Mechanism -- The Ugly Truth That Nobody Wants To Know (Chapter 1)
©2005 Darel Rex Finley
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Religion, Evolution, Design
Between the velvet lies
There’s a truth as hard as steel
“Holy Diver” — Dio
FOR RELIGIOUS CHRISTIANS IN THE U.S. — particularly conservative ones who are
more likely to disapprove of the teaching of evolution — certainly one of the
most beloved Christmas shows is Frank Capra’s 1946 film, It’s A Wonderful Life.
So ingrained is this movie in the American religious psyche that Stephen Jay
Gould, America’s most prominent advocate of Darwinian evolution until his untimely death in 2002, couldn’t resist titling his most famous book “Wonderful
Life,” as a neat summation of the Cambrian fauna described in its pages.
Capra’s film tells the heart-rending tale of George Bailey, a man who, faced
with an overwhelming financial and legal crisis, considers ending his life by
jumping off of a bridge, saying “I suppose it would have been better if I’d never
been born at all.” Then an angel takes him on a tour of the town as it would have
been if George Bailey had never been born. George is horrified by what he sees,
and begs the angel to give him a second chance. When George is given that
chance, his friends rally around, and his crises are abruptly averted. Everything
is fine once again. Tied in with a Christmastime theme and a Twilight Zonish
narration by godlike entities in space, the movie projects an overall feeling that
we are each special, irreplaceable, and watched over lovingly by our creator.
It’s A Wonderful Life typifies not only the feelings of many religious, but also
the feelings of most anti-religious Darwinists, such as Stephen Jay Gould, about
their opposition. Darwinists feel that those who doubt the creative powers of
random mutation and natural selection are simply clinging to a childhood model
of living under the protective wing of loving, all-knowing parents, with all unpleasant punishments inflicted deliberately as acts of “tough love,” to teach us
lessons. (And indeed, the desire to retain this sense of childhood security probably is at the root of most religious thinking.) Darwinists feel that to keep science
safe from the historically demonstrated threat of religious suppression — or even
theocracy — they must educate the religious on the true nature of the world.
And what is that nature? The world is a cold, uncaring, materialistic place that
happened to produce humans by accident. It cares not for our fates as individuals, nor even for our survival as a species.
Although enjoyable to watch in any case, It’s A Wonderful Life is easily dissected and shown to be logically wanting. Why would George Bailey be gasping
in horror if he had never been born? Half of what he’s horrified about is that his
friends don’t recognize him — but what’s really horrific about not recognizing
someone who’s never born? That’s something we all do every day without even
thinking about it.
Other things about the sans-Bailey town are more objectively horrifying, but
each of them relies on the shaky assumption that George Bailey is the only person who could have or would have done any particular good deed. If George
didn’t save his brother, the other kids would have stood around and passively
watched him drown, and if George’s brother didn’t shoot down the enemy attack
plane to save his navy ship, no one would have — perhaps the antiaircraft gun
would have stood unmanned while the officers on deck watched, like deer in
headlights, as the plane came in to kill them. If George didn’t notice the misfilled
prescription, then whoever was working for the pharmacist wouldn’t have even
bothered to check its accuracy. If George didn’t provide an affordable alternative
to Potter’s excessive loan rates, nobody would have. And if George didn’t propose marriage to Mary Hatch, she would have become an old maid. Real life
isn’t like that. If you had never met your spouse, in all likelihood that person
would have married someone else — perhaps someone worse, but perhaps
When George decides not to suicide after all, what happens? His crisis disappears instantly and turns into renewed success. Is that realistic? Hardly. Persons who change their mind about suicide at the last minute usually suffer profoundly at the hands of the crisis that drove them to suicide’s edge, and many of
them then suicide later anyway.
And as with Capra’s optimistic film, the general Christian Sunday-School picture of a benevolent, loving, perfect creator who watches over us, can be easily
refuted by numerous counterexamples. Human history abounds with mass violence, tragic plagues, earthquakes, and other immense disasters. In the animal
world, individuals routinely suffer horribly at the hands of others, and often do
so as a necessity of the predator species’s survival. Further, our bodies are
rigged from the start to slowly degenerate into a feeble state that eventually
proves fatal. What sort of all-loving, parent-like creator would do these things?
It is no small surprise that the Christian religion also teaches the existence of a
supremely evil being, Satan, who is said to be the source of all suffering and tragedy. God, we are told, allows Satan to inflict sufferings upon us in order to teach
us, and to test our faith. But this explanation turns the Sunday-School creator
into a tautological emptiness — all pleasant things in our lives can be attributed
to God’s love, while all unpleasantness can be attributed to God’s allowing Satan
to test our faith.
For generations in the western world, the presumptive alternative to the
Christian tautology was generic atheism. And it is important to note that the
idea of humanity as an unintended, accidental byproduct of a purely materialistic universe has been around well before Darwin. Celebrated, empiricist philosopher David Hume, who died over eighty years before anyone had even heard of
Darwinian evolution, argued forcefully that life on Earth is an unplanned feature
of the universe. So what did Charles Darwin add? Darwin became a household
word, and solidified the movement, by proposing the mutation-selection mechanism — known today simply as Darwinism or evolution — by which something
as complex and designed-looking as a human body could come about naturally
without any prior intent. Thus, Darwinism did not give birth to the atheist
movement; rather, it provided atheists with their most powerful tool in their social battle against the religious. It gave their beliefs the authority of science in an
age when the scientific method has so improved our lives as to be beyond skepticism. It is thus small wonder that at the turn of the millennium, we find ourselves living in a world in which belief in Darwinism is largely equated with science, logic, and even rationality.
Nine years before the millennium’s turn, however, a small fly appeared in the
ointment of evolution. UC Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson published a
book called Darwin On Trial, in which he pulled together and analyzed the evidence and arguments over evolution, and found evolution to have much more in
common with fundamentalist religion than with hard sciences like chemistry and
astronomy. His exposé showed that the Darwinists have been using a rhetorical
arsenal of tautology, equivocation, and redefinition of science itself to elevate
their theory to the status of dogma — and all while the evidence has steadily
soured in virtually every field where it might be scientifically applied to Darwin’s core thesis. Johnson’s book has spawned a new movement of science-
minded doubters of evolution, which has come to be known as the “Intelligent
Design” movement, or ID for short. New authors have breathed life into the
movement: Michael Behe, William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, Jonathan Wells,
Cornelius Hunter, Guillermo Gonzalez, Jay Richards, Rich Halvorson and others.
Most have come under fierce attack from evolution believers everywhere, but the
movement survives and expands nonetheless.
Perhaps the most important strategy of evolution’s defenders, and the one
strategy almost completely undiscussed by Johnson in Darwin On Trial, is to embrace the false dichotomy of fundamentalist religion versus Darwinism. Examine Table 1-1, and observe how inescapable it seems that evolution must be true.
With the issue framed as in Table 1-1, statements of extreme dogmatism seem almost reasonable:
It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe
in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather
not consider that). —Richard Dawkins
If you insist on teaching your children falsehoods — that the earth is flat, that
“Man” is not the product of evolution by natural selection — then you must expect, at the very least, that those of us who have freedom of speech will feel free
to describe your teachings as the spreading of falsehoods, and will attempt to
demonstrate this to your children at our earliest opportunity. Our future wellbeing — the well-being of all of us on the planet — depends on the education of
our descendants. —Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, p. 519
Evolution is smarter than you are. —“Leslie Orgel’s Second Law”
Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend
themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike
ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some
other yet to be discovered. —Stephen Jay Gould, Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes
[O]ur brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth. —Steven Pinker, How the
The cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be. —Carl Sagan, Cosmos
It is fair to say that even though Darwinists treat it as their primary enemy,
biblical fundamentalism is actually Darwinism’s best ally. By filling the antievolutionist seat with anti-science scripturalism, the religious have handed evolution
a victory-by-default. Cornelius Hunter has devoted an entire book to this subject, showing in Darwin’s God that from its inception in the 1850s to the present
day, evolution’s primary — if not only — defense has been to contrast it with the
Sunday School vision of a singular, hyper-perfect, omniscient, and infinitely loving creator. A few examples of evolutionist logic from Hunter’s book:
• Charles Darwin was “concerned” that “tons of pollen go to waste each
year.” (p. 10)
• Mark Ridley and Tim Berra claim that the sharing of genetic code between
species can be explained only as a product of Darwinian evolution, because intelligent designers would not reuse code; they would write the
code for every new species entirely from scratch. (p. 44)
• Martin Gardner says, “Because there are millions of insect species alone,
this requires God to perform many millions of miracles. I cannot believe
that.” (p. 81)
• H. H. Lane asserts that imperfectly adapted organisms prove evolution,
because in the creation scenario they would “indicate a lack of skill or foresight not to be thought of in an all-wise and all-powerful Creator.” (p. 92)
And Hunter quotes evolutionist Ernst Mayr practically admitting the charge of
Hunter’s book, that evolution has won because of the scriptural nature of its
most forceful opposition:
The greatest triumph of Darwinism is that the theory of natural selection, for 80
years after 1859 a minority opinion, is now the prevailing explanation of evolutionary change. It must be admitted, however, that it has achieved this position
less by the amount of irrefutable proofs it has been able to present than by the
default of all the opposing theories. —Mayr (as quoted on p. 64)
None of this should be taken as evidence of some kind of conspiracy — active
or passive — on the part of evolutionists to lay down a smokescreen over the
problems with their thesis. Rather, it should be interpreted as a case of the evolutionists fooling themselves into thinking that they can use the context of the
culture war to evaluate the validity of their proposition. The key error is in
thinking that as long as you come to an anti-religious conclusion, it must be kosher to start with religious presumptions. (See Figure 1-1.) This can lead to false
conclusions because, in fact, science does not permit religious presumptions, and
does allow religious (or at least partially religious) conclusions, as depicted in Figure 1-2. The key to understanding how the dichotomous culture war has obscured these truths is to remember that a partial confirmation of a religion does
not necessarily validate the entire religion — Figure 1-3 shows that a third option
(generic ID) is also compatible with the design conclusion.
What are the evolutionists actually doing in Table 1-1? They are simply eliminating huge portions of the chart, on both the horizontal and the vertical. The
horizontal is missing an entire column which could be called “unspecified,
human-like designers,” and the vertical is missing any piece of empirical evidence that detracts from the credibility of mutation-selection evolution. Completed, the chart looks like that depicted in Table 1-2. Now, the case for evolution looks incredibly weak, and “Human-Like Designers” wins as the inference
to the best explanation — in fact, the only known explanation that is compatible
with all the available evidence. Table 1-2, however, is virtually unknown among
all but those who keep up with the ID movement as a hobby. Ironically, the
blame for this situation lies squarely at the feet of Christianity. Christians have
done little to discourage the false dichotomy of the two-column Table 1-1, because encouraging it makes their view the only alternative to the purest forms of
atheism (i.e. the view that humans are an unintended accident). Johnson is a self-
admitted Christian, and although he is careful to avoid blatant promotions of his
religion in Darwin On Trial, his subsequent books contain just such promotions
(more on this later), and even in Trial Johnson passes on the opportunity to lay
out a three-column chart such as the one in Table 1-2.
It is small wonder that those who dislike Christianity’s influence on human
society tend to embrace Darwinism as an anti-religious blunt instrument. This
guarantees that Christians will be nearly the only supporters of ID; which, in
turn, creates the situation where ID can be plausibly dismissed as Christian creationism in a white lab coat.
— • —
The reason it is so hard for most science-minded people today — who broadly
may be religious, agnostic, or atheist — to believe that mutation-selection evolution could be false, is because of these two questions:
1. How could virtually the entire science community be convinced that something is
correct if it is not, and
2. If the whole science community can be wrong about something like this, then how
can we know when they’re right about anything? What value is science if the
overwhelming consensus of the science community is not reliable?
Any argument against evolution, such as that advanced in Table 1-2, must be accompanied by a reasonable response to these two questions — otherwise it will
be overshadowed by the impression that science itself is being questioned, and
worse still, that an ulterior religious agenda is at work. And this should not be
surprising, because so many people historically (and still today) have believed in
an antiscientific, scripture-based vision of the human quest for knowledge.
Figure 1-4 shows us the religious approach to human knowledge: Scriptures
handed to us by our creator(s) are to be taken at face value, and additional
knowledge can be extrapolated from those scriptures, as they logically require or
allow. Science might have some limited role in this arrangement — such as in jet
engine design — but not in any field claimed by scripture, such as biological origins. Figure 1-5 depicts the scientific approach to human knowledge: Science —
the painstaking gathering of empirical data, and the application of logic and
mathematics to that data to confirm or refute well-defined theories — is the base,
the table, on which we perform our quest for knowledge. Theories are laid out
on this table to be tested, and are either confirmed, or found wanting and hence
One way to attack evolution would be to adopt the scriptural approach to human knowledge (under some specific religion such as Christianity) and then simply to point out that evolution is not compatible with many assertions of scripture. As evidenced by the content of my antievolution arguments above, however, I prefer the scientific approach. I subscribe to the scientific mindset outlined in Figure 1-5. Why? While I cannot prove scientifically that it is the right
road — for that would be a circular argument — I can nonetheless offer rhetorical reasons to adopt science over religion. My reasoning (and I assume probably
that of most scientific persons) is simply that even if we were put here by some
creator(s), why would those creators then hand us a list of scriptural truths that
cannot be distinguished from fictional scriptures made up by false religions?
And the gravity of this question is only compounded when the purported scriptures conflict rather strongly with many pieces of empirical evidence. So if we
have creators, it would seem that they have given us not scriptures of revealed
truth, but rather the mental capacity and characteristics needed to perform scientific exploration of our world, and thereby to find out what there is for us to
Some religious people find this idea offensive, since it might be taken to imply
that we don’t need God; that we can figure everything out ourselves. Besides being based on an emotional desire to need God, this concern is also mistaken in
that it fails to notice that the ability to perform science has been given to us in
very specific ways. Science requires each of the following characteristics, to
name just a few:
• complex logic comprehension
• math comprehension
• curiosity about biological origins and other deep subjects
• physical ability to perform fine manipulations of objects, to study them, to
control fire, and to ultimately develop technology
One need only look at the lives of domestic cats or forest animals to appreciate the intellectual and morphological gifts humans have been given, and how
much we depend on those gifts in our quest of scientific discovery. And although the future is always unknown, we can look back on the past of humanity’s technological advancement and see that there appears to be a chain of connected discoveries waiting to be made, laid out for us perhaps, without which we
would be trapped at some relatively low level of technology forever. Gonzalez
and Richards take this issue to a whole new, and more objectively verifiable level
in The Privileged Planet (more about this later in the chapter), in which they show
that the bio-coincidences of our universe are accompanied by another set of remarkable coincidences that conspire to allow intelligent life to scientifically discover how the universe works.
What role does Darwinian evolution play in the scheme of science? There are
actually two very different conceptions of this. Figure 1-6 shows the concept that
evolution is simply another theory to be tested, and either verified or refuted, on
the table of empirical science, just as are all scientific theories. The other concept,
diagrammed in Figure 1-7, sees evolution as fundamentally ingrained into the
bedrock of science itself. In this conception, an attack on evolution is — intentionally or not — an attack on science. Evolution cannot be uprooted without
causing severe harm to the platform of science, and potentially paving the way
for an infection by religious scripture.
Most scientists (and many other persons besides) subscribe to the Figure 1-7,
evolution-as-part-of-science’s-definition conception, not the Figure 1-6, evolution-as-another-theory conception. How come? The answer is that the scriptural
mindset and the scientific mindset represent the two sides of a huge, global, culture war that has raged for the past few centuries. Scientists naturally feel threatened by the scriptural side of this war. Darwin’s idea of variation-selection evolution, almost as soon as it was published, became a political football in this culture war. Both camps have recognized that evolution is a powerful weapon for
the scientific camp to use against the scriptural camp. This is because the most
extreme members of each side simply must take opposite sides over evolution:
Extreme scriptural literalism is not compatible with evolution, and the strictest
form of atheism probably requires evolution (or something very much like it) to
be true, for life to have appeared on Earth and come to its present state there.
Since the handiest way to fight a culture war is to stigmatize your opposition
with the position of its most extreme members, it was inevitable that evolution
would be associated with the scientific mindset, and antievolutionism with the
A conversation between Christian author Rick Warren and political pundit
Bill O’Reilly2 reveals how strongly the scripture-vs-evolution dichotomy can rule
RW: If we are just random chance, random accident, I’m just educated slime that
happened to be a freak accident of nature, then the truth is my life doesn’t
matter and neither does yours. But I don’t believe that. I believe there is a
creator, that he has a plan for our lives ... and that you were made for a purpose.
BO: So you believe in a God that’s a micromanager, that basically is watching
every move you make and hoping that you don’t disappoint him, and hoping
that you use your potential? Is that a God that you believe in?
RW: I believe ... obviously, I believe in a God ... and, by the way, people often will
tell me, see, you know, I don’t believe in God, and I say, oh, really. And they
expect me to be shocked as a pastor. But I’m not so interested in people saying they don’t believe in God as to why they don’t believe in God, and...
BO: Well, they want proof. You know, they want proof.
RW: ... what kind of god they don’t believe in. I say tell me the kind of God you
don’t believe in, and I often say will say I don’t either.
BO: But again ... but my question is do you believe in the micromanage ... a micro-
God who just watches you all the time to make sure that you do or don’t do
RW: Absolutely I do. In fact, Jesus said that every hair on our head is numbered.
The Bible says that every day of our lives were planned by God who loves us
and wants what’s best for us.
O’Reilly is trying to nudge Warren in another direction, but it is apparent that
Warren wants to believe that either Christian scriptures are literally the delivered
word of our singular creator, or we weren’t created at all and must be accidental
“slime.” The two sides of the culture war are the only two possibilities that Warren even cares to consider.
Lost in the fevered fight of the culture war is the possibility that humanity
might have been planted in this universe by creators who haven’t given us scriptures, and who wrote our genes directly because the content of those genes can’t
evolve by random mutation and natural selection. This is the answer to the first
question, ”How could virtually the entire science community be convinced that something is correct if it is not?” — Answer: Scientists are fighting against scriptural
fundamentalists for the survival and integrity of their profession, and it is simply
a matter of expedience that evolution must be used as a highly effective weapon
in that battle.
The second question is now easily answered too: ”If the whole science community can be wrong about something like this, then how can we know when they’re right
about anything? What value is science if the overwhelming consensus of the science
community is not reliable?” The value of science is lost if we cannot trust the science community’s consensus — or at least have a way to distinguish between reliable and unreliable claims of that consensus. Fortunately, it turns out to be an
easy distinction to make: We can simply keep in mind that since scientists are in
a social war with antiscientific scripturalists, one should be aware of the possibility that the scientists may overreact and swing too far in the opposite direction
from their opponents. What is the probability that a lengthy, detailed, religious
scripture will just happen to be wrong about everything? Not very good. Scriptural fundamentalists can damage the scientific assessment of a valid idea simply
by supporting it, and thus smearing it through association with their anti-science
campaign. So if a scientific consensus is not relevant to a culture war (e.g. optimal jet engine design), it can be trusted implicitly. But a consensus about evolution must be carefully scrutinized since it is tightly associated with the culture
Remember that science ultimately is an individual practice, since you have
only the data which you have received through your own, individual senses.
Data you have gathered indirectly through a consensus of scientists must be
evaluated in the context of different reasons that such a consensus might form.
Phillip Johnson did no biological, paleontological, or geological data gathering
himself, but was able to form a comprehensive, scientific argument against evolution simply by collecting the data from several different evolution-related
fields, and asking whether it really supports the theory at all.
Further, whenever scientists start claiming that a theory is part of the scientific bedrock itself, it should be automatic cause for skepticism. No theory needs
to merge into the scientific platform. The premise of science has been well-defined, and is pretty much common sense. Questions of high detail, such as
“where did the human anatomy come from,” are not properly part of the scientific method itself, but should be formulated into theories that can be tested by
science. Every theory is a candidate for refutation, and if any specific theory is
refuted, the scientific method remains unscathed. If the scientific mindset of Figure 1-5 is correct (and I think it is), then evolution is a theory about things that
happened long before any religious scriptures had even been written. Hence, the
war of science-vs-scripture is utterly irrelevant to the scientific evaluation of evolution, which should be done independently and objectively as depicted in Figure 1-6. It is concern over the threat of scriptural forces in society that overrides
such objectivity. I am not implying that most scientists know evolution to be
false, but say it is true for the sake of protecting science from fundamentalist religion. Rather, the typical scientist knows that evolution has problems in her field
of specialty, and refrains from drawing attention to those problems because she
believes that (a) “Evolution is heavily verified in other fields, and so is certainly
true — these problems in my field will be solved someday soon,” and (b) “It
can’t be a good idea to give ammunition to the antievolution, anti-science forces
of the culture war.”
— • —
The only legitimate use of a computer is to play games.
— Eugene Jarvis
Both sides of the culture war suffer from a deep desire to believe in something serious, something that holds mysterious, almost magical power, and inspires feelings of somber awe. The idea that our origins might be more relevant to feelings
of excitement, entertainment, adventure, and outright fun, is not looked upon
highly by either evolutionists or scripturalists. To them, the idea that this life
might be a big videogame, with us as the players, is just downright silly, and not
the proper discovery of an awe-filled explorer. The idea that our creators have
more in common with Toru Iwatani and John Carmack than with Jesus Christ
and Muhammad (or a purely “spiritual” being so high above us as barely even to
be aware of our existence) is, to say the least, anathema in the minds of most.
Persons who recognize life to be a form of entertainment have traditionally
not gone into the fields of religion or science, for the simple reason that it’s a lot
more fun to party and frolic on the beach. Hence, both of the two human pursuits that lay claim to potentially understanding the purpose of human existence
historically have been populated with individuals who harbor a strong disdain
for the idea of fun as a way of life. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that the religious camp believes in a creator of infinite wisdom, and pegs this life as the ultimate test which will send us to infinite joys or infinite miseries, for an infinite
amount of time. And it should also not surprise us that the “scientific” alternative is a universe in which we exist for no reason, have no purpose, and will simply slip into an oblivion of nothingness when our lives here are over (which also
implies that everything you do in this life is supremely important). Nobody
wants to look at a fun scenario. Why? Because it doesn’t inspire awe.
The geeks and nerds of history have dominated the religious and scientific
professions, and they never have been particularly good at having fun. But today we stand at the threshold of a new age: the age of the fun-loving geek. For
the first time in history, thanks largely to modern technology and affluence, it is
possible for the individual to participate in the roles of both partyer and philosopher, technologist and bon vivant. Information is so rapid and widespread that
actual lab work has become mostly the province of professional lab technicians,
and theorizing about what the data means is an activity that anyone of sufficient
intelligence can practice in their spare time. In an older age, a person such as
myself who prefers to spend most of his time in pursuit of enjoyment — music,
movies, relationships, thrills, artistic projects, and the like — would have no access to the best information in either science or religion. But today it’s all out in
the open, just waiting for someone to put the pieces together; someone not
blinded by a deep-seated disdain of recreation. If I was of a previous generation,
I could never have considered that I might be vicariously experiencing the
several-decade life of a selected human brain, for entertainment purposes, recorded from a fabricated universe whose events hold no more ultimate, metaphysical, moral gravity than do the goings-on in a Pac-Man maze.
Allan Bloom’s 1987 bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind, is a striking
exposé of cultural relativism and nihilism in academia and intellectual society,
eclipsed only by Dinesh D’Souza’s 1991 Illiberal Education. D’Souza’s book is narrowly focused on the effects of the universities’ racial and sexual policies (a subject touched by Bloom on pp. 94-96 of Closing), and so D’Souza largely avoids
writing a general lament at the loss of humanity’s myths, but Bloom does not.
Bloom’s opening chapter includes the following denial:
I am not saying anything so trite as that life is fuller when people have myths to
live by. (p. 60)
But his very next paragraph begins with this sentence:
The moral education that is today supposed to be the great responsibility of the
family cannot exist if it cannot present to the imagination of the young a vision of
a moral cosmos and of the rewards and punishments for good and evil, sublime
speeches that accompany and interpret deeds, protagonists and antagonists in
the drama of moral choice, a sense of the stakes involved in such choice, and the
despair that results when the world is “disenchanted.”
Bloom’s explicit denial is belied by the rest of his book, which indeed sends exactly the message he attempts to deny he is sending: that life is fuller when people
have myths to live by. But Bloom’s book is written from a very relativist standpoint — he goes to great pains to avoid endorsing or offending any particular religious or cultural camp (save the camp of relativism and nihilism). Vague references to “the Book” (the Christian bible, perhaps?) are as close as Bloom comes to
saying that any specific vision is actually true. And yet he spends his whole
book expounding on the travesty of a society that no longer believes in any particular vision except success and enjoyment, which Bloom condemns with disgust.
Bloom is making two mistakes. First, instead of shrinking from the obvious
message of his book, he should embrace it. He should openly say, “Yes; life is
fuller when people have myths to live by.” Because, as a general rule, it is. Why
does Bloom fail to make such an open admission, and indeed feel the need to explicitly deny it? Because saying “life is fuller when people have myths to live
by” actually discourages belief in those myths. With his explicit denial Bloom
hopes to avoid creating a backfiring book that disillusions its readers — but the
book has that effect anyway because you can’t promote multiple, conflicting
myths in a general way. You have to pick a specific myth and endorse it to the
hilt, at the expense of most others. Bloom can’t do that, because he wants to appeal to the broadest possible audience, so he is doomed to write a book that
amounts to nothing but the final, twisted paroxysm of a dying outlook: the scriptural view of the quest for human knowledge.
Are things really as bad as Bloom thinks they are? His second mistake is to
think that if people don’t have myths to live by, their lives won’t just be less full;
they will be profoundly empty. But there is no evidence of this. Perhaps experiencing a great disillusionment is bad for the productivity and innocuousness of
any particular individual. But time marches on, new generations are born, and
the idea that we have been handed scriptural truths by our singularly perfect
creator is not missed by persons who were never persuasively taught it. Many
writers have been convinced that a society that loses its scriptural basis will be a
bizarre, frightening, nightmare culture, like that depicted in Orwell’s 1984 or
Huxley’s Brave New World. But take a stroll through any typical, secular, suburban neighborhood or shopping center and ask yourself: Is this a disaster? Is this
a horrific, nightmarish society? It can be judged so only on the basis of strict religious tenets such as that people are meant to worship their creator; are meant to
study the Christian or Islamic bible, and are meant to retreat into morose, lifelong
guilt over one transgression of a scriptural commandment. Like the Amish,
some religious believe that we are simply supposed to live in a certain, holy way,
and no matter how vibrant and successful humanity might become by living another way, it will all be somehow, secretly evil, and something for which we will
be horribly punished when this life is over.
Of course, there is no way to prove that hell doesn’t exist, and so fundamentalist Christians exploit this by saying, “Maybe hell doesn’t exist, but can you take
the risk?” The problem is not that the risk of hell is imaginary — since we can’t
prove the nonexistence of hell, the risk is quite real — the problem is that you
can’t avoid the risk. For example, what if God finds individuals who spend their
lives praying and singing hymns in church insufferably boring, and punishes
those people by sending them to hell? And what if God is entertained by those
humans who live juicy lives, full of daring and intrigue, and so rewards those individuals with admission into heaven? We are often admonished to be modest
because God approves of modesty, but what if he actually doesn’t like it, and
would prefer that we be brash and assertive? That might seem like an absurd
proposition — but it might be true, so can you take the risk? Better start living an
interesting, daring life while there’s still time!
How Science Works
The desire to look serious is probably responsible for the great modern myth
about science, which is that it is performed by objective, rational individuals who
have expunged their ulterior motives and dedicated themselves to the relentless
pursuit of empirical truth, and that science depends on their objectivity for its successful function. The ugly reality is that science works despite the falsehood of
that myth; despite the ulterior, extrascientific, even petty motives of its practitioners.
Science weeds out false theories by three methods:
1. Fear of Peer Review (most frequent) A scientist finds out on his
own that his idea is wrong and, out of fear of embarrassment and
discreditation, privately buries the idea without ever publicly announcing it. This method is the closest that the myth comes to reality.
2. Peer Review (less frequent) A scientist thinks he has verified his
theory, and goes public with it. Then other scientists try to corroborate it, but without success. The scientist has publicly committed to his theory and doesn’t want to let go of it, and so he is
sloughed off by the science community along with his incorrect
3. Generational Peer Review (rarest) The whole science community becomes convinced of something that later turns out to be
false. In such case, the theory slowly perishes by attrition, as its
believers retire or die, and are replaced by a new generation that
is has no massive, vested interest in the theory.
Once a scientist publicly advocates for a particular theory, then it is extremely
difficult for him to back down. This is because of the universal human desire to
appear infallible — incapable of significant error. The desire to appear infallible
stems from the tendency to think others are infallible until you find out that they
are not. That is why, for example, indecisiveness is so universally reviled — it is
litmus-test proof that a person does not know what he is doing. Decisiveness, on
the other hand, while not actually proving infallibility, and maybe even hindering overall accuracy, nevertheless at least maintains the appearance of infallibility in the eyes of the beholder, or leaves open the possibility. To be taken seriously, therefore, scientists must waffle around with different ideas only in private, and choose very carefully when to go public with an idea.
Humanity has a strong, built-in desire to believe in superhuman individuals,
who always know the right thing to do, and who never make mistakes. Humor
is almost always based on someone else’s failings, errors, or suffering. When
someone else makes a mistake we are amused, when someone seems devoid of
mistakes, we are filled with awe and respect. To win the confidence of others,
appearing in their eyes a powerful leader and not a clownish buffoon, one must
be careful to present a perfect facade in their direction, and to hide all mistakes
Science would work much better if people did not have this craving of infallibility, but fortunately science can still work rather well with it, because individual scientists are expendable, and even a whole generation of scientists will inevitably die off and give way to a new generation of young scientists who can
say, “I never supported that theory!” The idea that a system can function reasonably well even though each human member of that system may be wildly
dysfunctional to the point of being unable or unwilling to perform the task correctly as an individual, seems paradoxical to say the least. But systems like that
can work simply because of the power of peer review (method #2 above), the
fear of peer review (method #1 above), and in extreme cases — where a bad theory slips into the intellectual circle — peer review performed by a new generation upon the beliefs of the older, disappearing generation (method #3 above).
As shall be discussed further in chapter three, the desire to murder is quite
common in the population, but is kept at bay by the equally common desire that
murder be suppressed generally. The typical individual, if free to do what he
wants, would murder at least once in his life, but does not do so because of the
system that has been developed to deter murder. This system is a sort of peer review where the population, in the form of democratically enacted police, courts,
and prison systems, decides whether any particular individual can safely be allowed to roam society on his own volition. The fear of peer review deters most
murders, the act of peer review removes most murderers from society, and in extreme cases where a murderous regime has taken over society (e.g. the Soviet
Union), generational peer review scraps the bad system. (Note that the defeat of
Nazism was a case of active peer review by the world community against the
Nazi government of Germany.)
The system of democratic elections is another case in point. How many voters
actually know much about the candidates? How many of them are smart
enough to know what the officeholder should do, much less what a particular
candidate will do? How many eligible voters stay away from the polls because
they know that their one vote has no realistic chance of swinging the election?
And yet the system works anyway, because if an officeholder enacts policies that
seriously disrupt the lives of large numbers of people, then even if those same
people would have supported those policies weeks or months ago, they will now
vote against that politician (active peer review) just because their lives are being
harmed. Even if those people wouldn’t normally bother to vote, they will now go
to the polls just for the personal satisfaction of being able to say that they voted
against that politician. And politicians, under the guidance of intelligent advisors, seek to avoid disrupting the lives of the populace because they want to be
reelected (fear of peer review). Finally, if an undemocratic government takes
over, it will eventually spin out of control and wind up meeting the fate of the
Soviet government as mentioned above. And it is worth noting that democratic
governments generally do not become antidemocratic on a whim. The Soviet
government was formed during the same year that the autocratic czar was deposed, and the Nazis took power in Germany during a time when the population
was under the yoke of the Treaty of Versailles; an insane policy that no democratically elected government would dream of imposing on its own people.
Juries deliberate in secret because all the principles of procedural impartiality
and fairness which are triumphed in the courtroom are trampled in the jury
room. If lawyers were allowed to view the deliberations, the objections and appeals would never end. The real reason we have a jury system is not because
twelve people can be expected to obey all the dictates of the court while happening to reach a mutually agreed-upon decision, but rather to remove corrupting
power from judges and place it in the hands of twelve relatively ordinary people
who hear this one case only. This prevents the massive infection of corruption
which has compromised the entire way of life for people in countries without the
jury system (e.g. Mexico).
This same phenomenon of dysfunctional individuals coalescing into a functional system is also on display in the ID movement itself. What are the ascientific motives of ID proponents? Most of them appear to be Christian, and although some (like Behe) go to great lengths to separate their religious beliefs
from their scientific logic when arguing for ID, it’s still a safe bet that most ID
proponents are attracted to ID because of its compatibility with Christianity’s
claim that humanity was created on purpose. However, as noted above, science
works despite the ascientific motives of its practitioners. The ID movement’s
nascent success in replacing Darwinism with a general theory of creative intent is
strictly due to the power of its scientific arguments. Many Christians have promoted something called “creation science” for decades without success precisely
because it lacked powerful scientific arguments (not to mention a commitment to
Johnson and Dembski, more than any others, have contributed immensely to
the success of the ID movement, but each seems to want to carry that success a
bit further than it actually goes, and ascientific, preferential desire is the likely
culprit. Both authors have openly criticized the power of such desire in their
People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on
the basis of what they find attractive. —Blaise Pascal, The Art of Persuasion, used
by Dembski as the opening motto of The Design Revolution; Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design
How can a scientist keep from descending into dogmatism? The only way I
know is to look oneself squarely in the mirror and continually affirm I am a fallible human being. I may be wrong. I may be massively wrong. I may be hopelessly and
irretrievably wrong — and mean it! It’s not enough just to mouth these words.
We need to take them seriously and admit that they can apply even to our most
cherished scientific beliefs. (This injunction holds true as much for design theorists as for Darwinists.) Human fallibility is real and can catch us in the most unexpected places. —The Design Revolution, p. 51
Everybody is subject to the temptation to rationalize. The temptation is probably
greatest for those with the most intelligence, because the more intelligent we are,
the easier we will find it to invent convenient rationalizations for what we want
believe and to decorate them with high-sounding claptrap. Unless we take the
greatest precautions, we will use our reasoning powers to convince ourselves to
believe reassuring lies rather than the uncomfortable truths that reality may be
trying to tell us. —Johnson, The Wedge of Truth, p. 36
Based on the context of the above quotes, it can only be assumed that Johnson
and Dembski are referring to evolutionists who find the prospect of ID uncomfortable. But (as Dembski does briefly admit) the warnings apply equally well to
Johnson and Dembski themselves, who might be rationalizing an unsupported
attachment of Christianity to the ID movement.
In science, you don’t get to pick where your research will ultimately lead.
Johnson and Dembski should know that as well as anyone, since they routinely
cite evidence that was gathered not by themselves or any other ID proponent,
but by scientists who are mostly (and often fiercely) committed to the truth of
Darwinian evolution. G. H. Hardy, the British mathematician, would be rolling
in his grave if he knew the lesson he taught us about wanting your scientific pursuits to serve a particular interest: Hardy devoted the latter portion of his career
to obscure fields of “pure mathematics” because they had no practical value and
thus would not be used by men to do evil in the world. In A Mathematician’s
Apology, he said “There is one comforting conclusion which is easy for a real
mathematician. Real mathematics has no effects on war. No one has yet discovered any warlike purpose to be served by the theory of numbers or relativity,
and it seems unlikely that anyone will do so for many years.” Alas, poor Hardy
could not have known that his work in “pure math” would one day prove very
useful in cryptography and other military applications. Scientists and mathematicians who really want to ensure that their work does not wind up furthering a
position or cause which they find repugnant would be well advised: Quit your
profession today and take up one that does not involve discovery of that which
you did not create.
In a way, the dichotomy of scripturalism vs. evolution is perpetuated because
both sides are trying to “explain” life with a neat, beautiful, awe-inspiring little
aphorism that pretends to include mechanistic detail but really doesn’t. Religion
is heavily motivated by a desire to retain the sense of awe and wonder that one
experienced as a young child. Since, as an adult, the mechanisms are learned
and the beauty subverted, religion provides a way to project awe and wonder up
to the next level above this universe. Life, we are told, was created by an infinitely wise being for mystical purposes that we can’t really fathom. What is
more, this entity simply waved his hand and said “let there be complex life
forms,” and voilà, there they were. Darwinism, by contrast, looks not up but
down to the simplest processes operating in nature and says that they created life
as we see it on Earth. Both scenarios lack mechanistic detail — or even causal
adequacy as pointed out by Dembski.3 The dichotomy stays strong because neither side has any motivation to attempt to unseat it. Like Gould and Dawkins
fighting over whose line of specialty (the study of extinct or of living organisms)
should take the fall for Darwin, scripturalism and evolutionism are locked in battle over which is the correct way to avoid seeing the matter-of-fact nature of our
designers. Real design processes are complex, tedious affairs that do not reduce
to simple aphoristic nutshells.
One of the best questions I received when debating evolution on the internet
was, “Why would God design life to look like a process of evolution?” At one
level, this question is an appeal to Occam’s razor — the principle that science
should prefer simpler explanations when given a choice. I agree with Occam’s
razor completely, because if phenomenon X can be adequately answered by one
explanation which consists of, say, 20 bits of information, or with another explanation which requires 26 bits of information, then the latter has six extra bits of
information that are not necessarily inferred by X, and thus whose content might
be arbitrary — and one day, provably wrong. (In fact, there would be a 63-outof-64 chance that those six extra bits will turn out to be wrong.)
But — to be even a candidate for Occam’s razor, an explanation must be fully
compatible with all known evidence, and as noted in Table 1-2, human-like designers are the only known candidate, so Occam’s razor is essentially inapplicable. The “looks like evolution” question is actually a presumption of the truth of
evolution. To really answer the question properly, we first have to know what
“looks like evolution.” If evolution is true, then life on Earth looks like evolution,
but if evolution is false, then what would “look like evolution,” absent creators?
— a sterile planet with no life (or only bacterial life if we exclude origin-of-life
from our definition of evolution). Since Earth is teeming with diverse, complex,
multicellular life, it can be said to “look like evolution” only if evolution is assumed. One should keep in mind that any theory of how life reached its present
state, whether ultimately true or false, is going to be at least roughly compatible
with how things “look” on Earth, since that is the phenomenon which the theory
is intended to explain.
Occam’s razor, however, brings up an important point. Both Behe and Dembski assert that scientific explanations do not have to be reductive, because we
know that a pencil-making machine is far more complex than the pencils it creates. This is their counterexample to evolutionists who insist that all scientific explanations must be reductive.
[S]cientific explanation is not identical with reductive explanation. Richard
Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and many other scientists and philosophers are convinced that proper scientific explanations must be reductive, explaining the complex in terms of the simple. The Law of Conservation of Information, however,
shows that specified complexity cannot be explained reductively. To explain an
instance of specified complexity requires either appealing to an intelligent agent
that originated it or locating an antecedent instance of specified complexity that
contains at least as much specified complexity as we are trying to explain. A
pencil-making machine is more complicated that the pencils it makes. A clock
factory is more complicated than the clocks it produces. What’s more, all causal
chains from pencil to pencil-making machine or from clock to clock factory ultimately trace back to intelligence. Intelligent causes generate specified complexity; natural causes merely transmit pre-existing specified complexity (and usually do so imperfectly). —Dembski, The Design Revolution, p. 163
Dembski’s Law of Conservation of Information, the “fourth law of thermodynamics,” implies that all causes are expansive — that is, the cause contains at least
as much specified information as the caused. This seems certainly consistent
with the pencil-making machine, with human-designed objects and, as far as I
know, with every other example we have of cause and effect. A process of expansive causes producing reductive effects is diagrammed in Figure 1-8.
But there is a problem. Human science is itself a stochastic process, and is therefore subject to the same Law of Conservation of Information. That means that if
our science has to start with the current phenomenon — the eight-bit item D in
the figure — and derive explanations from it, those explanations must, just as
Dawkins and Dennett claim, contain less information than D, as illustrated in
Figure 1-9. Note that Figure 1-9 is dictated by Occam’s razor, because the mere
eight-bit fact of D itself is simpler (i.e. less information-rich) than an
“explanation” that contains more than eight bits. Therefore, any explanation that
contains 8 bits or more would be no better than simply citing D as its own explanation.
This could be taken as evidence that the Law of Conservation of Information
is mistaken. But I think it is correct. It has already been rigorously proven for
deterministic processes, and it is very easy to turn a deterministic process into a
stochastic process with the simple addition of a pseudo-random-number algorithm, which by itself is simple and information-poor. Pseudo-random number
algorithms are known to be every bit as good as theoretically “true” random sequences for all purposes but encryption — i.e. for all purposes but fooling an intelligent agent who knows about the algorithm itself. As far as making huge
quantities of essentially random data, these algorithms work fine. Mixing such
an algorithm into a deterministic process makes it every bit as capable of randomness as a stochastic process, while still remaining completely deterministic.
Therefore, whatever general laws can be applied to deterministic systems also
can be applied to stochastic systems.
The discrepancy between Figure 1-8 and 1-9 simply means that there is a difference between a cause and a scientific explanation, and the latter necessarily contains less information than the former. If we map the information quantities
from Figure 1-9 back onto the sequence of Figure 1-8, we get a rapidly decreasing
level of knowledge about past events, as depicted in Figure 1-10. This is completely consistent with our real-life experience that scientifically derived information about past events is always dramatically less complete than knowledge of
current events. So, scientific explanations do have to be reductive, but do not
contradict the Law of Conservation of Information because an explanation describes only a small subset of the information contained in the cause to which it
refers. Several examples follow:
• A forensic pathologist determines that tissue damage in a corpse is from
multiple stab wounds inflicted with a knife or knifelike weapon. The pathologist’s explanation (“this man was stabbed to death”) is reductive, but
the cause (the murderer and all his complex motivations, plus all the details of exactly how he encountered and killed the victim) is expansive.
The pathologist’s explanation implies the existence of the complex
(expansive) cause, but does not provide most of its detail, only a few
points (i.e., this man was stabbed to death; he didn’t die naturally of old
• A huge amount of implied detail (e.g. exact particle positions) is left out of
the Big Bang theory, but the theory is still reductive because it doesn’t
claim to have all that detail; only a small set of facts about the event.
• Hash algorithms convert all the data in a computer file (maybe thousands
or millions of bytes in length) into a small piece of data (maybe eight
bytes). The cause (the original file) is very expansive compared to the
caused (the hash). The original file cannot be recovered from just the hash.
• The algorithm that generates public keys from private keys seems to be the
reverse of the hash algorithm mentioned above — it takes your short, private password, and converts it into a large paragraph of characters: the
public key, which is then made available to the public. Is this an example
of a reductive cause? No, because the public key looks effectively random,
and random data has no specified information at all. Only by revealing
the private password and showing that it generated the public key can you
prove that the public key contains any specified information whatsoever
— and in so doing, you demonstrate that it contains exactly the same
amount of specified information as its cause (the private password).
• The military alphabet code replaces letters with whole words; for example,
“cat” becomes “charlie alpha tango.” This looks expansive, but isn’t, for
the same reason as with the public key generator. “Charlie alpha tango” is
nonsense until you realize it’s just longhand for “cat.”
• Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven indicates the existence of an intelligent agent
(Poe) but reveals only a tiny subset of the information contained in his
brain at the time he wrote that poem.
The example of Poe, an intelligent designer, is especially relevant to ID — we can
infer that life was designed by intelligent beings, but know relatively little about
what goes on in the minds of those designers.
And so we have easily answered the Dawkins/Dennett charge that explanations must be reductive. But Dembski cannot answer it this way and must leave
the issue inadequately addressed, because he is wedded to the idea that human
minds (and the minds of our designers) are not composed simply of a quantity of
specified information and a logic engine, but are instead magic fountains of
specified complexity. We shall return to this issue in the next chapter.
The “looks like evolution” question should properly be rephrased thusly:
“Why would creators design life to superficially look like the product of Darwin’s theory, even if that theory is false?” This question can be answered directly: If false, Darwin’s theory is just one of a virtual infinity of false theories
about how life reached its present state. It is unrealistic to the point of absurdity
to expect human-like designers to avoid making anything that even partially resembles the purported product of any one of those theories.
At its deepest level, the “why would God...” question is really an unstated
subscription to the false dichotomy illustrated in Table 1-1; a presumption of the
hyper-perfect, Christian designer. But in its most general form, the word “God”
is widely understood to mean “the being(s) which created the universe in which
we live.” Throughout this book, I use the terms “creators” and “designers” to
mean the same thing. I think of our designers as an engineering team of sorts.
If we were created by some sort of designers, then most of us instinctively
want to know: What are our creator(s) thinking? What do they want? Why did
they create us? And so on. In our attempts to answer these questions, two conceptions of a creator’s mind may be employed:
Rational — Our creators think in much the same way as we do, and
probably have similar types of motivation.
Magical — God thinks in a way that is incomprehensible to the human mind.
Most people who talk of God’s thoughts and motives will use either of these
two formulations at their convenience, failing to notice that the two are incompatible (or tautological when mixed). For purposes of this book, I will stick to the
rational conception, for the simple reason that if the magical conception is true,
then we cannot hope to understand anything about why we are here, or what is
going on, etc. The rational conception is therefore the necessary starting point to
even approach the subject.
That is not meant to imply that we are as smart as our designers — it just
means that we think in the same way, utilizing the same rules of logic and reason,
and the same process of mental planning refined by empirical experimentation.
If our creators know more than us, it is because they have been around longer,
have greater information storage capacity in their brains (as it were), and have
access to things which we do not. Thinking about the creators’ motives, therefore, is a lot like thinking about the motives of your next-door neighbor in a godlike position, such as having an ant farm on his desk, or working in a lab with
test animals, or raising livestock — or writing a videogame on his computer.
Given this view of our creators, we now get to the question “do they exist?”
This question can be answered in one of two ways: Scriptural or scientific. The
scriptural method says that “God has told us that he exists (as recorded in holy
scripture) therefore he does.” This logic fails, of course, because it is circular. Before we know whose (if anyone’s) scripture to believe, we must already have decided that God exists, and additionally that he has originated a holy scripture.
That logical fallacy leaves us with the other method: Science. Until recently, science didn’t tell us much about whether the universe was created, but now it tells
us a lot. The famous “anthropic coincidences” clearly show that the laws of
physics had to be very finely tuned — to a precision far, far greater than humans
employee in their own endeavors — to generate an environment in which complex life can exist. Just a few of these remarkable facts (as collected by Michael
Denton) are listed here:
• The same liquid (water) that has the right viscosity for life, also happens to
be transparent to the narrow range of biologically useful light frequencies,
while blocking almost all other frequencies. This same liquid has polarized molecules which allow it to act as an excellent solvent, and has many
other unusual properties that are either highly beneficial to life or absolutely necessary for life to function.
• This universe contains an abundance of stars that emit almost all their
light in the narrow, biologically useful range.
• The one element (carbon) which is most useful in biomolecules — due to
the wide variety of other elements to which it will bond and the relative
strength of those bonds — happens to have just the right nuclear energy
level (relative to oxygen and beryllium) to be produced in biologically useful quantities during stellar fusion.
• The amount of radioactive heavy metals generated by stellar fusion is just
right to provide Earth-like planets with the tectonic energy needed to keep
a fresh supply of raw materials near the surface, while not so much as to
prevent the surface from cooling to a livable temperature.
Denton summarizes these and many other strikingly biocentric coincidences in
The atheist/materialist community has come up with two ways of answering
these observations. One way is to claim that we can’t really know how long the
odds need to be before a design inference is warranted. By this reasoning, there
might be a staggering number of universes to which we have no scientific access,
say 101000 universes or more, each with its own arbitrary (random) set of physical
laws. Most of those universes are sterile, but a very small percentage of them can
(and perhaps do) harbor complex life, and ours happens to be one of those. No
intentional bio-tuning of our universe was necessary.
This logic is not wrong, but it is being critically misapplied. All it really
means is that any scientific conclusion is ultimately tentative, and subject to future revision if new kinds of evidence (or mistakes in current evidence/logic) are
discovered. In other words, the bio-coincidences of our physical laws do warrant
the scientific conclusion that this universe was intentionally designed for us to
live in — but that conclusion, like all scientific conclusions, may have to be revised in the future if we find a way to detect and examine other universes, and
there turn out to be a spectacularly immense number of them with apparently
random physical laws. Using the bare gazillion-universes hypothesis to reject the
design conclusion, however, is actually a rejection of the scientific method. Applying that same logic, we could, with equal or greater ease, obliterate all scientific conclusions and have no science to work with whatsoever.
For example, suppose I set up twenty bacterial colonies in separate petri
dishes. Then I select ten of them at random to receive a dose of alcohol, and the
other ten colonies get a dose of sugar-water. Next I wait a while and observe
which colonies survive and which ones perish. To my delight, I find that the ten
colonies that got the alcohol all died, but the other ten did not. This, I think, indicates that alcohol is bad for bacteria. But does it? Each colony could survive or
perish: that’s two possibilities. Twenty colonies means there were 220 different
possible outcomes, or about one million (106). Are those odds long enough to
give me scientific confidence that my results are meaningful? Maybe not — just
106 other universes where this experiment is being performed with different (and
random) results would be enough to invalidate my conclusion that alcohol
But hey, maybe I can perform the experiment again and see if it happens the
same way. To my delight, I find that it does. Now the odds are 1 in 1012 of coincidence. Those are long odds indeed — but still not even close to 101000. I will
have to repeat the experiment 165 more times to elevate the odds to 1-in-101000,
and will even that be enough? The gazillion-universe principle does not indicate
what odds are long enough, and some have calculated the odds of coincidental
bio-tuning to be vastly greater.4 Clearly I can never repeat my alcohol/sugar experiment enough times to be sure. (Dembski argues a similar example involving
piano-playing skill in The Design Revolution, pp. 122-5, and he addresses well the
concept of a gazillion universes on pp. 119-20.)
Now of course, proponents of the gazillion-universe hypothesis don’t intend
that it be applied to everyday science experiments on microbial colonies, or even
to origins experiments that come to atheism-compatible conclusions, such as the
synthesis of amino acids by the sparking of a simpler chemical mixture. Instead,
they want to selectively apply their gazillion universes to neutralize the conclusion that our universe was set up with us in mind, but not any other conclusion,
such as that alcohol kills bacteria. This leaves us to wonder, on what unstated
principle P do we decide when to invalidate a scientific conclusion with
gazillion-universes and when not to? Whatever P is, it is the real reason to reject
the design conclusion — not the bare hypothetical of a gazillion universes. We
won’t know until they tell us, but probably P is nothing but the specific preference that cosmological design conclusions be avoided — or more generally, a
preference for the “Cosmological Principle” (CP) which mandates that there be
nothing special or intended about humanity’s existence.
Given the state of the evidence in cosmology, the CP is turning out to be nothing more than an overreaction to the mistake of simplistic geocentricism which
was overturned by Copernicus in the year 1543. The CP is an attempt to prevent
any similar mistake from being made, by precluding anything vaguely similar to
geocentricism from science. But science is supposed to be about finding out
what is true, not dictating it with proscriptions like the CP. The mistake of the
pre-Copernican geocentricists was not that they violated some overarching, infallible principle of ultimate human humility. Their mistake was that they failed to
define their negative hypotheses: Lacking any obvious evidence that the Earth is
moving through space, they then failed to pose the question, “If the Earth was
moving through space, how would we know? What would that look like?”
Milne, Gold, Bondi, and Hoyle, the founders of the CP, utterly misdiagnosed the
ascientific characteristic of the geocentricists, and so instead of correcting that error they merely replaced it with an equally ascientific proscription.
A gazillion universes might exist — who knows? — so we can’t say that we
have confidence beyond any shadow of a doubt that the universe was designed
for us. But we can say that we live in a universe where the methods by which we
are able to figure out how to understand, predict, and control our environment, if applied to the question of cosmological design, lead to the conclusion that the universe is designed for us. We can avoid that conclusion only by applying an intentionally different methodology, one that is useless for anything but proscriptively avoiding the conclusion of cosmological design.
As Rich Halvorson details in Questioning Cosmological Superstition: Separating
science from myth in our theory of the universe, the widely taught fact of cosmological homogeneity has never been born out by empirical observations, which instead have consistently refuted homogeneity every time the field of observation
is expanded. Homogeneity is simply a necessary correlate of the CP to reconcile
it with observed isotropy, and has been taught as factual on that basis alone.
Halvorson is careful to avoid jumping to any direct conclusions, but one obvious
implication of isotropy (as seen from Earth), combined with a lack of CP-demanded homogeneity, would be that the Earth is at the approximate center of the
universe. (That, of course, is precisely the sort of conclusion the CP insists be
Why would our designers plant their life at the center of the universe? In pre-
Copernican times, the reason would have been to crudely signify humanity’s supreme importance in the universe. But other, more mundane reasons are easily
hypothesized: Perhaps we have been placed at the center of the universe to most
expediently facilitate our expansion throughout the universe (when our technology is sufficient to permit such expansion). Or, perhaps the phenomena of Lorentz contraction and time dilation are absolute, not relative as Einstein believed,
and so the central area of the universe is the only area in which chemical reactions (and all other local events) are not markedly slowed down. Further, it
should be noted: If we are in the approximate center of the universe, that doesn’t
even necessarily correlate with humanity’s supreme importance — the approximate center of the universe is itself a rather big place, and our designers may
have planted intelligent life on several other, relatively nearby planets.
Besides the gazillion-universe hypothesis, the other, more general way that
atheists address bio-tuning in physics is to turn it on its head with something
called the “strong anthropic principle.” According to this principle, it doesn’t
matter how few universes there are, ours simply has to have the qualities required for intelligent life, because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to discuss it.
Since human science is impossible without humans, the existence of humans is a
presumptive element in the foundation of human science, and not in need of scientific explanation.
This answer falls short in two ways: First, if the existence of humans is not in
need of explanation, then why do these same people embrace Darwin’s explanation of it? And second, the idea that we need not scientifically explore scenarios
in which we would not exist is downright bizarre. We cannot now and perhaps
never will be able to visit the core of a Sol-like star, so is it improper for us to ask
what is in that core, and how it came to be that way? The story of the firing
squad5 crystallizes what is wrong with such tacks: Suppose I am sentenced to
death and put before a firing squad, and the ten riflemen all aim and fire, but
they all miss. The law says they get only one try to execute me, so I am freed.
One day I am talking with a friend, and I say, “I’ve always wondered why they
missed. I’m sure there’s an explanation, but so far I haven’t found one.”
My friend replies, “Oh, I know why they missed. It’s simple. If they hadn’t
missed, you wouldn’t be here to wonder why they missed. That’s why.”
would then realize that my friend either didn’t understand the question, or is
deeply confused about what constitutes a scientific explanation of an event.
Since Denton drew new attention to the anthropic coincidences with Nature’s
Destiny, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards have taken it to a whole new level
with their book The Privileged Planet. In it, they show that the anthropic coincidences go way beyond the mere survival requirements of intelligent life, and extend deeply into the science requirements. In other words, a whole separate set of
remarkable coincidences are required for this universe to support the process of
scientific exploration by the intelligent life that lives in it. This indicates that we
were not merely created by beings that want us to exist and survive in this universe, but who also intended that we figure out how our universe works, and develop the technology required to master and thoroughly populate it.
— • —
The belief that certain categories of conclusion are inherently antithetical to science, even if the current evidence points strongly toward such a conclusion, is
greatly bolstered by past shifts in theory such as the change from Newton to Einstein. The laws of Newtonian mechanics seemed to be verified so heavily, and
for so many years, but then they turned out to be wrong! This apparently indicates that we need a higher principle of science than just empirical evidence and
the most obvious direction pointed by that evidence, to have assurance that our
science is on the right track. In our times, probably the three biggest attempts to
protect science from error via such a principle are: strict naturalism (a.k.a. materialism), quantum incomprehensibility, and the CP. Each seeks to prevent human
science from making some critical, long-lived error that it made in the past, by
protecting us from inherently wrong-headed ideas to which the evidence might
otherwise lead us.
If such dramatic shifts of scientific truth really happened, they would provide
a very bad answer to the question posed earlier in this chapter: If the whole science
community can be wrong about something like this, then how can we know when they’re
right about anything? What value is science if the overwhelming consensus of the science community is not reliable? The answer would be that science is seriously
flawed and possibly useless! Fortunately, such shifts do not really happen at all.
It is very arguable that solid, multipoint, empirical verification of a theory has
never led us astray. In each case where it allegedly has, the fault lies entirely with
a scientifically unjustified desire to extrapolate a conclusion beyond the scope in
which it was verified.
To illustrate: Suppose I theorize that a certain physical phenomenon is governed by the formula:
y = a2 / b
I and many other scientists perform numerous empirical tests that show this formula to be correct within the our very narrow degree of instrument error. From
this we conclude that the formula is correct, and begin making all kinds of predictions based upon it. But we fail to notice that all our verifications employed
data in which the element “b” is in the range -10 to +10. If some of our predictions based on this formula concern cases where “b” is, say, 250, then we
shouldn’t be too surprised if the formula turns out to be a bit more complicated
than we thought. What if the formula is actually:
y = (a2 / b) * (1 + b2 / 10^5)
In that case, tests where “b” never strays from the range -10 to +10 will probably
give results that look just like the first formula, because the part of the formula in
the second set of parends will disappear into irrelevancy. But when the value of
b2 becomes a substantial percentage of 10^5, then the first formula no longer applies. This is precisely what happened with Newtonian mechanics. To say that
Einstein proved Newton “wrong” is a mischaracterization of the truth. Newton’s laws are used routinely in everything from bridges and skyscrapers to
boats and satellites. Einstein did not replace Newton’s formulas, he just showed
them to be a special case where the masses and speeds involved are in the range
we typically see in our daily goings-on — that is, far less than the masses of planets and stars, and moving far slower than the speed of light.
In the movie A Beautiful Mind, John Nash (the mathematician played by Russell Crowe), declares that “Adam Smith was wrong,” and proceeds to develop a
unique thesis concerning the failure of classical economic principles. But to describe Nash’s discovery as “Adam Smith was wrong” is gross overreaching.
Nash showed that in certain, unusual situations (typically involving a small
number of parties), Smith’s laws didn’t apply and might actually be counterproductive. But did Smith ever claim that his laws applied in that manner? Classical economics deals with large numbers of persons (thousands or millions) engaged in economic activity with each other. The pro-Smith evidence is manifest:
Nations that embrace classical economics do much better than those that don’t.
The oft-cited mountains of evidence for Darwinian evolution were not misleading, they were simply extrapolated (by Darwin and his followers) to realms
in which they had never really been confirmed. The classic example is showing
how a single finch species diversified into multiple finch species, and extrapolating from that to the claim that the same process turns bacteria into finches —
never noticing that all the finch species under study are essentially identical in
terms of what systems of adaptive complexity are included in their bodies.
Even the belief that the world is flat — today cited mainly as a smear against
evolution doubters — was not a case of empirics leading us astray. Our planet is
flat, at least within a radius of several miles as seen from anywhere near the
ground. Within any distance that we typically travel as we walk or drive about
on a given day, the curvature of the earth is so slight as to be completely dwarfed
by local hills and valleys, and thus is insignificant. When we design buildings,
neighborhoods, and even whole cities, we do not even bother to take the curvature of the earth into account, and no harm comes of it. Only the extrapolation of
this flatness over arbitrarily large (and unviewable) distances was incorrect, and
such was always based on mental assumptions, not empirical data.
Human science, when confined to the realm of solid, multipoint, empirical
verification, does not lead us astray, and no higher-than-empirics principle (strict
naturalism; CP) is needed to protect us from error. Our latest evidence is telling
us that such principles are useless at best, and at worst it is they that lead us
astray. The only principle science needs is the study of empirical evidence, and
the testing of theories against that evidence.
— • —
So we are created, and the atheists are wrong. And not just the atheists, but anyone who thinks that life on Earth is an unintended accident, which includes many
who will grant that this universe may have been created. Apparently, we were
made by creators who think and plan rationally, who think like us, who can be
easily expected to generate variations on pre-existing designs, just as we do with
cars and computers. Who can be expected to reuse pre-developed code and concepts at will, often creating species that map onto a branching, version tree, but
also occasionally creating homologies which do not fit into a pattern of strict
Do our creators expect us to follow a specific moral code, and what will they
do to us if we don’t? Is there a true religion? Following the rational conception
above — that our creators think in much the same way that we do — and other
observations from the world around us, we can now easily conclude the following:
1. Our creators want humanity to survive and prosper, and have given
us an environment rich with technological possibilities which permit
us to flourish, grow, and advance through the universe.
2. Our creators do not require any large number of human individuals
to know why humanity exists, nor what is our final destination or
purpose. They have programmed our brains with an instinctive desire to survive and to learn to control our environment.
3. Our creators probably know that some individuals, due to genetic
damage or misfortunate socialization, will act against the advance
ment of humanity. This does not concern our creators, because
those counterproductive human individuals do not pose a threat to
the overall plan — only a hindrance. The creators know that human
society can deal with such problems. (The idea that humanity might
extinguish itself is popular, but not realistic — it is discussed in de
tail in chapter eight.)
4. There would be no point in rewarding/punishing human individuals for how they furthered/hindered the advancement of the human
race. From scientific experiments on both animals and humans, we
know that rewards and punishments are effective only to the degree
that they are applied immediately and consistently, and/or can be
viewed by others for deterrent effect. The “divine judgment” purported by most religions meets none of these requirements; hence we
can logically conclude that divine judgment of individuals is a story
made up by those who sought to influence the behavior of others.
5. We can reasonably surmise that the creators have not communicated
any particular religion to humanity directly, because there would be
no point in doing so if it is not rationally distinguishable from in
These five conclusions render the scripture-vs-evolution culture war practically moot, since the key motivator on both sides is the association of evolution
with the idea that humans are an unintended accident and are therefore not subject to divine judgment. We can see that this motivator is misguided in multiple
stages, by what we have already determined — i.e. the anthropic coincidences
demonstrate that humanity is no accident, but the conditions of meaningful
reward/punishment demonstrate that humans are not subjected to afterlife judgment.
— • —
Shopping is good.
— Hudson’s Bay Company slogan, early 2000s
Christianity, as well as other major religions, tries to teach us to avoid the pursuit
of materialistic goals; that it is wrong to be “worldly.” If we are in fact created,
but the religious vision of the creator is misconceived, then where does that take
us? Perhaps we are meant to be worldly. Not under threat of horrific, otherworldly punishment if we don’t — perhaps our creators simply meant for humans, as a group, to be very much a part of this world, at least while we’re in it.
If that is so, then, as I mentioned in the introduction, the modern shopping mall
is a serious candidate for the pinnacle of human creation. It’s simply a collection
of the finest crafts that humans have been able to put together with their most
advanced talents and technologies, all on display in an equally refined, modern
venue. If the beauty of this world is the marvelous, distilled end-products of
hidden tedium, then the shopping mall is where it all comes together in one
place. Our society is filled with factories where raw materials are turned into refined materials or finished goods, schools where we learn the skills we need to
realize our creative potential, governments that protect the creative from the destructive. All of it, it seems, comes together at the mall, where we can peruse the
best things human knowledge and industry have produced.
Roads, neighborhoods, hospitals, grocery stores — all can be seen as in one
way or another contributing to the creative potential that is unleashed in its
maximum form at the mall. But what do churches offer? If churches contribute
at all to this creative process, their contribution is consolation. Many individuals
find it difficult or impossible to cope with the disappointments and unfairness in
life. The ceremonies and doctrines of the major religions are tailored to consoling
those who are anguished by these unpleasant realities.
For those who are disillusioned from religion, but who still have difficulty
coping with life’s harsher facets, atheism (or strict naturalism), completed by
Darwinism, offers at least a relatively satisfying answer to the troubled inner
question, “Why did this happen?” Darwinism’s answer is that all the complexities of this life — including harsh unpleasantnesses — naturally sprung forth
from extremely simple laws that don’t really know what they are going to create.
Darwinism’s major appeal is its clever simplicity — it’s the sort of explanation
that scientists like to find (e.g. Newton’s explanation for the motion of the planets
and smaller objects here on Earth).
But the desire for clever simplicity can lead us to overlook critical mistakes.
My father, David, once amused himself by telling me a simple proof that a handful of jellybeans must all be the same color, and challenging me to find the flaw
in the proof. It went like this:
• If you have one jellybean in your hand, all the jellybeans in your hand are
the same color (obviously).
• If N jellybeans in your hand must be the same color, then N+1 also must.
For example, if five jellybeans must all be the same color, then six also
must, because you can take five as a subset of six several different ways.
That’s it. Proof by induction tells us that if a proposition is true for N=1, and if it
is also true that if the proposition holds for N it must also hold for N+1, then the
proposition is true for all counting numbers. I couldn’t figure out what was
wrong with the proof, so my dad eventually told me: The second part (N to
N+1) doesn’t work when N=1, because when one jellybean is taken as a subset of
two jellybeans, the two subsets don’t overlap.
Evolution is similarly flawed. Evolution tells a story of how complex machines, that have tweakable parameters, can be fine-tuned by a process of random variation and natural selection, and examples of this abound in nature. But
the story always neglects to explain how that process takes us from one such machine to another one, except to throw up the word “gradually” in the hopes that
no one will demand detailed elaboration.
Both sides of the scripture-evolution dichotomy want to retain a sense of inexplicable magic. They both want to believe that complex functionality can spring
forth from nothing, either because a God wishes it, or just for no reason at all.
But the scientific inference from all our experience is that complex functionality
has to be painstakingly crafted in a process that involves intelligent planning,
testing, experimenting, and fixing, and that draws its crucial information content
from stores in the minds of the crafters.
Our creators apparently want us to spend our lives in our own process of
creative invention, making products, shopping venues for those products, and
our own simulated worlds in the form of movies and videogames. All of which
serve the purpose of entertainment. Practically everyone in this world enjoys entertainment for at least parts of their lives, but the idea that the world exists for
that entertainment, and indeed that our entire life is itself a form of entertainment, is difficult for many to swallow, out of concern for the fate of morality.
When he contemplates what we can expect from people who don’t believe that
their creator is judging them as individuals, Johnson6 paints a horrific picture
characterized by infanticide, thrill-killing, and indiscriminate slaughter. Moral
concepts are believed to hold the very fabric of society together, and the fear of
what might happen, if those concepts are undermined, is strong.