Monday, May 02, 2011

Did God Make The World, .... ?

My Google news reader spotted an on-line magazine article called “Did God Make The World, and all that it contains?” by Arthur Lewin. Neither the magazine, “,” nor Dr. Lewin were known to me, so I took a look. I was disappointed and slightly irritated. In just under 500 words, Dr. Lewin (PhD in sociology from City University of New York) makes almost zero accurate statements. (Maybe you can find more than I could).

What follows are my comments posted to the website;

Mr. Lewin, in the day of Google, and Wikipedia your multiple errors are just not acceptable. First, Charles Darwin hardly addressed the origin of life at all, and at least in his published works accepted the possibility of a creator. Second, evolutionary biology has advanced a great deal in the last 150 years and Darwin’s books are of more historical than scientific interest.

You also suggest that creationism be taught merely because it is popular. Darwin wrote against slavery, and about the biological unity of mankind when most here insisted that slave ownership was a “god given right” of the White man, and even that the African slaves were soulless sub-humans. Facts are not altered by popularity, and at least in the sciences we try to stick to facts to build our theories.

As for some additional facts, John Scopes was never “exonerated.” The Tennessee Supreme Court found the Butler Act against teaching evolution constitutional. The court set aside the conviction because the Judge made a technical error by fining Scopes $100, when he was not permitted to go above $50, and the lower court decided not to retry the case.

Cartesian Duality is the notion that there is a non-material mind that is detached from the physical brain. Given the advances of neurochemistry, and application of new technologies such as functional MRI, we know that this was a false idea. (And it had little to do with any “science versus religious” conflicts).

Godel’s ideas about incompleteness apply to formal logic systems such as mathematics without any material constraints. The sciences rejected by creationists, especially biology, and geology, are already constrained by the physical realities we study, and so Godel’s theorem has no application. You had best try reading the original.

I want make a last observation to Dr. Lewin regarding his concluding statement, “And so we see that, ultimately, Evolution and Intelligent Design do not really contradict.”
They do most certainly conflict, if Dr. Lewin is using “intelligent design” in the same sense as its proponents, and in the sense it has in the various recent or impending legal cases (see Kitzmiller v Dover, or example). The scientific failure of Intelligent Design creationism has been explored by many scientists and philosophers. For two recommendations, see;

Mark Perakh
2003 “Unintelligent Design” New York: Prometheus Press

Matt Young, Taner Edis (Editors),
2004 “Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism” Rutgers University Press

I was one of the contributors to the latter book.

The suggestion made by Dr. Lewin that following the “big bang,” life emerged and evolved according to natural laws is roughly the same as “theistic evolution.” I don’t find it personally persuasive, but there is no particular scientific objection to this. It is often called the “strong Anthropic principle” by cosmologists. It is worth noting that it is rejected by most ID proponents at the Discovery Institute, and is strongly opposed by the common Young Earth creationists.

Two books I can recommend on theistic evolution are;

Frye, Roland Mushat (editor)
1983 “Is God a Creationist? The Religious Case Against Creation-Science” New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons

Miller, Keith B. (editor)
2003 “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation” Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company

They are a bit heavy theologically, but mostly readable.

Regarding the “fine tuning,” or “strong anthropic principle,” here is one in favor and one opposed;

McGrath, Alister E.
2009 “A Fine-Tuned Universe” Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press

Susskind, Leonard
2005 “The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design” New York: Little and Brown Publishers

Obviously McGrath is in favor of the idea that the “fact” the universe is “built” for us humans “proves” there must be a god. Actually he sidesteps the arguments made by Susskind (in fact he does not even mention Susskind, or the equally strong counter arguments of of my colleague Victor J. Stenger (2004, “Is the Universe Fine-Tuned for Us?” in “Why Intelligent Design Fails,” 172-84). The best short refutation of the fine tuning case I have seen was by the science fiction author, Douglas Adams. In late 2000, he gave a talk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He compared us to a mud puddle that looks around and says, “What a nice hole in the ground – it’s made just for me! Look at how nicely it’s indentations fit my beautiful curves, and the depth and the radius are just right…”

PS: Take some time to read NASA’s “Universe 101: The Big Bang Theory”


Anonymous said...

You seem to have not only beat Lewin's "arguments" into the ground, but also sliced, diced and served them up for us as Steak tartare. Bravo!

I must mention that I hope (as the son of two PhDs in Sociology and the brother of another) that any (deserved) derisiveness towards, Lewin not be extended to Sociologists in general.


Gary S. Hurd said...

My wife has a degree in sociology, so I would not dare to make any overly broad generalizations.