Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

06/29/2008 (8:20 am)

Science, Religion, and Darwin

I’ve been avoiding the evolution/Intelligent Design debate since I started this blog, but I can’t avoid it today. Blame Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who signed into law on Friday a measure described by the Inquisitors General of Evolution as a “stealth Creationism bill.” The bill states simply that science teachers and local school boards have the right to add supplementary material to the prescribed science curricula, and specifically prohibits injections of religion into science classes, but the clear intent is to protect science teachers who want to present materials that explain the theory of Intelligent Design in the classroom. Significantly, though, the bill also specifically mentions the inclusion of supplementary materials regarding “the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” as well as evolution. See the actual text of the bill here.

The Discovery Institute explains the need for the bill:

The law is needed for two reasons. First, around the country, science teachers are being harassed, intimidated, and sometimes fired for trying to present scientific evidence critical of Darwinian theory along with the evidence that supports it. Second, many school administrators and teachers are fearful or confused about what is legally allowed when teaching about controversial scientific issues like evolution. The Louisiana Science Education Act clarifies what teachers may be allowed to do.

I have some pretty strong opinions on the subject, and have had for some time. I’m also fairly well-read on the subject. Please bear with me while I air my complaint.

The attempt to conflate Intelligent Design with Creationism is intellectually dishonest and insupportable. I read a large volume of Creationist literature back in the 1970s and 1980s, and I’ve read a substantial volume of Intelligent Design literature in the last 10 years. They are not published by the same people. They are not similar in any regard worth mentioning. They are not saying the same thing, nor even anything terribly close to each other. They do not use the same methods. The only similarity that can possibly be educed from an honest reading of the two bodies of literature is that both recognize the possibility of intention in the universe.

Even that’s not all that similar between the two bodies of literature. The Creationists clearly began from a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, and just as clearly formed hypotheses to conform to their reading of the Bible. They would not be dissuaded from this approach regardless of the evidence; they were ideologically married to the Biblical account. The Creation Science Institute came from a theological tradition that was famous, even among the Christian community, for bringing the same attitude and the same methods to bible scholarship that they brought to biology and cosmology — “We interpret the clear teaching of the scripture to be X, and any claim to the contrary simply has to be wrong.”

By contrast, the Intelligent Design movement began from a reading of current microbiology, and from the recognition by bright observers outside the field of evolutionary biology that what was coming from within the field was barely disguised philosophy, not science. The published works of Intelligent Design theorists include complex discussions of microbiology, robust philosophical evaluations, and incisive analyses of modern culture. There’s very little biblical theology to be found among them; many are not theists. They’re simply legitimate scientists who stopped drinking the kool-aid, and summoned the courage to raise the unpopular point that the processes they’re studying look intentional, and that that just might mean that they were intentional.

There’s a revolution going on in microbiology, occasioned (as is usual for scientific progress) by improvements in technology, and the explosion of information there has not been friendly to neo-Darwinism’s model of descent with modification. That’s an understatement.

The gene theory of biology has taken a severe beating over the last 15 years or so. It’s perfectly clear that genes do not carry information to describe large segments of what we see in the biosphere (the shapes of living objects, for example, are not found in the genes at all.) If that information does not exist in genes, then it cannot possibly have evolved by way of genetic mutation or genetic drift. Prompted by this discovery, biologist Michael Denton and his co-workers in Australia developed a theory of natural laws in the biosphere, analogous to the laws that govern physics, and used their hypothesis to predict a series of laws governing the behavior of protein folds. Their hypothesis proved correct in the laboratory; they discovered something like 1,000 separate protein fold patterns, all behaving according to a definable set of rules that correspond to physical characteristics of the molecules themselves. Their findings were published by invitation in Nature(1) and in the Journal of Theoretical Biology(2).

One of the disturbing characteristics of the history of the science of evolution is how poorly the theory has performed in predicting what they’ll find. Darwin predicted simple early life forms; we now know the earliest life forms were insanely complex. Darwin predicted intermediate forms in the fossil record; literally millions of fossils have been gathered, and at best a tiny handful of them can even plausibly be described as intermediate forms; the clear pattern in the fossil record is species stasis — a species appears, goes along unchanged for millions of years, then simply disappears. More to the point, there are only perhaps a dozen instances in the last 150 years of paleontologists using the theory of evolution to predict a particular finding in nature, and then actually finding it, and there isn’t even the beginning of a model that can predict the evolutionary direction of a living population. For Denton and his cohort to produce a non-genetic hypothesis that successfully predicts a discovery on the first try, strikes me as proof that their hypothesis is orders of magnitude more robust than the neo-Darwinian model that they’re bucking. To suggest that what Denton is doing is “not science” deserves nothing more friendly than a horse laugh. Anybody who says such a ridiculous thing ought not to be taken seriously ever again.

I acknowledge that there are some who are simply taking the word of others and repeating a second-hand conclusion when they say that Intelligent Design is not science, and confuse it with Creationism; if that’s you, please try to understand that you’re being deliberately misled by religious partisans who are defending their pet philosophy, Scientific Materialism, against any and all legitimate debate. I further acknowledge that the Creationists have hopped on board the Intelligent Design train, and are touting their own theories as I.D. these days, so for an outside observer unfamiliar with the literature, I.D. might be confused with Creationism. You need to read the literature. Anybody telling you the evidence points to “the God of the Bible” is probably touting Christianity. By the same token, anybody telling you “descent with modification is beyond question” is selling you swampland in Florida (just as anybody who tells you “anthropogenic global warming is beyond question” is selling you swampland in Florida — the claim that something “is beyond question” should be your first clue, because if it were true they wouldn’t have to say it so loudly.)

But people saying “This process looks too complex to have been produced without intention,” are saying something no more controversial than this: “If I see a slip of paper with the words ‘Please pick up my suit from the cleaners’ on it, I infer that an intelligent being was sending a message.” The genetic detail in the simplest, earliest life form is a similar phrase, only instead of being 40 characters long, is millions of characters long; it’s every bit as much an encoded message, and to infer intent is not only plausible, it’s the only plausible inference possible. We’ve uncovered the earliest life form and found in it a huge computer program; come on, folks, draw the obvious conclusion. It can’t possibly hurt that much.

To those who want to pretend that I.D. cannot be science a priori because it allows the mere possibility of a designer, I say “Rubbish.” Such people are as biased, and as religiously motivated, as the Creationists they hate so much (which is why they hate them so much.) If science is a search for truth fact, then the scientist must accept whatever conclusion follows as a result of honest evaluation. One cannot allow oneself to be limited by a priori philosophical claims. If science does not allow the scientist to draw whatever conclusion properly fits the facts, then I’m not interested in science, and neither should any thinking adult be interested in it.

The notion that the definition of science demands a non-directed process in the biosphere, logically, arises from philosophy — obviously, you can’t prove such a claim in the laboratory, it’s a definition. That definition — that there can be no intelligence directing our biosphere — is imported from Materialism, a self-demolishing philosophical system that absurdly presupposes that nothing exists, or can exist, outside of our three-dimensions-plus-unidirectional-time universe. The very existence of an idea, or of consciousness, falsifies the presupposition: ideas have no dimension, cannot be examined by scientific inquiry under a microscope, are not affected by time, and clearly exist, therefore things do exist apart from dimensions plus time. But whether one accepts or rejects Materialism, its presuppositions are a foreign import into science (the earliest Western scientists were not Materialists), and the attempt to define “science” by excluding all that does not conform to Materialism’s presuppositions constitutes an anti-intellectual hijacking. Short version, the Materialists mugged the culture, and stole science.

The link at the top of this article under the words “stealth Creationism bill” points to a document by the National Center for Science Education. The NCSE represents the attempt by dogmatic Materialists to prevent consideration of non-Materialist scientific literature in public schools, by way of Inquisition. They actively search for instances of teachers attempting to discuss the ideas of current opponents of neo-Darwinian theory, and when they find one, they send a team to attempt to have that individual fired. It’s basically a goon squad; it’s not in any meaningful way different from the Spanish Inquisition I mentioned yesterday, except that instead of imaginary thumb screws, they use shame and the courts, and instead of burning at the stake, they get people fired.

If the ideas behind descent with modification were so clearly superior, they would not need goon squads to enforce them. The reason neo-Darwinism needs to take the Inquisition approach is something admitted on the first page of Richard Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker: the universe we live in looks designed. Any intellectually curious adult can see it, because it’s immediately obvious to the casual observer. It took Dawkins a book-length dissertation to explain why the design that’s obvious on the face of things is actually an illusion. Since it takes that much verbiage to dispute the obvious, the fact that so many in our culture feel as though only deluded dunces can infer design, is counter-intuitive; it could only be so if the intellectual life of the culture had been straight-jacketed against drawing the obvious conclusion from examining the universe.

Even the atheists recognize Occam’s Razor, and if they were being candid, they’d admit that the most likely explanation for the fact that our universe appears to have been designed, is that it was designed. Anybody taking the opposite position, has to believe that life appeared magically out of non-life, without the slightest hint of an explanation how that’s possible (no, evolution does not address the question), and that takes way more faith than any Christian doctrine requires. To quote Norm Geisler and Frank Turek, I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.

(1) M. J. Denton and J. C. Marshall, “The Laws of Form Revisited,” Nature 410 (2001): 411, General concepts discussed in Michael John Denton, “An Anti-Darwinian Intellectual Journey,” Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing,, W. A. Dembski, ed,, Wilmington, DE, ISI Books, 2004.
(2) M. J. Denton, J. C. Marshal, and M. Legge, “The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the Pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 218 (2002):325-42. General concepts discussed in Uncommon Dissent, Dembski, ed,, op. cit.

Update: a couple of commenters at Little Green Footballs created links from an article about Creationists in Texas to this blog. Thanks for the notice, folks, and welcome. The article there appears to illustrate my point here: at least one of the actions cited in the quoted New Scientist article is by real, old-fashioned Young Earth Creationists, but the article dishonestly and inaccurately names the Discovery Institute, the flagship of the Intelligent Design movement, as the force behind the actions of these Creationists. While there’s some reason for the uninformed to be confused, it’s simply dishonest for New Scientist to conflate them.

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June 30, 2008 @ 1:55 pm #

Your best essay yet.

(Author notes: Thanks.)

June 30, 2008 @ 6:23 pm #

A quick question – what does embracing ID do for the doctrine of original sin? If man never sinned in the Garden then why do we need a savior? What’s metaphorical and what’s literal?

How does this impact modern Christian doctrine?

That seems to be the more important question to believers.

June 30, 2008 @ 6:59 pm #

UnrepentantGeek writes:

A quick question – what does embracing ID do for the doctrine of original sin? If man never sinned in the Garden then why do we need a savior? What’s metaphorical and what’s literal?

I think you’re thinking of theistic evolution — the argument you raise here is the standard theological rebuttal of TE. ID does not posit theistic evolution, necessarily, nor does it refute it; it simply calls for acknowledging the appearance of design in nature as a valid inference.

I find it’s not a particularly good idea to mix science with theology. The knowledge base produced by science changes over time, sometimes dramatically; theology cannot be built on that which changes, but must instead be an expression of that which is eternal. Even now, when science is giving believers strong support for the existence of God (via Hot Big Bang cosmology, and via the Anthropic Principle), we need to keep in mind that the findings of science can change.

Next, I’m curious: how strong is your faith in the claims of Christianity? If you know God exists, and you know Christianity is true, then you can express confidence that the outcome of any legitimate search for truth in our universe will be consistent with the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. Thus, it never makes sense to reject a branch of legitimate research simply because you perceive a possible conflict with your theology; instead, you should simply be encouraging scientists to continue the search for truth, and not to take their current findings as the unalterable last word. In this manner, the Christian can embrace legitimate science of all sorts, even if it temporarily appears to contradict some theological point or other.

Finally, I’m not sure I buy the claim that if man developed naturally by way of theistic evolution, that there was no Eden, no garden, and no original sin. Even with TE, there has to be a first aware man, and that man could have been the starting point. Alternatively, if the entire garden story is allegorical or symbolic (which is not what I believe, btw), the doctrine of original sin remains simply by virtue of the fact that God bothered to include it in the symbolism.

Short version — there are lots of ways to skin that particular cat. Choose the one that suits you best meets your need best you think expresses the truth most accurately.

July 1, 2008 @ 1:43 am #

Interesting article/site –
I followed an LGF link here – I’m disappointed to find Charles and his fellow lizards so close-minded on the ID issue. It seems that rabid neo-darwinists cling to the evolution dogma more fervently than ROP adherents do to Islam. I thought science was about being open to all possibilities, even if it meant one may have to let go of previous theories or conjectures. Guess they don’t want the facts to get in the eay of their “religion”.

July 1, 2008 @ 1:08 pm #

Like Vivat veritas, I followed a LGF link to your site. I found your article to be right on point. Too many people conflate Creationism with ID Theory. You have explained the difference between the two quite clearly. You write in a most lucid manner. Thank you for your efforts.

September 11, 2008 @ 5:48 pm #

Was it Dawkin’s who said that “evolutionist” were not to argue with anyone who was “stupid” enough to question the absolute truths of Darwinian/Evolution? That is Scientific Debate and Inquiry?
Here is my favorite Neandertal Joke:
Neanderthal Joke
A team of evolutionist/paleanotologist stumble upon an airplane parked in the bush. There is a campfire with pig bones scattered around..The “scientist” rush back to publish their Find in the Scientific Journals…”There was no evidence of humans at the Site, therefore homo sapien porkynus has evolved and makes/uses technology equal to /better than the average homo sapien sapien”..Trumpets Blare… PBS and the Discovery Channel produce documentaries based on articles in National Geograpic.. entitled “Darwin was Right, PIGS CAN FLY.”

And I will swallow the “camel” of Dawkinian Darwinism..when pigs can fly

April 4, 2009 @ 1:10 am #

Just one point about Occam’s Razor, viz:

“Even the atheists recognize Occam’s Razor, and if they were being candid, they’d admit that the most likely explanation for the fact that our universe appears to have been designed, is that it was designed.”

I think it’s just as easy to apply Occam’s razor against there being a designer. Occam’s razor is about requiring the least steps to explain something. A designer is one extra step than no designer because we still need an explanation for how the designer came into being.

Anyway, no need for a reply as this is an unresolvable point either way… (and it’s annoying to have to respond to comment on old posts, I know ;D)

April 4, 2009 @ 6:00 am #

Not to worry about replying to old posts; they all show up in the same place on the WordPress dashboard. You won’t get other readers to reply, but at the least the Webmaster sees them.

I actually think your “unresolvable point” comes close to a WTF? fallacy. Apply your reasoning to Paley’s watch: does it really increase the complexity of the problem to assert that somebody designed the watch? or are you just inserting an inanity by saying “It’s too complicated to believe that this watch has a designer, so we have to assume it evolved in the wild?”

Even when I wrote a complete post about the argument from design, I overlooked asserting a definition of “complexity.” I won’t make that mistake again, as I’ve learned that this is where atheists muddle the argument. I was shocked when I read Dawkin’s The Blind Watchmaker to see how badly he munged that definition. IMHO, the correct definition of complexity is “multiple coordinated parts assembled with the appearance of achieving a purpose.” The key elements are “multiple parts” and “purpose.” and what those two say, when they appear together, is “This was done for a reason, ergo something capable of having reasons, and of cleverly envisioning and constructing parts, did it.” The follow-up question “Well then, who?” is actually a separate question, and while the separate question may have complexity of its own (whence all those nice Whodunnit stories,) the inference “Somebody did this on purpose” is a correct logical inference, and can’t be washed away by Occam’s Razor.

I should also note the possible category fallacy here: there’s no necessary inference that says the designer is itself “complex” as I’ve defined “complex” (e.g. multiple parts assembled to achieve a purpose.) If it turns out that the designer is a machine, you get the second-order question of who designed the machine; if it turns out that the designer is God, then “assembled to achieve a purpose” makes no sense.

April 4, 2009 @ 10:14 am #

The Paley watch thing – your first point about the “inanity” is just a straw man. That’s not the argument at all. Paley argues by analogy. It is a false analogy though as it is used as a “proof” (not just an illustration to make a point).

We know for sure (by “for sure” I mean, we accept as true), that all human artifacts had designers (by definition). To argue that therefore all objects (human artifacts and biological structure) that have the same type (i.e. analogous) of complexity (parts and purpose) is to make a claim without direct evidence. That is I am prepared to accept it is a reasonable leap (in that I can’t disprove it), but to posit it as a “proof” is fallacious.

What we do know, however, is that inheritance, variation and selection can lead to more complexity in nature. We have direct evidence of this with biological systems. Therefore our default assumption with all biological systems, even those we can’t (yet) explain, should be they evolved through natural selection (and other mechanisms like genetic drift and self organisation). At least we do know for sure biological “artifacts” have evolved, but we never seen the intelligent designer at work.

As to the parts and purpose. All adaptations have “structure and function”. That’s a cornerstone of biology? I think the term purpose is confusing (in that people talk about a “higher purpose”). There’s no “higher purpose” to the left side of my heart being bigger and more muscular than the right. But it has that structure, it evolved that way, because the left side has to pump blood to my entire body, whereas the right only to the lungs. My heart has a “purpose” (function) and “parts” (structure).

I don’t have a problem with taking a kind of “anthropic” view that some intelligence set up the universe and let it go (I don’t think it’s necessary though), but as soon as you have him/it/her directly interfering and look for evidence in nature, I think you end up creating more problems than it’s worth.

Especially with ID in terms of Biology. The main issue is mechanism. How does the intelligent designer “do it”? To me ID (specifically irreducible complexity) is just giving up and the argument from personal ignorance/incredulity. “I can’t see how that could have evolved – therefore no-one else can – therefore an Intelligent Designer did it, case closed.” That’s not meant to be a straw man, but just to show that that’s how science would end up…

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