Session Two: 2015 Westminster Conference on Science and Faith

Here’s part two of the Westminster Conference on Science and Faith I attended. In this post Dr. Michael Denton, author of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, discusses a few points from his book. I’ll provide a brief review of that session, as well as his presentation on Saturday pertaining to life and man in the cosmos.

To support his assertion that evolution is a theory in crisis, Denton sites a number of evolutionists who acknowledge weaknesses in evolution. One example is ornithologist Richard Prum, who pointed out that the origin of feathers has failed neo-Darwinian approaches.

Denton then touched on biological concepts such as functionalism and structuralism. Functionalism is the claim that adaptation is the organizing principle of life- or that the order of all living organisms serves some function. According to John Ray, the founding father of English Functionalism, “There is nothing in it deficient, nothing, superfluous, nothing but hath its end and use.”

Charles Darwin was a supporter of functionalism, saying, “we may conclude that the structure of every living creature either now is, or was formerly, of some direct or indirect use to its possessor.” Richard Dawkins agreed, saying, “Each one of us is a machine, like an airliner only much more complicated.”

An alternative to functionalism is structuralism, which deals with the structure of organisms and how those structures change. Structuralism was the school of thought that reigned prior to Darwin. The biologist Sir Richard Owen was a structuralist, and his approach was diametrically opposed to Darwin’s.

According to Denton, the data supports the structuralist view. For example, there are constraints that appear in all mammals, such as the back bone and six cervical vertebrae, but there appears to be no adaptive pattern. Darwin stated that the patterns were inherited, and he ignored the problem of why they’re there at all. Today the structuralist school of thought is gaining traction.

Denton explained how these two prevailing schools of thought affected him and his work. While he was still an atheist, Denton studied erythroid development (red blood cells). He wanted to apply Darwinian adaptation to the mammalian cells losing their nucleus during this process, but he found that the cell went through an extraordinary process to remove the nucleus, and he wondered how this could occur in a Darwinian step-by-step process. Was it adaptive? Birds actually keep their nucleus during this process because they need more oxygen than mammals. Denton also found that there were strange variations in the size of these cells in dogs, cats, horses, cows and goats that don’t correlate with their supposed evolution. He concluded that this function- one of the most important physiological functions on earth- couldn’t provide a satisfying explanation in terms of Darwinian functionalism.

Another problem he faced was that there are various patterns in nature with no specific purpose or function- such as leaves. Leaf patterns don’t seem to have any particular adaptations, yet they exist with a wide variation. These were a few things that led him to question Darwinian evolution.

I haven’t read his book yet, but this session definitely provided an incentive for me to do so.

Denton’s next session was on Saturday, and he spoke on the nature of advanced life forms. He was basically arguing in favor of the fine-tuning argument, claiming that the universe was intentionally designed for the existence of man; he calls this the anthropocentric framework.

Thomas Huxley, the English biologist known as Darwin’s Bulldog, posed the Question of Questions: “the problem which underlies all others, and is more deeply interesting than any other—is the ascertainment of the place which mankind occupies in nature and of his relations to the universe of things.”

Denton pointed out that, in the 19th century, the bio fitness of the carbon atom and the unique mutual fitness of water was discovered, and these two ingredients allow for complex self-replicating chemical systems. He says that carbon is the “chosen” atom because it’s uniquely fit for building complex molecules. And water is the chosen matrix (liquid water has been called the sine qua non of life by NASA) because it’s essential for life. Water is a universal solvent, has low viscosity, and can absorb heat and radiation. According to Lawrence Henderson, oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen may be the only plausible biochemistry for life.

Many evolutionists acknowledge the fine-tuning of the universe, including astronomer Martin Rees, who referred to certain constants as the “recipe for a universe”, and Paul Davies, who said that the impression of design is “overwhelming”. Even the astronomer Fred Hoyle admitted that “there are no blind forces in nature worth talking about.”

One of the examples Denton shared was the complex chemical composition of the atmosphere. Our sun is at the right distance from the earth to heat it, but it’s the atmosphere that protects us from the sun’s harmful radiation while allowing just the right spectrum of light for photosynthesis. The chemistry of the atmosphere is well balanced for us to exist, and water and carbon dioxide play a crucial role.

Denton concluded with man being uniquely fit to be a fire maker. In order to make a fire, we must possess certain physical constraints, such as nerve conduction speed, muscle mass, and complex coordination of these muscles. But it’s also necessary to be on the right size planet with the right amount of gravity to allow for the complex interplay between respiration and combustion. Man is the only living organism that can build and harness fire for his own use.

I also plan on posting sessions on John Lennox, Douglas Ell, and Casey Luskin.

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