Monday, May 5, 2008

My Reaction to Collins' Language of God Part 5

Read earlier comments in
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Collins on Intelligent Design

Collins' assumption that scientists would never ignore or marginalize a new view, just because it's based on theistic assumptions seems quite naïve to me. Why would scientists be any different than other humans? While they may like formulating new theories, adopting a position that would lead to their own marginalization is not likely.

Collins disqualifies ID as science because "A viable scientific theory predicts other findings and suggests approaches for further experimental verification." But "ID's proposal of the intervention of supernatural forces to account for complex multi-component biological entities is a scientific dead end. Outside of the development of a time machine, verification of the ID theory seems profoundly unlikely."13 I think this criticism fails for more than one reason.

First, macroevolution (as I have defined it above) suffers the same criticism as ID. It prescribes no future approach for experimental verification. Experimental verification of natural selection or of genetic mutation is not the same as verification for macroevolution. Faith in macroevolution rests entirely on interpretation of existing data and has never been validated experimentally, or observed.

Second, while we would have to go back in a time machine to verify ID, we would also need one to validate macroevolution. Collins fails to see that believing in a process that has immense gaps in the fossil record, and no explanation for how it began in the first place is no better than believing in a far more plausible explanation, such as intervention by a designer.

I thought his call for ID to give a mechanism for how the intelligence gets into the design was unrealistic.14 This would be nothing but speculation at best. Any number of possibilities could be suggested, but these would probably only be used to ridicule the position. ID is primarily a critique of a pure Darwinian explanation for nature. Collins seems to imply that ID is in the same category as young earthers, but most are in fact Darwinists within limits. The material I have seen is arguing that Darwin's theory is inadequate to explain all transitions. Most do not deny Darwinian principles across the board.

His arguments that current design in humans is imperfect and flawed, thus making it unlikely they come from God, are very familiar arguments found in enlightenment writings – Darwin, Hume, and others advanced these same arguments, and they have been answered satisfactorily.15 I was surprised to see a theist using these well-known atheistic arguments.

I thought his rejection of Behe's flagellum argument was unconvincing and rhetorically loaded. He throws in qualifiers like "presumably" such and so could have happened, and admits "we are far from filling in the whole picture (if we ever can)," but on these bases, he concludes "Recent research has fundamentally undercut this [ID] position."16 The research he mentions did nothing more than suggest a highly speculative possibility without observable backing [that flagella could have been borrowed toxin injectors somehow converted to a completely different function]. How does this fundamentally undercut anything? I thought it highly questionable that an organelle used to inject toxin into other bacteria would spontaneously begin to spin as a means of motility, and thereafter be reproduced for that purpose. I'm sure Behe et al. would point out that this transition would have to happen for all parts of the flagellum in a very short time in order to bestow any enhanced survivability. I can't believe Collins thinks the matter is closed based on this speculation.

I have never felt that the flagellum and related arguments were the most persuasive part of ID (their work on inorganic evolution is far more convincing, since the mechanisms of mutation and selection are not available as an explanation). But I did not feel that mere resemblance to amino acid sequences in a somewhat similar organelle that had a completely different function could be called "fundamentally undercutting" the flagellum argument.

He also characterizes irreducible complexity as the foundation for ID, and that is inaccurate. That is only one argument use by the group, and in my mind, it is one of the least convincing. The recent discovery that bacteria and viruses can adopt and assimilate loose strands of inter-cellular DNA into their own DNA (not mentioned by Collins) could raise problems for this theory as well.17

He completely fails to deal with their much more substantial work in inorganic evolution. This is a critical shortcoming in his critique. He also fails to deal with Dembski's analysis of what constitutes evidence of design in nature.

Collins includes a theological critique centering again on the 'God of the gaps' complaint dealt with earlier, and a specious claim that ID pictures an incompetent God who needs to intervene periodically to "correct" his shortcomings in previous creation. Neither of these was convincing.
The reasons for progressive creation would not need to be correcting errors or deficiencies. Anyone who has added to his garden during successive years understands why the creative work done last year may be supplemented without any suggestion that the previous work was mistaken. The pleasure of creating is reason enough for a creative being to act. For all we know, progressive acts of creation may have been appropriate because conditions were developing on the planet during long intervals that made further advances possible. There could be other reasons. This critique is an interpretation loaded with negative assumptions not based on any evidence. It is also possible that natural selection and mutation are incapable of developing beyond certain inherent limits.

Collins is completely negative about ID. He predicts it is a ship headed for the bottom of the ocean.18 I thought he gave no adequate basis for this caustic assessment. Young people in our church have supplied me with evidence that in recent months, weblogs and other groups discussing science and Christianity have suddenly shifted from favoring ID to declaring it now "disproven," that "it sucks," and "is stupid." I think Collins' very popular book is having a dramatic but unwarranted impact.

Next time: Collins' "Biologos" theory

13. Francis S. Collins, The Language of God, 187.

14. Francis S. Collins, The Language of God, 187, 188,

15. Gleason Archer, Survey of Old Testament Introduction, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974) on Genesis.

16. Francis S. Collins, The Language of God, 192.

17. Laurie Garrett, The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases In a World Out of Balance, (New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994).

18. Francis S. Collins, The Language of God, 195.

No comments: