Dr. Ray Bohlin Responds to Attacks on Intelligent Design

To the editor of Newsweek:

Jonathan Alter must have thoroughly enjoyed writing this incredibly polemical piece, taking full advantage of every stereotype, argument from authority, straw man, and unsupported assertion his space would allow. He craftily gives credit to scientific sounding arguments against evolutionary theory while claiming they have all been discredited without mentioning the well-reasoned answers to these criticisms. As an example he cites Ken Miller’s criticism of ID without mentioning that Miller himself has been respectfully answered, critiqued and refuted.

If simply rehashing the old science vs. religion argument is the best the media and the general science community can do, the battle is over. I have been making a scientific case against Darwinism and for Intelligent Design for over thirty years. As one credentialed in science, a Discovery Institute Fellow and one of the first 100 signers (now over 400) to their statement of scientific skepticism about Darwinism, I can tell you that our ranks are swelling and our case getting stronger all the time. Pieces like Alter’s only show us and Newsweek’s readers, the bankruptcy of the Darwinian paradigm.

Raymond G. Bohlin, Ph.D.
President, Probe Ministries

I would like to make some additional comments here.

1. Alter magically proclaims that “One of the reasons we have fewer science majors is the pernicious right-wing notion that conventional biology is vaguely atheistic.” How does he know that? Of course he just states it as a bald assertion, expecting us to just believe it because he says so. His claim might be true, but he is clearly trying to blame doubts about evolution for the U.S.’s perceived sputtering in science. Need a whipping boy? Try “right-wing fundamentalists.” Some will believe that every time.

2. He says that offering ID as “an alternative to evolution in ninth-grade biology is a cruel joke.” Nowhere has anybody made such a request. Even in Dover, PA, the disclaimer by the school board simply offers ID as something students might explore. It is not officially offered in the classroom as a competing theory. Discovery Institute itself maintains that ID is not ready for such treatment.

3. In the same paragraph, Alter says “ID walks like science and talks like science but, so far, performs in the lab worse than medieval alchemy.” I guess that was supposed to sting. What Alter doesn’t realize is that in molecular and cell biology, in particular, the language of design is everywhere in describing the workings of the incredible molecular machines inside the cell. They just claim that natural selection produced them with no real attempts to explain how. And as a mechanistic theory, evolution should be able to. So in reality, ID is used all the time in biological research, even by evolutionists, you just can’t call it that if you want your work to be published.

4. Alter drags the ever present Kenneth Miller into his discussion. He mentions, parenthetically, that Miller attends Mass every week. So what? It’s a double standard to allow Miller’s attendance at church serve to further his credibility when my association with a Christian ministry has been used to discredit my testimony and somehow claim that my scientific reasoning is now suspect. Nobody ever mentions Miller’s possible conflict of interest in his defense of evolution and criticism of ID. Kenneth Miller is coauthor of a well-known high school biology textbook that strongly promotes evolution as the grand unifying principle of biology. If evolution is dethroned, he loses money and his reputation. How come his reasoning isn’t compromised?

5. Alter claims that science and religion are not at odds over evolution. Fine. But science is at odds with the Darwinian mechanism and there have always been doubts. As I said in my letter to the editor, the scientific case for ID only grows stronger and the debate is here to stay. Let them keep making the science vs. religion argument and the more thoughtful and reasonable among us will see through the smoke screen and will give ID a chance. That’s all we ask.

6. Alter makes it seem that the appeal to science standards and school boards is a last ditch effort when all else has failed. In reality, these are true grassroots efforts by people who have read the books and want the truth taught to their children. Many have been frustrated for years that their kids are exposed to an evolutionary filibuster in school and are encouraged that there is a growing scientific revolt in support of their concerns. The Time article mentions that 30% of surveyed biology teachers felt pressure to give evolution a short treatment by concerned parents. What about the greater than 50% of students (far more vulnerable to pressure than adult teachers) who have felt bullied by evolution for decades?

7. All this negative publicity is actually a good thing in the long run. As long as the silly arguments are answered, we gain new adherents with every wise-cracking, arrogant article. Why? Because reasonable people see through all the fuss eventually and realize that something funny is going on. After that they read Behe, Dembski, Meyer, Gonzalez, Richards, Nelson, Wells, Thaxton, Bradley, and other ID leaders and it all begins to come together. May our tribe increase!

 

See Also:

 

© 2005 Probe Ministries International




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

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

Darwinism, Design, and Illusions

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

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

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

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

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

The Misuse of Artificial Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Power of Natural Selection

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

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

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

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

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

Mutations Do Not Produce Real Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natural Selection Does Not Produce New Body Plans

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

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

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

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

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

Wallace Arthur:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

© 2005 Probe Ministries




“Did the Human Genome Project Prove that Darwin Was Right?”

Help! I read Arthur Caplan’s article “Darwin Vindicated!” about the results of the Human Genome Project and it is seriously shaking my faith!

Caplan has never been a friend of Christians or creationists. In this inflammatory article, designed to stimulate public opinion, he has outdone himself. 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. In some respects, it is difficult to know where to begin. So let’s just pick a few of the more glaring statements to help us understand that little else should be trusted.

First, he 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 Li, et. al., (Nature 409, 15 Feb 2001:847-848) less than 4,000 genes belong to superfamilies that show sequences sharing at least 30% of their sequence. Over 25,000 genes demonstrated less than 30% sequence identity, indicating that as much as 62% of the human genes mapped by the Human Genome Project were unique, i.e., not likely the result of gene duplication. Determining that similar genes are the result of gene duplication is tricky business, not the least of which is trying to find out just how duplicated genes (which does occur) ever arrive at a new function. There are lots of guesses out there, but no observable mechanism exists at this time.

Second, he 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. “Junk DNA” used to be a common term in genetics circles. Since only about 1.5% of the total human genome sequence codes for actual genes and proteins, the rest was thought to be junk, useless DNA. The term “Junk DNA” is rarely used in academic papers anymore because much of this “junk” is now known to have a purpose, usually a regulatory function. Even the highly repetitive elements are demonstrating patterns that indicate some kind of function. Listen to this comment from Gene Meyers, one of the principal geneticists from Celera Genomics:

“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.” (“Human Genome Map Has Scientists Talking About the Divine – Surprisingly low number of genes raises big questions,” Tom Abate, Monday, February 19, 2001, San Francisco Chronicle)

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

Finally, Caplan says, “No one can look at how the book of life is written and not come away fully understanding that our genetic instructions have evolved from the same programs that guided the development of earlier animals. Our genetic instructions have been slowly assembled from the genetic instructions that made jellyfish, dinosaurs, wooly mammoths and our primate ancestors.”

This comes partly from the documenting of fewer genes (30,000-45,000 genes instead of the expected 100,000 or more) and the fact that some of these genes are indeed very similar in nearly all species looked at. Are there similarities? Certainly! Are the similarities only explainable by evolution? Not at all!

First, the fewer genes are not a given number yet since the computer programs used to look for new genes relied on already known gene sequences to spot potential genes. Only crude estimates were used for the possibility of completely novel genes. Even if the number is correct, this means that the organization of the genome is as important as the actual genes. We already know that many genes can be used to make several different proteins through complex patterns of regulation. This only raises the stakes for evolution. More organization, more complexity are the hallmarks of design, not messy natural selection.

Also even though we only have two or three times as many genes as a fruit fly, Svante Paabo, writing in Science (Feb. 16, 2001, vol 291, p. 1219) said, “A glimpse of what this will show us comes from considering the fact that about 26,000 to 38,000 genes are found in the draft version of our own genome, a number that is only two to three times larger than the 13,600 genes in the fruit fly genome. Furthermore, some 10% of human genes are clearly related to particular genes in the fly and the worm.”

Basic cellular processes require many of the same proteins and therefore the same genes. Even if flies and humans are not related, why would these genes be expected to be dissimilar? Human engineers frequently reuse common elements because they work. Besides, Paabo states that only 10% of the genes show any relationship. That means 90% do not. Far too much attention has been focused on the similarities and not enough on the differences. I welcome a sequence of the chimpanzee genome because I expect that among the many striking similarities, there will be uniquenesses unexplainable by Darwinian natural selection.

Arthur Caplan simply shows himself to be a part of the evolutionary establishment that appears to be worried by the inroads of intelligent design theory and is fighting back using only authority and bluster. “If I, Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist and Ph.D., say something loud enough and forcefully enough, some will believe it simply because of the position I hold.” This strategy is slowing falling apart as the clear and ever increasing weight of the evidence causes more and more people to say, “Wait a minute, these guys (Phil Johnson, William Dembski, Mike Behe, Jonathan Wells, etc.) aren’t dummies. Surely they can’t be dismissed as easily as that.” The bluster and appeals to authority are wearing thin and some are asking hard questions. Some will stop and begin to reevaluate; others, like Caplan, will only shout a little louder and ultimately lose credibility.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully,

Ray Bohlin
Probe Ministries




“How Should I, as a Non-Christian, React to Creationist Claims?”

Hello, I’m a French science student interested in the creation/evolution debate. I have had no religious upbringing, and don’t take the Gospel as gospel truth, so I guess I must be an Evil Darwinist. Where I live, there doesn’t seem to be a great “debate” about evolution: I haven’t heard of any creationist scientists, besides from when I find Religious sites on the Internet. So I guess we haven’t yet been blessed with Pseudoscientific Creationists. True we have fanatics, but they’re Catholic and tend to be old Nazis dressed in black who want to go back to saying Mass in Latin, so don’t even go near calling themselves scientists. OK I’m being facetious 🙂

Anyway, how do you advise me, a non-christian, to react to creationist scientific claims? I hope you’ll provide an answer other than “convert to Christianity” — you won’t get away that easily: If your claims are scientifically sound, I should be able to accept that. However I often find them a mere imitation of the scientific method, a rational method I understand and respect more than your personal interpretation of the Bible.

By the way I worked on Genetic Algorithms a little (programs using genetic mechanisms to solve specific problems), and have therefore witnessed how complexity and ingenious patterns can arise out of chaos — and how the dominant pattern will switch in a fairly short time, not showing so many intermediate genomes (punctuated equilibrum, generally used to explain holes in the fossil reccord). I am aware that you don’t seem to disagree with microevolution, but I don’t believe that “micro-” and “macro-” evolution mean anything. You seem only to use that definition by defining “macroevolution” as what can’t be witnessed directly at our scale, and is therefore false. Why not “micromechanics” and “macromechanics”?: We can’t prove that planets follow Newtonian mechanics, therefore the sun goes around the moon, ‘cos I think the Bible says so.

Anyway, what should I think of your site? It seems cunningly made, maybe even honest. I wouldn’t mind discussing this.

PS: I hope I get a better answer than “Go look at our site — it contains all the answers you need”.

PPS: I hope you don’t get too much of these. Actually I wish you get a lot and read them all. I don’t want to be a nuisance, I’m just curious.

Thank you for your interesting message. I am glad to know a little of your background and familiarity with our site. I will therefore assume a few things as I talk with you and rely on you to let me know if anything needs clarification. I certainly do believe that the Intelligent Design movement has something to offer science today. I think the contributions of Michael Behe and William Dembski in their books, Darwin’s Black Box and The Design Inference, lay the critical theoretical and evidential groundwork for a scientifically workable theory of design. It is crucial to realize that this does not mean a complete overhaul of science. Design is only meant to allow for design to be a legitimate hypothesis when addressing questions of the origin of complex systems. Some systems will carry the earmarks of design and some will not.

Behe’s concept of “irreducible complexity” claims to identify molecular machines within cells that require a design hypothesis due to the fact that they are composed of multiple parts which rely on each other for any activity. Our own experience tells us that when we see such things, like a mousetrap, an intelligence was necessary to put it together. Even things as ridiculous as a Rube Goldberg machine, inefficient and wasteful as they appear, are still designed. Arguments about the intent and intelligence of the “designer” are theological and superfluous to the scientific merit of the hypothesis.

Dembski’s emphasis on complex specified information being an indicator of design is another crucial piece of the puzzle. The DNA code is both complex and specified. All other codes we know of from experience require an intelligence to bring them about. These codes may operate on their own once in existence, but require intelligence to put them together. Now this does not in itself require an intelligence to bring about the DNA code, but it should at least be a viable option. Science will currently categorically rule out this possibility since it does not propose a naturalistic process for bringing about the DNA code. I believe this is done out of a philosophical prejudice as opposed to a legitimate scientific problem.

The connections between irreducible complexity and intelligence, and complex specified information and intelligence, are the crucial components of a viable theory of Intelligent Design (ID). I think there is plenty of data from molecular biology and astronomy (fine-tuning parameters of the universe) which already make Intelligent Design a worthwhile scientific pursuit.

Even Richard Dawkins admits that biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose. Maybe it isn’t just an appearance. If they have been designed for a purpose, we should be able to tell and it should fall under the umbrella of science since science is primarily a search for truth.

Genetic algorithms are still operating from a computer program utilizing the designed computer itself to arrive at its designs. In other words the potential for design is built into the program and the computer. The genetic algorithm program willl not write itself and the program will not run itself apart from the computer, a designed machine.

This perhaps provides a starting point. There are other places on our site that can give you some more details but this should do for now.

BTW, the micro-macro distinction is one that many evolutionists recognize and use so it is not just some creationist invention. But you are correct that it does have to do with the distinction between the minor changes we see happening all around us and the unobserved changes that must have occurred in the past which there is often no discernible fossil evidence for. There is also an embryological component to the distinction. Currently observed microevolutionary changes are all changes that would occur late in embryological development; the overall body plan is not affected. Body plans are determined very early in embryological development which, if all life is descended from a common ancestor, must have also changed in the past. But nearly all mutations observed that occur early in development result in catastrophic deformities. You can’t just add up microevolutionary, late development changes and eventually get an early developmental, body plan mutation. They are very different things.

Respectfully,

Dr. Ray Bohlin
Probe Ministries




“So What Evidence IS There Against Evolution?”

Dr. Bohlin,

I just read an article by yourself condemning evolution and the teaching of it. You state your opinion that scientists should teach the controversy behind the teaching thereof. Is this the job of scientists? They cannot teach the issues in every discovery ever made and every theory they believe.
They would be teaching a course on the history of science rather than a course on science if they did. Evolution is accepted as proven in the scientific community, so why should scientists justify teaching it? We teach science in science classes and theology in theology classes. And what information is in conflict with it? You made frequent reference to it, but never said exactly what it is.

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

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

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

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

Lack of Evidence for Evolution:

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

Evidence for Design:

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

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

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

Respectfully,

Ray Bohlin, Ph.D.
Probe Ministries




“Your Articles on Intelligent Design Have Given Me Hope!”

Wow! I feel like I have hope! Lately I’ve seriously been having doubt about the Christian faith. A big reason for this is the creation/evolution controversy. I’m a freshman at Baylor University. I’ve been working on my research paper on Christians’ reservations on evolution. It’s a topic I picked. . . I thought it might help me out with my struggle. Thank you so much for the articles that you have posted on the Probe Ministries website. After all the negative things I’ve read about evolution and even Jesus, denying that He was even a historical person, I feel more hopeful now. I feel like there’s something with this intelligent design theory! It’s a much better sounding alternative than some of the other stuff I’ve read.

Thanks again!




“I Have No Problem Deriving Meaning in Life as an Evolved Biological Organism”

Dear Raymond Bohlin,

I am also a graduate of the University of Illinois and found your article on the Probe Ministries website interesting reading. I was surprised at the low-quality answers you had received from evolutionary biologists about morality and meaning. To me it is absolutely wonderful, amazing, and awe-inspiring that you and I, or any human beings can have actual conversations and exchange ideas. It is amazing to me because I believe that we are a result of evolution unguided by any supernatural god. To me there can be deep conviction that we are biological organisms and that there is no god while also maintaining a deep sense of meaning and purpose. It seems to me that if you believe God created everything around us, then He did an embarrassingly poor job. Why have around 50% of our DNA be wasted garbage from a violent evolutionary past? If people are created in God’s image, why give them an appendix? Surely if you were truly an all-powerful being capable of anything, you should have done much better. But, if we are a result of random chance and evolutionary process unguided by a supernatural power, then the world is amazing. It is awe-inspiring to have such amazing diversity of life and to have a species with the power to be aware of itself.That 50% of our DNA actually works becomes amazing and wonderful testimony to the glory of the evolutionary process. If we are merely a creation of an all-powerful god, then we are clearly his rejects, because he should have been able to do much better. But if we are a result of an evolutionary process then we are amazing and valuable.

Similarly, I see the same problem with meaning. You claim that if we are “merely” biological then there is no real meaning. I would argue just the opposite. If we are merely the result of a supernatural god, then the best we can do is discover God’s predetermined meaning. We are unimportant and can never create any meaning in our lives. But if we are biological organisms in the absence of a supernatural god, then we are the creators of meaning. We are the meaning pioneers who must establish meaning, value, and morality as we go. To me, my life seems so much more meaningful if I feel that I can create meaning and values, and be one of the first species to truly experience love, beauty, and understanding. If I am just some all powerful-god’s creation, then my personal life seems meaningless because all meaning has been pre-established by some supernatural force beyond my meager comprehension. To say we are “merely” or “just” biological to me is insulting. Being biological does not prevent me from having as much meaning and purpose as I want in my life. But now, the responsibility lies on me. If I have a meaningless life, then it is my own fault for not creating any meaning. I personally find deep meaning and purpose in the love, compassion, and discovery of ideas that I share with my fellow humans who are also creating meaning and purpose in their own lives.

Whether you consider the answers I received from evolutionary biologists to be disappointing or not, they are the standard answers. Your willingness to reach for something more and create meaning is what I would categorize as the third response, that of an existential leap for hope and meaning.

But first to your criticisms of the Creator’s workmanship. Please be aware that the previous estimates of useless DNA were closer to 90%. I would not be so quick to assume that the remaining 50% unaccounted for will remain so. We have only begun to unravel the mystery of DNA and its organization. My prediction is that there will be little left without some function after the next 100 years. One of the principal geneticists with Celera Genomics, the private company that arrived at its own independent human DNA sequence, was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle saying,

“‘What really astounds me is the architecture of life,’ he said. ‘The system is extremely complex. It’s like it was designed.’. . . There’s a huge intelligence there. I don’t see that as being unscientific. Others may, but not me.” (February 19, SFC, Tom Abate, “Human Genome Map Has Scientists Talking About the Divine”).

So what we already know reveals not some clumsily ordered mess thrown together by natural selection, but a highly ordered and specified arrangement.

Over 100 years ago, there were dozens of reputed vestigial human structures such as the appendix, tonsils, and tailbone, but all of these have since yielded a function. The tonsils and appendix are members of the integrated immune system. Can we live without them? Yes, but we are better off with them. Surgeons rarely take out the appendix anymore as part of routine abdominal surgery unless absolutely necessary. The more we learn about our bodies the more complex and truly amazing they are. The power of adult stem cells is proving to be truly amazing and they have resided inside us all the time. I think it is rather presumptuous of anyone to suggest that they could have done a better job of designing our bodies. Our knowledge of how everything works is still progressing. What may seem sloppy today may soon be revealed as the right combination of characteristics to achieve an amazing design. That at least seems to be the pattern. We used to think cells were simple accumulations of membrane, protoplasm, and protein. The last sixty years have revealed ever increasing levels of complexity and organization never even dreamed of. I just don’t see how you can view our bodies as rejects. What would you change? What could have been done better in your mind?

If we are the product of an evolutionary process than we truly are amazing. I will grant you that. So amazing that I would suggest that we are alone in the universe. The odds are so stacked against any kind of unguided evolution producing sentient beings such as ourselves, that there just isn’t anybody else out there.

I don’t understand your revelry in the ability to create meaning. What are we to create it out of? Nothing? Something doesn’t come from nothing. Meaning grabbed out of thin air is still air no matter what you call it. In an evolutionary world view all that matters is survival and reproduction and as I said in the article, this ultimately fades away at death which is nothing more than extinction. So what good is the meaning you create? It is ultimately an illusion. A survival device and nothing more. How is that exciting? I am sorry if you are insulted by the characterization of being merely biological, but again, in an evolutionary worldview, that is reality. Your brain has evolved only as an aid to survival and reproduction, not as a truth- and meaning-creating machine.

If we share this meaning and purpose creating capacity with our fellow humans, certainly we arrive at different conclusions. If our conclusions are different, how do we judge who is right? Or does it really even matter? I would suggest that it doesn’t matter at all. You are left with the post-modern dictum of “it may be true for you but it’s not true for me.” The statement is self-contradictory because it assumes that at least that statement is universally true, but how can it be?

Theism can provide true meaning and purpose through the One who is self-existent. Why you think God’s assignment of true meaning and purpose somehow cheapens it baffles me. If I were to create a robot, I the creator determine its function and usefulness, not the machine itself. Remember also, that something must be eternal. As I said earlier, something does not come from nothing. So the fact that something is here means something has to have always been here. That something can be either material or immaterial. The material universe, according to current Big Bang cosmology, had a beginning. Therefore it certainly seems reasonable to assume that God is eternal. I don’t suggest that the Big Bang proves God, but it does make the assumption eminently reasonable.

You may choose to create your own meaning if you like, but I cannot see how it can be anything but an illusion in an evolutionary, purely materialistic worldview.

Respectfully,

Ray Bohlin, Ph.D.
Probe Ministries




“The Creation/Evolution Controversy is Keeping Me From Believing”

Dear Ray Bohlin,

I read your article Christian Views of Science and Earth History, and at the end it said about how you have been researching about this for twenty years, but still haven’t come to a conclusion about it. If (macro)evolution isn’t proved true, then why would people involved in science treat it as a fact? Two people who come to my mind are Michael Behe and Phillip Johnson. I guess Behe believes in macroevolution and Johnson doesn’t, but they still both support Intelligent Design theory. Does Johnson just not know enough about science, or is Behe perhaps wrong? Maybe I’ve just become way too skeptical. I don’t like being like this, but it’s hard not to be! How can I not let this controversy about evolution keep me from believing? How do you do it? Maybe you just have more faith than I do. I don’t know.

Basically, my only question is concerning the age of the earth and universe. I do not consider this the critical issue so I am willing to live with a certain amount of tension here. There are many good Christians, both theologians and scientists who disagree on the time frame of Genesis, so you are not alone.

Macroevolution is treated as fact primarily because it is necessary for a naturalistic world view. If there is no God then some form of evolution must be true. This is why so many evolutionists are not troubled by evolution’s problems. They are firmly convinced that some form of evolution has occurred and the problems will be solved some day. Here their faith is in their world view and not necessarily science. Phil Johnson does a good job of talking about this in his first two books, Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance.

Being skeptical is OK. If Christianity is really true, then it can stand up to the scrutiny. I encourage you to continue to ask your questions and seek for answers. I have never been disappointed when I have felt the need to dig a little deper. The Lord won’t disappoint you either.

An excellent book you may want to pick up is by Lee Strobel called The Case for Faith (Harper Collins/Zondervan). It’s a series of interviews with top Christian scholars looking for answers to the toughest challenges to faith. One of the interviews is with Dr. Walter Bradley from Texas A & M about evolution and the origin of life. Because each chapter is a retelling of an interview it’s not overly technical but extremely helpful and honest.

I certainly don’t feel I have all the answers about the evolution question either. I am convinced however, that evolution certainly doesn’t have all the answers and some of the missing answers are to the most crucial questions such as a workable and observable mechanism of change.

In the past when I was feeling threatened as you are I would frequently need to return to the basics which I knew were true. The facts of Jesus historical existence, the reliability of the New Testament, the historical reliability of his resurrection, and God’s clear direction and presence in my life. Then I would combine this with Jesus own confirmation of the historicity of Genesis (see Matt. 19:3-6, Matt. 23: 29-37, and Matt. 24:37-39 and “Why We Believe in Creation”) and Paul’s clear statement of the creation exhibiting his character in Romans 1:18-20 and it was obvious that something was very wrong with evolution and somehow God’s creative fingerprints are evident in the natural world. That would keep me going. Now the more I have studied and probed, the more bankrupt evolution has become and the reasonableness and scientific integrity of design becomes more and more self-evident.

Hope this helps.

Respectfully,

Ray Bohlin

Probe Ministries




“Your Critique of Sociobiology Makes No Sense”

Perhaps I have severely misunderstood your critique on sociobiology, but as I interpreted it, it makes no sense. From the sociobiologist proposition that all human nature and behavior is shaped solely by evolutional necessity (and what promotes reproduction and survival), it does not follow, as you have asserted, that any significant hope and meaning in life is precluded. I don’t know what kind of a faculty member you were talking to, but the question you posed (“What difference does it make if I’ve reproduced once I’m dead?”) is an easy one to answer. The goal of humanity, as believed by sociobiologists, is to pass on its genetic legacy. No single organism is particularly important, but only the collaborative propagation of a species of its genes. Therefore, the difference of whether or not one has reproduced by the time of death is a crucial one. One who dies and leaves no offspring does not pass on any genetic legacy, and is truly, in an evolutionary sense, dead. Those who do leave offspring and die are able to, in an evolutionary sense, live on vicariously through the genes that they pass on to their young, and the genetic legacy continues.

In response to the philospher’s division of life purpose into ‘small letters’ (survival/reproduction) and ‘capital letters’ (ultimate meaning and significance, whatever that means), the sociobiological assertion is that survival and reproduction is the ultimate meaning and significance of life. I think one of your crucial errors is that you assume that knowledge of the cause and origins of human nature actually change the validity of human nature itself, and somehow make our ambitions less “lofty. Well, our nature is what it is and we do what we do. We love our children and spouses with all our hearts, and if we do so only for the sake of evolutionary efficacy, than so be it, but our feelings do not therefore become false and invalid. We at times act selflessly and help others at the expense of ourselves. But if this behavior is ultimately ‘genetically selfish,’ ostensibly helping others while really benefiting ourselves, than so be it, but these feelings are nevertheless meaningful. A principal proposition of sociobiology is that we have motives to act of which we are not always consciously aware. That does not mean they do not exist, and if they do exist, then following them does not make our lives inherently worthless.

Perhaps the sociobiological argument is not particularly aesthetically pleasing (which I think is really your main objection), but this is not by any means grounds for a scientific rebuttal.

Sincerely and respectfully,

______, Ph.D.
I believe you are the first to question my critique along these lines. I will attempt to answer your objections in the body of your initial message.

Perhaps I have severely misunderstood your critique on sociobiology, but as I interpreted it, it makes no sense. From the sociobiologist proposition that all human nature and behavior is shaped solely by evolutional necessity (and what promotes reproduction and survival), it does not follow, as you have asserted, that any significant hope and meaning in life is precluded. I don’t know what kind of a faculty member you were talking to,

He was the head of the department of ecology and evolution.

but the question you posed (“what difference does it make if I’ve reproduced once I’m dead?”) is an easy one to answer.

To be clear, my question was “Once I am dead and in the ground (implying that in a naturalistic worldview since there is no afterlife, my life is absolutely over), what difference does it make to me NOW?”

The goal of humanity, as believed by sociobiologists, is to pass on its genetic legacy. No single organism is particularly important,

Precisely why I made my question very personal.

but only the collaborative propagation of a species of its genes. Therefore, the difference of whether or not one has reproduced by the time of death is a crucial one.

Not to the species but to me, but I no longer exist.

One who dies and leaves no offspring does not pass on any genetic legacy, and is truly, in an evolutionary sense, dead.

So what? My genes are not me, they are just molecules. If, as E. O. Wilson summarized in Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, The organism is just DNA’s way of making more DNA, then I don’t really matter anyway. And once I am dead and no longer exist (organism), nothing makes any difference to me since I do not exist. That is why the professor said that “ultimately” it doesn’t really matter. He got the gist of my question.

Those who do leave offspring and die are able to, in an evolutionary sense, live on vicariously through the genes that they pass on to their young, and the genetic legacy continues.

I don’t live vicariously in my genes. They are now part of a new unique creature that combines my genes with a woman’s genes in a new and totally unique combination. Even a clone would not be exactly “me” since mutations and recombinations would have occurred, erasing my genetic identity.

In response to the philospher’s division of life purpose into ‘small letters’ (survival/reproduction) and ‘capital letters’ (ultimate meaning and significance, whatever that means),

Some meaning for existence beyond the mere physical.

the sociobiological assertion is that survival and reproduction is the ultimate meaning and significance of life.

But as I state in the article, without some meaning for life that arises outside of ourselves, there is no meaning in small letters. If we are just molecules, then that’s it! We are just molecules, nothing more can be said about us. How those molecules get arranged or persist or are annihilated is totally irrelevant to the ongoing history of the universe. Nothing cares and nothing therefore matters.

I think one of your crucial errors is that you assume that knowledge of the cause and origins of human nature actually change the validity of human nature itself, and somehow make our ambitions less “lofty.”

How can this not be so? From Darwin to today, evolution is said to be without direction and without purpose and we are mere accidents of history. This is not a conclusion of evidence, but of philosophy. For many it is a specific attempt to remove any form of God from the equation of who we are and where we came from. Once that is done we are free to make our own rules. When Richard Dawkins writes that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, he means it, at least partially, for the purpose of the freedom from any kind of imposed morality. Dawkin’s watchmaker is not only blind, but totally without sympathy to whatever outcome comes about through natural selection. Specifically as to whether I reproduce or not.

Well, our nature is what it is and we do what we do. We love our children and spouses with all our hearts, and if we do so only for the sake of evolutionary efficacy, than so be it, but our feelings do not therefore become false and invalid.

Certainly it becomes false and invalid, because I am only being manipulated by my genes which have been formed by thousands of generations. I am not really choosing, just reacting according the program established by natural selection.

We at times act selflessly and help others at the expense of ourselves. But if this behavior is ultimately ‘genetically selfish,’ ostensibly helping others while really benefiting ourselves, than so be it, but these feelings are nevertheless meaningful.

How can they be “meaningful” if they are ultimately selfish and not altruistic at all? That’s why Trivers adds the word “reciprocal” in front of the word because simple altruism no longer exists in a sociobiological world.

A principal proposition of sociobiology is that we have motives to act of which we are not always consciously aware. That does not mean they do not exist, and if they do exist, then following them does not make our lives inherently worthless.

Certainly they exist, but their source is crucially important. If I pull the string on a Chatty Cathy doll and she says, “I love you,” does she really love me? Of course not. But we are no different according to sociobiology. We are both complex arrangements of molecules uttering responses based on an internal program conditioned to respond to outside stimuli (pulling a string or gazing at our newborn’s cute and cuddly face).

Perhaps the sociobiological argument is not particularly aesthetically pleasing (which I think is really your main objection), but this is not by any means grounds for a scientific rebuttal.

Indeed, it is not aesthetically pleasing, but sometimes truth is hard to take, agreed. But that is not my problem. There is no purpose beyond survival and reproduction which is merely an illusion perpetrated on us by our brains which has been constructed by natural selection to simply aid survival and reproduction, not to recognize truth. And our entire body doesn’t really matter, just our genes which are simply reproducing themselves because that’s just what DNA does. But DNA is just a mindless molecule with no purpose or goal or direction. How then can we have any?

Respectfully,

Ray Bohlin, Ph.D.
Probe Ministries




The Controversy over Evolution in Biology Textbooks

Texas, Textbooks and Evolution

Public school textbooks are big business in Texas. Texas is the second largest purchaser of textbooks behind California. Texas also employs an extensive review process which involves input from the public. Independent school districts in the state of Texas can purchase whatever textbooks they prefer. But if they want state assistance in the purchase of textbooks, they’d better pick those texts that are recommended by the State Board of Education.

Publishers know that whatever books Texas approves, other states will adopt as well. Therefore the decisions by the Texas State Board of Education regarding textbooks influence what many students across the country will be reading over the next few years. Publishers pay very close attention to what goes on in Texas.

Evolution has been a contentious issue before the State Board for decades. A few years ago, they passed a resolution that said textbooks were to be free from factual errors and that the information in the texts should allow students to “analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including scientific hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.”

This certainly sounds scientific and fair. I mean, who doesn’t want both sides of scientific controversies presented? Any “scientist to be” needs to be able to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations. Scientists rarely want to just take someone’s word for something. Scientists tend to be skeptical in nature. That’s a good thing. Students ought to be encouraged and trained to think this way.

That is, they ought to be trained to think this way about everything in science, except evolution. Evolution has become the unassailable myth of modern science. No dissension allowed. No controversies accepted. No challenges tolerated. Evolution is a fact and anybody who doesn’t think so is ignorant, dishonest, or religiously motivated.

But for some reason, skepticism about evolution and Darwinian evolution in particular just won’t go away. The dissenters are also growing in number and levels of education. So when the Texas State Board of Education announced its two public hearings in the summer of 2003, the battle lines were clearly drawn. Skeptics of Darwinism came loaded with careful examinations of the textbooks up for adoption, pointing out inaccuracies, falsehoods, and skimmed-over controversies. No one came to include creation or intelligent design into the textbooks.

Defenders of evolution came loaded with little else besides crude attempts to discredit their critics and scary words of warning about attempts to get religion into the science textbooks.

What’s Wrong with the Textbooks As They Are?

If you have occasion to pick up a high school biology textbook, you quickly realize that the process of writing it must be a daunting task. The amount of detailed information they contain today over a wide range of biological phenomena is truly staggering.

The reality that they contain errors or out of date material can be easily understood. You would think that authors and publishers would welcome those who spot these problem areas and take the time and effort to point them out. For the most part this is indeed the case. Except when the errors concern the presentation of evolutionary theory. Pointing out factual errors, exaggerated claims or poor logic in the presentation of evolution suddenly becomes suspect. One’s motives should be questioned. Evolution is a fact, after all, and surely no one thinks that evolution as presented in textbooks should be altered in any way.

I’m being facetious, of course. Evolution should be open to scrutiny as much as any other area of biology, but it isn’t. Some mistakes in biology textbooks have persisted for decades, despite efforts to point them out and seek their removal or correction.

A classic example involves the Miller-Urey experiment. In 1953, Harold Urey and Stanley Miller published the results of an experiment that was meant to simulate the production of biochemicals necessary for life from gasses that were thought to be in earth’s early atmosphere. Among a host of meaningless organic compounds, Miller and Urey found a few amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.

The experiment caused quite a sensation and launched the origin of life field with a bang. Over the years, however, numerous problems showed up that invalidated the experiment. Chief among these problems was the determination that the atmosphere they used–ammonia, methane, water vapor, and hydrogen gasses–did not represent the early atmosphere. These hydrogen rich gasses were replaced with carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, and water vapor. When these gasses are used, the experiment is a dismal failure. Trace amounts of the simplest amino acid, glycine, sometimes appears, but not enough to get excited about.

All this has been known since the late 70s. But over thirty years later, textbooks represent the Miller/Urey experiment as if it still represents a realistic simulation. Why? Because it’s the only experiment that works. And there needs to be a naturalistic story of where life could have come from.

Other problems remain in the infamous and fraudulent embryo drawings of Ernst Haeckel, the newly discovered problems with the peppered moth story, the startling evolutionary problem of the Cambrian explosion, and many others. Some of evolutionists’ most cherished examples of evolutionary principles have fallen on hard times.

A Public Hearing in Texas in July 2003

The Texas State Board of Education is a powerful group of people. Every six years they evaluate textbooks for use in the Texas public schools, and many private schools and public schools from other states follow their lead. Part of the reason for this is the extensive review process the board employs.

Not only do the fifteen elected Board members review the texts, but a committee of educators from the Texas Education Agency also reviews them, and the public is invited to state its opinions as well. The Board reviews textbooks every year but they cycle through several categories every six years. The year 2003 was the year for biology textbooks.

I attended the first public hearing on July 9th in Austin, Texas. Citizens of Texas who wish to testify need to sign up about two weeks prior to the hearing. Each testifier is allotted three minutes, which is closely timed, and then a few board members may ask a few questions.

Three minutes isn’t very long. It’s about the length of one of our daily radio programs. So whatever you need to say, you’d better say it concisely and quickly. I briefly presented my scientific credentials and addressed problems with the Miller-Urey experiment, the Cambrian explosion, and the mutation/natural selection mechanism of evolution.

I kept my remarks strictly along factual lines and discussed the evidence, with no mention of a Creator or Intelligent Design. But before the meeting even started I knew I was in for a long afternoon. At noon, one hour before the meeting, a group from The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) gave a press conference warning the media to expect another attempt from pseudo-scientists to try to include creationism into the textbooks.

Actually of the forty or so people signed-up to testify, only three of us were there to criticize evolution and no one was there to argue for creation. In the minutes before the meeting there was suddenly a horde of media looking for me and asking for interviews. Thanks to the NCSE I was provided with opportunities for nearly a dozen interviews, mostly TV. I was able to explain our side of the story and correct the NCSE’s distorted paranoia.

The defenders of evolution came to say that evolution ought to be left alone: don’t cave in to the pressure! But who was exerting the pressure? There were only three of us and over thirty of them. We came with scientific criticisms. They offered little else besides blatant misrepresentations and character assassinations.{1} These testimonies primarily set the stage for the September hearing.

A Second Public Hearing in September 2003

A major player in the entire hearing process was the Discovery Institute (www.discovery.org), a public policy institute out of Seattle, Washington. Discovery sponsors a Center for Science and Culture that provides limited funding for skeptics of Darwinism and proponents of Intelligent Design. I have received two limited fellowships from Discovery to help write a new edition of my book with Lane Lester, The Natural Limits to Biological Change. It was Discovery that contacted me about possibly testifying at the July 9th hearing.

Because of the intense media coverage of that hearing, the folks at Discovery spent a great deal of time addressing the media, correcting their errors and explaining the real story. As the September 10th hearing approached, Discovery sent out press releases and sent a team to Texas to hold press conferences and potentially testify before the State Board of Education.

Because of all the media attention, that ranks of testifiers swelled to unmanageable portions. Over 150 people signed up to testify and they all expected their three minutes. You do the math! This was going to be a long meeting. Most of those associated with the Discovery Institute and a Texas-based organization, Texans for Better Science Education (www.strengthsandweaknesses.org), gained the early testimony slots when the board members were most alert. The meeting dragged on until 1 a.m., a full twelve hours.

Once again, those of us criticizing the textbooks came prepared with specific criticisms of the textbooks and the other side simply wanted to say that we had no place at the table of discussion and should be ignored because we are pseudo-scientists and religious fundamentalists.

Most distressing of all was a pastor from a large Southern Baptist Church in Austin who came to tell the Board that evolution was of science and creation was of Genesis and faith and that the two had nothing to do with each other. He went on to add that he and everyone else knew that the dissenters from evolution were only there to protect their religious beliefs. He received a thunderous round of applause from the theistic evolutionists, agnostics and a theists in the crowd.

How sad that this brother in Christ was so deceived and even pretended to know why I was really there, having never spoken to me, nor had we even ever met. This broke my heart, as did other pastors who came to help but only showed their lack of knowledge about evolution and ended up hurting more than they helped.

While many evolutionists embarrassed themselves by exhibiting a childish paranoia, so did many Christians who just really didn’t understand the issues. I’d love to do a Probe Ministries Mind Games Conference in all these churches–they need it.

Was Anything Accomplished?

There was heavy media interest from July through early November when the Texas State Board of Education made their final decision. Special interests from both evolutionists and those dissenting from evolution were involved.

Those who wanted to strictly follow Texas guidelines to teach evolution, but remove factual errors and include both strengths and weaknesses of evolution hoped to vote on each textbook individually. But the more liberal majority decided to vote on adopting the Texas Education Agency’s recommendation to approve all eleven textbooks. This motion passed by a vote of 11-4. Only two textbooks had made sufficient changes to be judged “conforming.”{2} The other nine would have been judged “non-conforming,” which would have still made them eligible to be purchased with state funds. Only a book judged “rejected” would not be purchased by the state.

This was a small setback. But some significant changes were made. The fraudulent Haeckel drawings of vertebrate embryos, suggesting far more evidence for evolution than actually exists, have been virtually removed entirely. The fraud has been known for over 100 years. Two textbooks (Holt and Glencoe) have now inserted acknowledgments that the Miller-Urey origin of life experiment was based on ideas about the earth’s early atmosphere no longer accepted by scientists. Another textbook has qualified an earlier claim made about evolutionary intermediates. The original textbook claimed that “since Darwin’s time, many of these intermediates have been found.” The revised text now reads: “Since Darwin’s time, some of these intermediates have been found, while others have not.” {3}

The journal Science matter-of-factly reported, “In response, some textbook publishers made minor changes, including replacing embryo drawings with photos and dropping the term ‘gill slits.’ One also eliminated the assertion that Darwin’s theory is the ‘essence of biology.'”{4}

While many of these changes are small, the public perception of the debate seems to be changing as evidenced by this statement from a Dallas Morning News editorial from November 5th:

“This ought to be easy; science is supposed to deal solely in facts. But the teaching of evolution is so entangled with politics that warring factions can’t even agree on the facts. (What did the flawed Miller-Urey “origin of life” experiment prove, if anything, for example?) This is an injustice to the people of the state, who have a right to expect their children’s biology textbooks to be a straightforward presentation of the most up-to-date scientific information, facts not privileged from a religious or anti-religious perspective.”

Other errors and problems still remain.{5} But this has been a good start.

Notes

 

1. Sample testifier statements:

  • Steven Schafersman, President of Texas Citizens for Science: “I am aware that the Discovery Institute, a creationist organization out of Seattle, Washington, has become involved in the Texas education process just as they did recently in Kansas and Ohio. They have prepared written testimony about the books submitted here and apparently deputized a member of a Texas creationist organization, Probe Ministries, to speak on their behalf.” (Hey, that’s me!)
  • Ms. Amanda Walker: “So what we are really doing here is talking about using the political process to override the science process to suit creationists whose theories can’t stand up in the global scientific community”
  • Dr. David Hillis, Professor of Biology, UT Austin: “The objections to evolution in textbooks that you have heard are not about science or facts. They are about pushing a religious and political agenda.”
  • Ms. Kelly Wagner: “If you consider at all adding intelligent design to any of these textbooks, I would like you, again, this is a very, very personal question. I would like you to think, am I furthering medical research? Or am I contributing to Kelly Wagner’s early death?” Ms. Wagner felt that “weakening” evolution in the high school biology textbooks would compromise medical research and therefore that research on her heart condition could be compromised.

2. Most likely these would have been the Holt Biology book and the Glencoe Biology book, both of which made numerous constructive changes.

3. Holt Biology, p. 283

4. Constance Holden, “Texas resolves war over biology texts,” Science Vol. 302(Nov.14, 2003):1130.

5. Use this website from Discovery for full report on the Texas debate. http://www.discovery.org/csc/texas/.

©2003 Probe Ministries