The “smoking gun” evidence for intelligent design

The computer I’m using to create this information is an obvious product of intelligent design. We even know the designer(s) are employees of Apple computers. In fact, “design” does not exist until produced by intelligence, so the term would seem to be slightly redundant. In the absence of intelligence the presence of design, no matter how beguiling it may be, could be assumed to be an illusion.

But is that a safe assumption?

In a way, this article also serves as proof that intelligent design exists. I am choosing my words more carefully than unusual, knowing that the title of the article and subject matter will surely attract the attention of my harshest critics, who also happen to be the intended audience. No typos for you!

Intelligent design has also been described in an online dictionary as “a theory that life, or the universe, cannot have arisen by chance and was designed or created by some intelligent entity.”

Biologist Jerry Coyne, author of the book Why Evolution is True, also wrote a screed titled “THE CASE AGAINST INTELLIGENT DESIGN”, which he neglected to make despite its length. The extraordinarily long essay turned out to be nothing more than an extended defense of evolution, combined with a completely dishonest portrayal of intelligent design as an attempt to reconcile scientific evidence with Young Earth Creationism (YEC).

What evidence do people like Mr. Coyne or Richard Dawkins offer in rebuttal to the idea of intelligent design? Advocates of Darwin’s theory of evolution (or some permutation of it, such as neo-Darwinism) will insist that the evidence of poor design, vestigial organs, and the absence of evidence for the Designer are enough to dismiss any suspicions that Nature might have required help at some point along the way, in the time that has existed since the Big Bang, until now.

Vestigial organs are allegedly useless appendages inherited from some distant ancestor from a completely different kind of organism. Perhaps they are useless. Or, perhaps biologists simply haven’t figured out how the organism uses the appendage in question. Perhaps their innate bias against the idea of a supernatural Creator prohibits them from imagining the actual use. We can save the debate of vestigial organs for another day, should it ever become necessary.

What evidence exists for an argument of poor design? The scientists often like to point at a complex organ, the human eye.

What is the problem with saying the human eye was obviously not designed, because the design was poorly conceived? The words arrogance and stupidity come to mind.

Does the human eye function? Yes. Where is the superior eye, designed by human hands?

Well, it doesn’t exist. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a big fan of science and technology. More than once I’ve been known to say “better living through chemistry,” though it was sometimes made in reference to legal or illegal drug use. So how can we say that something we aren’t capable of making ourselves was not designed, because humans would have done a better job? The author of the article describing the alleged “poor design” of the human eye offers that the most popular criticism of his arguments is that creationists will say the eye is irreducibly complex, and then he immediately concedes that the eye is irreducibly complex! His counterargument is nothing more than a silly assumption — that the eye must have evolved as one unit. I say, forget the eye. Let’s talk about the human body for a moment, and compare it to a computer. Why? For one thing, computers and robots are understood to have been produced by intelligent design, and their designs are modeled to simulate the behavior of the human brain and perform work that humans used to do.

Can a computer made of metal, plastic and silicon legitimately be said to have a superior, intelligent design when it is mimicking an “un-designed” living organism? Why no, it can’t. A machine has severe constraints on its abilities in regard to autonomous behavior. What does that mean? Simple. Turn off your computer, and don’t touch it again until it can turn itself back on.

Or better yet, what about when the computer breaks?

The human immune system is the proverbial “smoking gun” evidence that our bodies were designed, and by a form of intelligence our puny little minds are barely capable of contemplating. Once upon a time, I managed to mangle one of my pinky fingers pretty bad, and I’d become rather attached to it, especially since I am left-handed.

Fortunately, I was asleep for this part.

So a very talented surgeon temporarily placed a pin into the bone to hold it in place while the reparative processes inside my body did their usual thing, though at the time I was prepared to give the doctor all the credit.

And after my recovery, I thanked him for fixing my finger. In reply he downplayed his role by saying something that I’ll never forget, because it is a profound truth: the body wants to heal itself. My body healed the broken bone. He simply put the broken pieces in the right place and let time solve the problem.

The immune system in my body willingly sacrifices individual cells to serve my body as a whole, a design of natural self-defense. Think about that for a moment. It’s pretty altruistic of a white blood cell to give its life to protect my whole body from germs and bacteria. My body…which a biologist would probably argue is all that I am, yet my physical brain wants to do things (and does them) that my conscious mind does not know how to do. Therefore, logic dictates that the human body ought to be considered the product of an intelligent design.

Because guess what?

My computer doesn’t know how to fix itself, either. In fact, it’s dumber than a brick, until it has power. And even then, virtually all of its intelligence comes from its creator(s.) If something breaks, a human being will have to fix it. A computer cannot repair itself. It doesn’t know how.

In that respect, a computer is exactly like a human being.

 

Eye of the beholder

images-2Eye of the beholder

Familiar with the expression “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”?

Various forms of the phrase date all the way back to Greece in the 3rd century B.C.

However, Margaret Wolfe Hungerford is generally credited with the first use of that exact phrase in her book Molly Bawn, originally published in 1878. The cliche simply means that different things will appeal to different people.

The eye is a collection of tissue that forms an organ and provides visual feedback from our physical world. The ability to see an adversary who is fighting blind is almost always gives an unsurmountable edge to the fighter with unimpaired vision.

Some biologists, notably Jerry Coyne, describe the eye as an imperfect creation or an organ that is easy to create. Coyne wrote,

The human eye, though eminently functional, is imperfect – certainly not the sort of eye an engineer would create from scratch. Its imperfection arises precisely because our eye evolved using whatever components were at hand, or produced by mutation. Since our retina evolved from an everted part of the brain, for example, the nerves and blood vessels that attach to our photoreceptor cells are on the inside rather than the outside of the eye, running over the surface of the retina. Leakage of these blood vessels can occlude vision, a problem that would not occur if the vessels fed the retina from behind. Likewise, to get the nerve impulses from the photocells to the brain, the different nerves must join together and dive back through the eye, forming the optic nerve. This hole in the retina creates a blind spot in the eye, a flaw that again would be avoidable with a priori design. The whole system is like a car in which all the wires to the dashboard hang inside the driver’s compartment instead of being tucked safely out of sight.

All of this bluster is to say how much better the Jerry Coyne eye would be as an improvement over the eye made by God. No engineer has produced an functionally operational equivalent eye, much less a superior version. There is no Jerry Coyne manufactured eye, or any artificial device that can replace a human eye and restores vision.

Science can do wonders with the existing organic material, but once the sight is gone, as of this date it cannot be restored. Yet Coyne claims science can make a better eye. So where is it?geordilaforge

Prosthetic devices may look real, but they do not restore vision. Unfortunately, those stylish Geordi Le Forge shades with the oil filter lenses don’t really exist – except as a prop from a television show. Apparently, the writers of Star Trek: the Next Generation seemed to realize the foolishness of suggesting artificial eyes would be superior to the ones we have, or else the entire crew would have worn the same apparatus.

Coyne isn’t the first biologist to foolishly claim the eye would be easy to make one or improve. In his summary statement at the Wistar conference , Dr. Waddington made the remarkably silly statement, “I think it is relatively simple to make an eye.” (pg 97)

Astonishingly, Ernst Mayr agreed with him, and the remaining participants were apparently too dumbfounded by the suggestion to respond. Mayr said,

Somebody quoted Darwin yesterday and, as with the Bible, you can quote him for one thing or another. In one place he said that it completely horrified him to think of the eye and how to explain it, and at another place he said once you assume that any kind of protein has the ability to react to light, once you admit that, then it is no problem whatsoever to construct an eye.

No problem at all to make an eye? Easy peasy? Respectfully, Drs. Waddington and Mayr, then why hasn’t science made one?

Dr. Trevor Woodhams and company at the local Woodhams Eye Clinic in Dunwoody do remarkable work using LASIK surgery to correct vision, but they are working with existing organic material. Corneas may be transplanted, but not entire eyes. Doctors do not perform artificial eye replacement with “bionic” eyes — that technology only exists in science fiction novels, movies, and television shows.

The latest and greatest medical miracles seem to be organs grown from stem cell tissue in a lab. Although the cultivated heart does not yet beat, it still qualifies as a significant scientific achievement. But if and when it does begin to beat, it cannot be considered an improvement over what God created. It is merely a replica, not a superior creation.

Perhaps they next can cultivate an eye. But it isn’t the same thing as making an eye from scratch, better than the real thing.

We cannot make a better heart, a better brain or a better eye. Our best efforts mimic God’s creation but never surpass it.

In his poem “Ode to a Grecian Urn”, Keats famously wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

To recognize beauty for what it is, we must first be able to see it.

The conjecture of evolution theory

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment of the series of articles originally published at Examiner.com while I was writing as the Atlanta Creationism Examiner. Lightly edited and re-formatted from the original version.]

dick-tracyThe conjecture of evolution theory

Change occurs constantly.  It’s impossible to deny.

However, the word “evolution” is often used analogous with virtually all “change”. That definition is much too ambiguous.

The philosophical theory called evolution describes an ambiguous process by which new life forms allegedly are created if given enough time. I will repeat the question I have invited my biologist friends to answer:

Assuming “evolution” is true, how does sexual reproduction create a new genome that alters a creature’s morphology to be different enough from its parents to be called a new animal (or plant)? 

What magic elixir or ingredient besides time causes or allows for this sort of change (I have somewhat mockingly referred to as shape shifting) to occur?

Surely we can all agree that for Archaeopteryx to evolve into another creature or vice versa, there has to be some point in time where the “base” parent animal (stealing terminology from my objected-oriented past) can be differentiated from the “derived” child animal as a fundamentally different organism, correct? Surely some explanation other than sexual reproduction can account for different morphologies in variant organisms derived from DNA?

In layman’s terms — at some point in time, my zoologist friends have got to be able to say the offspring of an Archaeopteryx is no longer Archaeopteryx. Dawkins insists the only possible explanation is natural selection allows for advantageous mutations accumulate over time to the point where a rat can go blind, grow wings, develop sonar and can then be called a bat. If given enough time. It sounds so simple. But how does it work?

Assuming some sort of answer to my question for the biologists does exist, it will provide the beginning of a foundation for my finally understanding how Darwin’s “evolution theory” (which is actually called natural selection) really works. Natural selection is not synonymous with evolution. It is merely one facet of the secular attempt to solve the creation equation.

My hypothesis for Divine Evolution includes an equation to express how best to explain the origin of life:

Creation = Big Bang + abiogenesis + (speciation + X) + natural selection.

This only stands to reason if evolution is asserted to somehow disprove creationism as the theory’s advocates such as Richard Dawkins have done.

My rationale is simple – creation is a philosophical theory (albeit with religious overtones) that attempts to explain the origin of the universe and the origin of life in addition to the origin of the species.

Any secular solution must be able to do the same if it can be successfully used to remove creation from all due consideration.

Any solution to the creation equation must solve for X.

The answer is not time. (Hint: Try X = God.)

I find it flabbergasting that so many people assert that science somehow “own” the facts of evolution. By contrast, religion is said to be purely based on faith, divorced from fact.

But facts are facts. Facts belong only to the truth.

And what is truth? Quid est veritas?

While faith is certainly a component of my belief in a supernatural Creator, I’m not sure why others automatically assume that logic, facts, and reason are absent because religious faith is present. Common sense and logic are not mutually exclusive to my faith in God. If anything, the opposite is true. Let’s examine evolution theory a little further, shall we? We can separate more fact from conjecture.

Sometimes natural selection is referred to as “micro evolution”. The theory no one seems to be able to explain is called “macro evolution”, another name for the many flavors of speciation.

Gene flow, allopatric speciation, or genetic drift seems to reasonably answer the question of why we have polar bears and grizzly bears that can mate and spawn polizzlies when they come into proximity. Peripatric speciation may well be a valid explanation for slight variations within an isolated population of fruit flies breeding on a bunch of floating rotten bananas. An excellent example of sympatric speciation seems to be available in the cichlids of Lake Victoria. Parapatric speciation ought to explain the existence of ring species such as Larus gulls. [Author’s Note: future posts will explain Larus gulls, which are a type of ring species.] I don’t have any problem with any these theories to explain changes to cause variations in sea gulls, fish, or salamanders..

But all of these theories haven’t begun to answer my question.

What biological process plus natural selection leads to polizzlies, fruit flies, cichlids and Larus gulls from a single common ancestor?  Why is it so easy to believe something that we know cannot happen within a short period of time will happen eventually if enough time elapses? We are told that bears “evolved” from an extinct ancestral species of mammal about 13 million years ago, but crocodiles basically haven’t evolved since they were dinosaurs.  Why?

Help me solve for X.

By regressing evolution theory to the origin of life, we will eventually reach LUCA and the hypothesis known as abiogenesis. Sort of like the hero of the movie Highlander, there can be only one LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor.) Abiogenesis (chemical origin of life) is grotesquely improbable enough without expecting it to happen more than once by accident.

Yet it’s precisely why Richard Dawkins would say it’s a “fact” that my dog is also my cousin.

And somehow I’m the one who’s labeled the delusional “history-denier?”

Now Richard Dawkins might be considered the equivalent of a modern day Emperor of science (by the average atheist) for all I care, but if he’s wearing no clothes, shouldn’t someone speak up? How can “fact” or even “theorum” possibly be constructed on the foundation of a relatively weak hypothesis?

It’s a rather curious use of the word “fact.”

Remember, in his book Dawkins kindly provided a definition he borrowed from Oxford Dictionary for the word “fact” which I repeated in The “facts” of evolution theory.

The salient phrase from the definition that Dawkins offered was truth known by actual observation or authentic testimony, as opposed to what is merely inferred, or to a conjecture or fiction.

Yet Dawkins disparages the reliability of eyewitness testimony, using himself as example after viewing the infamous Simons gorilla video experiment.

I marvel at the fact he took from the experiment that we should not trust our own eyes in favor of scientific inference because he can’t trust his. He was easily fooled, so Dawkins naturally assumes everyone else would be fooled as easily. He must believe that no one else on the planet would notice the gorilla…the implication seems to be that nobody else could possibly be as smart as Richard Dawkins. That may well be true — but I saw the gorilla.

True, if he hadn’t revealed the trick behind the real experiment, I might also have been fooled when I watched the video. I knew it was coming, only because he revealed the secret of the experiment. Now we’ll never know for sure. He’s such a spoil sport.

The key to creating the deception is that the viewer is told what to watch for something specific. Misdirection was a favorite trick of magicians long before the Bible was ever written. It’s an odd coincidence that the overwhelming appearance of intelligent design is said to be an illusion by people who freely admit they can easily be fooled into believing an illusion.

Dawkins does apparently have a sense of humor – he suggested in his book that scientists are like detectives investigating a crime scene. With all due respect, however, Mr. Dawkins makes for a pretty lousy detective.frontpagecolumbo1

However, I shall save my critique of his relative skill in deductive reasoning for my next article, tentatively titled Watching the Detective. [Author’s Note: pretty sure I never published an article by that title, but I do write detective novels and stand by my evaluation of his skills as a detective, which are rather poor.]

I’ve tried to explain to my biologist friends that you don’t have as much time as you think you do for life to “evolve” by random chance combined with natural selection and X. (Because of numerous mass extinctions shown in the fossil record.) That’s why we need more than hypotheses like panspermia and punctuated equilibrium just to give DNA enough time to form, much less create the extinct life seen in fossil record and modern life without God. And the whole reason for coming up with the hypothesis of panspermia is because according to “experts” like Richard Dawkins, DNA supposed to be formed by random chance.

Earth has finally existed long enough for DNA to have had time to form by random luck, but just barely. Yet we know carbon dating says the earliest forms of life are billions of years old.

Six billion coded instructions in one living cell!  Think about it! DNA is an enormous statistical improbability, to say the least. However, the “ultimate” argument made against supernatural creation is that it is more impossible to believe than natural evolution.

Belief in God is ridiculed, and Yahweh is called “an invisible man in the sky”. Creationists are ridiculed as delusional ignoramuses for daring to think a supernatural Creator might be responsible for everything. But shape shifting from plant to animal when simply “given enough time” should be accepted, no problem.

A Watchmaker loses to Cat People? Irony can be delicious.catpeople

The facts of evolution spoke for themselves. I have certainly accepted that Crick and Watson decoded the mystery of DNA, the common denominator.

DNA is the fundamental building block of life, the “Lego” of divine construction.

DNA is the most sophisticated yet simple source code algorithm to which I’ve ever been exposed. It’s brilliant, the ultimate source code. (Spoken as a former software developer.) Consider how remarkable it is that “spelling” the same simple code in different genetic patterns can create such unbelievably difference life forms as a peony and a porcupine.

But it does not stand to reason that peonies and porcupines share a common ancestor. The conjecture of evolution is that:

1. Humans are most closely related to bonobo apes or chimpanzees, slightly less related to other apes, and related to every other form of life on Earth by some form of descent over eons.

2. The fossil record proves the Earth is ancient, that primitive life forms came first and more complex life came later, and DNA proves the close relationship between different organisms.

3. Animals such as the cichlids in Lake Victoria and Larus gulls differentiate and alter genetic code to be distinguishable from similar fish and birds sharing a common ancestor, we should also assume that fish are related to birds because both have DNA.

4. Complexity such as eyes, wings, or the ability to navigate by sonar is not irreducible because useless organs could have genetically altered to become productive, as long as there is enough time. Hence we have the mousetrap/tie clip. (I bet this guy in the video does believe in the intelligent design of the pocket protector.)

5. Because “creation” means that a perfect God created life perfectly within a six day period and every known science provides rather obvious evidence to refute that claim, there is no viable alternative to scientific theory of evolution. (My next article I shall call Iterative Creation, and it will specifically address this claim.)

6. We can safely conclude that God does not exist because science has demonstrated that a Creator is not necessary for evolution to occur.

I promise not to cast aspersions on your character if that’s what you want to believe.  Believe whatever you want. But please don’t claim the theory of evolution is an indisputable fact.

An open letter to Dr. Francis Collins (and Dr. Ken Miller)

PENTAX Image

Australopithecus

Dear Dr. Collins,

I’d like to begin by saying that I have tremendous respect for your work on the Human Genome Project. I enjoyed your book The Language of God so much that even quoted you a couple of times in my book, Counterargument for God.

So, if there is a human being on planet Earth as qualified to answer my question as (atheist) biologist Jerry Coyne, it would appear to be either you, or (Catholic) biology professor Ken Miller, whose work I’m most familiar with from watching his lectures posted on You Tube that attack intelligent design. However, I did appreciate his calm and pleasant demeanor on display while he ridiculed my personal beliefs.
southernprose_cover_CAFG

One thing that you and Professor Miller seem to share in common with Professor Coyne is your apparent belief in the infallibility of evolution theory, and that descent is the only viable explanation for the origin of species.

Unsurprisingly, Professor Coyne didn’t respond to his open letter. However, I didn’t really try to hide the fact that I am a creationist and an advocate of intelligent design. Professor Coyne may have been hostile to the source, rather than the questions asked. In retrospect, I probably could have done a better job of framing my questions without antagonizing him.

Professor Benoit LeBlanc was kind enough to attempt answering them, but unfortunately his answer required Deep Time that I don’t believe is available in the scenario we’re hopefully about to discuss.

I don’t believe my personal religious beliefs will keep either of you gentlemen from answering my questions because we are all professed Christians. I’m merely asking you to help a brother understand why design is stupid and unscientific and how common descent makes perfect sense, even to describe the relationship between plants and animals.

Before going any further, please let me assure you that my only interest is in finding the best possible and most comprehensible answers to my own existential questions. These aren’t trick questions — I really want to know the answers, assuming they can be answered. I will be very pleased to publish responses from either of you gentlemen as a separate post, in its entirety.

I sincerely seek truth — if the truth turns out to be descent and not design, so be it. Quid est veritas?

Design makes sense to me. Descent does not. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, and all apes supposedly have 24 pairs.

As experts in biology, I know you were already quite familiar with that very important fact.

But how exactly did ape-like primates evolve to become human?

Of course, I know that biologists have “widely accepted” the theory two “ancestral” chromosomes fused end-to-end and formed human chromosome 2. Professor Miller even says as much in this video.

My concern specifically revolves around Professor Miller’s use of the word “fusion” to describe this alleged freak accident of nature. Because in every science text I’ve read, fusion typically describes the process when two atoms collide at high speed and bond together.

In this case it would seem that the collision could have only occurred inside the first atom formed at the moment of conception, then replicated in every additional cell formed in this new organism — sort of a chain reaction. After all, fusion is an instantaneous process.

Surely your argument isn’t that two ancestral chromosomes “gradually” fused into one single chromosome over thousands, or even millions of years, is it?

In the video link provided above, Professor Miller said the chromosome missing in humans could not have ever been lost without causing fatality in the offspring.

Therefore, if fusion is truly the only means by which this new human chromosome 2 could have formed (as Professor Miller suggested) then Goldschmidt’s hopeful monster theory would seem to best describe the ape-to-human evolutionary process, wouldn’t it? And if that is so, the mating problem of the hopeful monster is reintroduced into our discussion, correct?

If Australopithecus had 24 chromosomes, then it was some sort of an ape. If Homo Habilis had 23 chromosomes, it was human. If Australopithecus evolved into Homo Habilis by fusing two chromosomes into one, it would only seem possible if it occurred within one single generation.

Homo Habilis

Homo Habilis

If the parents of Adam (the first human with 23 chromosomes) had 24 chromosomes, then Adam was not even biologically compatible with his own parents. Therefore, Adam could only have mated with another lucky product of fusion, a female “Eve.”

Eve would have had to be born within Adam’s lifespan and within close enough proximity for them to meet and of course, reproduce to create viable offspring that perpetuated the new species. That would seem to make descent twice as unlikely than if it only needed to happen for Adam within a single generation.

Are biologists wrong to use the word “fusion” to describe the formation of human chromosome 2? Is there any possible way that the forming of this particular chromosome could have taken a very long period of time?

Inquiring minds would like to know…

Jerry Coyne’s compatibilism quiz

While I’ve been waiting and hoping for Dr. Coyne to respond to my questions about speciation theory, I’ve periodically scanned his blog Why Evolution is True to see if the opportunity has arisen for him to answer my questions.

I’m sure that Dr. Coyne is a very busy man, and he just hasn’t had time to respond thus far.

Of course, he had to travel and give a lecture at Appalachian State, take pictures to show off his spiffy new ostrich boots, make several gratuitous attacks on creationism and religion with cheesy cartoons, and time to post lots of cat pictures on his blog.

But no time for me yet.

I’m sure he’ll get around to my questions, eventually. Apparently, he does respond to email.

In the meantime, in one of the sixty-plus blogs posted since my letter, Dr. Coyne published a pop quiz on compatibilism.

I love a good challenge, so I’ve taken his quiz. Perhaps he’ll even grade my answers.

Thank goodness that Dr. Coyne helpfully defined compatibilism as “free will that accepts material determinism.” I must confess that I didn’t know the definition, and the closest dictionary didn’t offer me one.

Because I accept genetics, DNA, and the power of heredity, I can also accept the concept of material determinism, at least up to a point. However, I must reject the proposal that people can’t be held morally responsible for their actions.

In fact, I find that suggestion both appalling and absurd.

Is Ariel Castro, recently arrested in Cleveland for kidnapping three women and holding them captive for a decade, only guilty of committing egregious evil because the law said so? Or, was the act immoral in and of itself? Does everyone who commits a crime have a brain tumor or other serious mental defect?

I admit that I’m confused.

Dr. Coyne once wrote that atheists know how to be good without God.

However, in the context of this particular discussion, it seems that atheists of his ilk can’t even tell basic right from wrong.

The lack of moral authority has created a serious quandary in the mind of Coyne’s fellow atheist, physicist Dr. Lawrence Krauss. When simply asked if incest was wrong, Dr. Krauss couldn’t say.

Really?

Personally, I don’t need to check state law to see if incest is illegal. The idea of having sexual relations with my sister or mother is both extremely disgusting and morally wrong. I do love them, but not in that capacity.

Just for the record, incest is a felony in Georgia, with a minimum of ten years to serve if convicted of such a reprehensible crime.

Seriously, even the characters in Game of Thrones know that incest is about as repugnant as it gets.

Hopefully Dr. Coyne will correct me if I’m mistaken, but he seemed to be saying that people can and should be punished for behavior over which they have no impulse control.

There is only legal responsibility, not moral responsibility.

Presumably, in Dr. Coyne’s world, murder is not immoral unless society says that it is illegal.

No wonder Dr. Coyne professes to be a Marxist Socialist in his political philosophy. He doesn’t trust his fellow man to act on his natural impulse, his moral obligation to help those less fortunate by donating to charity or volunteering their time.

In the past I’ve referred to these absurd philosophical arguments, similar to the one Sam Harris made in his book about free will as “mental masturbation” because spending time thinking about them was a waste of energy and effort.

But speaking of wasting time, please allow me to address the four questions of Dr. Coyne without further ado.

After all, he asked nicely for participants to take his quiz. So, here goes nothing…

  1. What is the definition of free will? The ability to make a moral choice between right and wrong.
  2. What is “free” about it? The fact that I was born with the ability to differentiate between right and wrong and freely choose between them makes this privilege a gift. Does everyone who commits murder have a brain tumor? Of course, the answer is no. Why did Leopold and Loeb kidnap and murder Bobby Franks? Were they both insane? Were they both suffering with brain tumors? No. They wanted to kill simply for the thrill of taking another human life.
  3. Do other species have free will? Do computers? I don’t know whether other animals have free will because I don’t have the gift of animal telepathy or the knowledge of God. However, I have seen enough evidence of animal altruism that crosses the species boundary to suspect it’s possible animals have free will. No, computers most certainly do not have free will. They are mere objects, not living organisms.
  4. Why is it important to have free will instead of “agency?” What new knowledge does your concept add beyond reassuring people that we have “free will?” Unfortunately, Dr. Coyne failed to say what he meant by the term agency, so I had to rely on the description provided by Neil Rickert, who calls himself the Heretical Philosopher. I agree with him that humans are not rational agents, and I rather liked his opportunistic agent of choice, given the limitations presented by his definition of free will.

But I’m really glad that you asked  the question about what new knowledge adds to my concept of free will: I give you corroborated veridical NDE perceptions, also known as brain-free consciousness.

Probably the best example, most carefully monitored with scientific instruments and thoroughly documented cases was the NDE of Pam Reynolds, which occurred during a procedure called Operation Standstill.

In summary, there is quite strong scientific medical evidence that is still being collected and investigated by scientists, doctors and other medical professionals around the world. Pam’s story might be the best example, but it’s far from the only case presenting supernatural evidence. This evidence strongly suggests that the mind and brain are separable entities.

I talk about all of this and much more, in detail, in my book Counterargument for God.

And thanks for asking.

The problem with PETA

AlwaysANextOne2PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk rather famously once said, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy”, but she was absolutely wrong.

The truth is that a rat is vermin, and a pig could be dinner.

A dog might be a boy’s best friend, but they are obviously different species, rather easy to tell apart.

Don’t get me wrong…I love my dogs, very much. They are my furry babies.

Truthfully, I wouldn’t even think twice about risking my own life by running into traffic to save one of them from an oncoming car.

In fact, there’s precedent for my saying so. Not long ago I foolishly ran onto a major highway near my house and nearly got myself killed, trying to save someone else’s dog that had escaped from under their fence.

The story had a happy ending that day. They don’t always end that way. We both were lucky, the dog and me. I was acting purely on altruistic instinct, a natural reaction that a guy like Jerry Coyne might mistake for goodness.

Nevertheless, if the choice is between saving either a dog or a child, the human life comes first in my mind. That’s also an instinctive decision, a no-brainer.

In my world, God gave mankind dominion over all other animals. That means we have a tremendous responsibility to act as good stewards. In the world I prefer, it’s okay to kill a cow or chicken–as long as you eat it.

It’s even okay to make clothing from the animal’s hide, so nothing is wasted. While doing so, we should most certainly give thanks to its Creator for the sacrifice of the animal for food and clothing, for the life we used to help sustain ours.

However, in the Orwellian world of PETA, all animals are equal…and some are more equal than others. The acronym PETA stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—a curious choice of a name for this particular organization, to be sure. Apparently, the goal is to convince us that the name represents the organization’s philosophy on the whole.

Where is the ethics or morality in suggesting the life of a child and the life of a rat have the same value? Yet in the bizarre world of PETA, humans do not have dominion over the animal kingdom.

Every form of life is considered equal.

Don’t believe me? When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killed a spider and when President Barack Obama swatted a fly, PETA swiftly produced press releases that offered criticism and condemnation in both cases.

Spider bites have been known to kill a human being. Flies spread germs, carrying all sorts of diseases. And in stark contrast to PETA’s expressed concerns about the health and welfare of spiders and flies, their continued silence about the gruesome barbarism of Kermit Gosnell as details emerge from his murder trial has been deafening.

Obviously, PETA has a serious problem keeping their priorities in order.

The organization has apparently adopted the very strange “ethics” of Peter Singer, author of the uber liberal book misnamed Animal Liberation.

The more appropriate title might have been “Animal Anarchy.”

To be clear, animal rescue and animal care-giving have nothing in common with animal liberation.

In his book, Singer first appeals to animal lovers by offering them a horrible scenario designed to gain their sympathy. He describes how beagle puppies are used as guinea pigs for scientific testing.

Who wants to think about cute little puppies being killed in the name of science?

Then after appealing to our sense of compassion, Singer reveals that he would extend those same “rights” to every animal on the planet. It soon becomes painfully obvious that Singer doesn’t really care about animals or particularly like them; he’s much more interested his radical political agenda to reduce mankind to a herd of mere animals than providing compassionate care to animals in need.

It turns out that he’s equally opposed to the “lab rat” as the experimental beagle puppy.

In Singer’s world, humans and earth worms have equal value. There is no hierarchy.

After dedicating a number of years of my life to animal rescue, I don’t hesitate to criticize the pretenders in our ranks.

If you don’t believe that I’ve walked-the-walk, then please read my collection of short stories about dog fostering called Always a Next One, available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and in a variety of formats at Smashwords.

Now I’m not claiming to be an animal welfare advocate the caliber of Nathan Winograd, but I do greatly admire his work. His dedication to the cause of creating a nation of no-kill animal shelters is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Frankly, PETA could learn a lot from Mr. Winograd.

In truth, if you surrender an animal to a PETA shelter, there’s better than 95 percent chance that the animal will be euthanized. In 2011, their adoption rate for dogs was an abysmal 2.5 percent and a horrific 0.4 percent adoption rate for cats. That means 97.5 percent of the dogs and 99.6 percent of cats accepted by PETA to be “helped” were put to sleep.

The number of animals too sick or badly injured to be helped that were euthanized by our local “no-kill” shelter where my wife and I volunteered that same year was about the same as PETA’s adoption rate.

Trust me, animals were only euthanized when there was no hope of improvement in their condition. Even the local “high-kill” shelter in our community only euthanized about half their intakes that year.

Why is PETA, an organization allegedly dedicated to the well being of animals, killing so many?

I think I know the answer. PETA is more interested in fundraising and self-promotion than animal welfare. Moving billboards timed to run with the Kentucky Derby cost a lot of money.

So does saving lives of worthwhile creatures, but it’s well worth the expense. It’s a pity that concept seems foreign to PETA.

How can an organization with the word “ethical” in their name know so little about the difference between right and wrong?

An open letter to Dr. Jerry Coyne

Counter_cover_smDear Dr. Coyne,

I’ll do my best to get right to the point. Your reputation as one of the world’s foremost experts on speciation theory precedes you.

You are a well respected scientist and educator. I am but a student of those fields in science necessary for any attempt to answer my existential questions.

Although I’ve been called a teacher, my background is not in education. By profession, I’m an author, certainly not a scientist. My strong preference is for writing detective novels.

However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should divulge that my most recent book, published this past Easter Sunday, has the title Counterargument for God.

I should probably also mention that your advocacy of naturalistic evolution is one of the arguments that I endeavored to counter and defeat in my book. I meant no disrespect.

It just happens that I have very good reasons for believing that you’re wrong to assume that supernatural intelligence played no role in your existence or mine.

Now, I’ve read Why Evolution is True, but I cheerfully admit that I don’t yet quite understand the biological processes allegedly at work. I still have a few questions about your specific field of expertise, if you’ll be good enough to answer them.

Your USA Today article written not too long ago asserting that you can be good without God gives me some hope that you will cooperate, even though I suspect David Berlinski may have doubts.

If I never ask my questions, you won’t have the opportunity to respond if you so choose.

True, you have expressed some disdain for creationists in the past. You may decide to ignore me, but that will only reinforce my suspicion that you can’t answer my questions.

And if it helps, as far as I’m concerned, we can leave the Bible and religion out of this discussion in order to focus purely on the science.

Let me reassure you, my mind remains quite malleable.

By your own broad definition offered at Harvard, apparently I fall into the forty percent category of Americans you have suggested are “dumb or perverse” for not believing speciation has occurred.

However, you didn’t call speciation theory by its proper name. You called it “evolution.” The terms are not synonymous.

Please look at my request for information this way — I’m giving you an opportunity to improve on that statistic that troubles you so much. Without further ado, let’s get started.

Evolution simply means change. Of course things change. The real question is, can organisms shape-shift, simply by means of DNA recombination achieved through sexual reproduction?

My first question: How does the theory of speciation actually work in real life?

I’m fairly sure that I know how it’s supposed to work. Please allow me to illustrate my current understanding of the process, formed in part by reading your book.

A small population of one species becomes geographically segregated from other members of its species, isolating its gene pool. That population only breeds with other members of its population, never coming into contact with other members of the ancestor species, until a biological split occurs after many generations of genetic recombination. Mutations aggregate until new genes can be identified in the genome identified as belonging to the ancestral species that are unique to the descendent species.

PENTAX Image

Australopithecus

Voila! We now have a new species of organism. It all sounds so easy.

It’s much too easy, in fact.

Please forgive my skepticism, but there seems to be a missing piece to the puzzle. The process I just described could be argued as nothing more than natural selection.

Certainly, these processes can explain variety within a species, but not the creation of a new and unique organism.

Given enough isolation, time, and genetic recombination, it’s quite easy to see how astonishing variety can occur with a given morphological form, but not how drastically different morphological forms emerge from common ancestry.

Quite frankly, the idea that sexual reproduction involving two members of the same species could produce a different species seems to violate our known “laws” of biology. Humans produce baby humans, apes produce baby apes, and so forth.

Your theory of speciation asserts that with isolation of a gene pool and time for mutations to become permanent, apes produce something other than apes, like Australopithecus, for example.

Perhaps Australopithecus remained segregated, and over time split again to form Homo Habilis. It’s an interesting theory, but hardly a fact.

Homo Habilis

Homo Habilis

We are merely using the same evidence, comparative anatomy and genetics, to reach different conclusions.

The idea of naturalistic evolution becomes especially suspect when one realizes that from this same, basic biological function, organisms as diverse as trees, crabs, worms, eagles, gulls, flies, fungi, apes and humans allegedly share common ancestry. Sexual reproduction performed by two members of the same species, provided sufficient isolation and allowed enough time to mutate beyond all recognition, apparently allows organisms to shape-shift, if your theory is right.

When the parents are from different species, the offspring are invariably sterile. This means that speciation must occur when members of the same species procreate.

I don’t mean to disparage your work with Drosophila, but variation and adaptation within a genome isn’t the same thing as genetic mutation that becomes drastic morphological change, with all due respect. No offense, but I’m really just not all that interested in the sex life of fruit flies.

I’m already quite familiar with the mating process of two members of the same species. My wife and I have two children, and three grandchildren.

The stork didn’t deliver them; an obstetrician did.

Therefore, you may safely assume that I understand the mating and birth processes quite well. What I still don’t understand is how speciation could ever occur without violating those biological processes I have observed in situ.

Evi_cromagnon_largeTwo members of the same species produce fertile offspring and perpetuate the species. On those rare occasions when two members of closely related but different species mate, the result is a sterile hybrid.

Members of significantly disparate species, like humans and horses, usually don’t even try. That sort of true perversion often results in death.

Now if you can tell me how the biological process of sexual reproduction involving two flies of the same species could produce both fruit flies and butterflies, I’m all ears. If you can truly explain the relationship by descent of the butterfly to the butterfly bush, that’s even better.

If you will be so kind to explain the nature of the cousin-ship between the crab and the conifer in graphic detail, I promise to give you my undivided attention.

However, if you can’t identify the specific biological processes that allow these miracles, perhaps you should reconsider your claim that your theory of evolution is irrefutably true, because you obviously can’t prove it or adequately explain the process by which it occurs.

In Why Evolution is True you wrote,

Speciation is a splitting event, in which each ancestral branch splits into two twigs, which themselves split later, and so on, as the tree of life ramifies. That means the number of species builds up exponentially, although some branches are pruned to extinction. How fast would speciation need to be to explain the current diversification of life? It’s been estimated that there are 10 million species on earth today. Let’s raise that to 100 million to take into account undiscovered species. It turns out that if you started with a single species 3.5 billion years ago, you could get 100 million species living today even if each ancestral species split into two descendants only once every 200 million years. As we’ve seen, speciation happens a lot faster than that, so even if we account for the many species that evolved but went extinct, time is simply not a problem.

Time appears to take on magical qualities in your concise explanation. The problem is, you seem to have grossly misrepresented the amount of time available for these drastic processes to happen.

We both know that if speciation really took 200 million years to split one species into two, Lystrosaurus would never have evolved into dinosaurs, correct? There was only 150 million years between the Permian and Cretaceous extinctions, the age of the dinosaurs. And complex life wasn’t plentiful until the Cambrian Explosion, which occurred only 530 million years ago.

There have been multiple mass extinctions since. According to simple arithmetic, the rate of evolutionary change has to be much faster than what you have suggested. In actuality, there doesn’t seem to be any known rate of evolutionary change.

Which leads me to…

My second question: how do you reconcile the long periods of stasis indicated by the fossil record with the Darwinian idea of slow and gradual change?

Please excuse me for questioning your authority in this regard, but according to the paleontologists, the fossil record apparently doesn’t support the Darwinian idea that new species emerge through a series of slow, incremental changes.

That’s why Gould and Eldridge proposed punctuated equilibrium, isn’t it?

The repetitive pattern found in the fossil seems to be one of jerky, episodic events. New life seems to appear in an “explosion” of activity, followed by a long period of stasis and then mass extinction, correct? Forgive me if I’m wrong, but it seems that you have determined isolation of the gene pool is critical for true speciation to occur.

In fact, you also wrote in your book,

The idea that geographic isolation is the first step in the origin of species is called the theory of geographic speciation. The theory can be stated simply: the evolution of genetic isolation between populations requires that they first be geographically isolated. Why is geographic isolation so important? Why can’t two new species just arise in the same location as their ancestor? The theory of population genetics — and a lot of lab experiments — tell us that splitting a single population into two genetically isolated parts remains very difficult if they retain the ability to interbreed. Without isolation, selection that could drive populations apart has to work against the interbreeding that constantly brings individuals together and mixes up their genes.

So, if I understand you correctly, isolation or geography plays a crucial role in speciation.

As far as human evolution is concerned, using human evolution as the illustration, it seems the explanation you have suggested for how speciation occurs is that about four million years ago a small population of breeding primates split into apes and Australopithecus.

The new Australopithecus genome must have remained isolated for an extended period of time, because as you stated above, interaction while the two different species retained the ability to interbreed would cause the collapse the new genomes. Presumably, Australopithecus split into Homo Habilis and other intermediate species until homo sapiens emerged.

Perhaps your theory is theoretically possible, but it’s hardly an incontrovertible fact.

Dr. Coyne, how does this isolation occur in an ocean?

The cichlids in Lake Victoria didn’t differentiate into trout, flounder, bass, or mackerel — they “evolved” into roughly 600 varieties of cichlid. Yet the coelacanth allegedly hasn’t evolved for 340 million years, and it lives in the ocean.

The more we scrutinize speciation theory, the less it makes sense or seems possible.

My third question: In your lecture at Harvard, you offered examples of the vas deferens tube location in humans and allegedly vestigial organs as examples of poor “design” by nature. You were using comparative anatomy to form your professional opinion.

Yet when someone such as myself suggest that sophisticated innate abilities such as echo-location navigation, observed in both bats and dolphins, offers us an excellent example of brilliantly intelligent design, again using comparative anatomy, the suggestion is met with scorn and ridicule.

Why is comparative anatomy useful for you to interpret as evidence of unintelligent design, while more obvious examples of intelligent design are declared a beguiling illusion? Could it be due to your personal bias toward atheism?

My fourth, and final question: Until life exists, how can it evolve?

At Harvard, you suggested that evolution theory was “the supreme achievement of human intellect.”

Really? Are you sure? More impressive than flight, space travel, the invention of the wheel or the computer? But that wasn’t my question.

My question is, aren’t the Big Bang theory and abiogenesis hypothesis at least as important as speciation and natural selection?

When I first became interested in the science related to my existential questions, I realized that to understand the Big Picture, one must begin with the physics of the Big Bang. Without the origin of this special universe, there’s no reason to worry about the origin of life.

After exploring chemistry to learn what scientists know about abiogenesis, the origin of life, we can learn about paleontology and the history of life before studying biology to learn about modern life.

Until LUCA came into existence, Darwin’s theories were irrelevant.

Life can’t evolve until it exists. Period.

If you read my book, you’ll find that many of your colleagues are the ones suggesting that luck plays an extraordinary role in our existence, from the origin of the universe to which species survived a mass extinction.

That’s extraordinary, cumulative luck I find very difficult to believe. Order does not emerge from chaos by accident.

So, in light of what we know, how can you say that speciation is a fact, when in reality it doesn’t seem to be a particularly good theory?

Inquiring minds want to know…