I recently came across a blog post written by an atheist that was a stumbling block for a Christian acquaintance (we’ll call her Jan). Whether it was this or other factors that led Jan to her rejection of Christianity, I was compelled to examine the article. At the surface, I didn’t see anything particularly compelling in the article, and it seemed like more misconceptions of intelligent design than anything revolutionary. However, since Jan herself did not have any reasonable objections to the contents of the article, I wanted to take some time to delve into the details to examine the blog post and see if any theist, or more specifically any Christian, should rethink his or her convictions in light of the reasons contained therein. I will not be linking to the named piece, the specifics of the author are not relevant, and I do not wish to have my corrections be misconstrued and have such a discussion enflame into a never-ending online debate, as I do not believe such debates are generally constructive.
The article mentioned above begins by claiming that nobody knows what Intelligent Design (ID) is, and that people who hold to ID are intentionally changing the terminology to confuse the masses. First, I must point out that this is patently false. The reason why this atheist is unable to grasp the concept of ID has nothing to do with whether or not there is a proper definition of ID, and in fact, that formal definition has been circulating for decades. Those interested in getting a high-level view of some of the tenets of ID may watch this video featuring one of the leading proponents of intelligent design, Dr. Stephen Meyer:
Informally, the concept has been around a lot longer, but we’ll get to that later. As to the question of how precisely ID is implemented as a practical research endeavor is one that is bound to yield various answers, such as one would expect by asking a similar question of any particular research effort. While I’m a bit confounded why there is so much confusion in public about ID, I suppose I should not be. One should not expect the general public to be clear about this too when even Google is confused. The search for “intelligent design” on Google yields this definition results at the top of the results:
“the theory that life, or the universe, cannot have arisen by chance and was designed and created by some intelligent entity.”
The portion that jumped out at the very least as an insincere representation of ID is that life or the universe “cannot have arisen by chance.” This is a far more reaching and less nuanced view of ID. The more accurate view of ID would be that life and universe are “better explained as the result of a mind rather than mindless process” because they bear the qualities usually associated with a mind, namely complex specified information, that from our uniform repeated experience only come from minds, not blind processes. Secondly, ID does not merely pertain to the origin of life but permeates many other areas of biology, many areas of chemistry and into physics and cosmology. It is a bit baffling that so many educated people misunderstand and misrepresent ID. How baffling? So much so that I think it is far more likely to be an intentional straw man fallacy perpetrated by poor logicians, than merely the result of blind ignorance. For more clarity on what ID is and the various misrepresentations of it see this: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/08/what_is_the_the075281.html Instead of pointing out all of those here, I will instead concentrate on the piece as mentioned above.
Many assume that since the phrase “intelligent design” has come about relatively recently in our epic of time, that the concept itself is modern. However, intelligent design as a concept has been around at least since the ancient Greeks. Arguably, the most notable ancient mention is in the debates between the Stoics and Epicureans, some of which is recorded in Cicero’s ancient work, De Natura Deorum. written c. 45 B.C. Far from being a modern invention, ID is an ancient concept that has been discussed for millennia. The modern ID movement is merely the direct scientific application to the concepts. What was being discussed by philosophers in antiquity has now born fruit in its direct application in various areas of science. Now then, with a clearer view of the origins of ID and its definition in place, let’s take a look at some of the other specific claims mentioned in the piece. The writer states this:
1. ID is against the scientific theory of evolution, because evolution doesn’t explain abiogenesis.
To put it mildly, the writer has a horribly inaccurate view of ID. First, ID is not necessarily against evolution with respect to the totality of what is meant by ‘evolution.’ ID is a scientific model for helping to explain the natural world, it does not wholesale replace any other model. In one sense it competes with evolution, but in another sense, it also works in conjunction with evolution. That evolutionary processes are at work in biological systems is not really a question of debate. Small evolutionary changes within kinds have been directly observed. There is usually enough built-in genetic variability in organisms to allow for a fairly wide adaptive range. ID is typically employed when large amounts of complex specified biological information is required to go from one completely different organism or a subset of an organism to another of a completely different nature. This may be as wide as one animal kind’s transformation into another one entirely, or as narrow as one specific metabolic feature’s transformation into another one entirely.
Secondly, far from being a matter of settled fact, a naturalistic means of generating life from non-life has NOT been explained. In fact, there is mass confusion and heated debate among origin of life researchers. If we already had a firm grasp on how life originated on earth, origin-of-life researchers would not still be trying to find the answer. And if it’s easy to reproduce such experiments one simple experiment would be enough to show this to be the case, but we don’t have that. Consider the fact that in 2012 entrepreneurs made grant contribution to help further the origin of life research along. [6. Scientists are challenged to find the origin of life, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/47979400/ns/technology_and_science/t/scientists-are-challenged-find-origin-life#.VE1Of5PF-2M.]
This is a perfect example of an implicit admission that we still don’t know how life could have originated. Does one really believe that people would be willing to throw money at solving a problem that has already been solved? Um, no. All we have is various speculations, all of which run into fairly big roadblocks along the way. The perception within popular culture is that we already know how life came about. The truth within science, however, is that we still don’t know. To make matters more interesting, there is plenty of good evidence that it would have been highly improbable without any intelligence guiding the process for life to come about. The claim of naturalistic evolutionists is that during the past 3.8 billion years non-life has evolved into a conscious, self-reflective, artistic, spiritual, intelligent being that has the ability to examine the depths of the processes which have led to its existence. Even on the surface, this seems like a wild stretch. On paper, it looks even more daunting. Consider the fact that these 16 steps would have had to have been scaled during this time for that to have happened[20. Hugh Ross, 16 Steps to Generating Advanced Life .]:
1. Cells containing only a few hundred gene products must transition to cells containing several thousand gene products.
2. Respiration systems must transition from anaerobic to aerobic.
3. Cells must develop nuclei.
4. Cells must develop mitochondria.
5. Cells must transition from free-floating to colony life.
6. Single-celled organisms must transition into multicellular organisms.
7. Asexual organisms must transition into sexual organisms.
8. Organisms must develop eyes or eye precursors.
9. Organisms must evolve differentiated organs and appendages.
10. Organisms with ectoskeletons must evolve into organisms with endoskeletons.
11. Very-small-bodied organisms must become large-bodied organisms
12. Non-animal life must transition into animal life
13. Non-vascular plants must transition into vascular plants
14. Non-chordate animals must evolve into chordate animals
15. Animals must develop a mind, free will, and emotions.
16. Advanced animals must develop a spirit, symbolic cognition, and symbolic relational capability—in other words, they must become human.
What are the odds of all of these steps being conquered by blind evolutionary processes? Well, evolutionary biologist, Francisco Ayala, estimated similar odds to be 1 in 101,000,000.[11. Francisco Ayala quoted by Frank J. Tipler in “ Intelligent Life in Cosmology,” International Journal of Astrobiology 2 (April 2003): 142.]
Physicists John Barrow, Brandon Carter, and Frank Tipler estimated the probability of the various factors occurring to be less than one chance in 1024,000,000[22. Brandon Carter and W. H. McCrea, “The Anthropic Principle and Its Implications for Biological Evolution and Discussion,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 310 (December 20, 1983): 347–63; John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986): 510–73 .] How minuscule are these odds? “Realistically, this probability is indistinguishable from someone winning the California lottery 3,000,000 consecutive times where the individual purchases no tickets at all.”[23. Hugh Ross, 16 Steps to Generating Advanced Life.] This vast improbability has led philosophers to surmise that if evolution did occur, it would have been a miracle:
As far as the max confusion goes about abiogenesis, one need only read some literature on the origin of life sciences to see this in stark contrast with what is typically communicated by popular science outlets and the intentional manipulation of the information by popular media. The facts say something quite different. Stanley Miller’s experiments of generating life from chemical compounds in the 1950’s have in the modern age of scientific advancement been thoroughly refuted. Today scientists believe early Earth’s atmosphere was composed of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water, and this mixture of gasses does not yield organic compounds in prebiotic simulation experiments (hence, no primordial soup) – a devastating blow for the naturalistic origin-of-life scenario. [8. François Raulin, “Atmospheric Prebiotic Synthesis,” presentation at the 12th International Conference on the Origin of Life and the 9th meeting of the International Conference on the Origin of Life, San Diego, CA 1999; Stanley L. Miller, “The Endogenous Synthesis of Organic Compounds,” The Molecular Origins of Life: Assembling Pieces of the Puzzle, ed. André Brack (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 59-85.] Some scientists have proposed that instead of carbon dioxide the early earth atmosphere contained carbon monoxide (CO). First, there is no evidence of the early earth atmosphere to suggest this to be the case; it is mere speculation. Second, even if CO was present in the atmosphere, “Earth’s water vapor would have removed it, and the flux of cosmic rays to the Earth (necessary to break apart CO’s highly stable chemical bond) is insufficient to produce the levels of prebiotic materials necessary to keep up with their subsequent chemical decomposition in any primordial soup.” [7. Dr. Fazale Rana, Carbon Monoxide Kills Hopes for Primordial Soup, http://www.reasons.org/articles/carbon-monoxide-kills-hopes-for-primordial-soup (accessed 10/26/2014) .]
Additionally, and this is something that should be even more unsettling for origin-of-life researchers, there are no chemical signatures of any primordial soup in the oldest rock formations on earth. The prebiotic soup is a scientific myth emanating from a presupposition of what must have happened given the claims of naturalistic chemical evolution – yet another form of begging the questions whereby the assumption of that which is desired to be achieved is presupposed at the outset – presupposing the theory that we’re trying to prove. [15. Fazale Rana, Through the Lens: Evolution, “A Closer Look at Chemical Evolution (Origins of Life)” http://www.reasons.org/videos/through-the-lens-evolution-origins-of-life-sd (accessed 10/26/2014).]
Lastly, the fact that abiogenesis has NOT been explained by evolution has little to do with the merits of intelligent design as ID does not depend on the failure of the naturalistic evolutionary model to explain abiogenesis, but offers something better – a competing/corresponding model. In other words, ID is not a negative case that aims to explain the gaps in evolution. It is a positive case that aims to explain the evidence at hand, and some of the time alongside evolution.
2. ID explains abiogenesis with an unnamed designer, either supernatural or … alien.
ID makes no claims about the designer. The central proposition of ID is that certain effects are the result of intelligent causes. That’s all. That’s it. Naturally, that opens the door of implications for what could potentially be the cause of those effects, but ID really has nothing to do with what follows. As a theist I would obviously see this requirement consistent with a transcendent cause, namely God. But that has little to do with ID as we are now in the realm of philosophy.
3. ID does not accept evolution but adaptation (what’s the difference?).
As stated above, ID is a competing and sometimes coordinated (depending on which of its specific aspects one is looking at) model with evolution. The difference between adaptation and what the writer most likely intended to say by “evolution” – macroevolution, is quite big. Based on a brief summary of this objection that the writer alludes to, it’s clear that the writer had a good idea what the answer to the question might be – that it is this difference between microevolution and macroevolution.
In the expansion of this question the writer speculates what the answer might be to his original question, and asks what is perhaps the best follow-up question – “What genetic mechanism stops micro-evolution to continue evolving into macro-evolution?”
Well, let’s see. Adaptation is change within a specific limited range of genetic variability. Macroevolution is an all-out no-holds-barred, changes from radically different animal kinds to others. Adaptation is within a given set of genetic limitations. In other words, the genetic information is all there, and is simply expressed slightly differently based on the conditions the organism is facing.
Macroevolution sees no true genetic limitations. Smaller microevolutionary changes are extrapolated as a means to demonstrate that larger more extensive changes have happened. However, this extrapolation is founded on the speculation that natural selection and mutation are all that we need to move evolution along, that great amounts of new complex specified information can be generated by completely random means. At it’s core the difference between the two is that in one all the information is readily available to the organism, and some cases, scant new metabolic functions gained. In the other there are massive transformations with new complex specified genetic information that must be generated through completely random means.
4. ID is guided evolution/adaptation.
The writer asks, “Where’s the guide? Is there a goal to evolution? Are we the goal (surprise!)?”
It’s not clear what kind of “guide” the writer is asking for, but it’s safe to assume he is asking for the author of the process of guiding evolution. In other words he wants scientific evidence for the intelligent agent that is guiding the process. Well, that is actually not a relevant question to whether or not ID is a reliable explanation of what occurs in nature. We don’t need all regressive explanations ad infinitum for a specific claim for truth. We just need simple examination of the particular issue at hand. And in any case, science does not work that way. If it did, no specific scientific theory could ever be erected until we found an exhaustive explanation for entire cause and effect relationships leading up to and away from the specific theory. This would effectively kill science itself.
There are examples of this in virtually all sciences. Take, for example, archaeology – when archaeologists dig they are looking for artifacts of intelligent design. They try to differentiate between dirt, random stones, and all sorts of effects of causes of undirected processes from effects that are typically the result of an intelligent cause. They do this by applying their uniform repeated experience to distinguish effects of intelligent causes and random undirected processes. And when they find pottery or a piece of stone with markings on them, they realize that such things were created by some intelligent agent. And contrary to what this writer is expecting, archaeologists don’t really need to know who the specific creator was to know that it was in fact created. Who the creator was is another question – still valuable – but not knowing the creator does not provide a reasonable rebuttal to the fact that it was created. His subsequent questions about the direction of evolution are therefore, also wholly irrelevant. We could speculate of course, but one need not know the end goal of the intelligent agent in its direction of the ultimate fate of creatures to see that intelligent design is at work.
5. ID is unguided evolution/adaptation.
The writer qualms: “How come some IDelists hold on to the notion that ID is guided and others that it’s unguided. That’s confusing, folks.” Well, yes that is confusing, but a few examples would be helpful. As someone well acquainted with the ID literature I’ve actually not seen an argument that ID is unguided. To restate what I stated earlier, in some instances ID works in conjunction with evolution – simply imagine a merged model whereby both are true at various points in the process.
6. Design is everywhere (look around you).
In this section, the writer makes a sweeping statement: “The natural world is all around us, also known as reality. So far, we have zero evidence for the supernatural (designer or not) or for aliens. If you have no evidence, why hold on to a silly belief?”
The first point to be made here is that the writer has already settled the case in his mind by presupposing the visual “natural world” (all around us) to be the total sum of “reality.” The mere visual world is not all there is. For example, consider the statement itself that the mere visual world is all there is. The statement is one that is attempting to relay reason (non-visual) through a representation (symbolic) of language utilizing digital media (virtual). The only way we can read the statements is by observing the monitor of the device we happen to be using. However, the statement itself and its reasonableness or unreasonableness is not available visually. Are we, therefore, justified in saying that reason and rationality do not exist? Absurd! Thus the very statement that all that exists (reality) is only what we can have direct visual confirmation of destroys itself. And some reflection will yield plenty of things we know to be real that we cannot see.
The writer then moves on to state that “we have zero evidence for the supernatural.” This is demonstrably false. There have been scores of books written on history, science, philosophy and more, that demonstrate this evidence. The problem here may be that the author is expecting evidence of a certain kind that would persuade him. However, an intelligent agent has no obligations to demonstrate such visual proof to every generation of human beings from eternity past into the indefinite future. Going back to our example of archaeology, suppose human beings, who crafted artifacts, went missing. Should we restrain our conclusion that there was an intelligent cause in making the artifact until we can find the people who made it? This would also be absurd. We know what we have, and we make logical deductions of what kinds of causes may be responsible for such effects. It’s really not that difficult to conclude intelligent design – we happen to know the effects of certain types of causes.
7. Design is undefined.
We then see the writer making this claim: “The fact that design is undefined is a strong point of ID. Something undefined cannot be attacked…. unless you think about it. The lack of definition of ID can be attacked as it’s incredibly unscientific to not define the object of study as precise as possible.”
This is factually false and leads the writer to make a straw man argument. As demonstrated earlier, ID is defined. One should easily find its definition on any of the leading ID websites, books, peer-reviewed publications, etc. There are no citations given to support the writers claim that ID has not been defined.
8. Irreducible complexity is the key.
9. Irreducible complexity has been debunked, now we believe in inconceivable complexity.
Well, irreducible complexity plays a role, but it is not necessarily “the key.” Irreducible complexity is a view of ID that certain aspects of the natural world are so intricately intertwined in their symbiotic design that its parts would not have emerged independently as part of the overall system without any guiding intelligence at work.
Irreducible complexity does NOT state that such a system “was ‘created’ fully functional by a designer.” This is yet another straw man argument. The proposal is a bit more modest, nuanced and open, as it speaks to directed change rather than random change. A programmer can write code (directed change) or it can allow code to be randomly generated (though this itself would require intelligence). The programmer does NOT have to install a brand new software suite (prepackaged software – in biological terms, supernatural creation) in order to introduce intelligence into a system. Such intelligence may also be injected into a system little by little.
The writer makes the bold claim that “The RNA/DNA world hypothesis doesn’t require any creation event,” which so happens to be beside the point. The writer is assuming that ID cannot still be at work without a big bang supernatural creation event with an organism popping into existence by a supernatural cause. This is another view that misses the point of ID.
The writer then states the following:
“The bacterial flagellum is actually an evolved trait. All components that make up the bacterial flagellum can be found functioning in other organisms. The flagellum most likely evolved with more parts, each additional part beneficial for it’s host, and then, later, evolved to a less complex form…”
The flagellum is actually a simple example proposed by Michael Behe. Irreducible complexity has actually not been disproved. Hehe has actually adequately defended his position. Hehe aside, what’s interesting is that the more we observe and the deeper we dig, more of these complex systems we find. Consider the fact that the very supercoiling of DNA is now seen as a second layer of information, and… you guessed it – irreducible complex. [13. Georgi Muskhelishvili and Andrew Travers, “Integration of Syntactic and Semantic Properties of the DNA Code Reveals Chromosomes as Thermodynamic Machines Converting Energy into Information,” Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 70, no. 23 (December 2013): 4555–67, doi:10.1007/s00018-013-1394-1.] It has been revealed that DNA houses both digital and analog information that work together. As biochemist, Fazale Rana explains,
“Two researchers [Georgi Muskhelishvili and Andrew Travers] have demonstrated that DNA harbors information in both digital and analog formats. These two types of information appear to be coupled intrinsically through DNA nucleotide sequences to form an irreducibly complex system. This new insight reveals the elegant sophistication of genomes and advances the case for intelligent design by highlighting the remarkable analogy between the structure and operation of biochemical information systems and the information systems produced by human designers.” [14. Fazale Rana, Digital and Analog Information Housed in DNA, http://www.reasons.org/articles/digital-and-analog-information-housed-in-dna.]
The writer states the following:
“Abiogenesis/evolution can account for all irreducibly complex arguments.”
Well, it’s clear that life came into being from non-life. The question is whether there was an intelligence guiding the process or not. This objection does not address that. What it tries to do is to try to deflate irreducible complexity by pointing to the process of chemical evolution of the first life-form. This is not adequate to demonstrate that natural selection and random mutation alone have ushered chemical evolution from non-life to life.
The writer goes on to say, “What is inconceivable for one person is conceivable for another person. This is a personal incredulity logical fallacy. I, for instance, cannot conceive of the Higgs boson but that doesn’t mean the boson was designed by a supernatural designer. The Higgs boson cannot have been designed by aliens as aliens must be formed with, amongst others, Higgs bosons (and there go the aliens nobody believed in anyways).”
The initial section regarding personal incredulity has merit. It’s true that just because one person cannot conceive of a particular reality, that we cannot necessarily negate that it’s true. However, this can also be easily applied to the writer’s own incredulity about Intelligent Design and God – just because the atheist writer cannot conceive of such truths, does not necessarily merit his disbelief, and does not ultimately determine whether those things happen to be true or not.
Additionally, the writer gets into a deep problem when stating, “I, for instance, cannot conceive of the Higgs boson but that doesn’t mean the boson was designed by a supernatural designer.” It’s true that just because the writer cannot conceive the Higgs boson, it does not necessarily mean that it was designed by a supernatural designer. However, that sword cuts both ways – just because the writer cannot conceive of the Higgs boson, it does not mean that it was NOT designed by an intelligent designer. The writer has fallen into his own trap while trying to point out a logical fallacy. Lastly, as stated earlier and reiterating here – intelligent design is a creator-agnostic framework. It makes no presumptions about the intelligent agent responsible for designing. The writer keeps making the same fallacious point of the “missing designer” to debunk intelligent design. This misses the point entirely.
10. DNA is a genetic code therefore it’s designed.
In this section, the writer mentions that ID theorists make an argument that DNA is code and showing consistency with computer code. The statement is largely true. ID theorists do make such claims, and I think it has warrant, while not perfect, do show an important aspect of nature, namely that the overarching engine that runs the show is based on information.
However, the writer follows this up by claiming a few crippled arguments and factually incorrect statements. First, it’s the claims that when computer code is compiled all 100% percent of the code is utilized by the software. This claim is beside the point, but let’s see it through. As a programmer, I can tell you that this not necessarily the case. There are frameworks, environments, etc. that never get compiled, yet are part of overall systems, without which the entire system would cease to function. Not all software utilizes 100% of its code whether it is before or after compilation. And his distinctions of a compiled code with DNA misses the point. The fact of the matter is that the percentage of code that compiles into usable elements has no bearing on whether ID is a reliable model or not. We do not need 100% categorical accuracy here. The writer may not be aware of the research done in 2010 by scientists from Yale showing that the Linux operating system functions like the genome of the bacterium E. coli.[5. Koon-Kiu Yan et al., “Comparing Genomes to Computer Operating Systems in Terms of the Topology and Evolution of Their Regulatory Control Networks,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 107 (2010): Early Edition; doi/10.1073/pnas.0914771107 http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/04/28/0914771107.] The manner in which DNA is seen to be consistent with a computer program is because they share essential components each of which contributes to the overall function of the system.
The writer states, “The resulting machine language is 100% executable code. To make the analogy with DNA, this would mean that ‘machine language’ DNA is 100% functional. IDelists claim that human DNA is over 90% functional. Geneticists believe human DNA to be about 8% functional.”
These claims are demonstrably false on many levels. First, with respect to our analogical method – one does not have to show 100% accuracy in order to show consistency. We may still make the analogy without having to meet a 100% identical mark for an intelligent design. By failing to grasp this initially, the writer makes another logical fallacy (non-sequitur).
Furthermore, we should expect DNA to be less than 100% functional at the current moment of examination. One of the biggest differences and perhaps the thing that puts DNA on even a higher plane than computer code is that DNA looks to be designed to meet the impending challenges of adapting to the changing environmental conditions. It has information that is not in use at the moment, but that is not to say that it will never have use in the future or has had in the past. DNA also has a self-correction mechanism and includes a lot more information than is currently necessary for the organism in question to allow for genetic adaptation. In other words, it was designed for more than just the current moment in a closed system, it is more dynamic. While computer code is designed for closed systems within which every facet of the virtual environment is designed and controlled from the outside (programmer) to allow for the program to function inside relatively free from environmental conditions, the natural world is in constant flux, and requires that there be a greater range of information for adaptation. DNA looks to be designed for an open system that allows living things a greater ability to adapt and keep living. Thus we should not expect DNA to be 100% functional.
Secondly, the claim that geneticist believe human DNA to be about 8% functional is a highly outdated position. Throughout most of the history of such research, it was widely claimed that most of the human DNA is junk. Not anymore. The pattern has always been towards more complex specified information being utilized in ways that we previously never fathomed. The more we learn, the more we recognize function of what we previously thought to be “junk” and get a greater sense of just how breathtakingly complex biological systems are – ALL results that evolutionists did not expect. The recent ENCODE project, for example, demonstrated that this formerly supposed “junk DNA” is a myth. We now know with a high degree of certitude that the vast majority (at least 80%) of our DNA information is in use in one way or another.[1. The ENCODE Project Consortium, “An Integrated Encyclopedia of DNA Elements in the Human Genome,” Nature 489 (September 6, 2012): 57–74.]
11. Human DNA is more than 90% functional therefore Intelligently designed.
In this section, the writer tries to make a point by supposing that even if the human genome has more function than the incorrect 8% he used previously, that there are other bigger issues with intelligent design. He writes, “if human DNA is 90% functional, other organisms should be comparatively similar? That is, shouldn’t all mammals have roughly the same number of genes (and chromosomes) as humans? Shouldn’t all trees have about the same number of genes as the other trees? Or single celled organisms?”
There is no reason to suppose that ALL forms of life will share the same pattern of the ratio of functional vs. non-functional genetic data. It does NOT follow that merely because humans have functional elements in at least 80% of our genome, that the same must be true for all other forms of life. This is a non sequitur – a logical fallacy.
The writer postures again, “If genomes are 90% functional, then larger genomes should have more functionality, right?” Well, comparing just the number of genes, perhaps that might be a reasonable expectation, but comparing the ratios of functional vs. non-functional may be a bit harder. Which ID proponent would accept that claim? I know of none. This is purely a conjecture on the part of the writer. ID makes no claim that there should be a sliding scale of genetic functional elements from animals with smaller genetic information to ones with larger genetic information. This is simply an imagined problem, not a real one.
The writer continues:
“Humans share 99,5% genetic information with other humans… because we’re closely related. Humans share less genetic information with trees because we’re less closely related.”
Well, that there is shared genetic information is not controversial. Would the writer expect the offspring of human parents to have the genetic information of a chicken? Or the offspring of two dogs to have the genetic information of a bee? This is mere heredity. The offsprings inherit their genes from their parents. The similarity here does not contribute anything to the claims of common descent, nor does it demonstrate whether ID is relevant or not.
It’s clear that we share less genetic information with other forms of life. Is common descent the only viable way to explain this? Not really. We can also explain the facts by common design. It’s an equally good explanation, perhaps even more so, to say that human beings are designed, and trees are designed and that the reason why we don’t share as much genetic information with trees as we do with other human beings is because we are designed using different genetic components. We share some common building blocks or design elements, but these similarities can be seen in another way besides the one popularized by proponents of Darwinian evolution.
The writer then speaks about phylogenetic trees providing evidence of common ancestry because of the reduction/expansion of these genetic similarities. What the writer is unaware of is that the method of concocting and utilizing phylogenetic trees in identifying ancestral relationships is valid ONLY if evolution and common ancestry are assumed a priori. This has been admitted to by honest scientists in various forums. Consider such concession by Barry G. Hall, author of Phylogenetic Trees Made Easy, admitting that building a phylogenetic tree from genomic data is valid only if “the sequence similarity present in the genes under consideration is due to a shared evolutionary ancestry, a condition called homology.”[9. Patricia Fanning, Assumptions, Circular Reasoning, and a Literal Adam and Eve (http://www.reasons.org/articles/assumptions-circular-reasoning-and-a-literal-adam-and-eve), citation of Barry G. Hall, Phylogenetic Trees Made Easy, 4th ed. (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2011), 29.] What this means in essence is that the only way to prove evolution is true is to first assume evolution to have happened. This is an interesting form of investigation. Can you say ‘begging the question?’ Yet another logical fallacy.
Now, suppose we are charitable and grant the construction of phylogenetic trees their merit in identifying evolutionary lineages. If evolutionary lineages are so clear cut, would we not expect the trees arrived at by various evolutionary researchers to be identical to those constructed by others? Would they at least be similar? The fact of the matter is that the proposed phylogenies of one group of researchers vary greatly from those proposed by others. [2. Roger Lewin, Principles of Human Evolution (Malden, MA: Blackwell Science, 1998), 117-18.] There is nowhere near the consensus that the writer is implicitly claiming. And with respect to human beings, researchers are even more puzzled about the non-reliability of phylogenetic trees. A research collaboration as far back as 2000 between University College London and George Washington University threw a big monkey wrench (pun fully intended) into the manner of constructing such phylogenetic trees to establish evolutionary relationships. [3. Mark Collard and Bernard Wood, “How Reliable Are Human Phylogenetic Hypotheses?” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 97 (2000): 5003-6.] In the study, molecular phylogenies differed significantly from those derived from anatomical characteristics of fossils. The researchers themselves concluded, “Without a reliable phylogeny, little confidence can be placed in the hypotheses of ancestry…” [4. Mark Collard and Bernard Wood: 5003-6.] For more details about why phylogenetic trees are problematic for demonstrating ancestry, one may read this piece by Dr. Patricia Fanning, RNA biochemist with a PhD – http://www.reasons.org/articles/assumptions-circular-reasoning-and-a-literal-adam-and-eve.
I would like to conclude by pointing out the writer has in multiple instances, committed what he was suspecting might be the case – not merely the logical fallacy that he mentioned at the outset (straw man), but also many others. His understanding of intelligent design is woefully misinformed, the arguments for macroevolution highly outdated, overstated, and many fallacious. As far as style goes, suffice it to say that his manner of persuasion is much to be desired. Angry rants laced with profanity have little impact on the learned, and frankly, have no place in reasonable discussions between serious grown-ups.
I suppose there may be many who fall victim to such intellectual bullying by buying what merely sounds intelligent. When people use big words with confidence, especially big scientific words, they try to prop themselves high on a pedestal to preach to the masses about their ignorance and backwardness. Their shouts ring out with echoes across the landscape until a simple child comes and nudges the pedestal a bit to throw off his balance. Away from the limelight, with the director’s timely yelling of ‘Cut!’ one listening intently can make out the blunt sound of a thud. It is a considerable blow, but one that is not seen and has no echo. Moments later another climbs the pedestal to claim his victims with his boisterous fallacious rhetoric. And the Intelligent Designer waits patiently with open arms, ready to embrace those who would humble themselves under the truth, instead of subjugating their perceptions of reality into obedience of their own desires, demonizing His character, and deifying themselves on their own pedestals.
Arthur is an author, a former agnostic, and a current ambassador of Jesus of Nazareth who loves to share the best of reasons for God's ultimate reality. His love and passion are helping skeptics and Christians grow in their faith and knowledge of God through accessible materials.