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Has origin-of-life research reached an impasse?

That’s exactly what John Horgan suggests. Writing for Scientific American, the science journalist argues that, twenty years since he first wrote about the topic, atheistic explanations have not moved any closer to establishing how life first emerged.

Can we Love Jesus and Accept Evolution?

James Anderson, assistant professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, reviews “I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution”, the latest book by Denis Lamoureux:

“A full critique of Lamoureux’s evolutionary creationism cannot be given here. I will, however, indicate some of the major reasons why I don’t find his arguments compelling. In the first place, his approach to interpreting Scripture is highly problematic. He professes to acknowledge both the “Book of God’s Works” (revelation in nature) and the “Book of God’s Words” (revelation in Scripture) but it’s clear that he gives the former unqualified priority over the latter; if there is any apparent conflict between nature (for which read: modern science) and the Bible, Lamoureux concludes that the Bible is mistaken due to its accommodation to ancient science. On this way of thinking, the Bible must always be judged in the light of modern science. Yet this prioritization is the very opposite of the view that Christians have historically taken on the issue. As Calvin famously put it, the Bible functions like a pair of spectacles given to correct the distortion of natural revelation by our fallen intellects. Scripture has authority over science, whether ancient or modern.

Furthermore, Lamoureux’s separation of theological statements and scientific statements in the Bible is impossible to apply in practice. Take, for instance, the claim that God judged the world by sending a great flood (cf. 2 Peter 3:6). Is that a theological statement or a scientific statement? On the face of it, it’s both—at the very least, it has theological elements and scientific elements that cannot be teased apart.

A further concern is raised by Lamoureux’s central claim that the Bible is accommodated to ancient science and therefore makes scientific statements that are false. Why think that the accommodation only pertains to science? Why not suppose, for much the same reasons, that the Bible is accommodated to ancient morality too? Indeed, that’s precisely the argument used by many liberal theologians today who argue that Christianity is compatible with monogamous homosexual relationships. If Lamoureux wouldn’t accept their position, why should we accept his? What do modern scientists have that modern ethicists don’t?

The point can be pushed further still. If the Bible is accommodated to the fallible scientific outlook of its original audience, perhaps it is also accommodated to their fallible religious outlook. Perhaps all those claims in the New Testament regarding Christ’s substitutionary atonement are merely a concession to the religious outlook of ancient people who were used to thinking in terms of animal sacrifices, propitiatory atonement, and so forth. Presumably those claims would be no more immune to error than the Bible’s scientific claims. But then how much confidence could we place in the gospel message preached by the apostles?

The point is this: accommodationist theories of biblical inspiration such as Lamoureux’s are like a universal acid that burns its way through everything. Once we argue that the Bible is unreliable in one area (science) due to its accommodation to ancient ignorance, we can have no principled basis for insisting that it is still reliable—never mind inerrant—in other areas such as ethics and theology.

So much for Lamoureux’s doctrine of Scripture. What about his scientific arguments? I’ve noted already some of the weaknesses in his case: circular reasoning, selective evidence, and conclusions that go far beyond what the empirical data support. Equally problematic is the fact that he doesn’t even mention, let alone address, some of the many significant scientific difficulties faced by the theory that all living organisms have gradually evolved from rudimentary life forms by purely natural processes (e.g., the lack of a plausible mechanism for large-scale evolutionary development, the so-called “Cambrian explosion” in the fossil record, the origin of sexual differentiation, and the existence of irreducibly complex biological structures). The uninformed reader will almost certainly be misled into thinking that the scientific case for evolution is beyond question. Still, perhaps we should cut Lamoureux some slack on this point. After all, if the biblical authors can be excused their misleading or false statements on the basis that they were captive to the science-of-the-day, presumably so can he!

Finally, I suspect many evangelical readers will be unconvinced by Lamoureux’s plea that his position preserves all the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. He speaks several times of “non-negotiable” Christian beliefs, but never explains what criteria he uses for treating some traditional Christian beliefs as non-negotiable and others as dispensable. One can’t help but suspect that his list of essential doctrines is rigged so that his own views fall safely within the bounds of orthodoxy.

Lamoureux’s rejection of the doctrine of original sin, which follows of necessity from his rejection of the historical Adam and Eve, is particularly problematic. If Adam never existed then obviously no human being could have inherited a sinful nature from him. Lamoureux suggests that this traditional doctrine originated with Augustine (who was, of course, misled by the science-of-the-day) but he fails to acknowledge that Augustine argued his position from Scripture. What Lamoureux recommends in place of the traditional doctrine might be dubbed “Original Sin Lite” (or perhaps “Original Sin Zero”): every human being is a sinner and that’s all we need to affirm. Yet surely this falls far short of the doctrine taught in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, which offers both a coherent theological explanation for universal human sinfulness and a profound parallel (and contrast) between Adam and Jesus. It’s remarkable that Lamoureux makes no reference to these passages in his discussion of original sin, and his treatments elsewhere in the book require him to hold these texts at arm’s length. One has to wonder whether he would have so quickly concluded that Adam is a dispensable mythical figure had he been more exposed to the Reformed tradition in his theological studies. There is far more at stake here than whether Paul was mistaken in certain incidental historical facts.

I have to conclude that despite its irenic approach and the undoubted expertise of its author, this book fails in its goal of reconciling biblical Christianity with modern evolutionary science. Nevertheless, it is very useful in this respect: it makes clear what price has to be paid in order to make peace with evolution, even if one takes a relatively conservative approach. The first casualties are the doctrines of biblical authority, clarity, and inerrancy, closely followed by the doctrine of original sin; and once those are sacrificed it’s inevitable that more will follow, for no doctrine is an island. The doctrines of salvation by grace alone and justification by faith alone, to cite two examples, are intimately connected to the nature of the fall and its consequences.”

Read the whole thing here (or an abridged version at Discerning Reader here).

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Panel Discussion of Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell

On January 28, the C.S. Lewis Society hosted a panel at Tampa, Florida, to discuss Stephen Meyer’s new book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. The audio from that discussion is now available on the Society website. Download it here.

On the panel was the book’s author Meyer, mathematician and popular author David Berlinski, and apologist and professor of theology Tom Woodward. Radio host Michael Medved chaired the exchange. The discussion lasts for over two hours and explores the evidence for  intelligent design and Meyer’s central claim that the information in DNA demonstrates a designing intelligence behind the origin of life.

Stephen Meyer’s book is available on Amazon.

Here are some of the book’s endorsements:

Signature in the Cell delivers a superb overview of the surprising and exciting developments that led to our modern understanding of DNA, and its role in cells.   Meyer tells the story in a most engaging way.  He retained my interest through many areas that would normally have turned me off.  He is careful to credit new ideas and discoveries to their originators, even when he disagrees with the uses to which they have been put.  The central idea of the book is that the best explanation of the information coded in DNA is that it resulted from intelligent design.  Meyer has marshaled a formidable array of evidence from fields as diverse as biochemistry, philosophy and information theory.  He deals fairly and thoroughly with even the most controversial aspects and has made a compelling case for his conclusion.  The book is a delightful read which will bring enlightenment and enjoyment to every open minded reader.
—Dr. John C. Walton, School of Chemistry, University of St. Andrews

Signature in the Cell is the quintessential work on DNA and its implications for intelligent design.
Greg Koukl, host of Stand To Reason

How does an intelligent person become a proponent of intelligent design? Anyone who stereotypes IDers as antiscientific ideologues or fundamentalists should read Dr. Meyer’s compelling intellectual memoir. Meyer as a student became fascinated with the ‘DNA enigma’—how the information to produce life originated—and at considerable risk to his career hasn’t given up trying to solve the mystery. Meyer shows how step-by-step he concluded that intelligent design is the most likely explanation of how the DNA code came to be, but he’s open to new evidence—and in so doing he challenges defenders of undirected evolution to have the courage to explore new alternatives as well.
— Dr. Marvin Olasky, provost, The King’s College, New York City, and editor-in-chief, World

In this engaging narrative, Meyer demonstrates what I as a chemist have long suspected: undirected chemical processes cannot produce the exquisite complexity of the living cell. Meyer also shows something else: there is compelling positive evidence for intelligent design in the digital code stored in the cell’s DNA. A decisive case based upon breathtaking and cutting-edge science.
Dr. Philip S. Skell, National Academy of Sciences and Evan Pugh Professor at Pennsylvania State University, emeritus

(HT: Brian)

Scientist may have found how life began

On May 14th this year (2009) Reasons to Believe responded to two articles in the popular press. The first from the New York Times; “Chemist finds hidden gateway to RNA” and the second from Fox News; “Scientist may have found how life began.” The following is a transcript of their pod-cast Science News Flash with Joe Aguirre (JA) and Dr. Fuzale Rana (FR or “Fuzz”). Bracketed numbers are mine. Accurate transcript apart from a few omitted dead words.

JA: That’s a provocative title, and this is a headline grabbing discovery that you want to talk to us about.

FR: It is. This discovery was prompted by a paper published in today’s [May 14th] issue of Nature. A team of scientists in the Manchester University of England who discovered a novel prebiotic chemical route to generating building block materials that people think were critical for establishing the origin of life in an evolutionary perspective. This is very interesting, very exciting work, because not only have they discovered what they think to be a novel prebiotic route (to these building block materials) but their way of approaching the whole origin of life problem is radically different than anything that’s been done before. This is considered to be a ground-breaking study in that it is really going to overturn the paradigm – or at least they way people approach the paradigm (again from an evolutionary stand-point). So a real exciting discovery – excellent work experimentally speaking – and of pretty broad ranging significance, not only to the origin of life question, but also to the creation/evolution controversy. So hopefully we can un-package that. Read more