The Myth of Evolutionary Homology

How evolution’s greatest strength shows its ultimate weakness

   

         It is almost certain that the majority of people educated in America have seen it: the image in their biology or anatomy classes that compares the structural anatomy of a human hand with a bat’s wing, a horse’s leg, and a cat’s paw. Mapped out clearly before everyone is this similarity that is held up as one of the defining evidences of Darwinian evolution. Because these similarities seem to be built using common parts, a successive relationship is inferred. To the evolutionist, these similarities are undeniable proof for common ancestry, the core dogma of Darwinian evolution. Is this field of comparative biology as impregnable as it is touted to be? Is this pillar of evolution upholding Darwin’s argument nearly one hundred and fifty years later?

I. Homology

            Before we can delve into the arguments for and against comparative biology, we must clarify what it is. Evolutionary theory predicts that all living organisms will share some similarities due to their common ancestry. Yet common functional structures do not automatically confirm relationship. There is a key difference between structures that are considered truly homologous and those considered analogous. Homologous structures, like the forelimbs of the organisms commonly pictured in the biology class poster, have not only common functions, but common structures as well. The bones in our forearm, while different sizes, closely resemble the organizational structures within other vertebrates like the bat wing, whale fin, etc.  The homology goes beyond simple structure these days, spilling into the study of genetics and embryology.

            On the other hand, analogous structures are ones that are similar in function, but have arisen via different origins. The wings of an insect and the wings of a bat have a common use, but their structures are clearly different. Insect wings have membranous wings stiffened by harden veins that dried soon after they morph into the adult stages. Bat wings, while seemingly membranous, are actually bone with layers of skin growing between the digits and the creature’s sides. They are both functionally used for flight, but neither works the same way, nor are they in any way related.

            This line between homologous and analogous structures is a fine one in many situations. Similarities are sometimes very close in both structure and function and the organisms in question could be uncannily similar, yet at the same time, they could have very different structures that cannot be related. Convergent evolution comes into play in situations like these. Sharks and dolphins have very similar external appearances and structural functions, but the fish to mammal difference confirm that they are not close evolutionary relatives. The same could be said about sugar gliders and flying squirrels, both incredibly alike in structure, function, and behavior with one drastic difference: their reproductive systems. Any evolutionary relationship between these two species would have to be found all the way back at the divergence of mammalian reproduction between placental mammals and marsupials. Because of this, no evolutionary relationship is implied, but the homologous definition is blurred. It is incredibly difficult to assume evolution could produce nearly identical structures and creatures more than once.

II. Vestigial Structures

            Within this argument for homology lies the evolutionary presupposition that there exists many structures that are nothing but evolutionary leftovers. Some might have adapted to serve some minor purpose, but many are considered worthless leftovers from previous evolutionary stages. As well known biology textbook writers Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine wrote,

Vestigial structures are inherited from ancestors but have lost much or all of their original function due to different selection pressures acting on the descendant… [Why] retain structures with little or no function? One possibility is that the presence of the structure does not affect an organism’s fitness, and, therefore, natural selection does not act to eliminate it.[1]

Popular layman sources for science education like livescience.com lay out this argument in simplified slideshow format.[2] The story is very similar to many other sources, including some textbooks. Examples include the human appendix, the human tailbone, and even the whale pelvic bones. These few structures, as well as a dwindling list of others, are claimed to have no functions and are worthless leftovers.

            The appendix is found in many animals. It is significantly larger in herbivorous mammals and much tinier in our bodies. In the herbivores, it assists the digestion of plant materials, but in omnivores and carnivores, it is much reduced. To some people, it is considered not just a useless leftover, but a liability as well, with its frequently capacity to become infected, inflamed and eventually burst, which could cause drastic damage, if not deadly results. But is this organ as worthless as implied? Is it just an evolutionary leftover? Apparently it is not. The growing scientific consensus suggests that the appendix is indeed quite important, especially in embryonic development, though it remains functional in different ways into adulthood.[3]

            Another very common structure deemed vestigial is the so-called “tailbone” in humans. This curved structure at the end of the spine is said to be the remnants of a tail from when our proto-monkey ancestors still had them, presumably for balance during their arboreal lifestyle. It is not at all uncommon for many to deem it as worthless leftovers[4] without thinking twice. These claims, if true, would leave us in a very uncomfortable situation, quite literally.

“For instance, the coccyx is one part of a three-part support for a person in the seated position. Weight is distributed between the bottom portions of the two hip bones (or ischium) and the tailbone, providing balance and stability when a person is seated…The tailbone is the connecting point for many pelvic floor muscles. These muscles help support the anus and aid in defecation, support the vagina in females, and assist in walking, running, and moving the legs.[5]

Even with these admissions of important purpose of this bone, properly called the coccyx, these authors still dogmatically define it as vestigial, apparently ignorant to the words they wrote directly opposite to that conclusion. If the coccyx bone is an important location for the attachments of ligaments and tendons, then how could it truly be considered vestigial? This is a clear example of the weakness of the homological argument: it may look similar to a tiny tail to the imaginative eye, but that in no way proves that it actually is a tail. Similarity does not equal relationship.

            In a similar instance, though outside the human body, it is commonly argued that the little pelvic bones in cetaceans are the remnants of legs from their evolutionary ancestors that walked the land. Over time, with the fading need to return to land and the further adaptation into a fully aquatic environment, the early proto-whales were suggested to have slowly lost functional legs. The legs didn’t simply disappear, but rather shrank in size and complexity until all that are left are the current pelvic bones. Like the coccyx bone in humans, it had, for many years, been deemed an evolutionary leftover with no function. Yet again, however, we see that this assumption of vestigiality is incorrect. 

            Evolutionary biologists from none other than the respectable Harvard University have tackled this false vestigiality, even if they themselves do not even realize it.[6] While still assuming the whale pelvic bones are the remnants of legs, they turn around and preach how useful they actually are.  Their research has found that these pelvic bones are actually important attachment sites of muscles important for sexual reproduction. These bones are apparently able to help guide the male whale genitalia during mating, a difficult task for such a large, water-bound mammal. Without these pelvic bones, whale copulation would be quite a bit more hit and miss, resulting in lower chances of producing offspring, and possibly limiting the population of cetaceans altogether, which could easily end in an evolutionary dead end.  Again, because of their positioning, homologous relationships are presumed, but not proven.

            Overall, this argument for vestigiality ends up being too shallow to be as clear a proof for evolutionary relationships as is typically claimed. This is mainly because the argument for vestigial organs is not a scientific one, but rather a theological one. Dr. Paul Nelson wrote on this very concept in Biology and Philosophy. He noted, “Evolutionists have long contended that the organic world falls short of what one might expect from an omnipotent and benevolent creator. “[7]

When people try to explain how or why a creator might have created, they are well beyond the boundaries of the modern applications of science. To make such claims, you have to imply knowledge of the creator and what their goals were. When an evolutionist implies “God would not build an organ that way,” they are building their case as a negative case against their understanding of who God is and how they perceive him to work, not on scientific suppositions. This use of theology undermines the purpose of the argument for vestigial organs.

III. Ontogeny

            Another common argument from homology is found in the study of embryology. Stemming from as early as Darwin’s lifetime, some biologists claimed to see the actual evolutionary stages played out in the development of an organism’s embryo. As Darwin himself wrote, “…the embryo is the animal in its less modified state; and in so far it reveals the structure of it progenitor… community in embryonic structure reveals community of descent.”[8] Many of the shapes and structures that early embryologists discovered seemed very similar to each other, leading to these claims of homologous relationship. Embryologists like Karl Ernst von Baer suggested that the early stages of embryonic growth, be it in birds, mammals or reptiles, all looked incredibly alike. German biologist Ernst Haeckel took this concept to the extreme with his famous phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” This biogenetic law of his, also known as recapitulation, was influential in shaping evolutionary thought during his day. His artistic representations of the embryonic stages of multiple different species spread like wildfire because the similarities were uncannily similar. Haeckel claimed that organisms, humans for example, undergo the major evolutionary stages during development, going from single cellular, to multicellular, and all the way up to chordates and finally to their final modern stage on the evolutionary ladder.

            Sadly, Haeckel was overly attached to his biogenetic law and its boon for evolutionary theory. In his drive to prove Darwinian evolution, he took short cuts by literally altering the artistic representations in manners that forced the similarity beyond what was actually seen. His ruse was eventually discovered and he was forced to retract the claims he made, but by then it was too late. His concept had already taken root in the mind of the public. For decades, his infamous depictions of embryonic homologies remained for all to see in educational textbooks. Some college professors admit that the biogenetic law in its full form was false, but that the basic concepts are still sound science.

A modern day embryologist realized that the similarities claimed by people like Haeckel had not been accurately tested. He built a team of researchers and tackled the question himself. His published findings in the journal Anatomy and Embryology[9] reviewed the similarities of an even larger sample size than Haeckel had reviewed. His findings were conclusive. Needless to say, there were very obvious differences that any competent embryologist could see that show the differences between the organisms in the earlier stages, undermining the original assumptions of homology.

IV. DNA Homologies

            Darwinian evolution is founded on the concept of common ancestry. Darwin made a convincing case to his contemporaries, but the generations that followed him have had to morph the argument based on the ever-growing knowledge of DNA and genetics. If you ask an evolutionist, the transition into the growing field of genetics was one of the best things for evolution. Textbook authors like Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine state categorically

At the molecular level, the universal genetic code and homologous molecules provide evidence of common descent…All cells use information coded in DNA and RNA to carry information from one generation to the next and direct protein synthesis. This genetic code is nearly identical in almost all organisms, including bacteria, yeasts, plants, fungi, and animals. This is powerful evidence that all organisms evolved from common ancestors that shared this code.[10]

The realization that all life on Earth has DNA was gobbled up like candy to further the Darwinian gospel, but do these homologies truly support Darwinian evolution?

            A first shortcoming of this common evolutionary assumption is a clear upset of universal ancestry by none other than what could be compared to a universal familial DNA test. Unlike what Miller and Levine boldly claim, we are now finding many different genetic codes in different organisms. They may use the same basic DNA materials, but their codes are far too different to show a united ancestry of all living things. In fact, they have found twenty-four different codes,[11] and, due to the fragility of the encoded information, such drastic variations could not be sustained between the generations. This could be compared to a child knowing fluent Spanish after being raised in an exclusively English home. Where did that child learn its language? There is no feasible way to tweak one or two words from English to arrive at fluent Spanish, yet these codes would have to make such sudden (but still functional) changes to be related, which is not feasible. Each of these is more likely to have its own unique origins. A cohesive, universal, homologous genetic code for all life has major disconnects.

            It goes beyond just those twenty four codes too. Some of the codes that are different than what was deemed standard are found in the mitochondria’s own set of DNA. Multiple mDNA’s have been discovered that use unique codes. If we find eukaryotic cells that have similar nuclear DNA, yet their mDNA is different, we are forced away from the conclusion of close relationship, since all mDNA should have originated early on in the evolution of eukaryotes. For example, invertebrates and vertebrates cannot share a common ancestor since their mDNA is not even based upon the same code. These codes cannot change overnight. Even slight changes can be catastrophic.

            Even if we focus on what is often considered a great example of close homology, we find the evidence coming up short. In the instance of our relationship with the higher apes, such as the bonobos or chimpanzees, it is very often claimed that we have a 96% similarity between our DNAs.[12] Frans de Waal, a primate scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia boldly asserted, “We are apes in every way, from our long arms and tailless bodies to our habits and temperament.” Again, as with other examples of homologies, once we look past the outer layers of the arguments, the illusion drops away.

            This 96-98% similarity figure is based upon comparison of small sections of the human and chimp genomes. When one does a more thorough comparison of larger portions of the chromosomes, we get much lower percentages.

Genome-wide, only 70% of the chimpanzee DNA was similar to human under the most optimal alignment conditions. While, chimpanzees and humans share many localized protein-coding regions of high similarity, the overall extreme discontinuity between the two genomes defies evolutionary time-scales and dogmatic presuppositions about a common ancestor.[13]

That 70% similarity is a drastic reversal for homology claims. These higher claims of similarity are borderline deceptive, but have been very effective in duping many people for decades. Homologies like this are nothing more than conclusions based upon incomplete research.

            The human-chimpanzee relationship is an even deeper problem for evolution than just the genome comparisons. It also gets down to finding the actual genetic links that could prove the possibility of the physical changes we see. Dr. Paul Nelson, in a presentation at Biola University, described a short list of traits that set chimpanzees apart from humans physically. The list includes a baculum, a lack of pharyngeal air sacs, no chin, pigmented sclera, no eyebrows, and many others. If we hypothetically agreed with the 96-98% similarity in the two genomes, we still have an uphill battle to show that it is even possible to create all of these changes with only that 2-4% DNA change. If all those changes could occur with so little DNA variation, then we should be able to identify where the “switches” are that control them. The pigmentation in the eye in a chimp is black while in humans it is white. Shouldn’t that color change be a simple switch of a gene or two? But such things have been evading evolutionists. Could they possibly find one or two possible changes? Sure, but the list is incredibly long and varied for such a small DNA difference to account for. To lose a full bone (like the baculum), we are likely to see a much larger variation. Even if the DNA matched as much as they claimed, the homologies have very little strength behind their claims of common ancestry.

V. Conclusion

            Evolutionary homologies seem so conclusive, but as in the Wizard of Oz, once we peer behind the curtain, we find that the whole thing was a charade. The comparative anatomy posters in biology textbooks are deceptively used to push the Darwinian concept in dogmatic fashion, yet they lack the strength to stand on their own merits. If anyone dares to move the curtain of evolutionary dogmatism, they will find a theory that is crumbling under its own insinuations. Modern scientific investigation does not support homologous relationships; rather, it reveals it for what it really is: a modern myth.

Works Cited

  • Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species, Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (1964) 449.
  • Miller & Levine, Biology,  (New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc., 2014), 469-470.
  • Nelson, Paul. “The Role of Theology in Current Evolutionary Reasoning,” Biology & Philosophy. (October 1996), Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 493–517

[1] Miller & Levine, Biology,  (New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc., 2014), 469.

[2] Miller, Brandon. “Top 10 Useless Limbs (and Other Vestigial Organs),” Live Science (February 2005) https://www.livescience.com/11317-top-10-useless-limbs-vestigial-organs.html (accessed Oct. 10th, 2016).

[3] Martin, Loren G. “What is the function of the human appendix? Did it once have a purpose that has since been lost?” Scientific American (2017). https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-function-of-the-human-appendix-did-it-once-have-a-purpose-that-has-since-been-lost/ (accessed Oct. 11th, 2017)

[4] Caba, Justin. “10 Useless Human Body Parts: What You Do And Don’t Need.” Medical Daily (2017). http://www.medicaldaily.com/10-useless-human-body-parts-what-you-do-and-dont-need-297264

[5] Staehler, Richard A. “Anatomy of the Coccyx (Tailbone).” Spine Health (January 2017). https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/spine-anatomy/anatomy-coccyx-tailbone (accessed Oct. 11th, 2017)

[6] Reuell, Peter. “Status Shift for Whale Pelvic Bones,” Harvard Gazette (October 2014). https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2014/10/status-shift-for-whale-pelvic-bones/ (accessed Oct. 11th, 2017).

[7] Nelson, Paul. “The Role of Theology in Current Evolutionary Reasoning,” Biology & Philosophy. (October 1996), Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 493–517

[8] Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species, Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (1964) 449.

[9] Richardson, M., Hanken, J., Gooneratne, M. et al. Anatomy & Embryology (1997) 196: 91. https://doi.org/10.1007/s004290050082

[10] Miller & Levine, Biology,  (New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc., 2014), 470.

[11]Koonin, Eugene V. and Wolf, Yuri, I. “The Common Ancestry of Life,” NCBI (2010). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Taxonomy/taxonomyhome.html/index.cgi?chapter=cgencodes (accessed Oct. 12th, 2017).

[12] Lovgren, Stefan “Chimps, Humans 96 Percent the Same, Gene Study Finds,”

 National Geographic News (August 2005). http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/08/0831_050831_chimp_genes.html (accessed Oct. 10th, 2017).

[13] Tomkins, Jeffrey P. “New Research Evaluationg Similarities Between Human and Chimpanzee DNA,” Institute of Creation Research (2013). http://www.icr.org/article/new-research-evaluating-similarities (accessed Oct. 12th, 2017).

The Origins of Complex Specified Information

“DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.”

― Bill Gates, The Road Ahead

            For many, the debate over the origins of life has been settled. It is often assumed that Charles Darwin rendered unnecessary any arguments that the complexity of life needed to be explained by something outside of nature. Darwin and his disciples have been confidently shoveling dirt over the opposition for generations. However, new arguments for intelligent design have arisen: the discovery of complex specified information in biological life has become both intelligent design’s greatest strength and naturalistic evolution’s greatest weakness. 

I. Evidence from DNA

            Within modern genetic research, we have had many breakthroughs in the decoding of the DNA molecule. Deoxyribonucleic acid, (DNA) has been identified as one of the most efficient information storage methods ever known. Not even digital code from the most advanced supercomputers measures up to DNA’s compact and proficient design. Software pioneer Bill Gates said, “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.”[1] Upon this incredible molecule, lays a code hidden within a sequence of molecules called base pairs. The pattern of these base pairs could be compared to a digital code’s language of ones and zeros. This information rich molecule contains what Dr. Stephen C. Meyer has called complex specified information.[2] Meyer explained,

The crucial biomolecular constituents of living organisms possess… “specified information” or “specified complexity.” Biological information… constitutes a salient feature of living systems that any origin-of-life scenario must explain “the origin of.” Further… all naturalistic chemical evolutionary theories have encountered difficulty explaining the origin of such functionally “specified” biological information.”[3]

Clearly it’s reasonable to doubt the ability of naturalistic evolution’s explanatory power for DNA if it cannot explain the origins of life’s instruction manual.

II. Specified Complexity

            What is complex specified information, and why does this provide such a headache for naturalistic evolution? To understand this, one must first understand the terms “specified” and “complexity”. For example, when we see a set of letters like “ESGIUHKDMNB,” we see a rare or highly unlikely event. If I were to randomly hit keys on my keyboard, it would be highly unlikely that I would hit the keys in that same sequence. This makes this a “complex” sequence. When we see something more like “FOX,” we can identify it as a sequence that conforms to a previously known pattern, making it specified. The second case is not complex because it could be randomly reproduced with the proper amount of time. Now let’s combine the two examples. A sentence, such as “WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY?” is a chain of letters and spaces that are both complex, due to the difficulty of random generation in the perfect order, and specified, because they are ordered in a specific way that conveys a previously understood pattern. Likewise, DNA shows incredible levels of specified complexity in its informational storage. Meyer concludes “…my characterization of DNA and RNA [ribonucleic acid] as molecules that store functional or specified information is not even remotely controversial within mainstream biology.”[4]

George Wald once claimed, in Scientific American, “Given so much time, the impossible becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain.”[5] Wald’s claims, however, are based on assumptions that more time can make highly unlikely events possible. It is a common misunderstanding of probabilities to assume that with enough time, things that are astronomically improbable will simply come to pass. Wald even suggests that some scientists are openly returning to spontaneous generation to explain life’s origins.[6] If this is true, scientists would be ignoring the simple, yet conclusive debunking of spontaneous generation from centuries earlier because they have very few other choices to explain the origin of specified complexity with.

Is it possible to produce the key building blocks of life through a purely natural and random process? Director of the Biologic Institute Dr. Douglas Axe explains, 

A prevalent idea at the time was that proteins were not particularly fussy about the sequence of amino acids [the building blocks of proteins] along their chains, and even less fussy about the identities of the amino acid that end up on the outside of their folded structure. According to many scientists then, all a protein needed in order to fold was an appropriate placement of water-loving and water-repelling amino acid appendages along the chain.[7]

Simply put, it was commonly assumed that proteins were fairly easy to make. That notion, however, didn’t last long. Through his research on proteins, Axe has discovered that the odds of producing functioning proteins by chance were beyond his wildest imagination.

… I was able to put a number on the actual rarity—a startling number. With only one good protein sequence for every 1074 bad ones, I had found functional proteins to be…rarer than Denton’s criterion! Unless this number was overturned somehow, a decisive blow had been dealt to the idea that proteins arose from accidental causes.[8]

To put that 1×1074 probability in perspective, it is estimated that the “…number of stars may very well be around 1.2×1023  – or just over 100 sextillion.”[9] Through a process of randomly mutating sequences of the amino acids in proteins, Axe discovered that chance alone could not explain the origins of these molecules. Therefore, the identification of specified complexity in DNA forces researchers to look for answers in places other than random recombination. 

III. Interconnectivity in DNA, RNA, and Proteins

By definition, natural selection, the proposed mechanism that drives evolution forward, can only work on living, self-replicating organisms. Natural selection cannot apply to chemicals, and this is where evolutionary theory has problems: DNA requires proteins to read it, package it, maintain and fix it. Even DNA reproduction requires proteins. RNA, a copy of DNA, is required to produce proteins, both because it brings the instructions for the proteins and because it constitutes a functioning portion of the process that produces protein strands. RNA relies on DNA for its information and proteins for forming it as a copy of that information. This leads to one significant puzzle of interconnectivity and instigates a chicken and egg scenario: which came first: the DNA, the RNA, or the protein? Natural selection cannot produce all three parts simultaneously. Robert F. Service states:

In order for life to have gotten started, there must have been a genetic molecule—something like DNA or RNA—capable of passing along blueprints for making proteins, the workhorse molecules of life. But modern cells can’t copy DNA and RNA without the help of proteins themselves.[10]

Even though this seems to be quite puzzling, some evolutionary science writers suggest that it could still be solved. Service continues

Chemists report today that a pair of simple compounds, which would have been abundant on early Earth, can give rise to a network of simple reactions that produce the three major classes of biomolecules—nucleic acids, amino acids, and lipids—needed for the earliest form of life to get its start. Although the new work does not prove that this is how life started, it may eventually help explain one of the deepest mysteries in modern science.[11]

By claiming that the building blocks of life are fairly easy to get started, many imply that the rest of the process of building a living organism should fall into place rather easily.

            The issue here is that these biomolecules are just the building blocks. As Axe’s research shows, putting those biomolecules together in a functional order is inconceivably difficult.[12] One could compare this situation to having all the parts to an automobile, but leaving random chance to put all of them together in a functional manner.

IV. Other Explanations for Origins of Complex Specified Information

            If complex specified information cannot be explained by natural selection, what else could account for it? There are only three possibilities left. One is the random recombination of parts that just happened to produce a functioning molecule that included specified information. Imagine, for a moment, that DNA was a book of blank pages. Now, picture a stream of random letters, numbers, and punctuation appearing on those pages until every page was filled. Would it be logical to think that the product is now a novel? Of course not! It would be gibberish. If occasional words did appear, they would soon be consumed by the degenerative nature of random mutations. If a few words appeared, they are still worthless since they have neither context nor function. Logically, if a string of letters such as “FORWUBFAWAS” appears at random, we may notice “FOR” and “WAS,” but in their context, they lack any value. In DNA, a single “word” means nothing in functional terms if there isn’t a sentence around it. An instruction manual is an apt comparison to DNA because one needs to see all the steps to be able to build the functioning product. Famous atheist Richard Dawkins has recognized these similarities: “The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal.”[13] If a prominent supporter of the naturalistic evolutionary view sees this comparison, one should take note.

            However, Dawkins suggests that this design is illusory and “…the living results of natural selection overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker, [they] impress us with the illusion of design and planning.”[14] Dawkins would conclude that our notions of design are flawed and that natural selection, a directionless process could create the illusion of design; however, this ignores the observational nature of the scientific method.

However, is Dawkins correct that our intuitions about design are not trustworthy? Axe wrote, “…whenever we think we would be unable to achieve a particular useful result without first learning how, we judge that result to be unattainable by accident.”[15] Thus, our design intuition can be scientifically observed to be correct. We can look back at Bill Gates’ comparison of DNA to computer code: what is the only observable source for the information found in computer code? An intelligent mind is the only known cause, and science must be based upon our observations. Thus, using proper scientific methodology, we must conclude based on our observations, that, because DNA contains such a richness of functional information, it must come from a similar source as computer code, written novels, or instruction manuals: an intelligent mind.

            If the origins of information cannot be traced from natural selection or random processes, then what other options are there? In 1969, Dean Kenyon, Professor Emeritus of Biology at San Francisco State University, and coauthor Gary Steinman developed an idea in a book entitled Biochemical Predestination. They argued that life might have been “biochemically predestined” by the properties of attraction existing between its constituent chemical parts, particularly among the amino acids in proteins.”[16] Their textbook became a predominant text on chemical evolutionary theory, and suggested that there were predispositions in molecular attractions in these biomolecules that made functional proteins not just likely, but necessary.

However, Kenyon himself eventually discredited his own theory. “Ironically… Dean Kenyon has now explicitly repudiated such theories as both incompatible with empirical findings and theoretically incoherent.”[17] Simply put, any attractions seen in the bonding of amino acids “…do not correlate to actual sequences in large classes of known proteins”[18] Some amino acids have particular attractions to others, but they are not strong enough to force the particular functional order needed to get the working proteins we see today.

Explaining DNA’s information-rich sequences by appealing to differential bonding affinities meant that there had to be chemical bonds of differing strength between the different bases along the information-bearing axis of the DNA molecule. Yet, as it turns out… there are no bonds at all between the critical information-bearing bases in DNA.[19]

Because there are no actual chemical bonds between the information storing base pairs in DNA, there is no way that stronger bonding attractions in biochemical predestination could explain the existence of DNA’s complex specified information.

            If neither natural selection, random chance, nor chemical necessity can explain the origin of complex specified information, then what else is left? Logically, if an event cannot happen through these mechanisms, there is only one reasonable alternative. Intelligent design has the explanatory power to help us comprehend the origins of these complex biomolecules and their complex specified information, because “Intelligent design is the scientific study of the intelligible principle of biological function.”[20] Because the functions are complex and specified, an intelligent cause is the only logical answer to the origins of this information. In all our common observations, we see similar types of information only in books, digital code, and other analogous sources. Where does this breed of information come from? Do books write themselves? Can a computer randomly produce more functional code? No, these things require an intelligent source to infuse more information into them. The intelligent causation of life, therefore, is the only scientifically viable explanation we have left. Naturalistic evolution has been buried under the burden of proof, while Intelligent Design should take its earned place at the forefront of science.

Works cited

Axe, Douglas, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed (New York: HarperOne, 2016), 33-34.

Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic Books/Harper Collins, 1995), 17.

Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986), 21.

Egnor, Michael, “Life is a ‘Distinguished Outcome,’” Evolution news and Views, (Nov. 2015), http://www.evolutionnews.org/2015/11/life_is_a_disti101061.html (accessed Sept 19, 2016)

Gates, Bill, The Road Ahead (Boulder, Colo.: Blue Penguin, 1996), 228.

Kenyon, Dean and Steinman, Gary, Biochemical Predestination, 199–211, 263–66, quoted in Stephen C. Meyer, “DNA and the Origin of Life” in Darwinism, Design and Public Education (Rhetoric & Public Affairs), ed. John Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer (Michigan State University Press, 2003), 248.

Meyer, Stephen C., “Denying the Signature: Functional Information Is the Fact to Be Explained,” Evolution News and Views (Nov. 2015), http://www.evolutionnews.org/2015/11/denying_the_sig_2101021.html (accessed Sept. 15, 2016)

Meyer, Stephen C., “DNA and the Origin of Life,” in Darwinism, Design and Public Education (Rhetoric & Public Affairs), ed. John Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer (East Lansing: Michigan State University, 2003), 237.

Meyer, Stephen C., Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 109.

Service, Robert F., “Researchers May Have Solved Origin-of-life Conundrum,” Science (March 2015), http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/03/researchers-may-have-solved-origin-life-conundrum (accessed Sept. 15th, 2016)

Villanueva, John Carl, “How Many Atoms are there in the Universe?” Dec. 2015, http://www.universetoday.com/36302/atoms-in-the-universe/ (Accessed 9/18/16)

Wald, George, The Origin of Life (Scientific American 191, 1954): 44-53, quoted in Stephen C. Meyer, “DNA and the Origin of Life” in Darwinism, Design and Public Education (Rhetoric & Public Affairs), ed. John Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer (Michigan State University Press, 2003), 237.


[1] Bill Gates, The Road Ahead (Boulder, Colo.: Blue Penguin, 1996), 228.

[2] Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 109

[3] Stephen C. Meyer, “DNA and the Origin of Life,” in Darwinism, Design and Public Education (Rhetoric & Public Affairs), ed. John Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer (East Lansing: Michigan State University, 2003), 237.

[4] Stephen C. Meyer “Denying the Signature: Functional Information Is the Fact to Be Explained,” Evolution News and Views (Nov. 2015), http://www.evolutionnews.org/2015/11/denying_the_sig_2101021.html (accessed Sept. 15, 2016)

[5] George Wald, The Origin of Life (Scientific American 191, 1954): 44-53, quoted in Stephen C. Meyer, “DNA and the Origin of Life” in Darwinism, Design and Public Education (Rhetoric & Public Affairs), ed. John Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer (Michigan State University Press, 2003), 237

[6] Wald, The Origins of Life 1954, 44

[7] Douglas Axe, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed (New York: HarperOne, 2016), 33-34

[8] Ibid., 57.

[9] John Carl Villanueva, “How Many Atoms are there in the Universe?” Dec. 2015, http://www.universetoday.com/36302/atoms-in-the-universe/ (Accessed 9/18/16)

[10] Robert F. Service, “Researchers May Have Solved Origin-of-life Conundrum,” Science (March 2015), http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/03/researchers-may-have-solved-origin-life-conundrum (accessed Sept. 15th, 2016)

[11] Ibid

[12] Axe, Undeniable, 57.

[13] Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic Books/Harper Collins, 1995), 17.

[14] Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986), 21

[15] Axe, Undeniable 2016, 20

[16] Dean Kenyon and Gary Steinman, Biochemical Predestination, 199–211, 263–66, quoted in Stephen C. Meyer, “DNA and the Origin of Life” in Darwinism, Design and Public Education (Rhetoric & Public Affairs), ed. John Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer (Michigan State University Press, 2003), 248

[17] Stephen C. Meyer, DNA and the Origins of Life n.d. 249

[18] ibid., 250.

[19] Meyer, Signature., 243.

[20] Michael Egnor, “Life is a ‘Distinguished Outcome,’” Evolution news and Views, (Nov. 2015), http://www.evolutionnews.org/2015/11/life_is_a_disti101061.html (accessed Sept 19, 2016)

Philosophy’s Untimely (& Over Exaggerated) Death

Stephen Hawking: “Philosophy is dead.” Me: “Can you prove that scientifically?”

In our modern world where scientism has seized hold of western culture, famous scientists tend to hold more sway than most other educated thinkers. Men like Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse-Tyson, and even Bill Nye are held up as celebrity experts to be heeded. In their opinion, science and metaphysics are non-overlapping magisteria; however, even though these scientists claim that science is the best source of truth and understanding, they frequently slip into metaphysical claims. The purpose of this paper is to show how their lack of understanding on how metaphysics, science and other topics of thought interact is one of their greatest weaknesses.

I. Introduction

            Dr. Stephen Hawking is a world-renowned physicist. He was the appointed prestigious Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a position once held by none other than Sir Isaac Newton himself. Space.com heralds him as “…one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history.”[1] Clearly, this is a man of great distinction, and one whom we should heed, right? If so, when he makes the bold claim that “…philosophy is dead,”[2] should we have a funeral for the field of philosophy? No, do not close down all philosophy and metaphysics courses just yet. Dr. Hawking, rather blindly, has made this conclusion from none other than philosophical arguments. Celebrity scientists like Stephen Hawking, Bill Nye, and Neil deGrasse Tyson all hold low views on the usefulness of philosophy, often insinuating that science is superior in usefulness and ability to answer important questions. Their common and often public conclusions are absorbed into our culture, even though it is a blatant misunderstanding of how we can pursue truth.

            In a “Big Think” video,[3] Bill Nye of the “Bill Nye the Science Guy” fame was asked about the value of philosophy. In a roundabout and discombobulated way, Nye seemed to conclude that philosophy was of little value. He made it apparently clear that he has no training in philosophy, and holds great misconceptions of its usefulness. If this is true, why do people even care what he thinks on the issue? Is Bill Nye a philosopher? Clearly he is not. Is he even a scientist? Well, that is debatable, but I will not touch on that here. Why does the public hold him up as a reliable expert? It gets down to our culture slowly succumbing to scientism and materialism.

II. Scientism

            What is scientism? “Scientism is the idea that all forms of intellectual inquiry must conform to the model(s) of science in order to be rational.”[4] Expanding on this, it can be said that, from a view from within scientism:

No knowledge is deemed valid or justified unless its claims can be tested and verified empirically through experimentation, observation and repetition. This criterion is part of an intellectual infrastructure which controls the way people think, argue, infer, and make sense of things. Truth claims that do not submit to this kind of scrutiny become irrelevant, invalid, or unacceptable as per a pure fantasy.[5]

In other words, empirical study is the only way to find rational truths, and anything that cannot be empirically tested is automatically rejected.

This concept has grown steadily ever since Charles Darwin produced a naturalistic mechanism for the origins of life. Since then, western culture has slowly increased its push against all things they deem to be outside of empirical testability: religion and philosophy are two of the major ones to be hit hardest.

            As Bill Nye mentioned in his “Big Think” video on philosophy, science helps answer things through the senses. Philosophical concepts or religious ideologies are often abstract and intangible, so their value is supposedly less than what could be concluded by empirical testing. This, of course, is closely related to generations of thinkers through whom the modern rise in reductionism stems. This is where everything in human behavior is explainable strictly by the firing of the brain’s neurons, which in turn are reduced to atomic physics. With reductionism being assumed, scientism would inevitably come to dominate thought since empirical methodologies are the most reliable cause and effect testing methods.

III. Materialism

            Stemming from Darwinian mechanical explanations, scientists have often pushed far away from all things they could not explain empirically. The supernatural or spiritual realm was one of the first real casualties in this turn of thought. Science became naturalistic, and this change can be linked to a theological change.

            One of the earlier theological proponents of the application of naturalistic methods in science was René Descartes. René and his adherent Leibniz concluded that God was flawless and perfectly powerful. To remain as such, they claimed that God would have had to start the universe and set the universal laws of nature, but never interact in creation again. They likened God to a supreme watchmaker, one who so perfectly designed a watch that it would never need to be rewound again to stay on time.[6] If the creation was in constant need of re-tuning to continue working, then that imperfection supposedly reflected poorly back on the creator.

The implications of such a view is that God created the universe, but was not directly involved in the processes that lead up to the origins of life and man; therefore, the laws of nature explain the origins of life and can functionally be understood through the application of naturalistic scientific methods.

            Descartes’ concept of a theologically founded naturalism lead into a full-fledged materialism, which is the rejection of all that is divine. Many later thinkers took Descartes and Leibniz’s concept just one step further and claimed that even the origins of the universe could be explained by natural laws without divine intervention. The human body could then be explained all in physical terms, with no supernatural or spiritual component to it. Thomas Henry Huxley, a fervent proponent of Darwinian evolution, openly held such a materialistic view:

I hold with the Materialist that the human body, like all living bodies, is a machine, all the operations of which will sooner or later be explained on physical principles. I believe that we shall sooner or later arrive at a mechanical equivalent of consciousness, just as we have arrived at a mechanical equivalent of heat.[7]

Huxley himself tied his materialism back to Descartes in the same essay as the quote above, thus lending more strength to the connection between changes in theological thought and the rise of materialism in science.

            This then marks the cut-off of science and theology. Materialism has become the status quo for modern thinkers, and empirical methods of learning have come to the forefront of the pursuit of truth. Because of this emphasis on the empirical, philosophy has lost its proper place in the hunt for knowledge. It is because of this that Bill Nye dismisses the value of philosophy and Dr. Hawking claims that philosophy is dead.

IV. Cultural Influence

            Provocative biologist and author Lewis Wolpert once claimed in a public debate that most of what philosophy told us was “obvious or trivial.” He even called the philosophy of science “pure junk.” He emphasized science’s rapid growth and constant discoveries as showing its value, while philosophy was lacking anything that lead to similar discoveries.[8] This is a representative mindset of where our culture has gone: we want instant gratification, so the rewards and achievements of science seem better than those of philosophy.

            It is not surprising how easily the white lab coat of a scientist and the discoveries such people make all the time impresses the layman. Our growth in science has lead to incredible leaps in technology in very short periods of time. In my generation alone, we have jumped from the invention of the first personal desktop computers to the invention of the Internet, and beyond. Computers started as behemoths that filled entire rooms just to do simple processing functions, but have since been able to fit into a sliver of metal or plastic in a personalized cell phone that contains more computing power and functionality than those computers that sent men to the moon. Clearly science, which leads to technology, has great powers of discovery.  Such obvious displays of progress sweep up the masses in a tidal wave of excitement. You do not have far to look to find a person glued to their phones. It is literally becoming an addiction!

            It is no surprise, then, to see the lack of cultural interest for philosophy in our modern era. While philosophy once was the uniting factor of all the studies one could pursue, it has been demoted due to its less than entertaining charisma. Slowly, philosophy has dwindled in public school education until the most typical students ever get is a basic introductory course in it in college. It is hard to make such a study as appealing to a culture that hungers for instant gratification and entertainment. You could describe thinking as a dwindling art.

            Clearly, science “celebrities” like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson have been able to capitalize on the wow factor and entertainment value of science and technology. Bill Nye’s show “Bill Nye the Science Guy” was supposedly educating youth in the value of science, but his true colors have bled through and his more modern humanist agendas show up to ridicule those that deny scientism, his applied materialism. Tyson, in his recent reboot of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” television show, used computer graphics and strong scientific “evidences” to impress and humble his audiences, yet underneath all the beautiful imagery was a dogmatic purpose: to skew public opinion against anything that contradicted his materialistic worldview. His show went so far as to portray members of the early clergy as dark, foreboding figures that wanted to stop science in its tracks at all costs. Because public figures like Nye and Tyson so openly reject alternatives to their materialism, much of the public is caught up in their worldview. Through flashy entertainment that parents deemed educational, these famous science icons have gained the trust of a whole generation. This is frightening! As none other than Adolf Hitler said, “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.”[9] Through influence of a full generation of students through their educational shows, these men have set themselves up as experts in the mind of these who are now growing into adulthood. They then will likely share those same experiences with their children, ensnaring the next generation in the same trap.

V. Errant Truth

            Because of the growing faith in these celebrity scientists in our modern culture,many now assume (often unconsciously) that these men are making solid, trustworthy, science-based claims. Due to the lack of proper logical or philosophical training in our educational systems today, few people even take note when a scientist makes metaphysical or philosophical claims. What is often surprising is how often they actually do fall back on these non-empirically oriented ways of thinking.

            Many famous scientists constantly make truth claims about aspects of science. Bill Nye said that “Evolution is a theory, and it’s a theory that you can test. We’ve tested evolution in many ways. You can’t present good evidence that says evolution is not a fact.”[10] Neil deGrasse Tyson, in the 2014 show “Cosmos,” also said categorically that “Evolution, like the theory of gravity, is a scientific fact!”[11] Even famous scientist and author Richard Dawkins tries to hit the same point home:

Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact…That didn’t have to be true. It is not self-evidently, tautologically, obviously true, and there was a time when most people, even educated people, thought it wasn’t. It didn’t have to be true, but it is… Evolution is the only game in town, the greatest show on earth.[12]

All these influential scientists seem to be pointing in one direction: that certain conclusions in science can be considered truth. While the word “fact” is often used to mean “data,” in many cases it is actually used to infer a claim of truth. What they nor their followers realize is that they are making the metaphysical claim that science can be a source of truth. But can it?

            Logically, truth must be absolute. Truth must be true, since otherwise it would not be true to begin with. Inversely, when one says that truth cannot be true, they themselves are making an absolute truth statement, which is self contradictory. This also draws the conclusion that truth cannot change. For example, if a man was convicted of a crime and sent to prison, but later found innocent and set free, it was not the truth of his guilt that changed, it was our perception of the truth. In the same way, science is in constant flux, changing conclusions with new data seemingly every few months. Evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology David Barash hints that science should not be seen as a collection of knowledge or truths, but an “ongoing reconfiguration” that must be free to change as we focus more and more towards discovering the best conclusions.[13]

            Some people try to redefine truth, even when “truth” is still used in an absolute way:

But in science, truth is, by definition, a malleable and perfectly revisable thing. This is because scientists compile data into models of how natural systems work. As time passes, new data and perspectives are assimilated into the consensus and the models are adjusted accordingly. It’s the best we can do.[14]

This redefinition tries to help scientists avoid the repercussions of constantly evolving truth claims, but it ignores the absolute nature of truth. Truth does not change, only our perceptions of it.

With this in mind, it does not seem accurate for Nye, Tyson, and Dawkins to suggest that specific concepts in science are truths. They are making the metaphysical claims that their preferred models are absolutely true, which is not what science can do. Since science is required to be open to revision and is observably in constant change in many aspects as we learn more, we cannot claim that any part of it is truth. It aims to discover truth, but until we know all there is to know about the universe’s workings, we cannot claim to have the absolute truth.

VI. Necessity of Metaphysics in Science

            Unmistakably, our celebrity scientists have shown a lack of understanding of the necessity of philosophy and metaphysics in scientific thought; that said, what is the actual relationship between these two fields? While they are often different in their methods, empirical science and metaphysics are necessarily connected. Those stuck in scientism must stand by claims that science will one day find all the answers to every major question, but as professor emeritus of philosophy Roger Trigg said

…Naturalism—the modern version of materialism, seeing reality as defined by what is within reach of the sciences—becomes a metaphysical theory when it strays beyond methodology to talk of what can exist. Denying metaphysics and upholding materialism must itself be a move within metaphysics… The assertion that science can explain everything can never come from within science…

Questions of purpose, causation, or even reality are fundamental metaphysical questions. Science has never been capable of answering these things on its own. This is why the highest educational degree one can earn is a PhD, standing for “Doctor of Philosophy.” Historically, we see early graduates, no matter the degree focus, were required to study philosophy, since it is a foundation on which all other studies must rely. Albert Einstein agreed that philosophy was necessary for the proper practicing of science.

I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science… A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering.[15]

It is metaphysics that gives science its purpose. Why do we study nature? How can we accurately understand natural phenomena? Can we legitimately understand reality? Can there be supernatural causes for the natural world? The questions we see science trying to answer are all based on metaphysics. Science without metaphysics is like a football game without any goals: there is no purpose to the process.

VII. Conclusion

            As with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, philosophy has arrived uninvited to its own funeral. The rumors spread by Stephen Hawking of its untimely demise were significantly exaggerated. Hawking, Nye, Tyson, and many others have simply imagined that their science could replace philosophy. From their biases coming from materialism and scientism, they have put on blinders to avoid seeing the philosophical and metaphysical foundation upon which their empirical science firmly stands. If they continue to insist that science can stand alone, they will only be building their homes on sinking sand.

            The empirical sciences and philosophical thought are joined at the hip. To separate them is to unravel their greatest power and leave science as a bird with a broken wing. It cannot soar to grand conclusions about the nature of reality or the universe without first having the help of philosophy to get it off the ground.

Works Cited

  1. Nola Taylor Redd, “Stephen Hawking Biography,” Space.com  Nov. 18 2017, https://www.space.com/15923-stephen-hawking.html
  2. Matt Warman “Stephen Hawking tells Google ‘philosophy is dead,’” The Telegraph, May 17, 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/8520033/Stephen-Hawking-tells-Google-philosophy-is-dead.html
  3. bigthink. “Hey Bill Nye, ‘Does Science Have All the Answers or Should We Do Philosophy Too?’ #TuesdaysWithBill.”YouTube, YouTube, 23 Feb. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROe28Ma_tYM.
  4. Merrill Ring, “Science as the Conceptual Foundation of Human Thought: Two Cases of Scientism,” California State University, Fullerton, http://philosophy.fullerton.edu/faculty/merrill_ring/scientism.aspx
  5. Gordon Carkner, “Cultural Identifiers of Scientism,” Apologetics Canada, January 15, 2014, https://www.apologeticscanada.com/2014/01/15/cultural-identifiers-scientism/
  6. Michael N. Keas and Kerry V. Magruder, CSSR 529 Course Packet
  7. Huxley, Thomas H. “Materialism and Idealism,” Bartleby.com, http://www.bartleby.com/library/prose/2766.html (viewed 11/26/17)
  8. “Hawking vs. Philosophy,” Institute of Art and Ideas, https://iai.tv/video/hawking-vs-philosophy, (viewed 11/29/17)
  9. Adolf Hitler, Reichsparteitag, 1935. http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/imt/nca/nca-01/nca-01-07-means-46.html (accessed 11/27/17)
  10. Sarah Fecht, “Science Guy Bill Nye Explains Why Evolution Belongs in Science Education,” Popular Mechanics, Feb. 4 2011, http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/animals/a6455/evolution-classroom-bill-nye-science-education/
  11. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos: “Some of the Things that Molecules Do.” DVD, Ann Druyan, Steven Soter, (2014; Cosmos Studios, Fuzzy Door Productions)
  12. Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Simon and Schuster, Sep 22, 2009)
  13. David P. Barash, “Paradigms Lost,” Aeon, 2015: https://aeon.co/essays/science-needs-the-freedom-to-constantly-change-its-mind
  14. Allison Terbush, “Truth in Science.” Berkeley Science Review, http://berkeleysciencereview.com/truth-in-science/
  15. Albert Einstein, Correspondence to Robert Thorton in 1944. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/einstein-philscience/

[1] Nola Taylor Redd, “Stephen Hawking Biography,” Space.com, Nov. 18 2017, https://www.space.com/15923-stephen-hawking.html

[2] Matt Warman “Stephen Hawking tells Google ‘philosophy is dead,’” The Telegraph, May 17, 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/8520033/Stephen-Hawking-tells-Google-philosophy-is-dead.html

[3] bigthink. “Hey Bill Nye, ‘Does Science Have All the Answers or Should We Do Philosophy Too?’ #TuesdaysWithBill.”YouTube, 23 Feb. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROe28Ma_tYM.

[4] Merrill Ring, “Science as the Conceptual Foundation of Human Thought: Two Cases of Scientism,” California State University, Fullerton, http://philosophy.fullerton.edu/faculty/merrill_ring/scientism.aspx

[5] Gordon Carkner, “Cultural Identifiers of Scientism,” Apologetics Canada, January 15, 2014, https://www.apologeticscanada.com/2014/01/15/cultural-identifiers-scientism/

[6] Michael N. Keas and Kerry V. Magruder, CSSR 529 Course Packet

[7] Huxley, Thomas H. “Materialism and Idealism,” Bartleby.com, http://www.bartleby.com/library/prose/2766.html (viewed 11/26/17)

[8] “Hawking vs. Philosophy,” Institute of Art and Ideas, https://iai.tv/video/hawking-vs-philosophy, (viewed 11/29/17)

[9] Adolf Hitler, Reichsparteitag, 1935. http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/imt/nca/nca-01/nca-01-07-means-46.html (accessed Nov. 27th)

[10] Sarah Fecht, “Science Guy Bill Nye Explains Why Evolution Belongs in Science Education,” Popular Mechanics, Feb. 4 2011, http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/animals/a6455/evolution-classroom-bill-nye-science-education/

[11] Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos: “Some of the Things that Molecules Do.” DVD, Ann Druyan, Steven Soter, (2014; Cosmos Studios, Fuzzy Door Productions)

[12] Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Simon and Schuster, Sep 22, 2009)

[13] David P. Barash, “Paradigms Lost,” Aeon, 2015: https://aeon.co/essays/science-needs-the-freedom-to-constantly-change-its-mind

[14] Allison Terbush, “Truth in Science.” Berkeley Science Review, http://berkeleysciencereview.com/truth-in-science/

[15] Albert Einstein, Correspondence to Robert Thorton in 1944. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/einstein-philscience/

Hello, My Name is Truth.

The notion that truth is relative is still the view embraced by many people. If truth is relative, then we will lose sight of the objective feature of things. Conceiving truth as relative particularly would put fundamental Christian doctrines at stake. In this regard, the Christian view of objective morality should be rejected if indeed truth is relative. So in this paper, I will show why we should take truth as being grounded in an objective feature of things.

I. Truth’s “general relativity”

            I start off my school year with each new class of high school biology students with an essay in an attempt to lay the foundations for my push against scientism. The prompt of this essay asks the students to describe what they think the actual nature of truth is: either absolute and unchanging or relative to each person’s individual situations and experiences. After many quizzical looks and much head scratching, my students get to work, trying to produce a somewhat coherent argument in the allotted time.

            While some students are quick to stand on the absolute nature of truth, I have been flabbergasted by how many conclude, not only that truth is relative, but also that truth is both relative and absolute. Even at the high school level, we see a drastic misunderstanding of what truth is and can be. With the removal of logic and philosophy curriculum from K-12 education, our modern generations are lacking the fundamental thinking skills necessary to identify a logically cohesive argument. Without these skills, an individual is left either building weak arguments or relying on “experts” to tell them how to think, which is likely what is leading our modern culture downhill so rapidly. Until we can teach our students how to think instead of what to think, this will likely continue to degrade theological foundations for thought, including that for Christianity and Christian morals.

II. Nature of Truth

            Can truth be relative? Can it be both relative and absolute at the same time? To start, definitions are always vital in such discussions. The Oxford Dictionary defines truth as “that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.”[1] It may seem redundant to claim that truth is true, but it emphasizes the nature of truth: truth cannot be false.

            Some might suggest that truth is actually relative. What is meant by relative truth?

Relativism, roughly put, is the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning, and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them.[2]

With relative truths, context should be what determines if it is good or bad, wrong or right. Simply put, it is the assumption that truth can change, and that is the real issue: can truth change?

With their lack of training, my students were often unable to notice the logical conundrum within their arguments. When one suggests that truth is anything except true, they are trapped within a contradiction. The statement “truth is relative” is in itself an absolute truth statement. In the same way, the statement “truth is both relative and absolute” is an absolute statement, and therefore paradoxical. Unless truth is true at all points, it was not truth in the first place. Truth cannot change. What many people, including most of my students, do not realize is that it is our perceptions of the truth that change, not the truth itself.

An example a student attempted to use to show relative truth was a criminal court case. In this example, a man was accused of murder and convicted by a jury of his peers to life in prison. He remained in prison for twenty years before new evidence arose that showed his innocence. To many of my students, they saw this case as proof that the truth could indeed change, but it is simply a failure to understand what the nature of truth actually is. In such a story, the truth was that the man was innocent the entire time, but the jury perceived him guilty based on their limited perceptions of that truth. Humanity as a whole is ensnared by this problem: we have troubles seeing the entire truth, so we need to be able to base our truth claims on the weight of evidence we can see.

This actually becomes a problem for adamant supporters of science. When scientism grows in popularity, people decide that the empirical sciences are the best source of truth; however, empirical methods fall into a trap. Science, by nature, is limited in scope. It is constantly discovering new things and building our knowledge of the universe, but we cannot call its discoveries truths since truth is absolute. Scientific discoveries do indeed point us towards the best possible explanations, but claiming that those explanations are truth means that it is absolute and unchallengeable. If any aspect of scientific discovery is not open to challenge or refutation, it is by definition, no longer science. Science by design must be open to critique and the addition of new knowledge. Until we have gleaned all knowledge from the universe, we cannot make absolute truth statements about things discovered empirically.

            If we cannot know something absolutely, how then can we trust the assumption that there is such a thing as truth? By nature, absolute truth is a logical necessity.  If a person wants to argue against truth being absolute, they must have a specific idea of what they think is true in the first place. To argue on any topic is to assume that there is a true answer.

            Where can we find absolute truth then? Often, proponents of relativism will insinuate that truth is a personal entity. What is true for one person is not always true for another. If truth is a universal entity, however, then it cannot vary from person to person like they suggest. It must be greater than any one person: something nobody can change. Temporal truths, such as “I am hungry” may not apply to all instances in time, but at the moment of feeling, the truth is that I would feel that hunger. Even having a meal and satiating that hunger cannot change the truth that I was hungry at that point in time. That hunger at that moment is absolute because we cannot go back and change it. That said, this temporal truth does not apply to all like universal truths would. How can we claim that something is a universal truth if empirical science cannot make such conclusions? We clearly need to combine evidence from a much larger spectrum of studies. Science is powerful when teamed with philosophy, history, logic, and theology. Together, we can base our understanding of reality on the best explanations.

III. Moral Absolutes

            One frequently debated topic within universal truth is the existence of absolute morality. Are there things that are always wrong or always right, or can some things be acceptable in different circumstances? Like truth, morals are often considered absolute.

Moral Absolutism is the ethical belief that there are absolute standards against which moral questions can be judged, and that certain actions are right or wrong, regardless of the context of the act. Thus, actions are inherently moral or immoral, regardless of the beliefs and goals of the individual, society or culture that engages in the actions.[3]

For morals to be considered unconditional and applicable to everyone irrespective of their culture or religion, they must be greater than humans as a whole.

If morals were from within a person, then one person’s morals may not apply to other individuals or societies. This relative morality suggests that what is considered wrong for one person or culture might not be evil for another. For example, cannibalism is seen as horrific by most peoples, but to the cannibals themselves, it is simply normal behavior. A more modern example is sexual relations outside of marriage. When criticized by their elders, many younger individuals will suggest that the strict moral code of the earlier generations was stifling and unnecessary and that it “doesn’t apply” to them. Excuses are made so often that sexual impropriety has become normal.

…the lines between right and wrong are blurred to the point that we are no longer sure if there is such a thing as right and wrong… Instead, all truth, including morality, becomes perspectival and subjective, a matter of nothing but personal preferences and tastes.[4]

This moral relativism can also be seen from a naturalistic mentality. Clarence Darrow once defended two teenage killers, Leopold and Loeb, whom had murdered a fourteen year old, just for the thrill of it. Darrow urged them to plead guilty, but adamantly argued in court that these boys were simply the product of their physical nature.

Essentially Darrow argued that what we do, and the way we are, ultimately comes down to luck.  We are responsible neither for our heredity nor for our environment… A terrible crime, then, should be viewed like the effects of a hurricane or an earthquake. [5]

The moral implications of naturalism are that we are simply the products of our genes. Our actions are predetermined physical responses. The Leopold and Loeb murder was simply animal instincts and they should not be held accountable for their genes. Morals go out the window in this case, and murder, rape, theft, or any other previously reprehensible act is simply humans acting within their genes. With morals goes the entire justice system, like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If nobody can be held accountable to their actions, then we can never punish them for such things.

            Yet can we change our actions? Are we held responsible? Of course! A child is punished for lying or stealing, because that can change their behavior for the future. We can easily show that children without discipline grow up to become entitled and troublesome due to a lack of understanding of right or wrong, but those brought up with proper discipline are more likely to recognize moral boundaries.

            It gets down to where such morals come from then. Does the action of a child being taught that cannibalism is morally evil make it evil, or is there some universal source that has predetermined that moral law? There must be. If morals were not fixed by a source greater than each individual human (or each culture), then they would become contradictory. To state that morals are relative is to make an absolute truth statement about them. Moral truth cannot be relative and still be true at the same time. Therefore, morals must be universal, absolute, and written by a greater source. To the Christian, this author of morality is God. If it is not created by an unchanging God, then the morals will never be able to remain constant. Our civilization as a whole would implode on itself in anarchy.

IV. Biblical Implications of Truth.

            For the Christian, the Bible plays a crucial role. It is necessary for the Bible to be true in all parts for the entire foundation of the faith to be worth believing in. If the Bible is not true, then Christianity crumbles. In reality, the Bible, being the written word of God, must reflect God’s nature accurately to show us that he is worthy of our worship.  If the Bible is not inerrant, then how can any of it be trusted? Can fundamental aspects of the faith, like the miracles of the Exodus, or the resurrection of Jesus be trusted? We must first understand the nature of God, on whom all this must be founded.

            What is the character of God as revealed in the Bible? He is our all-powerful creator (Isaiah 33:6); He is all-wise (Job 12:13, Psalm 147:5); He is love (1 John 4:7-8); and most relevant to this discussion, he is the source of truth (Titus 1:2). Truth must be absolute, so for God to be a source of truth, he must be unchanging. Clearly all things in the universe are changing, but God stays the same. If the great “I Am” were a changing, moody being like the Greek and Roman deities, then all the above attributes could not apply.

            Christian faith stands on many core tenants. The inerrancy of scripture is absolutely essential for it to be truthfully believed. Many raise important objections to this in an attempt to show that inerrancy does not exist. One common challenge is that certain doctrines were changed over time. Critics of Christian origins, like Bauer and Ehrman, have suggested that there was not one original orthodox position, but multiple “Christian” beliefs that fought it out until the dominant one became orthodoxy in the church.[6] Clearly this would undermine the biblical message’s claim at being the inerrant word of God, if it were in any way true; but how could such a concept be true? How can such a New Testament message come from anything but one point? Every source we have, including the New Testament documents themselves, stem back to one person in time: Jesus of Nazareth. How could it be correct that multiple “orthodoxies” existed before the dominant one we have today? If they are indeed the words of Jesus, then those are the original orthodoxy and the only one at that. Anything contradictory to what Jesus had said would be considered heretical from the start. It seems absurd that those claiming to be prominent biblical scholars could write such a logically unsound concept. Like truth, the doctrines have not changed over time, only our perception of them.

            Similar to the claims above, it is quite common to hear critics argue that the biblical texts themselves have changed over time. Like a game of telephone with kids, the message is inevitably changed little by little by the scribes and priests that copied it or translated it. Most documents copied in similar ways would indeed fall prey to that issue, but in what would consider a miraculous way, the texts of scripture have not changed significantly at all. We can actually trace the chain of many of the biblical texts from the eyewitnesses to others who meticulously maintained the accounts as accurately as possible. [7] With the New Testament accounts, we have well over 5000 documents that collaborate the accuracy of our modern documents. [8]  While a few errors may be found, none of them change the meaning of the passages they are located in, preserving the message of the Bible more accurately than any other historical document ever. Far be this from undermining the Bible’s authority; proper investigation unveils that the devotion of the scholars who had been charged with copying these texts was incredibly accurate.

            As a biologist, it is common to hear challenges to biblical authority coming from a more scientific basis. All too often, it is not just the historical, but also the scientific accuracy that is disputed. The first target of scientific critics is most definitely the existence of God. Entire tomes could be written in response to these claims, so there is not the time to cover it all here; however, the claim that science has disproved the existence of God is a fundamental misunderstanding of the capabilities of science. The scientific method is quite useful when studying the natural world, but by definition, a supernatural being is above the natural. Science cannot measure, quantify or identify specific supernatural beings or events because that is outside its purview to do so. When someone claims that science has proven there is no God, they are making incorrect metaphysical claims, not scientific ones.

            With that clarified, we can actually use science to identify the necessity of design in nature. The Intelligent Design movement, a non-religious scientific movement, identifies many aspects of nature that cannot be properly explained by natural, blind processes like natural selection. The origins of specified complex information is an incredible argument for design in nature. Simply put, there are different types of information. A word like “TRUE” could be considered specified due to its clear meaning, but because it is so short, the odds of it appearing by random recombination are decent. A sequence like “SFG 78FKBSIY9;RT*(DAOUC” lacks that same specified meaning, but it is complex, so this exact phrase is very unlikely to reappear by random recombination. When we see sentences like “TRUTH IS TRUE, NOT FALSE,” we see a combination of specified and complex information. This combination of both complex and specified information has never been observed (a key empirically scientific term) coming about by natural, unguided processes. The only known source of such information is an intelligent mind. Why is this important? Because the very foundations of life are built with specified complexity! DNA, RNA, and even proteins show incredible degrees of specified complexity. Because of the inability of natural selection to create such structures and because the only observed source of it is intelligence, we can only conclude that DNA and similar structures were written by an intelligent source. Clearly a designer is necessary to explain the origins of life!

            Some critics go a step further and challenge the biblical narrative by claiming that modern science has surpassed what the Bible could explain. Within this postulation, it is assumed that the Bible makes scientifically absurd claims, but this is simply a misconception about what science can claim and what the scriptures actually say. Genuine study of the Bible reveals details that not even the original authors understood why some things happened, but we can with modern science. One example is when Jesus was on the Mount of Olives. In his anguish over the trials he knew were to come, he was described to be sweating blood.[9] This is a known condition called hematohidrosis, where individuals, especially those under incredible stress, literally sweat blood.[10] While it seems like a miniscule detail, it is a vital one. It adds to the accuracy of the story, especially since few if any of the biblical authors would have ever seen such an occurrence before. How could the author make such a thing up? It clearly adds to the credibility of the text.

            Other examples of scientifically sound practices are revealed with further study. In Leviticus, the people were instructed to give the land a Sabbath rest every seven years.[11] This practice, unbeknownst to the ancient Jewish people, was vital for the replenishment of nutrients in the soil. Constant use of a plot of land strips the soil of what plants need for growth, decreasing the overall productivity of the land. Modern farmers know this well and take measures to avoid depleting the soil. Other biblical rules in the Old Testament law, like the kosher laws, were often helpful in keeping the people healthy. Pork was a common carrier of parasites. With it deemed unclean, the people were able to avoid those parasites that afflicted most other contemporary cultures. Many other laws are now known to scientifically be in the best interest of the people, especially in a pre-medicinal society. How could the people have known these were useful unless God told them? The Bible is full of concepts that are scientifically sound. Anything in the Bible that can be scientifically clarified lines up with modern science to a degree unparalleled in any ancient document. Modern science is no enemy of biblical truth; rather, it is a great source of evidence for the legitimacy of Bible.

V. Conclusion

            It can be conclusively stated that truth absolutely exists. It is blatantly illogical to assume that truth is not absolute by nature because any claims of truth being relative are themselves absolute truth claims. The existence of absolute truth demands an absolute source that is greater than the ever-evolving culture and behavior of mankind. Morals are based in truth and therefore also absolute. Evidence from history and science point resolutely to the Bible being a reliable source because God is absolute and unchanging, just like truth. We may not know all the truths about God, but that is simply because we cannot yet perceive it. One day, we will be able to look upon Truth in the face clearly and be amazed at how little we genuinely understood in the first place.

Works Cited

  1. Oxford Dictionary, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/truth
  2. Standord Encyclopedia of Philosophy (First published Fri Sep 11, 2015) https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/relativism/
  3. Luke Mastin, Moral Absolutism (2008) http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_moral_absolutism.html
  4. Köstenberger & Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, Crossway 2010, Wheaton Illinois (15).
  5. Tamler Sommers, Darrow and Determinism: Giving Up Ultimate Responsibility. http://www.naturalism.org/philosophy/free-will/darrow-and-determinism
  6. Köstenberger & Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, Crossway 2010, Wheaton Illinois.
  7. J. Warner Wallace, Why I Know the Story of Jesus Wasn’t Changed Over Time. http://coldcasechristianity.com/2017/why-i-know-the-story-of-jesus-wasnt-changed-over-time/
  8. Jonathan Morrow’s PowerPoint presentation, Biola, Summer 2017.
  9. Luke 22:44
  10. Evan Starkman, This Woman ‘Sweats’ Blood, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/bleeding-face-palms
  11. Leviticus 25:4

[1] Oxford Dictionary, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/truth

[2] Standord Encyclopedia of Philosophy (First published Fri Sep 11, 2015) https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/relativism/

[3] Luke Mastin, Moral Absolutism (2008) http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_moral_absolutism.html

[4] Köstenberger & Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, Crossway 2010, Wheaton Illinois (15).

[5] Tamler Sommers, Darrow and Determinism: Giving Up Ultimate Responsibility. http://www.naturalism.org/philosophy/free-will/darrow-and-determinism

[6] Köstenberger & Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, Crossway 2010, Wheaton Illinois.

[7]  J. Warner Wallace, Why I Know the Story of Jesus Wasn’t Changed Over Time. http://coldcasechristianity.com/2017/why-i-know-the-story-of-jesus-wasnt-changed-over-time/

[8] Jonathan Morrow’s PowerPoint presentation, Biola, Summer 2017.

[9] Luke 22:44

[10] Evan Starkman, This Woman ‘Sweats’ Blood, WebMD,

https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/bleeding-face-palms

[11] Leviticus 25:4

The Imaginary War Between Christianity and Science

While much of our modern academia has tried to cut ties to Christianity, the Christian origin of the pursuit of knowledge remains foundational to the origins of science.

— Jeremy Blatchford.

It is a common perception that science and Christianity are at odds with each other. The story goes that Christianity has historically been at war with science and scientific progress. Historians like John Draper, William Whewell, and Andrew White would call upon common examples of Galileo, Columbus, and even a supposed belief in a flat Earth to suggest that the community of faith, in particular, the Christian faith, is anti-science; however, this is not the case. With some searching past the surface, one would find that terms such as the “Dark Ages” and the “Scientific Revolution” are misnomers employed in an attempt to lead the populace away from accurately understanding the relationship between science and Christianity. Even many alive today would urge that faith and science are at war, but we find examples that clearly undermine that conclusion. We can look back into history to see that Christianity has not only been pro-science, but also vital to the rise of the modern scientific method.

            Few are aware of the subtle alterations to the historical account of the development of the sciences. Seemingly harmless history texts now portray a scenario than what actually transpired. When one reads about the “Dark Ages,” one might assume that, during this period of the Middle Ages, very little new knowledge or technology was added. Often, it is suggested that scientific and technological advancement were suppressed by religious dogmatism. Many have been led to believe that, after the fall of Rome, there was a period of intellectual darkness[1].  Ignorance is supposed to have abounded, with many believing a ridiculous notion that the world was flat; yet, for centuries before the so-called “Dark ages,” people certainly understood that the world was round. As early as 240 BC, a Greek mathematician by the name of Eratosthenes made calculations based on the assumptions that the Earth was round. As the renowned librarian of Alexandria, (a vast storehouse of knowledge), Eratosthenes was incredibly skilled. He was able to accurately calculate the circumference of the Earth![2]  This happened far before 500-1500 AD, when the dark ages are claimed to have occurred.

So from where did Draper get the idea of a medieval Christian belief in a flat earth? He read William Whewell’s book History of Inductive Sciences, published about three decades earlier. Whewell… made intellectual stars out of two minor Christian authors, Lactantius and Cosmas Indicopleustes. Lactantius was a fourth-century pagan convert to Christianity who took particular delight in arguing against pretty much everything any pagan philosopher ever said, including that the earth was round. Christians wanted converts, but even they couldn’t stomach Lactantius, whose works were posthumously condemned.[3]

This link between Christianity and a belief in a flat Earth is incredibly weak, since the Church in general condemned that very message from those individuals. The other author who influenced Draper, Cosmas Indicopleustes, was apparently even more peculiar, since he boasted of his hopelessly literal mind. He frequently took scriptural passages literally, even when the vast majority of the church saw it as allegorical.[4] What’s more, even the Bible, we can find early evidence that the “flat-earth” concept was not commonly accepted. Isaiah 40:22 mentions the “circle” of the Earth, so it is silly to claim that the Christian church mandated the flat earth view; instead, it was perfectly fine with the evidence suggesting that the Earth was round.  The claim that people of the Dark Ages were simpleminded and held science back is in direct contradiction to the actual historical record.

            Another “historical” myth suggests that explorer Christopher Columbus set off on his famous voyage to prove that the Earth was round. “[John] Draper… popularized the “flat earth” myth, the idea that prior to Columbus there was a widespread, religiously-inspired belief that the earth was flat.”[5] In this account, few, including the church and Christian leaders, wanted to fund his voyage because they thought the concept of a round Earth was ludicrous. Much of this story also stems from historical accounts of White’s in his book A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. “Trouble is that almost every word of White’s account of the Columbus story is a lie. Every educated person of the time, including Roman Catholic prelates, knew the earth was round.”[6] Clearly, White and his cohorts had an agenda to divide the origins of science from Christianity.

When Columbus faced off with the Spanish cardinals, the issue was the size of the earth, not its shape. And the Cardinals were right: the earth was a heck of a lot bigger than Columbus believed. His mission was ill-conceived, and it failed. But it failed gloriously. Columbus went to his grave erroneously thinking he had bumped into some far corner of Asia.[7]

  As established, the majority of the civilized nations of the Middle Ages already knew the round shape of the globe. This attempt to degrade the church’s relation with science is again foiled.

            To those who would continue to claim that Christianity is in opposition to scientific advancement, it could be startling to discover that our modern university system of advanced learning was a construct from Christianity. “The university was a Christian invention that evolved from cathedral schools established to train monks and priests.”[8] From that original goal of training priests, there emanated a great thirst for knowledge of all types. It essentially flowed from theological training to the pursuit of a better understanding of God through his creation. After all, Romans 1:20 says “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”[9] This was seen as a clear invitation to discover more about the designer though his handiwork. . “…The rise of science was already far along by the sixteenth century, having been carefully nurtured by devout Scholastics in that most Christian invention, the university.”[10] The scientific method did not suddenly appear in the so-called “Scientific Revolution,” but rather was the product of centuries of growth. These centers of learning were not just some simple institutions that took on the name of university. “The University was something new under the sun—an institution devoted exclusively to “higher learning.” It was not a monastery or place for meditation.”[11] The first universities appeared in Paris and Bologna. Oxford, and Cambridge were also some of the first ones to be built and to develop.[12] By the early thirteenth centuries, some of the larger ones enrolled 1,000 to 1,500 students each: “It is estimated that during the first 150 years of their existence, European universities enrolled approximately 750,000 students—in an era when the population of London was never more than 35,000.”[13] These were not little schools! They were huge centers of learning and intellectual thought. Even Princeton University, another incredible, modern school, owes its origins to Christian antiquity. Their motto “Dei sub numine viget” stems from the university’s Puritan origins and means “Under the Protection of God She Flourishes.”[14] The Christian influence in the development of universities is well defined. While much of our modern academia has tried to cut ties to Christianity, the Christian origin of the pursuit of knowledge remains foundational to the origins of science.

            A common poster child of the whole church against science argument is none other than Galileo Galilei. Galileo has been credited with many incredible discoveries, and even been called the father of modern observational astronomy and science. He contributed to the fields of physics, astronomy, cosmology, and mathematics, among others.  As the story goes, “His [Galileo’s] advocacy of a heliocentric universe [the sun being the center of the solar system, not the Earth] brought him before religious authorities in 1616 and again in 1633, when he was forced to recant and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.”[15] This common tale pits the brilliance of Galileo against the authoritarian power of the church. “To secular scholars, Galileo Galilei… was a martyr to religious bigotry, demonstrating how pious superstition can shackle human knowledge.”[16] But is the church really to blame for repressing scientific discoveries? Was the Catholic Church abusing its power when it moved to censure Galileo?

According to Stark, Galileo was as much to blame as the church was for his misfortune: as with many people of intellect, sarcasm and wit can be present in spades, and Galileo had it in excess. His pointed insults and biting sarcasm came back to haunt him in the end. “…Galileo was not just an innocent victim: not only did he needlessly tempt fate, but he thoughtlessly placed the whole scientific enterprise itself in jeopardy.”[17] Not only was the church not against scientific progress, it also bend over backwards to cover for Galileo’s errors. Pope Urban VIII was actually a close friend of Galileo’s, and they often discussed his works.[18] Galileo’s tact was lacking during the sensitive times in the church as the Thirty Years War was raging, and the Reformation and Counter-Reformation camps were at odds for the theological high ground, leading to stricter definitions of orthodox theology.[19] The Pope then gave clear instructions for how Galileo could publish his works without inciting persecution from the church, but in his arrogance, Galileo failed to comply and was put under house arrest for the rest of his life.[20] In spite of the circumstances, Galileo “lived and died just as faithful to the Roman Catholic Church as Boyle was to the Anglican or Kepler to his Lutheran roots.”[21] This does not sound one iota like the science martyr oppressed by religious rule that secular historians seem to picture him as.  To see this as an instance of science versus the church, one must actually rewrite history.

            Rather than being anti-science, the Dark Ages were a time of abundant growth in the construction of the modern scientific method. Stark makes a strong case that the rise of Christianity was actually necessary to the growth of what we can label as true sciences.[22] Stark points out that “…earlier technical innovations of Greco-Roman times, Islam, of Imperial China, let alone those achieved in prehistoric times, do not constitute science and are better described as lore, skills, wisdom, techniques, crafts, technologies, engineering, learning, or simply knowledge.”[23] Studies along the lines of geometry do not qualify as purely scientific mainly because they only attempt to describe reality without really trying to explain it.  “Science is a method utilized in organized efforts to formulate explanations of nature, always subject to modifications and corrections through systematic observations.”[24]  Technological advancements were definitely seen in many civilizations, but none of it was, strictly speaking, science. Even China, which had remained in isolation for centuries, making much advancement in that time, had never found the necessary foundation to allow modern science to develop. What happened differently in Europe to allow for real science to blossom? Again, Stark has an answer.

“…the rise of science was not an extension of classical learning. It was the natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine: Nature exists because it was created by God. To love and honor God, one must fully appreciate the wonders of his handiwork. Moreover, because God is perfect, his handiwork functions in accord with immutable principles. By the full use of our God-given powers of reason and observation, we ought to be able to discover these principles.”[25]

It was because of the rise of Christianity that science was founded, not despite it. The entire concept of the Dark Ages is revisionist history that aims to cover up the contributions that came from Christianity. Even the accounts of the eras following 1500 A.D. are tainted.  The “Enlightenment” and the “Scientific Revolution” are charade designations created to further push the estrangement between the birth of science from Christianity by inferring that the people lived in intellectual rejection to begin with. The undeniably Christian concept of creation being knowable and understandable because its creator was logical and constant, was vital to the formulation of modern scientific methodology.

            Still, some modern scientists cling to the concept that science and Christianity must be opposites, not allies, though the evidence remains resolute. Aggressive atheist Richard Dawkins pushes the idea that most faiths are opposed to science and reason.

If you ask people why they are convinced of the truth of their religion, they don’t appeal to heredity… Nor do they appeal to evidence. There isn’t any, and nowadays the better educated admit it. No, they appeal to faith. Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. The worst thing is that the rest of us are supposed to respect it: to treat it with kid gloves.[26] [emphasis added]

Not only does Dawkins assume that faith and religion are equivalents, but he assumes that they are blind. “From Hobbes through Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, false claims about religion and science have been used as weapons in the battle to ‘free’ the human mind from the ‘fetters of faith.’”[27] Clearly, Dawkins believes that religion thrives in the absence of rational thought, and that evidence all lies in the purview of science. From this view, one would assume that men of faith could not be good scientists, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Not only were great men like Galileo and the founders of the modern university system men of faith, but also the majority of the fathers of the modern sciences were believers in a higher power. Nicholas Copernicus, Sir Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Blaise Pascal, Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel, Lord Kelvin, and even Albert Einstein all believed in some form of God, and these men pioneered research into everything from astronomy to physics and from chemistry to genetics. The list continues into more recent times: George Washington Carver, one of the earliest black scientists in America, Francis Collins, the leader of the human genome project, and even the inventor of the MRI, Raymond Damadian, who was a strict Young Earth Creationist. All of these scientists, in some form or another, have faith in God. How can Dawkins’ premise be sound if so many vital players in the growth of science are also what he would call men of faith? While not all were Christians, all believed in the existence of a supernatural power. Science and faith, for these pioneers and more like them, are more than compatible in encouraging the pursuit of knowledge.

            Incontestably, there have been false accusations fielded against Christianity when it comes to the supposed struggle between it and science. The link between science and Christianity is solid, though many have bought into a revisionist history by false accounts. “Whewell, Draper, and White all made laudable contributions to science and society, but their involvement in the flat-earth error is a regrettable blot. They fabricated a false history highlighted by a non-existent dogma and used them to brand religion as unceasingly reactionary, dim-witted, and anti-science.”[28] Their claims could not be further from the truth. If it were not for the hunger for knowledge of creation and creator by Christians, our modern scientific method would not exist.

Works Cited

Mommsen, Theodor E. “Petrarch’s Conception of the ‘Dark Ages’.” Speculum17, no. 02 (1942): 226-242.

Steward, Doug “Erathosthenese,” http://www.famousscientists.org/eratosthenes/ (Accessed November 15, 2016).

Rossano, Matt J. “How the Myth of the Flat-Earth Dogma Started the Religion-Science War.” The Huffington Post. September 16, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-j-rossano/starting-a-war-with-a-fla_b_707471.html (Accessed November 6, 2016).

Stark, Rodney. For the glory of God: How monotheism led to reformations, science, witch-hunts, and the end of slavery. Princeton University Press, 2015.

“Orange Key Virtual Tour” Last updated 25 September 2008. http://www.princeton.edu/~oktour/virtualtour/english/Info09-Flag.htm (Accessed November 10th, 2016)

History.com Staff. “Galileo Galilei.” History.com. 2010. Accessed November 06, 2016. http://www.history.com/topics/galileo-galilei.

Owens, Virginia S. “Galileo and the Powers Above.” Christian History Issue 76 (vol. XXI, No.4) Intervarsity Press page 10

Dawkins, Richard. “The “know-nothings”, the “know-alls”, and the “no-contests.” A lecture by from The Nullifidian, December 1994.


[1] Mommsen, Theodor E. “Petrarch’s Conception of the ‘Dark Ages’.” Speculum 17, no. 02 (1942): 226-242.

[2] Steward, Doug “Erathosthenese,” http://www.famousscientists.org/eratosthenes/ (Accessed November 15, 2016).

[3] Rossano, Matt J. “How the Myth of the Flat-Earth Dogma Started the Religion-Science War.” The Huffington Post. September 16, 2011. Accessed November 6, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-j-rossano/starting-a-war-with-a-fla_b_707471.html.

[4] Ibid

[5] Rossano, “How the Myth of the Flat-Earth Dogma Started the Religion-Science War.”

[6] Stark, Rodney. For the glory of God: How monotheism led to reformations, science, witch-hunts, and the end of slavery. Princeton University Press, 2015, 122

[7] Rossano, “How the Myth of the Flat-Earth Dogma Started the Religion-Science War.”

[8] Stark, For the Glory of God, 62

[9] Rom. 1:20 (ESV)

[10] Stark, For the Glory of God, 134

[11] Imdb, 63

[12] Imdb, 62

[13] Imdb 63

[14] “Orange Key Virtual Tour” Last updated 25 September 2008. http://www.princeton.edu/~oktour/virtualtour/english/Info09-Flag.htm

[15] History.com Staff. “Galileo Galilei.” History.com. 2010. Accessed November 06, 2016. http://www.history.com/topics/galileo-galilei.

[16] Owens, Virginia S. “Galileo and the Powers Above.” Christian History Issue 76 (vol. XXI, No.4) Intervarsity Press page 10

[17] Stark, For the Glory of God, 165

[18] Ibid, 164.

[19] Stark, For the Glory of God. 164.

[20] Ibid,164.

[21] Owens, Galileo and the Powers Above, 10.

[22] Stark, For the Glory Of God, 157.

[23] Ibid, 125.

[24] Ibid, 124.

[25] Stark, For the Glory Of God, 157.

[26] Dawkins, Richard. “The “know-nothings”, the “know-alls”, and the “no-contests.” A lecture by from The Nullifidian, December 1994.

[27] Stark, For the Glory of God, 123

[28] Rossano, “How the Myth of the Flat-Earth Dogma Started the Religion-Science War.”

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