No 👣 tracking social sharing

Random Mutations and the Intelligent Design Hypothesis

Dr. William Dembski


I sent a leading advocate of the Intelligent Design hypothesis, Dr. William Dembski, portions of a lecture by Dr. Gilbert, a leading advocate of the evolutionary developmental sciences (“evo-devo”). Dr. Dembski responded by emailing me a section of a new I.D. textbook that attempts to debunk “evo-devo.” I then sent Dr. Dembski my further response and he sent me his, and I sent him one further response.

Below appears my article on “Random Mutations And The Intelligent Design Hypothesisʼ” followed by Dr. Gilbertʼs lecture on Evo-Devo, and Dembskiʼs “textbook response,” followed by the exchanges between myself and Dr. Dembski.

Random Mutations and the Intelligent Design Hypothesis

“There is no proof that all mutations are random.”
— An

The I.D.istʼs statement above is true, but neither is there any proof that all mutations of DNA are the result of “providential design” — depending of course on how you define “randomness,” “providence,” and “design,” for there are theists who even include “chaos theory” as part of the grand “design.” However, aside from such idle questions, may we not look deeper at what is known of mutations themselves? There is a lot to learn, and the depth of oneʼs knowledge of mutations may indeed affect the relative degree of certainty with which one endorses or denies the I.D. hypothesis. The evidence below leads me to hold it lightly indeed and not very far from the Darwinistic hypothesis which may be its superior:

  1. Mutations take place and can alter the genomes of all organisms in an inheritable fashion. Mutations accumulate most numerously in the less-essential or unused portions of the genome, for instance in the regions that do not code for proteins. In fact less than five percent of the entire human genome codes for proteins, and thatʼs close to the same percentage of the genome that consists of what is called “retroviral DNA” (foreign genetic material from external viral invaders that has sewn itself into our human DNA chains over the eons). [For those lacking a degree in biology, some additional information concerning retroviruses may be helpful. “Retroviruses” like all viruses, have a core that consists of RNA and they also have proteins that force the cells that they invade to convert that viral RNA into DNA, some of which even incorporates itself into the normal DNA of the cell that they have invaded. Itʼs not just retroviruses that have added foreign DNA to the cells of species that they have invaded, because other types of viruses, and (I think) even bacteria, have added their share. — D.M.]

    Mutations can also be observed directly every so often right after meiotic divisions of the sex cells. So, mutations are known to occur on a regular basis, and at the frequency that evolution requires in order to turn, say, a common ancestor of chimps and humans into both chimps and humans. In fact, the known calculated frequency of mutations in the human genome is more than what is required if evolution via mutations over time were true:

    “The observed rates of mutation can easily account for the genetic differences observed between species as different as mice, chimpanzees, and humans. Potential Falsification: It is entirely plausible that measured genetic mutation rates from observations of modern organisms could be orders of magnitude less than that required by rates inferred from the fossil record and sequence divergence. “ — Douglas Theobald, Ph.D., “29 Evidences for Macroevolution,” “Prediction 5.8: Genetic Rates of Change”

  2. There is evidence that man and chimp are nearer each other genetically than either of them are to the other apes. One early estimate of the genetic distance between man and chimp was done in the 1970ʼs using the technique of pairing up the two halves of DNA strings from different species to see what percentage of the DNA stands would join together and what percentage did not. Humans and great apes were found to be no more dissimilar than sibling species of fruit flies. Not much genetic distance there:

    “We have obtained estimates of genetic differentiation between humans and the great apes no greater than, say, those observed between morphologically indistinguishable (sibling) species of Drosophila flies (fruit flies).”
    — Elizabeth J. Bruce and Francisco J. Ayala (Dept. of Genetics, Univ. of Calif.), “Humans and Apes Are Genetically Very Similar,” Nature, Nov. 16, 1978, Vol 276, p. 265.

    Furthermore: “New genetic evidence demonstrates that lineages of chimps (currently Pan troglodytes) and humans (Homo sapiens) diverged so recently that chimps should be [reclassified] as Homo troglodytes. The move would make chimps full members of our genus Homo, along with Neandertals, and all other human-like fossil species. ‘We humans appear as only slightly remodeled chimpanzee-like apes,’ says the study… Within important sequence stretches of these functionally significant genes, humans and chimps share 99.4 percent identity. (Some previous DNA work remains controversial. It concentrated on genetic sequences that are not parts of genes and are less functionally important, said Goodman.)…”
    — “Chimps Belong on Human Branch of Family Tree, Study Says” John Pickrell in England for National Geographic News May 20, 2003

    Lastly, if you were to compare the genetic distance not between man and chimp, but between man and their common ancestor, the genetic distance must be halved once again. So the genetic distance is not [unbridgeable] by any means. Even one of the founders of I.D., Michael Denton, has recognized the [bridgeable] nature of the genetic distance between species and has [abandoned] his former “anti-common-descent” views as a result:

    “One of the most surprising discoveries which has arisen from DNA sequencing has been the remarkable finding that the genomes of all organisms are clustered very close together in a tiny region of DNA sequence space forming a tree of related sequences that can all be interconverted via a series of tiny incremental natural steps. So the sharp discontinuities, referred to above, between different organs and adaptations and different types of organisms, which have been the bedrock of antievolutionary arguments for the past century, have now greatly diminished at the DNA level. Organisms which seem very different at a morphological level can be very close together at the DNA level.”
    — Michael Denton, Natureʼs Destiny (chapter 12, p. 276)

    Some creationists try to counter the evidence of incredibly small differences between the human and chimp genomes with arguments such as this one:

    “Humans have 3 billion ‘letters’ (base pairs) of DNA information in each cell, so a two percent difference [between human and chimp genomes] is actually 60 million ‘spelling errors!’ Of course, this is not ‘error’ but twenty 500-page books worth of new information that needs to be explained by mutation and selection.”
    — Jonathan Sarfati [creationist], Refuting Evolution 2, p. 186

    Response: “Sarfati is trying to classify every difference in the genomes of humans and chimps as ‘new information’ that would have to be introduced either into the human or the chimp genome since the last common ancestor of humans and chimps. What he neglects is the fact that the vast majority of those differences are single nucleotide differences in genes (or, more often, in stretches of noncoding DNA) that merely change one amino acid in a protein (with no change in function), or make no change to the protein at all, or occur in DNA sequences that make no protein. Others are stretches of DNA of which one species has more than one copy compared with the other speciesʼ single copy of that same stretch of DNA, such duplications being a common form of mutation in the genome. Still others are cases where the DNA has simply moved from place to place among the noncoding DNA due to another common form of mutation. So the facts are not as Sarfati presents them, but out of the vast majority of differences between human and chimp DNA that have already been identified, They have all been shown to be the most common sorts of changes that mutations have already been observed to produce.

    “Maybe there are some variant genes of a type that mutations have not been known to produce, but Sarfati does not make any such distinction, nor provide evidence of such a discovery. What we do see in the vast majority of cases are simple duplications, deletions, translocations, and point alterations of stretches in the other genome, All of which have been observed to occur naturally.”
    — Steven J.

  3. Current paleontological knowledge provides evidence that at least 100 species of Old World apes lived during the Miocene in Europe and Africa. And those species of primitive apes all differed from modern great ape species in that the primitive apes were all relatively nearer to modern day human skeletal anatomy than todayʼs great apes are. For instance, the primitive apes all had small hands, and had legs and arms the same length; while modern great apes all have large hands with long fingers, and their arms are longer than their legs. The primitive apes also had no simian shelf in their jaws, again like modern humans; while the modern great apes all have a simian shelf in their jaws, unlike modern humans. [See David R. Begun, “Planet of the Apes,” Scientific American, August 2003]

  4. There is also paleontological evidence of forms having succeeded one another beginning with upright apes, then early pre-hominids, hominids, and ending with the genus homo.
    For those who doubt that such fossil evidence exists, see the following admissions recently made by two young-earth creationists, below: “I was surprised to find that instead of enough fossils barely to fit into a coffin, as one evolutionist once stated [in 1982], there were over 4,000 hominid fossils as of 1976. Over 200 specimens have been classified as Neanderthal and about one hundred as Homo erectus. More of these fossils have been found since 1976.”
    — Michael J. Oard [creationist], in his review of the book, Bones of Contention: A Creationist Assessment of Human Fossils, in the Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 30, March 1994, p. 222 “The current figures [circa 1994] are even more impressive: over 220 Homo erectus fossil individuals discovered to date, possibly as many as 80 archaic Homo sapiens fossil individuals discovered to date, and well over 300 Neanderthal fossil individuals discovered to date.”
    — Marvin L. Lubenow [creationist], author of Bones of Contention: A Creationist Assessment of Human Fossils, in a letter to the editor of the Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 31, Sept. 1994, p. 70 [Those still in doubt concerning the above admissions made by young-earth creationists should visit a website titled, “Fossil Hominids: The Evidence for Human Evolution

    The evidence outlined in points 1-4, above (along with further evidence below) raises questions concerning the degree of “supernatural” tinkering required by a “designer” to change the common ancestor of chimps and man, into both chimps and man. Apparently a lot less tinkering is required, hardly enough for i.D.Ists to brag about, and not so much tinkering as would make Darwinism an “impossible” explanation. In fact the evidence seems to suggest that the idea of a “divine tinkerer” is not so very far from,the idea of “Darwinism” after all. The further points below should make this clear

  5. As pointed out above, mutations are observable and occur at a rate that is not incompatible with the modern scientific theory of evolution. Also, there are unused portions of the genome, huge portions, collecting mutations. In fact enough retroviral DNA has crept into the hominid genome over the past millions of years to rival the amount of functional protein-coding DNA that is used to construct a human being. Add to that the evidence within Human Chromosome #2 itself, which contains remnants of a second centromere that would be expected if our chromosome was once two separate chromosomes, each with their own centromere, as it is today in all the great ape species. In other words, Human Chromosome 2 appears to have resulted from the fusion of two ancestral chromosomes still found in all the living species of apes.

    See the article “Human Chromosome 2 is a fusion of two ancestral chromosomes” by Alec MacAndrew as well as the article, “Comparison of the Human and Great Ape Chromosomes as Evidence for Common Ancestry
    For further Human and Chimpanzee chromosome comparisons see Beth Kramerʼs site.
    Also click to sub-page which provides a detailed matching of human and chimp chromosomes 1-4. Note how the chromosomal banding patterns on the second chromosome in humans lines up with those in two shorter chimp chromosomes, while all the other chromosomal numbers and banding patterns of chimp and human match up quite closely. For matchings on other chromosomes, Note: humans have 22 chromosomes (called autosomes), plus the X and Y. Go to sub-page for a beautiful image matching all the chromosomes of four hominids — human, chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan. Finally see the Hominoid Phylogeny (ancestral tree) based on these chromosome comparisons.

    A Designer could have “deleted” some of the old viral DNA shared by both modern day apes and human beings (found in the same homologous regions of our genomes), since the Designer was already there inside the genome “adding” the [occasional] new mutation. Likewise, a Designer could have removed some of the [remnants] of the extra centromere found in human chromosome #2. In other words, there could conceivably be more signs of design instead of the evidence of continued accumulation of unused portions of viral DNA, and instead of the unessential remnants of a past fusion of two [chromosomes] into one.

  6. The genetic distance between chimp and human is quite small, and the distance is even smaller between either of them and their common ancestor. In fact one study produced evidence that suggested the chimp and man genomes were nearer to each other than either of them are to the gorilla genome. The genetic distance between chimpanzees and human beings is comparable to sibling species of fruit flies, and there is not much doubt concerning the evolution of fruit fly species from one another (especially on the islands of Hawaii, isolated from the mainland, and which are known to be the home to over 500 species of fruit flies found nowhere else on earth, probably descended from just a few common fruit fly ancestors that reached those islands about five million years ago when they first began to form). Does it really require a “miracle” to explain how such a small “gap” might be bridged?

  7. There were pre-monkeys (lemurs) before there were monkeys, and there were many species of monkey before the first primitive apes showed up, and many species of primitive apes before the first hominids showed up, and different species of homo, before homo sapiens showed up.

    In fact, there were ages upon ages of monkeys and then ages upon ages of apes. Were all of them required “by Design” before arriving at hominids? And of those hominids, only a single branch of them today exists as modern man, Homo Sapiens Sapiens. (In fact the genetic diversity among human beings all over the planet today is smaller than the genetic diversity that has been found in a single troop of chimpanzees.) Mankind may be the result of “design” of a sort overall, but there were bushes upon bushes of a multitude of species of lemurs, monkeys, primitive apes, pre-hominids, hominids, etc. that all preceded the arrival of mankind, and only a few species from each bush survived as the ages swept along.

The Latest Evidence For Evolution: Evo-Devo

Edward: Dear Dr. Gilbert (author of “Teaching Evolution Through Development”), thank you for having provided examples of organisms that share the same basic developmental genes and how those genes have often been reused and changed only slightly in each case from species to species. Hence, in many cases, not a lot of “mutations” are required to account for turning feathers into scales, as you point out below. And eyes need NOT have evolved over 40 times separately, since the same hox gene that induces eye formation has been discovered in the genomes of such a wide variety of species having eyes. Ultimately such studies might also unveil how small were the genetic alterations necessary to change early primates into man. Or, as you state in the conclusion of your lecture: “Many critics pointed out that population genetics cannot directly explain macroevolution. But when you add developmental genetics to the theory, you have a wonderfully robust mix that can explain evolution both within species and in higher taxa. It turns out that we humans are closer to other animals than we thought, and that the mechanisms by which the living world is generated are highly conserved.”

Dr. Scott Gilbert: Dear Ed, Thanks for your kind note. My lecture can be found here.
[Scott Gilbertʼs lecture at the Society for Developmental Biology meeting, Madison, 2002, titled, “Teaching Evolution Through Development.” First posted: Nov 07, 2003]
I enjoyed your website, Ed, and your tongue-in-cheek article, “Why We Believe in a Designer.” Years ago, when I told my wife about Intelligent Design, she laughed. She is an obstetrician/gynecologist. They donʼt particularly believe in the “perfection” of design.

Best wishes!

Selections from Dr. Gilbertʼs lecture in which he discusses evidence for evolution based on the new field of developmental genetics or “evo-devo,” as it is now called

[passages selected by Ed Babinski]
“Changes in genes due to selection pressures from pesticides: The mosquitoes that are resistant to DDT have evolved multiple copies of the esterase genes that enable them to detoxify it; the cotton budworm has altered the target of the poison, and houseflies have altered the proteins that transport the poison. [So there are a wide variety of _possible_ mutations that can reduce the killing effects of a pesticide on an organism, and only one of those very different types of mutations has to occur in order for the organism to develop resistance. This increases the odds that such resistance could occur via the same random mutations that naturally occur in every organism during meiotic divisions of its germ cells. — E.T.B.]
The insecticides select for those resistant phenotypes, and the genes that confer this resistance are transmitted to the next generation…
“Having established that evolution [genetic changes in species over time] happens, we can then show how evolution can be explained genetically through mutation, recombination, meiotic drive, and drift. This genetic explanation of evolution is called the Modern Synthesis. However, this model not tell us all about evolution. First, it assumes, but does not explain, the types of variation; and second, it can be tested only within the species. Macroevolution has to be extrapolated from it. If genetics is “Darwinʼs missing evidence,” then only part of this evidence is being used. Until recently, the only areas of genetics that were brought to evolutionary biology were population genetics and molecular genetics. What was missing—and what can now be added—is developmental genetics (see Gilbert et al, 1996)…

“It wasnʼt until 1977—Maxam and Gilbert—that we could access the historical records of the genes. It has turned out to be a treasure trove beyond measure. It works by finding rare and shared molecular similarities, which would not be expected to have arisen independently, but rather via common descent.

Slide 19. DNA transposons showing linkage of whale and hippo and the linkage of that clade to cow and sheep. Transposon insertions 4, 5, 6, and 7 are found only in whale and hippo DNA and not in any other group. Transposon insertions 10 and 12 are found in this group plus the artiodactyls (cow and deer).

“This slide shows an analysis of DNA transposons — collections of DNA that have no known function and which can rarely leave their place of origin and insert into a different region of the genome. If they migrate into an existing gene, they can knock out the geneʼs function. But most of the time, if they migrate at all, they migrate to regions of DNA that arenʼt being used. Most of the sequences are held in common by all mammals. However, some are informative. That the pig and peccary are related has never been disputed, but the molecular order of the transposons does put them together in a common group. Similarly, anatomical evidence has long been used to link cattle and deers into a common clade, and this was also confirmed by the molecular data. However, the molecular data showed that the whale and hippopotamus are related and that both arose from an ancestor in common with the cow and deer. This supported one of several possible ideas. So we now have an independent measure of common ancestry.

“The first discoveries in evolutionary developmental genetics showed the remarkable homology of genetic instructions. Indeed, the developmental instructions for forming several analogous organs were shown to be homologous. For instance, the fly eye and mouse eye have very little in common as to their origin or structure. However, Walter Gehringʼs group demonstrated that the instructions to form both eyes are based on a set of homologous genes such as Pax6.

Slide 28. Pax6 expression in the Drosophila eye/antenna imaginal disc, and its absence in eyeless mutants.

“Mouse Pax6 expression in the embryonic eye, and its absence in loss of function Aniridia mutants. The instructions are so similar that fly imaginal discs will form an eye (a Drosophila eye) when given the rodent Pax6 gene.

Slide 29. Ectopic fly eyes made by activating murine Pax6 in insect jaw imaginal disc. (Halder et al., 1995).

“Thus, whereas it was previously thought that eyes formed independently over 40 different times, we now find that each type of eye is but a variation on a [very similar hox gene] theme.

“By the early 1980s, the Hox genes of insects and vertebrates were shown to be homologous.

“First—(just like in the vertebrae) there was serial homology between the genes within a species. They could be seen as variants of ancestral Hox genes.

“Second, special homology between a particular Hox gene in one phylum and that similar Hox gene in another phylum.

“Third, the entire Hox complex appears to be similar in nearly every organism studied. Even their expression patterns are similar. These could not be accounted for by convergent evolution.

Footnote 5: Wells, Behe and the argument against genes [See Dr. Gilbertʼs website for this footnote.]

Slide 30. Derivation of the homologous Hox genes of insects and vertebrates. (Holland and Garcia-Fernandez, 1996).

“Nature uses the same sets of genes in different ways. [Evidence of ‘jury-rigging?’ Using whatʼs there? Tinkering? — E.T.B.] We specify our anterior-posterior axis in the same way as fruit flies. But we obviously use the genes differently. We donʼt make wings or antennae.

Slide 31. Expression patterns of head and trunk genes in flies and mammals. Same “head genes” used. (Hirth and Reichert, 1999).

“So there must be important differences as well as important similarities. If we are talking about descent with modification, we expect both underlying similarities and secondary differences. Can these differences in developmental genetics explain morphological differences?

“Weʼre just beginning — and itʼs fascinating.

“Hereʼs one example — from Sean Carrollʼs lab here in Madison. Why do insects have only six legs while other arthropods have many more? The answer appears to involve one of those Hox genes.

Slide 32. Ubx changes distinguish insect clade. (Galant and Carroll, 2002.)

“In the insect clade — and only in this group — has there been a mutation in the Ultrabithorax gene. This mutation allows Ultrabithorax to repress Distal-less gene expression. Distal-less is critical in the formation of limbs. Ubx is thus able to repress limb formation in the abdominal segments of the fly. Thus, the insects have six thoracic legs; not eight legs like spiders, not ten legs like crabs, and not dozens of legs like centipedes. Mutations in regulatory genes can give them new properties.

“(Note that the six-leggedness is not used as a homologous entity here. The cladogram that this trait is superimposed upon is the cladogram derived from molecular genetics and other morphological traits. The circularity is avoided by the independent assessment of gene sequences.)

“But one doesnʼt need a mutation in the actual protein. A change in where the protein is expressed can also be critically important. Hereʼs one of my favorite examples. How does the duck get its webbed feet? Itʼs a matter of gremlin gene expression.

Slide 33. Gene expression patterns in duck and chick hindlimbs. BMP4 activates apoptosis; but gremlin can inhibit BMP4. If present, it should prevent apoptosis and allow webbing to be retained. (Merion et al., 1999.)

“Can you get webbed feet if you add gremlin to the interdigital space? YES.

Slide 34. Addition of Gremlin-containing bead to the interdigital space inhibits BMOP signaling and allows webbing to be retained. (Merino et al., 1999.)

So Jacobʼs model yielded some interesting results. Change the expression pattern of a gene and you can get new structures. This is something my students can understand. Emphasizing changes in gene expression in an embryo is a better way of explaining evolution than looking at changes in gene frequencies within populations.

“Changing the pattern of regulatory gene expression has also been shown to correlate with the type of vertebra formed by the somites, and the type of appendage formed by crustaceans.

“Hereʼs another example from Madison, Wisconsin — how to get feathers to form scales.

Slide 35. BMP2 and SHH expression in the scale and feather rudiments. (Harris et al., 2002)

“What about the creation of a new morphological structure—a novelty. Avian feathers have long been proposed as an evolutionary novelty. But the mechanism to produce feathers has remained elusive. However, a paper recently published from John Fallonʼs laboratory provides a developmental mechanism by which feathers can be generated from scales. They provide evidence that the differences in the expression of sonic hedgehog and BMP proteins separate the feather from the scale. Both the scale and the feather start off the same way, with the separation of BMP2 and SHH-secreting domains. However, in the feather, both domains shift to the distal region of the appendage. Moreover, this pattern becomes repeated serially around the proximal distal axis. The interaction between BMP2 and Shh then causes each of these regions to form its own axis—the barb of the feather.

“Matt Harris and others in the Fallon laboratory have shown that when you alter the expression of Shh or BMP2, you change the feather pattern. The results correspond exceptionally well to a proposed mechanism of feather production from archosaurian scales.

Footnote 6: feathers: “Another question in evolutionary biology concerns how mammals formed different types of teeth. Indeed, tooth morphology is critical to mammalian classification.

“Jukka Jernvall and colleagues in Irma Thesleffʼs laboratory at the University of Helsinki have pioneered a computer-based approach to phenotype production using Geographic Information Systems—the technology that ecologists use to map the location of vegetation of hillsides. They have used this technology to map gene expression patterns of incipient tooth buds—literally turning a mountain into a molar. They have shown that gene expression patterns forecast the exact location of tooth cusps and that the differences in teeth between mouse and vole are predicated upon differences in gene expression patterns.

Slide 36.Tooth morphogenesis and gene expression (Jernvall et al., 2000)

“1. The left side of the slide shows the fossil record of rodent teeth, demonstrating that the vole retains the diagonal patterning of cusps, while the mouse has evolved an orthogonal cusp pattern.

“2. The right side shows the developmental topology of tooth cusp formation. The mouse develops its orthogonal cusps on embryonic day 16; the day the vole develops its diagonal cusps.

Slide 37. Gene expression patterns predict by about a day where the cusps will be. They differ between species. (Jernvall et al., 2000.) On embryonic day 15, the mouse has but one cusp, but gene expression patterns of the enamel knot genes (Fgfs and Shh) show that a second cusp will form orthogonally. Similarly, on embryonic day 15, the vole molar has but one cusp, but the gene expression pattern shows that a second cusp will form diagonally.

“In a recent paper, Jernvall and his colleague Salazar-Cuidad propose a mathematical model for these differences, wherein small changes in a gene network, again working through the interactions of BMPs and SHH—can account for the different tooth morphologies. They can generate different tooth morphologies by just changing the reaction kinetics of diffusion.

Slide 38. Mathematical modeling of gene expression patterns.(Salazar-Ciudad and Jernvall, 2002.)

“They find that a small increase in the bias of lingual growth and a stronger binding constant of inhibitor is sufficient to change the vole pattern of tooth growth into that of the mouse. Moreover, large morphological changes can result from very small changes in initial conditions. Another conclusion is that all the cells can start off with the same sets of instructions. The specific instructions emerge as the cells interact. The model also predicts that some types of teeth are much more likely to evolve in certain ways and not in others. These predictions have been born out.

Footnote 7. Personal opinions.

Slide 39. Evolution of the vertebrate jaw (Kuratani, et al., 2001)

“The last example involves the formation of another evolutionary novelty, the vertebrate jaw. This was one of those problems of evolutionary embryology that couldnʼt be decided in the early 1900s. Shiguro Kuratani has shown that the oral apparatus of the jawed vertebrates is not derived from the oral apparatus of the lamprey, as had long been thought. In the lamprey, the naso-hypophyseal plate is retained and prevents the migration of neural crest cells rostrally. In jawed vertebrates, this plate separates very early in development into the nasal and hypophyseal neural tissues, thereby making a path for the rostral migration of neural crest cells. This permits the formation of a new structure, the jaw.

“As Dr. Kuratani ends a recent paper: ‘The clue to solve this problem, therefore, will not be obtained by comparative anatomy of the adult structures, but rather by discrimination of conserved and newly acquired patterns of gene expression.

“Molecular developmental biology has taken the initial steps into this old question of comparative zoology, but it has already suggested new directions in which a solution may lie.” The developmental genetic approach to evolution complements the traditional population genetic approach. They are both needed.

Slide 40. New evolutionary synthesis.

“This slide summarizes differences between the population genetic and developmental genetic approaches. Both are critical and necessary for evolution. Many critics pointed out that population genetics cannot directly explain macroevolution. But when you add developmental genetics to the theory, you have a wonderful robust mix that can explain both evolution both within species and in higher taxa. It turns out that we humans are closer to other animals than we thought, and that the mechanisms by which the l,iving world is generated are highly conserved.

Slide 41. Biodiversity and Biohomology (picture from the Biohistory Research Hall).
“Our remarkable phenotypic biodiversity is underlain by an equally remarkable biohomology.

“I think that students (and their parents) will be able to readily understand evolution when presented as changes in gene expression more readily than when presented as changes in gene frequency. One can visualize these changes and thereby acquire an excellent way to recall this information. Moreover, for most non-scientists, evolution is about macroevolution, and the changes by which reptiles become mammals or fish become land-dwelling tetrapods is more to the point than how moths or beetles become a different colored moth or beetle. We can now merge developmental genetics and population genetics to explain the biodiversity of life on earth, and, as Darwin said, ‘there is grandeur in this view of life.’”

End of Dr. Gilbertʼs lecture, visit his site to read his footnotes, especially those related to I.D./Creationism.

Dr. Dembskiʼs response to Dr. Gilbertʼs presentation on evo-devo

Dr. Dembski: Dear Ed. Thanks for emailing me Dr. Gilbertʼs lecture. Below is a section from a forthcoming biology textbook framed around intelligent design (titled The Design of Life). It explains why we are less than impressed with evo-devo. WmAD [William A. Dembski]

[The section from the textbook that Dr. Dembski mentions is copyrighted, so I will only cite a few sentence fragments and a summary, with some of my own comments added. The sentence fragment is this, “… evo-devo is now in a state of crisis.” The I.D. textbook authors admit the universality of hox genes but emphasize that hox genes are like “mere” ignition switches. However, the chapter ignores that because of the discovery of these universal ignition switches, the overall developmental patterns across widely diverse species are now traceable in a common material sense and another way to compare evolutionary changes and divergencies. The I.D. authors also mention “non-genetic factors” that help mold the development of the eggs of all species into a representative of that species, such as the eggʼs “microtubules” and its “membrane pattern.” The I.D. authors also mention a technique called “saturation mutagenesis,” that induces mutations in developmental genes, and adds that mutations induced in such a manner “often lead to death or deformity, but they never produce changes that benefit the organism.” — E.T.B ]

E.T.B.ʼs Response to Dr. Dembski

E.T.B.: Dear Dr. Dembski, Thank you very much for your generous and rapid response. A few comments… I am unaware of any “state of crisis” as my friends repeatedly claim exists. If there is any “state of crisis” isnʼt it on the side of those who claim that an invisible entity is managing nature while billions of years of large-scale suffering, deaths, and extinctions are taking place? (Doesnʼt sound like a highly impressive “manager,” I mean, “perfecting” so many species only for the vast majority of them to become extinct, then a few flourish into a branching bush of species that is whittled down by more extinctions, over and over again. Talk about Sisyphus and that damned rock.)

Thank you also for mailing me the Evo-Devo section from the I.D. textbook. I have written elsewhere about the small genetic distance between man and chimp [see my essay, “Random Mutations and the Intelligent Design Hypothesis”], but let me add here, in case it wasnʼt clear, that the “anti-EVO-DEVO” arguments from the textbook above appear to be vacuous for two reasons:

  1. The essential genetic differences, including “non-genetic developmental factors,” between man and chimp are so small that it appears more incredible for a scientist today to not believe they shared a common ancestor.
  2. “Saturation mutagenesis” is like wounding the genome with shotgun blasts. Saturation mutagenesis is about knocking things out from the genes to learn how they function, it is not a model for evolution and natural selection in the wild.
Furthermore, even if a “Designer” made genomic alterations over millions of years to “design” humans out of one particular band of ancient hominids, the Designer did not have to do “much” altering, not very much at all — falling within the known mutation rates, especially when you consider that the slight DNA divergencies between man and chimp are on the order of sibling species of indistinguishable fruit flies, and the numbers of such divergencies must be halved yet again in the case of a common ancestor. And if it is a case not of a Designer “managing” nature but of things “freely” (your word) happening in nature why would the use of such a word as “freely” not also suit Darwinistic theistic evolution?
In fact there are Christian theistic evolutionists like Dr. Howard Van Till at Calvin College, Dr. Kenneth Miller, Dr. Lamoureaux, and Dr. John Haught who repudiate the “scientific/mathematical/philosophical proofs” endorsed by I.D.ists, and who express none of the I.D. disdain toward Darwinism. I.D.ists also tend to forget that they are neither the first nor last word in “anti-Darwinism,” because there are types of “anti-Darwinists” other than the I.D. variety, like
  1. Rupert Sheldrake who proposes that “morphogenic fields” peculiar to each individual (and to each species) may help direct various inheritable changes in both DNA structures and behaviors.
  2. Another group of anti-Darwinists has suggested that viral DNA and bacterial DNA that invades the inheritable portions of the human genome may later be utilized by mutations and thus produce, enhance or catalyze some types of evolutionary changes.
  3. Other anti-Darwinians suggest that there are internal cellular mechanisms that continue altering things more or less blindly but not beyond certain natural parameters that are currently unknown to science since it cannot see how the whole operates and how everything jostles everything else inside the cell. So there may be a sort of trial and error system going on inside cells that blindly tries out various mutations based on parameters that we are not currently aware of. Some mutations we know are more common than others, or sometimes a duplicated stretch of DNA will naturally jump into or out of a certain portion of the genome more readily and more often in one area of the genome than others. These “hot” spots seem based on broad principles of genomics and mutations that geneticist are currently unaware of, but they are beginning to discover which duplications of DNA are the most common, percentage wise, and which entry sites in the genome are “hot” and “not hot,” and to what degrees.
  4. Some really wild anti-Darwinists suggest that beings from civilizations (other planets, other times, other dimensions) far more advanced than ours, having access to knowledge that seems to us like “magic,” were involved at critical evolutionary junctures. I.D. is apparently trying to publicize itself as “The” alternative, but some “anti-Darwinists” are atheists/agnostics/pantheists/panentheists(?) (Robert Wright, Rupert Sheldrake, Michael Denton). While some Evangelical Christians do not renounce Darwinistic principles or possibilities (Howard Van Till, Kenneth Miller, Dennis Lamoreaux, John Haught, [Stephen] Meyers)

Contra I.D., it appears to most scientists that we can prove next to nothing, scientifically speaking, about the “Designer” and their “plans.” Not till a scientist gets to heaven may they get to ask the “Designer”: “Why this rather than that mutation, why this rather than that molecule, species, disease, historical circumstance, why that particular order, etc.?” “And “why” the platypus, penguin and giraffe?”

Meanwhile, evolutionists (of all religious and non-religious varieties) continue to busy themselves charting the parade of creatures through time, extinctions, geographical isolations. For instance, marsupials reached Australia before it separated from the mainland and before mammals evolved, so Australia was subsequently filled with nothing but marsupial organisms that filled every available niche, and that was before the evolution of human beings. Genetic studies also reveal that Australiaʼs marsupials are related, and that the fossils on Australia in the past include no mammals, since mammals arose on the mainland. By and large the science done today is by evolutionists and driven by a desire to discover all the possible “links” in the natural world via naturalistic based and naturalistically understood hypotheses.

That reminds me of how one evolutionary paleontologist traveled to an especially frigid region of the globe because he had learned that that region featured prominent outcroppings from the geological era during which evolutionists had determined reptiles evolved into mammals. He died of exposure after digging up the first fossils of “mammal-like reptiles.”

Meanwhile, creationists have sat back and formed societies for “quotation” research, or they misinterpret the middle-toes of dinosaur tracks as “human footprints,” or they build sculptures of what a “giant human femur” might have looked like. I.D.ists are a step above that, but many I.D.ists do not wish to demarcate themselves from their young-cosmos creationist brethren, so some I.D.ists avoid the question of the age of the earth or the cosmos, pleading ignorance (as do Philip Johnson or Paul Nelson), or they make sly concessions to young-cosmos believers, telling them that their arguments are still worth looking at, and the scientific possibility of a cosmos whose age can be measured in thousands of years remains interesting and/or important, though they havenʼt yet personally seen a convincing argument (as Dembski likes to put it). What nice kind words I.D.ists reserve for their “lesser brethren” so as not to offend them. But it sounds to me that if I.D.ists can make that kind of concession, they should also be capable of admitting that the biological gap between chimps and humans is so small (“sibling species” small) to admit of only requiring “relatively minor I.D. influence,” or even “Darwinism.” Surely I.D.ists should remain more open to Darwinism as do other Christian Ph.D.s mentioned previously.

Furthermore, if (or when) I.D. gets accepted into the public school arena, then young-cosmos creationists, emboldened by the success of I.D. will begin storming the political arena with a vengeance to get young-cosmos arguments also taught in schools. And if the judges and politicians who promoted I.D. teaching in the public schools do not ALSO come to the aid of young-cosmos creationists, then some vicious battles will no doubt errupt. Why? Because people who believe “God” is the answer to everything, that “Satan” must be resisted at all costs (and that “hell for unbelievers” is not optional), have not been known in the past to discuss their rival views with quite as much calmness and candor as pro and anti-Darwinian Secularistic scientists discuss their differences.

I also think I.D.ists need to recognize that most evolutionists are not atheists, and the “battle” is not one between “atheism” and “theism.” At least half of all evolutionary scientists are theists of different sorts, especially in America, but they understand the nature of attempts to understand the world in a scientific fashion, and they understand why any scientific hypothesis that invokes a miracle is merely invoking one mystery to explain another mystery. These same theistic evolutionists also recognize when their atheistic brethren are speaking “ex cathedra,” i.e., making statements in the realm of atheistic philosophy rather than scientific statements. (Apparently everything I just wrote is nonsense to many I.D.ists who continue to insist that “atheism” has “taken over science,” and it is their sworn duty as “I.D.ists” to “put a Designer God back in.”)

Lastly, here are a few questions that come to mind, based on the fact that usually only a single known species out of a closely related group of them, exhibits “specially designed” endowments, while the remainder of the species appear to exhibit relatively more mundane endowments. I am not asking why the “Designer” has continually chosen only one particular species (out of many closely related ones) to endow in some “specially designed” fashion. I am asking what big difference can you suggest between the I.D. explanation (“Will O’ God?”), and various “Darwinistic” explanations that also predict that heightened specializations would not be the norm, but are indeed rarer than the norm. So, I am asking you, why not consider “Tinkering” and “Darwinism” as being more similar than I.D.ists are wont to currently admit? Here are examples from nature:

  1. The Bedbug — The male bedbug has a penis that penetrates the females abdomen in a traumatic act of insemination, but hereʼs the point I want to raise, only a single known species of bedbug is known to have evolved the added specialization of having males penetrate the abdomens of other males while the first male is inseminating a female.
  2. The Bombardier Beetle — Only a single known species of beetle has a moving turret to direct a hot chemical spray at its “enemies,” the rest of the beetles of that genus can only spray in one direction, usually covering their own backs, and other species of beetles closely related to those, have similar overall anatomies but without spraying anything.
  3. Homo Sapiens Sapiens — There is only one surviving species of human being on earth but loads of extinct hominid species and primitive apes species. If you are explaining such things via I.D. then the Designer has apparently given the above unique specializations to only one species out of many that are very closely related species. Doesnʼt that equal one of the predictions of evolution via Darwinism? One may also wonder why a Designer should require two to three billion years to move from the earliest known single-celled creature to the first multi-cellular creatures? Why a Designer should require six million years to produce human beings and also have to leave behind so many extinct primate species and then extinct hominid species in the process?

Also what do you believe is left of the truth of Genesis according to your I.D. view? You have admitted in print that you do not take the creation chapters of Genesis literally, but you have not yet told anyone how you DO take Genesis. What is the I.D. commentary on Genesis? Are Godʼs words less sure of interpretation than the so-called “proofs” of I.D. science? Do you believe in I.D. with greater certitude and precision than you believe in Godʼs inspired and infallible teachings in the Holy Bible? Tell us what the Bible is saying in Genesis, chapters one and two, and ALSO concerning the resultant necessity of Jesusʼ sacrifice for “Adamʼs sin.” Who might “Adam” have been according to your I.D. viewpoint (an Australopithicine perhaps?), and what exactly was Adamʼs “sin” (what might the phrase, “eating forbidden fruit” really mean?) And how was that “sin” spread to all mankind (does genetics have anything to do with it), and why is the death of Jesus the “cure,” what does it “cure,” and “how?”
If I.D.ists know “the truth” about science, why canʼt they agree on an interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis even though “Scripture is given of God and not of private interpretation,” and, “the Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth?” If it is just some general truth that canʼt even be used to distinguish between heliocentrism or geocentrism (there are geocentrist creationist Bible believers who can point to verses that certainly appear to assume a geocentric cosmos). Or if God can not speak so plain as to tell us if creation is “thousands” or “billions” of years old. Or if God canʼt speak so plainly as to tell us whether various species popped into existence instantaneously, or whether they came from each otherʼs wombs after individual micro-mutations, then Iʼd say there is nothing much that the early chapters of Genesis can honestly tell us, and therefore, Biblical interpretation is in a far greater “state of crisis” than science. Wouldnʼt you agree?
Best, Ed

P.S., I am a former young-earth creationist born again Christian, and my book is now in paperback, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists, and my articles on evolution are also on the web.

Dr. Dembskiʼs Response

On 11/17/2003 Dembski wrote: Dear Ed, You sent me something about evo-devo, claiming that it closes the macroevolutionary gap. It doesnʼt. Whatʼs more, just because you and Scott donʼt recognize the crisis doesnʼt mean there isnʼt one. I expect that those who knew the Titanic was unsinkable were convinced there was no crisis until they actually saw the ship going down. Of course, the actual crisis ensued once the Titanic hit the iceberg.

As for God micromanaging nature, thatʼs a convenient caricature. Precisely because God allows a world to unfold in freedom, no micromanaging is required and a history of death, suffering, and extinction becomes compatible with a world that exhibits design (which is not to say that every aspect is designed). You seem wedded to a naive theology and stuck on the theodicy problem. The theodicy questions you raised are separate from the design question, and you donʼt resolve the design question by saying that any putative designer wouldnʼt have done it that way. Now if you want to talk theodicy, Iʼm happy to do so, but again, thatʼs not why you wrote me and thatʼs not what the chapter draft I sent you was about.

You seem bitter about your YEC experience. I suppose thatʼs understandable. And perhaps your skeptic friends are providing you with the intellectual enrichment that you didnʼt find as a YEcreationist. But given your undue preoccupation with your YEC past, it seems you havenʼt fully resolved this aspect of your life (perhaps Leaving the Fold is helping in this regard).

Iʼm planning a book on Genesis, Creation, and Theodicy in which I have some new angles on how suffering that results from an evolutionary history could in turn be the result of a space-time fall of humanity (the key is appealing to Newcombʼs paradox). You might find it interesting. For details, stay posted to my website

E.T.B.ʼs Reply to Dembskiʼs Reply

Edward: Dear Dr. Dembski, my comments are interspersed between yours below.

Dembski: One thing at a time. You sent me something about evo-devo, claiming that it closes the macroevolutionary gap. It doesnʼt.

Edward: Pardon, but it does close various evolutionary gaps. Instead of the genes that induce eyes having to evolve entirely separately 40 different times we have the same gene that induces eye development (conserved in all of those species, which evolutionists assume are descended from a common ancestor), and able to induce eye development in all of those species. So instead of many genes, a few hox-like genes are found to be major directors that facilitate some relatively broad changes like fins to feet, scales to feathers, and, they even decide whether there is no invagination of the skin and forming of an eye cup — or — the skin invaginates and forms an eye cup in the head region. In fact, that is exactly the sort of evidence that evolutionary geneticists have been seeking right along, ways to consolidate various major changes in broad ranges of diverse species via fewer shared genes and fewer genetic mutations. Conversely, is it better to posit the absolute absence of gaps since a “Designer” and “miracles” effortlessly fill up any and every conceivable “gap?” Positing miracles — from the tiniest micromutations to the instantaneous creation of whole new organisms and their habitats — explain anything and everything and add not a whit to human knowledge since the answer in any and all cases never varies, without even a chance of testability, nor any need for waiting till, say, further research has increased our knowledge in comparative genomics and evo-devo studies and others fields of knowledge. No waiting, no siree, I.D. has the answer right here and now. Speaking of “gaps” being closed, creationists used to have a field day focusing on the “impossibility of cetacean evolution.” But look at what has come to light concerning that topic in just the last few decades. I have an article on the web concerning “cetacean evolution” (just google those terms and my last name), and it features a letter from one of the worldʼs leading cetacean evolution researchers along with photos of a few rare specimens of modern day whales discovered with hind leg rudiments protruding from their bodies. I would say the “gaps” are closing. The question is merely how closely the “gaps” will eventually be closed. Time and patience will tell.

Dembski: Whatʼs more, just because you and Scott donʼt recognize the crisis doesnʼt mean there isnʼt one. I expect that those who knew the Titanic was unsinkable were convinced there was no crisis until they actually saw the ship going down. Of course, the actual crisis ensued once the Titanic hit the iceberg.

Edward: Whose ship is taking on water is a moot point between us, so why waste your breath on a wry “Titanic” analogy more suitable for the pulpit than a scientific discussion? By the way, Glenn Morton has been collecting quotations from folks who rejoiced a bit prematurely at the demise of “modern geology” and “evolution.”

One quotation that I ran across on my own is this one:

“[Richard] Owen [the famed anatomist] says my book will be forgotten in ten years, perhaps so; but, with such a [short but prestigious] list [of scientific supporters], I feel convinced that the subject will not.”
— Charles Darwin in a letter to J. D. Hooker, 3/3/1860

Speaking of my own view, I think the “fine-tuning hypothesis” raises more challenging questions than the “I.D. hypothesis.” See for instance: The “Fine Tuners” Challenge the “Intelligent Design” Movement Fine Tuners acknowledge that accident may not be the best way to explain the whole cosmos. They also find that the Intelligent Design movement embraces faulty simplistic arguments and proofs.

Dembski: As for God micromanaging nature, thatʼs a convenient caricature. Precisely because Godi allows a world to unfold in freedom,

Edward: “Unfold in freedom” is an intriguing phrase. Please explain what kind of changes organisms are “free” to engage in, and on what biological levels if you can say. There are Christian biologists and philosophers who are also theistic evolutionists and accept many principles of Darwinism and THEY use exactly the same phrase you do to express their belief that evolutionary natural selection allows nature to “unfold in freedom.” No micro-managing is required. So what does an such as yourself mean exactly by the phrase “unfolding in freedom?” Do you mean that the Designer does not “micro-manage” nor “tinker” at all, but merely “Designed” the first cell on earth, then that cell had every necessary biological pathway and engine “built into it” so it could “unfold in freedom” into all the life on earth? Even Behe admitted such a view was problematical to say the least, just look at the different types of cells and the different things they do. Perhaps you havenʼt. If you have, then please suggest how ALL of the possible information necessary for every species of all the major divisions of the living world, prokaryotes, eukaryotes, etc., could have been stuffed inside the first cell without it bursting at the seams. Gathering mutations and weeding them via natural selection as organisms spread out into different environment sounds more sane.

On the other hand, if a simple bacterium can “unfold in freedom” into super sized Eukarotes and billions of diverse species each with their own unique habitats and behaviors, that would certainly imply evolution in my book. So if you are trying to reduce the I.D. question down to the question of “abiogenesis” or “where the first reproducing organism came from,” you certainly appear to be a theistic evolutionist of sorts, moreso than a creationist. Especially since such a view as you suggest would make even Darwin an “” by your definition! Just read the last paragraph of Darwinʼs Origin of Species about how the Creator may have made the first cell and it evolved into all the rest of the forms afterwards.

Dembski: …and a history of death, suffering, and extinction becomes compatible with a world that exhibits design (which is not to say that every aspect is designed). You seem wedded to a naive theology and stuck on the theodicy problem. See last point. The theodicy question is separate from the design question, and you donʼt resolve the design question by saying that any putative designer wouldnʼt have done it that way. Now if you want to talk theodicy, Iʼm happy to do so, but again, thatʼs not why you wrote me and thatʼs not what the chapter draft I sent you was about.

Edward: It was not a question of “theodicy,” it was a question of how near the “Supernatural Tinkering” idea was to “Darwinism.” Evolution predicts that specialization is a process over time, and that not all organisms achieve it, in fact it predicts that few achieve it, just as in the case of bacteria that develop resistance to antibiotics or insects that develop resistance to pesticides, only a few mutate to the point that allows them to adapt while the majority of organisms do not.

As I said, only a single known species of bed bug stab-rapes not only females but also stab-rapes rival males. And only a single known species of the suborder of beetles known as Adephaga, has a MOVEABLE turret allowing it to point the chemicals that shoot out of it, while the others spray their own backs. And only a single known species of hominid evolved into homo sapiens. That is what evolution predicts, it certainly fits evolution.

But if you are going to posit a “Designer” then the possible scenarios for “designing” the living world seem Unfalsifiably Endless. There need not have necessarily been a whittling down process that the geological record actually reveals. Consider the following examples from nature:

The Evolution of Birds — They are preceded by feathered two-legged dinosaurs. And then by feathered air-gliding dinosaurs with long boney tails that create drag, still with heavy reptilian skeletons, heavy reptilian triangular-shaped skulls, teeth and non-hollow bones that added weight, small keel bones instead of the massive keel bones found in modern birds that attach their far larger flight muscles, and unfused metacarpals (wrist bones), that would not stay steady and be able to support them during long flighting times, just for short glides. In short, the earliest gliding feathered reptiles are clearly not as well designed for flight, nor as highly specialized for it as modern species are. In fact only a single known species of modern day bird can fly backwards, the hummingbird, a late arrival on the scene. Again, such a progression is one that evolution predicts, it fits evolution.

The Evolution of Cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises) — The earliest Cetaceans were clearly not as highly specialized as modern day species. Early whales displayed earbones only partially-specialized for under water hearing. Early whales had nares at the tips of their snouts or later in the middle of their snouts, the nares didnʼt reach the top of their heads until later (one species of modern day whale still has two separate nares in its head instead of the single fused nares found in all the rest of the modern day species). All early cetaceans (porpoises, dolphins and whales) also apparently shared the same ancestors, because the fossil record shows relatively smaller cetaceans early on, and only later did some species advance in size until we see the modern day Blue Whale, which is the largest known organism ever to live on the planet (with the possible exception of some dinosaur named gigantosaurus?). Neither did the early cetaceans have the sonar apparatus found in most modern day species. Their skulls simply werenʼt fitted for it and show no evidence of it.

Such a progression of increasing slow specialization over millions of years is one that evolution predicts, and which has been borne out by the findings of paleontology.

  1. From non-specialized to highly specialized.
  2. From the many unspecialized to the few highly specialized, with many subsequent extinctions along the way.
  3. The slow progress in specialization, taking millions of years as seen in the paleontological record.
Dembski: You seem bitter about your YEC experience.

Edward: The man who explained that “evolution” was “in crisis” and “sinking like the Titanic” is telling me that Iʼm “bitter?” Can you say, “projection?” Iʼm simply as insistent as you are concerning the question of what can be concluded based on what we know.

Dembski: And perhaps your skeptic friends are providing you with the intellectual enrichment that you didnʼt find as a YEcreationist. But given your undue preoccupation with your YEC past…

Edward: The man who is a member of the Discovery Institute, an Institute that apparently wishes to ignore the major scientific channels of discourse and seeks to simply self-publish books and publicize its way into public school curriculums and has a five-year plan to do so. A man who cannot handle the fact that “I.D.” is not “The” only alternative (I list the four major alternatives to Darwinism above), and who has made it his livelihood to tirelessly continue a crusade to get I.D. taught (as if there were anything I.D. could “teach” except to introduce a new word, “Designer,” into science classrooms — a word that explains nothing and adds no new knowledge), is telling me that I am “preoccupied” with my YEC past. Actually, as of late, Iʼve become increasingly preoccupied not with my YEC past but with I.D.ʼs future failure. My “friends” by the way include not simply “skeptics” but also theistic evolutionist Christians.

Dembski: It seems you havenʼt fully resolved this aspect of your life (perhaps Leaving the Fold is helping in this regard).

Edward: Leaving the Fold was written because of the need. Former fundamentalists have since written me after reading it, telling me how alone they felt in daring to doubt, how the churches had formerly absorbed their hearts, minds, time, energy and money, and that of their relatives, to such a degree, that leaving the fold was one of the most difficult processes that they had gone through in their lives. They rejoiced at encountering the stories of folks who experienced passages in their lives similar to their own. I too, having left the fold was intrigued when I first began running into the first-hand descriptions of others. Perhaps such testimonies are commonplace nowadays — for instance just look at the stories listed in the links at Steve Locksʼ website, “Leaving Christianity” (easily googled by name). But when I first got the idea for such a work and began collecting such testimonies in the mid 1980s, the internet consisted of Prodigy with not many “personal websites” to speak of. As for the various aspects of my life being “fully resolved,” they are as “fully resolved” today as yours are, I am sure. *smile*

Dembski: Iʼm planning a book on Genesis, Creation, and Theodicy in which I have some new angles on how suffering that results from an evolutionary history could in turn be the result of a space-time fall of humanity (the key is appealing to Newcombʼs paradox).

Edward: A bit “preoccupied” arenʼt you, with things that no one has any evidence of?

When I write, I try to make clear that many theists appear to me to be obsessed with matters no one can know about for sure, matters in the spiritual realm, in heaven, in the next world, or taught in doctrines with not much basis other than the apparent will to believe they are true. Exactly how does one man getting stabbed and dying in the distant past make you feel like God has finally forgiven you for, say, using a curse word when you had clumsily stubbed your toe? How do you make all the necessary “connections?” How do you deal with the myriad “difficulties” of “proving” your Holy Book and religious doctrines are all “true,” indeed, must be true, in some “sense,” and you must find that “sense,” even if it means applying “Newcombʼs paradox” to the alleged “space-time fall of humanity?” I guess you are “preoccupied” with applying every possible trick in the philosopherʼs handbook to try and make the story of a talking snake and magical fruit and shedding blood to forgive sins all make “sense” in the end.

Have you considered that perhaps it is you who are more involved than I, more “preoccupied,” especially with providing definitive answers to the worldʼs greatest mysteries? I at least am willing to admit there are mysteries, being neither atheist nor theist.

And speaking of my “preoccupation with my YEC past” (more like “nostalgic cerebral entertainments” these days, based on all thought I once “knew” for “sure”), how exactly is your ad hoc hypothesis concerning the centrality of some alleged, “space-time fall of humanity,” truly going to differ from Humphries latest YEC ad hoc hypothesis that maybe the earth was at the center of a white hole at the instant of creation, and that the cosmos as well as time and space itself got stretched out in “days,” thus leading to the mere “appearance” of an “old” cosmos stretched out in billions of “light-years?” Humphries “white-hole-earth” hypothesis is typically worthless, inherently non-provable, non-experimentable, even moreso than the famed creationist and I.D. rebuffs of “natural selection” being a “pure tautology.” What could be more purely tautological than arguments like Humphries or like the one you are currently conjuring up? (And Humphries “white-hole-earth” hypothesis just reflects the Bibleʼs own geocentrism, no?)

On the other hand, I suppose thatʼs how theology “works.” I mean if the act of one man suffering the pain of nails being driven through his palms two thousand years ago can make another man living today a “saint” in Godʼs eyes (after death), then, the story of “Adam and Eve” taking a single bite out of “forbidden fruit” can be cited as the reason why millions of species suffered for millions of years before Adam and Eve ever popped out of an Australopithecusʼs womb.

(Speaking of Adam and Eve, I saw a book recently here in the college library that stated scientists may have discovered a genetic basis for “Adam,” a genetic-bottleneck back in time, a single individual or very small group of related individuals, from whom all of the genes of our species is descend, as well as having already discovered a genetic basis for something close to “Eve” though not a single individual. One little problem, as mentioned in the book, is that thereʼs way too many generations of descendants lying between the genetic “Adam” bottleneck, and the genetic “Eve” bottleneck. Seems they never “met.”)

Christian theological explanations appear to be growing increasingly more weird as scientific knowledge continues to grow and theologians seek to accommodate the notion of some “truth” in Genesis with modern science. But so far none of the theological compromises or accommodations that I have read appear as strange to me as the simple fact that there isnʼt a verse in the Bible that isnʼt compatible with the flat-stationary-earth view that was prominent in the ancient Near East when both of the Bibleʼs testaments were written (the view also appears in intertestamental works, like Enoch). All attempts to make the Bible appear “scientific” regarding modern cosmology are ad hoc, and based on ignoring the fact that historically speaking there is no necessity to even attempt to make the Bible sound scientific.
Best, Ed

Comment using Google

Comment using Disqus

Comment using Facebook

Help Ed score 100% on YSlow. Server Fees & 🍪-free *CDN.
This page was designed and tested by Night Owl using GTMetrix on 7/2/2017.

*Content Delivery Network
Onload Time
Fully Loaded Time 1.3s
Pagespeed 100% YSlow 99%

Friends and Colleagues