The Creator On Trial – Part 4

The Chapter 4 interviewee is Stephen Meyer, one of the founders of the Discovery Institute. Meyer states, “If it’s true that there’s a beginning to the universe…then this implies a cause that transcends the universe.” He continues, “To get life going in the first place would have required biological information; the implications point beyond the material realm to a prior intelligent cause.”  This is a slightly different twist on the First Cause argument that is often used by creationists.  When asked the obvious question…who created the “intelligent cause” (God) Meyer’s answer is that God was not created.  He has always existed.  So science must follow the laws of cause and effect, but God is exempted from that.  How convenient!  It’s like a card game where the dealer makes the rules so that he always wins.  No thinking person would participate in such a game.  It begs the question: If God has always existed, then why not the matter and energy that make up the Cosmos? Human experience with the passage of time leads us to believe that all things have a beginning and end.  Only the superstitious beliefs of religious faith are allowed to contradict that.

Meyer argues that finding the origin of the information in DNA is critical: “If you can’t explain where the information comes from, you haven’t explained life, because it’s the information that makes the molecules into something that actually functions.” If this is true, then it simply raises the question of where the information required for God to function came from. Meyer would probably answer that God can “create” the information given his omniscience. But this is an admission that there is at least something–God–which has information but did not get it from something else. And once this is admitted, the argument that DNA must get its information from somewhere else fails. The argument from information theory, like many other seemingly “scientific” arguments for God, simply raises a problem only to claim that God is the solution to that problem. In reality, however, this merely pushes the problem back one more step. If there is a real problem to resolve, simply passing it on to God and then claiming that God is exempt from the problem isn’t any solution at all.

What struck me about this chapter is how Meyer argues elegantly that the “design” of life forms requires the existence of God, and then he talks about Jesus, as if the Christian myths about Jesus follow logically if one accepts the premise of God’s intelligent design. He never explains or justifies this leap of faith across a logical and evidential vacuum from the existence of God to his acceptance of Christian doctrine.

Meyer, like most ID adherents is an “old earth” advocate. He talks about the Big Bang. This is not consistent with Biblical assertions about the age of the earth (ca. 6000 years). This contradiction is not explained. He quotes Arno Penzias, “The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted had I nothing to go on but the first five books of Moses, the Psalms and the Bible as a whole.”

Meyers is not a Biblical literalist if that is the case. The Bible says God created the earth on the first day, plants on the second, the sun, moon and stars on third. This doesn’t sound at all like the Big Bang.

Chapter 5 belongs to the well-known creationist, William Lane Craig. Craig also bases his argument for the existence of God on the Big Bang. The starting point is called a “singularity,” a single point from which the Universe was formed by a huge explosion. This raises obvious questions: What is the nature of that singularity? Where did it come from? How could it contain the vast quantities of matter and energy that we see? (and a lot more dark matter and energy that we can’t see) How long did it exist before the Big Bang? What was here before the Big Bang?

Craig embraces the Big Bang concept and uses it to “prove” that God exists, employing the same First Cause argument used by Meyer. The basis for this is the premise that if something happens it has to have a cause. It cannot just happen spontaneously. Therefore, God must be the cause, since there is no other explanation. But what created God? Craig’s answer, like Meyer’s, is that God is eternal. He goes through a whole bunch of the standard infinity paradoxes to prove that the Universe cannot be eternal, but he doesn’t apply the same logic to God. In effect, he “manufactures” a concept of an eternal God that is immune to the infinity paradoxes that he uses to deduce that nature is not eternal. This concept of God is just a convenient way to explain something that can’t be explained any other way. Man has been doing that since the days of living in caves, when he worshipped the sun or the wind, because he didn’t understand them. This is just a modern version of attributing supernatural powers to mysteries. When they later become demystified, the need for the supernatural disappears.

The origin of the Universe is a great mystery, and it is not completely explained by the Big Bang theory. That may explain what happened, but it doesn’t explain how or why or what was here (or if there was a “here”) before it. The construct of God is just what a cave man would have done. If you can’t explain it, then it must be supernatural.

One of the convenient things about attributing the cause to a supernatural entity is that it cannot be disproved! What test could a scientist make to refute it? Of course, it is also unprovable, but that doesn’t bother Craig. He has his faith.

In a drippy ending to this chapter, Craig recounts how he convinced an atheist woman scientist of his ideas, and she converted to Christianity, “flushed all her tranquilizers and booze down the toilet,” and, radiant with the joy of her newfound faith, lived happily ever after. I thought this little tale was completely out of place in this book. It’s the sort of stuff you read in those little pamphlets that evangelicals hand out when they come to your door.

I think this is the least useful chapter in the book. In essence, Craig’s is saying, “Your natural processes can’t come up with something from nothing, but my God can.” Craig’s God is a figment of his imagination, constructed to answer these questions. It is far beyond man’s current intellectual capacity and scientific knowledge to determine the cause(s) or processes that resulted in the origin of the universe. This chapter is a little bit entertaining, but otherwise irrelevant.

The basic premise of Chapter 7 is that nature is “fine-tuned” to produce life, and only a Creator could have done that. The argument is that the probability of the multiple conditions required for life could not have happened by random natural processes. The flaw in this reasoning is that this judgment is based on life as we know it. Life may have developed quite differently on other planets or in other universes. The assumption that earthly life forms are the only possible ones is untenable…and even a bit arrogant.

Michael Behe, the interviewee for Chapter 8, is best known for advancing the notion of “irreducible complexity” which argues that organisms having many complex functions, all of which must work in perfect harmony, could not have arisen gradually or incrementally, as required by evolutionary processes. This is actually a much older idea originally stated with great elegance by English clergyman William Paley (1743-1805). Darwin himself was an admirer of Paley, but he refuted this argument with equal elegance, showing that complex organisms are often made up of parts that had earlier served “in slightly modified condition for diverse purposes” and were co-opted to contribute to a new function. Many other scientists have refuted Behe’s ideas.

Behe also attacks the question of the origin of life at the very beginning, arguing that the living cell is too complex to have been generated spontaneously by natural processes. However, in other writings, Behe has made it clear that he believes that once those original cells were “created,” the processes of evolution takes it from there. He accepts the common descent of species, including that humans descended from other primates, except that he believes that mutations are controlled by God. In this respect, he disagrees with most other ID proponents, including Wells (In Chapter 3) who said that the idea of common descent has not been proven. The author does not point out this fundamental disagreement.

In Kitzmiller v. Dover, the first direct challenge brought in United States federal courts to an attempt to mandate the teaching of intelligent design on First Amendment grounds, Behe was called as a primary witness for the defense and asked to support the idea that intelligent design was legitimate science. Some of the most crucial exchanges in the trial occurred during Behe’s cross-examination, where his testimony would prove devastating to the defense. Behe was forced to concede that “there are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred” and that his definition of ‘theory’ as applied to intelligent design was so loose that astrology would also qualify. Earlier during his direct testimony, Behe had argued that a computer simulation of evolution he performed shows that evolution is not likely to produce certain complex biochemical systems. Under cross examination however, Behe was forced to agree that “the number of prokaryotes in 1 ton of soil are 7 orders of magnitude higher than the population [it would take] to produce the disulfide bond” and that “it’s entirely possible that something that couldn’t be produced in the lab in two years… could be produced over three and half billion years.”

Behe’s testimony in Dover destroyed the credibility of Intelligent Design, exposing it as warmed-over creationism.  The naked emperor that Jonathan Wells referred to in Chapter 3 is not evolution.  It is creationism.  There is no evidence to support it.  Evolution is gaining health and stature every day as more evidence emerges.

Continued in Part 5

 

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