19 March 2008

They Say Such Silly Things

I always love (in a sort of weird mixed up way) when I run across people claiming to have some sort of scientific evidence for the exists of God. Particularly when I was a little kid, I always jumped at an opportunity to read such proofs because, well, I was grounded by logic and evidence as a child and if I could find evidence for this God that it seemed everyone else I knew believed in, I figured I would be able to stop doubting and it would make everything much easier. Even though know, in my greater wisdom, I know before reading them that they must be absolute BS or they would likely have already turned the scientific community on it's head, there's always that little part of me left over from when I was little that gets curious. But alas, every time I read one of them I am left overwhelmingly disappointed.

The most recent one I've stumbled upon doesn't fail to disappoint in providing huge logical fallacies, completely unfounded assertions, and quotes from respected scientific works that are taken so far out of context as to make the original meaning almost unrecognizable, not to mention the fact that it annoyingly requires you to sign up to receive a series of five emails over the course of five days, which apparently will reveal what …the very best information from science tell[s] us… with regard to the question Where did it all come from? If you're really eager to waste your time reading all five emails from a man by the name of Perry Marshall, you can sign up here. Otherwise you can read my opinions on it below.

The first target, as usual, is Albert Einstein. In the first email, Marshall writes:

That's right -- time itself does not exist before [the big bang]. The very line of time begins with that creation event. Matter, energy, time and space were created in an instant by an intelligence outside of space and time.

About this intelligence, Albert Einstein wrote in his book The World As I See It that the harmony of natural law Reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.

Notice that Marshall is the one making the claims about an intelligence outside of space and time, not Einstein. He then applies Einstein's quote, out of context, to his unsubstantiated claim. Einstein's quote in full is as follows:

The scientist's religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.

Einstein, despite all the creationist attempts to claim him for their own, is well known to have been a pantheist, as the above indicates. The statement doesn't even have anything to do with any sort of creation event. Marshall severely distorts the meaning of Einstein's statement for his own purpose. I think that takes care of the first email, lets take a look at the second.

The second email is spent talking about the essentially accidental discovery by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of the cosmic microwave background radiation in 1964 that helped to prove the big bang theory. From what I understand, they got lucky and stumbled on the discovery. Our creationist quotes one of them, Wilson, for his argument:

Certainly there was something that set it all off. Certainly, if you are religious, I can't think of a better theory of the origin of the universe to match with Genesis.

Well, this is our second argument from personal opinion of a single scientist in just as many emails, and frankly, it's not impressive. For one, Wilson, to me (cosmology isn't exactly my field so I can't say I'm knowledgeable of the historyL) doesn't seem to have been extremely prominent in the field except for this discovery (which I'm not trying to downplay the importance of, he did win the 1978 nobel prize for it), and secondly, our writer promises us the very best information from science and instead we get a personal opinion: hardly scientific.

The third email consists largely of the cosmological version of the argument from design, the idea that the physical constants and rules of the universe are too fine tuned to the sort of conditions that allow for the formation of stars, planets, galaxies, and, by extension, life. I have never bought this argument for one second. The chances of a universe with the certain rules and parameters such as ours existing, as opposed to any other sort of universe, are infinitesimally small. The logical conclusion that we can draw from this is simply that we do live in such a universe, and thus such conditions must have arose, no matter how small the chances. If we take into account some of the fringe ideas of theoretical physics, positing that there may be an infinite number of universes, all existing parallel to ours, then it because incredibly likely, even necessary, that a universe such as ours should arise. We can further apply this to the arguments about the earth's position relative to the sun and other similar claims made by creationists that the position of the earth in the Goldilocks zone relative to the sun indicates that there must have been a divine being which guided such positioning. But because we do exist on this planet, and it does orbit in that particular Goldilocks zone, we can conclude that the odds were kind enough for such conditions favorable for life to arise at least once somewhere in the universe. When we begin to take the scope of the entire universe into account, it becomes virtually certain once again that intelligent life should exist. This, of course, is a very unscientific and tautological argument based largely on the anthropic principle. For the purposes of answering a scientific question it is useless, but that does not diminish its worth in demonstrating why the argument from design is flawed.

Marshall also in this same email commits a fairly atrocious bit of quote mining. He sites a paper titled Disturbing Implications of a Cosmological Constant, claiming that the two atheist scientists who authored it come to the conclusion that An unknown agent intervened in cosmic history for reasons of its own. A quick google search pulled the article up and revealed that Marshall is flat out lying. The quoted words do indeed appear in the paper at the bottom of page twenty, where the authors posit creation by a higher intelligence and then dismiss it as unhelpful in answering the question central to the paper.

The fourth email centers around the argument that DNA is built on a language of nucleotides and that a language only comes from a mind, and therefore DNA must have been created by a mind. Yes, I'm serious, that's his argument. Simply one of the worst logical fallacies I have ever heard. That's akin to saying all the houses in my city are painted yellow, and even though I've never left my city, I can conclude that all houses everywhere are painted yellow.

This fifth email is essentially a buildup for a link to a presentation some undoubtedly loony creationist gave in 1994. By this point I'm extremely tired of dealing with this subject (can you tell) so I don't think I'm going to subject myself to it. If anyone is curious and does listen to it and wants to rip all the arguments to pieces please provide a link in the comments.

1 comment:

Quantum_Flux said...

Please tell the McCain/Palin Campaign (preferrably politely) why teaching creationism in our public schools around America is superstitious and is not in our nation's best interests. These are the feelers McCain has out there, the way in which Americans can have a voice and be heard by his campaign:

Contact his campaign directly here:


Or go to his blogs and leave a polite message about the subject matter wherever appropriate:


Remember, McCain does a lot of things right and is a great heroic war veteran who genuinely puts his country first, but Creationism is one key area where he is completely wrong and could potentially create a major setback for American students and businesses. We can't let America fall behind foriegn countries in the departments of Science and Technology because of his superstitious beliefs.