Re: [asa] Rejoinder 3B: Reply to David Opderbeck

From: Dennis Venema <>
Date: Tue Sep 30 2008 - 14:37:30 EDT

The volume that Tim puts out is amazing - one suspects he is retired. Tim, I would appreciate shorter, more concise posts! Isn't there some quip about not arguing with those who buy ink by the barrel? :)

I don't have a lot of time at present, so this comment will be brief.

 1. I am a biologist. I am trained in to the PhD level in genetics, cell/molecular biology and developmental biology. Ted, you were asking for biologists - well, so far I'm chiming in. Maybe Steve Matheson will drop in eventually as well. I'm not sure who else you have in mind.
 2. Tim's argument has certainly shifted emphasis - now it's that RM+NS cannot produce complexity, and that the available evidence for common descent does not qualify as evidence for a mechanism. This was essentially Behe's tack at the Kitzmiller trial: when things aren't looking good for your argument, demand an infinite level of detail before you will accept the evidence. Does Tim really think it is possible to determine the step-by-step progression, one base pair change at a time, with all the selection pressures, allele frequencies in the population, etc, for any "gain" in complexity or function? Yet that is what Behe (and Tim) wants. This is in striking contrast to ID, which proposes no mechanism, makes no statements about how or when design was implemented, or any "pathetic level of detail" whatsoever. This line of argumentation didn't work at Dover, and it still doesn't work now.
 3. Behe's latest book, Edge of Evolution, tries to argue this approach as well. The book is riddled with logical flaws, but you need to know a thing or two about genetics to see them.



On 9/30/08 11:11 AM, "Ted Davis" <> wrote:

Timaeus has been very busy writing replies to various list members, and this one is lively and pointed. Overall, Timaeus wants us to see that ID is making substantive challenges to the claims of many evolutionary biologists, namely, that evidence is lacking to back the claim that RM + NS is actually the cause of higher level changes in organisms and the formation of complex machinery within cells. Timaeus says that Denton is a world class biologist whose scepticism about orthodox neo-Darwinism is fully warranted. In addition, Timaeus challenges all TEs to take Denton very seriously, not to dismiss him as ill informed; and, not to be too quick to revise Christian theology in light of evolution. Judging from my own extensive interaction with ID advocates, in making these points Timaeus is reflecting the consensus within the upper circles of the ID movement.

I thank Timaeus for continuing to engage with us. It might be best for all of us if the pace were to slow a little, partly in order for all of us to be able to digest what everyone is saying, and partly also to increase the possibility that some of the most well-informed ASA members (on these issues) will be able to join in at some point. A number of our best voices are silent now, owing to their day jobs, and I don't know if/when they will be able to chime in. I am myself, esp interested in hearing from any biologists who have expertise in the kinds of things that Denton talks about: as I said when reviewing the Dover trial, I can't sort out whether Ken Miller or Mike Behe is actually correct; I can only report a continuing difference of opinion. I do hope that at least a few more biologists and biochemists will contribute.

(Incidentally, Timaeus, our list has never included some of the most prominent scientists within the ASA, such as Francis Collins or Owen Gingerich or Bob Griffiths. I don't expect that to change, but it does somewhat shape the nature of the conversation here. It'd be terrific for leading IDs to speak directly to and with leading ASA scientists, but except for the occasional exchange at an annual meeting it usually doesn't happen. The group you are talking to, insofar as it even represents the ASA at all, given its composition, is not heavily weighted toward the most relevant sciences as far as I can tell. And, except for George Murphy, most leading theologians who write about evolution aren't members of the ASA at all, though some of us do read them.)

Speaking for myself, Timaeus, one of my top concerns is whether or not I fairly describe and analyze the views of ID advocates, esp when I enter the controversy with my own opinions but also when I teach about ID on or off campus. To that end, Timaeus, I would really like for you to comment on the following paragraph, taken from an essay I published about the Dover trial. I will be doing a talk based on that paper at the American Society of Human Genetics in Philadelphia later this year. Obviously, I make no promises about changing anything in this paragraph, but I do want to have your comments. Here goes:

"At this point, there simply is no ID "theory" to teach-or even to practice in the laboratory, let alone to place at the center of a new scientific paradigm. ID currently consists only of an interesting philosophical critique of the explanatory efficacy of Darwinian evolution, combined with an appeal for scientists to add "design" to the set of explanatory principles they employ in biology and other sciences. When ID advocates say, "teach the controversy," they do not mean that ID should be taught as an alternative to evolution, in the same sense in which the authors of the Arkansas bill wanted creationism taught as another theory of equal merit to evolution. Rather, they are referring mainly to ID's criticism of evolution as it is presented in textbooks: They want students to learn that some scientists do not accept important aspects of the standard picture of evolution."

That's enough from me now, it's time to hear again from Timaeus. Below is his reply to David Opderbeck.



Mr. Opderbeck, you wrote:
"I respond: There seems to be a continuing disconnect here. I don't think
any Christian TE's see the Darwinian mechanism as "self-sufficient." I
think you're still confusing observed causal sufficiency with

Answer: No, I absolutely am not. I am not talking about metaphysics, theology, or religion. I am saying that the Darwinian mechanisms are insufficient causally, in the limited, scientific sense of "cause" which Darwinists and TEs allow. I am saying they cannot produce complex organs, systems, etc. Or, at the very least, that they have not been proved capable of doing so, not by a long shot. It has nothing at all to do with metaphysics. I am saying, bluntly, that Darwinism is poor science, because it is weakly supported science. If you want to know why, start by reading Michael Denton's first book. Never mind Mike Gene's report of Korthof's discussion. Yes, Korthof finds flaws in the book; but he also says some good things about it. And most important of all, Korthof says that it is MUST reading for anyone who really wants to understand the rock-bottom assumptions of Darwin's theory. And I think this is exactly the kind of reading a non-specialist such!

  as yourself is looking for: reading which gets at the heart of what Darwinism is about. And if you find it helpful, then read Denton's second book. (Which Korthof likes better, because Denton there unambiguously confirms Korthof's naturalistic prejudice, though it's important to point out that Denton didn't argue for supernatural causes even in the first book, but merely showed the scientific flaws in Darwinism.)

Now, to refer my argument to TE, I am also saying that most TEs seem to believe that Darwinian mechanisms are sufficient causally. That is, they seem to believe that the Darwinian mechanisms of random mutation plus natural selection (perhaps supplemented here and there by other materialistic mechanisms which, as far as I can see, are still all chance mechanisms, so it still comes out to chance plus natural selection) are adequate to produce eyes, flagella, etc. I am saying that they are wrong to believe this. I think they have accepted exaggerated claims that have no empirical basis. And I think they do this because they constantly confuse the fact of common descent with the mechanism of evolution. Ninety per cent of the evidence they cite as 'decisive proof' of evolution is evidence only for common descent, not for the efficacy of the Darwinian mechanisms. But the two are so wedded together in their minds, that it is like pulling teeth to get them to distinguish t!

 hem, and see that the evidence is relatively strong for the one, but quite weak for the other. We can see hard evidence for common descent in the fossil record, in biogeographical distribution, etc. We cannot see hard evidence for the power attributed to Darwinian mechanisms. We see hard evidence that it can produce longer finch beaks. The rest is inferred, illegitimately in my opinion. This is not a point of biology even, but of elementary logic, and one needs very little training in the details of biology or any science to understand it.

And then you wrote:
"But, all of my friends who are working scientists tell me it's simply not
true. And their story seems much more robust and plausible than the ..."

Darwinism isn't "robust". Darwinism is "anemic". But if you doubt that what I say is true:
Ask your "scientist friends" to point you to a series of articles or a book which contains a detailed series of evolutionary pathways for any of the following: (1) fins to feet; (2) gill-breathing to lung-breathing; (3) cardiovascular system; (4) camera eye; (5) bacterial flagellum; etc. And make sure you ask them for an account that will specify: (1) how they know what the original genome of the putative ancestor looked like; (2) exactly what segments of DNA changed, with a full accounting of all the body parts and systems that those segments of DNA made proteins for, and what other segments of DNA would have had to change along with it, since often, if not usually, more than one segment pertains to a particular structure or function; (3) all the major developmental details connected with the previous point; (4) accurate information about the environmental conditions hundreds of millions or tens of millions of years ago (level of UV radiation, balance of gases in the!

  air; solar activity, volcanic activity, tectonic activity, paleomagnetic fields, salinity of sea-water, complete list of competing species and food sources, etc.) - all of which must be known to be sure that any given phenotypical change would have been advantageous enough for nature to select; (5) how many stages the pathway would take, and how many years on average each stage in the pathway would require (based on favourable mutation rates), checked against the time the fossil record allows for, and how they calculated the average time or number of generations required for the favourable mutations.

If you ask this, I'm sure they will be very helpful. I'm sure they will point you to Ken Miller's argument for one possible link in the chain leading to the flagellum, as if one link could prove the efficacy of the mechanism. And they will go on endlessly about now bacterial resistance proves evolution, as if a single-amino-acid change in a one-celled creature is comparable to the millions of changes required for the creation of a camera eye. And they will talk about Archaeopteryx, as the transitional phase between birds and reptiles, without discussing the problem which the entire world of evolutionary biology has been unable to solve, i.e., how flight could have evolved gradually, Darwinian-fashion, when both aerodynamic considerations and physiological considerations suggest that an evolutionary leap would have been necessary. (See extensive discussion in Denton's first book; the discussion cites leading Darwinian authorities.) They may even stoop to discussi!

 ng the colour of the peppered moth and the soot of the Industrial Revolution, employing an old story debunked by Jonathan Wells. They will discuss fossils that look sequential, which is often a subjective judgment, and they won't mention that mere sequence could only establish common descent, not causal mechanisms. They will tell you that 90% of biologists accept Darwinian evolution, as if truth is decided by a show of hands rather than evidence. They will tell you that the AAAS and NABT endorse evolution, as if establishments have never been wrong before. But after they've yakked on about these same old standard points, don't forget to remind them that they haven't provided what you've asked for - precise evolutionary pathways, with intermediate steps, time calculations for each step, etc. They will then get a little defensive, maybe even a little testy, and tell you that a few minor gaps remain to be filled in, and that's what keeps science interesting,!

  but that many if not most of your questions are answered in !
. They will rarely specify even the name of a journal, let alone an article or an author. They may even tell you to Google for some articles, because they don't know any offhand. And if they do turn up an article for you, it will be something very technical and tiny, which, even if it proves what it sets out to prove, will be like proving a mosquito can be born with a new eye colour. That's my prediction. Try it, and let me know if I'm wrong.

About theology. I think it's mainly irrelevant to the main question that should be asked, before TE even gets underway. TE's whole raison d'etre, as indicated in its name, is to link up belief in God (usually the Christian God) with what is taken to be the fact of Darwinian evolution. Logic therefore dictates that the factual character of Darwinian evolution be fully established before the theological inquiry takes place. My point is that, even if we grant that common descent is established (which it isn't, strictly, for a variety of reason which I don't have time to cover, but I accept CD, so there's no need to make it an issue here), the Darwinian mechanism is far from established. That is what I'm trying to open everyone's eyes to here. Even if we know that we came from primordial slime, we have almost no idea how it might have happened, no matter what the Darwinists tell you. Saying "random mutations guided by natural selection", and waving you!

 r hands is not proof. Insistence and preaching and scolding is not proof. Appeal to the consensus of modern biologists is not proof. Threats to expel dissenters from the scientific community, by denying them degrees, jobs, promotion and grants, are not proof.

Now I'm no scientific washout, but I'm not a scientist, either. So no one is going to take me as an authority. I'm not asking anyone to. That's why I point to greater scientists and greater evolutionary thinkers than myself, like Behe and Berlinski and Denton. Take Denton. He has an M.D. and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry/Physiology. He has done world-class research on the genetics of retinal cancer, which might be thought to give him some knowledge of the actual workings of the human eye, its physiology, biochemistry, relation to other bodily systems, and so on. When a man like that expresses doubt that Darwinian processes could produce a camera eye, I think we are very foolish to ignore him. We don't have to agree with him, but to ignore him is irresponsible. Ditto for Dr. Michael Egnor, a neurosurgeon who has performed 2,000 brain operations, and so might be thought to understand something of the complexity of that organ and its operations, and who has critici!

 zed Darwinian mechanisms. Indeed, the number of Darwin-doubting physicians and surgeons, people who work with bodies intimately and understand them better than most people, is quite suggestive. Jerry Coyne, at his blackboard in Chicago, has no trouble theorizing about evolutionary pathways; but does he have any clue how they would work out in practice in a complex higher organism, in comparison with someone like Dr. Egnor?

How many TEs are even aware that there is widespread doubt about Darwinian mechanisms, even outside of ID and Discovery? Of course it is not a majority trend yet, but the doubt is much more widespread than TEs imagine. It is not just benighted YECs in the hills of Tennessee or the cities of the South. It is, increasingly, doctors, lawyers, computer programmers, physicists, mathematicians, engineers, philosophers, and historians of science, many of whom have only vague religious convictions, and some of whom have no religious convictions at all, who are doubting the Darwinian mechanisms. Denton is just the tip of the iceberg. But he's a very noteworthy tip. Another noteworthy tip of an iceberg is Richard von Sternberg, who has two Ph.D.s in biology, i.e., one more than Miller, Matheson, Ayala or Collins possesses.

About theology. I don't want to get off into the details of Aquinas here, which I could in fact discuss competently, but some phrases in your post almost sound as if you subscribe to a dualistic account of knowledge, whereby, e.g., "science" could show us that there is no free will (as many claim that modern psychology shows), and that this would be a valid truth within science, while "theology" could guarantee us that there really is free will on a "metaphysical" level, above the level of naturalistic causation, and that this would be "true" in theology; and that the two truths, though plainly opposite in meaning to any person of common sense, do not contradict each other. I don't know if this is what you meant, but if it is, it sounds dangerously schizophrenic. And even if don't believe that, since I believe that some other TEs do hold a doctrine something like this (or seem to, the vagueness of expression leaving me unsure), I want to react to it!


The idea that something could be metaphysically true and scientifically false, or vice versa, is typical of the soul-destroying, culture-destroying dualisms that have plagued the modern world since Descartes. There is only one world, not two; there is only one "nature", not two; there is only one "human nature", not two. If evolution shows us that we IN FACT arose by accident, REAL accident, then we have a conflict. Unless you are willing to use the word "truth" in two entirely different senses in the two fields, the teaching that we arose by accident can't be a truth in science, but a falsehood in theology. Yet at times Ken Miller and Eugenie Scott (not that she cares at all about religion, except for PR purposes) have said exactly this: that design might be the true picture of nature, yet still be inappropriate for science class, where the only valid mode of explanation excludes design. This, of course, is supposed to make Christian students and parents!

  feel better about having Darwinism taught as unchallenged orthodoxy in science class. But in fact this phoney dualism is just an excuse for making sure that the students never hear the arguments of Bergson, Denton, Behe, Dembski, von Sternberg, Antony Flew, Berlinski, etc., because Miller and Scott deftly, slyly, and basely equate questions about "design" with questions about "higher purpose or meaning in life" or "proof of supernatural beings" or the like.

Frankly (and again, I'm not sure this is what you meant, and probably you didn't, but I think some other TEs may well believe this), I think that the "two truth" position is based on fear. It's an attempt to shield the truths of theology from the truths of science, to make sure they can never conflict. (I think it's no accident that those who use language that sounds vaguely like "two truths" are generally against even the possibility of design detection, because design, if detectable, would join the two worlds - the world of truths known about God exclusively through faith, and truths known about the world exclusively through science -- that they have spent many years learning how to keep asunder.) To me, this is every bit as reprehensible as the position of those YECs who - also out of fear - won't honestly face the evidence of radioactive dating or geology. Personally, I prefer people who are intellectually fearless. I prefer people who can st!

 are truth in the face, even if it's ugly, and say, "Yes, unfortunately, this is the truth." If pure Darwinism IS the truth, then, in my judgment, it is an ugly truth. But if so, let's face it like brave men and women, as Bertrand Russell suggested in A Free Man's Worship, and not try to pretend that it's truth in science, but not truth in metaphysics. Russell would have laughed such a distinction to scorn. Either we are a pointless accident or we aren't. A stand must be taken. I've taken mine. I say we aren't a pointless accident, not only for all kinds of positive reasons based on our nature and the nature of the world, but because the main arguments that caused people to think that we ARE a pointless accident came from an allegedly scientific argument (Darwin's), and that argument is empirically very, very weak. Blind matter simply can't do what Darwin says it can. Or, if it can, Darwinians are nowhere near proving it, and they won't be ca!

 pable of proving it in the lifetime of anyone reading this, an!
 d so, on
 our current understanding of nature, Christians should simply go about their theologizing as if Darwinian mechanisms are a false (or at best speculative and uncertain) account of how nature works. That's what I do, and my theology's just fine. J

Finally, you wrote:
 "Timeaus said: But there is no evidence - none, zero, zilch, nada - that
they can build an eye, a circulatory system, or an avian lung (the last of
which, Mr. Nield, is discussed in both of Denton's books).
I respond: In my view, this empirical claim is the heart of the matter.
How does a non-biologist assess this claim?"

Mr. Opderbeck, your intellectually humility is noted. I understand that you do not want to play the expert in fields that you have not been trained in. That is admirable. Nor do I. But seeing the flaws in Darwinism does not require an expert, because the Darwinian theory is relatively easy to understand in its general outline. And it is easy to understand what it would take to verify it, in general outline.

Neither you nor I need to understand all the details of protein synthesis to ask the question: "How did the DNA-protein system get started, since, according to our current empirical knowledge, as even the leading Darwinists admit, each (of protein and DNA) needs the other even to come into existence at all?" And we can register the answer when Darwinists admit: "We don't know." (See The Design of Life by Dembski and Wells, for a lengthy discussion, citing mainstream science literature, establishing that Darwinists don't know the answer to this question, and that they admit they don't know.) Again, neither you nor I need to understand all the detailed genetics and developmental science connected with the human eye, to ask Richard Dawkins: "Dr. Dawkins, in your book you have given fewer than a dozen steps of the thousands or millions of steps that would be needed, on the Darwinian hypothesis, to get from the light-sensitive spot to the camera eye. And eve!

 n those few steps, you have described in a qualitative and superficial manner, speaking only of the results of each step, and how they might help in evolutionary fitness. You have not provided the genetic and embryological details to show how this pretty picture could actually have been accomplished by the mechanisms we know to be available to the genome and its cellular and organismic environs. And you have not shown any of the math regarding the frequency of the required mutations, so we don't know if the changes could have occurred in the time-frame given by the fossil record. I am open to your views, but would you now please give me the longer version, with the details? Or tell me where I can find all the details?" And we can register when Dawkins remains sullenly silent, or changes the subject. And again, we don't need to know the details of biology to ask: "Dr. Gould and Dr. Sagan, you have both stressed the contingency of evolution, its radical depende!

 nce upon chance events which are not only rare in themselves, !
 but have
 to occur in just the right environmental conditions to be useful. On your account, then, we would expect that the development of the camera eye, that organ of extreme complexity which made Darwin "shudder" [direct quote from Darwin], would be likely to occur not more than once in the whole course of evolution on earth. Yet the camera eye, in different forms, has developed many times on the earth. As Dr. Dawkins loudly insists, 'it's no trouble for nature to make an eye; it's done so probably thirty times.' Is this not like lightning striking thirty times on the same spot? Does not the parallel, ultra-low-probability evolution of eyes, in different evolutionary lineages, suggest that something else is going on, other than random chance aided by natural selection? Does it not suggest, perhaps, that nature does not achieve complexity by lucky accidents filtered by natural selection, but has a built-in tendency towards complexity, which it realizes in differ!

 ent evolutionary lineages, according to local environmental or genomic constraints? And how can such a tendency be accounted for, in Darwinian terms, or indeed, in terms of any purely mechanistic natural science? Why should matter behave in such an upward-organizing way?"

Mr. Opderbeck, you and I are quite competent to ask such questions. And it is wrong, utterly wrong, morally, pedagogically, scientifically, and politically, for Darwinist scientists, when we ask such questions, to say: "Biology is an extremely complex subject, and not for lay people. You wouldn't understand our answers and therefore are not competent to criticize them. Just trust us when we say that the majority of scientists find the evidence for Darwinism overwhelming, and leave the science to us." Such answers are cowardly, evasive, defensive, bullying, and contemptible all at once. Not one of my teachers of mathematics, physics, or chemistry ever asked me to accept as true a fact, theory, hypothesis or speculation without giving me reasons which were understandable to me. I was always encouraged to confirm the truths of those subjects for myself. Not once did they ever pull the "argument from authority". Why is that, of all scientists, it is only the e!

 volutionary biologists have to use the "argument from authority" to silence dissent? The best way to silence dissent is to provide evidence. And the best way to get students and the general republic to respect the truths that evolutionary biology HAS established is for them not to bluff, lie or mislead about what they know and don't know. There would be a lot less disrespect for evolutionary biologists if they were more humble, more honest about their ignorance, and less inclined to boast about how Darwinism is as certain as Newton's laws or the germ theory of disease, when everybody knows that it isn't.

So don't be afraid, Mr. Opderbeck. You have a fine mind. Even Korthof says that a non-biologist should be allowed to read Denton if he has a critical mind. You have that. Read Denton. He won't corrupt you. If he's nonsense to your mind, throw him away. But I think you will find that he blows your mind. I already knew how weak the Darwinian theory was at a few key points, but I did not realize, until I read Denton, that I had only scratched the surface of its weaknesses. So read Denton. Read Berlinski. Read the essays in Uncommon Dissent. Over half of them are superb. Read both of Behe's books, if you have enough general chemistry from high school and undergrad that you feel comfortable with the material. And if Sternberg starts publishing stuff, look at it. Sternberg's a keeper. The Darwinists don't want you to read these guys. That means you probably should.

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Received on Tue Sep 30 14:38:58 2008

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