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John Lennox interviewed by CPX

The Centre for Public Christianity has some interviews with Professor John Lennox, a distinguished Christian thinker and author. Lennox has recently debated both Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. He is a professor in Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green College, at the University of Oxford (HT: Justin Taylor).


Other videos worth watching:

The evils of Christendom.

The evidence for God and the explanatory scope of science.

Science and faith, and the credibility of the Bible.

Answering Objections to 'The Argument from Evolution' Part 2

…continued from Answering Objections to ‘The Argument from Evolution’ Part 1

(4) illegitimate use of probability calculations in evolutionary models

“Creationists certainly love big numbers – especially when they inappropriately use them to prove evolution ‘improbable.’ Of course, to do this they must set up a straw man – their liem [sic] that evolutionary changes result from chance!”

Who now is distorting my words? A careful reading of the article would show that I did not state or imply that evolutionary changes were a result of chance alone. Indeed I was careful not to set up this kind of straw man. All these highly unlikely calculations apply to the chemical origin of life (or proteins, etc), that naturalism or atheistic-evolutionism is committed to.

Natural Selection cannot be a contributing factor in the origin of life scenario. Before natural selection can operate there needs to be an entity that is capable of self-replication. Natural Selection presupposes the existence of two or more distinct types of self-replicating, self-maintaining, complex, open systems which can then compete for the resources of their environment.5  “Prebiological natural selection is a contradiction in terms.”6 

The bigger question being raised here though is how are these big numbers arrived at? 

The second law of thermodynamics is not some vague idea that entropy increases with time in a closed system. It is a precise theorem expressed with mathematical formulae. As such, system energy can be quantified statistically and entropy measured with probability calculations. High entropy corresponds to high probability, and low entropy corresponds to low probability. A random arrangement is characterised by high entropy and so is more probable than a highly ordered arrangement which is energy-rich. Highly ordered macromolecules such as DNA and protein are vastly more improbable then their antecedents amino acids or heterocyclic bases, thus their arrangement can be calculated. 

But its even worse for the atheistic-evolutionist. Order is not enough. What is needed is specified complexity. This is the essential ingredient for a systems replication. A crystals information content can be compared to a book repeating the word “SALT, SALT, SALT…” over and over. A polypepties information content can be compared to a book full of random letters, “AGBDCBFE GBCAFED ACEDFBG.” The information content of a complex and specified arrangement can be compared to a sentence just like this one. The DNA of a human is often compared to several libraries worth of this type of detailed instruction.

In short, complexity is the long sequence that itself is highly improbable in its formation. Specificity is the result of the sequence conforming to an independently given pattern. The arrangement in a protein is not just random – it means something.

“It would be quite impossible to produce a correspondingly simple set of instructions that would enable a chemist to synthesize the DNA of an E. coli bacterium. In this case the sequence matters. Only by specifying the sequence letter-by-letter (about 4,000,000 instructions) could we tell a chemist what to make. Our instructions would occupy not a few short sentences, but a large book instead!”7

On thermodynamics the probability of the formation of this sort of information, where the sequence matters, can also be calculated. Hubert Yockey, Robert Sauer, Peter Rüst, Paul Erbrich, Siegfried Scherer and Douglas Axe are all people who are doing this (though that does not mean they are proponents of ID).

What has to be considered is not only the thermal and chemical entropy, but the additional component of configurational entropy (“coding” work) with the “sorting and selecting” work.

 

(5) The illegitimate use of the second law of thermodynamics;

Even if the second law of thermodynamics is used illegitimately, that in no way effects the four other points that speak against ‘The problem with soup’ section  on the chemical origin of life. 

“As a chemist I feel offended when creationists take a thermodynamic law which applies to a closed system and dishonestly apply it to part of an open system. . . The earth, where life evolved, is not a closed or isolated system.”

But is the use of the second law of thermodynamics used illegitimately?

Your objection is based around the idea that the earth is an open system. This wave-of-the-hand dismissal is a poor refutation.

“A mere appeal to open system thermodynamics does little good. What must be done is to advance a workable theoretical model of how the available energy can be coupled to do the required work.”8

An open system offers a possibility of ordering, but supplying raw energy and raw material alone is not enough to produce specified complexity. There still needs to be a mechanism that harness that energy, and another mechanism that makes pre-biopolymers non-trivial (specified). That is why I say, “Still raw energy alone cannot bring order or information out of random chaos. Some sort of blueprint or plan is needed and that requires an intelligence.”9 It can be likened to an combustion engine. The engine uses the energy provided by petroleum fuel and converts it into carbon-dioxide and water, to produce torque in the wheels. The engine acts as a coupling mechanism between the energy required for function and the raw energy supplied. 

A purely naturalistic evolutionary model uses the coupling mechanism called “chance” for the “coding” work. Energy flow through the system, it is assumed, is capable to account for the chemical and thermal entropy work. The configurational entropy work of both selecting and coding is the fortuitous product of chance.

Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen outline their equations for the work required to synthesis a protein containing 101 amino acids. They find the probability of producing one protein of 101 amino acids in five billion years is only 1/ 1045. 10 They conclude:

“It is apparent that “chance” should be abandoned as an acceptable model for coding of the macromolecules essential in living systems. In fact, it has been, except in introductory texts and popularizations.”11

(6) that improbability calculations should apply to creation models

“The irony is that while the small steps in natural selection have a high probability the huge creation step doesn’t. The numbers given by Thinking Matters really should be applied to the acts of special creation required by their ideas…”

This concept that you espouse is undeveloped, insofar as you have not stated why it must be so. (6i) It seems you are presupposing a methodological naturalism, in which case I agree it would be highly improbable. But limiting the pool of options to naturalistic ones only shows a ‘closed mind’ and the restriction of sciences faculties to explain concepts like specified complexity. (6ii) In any case, I think you are confusing probability with plausibility. While something can be improbable due to its rarity of occurrence, it may be entirely plausible due the six assessment criteria for scientific models stated in the article “The Argument from Evolution” in section 4) The problem with science. Positing a transcendent intelligence in a creation model is superior to the purely naturalistic alternative in that it has more explanatory power, explanatory scope, outstrips rival theories, etc.

To head off the criticism that science must only posit naturalistic phenomena in its explanations, and that putting “God-in-the-gaps” is a hindrance to science, I will say that with our current scientific knowledge it is at least more rational to assert an intelligent designer than adopt a provisional agnosticism-in-the-gaps. If the criticisms raised against naturalistic evolutionary models are increasing the scientist is advised to abandon pure naturalism in the face of the explanations overwhelming lack of comparative superiority. 

“One characteristic feature of the . . . critique needs to be emphasized. We have not simply picked out a number of details within chemical evolution theory that are weak, or without adequate explanation for the moment. For the most part this critique is based on crucial weaknesses intrinsic to the theory itself. Often it is contended that criticism focuses on present ignorance. “Give us more time to solve the problems,” is the plea. After all, the pursuit of abiogenesis [the origin of life from nonlife] is young as a scientific enterprise. It will be claimed that many of these problems are mere state-of-the-art gaps. And, surely, some of them are. Notice, however, that the sharp edge of this critique is not what we do not know, but what we do know. Many facts have come to light in the past three decades of experimental inquiry into life’s beginning. With each passing year the criticism has gotten stronger. The advance of science itself is what is challenging the notion that life arose on earth by spontaneous (in a thermodynamic sense) chemical reactions.”12

That about wraps up my criticisms of your objections.

 

Footnotes:

5. Ludwig von Bertalanffy, 1967. Robots, Men and Minds. New York: George Braziller, p.82.

6. T. Dobzhansky, 1965. In The Origins of Prebiological Systems and of Their Molecular Matrices, p.310.

7. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mysteries of Lifes Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, (New York, Philosophical Library, 1984), (http://ldolphin.org/mystery/chapt8.html; retrieved 24 October, 2008).

8. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mysteries of Lifes Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, (New York, Philosophical Library, 1984), (http://ldolphin.org/mystery/chapt9.html; retrieved 24 October, 2008).

9. Stuart McEwing, ‘Argument from Evolution,’ (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2008/the-argument-from-evolution/; retrieved 25 October, 2008)

10. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mysteries of Lifes Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, (New York, Philosophical Library, 1984), (http://ldolphin.org/mystery/chapt9.html; retrieved 24 October, 2008).

11. Ibid.

12. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mysteries of Lifes Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, (New York, Philosophical Library, 1984), p. 125.

Answering Objections to 'The Argument from Evolution' Part 1

Hello Ken, 

I am the author of the article “Argument from Evolution” released on Thinking Matters. Ken Perrott has laid a few charges at the door (see Open Parachute) so to speak, and has tripped a few times getting there, so I wish to address some of the problems here. I will first outline them.

I perceive these charges to be: (1) being anti-evolution; (2) upholding a ‘web of lies’ by citing ‘bulling’ tactics from evolutionists that curtail of the freedom of inquiry; (3) The illegitimate use of a quotation by Stephen J Gould that speaks of a lack of transitional forms in the fossil record; (4) the illegitimate use of probability calculations to substantiate fault in evolutionary models; (5) the illegitimate use of the second law of thermodynamics and (6) that these improbability calculations should equally apply to creation models.

(1) on being anti-evolution

There needs to be a subtle distinction drawn here. In the article I did not state my position, but I did argue in a way that suggested a purely naturalistic evolutionary model is not viable. Granted, the movement of the article was towards refuting evolutionary models, and evolution did come under heavy assault, but the main burden of the article was to show that evolution does not imply that God does not exist (a contention it seems you did not imbibe) and if true, the Christian can be open to where the evidence leads. If the evidence points to some form of evolution, then holding to it can be considered a valid intellectual move. If the evidence points away from evolution, the Christian is free to move away from it unlike the atheist who committed to purely naturalistic evolution. 

But where does the evidence lead? We can discuss the merits of it here at least partially by looking at your objections. 

Beginning your discourse you immediately make two mistakes. The first is here:

“It’s interesting that people who have no real regard for science, and are actually working hard to discredit modern science, feel the need to ‘use’ science to support their arguments!”

You conflate ‘modern science’ with ‘correct science.’ I, like you, have a regard for science as a valid method to explain the world in which we live (I have posted on this subject of Science, God and the Bible separately). I have no interest in discrediting good science. I do feel obligated to refute bad science (as I see it), and especially bad philosophy that is smuggled in underneath good and bad science. 

Your second mistake is here:

“…the fact that evolutionary science is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientifically literate. . . the experts, do actually support evolutionary science?”

Just because the majority of people accept evolution does not mean that evolution is true. Making that leap is called the fallacy of argument from the majority of opinion. If your point was that the majority of expert opinion lends weight to the argument that evolution is true, then I could agree with you. I would question then if it was the case that there was an overwhelming majority of opinion, but that would be beside the point. 

Take for instance this example. If I told you that the overwhelming majority of critical new testament scholars and historians recognise the facts surrounding the events of Christ’s death as truly historical (namely; (a) the honourable burial; (b) the empty tomb; (c) the resurrection appearances; (d) the disciples earnest belief that ‘God raised Jesus from the dead,’) and then told you that therefore God raised Jesus from the dead, you wouldn’t accept that. You would find all manner of reasons to disregard the critical scholars and historians acceptance of the data (by saying they cannot legitimately derive that conclusion from the data; these people are biased; these people are no authorities), or failing that discredit the reasons why the majority agrees to (a) through (d). It is after analysis of (a), (b), (c) and (d) that your opinion would be swayed, if at all. Similarly, it is on the arguments and reasons why evolutionists believe in evolution that should sway you to believe, or in failing to convince you, perhaps disbelieve. Not on the majority opinion!

Majority of opinion has very often been wrong in science before. That is a lesson you should know very clearly if you have done any research in history of science. Besides all this, if it turned out the majority of opinion actually was for the ID model, you wouldn’t accept that as proof of the truth of ID either. So its clear claiming expert opinion as a means of proving evolution is a fallacy best avoided. 

(2) ‘bulling’ tactics

Your claim is creationism and ID are propped up creationists and ID proponents by claiming they are bullied by the scientific establishment and prevented from being published by a faulty peer review system: a conspiracy is afoot, and lies are protected by the establishment. 

Now I did not cite any bulling tactics, nor did I use an argument like this at all. I did mention Ben Stein’s documentary, but this was to support the right to speak out without being called derogatory names, and for the responsibility of everyone to let criticisms of any theory to be heard. 

Your comments are therefore quiet disturbing. Any charge of the curtailing of academic freedom is deplorable and should be scrutinised with the up-most seriousness. Your quick dismissal is not engendering in this reader a confidence of your own “open mind.” The facts are there is a culture of scientific intolerance that pervades academia (especially American) towards critics of neo-Darwinian evolution. To support this I need only cite your own blog and your favourite satirical cartoons you have provided (very funny btw :-).

Your third mistake I perceive is here:

“Well, it’s too late to tell the truth. That would destroy the whole web of lies they have constructed. . . Of course these creationist propagandists see New Zealand Christians as the natural constituency for their propaganda. This constituency is more accepting because the more fundamentalist of them fear that modern science negates their faith. They also inappropriately feel that the harsh reality of natural history somehow has implications for how human society should work.”

Your clear that you think that creationists have constructed a big ‘web of lies.’ Not so clear on just what these lies supposedly are. It is incumbent on you to support your general aspersions of Christian belief or what the Christian community ‘inappropriately feel’ with specifics and then arguments if you have them. As I mentioned before the burden of the article was to show that evolution in no way speaks to the issue of God’s existence, but rather brings a very different challenge to Christian belief than the atheist charges. 

The assertion that Christians “inappropriately feel that the harsh reality of natural history somehow has implications for how human society should work” is unsupported and unjustified. As longs as evolution remains the standard for presuppositional naturalism, while the science (good or bad) is being trumpeted the philosophy will be smuggled in underneath. Evolution therefore constitutes a worldview that will influence how people think and fell about themselves and society at large. Eventually it will (if it hasn’t already) start to dominate the actions of people. 

Dr. Nathan Jastram says on the topic of evolution, if life is a product of random chance [blind, undirected evolution]; it doesn’t matter if we live or die; it doesn’t matter how we live and die; end-of-life issues like euthanasia and abortion become acceptable and we are no better than trout, dogs, cockroaches, chickens or salmonella. These are the logically consistent conclusions if evolution is the case.1 I can think of many more consequences to people and society that are not listed above. This does not mean to say that evolution is not true – just the unsavoury consequence if it is.

(3) Misquoting Gould

You claim I illegitimately used a quotation by Stephen J Gould that speaks of a lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. Even if I have, this does not invalidate the point of the section “The problem with fossils.” There are other quotes supporting the lack of transitional forms, as well as other problems in the fossil record other than the lack of transitional forms. 

But was I misusing the quote from Gould as you claim? 

(i) Gould was complaining about the ‘distortion and innuendo’ of his theories. I ask you now, how did I distort and/or give suggestive, disparaging remarks of punctuated equilibrium? Moreover, (ii) the quotation I used points out the extreme rarity of transitional forms (which was the point being made), as does the quotation by Gould that you used – “Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level…” He then modifies his statement somewhat by saying “…but they are abundant between larger groups.2 And what are the abundant transitional forms between the larger groups? The species that in the fossil record appear not to modify. Put simply, the missing links are still missing. So its actually you (because of (i) and (ii)) who are illegitimately using his quotes. 

In the quote of Gould from Natural History, Vol. 86, he goes on to say, “…new species almost always appeared suddenly in the fossil record with no intermediate links to ancestors in older rocks of the same region.”3 It is true that this lack of evidence led him to amend evolution as gradual change to his model of punctuated equilibrium, but the point I was making was the same as Gould himself – that there is a problem with the fossil record due the lack of transitional fossils. 

To underscore the point, here is another quote from Dr. Niles Eldredge;

“…the smooth transition from one form of life to another, which is implied in the theory… is not borne out by the facts… No one has yet found any evidence of such transitional creatures… In the last decade, geologists have found rock layers of all divisions of the last 500 million years and no transitional forms were contained in them. It is not the fossil record which is incomplete, it must be the theory.”4

 

…continued on the next article Answering Objections to ‘The Argument from Evolution’ Part 2

Footnotes

1. Dr. Nathan Jastram [Concordia University Wisconson], Issues, Etc., (Podcast: 23 October, 2008)

2. Stephen Jay Gould, ‘Evolution as Fact and Theory’ (http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_fact-and-theory.html; Retrieved 24 October, 2008)

3. Stephen Jay Gould, ‘Evolution’s Erratic Pace,’ Natural History, Vol. 86, May 1977, p. 12.

4. Niles Eldredge, “Missing, Believed Nonexistent,” Manchester Guardian (The Washington Post Weekly), Vol. 119, No. 22, 26 November 1978, p. 1.

Science, God and the Bible

In my previous post I was responding to objections of Joel Hilchey to my article entitles “The Argument from Evolution.” I gleaned five principle objections but abstained from writing about science and God for space issues. Here is the remainder of what I had to say in response to that area. To Joel, if it seems like you’ve been caught in the line of fire, that’s only because you have provided a lot of intellectual tinder for my guns.

 

Science, God and the Bible

You charged that the Bible offers nothing scientifically relevant. I disagree on the following grounds.

1) The Bible provides epistemic grounds to ensure the success of science.

2) The Bible provides motivation for the pursuit of scientific truth. 

3) The Bible anticipates scientific discoveries. 

 

1) The Bible provides epistemic grounds to ensure the success of science.

The idea of God does not stymy science at all, but invigorates it. It was the Christian worldview that first opened the door to the modern scientific era. The understanding that a rational God created a rational universe along with rational man, who could understand it made science flourish for almost 400 years. 

Almost every major field of science was founded by a Christian, working specifically from a Christian worldview. Consider Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics; William Turner, the father of English botany; Johannes Kepler, the planetary laws of motion; Galileo Galilei, the father of modern astronomy; Rene Descartes, philosopher and mathematician; Blaise Pascal, physicist and mathematician who defended the scientific method; Robert Boyle, the first modern chemist; Louis Pasteur, inventor of the pasteurization method; Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics; Lord Kelvin, important in Thermodynamics; Max Planck, the founder of Quantum mechanics, and the list goes on. 

Before the scientific renaissance no religion or worldview provided epistemic grounds necessary for the success of science. To put it crudely, atheism gives us an irrational universe and a monkey’s brain to comprehend it. Agnosticism gives us nothing concrete to pin down even basic assumptions like the principle of uniformity or that we can know truth at all. Polytheism provides an irrational universe subject to the irrational gods who inhabit it. Theravada Buddhism denies the existence of the enduring real world to be known, and the enduring self to know it. 

The necessary preconditions of science are consistent with the Christian worldview. These are the rationality of the world; the existence of value; the reliability of the mind, and that the senses are generally truth-worthy.

On the Christian view God created the universe and placed man in it to subdue it and to rule over it – science was born in Eden. The purpose of man is to have dominion over all the created works of God (See Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8:6). Then God decreed “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, to search out a matter is the glory of kings (us).” Proverbs 25:2. He also gave us an inquisitive and creative mind to search out answers for all manner of problems. 

With society becoming more and more post-christian, if we are not about to see a collapse of the modern scientific era, it will only be because scientists refuse to discard theistic presuppositions. C.S. Lewis writes:

Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. In most modern scientists this belief has died: it will be interesting to see how long their confidence in uniformity survives it. Two significant developments have already appeared—the hypothesis of a lawless sub-nature, and the surrender of the claim that science is true. We may be living nearer than we suppose to the end of the Scientific Age.1

 

2) The Bible provides motivation for the pursuit of scientific truth.

Dr. William Lane Craig writes; 

For as Christians we believe that all truth is God’s truth, that God has revealed to us the truth, both in His Word and in Him who said, “I am the Truth.” The Christian, therefore, can never look on the truth with apathy or disdain. Rather, he cherishes and treasures the truth as a reflection of God Himself.2

As Christians we believe that the author of science and the author of the Bible are the same. Therefore, good science shall find the fingerprints of God. That does not mean the theist has any advantage over an non-theist scientist, apart from what is pointed out in 1). Craig goes on to say; 

Nor does his commitment to truth make the Christian intolerant. . . on the contrary, the very concept of tolerance entails that one does not agree with that which one tolerates. The Christian is committed to both truth and tolerance, for he believes in Him who said not only, “I am the Truth,” but also, “Love your enemies.3

See the humility of Sir. Isaac Newton, a deeply committed Christian, after completing his great work Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica; “I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

He understood that seeking scientific truth was not the sole domain of the Christian, but that scientific truth showed the beauty and wonder of not only God’s creation, but by extension, God Himself. Science, for the Christian, carries with it an extra dimension. The German astronomer Johannes Kepler said that through his study of the Universe, he was “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”

 

3) The Bible anticipates scientific discoveries

 – Against the prevailing scientific views of the time Isaiah 40:32 states “God sits above the circle (sphere) above the earth.” 

 – Written at least 2000 BC, Job 26:7 says “He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing.” 

 – The first law of thermodynamics, energy conservation, was not established until 1850 but was predicted in Genesis 2:2 when it said “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”

 – The second law of thermodynamics, energy deterioration, was predicted over and over. In Matthew 24:35 it says “Heaven and earth will pass away…”

 – Creation ex nihilo is predicted in Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” the word created (bara’) in Hebrew means ‘to form from nothing.’ 

 – That twentieth century science has confirmed that time and space themselves began to exist in Big bang cosmology, is also a radical conformation of Genesis 1:1.

 – Isaiah 55:10 speaks of the water cycle, not confirmed untill it was at last provided by Bernard Palissy (c. 1510-1590) in his 1580 book Admirable Discourses, which cut through all previous misunderstandings. Ecclesiastes 1:7 “All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.”

 – If your in Virginia look up the statue of Matthew Fontaine Maury. Beneath you will find an inscription that reads; “Matthew Fontaine Maury, Pathfinder of the Seas, the Genius Who First Snatched from the Ocean and Atmosphere the Secret of Their Laws. His Inspiration, Holy Writ, Psalm 8:8, Psalm 107:23,24, and Ecclesiastes 1:6.”

 

1. C.S. Lewis, Miracles: a preliminary study (London, Collins, 1947); p. 110.

2. William Lane Craig, ‘In Intellectual Neural’ (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6597; retrieved 24 October 2008) 

3. Ibid

The Merits of Intelligent Design

Hello Joel,

I can tell you’ve put some thought into these important matters. There are few holes in your thinking however that are apparent to me and I shall endeavour to plug them here for you.

(1) In defence of Premise 1-1: If evolution is true, it requires a divine miracle.

Preliminary remarks

As I said in the article, ID scientists try not to invoke the cause of the design they see in biological systems while wearing their lab coat. Continually they make it clear that the presence of design indicates a designer, but they cannot speak as to who or what this intelligence is. As philosophers though, we can ask that second-order question.

To take your agnostic line and say we simply don’t know, is at least an admission that on our current scientific knowledge the most rational explanation given thus far is a divine miracle has taken place. 

Defence 

It is (i) the lack of naturalistic mechanisms for the specified complexity of macromolecules that is suspicious, but it is (ii) the probability calculations given by the second law of thermodynamics that turn those suspicions toward a transcendent cause. This cause is not some random, ad hoc explanation, like the flying spaghetti monster. We can deduce its properties and attributes from the design, like we can deduce the properties and attributes of a painter from a painting. This cause is not there to plug a hole in our knowledge and stymie the work of science, it is there to provide an explanation for data that cries out for an explanation. (iii) This design argument shows a cause that strongly implies a superior intellect, tremendous expertise and volition. These are all attributes of a personal being. While this in itself does not say specifically that the designer was God, it is nonetheless consistent with the concept of God and (iv) more likely than any contradictory.

The argument from biological specified complexity I think is quite strong on its own. Nevertheless it has severely limited the scope of God’s attributes. That is why it is always good to keep in mind that the argument does not appear out of the blue, on its own, but against the backdrop of other design arguments for Gods existence, such as the extremely powerful argument for the fine-tuning of the universe itself. That argument gives us a being who is timeless, immaterial, whose power approaches omnipotence at the minimum, whose knowledge approaches omniscience, and who is personal. 

 

(2) An Explanation

In order for an explanation to be viable, you don’t need an explanation for the explanation. For example, suppose you were to find an arrow head made of copper embedded in the rock on a mountainside, and close by you discover old broken shards of pottery, primitive tools and weapons, the remains of clay walls and marked graves. You conclude that some village once dwelled there in this high altitude. But suppose your mountaineering partner said “Hey, you don’t know how this supposed village got here, so your conclusion can’t be correct.”

You would rightly hit him over the head. The objects that need explaining are right there before of the two of you, and here he is arguing against the obvious. It is clear that you don’t need an explanation for the explanation in order for the explanation to be the best. If that were the case, then science would truly be over, for you’d have an infinite regress of things that need explaining and nothing would be explained. 

Likewise, if positing God as the designer, we don’t need an explanation of God’s origin, nature and how or why he operates, for this being to be the best explanation. 

It seems you have a wrong idea of God anyway. The God of the Bible never “came about.” He is by nature eternal, that is, He transcends time and has no beginning. Like you quoted in John 1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” He is the “first un-caused cause,” the creator of all that exists and thereby can supersede all natural laws of the universe. That is why we call him supernatural.

 

(3) Science and God

I have chosen to write about this in another post for space issues. 

 

(4) Intelligent predictions 

The charge that Intelligent design offers no predictions and therefore cannot be called a scientific theory is either wilful ignorance or blatant dishonesty. 

Dr. William Dembski answers this charge convincingly. I will not try to summarise all he said here – it would be far better to read it yourself here – though I will offer one quote. 

“To require prediction fundamentally misconstrues design. To require prediction of design is to put design in the same boat as natural laws, . . . This is to commit a category mistake. To be sure, designers, like natural laws, can behave predictably. . . Yet unlike natural laws, which are universal and uniform, designers are also innovators. Innovation, the emergence to true novelty, eschews predictability. . . Intelligent design offers a radically different problematic for science than a mechanistic science wedded solely to undirected natural causes. Yes, intelligent design concedes predictability. But this represents no concession to Darwinism, for which the minimal predictive power that it [Darwinism] has can readily be assimilated to a design-theoretic framework.”1

Although predictions are not required, that does not mean intelligent design makes no predictions. Here are some: (A) High information content machine-like irreducibly complex structures will be found; (B) Forms will be found in the fossil record that appear suddenly and without any precursors; (C) Genes and functional parts will be re-used in different unrelated organisms; (D) The genetic code will NOT contain much discarded genetic baggage code or functionless “junk DNA”. 

I have already shown (A) and (B) to be the case. As for (C) there is a large distribution of molecular and morphological characteristics throughout unrelated branches on the tree of life. It is a hallmark of a designer to reuse good design features. As for (D) it is now widely acknowledged that so-called “junk-DNA” is no longer considered purposeless. Against the predictions of neo-Darwinianism it has been found that non-gene sections of DNA have functionality. They regulate genes, package chromosomes to assist in cell division, and small mutations there can be the cause of some forms of cancer, Type 2 diabetes and other diseases. To read more on “junk-DNA” go here.

 

(5) Religious Books

Objections raised:

In points (1) through (4) I think I have already spoken to the main point you made clear in the last paragraph. What you do in this paragraph is impugn reputation of the Bible by (a)including it in the same category of other religious books; (b) saying the idea should be absurd to many people; the stories within are (c) shallow and (d) ridiculous and have (e) questionable character lessons; are (f) dated; (g) irrelevant to modern life; (h) offer nothing relevant scientifically or (i) morally. This is a heavy assault, indeed! 

But can you back-up any of your accusations? The only examples you give are (g1) exorcisms instead of medication, and (g2) poor sanitation of ancient peoples to note (g) the irrelevance of the Bible today in modern life with respect to healthcare.

Preliminary remarks:

This is a very interesting topic that I will try to address comprehensively some other time. Let me just say here that firstly I am certainly not going to defend all religious books. I’ll defend the Bible against all your accusations, and more if you can think of any if you can give examples. Second, that religious books like the religions themselves should be judged on a case by case basis, and not all lumped together prejudiciously like you have done here.

Broad critisims:

I will address these objections broadly by saying immediately the accusations strike me as shallow in themselves. Accusation (b) is followed immediately with an admission that many others accept the book to be literal and inspired Word of God. Accusation (e) seemingly presumes there are character lessons explicitly given in historical writings. Accusation (i) is downright laughable. Would you say the ten commandments are not relevant for today? (For a refutation of your preferred humanist ethic see here) What about the beatitudes, widely acknowledged to be the supremely highest ethic?

After the berating you then go on to say that Eastern religions are generally more moral than Western religions, forgetting of course that (1) Christianity is an eastern religion, with its origins deeply rooted in eastern soil and most it adherents now living in the east or the undeveloped third world; (2) Judaism and Islam are both eastern religions and also require fidelity and obedience; (3) William Wilberforce and (4) Mother Theresa. 

It was from the profound conversion of William Wilberforce to Christianity that made him realise that “all men are created equal,” and that therefore no man had the right to enslave another. The application of this Christian truth led to his tireless campaign for the abolition of slavery in England and spawned the movement throughout the west. A movement unknown to eastern religions. 

Mother Theresa went to India where Hinduism prevails amongst the laity and where they preach a cow is more precious than a human life. When she started caring for the sick and weak in Calcutta, many there were against her work because they saw it as interfering with peoples Karma by not allowing them to work off their suffering and improve their lot in the next life. People starve in the streets while offerings of food are sacrificed to one of the many gods. 

 

I will continue my criticisms of your criticisms in my next article entitled “Science, God and the Bible.”

 

1. William Dembski, ‘Is design testable?’ (http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_isidtestable.htm; retrieved October 24, 2008)

Tim Keller interviewed at the Washington Post and other videos

Tim Keller sits down in an interview with Sally Quinn, one of the editors of Washington Posts On Faith discussion site. Keller discusses several questions, including his journey to become a Christian, certainty and the possibility of dialogue between Christians and agnostics, getting mad at God and suffering, and Kierkegaard’s definition of sin.

Source: JT and Kevin Cawley

Keller is the author of the best-seller The Reason for God, and also of a new book coming out this month, The Prodigal God, on understanding Christianity through the story of the prodigal son.

The Gospel Coalition has several other good segments of Keller answering more questions on their site:

Who are the New Atheists?

What is the New Atheist message? How should we engage them?

How do you respond when people say that science has buried God?

How is Christianity relevant for today’s culture?

Has science buried God? Report from the Dawkins/Lennox discussion

This week, on the 21st of October, Richard Dawkins and John Lennox came together at the Oxford Museum to discuss science, atheism, and the Christian faith. Both represent significant voices in the debate about the existence of God and the claims of science; with Dawkin’s The God Delusion and Lennox’s God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?

The event was hosted by Fixed Point, and for those that are interested you can grab a DVD or CD of the debate from their website (they are currently offering a £2.50 discount on pre-orders).

The RZIM trust has summarized some of the discussion (thanks to Aaron McAleese for sending this to me) and I thought I would quote some the comments because it sounded like a lively and interesting discussion between the two scientists. The whole report is over three thousand words, so I have not included everything. If you want the full report, you can email me for a copy at jason@thinkingmatters.org.nz.

Has science buried God?

The debate was a fascinating exchange which revolved around the ideas of truth, the intelligibility of the universe, the reliability of history, the importance of the resurrection, whether or not God has any place in science, and issues of morality and purpose.

The debate involved a conversation between the two speakers, followed by a question and answer session and then finished with concluding remarks from both sides. Because the speakers were cross-examining one another, it meant that the topics that they spoke about swung quite considerably.

Dawkins started by saying it depends which god you are talking about. He said there were three types of gods:

i) Einstein’s poetic metaphor.
ii) The deist god. Dawkins said there was a “reasonably respectable case for a deist god”, but it was not one he believed in.
iii) The thousands of other gods including Yahweh, Zeus and the Christian God.

Dawkins said he knew what God Lennox believes in. He said Lennox is a scientist who believes God actually turned water into wine (changing the proteins and structure of the water) and who walked on water. He said he is used to hearing it from sophisticated theologians, but not from a scientist like Lennox. He said couldn’t God think of a better way of saving the world then torturing himself. He said it was petty and small-minded.

Lennox said that he believes in the rational intelligibility of the universe and that it was not just a freak accident. He said that he believes in a creator who is not only a force, but a person. He said the issue was far from petty as it deals with a very serious problem – our alienation from God. He said as a scientist he believed the universe was rational intelligible because there was a God. He asked Dawkins how he accounted for it.

Dawkins said things were not a freak accident. He said that Darwin showed that it happened through evolution by natural selection. He said it looks designed but it is not. He said the cosmos has not had its ‘Darwin’ yet, so we do not know how it was created. He said biology can discourage us from believing in God. He said that although we don’t understand the cosmos we do not have to postulate a creator. He says it’s harder to think of how a God came into existence than a universe.

Lennox pointed out that Darwin does not explain the origin.  He said scientists and cosmologists assume the universe is rationally intelligible. He said can we trust our own minds if they are only the product of unguided processes? He quoted the atheist Pinker who said that unguided evolution only serves reproduction and has nothing to do with truth. Likewise, atheist Gray says that it could not give any credence of truth. He says Dawkins’ views undermines the rationality upon which he relies.

Lennox said everything depends on having a fine-tuned universe before life can begin. He asked Dawkins if his belief was that everything went from the simple to the complex. Dawkins said that in biology this was correct. Lennox said that all language comes as a result of a created mind. Dawkins says that DNA is not human language.

Lennox said there was no other conceivable way of understanding information. He said information processes communication.

Dawkins accuses Lennox of [sic] incredulity.

Lennox said believing rationality comes from irrationality is rational credulity. He said he believed in an eternal logos that created the universe and the laws that uphold it.

Dawkins said that this was no explanation and that the universe was just a brute fact. He said it was easier to believe in a brute fact than in God. He said this was more plausible than a God.

Lennox says that things don’t always have a simpler explanation e.g. someone writing a book.

Dawkins says that your brain has an explanation – you can go back a level and it is always from the simple to the complex.

Lennox says we have no evidence for how low level molecules can move to a macro level with information.

Dawkins says we don’t know yet, but science is working on it.

Lennox says DNA is an ancient language that points to a logos and cannot be seen in purely naturalistic terms. Extreme reductionism removes the rationalism from the debate. He said that the existence of DNA suggests there is a designer and that Dawkins’ dichotomy of science or religion could put people off science.

Dawkins says that a religious person smuggles in magic as an explanation.

Lennox said there are some bad gaps that science closes as well as some bad gaps that it opens. He said that if there was a God you would expect (1) Evidence in the universe e.g. mathematical intelligibility, fine-tuning and the sophistication of the world and (2) that the creator would speak in a special way. He said that the resurrection was not petty. He said death affects everyone and therefore it does make an enormous difference.

—-

Lennox asked about ultimate justice. He said this was not a petty matter. He said that we live in a broken world and that no God means no ultimate justice.

Dawkins said suppose there was misery and no justice. He said that this was too bad if it’s true. He then said maybe there was no hope without God.

Lennox said he’d just admitted it. He said if there was a God then he would have to reveal himself. He said he could not know Dawkins by analysing him with a telescope or a microscope. He said God had to take the initiative to reveal himself to people. That is the only way you can know someone.

Lennox asked Dawkins what the ultimate meaning of life was for him.

Dawkins responded by saying that we make our own meaning. He said a biologist’s perspective was that it was all about the propagation of genes.

Lennox said what about the nature of reality? He said how do you get from atoms to a brain, or a mind, or
consciousness? He said what concept of meaning can you have unless there is a top-down view of God? He said there is a personal God and this is the source of life and meaning. He said that there is a beyond and you can have a relationship with God. He said atheism’s meaning is much smaller.

Lennox made the following points as his closing remarks:
– Science has not buried God.
– Science originated from a faith in rational processes (from a Christian background).
– Laws that mean science can be done come from the logos from God.
– Christian faith is not unscientific if you pay attention to history.
– If science has buried God where do we get morality from?
– He pointed out that Dawkins has written that there is no good or evil because there is just DNA and we dance to its music.
– He said the new atheists hold to the values they have got from Christianity. He quotes Jurgen Habermas who says the foundations of our legal system come from Christianity.
– He said atheists like Nietzsche and Camus understood you cannot retain your moral values and you are led to madness.
– He asks whether Dawkins’ world is one in which (like Peter Singer) a newborn baby has no more value than a pig or a dog.

Dawkins made the following points:
– He said Singer was one of the most moral people he knew and that he was interested in suffering. His comment about foetuses and animals was in reference to their ability to suffer.
– He said the universe was not horribly determinist, but rather it was horribly rational or intelligible. He said it would have to be (as what would it look like otherwise?). He said we could only survive in such a universe.
– He said science does not know everything, but we are working on it.
– He says science doesn’t invoke magic as an explanation.
– He said prior to Darwin much of the science seemed like magic, but Darwin solved a difficult problem.
– He said Darwin provides a lesson that we should not give up on the difficult problems.
– He said science is going to solve things and if it doesn’t there is still no reason for saying magic did it.

The RZIM Zacharias Trust Team

God and the limits of science: Auckland Lecture this week

This Tuesday, the 21st of October, Dr Neil Broom will be giving a lecture addressing the debate about science and design. He will examine the explanatory limits of science and the case for the existence of God.

Topic: Science and the ‘God vs No-God’ Dilemma
Date: Tuesday, 21st October 08
Time: 6-7pm
Where: Lecture theatre 4.304 Engineering faculty

Neil Broom is a professor and the deputy head of the department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at Auckland University. He was trained as a materials scientist has been involved in over 77 published articles in international journals . Dr Broom initially spent time in research investigating crystalline structures before he switched focus to explore the world of living materials over the last two decades. With abundant exposure to nonliving and lving systems, Broom is convinced that the data of science paints a different story than the increasingly dominant view that we are merely biological artifacts of a cold, unfriendly universe.

His book, “How Blind is the Watchmaker?” from InterVarsity Press (it can also be previewed on Google Books),  challenges the “filmsily crafted but persuasively packaged myth of scientific materialism” and argues that the living world functions “in the presence of a transcendent, nonmaterial dimension – a dimension that both nourishes and imparts meaning to the processes of life”.

Some Questions on Science

Dale Campbell, in a recent blog entry, asked three questions about science which I think probably echo the thoughts of many Christians in the Western world:

  1. How should it be defined?
  2. Is it inherently naturalistic (and if so, why)?
  3. What is the relationship between philosophy and science?

This is something I’ve written on in the past, and I think there are clear answers to these questions from a Christian point of view. Because the issue of science and religion is so important to Christians living in the Western world, I’d like to answer Dale’s questions here.

1. How should science be defined?

To answer how science should be defined, it’s helpful to know how science is defined by those who study it. Science is the effort to discover and understand how the physical world works, with observable physical evidence as the basis of that understanding.1 Integral to this effort is the scientific method. Briefly stated, this is (I) the observation of a phenomenon ? (II) the formulation of an hypothesis with testable predictions ? (III) the experimental testing of the hypothesis ? (IV) the reasoning about the new experimental data. If the data can be interpreted to support the hypothesis, it can become a theory; if not, the scientist returns to step (II).

So is this how science should be defined? Is this how we as Christians ought to think of science? Within certain constraints, I think it is. Science, biblically speaking, is what we do in the pursuit of having dominion over creation and subduing it. In this regard, practicing science is a good thing, because it is directly obedient to the command of God in Genesis 1:28. Science is a God-given tool to help us interact with creation and make use of it. That is its place. Of course, this implies that its place is not as a tool for learning ultimate truths about reality. It was not given for that purpose; only God himself can communicate such truths. It cannot answer questions like “what is the purpose of man?” or “is there such a thing as the soul?” It is a tool for learning about and using the physical world. Thus, scientific “truth” is truth about how we interact with creation. It is not necessarily truth about reality as it really is. This leads into the second question—

2. Is science inherently naturalistic (and if so, why)?

Since science is “the effort to discover and understand how the physical world works, with observable physical evidence”, the answer to this is simple: yes, science is inherently naturalistic. That is to say, science is a method or process for learning about the natural (physical) world. It follows what is called methodological naturalism. Questions about the supernatural (spiritual) world are beyond its purview, and so it cannot answer them. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be answered, of course, or that they aren’t meaningful—just that science isn’t the right place to go to for those answers.

So science is characterized by methodological naturalism. When investigating natural phenomena, scientists assume that these have natural causes. This is reasonable as far as it goes, since that is the place and purpose of science. It is not equipped to deal with supernatural causes or ask questions about supernatural things. The problem is that methodological naturalism has led, particularly in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, to philosophical naturalism. This is the view that natural things are the only things which exist. Thus, not only can science only investigate natural things, but natural things are the only things which can be investigated. Obviously, this puts science in a powerful epistemic position. Since the natural world is all there is, and science is the best means we have of learning about it, it becomes the sole standard for truth. Science, under philosophical naturalism, is really the only way we can learn anything about the world. The rise of philosophical naturalism is what has caused science to be held in such high esteem as a means of discovering truth today. Which leads me into the third question—

3. What is the relationship between philosophy and science?

A lot of people would like to say that science has no real relationship with philosophy. Scientists, in particular, are fond of distancing themselves from philosophical questions, and “sticking to the facts”. But, as the example of philosophical naturalism shows, this is a bit of a smokescreen.

Plenty of scientists are happy to affirm that only the natural world exists. They like to say that we can only explain things in naturalistic terms; that only naturalistic theories have explanatory power; and that talk of the supernatural is pointless or even meaningless. But these are obviously philosophical, rather than scientific views. Science doesn’t say that the supernatural world doesn’t or can’t exist, or that we can’t know anything about it. It just doesn’t comment on the matter, because science is the study of the natural world and it can’t answer such questions.

So for someone to say, “there is no evidence for the soul,” when what he means is scientific evidence is really just question-begging. Scientific evidence is always naturalistic, but the soul is supernatural, so obviously there can be no scientific evidence for the soul by definition. That doesn’t mean that no evidence exists whatsoever, unless he’s refusing to admit anything other than scientific evidence in the first place. But on what basis would he refuse to admit any other kind of evidence? He can’t do it on the basis of science—after all, he can’t show experimentally that non-natural evidence is invalid. So he has to make an assumption. He has to make a philosophical commitment to naturalism. In this regard, these sorts of scientists make up the rear guard of a venerable but fairly disrespectable philosophical view called logical positivism.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, though. Logical positivism is a philosophical position which claims to be based on science. But the problem runs much deeper, because science is actually based on philosophy. Science is not merely intimately related to philosophy. Philosophy is the foundation of science.

For example, the scientific method relies on some key assumptions about the universe. One of these is the uniformity of nature. This is the assumption that (a) the future will always be like the past; and (b) the laws of nature are the same everywhere. If this assumption were false, science would be futile. But it isn’t a scientific assumption, is it? It can’t be experimentally verified. We can’t run some empirical test to see whether the future will be like the past, since by definition the future is always out of reach. As soon as we try to test it, it becomes the present, and then when we’re done it’s the past, so whatever data we gathered doesn’t apply any more. Similarly, no one has tested the laws of nature in every part of the universe (or even every part of the earth). So this key assumption of science is a philosophical one. It isn’t itself scientific.

This raises some real problems for secular scientists, and leads me into my conclusion. Because science is based on philosophical assumptions, it is either naive or ignorant for anyone to claim that scientific knowledge is the only kind of knowledge there is; or that scientific truth-claims trump all other kinds of truth-claims (like religious ones). Before you can have scientific knowledge, you first have to have philosophical knowledge. Scientific truth-claims are really nothing special. Furthermore, anyone saying that scientific knowledge is the only “real” knowledge possible is fibbing through his teeth, because he is making a non-scientific statement. If scientific knowledge is the only “real” knowledge, then we couldn’t know that, because it isn’t scientifically verifiable.

So the problem for scientists (and for those who try to use science against Christianity) is that scientific truth-claims can only be as good as their philosophical foundations. If scientists can’t know that their philosophical foundations are sound, then they can’t know that their science is sound. So if the assumption of uniformity is nothing but wild speculation, then any science based on it is no better. This seems particularly problematic when you consider how utterly reasonable it seems that the future will be like the past. Surely if it’s so reasonable, we must be able to prove it? Things which are obviously true are easily proved.

Not so with uniformity. It isn’t a scientifically verifiable principle, and it isn’t logically necessary. The future could, in principle, stop being like the past, and there isn’t any real reason to think that it won’t. The fact that it hasn’t until now doesn’t imply that it won’t in the future unless we’ve already supposed that the future will be like the past. That’s begging the question. So we’re left with a quandary. On the one hand, it seems so entirely reasonable to think that all things will continue as they have from the beginning of creation. But on the other hand, how can we show that this belief is rational? That it is really reasonable? That it is actually true? How can we know it?

Well, the Christian can. The Christian knows that God has created the world, and sustains it moment to moment (Colossians 1:17). He knows that until Jesus comes again, all things will continue as they have from the beginning (2 Peter 3:4). So he knows, because God has revealed it, that nature is uniform and will continue to be. He knows that the world was created for man, and that man was created to have dominion over it. Because of this, Christians can hold a high view of science. Not as high as the their view of the Bible, obviously, since it relies on the Bible—but much higher nonetheless than what non-believing scientists can manage. Our view of science is based on the word of God, which is self-attesting and objectively true.

Secular scientists, on the other hand, ultimately base science on their gut feelings. They don’t have any assurance in the basic assumptions which underly their discipline. Even though they may take a view of science which seems much higher than that taken by Christians, their philosophical beliefs betray them. Science can only be as powerful as its foundations, and its foundations are philosophical. One can either just take these foundations on faith, having no reason to believe them except that they seem reasonable; or one can take it on the testimony of the creator of the universe. This is the relationship between science and philosophy,and it is why Christians should never be afraid of science.

  1. Wikipedia, ‘science’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science; retrieved July 1, 2008).