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William Crawley | 00:37 UK time, Friday, 16 July 2010

talktalk.jpgI don't often post an open thread, but some of you tell me it's a good idea because it lets you get stuff off your chest without throwing the direction of other threads. It also permits you to make suggestions about subjects we might give some more substantial space to on Will & Testament. Let's see. Expatiate at will (sorry about the pun). Keep it legal. The house rules still apply.


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  • Comment number 1.

    When it was announced that Glasgow would be European City of Culture 1990 our initial reaction was "Pull the other one!"

    Now Londonderry is to be the first British City of Culture. I would think this news would provoke mixed reactions, but what do I know?

    Anyone care to enlighten me?

  • Comment number 2.


    Depends what you mean by 'culture'.

    It's a rather subjective term, don't ya think?

  • Comment number 3.



    The very question we in Glasgow were asking! Despite our initial skepticism it did raise the profile of the city.

    A friend of mine lives and works in Derry. When I asked if she referred to the city as Derry or Londonderry her reply was that she used the prefix in written correspondence, but dropped it when speaking.

    It all seems so complicated. I'm gonna resist the temptation to offer an opinion!


  • Comment number 4.

    It's Derry on Orange banners; that's good enough for me.

  • Comment number 5.

    Why not drop Derry and Londonderry and come up with a new name that is neutral and accepted by all?
    They did it with the RUC - so why not Derry/Londonderry?? When you hear it on the radio with presenters going Derry/Londonderry all the time - it's crazy!
    Could be as straight as Foyle City or something a bit more spicy and tasty.....
    I'm sure Helio could come up with a few crackers!

  • Comment number 6.

    Wasn't Belfast on the shortlist for the European (?) city of culture a few years ago (the one Glasgow one I think) and weren't there a lot of local people deriding the the bid (and the city) at the time ? If I remember correctly, most Nationalist/Republicans did not back the city in it's bid. Hence, it failed (wasn't there some fallout afterwards as well ?).

    Hence, I'm not one bit fussed about Derry/Lononderry.

    Still, when in Derry I suppose.

  • Comment number 7.

    Melanie Phillips

    Will, I just listened to your interview with Ms Phillips on your inestimable Everyday Ethics podcast. Clearly Ms Phillips has a rather tenuous grasp of the concept of irony, which is matched by her tenuous grasp of what constitutes evidence, and what we do with it (as you perceptively pointed out in your last question to her).

    The irony is that in her mad scramble in the interview to accuse those she has a disagreement with of "demonising" everyone from creationists to the State of Israel, she herself dumps everyone in the one box, and erects the most extraordinary straw-men of their views. The discussion on Israel was a case in point, calling any view that dissents from her picture a "Big Lie", before sketching out a very one-dimensional view of history that does not even support the case she would like to make.

    She blasts off a list of the usual suspects - have to get "scientism" in there somewhere, Mel, don't we? She falsely identifies "intelligent design" with "the idea that the universe had a creator" - that is NOT what ID is, and that is NOT why ID proponents (like John Lennox) receive criticism, and Christians like Francis Collins or Ken Miller would love to correct her on that point. And then she has the gall to suggest that anyone who would like to take issue with any of her points should slavishly trudge through her entire tome before being in a position to make any comment, as if it is a formal rite of passage before you can be granted an audience with Queen Melanie. So you end up not only demonised, but significantly *older*!

    On the basis of that interview alone (but with the "benefit" of having seen some of what passes for her oeuvre in the pages of the tabloid press) I do not think she has a great deal to add, but she and Ann Widdecombe would probably get on really well.

  • Comment number 8.

    Talking of the really infuriating, I have been incensed that William, in two broadcasts now that I have noted, has referred to Anglo-Catholics as if the label covered a homogeneous and uniformly conservative block within Anglicanism.

    William spoke of Anglo-Catholics opposing legislation to enable the consecration of women bishops - this is a grossly inaccurate misrepresentation of the reality of Anglo-Catholic opinion in the Communion. Very many Anglo-Catholics, like myself, are firm supporters of women bishops and gay bishops are we greatly resent the failure to recognise that we make up a significant part of the Catholic constituency within Anglicanism. Organisations like the Society of Catholic Priests and Affirming Catholicism (I am a member) are unequivocal in their liberal stance. That organisation, in its communique of 6 July, was explicit in its rejection of the archbishops' recommendations and whole-hearted in its support for fully equal women bishops.

    Let me quote from an Affirming Catholicism belief statement: "We believe ... That the Baptismal Covenant, the rule of the life of the church, requires us to respect all persons. We understand that respect to mean that all ministries within the church are open to all the baptised and that the call to leadership within the assembly is dependant on baptism and the recognition of particular gifts for ministry, not on gender or sexual orientation".

  • Comment number 9.

    Someone recommended this website to me:


    it's a series of questionnaires on personal morality/ethics. I've done some of the questionnaires - they are quite interesting.

  • Comment number 10.

    On the Derry/Londonderry 'controversy' ... Let's just have an amicable compromise ... The City is Derry and the County is Londonderry! While there was a town/city of Derry long before the London Companies came to the region and Derry acquired its prefix; there was never a County Derry, for a while it was County Coleraine before becoming County Londonderry

  • Comment number 11.


    Just had a wee browse through National Catholic Reporter and have found your 'altar'ego.

    He's very funny and also uses the word 'cabbage' in its theological sense. His words begin "The John Jay Study."


    Pretty good post too I think.

  • Comment number 12.

    Did anyone else watch the programme last night on Channel 4 'Britain's Witch Children'? This kind of thing really angers me. These so-called 'ministers' prey on vulnerable people who are afraid of demon possession and witchcraft. They take vast sums of money from people who can ill afford it (supposedly to 'deliver' them or their children from some demon or other) and then have the cheek to claim charitable status! These men have too much power, people in their community are afraid to speak out against them for fear of reprisal. I think the government needs to start regulating these churches they are encouraging abuse because of their extreme beliefs.

  • Comment number 13.

    Here's something those of you interested in truth might like to chew on. Those with a closed mind need not apply.

    The "Welcome to Wales sign" illustration is of particular interest, and would be useful for the education of certain regular contributors. Refute it if you can (I doubt it somehow).

  • Comment number 14.

    LSV, there is nothing there to refute. The "Welcome to Wales" argument is simple nonsense. We could go into it if you wish, but in the other thread you seem to have developed an unwillingness to look at analogues for the evolution of certain structures, such as the eye or the leg which demonstrate that evolution certainly *can* and *does* lead to things that are reliable - at least to a degree which we can see is adequate. The lens of the eye forms an image on the retina; if the lens is just the product of natural forces, what confidence do we have that the image is correct?

    You're simply out of your depth, and this Williams character seems to be too.

  • Comment number 15.

    But if we evolved from physicalism... why are there still monkeys?

  • Comment number 16.

    Indeed Helio - if you absolutely did not know and were not taught that the world was round and you stood at the edge of the sea and looked at the horizon - the image created by the eye would tell you it stopped there and you might think that the world was flat perhaps! Is that image reliable?

  • Comment number 17.

    Valerie Christie,
    I watched it and my thought that it just shows what christian ministries do and this kind of evangelism, a mix of christianity and African beliefs, is sweeping Africa as well.

    Well done all you evangelists, well done.

    But I suppose it's really not your fault it will be someone else's.

  • Comment number 18.

    LSV, the "Welcome to Wales" idea is about the transmission of information. If one takes the information encoded in the stone formation to be there by chance, then one ought not think of it as giving a message, whereas if one thinks of it as possessing intention, then it would seem to be a language act.

    However, Williams's extrapolation from this to the legitimacy of physicalistic explanations of mental properties and causes doesn't hold water. His argument would stand if we came with the prior idea that I and my brain are distinct, and my brain is something my mind merely polls for information, but the physicalist is denying precisely that presupposition; the brain is the medium, rather than the message. He's misinterpreted the source of the disagreement. A reductivist isn't saying that the brain supercedes the mind, but that it composes it, and that all of what has been called mental action still functions, but operates physically.

    That's not the problem for scientific physicalism. The problem, which there undoubtedly is, is giving a detailed and predictive account of "the physical". Neuropsychology is working on the empirical models of the brain itself, which is excellent, and long may that work continue, but the questions of the nature of matter and fundamental particular composition of the physical world are tremendously ad-hoc and unsatisfying. Quantum Mechanics is a mess of probability functions, which basically amounts to saying "it works, stop asking questions". What hope is the reductive programme when matter itself is a highly suspect notion?

  • Comment number 19.

    Paul, it is precisely that issue that is addressed by the concept that the universe is "made of" mathematics. We experience it as real because we are inside the system, but from "outside", our universe is merely a mathematical abstraction. Max Tegmark has some great ideas in this regard, and it is slowly but significantly gaining ground among physicists and cosmologists. I discuss it a bit on my blog.


  • Comment number 20.

    Helio :I am intrigued to know how does that knowledge (post 19) assist you in your day to day life? and in explaining illness and disease or suffering of any kind? Are you saying it (life as we think we know it) is all an illusion?

  • Comment number 21.

    Helio, as sympathetic as I am to the generality of mathematical explanation, isn't it more appropriate to think of our conception of the world as being built from mathematics, rather than the world itself being so composed? I get the whole "Universe is Virtual" thing, given the relationship between information theory and, say, theories of gravitation, but it seems a bit quietist to me to adopt this as scientific theory, since what probability is is just the projection of inductive observations. Doesn't accepting "reality" as mathematical basically amount to an insistence on the universal correctness of our techniques despite the revelation of their limitations?

  • Comment number 22.

    Eunice, it assists in my day to day life just about as much as an understanding of quantum electrodynamic theory assists you. As to the explanation of disease and suffering, I have rather a good insight into that, and it involves pathogens, genes, toxins, metabolic systems, etc. It certainly does not involve pixies and mistaken notions of "energy". But hey.

    Paul, I am making a clear distinction between *our conception* of the world (which is mathematical) and the *composition* of the world, which I argue (along with Tegmark and many others) is fundamentally mathematical. I don't know if we *can* excavate all the way down to the "Theory of Everything" (which will necessarily be mathematical, and it can be argued that since this would be isomorphic with the operations of the "real" universe, there actually is no distinction to be made) - there may be Goedel issues there, or we may get to a stage where there simply is no way to decide between multiple candidates which might give entirely similar results at the scales we can measure, but are structured very differently below that.

    I would suggest that the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis is actually philosophically unavoidable, and quite a few leading cosmologists share this view. It's not to do with our *grasp* of mathematics being comprehensive (it isn't), but with what we as hypothetical subsystems in a wider mathematical system would experience as "real". I would suggest that we have no way of *disproving* the MUH, and it provides a surprisingly complete answer to the question of WITAAA.

    The *best* objections (to me) seem to be those of Keith Ward - if the MUH is correct, the universe *seems* to be rather simple; we would expect the underpinning "axiomatic" reality to be really really complex, with no particular upper limit on how complex that might be. Of course, you could argue that the *more* complex the axiomatic system becomes, the *less* likely it might be for self-aware subsystems to arise, and hence our chance of finding ourselves in an "over-complex" universe would be lower. I admit to not having followed the debate as closely as I would have liked, but I have a day job that Eunice would hardly approve of, and it takes up a bit of time...

  • Comment number 23.

    Thanks for introducing me to Tegmark's work, Helio. It's good to know papers like that are being published; gives those of us who still cling to logical positivism something to respond to.

    Responding to Tegmark's paper on the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis is something that'll need a paper of itself. Broadly speaking, however, the argument to be made against him is simple: He's equivocating on "reality" in the sense in which people want to think of it as external and the sense in which it's the subject of empirical investigation. While he may start off as talking about the universe "out there", his actual argument is in favour of a reconstruction of phenomenology from mathematical principles.

    It is one thing to try to explain how we observe the world as being fundamentally mathematical in character; it is quite another to state that this phenomenology is by necessity representational of how things "really are". Such is a presumption lacking any treatment in what of his work I've been able to find, and rightly so, since it's a hugely polarised and intricately argued area of debate in metaphysics and the philosophy of mind that would utterly discredit his work were he to try to brush the discussion aside.

    I don't fundamentally disagree that what he's doing is accurately explaining what the methodology of empirical science ought be. The problem is his attempt to claim that all scientists ought be platonists. If math reduces to some other cognitive faculty, such as logic, language or the processing of counterfactuals, then the reification of mathematics would fall to the Razor, and it seems clear to me that at least one of those is almost certainly the case.

    And yes; this might perhaps be seen as a denial of his original presumption that "there is a reality external to human agency", as long as that is with the provisio "... that we study when we carry out scientific investigation". One can quite happily entertain the gap between the real world and the limit of ideal observation, and Tegmark's "reality" doesn't bridge it.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hi Paul,
    The bit I can't get around is Pi. Pi (and e and the integers and many other numbers) seem to be objectively "objective" at a level that transcends mere universes. If there was no universe, Pi would still be Pi. To me (and I would hesitate to reduce it to philosophy-speak until we chew it up a bit) there is something revealing about this - Pi is not contingent upon out universe, but our universe is definitely contingent upon Pi. It is that that makes the MUH worthy of being taken notice of, and I haven't seen any good *refutations* of it; I suspect it is as impossible to disprove as it is to prove, but there comes a certain level at which *proof* is unnecessary, since once you hit isomorphism, you're home.

  • Comment number 25.

    Helio : why on earth would I not approve of your day job?? I have no issue with you or your day job! Just like bantering......:-)
    Although - my understandings do have a beneficial application in life .....you've just admitted that your intellectual mathematical dances are of no relevance/impact to your life - other than I imagine some intellectual stimulation/gratification. But hey - plenty of room for us all in the world!

  • Comment number 26.

    Helio, Pi is standard because it's local to a co-ordinate system, and co-ordinate systems are constructed. A circle is the locus of a fixed distance from a point on a two-dimensional plane: Thus the transcendence of Pi, being so selected, depends on our conception of dimensionality, which is itself just about "the ways in which something could be". Need Pi be fixed outwith the human conception of modality? Perhaps there are greater or fewer ways in which the world might be variable than we think; it might be either discrete or continuous, and perhaps in the mathematics required to describe the way the world "actually" works, Reals and Rationals are one and the same.

    The point is, you can't use mathematical notions and claim they make the universe mathematical. An additional claim is required; mathematics must be not just an a priori or analytical truth, but metaphysically necessary to anything that could be called a universe. The plausibility of a universe of Chaos, ungoverned by any kind of structure or law and uncapturable by what might be called a system of mathematics, would seem to undermine that required necessity.

  • Comment number 27.

    Eunice, the purpose of this is in part an analysis of the mutability of the guiding "universal principles". If the universe is essentially mathematical, this would tell us something important about how mathematical methodology could be used to discover new physical principles and thus new pathways for engineering, whether of the mechanical, electrical or biological varieties. The ability to "solve" the universe would have great import, were it possible, for the discovery of medicines, assistive technologies and space travel.

    I'm not convinced the universe can be so easily analysed, but maths is a set of useful techniques for conceptual analysis; even if it tells us more about ourselves than "reality", that's still an integral part of the scientific project, and getting clear about what we can and can't do with it means at least we'll know where the limits of scientific endeavour are overstepped, and where we might speak with confidence.

  • Comment number 28.

    Hi Paul - thanks for the explanation. I'm all for discovering how the universe works and its laws. I also like to know ways that help the human condition at the practical level - here and now.
    In what way do you feel mathematics tells you more about yourself than 'reality,' as you put it?

  • Comment number 29.

    Paul, thanks for the comments; I wish I had answers! I rather find myself running out of language at this point, but I would go along with Roger Penrose in suggesting that there is something "objective" about Pi. It is not the case that you need a co-ordinate system to validate Pi; there are many many systems in which Pi crops up, even just starting from the "metaphysical" point of having integers and addition. Penrose, indeed, develops a lot of these ideas very nicely in "The Road to Reality", although I am currently feeling a bit lost, only 100 pages into the massive tome. So, pace LSV, I'm not that sure that mathematics *needs* an epistemological foundation - you could say it "just is". Pi cannot NOT "exist" in this sense.

    Now, that being the case (!), the way I would see things is this: it is not possible (as has been argued elsewhere, and I'll accept it for the time being) for us to tell whether we are living in a simulation or a "real" universe. HOWEVER, I would further suggest that a simulation does not actually have to be RUNNING on something for it to "exist" as a mathematical object, and to be perceived as "real" by self-aware subsystems within it (a la Tegmark).

    Mathematics is the science of relationships. We use Mathematics to *describe* the universe, but I find it certainly plausible that mathematics could actually underpin this and other universes, as relationships and systems can be abstracted from any "actual" physical underpinnings, and at the end of the day, they're all that matters. It doesn't matter what a proton is made of - only how it interacts with other "fundamental" particles and spacetime itself, and that is how we *define* a proton. In turn, it is "composed" of quarks; in this situation, relationships are very specific - you never see a "lone quark" - it can only exist in relationship with one or more other quarks. The relationship seems to *define* "existence". And the same goes for everything else - by the time we've figured it all out, we realise that there are ONLY relationships, which is necessarily mathematical and in that sense "platonic".

    Proving it is of course rather tricky, but my reading of the evidence so far is that it is not boojums all the way down - there is a bedrock, and that's mathematical. At least that's where I think philosophical and scientific thought will converge in the next 30 years or so. See ya at the peak, dudes! ;-)

  • Comment number 30.

    In response to #10 (Helio) from the "summer books" thread...

    As I said, I am not going to get into a discussion about Sewell's book on that thread, so I'll make my comments here.

    I have just read the reviews that Helio refers to and I'm afraid I looked in vain for the promised "refutation" of Sewell's work. All I have detected in those reviews is a convoluted "I don't agree with you" with no supporting arguments, although Darwin's racism is excused with reference to the fact that he was simply a child of his age. Funny, isn't it, how the same sympathy is never extended to so-called 'religious' people? If anyone dares to explain the apparent condoning of slavery in the Bible by appealing to realism and the social conditions of the time, he is invariably shot down in flames. But then again, we have got rather used to this form of cognitive dissonance in debate.

    Simon Underdown's article is a curious review, I must say. Let me just analyse the logic of it.

    "...in the last 150 years, there have been many attempts to take Darwin's idea and apply it outside of the context for which it was developed, hence the influence of social "Darwinism" on concepts such as eugenics and a more recent Darwinian nihilism that absolves the individual of any moral or social responsibility."

    One assumes from this comment that Underdown understands the work of Darwin as limited to explaining certain biological phenomena. But then he goes on to write...

    "There is an inherent danger in extrapolating science beyond the realm for which it was intended, but ironically this human trait is perhaps best understood as an evolutionary hangover from the development of our massively expanded brainpower. We have an innate need to expand and develop ideas in order to explain our wider existence or justify our behaviours."

    So let me get this straight. We are not supposed to extrapolate a scientific theory to areas outside its limited remit (in this case attempting to explain anything beyond the development of biological systems), but it's apparently OK to extrapolate the theory of evolution to explain why we extrapolate scientific theories beyond areas outside their limited remit! That looks suspiciously like an attempt to do the very thing Underdown has told us we should not do. If Darwin's theory is only supposed to explain certain limited aspects of reality, then why is Underdown using that theory to explain human psychology and philosophical positions? He is assuming that Darwin's theory explains the whole of human behaviour, but then tells us that its remit is limited. If its remit is limited, then how can he use it to explain the whole of human behaviour? That is a circular argument. (To be fair, Underdown does interpolate the word 'ironically', which is at least something of an acknowledgment of the contradiction inherent in what he is saying).

    Underdown uses the theory of evolution to explain human behaviour. Of that there is no doubt. "Humans have a tremendous capacity for selflessness and creativity but we also have an equally developed ability to cause destruction and misery. Both extremes are a result of our evolutionary heritage." He assumes the presupposition that Darwin's theory explains everything, and then draws the conclusion that... "If we blame Darwin for the dark side of human nature, logically we must also credit him with all that is good." If that is not applying a scientific theory beyond its limited remit, I really don't what else it could possibly be!

    This is also a classic case of petitio principii (assuming your conclusion in your premise) - also known as 'begging the question'. We see the good in the world, and "since all aspects of human life and behaviour are the result of evolution by natural selection" then that proves that this process is 'good'. He also has to concede that the same process has produced that which is bad in the world. But, of course, he assumes that all aspects of human life are the result of evolution. He does not prove that point, but simply assumes it. That is extremely poor and disingenuous thinking.

    Sewell takes a far more intelligent and logical approach, and doesn't resort to circular arguments and logical fallacies. He looks at the intrinsic dynamic of Darwin's theory, observes how its proponents apply it to all aspects of life (Underdown being a good example, as I have shown from his own words), and then discerns how the concepts inherent in that theory have consequences for human life and behaviour.

    There are those who claim that Darwinism is not a philosophy. Underdown would appear to take that position. He claims it is nothing more than a biological theory. But that does not prevent him from applying this 'limited' theory to human behaviour as a whole - including all moral behaviour. Morality, of course, impinges on philosophy.

    The one redeeming feature of Underdown's 'analysis' is his comment about Islam. I am not expressing an opinion on his view that the essential message of Islam is peaceful, but rather that he does acknowledge that religion can be abused by extremists. It really would be too much of a daring 'irony' - even for someone as logically 'audacious' as Simon Underdown - to attempt to refute Sewell's argument by disassociating violent Nazis and eugenicists from the tenets of Darwinism, while at the same time refusing to disassociate religious extremists from the tenets of their religion.

    If it is accepted that a self-proclaimed Darwinist murderer does not necessarily represent 'true' Darwinism, then can I take it that we all accept that a self-proclaimed Christian murderer does not represent 'true' Christianity? Or is such consistent and rational thinking just too much to expect from the anti-religionistas?

  • Comment number 31.

    Just a small point out of your highly amusing and ultimately flawed post, LSV.

    'But, of course, he assumes that all aspects of human life are the result of evolution. He does not prove that point, but simply assumes it. That is extremely poor and disingenuous thinking'

    The last time I checked there was a VAST body of evidence to support evolution. As it's the best and only seriously accepted method to blame for both the good and bad aspects of human behaviour it's not an assumption. It's a theory (and in case you're about to claim 'only a theory' look up the technical meaning of the term).

    To blame Darwin for the ills of society is about as non-sensical as blaming Issac Newton and the theory of gravity for all the deaths from falling from height, or Louis Pasteur and germ theory for people who die from disease. You forget that a scientific theory isn't created from nothing, it's the collation of reams of data and a method for explaning it. The concept existed before, it's just we never codified it.

  • Comment number 32.

    Natman (@ 31)

    There is indeed a vast body of evidence to support evolution: micro-evolution, that is.

    As for the other type of 'evolution' (the grand extrapolation type), I think you'll find that vast assumptions are made - particularly when it involves the insistence that no allowance can be made for the operation of intelligence in the formation of complex systems. These assumptions are necessary in order to ensure that empirical data are made to conform to the demands of a particular a priori set of philosophical presuppositions.

    By the way... I am not blaming 'Darwin' for the ills of society, and neither is Sewell. However, I most certainly do believe that what we believe about reality has a direct bearing on morality, and, in particular, how we value the lives of human beings. That is actually not a particularly controversial view, and it is hardly controversial to make a logical connection between the concept of 'survival of the fittest' in evolutionary theory and 'survival of the fittest' in societal practice.

    I notice in your post #8 on the 'summer books' thread that you also condemn a way of thinking on the basis of the actions of those who subscribe to it:

    "Instead of reading a book about the twisted moral implications of a scientific theory, try reading about the history of the world and seeing just how religion has perverted more good intentions and resulted in far more crimes than Darwin's idea ever did or could."

    You use a moral argument to condemn what you call 'religion'. In other words, if someone commits a crime in the name of religion, then that reflects badly on beliefs associated with religion. So you - of all people - can hardly blame Dennis Sewell for drawing out the practical implications of ideas (since you attempt to do exactly the same thing). And I could say to you that 'blaming the idea of God' for 9/11 and other such atrocities is as stupid as blaming "Issac Newton and the theory of gravity for all the deaths from falling from height". Please explain to me how a belief that complex systems have arisen through the input of intelligence, necessarily leads to evil actions (whatever 'evil' is supposed to mean in your philosophy). When the assertions of anti-theism are laid bare it is clear that my posts are not the only ones that could be termed 'amusing'!!

    I fail to see how belief in an ultimate intelligence behind the complexity of life is to be considered an evil and immoral thing. It seems to me ludicrous to believe that there is some kind of inherent logical connection between the concepts of 'intelligence' (as the basis of reality), on the one hand, and 'violence', on the other (as if the rejection of the idea of ultimate intelligence is the key to peace and stability!!) After all, the atheists are forever telling us how intelligent they are, and yet despise the idea of an 'ultimate intelligence'. They claim to be the champions of 'reason' and yet condemn the idea of an 'ultimate reason'. They (quite rightly) delight in intricate systems, complexity and creative innovation - but hate the idea of an 'ultimate intricacy, complexity and creativity', from which all human creativity flows. If this is not laughably illogical, I really don't know what is!

    I'm happy for you that you found my comments amusing. I am sure that you won't mind my saying that the logical implications of your comments also provided me with some refreshingly light entertainment this evening.

  • Comment number 33.


    ref melanie phillips - she so has your number doesnt she?

    i liked the interview thanks will and thought she made many well argued points.


  • Comment number 34.


    You base your entire belief system on one giant assumption, one that doesn't even have the vast body of evidence that macroevolution has (and it does, despite your claim otherwise).

    God exists.

    There is no proof that he exists, no evidence to confirm it and not even any concensus on what or who god is.

    Until you can provide evidence that gods exist in the first place, it is not my place to try and disprove it. I cannot disprove that which has not been proven.

    Oh, by the way, how are you going on disproving my invisible magic dragon?

  • Comment number 35.

    Natman (@ 61 from the 'Should we keep God out of politics?' thread) -

    "However, there is a city and it's called London, therefore it must've been named London. The fact that it was named London is not under doubt.

    The same is true of abiogensis. There is no doubt that it occured, only the mechanisms involved. Or I should say the -specific- mechanisms. Like I've mentioned already, there is a lot of research work done on it and the general conditions and processes are fairly well established.

    You're not a biochemist, why you feel upto questioning the process is a mystery to me."

    So what you are saying is that the mere existence of life proves that it self-assembled without the need for an organising influence?

    That has nothing to do with biochemistry and everything to do with philosophy. After all, it is perfectly possible to be a biochemist and believe in an ultimate intelligence. It's a matter of how we interpret the empirical data. There is nothing about the discipline of biochemistry that forces anyone to subscribe to the metaphysical philosophy of materialism (i.e. the belief that only matter exists).

    So these are philosophical issues. A point you steadfastly refuse to recognise.

  • Comment number 36.

    LSV, let me point you to some research papers or online articles about experiments that, if you were to read them, would allow you to participate in debates like this in a somewhat more knowledgeable way.

    First two examples of how somewhat complex molecules typically associated with life can even be found in the mostly very cold, lifeless expanses of space. See e.g. the paper by Higgs and Pudritz in Astrobiology. Available at arxiv.org
    Or see how organic molecules like propyl groups and esters are found even in space.

    And of course by merely creating the right conditions in a lab (conditions that can be found outside a lab on various places on earth too) you can get all sorts of building blocks of life to assemble by themselves. The classic is the Miller experiment,
    And there have been more recent follow-ups to that experiment of course, see e.g.

    Small bits of evidence like these do not form the last word (last word *for now*, nothing in science is ever final) in favour of abiogenesis. Hence the uncertainty scientists will for now admit to regarding abiogenesis. But I'd like to see you provide objective scientific evidence in favour of your 'god created life' hypothesis that outweighs even the modest bits that I've presented.

  • Comment number 37.

    And I just forgot in my previous post: if you feel that in any of the research I've pointed to the evidence of a divine hand is being unfairly omitted, then please point out where exactly. This is your chance to put your philosophical assumptions story into practice. Are the authors unfairly omitting godly intervention anywhere by limiting their explanations of the formation of complex, usually organic molecules like protein parts to natural causes? Could you interpret any of the results in a theistic way that makes better sense? If so, then please elaborate.

  • Comment number 38.


    You put my thoughts into much more eloquent terms, I thank you.


    "So what you are saying is that the mere existence of life proves that it self-assembled without the need for an organising influence?"

    The mere existance of life proves that it arose, of that even you cannot deny. The prevailing theories, based upon the best possible evidence and experiments, shows that yes, it 'self-assembled' (a rather crude and strawman way of calling it) without the need for any organising influence. If you've got contradictory evidence that might've missed the thousands of scientists who've already conducted such experiments, then please enlighten us.

    If your issue is about chance and probability, then yes, I accept that the chance of a self-replicating molecule being created, even under optimum conditions, is very slim indeed. However, given millions of potential reactions would occur every second and the processes occured over the period of millions of years, that chance is reduced down to almost certain probability.

  • Comment number 39.

    A C Graling's comments in his book 'Against all Gods' that people from a special interest group who advertise their beliefs and practices by how they dress are divisive at least and provocative at worst. They no more deserve respect than any other special interest group i.e. any political party etc

    I found this interesting in relation to all dress related religious advertising. Do such votaries deserve respect?


  • Comment number 40.

    PK -

    Thanks for those links. I have known about the Miller experiment for many years, and am also aware that it has been criticised - one major issue being the fact that amino acids were formed in a racemic mix, which is apparently useless for the formation of proteins, which require just laevorotatory amino acids.

    Furthermore, the theory of probability (which Natman has put forward in his post here) doesn't take into account the fact that biochemical reactions are reversible. The proposed reducing atmosphere of the early earth would have subjected these proteins to ultraviolet radiation which would have destroyed them. The idea that anything can be created given enough time, fails to take into account the influences which destroy life. If the formation of complex proteins is improbable, then the greater likelihood is that such structures would be broken down once they had been created. Therefore the more time you give this process the less likely it is for such structures to endure.

    This idea of "near certainty given enough time" is illustrated by the "monkeys on typewriters" model. Eventually a Shakespeare play will be produced if a quintillion monkeys tap away on a quintillion typewriters for x number of years. There's a problem, however, with that illustration. It does not take into account the reversibility of biochemical reactions. It's a bit like all the reams of paper being carefully stored away somewhere and protected from any harm. That's not the reality of the universe we live in. A more accurate illustration would be this: when the monkey presses a key on the typewriter, the letter 'a' (for example) appears on the sheet of paper. But when the monkey lifts his finger off the key, the letter then disappears. In other words, the event is reversible. The only way the reaction would not be reversible is if it were maintained within an irreducibly complex system within a fine-tuned environment already in place.

    So do the reactions in the Miller experiment serve to protect life? In fact, no life was actually formed in that experiment anyway - just a few amino acids, which were the inevitable result of the original molecules selected for the experiment. I understand that no similar experiment has been conducted to produce proteins by purely natural means (perhaps you know of one??). Frankly, it's an extremely vague and dissatisfying point Miller tried to prove with that experiment.

    However, getting back to philosophical issues: none of these kinds of experiments actually prove anything metaphysical (i.e. concerning the explanation of reality as a whole). It's a bit like analysing the workings of a motor car, and then conjecturing that these parts could conceivably have been put together by some process which is not the one we usually associate with the manufacture of cars. Such a theory could have some vague plausibility, but it certainly doesn't prove that that is what actually happened. Furthermore, the supposed sense of absence of the designer is irrelevent to the argument. We never use that argument in real life when we look at complex systems. We look at a system and conclude - due to its complexity - that it has been designed by an intelligence. The idea that we need to know the name of the designer, find out where he lives, see his face, shake his hand etc. before we can conclude that the system was, in fact, designed, is a truly absurd argument. We make the deduction about the origin of the system from the complexity of the system itself.

    One of the great lies of the modern age is the claim that the scientific method inherently possesses philosophical authority. The scientific method has no such function. It simply studies the systems and structures of nature. Going back to the illustration of the motor car - no amount of study of the workings of a car engine will tell us anything about the purpose of the car for the owner, anything about the ethics relating to its use, and, in fact, it will not necessarily tell us anything about who or what manufactured it. Certainly the appearance of design in complex systems could not possibly lead any honest investigator to conclude that it must have been put together without the input of control and intelligence (even if, by some incredible and mind-boggling fluke, it had been).

    The only conceivable way such an improbable conclusion could be reached is if the 'design theory' had been falsified. In the case of an 'ultimate intelligence' behind the complexity of life, this seems to be your approach. But this is not a scientific conclusion, but a philosophical one. Therefore the debate is not about the Miller experiment etc, but concerns philosophical and metaphysical concepts.

    There is nothing in the study of the systems of nature which tells us authoritatively which philosophy we ought to adopt. That is something we read into nature, and not derive from it. This is, for me, such a patently obvious point, that it really does baffle me how certain other people just cannot see it. That is why I have kept on about the problems with empiricism (which some people, who don't understand the significance of this point, seem to think is merely hair-splitting pedantry). It underlines the limitations of the scientific method. Clearly I am not alone in making this rather obvious point. ("Science cannot be justified by the scientific method". Classic!).

    (By the way... I am fascinated by Peter Atkins' argument in this Youtube video I've just linked to. He argues against the existence of God by referring to the fact that people desperately 'want to believe in him'. This is presumably the argument from wishful thinking. Apparently if I want to believe in something, that itself is 'proof' that it must be false!! I take it therefore that atheists believe that their view is true only because they do not want to believe it. If they did want to believe it, then, according to this reasoning, that would make it false! Nice to know that you are all heavy-hearted atheists, who long for God to exist!! Frankly I think some people seriously need a basic lesson in logic.)

  • Comment number 41.


    We're still awaiting (with not-so-baited breath) for your evidence to support an alternate claim.

    Trying to equate biological life with am inamimate and non-procreational motorcar is an old, old debating trick (William Paley anyone?) that has had its ideas thoroughly refuted many years ago. Cars cannot reproduce, they have no mutatable components and cannot adapt to their environment.

    Trying to convince us with "I can't possibly conceive of such complexity occuring without it, therefore there must be an intelligent cause" merely displays your inability to comprehend the evidence that exists, as opposed to making any real claim.

    Your ignorance of organic chemistry is appalling; whilst all reactions are reversible, given the right conditions, that does not equate to all reactions are reversible all of the time. For a given set of reaction conditions, for the vast majority of reactions, one direction in the reaction is more thermodynamically or kinetically favourable (look up the difference between those two, it's important). So whilst the creation of organic molecules might slower due to this reversible effect, ultimately the reaction procedes, and we've discussed just how much time the Earth had to progress its reactions.

    And a racemic mix is perfectly fine for the creation of proteins, the dextrorotatory amino acids that are formed are ignored in the formation whilst the laevorotatory isomers quite happily combine away.

    You've been reading far too much creationist output and non-technical sources, try looking into the real chemistry.

    Try this site here, if the moderators will let it past. Read it, digest the contents, then come back with real arguments.

  • Comment number 42.

    Natman -

    I could direct the same insults to you regarding your grasp of logic, not to mention your inability to understand the limitations of the scientific method. I have never claimed to be an expert in every discipline (who is - including you?), but I was throwing out certain ideas which have called into question the validity of the Miller experiment to prove that life can arise by purely natural means. You and Peter seem to think that it does. How does it? How can the production of a few amino acids prove the truth of a particular explanation for the whole of reality? The idea is frankly absurd. You are not slow to heap scorn on Christians for finding inspiration from a particular book, and yet you are prepared to build a whole view of reality on the production of a few amino acids in a fairly meaningless experiment.

    The point about a finely tuned environment to maintain the life that has supposedly been created is not exactly a daft comment, is it? And that complex and conducive environment has to be in place from the start. It is not exactly a particularly controversial idea, is it?

    You pick up on the few comments I made about the Miller experiment, but as usual, you ignore the wider philosophical issues, on which you totally depend for your assertions. For instance, please provide the proof that the scientific method can function as a philosophy? How does the scientific method generate metaphysical concepts?

    Either you are serious about discussions concerning issues of truth, or you are just trying to score cheap points. If you want to trade insults over our respective academic disciplines, I can easily trawl through your comments on this blog and make a mockery of any vestige of a claim you have to logic. So grow up.

  • Comment number 43.


    The scientific method may have its limitations, however, it's the only method that has been shown to provide useable results and you've failed to provide any suggestions what alternatives there are.

    It's all well and good to sit in your (supposedly) irrefutable tower of logic, but you've never, not once, provided anything as an acceptable alternative. Rather you've ignored the scientific and technical details and based your entire debate upon metaphysical concepts that, whilst important to philosophers and those interested in the foundations of knowledge, have no bearing on the fact, like it or not, evidence exists to support the currently held theories, and none exists to support your idea that an intelligent agent was the cause of it all. You might think you're supplying evidence, but "you can't disprove goddit" isn't a valid point.

    I find it highly arrogant of you to presume that your claims of logic and so on have been deftly ignored by the vast and highly intelligent body of international scientists and they're plodding along, trying to ignore the elephant in the room.

    At least I make no claims of my own that rival your massive presumption that every single scientist in the world is making a big mistake, rather, all the points and evidences I've supplied and used have been put forwards by people far greater than I.

    Miller-Urey is not the only experiment to have shown complex molecules can be created under conditions similar to a hypothised early Earth, no credible scientist bases their ideas on a single experiment performed by a single team of scientists never one repeated. That's your trick. Asserting that the entirety of the possibly infinite universe can be explained by one single book with no other possible alternatives.

    Until you can provide viable and proven alternatives to the scientific method, instead of poking it with your Grand Stick Of Logic, and can properly refute the evidence of evolution, abiogenesis and all the other myriad evidences for a non-theistic cause of life on a scientific level, I will consider all further comments from you as dodging the question.

    Yes, I might be doing the same regarding your "logiclogiclogic!" points, but I can't see why I should bother when you're clearly unwilling to contemplate anything other than your own single point.

  • Comment number 44.

    Congrats to Robert Edwards on his Nobel Prize for Medicine. No one has done more for getting babies born into this world. The Vatican will be so pleased.

  • Comment number 45.

    No they won't RJB:


    You'd have thought they learned their lesson in the past and accept that they would do better to stay out of anything related to the physical world. And focus instead on claims that have no connection to it, like the fine details of purgatory, original sin, etc. But no, they insist on showing their poor grasp of the real world. As well as their true anti-science colors in a number of areas.

  • Comment number 46.


    You did realise I was being sarcastic??!

  • Comment number 47.

    Natman (@ 43) -

    Firstly, I acknowledge that my final three word sentence in my post 42 was out of order. So apologies for that. [/Sackcloth and ashes.]

    You say: "At least I make no claims of my own that rival your massive presumption that every single scientist in the world is making a big mistake...."

    Are you suggesting that every single scientist in the world is an atheist? Or you don't accept the qualifications of scientists who question the philosophy of naturalism? I fail to see how a belief that there is an external source which inputs information into matter (remember there is information at the basis of life) is somehow detrimental to the work of science. And my conviction is further strengthened by the fact that many pioneers of modern science were actually theistic believers (Newton, Faraday and Clerk Maxwell - all heroes of Einstein). A belief in God is not going to prevent an engineer from designing a bridge, or indeed a chemist from synthesising a new drug. Certainly the Christian world view asserts that there is a fundamental rationality behind the universe and everything in it, which provides a basis for studying nature, as well as using it for useful purposes. This is not contrary to science.

    All I have been saying is that science cannot tell us anything about metaphysics (i.e. what reality is about as a whole). All the Miller experiment tells us is that a certain reaction produces some amino acids. There is nothing about that experiment (or any similar experiment) which sheds any light on what reality is about as a whole. That is beyond the empirical scientific method. I can't see exactly what is so shocking about making this very simple and obvious point.

    You say there is no evidence for an external intelligence, but of course since you discount the evidence of complexity itself, then what can I say?

    If you can show me how a scientific experiment can produce a philosophy, then I will believe what you say. I personally completely fail to see who some molecules at the bottom of a test tube can tell me what life is about. If - for the sake of argument - your world view is correct, then I can only assume that natural selection has made my mind (or rather, my brain) what it is, and therefore I am genetically predisposed to see reality in a certain way. (I don't believe that, of course, but that's the implication of your world view). So you can hardly criticise what natural selection has produced.

    The results of the scientific method could support both atheistic and theistic conclusions. It's all a matter of how we interpret and use the empirical data in accordance with a preconceived philosophy.

    There is not one thing I have written that seeks to undermine science. I am not against science. In fact I am for it. What I am against is bad philosophy masquerading as science.

  • Comment number 48.


    Your devotion and understanding of logic is impressive, and much better than mine, however, complexity is not evidence of design.

    The claim that the entire universe is the product of an intelligent designer is an extraordinary claim, and as such requires extraordinary proof. The concept that the universe, life and all you see arose through purely naturalistic means, despite the flaws you may see in it, has sustainable and strong evidence and active research programs than increase those evidences constantly.

    Seriously, follow the link that I provided before (I'd encourage anyone who reads this to do the same). If you still have questions that aren't answered there, I'm sure we can work through them as well. Believe in gods all you want, but don't think for a minute that the overwhelming body of evidence for a naturalistic universe is going away.

  • Comment number 49.

    Reading the discussion on this thread I am reminded of Peter Williams summary of his chapter "Does Science Explain everything" (2009 A Sceptics guide to Atheism) Williams makes a good argument and summarises when he says that the 'Science vs. religion' objection is an illusion. Within the chapter he discusses the idea that science and religion needs to be always in conflict. For example, that science explains everything, or given time will explain everything, so there is no necessity for a God. Science is not equipped to deal with everything especially meaning. He quotes Peter Kreef ...'trying to tell the truth with a clock instead of an argument is as silly as trying to tell the time with a syllogism'. I think that LSV is quite correct in pointing out that scientists fail to take an adequate account of their own philosophical beliefs and baised world view. Science cannot explain everything. If scientists tell us that there can be no reason to accept intelligent design then they are they not making a statement that they are not prepared to follow the evidence, wherever it may lead. With regard to reliance on the scientific method Williams has an interesting illustration. '...the kettle is boiling because of the laws of thermodynamics and because I want a mug of coffee.'

  • Comment number 50.

    William, why is the Christian Institute web site not linked on your favourites? Is this just an ommission or have you a reason that it is not one of your favourites?

  • Comment number 51.

    If - for the sake of argument - your world view is correct, then I can only assume that natural selection has made my mind (or rather, my brain) what it is, and therefore I am genetically predisposed to see reality in a certain way. (I don't believe that, of course, but that's the implication of your world view). So you can hardly criticise what natural selection has produced.

    Tell you what, LSV, drop the assertions of what the implications of other people's world view are, based as they are on poorly understood notions and a truly breathtaking disregard for the arguments people actually make - and give us a peep of your own. For a self professed philosopher, you are remarkably coy about giving anything like a philosophical account of anything beyond pointing out the banally obvious difficulty of justifying a particular epistemological position. You have been invited a few times to give an example of an alternative that is immune from philosophical assault, but there has been nothing forthcoming.

    The results of the scientific method could support both atheistic and theistic conclusions. It's all a matter of how we interpret and use the empirical data in accordance with a preconceived philosophy.

    I would argue that it could support, at present, both atheistic and deistic conclusions, and nearly all the critiques of the Nasty Gnu Atheism implicitly recognise this when they say "Oh, that Dawkins, he doesn't understand the sophisiticated theology that doesn't regard god as some sort of cosmic architect, but rather as a ground of all being blah blah blah..." Well, this sophisticated, if rather diminutive god doesn't answer prayers or perform miracles or demand to control the way we think and feel, and who we can sleep with. He/she it won't promise us a reward in some afterlife, or support us in our violent squabbles about some tiny corner of a pale blue dot, so there is no need for argument beyond a bit of banter on the internet.

    Trouble is, that's not the god most believers believe in, and not, I suspect, the one you believe in, either. So come on, leave off your rather embarassing forays into science and strut your philosophical stuff and I promise not to point out any but the most egregious fallacies :)

  • Comment number 52.

    Now I've taken time to catch up on yet so many more words from LSV and I don't think I've read even a single new thing. All repeats of the old fallacies and straw men. And as several others have noted, not one bit to offer for himself that outweighs evidence for abiogenesis, even when that still has considerable gaps in the evidence. So no, the Miller experiment didn't produce life, but it did offer a small bit of evidence. Like the tons of other experiments that LSV has never read anything about. No point in pointing him toward any scientific reading on the matter, he'll never read it. Just as he ignored 3 out of 4 links I put up in my post. And long-time readers here know why. He made a few scientific claims on the blog here once. When challenged over it (and I've challenged him over it many times since then) he has ran away each and every time. He knows he can't enter the real world where he'd have to produce something that goes beyond pseudo-philosophical babble. Or beyond misrepresenting what his opponents in debate have said. Or beyond straw men. Or beyond hand waving arguments.

    I do remember him -astonishingly- claiming victory on another thread. While he may be champion in pseudo-philosophy, he won't be taking home any prizes in the real world.

  • Comment number 53.

    (I know this is an old story, but bear with me, it's got a different ending)

    There was once a devoutly religous old man whose life was characterised by his strong faith and constant prayer.

    One day there was a flood and as the waters lapped around his house and in through his front door, some of his neighbours waded by with an inflatable dingy. "Come on." They said, "We'll take you to higher ground."

    "No thank you." Came the response from the old man, "God will save me."

    A little while later and the flood waters had risen so high he was forced to abandon the lower floor and retreat upstairs. A rescue boat, looking for stranded people came up. "Come on." They said, "We'll take you to someplace safer."

    "No thank you." Came the response from the old man, "God will save me."

    The flood waters rose even higher and the old man managed to climb onto his roof to escape the relentless rising tide of water. A helicopter came by and a man lowered himself down to the roof. "Come on." He said, "We'll carry you to a safe place away from the waters."

    "No thank you." Came the response from the old man, "God will save me."

    Eventually the flood waters rose so high, they enveloped the mans house and he was swept away to his death.

    Forget talk of asking God why he wasn't saved and getting a flippant reply about the supply of boats and helicopters. The foolish old man never even considered why a supposed god would flood his house in the first place, why people continue to build and purchase houses on flood plains despite the risks and how religion makes people do stupid things for even stupider reasons.

  • Comment number 54.

    CTO (@ 49) -

    "Science is not equipped to deal with everything especially meaning. He quotes Peter Kreef ...'trying to tell the truth with a clock instead of an argument is as silly as trying to tell the time with a syllogism'."

    Spot on.

    As I have pointed out, the empirical scientific method cannot deliver a philosophy, and it also cannot prove the validity of the scientific method itself. No amount of evasion and huffing and puffing can obscure this simple fact. Therefore the basic epistemology of naturalism is self-contradictory, thus proving that naturalistic claims have no validity.

    grokesx (@ 51) -

    "...based as they are on poorly understood notions and a truly breathtaking disregard for the arguments people actually make..."

    Those arguments being...?

    "You have been invited a few times to give an example of an alternative that is immune from philosophical assault, but there has been nothing forthcoming."

    Such as when...?

    PK (@ 52) -

    "He made a few scientific claims on the blog here once. When challenged over it (and I've challenged him over it many times since then) he has ran away each and every time."

    Please point these out.

  • Comment number 55.

    @ LSV

    A few recent invitations, by no means exhaustive. A couple were sort of addressed but with the central question left unanswered.


  • Comment number 56.


    "As I have pointed out, the empirical scientific method cannot deliver a philosophy, and it also cannot prove the validity of the scientific method itself. No amount of evasion and huffing and puffing can obscure this simple fact. Therefore the basic epistemology of naturalism is self-contradictory, thus proving that naturalistic claims have no validity."

    And where does the validity of supernaturalistic claims come from? Why are claims made of non-naturalistic basis more valid than naturalistic ones? What is your alternative to this invalid methodology?

    You've never truely answered that simple question. It's all well and good claiming something is flawed, but if you're not prepared to put forwards equally valid alternatives then your words come across as nothing but empty complaints.

  • Comment number 57.


    "Please point these out."

    A few examples, by no means exhaustive:


    Where is the scientific evidence you claim to have regarding thermodynamics, astronomy, etc? The three examples above are just three out of what must be at least a dozen invitations to present it by now.

  • Comment number 58.

    grokesx (@ 55) -

    I think you will find that I have explained my position extremely clearly:


    There is a constant criticism of so-called 'religious' people - that we reject 'reason' and embrace something called 'faith', which is mistakenly defined as 'believing something you know is not true'. Since you acknowledge that your own position cannot be proven, then I assume that you are also critical of fellow atheists who regard naturalism as intellectually superior to super-naturalism?

    Natman, for instance, is always asking me for evidence. I reply with: the evidence of design and complexity, the evidence of reason itself, the evidence of a moral sense, and yet all these are simply disregarded without any coherent substantiation. So how can I present my position when you and your ilk are already totally prejudiced against the idea of considering the evidence that I have just referred to? Take design, for instance. You may be able to conduct an experiment that may demonstrate some aspect of abiogenesis, but it still cannot prove that that is how life actually arose. The only way you can make the leap from "could have happened this way" to "did definitely happen this way" is through a prior commitment to a particular philosophy, and the empirical data are interpreted accordingly. I think that this point is so glaringly obvious that anyone who can't see it must be either unspeakably ignorant or just being bloody-minded. Direct proof of the origin of life is impossible according to the scientific method, and therefore all scientists can do is theorise according to certain philosophical premises.

    The alternative to empiricism is rationalism (although, unfortunately, 'rationalism' is often mistakenly understood as synonymous with empiricism). I know for a fact that empiricism (as the basis for one's epistemology) is invalid. Unless you can show me how a philosophy of life and an irrefutable epistemology is proven by a scientific experiment, then I will continue to hold that position. Reason itself cannot be explained empirically, and therefore it constitutes evidence for the existence of a reality distinct from the material world.

    Now it could be argued that my position only proves agnosticism. Fair enough. But at least it brings theism back into the intellectual fold (although it was never out of the intellectual fold), and proves that the dogmatic claims of atheism (i.e. its ill-informed and illogical condemnation of all beliefs contrary to naturalism) are invalid.

    So, yes, we can have a mature discussion about issues relating to our shared human experience, and listen sympathetically to different points of view. Or we can just mud-sling, which is the inevitable consequence of the atheists' insistence that only their way can be deemed to be intellectually valid, which frankly is such a boring and trite bit of special pleading, that it is almost impossible to resist the temptation to challenge it.

    As for the conflict between science and religion: could you really envisage the situation whereby the Chilean government had to commit itself to atheistic naturalism before it could attempt to utilise technology to rescue the miners? After all, it's a highly technological feat they are embarked on. Could they possibly pull it off, while at the same time believing in God? Or is rejection of God a necessary condition for the ability to use the fruits of scientific endeavour? In fact, do I need to renounce my commitment to Christianity before I dare use my computer?!

    Simple basic common sense tells us that there is absolutely no conflict whatsoever between the scientific method, on the one hand, and belief in God, on the other. The scientific method is philosophically neutral, although I would say that belief in an intelligible universe (therefore the result of intelligence) is actually highly conducive to the work of science.

  • Comment number 59.

    The evidence of design and complexity.

    Not evidence, how does it show anything? 'Design' is a subjective viewpoint. How anyone can look at the horrendously flawed human body and think it was designed is laughable. Either the designer is dangerously incompentent, or it has a sick sense of humour. Please tell me how you can look at the errors in something as basic as human physiology and tell me it's been designed.

    The evidence of reason itself.

    That's as bad as saying god exists because god exists. Reason exists because we're here to reason it. It's circular logic and only proves that we exist - something easily proven by the fact of our existance.

    The evidence of a moral sense

    Take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged. Morals only exist because we create them. That's not evidence.

    See, no evidence at all. Just concepts that LSV likes to parade as if they're somehow inherant to the universe.

  • Comment number 60.

    Thank you Sky and Rupert M for helping me count the miners emerging from the murky depths with your rescu-ometer on the top left of the tv screen. Has you been taken over by Sesame Street?

    We're at 24 at the moment, Jose somebody or other. Apparently, he likes bananas and once had a shot of a scooter.

    Can we have a cheerio-meter to count the amount of seconds Sky will still be there after number 33 is rescued?

    And Andrew Marr has a pop at bloggers!!

  • Comment number 61.

    Natman (@ 59) -

    Well, I'm a great believer in freedom of speech, and I am happy that you are exercising your right to express your opinions.

    I myself accept the evidence of design, reason and morality and regard that as support for my logically coherent world view. You can mock as much as you like, but I realise that no amount of argument on my part will make any difference to people like you.

    If I am deluded (I know that I am not) then I can't see what difference it makes within your world view, since everything is subjective anyway. If morality is simply an illusion, then I can't see why you get so fussed about various issues. If your philosophy is right, then I believe what I do because of the effect of nature on who I am. Therefore there is no 'right or wrong' about it.

    So live and let live. And if you really can't do that, then it proves you are not particularly consistent with your own philosophy, which inexorably leads to mindless existentialism.

    Go on, have the guts to live totally consistently with your nihilistic philosophy and stop stealing the concept of 'right and wrong' from a world view you quite obviously reject. (Here's an example of your appeal to objective morality - an idea that you now say you reject. You use phrases like 'perverting good intentions' and refer to 'crimes', but what do these words mean if there is no such thing as objective morality?). Consistency is not a lot to ask, is it?

    "Take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy."

    What a ridiculous argument from materialistic reductionism. I know... let's apply this to Natman's comment. I'll grind down my computer, sift through the atoms and see if I can find Natman's comment and the meaning within it!

    If you are going to use an argument from reductionism, first prove that reductionism is true. Where in the properties of atoms and molecules will you find proof for the truth of the philosophy of reductionism? Again, this comes back to the absurdity of empiricism, and the hubris of those who think the scientific method can answer every question. It patently cannot.

    (It's funny how you feel confident to refer to the concepts of 'justice' and 'mercy', when obviously these words cannot even be defined within a world view of subjective morality. What is 'justice'? What is 'mercy'? Apparently they are whatever we decide they are. In other words, if you are right, they are meaningless ideas. So why even use them? Again another absurdity in your confused and inconsistent philosophy.)

  • Comment number 62.


    As HERE introduced the concept of falsifying a philosophical position, asserting that since empiricism couldn't be verified empirically it was false, but didn't offer any alternative. Now you offer us empiricism's ancient foe, rationalism as an alternative. I will resist the urge to be so crass and one dimensional in adressing this as you are with empiricism, and merely note that a fundamental claim of (some versions of) rationalism, namely that some propositions are knowable by intuition alone is pretty shaky and cannot be verified by rationality alone... well you get the picture. This trivial point does not mean we should chuck out all of rationalism and steadfastly ignore a priori knowledge any more than the argument ad ellesvee means we should just believe whatever comes into our heads.

    More to come, but the dog needs a late night amble.

  • Comment number 63.


    As entertaining as slugging out the empiricist/rationalist battle would be, it's hardly useful, although some points may crop up later.

    More interesting is the idea of bringing theism back into the intellectual fold. I'm afraid poor roasted Ed puts an appearance again here, because there are precious few atheists - and none I recall on here - who follow the line you keep saying they do. You mistake a robust presentation of argument for some sort of intellectual one party statism. But, as Monty Python has it, if I am going to argue with you, I have to take a contrary position. The only thing new about New Atheism is that it isn't scared to say, hold on a minute, that thing you theists believe on the flimsiest of evidence makes no sense whatsoever to us, so come on, justify yourselves rather than hiding behind centuries of tradition and forelock tugging. It might seem some sort of affront to you, but what are we talking about? A few books and telly programmes and blogs? The objection to having half baked philosophy, warmed over theology and plain old fashioned creationism taught as science in our schools? The insistence by scientists that people who know sweet FA about science and the scientific method don't get to tell them what counts as science and evidence and what doesn't?

    If that's the sort of thing you object to - and your little homilies about respecting those nice agnostics because they don't have the temerity to actually challenge theistic certainties suggest that it might be - then tough. The argumentation won't go away, so you'll just have to up your game beyond philosophical wranglings that haven't been settled in what, two and a half millenia, and are unlikely to be settled in two and a half more (which is why those clever guys four hundred or so years ago appropriated the best bits and left the arguing over angels on pin heads to pompous philosophers with nothing better to do).

    Woo, I came over all rhetorical there and I have not started on those few morsels you have thrown us. I'll have a quick go at the evidence of design.

    Design is not evidence, it is a claim. The appearance of design was once strong evidence for the claim, but the discoveries of science have made it much less compelling. As Natman says, we are talking about a pretty poor designer, or one who wants us to think it was evolution what done (some of) it.

    Just a quickie before we go:

    You may be able to conduct an experiment that may demonstrate some aspect of abiogenesis, but it still cannot prove that that is how life actually arose. The only way you can make the leap from "could have happened this way" to "did definitely happen this way" is through a prior commitment to a particular philosophy.

    Been here, done that. Science doesn't say definitely happened that way, it says this is our best explanation so far. Some scientists do say the D word and even the P word sometimes, but that's because they have to live in a world full of religious people who think uncertainty about something means magic man done it.

  • Comment number 64.


    I'm sorry to alter your obviously carefully crafted view of someone you know nothing about, but whilst I don't see morals as absolute, I do see them as important, vital even, to a functioning human society. We create them and adhere to them for various reasons, but if the human race was to go extinct, the universe wouldn't even bat an eyelid.

    I'm sure you've proof that concepts such as mercy and justice are inherant to the universe, and I'm also sure all those people who suffer and die due to reasons not of their own making are happier knowing that the universe did have a purpose for their suffering.

    I'm also going to raise this again, as you dodge the issue each time. If design is proof, then how can you reconcile the evident flaws in human physiology? Was the designer limited in its ability to create beings without these flaws? Is it some form of cruel, sadistic humour? Or is it, more likely and plausible, that these flaws exist because we evolved slowly, without intelligence, and have these flaws due to the processes involved in getting to our current form?

    Saying design is proof is a good argument. But only if the design does indeed show design. All the indicators point to the fact that it doesn't. If a designer was involved, then you'd think we'd be better designed.

  • Comment number 65.

    64 Natman
    ‘If a designer was involved then you’d think we’d be better designed’

    That’s an interesting thought so you might consider this. From concept to production an aircraft takes at least 5 years to achieve the basic design. Concurrent within this time frame testing occurs for at least 2 -3 years. Engine design and test takes much longer and starts even before the concept airframe is defined. Following this, individual aircraft are manufactured for 20 years or more, including intermediate variant production. The design and support function never really stops. At the end of series production there will be units flying which will need on-going support. Yet, even with a massive design input, not one aircraft is ever made perfect. All have flaws, or compromises, that will have been accepted by the customer.

    If I look at an aircraft I can see a designer at work because everything has a purpose, and the appearance of a design. The principles of flight with regard to air-vehicles are well documented, (in nature except for bumble bees), analysed to death and mathematical models have been created to describe what will or will not happen to an aircraft, given a set of parameters. Nothing gets on to an aircraft without a defined purpose, and maintenance checks, modifications, improvements and testing, follow the aircraft from birth to the inevitable death in a crash, scrapyard, or perhaps a museum. In fact, the aircraft was made from the ‘dust of the ground’ and to dust it will return, if not recycled.

    Considering the complexity of a so called ‘non-design’, that evolved out of nothing, and given that it is by chance/serendipity that everything we see in the living and non-living world has a purpose, and is what makes the world today. If this is result of an on-going process, and, given the vast unimaginable time for evolution to get it right, why isn’t everything perfected. For non-religious evolutionists (not necessarily creation evolutionists) there is no designer and there is no reason, or purpose, for us to exist. If we are sick it must therefore be evolution’s fault. Chance occurrences don’t have a controlling hand directing and giving reasons for, and purposes to, living and non-living things. Given that we are an accident of chance, is it not fair to conclude that, whether we live or die, it can be of no relevance to the universe, and as such, it should have no relevance to us. Except perhaps where we have developed a sense that there may be a loss of companionship to ourselves, and express what we call ‘human emotions’.

    Is it is our conscious part of our minds, an existence that constrains us in an unexplainable way into thinking that we matter. Trees and rocks have no conscience, as far as we know, and really we can be no better, or worse, than anything else evolution has managed so far to cobble together. We are no more than parasites on this rock which we call earth.

    However, if we believe that a designer does exist, something that cannot be disproved, and that he is still working on his creation, then it is not surprising that we may still are being perfected, in the sense that this creator/designer has enabled us to reach a stage of develop to the point we are at today. God rested on the Sabbath, but nowhere does it say that he has retired. For Christians, perfection is of course spiritual, not physical. If God made us in his image, (not a physical image as we believe that God is spirit and eternal), with the intent of having a relationship with us, it is not the perfection of our bodies that should concern us, but of our souls.

    Human progress has more than exponentially developed over the years, beyond our wildest imagination. But why was human progress been so slow in coming, and how does a non-theistic evolution solution account for it? Why the sudden spurt of language and thought, or that the invention of modern technology space travel etc. that has occurred in the very recent past, compared to evolution process history? Why aren’t other mammals talking, philosophising, making cars and the like? Is there a designer still working on us today? When did we diverge from the evolution process to the concept of being?

    If we believe in God, we will have something to hope for. For those who believe that God has created the heavens and the earth, this ‘world is not our home, we are just passing through’. For us things do have a design and a purpose. Whether we live or die does have relevance to us, as does the after-life. Atheistic scientists struggle to give any reason as to why events such as the Big Bang occurred or even for our conscious existence and delight in philosophical thought. DNA and RNA complex genetic material can be understood, even modified, in the lab today, but why is it there? Experts still can’t show, at least to my satisfaction, how the non-living things transformed into the living things, if chance alone played a part. How can we continue to exclude the possibility of designer? This is Christian view of the world that I suppose you won’t accept. But there might come a day you might.

  • Comment number 66.


    The evidence of reason.

    And? It is not immediately obvious to me how reason counts as compelling evidence for a creating intelligence. I'm assuming your hypothesis is that it is some sort of underlying ordering scheme of the universe and it was placed there by a god, but its existence per se does nothing to favour the larger claims of whatever of flavour of theism you hold to. There are natural explanations as well, so unless you can come up with a prediction of how things would be different if reason was the result of a supernatural intelligence rather than a purely natural process, then you can't really escape Natman's circularity objection. It's a tough nut to crack, this one. Empirically, I don't see where you can go with it, and rationally you end up with the same problem as the dreaded merry go round – ie you can't use reason to verify itself.

  • Comment number 67.

    Check this out,

    "Experts still can’t show, at least to my satisfaction, how the non-living things transformed into the living things, if chance alone played a part (emphasis mine)

    Well gosh, you're not satisfied? I'm sure the thousands of highly qualified and competent biochemists out there, who understand the chemistry, theories and hypothesis much, much better than you count for nothing. It's okay! Check_this_out isn't satisfied, it must be wrong!

    All in all, your post was severely flawed. The analogy about the airplane told me one thing; you're prepared to concede that god is a poor and flawed designer. If god is all powerful and all knowing, then he could design us without flaws. That we do have flaws means he's either incompentent, or sadistic. Take your pick.

    Perhaps the dawning realisation that we are deeply flawed as biological beings will open your eyes to the fact that, if you claim intelligent design the abilities of the designer are suspect.

  • Comment number 68.

    67 Natman
    'you're prepared to concede that god is a poor and flawed designer'

    Actually no, I am not. Your statement was anticipated. Answer this question. If perfection is so important, why have golf balls dimples? Why arn't they smooth? Is that not perfection, the smoothest surface possible.

  • Comment number 69.


    Are you serious?

    "perfection is so important, why have golf balls dimples? Why arn't they smooth? Is that not perfection, the smoothest surface possible."

    Er, not for a golf ball. Your question is pointless and meaningless. Perfection for a golf ball -is- dimpled. If it didn't have dimples then it wouldn't be perfect. The assumption that the "smoothest surface possible" is perfection is wrong. If it was, then everything in the universe would be a perfectly smooth sphere. You're confusing the issue and I find the question both amusing (in that it's not even wrong) and appalling (in that you seriously think that's a good question). I'm sure even the likes of LSV will agree that your golf ball analogy is wrong.

    However, if you think that, somehow, the flaws evident in the human body represent perfection, then you seriously need to talk to some biologists.

  • Comment number 70.

    And explaining the function of the appendix in humans would make a good start. (And male nipples.)

  • Comment number 71.

    The explanation of all these faults in the anatomy of both humans and animals lies in Unintelligent Design, the religion of the Flying Spaghetti Mosnter (a.k.a. Pastafarianism). This ought to be taught in schools alongside evolution, given how much empirical evidence there is in support of Pastafarianism and and many scientists support it.

  • Comment number 72.

    RAmen, Peter. He touches us all with his noodly appendage.

    I look forwards to the day when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence

  • Comment number 73.

    Heretics, the lot of you. It is written that the The Pink, The Invisible, Creator of Uncertainty and Keeper of Chaos allowed the creation of the universe through natural physical phenomena by not ever existing except in the minds of men (and women and aliens), so obviously that is what should and will be taught in our schools.

    The FSM - usurper of the One True Faith.

  • Comment number 74.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 75.

    All this talk of alternative explanations reminds me of what one of my FSM buddies wrote in response to some US district school board encouraging the teaching of Intelligent Design.

    “There are a number of creation theories from different cultures around the world and, in order to give your students a detailed education in all of these, you would actually not have scope in the timetable to teach any other subject, such as mathematics or literature. I would suggest you select no more than half a dozen options to teach in addition to evolution, as your students would otherwise be somewhat overwhelmed. I would suggest you investigate teaching Christian Intelligent Design, as it will initially be the most familiar to any church-goers amongst the class. To balance this unscientific view, Pastafarianism is the most logical choice. Should your teachers be unfamiliar with the key principles you will be able to approach any Pastafarian for guidance in creating a teaching plan. As ancient Egyptian beliefs helped to define the Judeo-Christian tradition, I would suggest one of the Egyptian stories be taught as historic background. As I am sure you are aware, one of the earliest of these identifies the foundations of the Ennead in which Atum arose from the primordial waters (Neith), and masturbated to relieve his loneliness. His semen and breath became Tefnut (moisture) and Shu (dryness), respectively. From Shu and Tefnut, were born Geb (earth), and Nut (sky), who were born in a state of permanent copulation. Shu separated them, and their children were Ausare (Osiris; death), Set (desert), Aset (Isis; life), and Nebet Het (Nephthys; fertile land). I would advise balancing the old Egyptian theory with one of the tribal beliefs still adhered to. You could select any of these from around the world, but I particularly like that of the African Bushmen, as it forms a nice juxtaposition of 2 African theories. People and animals lived peacefully under the surface of the earth with the Great Master and Lord of All Life, Kaang, who made plans to bring them out onto the surface of the world. He created a tree on the surface and dug a hole down to the inner world, and then helped all of the people and animals to climb out and spread over the country. When night came, the people were afraid and lit a fire, the one thing they had been forbidden to do. This scared away the animals and they were never again able to communicate with them. In the interests of providing balanced views, I would recommend you also include one of the Asian cultures’ creation myth, for example Japanese. In that story, 2 gods created Japan together. They subsequently married and Izanami gave birth to three children, Amaterasu (the sun), Tsuki-yumi (the moon) and Sosano-wo. I would finally suggest that you teach at least one of the Native American traditions. I was able to find for you the Iroquois story of the pregnant Sky Woman being thrown down to earth by her husband and land forming on the back of a giant turtle, although I am not familiar enough with American prehistory to know if that is the most appropriate one for your students, geographically."

    Brilliant. :)

  • Comment number 76.

    64 Natman
    'Perfection for a golf ball -is- dimpled.'

    Exactly. I'm ignoring for the minute, that this statment may be incorrect, and that it's possible that that aerodynamists might some day produce a better design for a golf ball with different surface characteristics.

    It was you said 'God is a poor and flawed designer', so how can you make such a statment about God's perfection, given that you have no knowledge of the criteria to be applied to assess perfection in his judgement? The golf ball is relevant as it is not intuitive that dimples will make the ball perform better in flight. Why put vortex gererators onto a clean aerodynamic wing surface? Why drill holes in a wing surface to improve laminar flow? Why are into wind steps sometimes better than out of wind steps? To the untrained observer these are flaws, after thoughts from an initial poor design. They are anything but.

    Why is ther life at all? Why has God given us a life span? Why do we die? Asking questions such as why nipples on men discard the bioscience that a designer has usilised in his creation of humankind. For you this is illrevant. The question however remains, why are we here?

    Could it not be that God's creation is functional and fit for the purpose he has created us for. I have never said that God made everything perfect, as we would wish or think to understand it. What is perfect? It is you who stated that if there is a designer he must be a poor one. So it is by using your own criteria that God, as a designer, is being judged.

  • Comment number 77.


    I'm not talking about people having funny spots, or a dicky arm that bothers them when the weather is cold, or even male pattern baldness. I'm talking about serious flaws that have no purpose whatsoever and, if designed in, represent serious errors of judgement. Flaws that kill, dehabilitate and make life a misery for millions of people. Flaws that, if we had the ability, we'd quickly do without.

    Downs syndrome, MS, food and air down the same hole, the appendix, inability to sythesis vitamin C, retinal blood vessels, carpal tunnel syndrome, autoimmune disorders. All of them caused by tiny errors in our design easily explained by evolutionary processes, but all of them a glaring hole in the idea of design.

    This is what I mean by you accepting that, if we are designed, god is a poor and flawed designer. If he is an all powerful being, who knows everything that is and will be, he would've been able to make us without flaws. But he didn't.

    Evading the obvious flaws with 'we don't know why god did it' is a lame answer.

    The question 'why are we here' is only a problem for those who care about such meaningless questions. The fact that I exist and I can enjoy life is enough for me. I don't need anything more.

  • Comment number 78.

    Mr kalver

    re: 75

    Doesn't seem that brilliant to me.

    I don't mean to be rude, and I know this person is a friend, but I really can't see these ideas working. Not only do these myths fail to ground science as it is practised and believed, but
    Fundamental objection = People just don't believe ideas like these any more. To be absolutely blunt, they just seem silly. Your friend may well be native American, and I wouldn't want to offend them too much, but you may want to gently suggest that they go back to the drawing board.

    Dr D-a-a-R

  • Comment number 79.

    "Fundamental objection = People just don't believe ideas like these any more. To be absolutely blunt, they just seem silly"

    Is there a religion/mythology which is not covered by this objection. There is not a single religion which holds a majority of the humans on the planet, and each believes every other religion is 'silly'.

  • Comment number 80.


    Hindu creation myths are quite believable because you do not have to believe that they are true to believe them.

    The Stoic and Epicurean myths are also quite popular today.But they seem a bit boring.


  • Comment number 81.

    I just don't believe ideas like these any more. To be absolutely blunt, they just seem silly.

    That statement applies to every single creation myth on the planet with regards me and all other atheists.

    Just because x number of people believe in something does not equal 'true'. Truth is based on observable evidence.

    Given all the stories are mutally exclusive, D-a-a-r, which creation myth is the 'true' one, and can you provide evidence to back that up?

  • Comment number 82.

    I would not believe in any myth that claimed to be TRUE.
    That is, that claimed to correspond to verifiable facts about the external world.

    That is not what myths are for! Read Wittgenstein!

  • Comment number 83.

    "Truth is based on observable evidence."

    What observable evidence is there to substantiate that definition, by the way? If you don't have any, I won't believe that it's true!

    Because a definition is a stipulation, and that's a claim to power

  • Comment number 84.

    In addition to post 77 it may be worth pointing out that the 'we don't see His big plan' line is only ever rolled out as an excuse when some terrible things need to be made consistent with a loving god somehow. When something good happens the believers are outdoing each other in praising god for it. Then they can somehow read gods grand plan perfectly and they know for sure that what seems good is indeed good.

  • Comment number 85.


    You're taking my post 75 way more serious than it was intended.

  • Comment number 86.

    D_a_a_r, regarding truth being determined by observable evidence you asked

    "What observable evidence is there to substantiate that definition, by the way?"

    You can look at the tremendous success of the empirical approach, for starters. That has a very well proven track record. You can see the evidence based approach working all the time.

  • Comment number 87.

    I think it would have been great seeing the faces on that schoolboard reading that letter. They lobby for alternatives so they can put Intelligent Design in the syllabus and get the tongue and cheek reply, well you'll also have to incorporate creationist beliefs of some other civilisations too. I bet they hadn't even considered that, they just wanted to push thier own agenda

  • Comment number 88.

    Mr Kalver

    Oh, my mistake

    you mean "truth" is "what is useful for a stated purpose"! I've no quarrel with that idea at all. It meets it's own defintion - it is a useful defintion of truth. And, obviously, the empirical methods that scientists use are extremely useful for their stated purposes, making accurate predictions.
    Compare this to Natman's idea. We cannot observe "truth", and we cannot observe it matching up with observations in the observable world. So his definition eats itself.
    Of course myths can be extremely useful too, but a lot depends on the stated purpose of the myth. Hindu mythology dodges most of the criticisms on offer here, for example. Educated Hindus do not beleive that the myths match up with any set of observations in the present or the past. Yet they believe that the myths are "true" given another set of purposes.

  • Comment number 89.

    I have a question. Aren't Christianity and Islam just branches of Judaism? They come from the same tree.Christianity and Islam just believe the Prophet has already been here and Judaism that he is yet to arrive. So if Jesus was born a Jew, was Mohammad also born a Jew or a Christian?

  • Comment number 90.


    Mohammad wasn't a Jew or a Christian (even though Christianity, unlike being a Jew, isn't a racial grouping - some people should remember that when their kids don't want to go to church), he was from the pre-Islamic Arabian peninsular, possibly Bedouin, but I might be wrong there.

    I do agree with your statement that Christianity and Islam are related to Judaism. That's why they're called Abramahic or Religions of the Book.

  • Comment number 91.

    William would you Adam and Eve it? I have just read a news feed that refers to the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, reporting that (University of Liverpool) researchers measuring the length ratios of ancient fossils fingers (2D:4D ratio) can tell if they had a higher proclivity for aggressiveness and promiscuity. Will those who worship science and reason please explain to a deluded Christian how finger length in primates (sorry, they just looked at human like species) is a predictor of any social behaviour in an ancient world? What sort of 'science' is this, and could the same thing be done with toe nail clippings, and, if someone did, assuming the results came from a researcher at a University why should we believe it?

  • Comment number 92.


    You're betraying an argument to ignorance there, just because you cannot conceive of something therefore it can't be true?

    A while back (in 2005), Canadian scientists discovered that the ratio of finger lengths in males was an indicator of aggressiveness (Link here). They're simply extrapolating the information in that study to the fingers of ancient homind species.

    Unless you want to appear like you're just having a go at science for the sake of it, please do your research first.

  • Comment number 93.

    92 Natman – ‘You're betraying an argument to ignorance there, just because you cannot conceive of something therefore it can't be true?

    Perhaps I understand a little better than you give me credit for. From your own link we find the following comments–

    ‘In the current study, Dr Peter Hurd and his student Allison Bailey measured the fingers of 300 [male only] undergraduates at their university.’… But he said finger length should not be used to draw too many conclusions about an individual person. "For example, you wouldn't want to screen people for certain jobs based on their finger lengths."

    Your article also quotes Professor John Manning from the University of Central Lancashire's department of psychology, ……’Dr Hurd's findings were logical based on what we know about finger length, testosterone exposure and aggression, but said more research was needed to confirm the findings.’

    Therefore he accepts that this science is not proven, informed perhaps, but speculative nevertheless.

    Here’s another type of the same science found on the web you could have mentioned – ‘Researchers at Duke University checked out a hundred years of sprint records. They found that where a runner’s belly button is located determines how fast he or she will be able to run.’ If you Google that you will find the link.

    On this topic of finger digit ratios have a look at John Hawks post 3rd Nov on Cosmic Log ‘Can fingers point to sex habits?’

    This type of research is based on the premise that we can find indicators for social habits in species, in the modern world, and then to use these indicators to make informed inferences about species that lived thousands and in some cases, millions of years ago, and of course as usually is the case, with a very sparse fossil record to go on. This sort of research is very controversial, even among the scientific community.

    The point in making my comments is to highlight the hypocrisy of people who castigate those who put forward evidence for intelligent design, whilst at the same time allowing and publishing a speculative science, something that intelligent design proponents are not allowed to do.
    This is a case of double standards from the scientific community. As an engineer I depend on science so I have no beef with science properly conducted. Having relied on statistical methods I know the problems of speculating with data correlations and the correct use of tests for significance. (The study in your link fails miserably, 300 male undergraduates?) That said, the researches at Liverpool are doing everybody a service with their work and I don’t question their professionalism.

    However, when it comes to finding evidence of design in the universe, it seems that this sort of speculation is unacceptable to the scientific community, and that, Natman, is the real problem we need to address.

  • Comment number 94.

    I think that I have something to contribute to this discussion, based on my post-grad research. I think that the Intelligent Design Movement is too focused on the myth of "objectivity", at the expense of the "subjectivity" of the Scientist . I believe that a "Apophatic
    (non)-Design Argument" focused on the phenomenology of scientific discovery is more compelling.
    I have spent time researching Kekule's work on organic chemistry, Bach's study of Clematis, and Wilson's observations of hymenoptera. By "bracketing off" the details of the experiment/observations and the underlying mathematics, a sense of "absolute dependence" in the scientist was uncovered. (in fact Husserl may have found a similar experience in mathematics itself, although this remains very controversial).
    A phemomenological analysis of each act of scientific discovery shows that each Scientist experienced what Gilkey calls a "dimension of ultimacy". Each was momentarily 'absolutely dependent' on the 'ground of all being'. This post-numinous experience blotted out all distinctions between the 'subject' and the 'observation'. (Indeed, in Wilson's case, an "I-Thou' relationship was formed after the post-numinous event.)
    In this way apophatic philosophy can be reconciled with the phenomenology and sociology of science, and there can be peace between the overlapping magisteria of science and theology.


  • Comment number 95.

    It occurs to me - reflecting on a misunderstanding of my previous posts, and hoping to clarify my thoughts - that what I may be doing is reversing and then deconstructing "god-of-the-gaps" reasoning. Many theists start with a gap in scientific understanding, and conclude "Theism is true". Well, this is childish. One cannot define the transcendent, one can only say what it is not. So Theism explains nothing when it takes itself seriously. In fact, if it took it's phenomenology seriously, it would never treat itself as a theory. It would not offer explanations.
    But there are greater difficulties! Reverse Theistic arguments, taking "Theism" as a premise, not a conclusion, and you discover that Theism does not have anything to do with these "gaps". It does not lead you to infer gaps. So if you find a gap, you have not found anything remotely like Theism. (Theism may imply a mythology, and mythological explanations, but that is a different question. Myths do not explain by the rules of science, so the two cannot conflict, can they?)
    Yet "gaps" remain in the "game" of science, and always will. (For example the "I" of the observer can never be observed.) So what do we do with them? Rather than eternally scratch the dust for explanations, I suggest that the gaps should send us in search of a sublime experience - which by definition can explain - precisely - nothing - but which might ground an authentic way of living, (grounding us in our world.)
    Science should not attempt to EXPLAIN everything. We can never get outside any language game, or phenomena, to see if it corresponds with the real or the noumenal. But we can decide on what is useful. So the gaps can further promote practical research, but in a way that does not lead to an inauthentic reduction of human experience to mechanics. The gaps can send us in search of further ways to be helpful and useful to others.
    You see the great advantages, of course!
    It is only a stepping stone - I need to see how this fits with being "post" religious.

  • Comment number 96.


    "The point in making my comments is to highlight the hypocrisy of people who castigate those who put forward evidence for intelligent design, whilst at the same time allowing and publishing a speculative science, something that intelligent design proponents are not allowed to do. "

    The study on the correlation between finger length and male aggression was science, even if purely speculative. It used proper scientific methods and statistical procedures to analyse the results. In the 10+ years that intelligent design has been in the public view it hasn't once published or produced anything that meets the standards even close to that study of finger lengths. No falsifiable experimental results, no theories based on observable evidence and no peer reviewed journal articles.

    It's been shown, time and time again that cDesign isn't science, it's not even a hypothesis.

    If anyone is guilty of hypocracy, it's those people who point at studies like this, claim they're not science and then promptly demand that their own concepts are treated differently and considered science afterall.

  • Comment number 97.

    d-a-a-r (@ 95) -

    "Science should not attempt to EXPLAIN everything."

    I would go further than this and say: science cannot explain everything. In fact, the scientific method itself cannot prove the exclusive epistemological authority of the scientific method. The authority of the empirical method is simply assumed (let's call it a step of faith, shall we?).

    If someone who disagrees with me would like to point me in the direction of the scientific experiment, which proves that empiricism is the only method of arriving at truth, then I would be most grateful. I've asked for this before, but, as the saying goes, 'patience is a virtue'...

    Hey ho.

  • Comment number 98.

    "hypocracy" = rule by thespians?

  • Comment number 99.

    I would say: science cannot explain everything yet. The scientific method itself cannot yet prove the exclusive epistemological authority of the scientific method. The authority of the empirical method is used as there's no better way of doing it that yields workable results.

    If someone who disagrees with me would like to point me in the direction of the scientific experiment, which proves that god is the only method of arriving at truth, then I would be most grateful. I've asked for this before, but, as the saying goes, 'patience is a virtue'...

  • Comment number 100.


    I've other fish to fry (like a certain resurrected Jesus), but, "point me in the direction of the scientific experiment, which proves that god is the only method of arriving at truth"

    There isn't one. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

    If I could prove God, I'd be....


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