Volume 16, Number 1

News, Views, and Reviews

In this issue:

New Book on Intelligent Design Thesis

The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer

J. P. Moreland, ed., (InterVarsity Press, 1994), 335 pp.
Essayists: John Ankerberg, Walter L. Bradley,
William A. Dembski, Stephen G. Meyer, J. P. Moreland,
John W. Oller Jr., John Omdahl, Hugh Ross,
Charles Thaxton, John Weldon, and Kurt P. Wise.

The Creation Hypothesis will be welcomed particularly among those who favor a balanced treatment of origins and among those who applaud the kind of science education outlined in The Liberal Art of Science: Agenda for Action. The Report of the Project on Liberal Education and the Sciences (Washington D.C.: AAAS, 1990). The aims of this AAAS agenda to which The Creation Hypothesis significantly contributes include: (1) subject matter organized around specific problems, issues, and themes, (2) study of the methodological landscape of science in comparison with the methodologies of other arenas of rational human discourse, (3) analysis of ideas of causality, (4) use of integrative concepts in science that transcend disciplinary boundaries, (5) appreciation for the atomic, chemical, biological, geological, and cosmological scales of the universe, and, (6) subject matter that draws from the history of science, which fosters a better grasp of the arguments and reasoning behind current science.

The theme of The Creation Hypothesis is the "intelligent design thesis"--both its philosophical and theological parameters and its fleshing out in specific scientific theories. The problems and issues addressed include the scientific status and legitimacy of both the intelligent design thesis and Neo-Darwinian theory, astronomical pointers to a Designer, as well as the origin of life, biological diversity, and human language capacity. Most of the essays are equipped with a final paragraph that catapults the reader into subsequent essays. The level of coherency and continuity is striking for an edited volume of essays. The Creation Hypothesis would balance out a liberal arts science or philosophy of science course when used alongside texts that assume or assert strict methodological naturalism.

The book's thought-provoking philosophical study of origin science methodologies--the book's first three essays--is skillfully materialized in the four scientific surveys that follow. One is reminded (in form, not orientation) of Descartes' "Discourse on Method" (now read in philosophy courses) which Descartes followed up with several essays on specific sciences (usually ignored today). The book's early essays draw extensively from Larry Laudan's philosophy of science (and from other sources including the original work of the authors) in order to replace Paley's tired arguments from design with a surprisingly new and robust rationale for design inferences. As a whole, this volume of essays demolishes the common objection that design inferences result only from our ignorance of natural causes rather than from our knowledge of the essential limitations to natural causes. Far from limiting our options, this new group of design proponents expand our range of questions and possible answers in origins research.

Scientists and advocates of broad liberal arts learning will appreciate The Creation Hypothesis' use of transdisciplinary concepts such as "information." The essayists approach the concept of "information" from philosophical, theological, biochemical, and linguistic perspectives. These approaches illustrate clearly the difference between the trivial information within the order of a snowflake or the order of a trained ape's "sign language" and the substantial information of proteins and grammatical human language. This volume shows how information theory commands our attention within many scientific disciplines and illuminates our study of nature on its various scales--from atomic to cosmological.

Part of this story draws from the history of science, particularly in noting the role of Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) in providing the foundational ideas that made possible a profound connection between human language and the language of genetics.

The Creation Hypothesis is an excellent introduction to the methodologies and theories of origin studies. Its contributors include some of the leaders of a new and more sophisticated generation of "intelligent design" proponents. Students and scholars alike will appreciate its fresh perspectives, concise summaries, and useful bibliographies.

reviewed by Michael Keas, Dept. of Natural Sciences, Oklahoma Baptist University.

Darwin on His Deathbed: Sleuthing the Stories

The Darwin Legend

James Moore, Historian of Science at the Open University (Milton Keynes, UK) Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1994; 218 pp.

Deathbed conversion stories have long been part of the lore surrounding debates about the existence of God, the strength (or weakness) of agnostic and atheistic philosophies, or the persuasive force of theism and Christianity. For many theists, so-called "last minute conversions" provide some evidence that, in the end, atheism collapses before the reality of death, as an unbeliever suddenly realizes that his existence will continue beyond the grave. Skeptics, however, have their own roster of stories, replete with atheists considering their final end with imperturbable calm (e.g., David Hume). In the origins debate, many participants have heard that very near the end of his life, Charles Darwin himself returned to the Christian faith of his early years (or became a Christian for the first time). "Lady Hope," a suspiciously apocryphal-sounding character, is typically credited with providing this information. She is said to have discovered during a visit to Down House (Darwin's home), that Darwin embraced Christianity just before he died. (In fact, in the story, Lady Hope visits Darwin not strictly speaking on his "deathbed," but in the fall of 1881, about six months before Darwin died.)

Many creationists (not to mention evolutionists) grimace on hearing this story. The Darwin of the "Autobiography", they point out, is the Darwin of historical reality: he lost his faith inexorably, its last traces probably obliterated long before 1881 (in 1851, at the death of his beloved daughter Annie). By the time of his death Darwin was a confirmed agnostic. In any event, what difference could Darwin's religious views possibly make to the truth of evolution? The theory must be considered on its merits. Suspiciously vague and ill-documented conversion stories belong in the dumpster of historical hokum.

Now James Moore, historian of science at the Open University (Milton Keynes, UK), has emptied that dumpster and perhaps several hundred other heaps of rubbish to get at the "truth" about the legend. ("Truth" belongs in quotations marks here, for Moore, a hard-core cultural relativist, is skeptical about its very existence. Richard Dawkins has joked that a social constructivist at 30,000 feet -- i.e., in a modern jetliner -- is a hypocrite. We might paraphrase that remark to include Moore: a social constructivist who throws himself for years into pursuing documents -- actual pieces of paper whose existence genuinely matters -- doesn't take his social constructivism very seriously. Maybe "truth" exists after all?) In his new book The Darwin Legend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1994; 218 pp.), Moore argues that the mysterious "Lady Hope" was quite real, and left a wide trail in historical documents and other evidence. Furthermore, she almost certainly did visit Darwin near the end of his life. However, Moore doubts that Darwin underwent any sort of conversion (which indeed, he points out, Lady Hope never claimed).

Moore's book is documented with a rigor completely unbefitting a social constructivist -- who ought to care, as Richard Rorty argues, only about what his colleagues will let him get away with. For twenty years, Moore has run down the legend of Darwin's conversion:

My sleuthing has taken me to three continents; through acres of decaying newsprint and reams of domestic correspondence; over mountains of monographs and even on a wild goose chase into the Alleghenies....I have located over one hundred occurrences of the legend in manuscript and print, including eleven original sources, at least two of which may be unconnected with Lady Hope. I have also compiled the Darwin family's angry reaction to the conversion story in ten private and published letters. All this evidence is transcribed or fully documented in the appendixes. (p. 24)

Moore establishes definitively that Lady Hope existed. Born Elizabeth Reid Cotton on December 9, 1842, in Tasmania, she lived for most of her life in England, marrying into the title she proudly claimed in public writings and appearances. After emigrating to the United States as a penurious do-gooder, she died returning to England on March 8, 1922. Furthermore, Moore concludes, Lady Hope probably did meet with Darwin in the autumn of 1881. Her story contains "startling elements of authenticity" (p. 94) and "has the ring of truth about it" (p. 97), in providing details that only an actual visitor could know. Moore, who as the leading biographer of Darwin may know more about the minutiae of the Sage of Downe's life than anyone now alive, draws on a fund of details about Darwin's family life and the physical setting of Down House. The particulars of Lady Hope's account could be known only to someone, Moore believes, who actually visited the house and conversed with Darwin.

It is unlikely however, argues Moore, that Darwin changed his views of Christianity. From the 1840s to his death, Darwin abjured Biblical revelation, regarding the doctrine of eternal damnation as "damnable," and privately encouraged his atheistic correspondents to avoid direct attacks on religion -- not because Christianity was true, however. There were better tactics to employ. "The gradual illumination of men's minds," Darwin claimed, followed best "from the advance of science" (p. 49). Moore finds it incredible that these entrenched views could be overthrown as Darwin saw the end of his life approaching.

In a recent lecture at Wheaton College (on April 1, 1995), Moore observed that his friend Fred Burkhardt, an editor employed in the Darwin Correspondence project at Cambridge, worried that Moore's book would revive the legend of Darwin's conversion. There seems little doubt that Moore's meticulous documentation has proved beyond question the reality of Lady Hope. Yet the weight of evidence -- for those who value the evidence, and trust James Moore to the extent that such evidence actually exists (thus, who are not social constructivists) -- still weighs against Darwin's "conversion." In any case, the theory of evolution has a life of its own. Its truth or falsity must be considered even if Darwin was taken up to heaven by a crowd of angels.

Is God in the Equations?

The Physics of Immortality

Frank Tipler, Professor of Physics at Tulane University. New York: Doubleday, 1994), 528 pp.

Frank Tipler, Professor of Physics at Tulane University and co-author with John Barrow of the classic The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford, 1986), argues that "theology must ultimately become a branch of physics," and that, in this book, he has done so. On display in the window of this first Theological Branch Office of Physics is the following thesis:

This book is a description of the Omega Point Theory, which is a testable physical theory for an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God who will one day in the far future resurrect every single one of us to live forever in an abode which is in all essentials the Judeo-Christian Heaven.

The Omega Point Theory, developed at great length and with interesting sidelines (e.g., details of the actual physical mechanism of resurrection), has not thus far been well-received. Reviews in the mainstream science literature have accused Tipler of indulging himself in an elaborate joke, by presenting a theory he does not himself believe (see George Ellis, "Piety in the sky," Nature 371 [8 September 1994]: 115), or of conferring "much-craved scientific respectability on what we have always wanted to believe" (Science 267 [17 February 1995]: 1042-43). Tipler has also been accused of gutting theology while proposing to take it seriously, or of subtle equivocations: his discussions of theology, physicist (and theologian) John Polkinghorne notes, "often seem to trade upon verbal parallels which require much more careful evaluation" (New Scientist, 4 February 1995, p. 41), and fellow cosmologist George Ellis complains that Tipler's God "does not correspond in any serious sense to what the word 'God' is normally taken to refer to."

Well-received or not, the Omega Point Theory is certainly audacious. Tipler provides six testable predictions from the theory, although it is difficult to imagine that many theists will abandon their scriptures to wait for the confirmation (or disproof) of the predictions. The Physics of Immortality is noteworthy as the first major flowering of the postmodern sensibility in science: truth is whatever your colleagues will let you get away with. Tipler's colleagues thus far seem ill-disposed, however, to let him get away with this book. Read it for yourself, but be prepared: this isn't Sunday School theology, where "the Bible tells me so." Here, the equations tell you so, and where they and the Bible disagree, argues Tipler, the equations must be accepted. Physics, in other words, is the main office; theology is the remote branch taking orders. Those who want their theology to keep its autonomy should be ready to argue with this book.

Structuralism for the Masses

How the Leopard Changed Its Spots:
The Evolution of Complexity

Brian Goodwin, Professor of biology at the Open University (Milton Keynes, UK)
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994, 252 pp.

There are some authors whose byline never fails to elicit an automatic search for the nearest copier. One marches to the copies, journal in hand. "Copy this no matter what" is the imperative, because that particular author can always be counted on for insights and fresh information. For many non-Darwinians, design theorists, and general biological gadflys, the name "Brian Goodwin" induces such copier-search behavior. Throughout the now nearly twenty-year decline of the neo-Darwinian Synthesis, Goodwin, professor of biology at the Open University (Milton Keynes, UK) and leading developmental biologist, has been one of the most thoughtful critics of the ruling (but weakening) paradigm. Not that Goodwin is opting for design. He shows no signs of breaking with the naturalistic worldview writ large. But Goodwin, his colleague Gerry Webster, and other structuralists have consistently shaken the tree of biology, insisting that the conceptual and evidential fruit tumbling down from that tree don't belong in any Darwinian bushel basket. More prosaically, they contend that biology must extricate itself from the thought patterns of neo-Darwinism to solve its most pressing puzzles.

In his new book, How the Leopard Changed Its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994, 252 pp.), Goodwin argues that neo-Darwinism fails completely to explain "the large-scale aspects of evolution, including the origin of species" (p. viii). As he puts it:

New types of organisms simply appear upon the evolutionary scene, persist for various periods of time, and then become extinct. So Darwin's assumption that the tree of life is a consequence of the gradual accumulation of small hereditary differences appears to be without significant support. Some other process is responsible for the emergent properties of life, those distinctive features that separate one group of organisms from another -- fishes and amphibians, worms and insects, horsetails and grasses. Clearly something is missing from biology. (p. ix)

The science of biology is the "leopard" of Goodwin's title. Biology must shift its focus, Goodwin urges, because the Darwinian perspective, despite the self-assurance of many biologists, is at odds with much of the most important evidence:

There are biologists who take the view that Darwin's theory of evolution is so rock solid, so well formulated and complete in its essentials, that no alternative can be contemplated. ...Such confidence is always interesting, for it reflects the power and persuasiveness of a particular "way of seeing" that has cultural roots as deep as Darwinism.
However, no scientific theory is permanent. ...Some of the basic assumptions that underlie the conceptual structure of the present view of biology [neo-Darwinism] are inconsistent with the evidence. Inconsistency in science is no great sin, as we have seen -- it is a spur to clarification. But I see a series of inconsistencies adding up to a need for major revision. (pp. 33-34)

Goodwin sees neo-Darwinism as quite incapable of explaining new "types" of organisms. The theory works sufficiently well with what he calls "small-scale aspects of evolution: it can explain the variations and the adaptations within species that produce fine-tuning of varieties" (p. ix). But by paying too much attention to the genetic aspects of organismsm, in its "genocentrism," neo-Darwinism (Goodwin argues) has neglected organisms themselves --leading to what he calls "the disappearance of the organism."

Something very curious and interesting has happened to biology in recent years. Organisms have disappeared as the fundamental units of life. In their place we now have genes, which have taken over all the basic properties that used to characterize living organisms. (p. 1)

Goodwin's own solution, like many of those connected with new-wave complexity thinking (e.g., the Santa Fe Institute), is to search for "generic properties" of complex systems, tractable under mathematical and computer analysis, to build organisms. These structures are assumed to exist relatively independently of any necessary genetic basis.

Yet, as Stuart Newman observes in his review of Leopard (Nature 371 [15 September 1994]: 213-214):

One problem with this view is that real physical and biological systems are made of distinct kinds of materials. If assemblages of electrons, protons and neutrons, or liver cells or ants, have any generic forms in common, they are unlikely to be the most significant properties of these systems... Goodwin concedes that living systems are distinguished from nonliving systems, no matter how complex, by the presence of "powerful particulars that give them the capacity to regenerate and reproduce their own natures under particular conditions." So we are brought back, despite the author's intentions, to genes and history as distinguishing characteristics of organisms. Whatever the evolutionary origin may have been of particular organismal forms... the present-day developmental realization of these forms must depend greatly on an accumulation of nongeneric molecular circuitry. (p. 214)

For many critics of evolutionary reasoning, however, Goodwin is right about the problems of "genocentrism," wrong about the creating potential of generic properties -- as Newman worries -- but, pace Newman, evolutionary history won't provide the specificity needed for the design of living systems. The very phrase "molecular circuitry" is a clue. Living things, as Michael Behe has been compellingly arguing, are irreducibly complex, and are properly artifactual in precisely the same sense that any other complex system is, whose components are functionally interdependent. They are designed.

A Deterministic View of the Origin of Life and Evolution

Vital Dust: Life as a Cosmic Imperative

Christian de Duve, New York: Basic Books, 1995, 362 pp.

The view of the origin of life as a kind of cosmic accident -- a "one-off" event, in British parlance -- has achieved wide currency within evolutionary thinking. Perhaps its ablest spokesman was Jacques Monod, who wrote in Chance and Necessity:

Life appeared on earth: what, before the event, were the chances that this would occur? ...[I]ts a priori probability was virtually zero. The idea is distasteful to most scientists.

Among those who find the idea of life as a cosmic fluke distasteful is the Belgian cell biologist and Nobel laureate Christian de Duve. The argument, he observes in his new book Vital Dust, put the origin of life outside the reach of science:

If this were so, we would be wasting our time trying to explain the origin of life in scientific terms. A number of eminent scholars have made this claim. Some have even pushed it to its logical conclusion, that if life is a highly improbable product of chance, it has no place in any sort of cosmological view we may entertain.... Its emergence was a "lusus naturae", a cosmic joke. In the words of the late Jacques Monod, one of the greatest French biologists: "The universe was not pregnant with life." This statement has profound philosophical implications. (p. 8)

De Duve is himself a determinist about the origin of life and its subsequent evolution. While allowing that contingency will play a role in any evolutionary sequence, de Duve sees the universe as "a hotbed of life" (p. 292), where the emergence of organisms is almost certain to occur once conditions are right -- as, he argues, they often must be:

In this organic cloud [of carbon compounds], which pervades the universe, life is almost bound to arise, in a molecular form not very different from its form on Earth, wherever physical conditions are similar to those that prevailed on our planet some four billion years ago. The conclusion seems to me almost inescapable. Those who claim that life is a highly improbable event, possibly unique, have not looked closely enough at the chemical realities underlying the origin of life. Life is either a reproducible, almost commonplace manifestation of matter, given certain conditions, or a miracle. Too many steps are involved to allow for something in between. (p. 292)

In Vital Dust, de Duve spells out in seven parts his "deterministic" case for the evolution of life, complex organisms, and, eventually, intelligence. Scientists, he writes, "are condemned by their calling to look for natural explanations of even the most unnatural-looking events," and what counts as an explanation is not "the facile recourse to chance" (p. 24).

Thus, parts I to III are de Duve's argument for the relative ease of prebiotic and "protocell" evolution, parts IV to VI from the single cell to human intelligence, and part VII, evolution into the unknown (including, in a philosophical coda, the meaning of life).

While Vital Dust is engagingly written, it falls far short of showing that Monod was wrong -- or, perhaps, that design theorists such as Charles Thaxton are wrong, when they argue that known physical and chemical regularities are insufficient to account for the specified complexity of even the simplest organisms. In particular, de Duve's scenario for the origin of life, in which "protometabolism" produces the materials necessary for the RNA world of the first self-replicating molecules, is, he admits, "purely conjectural" (p. 45). Hence, the reader is left with a sense of grand claims for determinism which cannot be sustained by empirical particulars. Sure, it's easy to build the Pyramids of Giza. Just put one brick on top of another, and stop when you're done. But determinism is, one might say, as determinism does -- and de Duve hasn't done it (that is, show how the origin of life is natural and inevitable, given the right conditions). Rather, he's written a suggestive appeal for further research, to show how it might be done.

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File Date: 6.02.95