Is Doubting Darwin Intellectual Suicide?

Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins after Maher's t...

Two comedians

I really don’t know why anyone agrees to go on Bill Maher’s show. For years it’s been the same old routine: gang up on the conservative, everyone! This time it’s Congressman Jack Kingston being attacked because he doesn’t believe in macro-evolution.

For one thing, I’m not quite sure what “believing” in evolution have to do with performing his job as a congressman? How is that relevant in regards to him creating, promoting and passing laws to help his country? And seriously, I would take a qualified lawmaker who believes that people are made in the image of God over someone who has a reductionist, materialistic view of humanity any day of the week.

Yet this attitude against those who question or reject Darwinism is pervasive in the culture today and so I’d like to address it. I’m here to say that rejecting the neo-Darwinian theory of origins does not automatically equate one being some anti-intellectual, backwoods yokel that believes the earth is flat. And sorry, Huffington Post, but believing in creation doesn’t mean one has to believe God created the universe in six literal days. (And to be clear, there are some people like Francis Collins who believe God guided the process of evolution. Believing in the evolutionary story of origins doesn’t mean one will automatically be an atheist.)

When Kim Campbell, the former prime minister of Canada, brought up that surviving bacteria have evolved as proof of the evolutionary theory, Rep. Kingston rightly didn’t deny that sort of occurrence happens. That would be idiotic. But here is where we go from science to story. Surviving bacteria remain bacteria. Antibiotic resistance involves only minor changes within existing species, and we knew about them long before Darwin. Darwin’s mechanism, natural selection, has never been observed to produce a new species. The idea of common descent involves a massive extrapolation from evidence of tiny ranges to conclusions beyond the evidence, in my opinion.

Another (ahem) monkey wrench in the Darwinian machine are irreducibly complex systems, such as the ATP synthase. The ATP synthase is a molecular machine that is called “the energy currency” for life. ATP-driven protein machines power almost everything that goes on inside living cells, including manufacturing DNA and RNA. This nano-motor was needed for the first living cell to exist, and yet it needed all of its parts to work. The ATP synthase is a nifty dare I say…design. Evolutionary scientists have suggested that the head part of ATP synthase evolved from a class of proteins used to unwind DNA during DNA replication. But how on earth could ATP synthase “evolve” from something that needs ATP, manufactured by ATP synthase, to work? I’m not a scientist, so correct me if I’m misunderstanding.

Here’s a clip of it in action.

Such specified complexity we see in such systems is amazing, let alone what we see in the human cell. Yet Richard Dawkins, a biologist and a vociferous atheist, say that biologists must constantly remind themselves things like the complexity of the cell are not design even though they give such an appearance. So no matter how compelling the evidence, no matter how much it stares the naturalist in the face, it doesn’t matter.

Finally, Kingston is probably right for bringing up the lack of the fossil record revealing transitional forms. This is a valid question given Darwin’s own statements. For example, for a bat and a whale to have a common ancestor there should be literally millions of transitional forms in the fossil record. Maher bleats on about how one day we’ll find these fossils. Atheists bring up God of the gaps as a fallacy of theists, but there’s such a thing as a naturalism of the gaps, too.

Moreover, I find that the ‘particles to people’ through an unguided, blind process view is a metaphysical belief, not a scientific one. Harold Urey, a founder of origins research and a Nobel Prize winner said

All of us who study the origin of life find that the more we look into it, the more we feel that it is too complex to have evolved anywhere. We believe as an article of faith that life evolved from dead matter on this planet. It is just that its complexity is so great, it is hard for us to imagine that it did.

And there are philosophical, not scientific reasons, why anything other than naturalistic explanations of origins are dismissed out of hand. Geneticist Richard Lewontin, one of the world’s leaders in evolutionary biology made this telling admission

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

I wish more people were this honest. So being skeptical of the naturalistic, neo-Darwinian story of origins does not make one idiotic or narrow-minded. Rather, the theist can be open to follow the evidence wherever it leads them. For the atheist, Darwinism is the only game in town. And in my case, and in the minds many scientists who are a lot smarter than myself, common descent is not an open and shut case. And the idea of abiogenesis, frankly, I find to be absurd and mythical.

Feel free to disagree with me, I know people can get rather hot and bothered about this issue. I just don’t think the evidence is so overwhelming that you have to be an idiot to reject, or even just be a bit skeptical, of Darwin.


5 thoughts on “Is Doubting Darwin Intellectual Suicide?

  1. ATP is not the only source of energy for an organism and ATP-synthase is not the only source of ATP for organisms.

    GTP (guanosine triphosphate) is a similarly great source of energy, but currently ATP plays a much more prominent role. any chemical reaction that reduces the potential energy of a compound can fuel a cell, not just the hydrolysis of ATP.

    and it’s entirely reasonable to think that organisms were capable of surviving prior to the ATP-synthase enzyme. the electron transport chain at the end of cellular respiration (where you find ATP-synthase pumping out ATP) is the primary source of ATP, but organisms get a net gain in ATP just through glycolysis and the krebs cycle. it’s certainly not the most efficient way and it couldn’t sustain an organism as complex as a modern human, but could it sustain primitive organisms prior to the evolutionary emergence of ATP-synthase? of course

    look, obviously science doesn’t have all the answers, but saying “this is extremely complex and science doesn’t have an answer for it, therefore it was god’s creation” isn’t a valid argument. it’s certainly a worse argument than the ones you bring up which you’re trying to refute

    • Thanks for the info on GTP, I’d have to look more into that to see if that defeats my argument. like I said, I’m willing to be corrected.

      Now there are two things here I’d like to address in response to my arguments, which you think are shoddy: You seem to be asserting methodological naturalism, which leads to “science can’t tell us yet, but it has to be natural” and any supernatural causes are ruled out a priori. Now as someone who believes in God, wouldn’t it be natural for me to not feel right about presupposing that the true explanation must be found among the naturalistic explanations, and that only? Does God have to fix in our little box?

      Now as for your charge of resorting to the “God-of-the-gaps” fallacy. I think you’re off-base. “God-of the-gaps” has to do with arguments for the existence of God based on gaps in scientific knowledge. I’m not arguing for God’s existence on this post at all.

      As a theist I will come to the evidence with their worldview already intact and then ask things like, “What’s the evidence show on how God brought about biological complexity? Did He use evolution? Did God work a miracle?”

      From there we have to look at the evidence. If there are enormous gaps in the fossil record and if the explanatory mechanisms of neo-Darwinian theory involve massive extrapolations beyond our limited evidence, then I think I’m justifiably skeptical about the truth of the theory.

      The gaps then simply work as empirical evidence that the prevailing theory might be inadequate. Now I don’t have to resort to half-butted guesswork in advance about where God intervenes. I’m willing to check out the evidence to see if and where there may be places where divine intervention may have happened. If the gaps are closed, and the evidence for evolutionary explanatory mechanisms become more plausible than their contradiction, then I might become convinced that the prevailing view is the right one.

      But my whole point is that one doesn’t have to be some mindless, unscientific backwoods yokel to question that a blind, unguided process is how we came to be. There are plenty of people in the scientific community have their doubts about the adequacy of the theory that are not the imbeciles Maher would like to make them out to be. And “believing in evolution” has little to no bearing on how a congressman does his job.

      • your whole point is potentially valid. it wasn’t my aim to attack that view. since you bring it up, my opinion is that if someone is educated enough to understand and accept microevolution, it’s a little absurd to reject macroevolution. the latter is the former on a large scale. however, absurdity != idiocy.

        there are constantly random mutations of human DNA every single day. most of the time they are corrected. sometimes they are not. when they’re not corrected, most of the time they’re either inconsequential or detrimental. the few times that they are evolutionarily beneficial, they make an organism slightly more adapted to their environment. over billions of years, these tiny changes are going to add up. eventually, you have a new species. for someone who accepts evolution on a micro level, this isn’t a radical concept. as for the absolute origin of the universe, that’s a question that will almost certainly not be answered in my lifetime, so i don’t care to discuss it. but the origin and evolution of species is something that we do have clues about and the scientific theories that attempt to explain then make a lot of sense when they are well understood.

        i really didn’t intend to start a religious debate. you have your faith and i totally respect that (though, i don’t think it has a place in a scientific discussion). i’m not saying that macroevolution should be accepted a priori. if you want to know my opinion, it’s that there is some amount of empirical evidence to support that the process is natural, but nothing more than conjecture on the side of some sort of intelligent design. other than the fact that it looks intelligent when we don’t have answers, of course.

        honestly, i’m just one of the many baseball math nerds who follow you on twitter. i read this because i was bored and was mainly just taking issue with this:

        ATP-driven protein machines power almost everything that goes on inside living cells, including manufacturing DNA and RNA. This nano-motor [ATP-synthase] was needed for the first living cell to exist, and yet it needed all of its parts to work.

        yes, ATP is the primary source of energy of most all organisms. yes, ATP-synthase is the primary source of most all ATP. no, ATP-synthase was not necessarily needed for the first living cell to exist. and honestly the first living organism (i define this as anything that is capable of making a copy of itself) was likely not a cell; the most recent theories point to it being RNA, since RNA has both the capability to store information and catalyze reactions.

        and i really wasn’t leaning on GTP as the crux of my argument. i think it’s more likely that ATP goes way back, but was inefficiently produced until mitochondria (which were then likely independent organisms) started to produce ATP-sythase (potentially formed from helicase, as you mention), then formed a symbiotic relationship with a larger organism until eventually, evolutionarily, mitochondria became a part of the larger organism, reproducing with it.

  2. Just wanted to pop in and say that, first off, still a reader. Been a busy past month and a half or so. xD

    Secondly, I just wanted to comment on your point about medicines and immunized bacteria. See, we have observed in, say, a couple hundred years one major shift in bacterial organisms. As you say, this hardly creates a new species. But now expand that over a few thousand, a few million years. Suddenly that one change is hundreds and thousands of them. And with hundreds and thousands of changes to organisms, you have a new species, or a new genus, or whatever. We don’t observe those happening because, quite frankly, we can’t see the big enough picture.

    As for the science-in-the-gaps argument, I don’t find it analogous to the God-in-the-gaps fallacy. When you say “the answer to the unanswerable is God”, you are ending the discussion and the process of inquiry. When you say “we don’t know, but science will figure it out”, you are leaving room for and encouraging further investigation which has, throughout history, continued to lead to further discovery.

    • Thanks for continuing to read, nice to hear from you again. I think my response here possibly answers both yours and josh’s objection, at least I hope so. I think macroevolution is an inference, and a questionable one at, that is made by extrapolation. There’s really no hard evidence for it. Not to just throw out quotes, but these come from leading people in the field, not just creation scientists

      “Microevolutionary changes in gene frequency were not seen as able to turn a reptile into a mammal or to convert a fish into an amphibian… . The origin of species—Darwin’s problem—remains unsolved.” Molecular biologist Rudolf Raff, U. of Indiana

      “to insist … that life appeared quite by chance and evolved in this fashion is an unfounded supposition which … (is) not in accordance with the facts.” Zoologist Pierre-P. Grassé

      “I have seen no evidence whatsoever that these changes can occur through the accumulation of gradual mutations.” Biologist Lynn Margulis, winner of William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement.

      And this comes from Stephen Jay Gould, Mr. Punctuated Equilibrium himself.
      “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.”

      Some reasons I have doubts about Darwinian evolution…I guess one big one would be the Cambrian explosion, in which many of the major groups of animals appeared in a geologically short time with no fossil evidence of common ancestry. There’s also the mathematical odds posed against it as addressed by people like the late Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe.

      Moreover, why can’t like similarities we see in the different species be due to common design rather than common descent? It seems to me only way to determine whether homologies are due to common descent rather than common design is to provide a natural mechanism. Yet Darwin’s mechanism, natural selection, has never been observed to produce a single new species.

      Anyway sorry for the quote-fest. I’m sure we can all go back and forth.

      To say that faith shouldn’t inform our science, it’s a metaphysical belief to say that we all just emerged out of some warm pond by a blind, unguided process, in an uncaused universe that came into existence ‘from nothing, by nothing and for nothing’, which is the worldview that seems to pervade the scientific community, is hardly objective and unbiased. That’s a faith position as much as any other. And it used to be that the sciences were very motivated by faith. People like Sir Isaac Newton believed all truth was God’s truth, and there are scientists to this day with the same belief whose names I could list, but I’ll save it for now.

      And I’ll just throw this out there – didn’t the famed atheist philosopher Antony Flew move to deism because of the arguments ID proponents made? Flew: “My one and only piece of relevant evidence [for an Aristotelian God] is the apparent impossibility of providing a naturalistic theory of the origin from DNA of the first reproducing species … [In fact] the only reason which I have for beginning to think of believing in a First Cause god is the impossibility of providing a naturalistic account of the origin of the first reproducing organisms.”

      Oh, and then there’s this one

      “I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence. I believe that this universe’s intricate laws manifest what scientists have called the Mind of God. I believe that life and reproduction originate in a divine Source. Why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than a half century? The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science.”

      Antony Flew, for crying out loud. 🙂

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