Tag Archives: Design

John Lennox and Paul Davies discuss aliens and the origin of life

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

An amazing debate about the origin of life and the cosmic fine-tuning between a Christian and a materialist agnostic. John Lennox is AWESOME in this debate, and he only talks for a tiny part of the debate. He’s very gracious, and focused the discussion on the areas that we care about. Paul Davies is an EXCELLENT scientist and well aware of what Christians believe. This is a great debate, very easy to listen to. Justin, the moderator, does a great job controlling a fantastic discussion.

Details

What does it take for life to get going in our universe? Is there intelligence in the stars or right under our nose? Renowned astrophysicist Paul Davies chats to Oxford Professor of Mathematics John Lennox.

A popular science author, Davies is also the Chair of the SETI post detection task force. His latest book “The Eerie Silence” which marks SETI’s 50th anniversary examines the likelihood of the universe producing life elsewhere.

John Lennox is a Christian Mathematician and philosopher. He is the author of “God’s Undertaker: has science buried God?” and has debated Richard Dawkins on several occasions.

Davies’ work on the fine tuning of the universe for life has been sympathetic to theism. In this programme Lennox challenges Davies to look to design not just in cosmology but in the cell. They also chat about what the discovery of ET would mean for Christian theology.

Summary

Justin:

  • Is there meaning in the universe?

Paul:

  • We have no evidence for or against intelligent life elsewhere in the universe
  • The vastness of the universe makes me think there is life elsewhere
  • Humans are capable of observing and understanding the universe
  • It seems the universe has the ability to create observers to understand it
  • If one species has this ability, then we should expect others to do it

John:

  • The fact that we can observe the universe and do science has cosmic significance
  • Our rare habitable planet and our ability to do science is suggestive of purpose
  • So science itself points to an extra-terrestrial intelligence: GOD
  • The complexity of life and consciousness itself points away from atheism
  • Monotheism gave birth to science
  • Human minds capable of doing science are not compatible with atheistic materialism

Justin:

  • Why do you say that either we are the only life or there are many different kinds of life?

Paul:

  • There are lots of factors that have to be met to have a site for simple life
  • These are related to the fine-tuning of cosmic constants, e.g. gravitational force
  • But there are also factors that have to be met for originating intelligent life
  • Things like convergence, self-organization, etc.
  • So the cosmic requirements and evolutionary requirements are different
  • Darwinian evolution doesn’t solve the problem of the origin of life
  • 50 years ago, skepticism about alien life existing anywhere was excessive
  • Today, credulity about alien life exiting everywhere is excessive
  • The naturalist is searching for a process that creates life easily

John:

  • Paul agrees that there is no theory for a naturalistic origin of life
  • This is fatal for the idea that life can emerge elsewhere in the universe
  • We have not discovered any law that produces life without an intelligence
  • Consider the method used by SETI used to detect an alien intelligence
  • Why can’t this method be applied to the origin of life on Earth?
  • Why can’t an intelligence created specified complexity (functional information)?
  • Why can’t an intelligence created epigenetics and protein folding?

Paul:

  • Darwinian evolution can add new biological information after life begins

John:

  • Darwinian evolution assumes a mutating replicating life form to act on

Paul:

  • You can’t generate specified complexity by using physical laws
  • You can’t generate specified complexity by chance
  • At this point we are guessing as to how life might have formed

John:

  • Why do we have to rule out an intelligent cause a priori
  • If you can recognize an intelligence in outer space, why not in living systems?

Paul:

  • I don’t mind the word “intelligence”, it’s the word “signal”
  • I oppose the idea that God or aliens manipulated physical stuff to create life
  • It’s an “ugly explanation and very unappealing both theologically and scientifically”
  • I prefer the idea that the universe has processes to self-organize and create complexity
  • When it comes to supernatural meddling by God, “I don’t want that”
  • If I were God, I would create the universe so that I would not have to intervene
  • I think God would be more clever if he did not have to intervene
  • My preferences about what is “clever” determines what scientific conclusions are allowed

John:

  • Humans already have experience with their non-material minds to move atoms (matter)
  • If God is a mind, then there is no reason why he cannot move atoms (matter)

Paul:

  • My mind is physical, so are you saying that God is physical?
  • If God intervenes in the universe, then what is he doing now?

John:

  • There is a distinction between acts of creation and providential upholding the universe
  • God is also speaking to people and drawing humans toward him
  • God is spirit, not material

Paul:

  • How can a non-physical entity cause effects on the physical world?

John:

  • What science reveals that there is information needed for the origin of life
  • Information requires an intelligence to create it, just as with human who write books
  • That’s not God of the gaps – it’s an inference based on what we know today

Paul:

  • We may be able to explain the origin of life later, using matter, law and chance
  • What you’re saying is that God tinkers with the genome
  • If you say that God intervened once, then he intervenes all the time, everywhere!
  • I don’t want a God who tinkers in the genome
  • if God could intervene in the universe that would remove its intelligibility

John:

  • Look at the cover of this book – when I read words, I infer an intelligence
  • There are bad gaps that the progress of science closes
  • There are good gaps that science opens, showing the need for intelligence
  • On the one hand, you say we have no theory of the origin of life
  • On the other hand, you know that an intelligent designer wasn’t involved
  • If we don’t know how life began, why do you rule God out a priori?

Paul:

  • What scientists want to do is to explain the universe without involving God
  • naturalists want to use science to discover only materialist explanations
  • The purpose of SETI is to prove that there is other life in the universe
  • This would then show that there is a naturalistic way of making life
  • I agree that information in living systems is real hard to explain materialistically
  • I believe in the power of emergence
  • We might discover laws that prove that complexity can emerge without intelligence
  • The discovery of alien life would help to show that no intelligence is needed to make life

Justin:

  • What sort of cosmic fine-tuning is needed at the Big Bang for life to occur?

Paul:

  • It’s true that the universe appears extremely fine-tuned for life to exist
  • The typical answer from naturalists is that there is a multiverse
  • But the multiverse “falls far short” of providing a good answer to the fine-tuning
  • It’s irrational to appeal to massive numbers of unseen universes to explain fine-tuning
  • The design and purpose seen in the universe may be due to God or it may be emergent

John:

  • The fine-tuning is real and the multiverse is a desperate attempt to evade the creator
  • Sir Martin Rees (an atheist) says he “prefers” the multiverse to a designer
  • Scientists are not supposed to prefer anything except what is true

Justin:

  • Would the discovery of aliens hurt Christianity, because of the belief in the uniqueness of humans?

Paul:

  • Christians believe that Jesus came to save HUMANS specifically, not animals or aliens
  • If we were to discover intelligent aliens, it would challenge traditional religions
  • What will God do with alien races? Multiple incarnations? Or just preach the gospel to them?

John:

  • We don’t know if the aliens exist, first of all – it’s speculative
  • The Bible teaches that humans bear the image of God
  • We just don’t know whether alien species are also made in God’s image

Sean McDowell reviews new book on Darwinian evolution and intelligent design

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

I really love the two books on intelligent design written by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, but they are just so big that you can’t really give them to a co-worker or a family member or a friend to read. I’ve been looking for a decent book that explains the issues in a compelling way, and now it looks like I’ve found one.

First, a review of the new book from Amazon:

Possibly the best ID book to read first

For those with a specific interest, there are many other excellent ID books that take a deep dive into a particular topic. Heretic stands out as being excellent as an introductory doorway into considering Intelligent Design.

One doesn’t need to be involved in the sciences to benefit greatly from this clearly written book. The great majority of the material can be readily understood by a general audience and the authors provide guidance if you want it on how to skim or skip ahead when the next part has more technical details.

That said, this is now my preferred and recommended first book for any scientist who has just assumed Darwin’s grand claim must be true and who hasn’t yet given any serious consideration to the possibility that design is real, not merely an appearance of design.

The book allows one to follow along as the main author begins from that same point of assuming Darwinism, but then must grapple and struggle with the hard realities of the evidence. Along the way, this book provides one of the clearest and most illuminating examinations of the influence of assumptions (and of career considerations) upon what people are willing to consider.

Ultimately the book invites the reader to make the same commitment made early on by the main author to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

I don’t know of a book that does a better job of calling scientists away from blind faith in an assumed paradigm and toward a return to sound science based on following the observed evidence — including those most troublesome facts that don’t agree with old assumptions.

OK, so this review gave me some hope, but it’s what Dr. Sean McDowell had to say that really caught my attention.

He writes:

Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design is the most recent book published by the Discovery Institute, the foremost Intelligent Design (ID) organization. If you are looking for a good, introductory text to help understand the current debate, this is an excellent place to start.

Unlike other recent book on intelligent design (such as Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen Meyer or Undeniable by Doug Axe) this book does not offer a fresh argument for intelligent design. But this is hardly a criticism, because the book does not aim to. Rather, it tells the story of Matti Leisola—an accomplished scientist, professor, and researcher from Finland—and how he became disillusioned with the Darwinian paradigm and came to embrace design.

The storied nature of this book is one of its greatest strengths. Rather than weeding into difficult scientific details (that can distract the non-specialist reader), Heretic takes readers on Leisola’s personal journey of wrestling with important issues like the fossil record and the origin of life (It is also co-written with Jonathan Witt). Leisola does discuss relevant scientific issues, but with full awareness of his primarily lay audience.

I am thrilled to see the Discovery Institute publishing books that take a narrative approach to origin questions. In our book Understanding Intelligent Design, William Dembski and I include a plethora of stories and examples. But Heretic is told entirely as a story, and my suspicion is that it may incite new readers to consider the arguments for intelligent design.

Heretic would be an excellent book to give to someone who is new to discussions over Darwin and design. Along with being interesting, the narrative approach is also much “softer” to read. Rather than directly trying to persuade readers, Leisola simply shares his personal conclusions regarding origins. And yet it is impossible for the thoughtful reader to miss the force of many of his arguments, even if he or she ultimately disagrees with Leisola’s conclusions.

Just in passing, I didn’t like “Undeniable” at all, although I’m a great admirer of Doug Axe and his story of getting his PhD from Caltech, and then post-doctoral research on protein formation at Cambridge University. He was able to get his research published multiple times in the peer-reviewed Journal of Molecular Biology. But I just don’t find him to be a good writer, especially for ordinary people.

OK, so after reading the Amazon review and then having it confirmed with Dr. McDowell’s review, I am officially excited. I decided to buy a copy of the book, but not for me. I have lots of friends who are voracious readers who can read it and then tell me what they thought of it. So, I bought a copy of it for my very best friend Dina – she has a couple of STEM degrees and a STEM career, so she’ll be able to make short work of it, and then she’ll tell me whether it is worth giving away to my friends and co-workers.

If anyone else has read the book and wants to send me a review, please do. My e-mail is in the About Me section. There have been so many good books coming out lately that I haven’t even gotten through them all: “A Fortunate Universe” (Cambridge University Press), “The Case for Miracles” (by Lee Strobel), “Why Does God Allow Evil?” (by Clay Jones), “Five Proofs of the Existence of God” (by Ed Feser), “Discrimination and Disparities” (by Thomas Sowell), etc. I hope everyone knows about these books and gets one or two or all to read.

Are human bodies poorly designed? Is the human retina a bad design?

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

I think this “sub-optimal” argument against a Designer is stupid, because designs are always trade-offs between different quality goals, but just to put this one to bed, here is Evolution News.

Excerpt:

Now a new paper in Nature Communications, “Müller cells separate between wavelengths to improve day vision with minimal effect upon night vision,” has expanded upon this research, further showing the eye’s optimal design. According to the paper, Müller cells not only act as optical fibers to direct incoming light through the optic nerve, but are fine-tuned to specific wavelengths to ensure that light reaches the proper retinal cells. From the Abstract:

Vision starts with the absorption of light by the retinal photoreceptors — cones and rods. However, due to the ‘inverted’ structure of the retina, the incident light must propagate through reflecting and scattering cellular layers before reaching the photoreceptors. It has been recently suggested that Müller cells function as optical fibres in the retina, transferring light illuminating the retinal surface onto the cone photoreceptors. Here we show that Müller cells are wavelength-dependent wave-guides, concentrating the green-red part of the visible spectrum onto cones and allowing the blue-purple part to leak onto nearby rods. This phenomenon is observed in the isolated retina and explained by a computational model, for the guinea pig and the human parafoveal retina. Therefore, light propagation by Müller cells through the retina can be considered as an integral part of the first step in the visual process, increasing photon absorption by cones while minimally affecting rod-mediated vision.

(Amichai M. Labin, Shadi K. Safuri, Erez N. Ribak, and Ido Perlman, “Müller cells separate between wavelengths to improve day vision with minimal effect upon night vision,” Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5319 (July 8, 2014).)

The paper presents Müller cells as a direct answer to the view that the vertebrate eye has a suboptimal wiring:

[T]he mammalian retina and the peripheral retina of humans and primates are organized in a seemingly reverse order with respect to the light path. This arrangement places the photoreceptors, responsible for light absorption, as the last cells in the path of light, rather than the first. Therefore, the incident light must propagate through five reflecting and scattering layers of cell bodies and neural processes before reaching the photoreceptors. This ‘inverted’ retinal structure is expected to cause blurring of the image and reduction in the photon flux reaching the photoreceptors, thus reducing their sensitivity. It has been recently reported that retinal Müller cells act as light guides serving to transfer light across the retina, from the vitreo-retinal border towards the photoreceptors.

I just had someone push this idea that human beings are badly designed as a response to the cosmic fine-tuning argument of all things. Her list of objections was all speculations (multiverse, aliense, design of humans could be better).

This argument that humans are poorly designed strikes me as literally insane. But since this argument is still in use, I guess I had better say something.

First, the argument assumes that the designer of human beings has to design for our comfort and pleasure. Apparently, God – if he were to exist – would be obligated to design creatures who never got sick, never grew old, and never suffered at all. This makes sense to atheists, for some reason – that the God of the universe has to create creatures that last forever and never suffer. There is this perception out there among atheists and very small narcissistic children (but I repeat myself) that God should be our cosmic butler, waiting at our beck and call to do whatever makes us happiest. From the Christian perspective, this is nonsense. Human beings only think about ultimate questions because, as C.S. Lewis wrote, we suffer pain and have limited lifespans. If were designed to be happy and live forever, we would never think about a relationship with God. By nature, humans want to avoid God, because we don’t want to be accountable to him for our rebellion against him and the harm we cause by disobeying the moral law.

The second problem with the argument from imperfection is that it has no understanding of how engineers work in practice. Engineers are used to trading off non-functional requirements against each other. If the laptop has a fast processor, then it runs hotter. If the laptop has great battery life, it’s heavier because of the larger battery. If the laptop has lots of memory, it costs more to buy. There is no way to get every design goal met because they conflict with each other.

Sometimes, I think that atheists are just little children who have stopped growing in maturity and wisdom. I once heard one particularly stupid atheist in a debate claim that his belief in God had ended when he asked God to help him find his cricket bat, and God had not cosmic butlered to his satisfaction. This happened when the atheist was a child, of course. And this is when most atheists become atheists. It’s not a conclusion that is reached for intellectual reasons. It’s just multiverse, aliens, science fiction, and sexual immorality all the way down. Give me what I want when I want it, and don’t judge me for being self-centered and immoral.

Biomimetics: scientists making discoveries using God’s designs in nature

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Well, scientists are still gaining insights from God’s book of nature.

Evolution News reports on the latest:

Pure science seeks understanding of “the nature of nature” and its operations. Applied science takes the insights from pure research and makes it work for human interests. What if you had a single word that incorporates both? Here’s a contender for such a word: Biomimetics. The application side is clear, because engineers and inventors try to imitate nature’s designs. But the pure-research side becomes active in the process, because you have to understand something before you can imitate it. This is a win-win bonanza for 21st-century science, and intelligent design, if not by that name, is at the center of it.

They list the following areas where scientists borrowed from God’s designs in nature to make scientific progress:

  • drug discovery (Nature Communications)
  • artificial muscles (American Institute of Physics)
  • robotics (Engineering at Illinois News)
  • drones (Live Science and New Scientist)
  • crop pollination (New Scientist)
  • ceramics (Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Science)
  • more ceramics (Nature Communications)
  • clothing (American Chemical Society)
  • more clothing (Phys.org)
  • more robotics (Public Library of Science)

Naturally, I chose the bird example for this blog post, because I love birds more than any creature – especially parrots.

This time it’s peacocks and peahens:

Peacock dye. The American Chemical Society is involved in the gold rush, too, excited to announce that “Peacock colors inspire [a] greener way to dye clothes.” The iridescent colors of birds and butterflies come not from pigments, but from geometric structures at the nanoscopic level that intensify certain wavelengths of light. Everyone from fashion designers to parents to the EPA will be happy to learn about better dyes inspired by peacock feathers. “Testing showed the method could produce the full spectrum of colors, which remained bright even after washing,” an ACS team said. “In addition, the team said that the technique did not produce contaminants that could pollute nearby water.”

Amazing that some people just go about their lives ignorant and oblivious to the design that’s all around them. Then again, if they thought about who made these designs, it might interfere with their pursuit of pleasure. Maybe they just shut out the evidence so they can keeping being the boss of their own lives, and never take responsibility for their moral choices?

Romans 1:18-21:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

See the related posts below for more posts on biomimetics.

Related posts

Stephen C. Meyer and Doug Axe discuss 5 major problems with macro-evolution

Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed
Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed

The host of the Cross Examined radio show Dr. Frank Turek talks with Stephen C. Meyer and Doug Axe about a recent conference of Royal Society scientists discussing the problems with the theory of macro-evolution.

The MP3 file is here.

Summary:

  • about the Royal Society conference
  • the main topic was whether naturalistic mechanisms can produce new body plans and new organ types
  • no one disputes micro-evolution: beaks changing size, antibiotic resistance
  • many of the naturalistic scientists admitted the problems with current naturalistic theories, but they don’t want to embrace the need for a designer
  • none of the proposals that were debated solved the real problems with macro-evolution
  • Problem #1: the sudden origin of body plans in the fossil record
  • Problem #2: the origin of information (e.g. – in protein molecule)
  • Problem #3: need for favorable early mutations (for body plans)
  • Problem #4: the problem of epigenetics
  • Problem #5: the universality of the design intuition

Some of these problems have actually gotten worse for naturalistic evolution as our scientific knowledge has grown.

If you want the two best books on intelligent design, get Dr. Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell” and “Darwin’s Doubt”. I should note that Dr. Meyer is not a young Earth creationist, and has defended the Big Bang cosmology as a solid evidence for a Creator of the universe. Being in favor of an old universe and an old Earth is compatible with being opposed to evolution – because of scientific reasons.