Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Response to "Darwinian Doubts: A Rebuttal"

The following is my response to a blog by my brother. I'd recommend reading his blog, then coming back to read this response.

I'm intrigued by your assessment that many of the people publicly speaking against evolution come from "deterministic and predictive practices such as mathematics and engineering." As I see it, this is more than just a matter of physicists, mathematicians, and chemists being unfamiliar or overwhelmed with biological systems, and trying to recreate life sciences in the image of quantitative science. Maybe as designers themselves, more accustomed to named reactions than a constant deference to evolution, they are in a unique position to see the limits of evolutionary explanations and the signs of a designed, optimized system.
I sincerely believe that more physicists and material scientists should be involved in MD/PhD programs. Why? Because a background in fluid dynamics, material properties, shear forces, or one of many other topics would uniquely enable them to appreciate the principles behind the design of human structures, and innovate new preventions and treatments based on this understanding. (To put it bluntly, if I only ever took anatomy classes and never used a can of WD-40, I wouldn't appreciate synovial fluid!)
Sometimes a person's background in a non-biological field provides them with incredible insight into a biological structure, process, or system. For example, last year Dr. Gerard Wong here at UIUC discovered one cause of deafness. He realized that in deaf patients, epsin protein was incorrectly organizing F-actin filaments into a liquid-crystalline form instead of a hexagonal array. This discovery didn't require an intimate knowledge of evolution, or even a degree in biology. His understanding of materials science allowed him to recognize new aspects of a disease process.
If a non-traditional vantage point can benefit a newcomer to medical research, might a similar vantage point offer new insights into biology? Maybe the basic assumption of biology in its current form makes the field myopic at best, and blinded at worst.
Currently, evolution is the shibboleth of biology. If you're not willing to talk-the-talk, or you feel uneasy with the idea, you just might switch to another field of study. As new discoveries are catalogued, the default setting in this field is to attribute them to evolution.
I'm with you: if we don't know how a system works, we shouldn't automatically say, "Welp, God did it" and walk off to find a new system to discover. But I think we disagree with this approach for different reasons. I don't know that you believe a God exists, and if no God exists, then it's irrational to attribute anything to Him. But for me, I disagree with this approach because it completely ignores the details. Simply attributing a process to God isn't the same as fleshing out the specifics of what, when, and *maybe* even how or why He did something.
I believe that God invented coagulation. But that wouldn't make me tune out a hematologist's description of the factors involved in the coagulation process. Instead, because I am convinced that this universe was created by a rational, reasoning, God (Jesus Christ to be specific), I love understanding the details of what He has created, and I believe a rational explanation is behind many of the physical phenomena that I see. Without the presupposition of God, I might despair that meaning was an illusion, and that reason and free will were only a simplistic and misguided interpretation.
So using the fact that God created something to stop studying it can be a tempting cop-out. But an equally tempting cop-out is to attribute all processes to evolution. The word "evolution" is not any more instrinsically scientific than the word "God." You take exception to Debrinski's suggestion that God was the instigator of the Cambrian explosion. Yet what if he had said, "The individual mechanisms of the Cambrian explosion are not yet known, but it is clear that each organism arrived by an evolutionary process"?
If a scientist doesn't know how the organisms sprung into existence, how is it any more scientific to attribute the appearance of the life forms to evolution, than to God?
Why do so many people cling to the idea of evolution, and hate the idea of a personal, creative God? Because evolution allows them to worship and absolutize something other than God. Humans, as one professor told me once, would be better described as "Homo adorens" -- "man the worshipper" -- than "Homo sapiens." We long to worship, and if we're not worshipping God, we'll find someone or something else to worship. One of the presuppositions of several evolutionary-based worldviews is that the supernatural -- therefore God -- does not exist. With Him out of the picture, we've regained our "freedom." I have heard a biophysics professor speak referentially of "evolutionary design." He went out of his way to use this phrase, and applied it to many of the systems that we studied. Whenever he said "evolutionary design," I realized how he utterly marveled at and reveled in design -- the design of evolution. He spoke of it will all the tenderness and awe that I might discuss the virgin birth. Why? Because each is key to our belief systems.
Why do I attribute the origin of this universe, and the design of each detail to God instead of to evolution? Here's my reasoning, with the setting on "panoramic." There are certain differences between a jerry-rigged system, and one carefully planned from blue-print to prototype to final product. (One invariably contains a higher percentage of ductape.) Evolution cannot explain the origin of matter, let alone information, let alone life, let alone finesse.
At the beginning of this, I mentioned named reactions. While organic chemistry offers this kudos to innovators, biologists have their own form of paying homage to Firsts in the field. That's why we learn about the islets of the inestimable Langerhans, and honor Broca and Wernicke whenever we study how the brain handles language. Of course, it wasn't that they made these structures, just that they discovered them. But it's time to get back to giving credit where credit is due. In addition to getting the right author's names on papers, and figuring out just who should be getting which Nobel prize in physiology or medicine, let's follow this tradition of recognizing innovators back, beyond the time when biological processes were first attributed to Darwin's god. Currently, we can only see what his presuppositions allow us to see. Before we accept someone else's pair of glasses, let's readjust our eyes to have an infinite focal length: What are the implications of our worldview? What or Who deserves ultimate homage, as the enabler of rational thought, and the source of all scientific inquiry? Death-loving evolution, or life-giving God? "Give to God what is God's, and to Caesar what is Caesar's." If my purpose here is to glorify God, I can start by rightly attributing the work of this Divine Craftsman.

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