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Permission to Deny: Part #2

For at least the time being, I will skip Kelemen’s second argument, entitled The Cosmological Approach, instead moving on to his third argument, entitled The Teleological Approach.

To begin, I’d like to assert the obvious — more than 80% of people could not define the word teleology if you’d stop them on the street a la Jay Leno, so let’s define it.  Teleology, as Wikipedia puts it, defines that philosophical approach to understanding the universe in which the end results retroactively promote the origins — basically, an argument by design.  Whether or not such a concept can be supported from scientific findings remains to be debated, but religion certainly makes the claim that it is so.From no less than Heshy’s favorite synagogue song we are provided with an insight into this idea: sof ma’aseh b’machshava techila — “the end result of the toil was in fact the initial thought in the toiler’s mind.”  As R’ Mordechai Becher puts it, teams of architects/contractors think fist of putting up a chic edifice that will give great weight to their personal and company names around the globe.  They think about how far the building will extend upward to pierce the sky and how reflective the full-glass exterior will be, how it will appear to those driving over the adjacent major city bridge, etc.  They then move on to thinking about more practical things, such as how many floors there will be and how many elevators need to be installed to properly service the inhabitants.  The things not on their mind initially are how they will go about securing the proper zoning, that they will need permit X and certificate Y, etc.  Yet when they actually begin to do what they plan on doing, one of the last thing that happens is being able to appreciate the blindingly-bright full glass exterior, and just near last is finally naming the building The Valerie after the architect’s mother, which might very well have been the architect’s primary goal in the first place.  But the first thing they do, after months of sketching and measuring and lots of other stuff they mus do and redo?  Proceed to the municipal office downtown to secure rights for the groundbreaking — everything is flipped, like a giant at bash.

So as R’ Jonathan Rietti puts it, Genesis begins with a focus on the entire Universe, and after only 5 verses, the focus shifts to a nominally insignificant speck called Earth.  And then after a chapter and a half, the focus narrows to just the people God has created, and everything else, from mention of rivers to mountains, is really mentioned only in the context of people.  Six more chapters, and God limits his focus to righteous people, and then to a more limited focus onto those who dedicate their lives to him by following his dictates.  So when Medieval Jewish thinkers grapple with the skewed frequency distribution of biblical commandments — the existence of which we use to explain the primary premise of there being a Torah at all — and why Genesis bothers to exist when there’s only a pittance of law within it, one of the explanations provided is to support the idea that God cares about who we are, what we do and why we do it, despite the overabundance of evidence that reveals humankind to be but a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what actually exists in the universe; God cares about people and he reveals his thought process by taking all that time to discuss it.

And now…onto the argument:

A lecture I once heard on the reconciliation, as it was referred to, of science and Torah began quite well until 4 minutes into the speech, when the noted lecturer began with specific examples that not only revealed his gross unfamiliarity with science but also served to undermine his credibility for the remaining 56 minutes.  I think the title of the lecture was something like “God in Everyday Life: How What We See is Not What We Get” — and at the four minute mark, the rabbi was using the discovery of sub-atomic particles to explain how what we once thought of as fact (i.e. atoms are indivisible) is now un-fact.  But the rabbi spoke of how “positively and negatively charged particles are condensed into a central space and other particles hover and fly around them at super speed” — I mean, come on — every day school 10th grader knows that electrons are not in the nucleus and no matter (excuse the pun) which atomic model you choose, it would be the electrons that are doing the hovering and/or flying.  My point is that this rabbi went out of his way to show his familiarity with scientific details to establish some sort of credibility with the audience…and blew it big time!

So when Kelemen opens with the analogy of DNA and computer bits, stating that there can be only two types of rungs on the DNA ladder — type A (adenine + thymine) and type B (cytosince + guanine) — it immediately makes me want to question any parallels he will draw, any concepts he will conceive of and any insights he will present about an argument on scientific design because, frankly, who is Kelemen to make any comments about science if he hasn’t got a clue?  In fact, only one strand of DNA is used as a template for RNA manufacture (the complimentary strand is just that — complimentary) and so, each of the four bases on the strand that is read stands on its own.  There are thus four code types (not 2) and I haven’t even finished the third of 51 paragraphs in his teleological approach to the existence of God and already I want to close the book.  Kelemen obviously doesn’t know how to evaluate the information he gets from his advisers, and that is of great concern.

He then goes on to discuss the exasperatingly complex vertebrate eye and some other fascinating feats of biology, chemistry and physics, and falls into a common trap of those who marvel at science yet don’t understand it.  He speaks of the wonder of the universe’s chemical elements in just-appropriate proportions and Earth’s average temperature being just able to sufficiently maintain itself with such equilibrium that life is able to exist as we know it — so what?  What kind of argument is that?  Without nitrogen, the world could have very easily come to exist in another fashion — it’s just so foreign to us that we cannot begin to fathom what it would be like.  I like to compare it to most every ridiculous space alien depiction ever conjured up — it’s always something like one of these: an exact duplicate of a human being but with pointy ears, an exact duplicate of human beings but an extra few feet tall and blue skin, or some similar modification to some other organism that we all know and love (buggers by Orson Scott Card, big-headed blue guys a la MARS ATTACKS!, etc.).  This is because we don’t even know what to think about when we try to think about something we’ve never thought about — we just can’t do it and fail miserably lmost every time we try.

He then attacks Darwinism and neo-Darwinism for drawing parallels between organs, limbs and structures — but he is really attacking evolutionism, not evolution.  Even if every scientist possesses an agenda, science itself has no agenda — it is merely observing the world.  So when science states that it is more parsimonious to say that flight evolved thrice independently among bats, birds and flying insects rather than saying they all share close common ancestry and it was their different types of flight apparatuses that evolved, it’s a mere concern of what’s more reasonable — even though it might very well (excuse the pun) fly in the face of the listing of what was created on which day as recorded in Genesis.

And then comes my favorite fallacy of the entire argument: the statistics.  Let me say this with no lack of clarity — people don’t understand statistics.  What I mean by this is that if we’d put all the people in the world who understand statistics on one side of a balance scale and everyone who doesn’t on the other, the former would not displace the latter — and Kelemen’s assertions, were he to even understand them himself, are so zany that I guess I can imagine why he put them in the book: the reader will have no choice but to read his words, open his or her eyes widely in surprise and buy the whole story without any chance of a challenge, because he or she won’t be able to critically analyze even a bit of it.

In determining the probability that I am writing on Heshy’s blog — well, I am actually doing so right now, so it’s a probability of 1.  But isn’t it really odd that I know Heshy from Manhattan Day School, he left in 1994 after 7th grade and I haven’t seen him, heard from him or had anything to do with him since then up until a few months ago when I so randomly happened to find his blog and now he let’s me contribute?  Wowee…now what are the odds that I’m writing an article to be featured on Heshy’s blog?!  Well, it’s 1, because I am — all that’s unlikely is in the past.  So it doesn’t matter in the least how unlikely something is after we experience it happening, because the chance is absolute once it has occurred.

So when Kelemen quotes fancy scientists from fancy universities stating how unlikely it is that the world would have become what it did, it’s completely misleading because we’re only surprised about what has already happened as though it hasn’t happened yet.  Here are some of these silly points:

  • If a try to randomly assemble a typical enzyme were performed every second for a billion years, the odds of it occurring would be 99.99% — but that’s a single enzyme.  A bacterium contains 2,000 enzymes, so the chance of life evolving from non-life is 1 in 1039,950.
  • The odds of producing a human being from continued random mutation is close to 1 in 101,250,000,000,000 — about the same as the odds of a gambler rolling 100 trillion consecutive double-sixes.

For starters, the many people don’t remember how to unravel scientific notation, and so the two odds listed above might as well be the same — suffice it to say that the denominators are preposterously large for both.  Now let’s take the second bullet — everyone can understand what it means to roll dice because we’ve all played Monopoly at some time or another, and WOW…that sure seems like a lot of double-sixes, doesn’t it?  But what most people don’t think about is the following: it is just as likely to roll 100 trillion consecutive double-sixes as it is to roll 100 trillion dice rolls conforming to any previously drawn up list of dice throws, assuming we use dice of different colors and make sure that the die we want falls on the number we want.  It follows from this that if we were to actually roll two differently colored dice (to take care of the problem of decreasing the demand by allowing each die to compensate for the other) 100 trillion times and recorded the throw data, the odds of throwing such a list of dice throws again is also 1 in 100 trillion.  But that’s only prior to us throwing the dice — once the list has been made, the probability of having thrown such a set is absolutely, perfectly 1.

So I’m not saying there’s no God, and I’m not saying that science has all the answers; on the contrary, science is missing many of the answers.  But it’s not science that should be attacked, it’s scientists (perhaps).  They are the ones with an agenda (perhaps) and it is from them that emanate the claim that there is no God (perhaps).  Science only makes observations about the world as we see it, and it usually does so with a premise that “the results hithero observed will happen always following the causes hithero observed.”  Without such a clause, maybe the observed thing had a miracle and thus the result cannot be predicted because it follows no natural order — it’s supernatural.  So science has no choice but to build on a foundation of observation, parsimony and prediction.  Everything else is religion and Kelemen tries to thwart the mind with skillfully collected snippets of arguments that the reader will likely not be able to refute because it just seems so iron-clad that “who am I do now deny God’s existence?  I mean, it says right here in black-and-white that there are 2 types of DNA codes, so it must be true.”

We shouldn’t need to delude people into believing in a God.

{ 59 comments… add one }
  • Friar Yid October 29, 2010, 10:15 AM

    Well done. Posts like this demonstrate (to me) that Keleman and his ilk do far more harm than good to the OJ community– both by making OJ beliefs seem absurd to an outside audience, and by turning off any OJ readers (particularly youth) who can see through his BS and notice the lack of intellectual curiosity, credibility, or integrity.

    Honestly he would be much better off just declaring the answer to all the big questions is “God did it and He’s great,” rather than going through this farce of proving his belief system.

  • A. Nuran October 29, 2010, 10:35 AM

    The real problem here is the intellectual bankruptcy of revealed religion. Whenever its claims are demolished – and when we’re talking about its intersection with Science they pretty much always are – one of a few things happens.

    1) The old Unshakable Revealed Truth is declared to have been a misinterpretation.

    2) The goals get moved. We were wrong about the Sun going around the Earth, the firmament, the Flood and all, but what’s really important is that the universe is 6000 years old proving the sacred scribblings. Or we were wrong about disease; that germ theory stuff is right. But what’s really important is that Science can’t create life.

    When it turns out that the universe is actually several billion years old and a stone-dead cell is brought to healthy life with a completely artificial genome the goals get moved again.

    3) Staking a claim. Everything on that side of the line can be investigated. But everything on this side of the line is the province of religion only.

    4) Shoot the messenger or at least make sure nobody ever hears him.

    An ignorant, willfully blind, long-discredited bit of apology. This can easily be demolished at every level from the biochemical to the genetic to the evidence of descent in every anatomical structure. That’s not even touching on the really stupid stuff about a choice between “designed” and “random”.

    If anyone who doesn’t have a good background in the sciences is interested in the subject I strongly urge you to go to talkorigins.org. Then go to the /origins/faqs-qa.html pages. It is the result of years of refinement of discussions on a couple dozen subjects touching on this. The standard arguments, including all the ones here, are laid out and laid to rest. And the science necessary to understand the issues is presented as well as I’ve ever seen it.

    The problem is that the religious argument, such as it is, only requires sophistry. The actual science requires examining facts, lots of them.

    The sacred scribblings, on the other hand, don’t have to have any predictive value. They don’t have to stand up to the same scrutiny. They don’t have to be meet the same standards. And they can’t be rejected when they turn out to be wrong.

    • daniel October 30, 2010, 11:07 PM

      The goals get moved?
      When was the goal ever about the sun going around the earth? And what do the goals now have to do with the earth being 6000 years old?

      Also, most scientific arguments relating to the age of the earth are predicated on there not being a G-d. This is because, once there is a G-d, nothing is any more or less likely to happen than anything else.

      Once I became convinced of G-d’s existence and that He created the world, I no longer cared about what science concluded regarding the world’s age or development. G-d who can create a world can also make it look like it was around for trillions of years, or look like monkeys evolved from trees. I don’t know why He would want to do so, nor do I care.

      • G*3 October 31, 2010, 1:41 PM

        > once there is a G-d, nothing is any more or less likely to happen than anything else.

        How do you determine what’s true? If we can’t (at least contingently) trust our observations of the world – because God may have changed / be changing things that make our observations unreliable – how do you know anything? How do you know your clothing is yours? Perhaps they’re really someone else’s, and God changed them so they look like yours? For that matter, why don’t you go into clothing stores and take things without paying for them? They’re probably your clothes anyway – God changed their appearance and transported them to the store. After all, “once there is a G-d, nothing is any more or less likely to happen than anything else.”

        • daniel October 31, 2010, 6:51 PM

          You are arguing that we are meant to trust our observations and so, if the world appears to be a trillion years old, it must be so.

          I need to think about that some more. I am not altogether convinced.
          Perhaps we are supposed to observe the world in its full context, in the context of its having been created by an omniscient being.

          • G*3 October 31, 2010, 7:06 PM

            > You are arguing that we are meant to trust our observations and so

            Not exactly. I’m arguing that we all have to have a way of determining what is true, and in practice we trust our observations. If you trust your observations to tell you that the clothes in your closet are yours, and don’t worry that God changed them and is creating an illusion to fool you, you should similarly trust observations made about the world’s age and not discount them by saying that God is creating an illusion/falsifying the evidence to fool us.

            • daniel October 31, 2010, 7:14 PM

              Fair.
              But, I also trust my observation to tell me that G-d exists. And I trust the mesorah that the torah was revealed by that G-d. So, in that context, I process all my observations.

              Isn’t science often about balancing and reconciling contrary observations?

              • G*3 October 31, 2010, 9:40 PM

                So now the question becomes which is the more credible source: the scientific observations or the authority of the mesorah?

                Science has the virtue of working. The computers we’re using right now is proof of that. The mesorah has the weight of millenia – and very little else.

                • daniel October 31, 2010, 9:56 PM

                  Maybe if it were irreconcilable.
                  I don’t think it is.

      • DRosenbach October 31, 2010, 3:09 PM

        You’re asserting that you’re convinced of God’s existence and then question how we rationally and logically evaluate a supposed proof to God’s existence — not only are you likely not taking the discussion seriously, but you’re also going to ignore any validity of the argument because your initial premise is the conclusion those who present such an argument are grappling with.

        • daniel October 31, 2010, 6:35 PM

          No. I am agreeing that this may not be a proof. This is not the proof I rely on, and I have no allegiance to this proof.

          I am responding to Nuran’s disbelief that people could believe that the world is 6000 years old in apparent contradiction of science. My response is that in the context of G-d’s existence, any questions from science cease to be convincing.

          • DRosenbach October 31, 2010, 9:18 PM

            About 2 months ago, I asked R’ Hershel Schachter how one can rationally accept the supposed reality of a story of a talking, walking snake approaching a human female with the proposition that she should eat from the fruit of a tree in the hopes that she would be fooled and somehow lead her husband to sin to such an extent that God would punish the husband with death, leaving the human female for the snake to mate with — sounds like a pretty psychedelic dream to me. He agreed and told me that it’s an allegory, a parable, etc.

            But isn’t God so powerful that he could do anything? That’s not the point…the point is not what he could do but what he did do and what he does do. And when a belief system centers itself on a text that endorses such a story, either the story is a parable or the belief system is false — assuming you accept the claim that such a thing didn’t actually happen. But there are many (yeshivish) people who would never ever deny that God not only can do anything but did do these many things, and this sort of stuff makes Judaism look just as absurd and untenable as Christianity with its transubstantiation and God = man = son of God = house of David even though he’s adopted.

            • daniel October 31, 2010, 10:03 PM

              Look, the snake might be a parable. It is not part of my belief system that there was an actual snake. If it is easier for you to believe in a G-d who doesn’t sic talking snakes on his first people, I have no issue.

              I just wish you wouldn’t think me a fool for taking it at face value. Is there anything really so bizarre about a G-d who can create a world yesh me’ayin, also making talking snakes? Is a non-talking snake any less incredible than a talking one, or one who could mate a woman? Is a world created in 6 “poofs” any harder to create than one created in an evolutionary process of trillions of years? Is it harder to make a flood, than to make rain?

              Isn’t it clear, that once you accept G-d, proven as creator, most of the questions become irrelevant?

              • DRosenbach October 31, 2010, 10:20 PM

                The problem is that you, I and everyone else who’s subscribes to Orthodoxy in its complete and utter format are faced with a few problems, a few of which are listed here:

                The Kabballah, as explained by R’ David Aaron, describes the Garden of Eden as possessing nothing opaque, nothing to obscure — all was light. Everything was translucent to allow everything to exist in Allness and embrace each other in whatever that means. There were no shadows — that’s what he says. So either he’s wrong in his interpretation, the Kabballah’s wrong in its assertions or nature has got a lot of explaining to do. If you don’t care to look at the world and see that things work in a certain fashion and not in other fashions, all these stories are great lessons and they actually occurred. If you appreciate science for even one second in its most profound expression, then all of these things are very troublesome. So fine — it’s an allegory. Such a recount means to say that everything was at peace until God set things apart, but then you’ve got to explain how almost no one who considers themselves Orthodox has any clue as to what really is and is not part of the mesorah. What is to be taken literally and what is not. What is important as a lesson and what is historical documentation.

                Christianity is reaaaally dumb, and I mean really. If you hear 3 shiurim on “Da Ma Shetashiv”, you’ve got a pretty good portfolio of damning questions that serve to completely undermine Christianity. But when you refocus some of the very same questions on Judaism, you don’t end up with very good answers, and it comes down to faith in a mesorah which is unjustifiable except to say that it’s our mesorah. But the Christians say the same thing, and the Muslims do to. So it’s fine to question Christianity and laugh when they come up short, but for yeshivish people, if they even bother to take these questions seriously, it’s only for philosophical reasons — they are not under any circumstances to be used to evaluate the religion for practical purposes. That’s very troublesome to me, and it should be to you. So sure — if one knows there’s a God of Moses, all the questions become irrelevant, because the questions are posed in order to gain access to knowledge of a God and we’re now assuming that one already knows there’s a God. But what if you don’t? What if you wake up and realize that no one has answers to your questions, but they still demand that you not ask them ?

                • daniel October 31, 2010, 10:32 PM

                  Hmmm.
                  I’m pretty content to accept anything in kaballah as allegorical.
                  As far as other questions, why don’t you pose several which are not solved by G-d’s existence. As I wrote to Cartholic Mom, below, I think that G-d’s existence is proven by the ultimate question of creation which is what created the original matter, yesh me’ayin.
                  The Ramban said that any midrash can be accepted as a parable, so they are not part of the mesorah.
                  I am not aware of any circular contortions which I need to go through in my basic belief system.

                  As far as other religions, I have enough to prove them wrong without relying on any intrinsic nonsenses in their theology. It is enough to me that G-d promised not to replace us, and instructed us to ignore any miracle workers who would convince us otherwise. Since I believe that the Sinai revelation is conclusively proved by the mesorah, I am content with that.

                  • G*3 November 1, 2010, 12:59 AM

                    > What if you wake up and realize that no one has answers to your questions, but they still demand that you not ask them ?

                    Literally.

                    I had rabbeim tell me that they didn’t know the answers to my questions, and that it’s better not to think about such things. The Rosh Yeshiva told me stop asking questions in class because “The other boys don’t think about these things, and they shouldn’t be bothered by your questions.”

                    • daniel November 1, 2010, 9:36 AM

                      That is a bad thing we have. Questions should not be discouraged.

  • Catholic Mom October 29, 2010, 11:06 AM

    If it were scientifically possible to demonstrate the existence of God, the entity whose existence you were scientifically demonstrating would not be God. It would be a physical force of the universe. You might as well worship gravity.

    You notice the Catholic Church has not entered into anti-evolutionary arguments to prove the existence of God. In fact, evolution and standard cosmology are taught in Catholic high schools and universities. The Church got burned on this science/religion thing in the past and it’s not going to make the same mistake twice.

    • AS October 29, 2010, 4:36 PM

      The Catholic Church never intrudes on science these days….wait?….what is that?….condoms don’t work??

      • Catholic Mom November 1, 2010, 9:21 AM

        I have a friend who was born when her parents were in graduate school and her parents were using birth control (condoms in those days) like crazy because it was a really bad time for them to have a kid. So I think she is living proof of the fallibility of condoms. 🙂

        However, I don’t think this is serious point in which the Catholic Church finds itself at odds with modern science. The difference would be that modern culture deduces from science that “birth control works perfectly and is the normal condition for having sex. You only get pregnant when you make a conscious decision to do so and stop using birth control. If somehow birth control “fails” then you have been enormously betrayed and certain deserve to have an abortion rather than let a kid come into your life that may disrupt your plans in any way.”

        Whereas the Church says “the normal/expected result of sex is pregnancy. Using birth control will probably reduce the probability but if you have sex you cannot be “surprised” that you got pregnant. Indeed, you should expect to get pregnant. Ergo: If you truly cannot possibly have a child at this time, don’t have sex at this time.”

    • daniel October 31, 2010, 7:52 PM

      I disagree.
      I think G-d is scientifically proven by the impossibility of explaining the world adequately with science. This has nothing to do with evolution.
      The main proof is the existence of anything. Evolution can only explain how something becomes something else. The original existence, which must necessarily have been “yesh me’ayin”, something from nothing; can only be explained by creation.

      • G*3 October 31, 2010, 9:43 PM

        If a complex world requires a Creator, who Himself must be even more complex, then does not that complex Creator itself require a creator? And wouldn’t that creator be even more complex, itself requiring a creator which would in turn be even more complex…

        • daniel October 31, 2010, 10:07 PM

          Good point.
          So what is the conclusion?
          Isn’t the end result an eternal omniscient being?

          What is your conclusion?

          • G*3 November 1, 2010, 1:03 AM

            > Isn’t the end result an eternal omniscient being?

            The point is that it never ends. There’s infinite regress.

            > What is your conclusion?

            My conclusion is that I don’t know where the universe came from, and until and unless someone comes up with a solidly supported theory of the universe’s origins, I just have to deal with not knowing.

            • daniel November 1, 2010, 11:44 AM

              OK.
              Well, my conclusion is that there must be something which does not need to be created. I call it G-d.

              You also conclude that there must be something which did not need to be created. You are not willing to accept that, so you remain in a perpetual state of not knowing.

              I think you are in more of a mental contortion than I am.

              • G*3 November 1, 2010, 1:27 PM

                > You also conclude that there must be something which did not need to be created.

                If there was something which always existed, I would assume it to be matter and energy (I don’t have the background to give an opinion, so this is little more than a guess). I suppose you could call that God if you want, but that’s not what people mean by “God.”

                I kind of like the idea that the universe didn’t need creating because time is an internal quirk of our universe (and without time, the whole concept of “beginning” is meaningless), but again, that’s just a guess.

                > You are not willing to accept that, so you remain in a perpetual state of not knowing.

                Why would I not be willing to accept that? I’m not willing to accept that the uncreated thing must have been a god, let alone the God of the Bible as described by modern-day Judaism, without positive evidence to support that claim. I have to say I don’t know because, while I can guess at how the universe got here, I have to admit that my ideas are just guesses and I don’t know which if any of them is right.

                “God did it” is the guess that most people take for granted is true, but reality is not a popularity contest.

        • Holy Hyrax November 1, 2010, 6:38 PM

          >If a complex world requires a Creator, who Himself must be even more complex, then does not that complex Creator itself require a creator? And wouldn’t that creator be even more complex, itself requiring a creator which would in turn be even more complex…

          This is from Dawkins, which I never understood to make sense. Dawkins, can only look at things from a physical aspect. Complex. Who said God was complex in the same way a cell is complex? If he is to argue God, then he needs to use OUR definition of what this God is (or isn’t), not his.

          • G*3 November 1, 2010, 9:26 PM

            > This is from Dawkins

            Dawkins may use the argument, but I don’t think he originated it. Anyway, the point isn’t that God is like a cell, the point is that the argument boils down to special pleading for God. Everything must have a Creator, except for God. Why should He be exempt from the logic being used to necessitate his existence?

  • RFZ October 29, 2010, 11:34 AM

    “We shouldn’t need to delude people into believing in a God.”

    Hear, hear.

  • ShanaMaidel October 29, 2010, 4:26 PM

    You’re right about problems with statistics (actually it relates to probability more)

    Most people don’t take to time to think about ex-post-facto issues with statistics. Just because something was improbable, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And one it happens, the probability of follow up events changes too (because you have p=1 for that event in the past)

  • Peter Kinnon October 30, 2010, 3:16 AM

    In my view the notion of gods is so silly as not to be worthy of serious discussion, although it easy to see how such myths arose as primitive humans used their remarkable imaginations to try to ascribe meaning to the world around them.

    There is, however a very good evidence-based case to be made for a limited form of teleology that applies to nature’s observed machinery.

    It is very true, of course, that few are statistically literate and mis-perceptions often arise for this reason.

    What is of even greater concern, however, is the almost complete popular ignorance of chemistry, upon which the most important interpretations of our world really depend.

    This clearly (and unfortunately) includes D Rosenbach, who claims to have a good understanding of chemistry,but makes the incredibly naive remark”Without nitrogen, the world could have very easily come to exist in another fashion — it’s just so foreign to us that we cannot begin to fathom what it would be like.” This kind of thinking is, sadly, not uncommon. And, within an empirical framework, at least, is arrant nonsense.

    Firstly, the very absence of an element of atomic number 7 and its unique set of properties would invalidate the whole of chemistry. Whether using classical planetery models of the atom or the more accurate and detailed picture given be quantum electrodynamics, the very foundations of science collapse by the absence of any of the elements. They are not a random jumble of independent entities which can be dispatched or modified willy-nilly. They are each essential components of a highly ordered system. Furthermore, they do not evolve randomly. There is a high level of consistency observed in their evolution from hydrogen in the processes of stellar nucleosynthesis and subsequent supernoval generation of the elements heavier than iron.

    Secondly, the properties of nitrogen are almost certainly essential for biology. And there can be no doubt (despite common uninformed claims to the contrary) that carbon, oxygen and hydrogen are absolute prerequisites for organic life. Taking the argument further “downstream”, there is also no doubt that silicon, copper and iron, again because of their unique qualities, are absolute prerequisites for the evolution of the later manifestation of the overall life process that we call technology.

    They are both indicators and effectors of the strong directionality observed in all aspects of nature’s evolutionary machinery.

    A detailed discussion of these effects is given in chapter 11 of my book “Unusual Perspectives” which is available for free download from the website of that name. There is also much related material in my newly published work “The Goldilocks Effect” on the same website.

    • DRosenbach October 30, 2010, 8:28 PM

      After rethinking my assertions above based on your evaluation, I retract what I said about nitrogen. It was a bad example and I should have picked something else — from what I understand about the natural world, terminal velocity didn’t have to be what it is and Planck’s constant didn’t have to be what it is and neither did Avagadro’s number. Would that suffice?

      But I do appreciate you taking me to task for condemning Kelemen for doing something that I just did myself. Thank you, and I anticipate your comments in the future.

      • Puzzled October 31, 2010, 9:44 AM

        I think you’ve made the situation worse here. If I were you, I’d give up this line of argument and just use the anthropic principle.

  • Dovybear October 30, 2010, 4:26 PM

    As well as Peter Kinnon’s nice little chemistry lecture, you also make quite a basic error statistically. Of course, once an event has happened then the probability of it having happened are 1, because it happened, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the odds of it happening in the first place. What we are trying to ask here is “what is the probability of an event occurring by chance (i.e. from within the system, without outside influence)?”, not “what is the probability of an event occurring?”. So, for example, a man who goes into a casino and in 10 games of craps throws 10 double-sixes will be dragged away by security and probably prosecuted. The fact that the event has occurred is meaningless, the probability of of his having thrown them by chance alone remains 1 in 3,656,158,440,062,976. In other words, he cheated. This is Kelemen’s point. Richard Dawkins (yes, him no less…) puts the odds of life arising from pure chance as 1 in 1,000,000,000 to the 48th power. That’s a heck of a gamble. So, was it pure chance or was Someone cheating?

    • DRosenbach October 30, 2010, 8:34 PM

      But life evolving is merely one of an infinite possible universes that could have existed. We are only here because it happened, so it strikes me as odd from such a perspective to ask the question. Isn’t the odds of everything that happened to me in my life also as improbable, yet now that it’s happened, calculating the odds that it is happened in just that way doesn’t make me suspect that someone cheated.

      We didn’t have to be the way we are from an evolutionary standpoint; science supports such an assertion and to look back and say, “what are the odds that we are able to exist in just the way we do?” is a question that sort of hides this fact.

      • Dovybear October 31, 2010, 9:09 AM

        It’s an entirely valid question – imagine a coroner trying to decide whether an incident was accidental (i.e. by chance) or not (i.e. some outside influence). To say that it probability is useless here defeats the purpose of the mathematics of probability – the whole point of it is to determine how likely an outcome is based on pure chance, the smaller the probability then, when the outcome does occur, the less we put it down to pure chance. Your life and all the improbable things that happen in it are in no way relevant to this discussion as there are plenty of outside influences that affect your life, you yourself and your conscious decisions for starters, as well as all the conscious decisions of other people.
        The question being asked here is “how likely is it that the outcome perceived occurred purely by chance?” in which case we turn to our local orthodox actuary and ask for the probability, the lower the probability, the less we ascribe to chance.
        The multiple universe theory doesn’t really wash either, for starters, it is a little bit like Jesus’ second coming – an answer if you already believe – if you believe that the universe came about by pure chance there must be others where there is no life. It is in no way a challenge to the actual probability mechanics.

        • DRosenbach October 31, 2010, 9:22 AM

          Multiple universe as I’m stating it is not an assertion that there are other universes existing parallel to the one in which we are typing and reading — it asserts that there are an infinite number of universes that could have been the end result of the one in which we exist; this is sort of like the film Clue (the board game) for which the directors made 4 distinct endings — those are all possible endings, even if only one actually happened. What I’m saying, for instance, is that the gravity constant didn’t have to be what is it — and even though that would change everything from the coefficient of static friction to (perhaps, even) the diffusion rate of parathormone in human blood, so be it.

          • Dovybear October 31, 2010, 2:51 PM

            And that’s the multiple universes that I was referring to as well. It’s an excuse (a good one maybe), but not a challenge.

  • Peter Kinnon October 30, 2010, 9:35 PM

    DRosenbach remarks

    “terminal velocity didn’t have to be what it is and Planck’s constant didn’t have to be what it is and neither did Avagadro’s number. Would that suffice?”

    Again, within the evidential framework that is science Planck’s constant hand Avogadro’s number have to be exactly as observed.
    Terminal velocity, of course varies with the gravitational field and viscosity of the fluid in which the body is travelling, as well as the shape of that body. But for any fully defined such system it has to be what it is.

    Of course, If you wish to go outside the domain of science and wax metaphysical or mystical that is fine, and you are quite free to postulate “an infinite possible universes that could have existed” or angels, or hobgoblins. But you cannot reasonably use “science” to justify any such assumptions.

    This area of philosophical bases is dealt with in chapter 3 of “Unusual Perspectives” – The House of Fantasies. The work being available for free download.

    • DRosenbach October 30, 2010, 10:59 PM

      Earth’s moon could have been just a little bit smaller or or a little bit larger, contributing to a greater or lesser orbit cycle in a different path with a different radius…could it not? The air we breath on Earth could have been a different composition, and gravity could have been at a different scale. So I see, for instance, that light travels at the speed it does because of all the things that permit it to do so, and so the constant velocity is defined as such, but had light refracted on the surface of glass at a different angle than it does…

      My point is that the world as we know it is not the only way in which it could have been constructed — and perhaps that’s not science because it’s not an observation of what is, but I would hardly say that postulating infinite other universe permutations cannot be justified by rational, conceptual inference — and in that sense, as noble as scientific — means.

  • Peter Kinnon October 30, 2010, 10:04 PM

    Dovybear remarks:
    “Richard Dawkins (yes, him no less…) puts the odds of life arising from pure chance as 1 in 1,000,000,000 to the 48th power. That’s a heck of a gamble. So, was it pure chance or was Someone cheating?.”

    Not even RD is justified in calculating the odds of life arising.
    Why? Simply because we have insufficient data to input for any such computation to be meaningful…

    Computer Guys have a very pertinent acronym – GIGO – Garbage in, Garbage Out.

    But, leaving that aside, evolution is in any case quite clearly not a product of pure chance.
    As explained in greater detail in “The Goldilocks Effect”, although it is driven by chance and gravity (yes, gravity! – check it out) it is given directionality by the prevailing conditions, which are, of course, dynamically changing.

  • Guest October 31, 2010, 12:35 AM

    “But that’s only prior to us throwing the dice — once the list has been made, the probability of having thrown such a set is absolutely, perfectly 1.”

    I’ve heard this argument on multiple occasions, and it is not convincing. Nobody would argue this way in a casino. Try winning 1000 games of blackjack in a row, and explain to the casino owner that the odds were precisely 1 of achieving this feat, albeit after the fact. You will be thrown out every time, because clearly the books were cooked by you–i.e. a purposeful intelligence (you) drastically tipped the odds in favor of you achieving this unlikely result.

    • DRosenbach October 31, 2010, 9:01 AM

      Here’s where I hesitate to venture because statistics are hardly intuitive, and I’m no statistician — but aren’t you setting this up to fail? Isn’t the fact that it is so unlikely to happen sort of preclude the validity of asking such a question, even in the theoretical? To win so many games would be ever so difficult from a probabilistic perspective and the casino would step in well before 10 games in a row were won…

      And in your example, cheating is possible. What about a case of lottery winning? There was a news report recently of some guy (and I can’t seem to even remember if he’s from the US or Europe) winning the lottery twice. I’d say we all suspect a much lower rate or even possibility of cheating…do we arrest him when he wins again?

      • Puzzled October 31, 2010, 9:48 AM

        The point about the casino is that you can cheat. Anyone who wins anything can be cheating, and anyone who wins anything can be honestly lucky. How to differentiate the two? Begin by determining the probability of the win you had, assuming you didn’t cheat. If that is sufficiently low (how low? depends on the confidence you desire) we conclude that you were cheating. (In practice we use a different calculation, but this gives the flavor.)

        • DRosenbach October 31, 2010, 9:21 PM

          So skip the casino and go for the lottery — the odds that such a thing will ever happen generally define whether or not it happens. But if it’s happened, we can’t sit around discussing how odd it is that it happened and use that to justify saying that it didn’t.

          • Dovybear November 1, 2010, 5:57 AM

            Yes, and if someone wins the lottery multiple times we do sit around and discuss how odd it is. And then we call in the investigators.
            The point being that, despite the odds on a particular person winning the lottery being low, someone (in the general) will win it as it is there to be won and the people are there to win it. It is once the focus becomes the person who wins it, rather than the lottery itself, that we get suspicious. In the case of life, the universe and everything nobody had to win the lottery, as there was no lottery and nothing to win it. Hence, when we look at the odds we get suspicious.
            In any case, I would call the universe a multiple lottery winner – as Mr Kinnon rightly pointed out, the universal constants are, to use Rudyard Kiplings’ phrase, just so. Every single one. That’s a hell of a coincidence.

  • G*3 October 31, 2010, 2:56 AM

    Teleology as a way of proving something is inherently question-begging. The arguments assume that there is a purpose to X, then find the purpose to prove that there is a purpose, e.g.:

    1. Rocks have a purpose.
    2. Rocks can be used to build walls.
    C. It must be that rocks were meant for building walls.

    In arguments for God, this is followed by:

    1. For rocks to have a purpose, Someone must have made them with that purpose in mind.
    2. We can see above that rocks have a purpose.
    3. The only Being capable of creating rocks for a purpose is God.
    C. God exists and created rocks.

    The whole thing falls apart if the assumption that rocks have a purpose is challenged. Rocks aren’t FOR building walls; they just are. That people happen to use them for building walls doesn’t mean that’s is irrelevant.

    > He speaks of the wonder of the universe’s chemical elements in just-appropriate proportions and Earth’s average temperature being just able to sufficiently maintain itself with such equilibrium that life is able to exist as we know it

    The Anthropic Principle. That the universe (or our small corner of it, anyway) allows for our kind of life shouldn’t be surprising. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be here marveling at how the universe allows for our kind of life. It’s only if you assume that our kind of life is the purpose of the universe and that the universe was therefore designed for us that it becomes something to marvel at. Douglas Adams said it best:

    “Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’”

    > I like to compare it to most every ridiculous space alien depiction ever conjured up — it’s always something like one of these: an exact duplicate of a human being but with…

    To be fair, a lot of that has to do with the aliens being portrayed by human actors and the limitations of makeup.

    > In determining the probability…

    Years ago I saw a great example that illustrates how the probability of an event has no bearing on whether it has happened.

    Suppose I take a bag full of marbles andI drop them on the floor in a large room. The marbles roll around and eventually all come to a stop. The odds that each marble would end up exactly where it is in the room, in the exact position it is in relative to all the other marbles, is astronomic. Yet for someone to insist that I must have somehow controlled where each marble came to rest because the exact configuration the marbles are in is so unlikely is ridiculous.

    It’s only if you assume that the way things are is the way things were meant to be that the probability of it happening by chance is relevant. Pointing to the way things happen to be as proof that it was designed is as foolish as looking at the pattern of marbles and insisting that such a complex configuration could never have happened by chance.

    • DRosenbach October 31, 2010, 9:11 AM

      I think special effects and computer graphics have reached a level that makes human-form costuming no longer a limitation — perhaps the only limitation remains the designers’ intent to be able to portray the alien characters with human-like emotions and to get viewers to empathize, pseudo-human characters are necessary (take the movie ANTZ, for example).

      G*3: This is certainly a difficult subject to tackle, and I thank you for your contribution (and not just because you endorse my assertions).

  • Peter Kinnon October 31, 2010, 7:11 AM

    G*3

    I agree with almost all you are saying here. The Douglas Adams puddle analogy is an old favorite of mine.

    The whole notion of purpose and design appears to stem mostly from reflections of our own mental processes.

    After all, we believe we are purposeful and that we “design” things. But there is a very good case to be made for the proposition that this is largely illusory. In “The Goldilocks Effect” I argue that in reality there are no inventors, no designers. (You will find references on my site to others who are now leaning this way.)

    Rather, that technology evolves automonously in the collective human imagination. Similarly, we do not have to invoke any kind of “designer” to account for the workings of nature’s machinery. Nor do we need to presume any initial or final conditions. Indeed, if anything, they are contra-indicated.

    The naive and uninformed interpretation of elemental requirements and the like advanced by people such as Keleman are certainly flawed, misleading and of no significance.

    Nevertheless, we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath-water, because there is indeed very sound evidence to support the strong directionality of universal evolutionary patterns which extend beyond the biological realm.

    It is certainly true that the “Goldilocks” properties of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen (that is not an exhaustive list) uniquely permit the development of the biological phase of life. Water, with its all-important dipole is an example.

    The argument extends to the evolution of technology, where the absence of silicon, copper and iron, would have been absolute show-stoppers. We would have none of our present science and technologies unless these elements with their special properties had been suitably abundant at the right place ant the right time. The circumstances in which they were, in fact, not only enabled those developments but made them inevitable.
    All further examples of the Goldilocks effect.

    Remember too, they, like atmospheric oxygen, were not always there. Nor, in all probability was the rock mentioned early in your comment. Check out “The Evolution of Minerals” by geologist Robert M Hazen in March 2010 Scientific American to get a better perspective on this.

    This is no puddle. It is a highly complex dynamically evolving system, chance mediated, but with directionality provided by the co-evolving prevailing conditions every step of the way.

    We can observe it in its many stages in stellar and supernoval nucleosynthesis. The gross outcome of each of these events is the same. The same elements in pretty much the same proportions. It is not random despite having been being driven largely by chance.

    Finally, with respect to your marbles example. I agree entirely with your statistics. But, to use the model in a different context, let’s say you drop the marbles a second time and you note a somewhat similar distribution. And you do this repeatedly, noting that the final location of each marble is following a well-defined trajectory that is related to that of the others in some orderly way. If you would not infer a pattern and seek a mechanism in this you would be no scientist.

  • Peter Kinnon October 31, 2010, 1:11 PM

    G*3

    I agree with almost all you are saying here. The Douglas Adams puddle analogy is an old favourite of mine.

    The whole notion of purpose and design appears to stem mostly from reflections of our own mental processes.

    After all, we believe we are purposeful and that we “design” things. But there is a very good case to be made for the proposition that this is largely illusory. In “The Goldilocks Effect” I argue that in reality there are no inventors, no designers. (You will find references on my site to others who are now leaning this way.)

    Rather, that technology evolves automonously in the collective human imagination. Similarly we do not have to invoke any kind of “designer” to account for the workings of nature’s machinery. Nor do we need to presume any initial or final conditions. Indeed, if anything, they are contra-indicated.

    The naive and uninformed interpretations of elemental requirements and the like advanced by people such as Keleman are certainly flawed, misleading and of no significance.

    Nevertheless, we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath-water, because there is indeed very strong evidence to support the strong directionality of universal evolutionary patterns which extend beyond the biological realm.

    It is certainly true that the “Goldilocks” properties of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen (that is not an exhaustive list) uniquely permit the development of the biological phase of life. Water, with its all-important dipole is an example.

    The argument extends to the evolution of technology, where the absence of silicon, copper and iron, would have been absolute show-stoppers. We would have none of our present science and technologies unless these elements with their special properties had been suitably abundant at the right place and the right time. The circumstances in which they were, in fact, not only enabled those developments but made them inevitable. Further examples of the Goldilocks effect.

    Remember too, they, like atmospheric oxygen, were not always there. Nor, in all probability was the rock mentioned early in your comment. Check out “The Evolution of Minerals” by geologist Robert M Hazen in March 2010 Scientific American to get a better perspective on this.

    This is no puddle. It is a highly complex dynamically evolving system, chance mediated, but with directionality provided by the co-evolving prevailing conditions every step of the way.

    We can observe it in its many stages in stellar and supernoval nucleosynthesis. The gross outcome of each of these events is the same. The same elements in pretty much the same proportions. It is not random despite having been being driven largely by chance.

    Finally, with respect to your marbles example. I agree entirely with your statistics. But, to use the model in a different context, let’s say you drop the marbles a second time and you note a somewhat similar distribution. And you do this repeatedly, noting that the final location of each marble is following a well-defined trajectory that is related to that of the others in some orderly way. If you would not infer a pattern and seek a mechanism in this you would certainly be no scientist.

  • Peter Kinnon October 31, 2010, 1:15 PM

    G*3

    I agree with almost all you are saying here. The Douglas Adams puddle analogy is an old favourite of mine.

    The whole notion of purpose and design appears to stem mostly from reflections of our own mental processes.

    After all, we believe we are purposeful and that we “design” things. But there is a very good case to be made for the proposition that this is largely illusory. In “The Goldilocks Effect” I argue that in reality there are no inventors, no designers. (You will find references on my site to others who are now leaning this way.)

    Rather, that technology evolves automonously in the collective human imagination. Similarly we do not have to invoke any kind of “designer” to account for the workings of nature’s machinery. Nor do we need to presume any initial or final conditions. Indeed, if anything, they are contra-indicated.

    The naive and uninformed interpretations of elemental requirements and the like advanced by people such as Keleman are certainly flawed, misleading and of no significance.

    Nevertheless, we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath-water, because there is indeed very strong evidence to support the strong directionality of universal evolutionary patterns which extend beyond the biological realm.

    It is certainly true that the “Goldilocks” properties of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen (that is not an exhaustive list) uniquely permit the development of the biological phase of life. Water, with its all-important dipole is an example.

    The argument extends to the evolution of technology, where the absence of silicon, copper and iron, would have been absolute show-stoppers. We would have none of our present science and technologies unless these elements with their special properties had been suitably abundant at the right place and the right time. The circumstances in which they were, in fact, not only enabled those developments but made them inevitable. Further examples of the Goldilocks effect.

    Continued in next post…

  • G*3 October 31, 2010, 1:27 PM

    > …to get viewers to empathize, pseudo-human characters are necessary (take the movie ANTZ, for example).

    Good point

  • Peter Kinnon October 31, 2010, 8:31 PM

    G*3 I agree with almost all you are saying here. The Douglas Adams puddle analogy is an old favourite of mine.

    The whole notion of purpose and design appears to stem mostly from reflections of our own mental processes.

    After all, we believe we are purposeful and that we “design” things. But there is a very good case to be made for the proposition that this is largely illusory. In “The Goldilocks Effect” I argue that in reality there are no inventors, no designers. (You will find references on my site to others who are now leaning this way.)

    Rather, that technology evolves automonously in the collective human imagination. Similarly we do not have to invoke any kind of “designer” to account for the workings of nature’s machinery. Nor do we need to presume any initial or final conditions. Indeed, if anything, they are contra-indicated.

    The naive and uninformed interpretations of elemental requirements and the like advanced by people such as Keleman are certainly flawed, misleading and of no significance.

    Nevertheless, we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath-water, because there is indeed very strong evidence to support the strong directionality of universal evolutionary patterns which extend beyond the biological realm.

    It is certainly true that the “Goldilocks” properties of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen (that is not an exhaustive list) uniquely permit the development of the biological phase of life. Water, with its all-important dipole is an example.

    The argument extends to the evolution of technology, where the absence of silicon, copper and iron, would have been absolute show-stoppers. We would have none of our present science and technologies unless these elements with their special properties had been suitably abundant at the right place and the right time. The circumstances in which they were, in fact, not only enabled those developments but made them inevitable. Further examples of the Goldilocks effect.

    Remember too, they, like atmospheric oxygen, were not always there. Nor, in all probability was the rock mentioned early in your comment. Check out “The Evolution of Minerals” by geologist Robert M Hazen in March 2010 Scientific American to get a better perspective on this.

    This is no puddle. It is a highly complex dynamically evolving system, chance mediated, but with directionality provided by the co-evolving prevailing conditions every step of the way.

    We can observe it in its many stages in stellar and supernoval nucleosynthesis. The gross outcome of each of these events is the same. The same elements in pretty much the same proportions. It is not random despite having been being driven largely by chance.

    Finally, with respect to your marbles example. I agree entirely with your statistics. But, to use the model in a different context, let’s say you drop the marbles a second time and you note a somewhat similar distribution. And you do this repeatedly, noting that the final location of each marble is following a well-defined trajectory that is related to that of the others in some orderly way. If you would not infer a pattern and seek a mechanism in this you would certainly be no scientist.

  • Peter Kinnon November 2, 2010, 1:08 AM

    I aplogise for the multiple posts.
    The submission was not registering and I gave up after several attempts.
    Now, three days later, they have all turned up together!

  • religionisphony April 3, 2013, 10:20 PM

    Judaism likely evolved from fertility cults in the ancient middle east. You want rain for your crops make sacrifices. Religion is based on belief and no court would find any of the arguments for god(s)… valid. Jews say they have historical evidence from Mt Sinai. Given the extraordinary claim of a supernatural visitation, more evidence than normal is needed to prove such a claim versus ordinary historical events. Religions have vested economic and political interests which is why they deal so harshly with non believers. A good antidote to religion is the book the God Delusion by Dawkins

    .

  • religionisphony April 5, 2013, 10:24 PM

    Nor is there any reasoning or logic based evidence for the existence of Supernatural beings.

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  • David Apple May 8, 2018, 3:28 AM

    Rabbi Kelemen also discusses the bomb in one of his lectures and books. ACJA defuses the bomb https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYoJe5CmMr0 in multiple ways. The Rabbi’s argument is very very weak

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