Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Biological Evolution: Did It Happen?

A Personal Perspective by Thomas Pittman, PhD
(full essay here, this excerpt posted with permission)

I do not have time to review here everything that has been published on the question of whether biological evolution (as understood by those who accept the notion, namely universal descent from a common ancestor) actually happened. Instead I will concentrate on what I found to be the compelling arguments for and against it.

I grew up in a Bible-believing Christian family, but despite my parents' best efforts I was exposed to a high-school teacher who promoted the idea of evolution without disclosing its problems, and I bought into it. I received a logical, scientific, mathematical education, and scientists believed in common descent, so it must be true. That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the strongest argument I have ever seen for biological evolution: "All the scientists believe it."

Not all.

Twenty years later, in grad school, my thesis advisor invited me to take another look at the evidence supporting evolution versus fiat creation. I noticed a curious phenomenon: nobody had any evidence of their own; they always pointed to some other discipline as compelling. Ask a paleontologist how he knows how old these fossils are, and he tells you it's from the rock strata; ask a geologist how he knows how old the rock strata are, and he tells you it's from the fossils. Really. Yes, they have radiometric dating, but radiometric dates are all over the map, so they calibrate them from the fossils. Really. Check it out.

So for twenty years I have been asking The Question of anybody with a terminal degree in any field at all:
What evidence in your own area of expertise supports the common-descent evolution model over fiat creation?
In 20 years, not one qualified person has ever even attempted an answer! One person with only a Masters degree offered the observation that there is only one species of Cretacious fossil cypress tree, but there are seven species today. I asked him how different that one species of Cretacious cypress was from a hybrid of the seven today -- in other words could all seven modern cypress "species" be derived from that single Cretacious parent without any evolution at work at all? He did not reply. I asked this same Question directly of a high-ranking evolutionist member of the Southwest Baptist University Biology department faculty. He did not reply. Or rather, he did reply, but declined to address the scientific question with scientific data. There's a reason for that: There is no evidence for evolution.
 
The reason for insisting on a terminal degree in this Question was impressed on me by a grad student in entomology, which is an important (biological science) department at Kansas State University, where I taught for three years. He said that undergraduates and masters level students are not told the whole truth about the problems with evolution, but they don't keep it from the PhD students because they cannot do original research without knowing all the facts.

Entropy and Information Science

In my own area of expertise (my PhD is in Information Science), I can tell you for a fact that the accumulation of random chance events does not and cannot lead to greater specialization and new features; it only corrupts what gains have already been made. Otherwise, every supercomputer in the world would be busily grinding away at simulated evolution to create new software, because software is incredibly difficult to design and get correct, and supercomputer time is relatively cheap by comparison. We do have what are misleadingly called "genetic programs" that "evolve" and become better at the task for which they are programmed. This is somewhat of a misrepresentation, because these programs never evolve beyond the bounds of the task for which they are programmed, and never in ways unanticipated by their programmer. They are designed to adapt themselves in limited ways in response to known stimuli. This is not the kind of evolution that biologists tell us happened to life on earth.

The November 1987 issue of Scientific American was devoted to Entropy, and all the schemes that scientists have come up with over the years to create a perpetual motion engine, and the technical reasons why each idea failed. Some were quite clever, like involving little trap doors to let hot molecules collect on one side only of a two-chamber box. One of the reasons it failed is that you cannot measure the temperature of the molecules without added energy.

One of the interesting findings of Information Science is that the same formulas for Entropy in the energy domain apply also to the information domain. And like the failed search for perpetual motion energy sources, there cannot be any success at all in achieving "perpetual motion" information sources. Our experience in Artificial Intelligence (AI) research supports this finding. Serious new AI research is no longer attempting to make self-intelligent learning machines, but only mimicking human intelligence in the computer. Unlike the energy domain, where the earth is not a closed system (it continuously receives energy from the sun), the earth is a closed system in the information domain. Therefore the Second Law of thermodynamics (in the information domain) applies and proves that the origin of species by biological evolution is physically impossible apart from an external information source. At any point in time (today, or 1,000,000 years ago, it doesn't matter which), all the genetic code in the world is a fixed (albeit very large) body of information; but it cannot increase in a closed system -- in fact it will tend to decrease. That means species and genera and phyla will die off (go extinct), but nothing new will come that is not merely a reshuffling of the information already there. This is a prediction from the theory, and it is supported from all the evidence. In the 140+ years since the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species, there has not been a single documented novel feature evolved, but hundreds of species and entire genera have gone extinct, carrying into oblivion their entire genetic code. Information has been lost, but not replaced with new information.

For evolution to work, the small variations that we see in organisms today -- including the various beak sizes of the finches on the Galapagos islands and the coloration of the peppered moth in England -- must continue unbounded to the creation of novel forms. It simply does not happen. When the climate changes, the finches in the Galapagos start to grow a different size of beaks, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, but they are always still finches. Race horses have been carefully bred for speed (survival of the fittest, enforced by careful breeding) for centuries. If evolution worked, they would continue to get faster and faster, but they don't. Races are now won by hundredths of a second, because all the horses run as fast as a race horse can run. The evolution (if you can call it that) is bounded and limited to what horses were designed to do, just like the genetic programs in computer software which are limited to what the programmer designed them to do.

Read the rest of this essay here.


Friday, April 24, 2015

The Greatest Generation

If you're an American - or even if you're a European - take 5 minutes to watch this and be thankful for The Greatest Generation. I'm thankful for the men and women in uniform who serve our country, past, present, and future. My youngest son graduates from high school in just a few weeks, and he's already going through the enlistment process with the US Air Force.  I'm so proud of him following in the footsteps of great men like Jerry Yellin. (View original video.)

Capt. Jerry Yellin, from Fairfield, Iowa, flew the final combat mission in World War II. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Theory and Law in Science

Recently, I found myself in a Facebook debate regarding science and truth. I made the comment that "...there is not unanimous agreement that Darwinism is true or it would be promoted from theory to Law such as the Laws of Thermodynamics." Todd, my atheist nemesis in this debate, castigated me with the following rebuke:
A theory graduates into a Law---Again, no, no, no... If I could just get Dennis to admit this one, terrible mistake, I could feel like our dialogue had been good for something. Dennis either missed this in science class, or just chooses to ignore it. And I will admit that early in my science education, I too erroneously thought this as well; boy, I was so glad of the day I learned that I had been wrong!
Well, Todd the Atheist can be happy now because our dialogue was good for something. I'm pretty careful about the statements I make in an online debate, but I'm not infallible. So, I spent some time thinking about what Todd the Atheist wrote, and why we had a failure to communicate. After some consideration, I realized my use of the word "promote" was a poor word choice, and my actual argument needs further explanation.

First, I need to give Todd the Atheist points in our debate for his insistence on definitional clarity. He wrote: "In science, laws are simple facts and formulas that are so basic that they apply universally." Yes. We both agree on this. And by definition, a theory is "a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained." Scientific theories are supported by scientific laws, and we are in perfect agreement on that. Todd the Atheist also posted this:
How much proof does it take for a theory to graduate to being a law? Because the words theory and law have such different meanings in the language of science, it is often a difficult question to answer, so instead, I'll start by giving you a few similar questions to answer. How perfectly do you have to build a house so that it will become a single brick? How well do you have to write to change an entire dictionary into a single word? What would you have to do to change an entire symphony into a single note?
If you are thinking that those questions don't make much sense, then you are feeling very much like a scientist who has been asked "How much proof does it take for a theory to graduate to being a law?" A house is made up of many bricks, boards, nails, windows, doors, concrete, etc. A dictionary is made up of thousands of different words, and a symphony can easily have thousands of notes that all fit together in just the right way to produce pleasing music. In the same way, theories are based on a variety of scientific laws, facts, testing, and other evidence, all fit together in a way that offers an explanation of how some part of the universe works.
These cute questions make a worthy point. But if you dig a little deeper, the way science progresses in the real world really is from laws to theory, and then to more laws. Laws describe things. Theories explain them. The theories themselves may not be promoted or "graduated" to laws, but the laws that describe things do go into theories that explain things which in turn lead to better laws and theories that describe and explain things more simply or completely when science is working as designed. That is the point I was trying to make, albeit poorly. Here's an actual example from the real world.

Isaac Newton succinctly unified Galileo's theory of falling bodies with Kepler's laws of planetary motion in his Principia published in 1687. Newton's laws of motion and universal gravitation replaced the Copernican heliocentric theory which had been around since 1543. The laws of Kepler and insights from Newton changed our understanding of the physical world by giving rise to a new theory of gravity which was more encompassing than what Galileo proposed following his apocryphal falling body experiment from the Leaning Tower of Pisa in 1589.

More than three centuries after Copernicus and more than two centuries after Newton, Einstein came along with his Theory of General Relativity. Einstein unified Newton's law of universal gravitation with his own Special Theory of Relativity. Einstein's theories led to new laws and falsifiable empirical tests. Einstein proposed three tests of General Relativity. In a letter to the London Times in 1919 he wrote: "The chief attraction of the theory lies in its logical completeness. If a single one of the conclusions drawn from it proves wrong, it must be given up; to modify it without destroying the whole structure seems to be impossible."

The three tests Einstein proposed were not falsified, and to this day the General Theory of Relativity provides the most complete description of gravity we have. This is an example of science moving from law to theory to new and better laws and theories regarding gravity. I appreciate Todd the Atheist for insisting on clear definitions, so I retract my statement that a theory is "promoted" to law. Instead, I will restate that laws lead to theories which in turn lead to new and better laws and theories. The example of gravity being case in point.

My point in the debate with Todd the Atheist is that Darwinism hasn't been so successful. Granted gravity and the physical sciences are less complex than biological life sciences, but Darwinists like to make the comparison implying their theory is on par with our knowledge of gravity. That is hopeful wishing, but I believe a comparison between Darwinism and gravity can be instructive if we consider the striking differences as well as the slight similarities.

Darwinism tries to explain biodiversity by the random, undirected mechanism of natural selection over "millions of years" which essentially makes Darwinism non-reproducible and non-observable. In this way it is completely different from the scientific work within the field of gravity (pun intended) since we cannot devise or run reproducible and observable experiments in a meaningful way as we have with gravity. Further, Charles Darwin himself proposed a falsifiability test of his theory. He wrote, "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."

Examples of "irreducible complexity" have been proposed by Intelligent Design Theorists for organs down to the sub-cellular components of biological life such as a Kinesin, and Darwin would probably admit his theory as he conceived it did "absolutely break down." In fact, I doubt Darwin would have ever proposed his theory if he could have seen the incredible design inside a cell, but he didn't have a microscope powerful enough to see sub-cellular design. Darwin's test for falsifiability has been falsified over and over again through examples of irreducible complexity. Yet Darwinism is patched up and persists. Why? Shouldn't Darwinism be tossed out as it "absolutely break(s) down"?

As I stated before, the life sciences are much more complex than the simple concept of gravity, so falsifiability tests as clear cut as those for gravity are much harder to devise. Darwinism, and the patched up version of NeoDarwinism, are basically claims about history more than theories about observable, reproducible phenomena we can measure in the physical sciences. So, why do the Darwinists think their theory is on par with those of gravity? And, why do atheists like Todd believe it has predictive value?

I think the answer has more to do with faith in scientism than it does with good science or critical thinking. Based on what we know about probability, information science, and sub-cellular design, it is pretty clear that Darwinism is 19th century thinking that needs an overhaul and frame of reference shift like Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Darwinism has no reasonable answers for the complexity of sub-cellular design and programming of life in DNA. But, so far the Intelligent Design Theorists have been unable to unseat the entrenched belief system of science today which is rooted in Darwinism.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Truth Trumps Tolerance

Forward: I posted an essay similar to this in December 2008 called Truth Trumps Nice. This rewrite was inspired by the increasing cultural divide between secularists and Christians which has grown substantially over the past 7 years. I hope this essay contributes to raising the level of civil discourse by clearly articulating why Christians seem so "intolerant" of political correctness, and sometimes each other. So, here is the revised Truth Trumps Nice Tolerance.

In our post-modern culture of moral relativism, tolerance has been elevated above truth as the highest social value. In these post-modern days of political correctness, intolerance has become the unforgivable social sin. I realize I've committed this social sin when someone accuses me of "shoving my morality down their throat" when I'm not even trying to coerce the other person into doing anything at all. I've also been called a "fundamentalist" (many times) and "hater" for revealing my strongly held convictions. I'm quickly labeled "intolerant" because my convictions run counter to political correctness. Freedom of speech has deteriorated into sound bites and shouting matches with seemingly no desire to truly understand one another or really communicate.

The interesting irony with the post-modern doctrine of tolerance is how intolerant it is of other viewpoints. You can observe this in the culture clash over the redefinition of marriage and homosexual rights. You are immediately considered "intolerant" if you don't accept the redefinition of marriage or the political efforts of homosexuals to position discrimination against them as a civil rights issue. Diverging from the politically correct opinions on these topics will make you a lightening rod for hateful, discriminatory action from the radical LGBT community and their sympathizers, the very same people who desperately seek acceptance and tolerance for their beliefs and behaviors. It is weirdly Orwellian.

In our post-modern world of political correctness, the doctrine of tolerance is exemplified in the avoidance of civil confrontation and rational dialog on issues of substance. People believe it is "not nice" to discuss sex, politics, or religion in polite company. Why? Probably because you might have a disagreement that highlights the hypocrisy in the doctrine of tolerance. In the event of disagreement, parties in conflict often choose to "agree to disagree" rather than seek unity in truth. They mistakenly believe this is the nice way to behave. It may seem nice, but it is dishonest if the parties in conflict have a common set of core beliefs or facts on which to work out their differences.

So what goes wrong? Why can't we all just get along? I think it has to do with truth being replaced by tolerance and its cousin "affirmation" as the highest values in society. This subjective standard cannot be lived out consistently. The well-meaning do-gooders, these "social justice warriors," seem to think they are being fair and nice to everyone by their insistence on tolerance, but they are actually hypocrites. They are not nice or affirming to people, like me, who believe in free speech and who disagree with their political correctness. Tolerance only means tolerating their views about social justice which are mostly about LGBT rights, abortion, and gender non-specific marriage. The niceness and affirmation only lasts until you disagree with a social justice warrior.

As far as Christians are concerned, Jesus was all about objective truth which is measurable, and none of us measure up. Jesus wasn't always "nice," and neither were the Apostles or the Prophets when it came time to confront error and evil. They all preferred telling the truth about wrongdoing, even (or maybe especially) when it hurt. Read the Bible if you don't believe me. It is there in the text where anyone can read it for themselves. We need more Christians who can think critically and rationally, and who can politely articulate -- and more importantly live out -- those beliefs in humility even if they don't seem "nice" in our politically correct post-modern culture. Setting an example of thinking and living as Jesus did, and repenting when we get it wrong, will help other people who want to be Jesus followers experience the abundant life and unity in the truth.

Tolerance is a virtue to a point, but not beyond the point of truth. Truth trumps tolerance, and sometimes there is no way to be nice about it. Some people are wrong, evil, and immoral. They fly airplanes into tall buildings, and kill people in the name of their "god." Or, they hate others in the name of Jesus, which is totally ridiculous because Jesus taught charity and self sacrifice, not hate. When people make sinful choices, repentance is the only path for reconciliation with God who gives life. Repentance needs to begin with those who claim the name of Jesus. But, if we are merely nice to wrongdoers, and afraid to tell them the truth, they will never find the forgiveness offered through Truth himself, Jesus Christ. Telling the truth is the only loving way for Christians to behave. Jesus followers need to learn how to live and speak the truth with gentleness and respect, but sometimes this tough love is not nice or tolerant.

Afterword: The focus of this article is primarily for professing Christians in dealing with other professing Christians. When a true Christian, i.e. a Christian who is submitted to teachings of the Bible, is engaging with a non-Christian, they should lead with grace, not judgment, in most cases. The non-Christian has not yet submitted their behavior to the Lordship of Jesus, and such a person should be treated with charity and kindness as Jesus teaches. The most charitable and kind thing you can do for someone is to lead them to repentance so they can experience true life in God.

Credits: My observations and many of the ideas contained in this blog entry were developed through extensive email discussions with my friend Dr. Tom Pittman. For more information along these lines, check out his evolving online book: God of Truth: Reforming the Feminized American Church

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Objective Truth or Jesus?

"I believe people are saved not by objective truth, but by Jesus. 
Their faith isn’t in their knowledge, but in God." 

Brian McLaren