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Posts Tagged ‘evolution’

A Change of Heart on Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

Posted by Tony Listi on August 11, 2008

Dr. Ken Miller, a Roman Catholic professor of biology at Brown University, examines Intelligent Design as a political phenomenon and addresses two of its key objections: the paucity of intermediate organisms in the fossil record and, more importantly, Michael Behe’s theory of irreducible complexity. He takes these scientific objections to evolution seriously and then scientifically refutes them with specific examples. He does not dismiss such objections merely as “religious” and then end the discussion.

This video of his lecture has changed my view of the ID movement and my thinking on the science behind evolution. I’m more inclined to think evolution is a sound theory now.

It has not changed my belief that science should not be funded by the government nor that there is a hostile, secular, aggressively anti-religious bias within much of the scientific establishment and academia in general.

I am not a creationist and the Christian faith does not compel belief in creationism as literalist Protestants define it.

The natural process of evolution need not contradict the existence of God and his Providence. Thus, neither does it preclude the existence of morality. I mean, what would it say about morality if we really believed a material, natural process could influence its validity at all? That is what liberalism/secularism believes. Creationists make a dangerous misstep since their logic implies this too. Though evolution has certainly been used to justify horrible crimes, so has religion. And we should reject the flawed logic of such criminals that misuse both science and religion.

I am a big fan of Dinesh D’Souza’s biblical argument in defense of evolution:

“We read in Genesis 2:7 that ‘the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.’ Right away we notice something different: the Bible says that the universe was created out of nothing but it does not say that man was created out of nothing. Rather, it says that man was made or shaped from the existing substance of nature. ‘Dust thou art and to dust thou shall return.’ So the Bible is quite consistent with the idea that man is made up of atoms and molecules and shares the same DNA found in earthworms, whales, and monkeys.

It is true, however, that the creation account in Genesis does not prepare us for the discovery that man has about 98 percent of his DNA in common with apes. In his Descent of Man, Darwin writes that ‘man…still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.’ Our resistance to this is not religious; it is because we sense a significant chasm between ourselves and chimpanzees. Of course Darwin is not saying that man is descended from chimpanzees, only that apes and man are descended from a common ancestor. Whatever the merits of this theory, there is no reason to reject it purely on biblical grounds. Christians since medieval times have agreed with Aristotle that man is an animal–a ‘rational animal,’ but still an animal.

What makes man different, according to the Bible, is that God breathed an immaterial soul into him. Thus there is no theological problem in viewing the bodily frame of man as derived from other creatures. The Bible stresses God’s resolution, ‘Let us make man in our image.’ Christians have always understood God as a spiritual rather than a material being. Consequently if man is created in the ‘likeness’ of God, the resemblance is clearly not physical. When Jared Diamond in his book The Third Chimpanzee refers to humans as ‘little more than glorified chimpanzees,’ he is unwittingly making a Christian point. We may have common ancestors with the animals, but we are glorified animals.”

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Posted in Christianity and Politics, Culture War, Education, Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design, Government and Politics, Politics and Religion, Science and Politics, Science and Religion, Uncategorized, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Origins of Life: Intelligent Design vs. Evolution

Posted by Tony Listi on January 22, 2008

“[Evolutionary theory] is still, as it was in Darwin’s time, a highly speculative hypothesis entirely without direct factual support and very far from the self-evident axiom some of its more aggressive advocates would have us believe.”
-Michael Denton, molecular biologist

“The result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell−to investigate life at the molecular level−is a loud, clear, piercing cry of ‘design!’” biochemist Michael Behe of Leigh University said in his groundbreaking critique of Darwinism. He went on to say: ‘The conclusion of intelligent design−not from sacred books or sectarian beliefs…. The reluctance of science to embrace the conclusion of intelligent design…has no justifiable foundation…. Many people including many important and well-respected scientists, just don’t want there to be anything beyond nature.”
-qtd. in The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

Paucity of fossil evidence: “Even Darwin conceded that the lack of these fossils ‘is perhaps the most obvious and serious objection’ to his theory, although he confidently predicted that future discoveries would vindicate him. Fast forward to 1979. David M. Raup, the curator of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, said: ‘We are now about one hundred and twenty years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species, but the situation hasn’t changed much…. We have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin’s time.’ What the fossil record does show is that in rocks dated back some five hundred and seventy million years, there is the sudden appearance of nearly all the animal phyla, and they appear fully formed, ‘without a trace of the evolutionary ancestors that Darwinists require.’ It’s a phenomenon that points more readily toward a Creator than Darwinism.”
-The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

“In his book Origin of Species, Darwin also admitted: ‘If it could not be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, then my theory would absolutely break down.’ Taking up that challenge, Behe’s award-winning book Darwin’s Black Box showed how recent biochemical discoveries have found numerous examples of this very kind of ‘irreducible complexity.’”
-The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

“The most amazing thing to me is existence itself. How is it that inanimate matter can organize itself to contemplate itself?”
-Allan Sandage

“Biological evolution can only take place after there was some sort of living matter that could replicate itself and then grow in complexity through mutation and survival of the fittest.”
-The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel
Is DNA itself the product of evolution? Evolution claims to manipulate DNA into greater and greater complexity, not create it, right?

Stanley Miller’s landmark experiment: He recreated the atmosphere of the primitive earth in a laboratory and shot electricity through it to simulate the effects of lightning. Before long, he found that amino acids−the building blocks of life−had been created.
“But there was a major problem with the experiment that has invalidated its results…. Miller and [Alexander] Oparin didn’t have any real proof that the earth’s early atmosphere was composed of ammonia, methane, and hydrogen, which Miller used in his experiment. They based their theory on physical chemistry. They wanted to get a chemical reaction that would be favorable, and so they proposed that the atmosphere was rich in those gases. Oparin was smart enough to know that if you start with inert gases like nitrogen and carbon dioxide, they won’t react…. From 1980 on, NASA scientists have shown that the primitive earth never had any methane ammonia, or hydrogen to amount to anything. Instead, it was composed of water, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen−and you absolutely cannot get the same experimental results with that mixture. It just doesn’t work. More recent experiments have confirmed this to be the case…. When textbooks present the Miller experiment, they should be honest enough to say it was interesting historically but not terribly relevant to how life actually developed.”
-Dr. Walter L. Bradley, retired from Texas A&M

“Darwin probably didn’t think it would be very difficult to create life from nonlife because the gap between the two didn’t appear very great to him…. In those days they didn’t have any way of seeing the complexity that exists within the membrane of the cell. But the truth is that a one-cell organism is more complicated than anything we’ve been able to recreate through supercomputers…. [E]ven when you try to imagine what the minimal living cell would have been like, it’s still not simple at all…. [complexity of amino acids themselves and in making a protein] The making of DNA and RNA would be an even greater problem than creating protein. These are much more complex, and there are a host of practical problems. For instance, the synthesis of key building blocks for DNA and RNA has never been successfully done except under highly implausible conditions without any resemblance to those of the early earth. Klaus Dose of the Institute for Biochemistry in Mainz, Germany, admitted that the difficulties in synthesizing DNA and RNA ‘are at present beyond our imagination.’ Frankly, the origin of such a sophisticated system that is both rich in information and capable of reproducing itself has absolutely stymied origin-of-life scientists. As the Nobel Prize-winner Sir Francis Crick said, ‘The origin of life appears to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to be satisfied to get it going.”
-Dr. Walter L. Bradley, retired from Texas A&M

“[W]ith the discovery of background radiation in 1965, the Big Bang theory came to dominate in cosmology. The bad news for evolution was that this meant the universe was only about fourteen billion years old. More recent work has verified that the earth is probably less than five billion years old…. Based on the discovery of microfossils, scientists have now estimated that the time gap between the earth reaching the right temperature and the first emergence of life was only about four hundred million years. That is not much time for chemical evolution to take place…. And not only was the time too short, but the mathematical odds of assembling a living organism are so astronomical that nobody still believes that random chance accounts for the origins of life. Even if you optimized the conditions, it wouldn’t work. If you took all the carbon dioxide in the universe and put it on the face of the earth, allowed it to chemically react at the most rapid rate possible, and left it for a billion years, the odds of creating just one functional protein molecule would be one chance in a 10 with 60 zeroes after it…. [other colorful odds examples] In other words, the odds for all practical purposes are zero. That’s why even though some people who aren’t educated in this field still believe life emerged by chance, scientists simply don’t believe it anymore.”
-Dr. Walter L. Bradley, retired from Texas A&M

“I think people who believe that life emerged naturalistically need to have a great deal more faith than people who reasonably infer that there’s an Intelligent Designer…. For the past one hundred and fifty years, scientists have used arguments based on analogies to things we do understand to formulate new hypotheses in emerging areas of scientific work. And that’s what this is all about…. If the only time we see written information−whether it’s a painting on a cave wall or a novel from Amazon.com−is when there’s an intelligence behind it, then wouldn’t that also be true of nature itself? In other words, what is encoded on the DNA inside every cell of every living creature is purely and simply written information…. Now when we see written language, we can infer, based on our experience, that it has an intelligent cause. And we can legitimately use analogical reasoning to conclude that the remarkable information sequences in DNA also had an intelligent cause. Therefore, this means life on earth came from a ‘who’ instead of a ‘what….’ Each cell in the human body contains more information than in all thirty volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It’s certainly reasonable to make the inference that this isn’t the random product of unguided nature, but it’s the unmistakable sign of an Intelligent Designer…. [Darwinists have not been able to provide a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life.] Despite all their efforts, they haven’t even come up with a single possibility that even remotely makes sense. And there’s no prospect they will. In fact, everything is pointing the other way−in the unmistakable direction of God. Today it takes a great deal of faith to be an honest scientist who is an atheist.”
-Dr. Walter L. Bradley, retired from Texas A&M

“I stand in awe of God because of what he has done through his creation. Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.”
-James Tour, nanoscientist and professor at Rice University’s Department of Chemistry and Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology

I went to a Catholic school all my life, and from what I was taught, Genesis was most likely meant to be merely allegorical. That doesn’t mean that there are not profound truths contained within the book though.
If God created Time, is not in Time, and is not bound by Time, then what does the six days of Genesis really mean? People measured days by the rising and setting of the sun, heavenly bodies that were created during these “days.” If God creatively chose to use evolution as the vehicle by which he would bring all life and the pinnacle of life, mankind, into this world, does that really lessen God or the Bible? I don’t think so. He is still the driving force in this evolutionary scenario.
Personally, I believe in microevolution, the process of changes in traits within a species. The logic of natural selection seems to make sense at this level. I have not decided about macroevolution, the process of changes that brings about new species or whole new kingdoms/phyla of life. The fossil record supports microevolution more than macro. Most of the charts/pictures in our science books demonstrate this (merely lines connecting totally different kingdoms/phyla, nothing in between to indicate actual evolutionary intermediaries).
There is also the counter-theory of irreducible complexity, which observes that the biology of life forms are highly complex and highly interdependent, making their existence the result of incremental changes over time highly unlikely. A clock (much more simple than animal biology) does not work without each and every cog and wheel instantaneously working together, adding a cog or wheel slowly over time is pointless. However, this counter-theory of irreducible complexity does not completely contradict evolution’s mechanism of natural selection but rather limits the extent and types of changes the mechanism can bring about.

Posted in Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design | Tagged: , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Darwinian Evolution’s Exposed Frauds

Posted by Tony Listi on January 22, 2008

The Piltdown Man
In 1912 in Sussex, England, amateur paleontologist Charles Dawson discovered what appeared to be a skull with a human-like cranium and an ape-like jawbone. The “missing link,” a transitional organism fossil, had apparently been found.
But in 1953 radiocarbon dating revealed that it was a fake. Dawson had attached a modern orangutan jaw modern to a 1000 year old human skull. In fact, the jaw was stained with potassium bichromate and the teeth where filed down to make them look more human.

Archaeoraptor
In 2000, this half-bird, half-dinosaur found in China and smuggled to the U.S. was also proven a hoax. A fake tail had been glued on another fossil to try and increase its value when sold on a black market.

The Peppered Moths
I remember being taught this example in school. It was supposed to be a real life demonstration of natural selection at work. According to this story, black moths evolved from white moths. It was theorized that that the white moths were easily seen on industrial revolution-blackened trees and thus were easily seen and eaten by predators. The black moths, however, blended in and avoided predators. Thus the environment naturally selected darker moths. In the 1950s, Oxford biologist E. B. Ford actually set up an experiment to test this theory. It was a fraud though.
Ford and his assistant placed lightly-colored moths on black tree trunks in broad daylight. But lepidopterist (moth specialist) Ted Sargent and others pointed out that peppered moths do not rest on tree trunks but on the underside of high branches and are nocturnal! Thus the experiment was rigged; placing moths where they would not normally be at a time that they would not even be active.
Yet evolutionary fundamentalists won’t let go of this one that is still taught in schools.

Embryo Drawings
I remember seeing embryo drawings in my biology textbook. German biologist, eugenicist, racist, and proto-Nazi Ernst Haeckel first drew the embryos of various vertebrate animals. They all looked the same and thus were evidence that they all had a common ancestor in the evolutionary chain. Darwin himself claimed the “facts” of embryology to be “second to none in importance” and “by far the single strongest class of facts” supporting his theory.
But in the 1990s, British embryologist Michael Richardson and his team of researchers actually looked at vertebrate embryos through a microscope. Photos were published in the August 1997 issue of the journal Anatomy & Embryology. The photos look nothing like Haeckel’s drawings! In fact, Haeckel had used the same woodcuts for some embryos and doctored others to make sure they looked alike. Even his contemporaries charged him with fraud.

Computer Simulations of Eye Evolution
Richard Dawkins, well-known evolutionist, claimed in his book River Out of Eden that computer models exist that can simulate or recreate the evolution of the eye.
However, the senior author of the study on which Dawkins based his claim, Dan E. Nilsson, has explicitly rejected the idea that his laboratory has ever produced a computer simulation of the eye’s development.

Posted in Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Philosophical and Theoretical Flaws of Darwinian Evolution

Posted by Tony Listi on January 22, 2008

Besides the frauds and the fossils, there are logical problems with the theory of evolution.

The renowned philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper pointed out that evolution is not science because it is “not testable” but rather “metaphysical.” It is impossible to test/observe evolution− unless one can wait millions of years. Darwin himself sets out an impossible test for his theory: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would completely break down.” How is one to set up an experiment to put it to the test? We cannot go back in time and directly observe supposed organ evolution over millions of years. Besides, a Christian fundamentalist could easily posit: If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by God, my God theory would completely break down.

Evolutionary theory and terminology is in fact filled with tautologies (logical fallacy consisting of inane repetition). The phrase that most aptly encapsulates evolution, “survival of the fittest,” is a tautology. Popper observes, “To say that a species now living is adapted to its environment is, in fact, almost tautological…. Adaptation or fitness is defined by modern evolutionists as survival value, and can be measured by actual success is survival: there is hardly any possibility of testing a theory as feeble as this.” Nobel Prize winning geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan recognized the phrase as “little more than a truism.” British geneticist C. H. Waddington also recognized natural selection to be a tautology. Consider another example: “vertebrates evolved from invertebrates.” But invertebrate by definition means “not a vertebrate.” Evolve means to change, and a changed thing is not what it once was, by definition. Thus the example can be reduced to absurd and useless repetition: something evolved from what it was not. The end result of the phrase is merely an assumption, not a demonstration. Evolution in this way assumes itself, cloaked in logical fallacy. Everything becomes confirmation of evolution. Evolution must therefore provide real demonstration or revise its terminology. And yet, many of the evolutionary/taxonomical terms for biological groups are defined by an absence of characteristics, which is what gives rise to the tautological problem.

Even if the fossil record was surely complete and did in fact include the many transitional organisms Darwin had hoped for, one could not conclude evolution was true. The fossil “sequences” of similar physical structures would not strictly prove or demonstrate the existence of a natural mechanism, such as Darwin’s natural selection, that dictated one set of structures gave rise to another. The fossil record itself cannot reveal parental/descendant relationships; it presents end products, not processes. Evolution is a process and thus derives no support from fossils. It can only impose itself, an assumption, onto the fossil record through guesswork. The mere appearance of progress hardly establishes mutation and natural selection as the engine of change. Moreover, the capacity to draw a diagram and come up with a story about how things might have happened is not science. Processes must be observed. If a process cannot be observed by science in real time, it is hardly worthy of the prestigious title “scientific theory” but rather “untested hypothesis.”

The same goes for homologous structures and DNA similarities among various organisms. They too are end products and, in and of themselves, cannot reveal the process that gave rise to themselves. Merely more assumptions and guesswork. (According to this criteria, Intelligent Design, as a process theory, seems to fall outside of science as well. Yet if evolutionists wish to maintain that a process can be inferred from an end product without direct observation of the process, they must concede ground to Intelligent Design, which posits its own explanatory process. Of course, I wonder about the testability of some ideas in modern theoretical physics and astronomy that claim to be “science.”) Another problem with homologous structures is that there are some remarkable similarities of structure that not even Darwinian biologists attribute to common descent (e.g. the eyes of octopuses and humans). With regard to DNA, humans are at least 95% genetically identical to chimpanzees, but we are also 35% genetically identical to daffodils! Thus DNA itself doesn’t seem to tell us much about who we are. There is a much more complicated process(es) that uses DNA to make the stuff of life.

As mentioned, the vast majority of mutations are actually harmful to an organism. Probability is already against evolution. But even supposing mutation happened to work the way evolution claims it works, each and every mutation of the hundreds needed just to make one new or altered biological structure (let alone a new organism entirely) would have to, in some way, make the organism more “fit,” otherwise natural selection would not occur. Unfortunately though, Darwin had no idea about DNA and the other vastly complex systems of molecular biology/biochemistry known today. The cell seemed simple enough to him, yet it is more complex than any microchip or piece of nanotechnology ever created by man, more complex than New York City. Each cell in the human body contains more information than in all thirty volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. This biological complexity reveals thousands of fine-tuned mechanisms that perform vital functions. If one part in the mechanism is missing or defective, the entire system fails leading to disability, disease, or death (e.g. blood clotting, flagellum function, eye function, etc.) This “irreducible complexity” turns Darwin’s impossible test back on him. To at least be understandable, if not credible, evolution has to actually demonstrate that the innumerable parts that participate in various mechanisms and make up an organ, which in turn contributes to a vital function, can each contribute some survival advantage to an organism. Each new protein, receptor, signal, cell, etc. in itself has to confer some sort of advantage. Examining these parts in detail though shows that they only contribute to the overall mechanism and can do nothing else. Evolution must actually confront and demonstratively explain the complexity and understanding of modern biochemistry. If it cannot, it is not science but rather faith. Thus far an “evolution in the gaps” theory has superseded the “God in the gaps” one. In light of the facts of complexity, it seems highly unlikely, if not impossible, that evolution can meet the challenge.

Evolution has no explanation for why humans have a moral sense, consciousness, and rationality in general. To say that these are merely the product of random material causes, as evolution must, is to undermine the validity of science itself, which rests on consciousness and rationality actually having meaning. As professor Haldane put it, “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the [random] motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms [or that they move randomly].” Strict materialism defeats science itself and thus evolution. Mere motion and matter cannot make Truth.

The logical deductions of Darwinism have been catastrophic for society. It clearly helped to give rise to Marxism and Nazism. Marx saw the “struggle” as among classes, Hitler conceived of the struggle as among the races. We know for certain Marx had read Darwin’s Origin: “This is the book which contains the basis in natural history for our views.” (Ironically, Darwin was very much influenced by Malthus, a free market economist. Many have noticed that evolution is merely laissez-faire economics transplanted into the natural sciences.) Mein Kampf means “My Struggle,” which Hitler described in unmistakably Darwinian terms, referring to the “higher evolution of living organisms.” A theory that says the fittest always rise to the top has to be comforting to any dictator. Racism and eugenics both demonstrably derived support, if not their very being, from Darwin’s theory. Darwin’s half-cousin and eugenicist Sir Francis Galton coined the term “eugenics.” In fact, Darwin subtitled his Origin of Species “The Survival of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.” Darwin may even helped plant the seed of animal rights activism: erroneously making man out to be no more than an animal may only have had the effect of elevating animals to the level of humans. Darwin, intentionally or not, overturned almost every aspect of traditional and Biblical morality. His theory enshrined biological instincts over moral values.

Posted in Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design | Tagged: , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Darwinian Evolution’s Achilles Heel: The Fossil Record

Posted by Tony Listi on January 21, 2008

When Darwin first proposed his theory, the most strident opposition came not from Christian fundamentalists but rather paleontologists. Surely if Darwin was correct we would see a clear fossil record demonstrating evolution, no? He thought one would see “interminable varieties, connecting together all the extinct and existing forms of life by the finest graduated steps.” He knew that the fossil record was “perhaps the most obvious and serious objection” to his theory but figured that with more time and exploration, the fossil record would vindicate him. After 150 more years of digging, the record still opposes evolution. The verdict is in. One branch of science contradicts another.According to the fossil record, 500 million years ago there was a Cambrian explosion of life that lasted merely 5-10 million years at maximum (a paltry duration considering geologic and evolutionary timetables) in which new species of animals suddenly appear fully formed, remain largely unchanged for millions of years, and then some disappear. Nearly all the animal phyla we know of today emerged then. (e.g. The oldest bat fossils show bats fully formed, capable of both flight and sonar, two relatively complex mechanisms.) There is no gradual change from one life form to another as one would expect according to Darwin’s theory. In fact, there are fewer examples of evolutionary transitions now than in Darwin’s time (classic cases such as the evolution of horses, Archaeopteryx, etc. have had to be discarded as new information has come to light). Transitional animals are an “extreme rarity” according to the late renowned Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (evolution believer). Moreover, the fact that many organisms from the Cambrian explosion went extinct suggests that there was more diversity then than now. This turns Darwin’s bottom-up “tree of life” paradigm (from simple to more complex and diverse over time) on its head.

(Some have suggested that perhaps pre-Cambrian organisms just didn’t fossilize because they were too soft and/or small. But we do actually have fossils of soft-bodied and microscopic organisms, including worms, sponges, and bacteria!)

Punctuated equilibrium (evolution can happen really fast by mutation) is merely a non-theological miracle, a theory of evolution that abandons Darwin in order to conform to the fossil record and that is more reminiscent of the story of Genesis. This theory strains credibility when we realize that the vast majority of mutations are harmful and undermine survival, if not neutral (e.g. Downs Syndrome, cancer, congenital disorders, etc.) and that the window of time for mutation and natural selection to create all the diversity we know today and then some is very short, only 5-10 million years at most.

Posted in Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »