October 18, 2017

Adam and the Genome 8: Chapter 4- What About Intelligent Design?

Adam and the Genome 8: Chapter 4- What About Intelligent Design?

We continue our review of the book, Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight . Today, Chapter 4.

In the late 1990s, Dennis was a PhD student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, studying genetics and development.  Amazingly, his antievolutionary views were still intact.  One very pro-evolutionary professor maintained a bulletin board he called the “Crackpot’s Corner”.  Through that board Dennis became aware of Michael Behe’s book “Darwin’s Black Box” and Behe’s notion of “irreducible complexity”.  Behe gave the definition as:

By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional. An irreducibly complex biological system, if there is such a thing, would be a powerful challenge to Darwinian evolution.

Dennis found Behe’s argument straightforward and compelling.  There are many biochemical features of cells where numerous components are required to work to together to perform a function.  Take away one part, and the system no longer works. Therefore Dennis thought such systems were beyond the ability of evolution to produce in the first place.  They must have been directly created.  However, even Behe included one caveat:

Even if a system is irreducibly complex (and thus cannot have been produced directly), however, one cannot definitively rule out the possibility of an indirect, circuitous route. As the complexity of an interacting system increases, though, the likelihood of such an indirect route drops precipitously. And as the number of unexplained, irreducibly complex biological systems increases, our confidence that Darwin’s criterion of failure has been met skyrockets toward the maximum that science allows.

Often the eye is cited as an irreducible complex organ, and of course, the bacterial flagellum; which figured prominently in the Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. trial.  That was the first direct challenge brought in the United States federal courts testing a public school district policy that required the teaching of intelligent design.

Behe also published a second book in 2007, “The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism.”  Again, Behe argued that there are structures that cannot be produced by successive slight modifications.  They must arise as unit or direct manufacture, or special creation.  Behe’s arguments for design are probability arguments. If the successive slight steps are too improbable then the most probable explanation is not evolution but design.

Dennis then gives a complicated and highly technical demonstration of how a new gene arose in the genome of Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly; something that according to the irreducible complexity argument shouldn’t be able to have happened.  I’m not going to reproduce the argument here; you can buy the book or look online at the Biologos blog for a series of posts Dennis wrote that explain it.  Relieved, aren’t you?

Dennis then gives a second example of how the lineage leading to present day vertebrates experienced gene duplication en masse through what is known as “whole genome duplication event” (WGD).  A study was conducted comparing human genes to sea squirts (animals that are chordates but not vertebrates) and puffer fish for which all three species have the entire genome sequenced.  Dennis says:

The results of the study were dramatic: this subset of human genes is arranged in four groupings in the pattern predicted by the two WGD events.  In contrast, when the researchers looked at duplicated human genes not shared with sea squirts, they found that these paralogs (paralogs are genes related by duplication within a genome) were adjacent to each other on chromosomes, consistent with small duplications.  Therefore, the evidence strongly supports the hypothesis that many human paralogs are the result of two WGD events deep in our lineage’s past, but that some are the result of more recent, small duplications within the chromosomes.  

And here’s the rub: we know that these paralogs, whether recent or ancient, have greatly diverged from each other and acquired new functions.  Moreover, many of those functions are now absolutely essential for vertebrates.  If Behe’s argument is correct, none of this should have been possible.

A second major argument from the ID movement is that new biological information cannot be produced by evolutionary mechanisms.  In other words, evolution can affect change in existing structures but is incapable of producing new information.  This is put forth mainly by Stephen Meyer, whose proposition is that evolution cannot account for “specified complex information” we observe in living systems, and that ID is the only known cause for that information.  As such he argues, that ID is the best explanation for the information we observe in DNA.  One major argument within ID in general, and Meyer’s works in particular, is that stable, functional protein folds are exceedingly rare—so rare, the argument goes, that evolution is incapable of producing new ones.  In spite of Meyer’s arguments, however, geneticists have determined numerous mechanisms by which new genes and new functions come into being.

Two of the examples of new functions coming into being are the nylon-eating bacteria and the bacteria-evolved ability to grow aerobically on citrate in the Lenski experiments.  In 1975 a team of Japanese scientists discovered a strain of Flavobacterium, living in ponds containing waste water from a nylon factory, which was capable of digesting certain byproducts of nylon manufacture. These substances are not known to have existed before the invention of nylon in 1935.  Not forty years after the introduction of nylon into the environment, we observe complex, specified biological information devoted to utilizing it.  Moreover, we can observe from the features of this information that it was easily produced through a well-known and probable series of mutation events.  The other example is from the Lenski experiments that have tracked genomic changes in E-coli over 25 years and some 50,000 generations.   Lenski and his colleagues concluded that the evolution of the citrate function in this one population arose due to one or more, earlier, possibly non-adaptive, “potentiating” mutations that increased the rate of mutation to an accessible level. The data suggested that citrate usage involved at least two mutations subsequent to these “potentiating” mutations.  In other words, complex specified information arose through evolutionary mechanisms.

“Over the course of my personal journey away from ID, I came to an uncomfortable conclusion: ID seemed strong only where there was a lack of relevant evidence.  Though ID proponents strenuously deny the charge, I came to view ID as a God-of-the-gaps argument… Moreover, as I reflected on what the Scripture says about creation, I came to view ID as counter to its witness.  In Romans 1 Paul declares that observing creation bespeaks a creator.  This was something that any first-century individual could observe and deduce, though they be Jew or gentile, slave or free.  Importantly, Paul was not speaking to unexplained features of the created order, but rather to its functional integrity and glory.  The idea that one would need a DNA sequencer or an electron microscope to discover unexplained phenomena and thereby declare the cosmos as the work of the Creator is far removed from what Paul is saying.  Creation reveals the Creator, and we are without excuse.  Learning more about how that creation works only deepens our wonder.  To paraphrase Bonhoeffer, Paul calls us to see God in what we know, not in what we don’t know—and as science reveals ever more about creation, we know more and more about how God chose to bring his creation into being.”

I am inclined to agree with Dennis, here.  Too many Christians view evolution and design as opposites.  If it evolved, God’s not involved.  Evolution is a way atheistic scientists explain away God so they don’t have to acknowledge him.  After all, Richard Dawkins famously said: “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”.  Dennis’ point is that why couldn’t evolution be God’s chosen design to bring biodiversity to the earth.  You never hear Christians griping about embryonic development as atheistic.  If they can accept a natural biologic process was the means of creating them personally, then why not a natural biologic process to create the species as a whole?

Still, I admit I was intrigued by the ID movement for a time.  Part of the problem with theistic evolution is that it tends to be long on the evolution part and short on the theistic part.
There used to be a number on commenters in the early days of Biologos that took them to task for this.  One of the critics was Jon Garvey, a medical doctor in the UK.  Jon still blogs at The Hump of the Camel .  Lots of food for thought on Jon’s blog.

To Biologos’ credit, they took that criticism to heart.  It is part of the reason they coined the term “evolutionary creationist”.   As they now say in their “What We Believe” section:

“We believe that God created the universe, the earth, and all life over billions of years. God continues to sustain the existence and functioning of the natural world, and the cosmos continues to declare the glory of God. Therefore, we reject ideologies such as Deism that claim the universe is self-sustaining, that God is no longer active in the natural world, or that God is not active in human history.”

The ID movement to their credit were trying to suss out the degree to which God sustains the world through the natural laws.  How much “tinkering” is God required to do?  That question has been around at least since Leibniz took Newton to task for asserting God “tinkered’ with the orbits of the stars, comets, and planets:

“Sir Isaac Newton and his followers have also a very odd opinion concerning the work of God. According to their doctrine, God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion.”

Leibniz, first letter to his friend Caroline of Ansbach, in Alexander 1956, p. 11

Biologos also states in that same section:

“We believe that God typically sustains the world using faithful, consistent processes that humans describe as “natural laws.” Yet we also affirm that God works outside of natural law in supernatural events, including the miracles described in Scripture. In both natural and supernatural ways, God continues to be directly involved in creation and in human history.”

That’s a great statement, and I fully agree with it.  But it does raise the question; how do we know that is true?  The natural laws we examine by use of methodological naturalism i.e. we do science.  But go back up to Dennis’ quote above: “Moreover, as I reflected on what the Scripture says about creation, I came to view ID as counter to its witness.  In Romans 1 Paul declares that observing creation bespeaks a creator.”  How do we examine and affirm the miracles, the supernatural direct involvement of God in creation and human history.  What is the real apologetic?  Well, oddly enough, I agree with Behe and ID; it’s a probability argument.

I find the Anthropic Principle, or “Fine Tuning” persuasive.  The observation that life would not be possible anywhere in the universe if the values of various physical constants differed by small amounts.  I know most atheists and skeptics and not a few Christians don’t find it persuasive, but I do.  Bear with me; let’s look at a “Poker Analogy”.  Suppose I take a deck of cards; I tell you that unless I shuffle them and deal you a royal flush of hearts (one try) you’ll die– and then I do just that…  The way I see it is that there are 3 competing explanations:

  1. If I didn’t deal that way, you’d be dead, and we wouldn’t be talking about it, so no big deal.
  2. There are an infinite number of universes, in most of them you died, but there is an infinitely large subset in which you lived.
  3. The dealer cheated so that you would live.

Most skeptics hold to the first two—I hold to the third as the most probable explanation.

Here’s another: Carbon is made inside stars. How? Nuclear Fusion. One way:

He4 + He4 + He4 → C12

Unlikely (3 He have to meet.) Another way:

Step 1:    He4 + He4 → Be8
Step 2:    He4 + Be8 → C12
Better, but the rate for the 2nd step is too low, unless… Fred Hoyle (an atheist) made an anthropic argument. We’re here, so somehow C12 gets produced. What would help is an unknown energy level of Carbon.  Hoyle predicted the level on the basis that we are here. The state was later discovered.  Hoyle also reported that his atheism was “greatly shaken” by the discovery that carbon just manages to form and then just avoids complete conversion into oxygen.

“A superintellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as the chemistry and biology.”  (Fred Hoyle, Astrophysicist, The Universe: Past and Present Reflections”, Ann. Rev. Ast. and Astrophys. 20, 1982, p. 16.)
Testify, Brother Fred, testify, uhhhh huh… can I get a witness?

Speaking of witness; what about the resurrection?  It is attested in four, count ‘em, four historical documents as well as the letters of Paul.  Not good enough for you?  The resurrection from the dead is so improbable that almost any other explanation is considered more likely, you say?  But what is the probability of explaining the actions of the apostles and the first Christians in another way?   Many will die for what they believe to be true; who is willing to die for what they know to be a lie?  The probability sword cuts both ways.  Many reputable historians, not even Christian, acknowledge that the apostles and early disciples sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them.  That belief was the most probable explanation for their behavior.  Historical verification is a regression to the most probable explanation.  I think the apostles were probably right.  And I accept the unbroken testimony of the Church from the beginning to today as truth.

But what about you, today, Mike?  Are you just a “fideist”?  Well, let me tell you two stories.  The first is the story of my friend, Tara Hendrickson.  Tara had kidney disease.  It was killing her.  She is a Christian, and prayed for healing; but it didn’t seem to come.  She had one kidney removed.  Then the remaining kidney started to fail.  She was put on the waiting list for a replacement, but it was obvious it wasn’t going to come in time.  She was at a church service being conducted by a visiting minister with a reputation for healing gifts; but she didn’t go up for prayer.  She was tired and sick and ready for death to take her.  Then the minister said, “There’s somebody here who’s given up and is ready to die; but the Lord wants to you to trust him just one more time.”  So she went up and was prayed for.  She felt better, the remaining kidney seemed to be working, then she felt better still, she went to her doctor and he did a CT scan and she had TWO, count ‘em, TWO functional kidneys. Here is an excerpt of the letter from her doctor:

If you email Chaplain Mike and request it, he’ll send you the complete pdf file.  So, let me ask you, what’s the probability there is some other explanation other than a miracle?  Did she naturally grow a new kidney?  Can you look a miracle in the face and still doubt?  Sure you can.  Didn’t Jesus say, in Luke 16:30-31 “And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.  And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”  How about Matthew 28:16-17, “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.  And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.”  

Story number two.  In July of 2005 I had an intestinal obstruction; basically nothing was passing and the pipes were backing up, so to speak.  I went to the ER and was admitted.  They put an NG tube down my nose into my stomach (God, how I hate that procedure!!) and kept me pumped out.  After 3 days I seemed to get better so they sent me home.  I walked around for a whole year feeling run down and poorly most of the time.  The next summer the obstruction returned and I went back to the hospital, same damn NG tube again.  They ran a CT scan and the surgeon said my appendix looked “funny” (exact quote) and he wanted to take it out.  Well, after four hours of surgery, I came to and found out my appendix had burst—A YEAR AGO!!  Yeah, I walked around for a year with an untreated burst appendix.  So you tell me, what’s the probability that I would contract sepsis and die vs. the probability that I would survive?  Lucky break?  Remarkable coincidence?

Oh, one more thing.  I used to ride with a Christian motorcycle group; we’d do jail and prison ministry.  We had some friends in north Georgia that did a similar thing.  Sometimes, on labor-day weekend, we’d take a trip through the Smokies and visit them.  The leader of that church in Georgia also did prison ministry and he would publish a newsletter for the inmates he ministered to.  I told him my story and he published it in his newsletter.  A women incarcerated in the Georgia State prison for women told him, after reading that newsletter, that she was awakened one night in her cell in July 2005 and she said Jesus told her to pray for “Michael” who was having “stomach trouble”.  Coincidence? A women in a prison in Georgia, a man in a hospital in Indiana.  What’s the probability that she had the name, the symptoms, and the time right?

So here’s what I think.  I think the fact we have evolved a mind that comprehends the vastness and majesty of this universe, a mind that ponders the mystery of this existence, the existence of God, and we argue about God and speculate and wonder.  That we are living beings that love, and have art and music, and we reason and that reason provides us with a true view of reality… all that to me is prima facie evidence that we and the universe we inhabit were intelligently designed.  That we are here and we comprehend it is the apologetic.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

He is Risen.

He is Risen, Indeed.

• • •

Other posts in the series:

Comments

  1. Burro [Mule] says:

    There are times that I think we are looking for God in all the wrong places. The Immanent God, He who “is everywhere and fillest all things”, gets little or no press in the American religious consciousness, or what’s left of it. The Transcendent God, the One who is too Holy, or too Just, or too Ontological, but at any rate too Separate from His Creation, created the Universe like a carpenter makes a table, using His brains and His hands, differing from us only in that He had deeper brains and more dexterous hands. It never dawns on us that the wood may have leapt to the task to partake in it, that He was in the wood. Wood is wood, after all. It has no agency, does it? Does it?

    I love reading science, well, popularized science, science ratcheted down a few notches. When I do, I always come away believing in God more than previously, but that He is less like the God who was presented to me in the first 50 years of my life than He is like a caterpillar or a gazelle.

    There are times when I think I am a barely-converted Hindu with an Orthodox varnish.

  2. Ok let me play Devil’s advocate, pardon the awful pun.

    1. The mechanisms identified by evolutionary theory that result in observable biological diversity are by their very definition undirected and unpurposeful processes. That’s the point. Natural selection as a mechanism doesn’t require interference. (This is Dawkins’ actual point.) If we have some intuition that there is divine intervention at any point in the process we have the obligation to demonstrate how that would actually work. If we relegate the intervention to initiating the process and then not interfering we also have the same obligation.

    2. Have we thought about what it really means to say that God used evolution as a creative mechanism? Evolution is an appallingly wasteful, death filled, suffering filled process. Death and suffering are not bugs in the program; they are features of the program, inherent in the process. Even as we chat so enjoyably, all around us the rapacious maw of life survives by consuming itself. As is repeatedly pointed out, 98% of all species that have ever lived are extinct including several other species of hominin. This is an intentional plan?

    3. This universe is fine tuned for life? Really? As far as we know life only exists on one planet in this entire universe. It looks to be the exception rather than the rule.

    4. Sincere belief says nothing about the truth of your beliefs. Are the jihadi suicide bombers sincere? If they are does that prove that their version of Islam is true?

    5. I’m pleased for your medical outcome but if you had died would that have been proof that God didn’t exist?

    6. I agree that the most profound philosophical question is, ‘why is the universe amenable to our understanding?’ It is not obvious why this should be so; presumably all the animals but us seem to thrive without writing sonnets or doing philosophy. But it may just be the way things are. Maybe there is no real answer. The real answer is that we don’t know.

    Now I need to pull these horns off before they stick. But it’ll be days before this red paint washes off.

    • Good musings. Most would probably be best discussed over a brew somewhere rather than here on a open board where nuances in tone and such wouldn’t be misinterpreted.

      That said…

      Regarding #3. Maybe a better way of saying it is, “We’re fine tuned for life.”

      And I have to believe the God of Creation, assuming He exists, has many, many other areas teeming with life, unless we’re as much as He can (or wants) to handle.

      Regarding #4. An acquaintance of mine continues to tout Trump as “The most truthful president we’ve ever had.” When I question him about what he means by that, he replies (and I kid you not), “He boldly speaks the truth! He tells what he believes in his heart and mind to be true!”

      I kindly point out that isn’t “truth,” that’s only strong opinion and belief. Just because I jump up and down and boldly proclaim 1+1=3 doesn’t make it truth.

      So many people don’t understand the difference. It’s crazy.

      • …best discussed over a brew somewhere …

        Exactly. Hope to take you up on it someday. But this here place is the next best thing.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          “…this here place is the next best thing.”

          Yes, it is!! Which is amazing, considering most places that discuss religion aren’t. Which then makes me think that this here place pretty much remains as Michael Spencer intended, focused on Jesus-shaped spirituality.

    • Stephen: your very pushback went through my mind as I wrote this post. It deserved a serious response. Unfortunately, I’m at work… so I only have time for flippant 🙂

      1. The mechanisms identified by evolutionary theory that result in observable biological diversity are by their very definition undirected and unpurposeful processes.

      And yet here we are, discussing purpose and meaning. How’d that happen?

      2. (Evolution) Life is an appallingly wasteful, death filled, suffering filled process. Death and suffering are not bugs in the program; they are features of the program, inherent in the process. There, fixed that for ya.
      This is an intentional plan? Apparently so.

      3. This universe is fine tuned for life? Really? As far as we know life only exists on one planet in this entire universe. It looks to be the exception rather than the rule. The dealer cheated (see analogy in post).

      4. Sincere belief says nothing about the truth of your beliefs. Are the jihadi suicide bombers sincere? If they are does that prove that their version of Islam is true? I said plenty of people are willing to die for what they believe to be true. Who do you know that would die for what they KNEW to be a lie?

      5. I’m pleased for your medical outcome but if you had died would that have been proof that God didn’t exist? But I didn’t die. How’d that happen?

      6. I agree that the most profound philosophical question is, ‘why is the universe amenable to our understanding?’ It is not obvious why this should be so; presumably all the animals but us seem to thrive without writing sonnets or doing philosophy. But it may just be the way things are. Maybe there is no real answer. The real answer is that we don’t know. Like I said, it’s a probability question. Roll your dice and take your chances, Pascal… uhhh… I mean Stephen.

      • Some quick responses to your quick responses while I have the red paint on.

        1. The fact that we are still arguing over this question in 2017 reveals there are no obvious answers. We must not settle for the easy explanation when the hard explanation might be the right one.

        2. Apparently? Many have interpreted the contingent, probabilistic nature of reality to mean just the opposite.

        3. But your first task is establish that the dealer exists. You might be playing solitaire.

        4. But what if they believed it was true and didn’t know it was a lie? (Of course this raises the issue of what exactly it is they “knew to be true”.)

        5.I’m glad you didn’t die. But other people are not so lucky. How do you respond when their family member asks you why you’re so special?

        6. I prefer the “I don’t know” response. Because when we say it, it is the truest thing we will ever say.

        • Mike the Geologist says:

          Stephen: some Bonaventure for you (courtesy of Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation)

          1. The fact that we are still arguing over this question in 2017 reveals there are no obvious answers. We must not settle for the easy explanation when the hard explanation might be the right one.
          Therefore, open your eyes, alert the ears of your spirit, open your lips and apply your heart so that in all creatures you may see, hear, praise, love and worship, glorify and honor your God

          2. Apparently? Many have interpreted the contingent, probabilistic nature of reality to mean just the opposite.
          God is within all things but not enclosed; outside all things, but not excluded; above all things, but not aloof; below all things, but not debased.

          3. But your first task is establish that the dealer exists. You might be playing solitaire.
          Therefore the origin, magnitude, multitude, beauty, fullness, activity, and order of all created things are the very “footprints” and “fingerprints” of God.

          4. But what if they believed it was true and didn’t know it was a lie? (Of course this raises the issue of what exactly it is they “knew to be true”.)
          Whoever, therefore, is not enlightened by such splendor of created things is blind; whoever is not awakened by such outcries is deaf; whoever does not praise God because of all these effects is dumb; whoever does not discover the First Principle from such signs is a fool.

          5. I’m glad you didn’t die. But other people are not so lucky. How do you respond when their family member asks you why you’re so special?
          Romans 12:15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

          6. I prefer the “I don’t know” response. Because when we say it, it is the truest thing we will ever say.
          The magnitude of things . . . clearly manifests . . . the wisdom and goodness of the triune God, who by power, presence and essence exists uncircumscribed in all things.

          • Really? This is your serious response? Honestly, I’m disappointed.

            • Like I said earlier, best discussed over a brew. Otherwise, conversations like this devolve.

              • I’m sorry to disappoint you, I still thought we were still being flippant and a 13th century mystic who was a contemporary of Francis of Assisi was an amusing answer to “debating for centuries”. And it was Richard Rohr’s post for the same morning. But, OK, you want serious…

                1. The mechanisms identified by evolutionary theory that result in observable biological diversity are by their very definition undirected and unpurposeful processes. That’s the point. Natural selection as a mechanism doesn’t require interference. (This is Dawkins’ actual point.) If we have some intuition that there is divine intervention at any point in the process we have the obligation to demonstrate how that would actually work. If we relegate the intervention to initiating the process and then not interfering we also have the same obligation.

                This is simply the “hiddenness” of God question. Where did he intervene? He became one of us. You don’t believe it, well too bad for you, it IS the answer. And I gave you a modern example of His intervention in Tara’s story. Want to look a miracle in the face and still disbelieve—well you are in good company: Matthew 28:16-17 even some of the apostles were still wrestling with it.

                2. Have we thought about what it really means to say that God used evolution as a creative mechanism? Evolution is an appallingly wasteful, death filled, suffering filled process. Death and suffering are not bugs in the program; they are features of the program, inherent in the process. Even as we chat so enjoyably, all around us the rapacious maw of life survives by consuming itself. As is repeatedly pointed out, 98% of all species that have ever lived are extinct including several other species of hominin. This is an intentional plan?

                This is the issue of theodicy restated in evolutionary terms. Still the best argument for atheism there is. But theodicy is not only an issue for the theist, the atheist must account for it as well. Why the perception of injustice? Where and how does that perception arise? Atheism cannot explain the existence of evil. Atheism cannot solve the problem of evil. Stalemate.

                3. This universe is fine tuned for life? Really? As far as we know life only exists on one planet in this entire universe. It looks to be the exception rather than the rule.

                Even a hard-boiled atheist as Kraus recognized the fine-tuning issue. “Our current understanding of gravity and quantum mechanics says that empty space should have about 120 orders of magnitude more energy than the amount we measure it to have. That is 1 with 120 zeroes after it! How to reduce the amount it has by such a huge magnitude, without making it precisely zero, is a complete mystery. Among physicists, this is considered the worst fine-tuning problem in physics.” Lawrence Krauss, Cosmologist, Sci. Am., Aug. 2004, pp. 83-84.
                But, of course, he wasn’t convinced, but, then, as Dan Jepsen pointed out down-thread, it did convince Anthony Flew. It is ultimately a matter of personal perspective that says more about you and your life experiences than it does about the actual problem. You see and are impressed, you don’t see it and remain unimpressed.

                4. Sincere belief says nothing about the truth of your beliefs. Are the jihadi suicide bombers sincere? If they are does that prove that their version of Islam is true?

                Thanks for you and Goat-boy for missing my point. The point had NOTHING to do with sincerity of belief. It is a historical point I was making. The early disciples believed Jesus rose from the dead… period. It wasn’t a later accretion, they believed it from the get go. Why? Maybe they saw something and tried to tell the rest of us. That is a valid and distinct possibility.

                5. I’m pleased for your medical outcome but if you had died would that have been proof that God didn’t exist?

                Missing the point again. I didn’t die and I should have. Oh—and that little riff about the women in a Georgia prison: that takes it out of the realm of lucky coincidence, for me at least. And Tara’s story? You think that’s a God-of-the-gaps argument? Really? Seriously? Matthew 28:16-17.

                6. I agree that the most profound philosophical question is, ‘why is the universe amenable to our understanding?’ It is not obvious why this should be so; presumably all the animals but us seem to thrive without writing sonnets or doing philosophy. But it may just be the way things are. Maybe there is no real answer. The real answer is that we don’t know.

                The real answer is: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. There is a teleos to our intellect. It is meant to come to a conclusion. I’m going with C.S. Lewis here. The use of the intellect for endless speculation is no more related to its true purpose than marriage is to masturbation. One is a joyous union that results in the conception that brings ultimate joy. The other has no end in mind other than stimulation to selfish pleasure. Time to take the paint off—I recommend alcohol, liberally applied inside and out. I’m buying.

            • SottoVoce says:

              I’m disappointed, too. You’re a scientist. You should be able to come up with more than prettily worded wishful thinking to questions like these.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > 2. (Evolution) Life is an appallingly wasteful,

        Disagree. What is being wasted?

    • 2. Have we thought about what it really means to say that God used evolution as a creative mechanism? Evolution is an appallingly wasteful, death filled, suffering filled process. Death and suffering are not bugs in the program; they are features of the program, inherent in the process. Even as we chat so enjoyably, all around us the rapacious maw of life survives by consuming itself. As is repeatedly pointed out, 98% of all species that have ever lived are extinct including several other species of hominin. This is an intentional plan?

      Stephen, whether it’s God’s intentional plan from the beginning—weaving evolution into the process of creation—or a matter of ongoing nature, it’s all under God’s sovereignty. God is ultimately responsible for what goes on, wasteful, death-filled, suffering-filled though it may be.

      If we can’t ignore God’s role in the present cruelty of nature, how can we deny that he could have used this process in the past, forming his creation? It’s a question of the goodness of God as much as it is about creation and evolution.

      • I’m not denying that God could have used the evolutionary process. I’m asking what does such a use tell us about Him? As opposed to what we’re always told about Him?

        • That’s an excellent question, and pretty much what I was getting at. What does it say about the goodness of God, one of his attributes that theologians agree upon? How do we define “goodness?” Is equilibrium in nature, natural selection, within the bounds of his goodness?

          I insist that big fish have eaten little fish since fish were created by God, and God looked upon that and called it good. Some say no, fish have eaten fish only since the fall of Adam and Eve, that that is one of the effects of sin and the fall. I don’t think that’s necessary to belief in a good God. He’s good whether creatures have been designed to eat other creatures since the beginning, or merely allowed to eat each other since the fall. It’s in his sovereign will either way, and the buck (whether good or bad) stops with him.

          Should we call God bad if he designed it that way, but good although he allows it now? That makes God subject to his own creation, or to historical events like the fall. If creatures eating creatures is inherently bad yet God allows it as a result of the fall, does that mean God becomes bad after the fall, or perhaps that God is not all-powerful? It’s the old theodicy problem.

          I’m stickin’ with a good God, all-powerful God, and calling natural selection part of his sovereign and good plan.

          But let’s not talk about the Holocaust here. That discussion gets messy.

          • Robert F says:

            Let’s not talk about the Holocaust; you’re right, too messy. Let’s talk about whether big fish Trump and his Cabinet eating small fry citizens unable to protect themselves from deregulation is part of God’s sovereign and good plan; or leukemia cells killing a small child is; or an animal slowly dying of starvation and cold during a frozen winter is; or etc. All pretty messy, too, I’m afraid. Many things make we wish I could go over to the Gnostics/Manicheans, if only it would get me away from Nobodaddy.

        • Robert F says:

          As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport… The evolutionary process can reasonably be interpreted to tell us this about God, if it’s telling us anything at all concerning the subject. If God or the gods exist, perhaps we are no more to him or them than chickens waiting for slaughter in one of our industrial chicken farms, or gamecocks waiting to be set loose to fight each other for the delight of the crowd.

          I try to keep my eyes fastened on Jesus Christ and his cross when these thoughts torment me, but sometimes it’s not enough in the face of the horror this world contains, all of it punctuated by extinction and death….

    • 3. This universe is fine tuned for life? Really? As far as we know life only exists on one planet in this entire universe.

      You’re correct when you say “as far as we know.” But t ain’t very far, and they’re still workin’ on it. Stay tuned. 🙂

    • Daniel Jepsen says:

      Re:3. I recently picked up a book by Anthony Flew, whose name will be familiar to anyone who has studied philosophy. Flew was arguably the most effective proponent of atheism in the last 100 years. He penned dozens of books, especially in the areas of logic and the philosophy of religion, and has more anti-theistic titles to his name than any other philosopher. His paper, Theology and Falsification, was the most widely reprinted article in philosophy in the 20th century.

      Anyway you may know that he turned away from atheism and published a book in 2007 titled, There is a God. He also wrote other papers about his change of position. The book is a good read. It mostly tells his story and why he changed his mind. Primarily it was based on the probability arguments of intelligent design and teleology (in particular the fine-tuning argument).

      • –> “Primarily it was based on the probability arguments of intelligent design and teleology (in particular the fine-tuning argument).”

        Like I’ve said elsewhere, you either believe in the magic of God or you believe in the magic of Time. Either way, you’re believing in something that requires a bit of a leap. The probability arguments tend to lead me toward God rather than away from Him, though I can see why others might think otherwise.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Whatever the Intelligent Design movement started out as (I say a corollary of Natural Theology, more a philosophical underpinning of science), these days it’s become a coat of camouflage paint for Young Earth Creationism, nothing more. Jack Chick’s “Big Daddy” with a more Sciency veneer than Ken Ham’s.

    1) If I didn’t deal that way, you’d be dead, and we wouldn’t be talking about it, so no big deal.
    2) There are an infinite number of universes, in most of them you died, but there is an infinitely large subset in which you lived.
    3) The dealer cheated so that you would live.

    Most skeptics hold to the first two—I hold to the third as the most probable explanation.

    Even though all three explanations could be true? I don’t see anything in any one of them that would automatically eliminate the others. (1) is a subset of (2), and (3) answers “Why?” instead of “How?”, a purpose behind the mechanics.

    Better, but the rate for the 2nd step is too low, unless… Fred Hoyle (an atheist) made an anthropic argument. We’re here, so somehow C12 gets produced. What would help is an unknown energy level of Carbon.  Hoyle predicted the level on the basis that we are here. The state was later discovered.

    According to Gould, Hoyle had quite a reputation in the scientific community for proposing outrageous and contrary theories and daring everyone to “Prove Fred Wrong”. A LOT of research into astronomy and cosmology was fueled by “Prove Fred Wrong”.

  4. Good stuff, Mike. And again, I appreciate your sense of humor sprinkled throughout your posts.

    Regarding God using evolution as the creative process…
    I’ve shared this thought before, and since it’s semi-pertinent I’ll share it again. If we are to believe each and every one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made and He knows the hairs on our heads and each of us, individually, has been created exactly as He wanted us to be created, then…

    Do we realize the patience and the “evolutionary process” required for that?! That required God somehow matching my mom and dad up to create the genetic stuff that made me, and it required THEIR moms and dads to link up to create the genetic stuff that made THEM, and it required THEIR moms and dads to link up and create the genetic stuff that made THEM…and so on, and so on, and so on…

    And as I think about THAT, it seems God is a really patient God for sure, and if the way He formed ME took thousands of years of specific matches…well, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that He might’ve taken a similar semi-evolutionary process create all of life.

  5. Richard Hershberger says:

    The argument that new biological information cannot be produced by evolutionary mechanisms is merely the genetic-level version of the older argument about complex structures such as eyes. The argument is always the same: “I cannot think of a way for this to happen without direction. Therefore: God.” While we sit and way for someone smarter to demonstrate how the phenomenon can happen without direction, we can contemplate the unpersuasiveness of “I can’t figure this out” as an argument.

    You know how sometimes someone puts forward an argument, and includes the assertion that he has considered and refuted every possible objection, which he proceeds to list? I invariably find myself waiting in vain for any mention of the various objections that immediately came to mind.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      “The argument is always the same: “I cannot think of a way for this to happen without direction. Therefore: God.” While we sit and way for someone smarter to demonstrate how the phenomenon can happen without direction, we can contemplate the unpersuasiveness of “I can’t figure this out” as an argument.”

      I’d like to be the gadfly and, without going into other potential explanations, point out that this goes for all seemingly miraculous events as well.

      Sorry.

  6. “Their testimony is worthless.” No, you are wrong. They are accurate enough historical documents. Believe their witness. Repent and believe the gospel and be saved.

    • Repent and believe the gospel and be saved.

      Honest question: what does that even mean anymore. I know more of what it means in 1st century Palestinian than nowadays.

      • Stuart: to a certain extent I was just being snarky with Goat-boy. His insufferable “the documents weren’t written by the named authors” and “they were written much later and redacted” and “read some critical scholarship” because you are such an unsophisticated rube, blah blah blah. I hear his voice as the character David Ogden Stiers played on MASH. Anyway, don’t over complicate it. Jesus didn’t say figure it out empirically. Pistis can mean believe, trust, and give allegiance. So love God, who you can’t see by loving your neighbor who you can see. Do your best not to be an asshole. Share your stuff. The Methodists have a great saying: Do all the good to you can, to all the people you can, in all the ways you can.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      –> “They are accurate enough historical documents.”

      In fact, there are more documents and witness accounts of Jesus’ three years than of many historical events that are regarded to be true and historically accurate. (Some of Alexander the Great’s battles and life, for one.)

    • SottoVoce says:

      Citation please.

  7. >> I’m not going to reproduce the argument here; you can buy the book or look online at the Biologos blog for a series of posts Dennis wrote that explain it. Relieved, aren’t you?

    Greatly so. That loud clanging noise you heard a bit ago was my ears slamming shut in the first half of today’s post. I don’t care if it’s evolutionary theory, penal substitution theory, or a two-year sign-up with Direct TV, I recognize when someone is trying to sell me something by the very fact that they are having to argue to convince me. Clang! Some people actually enjoy this as a sport.

    Since I can’t look at my eye very well, I’ll look at my hand to convince me of intelligent design, not necessarily by an old man with a long beard and a big tub of Play Doh, or I can just look out my window. The one example of the bacteria adapting to a nylon diet is evidence enough for me that evolution is a basic fact of life, but lacking that I can just look back over my life. Neither one of these evolutionary processes involved random selection as the driving mechanism as far as I can see, as if the Universe was a giant crap shoot. Whatever the arguments, I enjoyed the last part of the article with Mike’s own beliefs and opinions and experiences. I’m always interested in what other people believe and why, but when it crosses the line into what is and why I need to believe it, clang! There’s that big noise again.

    What I don’t understand is that if a hundred people are standing on a bridge between Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas, and you tell them that there is a treasure that is going to be divided up in Omaha, Nebraska, and you hand them a map, ninety of those people will start walking eastward asking where Intellectual Road is. It’s not like you can’t get to Omaha from Kansas City by walking east, but it sure takes a lot longer.

    • You cannot get to Omaha from Kansas City by walking east. If you walk east long enough you will eventually wind up back in Kansas City again, but you will never, never, never make it to Omaha unless you make a shift to the northeast, resume your eastward journey, and repeat until you reach Omaha’s latitude. So much for Intellectual Road.

  8. Dana Ames says:

    Goatsy,

    Here’s some critical scholarship in the humanities:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay_Db4RwZ_M

    The scholars referred to in the title of the video are non-believers. As far as I know, they still don’t believe, but they can no longer deny certain things.

    Dana

  9. You know, it’s no wonder YECs cherry pick quotes and opinions and science posts from decades or centuries ago in order to prove their ‘gotcha’ points: it’s consistent with their hermeneutic that words once written down cannot be altered and are always for all times eternally binding and true.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      Also, context is irrelevant. Any snippet of text stands on its own, without reference to what came before or goes after.

  10. You cannot get to Omaha from Kansas City by walking east. If you walk east long enough, you will eventually wind up back in Kansas City, but you will never, never, never reach Omaha unless you make one or more strategic shifts to the northeast on your ever-eastward journey and stop remember to stop making them once you have reached Omaha’s latitude. That is the only way will you ever get to Omaha. Forget about trying to find Intellectual Road.

    • Rhymes, I suppose next you are going to tell me it is impossible to go around the world in 80 days. From your detailed instructions on how to get to Omaha by heading east it sounds to me like you are speaking from experience. My only experience in this matter was walking fifteen miles one night in the rain carrying a heavy duffle from the outskirts of Kansas City, Kansas, to the outskirts of Kansas City, Missouri, where I could start hitchhiking again. I walked by Harry Truman’s house as it was getting light but didn’t stop to say hello. This was back in the 60’s before I knew about Omaha.

      • Of course it is possible to go around the world in 80 days. Sooner, even. I am not living in the 19th century, or even the 20th, in spite of what you think, Charles. It’s just that sometimes your arguments make no sense.

  11. Ronald Avra says:

    I honestly don’t know what more first century believers could have done in the way of transmitting their experiences to us, especially considering the environment in which they were operating, than we have in the gospels we have received. I attempt to place myself in their milieu and I can’t devise a more durable or faithful witness than what we have in hand. I concede that I don’t know why we haven’t seen the final and authoritative appearance of Jesus, and I would acknowledge to any skeptic that it appears way overdue. Still, I persist; to the skeptics I commend indulgence in that which you find agreeable. If I’m right, I plan to dun you for an eternity of liquid libation.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      A good classic!

      Me-thinks any scientist worth his salt, though, would replace “a miracle happens here” with “stuff happens here over billions of years of time.”

  12. SottoVoce says:

    “The synoptics are textually inter-related, and “historical” only in the sense of being very old. All four gospels are of unknown authorship, and are chock full of we would nowadays call “urban legends.”Their testimony is worthless.”

    Citation please. Come on, dude, don’t just drive-by and make the rest of us heathens look bad.

  13. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    They ran a CT scan and the surgeon said my appendix looked “funny” (exact quote) and he wanted to take it out.  Well, after four hours of surgery, I came to and found out my appendix had burst—A YEAR AGO!!  Yeah, I walked around for a year with an untreated burst appendix.  So you tell me, what’s the probability that I would contract sepsis and die vs. the probability that I would survive? 

    I’d like to know the mechanism behind that; did the peritonitis seal itself off into an abscess and not spread beyond that? (Which sounds like a ticking time bomb; if that abscess ever broke containment it’d be full-honk peritonitis/sepsis. Something similar with diverticulitis was what put me into the hospital some 10 years ago.)

    In any case, it sounds like something that would make the medical journals.