‘The End of Christianity,’ book review

Dr. William Dembski

Dr. William Dembski

Attempting to find “a good God in an evil world,” Dr. William Dembski, mathematician, philosopher, prolific author and leader in the Intelligent Design movement, presents this effort to reconcile the goodness of God in which we believe with a fallen world which we see. Though there be nothing novel in the attempt, the tack which he takes will be new to many: Dembski asserts that all evil in the world’s history traces back to the sin of Adam and Eve, even the violence, destruction and death that possibly proceeded their creation by billions of years.

Dembski, a theistic evolutionist, suggests a scenario that allows for the prior effects of humanity’s first sin much as the cross had efficacious prior effects for those who believed God before the crucifixion of Christ. Since God is not bound by time these things are not actually prior, but appear so to those of us who cannot see all things as present tense. “God can act retroactively, anticipating what from our vantage are present and future events,” he writes. From God’s view introducing natural evil into creation as a prior-result of sin is logical, even necessary, Dembski argues, for humanity to see the fullness of sin’s depravity. That is, that sin’s effects are so far reaching and so complete that all of creation was affected before sin was even introduced in actual history by the most prominent players.

He bases his view on two realities of time mentioned in scripture: kairos and chronos. Dembski introduces the concept citing Paul Tillich,

[Kairos describes] the feeling that the time [is] ripe, mature, prepared. It is a Greek word which, again, witness to the richness of the Greek language and the poverty of modern languages in comparison with it. We have only the one word “time.” The Greeks had two words: chronos (still used in “chronology,” “chronometer,” etc.): it is clock time, time which is measured. Then there is the word kairos, which is not the quantitative time of the watch, but is the qualitative time of the occasion: the “right” time.

Dembski himself then elaborates,

The distinction between chronos and kairos can be understood in light of the New Testament distinction between the visible realm (i.e., the physical world or kosmos and the invisible realm (i.e., the heavenly world or ouranos. Time operates differently in these two realms. According to the apostle Paul, “the things which are seen are temporal; but th ethings which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). The visible realm thus operates according to chronos, the simple passage of time. But the invisible realm, in which God resides, operates according to kairos, the ordering of reality according the divine purposes.

Notable for many Christians will be Dembski’s treatment of “young-earth creationism” in Part Two. In a strong rebuke he writes (p. 61),

“Uniformitarianism” is always a dirty word for young-earth creationists in such discussions, signifying an unwillingness by the scientific community to question the constancy of nature and thus to make room for a young earth. When young-earth creationists challenge uniformitarianism, they seem less interested in understanding nature on its own terms than in devising loopholes to support an otherwise untenable position.

Dembski admits in his introduction that the context of the book is our current “mental environment…the surrounding climate of ideas by which we make sense of the world.” How this might differ from the more commonly used worldview, the declines to say. He does, however, note that our mental environment includes the issues of New Atheism and its proponents: Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris. In a telling corollary, Dembski quotes Richard Dawkins,

I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.

then proceeds to link a decades old, but chillingly similar statement

The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light, and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity.

which was made by none other than Adolf Hitler.

Dembski’s effort, if not wholly convincing, is certainly a thought provoking effort and worthy of a read of any Christian who desires to engage unbelievers in our current mental environment.
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Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Beau

    Dembski didn’t come up with that “chilling” comparison between Dawkin’s statement and Hitler’s statement himself. He lifted the Hitler quotation from Dawkin’s own book, The God Delusion. Dawkins uses the quote to make a very specific point. For Hitler, religion was a tool. He would vilify Christianity in some settings (as in the quote above), but he was duplicitous. He also used Christianity for his own aggrandizement when it suited his purposes:

    “I believe it was God’s will to send a boy from here into the Reich, to let him grow up and to raise him to be the leader of the nation so that he could lead back his homeland into the Reich.” Adolf Hitler, Vienna, 1938.

    Dawkins makes his point clear in the book: “Either Hitler’s professions of Christianity were sincere, or he faked his Christianity in order to win – successfully – cooperation from German Christians and the Catholic Church. In either case, the evils of Hitler’s regime can hardly be held up as flowing from atheism.” Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

    Dembski is disingenuous; he uses the Hitler quotation (provided by Dawkins) to discredit Dawkins, but fails to provide the context that Dawkins gives to Hitler’s statement.

    Having said this, I do think that this is the realm in which Dembski is best suited to speak, i.e. theistic philosophy. As a scientist, his work is largely disparaged in the scientific community. Even to a layman, it’s clear that Dembski uses his made-up notion of “irreducible complexity” only to criticize Darwin’s theory of evolution. This is also disingenuous. He frequently maligns Darwin in his formal and informal writings to fellow Christians, failing to credit Darwin for a great deal of what Dembski himself believes as a theisitic evolutionist. And while trying to punch holes in Darwin, he fails to provide any alternative theory for the source of that which he claims is “irreducibly complex”, except to suggest a vague unscientific notion of an “intelligent designer”, stopping short of actually mentioning God in his scientific journal submissions.

    In my own life, I am personally trying to find a fresh and convincing way to approach religious faith anew. The cagey tactics of Dembski and others at the Discovery Institute, invalidate their intentions.

    • Marty Duren

      I’m frustrated to hear that Dembski has pulled a fast one; it only weakens his overall case as you say.

      Dembski’s notion is not “irreducible complexity.” That idea was first (I think) elaborated by Michael Behe in Darwin’s Black Box a number of years ago. Dembski’s contribution is “specified complexity,” which posits a certain measure of information transmittal must indicate intelligence rather than chance. His clearest illustration involved seeing a series of Scrabble tiles on a sidewalk. If nine tiles spelled the word outlandish, it could be assumed that intelligence was involved, where if the tiles t-d-a-i-s-o-h-l-u were seen in sequence, randomness without intelligence could be inferred. At some point, which I’ve now forgotten, if could be inferred that a line had been crossed from randomness to intelligence. Thus, creation was by design, not accident. Even when he first suggested specified complexity, the major criticism was that he had no testing to back it up, indeed, it may have been untestable.

      I do not see it either scientific or necessary to provide an alternative to naturalism while arguing against it. I think some in the scientific community use this as a red herring. It does not logically follow that the same person doing the critique must provide a solution.

      As to Hitler, I think both Dawkins and Hitchens are addled. Throughout history, leaders have used religion to dupe the religious. Dawkins literally acts as if he has no context with which he works. Hitler blended his own brand of “positive Christiantiy” which he brandished when it suited him, with the Germanic desire to see The Fatherland restored to the glory it lost at the end of WW I and the unfavorable treaty they were forced to sign. By combining patriotism and religion, Hitler was able to manipulate many “Christians” into actively or passively supporting his murderous intents. There was, however, always a confessing church (Bonhoeffer, Niemuller (?) and others) who stood strongly against the Reich and some even died as a result.

      The dangerous foreboding in that event is any nation (read: the US) in which Christians conflate the kingdom of God with the kingdoms of man opens itself to heinous error.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      • Beau

        Thank you Marty, for the quick response!

        I’m not sure that I agree with all of Dawkins approaches, but I wouldn’t call him “addled”. In the discussion of Hitler I quoted from The God Delusion, Dawkins is not blaming WWII on Christianity, he is discrediting Christians who blame WWII on athiesism. Certainly, he sees religion as having a perfidious influence on humanity; and he would simply say that there is no kingdom of God to conflate with the kingdom of man. There is only the kingdom of man, and man’s own mistakes.

        Thanks for the correction about “specified complexity”, but neither type of “complexity” has earned any broad acceptance in the scientific community.

        What bothers me most about Dembski’s writing is the way that he persistently decries Darwin (especially in Christian newsletters and publications – preaching to the choir), while avoiding the real fact that his own beliefs depend on Darwin’s theory of evolution. He may find evolution theory an insufficient explanation for some of life’s development; but he clearly accepts evolutionary processes for much of the development of life (granted, evolutionary processes designed by a creator).

        Dembski abuses Darwins name freely and frequently to garner support from Christian communities, many of whom grew up as creationists, for whom the cry against Darwin is familiar and rallying. It seems to me, that Dembski could more honestly say that he accepts (and owes much) to Darwin’s theory of evolution, but that he sees it as an incomplete theory, unable to explain all of life’s complexity – part of a bigger picture.

        Einstein placed Newton’s Principia within the context of larger truths about physics. He didn’t market newletters to defame Newton.

  • Beau

    A few more thoughts (and I apologize if I’m beating a dead horse here).

    It is actually important that ID proponents provide, if not an alternative to naturalism, hypotheses that are testable – that make predictions about the physical world that can be verified by other scientists.

    It’s true that scientific studies and experiments can simply argue against a given hypothesis or theory. But ID purports to be much more than a study or experiment. In fact, on William Dembski’s own ID website “Uncommon Descent”, you’ll find this quote: “intelligent design (ID) offers a promising scientific alternative to materialistic theories of biological and cosmological evolution”.

    ID proponents claim that predictions are being made, but these predictions are vague and basically boil down to the idea that more complexity will be found in nature (with no real specifics). Most recently ID proponents are claiming that new purposes are being discovered for strings of what were once thought of as “junk DNA”. This is true – but it’s hardly an exclusive prediction of Intelligent Design. Biologists have been suggesting this possibility for years.

    Einstein’s relativity made a mathematically precise prediction about the curvature of a star’s light around the gravitational pull of the sun, a prediction verified during a solar eclipse.

    Quantum Mechanical theory has predicted a number of sub-atomic particles with very specific properties of mass, spin, etc., which were later discovered experimentally.

    The theory of evolution provides tenets that paleontologists use routinely to predict the biological structures to look for in transitional fossils, and in what earth strata they might be found. Such predicted fossils show up quite frequently in paleontology.

    I guess this is important to me, because I’m on a search for a new “Mere Christianity” in my life. A way of looking at my existence that might help me find my way back to a Christian view of the world. Friends keep pointing me to Intelligent Design, but for me, that is clearly a dead end.

    I have another friend who reminded me of the biblical definition of faith: “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”, but I’ve lost the sense of what that “substance” or “evidence” actually is.

    Thank you again for your book suggestions (reply to another post) – I really will try them out. The more I read on your site, the more I respect your balanced perspective.

    • Scott

      Just a few thoughts tangentially related to what you guys have been discussing…

      There is no evidence that the NeoDarwinian synthesis (random variation filtered by natural selection) has ever produced biological novelty. In fact, it has only been shown to destroy – Darwinian evolution ensures extinction. There is not a single piece of experimental evidence demonstrating that the Darwinian mechanism has any creative power.

      For more on this, check out the book “The Edge of Evolution” – http://goo.gl/KbKs

      The main proponents of ID don’t claim it is a unified “theory”, but more of a broad research program. Essentially applying design detection (already practiced in archaeology and programs like SETI) to biological systems. I don’t see anything pseudo-scientific about such a program. Bench biologists are already applying principles of engineering in trying to understand molecular machines every day. So, ID is already in practice all over the globe, it’s just not called “ID”.

      One of ID’s more compelling predictions is the absence of gradualism in the fossil record. Darwinism requires “slight, successive modifications”. This is not what we see in the record. We see the abrupt appearance of novel phyla. It looks more like saltation events and nothing at all like the gradualism that Darwinism demands. Many ID proponents posit a “front loading” scenario where all of the genetic information for all phyla was present at the very beginning in an “uber cell”, just waiting to be expressed. Think of functions in a computer program waiting for method calls to express their content. This is way more in line with the empirical evidence.

      At the end of the day it comes down to the evidence, for me. And what I see when I look at the evidence are things like: Complex digital code at the core of all life (DNA), molecular machinery which baffles Engineering PHD’s, the abrupt appearance of novel cell, tissue and body plans. Design seems to cry out from every avenue I explore. Darwinian on the other hand seems to be dying, taking it’s place with other steamboat era mythology. A civil war era creation myth based on insufficient data. We have new information now. We can see inside the cell. And it’s a lilliputian wonderland of elegant code, transport shuttles, anti-virus software, encryption, etc… I think the design paradigm is very promising.

    • Marty Duren

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      I agree that scientific inquiry is advanced by testable hypotheses. However, the current scientific community as represented by the members of the national academy, for instance, will never, ever admit any hypothesis that goes against naturalism. Indeed, it cannot because naturalism itself is a non-falsifiable hypothesis.

      One of the doctrines of Christianity is that of a personal devil-Satan. While the extent of his power and influence is debated, all orthodox Christians believe in this malevolent being. The majority of scientists, for varying reasons, do not. He belongs to the “faith” arena and, in the words of Gould, a “magesterium” that does not overlap science.

      Suppose one day a scientist is doing field work and discovers the actual literal devil. Testing is done, interviews are taken and the entire gambit of proofs are carried out. Finally, on the cover of Scientific American is a groundbreaking story, “Satan Exists!”

      Would science finally admit the truth of the Bible? No, it would not. It would merely move Satan from the spiritual realm to the physical realm, and, thereby, claim that naturalism was right all along, because science discovered Satan.

      This is, in fact, how naturalism/Darwinism plays out in the scientific community. Since some 95% of the members of both the National Academy and the Royal Academy are committed atheists and naturalists, how likely is it that research in any other direction is likely to be admitted? The likelihood is less than zero.

      Just this week a renowned scientist and member of the American Physical Society, Harold Lewis, emeritus professor at University of California–Santa Barbara, resigned from APS because of he is convinced that science has been hornswaggled by research dollars. His complained “with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS with it like a rogue wave.”

      I’m simply not convinced that science and scientists are as impartial as they believe they are. Everyone is subject to their own worldview; it’s when you are blinded and think you can see that you are in the most danger. Jesus warned the Pharisees about this. He might as well have been speaking to the academies.

  • Scott
    • Beau

      Wow – a lot to discuss!

      (Marty, let me know if I’m ever abusing the hospitality of your site – or if I should move a certain discussion to another forum)

      Scott, I can see that you’ve been reading a lot of Intelligent Design literature. Here are a few thoughts on what you’ve shared:

      “There is not a single piece of experimental evidence demonstrating that the Darwinian mechanism has any creative power.”

      This is a “straw man” argument created by Michael Behe. There are so many published papers on the natural evidence of evolution, you could never read it all. As for experimentation, scientists see viral and bacterial mutations occur in the laboratory every year. It’s called genetic research and we do it all the time. Starting with a wolf, humans have been steering mutations into a host of useful dog traits for thousands of years, and we’re still doing it (it’s called breeding). New strains of genetically engineered crops hit the market every season. The notion that a lack of “experimental evidence” makes evolution invalid is simply a false assertion; and ID researchers could never apply that standard to their own research.

      Can anyone produce “experimental evidence” of Intelligent Design? Behe’s own colleagues at Lehigh University (the entire department of biological sciences) posted this disclaimer about Behe’s research: “While we respect Prof. Behe’s right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally and should not be regarded as scientific.”

      The main problem with Behe’s The Edge of Evolution, is that his statistical analysis is based on the premise that evolution purposefully sets out to create particular end products like a factory, a premise never made by any evolution scientist. It’s another “straw man” analysis, which has already been shot down by Behe’s colleagues. Even so, every dog, and genetically-engineered bit of produce around us is an easy refutation of his made-up premise.

      “The main proponents of ID don’t claim it is a unified “theory”, but more of a broad research program.”

      That would be fine, if ID proponents didn’t make grand demands of other scientific researchers and grand claims about ID’s place in the scheme of scientific research – again, this is a quotation from ID’s primary proponent William Dembski: “intelligent design (ID) offers a promising scientific alternative to materialistic theories of biological and cosmological evolution”. That’s a huge claim! That’s bit more than a broad research program. And of course you can easily find on the internet many more of Dembski’s unsupported and cavalier aspersions on the theories of evolution and cosmology. ID proponents makes grand claims and grand denouncements, but when scientists make the same demands of ID research that ID demands of other disciplines, the Dembskis and Behes quickly back-pedal into the position that they’re really just doing broad research.

      You can’t have it both ways. Either you have a body of evidence and experimentation sufficient to overturn the mountain of science supporting “materialistic theories of biological and cosmological evolution“ or you are just a meek and mild “broad area of research” that can’t be expected to answer all experimental and evidentiary demands.

      “Bench biologists are already applying principles of engineering in trying to understand molecular machines every day. So, ID is already in practice all over the globe, it’s just not called ’ID’.”

      This is a recent ID tactic. Because ID researchers tend to use “machine” language to describe biological processes, they have begun to claim that any other scientists who do the same are, in essence, “researching ID”. Biologists have been calling biological processes “machines” long before Dembski or Behe were born (Darwin did it in the Origin of Species). Every process in the physical world – a burning star, the orbit of a planet, weather, the drift of a continent, as well as each biological process – uses the same properties of physics that man-made machines use. ID researchers might as well claim that all scientific research is ID research. It’s a silly and completely uninformative claim.

      “One of ID’s more compelling predictions is the absence of gradualism in the fossil record. Darwinism requires “slight, successive modifications”. This is not what we see in the record.”

      This is another false ID claim. By the way, you’ll only find statements like this in popular ID literature; never in a peer reviewed article. Why? The claim would never pass peer review. The fact is that there are many examples of gradualism in the fossil record. IDer’s can always claim that the fossil record isn’t gradual enough, but that’s like claiming that you can’t prove hair grows without having a picture of each new follicle as it crops up.

      Heck, if you don’t like the fossil record there are living examples of gradualism. The herring gull and lesser black-backed gull are separate species that never interbreed. But there is a line of related gulls stretching around the globe, all able to interbreed with their genetically closest variants, connecting at the ends of the “ring” with the herring and lesser black-backed gulls, completely separate species. There is the example of the peppered moth (Biston betularia f. typical) which hid among tree lichens until the industrial revolution turned their tree habitats black, making way for their closest gradual variation, the Dark or Melanic moth (Biston betularia f. carbonaria), to take over the population. And of course there is the plethora of gradual viral and bacterial strains that crop up every time we overuse a new anti-bacterial or anti-viral drug. Darwin’s original Galapogos Island species are still (as they were a century ago) fine examples of gradual evolution – with many of the originating species still alive and kicking just an island away from their genetic descendants.

      ID proponents will say that there are specific, Darwinian gradations that can’t be found in fossil record. We’ve found plenty of gradations; IDers just argue that we haven’t found all of them. Well, how do you prove a negative? There are about two million discovered species on the planet, anywhere from 5 to a hundred million undiscovered species, not to mention the countless species that have become extinct over geological history. It’s the easiest thing in the world to point out a species or fossil that hasn’t been found. The vast majority of dead plants and animals never fossilize. Where do they go? Dirt, the stomachs of other species, broken down to their basic molecular components by all sorts of natural processes. We pour tons of dead species into our automobiles every day. “Convenient for Darwinians” the IDers will say. Please. Look at the evidence we do have.

      “We can see inside the cell. And it’s a lilliputian wonderland of elegant code, transport shuttles, anti-virus software, encryption, etc… I think the design paradigm is very promising”

      You’ll get no argument from non-ID scientist that universe is a wonderful, complex place.


      You get at the heart of the matter in bringing up Gould’s magesteria, which was simply his reworking of an age old problem for religious scientists. The problem comes in many related questions:

      Can you draw a line between the study of the natural and the supernatural? Is it enough to call God the designer of natural processes, or should we find evidence for supernatural processes. What is natural? What is supernatural? Can science support religion? Can religion support science? Are they mutually exclusive?

      Unfortunately, religious institutions don’t have a great historical track record for supporting scientific progress. Before I go on, let me point out that I’m not saying that God does not support scientific progress, only religious institutions. It’s true that before the 20th century, most scientists in western civilization were Christians, but then, most of western civilization was Christian (or else defamed as heretical). Christian institutions have denounced the discoveries that the earth is round, the earth is not the center of the universe, the earth moves around the sun, species become extinct, time is relative, and the list goes on. Creationists still attempt to “prove” that the Earth is just a few thousand years old, and Pope John Paul II asked Stephen Hawking to refrain from theorizing beyond the moment of the Big Bang, as he considered it God’s moment of creation.

      There are many Christian scientists who are content to believe in science and believe in God, giving the creator all the credit for the designs they see in the natural world, without feeling the need to find gaps in the natural world that can only be filled by “supernatural” design.

      Behe’s initial “evidence” for ID, the notion that bacterial flagella could only be intelligently designed, has long been debunked in multiple peer-reviewed works, but ID scientists continue to look for the evidence using the same discredited formula, along with the new discredited formulas of Dembski.

      With the history of religion’s (not God’s) intrusions into scientific progress, it’s difficult not to suspect that Intelligent Design researchers are inventing research to suit their own preconceived beliefs, especially when Behe, Dembski, and most other ID’ers earn whatever popularity they have through Christian newsletters, Christian blogs, and texts circulated in Christian bookstores. It’s telling that in Uncommon Descent’s list of the pioneering ID scientists you’ll find Roger Olsen, who is not a scientist (he has no science degrees) but a theologian. He co-authored an early ID text, The Mystery of Life’s Origins: Reassessing Current Theories (also co-authored by Walter Bradley, not a biologist but an engineer – but, OK, machines). I say this not to discredit Olsen, but to say that ID science inherently carries the biases of Christian theology.

      Perhaps ID science will turn out to be right all along. It’s possible. But until ID science grows up and takes scientific responsibility for its popular claims as well its peer-reviewed claims, it has little ground to cry “unfair” at the bias it finds in the scientific community. Every major scientific paradigm has had to fight bias in the scientific community. If this were not true, then any fly-by-night phrenologist’s claim could be trotted off to publishers and taught in a textbook (which, incidentally has happened in previous centuries). It’s interesting that ID supporters now cry against the atheists in the scientific community who are “holding them back”. Historically, most major scientific paradigm shifts were fighting against the Christians in the scientific community. Either way, new paradigm shifts in science do not occur because they win popularity contests, but because of continuous hard, repetitive scientific research that finally overwhelms the counter-arguments.

      So if ID researchers want to claim the next paradigm, they will have to decide. Are they going to dig in and defend their popular claims with hard science? Or are they going to cry “unfair” and back-pedal into the claim that they just represent broad research, not responsible to answer the demands they make of the current paradigm.

      Darwin has a good summary line for our difference of opinion. “Almost every part of every organic being is so beautifully related to its complex conditions of life that it seems as improbable that any part should have been suddenly produced perfect, as that a complex machine should have been invented by man in a perfect state.” Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

      That’s a quotation that Marty, Scott, or I could look at and say – “See? That’s what I mean!”

      Marty and Scott,

      Now that I’ve “had my say” I do realize that our differences on this particular topic are probably entrenched. I don’t mind if you take the last word :^)

      • Marty Duren

        Thanks, Beau.

        Briefly, you dispute Scott’s statement: “There is not a single piece of experimental evidence demonstrating that the Darwinian mechanism has any creative power” with this: As for experimentation, scientists see viral and bacterial mutations occur in the laboratory every year. It’s called genetic research and we do it all the time. Starting with a wolf, humans have been steering mutations into a host of useful dog traits for thousands of years, and we’re still doing it (it’s called breeding). New strains of genetically engineered crops hit the market every season.

        All of your examples have two things in common: They are not Darwinian and they rely on outside intelligence to take place.

        I’m not one to argue that there is no bias from the ID side; it’s completely biased IMO. Just as I am biased, just as you are biased. What I am arguing is that the wider, atheistic scientific community is also biased, extremely, blindingly so, yet denies it. As a whole, they are complete hypocrites.

        I’m also not going to defend what “religion” or the Catholic church has done, some of which is assigned to the larger Christian body and undeservedly so. Many of the men involved in the scientific revolution were Christians themselves and many productive scientists today are as well (a minority, obviously).

        What I’ll continue to say is that I find no credible reason to believe scientists over scripture even in matters of science. Through the centuries, science has often demonstrated itself to be fatally inaccurate, numbingly naive, and flip-flopping after a few short years.

        In your original post, you said you were struggling with faith, though raised as a Christian. My encouragement would be not to allow skeptics to combine historical abuses by “Christian institutions” with what the Bible actually says. The Bible never says that the sun revolves around the earth, that species do not go extinct, that the earth is not the center of the universe, etc. It does not matter what such an institution claims, if it does not follow the scripture, it isn’t Christian.

        Thanks for your response. I’ll leave the rest for Scott if he stops by again.

        • Beau

          Thanks for that personal note. In positive response (not a last word), let me say that totally agree with you that I shouldn’t let scientists turn me away from scripture. In fact, all the scientists that I know personally are Christians (not ID supporters), but Christians nonetheless. Some go to church with me (yes, I’m still attending).

  • Steven

    Do you happen to recall where you read the statistics about atheism in the National and Royal Academies? I am interested.

    There is a very recent survey that you may find interesting. Professor Elaine Howard Ecklund surveyed nearly 1700 scientists from research universities around the nation, and followed up with 275 interviews. She broke down the stats in a number of ways including scientific disciplines. Her results are published in a new book: Science vs. Religion What Scientists Really Think:


    Among her findings:”Fully half of these top scientists are religious. Only five of the 275 interviewees actively oppose religion.”

    Other aspects of her findings were surprising. She expected the number of athiests to be higher among the natural sciences and lower among the social sciences. The opposite was true.

    I am a Christian. I work in a university setting and have many friends in the sciences. Most of the Christian scientists I know believe that God is the designer of everything they discover in the natural world; but they reject the specific “Intelligent Design” research of Michael Behe and William Dembski. They consider the research scant, and riddled with faulty logic. From all that I’ve seen, I agree with them.

    Christians don’t have to subscribe to the particular viewpoint of “Intelligent Design” research to see that science continually reveals how the universe and life are wonderfully made, and to give the glory to God.

    • Marty Duren


      Thanks for stopping by.

      I do not recall where I read it initially, but it was most likely from a book not a blog or scandal sheet.

      A Wikipedia article on the demographics of atheism includes this note from a 1998 Nature article:

      Nature’s chosen group of “greater” scientists were members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The survey found near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists. Disbelief in God and immortality among NAS biological scientists was 65.2% and 69.0%, respectively, and among NAS physical scientists it was 79.0% and 76.3%. Most of the rest were agnostics on both issues, with few believers. The highest percentage of belief was found among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality), with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5% in God, 7.5% in immortality).[10]

  • Steven

    Also, I’m curious what you mean when you say to Beau, “All of your examples have two things in common: They are not Darwinian and they rely on outside intelligence to take place.”

    All of his examples demonstrate adaptation by selection. You say that they rely on “outside intelligence”, by which I think you mean they involve “human selection” instead of “natural selection.”

    Humans are natural. They are part of the natural world. You can refer to humans as “outside intelligence”, but a female magpie also demonstrates “outside intelligence” when she selects a male who builds the most enticing nest of stolen objects.

    This part of your discussion began with the statement, “there is not a single piece of experimental evidence demonstrating that the Darwinian mechanism has any creative power”. If you reject experiments that are influenced by humans, then the statement has no meaning. All experiments are influenced by the experimenter. Quantum mechanics has demonstrated with the double-slit experiment that this is true even at the atomic level.

    This is actually an argument that many scientists have with Mr. Dembski. He proposes impossible criterion to “disprove” ID, then faults his opponents for not fulfilling his criterion.

    Take his statement in his “Response to Richard Wein”. “In every instance where the complexity-specification criterion attributes design and where the underlying causal story is known (i.e., where we are not just dealing with circumstantial evidence, but where, as it were, the video camera is running and any putative designer would be caught red-handed), it turns out design actually is present; therefore, design actually is present whenever the complexity-specification criterion attributes design.”

    He actually doesn’t provide any examples of his “complexity-specification criterion” in which the “video camera is running”, although it can be presumed he is taking about events in which a human being is actually designing something. All of the biological examples to which he has applied his equations are things that evolved millions of years ago. So, by his standard, we’d need to take a time machine back several million years and bring a microscopic video camera along to catch the moment of genetic mutation.

    • Scott

      Steven: All of his examples require manipulation by an intelligent agent. Human selection = intelligent selection.

      Specific ID hypotheses such as Mike Behe’s Irreducible Complexity – http://www.iscid.org/encyclopedia/Irreducible_Complexity, Bill Dembski’s Specified Complexity – http://www.iscid.org/encyclopedia/Specified_Complexity, and Guillermo Gonzalez’s privileged planet hypothesis -http://www.researchintelligentdesign.org/wiki/Privileged_Planet, can all be falsified by showing that the condition that cannot exist according to the theorist’s postulates does in fact exist.

      • Steven

        The argument of the opposing scientists is that these hypotheses are not falsifiable, that in fact, Bill Dembski has simply introduced a tautology, by inventing a mathematical improbability (CSI) and then saying that it cannot occur naturally, because he has defined it as something that cannot occur naturally.

        The methods of arriving at these “falsifiable” calculations have been criticized as well, by scientists such as David Wolpert, who created the No Free Lunch theorem on which Dembski’s CSI depends. (Wolpert compares Bill Dembski’s calculations to jello). How does Mr. Dembski determine CSI of a biological occurance that took place millions of years ago? Lots of guesswork and assumption.

    • Marty Duren

      Scott caught the essence of what I was saying to Beau. Note his statement and my emphasis:

      As for experimentation, scientists see viral and bacterial mutations occur in the laboratory every year. It’s called genetic research and we do it all the time. Starting with a wolf, humans have been steering mutations into a host of useful dog traits for thousands of years, and we’re still doing it (it’s called breeding). New strains of genetically [human] engineered crops hit the market every season.

      This is a major issue that I have in comparing Darwinism’s requirements: Darwinism says, “random, unguided, mindless, pointless,” but to demonstrate its effectiveness requires “laboratory, scientists, engineering, intelligence.” Not exactly apples and apples.

      • Steven

        I totally caught the emphasis.

        So this is basically how this conversation is going…

        A: There isn’t a single bit of experimental evidence for natural selection.
        B: Sure there is! There’s lots of experimental evidence.
        A: Oh wait! I forgot to say that experiments carried out by humans, don’t count.
        B: um … aren’t ALL experiments carried out by humans ….
        A: Oh yeah! One more thing! Little bits of natural selection don’t count – you have to show huge changes, like the ones that happen over a million years.
        B: OK, so you want an experiment that is not carried out by humans, in which changes requiring millions of years, takes place, oh say, within the next few years … can you remind me where we started?
        A: There isn’t a single bit of experimental evidence for natural selection.
        B:Oh. Yeah.

        Do you believe the earth moves around the sun and the sun burns hydrogen to produce helium with fission?

        Do believe continents drift or that dinosaurs once roamed the earth?

        Can you reproduce any of this in a laboratory?

        How about a laboratory, but without humans?

        Sorry for hyperbole. I’m just saying that the original statement is meaningless.

        As is Mr. Dembski’s CSI tautology. According to Mr. Dembski, CSI is a sign of intelligent design. Why? Because Mr. Dembski defines intelligent design as that which is evidenced by CSI calculations.

        • Steven

          And speaking of apples to apples. Do you really think that human intelligence (something we’ve been studying for thousands of years) can be compared apples to apples with the unspecificied intelligence behind evolution?

          Its apples to apples in Dembski’s hypothesis.
          Even taking it out of science and into theology, is human intelligence apples to apples with God’s intelligence?

  • Scott

    “Christians don’t have to subscribe to the particular viewpoint of “Intelligent Design” research to see that science continually reveals how the universe and life are wonderfully made, and to give the glory to God.”


    Though I’ve found that most people who reject ID either haven’t read the literature or have bought into the rhetoric of the (very successful) anti-ID PR machine driven by the NCSE, etc…

    In general, it’s the hard sciences: Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, (and perhaps programmers like me) etc… which tend to be more supportive of the arguments put forth by ID proponents. They seem to “get” the statistical and probabilistic problems with the Darwinian story. They always have. It’s hard to get around the cold hard numbers. :) On the other hand, the soft extensions: Biology, anthropology, etc… have a more difficult time with the arguments put forth by ID proponents.

    Beau –

    As Marty pointed out, your examples demonstrate intelligent design, not a Darwinian scenario. They require agency.

    To summarize my stance: A blind stochastic mechanism like NS+RM does not cobble together sophisticated software (like we observe in every cell). It throws out and destroys things. It shuffles around existing information. It does not create. Programs require programmers. Specified information has always required a top-down information source.

    • Steven

      The “agency” that you think is missing from natural selection, is survival. Adaptations that help organisms survive live on in their children, adaptations that don’t contribute to premature death in the organism. Darwin doesn’t postulate randomness, piled on randomness, piled on randomness as Mr. Dembski’s calculations would have it(this is the main argument that major mathematical scholars have against Mr. Dembski’s “specified complexity”). Each new random change (of which there are millions), must enable survival or die out.

      With sexual propagation this works even better, because sexual reproduction makes more changes happen at a faster rate, and the competition inherent in sex, brings a form of “intelligent design” into the fray that Mr. Dembski never deals with. Humans aren’t the only animals that can intervene. Magpies select the mate that creates the most enticing nest full of stolen objects. Insects select the flowers with the tasty nectar or the most attractive colors. Chimpanzee’s pick up sticks and beat both their sexual competitors and their prey.

      I believe that God designed these fascinating relationships. But Mr. Dembski’s calculations assume that each random change remains random. That’s a false argument (read some of the dissenting mathematical papers). In natural selection only the random changes that promote survival last, and thus are no longer random. Natural selection is an amazing process designed by God.

      • Scott

        Neither I nor Dembski would argue with the existence of sexual selection, horizontal gene transfer, etc… The issue here is the limits of these mechanisms to generate anything novel. It’s this question which Behe explores using experimental evidence with Drosophila and Malaria in his book, EOE. Young Earth Creationists won’t even deny that that such natural events produce trivial variation within existing species. It’s a given.

        The problem is when we extrapolate from trivial adaptive change within existing species to the macro scale and make grand claims about the creative power of NS/RM. Such claims are completely unsubstantiated. The experimental evidence, most of which involves thousands and thousands of generations of Drosophila and Malaria, demonstrates that even under the most intense of selection pressures, you don’t get anything new. NS/RM, ultimately, ensures extinction.

        I argue that the significant creative acts in history (The Cambrian Explosion, etc…) where new cell, tissue and body plans appear, were due to the execution of existing information. A markedly non-Darwinian scenario. I mean, we’ve found ancient sea urchins which have all of the code for fingers! Just not expressed.

        • Steven

          The mutations produced in Drosophila flies are trivial?! Have you asked the fly? (OK, we haven’t developed Drosophila speech gene yet).

          And how about dogs? Dogs haven’t introduced even a few novelties to the wolf?!

          Yes, I know humans were involved; but if we point to similar novelty in Galapagos island turtles or finches or lizards, you’ll simply say that’s not experimental – you didn’t video tape the change.

          On his blog, Mr. Dembski makes his Cambrian explosion argument using a quotation from Peter Ward.

          “The seemingly sudden appearance of skeleonized life has been one of the most perplexing puzzles of the fossil record. How is it that animals as complex as trilobites and brachipods could spring forth so suddenly, completely formed, without a trace of their ancestors in the underlying strata? If ever there was evidence suggesting Divine Creation, surely the Precambrian and Cambrian transition, known from numerous localities across the face of the earth, is it.”

          — Peter Douglas Ward, On Methuselah’s Trail: Living Fossils and the Great Extinctions (New York: W. H. Freeman), 1992.

          Then Mr. Dembski says.

          “Pretty convincing indicator that the Cambrian explosion poses a challenge to conventional evolutionary theory, wouldn’t you say? Note that this is not a misquote: I indicate clearly that Ward does not support ID and there’s sufficient unedited material here to make clear that he really is saying that the Cambrian explosion poses a challenge to conventional evolutionary theory.”

          The problem? Dembski is taking Ward completely out of context. Ward is simply presenting a question that has now been resolved.

          “Until almost 1950 the absence of metazoan fossils older than Cambrian age continued to puzzle evolutionists and earth historians alike. Other than the remains of single-celled creatures and the matlike stromatolites, it did indeed look as if larger creatures had arisen with a swiftness that made a mockery of Darwin’s theory of evolution. This notion was finally put to rest, however, by the discovery of the Ediacarian and Vendian fossil faunas of latest Precambrian age … The long-accepted theory of the sudden appearance of skeletal metazoans at the base of the Cambrian was incorrect: the basal Cambrian boundary marked only the first appearance of relatively large skeleton-bearing forms, such as the brachipods and trilobites, rather than the first appearance of skeletonized metazoans. Darwin would have been satisfied. The fossil record bore out his conviction that the trilobites and brachipods appeared only after a long period of evolution of ancestral forms.”

          — Peter Douglas Ward, On Methuselah’s Trail: Living Fossils and the Great Extinctions (New York: W. H. Freeman), 1992.

          Dembski still insists that he didn’t misquote Ward. He also continues to argue
          the old Cambrian explosion chestnut, but only in his popular writings. He couldn’t argue the Cambrian explosion in peer-reviewed journal for obvious reasons.

          You’ve really got to look at all the scientists who are crying “foul!” at Bill Demski’s aspersions and misquotations. (I’m not just talking about bad theories, now – serious, academic misbehavior). Just because someone wears the badge of “Christian” doesn’t mean we believe him against a mountain of evidence.

  • Like the continue one particular, Brian, you might have nailed this once more. So exciting!

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