Science, Stephen Hawking, and Free Minds

Hawking-big-ideas-192x108 Last night my 11-year old daughter Sally asked me if I’d like to watch "Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking" with her. How could a mom refuse that invitation? So we cozied up in our jammies and tuned in. It was a great show, and highly educational. But not in the way you might think.

The subject of this, the first installment of a series on the Discovery Channel hosted by Hawking, was Aliens. The show opens with Hawking alone in an empty room in his wheelchair. We hear his computerized voice say,

Hello. My name is Stephen Hawking, physicist, cosmologist, and something of a dreamer. Although I cannot move, and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind, I am free.

 Another narrator picks up from there,

Free to explore the universe and ask the big questions. Such as, Do aliens exist?

The question, Hawking says, cuts to the heart of how we see our place in the universe. "Are we alone?” He thinks probably not, even though scientists have been looking and listening out for about forty years to no avail. The narrator continues, speaking for Hawking,

The possibilities are infinite. How do we know where to look?

The answer brings us back home to Earth, where the only known examples of life exist. From there, Hawking explains what is currently known about the origin of life on Earth:

Exactly what triggered life here is still a mystery, but there are several theories.

He presents two. The most common theory is that life began purely by accident in pools of primordial soup. Images on the screen evoke Darwin’s “warm little pond,” teeming with amino acids randomly bumping into one another for eons and eons until just the right combination of circumstances caused just the right bump:

It somehow just happened … the ultimate lucky break that started the chain of life.

That's the first theory. The other one is an

intriguing idea, called Panspermia, which says that life could have originated somewhere else and have been spread from planet to planet by asteroids.

Let’s pause there. Panspermia, as I pointed out in this article from Salvo 11, falls within the boundaries of Intelligent Design theory (ID), with which regular Salvo readers are familiar.

I explained Panspermia and ID to Sally. It took about one minute and she grasped it well enough. Then we re-wound the recording to listen again to Hawking’s musings about the first, and “most common,” theory. He admits the improbability of it,

It is extremely unlikely that life could spontaneously create itself, but I don’t think that’s a problem with this theory. It’s like winning a lottery. The odds are astronomical, but … someone hits the jackpot.

“Yes, Sally,” I said, “but that’s because someone outside the system created the lottery, and funded it so that it could be there in the first place.”

Light bulbs went off immediately. “Ah-HAH,” she laughed out loud. “I didn’t think of that, but that makes sense!” We laughed together for a moment then watched the rest of the show.

The point I’d like to make is she’s a 6th grader, and she’s capable of thinking with a free mind, taking in competing theories about something, and, to a certain extent, analyzing them. This is how critical thinking skills are developed. But as this Crosshairs, also from Salvo 11, points out, wherever the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) gets its way, teachers are prohibited from informing students about competing scientific theories concerning the origin of life, including the one offered, though not by name, as a valid theory by no less a science luminary than Stephen Hawking. (The NCSE also opposes students being informed of different views concerning global warming, but that’s another issue for another post.)

Stephen Hawking is an amazing and inspiring man, and we enjoyed watching his show. I’d like to focus on that ideal of a free mind and note two things. First, the NCSE, by intentionally ignoring ID (and vehemently opposing it when active ignorance is no longer an option), limits free inquiry and hinders, rather than advances, science. They do our children a disservice.

Hawking-aliens-12 Second, while Hawking does believe that alien life likely exists, including life of superior intelligence, he leaves no leeway for the possibility that that intelligence might be a supernatural being. In so doing, I suggest he limits himself and his scientifically brilliant mind more than he realizes. To limit experimental science to only those things which can be seen, heard, and touched is reasonable. To limit your mind and imagination after the same manner hinders free inquiry.

Even a 6th grader can understand that.

27 thoughts on “Science, Stephen Hawking, and Free Minds

  1. Great column…great example of using a TV science show to teach a child about theories of origin.
    (PS see Ben Stein’s “EXPELLED” DVD – as Richard Dawkins & other scientists go for the Aliens…the Panspermia…as possible originators of life on earth —But no GOD is allowed!!! They have banned the LORD from their theories!)

  2. Meanwhile, back in classrooms and at lab benches everywhere, panspermia isn’t a seriously contending origin-of-life hypothesis either, is without an active research programme anywhere, and has no real predictions that might set it apart from other competing ideas. Also unsurprisingly, nobody anywhere teaches it as a valid possible explanation for the origin of life.
    I’m quite baffled by what the author seems to be saying toward the end. Are supernatural things detectable or aren’t they? Do they behave in a predictable manner or don’t they? What that heck is any of this nebulous talk of the supernatural even supposed to mean anyway? I don’t really see how you could fault the scientific community or any of its membership for excluding a priori what nobody seems capable of defining even in concept. That’s exactly the first thing you’re supposed to do in science – eliminate poorly thought-out explanations that can’t be controlled for. Banned the LORD from theory, lee? Absolutely! What the hell is this “LORD” and why is it relevant?
    I had an especially good chuckle over the part where the author explains to their daughter about the magical cosmic lottery commission. “It all had to come from somewhere! Ho-ho-ho, those stupid atheistic scientists, can’t they understand what a Sixth Grader understands?” Of course, back in the real world of consensus science, “it had to come from somewhere” doesn’t get you very far at all. Indeed, it really only gets you as far as “where did it all come from, then?” It came from an intelligent designer? “What is an intelligent designer, then?
    The principal thing that makes the ID thing so ludicrous on the face of it to anyone even modestly immersed in the scientific community (more unsurprising revelations: occasionally trotting out a stock of credentialeds so small it couldn’t even fill a large men’s room does not count as immersion in the scientific community) is the utter failure to grapple with the recursive nature of the scientific project. Every answer is a new question, and so on, forever (or at least for as long as we’ve got). ID, on the other hand, has failed even to formulate its own first question, or understand the questions being asked by others.
    What the author should have done, rather than smacking their daughter upside the head with a sound bite (actual consensus science is always inexplicable and even unthinkable in the form of sound bites), was sit with her and have a nice long discussion after the programme about the current state of cosmology and research into the origin of life. Then, rather than imparting an appreciation for the workings of responsorial apologetics, the author might’ve actually engaged a teachable moment for imparting an understanding of the sort of critical thinking that 11-year old will need to actually pursue a burgeoning interest in scientific matters.

  3. @JM Inc. That’s an awful intricate way of explaining a dogma. Science by consensus? What is it in atheism that makes you so mean and unpleasant?

  4. JM, I agree with you that Panspermia isn’t a seriously contending origin-of-life theory. It shouldn’t be. But Stephen Hawking takes it seriously enough to mention it on his Discovery Channel show. And, as I mentioned in this article, referenced above, Richard Dawkins does too. If your goal is to object to the validity of Panspermia, then that, too, is something you’ll have to take up with Stephen Hawking. He suggested it, not me. And I’d like to point out for the record, I didn’t call him stupid. I think he’s brilliant, and I said so. Nor did I call atheists stupid.
    Perhaps you needed to read the articles I referenced to fully get the point of this post, but it was this: Stephen Hawking doesn’t allow his “free” mind to consider the possibility of God. That’s not a scientifically-derived position, but a philosophical presupposition, or, if you will, as I demonstrate in Blinded by Science? from Salvo 7, a personal faith choice.
    On the other hand, Intelligent Design theory (ID) is a seriously contending origin-of-life theory, and it’s being censored by certain scientists. And you’re incorrect about it not having been defined. Serious scientists can look to Dr. Stephen Meyer and the Discovery Institute for a high level definition and defense of it. But even a 6th grader can grasp the basic concept if it is not censored. I defined it at a level the average high school student can understand here.
    It surprises me that you think I smacked my daughter upside the head. In my mind, since she already possesses a burgeoning interest in scientific matters, as evidenced by her interest in watching the show in the first place, I simply used Hawking’s failure to recognize ID as an opportunity to explain it and point out how he actually employs it, in a back door sort of way (and for that matter either unwittingly or without acknowledging it), to explain his acceptance of the theory of Panspermia. Another blogger mentioned this encounter on his blog and titled his post, Is Stephen Hawking Smarter than a 6th Grader?
    Your words suggest that you too have ruled out, a priori the possibility of God. You are certainly free to do that, but if you do, that choice places limits on your your own mind and free inquiry. I don’t particularly think my daughter is smarter than Stephen Hawking or you, but I do think her mind is more free than his, and perhaps yours.
    Yes, one of the great things about science is that answers inevitably raise new questions. Although the blog post didn’t mention it, since you brought it up, I will point out that the concept of God is not nebulous either, and has been defined. Just like the scientific theory of ID, you are free to examine the concept or not. Your words raise a question in my mind: Is your mind open to the possibility of God?

  5. One more thing, JM, if you find the suggestion of a cosmic lottery system laughable, that is something you’ll also need to take up with Stephen Hawking. He’s the one who suggested it, not me.

  6. You seem to confuse having a “free mind” with having an uncritical mind, or rather I suspect, like so much of discourse generally, you’ve simply freighted your usage of the terms “free” and “mind” with meanings I don’t accept definitionally.
    I have no problem with the metaphor (it is just a metaphor, right?) of the cosmic lottery, that may in some cases be a useful method to explore in a second-order sense the sort of probability that goes with taking a sample space as large as the universe and trying to figure out the probability of life emerging spontaneously under a certain subset of elements within that space, small though that subset may be within the sample space. What I was laughing at was the cosmic lottery commission, the part where you said
    “‘Yes, Sally,’ I said, ‘but that’s because someone outside the system created the lottery, and funded it so that it could be there in the first place.'” (that would be the lottery commission)
    and completely and momentarily forgot that you were talking about a metaphor in order to break it by over-extension. What is the metaphor about? Probabilities over a very large sample space. Instead, you’ve incorrectly taken it to refer in some isomorphic way to the actual constitution of the universe as a whole. No, the universe is not the same sort of thing as a lottery, and failing to recognise that it isn’t is a failure to differentiate between a probability socially constituted among people and a probability constituted by the best available observations of the universe on the largest scale relevant to the conditions of the probability. If, on the other hand, you’re not suggesting that the universe is the same sort of thing as a lottery, and merely that the existence of things like universes and lotteries makes necessary the preconditions of their existence, then you’re back to what I said about, “it all had to come from somewhere” not getting you very far in scientific terms.
    So Stephen Hawking has a hunch that maybe panspermia is an interesting concept to toy with, and he has a strong feeling that life (even intelligent life, whatever that is supposed to be) must exist elsewhere in the universe to us. He’s an educated, informed person and it’s his prerogative to have hunches about life in the universe. Incidentally, he’s a physicist and his hunches about the conditions of life in the universe don’t automatically go much further in their validity than the Three Bears level of estimation. But he’s entitled to his opinions just as much as, for instance, Max Tegmark is entitled to think the universe consists of nothing other than mathematics.
    So Stephen Hawking thought the notions of panspermia and extraterrestrials were interesting and, far more importantly, entertaining enough to include in a broadcast edutainment programme. How often do you suspect he’s published on those subjects? How many grant proposals do you think he’s presented for these topics? Do you understand what I mean when I say something along the lines of “real consensus science”? It’s not that he couldn’t publish on those topics or solicit money to fund research into them, nor is it even that he’d be censored if he did so; it’s that he hasn’t and that speaks volumes.
    Incidentally, also, panspermia is not a subset of Intelligent Design, leastwise not necessarily. That whole thing about “life originating somewhere else and having been spread from planet to planet by asteroids” involves no intelligence whatsoever, so unless you’re planning on subsuming the entire possibility of extraterrestrial life under some sort of absurd blanket of Intelligent Design; I don’t think that’s really a sensible case to be making, since you’ve then dispensed with both the intelligence and the design.
    Furthermore, what is so absurd about the words “seeded from space” that draws some sort of special incredulity? You do realise that the Earth itself actually is in space, that we’re actually part of a large four dimensional system which contains many other elements similar to the one we call the Earth. If life on Earth did not come into being at first on Earth, it’s not as though there are no other places in the universe with the properties necessary, if not to sustain life, then at least to constitute it. If life here is not from here, it must be from elsewhere, obviously, and that means it came here somehow (seeded from space!). As I’ve said, though, I don’t buy the idea and it’s not taken seriously enough to warrant any sort of research project beyond the sort of research that already also informs our studies of terrestrial biogenesis.
    Incidentally, I couldn’t seem to find the area of that article you referenced where you demonstrated or even made the claim that you claimed to have made that panspermia “falls within the boundaries of Intelligent Design theory”, although I do accept that Dawkins may accept the possibility in principle of panspermia (seeded from space! seriously!), which, also incidentally, is very different from taking the idea seriously, though I’d have thought that too was obvious. Either way I’d like to know precisely what he had to say on the subject before laughing at the absurdity of Richard Dawkins suggesting such a thing.
    Getting back to what I said at first about discourses being freighted with unstated or unconscious assumptions, I’m not entirely sure I know what you’re even arguing sometimes. On the one hand you claim, incorrectly, that Intelligent Design is a legitimate, competing conception of the origin of life on earth, one which is systematically shut down and censored by a consortium (actually that makes it sound more sinister than I think you think that it is, but you must admit it’s fun to say “consortium”) of atheistic scientists who are blinded by their “philosophical presuppositions” and cannot accept the possibility of your god or the supernatural. On the other hand, you seem to be using this argument to refer less directly to their rejection of ID and more directly to the fact that they simply don’t hold the same religious beliefs as you do. Which argument are you making, that atheism isn’t scientific, or that ID is scientific by some other definition of science than that held by most contemporary scientists and philosophers of science?
    Science v. religion, the acceptance of which (obvious nonsense as that concept is notwithstanding) just doesn’t seem to cut it as an explanation for why the scientific consensus unambiguously and unreservedly has laughed and continues to laugh ID from the podium. Since, as you pointed out in Darwin’s Quantum Leap, ID doesn’t begin with Genesis (by which rhetorical device I’ll be assuming you mean that it isn’t theoretically or epistemically rooted in Abrahamic religious belief), I find it hard to accept that it can be both that you’re arguing for ID as against misguided philosophical atheism on the part of the scientific consensus, and against the science v. religion discourse as it pertains to the individual religious beliefs of individual members of the scientific community.
    I also find it interesting that you frequently seem to grab at admissions of the possibility of greater-than-human non-human, or merely non-human intelligence (admissions which, though I may sympathise with their motivations, I find just as problematic as you do, though probably for opposite reasons) in order to disaggregate the “philosophical presuppositions of atheism” from the science which according to these faulty conflict discourses the scientific consensus claims substantiates them (according to you), thereby the better to shoot holes in those philosophical presuppositions for being either both insufficiently scientific and or not particularly privileged over against other philosophical presuppositions you yourself openly cling to while only occasionally outright admitting it. In context, I find it especially funny and ironic the way you, with exacting casualness, introduce the phrase, “incomplete (but not insufficient) knowledge” in Blinded by Science?
    What I find interesting in this is that you seem to assume that “philosophy”, whatever that means (other IDers have called it “worldview”, or you sometimes call it “faith choice”; whatever floats your boats, I prefer “weltanschauung“), prefigures and undergirds other schools of thought and fields of endeavour, a claim which I would readily dispute. What exactly makes you think that one single holistic system of systems underlies both religious (or “supernatural” or “spiritual”) and scientific projects? What makes you think there is one fundamental basis on which both sorts of thinking and human endeavour can rest, and according to which both and others can be apprehended and judged, apples-to-apples? Why, to put it elsewise, is it even appropriate to critique the discourse of science for taking onboard non-scientific elements when in fact those elements are central to the practice of science as it now stands?
    It seems to me that your thinking this is leading you or has lead you into a sort of essentialism, where you seem to think that it’s somehow legitimate to shoot holes in the scientific consensus by protesting that it is based upon an unadmittedly non-scientific principle. You yourself state towards the end of the original post that “To limit experimental science to only those things which can be seen, heard, and touched is reasonable“, and though I might quibble over the way you’ve articulated that, I think it’s basically right. Why is it right? Because science as it stands now, as actually played out in the scientific community and as articulated in the scientific consensus of today, is a method of inquiry which is by definition instrumental: it’s a method of working out predictions of future experience based on recordings of past experience. We both know this, no surprises to anyone.
    You then go on to talk about limiting one’s mind and not having a “free mind” because one fails to take a sufficient interest in your personal beliefs about the supernatural and incorporate them into one’s (scientific or not, it’s unclear) thinking about the nature of the universe. I really don’t see that this is a legitimate critique, as it seems to me too confused about whether it’s a critique of a scientist for not being sufficiently religious, or whether it’s a critique of the consensus science that person (Stephen Hawking in this case) happens to be a part of for not taking sufficiently seriously the uninformed arguments of ID proponents.
    Yes, in fact, those arguments you like to trot out, the information, the origin, the irreducible complexity of life, none of them are new or particularly insightful. Not one of them has a lick of relevance to the actual scientific study of evolution. Let’s forget totally about the blatant, off-the-wall absurdity of claims like “‘Evolution as the Explanation of Everything,’ [is] the reigning paradigm of science” for a moment and focus on something like “The DNA molecule for the single-celled bacterium E. coli contains enough information to fill a whole library of encyclopedias“. Which strain of E. coli would that be, exactly? As it turns out, of course, none of them have anything close to the number of base pairs you claim they have (E. coli O157:H7 has approximately only 5.44e6 base pairs in its genome; I say approximately because, of course, all genomes are riddled with duplications, deletions, transpositions, and other mutations that constantly vary the number of base pairs and even genes per organism), far fewer “characters” than even a single collection of the most recent Encyclopaedia Britannica, let alone a library’s worth of them. That’s leaving aside the fact that genomes are not the same sort of things as encyclopaedias, nor for that matter are they the same sort of things as instruction manuals, which you also seem to be suggesting, if we’re taking Darwin’s Quantum Leap seriously.
    In fact the virtual whole of the minute segment you presented on “information” demonstrates a lack of understanding either of information in information theory, or of information as it relates to evolution, or organisms, or genomes, or to the sciences of genomics or epigenetics. To take the most basic of your claims, that nobody knows how information gets into the genome of a species, and let’s assume momentarily that we both agree on what we’re even talking about here, it becomes obvious that you’re simply wrong, since the answer to the question “how does information get into the genome” is evolution, plain and simple. If that answer does not make simple and obvious immediate sense to you, perhaps it’s time to admit that biologists know hugely more about the science of biology than IDers do.
    Do I really have to rip into the origin of life? No, I do not, nor am I going to but to say that it isn’t necessary (though I freely admit it would be helpful in the extreme) to understand the origin of life on Earth in order to know and learn things about the conditions of life on Earth right now and in the time since that origin, in exactly the same way that a full understanding of the causes of the Big Bang isn’t necessary for us to study the universe and attempt to work backwards from what’s observable now.
    The only critique you enumerated that might in principle have some merit (the others are simply and merely the nonsensical products of a total and catastrophic failure to understand the actual scientific consensus as held amongst actual working scientists and educators in the relevant fields) is the argument from irreducible complexity, which might have some merit to it, it’s just that none of the suggestions so far made by the ID community (and recycled over and over and over again ad nauseum) have been particularly compelling: the eye, the flagellum, coagulation, to name three. All have plausible evolutionary explanations, to those who understand evolution rather than some cartoonish caricature called “Darwinism”. The fact that these “problems with evolution” continue to circulate within the narrow and musty confines of the ID community demonstrates nothing other than the total failure of the community to connect with, apprehend, and appreciate the very real content of the scientific consensus accepted virtually everywhere there are biologists or biochemists (that’s what makes it a consensus, conspiracy theories to the contrary notwithstanding).
    As you no doubt have gathered by now, I not only do not accept the validity of your argument regarding whether the thinking of Stephen Hawking or the scientific consensus generally are “free” or the result of “free minds” or “limitations”, but I do not even accept your premises regarding the conditions of the freedom you build your case around. I don’t think it’s a matter of freedom, I think it’s a matter of practice; it’s not whether Hawking or Dawkins place limitations on their minds, or whether I do and you and your daughter don’t, it’s about the sorts of discourses we’re engaged in. It’s not that I’ve closed my mind to your god, it’s that I have no clue what it is supposed to be or what relevance it is supposed to have to my own lived experience, and though I know you think it should be perfectly comprehensible, trust that I don’t know how to reconcile my own lived experience to what you seem to think your god is and the relevance you seem to think it should have.
    But to be a little more concrete and less tangential about it, I reject that the scientific community’s consensual exclusion of ID is some form of arbitrary ideological limitation (which, I’m assuming you believe should be lifted), but rather maintain that this ideological limitation (so-called, ideology is a contentious term freighted with meanings and I use it extremely reservedly here) is in fact definitive to science rather than arbitrary; limiting explanations to well-defined ones that turn fruitful projects to discursively legible approximations of truth – in science, this means that the explanations have to prove useful to us in predicting future experience from past, and ID hardly does so with its host of arguments premised upon ignorance of the actual content of the scientific consensus, the actual relevance of certain data to the theoretical articulation of the scientific consensus, and so on.
    You must appreciate how absurd and farcical this situation is: people who know very little of biology and certainly understand virtually nothing of the current work in its various disciplines fancy themselves to be taking the field by storm. And as one might guess from the word “consensus” in “consensus science”, being able to trot out a handful of credentialed scientists of one sort or another in no way mitigates the fact that the entire literature of the field of biology stands as testimony to the fact that credentials are not a magic ward protecting from error.
    Rather than ignoring the community of the biological sciences and their hard-won consensus on some theoretical elements of their field, the ID community should actually engage in a more substantive way than its characteristic rhetorical backhanding of various people and ideas in a misinformed effort to make their own ideas seem necessary to resolving some conundrums that actually aren’t. And, to be less tangential and more topical here again, it might be worth thinking about the ways we encourage our children to view science (and religion for that matter). Are we, for instance, encouraging them to substantially engage the real ideas, or are we asking them to forget that the universe isn’t actually a lottery set up by a cosmic lottery commission just so that we could strike it rich?

  7. @JM Inc
    When your comments dwarf the original article, I have to wonder about your real motives for responding, because no one has the time to actually make it to your point that way (let alone respond).
    It was the atheist Crick who knew deep inside that what he was seeing in the DNA helix could not arise by chance, so it was he who pushed the idea of *directed* panspermia. But the science community was just fine with that bit of metaphysics because he, like Hawking ruled out a supernatural being, then he punted the origins football safely to a galaxy far, far, away.
    The point of the article is that Hawking and consensus science (Lewontin, Crick, Sagan, SETI) all hold this “a priori” commitment to never invoke the supernatural, but it’s just fine if they invoke other metaphysical causation. This is not only bogus science, but it is rammed down our throats at every turn. If ET is on the table, then the supernatural should be too.

  8. Yes, that response did indeed dwarf the original post. My first reaction was, Wow! That’s a lot of words!
    But I did sort through them to extract certain points or questions and respond. Here goes:
    About the term “free mind:” Stephen Hawking used it, and I echoed it. I apply a different meaning to it, but I was simply echoing his phrase. What I mean when I used the term in this post is a mind unbound by atheistic presuppositions. That’s not the same as being uncritical.
    Yes, I agree with your suggestion that things like universes and lotteries necessitate the preconditions of their existence. It sounds like you and I and Stephen Hawking all recognize that it had to come from somewhere. But I disagree with you when you say, “That whole thing about life originating somewhere else and having been spread from planet to planet involves no intelligence whatsoever.” As I see it, self-replicating life is inherently intelligent. DNA contains intelligence. Perhaps you don’t see it that way. If so, then that’s just a fundamental disagreement between us.
    In response to question about where I got Dawkins’s openness panspermia, I refer you to this video, and you can hear Dawkins speak for himself. I repeat, I’m not advocating panspermia. I’m merely pointing out that at least two well-known scientists allow it as a possibility. I’m unclear why you have a problem with me pointing that out.
    About ID: though I wouldn’t call it a conspiracy by a consortium, you have rather accurately stated one of my main points: ID is a legitimate theory concerning the origin of life on earth, but it is being censored by scientists who have a prior commitment to atheism. I don’t think this is a science vs. religion issue. It’s science vs. science, or to be more specific, atheistic science vs. non-atheistic science. There’s a big difference between that and “science vs. religion.”
    I have no problem with the term “worldview” or “weltanschauung,” though when it comes to the personal choice of whether one allows or disallows the possibility of God, I prefer “faith choice.”
    Why, you seem to ask, does this matter to the practice of science? It matters because all those practitioners of science are human beings first. Then they are scientists. What you choose to believe about this profoundly affects your worldview. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s one of the most foundational choices a human being makes.
    I’m surprised that you don’t see those three facts of life I “trot” out, the initiation of life, the information of life, and the irreducible complexity of life to have “one lick of relevance to the study of evolution.” If evolution is adduced as the best theory for the origin of life, I think they are spot-on relevant because there is no empirical evidence to support any of them emerging by materialistic processes. They represent weaknesses in the theory of evolution as the explanation for the origin of life. That’s relevant to science if the point of science is to follow the evidence wherever it leads.
    To sum this up, I’ll return to one of our points of agreement. Most of us intuitively realize life had to come from somewhere. Atheistic scientists are open to the possibility of it coming from somewhere else like another life form from another planet, but they’re closed to the possibility that it was created by a higher life form, like a supernatural creator. And the reason for the disconnect, as I see it, is they’ve excluded the possibility of God from their mind. I pointed it out to my daughter, and she got it. I don’t presume to know the state of your mind, but I did ask you if your mind was open to the possibility. You didn’t answer.

  9. “The most common theory is that life began purely by accident in pools of primordial soup.”
    Explain to me if you can how you know God (omnipotent) wouldn’t/couldn’t/didn’t use this method. Explain how you know that God (omnipotent) is inferior to “accident.”

  10. Isn’t it absurd (in a totally human way) to maintain both that God created the natural world and that God must rely on the supernatural? He left something out of the natural world when he created it? Well, duh, how can you possibly know that?
    On the other hand, if early men didn’t have the tools to understand the natural world (nor even have a concept of such) wouldn’t they be quite inclned to invoke the supernatural (not even really knowing or seeing any actual distionction between “natural” and “supernatural”?) What about belief in God compels one to also believe everything that early man believed? Why are you not also campaigning against the germ theory of disease, since it was well known that diesase was caused by demons?

  11. Brad, you’ve attributed to me several things I haven’t said. I can’t find anywhere in this entire thread where I said that I know God wouldn’t/couldn’t/didn’t use any particular method. If I’m wrong and it is in here, or in anything else I’ve written, I invite you to show me and I’ll stand corrected.
    I also can’t explain how I know that God is inferior to “accident” because I don’t view God as inferior to “accident.” Maybe I’m just not understanding your question.
    I’m afraid I’m unclear about how the beliefs or knowledge of early man apply here. And I’m confused about the suggestion that belief in God compels one to believe everything that early man believed (whatever that might be). I’m sure I didn’t say that, so I can’t respond to the question about it.
    I’ve never thought of God having to rely on the supernatural. God is, by definition, supernatural, or he’s no God at all. The main point of this post was that an open mind will at least allow for the possibility of God, and that to allow for the possibility of alien life while disallowing the possibility of God is, at the very least, an odd position to take. Even a child can understand that.

  12. You said: “Images on the screen evoke Darwin’s “warm little pond,” teeming with amino acids randomly bumping into one another for eons and eons until just the right combination of circumstances caused just the right bump.” I must have been wrong to interpret this as menaing you denied God could have created life in the way described – but that’s how it seemed. If you accept that God might have done it this way then what’s the point of asserting He did it some other way, given the impossibility of establsihing same?
    “The main point of this post was that an open mind will at least allow for the possibility of God, and that to allow for the possibility of alien life while disallowing the possibility of God is, at the very least, an odd position to take. Even a child can understand that.”
    Ah. So it isnt “logically inconsistent,” only the equivalent of it. But, heck, let’s accept what you say: it’s an odd position to take.
    So?

  13. Okay, that helps me understand a little better where you’re coming from. But I think you’re still attributing to me something I didn’t say and then reacting to that. I didn’t assert that God created life in any particular way. I didn’t even assert that God created life, though you’ve probably gathered by now that I do believe there is a God and that he had something to do with life getting started. In fact, I agree with you about the impossibility of establishing for certain how life got started.
    It sounds, now, like you’re asking me why I pointed out Hawking’s openness to the possibility of aliens but closedness to the possibility of God. It’s a fair question. Because they expose the non-scientific atheistic presuppositions which constrain his science. I pointed it out to my daughter to help nurture her critical thinking skills and to expand her science education beyond the constraints of atheistic presuppositions. Then I wrote about it to show other parents they can do likewise and while I was at it, I pointed out to anyone who takes interest in the subject the disservice done by the NCSE to censor an alternative theory concerning the origin of life which is unconstrained by atheistic presuppositions.

  14. “I pointed out to anyone who takes interest in the subject the disservice done by the NCSE to censor an alternative theory concerning the origin of life which is unconstrained by atheistic presuppositions.”
    You are talking of the supernatural, right?
    Science is concerned with the natural.

  15. Science is concerned with the natural. I agree. I said that in the original post. To reiterate the points made throughout this thread:

    • From Darwin’s Quantum Leap, Salvo 11: “The theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, and not by an undirected process such as natural selection.”
    • Both “life from somewhere else” (the suggestion inherent to Panspermia) and “God” (or some form of supernatural being) qualify as an intelligent cause, but Stephen Hawking is open to the possibility of Panspermia, but closed to the possibility of God. This reveals his underlying atheistic presupposition.
    • From Crosshairs: No Intelligence Allowed, Salvo 11: The NCSE opposes teaching the theory of ID alongside the teaching of the theory of evolution as an alternative theory concerning origin of life.
    • From Blinded by Science, Salvo 7, atheism is not a scientifically derived fact, but a personal, philosophical faith choice.
    • Conclusion: Stephen Hawking and the NCSE allow an atheistic presupposition, which is not a scientifically derived fact but a prior commitment to a particular view concerning the supernatural, to constrain their science. In other words, they allow their view concerning the supernatural to constrain their science.

    Yes, science is concerned with the natural. But scientists are first humans who make worldview choices concerning the possible existence of the supernatural, and those choices affect their science. I really don’t think it’s that difficult to understand, except for one whose heart or mind (or both) are closed to the possibility of God. My 11-year old daughter was able to understand it.
    For a more scientifically sophisticated explanation of ID, I refer you to the Discovery Institute and Dr. Stephen Meyer’s new book, Signature in the Cell. Click here for a review of it from Salvo 11.

  16. Science is about the natural. Period.
    But hey, tell me about
    non-atheistic physics
    non-atheistic chemistry
    non-atheistic astronomy
    non-atheistic geology
    etc.
    (Yes, ludicrous. Think about that.)
    “Yes, science is concerned with the natural. But scientists are first humans who make worldview choices concerning the possible existence of the supernatural, and those choices affect their science.”
    Scientists choose to study the natural and do so. That’s what science is about. Science focuses on the natural. The supernatural has no place in it. “No place” means what it says.
    Pick up any scientific journal on any biological (or any other) topic. Open it. Look at the list of authors. Tell me which are atheists, which are not.
    You can’t. All you can do is complain about the very real fact that science is about the natural so the supernatural is excluded. The supernatural is excluded because it isn’t natural. You can’t tell which author is or isn’t an atheist because what is written is confined to the natural – no matter what belief system the author follows. It is confined to the natural because that is what science is about. Not because scientists are atheists, Because science isn’t about the supernatual. Science and supernatural are mutually exclusive. It may indeed be that some scientists are atheists. They and the non-atheist scientists can share each others work, repeat each others experiments, build on each others knowledge – without knowing or even being aware of the atheist vs. non-atheist state of the other scientist. It doesn’t matter.
    ID is based on the supernatural, embraces the supernatural, exhalts the supernatural. It is therefore excluded from teaching of science. It does not have a proper place in science. It doesn’t belong. It is not a natural theory, it is a supernatural theory. You may love it to pieces (or however this ought to be expressed) but your affection doesn’t make it a natural theory, does not make it something that belongs in the teaching of science. It is excluded because it is spernatural. It should be excluded becuse it is supernatural.
    As to Hawkins and extraterrestrial intelligence, he is a scientist but he is going beyond science (apparently) in his presentation, specifcially about extraterrestrial beings. A TV channel chooses to air his views. As far as I know none of that is being published in any scientific jounal. As far as I know none of it was or ever will be submitted to a scientific journal.
    Have you, with your open mind, read any of Steven Jay Gould’s books?

  17. I have read enough of Steven Jay Gould to know about his theory of punctuated equilibrium, but that takes this discussion in a different direction.
    Brad, I thank you for reading through this post and considering the points it made. To sum up our exchanges, I believe we view the theory of intelligent design differently. You believe it requires inclusion of the supernatural while I believe it only allows for the possibility of the supernatural. I discern a difference between those two positions. It appears that you don’t.
    I’d rather not to continue to argue that point. I’m content to define the point of disagreement. If you’re willing to give the theory of intelligent design a fair hearing from the scientist(s) who proposed it and who can define it far better than I ever could, I refer you to the Discovery Institute and Signature in the Cell.

  18. This debate goes far beyond the two of us. It appears most scientists fail to recognize any scientific validity in Intelligent Design. Some (perhaps most or perhaps even all) of the ID supporteers attribute that to the scientists favoring atheism. I think you can see that I don’t agree with that assessment (which is very self-serving) at all.
    Where is ID without the supernatural? I think it is a misstatement to say ID “allows” for the possibility of the supernatural. ID makes the claim that some or all of what is natural is “designed.” That would seem to go far beyond “allowing” the supernatural to requiring it.
    And, even if ID only “allows” the supernatural, that is sufficient to exclude it from science, which is exclusively about the natural.
    And as to giving ID a fair hearing, where can I find any work by any proponent of ID that gives that theory a “fair” examination? I suspect you have no idea how tough scientists can be on each other – and on themselves. It appears to me that the ID proponents bend over backwards to give themselves an easy time.
    (I fondly recall the story told by one chemistry professor who was making a presentation at a major meeting. A member of the audience stood up and said “Grant, I think you have aluminum chloride” – instead of what Grant thought he had. Grant stopped, thought a moment, and then said “I think you’re right” – and sat down. It is that humility and openness to criticism that the ID community lacks – and tries to hide by claiming it is the scientists who have that flaw.)
    When the ID community has solid evidence then the scientists can be asked to take a look. I’m sure the ID community is eager to do so, once they have the evidence.
    P.S. Good to see them accepting research that reveals the structure & function of DNA. I think anyone can marvel at that, with the level of marvelling increasing as more is known.

  19. Well, this could be fun.
    I am a creationist of the six 24 hr. day, global Noahic flood variety. We’ve often heard the story of the church men who came to see Galileo, and how they refused to look through his telescope lest they be deceived by some devilish contraption.
    I often feel that both secularists and ID people likewise refuse to take a fair look at the creation interpretation of the actual evidence. The reasons why? The materialist is of course invested in his a priori position because he beleives it grants him the autonomy he craves more than truth. I don’t know about the Christian ID person, but it seems there is an unwillingness to bear the reproach outside the camp.
    For the Christian who does not share the young earth view with me, the theological difficulties you burden yourself with seem to me to be insuperable: they are the necessary inclusion of death, suffering, disease, carnivory, in short–the curse–before the sin of Adam and Eve. And all this characterizing a creation that God declared at its completion as being “VERY GOOD.”
    As for the scientific position, consider that if Noah’s flood happened as the Bible declares, the necessary and remaining physical evidence would be precisely what we see today: namely the remains of billions of dead creatures buried in water borne sediments and frequently found in attitudes and populations strongly suggesting a cataclysmic event. If the larger part of the geologic column is comprised of an event which transpired over the course of a single year, then obviously the various dating systems which purport to assign enormous ages to the various strata must be illusory. There is so much more I could say, but enough. I would be delighted to respond to further dialogue.

  20. Bob, I don’t see an irreconcilable conflict between ID and creation science. I’m familiar with Henry Morris and the centrality of flood geology to creation science. The ones who cut off all other options are the atheistic materialists, the ones I call Darwinists.
    JM and Brad Spencer appear to fall into that camp. It’ll be interesting to see if either of them takes you up on your invitation to dialogue.
    I, for one, will be watching…

  21. If the larger part of the geologic column is comprised of an event which transpired over the course of a single year, then obviously the various dating systems which purport to assign enormous ages to the various strata must be illusory.
    I thought that part was backward.

  22. I am an atheist. The debate over the supernatural is always invigorating and interesting to me. But believing the planet is only six thousand years old defies common sense. How can you have dinosaurs that are hundreds of millions of years old on a six thousand year old planet. Oh you mean t-rex was on the ark? I can’t for the life of me understand how one can just through out everything we “know” to believe in a boat story.

  23. Well hi, Aaron. This is a long dormant thread, but I’d be happy to pick it back up. I get an email every time a comment is posted on here because I wrote the original post, but I don’t know if anyone else is following it anymore.
    Anyway, I find the discussion of things supernatural, specifically the existence or non-existence of God, invigorating and interesting too.
    What caused you to become an atheist?

  24. Feynman?Schwinger?????Schwinger??????18???Colunbia??????????????????????????????21?“?”??Ph.D???????????????????????????????????Feynman??????????18???????????????Path Integral???Feynman diagram ????????????????Schwinger????????Gell man????????????????????1980???Fermi?????????????????Schwinger??Renormalization and Quantum Electrodymonic????????????????Schwinger?????????????????????????like the iosicln chip of more recent years, the Feynman diagram was bringing computation to the masses

  25. Thanks for this nice article.What I am minsisg here is a comment concerning the free availability of scientific papers. I think this is a very fundamental requirement for a scientific work as well. Else, scientific results are unavailable by institutions, universities and individuals who do not have the resources for often embarrassing high-pricedsubscriptions and journal papers during a very long period of time after issuing. This, while producing costs have been reduced drastically due to the change from paper to electronic basedjournals. The editor and publisher tasks should be performed by non-commercial driven and non-political biased institutions. A good way might be to put the entire (commercial orientated!) scientific publishing industry to the ground and charge public-founded, non-political-biased universities. A collaboration between librariens, university-press and informatics services might work well to do the organization of the peer reviewing, composing journals and providing (for free) on their servers.Currently, the scientific industry is suffering from a typical lock-in situation: funding is based on publications in traditional journals with high impact factors. Moving out to a new and free available and open journal is just scientific suicide. A big change will have to happen to break this situation. Now it is a good opportunity regarding the whole climate-gate affair, causing many discussions what has gone wrong in this industry.A remark to Brian Borchers:In the Debian/GNU system (and probably other FOSS systems) a piece of software is only regarded as free if the software itself AND its depending libraries have been issued under a FOSS licence. Else, it will not be included in the main’ repository, but in the contrib or non-free repo, without further support. So, concerning MPC: software that is free, but depends on non-free libraries should be rejected for publication.

  26. e2809cOppenheimer, they tell me you are writing peroty. I do not see how a man can work on the frontiers of physics and write a peroty at the same time. They are in opposition. In science you want to say something that nobody knew before, in words which everyone can understand. In peroty you are bound to say something that everybody knows already in words that nobody can understand.e2809d

  27. “Fearful Symmetry triolets”Verse and song gave birth to thee frafeul mechanical and scientific deviceLove’s but a danceof verse and song sublime to theeA whisper, a glance, this little death “Shall we twirl down in Elysian Fields ?”Verse and song gave birth to thee frafeul mechanical and scientific device

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