francis collins

A Few Billion Lines of Code Later: Using Static Analysis to Find Bugs in the Real World | February 2010 | Communications of the ACM

Bunch of academics write a static checker and take it commercial. They are surprised to find that: Compilers for embedded targets accept stuff which isn't quite C, embedded programmers use the stuff, because we're evil. A worryingly large proportion of programmers are clueless ("No, ANSI lets you write 1 past the end of the array"), concluding that "You cannot often argue with people who are sufficiently confused about technical matters; they think you are the one who doesn't get it. They also tend to get emotional. Arguing reliably kills sales." Also, managers like graphs of bad stuff to go down over time, so don't like the tool to improve. Fun article. Via Metafilter.
(tags: programming analysis security software coverity development tools C)

A review of ‘The language of God’ (Francis Collins)

Gert Korthof likes Collins's stuff on evolution, but thinks the Moral Law argument (which Collins acknowledges he got from C.S. Lewis) is terrible: "Collins fails to demonstrate

a. the failure of Darwinism to explain the Moral Law (true altruism)
b. the divine origin of the Moral Law
c. b follows from a "
(tags: creation evolution morality religion science francis-collins c.s.-lewis altruism)


What happens when your blog becomes one of the top Google results for "login to Facebook". Take it either as a serious lesson about user interface design, or an opportunity to mock the stupid.
(tags: facebook login funny internet computers ui user-interface browser google)

Meat stylus for the iPhone

I got yer meat stylus right here, baby.
(tags: iphone culture funny meat)

Simon Blackburn (2) – Religion and Respect – Investigating Atheism

Blackburn's interesting and slightly cheeky ("Even Christians are human") article on what it might mean to respect someone's religion. He thinks there might be something in respecting emotions but not attitudes, and bemoans religious appropriation of the sacred. Contains quote from Hume which is another example of the way Hume seems to have had everyone's ideas before they did (this time on belief in belief).
(tags: religion respect simon-blackburn philosophy hume)

Why reject miracles? (Irrational Rationalist)

An attempt at formulating the argument in a way which doesn't beg the question, and some talk about what Hume actually meant.
(tags: hume miracles philosophy religion rationality)

Is there anything wrong with “God of the gaps” reasoning? by Robert Larmer

Larmer argues that both theists and atheists shouldn't be so hard on "God of the Gaps" explanations (the phrase originated as a criticism of Christians by Christians). While it's certainly true that it's not a formal fallacy, I think what makes me uneasy about such explanations is the ease with which "the thing which explains X" is identified with "the Christian God" (say). But I'll have to think about it some more.
(tags: theology philosophy naturalism science religion god gaps larmer robert-larmer)

This round of bad arguments is about science. Before I start, I’ll acknowledge my debt to Jeffrey L. Kasser’s lectures, though, of course, any mistakes in applying them to the question of science and religion are my own.

Most people recognise science’s effectiveness at modelling the world, and theists are no exception. Some theists disagree with well established conclusions of science (for example, evolution). Some theists go along with the folk in liberal arts faculties who, in Kasser’s phrase, think science is a particularly dull literary genre. I’m not going to talk about either of these sorts of people. This post is about theists who claim their religion is compatible with, but has gone “beyond”, science. Their claims usually rely on making true, but uninteresting, arguments, in the hope that the hearer slides to a stronger conclusion than the arguments warrant.

Science has not explained X, therefore God did it

This is the God of the gaps argument. Right now, popular choices for X are abiogenesis, consciousness, and altruism. To take that last example, Francis Collins argues that the theory of evolution has no explanation for pure altruism, and, following C.S. Lewis’s Argument from Morality in Mere Christianity, claims that the Christian God must be responsible. As the former director of the Human Genome Project, Collins’s opinions carry weight, but, poking around with Google Scholar, I found no evidence that he has contributed his criticisms to the peer reviewed literature on the evolution of altruism. Even if he had written a good paper on that subject, more is needed before we accept that the best alternative explanation is a particular god. As Gert Korthof’s review of Collins’s book puts it “Collins fails to demonstrate a. the failure of Darwinism to explain the Moral Law (true altruism) b. the divine origin of the Moral Law c. b follows from a.”

Science cannot investigate/explain/prove everything

There’s a bad argument from atheists which leads to confusion here. Some atheists seem to use “science” to mean “anything for which there’s good evidence”, but the theists, quite sensibly, use it to mean “that stuff scientists do”. If the theist faces an atheist who says “your religion is invalid because it cannot be established by science”, it’s legitimate for the theist to dispute that statement by talking about other, non-scientific, forms of evidence which most people accept.

There are some things we do not use science to investigate, because they seem a poor fit for scientific investigation. To use one of Kasser’s examples, we wouldn’t get into a scientific investigation of the “universal law” that “all the beer in my fridge is American”, even if that is a statement which has the form of a scientific law (“all copper conducts electricity”). I prefer to distinguish scientific evidence from other rational evidence (though I think these forms of evidence have something in common which is not shared by religious “ways of knowing”): Eliezer Yudkowsky’s article on the subject describes what I mean.

So, the theists are at least partially right, but notice that none of this says much to convince us that there’s a God. When they try to do that, theists typically say that science or other rational evidence will get you some way towards theism (though, I’d say, not all that far), but then add that some “other way of knowing” or “faith” is required in addition. But if the theist claims they have another “way of knowing”, they must demonstrate its reliability, rather than merely knocking existing ways of knowing.

Science cannot prove your wife loves you, but you believe that, don’t you?

A specific case of the “science cannot explain everything” argument, this particular example gets its own section because it’s regularly trotted out by people who ought to know better (for example, John Lennox in his debate with Richard Dawkins). Again, this is one is true, but uninteresting. It’s not the job of science to prove my wife loves me, just as it’s not the job of science to explore my fridge looking for American beer. Nevertheless, assuming I’m not actually a stalker, I have sufficient rational evidence that my wife loves me, and I don’t have to invoke any special ways of knowing to get it.

Next time

Next time, we’ll look at claims that science arose from theism, and talk about reductionism and butter.

Substance dualism

QualiaSoup has a new video up, a short argument against substance dualism (the idea that consciousness arises from separate kind of mental substance outside the physical world).
(tags: consciousness philosophy dualism qualia)

Theodicy III: Primo Levi versus Francis Collins

Jerry Coyne has been reading Francis Collins's "The Language of God" as well as Levi's works on Auschwitz. Not surprisingly, he doesn't find Collins's theodicy very convincing.
(tags: theology religion jerry-coyne francis-collins)

Rowan Williams’ choice | Andrew Brown | Comment is free |

Andrew Brown kicks some righteous ass: "Under Williams, the church that marries two women who love each other is to be thrown out of the Anglican Communion. The church that would jail them both for life, and would revile and persecute their defenders, stays snugly in his bosom. Not even the Archbishop's remarkable gift for obfuscation can conceal these facts forever."
(tags: homosexuality politics uganda uk religion christianity anglicanism rowan-williams)

Discovery Institute: The Mask Falls Away

The IDers at the DI go bonkers about the Climategate emails: "A cabal of leading scientists, politicians, and media concubines have conspired to lie about global warming. The reasons are obvious: power and money. … I’m not sure that the scientific community can or will respond to this debacle in a courageous or ethical way. The ID-Darwinism debate clearly demonstrates that venality and shameless self-interest, as well as a toxic leftist-atheist ideology, runs very deep in the scientific community." I'm adding "toxic" to my standard "neo-sceptical strident fundamentalist neo-atheist" spiel.
(tags: lolxians climate global-warming intelligent-design discovery-institute)

Gambling at Rick’s Bar

According to New Scientist, Francis Collins’s BioLogos site (wherein Collins, an evangelical Christian, advocates theistic evolution) not only faces the wrath of the neo-militant atheist secularists like Coyne and Myers, but has also been criticised by the Discovery Institute, who advocate Intelligent Design. They have a new site at where they explain why Collins is wrong by quoting the Bible.

I’m a bit puzzled by this, as I thought that Intelligent Design was a hack get around the firewall that is the United States judiciary. The courts say you can’t teach religious opinion as fact in state schools, so if you want to get creationism into public education, you attribute creation to an anonymous Designer. You can then claim that you’re shocked, shocked I tell you (your Honour), that some kids might reach the conclusion that the Designer is the Christian God. I don’t want to tell these people their business, but setting up a web-site full of New Testament quotes gives the game away, doesn’t it?

Sun, moon and bumper sticker cry “Jesus is Lord”

Anyhoo, as it happens, the Discovery Institute quotes Romans 1:20, which I’ve mentioned before as a verse that supports the common evangelical belief that everyone knows there’s a God really, even if they don’t want to admit it. The DI say that Collins’s argument that God could have made stuff happen in such a way that his intervention was undetectable goes against the Apostle Paul’s statement that God’s existence is visible from what has been made.

I got into a discussion of undetectable divine intervention over on gerald_duck‘s LJ. gerald_duck had criticised atheists for saying that evolution proves there is no god, which is a valid criticism (if indeed there are any atheists saying that), but he’s oddly attached to the idea that it’s desirable to be agnostic about unwarranted beliefs, like Collins’s belief that the Christian god did it and carefully hid his tracks. I don’t really understand this. I accept that evolution is sufficient to explain the history of life after abiogenesis, because I think there’s good evidence for it. If evolution is sufficient, I require further evidence before I can conclude that, say, a god was involved. Without that evidence, I do not believe a god was involved (if gods there be: again, this isn’t an argument about their existence), just as I do not believe that any Flying Spaghetti Monsters were involved. I can’t strictly rule it out, but gods and FSMs are one of an infinity of possible additions to the hypothesis which I don’t seem to need, so why bother with any of them?

Over at the Discovery Institute, the cdesign proponentsists part company with Collins on whether evolution is in fact a sufficient explanation. If they could show that it isn’t, and further show evidence of design, they’d be on firmer ground than Collins is. Unfortunately for them, they can’t, but they were really following the evidence (which there’s some reason to doubt), their methods would be more rational than Collins’s.

New Scientist‘s Amanda Gefter has summarised it well:

Watching the intellectual feud between the Discovery Institute and BioLogos is a bit like watching a race in which both competitors are running full speed in the opposite direction of the finish line. It’s a notable contest, but I don’t see how either is going to come out the winner.

Ken again

Andrew Brown went to the lecture on God and evolution by Ken Miller, the one which robhu mentioned in the comments last time. Brown was impressed by Miller. I commented using the same arguments as my previous posting.

The wonderful thing about standards is

In other news, top geneticist Francis Collins has started his own Christian apologetics site, Collins is a theistic evolutionist. He’s got answers for those awkward creationist questions (mentioned last time) on evolution and the Fall and death before the Fall. Not just one answer, in fact, but several, which could all equally well be true, because as far as I can see there’s no possible way to chose between them on the basis of evidence (except possibly on the evidence of a strong inner conviction, I suppose). Still, several answers are better than one, right?

Atheists can be wrong too

The usual suspects in atheist blogland are having fun with Biologos: here’s Jerry Coyne, P. Z. Myers, and P. Z. Myers. The latter P. Z. Myers refers to a post at Evaluating Christianity. Myers says this article at Biologos is making the argument that evolution is impossible because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a (badly mistaken) argument that is popular among creationists.

This is unfair to Collins, who knows the creationist argument is wrong. Collins is actually making a God of the Gaps argument. The low entropy condition of the early universe is an unsolved problem in physics, as Sean Carroll explains in Scientific American (Carroll commented at Evaluating Christianity confirming this). Unsolved problems in physics are fertile ground for Christians looking for something for God to do.

I hope Myers will issue a correction, because I think it’s important to get stuff like this right.

Dawkins Our Leader was on Minnesota public radio. I was interested because some people on the radio station’s live blog of the interview were saying that Kerri Miller, the presenter, was too aggressive. I don’t think she was. Dawkins isn’t a Muslim or Christian in need of molly-coddling lest he accuse people who disagree with him of being disrespectful. Her directness got quite a few interesting responses from Dawkins:

Deism is Wrong but Respectable. There was a bit of fuss on some Christian blogs about this when he said it in the Dawkins/Lennox debate. It seems as if people have an idea of Dawkins as the Pope of Atheism. His arguments are soldiers and any concession towards theism is a sign of victory for God. As Ruth Gledhill found, he seems the opposite of the Pope of Atheism in person.

Theism is Ignorant and Infantile. Dawkins feels no shame in referring to popular theism as a belief in an imaginary friend. Rilstone says this metaphor is actually pretty close in some ways, so it’s not clear why so many Christians get upset about it.

Dawkins wonders why sophisticated theists bother to call themselves Christians when they don’t believe in any of the uniquely Christian stuff (virgin birth, water into wine, even resurrection in some cases). He shows a touching faith that a Church of England clergyman would accept this stuff (he’s talking about Polkinghorne, whose theological position I don’t know).

Theist scientists like Francis Collins show a double-mindedness that Dawkins finds curious. Not everyone is convinced that single-mindedness is a virtue, though, as recent convert Sam Harris argues: “If Francis Collins wants to believe that the historical Jesus was actually raised from the dead and still exists in an ethereal form which renders him both clairvoyant and mildly disapproving of masturbation, these beliefs do not even slightly detract from his stature as a scientist.”

Mysteries exist to be solved, not celebrated. Dawkins says he has faith (I’m looking forward to seeing the first theist quote mining of this statement), not that the mysteries will be solved, but that trying to solve them is worthwhile. The greatest mystery he’s aware of is the subjective experience of human consciousness.

What of the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus? Dawkins reckons the evidence is poor. Like evolution, we have to rely on the clues that remain. Those for the resurrection aren’t very good.

Will Dawkins be an atheist on his deathbed, without hoping for an afterlife? Probably: minds and brains seem to be linked, there’s no reason to think you can have a mind without a brain.

Why has Dawkins written The Greatest Show on Earth? Not to reach the dyed-in-the-wool Creationist, but the people who haven’t thought about it yet, the same people he hoped to reach with The God Delusion.