Darwinism

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“Darwin Devolves” – Behe’s Rewriting of Evolution: A Critique from a Christian

Michale Behe’s latest book, Darwin Devolves, purports to demonstrate that a major challenge to evolution is that rather than producing new functions, the demonstrable changes that we can see in experimental science is due to “devolution” or loss-of-function in genes. Behe bases this, in part, on his “First Rule”: “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution… Break or blunt any functional coded element whose loss would yield a net fitness gain” (185). (It’s stated somewhat differently on the first page of the book: “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution: Break or blunt any functional gene whose loss would increase the number of a species offspring” – emphasis his.)

I am sympathetic to Behe’s project. As a Christian, I would prefer there to be testable, obvious proof that God exists, and Intelligent Design theory purports to be that for at least some kind of cosmic “intelligence.” On the flip side, I am also wary, because I recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words that “a god who could be proved by us would be an idol” (DBWE 11, 260). I’m not convinced that God works in such a way as to leave tantalizing fingerprints all over everything for us to find. God is personal and we relate to God in a personal way, not in an abstract way that can remain impersonal or without challenge. For most of my life, I was a young earth creationist, and then spent several years studying apologetics and advocating ID theory. Since then, I’ve become much more skeptical of ID theories, and Behe’s book illustrates several of the reasons why.

Selection Effect

One of the biggest difficulties I have with Behe’s book here, as well as with ID in general, is that there is, of necessity, a selection effect happening in the examples used. That is, the human author making the argument must be selecting examples rather than showing the whole range of life and applying their theory to it (to do the latter would be prohibitively time-consuming and likely impossible). But because there is such human agency in selecting the examples, the tendency towards selecting those examples which most easily support one’s theory is at least possibly in play.

In Darwin Devolves, selections of which evidence is discussed appears to be a large part of the weight of the argument. Evidence is mustered from polar bears and the deleterious way they acquired (perhaps not the term Behe would use) “white” fur, from laboratory experiments with bacteria and fruit flies, and from the (in)famous Darwin’s Finches. In each case, it is shown (I believe demonstrated–though I admit I’m not an expert so it is possible that this is wrong) that the “evolution” of certain features (eg. different forms of beak, see p. 143ff) is not new information or beneficial mutations but rather mutations or deletions genetically that are acting on existing DNA in ways that Behe calls “devolutions” rather than evolution.

Though it seems contentious to change the terminology of genetic reshuffling/deleting on existing information to “devolution” when it seems most assuredly an example of evolution (if not, necessarily, fitting within Behe’s specific definition(s)–more on that below), assuming Behe is right here, it would be a fascinating argument if it carried the day. But Behe must demonstrate, for his argument to work and for evolution (again, his usage) to fail, that such deletions/reshuffling is the case in every single instance of purported evolution. That would be a monumental task (and likely impossible), but one way to approach it would be to broaden the selection of data and to take on some of the most powerful evidences of evolution. But here we see the selection of Behe appears to be quite artificial. In addition to the selection effect, Behe fails to note that the very thing he’s arguing shows the failure of evolution as a theory (loss-of-function, etc.) in a lab experiment for E. Coli are, in fact, an expected outcome for such a lab experiment, and the evidence for genuinely new information is dismissed.

Additionally, given Behe’s language about loss-of-function and his “first rule,” readers would be right to expect that the data would support loss-of-function as the predominant, if not the only, means by which scientists have been able to mention what they call evolution. But that is demonstrably not the case. Rice and Lang note:

In humans only ∼3.5% of exonic and splice site variants (57,137 out of 1,639,223) are putatively loss‐of‐function (Saleheen et al. 2017), and a survey of 42 yeast strains found that only 242 of the nearly 6000 genes contain putative loss‐of‐function variants (Bergström et al. 2014). 

Gregory Lang and Amber Rice ” Evolution unscathed: Darwin Devolves argues on weak reasoning that unguided evolution is a destructive force, incapable of innovation” https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/evo.13710

Behe’s challenge to evolution doesn’t mention these and other related facts. The selection effect is operating strongly here, and it is selecting out those aspects of the data that do not match the theory.

Misrepresentations and Language

Throughout the book, there were difficulties with Behe’s use of terminology and misrepresentations of arguments. The definition of “evolution,” for example, seems malleable to fit Behe’s needs. He begins by noting that Darwin’s own theory couldn’t account for genetic data (Darwin didn’t know about it) and so had to be modified. But as more modifications to the theory happen, Behe seems to take that as evidence that evolution is, minimally, in crisis. Chapter 4 is dedicated to the various ways scientists have modified the theory of evolution, according to Behe–in order to “shoehorn” various discoveries into it. But one would hardly discredit the theory of gravity due to the fact that it has been modified to account for more modern discoveries. Would Behe use the same charged language that we have “shoehorned” in modern science to the theory of gravity in order to discred it? Doubtful.

Additionally, Behe is quick to dismiss evolution and evidence for it as useless or baseless. For example, across pages 22-24 he notes various examples that have been said to have evolved and then asserts that deleting the word “evolved” doesn’t change the information in the sentence. For example, “Birds like the silky flycatcher… that are mistletoe specialists have evolved a ‘wiggle dance.'” Behe then asserts that no information is lost if one just says the birds “have a wiggle dance.” But this seems to be clearly untrue, for the claim that the birds “evolved” a wiggle dance would include in it inherited traits, genes, and behaviors, where as merely “having” a dance does not. Even if one is anti-evolution, the claim that deleting the word “evolved” from sentences like that doesn’t delete information seems puzzling.

Behe is also keen to discredit natural selection. On 99-100 he offers an example that he alleges proves that increased DNA is not due to selection but rather entirely to the amorphous term called “luck.” But renaming selection “luck” doesn’t really undermine the fact that Behe doesn’t seem to have an answer for how DNA increases within his “First Rule” system. Indeed, across these pages, he actually attributes the formation of DNA increase to environmental factors and having the increased DNA continue due to isolation. But that is exactly what evolutionary theory suggests–when populations are isolated, there is the chance for selection to operate differently one one group than on another. Behe saying this is “serendipity” or “luck” seems clear obfuscation on his part–avoidance of the fact that it is exactly due to factors alleged by evolution to drive natural selection that has led to increase in DNA.

Perhaps the part of the book is Behe’s charge that evolution must produce entirely new lifeforms, including new phyla, given enough time. In looking at Darwin’s finches, he argues that the changes among them is incredibly tiny, given the amount of time they’ve had as an isolated population. he asserts that it is “very unlikely” that an environmental factor is limiting their evolution (155) and goes on to ask whether 2 million years in isolation is too little time for evolution to make major changes. After noting that “profoundly different animal phyla… arose during the Cambrian explosion… in only about ten million years” (ibid), along with some other swift evolution, he incredibly states: “Surely we should expect at least one crummy new phylum, class, or order to be conjured by Darwin’s vaunted mechanism in the time the finches have been on the Galapagos. But no, nothing” (ibid). Behe’s claim is, frankly, absurd. I don’t know of any evolutionary biologist who suggests that entirely new phyla are a necessary outcome of long-term isolation. Additionally, to compare the emergence of phyla during the Cambrian–before life had even begun to walk the land–to the state of the islands is disingenuous to the highest degree. Remarkably, Behe does nothing to acknowledge the extreme differences between the examples he cited and the state of the islands; instead, he writes, “A surprising but compelling conclusion is that Darwin’s mechanism has been wildly overrated–it is incapable of producing much biological change at all” (ibid). There is can be no doubt that this strong conclusion is in no way demonstrated by the fact that finches didn’t transform into new phyla, but Behe draws these kind of strong conclusions from minimal data throughout the book.

Conclusion

Darwin Devolves is tantalizing in theory, but in practice it does not prove what it sets out to prove. It would be nice, as the dust jacket states, to come to the point where “It’s time to acknowledge the conclusion that only an intelligent mind could have designed life.” But with all those weighted terms comes a burden of proof that is not met in the text. I have no doubt that an intelligent mind–God–brought forth life, but I remain unconvinced that God did so in a way that required direct intervention throughout the process.

Links

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

What is the relationship between Christianity and science?- An Overview of 4 Views– How should the Christian faith interact with science? Do they interact at all? I survey 4 major views on these and other questions.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Origins Debate– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Total Truth” by Nancy Pearcey

Total-TruthNancy Pearcey’s Total Truth is dedicated to bringing Christianity into every realm of knowledge rather than relegating it to the outskirts. That is, Christianity is to be seen as “total truth,” applicable to every aspect of reality. It’s a lengthy book so any review of this size is going to leave things out by necessity. I’ll first provide a brief overview. Then, I’ll emphasize some areas I found helpful and areas I questioned.

Overview

The first section of the book is a call for Christians to integrate their worldview into every aspect of reality rather than bifurcating it and only living in different spheres of reality at different times. Next, Pearcey frames the debate over worldviews in terms of a battle for beginnings as she argues Darwinism fails and Intelligent Design is more plausible. Integrated into this section is the notion that Darwinism is a way of looking at reality and a worldview-level belief which is being used to displace Christianity.

The third part traces a brief history of Christianity in America with an eye towards showing that Americans have tended to privatize their religion and use the fact/value split to relegate religion to the area of values. The last chapter addresses how we might live out the Christian worldview in every aspect of our lives.

There is a series of appendices which address topics like Islam, materialism, apologetic method, and politics. Finally, a study guide is included in the edition I was provided, which gives summaries, additional stories, and some questions for each chapter.

Helpful Areas

Pearcey’s emphasis on integrating Christianity into all aspects of our lives is commendable. She accurately describes the plight of many when she speaks of how Christians approach their lives as though church is religion and the rest is something else. Instead, she advocates an integration of the Christian worldview into every aspect of life.

The historical background Pearcey provides into various areas of thought is enlightening and encourages further study into several important areas, including the first and second Awakening.

The stories Pearcey shares throughout the book are great at grabbing and holding attention. They make for good illustrations of many of her points, and also make the book more readable.

The outline of the Fact/Value split and the damage it has done to intellectual and faithful life was much appreciated. Pearcey demonstrated that this alleged split is generally a construct which is used by various worldview systems to try to relegate certain beliefs into the “value” sphere and outside of factual claims. Her incisive critique of this method was both on-point and helpful. The appendices covered interesting topics, and the one on apologetic method, in particular, was worth reading and considering.

Areas I Questioned

At many points throughout the book there is a somewhat conspiratorial tone. That is, it seems to be alleged that somehow all the skeptics (particularly Darwinists) banded together in order to try to overthrow Christianity and American values. It is continually alleged that Darwin was explicitly trying to overthrow religion or at least the possibility of taking religion seriously in the “fact” domain. Many sources were cited in order to justify these claims, but I’m still not convinced that there is some kind of grand conspiracy, nor am I convinced that this is the best way to approach claims about knowledge.

In the section on how Christians can integrate their faith into all aspects of life, Pearcey shares a story about a young man with a marketing degree who was hired to raise funds for a Christian ministry. He “immediately set about implementing the standard techniques he had learned… including a sharp increase in the number of fundraising letters sent out…” (7597).* He defended this choice by saying that statistical analysis showed this would lead to more funds raised. Pearcey’s analysis is as follows:

[I]f any secular organization can achieve the same results using the same “guaranteed” methods, where is the witness to God’s existence? How does relying on statistically reliable patterns persuade a watching world that God is at work? (7610)

I was surprised by this comment. Are we to assume that Christians should ignore statistical analysis? Could not such statistical regularities be part of God’s providential plan (something, in fact, argued by Poythress)? It seems that Pearcey is discounting the possibility of “secular” methods working. But God has ordered the universe in such a way that statistical regularities will occur, and to suggest that we as Christians must reject such regularities and do something else so that we can “persuade a watching world that God is at work” may lead to disaster. I’m not saying we should not trust in God to provide, but when God has revealed a way that things work to us, that’s just as providential as a miraculous windfall of donations [to go off the fundraising example]. Perhaps by following trusted methods, we can prove to a watching world that Christians don’t reject facts or reality.

Pearcey, unfortunately, clings to a view of gender-essentialism: the notion that certain aspects of gendered persons are essential to their nature. For example, after talking about the relegation in modern society of Christianity to the “upper shelf” (the values shelf) of the fact-value split, she laments over the “feminization of the church.” Now the so-called feminization of Christianity has many problems (see my linked post), but Pearcey’s work seems determined to really drag out all stops to present a seeming bogey-woman of femininity:

The underlying dynamic is that the church was adopting a defense strategy vis-a-vis the culture at large. Many churchmen simply retreated from making cognitive claims for religion that could be defended in the public square. Instead, they transferred faith to the private sphere of experience and feelings–which put it squarely into the domain of women. (6978)

I found this, and many statements like it, to be utterly shocking. It seems to be patently absurd to say that “experience” and “feelings” are “squarely… the domain of women.” Really? According to this view, men somehow devoid of all feeling or reliance upon experience and instead manly men spend the day making all sorts of cognitive claims (devoid of experience, mind you, so presumably about Platonic forms or somesuch). I find this to be clearly false. Men have feelings, and that doesn’t make them womanly. Men also have experience (!?). Unfortunately, claims like this persist throughout the book.

Perhaps most importantly, the book doesn’t seem to adequately address the main topic of the book: the need to integrate Christianity into every aspect of life. The final chapter does ask Christians to be godly in their business dealings, to avoid lying and cheating and the like. Moreover, Christians are called to trust in God in their endeavors and view their lives as providentially governed by God. However, I was left wanting much more. After having around 25% of the total length of the book (the beginning chapters, 120ish pages in the print version) dedicated to how Christians seem to not know how to integrate their worldview into their lives, it seemed like having so little space dedicated (about 30 pages in the print version) to how this might actually work in practice was a letdown.  It seems like the even the direction offered was pretty straightforward, as Christians at least should know that they are to avoid lying, cheating, etc. in their day-to-day lives and careers.

But how does the Christian go beyond these bite-sized bits like “Moment by moment, we must learn to say no to sin and worldly motivations” (7414) or “[we are to follow] biblical principles in the personal and practical spheres of life” (7516)  and get to a position of total integration of Christianity in our lives? Maybe I hope for too much, but I think there ought to be more to it than that. I don’t pretend to say I can do better outlining it, but I do think that there is much more that could have been said here. What readers are left with is essentially a call to be Christians in all their lives, but I think they’ll largely be left asking “how?”

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).

*All references are to kindle locations.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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