As mentioned previously, I am following a book club type format for this book over on another blog. I was going to just participate over there but I have a lot more to say than I want to shove into their comments, so I figured I'd do a normal long form post over here and then just talk about 1 or 2 main points over there. I'm sticking to my normal format of bold for section heading, regular text for summary, and italics for my commentary.
People like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris claim that evolution is fact and the matter is settled. That all scientists except the "woefully uninformed" accept it as fact. However, this is not true. There are over 800 scientists who have signed a list at the discovery institute who say they are skeptical of evolution.
My first thought on this was that 800 seems like a pretty small number. But let's move past it, I am curious to see the list, and ideally a reason why they dissent. I went to the discovery institute site and was referred here to find the list. I was primarily interested in why these people are so skeptical of evolution, most just say what they study although there is one page with a few descriptions and one with an audio file, which I'm going to go listen to now... I don't want to go into the details here, but I'm not impressed with it.
Evolution can mean different things, some think of it as "change over time", others say it is "organisms' adaptation to changing environments". We can see many subspecies of certain animals and we can see them change in small scale, this is micro-evolution. Macro-evolution is bigger change and this is what is controversial. Darwinian evolution claims that all animals can trace their lineage back to a common ancestor.
The difference between micro and macro evolution is not well defined. Any evidence can just be classified as micro and say we have never seen macro, this is moving the goalposts. It is hard to see big changes because it works on timescales much larger than our lifetimes.
Understanding Intelligent Design
Even evolutionists think that the world looks designed, they just think this appearance is illusory while ID proponents claim it looks designed because it is. A great example is the bacterial flagellum, it is basically a little motor where if you remove any part of it the function of the entire system is destroyed. Many darwinists try to propose various explanations as to how it evolved, but none of this wild speculation is proof.
The problem is this, the author here is trying to say that it is impossible for the flagellum to have evolved without a designer. The 'darwinists' are providing possible explanations, which is the first step to figuring out how it happened. According to what is written here, ID is simply trying to use an argument from ignorance. "We don't know how it happened so it couldn't have happened without God"
"The theory of intelligent design does not challenge the definition of evolution as change over time, or even common ancestry. But it does challenge the Darwinian claim that all life's complexity and diversity can emerge through a blind, undirected process."
This bit confuses me as to why there is a controversy at all. If I am reading this right, we are basically agreeing to everything except that at the end I would say it happened by random chance but you would say God did it. If we agree on everything else then we should focus on that. Are they saying that macro-evolution could happen but God had his hands in it? If so then why say it doesn't happen?
Let me illustrate with a slightly silly example. Suppose that I think gravity is just that 2 masses are attracted to each other by bending space-time, and you think that angels pull things toward each other. We agree on the equations involved, we think that things are attracted to each other with the same forces involved, everything is exactly the same except you think there are angels and I don't. Would you try to forbid me from teaching about gravity in school?
Scientists are beginning to realize that mutation and natural selection play a role, but they are skeptical that this can account for the diversity and complexity of life on earth. We will look at a few of the common evidences for evolution.
I want to just say here that they should be skeptical, evolution is an incredible thing and should be looked at with a critical eye.
HIV and Bacterial Resistance
Bacteria in general and HIV in particular great for looking at mutations and adaptations. HIV has undergone countless mutations worldwide and "is uniquely positioned to help determine whether natural selection is viable". However, "HIV has not gone through the radical changes we should expect if natural selection is the creative force the New Atheists claim."
I'm curious what changes are supposedly expected. As stated in the section, HIV has adapted to be drug resistant, which is where the selection pressure is so that seems to me to be what we would expect, and that would happen. I am curious what test HIV has supposedly failed here.
This is the idea that different organisms have similar structures, for example if you look at the skeleton of different animals it will be similar to yours, even though sizes and shapes might differ, the same underlying structure is there. The problem is that this makes sense from the point of view of evolution and from ID, so you can't use it to prove evolution over ID.
Fair enough, this plays right into my point from above though, we should celebrate the fact that we agree on this. I guess I'm still confused about what ID is really saying, it sounds to me like it is saying "evolution plus God did it", in that case it doesn't seem like we should be at odds. I really hope someone can help me out with this.
Darwin found variation with different birds on the Galapagos islands and thinks that they evolved from a common bird which originally migrated there. We agree with this idea, we just don't think it extends to the idea that all life has a common ancestor. Further, many geneticists believe that such birds change by losing genetic information over time, which clearly does not extend to the bigger picture.
Well this last idea must be easily testable. Apart from that, we just have more of the same micro vs macro argument
The New Atheists like to claim that there is poor design in nature and that is evidence for unguided evolution rather than a designer. However, just because something isn't perfect doesn't mean that it isn't designed. Just think about an ipod, earlier versions are not perfect as later versions show, but they are still functional and that is what matters.
This seems to be watering down what ID is claiming. The designer now doesn't even have to be very good, it's creations just have to be functional. But functional yet poorly constructed creatures seem to make more sense to me from the unguided perspective, if you disagree so be it, but I think that is the point they are making.
Psuedogenes are thought to be genes that once had a function and have since stopped working. This is said to be evidence of evolution. They could have formed after creation and they could be creatures losing abilities. This again, is micro evolution not macro.
Same micro/macro problem
Why Our Origin Matters
Why is this such a big deal? Why can't we just believe in God and evolution?
This is what I want to know!
Mostly, we fine the theory unpersuasive along with the 800 scientists who disagree.
Fair enough, but I would again like to point out that 800 is an incredibly small number. Not that this says much, but the book seems to be trying to say this is a point of strength where I instead read it as weakness.
Also important, is the fact that evolution tries to eliminate the need for God. Dawkins says that Darwinism leaves no room for a higher intelligence or purpose. He has argued that Darwinism undermines theism in general and Christianity in particular.
I think this is the real reason for the opposition. They don't want it to be true and so they refuse to believe it. I don't see why they can't just fight the idea that evolution undermines theism instead of fighting evolution itself.
Endowed By a Creator
In the final section a quote by Thomas Jefferson from 1823 is used to show that it is "obvious" that there is a designer. Is this really the best "evidence" they have?