Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Does peer-reviewed science support Bill Nye’s attempt to prove materialism?

Do the Miller-Urey experiments simulate the early Earth?

Do the Miller-Urey experiments simulate the early Earth?

Casey Luskin looks at Nye’s new book “Undeniable”, which turns out to be very deniable, since it uses discredited science to support materialist philosophy.

Luskin writes:

If you think Nye’s ideology is bad, wait until you see the “science” he uses to justify these claims.

On the origin of life, Nye maintains that the famous Miller-Urey experiments “simulate[d] the conditions on earth in primordial times,” and “produced the natural amino acids.” Yet the Miller-Urey experiments did not accurately simulate the earth’s early atmosphere. An article in Science explains why the experiments are irrelevant: “the early atmosphere looked nothing like the Miller-Urey situation.”

Nye also invokes the unsophisticated argument that humans and apes must share a common ancestor because our gene-coding DNA is only about 1% different. “This is striking evidence for chimps and chumps to have a common ancestor,” he writes.

This argument is not just simplistic, it’s also false.

An article in the journal Science challenged “the myth of 1%,” suggesting the statistic is a “truism [that] should be retired,” since “studies are showing that [humans and chimps] are not as similar as many tend to believe.” Geneticist Richard Buggs maintains that “the total similarity of the genomes could be below 70%.”

Even if we do share DNA with chimps, why should that demonstrate common ancestry? Intelligent agents regularly re-use parts that work in different systems (e.g., wheels for cars and wheels for airplanes). Nye’s crude argument ignores the possibility of common design.

Undeniable also botches arguments that the fossil record shows “transitional forms.”

Nye cites Tiktaalik as a “‘fishapod’ (transition between fish and tetrapod, or land animal with four legs)” that is a fulfilled “prediction” of evolution because of when it was found in the fossil record. Nye is apparently unaware that this so-called evolutionary “prediction” went belly-up after scientists found tracks of true tetrapods with digits some 18 million years before Tiktaalik in the fossil record. As Nature put it, Tiktaalik cannot be a “direct transitional form.”

In another instance, Nye claims we’ve “found a whole range of human ancestors, including Sahelanthropus tchadensis,” apparently not realizing that an article in Nature reported there are “many … features that link the specimen with chimpanzees, gorillas or both,” since “Sahelanthropus was an ape.”

There are other scientific errors in Nye’s book, but one more will suffice. Throughout Undeniable, Nye demeans humanity by claiming our bodies are poorly designed, promoting the old canard that the human eye is wired backwards, and “not an optimal optical arrangement.” Nye apparently never saw a 2010 paper in Physical Review Letters which found that our eyes have special glial cells which sit over the retina, acting like fiber-optic cables to channel light through tissue directly onto our photoreceptor cells, showing the human retina is “an optimal structure designed for improving the sharpness of images.”

Undeniable  is one long attempt at wedding materialist philosophy with science. “The natural world is a package deal,” Nye insists at one point, “you don’t get to select which facts you like and which you don’t.” Yet he consistently ignores facts that contradict his arguments for Darwinian orthodoxy.

Interesting that he stands by the Miller-Urey experiments, when we now know that the experiment used gases that were not found on the early earth, not to mention that the experiments required experimenter intervention. And this is just to get the letters for proteins and DNA code – it doesn’t even count the sequencing problem, which is where you run into improbabilities that make materialist explanations for the origin of life as unlikely as flat-Earthism. You can believe if you really need to, but I wouldn’t call wanting to believe something really badly “scientific”.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , ,

Michael Ruse debates Stephen C. Meyer on intelligent design and evolution on NPR

Here’s a debate between:

  • Stephen C. Meyer, author of Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design
  • Michael Ruse, Director of the History and Philosophy of Science Program at Florida State University

The MP3 file is here. (28 minutes)

The following summary is rated S for Slightly Snarky. Reader discretion is advised.

Topics:

  • Moderator: (to Meyer) define creationism, evolution, and intelligent design
  • Meyer: creationism is based on an interpretation of the Bible
  • Meyer: evolution is an unguided process of mutation and selection that produces organisms
  • Meyer: intelligent design is the idea that the best explanation for certain features of life
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Where do you disagree?
  • Ruse: Intelligent design is similar to creationism, but I won’t say how exactly
  • Meyer: ID is a good explanation for the sudden origin of animal body plans in the Cambrian era
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) Is the designer God? Is the designer the Christian God?
  • Meyer: No, ID theory is an inference that is rooted in scientific evidence, not in a religious text
  • Meyer: ID can be inferred from the origin of biological information and from molecular machines
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Where do you disagree?
  • Ruse: Meyer is disingenuous because ID requires the designer to be God
  • Meyer: The biological evidence for intelligent design by itself does not implicate God
  • Meyer: The fine-tuning of the cosmos is intelligent design in physics, and that *would* require God
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) Explain what the Cambrian explosion is
  • Meyer: sudden origin of 36 body plans in 10 million years 530 million years ago
  • Moderator: So you think that 36 body plans in 10 million years is too sudden for Darwinian mechanisms to produce?
  • Meyer: Yes, for two reasons. One, there are no precursors prior to the start of the explosion in complexity
  • Meyer: And two, the complexity of animal life includes code, circuitry, hierarchies – best explained by a designer
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Is it a problem for you?
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that the Ediacaran fauna are precursors to the Cambrian animals
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that microfossils are precursors to the Cambrian animals
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that animal complexity goes from simple to complex in the fossil record
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that shows that the Cambrian explosion took place over a few million years
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that shows that there were complex organ types at the start of the Cambrian explosion
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that we already have a materialist explanation for the Cambrian explosion
  • Ruse: everything is solved! nothing to see here! (folds arms and beams) I trust that my unsupported assertions have relieved your doubts, yes?
  • Moderator: Is intelligent design undermined by more recent science?
  • Meyer: no, there is an absence of precursor fossils in the period before the Cambrian explosion
  • Meyer: there are other things that make the problem even worse for naturalism, like information from epigenetics
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Answer that
  • Ruse: He is just pulling out passages out of context because he is a creationist!
  • Moderator: The leftist New Yorker reviewer Gareth Cook says that the Cambrian explosion took tens of millions of years
  • Meyer: Actually, the peer-reviewed science is clear that the standard date is at most 10 million nears
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Deny the mainstream date
  • Ruse: Well, Prothero says no! Ho ho ho! (folds arms) He just says it. No it’s not published in peer-reviewed research
  • Ruse: We know so much more than Darwin did, how could the progress of science disprove my materialist pre-supposition? It’s unpossible!
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) Isn’t ID pseudo-science?
  • Meyer: If we limit ourselves to materialist explanations only, then we cannot infer intelligence when we see artifacts like the Rosetta Stone
  • Meyer: wind and erosion is not an adequate explanation for certain systems – systems that are rich in information
  • Meyer: the best explanation is the explanation that relies on known causes – we know that intelligence produces information
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) so the intelligence is the best explanation of systems that have information?
  • Meyer: yes, think about software code – the best explanation of new computer instructions is an intelligence
  • Meyer: we have uniform and repeated experience of intelligence bringing new information into being, and new animals need new information
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) must science only work with natural explanations?
  • Ruse: intelligent design is religion! Ho ho ho ho! (folds arms)
  • Ruse: there is no a priori way of ruling out supernatural causes in order to explain nature
  • Ruse: We don’t need to introduce supernatural causes to explain information in living systems or in software code
  • Ruse: Steve is asking me to explain the Cambrian explosion, but why does he want me to explain that?
  • Ruse: How did anything start to fly? How did whales come? There, those questions explain the Cambrian explosion naturalistically
  • Ruse: Steve’s answer to explain new information is to bring in miracles, like when he said that new computer code requires God
  • Ruse: inferring intelligence as an explanation for information like the computer code is religion! God! Creationism! Prayer in schools!
  • Ruse: we have to keep looking for naturalistic explanations for the Big Bang, the DNA, the fine-tuning, the Cambrian fossils, etc.
  • Ruse: we are never justified in inferring an intelligence to explain information, because that would deny my religion of materialism
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) what are the requirements for a theory to be scientific?
  • Ruse: any explanation has to be naturalistic, because I am an atheist and that’s my religion, and we can’t go against my religion
  • Ruse: it’s “really stupid” to infer God as the explanation of the creation of the entire physical universe or the cosmic fine-tuning
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) why is intelligent design so popular when we have court cases saying it is not science?
  • Meyer: the Discovery Institute does not have an agenda to teach intelligent design in public schools
  • Meyer: intelligent design is about inferring intelligence as a causal explanation for information in living systems, and elsewhere
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) are evolutionists unwilling to entertain the possibility of intelligence being the best explanation?
  • Ruse: scientists have to make sure that that all their explanations don’t go outside of the materialist reservation
  • Ruse: intelligent design is evangelical Christianity dressed up to look like science, the Dover judge said so
  • Ruse: Meyer is disingenuous! Ho ho ho ho ho! (folds arms contentedly)
  • Meyer: first, judges don’t decide science, evidence decides science
  • Meyer: the Dover people made a mistake by trying to go to the courts to get things into the schools
  • Meyer: intelligent design is about research, writing books and papers based on what we learn from science
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) is intelligent design dangerous?
  • Ruse: yes, intelligent design is about politics, it’s not about cosmic fine-tuning, origin of life, molecular machines or Cambrian explosion
  • Ruse: intelligent design is about abstinence, prayer in schools, burdening women with unwanted babies and male-female marriage
  • Ruse: my reason for opposing ID is the socially conservative agenda which emerges from protein folding probability calculations
  • Ruse: I don’t want to be drafted to fight in Vietnam, I don’t want them to take away my drugs, etc. so that’s why I believe Darwinism
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) why do you want to take abortion away, you meany?
  • Meyer: actually, intelligent design is about science, and in any case National Review gave my book a bad review
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) are science and religion in conflict?
  • Ruse: well religion can just abstain from making any claims about the physical world, and just stick to subjective nonsense – that’s fair
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) isn’t all opposition to evolution rooted in fundamentalist religion?
  • Meyer: you can believe in Darwinism and be a theist, but the real reason for doubting Darwinism is the scientific evidence, not religion

Tell me how you think Dr. Meyer did in the comments.

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

What should you say when a co-worker asks you if you believe in evolution?

How did life begin?

How did life begin?

You only have a few minutes to respond, and your answer is going to go all around the office. So what should you say?

Stephen C. Meyer has the answer at Evolution News.

He writes:

I spoke recently to the Faith and Law group on Capitol Hill in D.C., a regular meeting of congressional staffers. At their request, I addressed the topic: “What Should Politicians Say When Asked About Evolution?”

[…]In my talk, I not only gave an answer to the question “What Should Politicians Say When Asked About Evolution?” but I first explained why it is a difficult question for many politicians, especially conservative ones, to answer. There are three main reasons.

I’m only going to give the first reason:

First, the term “evolution” can mean several different things, ranging from (1) the scientifically uncontroversial idea of “change over time” (think of small-scale variations in the shape and size of Galapagos finch beaks) to (2) the more controversial notion of universal common ancestry (think of Darwin’s tree of life) to (3) the increasingly controversial idea that the mechanism of natural selection and random mutation have produced all the forms of life we see today without any guidance or design. The last meaning of “evolution” is what Richard Dawkins calls the “Blind Watchmaker” thesis.

Equivocation in the definition of evolution can make it difficult for a politician to express legitimate skepticism about the controversial meanings of evolution without being presented to the public as being ignorant of established fact, or “anti-science.” In Walker’s recent case, media coverage traded on precisely this ambiguity to present him as being at odds with the majority of the American public, not to mention the scientific establishment. Media outlets repeatedly cited a poll showing that 65 percent of the American people believe that “human beings have changed over time” — i.e., the first and non-controversial meaning of evolution — without mentioning that a huge majority of Americans (and many scientists) reject the third and distinctly controversial meaning of evolution — the idea that the cause of the change over time is an unguided and undirected mechanism.

You can click through and read the other two, but for now, let’s jump to the right way to answer the question:

Most politicians, of course, don’t know about this tumult in the field or of any of the scientific problems with modern Darwinism. They are thus often unnecessarily intimidated by the consensus that supposedly exists in its favor.

In light of all this, any candidate asked about “the theory of evolution” would be well advised to give an answer that affirms the need to teach about contemporary evolutionary theory, but one that also makes clear distinctions between the different meanings of evolution and indicates an awareness of the scientific problems with the standard theory as demonstrated in the scientific literature. And frankly this is not party-specific advice. The scientific literature says what it says, whether consulted by Democrats or Republicans.

Politicians can also say that they think students should learn about those problems since they regard knowledge of the actual status of the theory as a matter of basic scientific literacy. They should not frame the issue as one of “Science versus the Bible,” or answer as if they were being asked about their personal religious beliefs, or as if they think the only alternative to current dogmatic teaching of Darwinian evolution (with its strict insistence on undirected evolution) is to teach Bible-based creationism. They can challenge the dogmatic (and often ideological) way the topic is currently taught and at the same time affirm their commitment to scientific literacy, academic freedom, and critical thinking.

And here’s a sample question and answer:

Reporter: “Do you believe in evolution?”

Candidate: “Of course, I believe that organisms have changed over time. I certainly believe in evolution in that sense. But I am skeptical about unguided evolution — the idea that natural selection and random mutations have produced the major changes in the history of life we observe without any guidance or design. In fact, in peer-reviewed scientific publications, many scientists have expressed doubts about the creative power of natural selection and random mutation. I think that students in learning about the modern version of Darwin’s theory should learn why scientists have these doubts. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories is a matter of basic scientific literacy. And there are scientific weaknesses in modern Darwinian theory.”

This is the right answer because you pull in the majority of people – the young Earth creationists, the intelligent designists and the guided evolutionists. The only people you leave out are the flat-out materialist naturalists, and they are in the minority. So that’s how you answer the question. It would probably help a great deal if you had read both of Meyer’s books on biological evolution, since he writes at the highest level – far higher than left-wing journalists who probably dropped biology because it was too much work.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , ,

New study: scientists discover that inverted retina / blind spot is not a “bad design”

Here’s what atheist Richard Dawkins says about the inverted retina:

Any engineer would naturally assume that the photocells would point towards the light, with their wires leading backwards towards the brain. He would laugh at any suggestion that the photocells might point away from the light, with their wires departing on the side nearest the light. Yet this is exactly what happens in all vertebrate eyes. Each photocell is, in effect, wired in backwards, with its wires sticking out on the side nearest to the light. This means that the light, instead of being granted an unrestricted passage to the photocells, has to pass through a forest of connecting wires, presumably suffering at least some attenuation and distortion (actually probably not much but, still, it is the principle of the thing that would offend any tidy-minded engineer!)

Source: Dawkins, Richard (1986). The Blind Watchmaker. London: Penguin Books; pp. 93-94.

Now let’s look at a new study reported in Science Daily.

They write:

From a practical standpoint, the wiring of the human eye — a product of our evolutionary baggage — doesn’t make a lot of sense. In vertebrates, photoreceptors are located behind the neurons in the back of the eye — resulting in light scattering by the nervous fibers and blurring of our vision. Recently, researchers at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology have confirmed the biological purpose for this seemingly counterintuitive setup.

“The retina is not just the simple detector and neural image processor, as believed until today,” said Erez Ribak, a professor at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology. “Its optical structure is optimized for our vision purposes.” Ribak and his co-authors will describe their work during the 2015 American Physical Society March Meeting, on Thursday, March 5 in San Antonio, Texas.

Ribak’s interest in the optical structure of the retina stems from his previous work applying astrophysics and astronomy techniques to improve the ability of scientists and ophthalmologists to view the retina at high detail.

Previous experiments with mice had suggested that Müller glia cells, a type of metabolic cell that crosses the retina, play an essential role in guiding and focusing light scattered throughout the retina. To test this, Ribak and his colleagues ran computer simulations and in-vitro experiments in a mouse model to determine whether colors would be concentrated in these metabolic cells. They then used confocal microscopy to produce three-dimensional views of the retinal tissue, and found that the cells were indeed concentrating light into the photoreceptors.

“For the first time, we’ve explained why the retina is built backwards, with the neurons in front of the photoreceptors, rather than behind them,” Ribak said.

You can read more on some other reasons why the inverted retina is not a bad design in this article by agnostic scientist Michael Denton. But this study is a good reminder of why Christians need to keep up with science and how we need to talk about science.

The importance of having a narrative

All Christians should be familiar with the following basic pieces of evidence which fit the war between science and naturalism narrative:

  1. The origin of the universe
  2. The cosmic fine-tuning
  3. The origin of life (biological information)
  4. The sudden origin of the Cambrian phyla
  5. The habitability/observability correlation

It’s very important to present these five basic evidences to non-Christians in the historical context. And here is the story you must tell: “In the beginning, there was the naturalism, and the naturalism tried to argue from ignorance that God was not Creator and God was not Designer. And then came the science, and now people have to give up their naturalism in order to not be crazy and irrational”. That’s the narrative you use when talking to non-Christians about science.

In the beginning was the naturalism:

  1. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the universe was eternal
  2. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that a life-permitting universe was as likely as a life-prohibiting universe
  3. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the cell was a simple blob of jello that could spontaneously emerge in some warm pond
  4. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the sudden origin of the Cambrian phyla would be explained by subsequent fossil discoveries
  5. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that there was nothing special about our galaxy, solar system, planet or moon

But then science progressed by doing experiments and making observations.

Here are some examples of discoveries that undermined the primitive atheism:

  1. Scientists discovered redshift and the cosmic microwave background radiation (evidence for a cosmic beginning) and more!
  2. Scientists discovered the fine-tuning of gravity and of the cosmological constant and more!
  3. Scientists discovered protein sequencing and exposed the myth of “junk DNA” and more!
  4. Scientists discovered an even shorter Cambrian explosion period and the absence of precursor fossils and more!
  5. Scientists discovered galactic habitable zones and circumstellar habitable zones and more!

Atheism, as a worldview, is not rooted in an honest assessment about what science tells us about reality. Atheism is rooted in a religion: naturalism. And the troubling thing we learn from looking at the history of science is that this religion of naturalism is insulated from correction from the progress of science. Nothing that science reveals about nature seems to be able to put a dent in the religion of naturalism, at least for most atheists. Their belief in naturalism is so strong that it repels all scientific evidence that falsifies it. Atheists simply don’t let science inform and correct their worldview.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Filed under: News, , , , , , , ,

Stephen C. Meyer: does the Big Bang cosmology support the existence of God?

Here’s the 66-minute video featuring Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, who holds the Ph.D in philosophy of science from Cambridge University, and other degrees in the hard sciences.

The lecture starts really, really slowly. You can just fast-forward to the 12 minute mark, or you might die of boredom.

Topics:

  • Up until the the last 100 years or so, everyone agreed that the universe was eternal
  • This is at odds with the traditional Christian view that God created the universe
  • Materialism, the view that matter is all there is, requires eternally existing matter
  • Discovery #1: Hubble discovers that the universe is expanding (redshift observation)
  • The expanding universe was resisted by proponents of the eternal universe, like Einstein
  • Some naturalists even proposed speculative static models like the steady-state model
  • However, not of the speculative models fit with observations and experimental results
  • Discovery #2: Penzias and Wilson discover the cosmic microwave background radiation
  • Measurements of this background radiation confirmed a prediction of the Big Bang theory
  • The steady-state theory was falsified of by the discovery of this background radiation
  • The oscillating model was proposed to prevent the need for an absolute beginning
  • But the oscillating model is not eternal, it loses energy on each “bounce”
  • A paper by Alan Guth and Marc Sher from 1982 proved that our universe will not bounce
  • In addition, experiments reveal that the universe will expand forever, and not contract
  • The beginning of the universe is more at home in a theistic worldview than an atheistic one
  • The beginning of the universe fits in well with the Bible, e.g. – Genesis 1, Titus 1, etc.

In case you are wondering about what the evidence is for the Big Bang, here are 3 of the evidences that are most commonly offered:

Three main observational results over the past century led astronomers to become certain that the universe began with the big bang. First, they found out that the universe is expanding—meaning that the separations between galaxies are becoming larger and larger. This led them to deduce that everything used to be extremely close together before some kind of explosion. Second, the big bang perfectly explains the abundance of helium and other nuclei like deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen) in the universe. A hot, dense, and expanding environment at the beginning could produce these nuclei in the abundance we observe today. Third, astronomers could actually observe the cosmic background radiation—the afterglow of the explosion—from every direction in the universe. This last evidence so conclusively confirmed the theory of the universe’s beginning that Stephen Hawking said, “It is the discovery of the century, if not of all time.”

By the way, Dr. Meyer also does a great job of explaining the problem of proteins, DNA and the origin of life in this lecture. And you can hear him defend his views in this debate podcast with Keith Fox and in this debate podcast with Peter Atkins. He does a great job in these debates.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

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