Home » Intelligent Design » Barrow to Dawkins: “You’re not really a scientist.”

Barrow to Dawkins: “You’re not really a scientist.”

A Scientist’s Scientist
John Barrow wins 2006 Templeton Prize
By Julia Vitullo-Martin

When Selfish Gene author Richard Dawkins challenged physicist John Barrow on his formulation of the constants of nature at last summer’s Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship lectures, Barrow laughed and said, “You have a problem with these ideas, Richard, because you’re not really a scientist. You’re a biologist.”

For Barrow, biology is little more than a branch of natural history. “Biologists have a limited, intuitive understanding of complexity. They’re stuck with an inherited conflict from the 19th century, and are only interested in outcomes, in what wins out over others,” he adds. “But outcomes tell you almost nothing about the laws that govern the universe.” For physicists it is the laws of nature themselves that capture and structure the universe—and put brakes on it as well.

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26 Responses to Barrow to Dawkins: “You’re not really a scientist.”

  1. Sit Down Richard

    Physicist John Barrow had a message for Richard Dawkins, Darwinianism’s current bull dog…His comment: “You have a problem with these ideas, Richard, because you’re not really a scientist. You’re a biologist.” Link over at Uncommon Descent – …

  2. *gasps* How dares he?!! Doesn’t he know who Richard Dawkins is?

  3. Personally, I think ID should focus more on “real science”. Good article by the way.

  4. ID is focusing on “real” science. ID is trying to figure out one of the fundemental laws of nature. I understand that I am speaking out of turn here knowing that there are people studying the ID sciences who post to this blog, but isn’t deducing design a major issue? The difference between random and designed is huge.

  5. That’s funny. I wonder what Richard’s reaction was. Actually, his strong “religion is poison” atheism takes precedence over his biological training. Anything that doesn’t jive with his worldview simply HAS to be wrong! It’s ironic that his impassioned opposition to religious worldviews arises from his own zealous adherence to his atheistic worldview.

  6. Doug,

    I don’t think evolutionists suggest that evolution is just a random process. Certainly there are random variables involved, but evolutionary development isn’t just an arbitrary process. From what I have heard, John Barrow is an evolutionist, but believes that the cosmos show evidence of design. If the physics of the universe are designed, so is the chemistry and the biology. I’m in the same boat as Barrow in this regards.

    When people speak of ID, they think biology. I think it would be preferable that cosmology would sooner come to mind when speaking of intelligent design. The arguments for design in cosmology carry a lot of weight, and the weak responses from atheists demonstrate that. They usually say, “well there could be an infinite number of universes”, or “Why would God create so much waste of space” or “We are here, thus the probability of an observer is 1″ (ignoring prior probabilities), or “there could be an undiscovered unified theory of everything” or resort to theodicity issues. Not only do these objections have reasonable answers, but none of the objections are based on scientific observation! Meanwhile, there is enormous evidence for common ancestry, which makes an argument for design more difficult. That is why I think ID should spend more effort in physics (i.e. “real science”) than in biology.

  7. Paul,
    Sorry, I was in a hurry there. I understand common ancestry is likely but the whole life from non-life bit and the complexity of life is kind of the whole point of ID isn’t it? Cosmology is where it is easy to see design. Many physicists and astronomers reference God when they talk about the universe but the biologists are the ones who point to random chance and extrapolate a universal moral relativism from that. Right? Why are we always talking about biology? Because the intelligent designer left a seed within us that allows us to recognize glimpses of the plan for us. No? I don’t believe that this tiny little speck within the universe is a random accident within the “real” creation of the cosmos. We are born with the ability to comprehend the designer in some small way. Maybe that’s a cruel trick played on us by the “random” universe :)

    If we give up on the biology front, I can’t see how ID would matter anymore. We would be left with “God’s Equation” of Einstein’s general theory with some kind of cosmological constant. (I understand that I am ignoring the subatomic realm). Biology is either the product of deliberate design in some fashion or it is an accident. How can there be a middle ground. If it is an accident, discovering the designer is far less useful and maybe even simply mental masturbation.

  8. The whole life from non-life appears to be a bit of a mystery. It’s difficult to make a case that it could not happen, as we would have to then imagine all the possible ways it might have happened and then evaluate a probability for each case. I’m personally undecided whether abiogenesis requires divine intervention during the course of Earth history, but I’ve come to a point in thinking that it is a win-win situation for Intelligent Design. If abiogenesis requires divine intervention, then an obvious win, but I think ID also wins if there is a natural explanation to it, because we then have to explain why nature is capable of such wonders. At that point in time, the problem is deferred to physics and cosmology. In the end, fine-tuning is more fine-tuned than previously anticipated, hence ID wins.

    I don’t think evolution implies moral relativism. Atheism would imply that humanity is the highest authority (or was it the Ebola virus), and thus morals become at least somewhat relative, as noone could claim higher moral authority than someone else, and people’s moral views are often in conflict. Some moral values would persist in a more general nature (in an atheistic universe), else we would become extinct.

    Also remember my point that I’m in favor of biological design, but I think it is detected through the fine-tuning of nature, rather than the impossibility of a natural explanation. Remember that biology exists because of physics and chemistry (and chemistry exists because of physics). It is (in my opinion) the eternal Christian God who created nature, and I would hope that we would not underestimate God’s ability to create nature that is capable of many wonders. Evolution doesn’t itself rule out direction and purpose. An eternal God would know in advance the outcome of his creation, even with random variables involved, and he would also have foreknown our existence.

    Regarding randomness, nature involves randomness, but is not itself random. I agree with you that the existence of the universe doesn’t make sense without divine direction, and doesn’t make sense if randomness were the only variable. Nature involves more than just randomness. It contains order and meaning, something that really shouldn’t exist just on its own. (And of course, nothing should just exist on its own, but I guess that would include God, and thus we are stuck with either one illogical conclusion or another. I tend to believe the explanation that isn’t limited by the natural universe).

  9. Well, if abiogenesis is a win then the game doesn’t make much sense. If the biologists are right then we are wrong. No one but -hitl- Dawkins claims that God isn’t the right word to use to describe the Kosmos (means a little more than cosmos). If god didn’t make us then there was no Adam, no Eve, no fall and hence no reason for Christ to sacrifice. Sorry, I know that religion isn’t supposed to make a stand here but for cryin out loud- either they (the biologist, a tiny subset of the scientific world) are right or we are right. which is it? Either WE are intelligently designed or there is no point to caring about deducing design. It merely becomes a scientific endeavor with no point other than useless knowledge. It wouldn’t even be any good to predict anything and the relativists would be right. That can’t be. We wouldn’t be born with the ability to see the design if it weren’t there. The ID sciences are still young. Give Dembski and Behe and Phillip Johnson time to develop the theory to the point where it does stand on its own without dissent. That time wil happen, there are two threads here pointing out college classes being taught on ID. It won’t fail on biological grounds: if a dam* thing can’t be reduced without losing it’s functionality then it can’t be reduced. What can they say?

  10. Doug,

    I don’t see how full acceptance of evolution is any more compromising than the acceptance of common descent in regards to Adam and Eve. The acceptance of evolution doesn’t put God out of the picture, if it did, I would share your concerns. What I posit is that God created us through intervention that occurred 13 billion years ago.

    Regarding the need for Christ’s sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice helps us deal with the problem of sin. Evolution doesn’t imply that sin dosen’t exist. No scientific theory can possibly deal with morality. The need for redemption exists either way. The Fall exists either way. The Fall exists even if you were to accept Adam as a typology of mankind. I’ve been reading through a commentary on the Book of Genesis in recent months, and I discovered that there were many falls and accounts that parallel the Fall in Genesis 3. Over and over again this happens, and not just in Genesis, but throughout Scripture.

    If I may go a little deaper theologically. Through our fleshly nature, we identify with Adam in his Fall into sin, and away from an ideal relationship with God. Redemption comes through Christ, but how are we redeemed? God became human flesh, lived a life without sin, he suffered, was rejected, was tempted, he became terribly distressed, and finally died. He was called the Son of Man which means that he was fully human and achieved full human potential. Romans 6 says that through being united in his death, we also unite with him in his resurrection. So we have two choices, we can either identify with Adam and his fleshly desires, or we can identify with the Son of Man, who was able to conquer sin and death, and with whom we can relate with in every way. (Hebrews 2 is good reading regarding these concepts).

    Dawkins isn’t the sharpest knife in the dishwasher. He is baiting Christians with false dichotomies to discredit them. He’s trying to convince us that evolution = atheism, and we should challenge him on that point, rather than accepting it. You are wrong in saying either they are right or we are right. Intelligent Design and natural abiogenesis can very well co-exist.

  11. Are you saying that you fully accept Darwinian Evolution despite the odds? And to top it off you also believe ID?

    If by all that you mean to say that RM+NS is so well proven that the law of the land should require that it be taught in a vacuum devoid of criticism or contrary ideas then I say you’re out of line. In order to gain that kind of cocksureness you’re going to have to do more than just speculate that unpredictable mutations, through serendipity and natural selection over the course of deep time, accumulate to turn bacteria into baboons, create novel cell types, tissue types, organs, and body plans. The theory of gravity has the kind of predictability (inside practical bounds) that warrants uncritical acceptance. NeoDarwinian bacteria to baboon evolution doesn’t even come close.

    To quote Dave Scot.

  12. Doug,

    We don’t know the odds of it happening. What we do know is that common ancestry exists, that mutations occur and can be beneficial. We know that natural selection is a reasonable mechanism for saving beneficial mutations within a species, and eliminating negative mutations, and we see this occur, especially with species with high mutation rates. Do I believe that evolution occurs despite the odds? I believe that God is capable of overcoming the odds, if the odds were an issue. Many times in Christian history, Christians have made arguments that such and such could not happen naturally, which were later proven untrue, they could happen naturally. How many more times will we need to make this mistake? God needs to be given more credit for his creation, which includes nature and the laws of physics. Instead Christians tend to minimize the power of nature. Atheism has no scientific explanation for nature itself. Nor can it. The cause of nature cannot be nature itself.

    A question for you. Is God incapable of creating natural processes in such a way that humans would be created through those natural processes?

    mutations occur and can be beneficial. We know that natural selection is a reasonable mechanism for saving beneficial mutations within a species

    Great. Then take the Nuclear Evolution challenge (see sidebar) and describe a series of random mutations, each with selective advantage, that can put a nucleus into a prokaryote to make it a eukaryote. After you’ve done that, demonstrate it in a test tube by artificially creating each mutation and testing the fitness of the mutated organisms against their unmutated peers. Philosophy speculates. Science demonstrates. Good luck and have at it. Wake me when you have something to show. -ds

  13. Paul,
    It’s not that this nuance escapes me, it’s just that Once you go outside of biology for the intelligent designer (Big bang, physics, god’s equation) then the notion of ID breaks down. If we believe Darwin, we are arguing against at least the vast majority of ID science, yes?

    Darwin’s Black box, Darwin’s nemesis, Of Pandas and People, Irreducible Complexity, Specified Complexity, and the list looks to me to go on and on.

    But the arguments made in at least the two of these books that I have read jibe with what we can intuitively know of the existence of a designer. So, realizing that god can make it look like anything, are you arguing for RM+NS=Speciation? Are you then arguing abiogenesis? Are you saying Dawkins is right about everything but his conclusion of no ultimate designer?

    How do you address specified complexity? It appears to be directly at odds with your previous statement. Do you discount the role of intuition as merely the biproduct of some evolutionary force? Do you see the problem I am having? I am curious how you would reconcile these concepts. I also understand that a lot of nuance is nessessary in spiritual understanding but it seems to me that 2+2=4 or 2+2=5. I guess I wonder which one of those equations you would assign to specified complexity and which one to RM+NS=speciation. Or can you reconcile them.

  14. “It’s not that this nuance escapes me, it’s just that Once you go outside of biology for the intelligent designer (Big bang, physics, god’s equation) then the notion of ID breaks down. If we believe Darwin, we are arguing against at least the vast majority of ID science, yes?”

    The notion of ID doesn’t break down. Specified Complexity is easier to demonstrate with the Big Bang than it is with biological systems. There are members of the Discovery Institute who fully believe in natural evolution, but are in favor of Intelligent Design in the area of physics and cosmology. Robin Collins is one example.

    “But the arguments made in at least the two of these books that I have read jibe with what we can intuitively know of the existence of a designer. So, realizing that god can make it look like anything, are you arguing for RM+NS=Speciation?”

    I’m not sure what you are asking me.

    “Are you then arguing abiogenesis? Are you saying Dawkins is right about everything but his conclusion of no ultimate designer?”

    Just because Dawkins is an atheist doesn’t mean that everything he believes is wrong. I have a strong personal distaste for Dawkins. He doesn’t understand the limitations of science, and many of his arguments are based on false dichotomies. I’m not arguing for natural abiogenesis. From a scientific point of view, I don’t have enough information to make a claim. From a theological point of view, I don’t rule out either possibility, but there are certain theological advantages in natural abiogenesis that I find appealing.

    “How do you address specified complexity?”

    I accept that specified complexity is useful with adequate information.

    “Do you discount the role of intuition as merely the biproduct of some evolutionary force?”

    No. And I don’t understand the point of your question.

    “I also understand that a lot of nuance is nessessary in spiritual understanding but it seems to me that 2+2=4 or 2+2=5. I guess I wonder which one of those equations you would assign to specified complexity and which one to RM+NS=speciation. Or can you reconcile them. ”

    Specified complexity is an algorithm to detect intelligent design. The algorithm doesn’t itself claim that life is intelligently designed. In my opinion, RM+NS is a mechanism that was intelligently designed, and is only useful in a habitable universe, which is also intelligently designed. I like the CSI algorithm. I haven’t seen the algorithm sucessfully applied to biology before. Perhaps it does exist.

    I should also mention that I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea of special creation (after t=0). I don’t find special creation to be necessary for my faith, and I don’t find it opposed to my faith either. So, I make the best judgment I can make regarding my observations, and I am not threatened by this or that conclusion.

  15. “Great. Then take the Nuclear Evolution challenge (see sidebar) and describe a series of random mutations, each with selective advantage, that can put a nucleus into a prokaryote to make it a eukaryote. After you’ve done that, demonstrate it in a test tube by artificially creating each mutation and testing the fitness of the mutated organisms against their unmutated peers. Philosophy speculates. Science demonstrates. Good luck and have at it. Wake me when you have something to show. -ds “

    Dave, do you reject RM+NS in its entirety, or just in certain applications? Also, could you clarify whether there are diverse opinions on this matter within the Big Tent of Intelligent Design on this issue? My prior understanding was that many ID supporters accept RM+NS in at least limited application. Personally, as I have already stated, I’m uncertain about every application, in particular abiogenesis, but I’m not losing any sleep right now over the issue.

    (Also could someone tell me the code for quoting people? Thanks).

    I don’t accept RM+NS in any case although it could be true in all cases. The plain fact of the matter is there’s no way to demonstrate that anything in the universe happens by chance. The only thing we can say is that, at the present time, some things are not predictable. The history of science is littered with unpredicatable things becoming predictable with further understanding and information. NDE makes no real predictions. If you think it does ask an evolutionary biologist to predict a speciation or something equally non-trivial. Physics can predict the future with exquisite precision but it can’t predict evolution with any semblance of precision and neither can any other science. Is this because mutations are really random or because we don’t have the resources or knowledge (yet) to predict them? Evolutinists like Dawkins and Dennett would have you believe it’s the former. I suspect it’s the latter. -ds

  16. Hi Paul.
    Type
    Type

    I hope I’ve been careful enough that this will show.

  17. I wasn’t.
    Precede your quotation with the word “blockquote”, follow it with “/blockquote” (no quotation marks.
    Enclose each in
    I bet there’s an easy way to say this and computer guys are laughing their butts off at my attempt.

  18. Okay, that was pitiful.
    Go to
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTML_element
    and it is 3/8 down the page at “Blockquotes”.

    I hope I’m answering the right question.

  19. Okay, that was pitiful.
    Go to
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTML_element
    and it is 3/8 down the page at “Blockquotes”.

    I hope I’m answering the right question.

    Thanks Charlie

  20. Dave,

    Two more questions (though there may be more later). In regards to detrimental mutations, would you consider these to be non-random?

    I consider them predictably far more frequent than beneficial mutations making RM+NS a conservative enforcer of the status quo more than anything else. I don’t know one way or another if anything in the universe is random.

    Also, how would you explain how bacteria become resistent to antibiotic drugs?

    It appears they do this by turning up the mutation rate of certain genes under stress (e.coli/Scripps) and exchanging successes so that the resistance is quickly acquired by the population at large. I wouldn’t be surprised if the mutations are targeted in more ways than just increasing the frequency. It has generally been thought up until now that antibiotic resistance was just a matter of organisms that mutate rapidly all the time getting lucky. Now it appears instead they are manufacturing their own luck and are passing it along to all their friends.

    What are the alternatives?

    One that intrigues me is computational capability (neural nets) operating at the molecular level through mobile elements and/or quantum computing elements which means that the intelligent agency is embedded in the organisms themselves. This raises the question of how the neural net evolved (maybe intelligence is a property of the universe that has yet to be recognized or characterized) but it sure explains the appearance of intelligent design everywhere else.

    RM+NS seems to apply rather nicely in this particular application, but perhaps there is more I haven’t considered. Thanks.

  21. “ID is trying to figure out one of the fundemental laws of nature.”

    Is it? What sort of equations will come out of this theory when it is completed, and of what benefit will they be to science or humankind? As I understand it, intelligent design is attempting to prove that a designer is at work on our universe. If this is shown to be true, what practical applications will it have?

  22. The notion of ID doesn’t break down. Specified Complexity is easier to demonstrate with the Big Bang than it is with biological systems. There are members of the Discovery Institute who fully believe in natural evolution, but are in favor of Intelligent Design in the area of physics and cosmology. Robin Collins is one example.

    Um. Don’t you think this ought to be straigtened out before we go running off asking to teach the concepts in college? It’s not like the darwinists are having a hard time making us look foolish by pointing out our inconsistencies.

    Not understanding what I mean by intuition is interesting. I wonder if anyone who posts here knows what I am talking about?

  23. Um. Don’t you think this ought to be straigtened out before we go running off asking to teach the concepts in college? It’s not like the darwinists are having a hard time making us look foolish by pointing out our inconsistencies.

    What do you mean by “this”? I couldn’t tell from the context.

    Not understanding what I mean by intuition is interesting. I wonder if anyone who posts here knows what I am talking about?

    I guess it isn’t important enough for you to tell me :)

  24. I consider them predictably far more frequent than beneficial mutations making RM+NS a conservative enforcer of the status quo more than anything else. I don’t know one way or another if anything in the universe is random.

    I don’t know with certainty either regarding pure randomness. At a higher level many things appear to be random, just like at a higher level, Newtonian physics seems to lead to correct conclusions.

    It appears they do this by turning up the mutation rate of certain genes under stress (e.coli/Scripps) and exchanging successes so that the resistance is quickly acquired by the population at large. I wouldn’t be surprised if the mutations are targeted in more ways than just increasing the frequency. It has generally been thought up until now that antibiotic resistance was just a matter of organisms that mutate rapidly all the time getting lucky. Now it appears instead they are manufacturing their own luck and are passing it along to all their friends.

    This is actually quite interesting. Do we know of any larger organisms have a similar ability to adapt under stress(albeit significantly slower change)?

    One that intrigues me is computational capability (neural nets) operating at the molecular level through mobile elements and/or quantum computing elements which means that the intelligent agency is embedded in the organisms themselves. This raises the question of how the neural net evolved (maybe intelligence is a property of the universe that has yet to be recognized or characterized) but it sure explains the appearance of intelligent design everywhere else.

    Interesting thoughts. Can you provide me with more reading material on this subject if embedded intelligent agency?

    This is actually quite interesting. Do we know of any larger organisms have a similar ability to adapt under stress(albeit significantly slower change)?

    Not that I know of. However, if we presume that everything alive descends from prokaryotes with the Lamarckian ability of acquired heritable characters why would we deny the more complex descendents of these organisms the same ability? It seems to me anything a simple bacteria has in its toolbox would be incorporated by default in the toolbox of more complex descendents. There’s more going on in our cells we don’t know about than we do know about. We’ve only just begun to unravel the mysteries therein.

    Embedded intelligent agency is still the stuff of science fiction but here’s a good work of hard sci-fi by arguably one of the three best living authors of hard sci-fi, Greg Bear. This particular book was reviewed in Nature by a prominent biologist and received a glowing report.

    Review of Bear’s “Darwin’s Radio” by Michael A. Goldman published in NATURE.

    Reviwer Michael A. Goldman’s CV

    Amazon link to Darwin’s Radio.

    I didn’t find the sequel, “Darwin’s Children” to be as good. The characterization in Radio wasn’t all that hot but the plot, driven entirely by science, was quite intriguing.. Children has less science driving the plot and a continuance of the mediocre characterization so I wouldn’t recommend it. There’s probably not a single book of Bear’s that I haven’t read. He’s usually not quite so flaccid in character development but he’s always good at hard science driving the plot.

  25. The notion of ID doesn’t break down. Specified Complexity is easier to demonstrate with the Big Bang than it is with biological systems. There are members of the Discovery Institute who fully believe in natural evolution, but are in favor of Intelligent Design in the area of physics and cosmology. Robin Collins is one example.

    Um. Don’t you think this ought to be straigtened out before we go running off asking to teach the concepts in college? It’s not like the darwinists are having a hard time making us look foolish by pointing out our inconsistencies.

    What do you mean by “this”? I couldn’t tell from the context.
    I mean, what the heck is a member of the ID sciences gonna teach? Are they going to teach that Darwin was wrong? Are they going to teach that RM+NS does not account for speciation? Or are they going to teach that, although the ToE is utterly correct, ID can be surmised through cosmology? Both? Only one? Which one?

    I’m saying that, although there may be some scientists at the discovery institute that, through study and research, have concluded that Darwin is essentially correct, the ENTIRE platform of ID is based on Darwinism and RM+NS being WRONG! Cosmologists, physicist, and atronomers can easily point to God. But then God is simply a word meaning unknown, and at this point unknowable, ultimate cause. So, if the whole platform is wrong, I’d hate to go teaching that in college where it would be slaughtered and our concept of religion and morality would be put in peril at least. If, however, as seems likely to me, Special Creation occurred and Humans are only humans and not apes, then the evidence for that could be presented.

    So my questions for you would be: What should be taught in a college class on ID science? Is evolution of species through natural selection a part of it or not?
    Be careful, the essential premise of Darwin’s Black box, Darwin’s nemesis, Of Pandas and People, Irreducible Complexity, Specified Complexity, and the list looks to me to go on and on, is that Evolution of Species through Natural Selection is NOT the best explanation. That life is simply too complicated to have occurred that way. So, which is it? Are all these books and concepts wrong in their application to Darwinian Evolution or are they right? Or are they “part right”. And if so, which part? And which research are you looking at to determine which part? Who are the experts in that research?

    Either ID relates to Biology or the entire premise of everything done to promote ID is based on the fear of a harsh reality and not on its own merit. Cosmology is not where the battle lies.

    Not understanding what I mean by intuition is interesting. I wonder if anyone who posts here knows what I am talking about?

    I guess it isn’t important enough for you to tell me :)

    I don’t mind telling you, I was just surprised that you didn’t know. We are built with an intuitive sense that can experience the connection to the designer. Is the existence of this sense not proof in and of itself? or is it simply a byproduct of some random mutation that allowed us some minute advantage in some prehistoric time?

  26. Mats,

    “*gasps* How dare he?!! Doesn’t he know who Richard Dawkins is?”

    Apparently, he does.

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