Compare and contrast

Such issues are again making headlines following last week’s remarks by the astronaut Tim Peake, who said he thought the universe could be the result of divine creation. “I’m not religious [but] it doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t seriously consider that the universe could have been created from intelligent design,” he said.

That the universe could have been? Not that I think well ever find out but it’s possible. That “Let there be light” and the setting of the basic equations and off we go.

These views are mild but will nevertheless be seized on by those determined to see the handiwork of God everywhere they look, from the shapes of bananas to the colour of the sky, a habit that is more common in the US than the UK. And for that we Britons should be grateful, for intelligent design is not just wrong; the idea is misguided and intellectually rotten, a point best illustrated in the study of our own bodies – and in particular our eyes.

Creationists say natural selection cannot explain the wonders and complexity of the eye. It must have been designed by a divine entity, they claim. How else can you explain how it co-ordinates the behaviour of each of its 125m photoreceptor cells to provide us with vision that has colour and depth? It is too complex to have evolved through random, physiological changes, they say.

Yes, yes, we know about eyes. But that’s not what Peake said, is it? He didn’t say “intelligent design” which is the code for God made the details of humans according to Genesis.

Robin McKie is the Observer’s science editor

Even just a journalist about science should know that you on’t disprove one claim by disproving another….

46 comments on “Compare and contrast

  1. This is hardly a surprising line to take from the guardian. Secularism is the religion of progressives.

  2. ‘But that’s not what Peake said, is it? He didn’t say “intelligent design”…’

    Yes he did.

    Tim Peake said, “I’m not religious [but] it doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t seriously consider that the universe could have been created from intelligent design.”

    And who/what intelligence designed the intelligent designer?

  3. The eternal God who operates outside of time and space, and who has always existed, and will always exist.

  4. As a more general observation – why do people get all wound up over this?

    Evolutionary theory is a valiant effort to provide a plausible explanation* for how we may have got here in the absence of a god. It neither proves nor disproves the existence of any form of God.

    That if there is a God, he could create things seems self-evident. Moreover, he could create things with apparent age, that even had apparently evolved.

    None of this really advances the question of “is there a god, and if so, what are they like?”.

    *I don’t know what current evolutionary theory on the development of the eye is – I’ve yet to see anything particularly plausible which doesn’t struggle severely with the requirement not to have intermediate development stages with no conceivable evolutionary advantage.

  5. The eagle’s eye seems to work rather better than our own. Thus the human eye could be seen as that intermediate development – and it does seem to have an advantage….

  6. That there “might” be a God, is surely a statement of the obvious, regardless of the circumstantial evidence.

    But then we have this:

    “Who designed these faulty things? The answer can’t be a God, because a God so incompetent in designing vision sensors isn’t worth worshipping.” In other words, the human eye, far from proving there was a divine creator, is a clear pointer to his or her nonexistence.”

    There can’t be a God because His Creation isn’t perfect.

    Why the assumption that God is benign?

  7. To (probably mis)quote Descartes: God, being perfect, must necessarily exist because existence is one of the perfections.
    Not terribly convincing, I know, but I remember it from my brief studies of philosophy in 1975.

  8. @Anon: That’s the ontological argument for the existence of god, which is much older than Descartes. Proposed in the 11th C by Anselm, who became archbishop of Canterbury a few years later.

  9. Even just a journalist about science

    The journalist bit will always submerge the scientist bit. As Mark Steyn said in a different context – put some shit in a pint of ice cream – which dominates the result?

  10. Which all goes to show that agnosticism is the only viable position with regards to gods, creation and all the rest.

    Or as Huxley puts it:

    “Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe. Consequently, agnosticism puts aside not only the greater part of popular theology, but also the greater part of anti-theology. On the whole, the “bosh” of heterodoxy is more offensive to me than that of orthodoxy, because heterodoxy professes to be guided by reason and science, and orthodoxy does not.
    — Thomas Henry Huxley”

  11. “And who/what intelligence designed the intelligent designer?”

    Some philosophers argue that we’re probably living in a computer simulation.

    “*I don’t know what current evolutionary theory on the development of the eye is – I’ve yet to see anything particularly plausible which doesn’t struggle severely with the requirement not to have intermediate development stages with no conceivable evolutionary advantage.”

    It’s speculation, of course, but a plausible chain of development has been proposed and demonstrated by computer simulation.

    It starts with the sense of touch. Organisms respond to touch by fighting, fleeing, or eating whatever touched them. Then a light-responding substance in a patch of the sensory cells enables a response to light and shadow (an advantage). Then the patch develops a hollow, which reduces risk of injury (an advantage). A deeper hollow allows some direction-finding, based on which side of the hollow is illuminated, so if the sensory nerves in different parts of the patch give different responses they can move more accurately towards or away from the light (an advantage). The hollow develops into a cavity, with a narrow opening like a pinhole camera (we’ve basically got a primitive eye, now). But gunk can get caught in the cavity, so if a translucent membrane of skin is retained over the opening, there’s less risk of damage (advantage). If the skin gets more transparent, that obviously helps vision (advantage). A more transparent membrane can be thicker, giving more protection (advantage). If it gets thicker in the middle than at the edges, it starts to act like a simple lens (advantage). And so on.

    Eyes are not too difficult, and have evolved independently several times. There are also examples of all the above steps and stages existing in nature.

    “There can’t be a God because His Creation isn’t perfect.”

    Oh, yes. From “Where God Went Wrong”, “Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes” and “Who is this God Person Anyway?” by Oolon Colluphid.

  12. What proves beyond reasonable doubt that God is a mere fiction is the existence of Wiily Hutton and Richard Murphy on the same planet at the same time.

  13. That God might exist.

    Ok–he might.

    Why does some leftist cunt have to rush into [rint with a –supposed–refutation?

    Because someone might read or hear the statement and commit crimethink by agreeing. That is what the prog-scum can’t stand and have to rush into print to counter.

    Which shows just how strong and soundly based are the views of leftoid vermin.

  14. I can’t imagine God has much time for creationists. He wants us to strive to be better people, not quibble over the small print.

  15. theProle

    “As a more general observation – why do people get all wound up over this?”

    Yeah. Of all the things that affect the price of fish, the bins getting emptied or strippers on stages, this is not one of them.

    Given the choice between sparing a creationist or a communist, I’d spare the creationist. Creationism is harmless fairy tale nonsense. Communism kills millions.

    And I believe that creationism vs evolution battle today is almost about a war of information. The media is a rival to churches. By pushing against creationism, it’s designed to put churches out of business. Which isn’t to say the media is wrong. But that’s why they made a big deal out of it.

  16. One of the theories that has been bandied about lately is that our universe is a simulation. One where all the details are determined in advance. Which leads to the question: By what name do we call the one running the simulation?

    The biggest problem if we take the creator out of the situation, is that we no longer have any inalienable or Natural Rights. The total sum of our rights is then subject to the government in power. A outcome much opposed by most of the folks on this blog.

  17. ‘Intelligent design’ (as opposed to Darwinian evolution) is obvious bollocks. But there’s a perfectly sensible scientific argument for the universe being a created entity, in order to explain the otherwise astonishing coincidence that a large number of ‘fundamental’ constants appear to be fine-tuned to permit the possibility of intelligent life evolving.

    One possible solution is that we are living in some sort of ‘computer simulation’ (q.v.). Another is that there are a gigantic (if not infinite) number of similar universes which are hidden from us – many philosophers claim that this argument is a load of dingo’s kidneys.

  18. “The biggest problem if we take the creator out of the situation, is that we no longer have any inalienable or Natural Rights.”

    Does that follow? Why do you think natural/inalienable rights can only come from a creator? Why can’t they be the result of evolution?

  19. Maybe he could refute some of the Muslim or other religions claims next, a series of why each religion is wrong maybe, surely that would demonstrate fairness, lack of discrimination and highlight diversity.

  20. “Maybe he could refute some of the Muslim or other religions claims next”

    He did. Muslims are Creationist, too.

  21. “Then a light-responding substance in a patch of the sensory cells enables a response to light and shadow (an advantage).”

    This being the problematic stage to my mind at least.

    What evolutionary advantage do you have in determining light and shade, especially when you can’t be doing it to hide from predictors as nothing else can see?

  22. “He wants us to strive to be better people”: then why the hell didn’t he make us better people in the first place?

  23. Having seen a Youtube video on the subject and also occasionally suffered from “klingon issues”, I’ve become convinced that the existence of butt hair provides irrefutable evidence of unintelligent design.
    I suspect that the above contribution doesn’t really help clarify many poster’s ontological and theological conundrums.

  24. theProle: *ANY* advantage a slightly light-sentaive patch of skin gives over a slightly less-senstive patch of skin is an advantage, regardless of what that advantage is. It doesn’t have to be evading predators or finding food or finding a mate, *ANY* advantage is an advantage, and if that results in you having more offspring that the others, that slightly-more-senatiuve patch of skin that gives advantage will be selected for.

  25. Regarding the existence of a God – I realised many years ago that humanity’s finest minds had been debating this for at least two thousand years and had not reached a definitive conclusion, so why should I bother?

  26. Thomas Paine’s ‘Age of Reason’ grants creation to God. Everything afterwards does not involve God. “We should be thankful to God for creation.”

    I’m okay with that. I don’t believe it, but I have no reason to fight it. I’m an atheist, not an antitheist.

    On the evolution of the eye:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB301.html

  27. “…I’ve become convinced that the existence of butt hair provides irrefutable evidence of unintelligent design.”

    And we are supposedly made in *His* image. Although sometimes we do seem like something somebody might have pulled out their arse one morning.

    (“Their” is goD’z preferred pronoun, but no capitals unless at the beginning of a sentence. Hope you can respect that. If not, horrendous fire death.)

  28. “Why do you think natural/inalienable rights can only come from a creator? Why can’t they be the result of evolution?”

    A creature capable of forming and communicating imaginary social constructs is what is the result of evolution. The actual content of the imaginary constructs comes from the creature – the creator. Of course, the creature’s imagination operates within the limits of its evolved capabilities.

    So the answer is yes.

  29. @JGH

    Agreed that any advantage which produces more viable offspring will be selected for, however the point / question I have is “in a world comprising entirely of vision-less creatures, what possible evolutionary advantage is there to patches of skin with slight light sensitivity?” because I genuinely can’t think of any.

    No point in hiding in the shade if there is nothing to see you (prey or predator). No use in finding prey or to avoid blundering into things until it’s much more developed. Finding warmth and escaping heat are both better done by skin that detects heat itself than skin which detects a poor proxy for them.

    (and the logic that “we have eyes, therefore there must have been an advantage” gets you exactly nil points in this situation)

  30. “(“Their” is goD’z preferred pronoun, but no capitals unless at the beginning of a sentence. Hope you can respect that. If not, horrendous fire death.)”

    I guess the questions people here are asking are: “Does God have a penis? And if so, what’s it for? Does that imply the existence of Godesses?”

    A bit tricky for monotheists, eh?

    I note in passing that Michaelangelo depicted God wearing a very pretty white dress on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It’s definitely not trousers. But unfortunately, as a result, it’s ambiguous regarding the presence of a todger. Prominently erect nipples, sure, but no sign of the holy sceptre.

    “Although sometimes we do seem like something somebody might have pulled out their arse one morning.”

    If you check out the chubby guy on God’s right, he does indeed appear to be trying to pull something out of God’s arse. Michaelangelo was a bit of a laugh, wasn’t he?

    🙂

  31. “What evolutionary advantage do you have in determining light and shade, especially when you can’t be doing it to hide from pred[a]tors as nothing else can see?”

    If you’re sat on the bottom of a shallow sea, a shadow means there’s something approaching from above. You can sense it coming, long before it can sense you. It gives you longer to run away, or a better chance of catching it if you’re the predator. In the land of the blind, the one eyed pre-Cambrian sea-thingy is king.


    PS. Apologies – I do know how to spell Michelangelo. Tch.

  32. dearieme,
    God made man perfectible but not perfect so that he might strive for perfection. For without striving, there is no existance.

    The Prole,
    The problem with the “what use is half an eye?” Argument is that there are plenty of real life examples to study. Take a look at star fish eyes, for example, or horseshoe crab eyes. Little more than light sensing patches, yet their owners seem to find them useful.

  33. “to explain the otherwise astonishing coincidence that a large number of ‘fundamental’ constants appear to be fine-tuned to permit the possibility of intelligent life evolving.”

    These constants result in a universe can produce an intelligent observer. Other constants might not. No coincidence is required

  34. These constants result in a universe can produce an intelligent observer. Other constants might not. No coincidence is required

    Which is what I said. But to make that argument you have to postulate an unreasonably large number of (unobservable) universes that cannot support intelligent life. That’s a perfectly reasonable argument, but absence of evidence (and the impossibility of ever finding evidence) on either side may lead some to prefer the idea of design.

  35. The existence of an impossibly complicated F-22 while other less complicated flying machines can be traced back to 1903 and beyond in a seemingly evolutionary chain must mean random selection. Not design, at all.

    The eye argument might work against biblical creation but it goes no further.

    And of course it’s a waste of time, but I wish the debate was less binary. Darwin and dna vs Judaeo-Christian God leaves out any number of other explanations.

  36. “But to make that argument you have to postulate an unreasonably large number of (unobservable) universes that cannot support intelligent life. That’s a perfectly reasonable argument, but absence of evidence (and the impossibility of ever finding evidence) on either side…”

    It depends what you consider ‘evidence’, and how determined you are to stick to your initial hypothesis in the face of it.

    Simple, linear quantum mechanics implies it, and at the microscopic level their existence is accepted. (It’s just the “sum over histories” picture.) It’s only when you go up to the macroscopic level that people insist on inserting an undetectable, unexplainable, irreversible, faster-than-light, backwards-in-time, non-linear ‘wavefunction collapse’ that has no observable consequences whatsoever, but which apparently makes people feel better.

    Entities with no observable consequences can be multiplied endlessly, and hypotheses about them can by definition never be proved or disproved. But you can still select between such hypotheses on other more aesthetic or parsimonious grounds.

    “The existence of an impossibly complicated F-22 while other less complicated flying machines can be traced back to 1903 and beyond in a seemingly evolutionary chain must mean random selection. Not design, at all.”

    The biggest mistake people make about evolution is in thinking the design bit is done by random mutation. It’s not done with any sort of “random selection” – the natural selection can be very non-random indeed, which is the point. Evolution doesn’t provide the design through the random mutation part, it inserts it through the selective death of all the organisms that don’t work.

    The best analogy I can think of is topiary. A bush grows in all directions at random, but if the hostile environment snips off every leaf or branch that spreads outside a particular boundary, the plant grows to take up the shape of the boundary precisely. And then people exclaim “How can a plant growing at random come up with such an obviously non-random shape?!”

    Artificial selection, where humans define the boundary and selectively breed animals was already well-known and understood. It was Darwin’s insight that natural selection, where the environment itself killed off all those organisms not well-suited to surviving in it, could do the same. And then people would exclaim at how well-suited this randomly mutating organism was to survive in its environment. How can a randomly mutating organism come up with such a non-random shape? Because death is non-random.

    The tree of life has been sculpted by the grim reaper’s scythe. Death is the hidden designer.

  37. Did anyone consider that Tim Peake was merely being polite and trying to deflect a question on religion in an open-minded, inoffensive manner?
    To deny religion is to call all believers in skyvoices as insane. Not a wise bet for anyone in the public eye, though the media seem to be going that way thelselves, after each attrocity proves to be a mentally disturbed individual instead of a godbotherer.

  38. A lot of religious dogma & ritual, particularly the Christian ritual of praying for intercession assumes that a god can arbitrarily change stuff (miracles), but anyone who takes the laws of physics seriously will have significant issues with this – that a supreme being can just set them aside in specific cases.

    Then the other alternative is a supreme being that created the Universe & then just set it going like a child’s clockwork toy for its own amusement, with no possibility of intercession. In that case why do we pray for intercession, castigate ourselves as bad people (“we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep” – yes, it was all firmly fixed in my brain as a child), and ask for forgiveness? Perhaps it’s just a way for TPTB of antiquity to enforce a dose of humility on a regular basis so we don’t get too uppity.

  39. TG, the notion of intercession destroys Free Will. Without Free Will, Christianity is absurd.

    Man has debated for centuries just how busy God is. Some think He manages everything; others who think He might help out if you ask.

    I am amused when a football player kneels in the end zone after a touch down to thank God. When I see one thank God for his fumbles, I’ll start to believe they understand what they are doing. It is truly odd to believe that God has interceded only when good things have happened. All the credit; no responsibility.

  40. NiV, survival of the fittest is obviousology. Always provable in retrospect.

    I have a hard time with random mutations selected by the environment.

    I have a hard time with any and all religions assuming an omnipotent higher power, life after death or a church telling me what to do.

    I have a hard time with biblical creation.

    And I don’t see cosmological theory having any explanation better than ‘let there be light’.

  41. Rhoda Klapp: evolution requires only three things: a source of phenotypic variation; heritability of phenotypic variation; differential phenotypic reproductive fitness.

    Mutations occur. They can have phenotypic consequences.

    If the mutation is a germ-line mutation and not a somatic one, it will be heritable.

    The consequences to fitness of mutations can be benign, neutral or malign (in the sense of conferring a greater/unaltered/lesser likelihood of reproductive success respectively). Often the consequences will be a mixture of all three but there will be a net effect in some direction. If the mutation is net beneficial, then its bearers will have a greater likelihood of producing descendants, and if the mutation is heritable, those descendants will in turn have a greater likelihood of reproductive success. Neutral mutations (which make up most of them) confer no advantage or disadvantage and are therefore invisible to natural selection. Malign mutations that, say, kill an organism before it can reproduce or render it less fertile will be strongly suppressed in the next generation. Neutral and beneficial mutations get through the filter; malign mutations do not (dominance/recessiveness notwithstanding).

    If nature is arranged thus then evolution will happen. Nature has been arranged thus, so evolution is happening. Talk of first causes is immaterial.

  42. “The tree of life has been sculpted by the grim reaper’s scythe. Death is the hidden designer.”

    All organisms die. It is the success vs failure of organisms to reproduce that determines what the collection of survivors looks like.

  43. “All organisms die. It is the success vs failure of organisms to reproduce that determines what the collection of survivors looks like.”

    True. But people using the ‘Argument from Design’ more usually point to the marvels of organisms’ survival features than their reproductive ones.

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.