The Controversy Over Stem Cell Research

What Are Stem Cells and Why Are They Important?

President Bush recently decided to allow the use of federal funds to research the therapeutic properties of privately produced human embryonic stem cells (ES). President Bush clearly maintained the prohibited use of federal monies to produce human ES cells, since the procedure requires the destruction of the embryo to obtain them, which is currently prohibited by federal law. To fully understand the ramifications of this decision, I will discuss the nature of stem cells and their potential to treat disease.

Most of the more than one trillion cells that form the tissues of our bodies possess a limited potential to reproduce. If you remove some live human skin cells, they may divide in culture (laboratory conditions) five or six times and then die. Special cells in the underlying skin layers are what produce new skin cells. These cells’ sole function is to churn out replacement cells. These are known as stem cells. Most tissues of our bodies possess stem cells that can reproduce the different cells required in that tissue. Bone marrow stem cells can produce the many different cells of the blood. They are called stem cells, since they are seen as the stem of a plant that produces all the “branches and leaves” of that tissue.

What I’ve described is referred to as adult stem cells. There is no controversy revolving around the use of human adult stem cells in research, since they can be retrieved from the individual requiring the therapy. The promise of adult stem cells has increased dramatically in recent years. Stem cells have even been found in tissues previously thought to be devoid of them, such as neural tissue. It has recently been shown that certain types of stem cells are not limited to producing cells for the tissue in which they reside. For instance, bone marrow stem cells can produce skeletal muscle, neural, cardiac muscle, and liver cells. Bone marrow stem cells can even migrate to these tissues via the circulatory system in response to tissue damage and begin producing cells of the appropriate tissue type.{1}

In addition to the advantages of previously unknown adult stem cells and their unexpected ability to produce numerous types of cells, adult stem cells carry the added potential of not causing any immune complications. Conceivably adult stem cells could be harvested from the individual needing the therapy, grown in culture to increase their number, and then be reinserted back into the same individual. This means the treatment could be carried out with the patient’s own cells, virtually eliminating any rejection problems. Adult stem cells may also be easier to control since they already possess the ability to produce the needed cells simply by being placed in the vicinity of the damaged tissue.

Human Embryonic Stem Cells

The advances in adult stem cell research has only come about in the last three years. Traditionally it was thought that ES cells carried the greatest potential to treat wide-ranging degenerative diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, spinal chord injuries, and Alzheimer’s. Since ES cells derive from the inner cell mass of the early embryo (5-7 day old blastocyst), they are capable of forming all the tissues of the body. Therefore, researchers have long felt that human ES cells hold the greatest potential for treatment of degenerative diseases.

While the potential has always existed, the problem has been that in order to obtain these human ES cells, the embryo is destroyed during the harvesting procedure. In addition, while ES cells had been obtained and grown successfully in culture from several mammals, including mice, efforts at producing ES cells from other mammals had failed. Nobody was sure human ES cells could even be successfully produced until November 1998 when James Thomson from the University of Wisconsin announced the establishment of five independent human ES cell lines.{2} (A cell line is a population of cells grown from a single cell that has been manipulated to continue growing indefinitely in culture, while maintaining its cellular integrity.) Geron Corporation funded Thomson’s work, so it did not violate the federal ban on government funds being used for such purposes. But his announcement immediately opened up a desire by federally funded researchers to use his already established human ES cells.

But there are potential problems and uncertainties in both adult and ES cells. While the ethical difficulties are non-existent for adult stem cells, they may not prove as helpful as ES cells. ES cells have the potential for universal application, but this may not be realized. As stated earlier, establishing ES cell lines requires destruction of human embryos. An ethical quagmire is unavoidable.

Whereas adult stem cells can be coaxed into producing the needed cells by proximity to the right tissue, the cues needed to get ES cells to produce the desired cells is not known yet. Some in the biotech industry estimate that we may be twenty years away from developing commercially available treatments using ES cells.{3} Clinical trials using adult stem cells in humans are already under way.

In August of 2000, NIH announced new guidelines allowing federally funded researchers access to human ES cell lines produced through private funding. The Clinton administration hailed the new guidelines, but Congressional pro-life advocates vowed a legal confrontation claiming the new guidelines were illegal.

The Options for President Bush

This was the situation facing President Bush when he took office. The pressure to open up federally funded human ES cell research mounted from patient advocacy groups for diabetes, spinal chord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. Additional pressure to reject federal funding of human ES cell research came from traditional pro-life groups including National Right to Life and the Catholic Church, with personal lobbying from Pope John Paul II.

One option open to the President and advocated by the scientific community was to free up all research avenues to fully explore all possibilities from ES cells regardless of their source. This would include federal funding for ES cells derived from embryos specifically created for this purpose. Few openly advocated this, but the oldest fertility clinic in the U. S. (in Virginia) announced recently that they were doing just that. Few within the government or research communities offered much protest.

Another option on the opposite end of the spectrum would have been to not only prohibit all federal funding on the creation and use of ES cells, but to also propose a law which would effectively ban all such research in the U. S., regardless of the funding source. Because of my view of the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, this would be the ideal solution. However, this is not practical, since Roe v. Wade still is the rule of law in the U. S. This means that by law, a mother can choose to do with her embryo whatever she wants. If she wishes to end its life by abortion or by donation for research as a source of ES cells, she is free to do so.

A third option open to the President, and the one advocated by most in the research community, was to open up federal funding for the use and creation of ES cells derived from leftover embryos destined for destruction at fertility clinics. Some have estimated that there are over 100,000 such embryos in frozen storage in the U. S. alone. The intent is to find some use or ascribe some value to these leftover embryos. It is common practice in fertility clinics to fertilize 8-9 eggs at a time to hedge your bet against failure and to minimize expenses. As many as half of these embryos are left over after a successful pregnancy is achieved. These embryos are either left in frozen storage or destroyed at the request of the parents. So why not use them for research?

Other Options Available to President Bush

Advocates for ES cell research argue that if the embryos left over from infertility clinics are going to be wasted anyway, why not put them to some use and allow their lives to be spent helping to save someone else? The first mistake was to generate extra embryos without a clear intent to use all of them or give them up for adoption. Second, these tiny embryos are already of infinite value to God. We’re not going to redeem them by killing them for research. Each embryo is a unique human being with the full potential to develop into an adult. Each of us is a former embryo. We are not former sperm cells or egg cells.

Third, this is essentially using the dangerous ethical maxim that “the end justifies the means.” A noble end or purpose does not justify the crime. Just because a bank robber wants to donate all the money to charity doesn’t make the bank heist right. Nazi researchers gained valuable information through their many life- threatening experiments on Jews and other “undesirables” in the concentration camps of WWII. But most would not dignify these experiments by examining and using their findings.

A fourth option that I prefer is to close off all federal funding for human ES cell research. This would allow private dollars to fund human ES cell research, and federal dollars can be used to vigorously pursue the ethically preferable alternative offered by adult stem cells, which have shown great promise of late.

This would undoubtedly slow the progress on human ES cells and some researchers. Because of their dependence on federal research grants, they would not be able to pursue this line of research. But nowhere is it written that scientists have a right to pursue whatever research goals they conceive as long as they see a benefit to it. For years the U. S. Congress passed the Hyde Amendment that prohibited the use of federal funds for abortions, even though abortions were legal. The creation of human ES cells may be legal in the U. S. but that doesn’t mean researchers have a right to government monies to do so.

The President did decide to allow the use of federal funds only for research involving the 60 already existing human ES cell lines. The President expressly prohibited the use of government dollars to create new ES cell lines, even from leftover embryos. Researchers and patient advocates are unhappy, because this will limit the available research if these already existing ES cell lines don’t work out. Pro-life groups are unhappy, because the decision implicitly approves of the destruction of the embryos used to create these ES cell lines.

Stem Cells in the News Since the President’s Decision

When the President decided to open up federal funding for research on already existing human embryonic stem cell lines, just about everybody was unhappy. Researchers and patient advocates were unhappy, because this will limit the available research if these already existing cell lines don’t work out. The supply just might not meet the research demand. Pro-life groups were unhappy, including myself, because the decision implicitly approves of the destruction of the embryos used to create these ES cell lines. They will cost researchers at least $5,000 per cell line. Therefore, to purchase them for research indirectly supports their creation. Since both sides are unhappy, it was probably a good political decision even if it was not the right decision.

We certainly haven’t heard the end of this debate. Members of Congress are already positioning to strengthen or weaken the ban by law. Either way, the policy of the United States has clearly stated that innocent human life can be sacrificed without its consent, if the common good is deemed significant enough to warrant its destruction. I fully believe that this is a dangerous precedent that we will come to regret, if not now, then decades into the future. The long predicted ethical slippery slope from the abortion decision continues to threaten and gobble up the weak, the voiceless, and the defenseless of our society.

What has alarmed me the most since the President’s decision is the full assault in the media by scientists to gain even greater access to more human embryonic stem cells, regardless of how they are produced. The ethical question virtually dropped from the radar screen as scientists debated whether the existing cell lines would be enough.

This attitude is reflected in the increasing attention given to potential benefits, while downplaying the setbacks and problems. The scientists speaking through the media emphasize the new therapies as if they are only a few years down the road. The more likely scenario is that they are decades away. Your grandmother isn’t likely to be helped by this research.

Virtually nobody knows about the failure of human fetal cells to reverse the effects of Parkinson’s disease in adults. About 15 percent of patients from a recent trial were left with uncontrollable writhing and jerking movements that appear irreversible. The others in the study weren’t helped at all.{4} Chinese scientists implanted human embryonic stem cells into a suffering Parkinson’s patient’s brain only to have them transform into a powerful tumor that eventually killed him.{5}

Research with mouse embryonic stem cells has not faired much better. Scientists from the University of Wisconsin recently announced success in tricking human embryonic stem cells into forming blood cell-producing stem cells. Enthusiastic claims of future therapies overshadowed the reality that the same procedure has been successful in mice, except that when these cells are transplanted into mice, nothing happens. They don’t start producing blood cells and nobody knows why.{6}

This debate will continue. Stay tuned.

Notes


1. H. M. Blau, T. R. Brazelton, and J. M. Weiman, 2001, “The evolving concept of a stem cell:entity or function,” Cell Vol. 105 (June 29, 2001), p. 829-841.

2. James A. Thomson, et al., 1998, “Embryonic stem cell lines derived from human blastocysts.” Science Vol. 282 (November 6, 1998): 1145-1147. Also in same issue see Perspective article by John Gearhart, “New potential for human embryonic stem cells,” p. 1061-1062.

3. David Hamilton and Antonio Regaldo, 2001, “Biotech industry – unfettered, but possibly unfilfulled,” Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2001, p. B1.

4. Tracy Maddox, 2001, Fetal tissue fails to cure Parkinson’s patients. http://www.pointofview.net/ar_fetal.html. 3/21/01.

5. Charles Krauthammer, 2001, “The great stem cell hoax,” The Weekly Standard, August 20/August 27, 2001, p. 12

6. Nicholas Wade, 2001, “Blood cells from stem cells,” Dallas Morning News, September 4, 2001, p. A1. The article was a New York Times News Service report.

©2001 Probe Ministries


Stem Cells and the Controversy Over Therapeutic Cloning

Dr. Ray Bohlin explains stem cells and where they come from, insisting the potential of stem cell therapy must be weighed against the personhood of the embryo.

What Are Stem Cells and Why Are They Important?

President Bush recently decided to allow the use of federal funds to research the therapeutic properties of privately produced human embryonic stem cells (ES). President Bush clearly maintained the prohibited use of federal monies to produce human ES cells, since the procedure requires the destruction of the embryo to obtain them, which is currently prohibited by federal law. To fully understand the ramifications of this decision, I will discuss the nature of stem cells and their potential to treat disease.

Most of the more than one trillion cells that form the tissues of our bodies possess a limited potential to reproduce. If you remove some live human skin cells, they may divide in culture (laboratory conditions) five or six times and then die. Special cells in the underlying skin layers are what produce new skin cells. These cells’ sole function is to churn out replacement cells. These are known as stem cells. Most tissues of our bodies possess stem cells that can reproduce the different cells required in that tissue. Bone marrow stem cells can produce the many different cells of the blood. They are called stem cells, since they are seen as the stem of a plant that produces all the “branches and leaves” of that tissue.

What I’ve described is referred to as adult stem cells. There is no controversy revolving around the use of human adult stem cells in research, since they can be retrieved from the individual requiring the therapy. The promise of adult stem cells has increased dramatically in recent years. Stem cells have even been found in tissues previously thought to be devoid of them, such as neural tissue. It has recently been shown that certain types of stem cells are not limited to producing cells for the tissue in which they reside. For instance, bone marrow stem cells can produce skeletal muscle, neural, cardiac muscle, and liver cells. Bone marrow stem cells can even migrate to these tissues via the circulatory system in response to tissue damage and begin producing cells of the appropriate tissue type.{1}

In addition to the advantages of previously unknown adult stem cells and their unexpected ability to produce numerous types of cells, adult stem cells carry the added potential of not causing any immune complications. Conceivably adult stem cells could be harvested from the individual needing the therapy, grown in culture to increase their number, and then be reinserted back into the same individual. This means the treatment could be carried out with the patient’s own cells, virtually eliminating any rejection problems. Adult stem cells may also be easier to control since they already possess the ability to produce the needed cells simply by being placed in the vicinity of the damaged tissue.

Human Embryonic Stem Cells

The advances in adult stem cell research has only come about in the last three years. Traditionally it was thought that ES cells carried the greatest potential to treat wide-ranging degenerative diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, spinal chord injuries, and Alzheimer’s. Since ES cells derive from the inner cell mass of the early embryo (5-7 day old blastocyst), they are capable of forming all the tissues of the body. Therefore, researchers have long felt that human ES cells hold the greatest potential for treatment of degenerative diseases.

While the potential has always existed, the problem has been that in order to obtain these human ES cells, the embryo is destroyed during the harvesting procedure. In addition, while ES cells had been obtained and grown successfully in culture from several mammals, including mice, efforts at producing ES cells from other mammals had failed. Nobody was sure human ES cells could even be successfully produced until November 1998 when James Thomson from the University of Wisconsin announced the establishment of five independent human ES cell lines.{2} (A cell line is a population of cells grown from a single cell that has been manipulated to continue growing indefinitely in culture, while maintaining its cellular integrity.) Geron Corporation funded Thomson’s work, so it did not violate the federal ban on government funds being used for such purposes. But his announcement immediately opened up a desire by federally funded researchers to use his already established human ES cells.

But there are potential problems and uncertainties in both adult and ES cells. While the ethical difficulties are non-existent for adult stem cells, they may not prove as helpful as ES cells. ES cells have the potential for universal application, but this may not be realized. As stated earlier, establishing ES cell lines requires destruction of human embryos. An ethical quagmire is unavoidable.

Whereas adult stem cells can be coaxed into producing the needed cells by proximity to the right tissue, the cues needed to get ES cells to produce the desired cells is not known yet. Some in the biotech industry estimate that we may be twenty years away from developing commercially available treatments using ES cells.{3} Clinical trials using adult stem cells in humans are already under way.

In August of 2000, NIH announced new guidelines allowing federally funded researchers access to human ES cell lines produced through private funding. The Clinton administration hailed the new guidelines, but Congressional pro-life advocates vowed a legal confrontation claiming the new guidelines were illegal.

The Options for President Bush

This was the situation facing President Bush when he took office. The pressure to open up federally funded human ES cell research mounted from patient advocacy groups for diabetes, spinal chord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. Additional pressure to reject federal funding of human ES cell research came from traditional pro-life groups including National Right to Life and the Catholic Church, with personal lobbying from Pope John Paul II.

One option open to the President and advocated by the scientific community was to free up all research avenues to fully explore all possibilities from ES cells regardless of their source. This would include federal funding for ES cells derived from embryos specifically created for this purpose. Few openly advocated this, but the oldest fertility clinic in the U. S. (in Virginia) announced recently that they were doing just that. Few within the government or research communities offered much protest.

Another option on the opposite end of the spectrum would have been to not only prohibit all federal funding on the creation and use of ES cells, but to also propose a law which would effectively ban all such research in the U. S., regardless of the funding source. Because of my view of the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, this would be the ideal solution. However, this is not practical, since Roe v. Wade still is the rule of law in the U. S. This means that by law, a mother can choose to do with her embryo whatever she wants. If she wishes to end its life by abortion or by donation for research as a source of ES cells, she is free to do so.

A third option open to the President, and the one advocated by most in the research community, was to open up federal funding for the use and creation of ES cells derived from leftover embryos destined for destruction at fertility clinics. Some have estimated that there are over 100,000 such embryos in frozen storage in the U. S. alone. The intent is to find some use or ascribe some value to these leftover embryos. It is common practice in fertility clinics to fertilize 8-9 eggs at a time to hedge your bet against failure and to minimize expenses. As many as half of these embryos are left over after a successful pregnancy is achieved. These embryos are either left in frozen storage or destroyed at the request of the parents. So why not use them for research?

Other Options Available to President Bush

Advocates for ES cell research argue that if the embryos left over from infertility clinics are going to be wasted anyway, why not put them to some use and allow their lives to be spent helping to save someone else? The first mistake was to generate extra embryos without a clear intent to use all of them or give them up for adoption. Second, these tiny embryos are already of infinite value to God. We’re not going to redeem them by killing them for research. Each embryo is a unique human being with the full potential to develop into an adult. Each of us is a former embryo. We are not former sperm cells or egg cells.

Third, this is essentially using the dangerous ethical maxim that “the end justifies the means.” A noble end or purpose does not justify the crime. Just because a bank robber wants to donate all the money to charity doesn’t make the bank heist right. Nazi researchers gained valuable information through their many life- threatening experiments on Jews and other “undesirables” in the concentration camps of WWII. But most would not dignify these experiments by examining and using their findings.

A fourth option that I prefer is to close off all federal funding for human ES cell research. This would allow private dollars to fund human ES cell research, and federal dollars can be used to vigorously pursue the ethically preferable alternative offered by adult stem cells, which have shown great promise of late.

This would undoubtedly slow the progress on human ES cells and some researchers. Because of their dependence on federal research grants, they would not be able to pursue this line of research. But nowhere is it written that scientists have a right to pursue whatever research goals they conceive as long as they see a benefit to it. For years the U. S. Congress passed the Hyde Amendment that prohibited the use of federal funds for abortions, even though abortions were legal. The creation of human ES cells may be legal in the U. S. but that doesn’t mean researchers have a right to government monies to do so.

The President did decide to allow the use of federal funds only for research involving the 60 already existing human ES cell lines. The President expressly prohibited the use of government dollars to create new ES cell lines, even from leftover embryos. Researchers and patient advocates are unhappy, because this will limit the available research if these already existing ES cell lines don’t work out. Pro-life groups are unhappy, because the decision implicitly approves of the destruction of the embryos used to create these ES cell lines.

Stem Cells in the News Since the President’s Decision

When the President decided to open up federal funding for research on already existing human embryonic stem cell lines, just about everybody was unhappy. Researchers and patient advocates were unhappy, because this will limit the available research if these already existing cell lines don’t work out. The supply just might not meet the research demand. Pro-life groups were unhappy, including myself, because the decision implicitly approves of the destruction of the embryos used to create these ES cell lines. They will cost researchers at least $5,000 per cell line. Therefore, to purchase them for research indirectly supports their creation. Since both sides are unhappy, it was probably a good political decision even if it was not the right decision.

We certainly haven’t heard the end of this debate. Members of Congress are already positioning to strengthen or weaken the ban by law. Either way, the policy of the United States has clearly stated that innocent human life can be sacrificed without its consent, if the common good is deemed significant enough to warrant its destruction. I fully believe that this is a dangerous precedent that we will come to regret, if not now, then decades into the future. The long predicted ethical slippery slope from the abortion decision continues to threaten and gobble up the weak, the voiceless, and the defenseless of our society.

What has alarmed me the most since the President’s decision is the full assault in the media by scientists to gain even greater access to more human embryonic stem cells, regardless of how they are produced. The ethical question virtually dropped from the radar screen as scientists debated whether the existing cell lines would be enough.

This attitude is reflected in the increasing attention given to potential benefits, while downplaying the setbacks and problems. The scientists speaking through the media emphasize the new therapies as if they are only a few years down the road. The more likely scenario is that they are decades away. Your grandmother isn’t likely to be helped by this research.

Virtually nobody knows about the failure of human fetal cells to reverse the effects of Parkinson’s disease in adults. About 15 percent of patients from a recent trial were left with uncontrollable writhing and jerking movements that appear irreversible. The others in the study weren’t helped at all.{4} Chinese scientists implanted human embryonic stem cells into a suffering Parkinson’s patient’s brain only to have them transform into a powerful tumor that eventually killed him.{5}

Research with mouse embryonic stem cells has not faired much better. Scientists from the University of Wisconsin recently announced success in tricking human embryonic stem cells into forming blood cell-producing stem cells. Enthusiastic claims of future therapies overshadowed the reality that the same procedure has been successful in mice, except that when these cells are transplanted into mice, nothing happens. They don’t start producing blood cells and nobody knows why.{6}

This debate will continue. Stay tuned.

Notes

1. H. M. Blau, T. R. Brazelton, and J. M. Weiman, 2001, “The evolving concept of a stem cell:entity or function,” Cell Vol. 105 (June 29, 2001), p. 829-841.

2. James A. Thomson, et al., 1998, “Embryonic stem cell lines derived from human blastocysts.” Science Vol. 282 (November 6, 1998): 1145-1147. Also in same issue see Perspective article by John Gearhart, “New potential for human embryonic stem cells,” p. 1061-1062.

3. David Hamilton and Antonio Regaldo, 2001, “Biotech industry – unfettered, but possibly unfilfulled,” Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2001, p. B1.

4. Tracy Maddox, 2001, Fetal tissue fails to cure Parkinson’s patients. www.pointofview.net/ar_fetal.html. 3/21/01.

5. Charles Krauthammer, 2001, “The great stem cell hoax,” The Weekly Standard, August 20/August 27, 2001, p. 12.

6. Nicholas Wade, 2001, “Blood cells from stem cells,” Dallas Morning News, September 4, 2001, p. A1. The article was a New York Times News Service report.

© 2001 Probe Ministries


Human Genome Project

What’s All the Fuss About the Human Genome Project?

In February of 2001, virtually every media outlet, whether TV news, newspapers, radio, Internet news services, or news magazines, was all worked up about the announcement of the completion of the Human Genome Project. In this article we will explore this monumental achievement and what it means for the future of medicine and our understanding of ourselves.

To appreciate this important accomplishment, we need to review a little basic genetics. It may actually astonish most adults just how much genetics the National Institutes of Health assumes we know about our genetic heritage. The educational video from the HGP includes a three-minute review of basic genetic processes like DNA packaging, transcription of DNA into message RNA, and the translation of message RNA into protein. It’s no exaggeration to say that when I played this short piece during a lecture for high school students and their parents, mom and dad were left in the dust.

Honestly, I did that intentionally; because we are only in the beginning stages of a genetic revolution that will transform the way we diagnose and treat disease and how we may even alter our genetic structure. These new technologies bring with them numerous ethical and moral dilemmas we have only begun to address and for which there may not be simple answers. If we don’t take the time to familiarize ourselves with genetic research and its implications, we risk responding out of fear and ignorance and potentially throwing away crucial medical advances.

I have contended for a long time that we can no longer afford to remain ignorant of genetic technologies. They simply harbor far too great a power for both tremendous good and tremendous evil. We must work hard to take every thought captive to Christ and see what there is of benefit and what avenues of research and application we need to avoid to preserve human freedom and dignity.

Well let’s talk about our genome, the sum total of all our genes. In most of the 100 trillion cells of our body are 46 chromosomes. These chromosomes are tightly coiled and packed strings of a remarkable molecule called DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid). DNA is a polymer, a repetitive sequence of four molecules, which I will only refer to by their one-letter abbreviations, A, G, C, and T. The human genome sequence is simply the sequence of these four molecules in DNA from all our chromosomes. If you laid out the DNA from all our chromosomes in each of our cells end to end, it would stretch six feet long.

A gene is a segment of DNA that contains the precise coding sequence for a protein. And proteins do all the real work in our cells. By looking at our completed sequence, it is predicted that our genome consists of 30,000 to 45,000 genes in each of our cells. So, now that we have the sequence, what does it mean? We’ll begin answering that question in the next section.

What Does the Human Genome Project Hope to Accomplish?

The National Institutes of Health in cooperation with several international research organizations began the HGP in 1990 in the U.S. There were four primary objectives among the many goals of the HGP{1}.

The first and primary goal of the HGP was to map and sequence the entire human genome. There is a critical and significant difference between a map and the sequence. There are over three billion letters, or base pairs, in the human genome, spread out over 23 pairs of chromosomes. Trying to locate a sequence of say 1,000 letters, the code for a large protein, is a one in a million task. Therefore, researchers needed a refined roadmap to the genome. The map entails particular sequences that can be used like signs on a road map. If the trait a scientist is studying always seems to be present with this marker, the gene involved is probably nearby. In 1995, a detailed map was published with over 15,000 markers, one for every 200,000 base pairs. This will aid greatly in associating genes with particular diseases. And now with the sequence nearly complete, with over 99% accuracy, determining the precise effect of this gene on disease will be even easier.

A second critical goal was to map and sequence the genomes of several important model organisms: specifically, the bacterium E. coli, yeast, the roundworm, fruit fly, and mouse. This information is helpful, because each of these organisms have been used for laboratory studies for decades. Being able to coordinate knowledge of their genomes with cellular and biological processes will certainly inform our study of the human genome and its various functions.

The third important objective of the HGP was to systemize and distribute the information it gathered. Any sequence over 2,000 base pairs is released within 24 hours. The sequence and map data is contained in publicly accessible databases on the Internet. The HGP has also been creating software and other tools for large-scale DNA analysis.

The fourth and final primary goal of the HGP was to study the ethical, legal, and social implications of genetic research. A full 5% of all funds appropriated for the HGP have been earmarked for these kinds of considerations. There are many concerns revolving around the use of genetic sequence data. Not the least of which are worries about ownership, patenting, access to personal sequence data by insurance companies, potential for job discrimination based on personal sequence data, and the prospects for genetic screening, therapy, and engineering. In the next section we’ll begin investigating how the HGP thinks this information can be used.

What are the Long Term Hopes for the HGP?

The completion of the sequence was announced jointly in February 2001 in the journals Nature{2} and Science{3}. Both Science and Nature have made these landmark issues available, without subscription, on their websites.

The importance of recognizing the sequence of a particular gene has three important ramifications.{4} The first is diagnosis. Over the last few years, single genes have been found leading to deafness and epilepsy. Numerous genes, however, will influence most diseases in complex ways. Recently, genetic influences have been found in many forms of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and arteriosclerosis{5}. Genetic analysis of cancer tumors may someday help determine the most effective drug therapy with the fewest side effects. Genetic diagnosis has the potential to more precisely prescribe treatments for many medical conditions.

Second, diagnosing ailments with more precision with genetics will also lead to more reliable predictions about the course of a disease. Genetic information about an individual’s cholesterol chemistry will aid in predicting the course of potential heart disease. Obtaining a genetic fingerprint of a cancerous tumor will provide information concerning its degree of malignancy. Third, more precise genetic information will also lead to the development of better strategies for prevention of disease.

Many more ailments in newborns can eventually be screened more specifically to avoid disorders later in life. Currently, babies in the U.S. and other countries are routinely screened for PKU, a metabolic disorder that prevents the breakdown of a specific amino acid found in proteins. This condition becomes toxic to the nervous system, but can be prevented and managed with appropriate diet. Without dietary changes, affected babies face extreme mental retardation. Hopefully, the number of conditions this type of screening applies to can be expanded.

Screening can also be done for adults, to see if they may be carriers of potential genetic conditions. Certain Jewish and Canadian populations regularly obtain voluntary screening for Tay-Sachs disease, a known child-killer. This information has been used to help make decisions about future marriage partners.

Perhaps the greatest benefit will come from what is called gene-based therapy. Understanding the molecular workings of genes and the proteins they encode will lead to more precise drug treatments. The more precise the drug treatment, the fewer and milder will be the side effects.

Actual gene therapy, replacing a defective gene with its normal counterpart, is still very experimental. There are still many hurdles to overcome involving how to deliver the gene to the proper cells, controlling where that gene is inserted into a chromosome, and how it is activated.

Not surprisingly, some have seen the human genome sequence as a vindication of Darwin. We’ll examine that contention next.

Did the Human Genome Sequence Vindicate Darwin?

Amid the controversy and exultation over the release of the near complete human genome sequence has been a not so quiet triumphal howling from evolutionary biologists. The similarity of many genes across boundaries of species, the seemingly messy patchwork nature of the genome, and the presence of numerous apparently useless repetitive and copied sequences all have been laid out for us as clear validations of evolution. Really!

If Darwin were alive today, he would be astounded and humbled by what we now understand about the human genome and the genomes of other organisms.

Let’s take a closer look at the claims of one bioethicist, Arthur Caplan{6}, who thought the major news story was missed. So let’s just pick a few of the more glaring statements to help us understand that little in his comments should be trusted.

First, Caplan says, “Eric Lander of the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., said that if you look at our genome it is clear that evolution must make new genes from old parts.”

While it may be true that we can see some examples of shared sequences between genes, it is by no means true that we see wholesale evidence of gene duplication throughout the genome. According to one group of researchers,{7} less than 4,000 genes share even 30% of their sequences with other genes.

Over 25,000 genes, as much as 62% of the human genes mapped by the Human Genome Project, were unique, i.e., not likely the result of copying.

Second, Caplan says, “The core recipe of humanity carries clumps of genes that show we are descended from bacteria. There is no other way to explain the jerry-rigged nature of the genes that control key aspects of our development.”

Not everyone agrees. The complexity of the genome does not mean, necessarily, that it has been jerry-rigged by evolution. There is still so much we do not know. Caplan is speaking more out of ignorance and assumption than data. Listen to this comment from Gene Meyers, one of the principal geneticists from Celera Genomics, from a story in the San Francisco Chronicle:

‘What really astounds me is the architecture of life,’ he said. ‘The system is extremely complex. It’s like it was designed.’

My ears perked up. ‘Designed? Doesn’t that imply a designer, an intelligence, something more than the fortuitous bumping together of chemicals in the primordial slime?’

Myers thought before he replied. ‘There’s a huge intelligence there. I don’t see that as being unscientific. Others may, but not me.’{8}

Jerry-rigged? Hardly! Confusing at the moment? Certainly! But more likely to reveal hidden levels of complexity, rather than messy jerry-rigging.

It will take more than bluster to convince me that our genome is solely the result of evolution. The earmarks of design are clear, that is, if you have eyes to see.

What are the Challenges of the Human Genome Project?

In closing, I would like to address what are many people’s concerns about the potential for abuse of this information. While there is great potential for numerous positive uses of the human genome, many fear unintended consequences for human freedom and dignity.

Some are justifiably worried about the rush to patent human genes. The public consortium, through the National Institutes of Health, has made all its information freely available and intends to patent nothing. However, there are several patent requests pending on human genes from the time before the HGP was completed.

It is important to realize that these patents are not necessarily for the genes themselves. What the patent does protect is the holder’s right to priority to any products derived from using the sequence in research. With the full sequence fully published, this difficult question becomes even more muddled. No one is anxious for the courts to try its hand at settling the issue. Somehow companies will need some level of protection to provide new therapies based on genetic information without hindering the public confidence and health.

Another concern is the availability of information about individual genetic conditions. There are legitimate worries about employers using genetic information to discriminate over whom they will hire or when current employees will be laid off or forced into retirement. Upwards of 80-90% of Americans believe their genetic information should be private and obtained or accessed only with their permission. The same fears arise as to the legality of insurance companies using private genetic information to assess coverage and rates. A recent bill (June 29,2000) before Congress to address these very concerns was amended to the Health and Human Services appropriations bill, but was removed in committee. The bill will be reintroduced this session.{9} I would be very surprised if some level of privacy protection is not firmly in place by 2002.

Moreover, many are apprehensive about the general speed of discovery and the very real possibilities of genetic engineering creating a new class, the genetically enhanced. Certainly, there is cause for vigilance and a watchful eye. I have said many times that we can no longer afford to be ignorant of genetic technologies. And while I agree that the pace of progress could afford to slow down a little, let’s be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

After a series of lectures on genetic engineering and human cloning at a Christian high school, one student wrote me to say:

I am a senior, in an AP Biology class, and I find genetics absolutely fascinating. It’s both fascinating and scary at the same time. . . . [You have inspired me] to not be afraid of the world and science in particular, but to take on its challenge and trust God.

Amen to that!

Notes

1. “Genetics: The Future of Medicine,” NIH, Publication No. 00-4873, 2.
2. Nature, 409 (15 February, 2001), www.nature.com.
3. Science, 291 (16 February, 2001), www.sciencemag.org.
4. Genetics: The Future of Medicine, 9-11.
5. Kevin Davies, “After the genome: DNA and human disease,” Cell, 104 (Feb. 23, 2001), 465-467.
6. www.probe.org/did-the-human-genome-project-prove-that-darwin-was-right/.
7. Wen-Siung Li, Zhenglong Gu, Haidong Waing, and Anton Nekrutenko, “Evolutionary analyses of the human genome,” Nature, 409 (15 Feb 2001):847-849.
8. Tom Abate, “Human Genome Map Has Scientists Talking About the Divine – Surprisingly low number of genes raises big questions,” Monday, February 19, 2001, San Francisco Chronicle.
9. James M. Jeffords and Tom Daschle, “Political issues in the genomic era,” Science, 291 (16 February, 2001), 1249-1251.

© 2001 Probe Ministries International


“What are the Best Scientific Evidences for a Young Earth/Old Earth?”

I read with great interest your article on the Origins Web site “Christian Views of Science and Earth History .” I am doing research on this age issue, focusing on the scientific data especially. The earth is either young or is old. You said it well, “all truth is God’s truth.” I am looking for the best scientific evidences for a young earth/old earth and want to investigate what the other side would say to those opposing arguments. Can you help me out with this?

There are several books I can recommend.

From a biblical perspective, there is a recent volume titled Three Views on Creation and Evolution edited by J. P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds in the Counterpoints series from Zondervan (1999). Hugh Ross has his The Genesis Question for an old earth perspective, and there is Henry Morris’s The Genesis Record and John Whitcomb’s The Early Earth from a young earth perspective.

From a scientific perspective, Hugh Ross wrote his definitive biblical and scientific treatise on the old earth called Creation and Time in 1994 from NavPress. Young earth creationists Van Bebber and Taylor published a response titled Creation and Time: A Report on the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross also in 1994 from Eden Productions. ICR (The Institute for Creation Research) has published numerous technical monographs on a young earth which can be viewed and ordered at www.icr.org. Other young earth books, including Russ Humphrey’s Starlight and Time can be found there, as well as at the Answers in Genesis website, www.AnswersinGenesis.org. Hugh Ross’ organization Reasons to Believe also has online ordering at www.reasons.org.

This should give you more than enough to get started on.

Respectfully,

Ray Bohlin
Probe Ministries


“How Can I Prepare for College?”

Dear Mr. Bohlin,

I will be attending Cornell University in the fall of 2000. My declared major is pre-med, biochemical engineering. I will also attending the Mind Games conference in July. Can you suggest any Christian reading materials for me so that I can be prepared for the conference in July, but most importantly, so I can be prepared for Cornell in August as a Christian.

Good to hear we will see you in July! I am looking forward to meeting you and spending the week together.

I would recommend Jim Sire’s book, The Universe Next Door, as a good place to start. Worldview is an essential concept to the conference and Sire maps out the different worldviews in a concise manner. Considering your future major, I would recommend Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe and Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds by Phillip Johnson for starters. If Sire proves interesting reading to you and you are wondering where some of these strange ideas came from, you might look for a copy of Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? which briefly (258 pages) traces the historical development of philosophy, theology, art and science in the west. Though the book is over twenty years old, Schaeffer turned out to be an accurate prophet of where things were headed. So, read Sire first and take on the others as time, money and interest dictate.

See you in July.

Respectfully,

Ray Bohlin, Ph.D.
Probe Ministries


The Coming Revolution in Science

The Design Inference

True scientific revolutions that impact more than a single discipline rarely occur more than once a century. Newton’s Principia, published in the 17th century, truly qualifies. Darwin’s Origin of Species, published in 1859, also belongs on the list. Standing in the wings, ready to join these esteemed works and perhaps even overturn the latter, stands William Dembski’s The Design Inference.{1} This impressive work published by the distinguished Cambridge University Press outlines the mathematical principles necessary to distinguish intelligently caused events from natural events.

ust listen to some of the comments from the dust jacket of the book from secular philosophers and mathematicians. One wrote, “Dembski has written a sparklingly original book. Not since David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion has someone taken such a close look at the design argument.” Being put in the same sentence as David Hume is no small potatoes. Mathematician David Berlinski warns, “Those who agree with its point of view will read it with pleasure, and those who do not will ignore it at their peril.”

Dembski has rigorously detailed the key trademark of intelligent causes, what he calls specified complexity. The term specified refers to the notion that an event conforms to an independently given pattern. Complexity refers to an event of small probability. For instance, people win improbable lotteries all the time. The odds are usually in the millions to one. But when the number of tickets purchased is considered, nobody questions the legitimacy of someone holding the winning ticket. This would be an event of small probability without any specification. Somebody will win, but nobody can predict whom. But let’s propose that the same person wins the same lottery three times in a row! Suddenly there is an independent pattern and we immediately become suspicious that more than just chance is involved. We now have an event of extremely small probability that also conforms to a pattern or is specified. The most likely cause for such an event is that someone has intelligently tampered with the lottery.

Dembski boldly suggests that these same principles can be applied to the question of the origin of life and other evolutionary questions and still maintain the integrity of science. While Dembski has been sharply criticized by the evolutionary establishment, to their discredit, their critiques have been largely emotional and dismissive. No one has successfully challenged the heart of his thesis.

Now before you decide to run out a get a copy, please be advised that this book is not for the casual reader. Loaded with technical jargon and symbolic logic, you had better haven eaten your mental Wheaties before tackling this one. But Dembski has written a scaled down version, which I will now discuss.

Hasn’t Science and Philosophy Ruled Out Design?

William Dembski’s groundbreaking book, The Design Inference from Cambridge University Press, is highly technical. Dembski has therefore written a follow-up book titled, Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology,{2} which is more accessible to the general reader. Christianity Today has named it their 1999 Book of the Year in the “Christianity and Culture” category.

Listen to a few sound bites from comments of those recommending Dembski’s Intelligent Design. A quantum chemistry professor from the University of Georgia says, “William Dembski is perhaps the very brightest of a new generation of scholars.” A professor of philosophy from the University of Texas says, “William Dembski is the Isaac Newton of information theory.” Another university professor proclaims “If Dembski is right, and I believe he is, then it is unscientific to deny the existence of God.” Wow! Unscientific to deny God! Do you think that comment is rankling a good number of evolutionary biologists? Finally, another University of Texas professor of government goes further by claiming that “Dembski strengthens the case for saying that our deepest moral inclinations not only look designed, they are.”

Let me now begin to satiate your curiosity by telling you a little more about this groundbreaking work. The book is divided into three parts. In the first part Dembski gives a historical backdrop to the current controversy over design. In academia, the design argument has been considered dead for over 150 years. Dembski identifies two major reasons for this demise of design. The first was the continual attack on miracles, which culminated in the 18th and 19th century. Dembski cogently explains that their arguments don’t work.

The second blow to design came from Darwin’s Origin of Species. Darwin dismissed the prevalent British natural theology of his day by not so much refuting it, but by announcing that it simply wasn’t scientific. Dembski quotes evolutionary philosopher David Hull, “He dismissed it not because it was an incorrect scientific explanation, but because it was not a proper scientific explanation at all.” Darwin’s faulty conception of science is still with us and Dembski sets out to refute it.

The criteria used by the British natural theologians were naive in the sense that they believed that design was self-evident. This led to far too many false positives, that is, assignments of design that were later proved to be naturalistic. The design argument was forced to retreat. In the second part of Intelligent Design, Dembski articulates the principles laid out in his The Design Inference for the general reader.

What Does a Theory of Design Look Like?

Having told you about Dembski’s work and the impact it is beginning to have, I will summarize Dembski’s prescription or cure for the rule of naturalism in science.{3}

No one in the design movement as far as I know seeks to invoke God at every turn as an explanation for natural phenomena. So why bring God into the picture at all? For most scientists, God is only a hypothesis, and an unnecessary one at that. But beyond the ordinary operation of nature is its order. Dembski references Einstein’s remark that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. This order must come from outside the universe or from within. But science tells us today that the only allowable answer is that it comes from within. This naturalistic philosophy has become a form of idolatry. Nature becomes the do all and end all. As Dembski says, “Rather it is a matter of investing the world with a significance it does not deserve.”{4}

Naturalism is pervasive in the culture. Even most Christians think and live naturalistically without realizing it. So how can naturalism be defeated? What is needed, says Dembski, is a means of detecting God’s actions in the natural world. In other words there must be a reliable way to distinguish natural causes from intelligent causes. Some sciences already employ such methods such as forensic medicine, cryptography, archeology, and even the SETI program, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. SETI depends on the ability to distinguish an intelligent message from space from the surrounding radio noise. This can be done without necessarily understanding the message or knowing the message sender.

This brings up another crucial point of intelligent design. Dembski says that intelligent design is theologically minimalist.{5} By this he means that intelligent design empirically detects design without speculating about the nature of the intelligence. This is crucial to answer the critics who accuse design theorists of simply wanting to bring the Bible into science. If one detects design or concludes that a particular natural phenomena contains the necessary earmarks of design, that’s all that needs to be said. One can personally reflect on the nature of this intelligence, but it is not a part of the scientific test.

Dembski calls for a new generation of scholars open to pursuing intelligent causes in the universe. Here at Probe we’re committed to helping find, select, and train such potential scholars to take part in a true scientific revolution.

Does Intelligent Design Offer a Bridge between Science and Theology?

In this review and summarization of Dembski’s insights let’s now explore the future Dembski foresees for the dialogue between science and theology.{6}

Of course most within the scientific community see no future at all for such a discourse. Most within modern academia hold to either of three models that Dembski labels as conflicting, complementing, or compartmentalizing. Most of us are very familiar with the conflict model. Most who call themselves rationalists or secular humanists would subscribe to this view. Basically they see science as having explained all of reality and that there is no room for theology at all. I once attended a conference where a theology professor was so intimidated by this view that he said that theology was a dead discipline and would cease to exist in twenty years.

Stephen J. Gould, a Harvard paleontologist, and the National Academy of Sciences have advocated the compartmentalization view. Basically they maintain that science and theology inform different parts of reality–science the realm of facts and theology the realm of morals and faith. There is no conflict and also no dialogue between the two. It is also not hard to see that this view basically rules theology out of any important discussions about real facts. Theology inhabits only the fuzzy world of morals, which must be relative if naturalism rules in science.

Similar is the complementarity view, which essentially states that science and theology can actually inform the same reality, but their language is so foreign to the other that no meaningful discourse can take place. Both are necessary to give a complete account of reality, but you can forget about the two ever talking to each other.

In one way or another, each of these three views will eventually rule theology as irrelevant to the important questions and a fully naturalistic science will eventually be the wellspring for all useful information and discourse. But as you might expect, Dembski offers a fourth view and argues that it is the only proper view of the two disciplines.

Dembski compares science and theology to two different windows that view the same reality. Since the windows are different, they gain a different perspective. But since they are viewing the same reality, what is seen from each window can in many cases be meaningfully related. Both science and theology may on occasion, be capable of further explaining observations from each window. He offers the current discussion concerning the cosmology’s Big Bang and theology’s act of Creation as an example. If the Big Bang is true, then Christianity’s theology of creation ex nihilo is a better explanation than naturalism’s attempt to explain something from nothing.

There is much more work to be done here as Dembski readily admits, but the tone and direction is very refreshing.

What Are the Standard Objections to Design in Science?

There is the potential of the intelligent design movement bringing about a revolution in science. I have summarized the work of William Dembski, a double Ph.D. in philosophy and mathematics with a Master’s of Divinity thrown in for good measure. In the appendix of his much acclaimed book, Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology, Dembski investigates several of the more common objections to intelligent design. To conclude this review I will examine one of these objections.

Dembski states the first objection this way, “Design substitutes extraordinary explanations where ordinary explanations will do and thereby commits a god-of-the-gaps fallacy.” Those believing that God used evolution as His means of creation usually voice this objection. This view is motivated by the tremendous history of naturalistic science in explaining very difficult natural phenomena by natural means. This often occurs after someone has claimed that God was necessary to explain a particular observation. Isaac Newton thought divine intervention was necessary to explain the irregularities of planetary orbits. It was eventually shown that these irregularities were periodic and not random and thus explainable by natural law.{7}

Newton was widely criticized for this view, and many Christians fear that appealing to design now will end up in ridicule later when natural processes may also explain contrivances of intelligent design later. While this fear is understandable in the light of history, there are considerable differences. Design does not claim to simply explain what we do not understand. Rather, intelligent design is attempting to demonstrate a real solution to problems based on what we know about design, not what we don’t know about natural explanations.

Besides, if we believe that the laws of nature are incapable of producing certain natural phenomena, such as the genetic code of DNA, just how long are we supposed to keep looking for a naturalistic solution instead of looking elsewhere? This puts shackles on scientific inquiry and stifles new ideas. Certainly we should attempt to exhaust all known naturalistic possibilities before pursuing a design answer. But fear of failure should not be our deterrent. There is always risk in proposing new scientific ideas and hypotheses. The risk is that you just might be wrong. But this has never permanently hindered the proposal of a new idea. Failure should be a constant risk in science. Otherwise nothing new will ever be discovered.

“Not all gaps are created equal. To assume that they are is to presuppose the very thing that is in question, namely, naturalism.”{8} William Dembski has issued a strong challenge through his books and more are to follow from others dealing with the philosophy and science of intelligent design. The next several years should be very exciting indeed.

Notes

1. William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance by through Small Probabilities (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

2. William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999).

3. Ibid., 97- 121.

4. Ibid., 101.

5. Ibid., 107.

6. Ibid., 187- 210.

7. Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 91-92.

8. Dembski, Intelligent Design, 245.

 

© 2000 Probe Ministries


Darwinism Takes a Step Back in Kansas

Has Oz Returned to Kansas?

Suddenly, the mere mention of the Kansas State Board of Education in most educational and academic circles brings derisive giggles and sneers. In August the Kansas State Board of Education voted to remove references to macroevolution from state science testing standards. A wave of revulsion gripped the nation’s media. In Time magazine, Harvard University paleontologist Stephen J. Gould trumpeted, “The board transported its jurisdiction to a never-never land where a Dorothy of the new millennium might exclaim, ‘they still call it Kansas, but I don’t think we’re in the real world anymore.’”{1} Gould further belittles honest concerns about the teaching of evolution by proclaiming: (1) no other nation has endured any similar movement (this makes us look bad overseas); (2) evolution is as well documented as any phenomenon in science (it is perverse to call evolution anything but a fact); and (3) no discovery of science can lead us to ethical conclusions (believe what religion you want, science doesn’t threaten you).

That’s a pretty scathing reaction. Let’s see what else we can find.

Here’s one from nationally syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe.{2} Ms. Goodman declared that “removing evolution from the science curriculum is a bit like removing verbs from the English curriculum. Evolution can still be taught, but it’s no longer required, it won’t be tested, and it will be discouraged.” (However, natural selection, variation, and microevolution will still be recommended and tested.) Later she decries the fact that “In 1925, creationists dragged a young biology teacher, John Scopes, to the courtroom for the infamous ‘Monkey Trial.’” Actually it was the ACLU that dragged Scopes into the courtroom. He couldn’t even remember if he had actually taught evolution. They needed a “volunteer” to defend to test the new Tennessee law. (See Phillip Johnson’s Defeating Darwinism By Opening Minds, 1997, IVP, Chapter 2 for the real story of the Scopes trial and its shameful portrayal in the play and film, Inherit the Wind.) Goodman also pontificates that “there is no serious scientific dispute about the fact of evolution.” Notice that Ms. Goodman indicates that evolution is a fact, therefore beyond question. She also cleverly indicates that if you dispute evolution, you must not be a serious scientist.

In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sean Gonsalves laments, “Educated people everywhere are still in shock over the appalling ignorance displayed by the Kansas state board of education that voted two weeks ago to effectively remove evolution and the ‘Big Bang’ theory from the state’s science curriculum. Is there still a science curriculum in Kansas?”{3}

Well, those unruly, ignorant anti-evolutionists really seem to have overstepped their bounds this time! You would think that we would be cowering in the corner somewhere after all the abuse from such heavy hitters, but no, actually, we’re quite ecstatic. I have given you only a small example of the media and science firestorm, but it is just more of the same. While nobody enjoys being the butt of jokes and verbal abuse, what is significant are two things. First, the Kansas board has dealt Darwinists a severe blow by not mandating creation, thereby eliminating Darwinist’s usual rallying cry of science versus religion. They have simply searched for a more objective means of presenting evolution. That’s tough to argue against. Second, Darwinists have been flushed out into the open. Flimsy, ad hominem attacks, appeals to authority, and question begging have been brought out in the open for all to see. The Kansas State Board of Education has unintentionally raised the stakes in the decades old creation/evolution discussion.

What Really Happened in Kansas?

Given the reaction to the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education you would have thought the six board members who voted for the new standards in a close 6-4 vote were part of some dastardly plan to underhandedly bring God into the classroom. Also seemingly at stake was the reputation of the whole state of Kansas if its citizenry did not rise up in revolt against such an irrational decision. Apparently, Kansas had been set back decades in science literacy.

Well, what actually happened in Kansas? What did the board actually do and why? It is important to realize that the Kansas board authorized a 27-member panel of scientists and science educators from the state to revise the current state science testing standards. These standards do not mandate what can and cannot be taught, only what likely will be included on state science tests. What the board received was a highly prejudicial document making evolution the single unifying concept to the state’s biology standards. When board chairwoman Linda Holloway asked the committee representatives for evidence of macroevolution they essentially replied, “We’re the experts, and that will have to do.”{4} What that means is that she received no evidence, just an admonition that, with their position as scientists, she should just trust them.

Rather than turn the Kansas high school classrooms into a propaganda machine for materialist philosophy, the board decided to amend the standards to maintain microevolution–natural selection acting on genetic variation–but not macroevolution¾the claim that microevolution leads to new complex adaptations and new genetic information. They also left it up to the individual school districts to determine how much or how little evolution to teach. Evolution was not removed from the curriculum, as so many news stories reported. Creation was not mandated, Darwin was not banned, and evolution was not censored.

What this does do is leave open to school districts the opportunity to teach the surging controversy surrounding evolution. Actually, what many in the intelligent design movement would have preferred, if possible, is to teach more evolution, not less. Meaning, let’s teach not only the evidence for evolution, but also the mounting evidence calling the naturalistic creation story into question. Students should be familiar with evolution. It is the major story of origins within the scientific community. But in the interest of a true liberal education, the serious questions regarding evolution should also be included. Students should be allowed the privilege of weighing the evidence for themselves, not just accepting it because their teacher tells them to.

This is really where the threat to the scientific community lies. The more doubt about evolution that’s allowed, the trickier the educational landscape becomes for a fully naturalistic, materialistic approach to education.

In the past, the media barrage over such an anti-evolutionary decision has been decidedly one-sided. What is significant this time is that the Kansas board has received some rather hefty and significant support from invited articles, guest columnists, and op-ed pieces in prestigious news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Times. The debate is indeed changing.

Some Surprising Support for Kansas Board of Education

Amidst the unusual rancor and indignation from the media and scientific community following the decision of the Kansas State Board of Education, many have missed the small, yet significant, support the board has received for the spirit of their decision: namely, to try to find a way to disrupt the universal agenda to present scientific naturalism as the only possible explanation of where we all came from.

On August 16, 1999, the Wall Street Journal published an article by UC Berkeley law professor and Darwinian critic, Phillip Johnson.{5} Johnson quotes a Chinese paleontologist who openly criticizes Darwinism as wryly commenting that “In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government but not Darwin.” After summarizing the frantic response of scientists and educators, Johnson commented, “Obviously, the cognitive elites are worried about something a lot more important to themselves than the career prospects of Kansas high school graduates.”

Johnson pointed out that evolution is the main scientific prop for scientific naturalism, a philosophical system that leaves God totally out of its picture of reality. Quoting well-known scientists such as Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Stephen J. Gould, and Richard Lewontin, Johnson makes clear that this is the real battle. Allowing evolution’s flaws to be detailed in classrooms would allow a broader discussion of fundamental assumptions. Johnson concluded optimistically, “Take evolution away from the worldview promoters and return it to real scientific investigators, and a chronic social conflict will become a chronic intellectual adventure.”

A few days later, the Washington Times{6} chided the rest of its media cohorts for a vast overreaction and actually cited evidence that calls Darwinism into question. The friendly editorial concluded with “No one, and certainly not the Kansas Board of Education, is saying that evolution should not be taught; it remains the prevailing scientific theory of creation. Rather, some healthy agnosticism and scientific open-mindedness on the matter would seem to be in the best interest of everyone curious about the greatest mystery of all.” Hear, hear!

The Chicago Tribune, while openly critical of the action of the Kansas Board of Education, also criticized previous actions of the National Association of Biology Teachers concerning evolution.{7} The association initially used the words unsupervised and impersonal to describe the evolutionary process. These clearly non-scientific terms were eventually and reluctantly removed by the association, who explained they didn’t think the terms would be construed negatively, which the Tribune called either a lie or clear demonstration of scientific fundamentalism.

Finally, the Washington Post{8} printed an article by Jay Richards, senior fellow and program director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. The CRSC is currently the only think tank I know of that openly supports and endorses intelligent design. Richard’s final point, “Fairness and objectivity in the science classroom require that teachers teach the controversy, not deny its existence,” is fair, lucid, rational, and appealing. “Teach the controversy” has become a rallying cry. You are bound to hear it more and more. The debate in Kansas has resulted in similar debates around the country, to which we now turn our attention.

Darwinism Assailed in Other States

Following the recent decision by the Kansas State Board of Education the teaching of evolution was big news around the country. In Kansas there were roundtable discussions, lectures, and debates. Some were in academic settings, such as the University of Kansas and Washburn University, some were in churches, and some were sponsored by a humanist skeptic organization. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was prompted to publish their own statement deploring the action taken by the Kansas Board of Education.{9}

You might think that all the negative publicity would cause other states to back off any changes in their own science curriculum. But apparently, all this publicity has encouraged other school boards to chart their own course or adopt the methods of other states before them.

The Oklahoma State Textbook Committee voted to adopt a disclaimer to be placed on the inside cover of all biology textbooks. Unhappy with the propaganda-like treatment of evolution in the majority of textbooks they looked at, the committee needed the disclaimer to be able to recommend a sufficient diversity of biology texts for the state. While arguably not the best statement on the subject, the disclaimer labels evolution as controversial, a separation of microevolution and macroevolution, and encourages students to study hard, keep an open mind, and perhaps they can contribute to the origins discussion in the future. Nothing is said about creationism, intelligent design, or any other theories. Basically the statement wants students to think critically about evolution.

What has been missed in the newly swirling controversy about the disclaimer in Oklahoma is that it is nearly a direct copy of the disclaimer adopted by Alabama over two years ago which has not been challenged in court. However, instead of mentioning the obvious connection, journalists attempted to draw parallels to a Louisiana school district directive that was recently struck down because it specifically mentioned creationism. The two disclaimers are not related, but in the attempt to make it look as bad as possible, the chosen tactic is to mislead.{10} Once again, a very reasonable, but not perfect resolution was dismissed as simply another attempt to smuggle creationism into the public schools.

Meanwhile in West Virginia a similar controversy hit the news. The Kanawha County Board of Education is considering a resolution that would allow for the teaching of theories for and against the theory of evolution. It soon came to light that Illinois and Kentucky had previously passed resolutions similar to the one in Kansas. Commentary and editorials were appearing in major and local newspapers across the country taking sides in a suddenly public and heated discussion. Clearly, something has changed. The usual evolutionist hand-wringing is sounding more like whining and the previously unheard-of support for a revision of the instruction in evolution is suddenly receiving a cautious but receptive ear in important academic, educational, and media circles. While it must be kept in mind that all of these “victories” are relatively small and can be easily overturned, nonetheless their simplicity, objectivity, and legal savvy are raising eyebrows that paid little attention before.

What Does All This Mean?

The flurry of nationwide activity concerning the teaching of evolution in our public school systems, while noteworthy, is not terribly new. This battle has been going on for over three decades, but with seemingly little change. However, this time, as I have documented, there has been surprising support and very public discussion over the last few months. Phillip Johnson and others have been invited or allowed to offer their impressions and rebuttals in newspapers, journals, and magazines across the country. Public lectures, debates, and roundtable discussions have been offered before large crowds.

Something has definitely changed. I think we can isolate the change in two places. First some of the cherished, misleading evolutionary explanations are being rebutted openly and decisively in these public discussions. Second, the public is becoming better educated on the issues involved and they are less intimidated by the evolutionary rhetoric.

One of the favorite lines used to dismiss critics of evolution is to label them as religious zealots and fundamentalists. Religion and science, says this argument, have nothing to say to one another so you can’t bring religion into the science classroom. Stephen Gould states the case in his usual journalistic style, “Science and religion should be equal, mutually respecting partners, each the master of its own domain, and with each domain vital to human life in a different way.”{11} Elsewhere it becomes plain that Gould means that science deals in facts and religion in the intangibles of morality and such. This is seen more and more as condescending nonsense. Other evolutionists like Douglas Futuyma readily admit that, “By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of life processes superfluous.”{12} The negation of a theological principle is itself, a theological principle. Besides, any theory which purports to explain where we came from will contain the seeds of ethics and morality.

Robert E. Hemenway, chancellor of the University of Kansas, tried to say that the Kansas decision is a rejection of science altogether.{13} But when you actually read what the Board of Education did, they actually expanded the coverage of evolution from the previous standards and required students to know a very decent description of Darwinian evolution.{14} Skepticism is healthy in science. The new standards actually promoted questioning and critical thinking. This kind of obfuscation was not so easily foisted on the public.

The educational effort of many organizations over the past several decades has begun to yield citizens surer of themselves and not so easily intimidated. Seeing articles appearing in major news outlets like the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, and the Chicago Tribune, as well as appearances on CNN, have galvanized popular opinion and provided means to critically counterattack the bluster of the opposition.

Although the coverage has not always been accurate and completely positive, and the actual decisions by education boards have not always hit the mark, the net effect has been a major opening up of the debate. Change has been accomplished in these few months that would have ordinarily taken years. As mentioned previously, the phrase “teach the controversy” will be found more and more in the public discussion. That’s exactly what needs to happen.

Notes

1. Stephen Jay Gould, “Dorothy, It’s Really Oz, 1999,” Time vol. 154, no.8 (August 23, 1999), 59.

2. Ellen Goodman, “Those Ever-Evolving Creationists,” Boston Globe, Aug. 19, 1999, A19.

3. Sean Gonsalves, “Kansas School Board Fighting the Wrong Theory,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 24, 1999, A11.

4. Jeremy Johnson, “Media Pigeonholes Board into Stereotype,” Kansan, August 19, 1999.

5. Phillip E. Johnson, “The Church of Darwin,” Wall Street Journal, August 16, 1999, A14.

6. “Editorial, Kansas Conundrum,” Washington Times, August 19, 1999, A16.

7. Steve Kloehn, “In a Word, Kansas Tries to Make Evolution Go Away,” Chicago Tribune, August 20, 1999, 10.

8. Jay Richards, “Darwinism and Design,” Washington Post, August 21, 1999, A19.

9. “AAAS Statement on the Kansas State Board of Education Decision on the Education of Students in the Science of Evolution and Cosmology,” Science, vol. 286 (November 12, 1999), 1297.

10. Diane Plumberg, “Panel Plunges State into Debate about Evolution,” Daily Oklahoman, November 12, 1999.

11. Gould, 59.

12. Douglas J. Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology, 3rd ed. (Sunderland MA: Sinauer Assoc., 1998), 5.

13. Robert E. Hemenway, “The Evolution of a Controversy in Kansas Shows Why Scientists Must Defend the Search for Truth,” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 29, 1999, B7.

14. Jonathan Wells, “Ridiculing Kansas School Board Easy, But It’s Not Good Journalism,” Mitchell (South Dakota) Daily Republic, October 14, 1999.

©2000 Probe Ministries


Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design

An unprecedented intellectual event occurred in Los Angeles on November 14-17, 1996. Under sponsorship of Christian Leadership Ministries, Biola University hosted a major research conference bringing together scientists and scholars who reject naturalism as an adequate framework for doing science and who seek a common vision of creation united under the rubric of intelligent design. The two hundred participants, primarily academics, formed a nonhomogeneous group. Most had never met each other. Yet virtually all the participants questioned the reigning paradigm of biologynamely, that natural selection and mutation can account for the origin and diversity of all living things.{1}

So said Dr. Henry F. Schaefer III, professor of chemistry at the University of Georgia, author of over 750 scientific publications, director of over fifty successful doctoral students, and five-time Nobel nominee, in his foreword to the 1998 book, Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design.{2} I was privileged to be one of the two hundred participants at this historic conference which, along with the subsequent book, form the backbone of future direction of the fledgling intelligent design movement.

I would like to highlight significant chapters from this book and provide additional resources to learn more about this important challenge to Darwinism. Along the way I hope you will gain a glimpse of how important this movement is to the future not just of biology, but of science education as a whole in this country and around the world.

Jonathan Wells is a post-doctoral research biologist in the department of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley. His Ph.D. is from the same institution in developmental biology. In his chapter, “Unseating Naturalism,”{3} Wells lists several important insights from developmental biology that seriously challenge a purely naturalistic biologic science.

Since 1983, homeotic genes have been the rage in evolutionary developmental biology. First discovered in fruit flies, these genes appear to act as switches to turn on a series of genes important for sequential levels of development. Of interest to evolutionists, is the fact that many of the same genes found in fruit flies are also found in almost every other animal group, all acting as developmental switches. They are even frequently found on the same chromosome and in the same order from species to species. Such evidence seems quite a compelling argument for all life forms evolving from a common ancestor.

But Wells quickly points out that these genes do not control the same body structures from species to species, so an evolutionary explanation does not fit so well. “If the same gene can ‘determine’ structures as radically different as a fruit fly’s leg and a mouse’s brain or an insect’s eyes and the eyes of humans and squids, then that gene is not determining much of anything.”{4} There is no current mechanism to understand how a homeotic-switching gene can change from coding for one function to another in different organisms. Suddenly, this new great evidence of evolution is yet another problem for evolutionary biology. Wells goes on to point out that intelligent design has no trouble incorporating similar switches in different organisms just as an engineer understands the use of similar ignition switches in different kinds of vehicles.

Wells concludes that, “A design paradigm can nurture the sort of formal and teleological thinking that will enable biologists to discover the laws of development that have so far eluded them.”{5} The reason for the elusion is the shackles of Darwinism.

Redesigning Science

In taking a close look at the book, Mere Creation, edited by Bill Dembski, I would like to explore Dembski’s own contribution to the volume, “Redesigning Science.”{6} If the name Bill Dembski is unfamiliar to you, it won’t be for long. Dembski is an extremely bright and articulate young man with earned doctorates in mathematics from the University of Chicago and philosophy from the University of Illinois at Chicago along with an M. Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Dembski is also the author of perhaps the most significant book to date in the intelligent design movement, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities{7}, from the prestigious Cambridge University Press.

Bill is also confident. He is confident that intelligent design can thoroughly reshape the horizons of science in the next twenty years. He begins his chapter with a whimsical scenario recounting a “nightmare” potentially experienced by Harvard paleontologist and vocal anti-creationist, Stephen Jay Gould. The nightmare includes Gould no longer teaching at Harvard, relegated to leading field trips to the Galapagos Islands and the Burgess Shale in the Rocky Mountains of Canada, with Phil Johnson and cronies firmly in control of the National Science Foundation.{8} While Dembski admits that the nightmare is hopefully not realized in all its details, the notion of design claiming primacy within science is clearly the objective.

In order for this objective to be realized, design must be specifically and rigorously defined. I’ll allow Dembski to explain in his own words.

The key step is to delineate a method for detecting design. Such a method exists. We use it implicitly all the time. . . . The method takes the form of a three-stage explanatory filter. Given something we think might be designed, we submit it to the filter. If it successfully passes all three stages of the filter, then we are warranted asserting it is designed. Roughly speaking, the filter asks three questions, and in the following order: Does a law explain it? Does Chance explain it? Does design explain it?{9}

In trying to classify an event as either due to natural law, chance, or design, we first try to assess if it is an event of high probability and therefore due to some recognizable natural law. A bullet firing when a gun’s trigger is pulled or getting at least one head when a fair coin is tossed a hundred times are both high probability events due to natural law.

Rolling snake eyes with a pair of fair dice, or even winning a million dollar lottery when considering how many tickets are sold, constitute events of intermediate probability that are justly relegated to chance.

But let’s say the same person wins that lottery three times in a row or even twice in a row. Suddenly we suspect that something more than chance is involved. Dembski’s own example is Nicholas Caputo, the county clerk of Essex County, New Jersey. Caputo was responsible for determining the order in which candidates appeared on the ballots for elections. Caputo was a Democrat and 40 out of 41 times the Democrats were listed first, which everyone agrees, gave them a slight advantage. We intuitively use the explanatory filter to classify these events as designed because they are of small probability and they conform to a pattern. Thus intelligent design combines small probability with what Dembski terms, “specified complexity.”

Dembski and the other authors of Mere Creation believe we can apply the same test scientifically to physical, chemical, and biological events.

The Explanatory Power of Design

One of the critical questions for intelligent design is its ability to explain at least some natural phenomena more completely than naturalistic science. Stephen Meyer addresses this problem in his chapter, “The Explanatory Power of Design.”{10} Steve Meyer is professor of philosophy at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, with a Ph.D. in the history of and philosophy of science from Cambridge University, England. As an example of design’s explanatory power, Meyer chooses to explore the origin of information within living systems, specifically the origin of the genetic code. Meyer brings a scholarly appraisal to the subject since his Ph.D. dissertation concerned the history and status of origin of life research.

Meyer summarizes the extreme problems origin of life research has encountered in the last thirty years, highlighting along the way the important work by Charles Thaxton and Walter Bradley.{11} Following the euphoria of the famous experiment by Miller and Urey in 1953, the origin of life community has suffered setback after setback. Miller and Urey demonstrated that a mixture of methane, ammonia, water and hydrogen could be induced to produce, among many other organic compounds, a few amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Subsequent work showed that this hypothetical atmosphere was pure mythology. So was the notion of a prebiotic soup of biochemical building blocks.{12}

Beyond the purely biochemical difficulties of origin of life research looms the immense problem of accounting for the origin of complex specified information contained in biomolecules, and specifically in DNA and the genetic code. In the computer age we are often amazed at the speed and storage capacity of modern personal computers, particularly the laptop variety with their 12 gig hard drives and 500 MHz speeds. We seldom realize, however, that “the information storage density of DNA, thanks largely to nucleosome spooling, is several trillion times that of the most advanced computer chips.”{13} So not only is there real information stored in DNA, but it is stored at a density on a molecular level, we can’t even approach with our best computers. So just where did this information come from?

Attempts to account for the origin of biological information by natural biochemical means have utterly failed. The odds of achieving even a small 100 amino acid protein are less than 1 in 10 125. Events of that small a probability just don’t happen. Not only that, but researchers now realize that natural forces are incapable of achieving the formation of bio-information by any process. At first, some thought that maybe the amino acids and nucleotides had some natural affinity for each other to help account for the specific sequences of proteins and DNA. When that turned into a dead end, some hoped that some sort of natural selection of molecules might help. But natural selection requires reproducing cells. So-called “self-organization” processes only provide low level order, like ripples in the sand, not informational messages like “JOHN LOVES MARY” written in the sand.

Scientific laws will only describe ordered natural phenomena, like the structure of a crystal, which bear no relationship to the specified complexity within biomolecules. Instead, our experience with informational codes and languages indicates that they always come from an intelligent source. Therefore mind or intelligence stands as the only possible source for the information in DNA, proteins and cells as a whole.{14}

Applying Design within Biology

Have you ever wondered how a baby is formed from a single cell in just nine months? You could ask the same question of just about any animal from wasps to caterpillars to frogs to clams. A fully functioning organism is a symphony of integrated parts performing in coordinated fashion to make beautiful music. But where did all the orchestra members (or proteins) come from? And who told them where to sit? And how do they know when and what to play? And what about tempo and volume and on and on? Well, you get the picture. Biological organisms are immensely complex, but they all start out as single cells. Somehow they turn into assemblages of different cells and tissues that all know their places and roles. Embryological development has long been a mystery and its secrets are only slowly being revealed. It has also turned into a potentially fruitful battleground between evolution and intelligent design.

Paul Nelson recently received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and is currently doing post-doctoral work at the same university in evolutionary and developmental biology. The connection between embryological development and evolution is significant because, in order for organisms as diverse as hawks and starfish to evolve from a common ancestor, they must change not only their outward appearance but also the developmental process that starts as single cells for both. Nelson’s “Applying Design within Biology” explores the connection and its inherent contradictions.{15}

A major observation of embryology has been that developmental mutations are usually harmful and often fatal. And the earlier in the developmental process the mutation occurs, the more likely the effect will be harmful. This led most embryologists to believe that evolutionary changes utilize mutations that appear relatively late in embryological development. Subsequently Darwinists predicted that the further back you go in comparing two organisms’ patterns of development, the more similar they will be. Unfortunately for evolution, this is not true. There is wide diversity of early cleavage patterns of cells in embryos from species that can actually be closely related. One author went so far as to refer to this as “intellectually disturbing.”{16}

Such a dramatic reversal would, you would think, cause many or at least some developmental biologists to question the validity of Darwinism. But as I have indicated so many other times in other essays, Darwinism is assumed, not questioned. Biologists mainly concluded that change in early development is doable after all and quite common. But as Nelson aptly summarizes, “There is little if any experimental evidence that ‘changes in early development are possible.’”{17}

While the diversity of pathways to similar ends in development is a problem for evolutionary developmental biology, it is an expectation of intelligent design. The sheer magnitude of instructions for embryological progress screams for a design perspective. Design is also found in the newly discovered redundancy of developmental pathways. Knocking out a seemingly essential gene can sometimes have no effect whatsoever. Built-in redundancy is a hallmark of design, not chance mutations and natural selection. Nelson basically believes that any element of an organism necessary for survival and reproduction in any environment is a strong candidate for design. This should help open up new research avenues for developmental biology which is exactly what new theories should do.

Basic Types of Life

Next time you are walking through a zoo, stop and think about what makes some animals different and others similar. For instance, if you are looking out over a large pond, you may see different species of ducks, geese, and swans. While they do appear different in some respects, there are also very tantalizing similarities. However, if there are also some flamingos or sea gulls in the crowd of aquatic birds, you would not put them in the same category as ducks and geese. They seem different. Evolutionists, of course, would see sufficient similarities: they are birds, after all, with wings, feathers, and beaks. So evolutionists would say they all evolved from a common ancestor. Ducks and geese are more similar to each other than they are to flamingos so the ancestor of ducks and geese is more recent than the ancestor of ducks, geese, and flamingos.

But since intelligent design is calling into question many evidences and predictions of naturalistic evolution, it is reasonable to assume that all animals are not related back in time through a common ancestor. Perhaps all birds did not evolve from a single source. Maybe there are many different ancestors for the many groups of birds and other animals. Well, how would you know? How could you recognize groups of animals that do derive from a common ancestor and those that have arisen independently? Siegfried Scherer makes an attempt in his chapter titled, “Basic Types of Life.” {18}

Dr. Scherer is a professor of microbial ecology and director of the Institute of Microbiology at the Technical University of Munich and has published numerous papers in international peer-reviewed journals. Scherer proposes that there is another unit of taxonomic classification that can be overlaid on current taxonomy, the idea of basic types.{19} A basic type is a group of organisms or species that are capable of hybridizing. These hybrids don’t necessarily have to be fertile themselves. Simply producing a coherent functioning organism from sperm and eggs of different species is sufficient.{20} Numerous successful attempts to hybridize different species of ducks, swans, and geese have convinced Scherer that they belong to a single basic type. This would mean that all 148 species are descended from a single common ancestor.{21}

The distinct differences mentioned earlier, between ducks and flamingos, would result from them being of different basic types. This observation leads Scherer to suggest that microevolution can now be defined as evolution within one basic type and macroevolution as evolution between basic types. The current evidence suggests that macroevolution is an undocumented process both from the fossil record and the biology of basic types.

The plethora of species within a basic type like the ducks and geese also suggests that there was a great deal of variation built into each basic type to allow many distinct species to form through speciation. This prediction would be consistent with intelligent design but not evolution. There would be no reason for evolution to suggest that some species would have more variation than others would. This is corroborated by the observation that hybrids between two species frequently resemble a third species. This indicates that the genetic combination of the third species was hidden between the two species used to form the hybrid.{22}

Scherer summarizes that evidence of individual ancestors for each basic type, fossil and biological gaps between basic types, similar or convergent characters in different basic types, and odd features, such as slightly differing genetic codes now found in a few organisms would also be evidence of design over evolution. The possibilities for further research are everywhere. Intelligent design becomes an extremely fruitful paradigm for research.

Notes

1. Henry F. Schaefer III, “Foreword,” in Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design, William A. Dembski, Ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 9.

2. Ibid., 475.

3. Ibid.,, 51-70.

4. Ibid., 56.

5. Ibid., 68.

6. Ibid., 93-112.

7. William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 243.

8. Dembski, Mere Creation, 93.

9. Ibid., 94.

10. Ibid., p. 113-147.

11. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories (Dallas: Lewis and Stanley, 1984), 228.

12. Mere Creation, 118-119.

13. Ibid., 120.

14. Ibid., 136-137.

15. Mere Creation, 148-174.

16. Eric Davidson, quoted in Mere Creation, 155.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid., 195-211.

19. Scherer does at least mention a competing idea, baramin, initially proposed by creationist Frank Marsh (Fundamental Biology, 1940, Lincoln Neb., n.p., Variation and Fixity in Nature, Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press) and further explicated by Kurt Wise (K. Wise, Baraminology: “A Young Earth Creation Biosystematic Method, in Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Creationism, R.E. Walsh and C.L. Brooks, eds. (Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, 1990, Vol. 2, 345-360 and K. Wise, “Practical Baraminology,” Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal, 1991, 6(2): 122-137). Scherer chooses not to mention another attempt in fleshing out this concept, the prototype, proposed by Lane P. Lester and Raymond G. Bohlin in The Natural Limits to Biological Change (Dallas: Probe Books, 1984), 161-172.

20. Mere Creation, 197-199.

21. Ibid., 200.

22. Ibid., 203-204.

 

© 2000 Probe Ministries


“Can You Recommend the Best Christian Colleges for My Son?”

Dear Dr. Bohlin,

I read your article on line at Leadership U. and would respect your opinion on a matter of concern to me. I am especially impressed that you managed to keep the faith while studying genetics and molecular biology.

My son will be starting college next year. He is homeschooling, but I guess he does well academically because he got 1600 (perfect score) on his SAT. He wants to go to California Institute of Technology and study physics eventually, but wants to first go to a Christian College of good reputation for one or two years to meet other Christian young people and to become really well grounded in the faith before going to Cal Tech. (I personally hope for him to meet a godly, Christian girl for a wife.)

Hopefully, it would be a college committed to an orthodox, fundamental, conservative Christian doctrine, and have at least more than, say, 1000 students.

What are the best Christian colleges, in terms of the quality of the students and the quality of the teaching?

Can you make any suggestions, any recommendations of Christian colleges?

Your request is a reasonable one and I commend you for seeking advice. I would also suggest you ask others who have sent their kids to Christian colleges for their opinion. Our older son attends John Brown University, a Christian college of about 1,100 students in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. It is a sound Christian university dedicated to teaching a Christian worldview. Their engineering department is top-notch (our son is in digital media), I understand, and very rigorous. I would presume their physics department is up to those standards. I also recommend Taylor University in Indiana, Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California and to a lesser extent, Wheaton College in Illinois. Any of these colleges would offer significant scholarship money for your son. But you already seem a bit leery and that is good. A college is only as good as its faculty and they are never universally excellent either in scholarship and teaching or in their adherence to a thoroughly Christian worldview. For instance, a number of the biology faculty at these institutions are theistic evolutionists and would not be receptive to many of my articles. However, I know some of the biology faculty at Westmont and they are not theistic evolutionists. I know of only one at Wheaton for sure. A student must be equipped to know what they believe and why even in a Christian university.

Clearly your son has been given a gift with his intelligence and I respect his desire for Cal Tech. We need more Christian young people with the talent and dedication to pursue the best education they can get to qualify them to impact the academic community for Christ. There is a strong growing movement away from a strict materialism, particularly in astronomy and physics. The intricate workings of God’s universe are more and more being seen as something that is beyond being explained by chance. So much so that being a Christian in these fields is not as difficult as biology and geology.

I would strongly recommend your son attend our weeklong Mind Games Conference outside of Little Rock, Arkansas this summer regardless of where he goes. This conference is billed as our national conference and repeatedly draws national merit scholars and valedictorians from local and distant Christian and public schools. He will be among peers. There are also several college students who attend who can help with advising from their own experiences. Our web site can give you some details for this conference (probe.org/student-mind-games). Also look at my article on Campus Christianity to get an idea of my practical advice for students (it is usually the final session of a conference for students).

Concerning a wife, a good Christian wife can also be found among Christians from a secular university who understand the challenge to their faith at these institutions. This can be a very maturing experience. Our younger son is at the University of North Texas and growing in his faith in a much more vital way than our son at John Brown. Each student is different, and their needs are different. If our sons were to switch colleges they would both be profoundly unhappy. By the way, I met my wife at the University of Illinois in Campus Crusade for Christ. 🙂

I hope you find this helpful.

Respectfully,

Ray Bohlin
Probe Ministries


Why Does the University Fear Phillip Johnson?

Who Is Phillip Johnson?

Best-selling author Phillip Johnson has become the leader of the Intelligent Design movement. His books Darwin on Trial, Reason in the Balance, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds and the recently released Objections Sustained have become rallying points for Christian scholars across the academic spectrum. Johnson has addressed university audiences around the country, sometimes on his own, often in debate with a leading proponent of evolution. He has even addressed in private session entire science, law, and philosophy departments at top universities. Well, just who is Phillip Johnson and how does he rate such attention?

Johnson was raised in a nominally Christian family, but he grew to become a convinced skeptic of the faith. This process was greatly aided by his education, first as an undergraduate at Harvard and then at the University of Chicago Law School where he graduated first in his class. Johnson became convinced that people were basically good, education would solve whatever problems you had, the stuff of Sunday school was okay but mythology, and he could achieve success by thinking for himself and absorbing the culture around him.

This is the enticing picture the academic community paints for students and Johnson bought it. But things began to unravel in his mid-thirties. He had achieved his goals. He served as law clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren and held a distinguished professorship of law at UC Berkeley, but he lacked fulfillment. He was publishing papers nobody read, or ought to read. His marriage to a beauty queen fell apart and he was single parenting for awhile. The writings of C. S. Lewis had impacted him greatly, but he thought, “Too bad we can’t believe in that anymore.” Eventually he heard the gospel preached in a way that seemed plausible and attractive. Johnson envied the speaker’s combination of commitment and fulfillment. “Do I have something so wonderful?” he questioned. Johnson said, “They believed it, I could too.”

Johnson put his faith in Christ, but faced a dilemma. If the gospel is true, why are all the “intelligent” people agnostic? He prayed for insight. Beginning with a sabbatical at University College in London in 1987-88, Johnson embarked on an intellectual journey. This journey has developed into a project that has seen him publish four books, deliver hundreds of lectures on college campuses, and become the leader of the fledgling Intelligent Design movement over the last ten years. Primarily through his study of evolution, Johnson learned that the academic community’s primary intellectual commitment is to the philosophy of naturalism. If the “facts” contradict materialistic conclusions, then the “facts” are either explained away, ignored, or just plain wrong.

Therefore, evolutionists like Richard Dawkins can say things like “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose,” and actually say it with a straight face. The appearance of design is an illusion, you see, because we “know” that organisms evolved and the primary reason we “know” this is because naturalistic philosophy demands it.

Johnson’s primary task seems to be continually provoking the scientific community into facing the reality of its naturalistic presuppositions. In earlier years, the scientific establishment was able to dismiss creationists and not officially respond. But when a tenured law professor from Berkeley starts messing with your head, people start answering back. The National Academy of Sciences has issued two publications in the last two years trying to stem the tide.{1} The cracks in Darwinian evolution are beginning to show.

What Could a Law Professor Say About Evolution?

What could a legal scholar possibly have to say about evolution? Many in the academic community have raised the same question as Phillip Johnson has visited their university. In his own words Johnson states: “I approach the creation-evolution dispute not as a scientist but as a professor of law, which means among other things that I know something about the ways that words are used in arguments.”{2}

Specifically what Johnson noticed was that both the rules of debate about the issue as well as the word evolution itself were defined in such a way as to rule out objections from the start. Science is only about discovering naturalistic causes of phenomena, therefore arguing against the sufficiency of natural causes is not science! Also the “fact of evolution” is determined not by the usual definition of fact such as collected data or something like space travel which has been done, but as something arrived by majority vote! Steven J. Gould said, “In science, fact can only mean ‘confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.’”{3}

In the early chapters of Darwin on Trial, Johnson does an excellent job of summarizing the evidence that has been around for decades calling Darwinian evolution into question. These include problems with the mechanism of mutation and natural selection, problems with finding transitional fossils between major groups when they should be numerous, problems with the molecular evidence for common descent, and severe problems with any scenario for the origin of life.

In a chapter titled “The Rules of Science” Johnson excels in illuminating the clever web evolutionists have drawn to insulate evolution from criticism.{4} In order to limit discussion to naturalistic causes, science is defined in purely naturalistic terms. In the Arkansas creation law decision, Judge Overton said science was defined as being guided and explained by natural law, testable, tentative, and falsifiable. Overton got this from the so- called expert testimony of scientists collected for the trial by the ACLU. These criteria were used against creation on the one hand to say that a creator is not falsifiable, and also that the tenets of creation science were demonstrably false. How can something be non-falsifiable and false at the same time?

The conflict enters in when one realizes that creation by Darwinist evolution is as un- observable as creation by a supernatural creator. No one has ever observed any lineage changing into another and the few fossil transitions that exist are fragmentary and disputable. “As an explanation for modifications in populations, Darwinism is an empirical doctrine. As an explanation for how complex organisms came into existence in the first place, it is pure philosophy.”{5}

In a chapter titled “Darwinist Religion” Johnson points out that despite the claims of scientists that evolution is secular, it is loaded with religious and philosophical implications. Most definitions of evolution emphasize its lack of purpose or goal. This makes evolution decidedly non-purposive in contrast to a theistic, purposive interpretation of nature. If it is the philosophic opposite of theism, evolution must be religious itself. Darwin himself constantly argued the superiority of descent with modification over creation. If scientific arguments can be made against theism, why can’t scientific arguments be made for theism?

Darwin on Trial continues to sell, to be read, and to influence those open to consider the evidence. Since Johnson is not a scientist his book is highly readable to the educated layman. If you have never picked it up, you owe it to yourself to read what has become a classic in the creation/evolution controversy.

Johnson Extends His Case against Evolution into Law and Education.

Over the years of speaking on the creation/evolution issue I have been asked many times why people get so upset over this issue. If it is just a question of scientific accuracy, why does it produce such emotional extremes? The answer, of course, is that the creation/evolution debate involves much more than science. At question is which worldview should hold sway in making public decisions.

In Phil Johnson’s second book, Reason in the Balance, he makes this very point when he says, “What has really happened is that a new established religious philosophy has replaced the old one. Like the old philosophy, the new one is tolerant only up to a point, specifically, the point where its own right to rule the public square is threatened.”{6}

The old philosophy Johnson speaks of is the theistic or Judeo-Christian worldview and the new philosophy is the materialist or naturalistic worldview. Johnson has referred to Reason in the Balance as his most significant and important work. That is because it is here that he lays the all important philosophical groundwork for the scientific, legal, and educational battleground of which the creation/evolution controversy is only a part.

That we no longer live in a country dominated by Judeo-Christian principles should be inherently obvious to most. But what many have missed is the concerted effort by the intellectual, naturalistic community to eliminate any possibility of debate of the worthiness of their position. On page 45 Johnson says,

“Modernist discourse accordingly incorporates semantic devices–such as the labeling of theism as religion and naturalism as science–that work to prevent a dangerous debate over fundamental assumptions from breaking out in the open. As the preceding chapter showed, however, these devices become transparent under the close inspection that an open debate tends to encourage. The best defense for modernist naturalism is to make sure the debate does not occur.”{7}

Johnson is quick to point out that there is not some giant conspiracy, but simply a way of thinking that dominates the culture, even the thinking of many Christians.

Therefore, in the realm of science when considering the important question of the existence of a human mind, only the biochemical workings of the brain can be considered. Not because an immaterial reality has been disproved, but because it is outside the realm of materialistic science and therefore not worth discussing. Allowing the discussion in the first place lays bare a discussion of fundamental assumptions, the very thing that is to be avoided.

In education, “The goal is to produce self-defining adults who choose their own values and lifestyles from among a host of alternatives, rather than obedient children who follow a particular course laid down for them by their elders.”{8} The reason, of course, is if God is outside the scientific discussion of origins, then how we should live must also exclude any absolute code of ethics. This also precludes the underlying assumptions from being discussed.

In law, naturalism has become the established constitutional philosophy. Rather than freedom of religion, the courts are moving to a freedom from religion. The major justification is that “religion” is irrational when it enters the domain of science or a violation of the first amendment in public education. “Under current conditions, excluding theistic opinions means giving a monopoly to naturalistic opinions on subjects like whether humans are created by God and whether sexual intercourse should be reserved for marriage.”{9} What then are the strategies for breaking the monopoly?

Can Darwinism Be Defeated?

The main thing Christian parents and teachers can do is to teach young thinkers to understand the techniques of good thinking and help them tune up their baloney detectors so they aren’t fooled by the stock answers the authorities give to the tough questions.{10}

So says Phillip Johnson in his recent book, Defeating Darwinism. (For a fuller review see Rick Wade’s article, Defeating Darwinism: Phil Johnson Steals the Microphone.) Johnson is at his best here, relaying the many semantic and argumentative tricks used to cover up the inadequacies of Darwinism. In the chapter “Tuning Up Your Baloney Detector,” Johnson introduces the reader to examples of the use of selective evidence, appeals to authority, ad hominem arguments, straw man arguments, begging the question, and lack of testability. This chapter will give you a good grasp of logical reasoning and investigative procedure.

Johnson also explains the big picture of his strategy to weaken the stranglehold of Darwinism on the intellectual community. He calls it the wedge. Darwinism is compared to a log that seems impenetrable. Upon close investigation, a small crack is discovered. “The widening crack is the important but seldom recognized difference between the facts revealed by scientific investigation and the materialist philosophy that dominates the scientific culture.”{11} In order to split the log, the crack needs to be widened. Inserting a triangular shaped wedge and driving the pointed end further into the log can do this. As the wedge is driven further into the log, the wider portions of the wedge begin widening the crack.

Johnson sees his own books as the pointed end of the wedge, finding the crack and exposing its weaknesses. Other books in these initial efforts would certainly include the pioneering works of Henry Morris,{12} Duane Gish,{13} Charles Thaxton,{14} and even the agnostic Michael Denton.{15} Following close behind and fulfilling the role of further widening the crack are the works of J. P. Moreland,{16} Michael Behe,{17} and William Dembski.{18} What is needed now to widen the crack further and eventually split the log are larger numbers of theistic scientists, philosophers, and social scientists to fill in the ever widening portions of the wedge exposing the weaknesses of naturalistic assumptions across the spectrum of academic disciplines.

Here Johnson’s strategy meshes nicely with Probe Ministries. Much of our energy is spent educating young people in a Christian worldview through Mind Games Conferences, the ProbeCenter in Austin, Texas, and our website (www.probe.org). We share with Johnson the joy of encouraging and opening doors for young people in the academic community. Johnson says,

“If you know a gifted young person, help him or her to see the vision. Those who are called to it won’t need any further encouragement. Once they have seen their calling, you had better step out of the way because you won’t be able to stop them even if you try.”{19}

There is also an inherent risk in all this. Teaching young Christians to think critically and have the courage to join this exciting and meaningful cultural battle means they will also begin to examine their own faith critically. Some may even go through a period of doubt and deep questioning. While this may sound threatening, we shouldn’t shy away. If Jesus truly is the way, the truth, and the light then any “truth” exposed to the light will endure. Our children will be stronger having put their faith to the test. The reward of possibly making a directional change in our downward spiraling culture is worth the risk.

Johnson Responds to the Intellectual Elite

One of the reasons that Phillip Johnson has become a leader in the Intelligent Design movement is the combined effect of his tenured position on the law faculty of the prestigious University of California at Berkeley and his deftness and sheer enjoyment in taking on the power brokers within the established halls of academia. Johnson has traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad. He has also lectured and debated before university audiences and faculties. His knowledge of debate, concise prose, and his likeable demeanor allows him to bring the issues to the table skillfully. Many are able to think clearly about these issues for perhaps the first time.

Another avenue Johnson has pursued with great success has been to write articles and review books for some of the leading magazines and newspapers in the country. Johnson’s fourth book, Objections Sustained: Subversive Essays on Evolution, Law & Culture,{20} is a collection of his essays since the publication of Darwin on Trial in 1991. While most of the essays in the book were originally published in either the journal First Things or the paper Books and Culture, Johnson’s pen has also been found in the pages of The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The New Criterion, and many other national and local magazines and newspapers. He has openly challenged some of the leading spokesmen for naturalistic evolution such as Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin of Harvard, Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, and Daniel Dennet from Tufts University.

The point of all this is to draw the Darwinists out into the open where the debate can be seen and heard by all who are interested. Previously, creation was routinely dismissed as religion, but Johnson is not so easily swept aside since he has been able to expose the house of cards behind the bluster of Darwinism. The debate has crept more and more out in the open.

Two examples come to mind. First, the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) was caught with its hand in the cookie jar. In 1995, they released a statement about evolution describing it as, among other things, unsupervised and impersonal. Such theological/philosophical concepts should have no place in a “scientific” statement. A storm of controversy sparked both within and outside the teachers’ ranks culminated in a reconsideration of the statement by the NABT board. At first the board voted unanimously to uphold the statement, and then a few days later, voted to remove the offending words. The New York Times remarked that “This surprising change in creed for the nation’s biology teachers is only one of many signs that the proponents of creationism, long stereotyped as anti-intellectual Bible-thumpers, have new allies and the hope of new credibility.”{21}

Second, the prestigious National Academy of Sciences has published two official publications attacking creationism{22} and supporting the teaching of evolution.{23} Rather than taking its critics head-on, these two books timidly revert to old and tattered evidences and appeals to authority. For instance, the National Academy boldly asserts that “there is no debate within the scientific community over whether evolution occurred, and there is no evidence that evolution has not occurred.”{24}

Science and Creationism says on the one hand, “Scientists can never be sure that a given explanation is complete and final.”{25} But evolution cannot really be questioned because “Nothing in biology makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution.”{26} Such obfuscation is now officially in the open arena–precisely where Johnson has been trying to force it to appear. The next ten to fifteen years promise to be exciting. I hope you continue to read Phillip Johnson and observe the ever broadening wedge drive deeper into the chinks of the Darwinian armor.

Notes

1. National Academy of Sciences, Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science (Washington, D. C.: National Academy Press, 1998), 140. Available online at http://www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/creationism/.
National Academy of Sciences, Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences (Washington D. C.: National Academy Press, 1999), 35. Available online at http://www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/evolution98.

2. Phillip Johnson, Darwin On Trial (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 8.

3. Stephen J. Gould, “Evolution as Fact and Theory” in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes (New York: W. W. Norton, 1983), 255.

4. Johnson, Darwin on Trial, 111-122.

5. Ibid., 115.

6. Phillip E. Johnson, Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 37.

7. Ibid., 45.

8. Ibid., 157.

9. Ibid., 29.

10. Phillip E. Johnson, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 116.

11. Ibid., 92.

12. Henry Morris, Scientific Creationism (San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1974).

13. Duane Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Say No! (San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1972).

14. Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, and Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin (New York: Philosophical Library, 1984).

15. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, MD: Adler and Adler, 1986).

16. J. P. Moreland, ed., The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994).

17. Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: The Free Press, 1996).

18. William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.) And, William A. Dembski, ed., Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998).

19. Johnson, Defeating Darwinism, 96.

20. Johnson, Objections Sustained: Subversive Essays on Evolution, Law & Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998).

21. Quoted in Johnson, Objections Sustained, p. 88.

22. Science and Creationism, see note 1.

23. Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science, see note 1.

24. Ibid., 4.

25. Science and Creationism, 1.

26. Ibid., ix.

©1999 Probe Ministries