Tag Archives: Evolution

Does Darwinian evolution matter for the progress of biology?

Over on Tough Questions Answered, they have analyzed an article by Phil Skell, emeritus professor of chemistry at Penn State. Skell’s article appeared in Forbes magazine. Skell argues that evolution has no bearing on the progress of science in biology.

TQA writes:

Skell writes that Darwinists “overstate both the evidence for Darwin’s theory of historical biology and the benefits of Darwin’s theory to the actual practice of experimental science.”

Experimental science, in biology, has “dramatically increased our understanding of the intricate workings within living organisms that account for their survival, showing how they continue to function despite the myriad assaults on them from their environments.”

These advances, however, have little or nothing to do with explanations of Darwinian origins.  They “are not due to studies of an organism’s ancestors that are recovered from fossil deposits.”  The study of fossils “cannot reveal the details that made these amazing living organisms function.”

Another (even better) Forbes article by neurosurgeon Michael Egnor is here. He explains why practicing scientists don’t need to be Darwinians, because Darwinism is irrelevant to the practice of science.


The fossil record shows sharp discontinuity between species, not the gradual transitions that Darwinism inherently predicts. Darwin’s theory offers no coherent, evidence-based explanation for the evolution of even a single molecular pathway from primordial components. The origin of the genetic code belies random causation. All codes with which we have experience arise from intelligent agency. Intricate biomolecules such as enzymes are so functionally complex that it’s difficult to see how they could arise by random mutations.

Egnor then asks why Darwinism is so important to some activists. And he describes how strongly they cling to their belief in Darwinism, often in very facistic and insulting ways:

I came to learn why evolutionary biologists are so fiercely devoted to Darwinism. I was vilified on the Internet. Calls came to my office demanding that I be fired.

And much of the venom was ideological. The vast majority of evolutionary biologists are atheists. I’m Catholic, and my religious faith was mocked by my fellow scientists. Many Darwinists openly express their hatred for Christianity–atheist biologist P.Z. Myers desecrated a Eucharistic host on his Web site.

In 1989, Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wrote in the New York Times book review section that people who don’t accept evolution are “ignorant, stupid, insane … or wicked.” He has described the religious upbringing of children as “child abuse.”

In his book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, atheist philosopher and Darwinist Daniel Dennett has written that “[s]afety demands that religions be put in cages too–when absolutely necessary.” The fight against the design inference in biology is motivated by fundamentalist atheism. Darwinists detest intelligent design theory because it is compatible with belief in God.

Hong Kong debates evolution curriculum

According to the Nature News, Hong Kong is debating whether to support academic freedom in their schools on controversial areas of science.

Hong Kong is in the middle of reforming its school system, and the Education Bureau has issued a series of guidelines for all levels of education to go into effect in September 2009.

The guidelines were prepared by the Curriculum Development Council and the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority.

The change affects the teaching of biology at the secondary level. A section of the proposed curriculum guidelines on ‘Genetics and Evolution’ states the following:

In addition to Darwin’s theory, students are encouraged to explore other explanations for evolution and the origins of life, to help illustrate the dynamic nature of scientific knowledge.

Opponents of “teaching the controversy” are ducking debates with the other side:

There has been heated debate in the Hong Kong media since. On 13 February, the radio series Backchat broadcast a programme on ‘Creationism versus Evolution’. Kwok, dean of the science faculty at the university, backed out of the programme when he found it had been changed to a debate format at the last minute, noting that he is not a specialist in evolution and thus cannot counter detailed arguments regarding evolution versus creation.

Professors who want to teach the evidence for and against naturalistic theories are having to dodge academic censors:

Chris Beling, a solid-state physicist and associate professor in the University of Hong Kong department of physics, debated with two other panellists and took the opportunity to mildly criticize the science faculty for refusing his request to continue a course on the origin of the Universe that included a section on intelligent-design thinking. Instead, he has met in private with students to discuss intelligent design.

Keep in mind that Nature News is biased in favor of naturalism and therefore must defend the position that scientific inquiry can never implicate an intelligence.

In other words, their opinion has been set by their philosophical assumption of naturalism, and experiments and observations cannot overturn their a priori commitment to naturalism.

(H/T: Telic Thoughts)

Is prescriptive morality rationally grounded on atheism?

In this post I am going to review a series of 7 posts over at Tough Questions Answered on the topic of whether evolution explains morality. The series critically analyzes two variants of godless morality, based on evolution: 1) optimistic humanism and 2) immanent purpose. Let’s start with part 1.

On optimistic humanism, moral values are not objective – that is, they do not exist for all times and places, independent of what humans believe. Instead, they are just arbitrary customs that emerge differently in different cultures, depending on the time and place. So, by good, optimistic humanists mean “what is in fashion here and now” and by bad, they mean “what is not in fashion here and now”.

On atheism, moral impulses are just the carry-overs from the need to cooperate in order to survive. Now, suppose we ask the question “Why should I following these arbitrary customs that limit my pleasure, if I can escape punishment?” TQA writes:

Why should a person be moral?  According to optimistic humanism, it is because leading a moral life will give you personal satisfaction.  Proponents of this view offer several ways of defining personal satisfaction.  Atheistic philosopher Kai Nielsen says that “there can be purposes in life even if there is no purpose to life.”   He speaks of each individual developing a life plan that may include career goals and social goals.  Meaning can be found in “things like love, friendship, caring, knowledge, self-respect, pleasure in life.”

Nielsen says that ethics is make-em-up-as-you-go, on atheism. You choose what you like, based on pleasure. That is why today people have given up on the hard virtues, like chastity, sobriety, marital fidelity, charity, self-sacrifice and devotion to children’s well-being. Instead, morality has been reduced to recycling, environmentalism, yoga, vegetarianism, animal rights, socialist tax policies, and anti-war protests.

As prominent atheist Michael Ruse says:

The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory. (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

Next, part 2 notes that optimistic humanists are not able to judge the evolved morality of other times and places. Their morality was right for them, just like our morality is right for us – it is all arbitrary on atheism. Widow-burning in India isn’t really wrong on atheism, it’s just different from what we believe in our time and place. In their time and place, it’s right for them.

Atheist Michael Ruse says this about widow-burning:

“Obviously, such a practice is totally alien to Western customs and morality. In fact, we think that widow sacrifice is totally immoral. Clearly there is nothing particularly objective about this morality, nor is it something one would expect to find the inevitable product of natural selection.” (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

In part 3, TQA writes that moral choices and moral responsibility are impossible on atheism. On atheism, you are a computer made out of meat, and all of your outputs are fully determined by your genetic programming and sensory input.

TQA notes that:

Morality seems to require humans to possess a robust form of free will that allows them to make moral choices.  We often praise good moral acts and condemn bad moral acts as if the people we are judging have some control over their actions.  If there is no free will, then moral choices are completely determined by the laws of chemistry and physics, and it makes no sense to praise or criticize anyone because they are acting according to deterministic physical laws.

I would add this quote from Richard Dawkins:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Source)

In part 4, TQA writes that atheists cannot judge other people, or even God, because their atheistic morality is totally subjective and arbitrary. TQA cites the January-February 2005 edition of Humanist magazine, in which former American ambassador Carl Coon writes:

[Ethical] principles constitute a structure of interlocking behavioral guidelines that have been growing organically since our ancestors first became human, if not earlier.  These standards and principles didn’t descend to us from on high as some revealed truth from an intelligent being greater than ourselves.  We worked them out through a long and arduous evolutionary process marked by many wrong turns and much social discord.  Indeed, the structure is still imperfect and we continue trying to make improvements.

Then TQA exposes how all of this language is logically self-contradictory:

…notice the words he employs to describe morality: wrong turns, discord, imperfect, and improvements.  All of these words indicate that morality, over time, has been moving in a direction from worse to better, from bad to good, from imperfect to perfect.  But how is it possible for the ambassador to judge the morality of the distant past if all morals are relative?  How can he say that morality has taken “wrong turns”?  How do we know ethics are improving over time if no two time periods can be compared?

TQA goes on to define the immanent purpose view, (our survival is objectively good), in part 5. They critique it in part 6 and part 7. Here are some of their responses to this view:

  • no explanation of the origin of the value of human survival
  • evolution doesn’t justify compassion on the weak and unfit
  • no reason why individuals should conform their behavior to past observed behavior

Below are five good debates in which atheists try to answer the question: “on atheism, why is it rational for me to to do the right thing, especially when I feel less pleasure, and when I will not be punished if I do the wrong thing?”. There is no reason to be moral on atheism. And that is why atheism killed 100 million people in the 20th century alone. Atheists who do act morally are acting inconsistently and irrationally.

Douglas Wilson vs. Christopher Hitchens

William Lane Craig vs. Kai Nielsen

William Lane Craig vs Richard Taylor

William Lane Craig vs. Paul Kurtz (audio, video1, video2, video3, video4, video5, video6, video7)

William Lane Craig vs. Louise Antony (audio1, audio2, video1, video2)

These debate links are courtesy of ChristianJR4, who really needs to start his own blog! And there is also a good paper by Bill Craig on the problem of rationally-grounding prescriptive morality here.

Split decision on Texas evolution standards favors academic freedom

Over at the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News blog, they recently reported that the Texas State Board of Education reached a split decision on the state standards for teaching evolution.

Evolution News says this in their post:

Kudos to the New York Times for filing a story on the actions of the Texas State Board of Education that actually describes what happened last week. Unlike much of the rest of the newsmedia, the Times doesn’t tell only half of what happened or play up the hysterics. The story’s even-handed title is telling: “Split Outcome in Texas Battle on Teaching of Evolution.”

The NYT article they mentioned explains the compromise reached by the Texas State Board of Education.

First, the bad news:

…the board voted to drop a 20-year-old mandate that science teachers explore with their students the “strengths and weaknesses” of all theories.

But the board also passed some good amendments, among them this one:

…one that would compel science teachers to instruct students about aspects of the fossil record that do not neatly fit with the idea of species’ gradually changing over time, like the relatively sudden appearance of some species and the fact that others seem to remain unchanged for millions of years.

Let me explain why this is a big win for ID. One of my previous employers was a major academic publishing company. By major, I mean my alma mater’s campus library featured academic publication databases that I helped to code. In this company, it was well known that California and Texas were the two most important states, because their textbook standards set the guidelines for the other states.

The NYT article explains:

Whatever the 15-member board decides then will have consequences far beyond Texas, since the state is one of the largest buyers of textbooks in the nation. The new standards will be in place for the next decade, starting in 2010, and will influence the writing of the next generation of biology texts, which the state will order this summer.

John G. West of the Discovery Institute evaluates the board’s decision as positive:

“They did something truly remarkable today,” John G. West of the Discovery Institute, a group that questions Darwinism, said in a statement. “They voted to require students to analyze and evaluate some of the most important and controversial aspects of modern evolutionary theory.”

I actually have podcasts for you of the testimonies of pro-ID scholars given to the Texas Board. If you want to learn how scientists argue for academic freedom on issues of origins, you should listen to these three 15-minute podcasts.

  1. My favorite ID scholar Stepen C. Meyer testified on the Cambrian explosion and the fossil record, (podcast, article). Meyer holds a Ph.D in the Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University. I once saw him explain biological information using colorful lock-blocks, live. (He stole them from his children). I often draw it up for my co-workers on a white board, just like he does!
  2. Microbiologist Ralph Seelke testified about how his lab research that shows clear limits on how far bacteria can evolve, (podcast, article). Seelke holds a Ph.D in Microbiology from the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine. He is a Professor in the Department of Biology and Earth Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
  3. Biochemist Charles Garner testified on the chirality problem in chemical evolution, (podcast, article). He also discussed the importance of not glossing over the weaknesses of scientific theories. Garner holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from University of Colorado, Boulder. Garner is now a Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Baylor University.

For those looking for a definition of what intelligent design is, look here. I highly recommend the work of Canadian journalist Denyse O’Leary, who is probably the foremost expert on why there is an ID controversy. Her main blog on ID is called Post-Darwinist.

As a supporter of academic freedom, I sent a donation to the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture yesterday. The CSC is currently offering a free book with donations received before February 28th, 2009. For my annual donation, I chose Stephen C. Meyer’s forthcoming book “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design“.

On another note, I am also excited about Jay Richards’ forthcoming book, “Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem“. Jay did a great lecture on basic economics for Christians and another great lecture on what Christians should think about global warming. Maybe his employer, the Acton Institute, will give me a free book if I send them a donation?

UPDATE: Casey Luskin just posted audio of Stephen C. Meyer responding to questions after is presentation at the hearing.