Elliot Sober: Just Don’t Call the Designer “God”

By Sean Pitman
www.DetectingDesign.com

The anti-ID Arguments of Elliot Sober

Elliot Sober is a well-known philosopher of science. In the above-listed essay he presents his arguments against the notions of Creationists and Intelligent Design theorists. He extensively discusses the famous watchmaker argument of William Paley and what he considers to be the logical flaws in the general application of this argument.

After reading through Sober’s paper, it seems to me like his arguments contain a few flaws.

For example, Sober presents the “inverse gambler’s fallacy” noting that it would be a logical error to assume that just because a pair of dice landed on double sixes the first few times that they were observed to be rolled does not mean that the dice had been rolled many times in the past or that the next roll is more likely than 1/36 to be something other than a double six.

This maturity of chance fallacy is used by Sober to argue against the concept of intelligence being required to explain a given phenomenon. Sober references Hacking’s 1987 gambler’s fallacy argument against the assumption of design behind the fined tuned features of our universe needed to support complex life (the “anthropic principle”). Hacking argues that the fine tuning of the universe necessary to support life does not necessitate a Fine Tuner since our universe could simply be one all possible universes that coexist in some non-temporal sense.

It seems to me that this is only a variation on the multiverse idea where our universe is just one of a great many randomly generated universes. Therefore, given the existence of all possible universes it is not surprising that at least one would support complex life.

In this line of reasoning, it is interesting to note that Hacking’s assertion that those who appeal to the Wheeler multiverse model commit the “Gambler’s Fallacy” has been challenged in literature. See the following comments by P. J. McGrath:

Hacking has misrepresented the sort of reasoning employed by those who appeal to the Wheeler model to explain the delicately balanced nature of the universe we inhabit…

http://www.jstor.org/pss/2255171

Of course, whatever way one looks at it, we would not be here if our universe could not support complex life. It is like a gambler who knows ahead of time that he will not be allowed to see the rolls of the dice until a particular type of roll is realized. Given this information, it would be far more logical and predictable for the gambler to assume prior rolls before a very specific outcome among many many other options would be realized. In other words, the hypothesis with the greatest predictive value is that a an unimaginably huge number of rolls of the dice occurred prior to the current “correct” roll of the fine tuned universe in which we live – far beyond the number of tornadoes it would take to turn a junk yard into a Boeing 747.

Essentially, what this multiverse notion does is remove the basis of science itself. After all, given the “proper” universe any “unlikely” outcome can be explained by pure chance. There would be no scientifically determinable cause and effect, induction or deduction, or predictive value for any hypothesis since all could be explained by the multiverse theory – a theory that is itself not currently testable in a falsifiable manner and is therefore not scientific. In fact, it is anti-science.

This addresses yet another flaw in Sober’s paper. Sober accuses IDists of appealing to the concept of “modus tollens“, or the absolute perfection of the ID hypothesis. He uses the illustration of a million monkey’s randomly typing on typewriters producing all of the works of Shakespeare. He argues that while such a scenario is extremely unlikely, it still isn’t statistically impossible. There is still a finite probability of success.

While this is true, science doesn’t go with what is merely possible, but what is probable given the available evidence at hand. This is the reason why nobody reading a Shakespearean sonnet would think that it was the product of any kind of mindless random production. The same would be true if you were to walk out of your house and see that the pansies in your front yard had spelled out the phrase, “Good Morning. We hope you have a great day!”

Given such a situation you would never think that such a situation occurred by any non-deliberate mindless process of nature. You would automatically assume deliberate design. Why? Why is this the most rational conclusion given such a scenario?

Sober argues that if a known designer is not readily available to explain a given phenomenon, that the likelihood that a designer was responsible is just as remotely unlikely as is the notion that a mindless process was responsible for such an unlikely event. Therefore, there is essentially no rational basis to assume intelligent design. However, by the same argument, there would be no rational basis to assume non-intelligent design either.

The detail that Sober seems to selectively overlook is that if certain features fall within the known creative potential of known intelligent agents (i.e., humans) while being well outside of the realm of all known non-deliberate forces of nature, the most rational conclusion is that of ID.

Essentially what Sober does, yet again, is do away with all bases for hypothesizing ID behind anything for which an intelligent agent is not directly known. This essentially includes all of modern science that deals with ID – to include anthropology, forensic science, and especially SETI. Yet, amazingly, he goes on to use this very same argument in support of the ID detecting abilities of the same.

In the end, it seems like Sober is more concerned about the specific identity of the designer not being “God” rather being concerned about the idea that the scientific inference of a need for some kind of intelligent designer to explain certain kinds of phenomena is in fact overwhelmingly reasonable – scientifically.

Ultimately, it seems to me like Sober’s arguments are really directed against the detection of God, not intelligent design…

In this line Sober writes:

The upshot of this point for Paley’s design argument is this: Design arguments for the existence of human (and human-like) watchmakers are often unproblematic; it is design arguments for the existence of God that leave us at sea.

– Elliot Sober

Of course, the ID-only hypothesis does not try to demonstrate the need for God. Rather it suggests that at least human-level intelligence or beyond had to have been involved to explain certain features of the universe and of life on this planet. It doesn’t attempt to argue that any particular God had to have been involved. If fact, it is impossible for the finite to prove the need for the infinite. However, one may argue that from a given finite perspective a particular phenomenon would require the input of a creative intelligence that would be indistinguishable from a God or God-like creative power.

At this point, a belief that such a God-like creator is in fact omnipotent is not unreasonable, but must be based, not on demonstration, but on trust in the testimony of this Creative Power. If a God-like creative power personally claims to be “The” God of all, Omnipotent in every way, it would be very hard for someone from my perspective to reasonably argue otherwise…

Anyway, your thoughts regarding what seems so convincing to you about Sober’s “arguments” would be most interesting – especially as they apply to granite NHPs or other such “artifacts”…

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106 thoughts on “Elliot Sober: Just Don’t Call the Designer “God”

  1. Great article Sean. Although many “theistic evolutionists” claim that Darwinian evolution has nothing to say about God, the actual facts of history speak the opposite. The basic goal of Darwinian evolution is to get rid of God as Creator, as some evolutionists have actually stated! I won’t quote now, but we could later.

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  2. Given a 100 die all named-numbered (d-1 through d-100) rolled at once you will always get “an outcome”. 100% guaranteed you will get “an outcome” but what are the odds that all 100 will be sixes?

    Answer: It is the same odds as naming an exact value for each d-1 through d-100 arrangement in any other combination! (1/6^100).

    But what are the odds of “observing” an exact arrangement each time you roll the dice? 100%.

    Now lets say that each time you roll the dice some handy value keeps repeatedly showing (all 6’s for example, or else always a 1-6 repeating pattern).

    Well #1 it is easy to predict the next roll.

    #2 – you know that this is not simply the random outcome.

    Kind of of like the chiral orientation for amino acids chained via peptide bonds in proteins.

    in Christ,

    Bob

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  3. I’m reproducing my comments on this here, as I didn’t realise Sean had posted this as a separate article. In sum, Sean makes a number of elementary errors in discussing Sober’s article.

    I suggest that there are a number of logical flaws in Elliott Sober’s paper […] For example, Sober presents the “inverse gambler’s fallacy” noting that it would be a logical error to assume that just because a pair of dice landed on double sixes the first few times that they were observed to be rolled does not mean that a roll of double sixes is more likely. After all, Sober argues, the odds of rolling double sixes are 1/36 regardless of how many times double sixes are initially observed to be rolled in a row. The problem here is that Sober assumes, a priori that the dice are actually “fair” dice that haven’t been loaded or biased in any way.

    Thanks for the entertainment; you couldn’t have misunderstood Sober more if you tried. You have not described the inverse gambler’s fallacy, which in this case is the fallacious inference from observing repeated double sixes to the hypothesis that many rolls had taken place before the observed rolls. By the way, the regularly gambler’s fallacy as standardly described is made by someone who by stipulation believes the dice are fair; and both fallacies are in fact independent of the particular hypothesis concerning the bias of the dice we choose for the sake of example. If you were taking my introduction to probability class, you would fail. In future, perhaps you should be a bit more cautious in supposing one of the leading philosophers of probability in the world to have made an elementary mistake of the kind you allege (and in a widely cited and twice-reprinted paper, no less).

    This addresses yet another flaw in Sober’s paper. Sober accuses IDists of appealing to the concept of “modus tollens“, or the absolute perfection of the ID hypothesis. He uses the illustration of a million monkey’s randomly typing on typewriters producing all of the works of Shakespeare. He argues that while such a scenario is extremely unlikely, that it isn’t statistically impossible. There is still a finite probability of success. While this is true, science doesn’t go with what is merely possible, but what is probable given the available evidence at hand.

    Yes, that is the simple point here, that the design theorist shouldn’t say that non-design is impossible, just that it is unlikely. You agree with him, so this can hardly be a “flaw” in the paper.

    Sober argues that if a known designer is not readily available to explain a given phenomenon, that the likelihood that a designer was responsible is just as remotely unlikely as is the notion that a mindless process was responsible for such an unlikely event. Therefore, there is essentially no rational basis to assume intelligent design. However, by the same argument, there would be no rational basis to assume non-intelligent design either.

    So far so good, if “known” means “reasonable to believe in the existence of”.

    The detail that Sober seems to selectively overlook is that if certain features fall within the known creative potential of known intelligent agents (i.e., humans) while being well outside of the realm of all known non-deliberate forces of nature, the most rational conclusion is that of ID. Essentially, Sober does away with all bases for hypothesizing ID behind anything for which an intelligent agent is not directly known. This essentially includes all of modern science that deals with ID – to include anthropology, forensic science, and especially SETI.

    Sober does not overlook this, as you yourself concede when you go on to write that:

    Yet, amazingly, he goes on to use this very same argument in support of the ID detecting abilities of the same.

    You go on:

    Of course, my ID-only hypothesis does not try to demonstrate the need for God. Rather it suggests that at least human-level intelligence had to have been involved to explain certain features of the universe and of life on this planet.

    If you agree that probabilistic modus tollens is invalid, then you had best not say that it had to be involved. Rather, the hypothesis is that it was involved. Sober’s argument is that there is no evidence for this claim, since there is no independent evidence sufficient to ground the probabilistic inequality:

    ∑i Pr(the eye has F1 … Fn │ Design & GAi)Pr(GAi│Design) > Pr(the eye has F1 … Fn │ Chance).

    Anyway, your thoughts regarding what seems so convincing to you about Sober’s “arguments” would be most interesting – especially as they apply to granite NHPs or other such “artifacts”…

    Why is argument in quotes here?

    For the record, here are my “thoughts” regarding what is “convincing” about the “arguments” in Sober. First, the arguments are valid. Second, I can see no reason to doubt any of their premises. Finally, I regard as convincing exactly those valid arguments formed from premises I can see no reason to doubt.

    Incidentally, this whole exercise is becoming very tedious, since I am beginning to suspect that every single argument you have will end up depending on your in-principle argument regarding natural selection. Since I regard the probability of that argument succeeding as negligibly small—after all, you have no expertise in this area and have convinced exactly no-one who is—these conversations look increasingly fruitless. Do you agree?

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  4. @Brad:

    What this means is that the differences are clustered or nested because of the different functional needs of different organisms in different environments. – Sean Pitman

    This suggested that you knew something about the designer that would enable a prediction. When I tried to draw out the consequence, you took it back. If you were honest, you would simply admit that your hypothesis does not make any empirical predictions, contrary to your earlier claims. You would also admit that all your talk about hierarchical patterns being the sorts of things designers naturally employ is irrelevant, since when you are threatened with evidence that clearly non-functional aspects of the genome also display these patterns you just throw up your hands and say that the designer could have done things that way for reasons we can’t discern.

    I only suggested that there could be possible reasons why an intelligent designer may choose to use a NHP. This is not to suggest that all intelligent designers would use a NHP to produce complex interacting machines nor is the production of a NHP a clear prediction of the ID-only hypothesis since NHPs can be and are produced by apparently mindless process of nature all the time.

    Again, the only real scientific basis of supporting the ID-only hypothesis, as Sober himself argues (though inconsistently), is the demonstration that the phenomenon is within at least human-level creativity while being well beyond any known non-deliberate source of natural production. That’s it.

    Thanks for the entertainment; you couldn’t have misunderstood Sober more if you tried. You have not described the inverse gambler’s fallacy, which in this case is the fallacious inference from observing repeated double sixes to the hypothesis that many rolls had taken place before the observed rolls. By the way, the regularly gambler’s fallacy as standardly described is made by someone who by stipulation believes the dice are fair; and both fallacies are in fact independent of the particular hypothesis concerning the bias of the dice we choose for the sake of example. If you were taking my introduction to probability class, you would fail. In future, perhaps you should be a bit more cautious in supposing one of the leading philosophers of probability in the world to have made an elementary mistake of the kind you allege (and in a widely cited and twice-reprinted paper, no less).

    Oh please. The fallacies are really the same in essence. The inverse gambler’s fallacy is the conclusion that a particular outcome of an apparently random process, like rolling double sixes ten times in a row, likely occurred in the past at a more common rate than would be expected given the assumption of fair dice. In other words, the gambler concludes that the dice are in fact loaded or biased given a certain unlikely pattern of outcome.

    This is Sober’s mistake related to the topic of the design hypothesis: A gambler experiencing a seemingly biased series of rolls of the dice starts to make the hypothesis that perhaps the dice are not fair; that they are really biased. This hypothesis he holds not only for future rolls of the dice, but past rolls as well which he did not directly experience. In other words, his hypothesis could be challenged in two ways. Future rolls of the dice could falsify his hypothesis, and, someone with prior past experience that extends beyond that of our gambler own could also inform him of past rolls of the dice that falsify his hypothesis.

    The point remains the same: Based only on the pattern itself the hypothesis of bias can be scientifically hypothesized to a useful, though never perfect, degree of certainty. Sober doesn’t recognize this point with his use of the “gambler’s fallacy”… and evidently neither do you.

    For another interesting take on Sober’s argument that design cannot be inferred from certain characteristics of the phenomenon alone, but must have independent evidence of the existence of the designer (though Sober is not consistent with this argument), see Dembski’s counter-argument here:

    http://www.designinference.com/documents/2002.10.23.Sober_indep_evid_req.htm

    This addresses yet another flaw in Sober’s paper. Sober accuses IDists of appealing to the concept of “modus tollens“, or the absolute perfection of the ID hypothesis. He uses the illustration of a million monkey’s randomly typing on typewriters producing all of the works of Shakespeare. He argues that while such a scenario is extremely unlikely, that it isn’t statistically impossible. There is still a finite probability of success. While this is true, science doesn’t go with what is merely possible, but what is probable given the available evidence at hand. – Sean Pitman

    Yes, that is the simple point here, that the design theorist shouldn’t say that non-design is impossible, just that it is unlikely. You agree with him, so this can hardly be a “flaw” in the paper.

    The “flaw” in Sober’s argument here is to lump all IDist together into one boat. I personally do not know very many IDists or even informed creationist who make this particular mistake. Sober is using a simple debating tactic here to discredit all by associating everyone with the few who do not grasp this or that obvious concept.

    If you agree that probabilistic modus tollens is invalid, then you had best not say that it had to be involved. Rather, the hypothesis is that it was involved. Sober’s argument is that there is no evidence for this claim, since there is no independent evidence sufficient to ground the probabilistic inequality:

    ∑i Pr(the eye has F1 … Fn │ Design & GAi)Pr(GAi│Design) > Pr(the eye has F1 … Fn │ Chance).

    The potentially falsifiable hypothesis is that only ID could have produced the particular phenomenon in question.

    As I previously noted for you several times, I call this the ID-only hypothesis. The basis for supporting this hypothesis is the very same basis that Sober himself claims is a valid basis for SETI and is also the basis for other sciences that invoke ID – like anthropology or forensics.

    The argument, as Sober explains, is that the phenomenon in question is known to be well within the powers of at least human-level creation while being, at the same time, well beyond the known powers of non-deliberate natural production.

    That’s it. It is a very simple argument that Sober himself uses.

    I apply the very same argument to certain features of living things – the very same argument. Sober disagrees with my application only because he thinks that Darwin has provided an obvious mechanism to explain what I’m claiming can only be done by at least human-level intelligence and creativity.

    This is quite different from your argument where you are claiming to be able to support a mindless naturalistic process without any known viable mechanism. Remember, you said that you were “ambivalent” regarding the creative powers of RM/NS. Sober, on the other hand, is not. He is convinced of the creative powers of RM/NS. Therefore, given this starting premise, Sober is on much higher logical ground than you are.

    For the record, here are my “thoughts” regarding what is “convincing” about the “arguments” in Sober. First, the arguments are valid. Second, I can see no reason to doubt any of their premises. Finally, I regard as convincing exactly those valid arguments formed from premises I can see no reason to doubt.

    Incidentally, this whole exercise is becoming very tedious, since I am beginning to suspect that every single argument you have will end up depending on your in-principle argument regarding natural selection. Since I regard the probability of that argument succeeding as negligibly small—after all, you have no expertise in this area and have convinced exactly no-one who is—these conversations look increasingly fruitless. Do you agree?

    It depends. You seem to me to disagree with a core basis of logic which Sober himself is defending. By your own admission you do not recognize the clear creative potential of RM/NS which Sober defends – a mechanism with which you are “ambivalent”. You also don’t seem to realize that the basis of ID arguments aren’t an effort to prove God, but to support the ID-only hypothesis where all that is know of the intelligent agent is that he/she/it was intelligent to at least the human level. That’s all.

    You also seem to think that if you find a particular pattern that can be explained by mindless naturalistic processes that everything associated with that pattern can be explained by the same. This is a logical fallacy on your part which is why I asked you to discuss the geometric granite rock problem – which you have yet to do.

    As far as not convincing those with letters after their name, I’m not in this discussion with you to convince you or anyone else of anything. I’m in it for myself, to challenge my own ideas to see if they really can fly. And, its fine if you have lost interest and no longer wish to continue this discussion. No one is twisting your arm here.

    If you do wish to continue, however, I suggest that your goal also should not be to convince me of anything. Your goal should be to speak to those who have not yet thought about these issues and have not made up their minds to the point of being so biased that they cannot see “rational” arguments for what they really are for themselves (without seeing if others of high academic rank are convinced first). There are many “lurkers” who frequent this forum, usually over 2000 per day, – not all of whom are completely blinded by their religious background and many of whom, I know for a fact, would preferentially favor your perspective if they were ever exposed to it.

    Just something to think about…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  5. @Brad:

    Please tell us the point of your story about the hundred sided dice.

    The obvious point of Bob’s argument is that by observing the pattern of outcomes of rolls of the dice, one can support the hypothesis of a biased cause with a very high degree of predictive value – scientifically. As Dembski points out, one does not need independent knowledge of the actual origin of this bias before the hypothesis of bias can gain a very useful level of predictive value.

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  6. @Brad:

    Brad says:
    July 18, 2010 @BobRyan:

    Please tell us the point of your story about the hundred sided dice. Brad(Quote)

    That is me unnable to edit my post! 😉

    I meant to write —

    Given a 100 dice all named-numbered (d-1 through d-100) rolled at once you will always get “an outcome”. 100% guaranteed you will get “an outcome” but what are the odds that all 100 will be sixes?

    Answer: It is the same odds as naming an exact value for each d-1 through d-100 arrangement in any other combination! (1/6^100).

    ———————————-

    Instead I wrote –

    Given a 100 die all named-numbered (d-1 through d-100) rolled at once you will always get “an outcome”. 100% guaranteed you will get “an outcome” but what are the odds that all 100 will be sixes?

    Answer: It is the same odds as naming an exact value for each d-1 through d-100 arrangement in any other combination! (1/6^100).
    ——————————–

    Oh for want of a single “c” in die vs dice. My point was that an given outcome of the roll of 100 dice (if all are named-numbered) would be statistically impossible to “predict” even though it would be 100% to “observe” a roll of the dice always coming up with 1 of those highly improbable results.

    Evolutionists like to use that idea to make the argument that a highly improbable result does not necessarily imply intelligent design. My point is that in the case of ID seen in nature it goes far beyond seeing one roll of 100 dice. Rather we are seeing long sequences all resulting in a narrow band of “convenient” results. For example the chiral orientation of amino acids is naturally recemized in terms of distribution between right and left-handed results. But in living proteins they are 100% left-handed even though it is often a string of 100’s for some proteins.

    Instead of getting that “convenient” result once – we get it 100% of the time!

    It is as if the 100 dice always came up sixes. It would not take a genius to guess that something like design and purpose was being imposed.

    in Christ,

    Bob

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  7. @Sean Pitman:

    Oh please.The fallacies are really the same in essence.The inverse gambler’s fallacy is the conclusion that a particular outcome of an apparently random process, like rolling double sixes ten times in a row, likely occurred in the past at a more common rate than would be expected given the assumption of fair dice. In other words, the gambler concludes that the dice are in fact loaded or biased given a certain unlikely pattern of outcome.

    Sean, you are embarrassing yourself. You have again failed to describe the inverse gambler’s fallacy. Here is what Sober writes:

    There is a fallacy in this criticism of the design argument, which Hacking (1987) calls “the inverse gambler’s fallacy.” He illustrates his idea by describing a gambler who walks into a casino and immediately observes two dice being rolled that land double-6. The gambler considers whether this result favors the hypothesis that the dice had been rolled many times before the roll he just observed or the hypothesis that this was the first roll of the evening. The gambler reasons that the outcome of double-six would be more probable under the first
    hypothesis:

    Pr(double-6 on this roll │ there were many rolls) > Pr(double-6 on this roll │ there was just one roll).

    In fact, the gambler’s assessment of the likelihoods is erroneous. Rolls of dice have the Markov property; the probability of double-six on this roll is the same (1/36), regardless of what may have happened in the past. What is true is that the probability that a double-six will occur at some time or other increases as the number of trials is increased:

    Pr(a double-6 occurs sometime │ there were many rolls) > Pr(a double-6 occurs sometime │ there was just one roll).

    However, the principle of total evidence says that we should assess hypotheses by considering all the evidence we have. This means that the relevant observation is that this roll landed double-6; we should not focus on the logically weaker proposition that a double-6 occurred at some time or other. Relative to the stronger description of the observations, the hypotheses have identical likelihoods.

    Let me explain. As I wrote earlier, the inverse gambler’s fallacy, like the regular gambler’s fallacy, is made by someone who by hypothesis believes that the dice are fair. Moreover, as I also pointed out, the fairness of the dice is besides the point, as the fallacious inference is in fact independent of the particular hypothesis concerning the bias of the dice (with the proviso that the probabilities all be less than 1). Moreover, the mistaken inference is clearly not about the bias of the dice but rather about whether earlier rolls of the dice occurred or not—not what the results were.

    This is Sober’s mistake related to the topic of the design hypothesis: A gambler experiencing a seemingly biased series of rolls of the dice starts to make the hypothesis that perhaps the dice are not fair; that they are really biased.This hypothesis he holds not only for future rolls of the dice, but past rolls as well which he did not directly experience.In other words, his hypothesis could be challenged in two ways.Future rolls of the dice could falsify his hypothesis, and, someone with prior past experience that extends beyond that of our gambler own could also inform him of past rolls of the dice that falsify his hypothesis.The point remains the same:Based only on the pattern itself the hypothesis of bias can be scientifically hypothesized to a useful, though never perfect, degree of certainty. Sober doesn’t recognize this point with his use of the “gambler’s fallacy”… and evidently neither do you.

    Sean, you are clearly and unequivocally completely mistaken about the point of Sober’s discussion here, as I have explained above. Once you acknowledge this, I will address your other comments. I will say that the spectacle of you trying to show that one of the leading philosophers of probability and evidence in the world has made a simple logical error is, to say the least, amusing.

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  8. @BobRyan:

    For example the chiral orientation of amino acids is naturally recemized [sic] in terms of distribution between right and left-handed results. But in living proteins they are 100% left-handed even though it is often a string of 100′s for some proteins.

    Instead of getting that “convenient” result once – we get it 100% of the time!

    It is as if the 100 dice always came up sixes. It would not take a genius to guess that something like design and purpose was being imposed.

    Well, it is no mystery why all the amino acids in your body and mine are similarly handed—they were constructed by molecular processes that ensure it. Likewise for our parents, for as far back as we care to go. And likewise for all life. So the real question is how this arose in the first place. The explanation remains outstanding, though there is an amazing array of alternative hypotheses out there. You seem to be betting that a well supported natural explanation will never emerge—I differ. Remember when Newton said this?

    The six primary Planets are revolv’d about the Sun, in circles concentric with the Sun, and with motions directed towards the same parts, and almost in the same plane. […] But it is not to be conceived that mere mechanical causes could give birth to so many regular motions. […] This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets, and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.

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  9. @Brad:

    Sean, you are clearly and unequivocally completely mistaken about the point of Sober’s discussion here, as I have explained above. Once you acknowledge this, I will address your other comments. I will say that the spectacle of you trying to show that one of the leading philosophers of probability and evidence in the world has made a simple logical error is, to say the least, amusing.

    You got me. I did misunderstand that Sober’s argument was really dealing with the notion of “maturity of chances” for someone who already assumes fair dice.

    Regardless, however, I fail to recognize how this is an argument against the very concept of being able to detect the need for ID behind a given phenomenon. After all, even Sober himself supports the SETI argument for ID. I don’t see that you have explained the difference between the SETI argument and the argument I’m making for the ID-only hypothesis. Sober has, but you have not.

    Sober points to the efficacy of the Darwinian mechanism of RM/NS while you do not. You point to the pattern and erroneously assume that because NHPs can be produced by mindless natural processes that everything associated with all NHPs can therefore be produced by non-intelligent natural means (please refer to to the geometric granite rocks illustration).

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  10. @Brad:

    You seem to be betting that a well supported natural explanation will never emerge—I differ. Remember when Newton said this?

    You could say this about anything – about any phenomenon in nature. Just because the ID hypothesis has been falsified in the past does not mean that it is therefore a non-scientific hypothesis. Many scientific hypothesis have been falsified in the past as well. This doesn’t mean that science is worthless.

    Falsification is the name of the game. The vast majority of hypotheses are eventually falsified. If the ID-only hypothesis was not open to testing and the potential of falsification, it wouldn’t be a scientific hypothesis. SETI would also be impossible; as would forensics and anthropology.

    It seems like your arguing that if you happened to come across a well-preserved flit arrowhead in a field you would say, “Well, eventually some mindless natural process will likely be found to explain this highly symmetrical finely carved arrowhead…” While this is a possibility, given our lack of complete information, what is most likely given the information that is currently available?

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  11. @Brad:

    I am probably going to write far too much but if you want the conclusion, it is that Sean Pitman is completely and utterly wrong in everything he says in his comments and displays a great ignorance of proteins and their structure and function.

    And:

    I hope the above short essay on protein structure and function is useful even to Sean Pitman who needs to stop being obsessed with computer-based numerology and do some reading and talk to some practical protein scientists.

    From David Dryden of the University of Edinburgh. See: http://groups.google.com/group/talk.origins/msg/a7f670c859772a9b

    Ah, so you’ve read Dryden’s arguments…

    Where did Dryden point out my ignorance of protein structure and function? I am, after all, a pathologist with a subspecialty in hematopathology – a field of medicine that depends quite heavily on at least some understanding of protein structure and function. Yet Dryden says that I’m completely and utterly wrong in everything I say on this topic? Sounds just a bit overwrought – don’t you think?

    In any case, where did Dryden substantively address my argument for an exponential decline of evolutionary potential with increasing minimum structural threshold requirements? Dryden himself only deals with very low level examples of evolution in action. He doesn’t even consider the concept of higher levels of functional complexity and the changes in the ratios of beneficial vs. non-beneficial sequences that would be realized in sequence space.

    Dryden also completely misunderstands the challenge of the structural cutoff of systems that require a minimum of at least 1000 specifically arranged amino acid residues to work to do a particular function. He also flatly contradicts Axe’s work which suggests that it is not an easy thing to alter too many amino acid residue positions at the same time and still have the system in question work to do its original function. There is some flexibility to be sure, but there is a limit beyond which this flexibility cannot by crossed for protein-based systems. And, as this minimum limit increases for higher level systems, the ratio of beneficial vs. non-beneficial does in fact decrease exponentially. Dryden seems completely clueless on this particular all-important point.

    This cluelessness is especially highlighted by Dryden’s comment that the bacterial rotary flagellum isn’t very complex at all:

    These increasing degrees of functional complexity are a mirage.
    Just because a flagellum spins and looks fancy does not mean it is
    more complex than something smaller. The much smaller wonderful
    machines involved in manipulating DNA, making cell walls or
    cytoskeletons during the cell’s lifecycle do far more complex and
    varied things including switching between functions. Even a small
    serine protease has a much harder job than the flagellum. The
    flagellum just spins and spins and yawn…

    I really couldn’t believe that Dryden actually said this when I first read it. Dryden actually suggests that a small serine protease is more functionally complex than a bacterial flagellum?! – just because it is used more commonly in various metabolic pathways? – or more interesting to Dryden? He completely misses the point that the bacterial flagellum requires, at minimum, a far far greater number of specifically arranged amino acid “parts” than does a serine protease – thousands more.

    And Dryden is your “expert” regarding the potential of RM/NS to create protein-based systems beyond very low levels of functional complexity? Why not find somebody who actually seems to understand the basic concept?

    Here’s another gem from Dryden. In response to my comment that, “The evidence shows that the distances [in sequence space] between
    higher and higher level beneficial sequences with novel functions
    increases in a linear manner.” Dryden wrote:

    Reply: What evidence? And if importance of function scales with
    sequence length and the scaling is linear then I am afraid that 20^100
    is essentially identical to 2 x 20^100. Also a novel function is not a
    new function but just one we stumble upon in doing the hard work in
    the lab. It’s been there a long time…

    Dryden doesn’t grasp that in the debate over the creative potential of RM/NS that a novel functional system is one that the evolving population is looking for – not some lab scientists. It is only there in the potential of sequence space. It is not found until random mutations within the gene pool discover it by pure luck.

    Dryden also doesn’t understand that this discussion isn’t over the “importance of function” but over levels of beneficial functionality – regardless of there “importance”. He also doesn’t understand that if a system requires a minimum sequence length or size (to include multiprotein systems) and a minimum degree of specific arrangement of amino acid residues within that minimum size, that a linear increase in this minimum structural threshold requirement does not result in a linear increase in average number of random mutations needed to achieve success. The linear increase in structural threshold results in an exponential decrease in the ratio of potentially beneficial vs. non-beneficial. This, obviously (to the candid mind anyway) will result in an exponential increase in the average number of random mutations needed to achieve success at the higher level.

    Really, I would love to hear your take on Dryden’s paper in the light of a complete lack of evolution in action beyond very very low levels of functional complexity – i.e., minimum structural threshold requirements. I’m sure you could do better than he did…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  12. For those following along, note that Sean has now removed from his original post the passages in which he misdescribed the inverse gambler’s fallacy. Unfortunately, they have been replaced with new passages which make yet more errors of exposition. So before I get to defend the main substantive part of Sober’s argument (which I also believe Sean has misunderstood), I first need to clear these preliminary misunderstandings up. Will we ever get there? Will this entire post disappear into the vapour? I leave that to fate. Here we go.

    This maturity of chance fallacy is used by Sober to argue against the concept of intelligence being required to explain a given phenomenon.

    You are misunderstanding the context of Sober’s discussion here. What Sober is doing is diagnosing a problem with a common response to the design argument, one that he does not himself endorse. He correctly attributes the diagnosis to Hacking (1987).

    Sober references Hacking’s 1987 gambler’s fallacy argument against the assumption of design behind the fined tuned features of our universe needed to support complex life (the “anthropic principle”).

    The term “anthropic principle” is used by Hacking (1987) to refer to “the self-evident and trivial fact that humans can observe only a universe orderly enough to maintain human life” (p. 339). It does not name the “assumption of design”, as you suggest.

    While Hacking agrees that the universe is indeed fine tuned, that this fine tuning does not necessitate a Fine Tuner since our universe could simply be one of a huge number of randomly generated universes in a series of “Big Bangs” which could not support complex life (multiverse). Therefore, given such a host of randomly generated universes it is not at all surprising that at least one of these would eventually come along that would be able to support complex life.

    This is multiply mistaken. First, Hacking does not agree that the universe is fine tuned; he simply grants it for the sake of argument. Second, and more seriously, the argument you attribute to Hacking is in fact the argument he rejects on the grounds that it commits the inverse gambler’s fallacy. Hacking draws a distinction between the hypothesis of a sequence of universes generated by chance (the hypothesis you describe, which commits the fallacy) and the hypothesis that all possible universes exist (a hypothesis you neglect, which does not commit the fallacy).

    Of course, we would not be here if our universe could not support complex life. It is like a gambler who knows ahead of time that he will not be allowed to see the rolls of the dice until a particular type of roll is realized. Given this information, it would be far more logical and predictable for the gambler to assume prior rolls before a very specific outcome among many many other options would be realized. In other words, the hypothesis with the greatest predictive value is that a an unimaginably huge number of rolls of the dice occurred prior to the current “correct” roll of the fine tuned universe in which we live – far beyond the number of tornadoes it would take to turn a junk yard into a Boeing 747.

    You seem to be here describing Leslie’s (1988) reply to Hacking. If you endorse this reply, I am puzzled, because—given what I explained above concerning the dialectical context of the discussion—it would amount to a defence of a reply to the design argument. However, it is unclear to me whether you think, as Leslie does, that this gambler’s epistemic situation represents the correct analogy with fine tuning. For what it is worth, I think it is not, for reasons provided by White (2000).

    Essentially, what this multiverse notion does is remove the basis of science itself. After all, given the “proper” universe any “unlikely” outcome can be explained by pure chance. There would be no scientifically determinable cause and effect, induction or deduction, or predictive value for any hypothesis since all could be explained by the multiverse theory – a theory that is itself not currently testable in a falsifiable manner and is therefore not scientific. In fact, it is anti-science.

    These remarks are curious given that the situation is perfectly analogous to the your preferred design hypothesis. Any outcome can also be explained by design, the hypothesis does not imply any predictions, and it is “not currently testable in a falsifiable manner”. Anything you say in reply can also be said about the multiverse hypothesis.

    This addresses yet another flaw in Sober’s paper. Sober accuses IDists of appealing to the concept of “modus tollens“, or the absolute perfection of the ID hypothesis.

    No he doesn’t, he simply notes that a design theorist should not rely on an argument by modus tollens. You will note that he accuses exactly no-one of making this mistake.

    While this is true, science doesn’t go with what is merely possible, but what is probable given the available evidence at hand. This is the reason why nobody reading a Shakespearean sonnet would think that it was the product of any kind of mindless random production. The same would be true if you were to walk out of your house and see that the pansies in your front yard had spelled out the phrase, “Good Morning. We hope you have a great day!” Given such a situation you would never think that such a situation occurred by any non-deliberate mindless process of nature. You would automatically assume deliberate design. Why? Do you know?

    Well yes, I think it’s for the reason Sober goes on to give in the paper—reasons which do not translate to the context of the biological design argument. But before I explain, I want to make sure we’re on the same page on these earlier points.

    References

    Hacking, Ian. 1987. “The Inverse Gambler’s Fallacy: The Argument from Design. The Anthropic Principle Applied to Wheeler Universes”, in Mind, Vol. 96, No. 383, July 1987, pp. 331–340.

    Leslie, John. 1988. “No Inverse Gambler’s Fallacy in Cosmology”, in Mind, Vol. 97, No. 386, April 1988, pp. 269–272.

    White, Roger. 2000. “Fine-Tuning and Multiple Universes”, in Nous, Vol. 34, No. 2, June 2000, pp. 260–276.

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  13. @Brad:

    This is multiply mistaken. First, Hacking does not agree that the universe is fine tuned; he simply grants it for the sake of argument.

    I don’t see how anyone could seriously argue that our universe isn’t finely tuned to support complex life, but ok…

    Second, and more seriously, the argument you attribute to Hacking is in fact the argument he rejects on the grounds that it commits the inverse gambler’s fallacy. Hacking draws a distinction between the hypothesis of a sequence of universes generated by chance (the hypothesis you describe, which commits the fallacy) and the hypothesis that all possible universes exist (a hypothesis you neglect, which does not commit the fallacy).

    Point taken. I’ve corrected this error as well in my original post. Do let me know if I have done this properly or if any additional notation is needed to make such edits clear. I’ve sent you a personal E-mail along these lines if you feel more comfortable responding in private to me directly on such points.

    However, Hacking’s argument that those who appeal to the Wheeler multiverse model commit the “Gambler’s Fallacy” has been challenged. See the following comments by P. J. McGrath:

    Hacking has misrepresented the sort of reasoning employed by those who appeal to the Wheeler model to explain the delicately balanced nature of the universe we inhabit…

    http://www.jstor.org/pss/2255171

    Essentially, what this multiverse notion does is remove the basis of science itself. After all, given the “proper” universe any “unlikely” outcome can be explained by pure chance. There would be no scientifically determinable cause and effect, induction or deduction, or predictive value for any hypothesis since all could be explained by the multiverse theory – a theory that is itself not currently testable in a falsifiable manner and is therefore not scientific. In fact, it is anti-science. – Sean Pitman

    These remarks are curious given that the situation is perfectly analogous to the your preferred design hypothesis. Any outcome can also be explained by design, the hypothesis does not imply any predictions, and it is “not currently testable in a falsifiable manner”. Anything you say in reply can also be said about the multiverse hypothesis.

    You are correct in noting that pretty much any outcome can be explained by intelligent design of one form or another. However, not just any outcome can only be explained by ID. That is why I call my hypothesis the ID-only hypothesis. The ID-only hypothesis is testable and potentially falsifiable. All one has to do is show a mechanism producing the phenomenon in question that cannot be differentiated from a mindless process and the ID-only hypothesis is neatly falsified.

    For example, all one would have to do to falsify the SETI hypothesis is to show that the particular types of radio signals that they would deem artificial could easily be produced by non-deliberate natural mechanisms. If this happened, the basis of SETI would be out the window…

    The same thing is true of all sciences that are based on the invocation of ID to explain various phenomena.

    This is fundamentally different from the multiverse notion where everything can be explained by random chance or other mindless processes with no way to differentiate or detect anything else as a likely mechanism. Intelligence cannot be detected, not even human-level intelligence, given such multiverse ideas – to include Hacking’s definition of the multiverse as containing all possible universes.

    While this is true, science doesn’t go with what is merely possible, but what is probable given the available evidence at hand. This is the reason why nobody reading a Shakespearean sonnet would think that it was the product of any kind of mindless random production. The same would be true if you were to walk out of your house and see that the pansies in your front yard had spelled out the phrase, “Good Morning. We hope you have a great day!” Given such a situation you would never think that such a situation occurred by any non-deliberate mindless process of nature. You would automatically assume deliberate design. Why? Do you know? – Sean Pitman

    Well yes, I think it’s for the reason Sober goes on to give in the paper—reasons which do not translate to the context of the biological design argument. But before I explain, I want to make sure we’re on the same page on these earlier points.

    Please do explain, whenever you’re ready, why the above examples do not translate into biological design? After all, it seems to me like I could use the multiverse hypothesis against all of the above arguments for design outside biology – even Hacking’s version. I could use such arguments against the otherwise obvious need for ID of computer systems. I could use it to undermine SETI or the whole field of anthropology. So, upon what basis are such arguments justified when talking about biosystems, but not when talking about radio signals? – or highly symmetrical granite cubes?

    I’ve asked you this same question over and over again. I’m very curious as to your eventual reply…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  14. @Sean Pitman:

    I’m going to try one more time to indicate what remains highly misleading in your exposition of Sober. In my next post I’ll try to explain Sober’s reason for maintaining that there is a difference between cases in which a design inference is justified and the case of biology.

    This maturity of chance fallacy is used by Sober to argue against the concept of intelligence being required to explain a given phenomenon.

    It is false that Sober is arguing against design in this section of the paper. Rather, Sober is rejecting a common response to the design argument. He is not yet yet himself arguing against the design argument.

    Sober references Hacking’s 1987 gambler’s fallacy argument against the assumption of design behind the fined tuned features of our universe needed to support complex life (the “anthropic principle”).

    It is false that Hacking is arguing against design. He too is merely rejecting a common response to the design argument.

    Hacking argues that the fine tuning of the universe necessary to support life does not necessitate a Fine Tuner since our universe could simply be one all possible universes that coexist in some non-temporal sense.

    It is false that Hacking argues against the fine tuning argument in this way. His claim is merely that the hypothesis of a sequence of universes generated by chance, as a response to the design argument, commits a fallacy that the hypothesis that all possible universes exist does not.

    Sober accuses IDists of appealing to the concept of “modus tollens“, or the absolute perfection of the ID hypothesis.

    It is false that Sober makes any such accusation. He is simply explaining why the design argument should be formulated in a particular way.

    I don’t mean to be pedantic about these points, though it probably seems that way—it’s just that I think a little intellectual humility and care is required when attempting to correct the work of someone like Sober who is so clearly careful and precise in his own formulations.

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  15. Here is my attempt to explain Sober’s reason for thinking there is a difference between design inference in ordinary affairs and design inference in the biological case.

    Sober formulates the design argument as a likelihood argument. The premises are that Pr(O │ Chance) is very low and Pr(O │ Design) is higher, where O refers to some observed feature of the biological world. The conclusion is that O supports Design over Chance. Note that here I am summarising his arguments on the biological design argument, not the cosmic design argument, which brings in independent issues. For those who are interested in the details, there is a more much more detailed development of Sober’s argument concerning the biological case in Sober (2008).

    The first thing to appreciate about the likelihood formulation is that the conclusion of the argument is not that design is more likely than chance, but rather more weakly that certain observations O provide evidence for the hypothesis of design over the hypothesis of chance. As he writes:

    [L]ikelihood arguments have rather modest pretensions. They don’t tell you which hypotheses to believe; in fact, they don’t even tell you which hypotheses are probably
    true. Rather, they evaluate how the observations at hand discriminate among the hypotheses under consideration.

    The second thing to appreciate is that the argument provides a comparative evaluation of two hypotheses. These hypotheses may not be exhaustive, so it does not itself ground the conclusion that the favoured hypotheses is better supported by the evidence than all possible rivals. (Incidentally, this makes for a difference between the likelihood version of the argument and the version given by Dembski (1998). For more on why Sober’s formulation should be preferred, see Fitelson, Stephens and Sober (1999)).

    Note also that this entails that design can not be supported merely by showing phenomena to have low probability conditional on the evolutionary hypothesis. Rather, it must be shown that those phenomena have higher probability conditional on the design hypothesis.

    Sober’s objection to the argument is deceptively simple. It is that we have no independent evidence for Pr(O │ Design), and so cannot justify the claim that Pr(O │ Design) > Pr(O │ Chance). This objection can be subdivided into two points.

    First, in order to estimate the likelihood of some observation conditional on design, we need to know both the goals and abilities of the designer. For ordinary design inferences, we do this by inductive inference from cases with which we are familiar. Sober’s first point is that this ordinary form of inductive inference is unavailable for biological design arguments, since we do not have any instances of agents with abilities of the required magnitude. Since we have no instances, we simply have no idea what their goals would be. That is, we have no independent evidence of creatures existing before the biological systems in question, and capable of engineering those systems. So we have no idea what they would be likely to build if they existed. So we have no way of estimating Pr(O │ Design). Moreover, there is an additional obstacle to this form of inductive inference if we attempt to infer to a supernatural designer or designers. For in the case of natural designers we at least have the possibility of appealing to some general naturalistic constraints on their goals and abilities, while in the case of a supernatural designer we have no such constraints.

    Second, while it is easy to arbitrarily define a class of design hypotheses such that the probability of the observations conditional on that class is high, it is just as easy to arbitrarily define a class of non-design hypotheses such that the probability of the observations conditional on that class is high. So some independent motivation is required to justify the particular hypotheses invoked in the argument. But in the case of the biological design argument, we have no such independent evidence. So again, we have no way of estimating Pr(O │ Design). Here I think it is helpful to consider the possibility of overlooked naturalistic explanations for the observations in question. Just as for all we know there are possible designers who would build what we see and possible designers who would not, so there are natural processes that would result in what we see and those that would not. Absent independent evidence for the existence of any of these, we are in no position to comparatively assess their probabilities against each other.

    Finally, note that this argument is independent of anything to do with evolutionary theory. If it works, it tells us that design is not even supported over chance for the observations in biology. (Of course, evolutionary theory is dramatically supported over chance, but that is neither here nor there with respect to the arguments above).

    Let me apply the argument to some salient cases.

    1a. We find a watch in a field. We have independent evidence of the existence of designers with the goals and abilities requisite for building watches, and thereby know that the likelihood of the watch conditional on the existence of those designers is vastly higher than the probability of the watch conditional on chance. So the observation supports design.

    1b. We come across a Shakespearean sonnet, or find the pansies in a yard spelling the phrase, “Good Morning. We hope you have a great day!”. The inference is identical to 1a.

    2. We observe that all bio-molecules have the same handedness. We have independent evidence that there are a variety of natural processes capable of producing this, though we do not know exactly which is most likely to have independently occurred or exactly what the probabilities are of their producing the chirality we see. Still, this is enough to show that the disjunction of this group of hypotheses confers a likelihood on chirality greater than chance. We have no such independent evidence for the goals and abilities of the designer on the hypothesis that chirality was designed. So the hypothesis that there is some natural explanation is supported over the hypothesis that the handedness is the product of design, and also over the hypothesis of chance.

    3. We find smooth and symmetrical granite blocks in a place where it is extremely unlikely that they were produced by humans. All of the natural processes we know confer very low likelihoods on this and we have no idea whether there are other natural processes capable of producing them, though we also have no reason to think the hypotheses we are aware of exhaust the possibilities. We also have no independent evidence of the goals and abilities of hypothetical designers of these blocks. In sum, we are in a position where we are unable to assign determinate probabilities to any hypothesis that gives a non-infinitesimal likelihood. So we rightly suspend judgement on what the evidence supports. (I can imagine someone who independently assigns a non-infinitesimal probability to the existence of other life forms, and who also thinks there are general natural constraints on the sorts of goals and abilities such life forms would have. Such a person would be willing to suppose that the observation supports design. But note that the independent evidence is crucial here—there is no automatic inference to design absent this evidence).

    4. We observe the total biological evidence. Evolutionary theory is well supported against chance, and design fails to confer likelihoods for the reasons that are now familier.

    Now, reading between the lines of some earlier discussions, I suspect Sean ought to deny the likelihood formulation of the argument and support something more like what Dembski says. This is suggested by his repeated insistence that it just obvious that there are certain features that if observed support design, independently of any knowledge of the nature of the designer. I hope that Sober’s discussion makes it clear that this is far from obvious. If this is the locus of disagreement however, to properly address it would in turn require arguing over Fitelson, Stephens and Sober (1999), who I regard as having decisively discredited Demsbki’s formulation. I’m not sure I have the patience to go through all that, given the effort it’s taken to get on the same page here. But perhaps I am mistaken, and Sean disputes somethin else in what Sober says. If so, let’s hear it.

    References

    Dembski, William A. 1998. The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

    Fitelson, Branden, Christopher Stephens, and Elliott Sober. 1999. “How Not to Detect Design”, in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 66, No. 3, September 1999, pp. 472–488. Reprinted in in Pennock, Robert T (Ed). 2001. Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological and Scientific Perspectives, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, pp. 597–616.

    Sober, Elliott. 2008. “Intelligent Design”, in Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 109–188.

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  16. “Suspending Judgment”

    @Brad:

    Note also that this entails that design can not be supported merely by showing phenomena to have low probability conditional on the evolutionary hypothesis. Rather, it must be shown that those phenomena have higher probability conditional on the design hypothesis.

    Sober’s objection to the argument is deceptively simple. It is that we have no independent evidence for Pr(O │ Design), and so cannot justify the claim that Pr(O │ Design) > Pr(O │ Chance). This objection can be subdivided into two points.

    First, in order to estimate the likelihood of some observation conditional on design, we need to know both the goals and abilities of the designer.

    How does this statement not undermine the efforts of SETI scientists? After all, it is not possible to know the goals and abilities of the ETI designers simply by viewing a radio signal with a narrow band spectrum or one that is prefaced with the “first 50 terms of the ever popular Fibonacci series”. Yet, according to top SETI scientists, like Seth Shostak, such mathematical tags or such spectrum features would clearly support the hypothesis of deliberate artifact – without knowing the goals or anything else about the proposed alien intelligence(s).

    For ordinary design inferences, we do this by inductive inference from cases with which we are familiar. Sober’s first point is that this ordinary form of inductive inference is unavailable for biological design arguments, since we do not have any instances of agents with abilities of the required magnitude. Since we have no instances, we simply have no idea what their goals would be. That is, we have no independent evidence of creatures existing before the biological systems in question, and capable of engineering those systems. So we have no idea what they would be likely to build if they existed. So we have no way of estimating Pr(O │ Design).

    The very same thing is true of the ETI that SETI scientists are looking for…

    Moreover, there is an additional obstacle to this form of inductive inference if we attempt to infer to a supernatural designer or designers. For in the case of natural designers we at least have the possibility of appealing to some general naturalistic constraints on their goals and abilities, while in the case of a supernatural designer we have no such constraints.

    We aren’t talking about invoking the necessity of the supernatural here. We are only talking about the ability to detect the need for at least human-level intelligence and creativity; and maybe a little beyond to some sort of alien intelligence with a bit more technological advancement.

    Second, while it is easy to arbitrarily define a class of design hypotheses such that the probability of the observations conditional on that class is high, it is just as easy to arbitrarily define a class of non-design hypotheses such that the probability of the observations conditional on that class is high. So some independent motivation is required to justify the particular hypotheses invoked in the argument. But in the case of the biological design argument, we have no such independent evidence. So again, we have no way of estimating Pr(O │ Design).

    Again, the same thing is true for SETI.

    Here I think it is helpful to consider the possibility of overlooked naturalistic explanations for the observations in question. Just as for all we know there are possible designers who would build what we see and possible designers who would not, so there are natural processes that would result in what we see and those that would not. Absent independent evidence for the existence of any of these, we are in no position to comparatively assess their probabilities against each other.

    The advantage that SETI has in answering this challenge is that while we may not know of why a designer would produce a particular phenomenon, we do know how a designer might produce the phenomenon in question while, at the same time, we have no idea how any non-intelligence process would be able to do the same thing…

    1a. We find a watch in a field. We have independent evidence of the existence of designers with the goals and abilities requisite for building watches, and thereby know that the likelihood of the watch conditional on the existence of those designers is vastly higher than the probability of the watch conditional on chance. So the observation supports design.

    In other words, you’ve seen humans build watches before. I’ve also seen humans produce natural-looking gardens and natural-looking artificial stones for decorating which cannot readily be distinguished from what non-intelligent process of nature can produce. So, it is not enough to simply say that the watch is obviously designed because you’ve seen humans make watches. You must also show that the watch is clearly beyond the known limits of what non-intelligent natural forces can also produce. In other words, you have to appeal to the ID-only hypothesis here.

    1b. We come across a Shakespearean sonnet, or find the pansies in a yard spelling the phrase, “Good Morning. We hope you have a great day!”. The inference is identical to 1a.

    Indeed – but only because these features are known to be within the realm of at least human level ID while being well outside of the known realm of mindless production.

    This is why I brought up the situation of the highly symmetrical polished granite cube measuring 1 meter on each side. Such a cube would be considered by the vast majority of scientist to be a clear artifact – regardless of where in the universe it happened to be found. If it was found on Earth, the obvious assumption would be that some human made it. If it was found by one of our rovers on Mars, the obvious assumption would be that some intelligent alien made it – and it would hit the front page of every newspaper in the world. You know it, and I know it. You also know that this would happen even without having independent evidence of the existence of the proposed alien intelligence much less the motives of this alien intelligence.

    3. We find smooth and symmetrical granite blocks in a place where it is extremely unlikely that they were produced by humans. All of the natural processes we know confer very low likelihoods on this and we have no idea whether there are other natural processes capable of producing them, though we also have no reason to think the hypotheses we are aware of exhaust the possibilities. We also have no independent evidence of the goals and abilities of hypothetical designers of these blocks. In sum, we are in a position where we are unable to assign determinate probabilities to any hypothesis that gives a non-infinitesimal likelihood. So we rightly suspend judgement on what the evidence supports.

    “Suspend judgment”?! Is that your final answer? Really? There is no way to determine ID regarding anything where humans are not known to be directly involved? Based on observing only the phenomenon in question?

    How do you not see that this argument is obviously inconsistent? You know as well as I do that if a highly symmetrical polished granite cube, measuring 1 meter on each side, were found on Mars, say with a geometric etching in each face, everyone would assume ID. No one would simply “suspend judgment” like you suggest.

    Do you not realize that this is in fact the basis of SETI? Seth Shostak is a senior astronomer at the SETI institute. According to him, a radio signal that is tagged with some mathematical pattern, like the first 50 terms of pi or the Fibonacci series would clearly be “artificial” – a product of non-human intelligence. This is without knowing anything else about the alien intelligence or the motives or technology involved. The very same argument as I use for the highly symmetrical granite cube is also used by SETI scientists when it comes to narrow band radio signals being obviously artificial.

    I’m sorry, but you are not being consistent. If you support the basis of SETI, I do not see how you can reasonably make the arguments you are making here. Your other arguments regarding biology in particular are irrelevant if we cannot get past this basic problem of apparent inconsistency regarding the general basis of detecting artifacts as artifacts regardless of where they happen to be found in the universe…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  17. @Sean Pitman:

    Two caveats before I reply. First, please resist calling me inconsistent unless you can demonstrate propositions I have asserted that contradict one another. You have alleged that I am inconsistent based on pure speculation concerning what I will say about the SETI case. This is about as uncharitable an interpretative procedure as you could adopt—though given how uncharitably you interpreted Sober, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Second, keep in mind that the likelihood argument is about which way the evidence points, not about which hypothesis should be believed. In some of the cases we have discussed what to believe is more or less obvious, but this is because we have appropriate background knowledge that enables us to estimate the prior probabilities of the various hypotheses in question. In the cases we are talking about it is much harder to determine these probabilities, and correspondingly more tenuous to think that the evidence is sufficient for outright belief.

    Obviously you are right that we would all be excited by the discovery of narrow-band radio signals of the sort SETI searches for, or the granite cubes of your example. I trust however that you do not mean to simply appeal to the reliability of mass opinion on these matters. (Ordinarily I would here lampoon the reliability of mass opinion by pointing out how many people believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old, but I’m in the wrong context for that. Better in this context is the empirically well-supported fact that people are in general atrociously bad at reasoning with probability in non-ordinary contexts). The question is why this ought to be exciting. In my view, it is because there are defensible assumptions on which this would amount to the first empirical discovery for which a non-human design hypothesis did better than the pure chance hypothesis (these are the assumptions I indicated in parentheses earlier; I am not convinced they are right, but I do think they are defensible). This is perfectly consistent with the claim that the non-human design hypothesis is not superior to the hypothesis that the observations are due to some heretofore unknown natural process.

    The evidence of course would be defeasible. When pulsars were first discovered there was some initial excitement that the signals, for which there was no known natural origin, might suggest the existence of extra-terrestrial life (the original discoverers even gave their object the name LGM-1, after “Little Green Men”). But it was later proposed, and independently confirmed, that these signals were produced by rotating neutron stars. Now the narrow-band emissions are on safer ground here, since it is less easy to concoct non-design hypotheses that explain them—that is why they are used, after all. But as the history of science amply demonstrates, we are not omniscient, and the same thing may happen with any future SETI detection. Consider for example what we should believe if we discover that narrow-band radio emissions are being received from the surface of a black hole—does this support design or not? It would be hard to say, even for you (I think)—because we need assess the evidence in the context of our background beliefs about the conditions under which life is possible, and the conditions under which unknown natural forces may be involved.

    All of that is by way of clarification. Now, the disanalogies between this and the biological case. For a start, part of the reason scientists believe SETI is not futile is precisely because they believe that the natural origin of life on earth suggests that life may also naturally arise elsewhere. So part of the evidence for the design hypothesis in this case comes from the evidence against it in the case you are most interested in. Second, and more importantly, there are a suite of natural processes it is reasonable to believe are capable of producing the biological phenomena, which makes for a vast disanalogy. You may have heard of them:

    Futuyma, Douglas J. 2009. Evolution, 2nd edition. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland MA.

    (I assume I’m amusing no-one but myself, but still…).

    However, since I’ve been tying my hands and pretending evolutionary theory is off the table for the moment, suppose you believe that the evidence in the SETI case supports design over naturalistic causes (I have indicated that I am not convinced that it is, but set that aside for now). This would only be reasonable on the grounds that you had independent evidence that it would be more likely that unknown aliens would produce such things than it would be that unknown natural processes would produce such things. And this in turn could only be produced by a reasoned conjecture that these extra-terrestrials do things somewhat like us, perhaps because of hypothesised general constraints on the form life can take in our universe. It would also require a belief ruling out overlooked naturalistic explanations. All of these beliefs would be highly tentative at best, so the degree of support would be very small. If the biological case is supposed to be similar, we need to see how those beliefs all track across to that case. It isn’t enough to simply declare inconsistency.

    A summary. If we discover SETI signals and granite cubes, we should search for further evidence concerning their explanation. It certainly is not the case that we can immediately infer design without further ado. Moreover, even if design is a possible hypothesis, in the sense that it does better than chance, it requires further argument to show that it does better than the hypothesis that an unknown natural process is involved. Moreover, the only available evidence here involves a highly fallible inference from the human case. There simply is no other place from which to extract information. If there is supposed to be an analogy between SETI and biology, we need to know that the grounds for this inference are analogous, something which has not been demonstrated. And all of this is without even mentioned the fact that in the biological case we have the complication that one of the most successful scientific theories in history is available to help us out on the natural cause side of the equation.

    One final point. You write:

    So, it is not enough to simply say that the watch is obviously designed because you’ve seen humans make watches. You must also show that the watch is clearly beyond the known limits of what non-intelligent natural forces can also produce. In other words, you have to appeal to the ID-only hypothesis here.

    This is incorrect, and make me worry that you haven’t understood the likelihood framework. No belief about the known limits of natural forces is required (and it’s lucky too, because none of us know the limits of natural forces). What is required is simply the belief that the likelihood of the watch on the design hypothesis is higher than the likelihood of the watch on the natural force hypothesis. This in turn does not require any belief that the natural force could not make the watch—just that it is less likely than design to do so. Thinking about intermediate cases of objects which can be produced by both will help you to think more clearly about this.

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  18. @Brad:

    Two caveats before I reply. First, please resist calling me inconsistent unless you can demonstrate propositions I have asserted that contradict one another. You have alleged that I am inconsistent based on pure speculation concerning what I will say about the SETI case. This is about as uncharitable an interpretative procedure as you could adopt—though given how uncharitably you interpreted Sober, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

    I had assumed, perhaps wrongly, that you support Sober’s conclusion that SETI is a valid science and that the invocation of ID hypotheses can be quite reasonable short of identifying the intelligent agent as God.

    Second, keep in mind that the likelihood argument is about which way the evidence points, not about which hypothesis should be believed.

    Are you saying it is possible to have a reasonable belief in a particular hypothesis without evidence?

    In some of the cases we have discussed what to believe is more or less obvious, but this is because we have appropriate background knowledge that enables us to estimate the prior probabilities of the various hypotheses in question. In the cases we are talking about it is much harder to determine these probabilities, and correspondingly more tenuous to think that the evidence is sufficient for outright belief.

    Isn’t that what science is all about? – appropriate background information?

    Obviously you are right that we would all be excited by the discovery of narrow-band radio signals of the sort SETI searches for, or the granite cubes of your example. I trust however that you do not mean to simply appeal to the reliability of mass opinion on these matters. (Ordinarily I would here lampoon the reliability of mass opinion by pointing out how many people believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old, but I’m in the wrong context for that. Better in this context is the empirically well-supported fact that people are in general atrociously bad at reasoning with probability in non-ordinary contexts).

    The “mass opinion” I’m talking about here is the mass opinion of scientists who are in the know. Given such scenarios as I’ve described scientists all over the world would herald the discovery of ETI – without any knowledge of motive or anything else about the ETI other than the overwhelmingly obvious conclusion the ETI is intelligent.

    The question is why this ought to be exciting. In my view, it is because there are defensible assumptions on which this would amount to the first empirical discovery for which a non-human design hypothesis did better than the pure chance hypothesis (these are the assumptions I indicated in parentheses earlier; I am not convinced they are right, but I do think they are defensible). This is perfectly consistent with the claim that the non-human design hypothesis is not superior to the hypothesis that the observations are due to some heretofore unknown natural process.

    I don’t see how. For me your two statements here are quite inconsistent. How can you say, on the one hand, that my granite cubes would be obvious artifacts to the vast majority of scientists in the world, even if discovered on Mars, yet, on the other hand, claim that this hypothesis is not in any way superior to the claim that such cubes are just as likely to be the result of some heretofore unknown natural process?

    That argument simply doesn’t make any sense to me. If two hypothesis are in fact equally likely or unlikely, then, as you originally pointed out, the only reasonable conclusion or belief regarding which one is actually correct is, “I don’t know. Therefore, I ‘suspend judgment’ until more information is available.”

    It seems almost like you’re trying to backtrack away from your “suspend judgment” argument. Am I wrong?

    The evidence of course would be defeasible. When pulsars were first discovered there was some initial excitement that the signals, for which there was no known natural origin, might suggest the existence of extra-terrestrial life (the original discoverers even gave their object the name LGM-1, after “Little Green Men”). But it was later proposed, and independently confirmed, that these signals were produced by rotating neutron stars.

    Indeed. The LGM hypothesis was falsified in the case of pulsars. The same potential for falsification is there for all valid scientific hypotheses – to include the current SETI hypothesis for narrow band radio signals. That’s simply the risk of doing science.

    Now the narrow-band emissions are on safer ground here, since it is less easy to concoct non-design hypotheses that explain them—that is why they are used, after all.

    This is only true given what we currently know. This doesn’t mean that future information will not come along to falsify this ID hypothesis as well. After all, science is based on what is currently known; not on what might be known in the future. This is why science is a method that is only useful given limited information. If all information relevant to the topic at hand was already available, science would not be needed.

    But as the history of science amply demonstrates, we are not omniscient, and the same thing may happen with any future SETI detection. Consider for example what we should believe if we discover that narrow-band radio emissions are being received from the surface of a black hole—does this support design or not? It would be hard to say, even for you (I think)—because we need assess the evidence in the context of our background beliefs about the conditions under which life is possible, and the conditions under which unknown natural forces may be involved.

    Indeed. However, consider that this same narrow band signal was received with mathematical tag added such as the first 50 terms of pi or the Fibonacci series. Such a tag, as Shostak pointed out, would be very hard even for a black hole to explain. Therefore, it would be much easier to support the ID-only hypothesis in such a situation.

    We are talking about equivocal cases here. We’re talking about cases where all currently known non-intelligent forces of nature are clearly surpassed by the phenomenon in question – a phenomenon that is still in line with what at least human level intelligence could produce given the proper technology and directed energy.

    All of that is by way of clarification. Now, the disanalogies between this and the biological case. For a start, part of the reason scientists believe SETI is not futile is precisely because they believe that the natural origin of life on earth suggests that life may also naturally arise elsewhere. So part of the evidence for the design hypothesis in this case comes from the evidence against it in the case you are most interested in.

    This assumption is irrelevant to the question of ID because the actual origin of the ETI need not be known before the ETI can be detected as intelligent. The ETI could have been eternal for all we know yet we could still detect certain types of artifacts of the ETI as true artifacts.

    Second, and more importantly, there are a suite of natural processes it is reasonable to believe are capable of producing the biological phenomena, which makes for a vast disanalogy. You may have heard of them:

    Futuyma, Douglas J. 2009. Evolution, 2nd edition. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland MA.

    (I assume I’m amusing no-one but myself, but still…).

    Yes, very funny…

    Humor aside, however, this is an entirely different argument. You are now arguing that a mindless natural mechanism is actually known that can produced all of the features of bio-systems, thereby falsifying the ID-only hypothesis.

    This is Sober’s real basis for distinguishing between SETI scientists and IDists, like myself, who propose the obvious need for ID behind certain biological features. What is interesting here is that this argument is quite different from your original statement were you said that you were “ambivalent” about the Darwinian mechanism of RM/NS. Yet, is this not the very same mechanism promoted by your referenced author above?

    However, since I’ve been tying my hands and pretending evolutionary theory is off the table for the moment, suppose you believe that the evidence in the SETI case supports design over naturalistic causes (I have indicated that I am not convinced that it is, but set that aside for now). This would only be reasonable on the grounds that you had independent evidence that it would be more likely that unknown aliens would produce such things than it would be that unknown natural processes would produce such things.

    That’s correct… this is the SETI assumption.

    And this in turn could only be produced by a reasoned conjecture that these extra-terrestrials do things somewhat like us, perhaps because of hypothesised general constraints on the form life can take in our universe. It would also require a belief ruling out overlooked naturalistic explanations. All of these beliefs would be highly tentative at best, so the degree of support would be very small.

    Not when it comes to a highly symmetrical polished granite cube with geometric etchings on each face – or perhaps etchings denoting some mathematical sequence like Pi or the Fibonacci series. Most scientists would consider such a find to be overwhelmingly conclusive evidence in support of the existence of ETI. No one would consider such evidence to be “highly tentative at best”.

    We could get even more obvious here, for illustration, and imagine a situation where our Mars rover came across a polished granite monolith with the following inscription, “Welcome Earth Rover. We have been expecting you. After many years of secretly studying your human culture and various civilizations, we concluded that your technology would allow you to make it to Mars around this time and have decided to leave you a little message of welcome to the Universe.”

    Would such a message, written in English as well as many of the other main languages of the peoples of the Earth, be enough to convince you of deliberate intelligent non-human activity?

    If the biological case is supposed to be similar, we need to see how those beliefs all track across to that case. It isn’t enough to simply declare inconsistency.

    The biological case is supposed to be even more conclusive, far more so on a similar basis of logic, than is the SETI argument or those arguments I’ve presented above for polished granite cubes with geometric etchings or mathematical sequences carved on each face.

    A summary. If we discover SETI signals and granite cubes, we should search for further evidence concerning their explanation.

    Obviously. If one discovers overwhelming evidence of design why not look for the designer? – or a least for further features which might help to answer other questions about the designer(s)? However, the notion that such features are clearly artificial would be downright obvious, even to scientists, worldwide – given the evidence that is currently at hand.

    Could such an “obvious artifact” really be the product of some as yet unknown non-deliberate process of nature? Sure. However, scientific hypotheses and theories are not based on what might be known in the future, but on what is known right now. This is why all scientific theories are open to future testing and potential falsification – a process that should never end. All hypotheses and theories should be subjected to continued testing and efforts at falsification. However, until falsification actually takes place, one should go with, or “believe”, what is best supported by the currently available evidence…

    It certainly is not the case that we can immediately infer design without further ado.

    Given enough background information, this statement is not true. SETI scientists can immediately infer design, very rationally, when/if they discover the types of radio signals they are looking for without further ado. This is not to say that further ado is not helpful. It is. Science always looks for additional information regardless of how solidly a hypothesis/theory seems to be confirmed by past experience. However, given a great deal of past experience that is already in hand, the SETI hypothesis seems to be, even in your own estimation (and even more so in Sober’s estimation), built on solid evidence and rational thinking.

    One final point. You write:

    So, it is not enough to simply say that the watch is obviously designed because you’ve seen humans make watches. You must also show that the watch is clearly beyond the known limits of what non-intelligent natural forces can also produce. In other words, you have to appeal to the ID-only hypothesis here. – Sean Pitman

    This is incorrect, and make me worry that you haven’t understood the likelihood framework. No belief about the known limits of natural forces is required (and it’s lucky too, because none of us know the limits of natural forces). What is required is simply the belief that the likelihood of the watch on the design hypothesis is higher than the likelihood of the watch on the natural force hypothesis. This in turn does not require any belief that the natural force could not make the watch—just that it is less likely than design to do so. Thinking about intermediate cases of objects which can be produced by both will help you to think more clearly about this.

    You’re talking about absolutes here. I’ve already made it very clear that when I use words like “known” or “known limits” I’m talking about what is currently known – not what is knowable in the absolute sense of the word.

    Without any idea as to the probable limits of what non-deliberate natural forces are likely able to achieve you would not be able to determine that the watch is or is not a likely artifact vs. the amorphous stones scattered round about it. In order to make any rational judgment regarding the artificial nature of the watch you must have prior experience with both the potential and limits of at least human-level ID as well as with non-deliberate natural processes. Without both types of information, you wouldn’t be able to pick out the watch vs. the rock as being the true artifact.

    Again, this isn’t a statement of absolutes here. As you’ve already noted, none of us are omniscient. If we were, we wouldn’t need science. However, given a great deal of past experience we have a very useful idea as to the limits and potential of non-deliberate natural processes. Is this idea perfect? No. If it were, again, we wouldn’t need science…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  19. Dear Sean and Brad

    Gentleman, all of us observing could not ask for a better debate. In order to get past dogma and entrenched ideas, there must be active, adversarial debate that brings out the best in the adversaries. I believe you two are engaging in same.

    You are both highly intelligent chess players, with a great deal of knowledge and reasoning powers. You understand the stakes: people are being influenced by what your write. One caveat , if I may: there is no need to turn the argument into an attack on personalities. This might suggest an egotistical bias that I’m sure neither of you intend.

    Sean, with respect, I think the great hurdle you face is to try to make rational arguments through the prism of faith. I do like that you are trying to corroborate the SDA position on creation through science. Bible thumping does little to convince rational minds, apart from raising one’s intellectual hackles. If sound science will support YEC theory and biblical creation so be it. But it will be the science that crosses the stripes of faith or non-faith, not the bias of either.

    Brad, I don’t know your faith or non faith background, but I think it would be useful for all of us to know in order to assess any bias of lack thereof.

    Your grateful, agnostic friend
    Ken

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  20. Re: A Sobering Thought

    Dear Sean and Brad

    Notwithstanding that your perspicacious minds are far better than mine at slicing and dicing the minutiae of Sober’s logic, I have a question: Can chance be part of design?

    Let me give you a hypothetical. Let’s say the three of us climbed into a life supporting bubble ship and were hooked up to an immortality machine, designed by man. The ship has the ability to travel to infinite, different universes and survive the physical characteristics of same (through wormholes of some other Star Trek like fictive concoction) Moreover we are aware each time we enter a new universe( the NEW UNIVERSE light comes on in the bubble and a toy monkey comes out and bangs a drum). Through our clear bubble we are able to observe the characteristics of each universe. Each one is different, but ours is the only one with organic life.

    Here’s my question:

    1. Would your ideas on ID, or God, be any different than they are know? If so, how?

    Have fun with that. I look forward to your comments.

    Cheers
    Ken

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  21. @Sean Pitman:

    I had assumed, perhaps wrongly, that you support Sober’s conclusion that SETI is a valid science and that the invocation of ID hypotheses can be quite reasonable short of identifying the intelligent agent as God.

    Yes, I don’t think there is anything intrinsically unreasonable unscientific about invoking design hypotheses. The details depend on the context, as I have tried to show. However, I do disagree with SETI if that project is understood as founded on the belief that finding the signals they are looking for would in itself provide sufficient evidence to prefer the design hypothesis over the hypothesis that the signal was due to some unknown natural process. On this point, I am curious what your judgement is on the black hole example.

    Are you saying it is possible to have a reasonable belief in a particular hypothesis without evidence?
    Isn’t that what science is all about? – appropriate background information?

    No, the reverse—it is possible to have evidence for a hypothesis without that hypothesis being reasonable to believe. We all have beliefs for which there is evidence both for and against, and we all have evidence too flimsy to found beliefs on. For example, if I buy a ticket in the lottery, my having the ticket provides some evidence that I will win. But not enough to believe that I will.

    The “mass opinion” I’m talking about here is the mass opinion of scientists who are in the know. Given such scenarios as I’ve described scientists all over the world would herald the discovery of ETI – without any knowledge of motive or anything else about the ETI other than the overwhelmingly obvious conclusion the ETI is intelligent.

    So to be clear, you are claiming that scientists in general believe that discovery of the signals SETI is looking for would in itself provide sufficient evidence to prefer the design hypothesis over the hypothesis that the signal was due to some unknown natural process? If so, do you have any evidence for this claim? Notice that I agree with you that we would all be very surprised and excited to find those signals, but merely disagree that this is because design would be obviously better supported that an unknown natural hypothesis (rather, I claim it is because design is thought to be obviously better supported than chance).

    I don’t see how. For me your two statements here are quite inconsistent. How can you say, on the one hand, that my granite cubes would be obvious artifacts to the vast majority of scientists in the world, even if discovered on Mars, yet, on the other hand, claim that this hypothesis is not in any way superior to the claim that such cubes are just as likely to be the result of some heretofore unknown natural process? That argument simply doesn’t make any sense to me. If two hypothesis are in fact equally likely or unlikely, then, as you originally pointed out, the only reasonable conclusion or belief regarding which one is actually correct is, “I don’t know. Therefore, I ‘suspend judgment’ until more information is available.” It seems almost like you’re trying to backtrack away from your “suspend judgment” argument. Am I wrong?

    Yes. I have never said that anyone would conclude that the observations obviously supported design over all other possibilities. You need to distinguish between the design hypothesis (D), the chance hypothesis (C) and the unknown natural process hypothesis (N). Call our observations O. I have claimed that there are two reasonable positions that may be taken (this may have been confusing earlier, for which I apologise). The first is that it is indeterminate what the relations are between p(O | C), p(O | D) and p (O | N) and so we should suspend judgement on where the evidence leads. The second is that p(O | C) < p(O | D) and p(O | C) < p (O | N) but it is indeterminate what the relations are between p(O | D) and p(O | N), and so we should believe that the observations are due to either design or some unknown natural process but should suspend judgement on which.

    Indeed. However, consider that this same narrow band signal was received with mathematical tag added such as the first 50 terms of pi or the Fibonacci series. Such a tag, as Shostak pointed out, would be very hard even for a black hole to explain. Therefore, it would be much easier to support the ID-only hypothesis in such a situation.

    This brings in quite different and complex considerations, as I am sure you are aware. One thing I have liked about your argument so far is that it hasn’t depended on relying on this sort of information transmission. I would prefer to leave discussion of the case where there is information until we have sorted out where we stand on the narrow-band case, if you do not mind.

    This assumption is irrelevant to the question of ID because the actual origin of the ETI need not be known before the ETI can be detected as intelligent. The ETI could have been eternal for all we know yet we could still detect certain types of artifacts of the ETI as true artifacts.

    You are still using the language of detection, as if there is some automatic inference that takes us from a certain kind of evidence straight to outright belief, without the interference of background knowledge. I have been emphasising that this is not the case, and that the way in which scientists justify SETI in part depends on their belief that life could arise elsewhere, which in turn reflects their belief that it arose evolutionarily. There is a reason they aim their detection equipment at planetary systems rather than at random. Do you think this is arbitrary?

    Yes, very funny…Humor aside, however, this is an entirely different argument. You are now arguing that a mindless natural mechanism is actually known that can produced all of the features of bio-systems, thereby falsifying the ID-only hypothesis. This is Sober’s real basis for distinguishing between SETI scientists and IDists, like myself, who propose the obvious need for ID behind certain biological features.

    No, Sober agrees with me that design wouldn’t be supported even if we weren’t aware of the evolutionary hypothesis.

    What is interesting here is that this argument is quite different from your original statement were you said that you were “ambivalent” about the Darwinian mechanism of RM/NS. Yet, is this not the very same mechanism promoted by your referenced author above?

    This legendary textbook does of course describe natural selection, along other mechanisms of evolutionary change. You have been misunderstanding my remark on natural selection, however. What I said was: “Regarding the relative importance of natural selection, I remain neutral”. I said this to try to sideline the peripheral issue of the extent to which the biological world consists of adaptations, like I have tried to sideline the peripheral issue of whether punctuated equilibrium is correct or not in my exchanges with our friend Roger.

    We could get even more obvious here, for illustration, and imagine a situation where our Mars rover came across a polished granite monolith with the following inscription, “Welcome Earth Rover.We have been expecting you. After many years of secretly studying your human culture and various civilizations, we concluded that your technology would allow you to make it to Mars around this time and have decided to leave you a little message of welcome to the Universe.”Would such a message, written in English as well as many of the other main languages of the peoples of the Earth, be enough to convince you of deliberate intelligent non-human activity?

    Yes—because in this case I think we can have independent evidence to believe that all natural processes, even presently unconceived ones, would confer a low probability on this event.

    The biological case is supposed to be even more conclusive, far more so on a similar basis of logic, than is the SETI argument or those arguments I’ve presented above for polished granite cubes with geometric etchings or mathematical sequences carved on each face.

    Do you know some biological facts I don’t? Take me to the Bible verses etched in DNA!

    Given enough background information, this statement is not true. SETI scientists can immediately infer design, very rationally, when/if they discover the types of radio signals they are looking for without further ado.This is not to say that further ado is not helpful.It is.Science always looks for additional information regardless of how solidly a hypothesis/theory seems to be confirmed by past experience.However, given a great deal of past experience that is already in hand, the SETI hypothesis seems to be, even in your own estimation (and even more so in Sober’s estimation), built on solid evidence and rational thinking.

    So tell me, what are the grounds for believing that p(O | D) > p (O | N) in this case? You’ve said a number of times that it is obvious. It is far from obvious to me.

    Every time a design hypothesis has been proposed in biology or physics for a phenomenon outside the then-current scope of explanation, which has later been subject to independent confirmation, it has been false. See for example Kepler on lunar craters, Newton on planetary orbits, Arbuthnot on male to female birth ratios, Paley on the eye, Behe on everything, and (coming to a science journal near you) EducateTruthers on protein handedness.

    Without any idea as to the probable limits of what non-deliberate natural forces are likely able to achieve you would not be able to determine that the watch is or is not a likely artifact vs. the amorphous stones scattered round about it. In order to make any rational judgment regarding the artificial nature of the watch you must have prior experience with both the potential and limits of at least human-level ID as well as with non-deliberate natural processes.

    This is a good point. That is, for outright belief in the watch case we need background evidence that the overall probability of natural processes producing these things is low. But we have such evidence for watches produced on earth. I claim we do not have this evidence for the SETI case, since we are dealing with remote and exotic physical situations.

    So, where do we disagree? You think SETI signal detection would license outright belief, I disagree. You think SETI signal detection would differentially support design over unknown natural hypotheses in advance of further investigation, I disagree. You think that if we didn’t know anything about evolution then the biology case would obviously be exactly analogous to the SETI case, I disagree. And the most important disagreement: you think in our current situation, knowing all of modern evolutionary theory, the design hypothesis stands to biology as it stands to SETI signals. I couldn’t disagree more, and it is astounding to me that you are willing to believe this based on one argument you have formulated in a field on which you are no expert, without having it vetted by experts. By the way, did I tell you about the time I squared the circle?

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  22. @Ken:

    One caveat , if I may: there is no need to turn the argument into an attack on personalities. This might suggest an egotistical bias that I’m sure neither of you intend.

    Do you have in mind the argument I’ve been running about why I do not take Sean’s argument about protein evolution seriously? I don’t intend that to be an ad hominem attack on Sean. Rather, I have been trying to explain why, even if his argument is perfectly good, none of us can be justified in believing that it is any good until it is at least published in a peer reviewed scientific journal. This, I believe, should be all of our attitudes on any scientific topic we are not experts on and are not confident on regarding the expertise of others.

    Brad, I don’t know your faith or non faith background, but I think it would be useful for all of us to know in order to assess any bias of lack thereof.

    I was raised a Seventh Day Adventist but am now an atheist in the sense that I do not regard belief in anything supernatural as reasonable. I have many friends and family members who remain Adventists. Is that sufficient?

    Can chance be part of design?

    Not sure exactly what you mean, but I can infer design from Pollock paintings. Indeed, I can infer Pollock.

    Let me give you a hypothetical. Let’s say the three of us climbed into a life supporting bubble ship and were hooked up to an immortality machine, designed by man. The ship has the ability to travel to infinite, different universes and survive the physical characteristics of same (through wormholes of some other Star Trek like fictive concoction) Moreover we are aware each time we enter a new universe( the NEW UNIVERSE light comes on in the bubble and a toy monkey comes out and bangs a drum). Through our clear bubble we are able to observe the characteristics of each universe. Each one is different, but ours is the only one with organic life.

    Here’s my question:

    1. Would your ideas on ID, or God, be any different than they are know? If so, how?

    Yes, I would believe that we were Gods ourselves—there are even three of us! Actually, in so far as I understand the idea, for me the answer is no.

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  23. @Brad:

    Yes, I don’t think there is anything intrinsically unreasonable unscientific about invoking design hypotheses. The details depend on the context, as I have tried to show. However, I do disagree with SETI if that project is understood as founded on the belief that finding the signals they are looking for would in itself provide sufficient evidence to prefer the design hypothesis over the hypothesis that the signal was due to some unknown natural process.

    That is exactly what SETI scientists propose. Seth Shostak, for example, as I’ve already noted for you, claims that if the narrow band radio signal were prefaced with mathematical tags like the first 50 terms in Pi or the Fibonacci series, that such tags would clearly bespeak an intelligent source. To quote him directly:

    Perhaps the extraterrestrials will preface their message with a string of prime numbers, or maybe the first fifty terms of the ever-popular Fibonacci series. Well, there’s no doubt that such tags would convey intelligence. – Seth Shostak

    http://www.seti.org/Page.aspx?pid=683

    Is not Shostak claiming that such features discovered within radio signals would clearly support the ID hypothesis? without further “ado”?

    Obviously he is making this claim, but why? upon what basis? Because of all the past experience we’ve already had with the medium of radio signals. The hypothesis proposed by Shostak has already been subjected to a great many tests which could have falsified the ID-only hypothesis and has passed by a huge margin. The science has already been long underway. This is why Shostak can be so confident in such claims.

    Are you saying it is possible to have a reasonable belief in a particular hypothesis without evidence?
    Isn’t that what science is all about? – appropriate background information?

    No, the reverse—it is possible to have evidence for a hypothesis without that hypothesis being reasonable to believe. We all have beliefs for which there is evidence both for and against, and we all have evidence too flimsy to found beliefs on. For example, if I buy a ticket in the lottery, my having the ticket provides some evidence that I will win. But not enough to believe that I will.

    There is always evidence for and against almost all reasonable beliefs. That is why science is based on the perceived “weight of evidence”. Having a lottery ticket does indeed support a belief that you will win, but only with a weight of the odds of the lottery ticket actually winning. Useful beliefs, in my opinion, are based on the odds, the weight of evidence. That’s science. Without at least some idea as to the odds of success behind a belief, it’s pretty much a worthless belief.

    So to be clear, you are claiming that scientists in general believe that discovery of the signals SETI is looking for would in itself provide sufficient evidence to prefer the design hypothesis over the hypothesis that the signal was due to some unknown natural process? If so, do you have any evidence for this claim? Notice that I agree with you that we would all be very surprised and excited to find those signals, but merely disagree that this is because design would be obviously better supported that an unknown natural hypothesis (rather, I claim it is because design is thought to be obviously better supported than chance).

    You’d all be very surprised and excited for one simple reason – the implications for design would be so instantly obvious to all (even the vast majority of scientists). After all, just the fine tuning of the universe needed to support life has convinced the majority of physicists that there must be some sort of deliberate intelligence behind it. For example, Australian astrophysicist Paul Davies makes the following argument along these lines:

    The temptation to believe that the Universe is the product of some sort of design, a manifestation of subtle aesthetic and mathematical judgment, is overwhelming. The belief that there is “something behind it all” is one that I personally share with, I suspect, a majority of physicists…
    The equations of physics have in them incredible simplicity, elegance and beauty. That in itself is sufficient to prove to me that there must be a God who is responsible for these laws and responsible for the universe… – Paul Davies

    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2006/1572643.htm

    If the majority of physicists are suspicious given just the fined tuned features of the universe that there must be some sort of intelligence behind it all, just imagine what they would do with a Mars rover discovery of a highly symmetrical polished granite cube, 1.0 meters in size, with centrally placed geometric etchings on each side. They’d go nuts! You know it, and I know it. Don’t give me this line that they’d sit back and say, “Wait just one minute! Are we sure that this cube wasn’t produce by some as yet unknown non-deliberate force of nature?” Come on…

    This brings in quite different and complex considerations, as I am sure you are aware. One thing I have liked about your argument so far is that it hasn’t depended on relying on this sort of information transmission. I would prefer to leave discussion of the case where there is information until we have sorted out where we stand on the narrow-band case, if you do not mind.

    I’m sorry, but I consider the narrow-band radio signal, as with the highly symmetrical polished granite cube, to be a form of mathematical information transmission. Arguing otherwise is like arguing that a work of art transmits no information. A highly symmetrical finely polished granite cube transmits very precise mathematical information that is difficult to explain from some mindless natural source acting specifically on the material of granite. That’s what would make it so interesting.

    To illustrate my point further or more precisely, we could talk about a very precisely carved granite block that has been carved according to Fibonacci dimensions – as in the “Golden Rectangle”, or as some sort of mathematically derived fractal shape that does not appear to be a natural fractal; as in the Menger Sponge carved in granite (see link):

    http://www.fractus.com/images_fract/fractal.gif

    Such structures would transmit mathematical information just as readily as would the same mathematical terms embedded within a radio signal.

    You are still using the language of detection, as if there is some automatic inference that takes us from a certain kind of evidence straight to outright belief, without the interference of background knowledge.

    Not true. There can be no reasonable belief without background knowledge. I thought I had been quite clear already on this point. There is also no automatic inference, that is useful anyway, without background knowledge. The basis of SETI is built on extensive background knowledge that is already in place. It is only because of this pre-existing background knowledge that the recognition of a true artifact can be so instantly realized when it is actually seen. Without the background knowledge, such an instant recognition of a true artifact would be impossible.

    I have been emphasising that this is not the case, and that the way in which scientists justify SETI in part depends on their belief that life could arise elsewhere, which in turn reflects their belief that it arose evolutionarily. There is a reason they aim their detection equipment at planetary systems rather than at random. Do you think this is arbitrary?

    It doesn’t matter when it comes to actually finding an artificial signal. Knowledge of the true origin of the ETI simply isn’t needed. This is why a narrow band signal with mathematical tags, as described by Shostak, coming from a black hole instead of a planetary system would still bespeak the need for ID.

    No, Sober agrees with me that design wouldn’t be supported even if we weren’t aware of the evolutionary hypothesis.

    Sober agrees with me that SETI is based on valid science where ID would be well supported if the phenomena in question were ever discovered. His own argument for this is the very same as mine – that ID can reasonably be hypothesized given that the phenomenon in question is within at least human level production while being, at the same time, beyond the currently known limits of non-deliberate natural production.

    This legendary textbook does of course describe natural selection, along other mechanisms of evolutionary change. You have been misunderstanding my remark on natural selection, however. What I said was: “Regarding the relative importance of natural selection, I remain neutral”. I said this to try to sideline the peripheral issue of the extent to which the biological world consists of adaptations, like I have tried to sideline the peripheral issue of whether punctuated equilibrium is correct or not in my exchanges with our friend Roger.

    You do agree, however, that appealing to a known natural mechanism is a completely different argument? You must also understand the reason by challenging this particular mechanism as being remotely tenable when it comes to explaining certain biological features? The point is that without this mechanism “intellectually fulfilled atheism” as Dawkins puts it, would be out the window. It is the mechanism of RM/NS that put Darwin on the map. Without this mechanism, presented in what many considered to be a very convincing manner, he would have remained completely unknown…

    Would such a message, written in English as well as many of the other main languages of the peoples of the Earth, be enough to convince you of deliberate intelligent non-human activity? – Sean Pitman

    Yes—because in this case I think we can have independent evidence to believe that all natural processes, even presently unconceived ones, would confer a low probability on this event.

    Oh really? Upon what basis given that you do not have all knowledge? It is, after all, physically possible to mindlessly produce such a situation. It is just very very unlikely – – as far as we know right now…

    See the point?

    Do you know some biological facts I don’t? Take me to the Bible verses etched in DNA!

    That would do it for you eh? Yet, the odds of mindlessly producing certain features within biosystems are just as remote as producing a coded Bible verse, the size of the entire Bible, in DNA.

    So tell me, what are the grounds for believing that p(O | D) > p (O | N) in this case? You’ve said a number of times that it is obvious. It is far from obvious to me.

    Because, as I’ve pointed out many times before, the phenomenon in question is within at least human level creativity while being way way outside of currently known methods of non-deliberate natural production. This is the entire basis of SETI – and of all other forms of scientific invocation of ID to explain any phenomena.

    Every time a design hypothesis has been proposed in biology or physics for a phenomenon outside the then-current scope of explanation, which has later been subject to independent confirmation, it has been false. See for example Kepler on lunar craters, Newton on planetary orbits, Arbuthnot on male to female birth ratios, Paley on the eye, Behe on everything, and (coming to a science journal near you) EducateTruthers on protein handedness.

    It is only to be expected that most scientific theories are eventually falsified, since most are. This is not a basis to discount all scientific invocations of ID or to discard science itself.

    By the way, Paley has not been falsified. It is only claimed, quite commonly, that he has been falsified. This claim, however, is not backed up by observation or by statistical odds analysis with regard to the viability of any mindless natural mechanism.

    Without any idea as to the probable limits of what non-deliberate natural forces are likely able to achieve you would not be able to determine that the watch is or is not a likely artifact vs. the amorphous stones scattered round about it. In order to make any rational judgment regarding the artificial nature of the watch you must have prior experience with both the potential and limits of at least human-level ID as well as with non-deliberate natural processes. – Sean Pitman

    This is a good point. That is, for outright belief in the watch case we need background evidence that the overall probability of natural processes producing these things is low. But we have such evidence for watches produced on earth. I claim we do not have this evidence for the SETI case, since we are dealing with remote and exotic physical situations.

    You might argue that we have such evidence to a greater extent, by by no means a complete extent here on Earth. And, you yourself noted that even when it comes to remote and exotic physical situations there are certain phenomena which would clearly invoke ID regardless. It all depends upon the nature of the phenomena in question and just how far away from currently known mindless natural production they are…

    So, where do we disagree? You think SETI signal detection would license outright belief, I disagree. You think SETI signal detection would differentially support design over unknown natural hypotheses in advance of further investigation, I disagree. You think that if we didn’t know anything about evolution then the biology case would obviously be exactly analogous to the SETI case, I disagree. And the most important disagreement: you think in our current situation, knowing all of modern evolutionary theory, the design hypothesis stands to biology as it stands to SETI signals. I couldn’t disagree more, and it is astounding to me that you are willing to believe this based on one argument you have formulated in a field on which you are no expert, without having it vetted by experts. By the way, did I tell you about the time I squared the circle?

    Ah yes, the square circle non-thing comeback. That’ll get em every time! 😉

    I have one key argument regarding the concept of ID in biosystems, to be sure, which I have been thinking about and working on very intently for over 14 years. I may not be an “expert” in anything, but I can only believe what makes sense in my own mind. I’m not going to simply believe because this or that “expert” says so. I’m not so infatuated by titles and peer review opinion as you seem to be. And, frankly, I don’t care if you or anyone else understands the problem as I think I understand it. My ideas are my own. If you like them, great. If you don’t, oh well. To each his own…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  24. Re Sean’s Quote

    “At this point, a belief that such a God-like creator is in fact omnipotent is not unreasonable, but must be based, not on demonstration, but on trust in the testimony of this Creative Power. If a God-like creative power personally claims to be “The” God of all, Omnipotent in every way, it would be very hard for someone from my perspective to reasonably argue otherwise…”

    Dear Sean

    I was reading your preamble and following your logic until I got to the above quoted paragraph. Then I felt like I dropped into a big, unfathomable pothole. Why, logically ‘must’ a Creative Power/God/Intelligent Designer testify? Doesn’t the creation speak for itself by its very existence?

    Historically many have claimed to be gods. Is it really that hard to argue otherwise? For example, don’t you discount Homer’s testimony about the plethora of gods in the Iliad? I would imagine many faiths do, due to the religious evolution of polytheism to monotheism. My point here is not to question your specific faith, but rather your statement that it is hard to reasonably argue against God like creative power claiming to be ‘The” God. Can’t you reasonably argue against the Allah of the Qu’ran being ‘The’ God?

    The beauty of science is that it looks at observable. testable facts and experimentation to determine the nature of reality. Does science speculate and theorize? Certainly, but it must prove up its case to gain credibility. Is it possible that science will someday discount evolution and support ID? Certainly it is possible. But it is possible without the intervention of an Omnipotent God or testimony from same.

    Rationalizing that God testified to Man about his creation, through prophets or otherwise, in my respectful opinion, anthropomorphizes the unknown for human consumption. It would be nice if there was only one prophet for reliability’s sake, but of course this is not the case. That’s where faith obviously comes in. But in the field of logic and science that you are playing on with Brad, speculation about God’s testimony is not a legitimate player. On the field of faith it is and I have no problem with that.

    I also have no problem with science being used to prove or disprove ID. Like you I think it is alright to theorize about ID, if the evidence exists. I think this is a legitimate debate not just a back door attempt to bring any particular concept of God into the equation. Why? Partially because of the issue of the original cause of reality and our conceptual inability to grasp the infinite. Science has it limits, and should never invalidate human curiosity as to what started the whole ‘shebang’, if you will excuse the feminist, ontological twist. I think Geena would like that! If one reads germane comments by Einstein and Hawkings I think one can see a lot of ID speculation on the order and laws of the universe.

    On the topic of infinity I recommend the book “A Brief History OF Infinity” by Brian Clegg. Interesting stuff.

    Know forgive me if I misinterpreted what you meant about the testimony of the Creative Power. I presumed, correctly I hope, that you were referring to the Word of God in the Bible. If not please correct me and I’ll revise my opinion accordingly.

    Time to go explore an infinite amount of other activities.

    Cheers
    Ken

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  25. Dear Brad

    Thanks for your kind reply.

    No, I am not specifically admonishing anyone for personality attacks, just hoping we will all treat each other with the greatest respect. You and Sean are very smart people and I have a great deal of respect for both of you.

    Thanks for your comments on you belief system. As you know, mine is agnosticism. It has been ever since I was 12 and the kind Anglican minister I had suggested that he or the church could not answer my never ending questions. I’m still asking them. I find faith to be an interesting, sociological phenomenon but for whatever reason it has never had a hold on me. But, I confess, I find no merit in atheism as well. I don’t thinks humans are capable of absolute knowledge, only ongoing advances in same.

    I liked your reply to my hypothetical. Three gods in a bubble, on a polytheistic cruise around the infinite bend. It’s good to laugh with others rather that at them.

    Sally forth!

    Ken

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  26. I was raised a Seventh Day Adventist but am now an atheist in the sense that I do not regard belief in anything supernatural as reasonable. I have many friends and family members who remain Adventists. Is that sufficient?

    @Brad:

    Thank you for sharing. Many of the atheists I have known are quite guarded about their internal ‘atheology.’ Since I work with an extremely diverse group of persons (everything from A – Asatru to Z – Zoroastrian and in between)I am always curious to hear individual stories – be they religious, irreligious, non-religious, or otherwise. Even though I have developed a very strong belief system after making a journey from the occult to Christ (always believed in the supernatural) – my job is to support peoples rights to worship or not worship, to believe or not believe according to the dictates of their conscience (or even lack thereof) in the prison setting.

    Richard Dawkins indicates that neo-Darwinian science was very helpful in his embracing an atheistic world-view. Was this so in your case, or were there other precipitating factors? How has your decision effected your life and how you live it. Many atheists testify to an exhilarating sense of freedom when they shed the burden of religion. Was this so in your case?

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  27. @Ken:

    I was reading your preamble and following your logic until I got to the above quoted paragraph. Then I felt like I dropped into a big, unfathomable pothole. Why, logically ‘must’ a Creative Power/God/Intelligent Designer testify? Doesn’t the creation speak for itself by its very existence?

    The creation does speak for itself about the creative power of the Creator. However, our finite understanding of the creation and the Creator is, well, finite. We cannot truly comprehend the infinite. That is why we cannot prove or adequately hypothesize the need for the Omnipotent to explain any particular aspect of nature. We can appreciate the need for the unimaginably powerful, but we cannot know for sure that what seems God-like to us is truly Omnipotent. The only real basis for understanding God as truly Omnipotent is based on trust in the Word of what we consider to be the most God-like power we, in our finite minds and understanding, can determine…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  28. We can appreciate the need for the unimaginably powerful, but we cannot know for sure that what seems God-like to us is truly Omnipotent. The only real basis for understanding God as truly Omnipotent is based on trust in the Word of what we consider to be the most God-like power we, in our finite minds and understanding, can determine…

    Are you suggesting there is a (fuzzy) line between where evidence ends and faith begins?

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  29. Re Sean’s Quote

    “The only real basis for understanding God as truly Omnipotent is based on trust in the Word of what we consider to be the most God-like power we, in our finite minds and understanding, can determine…”

    Dear Sean

    I liked your reply. Again I am fine with your logic until the last quoted paragraph. I appreciate that this is an adjunct of your faith and for you trust in the Word is the only real basis for understanding God. But I opine that this is not the case for everyone i.e. Buddhists. Logically there may be many ways to connect to the Divine and they may not all be mutually exclusive. Also logically there may be not way to do so.

    The problem with the Word of course, is whose Word? The significance of science to understand reality, as best we can, is its objectivity as a rational tool.

    Regards
    Ken

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  30. Dear Victor

    Thank you for sharing! It sounds like you have a fascinating job that gives you many valuable insights on faith and non faith alike.

    A good Adventist pastor/friend taught me this: no matter how objective we try to be we all have subjective factors that affect our views. Family, culture, education, crises, etc. all play a role. Hopefully, as we mature we can sort out all these factors and see reality a bit more clearly. That I think, in a microcosm, is what Man has gone through and is going through historically through progress in many rational disciplines.

    Regards
    Ken

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  31. @Ken:
    Prior to my decision to embrace the Christian faith I explored the world’s major (and many of its minor) religions, theologies, philosophies, and spiritual writings. I explored them intellectually, and several experientially as well.

    My ingrained adult bias was against the Christian faith (partially influenced by my father’s agnostically negative view of Christianity specifically, partially influenced by an anti-christian peer group). This prevented me from examining the Christian faith until last. In spite of this previous prejudice, I found the Christian faith exceptionally to be preferred above all the other religious and spiritual propositions. Though I was deeply convicted of Christ’s truthfulness, I initially held back from making an experiential commitment to Him. One of my friends, who grew up in the gangs of Jersey City, told me, ‘Vic, why don’t you just try it. If you don’t like it, you can always bail out.’ This seemed reasonable, so I left my armchair observer status, dove in, and gave it a try (at the relatively old age of 30). Never have I regretted that decision 27 years later.

    After accepting the claims of the Christian faith I undertook an objective examination of the various Christian persuasions and their claims. Since I had embraced the Bible as the most trustworthy of sacred writings – this became the standard for my search. I found the Adventist church to be the most remarkably harmonious with, and explanatory of, the Biblical record.
    Even though I was previously a die-hard Darwinist(with a metaphysical twist), I have come to believe that the Adventist understanding of the scientifically received data from the universe and this biosphere – also has the most explanatory power.

    I have never regretted my decision to follow this very specific Christian path. Though my spiritual story was filled with many subjective and humanly biased influences, it remains more objective than many.

    I am very thankful I had the privilege of making this spiritual search and journey, which led to my current commitment. I fully support all true hearted searchers in their own personal spiritual quest.

    Of course, I have now become very biased indeed and pray that everyone could make a similar decision to mine(After all, if you really think something is worth staking your life on, you might want to recommend it to others as well). The challenge is not to allow my bias to degenerate into bigotry.

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  32. Dear Victor

    Thank you for sharing your personal story. That takes honesty and courage.

    It certainly seems like you have taken a thoughtful,intelligent approach to your faith, which no one should fault. Power to you.

    As I previously stated, after much thought and study, I view all religions as social constructs. I have greatly enjoyed studying the Adventist faith over the last three years, especially the history of its origins. That epoch was very interesting for the emergence of a number of faiths in the United States, including Adventism, Mormonisn, Jehovah Witnesess, etc.

    Sean was very candid about the limits of human ability to comprehend the infinite, the omnipotent or God. I agree. While I can respect the attempts to do so through organized religion, I think these are just attempts, not a result of divine intervention. Quite illuminating to see how different Christian sects attack the others’ prophets or messengers. How human to engage in such power struggles for command over people.

    Not everyone intellectually is prepared to take a leap of faith to accept others’ versions of divine reality. To me the acceptance of any faith would amount to the suspension of my critical inquiry. My Adventist pastor friend once challenged me and asked do you want to be on your death bed still asking questions!? I said I hope so!

    Your grateful, agnostic friend
    Ken

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  33. Dear Sean

    Re: Quote from “An Introduction to the Evolution versus Creation Debate”, by P. Wesley Edwards.

    “Evolution is no more atheistic than is medicine. Practitioners in both fields exclude supernatural interventions from their explanations of the phenomena they investigate. For example, you wouldn’t expect your doctor to say, “We don’t need to research your disease because we believe it’s the result of a curse from God, so your only treatment is repentance.” Just because medicine excludes supernatural explanations as a matter of method, it does not follow that medicine is therefore committed to atheism. Medical doctors are not being inconsistent when they both believe in God, and practice medicine under the working assumption that God has not jumped in to manipulate natural laws in order to create a disease or other medical phenomena. Similarly, evolutionary science also excludes supernatural explanations as a matter of method, but again, this is not equivalent to saying that evolutionists are committed to atheism. What medicine and evolution (and all the sciences) are saying is that direct intervention by God, or other supernatural beings, is assumed to be unnecessary in explaining the phenomena they investigate.”

    Sean, do you agree with this logic?

    Regards
    Ken

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  34. @Ken:

    Ken your point is invalid because your premise is invalid. You assume that the material world is not of God nor that he made the laws that govern the universe and that the only way God must work is through his violation of his own laws. This is not how God has been known to work. Only when no explanation by man can be contemplated is he forced to declare that it was an “Act of God”. This is not his exclusive manner of action.

    “We don’t need to research your disease because we believe it’s the result of a curse from God, so your only treatment is repentance.” I wouldn’t expect this because of my God given brain to figure out the information around me and to come up with a solution that fits my problem. This is still God acting – through his laws.

    God should not be the unwitting victim of His creation simply because His creation makes sense and works together in an organized manner. Indeed, the mere fact that it does work together should be ample evidence that it was created by a intelligent mind. The laws of gravity, acceleration, electricity didn’t have to be explained in terms of differential equations – but they are. Things make sense.

    So, because our high-functioning God given minds can contemplate complex equations and rationalize them – God must not exist!?! How far from the truth.

    Jer 31:35
    This is what the LORD says,
    he who appoints the sun
    to shine by day,
    who decrees the moon and stars
    to shine by night,
    who stirs up the sea
    so that its waves roar—
    the LORD Almighty is his name:

    Clearly, it is the Lord who has set the laws of physics in motion. Clearly it is He that created the atom with its complexity.

    “Practitioners in both fields exclude supernatural interventions from their explanations of the phenomena they investigate. ”

    Wrong:

    Examples:

    1) Placebo
    2) Accupuncture
    3) Prayer
    4) Hypnosis

    the list goes on and on (all these things have been shown in some scientific endeavors to be effective in medical journals) – these are not from God – just things that we don’t understand yet. Why does God only have to exist in things we don’t understand.

    “What medicine and evolution (and all the sciences) are saying is that direct intervention by God, or other supernatural beings, is assumed to be unnecessary in explaining the phenomena they investigate.”

    Again – since when must God always and only work through supernatural things:

    This is a bias. Example:

    If God created the universe and set in motion the laws of it, lets say that he works by these laws 98% of the time and chooses, in certain situations, to work outside of this realm (2% of the time). By definition, we would only see that he worked in that 2% if we arbitrarily decided that God could not work if things were “following the laws”. In fact God was working all the time since he created the laws in the first place.

    It is precisely the point that these laws are a god unto themselves for naturalists and atheists (people who worship the creation instead of the Creator). However, these laws have no power to create. And so the natural scientists do well to stick with explaining natural things using natural laws (Chemistry, physics, biochemistry) – but when you try to explain the Creative power of God (something that has no explanation) – you have to invoke a miracle in the form of evolution – this requires faith on their part.

    Medicine and Evolution are very different: Medicine is the study of God’s most wonderful creation to help understand ways to ease disease, pain and suffering.

    In a word: Medicine uses science to understand the most amazing miracle. Evolution needs a miracle to substantiate its science.

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  35. @Ken:

    The problem with the Word of course, is whose Word?

    That’s where science comes into play. As Elijah pointed out way back on Mr. Carmel, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” – 1 Kings 18:21 NIV.

    So, how to determine who is God? – with a scientific test! Then, after you’ve determined who is the most likely “God”, the rest of what God is like that is beyond your comprehension is really up to trusting God’s word for it… because you simply can’t determine otherwise…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  36. @Ken:

    Re: Quote from “An Introduction to the Evolution versus Creation Debate”, by P. Wesley Edwards.

    “Evolution is no more atheistic than is medicine. Practitioners in both fields exclude supernatural interventions from their explanations of the phenomena they investigate. For example, you wouldn’t expect your doctor to say, “We don’t need to research your disease because we believe it’s the result of a curse from God, so your only treatment is repentance.” Just because medicine excludes supernatural explanations as a matter of method, it does not follow that medicine is therefore committed to atheism. Medical doctors are not being inconsistent when they both believe in God, and practice medicine under the working assumption that God has not jumped in to manipulate natural laws in order to create a disease or other medical phenomena. Similarly, evolutionary science also excludes supernatural explanations as a matter of method, but again, this is not equivalent to saying that evolutionists are committed to atheism. What medicine and evolution (and all the sciences) are saying is that direct intervention by God, or other supernatural beings, is assumed to be unnecessary in explaining the phenomena they investigate.”

    Sean, do you agree with this logic?

    The difference between medicine and the theory of evolution (ToE) is that the ToE invokes a mechanism and a philosophy that would remove the rational ability to detect the need for an intelligence of any kind, to include God, as the ultimate origin of any phenomenon in this universe.

    Medicine, on the other hand, recognizes the need to invoke deliberate design all the time. There are entire fields of medicine devoted to the detection of deliberate design – forensic science being the prime example.

    Medicine itself is dependent upon intelligent manipulation of nature in order to combat disease and other forms of injury. The science of medicine is also able to detect design behind prior treatments, such as a replaced artificial hip joint. No doctor, when seeing an X-ray of an artificial hip, is going to conclude any kind of mindless natural process as the explanation for that hip. He/she is going to instantly conclude that this hip was deliberately created and put in place by intelligent design.

    Of course, doctors do assume non-deliberate natural processes all the time to explain certain phenomena, as we all do. However, not everything can reasonably be explained without invoking ID. Doctors are well aware of the potential, and even the likelihood, for deliberate intent behind certain illnesses in certain situations.

    Again, this is unlikely the ToE where all forms of deliberate intent are ruled out, a priori as a possible explanation for any aspect of the biosphere. Why? Why rule out the possibility for the invocation of any kind of deliberate design behind any aspect of living things before the investigation even begins? This is not reasonable nor is it scientific…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  37. 1) Placebo
    2) Accupuncture
    3) Prayer
    4) Hypnosis

    Roger, it is interesting that you would group these “treatments” (or whatever you wish to call them) together. Three of them (placebo, accupuncture, hypnosis) clearly involve manipulation of one’s brain, which can do some pretty powerful things regarding the body’s homeostasis. You could add a fourth natural treatment to this list as well: biofeedback. The fifth treatment, prayer, undoubtedly manipulates one’s brain as well, but of course believers like you and me infer that something beyond natural laws could benefit the patient.

    Here comes the rub: how would you set up a study to distinguish the medical benefit of prayer from the other treatments? Both prayer (when one is aware of it, as opposed to others praying privately on behalf of an individual) and placebo typically induce an expectation of healing that has the very real potential of happening. I would want to see a study that shows that prayer increases the probability of healing beyond that measured as a placebo effect. I would want possibly confounding variables controlled for in the study, such as age, level of education, income, race, and more importantly, measures of psychological well-being (e.g., depression inventory), since one who prays may benefit from a more positive outlook than others independent of God’s interaction.

    Perhaps someone has already tackled these issues in a study; if so, please consider digging up the papers. I think we’d all love to see them.

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  38. Medicine, on the other hand, recognizes the need to invoke deliberate design all the time.

    With all due respect, Sean, I can’t help but wonder what percentage of physicians would agree with you. I’m certain that many Loma Linda graduates would agree, particularly since LLU is, as I understand it, the only Christian medical school in the nation. However, there are an awful lot of physicians out there who have no religious beliefs, and I would think they would shrug off your statement as nonsense.

    More relevant to Ken’s question, how often is the treatment by a “western medicine” physician directed by anything other than a naturalistic approach? Is a mere “touch with a prayer” routinely offered in hospitals (as we see from certain faith-healing evangelists)? If not, then how is this approach any different from science? Do we see science experiments routinely designed to test God’s supernatural intervention? Actually, for the latter question, I would say “yes” in the sense that the “control” condition allows for this.

    Just some provocative thoughts.

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  39. Upon further reflection, if the scientist’s “control” is in some form a measure of testing God’s intervention, so too would be the physician’s allowing nature to take its course without a treatment (e.g., letting a tumor progress on its own, not assisting with a troubled child delivery). Of course, in neither case can show with certainty that the outcome follows anything other than natural laws. What one needs is a control against the “control” to detect supernatural intervention, and that would require a well thought out study design to test the “predictive power” of one’s beliefs in a God who interacts with humanity and nature.

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  40. Dear Ken,

    I wanted to profoundly commend you for the utmost courtesy you habitually demonstrate. You are dedicated to inquiry and intellectualism, happy to discuss and debate, yet always show a calm deference and even likable ‘niceness.’

    We hold critically different philosophical views, yet I thank you for teaching me so much. I wish more would take notice. A similar thanks to men like Victor Marshall.

    “If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.” 1 Jn 4:20, 1 Jn 2:10

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  41. Even the physicians of Christ’s day knew “raise the dead” and “cleanse the leper” and the instant “healing of the sick” (Matt 10) was of God and not “natural causes”.

    But as Professor Kent almost points out – compared to the emptiness of space or the “space plus a piece of rock” context – the mere existence of a human being (sick or not) is also itself a supernatural result. Thus in a sea of supernaturally created “life” complete with living systems designed to fight off infection and disease – we see another supernatural event – like Christ or one of His disciples instantly healing the sick.

    In Romans 1 – God says that even the “barbarians” (God’s word) are “without excuse” because the invisible attributes of God are clearly seen in the things that have been made.

    This is an amazing point – because it means that the conviction that DOES exist – across all mankind – is that nature itself was designed, was created and that the Creator has “law” that condemns the wicked.

    That is pretty amazing!

    in Christ,

    Bob

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  42. @Ken:

    Why, logically ‘must’ a Creative Power/God/Intelligent Designer testify? Doesn’t the creation speak for itself by its very existence?

    God could have simply created order, created complex living systems and then left them to rot – to slowly unravel over time with entropy time and chance taking over until the whole thing reduced back to chaos.

    We would have had no way to make Him choose some other option.

    But in the Bible Model – God creates life in perfect order with animals eating plants instead of each other. Then when mankind falls God comes and sets up the Gospel plan of redemption.

    Now think about that for a minute – the gospel represents a huge investment on God’s part.

    Another option for God would have been to creat intelligent life in something akin to the model of a robot. Thus Lucifer could have been “designed” to “get very sick” every time he had a selfish thought (as an oversimplified example).

    in Christ,

    Bob

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  43. Re Sean’s quote

    “So, how to determine who is God – with a scientific test! Then, after you’ve determined who is the most likely “God”, the rest of what God is like that is beyond your comprehension is really up to trusting God’s word for it… because you simply can’t determine otherwise…”

    Dear Sean

    I’m absolutely fine with the notion of using scientific tests to determine who is God. Would you agree that if science proves the world is older than 6000- 8000 years, then your iteration of God is not the right one?

    Hope you are enjoying your Sabbath.
    Ken

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  44. Re Roger’s quote

    “Ken your point is invalid because your premise is invalid. You assume that the material world is not of God nor that he made the laws that govern the universe and that the only way God must work is through his violation of his own laws. This is not how God has been known to work. Only when no explanation by man can be contemplated is he forced to declare that it was an “Act of God”. This is not his exclusive manner of action.”

    Dear Roger

    Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately you lost me. Why do I assume the material world is not of God? Why can’t evolution be a natural mechanism of God?

    Hope you as well are enjoying your Sabbath.
    Ken

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  45. “Would you agree that if science proves the world is older than 6000- 8000 years, then your iteration of God is not the right one?”

    My understanding is that most Adventist creationists have no problem with the planet being older than 6,000-8,0000 years old. It’s the creation of life as described in Genesis as being 7 days that occurred 6,000-8,000 years. Whether this rock called Earth existed prior to the terra-forming is a moot point.

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  46. most Adventist creationists have no problem with the planet being older than 6,000-8,0000 years old. It’s the creation of life as described in Genesis as being 7 days that occurred 6,000-8,000 years. Whether this rock called Earth existed prior to the terra-forming is a moot point.

    I agree Ethan.

    An _excellent,_ albeit lengthy, argument in support of this position is given by the celebrated Adventist astronomer, Jim Burr. See http://www.heavensdeclare.org/starlight.htm

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  47. If Wishes Were Horses…

    @ken:

    Dear Sean

    I’m absolutely fine with the notion of using scientific tests to determine who is God. Would you agree that if science proves the world is older than 6000- 8000 years, then your iteration of God is not the right one?

    If science is able to conclusively demonstrate, in my own understanding of the available evidence, that life has indeed existed on this planet for hundreds of millions of years, then yes, that would indeed falsify my current view of God and of the Christian faith.

    This is why my view of religion is a scientific view. It is open to testing and potential falsification. I submit that if one’s religious views are not open to testing or even the potential of falsification that such a religion isn’t more useful than an emotional desire for something to be true.

    It’s like the old English proverb and nursery rhyme, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride”. Blind faith or blind hope simply isn’t enough to produce anything useful to build something solid upon with which to establish a strong confidence in a bright literal future for yourself or anyone else…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  48. Re Robert’s quote

    “I wanted to profoundly commend you for the utmost courtesy you habitually demonstrate. You are dedicated to inquiry and intellectualism, happy to discuss and debate, yet always show a calm deference and even likable ‘niceness.’”

    Dear Robert

    I am moved and feel blessed by your compliment. Thank you ever so much!

    You know, one does not have to be a Christian to revere Jesus Christ. I do and Judeo/Christian ethics have had a profound effect on my life. Like my friend Sean – and Sean, please correct me if I’m wrong- I suspect if God is judging us, He/She is doing so based on our conduct not on our doctrinal beliefs.

    Good people will often differ in opinion but goodness does not.

    The SDA has 28 Fundamental Beliefs, I have one: 1. LOVE

    I have been treated with grace, tolerance and patience on this forum. I have come to understand so much more about the profound nature of Adventist faith and issues of evolution/creation. I am so much better off for that.

    You see, for a secular/agnostic like myself, this forum is my church. Perhaps its origin was to ‘out’ the La Sierra biology department but it has gone so much further in a very positive sense. I give great credit to Shane and Sean in that regard. Perhaps it’s time to change the caption from EDUCATE TRUTH to DEBATE TRUTH.

    My humble hope is that as an agnostic I can offer a counter balance between faith and non faith to explore the ground between.

    Frankly, I think there may be merit to design arguments, even if the design may not be apparent to the human eye. For example, is natural selection really mindless? Why does life, no matter how one views its origins, struggle to survive and procreate in the face of often times overwhelming adversity? Any reason for that or is it just random chance? Is there hidden design in chance that we cannot yet discern?

    Got to go walk the dog. Old reality keeps getting in the way of my philosophizing!

    Be well Robert.
    Ken

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  49. Re Robert’s quote regarding Ethan’s quote

    ” most Adventist creationists have no problem with the planet being older than 6,000-8,0000 years old. It’s the creation of life as described in Genesis as being 7 days that occurred 6,000-8,000 years. Whether this rock called Earth existed prior to the terra-forming is a moot point.

    I agree Ethan.

    An _excellent,_ albeit lengthy, argument in support of this position is given by the celebrated Adventist astronomer, Jim Burr. See http://www.heavensdeclare.org/starlight.htm Robert(Quote)”

    Dear Ethan and Robert

    Gentleman, thanks for your clarification. I must admit I did not understand the Adventists discriminated between a young earth vs. young life on earth. Robert I did go to the link and read Mr. Burr’s paper. However I think, if I understand him correctly, he is arguing for a young solar system and earth, < 10,000 years, in an old universe. I thinks this runs contrary to Ethan's position regarding the age of the earth.

    I'm curious to know Sean's views on the age of the earth and the universe.

    Regards
    Ken

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  50. Re Bob’s quote

    “But in the Bible Model – God creates life in perfect order with animals eating plants instead of each other. Then when mankind falls God comes and sets up the Gospel plan of redemption.

    Now think about that for a minute – the gospel represents a huge investment on God’s part.”

    Dear Bob

    Excellent. I’d not thought about the redemption plan and yes that would make sense in the context of the whole biblical story.

    You see, us old agnostic dogs can be taught new tricks!

    Many thanks
    Ken

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  51. Re Sean’s quote

    “If science is able to conclusively demonstrate, in my own understanding of the available evidence, that life has indeed existed on this planet for hundreds of millions of years, then yes, that would indeed falsify my current view of God and of the Christian faith.

    This is why my view of religion is a scientific view. It is open to testing and potential falsification. I submit that if one’s religious views are not open to testing or even the potential of falsification that such a religion isn’t more useful than an emotional desire for something to be true.”

    Attention all

    This man has jam and integrity! I respectfully disagree with Sean. However he shows great courage and rational abilities to not hide behind a veil of intolerant faith to prove his points. I feel the same way about Brad and I’m looking forward to his return to this forum in the near future.

    Sean, I understand your position on young life on earth. What is it on the age of earth and the universe?

    Regards
    Ken

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  52. blockquote cite=”comment-16911″>

    Blind faith or blind hope simply isn’t enough to produce anything useful to build something solid upon with which to establish a strong confidence in a bright literal future for yourself or anyone else…

    I will say this much. For many people, “blind faith or blind hope” will at some point save their lives–hence the reality of the placebo effect.

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  53. Sean Pitman wrote:

    I submit that if one’s religious views are not open to testing or even the potential of falsification that such a religion isn’t more useful than an emotional desire for something to be true.

    If science fails to prove things like the Bible’s inspiration, Christ’s divinity, the resurrection, and the imminent second coming (frankly, I don’t believe science can support a single one of these notions), I will still believe what Jesus said regardless of whether my faith is as useless as belief in a flying spaghetti monster (a position we so often hear at this site). Like the vast majority of readers here, I don’t need a scientific basis for my faith, and I believe I can be saved by it however “blind” it may be.

    A simple “thus saith the Lord” is good enough for me.

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  54. @Professor Kent:

    Like the vast majority of readers here, I don’t need a scientific basis for my faith, and I believe I can be saved by it however “blind” it may be.

    Salvation is based on love, not blind faith – or faith of any kind for that matter. It is for this reason that even those who have never heard the name of Jesus or had any real concept of God can be saved according to how they expressed the Royal Law of Love toward their neighbors – a law which has been written on the hearts of all. This is why I believe that there will be a number of very surprised atheists in Heaven someday…

    Faith or belief is the basis of conscious hope, but not of salvation. If you have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, you have gained nothing… 1 Corinthians 13:2 NIV.

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  55. Sean Pitman says:

    Salvation is based on love, not blind faith – or faith of any kind for that matter…Faith or belief is the basis of conscious hope, but not of salvation.

    Our Lord, Jesus Christ, says:

    “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

    The Seventh-day Adventist Church teaches:

    “In Christ’s life of perfect obedience to God’s will, His suffering, death, and resurrection, God provided the only means of atonement for human sin, so that those who by faith accept this atonement may have eternal life, and the whole creation may better understand the infinite and holy love of the Creator.” (Fundamental belief #9)

    This faith which receives salvation…” (Fundamental belief #10)

    “Through the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures we share the same faith and hope, and reach out in one witness to all. This unity has its source in the oneness of the triune God, who has adopted us as His children.” (Fundamental belief #14; and where is unity without faith?)

    “The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives, and therefore strengthens Christian witness.” (Fundamental belief #19)

    None of these statements by Jesus or the SDA Fundamental beliefs qualify that faith must be based on falsifiable evidence. It appears to me that your beliefs contradict those of Jesus himself and the corporate Seventh-day Adventist Church. I still cannot figure out why you so persistently denigrate faith.

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  56. I’m sorry, Sean, but I think you are on a slippery slope of your own devising when you make statements like this:

    You must also see physical evidence and have an empirical argument that can only be rationally explained by a God or a God-like power before you will in fact gain a solid faith or hope in the future that is substantively superior from a belief in Dawkins’ Flying Spaghetti Monster or a child’s faith in Santa Claus… you just can’t have a meaningful God in your life if you truly have nothing more than a strong desire for God to exist. You must also see physical evidence and have an empirical argument that can only be rationally explained by a God or a God-like power before you will in fact gain a solid faith or hope in the future that is substantively superior from a belief in Dawkins’ Flying Spaghetti Monster or a child’s faith in Santa Claus. (http://www.tothesource.org/12_16_2009_letters.htm)

    I also think that it completely undermines Seventh-day Adventist fundamental statements of beliefs. It’s almost as if you have elevated your reason, your capacity to discern truth from falsehood, your ability to devise arguments and testable hypotheses, above the simple faith of millions who are content with a “thus saith the Lord.” I suggest that you reconsider your self-inspired logic and your vain motives for writing this stuff all of the internet.

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  57. It is for this reason that even those who have never heard the name of Jesus or had any real concept of God can be saved according to how they expressed the Royal Law of Love toward their neighbors – a law which has been written on the hearts of all. This is why I believe that there will be a number of very surprised atheists in Heaven someday…

    Sean, while I could agree with your statement on a prima facie basis, I think one needs to dig a bit deeper here. This statement basically says that we don’t need the Bible or any type of falsifiable evidence or even beliefs to gain admission to heaven, which seems to contradict what you often state (not to mention the purpose of this website). I could be wrong, but I believe that God is able to claim souls who lack knowledge in Him because he can judge whether they would accept Him and Christ’s sacrifice if they had representative knowledge of Him. I’m not convinced that God saves them because they have “love;” after all, many animals give well-documented evidence of having love, which is an instinct written in the genes of many life forms, including most humans (I’ve met a few who could be exceptions). I suspect that He who knows us in the womb can discern much more than our love, and recognizes what our choice would be given an opportunity to know Him and serve Him.

    That is my humble view, subject to change, and I will respect those who disagree.

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  58. @Professor Kent:

    Consider what Ellen White said in Steps to Christ page 105:

    God never asks us to believe, without giving sufficient evidence upon which to base our faith. His existence, His character, the truthfulness of His word, are all established by testimony that appeals to our reason; and this testimony is abundant. Yet God has never removed the possibility of doubt. Our faith must rest upon evidence, not demonstration. Those who wish to doubt will have opportunity; while those who really desire to know the truth will find plenty of evidence on which to rest their faith.

    If there is no evidence for what we believe, then we have blind faith. What hope can we have in something we have no evidence for? Consider Hebrews 11:1:

    Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

    We are admonished to “thoroughly acquaint [ourselves] with the evidences of our faith” (Testimonies vol. 1, pg. 413). The Bible says this, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Faith is based on something (evidence). Our faith should be based on the word of God. Remember, “[God] gives sufficient evidence on which to base faith” (PP 432).

    God tells us, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:8). God invites us to test his promises:

    Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Mal. 3:10)

    We’re told in the Bible to test all things. Paul said in 1 Thess. 5:21, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

    In Faith and Works page 25 Ellen White said:

    What is faith? “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It is an assent of the understanding to God’s words which binds the heart in willing consecration and service to God, Who gave the understanding, Who moved on the heart, Who first drew the mind to view Christ on the cross of Calvary. Faith is rendering to God the intellectual powers, abandonment of the mind and will to God, and making Christ the only door to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

    Notice that when we yield our heart, understanding, and mind to Christ we are not left with a blind hope. He gives us evidence in the natural world and in his written revelation the Bible. Even things we have never seen before (i.e. heaven) are based on evidence that God has given us and we can with assurance believe the things we have not seen to be true.

    How can you be sure of anything if you have no evidence, directly or indirectly, for your belief? I believe God has made it quite plain that faith comes from the word of God. In God’s word he has made many promises and claims. Many of which can be tested and confirmed. We have the sure word of prophecy (2 Peter 1:19).

    Here is something to think about. 1 Thess 1:5 says, “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.” The gospel came in “much assurance.” Assurance means certainty about something.

    Hebrews 6:1 says, “And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.” So in conclusion, how can you have assurance of anything, if you have nothing to base it on? A faith without evidence is a hopeless faith.

    Blind faith is not biblical.

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  59. Hold it right there! That one is too preciously ironic to be allowed to slip without ado into the blogmire – I mean Ken’s July 24 quote from Edwards that, in essence, “only atheistic doctors [not even theistic evolutionary doctors] are able to refuse to see disease as a random process and not as a curse from God.” The irony is that such “God’s curse” business would be directed to Dr. Pitman, of all people, of all doctors. He’s as highly trained and scientific, as in command of intricate and consummate knowledge of molecular anatomy, physiology, and pathology, and as smart as they come. Beyond that, he’s a graduate of the one medical school on the planet that was founded by an unashamedly Biblically inspired religious organization to unashamedly follow Christ’s example of expending, when He was here on earth, more time and power healing than preaching, or cursing, He having created mankind in the first place. And a medical school increasingly known for the quality of its research as guided by the certainty that human metabolism, and human pathology, and human immunology, human defenses against disease, if explored deeply enough, are intelligent, not random, research reported in the most respected — and peer-reviewed — medical journals. That’s the irony. Alas, one man’s irony is another man’s pothole.

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  60. Shane,

    You guys keep speaking of “blind hope,” not me. I have never said that faith cannot or should not be based on evidence. “Evidence” can come in many forms, but much of it that Christ and Ellen White spoke of and that many of us are willing to accept is not subject to falsification by science and does not lead to the all-important holy grail of so-called “predictive power,” as much as you and Sean would like for us to believe.

    Many “believers” from times past acted on what meager “evidence” they had with no (or fragmental) knowledge of the scriptures, no understanding of science, no clue what was meant by “predictive power,” no familiarity with testing alternative hypotheses, and no physical evidence for 6 days 6000 years ago.

    For the thief on the cross, his “faith” (or “love,” as Sean has stated) that saved him was based on evidence he saw in Christ’s composure and words, which matched what he might have heard about Jesus previously. This was not evidence that could be falsified, and it would not even hold up in a court of law. It was evidence that he privately found compelling enough to lead to conviction. He also had evidence, after all, that Jesus was a criminal–evidence backed up by a court of law, no less, that found him “guilty.” How he managed to weigh these two opposing pieces of evidence will forever remain a mystery to us, but the faith he formed–which for him had no scientific evidence or “predictive power” backing it up–saved his soul.

    Evidence comes in many forms, some more compelling and some less so. How much evidence does one need to establish faith? According to Romans 1, it’s apparently sufficient to take a stroll in nature, with no knowledge whatsoever of radioactive decay times, palonium halos, intact proteins or DNA from mammoths, detectingdesign.com, and the like. How did we get from a child who took a stroll in nature before scripture ever found its way on paper (or papyrus or whatever) to the knowledge and “predictive power” we now have today that is necessary to make our faith supposedly legitimate?

    I don’t understand why it’s become so important for you and Sean to establish that Seventh-day Adventistism represents the only Church whose faith contains sufficient “predictive power” to be backed up by scientific evidence. I think you guys are playing fast and loose with your eagerness to defend “truth” and championing Adventist faith. Do you seriously think that, for most Christians (including Latter-day Saints), a belief in and obedience to a simple “thus saith the Lord” is equivalent to a belief in and a future from the flying spaghetti monster?

    It’s not just salvation; you guys also insist that we must have falsifiable evidence for the creation, and that without it our faith has no value. But the Bible certainly validates what many of us are willing to accept: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” (Hebrews 11:3) What part of this do you not understand? Why continue to belittle it? Where does the Bible say that I need to be able to falsify, in order to prove true, God’s claim that “things which are seen were not made of things which do appear”?

    Read more closely what you have quoted from Ellen White:

    “Faith is rendering to God the intellectual powers, abandonment of the mind and will to God, and making Christ the only door to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

    If I abandon my mind and will to God, regardless of how much evidence I used to accept Him, do I need to test His word further and seek to prove that what He said is true? Am I really no better off than a spaghetti monster-believing idiot to merely read His explanations of creation and salvation and accept them at face value? Was Christ’s promise to the thief on the cross, who had the merest sliver of evidence, no more fruitful than what the spaghetti monster could have promised him?

    I think you guys take yourselves and your intellectual powers (Ellen White’s term) a bit too seriously.

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  61. Enough of this! Faith is not being denied. Faith for absolutely no reason is. Such is not faith, it’s gullibility; it is not holy, it is absurd, and dangerous.

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  62. @Professor Kent: If you believe faith is based on evidence, then what is your main contention with what Sean or I are saying in regard to this subject of faith and evidence? I think we can all agree that faith can come in many forms.

    I can’t speak for Sean, so when you include his comments as my own makes it more difficult to sort through your arguments and make a reply.

    Here is what I thought you were saying: Evidence isn’t necessary; I have a faith that isn’t based on anything. It appears that I was wrong. I don’t understand though what you take issue with in what I said. You’re making arguments against Sean’s comments not mine it seems to me.

    So if you don’t disagree with my earlier post than we are in agreement. If you don’t agree, what is it that you don’t agree with specifically.

    Here is my answer to your question: Do you seriously think that, for most Christians (including Latter-day Saints), a belief in and obedience to a simple “thus saith the Lord” is equivalent to a belief in and a future from the flying spaghetti monster?

    No, but if someone asks you WHY you believe something and your only response is I have faith then why is your faith in Christ any more substantive than faith in the flying spaghetti monster? My point is that God does not ask us to believe in something for no reason at all. It’s always based on evidence–directly or indirectly.

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  63. Shane, you wrote this:

    If you believe faith is based on evidence, then what is your main contention with what Sean or I are saying in regard to this subject of faith and evidence?

    Well, to answer your question, I wrote this:

    If science fails to prove things like the Bible’s inspiration, Christ’s divinity, the resurrection, and the imminent second coming (frankly, I don’t believe science can support a single one of these notions), I will still believe what Jesus said regardless of whether my faith is as useless as belief in a flying spaghetti monster (a position we so often hear at this site). Like the vast majority of readers here, I don’t need a scientific basis for my faith, and I believe I can be saved by it however “blind” it may be. A simple “thus saith the Lord” is good enough for me.

    …which Sean quoted in part and then wrote this:

    Salvation is based on love, not blind faith – or faith of any kind for that matter.

    This statement by Sean is my contention. From your last post, I take it that you reject Sean’s statement that salvation is not based on “faith of any kind.” I’m sorry to have conflated your views with his.

    I don’t think we can measure our faith (unless one actually can move mountains with it; I haven’t met anyone whose could) and I don’t think we can necessarily measure or even need to defend whatever evidence we use to base our faith on, as it can be meager. And I don’t think we should be in the business of putting down the faith of others, like Latter-day Saints, by claiming ours is the only faith that is “open to testing and potential falsification.”

    Getting back to my original statement, which Sean apparently took exception to, if science fails to prove things like the Bible’s inspiration, Christ’s divinity, the resurrection, and the imminent second coming (none of which I believe science can support), I will still believe what Jesus said. So too will the vast majority of Seventh-day Adventists. From your last response, I think you would agree as well. I don’t see how anyone here could object to my statement.

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  64. @Professor Kent: I’m not clear what Sean means by “Salvation is based on love,” but knowing Sean I’m sure he wasn’t intending to definitively define salvation with those five words and was merely making the point that salvation is not based on blind faith–faith without evidence.

    I think you’re bringing up an interesting topic. Here’s what I think you’re saying, “If there were no evidence for the Bible’s inspiration, Christ’s divinity, the resurrection, and soon return of Christ, you would still believe the Bible to be true, at least on these points. Correct me if I’m wrong, but for now I’ll assume that’s your meaning.

    Remember what it says in Steps to Christ, “His existence, His character, the truthfulness of His word, are all established by testimony that appeals to our reason” (105). Obviously we can believe in anything we want, but is there evidence for it? Is it reasonable? Do Seventh-day Adventists have a reasonable faith? I think the answer to that is yes, and the answer can be seen in the testimony (evidence) God has given us.

    What assurance can we have of all those things you listed if there is no evidence that they are true?

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  65. Why can’t evolution be a natural mechanism of God?

    It could very well be a natural mechanism of a god, but not the God of the Bible. Seventh-day Adventists who believe in an old earth (billions of years) need to understand the real nature of the god of an old earth — it is not the loving God of the Bible. There is evidence in the fossil record of animals eating each other, of diseases like cancer in their bones, of violence, of plants with thorns etc. In other words, death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed and violence, have been occurring for millions of years of earth’s history.

    However, the Bible tells a different story. In the beginning God created the heaven and earth and saw that it was good. Death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed and violence were absent in the beginning of earth’s history. Sin is what caused these things to occur on earth. It was Adam and Eve’s transgression that brought death and suffering into our world.

    So no, evolution could not be a natural mechanism of the God of the Bible.

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  66. Shane,

    Thank you for trying to understand. You wrote:

    Here’s what I think you’re saying, “If there were no evidence for the Bible’s inspiration, Christ’s divinity, the resurrection, and soon return of Christ, you would still believe the Bible to be true, at least on these points.

    This is close, but not exactly what I am saying. I’m not speaking of “no evidence” to support these beliefs. I’m speaking of scientific evidence that is “open to testing and potential falsification.”

    I fail to understand why anyone would even speak of “blind faith.” Obviously, no one believes in something for absolutely no reason. Someone has to hear of a notion, read of it, or conceive it on the basis of some sort of experience to derive something they believe in. Many children believe in Santa Claus because so much of what their parents have communicated has born fruit–so their belief, however falacious, is often very well grounded in evidence. Even the schizophrenic who hears voices telling him he is evil has evidence to believe he is evil. Again, some “evidence” is weak and some is strong. So what is the point of writing all over the internet that “blind faith” (which needs some objective definition) is as useless as a belief in Santa Claus or the flying spaghetti monster? No one would believe in these “blindly.”

    So when I (and others) object to this kind of argument, we are simply saying that religious beliefs can be perfectly valid, and can indeed save if true, even if they can’t be subjected to and verified by the rigors of science.

    Again, the thief on the cross likely had no concept of the Sabbath, the creation, the 10 commandments…anything that could be subjected to the rigors of science. He based his faith on the evidence of an experience that, in reality, defied all logic. All the evidence to the contrary, he chose to believe that he was in the presence of an innocent man who could fulfill the promise: “thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” To me, his faith comes as close to moving a mountain as anything I could imagine. Honestly, I am ashamed at how weak mine is by comparison.

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  67. @Professor Kent: I might be ignorant on this point, but isn’t all evidence subject to falsification. I would add that just because evidence is open to testing and falsification does not mean that it is false.

    For example, Christ claimed to be God. I believe this claim is subject to testing. We must weigh the evidence. I believe there is really good evidence, but of course there will always be doubters who are not convinced by the evidence I’m looking at.

    Do you have an example of a religious belief that you think is true but can’t be subjected to any testing? I understand that science has its limitations in what it can test, but there are other ways to verify and falsify things. I think that is the gist of what I’m saying. I’m not trying to differentiate between the different methods of testing truth claims.

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  68. @Shane Hilde:
    You need to be consistent on this point. How can you reject this option on the basis of Gods kindness and at the same time support the genocidal acts of God as depicted in Numbers or as interpreted from statements in Revelations on last day events and judgement. Are not these also cruel and associated with death. If God can sanctify genocide why can he not sanctify “red in tooth and claw” or as it is in reality differential fertility on a background of universal mortality.

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  69. Shane, I think your response is reasoned and fair. Yes, I think you’re probably right that all evidence is subject to falsification. But I’m thinking that it’s not the evidence that is at issue. It’s the claim, as you have mentioned for Christ’s assertion that He is God. It’s the conclusions, including doctrines, that are based on the evidence. Sean, for example, has argued that his SDA faith is superior to that of others because the claims (doctrines) can be subject to scientific testing, unless those of other faiths (something I simply do not get).

    Can we test Christ’s assertion that He is God? If eyewitness accounts are deemed reliable, yes; the Bible offers some compelling evidence. But of course, there are abundant eyewitness accounts of aliens abducting our citizens, probing them, and doing just plain weird stuff that begs credibility. The apparent majority of scientists reject Christ’s claim because we have failed utterly to provide convincing proof that Jesus is God. I personally don’t see this changing. Even if Jesus himself appears in person, we would have to question whether it is Him or an imposter–like Satan.

    I’ve mentioned several other religious beliefs that I don’t believe we can test. These include the Bible’s inspiration, Christ’s divinity, the resurrection, the imminent second coming, and much, much more, including the immaculate conception, to name one that gets considerable attention. Is there evidence for these beliefs? Yes, you and I certainly think so, though many others would refute it for reasons we should humbly make an effort to understand. So how could we possibly test these, as there are no physical data that we hold in our hands today (beliefs in origins, in contrast, can be examined by physical data). I agree with you that there are ways other than science to test these beliefs, but we basically have to build a case that rests on a convulated web of abundant hearsay interwoven with bits and pieces of meager physical evidence that have, at best, only an indirect bearing on the hypothesis. To be honest, I think you have to throw physical evidence out the door for many SDA beliefs. Sure, we have the Bible, but we also have the Book of Mormon and tons of other written sources, some of which may have as much or more physical evidence to back them up.

    We also need to bear in mind a major limitation to science: it fails to deliver “truth.” We can derive alternative hypotheses (like religious beliefs and testing) easily enough, but even if we could falsify some alternatives (in classic Popper style), we have no assurance that the remaining hypothesis/hypotheses are true. We simply may have failed to think of an appropriate test to falsify the remaining hypothesis/hypotheses, or we may have failed to conjure a better (possibly true) alternative hypothesis. This being the case, what are we truly left with–a belief or doctrine that *could* be right but still can’t be shown by science to be true.

    Another obvious limitation to science is that one cannot use it to test the supernatural. I really don’t care to expand on this point.

    So…the bottom line–for me–is that if we insist that our beliefs must be based on the type of evidence that can be tested and subjected to falsification, we have placed science ahead of faith. We have substituted human reason and human endeavor (the science of hypothesis testing) for a simple “thus saith the Lord.” At some point, we have no choice but to either yield to faith–“the evidence of things unseen”–or abandon our beliefs altogether in a supernatural God.

    Those are my views…and I need to respect those who see things differently, though I may be unable to understand. I’m sure that Sean will return when he gets the chance and eat holes in my arguments, but my hunch is that the majority of readers will see things as I do…if they take an interest in actually reading this, that is. ;P

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  70. I’m writing much too late at night, when I should be making more progress on an unrelated manuscript instead.

    In the first paragraph, I should have written “unlike [not “unless”] those of other faiths.”

    In the fourth paragraph, I should have written “We can derive alternative hypotheses (like religious beliefs and doctrines [not “testing”]) easily enough.”

    I’ve had a few too many finger farts on the keypad…sorry about that.

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  71. @Professor Kent:

    Again, the thief on the cross likely had no concept of the Sabbath, the creation, the 10 commandments…anything that could be subjected to the rigors of science. He based his faith on the evidence of an experience that, in reality, defied all logic. All the evidence to the contrary, he chose to believe that he was in the presence of an innocent man who could fulfill the promise: “thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” To me, his faith comes as close to moving a mountain as anything I could imagine. Honestly, I am ashamed at how weak mine is by comparison.

    If you read the chapter Calvary in Desire of Ages you will find a more detailed account of the ‘Thief on the Cross’ and the circumstances leading to his conversion. He had heard Jesus teach on prior occasions, he heard the testimony of Jesus and his followers during the trial and leading up to the cross. All of these ‘evidences’ led to his 11th hour decision to cast his faith upon a dying Savior. An incredible act of faith in itself. All of the empirical physical evidence before his eyes said that Jesus was as good as dead. Yet the thief placed his confidence in a dying Savior’s ability to bring him to an unseen paradise. He was the only one to proclaim Jesus to be ‘Lord’ from the garden to the tomb. He is representative of all who will be saved by faith – not by works, no matter how ‘loving.’

    “The Holy Spirit illuminates his mind, and little by little the chain of evidence is joined together.” – DA p.750

    The evidences were primarily testimonies. In a court of law various evidence is presented. The testimony of witnesses is presented as well as forensic or ‘scientific’ evidence. A court can make a decision based upon witness testimony alone. The thief’s decision was made primarily upon Jesus own words he had heard, the testimony of other witnesses, and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. No ’empirical’ evidence is mentioned in the account (although it is entirely possible the thief also witnessed Jesus heal the sick).

    Jesus testimony to doubting Thomas is telling. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.’ The apostles were eye-witnesses of Jesus resurrection, ascension, transfiguration etc. They did not undertake a scientific/forensic laboratory examination of Jesus claims. Thomas is not lauded for demanding physical proof. Faith in Christ spread across the Roman empire because people came to believe in the testimony of the eye-witness apostles(sometimes third and fourth hand), the testimony of the Word of God, the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, as well as the confirmatory evidence of fulfilled promises in their individual lives. All of these evidences are very subjective from a scientific standpoint. They may even be considered technically ‘circumstantial.’

    @Shane Hilde:

    God never asks us to believe, without giving sufficient evidence upon which to base our faith. His existence, His character, the truthfulness of His word, are all established by testimony that appeals to our reason; and this testimony is abundant. Yet God has never removed the possibility of doubt. Our faith must rest upon evidence, not demonstration. Those who wish to doubt will have opportunity; while those who really desire to know the truth will find plenty of evidence on which to rest their faith.

    I find it interesting that you did not highlight the expression ‘not demonstration.’ For evidence to be truly scientific by today’s standards it must be demonstrable. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that what falsifiability implies? That the proposition is testable – able to be demonstrated?

    If we read further in the same chapter of Steps to Christ:

    “The word of God, like the character of its divine Author, presents mysteries that can never be fully comprehended by finite beings. The entrance of sin into the world, the incarnation of Christ, regeneration, the resurrection, and many other subjects presented in the Bible, are mysteries too deep for the human mind to explain, or even fully to comprehend. But we have no reason to doubt God’s word because we cannot understand the mysteries of His providence. In the natural world we are constantly surrounded with mysteries that we cannot fathom. The very humblest forms of life present a problem that the wisest of philosophers is powerless to explain. Everywhere are wonders beyond our ken. Should we then be surprised to find that in the spiritual world also there are mysteries that we cannot fathom? The difficulty lies solely in the weakness and narrowness of the human mind. God has given us in the Scriptures sufficient evidence of their divine character, and we are not to doubt His word because we cannot understand all the mysteries of His providence. The Bible unfolds truth with a simplicity and a perfect adaptation to the needs and longings of the human heart, that has astonished and charmed the most highly cultivated minds, while it enables the humblest and uncultured to discern the way of salvation. And yet these simply stated truths lay hold upon subjects so elevated, so far-reaching, so infinitely beyond the power of human comprehension, that we can accept them only because God has declared them… God desires man to exercise his reasoning powers; and the study of the Bible will strengthen and elevate the mind as no other study can. Yet we are to beware of deifying reason, which is subject to the weakness and infirmity of humanity… When we come to the Bible, reason must acknowledge an authority superior to itself, and heart and intellect must bow to the great I AM.” {SC 106-109}

    Here she seems to be saying that our faith is based primarily upon the testimony of the Word of God – not upon scientifically explained and demonstrated ‘factual’ explanations, or evidence based upon humanly reasoned propositions. There are a multitude of Biblical principles and claims that cannot be scientifically explained or demonstrated. That tend to defy human reason.

    Finally, in the same chapter she says;

    There is an evidence that is open to all,—the most highly educated, and the most illiterate,—the evidence of experience. God invites us to prove for ourselves the reality of His word, the truth of His promises. He bids us “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8. Instead of depending upon the word of another, we are to taste for ourselves.

    There is a method of testing the claims of the Word of God. It is not primarily a scientific method open only to the highly educated. Instead, the test of personal spiritual experience (rather than intellectual knowledge) in experientially trusting God’s Word – without scientifically demonstrated proofs.

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  72. @pauluc: Yes, one’s worldview should always be consistent. I totally agree with you there. Perhaps you need to flesh out your point some more, because initially it seems like you’re comparing apples and oranges to me. You’re comparing God’s judgment of sin with God’s supposed intentional use of a mechanism for “creation” that negates his written revelation in every way. God judging sin isn’t contrary to God’s character as described in the Bible. I can understand how initially it seems contradictory to God’s plainly stated character of love, but I think a deeper understanding of the nature of sin and Christ’s character gives me an adequate explanation. All my questions won’t be answered till by God’s grace I am able to ask him in person in heaven.

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  73. Re Shane’s quote

    “It could very well be a natural mechanism of a god, but not the God of the Bible. Seventh-day Adventists who believe in an old earth (billions of years) need to understand the real nature of the god of an old earth — it is not the loving God of the Bible. There is evidence in the fossil record of animals eating each other, of diseases like cancer in their bones, of violence, of plants with thorns etc. In other words, death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed and violence, have been occurring for millions of years of earth’s history.”

    Dear Shane

    Thanks for your comments. That’s a fair and honest answer.

    However I want to be sure I understand you correctly. Were you saying there ‘is’ evidence in the fossil record of death, mutations, etc. occurring for millions of years, or were you alluding to the position of the OEC Adventists?

    Thanks
    Ken

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  74. Re Shane’s quote

    “@Ken: I was alluding to the evolutionary world view. Personally I believe there is evidence to the contrary. Shane Hilde(Quote)”

    Dear Shane

    That’s what I thought you meant and I just wanted make sure. Didn’t want some ‘ole’ snake in the grass falsely accusing you of being a Darwinist!

    Please excuse my agnostic ‘humour’
    Ken

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  75. @pauluc:

    You need to be consistent on this point. How can you reject this option on the basis of Gods kindness and at the same time support the genocidal acts of God as depicted in Numbers or as interpreted from statements in Revelations on last day events and judgement. Are not these also cruel and associated with death. If God can sanctify genocide why can he not sanctify “red in tooth and claw” or as it is in reality differential fertility on a background of universal mortality.

    God “can do” anything He wants.

    The real question is “what DID God SAY He did”?

    How much Bible-bending does the theistic evolutionist argument “need” in its effort to marry the Bible to evolutionism (As if Moses was actually a Darwinist evangelist) or is this just a dumbed-down scorched-Bible solution on the part of theistic evolutionists?

    There can be no question at all about this Bible doctrine for any ADventist that takes the time to actually read Ex 20:8-11 and Genesis 1-2:3 and there can be no excuse at all for them if they then accept the ministry of Ellen White and then reads 3SG 90-91, and then still try to leap off the cliff in favor of the scorched-Bible policy found in theistic evolutionism.

    in Christ,

    Bob

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  76. @Ken:

    What should happen to church members that accept some, but not all of the SDA 28 FB’s?

    Regards

    Ken – we have something that we call a Church Manual that specifies that the first cause for church discipline is apostasy from the agreed upon beliefs of the Adventist Church. That same manual always includes an updated version of the voted statements of belief that were approved as of the publication of the manual.

    So technically – the answer to your question is found in the various avenues already spelled out in the manual itself along those lines.

    in Christ,

    Bob

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  77. Sean said:
    “If science is able to conclusively demonstrate, in my own understanding of the available evidence, that life has indeed existed on this planet for hundreds of millions of years, then yes, that would indeed falsify my current view of God and of the Christian faith.

    This is why my view of religion is a scientific view. It is open to testing and potential falsification. I submit that if one’s religious views are not open to testing or even the potential of falsification that such a religion isn’t more useful than an emotional desire for something to be true.”

    @ken:

    Attention all

    This man has jam and integrity! I respectfully disagree with Sean. However he shows great courage and rational abilities to not hide behind a veil of intolerant faith to prove his points. I feel the same way about Brad and I’m looking forward to his return to this forum in the near future.

    Sean, I understand your position on young life on earth. What is it on the age of earth and the universe?

    Regards
    Ken ken(Quote)

    Ken – you are starting to get the point. Both atheist evolutionists and Bible Believing Christian Creationists AGREE that the conflicting doctrines on origins between evolutionism and creationism ARE NOT compatable – and that to prove one is to disprove the other.

    Both agree that the claims of the opposing arguments are clear and explicit. That to prove a long ages tooth-and-claw predation-starvation-extinction model of “creation” is in fact to PROVE evolution and to DISPROVE the Bible entirely.

    Darwin admitted it. Dawkins admits it. William Provine admitted it. Meyers admits it. Every Bible believing Creationist posting here and standing against the arguments for evolutionism knows this to be true.

    THE DEBATE on this subject is between that agreement listed above and the OPPOSITION that is suggested by “theistic evolutionists” that the Bible COULD be married to evolutionism in some way. It is a “surrender first” policy that claims that a certain amount of fuzzy logic, Bible-bending and maybe even scorched-Bible policy just might “save our bacon” in light of any surprising revelation from the evolutionist side of the fence.

    The argument of the Bible believing Christians is “oh no there is no compromise — if the Bible is wrong on this – Christianity is over”.

    In fact we have seen this point proven in Europe as it has embraced evolutionism beyond the 95% level and has tossed Christianity out the window at an almost proportional degree.

    That “is” the point of this discussion within the Adventist Church at the moment.

    in Christ,

    Bob

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  78. Victor, your post was poignant and much appreciate. You described my personal convictions regarding faith and evidence much more eloquently than I could have. And you found some choice quotes as well.

    Several months ago I read Ellen White’s account of the thief on the cross. I think you were stating what I firmly believe–that God gives us enough information to know who He is, but leaves us thirsting to learn more. Rather than tell us all the “rules” and all the “facts,” He prefers that we struggle and come to Him, one on one, to seek the answers that only He can supply.

    By the way, I love the movie CONTACT, which provides a beautiful experience of how a scientist, focused on facts and methodology, has an encounter with God (more accurately, I should say God-like). She struggles with the reality that she cannot convince anyone of her experience, as she lacks compelling data, but she cannot deny her experience.

    Thank you for sharing your post.

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  79. Dear Professor Kent
    What should happen to church members that accept some, but not all of the SDA 28 FB’s?

    My understanding is that, historically, Adventist fundamental beliefs have shifted in ways that individuals holding one particular position, including Ellen White herself at times, could have been expelled from the Church by those holding another particular position. There was a time when those of the Church held different views on what 24-hour period of the day should be kept as Sabbath (it wasn’t always sunset to sunset); the Godhead (we once rejected the trinity); and righteousness by faith (we once believed in righteousness by works).

    Because of the ongoing revelation of truth, which Seventh-day Adventists are quick to acknowledge, the prelude to the 28 fundamental beliefs actually states that changes are likely to be made. Obviously, the Church can never change its beliefs if it insisted on kicking out every member who challenged an existing notion or introduced a new idea. I believe the official Church is highly reluctant to expel individuals who disagree with one or two stated positions.

    I’m not commenting on the La Sierra situation, so I hope that a response to my comments does not include “but theistic evolutionists claim such-and-such” (this becomes really tiresome).

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  80. The mythology and fiction that some of our evolutionist friends have been storytelling is that voted – Adventist Doctrine has changed or was in error such that Ellen White and others would be condemned in some way by holding to a prior voted statement of beliefs today.

    All such fiction is merely storytelling. When you look at the actual voted and formally stated positions of the church from the 1800’s to this very day – they always build on each other. They never deconstruct tear down contradict.

    Is that inconvenient detail there simply because the Adventist church just so happens to be infallable? I don’t think so – I prefer to think that God has had a hand in the history of this denomination.

    Others may differ with me on that point.

    But what is very clear – is that Ellen White herself never held doctrinal views that were in direct opposition to the voted beliefs of the church — no not at any time since the forming of the Seventh-day Adventist church.

    This is an inconvenient details that some of the storytellers would have the reader sidestep.

    in Christ,

    Bob

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  81. @Shane Hilde:
    I am merely suggesting that your argument against evolutionary processes because God could never use death to effect a desirable outcome is inconsistent with the account of God in many parts of the old testament. In the creationist parlance this is one of those arguments that should be listed in the “arguments not to be used” category as it does make you or God look capricious.

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  82. The mythology and fiction that some of our evolutionist friends have been storytelling is that voted – Adventist Doctrine has changed or was in error such that Ellen White and others would be condemned in some way by holding to a prior voted statement of beliefs today.

    Bob, thank you your enthusiastic response to my post. As I am a creationist, I am disappointed that you so often refer to me as one of “our evolutionist friends,” but I understand your method. I also made no mention of voted Adventist Doctrine in my post. Please don’t mischaracterize my views. And when you can’t seem to get your own facts straight about others and what they have written, I suggest that you not label others as “storytellers.” Have some charity.

    I simply described an inescapable fact, that Adventists have historically had divergent views on fundamental beliefs, and any one side could have employed a creed to vote out individuals on the other side. One can read an extensive review of the development of SDA theology at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seventh-day_Adventist_theology. This website also offers some very interesting data on how divergent our views are currently (from a 2002 survey). I am saddened that there are SDAs today who would like to vote out members of the Church whose views disagree with their own.

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  83. @Professor Kent:

    Sean, while I could agree with your statement on a prima facie basis, I think one needs to dig a bit deeper here. This statement basically says that we don’t need the Bible or any type of falsifiable evidence or even beliefs to gain admission to heaven, which seems to contradict what you often state (not to mention the purpose of this website). I could be wrong, but I believe that God is able to claim souls who lack knowledge in Him because he can judge whether they would accept Him and Christ’s sacrifice if they had representative knowledge of Him.

    Exactly…

    It just goes to show that it is motive, not current knowledge or beliefs, that is important when it comes to judging if a person is or is not savable.

    This idea does not contradict my efforts to uphold truth as I see it. Just because knowledge is not the basis of salvation does not mean that it isn’t important. Knowledge is the basis of the solid conscious hope of the Gospel message. While one can be saved without ever having a conscious knowledge of this future glory while here on Earth, it sure would be nice to have known while here – right?

    I’m not convinced that God saves them because they have “love;” after all, many animals give well-documented evidence of having love, which is an instinct written in the genes of many life forms, including most humans (I’ve met a few who could be exceptions). I suspect that He who knows us in the womb can discern much more than our love, and recognizes what our choice would be given an opportunity to know Him and serve Him.

    Our moral choices are based on motive, not knowledge. While animals do express love and devotion to their masters, they cannot appreciate moral freedom as we humans can. They have not been given moral responsibility or choice as we have been given it. Free moral choices are based on the motive of love – of doing unto others as you would like to be treated because of your love for your neighbor.

    Remember, it was Jesus who pointed out that all the Law and the Prophets were built on the single “Royal Law”, and James put it, of Love – love to both God and toward our neighbors. Matthew 22:39-40 NIV.

    And, as Paul points out, those who love their neighbors as themselves fulfill the Law and are therefore savable – regardless of their knowledge or lack thereof regarding the particulars of God’s existence, the life and death of Jesus, His true character, or any other doctrinal truths while in this life. Romans 13:8-10 NIV.

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  84. @Professor Kent:

    My understanding is that, historically, Adventist fundamental beliefs have shifted in ways that individuals holding one particular position, including Ellen White herself at times, could have been expelled from the Church by those holding another particular position. There was a time when those of the Church held different views on what 24-hour period of the day should be kept as Sabbath (it wasn’t always sunset to sunset); the Godhead (we once rejected the trinity); and righteousness by faith (we once believed in righteousness by works).

    These disagreements occurred before certain agreed positions were so settled in the minds of the founding fathers and mothers of the SDA Church that they became “fundamental” pillars of the SDA faith. The current list of fundamentals was not always as it currently stands. It grew and developed over time. It is only expected that as more information comes clearly to light that the list of important “fundamental” beliefs would also expand over time.

    And, as the early Church founders soon discovered, without the maintenance of internal order, discipline, and government within the Church, as based on the concept of “present truth”, as understood by the organized body of believers, the organization soon begins to fragment towards chaos and irrelevance…

    Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com

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  85. It is only expected that as more information comes clearly to light that the list of important “fundamental” beliefs would also expand over time.And, as the early Church founders soon discovered, without the maintenance of internal order, discipline, and government within the Church, as based on the concept of “present truth”, as understood by the organized body of believers, the organization soon begins to fragment towards chaos and irrelevance…Sean Pitman
    http://www.DetectingDesign.com  

    Very true, Sean. Liberals interpret “present truth” to be anything “new”
    ANYONE puts forward that is a different “interpretation” from the organized body of believers, leaving us with total fragmentation and “congregationalism” that we see in the Pacific Union Conference and elsewhere, especially in the NAD.

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  86. @ Ron:

    Liberals interpret “present truth” to be anything “new”
    ANYONE puts forward that is a different “interpretation” from the organized body of believers, leaving us with total fragmentation and “congregationalism” that we see in the Pacific Union Conference and elsewhere, especially in the NAD.

    I disagree…on your definition and on your interpretation of total fragmentation. Sure, differences exist, but I think you employ hyperbole.

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  87. @Professor Kent:

    I simply described an inescapable fact, that Adventists have historically had divergent views on fundamental beliefs, and any one side could have employed a creed to vote out individuals on the other side. One can read an extensive review of the development of SDA theology at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seventh-day_Adventist_theology. This website also offers some very interesting data on how divergent our views are currently (from a 2002 survey). I am saddened that there are SDAs today who would like to vote out members of the Church whose views disagree with their own.

    Far be it from me to claim that all SDA members in all of time have always or ever had “but one thought” when it comes to doctrinal beliefs.

    The point I was addressing is the more granular topic of cases where voted doctrine is disputed by Church leaders, teachers and then the suggestion that they are then supposed to be promoted and paid by the denomination for doing so.

    Also – our Church Manual claims that the number 1 reason for Church discipline is apostasy from our voted statement of beliefs.

    This in now way suggests that all Adventists always think alike on all doctrine – but it does show that “a limit” has always existed in tersm of calling for church discipline.

    Even the 1950’s document “Question on Doctrine” pg 44-45 admits to this point.

    in Christ,

    Bob

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  88. Re Sean’s Quote

    “These disagreements occurred before certain agreed positions were so settled in the minds of the founding fathers and mothers of the SDA Church that they became “fundamental” pillars of the SDA faith. The current list of fundamentals was not always as it currently stands. It grew and developed over time. It is only expected that as more information comes clearly to light that the list of important “fundamental” beliefs would also expand over time.”

    Thus what is ‘fundamental’ is mutable and subject to change.

    Science is like that as well as better, more accurate observation and testing comes along. Consider what Dr. Clausen, an Adventist scientist at the GRI said: “it is impossible,” to teach students :”scientifically rigorous exposure to and affirmation of our historic belief in a literal,recent six day creation”

    In light of this Adventist Scientist’s comments, is it not open to interpret FR# 6 as including the possibility of an old earth and creation occurring over 6 non literal days? For example the 2300 prophetic days are not interpreted literally.

    Thanks
    Ken

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  89. @Ken:

    In light of this Adventist Scientist’s comments, is it not open to interpret FR# 6 as including the possibility of an old earth and creation occurring over 6 non literal days? For example the 2300 prophetic days are not interpreted literally

    It may “seem” to a non-Christian that the Bible is so “bendable” that you can take any text you like (take Daniel 8 as in your example) then claim that “days are not really days” if it suits your bias or preference. In that model there is no real objective model of exegeting the text – just the “need” of a certain outside bias or preference that might “want” to take the text literaly in one case or figurately in another.

    It makes perfect sense looking from the outside in – to suppose such a flexible text. But it is a bit like a musician looking at a calculus formula and supposing that a summation or integration operator is simply randomly inserted into the equation as may suite the one who writes out that formula. The historical grammatical method is the one we use to apply the rules of exegesis.

    in Christ,

    Bob

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  90. Re Ben Clausen, GRI Quotes

    “As a scientist, I do research in the area of radiometric dating and the directly associated earth science concepts of plate tectonics2 and magma cooling rates.3 I am also a person of faith and a strong believer in the importance of Genesis 1–11, but I work daily with data that I don’t know how to fit into a short time frame. I would like to find convincing evidence confirming the literalness of the Genesis record, but in my area of research I usually find that the data fits better with a long-age model. Nevertheless, though I may appear to some to bow to the god of evolution in my research, just as Naaman told Elisha, I also declare, “[Y]our servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.”

    The finitude of mankind

    Yes, I am sympathetic to church members who would like defi nitive answers about the issues regarding the age of the earth. I don’t want the church to change its beliefs. In return, I would hope for sympathy and understanding from leaders and members of the diffi cult position that, as a scientist, I am in. Many have exhibited sympathy, understanding, and trust. And I really do appreciate the leaders who, sympathetic with my concerns, have said to me, “Go in peace.” Indeed, I appreciate the patience of the church as I try to understand these two apparently discordant sets of data—nature and revelation—both of which I hold in high regard.”

    Dr.Clausen’s quotes speak for themselves regarding evidence of an old earth. I hope he will not be pilloried by the church as I think he is doing his best to balance his scientific findings with his faith.

    Regards
    Ken

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  91. Re Bob’s quote

    It may “seem” to a non-Christian that the Bible is so “bendable” that you can take any text you like (take Daniel 8 as in your example) then claim that “days are not really days” if it suits your bias or preference. In that model there is no real objective model of exegeting the text – just the “need” of a certain outside bias or preference that might “want” to take the text literaly in one case or figurately in another.

    “It makes perfect sense looking from the outside in – to suppose such a flexible text. But it is a bit like a musician looking at a calculus formula and supposing that a summation or integration operator is simply randomly inserted into the equation as may suite the one who writes out that formula. The historical grammatical method is the one we use to apply the rules of exegesis.

    in Christ,

    Bob BobRyan(Quote)”

    Dear Bob

    Thanks for your reply, and it is a good one. As I stated before, I readily concede my lack of expertise when it comes to biblical interpretation.

    In my job I interpret and draft agreements for a living. Do I encounter different opinions and different interpretations on the written word? All the time, that is why I respect the point of view argument as you have so aptly stated.

    Respectfully however, it appears as if different folks from even within the same faith can interpret the Bible differently. This is evident as between the YEC and the OEC Adventists regarding the interpretation of Genesis. This inter faith lack of consensus – over and above the questions of ignorant agnostics!- demonstrates this is a dynamic issue.

    This is why your church is going through fascinating times right now. On one hand, Elder Wilson, democratically and properly elected,is strongly reaffirming literal 6 day, recent creation. On the other hand Dr. Clausen is saying that science does not support it. Sean Pitman, making a valiant effort I venture, opines that the science must support the doctrine or the faith behind it does not stand.

    That is why I applaud this forum allowing all to voice their opinions and get to the heart of the matter.

    Kind regards
    Ken

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