Back to index of science pages by Donald Sauter.

"Science describes . . . "

In October 2006 I posted another message to the discussion group (t.o.). It referred to a recently published book by Richard Dawkins called The God Delusion.

For some reason or another, the thread was deleted from, so I am putting up my contributions and some highlights here.

If you're coming at this from out of the blue, what you need to know is that Dawkins is perhaps the most visible and outspoken proponent of orthodox darwinian evolution, and also an outspoken atheist.

  Subject: anybody read The God Delusion?
  From:  Donald Sauter 
  Date:  Sat, Oct 28 2006 12:43 pm  

  Does Dawkins get around to explaining the difference 
  between "GOD did it", and "NATURE did it", besides 
  spelling, I mean? 

  Donald Sauter 

The point I tried to make is clear enough to me (of course), but I made it in a slightly oblique manner, and figured I would jump back into the discussion with an expanded explanation. The expanded version is a little further down this page. First, here are some responses to the original post by t.o. participants, and for which I am very appreciative. You will notice a certain lack of solidarity in the responses.

  pp: I haven't read the book.  But a question for you: If the only 
  difference were the spelling, why would anyone insist on the 
  three-letter version?  I suspect that the usual answer is that GOD 
  is a person, and NATURE is not. 

  sj: I don't think anyone actually says "NATURE did it," for one thing. 

  dl: Yes. He puts forth and defends the point that nature is the 
  only option, and that a god cannot explain anything. 

  ks: The argument that he is making, in general terms [assuming I 
  understood it correctly] not that God does not exist, but that the 
  likelihood of the existence of any supernatural, omnipotent being is 
  vanishingly small. He demonstrates that the reasons for invoking these 
  supernatural entities are plain wrong, misguided, and unnescessary. 

  ct: Since only creationists say anybody or anything "did it", your 
  question is just another nonsensical and dishonest attempt to 
  anthropomorphise nature.  Are you always so transparent? 

  yoo: Dawkins deals with your question in a number of places and in a 
  number of ways - I will not attempt to distill his argument here. To really 
  understand such a complex subject you will have to read the book 

The post which provided the best jumping off point for my purposes was by wf3h. He wrote:

  Donald Sauter wrote: 
  > Does Dawkins get around to explaining the difference 
  > between "GOD did it", and "NATURE did it", besides 
  > spelling, I mean? 

  well here's a test. 

  walk out a 10th story window. that will tell you nature exists 

  what test can you do to prove god exists? 

My response:

I thought I'd use this particular post in the thread for a follow-up comment.

During my high school years I heard the comment "Science describes; science does not explain" often enough to believe that it was commonly held wisdom among scientists. But it's pretty obvious the cliche needs to be hauled out now and then. Where there are words and discussion, there's the problem of definition, but I think we all have about the same idea of what "describe" and "explain" mean; as in, describing a car crash vs. explaining why it happened. I wrote in an earlier thread, "Of course, we accept the description of activity at a lower level as an "explanation" for some phenomenon at a higher level. But good luck taking your descriptions down to the absolute base level."

Good, old, rock-solid Gravity is forever being hauled out as proof of SCIENCE. Gravity is part of SCIENCE, and nobody doubts Gravity, therefore . . .

But no one, anywhere, at any time, has ever explained WHY two bodies move toward each other, never mind in the precise way that we observe. Why don't they just stay where they are? That would surely make a much simpler universe. Why don't the bodies move away from each other, or do double back-flips, for that matter (little pun there on "matter")? That would be no less incredible than what our Gravity does.

But, but, but..., you say, at least gravity has the elegance of being one of our "forces". It follows good, old f=ma; we don't have to whip up a special-purpose formula for gravity, like f^2 = e(m)(a^3)/pi, or something. It fits.

That's convenient, but consider: gravity is called a force by circular reasoning. We know a constant force produces a constant acceleration. We demonstrated that in high school physics with a rubber band, a little wagon, a trailing piece of paper tape, and a sparking machine. Gravity produces a constant acceleration. Therefore, gravity is a force.

But if it is a force, it's a mighty "smart" force, always adjusting itself according to the object it's working on to produce the same acceleration. (I'm aware of the distinction between gravity and the more general gravitation, with the force, and therefore, acceleration, changing as the two bodies close in on each other, but it doesn't affect the discussion.) Now imagine that rubber band I just mentioned providing the same acceleration to every object it pulls on, a cotton ball or a locomotive, etc., etc. Tell me that wouldn't make your jaw drop and your eyes pop out. But with gravity, we take it all in stride, I suspect because no one gives it any thought anymore, the mere word gravity "explaining" everything. It has such a scientific ring, but, really, does it carry any more explanatory power than if we were still calling it Fall-Down-Go-Boom?

Of course, there are people who do feel the need for an "explanation" of gravity, meaning, again, a description of activity at a lower level. Thus, we have theories about bent space and strings. Good luck to them all. If they come up with something compelling, I hope they can communicate it in a way that makes sense to the thinking layman. When the theoreticians are done, the problem then becomes explaining why space is bendable, or why there are strings. And so on.

"Makes sense." Now there's a problem. I'm afraid we've already reached the place where the lowest level physical "explanations" are incomprehensible to the human mind. A limit to how fast something can go? Particles thinking they're waves, and vice versa? Waves that don't need a medium to wave? Uncertainty about where something will be the next time you look at it? The one that really messed up my head was the behavior of "indistinguishable particles". If two indistinguishable particles each have equal probability of being in either of two different states, the probability of the distributions AA, AB, and BB are all equal, 1/3! I don't care how indistinguishable 2 coins are, the probability of flipping one head and one tail will be 1/2.

But we put the issue of comprehensibility aside, nod our heads knowingly, and maybe even force an uneasy chuckle at somebody who comes along and asks for an explanation.

I didn't read Dawkins book. I know how jerky it is commenting on something you haven't read, but the title says to me the book is about theism versus science as an explanation for the way things are; how this incredible (or inevitable, depending on your point of view) complexity came about, starting perhaps with an explosion of a pinpoint of proto-stuff (wherever that came from). That's where my original post was coming from.

If I jumped to the wrong conclusion, no matter - it gave me the nudge to say something that definitely needs to heard on occasion.

Maybe if I read the book it would answer something I've been wondering about: are the guys with big names in solidarity with the troops regarding the goshamighty mystery surrounding the appearance of the very first life form? I don't get it. A virus turning itself into a kangaroo isn't the least bit remarkable - quite inevitable, actually, with all this "natural selection" hammering away on it. But getting from a complicated molecule just stupid enough to not be able to reproduce itself to one that can, and can't pipe up fast enough, "Ha ha! That has NOTHING to do with evolution!!!" [See examples below.] Sounds pretty wimpy to me. How hard can it be, back-engineering the first self-reproducing molecule by one essential atom?

Getting back to wf3h, and putting aside the seemingly hopeless issue of explaining why things are the way they are, science has given us a fantastically useful description of what happens to a body falling from a 10th story window.

What does science calculate is next in line for the fruit fly?

Donald Sauter


I wasn't keen on the last line, but it was the best I could come up with. The point is, if evolution is science, shouldn't it be able to make predictions?

Here are three examples, taken from this very thread, of evolutionists throwing up their hands at the mere mention of the first life form.

  >rm: ... The main claim of ToE [Theory of Evolution] 
  >originally and the modern version is that nature created itself without 
  >any assistance from a Divine Creator. 

  sj: The main claim of the ToE is that living things share more or less 
  ancient common ancestors with one another, and that populations are 
  modified, over time, by mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift. 
  The ToE makes no claims about the origin of the Earth, the universe, 
  or "nature," or even, indeed, about the origins of the life that 


  >rm: ... The main claim of ToE 
  >originally and the modern version is that nature created itself without 
  >any assistance from a Divine Creator. 
  fl: No, the theory of evolution tells us that life changed over time through 
  variation and natural selection. Nothing about creation at all. 


  >rm: ... The main claim of ToE 
  >originally and the modern version is that nature created itself without 
  >any assistance from a Divine Creator. 

  dt: As has been pointed out, the theory of evolution does not address how life 
  began.   It certainly does not claim that life began "without any assitance 
  from a Divine Creator".   It says nothing about a "Divine Creator" one way 
  or the other. 


If biologists and evolutionists won't touch this question, is anybody working on it? Or are we satisfied to let science describe the march of ever-increasing complexity up to the point of the first life form, and from that point on to eternity, and ignore the point itself? Seems like one, big continuous flow to me.

I suppose if we gave this singularity a scientific name, such as "Vivitation" (and "vivity" for the special case of life on Earth), we'd eventually come to think of that as its own explanation.

That's too bad.


Contact Donald Sauter: send an email; view guestbook; sign guestbook.
Back to Donald Sauter's main page.
Rather shop than think? Please visit My Little Shop of Rare and Precious Commodities.
Back to the top of this page.

Parents, if you're considering tutoring or supplemental education for your child, you may be interested in my observations on Kumon.