Monday, March 17, 2014

The Church Persecuted Bad Theology, Not Science

The first episode of the “new” Cosmos series by Dr. Tyson perpetuates the myth that Christianity hindered scientific thought. As I wrote in my first blog on January 9th, the truth is exactly the opposite. Using Giordano Bruno, Tyson shows how the Church silenced Bruno by burning him at the stake for his scientific beliefs. Tyson opens the series with the statement that he will “follow the evidence wherever it leads.”  Surprisingly, he didn’t bother to check the historical evidence.
Even though he did a little speculative astronomy, Bruno was not really a scientist. He was a renegade monk, a Hermetic sorcerer, and a philosopher.  The troubles he had with the Church were theological; involving the polytheistic existence of an infinite number of worlds. This position included the idea that the universe was infinite, but he came to that conclusion solely through imagination and speculation with absolutely no evidence.
Bruno’s scientific position of an infinite universe was not at all unique. There were many others in the same time period who held similar scientific views and were never persecuted by the church. Nicolaus Cusanus, in the first half of the 15th century, wrote of an unbounded universe with many worlds and all of its parts in motion.  The Church made him Papal legate to Germany in 1446, he was appointed cardinal for his merits by Pope Nicholas V in 1448, and he became vicar general in the Papal States in 1459.  Obviously the Church was trying to silence his views! Marsilio Ficino thought the sun was at the center of the universe because it was created first.  In 1489 he was accused of magic (not free thinking) before Pope Innocent VIII, but he escaped any punishment. Georg Peurbach at the University of Vienna improved on the planetary system of Ptolemy in 1473. Thomas Diggs, an English mathematician and astronomer, in 1576 wrote about the stars extending infinitely up, and William Gilbert, in the late 16th century, understood the universe to be infinite.
There is a long list of intellectual thinkers who were never persecuted, even though they had ideas contrary to the Church.  Science and Christianity have historically complemented each other. Christians see God as a Lawgiver, as a rational mind, and as the Creator. Because of this, the world must be rational, must follow prescribed laws, and must have a reason for its existence. Science is the way we study the world, the laws, and the reasons. Christian theology also teaches that man was created in the image of God, so we also have the ability to comprehend God’s laws and reasons. Therefore, science arose only once: In Christian Western Europe in the 17th century.

Christianity depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as His personal creation, thus having a rational stable structure, awaiting human comprehension. Christians developed science because they believed it could be done and they thought it should be done.[1]

Since they believed it could be done, the vast majority of initial thinkers in science were Christians who did their investigations because of the Christian ideas they had about the universe. Nicolaus Copernicus was a church deacon who did astronomy in his spare time. Robert Boyle, father of modern chemistry, set up Christian apologetics lectures. Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, was a Christian monk. Isaac Newton, discoverer of the universal laws of gravitation, finishes his Principia with:

This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being...This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God.[2]

Johannes Kepler, discoverer of the laws of planetary motion, wrote:

The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.[3]

Arno Penzias, Nobel Laureate and co-discoverer of the cosmic background radiation, says of Kepler’s philosophy:
That really goes back to the triumph, not of Copernicus, but really the triumph of Kepler. That's because, after all, the notion of epicycles and so forth goes back to days when scientists were swapping opinions. All this went along until we had a true believer and this was Kepler. Kepler, after all, was the Old Testament Christian. Right? He really believed in God the Lawgiver. And so he demanded that the same God who spoke in single words and created the universe is not going to have a universe with 35 epicycles in it. And he said there's got to be something simpler and more powerful. Now he was lucky or maybe there was something deeper, but Kepler's faith was rewarded with his laws of nature. And so from that day on, it's been an awful struggle, but over long centuries, we find that very simple laws of nature actually do apply. And so that expectation is still with scientists. And it comes essentially from Kepler, and Kepler got it out of his belief in the Bible, as far as I can tell. This passionate belief turned out to be right. And he gave us his laws of motion, the first real laws of nature we ever had. And so nature turned out to redeem the expectations he had based on his faith. And scientists have adopted Kepler's faith, without the cause.[4]
One common charge against Christianity is that it “hinders scientific progress.” Any commonly accepted idea could hinder science—not just ones that Christians hold. The best example was the dogmatic adherence to Aristotle that hindered scientific progress for over 2000 years. One of the first people to disagree with Aristotle was a Christian, Nicolaus Copernicus. And it was Galileo, also a Christian, who challenged the prevailing scientific view of the universe in the name of science. Most people at the time, including secular scientists, held the Aristotelian idea that the earth was at the center of the solar system and heavenly bodies moved in perfect circles. It was Kepler who showed planetary orbits to be ellipses. Christians were the ones actually pushing science forward in an age of scientific stagnation.
Another example of this was Louis Pasteur, a devout Christian credited with the discovery of germ theory. The prevailing view in Pasteur’s time was that microbes could spontaneously appear from chemicals and this was the cause of illness. Spontaneous generation disagrees with the Christian Doctrine of Creation, so Pasteur set out, with obvious success, to show that life appearing from non-life could not be correct. Based on his Christian beliefs, Pasteur was motivated to test a prevailing scientific theory to the benefit of mankind.
A current example of a theory holding back science is the belief that our DNA contains a vast amount of “junk” that has no function. Scientists held to this belief because it was one of the evidences for evolutionary theory and this “held back” science for 30 years. We are now discovering all kinds of function in “junk DNA” that we never bothered to look for earlier because of a dogmatic adherence to evolutionary theory. Christianity is no more guilty of “holding back science” than any other commonly held idea that society sees as correct.
Returning to Giordano Bruno and the accusation by Dr. Tyson in Cosmos, the book that “Bruno dared to read” and was supposedly the beginning of Bruno’s persecution, Lucretius, was banned by a Florentine synod of clerics in schools in 1516, but the punishment was minimal. Violators were threatened with “eternal damnation” and a fine of 10 ducats, about $175 today. The Catholic Church didn't even have an official position on the heliocentric universe in 1600, and support for it was not considered heresy during Bruno's trial.
For Giordano Bruno and others persecuted by the Church, the dispute was not with science, but in almost every case when blood was shed, the disputes were over theology, not a dispute between theology and science. Bruno, for example, suggested that Satan was destined to be saved and redeemed by God, he didn't think Jesus was the son of God, but rather “an unusually skilled magician.” He also publicly disputed Mary's virginity. In addition, he constantly ranted about how idiotic his fellow friars were, calling them names and lamenting their adherence to Catholic doctrine. For years, he'd set up shop in some city, find new patrons, and promptly make enemies of them with his combative sarcasm and relentless arguments. Even fellow Copernican pioneers, Galileo and Kepler, scientists who actually used evidence, had no love for Bruno.[5] Very few were harshly persecuted for reading a scientific book or proposing a scientific theory. The Church allowed scientific thought and, as shown above, science began and flourished during the Church’s reign in Western Europe.
Persecution of beliefs did, sadly, occur because heretical theologies threaten the authority of those in control in a way that science doesn’t. Galileo was never put on the list of forbidden books and his harassment was over Church authority and who had the right to interpret scripture. Church leaders usually allowed scientists to sidestep theological conflict.

In this spirit the pope reassured Galileo that he had nothing to fear as long as he made it clear that he spoke as a mathematician, not a theologian. Specifically, Pope Urban instructed Galileo to acknowledge in his publications that “definitive conclusions could not be reached in the natural sciences. God in his omnipotence could produce a natural phenomenon in any number of ways and it was therefore presumptuous for any philosopher to claim that he had a unique solution.”[6]

Galileo did include this statement in his Dialogue concerning the Two Chief World Systems, but he tauntingly put it in the mouth of Simplicio, the dullard who voiced all the errors in his book. Similarly to Bruno, Galileo hurt himself by lying to, betraying, and insulting the Pope.  Even so, the Pope did thwart efforts to impose more serious penalties on Galileo. All powerful institutions and organizations suppress dissent and nonconformity and abuse their power.  Autocrats do not tolerate disagreement.

But, insofar as the suppression of science is concerned, the bloodiest incidents have been recent and have had nothing to do with religion. It was the Nazi Party, not the German Evangelical Church, that tried to eradicate “Jewish” physics, and it was the Communist Party, not the Russian Orthodox Church, that destroyed the “bourgeois” genetics and left many other fields of Soviet science in disarray.[7]

As an interesting aside, in Cosmos, Dr. Tyson used Giordano Bruno as an example of a scientist that was burned at the stake for his heretical free thinking when Bruno was persecuted, according to Tyson, for teaching something that he learned in a vision, for which he had no evidence, and that he initially read in an ancient text!

[1] Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God, Princeton University Press, 2003, page 147
[2] Isaac Newton, Principia, 1687
[3] Johannes Kepler, Astronomia nova, 1609
[4] Michael Bumbulis, Christianity and the Birth of Science,

[6] Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God, 2003, Princeton University Press
[7] ibid

Monday, March 10, 2014

Five Ineffective Arguments Against Evolution

In my last two posts I defined several aspects of evolution and made the point that if you are going to argue a scientific theory like evolution, you first need to make sure you understand the theory and second, you need to argue using the evidence that nature provides.  You shouldn’t worry that evolution will somehow disprove Christianity or that approaching scientific models in this manner would somehow allow the scientists to “win.” There is no need to be afraid of science; if Christianity is true, then nature, when interpreted correctly, will agree with the Christian scriptures.
            Because scientific models are invented to explain natural phenomenon, the only way to change a model is to show evidence from nature that the model is not adequate.  Any argument against evolution that has a chance to be successful must either present evidence against the model or show how the current evidence is being misinterpreted.  The more we labor to understand the science, and then actually address the real issues, the further we get with the scientific community. If we want to be a witness to science minded people, we must use the example of Paul in Athens (Acts 17) and start with their “gods.” With that in mind, here are five common arguments against evolution that are ineffective within the scientific community.
1.      The Bible. While this is persuasive to some, it absolutely is a conversation stopper for others; it is usually not successful to argue from a source that the person you are arguing with does not trust. As stated above, this is also not how science operates. It does not persuade someone who knows the science, but instead it quite often perpetuates the perception of the Christian community as anti-intellectual and puts up a larger barrier to the real purpose of the Bible, the gospel message. Besides, it is not necessary to argue using the Bible, as there are ways to question the data without referring to the Bible.
2.      The second law of thermodynamics.  This law does not state that things must go from order to disorder.  Instead, the second law of thermodynamics requires that overall, the energy in the universe must go from high quality to low quality; like from potential energy to heat. This loss of energy quality is what makes it possible for energy to be transferred from one place to another. The confusion with order and disorder (entropy) comes from a corollary of the second law which says that if you focus on a single closed system in which no energy or matter is entering or leaving the system, then if you start in an ordered state, you will end up in a disordered state. The earth is not a closed system, so this does not apply to life on earth. In addition, many life processes that seem to become more ordered, actually have a positive entropy (become disordered) when you look at the system as whole. Actions like proteins folding, DNA adopting a double helix, and cell membranes assembling all spontaneously occur.  While these seem to be more ordered, what happens with the surrounding water molecules is the key; in all three actions, water is driven out from the inside of the structure and becomes more disordered allowing the other ordering processes to occur. You can therefore get order and structure without violating anything about the second law of thermodynamics. If you want to argue that there is no known mechanism that can form molecules on the early earth, then this is a kinetic limitation, not a thermodynamic barrier.
3.      Any argument that uses the old assumption that the mechanism of evolution is simply driven by point mutations in regions of DNA that code for proteins. These arguments are commonly made using statistics, showing how improbable something is, or showing that there is not enough time for a certain process to happen. The time and/or statistical arguments using these point mutations are currently “straw man” arguments because we presently don’t completely understand the mechanism of natural selection. It is ineffective to pick on an outdated mechanism, since we no longer think the mechanism simply involves single point mutations protein coding regions of DNA. It is looking more like most of the action happens in gene expression and regulation or in developmental genes. There is more work to be done here, so arguments that use statistical evidence against the time it takes for a certain number of point mutations to occur shouldn’t be put forward.
4.      Irreducible complexity. This has been proven to be an ineffective argument to make the case for design at the biochemical level because an evolutionary path for some irreducibly complex systems has been demonstrated through a process known as cooption. Intermediate systems that do have function have been shown that they possibly could be used in a new system; for example, the “type 3 secretory apparatus” in bacteria could be used to make a flagellum. The secretory system in bacteria, used to inject proteins through the cell membrane into the host cell, is homologous to the base of the bacterial flagellum.[1] It has been shown, therefore, that it is possible for an irreducibly complex machine to emerge through a stepwise process. We don’t have to completely throw out this argument, however. Complexity is a feature that is common in designs made by human beings, so when we see these complex systems in nature, there is a good analogous argument for the work of a mind.
5.      “It’s just a theory.” Yes, it is true that parts of the evolutionary paradigm are theory.  But, this is actually a positive argument to a scientist! A theory is defined as something that is supported by evidence, is and has been tested, and is falsifiable, and can be used to make predictions.  It does not mean that it is a guess or a hunch. Theories explain how or why something occurs, while laws generally describe something that always occurs.  The law of gravity describes what we directly see as always occurring, while the theory of general relativity explains how and why it occurs. A theory generally doesn’t become a law with more evidence, although the theory that atoms exist could be said to have risen to the status of law because we have directly observed atoms with a scanning, tunneling microscope. That atoms are made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons, would be a theory. Using the breakdown of the term evolution from my previous post, I would say that micro-evolutionary change and speciation are actually laws, while the process of natural selection, macro-evolution, and common descent are all theory.
Arguments that use the Bible, thermodynamics, chance and time, complexity, or “It’s just a theory” are usually not effective against evolution. There are, of course, good arguments that can be used to question the evolutionary paradigm. (Most of the content of this post comes from listening to Dr. Fazale Rana at Reasons to Believe)

[1] Kenneth R. Miller, The Flagellum Unspun, The Collapse of "Irreducible Complexity", Brown University

Monday, March 3, 2014

Arguing Evolution With Nature's Evidence

Christians should not be afraid of “good” science; that is models and theories about nature that are honestly based on evidence. We should not simply dismiss evolutionary theory, nor should we assume we have to rethink our interpretation of the Bible to fit evolutionary theory. Instead, we should learn the current evidence for the theory and evaluate it based on this evidence. It is not persuasive to those that already do not trust the Bible to argue against a scientific theory by using passages of scripture. As I have argued in past posts (, we can be confident that when we interpret both nature and scripture accurately, they will agree; even if we do the work of evaluating the evidence from nature separate from evaluating the evidence from scripture. Christians should not be afraid to look honestly at the evidence regarding evolution.
In my previous post (, I showed that evolution is a many faceted term. We need to be specific with our terms when discussing evolution, as several aspects of the theory are directly observed and therefore undebatable. For example, natural selection, micro-evolutionary changes, and speciation are three aspects of the theory that are not in question. In this post, when I use the term evolution, I will be referring to the extrapolation of micro-evolutionary changes; termed macro-evolution in the previous post. There are four areas where the evidence for this extrapolation can be debated: the fossil record and the explosive nature of innovation, observed limits of natural selection, conflicting evolutionary trees, and convergence.
The evolutionary theory of common descent makes the prediction that we should see a gradual progression from one form of life to another in the fossil record; yet this extrapolation of microevolution is not confirmed by the evidence in the ground. Charles Darwin himself wondered, “By this theory innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?”[1] The fossil record does not show gradualism.

There is another and allied difficulty, which is much graver. I allude to the manner in which numbers of species of the same group, suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks.[2]

Yes, we do find fossils of transitional forms (defined as an organism that seems to have characteristics of other organisms found both earlier and later in the fossil record), but what we overwhelmingly observe in the fossil record is explosive, abrupt appearances every time there is biological innovation. The history of life on earth is mass originations coupled with mass extinctions.

The fossil record indicates that prior to about 570 million years ago life on Earth appears to have been dominated by single-celled organisms. At that point an event known as the Avalon Explosion took place. During this origins event, an enigmatic fauna of complex marine creatures known as the Ediacarans appeared. The Ediacaran fauna consisted of about 270 species that have been recovered as fossils in about thirty localities around the world. The organisms disappeared shortly before the Cambrian explosion. New research indicates that Ediacaran fauna emerged explosively, in the same manner as that of the Cambrian event. During the Avalon explosion the full range of anatomical characteristics displayed by the Ediacarans was already expressed around 570 million years ago. In other words, no evolutionary buildup of biodiversity.
Known in Darwin’s time, the Cambrian explosion refers to the dramatic appearance of complex animal life in the fossil record about 540 million years ago. Within a short period of time—perhaps less than 5 million years—anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of all animal phyla to ever exist on Earth appeared. The animals that came into existence during the Cambrian explosion were marine creatures. Instead of relatively simple organisms originating at the base of the Cambrian and then evolving toward increased intricacy, complex animals appear suddenly. The traditional evolutionary explanation argues that life should transition from simple to complex in a gradual, branching, tree-like fashion. On the other hand, such explosive appearances are exactly what should be expected if a Creator is responsible for orchestrating life’s history.[3]

A new discovery of 540 million year old fossils in Kootenay National Park[4] has added more evidence for the explosive nature of the Cambrian period. Twelve new Cambrian species, including a chordate, have been found so far, as well as many of the same species as found in a Chinese Cambrian fossil bed.  These animals showed up suddenly, were prolific (because the fossil beds are exceedingly dense), and show a wide geographic extent (Canada to China).  The Chinese site has identical fossils which are 10-15 million years older, so there creatures remained the same for that quite a while without any evolutionary change taking place. Lynn Margulis, American Biologist and 2008 winner of the Darwin-Wallace Medal (given for major advances in evolutionary biology), who also happens to be the ex-wife of Carl Sagan, has noticed the same problem.

What you'd like to see is a good case for gradual change from one species to another in the field, in the laboratory, or in the fossil record--and preferably in all three. Darwin's big mystery was why there was no record at all before a specific point [dated to 542 million years ago by modern researchers], and then all of the sudden in the fossil record you get nearly all the major types of animals. The paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould studied lakes in East Africa and on Caribbean islands looking for Darwin's gradual change from one species of trilobite or snail to another. What they found was lots of back-and-forth variation in the population and then--whoop--a whole new species. There is no gradualism in the fossil record.[5]

Eugene Koonin, an American biologist and Senior Investigator at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health notices the same pattern of explosive appearance, followed by periods of stasis and slow micro-evolution.

Major transitions in biological evolution show the same pattern of sudden emergence of diverse forms at a new level of complexity. The relationships between major groups within an emergent new class of biological entities are hard to decipher and do not seem to fit the tree pattern that, following Darwin's original proposal, remains the dominant description of biological evolution. The cases in point include the origin of complex RNA molecules and protein folds; major groups of viruses; archaea and bacteria, and the principal lineages within each of these prokaryotic domains; eukaryotic supergroups; and animal phyla. In each of these pivotal nexuses in life's history, the principal "types" seem to appear rapidly and fully equipped with the signature features of the respective new level of biological organization. No intermediate "grades" or intermediate forms between different types are detectable.[6]

Not only does the evidence show explosive appearance, but laboratory evidence seems to be pointing to a limit to what natural selection and micro-evolution can accomplish. We have directly observed the HIV virus, the malaria organism, and E. coli bacteria evolve through countless generations, greatly surpassing the numbers of mammals that have ever lived in the earth.

The bottom line: Despite huge population numbers and intense selective pressure, microbes as disparate as malaria and HIV yield similar, minor, evolutionary responses. Darwinists have loudly celebrated studies of finch beaks, showing modest changes in the shapes and sizes of beaks over time, as the finches’ food supplies changed. But here we have genetic studies over thousands upon thousands of generations, of trillions upon trillions of organisms, and little of biochemical significance to show for it.[7]

We have directly observed these huge numbers of populations in the lab under more stress than they would experience in nature and we have not seen very much cumulative micro-evolutionary changes; this directly observed lack of variation contributes to the doubt of macro-evolutionary change.
Common descent also proposes “evolutionary trees” originally drawn based on how similar body structures are (morphology). It is assumed that the more similar the structure, the more closely related the organisms. Evolutionary trees can also be drawn using the DNA; this assumes that the more closely related organisms are, the more similar their sequence of genes will be. This creates another place of doubt for the theory of common decent, as quite often the trees drawn by morphology do not match the trees drawn by genomic sequence.

In other words, depending on the region of the genome that is selected, differing “evolutionary trees” result for humans and the great apes. The evidence does not support a key idea of the evolutionary paradigm; namely, that evolutionary trees built from separate DNA sequences should agree with each other and with those constructed from morphology (form).[8]

In conclusion, the biological processes that generate phylogenic conflict are ubiquitous, and overcoming incongruence requires better models and more data than have been collected even in well-studied organisms…[9]

Common descent requires that morphological trees match genomic trees. We continue to find places where this is not the case, casting doubt on our understanding of macro-evolution. If you want to read an evaluation of evolutionary trees specifically related to human evolution, go here:
Convergence is the last line of evidence that can be questioned as to whether it supports the possibility of common descent. According to current evolutionary theory, convergent evolution occurs when organisms that evolved independently from different ancestors adapt to similar environments in similar ways to form analogous structures or features. There are over 200 examples of biochemical convergence and numerous examples of homologous convergence.

[Convergence] refers to the widespread pattern in nature in which unrelated organisms possess nearly identical anatomical, physiological, behavioral, and biochemical characteristics. The wings of birds and bats represent one textbook example. Birds and bats belong to different groups, with birds assigned to the class Aves and bats to the class Mammalia. According to the evolutionary paradigm, undirected natural processes yielded the identical outcome (wings, in this case) because the forces of selection channeled evolutionary pathways to the same endpoint.[10]

One of the challenges that convergence creates for the evolutionary paradigm is the frequency with which it occurs throughout life’s history. Convergence is a common characteristic of life. This commonness makes little sense in light of evolutionary theory. If evolution is indeed responsible for the diversity of life, one would expect convergence to be extremely rare. The mechanism that drives the evolutionary process consists of a large number of unpredictable, chance events that occur one after another. Given this mechanism and the complexity and fine-tuning of biological systems, it seems improbable that disparate evolutionary pathways would ever lead to the same biological feature.[11]
The problem is that we get convergence with vastly different organisms in vastly different environments! It is hard to explain why different environments would produce analogous structures in unrelated organisms. An example of this is the eye structure of cephalopods (squids are a type of cephalopod) and vertebrates (animals with backbones). The eye would have had to evolve not only in two fundamentally different groups, but also under totally different selective forces; aquatic vs. terrestrial. This difference again happens with the sand lance (a fish) and the chameleon. Again, two totally different groups of animals in two totally different environments with analogous eyes are not explained very well with the evolutionary model. Convergence happening in this manner in totally different environments creates serious doubt for the theory for common descent. If you want to read more about convergence, go here:
While several aspects of evolutionary theory are not in doubt, there are at least four lines of evidence that raise serious questions for the extrapolation of microevolution leading to common descent. We don’t see a gradual progression in the fossil record; instead we see explosive, dramatic change, followed by periods of slow speciation. Secondly, we actually observe that there are limits to what natural selection can do. Thirdly, morphological evolutionary trees often contradict genomic evolutionary trees. Finally, convergence occurring in vastly different environments is difficult to explain.
While none of these evidences neither postulates God, nor disproves evolution, each of them raises doubts and each provides a place to question evolution within the scope of the science. Evolutionary biologists themselves will admit that they do not have a complete understanding of macro-evolution and of the “trees” made to represent common descent; the models for these two areas are in constant flux and quite often change with a single fossil discovery. You don’t need to use theology to argue against science, you can use the evidence from nature itself to engage in discussions about evolution.

[1] Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Fazale Rana, Ph.D., Reasons to Believe.
[6] Eugene V Koonin, The Biological Big Bang model for the major transitions in evolution, Biology Direct 2007, 2:21,
[7] Michael Behe, The Edge of Evolution, 2007, Free Press, New York.
[8] Dr. Fazale Rana, Reasons to Believe, August 1, 2011, Will the Real Human Ancestor Please Stand Up?
[9] Dávalos, L. M., Cirranello, A. L., Geisler, J. H. and Simmons, N. B. (2012), Understanding phylogenetic incongruence: lessons from phyllostomid bats. Biological Reviews, 87: 991–1024. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2012.00240.x.
[10] Dr. Fazale Rana, Reasons to Believe, June 19, 2008, Déjá vu—Again, Part 1 of 2,
[11] Dr. Fazale Rana, Reasons to Believe, October 1, 2000, Convergence: Evidence for a Single Creator,

Monday, February 24, 2014

We Must Understand It Before We Argue It

Following the Ham/Nye debate, a disturbing post went around on Facebook showing over 20 creationists trying to make a point against naturalism or evolution by holding up a sign with a clever statement or question on it that was supposed to make skeptics doubt their worldview.  I know from conversations with people who know science that it actually did the opposite. When arguing against a scientific theory or model, it is best to learn about the subject first!  Any argument against evolution that has a chance to be successful must either present evidence against the model or show how the current evidence is being misinterpreted.  The more we labor to understand the science and then actually address the real issues, the further we get with the scientific community. Conversely, little is accomplished when one attempts to argue from an uninformed position.
Naïve statements actually drive people away from Christianity and perpetuate the idea that Christians are not intellectuals. We need to stop putting up barriers that keep people from even listening to the gospel; making sophomoric statements about science perpetuates the myth that Christianity is only for the uneducated. Since evolution is the hot topic and the one to which most people direct their statements, here is a quick primer to help us understand the theory better so we can discuss evolution from an intellectually informed position.
The broadest meaning of evolution is simply “change over time.” But evolution has many other meanings embedded within it, so we must be careful to be specific about our terms. I like how Fazale Rana of Reasons to Believe[1] breaks down the word evolution, so I am borrowing many of his definitions. One of the most common types of changes being referenced by the term evolution is “microevolution.” This is the variation that happens within a species in response to changes in environment, changes in competitive and predatory pressures, or genetic drift.  This allows a species to adapt to its environment and has been directly observed, so there is no reason to argue against this definition.  Species are adapting to their environment when the peppered moth population in England changes to a darker color because of pollution, when the finch beaks in the Galapagos become thicker during the dry season, or when guppy populations change from bright colorings to mostly grey, due to increased predation.
“Speciation” is the next meaning buried within the term evolution. Speciation comes from long term microevolution due to population isolation; a single population branching into a closely related organism, different enough to be classified as a different species. This has been directly observed, so this should not be argued either. For example, a turtle population can develop longer necks because of their isolation on an island, separate from other turtles.  This change is enough to make them a different species.
Another definition buried in the term evolution is “microbial evolution.” This is a form of micro-evolution, but occurs when viruses, bacteria, and single celled organisms change due to some kind of environmental pressure like pesticides or antibiotics.  This has also been directly observed. Ironically, this type of evolution may actually be evidence against macro-evolution! We have directly observed the HIV virus, the malaria organism, and E. coli bacteria evolve through countless generations, greatly surpassing the numbers of mammals that have ever lived in the earth.  What this has shown us is that there might be limit to what natural selection can do!
The bottom line: Despite huge population numbers and intense selective pressure, microbes as disparate as malaria and HIV yield similar, minor, evolutionary responses. Darwinists have loudly celebrated studies of finch beaks, showing modest changes in the shapes and sizes of beaks over time, as the finches’ food supplies changed. But here we have genetic studies over thousands upon thousands of generations, of trillions upon trillions of organisms, and little of biochemical significance to show for it.[2]
“Natural Selection” is also a concept embedded in the term evolution. This is the process through which evolution occurs.  Some individuals in a population may have one or more characteristics that allow them to reproduce at a higher rate than other individuals in that population.  This results in that particular set of characteristics being more prevalent in the population and is why populations of organisms can adapt to new environments.  If a population gets isolated by some geographic barrier, then natural selection operating in the new environment can result in speciation. Charles Darwin was not the first to propose that existing life on this planet came from previous organisms; what associated Darwin’s name with evolution was his discovery of evolution’s mechanism, natural selection.
“Chemical evolution” is probably the least used meaning of the term evolution. This has implications in the origin of life; that nature can create life through chemical processes all on its own.  Chemical evolution assumes that the organizational properties of atoms and molecules can manifest over long periods of time, resulting in the chemicals necessary for life. Chemical evolution requires complex organic molecules to form from simpler inorganic ones. This has not been observed under totally naturalistic circumstances, but instead when the building blocks for life have been shown to organize into materials needed for life it has been under very controlled conditions in a laboratory; not in the very dilute, very destructive, and very random conditions on the early earth. The experiments which create the substances necessary for life actually are showing that an outside mind is necessary to control the conditions for this to happen.

…when scientists do laboratory experiments, they are no longer passive observers of undirected processes. Instead, these researchers become active participants,
1.      Designing the protocol;
2.      Assembling the apparatus;
3.      Supplying the media and reagents for the experiments;
4.      Adjusting the initial conditions and regulating them throughout the study;
5.      Monitoring the course of chemical and physical changes, usually by withdrawing material from the apparatus.

In other words, human beings interject themselves into the experiment’s design, ironically, to demonstrate that life can emerge all on its own without purposeful intervention.  [These experiments are] no longer reflecting the actual evolutionary events thought to have occurred on the early Earth. Instead, these efforts reflect what’s possible when a researcher – an intelligent agent – orchestrates physiochemical processes.[3]

When most people think of the term evolution, I believe they are thinking of a population of organisms evolving into another entirely new creature, which we can call “macroevolution.”  This is an extrapolation of micro-evolution and speciation.  You can imagine if an organism continued to change over long periods of time it could evolve into a totally new type; like some ancient pig-like populations of anthracotheres adapting and changing through a series of new types of organisms eventually into hippopotamus and whales. Along with chemical evolution, this is the type of evolution that has not been directly observed. It is inferred as the best explanation from extrapolating speciation events, for what we see in the fossil record, from the biogeography of life on this planet, from homology (similar structures in different types if animals), and from DNA sequences. Since we have been able to sequence DNA, we have noticed that the more similar the sequence of genes, the more closely related the species are in history.
There really is no other competing naturalistic, scientific theory to explain the history of life on Earth; not because of some conspiracy, but because the evidence doesn’t yet warrant it! Scientists make their name by overturning existing theories and paradigms, so if there was another valid theory, someone would be presenting the counter evidence and arguing for it!  Because of recent evidence, a part of the theory is in flux.  The actual genetic mechanism of natural selection is in question; moving to a focus on developmental and regulatory genes as the places where the changes originate and away from the old idea of point mutations on the protein coding regions causing the changes.
Even though there is no good competing scientific theory, there are good reasons to be skeptical of what I have defined here as chemical evolution and macroevolution, as well as the extrapolation of microevolution. I will address both good arguments and bad arguments against evolution in future posts. What we cannot do is argue from a naive position or try to argue against science by using the Bible.  If we want people to both respect us and listen to us, we must know what we are talking about and we must limit our arguments against science to the evidence from the natural world.  If Christianity is true, then what we find will not conflict with what the Bible teaches; there is no reason to fear science or use bad arguments.  Either of these mistakes will be doing a disservice to Christianity by driving Bible believing Christians out of the scientific arena or by turning away seekers from ever hearing the gospel.

[1] Reasons to Believe,
[2] Michael Behe, The Edge of Evolution, 2007, Free Press, New York
[3] Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab, 2011, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan