Thursday, April 19, 2012

Is God Just a Human Invention - Chapter 4 Is Darwinian Evolution the Only Game in Town?

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.

Understanding Evolution

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?

Doubting Darwin

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

Poor Design

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?


  1. IntroWell, at this point I'd say evolution is a fact. How it works is really what's being studied not. The discovery institute doesn't present any “evidence” of their own for their theory and are notorious for outright rejecting a lot of well established things. They still tout the “bacterial flagellum” being irreducibly complex“bacterial flagellum” being irreducibly complex(you can just do a quick page search to find where its talked about.) I'm sure they might present that, so I will keep my comments until then.

    Understanding Evolution Thank you for pointing out the “moving the goalposts.” The example is one I've heard a lot. Evolution typically requires very large time scales. This is something that you have correctly pointed out.

    Understanding Intelligent Design.Again, intelligent design has no evidence to prove it. It boils down as you said to. “Gosh this stuff is pretty complicated, it must be created by a God.” First, it was the eye. Then we figured that out. Now its the bacterial flagellum. Actually, this has been explained. At the famous Dover trial, this argument was brought up and knocked down. We do have a theory where you could reduce it and it would still have a function. I really can't remember what it was, but there is a reason that the creation side lost. Creationism isn't science. It's ridiculous how many people don't realize that they will just keep retreating to something that hasn't been explained yet. I think you summed up the “controversy.” Creationists want to use the evidence for evolution to prove evolution, but then claim God did it without any evidence. I like your example. You have to present evidence when you make a claim. If Intelligent Design is true, why doesn't someone just post their evidence for their claims, like the age of the earth and how radio carbon dating is wrong and just drive home their truckload of Nobel and other Scientific prizes? Because it's not scientific.

    Doubting Darwin Evolution, like you said, is extremely complex. Scientists have more evidence for evolution than for gravity. It's pretty much an established fact. As I said before, what comes into question is how it works. Scientists are always open and looking for evidence one way or another. As you said, they should be skeptical of anything. That's why repeatable studies and experiments are published and peer reviewed. Pursuit of the truth is the most important thing in math and science, it doesn't matter how people feel about their theories. That's the beauty of science. :)

  2. HIV and Bacterial Resistance Why this is an example baffles me. From what I understand, and I hope I'm not setting up a straw man argument, this is the argument of “well, if we have fossils of species X, that also existed 10 million years ago, why hasn't it changed much.” If there is no selection pressure, things don't need to change. They are fit for their environment. It's generally a misunderstanding of evolution. Here, I think its deliberate.

    HomologyI think you summed it up well. It's evolution, but “God did it.”

    BiogeographyBlah blah blah =P

    Poor DesignEvolution makes predictions. Poor design is one of those predictions. It's something we would expect to see if it were true. This argument is so weak, its not really worth spending time on.

    PsuedogenesAnother thing we would expect to see with evolution. Like the hip bones (and sometimes legs) inside whales. Another thing I want to point out is that we do a substantial amount of change in nine months. From one cell to a full human being. During that time we have and lose hair and other vestigial structures like gills. That's impressive. There is a new movement picking up speed the last decade or two called Evo-Devo for short. The science of evolutionary developmental biology. A great book I read on this a few months ago was called Endless forms most beautiful I think it covers a lot of what is discussed here. There were some awesome experiments done with butterfly wings and dying the cells to find out which genes covered what. Really awesome stuff. :)

    Why Our Origin Matters I partially agree with you. There is evidence for evolution, but not for God, in my opinion. ”They don't want it to be true and so they refuse to believe it.” That's pretty much it. Like people who don't want to believe in global warming. They refuse to look at the data and the evidence.

    Endowed By a Creator With Jefferson's numerous anti theist statements, I probably would have chosen someone else to quote if I wrote the book. He also said that almost 200 years ago. Darwin was only 12. If I quoted a Roman talking about how obvious it is that the God's control fate or something along those lines, would that make it true? Or that the world was generally flat?

    Not to sound like a broken record, but again, it really comes down to “There is evidence for evolution, but also, God did it.” If I was to say that evolution was true but little invisible hobgobblins pushed and pulled our DNA together, you'd rightfully expect me to show why, rather than just declare it. I can't just say, “well evolution is obviously true, so my additional condition which I can not produce evidence for must be right.”

    Sorry about the long comments.

  3. I couldn't remember much about the bacterial flagellum, but I do remember the Dover Trial and that the special was posted online. This isMichael Behe's testamony at the Dover trial. This clip is more or less the meat and potatoes of the ID arguments taken from the NOVA special. He talks about intelligent design. What it is and why they believe it's true. He uses the bacterial flagellum saying that it is irreducibly complex. You can see what happens. =P You can skip to about 1:11 if you want to skip to the explination. My favorite part is where he is called out on his lies. LoL

  4. I've never heard of "evo devo", pretty cool.

    "There is evidence for evolution, but not for God, in my opinion."

    I definitely agree with this, but I also don't really understand what the 2 things even have to do with one another. Suppose you accept that evolution happened, does this mean that you have to then say that God doesn't exist? I would say no. I think it is completely reasonable to say "evolution happened" and also "I believe in God".

    Thanks for the link to the nova show. I think I will have to go back and watch the whole thing at some point. They did a great job describing the flagellum. My favorite part was where David DeRosier is quoted by Behe and then they interview him where he explains why his quote was inaccurate. The same kind of dishonesty seems to abound in this book.

  5. "I also don't really understand what the 2 things even have to do with one another."

    This is a very good question to ask. I might have brought this up before, but one of the central teachings of Christianity is that Jesus came down to save us from original sin. The original sin came from Adam and Eve, the first humans God created from dirt and the other's rib, respectively. It is why Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice. However, if this didn't happen, and Adam and Eve was a metaphor or a story, since there was no real “first human” according to evolution, then why did Christ come down to die? What happens to original sin?

    I also saw this posted on PZ Myers blog, and it sounds like the creationists are slowly caving into evolution. It's rather interesting, however, its 17 minutes long. =/

  6. Oh yeah, you have mentioned the original sin angle before. I suppose it does present a problem, but this doesn't seem to me to be a unique thing as there are many problems that come at Christianity from many angles. I suppose this is a pretty big one as it does seem to hit at the heart of the purpose of Jesus, but there are ways around it, CS Lewis' paradisal man for example (not that I thought his explanation was particularly compelling). And in the long run, if you have to deny reality to make your religion work it seems that it will have to die eventually. At some point you would think evolution will just win and then religion will adapt, why push so hard against it now and prolong the pain?

    Suppose for example Adam and Eve is just a metaphor for our evolving from animals and becoming aware of things. Instead of having sin inherited from Adam, we have it built into our DNA from the beasts from which we evolved. Jesus was fixing that instead. That is just off the top of my head, we are rationalizing machines, I'm sure people could square their religion with evolution if they felt they had to.

  7. Micro vs Macro Evolution I heard a great analogy on the subject of people accepting microevolution and not accepting macroevolution. "This argument is akin to someone saying that while he believes wind can errode rock, he doesn't believe that it can change the rock's shape." It is the same process with different "operational time."


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...