The Blind Watchmaker


I continue my interest in the debate between the Darwinian evolutionists (typically atheists) and Creationists and those in the Intelligent Design camp. I’ve followed and studied this debate since the early 1980s   when becoming a Christian I discovered this issue to be  a serious stumbling block to belief in Jesus, let alone God. I came to Christianity at age 36 after being an atheist since roughly age 19, so reconciling my new faith with the old was indeed a struggle.

What I came to realize was that the debate was, and still is, quite lopsided, with the Darwinians dominating in the culture. In looking at the print media, magazines and news papers, you often see the latest “scientific” reports and studies of the newest evolutionary finds in the sciences. The other side of the argument, creation and Intelligent Design are sometimes covered, but almost always in the context of controversy and the anti-science aspect of ID or Creationism. School textbooks – same thing, mostly alternatives are simply not even mentioned, and therefore giving the impression there is no alternative. 

There is a fog of evolutionary thought and reporting that covers pretty much all of secular culture, with very little reporting of evidence and research that may counter Darwinian thought. In order to get the point of view of Creationists or the ID folks you pretty much have to seek it out on internet web sites.

And, it has been my experience over many years now, and  sitting in on sermons in main line Christian churches, that Creation is seldom touched. It’s as if American Christianity has ceded the field to Darwinian Atheism and surrendered to it.

Fortunately, my first pastor, Dick Emery, did not shy away from the issue and preached about it and made us aware of people and resources that would challenge the prevailing viewpoint with good solid arguments and scientific research; in particular the Institute for Creation Research which was just across town.

What we see so often is little Johnnie and Mary going off to university with a background in church coming back home with an entirely new world view; a world view significantly colored with Darwinism, and often the atheism that goes along with it.

So it was with interest that I attended a conversation at the Yale School of Divinity where two Christian authors and thinkers discussed the future of Christianity in America. Among the topics was this growing trend of the “nones”; those Americans professing no faith. You can see the discussion at this site: Conversation at Yale with Ross Douthat: ‘Future of Faith’

Shortly thereafter, I ran across this article in the Huffington Post;  Can Atheism Really Replace Religion? where the author also discussed the “nones”.  I responded by linking to my own view of atheism which I had written months prior; Atheism is much like locking yourself in a cave

This set off a somewhat lengthy on-line conversation with Greg Royse, which you can follow beginning here: The first reply from Greg Royse.  (Note: Mr. Royse seems to have disconnected his comments) Following comments on the Huffington Post is tedious, so if you set off to follow this discussion, be prepared for a bit of frustration, but I feel it is well worth it as it exposes much of the utter contempt some (many?) on the Materialist/Atheistic side have for those who would challenge their world view.

As part of the discussion, I offered up a challenge to the book The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins, as well as stepping up to offer up my own challenge to the book which follows below.

 


The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design

by Richard Dawkins

Reviewed by Don Johnson

The title and subtitle of this book is an extraordinary claim that needs ordinary … but sufficient evidence in order to be believed as compelling. I don’t believe Dawkins claims to be compelling, and here is why:

I will be reviewing only one chapter in this book titled “Origins and Miracles”, since it is in this chapter that Dawkins reveals the heart of his reasoning on the matter; and I use the word “reasoning” here rather than “evidence” because what I find is that Professor Dawkins “evidence” is actually a process of reasoning and not evidence. In other words, the evidence presented is a product of the mind, a postulate. And this is OK, because a postulate is “A thing suggested or assumed as true as the basis for reasoning, discussion, or belief.” But it should not be confused with evidence as the subtitle states.

But first a little about me. I earned a Bachelors Degree in Mathematics with a minor in Physics back in 1970, but since those ancient days have done very little math or physics.

  • I do not hold advanced degrees as a Cosmologist.
  • I do not hold advanced degrees as a Physicist.
  • I do not hold advanced degrees as a Chemist.
  • I do not hold advanced degrees as a Bio-Chemist.
  • I do not hold advanced degrees as a Biologist.
  • I do not hold advanced degrees as a Micro-Biologist.
  • I do not hold advanced degrees as a Philosopher.
  • I do not hold advanced degrees as a Theologian.
  • I do not hold advanced degrees in Law.
  • I am not a University Professor.
  • I don’t have a career of active and professional scientific research in any of the above fields..

And it is for these reasons that I hold to the position that the extraordinary claims of Dawkins require ordinary … but sufficient evidence, and not extraordinary evidence. You see if I required extraordinary evidence, then perhaps I should be holding one or more of the degrees above, else finding myself lacking in such a critique as this I would be unable to properly evaluate such extraordinary evidence concerning … “a Universe without Design”:

To put it another way, Professor Dawkins in his books seems to be appealing to a person such as me; a lay-person interested but not an expert in the subject. A person who may have doubts and questions and has done a bit of reading and thinking on the matter, and expecting to be able to rely on the experts for straight thinking and reporting. .

So on we go to the critique of Professor Dawkins (any emphasis is solely my own) .

A word Dawkins uses in his chapter on “Origins and Miracles” is postulate. A postulate is “A thing suggested or assumed as true as the basis for reasoning, discussion, or belief.” And, in a recent publication of Scientific American is a graphic of several such postulates concerning “ … a Universe without Design.”

Competing postulates of the universe

No Previous Era ——————–

Matter, energy, space and time begin abruptly with the big bang.

Quantum Emergence ——————–

Ordinary space and time develop out of a primeval state described by a quantum theory of gravity

Multiverse ———————————-

Our universe and others bud off from eternal space

Cyclic Universe —————————–

The big bang is the latest stage in an eternal cycle of expansion, collapse and renewed expansion

[God/Intelligent Design] ——————–

The best explanation for much of reality is an Intelligent Designer

This may not line up exactly as in Dawkins book, but he marches through and dismisses each of the competitors to arrive at his favorite ‘postulate’, that of Darwinian Evolution. Now Dawkins and others may argue that Darwinian Evolution does not seek to explain what precedes the Big Bang, only the theory of how life evolved given that it began somehow in the first place. But remember the subtitle “Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design” which, when read by this lay-man, embraces everything back to and including whatever preceded this first appearance of life on Earth. Also, notice that the SA graphic specifically excludes other possible postulates such as Intelligent Design and Creation, each of which are valid, though not necessarily correct, postulates (A thing suggested or assumed as true as the basis for reasoning, discussion, or belief) and should be include on the graphic.

Here are some ideas and assertions from Dawkins chapter on origins — some are quotes from him, some are paraphrases of mine:

  • A miracle is a stroke of luck.
  • Given infinite time, or infinite opportunities, anything is possible.
  • The immensity of geological time entitles us to postulate more improbable coincidences … bringing us to the idea of cumulative selection.
  • Once we are allowed simply to postulate organized complexity, if only the organized complexity of the DNA/protein replicating engine, it is relatively easy to invoke it as a generator of more organized complexity.
  • To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer. You have to say something like “God was always there”, and if you allow yourself that kind of lazy way out, you might as well just say “DNA was always there”, or “Life was always there”, and be done with it.

On his last point, you can add “or evolution was always there”, and it would not change the idea in the least. Or substitute evolution for “God” and “supernatural Designer”, and again nothing changes.

There is much musing in this chapter about luck, enormous expanses of time, the enormity of the universe and thus the enormous number of planets, improbabilities and more.

Dawkins seems to acknowledge the extreme improbability of life when he says

“ … Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. The essence of life is statistically improbable on a colossal scale. Whatever is the explanation for life , therefore, it cannot be chance, … “

However he seems to mitigate this improbability by conflating this improbability with the expanse of time, and the vastness of the universe with its countless opportunities for life coming into existence (Given infinite time, or infinite opportunities, anything is possible). This mitigation then brings into reasonableness the origin of his first DNA/protein replicating engine.

Here’s what Dawkins states in concluding this chapter on origins:

“We still don’t know exactly how natural selection began on Earth. This chapter has had the modest aim of explaining only the kind of way in which it must have happened. The present lack of a definitely accepted account of the origin of life should certainly not be taken as a stumbling block for the whole Darwinian world view, as it occasionally – probably with wishful thinking – is. The earlier chapters have disposed of other alleged stumbling blocks, and the next chapter takes up yet another one, the idea that natural selection can only destroy, never construct.”

In this criticism I am not talking here of the evolution resulting in the change in size of a finch’s beak because of climatic changes, nor am I taking about the coloring and patterns of a moth’s wings changing because of its environmental conditions. These happen and are common place and observable. What I am taking about here, and criticizing Dawkins of, is his “postulating organized complexity, if only the organized complexity of the DNA/protein replicating engine, it is relatively easy to invoke it as a generator of more organized complexity.” And I am also critiquing the claims of Darwinian evidence of a fruit fly transforming into a spider (or anything else for that matter after 100 years of trying in the lab), a grasshopper into a cockroach; or a bear to a whale or vice versa … or whatever.

Before wrapping this up, and since Dawkins brings it up, I would like to discuss the origin/evolution/design of the eye, one of the common things critics, as myself, use to cast doubt on Darwin’s theory.

I’ll start by linking to one of Dawkins own web sites to the article “How the Blind Watchmaker Made Eyes” at http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/646417-how-the-blind-watchmaker-made-eyes ,

and to another article having a different take on it: “Could the eye have evolved by natural selection in a geological blink?” at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/could-the-eye-have-evolved-by-natural-selection-in-a-geological-blink/

In this later article the authors challenge a 1994 paper written by Dr. Dan-Eric Nilsson and Dr. Susanne Pelger claiming that a fully-developed vertebrate eye could have developed from a simple light-sensitive spot by a process of unguided natural selection, in “less than 364,000 years.”. This paper has been used by Dawkins and Jerry Coyne in what amounts to a trivialization of the development of the eye. Here is a snippet from the article

It is my contention that Nilsson and Pelger’s model of the evolution of the eye is in fact a striking example of Intelligent Design, rather than Darwinian evolution. Readers may be surprised to learn that Nilsson and Pelger deliberately selected each of the 1,829 steps in their model leading from a light-sensitive spot to a camera-type vertebrate eye, by choosing which features they wanted to vary at every step along the way. That makes their model intelligently designed. And although the pathway created by Nilsson and Pelger was indeed a gradual one, their model lacks a key ingredient that would, if present, turn it into a powerful argument for Darwinism: probability calculations, showing how likely it was that Nature would have chosen the pathway they selected. I conclude that while Nilsson and Pelger’s model can be viewed as an Intelligent Design hypothesis regarding how the eye might have emerged over time through a process of guided evolution, it cannot be legitimately invoked as an argument for accepting Darwinism.

And here’s a link to a very fascinating article in the Scientific American of April 2007 “The Movies in Our Eyes” at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-movies-in-our-eyes  You will have to purchase the entire article, but in summary it shows how “The retina processes information much more than anyone has ever imagined, sending a dozen different movies to the brain.” It’s been awhile since I read this article, and I don’t have a copy, but it tells of how the twelve ‘movie cameras’ in our heads process directional motion (left/right, up/down …), color, fast vs. slow motions, depth … and more. And … all presented in an entirely non-religious or non-evolutionary vein, just the facts and observations.

So in conclusion, I would have to say that Dawkins has failed in the “ordinary, but sufficient evidence” test; the test that would compel me, the lay-man, towards his theory and thinking . The evidence promised in the title of the book does not appear, only speculations of the mind. Mind you, speculations of the mind are not wrong nor bad thinking, but they are just that; speculations and postulates that are necessary to begin and carry on an inquiry of whatever sort, even evolution and Intelligent Design; but they may or may not be true. Furthermore, to shut out an entire line of thinking and research based on other postulates; namely Intelligent Design or Creation Science is just … well … bullying the subject, and in fact hindering the search for truth.

An adage, or postulate if you prefer, seems fitting :

If a frog had wings he wouldn’t bump his butt.

Show me that frog Professor!

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2 responses to “The Blind Watchmaker

  1. Pingback: Ball State University & Intelligent Design: My 7+ Disappointments | A Yearning for Publius

  2. Pingback: Which is design and which is evolution? | A Yearning for Publius

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