Challenging the New Atheists

The new wave of bitterly anti-God, anti-Christian atheists offer arguments against God. Patrick Zukeran provides several good answers.

The New Atheist Agenda

download-podcastNearly thirty years ago John Lennon sang the song, “Imagine.” The words went like this:

“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
Imagine there’s no heaven. . .
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

In other words, the source of much evil in the world is religion: belief in God, life after death, and a universal moral code. Would the world be a better place if faith in God was eliminated? Many atheists now think so. Richard Dawkins states, “Imagine with John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine, no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as ‘Christ killers’, no Northern Ireland ‘troubles’, no honour killings’, no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money (‘God wants you to give till it hurts’). Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheadings of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing one inch of it.”{1} The goal of the new atheists is to rid the world of belief in God or religion and replace it with reason and science. The new atheists believe that religions that embrace a belief in God, particularly Christianity, are not just irrational but dangerous and therefore must be extinguished.

The new atheists are not presenting new arguments but instead they are promoting their ideas very aggressively with strong, confrontational, and condemning language. They have gained a following amongst the young academic crowd, and they have been quite influential in public education. Some of the notable names who have written popular work include Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Barker, and Christopher Hitchens.

In this work we will cover four popular arguments presented by the new atheists. The first is that belief in God is irrational. The second argument is that Christianity in particular is dangerous. Third, science has clearly proven God does not exist. Fourth, religion is the result of a natural man-made evolutionary process motivated by man’s need for a divine father figure and the need to find meaning in the universe.

In this series, we will examine these arguments and see whether belief in God is irrational or if there are good reasons for belief in a creator.

Belief in God is Irrational

The new atheists allege that faith in God is the result of irrational thinking and that a rational person would not believe in God. Sam Harris writes, “We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common we call them ‘religious’; otherwise they are likely to be called ‘mad,’ psychotic,’ or ‘delusional.’”{2}

Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, says that belief in God is the result of delusional thinking. He asserts that belief in God is a delusion built on empty assertions and not evidence. He states, “Faith is blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence.”{3} His conclusion is that there is no evidence to support the existence of God; in fact, all the evidence goes against God.

The assertion that belief in God is irrational is not a new argument but a very old one. It is true that many who believe in God are not able to present reasons why they believe. However, Christianity is not founded on “blind faith” but faith built upon evidence, and there are good reasons that make belief in God a reasonable conclusion. One significant individual who has come to believe in the existence of God is Antony Flew. Flew was this generation’s greatest atheist philosopher. However, Flew, through philosophical reasoning, came to believe in God.

Flew states that he wrestled with three key, major scientific questions. First, how did the laws of nature come to be? Second, how did life come from non-life? Third, how did the universe come into existence?{4} The naturalists’ answers, which are heavily dependent on Darwin’s theory, were unsatisfactory. Flew discovered that the classical theistic arguments provided the best answers in light of the evidence. The cosmological argument, or argument from first cause, and the teleological argument, or argument from design, provided a much more reasonable answer.{5}

For centuries, Christian apologists have presented these and several other reasoned arguments for the existence of God and many have come to a belief in God as Flew did. Antony Flew’s conversion from atheism to theism deals a devastating blow to the arguments of the new atheists. Not only was he a titan among atheist philosophers, but he is another example that demonstrates belief in God is not irrational. Reasoning individuals who are willing to study the evidence and follow it wherever it leads may find a strong case for a creator.

Is Science at War with God?

The new atheists allege that science and faith are at war. Therefore real scientists must be atheists, for science clearly proves God does not exist.

How do these atheists explain the display of design in the universe? Leading atheist spokesman Richard Dawkins believes Darwin’s theory answers the design argument. However, recent discoveries reveal the shortcomings of Darwin’s theory. Darwin’s theory fails to explain the cause of the universe. It also fails to present evidence that that life came from non-life. There is also the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record, and there is no mechanism for macro-evolutionary change. Mutations and natural selection have failed to conclusively show they can produce macro-evolutionary change. In short, the new atheists have a lot of faith that Darwin’s theory will answer these challenges.

Science and the Christian faith are not enemies. In fact, the more scientists study nature and the universe, they continue to discover complexity and design which make it highly improbable such complex systems could have come about by chance or natural forces. For this reason, the number of scientists who are acknowledging an intelligent creator continues to grow. This is a fact the new atheists neglect to acknowledge.

Francis Collins, the leader of the Human Genome project and author of The Language of God, tells how the order and precision in the DNA code led him from atheism to belief in God. Collins writes, “Many will be puzzled by these sentiments, assuming that a rigorous scientist could not also be a believer in a transcendent God. This book aims at dispelling that notion, by arguing that belief in God can be an entirely rational choice, and that the principles of faith are in fact complimentary with the principles of science.”{6}

Physicist Stephen Hawking states that his study of the universe reveals that “The overwhelming impression is one of order. The more we discover about the universe, the more we find that it is governed by rational laws. . . . You still have to ask the question why does the universe bother to exist? If you like, you can define God to be the answer to the question.”{7}

Francis Collins and Stephen Hawking are just two examples of numerous award-winning scientists who acknowledge the scientific evidence points to a creator. The more we learn in the various fields of science such as biology, microbiology, astronomy, physics, etc., the evidence continues to point to design. The complexity of life and the order displayed in the universe make it more reasonable to conclude a God created it, and the greater leap of faith would be to conclude it all occurred by chance and natural forces.

Belief in God Is Dangerous

The new atheist movement asserts that religion is dangerous, for it is the source of much of the conflict in the world today. Many assert that religions, especially Christianity, teach intolerance and discrimination. To build their case, however, the new atheists unfortunately attack misrepresentations of religions, especially Christianity.

For example, in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins states, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”{8} What Dawkins displays is his superficial understanding of the Bible. Certainly no Christian believes in a God as described by Dawkins.

Another error is the misuse of labels. New atheists apply the term “fundamentalist” to Evangelical Christians as well as fundamentalist Muslims, creating the illusion the two are equivalent in their teachings. When Dawkins points to the example of the Islamic riots against the Danish cartoons, he equates this incident not with Islam but with religion, all religions.{9} However a careful study reveals that there is a huge difference between Jesus’ teachings and Muhammad’s teachings. This huge difference is also revealed in the lives they lived.{10} A careful reading of the New Testament quickly reveals that violence goes against the nature of Christ’s teachings who taught His disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Mt. 5:38-48). Application of the true teachings of Christ would lead to a peaceful society.

New atheists allege that religions promote division by the creation of in-groups and out-groups. Indeed, there are religions that discriminate, including some Christian groups, but in Christianity that is a perversion of the teachings of Christ. Jesus’ sacrifice and gift of salvation is offered to all (Jn. 3:16). Throughout His life Jesus reached out to those despised by the culture, and His disciples die—many in foreign fields—preaching salvation to all. Even in the Old Testament, the mission of Israel was to be a blessing to all the world (Gen. 12). Application of true biblical teachings would lead to non-discrimination.

A significant point that the new atheists do not mention is the destructive consequences of atheist philosophies. Nietzsche predicted that the death of God would lead to a moral relativism which would result in blood in the streets.{11} Communism has lead to the death of millions in the twentieth century. Millions were put to death under the regimes of Marx, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung. Some religions are responsible for conflict, including Christians who have misused biblical teachings. However, atheism has shown to be dangerous as well.

Religion Is the Result of an Evolutionary Process

New atheists assert that religion was created out of a need for a father figure, or for comfort in a cruel world, or out of fear of the unknown. They rely on the work of James Frazer and his book the Golden Bough, written in the nineteenth century. Frazer taught that religion developed through a natural evolutionary process which began first with animism, a belief in spirits in nature. The worship of nature spirits eventually lead to polytheism. Eventually, amongst all the gods, one was viewed as the most dominant. Eventually this dominant god alone was worshipped and monotheism developed. This was known as the evolutionary theory of religion. New atheists believe eventually man’s need for God will end and atheism will be the end of this evolutionary development. Unfortunately, the new atheists once again are not presenting a new theory but reiterating an old theory which has been shown to be flawed.

One of the flaws of this theory is that it was influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution and lacked serious empirical evidence and study.{12} One of the most significant and well-researched works was produced by anthropologist Dr. Wilhelm Schmidt in his four-thousand-page treatise, The Origin and Growth of Religion. His research of hundreds of cultures revealed that monotheism is the oldest of religions. The development of religion was discovered to have gone in the opposite direction of the evolutionary theory. All cultures began with a belief in a heavenly father, and this monotheistic faith eventually degenerates to polytheism and then animism. This theory is called “original monotheism.”{13} The evidence displayed by Schmidt, and later by anthropologist Don Richardson, is consistent with the progression of religion as revealed in Romans 1. Serious research and evidence appears to favor the biblical model.

The new atheists present few new arguments. What are new are not the arguments but the method and strategy of this group. How should we meet the challenge of the new atheists? 1 Peter 3:15 challenges us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” We are called to love those who question or even attack the Christian faith. Christians must answer their challenges with humility and grace. As we present a well-reasoned case and the evidence, the Holy Spirit will use our apologetic defense and our unshaken but loving attitude to speak to their mind and heart.

Psalm 14:21 states, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” Might it be the new atheists who are irrational?

Notes

1. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Mariner Books, 2006), 23-4.

2. Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: Norton, 2004), 72, quoted in Dawkins, The God Delusion, 113.

3. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 2006), 198.

4. Antony Flew, There is a God (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2007), 91.

5. Ibid., 89. For more on this, see Gene Herr, “Case for a Creator,” www.probe.org.

6. Dr. Francis Collins, The Language of God (Free Press, 2006), 3.

7. Gregory Benford, “Leaping the Abyss: Stephen Hawking on Black Holes, Unified Field Theory and Marilyn Monroe,” Reason 4.02 (April 2002): 29 quoted in Flew, There is a God, 97.

8. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 51.

9. Ibid., 46-50.

10.See Patrick Zukeran, “The Lives of Muhammad and Jesus,” at www.probe.org.

11. Amy Orr-Ewing, Is Believing in God Irrational? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 208.

12. Alister McGrath and Joanna McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 60.

13. See Patrick Zukeran, “The Origin of Man’s Religions,” www.probe.org.

© 2010 Probe Ministries


Answering the New Atheists – A Christian Addresses Their Arguments

Kerby Anderson counters the claim by popular new atheists that Christianity (along with other religions) is blind, irrational and without any evidence. Kerby demonstrates that contrary to the atheists’ claims God is not an invention of mankind, that faith is not dangerous, and that science and Christianity support one another. From a Christian point of view, the new atheists are bringing out tired old arguments that don’t stand up to rational scrutiny.

Is Faith Irrational?

Many of the best selling books over the last few years have been written by the New Atheists. I’d like to consider some of the criticisms brought by these individuals and provide brief answers. You may never meet one of these authors, but you are quite likely to encounter these arguments as you talk with people who are skeptical about Christianity.

Download the PodcastFor our discussion, we will be using the general outline of the book Is God Just a Human Invention? written by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow.{1} I would encourage you to read the book for a fuller discussion not only of the topics considered here but of many others as well.

You cannot read a book by the New Atheists without encountering their claim that religion is blind, irrational, and without any evidence. Richard Dawkins makes his feelings known by the title of one of his books: The God Delusion.

Why does he say that? He says religions are not evidentially based: “In all areas except religion, we believe what we believe as a result of evidence.”{2} In other words, religious faith is a blind faith not based upon evidence like other academic disciplines. So he concludes that religion is a “nonsensical enterprise” that “poisons everything.”{3}

Each of the New Atheists makes a similar statement. Dawkins states that faith is a delusion, a “persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence.”{4} Daniel Dennett claims Christians are addicted to blind faith.{5} And Sam Harris argues that “Faith is generally nothing more than the permission religious people give one another to believe things without evidence.”{6}

Is this true? Do religious people have a blind faith? Certainly some religious people exercise blind faith. But is this true of all religions, including Christianity? Of course not. The enormous number of Christian books on topics ranging from apologetics to theology demonstrate that the Christian faith is based upon evidence.

But we might turn the question around on the New Atheists. You say that religious faith is not based upon evidence. What is your evidence for that broad, sweeping statement? Where is the evidence for your belief that faith is blind?

Orthodox Christianity has always emphasized that faith and reason go together. Biblical faith is based upon historical evidence. It is not belief in spite of the evidence, but it is belief because of the evidence.

The Bible, for example, says that Jesus appeared to the disciples and provided “many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of ​​the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

Peter appealed to evidence and to eyewitnesses when he preached about Jesus as “a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22).

The Christian faith is not a blind faith. It is a faith based upon evidence. In fact, some authors contend that it takes more faith to be an atheist than to believe in God.{7}

Is God a Human Invention?

Human beings are religious. We are not only talking about people in the past who believe in God. Billions of people today believe in God. Why? The New Atheists have a few explanations for why people believe in God even though they say God does not exist.

One explanation that goes all the way back to Sigmund Freud is projection. He wrote that religious beliefs are “illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.”{8} In other words, we project the existence of God based on a human need. It is wish fulfillment. We wish there would be a God, so we assume that he exists.

As Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow point out in their book, there are five good reasons to reject this idea. One objection is that Freud’s argument begs the question. In other words, it assumes that there is no God and then merely tries to find an explanation for why someone would believe in God anyway.

The projection theory can also cut both ways. If you argue that humans created God out of a need for security, then you could also just as easily argue that atheists believe there is no God because they want to be free and unencumbered by a Creator who might make moral demands on them.

Perhaps the reasons humans have a desire for the divine is because that is the only thing that will satisfy their spiritual hunger. C.S. Lewis argued that “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desires: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire, which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. Probably earthly pleasures were never made to satisfy it, but only arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”{9}

Some atheists suggest that perhaps we are genetically wired to believe in God. One example would be the book by Dean Hamer entitled The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into Our Genes. It is worth noting that even the author thought the title was overstated and at least admitted that there “probably is no single gene.”{10} Since the publication of the book, its conclusions have been shown to be exaggerated. Francis Collins served as the director of the Human Genome Project and has plainly stated that there is no gene for spirituality.

Richard Dawkins believes that religious ideas might have survived natural selection as “units of cultural inheritance.”{11} He calls these genetic replicators memes. Although he has coined the term, he is also quick to acknowledge that we don’t know what memes are or where they might reside.

One critic said that “Memetics is no more than a cumbersome terminology for saying what everybody knows and that can be more usefully said in the dull terminology of information transfer.”{12} Alister McGrath perceives a flaw: “Since the meme is not warranted scientifically, we are to conclude that there is a meme for belief in memes? The meme concept then dies the slow death of self-referentiality, in that, if taken seriously, the idea explains itself as much as anything else.”{13}

There is another explanation that we can find in the Bible. Why do most people believe in a God? The writer of Ecclesiastes (3:11) observes that it is God who has “set eternity in the hearts of men.”

Is Religion Dangerous?

The New Atheists contend that religion is not just false; it’s also dangerous. Sam Harris believes it should be treated like slavery and eradicated.{14} Christopher Hitchens wants to rally his fellow atheists against religion: “It has become necessary to know the enemy, and to prepare to fight it.”{15} Richard Dawkins is even more specific: “I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been invented.”{16}

Much of the criticism against religion revolves around violence. We do live in a violent world, and religion has often been the reason (or at least the justification) for violent acts. But the New Atheists are kidding themselves if they think that a world without religion would usher in a utopia where there is no longer violence, oppression, or injustice.

Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow point out in their book on the New Atheists that details matter when you are examining religion. Injustices by the Taliban in Afghanistan ought not to be used as part of the cumulative cases against religion in general or Christianity in particular. The fact that there are Muslim terrorists in the world today does not mean that all Muslims are dangerous. And it certainly doesn’t mean that Christianity is dangerous.

Alister McGrath reminds us that “all ideals—divine, transcendent, human or invented—are capable of being abused. That’s just the way human nature is. And that happens to religion as well. Belief in God can be abused, and we need to be very clear, in the first place, that abuse happens, and in the second, that we need to confront and oppose this. But abuse of an ideal does not negate its validity.”{17}

Religion is not the problem. People are the problem because they are sinful and live in a fallen world. Keith Ward puts this in perspective:

No one would deny that there have been religious wars in human history. Catholics have fought Protestants, Sunni Muslims have fought Shi’a Muslims, and Hindus have fought Muslims. However, no one who has studied history could deny that most wars in human history have not been religious. And in the case of those that have been religious, the religious component has usually been associated with some non-religious, social, ethnic, or political component that has exerted a powerful influence on the conflicts.{18}

The New Atheists, however, still want to contend that religion is dangerous while refusing to accept that atheism has been a major reason for death and destruction. If you were to merely look at body count, the three atheistic regimes of the twentieth century (Hitler in Nazi Germany, Stalin in Russia, and Mao in China) are responsible for more than 100 million deaths.

Dinesh D’Souza explains that “Religion-inspired killing simply cannot compete with the murders perpetrated by atheist regimes.” Even when you take into account the differences in the world’s population, he concludes that “death caused by Christian rulers over a five-hundred-year period amounts to only 1 percent of the deaths caused by Stalin, Hitler, and Mao in the space of a few decades.”{19}

Religion is not the problem; people are the problem. And removing religion and God from a society doesn’t make it less dangerous. The greatest death toll in history took place in the last century in atheistic societies.

Is the Universe Just Right for Life?

The New Atheists argue that even though the universe looks like it was designed, the laws of science can explain everything in the universe without God. Richard Dawkins, for example, says that “A universe with a creative superintendent would be a very different kind of universe from one without.”{20}

Scientists have been struck by how the laws that govern the universe are delicately balanced. One scientist used the analogy of a room full of dials (each representing a different physical constant). All of the dials are set perfectly. Move any dial to the left or to the right and you no longer have the universe. Some scientists have even called the universe a “Goldilocks universe” because all of the physical constants are “just right.”

British astronomer Fred Hoyle remarked, “A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”{21}

McDowell and Morrow provide a number of examples of the fine tuning of the universe. First is the expansion rate of the universe. “If the balance between gravity and the expansion rate were altered by one part in one million, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, there would be no galaxies, stars, planets, or life.”{22} Second is the fine tuning of ratio of the electromagnetic force to the gravitational force. That must be balanced to one part in 10 to the 40th power. That is 1 with 40 zeroes following it.

Scientists also realize that planet Earth has extremely rare conditions that allow it to support life at a time when most of the universe is uninhabitable. Consider just these six conditions: (1) Life must be in the right type of galaxy, (2) life must be in the right location in the galaxy, (3) life must have the right type of star, (4) life must have the right relationship to the host star, (5) life needs surrounding planets for protection, and (6) life requires the right type of moon.{23}

Scientists (including the New Atheists) are aware of the many fine tuned aspects of the universe. They respond by pointing out that since we could only exist in a fine-tuned universe, we shouldn’t be surprised that it is fine tuned. But merely claiming that we could not observe ourselves except in such a universe doesn’t really answer the question why we are in one in the first place.

Richard Dawkins admits that there is presently no naturalistic explanation for the find-tuning of the universe.<a href=”#text24>{24} But he is quick to add that doesn’t argue for the existence of God. And that is certainly true. We know about God and His character from revelation, not from scientific observation and experimentation. But we do see the evidence that the design of the universe implies a Designer.

Are Science and Christianity in Conflict?

The New Atheists believe that science and Christianity are in conflict with one another. They trust science and the scientific method, and therefore reject religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Sam Harris says, “The conflict between religion and science is unavoidable. The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science.”{25}

Richard Dawkins believes religion is anti-intellectual. He says: “I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise . . . . It subverts science and saps the intellect.”{26}

Are science and Christianity at odds with one another? Certainly there have been times in the past when that has been the case. But to only focus on those conflicts is to miss the larger point that modern science grew out of a Christian world view. In a previous radio program based upon the book Origin Science by Dr. Norman Geisler and me, I explain Christianity’s contribution to the rise of modern science.{27}

Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow also point out in their book that most scientific pioneers were theists. This includes such notable as Nicolas Copernicus, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Johannes Kepler, Louis Pasteur, Francis Bacon, and Max Planck. Many of these men actually pursued science because of their belief in the Christian God.

Alister McGrath challenges this idea that science and religion are in conflict with one another. He says, “Once upon a time, back in the second half of the nineteenth century, it was certainly possible to believe that science and religion were permanently at war. . . . This is now seen as a hopelessly outmoded historical stereotype that scholarship has totally discredited.”{28}

The New Atheists believe they have an answer to this argument. Christopher Hitchens discounts the religious convictions of their scientific pioneers. He argues that belief in God was the only option for a scientist at the time.{29} But if religious believers get no credit for the positive contributions to science (e.g., developing modern science) because “everyone was religious,” then why should their negative actions (e.g., atrocities done in the name of religion) discredit them? It is a double standard. The argument actually ignores how a biblical worldview shaped the scientific enterprise.{30}

The arguments of the New Atheists may sound convincing, but once you strip away the hyperbole and false charges, there isn’t much left.

If you would like to know how to answer the arguments of the New Atheists, I suggest you visit the Probe Web page at www.probe.org and also consider getting a copy of the book by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow. You will be able to answer the objections of atheists and be better equipped to defend your faith.

Notes

Is God Just a Human Invention? (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2010).
2. Richard Dawkins, “The Faith Trap,” 20 March 2010, bit.ly/fFvLlJ.
3. Ibid.
4. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 28.
5. Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Penquin, 2006), 230-231.
6. Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Vintage Books, 2008), 110.
7. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004).
8. Sigmund Freud, The Future of Illusion (New York: Norton, 1989), 38.
9. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 119-122).
10. Quote of Dean Hamer in Barbara Bradley Hagerty, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006), 263.
11. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 316.
12. Victor Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2007), 257.
13. David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretension (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 26-27.
14. Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, 87.
15. Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve, 2007), 283.
16. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 36.
17. Alister McGrath, “Challenges from Atheism,” in Beyond Opinion, ed. Ravi Zacharias (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 31.
18. Keith Ward, Is Religion Dangerous? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 73.
19. Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2007), 215.
20. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 78.
21. Quoted in Paul Davies, The Accidental Universe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 118.
22. Mark Whorton and Hill Roberts, Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Creation ((Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2008), 308.
23. Sean McDowell, “Is There Any Evidence for God? Physics and Astronomy,” The Apologetics Study Bible for Students, gen. ed. Sean McDowell (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010).
24. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 188.
25. Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, 63.
26. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 321.
27. “Origin Science,” www.probe.org/origin-science/.
28. Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007), 46.
29. “The Jewish God, the Christian God, or No God?” Debate between Christopher Hitchens, Dennis Prager, and Dinesh D’Souza, 1 May 2008.
30. Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton, The Soul of Science (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994).

© 2011 Probe Ministries


Are You a Marcion (Martian) Christian?

James Detrich explores the wrong thinking many Christians hold concerning an incorrect split between the Old and New Testaments, as if there were different deities for each.

Marcion or Martian?

Are you a Marcion Christian? No, I don’t mean Martian as in the space aliens. No, no, this will not be an article about whether there are alien life forms on other planets. We cover that question on the Probe website. This is, instead, about Marcion, an early churchman who lived in the second century.

Download the PodcastAs the early church was trying to understand how the Old Testament and New Testament worked together, Marcion said that they are incompatible. He rejected the Old Testament as being too Jewish, too concerned with things like the Law, and sacrifices, and old timey prophets. He claimed the Christian church should have nothing to do with the Old Testament, that we are merely New Testament believers. Actually, now that I think about it, it is pretty neat that his name, Marcion, sounds like Martian as in the aliens. Because that is exactly what the early church thought of Marcion’s ideas; they thought they were alien to the faith that had been passed down from Jesus and his apostles. Because the ideas were alien—or might we say, heretical—the earliest Christians rejected them and kicked Marcion and his followers out of the church.

The earliest Christians set up boundaries for right thinking, for right praise, what we call “orthodoxy” today.{1} They declared that it was wrong to believe that the Old Testament was outdated and not essential to the faith, because they understood something very important: how one views Scripture very much depends upon how one views God. The two go hand-in-hand. If you reject Scripture, whether it is the Old or New Testament, then you will reject the God behind the book. Why? Because the Bible reveals God; it is the complete revelation of who He is and what He values.

The reason Marcion wanted to do away with the Old Testament was his wrong belief that the God of the Old Testament was an inferior god, who was full of wrath and justice. He was that nasty god who told the Israelites to execute anyone who worshipped another god. He was insecure, jealous, always wanting love and affection. But the God of the New Testament, taught Marcion, was completely the opposite: He, unlike that malicious Old Testament god, was loving, gracious, peaceful, and infinitely good. This was the true God revealed through Jesus Christ when he came to earth with the good news.{2}

So, Marcion didn’t just have two Bibles, he also had two gods. On the bad side were the Old Testament and the god the older book revealed; on the good side were the New Testament and the true God the new book revealed. Was Marcion right? Should we as Christians throw out the Old Testament? Is the Old Testament God worthy of our worship? Or is Marcion’s view as alien as a Martian living on planet Earth?

The Two-God Dualism

I settled in my overstuffed chair waiting for the contentious TV interview. The atheist Richard Dawkins was going to be on one of the conservative news shows. I thought to myself, this should be good. Dawkins, of course, is not your usual atheist. His rhetoric is a bit terse and brusque. He was the one who called God a “vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser . . . capriciously malevolent bully,” among other things.{3} Safe to say, he is not too thrilled with God. But he was going to be interviewed by a fairly conservative, Catholic talk-show host, and so I figured it should be a good debate on religion. But it wasn’t. It was—how to say this nicely—completely and utterly awful. When confronted by Dawkins’ usual claims that the Old Testament God is a bully because he ordered the stoning of anyone who did not worship him, the bombastic interviewer basically said that the Old Testament was a bunch of myths that no one really took seriously. He soothed Dawkins’ objections with the explanation that the stories in the Old Testament were allegories—they were not historically true. He went on to affirm that if Dawkins had a problem with God, he needed to read the New Testament. It is there where Jesus preaches the good news of faith, hope, and love. These are virtues that are good for society. I’m sure he thought, Dawkins can’t possibly argue against this. Every time Dawkins attempted to move the conversation back to the Old Testament, where he thought his argument was the strongest, the interviewer kept the discussion on the New Testament. “How can you have a problem with a God who teaches love?” the host would ask.{4}

But it was dualism all over again; the interviewer was claiming that the Old Testament God was bad and the stories were myths, and the New Testament God is the good, Christian God. Basically, the interviewer affirmed the same things that Marcion affirmed in the second century. It was the old Marcion line that said, “If you want to know what Christianity is all about, read the New Testament; don’t read the Old Testament.”

Well, it worked. The talk-show host got through the interview unscathed. But at what price? I submit that the price is losing Christianity itself. Because Christianity is not based upon merely the New Testament. We don’t have two gods; we have one God. We have one God that is revealed in both the Old and New Testament. It is one book about one God.

But if this is true, then what does the Old Testament contribute to our understanding of God? How do the Old Testament and the New work together? These are some of the questions that we as the body of Christ need to prayerfully think over, and in the next sections I will attempt to provide some answers.

One Book, One Story

We have been discussing the unfortunate practice of separating the Old Testament from the New. This was first done in the second century by Marcion who not only viewed the Old Testament as inferior to the New, but taught that the god of the Old Testament was inferior to the true God of the New Testament. But we need to understand that this was not only a problem in the second century, it is also a tendency in the church today. It is a rare church that preaches the Old Testament as often as the New. Bible studies are typically journeys through New Testament books. When discussing God with our friends, especially our lost friends, we often emphasize what the New Testament says about Jesus and, at times, can feel embarrassed about the demands in the Old Testament. We love to exclaim the grace of God; we don’t equally love the judgment, jealousy, and wrathfulness of God that the Old Testament also presents.

Please, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should not preach a grace-filled God. I attend a seminary that has a strong tradition of preaching unapologetically the grace of God. But what I am saying is that our view of God must be imbibed from the totality of Scripture, including the Old Testament. This is the great benefit of preaching, teaching, and meditating upon the older book; it provides us with a more complete revelation of God. These two testaments are not contrary to one another; they do not set up two different gods or two different or competing views of God. They are, rather, complementary. They disclose one God who is eternal, infinitely good, and infinitely jealous of his creatures’ worship with a holy jealousy borne out of love, because He made us for Himself.

Not only do they reveal one God, but they are also one book, one story. Think for a moment about the nature of story. For a story to work, there must be a conflict. At times, there will be numerous sub-conflicts, but there is always at least one big, overriding conflict that gives the narrative meaning and purpose. The other thing about storytelling is that you are either building toward the resolution of the conflict or you are falling in action because the conflict has already been resolved. Therefore, stories are not straight lines of action; they follow a building | climax | falling structure. The Bible is no different. As a story itself it follows the same structure. From Genesis to Revelation, Holy Scripture tells one story about a conflict that has to be resolved. The action rises as the conflict increases, and after the conflict is resolved, the action then falls. This makes the Old Testament just as important as the New; they may be two testaments, but they are one unified story.

The Big Story of the Bible

Having completely rejected Marcion’s view of the Old Testament and seeing it as valuable to be read and taught, we moved forward to examine how the Old Testament and the New work together. We affirmed that both testaments tell one unified story. So, how is this done? At the center of the biblical story is conflict—the clash between God and sin. The question throughout the entire story is, How can a holy, righteous God still have fellowship and communion with His creation given the fact that sin has now been introduced into the creative order? Genesis 1-11 provides the background to the story. Those chapters are like the black screen that comes up at the beginning of a movie like Star Wars, providing the backstory so the audience can understand the setting and characters, and where the story is going. Those background chapters in Genesis tell us about God’s creation and the fall of that creation, and then provide details of the extent of the fall demonstrating through the stories of Noah and Babel that man really is sinful and we need redemption.

But the biblical story really gets going in Genesis chapter 12. It is there that God establishes a covenant with Abraham to provide redemption for humanity. This is not to say that God was not at work before Abraham. He was. But not in a programmatic, systematic manner. Now God comes to mankind; He comes to Abraham to begin a new people to establish His reputation in order to bring all humanity to redemption. He works with Abraham, and then Isaac, and then Jacob, and then all of Jacob’s sons. Carefully, God works His divine plan in spite of the willful disobedience and, at times, just sheer stupidity of these men and their respective families.

As Exodus opens, this new nation is enslaved and the plan of God appears to be in jeopardy. But through the miracles of the plagues, God brings His people out of slavery. He brings them to Mount Sinai and gives them the Law which is a revelation of who He is and what He expects. If this new nation is to establish the reputation of the one true God, then they must be holy and pure. That is the reason why the Old Testament demands and commands, even with the consequence of death, that the people only worship God and Him alone. He is jealous, like a husband who demands his wife only have one lover—himself. Since God is the only source of life and goodness, He knows that loving and worshiping any false gods leads to disaster and death. All of this, though, is the building of the plot—the increase of the conflict—because God’s workings with Israel never provided a full and complete answer to sin. That full and complete answer was yet to come.

The Point of It All: Jesus

In this article we have been discussing the value of the Old Testament. We have rejected Marcion’s view that the Old Testament god is different from and inferior to the New Testament God. And we have explored how the Old and New Testaments work together to tell one unified story. In providing the details of how God worked with the children of Israel, all the way from Genesis to the prophets, the Old Testament builds the action and the conflict that reaches a climax and a resolution in the Gospels. For centuries, the people of Israel cried out for a final and complete answer to sin; they desired a Messiah. Just like a movie that builds conflict scene after scene and then finally resolves the conflict, the biblical story spends multiple books and numerous chapters building conflict. And then Jesus appears. The Gospels tell the dramatic story of John the Baptizer, the last of the Old Testament prophets, stepping forth to proclaim, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” And it is through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension that resolution is finally brought to the story.

Then, the rest of the story is the creation of this new organism called the church that preaches and teaches Jesus to the entire known world. This part of the story is the falling action; now that the conflict has been resolved, these are the outworkings of the story.

Looking at the Bible this way allows for several things. First, it keeps the story unified with Jesus at the very center and the point of the story. The Old Testament anticipates this Messiah, and the New Testament reflects upon Him by preaching Him to the world. Second, it shows us why the Old Testament is valuable and essential to the Christian faith. It is not a byproduct, not something that can just be discarded or ignored. No, it is indeed essential! It reveals God’s character, and it is the “gateway” for the coming of Jesus, the Christ. Third, it unabashedly demonstrates that the entire biblical story discloses one God, not two gods as Marcion believed. This God is the one true God whose sovereign control of history is beautifully displayed in the pages of Scripture as He redeems humanity from sin and provides the way for Himself and us to be reconciled to relationship. It is one story—a story of love. We hope you will embrace this view of the Bible and not be a “Martian/Marcion” Christian!

Notes

1. Gerald L. Bray, “Authority in the Early Church,” Churchman 95 (1981).

2. For more on Marcion and the conflict in the early church, see Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. 1. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951).

3. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam, 2006; reprint, 2008), 51.

4. This was a conversation between Richard Dawkins and Bill O’Reilly on the “O’Reilly Factor.” See www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FARDDcdFaQ for more.

© 2013 Probe Ministries


God and CSI, Take 2

At our house, conversations about ID usually aren’t about “identification.” It means “Intelligent Design.”

My husband Ray’s entire education is in science, including a Ph.D. in molecular biology. Early in his Christian walk, learning there was evidence against evolution lit a fire under him that has only grown in the 35 years since. Today, he is thrilled by advances in science that on an almost-monthly basis reveal more and more evidence that an intelligence is the only reasonable explanation for many aspects of the natural world.

But that doesn’t sit well with people who don’t want to be accountable to the God they know perfectly well is there, but spend endless hours and countless books (and YouTube videos) denying it.

The anti-God attitude was well known to the apostle Paul, who said in Romans 1:19-20, “. . .that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Eventually, it poisoned the very core of most science today. The early scientists like Galileo and Newton made important discoveries about the Creation because their starting point was a belief in an intelligent, orderly Creator who wove orderliness into His creation. They believed that the orderliness and principles of the natural world were knowable because our God is knowable. But then, Darwin’s theory of evolution allowed people to embrace science without buying into the “God part” of it. Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) said that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” And today, it is now assumed that the very nature of science excludes anything supernatural. This has nothing to do with the evidence and everything to do with people’s hearts.

When we “X” God out of our thinking, we feel free to redefine things any way we want, since we no longer feel beholden to His view of reality. I was thinking the other day that if Las Vegas decided it didn’t like its crime statistics, all it needs to do is define crime away. Can you imagine if the city went to the CSI investigators and said, “You know all those dead bodies you deal with? From now on, you need to find a natural explanation for those deaths.”

And the CSI people would say, “But most of the deaths we investigate aren’t naturally caused. They are caused by human beings.”

LV: Not any more. If all people die from natural causes, then we’ve done away with crime. And we are totally committed to doing away with crime in Las Vegas.

CSI: But we’re committed to following the evidence no matter where it leads. If the evidence implies a killer, we can’t say it’s a natural death.

LV: Our commitment is eliminating crime. If you can’t come up with natural causes for these deaths, we’ll bring in CSIs who can.

CSI: So when we find someone face down on a desk, with a wound indicating something long and sharp was stabbed from the back of the neck into the victim’s mouth. . .?

LV: Keep researching until you find a completely natural explanation. And stop using needlessly prejudicial words like “victim.” There is no more crime in this city because we have declared it so. Your findings have to be consistent with the new city policy.

And that’s what it’s like to be a scientist these days. Don’t believe me? Watch Ben Stein’s movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed .

And go “Arrrrgggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!”

 

This is a revised version of the blog post originally published on October 7, 2008


Science or Religion?

October 3, 2013

The latest debate about science textbooks has surfaced a typical complaint about the scientific basis of intelligent design. Critics of intelligent design say that it is not science because it cannot be falsified. But nearly every critic then goes on to argue that intelligent design has been falsified. Obviously it can’t be both falsifiable and non-falsifiable at the same time. Such is the level of argumentation against intelligent design.

book coverBut there is another argument I find even more fascinating. It is that intelligent design cannot be considered science because it has religious implications. As I point out in my book, A Biblical Point of View on Intelligent Design, just because an idea has religious (or philosophical implications) shouldn’t necessarily disqualify it from scientific consideration. There are significant religious and philosophical implications for Darwinian evolution. Consider just a few of these.

Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins believes that Darwinian evolution provides the foundation for his atheism and claims that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

Daniel Dennett says: “In the beginning, there were no reasons; there were only causes. Nothing had a purpose, nothing has so much as a function; there was no teleology in the world at all.”

Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer argues that we must “face the fact that we are evolved animals and that we bear the evidence of our inheritance, not only in our anatomy and our DNA, but in our behavior too.”

Each of these men draws religious or philosophical inferences from the theory of evolution. Does that disqualify evolutionary theory? Is evolution unscientific because there are religious and philosophical implications? No. Likewise, intelligent design’s possible implications should not render it unscientific.


“I Need a Response to ‘The God Delusion’”

My atheist friend is a tough atheist to talk to, because he’s read so much philosophy and anti-God literature. He’s really into The God Delusion. I wondered if you are familiar with it, and if you know a good response to its assertions.

We don’t have an article on our website, but I can recommend several online responses to Richard Dawkins’ book:

Is God a Delusion?
www.gotquestions.org/God-delusion.html

William Lane Craig’s Q&A: “What do you think of Richard Dawkins’ argument for atheism in The God Delusion?”
www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5493

Flew Speaks Out: Professor Antony Flew reviews The God Delusion
www.bethinking.org/science-christianity/flew-speaks-out-professor-antony-flew-reviews-the-god-delusion.htm

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Richard Dawkins’ Failed Rebuttal of Natural Theology
www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_goddelusionreview2.htm
(this one is long but thorough for a web-length article)

To treat someone like your friend with respect, this means familiarizing yourself with the responses to Dawkins’ arguments so you can speak to him personally about specific issues in the book rather than handing him an article or a book. (I put myself in your friend’s shoes: if a committed atheist wanted to disabuse me of my silly belief in God and the Bible and handed me The God Delusion, telling me to read it, I wouldn’t do it. I have enough to do without reading something I’m not motivated to do. And in fact I have books on my shelf still unread because that method doesn’t work! But if this person met me for coffee and talked to me about specific issues, that would make a difference. I’d make sure to do my homework to able to “give an answer for the hope that is within” me [1 Peter 3:]).

Hope you find this helpful. The Lord bless you and keep you today!

Sue Bohlin

© 2009 Probe Ministries


Redeeming Darwin: The Intelligent Design Controversy

Dr. Bohlin, as a Christian scientist, looks at the unwarranted opposition to intelligent design and sees a group of neo-Darwinists struggling to maintain the orthodoxy of their position as the evidence stacks up against them.  In this article, he summarizes what’s happening in academia and the lack of sound scientific basis for their attacks agains intelligent design proponents.

What’s All the Fuss?

There’s a strange phenomenon popping up around the country. Scientists are stepping out of their laboratories and speaking to the media about something that has them quite concerned. It’s not the threat of a new flu pandemic; it’s not the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation, or even the possible threat of global warming. It’s something called Intelligent Design.

In this article we will explore what has so many people upset about Intelligent Design. To do that we will need to establish just what ID is and what the major complaints are about evolution that may be answered by a theory like ID. We will take a closer look at some of the most common examples of ID from astronomy and biology. Then we will take a closer look at the cultural confusion and reaction to this rather simple hypothesis.

So what are scientists and journalists saying? A Baltimore Sun reporter put it this way: “In the border war between science and faith, the doctrine of ‘intelligent design’ is a sly subterfuge—a marzipan confection of an idea presented in the shape of something more substantial.”{1}

In other words, Intelligent Design is little more than a sugar cookie promising more than it can deliver.

A science journal editorial said this: “The attack on Darwinism by supporters of Intelligent Design is a straightforward attack on science itself. Intelligent Design is not science because it proposes a supernatural designer as explanation for evolutionary change.”{2}

Uh-oh! Science and the supernatural indeed rarely go well together, at least over the last 150 years. But is that what ID actually says? We’ll explore that a little later but for now let’s find out what’s really at stake in this debate over evolution and Intelligent Design.

One college textbook said this: “Evolution is a scientific fact. That is, the descent of all species, with modification, from common ancestors is a hypothesis that in the last 150 years or so has been supported by so much evidence, and has so successfully resisted all challenges, that it has become a fact.”{3}

Let’s look at a few reasons why some scientists are skeptical of the confidence shown by so many other scientists about Darwinian evolution.{4}

Is There Scientific Proof for Evolution?

Evolution is always portrayed as a slow gradual process. Organisms are portrayed as so well adapted to their environment that they could only afford to change very slowly. But one of the most dramatic events in earth history is something called the Cambrian explosion. The Cambrian is a period of earth history that many earth scientists and paleontologists estimate to have begun over 540 million years ago.{5}

Instead of slow steady evolutionary change, we see a sudden burst of change. The subtitle to a Time magazine article put it this way: “New discoveries show that life as we know it began in an amazing biological frenzy that changed the planet almost overnight.”{6}

For most of the previous 3 billion years of earth history only single-celled organisms were found. “For billions of years, simple creatures like plankton, bacteria and algae ruled the earth. Then, suddenly, life got very complicated.”{7}

So the appearance of most of the major categories of animals happened in a very short period of time, some say less than five million years, when it should have taken tens and maybe even hundreds of millions of years. One geologist who helped pinpoint the very short time frame of the Cambrian explosion expressed this challenge: “We now know how fast fast is. And what I like to ask my biologist friends is, how fast can evolution get before they start feeling uncomfortable?”{8}

The evolutionary process that biologists study in nature today is far slower than what is found in the Cambrian explosion. This is evidence that doesn’t fit the theory. Yet the Cambrian explosion is left out of most textbooks.

Another problem for evolution is its dependence on mutations to bring about major changes in organisms. But for all our studies of mutations we haven’t seen much change. The late French evolutionist, Pierre Paul Grasse, said, “What is the use of their unceasing mutations? . . . a swing to the right, a swing to the left, but no final evolutionary effect.”{9}

Mutations only produce alternate forms of what already exists. New functions don’t suddenly arise by mutations.

Evidence for Intelligent Design, Part One

Intelligent Design is an intellectual movement that challenges Darwinism and its dependence on random/chaotic processes coupled with selection. If people are not alerted to the fact that Darwinism is less than sufficient, then other theories are wasting their time. They will never get a fair hearing.

Intelligent Design is also a scientific research program that investigates the effects of intelligent causes, which are effects of high specificity coupled with extremely small probabilities.

Now that was a mouthful. What do I mean by high specificity coupled with small probability? Think of the lottery. Someone always wins the lottery despite the long odds. So improbable things do indeed happen.

But let’s make this specific. Let’s say your sister wins the lottery. Now that is someone you specifically know; but again someone always wins the lottery so the fact that it’s your sister doesn’t warrant any special attention.

Now let’s make things a bit less probable and much more specific. Let’s say your sister wins the lottery not once but three weeks in a row. Now what are you thinking? Like most people you’re thinking something is not right. The same person doesn’t win the lottery three weeks in a row.

You suspect cheating. You suspect Intelligent Design. Someone with a clever mind is somehow manipulating the lottery.

In astronomy, it has been assumed for several decades that our earth is not likely to be very special. As huge as the universe is, with billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, surely there are thousands if not millions of planets like ours that are suitable for life.

But lately, more and more planetary astronomers, astrophysicists, cosmologists, and philosophers are realizing that earth is actually quite unique. The recipe for earth is more than just a planet plus mild temperatures plus water.

Our earth is 93,000,000 miles from the sun. Five percent closer and we would be a hothouse like Venus with no chance for life. If we were twenty percent farther away, we would be a frozen wasteland like Mars. We’re just right. Liquid water is necessary for life and our earth has an abundance all year long.

Evidence for Intelligent Design, Part Two

It’s really quite amazing to realize that biologists universally recognize the design of living things. Oxford biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins said on page one of his book The Blind Watchmaker: “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”{10}

Now notice he said, “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Living things certainly look designed, but according to Dawkins, it’s an illusion. He spends the rest of his book trying to show how mutation and natural selection, the “blind watchmaker,” has created this illusion.

But he does admit things look designed. Well, if it looks designed, maybe it is.

Michael Behe introduced the concept of irreducible complexity in his book Darwin’s Black Box. Something is irreducibly complex if it is composed of two or more necessary parts. Remove one part and function is not just impaired but destroyed. His well-known example is a mousetrap.

A mousetrap is composed of five integral parts: the platform to which everything is attached, the hammer which does the dirty work, the spring which provides the force, the holding bar to keep the hammer in tension, and finally the catch to keep the holding bar in tenuous position. Remove any one of these parts and the mousetrap is not just less efficient; it ceases to function at all. All five parts are necessary. You can’t build a mousetrap by natural selection by adding one piece at a time because it has no function to select until all five parts are together.

Behe showed that the cell, Darwin’s “Black Box,” is filled with irreducibly complex molecular machines that could not be built by natural selection. In Darwin’s time, scientists could only see the cell under very low power microscopes that told little about what was going on inside. It was a black box. Over the last fifty to sixty years, the cell has been revealing its secrets. We have discovered a maze of complexity and information.

If it looks designed, maybe it is!

ID, Science, Education, and Creation

The legitimacy of Intelligent Design as science was at the heart of a recent federal court case, pitting a group of parents and students against the school board from Dover, Pennsylvania. The Dover School Board adopted a policy that mandated a statement be read before all biology classes, indicating that evolution was a theory that needed critical evaluation and that intelligent design was a rival theory that students could seek information about from the library.

Judge Jones not only struck down the policy as unconstitutional, he went further to declare that ID is not science and was motivated purely by religion since it was just a repackaged creationism. His written opinion was scathing. This of course delighted proponents of evolution and many have declared that ID now is dead.

Judge Jones claimed that ID simply is not science and is religiously motivated; therefore it should not even be mentioned in a high school science classroom.

The first question that should occur to you is, Why does a federal judge with no training in science use his courtroom as a means of determining what is and is not science? This problem has been referred to as the demarcation problem. How do we demarcate science from non-science? People putting down ID often refer to it as “pseudo-science” or simply “unscientific.” But philosopher of science Larry Laudan writes, “If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like ‘pseudo-science’ and ‘unscientific’ from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases which do only emotive work for us.”{11}

Judge Jones claims that ID has been refuted by mainstream scientists. He cites the work of Kenneth Miller in particular. This is rather strange indeed. For ID to be refuted means that it has been tested by science and found wanting. If it is testable scientifically to the degree that it can be refuted, then it is science after all. This logical contradiction does not seem to occur to Judge Jones.

ID uses empirical data to demonstrate the plausibility of a design inference. It’s as scientific as Darwinism.

Notes

1. Baltimore Sun, August 13, 2006.
2. Cell, January 13, 2006.
3. Douglas Futuyma, Evolution (Sinauer Assoc., Sunderland, Mass., 2005), xv.
4. To learn more about Intelligent Design and Evolution visit our website, probe.org, or call us at 1-800-899-PROB, for information about our new DVD based small group curriculum, “Redeeming Darwin: The Intelligent Design Controversy.” Once again we have teemed up with EvanTell to produce a small group curriculum designed to inform the church about Intelligent Design and how to use a conversation about this controversial topic to share the gospel.
5. Meyer, Stephen C., Marcus Ross, Paul Nelson and Paul Chien, 2003, The Cambrian explosion: Biology’s Big Bang in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, eds., East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press, pp. 323-402.
6. Time, December 4, 1995 (cover).
7. Ibid., 67.
8. Samuel Bowring, Time, 1995, 70.
9. Pierre-Paul Grassé quoted in The Natural Limits to Biological Change, Lane P. Lester and Raymond G. Bohlin, Richardson, Texas: Probe Books 1984., p. 88.
10. Dawkins, Richard, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design, Nerw York, New York: Norton, 1986.
11. Larry Laudan, (1983) “The demise of the demarcation problem,” in Michael Ruse (ed.) But Is It Science?, Amherst, Prometheus, 337-350.

© 2007 Probe Ministries


The New Atheists – Kerby Anderson Blog

Kerby Anderson writes that unlike the old-style atheists who were content to merely argue that Christianity is not true, the new atheists now argue that Christianity is dangerous.

January 18, 2007

For centuries there has been conflict and debate between atheists and Christianity. But the rise of what journalists are calling “The New Atheists” represents a significant change in the nature of the debate. “The New Atheists” is part reality and part journalistic catch phrase. It identifies the new players in the ongoing battle between science and religion.

Unlike the atheists who came before them who were content to merely argue that Christianity is not true, these new atheists now argue that Christianity is dangerous. It is one thing to argue about the error of Christianity, it is quite another to argue about the evil of Christianity.

Many of these authors have books in the New York Times bestseller list. Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris is one of those books in the top ten. He goes beyond the traditional argument that suffering in the world proves there is no God. He argues that belief in God actually causes suffering in the world. He says, “That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion—to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions and religious diversions of scarce resources—is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity.” He argues that unless we renounce religious faith, religious violence will soon bring civilization to an end.

Response to his book has been glowing. One reader found the book to be “a wonderful source of ammunition for those who, like me, hold to no religious doctrine.” Others enjoyed the pounding he gives Christianity. For them it “was like sitting ring side, cheering the champion, yelling ‘Yes!’ at every jab.”

But Christians are not the only target of his criticism. Harris also argues that religious moderates and even theological liberals function as “enablers” of orthodox Christianity. His book is not only a criticism of Christians, but it is a call for tolerant people in the middle to get off the fence and join these new atheists.

Another popular book is The God Delusion by Oxford professor Richard Dawkins. He says that religious belief is psychotic and arguments for the existence of God are nonsense. He wants to make respect for belief in God socially unacceptable.

He calls for atheists to identify themselves as such and join together to fight against the delusions of religious faith. He says, “The number of nonreligious people in the US is something nearer to 30 million than 20 million. That’s more than all the Jews in the world put together. I think we are in the same position the gay movement was in a few decades ago. There was a need for people to come out.”

Like Harris, Dawkins does not merely disagree with religious faith, but he disagrees with tolerating religious faith. He argues that religious people should not be allowed to teach these religious “myths” to their children, which Dawkins calls the “colonization of the brains of innocent tykes.”

Dawkins hammers home the link between evolution and atheism. He believes that evolutionary theory must logically lead to atheism. And he states that he is not going to worry about the public relations consequences of tying evolution to atheism.

Daniel Dennett is another important figure and author of the book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. He does not use the harsh and critical rhetoric of the others, but still is able to argue his case that religion must be subjected to scientific evaluation. He believes that “neutral, scientifically informed education about every religion in the world should be mandatory in school” since “if you have to hoodwink—or blindfold—your children to ensure that they confirm their faith when they are adults, your faith ought to go extinct.”

In addition to the books by “The New Atheists” have been a number of others that have targeted Christian conservatives. David Kuo wrote Tempting Faith to tell conservative Christians that they were taken for a ride by the administration that derided them behind closed doors. Add to this Michael Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism and Randall Balmer’s Thy Kingdom Come and Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy. Each put the religious right in their crosshairs and pulled the trigger.

Many of these books border on paranoia. Consider James Rudin’s book, The Baptizing of America. His opening paragraph says, “A specter is haunting America, and it is not socialism and certainly not communism. It is the specter of Americans kneeling in submission to a particular interpretation of a religion that has become an ideology, an all-encompassing way of life. It is the specter of our nation ruled by the extreme Christian right, who would make the United States a ‘Christian nation’ where their version of God’s law supersedes all human law—including the Constitution. That, more than any other force in the world today, is the immediate and profound threat to our republic.”

These comments move from anti-Christian bigotry to anti-Christian paranoia. Please, tell me who these dangerous Christian conservatives are so we can correct them. I interview many of the leaders and do not even hear a hint of this. If anything, these leaders want the judges to follow the Constitution not supercede it with another version (either secular or Christian).

Rudin goes on to argue that these Christian leaders would issue everyone a national ID card giving everyone’s religious beliefs. Again, who are these people he is talking about? Frankly, I have not found anyone that wants a national ID card (either secular or Christian).

Nevertheless, Rudin maintains that “such cards would provide Christocrats with preferential treatment in many areas of life, including home ownership, student loans, employment and education.” And the appointed religious censors would control all speech and outlaw dissent. Do you know we wanted to do that?

Clearly we are moving into a time in which atheists see religion as full of error and evil. And Christian conservatives are especially being singled out because of their belief in the truth of the Bible.

Christians should respond in three ways. First, we must always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15) and do it with gentleness and reverence. Second, we should trust in the power of the Gospel: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for all those who believe (Romans 1:16). Third, we should live godly lives before the world so that we may (by our good behavior) silence the ignorant talk of foolish men (1 Peter 2:15).

© 2006 Probe Ministries International


Is Intelligent Design Dead?

What Is Intelligent Design?

On December 20, 2005, Judge Jones handed down his decision in the lawsuit brought by several citizens from Dover, Pennsylvania, who objected to a new policy adopted by the Dover School Board. This policy mandated a statement be read before all biology classes indicating that evolution was a theory that needed critical evaluation and that Intelligent Design was a rival theory that students could seek information about from the library.

Judge Jones not only struck down the policy as unconstitutional; he went further to declare that ID is not science and was purely motivated by religion since it was just a repackaged creationism. His written opinion was scathing. This of course delighted proponents of evolution and many have declared that ID now is dead.

In what follows I will examine this “death certificate” and declare it null and void. ID is alive and well, and the coming months and years will demonstrate convincingly the health of ID. But first, let’s make sure we know what ID really is.

The media often simply portray ID in a negative context. One student reporter from Southern Methodist University recently put it this way: “Essentially ID is a theory that proposes that there are parts to a cell that are simply too complex to have been evolved.” He adds as an afterthought the idea “that rather they have been altered by some sort of ‘designer.’”{1} But ID is truly more than just a critique of evolution. The Discovery Institute’s Web site describes ID this way: “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”{2}

It’s interesting to realize that many evolutionists recognize that living things in particular look as if they have been designed. British evolutionist Richard Dawkins said, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”{3} Many in the ID community simply reply, “If it looks designed, maybe it is!” So ID is simply an attempt to quantify scientifically what most people clearly recognize: the design of the universe and of living things.

The major contention with evolution is the claim that mutation and natural selection can account for everything we see in living things. ID accepts that evolutionary processes do account for some change in organisms over time. But ID says certain structures, like the bacterial flagellum that closely resembles a human designed rotary motor, are better explained through an intelligent cause.

In particular, the universal genetic code has all the distinguishing characteristics of coded information or language. Our experience tells us that language only comes from a mind. If so, then the genetic code also likely came from a mind.

Is ID Science?

Judge Jones made several errors in his reasoning. The recent book from the Discovery Institute, Traipsing Into Evolution, answers Judge Jones on several levels.{4} I will focus on three areas: first, how a federal judge can tell us what science is and is not when philosophers of science continue to struggle with this; second, Judge Jones’ claim that ID has been refuted by scientists; and third, Judge Jones’ claims that ID has not been accepted by the scientific community. For these and other reasons, Judge Jones claimed that ID simply is not science and is religiously motivated; therefore it should not even be mentioned in a high school science classroom.

The first question that should occur to you is, Why does a federal judge with no training in science use his courtroom as a means of determining what is and is not science? This problem has been referred to as the “demarcation problem.” How do we demarcate science from non-science? Philosopher of science Larry Laudan writes, “If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like ‘pseudo-science’ and ‘unscientific’ from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases which do only emotive work for us.”{5}

In addition, philosopher Del Ratzch argues that there are very real possible payoffs for science in considering ID.{6} Judge Jones knew of these positions but chose to ignore them.

Judge Jones claims that ID has been refuted by mainstream scientists. He cites the work of Kenneth Miller in particular. This is rather strange indeed. For ID to be refuted means that it has been tested by science and found wanting. If it is testable scientifically to the degree that it can be refuted, then it is science after all. This logical contradiction does not seem to occur to Judge Jones.

The judge ruled further that ID cannot be science because it is not accepted by the scientific community. But science is not a popularity contest. New and controversial theories are never accepted by a majority of scientists at the beginning, but that doesn’t make them unscientific. The Discovery Institute now lists over six hundred scientists from around the world who are willing to sign a list saying they are skeptical of Darwinism. Surely that counts for something.

ID uses empirical data to demonstrate the plausibility of a design inference. It’s as scientific as Darwinism.

Is ID Just Reinvented Creationism?

Several parents challenged a directive by the Dover School Board allowing the mention of Intelligent Design in the science classrooms of this district. Judge Jones ruled the directive unconstitutional. One of his reasons was that ID is just reinvented creationism which the Supreme Court has already ruled is substantially a religious doctrine and not appropriate as science.

One of the texts that the Dover school board members made available was the supplemental text Of Pandas and People.{7} Having subpoenaed early drafts of the book from the late ‘80s, the ACLU tried to show that Pandas only began using the phrase “Intelligent Design” after the Supreme Court struck down the Louisiana creation law. Therefore Judge Jones ruled that ID is in fact just creationism with a new label.

While it is true that the Supreme Court decision did indeed affect editorial decisions in Pandas, it’s not for the reasons Judge Jones assumed. The authors and editors of Pandas knew their ideas were not the same as creationism and were wrestling with what to call it. Once the Supreme Court ruled that “creationism” meant a literal six day creation, the authors of Pandas knew they needed to use a different term.{8}

In addition, the term Intelligent Design had been floating around for several years before Pandas was in print. Lane Lester and I used the term in our book The Natural Limits to Biological Change in 1984, three years before the Supreme Court decision in Edwards vs. Aguillard struck down the Louisiana creationism law. We said, “The simple point is that intelligent design is discernibly different from natural design. In natural design, the apparent order is internally derived from the properties of the components; in crea­tive design, the apparent order is externally imposed and confers new properties of organization not inherent in the components themselves.”{9}

Furthermore, none of the leading scientists of the Intelligent Design movement were ever a part of the creationist movement. People like Phil Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Charles Thaxton, and Steve Meyer never considered themselves to be part of this group. Their ideas were always similar but definitely not the same.

Some creationist groups today even go to great lengths to distance themselves from the ID movement because ID essentially maintains that the Designer cannot be known from the science alone. Therefore, because of ID’s attempts to stop short of naming the Designer, some creationist groups will sell some ID books but not endorse their program. This would be very strange indeed if ID is just relabeled creationism.

Once again, Judge Jones got it wrong.

Traipsing Into the Dover Court Decision

In their excellent discussion of the Dover decision, the authors of Traipsing into Evolution attack six accusations against Intelligent Design used by Judge Jones.{10}

On page sixty-two of the Dover decision Judge Jones said, “ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.”{11} The main problem for Judge Jones is that ID scientists said repeatedly prior to the trial and in direct testimony during the trial that the science of ID is not able to identify the Designer. It was expressly pointed out to Judge Jones during the trial that the type and identity of the intelligent agent supposed by ID is only identified by religious and philosophical argumentation. That does not mean that design itself cannot be detected scientifically. Indeed, if we ever receive an obviously intelligent message from outer space, we will most certainly be able to determine it has an intelligent cause even though we may have no idea who or what sent it.{12}

Judge Jones also states that “the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s.” What Judge Jones is referring to is his notion that ID is just a negative argument about Darwinism. If Darwinism can be shown to be false, then ID wins.

But this grossly misrepresents ID. Michael Behe’s formulation of irreducible complexity asserts that Darwinian evolution does not predict irreducibly complex machines in the cell where Intelligent Design expressly does predict such machines. So there is definitely a negative component to irreducible complexity. But Darwin himself said that “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”{13} Darwin invited a negative critique.

But there is also a clear positive case for irreducible complexity. When we come across a machine, we intuitively understand it to be intelligently caused, whether we think it functions effectively or not. Intelligent agents can and do produce machines. The concept of irreducible complexity is one way to determine what a machine is.

Judge Jones’ third complaint against Intelligent Design was that the attacks on evolution by ID advocates have all been refuted by the scientific community. Judge Jones ignored the fact that at the time of the decision, over five hundred scientists had signed a statement acknowledging their dissent from Darwinism. That list now stands at over six hundred.{14} Certainly some scientists have challenged Behe, Dembski, and others. But their criticisms have been answered effectively both online and in print.{15}

Judge Jones’ fourth accusation was that Intelligent Design had failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community. But this is clearly a matter of opinion. As I mentioned previously, over six hundred scientists now express their dissent from Darwin, and most of those also support Intelligent Design, many of them at mainline universities.

No doubt there has been and continues to be strident opposition to Intelligent Design in the scientific community, especially among biologists. But there is always resistance in science to new ideas. And much of the opposition is for philosophical reasons, not scientific ones. Many Darwinists such as Will Provine from Cornell and Richard Dawkins from Oxford are very up front that their adherence to evolution and their disdain for Intelligent Design is over the issue of a Designer by any name. The science is just a backdrop.

Judge Jones’ fifth complaint against Intelligent Design was that proponents of ID have not published in the scientific peer-reviewed literature. This is simply not true. De Wolf et al., in their book Traipsing Into Evolution, document in Appendix B a list of thirteen different peer-reviewed articles and books by ID scientists advocating different aspects of the theory. This is admittedly a small number, but that is because there is clear evidence, documented in the same book, of editors having to shy away from ID papers and responses for fear of intimidation by the scientific community. One editor who followed established procedure in getting an ID article reviewed and published was nearly run out of his institution for the offense.

Finally, Judge Jones declared that ID has not been the subject of testing and research. Indeed, any scientific theory needs to be testable in some form or it is not likely to be of some use. But ID microbiologist Scott Minnich testified right in Judge Jones’ courtroom that in his laboratory at the University of Idaho he has demonstrated the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum. Minnich also testified to other research he was familiar with which also was testing principles from ID.{16}

As I have summarized, Judge Jones failed to make a reasonable and fair evaluation of the evidence. Intelligent Design is far from dead. Rather, such a poor decision in the Dover case may actually serve ID well as it self-destructs in the years to come.

Notes

1. Brian Wellman, April 26, 2006, Merits of intelligent design, evolution debated, www.smudailycampus.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2006/04/26/444ef833078bc
2. The Web site of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, www.discovery.org/csc/topQuestions.php.
3. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W. W. Norton, 1986), 1.
4. David De Wolf, John West, Casey Luskin, and Jonathan Witt, Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Decision (Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press, 2006), 25-57.
5. Larry Laudan, “The demise of the demarcation problem,” in Michael Ruse (ed.), But Is It Science?, (Amherst, MA: Prometheus, 1983), 337-350.
6. Del Ratzch, Nature, Design, and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science (Albany, NY: State University Press of New York, 2001), 147.
7. Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins (Dallas, TX: Haughton Publishing Co., 1989), 166 pp.
8. DeWolf et al., 22.
9. Lane P. Lester and Raymond G. Bohlin, The Natural Limits to Biological Change (Richardson, TX: Probe Books, 1984), 153-154.
10. DeWolf et al., 29-45.
11. Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School Board, No. 04cv2688, 2005 WL 3465563, *26 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 20, 2005).
12. I don’t expect we ever will hear from any extraterrestrials. Earth appears to be more and more unique with every passing day. See my article “Are We Alone in the Universe?” at www.probe.org/are-we-alone-in-the-universe-2/.
13. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (New York: New American Library [A Mentor Book], 1958), 171 (this is a reprint of the 1872 sixth edition).
14. From the Web site of the Center for Science and Culture, www.dissentfromdarwin.org/ accessed October 11, 2006. The statement reads; “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”
15. William Dembski, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 334 pp.
16. De Wolf et al., 56.

© 2006 Probe Ministries


A Darwinian View of Life

Probe’s Dr. Ray Bohlin reviews Richard Dawkins’ anti-theistic book, A River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, showing the holes in Dawkins’ arguments.

A River of DNA

A River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life by Richard Dawkins is the fourth in a series being published by Basic Books entitled “The Science Masters Series.” This series is said to be “a global publishing venture consisting of original science books written by leading scientists. “Purposing to “present cutting-edge ideas in a format that will enable a broad audience to attain scientific literacy,” this series is aimed at the non-specialist.

The first three releases were The Last Three Minutes: Conjectures about the Ultimate End of the Universe by Paul Davies, The Origin of Humankind by Richard Leakey, and The Origin of the Universe by John D. Barrow. These were followed by the contribution from Dawkins. A look at these books, and at future contributors like Daniel Dennett, Jared Diamond, Stephen Jay Gould, Murray Gell-Mann, Lynn Margulis, and George C. Williams, makes the endeavor look less like a scientific literacy series and more like an indoctrination in philosophical naturalism.

The exposition of a Darwinian view of life by Dawkins in River Out of Eden certainly fits into the overt anti-theism category. His “River Out of Eden” is a river of DNA that is the true source of life and the one molecule that must be understood if life is to be understood.

This river of DNA originally flowed as one river (one species) which eventually branched into two, three, four, and eventually millions of rivers. Each river is distinct from the others and no longer exchanges water with the others, just as species are isolated reproductively from other species. This metaphor allows Dawkins to explain both the common ancestry of all life along with the necessity of gradualism in the evolutionary process.

Dawkins refers to this river of DNA as a digital river. That is, the information contained in the DNA river is completely analogous to the digital information of languages and computers.

Surprisingly, Dawkins gives away the store in this first chapter. In pressing home the digital analogy, Dawkins first uses probability to indicate that the code arose only once and that we are all, therefore, descended from a common ancestor:

The odds of arriving at the same 64:21 (64 codons: 21 amino acids) mapping twice by chance are less than one in a million million million million million. Yet the genetic code is in fact identical in all animals, plants and bacteria that have ever been looked at. All earthly living things are certainly descended from a single ancestor.(p. 12)

So it is reasonable to use probability to indicate that the code could not have arisen twice, but there is no discussion of the probability of the code arising by chance even once. A curious omission! If one tried to counter with such a question, Dawkins would predictably fall back on the assumption of naturalism that since we know only natural processes are available for the origin of anything, the genetic code must have somehow beaten the odds.

African Eve

Chapter 2 attempts to tell the story of the now famous “African Eve.” African Eve embodies the idea that we are all descended from a single female, probably from Africa, about 200,000 to 100,000 years ago. This conclusion originates from sequence data of the DNA contained in mitochondria.

Mitochondria are tiny little powerhouses that produce energy in each and every cell of your body. Just as your body contains many organs that perform different functions, the cell contains many organelles that also perform specific functions. The mitochondrion is an organelle whose task is to produce energy molecules the cell can use to accomplish its tasks.

However, mitochondria are also the only organelle to contain their own DNA. Certain proteins necessary to the function of mitochondria are coded for by the mitochondrial DNA and not by the nuclear DNA like every other protein in the cell. One other unique aspect of mitochondria is their maternal inheritance. That is, all the mitochondria in your body are descended from the ones you initially inherited from your mother. The sperm injects only its DNA into the egg cell, not its mitochondria. Therefore, an analysis of mitochondrial DNA reveals maternal history only, uncluttered by the mixture of paternal DNA like nuclear DNA. That’s why these studies only revealed an African Eve, though other recent studies claim to have followed DNA from the Y chromosome to indicate an ancient “Adam.”

Now these scientists don’t actually think they have uncovered proof of a real Adam and Eve. They only use the names as metaphors. But this action does reveal a shift in some evolutionists minds that there is a single universal ancestor rather than a population of ancestors. This at least is closer to a biblical view rather than farther away.

Finally, Dawkins makes his case for the reliability of these molecular phylogenies in general. Here he glosses over weaknesses in the theory and actually misrepresents the data. On page 43 he says, “On the whole, the number of cytochrome c letter changes separating pairs of creatures is pretty much what we’d expect from previous ideas of the branching pattern of the evolutionary tree.” In other words, Dawkins thinks that the trees obtained from molecular sequences nearly matches the evolutionary trees we already had. Later on page 44, when speaking of all molecular phylogenies performed on various sequences, he says, “They all yield pretty much the same family tree which by the way, is rather good evidence, if evidence were needed, that the theory of evolution is true.”

Well, besides implying that evidence is not really needed to prove evolution, Dawkins stumbles in trying to display confidence in the molecular data. What exactly does “pretty much” mean anyway? Inherent in that statement are the numerous contradictions that don’t fit the predictions or the ambiguous holes in the general theory. But then, evidence isn’t really needed anyway is it?

While this chapter contained the usual degree of arrogance from Dawkins, particularly in his disdain for the original account of Adam and Eve, it was somewhat less compelling or persuasive than is his usual style. He hedged his bet frequently and simply waived his hand at controversy. Unfortunately, this may not be picked up by the unwary reader.

Scoffing at Design

In Chapter 3 Dawkins launches a full-scale assault on the argument from design. After presumably debunking arguments from the apparent design of mimicry (not perfect design, you know, just good enough), Dawkins states, “Never say, and never take seriously anybody who says, ‘I cannot believe so-and-so could have evolved by gradual selection.’ I have dubbed this fallacy ‘the Argument from Personal Incredulity.’”

To some degree I’m afraid that many creationists have given Dawkins and others an easy target. Such a statement, “I cannot believe…,” has been used many times by well-meaning creationists but is really not very defensible. It is not helpful to simply state that you can’t believe something; we must elaborate the reasons why. First, Dawkins levels the charge that much of what exists in nature is far from perfectly designed and is only good enough. This he claims is to be expected of natural selection rather than a designer. This is because a designer would design it right while natural selection has to bumble and fumble its way to a solution. To begin with, the lack of perfection in no way argues for or against a designer.

I have always marveled at some evolutionists who imply that if it isn’t perfect, then Nature did it. Just what is perfection? And how are we to be sure that our idea of a perfect design wasn’t rejected by the Creator because of some flaw we cannot perceive? It is a classic case of creating God in our own image.

The evolutionists are the ones guilty of erecting the straw man argument in this instance. In addition, Dawkins fully admits that these features work perfectly well for the task at hand. The Creator only commanded His creatures to be fruitful and multiply, not necessarily to be perfectly designed (humanly speaking) wonders. Romans 1:18-20 indicates that the evidence is sufficient if you investigate thoroughly.

Dawkins further closes off criticism by declaring that “there will be times when it is hard to think of what the gradual intermediates may have been. These will be challenges to our ingenuity, but if our ingenuity fails, so much the worse for our ingenuity.” So if explanations fail us, the fault is not with the evolutionary process, just our limited thinking. How convenient that the evolutionary process is so unfalsifiable in this crucial area. But after all, he implies, this is science and intelligent design is not!

Dawkins concludes the chapter with a discussion on the evolution of the honeybee waggle dance. It is filled with probabilistic statements like “The suggestion is that…. Perhaps the dance is a kind of…. It is not difficult to imagine…. Nobody knows why this happens, but it does…. It probably provided the necessary….” Yet at the end, Dawkins proclaims,

We have found a plausible series of graded intermediates by which the modern bee dance could have been evolved from simpler beginnings. The story as I have told it…may not be the right one. But something a bit like it surely did happen.

Again, “it happened” only because any other explanation has been disallowed by definition and not by the evidence.

God’s Utility Function

Dawkins concludes his attack on design in his book River Out of Eden, with a more philosophical discussion in Chapter 4, God’s Utility Function. He begins with a discussion of the ubiquitous presence of “cruelty” in nature, even mentioning Darwin’s loss of faith in the face of this reality. Of course, his answer is that nature is neither cruel nor kind, but indifferent. That’s just the way nature is.

But a curious admission ensues from his discussion. And that is, “We humans have purpose on the brain.” Dawkins just drops that in to help him put down his fellow man in his usual arrogant style. But I immediately asked myself, “Where does this ‘purpose on the brain’ stuff come from?”

The rest of nature certainly seems indifferent. Why is it that man, within an evolutionary worldview, has “purpose on the brain”? In his attempt to be cute, Dawkins has asked an important question: Why is man unique in this respect?

As Christians, we recognize God as a purposeful being; therefore if we are made in His image, we will also be purposeful beings. It is natural for us to ask “Why?” questions. No doubt if pressed, someone will dream up some selective or adaptive advantage for this trait. But this, as usual, would only be hindsight, based on the assumption of an evolutionary worldview. There would be no data to back it up.

At the chapter’s end Dawkins returns to his initial topic. “So long as DNA is passed on, it does not matter who or what gets hurt in the process…. But Nature is neither kind nor unkind…. Nature is not interested one way or another in suffering, unless it affects the survival of DNA.” Even Dawkins admits that this is not a recipe for happiness. The problem of evil returns. Dawkins’s simple answer is that there is no problem of evil. Nature just is.

He recounts a story from the British papers of a school bus crash with numerous fatalities and reports a Catholic priest’s inadequate response to the inevitable “Why” question. The priest indicates that we really don’t know why God would allow such things but that these events at least confirm that we live in a world of real values: real positive and negative. “If the universe were just electrons, there would be no problem of evil or suffering.” Dawkins retorts that meaningless tragedies like this are just what we expect from a universe of just electrons and selfish genes.

However, it is also what we expect in a fallen world. Evolutionary writers never recognize this clear biblical theme. This is not the way God intended His world to be. What is unexpected in an evolutionary world are people shaped by uncaring natural selection who care about evil and suffering at all. Why are we not as indifferent as natural selection?

In making his point, Dawkins says that the amount of suffering in the natural world is beyond all “decent” contemplation. Where does decency come from? He calls the bus crash a “terrible” story. Why is this so terrible if it is truly meaningless? Clearly, Dawkins cannot live within the boundaries of his own worldview. We see purpose and we fret over suffering and evil because we are created in the image of a God who has the same characteristics. There are aspects of our humanity that are not explainable by mutation and natural selection. Dawkins must try to explain it, however, because his naturalistic worldview leaves him no choice.

Are We Alone?

Dawkins closes his book with a final chapter on the origin of life and a discussion on the possibilities of life elsewhere in the universe. This chapter is a bit of a disappointment because there is really very little to say. To be sure, it is filled with the usual Dawkins arrogance and leaps of naturalistic logic, but there is no real conclusion just the possibility of contacting whatever other life may be out there.

Dawkins begins with a definition of life as a replication bomb. Just as some stars eventually explode in supernovas, so some stars explode with information in the form of life that may eventually send radio messages or actual life forms out into space. Dawkins admits that ours is the only example of a replication bomb we know, so it is difficult to generalize as to the overall sequence of events that must follow from when life first appears to the sending of information out into space, but he does it anyway.

While we can clearly distinguish between random and intelligent radio messages, Dawkins is unable to even ask the question about the origin of the information-rich DNA code. I suppose his answer is contained on page 138 when he says, “We do not know exactly what the original critical event, the initiation of self-replication, looked like, but we can infer what kind of an event it must have been. It began as a chemical event.”

This inference is drawn not from chemical, geological, or biological data, because the real data contradicts such a notion. Dawkins takes a few pages to evoke wonder from the reader by documenting the difficult barriers that had to be crossed. His conclusion that it was a chemical event is rather an implication that is derived from his naturalistic worldview. It is a chemical event because that is all that is allowed. Creation is excluded by definition, not by evidence. While chemical evolution may be difficult, we are assured that it happened!

The book closes with a discussion of the Ten Thresholds that must be crossed for a civilization of our type to exist. Along the way, Dawkins continues to overreach the evidence and make assumptions based on naturalism without the slightest thought that his scenario may be false or at least very wide of the mark.

All along the way Dawkins tries to amaze us with both the necessity and complexity of each threshold but fails miserably to explain how each jump is to be accomplished. He depends totally on the explanatory power of natural selection to accomplish whatever transition is needed. It is just a matter of time.

But, of course, this begs the question. Dawkins perfects this art for 161 pages. Despite the smoke and mirrors, Richard Dawkins is still trying to sail upstream without a paddle. It just won’t work. While many of his explanations and ruminations should make careful reading for creationists (he is not stupid and writes well), I have tried to point out a few of his inconsistencies, assumptions, and poor logic.

What bothers me most is that this is meant to be a popular book. His wit and dogmatism will convince and influence many. For these reasons I found it a frustrating and sometimes maddening book to read. Unfortunately, few will think their way through these pages and ask tough questions of the author along the way. This is where the real danger lies. We must not only show others where he is wrong but help them how to discover these errors on their own. We must help people to think, not just react.

©1996 Probe Ministries