XFiles Friday: The war between religion and science

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 6)

It would be fun to spend some time in Chapter 6, just because it’s such familiar ground. But the creationist distortions, omissions, and outright deceptions which fill this chapter are well-documented elsewhere, so let’s just hit the highlights. In particular, I’d like to look at the ways in which Geisler and Turek’s approach to evolution manifests a corrosive and poisonous brand of “science” that is inherently hostile to the real thing.

Geilser and Turek begin by invoking Sagan’s ghost to try and create the impression that there’s a correlation between the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and the search for Intelligent Design. Unfortunately, they shoot themselves in the foot again by citing the brain as a structure so complex that it could not have arisen naturally.

Sagan realized that the human brain has the information content of twenty million books. He also realized that’s drastically more specified and complex than a string of prime numbers. Then why did he think the simpler message required an intelligent being but not the one twenty million books long?… If intelligent human beings can’t create anything close to the human brain, why should we expect nonintelligent natural laws to do so?

The Darwinist response will usually involve “natural selection.” Is this sufficient to account for new life forms? After all it’s a long way from one cell to the human brain.

Oops. There are approximately six billion people on the planet earth right now, and every single one of us received our twenty mega-book brain by the same non-intelligent biological processes by which the single fertilized egg (“one cell”) multiplies, differentiates, and develops into an adult human being. What Geisler and Turek claim that natural processes cannot do, we routinely observe natural processes doing, literally billions of times, over a few relatively short decades.

It seems counter-intuitive. It boggles the layman’s mind that such simple chemical laws could produce anything so complex. And yet it does. Not only that, but it does it new every time. You don’t have your mother’s memories, talents, and other neural connections. Your brain developed on its own, and formed its own connections—20,000,000 book’s worth, and God never opened up your skull for any manual neural welding. So right off the bat, Geisler and Turek confront us with obvious evidence that the power of Nature is vastly more sophisticated and capable than we would normally imagine it to be. And what do they do with this evidence? They ignore it completely.

On to the tour. We’ve got all our standard creationist canards here. We’ve got the distorted distinction between “microevolution” vs. “macroevolution” (p. 140). We’ve got the “survival of the fittest is a tautology” argument (same page). We’ve got the “Genetic limits of macroevolution” argument (p. 142), without mentioning the fact that no scientist of any stripe has ever succeeded in identifying the molecular mechanisms which would be required to enforce such limits. We’ve got the “but it’s still a bacteria (fruit fly, dog, etc)” objection (same page). We’ve got the “irreducible complexity” argument (p. 144). We’ve got the “Nonviability of transitional forms” argument (p. 148), which I didn’t find a link for but which is easily dealt with by remembering that evolution predicts the propagation of successful variations, which means there won’t be any “half-fit” transitions. And we’ve got the “molecular isolation” argument (p. 148), which unfortunately is phrased in such vague terms that I can’t quite make out what it is they’re claiming as the “evidence” (something about unspecified “protein sequences” that supposedly need to be transitional too, and allegedly are not).

Moving on to page 151, we’ve got the quote-out-of-context that makes it sound like Darwin is confessing that geology disproves evolution, due to a lack of transitional forms, and on the next page, a similar misquote of Steven Jay Gould made to sound like punctuated equilibrium disproves evolution. There’s the creationist version of the Cambrian “Explosion” (p. 152), with no mention (of course) of recent discoveries regarding the precursors to the Cambrian era and the gaps that have lately been filled it, and the primitive nature of the various “body plans” that appeared in the Cambrian. We’ve got Wells’ claim that Cambrian-era evolution resembles a lawn more than a tree (p. 153). We’ve got the argument that a progression of fossils does not prove common descent. We’ve got the “fossils don’t preserve soft tissues” argument (both on same page). And of course, we’ve got innumerable arguments about how scientists are all biased, ignoring evidence, stifling criticism, etc, etc, etc. for which responses can be found in the Index to Creationist Claims.

It goes on like that for pages, and it’s standard creationist fare. The point I want to make is that Geisler and Turek are clearly advocating a kind of “science” that “works” only in the sense that it leads to a particular desired conclusion.

As we have seen, science is a search for causes, and there are only two types of causes: intelligent and nonintelligent (natural). The Darwinists’ claim that Intelligent Design is not science is based on their biased definition of science. But that’s arguing in a circle! If your definition of science rules out intelligent causes beforehand, then you’ll never consider Intelligent Design science.

Geisler and Turek pack a lot of distortion into that one short paragraph, starting with the redefinition of science from being a method of understanding how the real world works to being “a search for intelligent and/or unintelligent causes.” Superstition would qualify as “science” under Geisler and Turek’s definition, because all superstition needs to do is to attribute something to an intelligent and/or magical cause (just like ID does). Likewise, Geisler and Turek redefine the “Darwinists” definition of science, portraying it as a biased refusal to consider the possibility of intelligent causes. But the problem with Intelligent Design is not that “Darwinists” refuse to consider the possibility of intelligent design, it’s that ID proponents have yet to define, in scientifically meaningful terms, exactly what is meant, and measured, by such terms as “intelligent,” “design,” “purpose,” and so on.

It’s important to notice that, in presenting this distorted pseudo-science as being the “open-minded” and “unbiased” alternative to mainstream science, Geisler and Turek are not merely attacking one scientific conclusion (common descent), they’re attacking the foundation of science itself, and the objective methodology it requires in order to function as science. There are time-tested and proven techniques for making observations, forming hypotheses, analyzing the results, and making further observations, in order to reach reliable and scientific conclusions. Intelligent Design uses none of them. It attributes an observation to an intelligent cause, and then declares an end to it. The desired conclusion has been reached, no further questions allowed.

Now, one can question the wisdom of continuing to look for a natural cause of life. William Dembski, who has published extensive research on Intelligent Design, asks, “When does determination [to find a natural cause] become pigheadedness? … How long are we to continue a search before we have the right to give up the search and declare not only that continuing the search is vain but also that the very object of the search is nonexistent?”

My suspicion is that Dembski, Geisler and Turek would answer such questions very differently if the object of one’s search were God. However, they are fair questions, and the response is that the search for answers is justified by the fact that we keep finding them—at least when we use genuine science, and not the alternative. Though we do not yet understand everything there is to know about the origin of life, we are learning a lot about how nature operates under such conditions. Intelligent Design proponents, meanwhile, are learning nothing about how nature works. They’ve given God (in His disguise as the Intelligent Designer) full credit for creating complex structures ex nihilo, and thus any further inquiry into origins would only produce more nihilo. Additional ID research would merely be “pigheaded.”

Geisler and Turek’s version of “science” is not a tool for discovering new truth, nor is it a tool for revealing where our existing understanding might be wrong. Geisler and Turek’s version of “science” is based on philosophy (i.e. theology) and is useful only for confirming the answers they already believed, without raising any new questions or objections. It is quite literally an anti-science, a ploy that seeks not to add to their knowledge, but to subtract from it any and all displeasing discoveries. By undirected natural processes alone, Nature turns a single fertilized egg into an adult human being with a brain containing 20,000,000 books worth of interconnected neurons, thus demonstrating its sophistication and power. Only through ignorance can we ignore that power, turn our backs on its readily-available pool of scientific answers, and blithely and superstitiously reach the conclusions Geisler and Turek want us to reach.

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Posted in IDHEFTBA, Science, Unapologetics, XFiles. 1 Comment »

One Response to “XFiles Friday: The war between religion and science”

  1. gbgasser Says:

    Great post Duncan,

    I have used that EXACT same argument with people when they say “There is no way all this complex life could have come from simple single celled organisms, simplicity can’t just change into complexity”. I just wait a second and then say “Well thousands of times a day single celled gametes start the process of becoming human beings, so it DOES happen under the right conditions”. They of course have no answer and just grunt and change the subject.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your reviews of these books the last few weeks.