Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thoughts About "Biologos"

PZ Myers has some harsh words about Francis Collins' "Biologos" website:

"I could hardly believe it when I saw it, but the BioLogos site uses the familiar creationist second law of thermodynamics argument.

Francis Collins has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, and he should know very well what the meaning of entropy is (he should be far more familiar with the concept than a mere biologist like me should be), and he's using the concept of entropy to argue against natural causes in the expansion of the universe … and then he turns around and explains that it is not an obstacle to biological evolution."

Actually, Collins' claims are a little more modest than PZ might lead you to believe. Collins states:

"The Second Law of Thermodynamics also has interesting implications for cosmology, as it requires that universe began in a highly ordered state."

Even if I accept that the universe began in a highly ordered state, I don't think it would necessitate a creator. After all, if there were no time before the Big Bang (the jury is still out on this question), then there would have been no time in which entropy could increase.

However, the universe did not begin in a highly ordered way. According to Physicist Victor Stenger*, the universe began with the maximum amount of entropy that an object of its (then) size could have. As the universe expanded, the maximum possible entropy increased, and it did so quicker than the actual entropy of the universe, thus creating order.

*Pages 117-121, Victor Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis, Prometheus Books, 2007.

Here are my comments on other parts of the site that I looked at:

On Reconciling Adam and Eve with Evolution. This is a very thoughtful article which made some good points. I'm still not sure if Genesis can be reconciled with Science, but it is something to think about and is definitely recommended reading for those contemplating the question.

On the 'Fine-Tuning' Argument. These are Collins' thoughts on the Multiverse explanation of Fine-Tuning (his words are italics, my comments are not):

At first glance, the proposition of many other universes sounds impressively scientific. However, one must keep in mind that the likelihood of ever being able to observe evidence of another universe is extremely remote, since it is unlikely that information could ever pass from one universe to another.

I don't have the book with me right now, but I do recall reading in "The Cosmic Landscape" by Leonard Susskind that we might very well be able to discover some type of indirect evidence of other universes. Neverthless, there are hypotheses (such as Lee Smolin's black hole multiverse hypothesis) which explain a good bit of data besides fine-tuning and also make testable, falsifiable predictions. There'll be something on this in my upcoming book "Atheism and Naturalism".

Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the process which produces all of these universes would randomly set all the physical parameters in such a way that every possibility is realized. It could be that there are constraints on the characteristics of these many universes and that the production process itself would have to be fine-tuned in some way to guarantee that we get enough variety of universes to account for our remarkable cosmic home.

There are also problems with trying to argue that the universe is fine tuned in the first place. How do we know that other types of life aren't possible? There is an entire chapter dedicated to this in my upcoming book, and also in Victor Stenger's book God: The Failed Hypothesis.


Alexis said...

Thank you so much for your blog and the analysis you bring. Rock on!!!

Emiliano M said...

Thanks for the tip about the website! Really interesting stuff


Robert Morane said...

There are also problems with trying to argue that the universe is fine tuned in the first place.I agree. The problem with the claim that the universe is fine-tuned is that it entails the assumption that the universe was created. But if the universe is merely the end result of a natural process then, by definition, it is not fine-tuned.

So in order to prove that the universe is fine-tuned, one has to prove first that the universe was created by some intelligence (otherwise it is not fine-tuned). Therefore, the argument (which assumes that the universe is fine-tuned) cannot be used to prove that the universe was created by an intelligence.

AIGBusted said...

Hi Robert,

The terminology used is a bit anthropomorphic, but I suppose you could say that the universe has an improbable array of constants which make it suited for life, and that some type of designer would explain that improbability.