The Struggle for the Soul of Science, pt3: Science – Exhibit B image

The Struggle for the Soul of Science, pt3: Science – Exhibit B

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In the last post, after dismissing the intimidating claim that all scientists accept old Earth and evolution, I discussed the two basic principles of biological evolution that most scientists still agree about – modification and common descent. On its own, the current evidence from biology and fossils would be entirely consistent with a recent origin, were it not for Darwin’s great innovation to connect the process of self-generation in nature with uniformitarian geology, assuming constant rates of change and an immensely old Earth. Since fossils are found in sedimentary rocks, geology is relevant to the question.

Principles of Secular Genesis:

3) Uniformitarianism
Darwin believed that the gradual diversification of life from a single common ancestor, through minute changes in successive generations, was plausible as long as there was enough time.  In that case, the geologist Charles Lyell’s theory of uniformitarianism (constant gradual change) and ‘deep time’ in earth history was an important prerequisite for Darwin’s evolutionary theory.  Yet palaeontology now shows that the sudden appearance of species, which then remain virtually unchanged, must have used mechanisms which do not need any great amount of time to produce huge diversity.  The common impression that organisms have been around for vast amounts of time, therefore, is not technically required by the fossil evidence.  The process of petrification itself, turning organic material into stone fossils, is often assumed to have been very slow, however many fossils are found in the act of eating, giving birth or even fighting, and sometimes preserve impressions or mineralisations of the animal’s soft tissue and delicate features like skin and feathers.  Even giant jellyfish have been preserved in coarse-grained sandstone, still surrounded by beautiful sand ripples1.  These must therefore have been buried and petrified extremely rapidly, since such features would quickly disintegrate even in sterile, low-oxygen environments.
 
Not just the fossils, but the sedimentary rock strata themselves also show signs of very rapid deposition, even in the formation of alternating layers.  Geologists recognise considerable evidence of high energy transport of sediment (e.g. crossbeds in sandstones, huge boulders compressed into layers), and thick strata can cover whole regions or even continents.  These sorts of rates and scales are vastly different from anything we see on earth today, whereas uniformitarianism assumes that present rates were always the same.  What is more, the catastrophic layers of sediment were not deposited millions of years apart; the tops of the strata usually show little or no evidence of ‘unconformities’ – erosion, burrowing by sea creatures,  or soil formation – which one would expect from any lengthy gap.  On the other hand, it is not uncommon to find fossilised tree trunks extending through more than one layer (polystrate), suggesting that one large multi-stage catastrophe, moving water across entire continents, laid down successive soft layers quite quickly.  The successive groups of fossilised organisms would then represent not an evolutionary sequence but rather the stages of destruction of different ecological habitats, beginning with the ocean floors.
 
It seems, then, that the primary reason for giving the rocks ages of millions of years is the radioactive isotope dating method, which presupposes that radioactive decay has always been constant.  Much work is being done in this area by creationist geologists to better understand the significance of radioactivity in rocks (e.g. the RATE research project), and this is not simply an attempt to explain away evidence undermining their theory.  On the contrary, there is other evidence for these rocks being much more recently formed.  For example, a respected palaeontologist recently discovered elastic soft tissue, blood vessels, and even apparently red blood cells still preserved within a fossilised dinosaur leg bone.2  This was supposedly buried 68 million years ago, but it is known from observational science and thermodynamic principles that the collagen proteins cannot possibly survive anywhere near that long.  It is no more logical to reassess presuppositions about past rates of radioactive decay than it is to question past rates of organic decay.
 
One final point to make about uniformitarianism concerns astronomy.  In the area of astrophysics I am well out of my depth, so I will limit myself to noting two points.  First, there are currently over two hundred scientists and engineers, and nearly three hundred others, who have signed an open letter questioning the monopoly of the Big Bang theory3, noting that “in cosmology today doubt and dissent are not tolerated”.  This is certainly not proof for a recent creation, but it suggests that current theories are clearly inadequate in light of increasing evidence.  In fact, cosmologist George FR Ellis (a former colleague of Stephen Hawking) summarised some of his published research in an interview: “I can construct you a spherically symmetrical universe with Earth at its center, and you cannot disprove it based on observations… You can only exclude it on philosophical grounds.”4  Second, between 1994 and 2002, the star called ‘Sakurai’s Object’ in Sagittarius was observed growing from a white dwarf to a bright yellow giant to a red supergiant and then shrinking so far as to be detectable only in infrared.  If the life-cycle of one star can move that rapidly, it does at least call into question the assumed vast lifespan of stars.  Many more questions could be asked, but again I would recommend exploring (and posing your questions to) www.creation.com.

Principles of Biblical Genesis

I should make it clear that there is obviously a large amount of evidence which appears to reinforce Secular Genesis and does not yet fit into creationist scientific models – unsurprising considering the vastly greater amount of thought and funding put into confirming secular hypotheses.  Nevertheless, I trust it is clear that the load-bearing pillars of Secular Genesis are not unshakable, and are open to critique.  Even so, the job of creationist scientists is not to mount guerrilla warfare against accepted theories, but to propose testable hypotheses of their own that can explain precisely the same ‘evidence’ in a more satisfying way.  This means more than simply searching for scientific studies which might support the Biblical age of the earth, or even creating plausible Flood-based geological models such as Catastrophic Plate Tectonics.  As with Secular Genesis, Biblical Genesis is based on certain defining principles.  If the cosmos was indeed designed by a personal loving Creator such as the Bible describes, a God who made humans in His image, one would expect the created world to demonstrate features such as intelligible information, beauty, purpose and goodness.
 
1)  Information
Some secular evolutionists propose that ‘life’ be defined as the ability to process semantic coded information, because this seems to be a unique feature of living organisms and the entities they produce, such as computers.5  DNA is some of the most remarkably complex specified information we have ever discovered, including (for humans) about 20,000 precisely ordered and punctuated sentences of several hundred ‘words’ (amino acids), each of which convey detailed instructions that are ‘translated’ to make a protein used for cell life.  The fact that we too are able to translate and understand more and more of it calls to mind the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs, or the ongoing attempt to detect regular patterns within cosmic radio-wave ‘noise’ in the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence.  From universal experience and repeated experiment (e.g. cave drawings, graffiti on walls, initials carved in trees) it is entirely reasonable to deduce that coded information is always produced by an intelligent mind; this is not ‘God of the gaps’, hypothesising about what we do not know, but science, explaining evidence based on known causes.  After all, do not engineers, architects, and artists admire and repeatedly try to imitate the excellent designs found within creation?  ‘In Him [the Word] was life…’ (John 1:4)  Accepting a Designer need not imply lack of interest in the mechanics of His design.
 
2)  Beauty
Second, a Biblical Creator would be expected to have created beauty, and beauty that can be appreciated by those made in His image.  An oft-mentioned example is the peacock, whose intricately colourful tail feathers compromise camouflage for survival, hinder flight, and apparently cannot even be appreciated by the peahen in their more subtle aesthetic features, so will not benefit even sexual selection.  Similarly, the vibrant colours of some deep-sea creatures cannot serve any survival purpose where there is no light at all.  Beauty can of course be found in many features that are also useful for specific functions.  Einstein observed with regard to useful equations in mathematics and physics, “I have deep faith that the principles of the universe will be both beautiful and simple”. Yet particularly when we find beauty without apparent utility, this would seem to suggest design by a Creator who enjoys beauty simply for beauty’s sake, and for our shared enjoyment.  Nowhere is this beauty more remarkable, or less necessary for sustaining life on earth, than among the stars and galaxies.  ‘The heavens declare the glory of God…’ (Psalm 19:1)
 
3)  Purpose
Third, if nature is all the creation of the God of the Bible, He would be expected to create purposefully and without wastefulness, designing objects with efficient functionality and even irreducible complexity.  This argument must of course be qualified by the clear Biblical statement that the original ‘good’ creation was fundamentally marred near its very beginning by the effects of human rebellion, which included pain and death, for which God made accommodation.  What can be seen today, therefore, does not necessarily have precisely the form with which it was first designed, and in fact God’s intended plan is for humans ourselves to be part of the solution to the problems we see – ‘the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God’ (Romans 8:19).  Nevertheless, this principle of efficient functionality has important implications for how we practise science.  It seems as if a prior commitment to the theory of evolution could lead scientists to dismiss too quickly the inexplicable and less presentable features of organisms or of DNA.  For example, the appendix used to be considered useless and vestigial, a ‘fossil’ of human evolution, until further study revealed many important functions.  Likewise, geneticists who discovered that only a small portion of the genome actually codes for proteins, then declared the remainder to be ‘junk’ – of no present value and therefore evidence for evolution.  More investigation is revealing surprising levels of complex functionality in these parts of the genome; they are not simply dispensable.

Fine-tuning

One important point that combines information, beauty, and purpose is the incredible fine-tuning of the universe, the solar-system, and the earth itself, which is known as the ‘Goldilocks planet’ (not too hot, not too cold).  If any one of a large number of constants and characteristics in the universe were even very slightly different, life on earth would be completely impossible.  Some are quick to dismiss this evidence as irrelevant, because life does exist, therefore by definition it had to be just right.6  However, not only is the universe fine-tuned for human life on earth (the ‘Anthropic Principle’), but it is also apparently fine-tuned for humans to be able to observe and understand it, which was not necessary for our survival.7  Perfect eclipses of the sun enable us to perceive how stars work; our position in between ‘arms’ of the Milky Way allows us a clear view out of the galaxy into the rest of the universe.  As Einstein said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”  It looks like it was designed not just for life, but for human investigation, as if the Creator wanted humans to be able to understand how He chose to create the world.  Rather than separating between religious questions of ‘why’ and scientific questions of ‘how’, this would suggest that answering ‘how’ is itself part of the ‘why’ – God intended us to be scientists!
 
4)  Goodness
If the creation itself displays the nature of its Creator, then one would expect to find evidence of morality, of good and evil, even within the natural world itself.  Morality would not be an arbitrary or self-defined idea, but absolute, part of the essence of reality.  Looking at the world, it is quite clear that life is the only force capable of working against the second law of thermodynamics, the entropy of all things towards complete disorder and energy equilibrium.  That suggests the simple moral dichotomy that life is ‘good’ and death is ‘bad’.  From this foundation, it is possible to argue that all life, by definition, is of equal value, and therefore that each form of life will have its own important part to play in the collective resistance against entropy.  Humans have the greatest ability to manipulate the basic building blocks of life, and therefore have the greatest responsibility for preserving life in all its diversity.  Yet the evidence of intelligible information in DNA and fine-tuning for intelligibility in the universe points to the presence of a superior intelligent Life force who meant His creation to be understood by us.  What is more, life on earth is evidently of the same sort as His life, and His vastly superior life form will thus play the most important part of all in overcoming death and entropy throughout the universe.  ‘He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.’ (Colossians 1:17)
 
It would seem, therefore, that the progress of science is causing increasing problems for the fundamental features of the current Secular Genesis narrative, whereas the discipline of science itself still presupposes the basic principles of the Biblical Genesis – that the universe is carefully ordered in an intelligible way to favour life and beauty.  There are of course many theistic evolutionists who would readily affirm these principles, whether or not they base their scientific research upon them.  I would contend, therefore, that it is not unreasonable or unscientific to presuppose a Biblical rather than a Secular Genesis, and to pursue every possible avenue of scientific investigation for this very reason.

Footnotes

  • 1. http://creation.com/hundreds-of-jellyfish-fossils
  • 2. Mary H. Schweitzer et al., “Soft-tissue vessels and cellular preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex”, Science 307 / 5717 (March 2005): 1952-5.
  • 3. www.cosmologystatement.org
  • 4. W. Wayt Gibbs, “Thinking Globally, Acting Universally”, Scientific American 273/4 (1995) 50-55.
  • 5. http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/the-great-debate-what-is-life/what-is-life-panel
  • 6. Philosophers have noted that this displays a misunderstanding between epistemic and objective probability.
  • 7. Gonzalez & Richards, The Privileged Planet (2004)

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