Faith and Science: Friends or Foes

October, 2014
Dan Reynolds PhD

My wife, Cassie, and I went on a three week trip to the northwest this past July and August.1 During the Alaskan cruise portion of our trip, we attended an intelligent design (ID) conference sponsored by the Discovery Institute (http://www.discovery.org) entitled “Faith and Science: Friends or Foes?” Afterwards we visited Mount Saint Helens in Washington, then Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. As you can imagine, the scenery was beautiful.

The purpose of this article is to communicate the content of the talks given during the ID conference based on the notes I took. Occasionally, I will comment on the speaker’s thoughts. These comments will appear in italics and prefixed with the word ”comment.” 2

The ID conference featured John Lennox, Stephen Meyer, Paul Nelson, John West, and Raymond Bohlin. You can find information about the speakers at discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=10371. There were nine lectures, several Q and A sessions, and late night fellowship/coffee house meetings. There were roughly 150 in attendance from all over the country.

John Lennox started us off with a talk entitled “God, Science, and the Genesis Files.” He began by describing the reading of Genesis 1 by the Apollo 8 astronauts in 1968 while circling the moon; there was no conflict between science and religion in it. Ironically, scripture taught the universe had a beginning centuries before science figured it out.

Comment: John Lennox is an old earth creationist. Much of this lecture was based upon material in his book Seven Days That Divide the World, which I have read. While I disagree with him on when God created, he does have a high view of scripture and does leave the door open, albeit only slightly, that old earth creation is wrong. He acknowledges that it is scripture, not science, that should have the last word.

How do we read Genesis? John made a distinction between literal and real; something may not be true in a literal sense yet it may nevertheless be real. John never completely said it, but we knew he was talking about the “days” in Genesis 1. He gave an example of Christ being “the door.” We know this does not mean Christ has hinges yet He is the way to a relationship with God. He discussed the “fixed earth” issue during the time of the reformers. Several passages seem to say that the earth does not move, yet we now know this does not mean literally through space; hence science can sometimes inform us of what scripture means (or does not mean). We must find the convergence between science and scripture.

God, and not chemistry and physics, is at the heart of ultimate reality. We must all start with presuppositions we believe to be true by faith. The alleged conflict be- tween science and religion is really a conflict between worldviews with different presuppositions about reality. The question is to which worldview does science point: materialism or theism? God is not the God of the gaps but the God of creation. 3 God never came to be; He has always been (John 1:1). We exist because God wanted us to exist (Rev 4:11). Because God wanted us to be and we were made in His image, we have value. Christ died for us. God is distinct from the universe. He made the universe from nothing by speech acts.

God is personal, not the “force.” We will use God if we do not have a clear understanding of who He is. It should be God who uses us, not the other way around. God is not merely powerful but also personal. The Trinity shows God is relational. The passion shows God wants a relationship with us; we can become the children of God. The universe was fine tuned for people.

In Genesis, the sequence of creation stops with the day of rest. Creation week was a sequence of supernatural acts not in operation now. Hence the present cannot be the key to the past. The sequence ends with the creation of humans.

We need to recover trust in the scriptures. The sequence of events in Genesis stands in distinct contrast with an unguided random process. The universe is not a closed system of cause and effect; God has infused matter, energy, and information into the universe over history. God has left His fingerprints on everything.

What is a human being? The result of some random unguided process or the product of a personal creator?

The sacredness of marriage is under attack. You can choose your wife but not what a wife is. We may reap the whirlwind for the Godlessness of our culture. We were created in God’s image: God starts with matter but ends in morality. We were made directly, not from animal precursors. We are distinct from animals. Humans come from other humans, not animals.

God became a man. God in Christ was the second Adam. We can rest from our works because God has accomplished for us what we could not accomplish. We need to accept what Christ has done for us.

Stephen Meyer’s first talk was entitled “The Return of the God Hypothesis: Evidence in Cosmology for Intelligent Design.” He quoted Alfred Whitehead (1926): paraphrasing, the future depends upon the relationship between science and religion. Whitehead claims science has made religion improbable (but see Psalms 19 and Romans 1).

Comment: Clearly Whitehead was not a theist. Meyer agrees with him regarding the importance of the relationship between science and religion insofar as affecting the culture. Meyer is saying (using Whitehead's quote) that today's secular culture is traceable to the history of the relationship between science and religion.

The new atheists are in conflict with the founders of modern science. Nature is intelligible as was suspected by these founders based on their assumption of theism. How did we go from theism to materialism? In 1799 a book by Pierre LePlace on celestial mechanics started the shift towards materialism. Lyell said everything in geology happens by slow gradual processes. Darwin said everything in biology was a result of natural processes; God was not required. The discoveries of Hubble started a shift back to theism. The redshift of galaxies indicated a beginning of the universe. Einstein’s theory of relativity had predicted the expansion of the universe. According to the Kalaam cosmological argument, the universe had a cause:

  1. Whatever began had a cause.
  2. The universe had a beginning.
  3. Hence, the universe had a cause.

The Big Bang (BB) theory eventually won out against the Steady State theory upon the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) that had been predicted by the BB theory. Matter bends space. There was no volume in the original singularity, hence no matter and energy either. The instant of creation remains unexplained. The BB theory does not explain why the universe exists. Pantheism involves the sum of the material world so it can’t explain the origin of the universe; it too had a beginning.

An adequate cause is needed to explain the universe. Theism or deism are both candidates since both have a transcendent God. In order to go beyond relativity (our best theory of gravity), we need a quantum theory of gravity. Fine tuning is a problem for atheists. Some offer the anthropic principle as an explanation, but it does not really explain why the universe exists or fine tuning. The multiverse concept has problems. Inflationary cosmology and string theory both have problems with either fine tuning of physical constants or the initial conditions of the universe. Current problems include the decay of inflation field and the decay of string vacuum. The theistic explanation is simpler, is causally adequate, and is empirically based.

Stephen Meyer said that the key to deconstructing materialism is to follow the information, show that physical causes are inadequate. On the other hand, we know from experience that minds can create information and information rich objects.

Paul Nelson gave a talk entitled “Alaska’s Masterpieces: Artistry, Purpose, and Design in the Animals of the Yukon.” Paul talked about how blood circulation from the fluke of whales keeps the testicles cool; otherwise they would become sterile. He suggested this feature implies design.

He defined an approach to understanding biology called Design Triangulation: take facts and infer what must be true to explain them; make an inference to the best explanation. This approach has led to the discovery of many new things in experimental science; we do this all the time. A complex system with function suggests complex parts are present. In our experience, function requires design. We know A and B, which imply C. He gave the turn signal indicator in cars as an example. We know well the usual tempo of the turn signal on our car. If the turn signal blinks rapidly instead of at its usual tempo, it indicates that the external light has burned out; this implies design logic.

He gave this example of biological triangulation: (a) copper in the blood is toxic, but (b) copper is required in mitochondria; (c) there must be a system that binds copper in the blood and transports copper into mitochondria.

This turns out to be true.

Some whale features that need explanation include the blowhole, storage of oxygen (holds breath deep underwater for long periods), and echolocation. What makes whales different, “junk DNA”? Only 2-3% DNA code for proteins, the rest was considered “junk.” The ENCODE Project has shown that noncoding DNA is transcribed into RNA that has regulatory function. Don Graur, an evolutionist, has said that if ENCODE is right, then evolution is wrong (he is attacking ENCODE). Whales have hundreds of unique features. Many whale proteins are the same as in giraffes and hippos. So where do the unique features come from? Probably noncoding DNA which functions as software.

There was a conference in Seattle where Lewis Wolpert spoke on macroevolution. He asked how did a single cell evolve into metazoans with different specialized cells? Evolution is not primarily a theory about similarity but transformation: “descent (similarity) with modification (transformation).” Some transformations may not be possible. According to Darwin’s Wager, any transformation that cannot be obtained by small incremental steps is not obtainable by the variation/selection mechanism. There are no intermediates organisms in the fossil record because they are not viable. Hence the construction of animals must have planning and foresight.

Some evolutionists are rejecting Darwin while still accepting evolution brought about by as yet poorly defined mechanisms.

The echolocation between whales and bats is said to be an example of evolutionary convergence. This is too improbable; design is the best explanation.

Crick knew about DNA and proteins; he inferred transfer RNA. This is a good example of the triangulation approach.

John Lennox’s second lecture was entitled “A Universe from Nothing: Hawking, Krauss and the God Question.” We are currently in an intellectual fog. Materialists say that belief in God is a projection of our desires, but atheism is actually the wish fulfillment: atheism is a fairy tale for those who are afraid of the light. The conflict between science and a holy book is portrayed as a conflict between reason and a holy book, which is not true. We must look at the different functions of reason and revelation; they are different sources of information. Revelation is understood but not produced by reason. Trust God, not your reason, but use your reason. The choice between Reason versus Revelation presented by athiests is a fallacy of false alternative.

Paul was not ashamed of the gospel. Men are sinful and blameworthy for rejecting God because they have evidence from creation, their conscience, and revelation. Science is the unpacking of revelation in the physical world. The assumption of the rationality of God led to modern science. Science only deals with natural law and repeatable experiments using methodological naturalism. Newton was a methodological theist. 4 Does your epistemology stop you from going where the evidence leads?

What has happened in science? The concept of God is flawed. Modern secular scientists think God is like an ancient Greek god derived from nature. They think he is the God of the gaps, but God is not a place holder for ignorance. The atheists don’t think they have faith or a belief system. They think that only Christians have faith, but they have faith as well.

The assumption that “science is limitless” is another fog. The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking is a serious abuse of science. Hawking sees design but tries to dismiss it. He says gravity makes the universe from nothing possible. This is self-contradictory and an example of Romans 1 in action: “...their senseless minds were darkened.” This is intellectual darkness; they redefine nothing so that it is still something (physical law).

The “laws of nature” are only descriptions; they don’t explain what the laws are. There is a difference between mechanism and agency, laws and God. True scientific descriptions enhance worship.

Stephen Meyer’s next talk was entitled “The Return of the God Hypothesis: Evidence in Biology for Intelligent Design.” Keep your eyes on logic, don’t be intimidated by fancy language. Follow the information; this is where evolutionary explanations fail. ID is the best explanation for the origin of the universe, fine tuning, and the origin of life. There is evidence for design in biology that can be obtained using abductive reasoning (making an inference to the best explanation). We have to select between competing worldviews making the best inference to the best explanation. Deism or theism? Theism is best. Everyone admits that there is at least an appearance of design. Darwin’s mechanism is a design substitute. Microevolution is observed, but not macroevolution. There is controversy over the power of the mutation/selection mechanism, even in the atheist camp.

Meyer agrees with the “change over time” definition of evolution and microevolution but disagrees with universal common descent. There is no evidence for macroevolution; 5 the Darwinian mechanism is unable to do this.

On the surface, Darwinists say everything in their camp is fine, but in journals Darwin is in trouble. Darwin did not know about: (1) irreducibly complex molecular machines (e.g. flagellum); (2) genetic circuitry—dGRNs (developmental genetic regulatory networks)—these must be altered for macroevolution to proceed, but so far induced changes have proven lethal to the developing fetus; and (3) the genetic code in DNA. There is a youtube.com channel for Darwin’s Doubt (Meyer’s recent book on the Cambrian Explosion).

The origin of information in DNA is an enigma. This problem extends to the origin of life and macroevolution. The Cambrian body plans can’t be built by the Darwinian mechanism. Everything that is an innovation needs new proteins and new information—where does it come from? Comment: However, intelligence is an adequate explanation for the information we find in biomolecules.

There is a distinction between complexity and specified complexity. The more complex something is, the less probable it is. Meyer used a combination lock as an example. Assume there are four numbers in the combination. That means any 4-number sequence has a 10-4 probability of being selected at random. So in one sense, all possible number sequences are equally improbable and equally complex. However, only one number sequence, the combination, will open the lock. The combination exhibits specified complexity since it corresponds to a specific number sequence.

Materialism fails because information does not reduce to chemistry and physics. Information has an extrinsic origin; chemistry can’t explain the code. During translation in the ribosome, the mRNA codon/tRNA anticodon pair location is distant from the site of attachment of the amino acid in the tRNA molecule. This fact makes the evolution of tRNA and the code beyond the reaches of chemistry. Meyer develops this argument in his book Signature in the Cell.

Random searches by the mutation/selection mechanism can’t generate new functional information. Random processes degrade meaning and function; there are more ways to go wrong than right. Experiments have shown that the ratio of functional to nonfunctional protein sequences is 1/1077. There have been 1040 organisms in history. Hence, assuming one new mutation per organism, there is a 1/1037 chance that a functional protein sequence could have been found by random search in the history of life.

Most evolutionists fail to address the information problem. They presuppose pre-existing information.

Meyer recommends reading one of his critics, Charles Marshall: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/ 6152/1344.1.full

Meyer responds: http://www.evolutionnews.org/ 2013/10/stephen_meyer_r077371.html

In short, Marshall fails to explain the origin of the new information required to build new body plans.

A debate between Meyer and Marshall can be heard online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= wKqzQwT3JXk Comment: It was a good debate, but I think Meyer came out on top.

Meyer invokes causal uniformitarianism for understanding the origin of information in biology. In the historical sciences, one must make an inference to the best explanation based on current knowledge. Inferring intelligence as the source of new information is in accord with our experience. Intelligence is an adequate cause of new information. Thus invoking an intelligent cause is not an argument from ignorance (God of the gaps). The origin of life on earth can’t be explained by panspermia since then the origin of that life elsewhere must then be explained. Other information to be explained include the origin of the universe and the fine tuning of physics. Infusions of information into the universe were required after the creation of the universe to get life started. Macroevolution also requires additional information. For these reasons, theism is superior to deism.

John West gave a talk entitled “The Impact of Science on Faith and Culture: Why It Matters.” Ideas have consequences. Guillermo Gonzales was a refugee from Cuba. He has a PhD in astronomy. Has made significant discoveries and wrote a college level textbook.

Nevertheless, he was rejected from Iowa State University faculty (tenure track position) for writing the book The Privileged Planet, which favors an ID explanation for the fine tuning of physics and the habitability of earth. There is a cost for espousing ID.

West said a good book on the Scopes trial is Summer for the Gods by Edward J. Larson. Another recommended book is For the Glory of God by Rodney Stark.

Most of the scientific leaders from 1542 to 1680 (more than 60%) were devout Christians. But by 2005, two-thirds of science professors were atheists. Science has been hijacked by scientism. Polls show that more than 90% of evolutionary scientists are atheists or agnostics. Darwinism has become a secular religion (Darwin’s Day is celebrated on February 12).

Another recommended book is Living with Darwin by Philip Kitcher. This book, by a self-proclaimed secular humanist, allegedly shows how science has replaced God with materials causes (see http://creation.com/ review-philip-kitcher-iving-with-darwin for a review).

The impact of the new atheists on culture has been negative. Jesse Kilgore, a Christian man who read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, became an unbeliever and eventually committed suicide. Why are young people abandoning their faith in God? Answer: science says there is no God and religion is merely superstition.

The impact of Darwin on Christians is: (1) erosion of belief in God’s sovereignty and omniscience (God does not know how evolution will turn out—very bad theology), (2) erosion in the belief that God created good (innocent) humans—evolution created selfish people from the start, (3) inability to see God’s hand in nature. Francis Collins says we evolved from a random process. 6 All this has resulted in an erosion of faith in God.

Effect on ethics: The Descent of Man by Darwin teaches that moral codes evolve to promote survival. Alfred Kinsey said that all forms of sex are normal and OK; this has had a great impact on society. The value of human life has been diminished because man is only an animal; we differ from other animals in degree but not kind—we are not special. Darwinism leads to racism. Newborns are of little worth. Darwin undermined the specialness of man. Radical environmentalists hold we are no better than any other species. An emerging attitude in the sciences: all who proclaim God should be treated as inferior and fired. David Coppedge (author at Creation-Evolution Headlines) was fired from his job at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for merely sharing ID with coworkers.

Christianity is counter cultural; it has usually been this way. We have censored ourselves and lost our power to influence society. As we self-censor, we become less authentic. Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter. The movie Alleged is a more accurate portrayal of the Scopes trial, better than Inherit the Wind. Ben Stein lost his job at the New York Times for his part in the movie Expelled.

Is the tide turning? A new video from Illustra Media entitled Priviledged Species featuring Michael Denton, author of Nature’s Destiny, will soon be released.

Ray Bohlin gave a talk entitled “The Biology of Human Uniqueness.“What makes humans unique? Answer: intelligence, speech, visual ability, dexterity, upright stance, social organization, and the use/control of fire. We are smarter than other animals, being capable of conceptual/abstract thought and mathematics. What are the evolutionary origins of music and dance? We use language to communicate abstract concepts. We create information; animals are very limited here. Our hands are designed for intelligent manipulation. The combination of our abilities and special qualities makes us unique in the animal world. We are the head of the natural world. Our vision is better than most animals, but not all. Our use of fire is manifest in cooking, transportation, lighting, forging of metal tools, etc. We overcame our fear of fire through reasoning. We came to understand that you need a large enough fire to sustain itself.

The human brain has 105 cells with 4 kilometers of wiring and 500 dendrites per milliliter. We learn languages instinctively. Jerry Coyne says our brain is a “meat computer;” through genetics and neural connections, we respond automatically; there is no “you.” However, we can’t live as though our brain is merely a meat computer.

We are not the same as a chimp. There are at least 16 unique features that appear in humans and differ from chimps. There was not enough time to generate the mutations required to bridge this gap. Our understanding of the percentage difference in human and chimp DNA is in flux. The alleged chromosome 2 fusion does not tell us about common ancestry. The Y chromosomes of humans and chimps are very different. Genetic research has shown that human origins are consistent with Adam and Eve starting out with 4 alleles. Common ancestry of humans and chimps is now in doubt. Common ancestry is usually assumed, not demonstrated.

John Lennox gave a talk entitled “The Scientific Mind: C.S. Lewis and the God Question.” You can visit johnlennox.org or veritas.org for his writings. He has a new book: Against the Flow.

C.S. Lewis’s parents were a lawyer and mathematician. Lewis teaches us how to think. We should befriend people that don’t share our worldview. People can change their worldviews; there is power to do this. If Christianity is true, it will get through. There is shame and fear in the church today.

Lewis started as an atheist, then became a Christian. He believed that science has disproved God. He suffered from a wound he received during war. He had studied the classics and knew that new stuff was not always true. He came to see that Christianity made better sense of the world. There were reasons to believe in God. People need reasons. Lewis valued logic and reason, saw the fatal flaw of naturalism (can we trust our minds if they evolved from lower animals by an unguided process; they would have evolved for survival, not necessarily truth). Evolution undermines human reason, without which we know nothing. Why should we believe the thoughts of a mind that is the product of a random process? Lennox recommended the book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False by Thomas Nagel. Alvin Platinga says that if Dawkins is right (God Delusion), we have reason to doubt reason itself. Information can’t be explained by materialism because it is immaterial. Was “it before bit” or “bit before it”? Information is a fundamental entity, it can’t be reduced to physics. For Lewis, reason has a supernatural origin since it can’t be reduced to physics.

David Hume allegedly got rid of miracles. But Lewis said he used a false definition of miracle: a violation of the laws of nature. The universe is an open system. The laws of nature are descriptive, not causative. Hume was wrong about miracles.

Human dignity depends upon God. There is evil and suffering in the world. God shared in our sufferings on the cross. Atheism has no answer to rationality and suffering. Atheism annihilates reason and justice. Much of rationality has no survival value, so why would the mind evolve? There is no known mechanism for evolving a mind. Machines transmit but do not create information. Humans are more than biochemical machines.

Stephen Meyer delivered the last lecture of the cruise. It was entitled “The State of the Science and Faith Debate and Where It Is Heading.” The Discovery Institute is getting more applicants to be involved in their efforts from all over. The evolutionary literature reflects a growing dissatisfaction with Darwinism. We are seeing an increase in ID-related concerns in publications dealing with other topics. Young scholars are interested in ID and take it seriously even if they disagree with it. Some want to show Darwinism can win a fair fight in the market place of ideas; they are not just dismissive of ID. We can’t change things unless people are already unhappy with Darwin. Darwinism teaches (1) small scale variation, (2) common ancestry, and (3) natural selection. Materialism encircles these ideas and limits the explanatory options; intelligence is not allowed.

Common descent is being questioned by evolutionists. The tree of life has a different geometry than what Darwin predicted. A single tree is inadequate. (See Woese CR (2009) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U S A, 99: 8742-7.) The genetic code is not universal; some organisms have a different genetic code. See a series of articles in Biology Direct (open access) entitled “Beyond the Tree of Life” (biologydirect.com/series/tree_of_life).

The Darwinian mechanism for new information is being challenged. Eric Davidson admits that microevolution may not explain macroevolution (see exploreevolution.com/exploreEvolutionFurtherDebate/2009/02/the_definitions_of_evolution_1.php). Andreas Wagner says we don’t know how macroevolution works (see evolutionnews.org/2013/09/evolutionary_bi_1076691.html). Eugene Koonin, author of Origins of Cellular Life, acknowledges the irreducible complexity of the cell, that it could not have evolved by a gradual process. Other authors mentioned include Maarten Boudry, Steve Dilley, and Greg Radick. Those who have good arguments use them, others get emotional. The next phase is to use ID to explain problems in biology. There are more predictions based on ID to be researched.

If ID becomes intellectually respectable again, this would have implications for our culture. There could be a resurgence of personal responsibility; folks would not be able to say that evolution made them do something. Evolution has hurt the culture. The argument against Darwinism has been won. Many in the evolutionary camp are looking for alternative explanations to explain evolution. The tide is turning in favor of ID. The ID movement needs people who are engaged. The Goliath of naturalism can be taken down with five stones:

  1. Participation: prayer, sharing, skills
  2. Program: media and communication; scholar- ships; education and outreach; academic freedom for persecuted
  3. Presence: attend meetings and bring friends
  4. Proclamation: lead a small group - neighbors or at church
  5. Provision: make an investment in changing the culture

The main take away lessons from the conference follow. Human dignity is based upon our creation by God in His image. The decay of Western culture is directly related to the rise in materialistic philosophy. The facts of science are now pointing more than ever towards design. The universe had a beginning. The ENCODE project is showing most DNA has function. Many evolutionists are now questioning Darwinism. The best approach to understanding our origins is to use abductive reasoning, that is, we must make an inference to the best explanations. Any inferred explanation must be causally adequate to account for the phenomena in question. Natural causes are inadequate to explain the origin of the universe, the fine tuning of physics, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, macroevolution, and the emergence of self aware moral agents like ourselves. Intelligence is the only adequate cause we know of that can readily explain these things. Materialism fails because information does not reduce to chemistry and physics. 

  • 1. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BInDGXb5OzI for a picture tour of where we went. We visited Alaska (Juneau, Glacier Bay), Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, the Beartooth Highway, Yellowstone National Park, and Glacier National Park.
  • 2. Most of the speakers assumed the audience was somewhat familiar with intelligent design arguments and this is reflected in some of their vocabulary. I have tried to define and clarify the use of some words and concepts but not all. I'll also assume that most subscribers to our newsletter have enough background to make sense of most of the discussion.
  • 3. A “God of the gaps” argument is what many ID foes call the reasoning of theists for the existence of God. ID and creation foes say that God is just a placeholder for ignorance that further scientific research will someday eliminate. What most ID folks are saying, including John Lennox, is that the scientific evidence not only rules out physical explanations but affirms that a mind, the God of creation, is the best explanation for what we observe. The arguments made by ID proponents usually have negative and positive aspects. The negative arguments show the lack of explanatory power of current scientific knowledge for various phenomena (for example, the information in DNA), and the positive arguments emphasize the causal adequacy of intelligence.
  • 4. Methodological theism is an approach to science that assumes that nature was designed by God instead of the product of mere physical processes. Note that this assumption inspires the scientist to explore nature by experiment since by this inquiry we can know the mind of God.
  • 5. Macroevolution is the alleged “molecules to man” or vertical evolution Darwin claimed had happened. Darwin extrapolation from what he observed (microevolution) to what he had not observed but inferred: macroevolution.
  • 6. Francis Collins was the head of the human genome project and author of the book The Language of God. Although a theist, he believes in evolution.