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.
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.
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.
I highly recommend watching the lecture, and looking at the slides. The quality of the video and the content is first class. There is some Q&A (9 minutes) at the end of the lecture.
intelligent design is concerned with measuring the information-creating capabilities of natural forces like mutation and selection
Darwinists think that random mutations and natural selection can explain the origin and diversification of living systems
Darwinian mechanisms are capable of explaining small-scale adaptive changes within types of organisms
but there is skepticism, even among naturalists, that Darwinian mechanisms can explain the origin of animal designs
even if you concede that Darwinism can account for all of the basic animal body plans, there is still the problem of life’s origin
can Darwinian mechanisms explain the origin of the first life? Is there a good naturalistic hypothesis to explain it?
there are at least two places in the history of life where new information is needed: origin of life, and Cambrian explosion
overview of the structure of DNA and protein synthesis (he has helpful pictures and he uses the snap lock blocks, too)
the DNA molecule is composed of a sequence of bases that code for proteins, and the sequence is carefully selected to have biological function
meaningful sequences of things like computer code, English sentences, etc. require an adequate cause
it is very hard to arrive at a meaningful sequence of a non-trivial length by randomly picking symbols/letters
although any random sequence of letters is improbable, the vast majority of sequences are gibberish/non-compiling code
similarly, most random sequences of amino acids are lab-proven (Doug Axe’s work) to be non-functional gibberish
the research showing this was conducted at Cambridge University and published in the Journal of Molecular Biology
so, random mutation cannot explain the origin of the first living cell
however, even natural selection coupled with random mutation cannot explain the first living cell
there must already be replication in order for mutation and selection to work, so they can’t explain the first replicator
but the origin of life is the origin of the first replicator – there is no replication prior to the first replicator
the information in the first replicator cannot be explained by law, such as by chemical bonding affinities
the amino acids are attached like magnetic letters on a refrigerator
the magnetic force sticks the letters ON the fridge, but they don’t determine the specific sequence of the letters
if laws did determine the sequence of letters, then the sequences would be repetitive
the three materialist explanations – chance alone, chance and law, law alone – are not adequate to explain the effect
the best explanation is that an intelligent cause is responsible for the biological explanation in the first replicator
we know that intelligent causes can produce functional sequences of information, e.g. – English, Java code
the structure and design of DNA matches up nicely with the design patterns used by software engineers (like WK!)
There are some very good tips in this lecture so that you will be able to explain intelligent design to others in simple ways, using everyday household items and children’s toys to symbolize the amino acids, proteins, sugar phosphate backbones, etc.
Proteins are constructed from a sequence of amino acids:
Proteins sticking onto the double helix structure of DNA:
I highly, highly recommend this lecture. You will be delighted and you will learn something.
Here is an article that gives a general overview of how intelligent design challenges. If you want to read something more detailed about the material that he is covering in the lecture above related to the origin of life, there is a pretty good article here.
There is a good breakdown of some of the slides with helpful flow charts here on Uncommon Descent.
I have read and listened and watched a lot of material on intelligent design, but I have never seen so much value packed into such a short lecture. I really hope you’ll watch this and that it’s helpful to you.
the big question when discussing the origin of life: where did the information in living systems come from?
Until 530 million years ago, the oceans were largely devoid of life
In a 10 million year period, many new forms of animal life emerged
New biological forms of life require new information
the discovery of DNA shows that living systems work because cells have information that allows them to build the components of molecular machines: cell types, proteins, etc.
can random mutation and natural selection create new functional information?
normally, random mutations tend to degrade the functionality of information, e.g. – randomly changing symbols in an applications code does not usually introduce useful new functions, it usually renders what is there non-functional
the majority of possible sequences will NOT have functions, so random mutations will more likely give you non-functional code, rather than functional code
example: a bicycle lock with 4 numbers has many possible sequences for the 4 numbers, and only one of them has unlock functionality, the rest have no functionality
if you have lots of time, then you might be able to guess the combination, but if the lock as has 10 billion numbers, and only one combination that unlocks, you can spend your whole life trying to unlock it and won’t succeed
how likely is it to arrive at a functional protein or gene by chance? Is it more like the 4-dial lock (can be done with lots of time) or the 10 billion dial lock (amount of time required exceeds the time available)?
the probability is LOW because there is only one sequence of numbers that has unlock function
consider a short protein of 150 amino acids has 10 to the 195th power possible sequences
if many of these sequences of amino acides had biological function, then it might be easier to get to one by random mutation and selection than it is with a lock that only unlocks for ONE sequence
how many of the possible sequences have biological function?
Thanks to research done by Douglas Axe, we now know that the number of functional amino acid sequences for even a short protein is incredibly small…
Axe found that the odds of getting a functional sequence of amino acids that will fold and have biological function is 1 in 10 to the 77th power
Is that number too improbable to reach by chance? well, there are 10 to 65th atoms in the entire Milky Way galaxy… so yes, this is a very improbable outcome
can random genetic mutations search through all the sequences in order to find the one in 10 to the 77th power one that has biological function? It depends on how much guessers we have and how many guesses we get in the time available
even with the entire 3.5 billion year history of life on Earth, only about 10 to the 40th organisms have ever lived, which far smaller fraction of the 10 to the 77th total sequences
even with a very fast mutation rate, you would not be able to reach a functional protein even with all that time, and even with all those organisms
I was once having a discussion with a woman about the research that Axe did at the Cambridge University lab. He published four articles in the Journal of Molecular Biology. I held out one of the papers to her and showed her the numbers. She said over and over “I hate the Discovery Institute! I hate the Discovery Institute!” Well, yeah, but you can’t make the Journal of Molecular Biology go away with hating the Discovery Institute. JMB is peer-reviewed, and this was experimental evidence – not a theory, not a hypothesis.
We have been blessed by the Creator and Designer of the universe in this time and place with overwhelming evidence – an abundance of riches. For those who have an open mind, this is what you’ve been waiting for to make your decision. For the naturalists who struggle so mightily to block out the progress of experimental science, they’ll need to shout louder and shut their eyes tighter and push harder to block their ears. Maybe if they keep screaming “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” over and over to themselves, they will be able to ignore the real science a little longer.
What should we make of theistic evolutionists telling us that you can believe in God, while still knowing that matter, law and chance fully explain the development of all of biological life?
Consider this quotation from Phillip E. Johnson.
The National Academy’s way of dealing with the religious implications of evolution is akin to the two-platoon system in American football. When the leading figures of evolutionary science feel free to say what they really believe, writers such as Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Carl Sagan, Steven Pinker, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin and others state the “God is dead” thesis aggressively, invoking the authority of science to silence any theistic protest. That is the offensive platoon, and the National Academy never raises any objection to its promoting this worldview.
At other times, however, the scientific elite has to protect the teaching of the “fact of evolution” from objections by religious conservatives who know what the offensive platoon is saying and who argue that the science educators are insinuating a worldview that goes far beyond the data. When the objectors are too numerous or influential to be ignored, the defensive platoon takes the field. That is when we read those spin-doctored reassurances saying that many scientists are religious (in some sense), that science does not claim to have proved that God does not exist (but merely that he does not affect the natural world), and that science and religion are separate realms which should never be mixed (unless it is the materialists who are doing the mixing). Once the defensive platoon has done its job it leaves the field, and the offensive platoon goes right back to telling the public that science has shown that “God” is permanently out of business.
(Phillip E. Johnson: “The Wedge of Truth”, IVP 2000, pp. 88-89).
So what naturalistic scientists believe is that God didn’t do anything to create the diversity of life – that nature does all of its own creating without God. In fact, it doesn’t matter if the best naturalistic explanation is improbable or implausible – naturalists must bitterly cling to materialistic explanations of natural phenomena. Any doubts about the efficacy of naturalistic mechanisms get met by “theistic evolutionists” – scientists who think that science shows that God didn’t do anything in the history of life.
When it comes to discussing origins, you have to be very careful with theistic evolutionists. The one question they want to avoid is whether science, done in the ordinary naturalistic way, can discover evidence of intelligent agency in the history of the development of life. And that’s why you have to ask them that question first. “Is there any scientific evidence that intelligent causes were active during the history of the development of life on this planet?” Their answer to that is the same as atheists, namely: “there is no scientific evidence that intelligent causes are responsible for the effects we see in the history of life on Earth”. Theistic evolutionists and atheists agree on that: as far as pure scientific evidence is concerned, nature can do its own creating without any intelligence writing genetic code or engineering animal body plans.
For his part, [Ken] Miller, a biologist, has no qualms about telling us what God would do: “And in Catholicism, he said, God wouldn’t micromanage that way. ‘Surely he can set things up without having to violate his own laws.'”
I am unaware of any tenet of Catholic theology that requires God not to micromanage. It is, however, a tenet of deism.
Got that? What really happened is that God didn’t do anything. How does he know that? From the science? No. Because he assumes naturalism. Oh, it’s true that he says that God is lurking somewhere behind the material processes that created life. But God’s agency is undetectable by the methods of science. And he is hoping that you will accept his subjective pious God-talk as proof that a fundamentally atheistic reality is somehow reconcilable with a robust conception of theism.
More from Richards:
Then we get Stephen Barr offering his private definition of “chance.”
It is possible to believe simultaneously in a world that is shaped by chance and one following a divine plan. “God is in charge and there’s a lot of accident,” said Barr, also a Catholic. “It’s all part of a plan. . . . God may have known where every molecule was going to move.”
What does Barr really believe? He believes that what science shows is that nature created life without any interference by an intelligent agent. Barr then offers believers his subjective pious God-talk to reassure them that evolution is compatible with religion. He has a personal belief – NOT BASED ON SCIENCE – that the material processes that created all of life are “all part of a plan”. He cannot demonstrate that from science – it’s his faith commitment. And more speculations: “God may have known…”. He can’t demonstrate that God did know anything from science. He is just offering a personal opinion about what God “could have” done. The purpose of these subjective opinions is to appease those who ask questions about what natural mechanisms can really create. Can natural causes really account for the development of functional proteins? Never mind that – look at my shiny spiritual-sounding testimony!
That’s theistic evolution. What really happened is that no intelligent causes are needed to explain life. What they say is “God could” and “God might” and “I pray” and “I attend this church” and “I received a Christian award” and “I sing praise hymns in church”. None of these religious opinions and speculations are relevant to the science – they are just opinions, speculations and biographical trivia. Atheists and theistic evolutionists agree on what science shows about the diversity of life – intelligent causes didn’t do anything.
One of the ways that theistic evolutionists try to affirm design is by insisting that the design is “front-loaded”. The design for all the information and body plans is somehow embedded in matter.
Here is Stephen C. Meyer to assess that:
It’s very important to understand that there is no scientific evidence for design (information) being front-loaded. So although the theistic evolutionists are talking about design, it’s still in the realm of faith – not detectable to scientific investigation. And as Dr. Meyer explained, it doesn’t work to explain design anyway.
I attended a Wheaton College philosophy conference where Dr. Michael Murray read a paper advocating for this front-loaded view of design. I raised my hand to ask him a question, “hey, philosophy guy, did God front-load the information in that paper you’re reading, or did you write it yourself?” But the philosophy moderators must have known that I was an engineer, and would talk sense into him, because they never called on me. However, I did e-mail him later and asked him if he had any evidence for this front-loading theory, and couldn’t God write sequence information in time the same way he had sequenced information in his essay. He replied and said that front-loading was more emotionally satisfying for him. That’s philosophy, I guess. Thank goodness an engineer wrote his e-mail program so that he could at least come clean about his silly view.
The quickest way to disarm a theistic evolutionist is to ask them for a naturalistic explanation of the origin of life. And for a naturalistic explanation of the Cambrian explosion. And so on. Focus on the science – don’t let them turn the conversation to their personal beliefs, or to the Bible, or to religion. No one cares about the psychology of the theistic evolutionist. We only care what science can show.
When people ask me whether the progress of science is more compatible with theism or atheism, I offer the following four basic pieces of scientific evidence that are more compatible with theism than atheism.
Here are the four pieces of evidence best explained by a Creator/Designer:
the kalam argument from the origin of the universe
the cosmic fine-tuning (habitability) argument
the biological information in the first replicator (origin of life)
the sudden origin of all of the different body plans in the fossil record (Cambrian explosion)
And I point to specific examples of recent discoveries that confirm those four arguments. Here are just a few of them:
Nature 302, 505 – 506 (07 April 1983); doi:10.1038/302505a0
The impossibility of a bouncing universe
ALAN H. GUTH* & MARC SHER†
*Center for Theoretical Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA
†Department of Physics, University of California, Irvine, California 92717, USA
Petrosian1 has recently discussed the possibility that the restoration of symmetry at grand unification in a closed contracting Robertson–Walker universe could slow down and halt the contraction, causing the universe to bounce. He then went on to discuss the possibility that our universe has undergone a series of such bounces. We disagree with this analysis. One of us (M.S.) has already shown2 that if a contracting universe is dominated by radiation, then a bounce is impossible. We will show here two further results: (1) entropy considerations imply that the quantity S (defined in ref. 1 and below), which must decrease by ~1075 to allow the present Universe to bounce, can in fact decrease by no more than a factor of ~2; (2) if the true vacuum state has zero energy density, then a universe which is contracting in its low temperature phase can never complete a phase transition soon enough to cause a bounce.
The universe is not only expanding, but that expansion appears to be speeding up. And as if that discovery alone weren’t strange enough, it implies that most of the energy in the cosmos is contained in empty space — a concept that Albert Einstein considered but discarded as his “biggest blunder.” The new findings have been recognized as 1998’s top scientific breakthrough by Science magazine.
[…]The flood of findings about the universe’s expansion rate is the result of about 10 years of study, said Saul Perlmutter, team leader of the Supernova Cosmology Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Perlmutter and others found such a yardstick in a particular kind of exploding star known as a Type 1A supernova. Over the course of several years, the astronomers developed a model to predict how bright such a supernova would appear at any given distance. Astronomers recorded dozens of Type 1A supernovae and anxiously matched them up with redshifts to find out how much the universe’s expansion was slowing down.
To their surprise, the redshift readings indicated that the expansion rate for distant supernovae was lower than the expansion rate for closer supernovae, Perlmutter said. On the largest scale imaginable, the universe’s galaxies appear to be flying away from each other faster and faster as time goes on.
“What we have found is that there is a ‘dark force’ that permeates the universe and that has overcome the force of gravity,” said Nicholas Suntzeff of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, who is the co-founder of another group called the High-z Supernova Search Team. “This result is so strange and unexpected that it perhaps is only believable because two independent international groups have found the same effect in their data.”
There has only been one creation of the universe, and the universe will never reverse its expansion, so that it could oscillate eternally. That view is popular, perhaps in part because many people watched videos of Carl Sagan speculating about it in public school classrooms, but all it was was idle naturalistic speculation, (Sagan was a naturalist, and held out hope that science would vindicate naturalism), and has been contradicted by good experimental science. You should be familiar with the 3 evidences for the Big Bang (redshift, light element abundances (helium/hydrogen) and the cosmic microwave background radiation. There are others, (radioactive element abundances, second law of thermodynamics, stellar lifecycle), but those are the big three. Point out how the experimental evidence for the Big Bang has piled up, making the problem even worse for the eternal-universe naturalists.
2) The multiverse has not been tested experimentally, it’s pure speculation.
Multiverse thinking or the belief in the existence of parallel universes is more philosophy or science fiction than science. ”Cosmology must seem odd to scientists in other fields”.
George Ellis, a well-known mathematician and cosmologist, who for instance has written a book with Stephen Hawking, is sceptical of the idea that our universe is just another universe among many others.
A few weeks ago, Ellis, professor emeritus of applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town, reviewed Brian Greene’s book The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (Knopf/Allen Lane, 2011) in the journal Nature. He is not at all convinced that the multiverse hypothesis is credible: ”Greene is not presenting aspects of a known reality; he is telling of unproven theoretical possibilities.”
According to professor Ellis, there is no evidence of multiverses, they cannot be tested and they are not science.
Ellis is not the only multiverse sceptic in this universe. A few months ago, science writer John Horgan wrote a column in Scientific American, expressing his doubt in multiverses.
When you get into a debate, you must never ever let the other side get away with asserting something they have no evidence for. Call them on it – point out that they have no evidence, and then hammer them with evidence for your point. Pile up cases of fine-tuning on top of each other and continuously point out that they have no experimental evidence for their speculations. Point out that more evidence we get, the more cases of fine-tuning we find, and the tougher the problem gets for naturalists. There is no evidence for a multiverse, but there is evidence for fine-tuning. TONS OF IT.
3) Naturalistic theories for the origin of life have two problems: can’t make the amino acids in an oxydized atmosphere and can’t make protein and DNA sequences by chance in the time available.
Estimating the prevalence of protein sequences adopting functional enzyme folds.
The Babraham Institute, Structural Biology Unit, Babraham Research Campus, Cambridge CB2 4AT, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org
Proteins employ a wide variety of folds to perform their biological functions. How are these folds first acquired? An important step toward answering this is to obtain an estimate of the overall prevalence of sequences adopting functional folds.
[…]Starting with a weakly functional sequence carrying this signature, clusters of ten side-chains within the fold are replaced randomly, within the boundaries of the signature, and tested for function. The prevalence of low-level function in four such experiments indicates that roughly one in 10(64) signature-consistent sequences forms a working domain. Combined with the estimated prevalence of plausible hydropathic patterns (for any fold) and of relevant folds for particular functions, this implies the overall prevalence of sequences performing a specific function by any domain-sized fold may be as low as 1 in 10(77), adding to the body of evidence that functional folds require highly extraordinary sequences.
So atheists are in double jeopardy here. They don’t have a way to build the Scrabble letters needed for life, and they don’t have a way to form the Scrabble letters into meaningful words and sentences. Point out that the more research we do, the tougher the problem gets to solve for naturalists, and the more it looks like an effect of intelligence. Write out the calculations for them.
4) The best candidate to explain the sudden origin of the Cambrian era fossils was the Ediacaran fauna, but those are now recognized as not being precursors to the Cambrian fossils.
Evidence of the single-celled ancestors of animals, dating from the interval in Earth’s history just before multicellular animals appeared, has been discovered in 570 million-year-old rocks from South China by researchers from the University of Bristol, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the Paul Scherrer Institut and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.
[…]This X-ray microscopy revealed that the fossils had features that multicellular embryos do not, and this led the researchers to the conclusion that the fossils were neither animals nor embryos but rather the reproductive spore bodies of single-celled ancestors of animals.
Professor Philip Donoghue said: “We were very surprised by our results — we’ve been convinced for so long that these fossils represented the embryos of the earliest animals — much of what has been written about the fossils for the last ten years is flat wrong. Our colleagues are not going to like the result.”
Professor Stefan Bengtson said: “These fossils force us to rethink our ideas of how animals learned to make large bodies out of cells.”
The trend is that there is no evolutionary explanation for the body plans that emerged in the Cambrian era. If you want to make the claim that “evolution did it”, then you have to produce the data today. Not speculations about the future. The data we have today says no to naturalism. The only way to affirm naturalistic explanations for the evidence we have is by faith. But rational people know that we need to minimize our leaps of faith, and go with the simplest and most reasonable explanation – an intelligence is the best explanation responsible for rapid generation of biological information.
I do think it’s important for Christians to focus more on scientific apologetics and to focus their academic careers in scientific fields. So often I look at Christian blogs, and I see way too much G. K. Chesterton, Francis Chan and other untestable, ineffective jibber-jabber. We need to bring the hard science, and stop making excuses about not being able to understand it because it’s too hard. It’s not too hard. Everyone can understand Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator“. That’s more than enough for the average Christian on science apologetics. We all have to do our best to learn what works. You don’t want to be anti-science and pro-speculation like atheists are. I recommend reading Uncommon Descent and Evolution News every day for a start.