Religion Prof: The Blog of James F. McGrath
The Blog of Dr. James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, Indianapolis
Why would you publish such a quote? Either someone has ham-handedly juxtaposed his quotes from different contexts or left out the essential middle or else Coyne himself does not think logically. The conclusion is a non sequitur; it does not follow from the premises.
Coyne clearly does think logically, but the first paragraph was not intended as a premise on which the second paragraph was based. Both paragraphs are conclusions which he logically based on information not included in the quote.
Why publish it? Maybe because it’s true?
Have you sent that email off to Hamster yet? Or do you only pester bloggers?
Actually, it’s not *entirely* true. As pointed out by commenters in the FaceBook group “Celebrating Creation by Natural Selection”, evolutionary theory tells us absolutely nothing about the *origin* of life, and definitely not the universe. Evolutionary theory tells us what happened *after* the origin of life, how the original prokaryotic cells diversified into humans and plants and all other species on Earth. The origins of life and the universe are beyond the realm of evolution, into physics, chemistry, astronomy, cosmology, and so on.
Yes indeed. But one thing’s for sure: it’s more true (i.e. more scientifically accurate) than anything that ever came out of Ken Hamster’s mouth!
Someone suggested that it is from the movie Religulous. Can someone track down where he said this? I’m increasingly starting to think that, if it really is what Coyne said, it was him speaking and running some things together. His point about science and the Bible is so important that I didn’t make a fuss about the other difficulty at first. But it does deserve to be addressed.
I’ll take this Coyne scientist to the Jerry one any day.
Modern scientific evolutionary theory is the best explanation we have of the origin of the universe and all life in it.
Head, let me introduce you to desk…
Its no more right when said by someone ‘on our side’.
I’m starting to wonder whether the quote is authentic or is at best compressed from a longer statement, resulting in that mistake. I can’t seem to find the source.
Maybe he means the theories are evolutionary, i.e. change in response to new evidence?
I think the tie in comes from the Strong Anthropic Principle, although I can’t find an exact quote. But the winding path from “Finding Darwin’s God”, Kenneth R. Miller, quotes seem to support the connection of biological evolution to the universe evolving to provide for life. Misc quotes from chap “The Road Back Home”, Carr and Rees, “the possibility of life as we know it evolving in the Universe depends on the values of a few basic physical constants– and is in some respects sensitive to their numerical values”, “Even if all apparently anthropic coincidences could be explained in this way, it would still be remarkable that the relationships dictated by physical theory happened to be those propitious for life.” Hawking, “the odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the Big Bang are enormous. I think there are clearly religious implications.” Daniel Bennett (not a fan of religion), “Believers in any of the proposed strong versions of the Anthropic Principle think they can deduce something wonderful and surprising from the fact that we conscious observers are here–for instance, that in some sense the universe exists for us, or that perhaps we exist so that the universe as a whole can exist, or even that God created the universe the way He did so that we would be possible.”
For the record, I was being a little facetious in my remark.
The problem is that ‘evolutionary theory’ almost always (and, pretty much always when context doesn’t say otherwise) means the theory (or, perhaps more accurately, theories) in use in evolutionary biology.
Conflating this with cosmogony (and considerations about why physics is the way it is and the anthropic principles, which are much more speculative and, it could be argued, are more philosophy than science) for whatever reason is pretty misleading. Evolutionary biology is an independent field, with independent evidence for the theories involved, which stands or falls (but almost certainly stands) independently of cosmogony.
Mainstream cosmogony, while it has a fair degree of empirical support, is much more speculative than evolutionary biology, to the point where there’s a chance we could be completely wrong about it.
Origins of life could be considered a topic in evolutionary biology (just), but is probably better considered a seperate field, too, and it’s extremely speculative.
Lumping all of these things together (along with materialism and atheism) is something that young earth creationists do, which allows them to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak: biological evolution gets rejected because no-one has a completely convincing explanation for why the universe happened.
For the record, just suggesting were Coyne got the connection, not necessarily arguing for the connection. True, speculation. Others seem to make connections, not just YEC. From the same book, “Dennett eagerly embraces the idea of multiplying universes…he notes that physicist Lee Smolin has suggested a cosmology in which black holes are the birthplaces of alternate universes. This means that the black holes in our own universe might be, in a cosmological kind of way, the organs of reproduction from which new universes emerge. The fundamental constants of each of a black hole’s “offspring” universes are slight variation of those found in the “parent” universe…”…”in Dennett’s view, these multiple universes have undergone a kind of Darwinian natural selection…” So, it may not be correct, but people do use the analogy, right or wrong. To me, people make these connections because of their addressing either the strong, or weak, anthropic principle. For right or wrong.
There’s nothing wrong with such speculations, but one should make it clear, especially when addressing the general public, that (1) they’re highly speculative, and (2) they’re not the same subject at all as evolutionary biology.
Maybe multiverses are the ‘best explanation’ we have for the universe, but it’s not a well-established, empirically grounded theory that has proved superior to any rival theory. Just saying it’s the ‘best explanation’ kind of implies that it’s a good explanation with solid support, which it isn’t.
Scientists and others who communicate about such things need to be very careful about expressing how well-established a theory is. People (even scientists sometimes) aren’t very good at distinguishing between established scientific facts, plausible hypotheses with some evidential support, and way-out ideas that might just be true.
Lumping them all together as ‘science’ can go wrong in two directions: thinking that the way-out ideas are science (which they might be!) and therefore true (and they probably aren’t) or thinking that science asserts these way-out ideas that end up being false, and therefore all of science is suspect.
If Smolin’s idea is right, then it’s not necessarily inappropriate to call it natural selection, particularly if the universes somehow pass on ‘genetic’ information (values of fundamental constants, maybe?) to their progeny. Just so long as it’s made clear that we have no idea whether this notion is correct or not, and it’s not somehow part of a package deal with evolutionary biology.
Thanks to a Facebook friend who has chosen to remain anonymous, who helped track down the sources of the quotations. The image combined several different statements, which is presumably the reason why some aspects don’t actually hit their target quite precisely. Part of it comes from this USA Today article:
And part of it comes from this interview with Richard Dawkins:
I think I will share this in a post of its own…
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