not Copernican or anti-Copernican; they are right or wrong. Second, after so many impeccably Copernican books have been written showing that we must be very junior and unimportant members of the Galactic Club, it is time for someone to marshal the rather formidable arguments that can be made for the opposite viewpoint. For, as we have seen in this book, the evidence we have at present clearly favors the conclusion that we are alone. From the formation of the sun as a single G star to the evolution of the earth's atmosphere to the conditions of the earth's recent climate, everything points to the same conclusion-we are special. But we are living on an insignificant speck of rock going around an undistinguished star in a low-rent section of the galaxy. We are not the center of the universe. Maybe so, but we are special. But we share our biochemistry with millions of life forms, from flatworms on up. We are one member of a large family of animals using one particular variant of carbon chemistry known as DNA. Maybe so, but we are special. Why? Because on this particular bit of rock, circling this particular sun, all of the millions of factors happened to work themselves out so that the first fragile molecules had enough time to form complicated chains, and these chains were given just the right amount of protection to form simple living systems, and these living systems changed their environment in just the right way so as to narrowly escape twin catastrophes and put oxygen into the atmosphere. This in turn allowed life to emerge onto land, and since the planet's orbit was just right, the weather changed, forcing the apelike creatures on the African savannah to build tools, fashion shelters, and start to think about the world around them. Because only on this insignificant speck of rock have beings evolved who can look at the universe and ask the question, `Why?' If I were a religious man, I would say that everything we have learned about life in the past twenty years shows that we are unique, and therefore special in God's sight. Instead I shall say that what we have learned shows that it matters a great deal what happens to us. We are not the snail darters of the galaxy-one more life form whose ultimate fate is of little moment in the grand scheme of things. If we succeed in destroying ourselves, it will be a tragedy not only for the human race but for the entire galaxy, which will have lost the fruit of a 15-billion-year experiment in the formation of sentient life." (Trefil, J.S., "Conclusions: James S. Trefil," in Rood, R.T. & Trefil, J.S., "Are We Alone?: The Possibility of Extraterrestrial Civilizations," Charles Scribner's Sons: New York NY, 1981, pp.251-252. Emphasis original).

By "Copernican" above is meant the so-called Copernican Principle or Mediocrity Principle, which in turn is based on the plurality of inhabited worlds doctrine of the ancient Greek materialist philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC). Epicurus was the father of Epicurean materialism, the anti-God philosophy which was "used ... in the Enlightenment as a weapon to undermine Christianity (and continues to be used to the present day for the same purpose)", as Benjamin Wiker, a Roman Catholic theologian and Discovery Institute Senior Fellow, explains, "The assertion of a plurality of worlds both rests on, and reinforces, the assumption that creation of complexity is easy, so easy that the combining and recombining of atoms creates not just one world, but many. So easy, indeed, that invoking a divine cause is completely superfluous" (my emphasis):

"To achieve this reductionism even more completely, Epicurus found another ingenious way to help eliminate our natural awe. It may sound, at first, a strange way to do it, but he reduced the universe by expanding it. The universe, according to Epicurus, is unlimited, both in respect to size and in respect to the `number of bodies and the magnitude of the void.' [Inwood, B. & Gerson, L.P., "The Epicurus Reader," Hackett: Indianapolis, 1994, 10.41-42] That means that, given an infinitude of time with an unlimited number of atoms in an infinite expanse of the void, there will be `an unlimited number of cosmoi [the plural of `cosmos'], and some are similar to this one and some are dissimilar ... [for] there is no obstacle to the unlimitedness of worlds.' [Ibid., 10.45] ... in Epicurus's argument, the hypothetical infinity is useful for asserting that, since there is an unlimited number of atoms and they move eternally and combine easily, then there must be an unlimited number of worlds. This `plurality of worlds' argument is essential to Epicurean materialism, and is used again in the Enlightenment as a weapon to undermine Christianity (and continues to be used to the present day for the same purpose). Why, then, would a plurality of worlds be so useful to Epicureanism? The assertion of a plurality of worlds both rests on, and reinforces, the assumption that creation of complexity is easy, so easy that the combining and recombining of atoms creates not just one world, but many. So easy, indeed, that invoking a divine cause is completely superfluous. There must be a plurality of worlds, the materialist reasons, because an infinite universe during an infinite time using an unlimited number of atoms in perpetual motion, simply must produce a multitude of complexity out of simplicity. This belief is the origin of the `monkey-at-the-typewriter' argument, where even a monkey, randomly pecking away, can produce Shakespearean sonnets, if only it has an infinite amount of time to do it. The goal of this belief is to allow enough time and material so that chance can replace intelligence: if the monkey can replace Shakespeare, then almighty chance can replace almighty God. And so, even though there was no empirical evidence of eternal atoms, no empirical evidence that such atoms combine easily to form complex structures, no empirical evidence that the universe was infinite or the number of atoms unlimited, and no empirical evidence that there actually was a plurality of worlds, the belief in a plurality of worlds actually functioned, for Epicurus, to sustain the undemonstrated arguments on which his system itself rested. That is, the belief in a plurality of worlds reinforced the belief in the simplicity, of the atom and the case with which it could combine to create complexity. Whether for Epicurus or the modern materialist, the circular reinforcement ultimately serves to release adherents of materialism from the disturbing thought that a divine Intelligence is behind it all. Are we surprised to find that the late Carl Sagan, the chief spokesperson for materialism in the last quarter of the twentieth century, calculated that in the Milky Way galaxy alone, there would have to be one million civilizations capable of interstellar communication?" (Wiker, B., "Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2002, pp.41-42. Emphasis original)

As for example when science populariser (i.e. propagandist) the late Carl Sagan (1934-1996) puts in the mouth of "an ... extraterrestrial observer" that we are "idiots" for thinking that "We're at the center":

"You might imagine an uncharitable extraterrestrial observer looking down on our species over all that time-with us excitedly chattering, `The Universe created for us! We're at the center! Everything pays homage to us!'-and concluding that our pretensions are amusing, our aspirations pathetic, that this must be the planet of the idiots." (Sagan, C.E., "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space," Random House: New York NY, 1994, p.17).

But as Denyse O'Leary astutely observes, "Sagan's alien is, of course, really Sagan himself, an atheist giving his own view":

"In the meantime, another related change was taking place in the way scientists viewed the universe. In the 20th century, it was fashionable to view it as blind, pitiless, and indifferent, and to describe earth as a mediocre planet in a suburban galaxy, far from the center of things. This was one of the most popular themes in the art and literature of the period. As cosmologist Stephen Hawking has said: `We are such insignificant creatures on a minor planet of a very average star in the outer suburbs of one of a hundred billion galaxies. So it is difficult to believe in a God that would care about us or even notice our existence.' [Hawking, S., in "Master of the Universe," BBC TV, 1989] This was also a key theme of Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, by astronomer Carl Sagan (1934-1996). In this book, Sagan muses on the idea that the universe is favorable to us, saying: `You might imagine an uncharitable extraterrestrial observer looking down on our species over all that time-with us excitedly chattering, `The Universe is created for us! We're at the center! Everything pays homage to us!'-and concluding that our pretensions are amusing, our aspirations pathetic, that this must be the planet of the idiots.' [p.12] Sagan's alien is, of course, really Sagan himself, an atheist giving his own view. In the next paragraph, he says that his judgment is too harsh. Indeed, it is. But not just because the judgment isn't polite. Sagan is in fact simply wrong. There is good reason to think that the cosmos is fine-tuned to allow for our existence." (O'Leary D., "By Design or by Chance?: The Growing Controversy on the Origins of Life in the Universe," 2004, pp.21-22).

And also that begs the question that there are "extraterrestrial observer[s]". If there are in fact none, then we are "at the center" of the Universe in the far more important sense that, as Trefil concludes, "only on this insignificant speck of rock have beings evolved [sic] who can look at the universe and ask the question, `Why?'". Then it would be Sagan and his Epicurean scientific materialist ilk who are the "idiots" (to use his own word). Or as the Bible puts it:

"Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:22 KJV)!

Stephen E. Jones, BSc. (Biol).


Genesis 48:3-4. 3Jacob said to Joseph, "God Almighty appeared to me at Luz [Bethel] in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me 4and said to me, 'I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.'

2 comments:

Heresiarch said...

Regarding Intelligent Design: When I use a piece of technology, I know that it was designed, because technology always is designed. Technologies always are the result of intelligent design. Based on this experience, when I encounter a living organism, its complexity should convince me that it too was
designed—and by an intelligence greater than a merely human one.

This much is orthodox Intelligent Design doctrine. ID theorists call
this line of thinking the design inference.

But whenever I meet anyone who has designed something, the person’s
intelligence always operates through a physical brain. Based on this experience, when I see evidence of a superhuman intelligence, I should conclude that it operates through a superhuman brain. So, where’s God’s
brain?

Or look at the ID concept of “specified complexity,” which is another way of saying that the chemistry of biology is so precise that an intelligent designer must have laid it out in advance. And let’s remember that it’s not the Intelligent Manufacturing argument, nor the Intelligent Marketing argument, nor even the Intelligent Improvisation argument. It’s the Intelligent Design argument. The word “design” necessarily implies an intent on the part of the creative agent. I call this the
intentional inference.

If a device is designed to function in a particular way, then we can infer that the designer intends it to be used in that way. If, for example, nature’s designer designs enzymes that bind to specific receptor sites on certain biological cells and in doing so catalyze certain chemical reactions, then we can infer that the designer intends that the
enzymes be used in that way. We are not likely to conclude that it is a
happy coincidence that the design came about by sheer chance to perfectly fit the receptor site on that particular kind of cell and catalyze that specific chemical reaction, but that the designer doesn’t want the catalysis to happen. That would be silly.

So, what are we to make of the fact that various plants, and even
certain lowly fungi, contain molecules that coincidentally fit neatly into certain receptors on certain brain cells so as to produce feelings of pleasure? The chemical “fit” of the molecules and the brain receptors is complex and highly specified. Clearly, the intelligent designer must intend that these substances be used for their pleasurable/healing/mystical effects. The specificity of the chemical fit precludes any
possibility of it being merely an unintended coincidence.

See what happens when you take ID seriously? One can only wonder why
ID theorists don’t explore the implications of their own theory. Maybe their theology is incompatible with where it leads.

Indeed, maybe the United States periodically incurs God's wrath not
because of gay rights, or abortion, or cussing out loud, but because we
have rejected--outlawed!--God's natural drugs and out of hubris
substituted for them our own laboratory pharmaceuticals, the synthetic molecules that constitute the country's biggest drug-abuse problem. Scripture tells us of God's pride in his gifts: "Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth . . . And God
saw everything that he had made, and, behold it was very good."

It must be, then, that outlawing plant drugs is an affront to God, a
rejection and vilification of divine design.


The case is laid bare at
http://www.starlarvae.org/Star_Larvae_Addendum_Exo-Psychology_Revisited.html

Yours in DESIGN,
Heresiarch
www.starlarvae.org

Stephen E. Jones said...

Heresiarch

>Regarding Intelligent Design: When I use a piece of technology, I know that it was designed, because technology always is designed.

This is a truism.

>Technologies always are the result of intelligent design.

So is this.

>Based on this experience, when I encounter a living organism, its complexity should convince me that it too was
designed—and by an intelligence greater than a merely human one.

Agreed with the first, but not necessarily the second. Humans may one day be able to design a "living organism". ID does not *require* that "intelligence" must be "greater than a merely human one", although that may well turn out to be the case, as at least one molecular biologist has wondered:

"In these days of astounding advances in science and technology it is perhaps rash to declare dogmatically that anything such as the artificial synthesis of a living cell is impossible. Yet, on what sort of microloom would a biologist weave the membranes of the endoplasmic reticulum, or with what delicate needles could a biologist fashion the intricacies of the cell nucleus?" (Price F.W., "Basic Molecular Biology," John Wiley & Sons: New York NY, 1979, p.466)

>This much is orthodox Intelligent Design doctrine.

It is *not* "orthodox Intelligent Design doctrine". You are doing the usual setting up *straw man* version of ID, in order to knock it down. If you were *serious* about critiquing ID, you would quote from mainstream ID literature.

>ID theorists call
this line of thinking the design inference.

They *don't*. See above.

>But whenever I meet anyone who has designed something, the person’s
intelligence always operates through a physical brain.

*ID* does not require that "intelligence always operates through a physical brain." ID is *indifferent* as to whether the "intelligence" is embodied or disembodied. All ID is concerned about is that the cause *was* "intelligence".

>Based on this experience, when I see evidence of a superhuman intelligence, I should conclude that it operates through a superhuman brain.

This is a non sequitur. A "superhuman intelligence" could be either embodied or non-embodied.

Also see above that ID does not claim that the "intelligence" is *necessarily* "superhuman."

>So, where’s God’s brain?

This is just the conclusion of your straw man caricature of ID. See above.

*ID* says nothing about "God" or a "brain".

>Or look at the ID concept of “specified complexity,” which is another way of saying that the chemistry of biology is so precise that an intelligent designer must have laid it out in advance.

Another straw man. *ID* does not say that "the chemistry of biology is so precise that an intelligent designer must have laid it out in advance."

>And let’s remember that it’s not the Intelligent Manufacturing argument, nor the Intelligent Marketing argument, nor even the Intelligent Improvisation argument. It’s the Intelligent Design argument. The word “design” necessarily implies an intent on the part of the creative agent. I call this the
intentional inference.

You can call it what you like, but it is *not* ID. ID's primary focus is on the *design* not "the creative agent".

>If a device is designed to function in a particular way, then we can infer that the designer intends it to be used in that way.

Circular reasoning. Your premise "designed" contains your conclusion "the designer intends it to be used in that way".

>If, for example, nature’s designer designs enzymes that bind to specific receptor sites on certain biological cells and in doing so catalyze certain chemical reactions, then we can infer that the designer intends that the
enzymes be used in that way. We are not likely to conclude that it is a
happy coincidence that the design came about by sheer chance to perfectly fit the receptor site on that particular kind of cell and catalyze that specific chemical reaction, but that the designer doesn’t want the catalysis to happen. That would be silly.

Again, this is your own straw man version of ID. *ID* does not claim the above.

The above is an example of "the trick of driving" an "opponent... to defend a more extreme position than is really necessary for their purpose. ...the 'extension' of one's opponent's proposition":

"This suggests that, in an argument, a man who maintains an extreme position (such as `All Xs are Y') is in a very unfavourable position for successful controversy. Many people consciously or unconsciously adopt a trick based on this principle. This is the trick of driving their opponents to defend a more extreme position than is really necessary for their purpose. Against an incautious opponent this can often be done simply by contradicting his more moderate assertions until in the heat of controversy he boldly puts forward more and more extreme ones. ... A person cautious in argument will not, however, be so easily led to court defeat. He will constantly reaffirm the moderate and defensible position with which he started, and the extreme statements of his opponent will be rebutted by evidence instead of leading him on to equally extreme statements on the other side. ... Let us call this device the 'extension' of one's opponent's proposition. It can be used either by luring him on to extend it himself in the heat of argument or, more impudently, by misrepresenting what he said. It is a very common trick, often done involuntarily. The remedy is always to refuse to accept any extension, but to reaffirm what one originally said." (Thouless, R.H., "Straight and Crooked Thinking," [1930], Pan: London, Revised Edition, 1973, 15th Printing, pp.35-36).

I see no reason to respond on behalf of ID to claims that *ID* has not made.

Any future straw man claims
about what ID supposedly claims, which do not quote from the actual ID mainstream literature, I will reject as "sub-standard" (see "Policies" on CED's front page) from now on.

I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to waste my time on straw man versions of ID.

>So, what are we to make of the fact that various plants, and even
certain lowly fungi, contain molecules that coincidentally fit neatly into certain receptors on certain brain cells so as to produce feelings of pleasure? The chemical “fit” of the molecules and the brain receptors is complex and highly specified. Clearly, the intelligent designer must intend that these substances be used for their pleasurable/healing/mystical effects. The specificity of the chemical fit precludes any
possibility of it being merely an unintended coincidence.

See above.

>See what happens when you take ID seriously?

The problem is that you are *not* "tak[ing] ID seriously." If you did, you would quote directly from ID mainstream primary literature, rather than just make it all up off the top of your head.

>One can only wonder why
ID theorists don’t explore the implications of their own theory.

ID's sees its primary task as demonstrating empirically that there *is* design. The "implications" of that design once it is demonstrated to exist is then a secondary matter for philosophy and theology to tease out.

>Maybe their theology is incompatible with where it leads.

*ID* does not have any "theology". See above.

However, I plan to post something in the near future from the paleoanthropologist Robert Broom's book, "The Coming of Man: Was it Accident or Design?" (1933) which poses the question whether there is good and evil designers (e.g. God and Satan). That is beyond the scope of *ID* but it is within the scope of a Christian natural theology.

But I don't want to discuss that here in Comments any further.

>Indeed, maybe the United States periodically incurs God's wrath not
because of gay rights, or abortion, or cussing out loud, but because we
have rejected--outlawed!--God's natural drugs and out of hubris
substituted for them our own laboratory pharmaceuticals, the synthetic molecules that constitute the country's biggest drug-abuse problem. Scripture tells us of God's pride in his gifts: "Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth . . . And God
saw everything that he had made, and, behold it was very good."

See above re ID.

As for your quoting the Bible, it also says in 1 Corinthians 6:12 & 10:23 in the context of a Christian indulging in pagan food and sexual excesses:

"`Everything is permissible for me'-but not everything is beneficial. `Everything is permissible for me'-but I will not be mastered by anything. ... `Everything is permissible'-but not everything is beneficial. `Everything is permissible'-but not everything is constructive."

>It must be, then, that outlawing plant drugs is an affront to God, a
rejection and vilification of divine design.

See above on "I will not be mastered by anything." If food, drink or "drugs" *masters* a Christian, then that is *not* "permissible".

Your problem (apart from `a little [Biblical] knowledge is a dangerous thing') is that you are confusing *ID* with Christian Natural Theology.

They are *not* the same thing. The latter identifies the Designer as the God of the Bible and attempts to argue from the evidence of design in nature to that particular God.

But the former, ID, only attempts to show from nature *alone* that there *is* design in nature, and leaves the identity of the designer open.

So while evil design is a problem for Christian Natural Theology (albeit one which the latter has adequate Biblical resources to answer, e.g. Satan and the Fall of man, etc), it is not a problem for *ID*, which makes no claim about whether the designer(s) is singular or plural, or good or evil.

Indeed, if it could be shown that there in fact *was* evil design, then ID would have defeated Darwinism, which claims that there is *no* design!

Stephen E. Jones