Scientists Are Not Anti-Creation


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

Then how is it working here with secular scientists and me @eddie? Something about this isn’t adding up.

(Edward Robinson) #2

That depends on how you regard your Genealogical Adam hypothesis, doesn’t it? As far as I have seen (and maybe I’ve missed some statements, being busy with my work), you have never said that you personally affirm that God, after using evolution to create the main body of humans, then did a separate Creation of Adam and Eve, set them off in a special location, that their offspring later mixed with the others, etc. As far as I can remember, all that you have claimed is that such a scenario is not contradicted by genetic science, and therefore that a Christian can adopt it without falling afoul of good genetic science. Have I got that right?

If I have it right, then you are presenting it as an admissible possibility from both a theological and scientific viewpoint. That is not the same as affirming that you personally think this was exactly what happened. I would suspect that if you personally affirmed, and strongly argued for, a special creation of Adam and Eve, beyond the evolutionary emergence of mankind, that you would get some resistance from some of the atheist/agnostic science crowd here.

If I missed such an affirmation on your part, I apologize for not understanding your current position.

In any case, until fairly recently, BioLogos was not thinking in terms of genealogical Adam; for the first several years of its existence, it was working within the traditional one-creation model, and within that model, its spokesmen were all loath to suggest the possibility of special creation events at any point from the Big Bang to man. My analysis was based on that historical behavior at BioLogos. What they may do now that Genealogical Adam is on their radar screen, I cannot say. But whatever they do, I predict it will be neither rational nor coherent.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #3

Check out this thread: Would God's Guidance Be DNA-Detectable?. I affirm that God providentailly governs all things, and can make the same scientific case to show that any guidance would be undetectable, unless God wanted us to detect it.

We had some lively scientific debate about it. No one called me crazy.

I think you might have misunderstood my secular colleagues. They are not anti-God’s action. I think, however, BioLogos might be misunderstanding them in the same way.

(Edward Robinson) #4

Yes, I understand that this is your position, but I am asking a different question. I am not asking whether you think that a special creation of Adam and Eve could be proved scientifically. I am asking whether you personally affirm that such a special creation happened, on the basis of something other than science, e.g., Biblical revelation and your interpretation of it. I have not heard you affirm that so far.

I suspect that if you said, “Though I can’t prove it scientifically, I personally believe that after human beings had evolved naturally, God did a second special creation of Adam and Eve, as described in Genesis 2, and that after that there was a Fall, etc.,” some of your non-Christian colleagues here, whether they voiced it out loud or not (and I think some of them might voice it out loud), would deem you to have fallen into a credulity unbecoming of a hard-minded scientist. That is certainly the attitude, for example, of Jerry Coyne, regarding Francis Collins’s acceptance that a man historically rose from the dead. I would be surprised if the atheists here found the special creation of Adam and Eve any more plausible than Coyne finds the resurrection of the dead. But if that is in fact what you personally believe, why not test the waters by saying so directly? I will watch the reactions with interest.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #5

The issue is that I’m an agnostic on that detail. I can see it either way from Scripture, and I I’m convinced Science doesn’t say. I’m inclined towards tradition, and in this sense am inclined to affirm it, if forced to choose. My book makes this more explicit. I argue it is the most coherent view taking the whole picture into account. I still wouldn’t insist upon it.

I don’t think any one in secular science cares one way or another. I’m not saying anything stupid in science. Even if I were to unequivocally affirm it, no one would really care, because it is not coupled with a dumb evidence denying argument. It is no different than the virgin birth or the Ressurection. Perhaps they disagree, but they agree it isn’t screwing with my science.

Do you agree @T_aquaticus? I think @eddie has you all wrong. You aren’t anti religious. You are just anti dumb arguments for religion.

(Edward Robinson) #6

I understand your position better now. But it still doesn’t alter my prediction. I grant you have the right to remain uncertain, but suppose that one day in the future you felt certain, and did affirm that as a historical fact God specially created Adam and Eve. In that case, I think you would get some resistance, if not from people here, from other quarters. I gave the example of Jerry Coyne on Collins. Jerry believes that Collins is a competent geneticist. He doesn’t think that Collins purveys bad science regarding evolution. But he thinks that Collins betrays the spirit of science by accepting things like virgin births and resurrection from the dead. He did not like the idea that a man who believes that the dead can walk again was appointed to head the NIH. And Coyne is not the only agnostic/atheistic scientist who would have had that reaction, I’m sure.

If one believes in the virgin birth or the resurrection, then surely one admits that the normal causal nexus is not always observed. And if that is the case for those events, then in principle it could be the case for many other events, including the origin of life, etc. Most atheist/agnostic people I know think that the causal nexus is always observed, and I think that “disagreement” is not a powerful enough term to suggest their (at least private) reaction to any affirmation that Jesus rose from the dead. They disagree, but there is more to it than that. They think that such a belief is irrational, and, even if it does not contradict anything in science directly, is still a dangerous thing to believe in, because it puts the regularity of causality into question.

I debated with an atheist on BioLogos at length, a research evolutionary biologist doing fieldwork in South America (he is my favorite of all internet atheists, by the way); he had before taking up evolutionary biology been a theoretical physicist, and he was adamant that allowing any interventions into the causal order led to intellectually unacceptable consequences. I am quite sure he is not the only atheist scientist who thinks in this way. So if you affirm a miraculous creation of Adam and Eve, people like that will think you are being unscientific and irrational, even if your belief leaves the theory of evolution completely intact. They may choose not to speak up for tactical reasons, but privately they will be thinking that you are below your usual rational standard in accepting such miracles. You may not care what they think privately, but you should be under no illusion that they are not harboring such thoughts.


That’s entirely correct. I am no different from other people when it comes to enjoying a good debate (cue Monty Python sketch), but at the bottom of everything is an aversion to bad arguments.

If someone believes in the special creation of Adam and Eve because of faith in the accuracy of scripture then I really don’t have a problem with it. Where problems arise is when a belief is propped up by bad scientific arguments. For example, if someone said that the scientific evidence pointed to a bottleneck of two humans 6,000 years ago then I am going to point out the mountains of evidence contradicting that claim.

(Edward Robinson) #8

I have the same aversion to bad arguments, whether for religion, or for AGW, or for evolution, or for anything else.

If genetic science proves there can’t be a bottleneck of two humans 6,000 years ago (and I take no side in that technical debate, since it’s not my field, but suppose the affirmation of 6,000 years is impossible), then I think it would be wrong for Christians to use bad science in that area to prop up their belief in the Bible. Note, however, that Ann Gauger did not do that, since she did not insist in 6,000 years or any figure anywhere near that low. In the much higher ranges she was considering, the impossibility of a two-person bottleneck is not established beyond doubt. One must distinguish between Christians who appeal to science carefully and after informing themselves, and Christians who can’t be bothered to take the time to get the facts straight.

One must also distinguish between a logically possible disagreement between scientists; sometimes the data is not enough to settle things one way or the other, and scientists make different judgment calls. Someone is not a bad scientist merely because he makes a judgment call different from one’s own. His arguments are not “bad arguments” merely because they lead to a conclusion one finds uncongenial. Unless they rest on outright wrong data or outright logical errors, they aren’t “bad science” in the sense that many people use the term.

I always disliked “Creation Science” because I found it made use of many bad arguments and much dubious science. When ID came along, I liked it much better, because it demanded belief in none of the standard CS assertions about a global Flood or radioactive dating (all motivated by Genesis literalism), asserted no silly scenarios about God planting fossils in the ground to test our faith, creating illusions of age to test our faith, etc. It tried to argue for design using purely the evidence of nature, without recourse to support from the Bible. And that to me is the right approach. Whatever errors in scientific detail individual ID proponents may have made, they were right to separate scientific arguments from beliefs based on Biblical exegesis, and to try to make their case for design on evidence and reason alone. Biblical scholarship and the science of nature are two different fields, using different sets of methods, and they shouldn’t be muddled together. That’s not to say there should be no intellectual effort made to relate the results of the two fields – far from it. But the relationship has to be established by dialogue between practitioners of the two fields, not by importing Biblical statements into science as axioms that must be accepted.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #9

@NLENTS, can you comment on this too?

@eddie, I do not want you to miss this. Both ID and BioLogos misjudged our secular colleagues. They are not anti-religion. They are, for the most part, anti-dumb arguments for religion. ID is failing right now because they are making scientifically absurd arguments, not because scientists are intrinsically opposed to considering something like the de novo creation of Adam.

Don’t miss this.

(Edward Robinson) #10

You statement is too sweeping. “Our secular colleagues” includes people with a wide range of attitudes toward religious belief in general and Christianity in particular. You need to qualify this with “many of our secular colleagues” or the like.

In fact, though I have no authoritative survey to defend my point, my experience of 50 years of debating and discussing these issues with scientists live and over the internet, and reading hundreds of books and articles by practicing scientists on these issues, and studying science in a major research university and rubbing shoulders with grad students and professors there, suggests to me that most secular scientists (by which I mean most scientists who do not affirm any religious belief and do not regard themselves as believers in God or revelation) are intrinsically opposed to the de novo creation of Adam, and to claims of miraculous action in general. I do not claim that they actively go out and tell religious people that they are full of crap over such questions, or that they personally hate religious people who affirm miracles, or anything of the sort; but I do claim that most of them think miracles do not happen, that Jesus never rose from the dead, and that people who believe such things are simply in error. But perhaps in my 60+ years of living, I have met and conversed with a different sampling of scientists than you have in your 40+, so my evidence, like yours, is merely anecdotal. Nonetheless, one has to go on the evidence one has, and I have to have confidence in my memory of my own encounters, especially given that my academic field has been “religion and science” and that I have been specially concerned to get the position of various scientists right.

If all you mean is that the atheist scientists here would not claim to have an absolute proof that the Resurrection could not have happened, or that they are happy to live in a world with people who believe in the Resurrection as long as those people don’t promote bad science, I can agree with you. But if you mean that most secular scientists don’t regard the Resurrection and other miracles as false beliefs about events that never happened, I would disagree with you. I think most secular scientists regard the miracle stories in Christianity and all other religions as false, and generated by causes such as outright fabrication, mass hypnosis, delusions induced by chemical imbalances in the brain, frauds perpetrated by charlatans (stage magicians and the like), exaggerations generated over time by the “telephone effect”, the inability of ancient people to be properly skeptical or scientific about miracle claims, etc.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #11

So, once again, how do you explain the calm reception of the Genealogical Adam and Eve in science? What is going on here in your mind?

(Edward Robinson) #12

“In science” is far too general! There must be, what, 10,000 people with Ph.D.s in science in the USA? Or more? 50,000? You tell me the number. In any case, are you saying that the majority of those 10,000, or 50,000, have even heard of Genealogical Adam, let alone endorse it? I doubt that more than 5% of current American scientists would even know what the term means. I suspect that the only ones who know it, even now, are those who are heavily attuned to evolution-creation discussion, follow blog sites like this, etc.

What you have provided evidence for, so far, is that of the scientists you have e-mailed about Genealogical Adam, and of those who write in to blog sites like this, and of those you have chatted with after giving talks, a few dozen, maybe a few score, or maybe even a few hundred, have shown sympathy for Genealogical Adam. That hardly warrants the colossal generalization “in science.”

I would be curious to hear from the non-Christian scientists here on this. How many of them think it is a scientific hypothesis worth seriously entertaining that after allowing the human race to evolve by natural means, God did a second Creation of Adam and Eve? Or, even if the word “scientific” is dropped, how many of them think it is a worthwhile intellectual scenario? And how many of them think that “Genealogical Adam” would never have been born except for the purely Christian motivation of trying to hold together a somewhat literal reading of Genesis 2-3 with evolutionary science?

Aquaticus? JAM? John Harshman? Neil? I haven’t actually heard any of you give any direct evaluation of Genealogical Adam. What are your thoughts as to the plausibility, usefulness, or motivation of the scenario?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #13

They way you are explaining it will create a fight. That is not how I am explaining it. That is worth untangling if you like.

(Edward Robinson) #14

Joshua, I never try to induce a fight just for the joy of seeing people fight. If my honest question causes some atheist scientists here to say outright that they don’t think Genealogical Adam is plausible, that is information you should have as you plan your outreach for promoting the idea.

I am not attacking your idea of Genealogical Adam. I questioned only two things: (a) your over-general claim that it has received a calm reception “in science” when the idea is not known yet by anywhere near the majority of scientists; (b) your suggestion (rather than direct claim) that atheists here have no objections to it, merely because they have not openly challenged it or expressed an opinion. I suspect that silence does not always mean consent.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #15

I know you don’t mean to create a fight, I’m just saying the way you put it misunderstands scientific culture, and will create an unnecessary fight.

(Dave Carlson) #16

My guess is that most, if not all, the atheist scientists here (myself included) don’t think that GA is particularly plausible. But that seems rather beside the point, since from what I can tell, GA isn’t intended to be a strictly scientific hypothesis, and we are not the intended audience for the idea.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #17

That’s right. Why kill a mockingbird?

(Edward Robinson) #18

I disagree. I’m twenty years older than you, and have been exposed to “scientific culture” for 20 years longer. I started university on a science scholarship when you were still in short pants, or maybe even not born yet. I’ve also been reading anti-creationist writings by secular scientists since I was about 8 or 10 years old (early 1960s). I have a great deal of general sociological knowledge of the attitudes of modern scientists regarding miracles, etc. I think you are reading the reality with rose-colored glasses. But put it to the test: ask your atheist friends here what they think of the miracles of the Bible, of the special creation of Adam and Eve, etc. Or don’t you want to know? :smile:

(Edward Robinson) #19


I agree with your statement, as far as it goes. But the point is that if some atheists are “calm” about the idea, it doesn’t mean they endorse it, or think it rational or sensible. My guess would be that the only difference between most atheists here and, say, Jerry Coyne, is that Coyne would say out loud what they choose to keep to themselves.

(Dave Carlson) #20

I’m not sure I understand your point. Clearly, it would be odd to expect atheists to endorse GA, since we don’t think that Adam existed. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the effort to decouple religious belief and denial of evolution. I value accepting the existence of common ground where it can be found.