Intelligence Central

Just the Facts Even an Educated Atheist Can Understand

In 2007, a slate of American presidential hopefuls was asked to indicate, by a show of hands, who among them did "not believe in evolution." Although a few raised their hands, most appeared ill at ease with the question. And understandably so. What did the questioner mean exactly by evolution?

For those who accept the demonstrated process of micro-evolution (small adaptive changes in a species) but not the speculations of macro-evolution (species evolve into other species), "hands down" would have indicated belief in macro-, or Darwinian, evolution. Contrariwise, for many macro-evolutionists, "hands up" would have indicated an anti-science attitude or ignorance, or both.

Evolution Exalted

Last August, candidate Rick Perry had the temerity to call evolution a "theory" that contained "some gaps."1 His irreverence for this venerated theory of materialism provoked its high priest, Richard Dawkins, to refer to Perry in a Washington Post blog as an "uneducated fool."2

Dawkins, Britain's top atheist, has been pushing to make the "evolution question" a litmus test of the fitness of candidates for public office. As he pitches it, unbelief in Darwinian evolution "betrays woeful ignorance . . . which likely extends to other fields as well."

After pillorying Governor Perry, Dawkins extolled evolution as the "explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature." "Thanks to Darwin," the loyal acolyte gushed, "we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are." So who even needs God?

In Dawkins's brief, glowing panegyric, evolution undergoes its own "evolution"—from the theoretical to the scientific to the metaphysical, or should I say whimsical? Despite the heart-felt sentiments of Darwin's cantor, the "why" of human existence is beyond the scope of materialist science. At best, such science purports to answer "how" we got here. The question of "why" implies intent, purpose, and foresight—and those features involve intelligence.

Monsters & Magic

Dawkins, the proselytizer of all things Darwinian, has spent his career trying to remedy the false beliefs of others.

He is fond of saying that there are many things he doesn't believe in: woodland fairies, fire-breathing dragons, and (his favorite) the Flying Spaghetti Monster—beings for which there is no objective evidence, but whose existence cannot be categorically disproved (to do so would require the omniscient perspective he criticizes). God is just one more being he adds to this list.

He willingly grants that God's non-existence cannot be proved, either; but, he insists, in the absence of concrete, objective data, the Divine must be relegated to the realm of other childish myths and imaginary figures. It's a clever argument that plays well to those already inclined to agree with him. But it is ontologically flawed.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is an admitted invention, which, like elves, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny, is not a necessary being. That is to say, the universe, life, and the fulfillment of man's transcendent yearnings are not contingent upon the existence of such a being. So while simple and great thinkers alike have been entertained by the exploits of Odysseus or Peter Pan, they have been deeply informed by the story of God.

Dawkins's latest strategy involves a 272-page apologia for scientific materialism written for children: The Magic of Reality—How We Know What's Really True. As one blogger describes it,

[Dawkins] is taking over the role of a Sunday School teacher . . . using his beautiful prose and Dave McKean's fantastic illustrations to give scientific explanations to the questions we all have growing up, while discreetly sticking a tongue out at any person who refers to a Holy Book for the answers instead. It's like he's telling children, "What your pastors have been telling you is a lie."3

That should serve as a reminder to parents to check up on the books their children are reading.

Simply Rotten

Dawkins is clearly exercised that Perry and most Americans do not share his convictions.4 He lectures Perry in his blog: "Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science."

"You cannot be ignorant of evolution," he asserts, "and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today." A few sentences later, he calls intelligent design (ID)—the scientific theory that the design in nature, universally acknowledged by biologists, is the result of purposive intelligence—"a rotten theory." That's a polished way of putting it.

I suspect that what loosens his school-yard tongue is angst that his beloved "Fact" is losing (or at least not gaining) in the public square to a theory that, in his words, "assumes most of what it is trying to explain." Does it? Let's see.

In his post, Dawkins offers no facts to substantiate his Fact, while he alleges evolution's simplicity and elegance. But on close inspection, we see that his Fact depends on a passel of imaginary devices and undemonstrated processes (that is, gaps): self-organization, abiogenesis, emergence, selfish genes, memes, transitional body plans, and punctuated equilibrium. This could hardly be called simple or elegant.

Now, Darwinian theory and ID both acknowledge the existence of informationand machine-like systems in the biological structures of living organisms. But they each offer a different explanation for how those features came about. The question is, "Which is the best explanation?"

Dawkins offers the following criterion for deciding between them: "The power of a scientific theory may be measured as a ratio: the number of facts that it explains divided by the number of assumptions it needs to postulate in order to do the explaining." Okay, we'll go with that.

Which Is Elegant?

ID takes what has been demonstrated and is universally known about information—namely, that it only comes from intelligence—to propose that the most reasonable conclusion is that the software, machinery, and irreducible complexity of living systems also come from intelligence.

Darwinian materialism, on the other hand, takes what has been observed on small scales—that is, limited intra-species changes over short timeframes—as the basis for positing large-scale modifications over geological timeframes through the creative powers of random genetic mutation and natural selection.

In the full-throated version of evolution that Dawkins admires and promotes, the modification process is extrapolated back in time to further posit: the creation of DNA software from the random alteration and shuffling of life's building blocks; the creation of life's building blocks from the chance collision of particles; the creation of particles from a cosmic inflation event; the creation of cosmic inflation from a "big bang" singularity; the creation of the "big bang" from a runaway fluctuation in the quantum potential; and the creation of the quantum potential from . . . well, that is yet to be determined.

All of this is happening, mind you, ad infinitum in a "multiverse" that is neither proven nor provable but that has to exist because evolution, lest we forget, is a "fact, as securely established as any in science."

Applying Dawkins's own criterion: ID and materialism endeavor to explain an equal number of facts; ID does so with one assumption, intelligent agency; materialism, on the other hand, relies on seven assumptions to get to the code of life, plus another seven (mentioned earlier as "imaginary devices and undemonstrated processes") to go from there to complex living organisms.

Based on Dawkins's own formulation, the explanatory power of intelligent design is, if my math serves me, 14 times greater than that of materialistic evolution. So, contrary to Dawkins, it is not ID, but materialism that "assumes most of what it is trying to explain."

Widowed Science

Too few people know that Darwinian evolution shares haunting similarities with geocentrism, the planetary model that places Earth at the center of the solar system.

Geocentrism went virtually unquestioned for millennia for three reasons: It was supported by some observational data; it was predictive of planetary movements; and, perhaps most importantly, it agreed with long-standing and prevalent sensibilities concerning the way things should be. But upon closer inspection by Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler—investigators who refused to succumb to the groupthink of "settled" science—the geocentric model, despite its historical success and popularity, proved to be utterly wrong.

Evolution is also supported by some observational data (e.g., morphological similarities), is predictive of adaptive changes (e.g., antibiotic resistance), and, most importantly for Darwinists, holds their materialistic worldview together. But over the last two decades, the ground-breaking work of scientists like Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Stephen Meyer has shown that evolution by chance and necessity lacks the creative power needed to produce the integrated complexity of life we see all around us.

People should be aware of other "facts" that, in the not-too-distant past, were considered "as securely established as any in science": the existence of ether in space, the absolute nature of time, the medical benefits of blood-letting, the circularity of planetary orbits, the planetary model of the atom, and subatomic parts that are discrete and comprehensible. The fact is, there is a long line of scientists, wedded to the science of their day, who ended up as widows and widowers.

Off the Tracks

To his credit, Dawkins "gets" the complexity of life. His writings are filled with references to its grandeur and mind-numbing intricacy. He refers to humans as "complex thinking machine[s]." He describes a bird as a flying machine whose flight is "sensitively adjusted in real time by the on-board computer which is the brain." He goes so far as to admit:

The whole machine is immensely improbable in the sense that, if you randomly shook up the parts over and over again, never in a million years would they fall into the right shape to fly like a swallow, soar like a vulture, or ride the oceanic up-draughts like a wandering albatross.

He gets that. What he doesn't get is how that complexity arose.

"Any theory of life" he touts, "has to explain how the laws of physics can give rise to [such] a complex flying machine." This is where he jumps the rails.

Physical laws result in order, regularity, and predictability, not in complex functional information as is found, for example, in the digital instructions inscribed on the DNA macromolecule.

Likewise, the phenomena of music, art, language, literature, creativity, imagination, and philosophy are not reducible to a set of field equations. Nor are such things as the appreciation of beauty, a sense of purpose, aspirations for the future, and feelings of guilt governed by the principles of matter and motion.

To believe otherwise "betrays woeful ignorance" of what is known about the true nature of things, including man himself. And that is not very intelligent. •

1. "NH Mother Uses Child as a Prop to Question Rick Perry on Evolution," August 18, 2011:
2. "Attention Governor Perry: Evolution is a fact," August 23, 2011:
3. "The New Richard Dawkins Book: The Magic of Reality," May 10, 2011:
4. "Four in 10 Americans Believe in Strict Creationism," December 17, 2010:


The Half & the Half Not

Excerpts from: Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves by James Le Fanu

Voltaire, despite his antipathy to established religion, held there to be nothing so self-evident as the two halves of human experience, of the material and the non-material, from which he could only infer the necessity for there being an "eternal and supreme" God. The most powerful evidence for the divine hand was (as ever), first, the wonders of the natural world, from "the meanest of insects . . . the disposition of a fly's wings or the feelers of a snail"—and second, the rational human mind.

"We are intelligent beings: intelligent beings cannot have been formed by a crude, blind, insensible being: there is certainly some difference between the ideas of Newton and the dung of a mule. Newton's intelligence, therefore, comes from another intelligence."

The most obvious feature that distinguishes modern man from Voltaire and his contemporaries is the ascendancy of scientific materialism, and the loss of an appreciation of there being a non-material reality that transcends our everyday concerns. . . . We might now, thanks to science, comprehend the universe of which we are a part, only to discover that its properties, as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins puts it, "are precisely those we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good—nothing but blind, pitiless indifference." . . . We no longer appreciate what at one time seemed self-evident: the extraordinariness of possessing a mind whose powers of reason can distinguish truth from falsehood. There is nothing remotely scientific in denying the most certain thing we know, our sense of self; but "On the maps provided by contemporary science," writes Brian Appleyard, "we find everything except ourselves."

Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material [such as the brain] could be conscious," observes the cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor. "Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious."

From Salvo 19 (Winter 2011)
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Regis Nicoll  is a retired nuclear engineer and physicist, a Colson Center fellow, and a Christian commentator on faith and culture. He is the author of Why There Is a God: And Why It Matters, available at Amazon.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #19, Winter 2011 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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