Faith and Reason


If you've ever wondered about the existence or nature of God, but thought it was illogical or unscientific to believe in a god, or have been turned off by some of the messages projected by some churches, I think the following essays (by Granville Sewell, a math professor) are worth considering. I don't necessarily agree with everything in them, but they are my top recommendation for a concise, reasonable discussion of this interesting and important topic.

Many of these essays, in modified form, can be found in the books "In the Beginning" and "Christianity for Doubters", available here and here.

Excerpts are provided below that summarize each essay. Click on the essay titles to read the full essays.

 

In the Beginning

In the introduction to his book "The First Three Minutes" [Weinberg 1977] Steven Weinberg wrote: "How then did we come to the 'standard model'? And how has it supplanted other theories, like the steady state model? It is a tribute to the essential objectivity of modern astrophysics that this consensus has been brought about, not by shifts in philosophical preference or by the influence of astrophysical mandarins, but by the pressure of empirical data." To say that rejection of the steady state model in favor of the big bang theory was not due to shifts in philosophical preference is an understatement, because many scientists would agree with Weinberg that the steady state model is "philosophically far more attractive." Einstein introduced an arbitrary additional term into his equations of general relativity in an attempt (which he later regretted) to avoid the expanding universe solution. Robert Jastrow [Jastrow 1978] writes that: "Some prominent scientists began to feel the same irritation over the expanding universe that Einstein had expressed earlier. Eddington wrote in 1931, 'I have no ax to grind in this discussion, but the notion of a beginning is repugnant to me. The expanding universe is preposterous. . . incredible, it leaves me cold.' The German chemist Walter Nernst wrote 'To deny the infinite duration of time would be to betray the very foundation of science.'" The reason that many scientists were reluctant to accept the big bang is obvious: it points out the incompleteness of science. If the goal of science is, as Joseph Le Conte [Le Conte 1888] put it, to explain how "each state or condition grew naturally out of the immediately preceding", then this pursuit meets a dead end in the big bang, for the chain of causality must end with the beginning of time. The implications of the discovery that the entire universe-matter, energy, space and time-had a true beginning are enormous. . .Scientists still tend to think of religions as systems of beliefs which have no root in science, and of atheism as the absence of any such unprovable beliefs. The truth is that now all theories of origins, theistic or atheistic, involve speculation as to the nature of the supernatural forces which created our universe out of nothingness, because there were no "natural" causes before Nature came into existence. The question is only, was it an intelligent or an unintelligent supernatural force that created time, space, matter and energy out of nothingness?. . .

In an interview published in [Varghese 1984] Robert Jastrow discusses what he calls "the most theistic result ever to come out of science": "According to the picture of the evolution of the universe developed by the astronomer and his fellow scientists, the smallest change in any of the circumstances of the natural world, such as the relative strengths of the forces of Nature, or the properties of the elementary particles, would have led to a universe in which there could be no life and no man." As an example, Jastrow cites the forces binding the nuclei of atoms together. If the nuclear force were increased in strength by a small amount, he says, this attraction would have been sufficient to cause all hydrogen nuclei (protons) to fuse together into helium during the early stages of the universe, and there would be no hydrogen left to fuel the stars. On the other hand, if the nuclear force were slightly decreased in strength, the attraction would have been insufficient to drive the nuclear fusion reactions which created elements heavier than helium (such as carbon and oxygen), and it is impossible to imagine how any complex life forms could be constructed out of hydrogen and helium alone. Jastrow continues: "It is possible to make the same argument about changes in the strengths of the electromagnetic force, the force of gravity, or any other constants of the material universe, and so come to the conclusion that in a slightly changed universe there could be no life, and no man. Thus according to the physicist and the astronomer, it appears that the universe was constructed within very narrow limits, in such a way that man could dwell in it. This result is called the anthropic principle. Some scientists suggest, in an effort to avoid a theistic or teleological implication in their findings, that there must be an infinite number of universes, representing all possible combinations of basic forces and conditions, and that our universe is one of an infinitely small fraction, in this great plenitude of universes, in which life exists." Now the Darwinist would argue that a different universe, which might be hostile to life as we know it, would only have resulted in life forms which are adapted to different conditions. For example, if the Earth had been a bit further from the sun than it is, we might have evolved thicker skin to adjust to the cold, and if it were a little closer, we might have developed cooling fins. However, we are not talking about conditions which are hostile to life as we know it on Earth, but rather conditions so hostile that any imaginable form of life would be impossible. A.J. Leggett [Leggett 1987] lists several ways in which the development of life depends sensitively on the values of the universal constants, and says, "The list could be multiplied endlessly, and it is easy to draw the conclusion that for any kind of conscious beings to exist at all, the basic constants of Nature have to be exactly what they are, or at least extremely close to it. The anthropic principle then turns this statement around and says, in effect, that the reason the fundamental constants have the values they do is because otherwise we would not be here to wonder about them."

Physicist Steven Hawking discusses some of [the] fundamental constants of nature and says, "The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life." Edward Harrison [Harrison 1981], mentions some other bad things which would happen if certain constants were tampered with: "We first notice that alterations in the known values of c [speed of light], h [Planck's constant], and e [electronic charge] cause huge changes in the structure of atoms and atomic nuclei. Even when the changes are only slight, most atomic nuclei are unstable and cannot exist. . .We also find that slight changes in the values of c, G [gravitational constant], h, e, and the masses of subatomic particles cause huge changes in the structure and evolution of stars. The majority of universes will actually not contain any stars at all, and in the few that do, the stars either are nonluminous or are so luminous that their lifetimes are too short for biological evolution. . .Our universe is therefore finely tuned, and we would not exist if the constants of nature had different values."

But we have to ask ourselves not only, why do the gravitational, nuclear and electromagnetic forces have the strengths that they have, and why do electrons, protons and neutrons have the masses and charges they do, but why are there particles at all, and why are there forces between them? We need to wonder not only why the speed of light is 299,792 km/sec, but why are there photons? We should not only wonder why Planck's constant, which appears in the Schrodinger equations, has such a lucky value, but why are the motions of all particles governed by these partial differential equations?! One of the most amazing things about our universe is the beautiful way in which mathematical equations can be used to elegantly model physical processes. In the case of macroscopic processes, such as diffusion or fluid flow, we can derive the equations from more basic processes, so that in these cases we feel we "understand" why the mathematics fits the physics so nicely. But when we get down to the most fundamental particles and forces, we find they still obey elegant mathematical equations, and we have absolutely no idea why. There is no conceivable reason why the effect that the fundamental forces have on the fundamental particles should be given by the (complex-valued!!) solution to a wave or eigenvalue partial differential equation, except that it results in elements and chemical compounds with extremely rich and useful chemical properties, and gives partial differential equation software developers like me some very interesting applications to solve. Are we to assume that in all these other [postulated] universes there is still space and time, gravity and electromagnetic forces, electrons, protons, neutrons and photons, and Schrodinger equations, but their forces, masses and charges have different values, generated by some random number generator?. . . [N]ow some scientists, such as astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez [Gonzalez and Richards 2004], argue that our planet enjoys other "privileges" which are rare in the universe, which have nothing to do with survival, but seem to give us an ideal platform from which to view the universe.

It is difficult to argue with those who appeal to "anthropic selection" to explain improbable circumstances; about all you can say is that there is a simpler explanation...But other universes are by definition beyond observation, so that the anthropic principle is untestable, and therefore unscientific. It is interesting to see how those who for many years have criticized the creationists for inventing a force external to our universe to account for the appearance of man are now reduced to inventing other universes to explain our existence. . .It seems much simpler to believe that there is only one universe, and it appears to be cleverly designed because it is cleverly designed.


A Mathematician's View of Evolution

Every living cell is loaded with features and biochemical processes which are 'irreducibly complex'-that is, they require the existence of numerous complex components, each essential for function. Thus, these features and processes cannot be explained by gradual Darwinian improvements, because until all the components are in place, these assemblages are completely useless, and thus provide no selective advantage. . . [Biochemist Michael Behe writes] 'There is no publication in the scientific literature that describes how molecular evolution of any real, complex, biochemical system either did occur or even might have occurred'. . . Harvard paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson writes: 'It is a feature of the known fossil record that most taxa appear abruptly. They are not, as a rule, led up to by a sequence of almost imperceptibly changing forerunners such as Darwin believed should be usual in evolution. . .This phenomenon becomes more universal and more intense as the hierarchy of categories is ascended.'. . .'Instead of finding the gradual unfolding of life', writes David M. Raup, a curator of Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, 'what geologists of Darwin's time and geologists of the present day actually find is a highly uneven or jerky record; that is, species appear in the fossil sequence very suddenly, show little or no change during their existence, then abruptly disappear.'. . . Even among biologists, the idea that new organs, and thus higher categories, could develop gradually through tiny improvements has often been challenged. How could the "survival of the fittest" guide the development of new organs through their initial useless stages, during which they obviously present no selective advantage? (This is often referred to as the "problem of novelties.") Or guide the development of entire new systems, such as nervous, circulatory, digestive, respiratory and reproductive systems, which would require the simultaneous development of several new interdependent organs, none of which is useful, or provides any selective advantage, by itself? French biologist Jean Rostand. . .wrote: 'It does not seem strictly impossible that mutations should have introduced into the animal kingdom the differences which exist between one species and the next. . .hence it is very tempting to lay also at their door the differences between classes, families and orders, and, in short, the whole of evolution. But it is obvious that such an extrapolation involves the gratuitous attribution to the mutations of the past of a magnitude and power of innovation much greater than is shown by those of today.' . . .

Suppose an engineer attempts to design a structural analysis computer program, writing it in a machine language that is totally unknown to him. He simply types out random characters at his keyboard, and periodically runs tests on the program to recognize and select out chance improvements when they occur. The improvements are permanently incorporated into the program while the other changes are discarded. If our engineer continues this process of random changes and testing for a long enough time, could he eventually develop a sophisticated structural analysis program?. . .If a billion engineers were to type at the rate of one random character per second, there is virtually no chance that any one of them would, given the 4.5 billion year age of the Earth to work on it, accidentally duplicate a given 20-character improvement. . .But could he not perhaps make progress through the accumulation of very small improvements? The Darwinist would presumably say, yes, but to anyone who has had minimal programming experience this idea is equally implausible. Major improvements to a computer program often require the addition or modification of hundreds of interdependent lines, no one of which makes any sense, or results in any improvement, when added by itself. . .If archeologists of some future society were to unearth the many versions of my PDE solver, PDE2D, which I have produced over the last 20 years, they would certainly note a steady increase in complexity over time, and they would see many obvious similarities between each new version and the previous one. . .In fact, the record of PDE2D's development would be similar to the fossil record, with large gaps where major new features appeared, and smaller gaps where minor ones appeared. That is because the multitude of intermediate programs between versions or subversions which the archeologist might expect to find never existed, because- for example-none of the changes I made for edition 4.0 made any sense, or provided PDE2D any advantage whatever in solving 3D problems (or anything else) until hundreds of lines had been added...Whether at the microscopic or macroscopic level, major, complex, evolutionary advances, involving new features (as opposed to minor, quantitative changes such as an increase in the length of the giraffe's neck, or the darkening of the wings of a moth, which clearly could occur gradually) also involve the addition of many interrelated and interdependent pieces. (W.E.Loennig's article "The Evolution of the Long-Necked Giraffe," [www.weloennig.de/Giraffe.pdf] has recently convinced me that even this is far beyond the ability of natural selection to explain). These complex advances, like those made to computer programs, are not always "irreducibly complex"-sometimes there are intermediate useful stages. But just as major improvements to a computer program cannot be made 5 or 6 characters at a time, certainly no major evolutionary advance is reducible to a chain of tiny improvements, each small enough to be bridged by a single random mutation. . . .

I imagine the construction of a gigantic computer model which starts with the initial conditions on Earth 4 billion years ago and tries to simulate the effects that the four known forces of physics (the gravitational, electromagnetic and strong and weak nuclear forces) would have on every atom and every subatomic particle on our planet (perhaps using random number generators to model quantum uncertainties!). If we ran such a simulation out to the present day, would it predict that the basic forces of Nature would reorganize the basic particles of Nature into libraries full of encyclopedias, science texts and novels, nuclear power plants, aircraft carriers with supersonic jets parked on deck, and computers connected to laser printers, CRTs and keyboards? If we graphically displayed the positions of the atoms at the end of the simulation, would we find that cars and trucks had formed, or that supercomputers had arisen? . . . Clearly something extremely improbable has happened here on our planet, with the origin and development of life, and especially with the development of human consciousness and creativity.

See also this list.


Evolution and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

The first formulations of the second law were all about heat: a quantity called thermal "entropy" was defined to measure the randomness, or disorder, associated with a temperature distribution, and it was shown that in an isolated system this entropy always increases, or at least never decreases, as the temperature becomes more and more randomly (more uniformly) distributed. If we define thermal "order" to be the opposite (negative) of thermal entropy, we can say that the thermal order can never increase in a closed (isolated) system. However, it was soon realized that other types of order can be defined which also never increase in a closed system; for example, we can define a "carbon order" associated with the distribution of carbon diffusing in a solid, using the same equations, and through an identical analysis show that this order also continually decreases, in a closed system. With time, the second law came to be interpreted more and more generally, and today most discussions of the second law in physics textbooks offer examples of entropy increases (or order decreases, since we are defining order to be the opposite of entropy) which have nothing to do with heat conduction or diffusion, such as the shattering of a wine glass or the demolition of a building... The second law is all about probability; it uses probability at the microscopic level to predict macroscopic change: the reason carbon distributes itself more and more uniformly in an insulated solid is, that is what the laws of probability predict when diffusion alone is operative. The reason natural forces may turn a spaceship, or a TV set, or a computer into a pile of rubble but not vice-versa is also probability: of all the possible arrangements atoms could take, only a very small percentage could fly to the moon and back, or receive pictures and sound from the other side of the Earth, or add, subtract, multiply and divide real numbers with high accuracy...

The discovery that life on Earth developed through evolutionary "steps," coupled with the observation that mutations and natural selection - like other natural forces - can cause (minor) change, is widely accepted in the scientific world as proof that natural selection - alone among all natural forces - can create order out of disorder, and even design human brains, with human consciousness... In his new book, The Edge of Evolution [Behe 2007], Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe looks in considerable detail at the struggle for survival between humans and the malaria parasite where, in the last 100 years, the evolution of more organisms, and not many fewer generations, can be studied than were involved in the entire natural history of mammals. He finds that natural selection can be credited with some very minor change, but "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. The thrust and parry of human-malaria evolution did not build anything - it only destroyed things." Behe also looks at Richard Lenski's 20 year E.coli experiment, which a June 9, 2008 New Scientist article now claims represents "the first time evolution has been caught in the act", and concludes that "nothing fundamentally new has been produced." Behe claims that the minor advances observed in this experiment are all due to "breaking some genes and turning others off." In any case, the New Scientist article contains a remarkable admission, that natural selection has never before (and not even now according to Behe) been actually observed to produce any significant advance! To claim that the mechanism which produces such minor changes in bacteria and parasite populations is capable of producing human brains is an incredible extrapolation, yet this claim is routinely presented as being as well-established as gravity.

In a recent Mathematical Intelligencer article [Sewell 2000], I asserted that the idea that the four fundamental forces of physics alone could rearrange the fundamental particles of Nature into spaceships, nuclear power plants, and computers, connected to laser printers, CRTs, keyboards and the Internet, appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics in a spectacular way. Anyone who has made such an argument is familiar with the standard reply: the Earth is an open system, it receives energy from the sun, and order can increase in an open system, as long as it is "compensated" somehow by a comparable or greater decrease outside the system... According to this reasoning, then, the second law does not prevent scrap metal from reorganizing itself into a computer in one room, as long as two computers in the next room are rusting into scrap metal - and the door is open. (Or the thermal entropy in the next room is increasing - though I'm not sure what the conversion rate is between computers and thermal entropy.) This strange argument of "compensation" makes no sense logically: an extremely improbable event is not rendered less improbable by the occurrence of other events which are more probable... In Appendix D of my new book [Sewell, 2005]...I take a closer look at the equations for entropy change, which apply not only to thermal entropy but also to the entropy associated with anything else that diffuses, and show that they do not simply say that order cannot increase in a closed system, they also say that in an open system, order cannot increase faster than it is imported through the boundary... [I]n [Sewell 2001] I generalized the equation for open systems to the following tautology, which is valid in all situations: "If an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is closed, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it not extremely improbable."... If we found evidence that DNA, auto parts, computer chips, and books entered through the Earth's atmosphere at some time in the past, then perhaps the appearance of humans, cars, computers, and encyclopedias on a previously barren planet could be explained without postulating a violation of the second law here (it would have been violated somewhere else!). But if all we see entering is radiation and meteorite fragments, it seems clear that what is entering through the boundary cannot explain the increase in order observed here...

In ... [Davis 2001], the author made an analogy with coin flipping and argued that any particular sequence of heads and tails is extremely improbable, so something extremely improbable happens every time we flip a long series of coins. If a coin were flipped 1000 times, he would apparently be no more surprised by a string of all heads than by any other sequence, because any string is as improbable as another. This critic concedes that it is extremely unlikely that humans and computers would arise again if history were repeated, "but something would"...[T]he underlying principle behind the second law is that natural forces do not do macroscopically describable things which are extremely improbable from the microscopic point of view. A "macroscopically describable" event is just any event which can be described without resorting to an atom-by-atom (or coin-by-coin) accounting...Natural forces may turn a spaceship into a pile of rubble, but not vice-versa - not because the exact arrangement of atoms in a given spaceship is more improbable than the exact arrangement of atoms in a given pile of rubble, but because (whether the Earth receives energy from the Sun or not) there are very few arrangements of atoms which would be able to fly to the moon and return safely, and very many which could not. The reader familiar with William Dembski's "specified complexity" concept [Dembski 2006], will recognize similarities to the argument here: natural forces do not do things which are "specified" (macroscopically describable) and "complex" (extremely improbable)....If we toss a billion coins, it is true that any sequence is as improbable as any other, but most of us would still be surprised, and suspect that something other than chance is going on, if the result were "all heads", or "alternating heads and tails", or even "all tails except for coins 3i + 5, for integer i"...There are so many simply describable results possible that it is tempting to think that all or most outcomes could be simply described in some way, but in fact, there are only about 230000 different 1000-word paragraphs, so the odds are about 2999970000 to 1 that a given result will not be that highly ordered - so our surprise would be quite justified...[W]ith 1023 molecules in a mole of anything, we can be confident that the laws of probability at the microscopic level will be obeyed (at least on planets without life) as they apply to all macroscopic phenomena...[Rosenhouse 2001] wrote "His claim that 'natural forces do not cause extremely improbable things to happen' is pure gibberish. Does Sewell invoke supernatural forces to explain the winning numbers in last night's lottery?" But getting the right number on 5 or 6 balls is not extremely improbable; in thermodynamics "extremely improbable" events involve getting the "right number" on 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or so balls! If every atom on Earth bought one ticket every second since the big bang (about 1070 tickets) there is virtually no chance than any would ever win even a 100-ball lottery, much less this one. And since the second law derives its authority from logic alone, and thus cannot be overturned by future discoveries, Sir Arthur Eddington [Eddington 1929] called it the "supreme" law of Nature.

The evolutionist, therefore, cannot avoid the question of probability by saying that anything can happen in an open system, nor can he avoid it by saying that there are so many types of order that order is a meaningless concept. He is finally forced to argue that it only seems extremely improbable, but really isn't, that atoms would rearrange themselves into spaceships and computers and the Internet... Darwinists believe they have already discovered the source of all this order, so let us look more closely at their theory. The traditional argument against Darwinism is that natural selection cannot guide the development of new organs and new systems of organs...Consider, for example, the aquatic bladderwort... In a Nature Encyclopedia of Life Sciences [Loennig and Becker 2004] article on Carnivorous Plants, authors Wolf-Ekkehard Loennig and Heinz-Albert Becker acknowledge that "it appears to be hard to even imagine a clearcut selective advantage for all the thousands of postulated intermediate steps in a gradual scenario. . .for the origin of the complex carnivorous plant structures examined above." The development of any major new feature presents similar problems, and according to Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, who describes several spectacular examples in detail in Darwin's Black Box [Behe 1996], the world of microbiology is especially loaded with such examples of "irreducible complexity." It seems that until the trigger hair, the door, and the pressurized chamber were all in place, and the ability to digest small animals, and to reset the trap to be able to catch more than one animal, had been developed, none of the individual components of this carnivorous trap would have been of any use. What is the selective advantage of an incomplete pressurized chamber? To the casual observer, it might seem that none of the components of this trap would have been of any use whatever until the trap was almost perfect, but of course a good Darwinist will imagine two or three far-fetched intermediate useful stages, and consider the problem solved. I believe you would need to find thousands of intermediate stages before this example of irreducible complexity has been reduced to steps small enough to be bridged by single random mutations - a lot of things have to happen behind the scenes and at the microscopic level before this trap could catch and digest animals... When you look at the individual steps in the development of life, Darwin's explanation is difficult to disprove, because some selective advantage can be imagined in almost anything. Like every other scheme designed to violate the second law, it is only when you look at the net result that it becomes obvious it won't work.

Interestingly, although the similarities between species in the same branch of the evolutionary "tree" may suggest common descent, similarities also frequently arise independently in distant branches, where they cannot be explained by common descent. This phenomenon, known as "convergence" suggests common design rather than common descent: a designer, having once figured out how to make eyes or wings, for example, applies the new design in other places, to unrelated species. For example, in their above-cited Nature Encyclopedia of Life Sciences article [Loennig and Becker 2004] on Carnivorous Plants, Wolf-Ekkehard Loennig and Heinz-Albert Becker note that "carnivory in plants must have arisen several times independently of each other. . .the pitchers might have arisen seven times separately, adhesive traps at least four times, snap traps two times and suction traps possibly also two times."

An analogy may be useful here. If some future paleontologist were to unearth two species of Fords, he might find it plausible that one evolved gradually from the other through natural causes. He might find the lack of gradual transitions between automobile families more problematic, for example, in the transition from mechanical to hydraulic brake systems, or from manual to automatic transmissions, or from steam engines to internal combustion engines. He would be even more puzzled by the huge differences between the bicycle and motor vehicle phyla, or between the boat and airplane phyla. But if he is a Darwinist, heaven help us when he discovers motorcycles and Hovercraft; that will constitute spectacular confirmation of his theory that all forms of transportation arose gradually from a common ancestor, without design.

The wonderful new video Metamorphosis (www.metamorphosisthefilm.com) provides us with one further example of irreducible complexity: the metamorphosis of (for example) a caterpillar into a butterfly. The process of transforming a caterpillar into a butterfly is surely far more complex than anything ever accomplished by man. The information needed to control this process, stored somewhere in the caterpillar's cells, must be far greater than that stored in any manmade computer program. And explaining how this enormous program arose through many tiny improvements is even more challenging here, because now the intermediate stages are not just useless, they are fatal. Metamorphosis involves the destruction of the caterpillar: the butterfly, with an almost completely new body plan, is constructed from dissolved and recycled tissues and cells of the caterpillar. Now we are not talking about climbing Mount Improbable by taking many tiny steps, we are talking about building a bridge across an enormous chasm, between caterpillar and butterfly. Until construction of this extremely long and complicated bridge is almost complete, it is a bridge to nowhere. Unless a butterfly (or another organism capable of reproduction) comes out at the end, the chrysalis only serves as a casket for the caterpillar, which cannot reproduce. Now we do not have to simply imagine uses for not-quite-watertight vacuum chamber traps, we have to imagine a selective advantage for committing suicide before you are able to reproduce, and that is a more difficult challenge!

Since I am well aware that logic and evidence are powerless against the popular perception, nurtured by prestigious journals such as National Geographic and Nature, that no serious scientists harbor any doubts about Darwinism, I want to offer here a portion of a November 5, 1980 New York Times News Service report: "Biology's understanding of how evolution works, which has long postulated a gradual process of Darwinian natural selection acting on genetic mutations, is undergoing its broadest and deepest revolution in nearly 50 years. At the heart of the revolution is something that might seem a paradox. Recent discoveries have only strengthened Darwin's epochal conclusion that all forms of life evolved from a common ancestor. Genetic analysis, for example, has shown that every organism is governed by the same genetic code controlling the same biochemical processes. At the same time, however, many studies suggest that the origin of species was not the way Darwin suggested...Exactly how evolution happened is now a matter of great controversy among biologists. Although the debate has been under way for several years, it reached a crescendo last month, as some 150 scientists specializing in evolutionary studies met for four days in Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History to thrash older ideas. The meeting, which was closed to all but a few observers, included nearly all the leading evolutionists in paleontology, population genetics, taxonomy and related fields. No clear resolution of the controversies was in sight. This fact has often been exploited by religious fundamentalists who misunderstood it to suggest weakness in the fact of evolution rather than the perceived mechanism. Actually, it reflects significant progress toward a much deeper understanding of the history of life on Earth. At issue during the Chicago meeting was macroevolution, a term that is itself a matter of debate but which generally refers to the evolution of major differences, such as those separating species or larger classifications...Darwin suggested that such major products of evolution were the results of very long periods of gradual natural selection, the mechanism that is widely accepted today as accounting for minor adaptations...Darwin knew he was on shaky ground in extending natural selection to account for differences between major groups of organisms. The fossil record of his day showed no gradual transitions between such groups, but he suggested that further fossil discoveries would fill the missing links. 'The pattern that we were told to find for the last 120 years does not exist,' declared Niles Eldridge, a paleontologist from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Eldridge reminded the meeting of what many fossil hunters have recognized as they trace the history of a species through successive layers of ancient sediments. Species simply appear at a given point in geologic time, persist largely unchanged for a few million years and then disappear. There are very few examples - some say none - of one species shading gradually into another."

For the layman, it is the last step in evolution that is the most difficult to explain. You may be able to convince him that natural selection can explain the appearance of complicated robots, who walk the Earth and write books and build computers, but you will have a harder time convincing him that a mechanical process such as natural selection could cause those robots to become conscious...If you believe that a mechanical process such as natural selection could have produced consciousness once, it seems you can't say it could never happen again, and it might happen faster now, with intelligent designers helping this time. In fact, most Darwinists probably do believe it could and will happen - not because they have a higher opinion of computers than I do: everyone knows that in their most impressive displays of "intelligence," computers are just doing exactly what they are told to do, nothing more or less. They believe it will happen because they have a lower opinion of humans: they simply dumb down the definition of consciousness, and say that if a computer can pass a "Turing test," and fool a human at the keyboard in the next room into thinking he is chatting with another human, then the computer has to be considered to be intelligent, or conscious. With the right software, my laptop may already be able to pass a Turing test, and convince me that I am Instant Messaging another human. If I type in "My cat died last week" and the computer responds "I am saddened by the death of your cat," I'm pretty gullible, that might convince me that I'm talking to another human. But if I look at the software, I might find something like this: if (verb == 'died') fprintf(1,'I am saddened by the death of your %s',noun) end I'm pretty sure there is more to human consciousness than this, and even if my laptop answers all my questions intelligently, I will still doubt there is "someone" inside my Intel processor who experiences the same consciousness that I do, and who is really saddened by the death of my cat, though I admit I can't prove that there isn't. I really don't know how to argue with people who believe computers could be conscious. About all I can say is: what about typewriters? Typewriters also do exactly what they are told to do, and have produced some magnificent works of literature. Do you believe that typewriters can also be conscious? And if you don't believe that intelligent engineers could ever cause machines to attain consciousness, how can you believe that random mutations could accomplish this?

Science has been so successful in explaining natural phenomena that the modern scientist is convinced that it can explain everything, and anything that doesn't fit into this model is simply ignored. It doesn't matter that there were no natural causes before Nature came into existence, so he cannot hope to ever explain the sudden creation of time, space, matter and energy and our universe in the Big Bang. It doesn't matter that quantum mechanics is based on a "principle of indeterminancy", that tells us that every "natural" phenomenon has a component that is forever beyond the ability of science to explain or predict, he still insists nothing is beyond the reach of his science. When he discovers that all of the basic constants of physics, such as the speed of light, the charge and mass of the electron, Planck's constant, etc., had to have almost exactly the values that they do have in order for any conceivable form of life to survive in our universe, he proposes the "anthropic principle" and says that there must be many other universes with the same laws, but random values for the basic constants, and one was bound to get the values right. When you ask him how a mechanical process such as natural selection could cause human consciousness to arise out of inanimate matter, he says, "human consciousness - what's that?" And he talks about human evolution as if he were an outside observer, and never seems to wonder how he got inside one of the animals he is studying. And when you ask how the four fundamental forces of Nature could rearrange the basic particles of Nature into libraries full of encyclopedias, science texts and novels, and computers, connected to laser printers, CRTs and keyboards and the Internet, he says, well, order can increase in an open system.

The development of life may have only violated one law of science, but that was the "supreme" law of Nature, and it has violated that in a most spectacular way. At least that is my opinion, but perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it only seems extremely improbable, but really isn't, that, under the right conditions, the influx of stellar energy into a planet could cause atoms to rearrange themselves into nuclear power plants and spaceships and computers. But one would think that at least this would be considered an open question, and those who argue that it really is extremely improbable, and thus contrary to the basic principle underlying the second law, would be given a measure of respect, and taken seriously by their colleagues, but we aren't.


Science and ID

Since the publication of "Origin of Species", science has discovered that living things are far more complex and clever than Darwin could have ever imagined, and Darwin's explanation for this complexity has become less and less plausible, so the reasons for believing in Intelligent Design have only increased in the last 150 years. Even atheist Richard Dawkins wrote that "biology is the study of complicated things that appear to have been designed."...When one becomes a scientist, one learns that science can now explain so many previously inexplicable phenomena that one comes to believe that nothing can escape the explanatory power of our science. When one becomes a biologist, or a paleontologist, one discovers many things about the origin of species, such as the long periods involved and the similarities between species, that give the impression of natural causes... But notably absent from any list of reasons why intellectuals reject Intelligent Design (ID) is any direct scientific evidence that natural selection of random mutations or any other unintelligent process can actually do intelligent things, like design plants or animals...

Nevertheless, Le Conte's axiom that everything must have a natural explanation has become the foundation of all of modern thought - and indeed it has proven to be a very useful and productive axiom. Even many people who believe in God accept Le Conte's axiom. "Theistic evolutionists" argue that God created the universe and its laws, and that these laws are sufficient to explain everything we see today. I have no philosophical or theological problem with such a view: the laws God created are very cleverly designed, and they alone probably are sufficient to explain all of chemistry, geology, astronomy and atmospheric science, for example, so it is not surprising that many would insist that it must be possible to explain all of biology using these laws as well. The problem I have with this view is logical: the known laws of physics are indeed very cleverly designed, but they are obviously not clever enough to explain all of biology. The atheistic evolutionist has decided a priori that there can be no design in Nature; the theistic evolutionist has decided a priori that there can be design only in the original laws of Nature. ID proponents argue that we should look at the evidence before deciding where there is design. . . Many critics of ID today still try to label ID as "creationism", because it was so much easier to discredit the old "creationists" - all you had to do was produce evidence for an old Earth, or for common descent; then you didn't have to deal with their main point. Others avoid the real issue by simply dismissing ID as "not science". Even some scientists who do acknowledge design in biology still argue that ID is true, but not science!...

There is a question I would like to see posed...to one of these critics who dismiss ID as "not science": "suppose we did discover some biological feature that was irreducibly complex, to your satisfaction - such a spectacular example of irreducible complexity that you and every reasonable person would agree that it could not have evolved through small improvements - would the design hypothesis then be justified?" Of course, there are thousands of features in every living cell which any unbiased observer would recognize as irreducibly complex, but suppose we found one that was still more spectacular by far. If he answers, yes, we just haven't found any such thing yet, then all the constantly-repeated philosophical objections that "ID is not science" immediately fall, because he has admitted that design is a legitimate, even if currently unjustified, scientific hypothesis. If the answer is, no, then everyone will finally understand that, as W.E.Loennig has stated, today's evolutionary theory is completely unfalsifiable - there is no amount of evidence that will change these people's minds...

Perhaps nothing illustrates just how "unfalsifiable" today's evolutionary theory really is than the reaction (or rather, lack of reaction) to the "front-loading" being discovered by modern science in the genes of primitive animals. Consider, for example, this report from a recent article in Science [Pennisi 2008]: "Trichoplax adhaerens barely qualifies as an animal. About 1 mm long and covered with cilia, this flat marine organism lacks a stomach, muscles, nerves, and gonads, even a head. . .yet this animal's genome looks surprisingly like ours, says Daniel Rokhsar, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. Its 98 million DNA base pairs include many of the genes responsible for guiding the development of other animals' complex shapes and organs, he and his colleagues report in the 21 August issue of Nature. . . Adds Casey Dunn, an evolutionary biologist at Brown University, 'It is now completely clear that genomic complexity was present very early on' in animal evolution. . . 'Many genes viewed as having particular functions in bilaterians or mammals turn out to have a much deeper evolutionary history than expected, raising questions about why they evolved', says Douglas Erwin, an evolutionary biologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington." Front-loading should be completely fatal to Darwinism: there is no possible selective advantage for the possession of genes for traits which would not evolve until millions of years later! Yet for today's evolutionary biologists, such discoveries only "raise questions about why they evolved." They seem completely incapable of drawing the obvious conclusion, that without design it is impossible to explain the appearance of genes long before the traits they control appear. Even if we concede that ID is not science, and thus should not be taught in the science classroom, that does not justify teaching bad science as established fact. How about simply admitting we know hardly anything about the causes of "evolution"? In any case, you can always define science to exclude ID, but the real question is not whether it is "science", but whether it is true - is there, or is there not, clear evidence for design in Nature?


The Supernatural Element in Nature

Le Conte's axiom [that everything that happens in our world is completely determined by the laws of Nature] was shattered by the discoveries of quantum mechanics, which introduced, quite literally, a 'supernatural' element into science. . . British Astronomer Sir Authur Eddington, in his classic work 'The Nature of the Physical World,' [Eddington 1929], says that according to quantum theory, "the future is a combination of the causal influences of the past together with unpredictable elements-unpredictable not merely because it is impracticable to obtain the data of prediction, but because no data connected causally with our experience exist.". . .One of the philosophical implications of the 'uncertainty principle' introduced by quantum mechanics is that the idea-so contrary already to our intuition-that all human actions are strictly determined (in a complicated way) by external influences, is shown once and for all to be wrong. For even the individual particles which make up the brain have a 'free will' of their own; even their behavior is not strictly predictable. Eddington. . .states that with the advent of quantum mechanics, "science thereby withdraws its moral opposition to freewill." It could be added that science must also withdraw its moral opposition to religion, for if we define the 'supernatural' to be that which is forever beyond the ability of science to predict or explain, then there is, quite literally, a 'supernatural' element to all 'natural' phenomena. . .The introduction of this 'supernatural' element into Nature of course does not make science useless, it can still be used to predict macroscopic phenomena with probabilities approaching certainty. But it does mean that those who claim that science has eliminated the supernatural from Nature have a view of science that has been out of date for 80 years.


Methods of Design

Why would God have to create simpler organisms, and gradually work up to more and more complicated species, over a long period of time?. . .If the only other intelligent creatures we know of [humans] create through this gradual testing and improvement process, why would we expect God would create differently? We didn't get this idea from the Bible, by the way. Genesis 1 paints a picture of a God who created step-by-step, and after each step He 'saw that it was good' and proceeded to improve upon it. . .Since we are completely ignorant of exactly how God intervenes in human and natural history, we naturally tend towards the simpler points of view: either He can do nothing, or He can do anything. . . We like to say that God is 'omnipotent' and 'omniscient', and surely He is indeed very powerful and very intelligent, but even God cannot, for example, create a being with its own free will which is guaranteed to do what God wants and predicts, because that is a logical contradiction. . .However attractive and simple may be the theories that God controls everything, or that He controls nothing, neither fits with our experience, which tells us that God created, but does not completely control everything that happens in His creation.


The Light of the World

I believe that my faith in God rests on a very solid foundation of reason. It is hard to imagine anything more improbable than the idea that the universe as we know it, with its marvelous laws of physics and mathematics, and the magnificent forms of life which are to be found on our Earth, could have arisen without intelligent design. My faith in Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is not backed up by nearly so much reason or logic. There are, of course, some logical reasons for believing that Jesus was no ordinary man. . .We have to wonder what, if not his resurrection, could inspire his disappointed followers to regroup and spread the gospel throughout the world, or instill in them such courage that they would die rather than admit he had not risen, when they were all ready to deny him the night before his crucifixion. Yet my reasons for faith in Jesus are not primarily based on any solid historical or scientific evidence. I believe in him simply because of the things he taught and did. When I read about his life of humility, sacrifice and forgiveness something within me says, 'yes, this is the way life was meant to be lived,' and when I listen to his sermon on the mount, I can't help but think, 'this is what God would say if he were to come to Earth.' I have discovered that his central message of love even for one's enemies is the message the world most needs to hear, and I am convinced that society would function better if his teachings were put into practice. . .The man who gave us the sermon on the mount, who said 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you,' and 'he who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted,' and 'blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,' and 'love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,' who said he 'came not to be served, but to serve,' and who lived a life of service and self-denial: was this a madman who deluded himself and millions of others into believing he was God? Or was he truly Immanuel-'God with us'?



Difficult Christian Doctrines

Both resurrection and judgment are ideas which are very difficult for modern minds to accept. I do not have the same problems with the idea of a resurrection that many others do. . .I have no idea what that new world might be like; certainly the descriptions in the New Testament of heaven and hell should not be taken as more than very crude images. But then, before I was incarnated into a body here, I could never have imagined what this world would be like, yet here I am, in a real and interesting-if imperfect-world. . .But I was taught one doctrine. . .which has always struck me as completely inconsistent with the others. Indeed, much of the ill-will toward the church from outside can be traced to this doctrine, which is still taught in many Christian churches today. There are a very few passages in the New Testament. . .which seem to imply, and are often interpreted to mean, that all non-Christians will be condemned at the final judgment. . .This question is related to one of the great controversies of the church: the issue of salvation by 'faith or works.' On the one hand there are many teachings of Jesus. . .which clearly suggest that we will be judged by our thoughts and actions-by how we treat our neighbor, or whether we love God more than money, for example. . .This sounds fair enough-in fact the problem is that it is too fair! Martin Luther and other protestant reformers, despairing of the hopelessness in trying to be righteous enough to be sure one has earned salvation through good works, discovered and emphasized the many passages in the New Testament which talk of salvation by faith. . .The problem with this is that there are millions of people who have never heard of Jesus, or whose only contact with him has been so superficial, or even negative, that we could hardly expect them to believe. . . I believe the emphasis in the New Testament on faith is not intended to condemn those who, for reasons unrelated to their preference for darkness or light, have not come to faith in Jesus, but rather to assure Martin Luther and the rest of us who have, that if there is just enough of a spark of goodness in us that we are attracted to the light of Jesus' teachings we will be forgiven, no matter how often we fall short of the righteousness we want to obtain. God's grace is so great that if we just prefer the light, we will be saved; but as Paul often reminds us, it is really God's grace that saves us, not our own good works. But if I cannot be blamed for rejecting the light which no missionary has brought to my village, there remains the obvious question: why then should the missionary bother to come? To bring me light!. . .And how much the world needs that light today!. . .

In the great commission, and in many other places in the New Testament, we are told to joyfully share the "good news" with others. Is this the good news, that after all the trials they go through in this life, most of the world is headed--without knowing it--for an even worse place, unless they accept a Savior they have heard little or nothing about? No, I believe the good news shared by the early apostles is not that the world can be saved from a punishment they didn't know awaited them, but that they can be saved from a separation from God that they are well aware of, and that to be reconciled to God they don't have to follow His will perfectly, only to accept His forgiveness. Though the very word "gospel" means "good news", the gospel many churches are trying to spread today is certainly not good news, and Christianity will never set the world on fire again until we start preaching good news again. If we read the Bible like a law book, pouring over each verse looking for a precise formula by which God will judge us, we will find it very confusing. For example, sometimes God's standards seem impossibly high ("Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect"), while sometimes God is portrayed as much less demanding ("Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. . .for my yoke is easy and my burden is light").When a rich young ruler, who had kept all the commandments since his youth, asked "what must I do to inherit eternal life?", Jesus answered, "Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." Yet he said "today you will be with me in paradise" to a thief who first repented of his sins and believed in Jesus as he was dying on the cross next to Jesus. To make sense of the apparently conflicting statements in the New Testament as to what God expects of us, we need to think of Him, not as a judge who is required to administer justice according to some set of rules, but as a loving father. God has high expectations for His children, and sometimes He scolds us or even threatens us for not living up to them. But when we fall short of His standards, and feel badly about it, like a father He comforts us and tells us He still loves us. Jesus clearly taught that there will be a judgment, where those who were evil, and made their brothers' and sisters' lives on Earth unbearable, will be punished in some manner. But in the story of the prodigal son, and in many other teachings, Jesus pictured God as "our Father in heaven", so one thing we can be sure of is that God will not disown any of His children for disobeying a command they did not understand or did not even hear. No parent would do that.

See also John 15:22-24: "[Jesus said] If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father."

Why it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross before God could forgive us our sins has always been difficult for me to understand. . .The Christian message can be condensed to two great themes: law and gospel (good news). Throughout the New Testament we find both law-that God holds out a high standard of behavior before us, and takes our sins very seriously, because they cause others so much pain-and good news-that God understands that we are only human, and is ready and willing to forgive us every time we fall short of this standard. . .We see these two great themes converge in the cross, which is designed to impress upon us both the seriousness of our sins and, at the same time, the love and forgiveness of 'our Father in heaven'.


The Bible

Much of the world seems to gravitate toward either the view that the Bible is just a collection of Hebrew myths, or else the opposite view that every word of it was dictated by God Himself. . .Much of the Bible is firmly rooted in history. . .Many of the events, people and places mentioned in the Bible are also mentioned by secular historians in Israel and in neighboring lands. . . A good commentary on the New Testament will document hundreds of other details recorded in the Gospels which are consistent with what is known from other sources about the customs, people and places of first century Israel. . .Any book on biblical archeology will contain abundant data from extra-biblical sources which confirm narratives in the New Testament and later portions of the Old Testament. . .Yet there are problems. First, there appear to be historical errors. . .[though] it is not impossible that further information might . . .clear up [these] minor conflicts. . .Some of the early stories in the Bible simply sound-to me-more like myths, with perhaps some basis in fact, and perhaps some symbolic meaning, than accurate historical accounts of real events. I doubt, for example, that the story of Adam and Eve was ever intended to be taken as more than an allegory. . .But there is an even more serious. . .level of problems I have with portions of the Bible. There are parts of the Bible, nearly all in the Old Testament, which paint an entirely different picture of God than that painted by Jesus in the Gospels. The most extreme example of this is the story of Saul's battle with the Amalekites, in which he was supposedly told by God to destroy all the men, women, children and animals in Amalek, and in fact he got into trouble for sparing some of them! How can this possibly be the same God as the one compared by Jesus to a loving Father, in the parable of the prodigal son?. . .I believe that in some real sense the writers of the Bible were inspired by God. Yet it is clear to me that God did not write the Bible, nor did He dictate it word for word to human secretaries, but that it was written by ordinary human beings, and therefore necessarily reflects the individual viewpoints and imperfections of these human writers. . .The epistles of Paul and Peter are wonderful aids in our Christian growth, but I doubt that Paul, when he wrote a personal letter to the Corinthians, had any idea that his words would someday be taken to be God's own words (nor did the early church!). . .But knowing that a man who had endured imprisonment, beatings, stonings, and loneliness as a reward for his years of service to God could write 'nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God' gives, I believe, even greater meaning to these words. . .Since the very beginning of the church, Christians have wrestled with the question of Biblical authority, and have come to many different conclusions. Martin Luther said that the books of Esther and Revelations do not belong in the Bible. . .I have to admit that the errors and difficulties in the Bible do disturb me. But. . .the Bible is important because it describes the events leading up to the birth of Jesus, it contains an account of the life and teachings of Jesus, and it describes the establishment and early history of Christ's church. But we must remember that it is Jesus, not the Bible itself, who stands at the center of the Christian faith.


The Problem of Pain

Why do bad things happen to good people?. . .I think most people who claim not to believe in God, say this not because of any shortage of evidence for design in Nature, but because it is sometimes so hard to see evidence that God cares about us, and they prefer not to believe in God at all, than to believe in a God who doesn't care. . . A wonderful little article. . .by Batsell Barrett Baxter, entitled "Is God Really Good?", contains some insights into the 'problem of pain', as C.S. Lewis calls it. . .Baxter lists some examples of blessings which have, as inevitable consequences, unhappy side effects. None of these points is likely to make suffering in its severest forms any easier to accept, and we may be left wondering whether these blessings are worth the high cost. But I believe they do point us in the right direction, and at least explain why our world is not perfect. . . If [God] were to walk out onto the stage, and take on a more active and visible role, I suppose He could clean up our act, and rid the world of pain and evil-and doubt. But our human drama would be turned into a divine puppet show, and it would cost us some of our greatest blessings: the regularity of natural law which makes our achievements meaningful; the free will which makes us more interesting than robots; the love which we can receive from and give to others; and even the opportunity to grow and develop through suffering. I must confess that I often wonder if the blessings are worth the terrible price, but God has chosen to create a world where both good and evil can flourish, rather than one where neither can exist. He has chosen to create a world of greatness and infamy, of love and hatred, and of joy and pain, rather than one of mindless robots or unfeeling puppets.


References