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On Seeing Intelligence in Unintelligent Design

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March 22, 2010 Tags: Design

Today's entry was written by Darrel Falk. You can read more about what we believe here.

On Seeing Intelligence in Unintelligent Design

By now, I hope all of our readers realize that we at BioLogos believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. At the same time, we take the consensus of scientists very seriously, recognizing that the scientific process has been enormously successful at accurately describing the natural world.

We do not pretend that showing the two can exist in harmony will be easy. It has taken a long time to get to our current state of disharmony. Positions are firmly entrenched. Feedback related to our posts of recent weeks shows there are many who are thoroughly uncomfortable with our positions.

Large segments of Christianity believe that findings which lay at the heart of many decades of scientific investigation are deeply flawed. The real basis of this skepticism is grounded in how they understand the Bible. Because of this, we expend considerable energy exploring how to think about the Bible in a manner that doesn’t bring us into conflict with what the scientific data—in near certitude—seems to say. We are committed to our calling. We will work through these issues, maintaining our commitment to Scripture as the inspired Word of God.

We are convinced that Christianity is going to have to embrace a biblical hermeneutic which is not based upon the notion of one man and one woman being the genetic ancestors of all living humans. The data are absolutely overwhelming as we will continue to show in coming days.

We also need to deal frankly with the notion that the fundamental tenets of the Intelligent Design movement, as laid out so clearly by Phillip Johnson almost two decades ago and developed so articulately by Michael Behe and others have missed the mark. It might have seemed much easier for Christian theology, at least in the evangelical tradition, if they had been right. Our mandate, however, is not to settle on that which is easiest, but rather to pursue what is right. We are committed to doing so within the context of evangelical Christianity.

I am a scientist with a long career that has focused on teaching a wide variety of biology courses. So my task is primarily to lay out that which we biologists hold with near certainty. BioLogos will depend on a variety of experts though. We will continue to need theologians, philosophers, and biblical scholars, for example, to think along with us in coming days. Most all though, we pray for God’s guidance and we hope you will pray along with us.

To better understand the biological perspective, I highly recommend Inside the Human Genome: A Case for Non-Intelligent Design by University of California, Irvine biologist John Avise. As I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t know of anyone who lays out the biological issues that we must all come to grips with more clearly. He shows that living systems, elegant as they are, display plenty of evidence that they have been assembled through a process that is more like jury rigging than intelligent design.

As a biologist, I have spent my entire career in utter amazement at the beauty of life and the majesty of the processes that have brought its diversity into being. As a Christian, I am convinced that these are God’s processes, that God spoke them into existence and that they continue in and through God’s Presence. Still, they seem to have inherent limitations. Avise lays out these limitations especially clearly. Here are seven:

  1. Natural Selection - Natural selection is powerful, but it is never all-powerful. It is just one in a nexus of evolutionary forces. Other factors can override the adaptation-promoting power of natural selection in particular instances. When they do, the product is suboptimal. Indeed, they may even lead to detrimental biological outcomes.

  2. Genetic Drift - In small populations, prevalence of certain forms of genes, called alleles, can change rapidly in a manner that is independent of their adaptive value. Chance takes on considerable significance in small populations.

  3. Cumulative Effect - Slightly deleterious forms of genes can stay in populations since their effect is too small, on their own, for them to be eliminated through natural selection. The genome accumulates many such slightly deleterious genes. The cumulative effect of them all can be quite a burden to the genome as a whole.

  4. Piggy-backing - Sometimes deleterious forms of genes accumulate in the population because they reside in the region of a chromosome which also houses highly beneficial genes. Because of this, it is hard to eliminate the deleterious without also eliminating the beneficial neighbor.

  5. Pleiotropy - Some genes have multiple effects on the body. In such cases, even though one effect may be highly positive, another effect of the same gene on another part of the body may actually be harmful. This gene may become prevalent in the population because its good effect on one tissue, outweighs its bad effect on another.

  6. Selfish genes - Some genes confer no advantage to the organism, but they predominate because they have replication mechanisms which enable them to thrive in the genome. They actually may cause harm to the organism, but they are not eliminated because they have developed special ways to multiply within the genome. Such genes resemble little parasites, except they are not organisms, they are simply segments of DNA.

  7. Sexual selection - Some genes, like those which build the peacock’s tail, come to predominate, even though they confer significant disadvantages to the overall body plan. The basis of their success is solely that they cause increased success in mating. Male peacocks develop elaborate tails at a high energetic cost and risk being easily spotted by predators. So why do they still have long, showy tails? You guessed it: pea hens find them attractive.

Truly, the instruction book of every species is littered with flaws that record the process by which its genome has been assembled and passed on through the eons of time. It is by no means analogous to William Paley’s intelligently designed watch or Michael Behe’s mousetrap.

I am not a philosopher or a theologian, so I ought not ruminate about why God would do it this way rather than the way that I would do it if I were God. I hope though many will join the conversation as we think about this. Why would God do it this way? We hope you will stay with us as we engage people with this question from within their various disciplines. We have much to think about. We have much to learn.

Darrel Falk is former president of BioLogos and currently serves as BioLogos' Senior Advisor for Dialog. He is Professor of Biology, Emeritus at Point Loma Nazarene University and serves as Senior Fellow at The Colossian Forum. Falk is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.

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Gordon J. Glover - #8463

April 3rd 2010

“For example, when someone says, “God couldn’t have accelerated the rate of radioactive decay at some point in the past, for that would make God a deliberate deceiver,” that is really a theological objection to one particular creationist theory. The theory is automatically rejected by many simply because of its alleged theological implications.”

No Martin, it is rejected because it is absolutely USELESS scientifically.  If God can just willly-nilly fiddle with the fundamental constants of nature, then the universe would be unintelligible and science would be a crap-shoot. 

I agree that all scientists approach the data within a conceptual framework.  The difference is that mainstream theories are supported by the data, while creation folk-science must resort to piling on more and more ad-hoc assumptions just to salvage the paradigm.  Sooner or later, those with intellectual integrity will bail on the entire process—as you will see over and over again.

Gordon J. Glover - #8465

April 3rd 2010

“That is why I am thankful that there is now a group of scientists, no matter how miniscule, who are willing to say, “Science is not neutral; it cannot be divorced from the religious convictions of the researcher, whose worldview definitely governs the conclusions that he is willing to draw.”

So tell me one useful contribution made by these “faith-based” scientists.  In fact, the oil and gas industry employs more geologists than any other sector.  Don’t you think they could use a more up-to-date paradigm of earth history when sorting through the geologic data for clues to the wherabouts of mineral deposits and fossil fuels?  In fact, given their penchant for profits over principle, I’d be willing to bet that they would sink millions, if not billions, into creation science if it could offer anything useful—anything to get a leg up on the compeition, right?

In reality, not one cent is given to them.  Why?  Because flood geology is 100% useless!  Just read Morton’s testimony.  Of the 5 ICR graduates that he hired into the oil industry, most lost their faith.  What does that tell you, Martin?

Martin Rizley - #8505

April 4th 2010

Gordon,  I don’t know what you think a miracle is if it does not involve God “fiddling with the fundamental constants of nature”?  How else could three men stand in the middle of a fire so hot that it burns up others who get close to it, but leaves those three men unharmed—God must have done some ‘fiddling’ there!  How else do you explain a solid, material body entering a locked room without opening a door or window and proceeding to eat fish and honey? Obviously, God does not ordinarily ‘fiddle’ with nature’s constants; we’re talking about the exception, not the rule.  But the biblical miracles show conclusively that the only ‘fundamental constant’ that matter and engergy must obey ultimately is the will of God, not impersonal laws that God Himself is bound to ‘respect’ so that His ways in providence are fully intelligible to man.  BTW, I know more than one creationist geologist who works for oil and gas companies, and their work is obviously appreciated.  That’s because ‘working’ science—real, demonstrable, empirical science—does not require them to ‘buy into’ the evolutionary ‘inferences’ drawn from the physical data, inferences that others pass off as ‘science.’

Savage - #8521

April 4th 2010


“If there is no sovereign God behind the universe, then we have no rational justification for believing that the world will continue to operate on Friday according to the same laws that were valid on Monday.”

You are a muddled thinker, Martin. If you do not have a scientific answer, you call on God to give the answers. What sort of an argument is that? Now I’ll ask you a question: where is your God? Show Him to me. But you cannot, and nobody can show God. But you keep on with this argument that He exists because the Bible says so – an old book written by an old tribe of goat herders. And you base your science on what is written in the Bible - now I ask you!

Savage - #8522

April 4th 2010


“Now, for the sake of argument, hypothesize for a moment that the world is orderly because it has been made by a faithful, reliable God who gives it order.”

That is step two of the SM, now proceed to the 3rd and 4th steps of experimentation and verification. Your results are awaited with excitement.

“A scientist’s worldview determins the range of conclusions that he is willing to draw and the range of hypotheses that he is willing to entertain and research.”

A scientist could draw any conclusion he or she wants, but that does not mean the conclusion is correct. Also, you can hypothesise all you want, but in the end your hypothesis must agree with experiment. So, your hypothesis that God exists has not been verified yet, so it remains a hypothesis.

Martin Rizley - #8526

April 4th 2010

Gordon,  One further thought regarding the oil and gas companies you mention.  They are interested in finding oil and drilling for it, and the person most likely to help them in that endeavor are geologists who know the present structure of the earth’s crust—where oil is likely to be found.  To know the present structure of the earth, however, doesn’t require you to hold to a particular historical theory as to how the various sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rocks were formed.  To get from point A to point B on a map, I don’t need to know when the various roads on that map were built!  So I don’t think that those who hold to a completely naturalistic paradigm of how various structures in the earth were formed have any ‘edge’ over those who believe that supernatural divine intervention played some part in that formative process.  Neither do those who believe in Darwin’s theory have any edge over those who reject that theory,when it comes to applied science.  Again, it is the present structure of the earth’s crust that oil and gas companies are interested in—not particular theories as to how the earth arrived at its present form.  Show me the oil—that’s the bottom line!

Joe Francis - #8527

April 4th 2010


Thanks again for your input.
We have a pretty good record that Maxwell’s idea of light and field force, came from his Christian views.  It is pretty clear that Pastuer and other medical scientists were driven by a Christian framework to help others.  In the 20th century, major discoveries in rocket science and magnetic research (MRI) were performed by scientists who held strongly to the Christian worldview.

Savage - #8528

April 4th 2010


“So tell me one useful contribution made by these “faith-based” scientists.”
“In reality, not one cent is given to them.  Why?  Because flood geology is 100% useless! “

Right on!

Martin Rizley - #8529

April 4th 2010

I cannot “show” you God for the same reason that I can not “show” you a Beethoven symphony or “play” you the color green on a piano.  You can only perceive realities according to their nature, and God by definition is not a physical object detectable with physical instruments.  That doesn’t make Him unreal or a myth, any more than realities like love or honor or integrity or human dignity are mere “figments” of the human imagination, meaningless delusions that people cherish.  Deep down, every human beings knows that reality is much bigger than the physical dimension that we perceive with our five senses.  That is why the Bible never attempts to ‘prove’ God on rationalistic grounds; it simply declares that His reality is clearly revealed through the things that are made and is known to every human being, even those who choose to deny it.

Joe Francis - #8534

April 4th 2010


One creation biologist discovered what appear to be millions of nautiloid fossils in the redwall limestone of the Grand Caynon.  This is a contribution to geology and paleontology.  He was working on the premise that millions of creatures would be found throughout various strata.  Another creation geologist has made contributions to our understanding of the ancient life of whales and has published in the geology literature and he has been on the cover of a geology journal.  He is highly respected in paleontology.  Many creation geologists attend and contribute to geology society meetings.

Savage - #8535

April 4th 2010


You are still not getting the point. If you do proper science, the SM guides you. If you want to do science verifying Genesis, or Noah’s flood, you’ll fail. Whatever creationists have published attempting to verify the flood, or any other Biblical story, have been ripped apart by scientists. Creationists’ scientific worldviews interfere with their critical analyses of the data.

Maxwell wrote his famous equations because he was a brilliant scientist. Where do you see his Christian views assisting him? God-did-it again?

Joe Francis - #8573

April 4th 2010


You said…”...the SM guides you”

Hmmm.  So you believe in guides?  What is a guide?  Why to you believe in it?

If someone told you that they believe in some kind of non-personal guiding force….would that fit your definition of delusional?

Gordon J. Glover - #8574

April 4th 2010

Martin said, “Gordon,  I don’t know what you think a miracle is if it does not involve God “fiddling with the fundamental constants of nature”?”

Miracles are obviously for our benefit, not God’s.  God knows he is God—but we need constant reminding.  God doesn’t need miracles to do things because he is incapable of doing them through the ordinary natural processes that he ordained in the first place.  God uses miracles for our benefit, and he governs the ordinary processes of the cosmos for our benefit (ie: for science).  You seem to confuse the two.

Gordon J. Glover - #8575

April 4th 2010

“BTW, I know more than one creationist geologist who works for oil and gas companies, and their work is obviously appreciated.  That’s because ‘working’ science—real, demonstrable, empirical science—does not require them to ‘buy into’ the evolutionary ‘inferences’ drawn from the physical data, inferences that others pass off as ‘science.’”

You obviously have no idea how oil and gas exploration works.  Do some reading on microfossils and biostratigraphy and how they relate to earth history petroleum deposits.  have you even read Glen Morton’s testimony?  He explains things pretty whell.  You have to make assumptions about how and when the layers were deposited and how and when the plates moved relative to one another to know where and how deep to drill.  There no way around this.  Flood geology can’t make any such predictions.  If it could, then it would replace the mainstream paradigm.

Savage - #8585

April 4th 2010


The SM is nothing more than simple inductive reasoning, from observation to the general conclusion; this is then called a theory. (Not the theory creationists have in mind when they say “evolution is just a theory.”) Using a theory, predictions can be made as to the outcome to be expected following a set of physical or mathematical interrelated steps. The outcome of the experiment is then a guide to see whether your theory is in fact a theory, or just a hypothesis that must be modified, or rejected outright. 

I cannot answer your last question about “delusional” though, since I have been warned by Moderator, Biologos, that I will be banned from the blog if I continue to do so. (Two of my posts were removed.)

Joe Francis - #8617

April 4th 2010


Aren’t you making an assumption that the physical laws that we know about will operate in the future, when you make predictions?

I am not trying to bait you or trap you…some of my atheist/agnostic friends tell me that assumptions are part of the scientific process yet they cannot be explained by the SM.

Savage - #8647

April 5th 2010


Interesting question, indeed. I am not a physicist but can recommend a very good book by a renowned physicist and astronomer: “The Constants of Nature”, by John D Barrow. His research did discover a change in the “fine structure constant”, which measures the strength of electromagnetic interaction. An increase in the value of this constant of 6 parts in a million over 13 billion years was detected, which is very small. Barrow pointed out that many more data points needed to be added to make the observations statistically significant.

Then we also now know that the Hubble constant (which is not a fundamental constant of Nature) has changed through time; first the universe slowed down when it was matter dominated, and has since speeded up as a result of the mysterious dark energy. Humankind knows a lot, but still knows very little.

Martin Rizley - #8710

April 5th 2010

You are quite right in saying that my knowledge of gas and oil exploration is virtually non-existent; but the same thing cannot be said of men like Andrew Snelling, John Reed, and other YEC’s who have worked for oil and gas companies and who know quite a lot about exploration for oil and gas.  They obviously do not believe that it is necessary to embrace evolutionary beliefs about the history of life on earth to locate oil.  Neither, appartently, do certain non-creationist oil and gas researchers at the Royal institute of Technology in Sweden who reject the view that oil and gas are biogenetic in origin. 
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090910084259.htm  There research leaves them convinced that “crude oil and natural gas are generated without the involvement of fossils. All types of bedrock can serve as reservoirs of oil.”  They have developed a new method of finding oil that “involves dividing the globe into a finely meshed grid. The grid corresponds to fissures, so-called ‘migration channels,’ through underlying layers under the surface of the earth. Wherever these fissures meet, it is suitable to drill.”  (continued)

Martin Rizley - #8718

April 5th 2010

Now, granted, I know next to nothing about this subject; but it seems to me that what these researchers are saying is that finding oil is a matter of finding where these fissures are located through using seismographic instruments, etc.  If oil and gas researchers are divided on whether oil is biogenetic or abiogenetic in origin, then there is obviously a certain mystery surrounding the historical process that brought the oil to the reservoirs where it is found.  But, Gordon, my real disagreement with you is not over oil; it is over your rejection of biblical inerrancy and the grammatical-historical approach to biblical interpretation.  I am open to any scientific theory which does not flatly contradict the plain, straightforward meaning of the biblical text.  I believe that no sound scientific theory can contradict what Scripture teaches about the origin of man, the descent of humanity from a single human pair, the historical accuracy of the Genesis genealogies, or the flood in Noah’s day.  For you, all those teachings are ‘up for grabs’ if mainstream science contradicts them.  We simply are not going to see eye to eye on these matters, as long as we are operate from two different ultimate authorities.

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