God, reason, science, proof

One of the bitterest points of contention between many TEs and ID supporters is whether God’s existence or activity can be detected by science, granted that it is real. The bitterness shows that there are ideological issues lurking behind what ought to be just an intellectual question. But I want to leave those aside to ask what Christian biblical teaching actually says on the matter.
creatorBiblically speaking, the enterprise of natural theology, in all its forms, is mainly justified by a few well-known texts. The principle one, often cited by those critical of statistical deism’s distancing of God from the act of creation, is Romans 1.18-20:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

I will major on examining what that passage actually says, but also draw in a couple of others; Psalm 19 1-4a:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

And, also somewhat relevant, Psalm 8.1-4 (apparently prefiguring the “mediocrity principle”!):

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

The basic message of all these is that God’s existence is clear from the natural creation. But the first thing to observe from Romans is that, in practice, that isn’t the case, because men (probably meaning all men, apart from God’s grace) have suppressed this truth because of wickedness. Yet that does not, in itself, mean that “science cannot detect God”, because Paul regards it as a spiritual failure that results in God’s wrath. One might perhaps detect God’s work, but simply refuse to recognise it as such. It clearly tells us why we can’t expect all scientists to see God through creation, but let’s unpack what that failure entails. Let me note that, since I’m writing for Christians, who have received grace to open their eyes, I will primarily be unpacking in what way Christians ought to be able to perceive God through what he has made.

What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” “Plain” here translates a Greek word derived from the root “shining” – it would probably be fair to paraphrase it as “blindingly obvious.” In what sense, though?

Paul explains.  “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Now see what he’s saying here. God himself, and his nature, are invisible – a word which is linked to material existence, not simply optics. But in some way, what is visible – ie created and material – and actually not itself divine, makes at least some of his nature – that is his eternity, his power and his divinity – visible to us. There is, or ought to be, apart from spiritual blindness, something in the ordinary human perception that correlates what we find and see in the natural creation with those qualities in God. So what kind of perception is entailed?

The key to this lies in one word, “understood”: “…his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”

ELPS word studies speak of its root:

3539 noiéō (from 3563 /noús, “mind”) – properly, to apply mental effort needed to reach “bottom-line” conclusions.

Strong defines it thus:

1. to perceive with the mind, to understand: absolutely, with the addition τῇ καρδία, John 12:40 (Isaiah 44:18); with an accusative of the thing, Ephesians 3:4, 20; 1 Timothy 1:7; passive: Romans 1:20; followed by ὅτι, Matthew 15:17; Matthew 16:11; Mark 7:18; followed by an accusative with an infinitive, Hebrews 11:3; the absolute equivalent to to have understanding: Matthew 16:9; Mark 8:17.

Νους, then, is the seat of reflective consciousness: perception, understanding and feeling, judging & determining. So what is in mind in Romans is a cognitive, reasoning process. Paul could have used the word “heart” (καρδια), which is a more general word for the source of human activity, encompassing reason, emotion and intuition. So “καρδιαcan imply “understanding” (eg John 12.40), but νους is much more limited to reasoned deliberation.

So we can conclude that in Romans, it is reason (or at least right reason, not tainted by sin) that takes us from the observation of nature to the knowledge of God’s eternal power and deity. It isn’t, therefore:

(a) The imposition of a pre-existing theistic worldview on a creation that rationally teaches only agnosticism or atheism, as some sociologists say.
(b) An ecstatic direct apprehension of God by experiencing nature, as in mysticism.
(c) An emotional intuition prompted by awe, as in Romanticism.
(d) A purely philosophical approach based on abstract principles, as in scholasticism.
(d) A mere design inference that could equally be fulfilled by a non-eternal, non-ominipotent or non-divine agent, as in ID.

The process is, rather, that of cognitive reflection and mental effort on the visible, ie physical creation, leading to an understanding of the reality of God’s invisible nature. Failure to see it is an inexcusable futility (meaning “becoming  void of result”, like the thoughts of the wise in 1 Cor 3.20) of reasoning (διαλογισμος = inward questioning: hence our “dialogue”).

The same idea of mental application to propositional truth is found in the Psalms. In Ps19 the heavens “declare” God’s glory and “proclaim” his works. The skies pour forth “speech”, and display “knowledge”: they have a “voice”, and “words”. Later this is compared to the “other” word of God – torah, which is also apprehended and understood by rational, though also devotional, study. So we are not talking about “spiritual” experience as it is sometimes understood – this is a mental, intellectual, process.

Similarly Ps 8.3 speaks of considering God’s heavens (literally raah = see, or behold, but often used of drawing inferences from what is seen).

With that foundation laid, can we say whether such understanding can be “scientific”? It depends on your definition of science, which is a notoriously slippery matter. A dictionary definition would suggest the affirmative:

natural science
1. the sciences collectively that are involved in the study of the physical world and its phenomena, including biology, physics, chemistry, and geology, but excluding social sciences, abstract or theoretical sciences, such as mathematics, and applied sciences
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

To quote Michael Flynn “Modern usage restricts ‘science’ primarily to the natural sciences: the systematic and analytical study of Nature using evidence, logic and reason.” Such a restriction would certainly not exclude what is described in Romans. But philosophers of science see that science now is even more restricted than that. Peter Dear lists six characteristics of the modern approach:

  •     The view of the world as a kind of machine.
  •     The distinction between “primary” and “secondary” qualities.
  •     The use of deliberate and recordable experimentation.
  •     The use of mathematics as a privileged tool for disclosing nature.
  •     The pursuit of natural philosophy as a research enterprise.
  •     The reconstruction of the social basis of knowledge around a positive evaluation of cooperative research.

It’s hard to argue that any one of those precludes conclusions about God’s existence or nature – those, one assumes, come at the stage of reflection and analysis – the human theory that , for all science, is imposed upon the data to give it meaning.

Dear, however, for some reason, excludes from his list one feature of science as it is now practised: methodological naturalism. Perhaps he doesn’t consider it as essential as some. Such methodology would not, itself, be a problem, even if it restricts the area in which reason is, arbitrarily, allowed to operate. Nothing in Romans, or Psalms, suggests that examining efficient causation is any less capable of pointing to God’s invisible nature than, say, Aristotelian teleological science. It is not, strictly, the restriction of methodology that keeps God out of the scientific picture, but a restriction on theoretical conclusions: a theoretical, not a methodological, materialism. That restriction is not, in any real sense, different from metaphysical naturalism, because the theory level of science (or at any rate the meta-theory level) is always informed by metaphysical assumptions.

I would argue, then, that deducing the existence and nature of God from the study of nature is not only a valid thing for a scientist to do as a human being, but is valid even as a scientist, unless metaphysical naturalism is accorded a privileged status within what we now allow to be called “science”. If so, that would be a sociological issue, with nothing of universal significance to say about the phenomena in the world, the power of reason, or the nature of God.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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68 Responses to God, reason, science, proof

  1. Avatar photo Sy Garte says:

    Wow. Talk about food for thought. I think you have really laid down the gauntlet with this one, Jon. I love the hermeutic treatment of Romans and the psalms which, I agree make a good case for us to move forward boldly to find God in the same way we “see” genes. After all when I used to study gene structure, what I was really looking at was bands of radioactivity on X ray films, but I knew that those dark bands could be traced to the existence and exact structural nature of functional stretches of DNA we call genes. That’s how science has operated for well over a century. Your interpretation seem to suggest that Paul is saying to use our “understanding” to find God in His works in much the same way. This is a very exciting interpretation that I believe makes a lot of sense for a road map in how to find “evidence for God”.

    I agree that metaphysical naturalism is a block to reaching conclusions, but I also think that our methodology is also problematic here. We have the same problem not only with theism, but even with biology. GD, and others have pointed out that a problem in all of biology is that there is no mathematical theory behind it. That is true, but we should remember that an entirely new mathematics was needed before new physics (relativity and QM) could be properly formulated. I am sure the same is true of Biology, and very likely for any scientific study of God. Such new mathematics might look nothing like what we now know, but it would need to be a symbolic internally consistent and logical language that can allow for the testing of hypotheses, much as Hilbert space did for physics.

    I agree with Scripture that we are without excuse, the data is everywhere. The fine tuning of the physical constants might be a good place to start, but as a biologist, I would love to use the fractal like complexity of living cells as the primary data.

    Anyway, not an easy task, but one well worth contemplating. Thanks Jon.

  2. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks in turn, Sy

    You spotted what was implicit in my post, which is not that objective methods should conclude that God exists, but that science isn’t nearly as objective as people think. I’m not sure which concept is more provocative! Your example of employing the imaginative faculty to interpret gene data from raw X-ray data is a good one.

    Early scientists like Leonardo (though not by any means a notable man of faith) realised that it was human aesthetic judgement and mathematics together that constituted science. There’s a good account of that in a classic text on mediaeval philosophy: Ernst Cassirer The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy.

    But I honestly had no such axe to grind when I started the study – just wanted to find out what Romans 1 implies for us, since it’s a key passage.

    On the maths – I agree that the Hardy-Weinberg equation hardly provides a decent mathematical basis for evolution. And I don’t see one ever arising within the Neodarwinian paradigm, if at all, if (as your Shapiro posts implied to me) there is no one simple theory to be found.

    I did a post on structuralism not long ago, which seemed to me to be seeking the kind of “hidden” mathematics that drove Kepler’s research: essentially, what we see is irregular, but underlying it is the beautiful maths that tells us we’re doing real science. That of course is what we find, in a limited way, in biological fractals. PNGarrison and I discussed it a bit – the structuralists would be looking for that maths in the pentadactyl limb, for example, whereas geneticists wouldn’t be thinking of that, but of adaptive evolutionary mechanisms.

    • Lou Jost says:

      I’ll just speak to two points here. There are decent mathematical laws in evolutionary population genetics, for example the equations linking fitness to rate of change of gene frequencies, and equilibrium values of those frequencies. It is mainly our ignorance of boundary conditions and parameters (which are themselves often complex unknown functions of other parameters ), and the strong influence of contingent events, that makes these laws difficult to apply. It is rather as if we are being asked to chart the exact course of a particular atom in a cloud of non-ideal gas; we can’t do it in physics, even though we know the mathematical laws that apply.

      Second, I’ll note again that methodological naturalism is not an assumption of science but a conclusion,and it could always be overturned. Science could easily detect at least some kinds of interactions between gods and physical reality, and theory would include gods if this gave additional explanatory power.

      • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

        Lou – you make my point, really, on Hardy-Weinberg and a mathematics of evolution. Too many simplifying assumptions have to be made to make the maths work, which limits the strict scientific application in the real world. And science has to be about the real world.

        That’s not a criticism of population genetics as such, but a suggestion that it makes biology more akin to the human sciences: there are lawlike processes operating within history, but since they can’t be used to make true predictions about history, it will never be a real science, Hari Seldon notwithstanding.

        As for methodological naturalism, I’ll note again that a methodology can’t be a conclusion from that same methodology. “We will investigate only efficient causes” cannot be the basis for concluding “There are only efficient causes.” That’s simple logic, not science.

        And a similar constraint applies to theory, as Einstein said to Heisenberg:

        “It is the theory which decides what we can observe.”

        That’s bountifully seen, if one cares to look, in the wide application of Occam’s broom to data that don’t fit ruling theoretical paradigms in every scientific field.

        • Lou Jost says:

          Jon, it isn’t fair to say the math doesn’t work or that it is impossible to make true predictions. We can. We just can’t predict everything we’d like to. This applies also to theories in physics, though of course it is much easier to set up simple isolated systems in physics than in biology.

          Of course you are right that there is a relation between theory and observables, but it is not such a tight relationship as you imply. The motions of the planets and stars in the sky were observable long before anyone had a theory to describe them.

          Science did not start out with a monolithic methodology (and doesn’t have one today). Science is opportunistic. It can change philosophy and methodology when this expands its power or when new evidence arises (though it may kick and scream for a while before it does make the change, as Einstein resisted the huge philosophical change from determinism to fundamentally-stochastic explanations). If including gods helped make true predictions, science would embrace it eventually. The fact remains that we still have no need of that hypothesis.

          The flip side of this view is that it makes ID research valid science. It could be possible to show that evolution has happened too fast for it to be due to known non-teleological causes. However, existing attempts to show this have failed. They have failed for technical reasons, not because what they do is not scientific.

          • James says:

            Mr. Jost (or Lou, if you’d prefer):

            I’m grateful to hear that you think it would be a legitimate approach to try to show “that evolution has happened too fast for it to be due to known non-teleological causes.” But let’s run with this for a moment.

            Suppose that the “technical” flaws in the arguments are overcome, and some ID proponent does succeed in showing that evolution has happened “too fast … for known non-teleological causes.” You may be different from most ID critics, but I think that the reaction of the overwhelming majority would be: “We can’t jump to the conclusion of design, because there might be unknown non-teleological causes.” In other words, any imaginable ID argument would be rejected as “God of the gaps” — as depending on our current lack of knowledge. And since it is always possible to speculate about hypothetical unknown non-teleological causes, the ID inference can be resisted indefinitely.

            Perhaps you would not be this stubborn, but I expect that the vast majority of those opposed to ID would be. Do you think that anyone at, say, Panda’s Thumb, would ever concede that design was the best inference (even if only a tentative inference), even if a demonstration of the sort you suggest were adduced? I think they would argue vigorously that any design inference was premature. I don’t think that any of them would concede that design could be even a tentative “best explanation.”

            • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

              Interesting point James – since Lou says the cHRISTIAN gOD has been falsified by the evidence already, then even the miraculous birth of a Vulcan superintelligence from a virgin would require some other explanation. The case is immune to any new evidence.

              But remember, the post is not directly related to ID, which draws more limited conclusions about “the Designer” than is warranted from Scripture, and fails to nake conclusions about his nature on principle. Paley seems to have had more biblical aspirations, despite his tendency to Deism and, perhaps, his failure to note the fallenness of reason.

            • Lou Jost says:

              James, “Lou” is fine. You are going too fast from (1) not jumping to conclusions about an inference of design, to (2) not accepting any conceivable evidence of design.

              Yes, the bar would be high (and it SHOULD be high, given the success of non-teleological explanations elsewhere). But there could have been sufficient evidence to convince any reasonable scientist of design. For example, suppose humans (and only humans) had evolved independently on each of the habitable continents, from different ancestors. Suppose the fossil record in South America showed humans there evolved from the ancient edentates of that continent, or even from the New World monkeys, while the fossil record in Africa showed humans evolving from the earlier great apes. Some scenario like this is actually a reasonable prediction if evolution were teleological and humans were the universal goal.

              If the designer wanted us to know him (as some Christians believe), then he could easily have included unmistakable signatures in his work. The fundamental constants of nature could have messages coded in their decimal expansions, or our genome could spell out the first thousand digits of pi in binary code, or things like that.

          • Avatar photo Sy Garte says:


            I think there might be an exception to what you are saying. The fine tuning of physical constants can be explained three ways. First (the preferred scientific explanation) is that there are an infinite number of universes (new ones arising all the time due to quantum effects) and in all of these universes the constants are different, and this is the one where they happen to work out. Second, we don’t know yet, but once we get the final unified theory, the answer will be found. And third, God created the universe to allow for matter, stars, planets, chemistry, carbon, and life as we know it.

            Of those, the third is rejected out of hand by science, although by Occams razor it is the simplest, most elegant, and has the most evidence. The other who have no evidence at all and by their nature cannot have any (since by definition, another universe cannot be studied by us). So I think the point James makes below is quite valid. When God does in fact perfect sense compared to alternative explanation, materialistic science rejects Him, simply because of the inherent axiom (as Jon has been struggling to convey to you) that God is rejected.

            • Lou Jost says:

              Sy, I agree that the fine-tuning argument is the most interesting (really the only interesting) argument in favor of the existence of god.

              There are, however, some reasons to reject the “God did it” explanation in favor of one of the other two explanations. For one thing, the universe doesn’t look like it was really designed for humans. It looks more like a marginally-suitable place, of the kind you would expect if one were selecting universes containing intelligent life from a larger population of random universes. Even earth is mostly inhospitable to human life, being mostly water or molten rock. The actual proportion of humanly-habitable space in the universe is astronomically tiny, on the order of 10 to the minus fortieth power or less. What kind of self-centered creature would have the hubris to imagine that this kind of universe was designed specifically for them?

              If it turned out that earth was the only inhabited planet in the universe, though, this would be such a special state of affairs that I don’t think selection from a multiverse would be a satisfying explanation. In my opinion the multiverse idea is falsifiable and also makes testable predictions. Basically, constants and laws should be adequate to produce life (else we wouldn’t be here to select this subset of universes) but not perfectly optimal for it. I think this is the kind of universe we see.

              Finally, the “God did it” alternative is not really simpler than the other alternatives, any more than “Zeus throws lightning bolts” is not really simpler than the very complex and highly contingent (and imperfect) physical explanation of a lightning bolt. God hypotheses hide enormous complexity and vast conceptual difficulties.

              • Avatar photo Merv says:

                Lou, I know we’ve gone around on this on Biologos, but once again, it is worth noting here that you are engaging a bizarre form of logic by setting some sort of “friendly space percentage threshold” as a criteria for design. It’s as if we looked at a Cruise ship and noted that the vast percentage of its volume is uninhabitable, if not lethal for humans. If a human was randomly plopped in, they may end up in a fuel tank, an engine, a bulkhead or wall, or in some airy space above a floor to which they will then fall. Conclusion: It seems unlikely that this big thing can have been designed for humans since 90% of it is so dangerous for us.

              • Avatar photo Merv says:

                One added note to my post below — it shouldn’t be taken as implied disagreement with you about the universe being designed exclusively for humans. I rather think it unlikely myself –as the Psalmist already noted so long ago “What is man that you are mindful of him …”. I just want to point out the logical fallacy you use regarding design criteria.

              • Lou Jost says:

                Merv, I am trying to distinguish whether the universe is optimized for intelligent life, versus chosen at random from the set of all possible universes that could support intelligent life. Surely the amount of “friendly space” is relevant to that question. Of course the designer may be perverse and not want to make an optimal universe, perhaps in order to hide his hand, so I’ll admit that this reasoning can’t be definitive. But taking your starship analogy, your designer is omnipotent and omniscient and perfect. Would you expect him to make a shoddy, sloppy, inefficient starship that just barely does the job of supporting intelligent life, and only for a few million years of its multi-billion-year history? What we see fits better with the hypothesis that this universe is selected at random from the set of universes capable of producing intelligent life. Most of those universes will be only marginally able to support life, because (as both sides agree) conditions for life are special. So one of those marginal universes is more likely to be drawn than the universes where life can exist nearly everywhere.

              • Avatar photo Merv says:

                I’ll reply at the very bottom, Lou, so as to avoid the “skinny” universe we are shrinking into here…

  3. Avatar photo GD says:

    Jon and Sy,

    The “bottom line conclusions” is spot on. Indeed, as Sy states, maths needed for QM is different, but I think you will find that a great deal of the maths related to the behaviour of waves (and particles) was well developed. The conceptual framework for QM however, had to be created by the scientists of the day. Currently, a ‘new’ type of maths (most of that is beyond my training) is developed to deal with new concepts such as the big bang. Sy clearly sounds like a reasonable bio-scientist when he acknowledges the need for advances in the bio-sciences, including mathematical treatment of what is surely one of the most complicated areas of the Natural Sciences.

    I will add one comment on the “bottom line conclusions” of Jon – the physical sciences have in fact provided us with greater certainty these days, that the creation is based on real entities – and this reality may often be discussed using terms found in classical Christian theology. A simple example is Heller’s suggestion that his exotic maths may show how ‘time cam into being’ (my phrase) which is not that different to what, for example, Augustine had contemplated.

    One final point; Paul says they “are without excuse”. Nowadays, we may say that they have made a clear and conscious decision to either not believe, or in the case of militant atheists, to negate any and all belief in God. Some things never change.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      …the physical sciences have in fact provided us with greater certainty these days, that the creation is based on real entities.

      Realism is one of those forgotten assumptions, isn’t it? Yet it’s a philosophical mystery that has taxed the greatest minds to this day. “There is no evidence for the existence of God!” The Gnus say. Whilst the existence of things is a universeful of evidence.

      • Lou Jost says:

        In earlier comments you criticize science for inability to make detailed predictions. Compare “God did it.” That is an empty hypothesis if ever there was one. Now, once you start turning it into a specific kind of god, then you can extract predictions and possibly falsify them. The Christian god is in fact falsified by the evidence. That is why theology exists: to try to spin the failures of that god concept, to make virtues of the contradictions. We saw this in Sy’s earlier post, as he tried to spin the lack of evidence that god wants to communicate with us today. Wouldn’t want to ruin the beauty of faith…

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


          I wasn’t criticising biology’s inability to make prediction (as I pointed out), but showing its limitations as science (which wouldn’t be necessary if science, or rather scientists, did not claim more for it than is warranted.

          “God did it” in contrast, is not a scientific claim (in fact, it’s a claim I’ve seldom heard made without great qualification). As I said when you arrived, this blog is not aimed at proving the existence of God to anyone, especially by science, but showing how science is both compatible with, and supportive of, classical Christianity.

          If one has a worldview that science can explain all things in the material universe (because there are only observable and measurable entities), then failure to predict is a shortcoming. If one believes that many things are not explicable by science, because there are other entities than the material in, and outside, the universe, than failure of prediction is … what you would predict.

          • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

            “The Christian god is in fact falsified by the evidence. “

            Which “fact” would that be, that achieves what so many have failed to do by reason? Maybe you mean the fact of the universe’s existence, which would seem to require a little more attention to argument and less blanket assertion of personal faith.

            By the way, do you spell father christmas or robin hood in lower case too, or do you reserve that for the Deity?

            • Lou Jost says:

              I bet you use a small “g” for the gods of Greek mythology, Roman mythology, Hindu mythology, etc.

              There are a lot of versions of Christianity, some more falsifiable than others. The most popular versions of American Christianity are strongly falsified: there was no global flood, both versions of the Genesis creation myth are false, etc.

              As Christian sects become more vague, their claims get harder to falsify. But the failed prophecies of Jesus regarding his imminent return “while some standing here are still living” perhaps count and falsifications. I think at least some of his apostles fervently believed that his kingdom would come during their lifetimes, so this is not an unreasonable interpretation of those verses.

              In addition, the concept of a Christian god who wants us to know him is falsified. If he really wanted us to know him, he could have made himself known unequivocally. He has not done that (though you will probably disagree). Whatever you may think about the evidence, it is (at the very least) not as clear as it could be, assuming your god really wanted the world to know him.

              Arguments from preterists claiming Jesus actually did come back already, or from faitheists arguing that clear evidence for his existence would ruin the beauty of faith or defeat free will, are not very convincing.

          • Avatar photo Sy Garte says:


            I like this idea of failure to predict. I have often said that it was my scientific studies that opened the door to me for accepting the reality of Christ. Many people have wondered at this, and I have given explanations related to fine tuning, the mysteries of QM etc. But the thing that really did it was the constant and continuous sense of surprise that accompanies almost all new discoveries in biology. Nobody predicted that the human genome would consist of so few genes, (less than rice). Nobody predicted introns, or that photosynthesis depends on quantum superposition, (photosynthesis efficiency is so high, because electrons try out all the best pathways simultaneously) and so on.

            Predictive mathematical laws in biology will not be found using any standard mathematical system. Surprise, unpredictability is the rule in biology, and that in itself is surprising. Given the enormous mass of data that is available, why should this be true.

            As Jon says, no proof of God here, but clearly a pointer for an atheist who is beginning to wonder if perhaps there might just be something to these nagging feelings that one is being called somehow……

          • Lou Jost says:

            Jon, “God did it” would be a scientific claim if the particular concept of god being used was precise enough to make strong predictions about what he would do. For example, if one’s concept of god had him answering certain kinds of intercessionary prayers, one could make statistical predictions on that basis. If one’s concept of god allowed the suspension of physical laws under certain predictable circumstances (say, to save a particular pre-chosen group of humans from disaster, or to selectively kill masses of bad people and save good people), these are claims about what will (or did) happen in the physical world, and the claims are open to scientific investigation. The best conclusion (the one that gives the strongest predictions) could easily have been that god (or some intelligence) is running the universe at a level above the physical, if one of the world’s mythologies (or one as yet unknown) were in fact true. Your sentence in your main post, “It is not, strictly, the restriction of methodology that keeps God out of the scientific picture, but a restriction on theoretical conclusions…” is not correct. (This was what I was trying to argue against in my earlier comment to this post). You are defining science away, when it actually has no such limitations. The reason god does not appear in physical theories is just that the evidence for specific versions of god is so poor and mostly falsified, and the more vague concepts of god tend to be useless for making predictions.

  4. Avatar photo GD says:


    You say, “I would argue, then, that deducing the existence and nature of God from the study of nature is not only a valid thing for a scientist to do as a human being, but is valid even as a scientist..”

    I understand that these discussions and posts are limited by space (and the context); however the phrase, ‘deducing the existence of God from….’ (anything) is problematic. It is one thing to be able to reason from what we understand of Nature, and to follow reasoning such as Thomas Aquinas, regarding a regress of causes until we obtain a prime-cause, or to argue from physics and maths, that the reality that eventually confronts human reason is consistent with that of a creation pointing to a creator. Outside of this, we can only express our individual faith, and exercise our reason as a faith-reason matter. Too often, a deduction from some properties of objects is used as evidence for or against the existence of God, when such a thing has been shown by Christian theology to be incorrect.

    We may say, there is no excuse for negating a belief in God when we observe and understand nature; however we cannot rely on this as evidence for God’s existence.

    I am sure that these things are understood, but I think it is worth restating them.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      The post was an exposition of scriptural texts – not a conclusion from first principles of reason.

      In other words, whilst I think that Aquinas’s use of pure reasoning to God is valid, it is not what Paul or the psalmist refers to, which is the use of νους (our deliberative faculty) to understand the invisible nature of God from what is seen in nature, which he places within the natural ability of everyone, thus explaining their lack of excuse for not so doing . Is that not necessarily “deduction”?

      My argument in your first sentence is that the use of νους to understand what is seen in nature is what science is, apart from its specific modern sociological elements, so that there is a connect between the two.

      Faith: one can either say that faith is necessary because natural reason is clouded by sin – or perhaps better, that faith was native to man’s reason before sin clouded it. But since faith is “Being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see” (Heb 11.1) it would seem to be covered by what Paul has in mind about knowing about God’s invisible nature.

      Evidence: I don’t insist upon that word. But what other word would you use for material objects and facts that, when deliberated upon by the clearly reasoning mind, lead to conclusions about God’s invisible nature?

      • Avatar photo GD says:


        The use of νους is very close to “reasoning faculty, intellect, mind”. Paul also says that the human spirit may know all things that pertain to human beings, but only the Holy Spirit can know the things of God. When we look at the Epistle to the Romans, Paul is also discussing wickedness and how the wrath of God is directed at this wickedness, because they were without excuse.

        Deduction is “the inference of particular instances by reference to a general law or principle.” I will not quibble with ‘coming or arriving at a conclusion regarding the subject matter’, but I point out that the emphasis, including that based on the meaning of the Greek νους, is on the exercise of human intellect and reasoning faculty. If we take the meaning of deduction to infer from a general law of principle, we are left with (a) Thomas philosophy, or (b) the Law as taught by Moses and which Paul discussed in Romans.

        The evidence that you refer to, is sense based, derived by human beings from a study of objects. Science is, as a vast generalization, the study of such objects, using our senses and theories that have been the result of such studies. First principles are a very exact and select portion of the Sciences. While I agree with the overall thrust of your comments, I am not inclined to think that Paul had anything else except human intelligence, sense, and reason, in mind, and the wickedness of the degenerate Romans, that has been adequately shown by historian.

        On faith, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit – the clouding of human reason by sin, is a similar statement to that of the ‘wickedness’ that Paul refers to; he nonetheless states they are without excuse, because they still have the capacity to understand their actions, and also understand there is a Creator God to whom they should direct their reason, and change their wicked ways.

        So on evidence, my reply is, “evidence of what?” If wicked people do not understand their wickedness, they have lost their sense and mind, and are insane. If they understand this, and can see the creation around them speaks of its creator, they are subject to God’s wrath.

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


          I don’t think we’re more than a cigarette paper apart on this. What I usually emphasis, but haven’t in this post because of what I set out to do, is the limitation of natural theology, as I have painted it, even in the absence of clouded judgement.

          Paul talks of nature demonstrating “God’s eternal power and deity”, invisible and divine things yes, but far from a complete revelation of the character of God. As I’ve often said, revelation is a logical necessity for a God whose creation, though from him, is separate from him. He is outside the created order, and must speak into it.

          And so rational reflection on nature (given the caveats I made both on human nature and the restricted nature of the sociological construct called “science”) can, at best, only scratch the surface of God. As indeed can the philosophy of a Thomas, when he is not referring back to Scripture but pure reason.

          There is the necessity for the Spirit to reveal the mind of God through faith. Of the creation we see only a small part – if we saw the whole many difficulties would be resolved, but we would still see infinitely less than God is.

          • Avatar photo GD says:


            I am not suggesting any difference between us. I tend to emphasise the limitations of science (and of us human beings) perhaps more than others. As you have stated, “The basic message of all these is that God’s existence is clear from the natural creation.”

            Perhaps I need to warn you – if you post interesting discussions such as this one, I may comment on many more occasions.

  5. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Lou (to James)

    The fundamental constants of the universe are all tuned to ridiculous orders of magnitude, and you want them to spell out the Hallelujah Chorus as well? Sheesh!

    • Lou Jost says:

      The fine-tuning is not by itself evidence of god. As I explained above, this “fine-tuned” universe is actually overwhelmingly hostile to us. So yes, if he really existed and if he really wanted us to know the truth about him, there are millions of ways he could have cleared up this ambiguity (as he supposedly used to do in the past).

  6. James says:


    In you reply above, you wrote:

    “You are going too fast from (1) not jumping to conclusions about an inference of design, to (2) not accepting any conceivable evidence of design.”

    I have to start a new sequence in reply, because there was no “reply” button — probably the column was too narrow.

    Lou, it was not that I was going too fast. I was asking you to account for the line of argument of your fellow atheists. It is they who, in my view, go too fast.

    In your reply, you basically defend your own approach to these matters, but my focus was on the approach of the overwhelming majority of your atheist brethren who argue about these issues on the internet. My point was that they basically rule out all design arguments — even of the type you identify as valid — on the grounds that we cannot know what science will discover tomorrow, so all design inferences are premature and unreasonable. So for them, when asked whether the cause of anything was design, or non-teleological mechanisms, they always answer either “non-teleological mechanisms” or “we don’t know.” (And “We don’t know” always means, implicitly, “We haven’t found the non-teleological mechanism that is responsible for this *yet*.”) Design is never taken seriously as a possible answer.

    For example, when it comes to the origin of life, I would say the preponderance of evidence and argument at the moment favors some involvement of design over unguided natural causes without any design at all. I don’t speak of proof, just of preponderance of evidence and argument at the moment. But your atheist friends will never grant this, or even consider design as an explanation at all. They will either plump for some non-teleological explanation for which there is only the sketchiest of evidence, or they will say “the origin of life is unknown.”

    And note what is avoided in this use of “unknown.” They will not say “We do not know whether the origin of life required intelligence or not” — because framing things that way give the possibility of intelligent design an intellectual dignity that they don’t want to give it. Yet intelligent design is a possible cause. It’s as if, when someone dies, the coroner should be restricted to the answers “Died of natural causes” and “Died of causes unknown” and isn’t allowed to consider “Was murdered.”

    So I’m asking you: where do you think this resistance to design explanations — at any intellectual cost — comes from? It can’t be that design explanations are by nature incompatible with good science; you’ve just denied that. So the dislike of design explanations comes from something else. But what?

    I realize I am putting you in a hard position, asking you to speak for other atheists, rather than merely for your own version of atheism. But then again, you seem to be asking Christians here to speak not merely for their own formulations of Christianity, but for the beliefs of other Christians as well, so probably the request is not unfair. If we can be presumed to be able to get into the mind of Christians who differ from us, perhaps you can get into the mind of atheists who differ from you, and explain to us how they think.

    • Lou Jost says:

      James, I think my position is not unusual among internet atheists. Jerry Coyne and Larry Moran, two very vocal internet voices for atheism, each make the same claims as I do about methodological naturalism, and about the scientific validity of the search for evidence of ID. I don’t think any thoughtful atheist would ever say that ID is impossible, any more than they would say the existence of god is impossible (if those terms are defined coherently). So even if we don’t say it explicitly, “we don’t know” does include the possibility of design. It is just very very far down the list of possibilities, in the views of almost all scientists (including myself).

      Why is it so far down on the list? Partly because the evidence usually produced in favor of it is very poor. Perhaps more important, the design explanations usually produced are so vague as to not have explanatory value; they tend to shut off further investigation, and they do not lead to powerful predictions. The sterility of the design approach can be seen by looking at a “top” ID journal, Bio-complexity. It is nearly devoid of articles. ID has not generated even a marginally productive research program. This is telling. A real insight into nature usually breeds an avalanche of productive research full of surprising confirmed predictions.

      History also has something to do with our antagonism to ID. Many of the major religions, especially Christianity and Islam, have fought hard against evolutionary naturalistic explanations in biology. When we hear ID arguments, we are reminded of similar arguments for the reality of a global flood, or arguments that man is specially created and common descent is a myth. The main reason people make these claims is not scientific or empirical, but to preserve their religious beliefs. This seems to be true of most IDers as well (I know there are some exceptions). That is a bad reason to believe in something.

      Finally, the whole idea of the existence of magic beings is quite a hard one for atheists to swallow. Would you seriously entertain the possibility that fairies or genies made some mysterious artifact you found in the woods? It is scientifically legitimate to ask whether fairies or genies did it, and it is theoretically possible that they exist and made your artifact, but I bet this would not be high on your list of hypotheses to entertain. So it is for us when someone claims that a magic being made life.

      • James says:


        First, let me agree with you that many of those who purport to defend religious truth have said some foolish things about science. But atheists have said foolish things about religion. Dawkins’s book on atheism was so bad that even Michael Ruse, a fellow unbeliever with Dawkins, tore it to shreds. So let’s rise above historical grievances on both sides, and simply consider the question on the table on its merits. And it would be easier to do that if polemical framing (e.g., speaking of “magic beings” and “fairies” and “genies”) were eschewed.

        Now, on to the main issue I raised. Would you agree with Dawkins that living things certainly *look* designed? And would you agree that this applies to one-celled creatures like the amoeba or the bacterium? Now even if we suppose, for the sake of argument, that Darwin and his followers dealt the death-knell to the notion of design in the origin of the various species that one-celled creatures ultimately generated, nothing in evolutionary theory has destroyed the argument for design in the origin of the first life. For that, one would need a separate argument.

        That separate argument is what some people have been trying to make for about 80-100 years now; the basic approach, put informally, has been: “life originated through millennia of chance interactions between basic molecules in an early earth environment.” Yet the leading origin-of-life researches today, at least, the honest ones, have admitted that we are not very far along at all to an understanding of how life began. RNA world and all other proposals have serious difficulties, for reasons which are well-known and which I won’t rehearse here.

        On the other hand, we seem to be making slow but steady progress toward creating life through intelligent design, i.e., by playing around with sub-cellular components, guided by our knowledge of what the various molecules can and cannot do.

        It seems to me that a reasonable person, asked whether life required some intelligent design to get started, or got started by chance and natural laws alone, should answer either: (a) “I don’t know, and nobody knows, and therefore I not only offer no opinion, but have no private opinion, i.e., no clear inclination either way”; or (b) “I don’t know, and nobody knows, but if I had to state a private inclination, then, based on current knowledge, I’d say that the “best explanation” at the moment — always revisable, of course — is that intelligent design was involved somehow in the production of the first living things.”

        But in fact the opinion of today’s leading, vocal, atheist biologists, whether it is stated explicitly or only implicitly, is that life did in fact originate via a series of chemical accidents over a protracted period of time, with no intelligent design involved. Many of them may formally grant, for the sake of projecting objectivity, that intelligent design is a possible explanation, but in their heart of hearts, they have ruled out that explanation as a living option, an existential option, for themselves. I think that is clear from any non-naive reading of their general position on matters of origins. And I’m saying that is every bit as prejudiced as the view of some narrow-minded fundamentalist who insists that evolution can’t have taken place because the earth is only 6,000 years old.

        In fact, the fundamentalist position, while repugnant to me intellectually, is not as repugnant to me morally as the position of many of the atheists, because the fundamentalist lays out his prejudices on the table, whereas the atheist often pretends to have no prejudice, but to base his views entirely on “science” or “evidence.”

        I’m not at all offended by atheist or materialist conclusions; I am offended — no, irritated would be a better word — by the constant pretense of the atheists and materialists to be the fair-minded and objective souls in the discussion. So if you tell me that you aren’t convinced there is design in nature, and that you think it all happened by chance, I will show no indignation — disagreement, but no indignation. But if you tell me that “religious” people believe in the design of the first life for purely “subjective” reasons, letting their personal hopes and fears improperly influence their thinking, whereas atheists and materialists disbelieve in the design of the first life for purely “objective” reasons, with their personal hopes and fears not shaping their thinking at all, I’m simply going to snort.

        • Lou Jost says:

          James, you asked me to explain why I thought atheists rejected design explanations. Part of the explanation is that we see appeals to gods as no different from appeals to fairies or genies or other fictional magic beings, so I used that language. Stripped of its holy gowns, the design hypothesis really is an appeal to magic beings.

          But anyway, back to the main issue (and now I am speaking for myself rather than trying to answer your question about atheists generally). I do agree that organisms, both unicellular and multicellular, look designed. Darwin’s great insight was to realize that a simple naturalistic process, whose components can all be seen in action today, can create the appearance of design.

          But you make an odd distinction between multicellular life and single-cell life. The theory of evolution applies equally well to both kinds. No one claims that the first forms of life were even remotely like the unicellular organisms of today. From the moment that some sufficiently-complex molecular object began to induce (imperfect) copies of itself, Darwinian evolution would necessarily apply. Those objects that were better at making copies of themselves would become more common than those which were worse at it. If the object was complex enough, this process could keep being refined.

          So the question about the origin of life is really a question about what kind of complexity is needed to get evolution started, and could a sufficiently-complex object have appeared just by chance.

          Now, since we don’t see magic beings acting today (or at any time since the origin of life), I think it is fair to say that since we know nothing about those first self-reproducing objects, it is silly to imagine that the best explanation for them is a magic being. You don’t know anything about how complex those objects were. The most neutral position (granting that no position is completely neutral) would be to say that we don’t know, but that the same natural laws we see acting today (and which seem to have acted ever since then, and also long before then) probably applied at that moment as well. It is you who are making the larger metaphysical and logical leap, and it does seem to be based mostly on religious beliefs (which are rarely acquired for logical reasons).

          So in my opinion, there is a real difference in objectivity between our assertions. We both agree that we don’t know what those first self-reproducing objects were, nor do we know how complex they were. They might have been quite simple, or they might have been very complex. Since we don’t know, why do you think the “best explanation” is something we have never seen acting in the world today, basically a divine miracle? The rational expectation, the most reasonable default position in the absence of evidence, would be that the same laws applied then as apply now.

          • Lou Jost says:

            Sorry for the run-on sentences…

          • James says:


            The hair-splitting wasn’t necessary. I did not say that the first forms of life were exactly like the one-celled creatures of today. The point is that “evolution” as discussed in biology requires some initial form of life to which Darwinian (or other) evolutionary mechanisms apply, i.e., some form of self-replicating organism. “The theory of evolution” does *not* try to explain the formation of the first such self-replicating organisms out of ammonia and methane etc. molecules. And it was the latter that I was talking about.

            Of course, you can call the latter “chemical evolution” and that is fine, but the point is that the two processes are different. Darwin himself distinguished between the origin of life and its subsequent evolution, and so does Dawkins today, and so, to my knowledge, has every significant evolutionary theorist. So let’s not get distracted by side-issues. I’m talking about what some call the chemical evolution of life from non-life, not the subsequent development of life from life. I think you know this.

            That the same natural laws were operating 4 billion years ago as are operating now, I have not questioned. What is uncertain is whether there was, *in addition to those natural laws* (not instead of them), an input of information from an intelligent mind of some kind. That is what no scientist knows. And what I am saying is that most of the atheists prominent in these debates (whether in books, on the internet, etc.) are very confident that there was no such intelligent input. I am saying their confidence is based not on detailed understanding of the processes of the origin of life (about which virtually nothing is known), but on their naturalistic prejudice regarding origins. There is no reason at all to assume that all things that have origins have purely natural origins.

            Understand that I am not trying to bully you into accepting a supernatural cause for the origin of life. I am merely trying to get you to admit that, all your protestations to the contrary, you would greatly prefer to be able to explain life in terms of natural causes alone — and not merely for reasons of scientific economy, either. And in any case, whatever your motives, I think my account is bang-on for most of your atheist colleagues.

            I used to be on your side of the fence, Lou, and I know my own former motivations for arguing what I did. I used all the same arguments that you now use. I pretended to myself that I was being 100% objective and rational, and that everything I accepted, I accepted only because of the strength of the evidence, and not out of any personal inclination to a naturalistic world view. I imagined that the “religious” people were letting their personal hopes and fears cloud their thought, but that I was supremely objective. I now know that I was willfully concealing from myself my own prejudices.

            I am not claiming that I know that the origin of life required intelligent design. I’m not saying that anyone who doubts intelligent design in the origin of life is automatically ignorant or wicked. I’m saying that everyone — or nearly everyone — has strong inclinations on the question, and that anyone who pretends that those inclinations are *wholly* based on rational considerations is only kidding himself.

            I think I’ve made my point as clearly as I can, and therefore I probably won’t say any more on this thread.

            • Lou Jost says:

              I’ve also explained my case as well as I can in my previous comment. It is not unreasonable to be prejudiced towards naturalistic explanations for the origin of life, since natural causes are the only thing we see operating everywhere else.

              • James says:

                Yes, it is unreasonable. Natural causes are not “the only thing we see operating everywhere else”. It was not a “natural cause” (in the sense of “chance plus natural laws”) that produced the Taj Mahal, or Citizen Kane, or the works of Bach. Some things come to be only when an intelligence arranges matter and energy in certain ways. The first living forms might have been among those things. The truly detached, objective, and philosophical mind does not prejudge the question, but retains a real (as opposed to merely formal) openness to whatever the truth of the matter might be.

                I don’t believe for a moment that Coyne, Moran, Dawkins, Dennett, Myers, etc. have a real (as opposed to formal) openness on such questions. They long ago made their existential decisions. Whether this applies to you, I cannot say; but even if it doesn’t, I’m more concerned with the broader trend than with any individual. And now I will sign off from this discussion.

              • Lou Jost says:

                I’ll just note that your view on Back and the Taj Mahal is proof of your own metaphysical prejudices. You have no way to back that up by any analysis, and nothing could ever convince you that your view is false.

                I have often given examples of things that would convince me that my worldview is false. I have yet to extract such examples from religious people. If nothing could ever make you change your mind about the Taj Mahal, then which of us is the dogmatic one? Which of us is really closed to revising his world view?

  7. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    The OP was (just to remind us) about the nature of creation’s witness to God as stated in Scripture. But the discussion has moved to its sufficiency.

    On this I would note that the Bible passage I was principally drawing from doesn’t actually speak about missing the signs of God in creation leading to atheism at all, but to false religion, and in particular the worship of the creature, in idolatry of various sorts. So, Paul says, though people predominantly recognise God’s hand in creation, they fail to appreciate his true nature – but still worship gods of one sort or another, at least partly because of the witness of nature.

    It’s still the case that the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants find the natural world to be evidence of a Creator – though since Paul wrote, the proportion of those engaging in frank idolatry has fallen markedly – maybe 3.7 billion (of 7 billion) are followers of Abrahamic monotheism, as far as statistics are possible on such a matter.

    That compares (in the same source, the infallible Wikipedia) with 2.o1% of atheists in the world population, and 9.66% “non-religious” (whatever that may mean – in US surveys it includes quite a number of those who own some sense of spirituality).

    On any normal measure, “evidence” that persuades 87% of people would be considered sufficient (it’s actually more than the 10:2 majority required of a British jury). And if one insists on the scientific paradigm, Christianity predicted in its foundation documents (eg Romans, 60AD) that most people will worship because of nature, but falsely, and gives a reason why that should be so.

  8. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    I bet you use a small “g” for the gods of Greek mythology, Roman mythology, Hindu mythology, etc.

    English lesson: nouns used as personal names take a capital letter. Hence Plato’s monad is, in English, “The One” (or in the Penguin edition “God”). Athena or Zeus are capitalised, but they are of the species “god”. So are Vishnu or Brahma.

    In anglicised Hebrew “elohim” means gods (or judges, sometime), but “Elohim” is the intensive form used as the name of the Hebrew (and west semitic) deity “El” or “Yahweh”, translated as God (the last being “the LORD” to distinguish it from Adonai, The Lord and adonai, any old lord).

    Gnus use small letters because they have some kind of superstitious phobia of the Christian Deity – hence “jebus” – even though they will usually capitalise “The Flying Spaghetti Monster”. But Gnus are incapable of civilised or respectful discourse. The true atheist should know better.

    • Lou Jost says:

      “I bet you use a small “g” for the gods of Greek mythology, Roman mythology, Hindu mythology, etc.” means exactly what it says. In fact you did write “gods” with a small g. For an atheist, your Christian god is just one among all the other mythological gods, so it gets a small g. I use capital J for Jesus, and capital Y for Yahweh.

  9. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


    Posting here because I’ve already added an extra nest in the hierarchy and it gets silly!

    It occurs to me that one ought to be as disciplined in ones employment of final causation reasoning as one is in efficient causation – which is particularly so since science has, in its modern form, opted to exclude final causation from the investigation of nature on principle.

    Natural philosophy, including the narrower discipline natural science, is about investigating what nature is and why, not about saying how it ought to be. Any judgement about whether it would have been better,say, for evolution to work differently is not science – it’s not anything, really, except hubris.

    And if one (contra modern criteria) broadens the discipline to consider final causes, as the pre-modern scientists did, the question should still be “What is the final cause for the Universe’s properties,” rather than “If the First Cause had more sense, it would have different properties.”

    And arguing back from the assumed inadequacy of reality’s final causation to say there is no final causation is using the tool you claim to have discarded it because provides no useful information.

  10. Avatar photo Merv says:

    I assume, Jon, that this was a response to my “ship” analogy with Lou, though I confess I’m not sure how your response fits –I think I agree with everything your said if I understood it all as intended.

    Meanwhile … Lou responded that he still thinks this universe could /should have been more optimized had a designer God done it with humans in mind. This has problems at a couple levels, but I’m just showing a logical problem here …
    So, Lou, you do concede then that automobiles or ocean liners (you visualized a space-ship) are all decidedly NOT designed for humans since the volume of them we can successfully occupy will be small? I.e. The engineer of a car must have been sloppy or shoddy since there is so much space in the machine that would be deadly for a human to occupy. Surely you can’t expect me to believe this comparison is lost on you!

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      Yup – it was just a brief thought that “God should have done it differently” is a departure from the scientist’s tasks of discovering “Why things are as they are.”

      Another brief thought, backing your last post – how would one know that there was a possible universe better than this one, and how would you measure it? “I don’t know, but there ought to be” and “By some arbitrary measure of my choosing” are doomed from the start.

      • Lou Jost says:

        The scientist’s task here is to try to distinguish the predictions of these two hypotheses: multiverse and design. You aren’t helping if you won’t specify what the universe is designed for, or by whom, or how. Make it definite enough to derive empirical predictions, or it is not useful.

    • Lou Jost says:

      Imagine tornados constantly sweep through Dawkins’ junkyard, and occasionally throw out something that can function as a cart. Such carts will be very rare, and most of them will just barely work. Compare that to a cart that is actually designed, even by far-from-omnipotent engineers. The designed cart will look very different from one of the randomly-thrown-together carts that just barely work. A cart whose carrying capacity was 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001% of its total volume would be an unlikely product of design but a good candidate for a cart that was randomly selected from the set of all carts made by accident from these tornados.

      Given that the universe supports intelligent life, it looks more like something marginally supportive, that could have been selected at random from the universes supporting life, rather than one deliberately designed for life.

      Even in your example, what would you think if the volume of the humanly-habitable part of the object was just 10 to minus 40th power relative to its total volume? Would you still think it was designed? Would there ever come a point when you would say that well, maybe it was not designed?

      You and Jon seem to argue that no matter what the universe looks like, no matter how hostile it is towards life, it must be designed if it contains intelligent life. In other words you reject the multiverse hypothesis by fiat. That is not very objective of you.

      • Avatar photo Merv says:

        Regarding what I would think if a cart (or universe) could only carry 0.00 … 0001% load, yes — I’ll agree with you. IF I had set out to design a nice wheeled cart to carry a load, and my cart could only carry a few molecules compared to its own whole mass, I would be appalled. But that’s because I know what my own intent is, and have know of many carts (both real and conceptually) and can have clear parameters specified for performance efficiency. My experience with creating / managing universes or how a Deity should function leaves my resume just a bit more on the scant side, however. I think Jon is right to say there simply is no science in deciding what it was best for a Deity to do. If he took a billion years to do something we wonder why he didn’t do it in a thousand. If he took a day to do something, we equally wonder why he didn’t do it in a second. No matter what God does, if it took time or occupied space, there will always be the question of why it used what it did. When you think about it a humanly impressive 99% efficiency is still just as big a “failure” (from your perspective) as a 0.00…1% efficiency would be. Your demand for what would constitute a satisfactory Divine performance, which you seem remarkably able to discern, is simply unfalsifiable.

        And all this is before we even reach the point where … I agree with you at least on one point! I too think it likely the universe was not made only for us (and also think this is quite Biblically defensible.) As somebody once said of all the vast universe … if we were the only ones in it, that sure would seem a waste! I’m inclined towards similar sentiments. But unlike you, I don’t mistake any of these sentiments for science.

        • Lou Jost says:

          So you really are saying that no matter what the universe looks like, as long as it has life, it must have been designed. As I said before, you are ruling out alternative explanations by fiat, without looking.

  11. Lou Jost says:

    I’m only asking you to be clear enough about your design hypothesis so you could at least make some prediction from it. Your answer is to say that you can’t do that—your design hypothesis covers all possible universes with life. That’s not very helpful.

    • Hanan says:

      I wonder if that is the fault of ID stating that it is a scientific endeavor as opposed to keeping it within the confines of philosophy/theology. If it had stayed there, and people merely claim they see a teleology in life, and not claim it is science (which carries the burden of the scientific method) perhaps we would not be in this, trying to prove design and finding some sort predictable hypothesis.

      • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

        Hi Hanan

        I was trying to show in the OP where the overlap is, and why that question is more to do with our culture than anything: science is not just the study and theorising on nature, but a certain kind of study, with particular sociological restrictions.

        For example, by restricting it to cause and effect, you’re bound to ask for a divine design hypothesis that can’t be (easily) met. But reason as such is entitled to see purpose, not just cause and effect.

        • Lou Jost says:

          All I am asking is that you discern something non-vacuous about what that purpose is, so we can check it. You are sure that the universe has some purpose, but you won’t make testable hypotheses about what you think it is.

          Neither I nor science as a discipline restrict ourselves by definition to cause-and-effect. If you could show that non-causal, teleological explanations solved some problem and led to good predictions, we would accept them. We currently don’t think much of teleological explanations because no one can show that they work better than (or even as good as) a causal explanation.

          • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


            You still haven’t understood that testable hypotheses are all to do with formal and efficent causes, and nothing else. To apply them to teleology is simply a fundamental category error.

            And in any case, as both my introduction to this blog, and the start of this article make clear, I have no interest whatsoever in doing apologetics for atheists. Others do, and fill websites with it. Maybe they attempt testable hypothesis on final causation too – in which case, good luck to them in drawing square circles. I have other fish to fry.

  12. Avatar photo Merv says:

    I think we may be converging here, Lou! You’re right — I don’t have any kind of a design hypothesis as regards Deity; hence no scientific/theological predictions to throw on the table, though I try to remain open to further education on this by Sy or Jon or others. Meanwhile, you may be all-too-correct about my not being at all helpful on the scientific front. From where I sit, it’s a good thing that science isn’t the only approach to life!

    I may have more to say along these topics as I finish reading Allister McGrath’s “Re-enchantment of Nature”. (Thanks for that recommendation, Jon.)

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      To Lou’s annoyance, I’m going to endorse your refusal to treat theology as a scientific quest to prove God over the multiverse. Religion, as we keep reminding him, is not the quest to find evidence for God, but the quest to serve the God we know.

      But if we consider why the Christian scientist might prefer God to the multiverse as an explanation, it’s this. He has come to believe, through testimony, reasoning and personal experience, that God is real and has changed his (or her) life. He finds also that this kind of God both claims in Scripture to have made the universe singlehanded, and can be shown by philosophical reasoning to be one of the very few coherent explanations for the universe (for example, fairies and pink unicorns are simply non-starters because they are magic beings, not the First Cause, which is why the world’s best philosophers have spent millennia thinking about God, but little about gods and none about unicorns).

      On that basis, to avoid being mere tale-spinning, the multiverse, like God not amenable to scientific scrutiny, ought to have been experienced in some equivalent way to the vast number in the world who have experience of God. Perhaps some reliable testimonies of having traversed wormholes to different universes where all was chaos would help – though to balance Christian testimony you’d need a few billion instances. I’m not aware of anyone even having visions of the multiverse – though if my argument ever caught on I’m sure some could be manufactured by these new atheist churches that seem to be springing up in New York etc – there are bound to be, eventually, atheist mystics and charismatics!

      • Lou Jost says:

        That’s the crux of it. You guys believe these myths because of visions, old books, and the effect of those beliefs on your lives. You accept these experiences at face value, just as people of other religions do in support of their myths, and just like the alien-fans I wrote about in Sy’s earlier post. How nice it is to think that the aliens are watching us and have a plan for us, and care about us. This makes sense out of life, inspires us to act differently, etc. And some of the fans even have direct experiences of the aliens! How can we stupid scientists deny their reality?

        None of these things you mentioned are good evidence of the existential truth-claims you make, and there is plenty to falsify those claims (depending on how specific your particular claims are). If this were about any other subject (like aliens, or Hindu scripture and visions) you would act like sensible people.

        I’m out of here for a few days of field work…

        • Lou Jost says:

          Before I go into the jungle, I have to ask–what would you tell my shaman friends about their own visions and experiences, which are decidedly non-Christian? They heal the sick, etc. Same kinds of things as your guys do (though like your guys, they never do anything big, like heal an amputee). Why don’t you accept their vision of the world, since it comes from such vivid visions, which transform their lives?

          • Avatar photo Merv says:

            Well, healing has never been an exclusive activity reserved for Christians, obviously. Nor are spiritual experiences. I can’t speak to the specifics that you encounter, and probably still couldn’t even if I was there to witness it myself. The Bible does give a backward nod to the existence of spiritists, mediums, etc. even if in those instances they were identified as abominations (but their existence wasn’t denied). So no — I don’t automatically dismiss all spiritism just because it doesn’t fall under the umbrella recognized as “Christian culture” today. (And inversely, nor do I accept all spiritism that is put forward as “Christian”).

            You are right that I do apply skepticism to non-Christian claims, and probably with some bias in favor of Christianity, though not as much bias as it sounds like you imagine.

            You’ll have to assess and share more of their vision of the world sometime –it may have some timeless wisdom in it.

            I just came from a small meeting with Fred Heeren who enjoys hanging out with many outspoken atheist friends and who takes them seriously. Fred pointed out that what Christians here in the U.S. really need to learn is how to “shut up and listen”. I take his words to heart –and if you were closer I could imagine heading to the local diner with you to hear more about your Central American experiences and life in general. But meanwhile I’m grateful for forums that must stand in place. Hope your jungle outing is productive.

            • Avatar photo Merv says:

              … new signature line that I’m toying (not seriously!) with adopting:

              Could it be that the Christian-Atheistic apologetic wars are to philosophy what professional wrestling is to sports?

              (Incidentally that may not be as much of a ‘put-down’ as some people would take it to be…)

            • Lou Jost says:

              Hi Merv, I too can imagine a good dinner conversation between us. Thanks for the good wishes for my trip. It was short (3 days, starting just an hour’s drive from my house) but very interesting. I went with a herpetologist and learned a lot about frogs. Also may have discovered a new species of orchid.

  13. Avatar photo GD says:

    This is a lengthy post, but I think it is necessary to make some simple points clear (and by no means an exhaustive account). The arguments from atheists regarding the creation are not merely fanciful, but contrary to the certainties that the Physical Sciences provide. Thus these atheists (but not all) are beyond denial, and hide in their ignorance.

    The constants that are often argued for or against the Universe as-it-is are necessary to do science. It is more than an aesthetic, or a preference a person may adopt. Nor are we, as scientists, in a position to argue for or against these. We are compelled (whatever our persuasion or beliefs) to acknowledge that we cannot do science without using these constants – that is why our conclusion is: “This is the Universe that we know and understand from the Physical Sciences”. It is beyond comprehension that atheists would argue against this – since they are arguing against the Sciences.

    On the matter of origins of life, again the spin by atheists is mind-boggling. We are given a model which deals with a ‘hot ball’ made up of the elements found in the periodic table. This hot planet slowly cools over a lengthy period (hundreds of millions of years); this process can be modelled using established thermodynamic computations (thermodynamics are good with long periods). The elemental composition of earth would be distributed amongst all of the stable compounds on earth (e.g. H2O, CO2, silica oxides, alumina oxides, metallic, non-metallic, and so on). This type of calculation can be done with considerable accuracy. The result(s) show the earth could not possibly produce life, or support it. For example, oxygen would be distributed amongst the stable compounds in this order: (i) H2O (ii) any remaining oxygen remains would form CO2, (iii) any remaining oxygen amongst Si, Al, Fe, and so on. Obviously these are by definition, very stable compounds, and allowing periods of hundreds of millions of years for slow cooling, favours their formation. The earth would cool on the outer layers, and these would slow down the cooling in the inner layers (maintaining a hot core), but the surface of the planet would be modelled with reasonable accuracy. The point of these remarks to again to show this is established science ( the opposite of something we do not know). THIS IS THE CENTRAL POINT: we know this, so the approach by such atheists is blatantly false. Their arguments are then twisted, introducing lightning, (and I assume thunder) to cause radicals, to form amino acid soups, to anaerobic, and/or aerobic entities, sulphur forms, to pop up on request, and stories that would put fairly tales to shame are given in scientific journals.

    We can only conclude that such atheists are knowingly making false claims on the origins, and subsequent sustaining, of the bio-world, because the fundamentals of these matters are known and established by the Physical Sciences. Science is against their claims (we cannot do science without the constants I have allude to); the Universe can only be understood by Science in this way, and established science shows their narrative regarding the earth is false. This is VERY DIFFERENT from claiming ignorance on these matters. It is not a question of having two alternatives and then selecting some ‘testable’ or ‘predictable’ option – it is arguing against science. To twist this around and call it a natural explanation opposed to a “well God did it”, is to indulge in spin. We can only speak of science, if that is our argument. It is pointless to compartmentalise Darwinian thinking and say, well after Darwin, we know it all, but before Darwin, we may not – this too is spin. Darwin did not invent chemical thermodynamics, chemical kinetics – and btw, if a law of science exists after Darwin (i.e. natural selection), it must also exist before Darwin. The laws I am referring to are genuine, before, now and in the future.

    The reason for this position by militant atheist is obvious. They are pursuing an ideology that seeks to promote their bizarre belief of a purposeless, meaningless existence. They do this with full knowledge that Science shows their position is false.

    I end this post with this caution; the Physical Sciences show what the world of matter and energy. Theists should avoid making mistakes that militant atheists have made, and avoid conscripting Science to support their particular position.

  14. Brian says:

    Hmmm… seems I have a new text editor to learn.

    We’ll do it the brute force way:

    Lou: Whatever you may think about the evidence, it is (at the very least) not as clear as it could be

    Brian: As a xian, I have no problems with such a statement and, at times, have wished that God would be more explicit.

    Lou: the concept of a Christian god who wants us to know him is falsified.

    Brian: But this is ridiculous—the incarnation and crucifixion being just two very good evidences that God does want us to know him, and has gone to great personal expense to facilitate the same. Ignoring or denying the evidence that is there—even if it isn’t the amount or kind that we want—in no way counts as falsification.

    Lou: But the failed prophecies of Jesus regarding his imminent return “while some standing here are still living” perhaps count and falsifications. I think at least some of his apostles fervently believed that his kingdom would come during their lifetimes, so this is not an unreasonable interpretation of those verses.

    Brian: Perhaps it wasn’t unreasonable at the time, (but then again, the disciples’ often got it wrong…); but given our longer perspective, it doesn’t make sense now. Probably the best interpretation of this is that Jesus is referring to his Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-8. In the Transfiguration, Jesus is revealed to Peter, James, and John (thus, “some standing here”), in which “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (17:2). This view also fits with the larger context of the passage, as it immediately follows the preceding statement at the end of chapter 16.

    To refer to this as a “failed prophesy,” is not justified by the text: “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” Six days later Jesus *took with Him Peter and [a]James and John his brother, and *led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three [b]tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell [c]face down to the ground and were terrified. 7

    • Lou Jost says:

      Hi Brian,
      You say the incarnation and crucifixion are evidence that your god wants us to know him. The only evidence for those events are anonymous second-hand documents written long after the facts, documents which show clear signs of myth-making and invention. No back-up of any of the miracle claims from any contemporary source. As far as I can tell, you are using fictional evidence to show he wants us to know him.

      Many people on earth today, through no fault of their own, will not have the opportunity to read even those myths. If god really existed and really wanted all people to know him, he failed miserably.

      I won’t argue about your last point. You might be right about that interpretations, though many Christians, including the preterists and possibly also some of the original apostles, would disagree with you.

  15. James says:


    It was impossible to reply to your last rejoinder above, because there was no “reply” button. But your response appears to me to be a complete non sequitur. I had written:

    “Natural causes are not “the only thing we see operating everywhere else”. It was not a “natural cause” (in the sense of “chance plus natural laws”) that produced the Taj Mahal, or Citizen Kane, or the works of Bach.”

    To this, you replied:

    “I’ll just note that your view on Bac[h] and the Taj Mahal is proof of your own metaphysical prejudices. You have no way to back that up by any analysis, and nothing could ever convince you that your view is false. ”


    My statement was that the works of Bach and the Taj Mahal did not come into existence through a “natural cause” (in the normal sense in which working scientists use the term); my point was that they came into being through the intelligent design of the architect and composer involved. There is nothing “metaphysical” about such an assertion at all. It’s simply a factual statement of the historically known causes of these things.

    Of course this is just a footnote to our longer discussion. I remain convinced that you, like most internet atheists, have a “subjective certainty” that the first life came into existence without the aid of any intelligent design. And my point was that this “subjective certainty” is massively incompatible with the extreme paucity of data thus far accumulated in support of the idea of an origin of life through blind natural causes. I think the most accurate statement of your position (and that of the others I referenced) would be: “I sure would like to find a demonstration that life can arise out of simple chemicals, given enough time, without any intelligence involved at all, but I have to admit I have nothing even close to a demonstration, and I have to admit that science is at the moment incapable of pronouncing even a tentative judgment in favor of this conclusion.”

    The point, of course, is that it is not only Christians whose statements about origins are shaped at least partly by their metaphysical preferences. If you can admit that much — if you can drop the pretense that atheists are “metaphysically neutral” and base their views on origins completely on pure reason and hard empirical evidence (as opposed to those Christians who allegedly let their religious beliefs interfere with their logic, their science, and their intellectual honesty) — then we have no disagreement. But if you maintain that you and your allies are “objective” and “reasonable” and “without bias” etc. whereas religious thinkers on origins are the opposite of all those things, I simply register my firm disagreement, and offer no further discussion, since I’ve already explained myself at length above.

    • Lou Jost says:

      Yes, I misinterpreted your comment about Bach and the Taj Mahal. In these kinds of discussions, “natural causes” are usually contrasted with “supernatural causes”, so when you said that Bach and the Taj Mahal did not have natural causes, I assumed you meant that a god had something to do with those. Hence my response. (In fact there have been theists who have used the “Argument from Bach” as evidence for god.)

      We’ll have to agree to disagree about who is more prejudiced in the origin of life question. We know nothing about what degree of molecular complexity is needed to get life started. Until we do, the best explanation for the origin of life is “We don’t know how it started, but based on all the rest of our experience in science, the default position should be that it started as a consequence of the known laws of physics and chemistry.” By the way, this applies also to Bach and the Taj Mahal. No physical laws were broken in their elaboration.

      • James says:


        Glad we clarified the point about Bach and the Taj Mahal. (And by the way, for all I know, Bach *may* have been inspired by God, but that was not part of my argument. It was his intelligence, not his inspiration, that I was crediting as the cause of his compositions.)

        Re your last paragraph:


        “We’ll have to agree to disagree about who is more prejudiced in the origin of life question.”

        My reply:

        I never argued that you were *more* prejudiced than I was. I argued that you were *as* prejudiced as I was, and that your implicit claim to be objective and non-prejudiced, accompanied by your constant charges or insinuations that Christians are non-objective and prejudiced, is dialogically insufferable. Why you can’t accept this point, and won’t simply acknowledge “Yes, an atheist has his biases, just as a theist has,” is beyond me, but I suspect that further repetition will do no good, because I suspect that it is your will, not your reason, which will not allow you to admit that atheists as well as Christians have their biases when it comes to questions of origins. So I’m letting this drop.

        “We know nothing about what degree of molecular complexity is needed to get life started.”

        Agreed. Which is why the confidence of the materialists and atheists is unwarranted.

        “Until we do, the best explanation for the origin of life is “We don’t know how it started, but based on all the rest of our experience in science, the default position should be that it started as a consequence of the known laws of physics and chemistry.” ”

        I strongly disagree. The proper response is either (a) “In our current state of ignorance, the origin of life is an enigma, and science has nothing conclusive to say about it, not even whether it was due to natural or non-natural causes”; or (b) “Based on the evidence we have *right now* — which points to the inability of complex self-replicating molecules to form via chance — the best explanation is the involvement of some sort of (not necessarily divine) intelligence.”

        If you could agree to (a) as a compromise position between your own statement and my (b), I would find you at least reasonable. But since you insist on your own statement, I find you unreasonable, and since your unreasonableness proceeds not from any lack of logical power or intelligence — qualities you have in abundance — it must proceed from your metaphysical prejudices. You apparently prefer to believe that it all happened without any input of intelligence. It is apparently personally important for you to believe that. But what you would prefer to believe, what it is important for you to believe, and what is the most reasonable conclusion from the data, are in this case two different things.

        I do not disclaim metaphysical prejudices of my own. I have never claimed that Christians or theists are wholly objective and base their conclusions about origins 100% on data and pure logic. I know that I have a bias (doubtless unconscious at times) in favor of explanations involving intelligence. What I find incredibly presumptuous on your part is your self-conception as someone who is utterly without such bias.

        You seem to think of yourself as a sort of hyped-up Mr. Spock, and of all Christians (including those who are your peers in demonstrated academic achievement) as muddle-headed, sentimental Dr. McCoys who can’t see objective reality because of their irrational faith. But what you forget is that in between them always stood Kirk, and that he tried to do justice to what was true in the positions of both. You can’t be both partisan and judge at the same time; you can’t play the role of both Spock and Kirk. If you want to be Kirk, then stop letting one particular prejudice rule your thinking; and if you want to be Spock, at least admit that you have that particular prejudice.

        I’ve nothing more to argue. You can of course reply defensively, trying to show that, while my prejudices are genuine prejudices and hence deplorable, your prejudices are only apparent prejudices but on deeper analysis are conclusions based 100% on reason and data and not at all influenced by any wishes, hopes, or fears you may have about the universe and the existence or non-existence of God. If you so reply, I simply will go silent as indication of my rejection of such special pleading.

        You could, however, greatly increase my respect for your intellectual integrity simply by uttering some such sentence as “Yes, we atheists too have inclinations that slant the way we read the evidence about origins; nobody is neutral here.” That’s all I’ve ever asked for from you here — that sort of simple confession of intellectual vulnerability, that kind of admission that you do not dwell in the mathematical heaven of pure objectivity, but are made of mortal clay like the rest of us. But if you aren’t sufficiently self-critical to make such an admission, there is nothing more that either of us can say that will improve the discussion, so let’s drop it.

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