Darwin Devolves: Westminster Conference on Science and Faith

The first weekend in April I attended the Westminster Conference on Science and Faith, titled, Darwin Devolves.This is an annual conference I enjoy attending, and this year’s host of speakers outlined the failure of chance in relation to evolution. I’ll split this into several posts and highlight some of the main points.

The most prominent speaker was Dr. Michael Behe, professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University of Pennsylvania, and the author of Darwin’s Black Box. In this session he provided insight from his most recent book, Darwin Devolves, which challenges evolution based on DNA evidence, and he presented evidence for Intelligent Design, which contends that some parts of the universe and living organisms can be best explained by an intelligent creator.

I’m familiar with intelligent design, but was surprised to learn that this concept isn’t a recent invention. Claudius Galenus (or Galen, 130-210 AD) presented the idea of a “supremely intelligent and powerful divine craftsman” long ago, so it’s encouraging to see that humans have recognized elements of design for millennia. Today, it’s even more evident, as we can observe design in biological systems at the cellular level, which Darwin never truly understood. We can observe a factory-like, miniature universe, complete with blueprints, coding, workers, regulations, timed assembly and delivery, cooperation, sophisticated machinery, and much more.

Behe expounded upon the famous e-Coli experiment done by Richard Lenski, in which, after 60,000 generations, the bacteria were reported to have evolved the ability to metabolize ribose. But it turns out just the opposite occurred: the mutations ended up deleting portions of the DNA, allowing the e-Coli to reproduce 5% faster as a result of broken genes. This degradation allowed a net fitness gain in the laboratory, but can hardly be called ‘evolution’. A better term would be devolution, which is the opposite of what evolution requires. Such a loss of function fails to explain how the molecular machines and information came to be in the first place.

Another helpful point Behe made was regarding animal classification, which can be arranged into these nine levels: 1: life, 2: domain, 3: kingdom, 4: phylum, 5: class, 6: order, 7: family, 8, genus, 9: species. Supposedly, Darwin’s finches evolved tiny changes over two million years, yet they only differ in genus and species. A similar comparison can be made for a species of fish called cichlids; thus, Behe considers evolution to be self-limiting. Organisms can quickly adapt to their environments by devolutionary processes, but Darwinian evolution seems to be biologically limited at the family level. He went on to predict that “unique information, inaccessible to unguided processes, is required at the level of family and higher.”

Next up was Mike Keas, Ph.D, and his topic was on God and the Rise of Modern Science.

Something rarely acknowledged is the influence Christianity has had on the rise of modern science. In the 4th century, Bishop Basil theorized about nature and the motion of planets, explaining that God’s initial command is still obeyed today. Isaac Newton’s law of inertia traces back to Basil.

It was institutional Christianity that promoted science. Another little-known fact is that the university was a Christian invention. According to Keas, “The medieval establishment of universities, the development of a culture of disputation, and the logical rigor of scholastic theology all helped to provide a climate and culture necessary for the scientific revolution.” It was Christianity that fostered the development of scientific ideas and methods, not secular principles, naturalism or atheism.

Christians like Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton all supported the idea of mathematical laws describing the physical world, and it’s because of God that we have the ability to understand how our universe works. Kepler believed mathematics existed in the mind of God, and this explains why there are mathematical rules for the physical world.

Keas rightfully described a theological basis for observation in science, guided by the scientific method. Secular philosophy has attempted to convince the world that Christianity is at war with science, but this thinking is based on ignorance, as it ignores all the great scientists guided by Christian theology and the work they’ve done. So it was encouraging to hear Keas declare that today is an exciting time to be a Christian and a scientist! “It’s our cultural heritage,” he says. “But we share it because we’re generous.”

I’ll wrap this up with Dr. Vern Poythress speaking on the topic, “Patterns of Chance”. He began with the obvious point that, for those who wish to deny God’s role in our existence, one must appeal to chance. Chance is something that happens unpredictably, without discernable human intention or observable cause (Merriam Webster).

While there are events that occur by random chance, like hurricanes, or the roll of the dice, his main point is that biology cannot be explained by chance. Even for the simplest living organism- a parasite (Candidatus Carsonella rudii)- we find there are 182 proteins, and there is no known mechanism that allows for one functional protein by random chance. Therefore, if one functional protein is mathematically unlikely, then coming up with 182 is an unreasonable prediction. But the odds get even worse when we consider that the simplest, free-living organism consists of 1,354 proteins (Pelagibacter ubique).

Further, many experiments have been conducted on thousands of generations of bacteria and fruit flies, but we don’t observe them evolving into any other kind of organism. Chance isn’t a reasonable explanation for our origin, but when we consider that biological organisms show evidence of being designed, then it becomes reasonable to conclude there must be a designer, and I’d suggest that God is the most reasonable conclusion.

I like that Dr. Poythress brought up the concept of historical science, which is the type of science used to reconstruct the past. I’ve always found it fascinating that this gets confused with observational science, which consists of the scientific method, and is the foundation of modern technology and medicine.

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