“God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?” by John Lennox

I owe you all an apology.  (No, it’s not for my long absence — I’ve been spending pretty much all my spare time with my son, and I have no regrets! 😀 )

I just finished reading this book about a week ago, and I highly recommend it.  However, it knocked me squarely on my butt and showed me an area about which I have been wrong for so long.  And I would like to apologize.

First off, though, the book itself:  It is excellent.  However, my reasons for thinking so do not include my belief that the book contains an airtight argument in favor of Christianity.  (Hint: I don’t believe any such arguments exist, or ever could.)  One need not go beyond the title of the book to realize its context:  This is primarily a refutation, especially against Dawkins and his ilk who make metaphysical assertions and present them as though they were scientific fact.  We are not, as a world, in a war between science and religion — we are in a war between two conflicting worldviews (naturalism/materialism and theism) that affect how people interpret the findings of science.  Lennox does an excellent job, in my opinion, re-framing the issue and putting things back where they belong: facts to science, and metaphysics to philosophy.

I make this clear from the start because of this:  In preparing my link to Amazon above, I took the liberty of reading all the reviews of the book that were rated 3 stars and under (there were relatively few, about 4%) to see what those who didn’t like the book had to say about it.  What I found in most of these comments was the objection that Lennox failed to make an airtight case for theism, and that deism is as far as he went.  I would largely agree, but with the caveat stated above that this was clearly not Lennox’ main purpose.  I’ve ranted before against those who give something a poor review based on a misunderstanding of its purpose or function.

The reason why I say the book “knocked me on my butt” was because of the elucidation Lennox brings to the oft obfuscated topic of evolution — and it is this topic that brings my need to apologize to my attention.  See, I admit that biology is a subject that falls way outside the purview of my expertise, and so I have generally kept myself out of the ring when it comes to questioning the tenets of modern Darwanism (though I have spoken out before against abiogenesis, feeling more at liberty to do so in light of the profound lack of evidence supporting the possibility of life arising by natural, chemical processes).  Evolution, on the other hand — the idea that all the vast complexity within the sphere of life on our planet can conceivably be explained by myriad mutations over billions of years — was, as presented to me, something simply not to be questioned for the vast evidences to support it.  Any time I even dipped my toe into the waters of skepticism regarding whether ideas like common ancestry and the power of natural selection and mutation to add new information to a genome had the evidential legs to stand up under the weight of our ever-increasing knowledge of life’s vast complexity and variety — any time I said anything that seemed to cast even the corner of a shadow of doubt upon this edifice of modern biology, I found myself the subject of such vehement and immediate ridicule and slander (or libel, I suppose, since most of such attacks came from online discussions) that I effectively found myself bullied out of developing my doubts any further and just gave that ground to the naturalists.  (Such general lack of questioning against new-Darwinism, incidentally, is one of the topics Lennox tackles in this book.)  It was good enough, in my mind, to demonstrate the lack of evidence provided to support a naturalistic explanation for the existence of the mutating replicator upon which evolution so strongly depends.

So, it is for this intellectual laziness , this apathetic turning of the other cheek (evidentially speaking) when it came to the claims of neo-Darwinism, that I would like to apologize.  Surely, I thought, such statements of confidence in the ability of mutation and natural selection to account for the variety in our world’s ecology would not be so boldly and authoritatively touted unless the evidence supporting evolution’s ability to account for everything placed at its doorstep was airtight, beyond question, immaculate; surely such conviction would not be espoused — by professed skeptics, no less — for any explanatory model whose every step was not thoroughly well-documented and accounted for by the evidence, that included any room at all for conjecture or alternative interpretation.  As it turns out, my faith in the intelligentsia may not have been entirely well-founded.

So, please, world, forgive me for allowing Darwin’s bullies to intimidate me out of questioning the status quo (which should be a major part of all science), for taking everyone’s word for it, for assuming that the emperor’s clothes are fantastically made without bothering to look for myself; forgive me for my longstanding appeal to authority and for taking the outspoken naturalists and materialists at their word.  Because, as it seems, the jury may still be out on the ability of mutation and natural selection to support all that it is supposed to.

I especially appreciated Lennox’ analysis (as a mathematician, no less) of the capabilities needed from mutation and natural selection juxtaposed against the actual evidence of their capacity; the gap, as Lennox presents is, seems mind-boggling to the point of absurdity.  In other words, it has always seemed somewhat conceivable that the highly improbable nature of life’s complexity might reasonably be mitigated by assuming vast amounts of time (cue the typing monkeys) — however, based on actual evidence, there’s a twofold problem with this explanatory model: 1) natural selection and mutation seem more likely, over time, to reduce information than to add to it, and 2) even disregarding the characteristically destructive nature of natural selection when it comes to information in the genome, the amount of time required to reach some level of reasonableness in light of observed complexity in biology exceeds the most generous estimations of the age of our universe (not to mention our planet) by several, several, several trillions of orders of magnitude.

I already had some suspicion that the scientific community in the West (especially regarding biology and Darwin) might have become somewhat of a “good ol’ boys” club –based on exposés like Ben Stein’s “Expelled” and Jerry Bergman’s “Slaughter of the Dissidents” — but, again, based on the firm assurance of those like Dawkins who so unwaveringly praise the evidential basis of the neo-Darwinian programme, I never dreamed that the evidence might actually be so contrarily against it.  Maybe the bravado of the established Darwinian scientific community is really an over-compensation for an insufficiency of evidence (and, perhaps even more significantly, a fear of what an admittance of this lack would imply with regard to the comparative merits of alternative theories).

So… I’m still no expert in biology (and realize that Lennox is not one either), but reading “God’s Undertaker” has, at least, made me less accommodating of Darwinian claims in lieu of actual evidence, less apt to take the establishment’s word for it, less willing to cede biology to the naturalists without a fight.  Science, after all, should welcome (so I’ve been told) dissenters, those who question the status quo — the fact that Darwin’s doctrine seems to be a glaring exception in the scientific community makes me all the more suspicious that the emperor may not be wearing any clothes after all.

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32 comments

  1. Hi Seth,
    Hope fatherhood is treating you well. Sleeping OK?

    I would be interested in clarification on the two key points:

    1) natural selection and mutation seem more likely, over time, to reduce information than to add to it, and

    This is probably true when there is sufficient existing information that can be exploited in some way (by modification) to realize a new advantage, but is it also true when the existing information is insufficient to support the realization of that same advantage?

    2) … the amount of time required to reach some level of reasonableness in light of observed complexity in biology exceeds the most generous estimations of the age of our universe (not to mention our planet) by several, several, several trillions of orders of magnitude

    That’s a really, really, really big number. Can you further explain where this came from?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello again Travis! Good to see you commenting 🙂

      1) I’ll put in a couple quotes on the issue that Lennox cites from biologists:

      “There is no theoretical reason that would permit us to expect that evolutionary lines would increase in complexity with time; there is also no empirical evidence that this happens.” – John Maynard Smith and E. Szathmary, in Nature

      “[Observed evolution in over 30,000 generations of E. coli has produced] mostly devolution… the bacterium has repeatedly thrown away chinks of its genetic patrimony, including the ability to make some of the building blocks of RNA…. The lesson of E. coli is that it’s easier for evolution to break things than to make things.” – Michael Behe, “The Edge of Evolution”

      2) Another quote from the book:

      “The likelihood of the spontaneous formation of life from inanimate matter is one to a number with 40,000 noughts after it… There was no primeval soup, neither on this planet nor on any other….” – Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinge, “Evolution from Space”

      Lennox also points out that Dawkin cites Isaac Asimov to support the concept that life couldn’t have arisen by pure chance. The work cited imagines the probability of randomly assembling a haemoglobin molecule from existing amino acids, which calculates to about 10^190 power (there are only about 10^70 protons in the entire universe).

      To mitigate the problem of the high improbability of chemical evolution by random chance, Dawkins proposes that there exists a mechanism that “[breaks] the improbability up into small manageable parts, smearing out the luck needed, going round the back of Mount Improbable and crawling up the gentle slopes, inch by million year inch.”

      Lennox then illustrates this idea with a mathematical model to create that haemoglobin molecule from above, assuming it takes 1,000 intermediate steps, where each step only has two choices. The probability of finding the correct path is 1 in 10^300, which turns out to be less probable than the spontaneous generation of the molecule itself. Breaking it into smaller steps makes the problem mathematically worse, not better.

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      1. Hi Seth,
        Sorry for the slow response. Time is lacking these days.

        Regarding #1:

        There is no theoretical reason that would permit us to expect that evolutionary lines would increase in complexity with time; there is also no empirical evidence that this happens. – John Maynard Smith and E. Szathmary, in Nature

        That is the first sentence of the tagline for the article. The very next sentence is “Nevertheless, eukaryotic cells are more complex than prokaryotic ones, animals and plants are more complex than protists, and so on.” In high school English they teach you to start your compositions with a hook. Could it be that this is a hook and that Lennox has pulled it out of context to further a particular viewpoint? Three paragraphs later the article says: “It is more interesting to list the mechanisms whereby the quantity of genetic information can increase. The three main possibilities – duplication and divergence, symbiosis and epigenesis – are shown in Fig 1.” Though I have not read it all, the remainder of the article appears to be a more detailed discussion of those mechanisms and the roles they may have played in the major evolutionary transitions. Does Lennox deny that the fossil record points to an increase in complexity over time?

        it’s easier for evolution to break things than to make things

        I recently finished reading Perry Marshall’s “Evolution 2.0” and this was his major sticking point. I plan to write up a review in the not too distant future, but I’ll note a few things about this break vs make topic here:
        1) Yes, it is quite true that genetic change is more likely to break than to make – but broken and dead things don’t reproduce very well. Evolution is not just change. It is change + selection over generations. The rhetorical power of the low probability that a change confers an advantage is mitigated by bringing selection into the mix.
        2) I think that it is correct – and perhaps necessary – to suggest that many major evolutionary transitions cannot be explained only by point mutations (base-pair copying errors). The article above discusses some of the other mechanisms, as does Marshall’s book. I don’t agree with Marshall’s end conclusion, but the book is a good introduction into some of those other ‘large scale’ mechanisms of change. Despite my disagreement with his conclusions, I would recommend that book as a starting point if you want to dig into the topic further.
        3) It seems incorrect to assume that we can extrapolate from the observations of the evolution of organisms with vast quantities of genetic information back to the evolution of organisms with much less information. The potential for the realization of adaptive changes increase dramatically with so much more information at hand.
        4) It seems incorrect to assume that our attempts to impose selective pressures in the lab over small time spans are directly comparable to the pressures of natural selection over very large time spans.

        Regarding #2:
        At the risk of being pedantic, let me clear up something. When I quoted you above you referred to “several, several, several trillions of orders of magnitude”. An order of magnitude is an exponential term. You were essentially saying that the difference was 10^(several, several, several trillions). You then quote a maximum value of 10^40,000. Yeah, that’s a big number, but they aren’t the same.

        Breaking it into smaller steps makes the problem mathematically worse, not better

        Do you mean to tell me that when you recursively multiply a result by a value less than 1.0, the result keeps getting smaller? Woah. My mind is blown.

        But seriously, as Tildeb pointed out, if you get specific enough about any chain of events, absolutely everything looks virtually impossible. And what is the point in talking about spontaneously building hemoglobin out of amino acids? Who thinks that this is what happened? That kind of event is only a problem if you insist that it is the only option because increases in complexity through natural mechanisms are insurmountably improbable, which brings us right back to the first point. As noted above, I suspect that there are some bad assumptions which are informing the derivations of those numbers, so I would be interested in hearing how you scrutinized the calculations to assess the reliability of the outputs before you accepted them as true.

        By the way, I think that your archeology analogy was apt (aside from that fact that it doesn’t adequately translate the size of the dataset, but that’s excusable). The theory of evolution with regard to the last 4 billion years does not have the same verifiability that laboratory observations of genetic mutation and other real-time observations do. But that also does not mean that the mainstream interpretation of the data is faulty. That interpretation appears to be remarkably consistent with the data, which is why it is mainstream. And that interpretation will continue to evolve as we continue to learn more. I might even go so far as to suggest that evolutionary detractors have had a hand in advancing that interpretation by forcing parties to closely examine the data and offer explanations for things like bacteria flagella.

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        1. Hello Travis,

          I always enjoy your comments! Thanks for engaging, and apologies in kind for my slow response 🙂

          “It is more interesting to list the mechanisms whereby the quantity of genetic information can increase.”

          Regardless of the authors’ writing strategy, I am compelled to take what the say at face value. There are many things that are “interesting”. I find phenomena like near-death experiences and poltergeist activity to be very fascinating, for instance — and, incidentally, it turns out we do have evidence that such things probably actually occur, to the point where a naturalist/materialist might have some problems explaining them within the framework of his chosen worldview. However, drawing from prior discussions you and I have had, I would guess that you would not find my level of interest in the subject (nor even the evidence I could point to to support the reality of these occurrences) a compelling argument.

          So sure, I agree that a discussion of such mechanisms might prove to be “interesting” — however, in lack of “empirical evidence that it happens,” I’m not sure how such a discussion would be anything beyond wishful thinking. It’s the sort of thing I would expect to find evidence for — in light of such a profound lack, I’m afraid the interest of a couple scientists fail to be very persuasive to me.

          Does Lennox deny that the fossil record points to an increase in complexity over time?

          Lennox does, indeed, devote a section of the book to the fossil record, and what some scientists in the field say it actually points to. I’ll include a few quotes from the text:

          “Large evolutionary innovations are not well understood. None has ever been observed, and we have no idea whether any may be in progress. There is no good fossil record of any.” -Paul Wesson

          “We are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded…. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin’s time.” -David Raup of the Field Museum of Natural History

          “When we do see the introduction of evolutionary novelty, it usually shows up with a bang, and often with no firm evidence that the fossils did not evolve elsewhere. Evolution cannot forever be going on somewhere else.” -Niles Eldredge of the American Museum of Natural History

          “We palaeontologists have said that the history of life supports [the story of gradual adaptive change] knowing all the while it does not.” -Ibid

          The rhetorical power of the low probability that a change confers an advantage is mitigated by bringing selection into the mix.

          This is somewhat related to the haemoglobin example, even though you were addressing another issue. When it comes to chemical evolution, the uniqueness and irreducibility of the functionality of molecules like proteins seems to preclude entirely the possibility that some sort of selection process could have aided their formation and mitigated their extreme unlikelihood. As an illustration, Lennox takes Dawkin’s analogy of a combination lock whose solution is a line from Shakespeare: “METHINKSITISAWEASEL”. He then reports Behe’s response to this model:

          “[Dawkins’ analogy] purports to be an analogy for natural selection which requires a function. But what function is there in a lock combination that is wrong? Suppose that, after spinning the discs for a while, we had half the letters right, something like the sequence MDTUIFKQINIOAFERSCL (every other letter is correct). The analogy asserts that this is an improvement over a random string of letters, and that it would somehow help us open the lock…. If your reproductive success depended on opening the lock, you would leave no offspring. Ironically for Sober and Dawkins, a lock combination is a highly specified, irreducibly complex system which beautifully illustrates why, for such systems, function cannot be approached gradually.”

          The inference is clear: In most cases, if something like a haemoglobin molecule is wrong in one atom or in one bond, it cannot function at all. There’s no reason why nature would select a half-formed haemoglobin molecule, because such a molecule has no advantage over random other molecules — the destructive nature of natural selection would inevitably wipe out any “progress” made, and we’re back to square one.

          The theory of evolution with regard to the last 4 billion years does not have the same verifiability that laboratory observations of genetic mutation and other real-time observations do. But that also does not mean that the mainstream interpretation of the data is faulty.

          Sure, it doesn’t. But neither does it mean that it is true. The same could be said for a Christian worldview: “We can’t observe God creating the universe, but that doesn’t mean the Christian interpretation is false.” Your statement is a worldview assertion — namely, that the “mainstream interpretation” should be accepted a priori, regardless of any evidence we would have to doubt this assessment (see the quotes above). This seems as dogmatic to me as any religious claim.

          Which leads me to this:

          That interpretation appears to be remarkably consistent with the data, which is why it is mainstream.

          I want to be careful here, because this is a very important point and I don’t want its significance to our discussion to be overshadowed by other topics. I’ll start with a question: Can you say with confidence why a particular interpretation is mainstream? Is the only explanation because it fits the data? Could there not be other forces at work that could lead a majority of people to believe something that is false?

          For instance, in the 15th century it was mainstream to believe that the Earth was the center of the universe. We happen to know better now (i.e. we have more data, thanks to Copernicus), so we feel justified rejecting this interpretation today. The mainstream-ness of the view holds no sway for us, because we have evidence that suggests otherwise. In fact, we know why the wrong interpretation was so mainstream at the time — i.e., most people bought into a particular interpretation of Biblical text, and this influenced the way they interpreted their observations.

          Today, we have a mainstream interpretation of Darwinian evolution to explain the presence, complexity, and variety of life. And yet, when we get down to it, it seems we have both a dismal lack of the kind of evidence that we should have expected, plus we have evidence presented by experts in the field that cast some serious doubt on this interpretation. Is this what it means to “fit the data” so well?

          So, other than assuming that the current interpretation is mainstream because it fits the data so well, can we think of another reason why such an interpretation might be mainstream? I can think of one: If one is a materialist or a naturalist, then evolution simply must be true. There is simply no other recourse — to admit otherwise would be to rock the materialist premise to its very foundation. Is it conceivable — even feasible — that we find ourselves in a modern-day version of Copernicus’ world, where people are allowing their worldview assumptions to affect how they interpret the data?

          I’ve only just begun to look seriously into evolution — tildeb’s sources were a great start — and the trend I’m finding is this: A scientist makes a discovery that has something to do with archeology or evolutionary biology, and it’s touted as a triumph for evolution, and it shows up on all the “why evolution is true” websites. And yet, when you actually look at the data themselves and read some alternative interpretations from other scientists, you find that the evidence from the findings don’t really provide the sort of airtight case the yay-sayers make out. For instance, you read the headline, “Scientist finds proof of A to Z,” but when you look at the data, it actually only shows P to Q. And, in fact, it seems that every “gotcha” case I’ve found that supposedly proves Darwinian evolution deals with pretty much the same family of letters in the evolutionary alphabet — say, N to R.

          Of course, I am tempted to check my brain at the door and go along with the status quo — they’re scientists, after all, and I’m just a stupid nobody. And yet, could this be a hint that scientists (who are human beings, after all) might be over-zealously interpreting the data to support a worldview that they very much wish would be true? There is, I think, good reason to consider this as a real possibility.

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        2. Hi Seth,

          I agree that a discussion of such mechanisms might prove to be “interesting” — however, in lack of “empirical evidence that it happens,” I’m not sure how such a discussion would be anything beyond wishful thinking.

          Wait… are you saying that there isn’t any evidence for changes which increase the amount of DNA in an organism?

          Lennox does, indeed, devote a section of the book to the fossil record, and what some scientists in the field say it actually points to. I’ll include a few quotes from the text

          Nothing here denies an overall increase in complexity. These all question the implications behind the rapidity with which new forms are observed. This is not inconsistent with evolutionary theory in general unless you affirm that evolution is nothing but a predictably consistent gradual accretion of point mutations. I perceive that this characterization, however, is a poor representation of the actual views of evolutionary biologists.

          In most cases, if something like a haemoglobin molecule is wrong in one atom or in one bond, it cannot function at all

          …in the specified role and environment. If the environment changes is the hemoglobin now dysfunctional? Are you aware that sickle cell disease is a point mutation of the DNA for hemoglobin and is more prevalent in populations which are highly susceptible to malaria, which is just coincidentally a disease that it protects against? Is that design or selection?

          There’s no reason why nature would select a half-formed haemoglobin molecule, because such a molecule has no advantage over random other molecules

          …in the specified role and environment.

          Your statement is a worldview assertion — namely, that the “mainstream interpretation” should be accepted a priori, regardless of any evidence we would have to doubt this assessment (see the quotes above)

          Woah, back up. I never said that the mainstream interpretation should be accepted despite evidence to the contrary. When we encounter evidence which challenges the existing paradigm we don’t throw out all the evidence which has informed our interpretation up to that point. We instead try to incorporate all the data into the model so that it all fits together. I was merely suggesting that nothing has been presented which is incompatible with the mainstream interpretation, and that the mainstream interpretation is supported by a wealth of data.

          Can you say with confidence why a particular interpretation is mainstream? Is the only explanation because it fits the data? Could there not be other forces at work that could lead a majority of people to believe something that is false?

          No, No, Yes

          I think you misunderstood the intent behind my use of “mainstream”. I wasn’t trying to make an argument from authority, I was just using it as a label to identify a particular generalized interpretation of the evolutionary data.

          Is it conceivable — even feasible — that we find ourselves in a modern-day version of Copernicus’ world, where people are allowing their worldview assumptions to affect how they interpret the data? … over-zealously interpreting the data to support a worldview that they very much wish would be true?

          Sure, but what you call a worldview assumption, I call a recognition of the persistent regularity of the natural world. But you and I have been down the road plenty before. And as you like to point out, the “defending a worldview they wish to be true” accusation works both ways.

          I am also far from being an expert in evolutionary theory but I just haven’t seen the kinds of disparities in the data that you seem to see. There has certainly been a lot of discussion and disagreement and discoveries over the years, but the general principles look to be unscathed.

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        3. Sure, but what you call a worldview assumption, I call a recognition of the persistent regularity of the natural world.

          I’m going to focus my response on this statement — it seems the more technical topics are winding down into arenas where there is not enough empirical evidence for anyone to make a convincing argument, I think. We could continue to spar over our respective beliefs — but, to quote my good friend Travis, “you and I have been down the road plenty before” 🙂

          I would like to focus on why you believe the “recognition of the persistent regularity of the natural world” is evidence for naturalism over Christianity. (To be clear, I’m leaning toward the metaphysical definition of naturalism in this discussion — I imagine you and I both share an appreciation for methodological naturalism.)

          Of course, any reasonable man must recognize the regularity of the natural world — however, I would argue that this is an observation that supports Christianity more than it does naturalism. Regularity and order are factors that can actually be predicted about the universe based on a Biblical worldview (Isaiah 40:26, Jeremiah 33:25, Colossians 1:17, Revelation 4:11) — without even looking up from his Bible, the Christian can expect the universe to exhibit regularity and follow the laws of nature because he believes in an ultimate Lawgiver who made it so. It was, in fact, this expectation on the part of Christians that led to the foundation of science as we know it in the Western world.

          Naturalism, on the other hand, takes regularity one step further than observation and makes it an a priori assumption — i.e., the regularity we see here and now and in our limited experience of the universe must be the same for all times and in all places, and furthermore must be the only mechanism by which things occur in the natural world. Naturalists have no mechanism by which these assumptions can be accounted for or be said to be predictions in any sense — they must be taken as brute facts. Thus, I don’t see how observed regularity can in any way logically support metaphysical naturalism, since the latter must take the former as an assumption. It would end up being a circular argument no matter how you slice it.

          Case in point: You and I (as you mentioned) have had at least two separate discussions on this topic before — one concerning miracles in general and one about a specific case. In both discussions, it is my perception that you, like Hume, were using the regularity of the universe as an argument against the supernatural, and felt justified favoring (what seemed to me) extremely far-fetched scenarios that accounted for the facts in natural ways over the elegant, prima facie conclusion that a miracle has occurred. (Back to the OP, Hume’s argument against the miraculous is another topic Lennox tackles in his book.) The way you presented your criteria for actually being convinced a miracle has occurred, it seemed to me an impossible set of circumstances — even the examples you provided that you claim would convince you of a miracle would be so bogged down with paperwork required to document the events to your satisfaction that they become essentially unfeasible. This makes metaphysical naturalism, in practice, an irrefutable and unfalsifiable position — Hitchens would have been appalled, methinks 😉

          All this to say — I don’t see how regularity can support metaphysical naturalism without resorting, in some sense, to a circular argument. And I didn’t go into detail on this one much, but I also don’t think methodological naturalism on its own supports the Darwinian model of evolution. The assumptions of metaphysical naturalism must be smuggled in — the holes in the evidence seem far too great for methodological naturalism to be satisfied, unless it is coupled with the assumption that it just has to be natural processes all the way down.

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        4. Seth,
          I guess we can go down this road again if you want. Maybe there’s something new to cover.

          I would like to focus on why you believe the “recognition of the persistent regularity of the natural world” is evidence for naturalism over Christianity.

          Because Christianity claims that there are arbitrary violations of regularity and naturalism does not. If there is in fact a persistent regularity to the natural world then this is more consistent with naturalism than Christianity.

          Regularity and order are factors that can actually be predicted about the universe based on a Biblical worldview … Naturalists have no mechanism by which these assumptions can be accounted for or be said to be predictions in any sense

          Interesting. To me, you’re working in reverse. As I see it, the biblical authors you cite are generating those texts in the same way that the naturalist is generating their hypothesis about the nature of reality. In both cases, we’re inductively inferring regularity from observation. It’s just that the biblical authors are attributing that observation to their preferred explanation whereas naturalism is withholding attribution pending further evidence.

          I don’t see how regularity can support metaphysical naturalism without resorting, in some sense, to a circular argument.

          I think you’re artificially creating circularity. Naturalists aren’t saying that the world is regular because it’s regular. They’re saying that the world is regular. Period. It’s just an observation.

          I also don’t think methodological naturalism on its own supports the Darwinian model of evolution … the holes in the evidence seem far too great for methodological naturalism to be satisfied

          Such as?

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  2. Seth,

    If an evolutionary biologist wrote a book that included some paradigm shift about a fundamental mathematical concept that is used in applications, therapies, and technologies that just so happen to work for everyone everywhere all the time, I would automatically and, at the very least, check it out with a bunch of renowned mathematicians… perhaps even someone like Lennox.

    What I wouldn’t do is what you’ve done: go along with a mathematician (who is a famous Christian apologist derided by many leaders in the scientific community from many areas for peddling the same thoroughly discredited and debunked arguments outside his field of expertise in favour of his religious beliefs book after book after book) for some ‘insight’ that questions a fundamental concept – used, let us not forget, successfully in all kinds of areas and applications – of evolutionary biology. This is just a very poor approach to take… if you are concerned more with what is true, what is the case about reality, rather than simply searching for something – anything – that might help you maintain a contrary belief.

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    1. Hello again, tildeb 🙂 Gosh, where do I start?

      I suppose, for now, it will suffice to suggest you read the book for yourself before assuming what kinds of information it includes. Judging from the sources Lennox cites, skepticism against the accepted neo-Darwinian model of evolution isn’t an idea that originated in Lennox’ head, but that is shared — and has been published — by many experts in the field. I cited a few above in my response to Travis, but one more example comes to my mind especially, regarding Chinese paleontologist Jun-Yuan Chen: “His work on the remarkable discoveries in Chenjiang of strange fossil creatures led him to question the orthodox evolutionary line. In true scholarly fashion he mentioned his criticisms in his lectures [when visiting the USA in 1999] but they elicited very little response. This lack of reaction surprised him and so he eventually asked one of his hosts what was wrong. He was told that scientists in the USA did not like to hear such criticism of evolution. To this he gave [this reply]: ‘In China we can criticize Darwin, but not the government; in America you can criticize the government, but not Darwin.'”

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      1. Seth, it’s difficult for the average layperson to understand the rigor through which evolution – as a theory that has successfully and repeatedly been applied to reality as an explanation that works every time – has had to pass. Nothing else in the history of humanity compares and nothing else in the history of humanity has achieved such astounding and ongoing success. From evolutionary theory we now have a means to understand how – by what various natural and unguided mechanisms – life changes over time and a mountain of evidence to increase the likelihood of the explanation being ‘true’ to a much higher degree of confidence than any other basic explanation that has produced a theory… say, germ theory or nuclear theory.

        So when a religious apologist comes along and tries to sew doubt into the minds of those who are susceptible to it rather than the produce a legitimate scientific criticism of the explanation in question that supposedly underlies it, a certain level of frustration naturally arises.

        When the criticisms that help sew such doubts have been adequately and repeatedly addressed time and time again, yet the doubt remains strong for this one theory but not all the others that drive, say, your cell phone or your trust in airplanes or the surgery you’re about to undergo – all endeavors far, far, far less deserving of confidence if the doubter was actually honest about the motivation for the criticism – then I’m sure you can begin to appreciate just how incredibly annoying it is for the merchants of doubt to be exempt from the same level of obstinate criticism believers in the doubt bring forth to meet evolution and only evolution… blissfully unaware that if evolution isn’t true – but brought about by the identical process that we gather any knowledge about anything – then neither is any science or any science product YOU USE DAILY.

        Denying evolution is identical to denying the scientific method itself. It’s lunacy.

        Let that sink in for a moment. Savor it. Appreciate the level of deceit necessary for doubt to be artificially created in this one area but also in the face of the astoundingly productive method of inquiry from which it has been produced… the same method, the identical process, the same kind of explanation, by which your cell phone works, your plane flies, and your surgeon relies on.

        Before we get into addressing the doubt that Lennox intentionally sews, your attention should be drawn to the fact that every area of science that involves life present or past fully aligns and supports the evolutionary explanation.

        All of it.

        If these areas didn’t do this, then there might be cause to hold some honest doubt. Science thrives on such doubt and there is no faster way for a scientist to gain fame than to disprove an accepted tenet of some science. For the scientist who can disprove evolution, a Nobel is waiting.

        Again, let that sink in for a moment. Scientists are far more skeptical than a Lennox and he knows it.

        Mining companies wouldn’t risk billions of dollars annually on this explanation as they search for oil and gas in those places that were not aligned with the geologic record of mass extinctions. Farming wouldn’t be able to implement the product of evolutionary theory in its green revolution that feeds billions of people every year. Pharmaceuticals wouldn’t be able to address targeted diseases and specific inherited genetic damage in chemically assembled therapies if evolutionary theory were wrong. So much of medicine would be efficacious yet we wouldn’t have any understanding why if evolutionary theory were wrong. And the list goes on and on. Geology, astrophysics, vulcanism, all the biological sciences including genetics, medicine, pharmaceuticals, seemingly unrelated industries like fertilizers, forestry, all the animal and food sciences and so on. Nothing in biology or any field that contributes to it makes sense outside of evolution.

        Now ponder that fact for at least a moment. Nothing in any of these sciences – including (and this point is vital all the therapies, applications, and technologies based on the explanation!) – make any sense outside of the evolutionary explanation.

        Lastly before targeting Lennox’s deceit, consider how the merchants of doubt – almost always the most religiously motivated – utterly fail in every way to produce an alternative explanation that equivalently works. POOF!ism is not an alternative. It is not productive. Yet it is the explanation most often used – some version of creationism – these peddlers inevitably fall back upon. POOF!ism does not yield any knowledge about anything ever. It’s a pseudo-explanation used to soothe the credulous as if it were a credible alternative but one that has never, does not, and probably never shall produce one iota of equivalent knowledge. That’s why it’s not an alternative explanation whatsoever: it’s simply another empty claim dressed up to look like an alternative ‘explanation’.

        Now, in the first quote you use, it says “there is also no empirical evidence that this (increased complexity) happens.” This is a rather remarkable admission of basing a conclusion on ignorance and is now so thoroughly debunked that to continue making such a claim borders on being intentionally duplicitous. Yet you are willing to take this as fact. It isn’t. It is factually wrong. We have – for those who honestly seek – all kinds of compelling evidence of changes in both direction of complexity as life interacts with changing environments. This is very easily checked, for example, at such sites as Talk Origin (specific explanation is here).

        Behe’s criticism is factually wrong. Lenski’s ongoing and beautiful experiment demonstrates this.

        And so on.

        None of these claims undermines evolution. All they do is pretend to raise reasonable doubt. Using Lennox’s own argument from incredulity, he cannot exist because the odds are similarly calculated to have him as the numerator 1 and the probability in the denominator some incredibly huge number of everything that needed to be just so for him to be produced. But he exists nevertheless, and this fact he misses when it comes applying the same argument to evolution! Have you noticed, for example, that every lottery no matter how astronomical the odds, seems to produce a winner? Doubting that any winners could ever be produced because the maths show it’s too unlikely demonstrates the problem with Lennox’s argument; he’s coming at it from the wrong end… and has been peddling this stupid argument for decades. No amount of correcting it ever affects his use of it because it’s powerful to the credulous. That doesn’t make it right and it certainly doesn’t raise the specter that evolution is therefore in doubt. If anything can be considered ‘true’ in our library of knowledge, then first and foremost is evolutionary theory.

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        1. Nothing else in the history of humanity compares and nothing else in the history of humanity has achieved such astounding and ongoing success.

          This is a tall order — humanity has made a lot of discoveries. I would appreciate it if you could cite some sources that back up this statement with evidence.

          So when a religious apologist comes along and tries to sew doubt into the minds of those who are susceptible to it rather than the produce a legitimate scientific criticism of the explanation in question that supposedly underlies it, a certain level of frustration naturally arises.

          You must have already read the book, then, to be able to know the nature of his criticism — whether it is scientific or not. My apologies, I assumed you hadn’t read it. In any case, you must be saying that the experts he cites are, themselves, also incapable of offering legitimate criticism — in which case, I would appreciate some citations where the objections and concerns of those scientists are answered directly by others in the field. Thirdly, I thought science was all about being open to criticism, so I don’t understand why one would be frustrated — unless evolution is an exception, or unless the subject of the frustration has some sort of emotional investment in evolution being true.

          Denying evolution is identical to denying the scientific method itself… the same method, the identical process, the same kind of explanation, by which your cell phone works, your plane flies, and your surgeon relies on.

          There is so much here to be addressed. Hopefully an illustration will suffice:

          Imagine you are an archaeologist walking through a site, and you come across some chips of rock. Let’s say your expertise in archaeology leads you to feel confident in concluding that these few rock chips are substantial evidence that a civilized people once lived in the region and quarried rocks from this very location. In your mind you can map out how the quarry might have been laid out, you can see the people working, you can imagine the tools they might have used. Maybe you even find a chunk of metal that you infer might have been the broken tip of a pickaxe. You write it up in a report, all your peers agree with you, and the government declares it an archaeological site.

          Now, imagine that same site is instead an active quarry today. You can visit the quarry and observe the men working, see the kinds of rocks they are harvesting, handle the tools they use, etc. You can do this every day, if you wish, and observe the same activities, the same men, the same tools. You can draw out a map of the premises, you can draw up the specs for the equipment they use, you can interview the men and ask what they are doing, where they live, what their society is like, etc.

          What you are essentially saying in your statement above is that those two situations are empirically identical. This is utter nonsense. We have never observed the kind of radical genetic changes that are being proposed by the theory of common ancestry — and, even if we could, we cannot go back in time and make those observations in the past. The claims Darwin made are extrapolations based on current, incomplete evidence — evidence, by the way, which can conceivably be interpreted in alternative ways (despite your claims to the contrary).

          You are comparing science to history, and saying that they are the exact same thing. They are not.

          Mining companies… And the list goes on and on.

          I think, at this point, it would be advantageous if you would define what exactly you mean by “evolution”. If you mean the part of evolution that deals with natural selection and mutation, that allows us to observe real-time changes and adaptations within living organisms, and that allows us some level of understanding of how genetics work, then you and I have no quarrel here. If you mean, on the other hand, the part of evolution that posits common ancestry for all life and that organisms, over time, can lead to organisms of a completely different type through natural processes alone, then I have two responses: 1) Such extraordinary claims are still severely lacking in empirical evidence (see below), and 2) I may be wrong, but I cannot think of any “applications, therapies [or] technologies” that depend specifically on the claim that all life came from a common ancestor, which is really the only claim that is being challenged here. If you wouldn’t mind, could you please illustrate what kinds of “applications, therapies [or] technologies” simply cannot be done unless one buys into the Darwinian model of how life developed from a common ancestor?

          Behe’s criticism is factually wrong. Lenski’s ongoing and beautiful experiment demonstrates this.

          Lenski’s observations and methods are brilliant, and Behe recognizes that. Behe also does not deny the observed results of Lenski’s experiment — i.e. that a strain of bacteria, that previously could only metabolize citrate in anaerobic conditions, gained the ability to metabolize it aerobic conditions. (Note that the ability to metabolize citrate was present from the beginning.) What Behe point out in his criticisms is that the experiment does not provide evidence of the creation of new genetic material; rather, the adaptation of the bacteria was due to mutations that caused the genome to lose information, not gain new information. In other words, the experiment — while a brilliant demonstration of adaptability and the power of mutation and natural selection — didn’t show us anything that we didn’t already know about the power of these mechanisms. The claim that mutations and natural selection can be responsible for the development of the complexity and variety we observe in nature remains an unsupported one, insofar as empirical evidence is concerned.

          Using Lennox’s own argument from incredulity, he cannot exist… and this fact he misses when it comes applying the same argument to evolution!

          I think you’ve got this backwards, mate, because Lennox uses precisely the logic that you claim him to have missed. It is no question that we exist — the task now is to determine the most likely explanation for that existence. And you’re right, if we assume natural processes and nothing else, the probability is unfathomably small — in other words, our existence + natural processes + nothing else = vast improbability. So, why this tenacious, unempirical insistence for “nothing else”, if forcing it into the equation creates such a huge imbalance of improbability? It’s as religious as any insistence from a theist ever has been.

          Have you noticed, for example, that every lottery no matter how astronomical the odds, seems to produce a winner?

          Yes, of course. Have you noticed that this is the case because the lottery is designed to produce a winner every time? 😉

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        2. As I’ve indicated on several occasions, I’m no scientist I would NEVER presume to argue the facts (or not) of evolution.

          However, in your reply to tildeb, Seth, this stood out to me: “The claims Darwin made are extrapolations based on current, incomplete evidence — evidence, by the way, which can conceivably be interpreted in alternative ways “

          Isn’t this much the same as what apologists do about God and the scriptures? Thus, to support Lennox and claim his approach is superior to scientists who study evolution (as a full-time job) strikes me as a case of pot calling the kettle black.

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        3. Hello Nan 🙂 It’s an astute point, and you’re right. My aim here was to point out the difference between using the scientific method on things we can observe in the here-and-now (repeatability, development of technology, etc.) and using methods of science to extrapolate what happened in the past, which will always be as looking through a glass darkly, so to speak. Tildeb denies this difference and asserts that they are one in the same — I’m merely challenging that assumption.

          However, as an interesting corollary — if it can be agreed upon that historical science requires interpretation and is thus less cut-and-dry than the kind of science that produces technology, then it leaves the door open for alternative explanatory models to account for the evidence and clues we can observe. Naturalists seem to think that their Darwinian interpretation is the only way to interpret the facts, and in many cases it seems that such scientists actively try to suppress any work that would support alternative theories (I cited Ben Stein’s documentary and Jerry Bergman’s book that document some such incidents). This seems to me very anti-science, in that it seeks to suppress critical thought and the formation of theories that challenge their a priori (LOL there it is again) naturalistic assumptions. I think the parallel I drew to the emperor’s clothes is looking more and more applicable — why would scientists actively seek to persecute their colleagues who challenge a certain explanatory model (where such challenges are the bedrock upon which science itself is built) unless they have a personal stake in the emperor having clothes on? If things were as cut-and-dry as the naturalists say, why do these scientists seem so insecure?

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        4. Why indeed? Could it be they have devoted their life’s work to the study and have reached conclusions they feel, while not totally irrefutable because, after all, it is science, are well-grounded and valid?

          While your point is well made that we cannot know for certain how everything (including us) came to be, I tend to back those who spend lifetimes (in some cases) studying and extrapolating possibilities based on various types of tangible evidence. But then, as you know, I’m not a fan of (as tildeb puts it) POOFism. 😉

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        5. I don’t think I intimated that at all. The fact is, scientists refute other scientists’ work all the time. This is exactly why our knowledge about the world we live in (and how we got here) keeps expanding.

          The difference I think we’re talking about here is you feel the work of Lennox is more valid than that of other scientists who disagree with his viewpoint. For me, not being a scientist, I can’t contest your POV, except perhaps philosophically.

          Always enjoy your posts and the discussions they engender. 🙂

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        6. Thanks Nan! 😀

          Actually, I don’t have any reasons a priori (haha I can’t stop! I think I have a legitimate problem) to think that the scientists that Lennox cites are better than the other guys — to clarify my OP, my main takeaway from the book was a revived impetus to look further into it, and not just take the naturalists’ word that Darwinian evolution is as well-supported by evidence as most let on. When it comes to Lennox, he’s a mathematician, so who cares what he says personally — however, he cites some heavy-hitters who document seemingly valid reasons to question this model. That’s enough for me to do two things: 1) look at what the dissenters are saying, and if they have reasonable evidence, and 2) check out what hard evidence exists for Darwinian evolution, and (perhaps more importantly) what evidence doesn’t exist for it.

          Thanks for weighing in! Always good to have you aboard 🙂

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        7. Have you noticed that this is the case because the lottery is designed to produce a winner

          Some are: ticket draws, for example (one of the purchased tickets will be drawn and so a winner is guaranteed). But in a lottery with, say, seven numbers within a range, there is no designed winner. It’s simply chance. And yet, in spite of staggering odds (similar to one individual being struck by lightening a half dozen times and a meteorite twice), we have lottery winners all the time. You, for example, beat out how many millions of sperm, a product of chance between two specific people out of billions? Why, the odds are astronomical! Now calculate the probability of that sperm and that ovulated egg combined with those two people on a particular day out of their reproductive life cycle, in the same locale, and both in the right mood, and, well, you cannot possibly be a product of such randomness.

          You see, Seth, the calculating starts at the wrong end. The probability of you being real is P=1 because here you are. No matter how long the odds leading up to you in the here and now doesn’t matter; the probability Lennox forgets about evolution is P=1. That’s why this argument only works against those who are susceptible to it, and that’s why he keeps using it… not because its a legitimate argument that is right but because it is effective even if it’s wrong.

          So, before playing whack a mole with apologist arguments that don’t change anyone’s mind who is susceptible to effective arguments regardless if they’re right or wrong, consider why you and I and every Great Ape shares identical genetic damage from an ancient simian virus. How does some version of POOF!ism explain that? Why do whales have vestigial pelvic bones? Why do all vertebrates share limbs structure – arm, leg, wing, fin – by one bone connected to two bones connected to five?

          You give the apologist game you’re playing away by buying into the term Darwinism rather than its correct and modern version, scientist. I don’t see you call others Newtonists who believe in gravity (gravity being an argument that disproves a flat earth, by the way). The idea has moved on over the past 150 years and that – not some belief set – is why evolution is a theory and why its supported by every other avenue of inquiry. All one needs to remember is two things: 1) that modern biology is based on evolutionary theory, and 2) none of the discoveries since the hypothesis was suggested had to be this way. Because genetics works and aligns perfectly with natural selection and heritability of fitness (through common ancestry), modern evolutionary theory is a <i.synthesis of the two. Century old terms like Darwinist is only used by religious fruitcakes and those determined to misrepresent the science we call ‘biology’ today.

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        8. The probability of you being real is P=1 because here you are. No matter how long the odds leading up to you in the here and now doesn’t matter; the probability Lennox forgets about evolution is P=1.

          Aren’t you assuming your conclusions in order to make your point? There’s a subtle deception at work here (though it must not be that subtle, because I’m not that bright and it’s clear as day to me): You are equating the probability of our existence with the probability of Darwinian evolution, in particular, being the correct model to explain that existence. In other words, you are making the following argument:

          1. If we exist, then it must have been due to Darwinian evolution.
          2. We exist.
          3. Therefore, Darwinian evolution is true.

          The same logic can be applied to the creationist argument:

          1. If we exist, then God must have created us.
          2. We exist.
          3. Therefore, God exists.

          Point being: There is no evidential reason to equate the probability of our existence with the probability of the Darwinian model being an accurate representation of history.

          How does some version of POOF!ism explain that?

          Since your question deals primarily with explanatory value, the answer is easy: God made it that way. See, a naturalist is forced to accept a theory that is improbable to the point of impossibility because his naturalistic assumptions compel him to deny intelligent agency — in other words, his worldview affects how he interprets the evidence, even if it causes him to accept as fact things that have not been observed and that have been shown to be impossibly unlikely within his chosen framework. I admit, theists do the same: We allow our theistic worldview to inform our interpretation of the evidence (the same evidence, mind you, that naturalists have and use) and form an explanatory model that is not embarrassed to appeal to intelligent creative agency — especially when the probability of design is such a clear inference from observation, one that even Dawkins admits.

          What makes your assumptions superior to my assumptions? I’m not claiming, necessarily, that the theist’s assumptions are more founded — but I am challenging this idea that your explanatory model is the only one that can account for the facts.

          You give the apologist game you’re playing away by buying into the term Darwinism rather than its correct and modern version, scientist.

          So, all modern scientists are Darwinian? Those scientists cited who dare to question the Darwinian model aren’t real scientists? No true Scotsman would dare question the almighty Darwin? 😉

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        9. Aren’t you assuming your conclusions in order to make your point? There’s a subtle deception at work here (though it must not be that subtle, because I’m not that bright and it’s clear as day to me): You are equating the probability of our existence with the probability of Darwinian evolution,

          No. You misunderstand.

          Again, this is a common criticism you raise against the P=1 argument but forgets what this is in response to: the apologist argues (Lennox) that high odds equate with increased improbability, that incredibly small probability indicates reduced likelihood that something like evolution by natural selection could even be true (ignoring all evidence directly and indirectly supporting the theory and sticking with the maths).

          This is very stupid and here’s why:

          It can be shown to be stupid by this example of you in the here and now calculating the probability of you being here and now.. as if this calculation in any way affects you being here and now. That probability of you being here and now is not highly unlikely in fact… no matter how small you make the likelihood cast from the front end and ending up with the calculation that accounts for every necessary situation to have occurred (as if it could have been different) for you to exist in the here and now. That probability remains P=1. That is what Lennox refuses to incorporate into this stupid argument he continues to peddle in order to try to manufacture doubt over evolution. There is no scientific doubt. None. Zero. There is contrary religious beliefs (under different names) unfounded on any compelling evidence. There could be doubt if someone, say, were to find a rabbit fossil in the preCambrian but until such evidence is forthcoming, the explanation has the bad manners to work for everyone everywhere all the time. This is the fact… no matter how hard Lennox pushes the idea that improbability somehow alters this fact, alters any probability that is already P=1. . It doesn’t alter anything… anymore than it makes your own existence more doubtful. It’s a stupid notion.

          So the P=1 counter argument is a response to that line of questioning. It is to put to the lie that the improbable is so unlikely as to be untrue. We are surrounded by the improbable to such an extent that the improbable is indisputably COMMON!

          Now does your existence alter if we now include the incredible odds for you being here and now multiplied by each and every improbable person now living, now being P=1 in practice? Does it aid us in any way assuming that calculating odds and probabilities from a starting position different than what it actually was produces insight into reality? Does it matter if the probabilities are so infinitesimally small? If Lennox were intellectually honest, he should be proclaiming that all of reality as it is right now is quite impossible because the probabilities are so low.

          He’s not intellectually honest. He <i.cherry picks this argument in order to apply it against evolution only but not, for example, as an excuse why he shouldn’t buy his spouse a birthday present (the probability of her even being born are equivalently tiny and so it’s supposedly unreasonable to presume she might have another birthday). That’s why this is a transparently stupid argument easily refuted by anyone who isn’t first set on agreeing to it… for reasons other than it’s a well founded argument.

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        10. Does an argument become more persuasive the more times the word “stupid” appears in it? 😉

          So, let me see if I follow you — and I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt by formulating an argument for you (correct me please if I’m wrong on your position): You’re saying that even if something is incredibly improbable, that improbability can be mitigated (and become, essentially, irrelevant) provided we have sufficient evidence to believe it to be true regardless. Am I close?

          I still think there’s a problem, though. Remember, the probability discussion is contextualized within the topic of abiogenesis by natural processes, for which we have no evidence, none at all. If all we had to go from is evidence that we can observe, then we would be forced to conclude that inanimate chemicals simply did not arrange themselves to create life by any natural processes, and that’s a fact. So, in the absence of this evidence, here’s my question: If it’s highly, highly, highly improbable, AND we have no evidence that it occurred — indeed, we cannot even begin to fathom a conceivable model that even goes so far as to explain how it could have happened — then why do you believe so vehemently that it happened? That, to me, seems like the perfect recipe for something one should not believe.

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        11. Life is (P=1).

          Model the mechanisms that produce changes to life.

          See if that model works.

          Now work backwards and see if the evidence continues to fit the explanatory model.

          This is how evolution by natural selection went from hypothesis to theory over about a hundred years. There is no contrary evidence; there are only quibbles over which mechanism predominates a particular change over time.

          Evolution is true because it fits all the data to date.

          Continue to work backwards.

          Repeat.

          We’re now at a point in our understanding that is approaching abiogenesis. We’re not there yet but we’re close.

          Or, let’s teach the controversy in science class… as if there was one when there isn’t any scientific controversy at all. Evolution fits all the data. Now call this teaching of religious belief in some version of creationism ‘academic freedom’ as if science alters its models that work based on religious beliefs. Now let’s pass legislation that assures the judicial branches that the alternative that is entirely religious has nothing whatsoever to do with religious belief but grants the right for the State to pay teachers who favor accommodating religious creationism if some of them choose to do so in science class – an ‘alternative’ that has exactly zero evidence in its favor.

          We can pretend we ‘know’ about a causal agency we’ll call some version of Oogity Boogity! by the various mechanisms we’ll call POOF!ism and think we’ve done a really good job accommodating and comporting religious belief with scientific knowledge – but we must conveniently ignore all the evidence that is on only onde side of this ‘controversy’ and that demonstrates only natural, unguided, physical and chemical ongoing processes. No evidence for any intervention at any point.

          To help us make room for the ‘alternative’, we’ll create new terminology – like unscientific terms of kinds – and then ignore the genetic evidence linking two separate kinds by inheritance from a shared common third kind of ancestor and pretend we still have an explanatory model… you know, the kind that never, ever produces any applicable knowledge whatsoever but stands contrary to and incompatible with respect for the scientific method and the models we use to explain how reality operates, the same models used to produce applications, therapies, and technologies that dare to work for everyone everywhere all the time. But it satisfies the religious apologists and that’s what the ‘search for what’s true’ is supposed to do, I guess.

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        12. We’re now at a point in our understanding that is approaching abiogenesis. We’re not there yet but we’re close.

          Please define “close”. And be as specific as possible, if you please. If you can cite evidence, that would be ideal. Thank you.

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        13. By ‘close’ I mean we’re discarding the ‘answer’ that ‘God did it’ – which leads us exactly nowhere – and concentrating on improving our understanding on the chemical fundamentals to life in ever greater detail. It is from this kind of modeling that will be our best bet of reproducing life in the lab to demonstrate how life could have come about in ancient conditions. We can then use this information in a multitude of applicable ways.

          For example, (from Jerry Coyne responding to a tweet from another evolutionary biologist)

          “I think the main thing that’s not quite right about this is 5, “All novelty in evolution starts as a single mutation arising in a single individual at a single time point”. While this is essentially true, it misses out two of the most significant novelties in the history of life, which were not created by mutation, but instead by instances of predation that went wrong and instead produced symbiosis, with one kind of cell living inside another.
          The first such event took place around 2 billion years ago, somewhere in the ocean. Prior to that moment, all life had consisted of small organisms called prokaryotes which had no cell nucleus or mitochondria (these are the tiny cellular structures that help provide you and me and giraffes and mushrooms with energy). Everything changed when one unicellular life-form, known as an achaebacterium, tried to eat another, called a eubacterium. On this one occasion the eubacterium survived inside its would-be predator and became trapped, losing many of its genes to its host and eventually turning into a molecular powerhouse – the mitochondrion – that produced energy from chemical reactions and was used by the new eukaryotic cell. These new eukaryotic life-forms were a weird hybrid, composed of two different organisms. They were our ancestors.

          A second, similar, event occurred around a billion years ago, when a eukaryotic cell, complete with mitochondria, engulfed a eubacterium that had long ago evolved the trick of acquiring energy from sunlight, through photosynthesis. Predation went wrong again, and another form of symbiosis eventually appeared. This gave rise to algae and eventually plants, in which small organelles called chloroplasts, the descendants of the intended eubacterial victim, turn light into energy for the benefit of the eukaryotic host.”

          Until genetics could provide tangible evidence for predation to be a means for a chemical change to symbiosis that affected a gene transfer, this knowledge was unknown. That’s what I mean about approaching an understanding about abiogenesis. Work backwards and model. See if the evidence fits. Repeat as necessary.

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  3. I must have missed this post, and apologies if it’s been covered already in the comments above.

    First, I seem to have missed your apology for accepting some creation hypothesis for the beginning of the universe. If you’re seeking fairness in the absence of evidence, then by the same standards you’ll have to apologize for accepting creation myths as well. They rely more on vehemence and bravado than on actual demonstrable evidence.

    Second, saying “I don’t know” is quite alright when it comes to life’s tough questions for which we have no direct evidence. More importantly, it does not mean that every explanation is valid. It just means that other explanations are different. Until there is evidence to support a proposition, all we have are guesses.

    Expressing confidence in those guesses is another matter entirely.

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    1. Hello mate!

      First, I seem to have missed your apology for accepting some creation hypothesis for the beginning of the universe. If you’re seeking fairness in the absence of evidence, then by the same standards you’ll have to apologize for accepting creation myths as well. They rely more on vehemence and bravado than on actual demonstrable evidence.

      Haha zing 😉

      My point is that naturalists and creationists are in the same boat — and naturalists on the whole, in my experience, seem reluctant to recognize that faith is a significant factor in their worldview assumptions. Often the battle is framed as thought it were the “assumptions of Christianity against the unbiased objectivity of the naturalists”, when it’s really “the assumptions of Christianity against the assumptions of naturalism”. Once we get to that point, then I think we can begin to take a clear look at which set of assumptions is superior to the other when it comes to conformity to the incomplete evidence we do have, and when it comes to explanatory value to explain observed phenomena, both the understood and the mysterious. I don’t see how one can give the debate a fair shake while refusing to acknowledge that naturalism comes with a hefty helping of faith on its own.

      So no, I make no apologies about the beliefs I take on faith — but at least I freely admit that they are beliefs, and don’t claim that my position is unbiased. Any good worldview worth its salt must do so to some degree. Forgive me if it chaps my hide a little when naturalists (again, on the whole in my experience) pretend to have some intellectual high-ground when it comes to objectivity and eschewing of bias.

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      1. What I really want to point out here is a double standard you’re using in your reasoning. If I applied the same reasoning in your post above to your comment, I would be compelled to not let you off the hook for making faith claims for naturalists.

        Is that wise? I don’t know. There’s nothing you’ve presented here which indicates that naturalism has the faith you claim it has. Science has figured out how amino acids can form in a natural environment, and it has figured out how species can become diverse. Lacking a middle part doesn’t negate the explanation; it just shows that something is missing.

        What this means is that once again, we’d have a discussion about the gaps in human knowledge.

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        1. Well, I recommend a read through of the book, then, for the nature of those gaps you mention is a topic Lennox discusses with more detail and clout than I have to offer here 🙂 Thanks for your comment, mate! Good to hear from you, and hope you are well.

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    2. Oops. forgot this bit:

      Second, saying “I don’t know” is quite alright when it comes to life’s tough questions for which we have no direct evidence. More importantly, it does not mean that every explanation is valid. It just means that other explanations are different. Until there is evidence to support a proposition, all we have are guesses.

      Again, completely agree. However, again, naturalists on the whole seem to present as knowledge many things that are actually guesses — e.g. the supremacy of natural processes, the brute nature of matter and energy, the lack of supernatural influence in our universe, etc. “I don’t know” is perfectly valid — but that’s not a useful place to stop. In fact, naturalists rarely do seem to stop there in many instances, creating guesses of their own. For instance, “We don’t know how inanimate matter formed to create life, but we believe it happened nonetheless.” There is no evidence this occurred — it’s a guess that is only compelling to those who have bought into the belief that it’s natural processes all the way down. To one who doesn’t accept this assumption and looks at the known capabilities of natural processes, the hypothesis is less convincing.

      Also again, once we see the two sides for what they are — conflicting worldview assumptions — then we can start to compare their explanatory power. If God exists, it seems clear that He would be perfectly capable of creating life; from what we know of natural processes, they seem more and more unable to do such a thing, the more we know of them. Based on explanatory value alone, I’m going to go with the assumption where the posited agent actually has a snowball’s chance of completing the task at hand — but that’s just me 😉

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  4. Seth

    If I wrote a critique of Christianity and all the way through referred to that belief system as “Jesusism” would you take anything I said seriously? To intentionally and repeatedly mistate a name is an indication of some degree of arrogance and ignorance, and likely indicates the author cares more about the subtle insult than accurate discussion.

    Charles Darwin was a 19th century scientist. He, with Wallace, was the first to propose natural selection as the driver for evolution. He got an amazing number of things right. We know this because other scientists have tested his theory. We also know he was wrong at times.

    The theory he proposed and that hundreds of thousands of scientists have confirmed is the Theory of Evolution by means of Natural Selection. We do not believe in Darwin or Darwinism. We accept that the Theory of Evolution is supported by clear evidence and is the best explanation for the diversity of life on earth.

    Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello again mate!

      You bring up a fair point — I certainly don’t want to misrepresent anyone. So perhaps you can help me out for future discussions:

      The term “evolution” is a kitchen sink term that includes all kinds of ideas, many of which you and I would likely agree upon — such as natural selection and change over time. No one thinks this is controversial. However, the same term is also used to include ideas like abiogenesis and common ancestry, which are a bit more controversial. If I wish to separate these ideas for the sake of clarity in a discussion, how would you rather I categorize them? I very much appreciate your input 🙂

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      1. Thanks.

        I am liking your blog even though I disagree with most everything. ☺

        Actually, the Theory of Evolution is a precise term with a precise meaning.

        The Theory of Evolution does not address how life began. There are lots of hypotheses but little evidence. We simply don’t know.

        Evolution is what happens once there is life and reproduction. And there aren’t clear cutoffs.

        Compare it to language. Latin speakers settled in Gaul and the Iberian Peninsula a couple thousand years ago. Every person (with an exception or two) spoke the same language as their parents and their children. Yet modern French is not old French and old French is not Latin. And none of these are Spanish. There is not a day when Modern French began and children could no longer understand their parents. it was generations of gradual changes and only with hindsight can we decide that Latin isn’t old French.

        Apart from cloning, every individual is genetically similar but not identical to its parents and its offspring. Add geographic isolation and natural selection and either evolution or extinction will happen. Evolution does not stop. There is no mechanism to stop it. The processes that produce minor changes over a few generations are exactly the same as those that produce startling changes over a million generations.

        During the ebola scare, one pharmaceutical co discussed its work on a new drug manufactured using tobacco plants. Plants could be used because of the genetic commonalities between plants and humans.

        Viruses sometimes infect cells injecting random chunks of genetic material into cells. Occasionally they infect an egg or a sperm and the harmless random chunk will be passed on to offspring. Humans have maybe hundreds of these random errors. And other primates have the exact same errors in the exact same locations. Earlier ancestors, say an early mammal, have some of these errors that were passed on to all mammals. And non primates have errors not found in primates that arose after the split. In all cases, the errors can be traced. A new error will show up in descendents, but will never jump across branches. Ever. Common ancestry is the only explanation.

        Read Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne and Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin. You will enjoy these books even if you disagree. They present the evidence better than I can. And unlike some of Dawkins works, they focus on a positive presentation of the evidence. Note – considering the new munchkin – I recommend the audio book versions!

        Cheers.

        Liked by 1 person

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