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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.

Links

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Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, 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.

“Pacific Rim” – A Brief Christian Reflection

Pacific-Rim-02Thankfully, a slew of science fiction films are being released this year. “Pacific Rim” has generated quite a bit of buzz. I recently had the chance to view the film and will here offer some reflections from a Christian perspective. I feel obligated to put a disclaimer here: I realize this film is 99.9999% about blowing things up. I still think that a saying I often use is correct- there is no such thing as a film without a worldview. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. I do not offer a plot summary, as one can be found easily.

Master of the Storms?

Early in the film there is a scene in which Raleigh Becket, a Jaeger (think giant mech-tank) pilot, is marching out into a storm to fight a Kaiju (think Godzilla). As one watches this epic man-made titan march out to fight a monster, one is struck by the hugeness of it, the power of it. If humans can make this, what next? Raleigh discusses how once, humans were afraid of storms like hurricanes. Now, given the might of their creations, they need not fear a hurricane.

The quote seems impressive. After all, many today hope that humanity will reach heights like this. One day, we may be able to face down a hurricane and laugh. The powers of wind and rain may be overcome. But what then?

Interestingly, in the film the very next scene is that of a Kaiju absolutely beating down Raleigh’s Jaeger.

What? That’s not how the story is supposed to go. The story is supposed to show how we have finally transcended ourselves. But that is not the reality. The reality is that a giant Godzilla beast can still destroy even these hurricane-defying machines.

It is ironic, really. In the context of humanity’s defiance against the storms given their machines, another, greater challenge is thrown out there. One can almost imagine people railing against God once more. Why have we been left to fight this world on our own? But then one must remember what God has said:

[The LORD says:] “Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
or tie down its tongue with a rope?

…Will it keep begging you for mercy?
Will it speak to you with gentle words?
Will it make an agreement with you
for you to take it as your slave for life?

Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (Job 41:1, 3-4, 11)

Ultimately, God is in charge. Our attempts to control the seas, the storms, or the leviathan do not match up to God’s sovereign control over all creation.

The film does nothing to explore this avenue, but one can wonder: what of humankind’s efforts to try to best God? It seems that the answer is: it’s not going to happen. There is always a bigger Kaiju. There are always larger storms. Our fascination with these powerful aspects of creation may itself be a reflection of the Creator.

In the film, of course, humanity triumphs. As in all good action movies, the good guys win (no, I do not like sad endings for movies). But one can only wonder: if the Kaiju could come; what next? The God who rules the storms is the same God who can draw the leviathan with a hook.

Mind and Evolution

How much can our minds handle? In the film, the mental strain of piloting a Jaeger is too much for one person to handle. How do minds work in this context? Somehow they manage to create some linkage between two humans’ minds and create some kind of mental pathway such that the people are able to integrate and work together. What does that mean? I don’t know. It is techno-babble for an action flick. But suppose we were able to do this. What would it imply about minds? Well, no more than what we already know, it seems: our minds are connected to a physical reality. We as humans are grounded in embodiment.

The Kaiju turn out to be clones. I found that pretty surprising given the immense diversity of the creatures. Some had wings; others spit acid; still others had huge hammerheads to use as weapons. What kind of genetic diversity would have to be included in their DNA in order to allow for such radical diversity. I am absolutely not a geneticist–and this movie is absolutely not an attempt to portray anything scientifically accurate–but I wondered about this as I watched the movie.

Conclusion

Let’s be blunt. “Pacific Rim” is a movie for those who want to watch giant walking tanks fighting Godzilla clones. There is a plot to be found, and there are some themes involved–as in any movie–but at its heart, this movie is a pure action flick. That said, there were a few things to reflect upon, such as the notion of humanity trying to overpower God or the forces around us.

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Did you like Pacific Rim? Check out John Carter.

Be sure to check out my other looks at movies here (scroll down for more).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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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