Science and the Sacred

Science and the Sacred


On Reducing Irreducible Complexity, Part II

posted by Darrel Falk

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Every Monday, “Science and the Sacred” features an essay from one of The BioLogos Foundation’s co-presidents: Karl Giberson and Darrel Falk. Today’s entry was written by Darrel Falk.

Michael Behe chose the mouse trap as his everyday example of a household gadget that was irreducibly complex. The structure of each part only makes sense in the context of how it functions with each of the others. Behe could just as easily have chosen the light switch. From the little lever that you flick with your fingers to parts of the internal mechanism that open and close the electrical circuit, each component is structured to carry out its function as part of the entire unit: each constituent is built with the end in mind. In Behe’s terms then, a light switch is also irreducibly complex.

According to Behe’s definition, the nano-switches that turn genes off and on are also irreducibly complex. I have had the immense privilege of spending my career as a biology professor. Without question, my favorite part of teaching has been the discussion of irreducibly complex structures, especially those switches that turn the expression of genes off and on. Just like when you turn a light switch on, and the bulb mysteriously starts to glow, so it is with genes. Most genes, just like most light bulbs, have switches. Turn the switch on and the gene becomes active; in no time at all its product begins to accumulate in a cell. Each switch is unique and each one is exquisitely designed so that it gets “flipped on” at just the right time, and can be “flipped off” when the activity of that specific gene is no longer needed. These are used through development to build the human body, each one designed to be turned on at just the right time and just the right place to build the bone, muscle, eye, brain and all the other marvelous parts of the human body. To learn how the switches work and then to describe their beauty to students has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.

It is important to add that even harmful organisms are built by these switches. Indeed they were first discovered and characterized in the sometimes deadly microorganism, E. coli. These destructive cells are built and kept alive by hundreds of different irreducibly complex switches—each one unique and each one geared towards its specific purpose in maintaining the life of this organism designed to harm us. Some of the most elegant switches are found in viruses including HIV, the virus which causes AIDS, or H1N1, the virus that threatens to terrorize the world this year. There are literally millions of different irreducibly complex structures that function in bacteria and viruses. Each one of these millions is unique. Each one would fit Behe’s definition of irreducible complexity.

So while we may love to think about the Intelligent Designer as being the great engineer in the sky drawing up magnificent plans to make things like the mammalian eye, the blood complement system, the immune system, or even the bacterial flagellum, it is not that simple. Countless millions of these structures and processes are designed to make people very sick and even to kill them.

The Creator described in the Bible is not a sinister God who is off in a great machine shop “intelligently designing” machinery to make people very sick. Some will say that these switches in lethal organisms are a by-product of the Fall–of sin entering the world. But this view that irreducibly complex structures were built in response to Adam’s sin is highly problematic. Remember that these machines are intricately designed. Who is the new creator? Does Satan have power to create? Surely not the Satan of Christian theology–that Satan functions to destroy, not create. The whole story of intelligent design starts getting absurd, and it doesn’t fit with any orthodox Christian theology.

The bottom line, as I see it, is that the concept of irreducible complexity is not only a scientific dead-end (see Part I of this series), it is also a theological dead end. It just doesn’t work, and all discussion of it as a serious possibility ought to stop. It makes no sense theologically, and it makes even less sense scientifically.

So as a Christian, what do I think is the origin of these little pathological killing-machines? They are produced by natural selection, a process that the science of biology shows really does explain how the machinery inside cells is built. God grants freedom to creation just as God grants freedom in our own lives. Humankind has struggled with the problem of bad things happening to people for a long time. That, for example, is the theme in the story of Job written some 3,000 years ago. So there is no new theological problem here. God does not choose to have a world where his creatures function like pre-programmed robots. There is freedom in this world. A by-product of this freedom is that bad things happen to people–they get cancer, they die in car accidents, and they can sustain serious injury when they fall. It is not a big leap to suggest that creation as a whole has a high degree of freedom built into it. Natural selection–in that freedom–builds structures that are good, but it also builds structures that can harm us. Just like an automobile barreling down the highway or like an auto-immune disease that affects the body of one we love, a world of freedom is a world with inherent dangers. God, in God’s sovereignty, chooses freedom for creation.

It is important to emphasize that God-granted freedom does not imply a God-ordained absence. In fact it is quite the reverse. Beginning in the 14th chapter of John, Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for his departure, and immediately he tells them about the immanent Spirit that will be with them. “Surely, I am with you always, even to the very end of the age,” he said in Matthew. And, in Romans 8, Paul in one breath writes about the whole creation groaning, while in the next he writes about the Spirit helping us in the midst of that groaning. The second verse of the Bible speaks of the Spirit which hovers over creation. Although we live in a world gifted with freedom, we also live in a world that is gifted by God’s presence. We can, if we so choose live life in that presence. “Christ-in-you, the hope of glory”–is how Paul describes the indwelling presence of the Spirit in Colossians. So in Scripture we have this mysterious interplay between the ongoing assurance of God’s Spirit and a life lived in freedom including, even, the harmful by-products that freedom brings with it.

There is a unity in this view of life. Some of the by-products of natural selection are intricate structures that can fashion cellular machines that are able to harm us, just like the machines that we humans make. It happens in the context of freedom–God-granted freedom. However, the notion that irreducibly complex structures are built and put in place by a meticulous detail-driven intelligent designer is not consistent with Christian theology and should not have been embraced by Christians. With all due respect to my friends who hold this view, I would venture to say it borders on the heretical–certainly it is scientifically heretical, but I wonder if it is not theologically so as well. God is not the engineer that built these intricate little terror machines. And the Satan that we know from Christian theology is not a designer of life’s machinery. Those who wish to believe this are free to do so, but they have moved onto an island of scientific fantasy and perhaps even theological heterodoxy.

The greatest beauty in the universe emerges through processes that arise through God-ordained freedom. Let us celebrate that beauty, even as we, in the presence of God’s Spirit, grit our teeth, and endure the hardships that come as a by-product.

Darrel Falk is a biology professor at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and co- president of The BioLogos Foundation.

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Glen Davidson

posted September 21, 2009 at 11:08 am


How come the “analogy” is something so obviously rationally thought out and unevolved, while all of life is devoid of rational design (save our slight manipulations) and clearly evolved?
The mousetrap is good for only one thing in this context–a contrast to extreme differences between evolved and designed objects.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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Daniel Mann

posted September 21, 2009 at 1:18 pm


Darrell and BioLogos Foundation,
I’d like to challenge you: All your posts have been directed towards Christians to evangelize them into evolution (or at least to make them more comfortable there.) How refreshing it would be to direct some of your posts to evolutionists to evangelize them for Christ!



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Daniel Mann

posted September 21, 2009 at 1:24 pm


Darrell,
You wrote, “The notion that irreducibly complex structures are built and put in place by a meticulous detail-driven intelligent designer is not consistent with Christian theology and should not have been embraced by Christians. With all due respect to my friends who hold this view, I would venture to say it borders on the heretical–certainly it is scientifically heretical, but I wonder if it is not theologically so as well. God is not the engineer that built these intricate little terror machines.”
Firstly, let me to your mind to rest about the possible theological heresy inherent in the idea that God creates some nasty critters. He already has demonstrated that He is willing to take credit for them:
1. GOD CAUSED THORNS AND THISTLES TO GROW (Gen. 3:18)
2. AND THE FEMALE BODY TO BRING PAIN AT CHILDBIRTH (3:16)
3. HE ALSO ALTERED THE ANIMAL GENOME (Gen. 3:14)
4. HE BROUGHT PLAGUES (Deut. 28:21; Num. 16:46). (If He brought them, there can be nothing wrong with His having also created them!)
5. HE SUBJECTED THE WORLD TO DECAY AND CORRUPTION (Romans 8;20-23).
More importantly, why did He do so if He is love? To put the best possible construction on your logic, it goes something like this:
1. God is good and wouldn’t do evil.
2. He couldn’t have designed the irreducibly complex mechanisms that killer-bacteria have.
3. Therefore, there must be another explanation for what appears to be irreducibly complex structures.
There are many problems with this reasoning. God does do things that we regard as evil (Isaiah 45:7), although He does them for good (Gen. 50:20). We can include the many divine punishments in this understanding. There is therefore no reason to deny that God could have created or altered killer-bacteria for good.
Does it make God any less “culpable” in your thinking that He simply ALLOWED the lethal mutation to take place rather than actually facilitating it? Doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference there.
It is so patently clear that in our fallen state, we need painful trials (Deut. 8:3). We also need limits, including death so that we might seek God (Acts 17:26) and also treasure the things that we do have while we have them. We might even need the various viruses.
Primates bond through grooming. Perhaps then the fleas and the lice are good things. Perhaps also our painful trials!



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Derek Bickerton

posted September 21, 2009 at 6:04 pm


I think Darrell is absolutely right, both in finding Intelligent Design inconsistent with Christian doctrine and in regarding evil as a consequence–an inevitable consequence–of freedom. Daniel has some pointed quotations, but I’d like to point out that all but one come from the Old Testament. Moreover, the one from the New Testament doesn’t say what he says it does: Romans 8.20-23 speaks of “the bondage of corruption” and says that “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in vain” but does not place responsibility for such things on God.
The basic problem here is one that Christians sooner or later will have to face; it results from trying to pretend that the tribal God Yahweh and the universal God of the Gospels are one and the same. I’ll be addressing this issue in my blog, but unfortunately not for several weeks at the pace things are going.



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Paul Burnett

posted September 21, 2009 at 8:49 pm


Darrel wrote: “…my career as a biology professor. Without question, my favorite part of teaching has been the discussion of irreducibly complex structures…”
I’m curious – did you actually use the term “irreducibly complex”? If so, when did you start using the term? Did you get the term from a mainstream biology textbook, or an actual science journal article?
Have you come up with any distinction between the hypothetical intelligent designer and the unmentioned (intelligent?) creator, as distinct from the designer? Or are they one and the same? It would be interesting to know if the intelligent designer contracted out for the actual creation, or did it all in-house. If the in telligent designer contracted creation out, were there any sub-contractors? Intelligent design creationism certainly raises more questions than it answers.



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Beaglelady

posted September 21, 2009 at 9:12 pm


Daniel Mann,
If God makes nasty diseases, why are the very old, the very young, the sick and the poor especially vulnerable to them? Wouldn’t you expect a little more fairness from God? Being able to pay for medical care lets you side-step God’s will, I guess.
Also, there are terrorists out there who believe they are doing God’s will by trying to infect Americans with anthrax and other nasty things. Do you thing they could really be doing just that? By your reasoning they just might be.



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Beaglelady

posted September 21, 2009 at 9:15 pm


“The basic problem here is one that Christians sooner or later will have to face; it results from trying to pretend that the tribal God Yahweh and the universal God of the Gospels are one and the same. I’ll be addressing this issue in my blog, but unfortunately not for several weeks at the pace things are going.”

There’s no need to rush; the Church has already dealt with one Marcion….



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Derek Bickerton

posted September 22, 2009 at 5:13 am


http://www.beyondscienceversusreligion.blogspot.com http://www.thecommandment.blogspot.com
Dear Beaglelady,
Sorry, I wasn’t proposing a dualist solution with Yahweh as evil demiurge, or anything else that smacks of Gnostics or Mani, so Marcion is neither here nor there. Nor should the fact that the Church decided something nearly two thousand years ago affect our liberty to discuss whether the Gods of the Old and New Testaments are compatible or not.
The Old and New Testaments have been together so long that, like Adam and Eve or Abbott and Costello, it’s almost impossible to think of them separately (and of course the mere notion will sound like blasphemy to many). But tell me this: do you know of any other religion that has hijacked somebody else’s scripture? The Old Testament is Judaic scripture, and would you claim that Judaism and Christianity are the same? And if Judaism hasn’t adopted the New Testament, why should Christians cling to the Old?
However, I’m not in a rush. Right now on Beyond Science Versus Religion, I’m having too much fun eviscerating the New Atheists, which I’m sure will be much more to your taste, and which badly needed doing anyway.



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Beaglelady

posted September 22, 2009 at 7:34 am


Where to begin? The Old Testament was the scripture of Jesus and his followers, before a single word of the NT had been written down. There are many references to the OT in the NT. And Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to do away with it. And there’s also the matter of prophesy, and so on, and so on……
And I wouldn’t call it hijacking, since Jesus and his followers were Jewish. Even the writers of the NT were Jewish with the possible exception of the author of Luke/Acts.
btw, if you read any of the Koran you’ll see traces of the OT, the NT and even the non-canonical gospels (e.g. infancy gospel of Thomas) there.



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Darrel Falk

posted September 22, 2009 at 7:57 am


Daniel Mann writes: “Darrell and BioLogos Foundation, I’d like to challenge you: All your posts have been directed towards Christians to evangelize them into evolution (or at least to make them more comfortable there.) How refreshing it would be to direct some of your posts to evolutionists to evangelize them for Christ!”
Daniel, I have appreciated the sincere and loving spirit that is present in your many comments on “Science and the Sacred.” To be frank though, BioLogos exists to undo the terrible damage that the position you hold has done to the trail which leads to faith. That position has made it extremely difficult to reach out to people who know the science of biology or who trust those who do. Our entire task is to clear the clutter so that people can find their way again.
Jesus put it this way, Daniel “”If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” The “little ones” of whom Jesus is speaking are those who are at the very early stages of searching for faith…those who have the germ of belief inside of them, but still need someone to help them find their way.
When I was a teenager, my brother and I went for a hike in one of magnificent forests near our home in Vancouver, British Columbia. It turns out some loggers had gone into the area and they felled the trees in a section fairly close to the beginning of the trail. The trail ended in a mass of dying trees which had not yet been cleared. Being young and determined, my brother and I set out to climb over the countless acres of logs to where we assumed the trail would start again on the other side. We were never able to find where it resumed again and our weekend foray into the forest ended without us reaching our destination.
Daniel, I have absolutely no doubt that despite your pure intentions, those who hold your position have created the worst set of “stumbling blocks” imaginable. They make it almost impossible for those who know the biology or who trust those who do, to find their way to faith in the Jesus you and I both know and love. Next time you get tempted to fell another tree by expounding upon the terrible theology that you have bought into, I urge you to go out and start reading the biology books that make it clear you are wrong. You owe that to those who sincerely seek a life of faith.
I, and others like me who visit this site, want to give my life to clearing the mass of fallen trees that you and other sincere people like you have laid down. It is my hope that someday those who have studied the workings of God’s creation don’t have to climb over the trees anymore as they seek the trail. Please Daniel, go read a biology book…or two or three. Keep your Bible right there beside you as you kneel in prayer, asking for the Spirit’s guidance as you “think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8). My deepest prayer for you is that you will find your way through the mass of logs that you yourself helped to fell. Bless you, brother. May God be with you in your journey.
Darrel



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Alan

posted September 22, 2009 at 10:40 am


Mr Falk do you have anything to say in response to Cornelius Hunter’s article about what you have written?
http://darwins-god.blogspot.com/2009/09/falk-misrepresents-science-of-biology.html
He is essentially saying that you misrepresent biology, and that what you claim is not what the science says.



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Darrel Falk

posted September 22, 2009 at 1:09 pm


Alan wrote:
Mr Falk do you have anything to say in response to Cornelius Hunter’s article about what you have written?
Dear Alan,
I would begin by referring the interested reader to this article. If you would like more, consider reading Dr. Kenneth Miller’s book ”Only a Theory”, and finally if you really want to think deeply about creation at the biological level read The Plausibility of Life by Mark Kirschner and John Gerhart. Evolutionary biology is an exciting field with lots of fascinating data that is going to inform Christian theology as the days go by. For example, I love the article, “Rooting Evolution in Grace” by my colleague, Dr. Rebecca Flietstra. If you want to get a feeling for what is on the horizon theologically, you might read that. (That article can be found in this book.) Natural selection is only part of the story. Sexual selection, genetic drift, and group selection also play a role in influencing evolutionary processes. Within and through it all though is God’s Presence. Of all the various things to read, here is my very favorite: (Colossians 1:16,17)
“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Blessings,
Darrel



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Derek Bickerton

posted September 22, 2009 at 5:19 pm


http://www.beyondscienceversusreligion.blogspot.com http://www.thecommandment.blogspot.com
Beaglelady, we could get into all sorts of stuff about which of the words attributed to him Christ may actually have said–nobody had tape-recorders in those days–and which may have been contributed through honest error or purpose by others, but that’s futile. Instead I’ll go some way to accommodate you. There’s a lot in the OT it would be a pity to lose–many of the Psalms, for instance. You point out correctly that the Koran includes bits from both OT and NT–that’s bits, not the whole ball of wax, they picked those parts that suited their religion. Well, those who determined the contents of the NT did a lot of cherry-picking among available Christian versions of the Gospels–there’s more in than out. I’m not saying they chose wrong (except for the Gospel of Thomas), the point is they chose. When it came to the OT, they didn’t. Why shouldn’t they have done the same with the OT?
Reason I’m into this is that it parallels Darrell’s response to Daniel–that adhering to the science of the OT puts logs in the path of countless people who would otherwise be believers. If you read the New Atheists with the attention I have, you’ll see that central to their argument are the “horrors of the OT”, the genocide, the judgmental attitudes, the bizarre injunctions, Lot’s response those who sought to “know” his visiting angels, and on and on. Do not try to pretend that Christianity has remained the same since its founder. It has changed, and changed radically, with the times, without ever admitting as much. Now it may need even more radical changes if it is to survive. We need to discuss this, not just pass by on the other side. If we do that, we ARE the other side.



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Daniel Mann

posted September 22, 2009 at 5:41 pm


Darrell,
I too am concerned about the “little ones’ and don’t want to discount the painful dissonance of Christians studying the biological sciences. However, I’m very troubled about the way you attempt to help them overcome their dissonance—-by gutting the Christian faith of its very essence, to remove anything that might conflict with evolution.
This is like performing a lobotomy to satisfy an itch. The path you have carved out for your “little ones” is a path that will take them away form Christ, who instructed us to abide in His Word. However, you have left your “little ones” with an empty word, one never envisioned by the Apostles and even their Master. They all had understood the Genesis accounts as historical. When you deny the historicity of Genesis, you also deny the writers of the NT.
I would like to return to my challenge. If you are so concerned about the “little ones,” why not those also who are entirely blind to Christ? Why shouldn’t BioLogos help to provide them with reasons-to-believe the Christian faith? As evolutionists, you speak their language and can communicate more effectively with them.



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shiva das

posted September 22, 2009 at 7:57 pm


Mr. Falk, your conception of the ability of matter to intelligently self-organize is the basis for all evolutionary thought. But it is simply not possible for matter to self-organize into the complexity we see in life forms. That is why the origin of life was not dealt with by Darwin nor is it able to answered today by materialistic theories. Matter cannot change from simple elements into highly specified and complex bio-machines by random accident. Only the diehard atheist will deny the obviousness of that scientific truism.
So, what we have to acknowledge is that some type of intelligence created the first life forms. Without acknowledging that simple fact any further arguments about evolution vs design is obviously biased.
The problem with evolutionary theory is that most all of it was created by people who would not accept the necessity of some type of God for creating life. They therefore viewed evolution, sans intelligent guidance at any stage, to be the only possible explanation for life as we know it. All of their research and theorizing is biased because it’s sole purpose is to prove a conclusion they came up with before there was any empirical proof. Any data they collected or collect today is looked at like this: “How does this support evolution.” Therefore evolutionary dogma is filled with speculative stories which tries to fit all data into a predetermined endgame. Is that science? It isn’t, it’s religion.
Secondarily, in your article you assume Biblical accounts of reality to be the only valid telling of a theistic based account of God and good and evil, etc. Therefore you, like many before you, assume that God is either evil or not closely involved in our world. That was the origin of religious ideas such as gnosticism and deism. But what if Biblical ideas are not the absolute truth?
Hindu conceptions of good and evil viz. God’s involvement in this world are manifold, but the most common understand is that unlike Biblical views where we are born once and then die (which is the root cause of so many people’s dissatisfaction with the “problem of evil” within the Biblical world-view) that we suffer or enjoy in our lives according to the laws of karma. People suffer because they lacked empathy in their previous incarnation. By experiencing suffering we gain empathy. After many lives of having our psyche’s purified of all negative qualities, the atma or soul or consciousness, becomes qualified to attain the purpose of it’s existence — to personally live with it’s creator on the highest level of conscious awareness in a perfected state. We are like children being groomed, evolving our consciousness, to what God considers to be the best we can be. That takes many lives and through suffering our empathy and compassion is perfected. Why is this necessary? Because eternity is a very long time, God has many gifts to share, a short stint (in the eyes of eternal life) of schooling in the world of samsara (repeated birth and death and suffering) is but a necessary speck of time which enables us to experience the highest type of existence — forever. It’s a small price to pay for the greatest gift imaginable.



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Beaglelady

posted September 22, 2009 at 9:34 pm


“Well, those who determined the contents of the NT did a lot of cherry-picking among available Christian versions of the Gospels–there’s more in than out. I’m not saying they chose wrong (except for the Gospel of Thomas), the point is they chose. When it came to the OT, they didn’t. Why shouldn’t they have done the same with the OT?”

The Gospel of Thomas is gnostic and was written relatively late. I recommend “The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance” by Bruce M. Metzger to anyone who is interested on how the NT canon was decided.
As for the OT, there WERE questions about the deuterocanonical books: Protestants do not accept them as canonical, but Catholics do. Moreover, there are variations in the OT canon for the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox, all concerning the deuterocanonical books.
My opinion is that we need is to read the Bible the right way and recognize that revelation was gradual.
Anyway, why don’t you simply explain how Christianity has radically changed, cite your sources, and present your proposed canon of scripture.



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Derek Bickerton

posted September 23, 2009 at 5:01 am


http://www.beyondscienceversusreligion.blogspot.com
http://thecommandment.blogspot.com
“Anyway, why don’t you simply explain how Christianity has radically changed, cite your sources, and present your proposed canon of scripture”.
I will do this in detail in my blog in a few weeks time. For now here’s a capsule summary. Christianity began as small groups of believers living communally and sharing their possessions. It tolerated a wide variety of beliefs about the nature of God, because it regarded the teachings of Christ as of greater importance. Gradually it morphed into an institutional hierarchy of Pope, archbishops, bishops, priests and deacons. Then a terrible thing happened to it–it was made first a favored and then the official religion of the Roman Empire, in other words got hand in glove with a corrupt and decadent tyranny. Hermits such as the Desert Fathers were the only force that tried to preserve a true Christianity–the tension between them and the orthodox Church is one of the main themes in my novel, The Desert and the City (Part 1 of The Commandment trilogy) which I can recommend to readers Christian and non-Christian (it conspicuously lacks the mealy-mouthed nature of all too much “religious fiction”)–you can find more about it at http://www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/TheDesertandtheCity.html . Soon Christians were killing Christians, not about how best to fulfill what Christ taught but about the true relationships of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This utterly anti-Christian lunacy reached its height in the Albigensian Crusade. Need I say more? The fact that a majority of Christians in America approve of torture shows us how far we’ve come from Christ’s teachings. And you ask for my sources? Come on! These facts are known to everybody–it’s just that Christians will do anything rather than face them.



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Brian Stephens

posted September 23, 2009 at 12:08 pm


Hello Darryl,
I have two brief areas of response.
1. I (quickly) read through one of the links you posted to another reader (The Evolution of Complex Organs) and would like to respectfully recommend that you read through it with, er… a more critical eye ;-).
• Much of the discussion has to do with definitions and classifications—what an eye is and the types known to exist. All of this is uncontroversial taxonomy. Even though it is under the “Case Study: the Evolution of Eyes” heading, this content has nothing to do with evolution per se.
• In many cases, when evolution is mentioned, it is simply assumed to be true. For example, “The extraordinary benefits provided by the ability to see are also shown by the fact that eyes appeared very early in animal evolution.” IOW, vision is a huge benefit, and we know of no animals that exist that do not have fully-formed eyes of one type or another. While interesting, this hardly demonstrates the truth of the neo-darwinian story.
• When the authors do get down to something having to do with evolutionary theory, the critical reader would do well to notice how the language changes. For example, “A second series of changes may take place…” “Similar processes may operate generally…” “natural selection may modify the feature…” “there is no simple linear series… eyes may evolve in a variety of ways…” And on and on.
They may… or they may not. While I appreciate hypothesizing as much as the next guy, nothing is demonstrated here. Even though we’re told again and again that evolution is “as settled as gravity,” I wonder why we don’t see all this level of linguistic hedging in introductory-level physics books.
Conclusion: There are many types of light-sensing aparati in the world. What the authors have done is first, describe and group them, then line them all up from most simple to most complex (but even this is not settled) and claim that one begat the next. What they haven’t done is demonstrate—even in one case—how this may have happened, other than to repeat the theory that natural selection did it. In the end, this is impressive only if the reader is intimidated by the academic prose, or already a convinced naturalist.
Thanks for the reference though. The more I read original stuff like this, the more I realize just how thin and speculative the evidence for the neo-darwinian creation story actually is.
2. Since you’ve quoted the bible extensively in your piece, I’m wondering what your views on Genesis 1-2 are. Your piece makes it clear that you don’t think God is in the business of making “little pathological killing machines.” Did G have any role in creation? If so, what?
Thnx.
-Brian



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RBH

posted September 23, 2009 at 2:04 pm


Aargh. Formatting is screwed up. Another try:
Brian Stephens wrote

I (quickly) read through one of the links you posted to another reader (The Evolution of Complex Organs) and would like to respectfully recommend that you read through it with, er… a more critical eye ;-).

Conclusion: There are many types of light-sensing aparati in the world. What the authors have done is first, describe and group them, then line them all up from most simple to most complex (but even this is not settled) and claim that one begat the next. What they haven’t done is demonstrate—even in one case—how this may have happened, other than to repeat the theory that natural selection did it. In the end, this is impressive only if the reader is intimidated by the academic prose, or already a convinced naturalist.

Brian would have been well served to read it more carefully. For one thing, that paper is by a single author; Brian’s repeated use of “authors” suggest that his reading was very quick. And from the Introduction:

This article provides a general overview of the various processes that play a role in the evolution of complex biological systems. The classic exemplars of organ complexity, eyes, are then used as a case study to illustrate these general mechanisms. Although it is not possible to deliver a comprehensive discussion of eye evolution within the confines of this paper, an extensive (but by no means exhaustive) reference list is provided in order to facilitate further study of the subject, as well as to highlight the rich scientific literature that exists on this topic but which may be largely unknown outside professional biological circles. (Italics added)

For access to some of that “rich scientific literature” on the evidence for specifics of the evolution of eyes see the papers linked here.
Finally, it is not clear that Brian read significant parts of the article. For example, there’s the section titled “Direct Adaptive Evolution: From Eyespot to Eyeball?” and its Table 1 (which refers to the evidence and directs the reader to more detailed discussions). One can’t make judgements based on “a quick reading” that omits noticing references to evidence for the hypotheses proposed. Does Brian claim that Gregory (the author of the article references) is somehow deluding himself when he says “Modern information derived from many lines of evidence, including comparative morphology, molecular biology, phylogenetics, and developmental biology, clearly shows that eyes are the product of a complex evolutionary history.”



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Brian Stephens

posted September 23, 2009 at 4:25 pm


I thank RBH for his response. I stand corrected in my use of the word “authors.” I was clearly wrong on that point. Additionally, I am not a professional biologist and have yet to read the entire professional literature on alleged eye evolution. Guilty as charged.
Then again, I’m pretty sure he hasn’t either, so I guess I’m wondering what he would have me do. The implication of his argument is that we must either earn a PhD in Biology or merely accept the opinions of subject-matter authorities–as long as their opinion is Orthodox. While RBH may be comfortable with that, I must apologize still a third time: I am not.
Having said all that, I read a particular paper, recommended by a particular expert and I found that paper unconvincing for the reasons already mentioned. Not one of my particular critiques was answered by RBH.



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Gordon J. Glover

posted September 24, 2009 at 9:07 pm


To my friend Daniel regarding evangelism — here is a comment I recieved today on my blog (sans the person’s name)…
FIRST COMMENT: “I’m an “agnostic” christian (lol, it’s okay to laugh). It can be proven beyond any reasonable doubt that life did differentiate through evolution on this planet. The probability that we do NOT share common ancestry with chimps is easily p



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Daniel Mann

posted September 25, 2009 at 10:22 am


Gordon,
Frankly, I’m not sure what to think. One part of me rejoices that you are able to reach certain people with the Christ of Scripture. However, another part of me refuses to stop asking, “Which Christ and which Scripture?” When we reach out to others with a culturally-modified Bible, aren’t we also offering them a culturally-modified Christ?
I would imagine that your young man might have truly believed in his heart, but his faith had been severely contradicted by his mind, and you help him to resolve his conflict. However, I am left wondering whether he is building his house on the sand of an insubstantial Jesus—one who taught according to the social norms of His day, and was reluctant to contradict their myths (as also were the Apostles). If this is the case, it becomes difficult to truly trust anything Jesus and the NT had to say. Perhaps, if this is the case, you merely postponed his eventual conflict with a false hope.
Nevertheless, I truly do hope that you and the other TEs are doing the work of the Lord, but how do we assess this? How can we know that we are on the right track? Basing our answer on the supposed results is very difficult. We would have to throw into the balance not just the people you turned on to Christ by your approach, but also the people you turned off. We would also need some way to assess whether or not that their “faith” is aberrant—almost an impossible task.
This is partially why Scripture calls us to faithfulness and not to results or pragmatism. It’s like working for any boss. We are recruited to do a certain task and not to override his directives because we think that they aren’t expedient. I pray that we all might be faithful in this regards.



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Charlie

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:15 am


My comment is regarding the thought that gene expression and regulation is “irreducibly complex.” I currently work with a fungal pathogen that has a protein on its membrane that pumps out an antifungal. The more pumps it has, the more drug resistant it is. This pump has been found to actually pump estrogen (most likely it’s original purpose) but it was also found to pump out the antifungal. Even more interestingly, the antifungal induces expression of the pump [María Luisa Hernáez, Concha Gil, Jesús Pla, César Nombela (1998) Yeast 14(6)517-526]. Now before the 1980′s this drug did not exist. The gene (and how it’s regulated) was designed for one purpose, yet it formed a new function. This is a clear example of how gene regulation is not irreducibly complex. It evolved (or inadvertantly was already structured for) the regulation of its pump by an antifungal.



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Charlie

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:36 am


Also, The Dover trial on intelligent design brought up the mousetrap analogy. What was funny was that the prosecuter removed the pin that holds it open and it turned into an excellent tie clip. Although a funny analogy, the real world example they used was with the flagella. All the different proteins are necessary for the flagella to work. The bubonic plague bacterium has a toxin “syringe” that contains some of the flagella proteins but not others. Just like the tie clip.



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Your Name

posted September 25, 2009 at 5:48 pm


I believe in nothing supernatural or divine, but I applaud your approach to accepting and embracing the marvelous discoveries of science as we delve ever deeper into the intricate and elegant workings of our natural world.
And I am saddened by those that feel their only path to “true faith” is to close their eyes to these natural wonders.
If I were choosing between gods, I’d choose one that is capable wielding billions of stars in each of billions of galaxies, capable of forging the very elements in our bodies out of cosmic stellar cataclysms, capable of devising such a subtle yet resilient system like evolution to bring forth our rich tapestry of life.
How sad, to limit one’s faith to a god contained in and defined by a single book.
“In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed!”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”
– Carl Sagan
Our understanding of our origins and the workings of the natural world will continue their steady march forward. Discoveries will continue, comprehension will grow. Those of faith can embrace or deny. But there is so much less to see along the path of denial.



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RickK

posted September 25, 2009 at 5:50 pm


The above post was mine – not sure why it lost my name.



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Daniel Mann

posted September 29, 2009 at 5:05 pm


RickK,
You wrote, “How sad, to limit one’s faith to a god contained in and defined by a single book.”
Indeed, it does seem narrow and limiting to regard the Bible as foremost when it comes to truth. In this regard, I recall the words of Duke Ellington:
“I got my education from the pool-hall, the classroom and the Bible. But without the Bible, I wouldn’t have been able to understand the others.” (Rough quote)
I’ve found the same to be true for my life—that through the Bible and the God who inspires it, my eyes have been opened to myself and consequently everything around me. It’s like the pair of glasses that rests on my nose, which brings everything else into focus.
Consequently, I have become interested in all other areas of scholarship, even though I might remain quite ignorant of some of them. However, I’ve learned to remain quite tentative regarding their theories, although less so regarding their findings. As any two points can be connected by an infinite number of lines, any two facts are likewise susceptible to a multitude of interpretations.



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Charlie

posted September 30, 2009 at 11:34 am


Nobody’s defending the notion that gene regulation is irreducibly complex?



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Mere_Christian

posted October 11, 2009 at 5:29 pm


If It (Christianity) is to survive?
Jesus wondered if he would even find faith (believers) when he came back.
It is beyond presumption to think what is written by guys and dolls will alter the outcome God has planned.



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RosaleneS

posted October 31, 2009 at 11:55 am


In response to RickK and his quotation from Carl Sagan; who is limiting God to the confines of the Bible. In the Bible God speaks baby talk to finite humanity in order to make Himself known. Observation of the created world should lead one to discover the profound intelligence that was required to create that which we can only begin to discover. Is it not incredibly presumptuous to say that because we know the little of the natural world that we have discovered and explained that we can now place ourselves as gods over the the universe. A case in point, is that we now know a little about two percent of the function of the human cell yet science now claims to know how it all came about.
That does not say we should not go on to discover what we can. In fact according to Dr. Jay Richards the planet earth is placed in a prime location for discovery. It seems probable that the preconception that much of science takes against intelligent design impedes discovery of anything new. Have you considered the possibility that suppression of ID theories is a thinly veiled plot to validate a certain lifestyle?



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Pingback: God’s Sovereignty and Nature’s Freedom - Science and the Sacred

Shirley rollinson

posted September 19, 2012 at 2:49 am


This is “Part 2″
Where is “Part 1″ ????



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