Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Theistic Evolutionists

It is not just young earth creationists (as referenced in my last post) whose difficulty with the problem of evil leads to (what I take to be) a faulty understanding of reality. For some of the most outspoken theistic evolutionists, their reason for affirming macroevolution has less to do with any evidence for it and more to do with theological implications of denying it.

Both Kenneth Miller and Francis Ayala appeal to the evolutionary process as a way of exonerating God from responsibility for the "evil" and perceived "bad design" in nature. Just as for the young earth creationist, the things from which these folks want to distance God include predatory animals, parasites (like malaria), and other potentially harmful aspects of nature. For Miller and Ayala, an appeal to Intelligent Design directly implicates God in the creation of such things, whereas if God only set into motion the process of evolution, this somehow lets Him off the hook.

I won't take the time right now to address the many problems with this view; rather, this post merely serves to get it on the table. In forcefully, vehemently arguing for evolution (despite its many evidential problems) and against intelligent design theory (or most forms of creationism) these men seriously believe that they are defending God's honor against the charge of bad design or cruelty.

And so, no matter where we turn, we find people coming to inaccurate conclusions for the very same reason--an inability to arrive at an adequate solution to the 'problem of evil.'

Monday, October 29, 2007

Whence Venom?

The issue of scorpion venom (discussed in my last post) allows me to segue back (in a roundabout way) to the problem of evil discussion we began a few weeks ago. Most people see scorpions (and rattlesnakes) as bad things, as part of the "evil" in this world. Indeed, so deeply is this felt that some Christians attempt to exonerate God (excuse Him from the charge of creating such "evil" things) by suggesting that they are the result of the Fall (or the 'Curse'). A concrete example comes to mind...

In a Sunday school class, the teacher asked my young son and his classmates to each come up with a list of 26 Things God Created, one thing beginning with each letter of the alphabet. Being a snake enthusiast, when my son got to V he wrote down "venom." Seeing this, the teacher asked him if he could come up with a different one, because she didn't think God created that.

Now, this well-meaning lady was not arguing for macroevolution (theistic or naturalistic). Rather, she had somehow come to believe that God had originally created the earth as a perfect paradise, completely free of any so-called "natural evils," including rattlesnakes or scorpions or (presumably) earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, forest fires, predatory animals, or anything else that might cause pain or loss of life. On her view, all of these things originated at the Fall of Adam and/or through a subsequent "curse" on God's part.

Sadly, this understanding is not rare among conservative Christians in our day and age. Sure, it flies in the face of all that we learn from the creation itself (general revelation), and has no historical grounding within the church (it really arose only in the 20th century). But more importantly, it involves a very wooden and superficial reading of the pertinent Bible passages and ignoring others that clearly refute it.

If God didn't create rattlesnakes and scorpions in the first place, where did they come from? The range of options is few. They either evolved, or were created by Satan, or resulted from a spell God cast at the time of "the curse." And I suspect that it is this latter option to which folks like my son's teacher ascribe. But the Bible seems pretty clear that God ceased creating once He had made the first man and woman, and that "the curse" was, more than anything, a banishment of Adam and Eve from the specially-prepared Garden and a straightforward explanation on God's part of the consequences of Adam's having chosen to sin.

The best treatment of this whole subject that I've ever come across is a relatively recent book by a friend of mine, NASA scientist Mark Whorton. It's called Peril in Paradise, and in it he contrasts the Perfect Paradise Paradigm (the Sunday school teacher's view) with the Perfect Purpose Paradigm (which I take to be a much more accurate understanding of the Biblical texts). I highly recommend it.

But we'll talk more about "natural evil" in posts to come.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Israeli Yellow Scorpion

Here's another example ("Of what?" you ask. Please see the previous post.)...

Gliomas are tumors of the central nervous system that arise from glial cells. Most occur in the brain of humans, though they can also be found in the spinal cord or optic nerve. High grade gliomas usually become extensive quickly, are difficult to treat, and are often fatal.

A promising experimental treatment for gliomas comes from the venom of the Israeli Yellow Scorpion (Leiurus quinquestriatus). American researchers have isolated chlorotoxin (a peptide), which apparently binds with high affinity to the chloride ion channels in the cancerous glial cells in the brain.

Let's pray that this compound does provide the pharmaceutical breakthrough for which these scientists hope, and that many persons suffering from this dangerous condition can be treated effectively in the future with this derivative from scorpion venom. But in the meantime, let's ask again, how would an evolutionist ever expect that such a benefit to humans would be found in such an organism?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Horseshoe Crab Test

A couple of weeks ago, I was blogging about the fact that understanding evolutionary theory has no practical implications for doing biological or any other scientific research. I quoted Phillip Skell, including...
...neither medical schools nor pharmaceutical firms maintain divisions of evolutionary science.
I thought I'd mention (from time to time) some of the ways in which chemicals derived from other organisms seem to serve a purpose (there's that word again, the one that has no place in the vocabulary of a naturalistic evolutionist) for human beings. At a minimum, I will be providing evidential support for Skell's claim above. Perhaps such evidence will also serve as a design argument (on yet another level), as I can't imagine a Darwinian "just-so story" for some of what I have in mind.

For starters, consider the Horseshoe Crab. A clotting agent derived uniquely from the blood of these strange-looking arthropods is used to test every intravenous drug administered to people. It's a test for purity from harmful bacteria, and no IV drug reaches your hospital pharmacy without first having passd the Horseshoe Crab test.

On a Christian worldview, this makes perfect sense. We are told that God created other life in part for our benefit, and so we search the living world for cures for human diseases. And such searching continues to reap benefits. But what I don't understand is how an evolutionary naturalist would ever expect this, or how he could justify beginning such a search. On his view, natural selection acts without purpose or design, and certainly doesn't evolve some life forms for the benefit of humans that don't even inhabit the same ecosystem. Moreover, the alleged common ancestor of humans and arthropods would have to have been very early in the history of life, and many of the intermediate life forms almost certainly lacked either the clotting compound of the "crab" or the intravenous drug use of the human.

This is, of course, just the first of dozens--perhaps hundreds--of examples that could be delineated. Besides just brute fact or lucky happenstance, can anyone suggest how a naturalist could explain these sorts of beneficial relationships?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

October 23rd

I've become a regular reader of Denyse O'Leary, Toronto-based author and blogger. She's a regular contributor (the most regular contributor) to the intelligent design blog of Bill Dembski and friends, Uncommon Descent. She also hosts two blogs of her own, The Post-Darwinist and The Mindful Hack. The latter provides a non-materialist look at mind/brain issues, much as does the excellent book O'Leary recently coauthored with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, The Spiritual Brain.

I got a big kick out of Denyse's post at Uncommon Descent today. It seems a reporter from the Toronto Star called to ask her how Christians were planning to celebrate today (October 23rd). She didn't know what he was getting at, so he explained that he figured she, as a fundamentalist Christian, could tell him how Christians planned to commemorate the date that Anglican bishop James Ussher and Cambridge University Vice-Chancellor John Lightfoot long ago concluded was the date on which creation occurred.

O'Leary patiently explained (among other things) that she is a Catholic (and thus not a fundamentalist) and an Old-Earth Creationist (not a Young-Earth Creationist). Further, she explained that she knows of no Young-Earth Creationist who believes Lightfoot and Ussher to have been right in their calculations.

Nor do I. But it is amazing how a few, well-funded and very vocal Christians can lead unbelievers to think that the Bible teaches that the universe is only thousands of years old.

There were, of course, a number of wrong assumptions associated with Ussher's and Lightfoot's calculations. (It was actually Lightfoot who said that Adam was created on October 23rd, 4004 BC, and even proposed a precise hour for that event!). One misassumption still shared by many English-speaking Christians is the demonstrably false view that the Old Testament genealogies were complete or were meant to serve the same purpose served by our modern attempts at establishing genealogies.

Comparison of the genealogies leads inevitably to the conclusion that biblical genealogies are not (and were not intended to be) complete. In Genesis 11, for example, there are ten names in the line from Seth to Abram (inclusively); in Luke 3, there are eleven names in the same genealogy, with Cainan inserted between Arphaxad and Shelad. The genealogy recorded in Matt. 1:8 has Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, and Uzziah, whereas 1 Chr. 3:10-12 inserts Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah between Jehoram and Uzziah. Hebrew scholars recognize that such genealogies were never intended to record complete family lines (as our modern genealogies would aspire to). The words translated “father” and “son” have much broader meaning in the Hebrew, and can mean “ancestor” and “descendant” as well as “father” and “son.” In some cases, the meaning is even broader--in Daniel 5:2, Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as the “father” of Belshazzar, though Belshazzar’s immediate father was Nabonidus, and he wasn’t even a biological descendant of Nebuchadnezzar (but, rather, simply a descendant to his throne).

The gaps in the Hebrew genealogies indicate that it is foolish to attempt to reconstruct a date for even the creation of Adam (let alone the universe itself). And while there remains much debate about how many generations are omitted, the scientific evidence (from genetics, archaeology, and such) still indicates that the first humans were created only tens of thousands of years ago (not millions, as required by evolutionary theory).

Still looking for something to celebrate this October 23rd? How about this... Celebrate the fact that as Christians who believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture we need not defend the view that the creation occurred only 6,000 years ago. The Bible--rightly understood--comes nowhere near teaching such a view, much less one that proclaims a date of October 23rd.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Can We Know What the Gospels Said?

As Bart Ehrman has pointed out (and as is recognized by every serious Christian and acknowedged by every study Bible), we do not have the originals of any New Testament book. And there is very good reason for this.

They were written originally on papyrus. If you don't know what that is, think about a very flimsy sort of reed, many of which were laid crosswise to one another and then beaten until they meshed. Now, the resulting sheet or scroll--on which a letter of Paul or a gospel account by Luke was written--was passed around from town to town among the early followers of Jesus (and also, thankfully, copied many times). Such papyri (and also the alternative "stationery"--dried animal skins) were not made to last for twenty centuries.

But we don't have the originals of any ancient documents.* And so the question--with regard to the reliability of documents from this period is not "Do we have the originals?" Rather, the pertinent questions are "How many copies do we have?" and "How short is the time that passed between the writing of the originals and the copies that survive?"

If we look at other ancient documents from about the same time period, the average number of surviving copies is about 20, and the average time interval (between the original and the earliest extant copy) is 1000 years. For Thucydides' History and Tacitus' Annals, for example, we have 8 and 20 copies, respectively, the earliest for each being 1,000 years after the autograph. And historians deem these to be reliable transmissions of what the originals said.

The attestation for the New Testament overwhelmingly surpasses all other ancient writings. We have over 5,000 Greek manuscripts containing part or all of the NT, plus more than 8,000 early Latin translations and thousands of others in Syriac and Coptic. A fragment of John 8 is dated at AD 117-138, within a few decades of the original. We have significant portions of other gospels from AD 200 and 250, and a copy of the entire NT that dates to AD 340!

On the two criteria used to assess the reliability of ancient documents, the New Testament in general and the gospel accounts of Jesus' life in particular enjoy an embarrassment of rich support. We can be extremely confident that we know what the originals said, even though none of the originals themselves have survived.

* A little reflection will lead you to realize that the vast majority of what you accept as true and reliable comes to you not through any original writing. Rare exceptions would be the hand-written love letters sent to you by your spouse or the post cards mailed from Mom and Dad. But the newspapers, magazines, internet articles, and virtually everything you trust to tell you the truth are not the autographs or original writings about the events in question.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Misquoting Jesus

As I prepare to teach a class on New Testament textual criticism, it seems appropriate to interact with Bart Ehrman, whose book Misquoting Jesus is just another in a list of very popular books attempting to refute Christianity. Like Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Ehrman's main problem is that he doesn't think well, that his "arguments" are not persuasive because they involve logical fallacies and lack adequate support.

With regard to the reliability of the New Testament, Ehrman adopts a hermeneutic of suspicion (or skepticism) for a very silly--and self-centered--reason. In effect, his whole approach is based on the reasoning he describes here...
I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place... And if he didn't perform that miracle [of preserving the words], there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words.
It doesn't take a gifted logician to see that this is not a valid, cogent argument, but merely an arrogant opinion. He is saying, in effect, "If I were God, I would have done it this way. Since it was not done the way I think it should have been, it cannot have involved God." This, of course, is just another case of the root of all sin, the pride by which we would put ourselves in the place of Almighty God. Unfortunately, many of Ehrman's readers will be either unequipped to see through this sort of sloppy thinking or willing to come to the same conclusion (and thus deny the claim of God upon their lives).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Chimp-Human DNA Comparisons

I mentioned this issue briefly back in June, but it seems to keep coming up. For many folks, the discovery that the human and chimp genomes are something like 96% similar is somehow proof that common ancestry and macroevolutionary theory are true. A couple of things need to be said in response to this misunderstanding.

First, this degree of similarity refers only to specific coding portions of the respective DNA; the research didn't include all of the coding DNA, much less the much greater amount of DNA that is not involved (directly) in serving as the template for gene products (proteins and such). And, indeed, since this research was first published, there have been numerous discoveries involving the functions and roles of the non-coding portions (what had been known as "junk" DNA), which were not included in this study.

More importantly, however, is this... Darwin's theory was never about the similarity of living things. Rather, it was an attempt to explain (away) the differences. All biologists at the time of Darwin recognized the chimpanzee as the living organism most similar to humans. So the ability of modern genomic research to quantify the degree of that similarity cannot in any way be seen as support for evolutionary theory. Rather, while such a finding gives us an even greater appreciation of the physical similarity between humans and chimps, it only illuminates the failure of Darwin's physicalist attempt to explain the differences. While our physiologies and anatomies are (as has always been recognized, both by theists and materialists) extremely similar, humans are different--not in degree, but in kind--from chimps, especially in their reasoning capacities and their penchant for spiritual expression. (I won't bother here to clutter the argument with the further claim, based on excellent empirical evidence, that human souls survive the death of the body, something that has not been documented for other primates.)

The finding that chimps and humans share a 90-something percent similarity in their physical templates is not a surprise to Christian theists. But it does highlight the fact that Darwinian evolution (because it is a merely physicalist explanation) fails to explain what it was formualted to explain--the outstanding differences between these similar organisms. In the world of abductive reasoning--arguing to the best explanation of the facts--Christian theism fares much better here (as everywhere else) than naturalistic evolution. Humans are unique creatures because they alone are made in the image of God, as rational, spiritual persons. Evolution offers no account for the significant differences between humans and chimps.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tainted Transmission

Our study Bibles indicate places where "some early manuscripts omit _______ (Son of God, e.g.)," and Bart Ehrman and others claim that early scribes so altered the gospels that we have no idea what Jesus really said and did. What are we to make of this?

This coming Sunday, our Adult Education class at Antioch will begin a four-week series discussing inspiration and inerrancy, scribal errors and the whole field of New Testament textual criticism. We'll answer the charge of "tainted transmission" of the Scriptures and--in the process--learn how to make the most of the marginal notes in our study Bibles that mention textual variants.

If you're in Central Oregon on the weekend, come to the 8:00 service at the Regal Cinemas in the Old Mill (theater #5), and then join us at 9:30 in theater #1. It should be an interesting and informative series.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Philip Skell's Opinion

In my last post, I shared a quote from A.S. Wilkins about how superfluous evolutionary theory is to the conducting of science. Wilkins was quoted by Philip Skell, a member of the National Academy of Science, in an opinion piece he wrote in the August 29, 2005 edition of The Scientist. Skell had polled 70 scientists about whether they would have approached their research any differently if they had thought that Darwinian theory was wrong. All said "No." Skell's conclusion?
From my conversations with leading researchers it had become clear that modern experimental biology gains its strength from the availablity of new instruments and methodologies, not from an immersion in historical biology [evolutionary theory].
Skell received (as you might imagine) a number of letters from fellow scientists critical of his claim. This induced him to write a response to these letters:
My essay about Darwinism and modern experimental biology has stirred up a lively discussion, but the responses still provide no evidence that evolutionary theory is the cornerstone of experimental biology. Comparative physiology and comparative genomics have certainly been fruitful, but comparative biology originated before Darwin and owes nothing to his theory. Before the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, comparative biology focused mainly on morphology because physiology and biochemistry were in their infancy and genomics lay in the future; but the extension of a comparative approach to these subdisciplines depended on the development of new methodologies and instruments, not on evolutionary theory and immersion in historical biology.

One letter mentions directed molecular evolution as a technique to discover antibodies, enzymes, and drugs. Like comparative biology, this has certainly been fruitful, but it is not an application of Darwinian evolution--it is the modern molecular equivalent of classical breeding. Long before Darwin, breeders used artificial selection to develop improved strains of crops and livestock. Darwin extrapolated this in an attempt to explain the origin of new species, but he did not invent the process of artificial selection itself.

It is noteworthy that not one of these critics has detailed an example where Darwin's Grand Paradigm Theory guided researchers to their goals. In fact, most innovations are not guided by grand paradigms but by far more modest, testable hypotheses. Recognizing this, neither medical schools nor pharmaceutical firms maintain divisions of evolutionary science. The fabulous advances in experimental biology over the past century have had a core dependence on the development of new methodologies and instruments, not on intensive immersion in historical biology and Darwin's theory, which attempted to historicize the meager documentation.

Evolution is not an observable characteristic of living organisms. What modern experimental biologists study are the mechanisms by which living organisms maintain their stability, without evolving. Organisms oscillate about a median state; and if they deviate significantly from that state, they die. It has been research on these mechanisms of stability, not research guided by Darwin's theory, which has produced the major fruits of modern biology and medicine. And so I ask again: Why do we invoke Darwin?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A.S. Wilkins

Here on the blog and in some of my presentations, I have been known to claim that biological macroevolution is unimportant and irrelevant with regard to understanding and conducting research in biology (let alone other fields of science). I only recently* came across a like sentiment from A.S. Wilkins, the editor of the journal BioEssays (2000). He wrote...
While the great majority of biologists would agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky's dictum that "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution," most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas. Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one.

*This quote was cited in an opinion piece by Philip Skell (about which I'll share more in a future blog), which in turn I found cited in Thomas Woodward's latest book, Darwin Strikes Back.

Friday, October 12, 2007


My friend Ben Larson has his blog, Ergo, up and running again. It's somewhat presumptuous of me to try to characterize it, but he's a thoughtful, bright, creative, talented, and articulate Christian young man who is willing to share with his readers glimpses into his life and thoughts. I hope you'll check it out and--like me--become a regular reader.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Evolution of Picky Eating

Today's gratuitous reference to evolution comes from an article from the New York Times titled "Picky eating? It's genetic, study finds."

The entire article is a sore disappointment--it is lengthy but very superficial. It begins by mentioning new research (out of University College, London) that queried the eating habits of 5,390 pairs of twins between the ages of 8 and 11. The conclusion with regard to picky eating in kids is that
78 percent is genetic and the other 22 percent environmental.
We are not given enough information to evaluate this research, and the lead researcher demonstrates a bias going in...
I came from a position of not wanting to blame parents.
Of course, I suspect we're supposed to accept her conclusion in part because she also makes certain to invoke evolution...
If we just went running out of the cave as little cave babies and stuck anything in our mouths, that would have been potentially dangerous.
As usual, the conclusion of this research (if accurate) has nothing to do with evolution, and certainly not (the controversial) macro-evolution. We are talking about humans, after all, and everyone accepts the idea that minor changes have occurred within the human population. Then there is no evidence (at least supplied by this article--and the research appeared to be a questionnaire rather than a biochemical study) of a genetic disparity among human populations in this regard. Moreover, we are expected to believe that--a mere tens of thousands of years ago (since the first Homo sapiens sapiens seem to have appeared very recently)--such a gene-based trait (for finicky eating) provided its carriers with a sufficient advantage such that natural selection favored such early humans over their non-picky cohorts. Were we not hypnotized by the evolution myth, would any clear-thinking modern really believe this nonsense?

If the conclusion of this research (that heredity plays a larger role than environment in this human characteristic) is valid, it suggests one thing...that there is adaptive advantage to being somewhat finicky at a young age. This realization doesn't provide support for any particular metaphysical belief (naturalistic evolution, intelligent design, creation). In other words, it would be much more factual to simply say that finicky eating is adaptive--such a statement would be non-controversial and (more importantly) more accurate than the baseless evolutionary claim made by the lead researcher.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A World of Difference

I'm really excited by the recently released book A World of Difference by Kenneth Richard Samples. It's the best book on worldviews that I've come across. I had the fortune to look at the manuscript just after it went to press. Moreover, I've been using the material in this book for several years, having received it in a course I took under Professor Samples. I'm thrilled that this important material has now been made widely accessible through this book (subtitled Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test).

In 16 easy-to-read chapters, philosopher, theologian, and apologist Samples presents a thorough discussion of the subject of worldviews. The first section (4 chapters) covers the concept of worldview, the fact that everyone has one (whether he has examined it or not), and the task of developing an accurate worldview. Chapters 5 through 11 explore the Christian worldview, detailing what the Bible and Christian orthodoxy have to say about truth, knowledge, history, revelation, God, creation, humanity, and morality.

Chapters 12 through 16 are my favorites, as Samples proceeds to walk us through an evaluation of each of the primary competing worldviews of our day. These are naturalism, postmodernism, pantheistic monism, Islam, and, finally, Christianity.

Here's a quote from chapter 1...
Unfortunately, many people consider philosophical reflection in general--and worldview consideration in particular--a waste of time. Ironically, however, even this position of apathy reveals a philosophical viewpoint (in that the sentiment "philosophy is a waste of time" is itself a philosophical position). Philosophy is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid. A generally unexamined or scarcely examined approach to life may explain why so many people hold underdeveloped, disjointed, and poorly understood worldviews.
For anyone wishing to examine their worldview, I can recommend no better place to start than A World of Difference. But wait! Don't go to the Amazon link immediately. If you're in the Central Oregon area, I'll have several copies available at a discount price this Sunday morning at Antioch's Ministry Fair. Drop by the Acts 17 (Apologetics Ministry) table before or after the 9:30 service (for this week only in theatre #9) and pick up your copy.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Purpose of the Appendix

For several years now it has been becoming increasingly clear that the human appendix is not a mere vestige, a useless organ that no longer serves a function. According to an article from the AP, Duke University Medical School surgeons and immunologists now think they know exactly what its function is. They theorize that the appendix cultivates and safeguards colonies of bacteria--the good kind that are necessary components of our digestive systems. For those times--as during a bout of dysentary or cholera--when the bacterial population of one's system is purged or dies, the appendix is ready to resupply the digestive tract with these needed microflora.

Although this explanation for the function of the appendix is still somewhat speculative (and referred to as a 'theory'), it is already gaining acceptance among others, as the article affirmed. But I was especially intrigued by what one of those other scientists had to say. Here's a part of the article...
Five scientists not connected with the research said that the Duke theory makes sense and raises interesting questions. The idea "seems by far the most likely" explanation for the function of the appendix, said Brandeis University biochemistry professor Douglas Theobald. "It makes evolutionary sense."
Have you noticed that every new scientific discovery is baptized with an appeal to evolution? Do the researchers worry that their theory will not be accepted unless they say the E-word in reporting it? Or do the interviewed 'other scientists' get a raise or points toward tenure every time they gratuitously appeal to evolution in an interview?

As a theist who understands that all living things--and humans especially--are designed by an intelligent Creator, I fully expected the eventual discovery that the appendix has a purpose. Indeed, I was never tempted to accept--as did so many evolutionists for so long--the notion that the appendix was a useless vestige of some purposeless evolutionary process. But now that the design prediction is being verified, this verification of a purpose--excuse me, I mean function (the word "purpose" has no place in a biologist's vocabulary, and I'm afraid I've slipped more than once in this post)--is said to "make evolutionary sense!"

Of course, no support is given for this vacuous statement, and that's because the finding of function for the appendix was not expected by evolutionists, provides no support for evolution, and--if considered objectively--fits in perfectly with the opposing view, that living things are designed.

I hope my readers are sensitized to notice these evolutionary creeds in articles about science--and to recognize them for what they are--gratuitous, content-free statements of faith by the believer in naturalistic evolution.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Ruse Versus Nelson

Last night at BIOLA, a different sort of debate took place. It was biologist Paul Nelson against atheist philosopher Michael Ruse. But rather than defend their own position (intelligent design or naturalistic evolution), the two were supposed to identify what new evidence from the other side would cause them to rethink their current belief.

I didn't have a chance to attend, and have not yet obtained access to an audio (or video) copy of the "un-debate." I have, however, read a couple of reviews. And the pertinent point for readers of this blog is that--like many atheists--Ruse's main objection to the existence of God has to do with the presence of evil, suffering, and "bad design" in the world. So we'll get right back to our lengthy discussion of this issue...

...right after I point out a couple more glaring problems in Dawkins' chapter 4.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Anthropic Principle: Planetary Version

Let me add some finishing comments to the post of two days ago...

We saw that a more honest appraisal--one using more of the parameters by now identified as finely-tuned for life--yields the following with regard to the probability of finding a planet that could support life:
less than 1 chance in a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion exists that even one such [life-supporting] planet would occur anywhere in the universe.
This probability--one chance in 10 to the 144th power--takes into account the existence of (a maximum possible number of) 10 to the 22nd power planets.

We are used to referring to extremely long odds as "astronomical," and while that word would have some pun value here, it is woefully inadequate. Physicists generally consider any probability that is less than 10 to the 50th power as equivalent to impossible. And the probability we have arrived at is orders of magnitude less still.

Dawkins' disingenuous attempt to discuss the anthropic principle led to his concluding that life might be found on a billion planets in our universe. But an honest attempt to interact with the identified design parameters yields a far different conclusion--that finding even one life-support planet in this universe would be impossible if naturalism were true.

(The best book I know for information about the designed-for-life characteristics of the universe is Hugh Ross' The Creator and the Cosmos.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

White-fronted Goose Day

If you were outdoors today in Central Oregon and heard different-sounding geese fly over, they were probably Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons). I was high in the mountains of southeastern Oregon, and had a flock of 52 flying south in a classic V-formation. Arriving home, I found that my wife and kids saw some streaming south over Madras. Then, upon checking my emails, I found that no fewer than four different members of the Central Oregon Birders On-Line (COBOL) had posted sightings today of this species.

Greater White-fronted Geese migrate south through our area in a very narrow window (of the calendar), and most years that migration peaks on... the 2nd and 3rd of October!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Disingenuous Dawkins

I have previously decried the fact that Richard Dawkins, a scientist, is so unwilling to interact with any scientific evidence in his book The God Delusion. In the rare cases where he does appeal to evidence, he does so selectively and dishonestly. A case in point is his alleged refutation of the improbability of life (in chapter 4).

In one section--titled "The Anthropic Principle: Planetary Version"--Dawkins acknowledges that there are certain parameters that need to be fine-tuned for life support. A life-support planet must be in a habitable zone around its star, an area in which (at minimum) liquid water can exist. And a life-support planet must have a relatively circular orbit within that habitable zone. Based on a very small number of such parameters, Dawkins allows himself to conclude that...
even with such absurdly long odds, life will still have arisen on a billion planets--of which Earth, of course, is one.
There are at least three fatal flaws to Dawkins' argument here, and we may be generous and attribute then to his ignorance of the subject or we may be more cynical and accuse him of disingenuity.

First, Dawkins confuses the conditions necessary for life to exist with the actualization of life. That is, he treats the conditions for life support and the origin of life as a single problem, whereas the latter is an entirely seperate--and extremely difficult (at least for the naturalist)--problem.

Secondly, in a very disingenuous move, he claims that the anthropic principle is a scientific explanation and that the opposing (non-scientific) explanation is an appeal to design. This is not an accurate portrayal of the case. The anthropic principle is a set of observations about the physical properties of the universe. It is an acknowedgement that many, many characteristics of the universe as a whole, of the Milky Way Galaxy, and of our solar system and its components are extremely fine-tuned in a way that allows for the existence of intelligent life (humans) in this one place in the universe. This is not (as Dawkins claims) a scientifc theory at all. Rather, it is a set of observations that any scientific theory about the universe needs to explain. One scientific theory that seems to do a very good job of explaining the anthropic principle says that these observations of apparent design are best explained by the existence of a transcendent Designer (and this theory also succeeds in explaining the beginning of the universe a finite time ago). Naturalists have no credible theory for either the anthropic principle or the beginning of the universe, and Dawkins' hand-waving bluster will not be persuasive with anyone who understands these things.

Thirdly, Dawkins' conclusion depends upon ignoring the vast number of such finely-tuned characteristics of the universe. Rather than the handful that he mentions, scientists have identified 128 characteristics of the galaxy and solar system that contribute to the improbability of life support. (This number is undoubtedly outdated, because this is such a fruitful field of research.) Astronomer Hugh Ross has compiled these parameters and--using extremely conservative probabilities--estimated the likelihood that all 128 parameters would occur. The result of this calculation is that...
less than 1 chance in a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion exists that even one such [life-supporting] planet would occur anywhere in the universe.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Dawkins' Ultimate Argument

As regular readers know, there was a group of us from Antioch reading together through and critiquing Richard Dawkins' bestseller The God Delusion. Last evening, we finally put it to bed with a discussion of chapter 4, in which Dawkins presents what he feels to be his most powerful argument against the existence of God.

Dawkins calls this argument "the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit." He's playing off of a quote by astronomer Fred Hoyle that the probability of life originating on earth (by purely natural means) is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, could assemble a Boeing 747. So just what is Dawkins' response? What is his most powerful argument?

He says, in effect, that however improbable the apparent design of this universe or of the life therein, the existence of a Designer must therefore be that much more improbable. In other words, the greatest argument this respected biologist and defender of evolution can come up with is,
If God made the universe, who made God?
This is not sophomoric reasoning--it's childish. It is undoubtedly this--Dawkins' most crucial chapter and argument--that led fellow atheist (but a true philosopher) Michael Ruse to write,
The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.
By advancing this utterly naive argument, Dawkins displays a complete ignorance of the centuries-long debate among far better thinkers than he about the answers to the questions about why the universe and life exist. Dawkins believes--as he could not if he'd ever read anything on this issue--that God as Designer somehow exacerbates the problem of the infinite regress. The conclusion of philosophers throughout history is that the existence of God--and specifically the eternal and transcendent God proclaimed by the Bible--uniquely solves the problem of the infinite regression (of causes).

To be specific, philosophers debating these issues distinguish between contingent (caused) things (like universes) and necessary things, of which an eternal transcendent God seems to be the only satisfactory Thing in the category. Thus, if indeed the universe itself is not eternal--if it had a beginning--then its existence requires a cause (or Cause), and unless the cause of the universe itself is a necessary Being, then that cause also needs a prior cause (or Cause).

Now the precious Natural Selection that Dawkins worships so devoutly was postulated under the assumption (of Darwin's day) that the universe itself was eternal. But modern science has clearly disproved that notion. This is, of course, part of what Dawkins' disputants at Cambridge (mentioned by him late in the chapter) had in mind when they dismissed his argument as "nineteenth century," but Dawkins was, apparently, too dense to understand this.

To complete his fall from respectability (among critical thinkers), Dawkins acknowledges that he favors (as the explanation for the overwhelming appearance of design in the universe) the multiverse theory. This idea asserts that there exist an infinite number of other universes, and we happen to live in the one that is (by chance) so exquisitely designed to accomodate life. Such an appeal, of course, fails to solve the problem of the infinite regress, since those other universes are themselves contingent--not necessary--things. If many universes (or even a universe-making machine) exist(s), the question remains, what caused them (it)?

The finding of modern science that the universe had a beginning provided empirical verification for the philosophical position that has (for most of two millenia) provided powerful rational proof for God's existence. Dawkins' hand-waving dismissal of the cosmological and design arguments may have made him a tidy sum in royalties, but his childish central argument and his display of ignorance with regard to the rich history of these philosophical debates has caused him a significant loss of respect among those who expected this Oxford professor to offer something new, substantial, or (at least) reasonable to the issue of the existence of God.

But Dawkins' central argument will also afford me (in posts to come) the opportunity to make a couple more faith-strengthening points involving the evidence of modern science (another area about which Dawkins seems strangely ignorant).