The ASA complaint about the Atheist Bus ad campaign, as reported in the Guardian website supposedly emanates from one Clifford Longley. In fact, the complaint is largely plagiarised from a religious website, and makes the same strategic cock-ups as many a creationist tract does: old quotations, out of context quotations, quotations incorrectly attributed, quotations that may never have been made. Add to the mix an argument from authority, presumably right up the street for someone who can accept the most improbable drivel from an priest figure, and you have a classic set of misapprehension masquerading as an academic exercise. Perhaps the whole thing is a hoax?
I read in the blogosphere that over 50 complaints have been made to the ASA – if they are all as pathetic as this one and that of Stephen Green, I say bring them on!
The statement "There’s probably no God", as currently seen on the side of London buses, is untrue and dishonest, in so far as the word "probably" completely fails to reflect the true state of the scientific argument. In fact it would be honest and true to say the opposite – "There probably is a God." A fair reading of the material below could lead to no other conclusion. I therefore call on the ASA to order the withdrawal of this advertising, as incompatible with its code of practice.
From an atheist’s point of view, this is quite absurd. As is evident, Longley’s argument really rests on an interpretation of the Anthropic Principle, and on a "belief resting on foundations of disbelief", and plagiarised to boot.
According to growing numbers of scientists, the laws and constants of nature are so "finely-tuned," and so many "coincidences" have occurred to allow for the possibility of life, the universe must have come into existence through intentional planning and intelligence. In fact, this "fine-tuning" is so pronounced, and the "coincidences" are so numerous, many scientists have come to espouse "The Anthropic Principle," which contends that the universe was brought into existence intentionally for the sake of producing mankind. Even those who do not accept The Anthropic Principle admit to the "fine-tuning" and conclude that the universe is "too contrived" to be a chance event.
This section, and much of the rest of the ASA complaint is shamelessly lifted from this religious website. The argument is in any case seriously lacking in any logical basis. At least the author uses quotation marks around "finely-tuned", "coincidences" and "too contrived". The fact is that the fundamental physical characteristics of the Universe (what are known as "Laws") are what they are. If it were truly the case that to vary one or more of them would result in a Universe in which our evolution could not have been possible, then were those constants be so changed we would not be here to pontificate about the matter! Quite why anyone should believe that we are some kind of intended purpose for the Universe seems rather strange to me.
I for one don’t accept the Anthropic Principle, and I most definitely don’t admit to any "fine-tuning", nor that the Universe is in any wat "contrived". Indeed Langley’s use of those words is clearly intended to suggest an intelligent driving force – the only people who would accept that are clearly suffering from some prior delusional supernatural belief.
Dr. Dennis Scania, head of Cambridge University Observatories, said in a BBC science documentary, The Anthropic Principle:
If you change a little bit the laws of nature, or you change a little bit the constants of nature – like the charge on the electron – then the way the universe develops is so changed, it is very likely that intelligent life would not have been able to develop.
Interestingly Dr Dennis Scania doesn’t appear to be real. I found one blog which stated that Dr Dennis Scania is a typo for "Dr Dennis Sciama" of Cambridge, now deceased. Whether he genuinely made the statement attributed to him, I don’t know. There is a brief biography of Sciama at Wikipedia – no mention of that quotation, or any indication he was particularly religious (or atheist for that matter). Interestingly, he was Stephen Hawking’s supervisor.
Dr. David D. Deutsch, Institute of Mathematics, Oxford University: observed:
If we nudge one of these constants just a few percent in one direction, stars burn out within a million years of their formation, and there is no time for evolution. If we nudge it a few percent in the other direction, then no elements heavier than helium form. No carbon, no life. Not even any chemistry. No complexity at all.
Again, lifted from another website. But entirely irrelevant to the question of whether a god exists. If physical constants meant no life could evolve, then so be it – we wouldn’t be here thinking about it or fighting battles with idiotic god-squadders. Also, the statement considered in isolation makes no claims for or against a supernatural bearded dude in the sky.
Dr. Paul Davies, noted author and professor of theoretical physics at Adelaide University, said:
The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge, and would be total chaos if any of the natural ‘constants’ were off even slightly.
Pretty much the same comments apply here. And guess what, also pinched from that website. The plagiarist then omits a paragraph before resuming the wholesale copying with the following paragraph and quotation:
When the late Sir Fred Hoyle was researching how carbon came to be created in the "blast-furnaces" of the stars, his calculations indicated that it is very difficult to explain how the stars generated the necessary quantity of carbon upon which life on earth depends. Hoyle found that there were numerous "fortunate" one-time occurrences which seemed to indicate that purposeful "adjustments" had been made in the laws of physics and chemistry in order to produce the necessary carbon.
Hoyle summed up his findings as follows:
A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintendent has monkeyed with the physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. I do not believe that any physicist who examined the evidence could fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce within stars.
Hmm. The plagiarist acknowledged that Hoyle is deceased, by inserting "late". The difficulty here is that Hoyle was a notable dissenter, particularly of evolution (e.g. he tried to demonstrate the Archaeopteryx fossils were fakes), and had some pretty much discredited thoughts about the origin of life on Earth. And physicists do seem prone to making strange statements about supernatural entities – I have always assumed it is part of trying to make their conceptually rather hard subject more accessible to the lay reader.
Hoyle was a Big Bang de
nialist; rejected chemical evolution, preferring to believe life originated elsewhere in the galaxy and was spread by panspermia. As you can read in his Wikipedia biography, Hoyle was a bit of a left-field maverick, who’s views cannot possibly be taken to reflect mainstream science. Now we continue with the plagiarism:
Dr. David D. Deutch remarked:
If anyone claims not to be surprised by the special features that the universe has, he is hiding his head in the sand. These special features are surprising and unlikely.
Maybe surprising, but not evidence for a supernatural entity being behind it. I can’t find Dr David D. Deutch by googling or searching Oxford University’s Mathematics Institute. Still, given the age of the plagiarist’s source, he may have moved on, or like previous sources, have deceased.
The August ’97 issue of "Science" featured an article entitled "Science and God: A Warming Trend?" in which it stated:
The fact that the universe exhibits many features that foster organic life – such as precisely those physical constants that result in planets and long- lived stars – also has led some scientists to speculate that some divine influence may be present.
Which August 1997 issue? That’s a rubbish citation. For the record, the actual citation is Science 15 August 1997: Vol. 277. no. 5328, pp. 890 – 893, DOI: 10.1126/science.277.5328.890. The article seems to really be about the fact that there are scientists with religious beliefs.
In his best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, Sir Stephen Hawking (perhaps the world’s most famous cosmologist) stated: "The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers (i.e. the constants of physics) seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life" (p. 125).
Can I draw the reader’s attention to the word seem in the above quotation?
"For example," Hawking wrote,
if the electric charge of the electron had been only slightly different, stars would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium, or else they would not have exploded… It seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers (for the constants) that would allow for development of any form of intelligent life. Most sets of values would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at that beauty.
All he is saying here is that that with a different set of constants, we wouldn’t be here. The plagiarist’s source is really a bit repetitive.
Hawking said this was evidence of "a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the laws of science (by God)" (ibid. p. 125).
I haven’t got a copy of A Brief History of Time to look at the context of this quotation, if indeed it is there. I would add that a Google search with this quotation only seems to find Christian blog sites apparently perpetuating this "quotation". I really need to look it up myself.
If you would like further information regarding the science I would refer you to the Faraday Institute at St Edmund’s College Cambridge (with which I have no connection.)
This bit is presumably Langley’s text. Well, no, I won’t spend too much time looking at the Faraday Institute site, because it is actually the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion.