Saturday, February 28, 2009

Spinning Darwin

As I referenced here before, Dr. Fazale ("Fuz") Rana recently published an article titled, "What Darwin Didn't Know," that addressed such topics as: the difficulties of abiogenesis; the incredible design and information content we find in living systems; a fossil record that completely contradicts everything that Darwinism is supposed to stand for; and the inexplicable appearance and uniqueness of humanity. In his piece, Fuz makes the case that we Christian apologists often make about the signs of intelligent design we see in nature. Those who disagree with us are quick to call such reasoning a "God of the Gaps" argument. That is, we don't know how it happened so we insert God as the explanation for it all. But nothing could be further from the truth.

We don't make these arguments from ignorance. We make them from experience. Each of the issues Rana discusses have parallels in the world that we do observe and understand. Each of these aspects of the world strongly resembles the kind of thing we only find arising from an intelligent source -- a mind that purposes to bring them about. Though some try to take these kinds of arguments too far, no good apologist would claim any of these as concrete "proof" that God exists. Our argument is that they are perfectly consistent with a theistic understanding of the world. We don't claim to be able to identify Him using science as our only tool -- we use other means to make that case. We simply see signs that His fingerprints are on the work.

What I find ironic, is the way in which the Darwinists use the exact same information. Here's what I mean.

Published simultaneously with Fuz's article, National Geographic's cover story for February 2009 was entitled -- you guessed it -- "What Darwin Didn't Know." (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. And, in case you think one or the other of these was deliberately playing off the other, articles published in magazines must be submitted many months in advance). It would be tedious to attempt to address every point made in the NatGeo piece because, frankly, there isn't much there. We are treated to the same old story about Darwin's being a "highly attentive fieldman, greedy for specimens, learning as he went" who was "intrigued" by the "most interesting facts" in the similarities between the extinct fossil specimens he found and the living species he observed. We are fed the same tired and overused example of the finches of Galapagos that has been disabused time and time again as constituting "proof" of Evolution "in real time," only this time an "expert" tells us that he "reckons it might take only a few such episodes before a new species is established." We are motivated to accept Darwin's explanation "because it seemed more economical, more inductive, and more persuasive than the creationist scenario" that preceded it.

Nothing new there.

What I want to point out is the way in which the Darwinian view appeals to speculation about things that we never see in the real world -- and does so with religious overtones of the same kind that we theists are accused using. "Modern Darwins," you see, "don't have to guess. They consult genetic scripture."

Genetic scripture. Get it?

From the genetic scripture we have found that the FOXP2 gene "is critical for the normal development of both speech in people and song in birds." We have found that "a single letter change, from A to G, on the long arm of chromosome 15, which dampens the expression of a gene called OCA2," serves to darken eye color so that "Darwin may have gotten his blue eyes because of a single misspelled letter in the DNA in the baby of a Neolithic farmer," and that that "spelling change that causes blue eyes is not in the pigment gene itself, but in a nearby snippet of DNA scripture that controls the gene's expression." We have found that "Evolution works not just by changing genes, but by modifying the way those genes are switched on and off."

The writer, in what he apparently believes is some earth-shattering new insight, actually offers this gem to awe us:
Over the past decade, as scientists compared the human genome with that of other creatures, it has emerged that we inherit not just the same number of genes as a mouse -- fewer than 21,000 -- but in some cases the very same genes. Just as you don't need different words to write different books, so you don't need new genes to make new species: You just change the order and pattern of their use.
Indeed, these are monumental discoveries and fascinating to learn. I don't doubt that they are true. What I doubt is that they somehow constitute new proof of Darwin's theory. How so? Is a finch not still a finch with a different sized beak? Does the song of that finch bear any resemblance to a human voice or the meaning that can be conveyed with it? Did Darwin's eye color somehow advance or stunt his fitness for survival? Most importantly, does the author of this piece not see that, in his comparison of DNA to words in a book, he completely misses the fact that every book ever written has an author? That some of the most boring and trivial essays you ever read differ from the works of Shakespeare only by the pattern and order of the author's use of the very same words!?

What Darwin Didn't Know was that his philosophical descendants would be forced to appeal to "reckonings" and "mights," and forced to equate intelligently designed "switches" and metaphorical authors with the random, mechanistic actions of a blind process in order to continue to make his case. What Darwin Didn't Know was that the more science we learn; the more evidence we gather, the more his theory would evolve toward extinction, no matter how carefully his protege's spin their "scripture."

We theists don't have to resort to such tactics. We let the evidence speak for itself.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

How Does It Do That?

When Darwin was theorizing about the mechanism that would drive his theory he called it "natural selection." He also believed that the cell, the "building block" of all life, was nothing more than a blob of protoplasm. Given his ignorance about the inner workings of the cell and the existence and complexity of the DNA language by which the cell operates, we can't blame him for basing his evidence on what we now call phenotype (think "phenomenon") -- or the observable traits by which we recognize an organism. In Darwin's mind, the physical traits were what varied among populations and those that were beneficial to the organism were more successful in surviving. They conferred an advantage that allowed the most robust variant to carry on. It's where we got the term "survival of the fittest," though, as I understand it, Darwin never used that term. And it's why species that looked alike were assumed to be members of the same branch of the family tree.

The key is that Darwin concentrated on what the organism looked like but he had no idea what physical mechanism could actually make such a thing work. We now know that that phenotype is an "expression" of genotype (think genetics), and that the genetic differences are what make different species different. This more recently learned fact has changed the game considerably and led to what we call Neo-Darwinism -- the The Neo-Darwinists work on completely different assumptions than Darwin worked under.

This advance in scientific knowledge has been breathtaking in scope and explanatory power -- but that doesn't mean it helps Darwinism. Though we now know that genetic variation can be the object on which natural selection works, this new discovery requires that Darwinism first explain the origin of the genetic code itself. How is it that such a rich and powerful information system can arise from a purely mechanistic process?

Not only that, but how does Darwinism explain the fact that similar looking organisms are not genetically related? Stephen J. Gould was fond of saying that Evolution's randomness demands that, if it were possible to start over again, would never turn out the way it has in the actual world we live in. Computer models meant to verify this claim have proved that Gould was indeed correct. Yet we have discovered completely unrelated organisms that have acquired physical traits (eyes, sensory receptors etc.) that are exactly the same. Somehow, Evolution would seem to have reached the same end under completely different circumstances. Conversely, genetics have shown us that Neanderthals, always proposed as human precursors and our distant relatives (and still equated with politically conservative males), are completely distinct from us in the only way that matters under a Darwinistic explanation -- their genetic makeup.

More hauntingly, a purely naturalistic understanding of Evolution would be deterministic. That is, natural selection acting on purely random mutations, would be the only means to determine who we are, what we think, and where we are going. There could be no such thing as free will. Yet human experience tells us that such a thing is ridiculous. Our thoughts, hopes, fears and imaginings can be about things that have never happened -- and never will. We can change what we believe and alter the course of our lives. Twins don't end up in the same place. Genetics, in other words, does not determine everything about us. For one thing, it cannot explain our ability to reason. The irony is that, if it did, we would have no reason to accept the claims of Evolutionists about reality as being any more reliable than our own.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

OOL

The first -- and biggest -- evidential obstacle that Darwinism has to hurdle is the Origin Of Life (OOL), also referred to as abiogenesis -- the origination of life from non-life. By definition, any purely naturalistic (non-supernatural) Darwinian explanation for abiogenesis must be able to explain how inanimate molecules could somehow form themselves into self-replicating chemicals. It is also interesting to note that Darwinists do their best to completely avoid this reality and divorce Darwinian Evolution from OOL issues. When you press them on it, their response is always some form of the following: "Evolution is about the origin of species, not the origin of life."

Of course they are correct in saying that. But that doesn't let them off the hook. If, as the Darwinian purists insist, everything has a completely materialistic explanation, they must come up with a completely materialistic explanation for first life. Darwin himself was rightly baffled as to how such a thing could have occurred and never addressed it in his now-famous theory. He did speculate on the issue however. In an 1871 letter to his friend, Joseph Hooker, Darwin famously wrote that he envisioned that such a thing:
"But if (and Oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed"
Thus was born the notion of the Primordial Soup. I won't go into it here, but researchers have tried in vain to recreate such a "soup" and every experiment designed to do so has proven fruitless. Though Darwinists still tout the Miller-Urey experiment that was thought to be the answer in the 1950s, we have since learned that the initial conditions assumed in this experiment do not match what we have learned the early Earth to be like. There was no primordial soup -- at least none like what scientists have assumed. Moreover, what we do know about the conditions of the early Earth (yes, the actual evidence -- that pesky little thing you are supposed to use in science) proves corrosive to the ability of life to ever begin ... no matter what kind of soup it happens to be. Fazale Rana summarizes ...
Oxygen’s presence, either in the atmosphere or dissolved in oceanic or subterranean water, shuts down prebiotic chemistry pathways … Ironically, oxygen’s absence would also have turned off prebiotic chemistry … either way, in the presence of oxygen or in the absence of oxygen, the soup is ruined because prebiotic molecule formation is stymied ...
Oops.

The evidence that has emerged since Darwin's time leaves us with very little to go on. Obviously Darwin could not have known this. But modern Darwinists do. As a result, they are forced to promote theories like this fascinating admission on the topic. Here, "New Atheist" Richard Dawkins explains how life could have originated on Earth (click here: Dawkins Interview). Please take a couple of minutes (literally) to go watch this short clip.

Notice that Dawkins demands that the aliens who probably planted us here must have originated by some purely Darwinian means. Why? Because he says so.

But note that in his assumption, Dawkins is evading an explanation for how life on this Earth originated through purely naturalistic mechanisms, by touting a "theory" (if you can call it that) that appeals to the notion that it just happened somewhere else. And we are supposed to take this seriously? Though it is not shown here, in the same interview Dawkins also mentions the idea that life could have first originated "on the backs of crystals" with no further explanation given.

The origin of life is a mystery that will probably never be solved. But it is worth noting that in the 150 years since Darwin published his book, we are no nearer to doing so. In fact, when all the evidence is taken into consideration, we are much further away than when Darwin speculated about it in the letter mentioned above. One thing is obvious, however. No matter whose side you are on, the explanation you are forced to appeal to includes the idea of the work of a mighty clever intelligent agent.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Atheist Richard Dawkins on the Origin of Life on Earth

Dawkins explains how life could have originated while simultaneously decimating any possibility of Intelligent Design.

Brilliant!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Peering Into Darwinism's Black Box

Thirteen years ago, Michael Behe published Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, in which he argued that certain structures and systems in the biological realm defy naturalistic explanation. Such systems exhibit a property that Behe coined "irreducible complexity" (IC). IC, simply stated, refers to the fact that the structure or system in question could not have "evolved" by gradualistic change -- as demanded by Darwinism -- because the precursors to the final system would be useless, if not fatal, to the continued survival of the organism of which they are a part. The title of his book was meant to point out that, in Darwin's time, the inner workings of the cell, most importantly those that take place on the DNA/molecular level, were quite literally impossible to observe. The cell was, for all intents and purposes, like a magical "black box" -- a gob of protoplasm that no one could peer into, let alone understand.

A lot has changed since Darwin's time.

Now we can see what goes on inside the cell and, most importantly, within the DNA that defines and orchestrates everything that makes living organisms work. PhD Biochemist Fazale Rana of Reasons To Believe, recently published an article titled, "What Darwin Didn't Know" that starts out like this:
A sage once said, "It's not what you know you don't know that's the problem; it's what you don't know that you don't know." ... When Charles Darwin advanced his theory of biological evolution, there was a lot of biology he didn't know. Some of it he recognized. But there was much he never even thought about.
Rana goes on to touch on some of those things. I would like to use this month to consider them and the implications that flow from what Charles Darwin didn't know about life in the world we live in. Darwinism has changed considerably from the thing it was when its namesake put the theory forward in 1859. To his credit, Darwin was well aware of some of those things and was quite prescient about that difficulties that have served to poke holes in his theory -- no matter how vehemently our modern Darwinists may claim otherwise. But the key to each of those things lies inside the black box that Darwin couldn't pierce -- the cell. If Darwinism is true it must be able to explain the origin of life, the information content therein, the fossil record with which all life is associated, and the order of magnitude differences that so obviously separate humanity from the rest of life. Every attempt by Darwinism to explain those things has fallen short.

The Darwinists may appeal to future discoveries to eliminate those deficiencies, but in doing so, their appeal is no different than the "blind faith" they accuse we theists of having. They have no proof. They have no evidence. They are wishful thinkers.

But science isn't about wishful thinking.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Nothing Personal

This month marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth so I'm going to spend a few posts commenting on what Darwinism says, and where Darwinism is these days. Before I do however, I just want to set the tone by expressing my true admiration for the man, Charles Darwin.

I am no scientist but I greatly appreciate the scientific enterprise and the brilliance of those who demonstrate real scientific expertise. Charles Darwin certainly falls into that category. He was an extremely intelligent man who, I genuinely believe, was sincerely seeking to find the truth through his scientific investigations. Anyone who claims that Darwin was just a nasty atheist hell-bent (literally) on disproving the existence of God and undermining theism simply hasn't read much about him. But I have to wonder, when I consider his background, how his view of the world may have tainted his ability to examine things.

For starters, Darwin was brought up in a non-conformist, Unitarian, "freethinker" family that couldn't help but have left him with an unorthodox theological view of God in general and Christianity in particular, and a modern Enlightenment mindset wherein reason alone is seen as the only way to truly know anything (senses and revelation are deemed suspect and therefore unreliable). Darwin actually went to Cambridge to study to become an Anglican clergyman, and doesn't seem to have doubted the literal truth of the Bible as an authoritative source of morality. It seems that he was most assuredly not an atheist. In fact, Darwin said himself that "an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind." Though he thought of religion as community survival strategy, Darwin still believed that God was the ultimate lawgiver. He did seem to be suspicious of the Bible's historical reliability, but I do not think it is appropriate to label him as a anti-theistic monster. So I don't.

What I do believe, however, is that Darwin suffered from a serious case of The-God-I-Believe-In-Wouldn't-Do-That mentality that many others still share. In short, Charles Darwin could not handle the Problem of Evil. He could not, for instance, accept that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent Deity would be involved in all the pain and suffering he saw in the world. He could not accept that such a God would create a wasp that stung a caterpillar to paralyze it so that the caterpillar could act as an incubator, and then food source, for the wasp's soon-to-be-hatched eggs.

More importantly, Darwin could not accept that such a God would allow the death of his beloved 10-year old daughter, Annie. His pain in living with Annie's death followed Darwin for the rest of his life and is palpable in this passage from Milton's poetry that was found marked in one of Darwin's favorite books ...
Surprised by joy – impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport – Oh! With whom
But thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind –
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss? – That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
Annie died in 1851. From that point forward, Charles Darwin labored to remove God as Grand Designer and replace Him with some natural explanation for it all. He wrote On The Origin Of Species in 1859.

Charles Darwin was a very smart man who has probably been more maligned by the religious faithful in modern times than he deserves. I think we should be charitable to the man and, instead of demonizing him, we should extend him a gracious benefit of the doubt. Maybe the unacceptability of evil led Charles Darwin to attempt to explain its obvious reality in a way that would relieve God of the responsibility for allowing such a thing. Maybe Charles Darwin did so because he respected God too much to lay the blame on Him.

There is no doubt that later atheists and haters of God have used what has come to be known as Darwinism as a scientific explanation to support a Naturalistic Worldview that needs no God. But let's not blame Darwin for that. People like Richard Dawkins claim that religious people suffer from a psychological disorder that is delusional and a crutch for stupid, weak minds. I disagree with them. But even if they are right, my stupidity has no bearing on the truth or falsehood of theism in general or Christianity in particular.

So let's not do the same to Darwin. Let's play fair. Maybe Darwin did manufacture his theory because of a psychological inability to deal with the pain he saw in the world, but that does not make his view false. We all have to admit we struggle to accept the existence of a good God along with the reality of evil, but that's another question for another time.

Instead, let's just evaluate Darwin's theory in scientific terms. That is where I differ with Darwin. The evidence just doesn't support his case. We are to be respecters of men, but not of ideas -- especially ideas that are both harmful and untrue. I prefer to disagree with Darwinism and leave poor Charles Darwin out of the discussion.