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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.

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Showing posts with label evolution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label evolution. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What is Science, Anyway?

What is science? That may seem like a simplistic question, but the answer is neither easy nor unimportant, especially in this day and age. We live in an era where the scientist has become the one assumed to hold the answers to a wide diversity of questions, even those that are not scientific. Michael Shermer just published an article where he credits "scientific thinking" for human moral progress since the enlightenment.1 I've had people ask me to prove God's existence scientifically, and of course discussions on creation of the universe or the emergence of life on earth put science right in the middle of the debate.

Given how modern society places its nearly unquestioning trust in science, it's easy to see why someone would seek to dismiss God's existence or intelligent design with a wave of a hand and the claim of "that's not science." But just what is science, then? As a recent video by Stephen C. Meyer (included below) points out, science has been notoriously difficult to define. Let's take a look at some definitions of what supposedly qualifies something to be science.

Collecting data through observation

One of the more common definitions of science pivots on how one goes about gathering their evidence for their hypothesis. Robin Collins writes , "I remember being taught as a boy that 'science' is, at its simplest, collecting data from observations of the world, and then organizing those observations in a way that leads to a generalization called a 'law.'"2 Meyer states in the video that "If a theory is going to be scientific, it must not invoke unobservable entities." Yet, as he then references, the entire field of theoretical physics is currently dealing in objects and concepts that by definition are unobservable. No one can see quarks. Quantum vacuums are unobservable. Does that mean that Stephen Hawking and those in his field should not be considered "doing science" when they invoke such causes?

The criteria of falsifiability

A second definition is one that philosopher of science Karl Popper made famous, the concept of falsifiability. Yet, falsifiability is really the other side of the observability coin. Popper, who had a "teenage flirtation with Marxism,"noted that Marxist explanations of history conformed with observed facts, such as the greater economic influence of the lower classes. However, competing economic models used the same set of historical data to fit their explanations as well. Later, Popper found that Freud's theory of psychoanalysis was too capable of explaining every situation. There was never a situation where Freud's theories would be shown to be false; every circumstance could be justified in some way. Thus Popper came to the conclusion that a theory is scientific if there's a way to prove it false.4 The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy sums it up this way:
If a theory is incompatible with possible empirical observations it is scientific; conversely, a theory which is compatible with all such observations, either because, as in the case of Marxism, it has been modified solely to accommodate such observations, or because, as in the case of psychoanalytic theories, it is consistent with all possible observations, is unscientific.5
The problem here, though, is similar to the one above. If certain fields of study are unobservable, how can someone observe their falsification? Modern evolutionary theory posits mutations and intermediate forms that, as Meyer points out, are unobservable. We cannot see into the past and there is no way to know that one fossil is a transaction from another, those are all inferences. Therefore, using this criteria, Neo-Darwinian theories are not based on science, but (as Popper labeled them) pseudo-science.

The truth-value of a proposition

All of this discussion on what makes us science is valuable, but it isn't the most important thing we need to worry about. We should be primarily concerned about whether or not something is true first. As I've previously written, science is not the only way we know things. It isn't even the best way to know certain things. Meyer makes the same point in the video:
I don't care whether intelligent design is considered to be science or not. That is not the most important question. That is a semantic question. The most important question is whether it is true, or whether it is likely to be true, or most likely to be true given the evidence we have. What people have done to avoid answering that most important question is repair to these semantic arguments. "Intelligent design is not science; therefore we don't have to consider the case for it. I don't think that follows."
Watch the whole thing here:


1. Shermer, Michael. "Are We Becoming Morally Smarter?" Reason Foundation, 17 Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
2. Collins, C. John. Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003. Print. 30.
3. Thornton, Stephen. "Karl Popper." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 13 Nov. 1997. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
4. Thornton, 1997.
5. Thornton, 1997.
Image courtesy GeoffAPuryear and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Lot of Hand-Waving by Evolutionists

In college, I was a physics major. In physics, we sought to provide some precise answers to specific data presented to us. For example, we know that a car turning a corner must rely on a certain amount of friction to turn a corner. We want to know how to calculate this so we can set safe speed limits on corners. In chemistry, we seek to know just what is happening when iron rusts or an acid and a base are combined. In medicine we seek to know exactly why someone who suffers from Sickle cell disease. Doctors have traced the problem back to a single DNA point mutation which then changes the coding of a single amino acid.1 This is pure science, seeking to find an answer while examining the details.

Of course, not all science can be done in this way. There are fields such as plate tectonics that take observed data and use them to create models of how the different plates of the earth's crust will affect each other. Still, these models attempt to be very specific in just what is moving and how, and it's this specificity that makes the difference in the explanatory value of any theory. The devil's in the details, as it were.

What's Needed to Make a Whale

Yet, when I talk with proponents of evolution, the discussions are different. Yesterday, I engaged again in an exchange with a proponent of evolution. I asked his again to provide a definition, to which he replied "Evolution Is Change in the Inherited Traits of a Population through Successive Generations" (borrowing the title from this web site.) But, as I wrote yesterday, that's not a very useful definition. Just because things change doesn't mean we get new biological systems. Men can be four feet tall or seven feet tall, but not 12 inches tall or 12 feet tall. Those who inherit the sickle cell trait are immune from malaria, but their children are at risk of a painful life and an early death. Even here, the inherited immunity isn't a new feature, but a crippling of a functioning system.

So, I ask for specifics. I offered the humpback whale as an example. Supposedly, the whale evolved from a land mammal over the course of about 10-12 million years.2 One may try to explain the size increase by simple growth over time, (although a recent article in the journal Science says that such an explanation fails), there are still a huge amount of systems that must be changed for a land-dwelling mammal to change into an ocean-dwelling one. The nose must be migrated to the top of the head and turned into a blow hole. Breathing is no longer automatic but must take conscious effort. Walking limbs must be transformed into flippers. The kidneys must be changed to handle the intake of salt water. Testes must be located inside the body to keep warm. The young must be able to nurse under water, and on and on.3

How Much Change Does that Take?

You may imagine that changing one body part into something different, like a nose into a blowhole would take quite a bit of DNA rearrangement. These morphological changes not only have to all happen, but they have to happen together, for a blowhole isn't going to help if you are breathing without thinking. The animal will simply drown. But even more problematic, the vast number of changes to the DNA must happen within that relatively short window of 10-12 million years because that's what the fossil record shows. If whales came from the land mammal pakicetus, then using the traditional dating of fossils found, all these changes must take place with what would be on an evolutionary timeline, a very brief span.

Thu, my question to my interrogator was simple how quickly would the mutations of DNA have had to happen to produce all of the necessary changes to get the whale from its supposed ancestor? Does any natural selection and genetic mutation that we observe now correlate to those changes? One must remember that we aren't taking about bacteria that reproduce very quickly and have very large populations. Mammals like pakicetus are the same size as a large dog, which means that they might reproduce only after a year or two upon maturation and produce a few litters. With a smaller population and more time between generations, evolution via mutation is made even more difficult.

So, what's the model? Where's the math? What's the actual number of beneficial mutations posited generation to make this kind of a transition? I was met with nothing but obfuscation. It was all hand-waving, and talk of me supposedly ignoring "hundreds of years of hard scientific work." This is what I find all the time in discussions of evolution. Everyone claims it's an established fact, but no one offers the details. Dawkins speaks of cells that morph into light-sensitive ones, then become aligned, and eventually we get the human eye.4 However he never gives us just which genes changed, how many would've needed to change, or how fast it would have to occur. It's a just-so story that has no numbers behind it. Modern proponents seem a little too light on the details to say evolution is of the same type of knowledge as the earth revolving around the sun.5 We have the formula for gravity. We have silence regarding genetic changes.


1. "Sickle Cell Disease." Genetics Home Reference. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2012. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.
2. "Going Aquatic: Cetacean Evolution." PBS. PBS, 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
3. Andrews, Max. "Darwinian Whale Evolution." Sententias. Sententias, 06 Feb. 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. See also Richard Sternberg's video at
4. Dawkins, Richard. Climbing Mount Improbable (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996), 140-178.
5. "Is Evolution a Theory or a Fact?" Evolution Resources from the National Academies. U.S. National Academy of Sciences., 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What Do You Mean by Evolution?

I've recently had a couple of conversations where someone sought to challenge my questioning of the modern assumption that evolution is a proven fact. One person commented to me "To disbelieve in the theory of evolution requires a suspension of reason so extreme as to be almost pathological." That's a pretty big claim! However, in the broad topic of evolution, the devil is in the details. In fact, for most complex scientific theories, the devil is in the details. Newtonian laws work really well to describe the actions of most things in motion, but when you get down to the sub-atomic level they don't work. That's why whenever I'm challenged by someone by such an assertion, I think it becomes crucial to first make sure you define your terms.

"Change Over Time" Is Unproblematic

One of the biggest problems in causal discussions over evolution is that the word has become so plastic, it can mean almost anything. When someone asks "Do you believe in evolution," I first ask "What exactly do you mean by evolution?" For example, in my conversation, I received the definition of evolution as "inherited traits [that] vary across a population with time." If that's all evolution is supposed to be, then I wouldn't disagree with it. All the breeds of dogs we see are from inherited traits varying across the population with time. Bacteria can and do develop resistances to antibiotics. These things are not controversial in the least.

Physicist Gerald Schroeder makes a salient point here:
The magnificent Natural History Museum in London devotes an entire wing to demonstrating the fact of evolution. They show how pink daises can evolve into blue daises, how gray moths can change into black moths, how over a mere few thousand years, a wide variety of cichlid fish species evolved in Lake Victoria. It is all impressive.

Impressive until you walk out and reflect upon that which they were able to document.Daisies remained daises, moths remained moths, and cichlid fish remained cichlid fish.These changes are referred to as micro-evolution.In this exhibit, the museum's staff did not demonstrate a single unequivocal case in which life underwent a major gradual morphological change.1
Yes, change over time happens. Populations become taller, fatter, and balder. But that is neither controversial nor very interesting when discussing the issues of God or why there is so much diversity in life and still so many biological systems seem perfectly designed for their environments.

Competing Definitions

In an article written for Evolution News a couple of years ago, David Klinghoffer quoted form Jay Westley Richards on some of the multiple meanings the word evolution takes on in discussions. He notes six that were first identified by Stephen Meyer and Michael Keas:
1. Change over time; history of nature; any sequence of events in nature.

2. Changes in the frequencies of alleles in the gene pool of a population.

3. Limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms have descended from a common ancestor.

4. The mechanisms responsible for the change required to produce limited descent with modification, chiefly natural selection acting on random variations or mutations.

5. Universal common descent: the idea that all organisms have descended from a single common ancestor.

6. "Blind watchmaker" thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; that the mechanisms of natural selection, random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of design in living organisms.
Richards then adds two more:
There is also the metaphorical sense of evolution, in which Darwinian Theory is used as a template to explain things other than nature, like the rise and fall of civilizations or sports careers…

Finally, there's evolution in the sense of "progress" or "growth." Natural evolution has often been understood in this way, so that cosmic history is interpreted as a movement toward greater perfection, complexity, mind, or spirit. A pre-Darwinian understanding of "evolution" was the idea of a slow unfolding of something that existed in nascent form from the beginning, like an acorn eventually becoming a great oak tree. If anything, this sense of evolution tends toward theism rather than away from it, since it suggests a purposive plan.2
Of course, not all of these will be applicable in your discussions with others on evolution. However, it does show how fungible the word has come to be. Asking with model of evolutionary theory can help take some of the imprecision out of the discussion and it helps to make sure that the ones challenging you knows what they are talking about, too.


1. Dembski, William A., and Sean McDowell. Understanding Intelligent Design. Eugene, Or.: Harvest House, 2008. Print. 48.
2. Klinghoffer, David. "The Eight Meanings of Evolution." Evolution News & Views. Evolution News & Views, 26 Aug. 2011. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.
Image courtesy Aaron "tango" Tang and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Darwinism's Fatal Flaw (podcast)

The idea that complex life arose through nothing but natural means is a hallmark of modern evolutionary theory. But what if we discovered a problem with Darwinism that was so fundamental, all of science wouldn't work? In this podcast series, Lenny highlights a new argument that shows why evolutionary naturalism is a non-starter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Why Naturalism is Simply Unbelievable

Naturalism is simply unbelievable. I don't mean unbelievable in the fantastical sense, although I do think there's a lot of hand-waving that goes on to try and excise any supernatural explanation as to why we exist. I mean, the viewpoint is unbelievable in that its own assumptions destroy itself. It is illogical to hold to naturalism.

The naturalist wants us to believe that the natural world is all that exists; we came about through evolutionary processes and our minds are one of the products of that process. Given the survival of the fittest paradigm that rives evolution, the naturalist must also assert "What your beliefs are don't matter nearly as much as what the survival value of your actions are." In fact, they do this when discussing religion all the time. Religion isn't true, they would assert, but it served an evolutionary purpose.

To use an example, picture an overweight man who is running. Now, the man may believe he has a better chance at survival if he runs because he puts his body in better shape, reduces the chances of heart attacks, and is generally more fit for the tasks of survival. However, the man may equally believe that running is an act of worship to the life-god and it drives out the fat demons that plague much of his tribe. Either belief produces the same result: the man runs and the man has an increased chance of longevity. Either belief helps him survive equally well. It doesn't matter which is true on an evolutionary worldview because evolution is all about survivability.

Reason Offers No Evolutionary Advantage

Because all evolution cares about is the survival of the individual, reason alone offers no evolutionary advantage. In fact, evolutionary theory proves this. According to all New-Darwinian models, there was a time on the earth where there existed no rational thought whatsoever! Animals were primitive and they had no capacity to reason, yet they survived just fine. They mere responded to external stimuli and adjusted their behavior. They don't know why the water is here and not somewhere else; they simply desire water.

This is why you can get a pet dog or cat to chase a flashlight beam or laser pointer on the floor. The dog bites at it and it isn't there, yet he will continue to chase the beam! Your pet is simply responding to stimuli. They aren't thinking abstractly. A dog never wonders what it's like to be a cat!

Knowing that the earth circles the sun as opposed to the sun circling the earth gives us no evolutionary advantage whatsoever. We gain nothing in terms of the advantage to put food in our stomachs or to shelter us from the cold nights. This is because reason and responses are categorically different kinds of things. There is a difference between neural stimulation and mental reflection. The naturalist will say "All reason is is a process of neural stimulation" but C.S. Lewis argued that natural selection only operates by eliminating biologically harmful responses and increasing responses linked to better survival. He writes:
It is not conceivable that any improvement of responses could ever turn [the animal's thoughts] into acts of insight, or even remotely tend to do so. The relationship between response and stimulus is utterly different from that between knowledge and the truth known.1

Beliefs Can be Counter-Intuitive

Sometimes we have to believe things that are completely counter-intuitive based on our stimulus. Exercise is a good example of this. For me, it is counter-intuitive when lying in my comfortable, warm bed to get up and put my body in a situation designed to cause strain and pain. So the desire to exercise doesn't come from external stimuli, but from our reasoning capabilities. We do the things that are counter intuitive to everything the body is telling us because we have a reasoned that that's a better way to go. It doesn't make sense evolutionary because the benefits are a long way off.

 Alvin Plantinga agrees when he writes:
Fleeing predators, finding food and mates — these things require cognitive devices that in some way track crucial features of the environment, and are appropriately connected with muscles; but they do not require true belief, or even belief at all.

The long-term survival of organisms of a certain species certainly makes it likely that its members enjoy cognitive devices that are successful in tracking those features of the environment — indicators, as I've been calling them. Indicators, however, need not involve beliefs (emphasis added).2
There are many of our beliefs that lie completely outside the realm of evolutionary advantage at all. The belief that evolution is true is one of these. The problem is the evolutionist doesn't have good grounds for holding to his own evolutionary tale, since the evolutionary framework gives no grounds for holding that any of his beliefs are true. If evolution is true, then reason isn't trustworthy. How does one escape that when every belief the naturalist has is a product of evolution? Assuming naturalism is to doubt the reliability of reason itself.


1. Lewis, C. S. "Miracles." 2002. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. 317. Print.

2. Plantinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 329. Print.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Moral Laws Necessitate a Moral Lawgiver

As I showed yesterday, all people are obligated to obey a moral law. People will fight about what this law allows and what it doesn't, but that doesn't mean morality isn't objective. Certainly, we take into account certain circumstances, but the principles that ground morality remain consistent. For example, it is always immoral to inflict pain on an unwilling participant for the sole purpose of pleasuring oneself. That is true whether or not anyone else believes it to be true. It is also true all all times and for every culture. Thus, if morality exists at all, then it is universal in its scope: it applies to all humanity throughout history.

Moral laws are therefore not like physical laws, such as the law of gravity. Gravity tells us simply what is. It doesn't tell us whether falling at 9.8 m/s2 is good, bad, or neutral. Moral laws, though, do give us a standard by which we must adhere. Since moral laws are prescriptive (they tell not what one is doing but what one ought to do) and universal, they must transcend humanity. Moral laws cannot be based in physical reality but must come from a moral lawgiver.

A moral lawgiver must transcend man

Let me give you an example of why moral laws cannot be based in the properties of the psychical world. Some people argue that morality is a result of some evolutionary processes. They will usually say something like, "People began to construct a moral code because it helped them survive. As a matter of evolution, a species will survive if they don't kill each other but look out for one another, so morality really evolved." I'll hear that idea often, that there's some kind of random evolutionary process that crafted our morality. But evolution is offered as a result of natural functions in the world. If you think about nature and how it acts, things happen all the time that are both constructive and destructive, yet it makes no sense to describe natural acts as moral or immoral.

Imagine if you will a brilliant comet that orbits our solar system about once every five hundred years. For most of its orbit, it is obscured from the scientists' view, so astronomers have been in anxious anticipation to study it. Even more so, writings from the medieval period suggest that the comet is exceedingly beautiful to view even with the naked eye. As the world gathers and waits for the comet to come into view, the unthinkable happens: a random meteor happens to smash into the comet shattering it into pieces. The question I ask is, “Was the meteor wrong to destroy the comet?” Such a question seems absurd on its face. The meteor wasn't acting rightly or wrongly; it was simply a fluke of luck that the comet was destroyed. It was the outcome of random events governed by the physical laws of the universe.

If evolution is true, then the fact that humanity exists at all is just a series of random mutations that are enacted upon by natural laws of the universe. Therefore, if physical laws are all we are working within, then to claim destroying a person, many people, or even the whole world really is no different than the meteor destroying the comet. It isn't wrong; it just is what happened. But again, such an idea strikes us as wrong on its face. We know that exterminating a human life is fundamentally different than annihilating a natural body. That's because human persons have intrinsic moral value. It's why we hold the idea that slavery is wrong, even when it was legal or most people thought it was OK.

No one person is better than another. Now sure there are people better in sports, and there are people who are more powerful, more beautiful, and so on. There's a multitude of ways people are not equal, yet we believe that murdering any one of them makes you guilty of a moral wrong. It's not our judgments about them that give them their worth; it is simply the fact that they are human. We recognize that this law exists outside of ourselves, and we punish those who don't obey it.

The lawgiver must have authority over man

More than just originating outside of humanity, a moral law must be given by a lawgiver who can exercise authority over people. If a law is passed that has no penalty, then the law is deemed ineffective and quickly discarded. We have many such laws on the books today, some of which are almost comical. For example, Michigan made it illegal to serve margarine instead of butter in state institutions.1 No one in America is obligated to obey France's speeding laws if they're driving in the United States. Even if I may deem that the speed limit for the street in front of my home is too fast to drive safely and have all the facts to back me up, I can't go out and post my own sign on the roadway. I need the proper authorities to post the law, since they have the power to enforce the law. Similarly, if moral laws come from outside of man, then they must come from a source that has authority to enforce those laws.

Moral laws are evidence of God's existence

Since we all recognize there is a moral law to which all people are beholden, and that moral law must have its basis in a mind outside of mankind and with authority over mankind, we then reasonably conclude that there is a God. We recognize good and evil as real states. Some may argue that there's too much evil in the world for there to be a God, but that's a different point and one I've looked at before. The fact that this person recognizes that there is evil in the world actually bolsters the argument for God's existence, since he is agreeing that there is a moral framework out there and that it has its basis outside of mankind. He's granting the premises of this argument!

You see, if we can call certain things good and call certain things evil, that means that there's moral law. There's a measuring stick to put something against. Killing a baby for fun is evil. Katrina? That's evil. Charity work? Oh, no, that's good. But in each of these cases there's some standard we are comparing them against. There's a moral law. But if there's a moral law, that requires a moral lawgiver. So that means there must be a God establishing the moral law.

If evil exists, it proves that God exists simply due to the fact that morality has to come from God. It can't come from anywhere else.


1. 2011-12 Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations. Sec. 97.18.5. Wisconsin State Legislature2011. Web. 06 Oct. 2014.
Image courtesy Matt H. Wade and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Two Key Problems with Darwinism (video)

Modern Darwinism teaches that all life we see today is the result of lucky chemical accidents. There is no purpose or intelligence guiding the process. However, as we better understand the complexities of life and the amazing amount of information it takes to make even the simplest of cells, the Darwinian model just doesn't work.

In this video, Lenny teaches on two insurmountable problems for modern Darwinian theory and shows why life points to an intelligent designer.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why the Darwinist Version of Life's Origin is Anti-Science

P.Z. Myers, the acerbic evolutionary biologist, atheist, and blogger is certainly no friend to those arguing for God's existence. However, he did side with at least one point that creationists argue for when debating the concept of life and its origin: Darwinists who claim that the theory of evolution has nothing to do with origin of life "is a cop-out."  An older post at his blog Pharyngula, he writes:
#15 is also a pet peeve: "Evolution is a theory about the origin of life" is presented as false. It is not. I know many people like to recite the mantra that "abiogenesis is not evolution," but it's a cop-out. Evolution is about a plurality of natural mechanisms that generate diversity. It includes molecular biases towards certain solutions and chance events that set up potential change as well as selection that refines existing variation. Abiogenesis research proposes similar principles that led to early chemical evolution. Tossing that work into a special-case ghetto that exempts you from explaining it is cheating, and ignores the fact that life is chemistry. That creationists don't understand that either is not a reason for us to avoid it.1
I completely agree with Myers in that anyone arguing for a non-Creator based model needs to account for both the origin as well as the development of the diversity of life as we see it today. I've previously written how evolutionary teaching texts and evolutionist both include the concept of abiogenesis—a 50 cent word meaning that life arose spontaneously from non-life—in their limiting the diversity of life we see today to only materialistic causes. For, if a creator is necessary to begin life, then the simplest explanation of life's diversity would be that such a creator created them with that diversity.

Passing on Pasteur

Of course, Myers, Dawkins, and company would never allow a creator to be considered in their model. 2 They hold that any such appeal is at its base unscientific. But there's a problem here. The view that life arose spontaneously from non-life has never once been observed in all of human history. If science is at its root a study of those things we can observe, then the theory that life can arise from non-life without any intelligent intervention seems to be non-science.  But abiogenesis is worse than that; it's anti science.

You see, the question has come up before. There was a time where people believed that life could arise spontaneously. People would notice their milk or bread gather mold and they thought that these life forms just popped into existence. However, the French scientist Louis Pasteur performed an extensive series of experiments to heat food products prior to packaging and he showed conclusively that new life doesn't simply pop into existence. He proved that biogenesis (from life comes life) is the scientifically viable theory rather than abiogenesis.

Pasteur's results have been confirmed millions of times over. In fact, our modern method of food distribution relies on the fact that new forms of life won't just appear. Think of a jar of natural peanut butter. The jar is an open system in which energy and sunlight may pass through. The starting material is organic; it has all the right proteins for life. Heck, peanuts are even the starting point for the plant. Yet, no one expects to find new life in their peanut butter!

Science is at its absolute best when one can verify a hypothesis through repeatable testing. The more times one achieves the same results, the stronger the hypothesis becomes. Pasteur's biogenesis is about as strong a finding as science can achieve, so why argue for abiogenesis when no one in the history of humanity has ever observed such and not even one theoretical model of how life could spontaneously arise exists? Simply, it's because the only other explanation of life is that it came from a creator. Therefore, those that trumpet science above all the loudest seem to be the most willing to dump Pasteur's science when it doesn't fit their model. Doesn't that make them anti-science?


1. Myers, PZ. "15 Misconceptions about Evolution." Pharyngula. ScienceBlogs LLC., 20 Feb. 2008. Web. 18 Sept. 2014.
2. In his book, The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins writes, "The Darwinian theory is in principle capable of explaining life. No other theory that has ever been suggested is in principle capable of explaining life." Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design. New York, N.Y: W.W. Norton, 1987. Print. 288.
Image courtesy PiccoloNamek

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blinding with Science

Frequently when I discuss issues of science as they relate to faith, I'm often told that science shouldn't be doubted. After all, science, unlike faith, isn't about what people want to believe. It only deals in cold, hard facts, and when science reaches a consensus, like it has with the modern neo-Darwinian paradigm, it is unreasonable to reject it. Rejecting the scientific beliefs of the vast majority of scientists is equal to denying that the earth is round.

That's the story, but that isn't science. It's scientism. Fundamental to science is the concept of questioning the facts we think we know, even what can be considered well-established facts. Newton's laws were thought to hold in all applications for centuries until quantum mechanics came along and threw a fly in the ointment. Other assumptions, such as the steady state model for the universe, have also been upended.

But many of those ideas are too esoteric for the average man on the street to really grasp. However, there is currently a paradigm shift happening in the health sciences that perfectly illustrates how accepted science can be flimsy, biased, and based not on facts but strong wills and politics. The story is fascinating and illustrates how just one man can create a belief that is so strong, it affects the viewpoint other experts, changes government regulations, and becomes an embedded belief by the general population.

In her article "The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?" author Nina Teicholz summarizes her findings of a nine year investigation into the commonly-accepted belief that the more saturated fats you eat, the worse it is for your heart. I recommend you read the entire article, or if you would like even more detail, grab her well-documented book The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. However, here are a few quotes of how the myth of the unhealthy high fat diets became the unquestioned standard:

1. One man's assumption led to bad conclusions

Teicholz writes that the idea to link saturated fats to heart disease was proposed by Ancel Keys, a pathologist who was "an aggressive, outsized personality with a talent for persuasion."1  Keys' studies on this link "violated several basic scientific norms,"2 according to Teicholz.  For example, Key's findings were based on a single study, claiming to look at the diets of some 13,000 men across seven countries. However, Teicholz reports that Keys did not select random nations, but only those that supported his hypothesis, and he ignored others. She writes there were other problems with the study as well:
Due to difficulties in collecting accurate nutrition data, Keys ended up sampling the diets of fewer than 500 men, far from a statistically significant sample. And the study's star subjects — men on the Greek island of Crete who tilled their fields well into old age and appeared to eat very little meat or cheese — turned out to have been partly sampled during Lent, when the study subjects were foregoing meat and cheese. This must have led Keys to undercount their saturated-fat consumption. These flaws weren't revealed until much later. By then, the misimpression left by the erroneous data had become international dogma.3

2. One man's push led to accepted dogma

The second factor that led to the widespread acceptance of Keys views was a combination of good timing and Keys' dominant personality. Teicholz reports:
He found a receptive audience for his "diet-heart hypothesis" among public-health experts who faced a growing emergency: heart disease, a relative rarity three decades earlier, had skyrocketed to be a leading cause of death. Keys managed to implant his idea into the American Heart Association and, in 1961, the group published the first-ever guidelines calling for Americans to cut back on saturated fats, as the best way to fight heart disease. The US government adopted this view in 1977 and the rest of the world followed.4
Once the idea became ingrained, it became a foregone conclusion.
There were subsequent trials, of course. In the 1970s, half a dozen important experiments pitted a diet high in vegetable oil — usually corn or soybean, but not olive oil — against one with more animal fats. But these trials had serious methodological problems: some didn't control for smoking, for instance, or allowed men to wander in and out of the research group over the course of the experiment. The results were unreliable at best…

When Ronald M Krauss decided, in 2000, to review all the evidence purporting to show that saturated fats cause heart disease, he knew that he was putting his professional career at risk. Krauss is one of the top nutrition experts in the United States, director of atherosclerosis research at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute and adjunct professor of nutritional studies at the University of San Francisco at Berkley. But challenging one of his field's most sacrosanct beliefs was a near-heretical act.

Challenging any of the conventional wisdom on dietary fat has long been a form of professional suicide for nutrition experts. And saturated fats, especially, are the third rail.

3. The power of intimidation affects consensus

Finally, Teicholz states that Keys himself was not as interested in advancing the science as he was in keeping his findings in the center of belief. He would belittle and mock those who would oppose his theory:
Keys aggressively criticised these observations, which were like missiles aimed at the very heart of his theory… In response to a prominent Texas A&M University professor who wrote a critique of Keys, he said that the paper "reminds one of the distorting mirrors in the hall of jokes at the county fair".

Rolling over the opposition by sheer force of will was typical of Keys and his acolytes in defending their saturated-fat hypothesis. Keys was "tough and ruthless and would argue any point", Oliver, a prominent opponent, said. Since Keys's allies controlled so many top government health posts, critics were denied research grants and key posts on expert panels. As retribution for defending the healthiness of eggs, despite their cholesterol content, Oliver was publicly branded by two of Keys's main allies as a "notorious type" and a "scoundrel" because "he opposed us on everything".

In the end, Keys and his colleagues prevailed. Despite contrary observations from India to the Arctic, too much institutional energy and research money had already been spent trying to prove Keys's hypothesis. The bias in its favour had grown so strong that the idea just started to seem like common sense.5
The parallels between this and modern paradigms like global climate change or neo-Darwinian synthesis are striking. Each was formed at the right time by those looking to dismiss a creator or in a time of significant environmental sensitivity. Each has had high-profile proponents. Each has claimed the scientific high ground to the degree that any deviation from the accepted consensus would be mocked and belittled, and considered professional suicide.

Many good scientists would speak authoritatively on the saturated fat-heart disease link, even today. However, the consumer needs to be more dubious of any connection between the two. While many Keys's critics gained some clout by having a well-respected journal (the Lancet and the British Medical Journal) willing to publish their work, and thus began to crack the saturated fat myth, one wonders how long it would have persisted if the British medical professionals had not investigated the claims.

The tale of saturated fat and Ancel Keys should serve as a warning to those who claim that "consensus" and "accepted science" are good enough to keep scientific claims from being questioned. They show exactly the opposite. After all, scientists are people, and people are prone to be biased. So, don't accept the tale that science is above reproach. It can be a flawed belief system, too.


1. Teicholz, Nina. "The Science of Saturated Fat: A Big Fat Surprise about Nutrition?" The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 26 Aug. 2014. Web. 28 Aug. 2014.
2. Teicholz, ibid.
3. Teicholz, ibid.
4. Teicholz, ibid.
5. Teicholz, ibid.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Scientism tries to Turn Man into a Monkey

Many Christians are familiar with the classic book The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. For those of you who aren't, it's an allegory of growing in Christian faith where the protagonist named Christian meets some friends (such as Evangelist and Faithful) as well as many unsavory characters like Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Hypocrisy, and Talkative in his walk down the narrow path. While Bunyan wrote in the mid 1600's,the book is amazingly poignant for today.

One particularly striking section dealt with a character named Shame. Christian's friend Faithful recounts to him Shame's accusations against believers. Specifically, Shame claims the religious are basically weak-minded individuals, not living in the real world. He goes on to point out how successful and intelligent people don't believe in such things and how believing in Christianity forces one to ignore the scientific advancements and knowledge of the day. "He moreover objected to the base and low estate and condition of those who were chiefly the pilgrims of the times in which they lived; also in their want of understanding in the natural sciences." 1 So, Shame accuses the Christians of being willfully ignorant. Ignoring what he holds to be the true knowledge of science, Shame charges Christian with substituting the crutch of religion to salve his wounds.

Our Popular Conception of Science

Today, we are even more apt to hear such objections to believing the biblical message. This is in large part due to the over-emphasized view science is given in our modern culture. Science is understood in today's world to be the only reliable source of truth. One has only to look at the advertisements we use to sell products to see how much we esteem the concept of scientific veracity. If you really want to make your case for the potency of a product, just have your spokesman wear a white lab coat, begin his name with Dr., or explain how "tests have shown" the item to be more effective. If science has shown something to be true, then it must be true. And if there is a conflict between beliefs and what science has shown, then most people will assume that it is our beliefs that are in error, not science.

These assumptions are unfortunate, but not altogether unsurprising. As I've said before, science has helped humanity in incredible ways. Our lifespan have been extended by decades, we can modify our environment if we're too hot or too cold, and technology has made our daily chores easier. Our learning has also increased exponentially; we better understand the way the world works, we can predict certain phenomena and we've even visited the moon! So with all science has proven it can do, how could it not be real way to know truth?

Scientism's Claim to Truth

There are two problems we run into when discussing science and the way we know things to be true. The more egregious error is the one the easier to identify and argue against. That is the belief that only things that are scientifically verifiable are truly knowable and everything else is opinion and conjecture. This view is known a Scientism, and has had proponents such as Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking and the late evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould. Noted skeptic Michael Shermer defined Scientism as "a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural or paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an age of science." 2

The proponents of Scientism hold that "only things that are scientifically verifiable are truly knowable", is a true and knowable statement. However, that statement is itself unverifiable scientifically. One cannot construct a hypothesis to test for the statement's veracity. There's no way to go into a laboratory and run this idea through a battery of tests to see whether it can be falsified. Scientism, by setting a standard that cannot itself meets, undercuts its own existence. It becomes what we call a self-refuting statement. Because it does so, Scientism should rightfully be rejected as illogical.

Who Chooses the Standard of Comparison?

The main problem with our popular view of science, though, is more subtle and it therefore takes more care to identify. Because science has taken such a high role in our society, statements that are couched in a scientific approach are thought to hold more weight than other types of assertions. However, many who are purporting to advance a scientific view are really making philosophic statements - and they're making a lot of assumptions along the way.

A good example of this is one that Christian philosopher Francis J. Beckwith related to me at dinner one evening. He told of how he had become engaged in a discussion on origins through an Internet bulletin board whose members were primarily biologists and other scientists. One member was asserting the fact of evolution by noting how science has shown human DNA and chimpanzee DNA to be 98% identical. The biologist then concluded that this proves humans and chimps share an evolutionary ancestor.

Dr. Beckwith countered this claim by asking a simple question: Why do you choose genetics be your basis of comparison? It seems an arbitrary choice. Why not any other field of science, say quantum mechanics? Dr. Beckwith went on to explain that if you examine humans and chimpanzees at the quantum level, why then we're 100% identical! Our atoms move and act in exactly the same way as the atoms of the chimp! Of course, human atoms and the atoms of the table where I'm writing this also act identically. How about if we examine each via physics? Again, we're identical: each species will remain in motion unless enacted upon by an outside force, for example.

The scientists had a very difficult time understanding Dr. Beckwith's point, but it was simply this: one cannot start with science to understand the world. Science relies on certain philosophical rules in order to work at all. What was happening is the biologist was making philosophical assumptions and then using science to try and support them. The assumption in the claim above is that all life can be reduced to its genetic make-up, and everything you need to know about any living thing can be deduced from its DNA. It's this assumption that's flawed. It doesn't follow that if humans share 98% of their DNA with chimps that evolution is therefore a fact. But the scientists today aren't trained in logic or philosophy, so they have a lot of difficulty understanding that they are making flawed philosophical arguments and packing them in scientific facts.


1. Bunyan, John The Pilgrim's Progress
Baker Book house, Grand Rapids, MI 1984 p.89
. Shermer, Michael "The Shamans of Scientism" Scientific American June 2002
Accessed online at:

Friday, July 25, 2014

Do Airplanes Evolve? Only If Evolution Encompasses a Designer

Evolution is a topic that seems to always be accompanied by assertion and conjecture. Yesterday, the Christian Science Monitor highlighted a recent scientific journal article that compares the history of passenger airplane development with the evolution of birds.1 The abstract from the journal article begins, "The prevailing view is that we cannot witness biological evolution because it occurred on a time scale immensely greater than our lifetime. Here, we show that we can witness evolution in our lifetime by watching the evolution of the flying human-and-machine species: the airplane."2 The paper concludes with "The legacy of all flow systems (animate and inanimate) is this: they have moved mass (they have "mixed" the Earth's crust) more because of design evolution than in the absence of design evolution."3

While I don't doubt that passenger airplane design and development follow the authors' well-argued pattern of larger bodies and similar structures, the claim that this somehow allows an observer to "see" evolution as one would desire to see birds evolve shows just how loosely the term is applied even within the academic community. It comes as no surprise to anyone that the change airplanes experience are a result of intelligent designers who are constantly testing designs to select the changes that would make the vehicle more efficient and functional. These changes are not random mutations in a genome, but thoughtful extrapolations enacted with purpose.

If I were to say that birds evolved the way airplanes do, becoming more efficient because of design changes that were thoughtful extrapolations enacted with purpose, that would be a good definition of intelligent design. Darwinists would have a fit if I were to define evolution in this way, for the goal of evolution is to explain diversity and complexity without a designer.

I believe studies like this may be interesting and useful, but they tell us nothing about neo-Darwinian theory. The problem is that the evolution is famously understood as a wiggle-word as David Klinghoffer has documented. It can mean anything from change over time to natural selections acting on random mutations to all living organisms descending from a common ancestor.4

It seems that the authors of this article have taken the meaning of evolution in one its broadest senses. They define the term when commenting on the image provided above:
Yes, we should care because bird's-eye-views such as Fig. 1 open everybody's eyes to the natural phenomenon called "evolution." Evolution means a flow organization (design) that changes over time. In biology, evolution is largely a mental construct built on imagination, because the time scale of animal evolution is immense relative to the time available to us for observations. We cannot witness animal evolution, and this places the biology argument for evolution at a disadvantage. It would be useful to have access to the evolution of one species in real time.

Looking at Fig. 1 satisfies precisely this need.5
You can see how subtly the authors try to apply the changes in airplane design to biological evolution, but such application is without merit, for they never discuss the mechanism of the change within the biological counterpart to the airplane. Who are these designers that are coming up with new bird body types? The assumption seems to be, well I'm actually not sure what it proves. Things change. Humans improve designs because they want their efforts to be efficient and rewarding, both financially and emotionally. But if passenger airplane designs satisfy the need to see evolution in action, then the intelligent design community offers a better explanation of the diversity of bird types than the neo-Darwinian model ever will.


1. Lewis, Tayna. "Airplane designs evolve like flying animals do, say scientists" The Christian Science Monitor. 23 July 2014. Web.
2. Bejan A., J. D. Charles and S. Lorente. "The evolution of airplanes." J. Appl. Phys. 116, 044901 (2014); Web. 25 July 2014.
3. Ibid.
4. Klinghoffer, David. "The Eight Meanings of ‘Evolution’." Evolution News and Views. Web. 26 Aug 2011.
5. Bejan, 2014.

Image credit: J. Appl. Phys. 116, 044901 (2014);

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Your Mind is Not Your Brain

Historically, Christianity has taught that human beings are creatures made up of two fundamental kinds of "stuff"—body and soul. We are physical creatures, interacting with the world around us, and we are spiritual creatures who can interact meaningfully with God and with one another. However, there is a trend today that dismisses the spiritual side of humanity and seeks to only affirm the physical aspects of our existence. Atheists, scientists, and others claim that we are only our bodies. There is no such thing as a soul. All of who we are may be explained in terms of scientific understanding. There is a big problem with this view, though. There are certain aspects of the human condition that simply cannot be explained in physicalist term, such as the attributes of the mind.

In order to better understand the problem, I'd like to look at the attributes of the mind. Whenever on seeks to classify a certain thing, it is the attributes of that thing that help us in so doing. For example, when British naturalist began to explore Australia, the discovery of the platypus gave them fits! Here was an animal, kind of shaped like a beaver with a bill and webbed feet of a duck. Further, the creature laid leathery eggs and produced venom like a reptile. How would one classify such an animal? It is because the platypus was warm blooded, covered in hair (not feathers or scales), and nursed its young that naturalists listed the animal as a mammal. The attributes of the animal help us categorize it.

Similarly, there are specific attributes of the mind which clearly demonstrate that the mind cannot be reduced to brain activity. Brain activity is electro-chemical and can be described using physical nomenclature. For example, if their instruments are sensitive enough, one could measure the amount of dopamine present in the brain or tell if certain neurons were firing at x point in time. But as Daniel N. Robinson has succinctly noted, "One who spoke of pounds of thought or volts of memory would be considered not a native speaker! Equally bizarre, at least in the area of common sense and ordinary judgments are the claims to the effect that brain tissue makes moral judgments and wishes nothing but happiness for the bride and groom."1

Here are at least five attributes of the mind that can in no way be explained in physical terms:

  1. Thoughts - Thoughts are one of the most basic elements of the mind. A thought is any idea that can be expressed in the form of a sentence. I can ask you to think about pink elephants right now and you can picture a pink elephant in your head.
  2. Beliefs – Beliefs are different from thoughts. Beliefs carry a truth value to them. If I believe that the Los Angeles kings will win a third Stanley Cup championship, then I hold the statement to be true. I currently believe that I am sitting in front of my computer right now typing this blog post. Such a belief is not hard to hold. However, I also believe that the memories I have of yesterday are true. That belief is harder to prove.
  3. Intentions – Intentions are mental events that are usually tied to some action or event. I can intend to raise my hand and my hand will rise. My intention caused m hand to go up. However, intentions are not the same thing as the action. People who suffer from Tourette's syndrome move parts of their body without intending to do so. Also, I may have intentions without being able to execute them. If my hand is tied down, I will not be able to move it, even though I'm intending to do so.
  4. Desires – Desire are primarily natural inclinations that one experiences. Hunger is the desire to eat food. Desires can produce thoughts or intentions, but they are different. They sometimes have a biological basis, but not always. One can have the desire to solve a particularly pressing math problem for example.
  5. Sensations – Sensations are how our minds comprehend sensory input from our bodies. While our ears can translate sound waves into electrical signals and send them to our brains, only our mind can have the experience that the sound is pleasing or annoying. Feeling pain or heat happen at the mental level. Even seeing the color red, one has an experience of "redness." Red has a certain quality to it that green doesn't and one cannot explain such qualities by talking about wavelengths of light any more than one cannot warn a two-year-old about burning her hand on a hot oven with talk of high energy molecules.
All of these attributes above are real and each of us has experienced them. You have had thoughts, beliefs, intentions, desires, and sensations. These things are real and, as J.P. Moreland states, they are "puzzling entities that cry out for an explanation."2 Even atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel states that mental events need to be explained Nagel holds 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"3 and the mind is one of those. He later writes that "the physical sciences will enable us to understand the irreducibly subjective centers of consciousness that are such a conspicuous part of the world."4

Tomorrow, we will look more closely at why physicalist explanations of the mind fail. But for now, it is important to realize that your mind is not your brain. It is something with different attributes, which means it falls into a separate category: the category of the soul.


1. Robinson, Daniel N. "Neuroscience and the Soul." Philosophia Christi Issue 15:1, Winter 2013.
(La Mirada, CA: The Evangelical Philosophical Society, 2013.) 13.
2. Moreland, J.P. The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism.
(London: SCM Press, 2009). 24.
3. Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Neo-Darwinian Conception of the World is Almost Certainly False.
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.) 7.
4. Ibid. 42.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Evidence of Life's Design Fits Like a Glove

I recently wrote a post on how the origin of life argues for God's existence. In the comments section, one person replied, "I wouldn't say intelligent design is 'a priori' forbidden, but I would look for the design. Is there a map, or some kind of blueprint? Is there some kind of scaffolding left over from the construction phase? These are things we're actually looking for." Well, scaffolding doesn't continue to exist even on buildings we construct today, so that may not be the best indicator. However, other indicators of design do exist, and one points clearly to the need for a designer.

Most people realize the importance of proteins to life. Proteins make up muscle and tissue of organisms. They even form even the walls of cells, including single-celled organisms. Without proteins, life simply cannot exist. There are many different proteins, however all proteins are built with the use of only about twenty smaller units, known as amino acids.

Amino acids are interesting molecules, in that they are not all shaped the same way, even when they have all the same chemicals. They are known as chiral molecules, which means their structures have direction. One illustration that is often used is to look at your left and right hands. Even though each of your hands has four fingers and a thumb, they aren't the same. A left hand won't fit into a right-hand glove. Amino acids are like your hands; they have a "handedness" to their shape.

The Origin of Life Flips Heads Thousands of Times

Chiral amino acids tend to occur naturally in equal numbers. Just as one would expect to find about as many left hands as right hands in any random sample, nature produces an equal number of "left-handed" and "right handed" amino acid types. The left-handed and right handed versions of these amino acids have the same chemical properties, but here's the interesting thing; only left-handed (levorotatory) amino acids are the ones used to build the proteins needed for life. This means that under random conditions, you have about a 50% chance of a left-handed acid being used in the construction of a protein as well as about a 50% chance of a right-handed acid being used. Each will bond equally well to the backbone. Yet, if you were to mix these acids, you're going to do grave damage to the protein.

 Life requires all the same-handed amino acids to be chosen, but to assume that such a feat was accomplished thousands of times without someone screening out the right-handed acids stretches credulity to its limit. According to this podcast with bio-chemist Dr. Charles Garner, scientist working in laboratory conditions haven't even been able to come close to any model where such an event would happen. Just as any coin that consistently turns up heads would be evidence of tampering, so too does the same-handedness of amino acids.

DNA and RNA - The Other Glove Drops

Some may at this point argue that it is because of DNA or RNA that the left-handed acids are chosen for building proteins. But DNA and RNA have the same issues themselves. The nucleotide chains that make up these molecules are all right-handed! So if one were to start with a nucleic acid to build proteins, it still requires a model of selecting only right handed acids, even though there's a 50/50 chance of getting a left-handed one there. The problem still exists, and it is possibly made worse given the simplest life forms require some hundreds of thousands of base-pairs within the genome.

In all, we have only right-handed nucleotides able to give the instructions for forming proteins and only left-handed amino acids to be used in creating those proteins. Yet all of this was to have happened through mechanical processes with no intelligence involved. In any other field of study, such evidence would be clearly identified as purposeful organization. There is no reason to not count it so here, too.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Understanding Intelligent Design

One of the hot-button issues Christians face today is the conflict over evolution. Proponents of a naturalist/materialist worldview have sought to explain all of life's origin and complexity in purely mechanistic terms. Christians believe that life originates with God and the laws He put in place. Because of this, the argument has been framed as a one of science versus religion, but that dichotomy is a false one. Religion doesn't sit in contrast to science and evolution has many unexplained precepts that are assumed to be true.

There is another way of looking at the question, though. We can simply look at the data we do have and ask "is life more likely to be the result of only mechanistic processes, or does it show the earmarks of an intelligence?" This isn't a religious question; whenever forensic investigators discover a body, it is the question they ask. Does the evidence show that the person died of natural causes or was there an intelligence who set things in a certain order to cause the person's death? If the answer is there seems to be an intelligence at work, then the death is classified as a homicide, even if no one know who the killer was.

Similarly, if we look at the evidence for origin and complexity of life on earth and see signs of an intelligence, it makes sense to conclude that life was intelligently designed, even if that investigation doesn't identify who the designer is. This is the basis of intelligent design and it is what separates ID as a theory from a religious belief.

A couple of years ago, some students wished to interview me for a project they were working on concerning the theory of intelligent design. I thought they asked pretty good questions that help to clarify just what intelligent design is and why it is worthy of inclusion in science education, so I thought I'd share them here.

1. Do you consider intelligent design a scientific theory? Why or why not?

Yes, in a broad sense. Scientific theories try to discover and explain why we see the material world the way it is, how it functions and what predictions can be made based on that knowledge. Intelligent design wrestles with those same questions starting with the same evidence.

A very famous proponent of evolution, Dr. Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, had published his theory on how evolution is the driving force behind the complexity we see in living organisms today in a book called The Blind Watchmaker. Given the same initial starting point, intelligent design proponents argue that the blind watchmaker hypothesis has many problems and intelligent design offers better explanatory value and broader explanatory scope than Dawkins’ model.

Given that both theories are seeking to answer the same questions and they are looking at the same evidence, it stands to reason that both can be classified as the same field of study. If Dawkins’ evolutionary model is considered science, so should ID. ID does not need to identify what that intelligence is (e.g. a specific "god" of any faith), but much like forensic science, it simply posits that the evidence is best explained originating from an intelligence rather than random, purposeless mutations and natural selection.

A similar example would be the scientists who are involved with the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence project. These scientists search the heavens looking for information rich, complex signals. If they were to hear such a signal, they would posit that it was generated from an intelligent mind. Similarly, ID scientist look at the information rich, complex structure of human DNA and draw the same conclusion. If the SETI researchers are considered scientists and their pursuits are science, then it follows that the ID scientists are similarly doing science.

2. What is your definition of intelligent design? In other words, what do you understand it to mean?

Intelligent design simply looks at the state of living organisms on our world today and, given the fact that life shows specified complexity, holds information-bearing DNA, and the improbability of life coming from non-living matter, concludes that an intelligence is the best explanation for the origin of that life.

The intelligent design movement may include young-earth proponents, old-earth proponents and theistic evolutionists, but it does not argue for any of these positions. It merely states that intelligence rather than randomness is the best explanation for the origin of the universe and complexity we see in life.

3. The Golden Ratio (Phi) has often been cited as evidence of intelligent design. Do you believe this is valid evidence? Why or why not?

No. It would not be uncommon to see certain mathematical ratios repeated throughout a three dimensional universe that share the same physical laws. This "evidence" is not associated with the intelligent design movement, but is offered by only one subset of creation proponents. It is therefore unfair to associate this line of argumentation with all of the ID movement.

4. Should intelligent design be integrated into biology curriculums at schools? Why or why not?

Part of the nature of science is to better our understanding of the world by examining currently held beliefs in the light of new evidence and new theories. We may hold to a theory that has widespread acceptance (such as the infinite age of the universe) until we uncover new evidence (such as Hubbell’s red-shift) which argues for the universe having a beginning. At that point, it is in the best interests of science to jettison the theory that provides less explanatory values and smaller explanatory scope for a more robust one.

The ONLY way science can advance is by examining competing theories in this way. Given that the blind watchmaker hypothesis has some clear problems explaining certain facets of biology, such as the specific nature of DNA, the creation of life from non-living matter and the observation of irreducibly complex mechanisms within living organisms, it cannot be considered a complete theory and other ideas should be sought out. We may find new evidence to further secure the current hypothesis OR we may find new evidence to disprove it and adopt a model such as intelligent design. However, to not teach the valid objections to evolution that ID proponents have raised does science no service and actually will hinder our growth in understanding of biology.

   4a. Is it supported by valid scientific evidence?

ID scientists are real scientists and their objections to the blind watchmaker hypothesis have been found through valid scientific research. Some examples are:
  • The fact that amino acids which make up the building blocks of life have chirality (handedness). Although they appear in nature in equal proportions, those found in life are left-handed. Random bonds in the "primordial soup" would not generate all bonds of a single handed set of amino acids.
  • Evolution argues that natural selection leaves only those changes that provide beneficial to the organism and these changes happen in small, successive steps. However, the recent recognition of irreducibly complex systems (such as the flagellum, of an e. Coli bacterium, which requires over seventy different molecular parts) that have to be present all at the same time argue against such small successive steps.

5. What are your views on evolution? Is it credible scientific theory?

It depends. The word has been over-used and normally is not clearly defined.  Micro-evolution, the idea that with a species adaptations occur within specific limitations (such as the length of finch beaks, the color of moths, or the height of dogs) is widely accepted and uncontroversial. That is credible. That makes sense.

Macro-evolution, however, doesn’t deal with the evolution of a species within itself, but rather the evolution of one family turning into another completely different family (i.e. a fish evolving into a reptile). The DNA required to produce a feather is different from the DNA required to produce a scale, and since DNA is a message system containing information, one should not assume that such information arose by chance. By its very nature, information is not random, but purposeful.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Without God, How Can One Explain the Origin of Life?

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk on the origin of life and how it is providing incredibly serious problems for naturalists who seek to eliminate God from the scene. Modern biology has discovered quite a bit about the cell and its complexity, but in so discovering, they have also created quite a conundrum for themselves. How do you get any kind of life, with its requisite DNA code that carries the instructions for how things work operating together with the proteins that carry out the work? David Berlinski, who classifies himself as an agnostic, puts the problem in clear terms. He first identifies the different functions that go into creating proteins in the cell.1:
Replication duplicates the genetic message in DNA.
Transcription copies the genetic message from DNA to RNA.
Translation conveys the genetic message from RNA to the amino acids—whereupon in a fourth and final step, the amino acids are assembled into proteins.
None of the above is controversial. Biologists know that proteins are the things that do all the work of life. The description of DNA to RNA to amino acids to proteins is simple and directional. But Berlinski then notes that when we are talking about the origin of life, the description is reversed. In order to get a replication process, one must have proteins already. In fact, the famous Miller-Urey experiment sought to show that amino acids, not DNA chains, could be produced using natural processes. They were assuming that with amino acids, one can begin the replication process. Berlinski then makes an astute observation:
If nucleic acids are the cell's administrators, the proteins are its chemical executives: both the staff and stuff of life. The molecular arrow goes one way with respect to information, but it goes the other way with respect to chemistry.

Replication, transcription, and translation represent the grand unfolding of the central dogma as it proceeds in one direction. The chemical activities initiated by the enzymes represent the grand unfolding of the central dogma as it goes in the other. Within the cell, the two halves of the central dogma combine to reveal a system of coded chemistry, an exquisitely intricate but remarkably coherent temporal tableau suggesting a great army in action.

From these considerations a familiar figure now emerges: the figure of a chicken and its egg. Replication, transcription, and translation are all under the control of various enzymes, but enzymes are proteins, and these particular proteins are specified by the cell s nucleic acids, DNA requires the enzymes in order to undertake the work of replication, transcription, and translation and the enzymes require DNA in order to initiate it. The nucleic acids and the proteins are thus profoundly coordinated, each depending upon the other. Without amino-acyl-tRNA synthetase, there is no translation from RNA; but without DNA, there is no amino-acyl-tRNA synthetase.

On the level of intuition and experience, these facts suggest nothing more mysterious than the longstanding truism that life comes only from life. Omnia viva ex vivo, as Latin writers said. It is only when they are embedded in various theories about the origins of life that the facts engender a paradox, or at least a question: in the receding molecular spiral, which came first—the chicken in the form of DNA, or its egg in the form of various proteins? And if neither came first, how could life have begun?2 (Emphases in the original.)


1. Berlinski, David. “on the Origin of Life.” The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science. Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski, Eds. (Wilmington DE: ISI Books, 2012). 280.
2. Ibid. 281.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Evolution's Problem of Plagiarism

The name Jayson Blair sends shivers down the spine of editors in the New York Times. It isn't that Jayson was some mass-murderer or terrorist that makes the editorial staff of the nation's largest newspaper tremble. It was the fact that Jayson Blair was a Times reporter who plagiarized stories and then the Times published them. Macarena Hernandez, a reporter from the Antonio Express-News first contacted the Times and said that Blair's story had copied “major chunks” of her story and passed them off as his own. Jayson Blair resigned and is considered to be disgraced as a journalist for stealing other people's work.

The crime of plagiarism isn't only found in the written word though. Musical acts have been accused of stealing a melody or a hook from another artist. Graphic designers will copy from well-known pieces. Students will plagiarize from the Internet to get their homework assignments finished. In each medium, the plagiarized content is identified by comparing the new work to the original. If there are enough points of similarity, then one can assume that the work in question is a derivative of the original, that is the original creation was used a second time without crediting the original author. It also implies that without Hernandez's article in the Antonio Express-News, Blair's New York Times piece would read radically different than it did.

The reason I bring all this up is that when we look at the claims of the neo-Darwinists, they face a problem very similar to that of the editors of the Times. The current Darwinian model holds to a form of common descent, where all species diverged and differentiated from a very simple single ancestor millions and millions of years in the past. As the progeny of that ancestor experienced genetic mutations, some proved beneficial within the specific environment in which they found themselves and thus became more prominent. So, the Darwinian model seeks to explain the diversity of biological systems such as why some animals have gills, fins, and scales while others have lungs, wings, and feathers. Different created systems came to be through different avenues.

Because the mutations are random and the environment that bestows that mutation an advantage is different, so the story goes, the variations can be incredibly diverse. In fact, those two features are why paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould remarked that any replay of the tape of evolutionary development “would lead evolution down a pathway radically different from the one taken.” But there's problem with this picture: we don't see radical divergence in all biological structures. There are structures, such as the eye, that have the same components in animals as diverse as mammals, octopi, and jellyfish, even though those branches were supposed to have split from one another well before the animal's sight apparatus evolved.

Jonathan Morrow, writing for the Discovery Institute, gives one great example of this type of duplication in the echolocation chemistry of dolphins and porpoises, an ability they share with the bat. The aquatic mammals and the bats share at least 14 amino acid sites that are needed for echolocation. That's fourteen points of similarity on a molecular level, even though these lines would have split when their ancestors were ground-dwellers, long before echolocation became an advantage for them. Morrow goes on to list other examples, but the point is made: how does one account for such similarities when evolution can take so many divergent paths? One may wave off one or two instances, but as more and more of these convergent evolutionary systems are being discovered, it becomes harder to ignore.

With all of the data showing independent, complex systems having multiple points of similarity, what should we conclude? It would be unreasonable to think that so many systems were developed independently over and over and over again just as it is unlikely that Jayson Blair just happened to have the same thoughts and phrasing in his story as Macarena Hernandez. No, it is much more reasonable to conclude that there is a single creative source for this kind of repeating structure across divergent lines.

The simple story of evolution suffers from acts of plagiarism, and as such it simply doesn't ring true.
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