Intelligent Design vs Darwinism: the wrap-up

The last few of my blogs upset some.  Three weeks ago, I challenged Darwinism.  Last week it was Intelligent Design.  Both hit a nerve in readers.  Some were confused, threatened, offended, or otherwise took the wrong message from it.  But the discussions (blog comments, Facebook, and face-to-face) that came from it were great.

This week I want to pull together a few loose ends from those discussions.

(1) questioning ID does not mean we should “just throw the Bible in the garbage can

If we’re forced to conclude that humans are not the result of a top-down design, we don’t have to then “just get rid of God.”  We don’t need to be so black and white.  I’ve blogged before about the weakness of the God-of-the-gaps mentality.

Job (chapters 37 and 38) describes weather as a “YHWH does it, end of story” kind of thing: For them, YHWH breathes the dew, hangs and fills the clouds, has storerooms full of lightning or snow, births the frost, fathers the dew.  They had no idea how water could simply fall out of the sky.  But then scientists gave another explanation — solar energy being distributed by the oceans and the atmosphere — powered by gradients in temperature, humidity and pressure and using big words like kilopascals and thermal inversions.

Ever since, for those who only saw God as an explanation of how weather works, God became a little bit smaller.

But for others who saw God as creating the physical laws that determined how those gradients interact, and how it all operated on its own like a grand machine powered by nuclear reactions inside the sun without his direct involvement, God became even bigger.

The same idea applies to the design of our bodies.

For those who see God as carefully designing our bodies, then certain discoveries like the ones I listed last week only make God smaller, or clumsy, or even malicious.

But for those who see God as setting up the laws of nature — including Big Bang cosmology, Darwinian evolution, quantum physics and Newtonian mechanics — knowing they would eventually produce independent, willful, sentient beings that would roam the face of the earth in search of “the Great Being,” those discoveries make him much bigger than an exceptionally talented sculptor who specializes in clay.

(2) Fuzziness regarding simple versus complex changes

This is at the heart of three different common errors…

… creationists theists saying “I believe in microevolution, but not in macroevolution.

… those that think if Darwinism can explain some things, then it can explain everything.

… the incorrect conclusion that, if a given world-view can’t explain certain things, then that world-view must be all wrong.

Darwinism can explain “simple” changes that can be broken down into small, discrete steps, such as those that led to color vision, or the ability of bacteria to eat nylon.  Small and simple changes like these accumulate until the organism develops a whole new function.

Simple mutations can also have big and dramatic outcomes.  A single change in the genetic coding controlling how an embryo develops can lead to catastrophic changes: I’ve seen some of these in an Anatomy lab 20 years ago, and the memory of what I saw is unsettling even today.  Recently, scientists introduced single mutations into chicken embryos which basically turned back the clock on their built-in genetic program to a more primitive time in evolutionary history, producing chickens with many features of dinosaurs  (yes, Jurassic Park has come to life).

“Simple” genetic changes and “microevolution” are really much the same thing, and both can have “small” or “big” impact.

(3) The uselessness of “macroevolution” and the failures of Darwinism

The word “macroevolution” has been overused and misused to the point of having lost any useful meaning.

Many think it only means ‘producing a whole new species’ because they naively assume the latter involves a complete rewriting of the genetic code.  But even just a few simple mutations can produce a whole new species.  We see this in warbler birds living at the base of the Himalayan mountain range, or gulls living on the northern coasts of countries encircling the North Pole. In both cases, the birds are genetically compatible with their cousins in adjacent communities, but not with those in more distant communities … they’ve essentially become a string of separate species (Google search “ring species”).  As time goes on, they will accumulate more  “simple” changes, so-called “microevolution,” and continue to become ever more different species.  A similar “geographical” separation and species divergence occurred when the common ancestor of whales and hippopotamuses started spending more time in the water, and when the common ancestors of humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans began moving out of Africa in waves.

Other changes are anything but “simple.” They can’t be broken down into individual, small steps.  “Complex” changes like these are ones which Darwinism fails to explain.

Many animals migrate across whole continents.  When they do, they’re always traveling with relatives who made the migration before, sometimes several times, and so they might be learning from their elders. Monarch butterflies, on the other hand, migrate across North America, but break up their round-trip journey across four or five distinct generations, each one taking a different leg of the journey using a flight path they’ve never been on before, for a destination that they’ve never seen, and never with the accompaniment of a generation that has made the trip before.  The first generation leaves their wintering grounds in Mexico and heads north to the Gulf States.  They produce a second generation that flies further north into the mid-US states, who in turn produce a third generation that heads into Canada.  The latter produce the fourth generation that makes the return flight to Mexico.  How is it that their relatively simple little brains can have these 4 distinct flight paths hard-wired in?  It’s easy to say with a casual shrug of the shoulders that it “just evolved,” but how could it do so in small steps?

Other “complex” questions which Darwinism fails to answer include parasitic zombie wasps, the origin of the genetic code, the Cambrian explosion, human consciousness and many other things (sorry, but I can’t even begin to explain each of those things within such a short blog … but you can get the book).  Likewise, science is far from explaining the origin of all the matter in the universe: simply answering with “the Big Bang did it” is not an explanation.

On the other hand, if one were inclined to believe in God, wouldn’t it be natural to think that he might possibly have his hands in this kind of thing?  The only thing stopping one from entertaining that possibility is the belief … the belief … that there is no God.

For some readers, the moment they read that last paragraph, their brains started screaming “God-of-the-gaps”!  But is that attitude any different than the atheist who declares: “right now science can’t explain how it happened, but I believe …” [there’s that word again] “…that one day science will find out.”  Is that not a science-of-the-gaps explanation?

It’s OK to search for a new naturalistic explanation while still holding the world-view that God was behind it. Isaac Newton is one of many who pursued science in this way, and he came up with 4 major discoveries that influence science even today (as I’ve blogged before). An investor can set up a casino with a few simple house rules and know that he’ll make money because “the house always wins,” even though he never even enters the building.  Governments can influence house-buying patterns or business investing without actually telling people where to put their money, but by setting interest rates and creating tax exemptions.

Please don’t confuse world-view with mechanistic explanation.  I’m not claiming God snapped his fingers, or dispatched an angel to do the nudging.  But given that our universe has at least 10 dimensions (according to superstring theory) and possibly as many as 26 dimensions (according to bosonic string theories), and we’re only aware of 4 dimensions, I think we can be a little less rigid about our certainty regarding the way things work.  So, yes, I’ll admit, it’s a faith position.

But theists aren’t the only ones with faith.The atheistic faith that science alone will conquer all can take on embarrassing proportions, especially when it comes to tackling some of the biggest questions, like the origin of life itself.  Sure there have been baby-steps in that direction, but we’re still miles away from an answer.  The analogy I’ve used before is of claiming I will eventually be able to jump to the moon by showing I can already jump a few feet into the air, and with a few months of focused training and practice I will undoubtedly add several more inches or even a foot to my effort… “With that trend in place, it’s only a matter of time before I’m jumping to the moon with ease.

Actually, not so much.

(4) Can theists and atheists work together?

The NASA astrophysicist Robert Jastrow, who describes himself as “an agnostic and not a believer,” recognized that science and religion can complement each other in our quest for truth. In his book God and the Astronomers, he wrote: “At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.

The theistic and atheistic world-views are really only two different starting points which should eventually converge on the same destination, if they both continue to follow the data.

It all just comes down to that one word … “belief.”  One can choose to believe that God exists, and that opens up the possibility that he had a part in those unexplainable things (and explainable ones).

Or one can choose to believe that there is no God, without any evidence for such a belief.  But how can one be so sure?

I hope the reader doesn’t mind me finishing with an image I used in a previous blog, one of two bacteria discussing the existence of humans:

I’m telling you, Larry, no Amoeba in the entire history of bacteriadom has ever found positive proof for humans. We’ve been to every corner of the pond. Put out our hairy feelers and chemical sensors, and not a single bug can ever point a pseudopod and say ‘There! There they are!’ Well, OK, every now and then some crackpot bug will claim to have encountered a human. But honestly, get a grip. No one really believes them. There’s just no such thing as humans.

Yeah, I hear you, Bob.  But, you know, every know and then, I just feel something.  I can’t describe it.  It’s not like my membrane actually ripples, or my photoreceptor activates.  But … it’s just a feeling. Things happen in the pond that I can’t explain.

Seriously: how would a bacterium ever try to prove our existence, or claim to have a relationship with one of us? Even the brightest among them, using the most advanced technologies available to them, would be completely unable to reveal our existence, but would instead be totally at the mercy of us humans to reveal ourselves to them.

 

I welcome your thoughts about these points…

 

Leave a comment at the bottom of the page.

Check out my Archive for previous posts on other topics in the Faith-Science dialogue.

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2 thoughts on “Intelligent Design vs Darwinism: the wrap-up

  1. I would rephrase what you said
    “It all just comes down to that one word … “belief.” One can choose to believe that God exists, and that opens up the possibility that he had a part in those unexplainable things.”

    To he – had a part to play in those unexplainable AND explainable things.

    Like

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