Review: Ch. 6 of “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be an Atheist”

Originally published 10/28/2005. 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, as this chapter delves into Intelligent Design – and does so poorly – it leaves me wondering about the motivations and the manipulative nature of Christians, instead. Note: This is a companion piece to Chapter 6 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.

I’m writing down some of the key things that made me nuts in this chapter. By no means is this supposed to be an exhaustive commentary on the chapter, and the references are really not to any particular style (the Ph.D in me bristles as the improperly formatted citations! 🙂 ).

To be honest, this chapter is probably the most infuriating to me because I find that the authors have finally devolved (pun intended) to the level of malfeasance. It’s one thing to claim to have arguments, it’s another to call the contrarian viewpoint “a joke” (p. 139).

Part of the problem with this chapter is that it is, in fact, dead wrong. Once again the authors have chosen to discuss elements of science as lunacy, which at best is dismissive, at worst indicates just how poorly they understand their own arguments.

The key figure in this chapter is Michael J. Behe, who published “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution.” Behe, without a doubt, is the real deal. He is a true biologist who has attacked evolution “from the inside.” However, the authors use Behe’s book as prima facie evidence of the death of evolution, which they label as Darwinism.

The problem is, of course, that evolution and Darwinism are not the same thing. More specific to the purpose of the book, Darwinism is not the same thing as Atheism.

Why? Because Darwin was not an atheist.

On the contrary. “Origin of the Species” was meticulously researched and written with the full knowledge that it was going to receive flak from the religious establishment of 1859. More to the point, Darwin was a devout Catholic.

In fact, it could be said with absolute accuracy that there is no such thing as “Darwinism.” The science of evolutionary biology is based on Darwin’s insight that natural selection is one of the major motive forces for change in the gene pools and morphology of organisms over the course of generations, but there is no “-ism” in the “advocacy for” sense of the suffix. Rather, there is a long history of increasingly accurate observation and increasingly detailed controlled laboratory experiment that supports the conclusion that natural selection really does what Darwin claimed it does. Creationists seem fond of using the term “Darwinism” because it sounds like a belief, rather than an observation. No scientist “believes in” Darwin as such, because Darwin did not propose a prescriptive set of behaviours, only descriptive observations.

But back to Behe. Behe’s book was published first in 1996, and has been thoroughly addressed in the scientific literature between its publication and the publication of “Atheist” in 2004. (See, for instance, (5)) However, none of the serious flaws within Behe’s book have been address by Geisler and Turek, which indicates either an ignorance of these faults or a willing avoidance of them. I’ll address these problems below.

New Life Forms

Part of the major problem I have with the authors in this chapter is that they once again misrepresent the other side’s argument, but in this case the error is not one of omission, it is one of malfeasance.

For instance, the authors write that the question of origins of life take us ‘a long way from one cell to the human brain… [but] where did the first life come from?” (p. 139) The authors would have the reader believe that because evolutionists (the authors use the term Darwinists as a pejorative term, as if it’s to be connected with unreasonable cult-like followers, but I prefer to use the more value-neutral and accurate term) cannot answer this question right now, the entire concept should be abandoned.

This is illustrated by the very next paragraph: “If Darwinists don’t have an explanation for the first life, then what’s the point of speaking about new life forms?” (p. 139). The ludicrousness of such a statement should be obvious: are they seriously suggesting that unless you already know the answer you should not explore the question? Or, perhaps more accurately, because you don’t have the answer to one question that you shouldn’t explore other questions?

To make matters worse, the authors dismissively deride evolutionists as “just making stuff up” (p. 139), as if evolutionary biology for the past 150 years had a habit of arbitrarily adding and subtracting evidence at whim. “this isn’t science – this is a joke.” Are we really to take these authors seriously when they begin to approach evolutionary biology and the arguments that it presents as “a joke?” (p. 139).

The fascinating thing here is that neither one of the authors has a degree in any type of science – “hard” or “soft.” Geisler is a Ph.D in Philosophy, and Turek is (as of this writing) not even equipped with a Ph.D at all. If it should come to pass that the authors don’t understand the evobiological background necessary to write about it, they should at least have the arguments explained to them before they begin attempting to address them to the lay-person.

Perhaps the the most scientifically unsound statement they make is that a “good box top (worldview) should be able to plausibly explain all of the data. If it can’t answer the fundamental questions of the origin of the world or the origin of life, it’s not a viable [worldview]” (p. 140). The problem here is that evolution does have a viable, plausible explanation. Merely stating that it does not does not negate the fact that it does.

Macroevolution vs. Microevolution

 

One of the authors’ most boldest claims is that there hasn’t been any evidence – forensic or observable – for macroevolution. Specifically, they state that “[m]icroevolution has been observed; but it cannot be used as evidence for macroevolution, which has never been observed.” (p. 141). However, this simply is not true (2).

Part of the problem that the authors indicate as a flaw in macroevolution is, once again, definitional. “There is no difference between micro- and macroevolution except that genes between species usually diverge, while genes within species usually combine. The same processes that cause within-species evolution are responsible for above-species evolution, except that the processes that cause speciation include things that cannot happen to lesser groups, such as the evolution of different sexual apparatus (because, by definition, once organisms cannot interbreed, they are different species).” (3).

In general, the authors make a very fundamental mistake in their misunderstanding of the origin of something called “higher taxa” (In biology, a “taxonomy” is the classification of organisms in an ordered system that indicates natural relationships). They assume that it requires something “special” as indicated on pages 141 and 142. However, this is a misunderstanding of the way in which new lineages arise and emerge. For instance, “the two species that are the origin of canines and felines probably differed very little from their common ancestral species and each other. But once they were reproductively isolated from each other, they evolved more and more differences that they shared but the other lineages didn’t. This is true of all lineages back to the first eukaryotic (nuclear) cell” (3)

The thing is, even Behe contradicts himself in his book. He tells us, for instance, that he finds the descent of all species from a common ancestor “fairly convincing,” while in the same breath questioning macroevolution – which is the same thing. As Orr puts it, “You can no more believe in one but not the other than you can believe in beer but not brewing.” So, Behe’s contradiction seems to indicate that the authors haven’t quite understood Behe’s arguments all that well. If this is not true, they should have done a better job explaining his positions. If it is true, they should not have used his ideas as their solitary form of support.

Genetic limits

 

The notion of Genetic Limits seems to make sense at the surface. After all, if you take a dog into the laboratory it would seem somewhat ludicrous to walk out with a cat.

However, it is a mistake to assume that genetic limits mean that there are absolutely no changes whatsoever. After all, homosapiens share 98.5% of the genetic makeup of chimps. The authors also patently fail to understand the concept of working on fruit flies: they assume that the purpose is to create something other than fruit flies, which simply isn’t true. The truth is that fruit flies have characteristics that are easily testable when modifying genetic structure so that results can be easily determined in a very short period of time. This, by the way, is not meant to be evolution, but testing a hypothesis related to evolution. The authors apparently do not seem to have a clear understanding of the difference between those two concepts.

Of course, the simple fact remains that “genetic limits” are not the sole arbiter of evolutionary tracts. Evolution involves an entire eco-system, not just the emergence of genetic traits. Within the scientific definitions, explanations, and research tools, evolutionary theory (evolutionary change by natural selection) to be valid does not require radical degrees of change. The authors, however, imply that these genetic limits would need to be broken through in order for a radical enough degree of change to make the concept valid.

Cyclical Change

 

The concept of Cyclical Change as the authors present confused me, because if anything it contradicted their argument rather than supported it.

If a Designer had created the life that the authors describe – in this case Darwin’s finches – why would they need to be designed to change in a cyclical fashion? Even if they were designed to change, why would they not be designed to change in a linear fashion, rather than changing back into previous states? That is, after all, one of the tenets of evolution.

The authors eventually concede that “natural selection may be able to explain the survival of the species, but it cannot explain the arrival of the species” (p. 144). However, this is precisely the point! There is more to evolution than the concept of “natural selection,” and the authors have – perhaps by accident – wound up confirming the very point they were attempting to dismiss.

While Darwin in 1859 correctly surmised that natural selection was a major factor in evolution, he also stated clearly that he did not believe it was the only one. Since that time we have discovered that mutation, migration, and drift are also fundamental forces, and the relative significance of mutation to migration and of selection to drift are of important interest to biologists. Somehow, the authors (and Behe) seem to miss this aspect in their critique.

Irreducible Complexity

 

This is the big one.

When I was a kid we used to have a little game that went something like this: I have eleven fingers. I can prove it to you. By counting up on one hand, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and counting down on the other, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 and by adding 5 + 6 together, I get 11. Very clever, eh?

The key, of course, is that if you count down on the second hand by starting at 10, you have already admitted that you only have 10 fingers and that the conclusion – addition of two nominal numbers – is a red herring. It’s an intellectual slight of hand that capitalizes on the unsuspecting audience’s 1) lack of observation or 2) inability to comprehend the difference between nominal and ordinal numbers.

Behe does the exact same thing. Consider Behe’s central tenet: “By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively stop functioning.” (4)

Behe starts off with 10 and adds up to 11 here. He defines the function of a system as composed of parts but then eliminates the parts from the system, eliminating the function. Is it really any surprise when the function of a 10-fingered hand stops when you remove a finger? It may still function, but it won’t – by definition – function as a 10-fingered hand.

The authors claim quite interestingly – and arrogantly – that critics have “tried to find Darwinian [sic] paths around irreducible complexity, but all have failed” (p. 147). As evidence they point to Behe, who simply dismisses any evidence to get around his great idea. And Behe himself is not shy: ‘the discovery of design, he assures us, is “so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science,” rivaling “those of Newton and Einstein, Lavoisier and Schrodinger, Pasteur, and Darwin.”‘ (1) It’s evident that he does not suffer from pesky modesty issues.

He is, and the authors are, however, dead wrong.

Both the authors and Behe claim that evolutionary biologists had avoided asking the question about the origin of the lowly cell. As Orr (1) points out, twentieth century biologists had made great strides in anatomy and physiology but the cell remained a tightly shut black box (hence the name of Behe’s book). Evolutionists attempted to explain the morphology of the eye, but Behe (and the authors as well) claims that no one had asked how the cell got there in the first place.

However, this is simply not true. As Orr points out, Geneticists have known for more than 60 years that the fruit fly has at least 5,000 genes. How could it not be complicated? Moreover, evolutionists know that, from the time the earth formed, it took three BILLION years to evolve the first true cell, but only half as long to get to human beings from the cell.

This makes sense, even upon closer inspection. The first tools that man used to better his lot in life were those that made more tools. The cell is one of those such tools, and the first one would necessarily take the longest time to make. Moreover, evolutionists have no trouble explaining sheer complexity: “four billion years is an unimaginably long time for things to get complicated.” (3)

Irreducible Complexity, or IC, provides the authors (and Behe) with a very solid stance, because this is a term that is arbitrarily defined to suit Behe’s purpose:

“How do we decide when the term IC applies? Organisms don’t come with parts, functions and systems labeled, nor are ‘part’, ‘system’ and ‘function’ technical terms in biology. They are terms of convenience. We might say, for instance, that the function of a leg is to walk, and call legs walking systems. But what are the parts? If we divide a leg into three major parts, removal of any part results in loss of the function. Thus legs are IC. On the other hand, if we count each bone as a part then several parts, even a whole toe, may be removed and we still have a walking system. We will see later that Behe’s treatment of cilia and flagella follows this pattern.” (6)

Behe’s example is the moustrap, and the authors also provide an example of a car engine. But, as Dunkelberg points out, “since a mousetrap is not alive, it doesn’t tell us much about whether or not living IC systems might evolve.” Dunkelberg then proceeds to demonstrate how an irreducibly complex system might evolve using the Venus Flytrap, Pentachlorophenal, Hemoglobin and the Blood Clotting system.

The key examples that Behe uses, though, are swimming systems, particularly those with flagella. Dunkelberg (6), Orr (1) Matzke (11) have – among several others – indicated just how flawed Behe’s assertion really is. Additionally, by the time Behe published his example of flagellum as an IC example, as well as other systems that he claimed could not be explained by evolution *already had been * by the time he made the claim. (7) A search of PubMed Central will provide a list of those articles (8)

Nonviability of Transitional Forms and the Fossil Records

 

Unfortunately here, too, the authors are simply mistaken. They state that transitional forms simply are nonviable.

However, as Brown University biologist Ken Miller points out, it would be an incorrect claim that fossil record lacks “transitional forms.” This statement has been repeatedly rebutted by scientific evidence. As the National Academy of Sciences noted in 1999 , “nearly all fossils can be regarded as intermediates in some sense; they are life forms that come between the forms that preceded them and those that followed.”(9)

Part of the problem with the fossil record as used in evidence by the authors is that begin with the assumption that fossils progress in a linear fashion, so that transitional fossils are observable (or should be). However, the authors themselves chose to use the cyclical change aspect of the debate to show that this doesn’t exactly happen.

If you ask any programmer how a program is written, he’ll tell you that the code is written line by line, though not sequentially. In fact, while the intended function of the code is predominantly static, the process by which the code is written involves rewrites, additional code, removal of code, and the overwriting of code.

It is, for instance, virtually impossible to take a look at a finished piece of software code and reverse engineer it to the degree that it is obvious which changes were made and when. Any and all vestiges of transitional code are often difficult if not impossible to find, or are eliminated entirely by some subsequent change.

The fossil record provides us with a similar story. They are snapshots in time, not a history of a version change. The difference is important. Due to the rarity of preservation and the likelihood that speciation occurs in small populations during geologically short periods of time, transitions between species are uncommon in the fossil record. Transitions at higher taxonomic levels, however, are abundant.

Hunt (12), for instance, has provided a very thorough and comprehensive outline for transitional vertebrate fossils that was written in 1994, before Behe’s book was published. The idea or notion that there are no fossils to counter the authors’ claims were, simply put, disingenuous.

Intelligent Design as Alternative

 

Perhaps the most stunning claim that the authors make is that with regards to evolution, “there’s positive evidence that it has occurred” (p. 155, emphasis in the original). The reason why this is so stunning? Behe – the primary source of the chapter’s anti-Darwinist stance – conceded a great deal of territory to Darwinism.

For instance, he concoluded that the Earth is several billion years old, that evolutionary biology has had “much success in accounting for the patterns of life we see around us” (p. 4 in “Black Box”) that evolution accounts for the appearance of new organisms including antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and who is convinced that all organisms share a “common ancestor.” (13)

In short, Michael Behe and Charles Darwin share an evolutionary view of the natural history of the Earth!

But even the author’s own reasons for the arguments against ID as a “science” don’t hold up:

1) “As we have seen, science is a search for causes” (p. 156). Perhaps no single statement in the book (thus far) so clearly defines the authors absolute lack of knowledge about anything scientific. Science is a system of inquiry. It is a process of exploration. It is a series of tools to enable that process. If there is one thing that it is not, it’s a “search for causes.”

The authors show further they have absolutely no CLUE about scientific research when they claim that “if your definition of science rules out intelligent causes beforehand, then you’ll never consider Intelligent Design science” (p. 156)

Again, science is a process of discovery. That process is extremely codified and is so for a particular reason: the basic premise of science is that we really can NOT know everything. In fact, one of the tenets of science is that any scientific principal has to be, by definition, falsifiable. That means that in order of any scientific idea to be valid it must be possible to demonstrate it to be FALSE. (14)

The authors completely miss this point. Their entire argument is not that they can demonstrate their ideas (such that they are, more in a moment about this) false, but that ID is defined out of science to begin with. Truthfully, there is nothing of the kind going on here.

First, a quick lesson in terminology. “Theory” has a very specific meaning in scientific jargon. A “Theory” is what most lay-people would call a truism, a “fact,” something that has been tested so often and so rigorously that science has “failed to reject” the hypothesis. For something to be called a scientific “Theory” is a HUGE deal. It’s not done willy-nilly. For evolution to have achieved the moniker “Theory” means, scientifically, that the concept has been tested over and over again and it has been difficult to reject it.

That’s right, reject it.

You see, when you do a science experiment, you start off with a hypothesis and then try to show that IT’S WRONG. In science, for instance, you never, ever, EVER say that you “accept” a hypothesis. You go through the tests and, providing you’ve done everything that you said you were going to do and the hypothesis seems to have been supported, you say that you “Failed to Reject” it.

Why don’t you simply accept it? Why would anyone go through all that work, all that effort, for all that time (and money!) only to not be able to say that you accomplished what you set out to do?

Because, scientifically, we work under the assumption that there may still be some OTHER possible explanation that you may have missed. Maybe you need better technology. Maybe you need better conditions. Maybe you need better researchers. Heck, maybe you need better ideas. Whatever, you never say that you have PROVEN anything at all.

ID, on the other hand, simply cannot allow itself to stand up to the same scrutiny. ID advocates have too much invested in the outcome of the test. You see, if ID was to accept the same rigor in testing that science does, it would take it’s assumption of a designer and then try to REJECT that hypothesis. They would test that hypothesis (that a Designer/Creator) and then, supposing that the tests passed scientific rigor, would STILL have to claim that they failed to reject it.

Instead, ID advocates don’t have anything beyond that hypothesis. They have no methodology for testing whether there was a designer or not. They have no ability to experiment for their hypothesis. They have no methodology for validation or reliability (the tests that indicate that a) you are really measuring what you think you’re measuring, and b) you have accurately measured what you thought you were measuring). They have no means to reproduce the results.

Perhaps most damningly, they are completely unwilling to throw out the hypothesis if the evidence does not support their hypothesis. A scientist – a TRUE scientist – must completely throw out his hypothesis if the evidence of his testing brings him to the conclusion that he must, in fact, reject it.

The ID advocate begins with the hypothesis that there is a Designer. ID wants to be treated as a science. So, if this is the case, how do you scientifically test for a designer? What experiment do you choose? How are you going to operationalize a Designer/Creator? More importantly, what test are you going to choose to determine whether to reject or fail to reject your hypothesis? And what happens if and/or when the hypothesis is shown to be demonstrably false by this experiment? Can the ID advocate then follow the scientific rules of procedure and reject the hypothesis?

If ID is to truly be “scientific,” and honestly so, the ID MUST throw out the hypothesis. If ID cannot reject its hypothesis, and instead throws out the evidence, ID IS NOT A SCIENCE. It really IS that simple.

ID claims to be a science on its own very convenient terms. When it finds something that is either poorly explained by evolution, or not explained at all, it attempts to use logic and reason to point out the failings of evolution. This “baby with the bathwater” technique is not scientific. It is critical, of course, and any true scientist would need to make sure that questions about the integrity of his field were addressed and results defended.

But this does not make ID a science. It makes it a structure for criticism, which is not the same thing.

In fact, much of ID as explained even in the book proposes absolutely nothing. There are no ID hypotheses, no tests, no models, no measurement techniques, no methods for studying ID. The only thing ID provides is a running criticism of evolution; it has no ideas of its own.

This itself is a fallacious argument, as Miller points out (10). By assuming that “if not Evolution, then ID,” which is something the authors attempt to state, ID commits a terrible act of hubris. Evolution has been studied, tested, and methodically researched for nearly 150 years. ID has absolutely ZERO empirical studies behind it. To promote the idea as the only other game in town is wildly inaccurate. ANY other idea that attempts to explain the things that Evolution cannot will have to go through the exact same process of testing and study.

The authors claim that there are only two types of causes: “intelligent and non-intelligent (natural)” (p. 156). Oh really? Are you sure? What about unintended consequences? Consequences or causes that resulted from intelligent action that were indirect? Would that be a natural progression from an unnatural act? What about an intelligent cause resulting from a natural cause? What about complex adaptive systems? What about seemingly intelligent causes that are, in fact, non-intelligent?

You see, this is why science NEVER allows us the luxury of saying “Eureka! We’ve found the answer!” Because there will always be someone coming along at some point in time that may have another take on a situation, another possible explanation.

God-in-the-Gaps

 

The authors claim that, as an example, they have “positive empirically detectible evidence *for an intelligent cause” (p. 157, emphasis theirs). But do they? The examples they give are anything but empirical. They completely misunderstand the term empirical in this sense as they describe “messages” and how they must come “only from intelligent beings.”

But that is not empiricism. It is induction, and bad induction at that. They state “we know that it must come from an intelligent being because all of our observational experiences tells us that messages only come from intelligent beings” (p. 157).

Um, what? Bees “dance” to communicate the location of food to the hive. Fireflies send messages of light to each other for mating purposes. Anatomically, internal sensors of the blood stream tell the pancreas to produce more insulin to avoid ketoacidosis. Pheramones are chemical messages that excite the sexual reproductive systems of millions of species of animals – messages that do not need an intelligent for generation or transmission. These are distinct messages – and there are countless others – that do not require an intelligent source.

Again the hubris: “It’s not an argument from ignorance, nor is it based on any “gap” in our knowledge” (p. 157). Well, apparently it is! The authors apparently have absolutely no knowledge of communication systems, but they don’t seem to understand that not having knowledge about this IS ignorance. The fact that they claim that there is no “gap” in their knowledge is PRECISELY the reason science never allows a TRUE scientist to say that the hypothesis is accepted!

The problem is that the “god-in-the-gaps” is an argument that his heavily applied in ID monographs (as opposed to studies, there are dozens of ID *monographs* but absolutely NO ID studies). William Dembski’s book “No Free Lunch” is riddled with these arguments, which can be meticulously pointed out and eliminated (16).

Intelligent Design is religiously motivated

 

The authors ask, “So what? Does this make Intelligent Design false?” (p. 159). The answer to this is no, it makes it neither true NOR false. It does not make it true because, as noted above, science does not allow us to make the arrogant assumption that we have found the definitive answer to anything. It does not make it false because ID does not have any means of rejecting its own hypothesis.

What it does, however, is make ID unscientific. Since ID’s entire argument to be taught alongside evolution in schools is that it is a “scientific” approach to the question of the origins of the universe as well as life as we know it, by admitting that ID is religiously motivated means something very special for our discussion.

It means that ID will not permit us to be honest about our findings, which to us are scientifically useless.

Not honest? How so?

IF ID is supposed to be scientific, it must abide by the “Scientific Method,” which maintains five basic tenets: Scientific research is public, science is objective (meaning it tries to rule out individual eccentricities of judgment by researchers), science is empirical, science is systematic and cumulative, and science is predictive (14).

It could be possible to go through each of these well-defined aspects of the scientific method, but remaining space prevents such detail. Nevertheless, as ID PURPORTS ITSELF TO BE SCIENTIFIC, the fact that ID is religiously motivated means that at least one of these – objectivity – is put into serious question.

In fact, that the authors dismiss this element with a casual “So what?” indicates just how unscientific ID and its proponents really are. At the very least an honest scientist attempts to eliminate his own individual, personal prejudices. For an ID research to be truly honest he would have to accept two fundamentally contradictory conditions:

1) He would have to remove his own religious motivation from the research, and

2) He would have to prepare himself to reject the hypothesis of a Designer should the outcome show that the evidence of his tests (assuming they were performed flawlessly)become necessary.

The fact that ID is religiously motivated means that a “true” ID scientist wouldn’t be ID very long if he can’t meet both conditions. Either his religious motivations would hinder his testing and experimentation, or he would not have the ability to reject the hypothesis of a designer should such a conclusion need to be drawn.

ID is flawed because of imperfect Design

 

Here, again, the authors seem to go through some mental contortions to show that this argument is actually an argument for a designer. However, their arguments take more than just a little leap of faith to comprehend, let alone accept.

For instance, when Gould observes that the Panda’s Thumb is a suboptimal design the authors state that in order to determine something as sub-optimal they must therefore know what optimal was. “You can’t know something is imperfect unless you know what perfect is” (p. 160).

However, “optimal” and “perfect” are NOT synonyms. Even using the language of Behe the authors had described functionality of mousetraps, car engines, and flagella. “Function” does not necessarily imply “intent,” either. And yet the authors appear to be using those terms interchangeably as well.

Gould’s use of the term “optimal” instead of “perfect” was, quite probably deliberate. “Perfect” is a completely subjective term, one that we have a difficult time operationalizing (we “operationalize” a term when we define how we’re going to use it for the sake of an argument). “Optimal” is a term that has a relationship to form and function. There is a ratio between form and function that is measured in efficiency. “Optimal,” in this sense, is not perfection. It is a measurement of how efficient something is based upon its form and function. That the authors confuse (deliberately?) the terms provides for a confusing sleight of hand and, ultimately, is erroneous (should I say, “suboptimal?”).

The second reason they provide, that “sub-optimal design doesn’t mean there’s no design” (p. 160) confuses the way that “design” is used here (one could also say “the way that it’s “operationalized” here – clever, eh?). This difference, however, is absolutely critical.

Miller points this out when he states that when using the term design in this way, ID advocates really mean “Creates” (10). In other words, it would be more accurate to say that Intelligent Design is actually “Intelligent Creation.” ID advocates, however, shy away from the word “Creation” because they would be immediately rejected.

When Gould uses the term “design,” however, he’s talking about the underlying structure of the Panda’s thumb. In this way, “design” as a verb – or the act of designing – is confused with “design” as a noun – or a description of the underlying structure. The authors either do not understand this (in which case they should not be the ones writing a critique on the subject) or they purposefully deceive the audience in obfuscation. I leave the decision up to the reader of the text to determine which is which.

The authors only claim that in order to claim that something is sub-optimal, “you must know what the objectives or purpose of the designer are” (p. 161). Why? If thumbs have a general function, and a particular thumb does not function as well, where does intent come into play? The thumb does not act as a thumb should act, and is therefore – in terms of functionality – it is by definition sub-optimal. There is no need to examine “intent” at all, either by a designer or by evolution.

The authors’ final description of “trade-off’s in design” (p. 161) miss the point entirely. There are tradeoffs in evolution as well, and have been thoroughly documented as such. If “trade-offs” are an issue, it becomes a wash when comparing evolution to ID.

So why are there still Darwinists?

 

Both Behe and the authors discuss the near-fanatacism of Evolutionists and deride them as ideologues. However, Orr points out some very interesting and valid points:

“Finally, Behe and others may feel obliged to sling mud Darwin’s way because they suspect evolutionary biologists won’t do so. Evolutionists are widely perceived as uncritical ideologues, devoted to suppressing all doubt about evolution. It’s easy to see how this impression arose: evolutionists, after all, spend most of their public lives defending Darwin against endlessly recycled creationist arguments. So of course we appear hide-bound reactionaries. (So would physicists if the theory of gravity were dragged into court every other year.)” (1).

On a personal note, I found very amusing that that the authors show some incredulity at the fact that smart people are evolutionists: “After all, these people are not dummies – their names are usually followed by the letters Ph.D.!” (p. 161). I happen to be among them. 🙂

However, it is important to note that there are those who believe in evolution and those who are evolutionary scientists. The authors’ example of Richard Dawkins is a good one. They ask: “Why the invectives? Why the emotion? Why the hostility? I thought this was science. There must be something else at stake here” (p. 162).

In truth, there is. As Orr pointed out above, physicists do not have to debate the theory of gravity (that’s right, gravity is a THEORY) as whether or not it needs to be taught in public schools. Creationists (or ID advocates) do not seem to have any qualms about ad hominem attacks on religious grounds on Darwin, as opposed to scientific (the fact that they call Darwin “Godless” when he was in fact a devout Catholic belies this fact). ID advocates simply have a hard time debating the merits of their claims against evolution with the people who actually study it (15). Finally, ID advocates don’t actually have a program of study to further themselves, they merely attack, attack, attack (to turn the authors phrase).

Is it any real question that emotions will run high when you’re put on the defensive all the time by people who call you a liar at every turn?

The authors assume that scientists – sorry, Darwinists – are afraid of losing money, security, professional admiration, status, or the “higher morality”. It is entirely possible that these may very well be the ancillary motivations for some individuals. But let us not forget that evolution has been tested, studied, researched, and tested again for the last 150 YEARS. It is one of the most rigorously tested scientific principles, period.

Let’s say that again.

Evolution is one of the most rigorously tested and empirically supported and documented scientific principles. Period.

To suggest that the only reason to hold on to it is because of greed or, as the authors state on p. 163, “sexual freedom” is remarkably weak logic. “Notice [Julian Huxley, speaking on the Merv Griffin show] didn’t cite evidence for spontaneous generation or evidence from the fossil record” (p. 163). Of course not! He was speaking on the Merv Griffin Show!

This is the best the authors have? A quip from a scientist on a popular interview show from possibly one of the least sexually restrictive decades in history?

No, it isn’t. They choose a conversation between Ron Carlson and some professor at a dinner who personally wanted no moral accountability.

Even the authors admit that they’re cherry-picking their examples here: “It simply reveals that some Darwinists are motivated not by the evidence but rather by a desire to remain free from the perceived moral restraints of God” (p. 164). So, according to that logic we can dismiss Intelligent Design because there are SOME advocates who don’t actually believe it is science but are pushing for it because it allows them to indoctrinate school children according to their particular religious beliefs?

Somehow I think that the authors might bristle at such a drastic step.

How important is the age of the universe?

 

In this, the shortest section in the chapter, the authors make the starkest unscientific statements yet: “Since the universe is designed, it required a Designer” (p. 165). This, unlike the example they use in an earlier chapter, is the truest example of tautology. A scientific approach would never presume the first part of that sentence. A scientist would say, “IF the universe is designed (e.g., created), THEN it would require a Designer.” The scientist would then attempt to test this hypothesis, which are actually two hypotheses:

1) the universe is designed

2) the universe required a designer

The authors, however, bypass this scientific approach altogether. While this may work for their purposes amongst their own circle of friends, it is NOT a scientific approach, and therefore cannot be considered scientific in nature. Therefore, this is NOT an Intelligent Design-as-science statement.

Conclusion

 

For someone attempting to find his own path, weighing the pros and cons of whether Christianity (or, in this chapter, ID) has the better argument or Atheism (exemplified bizarrely by Darwinism, when neither Darwin nor many of the evolutionary biologists who followed him were atheists), the gavel comes down squarely in favor of the Atheists on this one. Well, at least the evolutionists.

Unfortunately, the authors are hopelessly outclassed by the sheer preponderance of evidence that supports evolution, and no amount of nay-saying can erase 150 years of dedicated, thoughtful, meticulous research. Additionally, no amount of simply denying evidence changes the simple fact that it exists (15).

Did you notice, for instance, that at no point do the authors ever forward a theory (or hypothesis) of Intelligent Design? They offer no mechanism of design or creation. They offer no method of testing this conclusion that they have surmised. They offer no evidence that simply isn’t a contradiction of evolution. In short, they do NOT offer any logical, coherent Intelligent Design theory.

This is important, because no hypothesis (which is what this is) is defined by what it is NOT. The authors claim that they have empirical evidence of design. But they haven’t provided the reader with anything of the kind. They’ve made wild assumptions based on induction, saying that, effectively, “X has a design so therefore it MUST have been designed.” The example noted above about “messages” showed how flawed that turned out to be.

The authors – and the proponents of ID – have not shown us how to test for design, either. How can we be sure that something has been designed? If something has a design – that is, an underlying structure – how can we test to see whether it was actually designed at all? After all, that’s the hypothesis right? If we’re just going to define our terms without the need for testing we’re not scientific, so we have to be able to test our ideas. How do we test for a designer?

What about falsifiability? That is, what about the fact that, in order to be scientific (and ID CLAIMS to be scientific), it has to be falsifiable? That is, it has to be capable of being DISPROVEN. If it can’t be disproven, it can’t be scientific. How can this hypothesis of a Designer be disprovable? If it cannot be, it simply cannot be scientific.

Okay, so what? Well, if it cannot be scientific, then the observations and inductive logic to show ID cannot be scientific, and therefore the ID community cannot have a valid claim to teach ID in science classes.

“After all, shouldn’t we be teaching them how to think critically on their own?” (p. 167) the authors ask. Absolutely. That’s what scientific reasoning is all about. You simply can’t have it both ways. You cannot simultaneously claim to be scientific and eschew all things scientific. Neither can you pick and choose what parts of science and its methodology you wish to adhere to. Perhaps the authors have gotten too used to picking and choosing the parts of Chrisitianity they wish to follow, as evidenced by their glossing over the age of the universe in the chapter.

The frustration I have is that, for someone who is attempting to examine the relative merits of Christianity versus some other method of explanation, I’m terribly disappointed by the authors’ seeming lack of respect for its audience. Let me explain.

The authors have been slowly becoming less and less knowledgeable about the subjects about which they’re writing. Chapter 5 focused on elements of Multiple Universe Theory, for instance, which the authors derided mercilessly without ever explaining what it was in any truthful fashion or what it means.

This chapter is even more reprehensible, because it is as intellectually vacuous as it is misleading. They conclude the chapter with “Why are there still Darwinists” ignoring the fact that their star witness – Behe – is himself a Darwinist in several ways. It attempts to tear apart evolution with straw men and, in some cases, outright dissembling.

There is a reason why evolution has been studied and researched for 150 years, and a reason why it has achieved the status of “Theory” (recall that the Theory of Gravity is also “just a theory.”) There is a reason why individuals have grown to accept evolution as a given (much the same way we have come to accept Gravity as a given).

To lead the reader to think that evolutionists are mislead ideologues is utterly inane, and any self-respecting scientist would react emotionally, I think.

Again, I’m brought back to the same question as before: If the authors do not understand the arguments of Atheists, they should not claim that Atheists need to have faith to believe what they belief. If they do understand the arguments of Atheists, why do they lie about them? What should this tell someone who is attempting to figure out Christianity for himself about the honesty, integrity, and motivations of Christians?

References:

 

(1) Orr, H. Allen. Darwin v. Intelligent Design (Again): The latest attack on evolution is cleverly argued, biologically informed — and wrong.

(2) Theobald, Douglas L. “29+ Evidences Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent.” The Talk.Origins Archive. Vers. 2.83. 2004. 12 Jan, 2004

(3) Wilkins, John. 1997. “Macroevolution.”

(4) Behe, Michael. 1996. “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution.” New York: Touchstone, 39.

(5) Moran, Laurence A. 2002. “Behe’s Criticism of Evolution in Biochemistry Textbooks.”

(6) Dunkelberg, Pete 2003. “Irreducible Complexity Demystified.”

(7) Charles C. 2003. A Crisis of Faith: An Ex-Creationist Speaks.

(8) PubMed. “Flagella” search.

(9) Miller, Ken. 2005. “Response to ID/Creationist Proposal.”

(10) C-Span. 2005, October 21. Panel Discussion on the Teaching of Intelligent Design.

(11) Matzke, N.J. 2003. “Evolution in (Brownian) space: a model for the origin of the bacterial flagellum.”

(12) Hunt, Kathleen. 1997. Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ.

(13) Miller, Ken. 1996 “Darwin’s Black Box Reviewed.” Creation/Evolution. Volume 16, pp. 36-40.

(14) Wimmer, Roger D, and Dominick, Joseph R. 1994. Mass Media Research: An Introduction. ITP publishing.

(15) Foley, Jim. Debating Creationists.

(16) Wein, Richard. 2002. Not a Free Lunch But a Box of Chocolates: A critique of William Dembski’s book No Free Lunch.

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