Blog Archive


Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

Powered by Blogger.
Showing posts with label evolution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label evolution. Show all posts

Friday, December 15, 2017

Why a Scientific Consensus isn't What it's Cracked Up to Be

A couple of years ago, the Internet blew up over a huge debate—one that captured the attention of popular culture and caused fierce disagreements between friends and family members. I am, of course, talking about the infamous "What color is the dress?" meme portrayed in the accompanying image. One can perceive the dress colors to be either blue and black or white and gold, and it seems for most people once you see the colors a certain way, you simply can't see them from the other perspective.

Now, imagine you want to buy a gift for your mother's birthday and your father had sent you that same picture with the recommendation that since he's buying her a dress, you should purchase the accessories. Would your purchases make sense? We don't know. It all depends on what you see and whether your perception matches reality. Even if the one buying the accessories had the most exquisite fashion sense and was gifted in picking out the most tasteful and appropriate accoutrements, it matters what their perception of the dress colors were.

Scientific Consensus is Founded on Paradigms

I offer the thought experiment because it helps us to better understand how paradigms influence people. We all make choices based on a specific way of seeing things, and this is true in the fields of science as much as it is in any other discipline. In fact, the terms "paradigm" and "paradigm shift" were coined by Thomas Kuhn in his earthshaking book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn there demonstrates how scientific knowledge hasn't been acquired in a slow, steady, progressive line. That's a myth.

Kuhn states that what really happens is young scientists accept certain assumptions about how the world works because they've been taught that from those already in the field. He writes that the student studying in whatever scientific discipline he will eventually practice,
joins men who learned the bases of their field from the same concrete models, his subsequent practice will seldom evoke overt disagreement over fundamentals. Men whose research is based on shared paradigms are committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice. That commitment and the apparent consensus it produces are prerequisites for normal science, i.e., for the genesis and continuation of a particular research tradition.1(emphasis added).
What this means is that scientists within a particular field of study all start with some basic assumptions and then they rely upon those assumptions to solve problems on details within that model. So, if one were to start with the paradigm that the dress is white and gold, then the answer to the problem of what kind of accessories would complement the dress will come out differently than if one were to hold the paradigm that the dress is blue and black.

The Consensus Can be Influenced by Outside Factors

If you are basing your accessory choices on the paradigm of a white and gold dress, and you find that the majority of those who you learn from and those you work with have also accepted this paradigm, you no longer ask about the color of the dress or whether whiter is a better color for a handbag than back. When someone comes into your fold and suggests black for a handbag, your reaction would be one of incredulity. Certainly any fool can see that black is the wrong color choice! You might even make fun of them and dismiss them as not doing good science. But what they've questioned is the paradigm you have assumed, not the reasoning to the color if the paradigm were true.

Here's the thing, though. These paradigms themselves are frequently caused by factors beyond dispassionate science. Kuhn himself discovered this when investigating the Ptolemaic and Copernican ideas of the solar system. Ptolemy's paradigm was first formed by Aristotle, who held to a couple of very Greek ideas, one of which was that some bodies are naturally inclined to move in a circular pattern. In other words, planets by their nature would move circularly because that's what they do. Aristotle's assumption set the paradigm that worked for many centuries and allowed the scientists for those days to come up with accurate predictions.

It's much like another image that takes on conflicting perceptions. Look at the drawing of the animal I have here. Is this a drawing of a rabbit or a duck? Normally, you will perceive one or the other first. Interestingly, outside factors make a difference in what you see. The Independent reports "At different times during the year, the result of the test seem to change. During the Easter period, people are more likely to see a rabbit first but in October, seeing the duck first is more common."2

Aristotle's assumption on the nature of bodies moving in a circular pattern was based on Greek philosophy. Thus it was a philosophical commitment that shaped the science of planetary orbits and of our understanding the nature of our solar system for centuries. It was only when instruments became more sophisticated that flaw could be seen in the model. These flaws grew to the point of crisis until those within the community had to abandon their paradigm and adopt a new one. This is what Kuhn labels a paradigm shift.

The Consensus Can Be Wrong

Before a paradigm shift occurs, there is a scientific consensus about whatever point one is discussing. But even though a consensus exists, that doesn't mean those who oppose the consensus are wrong. They may in fact be right, but they are simply offering a different paradigm.

When you read about the contentious scientific issues of our day like the origin of life, man-caused climate change, and neo-Darwinian evolution, it won't be long before someone makes the claim that given a scientific consensus exists on topic X, anyone who holds a contrary view is anti-science. That's simply wrong. It may be that those who hold to the contrary position see the flaws and wish to question the paradigm itself. The bigger question thinking people need to ask is "what are the assumptions implicit in this position and have they been tested?" The question of the color of the dress can be answered, if one enlarges the frame to see more of the picture. Doing this isn't anti-science but what Kun calls extraordinary science.

So let's not point to the idea of a scientific consensus as the final card in a debate. The consensus may be the very thing that needs to be questioned.


1. Thomas Samuel Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Second Edition., University of Chicago Press, 1970. 11.
2. Chloe Farand. "Duck or Rabbit? The 100-Year-Old Optical Illusion That Could Tell You How Creative You Are." The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 14 Feb. 2016,

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Can Evolution Produce Objective Morality?

For the most part, people intuitively understand that moral concepts are real and they produce certain duties and obligations for each of us. For example, torturing small children for the fun of it is objectively wrong. It doesn't matter in what culture or time one is living, to inflict pain for one's own pleasure is simply evil. Each person has an obligation to a) not act in such a way himself and b) to do all that's in his power to stop someone else from so doing. This is what I mean by morality being objective and carrying obligations.

But who is that obligation to? An obligation implies one is beholden to another, and if there is no God to whom I must offer an account of my actions, then how does that obligation attach itself to my actions? As I've argued before, objective moral values only make sense if God exists. There must be a lawgiver to whom we are accountable if the laws of right and wrong are to hold any force, otherwise the very concepts of good and evil make no sense.

As you can imagine, grounding morality in God becomes a problem for the atheist. When confronted with the dilemma, those who don't believe in God will choose one of two paths. Some reject the idea that morality is objective. They believe that morality is simply cultural and relative. However this kind of thinking, when pushed to its logical conclusion, produces really scary results, such as the one girl I spoke with who ultimately said it would be OK for someone to rape her sister.

Others recognize that torturing babies for fun is objectively wrong, but deny that God is necessary for objective right and wrong to exist. Usually, they claim objective moral values can arise from evolutionary means to advance the human species. Such an argument is offered by Ronald A. Lindsey here. While Lindsey is pretty careful to unpack the various issues involved and generally fair, I think he ultimately fails to make his case.

The Products of Morality

Lindsey defers to tackle the "Why should I be moral?" question initially. Instead, he ask "What is it that morality allows us to do?" then answers, "Broadly speaking, morality appears to serve these related purposes: it creates stability, provides security, ameliorates harmful conditions, fosters trust, and facilitates cooperation in achieving shared and complementary goals. In other words, morality enables us to live together and, while doing so, to improve the conditions under which we live."1

The claim that being moral improves our living in community is true. But that doesn't make moral values objective. A potentate who slays his enemies while criminalizing murder by his subjects can get a lot done. One can live just fine in a world where one set of laws applies to a small privileged class while the majority of the populous must abide by a different set of laws, such as ancient Rome where infanticide and gladiatorial games did not hinder them from becoming the most advanced civilization of their day.

The Thorny Issues of Morality

Of course, Lindsey has limited himself to the easiest aspects of moral obligation: theft, murder, and such. What he fails to tackle are the more complex aspects of moral obligation. For example, if the evolutionary survival of the human species is the primary function of morality, then homosexual unions are a detriment to that goal. Homosexual unions reduce the number of capable individuals who can reproduce. How does Lindsey's definition answer the question "should we clone human beings?" How does it answer the question of whether we should forcibly take organs from death row inmates to help the innocent? Here is where an outcomes-based morality shows its weaknesses.

Even if it may be shown that the survival value of humanity increases as our currently understood, who is to say that humanity should survive at all? I've often asked those who point to evolution as the answer to moral grounding "why do you think humanity should continue? That may be your preference It may be what you'd like, but I'm not obligated to act in accord with your desires. Maybe humanity had its run. Maybe we should detonate the nuclear bombs and let the cockroaches have their shot." The whole problem here is when one uses worlds like "should" or "improves the quality," that person is already ascribing some objective value to the proposition. It becomes question-begging.

At the close of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities stands the famous quote spoken by Sydney Carton, awaiting his death: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." Being moral can sometimes mean outcomes that are not better. The outcome could be worse in terms of survival, economic impact, or by any other cultural measure. Sometimes, acting rightly is done for its own sake. If there is a God to whom we find ourselves accountable, this makes sense. But evolutionary advantage is simply incapable of giving those actions any meaning at all.


1. Lindsey, Ronald A. "How Morality Has the Objectivity That Matters-Without God." Council for Secular Humanism. Council for Secular Humanism, 14 July 2014. Web. 25 Jan. 2017.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Using Public Funds to Establish Atheist Beliefs

What counts as state-sponsored indoctrination? That's a question that has increasingly come under examination, especially with regard to the establishment of religion. In the United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution declares that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise." The amendment limits the power of the Federal government from creating or giving favor to a specific religious entity or belief system.

Atheist advocacy groups have taken the first portion of that statement, known as the establishment clause, and interpreted it very broadly. Organizations such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Americans for the Separation of Church and State continue to file lawsuits against cities or public agencies for displaying crosses on hilltops or Nativity scenes at Christmas. They complain that these displays amount to an endorsement of one kind of viewpoint, and since their content is religious it violates the establishment clause.

Such charges have followed into even the public school system, where attempts to teach the problems with neo-Darwinian evolutionary models have been shut down. Neo-Darwinism has at its core unguided and purposeless changes in the genome, which are then established and propagated through natural selection. If one were to challenge this viewpoint, one must presuppose some kind of non-purposeless process; we call such causes intelligent and the challenging idea is labeled intelligent design.

Of course, intelligent design has been fought vigorously by the atheist groups as being religious. While intelligent design does not support any specific religion itself, these groups feel that any school district teaching intelligent design is using a public institution supported by tax dollars to advance a particular religious view. They claim this violates the First Amendment's Establishment clause.

The most well-known of these challenges was the high-profile Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board trial, where this line of reasoning was used extensively. Of course, intelligent design has been fought vigorously by the atheist groups as being religious. An article in Time magazine summarized their charge well, saying "intelligent design is inherently religious since it relies on a supernatural creative force, which cannot be tested or proven by scientific experiments."1

Geese and Ganders

Here's the thing in all of this, it is impossible to take a position and not use public agencies or public tax money to thrust some kind of belief system upon others. If one holds that displaying a Nativity scene or a cross on a mountaintop advocates for a specific religious position, then demanding the public schools teach that there is no God who took part in the origin or the development of life also advocates for a specific religious position, namely the position that any belief system holding a contrary view is wrong. If affirming a religious claim violates the First Amendment's establishment clause, then demanding a denial of that claim does so as well, for the subject of the claim is religious in both instances.

So, how is it the public schools are leveraged and my tax dollars are spent on actively advocating for a no-God position regarding life and this isn't also violating the Establishment clause? If any kind of intelligent agency proposal is banned, then there is a clear bias towards a non-belief in God presented in the instruction.  It seems to me those who complain about religious messages being offered through public agencies aren't worried at all when the message is the one they wish to communicate, only when it is one with which they disagree. That is the kind of position the First Amendment was meant to guard against.


1. Scully, Sean. "'Breathtaking Inanity': How Intelligent Design Flunked Its Test Case." Time. Time Inc., 20 Dec. 2005. Web. 25 Aug. 2016.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Irrational Faith of the Naturalist

Does man have an immaterial soul or is nature and the material world all there is? Atheists deny the existence of the supernatural, but they also tend to believe there is no fundamental immaterial substance to human beings, either. All our thoughts, feelings, and existence could be reduced to physical states like chemical reactions or electrical impulses. We call this belief philosophical naturalism as the person who holds it believes the natural world is all there is.

One of the greatest problems the naturalist faces is how to account for the fact that human beings are conscious creatures. We can think abstractly and conceive ideas. While many have attempted to explain the evolutionary biological development of man, no one seems able to offer any explanation of the evolution of consciousness, as Richard Swinburne has noted. They just assume that consciousness will pop into existence if the body is complex enough. But how is that science?

J.P. Moreland, in his book The Recalcitrant Imago Dei underscores the problem:
Prior to the emergence of consciousness, the universe contained nothing but aggregates of particles/waves standing in fields of forces relative to each other. The story of the development of the cosmos is told in terms of the rearrangement of micro-parts into increasingly more complex structures according to natural law. On a naturalist depiction of matter, it is brute mechanical, physical stuff. The emergence of consciousness seems to be a case of getting something from nothing. In general, physio-chemical reactions do not generate consciousness not even one little bit, but they do in the brain, yet brains seem similar to other parts of organisms' bodies (e.g., both are collections of cells totally describable in physical terms). How can like causes produce radically different effects? The appearance of mind is utterly unpredictable and inexplicable. This radical discontinuity seems like heterogeneous rupture in the natural world. Similarly, physical states have spatial extension and location but mental states seem to lack spatial features. Space and consciousness sit oddly together. How did spatially arranged matter conspire to produce non-spatial mental states? From a naturalist point of view, this seems utterly inexplicable.1
Thomas Nagel has also complained that naturalists are shirking their responsibility in assuming the appearance of consciousness. Although Nagel is an atheist, he also recognized consciousness is something fundamentally different than physical reactions which can be explained in materialist terms. In other words, your mind is not your brain. He concluded any account of consciousness on natural grounds alone would fail, writing "since a purely materialist explanation cannot do this, the materialist version of evolutionary theory cannot be the whole truth."2

Evolutionists and naturalists have left a gaping hole in their theories. The retort of "we'll find it; we just haven't yet" is akin to a man telling the IRS "I know I owe you money, but I'm going to win the lottery soon and when I do, I can pay you." It's another of those science-of-the-gaps claims. But the naturalist isn't even playing the right lottery as he keeps taking his chance betting on material items when the lottery is being played with immaterial numbers.

There's no avoiding the problem of consciousness for the naturalist. Any science that continues to assume one can get something from nothing isn't explaining anything; it's simply a statement of faith. And it's the most irrational kind of faith at that. Christians don't even believe that we can get a something from a nothing. We at least start with God.


1. Moreland, J.P. The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. (London: SCM Press, 2009). 24.
2. Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. 45. Print

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Time Is No Longer the Friend of Darwinism

Today's neo-Darwinian scenarios have always relied on an abundance of time as an essential component of diversification through adaptation. We've all heard the canard where enough monkeys with enough typewriters will eventually produce a Shakespearean sonnet. Of course, it's been proven there's a big bias in even that assumption. However, now, as we learn more about the complexity and intricacy of encoded DNA instruction sets, we are finding out that time is not the friend of evolution.

In a paper published last year in the Journal Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling, John Sanford, Wesley Brewer, Franzine Smith and John Baumgardner look at the nut and bolts of DNA mutation and calculate just how long it would take to get new, biologically meaningful nucleotides. In other words, we don't simply need genetic mutations. We need mutations that will be of some benefit to the organism, will be significant enough to be "set" in the population, and will be able to do so within a population and generational set projected for the species. Let's look at each of these requirements in more detail.

1. Mutations Must Add to the Fitness of the Organism

In their paper, Sanford et. al. looked at strings of code within the DNA commonly referenced as genes. These strings of code are the instruction set for building all the biological systems that make up you and me. Just as a book is composed sentence by sentence, the sentences are built word by word, and the words are built by strings of letter, so DNA nucleotide strings are the source of the proteins or RNA machines that build more complex biological functions. These are the foundation of biology and it is at this level where any meaningful change must happen for evolution to work.

Further, not just any mutation counts. Just as any recombination or addition of letters doesn't lead to new sentences, the mutations must be to the degree that it provides "stronger fitness benefits" to the organism according to natural selection.1 This isn't controversial in and of itself; common descent argues this way. But needing specific mutations raises the odds and requires more time than just any mutation.

2. Mutations Must be Set Within the Organism

Advantageous mutations are not good enough, though. The mutations must be of a kind to be hereditary. They have to be able to be passed from parent to offspring, otherwise they die with the carrier. Not only do they need to be hereditary but they need to be dominant enough within the population to permeate the species.

Imagine you have an isolated village of blond-haired people. One dark-haired traveler stumbles onto the village and decides to settle there. He marries and has children, some of whom are dark-haired. While dark hair is a dominant trait, not all the dark-haired man's children will necessarily carry his dark hair gene. Dark hair could still be lost within a few generations.

The model used by Sanford et. al. takes this factor into account. It also raises the complexity of the mutation, sometimes requiring the same mutation more than once in a population in order for the gene to be "set."

3. The Size and Reproductive Rate of the Population Matters

Lastly, these kinds of mutations happen at different speeds for different types of organisms, as Michael Behe deftly explained in The Edge of Evolution. For example, the E. Coli bacteria can have a population pool in the millions within a community. It divides every thirty seconds, allowing less than 20 years for researcher Richard Lenski to reach 50,000 generations.2 However, for higher primates, the population size is much smaller and they reproduce at a much slower pace. Human beings must achieve puberty before they can start having babies. This means that mutations are passed much more slowly.

So what happens when you take these various factors and put them all together into a computer model? Just how long is enough time to get a biologically advantageous mutation within a hominid population, that is an animal type that would eventually produce homo sapiens?

Sanford's model shows there simply isn't enough time for enough significant mutations to move from more primitive hominids to human beings. The paper's conclusion states:
Biologically realistic numerical simulations revealed that a population of this type required inordinately long waiting times to establish even the shortest nucleotide strings. To establish a string of two nucleotides required on average 84 million years. To establish a string of five nucleotides required on average 2 billion years. We found that waiting times were reduced by higher mutation rates, stronger fitness benefits, and larger population sizes. However, even using the most generous feasible parameters settings, the waiting time required to establish any specific nucleotide string within this type of population was consistently prohibitive.3 (emphasis added.)
Interestingly, one point noted in the paper was that increasing population sizes to help point number three actually work against point number two by making the new genetic function more diluted within the population group and therefore less likely to become "set."

Overall, the paper is interesting and offers independent verification to the time problem Behe argued in The Edge of Evolution while using a completely different methodology. Make sure you take the time to read it.


1. Sanford, John, Wesley Brewer, Franzine Smith, and John Baumgardner. "The Waiting Time Problem in a Model Hominin Population." Theor Biol Med Model Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 12.1 (2015): n. pag. Web. 6 Feb. 2016.
2. Gallup, Dave. "E. Coli: A "Model Organism" From Theodor Escherich's Legacy." The Environmental Reporter. EMLab P&K, 13 May 2010. Web. 6 Feb. 2016.
3. Sanford, 2015.

Friday, January 22, 2016

You Need an End Game for the Origin of Life

Antony Flew was one of the more formidable philosophers who argued against Christian theism over the course of his career. Flew was intelligent, a powerful writer but fair in his argumentation. But he never let his ideology get in the way of his investigation. As he said, "My own commitment then as a philosopher who was also areligious unbeliever was and remains that of Plato's Socrates: 'We must follow the argument wherever it leads.'" 1

Even as an "areligious unbeliever" philosopher, Flew had become more and more bothered by certain inherent problems associated with the neo-Darwinist conception of evolution. Primarily, Flew was concerned about the origin of life, or as the question he later asks in his book, "How did life go live?" Even prior to his announcement that he was renouncing atheism and identifying as a theist, he wrote:
Probably Darwin himself believed that life was miraculously breathed into that primordial form of not always consistently reproducing life by God, though not the revealed God of then contemporary Christianity, who had predestined so many of Darwin's friends and family to an eternity of extreme torture.

But the evidential situation of natural (as opposed to revealed) theology has been transformed in the more than fifty years since Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism. 2

The End Goal of Life Must be there in the Beginning

Flew identifies three key questions about the origin of life that are philosophical in their purpose. He asks, "How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends, self-replication capabilities, and 'coded-chemistry'?"3 These are key issues in the debate over the origin of life.

The first concept, that of the goal of an organism is tied in come ways to the second concept. Living things reproduce. Without reproduction, evolution is a non-starter. When one discusses the origin of life, one of the goals of that organism's function must be to make more of itself; otherwise we only see a recurring series of dead ends. But we don't see this as a result of any other laws of nature. Just how did this function of organisms that are living and have some kind of end goal (e.g. surviving and reproducing) come about? And how did the DNA, which represents the coded chemistry, become representative of those functions?

Goals and desired ends don't come about by random acts. Neither do codes. Codes are really arbitrary. Flew points to David Berlinski's example of Morse code, noting the connection of dots and dashes to specific letters is the connection a mind makes.4 The codes are a vehicle to carry information, but they aren't the important part of the equation. The message is. Therefore, codes exist first in the minds of the code-builders who construct them for a specific purpose, to communicate messages over a certain medium.

So, the purpose or design or the end game—what is known in philosophy as teleology— of an organism is crucial to not simply sustaining life but to life's origin. From the very beginning, we see life must have the goal of survival and replication built in.  It uses coded DNA to carry out this goal; and the code itself implies a goal-oriented creation.

The very first life requires purpose and cannot be explained away as mere randomness.The question becomes, how can you get goals without a mind?


1. Flew, Antony. "Letter from Antony Flew on Darwinism and Theology." Philosophy Now, Issue 43. October/November 2003. Web. 22 Jan 2016.
2. Flew, 2003.
3. Flew, Antony, and Roy Abraham. Varghese. There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. New York: HarperOne, 2007. Print. 124.
4. Flew, 2007. 127.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Science Cannot Ignore Where Consciousness Comes From

"The physiologist studies the development of the first cell of each new human baby into a full-grown adult. The evolutionary biologist studies the forces which have formed the genetic structure of such a first cell. But relatively seldom do either of these scientists point out that their descriptions and explanations cover only the evolution of the physical characteristics of man, and that they give no account of the evolution of the most important characteristics of man-the characteristics of his conscious life, his feelings and desires, hopes and beliefs, those characteristics in virtue of his possession of which we treat men, and think that we ought to treat men, as totally different from machines. Most philosophers of the past four centuries have been well aware of the difference between the conscious life of a man and goings-on in his body. but their views have relatively seldom made any significant difference to the writing and teaching of biologists and physiologists.

"Scientists have tended to regard the life of conscious experience as peripheral, not central to understanding man. But there is so much and so rich human experience, and experience which is apparently continuous and is causally efficacious that this attitude will not do. His life of experience has to be taken seriously if we are to understand man."
—Richard Swineburne The Evolution of the Soul.Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007.3.

Monday, October 19, 2015

I Think, Therefore God Exists

Rene Descartes is famous for his quest to identify at least one thing that was absolutely certain. He considered what he saw and what he felt, but he reasoned that his senses could be lying to him. He considered his past experiences, but he thought that it could be the case that he didn't remember them accurately or perhaps an evil daemon placed those thoughts in his mind even though they weren't real events (think: The Matrix). The more things he thought about, the more he doubted until he came to the realization that he couldn't doubt the fact that he was doubting! If doubting is going on, thinking is going on and someone has to do that thinking. Thus we get Descartes famous statement, "I think, therefore I am."

Conscious thought not only proves the existence of the thinker, as Descartes argued, but it also points to the existence of the Creator of the thinker. Materialists believe that all thinking is merely the outworking of physical processes like brain chemistry and electrical stimulation. But that view faces huge problems; it fails to explain where thoughts come from at all and why unconscious matter would suddenly have this new ability, especially given an evolutionary paradigm.

We Can't Assume Thought Just Emerges

Have you ever had a brand new thought that seems to come from nowhere? Or perhaps you held to a particular belief and you read something and it strikes you that your belief is wrong, even though the piece you're reading isn't directly related to that belief. Where do these thoughts come from? How do they appear? Why should we have them at all?

J.P. Moreland says that to simply wave off consciousness as a product of the physical functions of the brain is tantamount to ignoring the question. Mental states do not "just appear." JP says they are "puzzling entities that cry out for an explanation."1 Philosopher Thomas Nagel agrees. In his book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False he explains that the goal of science is to understand just how it is that things work the way they do. Nagel states that in science there is "an assumption that certain things are so remarkable that they have to be explained as non-accidental if we are to pretend to a real understanding of the world"2

The materialist view that thoughts are simply products of brain chemistry without need of any further explanation should then be considered the opposite of real understanding. It's guesswork and it's offered because the materialist holds a preconceived bias against immaterial causes such as the soul as the source of thought.

Why Should an Organ Produce Consciousness?

 Another problem with the materialist account of human consciousness is it doesn't fit neatly into the Darwinian explanation of how complex entities arise through means of natural selection. Just how does unconscious material become conscious in the first place? When we see plants that grow in the direction if the sun, we can explain their actions through physical processes, but since it's impossible to describe mental events using physical explanations, it's impossible to offer a physical explanation for the emergence of consciousness.

This is why Darwinian explanations for the emergence of consciousness fall short. David Berlinski noted the same when he asks:
Why should a limited and finite organ such as the human brain have the power to see into the heart of matter or mathematics? These are subjects that have nothing to do with the Darwinian business of scrabbling up the greasy pole of life. It's as if the liver, in addition to producing bile, were to demonstrate the unexpected ability to play the violin. This is a question Darwinian biology has not yet answered.3
Consciousness, the ability human beings have for rational thought, cannot be explained in materialist terms. Our ability to reason separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is something that cries out to be explained and by limiting oneself to only the materialist's tools of empirical evidence gives us no explanations at all. Our senses can deceive us, as Descartes rightly reasoned. Instead, consciousness points to an immaterial aspect of who we are and the emergence of consciousness points to an immaterial origin. Minds come from minds, consciousness comes from conscious beings. The Christian argues that the conscious mind is part of the immaterial soul, created by a conscious, rational, immaterial God. Such an explanation is both consistent and sensible. Consciousness gives us reason to believe God exists.


1. Moreland, James Porter. The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. London: SCM in Association with the Center of Theology and Philosophy, U of Nottingham, 2009. Print. 24.
2. Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.
3. Berlinski, David. The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. New York: Crown Forum, 2008. Print. 16-17

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Consciousness Undermines Evolution

In his groundbreaking book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, philosopher Thomas Nagel identifies consciousness as a problem for not only the materialist (one who believes only physical/material things exist), but also the evolutionist. He makes the case that consciousness cannot be simply reduced to physical processes like brain synapses firing firstly because there is a difference between a brain state and the concept of pain and secondly because subjective experiences show that physical processes cannot explain all aspects of mental consciousness.

Nagel then focuses on the problem of the origin of consciousness, which he sees as a crucial issue. All evolutionary theories must account for our mental states if they are to be held as the only explanation for our existence. But since mental states cannot be accounted for through purely physical means, it is no surprise that absolutely no kind of Darwinian account exists other than assuming consciousness as a brute fact. This holds huge implications, as Nagel states:
What kind of explanation of the development of these organisms, even one that includes evolutionary theory, could account for the appearance of organisms that are not only physically adapted to the environment but also conscious subjects? In brief, I believe it cannot be a purely physical explanation. What has to be explained is not just the lacing of organic life with a tincture of qualia but the coming into existence of subjective individual points of view—a type of existence logically distinct from anything describable by the physical sciences alone. If evolutionary theory is a purely physical theory, then it might in principle provide the framework for a physical explanation of the appearance of behaviorally complex animal organisms with central nervous systems. But subjective consciousness, if it is not reducible to something physical, would not be part of this story; it would be left completely unexplained by physical evolution—even if the physical evolution of such organisms is in fact a causally necessary and sufficient condition for consciousness.

The bare assertion of such a connection is not an acceptable stopping point. It is not an explanation to say just that the physical process of evolution has resulted in creatures with eyes, ears, central nervous systems, and so forth, and that it is simply a brute fact of nature that such creatures are conscious in the familiar ways. Merely to identify a cause is not to provide a significant explanation, without some understanding of why the cause produces the effect. The claim I want to defend is that, since the conscious character of these organisms is one of their most important features, the explanation of the coming into existence of such creatures must include an explanation of the appearance of consciousness. That cannot be a separate question. An account of their biological evolution must explain the appearance of conscious organisms as such.

Since a purely materialist explanation cannot do this, the materialist version of evolutionary theory cannot be the whole truth. Organisms such as ourselves do not just happen to be conscious; therefore no explanation even of the physical character of those organisms can be adequate which is not also an explanation of their mental character. In other words, materialism is incomplete even as a theory of the physical world, since the physical world includes conscious organisms among its most striking occupants.1
Consciousness is a significant problem for the evolutionist. It fails to account for that thing that makes us human. Without consciousness we cannot even reason towards an evolutionary theory, yet all evolutionary theories have no plausible explanations for that very consciousness. It is much more reasonable to believe that materialistic accounts of life are false.


1. Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. 44-45. Print.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Why Claiming Religion is False Undercuts Darwinism

According to atheists like Daniel Dennett, religious belief is a falsehood that arose via evolutionary processes. In his debate with Alvin Plantinga on the topic "Science and Religion: Are they Compatible?" Dennett said "I think that the natural sciences can provide us with a very compelling explanation of why and how people came to believe in God, which does not at all suppose that it would be a true belief. But if we can diagnose the etiology of the belief in God, we can even make predictions about how and why this would be the case and how it would work. Then, we have undercut the presumption that because so many people believe in it, it must be true."1

This kind of thinking is fairly prevalent in certain atheist circles, used mainly to explain why belief in a god or God is found across all cultures throughout all times in human history. The universal nature of religious belief poses a bit of a dilemma for the atheist, as it demonstrates the desire to reach out to a higher intelligence is as natural as wanting to fill one's stomach. C.S. Lewis famously observed:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.2
If Lewis is wrong, it means that most of humanity has a false desire to believe in God. But given its falsehood, how can naturalists explain its universality? The answer that Dennett and others offer is that such a belief was in its way evolutionarily advantageous. Dennett argues for this view in his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. In the debate he explained why he believes he's justified in looking to science to explain religious belief: "If we have a good theory that explains how massive systematic falsehoods could arise in the human population and be maintained over generations, then that in itself is a pretty good reason for supposing that we've got a good handle on this, better than their handle on science."3

The Elephant in the Room

So, Dennett and others holds that 1) religious belief arose naturally via evolutionary processes4 and 2) it is a belief that is false. It follows logically from those two premises that evolution produces false beliefs. Not only does evolution produce false beliefs in certain people or in a small population, but if the two premises are correct, evolution produces, to use Dennett's words, massive systematic falsehoods that arise in the human population and are maintained over generations.

Here's where Dennett runs into a wall, though. The very fact that our reasoning ability exists at all on a naturalistic understanding of the world is due to evolution on his view. We trust our reasoning abilities to give us true facts about the world. One of those true facts that Dennett and other naturalists hold is there is no God, evolution can account for our belief system. But why should I think that belief is any more true than the belief that God exists, if Dennett is right?

In fact, why should we place our trust in human reasoning ability at all if evolution produces huge whoppers of falsehood that permeate all of humanity? Why should we trust our evolved monkey-brains reason to ward s some kind of external truth about where we came from, given Dennett's explanation?

As I've argued in True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism:
Basing our ability to reason on a cause-and-effect model doesn't make sense. Reason is not the kind of thing that can be explained by examining the makeup of the brain or its physical processes. Reason must be oriented toward an objective external reality and our ability to tap into that reality. In fact, if naturalism is true, it means either that what we take to be rationality is either in no way grounded in external, objective truth (and as such cannot be called rational), or we're fooling ourselves into thinking that rationality exists at all.5
It seems to me that by holding to religion as an evolutionarily produced falsehood, the naturalist loses his entire foundation to assert that his explanation is itself true. He's undermined not simply evolutionary belief but rationalism itself.


1. "Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? Alvin Plantinga vs. Daniel Dennett." YouTube. American Philosophical Association Central Region, 21 Feb. 2009. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.
2. Lewis, C. S. "Mere Christianity." The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2002. 114.  Print.
3. "Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?", 2009.
4. Dennett, D. C. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. New York: Viking, 2006. Print.
5. Esposito, Lenny. "Atheism and the Argument from Reason." True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism. Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer, eds. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2013. Print.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Darwinism, Dawkins, and Complex Designers

Complexity and design seem to be infused into the very elements if life. Francis Crick, winner of the Nobel prize for his co-discovery of the structure of DNA, famously said "Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved."1 Indeed, the strong map of design in the living creatures of the earth seems at first blush so strong that the scientists themselves have a hard time describing them without using vocabulary that implies design.

Richard Dawkins dismisses the appearance of the complex, organized features of life as pointing to a designer, though. In The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins acknowledges that the complex nature of things like DNA are things that biologists "have difficulty explaining." Yet, Dawkins states that the organized complexity of either the DNA molecule or the molecular machinery used to replicate proteins in no way points to a designer, simply because what ever created it would need to be even more complex. He writes, "Of course, any God capable of intelligently designing something as complex as the DNA/protein machine must have been at least as complex and organized as that machine itself." This would then lead to looking for an even more complex designer of the designer and so on, regressing back to infinity. Thus, Dawkins concludes, to claim a designer "is to explain precisely nothing. "2

Alvin Plantinga, in his book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, deftly takes Dawkins argument apart. He leads with a rather simple analogy showing why Dawkins' cleverness is unconvincing:
Design doesn’t explain organized complexity (says Dawkins); it presupposes it, because the designer would have to be as complex as what it creates (designs). Perhaps, therefore, Dawkins means to argue along the following lines: there are really just two explanations of life: unguided Darwinism and an explanation, guided Darwinism, perhaps, that involves design. But the latter is really no explanation at all. Therefore the only candidate is the former.

Here there are two problems. First, this argument doesn't depend on the facts of biology; it is substantially independent of the latter. Is it likely that Dawkins would be offering an argument of that sort? If so, why would he claim that it is "the Evidence of Evolution" that "Reveals a World Without Design"?

Set that problem aside for the moment; there is another and deeper problem with this argument. Suppose we land on an alien planet orbiting a distant star and discover some machine-like objects that look and work just like a 1941 Allis Chalmers tractor; our leader says "there must be intelligent beings on this planet-look at those tractors." A sophomore philosophy student on the expedition objects: "Hey, hold on a minute! You have explained nothing at all! Any intelligent life that designed those tractors would have to be at least as complex as they are!" No doubt we'd tell him a little learning is a dangerous thing and advise him to take the next rocket ship home and enroll in another philosophy course or two. For of course it is perfectly sensible, in that context, to explain the existence of those tractors in terms of intelligent life, even though (as we can concede for present purposes) that intelligent life would have to be at least as complex as the tractors. The point is we aren't trying to give an ultimate explanation of organized complexity, and we aren't trying to explain organized complexity in general; we are only trying to explain one particular manifestation of it (those tractors). And (unless you are trying to give an ultimate explanation of organized complexity) it is perfectly proper to explain one manifestation of organized complexity in terms of another. Hence it is not the case, contra Dawkins, that an explanation in terms of divine design is a nonstarter. Such an explanation doesn't constitute an ultimate explanation of organized complexity (if God is complex, nothing could constitute such an explanation); but it is none the worse for that. 3


1.Crick, Francis. What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery. New York: Basic, 1988. 138. Print.
2. Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: Norton, 1986. Print.
3. Plantinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 26-27. Print.
Image courtesy goofup [CC BY 2.0]

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Must You Be an Expert to Criticize Evolution?

Who's allowed to comment on a topic like evolution? Are only those who are professionals in the field capable of drawing conclusions given the neo-Darwinian framework that drives modern evolutionary theory? That was basically the question poised to me after I received some feedback via Twitter on my article "Is the Origin of Life Part of the Evolution Discussion?" The article makes the case that the problem of how life begins cannot be separated from the evolution question and those who offer Blind Watchmaker-type solutions need to account for this issue in their theories.

Instead of responding to the arguments raised in that piece and its companion, I received several tweets by atheists who criticized the article on wholly unrelated grounds. One was from godFreeWorld who tweeted:
This kind of reply staggers me. It reminds me of people like pro-abortion Wendy Davis saying men cannot comment on abortion because they can't get pregnant and it's equally as much nonsense. I answered his tweet with one of my own stating that not being a biologist is completely irrelevant and it's an inherently biased position to dismiss God as an explanation a priori. He responded by stating:

Is Experience Always Necessary?

So, godFreeWord claims that I must be a biologist to comment on evolution. Does this make sense? Of course not, and for several reasons. First, there are many very good biologists who dismiss the Blind Watchmaker hypothesis as untenable. Michael Behe and Fazale Rana are just two of those, but it's obvious that this person rejects these biologists' conclusions. More importantly, though, to hold a criterion of expertise as the bar one must meet before commenting on any facet of an issue is ridiculous.

Even if his claim is that one must be an expert in a particular scientific field to comment on that field is demonstrably false. Unless the question at hand is one of a technical nature, well-informed people who are rational can draw rational conclusions without being experts. For example, I don't have to be an expert in biology to know that in the entire history of human existence we don't have a single observable instance of life coming from non-life. Thus the claim that such has happened before demands some kind of evidence. I don't have to be a biologist to know that consciousness has never been observed to spontaneously appear from non-conscious material. Because I know these events have no observable evidence behind them, it is well within my purview as a rational being to ask for a model of just how these things came to be. Without them, one leaves a gaping hole—a science of the gaps if you will—in one's theory.

The Demand for Expertise is Illogical

But there's a bigger problem with his objection. The demand for expertise as a criteria for commenting on evolution undercuts its own standards. On his Twitter profile, godFreeWorld claims to be a professor of biology. I will take him at his word. Perhaps that's why he feels that he can demand anyone speaking about evolution be so credentialed. Given that, I simply asked him:

You see, when godFreeWorld to objects to my argument, he is criticizing my philosophy on the subject. But according to his own standards, only experts are allowed to do that. As a biologist, he would be attacking a field he "has no experience in" to use his own words. The critique is self-defeating.Therefore, it cannot be taken seriously and be ignored.

Image courtesy Martin Pilote and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Replying to Science-of-the-Gaps Arguments

I had a commenter named Barry respond to my blog post "Why the Darwinist Version of Life's Origin is Anti-Science". First, he asked whether it is appropriate to couple the origin of life with neo-Darwinian evolution (it is), he then made the following statements:
You can't say "Well, we don't know how life emerged so God musta done it" simply because scientists don't know (yet). … That we don't know NOW how life began doesn't give anyone intellectual license to say that life has a supernatural cause due to a creative moment by a whimsical Omniscient Being. Relax. So we don't know right now what caused life to emerge. That's just the way it is. We'll understand some day. Maybe not in our lifetimes but it's likely to happen in the next fifty years or so.

In the meantime, God-of-the-gaps arguments aren't arguments from the point of evidence. They're arguments from the point of faith and belief. That's not a persuasive rhetorical tactic for the plain reason that reality is preferable to believing in things simply because you want these things to be true."
You will notice that Barry admits a couple of things. First, he holds that arguments that are not from the point of evidence are not strong. He refers to these as "intellectually feeble." He also admits that scientists don’t know how life began. In fact, they have absolutely no idea, no working models, nor even any controlled lab experiments that shows how one can get even a self-replicating RNA molecule from ribozyme components. I also brought this up in my response, pointing him to the enormous odds Dr. David Berlinski offered.

Barry’s response was telling. He replied:
Odds, shmods. It happened. Life DID emerge when it did and that's that. The only thing we don't understand is HOW life emerged—and there is zip evidence that it was due to some supernatural intervention. Evidence is tying a palm print on the rifle to Oswald. Evidence is collecting DNA from a crime scene and connecting it to a suspect. You? You got nuthin' to link to.
Can you see how this paragraph directly contradicts his previously stated view that arguments without evidence are intellectually feeble? Odds schmods?? It’s clear that Barry doesn’t care what the evidence (e.g. the mathematics) shows on the possibility of life emerging by chance. He simply wants it to be true. But that’s what the decried in the previous exchange! He’s not relying on a God-of-the-gaps argument, but a science-of-the-gaps one. He rejects the actual scientific data that that natural laws and chemistry alone could never assemble the first living organism simply because he doesn’t want to believe it to be true!

You’ll also notice that Barry claimed I had "nuthin' to link to." I did link to a couple of articles in fact, one being the Berlinski quote above. One of the main tasks of the scientific method is to either validate or falsify a hypothesis. You see, scientists understand that a negative result is still a result. We have data on what is required for life to exist, and it is showing more and more that spontaneous self-assembly is not a logical option. Asserting "we'll understand some day" is a statement of faith that directly contradicts the increasingly mounting evidence against the hypothesis.

To trust in science alone is not following the evidence wherever it leads. It is seeking to validate a preconception at any cost, something rational individuals should shun.
Original image courtesy Dale Schoonover, Kim Schoonover [CC BY 3.0]

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Problem of Accounting for Morality From Evolution

J.P. Moreland commenting on the problems with attempts to base morality on evolutionary principles:
One could argue that the evolutionary account of morality commits the genetic fallacy—it confuses how morality came about with what morality is and what justifies it. There is a point in this rejoinder. Taken by itself, the evolutionary account of morality is an example of the genetic fallacy. But there are some cases where the genetic fallacy is not really inappropriate. These are cases where the causal account of the origin of an idea serves to discredit that idea in some way. In a trial, if the testimony of a witness comes from someone with bad motives, then one can rule out his testimony because of where it came from. His testimony could still be true, but it is unlikely. In the case of the mirage, one can rule out the veridicality of this experience by citing what caused it (hot air waves), even though it could still be an accurate experience.

If evolutionary theory is all there is to the development of the cosmos from the big bang to man, then any view which postulates the brute existence of morals would seem to do so in an ad hoc way. The general background theory would count against the veridicality of the claim to know that morals exist, even though it would still be logically possible for them to exist. If theism is true, one's background theory explains the existence of human morality. But if one denies God and accepts evolution, then it would seem more reasonable to accept an evolutionary, subjectivist view of morality. The existence of objective values would still be possible, but it would be unlikely and ad hoc, given this background theory.


Moreland, James Porter. Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987. Print. 125.
Photo courtesy John LeMasney and licensed via the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Scopes Trial: Theater in the Making

Yesterday, I wrote about Inherit the Wind, the play and movie that used the famous 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial as its inspiration. As I explained there, the play distorts the events that happened in Dayton, Tennessee to the extreme, making all but the broad outline unrecognizable. This is a shame, because the real story is no less riveting, even though no one has really heard it. In order to understand the events that played out at what was termed "the Trial of the Century,"1 one must understand the motivations behind the trial itself.

The Scopes Trial — The Background

Because of the play, the Scopes trial has been tarnished as an exercise in closed-mindedness and anti-science. Actually, it seems that everyone at least tacitly understood the whole thing to be a publicity stunt. While the Butler Act was passed overwhelmingly by both the Tennessee House and Senate, there was at least some expectation that the bill would be vetoed by Governor Peay. According to Tennesseans and Their History, "The governor considered the Butler Act chiefly symbolic and publically doubted that it ever would be enforced."2

However, no one counted on the newly founded American Civil Liberties Union and its president looking to set up a case to garner some free publicity. According to Marvin Olasky and John Perry:
The organization had a steady flow of money… what the ACLU needed more than cash was publicity. To that end, Baldwin and the rest of the leadership scanned the landscape for government actions they could challenge or laws they could test. With their original rationale gone, ACLU leaders moved from one cause to another in defense of free speech and free thought.3
They go on to describe how the ACLU's secretary, Linda Milner, would collect "stacks of newspaper clippings" on anything that might interest the leadership. When she found an article on the law passed in Tennessee, she showed it to Baldwin and "he and Milner agreed on the spot that enactment of the law signaled an important opportunity to promote the ACLU and its liberal agenda."4 The ACLU then took out an ad in several Tennessee newspapers, asking for a person to volunteer as a defendant in "a friendly test case" of the law.5

The Scopes Trial — Searching for a Defendant

That ad was read by George Rappleyea, a mining engineer, who knew his impoverished town of Dayton needed something to breathe life into its morbid frame. Olasky and Perry write that in reading the ad:
Rappleyea saw something beyond a law or an argument. He saw a national cause in search of a focal point, a national stage casting for a willing star. Surrounded by the rusted relics of Dayton's prosperous past, he saw in the ACLU appeal a chance to put his struggling community in the national spotlight. Big news would generate big crowds, and that meant big business—maybe even a return to the glory years.6
Rappleyea sold the idea to the Dayton town leaders while talking at a local drug store soda fountain table. In The Tennesseans and Their History, it tells that Rappleyea was debating the point that "biology could not be taught without teaching evolution. Scopes happened to come in at this point" and agreed. While he wasn't the biology teacher, he did help the students prepare for their tests. When asked if he ever taught evolution "Scopes said that any teacher who followed the state-approved textbooks taught evolution. The Dayton town leaders decided to take the ACLU up on its offer and had Scopes indicted by the Rhea County grand jury. (This put Scopes in an somewhat awkward position, as he was not sure that he ever had taught evolution, and he hoped his students would not remember he hadn't.  The regular biology teacher, however, was a family man who did not want to face trial.)"7

The Scopes Trial — Add Celebrity Lawyers

Give that teaching evolution was a national discussion in 1925, the case made national news. But, the trial positively exploded when two of the most famous lawyers of that day decided to get involved. William Jennings Bryan was a popular figure of the World's Christian Fundamentalist Association, an early 20th century movement. The ECFA was worried that the ACLU would get all the press and spin the publicity against their version of creationism, so they asked Bryan, a nationally known speaker and three-time presidential candidate to partner with the prosecution, an offer that the Dayton leadership willingly accepted.

For the defense, the reporter, atheist, and Friedrich Nietzsche fan H.L. Menken (characterized in the play as E. K. Hornbeck) approached Darrow to lead the defense, but not for John Scopes' sake. "Nobody gives a damn about that yap schoolteacher. The thing to do is to make a fool out of Bryan" he is recorded saying.8 Darrow agreed to do so and waived all fees as "he couldn't resist such an enormous target" as Olasky puts it.9

The Scopes trial is normally offered as evidence of how science and religion are at odds. While it is true the various factions had different opinions on creation, evolution, how to teach, God and law, there is one point upon which everyone agreed: the trial had nothing to do with finding the truth, it was all about the publicity.


1. "The "Trial of the Century" Draws National Attention." A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.
2. Bergeron, Paul H., Stephen V. Ash, and Jeanette Keith. Tennesseans and Their History. Knoxville: U of Tennessee, 1999. Print. 251.
3. Olasky, Marvin N., and John Perry. Monkey Business: The True Story of the Scopes Trial. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005. Print. 18.
4. Olasky, 18.
5. Olasky, 18.
6. Olasky, 8-9.
7. Bergeron, 252.
8. Olasky, 26.
9. Olasky, 26.
Image courtesy Ann McKelvie. Licensed by Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Blow-Hard Bias of Inherit the Wind

"I'm frustrated!"

The plea came in from a girl who was taking a required undergrad English course where the professor assigned an analysis of the 1955 play Inherit the Wind, which presents a fictionalized account of the famous Scopes "Monkey" Trial held in Tennessee thirty years earlier. For those of you that don't know, substitute teacher John Scopes was put on trial for violating Tennessee's Butler Act, a law prohibiting any state-funded school from teaching that "man has descended from a lower order of animals."1

Inherit the Wind – Not History

The play (and the subsequent 1960 movie with Spencer Tracy) proved immensely popular at the time. However, there are some real problems with the events in the way the play presents them. While the broad points are the same, the play changes so many details that the authors acknowledged their play isn't history. In the play's preface they wrote:
Inherit the Wind is not history. The events which took place in Dayton, Tennessee, during the scorching July of 1925 are clearly the genesis of this play. It has, however, an exodus entirely its own.

Only a handful of phrases have been taken from the actual transcript of the famous Scopes Trial. Some of the characters of the play are related to the colorful figures in that battle of giants; but they have life and language of their own - and, therefore, names of their own.2
While this disclaimer may help, I don't think it makes things clear enough. Most people don't realize just how slanted and biased the caricatures are in the play when one compares it to the real-life events. Therefore, I would like to take a bit of time to explore some of the misconceptions that usually occur when the play or movie is viewed.

Inherit the Wind – How the Bias Shows

In both the play and the film, Christianity and its proponents are nothing more than straw men that authors Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee knock down with ease. Lawrence and Lee state, "Inherit the Wind does not pretend to be journalism. It is theatre. It is not 1925. The stage directions set the time as 'Not long ago.' It might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow."3 Lawrence in an interview stated the motivation for writing the play wasn't religion versus evolution, but the intellectual stifling he saw in the anti-Communist movements of the 1940s and 1950s, ""We used the teaching of evolution as a parable, a metaphor for any kind of mind control. It's not about science versus religion. It's about the right to think."4 Yet, it's more than clear that Lawrence and Lee place those who hold to something other than an evolutionary account of human origins into the "mind control" camp. For example, take two characters Lawrence and Lee create who didn't exist in the actual trial, Reverend Brown and his daughter Rachel, who is engaged to the Scopes character, named Cates in the play. During the play, Rachel, explains "You see, I haven't really thought very much. I was always afraid of what I might think, so it seemed safer not to think at all" but then sees that she must change and begin to see things Cates's way.

In her very comprehensive article that takes down many of the foibles in the play, Carol Iannone observes "While Inherit the Wind remains faithful to the broad outlines of the historical events it portrays, it flagrantly distorts the details, and neither the fictionalized names nor the cover of artistic license can excuse what amounts to an ideologically motivated hoax."5

Inherit the Wind – More Factual Errors

Other factual errors abound, and all of them are strategically created to make those who want the Butler Act upheld to look bad. Dr. Richard M. Cornelius, who is one of the foremost experts on the Scopes trial wrote the book William Jennings Bryan, The Scopes Trial, and Inherit the Wind. Below, he provides a quick overview of some of the pore egregious errors perpetrated by the play:
Here are some of the instances where Inherit the Wind differs from the historical facts of the trial record and the events surrounding it. (For convenience, the names of the historical characters which the play supposedly involves are used.)6
  1.  The trial originated not in Dayton but in the New York offices of the American Civil Liberties Union, for it was this organization that ran an announcement in Tennessee newspapers, offering to pay the expenses of any teacher willing to test the new Tennessee anti-evolution law.
  2. When a group of Dayton leaders decided to take advantage of this offer, their main reason was not so much defense of religion as it was economics, for they saw the trial as a great means of publicity that would attract business and industry to Dayton.
  3. Others responsible for the trial were the media, who worked hard to persuade Bryan and Darrow to participate in the trial.
  4. John T. Scopes was not a martyr for academic freedom. Primarily a coach of three sports, he also taught mathematics, physics, chemistry, and general science. He agreed to help test the law even though he could not remember ever teaching evolution, having only briefly substituted in biology. He was never jailed, nor did he ever take the witness stand in the trial. The people of Dayton liked him, and he cooperated with them in making a test case of the trial.
  5. William Jennings Bryan was not out to get Scopes. Bryan thought the Tennessee law a poor one because it involved fining an educator, and he offered to pay Scopes' fine if he needed the money.
  6. Bryan was familiar with Darwin's works, and he was not against teaching evolution—if it were presented as a theory, and if other major options, such as creationism, were taught.
  7. The trial record discloses that Bryan handled himself well, and when put on the stand unexpectedly by Darrow, defined terms carefully, stuck to the facts, made distinctions between literal and figurative language when interpreting the Bible, and questioned the reliability of scientific evidence when it contradicted the Bible. Some scientific experts at the trial referred to such "evidence" of evolution as the Piltdown man (now dismissed as a hoax).
  8. The defense's scientific experts did not testify at the trial because their testimony was irrelevant to the central question of whether a law had been broken, because Darrow refused to let Bryan cross-examine the experts, and because Darrow did not call on them to testify. But 12 scientists and theologians were allowed to make statements as part of the record presented by the defense.
  9. The topic of sex and sin did not come up in the trial. Neither did Bryan believe that the world was created in 4004 B.C. at 9 a.m.
  10. Instead of Bryan being mothered by his wife, he took care of her, for she was an invalid.
  11. Scopes was found guilty partly by the request of Darrow, his defense lawyer, in the hope that the case could be appealed to a higher court.
Tomorrow, I will explore the background behind the original trial and show why it isn't the draconian groupthink it's portrayed to be.


1. "House Bill No. 185 – Butler" Public Acts of the State Of Tennessee Passed by the Sixty-Fourth General Assembly, 1925. 1925-3-21.
2. Lawrence, Jerome, Robert Edwin Lee, and Alan Woods. The Selected Plays of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1995. Print. 9.
3. Lawrence, Lee, and Woods. 1995.
4. "Garfield Center Announces Open Auditions for Inherit the Wind." The Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre. Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.
5. Iannone, Carol. "The Truth About Inherit the Wind." First Things. First Things, Feb. 1997. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
6. "Inherit the Wind" (2002). Theatre Productions. Book 25.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Where are the Survival of the Fittest Ethics?

Ideas have consequences. It should be no surprise that how one sees the world will also influence his or her understanding and interpretation of certain events. Unexplained healing of a loved one after praying will be understood by a Christian as the intervention of God while an atheist would probably assume it was simply a coincidence. It would be difficult to prove either point given on a single, specific instance. The fact that each offers different explanations for the resultant recovery shouldn't surprise anyone.

Worldviews not only influence how we interpret results, they also influence our actions prior to the result. Given the example above, the Christian who believes in the power of prayer will pray for the sick person before he is healed. He or she may admonish others to also pray, asking God to intercede for them on whatever difficulties they may face in life. Pastors will encourage prayer and one would expect prayer to become part of the "fabric" of the Christian life. If the One who created the world exists and has instructed us to petition him, then we should do so.

But one would not expect prayer to become part of the fabric of the atheists' life. Someone who doesn't believe in God has no one to whom he or she would appeal. They would hold that we are the product of evolutionary processes, random genetic mutations that are shaped and strengthened through selections that weed out the weaker, less advantageous traits in whatever environment the creature would find itself. It is as Richard Dawkins puts it "life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference."Things like unexpected healings are based on the mechanics of the body, and may simply be sheer luck. Perhaps that individual has a genetic mutation that provides the ability to recover from an affliction that most people wouldn't. That person is fit, surviving to possible pass that mutation onto his progeny.

What are the Ethics of Evolution?

One would expect this worldview of indifference regarding survival to become part of the fabric of the atheists' life. Survival of the fittest should be the fundamental principle that shapes their understanding of the world. But when we look at the ethical systems that people who identify as atheists adopt, they don't champion laws allowing the strong to thrive at the expense of the weak. People consider the idea of domination by conquerors to be ancient, backwards and barbaric. Instead, the atheists will uphold ideas such as the weaker members of humanity should be protected.

Of course, sometimes the evolutionary worldview has made its mark, most notably with the eugenics movement popular in the early twentieth century. The term eugenics was coined by Sir Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin, who sought to apply Darwinian principles to attributes like human intelligence. It was then promoted by people like Charles Davenport and Margaret Sanger, who began Planned Parenthood.2 Ultimately, the United States over 64,000 people deemed genetically inferior were sterilized under eugenics standards implemented by 30 states in the country.3

Realize that I'm not arguing that the eugenics movement as implemented in the first half of the twentieth century was right in its mixing of social dynamics with biological heredity. The proponents may have oversimplified the source of intelligence. However, it is consistent with the naturalist, Darwinian worldview. Accepted moral concepts like those with inheritable mental illnesses, those who are unable to reproduce, or those who are physically incapable should be afforded equal worth are not grounded in an evolutionary world view. In fact, such beliefs are the opposite of survival of the fittest.

I don't believe that holding to atheism makes one any more immoral than anyone else. In fact, I applaud those who strive to be good, decent people. However, I struggle with the inconsistency of how a naturalist would ground his morality in an evolutionary framework. It’s like an atheist praying—he may do so, but it doesn't show much consistency in his belief system.


1. Dawkins, Richard. River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. New York, NY: Basic, 1995. Print.
2. Witkowski, Jan. "Social Origins of Eugenics." Social Origins of Eugenics. Image Archives on the American Eugenics Movement, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.
3. Rivard, Laura. "America’s Hidden History: The Eugenics Movement." Nature Publishing Group, 8 Sept. 2014. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.>.

Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
An invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics

Mary Jo Sharp:

"Lenny Esposito's work at Come Reason Ministries is an invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics. He is as knowledgeable as he is gracious. I highly recommend booking Lenny as a speaker for your next conference or workshop!"
Check out more X