Probe Survey 2020 Report 5: Sexual Attitudes and Religion vs. Science

Couple on terrace

Steve Cable continues his analysis of Probe’s 2020 survey of American religious views moving over to consider their response to sexual mores of today and how they navigate religion and science.

The previous reports on Probe Survey 2020 were primarily focused on religious beliefs and practices. In this report, we will look at how these beliefs impact Americans as they deal with sexual issues and with navigating the relationship between religion and science. In general, the survey results confirm a continuing degradation in Americans’, and particularly Born Agains’, view of sex within a heterosexual marriage. We find that fewer than one in five Born Again Protestants affirm a biblical view in this area. On the other hand, Americans still tend to consider religious views at least as important as scientific positions in establishing their beliefs.

American Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors

We asked four questions regarding sexual attitudes and behaviors in this survey.

1. Sex among unmarried people is always a mistake: from Agree Strongly to Disagree Strongly

2. Viewing explicit sexual material in a movie, on the internet, or some other source is:

a. To be avoided
b. Acceptable if no one is physically or emotionally harmed in them.
c. A matter of personal choice
d. Not a problem if you enjoy it
e. Don’t know

3. Living with someone in a sexual relationship before marriage:

a. Might be helpful but should be entered into with caution.
b. Just makes sense in today’s cultural environment.
c. Will have a negative effect on the relationship.
d. Should be avoided as not our best choice as instructed by God

4. People attracted to same sex relationships are:

a. To be loved and affirmed in their sexual choices.
b. To be avoided as much as possible.
c. To be accepted while hoping they realize there is a better way.
d. To be loved and told God’s truth regarding our sexual practices.

First, let’s see how the different religious affiliations impact the answers to these questions.

Sex Among Unmarried People

First, let us establish the biblical standard for sexual relations outside of marriage. Is there clear teaching on this topic? Consider Jesus’ discussion in the Sermon on the Mount where He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”{1}

In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Paul writes, “For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality.” And then in 1 Peter 2:11, Peter writes, “I urge you to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” It is very clear that the biblical standard calls for all sexual relations to occur within a marriage between one man and one woman.

Results from the first question are plotted in Figure 1. As shown, here and in the next three graphs, we will look at those ages 18 through 29 next to those ages 40 through 55 to see if there are differences based on age. If there is a trend or variation seen in the 30 through 39 age group, then that one is also shown as seen for Born Again Protestants in Figure 1.

The graph shows the older group of Born Again Protestants is much more likely to Strongly Agree that fornication is always a mistake than the youngest group, dropping from almost one half to a little over one quarter, 46% to 29%. Over two thirds of Younger Born Again Protestants have adopted the common view of the culture that sex and marriage are not necessarily related. Note that even among the older group, less than half of them strongly agree that sex outside of marriage is always a mistake.

Looking across other religious affiliations, we see that the vast majority said they Disagreed or Strongly Disagreed with this statement{2}. They generally believe that sex outside of marriage by unmarried people is not an issue. This is particularly true of the Unaffiliated with close to 90% (nine out of ten) disagreeing.

How have these views changed among born again young adult individuals over the last decade? Looking at the GSS survey from 2008, we find that over one in three (37%) Born Again Christians ages 18 through 29 agree with the statement, “If a man and woman have sex relations before marriage, I think it is always wrong.” Now in 2020, we find that over one quarter (27%) of Born Again Christians agree that it is always wrong. Although the questions asked were not identical, they are close enough to indicate that the drop of ten percentage points is a significant decline in young adult, Born Again Christians who take a biblical position on sexual activity outside of marriage.

Pornography.
The second question deals with views on the acceptability of viewing pornographic material. What does the Bible tell us about feeding our minds with sexually immoral material? Jesus tells us in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” We are warned in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee sexual immorality! Every sin a person commits is outside of the body but the immoral person sins against his own body.” And further in Ephesians 5:3, “But among you there must not be either sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed, as these are not fitting for the saints.” Clearly, avoiding sexual immorality in all forms includes avoiding explicit sexual material.

The results are shown in Figure 2. Once again, we see that Born Again Protestants are much more likely to say that we should avoid exposure to such material. Both the younger group and the older have more than 50% who say it is “to be avoided.” However, the data also shows over four out of ten Born Again Protestants believe it is usually okay. Given what we know about the negative effects of pornography on healthy living and relationships, this result is surprising.

All the other religious affiliations have only a small percentage of people who think that explicit sexual material should be avoided. Only about one in five Other Protestants and Catholics affirm that pornography is to be avoided. Once again, the Unaffiliated lag those affiliated with some religion having only about one in twenty (5%) that think pornography should be avoided.

For those who are not Born Again Protestants, around 10% to 20% say that such material is okay if no one is hurt in them. These people fail to realize that the person being hurt by these materials is themselves and their loved ones. More surprisingly, the vast majority of these people selected “a matter of personal choice” or “not a problem if you enjoy it,” implying that if people are shown being harmed in this pornographic material, that is perfectly okay if you enjoy it or want to put up with it.

Living Together Before Marriage

What does the Bible tell us about living in a sexual relationship before marriage? In Colossians 3:5, Paul states, “So put to death whatever in your nature belongs to the earth: sexual immorality, impurity, shameful passion, evil desire, and greed which is idolatry.” The current philosophy of “try before you buy” is popular but totally contrary to biblical instruction for a rich, fulfilling life. This philosophy clearly “belongs to the earth.”

The third question examines views on whether it is a good thing to live together in a sexual relationship before committing to marriage. The results are summarized in Figure 3. This is another question where Born Again Protestants show a significant difference based on age. The older group, 40 through 55, shows almost 60% who say that it should be avoided as instructed by God. The younger group, 18 through 29, shows only 40% with the same viewpoint. Across all age ranges only about one half of Born Again Protestants say that this practice should be avoided. So, even among this group, over half believe that it is okay and might be helpful.

Once again, this question reveals a stark difference between Born Again Protestants and all other religious affiliations. Other Christian groups show much fewer than one in five adherents who believe this practice should be avoided. And we see the Unaffiliated lead the other viewpoint, with about nine out of ten of them saying the practice “might be helpful” or “makes sense in today’s culture.”

Same Sex Relationships.

The fourth question deals with how people react toward those who profess to have a sexual attraction towards those of the same gender. What does the Bible say about same sex relationships? Let’s consider the instruction from 1 Corinthians 6:9b-11, “Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolators, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

The verse above tells us two things. First, that someone who is given over to homosexual activity (like those given over to idolatry, sexual immorality, and greed) are not true followers of Christ. Even in Paul’s era, many were apparently saying they would inherit the kingdom of God and so Paul begins the statement by saying “Do not be deceived.” But it also clearly states that such a one can be washed, sanctified and justified in Jesus Christ. As Christians, we should love them and tell them the truth that God has a better way for their life.

Note that our question does not distinguish between those experiencing same sex attraction and those actively involved in living out their attraction through homosexual activity. Both categories of people need to be loved and told the truth.

The results for this question are summarized in Figure 4. As shown, we see some difference based on age for Born Again Protestants. However, it is not as pronounced as for the question on fornication above. Looked at as a group between age 18 and 55, less than one half of Born Again Protestants selected loving them and telling them what the Bible says about homosexual practices.

Once again, all other groups are much less likely to take a biblical position. However, when we add in the answer about “accepting them while hoping they find a better way’, the other religious groups (excluding the Unaffiliated) show almost four in ten who desire them to find a better way.

Note that Other Protestants are most likely at 20% (about one out of five) to say they would try to avoid people attracted to the same gender.

Combining Questions for Born Again Protestants.

How many Born Again Protestants take a clear biblical view of all four questions concerning sexual attitudes and behaviors? Results are shown in the adjacent chart. The chart begins with results by age for the first question concerning fornication. As you move to the right, additional questions are added to the questions already addressed to the left. Thus, the bars on the right include those who took a biblical position on all four of the questions.

Clearly, ones in the older group are more likely to take a biblical view on sexual behavior. In fact, on the far right, we see that those 40 to 55 are twice as likely as those 18 to 29 to hold to a biblical view. However, more important, is that over 80% of the younger ages and over 75% of the oldest ages do not hold to a biblical view on these combined topics regarding sexual behavior.

To understand how disturbing these results should be, consider Born Again Christians with a biblical view on sexuality as a percentage of the entire United States population. The results are 2% for 18 through 29, 3% for 30 through 39, and a whopping 6% for 40 through 55. In other words, a slim remnant of adults in America hold to a biblical view of sexuality. A secular view promoting no relationship between sexual behavior and marriage and no limits on satisfying one’s lusts currently dominates our national thinking.

Don’t Do What You Say You Will Do.

We will address this topic more fully under Topic 10 but it is relevant to thinking about the Combining Question topic above. We asked this question:

When you are faced with a personal moral choice, which one of the following statements best describes how you will most likely decide what to do?

One of the answer choices is “Do what biblical principles teach.”

Almost half (47%) of Born Again Protestant young adults (18 through 39) selected that answer. They would follow biblical principles in making moral decisions. Yet as just seen, only about 15% of Born Again Protestant young adults selected biblical principles on all four questions regarding sexual behaviors.

Although we can’t be certain, it appears that many Born Again Protestant young adults either don’t know what topics are covered under moral choices OR they don’t know what biblical principles teach OR both. Clearly, almost half of Born Again Protestant young adults think that they are choosing to think biblically about moral choices, but most of them are not living the way they think they are.

Responding to These Results on Sexual Attitudes

All of the results presented above show that a large majority of young adult, Born Again Protestants do not adhere to a biblical position on topics related to sexual morality. The data also shows that when Born Again Protestants enter the world of higher education and secular careers, they are surrounded by an even greater majority of people who believe that pretty much anything is acceptable in the area of sexual relations. Among other conclusions, we can be sure that these two data points tell us that while young adults were involved in church as teenagers, they were not adequately taught the basics of Christian doctrine in the area of sexuality and did not receive a good explanation as to why the Christian attitudes are much, much better than the free license rampant in our society today.

Christian teaching on sexuality must occur more frequently from the pulpit, in bible studies, in small group times. If we think that parents as the only source of information are sufficient to set up young Christians to be an example of godly sexuality, the data says “not so fast.” However, we do not equip parents to discuss these matters with their children. We cannot allow their peers to set the bar on acceptable behavior.

American Attitudes Concerning Science and Religion

We included three questions probing people’s views on the relationship between science and religion. The first question relates to any apparent conflicts between current scientific theories and their beliefs based on their religion. From the answers, one can tell whether the respondent puts more credence in current scientific theories or in their religious beliefs. The question is:

Question #1: When apparent conflicts appear between science and religious teachings, one should:

1. Ignore science, accepting that when science learns more it will agree with your
religion.

2. Examine your religious teachings to determine if the scriptures are in conflict or it
is just someone’s interpretation of the scriptures that conflict.

3. Change your religious views to align with current scientific views.

4. Abandon your religion as being false.

The first two answers are consistent with a Basic/Enhanced Biblical Worldview, reflecting 1) a view that their scripture is informed by a higher source of truth than simple science can draw upon, 2) a recognition that generally accepted scientific viewpoints have often changed over time, and 3) on the type of scientific questions being addressed here, there are in most cases a variety of theories supported by different groups of scientists. The second answer includes the possibility that the person’s holy scriptures do not directly address the topic at hand, but that some religious leaders have inferred a position on the topic from their interpretation of scriptures.

The second two answers, i.e. 3 and 4, reflect a view that scientific teaching communicates truth that religious teachings are unable to counter. The third answer results in a religious viewpoint that will vary over time as scientific ideas gain or fall out of favor in the scientific community.

As shown in the figure, the majority of American young adults do not accept that science is infallible (by supporting answers 3 or 4). Less than 10% of Born Again Protestants selected one of these answers. And even among the Unaffiliated, less than half of them selected an answer where scientific theories trump other sources of beliefs.

At the same time, those who selected a view that ignores science all together (answer 1) were a small minority as well. Less than one in five (20%) of the Born Again Protestants and slightly over one out of ten for the other religious groups.

So well over 50% of all religious groups selected answer number 2, showing a willingness to go against science but also a desire to meld the views of science into their religious views. We did not ask a follow up question as to what they would do if they determined there was an unresolvable conflict with the current position supported by most scientists. There are not many unresolvable conflicts if one is willing to adopt a position supported by a reputable minority of scientists, e.g. intelligent design.

Question #2: My understanding of human origins is the result of:

1. Using the Bible alone with no regard for the findings of science.

2. Using science to better understand what the Bible teaches us about origins.

3. Not sure

4. Accepting a completely naturalistic view, i.e. no intelligence involved in the process.

Note these answers follow a similar pattern to those of the first question, but now they are applied to a specific question where many people assume there is no meeting ground between science and religion.

The answers are shown in the adjacent graph. On this more specific question, the percentage of each religious group that is going to look at the Bible alone for their understanding hovers around 30% for all religious groups but plummets to under 8% for the Unaffiliated.

Conversely, only the Unaffiliated show more than three out of ten who “accept a completely naturalistic view” (choice #4). Born Again Protestants show only about one out of eight who select such a view. This result is amazing given the concerted push by some educators to force our students to accept a completely naturalistic view of creation. However it is consistent with the current state of the research on the origins of man, including new reports from 2021.{3}

The majority for each group of people selected “Not sure” or said they would use science to help them better understand what the Bible teaches.

Question #3: All real scientists believe that science is the only source of real truth.

The potential answers ranged from Strongly agree to Strongly disagree and included Neither agree or disagree.

First note that if we strictly define real scientists as individuals meeting these qualifications—1) a Ph.D. in a scientific field, 2) actively involved in the field, and 3) published in reputable scientific journals—we will find many scientists who agree that there are other sources of truth outside of science. So, we can say with confidence that the statement in question #3 is objectively, verifiably not true. However, there are certainly some believers in scientism [the belief that science is the only way to know ultimate truth] who claim the statement is true. They accomplish this trick by claiming that anyone who does not believe that science is the only source of real truth cannot by definition be a real scientist.{4} In other words, they use circular reasoning.

But there is certainly a movement to instill scientism as the favored viewpoint in society.{5} How successful are these proponents of scientism? Looking at the answer shown in the adjacent chart will throw some light on this question.

We would like to see the answer: Strongly Disagree. This answer aligns with the objective truth discussed above. But what we find is that only one out of five (20%) of Born Again Protestants profess this view. Among Other Protestants and Catholics only about one out of twenty (5%) profess this view. Adding some uncertainty by adding those who say they Disagree, increases those amounts to two out of five (40%) for Born Again Protestants and one out of five (20%) for Other Protestants and Catholics.

Those who agree with the statement range from one out of four (25%) Born Again Protestants up to nearly one half (almost 50%) of Other Protestants and Catholics. Clearly, the proponents of scientism have done a good job of skewing our understanding of who scientists are and what they believe.

Combining the Questions

What do the results look like when we combine these questions? In our opinion, there are a number of different answers that could be consistent with a biblical worldview. Starting with the strictest view of relying on the Bible rather than science and then adding in those who would look at the results from science to obtain a clearer understanding of what the Bible teaches or those areas where the Bible is silent. Then, we add in their view on scientism which as already discussed is demonstrated by a long list of scientists who disagree to be false, thus being a source of strong disagreement.

The results from this comparison are shown in the adjacent figure. The first thing to notice is that the percentage of Born Again Protestants who take a more fundamental position, i.e. science should be ignored as a source of information, is low for one question and goes down to only a few percentage points when all three questions are combined.

The right hand side of the chart considers all combinations of answers that reflect a commitment to biblical truth above current scientific theories combined with a willingness to consider what science has to offer. As shown, the combination of the first two questions has a large percent of Born Again Protestants, ranging from 55% for the youngest age group and growing to over 65% for the older age group. Since only a minority of Born Again Protestants stated Strongly Disagree that all scientists are adherents of scientism, when we add that question to the mix on the far right, we see less than one in five take a Biblical position on all three.

Effect of a Basic Biblical Worldview.

A natural question to ask is, “Does having a Basic Biblical Worldview correlate with having a biblical view on these science issues?” We can look at this question by comparing Born Again Protestants with a Basic Biblical Worldview with Born Again Protestants without a Basic BWV. The results are shown in the adjacent figure.

At a top level, we can see a correlation between a Basic Biblical Worldview and a biblical understanding of the relationship with science. This correlation appears to be strongest with those ages 18 through 29. We see that those with a Basic Biblical Worldview are about twice as likely to have a biblical view on all three of the questions related to science.

Responding to These Results on Science and Religion

As we can see from the first two science questions above, the majority of Americans do not buy into the idea that the only real source of truth is science. They don’t believe that scientific positions automatically take precedence over their religious beliefs. Perhaps one factor supporting this stance is an understanding that scientific hypotheses and positions have changed fairly often over the years, particularly in the areas of the origin of life and the role of evolutionary processes on our current bounty of life forms. Certainly, it is not the public school system which has attempted to promote concepts which current day scientists studying the field do not support.

However, Americans do have a skewed view of scientism, with a vast majority believing that all real scientists support this religious concept. This position is a little surprising given that the view is demonstrably false.

In one area, sexual behavior, even American Christians have thrown out the teaching of the Bible. At the same time, they are resisting the call to make science the ultimate source of truth.

Notes

1. Matthew 5:27-28
2. There is also a small number of those answering Don’t Know included in the number of those who do not state that they Strongly Agree or Agree Somewhat with the statement.
3. In March, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Brian Josephson declared that “intelligent design is valid science.” In April, researchers writing in the journal Current Biology asked whether Darwin’s “tree of life” should “be abandoned.”
4. See for example: Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, 2006.
5. See for example the book by J. P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism, 2018.

© 2021 Probe Ministries


DNA, Information, and the Signature in the Cell

Where did we come from? Heather Zeiger uses Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell to logically show that the best answer is an intelligent cause—God—rather than natural causes.

Where Did We Come From?

Where did we come from? A simple question, but not an easy answer. Darwin addressed this question in his book, On the Origin of Species. Although he never really answered how the universal common ancestor first came to life, he implied that it was from natural causes. In this article, we are going to look at Darwin’s method of deducing occurrences in the past based on observations we see today. This is now referred to as the historical or origins science method. We will find that purely naturalistic causes fall short of explaining what we know about DNA, but intelligent design seems to be a promising alternative. Then we will look at scripture and see how Christians can use these evidences for design to talk about who that designer is. We will be using Stephen Meyer’s new book, Signature in the Cell, to guide us on the science and method of approaching this question.

Charles Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species discusses his theory on how natural selection acts on living things so that the fittest organisms for a particular environment survive, and how this process eventually leads to novel species and body plans. Implied in his work is the notion that all living things came from nature and from natural causes. So his presupposition is that life must have first come from impersonal things like matter and energy. Because of this, origin-of-life scientists have been trying for years to demonstrate how life may have come from non-life.

Let’s try to figure out how a cell could form from purely naturalistic processes. Better yet, since we now know that natural selection acts on random mutations within the genome, let’s focus in on DNA, the instruction booklet for the cell. Without DNA, cells would not function.

DNA is part of a complex information-processing systems{1} DNA is a long, helical structure found inside the nucleus and mitochondria of the cell. It is made of a four-molecule alphabet arranged in a very specific order. This sequence is like an instruction book telling the cell what parts to use to build a protein. But this instruction book needs to be de-coded with other proteins. The difficult thing is that proteins are needed to make more DNA, but DNA is needed to make proteins. And the cell cannot function without proteins. This means that the first DNA molecule must have been made differently than how it is made today.

DNA is a very complex information processing system. In fact, Bill Gates has compared it to a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.{2} DNA is more than just an improbable sequence of bases; it is functional. It tells the cells what to do. So the question we really need to answer is, how can this kind of information arise in the first place?

Origins and Operations Science

We are investigating what science can tell us about the origin of life. Did we just come out of a chemical soup, or was it something else? First, we need to answer this question: How did DNA, the body’s instruction book, first get here? In order to answer the question, we need to decide what method to use to investigate this question. Since we are looking at the science, we should use the scientific method. However, we need to make a distinction between approaching something that is a re-occurring, testable phenomenon, and a singular event in the past.

As a scientist, I usually work in the area of operations science. This is the type of science we learn in school. You start with a hypothesis, then you conduct an experiment to test your hypothesis. Repeat your experiment several times, collect data, and make conclusions about your hypothesis. Operations science deals with regular, repeatable things that can usually be described by mathematical formulas. Oftentimes, operations science is looking at some kind of naturally occurring process.

But there is another type of science that forensics experts and archeologists use. It is called origins science. Origins science determines what caused a singular event in the past. The role of origins science is to first determine if something was caused by chance, natural laws, or intelligence. For example, one could find a rock formation that looks very similar to a human head. Was this formation caused by chance and natural laws, such as wind and rain wearing away the rock? Or was it caused by intelligence? Did someone carve the rock to look this way?

Origins science operates under a different set of rules than operations science because the event in question has already happened, and it is not a reoccurring, observable phenomenon. The best that we can do is look at clues to give us a reasonable guess as to what might have happened. In Signature in the Cell, Meyer uses origins science to determine if DNA is a result of chance, natural laws, or intelligence:

Thaxton and his colleagues argued that inferring an intelligent cause was legitimate in origins science, because such sciences deal with singular events, and the actions of intelligent agents are usually unique occurrences. On the other hand, they argued that it was not legitimate to invoke intelligent causes in operations science, because such sciences only deal with regular and repeating phenomena. Intelligent agents don’t act in rigidly regular or lawlike ways, and therefore, cannot be described mathematically by laws of nature.{3}

DNA replication happens all of the time, but it requires proteins. But proteins are made by instructions from DNA. So the first DNA molecule must have been made in a special, atypical way, meaning it qualifies as origins science. Origins science allows for singular acts of intelligence to explain certain phenomena.

This means we need to investigate, using origins science, how the first DNA molecule with its information-carrying capacity was produced.

What Are the Possibilities?

DNA is the code for life. If we determine where it came from, then we are one step closer to determining the origin of life. Let’s look at the typical origin of life theories posed by scientists as our first step in our origins science method, and see where theories are lacking or where they are helpful. Two things these theories all have in common is that they presume no designer, but only natural causes, and none of them can explain the origin of information.

The first option is that DNA might have arisen by chance. When scientists talk about chance, they are not saying that some entity called Chance did something. They mean random chemical shuffling, and out of that came DNA. But it’s not good enough to explain how random chemicals came together. Think of scrabble pieces. To say that DNA came about by chance would be similar to saying that someone shook a bag of scrabble pieces and threw them on the floor and it spelled out a sentence. And this would not be just any sentence, but step-by-step instructions on how to build a cellular machine. Chance is not a good explanation for the origin of DNA, because the probability of getting something as specified and complex as DNA is well beyond the accepted probability of zero.

The other option is DNA might have come about because of necessity or natural law. Maybe there is some chemical or natural reason that forced the DNA molecules to form. Two examples of this type of origin of life theory are self-organization and biochemical predestination. The idea behind both of these is that the molecular alphabet in DNA arranged itself because of chemical properties or environmental factors. Unfortunately, scientists have found that the molecules in DNA do not chemically interact with each other because they are stuck to a phosphate backbone, not to each other.{4} On top of that, there isn’t even a chemical attraction between these DNA sequences and the protein parts they code for (known as a codon). Since there is not a self-organizing motivation for this, and there is not an environmental factor that would favor certain combinations over others, necessity seems to fall short of explaining the functional information of DNA.

Some scientists propose that it is a combination of chance and necessity. The most popular origin of life models are based on this theory. However, Stephen Meyer shows in his book that the two most popular models, the RNA-first world and the Oparin model, do not explain how functional information first arose. Ultimately these theories boil down to claiming that random chance causes functional information.

So if all of the naturalistic theories of origin of life fall short, then perhaps we should expand our options to theories that allow for intelligent agents.

What if We Allow Intelligence?

It seems that all of the naturalistic explanations for the origin of life fall short of accounting for the information-rich molecule, DNA. As Meyer points out, apart from DNA and the machinery in cells, such specified information is not found anywhere in the natural world.{5} The only time we see these properties is in human language and writing. So if DNA has the properties of something that was designed, then why not entertain the idea that it was designed?

Today design is not permitted as an explanation in science. However, historically, this has not been the case. In fact, it was a belief in an intelligible and coherent world created by God that motivated early scientists such as Newton, Boyle, and Pascal.{6} However, after the Enlightenment (mid-1700s), many scientists started operating under different assumptions. They assumed that only natural causes, such as chance and necessity, are permitted to explain observations.

Flash forward to Charles Darwin’s time (1860s). Darwin looked at presently acting conditions to extrapolate back to the origin of all living things. He saw that environmental factors select for certain traits, such as beaks on finches. And he saw that things like dog breeding will select for certain desired traits. He therefore concluded that maybe the various animals and body plans came from conditions similar to this. He named this selective force, this breeder, natural selection. This was based on what Darwin knew in the 1850s, and some assumptions about intelligent causes influenced by Enlightenment thinking. At that time Darwin knew nothing about DNA. It would not be discovered until the 1950s.

Stephen Meyer discusses how presently there are no known natural causes for the kind of functional information we see in DNA. The only place we see this is in human language and writing. So perhaps we cannot assume natural causes. Maybe DNA arose by intelligent design. Furthermore, experimental efforts to try to produce DNA or RNA in the lab show that a chemist or a computer programmer must be involved in the experiment in order to obtain functional information. Natural selection cannot act as a breeder, because it does not have the end goal in mind.

Intelligent Design is a strong possibility for explaining the origin of DNA. It is something that we see in operation today. And it is experimentally justified.

What Does This Have to Do with Christianity?

We have been looking at the properties of DNA and how it has all of the characteristics of a written code. Using the methods of origins science that Stephen Meyer used in Signature in the Cell, we can conclude that intelligent design is the best explanation for the origin of DNA. Intelligence is causally adequate to produce a code like DNA. It is observable, in the sense that today intelligent agents produce codes. And any experiments that try to reproduce DNA seem to require the input of information by an intelligent agent to make anything meaningful. This is why Meyer calls DNA the signature in the cell. However, the science alone cannot tell us whose signature it is, so we need to look elsewhere for that. That’s where Christianity comes in.

As Christians we believe that God reveals himself through general and special revelation. General revelation is God revealing things about himself in nature. Think of it like God’s fingerprints on creation. Special revelation is what God has specifically revealed in the Bible. If we want to find out whose signature is in the cell, we need special revelation to inform us on that. And the Bible says this much. Right before Paul says that creation reveals the attributes of God in Romans 1:18-20, he says it is the gospel that brings salvation in verses 16 and 17.

From the science it is reasonable to say DNA first arose by intelligent design. DNA is one of many extra-Biblical clues pointing us to a designer. This evidence, taken with many other extra-biblical evidences such as the fine-tuning of the universe for life, the moral law on our hearts, and even the way that we know gravity works the same today as it did yesterday, makes one suspicious that there must be a designer. Now take the evidences for the authority of Scripture from archeology and the Bible’s internal structure and consistency and we have many reasons to believe that this designer is the God of the Bible. As Paul says in Romans 1, “His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (v. 20). So, even though the science will not bring someone to a saving knowledge of Christ, they are without excuse because it does reveal God’s attributes. Maybe when someone sees the Signature in the Cell, they will ask, whose signature is it?

Notes

1. “After the early 1960s advances in the field of molecular biology made clear that the digital information in DNA was only part of a complex information-processing system, an advanced form of nanotechnology that mirrors and exceeds our own in its complexity, storage density, and logic of design.” Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell (HarperOne, 2009), 14.

2. Bill Gates, The Road Ahead (Viking, 1995), 188; quoted in Meyer, Signature, 12.

3. Meyer, Signature, 29.

4. The only time the nucleotides in DNA interact with each other is when they are paired, A-T, C-G, and they do this through hydrogen bonding. However, this pairing is with nucleotides across from each other and serves to protect the DNA molecule. The coding has to do with the sequence of bases next to each other, and there is no chemical reason for one nucleotide to “prefer” being next to another.

5. “Apart from the molecules comprising the gene-expression system and machinery of the cell, sequences of structures exhibiting such specified complexity or specified information are not found anywhere in the natural—that is, the nonhuman—world.” Meyer, Signature, 110.

6. In the radio transcript, I included James Maxwell in this list. While he is among scientists whose belief in God did influence his work, he lived from 1831-1879 which was after the beginning of the Enlightenment. I chose to take his name out here for clarity, although he is a good example of someone who did not hold to the typical presuppositions of the Enlightenment.

© 2010 Probe Ministries


Personhood and Origins

Does One’s View of Origins Really Matter?

In the midst of carpools, meetings, appointments, and everything else that life throws at us, does it really matter whether someone is a Darwinist or a Creationist, or holds some position in between?

Whether we are aware of it or not, we all filter our life experiences through the lens of our worldview. Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth, describes a worldview as the “mental map that tells us how to navigate the world effectively.”{1}

As technology advances, we find ourselves wading through very murky waters that deal with questions of personhood at the edges of life. Questions about embryos and human experimentation and euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are no longer speculative theories for ethicists to ponder in their ivory towers, but something that ordinary people have to deal with either through voting or through very personal decisions. And it can be confusing—which is precisely why we need a map to guide us!

Consider this: The state of Washington recently passed a law approving physician-assisted suicide. Many are lobbying congress to vote on lifting restrictions on funding for embryonic stem cell research. Great Britain is voting on funding for research on human/animal hybrids. And many of us will have to make difficult decisions about a loved one in the hospital. Just last week, a British couple used in vitro fertilization to select from a group of their own embryos one who did not have the genetic markers for breast and cervical cancer which ran in the family, leaving the other embryos to be destroyed. One’s view of origins, and particularly who man is within that view, has a profound impact on how we make decisions regarding such bioethical issues.

Characteristics of the Map

Pearcey says that every worldview, or mental map, has to answer these three questions: 1) How did we get here? 2) What happened to us? and, 3) How do we make things right? Christian theism answers these questions with the biblical record of:

1) Creation,
2) Fall of mankind from favor and fellowship with God,
3) Redemption of fallen mankind through salvation in Jesus Christ.

Naturalism would answer these questions with:

1) Macro-evolution, natural selection randomly acting on chance variations, (no one to answer to)
2) No right or wrong, just “survival of the fittest,” (no inherent law to be held to), and the
3) Evolving and passing on of our DNA (no over arching plan or ultimate meaning to life than to just continue living).

The answers to these questions directly affect our view of personhood. Both secularists and Christians would agree that “a person” is valued as having a right to life and in the United States; we would agree with our founding Fathers that they have certain inalienable rights. But the answer to the question “What is a person and how should they be treated?” is very different under each worldview, and will guide you to very different waters.

The Christian Theism Map

From the Christian view of origins, we find that man is created in the image of God{2} and that he is a special part of creation, above all other creatures.{3} Part of being made in the image of God is that humans are more than the sum of their physical parts. People are made up of both body and mind (or soul), and these physical and spiritual components are integral to a person’s identity.{4} James 2:26 says that the body apart from the spirit is dead. The story of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8:55 makes clear that when her spirit returned to her body, she was once again alive. Also passages about the resurrection, such as 1 Corinthians 15, make a distinction between the spirit and the body.

If people are both spiritual and physical, then their value is not just placed in physical abilities or in their genetics. There is value beyond the body. We would still consider a disabled person, or a person in a coma, or a victim of a horrible accident as a valuable person. Even if their body became functionless or mangled, they would still be valued as a person because their value and identity entails more than the physical self. The body is important and a crucial part of their identity, but it is not the only measure.

The Naturalism Map {5}

From the naturalistic view of origins, popularly embodied in Darwinism, man is part of a long heritage that began with natural selection acting first on chemicals, then cells, then simple animals, and now on the current assortment of animals, including homo sapian. Man is considered another animal, and does not necessarily deserve any more rights or privileges than any other animal. Because the naturalistic worldview denies the supernatural or spiritual, man is seen as merely a physical being. Therefore, his value stems entirely from in his physical capabilities and genetics.

This mental map has led to such murky waters as the eugenics movement, through which scientists engaged in sterilization of prisoners, the intellectually weak and the poor because they wanted to improve the human race and purge “bad genes” from the gene pool. They also considered certain races as more advanced, or more evolved, than other races. The logical end of the eugenics movement was realized in Nazi Germany. Darwinism is not necessarily the cause of eugenics, but eugenics is an unsurprising logical possiblility under that particular worldview.

From the naturalistic view of personhood, one man can value another man based solely on his physical appearance or capabilities. Logically, from the naturalistic worldview, one can justify almost any action because “survival of the fittest” is the reigning ethic.

The eugenics movement is widely considered a black mark on American history, and many would consider it long gone with our lessons learned. However, many bioethicists, doctors and medical health professionals still practice medicine and make decisions based on a worldview and values that were used to justify eugenics. It is common to discuss a person’s “quality of life” and make decisions on how to treat—or even if they should treat a patient—based on this measure. “Quality of life” criteria are often arbitrary measures of a person’s worth based on how well they function physically and mentally compared to what is deemed “normal.” Unfortunately, such subjective “quality of life” ratings and scales likely reflect what the doctors or authors’ personally value more than the dignity or sanctity of the individual they are measuring. Quality of life measurements and our example of the Great Britain couple choosing an embryo based on its genetic markers are examples of people practicing a type of eugenics, whether they wish to call it that or not.

So Origins Does Matter. . .

These are two very different views of man, and lead to widely varying conclusions about personhood or the sanctity of human life.

The Bible may not contain the words “stem cells” or “euthanasia” but it does speak to the value and sanctity of human life. It also addresses how we should value one another and why it is so tempting to judge each other based on our own standards instead of God’s standards. Whether we are talking about the Pharisee who was thankful he was not like the tax collector or the person who decides that embryos and the elderly should not continue living because they’re worth more dead than alive, one person is placing a value on another person based on his own criteria of values as opposed to God’s. In fact, he is putting himself in the place of God.

I am reminded of a passage when God was directing Samuel to anoint a new king. Samuel was judging the sons of Jesse based on physical standards only, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’”{6} Samuel judged Jesse’s sons based on their physical features, but God reminds him that he has standards that are beyond what man can see. The naturalistic worldview of personhood is similar to Samuel’s standards of who would be a fitting king, but the Christian theistic worldview holds that it is God’s standards, not man’s, that dictate how we are to value a person. God values individuals despite their physical features and while we may not see their value right away (David was a young shepherd), God does. Thus, we must trust that what he values is what we should value.

Again, our worldview is like a mental map. Personally, if I had to navigate murky waters, I would rather have a map made by the Creator, himself—a God’s–eye–view of the waters—than the limited perspective of someone standing right there in the middle of it. Whose map are you going to use?

Notes

1. Pearcey, Nancy, Total Truth, Crossway Books, 2005, p. 23. See Probe’s review of Total Truth here: www.probe.org/total-truth.
2. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27 (ESV Bible).
3. “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Genesis 1:26 (ESV); See also Genesis 1:28-30.
4. See Probe’s article on The Spiritual Brain: www.probe.org/the-spiritual-brain.
5. For more information on Darwinism, see Probe’s articles at: www.probe.org/category/faith-and-science/origins/.
6. 1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV Bible).

© 2009 Probe Ministries


Darwinist Arguments Against Intelligent Design Illogical and Misleading

I recently attended a debate on “Intelligent Design (ID) and the Existence of God.” One of the four debaters was Dr. Lawrence Krauss{1} representing an atheistic, anti-ID position. I was looking forward to hearing what Dr. Krauss would say when speaking in the presence of other knowledgeable members of academia. Would he go beyond the tired, illogical talking points passed on without question by the mainstream media? Or would he present some thoughtful arguments against the validity of intelligent design concepts and/or for the current state of Darwinist explanations for life as we know it?

Since I believe there are some thoughtful, interesting arguments that could be raised against intelligent design, I was sorely disappointed to discover that Dr. Krauss did not deviate from the shallow arguments which consistently appear in media coverage of this topic. As one of the other debaters, Dr. David Berlinski {2}, commented after Dr. Krauss’ opening statement, “Everything you have said is either false or trivial.”

However false and trivial they may be, these arguments are blindly accepted as reasonable by many people. As thinking Christians, we have a responsibility to be prepared to tear down these façades raised up against the knowledge of God. One way to do this is to be able to discuss with others the prevailing arguments in ways that reveal their weaknesses and inconsistencies. To help in that process, the remainder of this article will list several of the standard arguments offered up by Dr. Krauss and examine their reasonableness and validity.

Argument: Evolution is a proven fact. Scientific experiments and observation over the last 100 years have conclusively demonstrated that evolution is a fact.

Analysis: Faulty logic resulting in false conclusion. In the context of the debate, “evolution is a proven fact” is implied to mean that random mutation coupled with natural selection is the sole process through which life evolved on this planet. This meaning of evolution is not a proven fact. What has been demonstrated through observation and experimentation is that the frequency of certain characteristics in a species will vary over time through random mutations and natural selection. These results provide some support to the theory that these undirected natural causes could be responsible for the development of life as we know it, but they do not come close to proving it. In logical terms, we would say that what science has demonstrated is necessary for the premise to be true but not sufficient to prove that it is true. That would be like saying, “Since we can demonstrate that wind and water erosion can produce regular geometric patterns, this proves the Statue of Liberty is the result of undirected natural forces.”

Argument: Origins science is the same as observational science. Both the study of origins (or other one-time events) and the study of ongoing natural processes are the same because they both look at data that was observed in the past. Therefore we can apply the same criteria to origins science as to observational science. Since observational science depends on repeatable experiments, we should reject out of hand any hypothesis (e.g. ID) that considers intervention by a designer because we cannot recreate it.

Analysis: False premise resulting in faulty conclusion. The study of origins is more akin to archaeology and forensic science than to observational science. In these fields, scientists look at the evidence left over by past events to help evaluate hypotheses on what caused the event to determine the ones that are most likely. As an example, consider the question, “Why does the earth have a large moon?” Scientists have a number of different theories on when and how our earth acquired a moon, but they would all agree that we can never be certain what actually happened (apart from the development of a time machine which would allow us to go back and observe the event). It is true that in observational science fields, scientists do look at results from experiments done in the past. But, they can choose to repeat those experiments in the future.

Regardless of whether one is considering the role of natural selection or the role of an intelligent designer, when you are developing hypotheses for the origins and development of life on earth the best that can be done is to access which processes had the highest probability of contributing to the end results. If you eliminate all options other than random variations in natural processes, you tie the hands of scientists in considering how the evidence best fits all hypotheses.

Argument: Some things that have the appearance of being designed are not. Therefore, we cannot detect the presence of design.

Analysis: Faulty logic resulting in false conclusion. Yes, there are things found in nature from the geodesic shapes of carbon structures to the results of erosion that mimic shapes designed by man. Yet, most of us seem to have no problem distinguishing between the remains of ancient civilizations and the results of undirected natural processes. If you search enough beaches and tidal pools, you can probably find every letter of the alphabet produced by the interaction of tides and currents. But, if you come across the words “John loves Mary” in the sand, you will be very confident that these were the result of intelligent intervention.

Argument: The theory of evolution is a foundation of modern science.

Analysis: Switching definitions results in false conclusion. Understanding the processes by which bacteria, viruses, species and societies change in response to changes in their environment are important concepts in modern science. However, whether one believes these processes are solely responsible for the origin and development of life on earth or not has little or no impact on one’s ability to make advances in science. To date, I have not been made aware of a single positive advance in modern science or engineering that required the developer to fully believe in Darwin’s view of the origins of the species in order to make that advance. One’s beliefs on origins are foundational to answering the metaphysical questions of life, but don’t preclude someone from making contributions in science. Advances in science have been made by Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, atheists, etc.

Argument: Scientists understand how the bacterial flagellum evolved, disproving the concept of irreducible complexity.

Analysis: False statement coupled with faulty logic. The bacterial flagellum is a complex device used to propel some types of bacteria. It is comprised of over 30 different proteins. Not only do these proteins perform different complementary functions, but they must be assembled in the bacteria in exactly the right sequence by other proteins. Since the flagellum will not function without all of these elements in place (i.e., it meets the definition of irreducible complexity established by Dr. Behe in his book Darwin’s Black Box), the premise is that all of these parts would have to appear simultaneously in order for natural selection to favor carrying forward any of these mutations in the gene pool.

Dr. Krauss stated that scientists have shown that the bacterial flagellum is not irreducibly complex. To the best of my knowledge, this is a gross overstatement. The arguments I have seen presented fall far short of developing a plausible explanation for how the flagellum could have evolved{3}. If a plausible argument coupled with experimental evidence exists, I am very interested in having my understanding updated. However, even if such evidence did exist, it would not demonstrate that the concept of irreducible complexity was false or that this unknown plausible path was the way the flagellum came onto the scene.

Argument: Intelligent Design can never be science because it is not falsifiable. You must have ways to prove a scientific theory is false in order for it to be a valid theory. Any observation that does not agree with the theory can be attributed to supernatural intervention.

Analysis: Arbitrary, inconsistent definition. Academics in the field of philosophy of science do not agree that the ability to falsify establishes a boundary on what is and is not science. Professor of philosophy and atheist Dr. Bradley Monton {4} pointed this out during the debate. He argued that we should not exclude a potentially valid hypothesis simply on the basis of a narrow definition of science. In addition, origins science cannot meet this standard. Proponents of neo-Darwinism have clearly demonstrated over the last few decades that it is not falsifiable either. Whenever the theory disagrees with the evidence, its proponents claim that natural selection found a way around the problem; we just don’t know what it is yet. As Richard Dawkins stated, “Evolution is more clever than we are.”

Hopefully, this summary will help you sort through the smokescreen of “conclusive” arguments offered up by the proponents of naturalistic Darwinism. Perhaps someday they will engage in a genuine discussion where both sides can state: 1) the reasons they believe their theory has merit and, 2) the observations that create problems for their theory. Such a discussion might actually prove helpful to someone trying to sort through the evidence to make an evidence-based faith decision.

Notes

1. Dr. Lawrence Krauss is the Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Physics Department, Co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative, and Inaugural Director of the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University.

2. Dr. David Berlinski is a lecturer, essayist and a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. Dr. Berlinski received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and was a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University.

3. Additional information from the Reference Guide to Redeeming Darwin available at RedeemingDarwin.com.

Example of Darwinist argument: Since design cannot be considered as an explanation, evolutionists maintain that complex structures like flagellum evolved slowly over time from less complex structures performing other functions in the cell. Kenneth Miller states: “At first glance, the existence of the type III secretory system (TTSS), a…device that allows bacteria to inject these toxins through the cell membranes of its unsuspecting hosts, would seem to have little to do with the flagellum. However, molecular studies of proteins in the TTSS have revealed a surprising fact—the proteins of the TTSS are directly homologous to the proteins in the basal portion of the bacterial flagellum…. The existence of the TTSS in a wide variety of bacteria demonstrates that a small portion of the “irreducibly complex” flagellum can indeed carry out an important biological function. Since such a function is clearly favored by natural selection, the contention that the flagellum must be fully assembled before any of its component parts can be useful is obviously incorrect. What this means is that the argument for intelligent design of the flagellum has failed.” Response to Darwinist argument: The flagellum is an excellent example of an irreducibly complex function in one of the simplest life forms. Different proteins and structures work together to create a swimming mechanism. This complex interaction cannot be adequately explained by evolutionary processes. Mutations creating only one piece of the flagellum in a life form without the other pieces would not create any value to be carried on to the subsequent generations. Miller’s statement that “the argument for intelligent design has failed” misses the point of irreducible complexity. The fact that one component of an irreducibly complex system may have another useful function does not remove the barrier that the irreducibly complex system requires the simultaneous appearance of multiple cooperating components to perform a function that has not been performed in that way before. In addition, William Dembski points out another problem with Miller’s argument:

The best current molecular evidence, however, points to the TTSS as evolving from the flagellum and not vice versa…. Miller has nothing more than the TTSS to point to as a possible evolutionary precursor. Behe and the ID community have therefore successfully shown that Darwinists don’t have a clue how the bacterial flagellum might have arisen.

4. Dr. Bradley Monton is a philosophy professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His areas of specialization include the Philosophy of Science (especially Philosophy of Physics), Probabilistic Epistemology, Philosophy of Time and Philosophy of Religion. Previously he was on the faculty of the University of Kentucky, an Assistant Professor at The American University of Beirut and a Teaching Assistant at Princeton University. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Physics and Philosophy at Rice University and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Princeton University.

© 2008 Probe Ministries


“Aren’t We Sidestepping the Question of a Beginning?”

I just read Sue Bohlin’s Answering the Big Questions of Life. I appreciate having this article available, and as an evangelical, I agree wholeheartedly with her perspective. However, there is a concept in the article that needs tightening up. She states pantheism sidesteps the issue of “why is there something rather than nothing” by claiming an impersonal beginning. But couldn’t Christian Theism be accused of the same thing? When asked where God came from we reply that He is the eternally existent one. Why is our answer any less of a sidestep (in their mind) than theirs is to us?

A couple of reasons, none of which I am convinced are enough for those who don’t want to believe them, but that’s the way of faith. <smile>

First, there is a big difference between believing in an impersonal beginning and claiming that a very Personal Being has always existed. The difference between impersonal matter+space+time always “being there” (actually, then, there WAS no actual “beginning” for the pantheist) and an actual “Person with personality” existing before matter, space and time, is a huge one.

Secondly, our belief that God is the eternally existent one answers the problem of “First Cause.” Before anything happened or existed, something else had to be there, causing it to happen or exist. We live in a cause-and-effect universe. Eventually, if you go back far enough, you have to come to what philosophers call the “First Cause,” an “uncaused cause,” who (or that) simply WAS. If there was ever a time when God did not exist, then something or someone would have had to create Him. But that’s not the way it is; God is the “the buck stops here” First Cause where everything starts, except for Himself. It’s logical, but for those who don’t want to accept their accountability to God, they can blow it off. It doesn’t make it any less true, though.

Boy, you make me glad I’m “preaching to the choir!”

I hope this hasn’t clouded the issue further. But thanks so much for writing!!

Sue Bohlin
Probe Ministries