Why scientific consensus is useless (at best).
“I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.”
So many scientists believe that life is the result of unintelligent natural processes that it must be true! And if you believe that one, you should also be convinced by an advertisement from 1946:
“More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette! Not one, but three independent research organizations conducted this survey. And they asked not just a few thousand, but 113,597 doctors from coast to coast the cigarette they themselves preferred to smoke. The answers came in by the thousands…from general physicians, diagnosticians, surgeons—yes, and nose and throat specialists too. The most-named brand was Camel!”
I was shocked to learn that this advertisement actually existed back in the 1940’s…my doctor has always prescribed Marlboro cigarettes, lol!
Bare expert opinion is useless
On a more serious note, it is crucial to understand that bare expert opinion should be given no more weight with regards to scientific theories such as Darwinism than with regards to advertising claims. Expert opinion is frequently cited in logical arguments (including my own), and rightly so. But, unaccompanied by sound logical argumentation, the consensus opinion of authorities such as scientists should be taken no more seriously than the cigarette preferences of 1940’s doctors. And any such logical argumentation must be scrutinized every bit as thoroughly as advertising claims.
Famed astrophysicist (and atheist) Carl Sagan commented on arguments from authority:
“One of the great commandments of science is, ‘Mistrust arguments from authority.’ … Too many such arguments have proved too painfully wrong. Authorities must prove their contentions like everybody else.”
A review of the history of science quickly reveals the many failed authority arguments to which Sagan was referring: As I discuss in The Mythology of Atheism, atheist mythology suggests that, as scientific knowledge grows, the need for theistic belief diminishes. However, in his pivotal work on the history, philosophy, and sociology of science titled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, physicist Thomas Kuhn points out how the history of science makes it impossible to justify the characterization of science as “an ever growing stockpile of knowledge” or a “process of accretion.”
In part, this is because most scientific theories which were accepted by the scientific communities of the past are now perceived as pseudo-science or myth. Kuhn cites the examples of Aristotelian dynamics (which was superseded by Newtonian physics), phlogistic chemistry (which said that a fire-like element called phlogiston is contained within combustible bodies and released during combustion), and caloric thermodynamics (which said that heat is really a self-repellent fluid called caloric that flows from hotter bodies to colder bodies). (Click here for several dozen more examples). If these theories were regarded as science in their day, but as error and superstition today, then why, Kuhn asks, should we not assume that the scientific theories of today will become the error and superstition of tomorrow?
The history of science clearly reveals scientific consensus to be useless
Atheism is frequently promoted as a “scientific” belief system, but atheists would be well advised to abandon this line of propaganda in light of the fact that what constitutes science is in a constant state of flux. Biologist Lynn Margulis, winner of the U.S. Presidential Medal for Science, put it best in her book What Is Life?:
“…Science is asymptotic. [“asymptote” is derived from a Greek word meaning “not falling together.”] It never arrives at but only approaches the tantalizing goal of final knowledge. Astrology gives way to astronomy; alchemy evolves into chemistry. The science of one age becomes the mythology of the next.”
Those with a short-sighted view of the history of science are prone to overlook the fact that alchemy (which believed that metals such as lead could be turned into gold) and astrology were once considered scientifically respectable. In fact, as Margulis alludes to above, the scientific consensus of one age usually becomes the myth or superstition of the next age.
Science, alone, can provide no ultimate answers
Science alone cannot provide final answers to questions such as how life emerged from non-life. Rather, ontological or meta-scientific reasoning is necessary. Ontology is the branch of philosophy which asks the deep question, “What does it mean to exist or to be?” A question such as, “Is reality fundamentally mental/spiritual, or is reality fundamentally material?” is an ontological question, not a scientific one. Stephen C. Meyer holds a PhD in the history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University. In his book Signature in the Cell, Meyer discusses this fundamental ontological question which has been debated in the western world for centuries:
“Since the time of the ancient Greeks, there have been two basic pictures of ultimate reality among Western intellectuals, what Germans call a Weltanschauung, or worldview. According to one worldview, mind is the primary or ultimate reality. On this view, material reality either issues from a preexisting mind, or it is shaped by a preexistent intelligence, or both…This view of reality is often called idealism to indicate that ideas come first and matter comes later. Theism is the version of idealism that holds that God is the source of the ideas that gave rise to and shaped the material world.”
“The opposite view holds that the physical universe or nature is the ultimate reality. In this view, either matter or energy (or both) are the things from which everything else comes. They are self-existent and do not need to be created or shaped by mind….In this view matter comes first, and conscious mind arrives on the scene much later and only then as a by-product of material processes and undirected evolutionary change. This worldview is called naturalism or materialism.”
(As a side note, please read Johns Hopkins University physicist Richard Conn Henry’s meta-scientific argument for reality being mental/spiritual—-which uses science as a staring point—-in his article titled The Mental Universe).
There is a crucial distinction between scientific observation and experimentation, and the interpretation of those observations and experiments. Data in isolation does not provide any explanation. Only human interpretation of data can provide explanations. And it is foolish and intellectually lazy for one to hand over this interpretation to authority figures. Truth can only be established with sound logical arguments, not with authority opinion.
A sound logical argument is a sound logical argument, whether it comes from a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, or a professional clown. For example, if a professional clown argued that the Earth is round, he would still be right, even though he is just a silly clown who once flunked out of clown school. Similarly, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist would still be wrong if he argued that light travels through a medium known as “luminiferous aether” (as virtually all physicists believed in the 19th century), even though he is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Put another way, sound logical arguments rest on logic, and not professional qualifications.
And, in regards to meta-scientific reasoning, meta is a Greek term meaning “after” or “beyond.” In other words, questions such as whether or not life was created by an intelligence lie beyond or after science. Roy A. Varghese brilliantly elaborates on this crucial point in The Wonder of the World:
If we ask what are the laws that govern the universe, we are asking a scientific question. If we ask why does a structure of laws exist, we are asking an ontological question. The data of science can, of course, serve as the starting point for ontological study but that study will require ontological and not scientific tools.
Now certain scientists might respond that they’re only interested in cold hard facts, not so-called meta-scientific or ontological ones. But it’s easy to show that even the most hard-headed experimentalist can’t get away from the ontological realm even for an instant. I ask:
How do you determine that something is a “cold hard fact?” You make a mental estimate by weighing the evidence for and against, and you try to find out if the premises warrant the conclusion or if known facts support the hypothesis.
All of these mental acts are ontological judgements. You can’t arrive at a judgement by pouring the facts into a test-tube or peering at them through an electron microscope. So even to do “hard” science, to generate, evaluate and categorize data, you need to go beyond hard facts and concrete reality.
Just think about it…how would one support a claim such as, “We can only accept as true that which science can tell us,” using nothing but scientific experimentation and observation? With a chemistry experiment involving a bunsen burner and test tubes? With a biology experiment involving a microscope and a petri dish, perhaps? The very premise that “science alone can reach conclusions“ is a conclusion that science alone cannot reach, and is therefore self-refuting. Craig Keener echoes Varghese’s above comments about the crucial role of meta-scientific interpretation in logical reasoning:
Views about whether any intelligence exists outside nature are interpretations, not data, hence belong to a different sphere of reasoning than purely empirical scientific expertise confers. As one scholar puts it, facts in isolation “are unintelligible and non-explanatory,” inviting explanation. Yet science as science in the strictest sense proceeds inductively, accumulating finite bodies of information and constructing patterns.
The interpretation that structures the information, by contrast, is ultimately meta-scientific. Even moving to the meta-scientific level may presuppose an intelligence that exceeds pure, random naturalism. Einstein believed that acceptance of the world’s “rationality or intelligibility” also entailed belief in “a superior mind,” which he defined as God.
Since science has absolutely no idea whatsoever how life emerged from non-life (as I detail in Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God), meta-scientific or ontological reasoning is the only tool which one has to answer this question. Regarding the complete ignorance of science in regards to this question, physicist Hubert Yockey writes in The Journal of Theoretical Biology:
“Since science does not have the faintest idea how life on earth originated …it would be honest to confess this to other scientists, to grantors, and to the public at large. Prominent scientists speaking ex cathedra, should refrain from polarizing the minds of students and young productive scientists with statements that are based solely on beliefs.”
Physicist Paul Davies made the same point in his bookThe Fifth Miracle:
“Many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled.”
Even prominent theoretical biologist (and atheist) Stuart Kauffman, who is known for his “self-organization” theories regarding the origin of life, admits:
“Anyone who tells you that he or she knows how life started on the earth some 3.45 billion years ago is a fool or a knave. Nobody knows.”
Logical arguments for God begin with science, and succeed
So what ontological or meta-scientific arguments establish a sound logical basis for the conclusion that life is the result of an intelligence (read: God)? As I discuss in The Case for God is not a Case of the God-of-the-Gaps, DNA, the language of life, conveys meaning through symbolic representation, in a very similar manner to human language. And meaning is something which can only exist in the mind of a conscious and intelligent agent. Period.
For example, the letters C-A-T serve as a symbolic representation of a furry animal that purrs and meows only because the intelligent agents who created the English language arbitrarily assigned this meaning to this set of symbols. There is no physical or chemical relationship between these symbols and what they serve to represent, only a mental relationship. (Please read the Nobel Prize-winning, Harvard University biologist George Wald’s ontological or meta-scientific argument for life being the product of an intelligent mind—which uses science as a starting point—titled Life and Mind in the Universe).
Atheism is grounded in the philosophy known as materialism, which suggests that all that exists are various arrangements of matter and energy. But if it were true that nothing exists except arrangements of matter and energy, living things would be completely specified by their physical and chemical properties. Nowhere among such properties will you find a property known as meaning. Put another way, material things such as rocks, thunderstorms, or the chair you are sitting in cannot be about anything. Meaning is not a property of mindless matter and energy, and can only be assigned by a conscious and intelligent agent.
Many of the principles of human language apply to DNA, the language of life.
In the primary text on the application of algorithmic information theory to the question of the origin of life, titled Information Theory, Evolution, and The Origin of Life, physicist and information scientist Hubert Yockey explains how many of the principles of human language are also applicable to DNA, the language of life:
“Information, transcription, translation, code, redundancy, synonymous, messenger, editing, and proofreading are all appropriate terms in biology. They take their meaning from information theory (Shannon, 1948) and are not synonyms, metaphors, or analogies.”
Indeed, an entire school of thought in biology called biosemiotics considers language to be a primary lens through which living things must be understood, as Perry Marshall points out in his book Evolution 2.0. Marshall elaborates on the scientific reasons why DNA is a language in the most literal, not metaphorical, sense:
Rutgers University professor Sungchul Ji’s excellent paper The Linguistics of DNA: Words, Sentences, Grammar, Phonetics, and Semantics starts off,
“Biologic systems and processes cannot be fully accounted for in terms of the principles and laws of physics and chemistry alone, but they require in addition the principles of semiotics— the science of symbols and signs, including linguistics.”
Ji identifies 13 characteristics of human language. DNA shares 10 of them. Cells edit DNA. They also communicate with each other and literally speak a language he called “cellese,” described as “a self-organizing system of molecules, some of which encode, act as signs for, or trigger, gene-directed cell processes.”
This comparison between cell language and human language is not a loosey-goosey analogy; it’s formal and literal. Human language and cell language both employ multilayered symbols. Dr. Ji explains this similarity in his paper:
“Bacterial chemical conversations also include assignment of contextual meaning to words and sentences (semantic) and conduction of dialogue (pragmatic)— the fundamental aspects of linguistic communication.” This is true of genetic material. Signals between cells do this as well.
Secondly, a quick review of what unintelligent natural processes actually do quickly slams the door on the meta-scientific conclusion that life was caused by such processes. According to the second law of thermodynamics (SLOT), natural processes do the exact opposite of producing the order which would be necessary to cause life to emerge from non-life. But one does not need the assurance of scientists to accept the 2nd law of thermodynamics, since its manifestations are all around us: SLOT is the reason that your clean room will get dirty, your shoes wear out with regular use, you will age, your car will eventually break down without regular maintenance, etc.
Dr. W.M. DeJong studied Mathematics and Thermodynamics at the University of Technology in Delft, The Netherlands. He is a consultant and researcher of innovation and change at INI-Consult. As Dr. DeJong points out in his article The Theory of Evolution in the Perspective of Thermodynamics and Everyday Experience, unintelligent natural processes may produce limited amounts of order on a temporary basis. For example, wind blowing sand on the beach may produce orderly ripples in the sand. But the same natural processes which created this order will more quickly destroy it, when the direction or strength of the wind changes.
Broken bones heal, but broken stones don’t
Thirdly, as I mentioned above, atheism is grounded in the philosophical view known as materialism, which suggests that all that exists are various arrangements of matter and/or energy. But if materialism were true, living things would be nothing more than complicated clumps of matter which are completely specified by their chemical and physical properties. However, no clump of matter has ever tried to survive. Broken stones (clumps of matter) don’t heal, but broken bones (parts of a living thing) do heal. Survival is a goal or purpose, and clumps of matter and/or energy do not have any such goals or purposes. Physicist Amit Goswami elaborates in Creative Evolution:
“The Darwinian theory of evolution is based on natural selection: Nature selects those organisms that are fittest to survive. In the materialist view, an organism is just a bundle of molecules that are completely specified by their physical and chemical properties. Nowhere among these properties will you find a property called survivability. No piece of inanimate matter has ever attempted to survive or in any way tried to maintain its integrity under any circumstances. But living bodies do exhibit a property called survivability. Now the paradox. A Darwinist would say that the survivability of the living form comes from evolutionary adaptation via natural selection. But natural selection itself depends on survival of the fittest.”
“See the circularity of the argument? Survival depends on evolution, but evolution depends on survival! A paradox is a sure-fire sign that the basic assumptions of the paradigm are incomplete or inconsistent; they need a reexamination.”
Lastly, it is critical to understand that, just because a particular scientist believes that life is the result of unintelligent natural processes, one should not assume that he/she does so for scientific reasons. Rather, extra-scientific (read: ideological, cultural, and philosophical) reasons often motivate this belief, much as personal taste (rather than logical reasoning) motivated 1940’s doctors to prefer one cigarette brand over another.
In The Altenberg 16: An Expose of the Evolution Industry, biologist Lynn Margulis (winner of the U.S. Presidential Medal for Science) discusses the cultural/sociological reasons for the persistence of neo-Darwinian theory, despite its deteriorating scientific basis, with journalist Susan Mazur:
Margulis: “If enough favorable mutations occur, was the erroneous extrapolation, a change from one species to another would concurrently occur.”
Mazur: “So a certain dishonesty set in?”
Margulis: “No. It was not dishonesty. I think it was wish-fulfillment and social momentum. Assumptions, made but not verified, were taught as fact.”
Mazur: “But a whole industry grew up.”
Margulis: “Yes, but people are always more loyal to their tribal group than to any abstract notion of ‘truth’ – scientists especially. If not they are unemployable. It is professional suicide to continually contradict one’s teachers or social leaders.”
As Margulis’ above comments indicate, atheistic conclusions (which purportedly arise from scientific research) are often not really the logical result of an objective examination of facts. Rather, they precede the examination of facts and reflect the religious beliefs of a scientist’s “tribal group.” This can be the case even when such theories have a basis which has been eroded by advances in scientific understanding. The late great Harvard University paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science Stephen J. Gould commented that:
“Unconscious or dimly perceived finagling is probably endemic in science, since scientists are human beings rooted in cultural contexts, not automatons directed toward external truth.”
In what “cultural contexts” are atheist biologists rooted, causing them to perpetrate “unconscious or dimly perceived finagling?” For one, in the cultural context that the material world is the most basic, fundamental plane of existence (the above mentioned worldview known as materialism or naturalism). Harvard University geneticist Richard C. Lewontin famously admitted in 1997 that, in reference to defending Darwinism in a debate:
“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
In a similar light, Nancy Pearcey notes in her essay How Darwinism Dumbs Us Down:
“The media paints the evolution controversy in terms of science versus religion. But it is much more accurate to say it is worldview versus worldview, philosophy versus philosophy…”
“Interestingly, a few evolutionists do acknowledge the point. Michael Ruse made a famous admission at the 1993 symposium of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. ‘Evolution as a scientific theory makes a commitment to a kind of naturalism,’ he said—that is, it is a philosophy, not just facts. He went on: ‘Evolution, akin to religion, involves making certain a priori or metaphysical assumptions, which at some level cannot be proven empirically.’ Ruse’s colleagues responded with shocked silence and afterward one of them, Arthur Shapiro, wrote a commentary titled, ‘Did Michael Ruse Give Away the Store?‘”
“But, ironically, in the process, Shapiro himself conceded that ‘there is an irreducible core of ideological assumptions underlying science,’ He went on: ‘Darwinism is a philosophical preference, if by that we mean we choose to discuss the material universe in terms of material processes accessible by material operations.’”