William Paley

This tag is associated with 5 posts

Really Recommended Posts 6/12/15- Luther, Treecats [what!?], and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneSorry I’m a bit late today folks. I was on vacation and still catching up to some stuff after a beautiful cruise in Alaska! Anyway, this week I still got some diverse reads for you, dear friends! We have reads ranging from Luther on the Lord’s Supper to science fiction creatures, from Paley to Thomism, and even a comic! Check them out and let me know what you think!

The Lord’s Supper – Martin Luther’s Journey to the Bible– Martin Luther’s theology of the sacraments is central to his view of Christianity and the Christian life. Here’s an extended blog post looking at how he developed his doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

I’m a Theology Nerd (Comic)- Yep, pretty much this. I am a huge theology nerd, in case anyone didn’t notice. This comic captures some of the reasoning behind that pretty well: if you really think there is a transcendent, loving, creator of the universe, how could we not love to learn more and more about that being?

Crossing the Heath with William Paley (1743-1805)– Doug Geivett continues his fascinating series on historical Christian apologists with one of the most famous to have ever lived: William Paley. He especially emphasizes Paley’s design argument, with a nod towards his historical arguments as well. I have written on Paley myself, and interested readers should check out my posts in the linked text.

Neo-Scholastic Essays– Edward Feser has a new book out that collects many of his essays together for your reading pleasure. Why care about Edward Feser? He is, in my opinion, the clearest thinker on Thomistic philosophy writing today. And he writes a lot. Check out his blog and be sure to look into his books as well. I’ve written on some things from Feser before.

Treecats Climb Into Children’s Hearts– David Weber is my favorite science fiction author. He’s got all kinds of awesome military sci-fi out there that you should read! Here’s a post that should warm your hearts too about his going to classrooms to share the love of literature with kids! I had the chance to meet Weber not too long ago, and I’ve written on his portrayal of women and religion in science fiction as well.

 

 

William Paley (1743-1805) – Historical Apologist Spotlight

William_Paley_by_George_RomneyWilliam Paley (1743-1805) is a name which echoes through history. His Natural Theology continues to have a profound and lasting impact on the argument from biological design. His Evidences of Christianity  challenges readers on a historical and exegetical level with arguments for the faith. Unfortunately, too few have thoughtfully interacted with his arguments. Here, we will first look at Paley’s views and life. Then, we will examine his major works and arguments. We will discover there is much to learn from this intellectual giant. Note that this post is necessarily brief, and that readers are greatly encouraged to go to the primary sources found below.

Brief Biographical Note*

Paley went to school at Christ’s College and Cambridge. At the latter, he was awarded multiple times for his scholarship. He eventually became the Senior Dean at Christ’s College and was awarded a Doctorate of Divinity from Cambridge. Bishop Barrington of Durham granted him the rectory of Bishop Wearmouth. His life was strewn with accomplishments.

He was a utilitarian with deep Christian convictions. Throughout his life, he remained controversial. His utilitarianism was condemned, as was his critique of the often extreme defenses of property ownership. His anti-slavery was unpopular alongside his support of the American Colonies in the Revolutionary War.

The powerful nature of Paley’s works is revealed in the fact that his major work on utilitarianism, The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, became mandatory reading at Cambridge. His Natural Theology continues to be discussed in courses on philosophy of religion. The man was acclaimed by some within the church, who praised his defense of the faith despite others’ objections to his metaethical views.

His contributions to Christian apologetics are the focus of this piece, and we shall turn to them now.

Natural Theology

Paley’s most famous work nowadays is undoubtedly Natural Theology. In this work, he makes his well-known case for the design argument. He utilizes the analogy of a watch. If one finds a watch on a beach, one knows instantly that someone made the watch. Paley applied this same notion to life; one sees the sheer complexity and life and can infer that it, like the watch, was designed.

Many have dismissed Paley’s work here, noting that at points he relies on scientific explanations which have been discredited, while at others his examples have been explained. Yet the genius of his work is found in broader principles, which moderns should note. First, he argued that simply never having observed design in action on a biological level does not preclude any possibility of arguing for that same design (Natural Theology, 8, cited below). Second, evidence of things “going wrong” within a design does not invalidate the design of an object in and of itself. Third, higher level natural laws which may lead to order does not explain away the order itself. Fourth, when something appears to be designed, the burden of proof is upon those who assert an object is not designed.

These points seem to me to hold true to this day. I am sure none of them are uncontroversial, but Paley places his defense of this points squarely within his analysis of those artifacts which he considers to be designed (i.e. the eye and ear). A full treatment of these points thus must turn to his own arguments, but for now I would provide the following brief defenses. Regarding the first, this point seems obvious. If I have never seen someone construct a car, that does not in any way mean that I cannot conclude that someone had to have made it. The second point should be well taken within the context of the debate between Intelligent Design and Darwinian forms of evolution. The point is that simply pointing out a flaw in a design does not mean an entire object is undesigned. The third item seems correct because if something exhibits order, and that order is shown to be based around an ordering principle, the very order in and of itself has not been explained; instead, it is only the mechanism for generating that order which is observed. Finally, the fourth point is likely to be the most controversial–after all, appearances may deceive. Yet it does seem to be the case that if, a priori, something appears designed, then to conclude that something is not designed one must have defeating evidence for this appearance.

A View of the Evidences of Christianity

Paley’s Evidences (commonly known as “Evidences of Christianity”) became almost instantly famous. The work generated a number of summaries and expositions by other authors who were delighted with its style and the arguments contained therein. It is easy to see why, once one has begun a read through this apologetic treatise. Paley presents a number of arguments in favor of the Christian worldview. These evidences are largely historical in nature and include the suffering of those who spread Christianity as evidence for its truth, extrabiblical evidence for the truth of the Gospels, the authenticity of our Gospel accounts due to the early practices and beliefs of Christians, undesigned coincidences, and many more. Paley also provides a dismantling of David Hume’s argument against miracles.

It seems to me that any and all of these arguments retain the force they had in Paley’s own day. Consider the argument from the suffering of Christians. Well of course those of other faiths are willing to even die for that which they believe is true. But Paley rightly pointed out a huge difference between those of other faiths dying for their beliefs and the early eyewitnesses of the events surrounding Christ dying for their own beliefs. Namely, these people would know for certain whether that which they believed were true. That is, they either saw the resurrected Christ or they did not. If they did not, then explaining their willingness to die for this profession of faith becomes extremely difficult. However, if they did actually see that which they declared, their willingness to suffer unto death for this belief makes perfect sense. Many miss this important distinction even to this day. The rest of Paley’s arguments found in the Evidences is filled with insights similar to this.

Horae Paulinae

An argument which has largely been neglected within modern apologetic circles is that of “undesigned coincidences.” I have made an exposition of this argument already, and it should be noted that the best places to discover it are in the realm of historical apologetics. William Paley dedicated this work, Horae Paulinae, to discovering undesigned coincidences within the Pauline corpus alongside Paul’s history as written in Acts.

Now, the argument from undesigned coincidences takes quite a bit of work to properly outline. It is, in essence, a matter of looking through the Scriptures and finding how incidental details in one account fill in the blanks of another account. However, this description is so brief as to be simplistic. Paley himself acknowledged a number of the difficulties with describing undesigned coincidences in this way. Regarding the Pauline corpus, for example, it could be that someone invented letters from Paul but based them upon his history found in Acts. But the argument itself takes this into account and generally serves as a defeater for this notion by sheer weight of evidence. That is, the more coincidences are found, the more credulity is stretched if one wishes to assert forgery.

Paley buries the objections to undesigned coincidences in this fashion throughout the Horae Paulinae. The sheer volume of coincidences he finds, and the way they seem so clearly to be incidental, serves to dispel doubts about their genuine nature.

Other Works

Here, we have surveyed Paley’s major works, but he was a prolific writer who published sermons and of course his (in)famous work on utlitarian ethics. The preeminence of Paley as a scholar and writer is unquestionable. It is time we acknowledge how much we have to learn from those who have come before us.

Conclusion

We have seen the diverse array of arguments which Paley offered in favor of Christianity. These ranged from biological design arguments to undesigned coincidences to historical arguments in favor of the Gospels. Paley was a masterful writer whose arguments continue to influence apologists and draw ire from atheists to this day. Although the arguments have not been unscathed, I have offered a few reasons to reconsider some which have long been dismissed or forgotten. Paley’s influence endures. 

I would like to dedicate this post to Tim McGrew, who introduced me to the vast field of historical apologetics. Without his bubbling delight and enthusiasm in the field, I would never have known much–if anything–about people like Paley. It is my hope and prayer that you may also be persuaded to pursue historical apologetists/apologetics. Be sure to check the links for some good starting places.

Be sure to check out the links at the end of this post as well as the resources from Paley.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

Library of Historical Apologetics– Here is where I got started, with Tim McGrew’s phenomenal collection of works. In particular, the “annotated bibliography” will set you up with some fine works. The site features a “spotlight” on the main page for various fantastic reads. Browse and download at will. Also check out their Facebook page.

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity– I provide a number of links as well as an annotated list of historical apologetics works which are great jumping off points for learning more about the vast array of arguments which have largely been forgotten within the realm of apologetic argument. I consider this one of the most important posts on this site.

Forgotten Arguments for Christianity: Undesigned Coincidences- The argument stated– Here I outline the argument from undesigned coincidences and explain how it can be used within apologetics.

Sources

William Paley, Evidences of Christianity (this is a free link for the item on Kindle, note that it is also available for purchase in a hard copy). Also see here for a few links to PDF versions of the book.

—-, Natural Theology (Oxford World’s Classics) – This link is for the Kindle edition which I used for this post. I highly recommend this specific edition due to the helpful introduction and other information included in the text. It can be found for free here.

—-, Horae Paulinae – this link is to the kindle version. It is also available for free here.

*I am indebted to the discussion of Paley’s life found in the introduction of the Oxford Classic’s edition of Paley’s Natural Theology, which I have cited above.

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.

Forgotten Arguments for Christianity: Undesigned Coincidences- The argument stated

The argument from undesigned coincidences is one of the forgotten arguments for Christianity. It has seen a very recent resurgence through the work of some Christian apologists, such as the philosopher Timothy McGrew. The core of the argument is an investigation of the Bible. When one examines the Scriptures, one finds a number of historical, factual claims which either overlap and confirm others made independently or fill in gaps that authors familiar with current events at the time of the writings would have assumed their readers knew about. These coincidences are therefore undesigned–they are unintentional–but they show that the authors who wrote the books which contain them were telling historical truths.

The Argument Outlined

The argument from undesigned coincinces is not an argument which can be contemplated and accepted or dismissed within minutes or even a few hours of study. The argument must be analyzed by investigating individual instances of the undesigned coincidences for oneself and feeling the weight of the evidence begin to burden the mind.

The argument is an inductive argument. Basically, it argues for the conclusion that the Bible is historically accurate. However, it can be used to argue more specifically towards the conclusion that the miraculous accounts in the Bible did in fact happen.

John James Blunt, an early (1794-1855) proponent of the argument from undesigned coincidences, uses the argument as a challenge:

In our argument we defy people to sit down together, or transmit their writings one to another, and produce the like [undesigned coincidences]. Truths known independently to each of them, must at the bottom of documents having such discrepancies and such agreements as these in question. (J.J. Blunt, kindle location 89, cited below)

It would be hard to make the argument more succinct than this. The argument is built from an ever-growing number of independently observed statements throughout the Bible which coincidentally prove, confirm, or fill in historical gaps of other passages. Therefore, it can feature a huge number of steps, each one an additional piece of evidence. Because of this, it is most easily stated as a challenge. Once you have considered the massive weight of the evidence from untold numbers of undesigned coincidences, can you really maintain your skepticism of the historicity of the Bible?

The argument is used not just to establish the credibility of the Gospels but can be used for a number of other claims about the historicity of Christianity: “The argument deduced from coincidence without design has further claims, because… it establishes the authors of several books of Scripture as independent witnesses to the facts they relate; and this, whether they consulted each other’s writings or not; for the coincidences, if good for anything, are such as could not result from combination, mutual understanding, or arrangement” (Blunt, Kindle Location 78).

Undesigned Coincidences- What are they?

Tim McGrew explains the notion of an undesigned coincidence:

How can we say, no, really there are marks of authenticity [in the Bible]… We should look not for parallel passages in the same words but for what are called undesigned coincidences… Sometimes two works written by different authors incidentally touch on the same point in a manner that cannot be written off as copying or having a copy made from some third source… The two records interlock like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. [McGrew, cited below]

Undesigned coincidences overlap and interlock with each other. It is perhaps easiest to explain the concept through an example [I owe this example to Jonathan McLatchie in his post “Undesigned Coincidences: The Ring of Truth”:

Luke 23:1-4:

Then their whole assembly rose up and brought Him before Pilate. They began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man subverting our nation, opposing payment of taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is the Messiah, a King.”

So Pilate asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

He answered him, “You have said it.”

Pilate then told the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no grounds for charging this man.”

Wait, what? Isn’t it Pilate’s job to make sure the Jews do not revolt against Caesar? This guy just basically said he was king!

But then compare that to John 18:33-38:

Then Pilate went back into the headquarters, summoned Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Are you asking this on your own, or have others told you about Me?”

 “I’m not a Jew, am I?” Pilate replied. “Your own nation and the chief priests handed You over to me. What have You done?”

 “My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.”

“You are a king then?” Pilate asked.

“You say that I’m a king,” Jesus replied. “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”

“What is truth?” said Pilate.

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no grounds for charging Him.

John’s telling of the story therefore fills in the gap in Luke’s story. In Luke, there is no reason Pilate would not find grounds for charging Jesus. Only by reading the story in John does one discover that Pilate wanted to let Jesus go because Jesus had explained that his Kingdom was not an earthly kingdom.

If one looks again at these texts in context, one will find that in John, there is no explanation for why Pilate would think Jesus claimed to be a king anyway–it is just out of left field. But turning back to Luke, there is a scene in which the Jews accuse Jesus of claiming to be a king to Pilate. So there is, in these passages, a back-and-forth confirmation. You have to read them both to get the whole picture, and these kinds of details are not the types of things people could plan for.

This is just one example, but they can be multiplied almost beyond comprehension. The way they work is, as McGrew said, like interlocking pieces of a puzzle.

What about Miracles?

The argument can even be used to make a stronger claim. Again, see Blunt, “[I]n several instances the probable truth of a miracle is involved in the coincidences… [W]hen we see the writers of Scriptures clearly telling the truth in those cases where we have the means of checking their accounts… it is reasonable to believe that they are telling the truth in those cases where we have not the means of checking them…” (Kindle Location 89).

Thus, the argument from undesigned coincidences is not a religiously neutral argument. It can also be used to support the truths of miracles. The way this argument works is very subtle. It is not reducible to only the claim that because the Scriptures seem reliable on historical matters due to the undesigned coincidences, we should trust them on the miraculous. Rather, the fact is that the “probable truth of the miracle is involved in the coincidences” (Blunt, 89). “[W]here the natural and supernatural are in close combination, the truth of the former must at least be thought to add to the credibility of the latter” (ibid, 531). The miraculous is sometimes so intertwined with the historical that the confirmation of the historical cannot help but be evidence for the miraculous. Thus, the argument from undesigned coincidences provides a direct argument for the truth of the miraculous.

Conclusion: There’s more where that came from

I have written this post with the intended purpose only to show what the argument from undesigned coincidences looks like. We have seen that it is an inductive argument that is based upon a vast number of examples of varying weight. Furthermore, unlike many historical arguments for Christianity, the argument from undesigned coincidences offers a direct argument for the truth of miracles. I have not addressed possible objections to these arguments. Instead, I leave those for a later post. The next post in this series will outline a few principles of undesigned coincidences.

In closing, it is perhaps best to close with the words of another pre-1900 proponent of the argument:

[S]ince we decide many important worldly matters upon the mere preponderance of evidence and arguments, why should we not adopt the same principles here? It is not necessary in order to recommend the Gospel story for our adoption to insist that it be proved to a mathematical demonstration, and beyond the cavils of every doubter, or of every unreasonable skeptic. Why not adopt that conclusion which has the higher degree of probability rather than the opposite? [Bennett, Kindle Location 59, cited below]

Links

If you want to learn more about forgotten arguments for Christianity, check out my post “On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity.”

Tim McGrew has offered a number of other talks on the topic. Please check them out for more discussion of this argument. McGrew on Evidence4Faith. Another lecture by McGrew on undesigned coincidences. Check out McGrew’s interview with Apologetics 315.

Another great post on “undesigned coincidences” can be found at the Christian Apologetics Alliance blog: “The Ring of Truth.”

Cross Examined has a number of coincidences to examine in their post on undesigned coincidences.

Sources

The image is public domain{{PD-1923}}

John James Blunt, Undesigned Coincidences in the Writings of both the Old and New Testament, New York, 1847.

Edmund Bennett, The Four Gospels from a Lawyer’s Standpoint, New York, 1893.

Timothy McGrew, “Undesigned Coincidences”- this talk can be accessed free of charge here.

William Paley, Evidences of Christianity, New York, 1794; 1865.

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.

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity

There is something missing from our arsenal as Christian apologists. I came upon this truth about a year and a half ago, but have only begun to realize how much we have been missing. Let me begin with an illustration:

It was a short, scenic drive down Interstate-94 to meet with Dr. Timothy McGrew, a professor of philosophy at Western Michigan University. At the time I was living in Ann Arbor, and I had only conversed with Tim on Facebook. He told me, with ill-concealed glee, about a folder on his computer that was filled with PDF scans of copyright-free (public domain) books by forgotten Christian apologists and theologians. The arguments in them, he told me, were not often used by modern apologists and could but increase my knowledge.

We met at a restaurant along the highway and talked for about an hour and a half while Tim uploaded files on my computer. Tim described to me a number of the items in this collection, but what struck me was how many arguments he referenced which are simply forgotten in current apologetics discussions. For example, he described the argument from “undesigned coincidences,” which basically goes through the Bible and shows how interrelated texts confirm each other’s historical veracity. I was shocked that I had not run into such a profound argument for the Christian faith. I was tremendously excited to find out that there were many such treasures waiting to be discovered.

Despite our continued interactions, I only very slowly began to read through this fantastic set of resources with which Tim had provided me. Once I got my Kindle, however, I began to tear through them. I have discovered so many delightful discussions, wonderful arguments, thought-provoking works that I could hardly begin to list them here. But I will try at least provide a few avenues for study.

I want you, and yes, especially you–the spirited apologist who has your Kalam argument memorized, your Leibnizian argument polished, and the like–to consider this fact: there are scores more arguments for the veracity of Christianity just waiting to be accessed. These arguments have little-to-no discussion in the apologetic blogosphere, they very rarely appear in modern books (if ever), and many of them are quite strong. What is your reaction to that knowledge?

I suspect it is a salivating, whetting of the appetite; it is a yearning desire to learn more. Fear not! These books, and the arguments within them, are, as I said, at your fingertips. The following is my brief, annotated list of fantastic free resources to help you, my fellow Christian apologists, broaden your knowledge.

Repositories of Resources

Library of Historical Apologetics (Currently DOWN)- Here is where I got started, with Tim McGrew’s phenomenal collection of works. In particular, the “annotated bibliography” will set you up with some fine works. The site features a “spotlight” on the main page for various fantastic reads. Browse and download at will. Also check out their Facebook page.

Open Library– Open Library has a number of the books listed at the Library of Historical Apologetics available in a more Kindle-friendly format, if that’s your reading method of choice. I highly recommend using it to send books to your Kindle for free (when you select wi-fi delivery). See below for some specifics.

Getting Started

Yes, it can be daunting once you realize the voluminous nature of the study ahead of you. So I’ve made it easy by providing links to a few books–again, for free–to get you started, along with some comments. Oh, and I’ll be running a series shortly which outlines and examines several of these arguments.

Forgotten Arguments for Christianity: Undesigned Coincidences- The argument stated– I outline one of the many forgotten arguments for the truth of Christianity.

The Four Gospels from a Lawyer’s Standpoint– Edmund Bennett. Short and sweet, this book presents an argument I find extremely compelling: undesigned coincidences. Essentially, what Bennett argues is that the authors of the Gospels, writing individual histories, incidentally confirmed each other’s histories. I can’t recommend this highly enough. [To download, click the [G] or [A]; or if you want it for kindle, click here and on the right select “send to Kindle.”

A View of the Evidences of Christianity– by William Paley. It would be hard to describe the impact this book will have on your apologetic. Paley is simply masterful. In his first section alone he tears apart Humean arguments against miracles. This book is of extreme import for anyone interested in apologetics. Again, Kindle users.

Undesigned Coincidences– by J.J. Blunt. Once you’ve read Bennett, this book takes you through the entire Bible pointing out more historical arguments of great import throughout. I find this argument stunningly powerful, and I think as apologists we must incorporate it. Kindle [warning-lots of typos in this one due to the transition from PDF to Kindle. If you find a better version for Kindle, let me know].

Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Bonaparte– I’ll let Tim McGrew describe it: ” In this delightful spoof, published while Napoleon was still alive, Whately turns Hume’s skeptical doubts regarding miracles against reports of the career of Napoleon—with devastating results.” One can’t help but think of those who deny the historical Jesus today and how one might apply this to Abraham Lincoln, JFK, or (as I have), the Titanic. Kindle users.

The Bridge of History over the Gulf of Time– Thomas Cooper’s exhortation to apologetics and a general introduction to a number of arguments against Christianity. Check out this essay on Cooper.

A Dissertation on Miracles– by George Campbell. A devastating critique of Hume’s argument against miracles.

The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul– by James Smith [click the link in the article]. This work is an argument for the historical accuracy of Luke in Acts constructed by a sailor who also knew numerous languages and was intimately familiar with the documents with which he worked for this account.

There is now a fire within me that seeks after these forgotten or little-known arguments–a burning that is only quenched by finding more early writings–and I can’t help but hope that you, too, will be delighted to delve into these lost treasures. We can’t let the past escape us. One thing I always tell the apologetics class I teach is this: “If you have a doubt or a question about the Christian faith, I can guarantee you that someone smarter than me has already thought about it and written on it. Don’t go at it alone.” Christian brothers and sisters, don’t let this knowledge escape you. We must spread it to this generation and beyond.

Final Thoughts

My thanks to Tim McGrew for his guidance in this study. May we all strive for Christ as he has.

I leave you with something he told me about these historical apologetics books:

I know …

… a music theory professor who read Thomas Cooper’s _Bridge of History_ and phoned me up screaming violently for more …

… a seminary graduate who confessed that he had never been taught the evidences of Christianity that he was discovering in the old, forgotten works …

… a marathon runner and stay-at-home mom who fell in love with George Campbell’s _Dissertation on Miracles_ …

… a construction worker who was captivated by the argument from undesigned coincidences …

… a daycare worker who has educated himself by reading dozens of old works of apologetics …

… a civil service worker in Chicago who set out to refute the arguments in Thomas Chalmers’s _Evidence and Authority of the Christian Revelation_ and ended up becoming a Christian …

… the list goes on and on …

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 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: “The Cell’s Design” by Fazale Rana

Arguments for intelligent design often hinge upon what mechanistic, naturalistic means “cannot explain.” The arguments go something like “See feature x, how can naturalistic mechanisms explain x? They cannot. Therefore, ID is true.” There is something to be said for this type of argument. If one simply cannot explain a specific thing by means of the mechanisms suggested, one must look for different means. That said, if the case for intelligent design rested only upon negative arguments, it would not be as robust as if it also had positive evidence.

Fazale Rana’s book, The Cell’s Design, seeks to present just such positive evidence. The sheer volume of fine-tuning required to make a cell work baffles the imagination and, Rana argues, serves as positive evidence for design.

Rana’s argument is an argument from analogy. He draws heavily from William Paley’s “watchmaker” example (If one came across a watch in the sand, they’d know it was designed… Paley argued that one could similarly conclude that life was designed). Rana doesn’t ignore the arguments raised against such analogical reasoning, but confronts them head on. After identifying several criteria which allow proper analogical reasoning (30ff), Rana makes his case for the Creator.

The first line of evidence comes from the machines in the cell. Again, Rana’s approach is analogical, rather than negative. The machine-like nature of the flagellum, along with other motor-like cellular functions presents an argument: “Organisms display design. Therefore, organisms are the product of a creator” (86).

The case doesn’t rest merely upon molecular machines. Rather, that is but one of the many lines of evidence. Rana draws out the implications of several “chicken-and-egg” paradoxes. These include the “mutual interdependence of DNA and proteins” (99), the origin of proteins themselves (100ff), and more (105ff). These systems present a kind of “irreducible complexity in which the system depends on the system to exist” (108).

Other elements of design are present in the cell as well. Aquaporins intricate and detailed workings illustrate the design that is present in the system (111ff). Other detailed, intricate designs (such as collagen, mRNA, and the breakdown of proteins) hint at the need for a designer. But the reasoning is not only supported by the details, it is also bolstered by the structural composition of the cell (126ff). The analogy of cells to machines is strengthened further by the quality control systems within the cell (198ff). Again, the reasoning is analogical–these things are designed, therefore they need a designer.

“Information can’t be separated from the activity of an intelligent agent” (142). The numerous examples of information in the cell lead to the inference of an agent. But it is not only the information’s presence that hints at a designer. Here Rana’s case really builds on and develops the work of other ID theorists. The information alone could be enough to infer an agent, but one must also account for the fact that cellular information follows rules like syntax, semantics, and pragmatics (144ff). It is not merely information, it is the use of that information and the rules governing that use that strengthen the case for an agent behind the information.

One of the most amazing parts of The Cell’s Design is the chapter called “A Style All His Own.” Darwinian evolution, if rewound, would come out different ways every time. Different mutations would occur, which would lead to different organisms. What is not expected, on Darwinism, is a convergence pattern in evolution. When the same templates keep showing up through independent routes of development, it provides strong evidence for a designer. Yet this “molecular convergence” is exactly what scientists have discovered again and again. On pages 207-214 Rana writes, with citations from scientific journals, of no less than 100 examples of molecular convergence. As a reader, one can’t help but be stunned as they go through these pages. Over and over, there is evidence that the same designs show up in different places, independently, throughout nature. As Rana writes, “if life emanates from a Creator, it’s reasonable to expect he would use the same designs repeatedly…” (215). And this repetition of design is found in life’s most basic components: DNA (216ff).

Rana does not ignore detractors arguments against his position. One counter-argument to Rana’s conclusions is the presence of poorly-designed mechanisms in nature. Yet Rana effectively nullifies these examples, citing how many of them have turned out to be optimally tuned for life, and how others may be expected to be equally tuned (258ff).

The Cell’s Design is an extremely difficult read, but it does not leave readers who are not scientists to flounder. Rana’s second and third chapters provide some basic biological understanding which readers must have to understand the argument throughout the rest of the book. There is also a 12-page glossary at the back of the book which will let those unfamiliar with the terminology follow along. That said, this is not an easy book. The argument is heavily scientific and involves an exploration, in extreme detail, of the mechanisms and machines at work in the cell. The book presents a fantastic case for ID, but not at the expense of the details.

Finally, it is important to underscore the reasoning behind Rana’s conclusions. His argument is abductive. He explicitly outlines it:

1) X is observed

2) If Y were true, then X would be expected.

3) There is good reason to believe that Y is true.

In the case of the cell:

1) Design is observed in biochemical systems.

2) If life stemmed from the direct work of a Creator, the elegant design of biochemical systems would be expected.

3) There is good reason to believe that life is the product of a Creator (276, these arguments are an exact quote).

After reading through The Cell’s Design, this reader cannot help but agree with this argument. Over and over again, Rana has drawn out the exquisite design in the cell. The positive evidence is there, life is designed.

The Cell’s Design presents a phenomenal case for a designer of life. Those interested in exploring intelligent design should add this book to their list. It is not an easy read, by any means, but it provides some explicit, positive evidence for the conclusion that a Creator exists. Those wishing to deny this fact will find much with which they must contend in Rana’s work. I recommend it without reservation.

Source:

Fazale Rana, The Cell’s Design (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008).

Disclaimer:  I was provided with a review copy of this book by Reasons to Believe. You can learn more about this science-faith think tank at reasons.org.

SDG.

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