Or: No, DNA doesn’t prove God.
So I was going back over some old episodes of the Atheist Experience this week – it was a slow week, and I’m all caught up on the podcasts. I love the show, love the hosts – mostly – and think they’re doing great things for raising awareness of critical thinking and all that.
But the callers… not so much.
So this guy calls up and offers up the old canard of DNA proving the existence of God. This isn’t new, in case you’re wondering. Christians have been harping on this for years in one form or another, helped along by people like Sir Anthony Flew and Francis Collins. Sadly, unlike Flew or Collins, the caller in question didn’t actually have any clue about what he was talking about.
The end result was about half an hour of rambling, confused assertions and fallacious arguments, backed by a complete inability to understand what the hosts were saying. To be fair, the waters were a little muddied on both sides (will somebody please tell Martin Wagner to stop trying to use falsifiability!), but the argument itself is one that many of you will have come across.
It goes something like this:
1. Information is a sequence of symbols that carries a message.
2. By definition, a message – and by extension all information – must originate with an intelligence.
3. DNA is a sequence of symbols that carries a message.
4. Conclusion: therefore, DNA originated in an intelligence.
Of course the next step is: therefore, DNA proves God.
This one has a certain elegance, and can surprise the unwary. On the face of it, this seems like it might actually have some validity. The definition of information stated in the first premise might have been tailored specifically to match DNA. In fact it’s suspiciously close in wording to premise 3.
In fact, that (partial) definition is actually valid. It is one of the definitions of information, and it’s the only one admitted to by groups like carm.org… seemingly because it does match so closely to the popular perception of DNA.
But we’re not that interested in being told what to think by Matt Slick, we prefer to think for ourselves. And when you start looking for definitions of Information elsewhere, it’s surprising how hard it is to find pretty much anything that sounds even vaguely like what Matt Slick posted on CARM. Go on, try it for yourself. Google it, look it up in your dictionary, check an actual paper encyclopaedia at the local library. How many sources can you find that give the definition of Information that this argument relies on? How many other definitions did you find?
But that’s not what’s wrong with this argument.
Sure, there are other ways to define Information, but that doesn’t mean that this definition is invalid. In fact, I’ll even accept this definition of Information as a definition – a single meaning in a particular situation. It’s not the only thing we mean by information of course.
What I won’t accept is the unsupported assertion that DNA is a message.
By definition a message is a communication from an intelligence. The assertion that DNA falls into this category is not only unsupported, it is a particularly transparent attempt to define God into existence, and I’m just not buying it.
Back on The Atheist Experience, the caller managed to throw in about a dozen fallacious arguments in support of this broken apologetic. Matt and Martin got so side-tracked that I don’t think they really addressed the problem. Perhaps if the caller had been able to clearly state the proposition, then maybe Matt and Martin would have handled it better.
Let’s stamp this one out, guys. DNA is not a message. It might be information… for a particular definition of information. But it’s not communicating anything to anyone, it’s simply a collection of chemicals that in certain chemical reactions produce a variety of effects.
I know, it’s been a couple of years since last time I posted. This one just annoyed me.
Or: Learn Some Damn Science (part 2)
This one is really starting to get on my wick. There is a growing community of religitards that, purely on the strength of wording in their holy book, believe that the Earth is fixed and unmoving, and that the rest of the universe revolves around us. They can’t prove it, since it is false, but they cling to it as god-given truth because the Bible cannot be wrong in any detail.
I’ve been following along on a couple of YouTube videos, notably these two:
- IMMOVABLE EARTH: Geocentric Bible by MegaSage007
- The earth is not rotating – spinning – or moving !! by fernieboy100
WARNING: these videos are so stupid that watching them may reduce you intelligence, or make your head implode.
Fortunately there are a number of people trying to pound some sense into these fools, so that anyone who doesn’t already agree with the BS they are spouting can see that there is reasoned objection to it, and that it is supported by some pretty simple math. Personally I’m going to nominate TheCrankyCow for Sainthood in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster for his endless patience and rational debate, not to mention the math he has managed to fit into those little comments. Not everyone has been so patient, and I notice that MegaSage007 has been wielding the ban-hammer pretty widely.
The following sections are a bit dry, but I’ll get back to bashing the religitards a little later on. Promise.
History of Heliocentrism
Back in the bad old days everyone knew that the Earth was flat, and that the sky was a big bowl that the stars were painted on. The Sun and the Moon went around the Earth, because you could see that it was happening that way. And even better, it was all described pretty much that way in the Bible, so it must be true. God doesn’t lie! (more on that later)
We’re going to ignore the early attempts by Philolaus (4th century BC), Aristarchus (3rd century BC), Seleucus (2nd century BC), Aryabhata (5th century) and Alhazen (11th century) since they didn’t get their points across. They were influential however.
In the 16th century along came Nicolaus Copernicus, a Catholic priest, who came up with a slightly different model. He proposed that the Earth and all of the planets (at least, the few they knew about) orbited around the Sun. He didn’t know why, since the Theory of Universal Gravitation would not be figured out until a century later. What he did however was produce a masterpiece of scientific advancement that included a list of tables that predicted the future movement of the planets. And they worked pretty well. Of course the Church was pretty much against it, since it disagreed with scripture. Sound familiar?
In 1609 Kepler refined Copernicus’ model by establishing that the planets had elliptical orbits, not the perfectly circular ones that Copernicus had assumed. Kepler formulated the Laws of Planetary Motion based on the observations of Tycho Brahe – who was an ardent proponent of Geocentrism.
How It Actually Works: The Theory of Gravity
In 1687 Isaac Newton published his theories on motion and gravity and demonstrated that the simple Law of Universal Gravitation explained Kepler’s Laws of Planetary very well. Suddenly there were some simple mathematical formulae which could be used to work out all sorts of interesting things based purely on the observations that had been made. The true beauty of the Theory of Gravity was that it could be used to predict the future motion of the planets and every other body in the observable universe.
for the win!
Things were really starting to heat up now. Suddenly science had come up with a model that accurately described not only the motion of planets but the motion of the Moon around the Earth and the Earth around the sun. The Theory of Gravity also gave mathematical evidence to tides and made a variety of predictions that turned out to be damned good. You can guess how pleased the Religious authorities were about this refutation of their scriptural references.
Relativity and the Orbit of Mercury
The last little wrinkle in the Heliocentric model was the unpredicted perturbations in the orbit of Mercury. Newton’s law predicted a precession of the orbit by 5600 arc seconds per century, but observational evidence placed it at closer to 5557 arc seconds per century. Oh, the horror!
Einstein to the rescue. Relativity theory retarded the orbital precession by 42.98 arc seconds per century closed the gap, dismissing the last major challenge to Heliocentrism and Newton’s Laws of Motion and Gravity in one fell swoop. OK, the orbital precession of Mercury wasn’t a big thing, and it’s small enough that we can pretty much ignore it for short-range forecasts, but it was an unaccounted problem that needed to be solved or Newton’s theories would be forever suspect.
The Religious View
While all of this was happening the religious zealots of the western world, as well as the Muslims of the Middle-East, were stuck in a rut. The bible clearly stated in at least 4 different passages that the Earth was fixed in the heavens, unmovable, and that the Sun revolved around the Earth. Since the entire Jewish and Christian religious foundation is the inerrancy of their respective holy books, these clear references to the unmovable Earth must be taken to be the word of God. Therefore the Earth must be the centre of the universe, no matter what the facts might say.
From the outset this was bound to cause problems, and since the religious institutions were in positions of power the problems were all directed at the heretical claims espoused by proponents of the Heliocentric model. Excommunications, imprisonment, forced recantations… all of these and more have been used to discredit the model that appeared to contradict the perfect word of God.
Let The Bashing Resume
And here we are, back in the middle of a shit-fight between Religion and Science. In the Red corner, weighing in at over half of the world’s population, wielding the holy bible and filled with fire and brimstone for all: Religion! In the Blue corner, looking slightly confused at all the fuss, is our challenger: Science!
Of course that’s just a bit of showmanship. In reality Religion is standing by itself in centre ring, ranting and shaking its bible at the world and arguing details with itself. Science meanwhile has nipped out to the pub for a couple of drinks with its buddies Logic and Reason and their 16% of the world who couldn’t care less what some bloodthirsty nomadic sheep herder thought a couple thousand years ago.
Today the stand-point of Religion is about the same as it has been for the last several centuries. The Bible says that the Earth is unmoving, that the Sun rotates around the Earth. They believe in the Bible as the perfect and untainted word of god, and anything that disagrees with their interpretation of it is wrong… including the interpretation of any religion that doesn’t agree with theirs. Christianity is a family at war with itself over these interpretations, with around 38,000 denominations of Christianity, so don’t take them lightly. The end product of this is, however, that only the Bible can hold absolute truth, and anything that disagrees with the Bible is by definition wrong.
Science on the other hand is predicated on the concept that nothing is sacred. As you are reading this there are actual scientists around the world challenging the axioms of science in order to find the best possible answers to the questions of the universe. For Astronomy the best current explanation for the orbital mechanics of the solar system is the Heliocentric model. It works, and it works damned well, and there is no evidence that it is even a little bit wrong. When somebody comes up with evidence that breaks the theory we’ll find another one that is better. That is how Science advances: one step at a time.
Religion on the other hand is unable to advance. Ever. What was written in their holy scriptures (at least the ones they chose to include in their holy book) is true and must remain true forever. Period.
I’m tired, and this has been a long article. I’ll bash on the Religitards some more later.
And: Learn Some Logic While You’re At It.
Another one of my pet hates are people who ask the pointy questions taught to them by apologetics, but have so poor an understanding of Science that they can’t understand the answers.
Actually, this isn’t just about religious people. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard people repeat stupid science facts that just aren’t true, or ask stupid science questions that they aren’t educated enough to understand the answers to. And don’t get me started on what people don’t know about computers – oy vay!
I’m not saying that everyone has to go out right now and get a science degree, or spend the next couple months researching science fundamentals. What I am saying is that if you don’t understand those fundamentals, don’t get involved in discussions that are going to require that understanding. A firm conviction that you know that your argument is right is no substitute for an understanding of the science that underlies it.
I am fairly proud of the amount of knowledge I have managed to amass over the decades, and the fact that I can participate in discussions on a wide range of topics. Science, technology, religion, no sweat. When I have access to the internet I can do even better since I don’t have to rely on my (or your) imperfect memory of the details.
That said, there are a number of topics that I don’t discuss with people because I don’t have enough understanding of the subject matter. I don’t debate Buddhists because quite frankly I don’t have enough knowledge of Buddhism to either form rational objections or to necessarily comprehend the rebuttals. Ditto pretty much every type of football.
I don’t want to squash discussion or debate over science, because that’s not what a rational mind does. What I do want is for people to stop taking something they read on a creationist or apologist website and pretending that they have a clue what they’re talking about. Read a damn science book. Go read up on the topics at Wikipedia… and not just the first page, either. Follow all the links you need and ask more questions until you have reached an understanding of what is actually being said.
For the creationists and apologetics sycophants out there, I heartily recommend that you try the Index of Creationist Claims as a starting point. Go look up your latest masterpiece proof of the absurdity of Science and see how it has already been answered (over and over and…) before you inflict it on us. Again.
*** Rant Mode Engaged
I got blocked again, this time for pointing out (nicely too) that a video contained numerous errors in both fact and logic.
This particular coward has disabled ratings and set uploader approval on all comments. If he doesn’t like what you have to say he doesn’t just stop that one comment, he blocks you completely.
This kind of cowardice is rife on YouTube, and it bugs me. If you can’t handle critique, don’t enter a public forum. And if your beliefs can’t stand up to that critique, maybe you need to re-evaluate your position.
And isn’t it funny how it’s mostly the high-profile creatards and religitards that do this? I can’t remember seeing any atheist videos on YouTube with this kind of restriction. Feel free to correct me.
Or: Why can’t Apologists recognize logic?
I’m watching episode #750 of The Atheist Experience (here) as I like to do on occasion – Matt is a fun guy to watch and they get some interesting discussions going at times. So Matt and Tracie get a call from a guy named Eric from Mesa, AZ (identified by several as Eric Lounsbery, a known apologist dick) who belittled the show then tried to prove the existence of god with “seven premises that will prove the point, they’re very quick, they’re like brainless, … I believe you’ll agree with every one of them.”
His first premise was the title of this post: Something cannot come from nothing. Of course Matt and Tracie disagreed, since we don’t accept that this is so without some sort of evidentiary or logical support beyond simple supposition.
Eric however was completely floored by this. He couldn’t seem to understand the fact that disagreeing with his premise did not mean supporting the opposite. He spent the next few minutes trying to prove that Matt believes that something can come from nothing, until eventually he pissed Matt off so much that Matt hung up on him.
And there’s the problem with the format of Debating as it stands when applied to topics such as this. In formal debating each speaker is given structured time at the podium, with a first approach of 20 minutes being reasonably common. The first speaker gets to state his position, followed by a rebuttal from the other side.
Eric Lounsbery and his ilk like this format because it allows them to use a tactic called the Gish Gallop. Basically this means that they can throw in a bunch of unsupported assertions that it is impossible for the opponent to refute in the limited time available, then claim victory when the opponent fails to address every single one of their many points.
Fortunately, actual logic doesn’t work that way.
In real logic (simplified here for brevity) an argument is defined as a set of propositions and inferences drawn from those propositions, with the final inference being the conclusion. If any single proposition is shown to be false, the entire logical construct is false.
Up to this point most people seem to agree fairly readily. Here’s the sticking point, where most apologetics falls down: an unproved proposition invalidates the argument. If you can’t provide a proof for your proposition, your logic is not sound.
And here we are back at the title. “Something Cannot Come From Nothing” seems to be an obvious statement, but no matter how obvious this may seem based on our experience (most of us have not directly or indirectly observed the creation of something from nothing in a demonstrable fashion), it has never been proven that something cannot come from nothing. It may very well be unprovable as stated.
In fact for certain definitions of “nothing” we have evidence that not only can something come from nothing, but it does so fairly often. Quantum physics has all sorts of interesting examples of this, and the creation of free electron/positron pairs in vacuo has been studied for years. While it seems counter intuitive, the observed phenomenon seem to directly contradict the proposition… for specific definitions of “nothing.”
A fairly recent cosmological theory posits that the energy sum of the universe may in fact be zero. According to this theory if you were to collapse the universe back to a singularity everything would balance out and the singularity itself would cease to exist. Therefore nothing can come from something. By corollary then it is at least possible that something can come from nothing.
Or more precisely: Hello Again World.
Many years ago, back when HTML was still fresh and new and CSS wasn’t even thought of, I used to have a GeoCities account that I’d post random crap on by hand with a text editor and a basic understanding of HTML, along with some help from my IRC buddies. The “web log” concept was new enough that nobody had gotten around to bastardising it into “we blog” and coining the current name for these online journals.
Then GeoCities got bought by Yahoo!and it all went to hell. Frankly, that didn’t surprise anyone.
So yesterday I was Googling myself – which isn’t anywhere near as narcissistic as it sounds – and I came across an archive of one of the mammoth USENET threads I was involved in back in the day, and it got me reminiscing. That got me thinking that maybe it’s time I started posting random
bull pearls of wisdom once again.
As you can probably guess from the old-timer keywords (Geociites, IRC, USENET) I’m no freshie. Nor am I a beginner, neophyte, rookie, tyro or indeed n00b. I’ve been around long enough to see the Internet turn from a playground for the intelligentsia to a pit of filth and depravity… which took about 3 weeks back in the late 80’s. Then it all went nuts and here we are.
And now, with a big thank-you to WordPress.com, I’m back in the saddle again. No more hand-coded HTML, thank you very much.
The things that get me worked up are pretty varied, but you can expect that I’ll talk about a variety of topics including Religion (and being an Atheist), Programming, Games (old and new), Science, Technology, Life, The Universe and Everything.
Anyway, here I am. New name, new site, new blank page to scribble on. Let’s see what mischief I can get up to.