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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)

The Argument from Evolution

It is a common taunt among combative non-theists (henceforth called atheists) that evolution is a well established scientific fact, as if this somehow provides positive proof that God does not exist. Belief in God, as the title of Richard Dawkin’s book proclaims, is a delusion. If this is so it then follows that faith is a fairy-tale on the level of a child’s belief in Santa Clause, and that continued belief in God is directly opposing our best scientific knowledge. It appears as if there is an atheistic argument being made.

1) If evolution is true then God does not exist. 

2) Evolution is true.

3) Therefore, God does not exist. 

It is clear that (3) follows from premises (1) and (2) and by virtue of the law of logic called modus ponens the conclusion is necessary. So in order to defeat the argument then we will have to deny at least one of the premises. To start let us begin with the second. 

 

Premise 2: Evolution is true

Before we set about criticising evolution, it is important we establish clearly from the start that it is a matter of intellectual responsibility for everyone to think critically about important issues such as these. Ben Stein has recently pointed out in his documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed the unfortunate climate of academic bullying and curtailing of the freedom of enquiry in the United States. A healthy theory will be able to withstand vigourous questioning and it is the obligation of people to permit any questions and allow doubt in the pursuit of scientific truth. 

Creationists are often charged with only poking holes in what is otherwise a good theory. To which the reply can be made – tough luck – that is what should happen to all theories, good and bad. A leaky bucket that cannot hold water should be mended or replaced. The only way to know if the fruit is sweet or sour is to let it be pealed and examined. So let us turn to the criticisms that can be raised against evolution. I have categorised them into four problem areas.

 

1) The problem with fossils

When Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species he laid out several conditions that would bear scrutiny if his theory was true. One of these conditions was evidence of transitional forms in the fossil record. He asked the question “But, as by this theory innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?”1 Over 150 years of exploration and research has past and not one transitional form has commended itself for any length of time to the scientific community. All new life forms appear suddenly and fully developed. 

Colin Patterson, the late Senior Palaeontologist of the British Museum of Natural History in London confesses in a letter in April of 1979, that there is no evidence of transitional forms in the fossil record. 

I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. You suggest that an artist should be used to visualise such transformations, but where would he get the information from? I could not, honestly, provide it, and if I were to leave it to artistic licence, would that not mislead the reader?2

Stephen Jay Gould, professor of Zoology and Geology at Harvard University, conceded this point and so proposed an amendment to evolutionary theory called Punctuated Equilibria to explain away the absence of transitional forms. He says, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.”3

Since evolution is gradual change, and no evidence of gradual change can be found in the geologic record, is punctuated equalibia a recognition that evolution should be abandoned?

What is more the supposed transitions, such as from reptile to bird are impossible. The lungs are completely different in function and form. The slightest change would result in a creature that is unable to breathe, let alone live long enough to provide progeny. It is no wonder such transitional forms do not appear in the fossil record.

Questionable transitional forms exist, such as the Archaeopteryx, however evolution predicts not a few but a whole host of intermediate forms. The absence of these is pointed out by micro-biologist from New Zealand, Dr. Michael Denton, in his influential book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.4

The fossil record is supposed to read as a vertical scroll in accord with the order of strata, the eldest layers being on the bottom the youngest layers being nearer the top. Evolution cannot explain exceptions in the record. In fact, there are more exceptions to the rule than there is the rule. One also wonders about poly-strata fossils, such as preserved tree trunks that run vertically through supposed millions of years of earth history.

 

2) The problem with soup

The first problem is there is no geologic evidence for concentrated organic pools on the early earth. This pre-biotic soup, from which life was supposed to arise, is becoming less and less likely the more that is found out about the conditions on the early earth. Besides this, it has been discovered that the dilution processes would have stalled and made impossible the formation of complex organic molecules needed for life to arise. 

Second, the presence of oxygen in the atmosphere is detrimental to the process for the hypothesised beginning of life scenario. It was once thought that in the early earth’s history there was no oxygen, but evidence is accumulating that oxygen was not only present but abundant.

Third, experimentation with the origin of life is subject to heavy criticism. If life does arise out of experimentation, all that would prove is it takes intelligent design to create life in the lab. Also, there is no known natural conditions that simulate what is produced in the laboratory. Next, it is a huge conceptual leap to conclude that the naturalistic origin of life is possible from the data. 

Take for instance the Miller and Uri experiments in the 1950’s. By passing electric sparks in a methane gas solution they were able to synthesise amino acids. Amino acids form proteins, and proteins are found in living things, but the hope that this can explain the origin of living things is an enormous extrapolation of the data. To say this is life is like equating the word ME with the complete works of William Shakespeare. Further, the bi-products of these experiments, like 80% tar, are toxic and far more likely to kill than promote the continuation of any life that did arise. 

Fourth, the idea of life springing from non-life butts its head against the rock of the second law of Thermodynamics. It states that the amount of usable energy in the universe is deteriorating. The calculations of any reaction taking place to form life is somewhere in the order of one chance in 10 to the power of 40,000. On statistical analysis, a Shakespeare analogy such as the one above become insignificantly small. 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. 

Fifth, the window of opportunity is incredibly small for the chemical origin of life to occur. This window is only 25 Million years, based on the presumption of a 5-6 billion yea age of the earth, and the earliest fossilised life forms at 3.8 billion years ago. A mere blip on the geological scale. 

For those reasons chemical origin of life scenarios are now rejected by the scientific community. This is documented in Thaxton, Bradley and Olsen’s work The Mystery of Lifes Origins.5

It could be said that this is not criticising evolutionary theory, but the origin of life theory of abiogenesis. This is a dodge however. As long as evolution remains an attempt to explain the origin of the diversity of life in terms of purely naturalistic phenomenon, this implies an ultimate origin of life theory such as the pre-biotic soup. Unlike soup, you can’t buy evolution in a separate package. Without an ultimate naturalistic origin scenario atheistic-evolution is no longer tenable. 

 

3) The problem with information 

The mechanisms of evolution are insufficient to explain the existence of highly specified and complex information in the cell. The death knell of evolution should have sounded in 1953 with the discovery of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick. When the two chains of bonded nucleotides that form the chromosomes was discovered to be a four letter digital code that determines all of the information necessary to produce all of the functions and all the structures in all living systems, Francis Crick, a code-breaker during WWII, intuitively grasped that this was the product of a mind. For their discovery he won the Nobel prize. His insight however did not convince him of God. Instead he credited the presence of information to aliens by adopting the idea of Pan-Spermia, a purely speculative hypothesis that is nevertheless drawn from the valid inference of design. 

The nucleus of the cell is a storage device for information. This vast amount of code is redundant, overlapping, and highly complex and specific. This information encoded in the DNA contains the manual for the construction of the body; determines the physical appearance of an individual; instructions for error-correction, and directions for self-replication. Such wondrous machines cry out for a masterful designer. The intricacy of the code raises two fundamental problems for evolution. First, information is the product of a mind and not of natural processes. Second, all evidence accrued thus far in experimental and observable science is that information can only be muddled or lost: not gained. The question that arises is how does one account for the  presence and addition of information? In other words, where did the simple cell get the code for teeth?

The mechanisms of evolution, namely natural selection, random mutation, and time do not provide a sufficient answer to how a simple life-form can develop into another, more complex life-form. But there is one mechanism that can explain the existence of this highly specified and complex information, namely Intelligent Design.

This is nowhere more poignantly pointed out by micro-biologist Dr. Michael Behe in his book Darwin’s Black Box, called by Time Magazine one of the most influential books of the twentieth-century. Here he points out some miniature biological machines, such as the flagellum of certain bacteria, are irreducibly complex, a concept that highlights the appearance of design and therefore infers an intelligent designer. 

A mouse trap is irreducibly complex as it would be unable to function at all without any one of its parts. Take away the base, or the hook, or the trigger and the mouse trap would not function at all. Just like the mouse trap, so this miniature biological organism is irreducibly complex. This does not mean it is simple. The flagellum functions like a molecular motor, but with the efficiency that overwhelms all current mechanics. The structure has no function and no survival value without all of its parts. This means that when the bacteria was formed it was formed all at once – a concept breaking the mould of the evolutionary paradigm. Moreover, the parts have to have a specific assembly order for any function to be possible. This complexity immediately calls into question the mechanisms of evolution. Time, chance and natural selection by themselves cannot explain its construction. There needs to be an intelligent designer. 

Further still, the diversity of life on planet earth far exceeds the evolutionary mechanisms time constaints. Natural selection and random mutation work to slow for all generally accepted models concerning earth’s history.

It is worthwhile pointing out that Intelligent Design is not creationism dressed in a lab-coat, hiding disguised with the respectability of a modern scientist. Creationism is a doctrine that is necessarily committed to a particular creator. (For the Christian the creator is of course the eternal one true God, revealed in Jesus Christ, but the creator will vary depending on the which creation story is accepted.) Intelligent Design however does not speak to the second-order question of who the designer was or why the universe or biological system was designed. As we will see that would be overstepping the bounds of science. That is why Dr. William Demsky and Dr. Philip Johnson are genuine when they say Intelligent Design is not a religious movement. It has religious implications for sure, but when they are wearing their scientific hats they do not say who is responsible for the design, only that design is recognisable and present. That does not mean they cannot as philosophers say who is responsible for the presence of design, or when they go home to their wives speculate on why it is there. 

 

4) The problem with science

The philosophy of science itself argues against evolution. Philosophy, as a discipline which evaluates the assumptions and foundations of other disciplines is uniquely able to offer critiques on science itself. As a seond-order discipline part of the task of philosophy of science is to appraise the scientific method. Little taught or understood by students or graduates, the scientific method outlines not only the correct procedure for scientific enquiry but shows the limits of science.

The Scientific Method begins with (1) observation, then (2) a proposal of a question or a problem, then (3) a hypothesis (educated guess), then (4) experimentation, then (5) a theory is proposed (a hypothesis with a high degree of probability) which leads after further experimentation to (6) a scientific law (when the theory is shown to be valid on a universal scale), such as the Laws of Thermodynamics or the Law of Gravity. 

This means that science is merely interpretation of the data. Science cannot prove a scientific fact – that is beyond the scope of the scientific method. It can only deduce a result with a high degree of probability and never absolutely verify or prove a truth, but only falsify one. It also means that science deals with the what and how, and not the who or why. 

The scientific method is inductive and we should be careful not to overstep its bounds. So when a person declares that evidence for evolution is so great it should be called law, it is clear they have an incorrect definition of science and are using it in an incorrect manner. 

Technically calling Evolution a “theory” is incorrect, for evolution cannot even get started on step number one – observation. The very nature of the case is a one-time, unrepeatable event. So operation science is the incorrect field to operate in. Rather it is a field called ‘origin science‘ which includes forensic science (crime scene investigations) and archaeology. Evolution is more accurately described as a model (as is creation) and should be assessed as a model. A model is held up to the light of the evidence and using the tools and rules common with historical research, we evaluate the model on the basis of (1) explanatory scope, (2) explanatory power, (3) plausibility, (4) degree of ad hoc-ness or how contrived it is, (5) in accord with accepted beliefs and (6) outstrips rival theories.

So how does evolution fair, now that it is in its correct category? Obviously more can be and should be said regarding this area of enquiry. But a good indication is to note that when a model violates known theories and laws, such as the second law of thermodynamics, the cell theory and the law of biogenesis, that model should be ejected from the window of its ivory tower. When the model does not explain the evidence, such as the exceptions in the fossil record, it should be regarded as a relic only to be found in out-dated textbooks.

There are further problems the philosophy of science brings to light. For instance, evolution is not something that can be read straight off the evidence, but is predicated on a philosophical commitment to naturalism. This is pointed out successfully by Dr. Philip Johnson in his book Darwin on Trial. Thus far the evidence for biological evolution only supports micro-evolution, or change within limits. It is a philosophical question rather than a strictly scientific question if this evidence should be projected onto the macro scale. Macro-evolution represents a huge extrapolation of the data.

Dating methods are sometimes deeply philosophically flawed by dogmatically assuming the principle of uniformity (uniformitarianism) and often use circular reasoning. This by its nature is a philosophical problem.

 

Premise 1: If evolution is true God does not exist

This premise is implied by many people. As we have seen the evidence for evolution is far from convincing, so we need not look at this first premise to deny the conclusion that God does not exist. But what about Premise 1 on its own merits? If evolution is true does this imply that God does not exist? 

It seems clear that it is not so. At most, if evolution is true, all it would mean is that a certain literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is incorrect. Indeed, there have been many Christians who have believed in God, and found no contradiction in also believing in evolution. Many very clever people are theistic evolutionists, including C.S. Lewis who thought that God very well could have used the process of evolution to bring about human life. 

Howard Van Till of Calvin College asks:

“is the concept of special creation required of all persons who profess trust in the Creator-God revealed in Scripture? . . . most Christians in my acquaintance who are engaged in either scientific or biblical scholarship have concluded that the special creationist picture of the world’s formation is not a necessary component of Christian belief . . .”6

Augustine in the fourth century (1500 years before the pressure of modern science) was suggesting that the days of Genesis one were not literal “solar days,” but narratorial devises to explain a logical framework. Davis Young from Calvin College writes:

Some things were made in fully developed form as we see them today, and other things were made in a potential form, so that in time they might become the way we see them now. Augustine went far beyond any superficial reading of the text by claiming that neither the creation nor the subsequent unfolding took place in six ordinary days. He is explicit that God did not create the world over the course of six temporal days. “The sacred writer was able to separate in the time of his narrative what God did not separate in time in His creative act”7 8

Yet even if the Bible’s creation account demands a literal interpretation, then all that would follow is that the Biblical doctrine of inerrancy is false. Dr. William Lane Craig suggests essential doctrines in systematic theology form a central core that you should fight for to the wall. Tenets like the existence of God, His essential attributes, the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of Salvation you never give up, but unessential doctrines with respect to God and salvation can be positioned nearer the periphery of that theological circle. In light of the defence of Premise 2, such an admission would be altogether too hasty. Still, it is worth noting that if the scientific community can establish a convincing proof and give explanations of the model’s noted shortcomings, that God’s existence is not something that is at stake.

What this brings to light is the hidden assumption implied in the argument, namely that God’s existence is dependant on the Bible’s revelation. A defender of biblical truth will no doubt be unmoved by such an assumption if he has a high view of the project of Natural Theology.

If God exists he can use the process of evolution. But if God exists he does not need the process of evolution. Therefore, if evolutionary theories fail scrutiny, why not give them up? For the apologist, regarding God’s existence, it is a matter of complete indifference if evolution did or did not occur. Evolution, therefore brings a very different challenge to the table then the atheist charges. The discussion is an in-house one; less an external attack on Christianity and more a matter of internal consistency of interpretation, as well as integration with the discipline of science.

What is so irksome to the committed atheist is he sees if evolution fails as a scientific model it leaves a gaping hole in his world-view. You may then ask what is there to plug this hole apart from theistic creationism? In the words of Richard Dawkin’s “although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”9 Ergo, if Darwin topples there goes the intellectual kudos of the atheist. Alvin Plantinga, philosopher at the University of Notre Dame says, “For the nontheist, evolution is the only game in town; it is an essential part of any reasonably complete nontheistic way of thinking; hence the devotion to it, the suggestions that it shouldn’t be discussed in public, and the venom, the theological odium with which dissent is greeted.”10

Strange as it may seem, it is not the theist who is biased towards the evidence, but the naturalist. The Christian can be open to where the evidence leads on the basis that the Genesis creation account permits a wide manner of interpretations, while the atheist is totally committed to Darwin’s speculations. 

 

The Tables Turn:

It is perhaps with this realisation in mind that led Jeffery Lowder to offer the more cautious argument from evolution. He stated in the year 1999 during The Lowder-Fernandes Debate: Naturalism vs. Theism, that evolution is more likely given naturalism than given theism. 

If evolution is true, then God is not needed for the account that various life forms that exist today and have existed in the past, and therefore evolution is compatible with naturalism. If theism is true however, evolution may or may not be true. Evolution is logically compatible with theism; God could have used evolution, but God could of used many other methods than evolution – methods which are ruled out by naturalism. Moreover, given that over 99% of species that have ever lived on earth is now extinct, evolution seems like a pretty strange way for an all-powerful being to create living organisms. Did God have to keep experimenting till he got things right? Thus evolution is some evidence for naturalism over theism. [sic] 11

This argument cedes the point that evolution is compatible with theism. This then constitutes a denial of the first premise. However his conclusion that if evolution is true it is more likely given naturalism rather than theism is based on the assumption that if God was the intelligent designer behind the origin and diversity of life He would have used an efficient method. Efficiency has been pointed out to be only a consideration for beings with limited time, resources and power. There is no reason to think that the creator God of Christian theism would desire efficiency when he was creating. Moreover, the way in which this God bought about the origin and diversity of life may have been in accord with other over-riding concerns, such as how the universe was to operate for the living beings he planned would occupy and observe it.

But why think that evolution is more likely given naturalism? This seems to ignore all the powerful evidence coming out of the scientific community in the last fifty years that has so strengthened the teleological arguments for God’s existence. First, the incredible cosmological fine-tuning of the conditions necessary to enable evolution even to take place, fall within extremely thin parameters. Second, the examples of calculations of the probabilities for the formation of basic biological structures. Both these exceed coincidence (or blind chance) and cry out for an explanation. It is therefore quite reasonable to imply a highly skilled and intelligent designer or divine miracle.

In 1943, the French statistician Emil Borel stated that when considering probabilities on a cosmic scale anything that exceeded one chance in 10 to the power of 50 should be regarded as impossible. This is a very small number when you consider the probabilities that are involved in evolutionary models, but it is a very big number when you consider there is only an estimated 10 to the power of 82 subatomic particles in the universe. 

Dr. Hubert Yockey, physicist and information scientist calculates the chances of a single protein containing only 100 amino acids would form spontaneously is less than one chance in 10 to the 65th power. Sir. Fred Hoyle calculates the chance of obtaining the required set of enzymes for even the simplest living cell is one in 10 to the 40,000th power. Yale university biochemist and biophysicist Harold J. Morowitz calculates the chance of a single bacteria arising by chance is one in 10 to the hundred-billionth power.

In his book Information Theory and Molecular Biology, Dr. Hubert Yockey states “The belief that life on earth arose spontaneously from non-living matter is simply a matter of faith in the strict reductionism and is based entirely on ideology, not on science.”12

Sir. Fred Hoyle said in Nature, “The likelihood of the formation of life from inanimate matter is one to a number with 40,000 naughts after it . . . It is big enough to bury Darwin and the whole theory of evolution . . . If the beginnings of life were not random, they must therefore have been the product of purposeful intelligence.”13

Dr. Francis Crick, in his book Life Itself says, “An honest man armed with all the knowledge available to us now can only state that in some sense the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.”14

The strength of the teleological argument is only increasing as more is discovered about the fine-tuning of the cosmos for intelligent life. In the Anthropic Cosmological Principle two of the world’s leading cosmologists, John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, point out 10 steps in the course of human evolution, such as the development of the DNA base genetic code, the origin of mitochondria in the cells, the origin of photosynthesis, the development of aerobic respiration, the development of the inner skeleton and the development of the eye, each of which is so improbable that before it would have occurred the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence star, and would have incinerated the earth. The odds they calculated for the assembly of the human gnome was somewhere around 4 to the -360th power to the 110,000th power — simply an incomprehensible number. For reasons like this as well as others, “there has developed a general consensus among evolutionists that the evolution of intelligent life. . . is so improbable that is unlikely to have occurred on any other planet in the entire visible universe.”15

In other words, the origin of biological complexity in sentient life is far more likely given theism than given naturalism. This therefore calls for an amendment to the original atheistic argument. 1-1) If evolution is true, it requires a divine miracle. But if it is the case that evolution is true, this constitutes an argument for Gods existence.

1-1)   If evolution is true, it requires a divine miracle

2)   Evolution is true

3-1)   Therefore, God exists

Isn’t it incredible that what the atheist originally thought disproves God, is actually a powerful argument for His existence?

 

Footnotes:

1. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, Chapter 6.

2. Colin Patterson, letter 10 April 1979, in Sunderland L.D., “Darwin’s Enigma: Fossils and Other Problems,” [1984], Master Book Publishers: El Cajon CA, Fourth Edition, 1988, p.89.

3. Stephen Jay Gould, “Evolution’s erratic pace,” Natural History, Vol. 86, No. 5, pp.12-16, May 1977, p. 14

4. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Adler & Adler; 3Rev Ed edition (April 15, 1986)

5. Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Lifes Origins: Reassessing Current Theories, Philosophical Library Inc, 1984.

6.  Howard Van Till, When Faith and Reason Cooperate, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI, http://www.asa3.org/asa/dialogues/Faith-reason/CRS9-91VanTill.html

7. St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J., 2 vols. (New York: Newman Press, 1982), pg. 36.

8. Davis A. Young, The Contemporary Relevance of Augustine’s view of Creation, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Ml, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 40.1:42-45 (3/1988), http://www.asa3.org/ASA/topics/Bible-Science/PSCF3-88Young.html

9. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London and New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1986), pp. 6, 7.

10. Alvin Plantinga, When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN. Christian Scholar’s Review XXI:1 (September 1991): 8-33. http://www.asa3.org/aSA/dialogues/Faith-reason/CRS9-91Plantinga1.html 

11. Jeffrey Lowder, The Lowder-Fernandes Debate: Naturalism vs. Theism: Which Way Does the Evidence Point? (1999), (http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=8220615357, retrieved 12 October, 2008) 

12. Hubert P. Yockey, Information Theory and Molecular Biology, 1992, Cambridge University Press, Page 284.

13. Sir. Fred Hoyle, “Hoyle on Evolution”, (Nature, Vol. 294, 12 November 1981, p. 105)

14. Francis Crick, Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature, Simon & Schuster, 1982, Page 88

15. Barrow, John and Tipler, Frank (1986): The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Clarendon Press, pg. 133.

Is Intelligent Design science? A response to Ken Perrott

I recently wrote on the question ‘Is intelligent design scientific?’ responding to some comments by Dale Campbell, attached to kiwi atheist Ken Perrott’s article ‘A new science bashing campaign?’ This generated a lot of feedback, and Ken has now posted a follow-up article titled, ‘Redefining science by inference’. I’d encourage you to read this before reading my response below. I’ll structure this response according to the headings Ken has used.

The arrogance of science-bashers

Firstly, I think it needs to be pointed out how Ken is framing this issue. He’s couching the question in terms of “science-bashing”, so that anyone who promotes ID is not only mistaken, but actually an anti-science zealot with an agenda to proselytize. Now, to a certain extent his defensive attitude is understandable. In my own opinion, many ID advocates have made a poor name for themselves in the public square precisely because of this sort of tactic. I tend to agree with Ken’s criticism that this is hypocritical, and with his concern that ID tends to be about tearing down evolution rather than building up any useful positive arguments of its own.

However, the push-back from the scientific community is no less prejudicial and no less ideologically-motivated. Since Ken is responding specifically to my own comments, I find his couching the matter in terms of “science-bashing” to be disappointing. I am not anti-science. True, my philosophical views about science hold it in a lower regard than most scientists would like. I hold the propositional revelation of God above the procedural revelation of his creation, and as the lens through which to interpret it. Science is not a means toward discovering ultimate truths. It is a tool for interacting with and manipulating the world. But by merit of this fact, I obviously do not deny its usefulness (on the contrary, I affirm it), and I am not shrilly paranoid about its ability to advance our understanding of the world in many ways. I am realistic about its shortcomings and limitations (such as its philosophical commitment to naturalism), and about how these will color and affect its conclusions and theories. But I am not anti-science.

It also needs to be said that Ken’s analogy is really poor. He likens ID advocates to people who criticize the methodology or philosophy of their plumbers and motor mechanics. But plumbers and motor mechanics fix relatively simple systems which have been designed. This is markedly different from scientists, who try to develop systematic explanations for highly complex systems which supposedly have not been designed. (Dentists, the third example, can at least be said to fix relatively simple systems, even if the origin of these is a matter of dispute.) The analogy might seem superficially persuasive, but in Ken’s own words there is an “abrupt discontinuity” between it and the reality it’s supposed to represent. It’s just not an equitable comparison.

Playing with words

Getting into the meat of the objections Ken raises, the accusation that proponents of ID “play with words” or try to “redefine science” is pretty common. In my view, the accusation says more about the ignorance or misunderstandings which scientists have of the philosophy behind their own discipline than about the intentions of those arguing for intelligent design. If ID proponents are arrogant, scientists have a certain superciliousness of their own as regards the relationship between science and philosophy. This is pretty well indicated in Ken’s post, when he talks about “the honest scientific process” as compared to the “word play” of ID supporters; one which has clear facts behind it, and one which clouds and confuses those facts.

The truth of the matter is that the process of science is not detached from the philosophy of science; yet the scientists themselves are detached from not only the philosophy of their field, but also its history. Perhaps this is understandable, but it’s still unfortunate, because it leads to a great deal of prejudice against any questions which can’t be tested in the lab (so to speak). ID is pretty much exclusively a philosophical issue—but it’s a philosophical issue regardless of which side you stand on. Scientists seem blind to this fact, however, because they hold to the side which asserts a naturalistic explanation. Since naturalistic explanations are scientific, they fail to notice that this one is still philosophically grounded. When you try to point this out, they treat it as “word play”.

Here’s what I mean. Consider the following inference which most scientists make:

  1. The commonly-recognized appearance of design in the universe is best explained by naturalistic, non-intelligent phenomena.

Making inference respectable

According to people like Ken, this is a perfectly acceptable scientific inference. Most scientists would probably take it for granted; they’d assume it implicitly—but an unstated inference is still an inference. Why is it so intrinsically acceptable that most scientists would take it for granted? Because science is concerned with natural causes, effects, and explanations. A natural explanation is a scientific explanation; and so the thesis that the appearance of design can be naturally explained seems, to the philosophically untrained, like a valid scientific conclusion. But then, consider its antithesis:

  1. The commonly-recognized appearance of design in the universe is best explained by the universe being designed by an intelligent agent.

Notice how this is exactly the same question—only with a different answer. Indeed, prima facie this is the better abductive inference, as opposed to (1). This doesn’t mean that it’s correct, necessarily, but it does seem intuitively better.

Is the question scientific at all?

Now, perhaps the question “What is the best explanation for the appearance of design in the universe?” is itself unscientific. Perhaps it’s something which scientists cannot answer, and so one for which any answer will be unscientific. I don’t think most scientists would agree with this, but if they did, then why are so many of them insisting on a naturalistic answer? Is it perhaps because they assume that naturalistic explanations should be accepted by default? Why? The fact that science, as a method of investigating reality, is naturalistic does not in any way imply that every explanation must be naturalistic. Scientists are conditioned to look for natural explanations—and that’s fair enough, because that is what science is all about. But that doesn’t mean that:

  • when we’re presented with the appearance of design, we should automatically exclude non-naturalistic explanations;
  • a naturalistic explanation is “scientific” by definition, while a non-naturalistic one isn’t. If the question itself is unscientific, then any answer to it will be unscientific as well;
  • if a non-naturalistic explanation is not scientific, it is therefore false. Being unable to investigate something scientifically does not imply its falsehood.

However, if the question is scientific, then—

Poverty of inference

If answer (1) is scientific, then answer (2) is as well

Notice how (1) and (2) above are addressing the exact same question. Yet (1) is dismissed as unscientific and even anti-scientific; while (2) is not. Why? Is it harder to falsify the thesis that the universe was designed than its antithesis, that it was not? I don’t see that it is. How might a scientist go about testing the assumption that the universe wasn’t designed? Probably in a similar way that he’d go about testing the assumption that it was. Yet the very complaint which scientists level at ID advocates is that we have not provided any falsifiable predictions to test. Okay, maybe that’s so—but why is the onus purely on us to falsify ID? Why is it not equally on secular scientists to falsify the antithesis? Isn’t that how honest scientists work? Once a question is raised, like, “Is the universe designed?” honest scientists don’t try to enforce a particular answer. They try to find one.

Conversely, if answer (2) is unscientific, then so is (1)

Most importantly, if intelligent design, as an explanation, is disqualified as unscientific, then its antithesis is disqualified as well, because they would both be falsified in the same way. The same test which could falsify intelligent design could (one would expect) falsify its denial. If we can make some prediction about some phenomenon which would occur if the universe is designed, and if we then test for that phenomenon, finding it would suggest that ID is right, while not finding it would suggest that ID is wrong. Similarly, if we can make some prediction about what we’d find if the universe is not designed, finding it would tend to prove ID wrong, while not finding it would tend to prove ID right.

In conclusion

Scientists don’t have to regard the question of intelligent design as important. They may not care one way or the other. Or they might be agnostic about it because they think it can’t be falsified one way or the other. That would be appropriately scientific. But if secular scientists want to say that the question of whether the universe was designed or not is nonsense; if they want to say that intelligent design, as a thesis for explaining the appearance of design, is unscientific; if they want to say that we should reject non-naturalistic explanations by default, then I must ask them to explain themselves:

Do they think that the thesis that the universe was not designed is falsifiable? If so, how so? But if not, then why are they championing it as scientific, over and against the thesis of intelligent design?

Is it on the basis of philosophical naturalism—the view that the natural world is all that exists? If so, can philosophical naturalism be falsified? No? But then it is unscientific—so why do they use it as a basis for decrying ID so loudly? Are they hypocrites?

Or is it on the basis of some other evidence? If so, what is it, and why should we find it compelling?

Is intelligent design scientific?

In the comment stream of a recent post by Ken Perrott, ‘A new science-bashing campaign?’, some discussion has been taking place about whether intelligent design (ID) can be considered scientific. Typically, secular scientists are vocal in their assertion that ID is a philosophical idea, and not a scientific one. It’s inappropriate to treat ID as if it were a scientific theory, or as if there is real evidence to support it, they say. And there is the vocal minority of ID supporters who push back and say the opposite.

In the comments on Ken’s article, the editor of Christian News New Zealand cited an article on Opposing Views by Jay W Richards, titled ‘Is Intelligent Design Science?’. I encourage you to read this article; it argues simply, yet I think persuasively, that it is not unreasonable to consider ID science—and that wherever you stand on the issue, you’d be naive to dismiss ID as unscientific by trying to define science in such a way as to preclude it.

In response to this article, Christian blogger Dale Campbell, who is an evolutionist, said:

What Jay Richards and others need to realise is that ‘ID’ is a philosophical inference which attempts to be scientifically informed. It starts with an inference, and then tries to find/match it with science – or (re)interpret science to try and match it up with the inference. The inference is not scientific, but philosophical.

Now, I don’t think Dale is opposing ID per se; rather, he is expressing his view that it’s a philosophical, rather than scientific position. As a Christian, I’m sure he does believe in ID; and as a Christian, certainly ID is a philosophical position. But does this preclude it from being scientific as well?

I don’t believe it does. Firstly, ID does not necessarily start with the inference of design, and then look for data in support of it. In fact, I think manifestly the fact that ID is not a specifically religious view demonstrates that it is quite possible and reasonable for it to be an a postiori rather than an a priori inference. Certainly for the Christian it must be treated as a priori: we come to the study of science with the presupposition that the universe was designed and created by God. But ID is not confined to Christianity, nor to religion at all. ID is simply the thesis that the universe, or some part thereof, was designed. A non-religious scientist could come to this conclusion quite reasonably by studying empirical data, and deciding that the facts at his disposal are best explained by a designer.

Is this an unscientific conclusion? Is it merely philosophical? This question raises another in turn: What is the difference between a “philosophical” as opposed to a “scientific” inference? For my own part, I’m not sure I see a clear distinction between them. Scientific inferences have two defining characteristics that I can see: (i) they start from empirical data; (ii) they are by nature abductive (and/or inductive; but abduction really is what defines them). Abduction, however, is itself a philosophical process; so I don’t see how we can deny that scientific inference itself is intrinsically philosophical. It is simply a kind of philosophical inference. All inference is philosophical in one way or another; and abduction is arguably more influenced by philosophical concerns than straightforward deduction.

But if scientific inference is characterized by these two principal factors, then how is ID not a scientific inference? Empiricism and abduction seem to describe the inference of ID just as well as any uncontroversial scientific inference which comes to mind.

Typically, I’d expect a scientist to say that I’ve omitted a third factor: scientific inferences need to be falsifiable. But there are two obvious objections to this: (a) falsifiability is a relatively modern notion in the history of science, and as such can’t be used to define science qua science. But more importantly, (b) it’s transparently evident that not all scientific inferences—indeed, perhaps not even most scientific inferences—are falsifiable. It’s not inferences which scientists generally require to be falsifiable, but theories. But even then, a theory is just the conclusion of a number of inferences (ie, it is itself an inference), many of which might not be themselves falsifiable; so the demand of falsifiability seems rather arbitrary.

Whether or not ID is true, and whether or not anyone can or has come up with falsifiable hypotheses about it, it does seem to me that Jay Richards is correct in his evaluation that it is not intrinsically unscientific. As he explains, we can’t validly keyhole science to fit certain preconceived philosophical notions about the world. In fact, the attempt to define ID out of science is openly prejudiced and hypocritical, being the attempt to exclude philosophical views of the world from science, on the basis of a philosophical view of the world. The definition of science really is not as fixed, narrow, or agreed upon as anti-ID scientists and philosophers would like to say it is.

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).