Saturday, February 25, 2006

Let's accept the fault line between faith and science, etc

Excerpts of older news items from my backlog. My comments are bold and in square brackets.

Let's accept the fault line between faith and science, USA Today, January 15, 2006 ... Edward O. Wilson ... If the perennial culture war between science and fundamentalist Christianity about evolution seems insoluble, the reason is that it is insoluble. The fault line, which affects conservative belief not just in Christianity but in almost all other religions around the world, can be found along the outer edge of biology. On one side is the acceptance of evolution of all life independently of God, a view held by a small minority of Americans. On the other lies a spread of beliefs, from denial that evolution ever occurred to acceptance that it did but under the direction of God. This gap, opened by Charles Darwin in his 1859 On the Origin of Species, has not been narrowed by the endless debates that ensued. Quite the contrary, it has been steadily widened by the growth of science. Modern biology has arrived at two major principles that are supported by so much interlocking evidence as to rank as virtual laws of nature. The first is that all biological elements and processes are ultimately obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry. The second principle is that all life has evolved by random mutation and natural selection. ... [These two "principles" are mere assertions by the scientific materialist (i.e. atheist) Harvard entomologist and sociobiologist, E.O. Wilson, and are simply false. First, as ID theorist Stephen Meyer has shown [click to enlarge], modern biology has in fact found that the genetic code, the sequence of nucleotide base-pairs in DNA, is not "obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry" because if it was, it could not carry life's information. Even arch- Darwinist George Williams conceded this, when he chided his fellow evolutionary biologists (including Dawkins) for having "failed to realize" that "The gene is a package of information, not an object. The pattern of base pairs in a DNA molecule specifies the gene. But the DNA molecule is the medium, it's not the message":

"Evolutionary biologists have failed to realize that they work with two more or less incommensurable domains: that of information and that of matter. ... These two domains will never be brought together in any kind of the sense usually implied by the term `reductionism.' You can speak of galaxies and particles of dust in the same terms, because they both have mass and charge and length and width. You can't do that with information and matter. Information doesn't have mass or charge or length in millimeters. Likewise, matter doesn't have bytes. You can't measure so much gold in so many bytes. It doesn't have redundancy, or fidelity, or any of the other descriptors we apply to information. This dearth of shared descriptors makes matter and information two separate domains of existence, which have to be discussed separately, in their own terms. The gene is a package of information, not an object. The pattern of base pairs in a DNA molecule specifies the gene. But the DNA molecule is the medium, it's not the message. Maintaining this distinction between the medium and the message is absolutely indispensable to clarity of thought about evolution." (Williams G.C., "A Package of Information," in Brockman J., "The Third Culture," [1995], Touchstone: New York, 1996, reprint, p.43)

Second, modern biology has not arrived at the "principle ... that all life has evolved by random mutation and natural selection." It is merely an unproven (and unprovable) assumption, based on materialist faith and `confirmed' by a mere handful of experiments on bacteria! And as Denton points out, "the fact that some mutations in bacteria are spontaneous [i.e. undirected] does not necessarily mean that all mutations in all organisms throughout the entire course of 4 billion years of evolution have all been entirely spontaneous. ... There is simply no experimental means of demonstrating that":

"One of the major obstacles within the biological community in the way of any widespread acceptance of the idea of directed mutation is the very deeply held belief in the so-called spontaneity of mutation. According to the authorities Dobzhansky, Ayala, Stebbins, and Valentine, writing in a standard text on evolution, `Mutations are accidental, undirected, random or chance events in still another sense very important for evolution; namely if that they are unorientated with respect to adaptation.' [Dobzhansky T.G., et al., `Evolution,' W.H. Freeman: San Francisco CA, 1977, p.65]. The idea of the spontaneity of mutation is taken as a proven fact by a great many biologists today. And this is the fundamental assumption upon which the whole Darwinian model of nature is based. If it could be shown that some mutations, even a small proportion, are occurring by direction or are adaptive in some sense, then quite literally the whole contingent biology collapses at once. What is very remarkable about this whole issue is that, as is typical of any `unquestioned article of faith,' evidence for the doctrine of the spontaneity of mutation is hardly ever presented. Its truth is nearly always assumed. In nearly all the texts on genetics and evolution published over the past four decades, whenever the author attempts to justify the doctrine of the spontaneity of mutation, he refers back to a series of crucial experiments carried out in the late forties and early fifties on the bacterium E. coli that were associated with the names of Salvador Luria, Max Delbruck, and Joshua Lederberg. These experiments were based on the very simple observation that when bacterial cells are suddenly subjected to a particular selection pressure (for example, the addition to a culture of cells of an antibiotic which is lethal to wild-type cells) invariably a small proportion of cells survive because they contain a mutation that confers resistance to the antibiotic. Ingenious tests were carried out which proved conclusively that the mutations were present in the surviving cells before the antibiotic was added to the culture. It was concluded that the mutations were spontaneous events. But the fact that some mutations in bacteria are spontaneous does not necessarily mean that all mutations in all organisms throughout the entire course of 4 billion years of evolution have all been entirely spontaneous. ... During the course of the past 4 billion years of evolution, countless trillions of changes have occurred in the DNA sequences of living organisms. There is simply no experimental means of demonstrating that they were all spontaneous." (Denton M.J., "Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe," Free Press: New York NY, 1998, pp.285-286. Emphasis original)

But Wilson is right that there is an unreconcilable "fault line" between his atheistic scientific materialist faith (which has captured modern science) and, not just "fundamentalist Christianity" but between "all other religions around the world" (including Christianity) which believe there is a supernatural, personal, Creator-God.

A member of the home Bible study group I lead has lent me her brand new Life Application Study Bible (New Living Translation), for my opinion of it . My opinion is that I am sure it will be helpful to her, although it is too much of a paraphrase for me personally to use in Bible study. The Life Application Study Bible notes seem excellent and are also available in the NIV. I particularly liked and agree with what the notes said at the start of Genesis 1:1-2:4, "The biblical view of creation is not in conflict with science; rather, it is in conflict with any worldview that starts without a creator" (my emphasis):

"The Bible does not discuss the subject of evolution. Rather, its worldview assumes God created the world. The biblical view of creation is not in conflict with science; rather, it is in conflict with any worldview that starts without a creator. Equally committed and sincere Christians have struggled with the subject of beginnings and come to differing conclusions. This, of course, is to be expected because the evidence is very old and, due to the ravages of the ages, quite fragmented. Students of the Bible and of science should avoid polarizations and black/white thinking. Students of the Bible must be careful not to make the Bible say what it doesn't say, and students of science must not make science say what it doesn't say. The most important aspect of the continuing discussion is not the process of creation, but the origin of creation. The world is not a product of blind chance and probability; God created it. The Bible not only tells us that the world was created by God; more important, it tells us who this God is. It reveals God's personality, his character, and his plan for his creation. It also reveals God's deepest desire: to relate to and fellowship with the people he created. God took the ultimate step toward fellowship with us through his historic visit to this planet in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. We can know in a very personal way this God who created the universe. The heavens and the earth are here. We are here. God created all that we see and experience. The book of Genesis begins, `God created the heavens and the earth.'" ("The Account of Creation" [Genesis 1:1-2:4], "Life Application Study Bible, New Living Translation," [1996], Tyndale House Publishers: Wheaton IL, 2004, p.5. Emphasis original)

Moreover, Wilson's scientific materialist faith is misplaced, since Christianity is true!]

Old croc looks like bizarre crossbreed, ABC/Discovery News, Rossella Lorenzi, 27 January 2006 ... The discovery of a six-foot-long, bipedal and toothless fossil in a museum basement suggests crocodile ancestors looked like some bird-like dinosaurs that lived millions of years later, scientists say. The crocodile ancestor fossil, found in the basement of New York's American Museum of Natural History, is an example of how similar body types can evolve several times over. ... When graduate student Sterling Nesbitt opened the plaster jacket encasing the find in 2005, he saw an articulated fossil that closely resembled bird-like dinosaurs called ornithomimids, or ostrich dinosaurs, that lived 80 million years later. ... The creature had large eyes, a beak, a long tail and no teeth. Walking on two feet with its tail erect, it lived at the end of the Triassic with some of the earliest dinosaurs. ... While the skull and the skeleton were almost identical to those of ostrich dinosaurs, the ankle is typical of an ancient group of reptiles called crocodilians, which includes today's crocodiles and alligators. The new animal was named Effigia okeeffeae ... "This is one of the most specialised extinct relative of crocodilians yet known, and shows that the 'duck-billed' head that later evolved in ornithomimid dinosaurs first appeared, independently, in crocodilians relatives," says James Clark ... The researchers re-examined some isolated Triassic reptile specimens and noted that Effigia also resembles early theropods, two-legged carnivore dinosaurs. ... [Also at CNN, ScienceDaily & SF Chronicle . Strange as it might seem, there is a school of thought in paleontology, that was led by the late Christian paleontologist, Alick Walker (1925-99) that crocodilians are the reptilian group ancestral to birds:

"Arguments about the origin of birds from reptiles have been going on for a long time. Though centered on Archaeopteryx, they have involved many reptiles. ... Crocodiles ... A British paleontologist, Dr Alick Walker of the University of Newcastle, in 1972 proposed that modern birds were more closely related to a group of Triassic crocodiles. He had been involved in a detailed study of the Triassic crocodile Sphenosuchus, and was able to point to a number of unexpected similarities in the form and arrangement of the skull bones in birds and this fossil. This provoked him to look in greater detail at the structure of living birds and crocodiles. Numerous similarities were indeed brought to light, in the structure, fore limbs, and ankles of embryonic birds and crocodiles. His principal suggestion based on this careful work was that the ancestors of birds and crocodiles seem to have adopted one of two ways of life. One group of rather slender, lightly built crocodile-like creatures adopted the habit of tree climbing, and ultimately became birds; while the other became larger amphibious types and developed into what we would now regard as typical crocodiles. Fascinating though much of this work was, it was curious that Walker chose not to use Archaeopteryx in the comparisons he was making between crocodiles and birds. Despite this, his theory has attracted some support among paleontologists." (Norman D., "Dinosaur!," Boxtree: London, 1991, pp.196-197)

so it will be interesting to see if this fossil revives that theory.]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

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