When Charles Darwin visited the Galápagos Islands in 1835, he collected specimens of the local wildlife. These included some finches that he threw into bags, many of them mislabeled. Although the Galápagos finches had little impact on Darwin’s thinking (he doesn’t even mention them in The Origin of Species), biologists who studied them a century later called them “Darwin’s finches” and invented the myth that Darwin had correlated differences in the finches’ beaks with different food sources (he hadn’t). According to the myth, Darwin was inspired by the finches to formulate his theory of evolution, thoughaccording to historian of science Frank Sulloway “nothing could be further from the truth.”
In the 1970s, biologists studied a population of medium ground finches on one of the islands in great detail. When a severe drought left only large, hard-to-crack seeds, 85 percent of the birds perished. The survivors had beaks that were about 5 percent larger than the average beak size in the original population. The biologists estimated that if similar droughts occurred once every ten years, the population could become a new species in only 200 years. In a 1999 booklet defending evolution, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences called the finches “a particularly compelling example” of the origin of species.
But after the drought, birds with smaller beaks flourished again, and the average beak size of the population returned to normal. No net evolution had occurred. No matter; Darwin’s finches became an icon of evolution that is still featured in most biology textbooks.
In the 1980s, a population of large ground finches, with larger beaks than the medium ground finches, migrated to the island. When a drought in 2004-2005 again reduced the food supply, the medium and large ground finch populations both declined. But since even the largest beaks among the medium ground finches were no match for the beaks of the large ground finches, the latter pretty much monopolized the larger seeds and the former had to make do with smaller seeds. This time, the medium ground finches that survived the drought had beaks that were smaller than the average size in the original population. Biologists studying the finches argued that birds with smaller beaks were better able to eat the tiny seeds that were left after the large ground finches ate the big ones, and they concluded that this was again an example of “evolutionary change.”
[…]Wait a minute. Average beak size increased slightly during one drought, only to return to normal after the rains return. Then average beak size decreased slightly during another drought. A region of DNA is correlated with beak size. And somehow that tells us how finches evolved in the first place?
There is an important distinction to make between micro-evolution and macro-evolution. Changes within a type is micro-evolution. Evolving a new organ type or body plan is macro-evolution. There is plenty of evidence for micro-evolution, but no evidence for macro-evolution.
What needs to be proven by the Darwinists is that the same process that results in different average beak size in a population of finches after a drought can create the finches in the first place. I think that Darwinists are credulous – they believe what they want to believe because they want to believe it, even if the evidence is incredibly weak. Darwinists must demonstrate that heritable variations can result in the generation of new organ types and body plans. Changes in average beak size is not interesting. What is needed is to show how the beaks, much less the wings, evolved in the first place.
Icons of Evolution
Jonathan has actually written about a number of misleading things that you may mind in Biology textbooks.
The MIT physicist says that the fine-tuning is real, and is best explained by positing the existence of an infinite number of universes that are not fine-tuned – the so-called multiverse.
While challenging the Platonic dream of theoretical physicists, the multiverse idea does explain one aspect of our universe that has unsettled some scientists for years: according to various calculations, if the values of some of the fundamental parameters of our universe were a little larger or a little smaller, life could not have arisen. For example, if the nuclear force were a few percentage points stronger than it actually is, then all the hydrogen atoms in the infant universe would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to make helium, and there would be no hydrogen left. No hydrogen means no water. Although we are far from certain about what conditions are necessary for life, most biologists believe that water is necessary. On the other hand, if the nuclear force were substantially weaker than what it actually is, then the complex atoms needed for biology could not hold together. As another example, if the relationship between the strengths of the gravitational force and the electromagnetic force were not close to what it is, then the cosmos would not harbor any stars that explode and spew out life-supporting chemical elements into space or any other stars that form planets. Both kinds of stars are required for the emergence of life. The strengths of the basic forces and certain other fundamental parameters in our universe appear to be “fine-tuned” to allow the existence of life. The recognition of this fine-tuning led British physicist Brandon Carter to articulate what he called the anthropic principle, which states that the universe must have the parameters it does because we are here to observe it. Actually, the word anthropic, from the Greek for “man,” is a misnomer: if these fundamental parameters were much different from what they are, it is not only human beings who would not exist. No life of any kind would exist.
If such conclusions are correct, the great question, of course, is why these fundamental parameters happen to lie within the range needed for life. Does the universe care about life? Intelligent design is one answer. Indeed, a fair number of theologians, philosophers, and even some scientists have used fine-tuning and the anthropic principle as evidence of the existence of God. For example, at the 2011 Christian Scholars’ Conference at Pepperdine University, Francis Collins, a leading geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health, said, “To get our universe, with all of its potential for complexities or any kind of potential for any kind of life-form, everything has to be precisely defined on this knife edge of improbability…. [Y]ou have to see the hands of a creator who set the parameters to be just so because the creator was interested in something a little more complicated than random particles.”
Intelligent design, however, is an answer to fine-tuning that does not appeal to most scientists. The multiverse offers another explanation. If there are countless different universes with different properties—for example, some with nuclear forces much stronger than in our universe and some with nuclear forces much weaker—then some of those universes will allow the emergence of life and some will not. Some of those universes will be dead, lifeless hulks of matter and energy, and others will permit the emergence of cells, plants and animals, minds. From the huge range of possible universes predicted by the theories, the fraction of universes with life is undoubtedly small. But that doesn’t matter. We live in one of the universes that permits life because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to ask the question.
I thought I was going to have to go outside this article to refute the multiverse, but Lightman is honest enough to refute it himself:
The… conjecture that there are many other worlds… [T]here is no way they can prove this conjecture. That same uncertainty disturbs many physicists who are adjusting to the idea of the multiverse. Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.
Sound familiar? Theologians are accustomed to taking some beliefs on faith. Scientists are not. All we can do is hope that the same theories that predict the multiverse also produce many other predictions that we can test here in our own universe. But the other universes themselves will almost certainly remain a conjecture.
The multiverse is not pure nonsense, it is theoretically possible. The problem is that the multiverse generator itself would require fine-tuning, so the multiverse doesn’t get rid of the problem. And, as Lightman indicates, we have no independent experimental evidence for the existence of the multiverse in any case. Atheists just have to take it on faith, and hope that their speculations will be proved right. Meanwhile, the fine-tuning is just as easily explained by postulating God, and we have independent evidence for God’s existence, like the the origin of biological information, the sudden appearance of animal body plans, the argument from consciousness, and so on. Even if the naturalists could explain the fine-tuning, they would still have a lot of explaining to do. Theism (intelligent causation) is the simplest explanation for all of the things we learn from the progress of science.
We need to be frank about atheists and their objections to the progress of science. Within the last 100 years, we have discovered that the physical universe came into being out of nothing 15 billion years ago, and we have discovered that this one universe is fine-tuned for intelligent life. I don’t think it’s like that the last 100 years of scientific progress on the origins question are going to be overturned so that science once again affirms what atheists believe about the universe. Things are going the wrong way for atheists – at least with respect to science.
See it in action
To see these arguments examined in a debate with a famous atheist, simply watch the debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens, and judge which debater is willing to form his beliefs on scientific progress, and which debater is forming his beliefs against the science we have today, and hoping that the good science we have today based on experiments will be overturned by speculative theories at some point in the future. When you watch that debate, it becomes very clear that Christian theists are interested in conforming their beliefs to science, and atheists are very interested in speculating against what science has shown in order to maintain their current pre-scientific view. That’s not what rational people ought to do when confronted with evidence.
You might remember Peter Millican from the debate he had with William Lane Craig. I ranked that debate as one of the 3 best I have ever seen, along with the first Craig vs Dacey debate and the second Craig vs Sinnott-Armstrong debate.
Science has revealed that the fundamental constants and forces of the cosmos appear to be exquisitely fine-tuned to allow a universe in which life can develop. Is God the best explanation of the incredibly improbable odds of the universe we live in being a life-permitting one?
Robin Collins is a Christian philosopher and a leading advocate of the argument for God from cosmic design. Peter Millican is an atheist philosopher at Oxford University. They debate the issues.
From ‘Unbelievable?’ on ‘Premier Christian Radio’, Saturday 19th March 2016.
As usual when the atheist is an expert, there is no snark or paraphrasing in the summary.
Brierley: What is the fine-tuning argument?
Collins: the fine-tuning is structure of the universe is extremely precisely set to allow the existing of conscious, embodied agents who are capable of moral behavior. There are 3 kinds of fine-tuning: 1) the laws of nature (mathematical formulas), 2) the constants of physics (numbers that are plugged into the equations), 3) the initial conditions of the universe. The fine-tuning exists not just because there are lots of possibilities, but there is something special about the actual state of affairs that we see. Every set of laws, parameters and initial conditions is equally improbable, but the vast majority of permutations do not permit life. The possible explanations: theism or the multiverse.
Brierley: How improbable are the numbers?
Collins: Once case is the cosmological constant (dark energy density), with is 1 part in (10 raised to 120th power). If larger, the universe expands too rapidly for galaxies and stars to form after the Big Bang. If smaller, the universe collapses in on itself before life could form. Another case is the initial distribution of mass energy to give us the low entropy we have that is necessary for life. The fine-tuning there is 1 part in (10 raised to the 10th power raised to the 123rd power).
Brierley: What do you think of the argument?
Millican: The argument is worth taking very seriously. I am a fan of the argument. The other arguments for God’s existence such as the ontological and cosmological arguments are very weak. But the fine-tuning argument has the right structure to deliver the conclusion that theists want. And it is different from the traditional design argument tended to focus on biological nature, which is not a strong argument. But the fine-tuning argument is strong because it precedes any sort of biological evolution. Although the design is present at the beginning of the universe, it is not visible until much later. The argument points to at least deism, and possibly theism. The argument is not based on ignorance, it is rooted in “the latest results from the frontiers of science” (his phrase).
Brierley: Is this the best argument from natural theology?
Collins: The cosmological argument makes theism viable intuitively, but there are some things that are puzzling, like the concept of the necessary being. But the fine-tuning argument is decisive.
Brierley: What’s are some objections to the fine-tuning argument?
Millican: The argument is based on recent physics, so we should be cautious because we maybe we will discover a natural explanation.
Brierley: Respond to that.
Collins: The cosmological constant has been around since 1980. But the direction that physics is moving in is that there are more constants and quantities being discovered that need to be fine-tuned, not less. Even if you had a grand unified theory, that would have to be have the fine-tuning pushed into it.
Millican: Since we have no experience of other laws and values from other universes, we don’t know whether these values can be other than they are. Psychologically, humans are prone to seeing purpose and patterns where there is none, so maybe that’s happening here.
Brierley: Respond to that.
Collins: It is possible to determine probabilities on a single universe case, for example using multiple ways of calculating Avogadro’s number all converging on the same number makes it more probable.
Millican: Yes, I willing to accept that these constants can take on other values, (“principle of indifference”). But maybe this principle be applied if the improbability were pushed up into the theory?
Collins: Even if you had a grand theory, selecting the grand theory from others would retain the improbability.
Brierley: What about the multiverse?
Millican: What if there are many, many different universes, and we happen to be in the one that is finely-tuned, then we should not be surprised to observe fine-tuning. Maybe a multiverse theory will be discovered in the future that would allow us to have these many universes with randomized constants and quantities. “I do think that it is a little bit of a promissary note”. I don’t think physics is pointing to this right now.
Brierley: Respond to that.
Collins: I agree it’s a promissary note. This is the strongest objection to the fine-tuning argument. But there are objections to the multiverse: 1) the fine-tuning is kicked back up to the multiverse generator has to be set just right to produce universes with different constants, 2) the multiverse is more likely to produce a small universe with Boltzmann brains that pop into existence and then out again, rather than a universe that contains conscious, embodied intelligent agents. I am working on a third response now that would show that the same constants that allow complex, embodied life ALSO allow the universe to be discoverable. This would negate the observer-selection effect required by the multiverse objection.
Brierley: Respond to that.
Millican: I don’t see why the multiverse generator has to be fine-tuned, since we don’t know what the multiverse generator is. I’m not impressed by the Boltzmann brains, but won’t discuss. We should be cautious about inferring design because maybe this is a case where we are seeing purpose and design where there is none.
Brierley: Can you negate the discoverability of the universe by saying that it might be psychological?
Collins: These things are not psychological. The selected value for the cosmic microwave background radiation is fine-tuned for life and for discoverability. It’s not merely a discoverability selection effect, it’s optimal for discoverability. If baryon-photon value were much smaller, we would have known that it was not optimal. So that judgment cannot be explained by
Millican: That’s a very interesting new twist.
Brierley: Give us your best objection.
Millican: I have two. 1) Even if you admit to the fine-tuning, this doesn’t show a being who is omnipotent and omnisicient. What the fine-tuning shows is that the designer is doing the best it can given the constraints from nature. If I were God, I would not have made the universe so big, and I wouldn’t have made it last 14 billion years, just to make one small area that supports life. An all-powerful God would have made the universe much smaller, and much younger. 2) The fine-tuning allows life to exist in other solar systems in other galaxies. What does this alien life elsewhere mean for traditional Christian theology? The existence of other alien civilizations argues against the truth of any one religion.
Brierley: Respond to those.
Collins: First objection: with a finite Creator, you run into the problem of having to push the design of that creature up one level, so you don’t really solve the fine-tuning problem. An unlimited being (non-material, not composed of parts) does not require fine-tuning. The fine-tuning is more compatible with theism than atheism. Second objection: I actually do think that it is likely that are other universes, and life in other galaxies and stars, and the doctrine of the Incarnation is easily adaptable to that, because God can take on multiple natures to appear to different alien civilizations.
Lawrence Krauss is a Cosmologist at Arizona State University who describes himself as an “anti-theist”. His latest book “A Universe From Nothing” has received both acclaim and criticism for its attempt to answer the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Debating the issue with Krauss is Rodney Holder, Course director at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge. An astrophysicist and priest by background. In a lively exchange they debate whether Krauss’ “nothing” is “nothing”, fine tuning and multiverses, scientific knowledge, miracles and the usefulness of theology and philosophy.
This debate is quite entertaining, and do not be intimidated if your don’t understand science. You can understand pretty easily who is arguing based on facts and who is speculating about unobservable, untestable entities. At one point, Krauss actually denies that there is any fine-tuning in the universe, so please see this link to refute that claim as well as this podcast which explains some examples of fine-tuning. Krauss gets a bit angry at the beginning, but calms down.
Quotation marks are for direct quotes, italics is for made-up snark. See below the summary for more posts that are related to this one.
Summary of the discussion: (picked up at 9:30 when they start talking about the book)
explain your theory of how the universe can come into being from nothing
the nothing that preceded the universe is “no space, no time, no universe”
theists say that God is responsible for creating the universe out of this nothing
but the laws of nature can create the universe uncaused out of nothing
Krauss sometimes writes that the nothing is really a quantum vacuum, but that is not nothing
He even acknowledges in his book that a quantum vacuum is not nothing
He thinks that the nothing has properties, even though it has no being
It has the property of being unstable
It has the property of being acted on by quantum fields
It has the property of being acted on by gravity
But nothing can have the potential to do things inside it
For example suppose you have an electron, which is not nothing
If it jumps from one level to another, it emits light
There was no potential for the light in the electron, but it was there as part of atomic structure
But in cases like that, there is something physical that has the potential
Well, how did God makes the universe then if it had no potential?
God existed, and the potential for creating the universe in himself
Maybe there is an eternally existing multiverse that we can’t observe or test scientifically
Maybe it has laws that we don’t know about which allow our universe to pop into being
Maybe this popping into being is uncaused
(alarmed) Who made God? Who made God?
God is eternal and necessary
(interrupting, angry) What does it mean for something to be necessary?
Basically, you have to decide whether there is more evidence that the necessary being God or a multiverse
So Dr. Krauss are you willing to say that the universe is a brute fact, in some sense, and requires no explanation
(angry) Religious people are stupid because they just assume brute facts, not like me and my unobservable, untestable multiverse
(angry) Religious people are against the progress of science, they don’t want to figure out how things work
But isn’t it possible that naturalists can be opposed to the progress of science?
What about the way the Fred Hoyle opposed the Big Bang because he wanted an eternal universe
(angry) But naturalists like me let the facts determine our beliefs, like the facts about the eternal unobservable, untestable multiverse
(angry, shouting) Philosophers are stupid, they know nothing!
=== Break ===
Do you see any evidence of purpose in the universe?
Well maybe I would believe if the stars lined up to spell out a message from God
Actually no, that wouldn’t be evidence for God on your multiverse view
if there an infinite number of universes existing for an infinite amount of time, then anything can happen no matter how unlikely it is
therefore, no evidence could convince you that God exists, since the unobservable, untestable, eternal multiverse can make anything it wants
That’s a true statement, and very convenient for atheists who don’t want to be accountable to God, don’t you think?
Back to the multiverse, how does it solve the fine-tuning?
“We have no idea if the universe is fine-tuned for life”, even though the atheist Martin Rees who endorsed Krauss’ book wrote his own book about the fine-tuning of the universe called “Just Six Numbers”
Wow. Postmodern “Christian” Brian McLaren has completely abandoned traditional Christianity. McLaren, you may already know, spear-headed the “emergent church” movement – an attempt to fuse postmodern relativism with liberal Christianity.
Greg Koukl and Kevin DeYoung analyze his latest book “A New Kind of Christianity”.
Kevin DeYoung – Brian McLaren’s New Kind of Christianity
Host: Greg Koukl
Guest: Kevin DeYoung – Brian McLaren’s “New Kind of Christianity” (00:00:00)
Commentary: Reality vs. Religion? The Modern Upper Story Leap (00:56:39)
Guest: Dennis Prager – Reality vs. Religion (01:52:25)
We’re interested in the first hour of the three-hour show.
Topics of hour one:
What is Brian’s view of Creation?
What is Brian’s view of the Fall?
What is Brian’s view of Scripture?
What is Brian’s view of Truth?
What is Brian’s view of sin and Hell?
What is Brian’s view of the Fall?
What is Brian’s view of atonement?
How did Brian’s leftist political views infect his theology?
How did postmodernism affect Brian’s epistemology?
How faithful is Brian in interpreting the text?
There’s also a nice blog post about Brian McLaren by Melinda from Stand to Reason, too.
McLaren doesn’t think the Bible is to be taken literally. For instance, the Garden of Eden story isn’t about sin and the Fall, rather it’s a “compassionate coming of age story.” Consequently, the whole idea of sin and Hell is a horrible overreaction and has caused the church to offer a violent message and image all these years. It follows from this interpretation then, that there is no need for the cross and Jesus’ death and resurrection. Those are violent ideas resulting from a bad reading of the Bible.
And a couple of longer reviews are linked.
Tim Challies and Kevin DeYoung have written excellent and more in-depth reviews of McLaren’s new book and I highly recommend them.
I highly recommend you listen to this podcast and if you know anyone who is being influenced by the (non) religious left, take a look at the articles, especially the DeYoung article, which is quite good.
A generous “orthodoxy”?
And finally, here is a review of another much earlier Brian McLaren book by Biola University professor of philosophy Doug Geivett – one of my absolute favorite people. This is back when McLaren was just starting to leave orthodox Christianity behind.
Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan, 2004) has been called a manifesto of the “emerging church” — a movement that is rethinking Christianity against the backdrop of postmodernism. McLaren is the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Md.
[…]In using the term “orthodoxy” for his position, McLaren is making a political move to subvert traditional evangelical theology. “Orthodoxy,” as he uses it, is whatever happens to be in vogue and culturally dominant. Also, an important theme among postmodernists has to do with the nature of belief — they doubt that people have, or need, good reasons to believe as they do, so they emphasize behavior over belief. (This probably explains why McLaren’s book relies less on evidence and argumentation and more on rhetoric.) However, in de-emphasizing the importance of belief, McLaren and other postmodernists overlook three things.
First, belief is the engine that drives behavior. The best way to cure wrong action is to identify false beliefs. Second, all people — even postmodernists — have definite beliefs about the things that matter most. They can’t help it. While McLaren resists the invitation to state clearly what he believes — for example, about the eternal destiny of nonbelievers — surely he has some view of the matter and that view influences his approach to the proclamation of the gospel. (As a pastor, he should have good ideas about this and a host of other issues of theological significance.) Third — though postmodernists sneer at the idea of evidence — evidence matters because it’s how we determine what’s true and is crucial to ordering our lives according to truth. In this respect, the postmodernist is out of step with the culture because human beings are by nature evidence-gatherers.
Very important to understand where these postmodern “Christians” are coming from, and where they end up when they’ve worked their mystical anti-realism through to its conclusions.