Professor Stephen Hawking is an emerging champion of New Atheist thinking. In his A brief history of time, he intrigued readers with the comment that the discovery of a Theory of Everything would be to know "the mind of God". It has now become clear that he was using an arresting literary device and, in reality, Hawking denies the existence of God and does not think there is a cosmic mind. In the past, many cosmologists have affirmed Theistic or Deistic beliefs and atheists have been a small minority. But this situation is changing and the New Atheists have welcomed Hawking to their ranks. His track record and iconic status amply counterbalances the influence of cosmologists who believe in God. Dawkins puts it this way:
"Darwin kicked him [God] out of biology, but physics remained more uncertain. Hawking is now administering the coup de grace."
God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway? (source here)
Hawking's latest book, co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow, develops his approach to the Big Questions that people have always asked, claiming that he is presenting the findings of "science". Examples of these questions are: "What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a Creator?" He goes on to write that the laws of physics, not the will of God, explain our universe.
"The title, The Grand Design, will suggest for many people the existence of a Grand Designer - but that is actually what the book is designed to deny. Hawking's grand conclusion is: "spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."" (p.16)
In this short book, Professor John Lennox of Oxford University subjects Hawking's book to critical scrutiny and finds the logic very weak. Lennox does not follow the NOMA approach of Gould (Non-Overlapping Magisteria) that compartmentalises science and keeps it entirely separate from matters of faith. Lennox writes as a philosopher of science as well as a scientist and recognises there are philosophical foundations for both science and faith. He seeks to clarify these as well as to point out flaws in Hawking's approach.
"I do hope [. . .] that I have at least managed to communicate to you that the widespread belief that atheism is the default intellectual position is untenable. More than that, I hope that for many of you this investigation of Hawking's atheistic belief system will serve to confirm your faith in God, as it has mine, and that it will encourage you not to be ashamed of bringing God into the public square by joining in the debate yourself." (p.96)
Hawking does not understand Theism at all. He is always portraying God as a "God of the Gaps". In particular, when he presents the laws of physics as providing a rationale for origins, he follows it up by inferring that there is no God. It is a case of: 'If law is the explanation, then God is pushed out of being an explanation'. Theists understand things entirely differently! God is the Creator and Sustainer of all material things and he is the author of all natural laws, whether or not we understand them. Discovering more about "law" can never undermine belief in God but inevitably serves to increase our sense of awe and wonder. Hawking wants us to choose between physical law and personal agency, but these are false alternatives. Lennox uses the example of explaining the jet engine - if we were called to choose between the laws of physics or the aeronautical engineer Frank Whittle, we would consider this absurd! Lennox goes to some length to show that theories and laws cannot be appealed to as though they are creative agents - even though this concept is advanced repeatedly by scientists who seek to explain origins in this way. Hawking has not explained why there is something rather than nothing. He starts with gravity but does not explain how gravity came to exist.
"[Hawking and others like him] fail to see that their science does not answer the question as to why something exists rather than nothing, for the simple reason that their science cannot answer that question. They also fail to see that by assumption it is their atheist world-view, not science as such, that excludes God." (p.39)
Hawking presents the multiverse as the "scientific" explanation of cosmic fine tuning. Instead of reinforcing the "old idea that this grand design is the work of some grand designer", he declares that the answer of modern science is that "our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws". This approach replaces a special, designed universe with an almost infinite spectrum of universes, in one of which we live. To claim that this is the answer of "modern science" fails to acknowledge that there are many cosmologists who reject multiverse thinking. It also pretends that a theory that is devoid of experimental validation can be labelled "science".
"What is very interesting in all of this is the impression being given to readers of The Grand Design that God is somehow rendered unnecessary by science. Yet when one examines the arguments one can see that the intellectual cost of doing so is impossibly high, since it involves an attempt to get rid of the Creator by conferring creatorial powers on something that is not in itself capable of doing any creating - an abstract theory." (p.52)
Numerous other issues are helpfully addressed by Lennox, but the last to be considered here is rationality. Science is a rational activity, as is also philosophy and theology. Lennox finds a link between all three disciplines:
"One of the fundamental themes of Christianity is that the universe was built according to a rational, intelligent design. Far from belief in God hindering science, it is the motor that drove it." (p.73)
But atheistic science reduces rationality to the firing of neurones. In the words of Francis Crick: "You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." Darwin was similarly perplexed about where his worldview was leading him: "With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy." Mechanistic, reductionist science ultimately destroys rationality. Lennox has this comment:
"The very existence of the capacity for rational thought is surely a pointer: not downwards to chance and necessity, but upwards to an intelligent source of that capacity." (p.75)
The same issues arise with other human traits of free agency, altruism, morality and consciousness. Atheistic science is a 'universal acid' that corrodes them all away. Lennox argues that the worldview of atheism has nothing to offer us when grappling with these issues. He points the way to satisfying answers in Christian Theism. Worldview differences are again central for understanding ourselves and our place in the world.
"The crucial difference between the Christian view and Hawking's view is that Christians do not believe that this universe is a closed system of cause and effect. They believe that it is open to the causal activity of its Creator God." (p.88)
The book certainly deserves to receive the "Award of Merit" in the "2012 Christianity Today Book Awards".
God and Stephen Hawking
John C. Lennox
Lion Hudson plc, Oxford. 2011.
ISBN 978 0 7459 5549 0
For many of us, an important characteristic of science is self-correction. We are proud of the way new findings catalyse re-evaluation and, if corrections are needed, the development of new knowledge. If you are like this, be prepared to be shocked when you read Jonathan Wells' latest book. The concept of Junk DNA was widely held by evolutionary biologists during the 1990s, but only a few were prepared to expose the hypothesis to tests of its validity. Yet this is when publications started to accumulate that reported functionality in genetic material widely regarded as "nonsense". Instead of alerting popularisers of science to be cautious, these writers treated the new data as unrepresentative exceptions. They pressed on with their claim that the bulk of the genome is useless. The trickle of challenging research findings became a stream, but the 'consensus' about junk DNA was not corrected. The stream became a river, but still the much-needed correction was lacking. Here is Richard Dawkins' comment from The Ancestor's Tale (2004, page 22):
"DNA differs from written language in that islands of sense are separated by a sea of nonsense, never transcribed. 'Whole' genes are assembled, during transcription, from meaningful 'exons' separated by meaningless 'introns' whose texts are simply skipped by the reading apparatus. And even meaningful stretches of DNA are in many cases never read -presumably they are superseded copies of once useful genes that hang around like early drafts of a chapter on a cluttered hard disk. Indeed, the image of the genome as an old hard disk, badly in need of a spring clean, is one that will serve us from time to time during the book."
Wells' approach is one of analysing and presenting the evidence for functionality. There are two broad categories to consider. The first concerns the transcription of non-protein coding DNA into various RNAs. The research literature suggests that most of this DNA is transcribed and in many cases, functionality has been confirmed. The second category concerns widespread conserved sequences of non-coding DNA. The very fact of it being conserved in different types of organism is supportive of functionality, even when we do not (yet) know the function.
Wells refers to a hierarchy of three levels for genome functionality. The argument is an interesting one, because it points to genetic information being present in both digital and analogue forms. In some examples discussed, the DNA sequence is in itself not important, but the length of the sequence is critical for successful functioning.
"The genome is hierarchical, and it functions at three levels: the DNA molecule itself; the DNA-RNA-protein complex that makes up chromatin; and the three-dimensional arrangement of chromosomes in the nucleus. At all three of these levels, DNA can function in ways that are independent of its exact nucleotide sequence." (p.93) [. . .]
"At the third level, the position of the chromosome inside the nucleus is important for gene regulation. In most cells, the gene-rich portions of chromosomes tend to be concentrated near the center of the nucleus, and a gene can be inactivated by artificially moving it to the periphery. In some cases, however, the pattern is inverted: rod cells in the retinas of nocturnal mammals contain nuclei in which the non-protein-coding pats of chromosomes are concentrated near the center of the nucleus, where hey form a liquid crystal that serves to focus dim rays of light." (p.94-5)
Junk DNA defenders have argued that junk DNA is supportive of Darwinism and that it refutes ID. This is why design advocates have felt it necessary to engage with these arguments. Well's book is compelling - it demolishes the thesis of junk DNA. If the original argument was logical, then the empirical data that we now have in profusion counts against Darwinism and confirms ID. Wells hastens to say that ID advocates have never suggested that all non-coding DNA is functional, only that it is unlikely that most DNA is non-functional. The design inference leads to the research goal of looking for functionality. This refutes the claim that ID is a science-stopper and does not lead to interesting avenues of research. This case shows that it is the Darwinists who have been guilty of science-stopping by their dogmatic claim that non-coding DNA is "nonsense" and not worth investigating.
Despite the onslaught of new data, with new functionalities being reported each week, there are still die-hards who cannot relinquish the junk DNA thesis. As an example of the intellectual gymnastics that are needed to sustain the myth, Wells refers to the "Onion test" proposed by Ryan Gregory in 2007. He claimed to have a "reality test" for those questioning the junk DNA thesis. "Ask yourself this question: Can I explain why an onion needs about five times more non-coding DNA for this function than a human?" (p.85) Wells' discussion of this test is worth reading in full, but his conclusion points to a logical flaw:
"So the onion test is a red herring. Why onion cells have five times as much DNA as human cells is an interesting question, but it poses no challenge to the growing evidence against the myth of junk DNA." (p.87)
Wells points out that the champions of junk DNA should be held accountable for keeping the myth alive and failing to demonstrate the self-correcting character of science. By quoting their arguments, he shows how they all demonstrate a vested interest in a Darwinian approach to evolution (i.e. demonstrating past tinkering that has accumulated nonsense DNA in the genome) and a hostility to ID. The individuals who need to retract erroneous arguments and conclusions are primarily John Avise, Francis Collins, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, Douglas Futuyma, Philip Kitcher, Kenneth Miller and PZ Myers. Science writers Richard Robinson, Michael Shermer and Carl Zimmer are also named for failing to demonstrate critical thinking skills when writing on this subject. Only Francis Collins has shown signs of revising his thinking - Wells puts it quite strongly: "he subsequently recanted his belief in the myth of junk DNA" (p.98). In an interview for Wired Magazine, he said: "I've stopped using the term" junk DNA (p.99) However, Collins gets only a partial reprieve, because his own baby The Biologos Foundation still promotes the junk DNA myth to argue against ID. (p.100)
Wells communicates very effectively in 114 pages of text plus 54 pages of references. The book could easily have been much larger if there was more background to the research findings and more discussion of the key implications brought out in the last chapter. Wells writes in a very restrained way, sparing us rhetorical flourishes that are often found in books and articles that deal with controversial issues. The writing style is concise, clear and compelling. Wells has chosen to communicate as a scientist and not as a polemicist. Consequently, the book is an invaluable resource as a state-of-the-art review of the issues. It provides a convincing rebuttal to anyone seeking to perpetuate the myth of junk DNA and anyone who suggests that the genome is a product of Darwinian tinkering rather than intelligent design.
Tyler, D. Does the human genome have "serious molecular shortcomings"? (ARN Literature Blog, 7 May 2010)
Tyler, D. The Molecular Revolution's unfulfilled promises of simplicity (ARN Literature Blog, 11 April 2010)
Tyler. D. Hidden biological information via antisense transcription (ARN Literature Blog, 17 December 2008)
Here's some gripping reading for your summer vacation!
This publication marks the 150th anniversary of the joint presentation of Darwin and Wallace of their thinking about evolution by natural selection to the Linnean Society. The book is a blockbuster because it claims that "Darwin perpetuated one of the greatest crimes in the history of science". It concludes that Darwin plagiarised Alfred Russel Wallace, deceived the world about the maturity of his own ideas before 1858, and, to satisfy his personal need for glory, failed to give credit to scholars who influenced his thinking.
It needs someone with remarkable abilities to put together such a radical revision of history. The author's experience is in writing, producing and directing documentaries that challenge popular historical narratives. During the 1980s, he was responsible for a TV programme about Darwin that presented a story that was and is widely accepted:
"Darwin [was] a nervous man who concealed the secret of how species originate for more than twenty years, until he was forced to publish when he realised someone else might get there before him. The programme was called The Devil's Chaplain."
Since that time, Davies has come to reject this account as iconic.
"Today, having researched the Darwin record for myself and having been utterly convinced by what I have learned, I believe [. . .] that the original programme (which went out under my name) left a great deal of new information about Darwin unmentioned. If I had known then what I know now, The Devil's Chaplain would never have been made. What you are about to read is the story leading up to the discovery of the origin of species, which I would eagerly have transmitted in its place."
Being a natural sceptic of conspiracy theories, I read this book cautiously - 'convince me if you can!' By the end, I was persuaded. What impressed me was the way Davies drew on the research of numerous Darwin scholars, showing that although they discovered important aspects of Darwin's life and work, they were unable to package their findings into a coherent whole. The person who came closest was Arnold Brackman, who concluded in 1980 that Darwin did plagiarise Wallace. It is the 'big picture' that Davies provides for the first time, and my title makes reference to the earlier eye-opening research papers.
The first researcher to be discussed in the book is Professor Darlington of Oxford University. He sought an answer to the question "by what thought process had Charles Darwin actually arrived at his ideas about evolution?".
"Darlington pointed out that he could not find, in all the accounts of Darwin's work published up to that time, any suggestion that some original germ in Darwin's mind had led inexorably to the full development and enunciation of this big idea."
Darlington recognised that Darwin's writings bore the marks of rhetoric. For example, "Darwin's unawareness of what his contemporaries were thinking matched his unawareness of what his predecessors had written". This comment is highly significant for what comes later, because Darwin was very concerned about gaining precedence for his own ideas and he consistently referred to "my theory".
The second scholar is the anthropologist Loren Eiseley. He identified a mismatch between the time (October 1838) when Darwin read Thomas Malthus's Essay on Population (which Darwin claimed "Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work. . .") and yet 18 months earlier he was already making notes on the very same ideas? After noting many similarities between the way Edward Blyth reported data in his published articles and the wording in Darwin's notebook about these same phenomena, Eiseley came to the conclusion that Darwin had lifted Blyth's thinking about natural selection - without acknowledgement.
"Eiseley believed, even making some allowance for the accidental use of the same sources, that the effect of his research was cumulative. He argued that these many similarities could not be explained by chance and that Darwin had plundered Blyth's articles for the ideas which underpinned the thinking that led to On the Origin of Species."
Barbara Beddall set out to refute Eiseley's suggestion that Darwin had plagiarised Blyth. She particularly wanted to find the letters between Wallace and Darwin - but found that some were missing. She also found, in the period 1853-8, that other letters to Lyell, to Hooker and to Asa Gray were lost. This, in her opinion, was "very odd". She came to the conclusion that they had been deliberately destroyed to obscure the record of how Darwin formulated his theory. She commented: "Without these letters, a clear idea of the extent of Wallace's influence on Darwin is beyond academic assessment and the full story impossible to gauge". But the jigsaw that Davies has assembled does have a clearer picture so that the significance of the missing letters is not "odd" but part of a pattern.
"The idea that it might have been Darwin himself [who destroyed the letters] seems not to have occurred to her."
Altogether, Davies features the work of nine researchers, with each contributing one or more pieces to the jigsaw. This review cannot do justice to the way the arguments develop. Here is just one more nugget. It concerns another letter of Wallace dated 2 March 1858. We know it was posted at the same time as his momentous letter to Darwin that contained the short paper that was presented at the Linnaean meeting in on 1st July that same year. Darwin claimed the letter reached him on 18 June, the same day that he wrote to Lyell to say that Wallace could not have written a better abstract for Darwin's own work. However, as Davies shows, we now have a complete timeline for the transport of this letter from the Dutch East Indies to its arrival in the UK, and the date-stamped envelope of the other letter posted along with the letter to Darwin. These date stamps show that the letter arrived in the UK on 2 June - on course for delivery to the addressee on the following day. Davies writes: "
The arrival of Wallace's letter on 3 June would have given Darwin more than enough time to digest its contents and make the two lengthy changes to the "natural selection" chapter of his manuscript. It would also have allowed him to claim that Wallace's ideas were replicas of his own."
Most people coming across this for the first time will be incredulous, thinking that Darwin's ideas on evolution by natural selection before this time were well documented. Davies shows that this is erroneous. This is why his 'big picture' is so important: Darwin was like a man groping in the dark. He gathered data, hoping to find a synthesis, but theoretical ideas were elusive. When he came across other people's ideas that helped to make sense of the data, he gathered them as well, treating them as his own. The plagiarism of Wallace was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of behaviour.
There are really two conspiracies in this book. Lyell and Hooker played a significant role (not in plagiarising, but in engineering circumstances to favour their gentleman friend).
"The members [of the Linnean Society] agreed that Darwin and Wallace should be acknowledged as co-discoverers of the theory of how species evolve, which would henceforth be known as the Darwin-Wallace theory of evolution. The crucial question of priority was settled by placing Darwin's name before Wallace's. Lyell and Hooker had successfully conspired to hand Charles Darwin the proze he had coveted for more than twenty years."
Wallace emerges as the real hero. He could easily be made a role model for young scientists. Davies refers to him as a "brilliant yet unassuming naturalist who was never to comprehend the full extent of the conspiracy enacted against him".
Clearly, if Davies' argument is correct, the iconic Darwin needs to be dethroned. When this is accomplished, we will be in a better position to reappraise his significance as a scientist. In the meantime, here is a summary paragraph from Davies:
"Charles Darwin was a very secretive man with a driving ambition. He neither praised nor tipped his hat in the direction of Jean-Baptiste Lamark or of his grandfather Erasmus. He never openly acknowledged his debt to Edward Blyth, nor to Patrick Matthew (who had been one of the first to write about the 'natural means of selection', a phrase that Darwin modified and used without attribution). He never acknowledged his debt to Wallace. By the time Eiseley, Gruber, Beddall, McKinney, Brackman and Brooks began reassembling the long-lost pieces of the jigsaw, the myth-making surrounding Darwin's achievement, which had so worried Darlington in 1959, was complete."
The Darwin Conspiracy - Origins of a Scientific Crime, by Roy Davies, Golden Square Books. May 2008.
Tyler, D, Charles Darwin - Icon of Evolution, ARN Literature Blog, 30 June 2008
Tyler, D., Why Alfred Russel Wallace deserves to be remembered,, ARN Literature Blog, 11 March 2008
Flannery, M. Science or Monkey Business?: A Review of Roy Davies' The Darwin Conspiracy, Uncommon Descent, 1 August 2008
Wright, T. Alfred Russel Wallace's Fans Gear Up for a Darwinian Struggle, Wall Street Journal, 20 December 2008)
If Darwin was right then we would be just sophisticated monkeys, there would be no right or wrong, just 'make-em-up' ethics and there would be no God. This was the assessment of one local of Kanawha County in West Virginia as journalist Lee Strobel arrived to capture the story of Anti-Darwinian protests in 1974. Strobel at the time was a self-confessed atheist, believing that much of what the anti-Darwinian movement was promulgating reflected nothing more than blind ignorance. He considered the biblical creation story as simply fictitious, surpassed and discredited as it was by the knowledge gleaned by modern science. That year, as the protests against the teaching of Darwin in West Virginia's schools heated up, Strobel found himself alienated by the residents of a town that had already banished several hundred different textbooks from school circulation- books that, according to the local school board, taught the "wrong kind of ethic". In all truth Strobel was very much a convert of the scientific story of evolution, convinced as he was by the 'facts' and apparently clear-cut examples in support of evolutionary theory. As Strobel saw things, the random and undirected nature of Darwinism could not be reconciled with the purposeful nature of the biblical account. The very least that could be said was that, if Darwinism were as unshakable as its proponents claimed, God would not be needed for life to emerge. The Case For A Creator is an account of Strobel's journey to test the veracity of the apparent 'facts' of evolution and the materialistic world view- a journey that takes him across the United States as he interviews several key experts in various fields of science.
The first stop over for Strobel is with Jonathan Wells- a Berkeley graduate whose outspoken criticism of some of the icons of evolution is well known. During the interview Wells dismantles the evidences that Strobel had himself learnt as a graduate by showing how much of what we supposedly know about evolution is unsupported by the evidence. It is now widely accepted for example that Stanley Miller's laboratory experiments showing how amino acids could be generated under reducing atmospheric conditions did not accurately mimic the environment of the early earth. And yet today these experiments continue to feature prominently in biology text books as does Darwin's tree of life. As Wells points out, rather than revealing an unbroken chain of intermediates linking all of life to a few early forms as Darwin's tree required, the fossil record shows a sudden 'explosion' of life approximately 550 million years ago during which most of the major animal taxa appeared in a five million year time frame without any preceding intermediates. Equally troubling is the finding that embryologist Ernst Haeckel modified his now famous drawings of vertebrate embryos so that they would fit within preconceived ideas of an evolutionary continuum. Wells' criticism of the disjunction that exists between apparently homologous structures in vertebrates- that is, those structures that are considered to reveal common ancestry- and the genes responsible for their formation, different as they are in different animal species, shows just how much of what we know today contradicts the basic tenets of Darwinism.
During Strobel's journey, philosopher Stephen Meyer makes his case for an intelligently-designed universe on the grounds that the information-rich instruction code of DNA that comprises life directly parallels information-rich code that we know has been generated by intelligent agents. Meyer asserts how it is the irreducibly complexity of many of the 'machines' of the cellular world, with their requirement for all their components to be present before their function can be achieved, that most clearly defies the expectations of the Darwinian framework. As Meyer argues, since natural selection can only begin to select systems that have reached a minimal level of functionality and since this functionality is only attained when all the components of these systems are present, their initial assembly must have been directed by some guiding process. That is, they must have been intelligently designed. Biochemistry Professor Michael Behe, also on Strobel's long list of visits, was the initial proponent of irreducible complexity in biology. Behe has provided several examples of irreducibly complex biological systems notably the blood clotting cascade, the structure of the bacterial flagellum and the makeup of tiny hairs called cilia citing them as evidence for an intelligently-designed biological world.
A vast body of data is accumulating outside of the realm of biology in support of the design inference and many scientists are now realizing how uniquely fit for the existence of life our own earth appears to be. We now know that not only is our earth ideally positioned in our solar system so as to meet the survival needs of animals and plants but that it is also very well placed for humans to make important scientific discoveries about our cosmos. Strobel's interview with philosopher Jay Richards and astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez provides a catalog of such 'biocentricities'. Everything from the protective influence of the larger planets in our solar system to the consistent warmth and energy from our sun, from the effect of the moon on the tilt of the earth's axis to the overall mass of the earth, from the influence of the earth's own internal heat on the earth's environment to the orbit of our solar system within the strict confines of a 'habitability zone' around our galaxy draws us to the inevitable conclusion that ours is in every sense a unique world, designed as it is for our own enjoyment. As Strobel's discussions with physicist Robin Collins make all too clear, the physical characteristics of the elements that make up matter throughout the cosmos fall precisely within the narrow range of values that are permissible if life is to exist. The magnitude of the gravitational force, the size of the cosmological constant in Einstein's equations of general relativity, the difference in size between the protons and neutrons of atomic nuclei and the size of the strong and weak atomic forces that hold atoms together are so exactly placed in this permissible range that we can only conclude that an intelligence has been at work in the design of our cosmos. Theologian William Lane Craig likewise presents his arguments for a single, finely-tuned and controlled cosmic origin approximately 14 billion years ago from which our universe has subsequently expanded.
One of Strobel's final interviews is with philosopher J.P Moreland to discuss the subject of human and animal consciousness. While many contend that consciousness in humans is nothing more than the by-product of accumulating brain power, others such as Moreland conclude that it reveals something much deeper. Indeed observations on human behavior point to what psychologists call 'dualism'- a state in which consciousness and the mind exist separate from the rest of the brain. Our awareness of our selves- own thoughts, our own emotions, our desires and our own decisions- points to an entity one might call the 'soul' that exists outside of the electrical firings of the brain mass inside our heads. This 'inner and private mind' of man, asserts philosopher Alvin Platinga, is that one part of man that appears inaccessible to a naturalistic explanation. What we know about the mind of man, Moreland argues, directly agrees with the Christian world view of an omnipresent God who exists everywhere and manifests his presence in humanity through the soul. In the end Strobel's case also leads him to the identification of the God of Christianity as the designer whose works have fashioned all that we see around us. But metaphysical assertions aside, the scientific evidence that Strobel accumulates in his book provide a strong case against the purely naturalistic assertions of modern day Darwinism. Indeed one can only imagine how things would have turned out for the inhabitants of Kanawha County and the rest of West Virginia if they had been aware of this evidence back in 1974. They would have had a case to defend that was based on a very compelling scientific story.
A Review Of Bobby Henderson's The Gospel Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster
Books designed to make a mockery out of key principles that could change the way we view life often make claims not based on evidence but on the author's own personal biases. Sadly Bobby Henderson's The Gospel Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster is no different. For those who have not had the displeasure of reading Henderson's parody, he begins by introducing the reader to his god, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), and its revering pirates, the so-called Pastafarians, who await a heaven that is filled with beer volcanoes and stripper clubs.
Down on Henderson's imaginary earth, there is plenty of evidence for the FSM- everything from the noodly appearance of DNA to the spaghetti-like structure of the Great Wall Of China stands as testimony to the existence of the pasta god. Reading on one quickly realizes that Henderson is out to make a point (he says so himself)- if there is a place for teaching Intelligent Design (ID) theory in the science classroom of today's public school then there is also a place for teaching about his 'FSMism'. Indeed Henderson argues that since ID theorists claim that evolution is just a theory, so too are other parts of established science such as Newtonian gravity.
To make his point he sets up a farcical scenario in which gravity is simply the manifestation of the FSM pushing on the heads of his human creatures. Over time humans have got taller simply because the FSM, with his limited number of noodly appendages, is unable to keep his pressure on all the heads of the ever-growing human population. None of this is of course meant to be taken seriously. After all, Henderson is just ridiculing ID.
Nevertheless a quick glance through Henderson's book reveals some clear gaps in his understanding of what ID theory does and does not say. For example, Henderson claims that the primary objective of ID theory is to slip the supernatural into science so as to create a 'super-science' the likes of which have not been seen since the middle ages. Accepting the claims of ID in science, Henderson states, is akin to accepting medieval medical practices such as bloodletting into our hospitals.
And yet it is well known that the foundations of the ID movement are built upon scientific evidence that would not have been available to scientists in centuries past (irreducible complexity of molecular systems, the exacting requirements of embryonic development and genetic regulation and the information-rich content of DNA). ID theory has never attempted to slip a supernatural god into the 'gaps' of science but has always used a sound 'cause-and-effect' type approach using what we know about design to infer design in biology.
Henderson hits hard by suggesting that ID proponents have a problem in accepting not only the link between natural selection and antibiotic resistance in bacteria but also the powers of artificial selection in dog breeding (Of course ID can sit quite comfortably with these more limited forms of Darwinian theory). He likewise shows a complete disregard for the issues concerning vestigial organs. While often touted as evidence of a blundering evolutionary process that has not yet fully eliminated organs that have fallen into disuse, what is becoming clear is that many such organs do fulfill important physiological functions. Similarly, recent discoveries in molecular biology have shown that long stretches of so-called 'junk' DNA do indeed play critical roles in the regulation of gene expression.
Later on in the book, Henderson conflates supernatural creation with ID, bringing in the violence of religion, particularly Christianity, as one more reason to do away with any cogent arguments that ID theory might bring to the science 'table'. Henderson not only vilifies the religiously faithful by mocking the power of prayer but also shows that he has never bothered to investigate the scientific underpinnings of the ID movement. After incorrectly associating ID with Young Earth Creationism, he then proceeds to ridicule a God who would deliberately confuse people by creating a universe that is only a few thousand years old and later throwing in evidence that supports a much older creation.
Henderson continues by making a farce out of the Genesis account and the biblical moral teachings. He selects the wrong targets to support his case against what he sees as the dogmatic approach of the church to science (eg: the execution of Giordano Bruno whose burning at the stake was because of his religious beliefs, not his views on science). He clearly ignores the established fact that it was Christianity that provided the foundation upon which our universe could be understood scientifically. Of course ID theorists have categorically steered clear of equating their designer with the biblical God, using only principles commonly used in other fields of study to infer design in biology.
In The Gospel Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster, Henderson shows his complete lack of appreciation for modern-day challenges to science. To claim as he does that the peer-review process is a water-tight tower of objectivity is to ignore high-profile cases of scientists who have dared challenge established orthodoxy (Stephen Jay Gould's punctuated equilibrium is a case in point). Henderson dismisses the 'irrefutable proof' offered by Michael Behe in support of ID by asserting that Behe's examples of irreducible complexity are as incomprehensible to those outside of mainstream science as Kurt Godel's proof for the existence of God.
Perhaps unbeknown to Henderson is the recognition of Behe's Darwin's Black Box as one of the most accessible reads of contemporary, popular science. Of course one soon gets tired of hearing about the pasta deity and his pirate disciples not to mention Henderson's apparent obsession with noodles. He ends his book with a collection of bogus, fun-poking papers written by scientists who clearly have an ax to grind against ID. Most of these papers are just more fairy-tale imaginings of pirates, noodles and beer volcanoes all of which do little to strengthen Henderson's case. Likewise for Henderson's humor which at times exposes his lack of originality (I was surprised not to see Henderson claiming that 'carbonara' was the essential element of life, that angel hair was a vestige of the FSM's celestial army or that DNA stood for Deity's Noodly Appendages).
While ID clearly has a place in the science classroom, the spaghetti bowl of FSMism should remain in the school canteen. As for Henderson's occasional vulgar language, one can only conclude that he is short of real props to support his case.
Behe cuts through the arguments to discover the fine tapestry of life
The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism
By Michael J. Behe
Free Press, 2007
Michael Behe's new book has been disowned as a work of science by numerous reviewers in Science, Nature and a host of other publications. Only after reading the book could I understand why the reaction has been so intense! It is not because Behe is betraying science (indeed, he is pre-eminently an empiricist) but because the implications of the data he discusses completely undermine the evolutionary consensus that has long been nurtured by opinion-formers within the scientific community. Furthermore, Behe takes all their best arguments and shows that the evidence actually supports the case for non-random, purposeful explanations of the natural world.
Richard Dawkins' carefully crafted arguments are faced head-on by Behe, with devastating effect. For example, Behe considers several evidences of Darwinism in action (notably sickle cell anaemia providing resistance to malaria, antibiotic resistance in bacteria, antifreeze proteins in Antarctic fish) and completely confounds those who say that ID scientists do not accept the Darwinian mechanisms of mutations and natural selection. Not only does Behe endorse the view that these data are good examples of Darwinism in action, but he goes on to show (using the research of the past decade or so) that these mechanisms are utterly incapable of building the complexity that we observe permeating living things. The phenomenon of mutation and natural selection is uncontroversial. The case presented by Behe using the empirical evidence is that the central Darwinian mechanisms cannot deliver the outcomes required by evolutionary theory.
Another example Dawkins favours is the "arms race" metaphor to describe the struggle for survival in the living world. Behe looks at what is actually happening from his own perspective as a biochemist and shows that a better metaphor is "trench warfare". This is because there is no development of more sophisticated arms but only the exploitation of short-term advantages that fortuitously arise. In most cases, these are examples of malfunctions and genetic loss (more like blowing up a bridge than developing a new weapon).
Dawkins (deducing from theory, p.41): "The arms-race idea remains by far the most satisfactory explanation for the existence of the advanced and complex machinery that animals and plants possess."
Behe (induction from data, p.42): "Far and away the most extensive relevant data we have on the subject of evolution's effects on competing organisms is that accumulated on interactions between humans and our parasites. As with the example of malaria, the data show trench warfare, with acts of desperate destruction, not arms races, with mutual improvements."
Thirdly, Behe concludes that the Blind Watchmaker is a figment of Dawkins vivid imagination. The argument is drawn from the best databases we have of Darwinian processes in action. These are malaria (P. falciparum), the HIV virus and an important intestinal bacterium (Escherichia coli). Both Dawkins and Behe describe the need, within Darwinism, for climbing a mountain step by step up a continuous path. The both recognise the same problems but come to totally different conclusions.
"P. falciparum, HIV and E.coli are all very, very different from each other. They range from the simple to the complex, have very different life cycles, and represent three different fundamental domains of life: eukaryote, virus, and prokaryote. Yet they all tell the same tale of Darwinian evolution. Single simple changes to old cellular machinery that can help in dire circumstances are easy to come by. This is where Darwin rules, in the land of antibiotic resistance and single tiny steps. Burning a bridge that can stop an invading army or breaking a lock that can slow a burglar are easy and effective. But if just one or a few steps have to be jumped to gain a beneficial effect, as with chloroquine resistance, random mutation starts breathing hard. Skipping a few more steps appears to be beyond the edge of evolution." (p.162)
"Why no trace of the fabled blind watchmaker? The simplest explanation is that [. . .] the blind watchmaker does not exist." (p.164)
It is customary to portray Darwinian evolution using the term "tinkering". There is some merit in this, as the mechanisms of Darwinism are both stochastic and opportunistic. Behe recognises tinkering in the way the human body fights malaria.
"The defense of vertebrates from invasion by microscopic predators is the job of the immune system, yet hemoglobin is not part of the immune system. Hemoglobin's main job is as part of the respiratory system, to carry oxygen to tissues. Using hemoglobin to fight off malaria is an act of utter desperation, like using a TV set to plug a hole in the Hoover Dam. Even leaving aside the question of where the dam and TV set came from - which is no small question - it must be conceded that this Darwinian process is a tradeoff of least-bad alternatives. The army in its trenches is suffering loss upon loss. No matter which way it turns, in this war fought by random mutation and natural selection, it is losing function, not gaining." (p.29-30)
Although "tinkering" is a widely used term in evolutionary biology, it is not a term that fits well into biology in general. However, a Gordian Knot tethers most biological thinking to a neodarwinian anchor, because biologists have been taught from infancy that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Behe has cut this Gordian Knot and the effect of this is liberating. Now, we can recognise the pervasiveness of coherent complex systems and exquisitely fabricated structures and we do not need to force-fit these into being the products of "tinkering". (For a recent example, go here). There are various avenues to explore to explain all this, but Behe is quite clear where his thinking is going:
"I conclude that another possibility is more likely: The elegant, coherent, functional systems upon which life depends are the result of deliberate intelligent design". (p.166)
Reviewed by Dennis Wagner
You would be violating the law to require students to read Vij Sodera?s One Small Speck to Man in the Dover County Schools, PA. Not because it is religious (Sodera never mentions God or the Bible), and not because it promotes creation-science or intelligent design (you won?t find those words anywhere in the book), but because this surgeon from the UK, with a special interest in animal biology, provides a detailed and devastating critique of evolution theory. And in Dover, PA the Federal judge ruled that the school district cannot require students to read anything that denigrates the theory of evolution.
In this encyclopedic book, Dr. Sodera explores the living world from coelacanths to embryology; from dinosaurs to muscle contraction; from whales to human fossils; and shows conclusively that the ?one small speck to man? theory of evolution is more imagination than reality. With 464 pages and over 800 color images, this truly outstanding work deals purely with the scientific evidence and provides a highly detailed reference.
Some readers may already be familiar with many of the critiques of Darwin?s theory presented in this book. However, to have them nicely organized in one volume, with outstanding photos and graphics to illustrate the points, makes this a wonderful high school or college level text, as well as a prized coffee table book that is fun to browse. Like most full-color coffee-table books, this volume will cost you a chunk of change. But we think you will find it a worthwhile investment, especially if you are a homeschool teacher looking for a life-sciences textbook that does not assume that Darwinian evolution is the only way to look at the evidence. The topics covered in individual chapters include animal fossils, time, mass extinctions, variation, DNA and proteins, molecular machines, whales, birds, the eye, human fossils, bipedalism, chromosomes, and intelligence.
The chapter on Human Fossils was particularly interesting as Dr. Sodera pictorially and analytically compares human-like fossils with modern man. His conclusion: ?So the human-like fossil evidence actually paints a completely different picture from that which is commonly portrayed. Instead of man evolving from apes via crude-looking ancestors, the evidence points to populations of ancient human beings having passed through some morphological changes (whether from inbreeding and/or disease) before these groups gained the modern human form.?
This is the third major book critiquing evolution to come out of the UK in recent years joining Dawkin?s God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life by Alister McGrath, and Evolution Under the Microscope: A Scientific Critique of the Theory of Evolution by David Swift. Perhaps there is a movement brewing in the UK similar to the ID movement in the US.
Order your copy of One Small Speck to Man: the evolution myth.
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