Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

“Science vs. Science”

In World Magazine of February 26, 2000 an article appears presenting the “scientific” evidence of intelligent design in creation. The arguments appear to come from those who are not necessarily all Christian and probably do not believe in the literal account of creation in Genesis 1-3.

The testimony of Scripture, of course, should ever be remembered: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Heb. 11:3). Many, therefore, could well conclude that the present universe demands some “Intelligent Designer,” without confessing that Scripture presents Him as Jehovah God. Some of these quoted, however, claim to be Christian.

In 1987, when UC Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson asked God what he should do with the rest of his life, he didn’t know he’d wind up playing Toto to the ersatz wizards of Darwinism. But a fateful trip by a London bookstore hooked Mr. Johnson on a comparative study of evolutionary theory. And by 1993, Mr. Johnson’s book Darwin on Trial had begun peeling back the thin curtain of science that shielded evolution to reveal what lay behind: Darwinian philosophers churning out a powerful scientific mirage. 

Darwin on Trial was the result of Mr. Johnson’s years-long, lawyerly dissection of arguments for evolution. The forensic strategies of prominent evolutionists like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Joy Gould reminded Mr. Johnson of courtroom sleight-of-hand: Their materialist definition of terms decided the debate before opening arguments could begin. “I could

see,” he said, “that evolution was not so much science as a philosophy that Darwinists had adopted in the teeth of the facts.”

The article continues by pointing out that Mr. Johnson insists one must ask the right questions in order to enter a meaningful study of the subject.

The article then quotes a second man, Michael Behe, who was forced to consider the issue of evolution in which he had believed most of his life. After serious reflection, he wrote:

“Although I had pretty much believed evolution, because that’s what I was taught, I always had an uneasy feeling and questions in my mind,” said Mr. Behe, a Roman Catholic who grew up in a family of eight children in Harrisburg, Penn. “After reading Denton’s book (Evolution: A Theory in Crisis), and seeing his rational, scientific approach to the problem, I decided I had signed on to something that just was not well-supported. And, since evolution is such a strong component of many people’s view of how the world works, I started to wonder: What else have I been told that is unsupported, or not true? It was a very intense, intellectual time.”

That intensity ultimately gelled into Darwin’s Black Box (Free Press 1996), a book that hit secular scientists like an atom bomb. Charles Darwin himself had already provided a pass-fail test for his theory: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” Mr. Behe’s book (now in its 16th printing) was the first to administer Mr. Darwin’s own test at the molecular level. Using simple yet scientifically bulletproof analyses, Mr. Behe showed that even at the cellular level many structures are “irreducibly complex,” meaning that all parts of a structure have to be present in order for the structure to function at all. Thus, the slow, gradual changes proposed by Darwin were as likely to have led to the spontaneous formation of complex structures as are flour, sugar, eggs, and milk likely to gradually coalesce into a wedding cake. 

Mr. Behe wrote: “Applying Darwin’s test to the ultra-complex world of molecular machinery and systems that have been discovered over the past 40 years, we can say that Darwin’s theory has ‘absolutely broken down.'”

Several other scientists are mentioned who have come likewise to the conclusion that only “intelligent design” can explain the existence of the universe and the complexity of life on this earth.

In the meanwhile, evolutionists are mounting their counterattack. Because Kansas Board of Education decided last August that evolution ought not to be taught as a scientific fact in public schools, students from that state were threatened with exclusion from large universities. World magazine mentions:

The threats began with a letter by Herbert Lin, published in the Sept. 17 issue of Science. Mr. Lin, associated with the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council, proposed that colleges and universities refuse to recognize Kansas high-school biology courses.

In October, Scientific American editor-in-chief John Rennie turned up the heat, urging college admissions officials to “Make it clear that…the qualifications of any students applying from that state in the future will have to be considered very carefully. Send a clear message to the parents in Kansas that this bad decision carries consequences for their children.”

Responding to such efforts at thought control, Berkeley law professor and Darwin critic Phillip E. Johnson quotes a Chinese paleontologist who told him, “In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government but not Darwin.”

This article then points out some of the arguments that “intelligent design” presents to support their opposition to Darwinism:

Darwinists would have you believe that the debate is about whether to teach a literal interpretation of Genesis as science, forbidding teachers from presenting scientific evidence for the Darwinist position. A better description of the question under debate is whether to teach materialist philosophy as science, forbidding teachers from presenting scientific evidence against the Darwinist position. There are at least six major problems with Darwin’s theory.

First, the predictions of Darwin’s theory are contradicted by the fossil evidence. If the Darwinist theory were correct, then species ought to appear and die out gradually. Each species should change slowly but continuously, and the history of life on earth should reveal accumulating improvements in “fitness.” What the fossil record actually shows is that species appear and die out suddenly. Each species tends to remain the same until it disappears. And the history of life on earth shows small variations among a small set of basic designs. As the Harvard Darwinist Stephen Jay Gould admitted in 1977, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology.”

Moreover, natural selection is not dynamic but conservative. One reason for the patterns evident in the fossil record is that the overwhelming majority of mutations are harmful rather than beneficial. Natural selection—the weeding out of imperfectly adapted organisms—turns out to work against radical change, not for it.

A fatal difficulty for Darwinism is that it cannot explain irreducible complexity. Natural selection cannot produce “irreducible” complexity—in which every part of a system must be present for the system to work at all—because in natural selection, the parts of living systems must evolve one by one, with each new part making the system work a little better. Yet irreducible complexity turns up throughout the machinery of life, for example, in the clotting system for blood, the light-detecting system for cells in the retina of the eye, and the repair and transcription systems for DNA.

Even if Darwinism could explain irreducible complexity, it could not explain preadaptation. Adaptation can work only if there is something to adapt to. For example, insect mouths couldn’t adapt to flowers unless there were flowers. Guess what: There weren’t. Writes Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, “insects had evolved at least ten elaborate forms of mouthpieces, uniquely ‘adapted’ (one would say) to their feeding upon flowers, one hundred million years before there were any flowers on Earth.” Examples of such “preadaptation” turn out to be easy to find.

Yet another problem is that Darwinism cannot explain how life arises from nonlife. Natural selection kicks in only after things that live and reproduce exist; it cannot explain how they come to be. Scientists do know a number of ways to get organic from inorganic molecules, but none of them could have produced compounds like DNA under the conditions now believed to have existed in the years before life appeared.

Finally, there hasn’t been enough time for the “impossible’ to occur. In 1954, Harvard biochemist George Wald admitted that the chance development of life from nonlife was fantastically improbable, but argued that given enough time, “the ‘impossible’ becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain.” Few biochemists take this view today, largely because the time available for life to have arisen is getting shorter and shorter. Mr. Wald himself thought two billion years had passed between the time the oceans stopped boiling and the time life appeared. New estimates suggest that his guess was forty times too long.

Is there any scientific reason to shut out the evidence that living things have been designed? Not one. Scientists sift evidence of intelligent design in numerous fields: For example, archaeologists consider whether the objects they dig up are rocks or tools, and forensic pathologists figure out whether the marks on bodies are better explained by sickness or violence. Is biology somehow different than the other sciences? Science should mean finding the explanation that best fits the evidence—not finding the explanation that best fits the dogma that “nature is all there is.”

And now: Feathered Dinosaur Link

Recently many newspapers and magazines, including the well-known National Geographic, presented pictures and descriptions of a “find” in China of a dinosaur with feathers. It was considered proof that there was a link between birds and dinosaurs. But, alas, the wool (or should I say: feathers?) had been pulled over many eyes. USA TODAY reports in its January 25, 2000 issue:

The “missing link” dinosaur-bird featured by National Geographic magazine in November is a fake.

Archaeoraptor, the unofficial name of the fossil, is actually two animals pieced together either as an honest mistake made by its discoverers in China or as a breathtaking forgery. The composite, on display at the National Geographic Society in Washington until last week, consists of a birdlike upper torso and the tail and feet of a small raptor. The magazine described it as a “true missing link in the complex chain that connects dinosaurs and birds.”

The specimen, smuggled into the USA from China, was found at a gem show last year in Tucson by Stephen Czerkas, owner of the Dinosaur Museum in Monticello, Utah. He purchased it for $80,000, and made a deal with National Geographic to study and publicize it and ultimately return it to China.

How National Geographic finds itself at the center of a scientific embarrassment is a tale as layered as the 120-million-year-old sediment from which the fossil reportedly was unearthed.

“Assuming that all the evidence is in and it is a composite, not since I’ve been editor has anything happened like this,” National Geographic editor Bill Allen told USA TODAY. “At any time prior to publication, if we had been informed of any problem at all, we would have yanked (the article).”

The composite nature of the fossil was not detected by the magazine’s team of scientists, and a scientific paper that was submitted to both Science and Nature was never published. As a result, Geographic was on its own with no independent review of the fossil.

Allen says he was notified Dec. 20 by a Chinese doctoral student and member of the Geographic team that the fossil was not authentic. The society modified text on the public display to say questions had been raised about the fossil’s origins. National Geographic will publish a correction in its March issue.

But Storrs Olson, curator of birds at the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural History Museum and an outspoken skeptic of the bird-dinosaur link, says he warned the magazine in November, when the article was published, that there were serious problems with the fossil. He says he was ignored.

“The problem is, at some point the fossil was known by Geographic to be a fake, and that information was not revealed,” Olson says.

So the evolutionist will seize upon any “straw” to support his theory of evolution—but again ends up with “egg on his face.”