Fred Hoyle was an atheist, but also a freethinker who embraced intelligent design. I have just been re-reading his 1983 book, The Intelligent Universe, and I think Hoyle’s viewpoint deserves a more honest consideration than it usually receives.
Hoyle was a very famous Cambridge (UK) physicist, astronomer, and cosmologist. He supported the idea of an eternal universe and worked out how it might be possible – a theory called The Steady State. He did not like the idea that the universe had a beginning, a notion he famously deprecated in public using the term “Big Bang”. The name stuck. Eventually, so much evidence accumulated for the Big Bang that Hoyle was left almost alone in holding to the idea of a universe with no beginning. But Hoyle is also justly admired for working out how the heavier elements are formed in supernovae and for his tireless work in bringing science to everybody.
In the debate over evolution, Hoyle is usually spun as a believer in Panspermia – the idea that life on earth was seeded from elsewhere in the universe. Other scientists have also believed in this, from Arrhenius to Crick. Perhaps it is necessary to spin Hoyle in this way because the truth would be unbearably painful for those who view Darwinism as proof of atheism. And the truth is that Hoyle absolutely disbelieved in Darwinism. He thought that there is intelligence “out there” in the cosmos, and perhaps in past time, that is directing the progress of life on Earth. In The Intelligent Universe, Hoyle meticulously demolishes Darwinism in great detail and with scientific precision. He even goes after Darwin himself, suggesting that Darwin only understood how evolution might work after he received Wallace’s letter detailing the role of natural selection. Hoyle returns time and time again to quote Wallace, whom he evidently admired.
What all this shows is that it is perfectly respectable to be an atheist, a disbeliever in Darwinism, and a supporter of ID. Religious individuals (like me) might be chagrined if atheists took up ID in large numbers (rather unlikely) but I think at this point it would be better to embrace more diversity in the debate rather than less. At least we should agree that supporting any mischaracterization of Hoyle’s viewpoint as Panspermia rather than ID is fundamentally hypocritical.
42 Replies to “Fred Hoyle – An Atheist for ID”
Thanks for an interesting post.
I’d like to hear about this in more explicit detail. I understand from your post that Hoyle was both an ID supporter and a Panspermia advocate — correct? So the hypocritical stance you refer to would be downplaying or omitting his ID position and only mentioning his Panspermia ideas?
Just trying to make sure I understand the point.
And Dawkins, of course. I’m not a big fan of panspermia (or atheism, for that matter), but I understand the need to focus on the big picture and not get bogged down in minutiae.
Did Hoyle ever address the problem of regress? All I can find out is that he felt our planet was seeded from the outside, but did he ever opine on where that life came from?
I prefer Hoyle’s previous book, Evolution from Space, co-authored with Chandra Wickramasinghe, published in 1982. That’s the book that contains the infamous quote so beloved by creationists where Hoyle compared the random emergence of even the simplest cell to the likelihood that “a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747.”
And no, Nakashima-san, I don’t recall that Hoyle ever explained who seeded his hypothesized seeders of life on earth.
Nakashima, Fred Hoyle believed in an eternal universe. In an eternal universe, or in a multiverse for that matter, the infinite regress is not as major a problem.
Only for those who hold that this universe is all there is and all there was and all there ever will be, is the regress a problem.
No theist I know believes that the origin of God is in this space time cosmos. The existence of an intelligent being outside our cosmos is not subject to the same laws of probability that we know constrain what can happen in the cosmos we occupy.
You are right, I had not thought of his steady state theory. But it seems to me that holding to an infinitely old universe would not require a creation event for life by the universe’s Creator (if such a Being existed in his theory), life would eventually beat the odds, however low, for abiogenesis.
It is an odd mix of beliefs, some mtivated by a theism, some motivated by an atheism. Truly sui generis.
Hoyle determined that the Solnhofen specimen of Archeopteryx was a fraud even before he had seen it. That caused a lot of effort to be invested in making absolutely certain that it was indeed not a fake.
His theory aboout the origins of the human nose is another example of a scientist lost outside his field of expertise. (To protect agains germs from outer space…)
As soon as the Darwinistas come up with a better theory we might then consider them as more expert in their field than Hoyle was out of his.
The standard just-stories we get from them on the origins of everything from birds to frogs are so bad one is left wondering whether they are experts in any other than science fiction.
Hoyle’s qualification as an authority on biology seems to rest on his fallacious metaphor of the ‘tornado in a junkyard’. By all accounts he was a combative personality and it is not hard to imagine that he would have given short shrift to any biologist who had the temerity to trespass on his field of astronomy with equally suspect claims.
And it takes more that “just so” stories to find fossils like Tiktaalik.
I’m interested in knowing in what respect this metaphor is fallacious. It seems to me to sum up quite nicely the assumption among origin-of-life theorists that simple components plus energy combining them in countless combinations, without intelligence or forethought, managed to avoid the affects of entropy long enough to produce a self-replicating organism with a complexity and subtlety of design beyond the reach of even us enlightened 21st century primates. The tornado, on the other hand, was only able to come up with a now mostly obsolete version of an aircraft with old-fashioned electronics.
On Tiktaalik, please see Denyse O’Leary’s post on this Web site:
I hope that after reading Denyse O’Leary’s post, you will be a bit more open to the author’s contention that ID is a better way of doing science than Darwinism.
SCheesman @ 9
Hoyle’s metaphor implies that evolutionary biology or abiogenesis claim that complex biological structures emerge whole from single instances of the interplay of so-called “chance and necesssity”. That is not the claim at all as Ian Musgrave – who is a more competent authority that Hoyle in this field – demonstrates here. It is an example of the straw man fallacy.
vjtorley @ 10
I read that post as you suggested but I fail to see how it supports the claim that “ID is a better way of doing science that Darwinism”.
For example, she writes:
Evolutionary theory enabled Shubin and his colleagues to predict where they should expect to find fossils of a certain type. They found the fossils exactly where they were supposed to be. It was a signal success for the theory and one which ID has not come anywhere near to matching. The fact that there is, as yet, no verified description of the chain of events leading to the Tiktaalik organism down to the “pathetic level of detail” specifically eschewed by Dembski in the case of ID does not detract from that achievement
This, as both you and she should know, is an attack on a straw man.
There is nothing wrong in science with creating speculative accounts of historical events provided it is clear that they are nothing more without supporting evidence. Popper, for example, as you may know encouraged researchers to be bold in their conjectures. Where supporting evidence is found, there is also nothing wrong with pointing that out either.
And, as I wrote before, just-so stories do not enable you to find fossils like Tiktaalik.
No, it does not but neither is it at all clear how ID theory could do any better, even if it were able to demonstrate the existence of Designer, given that speculation on the nature of the Designer has been ruled out of bounds as has pathetically-detailed accounts of what might have happened.
Denyse O’Leary is entitled to her opinion, of course. But that is all it is. She is no more a professional scientist than I am. Her belief that evolutionary theory lacks explanatory power carries no more weight than my belief that it is the best available at this time and one which is demonstrably more productive that ID theory.
I am still open to the possibility that extraterrestrial intelligence may have been involved in the evolution of life on Earth but it is hard to see how that helps. Even if it were shown that aliens had seeded life on Earth it does not rule out evolution as a process and only moves the question of how life originated back by one step since we would have to then ask how the aliens originated.
Thank you for your post (#13). I’d like to begin by acknowledging that Tiktaalik is an intriguing fossil. It certainly looks like a plausible candidate for an amphibian ancestor, and its anatomical features are quite striking. The discovery of such an animal at the right time and in the right kind of environment (shallow water) qualifies as a successful prediction by paleontologists. But that doesn’t mean that scientists can say: QED – evolution from fish to amphibian is possible. Here’s why.
Imagine the following scenario. Suppose that in the year 2020, a team of astronauts takes some hardy lichens to Mars and leaves them there. They then return to Earth, and the day after their return, an all-out nuclear war wipes out the human race. Intelligent life does not subsequently re-emerge on Earth. However, two billion years later, a spaceship piloted by aliens visits Mars, which is by now warmer and capable of supporting liquid water on its surface, as the Sun has by now entered its red giant phase. Will they find amphibians on Mars?
You don’t know the answer to that question, and neither do I. Neither of us knows whether the evolutionary pathway from lichen to amphibian is possible or not, and neither of us knows how likely it is, in a Martian environment. Without a detailed knowledge of the genetic information that codes for lichens and amphibians respectively, we can’t do anything except suppose.
That was the point of Denyse’s post on Tiktaalik. As she put it:
The logistics of the evolutionary transformation from fish to amphibian are formidable, from both a genetic and a morphological perspective. The discovery of Tiktaalik has certainly made the morphological transformation less mysterious than it was before, but it still needs to be shown that the genetic coding instructions of a fish can be altered on a step-by-step basis, to create an amphibian. Until someone performs the kind of analysis required to show this, ID remains a perfectly rational option. To effectively kill ID, all you need is Occam’s razor, and sufficient computing time.
Possible comebacks by evolutionists:
(1) We’ve already shown that ID is redundant for explaining the emergence of new species. To invoke ID for the emergence of new classes of animals is a “God-of-the gaps” argument.
Reply: the gaps are not shrinking. Back in 1947, biologist Douglas Dewar and philosopher H. S. Shelton co-authored a book, Is Evolution Proved? (London: Hollis and Carter), in which Dewar attacked evolution, while Shelton defended it. Dewar was quite willing to allow that one species could evolve into another, but he held that families had been created by a Superior Intelligence. Sixty years later, in 2007, Michael Behe suggested in his book “The Edge of Evolution” that undirected processes could not give rise to new families of organisms, but he happily acknowledged that these processes could generate new species. So what has changed? In the last sixty years, scientists have been unable to demonstrate the possibility of even a relatively modest evolutionary change: the appearance of a new family as a result of by undirected processes (RM + NS) – let alone a new class.
(2) We don’t know exactly how gravity works, or how continents drift, but we don’t go positing the existence of intelligent beings who push the continents around, or who make apples fall to earth. Why make an exception for biological transformations? Reply: these are not parallel cases, because the processes in question can be currently observed. Apples fall from trees every day. The movement of the continents has been measured, and if we extrapolate back 200 million years at present rates of movement, we can see that all the continents must have once been together. Evolution from one species into another has been observed; the evolution of a new class of animal has not.
(3) We don’t have enough computer resources to simulate the evolution of the first amphibian from a fishy ancestor. You’ve set the bar so high that scientists will never be able to clear it. Reply: if that’s true, then that’s too bad for them. In any case, quantum computing might enable scientists to tackle seemingly intractable problems like these.
Evolution is a very odd scientific hypothesis, for two reasons. First, the circumstantial evidence that it actually happened is far stronger than the evidence that it could have happened. Scientists still can’t show that RM + NS can get you from fish to amphibian. Without this proof, all we have is mere descent with modification – which is not evolution. The mechanism is of critical importance.
Second, the alternative hypothesis is usually taken to be a supernatural one – an invalid inference, by the way, as a designer would not necessarily have to be immaterial – which makes biologists lazy: they don’t think it’s proper to invoke the supernatural in science, so they think they have nothing to prove.
I think that’s a shame. I’d like to see more light and less heat in this area. Research is what we need.
“The mechanism is of critical importance.”
What is the “mechanism” of ID?
Actually, that’s not true. A junkyard actually consists of already quite-complex, engineered pieces that are light-years away from the original constituents. By starting with a junkyard, instead of, say, an open-pit mine, or a hardware store full of nuts, bolts, sheet metal and electrical wire, we bypass an entire level of assembly problems. A junkyard might even have functional engines.
Talk-origins brushes away such problems as how a coding system can emerge to specify the components necessary for a self-replicating structure, including the coding system itself. And the DNA can’t even uncoil without special purpose molecules that are themselves coded for.
The origin of life is full of chicken and egg problems like that. The Talk Origins web site says “The real theory has a number of small steps.” Right. In fact, the real theory has a number of rather enormous steps. In each of those steps chemical and statistical entropy stand firmly in the way.
In fact, the origin of life problem is like the evolution by natural selection problem; when comparing the start and finish states, one side proposes that there existed (and it should be, theoretically, possible to eventually delineate) a continuous pathway of small-step changes leading from one to the other, each functional or survivable, at least long enough to give rise to the next, either by direct descent or “cross-pollination” of information (e.g. borrowing parts like DNA-transfer). The ID side, however, says such pathways do not exist, except for the most trivial of cases, and, on many levels, the constituents of life populate highly isolated islands of configuration space, and no connecting paths consisting of just a few changes at a time will ever be found.
What is the mechanism of writing a book? Is a pen and paper (or a word-processing computer programme) sufficient? No. The answer to that and your question is, simply, intelligence. Construction of anything sufficiently complicated (like a page in a book) requires both intelligence and the physical means of instantiating it. Are you really asking how intelligence can be translated into a physical result?
Yes, I am asking how intelligence is translated into the physical result. It’s one thing an intelligence “designing” something in its head (or whatever organ does the equivalent of thinking), its yet another thing to translate that design into something tangible. So far, no-one on the ID side has presented any evidence to say how that “design” – actually many designs, seeing as IDists seem to believe pretty much all of life was designed – was done in practice. Basically, ID hasn’t yet come up with the pen and paper, or word processor, for ID, let alone where the actual “designs” came from.
Can you come up with soem evidence for the IS equivalent of pen and paper?
It’s worse than that: the ID side proposes not only that such pathways don’t exist or will not be found, but that such pathways are impossible. And so even just a remotely plausible but not-yet-found pathway destroys ID.
And as for the mechanism of ID, we can indeed describe the incredibly complex pathway transferring an idea into a page of text in a bound, printed book, and describe it in extremely precise detail, but ID cannot do the same. ID cannot describe the mechanism through which intelligence translates into different sequences of DNA bases.
Intelligent design is worthless and impossible to detect unless there has also been intelligent implementation, just like a blueprint is pointless unless a manufactured item results from it. We can “detect design” in the object, and then go look “upstream” for the process of manufacture, and then even further for the blueprint. Why won’t ID researchers do the same? Why do the luminaries of ID refuse to do the same, by claiming that questions about the designer are out-of-bounds?
Especially when in all of the disciplines ID promoters claim make use of ID – forensics, SETI, etc. – simply detecting design is not the goal.
So what you really want to know is how God went about making the first reproducing cell, right? Sorry, I have no idea, and honestly doubt we will ever know (until we ask in person).
Is that a flaw of ID? If so, then I can live with that. We are just about as far along in understanding how you get life from non-life by chance and necessity (hand-waving and fanciful lipid structures notwithstanding).
What does ID have to do with God?
What properties does life have that indicate to you that it could only have been created by “God” and not an advanced alien race, for example?
Now, that’s simply not true is it? Even the most fanciful lipid structure is still infinitely more actual positive evidence then you have for God/The Designer.
I guess if you want to call thousands of peer reviewed papers “hand waiving” then so be it.
Where is your equivilent research into your designer (seems you use “god” and “the designer” interchangably. At least you are honest about that).
And with that attitude we’d never know or ever even try to find out. Science stopper much?
And when you “ask in person” how will you be able to understand the answer without significantly more education then you currently posess?
Says who? We just think, given the current knowledge of proteins such pathways are mathematically forbidden, but show us one and we will happily accept the correction!
Yes, you are correct, it is falsifiable. Lay down those pathways; build us that flagellum from a dozen or a hundred functional precursors. We long to be disproved. Show me the money!
Seriously? What are they doing in genetic engineering? Intelligence tells you how and when to add A to B and C in order to get D, and do it in a few minutes where it would not be accomplished by chance and necessity in a trillion test tubes in a trillion years.
Thanks you for confirming with your post at 20 that ID is not science and is in reality creationism!
StephenB, you might want to read the Nicholas Wade article in today’s New York Times (I referenced it in another thread0. The origin of life is a difficult problem but it’s not necessarily impossible: it seems best to approach the many challenges from different directions.
Dr. Fred Hoyle also believes that “Haldane’s Dilemma” is an illusion.
I see an ID advocate indicates that “intelligence” is the mechanism of ID. I’ve read such silliness for a number of years. I’ve also read that “design” is a mechanism of design.
So we have ID advocates telling us that “intelligence” and “design” ARE the mechanisms of Intelligent Design. Brilliant. That is sort of like saying that the mechanism for building a house is building a house. That is a pretty pathetic level of detail in terms of mechanism, for being told that to build a house you must build a house is not conducive to showing anyone how a house is actually built.
Evolution has many proposed ‘mechanisms’, the simplest being RM&NS. You may not like them or agree with them or accept them or reject them, but you cannot say that evolution does nto posit a mechanism.
ID, on the other hand, posits its own conclusions as its mechanism. The mechanism of ID is ID reminds me of those chaps that claim the bible is true because it says so in the bible.
Make that ‘Hoyle believed’.
I never said it couldn’t have been created by aliens. Thats quite possible. And there would be no way to tell the difference. I just happen to think that it was God. The infinite regress problem and all that.
I’d grant you that if it was anything more than fancy. Got some fossil evidence? Any test-tube examples? Maybe the flying spagetti monster is made of lipid structures.
If peer review was around a thousand years ago, there’d have been thousands of peer-reviewed alchemy papers. They actually would have been doing practical things like talking about what happens when you add A to B under conditions C. But in the end they would have produced just as much new gold as the modern alchemists have produced new self-reproducing lipid structures in test tubes today. Many reprodeucable and important studies. Many quantifiable chemical results. No self-reproducing fat.
Thousands of peer-reviewed articles in theological journals :).
More like science re-director; what if all those researchers currently working on origin-of-life studies were involved in something that actually had a chance of suceeding, like unravelling all mechanisms of the cell? But, I was reproved here once for suggesting that they are wasting their time; in fact, they are carefully eliminating, one possibility at a time, any excuse someone might have for believing life might have come about by chance. And that’s important work. And forget this idea that those who believe in God are less interested in science.
In my first million years, I intend to study biology. I’ll have the best teachers, and will become good friends with a few hundred thousand biologists as well. Maybe then I’ll feel qualified to ask the really tough questions (e.g. how to progam in paths of descent from a single ancestor).
You seem to labour under the assumption that if you believe in God you cannot do science. This would come as a surprise to a great many of the greatest scientists ever. I myself wonder how you can not believe in God and still care about doing science. From your point of view, in a few million years there will be no memory of the human race and the universe will continue, uncaring. If believing in God makes me a Creationist, I am happy to be called one.
I am also happy to devote my life to learning about this amazing universe, and to give glory to the God whom I believe conceived and created it and made its exploration possible. Through its wonder and intricacy I see a shadow of the magnificent intelligence and love behind it. I see no contradiction there.
Why do you study science? Is it just the result of some biochemical urge instilled in you by RM&NS to improve your survival? Where does this desire come from?
Great Posts, SCheesman!
Yes, you can describe in incredible detail ‘how’ to produce a book. However, you conveniently forget to point out that the idea of a book and the idea of ‘producing’ a book is part and parcel of designing and producing said book.
Therefore, you have not ‘described in incredible detail’ the most important aspect of producing a book! Why is that? What does an idea ‘look like’?
Can you describe in biological detail the ‘idea’ of both oral and written language, the ‘idea’ to record information, the ‘idea’ to create an instrument to record information on a flat media, the ‘idea’ to record information in book form, the ‘idea’ to create a machine to print a book enmass?
When you can describe in incredible biological detail what an ‘idea’ looks like, then you may have something to say in response to intelligent design.
Yes, there is evidence. However I doubt that evidence will help you. No matter what I present you’ll dismiss it for some reason or another.
But as to “evidence”, we come back to chemistry. Something even you cannot deny.
Here’s something that you might appriciate. “Evidence” if you will.
Phospholipid and cholesterol form membranes due to their having one end called a “head” which is attracted to the polar water, and on the other end are “tails” made of oil chains which are attracted to the nonpolar oil. Phospholipids and similar compounds will form a single “monolayer” membrane around grease, oil, and dirt, by their nonpolar “hydrophobic” tails sticking to the dirt while the water loving “hydrophilic” heads point outward to contact the water. This is how soap works. The same kind of membrane that surrounds a cell, also forms a single layer around sticky dirt so that it will easily go down the drain without resticking to something else. Doesn’t that make you wonder what kind of primordial lifeform could be forming in your dirty dishwater?
No, that was not what he was saying.
There are many believers who are scientists. Nobody is denying that.
Newton is an example mentioned here alot. I saw no mention of god in his laws of motion, however much that might have inspired him.
So you can do science and be a believer but only if you keep the two things seperate. That’s not to say there is a “rule” that insists upon that. It just follows naturally. You break the “rule” and you are probably wrong.
It’s just the fact that if you do bring “the designer” directly into your science you end up like Sanford, making arguments to a lay audience using scripture and not making your argument to other scientists. And if your argument can only be made to lay people then it’s not really science is it? Sure, scientific arguments can be made to a lay auidence (Blind Watchmaker etc) but the difference there is that the argument is also made at a technical level also, not just in books.
So, to rephrase that first quote
You want to argue theology, fine, argue away. Just don’t make scientific arguments with scripture and call it science!
I was in bed when SCheesman replied, but your points at (34) captured my thoughts exactly and weredoubtless more eloquently casted than I could have done.
You’ll have to forgive me, but I tried to understand your point at 32 and failed. Can you distill your thoughts into something more understandable? By the way, my view is that there is no design in biology so there is no “idea” to consider.
Says you. In this context, “mathematically forbidden” is a synonym for “impossible.” And you’ve been shown pathways which are plausible. It’s just that the leading lights of ID have arbitrarily said that they’re so remote that they’re impossible.
That particular formulation is, but not all are.
So, there’s no onus on you to support your assertions, it is up to others to disprove them?
Since Dr. Dembski claims that ID is nothing more than design detection (at least when he’s talking to scientific audiences), ID cannot address the implementaiton of the design. So your comparison of God’s handiwork to human genetic engineers is not a part of ID.
Well, who cares about “chance and necessity,” anyway?
You also wrote:
You seem to have an interesting, a-Biblical idea of the afterlife, where Heaven can tolerate imperfection. Good luck with that.
I was talking about implementation. Assuming that the design has been accomplished, it still needs to be implemented. Otherwise, there will be no finished product in which to detect design.
There was no forgetting involved, “convenient” or not: you simply missed the point. Design cannot be detected unless it has been implemented, and ID is silent on the implementation details of any design, except to claim that it couldn’t have happened via the “tornado in a junkyard” scenario, which no evolutionary biologist suggests it id.
Wrong again. Not that there is evidence, but that “No matter what I present you’ll dismiss it for some reason or other.” I actually think this work is quite interesting, and a welcome advance in origin-of-life studies. I might evaluate it and find it wanting, but that is not the same as dismissing it. In fact, I was persuaded away from being a young-earth creationist by evidence. If scientists can come up with a way for these globules to start evolving into something more sophisticated (e.g. by merging with some proto-RNA factory), I say good on ’em. It’s hard to reproduce with fidelity, after all, let alone increase in complexity. Even you and Gaz can’t seem to spell my tag correctly more than two times in seven. I will go the high road and attribute it to carelessness.
I’m not even going to disagree about the difficulties involved in bringing God into science. I certainly don’t in my field (geophysics), and wouldn’t expect a biologist to either. But one’s philosophical background inevitably affects the type of interests they persue; I expect Christians might be less interested in SETI, for instance, since it’s so heavily loaded with the “are we alone?” question. Not science-stopper, but science-redirector, as I said above. The urge to discover seems to be innate and must be satisfied independent of one’s philosophical or religious background.
Anyway, it’s been good talking. Gotta get back to work.
Earlier you said
So went went from wanting a “test tube example” (which I gave) to “these globules evolving into something more sophisticated”.
That I’d call moving the goalposts.
Good to hear you are no longer a YEC however.
This pains me greatly, as I tried quite conciously in the last post to keep the goalposts firmly planted. I went (some might say to heroic lengths) to refrain from listing all the problems that might exist with the production and survival of lipid structures.
Now perhaps it might seem I have indeed re-planted the posts a couple of feet away in relation to this single point on existance/non-existance of lipid structures (a point I thought I magnanimously conceded). From my viewpoint, however this discussion began at post #16, in my response to Seversky, where I talked about gaps in the sequence of events that must have occurred between the original molecules and the first auntonomous, functioning cell. In that context, I thought it was still fair game to bring up the problem of the evolution of the lipid globules into something else.
They are not “alive” so they can’t evolve into anything else. What they “are” is one way in which chemical reactions can provide an enviroment with an “inside” and a “outside” for proto-life. It’s not a “problem” to be solved, it’s part of the answer (possibly).