Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Four ways that the progress of experimental science conflicts with atheism

When people ask me whether the progress of science is more compatible with theism or atheism, I offer the following four basic pieces of scientific evidence that are more compatible with theism than atheism.

Here are the four pieces of evidence best explained by a Creator/Designer:

  1. the kalam argument from the origin of the universe
  2. the cosmic fine-tuning (habitability) argument
  3. the biological information in the first replicator (origin of life)
  4. the sudden origin of all of the different body plans in the fossil record (Cambrian explosion)

And I point to specific examples of recent discoveries that confirm those four arguments. Here are just a few of them:

  1. An explanation of 3 of the 6 experimental evidences for the Big Bang cosmology (From an article from Caltech)
  2. Examples of cosmic fine-tuning to allow the existence of conscious, embodied life (From the New Scientist)
  3. Evidence that functional protein sequences are beyond the reach of chance, (from Doug Axe’s JMB article)
  4. Evidence showing that Ediacaran fauna are not precursors to the Cambrian fossils, (from the journal Nature)

Atheists will typically reply to the recent scientific discoveries that overturned their speculations like this:

  1. Maybe the Big Bang cosmology will be overturned by the Big Crunch/Bounce so that the universe is eternal and has no cause
  2. Maybe there is a multiverse: an infinite number of unobservable, untestable universes which makes our finely-tuned one more probable
  3. Maybe the origin of life could be the result of chance and natural processes
  4. Maybe we will find a seamless chain of fossils that explain how the Cambrian explosion occurred slowly, over a long period time

Ever heard any of these responses?

Below I list some resources to help you to respond to the four responses of atheists to the experimental data.

1) The Big Crunch/Bounce has been disproved theoretically and experimentally.

Theoretically:

Nature 302, 505 – 506 (07 April 1983); doi:10.1038/302505a0

The impossibility of a bouncing universe

ALAN H. GUTH* & MARC SHER†

*Center for Theoretical Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

†Department of Physics, University of California, Irvine, California 92717, USA

Petrosian1 has recently discussed the possibility that the restoration of symmetry at grand unification in a closed contracting Robertson–Walker universe could slow down and halt the contraction, causing the universe to bounce. He then went on to discuss the possibility that our universe has undergone a series of such bounces. We disagree with this analysis. One of us (M.S.) has already shown2 that if a contracting universe is dominated by radiation, then a bounce is impossible. We will show here two further results: (1) entropy considerations imply that the quantity S (defined in ref. 1 and below), which must decrease by ~1075 to allow the present Universe to bounce, can in fact decrease by no more than a factor of ~2; (2) if the true vacuum state has zero energy density, then a universe which is contracting in its low temperature phase can never complete a phase transition soon enough to cause a bounce.

Experimentally:

The universe is not only expanding, but that expansion appears to be speeding up. And as if that discovery alone weren’t strange enough, it implies that most of the energy in the cosmos is contained in empty space — a concept that Albert Einstein considered but discarded as his “biggest blunder.” The new findings have been recognized as 1998’s top scientific breakthrough by Science magazine.

[...]The flood of findings about the universe’s expansion rate is the result of about 10 years of study, said Saul Perlmutter, team leader of the Supernova Cosmology Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Perlmutter and others found such a yardstick in a particular kind of exploding star known as a Type 1A supernova. Over the course of several years, the astronomers developed a model to predict how bright such a supernova would appear at any given distance. Astronomers recorded dozens of Type 1A supernovae and anxiously matched them up with redshifts to find out how much the universe’s expansion was slowing down.

To their surprise, the redshift readings indicated that the expansion rate for distant supernovae was lower than the expansion rate for closer supernovae, Perlmutter said. On the largest scale imaginable, the universe’s galaxies appear to be flying away from each other faster and faster as time goes on.

“What we have found is that there is a ‘dark force’ that permeates the universe and that has overcome the force of gravity,” said Nicholas Suntzeff of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, who is the co-founder of another group called the High-z Supernova Search Team. “This result is so strange and unexpected that it perhaps is only believable because two independent international groups have found the same effect in their data.”

There has only been one creation of the universe, and the universe will never reverse its expansion, so that it could oscillate eternally. That view is popular, perhaps in part because many people watched videos of Carl Sagan speculating about it in public school classrooms, but all it was was idle naturalistic speculation, (Sagan was a naturalist, and held out hope that science would vindicate naturalism), and has been contradicted by good experimental science. You should be familiar with the 3 evidences for the Big Bang (redshift, light element abundances (helium/hydrogen) and the cosmic microwave background radiation. There are others, (radioactive element abundances, second law of thermodynamics, stellar lifecycle), but those are the big three. Point out how the experimental evidence for the Big Bang has piled up, making the problem even worse for the eternal-universe naturalists.

2) The multiverse has not been tested experimentally, it’s pure speculation.

Speculation:

Multiverse thinking or the belief in the existence of parallel universes is more philosophy or science fiction than science. ”Cosmology must seem odd to scientists in other fields”.

George Ellis, a well-known mathematician and cosmologist, who for instance has written a book with Stephen Hawking, is sceptical of the idea that our universe is just another universe among many others.

A few weeks ago, Ellis, professor emeritus of applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town, reviewed Brian Greene’s book The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (Knopf/Allen Lane, 2011) in the journal Nature. He is not at all convinced that the multiverse hypothesis is credible: ”Greene is not presenting aspects of a known reality; he is telling of unproven theoretical possibilities.”

According to professor Ellis, there is no evidence of multiverses, they cannot be tested and they are not science.

Ellis is not the only multiverse sceptic in this universe. A few months ago, science writer John Horgan wrote a column in Scientific American, expressing his doubt in multiverses.

When you get into a debate, you must never ever let the other side get away with asserting something they have no evidence for. Call them on it – point out that they have no evidence, and then hammer them with evidence for your point. Pile up cases of fine-tuning on top of each other and continuously point out that they have no experimental evidence for their speculations. Point out that more evidence we get, the more cases of fine-tuning we find, and the tougher the problem gets for naturalists. There is no evidence for a multiverse, but there is evidence for fine-tuning. TONS OF IT.

3) Naturalistic theories for the origin of life have two problems: can’t make the amino acids in an oxydized atmosphere and can’t make protein and DNA sequences by chance in the time available.

Building blocks:

The oxidation state of Hadean magmas and implications for early Earth’s atmosphere

Dustin Trail, E. Bruce Watson & Nicholas D. Tailby

Nature 480, 79–82 (01 December 2011) doi:10.1038/nature10655

[...]These results suggest that outgassing of Earth’s interior later than ~200?Myr into the history of Solar System formation would not have resulted in a reducing atmosphere.

Functional protein sequences:

J Mol Biol. 2004 Aug 27;341(5):1295-315.

Estimating the prevalence of protein sequences adopting functional enzyme folds.

Axe DD.

The Babraham Institute, Structural Biology Unit, Babraham Research Campus, Cambridge CB2 4AT, UK. doug.axe@bbsrc.ac.uk

Proteins employ a wide variety of folds to perform their biological functions. How are these folds first acquired? An important step toward answering this is to obtain an estimate of the overall prevalence of sequences adopting functional folds.

[...]Starting with a weakly functional sequence carrying this signature, clusters of ten side-chains within the fold are replaced randomly, within the boundaries of the signature, and tested for function. The prevalence of low-level function in four such experiments indicates that roughly one in 10(64) signature-consistent sequences forms a working domain. Combined with the estimated prevalence of plausible hydropathic patterns (for any fold) and of relevant folds for particular functions, this implies the overall prevalence of sequences performing a specific function by any domain-sized fold may be as low as 1 in 10(77), adding to the body of evidence that functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences.

So atheists are in double jeopardy here. They don’t have a way to build the Scrabble letters needed for life, and they don’t have a way to form the Scrabble letters into meaningful words and sentences. Point out that the more research we do, the tougher the problem gets to solve for naturalists, and the more it looks like an effect of intelligence. Write out the calculations for them.

4) The best candidate to explain the sudden origin of the Cambrian era fossils was the Ediacaran fauna, but those are now recognized as not being precursors to the Cambrian fossils.

Science Daily reports on a paper from the peer-reviewed journal Science:

Evidence of the single-celled ancestors of animals, dating from the interval in Earth’s history just before multicellular animals appeared, has been discovered in 570 million-year-old rocks from South China by researchers from the University of Bristol, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the Paul Scherrer Institut and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.

[...]This X-ray microscopy revealed that the fossils had features that multicellular embryos do not, and this led the researchers to the conclusion that the fossils were neither animals nor embryos but rather the reproductive spore bodies of single-celled ancestors of animals.

Professor Philip Donoghue said: “We were very surprised by our results — we’ve been convinced for so long that these fossils represented the embryos of the earliest animals — much of what has been written about the fossils for the last ten years is flat wrong. Our colleagues are not going to like the result.”

Professor Stefan Bengtson said: “These fossils force us to rethink our ideas of how animals learned to make large bodies out of cells.”

The trend is that there is no evolutionary explanation for the body plans that emerged in the Cambrian era. If you want to make the claim that “evolution did it”, then you have to produce the data today. Not speculations about the future. The data we have today says no to naturalism. The only way to affirm naturalistic explanations for the evidence we have is by faith. But rational people know that we need to minimize our leaps of faith, and go with the simplest and most reasonable explanation – an intelligence is the best explanation responsible for rapid generation of biological information.

Conclusion

I do think it’s important for Christians to focus more on scientific apologetics and to focus their academic careers in scientific fields. So often I look at Christian blogs, and I see way too much G. K. Chesterton, Francis Chan and other untestable, ineffective jibber-jabber. We need to bring the hard science, and stop making excuses about not being able to understand it because it’s too hard. It’s not too hard. Everyone can understand “Who Made God?” by Edgar Andrews – start with that! Then get Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator“. That’s more than enough for the average Christian on science apologetics. We all have to do our best to learn what works. You don’t want to be anti-science and pro-speculation like atheists are. I recommend reading Uncommon Descent and Evolution News every day for a start.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stephen C. Meyer discusses his book “Darwin’s Doubt” on the Michael Medved show

The new paperback edition of Darwin’s Doubt is now out (June 2014), and has a new epilogue responding to criticisms of the hardcover first edition. If you don’t have the book, now’s the time to grab it.

Here is a radio interview that Dr. Meyer did about the book, courtesy of the Intelligent Design: The Future podcast.

The MP3 file is available for download. (38 minutes)

The description is:

On this episode of ID the Future, the Michael Medved Show welcomes Dr. Stephen Meyer to talk about his new bestselling book, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. Listen in as Meyer and Medved discuss the mysteries of the Cambrian explosion and why this phenomenon continues to stump Darwinian evolutionists.

Each week, leading fellows from Discovery Institute will join Michael Medved to talk about the intersection of science and culture. Listen in live online or on your local Medved station, or stay tuned at ID the Future for the weekly podcast.

Topics:

  • Darwinism offers a materialistic account of where humans and animals came from, but is that all human beings are?
  • Darwin was the first to have doubt about his theory of evolution because of the sudden origin if many different animal forms in the Cambrian era
  • The book is about the sudden origin of these animal forms and more generally about how much information is needed to make an animal genome
  • An animal is not just the form or the organs it is also the information to make new proteins and the instructions to make proteins are in the DNA
  • At least 20 new phyla appear suddenly in the Cambrian fossils and the question is what is capable of creating all of that new information
  • Mathematicians and computer scientists are especially likely to doubt evolution as a way of making new features because they know that random changes to the code base of an application are more likely to break things and degrade performance
  • Naturalists have tried to explain the Cambrian explosion as being a case of the transitional fossils being not yet discovered
  • The consensus of science at this time is that there is no known naturalistic explanation for the sudden origin of these animal types
  • Caller: how abrupt are we talking about for the introduction of these new animal forms?
  • Meyer: We can calculate the amount of time that is needed to generate change, and the period of time that is needed to generate new forms of life exceeds the time available
  • Caller: is it possible that meteors, asteroids and comets could transport biological components to the Earth to shorten the development time?
  • Meyer: that’s related to my first book on the origin of the first living cell “Signature in the Cell”, and that life-from-space hypothesis would only get you building blocks, but not the bio-molecules that have the building blocks sequences – it’s the difference between a pile of Scrabble letters and a Shakespearean play – it’s the arranging of the components that is the problem
  • Medved: The book has a lot of endorsements from scientists who are working at good universities and institutions
  • Meyer: the strange thing about exploring the limits of evolution is that you can cite mainstream papers to criticize the Darwinian mechanisms, and then the proponents of Darwinism just assert that no criticism of Darwinian evolution is allowed
  • Caller Greg: are you saying that all the phyla came in during the Cambrian explosion?
  • Meyer: No, of the 26 phyla that we see in the fossil record, 20 come in during the Cambrian explosion
  • Caller Greg: But there are some sponges that existed before the Cambrian explosion, so maybe all the Cambrian phyla came from sponges?
  • Meyer: There are 3 phyla present in the pre-Cambrian but they are not ancestral to the 20 Cambrian phyla, the sponges are very simple – 6-10 cell types, arthropods have 60-90 cell types – you can’t go from sponges to compound eyes in just 5-10 million years
  • Meyer: even the sponges in the pre-Cambrian appear abrutly at the end of the pre-Cambrian
  • Caller Greg: but there are complex worms in the Pre-Cambrian as well, and maybe those are ancestral to the 20 new phyla that appear suddenly in the Cambrian explosion
  • Caller Greg: what you’re saying is that we scientists don’t understand what happened so an intelligence did it
  • Meyer: No, what I am saying is that the Cambrian explosion involves massive amounts of new biological information, and none of the naturalistic Darwinian mechanisms can create that much new information in that short of the time
  • Caller Greg: it’s magic!
  • Meyer: there are two points in the development of life forms where intelligence is needed: the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion, and this is because of the new information that is being added
  • Caller Greg: new information is added by Hox Gene duplication
  • Caller: don’t we have to look a bit more at epistemology when discussing these issues?
  • Meyer: Yes, we have to highlight that many people reject intelligent design because of a pre-supposition of naturalism that prevents them from seeing that intelligence explains anything regardless of the evidence
  • Caller: well if you define evolution as change over time, then evolution happened, and who cares about the details like the origin of life and Cambrian explosion?
  • Meyer: well there are many definitions of evolution: 1) change over time, 2) universal common ancestry, 3) undirected random process can explain the origin of life and the explosion of new animal forms in the fossil record
  • Meyer: I accept 1) and I am skeptical of 2) and 3)

You can read more about caller Greg and Hox gene duplication at Evolution News.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , ,

New study: ancient Cambrian-era fossils have similar brains to animals today

Cambrian Explosion

Cambrian Explosion

Dr. Fazale Rana of Reasons to Believe tweeted this – from the prestigious journal Nature!

Excerpt:

One could be forgiven for mistaking anomalocaridids for creatures from another world. The spade-shaped predators, which lived in the seas during the Cambrian — the geological era stretching from 541 million to 485 million years ago — had eyes that protruded from stalks and a pair of giant appendages on the sides of their mouths. But three stunningly well-preserved fossils found in China now show that the anomalocaridid brain was wired much like that of modern creatures called velvet worms, or onychophorans.

Both anomalocaridids and onychophorans belong to the arthropods, the group of invertebrates that includes spiders and insects and whose brain structures come in three main types. Two of those were already known to be very ancient, and the new fossils, described today in Nature, suggest that the third type — the neural architecture found in onychophorans — also has changed little over more than half a billion years of evolution.

Named Lyrarapax unguispinus, the three fossils reveal creatures that — at 8 centimetres long — are on the small side for anomalocaridids, some of which are thought to have been as long as 2 to 3 metres. But the fossils’ segmented bodies and frontal appendages are pure anomalocaridid, says Nicholas Strausfeld, a neuroscientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who co-led the study.

What really grabbed Strausfeld’s attention was the creature’s brain, preserved flattened like a pressed flower: “I said, ‘Holy s**t, that’s an onychophoran brain!’” he recalls. The animal’s frontal appendages are connected to nerve bundles, or ganglia, in front of optic nerves. Both the ganglia and the optic nerves lead to a segmented brain. The layout is an uncanny match to the wiring of the velvet worm’s brain, Strausfeld says: “It’s completely unlike anything else in any other arthropod.”

The fossil record is pretty simple at a high-level. Single-celled organisms from the cooling of the Earth to the Cambrian explosion. All the phyla come in 5-10 million years in the Cambrian explosion – maybe less. No new phyla emerge after that. Does that look like naturalistic Darwinian evolution to you?

Filed under: News, , , ,

New study: apoptosis is unchanged from Cambrian fossils to modern humans

Darwinian theory predicts that animals and animal subsystems all start of very small, and they get more and more complex as time passes, due to mutation and selection. That’s the theory. But is it true?

Here’s a striking article from Evolution News about a new PNAS peer-reviewed publication.

Excerpt:

Science progresses when investigators boldly question assumptions. Look at the assumption that a group of scientists questioned: Darwinian evolution. Eight scientists from San Diego State University, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute published a bombshell in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

The Precambrian explosion [they mean the Cambrian explosion] led to the rapid appearance of most major animal phyla alive today. It has been argued that the complexity of life has steadily increased since that event. Here we challenge this hypothesis through the characterization of apoptosis in reef-building corals, representatives of some of the earliest animals. Bioinformatic analysis reveals that all of the major components of the death receptor pathway are present in coral with high-predicted structural conservation with Homo sapiens. (Emphasis added.)

Apoptosis is “programmed cell death.” When a cell becomes unstable or diseased, genetic algorithms kill it in an orderly way, to prevent further harm to the organism. Specialized enzymes (especially the TNF superfamilies) switch on the program, setting locked-up destroyers called caspases loose in the cell.

[...]Corals have many of the same TNF enzymes that humans do. This got the team wondering:

The TNF receptor-ligand superfamilies (TNFRSF/TNFSF) are central mediators of the death receptor pathway, and the predicted proteome of Acropora digitifera contains more putative coral TNFRSF members than any organism described thus far, including humans. This high abundance of TNFRSF members, as well as the predicted structural conservation of other death receptor signaling proteins, led us to wonder what would happen if corals were exposed to a member of the human TNFSF (HuTNFα).

In a series of experiments, they inserted coral enzymes into human cells. The human cells died. Then they ran the reciprocal experiment, putting human TNF enzymes into coral, and its cells died too. Even the bleaching process was seen using human enzymes. The agents of death were perfectly interchangeable, despite 550 million years for evolution to have increased the complexity of the system.

[...]This is evidence against Darwinian evolution on both sides of the coin: it shows no evolutionary “progress” despite all that time, and it shows a complex system appearing abruptly right at the beginning of complex animal origins.

So you get the complexity right at the beginning, and it doesn’t change in 550 million years. It doesn’t fit with the Darwinian predictions.

Filed under: News, , , , , ,

Stephen C. Meyer debates Peter D. Ward on intelligent design and evolution

The speakers

Stephen C. Meyer is director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC) and a founder both of the intelligent design movement and of the CSC, intelligent design’s primary intellectual and scientific headquarters. Dr. Meyer is a Cambridge University-trained philosopher of science, the author of peer-reviewed publications in technical, scientific, philosophical and other books and journals. His signal contribution to ID theory is given most fully in Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, published by HarperOne in June 2009.

Graduating from Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, in 1981 with a degree in physics and earth science, he later became a geophysicist with Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) in Dallas, Texas. From 1981 to 1985, he worked for ARCO in digital signal processing and seismic survey interpretation. As a Rotary International Scholar, he received his training in the history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University, earning a PhD in 1991. His thesis offered a methodological interpretation of origin-of-life research.

Peter D. Ward, Ph.D., is a paleontologist and professor in the Departments of Geology and Biology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He also serves as an adjunct professor of zoology and astronomy. His research specialties include the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event and mass extinctions generally. His books include the best-selling “Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe” (co-author Donald Brownlee, 2000), “Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future” (2007), and “The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?” (2009).

The debate

Here’s the video of the debate:

The debate itself starts at around 8:19, after all the moderators have spoken.

The debate is focused on disagreements about scientific evidence.

Even though Peter Ward is an atheist, he has co-written a fabulous book that I own and have read called “Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe“. I really recommend getting this book, as it is a great book by two non-theists on the habitability argument. It’s sort of a secular precursor to Jay Richards’ and Guillermo Gonzalez’s “The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery“. The habitability argument is a really neglected argument, but it’s a good one.

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