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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One thought on “More on Lamoureux: expanding or contracting gaps?”

  1. Great email Wayne. I recently heard a debate on Unbelievable between Denis Alexander and Perry Marshal. Interesting! Just curious, have you read Marshal’s book ‘Evolution 2.0’? And, when is your next book coming out?

    Like

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