God is on the ropes: The brilliant new science that has creationists and the Christian right terrified

Feb 24, 2015

Credit: Wikimedia/WDG Photo via Shutterstock/Salon

By Paul Rosenberg

The Christian right’s obsessive hatred of Darwin is a wonder to behold, but it could someday be rivaled by the hatred of someone you’ve probably never even heard of. Darwin earned their hatred because he explained the evolution of life in a way that doesn’t require the hand of God. Darwin didn’t exclude God, of course, though many creationists seem incapable of grasping this point. But he didn’t require God, either, and that was enough to drive some people mad.

Darwin also didn’t have anything to say about how life got started in the first place — which still leaves a mighty big role for God to play, for those who are so inclined. But that could be about to change, and things could get a whole lot worse for creationists because of Jeremy England, a young MIT professor who’s proposed a theory, based in thermodynamics, showing that the emergence of life was not accidental, but necessary. “[U]nder certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life,” he was quoted as saying in an article in Quanta magazine early in 2014, that’s since been republished by Scientific American and, more recently, by Business Insider. In essence, he’s saying, life itself evolved out of simpler non-living systems.

The notion of an evolutionary process broader than life itself is not entirely new. Indeed, there’s evidence, recounted by Eric Havelock in “The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics,” that it was held by the pre-Socratic natural philosophers, who also first gave us the concept of the atom, among many other things. But unlike them or other earlier precursors, England has a specific, unifying, testable evolutionary mechanism in mind.


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122 comments on “God is on the ropes: The brilliant new science that has creationists and the Christian right terrified

  • The other thing nibbling away at Christian certainty is the discovery of earth-like planets. Clearly earth is not the only place that matters in the universe as the bible claims.

    Finding life elsewhere will help deflate the Christian ego that the the universe was created just for us.

    Finding intelligent life, more advanced than us, who hoot at our religious superstitions should be the final nail, just as at was for the religions of South America.
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  • 2
    Miserablegit says:

    Slowly but surely science will continue to undermine religion and if it has no effect on current god botherers then I am sure it will help to save children destroying the lives with mumbo jumbo in future.
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  • Roedy Feb 24, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Finding intelligent life, more advanced than us, who hoot at our religious superstitions

    Some Xtians have already suggested that their god may have created extra-terrestrial life to worship him!

    I’m sure they would be as energetically as the African colonialists, raising money to send missionaries, if extra-terrestrials were atheists or worshipping the “wrong” gods!
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  • It is Earth when discussing the planet and earth when discussing soil…Other than that I wholly agree with your comments. The discovery of oasis where life may well exist around other stars will start to nail down the lid on the coffin of religion, and not a day too soon…
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  • One thing is certain. Intelligent life did arise on Earth whatever the so-called odds against it happening. That’s a fact. That’s observable. How about starting from there ? The odds are that intelligent life is 100% probable ! (At least on Earth !)
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  • I wish I had confidence in religion becoming moot.

    The religious have denied reality since the beginning of their six thousand year existence.
    They will dispute science and blame the “evil education’ for misleading the public.
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  • God is on the ropes: The brilliant new science that has creationists and the Christian right terrified

    Nope! The likes of Ham who are too thick to understand, or even honestly think about science, will just make up drivel as usual.
    Actual science is way beyond most of their followers, so any sciency sounding pseudo-rebuttal clap trap, will impress them!
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  • Actually I can’t see anything in the summation of this theory in the article which disproves God any more than Darwinism does. The theory that evolution began long before life itself does not differentiate it from Darwinism in respect of disporving God. In fact, according to the Bible, God also does all sorts of cool shit before getting on to the biological side of things – creating light, separating firmaments and so on. It’s only after all that, just as this theory propounds, that that he gets on with the whole “fishes of the sea thereof” business and that rib thang. No big leap forward on the road to godless Reason here, I’m afraid…
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  • Gods don’t need to be disproved since they have never been proven. To quote Hitchen’s Razor, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Such assertions are basically…hot air.

    The binary choice between science and theism is a false dichotomy, every attempt by the faithful to attack science a big, fat non sequitur. If science can stand or fall on the merits of evidence, surely so can omnipotent beings.

    Good article that highlights the serious work of bridging physics and biology.
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  • @Atheos-
    If science can stand or fall on the merits of evidence, surely so can omnipotent beings.

    I think you mean claims of the existence of omnipotent beings.

    If omnipotent beings exist, surely they can stand or fall on any damned thing they want to.
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  • If gods don’t need to be disproved then why does this article use this theory to try to do precisely that? If it was just about the bridging of physics and biology, then there would be no mention of gods or belief in them in this article whatsoever.
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  • Soooo, Your argument is “because you are talking about gods, they must exist” ?

    Oooookay. Let’s set about disproving the existence of Spiderman. Oh, dear. It looks like I have just demonstrated that he exists.

    How pathetic that argument is.
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  • Nice article and I’m pleased to see the nod to Giordano Bruno who has been overlooked by historians despite his thinking being centuries ahead of its time. Everyone knows of Galileo but the almost unknown Bruno died at the stake for speculating that the stars were not just painted lights on the inside of the hollow sphere of the universe as mandated by the Catholic church but suns like our own, just unimaginably far away. A brilliant man and more blood on the hands of religion and its unsufferable arrogance.
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  • Am I the only thinking that religious peoeple will respond to this in the way that they usually respond to any evidence which runs counter to the brainwashing…i.e. by sticking their fingers in their ears and singing “La la la la I can’t hear you”?
    Metaphorically of course.
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  • I very much hope you’re right Miserablegit.

    The trouble is that blindfaithers recognize no bounds, since they’re not constrained by logic, reason or evidence.

    Hence, debating with them is like trying to nail jelly to the ceiling, or sweep water into a pile.

    Just protect children from them, until the youngsters are of an age when they can figure things out for themselves.
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  • D.Ward Feb 24, 2015 at 11:52 pm

    If gods don’t need to be disproved then why does this article use this theory to try to do precisely that?

    The onus of proof is on those making assertions about the existence of the thousand of gods which people have followed.

    If it was just about the bridging of physics and biology, then there would be no mention of gods or belief in them in this article whatsoever.

    The clue is in the word “Creationists”. The YECSs in particular can be counted on to invent pseudo-science about any development which threatens their “god-did-it-a-few-thousand-years-ago” nonsense!
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  • 20
    Lorenzo says:

    I don’t see why science should waste its time arguing against deities: they are ludicrous way before you even come to any scientific rigor to your thinking. All you need is basic logic and basic observation of reality -things that are around since long before humans were humans!-: the world effectively behaves like there were no deity, a fact that’s recognized even by the faithful, since faith is required to believe in a god of any sort.

    Thus, if you don’t make a deliberate effort departing from your very own experience of the world, there’s no need to postulate a god. They are excellent narrative constructs, though, and we humans love a good story beyond anything … I suspect that’s how every god was born. Then someone noticed that by tricking people into believing they were real, organizing the now large tribe around the stretches of cultivated land was a whole lot easier. And so on.

    ~~~

    Coming to the article: very interesting! I’d so love to see the formula, of course… but the principles on which is based, according to the article, seem sound. After all, nature has a way of preferring the easiest (laziest) possible way to go about things -a tendency you can word, for example, like “the configuration of the least potential is favored” and “The principle of least action(1)”.

    But I so hate when people speak about entropy and “disorder” in the same sentence. Equating the two things is hugely misleading. Macroscopically, entropy is a state function of a given system and there’s really nothing that would have you thinking of disorder: the variation in entropy is the integral over the transformation of the ration between the exchanged heat and the temperature (seen as a function). Entropy is a strange state function, because it can either increase or stay the same if you consider the whole of the universe(2) (or a closed system, that is a system that cannot exchange heat with anything).

    When you go into the microscopic realm and you begin your inquiry of Statistical Thermodynamics (if you want to suffer the most extreme, desperate, physically painful boredom available on Earth, for whatever reason) then entropy gets related to the preference of a system for the state which has the largest share of the phase space. Or, in words that should sound familiar, the state in which it’s easier to find the system itself.
    Characterizing that state as “disorder” is plainly dumb (if you’re not talking to toddlers). Furthermore, if you look at the matter in a slightly different way, you may notice that those preferred state are usually the ones of greater uniformity and, that, may even be called “order”. But I’d refrain to use “order” or “disorder” to characterize any system which isn’t my own room, because it’s a very inelegant projection of personal view on things that can’t give a damn.

    (1) Actually, the action of a system is not always the “least”, but the mathematical formulation requires only an extreme: the least or the most. And, sure enough, there are some situations in which the max is chosen.

    (2) Given the ever increasing body of evidence that our universe might not be unique, I’d not take the fact that the universe is a closed system all too blindly. If in doubt, as always, stick to definitions!
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  • The “disorder” line of explanation is pretty fatuous. The best explanation for me was that complexity facilitated the rate of use of energy. The heated pan of water in breaking down into hexagonal convection cells could transfer heat at a greater rate given the input and output temperatures. Complexity speeds us to the “heat death”.

    I think of how complicated I needed to be to use up all that fossilised solar flux, when I fill my car with diesel.
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  • Peter Feb 25, 2015 at 7:40 am

    Could this be a way of paying for missions to other planets?
    After all they seem to have endless monies!

    I think this would be a very poor choice of Earth ambassadors. They would probably start a crusader’s interplanetary war!
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  • @justinesaracen – yes, you’re right, that is a pathetic argument. Only it wasn’t me who made it. It was you. I made no such assertion, and your inference that I did lacks any substantiation whatsoever. Leave such wild extrapolations and presumptions to the religious nuts. I’m not one of them.
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  • Highly misleading title, as the things that got many Christians to believe have nothing to do with the science of a given subject. Sadly most will continue to ignore it.

    Still, interesting information.
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  • 30
    Lorenzo says:

    If gods don’t need to be disproved then why does this article use this theory to try to do precisely that?

    Gods don’t need to be disproved: they are peerless at is disproving themselves, by means of their own preposterousness.
    Some claim they need to be disproved -I guess because they suffered a very specific kind of trauma in their childhood, called indoctrination-, thus the article attempts to point out that a recent hypothesis might restrict the deities’ alleged room for maneuver even further.
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  • Lorenzo Feb 25, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Gods don’t need to be disproved: they are peerless at is disproving themselves, by means of their own preposterousness.

    Unfortunately, this requires indoctrinators to addle the thinking, deny logic, and retard the reasoning skills of children, in order to maintain irrational beliefs.
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  • @Lorenzo @Alan4Discussion – My hearty congratulations on completely missing the point of my original comments. The article lays the claim that this theory “has God on the ropes”. The onus was therefore on the article to substantiate that claim. My point was that it doesn’t. It doesn’t because the Creationists will flat deny it in the same way as they flat deny Darwinism. It doesn’t because the Intelligent Designists will simply say that, instead of a god designing evolution, a god designed the conditions under which evolution came to be – it will always be “turtles all the way” for them. The article failed to show how this new theory would undermine such beliefs.
    Instead of the slack thinking exemplified both by this article and by your mis-interpretations of my own comments, perhaps you might find that arguments against gods lie within the arguments for gods, and on a much less esoteric level than this article. Try David Attenborough. Or Bart Simpson. Or the Greeks – “If cows had gods, they’d look like cows…”
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  • D.Ward Feb 25, 2015 at 9:39 am

    @Lorenzo @Alan4Discussion – My hearty congratulations on completely missing the point of my original comments.

    Actually what you are now saying is essentially what I said in this earlier comment:
    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/02/god-is-on-the-ropes-the-brilliant-new-science-that-has-creationists-and-the-christian-right-terrified/#li-comment-170119

    The article lays the claim that this theory “has God on the ropes”.

    Gods have been “on the ropes”, out of the contest, and debunked by science for years.
    It’s just that many of their followers are not educated or bright enough to recognise this.

    The onus was therefore on the article to substantiate that claim.

    There is no point in providing MORE evidence, because the god-delusions will simply redefine in their slaves’ heads, where the ropes are, and deny both the evidence and the logic.

    If it was just about the bridging of physics and biology, then there would be no mention of gods or belief in them in this article whatsoever.

    But it isn’t! It is about handling public education on complex biochemistry, to minimise the disruption and generation of pseudo-science by creationists.

    The physics, organic chemistry, and biology, will continue in scientific academic circles and laboratories as usual.

    It is only a matter of time before the map of the routes from basic elements, through abiogenesis to evolutionary biology, is established.
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  • That life exists is itself evidence that the emergence of life is a natural process. As is that life will evolve and become aware and intelligent. It is all a logical process. It is easier to explain how senses, awareness and intelligence evolved. But we can have reasonable, logical and satifactory theories about how non-living matter became living. This is no longer a mystery, but it is still amazing.
    Everything evolves. One mystery about which we can speculate is; is time eternal, did the universe begin or has it always been here in some form or another? How can something begin out of nothing? How can the universe always have been here?
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  • If omnipotent beings exist, surely they can stand or fall on any damned thing they want to.

    Including convincing those of us “so made as unable to believe” due to total lack of credible evidence, thanks for the clarification.
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  • D.Ward Feb 24, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    Actually I can’t see anything in the summation of this theory in the article which disproves God any more than Darwinism does. The theory that evolution began long before life itself does not differentiate it from Darwinism in respect of disporving God.

    Requirements for negative “proofs” are fallacies.

    In fact, according to the Bible, God also does all sorts of cool shit before getting on to the biological side of things – creating light, separating firmaments and so on.

    Yep! All in the wrong cosmological order!

    It’s only after all that, just as this theory propounds, that that he gets on with the whole “fishes of the sea thereof” business and that rib thang.

    After a few problems., such as creating the Earth before the stars, and “days” before the Sun!

    No big leap forward on the road to godless Reason here, I’m afraid…

    Reason is notable by its absence from these biblical claims.
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  • Doug Feb 24, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    If omnipotent beings exist, surely they can stand or fall on any damned thing they want to.

    I think it would be a severe struggle to try to make “omnipotent beings” compatible with science or with Occam! – Or to give a credible explanation of their origins – other than as hypothetical fantasies!
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  • D. Ward – If gods don’t need to be disproved then why does this article use this theory to try to do precisely that?

    Because, as Alan mentioned already, the faithful have been conditioned by centuries of apologetics to ignore the burden of proof when proposing a deity. And because in that same time many intelligent, well meaning non-believers have been duped into playing that fruitless game of trying to prove a negative.

    Turnabout is fair play:

    While there is no evidence of gods, overwhelming evidence from anthropology, sociology, psychology, archaeology and history – thousands of fragments of “holy words” scribed, edited, collated by men, centuries of interpretations, royal decrees (some on pain of death) and vacillating holy edicts (purgatory, no purgatory?), disputations, schisms, heretic hunts and holy wars – says gods are man-made.

    By your logic, you can’t prove gods are not man-made either, therefore they must be man-made.
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  • 42
    Lorenzo says:

    My hearty congratulations on completely missing the point of my original comments.

    For starters, I wasn’t answering to the whole of your posts. I quoted one particular bit because I was interested in that.

    The article lays the claim that this theory “has God on the ropes”. The onus was therefore on the article to substantiate that claim. My point was that it doesn’t.

    So all the fuss is about… a poorly chosen title? In that case, we agree. I’d go a tad further and say that the article itself isn’t a masterpiece. Its value is more in the news itself, which is interesting.
    Of course, all the herds of creationists & co. will ramble on. If there was even a faint possibility that they would stop if presented with evidence or theories better than their own, they would have gone extinct long ago, alongside their religion.

    perhaps you might find that arguments against gods lie within the arguments for gods, and on a much less esoteric level than this article.

    Perhaps, if you read carefully my comment in response to yours, you would have noticed that I stated the same thing -albeit differently worded.
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  • The article claimed by its title and context that this theory would have God on the ropes along with Creationists and Christians in a way that Darwinism did not. The article does not, and neither does the theory. It was that to which I was referring, and clearly so.
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  • Pardon me, I was only answering your reply shown below, offering reasons as to why:

    If gods don’t need to be disproved then why does this article use this theory to try to do precisely that? If it was just about the bridging of physics and biology, then there would be no mention of gods or belief in them in this article whatsoever.

    “The bridging of physics and biology” was what I found valuable in the article. Per your other comment along the lines of:

    The article claimed by its title and context that this theory would have God on the ropes along with Creationists and Christians in a way that Darwinism did not.

    I agree with you that the title of the article could be construed as hyperbole as news headlines often are. However, the title also speaks correctly to how science continues to shrink the knowledge gaps, the perpetual and only domain of gods. In the debate between the pious and non-believers, in which I sometimes partake, it has long been an objection by the believers that evolution does not explain abiogenesis, the origin of life, only variations of life thereafter. This new hypothesis and article address that objection.

    Since that “rib thang” is a big deal to many believers who directly attribute all life to a “creator”, the article and its title, having entered that fruitless fray, is apposite. All that magical stuff god supposedly does prior to creating life, about 19 verses of the first chapter in the bible…we already have physics.
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  • I’ve long been of the opinion that where conditions suitable for life exist then the blossoming of life is almost inevitable. When you have a laboratory the size of a planet, a test tube the size of an ocean, trillions of chemical reactions taking place per second and billions of years for the experiment to run then anything that can happen eventually will happen.

    On that basis the universe should be teeming with life, and indeed intelligent technologically advanced life, just sadly separated by such vast distances it’s unlikely any of us are ever going to meet.
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  • Atheists are making the wrong argument in trying to prove that the universe doesn’t have a god creator/original power/super consciousness/whatever. This is something which cannot be proven against and only a buffoon of immense proportions would even try to. It is an idiotic argument that can only lead people around in endless circles (this latest piece of buffoonery – not the science, the stupidity attached to it – could be easily countered by theists who would simply argue that their god coded/willed atoms to behave like that whilst he was planning the universe). All that needs to be argued is that the god that countless millions have been slaughtered in the name of – and the god which belief in is likely leading the world to a nuclear holocaust at some stage over the Palestine/Israel war if not some other middle eastern religious-based conflict – was clearly created by man, and not the other way around. If there is a god he/she/it is demanding no worship from our ridiculous species and therefore whether he, she, or indeed it exists is of absolutely no importance to the workings of human society. We can wonder, and philosophise, and disagree over this all we want, but this hypothetical god clearly doesn’t give a damn about being worshiped or named or having people burned to death in cages in his/her/its name, so any arguments over its existence or lack thereof are hardly likely to lead to war! What is of importance is that Jehovah/Allah is all made up. That is the only thing that anti-theists need to show for those who are willing to listen. Stop putting your energies into these impossible attempts to disprove the invisible man/woman/thing/super consciousness, and instead put all the energies you want to expand on the whole matter into showing the very easily disproven fallacies contained therein his less-than-holy books. Make the name(s) of the Jehovah/Allah god as theologically obsolete as the names of Zeus and Odin are today, for it is not personal belief in a higher power per se which has caused all the trouble: it is belief in this false cloud Hitler which has. People who believe in or at least wonder about some sort of non-theological higher or original power aren’t out cutting people’s heads off because of their belief in it. Or indeed doing anything evil in its non-name at all. So why waste your time arguing with them? Focus on what matters, and what is achievable, and lets together all kill the bad god of ancient man’s nightmares who still today haunts the world.
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  • I once asked a Mormon cousin of mine the obvious question of if all life is created by God then who created God. Her answer was “Ah that’s easy, God was created by another God.” So the all powerful one and only true God was created by another presumably omnipotent one and only true God. I assume that this other God was also created by another one true God. Methinks there is something not quite right here!
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  • 54
    Lorenzo says:

    I have a brain teaser with the notion of omnipotence:
    1) If someone is omnipotent can do everything conceivable.
    2) At some point, an omnipotent being may want tie a knot that even she can’t untie.
    3) Since she is omnipotent, she must be able to tie such a knot.
    4) The omnipotent being now wants to untie the knot she tied.
    5) Thus follows that the omnipotent being is not omnipotent after all, in every case:
    -Either she unties the knot, proving herself not omnipotent, because she couldn’t tie a knot that even she couldn’t untie.
    -Or she can’t untie the knot, thus she isn’t omnipotent.

    Enjoy! 😀
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  • SteveR Feb 25, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    Her answer was “Ah that’s easy, God was created by another God.” So the all powerful one and only true God was created by another presumably omnipotent one and only true God. I assume that this other God was also created by another one true God. Methinks there is something not quite right here!

    I think that supports the hypothesis that in pronunciation, the second “m” in Mormon, is silent!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtles_all_the_way_down
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  • While I accept that this a completely unqualified opinion, and one for which I have no evidence in support, I have always felt that “life” is an inevitable consequence of a cooling universe, a universe that is with our, or equivalent, fundamental physics.

    The coalescing of hydrogen and helium gases, created at the moment of the singularity, into stars, their ultimate collapse in supernova, creating the heavier elements, those elements accumulating on the planets surrounding other stars, where conditions permit the complex chemistry of organic compounds to exist, and for them to combine into progressively more complex and self replicating molecules, seems like a logical and ultimately unavoidable process. (Apologies for the appalling run on sentence.)

    For that process to lead to ultimately “intelligent” life, and even less likely, self aware life, and finally, and less likely still, self aware and technically manipulative life does require further chance circumstance, but the fact of our existence proves it does happen. Considering the staggering number of opportunities in this one of billions of other galaxies, the law of averages alone will prove it has happened, is happening, and will happen again a staggering number of times.

    Whether we, constrained by light travel time, will ever be reciprocally aware of each other is another argument entirely.
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  • The Omnipotent Being must have sufficient power to commit suicide. A knot around her own neck, tightened sufficiently should achieve her goal. The knot, a mere pile hitch is tight enough that she can never become the second Omnipotent Being, the one with the task of undoing the knot. The knot tying OB has succeeded in tying a knot that she couldn’t later untie. The second OB could have untied the knot if only she had lived.

    So perish all OBs…..
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  • Indeed! The closest thing we have to a god is the sun; it controls all life on this planet. By the way, I’d like to see some evidence for the existance of god – perhaps a double-blind longitudinal on the effectiveness of prayer!
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  • “…On the ropes” is a bit much, as is “terrified”.
    I’m thinking the only bit that serves to matter is the non-requirement of a hypothetical spark to start life, as far as it’s impact on the cults goes. Their imagined moment being magic isn’t there. It goes from chemistry and molecular mechanics to biological system inexorably.

    When I saw how detergent worked as a kid in high school, I was instantly convinced structures leading to life were inevitable. Interestingly perhaps, my chemistry teacher was a rather enthusiastic christian who held a ‘church club’ at school.

    How it slides into a cult’s genesis mythology is probably up to the practitioner of said cult. Most would say “God worked through this process”, like the rest, and move on with their lives.
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  • Jolyon Feb 25, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    By the way, I’d like to see some evidence for the existance of god – perhaps a double-blind longitudinal on the effectiveness of prayer!

    It has been tried.

    http://web.med.harvard.edu/sites/RELEASES/html/3_31STEP.html
    Largest Study of Third-Party Prayer Suggests Such Prayer Not Effective In Reducing Complications Following Heart Surgery
    Some patients were told they may or may not receive intercessory prayer: complications occurred in 52 percent of those who received prayer (Group 1) versus 51 percent of those who did not receive prayer (Group 2). Complications occurred in 59 percent of patients who were told they would receive prayer (Group 3) versus 52 percent, who also received prayer, but were uncertain of receiving it (Group 1). Major complications and thirty-day mortality were similar across the three groups.
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  • I like to break it down to three major ‘hurdles’. Appearance of life, appearance of multicellular life, and appearance of intelligent life.

    To me, of any of these, the first step seem to be the most difficult to wrap my head around. But hey, if we can demonstrate it in a reasonable fashion (and we will, I’m sure), that will surely be the death of all those ridiculous bronze-age ideas.

    However, from what we know, the second step seemed to have taken the longest time. Photosynthesis seemed to have been a key initial catalyst, and it is still what makes life as we know it possible (bottom of the food chain). Again, all it seem to take is little push.

    As for the appearance of intelligent life, I don’t really see a major difficulty (apes are what, high-ninety-percent similar to us genetically?).

    Creationism now just sound completely silly, and not even worth thinking about. So narrow-minded, parochial, and arrogant. We know better than that, even though we know we are still, frankly, ignorant (all we have is Earth, some robots on Mars, and nothing more).

    Onward we go.
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  • As for the appearance of intelligent life, I don’t really see a major
    difficulty (apes are what, high-ninety-percent similar to us
    genetically?).

    I think that most, probably all, animal life can be considered intelligent. Yes there is a huge variation, but if you look, you can see pretty much everything using at least some intelligence.

    Hence my additional category of self aware and technically manipulative lifeforms, something that on this planet shows no sign of evolving other than in primates, and in my dog.
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  • JC Sheepdog Feb 25, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    I think that most, probably all, animal life can be considered intelligent. Yes there is a huge variation, but if you look, you can see pretty much everything using at least some intelligence.

    I think you are talking about vertebrate life. Zoo-plankton is a bit of a stretch of the imagination!
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  • I don’t see that much terror – yet – from reading this article. I think what will truly make them terrified will be the creation of life in a test-tube. Something repeatable, than anyone with the proper equipment can do. That would take all the mystery out of it. We have already seen evolution in a test tube, next up is life from non-life. I believe this is more likely in the near future than finding life elsewhere, like on Mars.
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  • I think chordates with data connections to and from a single location for neurons are a good place to talk of something like the start of intelligence.

    Brains are first and foremost for managing movement, specifically co-ordinating multiple sensory inputs and delivering appropriate sequences of movements. This is when we might first see processes we could describe as inferential and purposeful (choosing one of a broad set of responses). Being trainable into an utterly novel behaviour might be a particularly good marker for a general purpose inferential machine as opposed to something with merely a large set of autonomous responses.

    Thinking about it, we may be setting the bar a little high for some we talk about here…
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  • 69
    Lorenzo says:

    Phil,
    Brilliant way out! If you’re not an OB…
    I may add that the OB must stay dead and not resurrect herself, because she would prove herself not omnipotent twofold by doing so.

    It also means that Nietzsche was right, after all. God is dead.
    And we also know how and why it happened… 😀
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  • Doug Feb 26, 2015 at 7:08 am

    Comb jellies, perhaps?

    Sorry about the rubbish typing.

    Yes – an early (apparently independent) multicellular branch on the evolutionary tree, but the sponges are the ones which illustrate single cells combining into structured multicellular organisms.
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  • Echo Feb 26, 2015 at 7:32 am

    Don’t you think this kind of experiment is rather silly? Play God for a second and see how you would respond.

    It may be, but a whole list of Christian establishments took it seriously enough to participate.

    Presumably to try to further the mistaken Templeton view, that “God is compatible with science”! – But as usual religious claims fail when objectively tested.
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  • @OP – The Christian right’s obsessive hatred of Darwin is a wonder to behold, but it could someday be rivaled by the hatred of someone you’ve probably never even heard of.

    They seem to direct plenty of hatred at this site!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6QYDdgP9eg

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqPGOhXoprU
    *Szostak begins his lecture with examples of the extreme environments in which life exists on Earth. He postulates that given the large number of earth-like planets orbiting sun-like stars, and the ability of microbial life to exist in a wide range of environments, it is probable that an environment that could support life exists somewhere in our galaxy. However, whether or not life does exist elsewhere, depends on the answer to the question of how difficult it is for life to arise from the chemistry of the early planets. Szostak proceeds to demonstrate that by starting with simple molecules and conditions found on the early earth, it may in fact be possible to generate a primitive, self-replicating protocell.”
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  • Saying that the universe NEEDS things is teleology. Teleology in its most classic form is Aristotleanism. This is a God-friendly philosophy (why else would the Thomists love it so much?) and it’s pretty odd to find a skeptic thinking this helps their case out.
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  • I just started reading the book Social Evolution by Robert Trivers. Its an old book he wrote, a text book for an intro class on evolutionary theory and behavior. So far its mostly stuff I already knew but one new bit of info was his overview of what biology was like before Darwin. Its amazing how the concept of God had been part of main stream western science even up to the 19th century. The idea was that there were various levels of “perfection” leading up to humans which were the closest to God. (BTW, this also fit with the racist anthropology of that time which viewed indigenous and darker skinned people as sub-humans).

    But my point is that I can really understand why Darwin was seen as such an attack on religion and relevant to this article I doubt very much this latest research really has the Creationists “terrified”. They have faith, actually in this case even I have faith, in their ability to endlessly rationalize or ignore new information.
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  • I’ve always thought that, besides abiogenesis and evolution, cosmology offers the greatest evidence against the Christian god. I used to piss off my religious family members by asking “What about asteroids and comets? Look at all those craters on the moon, not to mention right here on Earth. God doesn’t seem to be in control of all that space debris.” Or “What about black holes and supernovae and GRBs and all those massive, terrifying, destructive forces we see at work in the Universe? Isn’t God’s work supposed to be perfect? Doesn’t look that way.” And of course, there’s always cosmic distances and deep time, which completely refute every word of Genesis.
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  • All very interesting, but why would it have creationists “terrified”? Isn’t there enough evidence against their “theories” already?

    To suggest that more evidence will terrify or convince them is to miss the point; we could spot an extrasolar planet with life; we could pick up and start to decode a signal from extraterrestrials; we could produce life in the laboratory from scratch; hell, we could have an alien craft visit us tomorrow — and absolutely nothing would ever sway them from their convictions.

    A little more “theoretical” science they don’t understand is not going to change any of their minds.
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  • It’s a little known trick known as editorial artistic licence, designed to hook you in. It’s from Salon, which has a heavy liberal leftist slant. Not that it’s necessarily bad, but basically, you have to take what they say with a grain of salt. The ‘news’ IIRC isn’t really that fresh anyway.

    As you say, there would be much better things to get excited about.. The actual content is interesting though, not sure how that would transfer experimentally.
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  • the bible has nothing much to say about the world as it is. if you’re a true xtian then any suggestion there might be a land mass that isn’t in east europe, west asia or north africa is pretty much herasy. Britain, USA and Australia for example share a fact with gay marriage. none of them are allowed in the bible
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  • Certainly puts literalists on the ropes but does not put “God” on the ropes for anyone who has integrated evolution into there understanding of God or creative force. Some flavors of providentialists and even biblical scholars would not find this really that threatening. The method of creation can always be incorporated into an ever expanding and flexible concept of creator that has well been established to withstand all kinds of scientific assaults and philosophical challenges, eventually becoming encorporated into doctrine (over a long period of time) by progressives within the establishment. The seeming absence or indifference of a higher power and the plethora of explanations, rationales pre-date this discovery by thousands of years and will continue to prevail in most quarters of religion out of necessity. The Bible says humans were whipped together out of dust, brought into being by the will and energies of a supreme being (probably influenced by early atomic theory about matter and the universe being ultimately composed of particles that are indivisible at some point, dust being the most relatable to the reader at that point in time. I guess you might say this was pretty progressive stuff considering the variety of relatively superstitious options available at the time). That life HAD to evolve really presses the “design” argument more than it might harm the literals and probably something the I.D. crowd will encorporate into their argument.

    Most of these arguments seem fueled by personal resentment and by people with undeclared axes to grind which tends to harm their effectiveness and ironically, given that this is a scientifically based debate, their objectivity.

    These guys should really pick up something other than a science book once in a while. I’d start with the religious developmental history of the Middle East, the Pre-Judaic peoples, brush up on the influence of Greek science.
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  • Rob Feb 27, 2015 at 9:10 am

    That life HAD to evolve really presses the “design” argument more than it might harm the literals and probably something the I.D. crowd will encorporate into their argument.

    Although, I would have to say, for an infinitely powerful “intelligent creator”, who can do anything, creating worshipping humans, as the approximately 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001%, central feature of a vast universe, is incredibly wasteful, while taking over 10 billion years to make them a planet, and over a further 3 billion years to get around to more complex intelligent life forms:- is SERIOUSLY SLOW, even for a basic plodding labourer! ! !
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  • While I wouldn’t wish to seem disrespectful, as far as I am aware the bible does not explictly ban other land masses as such. Nor is much said about life elsewhere in the (real) universe.
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  • You are assuming that the accumulation of more facts, more evidence, will eat away at Christian certainty. But at this point, just as no new developments in cosmology are needed to undermine the “turtles all the way down” explanation of what holds up the earth, undermining Christian certainty is not about a need to mount a challenge to the plausibility of Christian mythology. For at least the better part of a century, any informed person who has maintained that there is shred of truth in Christian mythology concerning the origin of the universe or life on earth has not been operating in the realm of people to whom evidence matters.
    If aliens arrived tomorrow and brought with them massive quantities of high-resolution video presenting the last five millenia of human events on earth, I’m convinced that the faith of many fundamentalists would remain unshaken.
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  • I used to be a ‘Creationist’.

    I love science and I love God. In fact it is my firm assertion that if God created the earth, then He created the laws of science. So I began to ask the question, what if God did create the earth a mere seven thousand years ago and had (has) the power to speak it all into existence as scripture says. Furthermore, if He also had (has) the creativity to make everything as we see it, could He not also have the creativity to create the universe with complex, pre-history, even as a human author might do with an epic saga?

    The day I began reasoning along those lines is the day the war within me over whether science or faith was true ended. Furthermore, my faith was no longer dependent upon whether science would some day disprove faith.

    Now my faith is based solely upon what it should have been all along; my relationship with God.

    I am a believer.

    And I am a man who loves science.

    The two are no longer at odds within me.

    Call me a religious nut if you will, but I love science both because it makes sense and because the God who loves me invented it.

    This recent new science does not scare me, but it excites me because I love to see science in action since it helps me understand my world as well as the mind of God.
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  • My friend, if you’re a man who loves science then clearly you recognize that your assertion about an omnipotent creator that can speak things into existence, including pre-history, breaks a fundamental tenet of scientific philosophy: falsifiability. It’s unscientific in the purest sense of the term.
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  • Hi Earnest,

    You’ve explained that you believe God invented it but it does sound like the atheist universe only, with a God. Theists say that an atheist universe has no purpose. Are you ok with that?
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  • In fact it is my firm assertion that if God created the earth, then He created the laws of science.

    If you love science as “bequeathed you by the god who loves you”, then do not dishonor it by doing it wrong. Provide repeatable, scientific evidence for this “firm” assertion. As it is, nothing prevents a person from a different religion (or a fiction writer) from making another empty assertion that his god created your god and all that you attribute him, also from “scripture” and backed by his perceived personal relationship.

    The day I began reasoning along those lines is the day the war within me over whether science or faith was true ended…Now my faith is based solely upon what it should have been all along; my relationship with God.

    That is neither science nor logic, but emotional rationalization. That was the day your limbic system overruled your neo-cortex again, scientifically speaking.
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  • Ernest Feb 27, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    I love science and I love God.
    In fact it is my firm assertion that if God created the earth, then He created the laws of science.

    Sorry, but you just got the order of existence wrong by about 10 billion years!

    Our Sun is a second generation star, and is only slightly older than the Earth.
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  • 96
    Richard says:

    Let’s look at this point by point. My rebuttal or counter points will be framed by <<< aldjaldfj >>>.

    “Jeremy England, a young MIT professor who’s proposed a theory, based in thermodynamics, showing that the emergence of life was not accidental, but necessary.” <<>>

    “[U]nder certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life,” he was quoted as saying in an article in Quanta magazine early in 2014, that’s since been republished by Scientific American and, more recently, by Business Insider. In essence, he’s saying, life itself evolved out of simpler non-living systems.” <<<Under Certain Conditions goes to my 1st point. Next, the words “matter inexorably acquires must be examined.

    Matter, where did it come from? Was the matter an accidental occurrence? What needs to be explained is how the matter came to be, then how the certain circumstances came to be that then enabled life to emerge. Anyone can put forth a theory and find certain conditions that create the illusion that the theory is approaching the status of a law, like Newton’s law of Gravity. This doesn’t even get close to scaring an educated Christian who believes in creation and evolution knowing who is in control of both processes.

    Inexorably or inexorable is a big word we should examine. When you look at the definition it seems as persistent as a Creator of the whole shebang doesn’t it? How does matter have an relentless, unbending, uncompromising will to do anything accidentially, let alone create life? No creator – supreme being necessary for all this to happen, just a roll of the dice that inexorably had to occur.

    Now lets get to the word acquires. To buy or obtain for oneself. Learn or develop a skill, habit, or quality. Achieve. Pretty heady stuff for an accident without God the Father involved.>>>

    <<<Being a professor and teaching at MIT or Tumbleweed Tech often times causes people to roll over when someone with credentials posits a theory. You don’t need a doctorate to poke holes in a theory, just a little intellect and some time to break down the theory into its component words to understand what is actually being said with those words as it relates to the theory being proposed. In this case, the theory is a long, long way from being a scientific law or law of {Nature(532395=99=2 9’s)}. Heaven forbid {Jesus(1 513 1=191=92)} might be involved in all this inexorable acquisition by {matter(432259=9934=1834=934=I am)} that I am from the OT and all the statements in the book of John where Jesus said I am the {truth(29328=294 or 924)}.
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  • When have science, reason and facts ever made a difference to the religious and creationists? I fully support the right to believe as you wish, however it becomes anther story when they try to force their beliefs on the public via the school curriculums. At that point, science and reason must take precedence.
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  • Richard Feb 27, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    There are two links on my earlier comment where a Nobel Prize winning geneticist explains how abiogenesis works.

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/02/god-is-on-the-ropes-the-brilliant-new-science-that-has-creationists-and-the-christian-right-terrified/#li-comment-170417

    Matter, where did it come from? Was the matter an accidental occurrence?

    The credible hypothesis is that matter/energy came from the Big-Bang.

    What needs to be explained is how the matter came to be,

    After the inflation and cooling atoms of hydrogen and helium formed, – with gravity gradually pulling the atoms into clusters they formed stars.

    then how the certain circumstances came to be that then enabled life to emerge.

    The nuclear furnaces of the early large stars, fused atoms into heavy elements, and when the stars exploded, those heavy elements were scattered in nebulae back into more hydrogen and helium clouds.

    These then formed second generations of stars with accretion disks and planets.

    Temperature changes and radiation formed various organic molecules, which are the basis for life processes. – both in space and on planitary bodies.

    Anyone can put forth a theory and find certain conditions that create the illusion that the theory is approaching the status of a law, like Newton’s law of Gravity.

    Nobody is suggesting that the various hypotheses about abiogenesis are established as scientific laws, but experimental works shows that we could well create artificial life within the next few years.

    The links on my earlier comment give some explanations of this very complex subject.
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  • 99
    Richard says:

    Unfortunately, my first point was lost while my editing time elapsed before I could conclude the job. I will try and reconstruct the point.

    First off, it is a theory and as such, it is very easy to construct certain conditions that will appear to validate the theory. Confirmation bias is the technical term and is found on Wikipedia and other sites.

    Now, let’s examine the term necessary to see what we find. Required to be done, achieved, present, etc., meaning certain conditions are required to exist for another result to occur. How does this matter come to require anything and then how does this light or energy come to be that causes the matter to inexorably result in life?

    What we are given here is an atheist or anti theist theory and confirmation bias used to validate the theory.

    I don’t know if I am fully recreating my first point, but I know I enhanced it by adding confirmation bias to the argument. Enjoy.
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  • HA i agree. Reason, evidence, reality will not sway them. Even if we discover aliens Christians will just try to convert them. Nothing will stop Christianity, Islam etc.. except a numbers game, if 100 or 500 years from now the numbers are reversed and its 80% non-believers and 20% Christians, then they just wont have the power and money over society as they do now. Scandinavia gives me some hope its possible.
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  • 104
    RandyPing says:

    The point is ABIOGENESIS. The point is that this is a very good thing to read, including the pdf file imbedded in the article to use the next time a creationis/ID believer says that “Science can’t explain how life got started, therefore Goddidit!”. Now you can say “Actually, that is not true and here is why…”. This is a great tool for your kit, it is information that you can use in refuting religious nonsense.
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  • All I know is that – the same science that puts people behind bars, beauty enhancements, technology and, and… and need I name more – is the same science they want to say is hogwash when it comes to proving or disproving creation…
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  • 106
    Lorenzo says:

    I was considering to embark in an explanation about the current theory and listing some of the most compelling evidences they have in favor, complete with an explanation of how confirmation bias is removed, but I concluded that it would be a waste of valuable time to do so with someone who comes terribly close to state that “christians are right because they postulate some random junk that cannot possibly be tested against the physical world”.

    I’d like to add just one thing:

    You don’t need a doctorate to poke holes in a theory

    All you need to dismiss a theory are evidences. To look for them in a proper way and reach solid conclusions you need, though, extensive training and knowledge of the subject matter. A doctorate isn’t guarantee of any of that.

    To flatter yourself by thinking that you can gauge holes in every theory just by fingering your brain a little bit, takes ignorance in spades -and a very hypertrophic ego.

    ~~~

    Oh, if someone wants to read the explanation I mentioned above, just ask, but it’s gonna be long to read and even longer to write… So be careful (and it might not come immediately). 😉
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  • Dammit! I’m torn. I’d love to hear your account but I really don’t won’t to distract you from from your more important work here. Count this as a (rather selfish) vote in favour…
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  • Richard Feb 27, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    I found yor earlier post somewhat difficult to read. On this site if you start the line of quotes with a > and leave a line space at the end of them, this separates the quotes from the text more clearly.

    Now, let’s examine the term necessary to see what we find. Required to be done, achieved, present, etc., meaning certain conditions are required to exist for another result to occur.

    The scientific evidence of the creation of heavy element by nuclear fusion in stars is well evidence in multiple studies – as is the detection of organic molecules widely throughout the visble universe.

    How does this matter come to require anything and then how does this light or energy come to be that causes the matter to inexorably result in life?

    Nothing is proven to “inexorably result in life”! – but the size, number of reacting molecules in the universe, and the time-scales, means that even very improbable reactions are likely to have occurred somewhere among the billions of stars.

    What we are given here is an atheist or anti theist theory and confirmation bias used to validate the theory.

    Any relationship to atheism is purely coincidental. The chemistry of abiogenesis is science.
    If some particular god-claims are debunked by science, – that has been happening since humans started objectively experimenting.
    (The universe is not a set of crystal spheres arranged around the Earth for angels to dance on! – and Zeus does not live on top of Mount Olympus! )
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  • 110
    Steven says:

    What is your problem??? God doesn’t exist to you . . . Christianity doesn’t exist to you . . . But YOU still have a problem with God and Christianity. I have no problem with God, Christianity, Darwin, or creationism . . . they all have their own places in the lives and beliefs of each individual with freedom of thought. I find no joy in the destruction of others beliefs, nor do I find joy in bringing others down or forcing them to question their beliefs. The only people that have a problem with others beliefs, are those who have a feeble mind, full of doubt, and incapable of understanding freedom of thought.
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  • Steven Mar 1, 2015 at 1:09 am

    What is your problem??? God doesn’t exist to you

    God-delusions do exist in the minds of believers, they can induce some pretty dire actions affecting other people.

    . . . Christianity doesn’t exist to you

    Oh but it does, it is in many places and thousands of different denominations and cults.

    . . . But YOU still have a problem with God and Christianity.

    Well yes! We have to live in a world populated by Christians, many with very nutty beliefs which influence politics and impinge on other people’s lives.

    I have no problem with God,

    None of them? (There are thousands of gods!)
    How are you getting on with Zeus, Mars, and Anubis?

    I have no problem with God, Christianity, Darwin, or creationism . . . they all have their own places in the lives and beliefs of each individual with freedom of thought.

    The conflicts and contradictions between are confined to the cognitive dissonance in individual brains – unless those involved try to use the two fantasy faith items in the real world.

    I find no joy in the destruction of others beliefs, nor do I find joy in bringing others down or forcing them to question their beliefs.

    I’m a scientist who is concerned with what actually works in the real world using scientific methodology and logical reasoning.
    Some people make acquire information or make decisions using “faith-thinking” (belief without evidence or proof). –
    The consequences are often described in accident reports.

    The only people that have a problem with others beliefs, are those who have a feeble mind, full of doubt, and incapable of understanding freedom of thought.

    Nope! The people whose thoughts are utterly “free” from evidence-based thinking, usually have trouble coping with the hard facts of reality, due to their lack of doubt, and lack of revision, of poor ideas.
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  • Maybe this “new science” will in fact influence some creationists to abandon their views; however, I doubt it. Having been one myself for many years, I know there was no fact or scientific evidence that swayed me. I had indoctrinated myself against those facts. In the end what convinced me was God Himself proving His non-existence to me. Sadly, it took me decades to realize God had continued to very obviously not exist throughout my life. I will always regret my slowness to notice what He was doing (nothing), and how real He was (not at all).
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  • Most of the comments I read here are expressions of prejudice (against religion), not based on any scientific enquiry into the original claims of England, the significance of which has been grossly inflated by Rosenberg. England has extended the work of Prigogine and others who looked at the foundations of nonequilibrium thermodynamics four decades ago, but his calculations add no new principle for discussion in relation to the character of biological systems. England’s calculations have little relevance to most theological claims. Most intelligent Christians have long been capable of handling science. The number of true believers among physicists is witness to the conceptual chasm between what is commonly taken as “faith” and “science” by people well versed in such matters. The ground on which Rosenberg makes his claims about England’s calculations is the yin of the Christian scientists’ yang. Both are sadly misguided, mostly on account of the way the real problems of theoretical biology have been trivialised by the authority popularly accorded the likes of Crick and Dawkins.

    Dawkins stifles enquiry that may call into question his religious belief in natural selection (rather than God) as the causative, “creative” agent in biology. So England’s calculations will no doubt suit him, providing further apparent justification for closing his eyes to the intricate cybernetic/computational/intelligent causation within biological systems and ascribing everything to the net statistical effects of bulk energy flow through matter. Dawkins relies on dogmatism and portrays his opinions as self-evident facts (“It is plain and it is true” [1]) rather than encouraging searching enquiry into his claim that “it is the DNA that matters” because he cannot explain (except with very inadequate handwaving about “selection”) what it is about natural processes that provides for the emergence of ‘machines’ capable of interpreting information collected in them as a self-description. They replicate. End of story. Close down further discussion! Discussion of the phenotypic structures, upon which selection acts, is restricted to the terms of physical mechanisms (of the England sort) by the likes of Dawkins, as if the cybernetic control inherent in biological systems were a fancy illusion. However, Dawkins and his Christian nemeses have made a category error by assigning all natural causation to the inexorability of physical laws – one retreating into “God” and the other into “selection” or “chance” to account for the intelligence of biological processes. [I use the word “intelligence” here as it is implicitly defined in terms such as “artificial intelligence” – it relates to computation and information processing, as such things are definable independent of any material instantiation.]

    In terms of our current understanding, the origin of genetic coding (the onset of symbolic-computational processes) was an extraordinary event on this planet, but something similar has probably occurred all over the place in the cosmos, indicating that it is one of nature’s most basic tendencies. This phenomenon of emergent, self-instantiated (undesigned) computation is not well understood in terms of even the most modern physics and chemistry and England’s contribution to elucidating the problem is close to zero. His dynamic groups of atoms are light years away from even the most rudimentary von Neumann machine. It is not enough to accumulate information (DNA strings) to get biology. Dawkins’ holy platonic space of genetic sequences that can be given fixed phenotypic interpretations as diverse species [2] is a religiously motivated (DNA worship) fiction. I would go so far as to say that the religious belief he promulgates is dangerous to humanity and the planet. It is the religion of the genetic engineers who sell themselves as reliably in command of the truth (“scientific consensus”), never admitting that they have a very poor understanding of how changes in genetic information play their course through the inordinately complex, computationally self-organised interaction-networks that constitute the biosphere. Systems biology is only just beginning to assess the magnitude of the scientific problems involved. Genes as causes don’t cut the mustard. Selection is a dead duck, thrashed to death by evangelists like Dawkins.

    Christianity is arrogant in one way, science (as practised in the public arena) in another. At the heart of Christianity is the claim “that apart from the outpouring of blood there is no remission of sins” (Hebrews 9:22), a dictate that is claimed to come from the same source (God) as the natural “laws” that govern the operation of the universe – the incredibly detailed, observable regularities that we sum up in the equations of quantum mechanical field theory and the like. The idea of justice through propitiatory blood sacrifice is clearly sociologically constructed, and is now not acceptable, especially as a moral concept, but it is supposed to be at the heart of the cosmic order that emerged after the Violent Explosion [3]. There is an extreme arrogance in claiming that one version of a primitive, culturally conditioned belief about killing things as sacrifices to gods is somehow embedded in the cosmos, and that there is but one historical line of actual truth (Jesus died for our sins) originating from outside the cosmos and sustained through a particular series of historico-political upheavals (the hand of God on his chosen people) that are otherwise indistinguishable in type, motivation and outcome from what all other cultures have been through.

    However, I find a similar (scientific) arrogance in many comments on this website. There is an implicit assumption that current evolutionary theory provides a good guide to the significance of biology in the cosmos, without acknowledging the problem implicit in the fact that the possibility of positing “significance” is a product of biological processes. You only have to be a little way wrong in your understanding of biology for your estimation of the significance of its processes to be horribly astray. The way I see it, modern biology (Dawkinsian-type stories about genes and their effects) is in no position to say “this is the way it is”, either in relation to an accurate and reliable perception of how nature works or in relation to mitigating the global crises (the Anthropocene) into which humanity’s technologically-driven greed and expansion has plunged us all.

    Current molecular biology provides but a feeble basis (it has deep conceptual problems) on which to decide the wisdom of any major intervention (like the use of “synthetic biology” – actually a misnomer) in the dynamics of the biosphere. In that realm, some of the Christians may have better ideas than those embodied in the secular scientific consensus, much of which is just as self-aggrandizing and self-serving as explicitly religious claims. Individual scientists spend a lot of their time inventing far-fetched stories about the significance of what they have done or intend to do (grant applications) as a way of increasing their professional power bases. The institutions in which they work demand loyalty to corporate or national goals, and that includes universities; it is not restricted to commercial giants. The body of scientific knowledge in biology that is reliable and independent of these social processes (that is, the real body of facts) is itself ideologically framed at a level much deeper than that apparent in my Violent Explosion example from physics. Molecular biologists since Crick have been so afraid of teleology that they have precluded an understanding of how autonomous, meaningful information processing (which is what “intentions” and “purposes” are) can be real causes of events in the world, and yet that is what emerged at the origin of life. Arrogant science has told people that they are simply wrong to think of meaningfulness as something that might have existed in protocells, implying that whatever meaningfulness they think they see in the world around them is an illusion.

    [1] The Blind Watchmaker, p111 (Norton Edition). Concerning the character of biological information, Dawkins is reduced to pronouncing, in the manner of a true High Priest, that it is the “plain truth” that genetic sequences constitute software (algorithms).

    [2] The Blind Watchmaker, p73

    [3] I use this term provocatively to illustrate/emphasise that even “Big Bang” is evocative of various experiences in everyday contemporary life and is not a socio-psychologically neutral specification of cosmic origins – scientists, just like other thinkers, often end up being misled by their metaphors. Although hermeneutic bias is practically inescapable, scientists should take special care (since they claim a certain literalness to their descriptions) to ornament what they say with caveats to guide critical awareness of the way they are constructing their conception of the world.
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  • Peter Mar 11, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    Oh dear! oh dear! So much to say and so little evidence based content!

    Dawkins relies on dogmatism and portrays his opinions as self-evident facts (“It is plain and it is true” [1]) rather than encouraging searching enquiry into his claim that “it is the DNA that matters” because he cannot explain (except with very inadequate handwaving about “selection”) what it is about natural processes that provides for the emergence of ‘machines’ capable of interpreting information collected in them as a self-description. They replicate. End of story. Close down further discussion! Discussion of the phenotypic structures, upon which selection acts, is restricted to the terms of physical mechanisms (of the England sort) by the likes of Dawkins, as if the cybernetic control inherent in biological systems were a fancy illusion. However, Dawkins and his Christian nemeses have made a category error by assigning all natural causation to the inexorability of physical laws – one retreating into “God” and the other into “selection” or “chance” to account for the intelligence of biological processes.

    Perhaps you should actually read some of his books?

    Could I suggest, “Climbing Mount Improbable”, as a starting point.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climbing_Mount_Improbable
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  • 117
    inoma_ilala says:

    According to an American sociologist, who conducted a fairly extensive survey, it is not true that most scientists are non-religious and, in fact, only a very small percentage are hostile to religion.

    The sociologist in question is Elaine Howard Ecklund. See here: http://www.elainehowardecklund.com/books/science-vs-religion/

    Hmm… Interesting.

    By the way… I find all this talk about “God being on the ropes” quite laughable. Is there no end to atheist auto-suggestion? The “death of God” has been confidently proclaimed for so long now it’s becoming a bore. Either God exists or he does not. Most of the contributors to this site are convinced he does not. But if you are wrong, then no amount of proclaiming his demise is going to make any difference whatsoever. If you are right (which you are not), then it’s strange that you have no alternative philosophy, which actually fits reality. Certainly the self-refuting philosophy of naturalism doesn’t work, given that it cannot even explain the validity of reason itself, never mind free-will, morality and consciousness (and its explanation for complexity stretches credulity to the limit). Some people – myself included – are completely convinced (both intellectually and experientially) that God exists, and so we find your proclamations rather amusing.
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  • inoma_ilala Mar 20, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    Either God exists or he does not. Most of the contributors to this site are convinced he does not.

    That’s not quite so. There is good evidence for the locations of the god-delusions in human brains, so while gods do not exist in the real world, they do exist in many diverse forms in the imaginations of their followers.

    But if you are wrong, then no amount of proclaiming his demise is going to make any difference whatsoever.

    Each believer’s god-delusion will proclaim to them, that any contrary beliefs are “wrong” – including the numerous contradictory beliefs generated by other people’s god-delusions.

    If you are right (which you are not), then it’s strange that you have no alternative philosophy, which actually fits reality.

    This I’m afraid is just a view based on the spoon-fed dependency of those indoctrination has inhibited them from generating their own philosophy, hence the erroneous claim, that those who think out their own philosophy, rather than being spoon fed dogma, “have no philosophy”!

    Certainly the self-refuting philosophy of naturalism doesn’t work,

    Natural sciences are the best explanations we have of the objectively observed features of reality. If “scientific naturalism” did not work, the technologies based on it would not work! – They do work!

    given that it cannot even explain the validity of reason itself,

    Like science, reason justifies itself by making successful predictions in the real world.

    never mind free-will, morality and consciousness (and its explanation for complexity stretches credulity to the limit).

    Science either gives the most probable answers, or admits it does not know. There is no need for made-up pseudo-answers or arguments from personal incredulity.

    Some people – myself included – are completely convinced (both intellectually and experientially) that God exists,

    Your god-delusion will no doubt make efforts to maintain your belief in its projected existence – as will the god-delusions of others who follow gods with totally contradictory dogmas and mythologies to yours.

    and so we find your proclamations rather amusing.

    That is not at all surprising when strongly indoctrinated closed minds opt for incredulity over evidence and reasoning.
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  • 119
    Dmitry says:

    I don’t know, this seems like wishful thinking to me. The laws of physics can produce a lot of interesting things because they have a lot of information in them. But to unfold into a new language and a new system that understands it, that’s magic. Everything we know about computer science and information science speaks strongly against this. There is a good reason why we can’t compress information beyond a certain point without permanently losing it, we can only remove redundancies and dead space. Going the other way, a system cannot produce information that was not inserted or already there.
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