"...the theory of evolution, especially the extent to which it's been applied, will be one of the great jokes in the history books of the future."
1. Action potential of motoneuron
2. Depolarization of motoneuron terminal
3. Ca 2+ enters motoneuron terminal
4. Acetylcholine (ACh)released into synaptic cleft
5. Ach diffuses across synapse
6. Acetylcholine binds to receptors
7. Depolarization of muscle end plate
8. Action potential in muscle
9. Liberation of Ca 2+
10. Increased intracellular Ca 2+
11. Actin and Myosin binds
12. Production of muscular tension because of filaments
13. Cross bridges pivot
14. Muscular relaxation
But suppose you find three sticks leaning against each other in such a way that removal of any one stick would cause the other two to fall to the ground. Such a “tripod” could not be the result of a gradual accumulation of sticks. All three sticks must have been placed simultaneously. Is it reasonable to suppose that this could happen by chance? The probability of such an event happening by itself is unreasonably low. An intelligent person must have arranged the sticks for a purpose that may or may not be evident.
The key to understanding design
What distinguishes between intelligent design in the tripod arrangement as contrasted with the leaning stick? Perhaps two features: complexity and functional interdependence. The complexity of the “tripod” is represented by its three parts. Its functional interdependence is seen in the fact that none of the parts can be removed without destroying the tripod. A structure that is composed of three or more parts, all of which must come into relationship simultaneously, is best interpreted as the result of intelligent design. Although it can always be argued that such a structure could have originated by chance, such an interpretation would stretch the credulity of most people.
Can such an argument be reasonably extended to nature? If so, do we see evidence in nature of intelligent design?
The argument from design
For centuries the idea that nature resulted from intelligent design was accepted without question or controversy. The Scriptures affirm that God can be seen in nature. For example, listen to the psalmist: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers..., what is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:1, 4, 5 NIV). Perhaps Paul makes the strongest case in Romans 1:19 and 20, where he argues that the evidence of God in nature is so clear that no one has an excuse for denying His existence, power, and sovereignty. For many authors, the evidences of design in nature point to the Creator God of the Bible. William Paley is a case in point.
Paley and the argument from contrivance. Paley claimed1 that nature is full of features that show evidence of design. He called them “contrivances,” and compared them to human-made devices or machines. Paley’s argument can be phrased as: The existence in living organisms of features that function like mechanical devices to achieve some purpose are evidence that they were created by a Designer.
Paley’s most famous illustration is a watch. Suppose you found a watch, having never seen one before. Would it not be obvious that the watch had been crafted and was designed for a purpose, even if the purpose was not understood? Likewise, many features of living organisms function as machines. If we recognize the activities of a designer when we observe mechanical devices, we can also recognize the activities of a designer when we observe similar features in living organisms. According to Paley, nature exhibits the properties of design, leading us to recognize the God of nature.
Charles Darwin and the argument against design. Early opposition to Paley came from Charles Darwin. Darwin admitted that even though he was “charmed” by Paley’s arguments, he could not blame God for designing all the evil in nature.2 Darwin proposed that God was so far removed from nature that He did not intervene and was not responsible for the state of nature. In effect, Darwin claimed that nature was not designed, and therefore did not point to a designer. He proposed that unassisted natural processes were sufficient to explain the adaptive features of living organisms, through the process of natural selection. Apparently, Darwin would rather have God good but in the distance than close to us and evil. Most of us would probably agree. But was Darwin’s argument from natural selection valid?
Darwin himself identified a method by which his theory might be refuted. In Chapter 6 of his book, the Origin of Species,3 Darwin stated: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”
Darwin claimed he could find no such cases, but others have made the opposite claim.
Arguments for design
Clearly, the argument from design is not valid if nature is not designed. Darwin shifted the focus of the debate to whether nature is truly designed. Thus, our interest focuses on the argument for design.
The argument from “irreducible complexity.” Michael Behe of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania is one of the current leaders of argument for design.4 He bases his argument on what he calls “irreducible complexity.” For an illustration, he uses an ordinary mousetrap composed of a platform, a bait pan, a lever, a “guillotine,” a spring, and some staples. The parts of the mousetrap work together to perform a function—catching mice. Let the mousetrap represent an organ that had evolved from some simpler ancestral structure. What would the ancestral structure look like, and what function would it have? How could a mousetrap be simplified, yet retain any function? Imagine removing any one of the components of the mousetrap—the resulting structure would have no function at all. The mousetrap is irreducibly complex. If any such example could be found among living organisms, Darwin’s theory would “absolutely break down.” According to Behe, the cilium is one such example.
A cilium is a small hair-like structure that moves back and forth in a fluid medium, providing a method of swimming in certain one-celled organisms. Cilia are also present in our respiratory tracts, and their movements help remove particles from our lungs. At least three parts are required for active movement: a part that moves; a link to an energy supply; and an “anchor” to control the position of the movable part. In the case of a cilium, the moving part is composed of molecules of tubulin; energy for movement is supplied through the activities of molecules of dynein; and the parts of the cilium are held together by molecules of nexin. Without any one of these, the cilium has no function. Thus the cilium appears to be irreducibly complex.
As one might expect, those who are philosophically committed to evolution refuse to accept the argument from irreducible complexity. However, this rejection is based on philosophical, not empirical grounds, as evidenced by the total lack of demonstration of evolutionary claims.
The argument from improbability. Some circumstances seem so unexpected that one suspects there must be something more than chance involved. Most scientists are willing to attribute a result to chance if it could be expected to occur by chance as often as five times in 100 trials. Some scientists will lower the acceptable odds to one chance in 1,000 trials, depending on the nature of the event. But there are limits to what anyone will reasonably accept as the result of chance. If the probability of an event is exceedingly low, it is reasonable to suppose that it did not happen as the result of chance. If the event also seems to have a purpose, it is reasonable to suppose that the event was guided by an intelligent mind.
Darwin admitted that he “shuddered” when he thought of the problem of the evolution of the human eye. He tried to make a case for the evolution of the eye by pointing to a variety of less-complex eyes in other animals, and suggesting that they might represent stages through which a more complex eye might have evolved. However, it is not clear that he convinced even himself. The evolution of the eye would require an elaborate series of improbable events that most people would consider unlikely to occur without a designer.5
The argument from mystery
Many arguments for design have been based on a lack of understanding of a particular process. Before the mechanism for the circulation of the blood was understood, one might have been tempted to claim that blood circulation was a mystery beyond our understanding, and this in itself was evidence for the workings of a superior intellect. Problems arose when the mechanism was discovered, seemingly making God no longer necessary. Examples such as this have led to a general suspicion of any type of argument for design. Such “arguments from mystery” contain two features: ignorance of the mechanism of a particular phenomenon, and an appeal that the phenomenon is a mystery beyond our understanding. Hence we have the “god-of-the-gaps” argument.
The argument from irreducible complexity should be contrasted with the argument from mystery. The first is based on two principal features: the system must have an identified function, and the components of the system must be known and identified. Thus, this is an argument from knowledge, and is completely different from the argument from mystery.
Examples of design in nature
Many examples of design in nature can be described, but we shall note a few here.
The existence of the universe.6 The existence of the universe depends on a precise combination of finely balanced physical constants. If any of several were different, the universe could not exist. For example, if the electromagnetic force were slightly greater, atomic nuclei would not exist. Other physical constants include the values of the gravitational constant and the strong and weak nuclear forces.
The appropriateness of conditions on earth for the support of life.7 The earth differs from other planets in ways that permit life to exist. If any of these conditions were not present, life as we know it could not exist on earth. For example, the earth’s atmospheric composition is unique among planets in our solar system.
The existence of life. Life requires both proteins and nucleic acids. Neither of these materials is found in the absence of life. Both must be present in order for life to exist. For example, protein production requires the presence of both protein enzymes and nucleic acids.
Unique genes are found in certain groups of organisms. Different groups of organisms have different genes that are not found in other groups. New genes require new information. It seems highly unlikely that new information can generate itself through random processes, even if starting with an extra copy of a gene. Additional discoveries are needed to help clarify this point.
The human mind. The human mind appears to be exceedingly complex, substantially beyond what is necessary for natural selection. The mechanism for certain types of mental activity seems beyond our ability to understand. For example, science has no good explanation for human self-awareness or for our capacity for language and abstract thinking.
Other examples of design include the existence of the genetic code, the process of protein production in living cells, the process of nucleic acid production in living cells, the senses, gene regulation, the complex chemistry of the photosynthetic pathway; sex, etc. While some conjectures have been offered as to how these features might have arisen without intelligent design, the proposed processes seem so highly improbable that intelligent design seems more plausible to many scholars.
Counter-arguments against design
Several objections have been raised to the argument for design. We will briefly note four types:
Pseudo-design.8 Patterns may form as the result of natural processes, with no need to invoke an intelligent designer. For example, a snowflake has an intricate pattern, but no one suggests that God especially intervened to create this pattern. Rather, the pattern can be explained in terms of physical processes and molecular properties. Complex, non-linear systems frequently exhibit unexpected properties that “emerge” naturally without any intelligent input. However, the complexity of the required initial conditions, such as the necessary existence of a computer, seems dependent on a designer.
Natural selection can be considered a type of pseudo-design argument. If organisms can be modified by natural processes to fit their environment, there is no need to propose that God specially intervened to design them. A serious weakness of this argument is that it presupposes a structure to be modified. Recent advances in molecular biology have revealed the existence of levels of interdependent complexity far beyond the expectations of those who developed the theory of evolution. The problem of the origins of biological structures appear to provide a powerful argument for design.
Defective design.9 Many features of nature appear to be flawed. It is sometimes argued that an intelligent creator would do a better job of designing nature. Some examples of allegedly defective design include the “thumb” of the giant panda and the structural arrangement of the retina of the eye of vertebrates. However, no one has shown that these structures function poorly, removing the basis for the argument. Furthermore, imperfections are not unexpected in a world that was designed by God, but has been corrupted by the activities of Satan.
Imposed design.10 Humans like to organize observations into patterns that may be artificial. An example would be seeing familiar shapes in the clouds—there is nothing real that needs an explanation, except perhaps to wonder why people do such things. Most scientists reject this argument, since the practice of science depends on the existence of real patterns to be explained. All observers agree that nature at least appears to be designed.
Evil design.11 Many features of organisms seem “designed” for killing or causing disease or pain. The malarial parasite is an example. It does not seem right to blame God for designing the causes of death and disease. On the other hand, if God did not design the “evil” things of nature, why claim that He designed the “good” things of nature? The presence of evil in nature does not refute the argument for design, but may raise questions about the nature or character of the designer. The biblical explanation is that this world is the battleground between two designers, a Creator and a corrupter. The result is that nature sends a mixed signal; both good and evil are present.12
The “argument for design” was widely ignored in the century after Darwin, in part because knowledge of living systems was so incomplete that the gaps could be filled in with imagination. As biological knowledge has increased, the argument for design has been revived and expressed in more sophisticated ways, such as the argument from “irreducible complexity.” The existence of certain features that could not survive in intermediate stages is evidence of a Designer. It is also evidence of a Designer God who created by special intervention—Creation—and not through a continuous process such as evolution. The argument from irreducible complexity is an argument that supports an interventionist, discontinuous creation.
According to Paul in Romans, nature is clearly designed, but not all are open to recognize the Designer. Nature can be properly understood only in the light of God’s special revelation in the Scriptures. Guided by the Bible, we can join with the psalmist in praise to the Creator: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims His handiwork. . . . Their voice goes out through all the Earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:1, 4).
L. James Gibson (Ph.D., Loma Linda University) is the director of Geoscience Research Institute. Address: Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, 92350, U.S.A. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes and references
1. W. Paley, Natural Theology (Houston: St. Thomas Books, 1972. Reprint of 1802 ed.). Paley’s argument has recently been discussed by J. T. Baldwin, “God and the World: William Paley’s Argument from Perfection Tradition: A Continuing Influence,” Harvard Theological Review, 1985, pp.109-120.
2. See N. C. Gillespie, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation (University of Chicago Press, 1979), Chapter 7. For example, Darwin stated that he could not believe in a God that made cats to play with mice, or that designed tiny parasitic wasps to eat out the insides of a caterpillar.
3. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 6th ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1958).
4. M. J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (New York: The Free Press, 1996).
5. For a recent discussion of eye evolution and design, see D. E. Nilsson and S. Pelger, “A Pessimistic Estimate of the Time Required for an Eye to Evolve,” Proceedings, Royal Society of London, 1994, B 256:53-58. For a response to this paper, see J. T. Baldwin, “The Argument From Sufficient Initial System Organization as a Continuing Challenge to the Darwinian Rate and Method of Transitional Evolution,” Christian Scholar’s Review 24 (1995), pp. 423-443.
6. For further discussion of this point, see J. D. Barrow and F. J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).
7. For a popular-level discussion of this from a somewhat mystical non-Christian viewpoint, see J. E. Lovelock, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); for a more conventional discussion, see R. E. D. Clark, The Universe: Plan or Accident? (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961).
8. For an extreme argument of this type, see R. Deaconess, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: Norton and Co., 1986). Other examples include the argument of emergent complexity, such as S. Kauffman, The Origins of Order (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). For an evaluation of Kauffman’s book, see J. Horgan, “From Complexity to Perplexity,” Scientific American 272:6 (1995), pp. 104-109.
9. An example of this argument is in S. J. Gould, The Panda’s Thumb (New York: Norton and Co., 1980).
10. A classic statement of this argument is D. Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), (New York: Penguin Books, 1990).
11. For example, see D. L. Hull, “The God of the Galapagos,” Nature 352 (1991), pp. 485-486. See also Chapter 8 in P. J. Bowler, Evolution: The History of an Idea (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).
12. For a biblical approach to this problem, see John T. Baldwin, “God, The Sparrow, and the Emerald Boa,” College and University Dialogue 8:3 (1996), pp. 5-8.—Editors.
The team say they recovered wooden specimens from a structure on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey that carbon dating proved was 4,800 years old, around the same time the ark is said to have been afloat.
'It's not 100 per cent that it is Noah's Ark, but we think it is 99.9 per cent that this is it,' Yeung Wing-cheung, a Hong Kong documentary filmmaker and member of the 15-strong team from Noah's Ark Ministries International told AFP.
The structure had several compartments, some with wooden beams, which were believed to house animals, he said. The group of evangelical archaeologists ruled out an established human settlement on the grounds that one had never been found above 3,500 metres in the vicinity, Yeung said.
Local Turkish officials will ask the central government in Ankara to apply for UNESCO World Heritage status so the site can be protected while a major archaeological dig is conducted, Yeung added.The biblical story says God decided to flood the earth after seeing how corrupt it had become, and told Noah to build an ark and fill it with two of every animal species. After the flood waters receded, the Bible says, the ark came to rest on a mountain. Many believe that Mount Ararat, the highest point in the region, is where the ark and her inhabitants came aground. -- AFP
The turritopsis nutricula species of jellyfish may be the only animal in the world to have truly discovered the fountain of youth.
Since it is capable of cycling from a mature adult stage to an immature polyp stage and back again, there may be no natural limit to its life span. Scientists say the hydrozoan jellyfish is the only known animal that can repeatedly turn back the hands of time and revert to its polyp state (its first stage of life).
The key lies in a process called transdifferentiation, where one type of cell is transformed into another type of cell. Some animals can undergo limited transdifferentiation and regenerate organs, such as salamanders, which can regrow limbs. Turritopsi nutricula, on the other hand, can regenerate its entire body over and over again. Researchers are studying the jellyfish to discover how it is able to reverse its aging process.
Because they are able to bypass death, the number of individuals is spiking. They're now found in oceans around the globe rather than just in their native Caribbean waters. "We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion," says Dr. Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute.
In the early 20th century, studies showed that scientists were less likely than the general population to believe in the existence of God.1 A survey conducted in 1969 showed that 35% of scientists did not believe that God existed.2 In contrast, recent surveys on religious belief have shown that 90 percent of Americans believe in God and 40 percent attend a place of worship weekly.3 Is a lack of belief in God among scientists due to their higher intelligence and knowledge? A recent study was designed to look at differences in belief among scientists (and other academics) and what factors influence those beliefs.
Elaine Ecklund, and Christopher Scheitle questioned 2,198 faculty members in the disciplines of physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, economics, political science, and psychology from 21 elite U.S. research universities.4 Overall, 75% of professors contacted completed the survey. Among the different disciplines, disbelief in the existence of God was not correlated with any particular area of expertise:
In fact, disbelief in the existence of God was nearly as high in the natural science as in the "soft" sciences. Earlier studies had shown a similar trend, with those in the social sciences regularly attended religious services less often than those in the life sciences.2 So, it doesn't seem that study in any particular field is associated with a disbelief in God's existence. However, several factors unrelated to areas of expertise and training did correlate with belief in God. It was found those scientists who were immigrants (where belief in God is lower) disbelieved in God to a greater degree than those who were born and raised in the U.S. In addition, the study found that scientists come disproportionately from non-religious or religiously liberal backgrounds compared to the general population, suggesting that at least some part of the difference in religiosity between scientists and the general population probably due to religious upbringing rather than scientific training or institutional pressure to be irreligious. Most interesting was the correlation between marital status and number of children on religiosity. Those who were married (especially with children) attended religious services more often. Those who were cohabiting were more likely than married scientists to believe "There is very little truth in any religion." This could be a reflection of wishful thinking!
Another reason why social scientists are atheists comes from the public perception of the social science profession.5 Accordingly, children of liberals, atheists, Jews, and secularists perceive social sciences as more important issues compared with children from religious homes. Therefore, these professions have been abandoned by those brought up with religious backgrounds, leaving mostly secularists and atheists to fill those positions.5
It is true that scientists believe less in the existence of God than the general population of the United States. However, the recent study by Ecklund, and Scheitle reveals that the most important factors in belief were related to upbringing and family status, and not area of expertise. The fact that social scientists as well as those in the natural sciences expressed nearly the same disbelief in God suggests that rejection of God's existence is not a result of knowledge in any particular area of expertise. It is likely that those who have rejected religious morality (i.e., those who were cohabiting) wanted to justify their behavior by saying that there was very little truth in any religion. The conclusion by the authors:
"Instead, particular demographic factors, such as age, marital status, and presence of children in the household, seem to explain some of the religious differences among academic scientists... Most important, respondents who were raised in religious homes, especially those raised in homes where religion was important are most likely to be religious at present."
Human life seems to have lost its dignity and value. Ask a Muslim in Serbia, a Ba’hai in Iran, or a Christian in the Sudan. Observe Jack Kevorkian assisting suicide and then being embraced as a serious and even valuable contributor to our moral conversation. The question looms: What is important about being human?
Time was when we could blame barbarity on the pagan, the uncivilized, or the fanatics. Names spring to mind: Hitler, Ghengis Khan, or Pol Pot. But now we’re not talking about the past. We are at the edge of the 21st century. Knowledge has been increased: astronauts crisscross space; satellites circle the globe bringing information from everywhere to everywhere in a few moments; galaxies beyond our own have become objects of study; and genes within our bodies are searched and researched for a clue to the mysteries of human life. And yet there remains the question—simple, yet most profound: What is so special about being human?
For many philosophers, including some who call themselves Christians, the answer is increasingly, nothing much. With all of today’s scientific knowledge and technical achievements, and with the historical record in full view, human beings are still tempted to violate basic human rights.
After World War II, the Nuremberg Trials bared the evil that lurks in the human heart, and showed how even the most cultured and civilized society can crawl into the moral sewers, virtually erasing the spiritual meaning of “humanity.” The lessons of that war drove the United Nations to pass, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document affirmed the dignity and equality of every human being, requiring civilized societies to protect the weak from the strong. The declaration still stands. Why, then, are we still talking about human rights and dignity?
The myth of origins
The answer may be found in what is embraced as the scientific explanation of the origin of life and its diversity, a story that leaves out the biblical God. This perspective is clearly expounded in James Rachels’ 1990 book, Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (New York: Oxford University Press). The author reasons from a foundation of naturalistic evolution. His conclusion, robustly supported, is that Darwinism completely undermines the doctrine of human dignity. Human beings occupy no special place in the moral order; we are simply another form of animal.
This view and concern about it are not new. In 1859, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce warned that Darwinism was “absolutely incompatible” with Christianity’s “whole representation of the moral and spiritual condition of man.” The Southern Baptist Convention of the United States echoed Wilberforce in 1987. But there is no unanimity among Christians. A century ago Henry Ward Beecher, the renowned preacher, suggested that the evolutionary perspective added to the glory of God’s creation. Pope John Paul II is willing to accept the evolutionary process as God’s means of creating the human body (although not the “spirit,” which he insists is God’s immediate creation).
Even scientists are divided on this issue. Some (such as Steven Jay Gould) say tha Darwinism and religion are not incompatible, that one can be both a theist and a Darwinist; while others (William Provine) assert that Darwinism makes all supernatural religion not just superfluous, but untenable.
Rachels argues (“Must a Darwinian Be Skeptical?”) that teleology (direction and purpose) in nature is irrevocably destroyed by Darwinism. Without teleology, religion must “retreat to something like deism,…no longer…support[ing] the doctrine of human dignity” (pp. 127, 128). This argument is a powerful one, and must be refuted if a religious Darwinist is to salvage the biblical teaching that humans are created in God’s image and have a special place in the divine order. As Rachels reminds us, “The ‘image of God’ thesis does not go along with just any theistic view. It requires a theism that sees God as actively designing man and the world as a home for man.”
In “How Different Are Humans From Animals?” Rachels concludes that Darwinism destroys any foundation for a morally significant difference between humans and animals. If humans descended from primitive ape-like creatures by natural selection, they may be physically different from non-human animals, but cannot be essentially so. Certainly not different in any way that gives every human more rights than any animal. In Rachels’ words, “one cannot reasonably make distinctions in morals where none exist in fact.” He calls his doctrine “moral individualism,” and it rejects “the traditional doctrine of human dignity” along with the idea that human life has any inherent worth that non-human life lacks.
In “Morality Without Humans Being Special,” Rachels deals first with human equality, and then rejects it! Humans are entitled “to be treated as equals” only if there are no “relevant differences” between them. Rachels, lacking belief in sin and its power (and ignoring history), expects that “relevant differences” will be used in distinguishing individuals only, and not genders, races, religions, etc. Accepting Darwinian concepts extends the analysis to non-human animals as well, yielding no automatic superiority of human claims over those of rabbits, pigs, or whales. Under “moral individualism,” when faced with using a human or a chimpanzee for a lethal medical experiment, we can no longer decide the question by noting that the chimp is not human. “We would have to ask what justifies using this particular chimp, and not that particular human, and the answer would have to be in terms of their individual characteristics, not simply their group memberships” (p. 174).
Given the crucial role of “relevant differences” in this ethic, one looks for some formal definition of the term. Rachels provides none. Instead we get “something of how the concept works” in an example about testing cosmetics on the eyes of rabbits, and in a vague hypothetical: “If it is thought permissible to treat A, but not B, in a certain way, we first ask why B may not be treated in that way.…If A and B differ only in ways that do not figure in the explanation of why it is wrong to treat B in the specified manner, then the differences are irrelevant” (p. 181). This is no bulwark against the selfishness and evil we see in ourselves and in our fellow human beings.
Experience demonstrates that any soft, relativistic ethical standard will be twisted into whatever shape is needed to allow us to do whatever we want to our fellow human beings. Examples abound: chattel slavery; racial and religious persecution; one million annual U.S. abortions; the epidemic of abandoned, abused, and murdered babies; laws permitting assisted suicide and euthanasia; ethnic cleansing; etc. We must have a “bright line” standard of our obligations to every member of the human family. This is the difference between morality and amorality. There is no middle ground.
Darwinism and amorality
The connection between Darwinism and amorality is now explicit. In the New York Times Magazine of November 3, 1997, Stephen Pinker wrote about “evolutionary psychology.” He tells us that “moral philosophers have concluded that. . .our immature neonates don’t possess [the right to life] any more than mice do,” and alleges that “neonaticide may be a product of maternal wiring” since it has “been practiced and accepted in most cultures throughout history.” He thus ties infanticide directly to our evolutionary ancestry and the Darwinian struggle for survival, which sometimes demands that mothers kill their young in order to further their own reproductive future. In articles such as this, the formerly unthinkable is being presented as reasonable and acceptable. We are being “softened up” for a change in community morality—one holding that some humans deserve respect and protection, but that others do not, and can be killed with impunity. You can see this process at work today: in academic discourse, and increasingly in the popular media.
Just 50 years ago, every nation voting at the United Nations flatly rejected this kind of reasoning. The emerging ethic in the West is a direct repudiation of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In its preamble, the U.N. General Assembly unanimously (with eight abstentions) declared that “the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world” is “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” In the Articles themselves, we find that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (Article 1); “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind” (Article 2); “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person” (Article 3); “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law” (Article 6); and “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law” (Article 7). This is not equivocal language; there can be no confusion about what was meant. Accepting what Rachels and Pinker are offering means turning our back on the settled wisdom of the past.
Maturity (and our safety) demands honest reflection. A system of ethics based on moral relativism will always end up with the strong in charge and the weak beneath their heel. The Darwinist worldview, followed to its logical conclusion, leads us nowhere else, and this should be sufficient for us to reject it. Perhaps we should not be surprised to find the secular and wholly naturalistic Darwinists espousing such a cold-blooded and utilitarian philosophy, but what is truly astounding is the number of ethicists, philosophers, and others who identify themselves as Christians and yet urge us to adopt an ethic that leads us down the Darwinist path.
The argument for moral relativism is subtle and appealing on the surface. Often it begins by reaffirming the biological (and biblical) truth that we are human from the moment of conception. But, then we are told that there is a difference between a “human” and a “person,” and that “personhood” is the category a human must attain in order to have a right to life. The qualifications for “personhood” vary—but generally they include the possession of self-consciousness as a necessary condition to be a “person” with full moral status (for instance, to have a right not to be killed). Of course, no human being is born with self-consciousness, and many of us may lose our self-consciousness, temporarily or permanently, due to injury, illness or age. Here, then, is the convergence of Darwin’s philosophy and that of some of today’s Christian thinkers, “moral individualism” meeting “proximate personhood.”
Moral individualism (or the “personhood” ethic) and the U.N. Charter’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights are colliding moral galaxies; they are totally incompatible. The galaxy represented by the U.N. Declaration is founded on the Judeo-Christian moral tradition—a tradition going back for millennia. The galaxy of “moral individualism” purports to be founded on human reason, and is expressed in statements that begin with, “I argue…,” “I see…,” or “I contend….” “Moral individualism” and its clones propose that both humans and non-human animals are to be judged by the same relativistic criteria. In this moral universe, human beings have lost their inalienable right to life, something that Christians have always granted because “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, NIV).
Pushed off the pedestal
Pushing humans off the pedestal of dignity on which the Bible has placed them has implications for everyone, not just for the comatose patients, the handicapped newborns, the old and feeble, and others not like “us.” Under the ethic of “moral individualism,” there is no principle preventing one race from classifying other races as less than fully human and enslaving or killing them. There is no principle calling to account those who seek to demote others to the status of “non-persons.” There is no principle condemning parents who use pre-natal testing to determine the sex of the unborn and then abort the female. There is no principle to stop a society from deciding that full human status isn’t reached until age 3 or 4, and establishing centers for the elimination of any unwanted “non-persons.” There is no principle to prevent the cloning of a (very rich) individual, or the use of the human being that results as a stock of spare parts. We may recoil at these suggestions, but the hard truth is that when we abandon the biblical imperative that innocent human life is sacred and must not be touched, we are all at risk, because when the strong take over, “might makes right.”
When Christian ethicists reach the same conclusions as Darwinists about our obligations to our fellow humans, it’s time to do some careful thinking. God created us, and He knows the evil of which we are capable. For this reason, He instructed us to treat all humans as worthy of equal dignity and respect. Neither “moral individualism” nor the ethic of “personhood” is compatible with the traditional interpretation of Scripture, and this should be reason enough for people of faith to reject them outright. But, in addition, for those whose faith is weak, history offers many demonstrations that before every slaughter there has been a division of the human population into “our group” (protected) and “those other guys” (not protected) that makes it permissible to do the killing. Most of the current relativistic ethicists have no such thing in mind. They are simply trying to create a non-dogmatic, rationalistic base for behavior they deem proper. This effort has been tried before, invariably with tragic consequences.
I believe that James Rachels succeeds in his argument: One cannot be a Darwinist and logically hold the traditional view that human life is sacred. The more immediate question for the “people of the Book” seems even more relevant: Can one hold that human life is not sacred and still be a Christian?
A collection of articles on DNA computers and cell signaling provides some real insight into how the theory of evolution impedes scientific progress.
Yes, we know Scientific American is just a science tabloid that presents pseudo-science in a sensational manner. We subscribe simply to monitor the outrageous claims they make about the theory of evolution from time to time. That’s why we were shocked that they printed an excellent, informative story about a simple computer that plays tic-tac-toe using synthetic DNA as logic elements. It sounds bizarre, but this isn’t the first time that something like this has been done.
Researchers reported logic gates based on synthetic molecules as long ago as the early 1990s. 1
You might wonder why one would bother to build a computer using DNA. After all, modern silicon-based electronic computers are tiny, powerful, and can do almost everything. Why try to compete with them?
We did not aim, however, to compete with silicon-based computers. Instead, because Stojanovic had just finished a brief stint with a pharmaceutical company, we settled on developing a system that could be useful for making “smart” therapeutic agents, such as drugs that could sense and analyze conditions in a patient and respond appropriately with no human intervention after being injected. For example, one such smart agent might monitor glucose levels in the blood and decide when to release insulin. Thus, our molecular logic gates had to be biocompatible. 2
Using this new science, we have constructed molecular versions of logic gates that can operate in water solution. Our goal in building these DNA-based computing modules is to develop nanoscopic machines that could exist in living organisms, sensing conditions and making decisions based on what they sense, then responding with actions such as releasing medicine or killing specific cells. 3
Their goal is to create chemically-based systems that act like computers in the human body. That’s a pretty ambitious project. One has to work up to that ability step-by-step. So, they started with the same simple program that digital computer programmers wrote more than 50 years ago.
The first known video game, OXO (or Noughts and Crosses, 1952) for the EDSAC computer played perfect games of tic-tac-toe against a human opponent. 4
We have demonstrated some of the abilities of our DNA gates by building automata that play perfect games of tic-tac-toe. The human player adds solutions of DNA strands to signal his or her moves, and the DNA computer responds by lighting up the square it has chosen to take next. Any mistake by the human player will be punished with defeat. Although game playing is a long way from our ultimate goals, it is a good test of how readily the elementary molecular computing modules can be combined in plug-and-play fashion to perform complicated functions, just as the silicon-based gates in modern computers can be wired up to form the complex logic circuits that carry out everything that computers do for us today. 5
Since there are only 76 ways to put X’s and O’s on a 3x3 matrix, it is relatively simple to enumerate all the possibilities, and use a lookup table to see where to move next, and that’s basically what they did. The second version of their tic-tac-toe computer is called MAYA-II.
The sheer size of this automaton made building and testing MAYA-II an enormous challenge. One of us (Macdonald) led the project and trained several high school students to test automata, mostly during summers and on Saturdays. The students checked all 76 games multiple times. They had to make changes in MAYA-II’s design to deal with several problems (and then recheck all the games after each tweak).
Our chief concern going into the project was that some sequences might bind in unintended places. Our computer-modeling tools were not advanced enough to be able to predict such difficulties. In fact, spurious binding was relatively rare. Instead the more serious problem turned out to be individual gates cleaving their substrates at different rates. We (or, rather, our students) had to adjust concentrations and structures to correct for this variability. We also quickly discovered that some gates acted differently within a mixture than they did on their own, necessitating other redesigns. Finally, after three consecutive summers and many Saturdays, through some changes of inputs and many small adjustments of gate sequences and concentrations, our team had a system in which we could clearly distinguish active and inactive gates in all wells, for all the games, reproducibly. 6
So, it is possible to create biologic systems which respond intelligently to external stimuli; but it took more than three summers of intelligent design! Imagine how long it would have taken using random trial and error.
Ironically, at the same time as this Scientific American article came out, Science magazine published a special report on cell signaling. It contained several interesting observations about the biologic computations that occur in living things.
Mammalian species use over 3000 signaling proteins and over 15 second messengers to build hundreds of cell-specific signaling systems. Many of the signaling components have multiple upstream regulators and downstream targets, creating a web of connectivity within and between signaling pathways. The presence of multiple feedback loops in these systems poses a challenge to understanding how receptor inputs control cellular behavior. 7
Signaling proteins operate in complex networks in cells. The networks are wired into long serial chains, and these chains are arrayed in numerous parallel pathways that diverge from common inputs, converge onto intermediate nodes, and diverge again to many different effectors. Signals from the external world that are detected at the cell membrane are transmitted in the plane of the membrane and through the cytoplasm, with feedback and feed-forward loops onto organelles and the nucleus. The upshot of this complex connectivity is the control of outputs as diverse as membrane transport, cell metabolism, protein translation, cell shape and migration, gene transcription, cell cycle, and cell survival. The shear number of signaling proteins and complexity of their connectivity is staggering, and the depictions in textbooks and on glossy posters from chemical companies are as dense and as difficult to decipher as spirographs. 8
It makes the MAYA-II look rather pathetic by comparison. Animal bodies already have many chemical computers that do the kinds of things the authors of the Scientific American article want to do. The specific chemical computer the authors of the Scientific American article want to simulate is called, “the pancreas.” But there are many other, less well known biological computers that control “outputs as diverse as membrane transport, cell metabolism, protein translation, cell shape and migration, gene transcription, cell cycle, and cell survival. The shear number of signaling proteins and complexity of their connectivity is staggering.”
Let’s look at this from an evolutionary perspective, and then from an intelligent design perspective.
If one takes an evolutionary approach, believing that these 3000 signaling proteins arose by chance, then the focus of study will be an analysis of the probabilities necessary to make this happen. Scientists will determine the number of independent variables, the number of ways they can be combined, speculate on the rate at which they can combine, and compute the average time it would take for the right combination to occur. This will necessarily lead to the conclusion that evolution must have been going on for a very, very long time for all these lucky breaks to happen.
Here’s how an evolutionary bias has affected one scientist in particular.
Given a signaling center, one can easily imagine how it can organize the pattern of cell differentiation in its neighborhood. But how does the signaling center itself arise? If we start with a more or less homogeneous field of cells, what internal mechanism can make one region different from another and break the symmetry? 9
Subconsciously, he must realize that this could not have happened by chance. But since there is no other explanation than chance, he imagines that cell differentiation takes place in a neighborhood. The mechanism by which cell differentiation takes place isn’t completely understood. (If it were, there would be no need for stem cell research.) But even so, he imagines that there must be some natural process that arose by chance because it happens. But even given his willingness to imagine the unimaginable, he still can’t imagine how the signaling center arose by chance in the first place. So, he is likely to focus his research by starting with a “more or less homogeneous field of cells” and look for some random process that “can make one region different from another and break the symmetry.”
But, if one believes that life is the product of intelligent design, then the scientist is going to ignore chance and focus on the underlying design philosophy of life. That is, the scientist will seek to understand what processes are taking place, and then seek to understand why those processes exist, and what their purpose is. He isn’t going to waste time trying to find some way that these processes might have arisen by chance.
The theory of evolution hinders scientific progress because it ignores the possibility that life operates as it does for a reason. Sometimes evolutionists claim that creationists cop out by saying, “God did it.” But, in fact, it is the evolutionists who cop out by saying, “There’s no reason for it—it just happened by chance.” If you don’t think there is a reason, then you won’t look for the reason—you just give the credit to luck.
Despite the theory of evolution, science is progressing. Scientists actually are studying cell signaling. But, to keep their sponsors happy, they don’t ever mention that signaling is a form of communication, and communication implies intelligence. There is a reason why data is sent from the sensor to the actuator. There really is a purpose to it, but they hope that never occurs to anyone else.
Scientists aren’t free to talk about purpose because of the political and philosophical implications that result from such a conversation. But it has to be in the back of their minds. It slips out every now and again, as in this summary paragraph.
Nothing can be reengineered unless it was engineered in the first place. The signaling pathways were designed, on purpose! If they really happened by chance in the first place, then it is pointless to study them. Just try random combination after random combination and see what happens. If that’s the way they arose, then more will arise through the same technique.
The MAYA-II computer didn’t figure out how to play tic-tac-toe all by itself. It took a conscious arrangement of biologic components by intelligent designers to achieve a goal. It would be foolish to try to reverse engineer it by examining the probabilities that those components arose and were connected by chance.
Intelligent design is a valid scientific hypothesis. But since it is incompatible with the failing theory of evolution, some people feel it must be suppressed.
"I myself am convinced that the theory of evolution, especially the extent to which it's been applied, will be one of the great jokes in the history books of the future. Posterity will marvel that so very flimsy and dubious an hypothesis could be accepted with the incredible credulity that it has."
-Malcolm Muggeridge (world famous journalist and philosopher), Pascal Lectures, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
"Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind."
|Did you know that since 1860, the "known" age of the Earth has doubled every 20 years?|