• The Truth Behind the New Atheism: The Definitive Refutation, Part 3

    Chapter 3: Does Evolution Make God Redundant?

    Before David Marshall begins his fourth chapter explaining all of the supposed “problems” with evolutionary theory, he takes a few pages in this one to explain what he feels the New Atheists are largely correct about in their writings. Examples include the fact that the earth is four and a half billion years old, not six-thousand, and that evolution explains how and why all life is connected. However, even here Marshall makes some mistakes.

    This chapter and the next have a similar theme. Marshall doesn’t seem to understand why there is such hostility from scientists towards creationists/intelligent design advocates.

    To begin this chapter Marshall writes,

    Icons of Evolution, an expose of bad arguments for evolution by cell biologist Jonathan Wells, draws controversy like a magnet draws iron. In the copy I borrowed from the University of Washington library, a previous reader had scribbled in editorial comments. When Wells introduced Steven Jay Gould as “the world-famous expert,” the reader crossed out “expert” and wrote in “dogmatist.” “Darwinian research” was altered by similar point mutation to “Darwinian fraud.” The Amazon.com Web site for the same book contains angry reviews by scientists who question, among other things, the author’s honesty, writing style, religion (he’s a member of the Unification Church), institutional associations (“a bunch of ideologues”) and the credentials of anyone who agrees with him (“they seem to all be creationists, and therefore, hardly real scientists”).

    Most of the book argues the error of particular “icons”: examples of evolution you come across in textbooks such as peppered moths, Haeckel’s embryos, Darwin’s finches, and four-winged fruit flies. But in the final chapter, Wells moved from evidence to attitude. He told the story of teachers and scientists who have been persecuted for arguing against evolution in public. Skeptics are denied funding, their articles rejected, and “eventually the critics are hounded out of the scientific community altogether.”

    Clearly, evolution is a contentious issue. Many worry that the theory undermines not only faith but also the ethical foundations of society (for reasons we will look at later). To many skeptics, arguments against evolution are an assault on science, pluralism, and democracy, not to mention foolish. (51-52)

    David Marshall is obviously perplexed about why so many were angered by Jonathan Wells’ book, Icons of Evolution, but it’s really not that difficult to understand. The fact is that this hostility towards Wells’ book is perfectly justified because of Wells’ distortion (if not outright dishonesty) of the facts. [1] Not only was the book’s contents highly inaccurate but there was also the question of motive. Why did Wells write the book? To help spread scientific knowledge? I must admit that as I wrote that sentence I had to stifle my laughter. No, Wells clearly wrote it due to religious and ideological reasons and this has been proven since Wells is a well-known member of the infamous Discovery Institute, a religiously-motivated “think” tank that spends its time trying to undermine the teaching of evolution whenever it gets a chance. [2] Wells has also admitted his bias against evolution in an article he’s written titled Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D. where he writes,

    Father’s words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle. (emphasis mine) [3]

    As mentioned by Marshall, Wells’ mention of the long discredited cases of “persecution” at the hands of evolutionary “orthodoxy” is also a big tip off that his book was politically and religiously motivated. The facts are quite different. No intelligent design proponents have been persecuted for disagreeing. [4] Despite the propaganda they are not legit scientists. I will cover this issue in detail in the next chapter.

    Marshall claims a few pages later that science has confirmed various parts of the Genesis story. He writes,

    The world has often quarreled with Genesis, and gotten the worst of it. Let me give some quick examples.

    The Book of Beginnings says the universe came from nothing. We have tried alternative theories: everything from an egg, elephants all the way down, “cosmic crunch,” “steady state”-but the biblical idea of a cosmic origin has now been vindicated.

    “All humanity came from one man and one woman,” we read. Greek philosophers, Gnostics, Hindus, the Nation of Islam, and some Social Darwinists said no, people are a mixture of free and slave, of spiritual, psychic, and physical, different parts of the body of Brahma, or separately evolved species. Genetics has settled the matter in favor of Moses. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, notes that one of the surprises from research into human genes is the discovery that people of all races on earth share 99.9 percent of their DNA. This is unusual, he added: most animals are far more diverse. We are, he concludes, “truly part of one family.” (55)

    I’m sorry to burst Marshall’s bubble but in 1988 Stephen Hawking, in A Brief History of Time, explained that at the quantum level general relativity is unable to describe the behavior of matter on such a small scale and so quantum mechanics are used in its place. When this is done there is no singularity, or beginning, and causes Genesis to be wrong. Hawking said,

    […] I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe – as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account. (emphasis mine) [5]

    Once again, Marshall is reading way too much into a biblical passage. Genesis doesn’t say anything about the genetic similarities between humans since the science of genetics wasn’t known at this point in time. Even the story Marshall cites about Adam and Eve says nothing about any similarities between humans.

    In sum, Marshall writes,

    If not God, some ancient shepherd got a whole lot spot on. One could write a history of the human race, utilizing the deepest psychological and anthropological insights, based on the first three chapters of Genesis. It’s not hard for me to believe that God speaks through Genesis. The question is, What does he mean to tell us about origins? (55-56)

    Genesis cannot possibly tell us anything about origins given the fact that it was not written using any kind of facts about the world, but was largely based upon various myths that were being spread at the time of its writing. [7]

    As I’ve shown, his above arguments are not accurate and Marshall does not understand the reason for the hostility towards creationists and intelligent design proponents. Marshall’s knowledge of science is hopelessly out of date.

    Chapter 4: Some Riddles of Evolution

    David Marshall opens his chapter up with the following.

    Science helps some people disconnect from God. We find the universe much older than our ancestors did. Life appears in roughly the pattern Genesis describes, but over vast periods, and “red in tooth and claw.” Charles Darwin’s theory seems, at first glance, to fit the pattern even better. When we study the bones, muscles, and genetic molecules in different animals, they appear related. Is the problem of life solved? Can we say, with Edward Wilson, that religion was “just the first literate attempt to explain the universe,” and science has superseded it?’ Thoughtful Christians who have responded to the New Atheism, such as Alister McGrath and Richard Swinburne, say the answer to the first question is yes, and the second no. I agree that the clearest evidence for the existence of God may not lie in biology. But I’m not quite prepared to admit Darwin entirely solved the mystery of life, and will now explain why. (61)

    Marshall continues,

    For most nonscientists, such as myself, the best reason to believe in evolution is that biologists agree it explains life. If a person has dedicated her life to a specialty, one wants to listen respectfully to what she has to say about it. Of course, if the subject is important-remodeling one’s home, global warming, whether a lump is cancerous-a proactive person will read to evaluate expert opinion for herself, and after careful study, may even reasonably side with a minority view.

    But trust is fragile and can be easily undermined. Any hint that scientists are too biased, any reaction that looks more like defending territory than seeking truth, is bound to undermine confidence in a theory. Reading up on evolution, one doesn’t have to go far to come across troubling signs. […] One of Darwin’s arguments has, however, gained new life with debate over Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design is the idea that life exhibits features that can’t be explained by evolution alone, and show evidence of having been designed. One Intelligent Design concept is what maverick biologist Michael Behe calls “irreducible complexity.” This is the claim that some living mechanisms are too complex to arise by short steps. Kenneth Miller argues, in response, that the parts of a complex organ may have been used for other purposes, stepping stones along the path to development. For example, says Gould, the stubby appendages that developed into wings might once have been used to keep big animals cool, or small animals warm, or help them walk, catch insects, or attract mates.’ Darwin also wrote of “functional change in structural continuity.”

    Theories, like deer, need predators to keep fit. In the best of worlds, Intelligent Design should be welcome to biologists who hope it will help keep evolutionary theory honest. But unlike Darwin, many on both sides of the controversy seem to go out of their way to insult opponents. A lot of social posturing goes on here in the name of science. (61-63)

    It is here where we begin to see how deep Marshall’s misunderstandings go into this evolution/intelligent design fiasco. For one reason or another, Marshall continues to see intelligent design as a legitimate theory that rivals evolutionary theory, but it’s clear Marshall hasn’t bothered to look very deeply into the issue.

    Intelligent design is a religiously-motivated belief that postulates that some form of “intelligence” had to have a hand in the creation of the first life, if it doesn’t also have a finger or two in the workings of evolution and natural selection itself. [1] The problem with this view is that it is unscientific due to its lack of clear mechanism for exactly how or why this “intelligence” tweaks this or that. Remember what Donald R. Prothero said earlier? He said,

    [S]cientists practice methodological naturalism, where they use naturalistic assumptions to understand the world but make no philosophical commitment as to whether the supernatural exists or not. Scientists don’t exclude god from their hypotheses because they are inherently atheistic or unwilling to consider the existence of god; they simply cannot consider supernatural events in in their hypotheses. Why not? Because […] once you introduce the supernatural to a scientific hypothesis, there is no way to falsify or test it. (emphasis in original)

    Science makes use of these protocols in order to ensure accurate results. Intelligent design fails to meet these protocols and it is therefore deemed unscientific.

    In order to drive the point home I shall quote Kenneth Miller,

    At first glance, design seems to explain everything, because the principle of an all-powerful designer can be used to account for anything. This is one of its main frustrations to science. By definition, design cannot be tested, cannot be disproven, cannot even be investigated. The arguments for design are entirely negative in nature, and the writings of Johnson, Berlinski, and others confirm this in briefs that assert only the insufficiency of the evolutionary mechanism. Evolution doesn’t work, they say, so the only alternative is design. (emphasis mine) [2]

    Marshall mentions Michael Behe and Kenneth Miller but doesn’t seem impressed by Miller’s rebuttals to Behe’s work. [3]

    It becomes more and more clear how out of touch with reality Marshall is the further you get into this chapter because he then says the following,

    In the best of worlds, Intelligent Design should be welcome to biologists who hope it will help keep evolutionary theory honest. (62-63)

    How in the world can it possibly keep the science of evolution “honest” when the people who advocate it use dishonest tactics in trying to get intelligent design to be accepted? The scientists that are misquoted [4] and taken out of context are a staple of creationist arguments; the often inaccurate and sometimes outright dishonest attempts at distorting scientific facts [5] are all very good reasons why intelligent design and its advocates should in no way be said to help the scientific community remain “honest.” That statement completely blows my mind and shows just how little research Marshall did for this book.

    Marshall continues from the last paragraph quoted,

    In June 1996, iconoclastic mathematician David Berlinski wrote an article called “The Deniable Darwin” in Commentary magazine. A who’s who of disputants on both sides, including Dawkins and Dennett, responded three months later. Dawkins mocked Berlinski as a “creationist” (a charge Berlinski denied). Dennett described Berlinski’s arguments in scatological terms. He also mockingly suggested that the paper was a scam to hoodwink “earnest creationists” into making fools of themselves. The point in both cases was not scientific, but social: to draw a line between scientific “brights” and credulous, “creationist” dims. The two correspondents appealed to the atavistic fear of being picked by the wrong team. These responses were the mirror image of the book borrower who scribbled out “expert” and wrote “dogmatist.” (63)

    As we saw in the last chapter, Marshall cannot seem to grasp why scientists are so hostile to creationists and intelligent design advocates. It’s because of the above noted instances of dishonesty and their attempts to sneak religion into schools under the guise of “science” with intelligent design. It may not seem like it to Marshall, but these scientists have every right to be angry at those people who spread this anti-evolution propaganda and take legitimate scientists’ work out of context in order to further their religious agenda.

    The reason Dennett and Dawkins mocked Berlinski was because in the article he wrote he was spreading the same misunderstandings about evolution that most other creationists do. Here is part of the article Berlinski wrote,

    In its most familiar, textbook form, Darwin’s theory subordinates itself to a haunting and fantastic image, one in which life on earth is represented as a tree. So graphic has this image become that some biologists have persuaded themselves they can see the flowering tree standing on a dusty plain, the mammalian twig obliterating itself by anastomosis into a reptilian branch and so backward to the amphibia and then the fish, the sturdy chordate line – our line, cosa nostra – moving by slithering stages into the still more primitive trunk of life and so downward to the single irresistible cell that from within its folded chromosomes foretold the living future.

    This is nonsense, of course. That densely reticulated tree, with its lavish foliage, is an intellectual construct, one expressing the hypothesis of descent with modification.

    Evolution is a process, one stretching over four billion years. It has not been observed. The past has gone to where the past inevitably goes. The future has not arrived. The present reveals only the detritus of time and chance: the fossil record, and the comparative anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of different organisms and creatures. Like every other scientific theory, the theory of evolution lies at the end of an inferential trail.

    The facts in favor of evolution are often held to be incontrovertible; prominent biologists shake their heads at the obduracy of those who would dispute them. Those facts, however, have been rather less forthcoming than evolutionary biologists might have hoped. If life progressed by an accumulation of small changes, as they say it has, the fossil record should reflect its flow, the dead stacked up in barely separated strata. But for well over 150 years, the dead have been remarkably diffident about confirming Darwin’s theory. Their bones lie suspended in the sands of time-theromorphs and therapsids and things that must have gibbered and then squeaked; but there are gaps in the graveyard, places where there should be intermediate forms but where there is nothing whatsoever instead. (emphasis in original) [6]

    If that doesn’t sound like creationist claptrap I don’t know what does. No evidence in the fossil record? Is Berlinski serious? Has he never heard of the transitional fossils Tiktaalik roseae and Archaeopteryx? I will spare my readers from quoting the article any more. It just continues to get worse.

    Marshall continues.

    In The God Delusion, Dawkins does offer arguments against Intelligent Design. But he seems to resent the idea of a challenge. The following quotes both appear on page 125:

    The creationists are right that, if genuinely irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin’s theory. Darwin himself said as much: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

    Searching for particular examples of irreducible complexity is a fundamentally unscientific way to proceed: a special case of arguing from present ignorance.

    A hundred or so words, and a subject subtitle, separate these two statements. Were irreducibly complex organs to be found, Dawkins admitted in the first, evolution would be ruined. He quoted Darwin as saying the same (always a safe way to proceed), and implicitly challenged critics to find such organs. A few sentences later, he said the search for evidence both he and Darwin admitted would overthrow evolution is “fundamentally unscientific.” (63)

    Marshall has taken Dawkins out of context here. He also cut off the last part of the first quote which seems to me changes the meaning of the passage. What Dawkins actually said is (with the missing part Marshall excludes in bold),

    The creationists are right, that if genuinely irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin’s theory. Darwin himself said as much: ‘If it could be properly demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case.’ Darwin could find no such case, and nor has anybody since Darwin’s time, despite strenuous, indeed desperate, efforts. Many candidates for this holy grail of creationism have been proposed. None has stood up to analysis. [7]

    Marshall is at least forthcoming about mentioning how a “hundred or so words, and a subject subtitle, separate these two statements” but what Dawkins was saying is how no one, from Darwin’s time to the present, has been able to demonstrate irreducible complexity and how every single case of this irreducible complexity has failed. He wasn’t ‘challenging’ anybody. He was simply stating a fact. In the next section where Dawkins is quoted after his discussion of irreducible complexity, titled The Worship of Gaps, Richard Dawkins explains the intelligent design proponents’ strategy. He says in part,

    Gaps, by default in the mind of the creationist, are filled by God. The same applies to all apparent precipices on the massif of Mount Improbable, where the graded slope is not immediately obvious or is otherwise overlooked. Areas where there is a lack of data, or a lack of understanding, are automatically assumed to belong, by default, to God. The speedy resort to a dramatic proclamation of ‘irreducible complexity’ represents a failure of the imagination. Some biological organ, if not an eye than a bacterial flagellar motor or a biological pathway, is decreed without further argument to be irreducibly complex. No attempt is made to demonstrate irreducible complexity. Notwithstanding the cautionary tales of eyes, wings, and many other things, each new candidate for the dubious accolade is assumed to be transparently, self-evidently irreducibly complex, its status asserted by fiat. But think about it. Since irreducible complexity is being deployed as an argument for design, it should no more be asserted by fiat than design itself. You might as well simply assert that the weasel frog (bombardier beetle, etc.) demonstrates design, without further argument or justification. That is no way to do science.

    The logic turns out to be no more convincing than this: ‘I [insert own name] am personally unable to think of any way in which [insert biological phenomenon] could have been built up step by step. Therefore it is irreducibly complex. That means it is designed.’ […] The reasoning that underlies ‘intelligent design’ theory is lazy and defeatist – classic ‘God of the Gaps’ reasoning. [8]

    These two statements of Dawkins’ were discussing two different issues. In one, Dawkins was explaining how no one has yet to find any irreducibly complex biological systems. Not a single argument made by any creationist or intelligent design advocate has been proven to be unsolvable by evolutionary theory. In the second, he was explaining how lazy and unscientific this method of using “god of the gaps” reasoning is to fill in the gaps of our knowledge and why it wasn’t good science.

    Marshall continues with the same propaganda he used in chapter two about Richard Sternberg. He says,

    At times like this, the scientific community can resemble a tree fort with a sign affixed to the wall: “Gurlz Kepe Out!” Only instead of girls, the excluded party is identified as creationists, fundamentalists, or even (in one strange instance) Republicans.

    In 2006, the U.S. House Committee on Government took up the case of Dr. Richard Sternberg. A biologist with the National Institutes of Health, Sternberg edited an obscure Smithsonian Institute journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. In 2004, Sternberg made the mistake of publishing a paper (after vetting it with three other biologists) by Intelligent Design proponent Stephen Meyer. The article questioned the ability of evolution to explain the Cambrian Explosion, the sudden appearance of many distinct animals in the fossil record about 570 million years ago.

    Another sort of explosion took place at the Smithsonian. Colleagues launched a campaign to smear and, if possible, get rid of Dr. Sternberg. Sternberg’s boss hinted the biologist should quit. When Sternberg failed to follow this prompt, colleagues tried to force him out via numerous cuts and inconveniences: taking keys away, demanding extra paperwork, circulating rumors (was he a closet fundamentalist, or even a Republican?). (64)

    Marshall says later,

    Implicit social threats should make us more, not less, determined to think through questions about faith and science honestly. Nor should we pay attention to people who waste time debating whether Intelligent Design or evolution are “real science” or not. David Bohm once defined science as “openness to evidence.” The best scientist-or theologian-is not someone who shouts, “Heresy!” when he hears strange views, but one who listens carefully and responds with reason and evidence. When it comes to ultimate questions, “openness to evidence” is the definition that counts. (65-66)

    I’ve already dealt with this issue about Sternberg but I wanted to highlight it because it’s central to Marshall’s argument in this chapter. For some reason he believes that these intelligent design advocates are unfairly being persecuted and attacked by other scientists because they want to protect their sacred cows, but that is not accurate in the least. I discussed already why so many scientists are angry towards these individuals. It’s because they spread false information, and incidentally, Marshall is also guilty of this as we’ll soon see.

    The fact is that the real scientists (and this is not an attempt on my part to kick those with opposing views out of the ‘club’) do have evidence against these creationists. It’s just that Marshall doesn’t wish to listen to any of it (or if he does listen, to see it as a valid critique of creationism).

    The real scientists are not just calling anyone names who disagree with them, but respond with entire books against the fraud that is intelligent design/creationism and online articles and websites as well. [9] If Marshall has a problem with scientists’ frustrations over those who endorse intelligent design perhaps he should actually attempt to refute their arguments against I.D. instead of trying to make scientists look bad. The fact is that it’s the intelligent design crowd who ignores the arguments and evidence against their “god of the gaps” mentality.

    Next, Marshall discusses issues in origin of life studies. He writes,

    The origin of life has not been explained, long research and bold claims aside.

    Dawkins assures us that considering the vast size of the universe, the origin of life is no problem. With the air of an heiress tossing gold coins to gutter snipes, he asks, What if the “spontaneous arising” of a DNA-like molecular code were so “staggeringly improbable” as to occur just once on a billion planets? He calls this “the most pessimistic estimate,” adding that he doesn’t believe the origin of life was really so touch-and-go. The universe holds more than a hundred billion galaxies, each with a hundred billion or so stars. The “magic of large numbers” makes it likely that even on such a “pessimistic” scenario, a billion planets in the universe host life! This argument, Dawkins tells us calmly, “completely demolishes” any need for design to explain the first living creature.

    This move, which Dawkins also made 20 years earlier in The Blind Watchmaker, is a staggering bit of magic, pulling a rabbit (or its ancestor) from the cosmic hat. Actually, the “most pessimistic” estimates of the origin of life from nonlife by natural processes are a lot more pessimistic than that. Some researchers have concluded that “something equivalent to DNA” simply can’t arise by chance, even if every atom in the universe were itself a universe, stewing and frothing for a hundred times the wait since the big bang. Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA, said it was “almost impossible” to give a probability estimate. Francis Collins, who took over from Crick as head of the Human Genome Project, admits that no plausible mechanism has even been found yet. Paul Davies called the spontaneous self-assembly of DNA “ludicrously, almost unthinkably-small,” adding that “the origin of life remains a mystery.” Biologist Fazale Rana notes that modern cells require for some 300 different proteins, a source of sugars, nucleotides, amino acids, and fatty acids to all be placed together in working order. Probably not all of these would be needed for the first life, but much of it likely would. (66-67)

    While many scientists do have their doubts, many are optimistic that we will discover the likely mechanisms by which the first life came about. The citing of these scientists is nothing but a logical fallacy: an appeal to authority, and doesn’t prove anything. It’s just their opinions. Furthermore, one has to double check to see who is being cited because not all “experts” are equal. Marshall cites Collins, who is much like Marshall, in that he favors the “god hypothesis” over any natural explanation, which I’ve shown is unscientific. Collins said in a 2006 debate with Richard Dawkins in Time Magazine,

    By being outside of nature, God is also outside of space and time. Hence, at the moment of the creation of the universe, God could also have activated evolution, with full knowledge of how it would turn out, perhaps even including our having this conversation. The idea that he could both foresee the future and also give us spirit and free will to carry out our own desires becomes entirely acceptable. [10]

    This view is unscientific because there is no way one could test such a hypothesis. It’s an ad hoc explanation at its finest. He also cites Paul Davies, whose book he cited was from 1983! That’s a horribly outdated source if you ask me. At least the other book he cites, Origins of Life (2004), by Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, is more recent, but it is a book published by a Christian publisher (NavPress). Ross and Rana are also Christian apologists. Given these facts it’s obvious they’re going to paint the situation as bleak as possible.

    Later on he says, after a few more pages of quoting more scientists about how difficult the origin of life problem is,

    I am not making a “God of the gaps” argument. Not that there is anything unscientific about such an argument. To paraphrase Deng Xiaoping, it doesn’t matter if a cat wears a lab coat or a bishop’s robe, so long as it catches mice. Gaps in the power of a hypothesis to explain facts need to be filled, and some wounds in the surface of nature may be too large for anything but God. But the usual picture is of gaps narrowing as science progresses. Primitive man sees a bolt of lightning, and thinks Zeus is quarreling with Hera. Then Ben Franklin comes along and we learn about static electricity and paths of ionized air. [emphasis mine] (68-69)

    As I said before, Marshall is taking a page out of the intelligent design hand book and is making use of the good old “god of the gaps” argument, even though he strangely denies it.

    It is true that there are still some issues surrounding origin of life studies, but the situation is not as pessimistic as Marshall and the scientists he quotes make it appear. [11]

    To quote Richard Carrier,

    [I]f biogenesis was an inevitable random accident (and therefore well within the threshold even for trials, not just events), is exactly what we observe, a coincidence that suggests the conclusion: natural biogenesis was a likely outcome of the universe. But things would be different if we could predict that this is also exactly what God would do. If we could deduce from the definition of God that he would make the universe so vastly big and old, and so numerously populated with stars and planets and moons, and wait ten billion years or so before thinking to create life somewhere, and then do this with a single-celled (or even pre-cellular) string of commonplace naturally-chaining organic molecules of relatively simple construction, and then noodle around with these single-celled life forms for three billion years before thinking of the idea of assembling them together to make multicellular life forms (or if God had already clearly communicated all this to us before humans could have guessed it, or if he otherwise proved he did all this), then we could say that Intelligent Design was more likely than natural accident (as I believe a proper Bayesian argument would show).

    But the evidence all goes the other way: for all of these things are 100% expected if life was a natural accident, but not at all expected if a God did it (much less a God who had specific plans in mind for humans, who are neither single-celled nor essentially strings of proteins), since a God has so many other ways to do it (in fact, infinitely many, if we grant his omnipotence–and in any case, so many more obvious and efficient ways to do it, and thus more expected ways of doing it…I can think of five just sitting here). And that completes the actual argument in my book: even though we cannot ascertain the exact probability of biogenesis, all the evidence is exactly as expected if it was indeed an accident (and thus had a probability within a reasonable threshold, but not at all expected (in other words, not at all predictable) if it was intelligently designed. In fact nothing points to the latter at all, except the event’s improbability.


    [T]here have surely been enough trials (events of amino-acid chaining) in enough places to make biogenesis not just a likely accident, but virtually inevitable. And yet even at its most improbable (if we imagine just one chain of amino acids randomly occurring in all the universe to date), it still wouldn’t be improbable enough to conclude it was an act of design. For even by the creationist William Dembski’s own calculation, over 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 events have occurred in this universe, purely by accident, that are even less probable than that. And if they weren’t designed, why would life be? [12]

    Marshall continues with trotting out arguments from intelligent design proponents. This fact alone should tip off anyone reading this book that these arguments are pure nonsense, and anti-science propaganda. Two of his sources are books written by intelligent design advocates in Lee Spetner, who wrote the book Not By Chance! Shattering The Modern Theory of Evolution, and Giuseppe Sermonti, author of Why Is a Fly Not a Horse?, published by none other than the anti-evolution propaganda “think” tank, The Discovery Institute. He also cites long-discredited intelligent design advocate Michael Behe, among others.

    Marshall continues,

    The origin of the species is generally explained as follows. Creatures bear young. Sex distributes genes in a “white elephant” fashion, causing offspring to differ. As descendants struggle to survive and propagate, variations are sorted out to the advantage of candidates more fit in a given environment. The most profound differences-those that lead to the innovation that made Noah’s Ark the wild place it was-are introduced by more or less random copying errors, or mutations. This theory, we are told, is the central, unifying truth of biology.

    But can mutations pull their weight in it? They’re being asked to produce the innovations that created all life, from squirrels to squid. Dennett says mutations don’t even occur once in a trillion “copyings.” Actually, it’s more like one in a hundred million. But it’s extremely hard to find mutations that make an organism more complex and fit. Italian geneticist Giuseppe Sermonti says baldly, “Their effect in all instances is to demolish… transgressions of the kind needed by Darwinian evolution have never been documented.” (69)

    The fact is there are enough mutations, and most mutations are neutral, not harmful. In fact, there doesn’t need to be many mutations in order to cause large changes. Even just one mutation can cause large changes in body structure, as was demonstrated in 2002. [13]

    Very large mutations are rare, but mutations are ubiquitous. There is roughly 0.1 to 1 mutation per genome replication in viruses and 0.003 mutations per genome per replication in microbes. Mutation rates for higher organisms vary quite a bit between organisms, but excluding the parts of the genome in which most mutations are neutral (the junk DNA), the mutation rates are also roughly 0.003 per effective genome per cell replication. Since sexual reproduction involves many cell replications, humans have about 1.6 mutations per generation. This is likely an underestimate, because mutations with very small effect are easy to miss in the studies. Including neutral mutations, each human zygote has about 64 new mutations (Drake et al. 1998). Another estimate concludes 175 mutations per generation, including at least 3 deleterious mutations (Nachman and Crowell 2000). [14]

    His second question asking where the mutations are that cause an organism to become more fit will be answered later, since both questions hinge upon the same misunderstanding, but it all comes down to selective pressure.

    Marshall continues by citing more discredited intelligent design arguments. He writes,

    Spetner echoes Sermonti: “There aren’t any known, clear examples of a mutation that has added information.” Many biologists heatedly disagree, and he’s debated the question quite a bit online. Some claim to have found bacteria which, having lost the ability to wiggle to food, regain it by a second mutation. Others find evidence for past productive mutations in the genome. But at least it seems painfully hard to find favorable new mutations that add information even to viruses or bacteria, and more so among multicellular organisms. (70)

    Once again, this is entirely false. There are many instances of mutations adding information. Here are some examples:

    1. It is hard to understand how anyone could make this claim, since anything mutations can do, mutations can undo. Some mutations add information to a genome; some subtract it. Creationists get by with this claim only by leaving the term “information” undefined, impossibly vague, or constantly shifting. By any reasonable definition, increases in information have been observed to evolve. We have observed the evolution of

    * increased genetic variety in a population (Lenski 1995; Lenski et al. 1991)
    * increased genetic material (Alves et al. 2001; Brown et al. 1998; Hughes and Friedman 2003; Lynch and Conery 2000; Ohta 2003)
    * novel genetic material (Knox et al. 1996; Park et al. 1996)
    novel genetically-regulated abilities (Prijambada et al. 1995)

    If these do not qualify as information, then nothing about information is relevant to evolution in the first place.

    2. A mechanism that is likely to be particularly common for adding information is gene duplication, in which a long stretch of DNA is copied, followed by point mutations that change one or both of the copies. Genetic sequencing has revealed several instances in which this is likely the origin of some proteins. For example:

    * Two enzymes in the histidine biosynthesis pathway that are barrel-shaped, structural and sequence evidence suggests, were formed via gene duplication and fusion of two half-barrel ancestors (Lang et al. 2000).
    * RNASE1, a gene for a pancreatic enzyme, was duplicated, and in langur monkeys one of the copies mutated into RNASE1B, which works better in the more acidic small intestine of the langur. (Zhang et al. 2002)
    * Yeast was put in a medium with very little sugar. After 450 generations, hexose transport genes had duplicated several times, and some of the duplicated versions had mutated further. (Brown et al. 1998)
    The biological literature is full of additional examples. A PubMed search (at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi) on “gene duplication” gives more than 3000 references.

    3. According to Shannon-Weaver information theory, random noise maximizes information. This is not just playing word games. The random variation that mutations add to populations is the variation on which selection acts. Mutation alone will not cause adaptive evolution, but by eliminating nonadaptive variation, natural selection communicates information about the environment to the organism so that the organism becomes better adapted to it. Natural selection is the process by which information about the environment is transferred to an organism’s genome and thus to the organism (Adami et al. 2000).

    4. The process of mutation and selection is observed to increase information and complexity in simulations (Adami et al. 2000; Schneider 2000). [15]

    Next, Marshall asks why new mutations haven’t evolved to help out humans in this day and age. He writes,

    Where are the helpful mutations? With millions of mutations over a century, why hasn’t science built a better fruit fly yet? Or turned one into a moth? Surely there would be a Nobel Prize in that. […] To the extent that the difference between man and chimps is genetic, where did the information that coded for all the needed changes come from? Mutations? To say the word and think the problem is thereby solved turns common concepts of faith and science on their heads.

    It’s often said people and chimps share 98.5 percent of their DNA. The actual figure appears to be 96 percent. Still, that represents thousands of useful changes. All of them took place when the number of people on Earth was a tiny fraction of what it is today. The human race is thought to have passed through a “genetic bottleneck” of some 10,000 individuals before leaving Africa. Even if our evolving population was a hundred times larger on average, that means the numbers alive today are a hefty proportion of the pool from which all these changes are supposed to have come. In 40 million years, a hooved wolf is thought to have evolved into a slinky crocodile-like aquatic beast, then into sperm, humpback, killer, and blue whales, living in small numbers and having few calves.

    Evolution doesn’t know its work is done. It doesn’t know it shouldn’t turn us into whales, teach us to eat grass like cows, or to glide like flying squirrels. For any direction evolution might take, given all it achieved when numbers were small, one might expect hundreds of useful mutations in every generation, fitting us for many new tasks.

    Where are those mutations?

    You might expect innovations to show up first among athletes. They specialize in new “adaptive roles”: throwing a screwball, tackling punters, holding feet still while swimming upside down to music. What mutations have appeared to help out? Did Gaylord Perry have special sweat glands on his hands that allowed him to throw a spitball without artificial lubrication? Did Pele have mutant bone structures on his forehead that let him send a “header” into the goal? A web between fingers and cow-like skin on the hand might allow a baseball player to catch balls without a glove-and find reproductive opportunities in every major league town. (71-73)

    If this passage does anything it should cement in the minds of the readers how poorly Marshall understands evolution. Evolution relies on selective pressure, or natural selection, which cause the more helpful mutations to flourish. What selective pressures are there that would create these adaptations that Marshall is asking for? There aren’t any. Therefore, this is a pointless objection to evolution.

    Marshall continues with more bad arguments against evolution.

    Richard Dawkins, like Darwin, takes issue with the argument from irreducible complexity. This is the idea that some organs require a minimum number of parts to work-if there is just one less part, nothing good happens. Michael Behe believes such organs are a problem for evolution. He finds it hard to imagine mutations suddenly creating several new structures and fitting them together in a complex system. Dawkins replies:

    “What is the use of half an eye?” and “What is the use of half a wing?” are both instances of the argument from “irreducible complexity…But as soon as we give these assumptions a moment’s thought, we immediately see the fallacy. A cataract patient with the lens of her eye surgically removed can’t see clear images without glasses, but can see enough not to bump into a tree or fall over a cliff. Half a wing is indeed not as good as a whole wing, but it is certainly better than no wing at all.

    This answers the wrong riddle. The question isn’t what happens when half the complete structure is missing. The question is what happens when half its parts are missing. What good is an eye without an optic nerve? (74)

    I see no real difference between “structure” and “parts.” The point is that an animal that can partially see, or partially fly, is better off than not being able to see or fly at all and greatly aids in its survival. Even Marshall’s example is incorrect. An eye does not need an optic nerve to function and there are species living today who don’t even have an optic nerve, only photosensitive cells. [16]

    At the end of the chapter Marshall sums up.

    So what can we say about evolution and God? Certainly not that evolution disproves Christianity. […] I come to the question of origins and design with mixed bias, and I think a pretty open mind. On the one hand, I’d probably prefer to find clear fingerprints of God in biology (though Dr. Louis’s image of self-assembling Lego blocks is also attractive). Most conservative American Christians are skeptical of the story of evolution, as usually told, and that’s my spiritual home. On the other hand, Christian biologists are often confident of evolution: I have heard engaging and brilliant ideas as they verbalize “faith seeking understanding.” If I’m irritated with the arrogance of Dawkins, I also find myself bothered by the logic-chopping Phillip E. Johnson sometimes seems to engage in, and feel the scientists (that is what they are) at Discovery Institute could be more forthcoming on, for example, their Theory of What Really Happened. Both sides discredit themselves at times by forcing all science into a theological cage that depends on what great Christians thousands of years ago already saw as a naive reading of Genesis, and some atheists by “No Bleevurz Aloud”-type postings on the doorpost of Le Club Scientifique.

    So what is my Theory of What Actually Transpired (THWAT)? My theory is I don’t know, and neither (perhaps) does anyone. Darwin was a great scientist, but the origin of the species remains rather mysterious. The pattern of evidence roughly resembles the days of Genesis, and roughly resembles Darwin’s theory. But it is also unlike what either Christians or atheists expected. Species do not, for example, change as gradually as Darwin anticipated-something dramatically new appears, then remains much the same for long periods. (76-77)

    Near the beginning of the chapter he said how he is “not prepared to admit Darwin entirely solved the mystery of life,” and would “explain why,” but that explanation never came. All his readers got was a mouth full of regurgitated creationist propaganda and arguments that contained no answers to the “riddles of evolution.” Just more “god of the gaps” arguments. These “riddles” should be solved but it will never be solved with this silly theistic nonsense. It will be time for Marshall’s eternal nap before the Discovery Institute ever formulates an actual theory (that is, if they ever do) about how I.D. is a true science and how to determine just how god did the designing and why, questions that true science answers and evolution does pretty damn well in that department.

    This entire chapter was nothing but one long rambling “god of the gaps” argument, and his use of old hat creationist nonsense (mutations not creating any “new” information) doesn’t help his case either.

    But there is an even more unfortunate side effect of Marshall’s obvious support of the Discovery Institute. Marshall may talk of being unbiased and in favor of other views as being “open minded,” but this is precisely the propaganda campaign that the intelligent design movement has been advancing in recent years with their film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008). That, along with the very well known fact that the Discovery Institute’s main goal is not academic freedom but one that is much more nefarious: the overtaking of science and the destruction of the genuine scientific method, and replacing it with an immaterial (ie. theistic) world view, as exposed in the Wedge Document. [17]

    Surely Marshall is aware of these facts, but it seems to me, as with the many other facts he ignores in favor of his religious beliefs, he is deaf, dumb, and blind to those goals. I think Marshall is dumb, but not that dumb. He must know of their goals, but like all the other evidence that’s shoved aside in favor of his silly beliefs, maybe he just ignores everything that doesn’t fit inside his own little distorted view of the world – including Discovery Institute’s true motives.

    I don’t know why Marshall would support such a group, but the fact is that evolution does undermine belief in god because it undermines the bible, the very essence of Christian belief about how god created humans. If this creation story is inaccurate, it causes believers to ask what else in this “holy book” is also inaccurate, and in turn begins to make the believer question other beliefs they have been taught. [18]

    Chapter 3: Does Evolution Make god Redundant?

    1. Why much of what Jonathan Wells writes about evolution is wrong, by Alan D. Gishlick – accessed 7-20-11

    2. Intelligent Design: Giving Science a Wedgie – accessed 7-20-11

    3. Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D., by Jonathan Wells – accessed 7-20-11

    4. Expelled Exposed – accessed 7-20-11

    5. The Illustrated A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking, Bantam Books, 1996; 67

    6. 101 Myths of the Bible: How Ancient Scribes Invented Biblical History, by Gary Greenberg, Sourcebooks, Inc., 2000

    Chapter 4: Some Riddles of Evolution

    1. NCSE Video Exposes Intelligent Design – accessed 7-21-11

    2. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, by Kenneth R. Miller, Harper Perennial, 2007; 126

    3. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, by Kenneth R. Miller, Harper Perennial, 2007

    4. http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quotes/mine/project.html – accessed 7-21-11

    5. http://talkorigins.org/indexcc/ – accessed 7-21-11

    6. The Deniable Darwin, by David Berlinski – accessed 7-21-11

    7. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2006; 125

    8. Ibid.; 128

    9. A few examples include:

    The Counter-Creationism Handbook, by Mark Isaak, Greenwood Press, 2005

    The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters, by Ardea Skybreak, Insight Press, 2006

    Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools, by Eugenie C. Scott, Beacon Press, 2006

    Index to Creationist Claims – accessed 7-21-11

    10. God vs. Science – accessed 7-26-11

    11. Sense & Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism, by Richard Carrier, AuthorHouse, 2005; 166-168

    12. Statistics & Biogenesis – accessed 7-21-11

    13. Evolutionary Body Change Demo Answers Creationists

    14. The Counter-Creationism Handbook, by Mark Isaak, Greenwood Press, 2005; 51

    15. Ibid.; 54-55

    16. Ibid.; 65

    17. The Discovery Institute’s Wedge Document – accessed 7-21-11

    18. I am well aware that evolution has been assimilated into Christian belief but the fact is that evolution contradicts the original Christian belief in human origins. The fact that Christians have to reinvent their beliefs is proof that evolution is a problem for Christian dogma. It is intellectually dishonest to include new scientific discoveries into a supposedly truthful revelation from their god about human origins as told in their bible. If this was a revelation from their all-knowing god, why didn’t he include the fact of evolution? Not just evolution but all scientific discoveries are a problem for Christian belief. It is not a virtue to adapt to new discoveries when it comes to religion, it is a disgrace.

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist