Book Reviews, Christianity and Science, Intelligent Design, Science

Book Review: “Undeniable” by Douglas Axe

undeniable-axeUndeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed by Douglas Axe is an explanation of Intelligent Design theory at a lay level. Axe contends that by appealing to “common science”—the notion that experience is integral to how we live and that each individual is, in a sense, a scientist because we use experience to make models and figure out how things work (60-61)—the inference to design will be vindicated.

A central aspect of Axe’s case is appeal to what he calls “The Universal Design Intuition” defined as “Tasks that we would need knowledge to accomplish can be accomplished only by someone who has that knowledge” (20). This intuition, argues Axe, is supported by experimental data, including difficulties with forming proteins to form specific chemical transformations (33ff). He also utilizes mathematical modeling to show that it is effectively impossible to achieve certain results purely by chance (89ff). It is insight that is required to achieve the results that we see in biology, he argues. There is no amount of repetition possible to offset the improbability of life in our universe and life as we see (103).

Counter-arguments to design are addressed, including the multiverse. Axe argues that “aimless wandering” of chance effectively means that anything but design for the results we observe is impossible. There is a specific “target area” which must be achieved to get life, and the odds against hitting that target are infinitesimal to the point that they are practically impossible (113ff).

Ultimately, Axe concludes, “Functional coherence makes accidental invention fantastically improbable and therefore physically impossible” (160). The sheer improbability stacked against the notion that life could evolve functionally to new life forms makes it physically impossible, thus showing that design is the best inference when it comes to life. Scenarios which are alleged to show evolution in action require tweaking from outside, thus demonstrating that insight and design are required for life (198ff; 209). Moreover, “Nothing evolves unless it already exists” (214), and the existence of life cannot merely evolve from non-life given the probabilities stacked against it.

Why, then, do so few scientists advocate for design or see it in nature? Axe’s answer to this question is that there is enormous bias and no small amount of power being wielded against the design inference: “Harm comes to science not by people hoping to find a particular result but by people trying to suppress results that go against their hopes” (45). He argues that there is at least some intentional suppression of design theory and that new ideas take time to gain space in academia (46ff; 215ff).

Axe’s argument is geared towards lay readers, though it does have a few new things to offer those who have read the majority of ID literature already. His analysis of the mathematics behind design inferences will help gain an understanding of what is meant by “possible” in logical vs. physical senses. Moreover, his firsthand experience of experimental confirmation gives him a voice that is not often heard in defense of ID. It is not merely modeling that is happening, but rather experimentation with results.

That said, there are a few issues in the book. First, I think that the continued appeal to bias as the reason for rejecting ID is overdone. Although some certainly do reject ID due to bias against  the notion of a creator or designer, there are many who reject it because they find its arguments either inconclusive or mistaken. Bias exists, but it is not the only reason for rejecting ID theory any more than materialism is the only reason for rejecting ID. Second, evolution is treated as a kind of singular entity, with natural selection as the only mechanism proposed to accomplish the diversification of species. Though he acknowledges some efforts to modify evolutionary theory that acknowledge other mechanisms (220-224), he dismisses such efforts as “patching holes” instead of as serious alternative proposals. I admit I have no expertise in evolutionary biology, but I am familiar enough with the idea to know that several different notions of how evolution may produce new life forms are proposed, and that most acknowledge some combination of several factors is probably right. It seemed strange for Axe to largely dismiss these as dead ends. Third, there are several points of the argument that seemed rushed or simply passed by. I understand this is a book for laity, but the movement from seeing some aspect of evolution as physically impossible to design is an inference that requires some explanation beyond assertion.

Overall, Undeniable provides more food for thought for those interested in Intelligent Design and the debate between ID advocates and opponents. Axe does offer some insights that I, at least, haven’t read anywhere else. The book is also written at a level that almost any reader could pick it up and get the core of Axe’s argument. Those interested in the debate over Intelligent Design would be well-served to pick up a copy. I will be interested in seeing what responses are offered.

The Good

+Good introduction to ID theory
+A fresh take on some aspects of ID
+Use of examples that are easy to understand

The Bad

-Relies too much upon perceived bias in science
-Skims through much argumentation
-Little interaction with alternate evolutionary scenarios

Source

Douglas Axe, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed (New York: HarperOne, 2016).

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific feedback whatsoever.

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SDG.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

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