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Jonathan Wells reviews Francis Collins

Here’s the conclusion of Jonathan Wells’s review of Francis Collins’s THE LANGUAGE OF GOD:

Darwin of the gaps

Recall Collins’s principal objection to ID: “ID is a ‘God of the gaps’ theory, inserting a supposition of the need for supernatural intervention in places that its proponents claim science cannot explain… But those theories have a dismal history. Advances in science ultimately fill in those gaps, to the dismay of those who had attached their faith to them. Ultimately a ‘God of the gaps’ religion runs a huge risk of simply discrediting faith. We must not repeat this mistake in the current era. Intelligent design fits into this discouraging tradition, and faces the same ultimate demise.”

Except for the “supernatural” part, this actually sounds like a description of Collins’s own strategy of defending Darwinism by relying on supposedly functionless segments of DNA. He repeatedly assumes that if we are ignorant of the function of a stretch of DNA then it has no function; it is simply a relic fortuitously inherited from a common ancestor. But the more molecular biologists learn about DNA, the more they discover functions in what were previously thought to be functionless segments. Collins’s defense of Darwinian evolution becomes less tenable with every new advance.

How ironic. Collins claims he’s basing his case for Darwinism on new knowledge from genome sequencing, but he’s actually basing it on gaps in that knowledge. Collins himself argues that such an approach has “a dismal history.” Advances in science ultimately fill in those gaps, to the dismay of those who had attached their faith to them. Ultimately a “Darwin of the gaps” approach runs a huge risk of simply discrediting science. We must not repeat this mistake in the current era. Darwinism fits into this discouraging tradition, and faces the same ultimate demise.

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26 Responses to Jonathan Wells reviews Francis Collins

  1. He repeatedly assumes that if we are ignorant of the function of a stretch of DNA then it has no function

    This pattern is arrogantly repeated elsewhere. For example, we see a common string S in X, Y, and Z, and concoct a story that X put the string S in Y and Z–back when Y and Z were some common ancestor ~(Y+Z)/2. (I am still studying these claims, for forgive me if I garbled the description.)

  2. Ultimately a “Darwin of the gaps” approach runs a huge risk of simply discrediting science.

    Science generates enormous volumes of theories that are eventually disproved and discarded. One of its strengths is its ability to test these theories and separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. As such even assuming this theory is completely without merit it would simply be discarded and would do nothing to discredit science. To assume this one theory can discredit science would be analogous to saying that a single bogus ID theory could discredit theology.

  3. Collins says “Moral Law “cannot be explained away as cultural artifact or evolutionary by-product,” Collins concluded that its source must be God.”

    I wonder if he explains how the brain suddenly snapped free from the tortuous route of Darwinian Evolution, and adopted a Moral Law? And, would the Moral Law not be a product of Intelligent Design?

    It sounds like Intelligent Design encompasses the entire ice cream sundae, and Collins simply rejects this and instead uses God to explain the cherry on top.

    Besides, isn’t his Moral Law from the Divine Source a god-of-the-Gaps itself? Evolution cannot explain it, but it can explain everthing else under the biological tent without any sort of problem.

    No, he ain’t gonna make that mistake again, he says. Hmmmm.

  4. This pattern is arrogantly repeated elsewhere. For example, we see a common string S in X, Y, and Z, and concoct a story that X put the string S in Y and Z–back when Y and Z were some common ancestor ~(Y+Z)/2.

    You know, I think Darwinism has gotten a free ride for too long on this. They claim mounds of evidence for Darwinian evolution, but the vast majority of it is based on an inference that appears to be little more than an assumption:

    - Darwinian evolution infers inheritance where it observes similarity.

    Is this an overly simplistic formulation of the inference? If so, please help me understand it better.

    Has this inference ever been scrutinized the way the ID inference is scrutinized? Has it been rigorously supported as is appropriate for its status as the underpinning inference for Darwinian evolution? Is there an explanatory filter for it that we can use to help walk us through determinations?

  5. Re: #3

    I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head, Ekstasis. Collins is clearly making an arbitrary decision of where to stop being a naturalist.

  6. well, my mother bought me a copy of The Language of God- I haven’t read it yet- though i will- but it seemed to me that the author was pro intelligent design just toed the political line that “evolution is a fact etc etc…

    The book is obviously about the reconcilement between faith and science- I hope it has some good points, information and perspectives but I think that ultimately Collins is victimized by his own POLITCAL bias.

  7. Right on Ekstasis!

    Besides, isn’t his Moral Law from the Divine Source a god-of-the-Gaps itself?

    Me thinks these guys, though one mustn’t doubt their sincerity, are more dangerous than Dawkins. Dawkins rightly proclaims that Darwinism is atheism—they loudly extol this “scientific atheism” as other than what it is and thus lull the crowd into a dangerous complacency.

    I’ve wondered—would a Collins “Theistic Evolution” approach where Darwin explains everything up to when the deity endowed Adam with a moral disposition be OK with the Vatican? If so then I believe we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

  8. Rude says, “Me thinks these guys, though one mustn’t doubt their sincerity, are more dangerous than Dawkins.”

    I agree. The ordinary man can easily see that pure materialism is a ridiculously lame philosophy — obviously missing some very key components. But a muddy mixture of materialism, design, and bad theology is much harder to clear up.

    That’s one of the main reasons why I’m against this “design with an unknown designer” approach that we see promoted so often, even on this very site. I fear that after we’ve cast out the unclean spirit of materialism, he’ll return to his former abode — now swept and garnished — and take up residence with seven spirits more wicked than himself. And our last state will be worse than the first, Luke 11:24-26.

    The correct approach is to start with Theology — the Study of God and His Works — as the only proper object of man’s intellectual musings, and to place all of the various scientific specialties beneath, and in service to, that very general pursuit.

  9. Gerry Rzeppa agrees in regard to muddled theology and its rejection of ID, which is good, but I’m afraid I have to disagree with him in regard to ID not getting into theology. Everyone is free to do theology and reason further from design detection—but I think it very wise to

    1) not claim that design detection is something more than detecting design, and

    2) let the philosophers and theologians and mavericks like me go from there.

    Thus ID is not an all comprehensive battle ground between Christians and Jews and Muslims and others who might subscribe to design. The claim is NOT that that argument lies outside science (whatever that would mean), its just that design detection shouldn’t be confused with arguments over the age of the earth, the Trinity, or the status of Mohammed.

  10. Rude says, “…design detection shouldn’t be confused with arguments over the age of the earth, the Trinity, or the status of Mohammed.”

    Obviously not. But I’m persuaded that “design detection” is not an entirely “scientific” undertaking. A great deal of design detection is intuitive; built-in; something we recognize rather than reason our way to. And what we believe theologically will influence our ability to detect design.

    As a believer in a triune God, for example, I can readily see design in time (past, present, future), space (length, width, depth), and the normal modes of matter (solid, liquid, gas) — all the same, yet all different. A non-believer, because of his non-belief is typically unable to detect design in ANYTHING!

    Our beliefs, in great part, determine what we can — and can’t — see.

  11. 11
    sagebrush gardener

    …“design detection” is not an entirely “scientific” undertaking. A great deal of design detection is intuitive…

    But isn’t intuition just a name for reasoning that has become so ingrained as to be beneath our conscious awareness? One thing that ID is attempting to do is to somehow quantify the factors that may subconsciously influence our intuitive detection of design. As a computer programmer I sometimes have little more than a user’s intuitive understanding of a problem to start with and my job is to make the logic behind the problem explicit. Gil Dodgen’s checkers program comes to mind as a good example of this.

  12. “To assume this one theory can discredit science would be analogous to saying that a single bogus ID theory could discredit theology.”

    The problem is that many prominent scientists have spent their entire careers treating evolution as if it were “the” theory of science and on par in evidence with the round earth. This isn’t just this round of scientists – this has been going on for over 100 years.

    It’s hard to then go back and say “oops – that thing I told you was the foundation of science – well, we were wrong about that. But please continue funding all of the other ideas we have, because we are sure at least one of those might be true.”

    The problem is that the materialists put the entire reputation of science onto evolution. Therefore, in the minds of many, the discrediting of evolution will in fact be the discrediting of science itself.

  13. Excellent point, Mr. Dembski. I was on a Darwinian blog just last night and made the same observation; what arguments evolutionists use to support their “theory” are thrown under the bus when someone else uses them and shows that the claims of evolution hold no water. It would be one thing if they challenged the conclusions head on, but they trash the logic and rationality instead and thereby discredit their own ideas.

    And these guys are supposed to be smart!?

    “Professing themselves to be wise … ”

  14. Quick off topic: I just did a quick blog on Genetic privacy. I’d be interested to read what some of the UD contributors think.

  15. sagebrush gardener asks, “Isn’t intuition just a name for reasoning that has become so ingrained as to be beneath our conscious awareness?”

    I don’t think so. The human brain is capable of all kinds of things besides mere reasoning. And I think, perhaps, you’ve got it backward. Take riding a bike, for example. Intuition tells us when we’re going too fast or leaning too far, but not because we’ve reasoned to those conclusions at an earlier time.

    I understand what you mean by the process of formalizing “a user’s intuitive understanding of a problem” — I’m a programmer myself. In fact, I’ve done a great deal of work informalizing the way computers understand natural language (see http://www.osmosian.com or write me directly for details). But I’m persuaded that logic alone will never produce a human-like intelligence, and I’m almost certain there’s more — and more important things — in my own head than logic.

    Michael Polyani makes an interesting statement in this regard: “…an art which has fallen into disuse for the period of a generation is altogether lost… These losses are usually irretrievable. It is pathetic to watch the endless efforts — equipped with microscopy and chemistry, with mathematics and electronics — to reproduce a single violin of the kind the half-literate Stradivarius turned out as a matter of routine more than 200 years ago…”

  16. “The problem is that the materialists put the entire reputation of science onto evolution. Therefore, in the minds of many, the discrediting of evolution will in fact be the discrediting of science itself.”

    This is simply not correct. If evolution falls it will only be because another theory comes along that better explains the evidence. And even then, it would not affect other areas of science such as cosmology, simply because the evidence that affects evolution would not affect cosmology.

  17. Gerry

    Reasoning can be based on experience. Someone learning to ride a bicycle gains experience, often the hard way, about what speeds and angles of lean are safe and which are not. Repeated experience eventually becomes a conditioned response which can also be called a reflex. Steering and braking an automobile becomes a reflex after much experience but it started out as a reasoned response.

  18. Ultimately a “Darwin of the gaps” approach runs a huge risk of simply discrediting science. We must not repeat this mistake in the current era. Darwinism fits into this discouraging tradition, and faces the same ultimate demise.

    Excellent. Another instance of a double standard exposed. The same logic Collins uses to discredit ID discredits Darwinian theory in the same way.

  19. I have not yet met or heard of a theistic evolutionist who can successfully reason his way throught this problem from start to finish. Either they misunderstand or misrepresent ID definitions and arguments, but whatever the failing it always manifests itself as an egregious logical error. How is it possible for scientists to obtain a Ph.D, write books and even become famous while being unable to reason in the abstract?

  20. Collins obviously has no idea what IDT standa for when his book has the signature of the theory written all over it.

  21. Sagebrush: “But isn’t intuition just a name for reasoning that has become so ingrained as to be beneath our conscious awareness?”

    I would agree with Gerry on this. Small children don’t have much ingrained reasoning do they. Yet they also demonstrate the same intuitions of adults in many areas. How do new borns w/o any reasoning at all intuitively know to suckle for example?
    Or what of women’s intuition? Something most married guys know is real.

    How do some people just know someone miles away is in danger? How do people “sense” something wrong in a given situation where there are no environmental clues?

    How many have ever said, “I got a bad feeling about this” and it turns out true? Or have thought, “I don’t know why but I just don’t trust that person” and again you later discover something you were glad to have avoided. Or the “feeling” you are being followed or watched? And it turns out true. Sure watching too many thrillers can get you “imagine” the same thing but it rarely turns out true. And what exactly IS imagination?

    Intuition is not reason based. Otherwise it is no longer intuition at all. But I think intuition can be augmented by experience and the honing of the powers of observation such as police, CIA agents etc. are trained to do.

    Design recognition is both intuitive and trained. We know it when we see it generally, but we need to reason it through specifically to explain it or prove it.
    ————
    At any rate Collins is trying to have it both ways and we all know it will never work because both the ways are diametrically opposed at the root.

  22. StephenB:

    “How is it possible for scientists to obtain a Ph.D, write books and even become famous while being unable to reason in the abstract?”

    I find myself constantly asking the same question – especially with regards to Darwinists/atheists.

    But having gone through university, I realized that anyone with enough money and time, can get a PhD in some subject or another. Having a PhD doesn’t mean being thoroughly rigorous in logic or reasoning. It means being good enough at a particular subject, with enough time and $ to go through the whole process.

    A PhD just means, take computer science (my own domain) for example, that you’ve gone deeper and more specialized in a specific area of informatics. It does not mean you’ve become a superb thinker.

    You get a Bachelors in computer science in general, then you go for a Masters in some specific area say 3D graphics, then you go for a PhD in some very specialized area say 3D interfaces or whatever.

    One may be a genius at one thing and yet unable to think keenly on other topics.

    Just take Collins, he’s an expert with genetics but still can’t see the many logical flaws and glaring contradictions in his metaphysics.

  23. Somewhat off-topic, but.

    Dinesh D’Souza just recently put up an article where he dismisses ID and offers his reasoning. Now, I really like D’Souza, especially considering the job he’s done in debates with the New Atheist bunch. Not sure whether the admins here want to take notice of it, but I thought I should pass it on.

  24. A long discussion of Expelled is at

    http://www.tothesource.org/3_26_2008/3_26_2008.htm

    which is D’Souza’s site. I didn’t see his discussion on ID there. Though Michael Shermer said Expelled was extremely well produced.

  25. As mentioned, brilliant people lose it once they get outside their realm of expertise. And yet, they are the most vulnerable to this very malady because they trust in their brilliance. And worse, people begin looking to them for answers on all sorts of topics.

    How else can you explain the following:

    “I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals.”
    Albert Einstein

    http://www.monthlyreview.org/598einst.htm

    We see this same condition with the Hollywood elite. They actually begin to believe the propoganda of their publicists, and begin running their mouths on all sorts of political and social issues. Care for proof that we should ignore them? Look at their personal lives.

    I suppose the other theory would be a Darwinian one. Since nature is all about tradeoffs, once the brilliant scientists’ brains are acutely attuned and effective in one area, the other areas suffer. Perhaps this gets us into a circular reasoning conondrum. The more they preach Darwinism, the less we should believe it, since clearly they are using the much less developed part of their brains to draw the very conclusion. I don’t trust a tree scientist that is looking at a microcosm of a tree to draw conclusions about the forest, and I don’t trust a narrow specialist to draw conclusions about the process that developed life.

  26. Sagebrush: “But isn’t intuition just a name for reasoning that has become so ingrained as to be beneath our conscious awareness?”

    Charles Peirce would definitely disagree! What you are calling intuition is the least ingrained or habitual of all modes of reasoning. That’s right, a mode of reasoning. One might say that it is the primal mode, the first inference, the anchor of the six modes of hypothesis. Peirce would call it an omen or maybe a hunch; the apprehension of possible significance in the qualitative character of a particular experience. (The notion of intuition as a completely introspective act without benefit of experience, he would deny.)

    Incidentally, the six Peircean modes of hypothetical reasoning are: Omen, Symptom, Analogy, Clue, Diagnosis and Explanation. See Peirce’s essay “Logic as Semiotic” for further elaboration. A word of warning! Peirce is hard!

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