Not long ago, I wrote an article posing the question of whether there was a blind rock maker in the universe. The article was partially inspired by my reading about chitons, tiny mollusks that have crystalline eyes. In other words, eyes made of rock.
It inspired me to ask readers the question, how could eyes evolve from rock? Feel free to leave your answers in the form of a comment and I promise to read it as soon as I notice it.
The inspiration for the question came from reading Francis Collins’ book The Language of God, because I happened to be perusing a section about what he considered a fatal flaw in Paley’s Watchmaker argument, using the following simple sequence of logical steps.
Collins summarized Paley’s argument into four simple points that said:
- A watch is complex.
- A watch has an intelligent designer.
- Life is complex.
- Therefore, life also has an intelligent designer.
I should mention that I really wanted to like Collins’s book more than I did. After all, he’s a scientist who proudly proclaims his Christian faith, which seems something of a novelty in modern culture. There are other exceptions, like Dr. Hugh Ross.
Collins is a world renowned biologist and geneticist, founder and director of the Human Genome Project.
Yet it irritated me as it also captivated my attention when he wrote, “No serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution to explain the marvelous complexity and diversity of life.” (pg 99)
In one sentence, he summed up nicely why I am not a biologist and rarely take myself too seriously.
I’d much rather be a jack-of-all-trades than a know-it-all.
Nobody can answer the existential questions with conviction. Not unless they’ve personally had an NDE. Even then, they can only offer proof of clinical death, not what happened afterward.
Collins used the following sequence of statements to illustrate what he perceived as a fallacy in Paley’s logic:
- Electric current in my house consists of a flow of electrons.
- Electric current comes from the power company.
- Lightning consists of a flow of electrons.
- Therefore, lightning comes from the power company. (pg 88)
His point seems to argue against logically extrapolating a conclusion based on beliefs not supported by any scientific evidence. Fair enough. It seems to be a powerful counterargument.
So why does he forcefully argue that Darwinian evolution has been proved beyond all doubt? Et suffers the exact same problems as Paley’s argument for design. It’s a conclusion looking for facts to support it.
The reason I find Dr. Collins’s argument so irritating is the same argument he uses against Intelligent Design can be used against Darwin’s argument for natural selection as an explanation for the origin of the genome, and modern knowledge of sexual reproduction does not contradict Intelligent Design.
Do similarities in the genome of a mouse and human really prove we share a common ancestor? It’s difficult enough to buy the relationship between human and bonobo ape or chimpanzee, but a mouse?
And just for the record, one can take any argument, grossly oversimplify its premise and reach a fallacious alternate conclusion. Allow me to demonstrate…
- The hypothesis of abiogenesis stipulates that a single celled organism formed from chemical ingredients that just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
- We know that biogenesis, also known as sexual reproduction, requires two creatures with virtually identical genomes to mate and produce viable offspring.
- Therefore, we are all actually single celled organisms, albeit ones with very vivid imaginations.
You see, real life doesn’t always provide for neat explanations proved by scientific method. Logic is wonderful until one is confronted by an illogical problem.
Collins quotes Darwin’s conclusion to Origin of the Species:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breed by the creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning, enlists forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being involved. (p99)
From the quote I surmise that Darwin liked his own theory. Now, there’s a shocker.
Collins also quoted Darwin to describe himself, “Agnostic would be most correct description of my state of mind.”
Yet he noted Darwin also wrote,
The extreme difficulty, or rather the impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity for looking far backwards, or far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.
My goodness! Darwin was all over the map, wasn’t he? Don’t misunderstand my criticism; my opinions have changed to some degree during my tenure as Atlanta Creationism Examiner.
However, I haven’t changed from disbelief to belief in God, or vice versa, in years. I have acquired interesting information in the past few years that has slightly altered my perceived understanding of God, but not that dramatically.
It’s kind of hard to shake off personal experience.
Indeed, Collins’s “God Hypothesis” leans on Darwin’s definition of Theism, using the same simplistic approach of a couple of bullet items to make his point that he used to attack Paley’s Watchmaker.
His God Hypothesis begins,
- If God exists, then He is supernatural.
- If He is supernatural, then he is not limited by natural laws.
- If he is not limited by natural laws, there is no reason he should be limited by time.
- If he is not limited by time, then he is in the past, present, and the future.
Collins concludes these four points mean:
- He could exist before the Big Bang, and He could exist after the universe fades away, if it ever does.
- He could know the precise outcome of the formation of the universe even before it started.
- He could have foreknowledge of the planet near the outer rim of an average spiral galaxy that would have just the right characteristics to allow life.
- He could have foreknowledge that the planet would lead to the development of sentient creatures, through the mechanism of evolution by natural selection.
- He could even know in advance the thoughts and actions of these creatures, even though they themselves have free will.
That all sounds good.
In fact, I agree with everything he said – as long as we all acknowledge that the operative word was “could.”
There’s only one problem with his arguments. The “evidence” for evolution as Collins has described it is no stronger than any evidence of Intelligent Design, or for that matter my argument expressed in Divine Evolution, but he emulates Richard Dawkins and argues that Darwinian natural selection is an unchallengeable theory. I beg to differ.
In fact, the opposite is true. Everything we know about modern biology refutes this mystical ability for metamorphosis over countless generations contradicts the very idea. It has been proved impossible in a single generation, so believing it can actually happen when you simply have enough time to kill is patently absurd. (cont’d below ad)
Because the simple truth is this: the building block, even the very foundation of theistic or secular evolution is indeed abiogenesis, which Collins concedes is not currently even a viable theory.
The odds against DNA evolving by chance or luck within the timeframe required for modern life to have evolved to the degree we easily observe today are absolutely enormous.
Life had to originate within a few hundred million years of the Earth’s formation in order for evolution to reach the point it has today – without God, that is. That’s why the theory of panspermia exists — the conventional math doesn’t work.
Abiogenesis is currently a very bad hypothesis because it requires stupid blind luck in defiance against astronomical odds. We’ve been trying to kill to explain away creationism with a “Goldilocks” combination of just the right chemical ingredients in the only real spot we know about in this “Goldilocks” universe just right for life.
The problems I have reiterated over and over about natural selection and it’s absolute failure to demonstrate any means by which macro evolution, or speciation could occur to change a genome so radically that a new creature is formed.
In fact, everything we do know about biology seems to contradict the conclusions that if simply given enough time, any organism could mutate it’s genome to grow feathers or wings and be able to fly after eons of useless, mindless change with little or no benefit.
The same rationale used in declaring segments of the genome include “junk DNA” seems to follow the same logic of arguments for transitional fossils or vestigial organs. We tend to think things are useless if we don’t understand their purpose; we conform observations to personal interpretations of the “facts.”
Fossils are “facts.”
But facts of what? We know that strange and exotic creatures once existed that no longer roam the Earth. We also know that the genomes of various creatures appear to share common denominators.
We do not have any solid or incontrovertible evidence to show ancestral relationships between these extinct animals and mankind. They could be prototypes of creation for all we know.
Like LEGOS, certain gene sequences are repeated with very slight alterations in remarkably different life forms. Scientists have speculated this indicates descendant relationships exist between life forms as radically different as plants, birds, mammals and reptiles.
Why is this theory considered more plausible or proved than the idea of iterative creation? If a day is not only 24 hours long, but say creations existed over six periods of time, then why couldn’t dinosaurs have come and gone in a “day” to God?
A supernatural entity that has existed for more than 15 billion “Earth years” probably doesn’t measure time like humans do. Time is probably an irrelevant concept to a timeless, eternal God.
From reading his book, I ascertained that Dr. Collins is a well respected scientist who obviously believes in Darwinian evolution but also in a theistic God.
I do not pretend to understand the evidence on which he bases his conclusions, because he didn’t seem to offer anything concrete to back the conclusions of every “serious biologist today.”
It also became clear to me that science, despite its unquestioned powers in unraveling the mysteries of the natural world, would get me no further in resolving the question of God. If God exists, then He must be outside the natural world, and therefore the tools of science are not the right ones to learn about Him. Instead as I was beginning to understand from looking into my own heart, the evidence of God’s existence would have to come from other directions, and the ultimate decision would be based on faith, not proof. Still beset by roiling uncertainties of what path I had started down, I had to admit that I had reached the threshold of accepting the possibility of a spiritual world view, including the existence of God. (pg 30)
Collins gives a fine example to illustrate the use of Bayes’s Theorem to determine one’s personal probability of God, so of course I did enjoy that part of his book (pgs 49-52)
I also enjoyed his lengthy discussion of cosmology, the Big Bang theory, and the Anthropic Principle. I agree with his summary of three possible explanations:
- There may be an essentially infinite number of universes, either occurring simultaneously with our own or in some sequence, with different variations of the physical constants, and maybe different physical laws. We are, however, unable to observe the other universes. We can exist only in the universe where all the physical properties work together to permit life and consciousness. Ours is not miraculous, it is simply an unusual product of trial and error. This is called the multiverse hypothesis.
- There is only one universe, and this is it. It just happened to have all the right characteristics to give rise to intelligent life. If it hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here discussing this. We are just very, very, very lucky.
- There is only one universe, and this is it the precise tuning of all the physical constants and physical laws to make intelligent life possible is not an accident, but reflects the action of one who created the universe in the first place.
…no scientific observation can reach the level of absolute proof of the existence of God. But for those willing to consider a theistic perspective, the Anthropic Principle certainly provides an interesting argument in favor of a Creator. (pg 78)
No argument from me….
A true scientist, Collins hedging his bets against success of Craig Venter’s efforts to create a synthetic form of life by saying it could happen one day. He concludes that Christians who reject abiogenesis would be left in the lurch if that happened.
If Venter ever does succeed, the results would vault abiogenesis from bad hypothesis to a strong and viable theory virtually overnight. Fair enough.
Then I’d have reason to believe in theistic evolution. In the meantime, I need some evidence to believe it is possible.
It seems that Collins stakes his faith to the rational conclusion he reached long ago that the universe in which we live could not have occurred by luck or chance, but with specific intention. I agree.
I’m willing to go a step further and suggest that life is no accident, either.