Home » Education, Evolution, Religion » Author Dan Brown Discusses His Loss of Faith as a Child

Author Dan Brown Discusses His Loss of Faith as a Child

Author Dan Brown is interviewed at Parade, and comments on his loss of faith as a kid:

I was raised Episcopalian, and I was very religious as a kid. Then, in eighth or ninth grade, I studied astronomy, cosmology, and the origins of the universe. I remember saying to a minister, “I don’t get it. I read a book that said there was an explosion known as the Big Bang, but here it says God created heaven and Earth and the animals in seven days. Which is right?” Unfortunately, the response I got was, “Nice boys don’t ask that question.” A light went off, and I said, “The Bible doesn’t make sense. Science makes much more sense to me.” And I just gravitated away from religion.

It’s six days of creation in Genesis, not seven days. He should read Gerald Schroeder’s book The Science of God.

I’d like to ask our wonderful commenters to contribute other stories of notable people who have lost their faith as a result of materialistic/evolutionary presumptions in modern science.

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69 Responses to Author Dan Brown Discusses His Loss of Faith as a Child

  1. I would have thought that the lesson of the Dan Brown story is not that he didn’t know what he was rejecting (i.e. mistaking the number of days of Creation) but that the minister gave an answer to his quite legitimate query that struck him as being fobbed off. Perhaps the minister is the one who needs the remedial lesson in science-religion relations, so he can give an answer that keeps the flame of inquiry alive. My guess is that a lot of the stories you’re inviting will show religion in a similarly embarrassing light. This is why it’s so important that theologians and ministers get on board with ID — so they can avoid this unintentional bleeding of the ranks.

  2. A publisher I know lost his faith precisely due to Darwinism. He was for many years an atheist.

    After he got his life back together, he acquired all the books he could find on intelligent design, and is an advocate to this day.

    I have heard a similar story from a medical doctor, and from a surprising number of other persons, including people you might not expect.

    My favourite story is from a priest who was preparing some Roma (gypsies) for confirmation in the Catholic Church and had to explain to them that they were not “children of apes” but children of God.

  3. 3

    If that’s all it took to “turn off the light”, I suggest it wasn’t much of a light to begin with. It sounds to me that, like so many others, Mr. Brown’s “atheism” was really an ill-considered reaction to the failings of authority figures he trusted and felt betrayed by.

  4. I have never understood using the big bang as evidence against the testimony of Scripture.

    “In the beginning God created (BANG) the heavens and the earth.”

    I have always seen it as consummate proof that the scriptures are correct.

  5. It seems the point of this post is that science (or at least science that doesn’t include god in all the gaps) leads people away from religion, and thus science is at fault.

    I respect your honesty. It’s about time someone on the ID side had the courage to state explicitly what they really believe.

  6. Umm, Darwin.

  7. Considering Dan Brown’s blanket mishandling of basic historical facts in his novels, it’s hard to take Dan Brown’s personal history seriously.

  8. I am always amazed by someone whose decisions of this magnitude are made at such a young age. I find it hard to imagine that Brown possessed the faculties to categorically reject the existence of God at that young age, but he had to be indignant–what other reaction would he have.

    I do know a woman who, when she was seventeen or eighteen years of age asked a lutheran minister why she should believe what was written in the Bible. He responded hastily that she had to take it all on faith. She passed away last week at eighty-six having never believed. His answer baffled her.

    When someone of the faith, particularly a professional, answers a question like this with such a trite answer it is shameful. Serious questions deserve serious and well thought out answers. Ministers like this should be selling shoes as far as I am concerned.

  9. Steve, I completely agree with you…as a (Lutheran) clergyperson myself. I must say my seminary training back in the 70s prepared me to deal with questions like Dan’s much more adequately than his priest’s seminary did, it seems. I could have talked very readily and easily with Dan about the meaning of the Creation and Fall narrative in Genesis apart from the latest discoveries in biological science.

    The problem with mainline denominations like mine is rather the opposite. As far as I can tell, we don’t challenge the dominant paradigm in biology, and don’t feel we’re entitled to do so. We have achieved (or settled for) a kind of truce in which we don’t permit biologists to interpret Genesis, and we don’t believe we can help them interpret their biological data.

  10. Considering Dan Brown’s blanket mishandling of basic historical facts in his novels, it’s hard to take Dan Brown’s personal history seriously.

    I started to write a sarcastic comment making a similar complaint about C.S. Lewis, to make the point that authors of fiction are writing fiction. But it came across as silly and aggressive, and frankly the idea seemed so obvious that I wonder if I haven’t missed your point. Has Dan Brown ever seriously claimed that the plots of his fiction books are true?

  11. Lutepisc, #8. We have achieved (or settled for) a kind of truce in which we don’t permit biologists to interpret Genesis, and we don’t believe we can help them interpret their biological data.

    Yet, if I may ask, can there really be a truce here? I think it’s clear to most people that, taking Genesis as straightforward history, one can’t have one’s cake and eat it too.

    So if one is convinced that the scientific understanding is reasonably accurate, why is not the simplest explanation for the obvious discrepancies that the biblical account is merely the fruit of someone’s creative imagination?

    Or, if God can make a claim in one age that another age is able to demonstrate false (OK, euphemistically, figurative or allegorical; the point is, the text looks straightforward and was historically generally understood to be so), why would those who were in a position to lift the wool from their eyes in this instance choose to believe him on the next thing he said, simply because they hadn’t (yet) been forced by actual fact to reinterpret his words?

  12. I never believed the Bible either — until I read it. Which happened in my early 20s. It was not what I was lead to believe.

  13. I find that whenever I wish to justify my own opinion on something, I am sometimes prone to exaggerating the perceived sins of those on the opposing side. It’s only human.

  14. “Yet, if I may ask, can there really be a truce here? I think it’s clear to most people that, taking Genesis as straightforward history, one can’t have one’s cake and eat it too.”

    But that’s exactly the point, RickToews. Genesis is not written as “straightforward history,” as we understand those words today. Indeed, its intended audience had no newspapers or history textbooks, and would not have understood modern distinctions like this. Rather, the Creation and Fall narrative is a theological treatise–presenting its readers with an understanding of who God is, and discussing the relationship between God and humanity–in the form of a story. The story conveys truths. They are not intended primarily as biological or historical truths…but as existential truths about our human relationships with each other, about our capacity for good or evil, and about our ultimate meaning and destiny as humans.

    Denise recently posted 100 “unmissable Ivy League Lectures.” That led me to “Open Yale Courses: Introduction to the Old Testament.” http://academicearth.org/cours.....brew-bible

    I listened to and watched a couple of these lectures, and they mirrored my seminary training about the source and meaning of the Hebrew Bible. I recommend that you take a look at a couple of these lectures–especially those on Genesis.

    They are liable to open a whole new view for you on the meaning of the Bible.

    Be careful, though! Your mind may be changed in some unexpected ways!

  15. Has Dan Brown ever seriously claimed that the plots of his fiction books are true?

    Not the plots, meaning what his characters do, but that’s not the point. He most certainly claims that the historical backdrop of his fiction is true, or at least that it is well-attested historically.

  16. “This is why it’s so important that theologians and ministers get on board with ID — so they can avoid this unintentional bleeding of the ranks.”

    It would be one thing if the ID advocates were only offering their point of view as a mere hypothesis subjected to the usual give and take in scientific and philosophical discourse. (In fact, my earlier work on ID assumed as much). But that in fact is not the case. It has over the years morphed into a movement that treats the soundness of its arguments as virtually essential to sustaining the rationality of theism itself. Steve Meyer, for example, suggests that before the 20th century’s advances in biochemistry and microbiology, immaterialism and teleology were down for the count. But now ID stands ready, Meyer contends, to triumphantly procure these advances to help restore “some of the intellectual underpinning of traditional Western metaphysics and theistic belief.” Who knew?

    This embellished sense of ID’s importance in the march of history is not a virture. It is an unattractive enthusiasm that clouds rather than showcases ID’s important, though modest, publishing successes and the legitimate questions these writings bring to bear on many issues that overlap science, theology, and philosophy. Combine this lack of academic modesty with the ubiquitous propagation of ID within Evangelical Protestantism and its churches, seminaries, and parachurch groups (and even among some Catholics) as a new and improved way to topple the materialist critics of Christianity, and you have a recipe for widespread disappointment (and perhaps disillusionment with Christianity) if the ID ship takes on too much water in the sea of philosophical and scientific criticism. For this reason, other non-materialist Christian academics, such as Thomists and some Cosmic Fine-Tuning supporters, who would ordinarily find ID’s project intriguing and worth interacting with (as I do), are hesitant to cooperate with a movement that implies to church goers and popular audiences that the very foundations of theism and Western civilization rise or fall on the soundness of Behe’s and Dembski’s inferences.

    Take, for example, comments from a press release for an ID conference (30-31 Oct 2009) sponsored by Shepherd Project Ministries in Colorado:

    The conference will explore the cultural impact of Darwinism and the ground-breaking new evidence for Intelligent Design that is changing the shape of this crucial conversation today.

    With presentations by some of the world’s foremost Intelligent Design experts, this conference will equip Christians to understand the key issues and be able to speak effectively into a culture that is foundering in the sea of meaninglessness that is Darwin’s most lasting legacy.

    (http://www.shepherdproject.com.....istian.pdf). See also the descriptions of similar con-ferences held at Southwestern Bapist Theological Seminary, 23-24 Oct 2009 (http://www.discovery.org/e/901) and Westerminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, 12-13 March 2010 (http://www.discovery.org/e/901).

    I am, of course, not suggesting that there is anything wrong with having conferences in which theology and science are integrated and their interaction critically assessed. And, to be sure, any such conference should give ID a fair hearing and explain how it interacts with theology and the life of the mind. However, what I am suggesting is that it is intel-lectually irresponsibile to offer Christians, especially prospective clergy, ID as the only legitimate non-religious alternative to Darwinian materialism that a Christian may authentically embrace, as these conferences seem to do.

    (BTW, if the above reads like I clipped and pasted it from something else. It’s because I have. It’s a sliver of a 15,000 word article I have coming out early next year, “How to Be an Anti-Intelligent Design Advocate.” It is going to be published in a special issue of a law review on ID and public education).

  17. P.S. If you have time to listen to only one course, here’s the one I recommend:

    http://oyc.yale.edu/religious-.....ure03.html

  18. fbeckwith, your point is well taken. However, the hyperbole emanating from the ID camp is mirrored by that displayed by its critics.

    Which is cause and which is effect? At this point, they are reciprocal, I’m afraid.

  19. fbeckwith at 15:

    “I am, of course, not suggesting that there is anything wrong with having conferences in which theology and science are integrated and their interaction critically assessed. And, to be sure, any such conference should give ID a fair hearing and explain how it interacts with theology and the life of the mind.”

    As a citizen of a country in which we recently had to stand up to any number of thugs who want to shut down public discourse, I am glad to hear that you do not think there is anything wrong with that. But if anyone did think so … as we say here, see you on the ice.

    “However, what I am suggesting is that it is intel-lectually irresponsibile to offer Christians, especially prospective clergy, ID as the only legitimate non-religious alternative to Darwinian materialism that a Christian may authentically embrace, as these conferences seem to do.”

    For what it is worth, many people know all too well that the usual response has been endless useless academic conferences and polite remonstrances with vicious materialist atheists. If someone wants that, fine.

    I attended one recently, and the food was outstanding. Totally outstanding.

    But as for the ideas: Used to was, and done to death, and it will wash no more.

    (Are you really planning to write 15 000 words on this? Fifteen words would have worked if the ID guys were wrong.)

  20. Thanks for your comments, Lutepisc. I have no sympathy for the “other side,” and here I am thinking of the New Atheist types. And in my forthcoming article, I am certainly not soft on them. In fact, the entire third part critiques of Judge Jones and Richard Dawkins, but not for the reasons you may think. On the other hand, I do explain my resistance to ID and why I think, both philosophically and theologically, it is the wrong way to go after materialism. Nevertheless, I argue that ID is not creationism and that those who continue to say that suffer from “guilt by association tourrettes.”

  21. Nevertheless, I argue that ID is not creationism and that those who continue to say that suffer from “guilt by association tourrettes.”

    Hahahaha! I’ll eagerly await your forthcoming article. Can you say more at this point about where and when? Or shall we await your announcement on these pages?

    Thanks.

  22. “fbeckwith” (#15) wrote about: “…an ID conference…sponsored by Shepherd Project Ministries…similar conferences held at Southwestern Bapist Theological Seminary…and Westerminster Theological Seminary…

    How can religious conferences convince anybody that ID is science? These conferences will only reinforce the stereotype that ID is religious in nature. Talk about ID in conferences of the American Association for the Advancement of Science or the National Association of Biology Teachers and you will have proven that ID is science.

  23. —-”Fbeckwith: For this reason, other non-materialist Christian academics, such as Thomists and some Cosmic Fine-Tuning supporters, who would ordinarily find ID’s project intriguing and worth interacting with (as I do), are hesitant to cooperate with a movement that implies to church goers and popular audiences that the very foundations of theism and Western civilization rise or fall on the soundness of Behe’s and Dembski’s inferences.”

    I am glad that you understand that ID and Thomism are consistent, but that many neo-Thomists reject it anyway—- not because it isn’t true, but because they think it creates the wrong impression.

    —-“However, what I am suggesting is that it is intel-lectually irresponsibile to offer Christians, especially prospective clergy, ID as the only legitimate non-religious alternative to Darwinian materialism that a Christian may authentically embrace, as these conferences seem to do.”

    So far, we have two Christian world views in competition:
    On the one hand, we have ID, consistent with but not tied to the Biblical view expressed in Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20, which teaches that God’s existence is made evident in his handiwork and that design in real. A purposeful, mindful God made the universe, but we don’t know how.

    On the other hand, we have the anti-Biblical, Christian Darwinist view, which teaches that God’s handiwork is not evident at all and that design is an “illusion.” A purposeful, mindful God used a purposeless, mindless process because, well, because, in spite of the scant evidence to support such a proposition, we just know that God had to do it that way.

    I can’t imagine why a thoughtful Christian would be scandalized by the first formulation and oh, so chummy with the second.

    —-(BTW, if the above reads like I clipped and pasted it from something else. It’s because I have. It’s a sliver of a 15,000 word article I have coming out early next year, “How to Be an Anti-Intelligent Design Advocate.” It is going to be published in a special issue of a law review on ID and public education).

    It’s a lot easier to float downstream than to swim upstream.

  24. Lutepisc (#17)

    Thank you for your link. I’ve just been having a look at the transcript of the lecture you recommended. For me, it brought back a lot of old memories of attending lectures in Religious Studies at Australian National University, way back in 1983.

    The lecture provides a useful antidote to the naive popular view of the garden-variety skeptic who sees in Genesis nothing more than a Babylonian folk tale. Professor Christine Hayes does an excellent job of drawing out the contrasts between the Babylonian account and the one in Genesis.

    I have to respectfully disagree with her assertion that Genesis 1 teaches the pre-existence of matter, however. Although it does not explicitly teach creation ex nihilo, I would contend that this doctrine is a legitimate theological devlopement of Genesis 1. J. F. Hobbins explains why in his blog entry here . I’ll quote a short extract:

    Gen. 1 does not teach creatio ex nihilo, but it does teach what creatio ex nihilo teaches, if that makes any sense. As Langdon Gilkey emphasized, the notion of creatio ex nihilo is vital. It is a bulwark against metaphysical dualism – or “multipolarism”: in the polytheism of ancient Israel’s environment, there were not two but any number of supernal powers at odds with each other…

    According to Gilkey, dualism contradicts

    …. two basic affirmations about God and his world … The first of these is that God is the Almighty Sovereign of all existence…. Secondly, a metaphysical dualism …. always tends to become a moral dualism in which all good comes from the divine and all evil from the opposing principle.[1]

    …According to Gilkey, [in post-Old Testament theology,] it was “discovered that in order to express the traditional monotheism of Jewish and Christian religions, [one] must, in speaking of creation, insist on creation out of nothing,” that God is “the sole sovereign Lord of existence,” and that “every aspect of existence must be essentially dependent on His power as the ground and basis of its being,” “that since all that is comes from God’s will as its sole source, nothing in existence can be intrinsically evil.”[2]

    [References]

    1 Langdon Gilkey, Maker of Heaven and Earth: The Christian Doctrine of Creation in the Light of Modern Knowledge (New York: Doubleday, 1965 [1959]) 47-48.

    2 Ibid., 49-50.

    I was also shocked to find that the Professor not only didn’t know her Latin, but didn’t look it up before her lecture either. She remarks:

    The humans will become like gods, knowing good and evil, not because of some magical property in this fruit; and it’s not an apple, by the way, that’s based on an interesting mistranslation. Do we know what the fruit is? No, I don’t think we really know but it’s definitely not an apple. That comes from the Latin word which sounds like apple, the word malum for evil is close to the Latin word for apple which if anybody knows… whatever [see note 1]. [Emphases mine - VJT.]

    A footnote explains:

    1. The identical word malum in Latin also means apple.

    Not so. In Latin, the words for “apple” and for “evil” are similar in the singular (malus — apple, malum — evil) and identical in the plural (mala).

  25. “I don’t get it. I read a book that said there was an explosion known as the Big Bang, but here it says God created heaven and Earth and the animals in seven days. Which is right?”

    But there is a lot of irony in Brown’s statement. The paradigm for the secularists was once that of an eternal universe without beginning or end.

    It was a Catholic priest and WWI vet named Georges Lemaître who conceived of the “Big Bang” and his theory was strongly opposed by the secularists — “In the beginning” and all that. In fact, the phrase “Big Bang” was coined by Sir Fred Hoyle, an atheist, at least at the time, and was meant to be derisive

  26. fbeckworth, you raise very good points in post 16.

  27. Dr. Beckwith,

    Can you tell us which journal will be doing this special edition?

  28. As unusual as my background is, it follows a pretty logical progression. I was raised Southern Baptist in a family that went to church service every Sunday, Sunday night and Wednesday, but faith was never discussed among family. I don’t remember God being mentioned once. I remember my mom uttering the name of Jesus once, commenting on why it would be preferable to be Catholic than Jewish. By the time I was degreed in electrical engineering from Vanderbilt in ’72 I was atheist because of the pretty ubiquitous hostility towards faith in the cultural milieu of that time and place, plus it was “pretty neat” not having to worry about the consequences of easy sex. The turnaround for me came about after years of personal confusion and especially after reading “Realms of The Human Unconscious” by Grof, although it was not until the second reading some years after the first. Consciousness research employing psychedelics and human subjects does absolutely not support materialism. This is obvious from almost any reading on the subject. The subjective accounts support this interpretation of results, and the empirical accounts of subjects kicking “intractable” addictions coupled with such subjects’ philosophical and spiritual opening evidence the universality of non-material dimensions of existence.

  29. Dear Judge Hand:

    The St. Thomas Journal of Law and Public Policy.

    On a side note, we just won’t over your formula in my Philosophy of Law class!

    FJB

  30. Genesis is not written as “straightforward history,” as we understand those words today.

    Yes, and I heard Christine Hayes remark that it’s unfortunate that the first 11 chapters in Genesis are regarded as history in the conventional sense, since the stories contained therein “owe a great deal to ancient Near Eastern mythology.”

    And yet writers in the New Testament certainly referred to events in the early chapters of Genesis as though they had literally occurred. Hebrews 11 appears to assume the historicity of Abel, Enoch, and Noah, just as it does Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, etc. Jesus declares his generation guilty of the righteous blood shed, beginning with the blood of Abel–rather harsh if he didn’t think the account of Cain and Abel was historically true. Jude refers to a prophecy made by Enoch, whom he identifies as “the seventh from Adam.”

    And, of course, in Exodus, Moses records God’s claim from Sinai of having created the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days, corroborating the Genesis 1 account. (Who’s giving misinformation here? Moses? God? Some other writer(s) putting words into Moses’s mouth?)

    One doesn’t have to believe any of the text, of course; but it’s not at all clear to me why one would allow a book to speak with authority regarding one’s conduct, or imagine that it contains real answers to metaphysical questions, if a) the opening parts were based on myth and not expressive of actual history, and b) the later writers (purportedly under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) had not the insight to realize this.

  31. PaulBurnett,

    How can religious conferences convince anybody that ID is science? These conferences will only reinforce the stereotype that ID is religious in nature.

    The conference is to show pastors that ID is not incompatible with religious sensibilities, the necessity of this need shows that ID isn’t an outgrowth of religious sensibilities. It’s quite the opposite from what you mistakenly claim.

  32. Folks,

    I asked for any other similar stories of notable people who lost their faith as a result of materialistic presuppositions of science, and, I reckon, we could add the philosophy of scientism. Anyone you may know of and want to share their story?

  33. I hadn’t realized that this blog would trigger Francis Beckwith’s response! But now that he’s made it and it’s taken people off what struck me as its original purpose, here’s what I think.

    First, I’m not troubled by the Meyer quote that began Beckwith’s intervention. I don’t see anything incompatible about looking for a rational path to theism through ID and subjecting ID to the usual give-and-take of scientific criticism. In fact, this sort of thing routinely happens on this blog. Behe and Dembski are not given a free pass on their statements – they are subject to all sorts of scrutiny. These differences would be more public and actively pursued, if ID were institutionally more secure in the academy. My guess is that this will happen in the not too distant future, and that the exact meaning of this great enemy ‘materialism’ that needs to be vanquished will be subject to many interpretations that will result in healthy disagreement – as it has in the history of Protestantism.

    For what it’s worth, I happen to think the failures of the ID movement to date are more rhetorical than logico-empirical, at least when compared with what a pure Darwinist view has on offer. But ID’s rhetorical failures are not addressed by denying the significance of theism – especially of the Abrahamic variety – in fuelling the ID conceptual imagination. To be a bit provocative, that would be a bit like Black people trying to appear more ‘White’ in some effort to appease racist bigots, as was common in the first half of the last century. It’s unnecessary and it doesn’t work.

    ID’s great strength, as suggested in the Meyer quote, is that it makes its interest in integrating science and religion explicit. Why is this a strength? Because it admits that science and theology are both addressing the one reality that we – believers and unbelievers – all inhabit. Theology is not simply a discipline for and about believers. It is for and about everyone, just as science is. I realize that this may be a scary thought because it brings to mind the idea of theology as akin to medicine, with non-believers treated as if ill. But of course, in democratic societies, physicians allow the ill to identify themselves and seek treatment, even in the face of heavy-duty public health campaigns. So too with the theologians and ministers? So maybe the comparison is not so scary?

    As for the Neo-Thomists and other monotheists who shy away from ID because they’re afraid that it might unleash some irrationalist religious revival, I remain singularly unimpressed by the intellectual credibility of their alternative, which is basically some variant on the NOMA theme, in which theology is ghettoised into a realm of reality to which believers only have access and non-believers – or believers when they play scientist — are free to avoid. Richard Dawkins and the other New Atheists are right to smirk at this alternative, which looks like it was cooked up in a backroom simply to keep the peace by pretending that there are just as many realities as are needed to keep everyone happy.

    By the way, not to be outdone by Beckwith in the product placement department, I would like to recommend the following, which will be out in the UK in November:
    http://www.amazon.com/Should-C.....038;sr=8-7

  34. E.g. Richard Dawkins. See it here.

  35. Dr. Beckwith,

    Thanks! I’ll be sure to get a copy.

    Out of curiosity, is there a reason other than scarcity of time that you don’t cover the formula? It seems like one of the more applicable nuts-and-bolts legal principals to a philosophy of law class.

  36. Learned Hand @10

    Has Dan Brown ever seriously claimed that the plots of his fiction books are true?

    Landru @15 (all hail Landru!) Answered your question.

    My own answer is the fact that Dan Brown…

    1. Begins his Da Vinci Code with the word “Fact:”

    2. Has his smart character blather on for over 100 pages out of the 400 to explain History of Christianity (and subsequently getting an F– for basic facts).

    3. Goes on circuit to promote his bizarre view of Christian history almost than he promotes his books.

  37. Clive and all,

    I only got interested in the ID controversy in about 2001.

    I couldn’t understand why legacy media claimed it was dying when it obviously wasn’t.

    (I wrote a book to try to explain that (By Design or by Chance?, 2004))

    But while interviewing people for the book and otherwise discussing it, I was astonished to discover the number of people who had genuinely lost contact with their spiritual tradition on account of Darwinism. I began to see that it is the main way materialist atheism is fronted by tax-funded public institutions today.

    So if you are not a materialist atheist, you pay taxes to fund people who hate you.

    I had NOT expected to find this.

    When I talked to Christian notables, I often heard nonsense about Thomas Aquinas and how God could exist but be be completely undetectable by anybody [NOT what you hear in the Bible], and it is possible to explain all events without recourse to the idea that God could ever wish to communicate with anybody [NOT what you hear in the Bible] and … well, I practically fell asleep listening to all this rot.

    The tax-funded food was great. The rot was NOT.

    At that time, I didn’t care much one way or the other about the theories the theistic evolutionists fronted, except that they didn’t address two fundamental problems that I did care about:

    1) Loss of contact with spiritual traditions, due to the belief that one is a trousered ape

    2) Loss of civil society in many places (= we are just trousered apes, so … ). So the yob and the tart replace the gent and the schoolmarm.

    Personally, I would far rather deal with the gent and the schoolmarm than the yob and the tart. The gent and schoolmarm can be a colossal bore, I admit, but the yob and tart are truly dangerous – like animals with serious brains.

    Anyway, I have been on this story ever since.

    So that’s my story. I had never thought about it much until stuff just did not add up.

  38. Judge Hand. I really flubbed my reply above. I meant to say “went over” not “won’t over.” Of course, we go over your formula. My class covers philosophical issues in torts, crim law, law and morality, and the nature of law. And when we cover torts and their philosophical grounding we cover law and economics including the Hand Formula.

  39. vjtorley @ 24, I appreciate your comments (as always!). I had the impression that Prof. Hayes was actually flaunting her ignorance of Latin, leading her audience to suspect that she is not Christian, but probably Jewish. I Googled around a little, and discovered I was right!

    RickToews @ 30, you didn’t listen to the lecture, did you? (I could tell…)

  40. Thank you Denyse.

  41. Steve Fuller wrote,

    ” … science and theology are both addressing the one reality that we – believers and unbelievers – all inhabit. Theology is not simply a discipline for and about believers. It is for and about everyone, just as science is. I realize that this may be a scary thought because it brings to mind the idea of theology as akin to medicine, with non-believers treated as ill.”

    Well, in the last century, it has always almost worked the other way around = Soviet teatment of religious dissidents, by giving them disorienting drugs – look, this really happened, okay? In Canada, it meant government funding for extremists to raise cain with traditional clergy who teach the established Christian view re the gay lifestyle. Added: In fairness, we are fighting back hard.

    And – I assume your time is better used elsewhere – if you listen to the nonsense pouring out of “evolutionary psychology”, it certainly is happening now, as theorists compete with each other to come up with nonsense that “explains” spirituality.

    It feels to me like a scandal – government funding of quackery, aimed at control? Doesn’t the United States have a First Amendment that requires the government to neither establish a religion or permit its free exercise? But that should NOT mean funding materialist atheism.

  42. Denyse, you certainly have a point about the evolutionary psychology research agenda operating on the assumption that religion is some kind of pathology or aberration that needs to be explained, if not actively treated. But I wouldn’t mind it so much if the overriding value we place on science were also treated as a case of such ‘deep deviance’. After all, what eugenicists, suicide bombers and industrial polluters (and I have deliberately listed three groups, at least one of which everyone will find offensive) have in common is not a theological world-view but a scientifically informed capability.

  43. In case the point of the last post was not crystal clear, it’s by no means obvious that the pursuit and application of science has increased humanity’s ‘Darwinian fitness’, which has to do simply with the avoidance of extinction. If anything, it has put us increasingly at risk — but a risk that we somehow believe is worth taking. Why is that, do you suppose?

  44. Clive (#32)

    I asked for any other similar stories of notable people who lost their faith as a result of materialistic presuppositions of science, and, I reckon, we could add the philosophy of scientism. Anyone you may know of and want to share their story?

    Don’t know if this was quite what you were looking for, but these links might interest you.

    Celebrity Atheists

    The Effect of Scientific Error in Christian Apologetics by Glenn Morton.

    http://www.science-spirit.org/.....cle_id=196
    God’s Funeral: The Birth of Modern Science and the Death of Faith: An Interview with A.N. Wilson (2007) by Karl Giberson and Don Yerxa.

    Lutepisc (#39)

    Thanks for the information about Professor Hayes. I guess I should have watched the video rather than reading the transcript.

  45. Steve Fuller, at 42 and 43,

    I object to all three groups you excoriate, but as an old lady living in a densely packed urban centre I am most suspicious of possible suicide bombers.

    (= “God will just LOVE you if you blow yourself up in order to murder and maim others”? Yeah really. And if your parents think that is okay, please find a new set of parents. In all believable theistic traditions, only God chooses martyrs; it is NOT a matter for private judgment. Private judgement is too easily corrupted by local or personal issues.)

    As a traditional Catholic Christian, I am not concerned about humanity’s Darwinian fitness. We’ll get by. We always do.

    I think there is a limited role for Darwinism in trimming off Pekineses and Pomeranians from the wolf pack, but this limited role has been inappropriately inflated into a secular religion, guarded by legalism, court rulings, and frantic “secular” lobbies.

    I sure don’t see any use for that.

  46. —-SteveFuller: “But ID’s rhetorical failures are not addressed by denying the significance of theism – especially of the Abrahamic variety – in fuelling the ID conceptual imagination. To be a bit provocative, that would be a bit like Black people trying to appear more ‘White’ in some effort to appease racist bigots, as was common in the first half of the last century. It’s unnecessary and it doesn’t work.”

    I don’t think anyone here would disagree that ID provides plenty of evidence that a Christian can identify with and find consoling. Indeed, Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20 sound much like what we call a design inference, except for the data-oriented paradigms and measurements. The point is that we don’t want people confusing ID implications, which are clearly theological, and ID’s methodology, which, even if inspired by a Christian world view, [what real science isn’t?] has nothing at all to do with religion in terms of the way it goes about its business.

    —”[ID] admits that science and theology are both addressing the one reality that we – believers and unbelievers – all inhabit.”

    Right you are, but the emphasis must be put in the right place. The point, it seems to me, is less about who ID is for and more about what it is potentially in the context of the big picture—namely, one aspect of the truth, which is, itself, unified, and which does not admit of fragmentation. To say that there is one truth for science and another for religion, is to say that there is no such thing as objective truth at all. Unity of truth is the issue and that is the point that should be emphasized— a philosophical argument that should be made right along with ID science, but NOT AS THE SAME ARGUMENT. Some philosophers, such as Dembski, have already made the necessary distinctions, but, as we all know, when he does, his enemies respond by trying to tie ID methodology to the Christian faith. Those who refuse to make the distinction between ID science and the personal faith of its believers, or refuse to press it in the face of Darwinist lies, retard ID’s progress.

    Here is the real issue: ID is good science that is being attacked not just by atheists, but also by bad Christian philosophers, comprised largely of misguided and incompetent NeoThomists, spewing out the bizarre doctrine that ID cannot be reconciled with Thomistic causality when, in fact, the two, understood properly, make beautiful music together. Strange as it seems, the most vocal neo-Thomists are not really Thomists at all—they are Kantians posing as Thomists. If they ever make it to heaven, St. Thomas will be waiting there for them with a bucket of Gatorade.

  47. StephenB,

    I don’t think neo-thomists are saying ID “can’t be reconciled with thomistic causality”. I think they’re saying that ID is different, fundamentally different, from the sort of teleology Aquinas was talking about. I haven’t even seen neo-thomists who claim ID is wrong (save for caricatures of ID, namely ‘Evolution is all a lie!’ or ‘The world is 6000 years old!’) – at most they say that, persuasive or not, it’s not science.

    That said, I do think there are plenty of Christians who give ID a bad rap. Francis Beckwith, however, gave some pretty tame, reasonable criticisms of ID as a movement, at least if what he perceives is correct. (And keep in mind he was fully onboard with ID at one point, so he can’t be one of those ‘neo-thomists’ who think ID and thomism is just plain incompatible.)

  48. fbeckwith @ 16: “However, what I am suggesting is that it is intel-lectually irresponsibile to offer Christians, especially prospective clergy, ID as the only legitimate non-religious alternative to Darwinian materialism that a Christian may authentically embrace, as these conferences seem to do.”

    If one refers to a Darwinian materialism in the broad sense, there is a simple reason why ID is in fact necessarily the only “the only legitimate non-religious alternative to Darwinian materialism,” but the reason has nothing to do with whether one adheres to Christianity.

    Materialism requires a solution for the origin and development of life by undirected material processes, i.e. via Darwinism of some kind (with details to be worked out eventually). [Phil Johnson has correctly pointed out that the unwavering confidence some attach to Darwinism comes in large measure because materialism requires that some version of it is true.]

    It is necessarily the case that the only alternative involves a directed process, i.e. the participation of intelligent agency or design. The origin and development of life is either entirely undirected, or else it involves something that is not undirected, i.e. some contribution that is directed. Those two alternative categories logically exhaust all possibilities.

    The practice of science must be changed to allow serious consideration of the possibility of intelligent agency, particularly (but not only) in regard to the origin and development of life. However, the reason does not depend on whether or not one perceives this to be needed to prop up any theological perspective. Atheists will always have the option of supposing the intelligence is natural rather than supernatural.

    Regardless of theological considerations, mindless material processes are simply and inherently inadequate as a causal basis for explaining the symbolic information at the foundation of biological life. It doesn’t matter if one’s theology doesn’t need ID. Mindless material processes cannot invent symbolic information. Not in a billion years. Not in the history of the universe.

    So it is fine if you realize that theology does not need ID. Science needs ID because mindless matter is inadequate to the task. Intelligence causation is the only adequate cause for the reality that science must deal with. Sooner or later, progress in science requires letting go of the old paradigm and embracing this reality.

    This being so, it is quite appropriate to point this out to Christians or anyone else who is interested in these issues. But you are quite right that Christianity has never depended on the appearance of ID within science to establish its case. Christianity stands or falls with the historical physical resurrection of Jesus, as the apostle Paul has already observed (1 Cor. 15).

  49. Mr ericB,

    The practice of science must be changed to allow serious consideration of the possibility of intelligent agency, particularly (but not only) in regard to the origin and development of life.

    Can you give an example of where else in science intelligent agency deserves serious consideration? While past performance is no indication of future results, we no longer give intelligent agency serious consideration in lightning or planetary motion.

  50. Nakashima at 49,

    Just heading off, but a quick response.

    Undirected natural processes may be fully adequate for aspects of nature that are comprised of only order or random complexity. For that, chance plus law/necessity may be sufficient (and so science has found them to be adequate for such things as you mention).

    Specified complexity is not adequately explained by law plus chance. Symbolic information is even worse, since it combines specified complexity with the additional component of symbolic meaning that is extrinsic to the symbols and is specified through an external code (e.g. a genetic code).

    Symbolic information, such as found in cells, is a feature that physical and chemical law plus chance cannot cope with, regardless of the time allowed.

    As to what else in nature may require something more than undirected processes, some would point to features such as the fine tuning of the universe as one example outside of biology.

    Whether undirected processes are sufficient or not would, of course, need to be evaluated in each context on its own merits.

    The point is that for science to be healthy, it must treat the sufficiency of undirected material processes as a hypothesis subject to empirical evidence, not as an axiom to be held with blind faith allegiance regardless of the evidence.

  51. Wonderfully written post, ericB.

  52. Mr ericB,

    In specific, are you saying that aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases cannot have evolved? The aaRS molecules are the ones that match specific amino acids to anticodon triplets. The genetic code is implemented by the existence and specificity of these molecules.

  53. 53

    “The genetic code is implemented by the existence and specificity of these molecules.”

    And those molecules exist in the cell as a result of the information encoded in the sequencing of DNA. The translation system works, as designated by the program.

  54. StephenB at 46, writes, “Here is the real issue: ID is good science that is being attacked not just by atheists, but also by bad Christian philosophers, comprised largely of misguided and incompetent NeoThomists, spewing out the bizarre doctrine that ID cannot be reconciled with Thomistic causality when, in fact, the two, understood properly, make beautiful music together. Strange as it seems, the most vocal neo-Thomists are not really Thomists at all—they are Kantians posing as Thomists. If they ever make it to heaven, St. Thomas will be waiting there for them with a bucket of Gatorade.”

    Yes, that has been my impression too.

    The real Thomas Aquinas would be astounded to discover what is proclaimed in his name by theistic evolutionists today.

    The real Thomas Aquinas? Glad you asked. (Okay, so you didn’t. but … )

    Hey, a story! Once, about twenty years ago, one of my kids came home from school and informed me that in the 19th century, the Catholic Church had a debate about whether women had souls.

    (Her religious studies teacher was anxious to undermine the students’ faith, so he told them … well, you get the picture.)

    I informed the kid that this could not possibly be true.

    She challenged me to prove it. I said I didn’t need to prove it. I said, approximately:

    Thomas Aquinas put Catholic theology on a philosophical footing in the thirteenth century, and the debate her teacher alleged would make no sense to any Catholic whatever in the 19th century.

    Did people in the 19th century really believe that, for example, Therese of Lisieux (the Little Flower) did not have a soul? That Mary, the mother of Jesus, did not have a soul?

    Now, some fundamentalist somewhere might be pounding a pulpit into splinters claiming that the Bible doesn’t say women have souls, so maybe they don’t. But Catholic theology is founded on reason, tradition, and evidence as well as the witness of Scripture.

    Thomas Aquinas is in large part responsible for preventing many foolish, useless, or harmful controversies by his organization of doctrine along Aristotelian lines.

    But I would be very interested to hear if he ever said that the universe or life forms show no evidence of design.

  55. O’Leary (54),

    Quite a coincidence you mention Therese of Lisieux – I saw her relics just like week on their current tour of Britain.

  56. Mrs O’Leary:

    A footnote. So long as the fundamentalist preacher is arguing that women need to be saved, he directly implies that they have souls to be saved. (And, needing to be saved starts with Mary, who rejoiced in God her Saviour.)

    On the general point, the Biblical teaching is explicit that the essential unity of the human race transcends sex, class and race etc.

    The argument put up by your child’s teacher was a strawman, laced with nasty ad hominems, pure and simple.

    GEM of TKI

  57. Footnote 2:

    Eric (and Prof Beckwith):

    The inference — it was not directly seen by the 500+ witnesses identified — to the resurrection of 1 Cor 15 in the first instance required an inference to design.

    Namely, a certain timeline was observed: a man arrested, tried, whipped, crucified, certified dead and speared in the vitals to make sure. The said man was buried in a specific tomb, which was sealed and guarded. The following Sunday night, he ate supper with his closest friends.

    Each of these events in themselves is non-miraculous: people ate supper all the time, they also were in those days frequently crucified if the authorities thought them a threat. Sometimes at least, victims of crucifixion in Judaea were buried — we have the recovered skeleton of at least one such victim.

    But in this case, we have supper no 1 [the last supper] –> Arrest, trial, execution –> burial –> X –> Supper no 2.

    What was X, and what could account for it?

    Natural forces? [Crucified and dead men do not rise by forces of chance and necessity -- why crucifixion was so routinely used by the Romans. So, no, X was not a natural resuscitation, and the various fraud and hallucination etc theories are not even worth looking at, as well the timelines on the reports and the associated spread of the church etc make legend theories equally implausible.]

    X was something beyond the ordinary course of nature, and of course it fit an independent specification in Is 53 etc. X was produced by an intelligent agency, one capable of acting beyond the course of the patterns of death, that is it was a miracle.

    The resurrection.

    And, by fitting into the prophetic patterns of the OT etc, it convinced the early disciples that it was an act of God, not a malevolent power.

    But plainly, we see an empirically anchored inference to design at work there.

    GEM of TKI

  58. Hi nullasals: It’s been a while, and I appreciate you comments. As quick reference point, I would place the “neo-Thomists” in four categories. This is very crude and brief, but you will get the idea .

    [Pro Darwin: Pro Kant: The wildly unreasonable contingent] Group one will mistakenly argue that since Aquinas acknowledged that God CAN create some things through secondary causes, it follows that God DID and MUST create everything through secondary causes. In effect, they are trying to use St. Thomas, and that one reference, as a defense for Darwinism. For them, ID is incompatible with Aquinas and design is an illusion. Obviously, that doesn’t follow at all. Indeed, if Aquinas notion of Divine causality had ruled out front loaded evolution or later interventionism, it would have also ruled out his own idea that God created humans in finished form. Also, Aquinas arguments for the existence of God are the equivalent to a philosophical inference to design. Indeed, Aquinas was Mr. Design. Among those who peddle this anti-design nonsense in the name of Aquinas, we can include Stephen Barr and Ken Miller.

    [Anti Darwin: Anti Kant: The moderately unreasonable contingent] Group 2 of the anti-ID neo-Thomists hold that ID confuses design with final causality, or in same cases, its “nature.” Thus, for them, Aquinas discussion of what a thing is or what it was made for precludes ID’s design paradigms. Yet, those are all different arguments and none gets in the way of the other. Indeed, they are all consistent with ID. Among those who qualify we could list Edward Oakes and Thomas Heller.

    [Anti Darwin: Anti Kant: The quite reasonable but wrong contingent] Group 3 holds with Scripture and St. Thomas that evidence of the designer is made evident through the designers handiwork. Design is real and we can apprehend it. However, ID is not really science because design cannot be measured. Thus, group 3 is on board with the overall idea of an informal design inference, even to the point of using it for Christian apologetics, but they cannot support IDs main paradigms. Among those who qualify I would note Peter Kreeft, admittedly a wonderful philosopher, and our own nullasalus (Take a bow).

    [Anti Darwin: Anti Kant: The quite reasonable and also correct contingent] Group 4 is quite simply pro-ID science. I would include, among many others, Father Thomas Dubay, George Weigel, and our own VJ Torley.

    Suffice it to say that St. Thomas Aquinas held that we can prove the existence of God through unaided reason (without Biblical revelation) in five ways. Obviously, he believed that design was apprehendable and that we can apprehend it, which opens the door to a scientific inference to design. Nothing at all that he said can be rightly interpreted any other way. Quite the contrary; ID scientists do the very same thing with data [through science] that Aquinas did with observation [through philosophy]—they draw an inference to design.

  59. StephenB,

    Thanks for the list – at least I know where you’re coming from here. Just a few comments.

    First, I am not at all sure why you’d consider Ken Miller to be a neo-thomist. If he has said word one about Aquinas (I know he’s catholic, but not every catholic knows that much about thomism), I’ve missed it. Can you point me at where he’s mentioned this?

    As for Barr, considering Barr expressly denies the ‘random’ part of Darwinism in the relevant way (see his discussion with John West), I don’t think he’d be in any “Darwinist” camp typical by normal UD measures. ‘Unguided, unplanned’ is essential for Darwinism – remove that and you’re left with something other. If you agree to that, realize this is Barr’s position.

    All I can do is recommend Edward Feser’s book “The Last Superstition” (or at least check out his blog). I think you’d enjoy it, but it helps to illustrate why Aquinas’ teleology (and his Fifth Way in particular) is something utterly other from design in the ID sense. His objection, and the objection of some other thomists I’m aware of, is that ‘modern ID’ concedes mechanistic metaphysics – ruling out formal and final causality to begin with.

    Also, one caveat: Yes, I believe detecting ‘design’ (certainly on the level of God) is not science. Please note, I also believe detecting or declaring ‘not-design’ is -also- not science. Darwinism, insofar as it requires a complete lack of guidance (either in terms of front-loading or direct intervention) a commitment to truly random variation (as opposed to randomness for the sake of a model, etc) and otherwise is not science either.

  60. There’s a very funny ID-oriented Dan Brown parody over here. It pokes fun at people on both sides of The Argument.

  61. —nullasalus: “Thanks for the list – at least I know where you’re coming from here. Just a few comments.

    —First, I am not at all sure why you’d consider Ken Miller to be a neo-thomist. If he has said word one about Aquinas (I know he’s catholic, but not every catholic knows that much about thomism), I’ve missed it. Can you point me at where he’s mentioned this?”

    I think you have a point about Miller, in the sense that he is probably more Kantian than Thomist. I included him because he draws heavily on and makes too much of the Thomistic idea that God can create from contingency, yet he probably does not buy into the Thomistic thought system. Indeed, it is the only quote from him coming from Aquinas that I can think of. I think I was trying to hard to find a fourth category.

    —-”As for Barr, considering Barrxpressly denies the ‘random’ part of Darwinism in the relevant way (see his discussion with John West), I don’t think he’d be in any “Darwinist” camp typical by normal UD measures. ‘Unguided, unplanned’ is essential for Darwinism – remove that and you’re left with something other. If you agree to that, realize this is Barr’s position.”

    Right again. I would call Barr a “vitalist.” I need to eliminate my first category, it doesnt’ work.

    —-”All I can do is recommend Edward Feser’s book “The Last Superstition” (or at least check out his blog). I think you’d enjoy it, but it helps to illustrate why Aquinas’ teleology (and his Fifth Way in particular) is something utterly other from design in the ID sense. His objection, and the objection of some other thomists I’m aware of, is that ‘modern ID’ concedes mechanistic metaphysics – ruling out formal and final causality to begin with.”

    That one I can’t buy, but I will check it out. I think this is the same error pointed out in section 2 in different form.

    —-”Also, one caveat: Yes, I believe detecting ‘design’ (certainly on the level of God) is not science. Please note, I also believe detecting or declaring ‘not-design’ is -also- not science. Darwinism, insofar as it requires a complete lack of guidance (either in terms of front-loading or direct intervention) a commitment to truly random variation (as opposed to randomness for the sake of a model, etc) and otherwise is not science either.”

    Right. I know that you take a balanced position on that one.

    Overall, I think the Oakes,
    Templeton, Feser connection is the problem and the idea that function = mechanism. Equally important, I think all these good folks need to realize that Aquinas revamped Aristotle’s fourfold causality, and, included something called an examplary cause, which is the equivalent of what we call “agent” cause.

  62. Lutepisc @39: RickToews @ 30, you didn’t listen to the lecture, did you? (I could tell…)

    You are correct: I had listened to only about 10-12 minutes. I have since made time to listen to the entire lecture. Maybe I didn’t listen carefully enough, but I don’t recall hearing anything that addressed the difficulties I raised with more or less dismissing the history of early Genesis. Perhaps she does so in another lecture.

    She’s very easy on the ears, very pleasant to listen to; and I agreed with her on at least most of the “myths” she listed concerning the Hebrew Bible.

  63. Nakashima at 52,

    I’m using someone else’s computer, so this will have to be brief.

    The idea of structures evolving is itself problematic before you have living cells. Replication of RNA molecules, even if it could be achieved by undirected processes is not the same.

    Nevertheless, the coding system requires much more than you mention. One needs not just the individual parts at the core of the association, but an entire functioning translation system. Plus you need not only decoding ability (such as we see now), but also encoding ability. Else, there is no encoded symbolic information for the decoding to work upon.

    Finally, you need to have independently created structures to be represented by the symbolic information via encoding. A mindless undirected process cannot invent the symbolic representations based on imagined realized structures.

    If anyone supposes that random processes can find meaningful symbolic information (rather than starting with encoding from actual models), that is hopelessly implausible.

    The core difficulty is that undirected material processes have no need for any of this. They don’t care about or pursue symbolic representation. There is no basis upon which they can prefer pursuing the future value of such inventions.

  64. Mr ericB,

    Thank you for taking the time to reply. I’m traveling myself, and I know it is difficult to maintain continuity in the conversation.

    I agree that evolution before the first cell must mean something else than change in allele frequencies. With respect to chemical evolution of RNA, at least we can count the variants and how often they appear. A discussion of the evolution of vesicles involves more handwaving, I think. ;)

    By focusing on aaRS molecules, I’m trying to add clarity by specificity to the discussion. I understand your position (and Mr. BiPed’s, I think) is that the genetic code could not have evolved.

    If I understand you correctly, even if amino acids could be created pre-biotically, and even if RNA could be created pre-biotically, a regular association of RNA sequences with amino acids could not have evolved. For example, there could never have been a wobbly loose association of some sequence of RNA bases with a broad category of amino acids (such as hydrophilic AAs) that became more specific over time.

    I think that if these associations were looser, then the rest of the circuitry would have been looser as well – the ribosome would have been simpler, more prone to error, jamming, running backwards, whatever. But that is my position. Am I correct that you don’t think any of that was possible?

  65. Nakashima at 64,
    I believe that the unfortunate vagueness of words like “association” can unintentionally hide crucial distinctions — distinctions that make a transition to symbolic information impossible for undirected prebiotic processes.

    There are many ways that chemicals might bond. But even if we might generously suppose or imagine various combinations, that would be to no benefit. There is a qualitative threshold that is not crossed. It is not closer to translation.

    To say that one has implemented a code for symbolic information means that one can accomplish translation between symbolic information and the realized structure it represents.
    To get to translation, one needs not merely chemical bonds or chemical associations, but rather translation machinery that can reliably implement a process whereby the recipe for a structure has been captured by encoding it into a sequence of symbols with the ability to also later traverse that sequence and recreate the intended structure.

    This is something different in kind from the many undirected ways that chemicals naturally bind together. An undirected binding simply is what it is. It doesn’t mean anything more. It doesn’t represent something other than itself. It is simply itself — variations on the theme of A is connected with B (or sometimes not connected). Does A represent B or B represent A? Neither. They are just more chemical compounds.

    Would undirected processes construct translation machinery and use it to encode and then decode symbolic information? Consider that this machinery must be constructed and reproduced without the benefit of symbolic information, e.g. by the kind of strand replication that RNA might be able to achieve. But that path is not sustainable to the level of such machines, even if it could work for a strand of RNA.

    Chemical processes are not pursuing such a goal. The requirements of chemistry can be fulfilled with useless tars and goo. We have no scientific reason, either empirical or theoretical, upon which to rest a faith that the nature of undirected chemical processes is to work toward information driven chemical construction machines.

    Because Ada Lovelace could use imagination, she was able to write programs for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine — even though the engine did not yet exist. But chemical processes cannot use imagination, and cannot be expected to develop complex translation machinery in a universe where no symbolic information exists to be translated, or to design such information in a universe that cannot yet translate it, or even to use both to encode for functional chemical structures (e.g. proteins) that do not exist.

  66. Mr ericB,

    You are just repeating your assertions at this point. Art Hunt’s post made reference to the stereochemical theory of the origin of the genetic code, how do you respond to that? It seems that you are just by fiat declaring 1-1 associations to not be information.

  67. Nakashima,

    Perhaps this illustration will help. Think about how a fax machine uses symbolic information. An image that exists at one spot on the globe is reproduced at another. Nevertheless, it is not the visual image that is transmitted. Rather, the electrical signals carry the equivalent symbolic information needed to instruct the other fax machine on how to recreate the visual image.

    Notice that the electrical signals does not have the chemical or physical properties of the image. Apart from the existence of a destination fax machine that can translate them back into the image, those signals have no functional value at all.

    Likewise, the receiving fax machine would be useless for its designed function if there did not also exist sending fax machines that follow the same conventions, as well as having the means to transmit the information faithfully.

    It is this kind of process of information encoding, transmission, decoding and reconstruction of the realized representation that is beyond the reach of undirected mindless chemical processes to invent and construct. They have no need for it, nor any observed unaided inclination toward it.

  68. Nakashima,

    Here are some points to reply more directly to your post at 66.

    1. Have you read Stephen Meyer’s new book Signature in the Cell? He goes into much more detail than feasible in this space.

    2. Sorry, but I don’t see a post by “Art Hunt” about the stereochemical theory of the origin of the genetic code, so it is difficult to respond. Was that under a different column/topic than this one? Can you point it out please?

    3. If ones goal were only to explain why this codon is associated with that amino acid in a particular genetic code, even on that level the fact that there is not one universal code does present complications and added difficulty. The fact that there can be variant codes illustrates the observable independence in the 1-1 association. Other associations are possible. (I believe Meyer looks at these issues.)

    4. My main objective, however, is to point you toward a deeper and more serious obstacle. This is why I am not particularly concerned about what you call 1-1 associations. Even if they could take place in some isolated sense, perhaps because X chemically prefers to bind with Y rather than Z, that does not touch the issue I am raising.

    There are many cases in chemistry, not limited to biology, where X may prefer to bond with Y rather than Z. But that alone does not make them into a symbolic language encoding symbolic information. That only happens in biology (and the creations of intelligent agents).

    The question being raised is not why an amino acid is associated with this codon vs. that codon. It is about whether an undirected prebiotic material process could ever build translation machinery, such that a recipe for a functional structure could become stored in a symbolic form and later used to reproduce that functional structure.

    NOTE: This molecular machinery would have to be built originally in its entirety without the help of information driven construction. One cannot assume the prior existence of the very thing one whose origin one is trying to explain.

    That is the symbolic information hurdle I claim cannot be crossed. Do you believe the stereochemical theory of the origin of the genetic code solves this deeper problem? If so, how?

    5. It is not by mere fiat that I say 1-1 associations don’t provide the symbolic information processing I describe. Such associations are not functioning as a symbolic language until they are used for functional translation, i.e. a working system for reproduction of functional structures from separate symbolically encoded information.

    That is what makes mere objects into symbols. DNA base sequences can code for proteins they do not even touch because a translation system can reliably convert their specified sequence information into proteins.

    But could that machinery and system be constructed without the help of translation machinery driven by symbolic information? Without direction or investigator coercion, how far would isolated strand replication of RNA go toward that goal of a complete integrated and consistent system? Is that a reasonable expectation?

    6. Do you claim that functional proteins developed before or after the invention of a working code for representing amino acid sequences using codons? If before, how were proteins created without the help of that system? If after, how did such a system develop to encode recipes for functional amino acid structures that did not yet exist? How does a mindless system develop to pursue future uses?

  69. Please see The Science of Denial by Douglas Axe for some relevant observations.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....enial.html

    Nakashima, I appreciate that you are asking questions, which is important. Continue to scrutinize, especially in regard to claims that the properties of undirected processes can account for the origin of ribosomes and protein production from symbolic information. Is that a reasonable conclusion?

    Best blessings to you and yours,
    ericB

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