The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a UFO — well, the UFO Galaxy, to be precise. NGC 2683 is a spiral galaxy seen almost edge-on, giving it the shape of a classic science fiction spaceship. This is why the astronomers at the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory gave it this attention-grabbing nickname. While a bird’s eye view lets us see the detailed structure of a galaxy (such as this Hubble image of a barred spiral), a side-on view has its own perks. In particular, it gives astronomers a great opportunity to see the delicate dusty lanes of the spiral arms silhouetted against the golden haze of the galaxy’s core. In addition, brilliant clusters of young blue stars shine scattered throughout the disc, mapping the galaxy’s star-forming regions. Perhaps surprisingly, side-on views of galaxies like this one do not prevent astronomers from deducing their structures. Studies of the properties of the light coming from NGC 2683 suggest that this is a barred spiral galaxy, even though the angle we see it at does not let us see this directly. NGC 2683, discovered on 5 February 1788 by the famous astronomer William Herschel, lies in the Northern constellation of Lynx. A constellation named not because of its resemblance to the feline animal, but because it is fairly faint, requiring the “sensitive eyes of a cat” to discern it. And when you manage to get a look at it, you’ll find treasures like this, making it well worth the effort. This image is produced from two adjacent fields observed in visible and infrared light by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. A narrow strip which appears slightly blurred and crosses most the image horizontally is a result of a gap between Hubble’s detectors. This strip has been patched using images from observations of the galaxy made by ground-based telescopes, which show significantly less detail. The field of view is approximately 6.5 by 3.3 arcminutes.
"Hubble Spies a UFO" by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center @flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Icons of Evolution Home of Biologist and Iconoclast Jonathan Wells

Is the “Science” of Richard Dawkins Science Fiction?


Atheist Richard Dawkins is hopping mad at the makers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Dawkins accuses the filmmakers of “lying for Jesus” because they make it seem that he believes in intelligent design and space aliens.

Dawkins is an outspoken critic of intelligent design (ID). In his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins defined biology as “the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Design is only an appearance, because (as the subtitle of the book indicated) “the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design.” According to Dawkins, evolution shows that the universe and everything in it can be explained by undirected natural processes such as random mutation and survival of the fittest. By ruling out design, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

According to intelligent design, however, it is possible to infer from evidence in nature that some features of the world and of living things are better explained by an intelligent cause than by undirected natural processes. Although ID says nothing about the nature of the designer (other than calling it intelligent), it leaves open the possibility that the designer is God.

Clearly, Darwinian evolution and intelligent design have different implications for God’s existence.

Surprisingly, in a lengthy interview with Ben Stein in Expelled, Dawkins says that living things on the Earth could be actually (and not just apparently) designed — and that the design might be detectable. Dawkins thereby concedes the central claim of ID, though he insists that the designers — if there were any — must have been highly evolved space aliens, not God.

Dawkins dug his own hole in the interview; the filmmakers simply gave him a shovel. Now he is trying to dig himself out, though the hole just gets deeper. In the April 18 Los Angeles Times, Dawkins tries to explain what he meant in an essay titled “Gods and earthlings: The ‘science of intelligent design’ is science fiction.”

Dawkins wrote: “Entities capable of designing anything, whether they be human engineers or interstellar aliens, must be complex — and therefore, statistically improbable. And statistically improbable things don’t just happen spontaneously by chance without an explanation trail.”

“Natural selection,” he continued, “is the only ultimate explanation we know for complex, improbable things. Even if our species was created by space alien designers, those designers themselves would have to have arisen from simpler antecedents — so they can’t be an ultimate explanation for anything.”

OK. Probably everyone would concede that attributing design to space aliens doesn’t ultimately solve the problem; it just moves the solution further away. But how does Dawkins “know” that natural selection is “the only ultimate explanation?” Why not God? Intelligent Design doesn’t tell us that the designer is God, but how does Dawkins know it isn’t?

Because, Dawkins reiterates, God is statistically improbable: “Visitations from distant star systems are improbable enough to attract ridicule, not least from advocates of intelligent design themselves. A creator god who had always existed would be far more improbable still.”

That sounds very scientific, as befits Oxford’s Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. And it sounds scientific because improbability can be quantified. Comparing probabilities means comparing numbers.

Ben Stein knows this. So in “Expelled” he asks Dawkins what number he would assign to the improbability of God, and how he knows what the number is. In what I consider the funniest scene in the movie after Michael Ruse’s “I already told you” interview about the origin of life, Dawkins suggests that God’s existence is 99% improbable. Stein asks him, Why not 97%? Dawkins hems and haws and says he’s not comfortable assigning a number. With his trademark deadpan look, Stein presses him: So maybe it’s only 49%? Dawkins replies that he doesn’t know, but it’s certainly much higher than that.

Clearly, Dawkins’ devotion to Darwinism and dismissal of God have nothing whatever to do with probability — or for that matter, with science. His improbability argument is an empty bluff.

Your average science fiction writer could have come up with a better story.