More on Lamoureux: expanding or contracting gaps?

I was notified of a recent post over at Evolution News & Science Today, addressing Denis Lamoureux’s continued use of the “god-of-the-gaps” argument against ID. To re-visit the  issue in a bit more detail, consider Lamoureux’s recent critique of ID (June 2018 volume of Christian Scholars Review). He writes,

“the root of ID Theory has now been publically revealed…[It is] a strident defense of a concordist hermeneutic, which ultimately undergirds this antievolutionary God-of-the-gaps view of origins…according to a God-of-the-gaps approach to divine action, there are ‘gaps’ in the continuum of natural processes, and these ‘discontinuities’ in nature indicate places where God has miraculously intervened in the world…However, there is an indisputable pattern in the history of science. The God-of-the-gaps understanding of divine action has repeatedly failed. Instead of the gaps in nature getting wider with the advance of science, they have always been closed or filled by the ever-growing body of scientific information.”

First, notice how much Lamoureux’s view conflicts with the Bible. The Bible, from front to back, is chocked full of miraculous events in which God suspends natural law and supernaturally acts. I have never been able to get a straight answer as to when and where the TEist thinks God has intervened in a miraculous way (other than the resurrection). Second, this God-of-the-gaps complaint is really the go-to for TEists in criticizing YEC and ID. But it’s entirely false. It stipulates that we can never suggest a miraculous event as an explanation, because science could potentially explain the event naturalistically in the future. The TEist is demanding believers to conform to “methodological naturalism” (where descriptions and explanations of the world can only include natural processes). This quickly becomes functional “metaphysical naturalism” in which we must assume that natural processes are the only things that exist.[1] (This is why many TEists deny present-day miracles and the existence of demons.) Additionally, the God-of-the-gaps complaint rests on a false view of the progress of science (and the demise of the miraculous). What I would like to suggest is that the very activity of science has opened gaps, not closed them. Here are five quick examples:

  1. While it has been debated since the time of the ancient Greek philosophers, the atheist community had always held the universe to be “static” and eternal. Why? Because, if the universe always existed, then there was never a time it didn’t exist (it never began to exist), and thus requires no explanation as to how it came into existence. However, three independent discoveries in the early 20th century revealed that the universe did have a beginning in the finite past (the so-called Big Bang). This may be the biggest shift of all time in science, and it was shift to a view more amenable to Christianity. Worse, scientists rejected the idea because they knew what it meant (as Greg Koukl puts it, “A Big Bang needs a Big Banger”). In his book, God and the Astronomers, Robert Jastrow (a secular astronomer) retells the reluctance expressed by scientists at this discovery. Here are a few famous quotes to that effect:

“The notion of a beginning is repugnant to me… I simply do not believe that the present order of things started off with a bang… the expanding Universe is preposterous… incredible… it leaves me cold.” – Arthur Eddington

“To deny the infinite duration of time would be to betray the very foundations of science.” – Walter Nernst

“I find it hard to accept the Big Bang theory; I would like to reject it.” – Phillip Morrison

Scientists, to little avail, have been trying to escape this every day since. In a very simple logical argument, William Lane Craig puts it like this: “Everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore the universe has a cause.” That cause cannot be the universe itself (something must exist in order to cause something), and something cannot come from nothing (from nothing, nothing comes). Thus, the cause of the universe must be incredibly powerful and transcendent to the universe.

  1. Alongside this discovery have been the discoveries associated with the so-called “fine-tuning” of the universe. These discoveries have also been made by secular scientists, and are not denied by scientists today. I won’t go into a long description of the various ways in which the universe if fine-tuned, but many atheists have admitted that these features remain, to them, the strongest argument in favor of the existence of God (I actually think the life, death and resurrection of Christ is).

In the past several decades, scientists have discovered that the physical laws and initial parameters of our universe are so finely-tuned that, if even one of the hundreds of these features was changed by an infinitesimally small amount, life and the universe that we know would not exist. One of the best examples is the so-called “cosmological constant.” Let’s suppose you have one of those old radios with a dial nob for tuning in stations. You want to listen to 93.7 FM. The FM band runs from 87.1 to 107.9, on only odd numbers (87.1, 87.3, 87.5, etc.). This allows for there to be 105 possible stations. Thus, if you randomly select a station, you would have a 1-in-105 chance (or a probability of 0.0095, because 1 divided by 105 = 0.0095) of getting 93.7. Notice that your chances aren’t very good if you randomly select it. But, if an intelligent mind (you) choose it, then the chances collapse to 100%. The station will be tuned to 93.7 FM. Keep that in mind.

The precision of the cosmological constant is one in 10120. That is, your probability would be a number with 119 zeroes in front of it! For scale, consider that the known universe has only 1080 particles in it, and that, if we assume the standard mainstream age of the universe (14 billion years old), there have only been about 1040 seconds. That is, you’re much much more likely to randomly select a particular particle out of the entire universe than to randomly select the cosmological constant. And, like the FM tuner, if you move it just one digit, the universe would either collapse or expand such that no matter would exist. This constant was predicted by Einstein in 1916, but he dismissed it (because of what it meant), and instead inserted what he called a “fudge factor” to avoid its existence. He later confessed this to be the “greatest blunder” of his career. This is just one of the many finely-tuned features of the universe, our galaxy, our solar system, and our planet.[2]

There are only three possible types of explanations for these finely-tuned features: necessity, chance, or design. Presently, science has no hope of demonstrated necessity (that these features had to be the way they are). They really aren’t trying (as far as I’m aware) to make a case for the necessity of finely-tuned features. Current secular work has largely pursued chance-based models (namely, the so-called “multiverse” theory), but even the scientists themselves have mocked this attempt.[3]

So powerful are these facts that, one of the greatest philosophical atheists of the 20th century, Antony Flew, was persuaded away from atheism, and wrote a book titled, There IS a God. He cited the fine-tuning arguments as the deciding factor.

Cambridge University astronomer Fred Hoyle put it this way,

“A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”

Again, even the most strident atheists have been surprisingly honest about the implications of the fine-tuning of the universe. The infamous atheist Richard Dawkins has said, “You could possibly persuade me that there was some kind of creative force in the universe. There was some kind physical mathematical genius who created everything.” Dawkins is not alone. Quite a few physicists (including Neil deGrasse Tyson) have proposed a “simulation theory” in which the entire universe is just a software simulation created by some hyper-intelligent alien.

Returning to the supposed God-of-the-gaps problem, it would seem that the universe and its properties, thanks to scientific discovery, has become a strong “gap” in support of the miraculous power of an Almighty God! Ironically, most TEists agree, and readily use these arguments in their Christian apologetics. My question has always been, why do they stop there?

  1. The efficacy of mathematics is another related feature of reality that science uses on a daily basis. Here’s a strange thought experiment: Have you ever doubted whether or not your pizza pie takes up a precise amount of space on your table? Probably not. However, your pizza raises the issue of infinity (which remains hotly contested in philosophy and science). The area of a circle (like your pizza) = πr2. But, π is (we think) an infinitely nonrepeating number (3.1415926535897932…). In 2017, a computer calculated π to a record 22 trillion digits! Again, π is considered an irrational infinite nonrepeating number. Which means, in order for your real pizza to have an actual precise area (which it does), then the full value of π must exist! But, actual infinites are highly debatable (in a finite universe). Many think infinities don’t really exist, because they create logical inconsistencies (for example, try jumping out of an infinitely deep hole…you can’t even get started). It’s not a far reach to then consider the possibility of a mind (God) who can actually realize (bring into existence) infinity (in the form or your pizza!).

But it gets better. The truly surprising thing is that mathematics works. In 1960, Nobel Laureate and physicist Eugene Wigner wrote an article titled, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.” In it, he wrote, “The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics to the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.” Why does he say this? Two reasons. The first is that mathematics are just abstract representations of thoughts. The number seven doesn’t exist. It has no mass, volume or spatial location. It’s not made of a substance. Philosophers call these sorts of things “abstract objects.”[4] Consider another quick mindbender: If you have two oranges, and I give you two more, how many do you have? Well, two oranges, plus two more oranges, equals four oranges. But, what if you have two oranges, and I take four away from you? This of course is materially impossible (this cannot be physically done). Yet, my seven year old daughter does this all the time in class. The very existence of such abstract objects points to something that violates metaphysical naturalism. Yet, no secular scientist denies it. Consider the admission of atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg,

“[We] adopt abstract objects—the objects of mathematics—as existing even though they are abstract, even though they are not concrete, even though they are not physical items in the world. Why? Because they [are] indispensable to the predictive power of science.”

True, you can never actually have negative two oranges. Yet, we can use mathematics like this to describe and predict things that do exist. So why do these abstract concepts of the mind lay hold of material reality in such a reliable way?

Physicist (and agnostic) Paul Davies has given this problem serious thought. In an oral talk he presented at the Salk Institute back in 2006,[5] he said,

“All scientists agree that doing science means figuring out what is going on in the world, what the universe is up to, what it’s about. If it isn’t about anything . . . you’d have no rational basis for believing that as you dug to deeper and deeper levels, what you’d uncover would be additional coherence and meaningful facts about the world… Experience shows that as we go deeper and deeper into our inquiries into nature, we continue to find rational and meaningful order, rather than just a haphazard jumble of unrelated phenomena.”

So, we might ask ourselves a simple question: Given that there is no necessary expectation for such transcendent coherence and comprehensibility, is this feature more or less likely given a transcendent creator? The late Stephen Hawking once asked, “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” Is this not a real, true and expanding “gap”?

  1. Moving into biology, the origin of life remains a massive “gap” in scientific understanding. For centuries, we have dealt with the “hard problem” of consciousness (which could easily be another example of the kind of “gap” that Lamoureux denies). Today, the origin of life has become just such a “hard problem.”[6] In Darwin’s time, it was thought that the origin of life would be a fairly simple task for science; a gap that would close easily. In the 19th century, the cell (which is the smallest unit of life) was considered nothing more than a “globule of plasm.”[7] In the 150 years since, things have changed dramatically. Today, the common textbook on cell biology (simply titled, Molecular Biology of the Cell) is roughly 1,500 pages. You don’t need 1,500 pages to describe a globule of plasm! In 1960, zoologist James Gray wrote, “A bacterium is far more complicated than any inanimate system known to man. There is not a laboratory in the world which can compete with the biochemistry.” In 1991, Howard Klein (speaking for the National Academy of Sciences) said, “The simplest bacterium is so damn complicated from the point of view of a chemist that it is almost impossible to imagine how it happened.” To the chagrin of the secular, the problem has gotten increasingly impossible. That is, science does not have a functional model for the origin of life on earth.

As proof, consider the words of James Tour, an origins of life researcher with more than 650 publications, over 120 patents, and listed as one of “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds,” speaking in 2016:

“We have no idea how the molecules that compose living systems could have been devised such that they would work in concert to fulfill biology’s function. We have no idea how the basic set of molecules…transformed into the ordered assemblies until there was the construction of a complex biological system, and eventually to that first cell…Those who say, ‘Oh this is well worked out,’ they know nothing—nothing—about chemical synthesis—nothing…That’s how clueless we are. I have asked all of my colleagues—National Academy members, Nobel Prize winners—I sit with them in offices. Nobody understands this. So if your professors say it’s all worked out, if your teachers say it’s all worked out, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Just as we saw in the fine-tuning of the universe, life is also fine-tuned in ways that defy naturalistic explanation. I can’t go into great detail here, but I will briefly mention two fundamental problems. First, the “central dogma” of biology is that DNA codes (genes) get transcribed into RNA codes (another type of information-containing molecule), which are used as blueprints for constructing proteins (which are the stuff of life, from hemoglobin to muscle tissue to collagen in your skin). DNA is comprised of long narrow chains of units that work like a four-letter alphabet (A, T, C, and G) for writing protein codes (the letters in DNA tell us the structure of the protein that will be assembled). But, the processes of reading, copying and transcribing DNA codes require both RNA and proteins. For example, there are more than thirty proteins that all assemble around a DNA strand during the copying process. DNA codes for RNAs and proteins, and yet you need RNA and proteins to copy DNA. So how do you get started? This is like saying that you need A to get B, and B to get A. Several theories have been offered, but none seem to be agreeable to scientists, let alone verifiable.

The second problem is the nature of the DNA code. As I mentioned, DNA codes for proteins, which make up the physical structures of cells and whole organisms. Roughly speaking, the code is broken up into individual genes. These genes are, on average, about 1,000 units long. All words in DNA language are just three letters long (for example, TTC, AGA, CGA, etc.). These triplets correspond to particular units that go into making a protein, kind of like the word “cat” corresponds to an actual animal you could go and get, as does “dog,” “bat,” etc. The order of these words matter. The order of triplets of letters tell us the order of subunits that make up a protein. Durston and Chiu (2012) estimated that the chances of randomly assembling a code that actually produced a functional protein are about 1 in 10100. This is the likelihood for randomly getting one functional protein (coded for by a DNA gene). Those are odds approaching the improbability of the cosmological constant.[8] The difference is, these calculations can (and have) been experimentally demonstrated in scientific research. Scientific findings have revealed this gap. On top of this, the simplest life form (a single-celled organism) we know of contains 473 genes! You would have to win that lottery 473 times (simultaneously) to achieve first life. Thus, it’s no surprise that the secular have struggled to fill this ever-widening gap.[9]

The situation got so bad that, clear back in 1973, Noble Laureate Francis Crick (along with Leslie Orgel) published an article arguing for “directed panspermia.” They wrote, “As an alternative to the nineteenth-century mechanisms, we have considered Directed Panspermia, the theory that organisms were deliberately transmitted to earth by intelligent being on another planet.” Crick was a vociferous atheist. To quote another atheist, Richard Dawkins again concedes,

“It could be that, at some earlier time somewhere in the universe a civilization evolved… probably by some kind of Darwinian means to a very, very high level of technology and designed a form of life that they seeded onto… perhaps this planet.”

Notice here that the secular scientists are willing to entertain the possibility of intelligent design of life on earth, while TEists are not! I hope you all can see that this God-of-the-gaps argument falls apart upon inspection. In fact, science seems to be running up against intelligent design at every turn.

  1. Meanwhile, YEC and ID have not just been right in their thinking (in denying the power of chance processes and the Darwinian paradigm),[10] but they have actually been on the right side of scientific advances (again, destroying Lamoureux’s false narrative). There are several examples I could discuss, but one of the most obvious is the “junk DNA” revolution. Upon completion of a first draft of the human genome, scientists concluded that most of our genome (something like 97% of it) was represented as a vast wasteland of junk DNA, and didn’t code for anything useful. This was expected, given Darwinian evolution, since this wasteland would be made up of ancient genes that have been rendered useless through chance mutations over time.[11] On the other hand, ID theorists had maintained that the genome would be meaningful and functional. This was a prediction based on the creative power of an intelligence, and ran completely counter to the expectations based on blind evolution.

Thus, many evolutionists were shocked in 2012 when an international consortium of mainstream researchers associated with the ENCODE project reported their findings in the journal Nature. There, they argued that up to 80% of the genome was functional! That same year, a review by Wen et al. was simply titled, “Pseudogenes are not pseudo any more” (indicating that many of these supposedly defunct genes were actually functional). Since then, we have learned more about genomes. We already knew that DNA could be read forward and backward, but we also discovered that it can be read in alternative “reading frames.” For comparison, imagine trying to write a novel that is roughly 7.5 million words long, and have it make sense if you read it left to right or right left, and also if you simply selected every third letter, or if you chose to begin forming new words from letters by starting to read in the middle of an existing word. That’s what DNA does. We’ve also discovered that the genome functions like a giant operating system, with multi-level regulatory structures, feedbacks and real-time responses. Quoting molecular biologist Matti Leisola,

“The twenty-first century understanding is a genome-centric framework. The earlier framework was reductionist; the new framework, one of complex systems. The old model viewed biological operations as mechanical; the new model sees them as cybernetic. In the old model, the main focus of heredity theory was ‘genes as unites of inheritance and function.’ Now it’s ‘genomes as interactive information systems’…On the old view, a common metaphor for genome organization was a string of beads. Within the new framework, it’s a computer operating system.”

I find it fascinating that the community of mainstream, secular scientists have started talking about molecular life in engineering terms. They are even creating new technologies by reverse-engineering the systems they’re discovering in the cell![12] Perhaps this is why Bill Gates has compared DNA to computer code, saying, “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” A 2013 paper again drew connections between DNA and intelligent design,

“Genomic DNA is already used on Earth to store non-biological information. Though smaller in capacity, but stronger in noise immunity is the genetic code…Therefore it represents an exceptionally reliable storage for an intelligent signature…As the actual scenario for the origin of terrestrial life is far from being settled, the proposal that it might have been seeded intentionally cannot be ruled out. A statistically strong intelligent-like ‘signal’ in the genetic code is then a testable consequence of such scenario.”

The main point is, Lamoureux is simply wrong in suggesting that science has squeezed out all evidence of intelligent (or divine) action. Quite to the contrary, pre-supposing intelligence behind nature would have aided science on several occasions, and science has certainly offered many “gaps” that look to real. If creationists and IDers are right about this, then there is simply no reason to abandon belief in a God who has been (and is) active in His creation in miraculous and supernatural ways.[13]

References:

[1] In a now-famous quote, Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin wrote, “We are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” And, the TEists are playing right along.

[2] For a nice book covering these things, pick up The Privileged Planet, which is also available as a DVD.

[3] On this theory, our universe is just one “bubble” that emerges from an almost-infinite series of other universes (thus the “multiverse”). As one example of the strong criticism it’s drawn, writing in the journal Nature, Paul Steinhardt title a paper, “Big Bang blunder bursts the multiverse bubble,” saying, that the theory is “fundamentally untestable, and hence scientifically meaningless.” Note also, that the scientist hasn’t helped his situation by explaining the universe using a multiverse. In trying to explain one universe, he/she now has to invoke an almost-infinite number of other universes!

[4] Your thoughts are also like this. They have no physical properties, yet they exist.

[5] Curiously, the conference at which he spoke was the Beyond Belief meeting, which was a collection of atheists seeking to supplant all religion! There were some there who actually defended faith, even though they don’t believe.

[6] See Walker and Davies. 2016. “The ‘Hard Problem’ of Life”.

[7] This phrase, “globule of plasm,” was used by all of the major evolutionists of the day, including two of Darwin’s greatest allies (“Darwin’s bulldog,” T.H. Huxley, and the “German Darwin,” Ernst Haekel).

[8] In 2004, molecular biologist Doug Axe (an ID proponent) published a similar finding in the Journal of Molecular Biology, and it cost him his job!

[9] In a 2011 issue of Scientific American, John Horgan published an article titled, “Pssst! Don’t tell the creationists, but scientists don’t have a clue how life began.”

[10] Whether the TEists like it or not, Darwinian evolution has been on the decline since the 1970s (even among secular scientists). In a recent review in the Journal of Genetics and Molecular Biology, commemorating the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species, Jablonka and Lamb tell us,

There are winds of change in evolutionary biology, and they are blowing from many directions: from developmental biology (particularly the molecular aspects), from microbial biology (especially studies of mutational mechanisms and horizontal gene transfer), from ecology (in particular ideas about niche construction and studies of extensive symbiosis), from behavior (where the transmission of information through social learning is a major focus), and from cultural studies (where the relation between cultural evolution and genetic evolution is under scrutiny). Many biologists feel that the foundations of the evolutionary paradigm that was constructed during the 1930s and 1940s (Mayr, 1982) and has dominated Western views of evolution for the last 60 years are crumbling, and that the construction of a new evolutionary paradigm is underway.”

I have dedicated a chapter of my book, Shadow of Oz: theistic evolution and the absent God, to this issue, and there are other good books for those who are interested (I just read Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to ID, and it is excellent and approachable to the layperson).

[11] In 2005, Evolutionist Douglas Futuyma said, “Only Darwinian evolution can explain why the genome if full of ‘fossil’ genes.” This was echoes by many other biologists, including Francis Collins (perhaps the most famous TEist to date).

[12] Some folks from Harvard have successfully stored digital information in DNA code (i.e., a form of reverse-engineering). A lot of stuff (700 terabytes per gram).

[13] I didn’t even broach the broad subjects of Christ’s resurrection, miracles (of antiquity and of modern times), or human mind, soul and consciousness.

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Review of Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design

I just spent a week on the beach (North Topsail, NC) with my wife’s side of the family. Twenty-one people, one large house on the beach, and it was really terrific. My pleasure reading for the week was a new book by Matti Leisola and Jonathan Witt titled, Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design. I had a hard time putting it down, and I felt that should offer a short review.

Broad strokes:

There’s nothing really that new here. Leisola is a well-credentialed scientist (more than 100 publications, more than 30 patents, and he has held several notable positions). He has also been a skeptic of the Darwinian mechanism since the early 1980s. As a biochemist working on enzyme function for most of his career, his skepticism should at least warrant attention. Leisola and Witt detail several major features of the landscape in modern biology: 1) Behind closed doors, many biologists question the efficacy and plausibility of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis 2) very few risk questioning it in public 3) the basic tactic of Darwin supporters in the industry is to dismiss skeptics, and, whenever possible, to blacklist them, mock them, and hopefully destroy their careers.

At this point, the Darwin defender will usually say something like the following,

“Yes, we do dismiss, blacklist and mock skeptics of Darwin, because these people aren’t real scientists and, as such, pose a threat to the entire enterprise. They pilfer religiously-motivated creation fables into the laboratory and classroom. Moreover, they’re simply wrong about their scientific claims.”

As I’ve already mentioned, nothing new to see here. However, I found Heretic refreshing because it wasn’t some novel contribution. Rather, it was a digestible (229 pages), evidence-driven account of Leisola’s forty year experience in the industry. If one dismisses Leisola’s views, they do so without having read them (which is all-too common). If you read the book, it’s hard to avoid the case he builds. Essentially, the book functions something like a cross between Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed and Darwin’s Doubt. As such, it is wildly successful.

Some specifics:

First off, I found myself dog-earing every page, so I’ll have to just pick and choose some representative examples in this review. Leisola starts by describing his own early years as a Darwin-defender, and how a lecture from Francis Schaeffer shook him. Namely, Leisola recognized his own emotion-driven rejection of Schaeffer’s words. As he puts it, “If I was the confident and rational one, why was I so touchy?” It was at this moment that Leisola recognized more than a conflict in inquiry and research, but rather a conflict of worldview.

Leisola started looking into the actual evidence for some of the central tenets of Darwinian Evolution (DE). He began with the origin of life. I won’t detail it all here, but suffice it to say that fanciful tales have been conjured from the beginning on this one. In the 18th and 19th centuries, life was considered rather simple. Cells, once discovered, were consistently referred to as “globules of plasm.” As such, their spontaneous emergence seemed easy. Many argue that Louis Pasteur killed religion when he showed that life did not spontaneously arise. Leisola reminds us it was quite the opposite. Pasteur showed that life doesn’t just pop into existence so easily. In fact, the new rule of thumb became that life simply did not spontaneously emerge. That should have sent shockwaves through the scientific community. Leisola then proceeds to discuss a century-and-a-half’s worth of failed attempts and honestly-stated frustrations in origins of life research. The examples are copious, as are his breakdowns of each proposed model. Worse for the Darwinists are the admissions that none of these models are working, made by Darwinists. We now talk of cells as complex molecular cities, comprised of layers of integrated networks that are so byzantine that they make our most advanced technologies look like cave drawings. That is, during those failed attempts, the true complexity of the cell was revealed to us. The problem keeps getting harder. A final note here; the attempts at “ratcheting” up to life (a single cell) hasn’t worked either. To anyone in the industry (and I’ve read a lot in this field), this is admitted…again, behind closed doors (and in the literature itself).

Just to quote one scientist from the book, consider the words of James Tour, and origins of life researcher with more than 650 publications, over 120 patents, and listed as one of “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds,” speaking in 2016:

“We have no idea how the molecules that compose living systems could have been devised such that they would work in concert to fulfill biology’s function. We have no idea how the basic set of molecules…transformed into the ordered assemblies until there was the construction of a complex biological system, and eventually to that first cell…Those who say, ‘Oh this is well worked out,’ they know nothing—nothing—about chemical synthesis—nothing…That’s how clueless we are. I have asked all of my colleagues—National Academy members, Nobel Prize winners—I sit with them in offices. Nobody understands this. So if your professors say it’s all worked out, if your teachers say it’s all worked out, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

As Leisola points out, this is not entirely true. Tour’s colleagues may not have any clue as to how life emerged, but they do know one thing: Intelligence was not involved. This is the commitment Leisola keeps hitting on. There is a worldview problem here. The materialist/physicalist/naturalistic worldview demands a reductionist approach to all systems (biological or otherwise). You must be able to explain the origins of things by their parts (and the parts around them). To argue that “apparent design” in nature might be authentic design is simply not allowed. Not because there isn’t good reason to infer it, but because it breaks the worldview in which science is permitted to operate. As the evolutionist Lepeltier argues,

“Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion—a full-fledged alternative to Christianity…Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.”

True to ID form, Leisola then brings up the fossil evidence for evolution, and demonstrates that the fossil record doesn’t conform to expectations based on a Darwinian account. Again, the evolutionists believed that the fossil record would eventually reveal a massive, smooth set of gradual transitions in which life slowly diversifies through time. The more fossils we’ve found, the more evident the opposite pattern. The fossil record is full of explosions of diversity, and the transitional fossils are exceptionally rare (and usually, they turn out not to be transitional fossils). Note that Leisola (and IDers in general) don’t deny modest change in forms over time. But these seem to act within very hard and narrow constraints, and time is no panacea to the problem. This too is well-documented and admitted in the literature by specialists in the field. Leisola then summarizes some of the alternative models (ones that avoid the need for gradual change over time). The very fact that so many have attempted to produce alternative models tells us that the original model (the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis) has failed. The central portion of the book details Leisola’s public statements against DE, and the fallout that followed. Even for one who has felt the heat myself, my jaw hit the floor reading some of the overt bias and clearly dastardly behavior of those who tried to silence Leisola. The book is worth reading, just to see how unprofessional the profession of science can be. The public needs to know how the industry has been operating, and it needs to be subject to much greater scrutiny in the media.

The fact is, so long as you assume the metaphysics of naturalism, you are free to criticize theory. But, if you question metaphysical naturalism, you are dismissed out of hand, and gagged. As I have pointed out on several occasions, the proof of this claim is that scientists have not out-of-hand dismissed the possibility of life being seeded on earth by aliens (a clear form of intelligent design), nor the idea that the entire universe is a “simulation” being run by some hyper-intelligent alien (again, clearly a form of intelligent design). These are acceptable hypotheses because the intelligence being inserted will itself reduce to metaphysical naturalism.

From here, Leisola and Witt move into a couple of other discussions related to the efficacy of DE as a model. Namely, they point out that the evidence Darwin offered for the power of natural selection was largely absent. Instead, the theory was built upon the supposition that natural selection could behave much like artificial selection. Darwin looked at the power of strong purifying selection that was instituted by intelligent beings (us) in the domestication of various plants and animals, and argued that natural selection could behave similarly (though over longer periods of time). Leisola and Witt point out that we have come a long way from simple selective breeding, and now know much better the limits of artificial selection at the genetic or molecular level. In both cases (selective breeding and genetic alteration) the story remains the same: there is a hard and fast limit to what even intelligence can achieve as a selective force. Worse, nature looks nothing like our artificial selection. The authors do an excellent job summarizing the most recent work in several related areas. That is, once again, the science itself demonstrates the failure of DE and the requirement of intelligence to achieve the kinds of changes DE was supposed to provide.

This has not stopped both the scientific community and the media at large from continually assuring us that evolution is a fully substantiated fact, as well-understood as gravity. Leisola and Witt again provide plenty of examples of such blanket statements, and demonstrate that this is largely just blowing smoke to a naïve audience.

The final few chapters are a mix of other examples in which the science has turned up mechanisms or findings that run counter to expectations given DE. As a quick example, they discuss the drama surrounding the first discovery of soft tissues in dinosaur fossils (back in 2005). There is no existing model that could explain how soft tissue could remain in fossils that are more than 65 million years old. As Discover Magazine put it, “all hell broke loose.” In fact, according to Mary Schweitzer (author of that groundbreaking paper) recounts, “I had one reviewer tell me that he didn’t care what the data said, he knew that what I was finding was impossible.” She asked what evidence would convince him, and he replied, “none.” Folks, I’ve seen enough of this in my own career to affirm that such interactions do happen in the industry. The very scientists who wrap themselves in words like “evidence,” “fact,” and “objectivity,” routinely reject evidence and facts that run counter to theory. Again, the book offers many such teachable moments.

The final push in this book is to dive into the real molecular underpinnings of biological change, and demonstrate that the main framework—common ancestry and the diversification of life via a mechanisms based on chance—is simply not up to the task.

 

*as always, I do not speak for the views of my employer nor any affiliates.

Reply to Thagard’s view on religion and grief.

[image from http://www.heavensdisciples.org/comforting-words/%5D

Earlier this month, Dr. Paul Thagard published an opinion piece in Psychology Today titled, “Science and Philosophy Offer More for Grief than Religion.” In it, he critiques Stephen Asma’s New York Times article, which advanced the utility of religion in personal and societal spheres, even for the secular. Asma’s case study dealt with the way religion rescued a family, after one of the sons was brutally murdered. To Asma, “Those of us in the secular world who critique such emotional responses and strategies [as religion] with the refrain, ‘but is it true?’ are missing the point.” The point is he wants the secular to understand is that Jesus saves…even if he doesn’t exist.

Thagard’s view is that religion is false comfort, and that science (and philosophy) can do better. He begins by outlining four major problems with Asma’s view:

  • “It depends on a view of how emotion works in the brain that has been rendered obsolete by advances in neuroscience.”
  • It underestimates how much science can help to understand the nature of grief and to point to ways of overcoming it.
  • It overestimates the consoling power of religion.
  • Finally, it neglects how science can collaborate with philosophy to suggest ways of dealing with grief.

Perhaps Asma’s understanding of the science of psychology and neuroscience is obsolete. I’m not in a position to affirm or dismiss the claim. Notice that Thagard’s second complaint seems to miss the target. Understanding how something works does not, in itself, provide power over its workings. More importantly, what Thagard misses here is the possibility that science might demonstrate religion to have great efficacy in helping individuals deal with loss and grief. That is, there is no reason to think that science and religion are mutually exclusive items. This is a false dichotomy.

The third claim is never actually supported in Thagard’s article (nor have I seen it elsewhere). To the contrary, I’ve not seen a study in which anything has been shown to be more effective than religion (faith) in dealing with the trials of life. I offer some scientific literature to this effect below. So, the third concern is simply an unsupported charge. It’s not that religion fails to rescue believers, but that Thagard feels the rescue is false hope. I also discuss below just how false the hope from secularism is.

The fourth complaint he advances sounds exactly like his second one, with the addition of philosophy. One might ask how science and philosophy differ on Thagard’s view. Philosophy often deals with abstract notions and objects, things beyond the material world. A thought or idea has no mass, volume or charge. Meaning, morality, even sense of autonomy and self, are simply not evidenced (or even approachable) by science. In fact, they are housed within that area of study Thagard finds anathema (metaphysics) and are the stuff of religion. Thagard wants to pilfer these into his secular elixir. He flatly writes, “philosophy that builds on science can help people to see that life can remain meaningful and morally valuable, even in the face of grief.” But, his own views disbar him from such things.

So what of the details of Thagard’s view? He wants to argue that, “science can suggest ways of dealing with grief without buying into the metaphysics of religion.” Thagard opens up, and tells us that he lost his wife to cancer when she was still quite young. This tragedy seems to have colored his ability to consider the utility of religion in dealing with grief. But what is his understanding of God?

“Religious people often react to horrible events by proclaiming ‘it’s God’s will,’ or ‘everything happens for a reason’. But what could possibly be God’s motivation for depriving a mother of her young son? The Christian God is supposed to be all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful. But the constant onslaught of personal and public disaster in the world strongly suggests that any existing gods are malevolent or incompetent or both. What consolation is that?”

Notice that Thagard is offering the New Atheist version of God, and not really interacting with the views (or arguments in favor of) the God believers worship. He has resurrected an oft-used, but utterly refuted, argument against the existence of God; If God is all-powerful and all-good, evil should not exist. Evil exists, therefore God is either not all-powerful or He is not all-good. Again, this argument has been cutoff at the knees for more than a century. At some level, most Christians do agree with the view that all things are “God’s will.” But when we say this, most do not mean that He desired tragedy or suffering for an individual. Rather, we likely mean that God favors the freedom and autonomy of his created beings, and thus allows both good and evil to happen in a creation corrupted by sin.

Thagard also seems to be suggesting that it is God directly acting to take away a woman’s son. God didn’t do it, nor did He want one man to stab another. What Thagard is offering is a straw man version of God. And what is his alternative to “everything happens for a reason”? That everything happens for no reason (on atheism). What consolation is that? (It’s also worth noting that Thagard has pilfered in the moral notion that death, suffering and murder are ‘evil’ and therefor wrong. His science certainly won’t support this claim. To rescue it, his philosophy will have to go where religion already sits.)

Sadly, Thagard never acknowledges this most critical power provided by religion. He writes, “Asma rightly suggests that one of the benefits of religion is that it provides a means of social support through religious rituals such as funerals. But there are many secular alternatives, including celebrations of life and social memorials that can occur without religious trappings.” But this misses the real thrust of Asma’s case (and what any serious “scientific” mind would engage): Stephen Asma claims,

“No amount of scientific explanation or sociopolitical theorizing is going to console the mother of the stabbed boy. Bill Nye the Science Guy and Neil deGrasse Tyson will not be much help, should they decide to drop over and explain the physiology of suffering and the sociology of crime… [the mother] would have been institutionalized if not for the fact that she expected to see her slain son again, to be reunited with him in the afterlife where she was certain his body would be made whole…[this] gave her strength to continue raising her other two children.”

I don’t think there can be any doubt that this omission by Thagard was not accidental. The eternal mercy, justice and salvation represent the real lifeblood and vitality of faith, and they are things no secular alternative can supply.

Sadly, my suspicion is that Thagard remains bitter at a God he doesn’t believe in. His suggestions as to how the secular should cope with grief leave much to be desired. He first suggests that, “Coping by repressing emotions is sometimes effective.” He then adds that, “people’s lives can retain meaning through pursuit of satisfaction of their vital needs,” which he identifies as relatedness, competence, and autonomy.

“Distraught people can recognize that the loss in relatedness that bereavement brings can be compensated for by other relationships…the need for competence can still be satisfied by work and other forms of achievement, and autonomy persists as long as people retain the capacity to direct their own lives.”

All three of these are distractions that enable repression. But, the last (autonomy) is actually off limits given Thagard’s atheism; if our conscious lives are just molecules in motion, there is no autonomy, mind or free will. As Sam Harris has put it, we are nothing more than “phenomenological glockenspiels. . . The feeling that we call ‘I’ is an illusion. There is no discrete self or ego living like a Minotaur in the labyrinth of the brain.” As Francis Crick put it, “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” Thus, Thagard once again must pilfer in non-scientific metaphysics to even power his prescribed alternatives to religion!

If we actually spend some time in the science of psychology and its interface with religion, we find some things that run quite counter to Thagard’s thesis. One of the well-demonstrated facts is that religion works. Consider a recent study by David B. Newman and colleagues, which curiously reported that political conservatives have a greater sense of meaning to life than their liberal counterparts. This pattern exists across sixteen developed nations. Newman et al. also referenced several studies suggesting that conservatives report greater “life satisfaction” and other measures of well-being. The real headline in the study was that religiosity was a much better predictor of participants’ sense of meaning in life. As they explained,

“Because conservatives tend to be more religious than liberals (Feldman & Johnston, 2014), and because religiosity is a strong predictor of meaning in life (e.g., Steger & Frazier, 2005), we statistically adjusted for levels of religiosity in each study to determine the unique predictive effect of political orientation on meaning in life.”

John G. Messerly (a former professor at the University of Texas, and author of a book titled The Meaning of Life) admitted that, “The question of the meaning of life is the most fundamental question of human existence.”

Thagard’s view is based on a secularism that sees no overarching purpose to the existence of the universe, let alone little hominids bound to one small speck (our “pale blue dot”). It follows that the overwhelming external (objective) evidence is that life is absurd. This phrasing has actually been incredibly popular among the secular cognoscenti. This is the central position of existentialists, as illustrated in Camus’s famous comment, “I continue to believe that this world has no ultimate meaning.” For the famed physicist Steven Wienberg “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” Or, we could get the same line from Richard Feynman: “The great accumulation of understanding as to how the physical world behaves only convinces one that this behavior has a kind of meaninglessness about it.” Rivka Weinberg (a professor of philosophy at Scripps College) recently conceded in the New York Times that, “The absurdity of human life poses a challenge to its meaning. Absurdity and meaningfulness don’t go together.” This problem is well understood. The philosopher (and atheist) Thomas Nagel has written,

“In ordinary life a situation is absurd when it includes a conspicuous discrepancy between pretension or aspiration and reality. . . . The sense that life as a whole is absurd arises when we perceive, perhaps dimly, an inflated pretension or aspiration which is inseparable from the continuation of human life and which makes its absurdity inescapable, short of escape from life itself.”

The view that, “Life is short.  Life is meaningless. Life is delicious. Grab a spoon,” will never be a satisfactory grounding for our lives. The secular program of modernist thought has had more than a century to offer its replacement for conventional religion (some would say they’ve been trying since the period of Enlightenment). We have more “knowledge” than at any other point in human history, and yet the people have never been so confused. Those living in developed nations are more comfortable than they ever have been, and yet we comprise a “Prozac nation,” where mental illness and disillusionment have never been higher. Whereas Marx once called religion the opiate of the masses, atheists now routinely advise the unbelieving seek opiates in coping with reality. I’m not making this up. Leading physicist (and atheist) Alex Rosenberg suggests that we deal with the reality of life by “Tak[ing] a Prozac or your favorite serotonin reuptake inhibitor, and keep taking them till they kick in.” This would be a joke if not echoed sincerely by atheist philosopher Philip Kitcher:

“Fear [of death] can be directed not toward the state itself, but at the process of dying. . . . Support need not—probably should not—come from religion but from humane deployment of medical resources. . . . Fear of being dead is misplaced, fear of decaying and dying belongs to the anxieties of life, to be addressed with sympathy by whatever techniques of amelioration medical practice can provide.”

Responding to Marx’s claim that religion “is the opiate of the people,” Asma writes,

“If the atheists think it’s enough to dismiss the believer on the grounds that he should never buffer the pains of life, then I’ll assume the atheist has no recourse to any pain management in his own life. In which case, I envy his remarkably good fortune. For the rest of us, there is aspirin, alcohol, religion, hobbies, work, love friendship.”

His point is that the atheist is just as in need of an opiate as those who find comfort in faith. Moreover, faith seems to work better. The tried and true, “road-tested” belief in God works. That is, if we’re really interested in the pragmatic efficacy of worldviews in powering a state of well-being, belief in God works, even if you don’t think God exists.

It turns out that atheists like Thagard, while wanting to claim the rational high ground, are often driven by emotion, and the very science they worship has demonstrated this. The average atheist/agnostic believes (s)he has come to doubt the existence of God for purely objective reasons. But, numerous surveys and studies have demonstrated the source of this doubt—and subsequent rejection of God—is very often emotional. In one recent study, Bradley and colleagues asked non-believers to imagine a hypothetical god, and then describe that god’s characteristics. One of the striking dichotomies the researchers observed was that,

“Despite the fact that most people who believe in gods believe in a god that is primarily loving (Exline, Grubbs, et al. 2015), many popular books written from a nonbelief perspective argue that the dominant conception of God in Western culture is truly cruel rather than loving (e.g., Dawkins 2006; Hitchens 2007).”

That is, the efforts of the so-called New Atheists to recast religion (namely, Christianity) as the irrational worship of a moral monster have succeeded in completely distorting public perceptions of faith in God. These atheists have offered a rendering of God that in no way matches what believers understand of the God they worship. In the Bradley et al. study, “a plurality of participants” used this skewed view of God to form their own hypothetical god (as opposed to drawing from the past or personal images of God). In fact, participants that used a past (historical) rendering of God were significantly more likely to see their hypothetical god as loving, not cruel or distant. Conversely, those using these popular renderings of God to form their own were statistically more likely to see their god as cruel. Another interesting aspect of the study was that it contrasted personality profiles of the participants with the characteristics they assigned to their hypothetical god. Parsing through the results presented in the study, “agreeableness” of the participants was strongly statistically correlated with hypothetical gods that were loving, but was strongly negatively correlated with those seeing gods as cruel and/or distant. Participants with healthy “secure” attachment profiles were negatively correlated with cruel hypothetical gods, while those with “dismissive attachments” were negatively correlated with loving gods.

In the end, what can we say of Thagard’s article other than it entirely ignores the true power of faith, dismissing even the science that supports the efficacy of religion in helping individuals cope and find a greater sense of well-being. While I don’t really want to psychoanalyze the man, it seems fairly apparent that he carries with him repressed bitterness and rejection due to his own experience of loss. His worldview has been deeply tainted by a view of God that is wholly inconsistent with the God believers actually worship. The reason I have targeted him in this blog is that we must begin 1) to see when emotional and intellectually dishonest rhetoric is being sold as “scientific” thinking and 2) to make the positive case for the pragmatic utility of religion. Beyond the evidence in favor of holding religious views will soften skeptics to a point where they might actually ask if they’re true. Pray for and love Thagard, and do not see him as the enemy. It is not the man, but his ideas, that are to be rejected.

 

*as with all of my blogs, I speak for only myself, and in no way represent the views or opinions of Waynesburg University or any other affiliated entity.

*correction (7/27/18). Dr. Messerly contacted me, and made me aware of a place in which I misquoted him. I had originally attributed the statement “the faithful have a place—perhaps wrongly placed, but a place nonetheless—to ground meaning, and then sites several forms of atheism that do not.” I gleaned this from a set of notes I had developed in reading Messerly (and many others in the industry). Upon reviewing those notes, I could not track down the origin of this quotation, and Dr. Messerly assures me that he said no such thing. I apologize for wrongly attributing the statement to him, and have removed it from the post.

Just not working

First off, let me say that this post will feel much like the ones I’ve offered in the past. It will once again address so-called theistic evolution. I hesitated in offering any public commentary in response to Denis Lamoureux’s review of Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique. I’ve come to the belief that many of our academic debates distract us from the cross, and act to divide believers in unhealthy ways. I think many (perhaps myself included) have hinged their faith on the outcome of a particular view or theory, rather than focusing always on the empty tomb (which to me is the most important thing in Christianity). Still, I am reminded of just how close the theistic evolutionist’s bombs land to the cross and the empty tomb. Close enough to jeopardize belief in these central claims (whether they know it or not). So, I decided I would offer some concerns.

Let me say that there are some areas in which I agree with Dr. Lamoureux. I have my reservations about the massive tome (1007 pages) offered by Moreland et al. First, at its size and cost, it really becomes an expensive door stop. Most aren’t likely to read it, nor are they willing to drop $60 to get it. Second, it does clearly demonstrate just how theologically invested ID is. It doesn’t have to be that way. ID could exist as a scientific view, apart from theological claims. But it seems obvious that ID is functioning as a form of creationism. I don’t have a problem with that, but the ID community has denied such underpinnings for decades. That is where my agreement with Lamoureux ends.

His first criticism is a tired old complaint that ID is God of the Gaps. Every time I see such criticisms, I have to wonder if the one lodging the complaint has read our responses to it. As Lamoureux describes it,

“according to a God-of-the-gaps approach to divine action, there are ‘gaps’ in the continuum of natural processes, and these ‘discontinuities’ in nature indicate places where God has miraculously intervened in the world.”

His concern is that these gaps get filled by scientific (read, naturalistic) explanations. He simply doesn’t see any real gaps in descriptions of nature or history (though he does feel God works miraculously with our species. How that is not a God-of-the-gaps claim on his side, I do not know).

So in general, he simply doesn’t see God’s direct intervention in any aspect of creation. Here, he would find great support among the vast population of scientists who are non-believers.

Lamoureux, like most of the TEists I’ve read, raise the God-of-the-gaps for a second reason. They see direct divine intervention as some odd form of deism. Later in his review (page 125) he states,

“Being old earth creationists, they believe that God initiated the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago and that he used the natural process of cosmological evolution to create suns, planets, moons, and so forth. But, for 10 billion years after the Big Bang, he did no intervene in the universe until 4.1 billion years ago when he miraculously made living cells. Since the Creator formed the inanimate world through a natural process and did no use God-of-the-gaps interventions as stated in Genesis 1, does it mean that proponents of ID Theory are liberal theists? Or worse, for the first 10 billion years after the Big Bang, are they in effect deists?”

This is a silly argument, but worse than that, it actually kills theistic evolution (if the argument were valid). If the use of natural processes by God to create the inanimate universe is a form of deism, then Lamoureux is effectively a deist clear up to the point that God directly acts with the human race! He doesn’t see God intervening directly at any prior point!

But, the argument is not valid. Theistic evolutionists like Lamoureux believe that,

“The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligently designed evolutionary process.”

(More on the specifics of this claim later). The “sustained” part is often described as God’s immanence. So, while the unfolding of that history does not require any divine intervention (i.e., a fully secular scientific account is sufficient), God is really there for every single event (Lamoureux tells us “God is behind each and every natural process in the world, including the mechanism of evolution). Of course, the Christian ID theorist really argues the same thing. God sustains all creation. But, the ID theorist also believes that God directly intervenes, not that He only intervenes. For these reasons, I wish theistic evolutionists would just stop making this bad argument. It is demonstrably a mischaracterization of the ID/creationist view.

Now there could be an additional point of agreement here, if Lamoureux could be more clear about his views. He rightly points out that ID has mostly been anti-Darwinian. Their obsession is with the undermining of a blind evolutionary process like Darwinian evolution. As I’ve written, you cannot be intended and unintended at the same time. You cannot use an honest (chance) lottery to give your uncle money. And, you cannot have chance (“random”) mutations as a means to achieve specified outcomes. There is much more nuance we could add here, but that is the main thrust of the ID argument. (There is a significant debate regarding whether or not chance events can be used to search adaptive space and arrive at pre-specified outcomes.)

But, Lamoureux seems to agree. He writes,

“Evolution is teleological and features a plan, a purpose, and a final goal. Evolutionary creationists firmly reject dysteleological evolution and the belief that the evolutionary process is the result of irrational necessity and blind chance… Evolutionary creationists are also adamantly opposed to secular interpretations of evolution such as deistic evolution, Darwinian evolution, Neo-Darwinism, atheistic evolution, and dysteleological evolution… Moreover, this evangelical Christian view of evolution asserts that God planned men and women to be the pinnacle of creation…”

If Lamoureux now speaks for all TE, then we seem to have hit a point of agreement. And yet, Lamoureux doesn’t really seem to be able to put his full weight on the statement he just made. He immediately follows up this comment with the qualifier,

“Now it must be noted that natural selection and random mutations are important mechanisms in biological evolution.”

This of course is the Neo-Darwinian model! So, he seems to ascribe to this “secular interpretation” after all. Like most, Lamoureux tries to bridge this gap by suggesting that,

“natural processes [like random mutations] operate within the boundaries of an overarching set of physical laws that are ordained and sustained by the Lord.”

Thus, his view maintains that these larger laws of necessity are able to direct random mutations so as to achieve pre-determined outcomes (e.g. the argument from convergent evolution). I have my doubts about just how precise such outcomes can be, but you don’t need my arguments against his view; Lamoureux seems to discredit himself. A few pages later in his review (page 121), Lamoureux points out that,

“bursts of new plants and animals often occur after mass extinctions in which 50 to 90 percent of species disappear in the ‘blink of an eye’…the extinction event that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago also eliminated about 75 percent of species on Earth.”

It seems to me that these events are also part of the “overarching set of physical laws,” and yet they could easily snuff out life on the planet over and over again. It’s a good thing that humans weren’t on the scene during such an event. Otherwise, the “pinnacle of creation” would have been utterly annihilated. Does that sound like a guaranteed plan for creating something in God’s image? As one last aside, I would point out that, if Lamoureux does in fact reject all of those other dysteleological views of evolution, then he sits squarely outside of the mainstream literature in evolutionary biology. Perhaps he should spend more time correcting the secular scientists and their errant models, as opposed to criticizing his fellow Christians.

Lamoureux also points out all of the pseudogenes (genes that no longer function or serve a purpose) in the genomes of organisms. This seems like profligate waste created by an unintelligent process (though I’m also skeptical about whether or not these ‘pseudogenes’ in fact serve no function. e.g. studies like this). He then offers the observation that baleen whales grow useless teeth that are often lost even before birth. I don’t know much about the developmental biology of marine mammals, but let’s assume he’s right. As a Christian who believes God “created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligently designed evolutionary process,” the outcomes he discusses seem like pretty shoddy and unpredictable work. [As an aside, I do think some of these issues apply to all old earth views, not just TE].

There are many other issues I have with his review (particularly his rather blithe conflation of speciation patterns and the origins of novel features and body plans), but I want to end on one honest query I have for Dr. Lamoureux. There’s an old saying that, if you’re good at something, you don’t have to tell others. They’ll tell you. Now, I’ve never mentioned at any point (anywhere) that I’m an evangelical Christian. I don’t have to. It’s known. Yet, Lamoureux reminds readers that his view is evangelical eight times in a single article. It’s clear that he’s self-conscious about the opinion that TE is not seen as evangelical (he never defines what “evangelical” means to him).

If he is worried about this perception, I think it’s for good reason. For several pages, Lamoureux deals with Wayne Grudem’s hermeneutics. He even outlines Grudem’s charge that there are twelve “historical and scientific facts” about origins that contradict TE. We don’t need to list them all, but the main items are that human beings were created de novo, that Adam & Eve are historical real people, that human death begins with the fall of Adam & Eve, etc. Now, Grudem is but one contributor to the Theistic Evolution book, and I won’t say that I completely agree with his arguments (I haven’t read him enough to say that). But the issue of human origins and Adam & Eve are critical.

One of the things I’ve never been able to wrangle out of TEists is a coherent account of humanity. Nearly all TEists (Lamoureux included) flatly reject that God directly created Adam & Eve. Instead, humanity emerges from within a breeding population of primate ancestors. This presents many difficulties. First, essentially all Christians hold that primates (ancestors or otherwise) are not made in the image of God. They are not morally culpable, and are not spiritual beings capable of damnation or salvation. So, the TEist must navigate that moment in which some “human” was born to a primate mother. God looks upon the human and says “Adam” and yet “Adam” must breed with non-human animals.  This Adam can attain immortality (either in salvation or damnation) while the rest of his kin simply perish. It’s just a real mess to deal with. Lamoureux doesn’t touch this at all.

The second major problem is what to do with evil, the fall and the entire enterprise of Christ’s sacrifice. On Lamoureux’s view, death, disease and suffering are part of God’s good creation. He intended them. They are part of those “overarching” physical processes that guide creation. Yet, the Bible (front to back) teaches that death, disease and suffering were not part of God’s original plan, and that they are things that must be conquered. Jesus does not look upon a crippled man, or a man suffering from leprosy, and say ‘behold, God’s good work.’ He heals them of their afflictions, and we are repeatedly told that they are an aspect of this fallen world, and must be conquered. (more on this in a moment). The connection between the death initiated by the “first Adam” and the life restored by the “second Adam” are just too clear. Lamoureux also doesn’t touch this.

The third major problem is it is so clear that the authors of the New Testament (including Jesus) affirmed a historical Adam & Eve (as well as oddities like Noah and Jonah). Lamoureux does not deny this. He affirms it. He gladly admits that these ancient authors believed God directly created things and that Adam & Eve were historically real. But, Lamoureux himself, rejects these things. He writes,

“In the same way that the Holy Spirit accommodated and allowed the biblical writes to employ an ancient understanding of astronomy in the creation of the heavens, the Lord also permitted an ancient biology in conceptualizing the origin of men and women. the de novo creation of humans in Genesis 1 and 2 is an incidental ancient vessel that delivers the inerrant spiritual truths that the Lord created us and that we bear the image of God…should anyone be surprised that the biblical writers accepted the de novo creation of the universe and life, including humans? No. This was the origins science-of-the-day in the ancient world. And, of course, the apostle Paul believed in a historical Adam as stated in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. However, does this apostle’s belief that Adam was a real person mean that Adam actually existed? No.”

I always wonder which Old Testament figures and events the TEist does affirm. Was Abraham real? Moses? Of course, two gospels draw a line from these early characters to Jesus (Luke goes to Adam, while Matthew stops at Abraham). It was important.

So, we are supposed to dismiss Adam & Eve (and all creation accounts in which God directly intervenes), because these beliefs are just archaic “science of the day.” But, I wonder (I honestly wonder), would Lamoureux be consistent in applying this principle? These were ancient peasants who were superstitious, living in a world filled with fables and tales and talk of spirits. Today, we know what causes a man to have leprosy, to be crippled, or to be mute. Yet, there are nine times in the New Testament where such afflictions are directly linked to demonic activity. What does Lamoureux do with those? Did Jesus really draw an evil spirit from a boy who suffered seizures (Luke 9:37)? What nonsense, given modern science. And why stop there? Discussions of such miracles and messianic leaders were prominent superstitions of the day. On what grounds does Lamoureux keep Jesus, but scrap the rest? These are the bombs I mentioned at the beginning of my post. Lamoureux wants desperately not to be labeled a “liberal” Christian (even as he flatly declares that “intelligent design is unbiblical”). But, how can this label be avoided, given his positions? I ask these honestly, and I invite Lamoureux (and other TEists) to respond in honest conversation.

 

I’m not kooky, I’m Christian

The next few blogs are going to take a different tone and angle, diverting from issues of science and theology, and instead discussing Christian living.

For the past few months, the Lord has been working on me. I say this not as a boast. By His mercy and grace, He gave me correction, when I was unworthy of it. I believe He did so because there is work He has in mind for me. I have been convicted of many sins, some of which were blind to me in the past. At any rate, enough about me, and more about Christian living.

Here’s the first big idea I’ve been wrestling with: We are God’s property (1 John 4:4). I have several things to say in this regard, but I’ll break them up over a series of blogs. Let’s begin with what it means to be God’s property. There is a spiritual aspect to this. For us to acknowledge that our lives are His is the greatest earthly achievement we are capable of. As Justin the martyr succinctly put it, “all that is necessary is that [a person] believe, and be baptized.” Ah, but this is not as easy as it seems (more on the belief part later). Justin is also clear about what baptism symbolizes. In being submerged in baptism, we are saying that our sins have been buried with Christ, as He accepts our sins on himself. Emerging from the water, we are reborn in Christ’s resurrection, into new life as part of His kingdom (Luke 17: 20-21). As such, Justin tells us to keep the seal pure, by abandoning sin. Paul says similarly, saying, “To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

Now, the truth is, we will sin even after baptism. Paul has a lot to say about that too (Romans 7: 15-22). While is may seem impossible for God to rescue a sinner who has been baptized, all things are possible through God (Matt. 19: 26). Anyway, we are sealed as one of God’s servants when we accept redemption through Christ. We belong to God. This gets to my major point today; we must behave as if that is true. Suppose a wealthy family member let you use his home. The home belongs to him, and yet, it is yours to dwell in. When it comes to God, our lives–and our bodies–are like this. Jesus compares our lives to fruit trees, which are known by the fruit the bear.

We are not promised any number of days in this world (Luke 13: 1-5). However, we are living vessels of God’s Holy Spirit. As such, we must take care of ourselves, understanding that we are God’s property. What if I told you that, on average, you could live ten years longer? You can do this by simply taking good care of God’s property. Avoid obesity, exercise regularly, eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables, stay away from alcohol, cigarettes and processed meats. In other words, live the way were intended to. There are even dramatic benefits for those who begin practicing this life-style between the ages of 34-84, so it’s never too late to get right. In taking care of ourselves, we glorify the Lord, and show reverence for Him as our owner. We must be careful not to let sins seem into our lives and habits.

My final request for you all today is to rejoice in Him, and give thanks. And, as a final aside, I believe that there is also the evil one spoke of in the Bible, and it’s a good idea to announce and proclaim that you are sealed by God.

To God Be the Glory

To God be the glory, great things he hath done;
so loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
and opened the life-gate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son,
and give him the glory, great things he hath done.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
to every believer the promise of God;
the vilest offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Great things he hath taught us, great things he hath done,
and great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
but purer, and higher and greater will be
our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.

Long hiatus

Hi all. I’ve been gone a while. Frankly, for all the wrong reasons. My silence has been an attempt to not further blacklist myself in the scientific/academic community. I’ve felt convicted of this in recent days. “But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 10:33). I am guilty of denial by omission. I publicly confess that, and promise to never act in this way again.

I also had some private conversation with Joshua Swamidass. Very encouraging stuff. I think I was too hard on him in previous posts. He and I probably won’t agree on everything, but I want to say that I think he is an authentic seeker of the kingdom of God, believing in His miraculous power and salvation through Jesus Christ. More on these, and other convictions of sin, to come. Take care out there. God bless.

-Wayne

Dr. Who?

[photo from here]

It’s been said that half the critics always hate you. It’s always disappointing when an internet troll is able to harm, say, your Amazon.com book reviews. But alas, this is the day and age we live in. I hope that most people are able to recognize such drive-by attacks. The attacker usually offers the “one star out of five”, and says things like “this is the worst book I’ve ever read,” and “the author is ignorant,” etcetera. But, if they have a pulpit, then so do we. So, I have decided to reply to a recent reviewer. I have no idea who Dr. Rau is…and I suspect none of us ever will (unless the individual steps up to offer their own book for us to review!). Anyway, here goes.

In Dr. Rau’s review, he claims the following:

“By the second chapter it became clear that Rossiter consistently conflates all three models of theistic evolution (Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything). When discussing their scientific position it is fair to lump them together, but not regarding how they address theological issues. Directed evolution (DE) is consistent with conservative Christian doctrine. Planned evolution (PE) also affirms all the basic creeds hammered out by the church councils in the early centuries after Christ. Non-teleological evolution (NTE) denies many of these basic Christian beliefs. At one point he mentions the ‘three types of theistic evolution outlined in previous chapters’ (p. 63), but I searched in vain to find any mention of three types, which apparently means the book was poorly edited as well as poorly written.”

This is a peculiar claim, given that on page 9 of my book I wrote:

“I will present that theistic evolutionists take one of three forms: 1) Some massively compromise Christian theology, so that it might fit snugly around evolution, 2) Others create artificial firewalls between their scientific and theological beliefs, so they cannot harm one another, 3) Still others hide God in the distant and undetectable cosmic background, and claim that he is somehow pulling the puppet strings on every subatomic particle in the universe (and that things only look random).”

The first form I offer is a TE that sacrifices theological claims in light of science. I think all TEists do this to greater or lesser degrees. The second would be the type of TE offered by Polkinghorne, Collins, modern Thomism and most forms of Reformed Theology. Essentially, God is immanent through all, and thus is there, but not detectable. This is Dr. Rau’s Planned Evolution, though we can subdivide it to include the more radical open theist claims (Rau’s Non-teleological Evolution). My third form of TE is Rau’s Directed Evolution.

Rau states, “At one point he mentions the ‘three types of theistic evolution outlined in previous chapters’ (p. 63), but I searched in vain to find any mention of three types, which apparently means the book was poorly edited as well as poorly written. (p. 63)”

Given that those three were offered on page 9 of my book, it would seem that, rather than this being a case of poor writing or editing, that this is sloppy and careless reading. Sorry.

But, let’s leave Rau alone, and address the common claim that I (and others) “conflate” and “lump” TE into one group. This is false. I clearly delineate several different forms of TE. The problem (which I will discuss below) is that they all suffer from the same deadly flaws. Repeatedly, people have told me, “Well yes, that’s [insert TE leading figure]’s view, but there are other views, and you didn’t deal with those.” I extensively quote and discuss the views of John Haught, John Polkinghorne, Kenneth Miller, Francisco Ayala, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Joan Roughgarden, Pierre Teilhard, Howard Van Till, Stephen Barr, Denis Lamoureux, Richard Wright, and many others.

From BioLogos, I extensively quote and discuss Francis Collins, Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson, Jeffrey Schloss, Peter Enns, as well as the webpage content on the BioLogos site. Deborah Haarsma had only recently taken over as president of BioLogos at the time my book was written, and there isn’t much to assess her on (but all should see her debate Stephen Meyer here). It is really impossible to suggest that I am somehow ignorant of the views being expressed, or that I didn’t offer a diversity of views. But, the point of the book was 1) to let TEists speak for themselves (using their own words), and 2) to offer a broad sketch of the TE landscape, ranging from complete determinism (e.g. Stephen Barr) to open theism (e.g. Kenneth Miller). It is a red herring to claim that I don’t deal with every possible form of TE. My point was to delineate the space in which TE views exist, based on their own descriptions.

Now then, what are these fatal flaws? The biggest is stated in my book as follows:

“…something cannot be intended and unintended at the same time. If it can be shown that the source of variation upon which natural selection acts is a chance-based process, it necessarily follows that it cannot produce particular intended outcomes. Thus, if the theistic evolutionist fully ascribes to the Darwinian process as a sufficient and complete explanation for our origins, we—humans in specific—could not have been intended by God. There are important details and nuances to the argument, but this is the basic point of conflict.” (pg 28)

Mutations are understood to be chance, and we mean something that is actually (physically) a quantum event that is indeterminate.

I also wrote:

“Because they are chance or probabilistic events, it would also be very difficult (if not simply wishful thinking) to suggest that such a process could lead to particular intended outcomes. This gets increasingly tenuous when one argues that a God would create this mechanism some 3.5 billion years ago, knowing that something like Homo sapiens would eventually emerge. If God did use such a process to achieve an intended end, then our understanding of evolution is clearly flawed (i.e., it is immediately rendered a non-random process). Saying that God used evolution to create humankind (or anything in particular) is like saying that Suzie used the lottery to give her uncle a million dollars. If she did, then the lottery was clearly not random.”

This is dangerous for the TEist, because, unless they’re open theists who think we were not intended, their theology conflicts with their science. On the side of theology, God made us intentionally. But, in their science, all evidence suggests that no life had to exist on this planet, and no evolutionary outcomes could be intended ahead of time.

Again, as I wrote,

“The idea that Darwinian evolution is as much God’s plan as the wind is precisely what Darwin himself was saying when he wrote, ‘There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows.’

Which is to say, whatever processes TEists are dreaming up, they will have to directly contradict Darwin’s view. Their theology is impinging on their science.

To do this, they must claim that God acts in ways wholly undetectable by us, and thus not in conflict with our science:

“As Jay Richards has described it (specifically with respect to Van Till’s rendering of theistic evolution), ‘It allows theists to adhere to methodological naturalism,’ in such a way that, ‘there is unlikely to be any conflict, between theological and scientific beliefs (at least in the natural sciences) . . . [it] protects the Christian scientist from having to object to methodological naturalism in some or another scientific discipline.’ Collins is transparent about this, announcing that theistic evolution, ‘will not go out of style or be disproven by future scientific discoveries.’ For anybody keeping score, this is somewhat akin to guaranteeing that you’ll never miss a shot in a game of basketball, so long as you never shoot. Theistic evolution cannot be disproved, because it makes no testable claims.”

Theistic evolution asks the scientist to assume God’s activity, even though there is no evidence of God acting. From my reading of TEists, their description of the unfolding of cosmological, geological and biological history is identical to the atheist’s.  They agree on how all of this happened in terms of mechanisms. But, as I detail in many places in my book, this means that the addition of God offers no explanatory power. Sprinkling in a God whose actions are wholly indistinguishable from pure naturalism doesn’t add anything to our understanding of reality. It’s unnecessary and unevidenced.

Other problems follow, and I’ve talked about them at length elsewhere.

If God is driving mutations, we have God as the direct cause of ghastly malformation, suffering and innocent death. Further, His action produces more of these deleterious outcomes than beneficial ones.

If we are organic creatures, when (and who) evolved to be morally culpable free-willed persons? How did that work? If we’re purely material, how could we have free-will and how do we have souls? [If God acted directly to produce such things, the TEist is again at war with their own science].

If creation is theologically understood as coming from chaos and moving towards perfection (from the big bang to the evolution of moral beings made in God’s image), how does that square with biblical claims of a creation in ruin, needing restoration? Again, there are many other problems. And they apply to ALL forms of TE.

To just correct Dr. Rau on a few other items:

He claims that I am “unfamiliar with the philosophy of science, not clearly distinguishing law from theory and approving Popper’s discredited idea of falsifiability.”

He will have to show me where Popper’s criteria of falsifiability has been discredited. We use it every day in analytic logic and in science.

He also takes a swing at evolutionary biology, claiming “we find mistakes I would not expect from a professor of biology, like, ‘Natural selection exists (presumably) whether or not there are variants to select for.’ (p. 142) By definition, natural selection acts only in the presence of heritable variation.”

First, this is taken out of context, because I was making the point that natural selection is a gear (one half of Darwin’s equation) that turns whether or not you feed it variation. Nothing wrong with my science there. And yes, there would be natural selection even among a population of genetic clones. The null hypothesis would be that natural selection (i.e., selective pressures like predation, competition, resource limitation, etc.) would act identically on identical individuals. We do these experiments every day.

With that, I’ll return to work. Have a nice day.