The Star of Bethlehem from a Christian View

Dr. Ray Bohlin looks at the familiar story of the star of Bethlehem and provides several possible ways that God created this sign announcing the birth of the Christ. From a Christian worldview perspective, we know a bright light in the sky was able to lead the magi to the Christ child. Dr. Bohlin considers several ways God may have chosen to announce the coming of the Christ.

The Magi and the Star of Bethlehem

O, Star of wonder, star of night
Star of royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

download-podcastThis familiar and haunting chorus from the Christmas carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” introduces us to what seems to be the only ubiquitous biblical symbol during the Christmas season, the star of Bethlehem.

This Christmas, as you look over the Christmas cards in the stores or in your own burgeoning collection from family and friends, you will see one very constant element. Whether the scene depicts the nativity, a backyard nature scene, a Christmas tree, or just Santa making deliveries, if the nighttime sky is included, somewhere in the picture, eliciting warm and happy emotions, is a star. The star dominates the nighttime sky with its size and brightness and its long tail pointing to the earth. The star has almost become the signature which says, “This scene reflects a Christmas theme.”

At first, this may seem quite unusual for something which doesn’t even get mentioned in Luke 2, the more familiar account of our Lord’s birth. The star is featured only in Matthew’s brief description of the visit by the magi shortly after Jesus’ birth. I think the prevalence of the star stems from its mysteriousness. For example, what kind of star convinces a group of Gentile wise men to search for the new King of the Jews and actually leads them to Him? Before we explore this puzzle, let’s look at Matthew’s account beginning in Chapter 2 verse 1:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:1-2, NASB).

A couple of things to note: first, these events take place after Jesus’ birth; second, this was in the days of Herod the king; third, the magi arrived from an area east of Jerusalem (probably in the vicinity of Babylon or Persia); fourth, they already knew they were looking for the newborn King of the Jews, but the exact location eluded them; and fifth, it was viewing His star from their home in the east that led them on this journey.

After consulting with King Herod and finding out from chief priests and teachers that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the magi set out for the 5 mile trip south to Bethlehem. We pick up Matthew’s narrative in verse 9:

And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh (Matt. 2:9-11, NASB).

Here we see that Matthew appears to describe the star as moving, as leading the magi to Jesus. There is clearly more than one magi, but only tradition holds that there were three–presumably because of the three gifts. These Gentile wise men worship the King whom the star has led them to. In the rest of this essay, we will explore the nature of this strange star and what it could have been.

What Was the Star of Bethlehem?

The Gospel of Matthew states that the star informed the magi of the birth of the King of the Jews and actually led them to Bethlehem once they had arrived in Jerusalem. The star of Bethlehem has been the subject of scholarly discussion ever since the first centuries after Jesus’ birth. Some believed it was a supernova explosion, others a comet or a conjunction of planets associated with specific constellations that would herald the birth of a king in Israel. Some have suggested that none of these astronomical events can adequately account for all that Matthew tells us within the context of his worldview. In this discussion, I will be investigating the more common explanations to see if we can come to some understanding as to just what the magi saw 2,000 years ago.

When Matthew quotes the magi as telling Herod that they observed the new King’s star rising in the east, this can be interpreted as a new star, something never observed before. This has led some scholars to believe that the star of Bethlehem was a nova or supernova. A nova is a white dwarf star that literally explodes. The explosion may increase the brightness of the star a thousand to a million times its previous brightness, making a previously invisible star, visible. A nova, however, does not last very long. The initial blast of the explosion may only be observed for a few months before the star shrinks to a remnant of its previous brightness and disappears altogether.

There are numerous problems with this view. First, although there was a “new star” recorded by the Chinese in the constellation Capricorn in March-April of 5 B.C. that lasted only 70 days, there is nothing to connect this event with the birth of a King in Israel. Second, and perhaps most troublesome, nova do not move.

This leads to a discussion of a different astronomical event that may be associated with the “new star” (a comet) recorded by the Chinese in 5 B.C. The Chinese would not have distinguished a comet from a nova since all they recorded was something new in the sky that was temporary. A comet has the advantage of a tail that can appear to be pointing in a direction which may have guided the magi. In addition, a comet moves! A comet can even disappear as it moves behind the sun and reappear as it comes out from behind the sun. A major objection is that the Chinese make no mention of the “new star” moving. Another problem is that comets are cyclical with a predictable periodicity. For instance, Halley’s comet appears every 76 years. If the star of Bethlehem were a comet, we would most likely have observed it again and been able to extrapolate back to the time of Christ to see if there is a match. Unfortunately, the only one to come close is Halley’s comet which appeared in 12 B.C., a date that is impossibly early.

One could always claim that the comet was one with a very long periodicity or one that has since disappeared from our solar system. This is certainly possible, but it does not really help the discussion. One might as well appeal to a purely supernatural occurrence that cannot be verified scientifically. There is no difference. And though comets were usually interpreted as heralding sweeping changes, the changes were usually for the worse and there is no way, once again, to connect these events to the birth of a king in Israel. Next, I will look at planetary conjunction, the most popular suggestion at planetarium shows during the Christmas season.

Did the Star of Bethlehem Result from a Triple Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter?

The bright star usually seen hovering over Nativity scenes depicted on numerous Christmas cards actually dominates nearly every nighttime Christmas panorama. As I stated earlier, the Star of Bethlehem is just about the only ubiquitous biblical symbol associated with Christmas. The reason probably has to do with the mystery surrounding what this star was. Earlier, I showed the unreasonableness of the star being a comet or supernova explosion. If you were to attend a planetarium show concerning the star of Bethlehem, they would most likely present the idea that the star was a triple conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the year 7 B.C. followed by a massing of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars in 6 B.C. Realizing that planetarium shows view Scripture as something less than historically accurate, it is still necessary to ask if this indeed could have been the Star of Bethlehem.

In the early 17th century the great astronomer and Christian, Johannes Kepler, calculated that a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn had occurred in 7 B.C. While Kepler did not believe this to be the actual Star of Bethlehem, it may have alerted the magi to the coming star. 7-4 B.C. have become the usual dates for fixing the birth of Christ since Herod the Great’s death, the Herod mentioned by both Matthew and Luke in their birth narratives, is well established in 4 B.C. Therefore, Jesus had to have been born in the few years prior to 4 B.C. since He started his three-year public ministry around the age of 30 (Luke 3:23) and His death is usually fixed between 27-30 A.D.

So just what is a triple conjunction, and why would it be significant to the birth of a King in Israel? A planetary conjunction is what happens when two planets come in close proximity to one another. A triple conjunction refers to when three separate conjunctions of the same two planets occur within a one year period. Triple conjunctions can be predicted, but they do not occur with regularity. There have been only 11 such triple conjunctions since 7 B.C. and the interval between them varies between 40 and 338 years.

The triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C. was seen in the constellation Pisces in the months of May, September, and December. This provides sufficient time for the magi to see the first conjunction, begin their trip west to Judea, visit Herod by the second conjunction or at least soon afterwards, and perhaps not reach Bethlehem until the third conjunction when it is said to have appeared in the southern sky, and Bethlehem is just south of Jerusalem. Remember how the magi rejoiced to see the star again as they departed Jerusalem for Bethlehem. Ancient astrologers associated Jupiter with royalty or even a ruler of the universe. Saturn was associated with Palestine or even with the deity who protected Israel. And Pisces was associated with the nation of Israel. Later a massing of Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn occurred again in Pisces in 6 B.C. It seems feasible then that this triple conjunction followed by the massing of the three planets in Pisces could indicate to the magi that a King of Israel and a Ruler of the Universe was about to be born in Israel.

While this seems to wrap things up rather nicely, there are significant problems. First, Jupiter and Saturn never were close enough to be confused as a single object. Matthew definitely describes a singular star. Perhaps more importantly, the use of astrology is necessary to interpret these astronomical signs properly. The Old Testament, particularly, mocks astrologers in Isaiah 47:13-15 and several times in Daniel (1:20, 2:27, 4:7, and 5:7). Jeremiah 10:1-2 seems to forbid astrology outright. The use of astrology is clearly outside the worldview of Matthew as he penned his gospel. It seems woefully inconsistent for the Lord to use astrology to herald the incarnation and birth of His Son into the world.

Was the Star of Bethlehem the Planet Jupiter?

In this discussion, I have considered a nova, a comet, and a triple conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn as the Star of Bethlehem between 7 and 4 B.C., and none have seemed to be satisfactory. In 1991, Ernest Martin published a book titled, The Star That Astonished the World. His major thesis is that Herod died in 1 B.C. and not 4 B.C. If 4 B.C. is the wrong date for Herod’s death, then everything must be reevaluated.

While there are many lines of evidence that Martin uses to make his point, a critical issue is a lunar eclipse that occurred just prior to Herod’s death. According to the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, on the night of a lunar eclipse, Herod executed two rabbis. Herod himself died soon afterwards, just before Passover. Martin points out that the lunar eclipse of March 13, 4 B.C., was only a 40% partial eclipse and barely visible. Also he reconstructs the events between the eclipse and Herod’s death, about 4 weeks, and determines there was not enough time for all these things to take place. However, Martin has located a total lunar eclipse on January 10, 1 B.C., twelve and a half weeks prior to Passover.

If we assume that Martin’s date for the death of Herod is correct, then the years 3 and 2 B.C. can be added to the search parameters for the Star of Bethlehem. Martin points out that the planet Jupiter passes through a series of conjunctions over the course of these two years indicating that Jupiter is the star of Bethlehem.

Remember that Jupiter is considered the royal star. Well, in 3 B.C., Jupiter came into conjunction with Regulus, the star of kingship, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo, the first of several such conjunctions over the next year. Leo was the constellation of kings, and it was also closely associated by some with the Lion of Judah. This is beginning to look interesting. “The royal planet approached the royal star in the royal constellation representing Israel.”(1) In addition, on September 11, 3 B.C., Jupiter was not only very close to Regulus, but the sun was in the constellation Virgo. Hmmm, the royal planet in conjunction with the royal star while the sun is in a virgin. September 11, 3 B.C., is also the beginning of the Jewish New Year. There seems to be an awful lot coming together here.

But what about the star appearing to stop over Bethlehem? Planets will actually appear to do just that as they reach the opposite point in the sky from the sun as they travel east across the sky. They will stop, reverse directions for a few weeks, stop again, and head east once again. It’s called a retrograde loop. Jupiter performed a retrograde loop in 2 B.C. and was stationary on December 25, during Hanukkah, the season of giving presents.

Just in case you are ready to proclaim the mystery of the Star of Bethlehem solved, remember that this whole scenario rests on Herod dying in 1 B.C. rather than in 4 B.C. The majority of historians and biblical historians can’t accept this critical revision. If Herod indeed died in 4 B.C., all of these coincidences I just reviewed are just that, coincidences. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the use of astrological meanings is contrary to the worldview of Matthew. There is another option that has become very popular, and I’ll discuss it next.

The Shekinah Glory as the Star of Bethlehem

So far in this essay, I have discussed several naturalistic explanations for the Star of Bethlehem: a nova or exploding star, a comet, a triple conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C., and the planet Jupiter as it traveled in the constellation Leo in 3-2 B.C. Each of these astronomical events represents a natural occurrence that God used to announce the birth of His Son. One of the major problems has been that in order to interpret any of these signs, one would have to use astrological meanings for these events and their locations in the night sky to reach the conclusion that a new King of the Jews has been born–something that is foreign to the biblical worldview. Perhaps there was a physical “star” that gave off real light but indeed was new but not reflected by any astronomical event.

Remember that Jesus’ birth was the ultimate coming of the presence of God in the midst of His people. How was God’s presence manifested elsewhere in the Bible? Moses saw a burning bush that was not consumed and God spoke to him from the bush. Again in Exodus, Moses was allowed to see God’s backside and afterwards his face shone with light so bright that the other Israelites could not look on his face. The Israelites were led through the desert by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When Jesus was transfigured He shone with a light as bright as the sun. When Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, Saul was blinded by the light which the others with him saw as well. When God was imminently present, a bright light was associated with His presence.

The Shekinah Glory denotes the visible presence of God. This presence was real, and the physical manifestation was real. Remember that Saul was blinded by the light. The Lord often announces His presence by a very physical manifestation of bright light. What better way to announce the coming of Jesus, God’s Son, the second Person of the Trinity than by a special light that is not some mere improbable astronomical event, rather an expression of the Shekinah glory, God’s divine presence among men?

Astronomer Sherm Kanagy and theologian Ken Boa advance this thesis in their as yet unpublished manuscript, Star of the Magi. One of their strong emphases is the necessity to try to interpret the text of Matthew from first century Jewish perspective. They reject the idea that any astrological meaning could have been on Matthew’s mind concerning this star. It is certainly fair to wonder, therefore, what this star was and how the magi interpreted it as a star signifying the birth of the King of the Jews. Kanagy and Boa reveal that Kepler concluded that the star was not some astronomical event and was a light that appeared in the lower atmosphere and therefore was not visible to everyone. But how did the magi interpret the star? This admittedly is the weakest part of the interpretation. The text gives no real hints. Magi were simply wise men of the east, not necessarily astrologers. They were Gentiles whose presence in the context of Matthew’s Messianic gospel hints at the eventual spread of the gospel beyond the Jews. But how did they know what the star meant? We can only assume there was selective revelation. Only Paul understood the voice from the light, though all who were with him saw the light. Only Moses was allowed up on Mt. Sinai to receive the Law. Only Peter, James, and John were present at the transfiguration, and they were told to keep it to themselves until Jesus rose from the dead. Manifestations of God’s presence with men often were accompanied by selective revelation. Perhaps the meaning of the “star” was only revealed to the magi though others could actually see the “star.”

Well, what was it, an astronomical event or the Shekinah Glory, manifesting God’s presence among men? In my mind the mystery remains. Perhaps that is how God intends it to be.

© 1999 Probe Ministries


Redesigning Humans: Is It Inevitable?

Is genetic technology just the next step in human discovery about ourselves, or does it mean the end of humanity as we know it? Could we literally redesign humanity out of existence? On the other hand, there are those who maintain that we are headed down a disastrous technological and ethical road.

The People Are Restless

There is a general unease in the wind. People are a little squeamish concerning the coming revolution in biotechnology. There is a sort of stand-offish fascination where we wonder at the possibilities for curing genetic diseases and even for making ourselves smarter, prettier, or stronger. Yet we shrink from the potential horror of the world we might create for ourselves with no hope of turning back.

download-podcastWe have faced such forks in the road before. Every new technology has presented fantastic benefits and uncertain costs. Gunpowder, electricity, the combustion engine, atomic energy, etc., have all offered tantalizing either/or tensions. Some of these tensions we still live with, such as the threat of nuclear weapons and encroaching pollution from combustion engines.

But for the most part we have been able to develop a stable coexistence between the potential for good and the potential for evil. Weapons have become more precise, minimizing unnecessary collateral casualties, the combustion engine has become cleaner and more efficient, and atomic weapons so far have been remarkably harnessed.

But what about genetic technology? Is this just the next step in human discovery about ourselves, or does it mean the end of humanity as we know it? Could we literally redesign humanity out of existence? There are voices in our culture today that will tell us that indeed we can and we will and it is inevitable and “you’d just better get used to it.”

On the other hand there are those who maintain that we are headed down a disastrous road, and that we have a small opportunity to harness the benefits of the new technologies while minimizing and corralling the hazards.

I recently spent several days at the United World College in New Mexico developed by the late Armand Hammer, one of several upper high schools around the world for the best and brightest. The occasion was a student-led conference organized for discussing the ethics of human genetic engineering and cloning. Three other invited guest speakers and I spent two days with the 200 students from around the world and the UWC faculty and staff.

About fifty of the students were from a variety of backgrounds from here in the U.S., and the other 150 were from almost ninety countries. Their knowledge and perspectives on human genetic engineering ran from those who saw few problems and were perplexed by those with reservations to those who held all such technologies at arm’s length and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do such things.

Who’s right? Beyond that, What have we done already? And is there any opportunity for science and society to meet together to figure this out? In this program we will hear from several voices and see if we can navigate the coming genetic mine fields.

Is There a Posthuman Future?

One of participants at the UWC conference designated himself a “transhumanist.” Transhumanists are among those who welcome with open arms the possibilities of genetic engineering to alter who and what we are. They scoff at the reluctance of others to step into this coming Brave New World. They relish the possibilities of double and triple average life-expectancy, designer babies, and the elimination of genetic disease. They aren’t troubled by the necessity of costly mistakes and failures. That’s just the price of research and progress. We accept risk all the time, they say. Why should genetic research be any different? They apply rather consistently a naturalistic worldview which sees human beings as just another species. We certainly aren’t made in the image of God, they say, so why is our current genetic structure sacred?

Gregory Stock opened his 2002 book, Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future, this way: “We know that homo sapiens is not the final word in primate evolution, but few have grasped that we are on the cusp of profound biological change, poised to transcend our current form and character to destinations of new imagination.”{1}

Stock rightly points out that we have already started down the road of genetic manipulation of our species. Several fertility clinics in the U.S. already offer preimplantation genetic diagnosis or PGD. This procedure screens newly created embryos by in vitro fertilization for a few genetic diseases such as Tay Sachs, cystic fibrosis, and hemophilia. You can also have the embryos screened for sex selection. Some clinics even offer sex selection as the sole purpose of your visit to the clinic.

One couple from Wyoming had fourteen embryos created by in vitro. Seven were male, seven were female. They chose three females to be implanted to ensure their fourth child was a girl after three boys. The technique is virtually 100% effective. Less efficient sperm selection techniques are only 91% effective for girls and only 76% effective for boys.{2} But should we be selecting the sex of our children?

Over one million IVF babies have been born worldwide, around 28,000 in the U.S.–roughly 1% of newborns. This may soon become the “natural” way once more procedures become available to design our own babies. We may recoil today at the thought of designer babies, but we also recoiled twenty-five years ago against the thought of test-tube babies.

Stock closes his book by saying, “We are beginning an extraordinary adventure that we cannot avoid, because, judging from our past, whether we like it or not this is the human destiny.”{3} But is it?

What’s So Wrong With Tinkering With Our DNA?

Couples are already being given the power to choose the sex of their child, even at the cost of simply rejecting the embryos that are the wrong sex. But our technology is advancing rapidly to allow a far broader array of genetic choices.

Gene therapy, the ability to transfer a normal human gene into the affected tissues of a person affected by a single gene disease, has been pursued for over ten years. So far results have been disappointing. That is partly the reason why many are looking for improved ways to add genes to the earliest one cell stage embryo so the gene can be spread to all tissues at once. This process is also rather inefficient in animals, successful only about 1% of the time.

But this does not deter some because they already view the embryo, before fourteen days after conception, as little more than reproductive cells and not yet worthy of being declared human. If this definition holds, embryos can be wasted as long as a supply of human eggs is readily available. In addition to preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for sex selection and selection of embryos that are free of cystic fibrosis, Tay Sachs, hemophilia, and other genetic diseases, other genetic technologies are on the near horizon.

Researchers have already devised artificial chromosomes. These chromosomes pass on stably over several generations in mice. They have been tested successfully in human tissue culture, and have remained stable over dozens of cell divisions. No one has added foreign genes to these chromosomes, but that is the plan: to provide a safe and effective means of adding genes to embryos and have them distributed to all tissues and to succeeding generations.

Genetic futurist Gregory Stock summed it up when he said, “Breakthroughs in the matrixlike arrays called DNA chips, which may soon read thirty thousand genes at a pop; in artificial chromosomes, which now divide as stably as their naturally occurring cousins; and in bioinformatics, the use of computer- driven methodologies to decipher our genomes–all are paving the way to human genetic engineering and the beginnings of human biological design.”{4}

Some may scoff at these projections, but people seem quite willing around the world to consider taking advantage of technologies that can genetically enhance themselves or their offspring. “In a 1993 international poll, Daryl Mercer, director of the Eubois Ethics Institute in Japan, found that a substantial segment of the population of every country polled said they would use genetic engineering both to prevent disease and to improve the physical and mental capacities inherited by their children. The numbers ranged from 22 percent in Israel and 43 percent in the United States to 63 percent in India and 83 percent in Thailand.”{5} So what’s the problem?

What’s Our Next Step?

I believe that being able to genetically redesign human beings is far closer than most people realize. Not only is the technology developing at an ever-increasing rate, but people are also far more willing to consider using such technologies than most would want to think.

I hope my tone in this article has indicated that I have deep reservations about this seemingly inevitable future. But why do I say this is inevitable? And why would I have reservations about taking this next step?

I believe that at least trying to alter ourselves genetically is inevitable because the technology is developing rapidly using animal models. And whatever we have done in animals, we eventually do in humans. The naturalistic worldview says quite strongly that we are just another animal species. If our understanding of our own genetics continues to increase and we gain the technology to correct our defects and faults, the naturalist says, Why not?!

Society and governments have put few barriers in the way of scientists and researchers from simply taking the next logical step. So far, we have been unwilling to say that there are some experiments we will not do. Even though most will say they are against human cloning–even scientists–that figure is changing, and we have few reasons for our objections besides the fact that it is not yet safe. If it does become safer, the public will have little room to say no. We’ve painted ourselves into a bit of a corner.

In regard to genetic engineering, we are easily swayed by appeals to eliminate genetic diseases without considering how difficult it is to delineate between curing genetic disease and producing genetic enhancements. James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA and Nobel Laureate, exposes our difficulty with two penetrating statements. Concerning curing genetic disease he said, “What the public wants is not to be sick and if we help them not to be sick, they’ll be on our side.”{6}In another context Watson would have left most people dead in their tracks when he said, “No one really has the guts to say it, but if we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we?”{7}

Leon Kass, chairman of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, put it quite succinctly when he said, “The first thing needful is a correction and deepening of our thinking.”{8} When I speak to young people in particular, I almost plead with them to pay attention in biology class. These genetic choices will probably begin to be available to today’s high school students as they marry and begin their families. They and we need to be better prepared.

How Will the Church Be Challenged?

There are just a few voices warning of the coming challenges and opportunities of the developing crisis over human dignity as the diesel engine of human genetic technology gains momentum and steam. Some fear it may already be beyond the point of no return and believe we’d better figure out how we are going to cope with our inevitable future of redesigned humans.

Leon Kass’s book, Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity, is a good place to start. Though not a Christian, Kass dances around the edges of a Christian or theistic worldview that at least acknowledges that there is a human design in place that we need to be mindful of before we head out at breakneck speed to change who and what we are.

Kass sees that our efforts to redesign humans challenge our very dignity and identity as human beings. If parents have constructed the best child for them using the best available technology they can afford, are they still parents, or creators and owners with additional rights and privileges? A child becomes a commodity to be designed, manufactured, and even sold. Love and nurture will turn to management and stimulation.

Gregory Stock is the director of the Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at the UCLA School of Medicine. His book, Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future, will sober you up quite quickly. Stock is a naturalist and has little patience with those who would hold back our genetic future. He is knowledgeable and unflinching about the possibilities. One commentator wrote; “This is the most important book ever written about what we could do to make better people. I could not put this book down because it challenged everything I knew about human nature.” I would agree.

In my travels I have found the church to be largely unaware of how close we are to Stock’s vision of redesigning humans. Within a few short decades our children will be pressured to alter their children genetically to keep up with society. Scientific research may well make use of human embryos as matter of fact research subjects. This may likely extend to developing fetuses, and it will all in the name of furthering health and eliminating disease.

How will we react? The Barna Research Group tells us over and over again that the Christian community does not think or act in an appreciatively different manner than society at large. That means these genetic technologies will find their way into the church. There will be a new source of discrimination to deal with. No longer will churches be segregated by economic status and race but by genetic pedigree as well.

Do we really think we can improve on or maybe at least recover the original design? There may be a new Tower of Babel on our horizon. We must take seriously this threat to our future, both of humanity and the church.

Notes

1. Gregory Stock, Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002).
2. Claudia Kalb, “Brave New Babies,” Newsweek, 26 January, 2004, 45-53.
3. Stock, 197.
4. Ibid., 13.
5. Ibid., 58.
6. Quoted in Leon Kass, Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge of Bioethics (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002), 7.
7. Quoted in Stock, 12.
8. Kass, 8.

© 2004 Probe Ministries


Climate Change

Dr. Ray Bohlin looks at the science behind climate change alarmism and encourages you to be skeptical of what you hear from much of the media.

Are Human Beings Threatening All We hold Dear through Climate Change?

The phrase “climate change” can mean very different things. It can be a rallying cry against the shameful practice of burning fossil fuels that will cause supposedly imminent worldwide disaster. The climate change bandwagon is a way to bring about global cooperation as we fight against the danger of too much carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. OR, the climate change agenda is a way for scientists who are becoming increasingly political to push for a more socialistic policy on generating electricity. In this article I examine what’s really going on with the science and make an argument for not believing anything you read or hear in the regular media.

download-podcastThere is no longer much of a middle ground. I have addressed global warming or climate change before, and I am becoming increasingly convinced that the entire enterprise of human-induced climate change is a monumental and brazen attempt to hoodwink the global public into thinking we have jeopardized our future, and drastic action is necessary.

Essentially, a group of climate scientists have used the power of the United Nations and their own reputations as scientists to proclaim that we must cut back severely on the use of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and gas. This will prevent the rising levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere from generating a runaway global warming that will lead to droughts, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, rising sea levels, etc., that will endanger our future on the earth.

This apocalyptic vision can seem quite threatening. Scientists are objective, right? They are not going to promote something the evidence doesn’t support, are they? Well, scientists are human, and their worldview will affect their conclusions and I am convinced that some scientists are presenting a scenario of human-induced global warming that the scientific evidence simply does not support.

The supposed villain in this scenario is the gas carbon dioxide.  You might not know that this natural and necessary gas is such a bad guy according to the doomsayers!

In this next section, I investigate the history of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and the potentially negative and positive effects of increasing its concentration in the air we breathe.

What’s all the Fuss about Carbon Dioxide?

In this article I am discussing the possibility that humans, through the excess burning of fossil fuels, are jeopardizing the future of the entire planet. Previously this has been referred to as Anthropogenic (meaning human) Global Warming but is now referred to simply as Climate Change.

The evil villain in this scenario is carbon dioxide—what you get from burning coal, oil, and gas products. Carbon dioxide is known to be a greenhouse gas. No one disputes this. The relevant question remains, are humans putting too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, producing a warming that may not stop until the planet exceeds a livable temperature?

As I mentioned, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. This means that when sunlight hits the earth’s surface, some of that energy is radiated back into the atmosphere and captured by carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide then remits this radiation as heat, warming the atmosphere. This is a good thing. Water, CO2, methane and a few other gases allow the earth to keep enough of the sun’s
radiation and provide a cozy temperature for life around the earth.

But as we all know, there can be too much of a good thing. Many climate scientists are exclaiming that we have added too much CO2 over the last 150 years too fast, and the resulting warming is jeopardizing the greenhouse balance.

The earth has warmed over the last 150 years by about 1 degree Celsius or 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. But is carbon dioxide to blame? CO2 levels rose from around 280 parts per million in 1900 to 400 parts per million today. There does seem to be a correspondence. However, we can obtain temperature data for the last 4,000 years from various sources deemed quite reliable in published
documents.

The data show that the peak temperature around 1500 BC was 2 degrees Celsius warmer than today. Around 200 BC temperatures were 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than today, and around AD 1100, temperatures were a full degree Celsius warmer than today. Those warmings could not have been induced by the burning of fossils fuels.

Carbon Dioxide — Part 2

Certainly, carbon dioxide levels have been increasing due to the burning of fossil fuels over the last 150 years. And the average global temperature has risen by 1 degree Celsius or nearly 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. But are the two linked in any way? Has the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide caused the temperature increase?

First, carbon dioxide is a trace gas in our atmosphere. 78% of our atmosphere is nitrogen gas and 21% is oxygen gas. The remaining 1% is mostly argon gas and CO2 comprising only 0.04%. So, when we are told that carbon dioxide has risen from 280 parts per million around 1900 to 400 parts per million today, that means the level of CO2 has risen from about 3 parts per 10,000 to 4 parts per 10,000. That’s not a lot of CO2.

Second, carbon dioxide is plant food. Photosynthesis takes carbon dioxide from the air and water from the ground and uses the energy from sunlight to make the sugar glucose, the foundation of nearly all plant and animal life. The terrific book, Inconvenient Facts: The Science That Al Gore Doesn’t Want You to Know{{1}, tells us the increased CO2 means more plant growth, more food production, and increased soil moisture since the plants don’t need to keep their “pores” open as long and therefore lose less moisture through their leaves, leaving more moisture in the ground.

Third, if we use the age of the earth as estimated by the climate change community, we learn that our current level of carbon dioxide is as low as it has ever been. I don’t know how they arrive at these estimates, but published data say that carbon dioxide levels have been as high as 20 times what they are now, and temperatures were certainly not 20 times higher.

To sum up what I have reviewed above: carbon dioxide is necessary for plant growth, carbon dioxide is a trace gas and simply doesn’t have the power to alter climate by itself, and carbon dioxide has been many times higher in the past.

In the next section I address the far-fetched predictions of climate catastrophe coming our way and look at what the data says.

Hurricanes, Tornadoes and Droughts, Oh My!

One of the tactics of the climate change community is to publish and threaten that increased global temperatures will result in more severe and more frequent extreme weather events. Droughts will become more frequent and severe, local flooding will become more frequent and severe. Catastrophic storms like tornadoes and hurricanes will become more frequent and severe. Basically, any form of severe weather will only get worse.

One source said that “the impacts of climate change are expected to increase the frequency, intensity, and duration of droughts.”{{2} So, let’s look at a few. The EPA’s own drought index shows far more severe droughts in the 1930s and 1950s than we have experienced in the last 60 years. Even globally, the frequency and severity of droughts has declined as global temperatures and CO2 increase.

Another form of severe weather that is supposed to increase are tornadoes. In 2011, Paul Epstein said in The Atlantic that “The recent trend of severe and lethal tornadoes is part of a global trend toward more storms.”{{3} Well, guess what? The actual trend of severe tornadoes at F3 or above is decreasing, and overall the number of tornadoes is decreasing. In fact, 2016 saw the fewest tornadoes in the United States ever recorded. So once again, the models and extremists are wrong.

Concerning hurricanes, you need to be careful. The U.S. National Climate Assessment of 2014 stated that the intensity, frequency, and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes . . . have all increased since the early 1980s.”{{4} That’s true! But if you look at the long-term trend going back to 1920, instead of just the last few decades, the trend is downward. If you look at the frequency and severity of hurricanes for the whole earth, the trend is slightly downward. And the period between 2006 and 2017 saw no major hurricanes make landfall in the United States.

Whenever a severe weather event occurs in the United States, you can be sure the media will seize the opportunity to exclaim about how climate change is increasing storms overall. Just don’t believe it.

Rising Sea Levels, Antarctic Ice and Polar Bears

In this article I’ve been talking about the threats of increasing extreme weather as a result of human-caused global warming or climate change. As I’ve tried to show, all these threats have no basis in the scientific evidence.

You have probably heard that because of the excessive warming, glaciers will melt, and sea levels are expected to rise and inundate low lying island chains and coastal communities. Simply put, NO. Sea levels have been rising for a few thousand years and the rate of increase went up way before humans began burning fossil fuels. Sea levels are rising about one inch per decade and the rate of rise is not changing.

So, what about glaciers, the Arctic ice and Antarctica? Well, Arctic ice has been receding over the last 30 years, but that will not cause sea levels to rise since that is floating ice. Some glaciers indeed have been receding, but they began doing so before humans began burning all that fossil fuel. But even as some of these glaciers recede, they are revealing remnants of forestation, proving that they had receded previously—with no help from humans. Lastly, some Antarctic ice is receding but overall, Antarctica is gaining ice, not losing it. And polar bears are doing just fine, increasing in numbers, not declining.

In closing, let me offer a few words of advice. First, disregard almost everything you read and hear in the regular media outlets. Most of these journalists or reporters have little scientific training and they are simply repeating what they have heard from extremist environmental groups whom they trust.

Second, ignore what you hear from most government officials, elected or appointed. They have bought the narrative for their own political gain and don’t likely understand the science involved.

Last, let me suggest you research two organizations for more balanced information. First, the Cornwall Alliance, a group of evangelical Christian who are concerned about the environment and accurate information. Second is a group known as CFACT and their website Climate Depot. They repeatedly attend various climate change conferences around the world and consistently stump climate change extremists.

Bottom line: I encourage you to be skeptical concerning just about anything you encounter when it comes to climate change.

Notes

1. Gregory Wrightstone, Inconvenient Facts: The Science That Al Gore Doesn’t Want You to Know 2017, Silver Crown Productions, LLC.
2. Ibid, p. 65.
3. Ibid., p. 89.
4. Ibid., p. 93.

©2019 Probe Ministries


The Five Crises in Evolutionary Theory

Dr. Ray Bohlin discusses five crises in evolutionary theory: 1) the unsubstantiation of a Darwinian mechanism of evolution, 2)The total failure of origin of life studies to produce a workable model, 3) The inability of evolutionary mechanism to explain the origin of complex adaptations, 4) The bankruptcy of the blind watchmaker hypothesis, and 5) The biological evidence that the rule in nature is morphological stability over time and not constant change.

The Case of the Missing Mechanism

The growing crisis in Darwinian theory is becoming more apparent all the time. The work of creationists and other non-Darwinians is growing and finding a more receptive ear than ever before. In this discussion I want to elaborate on what I believe are the five critical areas where Darwinism and evolutionary theory in general are failing. They are:

1. The unsubstantiation of a Darwinian mechanism of evolution
2. The total failure of origin of life studies to produce a workable model
3. The inability of evolutionary mechanism to explain the origin of complex adaptations
4. The bankruptcy of the blind watchmaker hypothesis
5. The biological evidence that the rule in nature is morphological stability over time and not constant change.

Much of the reason for evolution’s privileged status has been due to confusion over just what people mean when they use the word evolution. Evolution is a slippery term. If evolution simply means “change over time,” this is non-controversial. Peppered moths, Hawaiian drosophila fruit flies, and even Galapagos finches are clear examples of change over time. If you say that this form of evolution is a fact, well, so be it. But many scientists extrapolate beyond this meaning. Because “change over time” is a fact, the argument goes, it is also a fact that moths, fruit flies, and finches all evolved from a remote common ancestor. But this begs the question.

The real question, however, is where do moths, flies, and finches come from in the first place? Common examples of natural selection acting on present genetic variation do not tell us how we have come to have horses, wasps, and woodpeckers, and the enormous varieties of living animals. Evolutionists will tell you that this is where mutations enter the picture. But mutations do not improve the scenario either. In speaking of all the mutation work done with bacteria over several decades, the great French zoologist and evolutionist Pierre-Paul Grasse’ said:

What is the use of their unceasing mutations if they do not change? In sum, the mutations of bacteria and viruses are merely hereditary fluctuations around a median position; a swing to the right, a swing to the left, but no final evolutionary effect.

When I speak of evolution or Darwinism, it is the origin of new biological forms, new adaptive structures, morphological and biochemical novelties that I am referring to. This is precisely what has not yet been explained. When people question the popular explanations of the origin of complex adaptations such as the vertebrate limb, or sexual reproduction, or the tongue of the woodpecker, or the reptilian hard-shelled egg, they are usually given a litany of reasons why these structures are beneficial to the organisms. More precisely, the selective advantage of these structures is offered as the reason they evolved. But this begs the question again. It is not sufficient for an evolutionist to explain the function of a particular structure. What is necessary is to explain the mechanistic origin of these structures!

Natural selection does explain how organisms adapt to minor changes in their environment. Natural selection allows organisms to do what God commanded them to do. That is to be fruitful and multiply. Natural selection does not, however, explain the crucial question of how complex adaptations arose in the first place.

The Origin of Life

We have been led to believe that it is not to difficult to conceive of a mechanism whereby organic molecules can be manufactured in a primitive earth and organize themselves into a living, replicating cell. In fact, the ease by which this can (allegedly) happen is the foundation for the popular belief that there are numerous planets in the universe which contain life. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Early experiments suggested that it was relatively simple to produce some of the building blocks of life such as amino acids, the components of proteins. However, the euphoria of the Miller- Urey experiment of 1953 has given way to a paradigm crisis of 1993 in origin of life research. The wishful, yet workable atmosphere of ammonia, hydrogen, methane, and water vapor has been replaced by the more realistic, but stingy atmosphere of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and hydrogen cyanide. This is the stuff that volcanoes belch out. This atmosphere poses a much more difficult challenge. Molecules relevant for life would be much rarer. Even more damaging is the possibility of the presence of molecular oxygen in the atmosphere from the break-up of water vapor. Molecular oxygen would poison any reaction leading to biologically significant molecules.

Coacervates, microspheres, the “RNA world,” and other scenarios all have serious flaws obvious to everyone in the field except those who continue work with that particular scenario. Some have privately called this predicament a paradigm crisis. There is no central competing model, just numerous ego-driven scenarios. Even the experiments in which researchers try to simulate the early earth have been severely criticized. These experiments generally hedge their bets by using purified reactants, isolated energy sources, exaggerated energy levels, procedures which unrealistically drive the reaction toward the desired product and protect the products from the destructive effects of the energy sources which produced them in the first place.

The real situation was summed up rather well by Klaus Dose:

More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.” [From Interdisciplinary Science Review 13(1988):348-56.]

But all of these difficulties together, as staggering as they are, are not the real problem. The major difficulty in chemical evolution scenarios is how to account for the informational code of DNA without intelligence being a part of the equation. DNA carries the genetic code: the genetic blueprint for constructing and maintaining a biological organism. We often use the terms of language to describe DNA’s activity: DNA is “transcribed” into RNA; RNA is “translated” into protein; geneticists speak of the “genetic code.” All these words imply intelligence, and the DNA informational code requires intelligent preprogramming, yet a purely naturalistic beginning does not provide such input. Chemical experiments may be able to construct small sequences of nucleotides to form small molecules of DNA, but this doesn’t make them mean anything. There is no source for the informational code in a strictly naturalistic origin of life.

The Inability to Account for Complex Adaptations

Perhaps the single greatest problem for evolutionary biologists is the unsolved problem of morphological and biochemical novelty. In other words, some aspects of evolutionary theory describe accurately how existing organisms are well adapted to their environments, but do a very poor job of explaining just how the necessary adaptive structures came about in the first place.

Darwinian explanations of complex structures such as the eye and the incredible tongue of the woodpecker fall far short of realistically attempting to explain how these structures arose by mutation and natural selection. The origin of the eye in particular, caused Darwin no small problem. His only suggestion was to look at the variety of eyes in nature, some more complex and versatile than others, and imagine a gradual sequence leading from simple eyes to more complex eyes. However, even the great Harvard evolutionist, Ernst Mayr, admits that the different eyes in nature are not really related to each other in some simple-to-complex sequence. Rather, he suggests that eyes probably had to evolve over forty different times in nature. Darwin’s nightmare has never been solved. It has only been made 40 times more frightening for the evolutionist.

In his 1987 book, Theories of Life, Wallace Arthur said:

One can argue that there is no direct evidence for a Darwinian origin of a body plan—black Biston Betularia certainly do not constitute one! Thus in the end we have to admit that we do not really know how body plans originate.

In 1992, Keith Stewart Thomson wrote in the American Zoologist that:

While the origins of major morphological novelties remain unsolved, one can also view the stubborn persistence of macroevolutionary questioning…as a challenge to orthodoxy: resistance to the view that the synthetic theory tells us everything we need to know about evolutionary processes.

The ability to explain major morphological novelties is not the only failing of evolutionary theory. Some argue that molecular structures are even more difficult to explain. The molecular architecture of the cell has recently described by molecular biologist Michael Behe as being irreducibly complex systems which must have all the components present in order to be functional. The molecular workings of cilia, electron transport, protein synthesis, and cellular targeting readily come to mind. If the systems are irreducibly complex, how do they build slowly over long periods of time out of systems that are originally doing something else?

While publishing hundreds of articles pertaining to molecular homology and phylogeny of various proteins and nucleic acids over the last ten years, the Journal of Molecular Evolution did not publish one article attempting to explain the origin of a single biomolecular system. Those who make molecular evolution their life’s work are too busy studying the relationship of the cytochrome c molecule in man to the cytochrome c molecule in bacteria, rather than the more fundamental question of where cytochrome c came from in the first place!

Clearly then, whether we are talking about major morphological novelties such as the wings of bats and birds, the swimming adaptations of fish and whales, the human eye or the molecular sub- microscopic workings of mitochondria, ribosomes, or cilia, evolutionary theory has failed to explain how these structures could arise by natural processes alone.

The Bankruptcy of the Blind Watchmaker Hypothesis

In his 1986 book, The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins states, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” He explains that

Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purposes in view. Yet the living results of natural selection overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker, impress us with the illusion of design and planning.

Darwinism critic, Philip Johnson, has quipped that the watchmaker is not only blind but unconscious!

Dawkins later suggests just how this process may have brought about the development of wings in mammals. He says:

How did wings get their start? Many animals leap from bough to bough, and sometimes fall to the ground. Especially in a small animal, the whole body surface catches the air and assists the leap, or breaks the fall, by acting as a crude aerofoil. Any tendency to increase the ratio of surface area to weight would help, for example flaps of skin growing out in the angles of joints…(It) doesn’t matter how small and unwinglike the first wingflaps were. There must be some height, call it h, such that an animal would just break its neck if it fell from that height. In this critical zone, any improvement in the body surface’s ability to catch the air and break the fall, however slight the improvement, can make the difference between life and death. Natural selection will then favor slight, prototype wingflaps. When these flaps have become the norm, the critical height h will become slightly greater. Now a slight further increase in the wingflaps will make the difference between life and death. And so on, until we have proper wings.

This can sound rather seductively convincing at first. However there are three faulty assumptions being used.

The first doubtful assumption is that nature can provide a whole chain of favorable mutations of the precise kind needed to change forelimbs into wings in a continuous line of development. What is the larger miracle, an instantaneous change or a whole series of thousands of tiny changes in the proper sequence?

The other assumption is “all things being equal.” These mutations must not have secondary harmful effects. How is the creature’s grasping ability compromised while these wingflaps grow? These little shrew-like animals may slowly be caught between losing their adaptiveness in the trees before they can fully utilize their “developing” wings. Or there might be some seemingly unrelated and unforeseen effect that compromises survivability.

A third faulty assumption is the often used analogy to artificial selection. “If artificial selection can do so much in only a few years,” so the refrain goes, “just think what natural selection can do in millions of years.” But artificial selection works because it incorporates foresight and conscious purpose, the absence of which are the defining qualities of the blind watchmaker. In addition, artificial selection actually demonstrates the limits to change since an endpoint in the selection process is usually reached very quickly.

The blind watchmaker hypothesis, when analyzed carefully, falls into the category of fanciful stories that are entertaining—but which hold no resemblance to reality.

The Prevalence of Stasis over Mutability

Rather than observing organisms gradually evolving into other forms, the fossil record speaks of “sudden appearance” and “stasis.” New types appear suddenly and change very little after their appearance. The rarity of gradual change examples in the fossil record were revealed as the trade secret of paleontology by Steven J. Gould of Harvard. Gould also refers to stasis as “data” in the paleontological sense. These are significant observations.

Darwin predicted that there should be innumerable transitional forms between species. But the reality of paleontology (the study of fossils) is that new forms appear suddenly with no hint of the “gradual” change predicted by evolution. Not only that, but once these new forms have appeared, they remain relatively unchanged until the present day or until they become extinct.

Some animals and plants have remained unchanged for literally hundreds of millions of years. These “living fossils” can be more embarrassing for the evolutionist than they often care to admit. One creature in particular, the coelacanth, is very instructive. The first live coelacanth was found off the coast of Madagascar in 1938. Coelacanths were thought to be extinct for 100 million years. But most evolutionists saw this discovery as a great opportunity to glimpse the workings of a tetrapod ancestor. Coelacanths resemble the proposed ancestors of amphibians. It was hoped that some clues could be derived from the modern coelacanth of just how a fish became preadapted for life on land, because not only was there a complete skeleton, but a full set of internal organs to boot. The results of the study were very disappointing. The modern coelacanth showed no evidence of internal organs preadapted for use in a terrestrial environment. The coelacanth is a fish—nothing more, nothing less. Its bony fins are used as exceptionally well-designed paddles for changing direction in deep-sea environment, not the proto-limbs of future amphibians.

Nowhere is the problem of sudden appearance better demonstrated than in the Burgess Shale found in the Canadian Rockies. The Burgess Shale illustrates that in the Cambrian period (which evolutionists estimate as being over 500 million years ago) nearly all of the basic body plans (phyla) of animals existing on earth came into existence in a geological instant (defined as only 20-30 million years), and nothing that new has appeared since that time. The Cambrian explosion as it is called is nothing less than astounding. Sponges, jellyfish, worms, arthropods, mollusks, echinoderms, and many other stranger-than-fiction creatures are all found to suddenly appear in the Cambrian without a hint of what they descended from nor even how they could all be related to each other. This is the opposite expectation of Darwinism which would have predicted each new body plan emerging from pre-existing phyla over long periods of time. The Cambrian explosion is a direct contradiction of Darwinian evolution.

If Darwin were alive today, I believe he would be terribly disappointed. There is less evidence for his theory now than in his own day. The possibility of the human eye evolving may have caused him to shudder, but the organization of the simplest cell is infinitely more complex. Perhaps a nervous breakdown would be more appropriate!

©1993 Probe Ministries


Jerry Coyne’s Illusions

Dr. Ray Bohlin critiques evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne’s materialistic claim that our brain is only a meat computer.

Jerry Coyne Says Science Proves We Make No Real Choices

Dr. Ray Bohlin in his hatLet’s see. This morning I chose my black t-shirt, tan dress slacks, black shoes, and black socks. After gathering all my things for the trip to the office, I put on my now-famous Grand Canyon felt hat and headed out the door, deciding I didn’t need an umbrella for the short walk in the rain.

Download the PodcastOops! Wait a minute! According to evolutionary biologist, Jerry Coyne, I made none of those choices. Now I did do all those things, but my brain determined those “choices.” After all, my brain is just a meat computer, destined to obey the laws of physics to combine my genetic history, past environmental cues, and my latest experiences to make those decisions. “I,” meaning me as a person apart from the meat computer, don’t exist! Enter with me into the wacky world of evolutionary naturalism where all there is, is matter and energy.

Dr. Jerry Coyne is a Professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Ecology and Evolution. In many ways he has broken political ranks with many of those seeking to improve education in evolution by actively proclaiming that evolution entails atheism. He lines up with those like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens. Religion is the greatest evil on the planet, they decry, and we need to dispose ourselves of all religious nonsense such as freedom of choice.

You see, our mental decisions are just chemical reactions in our brains which just happen. There is no purpose or even a choice in making our choices!

Now that I probably have you thoroughly confused, let me try to let Jerry Coyne speak for himself.

In January of last year, Coyne published a commentary in the online version of USA Today titled, “Why you don’t really have free will.”{1} He stated, “You may feel like you’ve made choices, but in reality your decision to read this piece, and whether to have eggs or pancakes, was determined long before you were aware of it—perhaps even before you woke up today. And your ‘will’ had no part in that decision. So it is with all of our other choices: not one of them results from a free and conscious decision on our part. There is no freedom of choice, no free will.”

Despite Coyne’s blatant certainty, he only offers, using his phrase, two lines of evidence. Notice even Coyne refers to them as just lines of evidence. There’s no real fact or certainty.

Coyne’s Ultra-naturalism “Predetermines” His Conclusions

Let me allow Coyne to speak for himself as he explains his first line of evidence, a materialistic assumption. He says,

We are biological creatures, collections of molecules that must obey the laws of physics. All the success of science rests on the regularity of those laws, which determine the behavior of every molecule in the universe. Those molecules, of course, also make up your brain — the organ that does the “choosing.” And the neurons and molecules in your brain are the product of both your genes and your environment, an environment including the other people we deal with. Memories, for example, are nothing more than structural and chemical changes in your brain cells. Everything that you think, say, or do, must come down to molecules and physics.

It may be true that science depends on the regularity of the laws of physics, but Coyne makes no defense of whether there is anything else to our minds other than chemistry. He assumes without saying so that the material brain is all there is to our mind.

In 2007 neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and journalist Denyse O’Leary published The Spiritual Brain.{2} Quoting from the dust jacket, Beauregard and O’Leary demonstrate that scientific materialism like Coyne’s “is at a loss to explain irrefutable accounts of mind over matter, of intuition, willpower, and leaps of faith, of the ‘placebo effect’ in medicine, of near death experiences on the operating table, and of psychic premonitions of loved ones in crisis.” For each of these phenomena, they provide numerous examples where people’s minds understood, observed, changed, or perceived physical realities they simply could not know about in a purely physical sense.

Jerry Coyne’s first line of evidence turns out to be an unverified materialist assumption that has plenty of physical evidence that cannot be explained on a materialist basis. So much for convincing evidence. But to his credit, Coyne proceeds to scientific evidence he says demonstrates that brain measurements indicate our “decisions” can be predicted by observing blood flow to certain areas of the brains seconds before we actually feel we have “decided.”

Does Our Brain “Decide” Before We’re Conscious of the Decision?

Coyne’s second line of evidence consists of brain experiments claiming to predict our decisions by observing blood flow in decision-making areas of our brain seconds before we are aware of our decision. Coyne says,

Recent experiments involving brain scans show that when a subject “decides” to push a button on the left or right side of a computer, the choice can be predicted by brain activity at least seven seconds before the subject is consciously aware of having made it. (These studies use crude imaging techniques based on blood flow, and I suspect that future understanding of the brain will allow us to predict many of our decisions far earlier than seven seconds in advance.) “Decisions” made like that aren’t conscious ones. And if our choices are unconscious, with some determined well before the moment we think we’ve made them, then we don’t have free will in any meaningful sense.”

This is certainly interesting research. My first reaction is to note that these are the simplest decisions we can make. Just choose left or right. No thinking involved, no consequences. What if the choice were far more substantial, such as “Should I buy this house based on my set of pros and cons of the decision?” Or what about those “split-second” decisions to avoid a collision in a vehicle or whether to stop or go when the traffic light unexpectedly turns yellow? Each of those decisions takes far less than seven seconds.

Granted, Coyne’s article is a simple commentary in an online newspaper, but I expect more solid and convincing evidence that this. Coyne leaves us with little else than his materialist assumptions as reviewed previously.

Coyne is Required to Pretend He Has Choice

I’d like to turn my attention to Coyne’s attempts to spell out our options, once we are convinced, as he is, that we really don’t make any choices.

Coyne dismisses various philosophical attempts to rescue some sort of free will. It’s clear Coyne is scornful of philosophy in general. Maybe that explains why he is such a bad philosopher. I say that because he continues by expressing that it’s impossible to just throw up our hands and despair that life is not worth living if I don’t really make choices. Coyne says:

So if we don’t have free will, what can we do? One possibility is to give in to a despairing nihilism and just stop doing anything. But that’s impossible, for our feeling of personal agency is so overwhelming that we have no choice but to pretend that we do choose, and get on with our lives. After all, everyone deals with the unpalatable fact of our mortality, and usually do so by ignoring it rather than ruminating obsessively about it.

Now that’s a mouthful. First, Coyne rejects despairing nihilism simply because we are bound by the laws of physics. That’s my understanding of his rationale that our “feeling” of personal agency is so overwhelming. But I hope you caught the absurdity of the following comment. Coyne says, “for our feeling of personal agency is so overwhelming that we have no choice but to pretend that we do choose.” Really? We have no choice (was the pun intended?) but to “pretend” that we do choose?

I have to say that when your worldview requires you to pretend that reality is something other than what you perceive, your worldview clearly can’t be trusted.

This reminds me of a class back in grad school when I asked about meaning and purpose in life in the evolutionary world view. They said that as just another animal, our only purpose is to survive and reproduce. I asked again, “What difference does it make, though, when I’m dead and in the ground?” According to evolution, my existence is over. One prof responded by saying that ultimately it doesn’t really matter. So I asked, “Then why go on living, why stop at red lights, who cares?” The same professor responded by saying, “Well, in the future, those that will be selected for will be those who know there is no purpose in life, but will live as if there is.”

So not only do we need to pretend that we choose but we also need to pretend that our lives have meaning. Doesn’t that make you want to get up in the morning?!

How Does Knowing Our Brain’s Illusions Lead to a “Kinder” World?

Towards the end of Coyne’s commentary he tries to discern what we should do with our understanding that we don’t have any free will. First, as you might suspect, he disparages religion, specifically Christianity. He concludes that, since we have no real choice, none of us can really choose Jesus or reject him. It’s all predetermined by our genetic and environmental history. So, “If we have no free choice, then such religious tenets—and the existence of a disembodied ‘soul’—are undermined, and any post-mortem fates of the faithful are determined, Calvinistically, by circumstances over which they have no control.” Well, there you have it, Reformed theology according to Jerry Coyne.

His second observation is that since we are little more than marionettes responding to the laws of physics, this should influence how we deal with criminals. We may decide for the sake of society that some need to be removed from circulation, so to speak — sent to prison for our protection. But we certainly can’t hold them responsible. According to Coyne, “What is not justified is revenge or retribution—the idea of punishing criminals for making the ‘wrong choice.’”

Well if all this is really true, then why is Jerry Coyne trying to convince us of anything? We have no real choice. Coyne is an atheist because he can’t help it. That would mean I’m a Christian because I can’t help it. So why is he trying to convince me I have made a “wrong choice”? Obviously the internal contradictions abound.

Lastly, Coyne says our knowledge of no free will or real choices should lead to a kinder world, presumably because revenge is outdated. “Further, by losing free will we gain empathy, for we realize that in the end all of us, whether Bernie Madoffs or Nelson Mandelas, are victims of circumstance—of the genes we’re bequeathed and the environments we encounter. With that under our belts, we can go about building a kinder world.”

Just one word: Huh?

Well, personally I have gained empathy for Jerry Coyne because his commentary is just a product of circumstance, so I can just ignore it.

Thanks for reading.

Notes

1. Jerry Coyne, “Why you don’t really have free will,” USA Today, Jan. 1, 2012, usat.ly/WBnUBi. All Coyne’s quotations are from this commentary.
2. Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary, The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul (Harper One: New York, NY, 2007).

© 2013 Probe Ministries

 


The Impotence of Darwinism: A Christian Scientist Looks at the Evidence

Dr. Ray Bohlin looks at some of the tenets of Darwinism and finds them lacking support in the real world.  Speaking from a biblical worldview perspective, he finds the gaps and inconsistencies in current Darwinian thinking should demand that different theories be examined and evaluated.

Darwinism, Design, and Illusions

Darwinian evolution has been described as a universal acid that eats through everything it touches.{1} What Daniel Dennett meant was that evolution as an idea, what he called “Darwin’s dangerous idea,” is an all-encompassing worldview. Darwinism forms the basis of the way many people think and act. It touches everything.

Download the PodcastWhat Darwin proposed in 1859 was simply that all organisms are related by common descent. This process of descent or evolution was carried out by natural selection acting on variation found in populations. There was no guidance, no purpose, and no design in nature. The modern Neo-Darwinian variety of evolution identifies the source of variation as genetic mutation, changes in the DNA structure of organisms. Therefore, evolution is described as the common descent of all organisms by mutation and natural selection, and is assumed to be able to explain everything we see in the biological realm.

This explanatory power is what Dennett refers to as “Darwin’s dangerous idea.” Darwinism assumes there is no plan or purpose to life. Therefore, everything we see in the life history of an organism, including human beings, derives in some way from evolution, meaning mutation and natural selection. This includes our ways of thinking and the ways we behave. Even religion is said to have arisen as a survival mechanism to promote group unity that aids individual survival and reproduction.

Since evolution has become the cornerstone of the dominant worldview of our time—scientific naturalism—those who hold to it would be expected to take notice when somebody says it’s wrong! A growing number of scientists and philosophers are saying with greater confidence that Darwinism, as a mode of explaining all of life, is failing and failing badly. Much of the criticism can be found in the cornerstone of evolution, mutation and natural selection and the evidence for its pervasiveness in natural history. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is evolution’s repudiation of any form of design or purpose in nature. Even the staunch Darwinist and evolutionary naturalist, Britain’s Richard Dawkins, admits, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”{2}

No one denies that biological structures and organisms look designed; the argument is over what has caused this design. Is it due to a natural process that gives the appearance of design as Dawkins believes? Or is it actually designed with true purpose woven into the true fabric of life? Darwinian evolution claims to have the explanatory power and the evidence to fully explain life’s apparent design. Let’s explore the evidence.

The Misuse of Artificial Selection

It is assumed by most that evolution makes possible almost unlimited biological change. However, a few simple observations will tell us that there are indeed limits to change. Certainly the ubiquitous presence of convergence suggests that biological change is not limitless since certain solutions are arrived at again and again. There appear to be only so many ways that organisms can propel themselves: through water, over land or through the air. The wings of insects, birds and bats, though not ancestrally related, all show certain design similarities. At the very least, various physical parameters constrain biological change and adaptation. So there are certainly physical constraints, but what about biological constraints?

Darwin relied heavily on his analogy to artificial selection as evidence of natural selection. Darwin became a skilled breeder of pigeons, and he clearly recognized that just about any identifiable trait could be accentuated or diminished, whether the color scheme of feathers, length of the tail, or size of the bird itself. Darwin reasoned that natural selection could accomplish the same thing. It would just need more time.

But artificial selection has proven just the opposite. For essentially every trait, although it is usually harboring some variability, there has always been a limit. Whether the organisms or selected traits are roses, dogs, pigeons, horses, cattle, protein content in corn, or the sugar content in beets, selection is certainly possible. But all selected qualities eventually fizzle out. Chickens don’t produce cylindrical eggs. We can’t produce a plum the size of a pea or a grapefruit. There are limits to how far we can go. Some people grow as tall as seven feet, and some grow no taller than three; but none are over twelve feet or under two. There are limits to change.

But perhaps the most telling argument against the usefulness of artificial selection as a model for natural selection is the actual process of selection. Although Darwin called it artificial selection, a better term would have been intentional selection. The phrase “artificial selection” makes it sound simple and undirected. Yet every breeder, whether of plants or animals is always looking for something in particular. The selection process is always designed to a particular end.

If you want a dog that hunts better, you breed your best hunters hoping to accentuate the trait. If you desire roses of a particular color, you choose roses of similar color hoping to arrive at the desired shade. In other words, you plan and manipulate the process. Natural selection can do no such thing. Natural selection can only rely on what variation comes along. Trying to compare a directed to an undirected process offers no clues at all.

Most evolutionists I share this with usually object that we do have good examples of natural selection to document its reality. Let’s look at a few well-known examples.

The Real Power of Natural Selection

It should have been instructive when we had to wait for the 1950s, almost 100 years after the publication of Origin of Species, for a documentable case of natural selection, the famous Peppered Moth (Biston betularia). The story begins with the observation that, before the industrial revolution, moth collections of Great Britain contained the peppered variety, a light colored but speckled moth. With the rise of industrial pollution, a dark form or melanic variety became more prevalent. As environmental controls were enacted, pollution levels decreased and the peppered variety made a strong comeback.

It seemed that as pollution increased, the lichens on trees died off and the bark became blackened. The previously camouflaged peppered variety was now conspicuous and the previously conspicuous melanic form was now camouflaged. Birds could more readily see the conspicuous variety and the two forms changed frequency depending on their surrounding conditions. This was natural selection at work.

There were always a few problems with this standard story. What did it really show? First, the melanic form was always in the population, just at very low frequencies. So we start with two varieties of the peppered moth and we still have two forms. The frequencies change but nothing new has been added to the population. Second, we really don’t know the genetics of industrial melanism in these moths. We don’t have a detailed explanation of how the two forms are generated. And third, in some populations, the frequencies of the two moths changed whether there was a corresponding change in the tree bark or not. The only consistent factor is pollution.{3} The most well-known example of evolution in action reduces to a mere footnote. Regarding this change in the Peppered Moth story, evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne lamented that “From time to time evolutionists re-examine a classic experimental study and find, to their horror, that it is flawed or downright wrong.”{4}

Even Darwin’s Finches from the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador tell us little of large scale evolution. The thirteen species of finches on the Galapagos show subtle variation in the size and shape of their beaks based on the primary food source of the particular species of finch. Jonathan Wiener’s Beak of the Finch{5} nicely summarizes the decades of work by ornithologists Peter and Rosemary Grant. While the finches do show change over time in response to environmental factors (hence, natural selection), the change is reversible! The ground finches (six species) do interbreed in the wild, and the size and shape of their beaks will vary slightly depending if the year is wet or dry (varying the size seeds produced) and revert back when the conditions reverse. There is no directional change. It is even possible that the thirteen species are more like six to seven species since hybrids form so readily, especially among the ground finches, and survive quite well. Once again, where is the real evolution?

There are many other documented examples of natural selection operating in the wild. But they all show that, while limited change is possible, there are limits to change. No one as far as I know questions the reality of natural selection. The real issue is that examples such as the Peppered Moth and Darwin’s Finches tell us nothing about evolution.

Mutations Do Not Produce Real Change

While most evolutionists will acknowledge that there are limits to change, they insist that natural selection is not sufficient without a continual source of variation. In the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis, mutations of all sorts fill that role. These mutations fall into two main categories: mutations to structural genes and mutations to developmental genes. I will define structural genes as those which code for a protein which performs a maintenance, metabolic, support, or specialized function in the cell. Developmental genes influence specific tasks in embryological development, and therefore can change the morphology or actual appearance of an organism.

Most evolutionary studies have focused on mutations in structural genes. But in order for large scale changes to happen, mutations in developmental genes must be explored. Says Scott Gilbert:

“To study large changes in evolution, biologists needed to look for changes in the regulatory genes that make the embryo, not just in the structural genes that provide fitness within populations.”{6}

We’ll come back to these developmental mutations a little later.

Most examples we have of mutations generating supposed evolutionary change involve structural genes. The most common example of these kinds of mutations producing significant evolutionary change involves microbial antibiotic resistance. Since the introduction of penicillin during World War II, the use of antibiotics has mushroomed. Much to everyone’s surprise, bacteria have the uncanny ability to become resistant to these antibiotics. This has been trumpeted far and wide as real evidence that nature’s struggle for existence results in genetic change—evolution.

But microbial antibiotic resistance comes in many forms that aren’t so dramatic. Sometimes the genetic mutation simply allows the antibiotic to be pumped out of the cell faster than normal or taken into the cell more slowly. Other times the antibiotic is deactivated inside the cell by a closely related enzyme already present. In other cases, the molecule inside the cell that is the target of the antibiotic is ever so slightly modified so the antibiotic no longer affects it. All of these mechanisms occur naturally and the mutations simply intensify an ability the cell already has. No new genetic information is added.{7}

In addition, genetically programmed antibiotic resistance is passed from one bacteria to another by special DNA molecules called plasmids. These are circular pieces of DNA that have only a few genes. Bacteria readily exchange plasmids as a matter of course, even across species lines. Therefore, rarely is a new mutation required when bacteria “become” resistant. They probably received the genes from another bacterium.

Most bacteria also suffer a metabolic cost to achieve antibiotic resistance. That is, they grow more slowly than wild-type bacteria, even when the antibiotic is not present. And we have never observed a bacterium changing from a single-celled organism to a multicellular form by mutation. You just get a slightly different bacterium of the same species. The great French evolutionist Pierre Paul-Grassé, when speaking about the mutations of bacteria said,

“What is the use of their unceasing mutations if they do not change? In sum the mutations of bacteria and viruses are merely hereditary fluctuations around a median position; a swing to the right, a swing to the left, but no final evolutionary effect.”{8}

What I have been describing so far is what is often referred to as microevolution. Evolutionists have basically assumed that the well-documented processes of microevolution eventually produce macroevolutionary changes given enough time. But this has been coming under greater scrutiny lately, even by evolutionists. There appears to be a real discontinuity between microevolution and the kind of change necessary to turn an amoeba-like organism into a fish, even over hundreds of millions of years.

Below is just a quick sampling of comments and musings from the current literature.

“One of the oldest problems in evolutionary biology remains largely unsolved. . . . historically, the neo-Darwinian synthesizers stressed the predominance of micromutations in evolution, whereas others noted the similarities between some dramatic mutations and evolutionary transitions to argue for macromutationism.”{9}

“A long-standing issue in evolutionary biology is whether the processes observable in extant populations and species (microevolution) are sufficient to account for the larger-scale changes evident over longer periods of life’s history (macroevolution).”{10}

“A persistent debate in evolutionary biology is one over the continuity of microevolution and macroevolution — whether macroevolutionary trends are governed by the principles of microevolution.”{11}

While each of the above authors does not question evolution directly, they are questioning whether what we have been studying all these years, microevolution, has anything to do with the more important question of what leads to macroevolution. And if microevolution is not the process, then what is?

Natural Selection Does Not Produce New Body Plans

The fundamental question which needs addressing is, How have we come to have sponges, starfish, cockroaches, butterflies, eels, frogs, woodpeckers, and humans from single cell beginnings with no design, purpose or plan? All the above listed organisms have very different body plans. A body plan simply describes how an organism is put together. So can we discover just how all these different body plans can arise by mutation and natural selection? This is a far bigger and more difficult problem than antibiotic resistance, a mere biochemical change. Now we have to consider just how morphological change comes about.

The problem of macroevolution requires developmental mutations. Simply changing a protein here and there won’t do it. We somehow have to change how the organism is built. Structural genes tend to have little effect on the development of a body plan. But the genes that control development and ultimately influence the body plan tend to find their expression quite early in development. But this is a problem because the developing embryo is quite sensitive to early developmental mutations. Wallace Arthur wrote:

“Those genes that control key early developmental processes are involved in the establishment of the basic body plan. Mutations in these genes will usually be extremely disadvantageous, and it is conceivable that they are always so.”{12}

But these are the mutations needed for altering body plans. However, evolutionists for decades have been studying the wrong mutations. Those dealing with structural genes, microevolution, only deal with how organisms survive as they are, it doesn’t tell us how they got to be the way they are. Optiz and Raft note that

“The Modern Synthesis is a remarkable achievement. However, starting in the 1970’s, many biologists began questioning its adequacy in explaining evolution. . . . Microevolution looks at adaptations that concern only the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest.”{13}

Wallace Arthur:

“In a developmentally explicit approach it is clear that many late changes can not accumulate to give an early one. Thus if taxonomically distant organisms differ right back to their early embryogenesis, as is often the case, the mutations involved in their evolutionary divergence did not involve the same genes as those involved in the typical speciation event.”{14}

To sum up the current dilemma, significant morphological change requires early developmental mutations. But these mutations are nearly universally disadvantageous. And microevolution, despite its presence in textbooks as proof of evolution, actually tells us precious little about the evolutionary process. If these developmental mutations that can offer an actual benefit are so rare, then macroevolution would be expected to be a slow and difficult, yet bumpy process. Indeed, Darwin expected that “As natural selection acts solely by accumulating slight, successive, favorable variations, it can produce no great or sudden modifications; it can only act in short and slow steps.”

The origin of body plans is wrapped up in the evidence of paleontology, the fossils and developmental biology. What does the fossil record have to say about the origin of basic body plans? When we look for fossils indicating Darwin’s expected slow gradual process we are greatly disappointed. The Cambrian Explosion continues to mystify and intrigue. The Cambrian Explosion occurred around 543 million years ago according to paleontologists. In the space of just a few million years, nearly all the animal phyla make their first appearance.

“The term ‘explosion’ should not be taken too literally, but in terms of evolution it is still very dramatic. What it means is rapid diversification of animal life. ‘Rapid’ in this case means a few million years, rather than the tens or even hundreds of millions of years that are more typical . . .{15}

Prior to the Cambrian, (550-485 million years ago), during the Vendian (620-550 million years ago) we find fossil evidence for simple sponges, perhaps some cnidarians and the enigmatic Ediacaran assemblage. For the most part we find only single cell organisms such as bacteria, cyanobacteria, algae, and protozoan. Suddenly, in the Cambrian explosion (545-535 million years ago) we find sponges, cnidarians, platyhelminthes, ctenophores, mollusks, annelids, chordates (even a primitive fish), and echinoderms.

While many animal phyla are not present in the Cambrian, they are mostly phyla of few members and unlikely to be fossilized in these conditions. James Valentine goes further in saying that “The diversity of body plans indicated by combining all of these Early Cambrian remains is very great. Judging from the phylogenetic tree of life, all living phyla (animal) were probably present by the close of the explosion interval.”{16} Later Valentine assures us that the fossil record of the explosion period is as good as or better than an average section of the geologic column.{17} So we just can’t resort to the notion that the fossil record is just too incomplete.

In the Cambrian Explosion we have the first appearance of most animal body plans. This sudden appearance is without evidence of ancestry in the previous periods. This explosion of body plans requires a quantum increase of biological information. New genetic information and regulation is required.{18} Mutations at the earliest stages of embryological development are required and they must come in almost rapid fire sequence. Some have suggested that perhaps the genetic regulation of body plans was just more flexible, making for more experimentation. But we find some of the same organisms in the strata from China to Canada and throughout the period of the explosion. These organisms do not show evidence of greater flexibility of form.

The type of mutation is definitely a problem, but so is the rate of mutation. Susumo Ohno points out that “it still takes 10 million years to undergo 1% change in DNA base sequences. . . . [The] emergence of nearly all the extant phyla of the Kingdom Animalia within the time span of 6-10 million years can’t possibly be explained by mutational divergence of individual gene functions.”{19}

Darwinism would also require early similarities between organisms with slow diversification. Phyla should only become recognizable after perhaps hundreds of millions of years of descent with modification. Yet the great diversity appears first with gradual drifting afterward, the opposite of what evolution would predict. Again some suggest that the genetic structure of early organisms was less constrained today, allowing early developmental mutations with less severe results. But there would still be some developmental trajectory that would exist so the selective advantage of the mutation would have to outweigh the disruption of an already established developmental pathway.

But each of these speculations is unobservable and untestable. It’s quite possible that developmental constraints may be even more rigid with fewer genes. But even if the constraints were weaker, then there should be more variability in morphology of species over space and time. But as I said earlier, the Cambrian fauna are easily recognizable from the early Cambrian deposits in China and Greenland to the middle Cambrian deposits of the Burgess Shale. There is no testable or observational basis for hypothesizing less stringent developmental constraints.

This stunning burst of body plans in the early Cambrian and the lack of significant new body plans since the Cambrian indicate a limit to change. Evolutionary developmental biologist Rudolf Raff told Time magazine over ten years ago that “There must be limits to change. After all, we’ve had these same old body plans for half a billion years.”{20} Indeed, perhaps these limits to change are far more pervasive and genetically determined than Raff even suspects.

Along the way, functional organisms must form the intermediate forms. But even the functionality of these intermediate organisms transforming from one body plan to another has long puzzled even the most dedicated evolutionists. S. J. Gould, the late Harvard paleontologist, asked,

“But how can a series of reasonable intermediates be constructed? . . . The dung-mimicking insect is well protected, but can there be any edge in looking only 5 percent like a turd?”{21}

With his usual flair, Gould asks a penetrating question. Most have no problem with natural selection taking a nearly completed design and making it just a little bit more effective. Where the trouble really starts is trying to create a whole new design from old parts. Evolution has still not answered this critical question. I fully believe that evolution is incapable of answering this question with anything more than “I think it can.” However, unlike the little train that could, it will take far more than willpower to come up with the evidence.

In this brief discussion I haven’t even mentioned the challenges of Michael Behe’s irreducible complexity,{22} William Dembski’s specified complexity,{23} and a host of other evolutionary problems and difficulties. This truly is a theory in crisis.

Notes

1. Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999).
2. R. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (W. W. Norton, 1986), 1.
3. Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc, 2000), 137-157.
4. Jerry Coyne, “Not black and white,” Nature 396 (1998): 35-36.
5. Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994).
6. Scott F. Gilbert, “Opening Darwin’s black box: teaching evolution through developmental genetics,” Nature Reviews Genetics 4 (2003): 735-741.
7. Lane Lester and Raymond G. Bohlin, The Natural Limits to Biological Change (Richardson Tex.: Probe Books, 1984, 1989), 103,170.
8. Pierre-Paul Grassé, Evolution of Living Organisms (New York: Academic Press, 1977), 87.
9. David L. Stern, “Perspective: evolutionary developmental biology and the problem of variation,” Evolution 54 (2000): 1079-1091.
10. Sean B. Carroll, “The big picture,” Nature 409 (2001): 669.
11. Andrew M. Simons, “The continuity of microevolution and macroevolution,” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 15 (2002): 688-701.
12. Wallace Arthur, The Origin of Animal Body Plans (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 14.
13. S. Gilbert, J. Optiz, and R. Raff, “Review–Resynthesizing Evolutionary and Developmental Biology,” Developmental Biology 173 (1996): 361.
14. Wallace Arthur, The Origin of Animal Body Plans, 22.
15. S. Conway Morris, Crucible of Creation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 31.
16. James Valentine, On the Origin of Phyla (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 183.
17. Ibid., p. 194.
18. Stephen C. Meyer, “The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117 (2), (2004):213-239.
19. Susumo Ohno, “The notion of the Cambrian pananimalia genome,” PNAS USA 93 (1996): 8475-78.
20. Rudolf Raff, quoted in “Then Life Exploded,” by J. Madeleine Nash, Time, Dec. 4, 1995, p. 74.
21. S. J. Gould, Ever Since Darwin, 1977, 104.
22. Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Free Press, 1996).
23. William A. Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence, (Lanham, Maryland: Roman and Littlefield, 2002).

© 2005 Probe Ministries


The Biology of Human Uniqueness

Dr. Ray Bohlin demonstrates unique biological attributes that set humans apart because we are made in the image of God.

What’s So Special About Humans?

As humans we tend to think of ourselves as rather unique in the created order of things. As Christians, we understand ourselves to be created in the image and likeness of God as we learn in Genesis 1:26. But what does this really mean? Certainly being made in God’s image does not refer to our physical construction; God is spirit and therefore does not have a physical body. But God’s plan from the beginning was to rescue us from our sin through the incarnation, God becoming man. Jesus was and is the Son of God, Messiah, the God-Man. Therefore it is not a stretch to suggest that our bodily make-up is meant to be the unique earthly home of Jesus and His Spirit within us. Therefore, I suggest that our biological make-up is unique in the animal kingdom since no other animal is made in His image.

download-podcastBut what does this really mean? I am going to borrow from several sources, principally Michael Denton’s Nature’s Destiny{1}, to discuss the biological uniqueness of humans. The Discovery Institute is also in the process of producing a film series based on Denton’s work, titled Privileged Species: How the Cosmos is Designed for Human Life.

We are able to point out numerous qualitative abilities in the human species found nowhere else in the animal kingdom. I will discuss these in detail below, but I’ll provide a brief overview now to whet your appetite.

First, I’ll be discussing our unique intelligence. Humans’ ability to think abstract thoughts appears to be absolutely unique. It is difficult to arrive at a selective advantage in an evolutionary sense to this type of thinking, so where did it come from?

Second, and related to our intelligence, is our unique language capability. Most animals communicate with their own species, but no other species, including primates, actually use language. As toddlers we accumulate language by simply being around it. Chimps and gorillas have to go through painstaking trial and error and still can’t communicate as a three-year-old does.

Third, our excellent vision allows us to use our intelligence, language and other capabilities to manipulate our surroundings in precise and advantageous ways.

Fourth, our excellent manipulative tool, the hand, is unsurpassed in other primates. We have both strength and fine motor control in our hands, allowing us to combine a strong grip and delicate finger movements that allow a wide range of movements. This, combined with our upright stance, provides an ability to restructure our immediate surroundings as no other species can.

We are also a highly social species which allows for quick distribution of ideas to everyone’s benefit. And all these combine to allow us to be the only species to use and manipulate fire, which brings a host of unique abilities.

Human Intelligence and Language

As I mentioned above, our intelligence separates us from any other primate species. Our brain is three times the size of the brain of a chimp.  But beyond that, the number of neurons and connections between neurons far surpasses any other mammal. Michael Denton cites that in each cubic millimeter of the human cortex, are 100,000 cells, about 4 kilometers of axonal wiring and 500 meters of dendrites, and around 1 billion synapse connections between neurons. We have 10 million more of these synapses than a rat brain.

The size and scope is one thing, but our mental capabilities are indeed unique. As mentioned above, humans are capable of abstract and conceptual thought. No other primate exhibits any signs of this capacity. In addition, our mathematical reasoning is completely other compared to other animals. You might suspect that some animals can count. But it is a learned response attached to reward. We don’t really suspect the rat/horse/chimp knows what they are doing. Comparing calculus to simply counting bananas is just no comparison at all.

When you stop to consider our appreciation of the arts, there is no place to go but humans. James Trefil is a physicist fascinated by biology and evolution. But when considering the arts he says, “No matter how hard I try, I can’t think of a single evolutionary pressure that would drive the ability of humans to produce and enjoy music and dance. . . . This has always seemed like a serious problem to me—perhaps even a more serious problem than that perceived by most of my colleagues.”

When we turn to language, our uniqueness is informed even further. Plants and animals all communicate in one form or another, but not by language as humans communicate. We communicate both new information and abstract concepts, something other species don’t even approach. We possess the proper equipment to both produce and receive language and speech. And by proper equipment I mean both the brain processes and the anatomical necessities for actual speech (e.g., teeth, tongue, voice box, etc.). There is also a social ability that can utilize these upper levels of communication.

But we’ve heard about chimps and gorillas learning language. Kanzi, a bonobo chimpanzee, learned words and even symbolic use of a keyboard. Kanzi also learned through hearing the use of new words. But that is where it stopped.

To quote James Trefil again, “If we take the claims being advanced for Kanzi at face value, where are we? We have a member of the most intelligent primate species, a veritable Shakespeare of non-human animals, raised under special and unusual conditions, performing at the level of a human child of two and a half. But remember that in humans, real language begins just after this age. . . . Then we have to conclude that even in this optimal case, animals other than humans cannot learn real human language.”

Human Vision and the Hand

Now I’d like to introduce two features we can easily take for granted, our hands and our eyes.

Ordinarily we don’t think of our hands as being anything special. But just try to think of any other creature that can do the many and diverse things we can do with our hands. The closest match is the hand of a chimp. But
chimp hands are larger, stronger, and even clumsy. Simple things like using all ten fingers to type, peel an apple, or tie a knot are beyond what chimps can do.

The strength in our fingers comes from larger muscles in the forearm and the fine manipulative control comes from much smaller muscles in the hand itself. Our ability to manipulate our environment with our hands is unparalleled. Using our intelligence we even devise additional tools for our hands to further extend our mastery of the world around us. Full use of our hands comes about from our upright and bipedal gait, allowing our hands the freedom not found in any other mammal.

In his book Nature’s Destiny Michael Denton asks about the human hand “whether any other species possesses an organ approaching its capabilities. The answer simply must be that no other species possesses a manipulative organ remotely approaching the universal utility of the human hand. Even in the field of robotics, nothing has been built which even remotely equals the all-around manipulative capacity of the hand.”

But in order to even use our hands well, we need exceptional vision to be able to detect all the little things our minds notice to manipulate. Given the physics of visible light and the dimensions and molecular process of detecting light in our eyes, the resolving power of the human eye is close to the optimum for a camera-type eye using biological cells and processes.

Some animals such as high-flying hawks and eagles detect motion from far greater distances that we can, and some organisms see much better in the dark than we do, but for all-around color vision, detail and resolution, our eyes seem to be the best there is. Combined with our highly interconnected brain, our upright gait for easily seeing straight ahead, a swiveling neck to see side to side, and our overall size, our eyes open the world to us as for no other species.

Developing science and technology, communicating to thousands and even millions through the written word, and simply exploring the world around us, are only possible through an integrated use of our unique intelligence, social structure and speech, hands and vision.

The Use of Fire

As I have explored the biology of human uniqueness, I have focused on some of our individual capacities such as our intelligence, speech, our marvelous hands, and our unique all-around color vision. I have used throughout, the wonderful book by Michael Denton, Nature’s Destiny. Now I’m looking at one of our key distinguishing characteristics which combine all of these. Humans are the only biological creatures that have mastered the use of fire. If you think for a minute, every other animal has nothing but fear when it comes to fire. We are also fearful of fire and the damage it can do, but we have also managed to harness it and use it.

There are a couple of obvious advantages for the use of fire. First it provides additional light after sundown that extends our activity into the evening. Second, fire provides additional warmth in the evening and allows us to venture into colder climates. Third, fire allows us to cook food, particularly meat which is a very significant source of fat calories and protein. Cooking our food certainly distinguishes us from any other creature and has allowed us to add the necessary energy to fully use that big brain of ours which is a major drain on our energy stores, even at night.

But beyond these, if we never harnessed the energy and power of fire, we would not have been able to develop tools involving metal. Using heat to forge ever more powerful hand tools and weapons revolutionized human culture. Without fire we could not have developed any form of chemistry and especially the use of electricity. Electricity has revolutionized human existence in the last 100 years. Fire is an influential and powerful tool indeed.

But how have we been able to do this? First, we need to take advantage of our intelligent capability for abstract thought and reasoning. As I said earlier, we too fear fire, but we need to be able to think about it and be curious enough to not only rationalize that we might be able to harness its power, but that it would also be useful. This ability to deduce the control and use of fire requires high-level reasoning.

Denton also points out that for a fire to be sustainable it needs to be at least 50 centimeters across (or about a foot and a half). To create a fire of this size we need our upright stance to walk the distance to gather the right amount and size of branches. That means that our upright stance, free arms, the manipulative tools of our hands, and our discerning vision work together to allow us to create a sustainable fire.

Therefore, the control and manipulation of fire requires a combined use of most of our unique biological capacities. Think about this the next time you sit around a campfire or grill your supper on a warm summer day. It’s part of what makes us human!

Human Anatomy and Genome

In this article I have been focusing on aspects of human biology that make us unique in the universe of living organisms. I discussed in some detail our unique intelligence, allowing us complex and abstract thought. We have a unique ability to communicate audibly and through a symbolic written word. These combine with our stereo vision and unique manipulative tool the hand, to allow us sole possession of the ability to use and manipulate fire. All of these capabilities are made possible by several unique aspects of our anatomy.

Humans have the largest brain of any primate species. Whales, dolphins, and elephants have larger brains, but size is not the main distinctive. Our human brain is structured like no other. If you were to open up just one cubic millimeter of our brain you would find over 100,000 cells with 4 kilometers of cell wiring and 1 billion connections between neurons. The structure and organization of our brain is definitely without parallel. Studies of our entire genome compared to chimpanzees indicate vast differences in non-coding sequences that influence the production of brain proteins. These changes are in the thousands.

In 1999, famous MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, reflected that “Thus, in the case of language, . . . (new research) is providing interesting grounds for taking seriously an idea that a few years ago would have seemed outlandish: that the language organ of the brain approaches a kind of optimal design, that it is in some interesting sense an optimal solution to the minimal design specifications the language organ must meet to be usable at all.” Without our unique brain structure, our language ability would not be forthcoming.

When comparing our skeletal structure to those of our supposed closest ancestors according to an evolutionary explanation, there are major changes that would have been needed to be accomplished in a relatively short time. Casey Luskin from the Discovery Institute does an admirable job digging into these differences and makes some sweeping conclusions. Numerous studies indicate that between the lineage of Australopithecus and Homo there would need to be significant changes in shoulders, rib cage, spine, pelvis, hip, legs, arms, hands and feet. But of these major transitions, the fossil record is silent.

Luskin also refers to a study by Durrett and Schmidt in 2007 that estimates that a single-nucleotide mutation in a primate species would take 6 million years to become fixed. But what is needed are multiple mutations in multiple segments of the skeletal system and in the physiology of the brain. Homo sapiens are far more unique than many have suspected. The more we learn, the more unique we become.

Since humans are created in the image of God, we expect human biological uniqueness. Even more significantly, bearing His image indicates an affinity for humans by the Creator we cannot fully comprehend.

Notes

1. Michael Denton, Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe (New York: The Free Press, 1998).

©2015 Probe Ministries


Science and Human Origins

Dr. Ray Bohlin explains how the Discovery Institute’s book “Science and Human Origins” reveals why evolutionary theory cannot account for human origins.

Just What Needs to be Accomplished From Ape-like Ancestor to Humans?

download-podcastIn 2012 the Discovery Institute published an edited volume discussing the possibilities of human evolution from an ape-like ancestor by Darwinian evolution mechanisms. In this article I will offer an overview of the book, Science and Human Origins{1} and investigate the state of research into human origins from an evolutionary perspective.

Science and Human Origins book coverFirst I’d like to discuss the first chapter by Ann Gauger. Ann is a research scientist with Biologic Institute with laboratory experience at Harvard and the University of Washington. Initially Ann points out two things that are necessary for there to be a link by common ancestry between humans and some ape-like ancestor. First there must be a step-wise adaptive path to follow. Neo-Darwinism depends on a slow, gradual path between two forms, genes or proteins. Rapid large jumps are likely to be too disruptive to the organism’s state of being. Either survival or reproduction will be compromised.

Second, standard unguided Darwinian mechanisms such as mutation, selection, random drift and genetic recombination have to be sufficient for the task. Modern evolutionary theory is quite insistent that only natural unguided processes are necessary for evolution to occur no matter what the transition being considered.

To better understand the problem, the book discusses the numerous types of biological changes needed to transition from a primarily arboreal monkey adjusted to life in the trees to a walking, running, hunting gathering, intelligent, talking human being. Compared to the other great apes, humans possess longer legs, shorter arms, different pelvis and rib cage, refined muscles for fingers, lips and jaw, eyes that can focus straight ahead and still see where we are walking, larger and unique brain structures, a head that sits directly on top of the spine and a spine that will support upright walking and running. Now add to that our unique capacities for language, art and abstract thought and you can easily understand that a lot needs to happen.

The usual series of fossils links together Lucy, the australopithecine closest to humans and Turkana Boy (Homo erectus), the first full member of our genus Homo. Lucy is said to have lived 3.2 million years ago (mya) and Turkana Boy about 1.5 mya. This is indeed a very short time span in evolutionary terms, especially considering all that must change. One recent paper from the journal Genetics suggested that it would take about 6 million years for a single mutation to be fixed in a primate lineage. This transition probably needs tens of mutations. If you need two mutations, forget it. That would require 216 million years.

It’s not too hard to see that standard evolutionary processes are wholly insufficient to cause the transition between australopithecines and humans.

The Earliest Fossils Leading to Humans

Now I want to discuss the evidence for human evolution from the fossils. Study into ancient humans is called paleoanthropology. Casey Luskin breaks down his discussion into two parts, Early Hominin Fossils and Later Hominins: The Australopithecines. Let’s start with the early hominins. As the story goes, humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor about six million years ago. The fossil record of six million years ago has been pretty stingy. Not much to choose from for a human/chimp ancestor until the last twenty years.

The Toumai Skull (Sahelanthropus tchadnesis) was first reported in 2002 and is widely referred to as the oldest fossil in the hominin line. But when you dig a bit deeper as is always necessary when discussing human evolution, not everyone agrees. Some suggest that the Toumai Skull has far more in common with apes than anything resembling a human. All this skull really shows is how complex the evolutionary story has become.

A second fossil known as “Orrorin” (Orrorin tugenensis) or “original man” in a local Kenyan language was designated as the earliest human link in 2001.{2} But it was little more than a few bone fragments from an arm, thigh, lower jaw and a few teeth. As usual, there were some saying that Orrorin walked on two feet and others who said there isn’t enough information to determine how this organism moved. Another fossil found on the island of Sardinia is truly an ape but had some indications that it too was bipedal. But Oreopithecus is thought to have arrived at its bipedal gait independently. This would clearly indicate that just because an ape-like fossil had bipedal adaptations doesn’t mean it was ancestral to humans.

Last is the curious story of “Ardi” (Ardipithecus ramidus). Ardi is a 4.4 million year old fossil announced in 2009. Ardi quickly rose in fame and attention, being hailed by some as the oldest human ancestor found and the key to understanding how human bipedalism evolved. But Casey Luskin informs us that Ardi was originally found in the early 1990s. It took over a decade to piece the fossil together because it was found literally crushed and extremely brittle. How did they know how it all really fit together? Within a year other paleontologists indicated Ardi had little to do with human evolution and was simply overhyped. That’s become a familiar story. So much change to cover and so little evidence.

From “Lucy” to “Turkana Boy”

We now turn to the appearance and nature of a very important fossil category. If humans have evolved by a Darwinian process from an ape-like ancestor, then there must be some species or group of species that show clear signs of being intermediate between fossil apes and humans. For many years that position has been occupied by the “australopithecines.” More specifically a particular species (Australopithecus afarensis) has been represented for decades as that ancestor, represented by a fossil known as “Lucy.”

As Casey Luskin carefully documents, Lucy is a fossil that represents about 40% of the original organism so it is very incomplete, although far more representative that any earlier fossils. He also notes that the original fossil was found scattered over a hillside and may not truly represent a single individual. But significantly, Lucy is not necessarily closely related or descended from the Toumai Skull, Orrorin, or Ardi that I discussed above. There is much about Lucy that is very ape-like, and many anthropologists even question whether Lucy can be considered as truly ancestral to humans.

Most significant about Lucy is the contention by some that she possessed a form of bipedalism that was very much or at least similar to human locomotion. But even that is highly contested by the evolutionary experts. Lucy’s skull is small and quite ape-like. The chest cavity is shaped in a way that would make upright walking difficult and her arms are long like apes and her legs are short like apes. Much is made about the shape of her pelvis. But as Luskin points out, the shape may have been an error in reconstruction since that part of the skeleton was found severely crushed.

Even more to the point, Lucy shows numerous characteristics that require significant reworking compared to the earliest human-like fossils (Homo erectus) usually represented by “Turkana Boy.” This two-million-year-old fossil shows itself to be entirely human. Even its small brain is within the range of modern humans and the brain architecture is also entirely human and nothing like Lucy. As Luskin points out there needs to be a sort of “Big Bang” between Lucy and Turkana Boy.{3}

What we have then is a large gap between apes and Lucy, and a large gap between Lucy and humans. So even though the fossil record could be interpreted to show a modest progression from apes to humans over time, there are no true transitional forms to document how this important transition took place.

DNA Doesn’t Lie

In a well-documented chapter, Casey Luskin examines the claims of evangelical scientist, Francis Collins, that there is explicit and undeniable genetic evidence that humans and chimps evolved from a common ancestor. Collins has earned a stellar reputation as a medical geneticist for first discovering the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis, leading the Human Genome Project for over a decade, and then in 2009 being named by President Obama as the head of the prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH). In between Collins’s role as head of the Human Genome Project and his current role at NIH, he founded an organization, BioLogos, dedicated to convincing the church in America that evolution is indeed is a fact and we need to adjust both our science and preaching to reflect that fact.

In preparation for BioLogos he published a book titled The Language of God.{4} In this book, Collins presents a two-fold line of evidence that humans and chimps evolved from a common ancestor. First he appeals to what are known as repetitive elements in our DNA. All mammalian genomes have relatively short sequences that can be very specific to species and groups of species, spread throughout the genome. It appears as if these sequences make copies of themselves and randomly insert the copy elsewhere in the genome. These repetitive elements are frequently found in the same place in the genome in distant species such as mice and humans. These are referred to as Ancient Repetitive Elements (ARE). These AREs are assumed to have no functional significance in the organism. This renders them as what is referred to as “selfish DNA” which exists only to survive and reproduce.

Some AREs are found in the same chromosomal location in mice and humans as well as humans and chimps. This sure seems like evidence of common ancestry, as Collins claims. But the assumption I just mentioned, that these sequences have no function, has been widely disproved in just the last ten years. As a result of the Human Genome Project that Collins led, we can now search all DNA sequences for some kind of function. Relying on work published by Richard Sternberg, Luskin lists twenty newly discovered functions for different types of repetitive elements in mammalian and human genomes.{5}

The chapter discusses two other now disproven evidences for common ancestry of humans and chimps. I hope you can see that new and mounting evidence is making the common ancestry of humans and chimps even more difficult to defend.

How Many Humans at the Start?

In the final chapter of Science and Human Origins, Ann Gauger discusses a bit more of an academic argument for humans having evolved from an ape-like ancestor. Some evolutionary geneticists have described an argument that the level of genetic variation for particular human genes could not have arisen from a beginning of just two people. They state that standard genetic equations indicate that the human population most likely descends from a population of around 100,000 individuals. Just two people could not have generated this much variation in 100,000 years, let alone less than 10,000 years. If their analysis is true, then the Biblical account of Adam and Eve becomes a theological story with no historical significance. So let’s take a look.

Gauger investigates in detail the most variable gene in humans. This gene codes for a protein involved in the immune system. One section of this gene is what geneticists call “hypervariable.” Evolutionist Francisco Ayala and others researched this gene in the mid-1990s. Ayala’s conclusion was that the original human population that separated from the line that evolved into chimps contained at least 32 copies of the gene in its population. Each of us has only two copies of each gene, so 32 copies requires at least 16 people. But since, over time, different gene copies are lost, Ayala estimated a human population of at least 10,000 individuals with an average closer to 100,000.

Gauger points out that Ayala misused several assumptions. He assumed a small mutation rate and he assumed no selection. When Gauger corrects for these errors and examines the studies of others, she determines that the equations, when the proper assumptions and mutation rates are used, the original human population could have had as few as 4 copies of this gene. Let’s see, two copies per person, four copies, only needs two people. How about that!

Obviously in this short article I have intentionally glossed over the technical details. Ann Gauger gives you the details as well as more non-technical summaries along the way. I strongly encourage you to purchase the book. At 122 pages, it’s readable in a Saturday. Considering all I have covered this week, my doubts about human evolution have only been strengthened. It becomes even more obvious over time that Darwinian evolutionary mechanisms are proving less and less adequate.

Notes

1. Gauger, Ann, Douglas Axe, and Casey Luskin, Science and Human Origins (Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, 2012).
2. Ibid., p. 51.
3. Ibid., p. 65-70.
4. Francis Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006).
5. Gauger, Ann, et al., Science and Human Origins, p. 87-88.

© 2013 Probe Ministries


“I’m a Girl Because That’s What Mommy Wanted!” — The Ethics of Screening for Gender Using IVF

The brave new world of the future is not so far away anymore. Fertility clinics, originally created to assist infertile couples have children, can now screen for numerous genetic traits. Are we ready for the responsibility and future ethical questions? My experience says we are woefully unprepared. In our consumer oriented society of the 21st century, we want what we want, when we want it. If a couple has the financial resources and says they are willing to take the medical risks, who can say what they can and can’t do?

Dr. Ray Bohlin interviews on WFAA-TVIn July 2015 an article appeared on Yahoo Parenting{1} about a couple in Frisco, Texas, north of Dallas. Rosa (36) and Vincent (37) Costa spent $100,000, enduring seven rounds of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), including one miscarriage, just to ensure their third child would be a girl. Numerous fertility clinics allow infertile couples to genetically screen their embryos for nearly 400 genetic disorders. One additional benefit is that the embryos can also be screened for gender. Gender is a fairly simple assessment. Males will contain an X chromosome and a Y chromosome. Females are XX. These chromosomes are easily identified and distinguished.

This service is becoming more commonplace for couples since a round of IVF can cost around $12,000. If for an additional $6,000, screening can focus on healthy embryos, why not? Identifying the sex of the embryos is an added bonus. But in the last few years, couples like the Costas have mushroomed. Some clinics report a rise of 250%. As one who has addressed the issue of genetic engineering for over twenty years, I have regularly discussed the possibility of choosing the sex of your next child. The primary method used by fertility clinics is to assess gender before implantation. If you desire a girl, then only female embryos are implanted. Embryos of the “wrong” sex can be discarded, frozen for later use, made available for adoption or donated to “science” for stem cell research. Most frozen embryos end up in limbo. They do not stay viable forever. Some frozen embryos have been successfully revived after 5 years in storage. But many are simply discarded. Embryos donated for stem cell research are also ultimately killed. In order to retrieve the valuable embryonic stem cells, the embryo is destroyed.

Consequently, this IVF procedure to guarantee the sex of your child ultimately results in the death of numerous perfectly healthy embryos. So you have perfectly healthy parents sacrificing healthy embryos just to get the male or female child they desire. This cost is far more consequential than the dollar amount. I’m opposed to even discarding genetically challenged embryos for healthy embryos. Now we have crossed the line to create human life in the laboratory with the full intention of sacrificing embryos of the wrong sex. In another article{2}, fertility specialist, Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, acknowledges he has had the technology to screen for eye-color since 2009. He delayed making it available then due to an outcry from the public. Saying he has a waiting list of 70-80 people, he’s getting ready to make it available again.

But despite the clear loss of innocent human life in our search for a “balanced family” or even worse, children of the preferred eye color, we run into the specter of facing up to responsibilities too few have considered. The Costas, for instance, want a little girl. There is nothing wrong with that necessarily. But what are they really expecting? After all, they’ve spent $100,000 in the effort. The article mentions they will be decorating the new nursery in pink. But what if Olivia, their chosen name, ends up not liking pink? What if she’s a tomboy who doesn’t even like dresses? Or even more extreme, what if she decides as a little girl, she’s really a boy! What do you do then? Even when selecting a child’s gender, you likely have some concept in your mind of what a boy or girl will be like-otherwise, why choose gender at all?

It seems we are unwilling to ask the hard questions. Fertility experts will likely cater to what their clients want. There is competition, after all. One fertility specialist even believes that withholding these technologies puts him in the role of “playing god.” He won’t withhold something a client wants when the technology is available. That equates the consumer as a “god.” The American Idol is not just a performer looking to win a contest to land a lucrative recording contract. The American Idol is personal choice. As I said earlier, if someone says they understand the risks, has the money and wants to pursue a medical technology, whose is going to say no? Should we say no? We have known for some time that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Do we just stand by and allow people to make choices that show an utter disregard for innocent human lives in the pursuit of personal preferences? Life becomes cheap across the board. Everyone is suddenly at risk. Where do we draw the line?

My great concern is that public demand, not reasonable ethical considerations, will guide medical decisions. Do we really not have the collective will to say there are some medical procedures or even experiments we will not do?

Notes

1. Why One Mom Spent 100K to Guarantee Baby No. 3 Is a Girl Accessed July 14 2015.

2. Couple Spends 50K to Choose Baby’s Sex, Shining Light on Trend Accessed July 14, 2015.

©2015 Probe Ministries


“So What Evidence IS There Against Evolution?”

Dr. Bohlin,

I just read an article by yourself condemning evolution and the teaching of it. You state your opinion that scientists should teach the controversy behind the teaching thereof. Is this the job of scientists? They cannot teach the issues in every discovery ever made and every theory they believe.

They would be teaching a course on the history of science rather than a course on science if they did. Evolution is accepted as proven in the scientific community, so why should scientists justify teaching it? We teach science in science classes and theology in theology classes. And what information is in conflict with it? You made frequent reference to it, but never said exactly what it is.

You state your opinion that scientists should teach the controversy behind the teaching thereof. Is this the job of scientists? They cannot teach the issues in every discovery ever made and every theory they believe.

Actually, science textbooks do this all the time, especially with the more important and central theories. Check out a high school or college introductory biology text that emphasizes evolution and I can just about guarantee that there will be some discussion about just what Darwin was attempting to overthrow in proposing his theory of natural selection. You’re not really teaching science unless you also teach some of its history as well.

They would be teaching a course on the history of science rather than a course on science if they did. Evolution is accepted as proven in the scientific community, so why should scientists justify teaching it? We teach science in science classes and theology in theology classes. And what information is in conflict with it? You made frequent reference to it, but never said exactly what it is.

The list of problems with evolution is long and has everything to do with science and nothing to do with theology. It has to do with evidence, both the lack of evidence for evolution on the broadest scale, and the presence of evidence for design.

Lack of Evidence for Evolution:

• No workable system for a naturalistic origin of life.
• Inability of evolutionary mechanisms to explain anything but minor variation in finch beaks and moth coloration.
• Rapid origin of nearly all animal phyla in Cambrian period with little or no evidence of ancestors.
• Early life is now known to not be monophyletic, a classic prediction of Darwinian evolution. Molecular evolutionists have had to invent a polyphyletic origin of life and massive gene transfers in earth’s early history to explain the molecular data.
• Despite the presence of a few putative transitional forms in the fossil record, transitions are rare (Darwin expected them to be everywhere). The invertebrate fossil record is virtually devoid of any transitional forms (BTW, invertebrates comprise around 90% of the fossil record) .
• The fossil record demonstrates stasis, not a gradual process of origin for new forms.
• We see a lot of evidence for structures falling into disuse in organisms but no examples of new organs appearing.

Evidence for Design:

• Irreducible complexity of many cellular molecular structures and pathways.
• The genetic code is an informational code and informational codes only arise from an intelligent source.
• Junk DNA, a label derived from Darwinian interpretations of non-transcribed DNA, is junk no longer. The “junk” continues to be found functional in surprising ways.
• The overall complexity of the cell was not anticipated by Darwinists, and the last 50 years has yielded surprise after surprise as to the order and complexity of living cells.
• Embryology is looking more and more like a biological process with a goal that cannot be arrived at by natural selection. Body plans are determined early in development but mutations in early development are the harshest and most deleterious mutations of all. An early mistake renders a ruined organism.

I have other articles on our website, www.probe.org, that will elaborate with references most of the above claims.

Everything I have cited is known in the scientific community, but textbooks and media reports are routinely devoid of these evidences because the scientific community believes that science must only seek natural causes for all the biological realities they discover. (How the physical operates is reasonably to be assumed to be naturalistic, but the origin of physical and biological objects may not be so.) This is nothing more than a philosophical bias and not a scientific one. A scientist should be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads and not wherever he wants it to lead. One of Richard Feynman’s basic principles for scientists was that a scientist must not fool him or herself, and he is the easiest person to fool. Evolutionary biologists are fooling themselves with an errant definition of science which leads to a suppression of real evidence to the contrary. Teaching the controversy is the only way at the moment to get around the naturalistic filibuster going on in science and in science education. Evolutionists are now fighting back hard because, I believe, that deep down they realize that a fully open and public discussion of the evidence is not to their advantage.

Respectfully,

Ray Bohlin, Ph.D.
Probe Ministries

© 2001 Probe Ministries