Originally published 11/2/2005. Links were valid at time of publication.
For those people who are attempting to ask some serious questions about whether or not Christianity can provide answers that Atheism can not, this book professes to provide a guide to why Christianity requires less faith than Atheism. However, this chapter tends to make some very strange assumptions regarding science as well as Christianity that require some faith (if you’ll excuse the word) of its own. Note: This is a companion piece to Chapter 5 of the book, and while I’ve made every attempt to provide background when possible, there may be times when I did not adequately describe the chapter for those who have not yet read the book.
First, a confession: I’m not entirely sure how I managed to do it, but somehow I skipped over this chapter and read Chapter 6 first, and wrote a reply (see previous entry) based upon not knowing some of the terms that Giesler and Turek use. However, despite not knowing that they’ve developed some of their meaning behind the misleading term “Darwinists” it appears that my initial criticism regarding the nebulousness still stands.
Second, the authors begin with a rather bizarre homology regarding sixteen-year-old Johnny and a message left for him by his mother, a “Mary loves Scott” message scrawled in the sand on the beach, and even a skywriting advertisement (“Drink Coke”). The authors make the assertion that Johnny, motivated by laziness (in the case of not following the instructions of his mother), and denial (motivated by liking Mary himself), rejected the ideas that these messages were intelligently created because he had learned in Biology class that life itself is just a product of mindless, natural laws. These natural laws, he learned in Biology, could explain the messages as not having any particular meaning but were merely random, chance events.
Apparently, however, Johnny didn’t pay very good intention in Biology class. While this does not surprise someone who has taught students for over ten years, it does surprise me that Giesler – who holds a PhD in Philosophy – gets caught in a rather unfortunate and misleading explanation of what natural laws are all about.
His (and I lay the responsibility here at Giesler’s feet because he is, after all, the one with the Ph.D) point here is very clear: that little Johnny has been mislead by science into thinking that obviously intelligent messages have been willfully ignored. The secondary point, however, is simply insulting: the motivation for science is one of laziness or desire for unaccountability.
Like the watch in chapter 4 (where the authors use the age-old example of finding a watch in the woods and assuming that the molecules just happened to spontaneously generate a watch), the authors either ignore or fail to recognize a pre-existing knowledge regarding the messages. Just like the watch, which we have seen before, the messages that Johnny comes across already have meaning associated with them, so of course it makes sense that Johnny’s denial of their meaning seems ridiculous.
It is this aspect of meaning that becomes problematic, as opposed to Chapter 4 where the watch example additionally falls apart when taking into account that it’s a closed system rather than an open system with interrelated parts to the outside environment.
But what about an example where meaning may not be quite so apparent? How about if we take the example and turn it around?
Suppose little Christian Suzy comes across in her travels an amazing phenomenon, one that she has never seen before. This phenomenon is at both beautiful and intricate, and looks something like this:
“Wow,” she says. “That’s amazing! That’s the most beautiful thing I think I’ve ever seen! Look at the complexity of the latticework. Look at the beautiful colors! Look how everything works together. It’s so complex it must be the work of God!”
Still, she wants to be scientific and not just accept her decision on the face of it. So, she looks a little closer. In fact, she examines this phenomenon (because it’s actually three dimensional, not just a picture) at a magnification of 256 times. She sees something that shocks her even more.
“Wow,” she says again. She looks back at the original and sees that she’s seeing exactly what she expected to see, but it just seems to keep going on and on. The intricate latticework has gotten even more detailed, with little shell-shaped figures as far as the eye can see. “Just as I thought,” she says to herself. “There is a design here. I can see it. And, as I’ve read Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 of Giesler’s book, I know there must be a designer as a result! Only God could have determined where each of these shells are supposed to go!”
Still, she’s got a lingering doubt that someone will tell her that she’s wrong. So she tries to be even more observant. After all, according to Giesler, she needs more empirical data to prove that God did this.
So she looks closer, this time she’s a million times closer, hoping to get to the ‘bottom’ of the mystery:
There are some minor differences, but that’s to be expected when God creates something this complex. After all, that’s what the Darwinists say, right? So this is a perfect example to use their own arguments against them. She looks closer, this time to a billion times closer:
Then 40 billion times closer:
Then 1 Trillion times closer:
“That’s it!” she cries, exhausted. She’s looked at an intricate, complex design and examined its complexity, attempting to reduce it up to 1 trillion times its normal appearance. There is no way it could have been developed by chance, by evolution. There is no way this design can be explained by any other means!
The parallels to what she already knows to be absolutely true are profound and making her giddy with excitement. Suddenly the complexity of the eye, the irreducibility of the complexity of the flagella (after all, she’s shown that this phenomenon is irreducibly complex) all are making a great deal of sense.
Suzy’s faith in God has been confirmed by her own empirical, objective, absolute truth. There’s no faith involved here! She’s used the tools the Darwinists use and can show them – on their own terms – that this is proof positive that God not only exists but is the only reasonable explanation for this phenomenon.
She reaches for her phone and begins to dial when she sees someone come into the room. “Look!” she says. “Look what I’ve figured out!”
The man comes into the room and says, “Oh, I see that you’ve found our little fractal.”
Suzy is flabbergasted. “What? you mean, you created this? This isn’t natural?” She’s crushed, because her first assumption – that God did this – looks like it might now be in doubt. If this guy created this phenomenon, then it wasn’t God. However, she’s encouraged by the fact that he created it, which still shows that a Designer exists.
“Oh no,” he said, “We didn’t create it. It’s completely natural.”
Suzy can’t believe it. “That’s not possible! It’s so complex! In fact, I tried to reduce it to its simplest form to find out what it’s made of. It’s irreducibly complex! And, as Behe says, irreducible complexity is evidence of God.” (Well, Suzy’s no biochemist and doesn’t understand that Behe didn’t exactly say that, but that’s what she got from what he did say, much like Giesler and Turek do).
The man laughs to himself. “No, you’re partially right. It is irreducibly complex, but it’s a naturally occurring item. You see, we use what’s called nonlinear equations. We calculate out the results of these three equations and graph the result. The resulting graph is what you see here.”
Suzy is dumbstruck. “Wait, you mean that this is a graph of just three equations, like I learned in school?”
The man nods. “Yes, though the equations are slightly different, but the principle is the same.”
“But,” Suzy says, “you created those equations, right? So in effect you designed this.” She points to the original fractal:
The man laughs. “Oh no!” he said. There’s no way we could have designed that. That’s far too complex. Sure, it has a design, but that’s really just another word for saying that it has a structure. The equations weren’t designed either, but are rather expressions of mathematical fact, each with its own properties. Essentially this is what happens when the three properties of the equations interact. It’s completely natural and we had no idea what would happen. I assure you, there was neither intent nor design in this. Nor,” he added almost as an afterthought, “was there really any meaning to what you see.”
Suzy, confused about what she had only moments before convinced herself to be the Truth about what she was observing, wanted to blurt out, “You’re lying! You don’t know what you’re talking about!” but was afraid to be rude. If the man was right, then God did not create this amazing fractal. If the man was right, it was simply what naturally happened because the properties – or laws, as the case may be – surrounding the nature of the equations that generated these awesome images.
“So,” Suzy said. “But where did the rules that guide the equations come from? How did they come into being?”
“Truthfully,” the man shrugged, “I don’t personally know. We’re still trying to figure that out. There is some debate in the mathematics world but no one can really say for sure.”
“Ah,” Suzy said to herself, regaining her confidence. “But the nature of those equations had to exist in advance for them to interact. So God must have done that because the scientist can’t explain it! And, come to think about it, since he can’t explain where those properties come from, he is probably wrong about the very fact that there are properties in the first place!”
She begins to resent the man, and turns to leave. “In fact, he’s probably so married to the idea that these natural laws exist that he can’t even see that God actually created them in the first place. Why, he’s no scientist at all!”
As she walks through the door she begins to pity the man she left behind. “How sad,” she thinks before heading to her Bible study class, “that it requires so much more faith for him to think the way he does.”
Reason, Good Science, Complexity, and Secular Religions
What I had thought was missing in their definition of “Darwinists” in Chapter 6 is defined better here in this earlier chapter:
Believers in this theory of origin are called by many names: naturalistic evolutionists, materialists, humanists, atheists, and Darwinists (in the remainder of this chapter and the next, we’ll refer to believers in this atheistic evolutionary theory as Darwinists or atheists. This does not include those who believe in theistic evolution — i.e., that evolution was guided by God).
It’s very nice of the authors to reserve a special place, albeit one of pity, for evolutionists who still believe that it was guided by God. The lack of respect for they have the other categories, however, does not bode well for an honest interrogation of ideas.
The authors have a major problem with the idea that evolution cannot account for “the origin of the first life” (p. 115). As noted in our little example above, the mathematician explains that the fundamental origin of the mathematical equations may not be “known” for sure, and there’s still continuing debate regarding that very topic. Evolutionists have a similar debate regarding the “origin of the origin.”
Like Suzy, though, who intuits that since the mathematician cannot explain where the nature of the first equations come from and therefore their understanding of equations to being with is suspect, the authors make the claim that all of evolution must be tossed out because evolution can’t explain the origin’s origin… yet.
Giesler and Turek attempt to induct their way into this by describing DNA as being horribly complex. To them, the only way that they can seem to understand any explanation is that somehow there was “spontaneous generation,” something that apparently Carl Sagan espoused.
However, Sagan was an astronomer, not an evolutionary biologist. While by all accounts a brilliant individual, is it really fair to expect him to provide an answer that is not within his proclaimed realm of expertise?
For Giesler and Turek – as well as other ID aficionados – DNA’s complexity precludes any kind of development. They liken the development of DNA by chance to “the creation of the Library of Congress being created from a print shop explosion.”
But, even the authors concede that the rungs of the ladder consist of a specific order of four nitrogen bases that only go together in certain possible sequences. Just like our fractal above, which only had three equations, it’s easy to see how very complex structures that are irreducibly complex can be generated by very, very simple rules combined in a variety of ways.
The authors seem to be unable to understand that there is a relationship between messages and meaning, and the order of sequence they follow:
Just as the specific order of the letters in this sentence communicates a unique message, the specific order of A, T, C, and G within a living cell determines the unique genetic makeup of that living entity. Another name for that message or information, whether it’s in a sentence or in DNA, is “specified complexity.” In other words, not only is it complex — it also contains a specific message (p. 116).
Here’s where the problem lies within their analogy: you cannot simply put together letters and expect them to be comprehensible. You cannot merely put together words and expect them to be a sentence. You cannot simply throw sentences together and have them form a paragraph. Each of these different fractals of language have very specific rules of creation.
But it’s the concept of message that is so problematic. The authors conclude that because these messages have meaning, they must have been designed and/or created. The trouble is that we ascribe meaning after messages have been created, not before. We cannot simply generate new words and expect them to have meaning to the recipients! The authors make a classic mistake by repeatedly asserting that because they have meaning they must have come into existence having meaning.
The authors assert that “Darwinists can’t answer the question by showing how natural laws could do the job” (p. 116). Of course not, because it’s a trick question! The authors further drive this point home by saying, “Instead, they define the rules of science so narrowly that intelligence is ruled out in advance, leaving natural laws as the only game in town” (p. 116).
To hear it put this way, it makes it sound as if the Darwinists have locked themselves into some existential circle that simply will not allow any competing viewpoints. It’s not surprising that the authors feel like they’ve been shut out of playing on the same field.
The definitions that the “Darwinists” have, though, is nothing of the sort. What they are saying is that since meaning is ascribed after the fact, we cannot logically assume that it existed before the fact, because otherwise the argument becomes completely tautological. That is to say, if we begin with the assumption that meaning exists before an event, it does not surprise us that meaning will exists afterwards. Therefore, ascribing “intelligence” before means that it’s no surprise that there would be “intelligence” afterwards. This is not science, and yet ID advocates (and Giesler and Turek) would have us believe that it is.
Investigating the Origin of First Life
Giesler is well known for his two main philosophical arguments regarding science. To him, there are two kinds of science, essentially marked by “ongoing science” and “origin science.” See, for instance, his book with J. K. Anderson, Origin Science: A proposal for the Creation-Evolution Controversy. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987).
Giesler’s main point is that ongoing science is something that is testable, re-create-able. Origin science, on the other hand:
refers to attempts to understand singular events such as the origin of life. The authors claim that theories about such events cannot be falsified because they occur only once. They contend that because the differences between origin science and operation science, it is legitimate to allow divine explanations in the former if not the latter (1, p. 243)
However, Ernst Mayr, whom Giesler and Turek cite in their book, has provided a pretty good counterargument for this:
When a biologist tries to answer a question about a unique occurrence such as “Why are there no hummingbirds in the Old World?” or “Where did the species Homosapiens originate?” he cannot rely on universal laws. The biologist has to study all the known facts relating to the particular problem, infer all sorts of consequences from the reconstructed constellations of factors, and then attempt to construct a scenario that would explain the observed facts of this particular case. In other words, he constructs a historical narrative…
Unique phenomena have long frustrated the philosopher. Hume noted that “science cannot say anything satisfactory about the cause of any genuinely singular phenomenon.” He was correct if he had in mind that unique events cannot be fully explained by causal laws. However, if we enlarge the methodology of science to include historical narratives, we can often explain unique events rather satisfactorily, and sometimes even make testable predictions.
The reason why historical narratives have explanatory value is that earlier events in a historical sequence usually make a causal contribution to later events.… The most important objective of a historical narrative is to discover causal factors that contributed to the occurrence of later events in a historical sequence. The establishment of historical narratives does not in the least mean the abandonment of causality, arrived at strictly empirically (2, pp. 64-66, emphasis added).
Giesler’s assertion that we cannot study unique events was resoundly thumped by Scott (1):
Mount St. Helens erupted as a singular event, but this does not prevent there being a science of volcanoes. Similarly, even if bears and dogs split from a common ancestor only once, we can still evaluate the hypothesis that bears and dogs are closely related against empirical evidence (from fossils, comparative anatomy, biochemistry, etc.). We can also learn about the processes that influence evolution by looking at the evidence for other such splits. There are many ways to scientifically study events of this type (p. 245).
For evidence, the authors produce as evidence Mt. Rushmore. The conclude, correctly, that only an intelligent being could have created the faces on Mt. Rushmore.
The trouble with this “scientific” conclusion is that, unlike the origin of the universe, we actually have empirical evidence for its creation. We have film, photographs, interviews, documentation, and were able to observe the process. We know the motives of the designer, we know the method that was used to create the faces. We know quite a bit about that South Dakotan landmark.
The authors, however, stun us with this: “Since we never observe natural laws chiseling a highly detailed sculpture of a president’s head into stone at the present time, we rightly conclude that natural laws couldn’t have done it in the past either.”
Huh? To believe this assertion is the ultimate in arrogance. We see remarkable naturally-formed structures all the time. A quick visit to the Smithsonian institution show remarkable natural structures and sculptures. Intricate patterns formed not by a designer but by erosion can be found in thousands of caves across the planet. Just because non-recurring events may be more difficult and challenging to study than repeated events, does not support the requirement or resorting to supernatural (1).
Once again, the authors use their “meaning tautology” to provide evidence that simply does not exist. The meaning generated in the Mt. Rushmore faces is ascribed after completion, not before. In fact, it’s not even attributed while Mt. Rushmore was in process. As a work of art, which could be defined as a specific intent for the manipulation of nature (if one so chose to define it that way), is it really any surprise that we can see no real support for natural laws in such an example?
Good Science vs. Bad Science
The authors attempt to define “Darwinism” as bad science. This is not difficult to do, because Darwinism never purports to be science. This would be similar to criticizing a motorcycle for not being a car, despite the fact that a motorcycle is not a car. Sure, it’s got wheels, it works for transportation, but it is not a car. Criticizing it for not being a car is, well, silly.
The evidence that the authors present for why it’s bad science actually begin with an example in the previous section regarding Francis Crick’s (co discoverer of DNA) doubts and the “chicken-egg dilemma” regarding DNA. “The complexity of DNA is not the only problem for Darwinists. It’s origin is also a problem… DNA relies on proteins for its production but proteins rely on DNA for their production. So which came first, proteins or DNA? One must already be in existence for the other to be made” (p. 119).
Well, this problem really only exists if you assume that proteins and DNA have always existed in their current form. What we (or perhaps I should limit the definition of “we” to myself and Giesler and Turek, since I am not an evolutionary biologist either) do not know is what configurations of proteins have ever existed, combined, separated, recombined, reformed, re-separated, etc.
In other words, we only know what DNA is now. Voila! Meaning created after the sentence is created. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of assuming that DNA as we know it has existed as it is now. Neither can we allows ourselves the luxury of assuming that proteins have always existed in their current form.
Hydrogen and Oxygen are the fundamental chemical elements of water. It would be a mistake to assume that water has always existed in its existing state. Why? Because we know that because of the fundamental properties of Hydrogen and Oxygen, conditions can arise when they can join to form something completely different.
The point here is that the authors admit that the protein combinations A, T, C and G are the only letters of DNA, which is incredibly complicated. How can they make the claim – which they are making when they say that it was designed – that the proteins couldn’t have recombined in some other form, including forms that did not have sustainability or survivability? The authors also claim a chicken-and-the-egg problem with regards to DNA and proteins, but admit that proteins are nitrogen bases, which indicates that there is a similar recombinant process at an even smaller level. Perhaps there was one (in fact biologists think there is) at an even smaller level than that. And so on, and so on.
The authors accuse Richard Dawson and Francis Crick of ruling out “intelligent causes before they even look at the evidence. In other words, their conclusions are pre-loaded into their assumptions” (p. 120).
However, as noted before this is simply not the case. The authors seem to want to ascribe meaning before an event occurs. This is pre-loading the question! If you pre-load intelligence into the question you will find intelligence afterwards!
Let me repeat that:
If you pre-load intelligence into the question you will find intelligence in the answer!
If you wish to be scientific you must work from the assumption that intelligence does not enter into it first, because otherwise you will find no other possibilities.
The authors don’t seem to see this, however, as a valid argument. Instead, they look at quotes by Klaus Dose and Crick where they indicate the difficulty of doing research on the bleeding edge of science:
Francis Crick laments, “Every time I write a paper on the origin of life, I swear I will never write another one, because there is too much speculation running after too few facts.” (p. 121)
This admission – that there is still speculation in science and much work to be done – is seen by Giesler and Turek as evidence of ideology. They quote Chandra Wickramasinge who states that many Darwinists are acting in blind faith rather than experimental evidence.
Microbiologist Michael Denton, though himself an atheist, adds, “the complexity of the simplest known type of cell is so great that it is impossible to accept that such an object could have been thrown together suddenly by some kind of freakish, vastly improbable event. Such an occurrence would be indistinguishable from a miracle.” (p. 121).
Well, this is precisely why evolutionary science does not make the claim that there was a “freakish, vastly improbable event.” To ascribe such a belief to Darwinists is simply, well, wrong.
There is, however, an ideology associated with people who believe in evolutionism and it is something that must be addressed. The authors are correct to point out the frustration that several biologists see with an ideological bias in their colleagues. The authors exemplify this with quotes from Richard Lewontin, Francis Crick, Michael Denton, and others, and these are issues that need to be addressed.
Ideology as a motivation for truth-seeking is inevitable and is just as much of a risk for evolutionary biologists and creationists alike. This will be addressed in a moment.
There is a difference, however, between an acknowledgement that faith exists in attempting to bridge the gaps that science leaves behind, and an outright contradiction of science. The authors make the inference that Darwinists confess that they don’t know what they’re talking about when they (or Lewontin) admit that “Darwinist explanations are ‘counterintuitive'” (p. 123).
“Counterintuitive” does not mean “wrong.” It means that it’s counterintuitive. It means that despite what you think might make sense on the surface, in reality there are mechanisms at work that are nonetheless true.
Look in the mirror. Now place another mirror behind you. Now place another mirror in front of you. Attempt to look in this last mirror and pretend to shave (ladies, pretend to put on lipstick). You are only allowed to use this last mirror as a guide. But wait! It’s counter-intuitive! Does this mean that you can’t do it? No, it just means that it’s more difficult to accommodate because it goes against what you naturally are inclined to do.
The authors, however, believe this is some sort of evidence for Darwinist failings. It is indeed counterintuitive to suppose that 1,000 encyclopedias resulted from an explosion in a printing shop. But, does that mean that it can’t happen? Perhaps.
Forgetting for the moment that we ascribe meaning to those 1,000 encyclopedias after they’ve already been created. Forget that they don’t actually have any meaning until we give it to them. Let’s just look at the interesting element of “what happens.”
Have you ever gotten the mail and thrown it on the table when you came in the house? And has the mail ever done something really interesting, like stayed upright or came to rest balanced against something on its corner or just something that made you say, “Wow! I couldn’t do that again in a million years!”
Of course you have. We all have. And this happens all the time in various ways. So, let’s suppose that you actually have the time to throw the envelope onto the table a million times. Perhaps you’d be able to recreate it, perhaps you didn’t. Perhaps something else happened that was just as cool. Great! But it’s still not the same thing, and now you’d have to do things 2 million times to try to get both of those cool things to happen again. So you do it some more. It takes you a very long time, and you start collecting experiences that are extremely interesting, unusual, and rare.
Give Time and Chance a Chance!
How many times do you think you might be able to find something interesting if you were able to do this all day, every day, for the rest of your life? Maybe a couple of dozen? Perhaps even a hundred?
Let’s go back to the print-shop explosion example from the book. Let’s suppose that you had a print shop explosion and you wandered through the rubble afterwards. You stumble through the wreckage and find nothing but a lot of mess. Perhaps a letter from one type set may bump up against another letter from another type set. But that’s about it. So you rebuild and try again.
But your luck isn’t so good. Your print shop explodes again. Again you wander through the rubble and see another few letters scattered around, sometimes making interesting combination, but nothing really having any meaning to you.
You rebuild again. It explodes again (you’re absolutely determined to make this print shop work). This time you look and see something as improbable as a teacup surviving a hurricane when all around is destruction. You happen to see an entire word formed. Now, it’s not really chance per se, it really has to do with where these letters were before the explosion ever took place, plus their own weight and interrelation to other items in the shop during the turbulent explosion. But, you see that you can use this new thing, so you keep it in the back of your head to hold on to it.
This goes on and on. In fact, it goes on every day for years. Most of the time the explosion provides you with nothing new. In fact, some of the things that you thought were interesting and new have now been destroyed by subsequent explosions, but you keep rebuilding.
Over time – and by time I mean a lot of time (more time than we poor pitiful humans can ever fathom) – there are more incredible combinations and recombinations. The print shop and its contents, tools, and meaning have EVOLVED over time.
So, imply the authors. If that’s true, why are there no more print shop explosions? Well, unfortunately for the authors, there are. Every day. Because of the nature of the ‘print shop,’ however, we can’t see these explosions with the naked eye. It takes special tools and observational techniques. It takes laboratories and microscopes and boys and girls who weren’t very popular at school dances.
What’s important to remember is that the authors are working from the assumption that the existing world we live in has always been here in its exact form. That’s why they have a difficult time comprehending any other possible outcome. They do not take into accounts the other failed combinations, explosions, or other elements that did not manage to survive. To them, there is only what is here right now.
Now let’s bring meaning back into play:
Let’s suppose you throw red, white and blue confetti out of an airplane 1,000 feet above your house. What is the chance that it’s going to form the American flag on your front lawn? Very low. Why? Because natural laws will mix up or randomize the confetti.” You say, “Allow more time.” Okay, let’s take the plane up to 10,000 feet to give natural laws more time to work on the confetti. Does this improve the probability that the flag will form on your lawn? No, more time actually makes the flag less likely because natural laws have longer to do what they do – disorder and randomize (p. 124-125).
Here’s the problem with this analogy, and you’ve probably already figured it out. The authors want us to take a meaningful event and recreate it. Not only that, they want us to take an intelligently designed event and reproduce it naturally. So, the bar is set incredibly high for the evolutionist (or, more accurately, the chaostician or complexity theorist).
First, the authors ascribe meaning to an event before it happens. This is important because we’re no longer looking at chance at all – we’re looking for a specific, desired outcome. We’re attempting to begin with meaning and end with meaning and then fill in the middle with an arbitrary method that may or may not (in this case, certainly won’t) work.
Second, we are attempting to take something that we already know to be intelligently designed and ask natural laws to reproduce it. However, the problem is that Darwinists do not claim that natural laws created man-made objects. So how does this test actually demonstrate that natural laws would recreate man-made objects? At best the authors can only claim that Darwinists cannot empirically show something that they never said they could show!
Thus the crux of the issue is reached for the origins. The authors claim that the origins of the universe were designed and thus the meaning for that design was, by definition, the starting point. Darwinists claim this is not what happened. So the tests that creationists ask from Darwinists to provide evidence for the Creationist claims and then dismiss the Darwinists for not being able to do so.
This is not bad science on the part of the Darwinists, it’s bad logic on the part of the Creationists.
The authors have an excellent point when they talk about “chance.” They illustrate that “chance” is nothing more than mathematical probability:
Michael Behe has said that the probability of getting one protein molecule (which has about 100 amino acids) by chance would be the same as a blindfolded man finding one marked grain of sand in the Sahara Desert three times in a row. And one protein molecule is not life. To get life, you would need to get about 200 of those protein molecules together! (p. 125).
Does it surprise you that the authors are absolutely correct here? Hopefully it doesn’t. The “odds” of a protein molecule spontaneously generating are astronomical.
Let’s take a look at Suzy’s dilemma again, though. There is no question in the complexity of the design (structure), no argument as to its remarkable generation. But, as we found out, that phenomenal structure – similar to the complexity of a protein, in fact – did not just spontaneously generate. It is a result of the interaction of three specific equations with very simple, fundamental properties. Proteins are made up of four equations with very simple, fundamental properties (A, T, C, and G). Is it any wonder that the combination of these equations produces wonderfully complex phenomena?
The interesting thing about the fractal above is that if you were to change just one element of those equations, you would get an entirely, radically different result? Not only would it not look like this, but it would act completely different as well. Moreover, what about the combinations of protein sequences that did not survive? Just like our print shop explosions, not every one resulted in anything useful. In fact, most of the iterations of the print shop – and evolution – result in absolutely nothing of use.
This isn’t chance. And, as Suzy found out, it’s not necessarily explainable solely by the existence of God. However, she was fully prepared to end her inquiry once she determined that it was God’s hand. When she found out, however, that it was not, her reaction was less than scientific. The authors appear to have the same dilemma of their own.
We shouldn’t allow atheists to cover their ignorance with the word “chance.” If they don’t know a natural mechanism by which the first life could have come into existence, then they should admit they don’t know rather than suggesting a powerless word that, of course, really isn’t a cause at all. “Chance” is just another example of the bad science practiced by Darwinists (p. 126).
I couldn’t agree more. As noted above, the authors do have an excellent point when it comes to understanding and discussing scientific ideology. I hate to use the “Darwinist” term here because Darwinist himself was a devout Christian, and it’s truly unjust to throw him to the atheistic wolves.
There are those who do indeed stick to ideological principles when espousing evolution. They are no more to be given a pass than the Creationists, in fact they should be criticized more harshly for it. Scientists who do not recognize their own ideological stance are less equipped to practice true science. As noted in my essay on the next chapter, one of the things that a “true scientist” attempts to do is remove his own prejudice and ideology from his approach. If he denies that prejudice or ideology exists, then he cannot adequately remove his bias and is, therefore, not doing true science.
In truth, this is something that both Creationist and Scientists need to keep present in their minds in order to be able to adequately advance in their own notions of inquiry.
Philosophy, Materialism, and The World View
The authors make a strong case for why science needs philosophy, and they happen to be correct. In fact, everything non-derogatory that the authors state about science being dependent upon philosophy is completely accurate.
There is an ongoing debate about positivism (e.g., turning everything into numbers) versus qualitative research in science. The authors’ points are probably geared to address that debate about how we can truly “know” anything. As the debate is ongoing, their discussion of it here is remarkably appropriate. The question, though, stems from what “good philosophy” and “good science” really are.
The problem, especially with the focus on materialism in this chapter, appears to be that Giesler is attempting to resolve scientific principals with philosophical induction:
[I]f life were nothing more than materials, then we’d be able to take all the materials of life — which are the same materials found in dirt – and make a living being. We cannot. There’s clearly something beyond materials in life. What materialist can explain why one body is alive and another body is dead? Both contain the same chemicals. Why is a body alive one minute and dead the next? What combination of materials can account for consciousness? Even Atkins, in his debate with Craig, admitted that explaining consciousness is a great problem for atheists (p. 129).
Explaining consciousness is a great problem for anyone. Giesler never comes out and says it, but philosophy has no better handle on the concept of consciousness than science! Moreover, “materialism” – which is a new term brought into the discussion – is not a scientific theory, it is a philosophical construct. There are plenty of philosophical constructs that do not even attempt to explain away everything in the universe.
The same chemicals? Really? Are you sure? Looking back at Suzy’s fractal above, we realize that these three equations that make something remarkably complex do not in and of themselves generate this phenomenon, it’s how they interrelate. Are the authors truly suggesting that the basic material building blocks of a live person interrelate the same way as a dead one?
Then comes this: “If materialism is true, then everyone in all of human history who has ever had any kind of spiritual experience has been completely mistaken” (p. 129). Perhaps, perhaps not. There is some debate (hence this book) as to whether or not spiritual experiences actually exist outside of the mind of the specific individual who claims to have one. There are very strong arguments – scientific as well as philosophical – that deal with psychology, phenomenology, chemistry, philosophy, intrapersonal communication, and biochemistry as to what a spiritual experience actually is, let alone identifying one accurately in others.
Just because someone claims to have a spiritual experience does not automatically assure us that he is either telling us the truth or capable of accurately communicating the experience to himself or others.
If by materialism the authors mean that there is nothing but materials, and I think this is precisely their point, they claim that spirituality, reason, logic, and other non-tangible concepts simply cannot exist. They ascribe materialism (or naturalism, another word for it) to the core of Darwinian (again, a completely inadequate term) beliefs. If this is true, how can evolutionists actually reason if there is no reason?
To this end, the authors state, reason requires faith. They quote J. Budziszewski:
Reason itself presupposes faith. Why? Because a defense of reason by reason is circular, therefore worthless. Our only guarantee that human reason works is God who made it (p. 130).
Let us suppose that a reasonable defense of reason is, indeed circular. It certainly appears that way. But why is it a good idea to automatically ascribe the mechanics of reason to God? Isn’t this the classic God-in-the-Gaps argument that the authors attempt to say they don’t engage in? Isn’t it a bit premature to automatically attribute “reason” to God before examining other methods of examination and explanation?
Reason is, after all, a tool. It is a mechanism by which we figure stuff out. There are other ways of figuring stuff out, including being intuitive, as well as being taught something. Perhaps there may be another way of asking ourselves the philosophical question of “what is Reason and why does it need a defense?” without directly going to God. After all, going to God ends all inquiry, and we may very well miss out an important part of the journey of exploration.
The Crux of the Issue
The basis of this chapter, and the next one, lies in the fundamental assumptions that guide the authors and it is revealed on page 130:
The very fact that Darwinists think they have reasons to be atheists actually presupposes that God exists. How so? Because reasons require that this universe be a reasonable one that presupposes there is order, logic, design, and truth. But order, logic,, design, and truth can only exist and be known if there is an unchangeable objective source and standard of such things. To say something is unreasonable, Darwinists must know what reasonable is. To say something is not designed, Darwinists must know what designed is. To say something is not true, Darwinists must know what truth is, and so forth. Like all nontheistic worldviews, Darwinism borrows from the theistic worldview in order to make its own intelligible.
This is the major point of the book, in fact, and it’s summarized right here on page 130. The authors claim that Darwinists – and therefore atheists – cannot work their way out of this logical paradox, that it relies too heavily on theistic constructs to be able to rightfully claim ownership of its own ideas.
There are differences, however, between reason as a noun and a verb, just like there is a difference between design as a noun and a verb (I go into this example in my commentary of the next chapter). To reason means to apply rules of logic. reasons do not necessarily presuppose that there is order, logic, design (as structure) and truth.
Why? Because we ascribe meaning afterwards.
We define order, logic, design and truth to help us explain what we observe. We do not need (in fact we cannot) necessarily know what these are in advance. It is a process of observation and understanding that constantly feeds back upon itself until we find that we have arrived at reasons for things to occur.
To say something is unreasonable, we need to know what reasonable is because we have already ascribed meaning to what is or is not reasonable. That means that we have identified a series of constructs in order to establish what is or is not reasonable by defining them after they have occurred.
To say something is not designed, we do not need to know what designed is. Suzy’s magical phenomenon has a design, but was not designed. There was no creator, no generation of the pattern. We recognize it as such because our own biases and prejudices do not allow us to accept the phenomenon as a mere graphical representation of individual results from mathematical equations. In other words, we fill in the blanks afterwards.
To say something is not true, we do not need to know what truth is in advance. What we need is to be able to work out internal and external consistencies that demonstrate that something is true. This winds up being the core issue that the authors bring up in the very next chapter.
In short, there is nothing borrowed from the theistic worldview, because the theistic worldview presupposes meaning in advance.
To this end, it’s perhaps best to close with a very relevant quote by the late Douglas Adams:
This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ?This is an interesting world I find myself in?an interesting hole I find myself in?fits me rather neatly, doesn?t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!? This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it?s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything?s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for. We all know that at some point in the future the Universe will come to an end and at some other point, considerably in advance from that but still not immediately pressing, the sun will explode. We feel there?s plenty of time to worry about that, but on the other hand that?s a very dangerous thing to say. Look at what?s supposed to be going to happen on the 1st of January 2000?let?s not pretend that we didn?t have a warning that the century was going to end! I think that we need to take a larger perspective on who we are and what we are doing here if we are going to survive in the long term. (3)
The hubris of the puddle is not in that he is erroneously assuming that the world was designed specifically for him, but rather so wholly convinced of this that he refuses to allow himself to see that his inference was fatally flawed.
(1) Scott. Eugenie C. Scott. Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction. Berkeley, Univ of Calif. Press. 2004.
(2) Mayr, Ernst. 1998. This is Biology: The Science of the Living World. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.
(3) Adams, Douglas. 1998. Is there an Artificial God? Douglas Adams’ speech at Digital Biota 2, Cambridge U.K