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Traipsing into Theology

In a recent PNAS paper John Avise argued that evolution emancipates “religion from the shackles of theodicy” by getting any god off the hook as the source of seemingly cruel design defects in the human genome. Giving a god credit for the good designs, so the story goes, makes that god responsible for the bad designs too. Defending his opinion in this week’s PNAS letters Avise restates that a “God directly responsible for the many malfunctions that characterize the human genome, would seem to be quite malevolent as well as bumbling”. Believing as he does that “IDers promulgate the notion of an omnipotent and benevolent deity who directly crafts life ex nihilo” and “vehemently oppose any suggestion that God has operated by setting into motion natural evolutionary processes”, he holds that it is a “longstanding pillar of science – that any “god” has (?and must only) act through natural laws.”

Michael Murray and Jeffrey Schloss who are no friends of ID question why “an entirely theological issue and not a scientific one” is suitable for publication in PNAS. Claims that evolution offers “salvation for theology” should not they say, be “made in a journal of scientific research”.

This is an interesting objection from theistic evolutionists who object to the breaching of Gould’s separate magisteria even in an attempt to demolish ID which they believe to be in error.

Avise’s insisting that ID itself makes claims about the nature of the Intelligent Designer is clearly false. Theodicy is a problem for anyone living in this world, not just ID proponents and Avise would be well advised to read Dr Dembski’s “The End of Christianity” before he attempts to speak with authority on theological issues about which he has little understanding.

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29 Responses to Traipsing into Theology

  1. Two questions and answers from an interview with Stephen Meyer published by Biola Magazine (http://magazine.biola.edu/arti.....gent-desi/)

    John Walton, an Old Testament professor at Wheaton College, said this about ID in his recent book on Genesis: “Science is not capable of exploring a designer or his purposes. It could theoretically investigate design but has chosen not to by the parameters it has set for itself. … Therefore, while alleged irreducible complexities and mathematical equations and probabilities can serve as a critique for the reigning paradigm, empirical science would not be able to embrace Intelligent Design because science has placed an intelligent designer outside of its parameters as subject to neither empirical verification nor falsification.” Do you agree with this?

    I think it’s strange that a biblical scholar would weigh in on the definition of science. His definition of science doesn’t work. Science often infers things that can’t be seen based on things that can be seen. Darwinism does that. In physics, we talk about quarks and all sorts of elementary particles. We don’t see those. They’re inferred by things we can see. I don’t think his concept of science comports with the experience of scientists. Direct verification is not a standard that separates science from any other discipline. It’s also a odd thing for a biblical scholar to say, because the biblical witness is that from the things that are made, St. Paul says, the attributes of God are clearly manifest, and one of his attributes is intelligence. So why should it be surprising that if we look at things carefully and reason about their origins, that we would come to the conclusion that a designing intelligence had indeed played a role in their origin?

    What is the most compelling argument that you’ve come across from your opponents? What do you think is the hardest thing to overcome from your position?

    I think one of the strongest challenges to intelligent design has always been the observation of things in nature that are not going well or don’t look like they were intelligently designed. In the book I have a section on pathogens and virulents. There have been these horrific diseases in the history of life — like the plague. People ask me, “Do you really want to say the plague was intelligently designed by God?” And as Christian and a design theorist, of course I don’t want to say that. So there are then three options to respond to this, sometimes called the problem of natural evil. One option is that there really is no evil, natural or otherwise; it’s just that you’ve got random mutations producing things that we like and things that we don’t like. That was essentially the Darwinian view. He was going to let God off the hook by saying essentially that God had nothing to do with it. He didn’t want to make God responsible for evil, so he made God responsible for nothing at all. The other view is that it looks like you’ve got design, but it looks like you’ve got a good designer and a bad designer at the same time. A third view — which I think is more in line with a Christian view of design — is that the world is simply evidence of a good design gone bad.

  2. PNAS? Please spell out next time. I’ll Google.

  3. “People ask me, “Do you really want to say the plague was intelligently designed by God?” And as Christian and a design theorist, of course I don’t want to say that.”

    Question: Would you (and Avise) also not want to say Hell is intelligently designed by God as well? A humans most fundamental assumption ubiquitously arising from a fallen nature is that God “owes” him something, hence we have “trouble” answering such questions as they totally destroys our ego and our (incorrect) image of God and ourselves. Most “christians/religious/”spiritual minded” people” don’t really understand Salvation, the purpose of Creation, what Judgement is and is all about and the soon coming total destruction of this entire universe. You would have some trouble answering regarding “Hell: for example because you probably believe the Bible actually supports an everlasting torture/punishment when in fact it does no such thing other than that the wages of sin is death which is unending nothingness via the 100% free will forfeiture by every human of the inheritance of eternal life but given as the free gift to those He came to take out of this present evil age. Indeed, science can’t approach the light and answer in bold truthfulness nor can any natural man no matter his religion. Yes we have Design AND Purpose – not ours.
    You can complain about suffering, but not be truly humbled by it. Distraction (debate) abounds in this scientific endeavor, in politics, in entertainment etc. Choose your battles carefully or choose the good fight? One good fight of most importance would be a statistical analysis which I would detail to any interested mathematician responding to me at [email protected].
    The dead bury the dead as the angles of light keep shinning.

  4. From the introduction to The End of Christianity:

    “In any case, the crucial question is not the ultimate origin of evil, but whether all evil in the world traces back to humanity and its sin. According to this view, humanity is the gatekeeper through which evil
    passes into the world. In this metaphor, the Fall becomes the failure of the gatekeeper to maintain proper control of the gate. This metaphor works
    regardless of the ultimate source of evil that lies outside the gate (be it something that crashes the gate or suborns the gatekeeper or both).

    Much of my past work has been on intelligent design and the controversy over evolution. Nothing in this book, however, takes sides in that debate. In arguing that the Fall marks the entry of all evil into the world (both personal and natural evil), I make no assumptions about the age of the Earth, the extent of evolution, or the prevalence of design. The theodicy I develop here looks not to science but to the metaphysics of divine action and purpose. At the heart of this theodicy is the idea that the effects of the Fall can be retroactive as well as proactive (much as the
    saving effects of the Cross stretch not only forward in time but also backward, saving, for instance, the Old Testament saints).”

  5. This is just another in a long line of “God wouldn’t have done it that way” arguments. The irony, of course, is that the anti-ID crowd like to claim that they’re all about ‘just science’. Yet, here they come with hidden theological premesis.

    P1: Biological systems are replete with examples of bad or poor design
    P2: God wouldn’t have done it that way

    Conclusion: biological systems are the result of the unintelligent, unguided processes of chance and/or necessity acting over eons of time.

    So, what’s a theological premise doing in what is supposed to be a scientific argument. The late Stephen J. Gould did exactly the same thing in his book The Panda’s Thumb. He begins the book waxing eloquent about how “odd arrangements” and “funny solutions” are just “not the stuff of a wise creator.” Really? How the heck did Gould know that, scientifically? What experiments were conducted to confirm that hypothesis and under what conditions? And, in what peer reviewed scientific journal did Gould publish those results?

    And we haven’t touched on what the term “Poor design” actually is supposed to mean. Poor compared to what standard? If you’re going to claim sub-optimal design as proof that God didn’t dirty His hands with creation, then you need to provide the definition of optimal design, so a fair comparison and contrast can be made. Otherwise its all bluff and bluster!!!

  6. From Michael Behe’s review of God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution by John Haught

    “The first and most important objection is that Haught appears to think intelligent design theory (IDT) holds that God forcibly rearranges nature through “special creation,” or somehow breaks natural laws to introduce design. This seems to be theologically unpalatable to many thoughtful religious believers. Fortunately, it is based on a misconception-intelligent design theory requires no such scenario. IDT simply explains that the design of a system is empirically detectable from its physical attributes, especially, as Dembski points out in The Design Inference, from “specified complexity.” It makes no statement about how the design was effected. Although a number of people associated with the intelligent design movement do favor special creation as an explanation for the design of life, others do not. The only point all hold in common is that biological design is objectively detectable. Personally, I find Haught’s idea that God introduces information into a developing, responding universe to be appealing, and see no reason why it couldn’t be correct. My only addition would be that, like the sentence in Polanyi’s analogy, at least some of that information is empirically detectable.

    A second, related objection is that IDT doesn’t allow for anything truly new, conceiving of the shape of life as a fixed plan in the mind of God. Again, however, that is not required (although some may prefer that scenario). It is perfectly possible, as far as IDT is concerned, that God didn’t have a rigid plan for the universe, and introduced true novelty at many points into a receptive universe without violating any natural law. IDT only asks whether the information is detectable; the manner of its introduction is an interesting-but-separate question.

    A final objection of Haught’s is that “the notion of God as an intelligent designer is inadequate.” I agree entirely. But I don’t know of anyone who does hold that the notion of intelligent designer exhausts the attributes of God. Clearly God is much, much more than just a designer; nonetheless, he is at least that, as Haught himself acknowledges. Certainly God may also be “an inexhaustible and unsettling source of new modes of being.” Such a conception of God fits easily with IDT, because intelligent design theory focuses exclusively on whether design is empirically detectable.”

  7. n a recent PNAS paper John Avise argued that evolution emancipates “religion from the shackles of theodicy” by getting any god off the hook as the source of seemingly cruel design defects in the human genome.

    Two questions:

    Why would religion need to be emancipated from “the shackles of theodicy”?

    Why does God need to be “off the hook”?

    Perhaps God intends for us to struggle with this question.

    Do science have an answer to the problem of evil? If not, then why isn’t there a place for religion to address it?

    I can’t wait for the Avise – Craig debate!

  8. Mung,

    When is it? Link?

  9. There is double hypocrisy here. Besides a theological defense of evolution, ID Critics are allowed once again coveted scientific journal space, whereas ID supporters are not afforded the courtesy of a rebuttal in the same issue. What cowards are these blind atheistic wanderers of creation?

    Rutroooo… watchout, now their is division amongst the theist evolutoinist and the anti-theist evolutionist on how and where it is best to attack the Design beastie.

  10. Ellazimm,

    Your point? Be more specific. Quoting opinions does not change anything about Avise’s mistaken theological argument. Nor does it change ID’s official position.

  11. 11

    DATCG,

    Ella has been here before to distribute snark. He/she/it is simply back, apparently, playing it safe. Rest assured, these quotes have profound meaning to the purpose at hand.

    We shall see. I could be mistaken.

  12. Theodicy is a problem for anyone living in this world …

    Yet, what we might call “anti-theodicy,” that is, “The Problem of Good,” is a problem for only some of us.

    You know who you are.

  13. DonaldM @ 5:
    “This is just another in a long line of “God wouldn’t have done it that way” arguments. The irony, of course, is that the anti-ID crowd like to claim that they’re all about ‘just science’. Yet, here they come with hidden theological premesis.

    P1: Biological systems are replete with examples of bad or poor design
    P2: God wouldn’t have done it that way

    Conclusion: biological systems are the result of the unintelligent, unguided processes of chance and/or necessity acting over eons of time.”

    Donald (and Cornelius if you’re reading this): The real evolutionary argument is aimed at ANY intelligent designer, whether supernatural Being, space alien or somebody’s brother in law. Historically, the only Intelligent Designer anybody has seriously put forth is a supernatural god, so the arguments are often phrased that way but they are aimed at ANY intelligent (and at least semi-benign) designer. You even quote Gould arguing that way:

    ‘He begins the book waxing eloquent about how “odd arrangements” and “funny solutions” are just “not the stuff of a wise creator.”’

    Note that Gould says “Wise creator”, not “God”. The argument works either way.

    You ask, “And we haven’t touched on what the term “Poor design” actually is supposed to mean. Poor compared to what standard?”

    Generally, the standard of human intelligence. If we look at an organism and we can easily see an obvious way to design something that is a lot easier to manufacture or much less prone to break, then we call it a bad design. “Bad” in the case that any half way intelligent human could design it better.

    A good example would be the vagus nerve in the giraffe. In all vertebrates, this nerve goes from the brain, under the aortic loop (part of an artery feeding the heart) and then up to the throat.

    In fish, which don’t have necks, this is a straight line. In humans (and other mammals), who have necks, the nerve has to dive down to the heart, then climb back up to the throat. Kind of dumb – the nerve is much longer than it has to be.

    In the giraffe, the design is just plain stupid. The vagus nerve starts at the brain, goes all the way down the neck, loops around the aortic loop and then goes all the way back up to the throat. This is a total length of 15 feet when it could have been less than a foot if the nerve went directly to the throat.

    I call that dumb design because I, a mere human, can see a blindingly obvious way to make it simpler to build and more efficent. I don’t think any intelligent designer would do it that way, be he God or space alien.

    On the other hand, I can easily see unintelligent evolution getting “stuck” with that vital nerve looping around that vital artery and having to make the vagus nerve longer and longer until it ends up with 14 feet of extra nerve.

  14. Ilion @ 12: “The Problem of Good,” is a problem for only some of us.

    It’s not a problem for evolution. We’re social animals and we get tremendous benefits from living in groups. We (and all other social animals) have evolved an elementary morality that helps us work together without tearing each other’s throats out.

    The benefits to social living are so tremendous (ranging from the mutual protection of groups to just about everything you can see around you, almost all of which was made by other humans and which no single human could ever duplicate in one lifetime) that it makes social living and the morality that goes along with it the biggest bargain in existence.

    Evolution has no problem with evil either. You get an immediate benefit if you hit a member of your group over the head and steal his food, so there’s constant temptation. Nobody wants to get hit over the head or have their food stolen, so we call such behavior evil.

    Our morals have also evolved to make us angry enough to punish people who help themselves at the group’s expense because such behavior reliably destroys the group if you let it get out of hand. Hence justice.

  15. Oh my. Not the Dawkins vagus nerve meme again.

    Let’s give the poor fellow the benefit of the doubt. He is, after all, an evolutionary biologist, not a physician. The vagus nerve is crucial to life function. It regulates heart rate, bronchomotor tone, and perspiration, to name just a few vital functions.

    The way it accomplishes these tasks is interesting, to say the least. Stimulation of the vagus nerve leads to the release of neurotransmitters that dock selectively on target organs to achieve the desired (and desirable) effect. There’s even an auto-feedback system to prevent over-stimulation under normal conditions.

    The parasympathetic nervous system is complex because it includes separate necessary parts. The vagus nerve must exist and be capable of responding to external stimuli. It must secrete neurotransmitters. There must be highly selective docking stations on the target organs to receive those neurotransmitters. And docking must lead to a specific result.

    More, the parasympathetic nervous system works in a complementary way with the sympathetic nervous system. Neither one can produce the desired outcome of its own accord, for instance in the heart and lungs. Both are complex in themselves, and in combination they add an extra layer of complexity and redundancy to living systems.

    Note also the parsimony of the vagus nerve as an engineering solution. One single nerve facilitates smooth, instantaneous autoregulation of functions as diverse as bronchial muscle constriction and glandular release of fluids. If we saw such a solution in something made by men, we would wonder at its elegance and forethought. When we see it in nature, we act like it is nothing at all.

  16. My point exactly – all these posts are much like talking about the weather being that a much greater discussion and discovery is at hand. OH how we get caught up in what we are caught up in and OH how distraction from the urgency and Command to “pay attention”. Don’t misunderstand – I enjoy these posts – the science and the debate, but my interest has been captured by things of far greater weight and inspiration.

  17. warehuff

    Donald (and Cornelius if you’re reading this): The real evolutionary argument is aimed at ANY intelligent designer, whether supernatural Being, space alien or somebody’s brother in law. Historically, the only Intelligent Designer anybody has seriously put forth is a supernatural god, so the arguments are often phrased that way but they are aimed at ANY intelligent (and at least semi-benign) designer.

    That’s not quite correct. Even Dawkins is willing to consider the possibility of alien design, as long as those aliens came about via Darwinian evolution. Secondly, even if the arguments are meant to eliminate a supernatural designer (ie the judeo-Christian God), that doesn’t explain what a theological premise is doing in what is supposed to be a purely scientific argument…and that is the point I was making. If Gould et.al. want to eliminate any possibility of a supernatural designer, so be it. What neither Gould nor anyone else has ever done, however, is demonstrate scientifically how they know what God would or would not have done. Appealing to some notion of sub-optimal design on the basis of knowing what a “wise creator” would have done assumes prior knowledge of said “wise creator’s” intents, purposes and plan. Where did that information come from?

    Warehuff now wants to make the case that we mere humans can imagine better designs than we observe in nature and uses the example of the vagus nerve in the giraffe as “bad design”. Warehuff writes:

    I call that dumb design because I, a mere human, can see a blindingly obvious way to make it simpler to build and more efficent. I don’t think any intelligent designer would do it that way, be he God or space alien.

    On the other hand, I can easily see unintelligent evolution getting “stuck” with that vital nerve looping around that vital artery and having to make the vagus nerve longer and longer until it ends up with 14 feet of extra nerve.

    The assumption here again is that there is prior knowledge of the aforementioned “wise creator’s” intentions, plans and purposes. Furthermore, there is no way to test out these imagined “improvements” in biological systems. Even if you were somehow able to realize and install a different type of vagus nerve in the giraffe, how do you know there wouldn’t be a deficit produced somewhere else in the system? With no way to test these imagined design “improvements”, there is no way to state with any confidence that what is there is sub-optimal, because we simply do not know what optimal really is.

  18. Warehuff:[silly typical handwaving and Just-So Story, including confusing "evolution" (whatever that is) with evolutionism]

    Evolutionism “has no problem with evil” because evolutionism denies that there even are such things as good and evil … until, of course, it’s time to beat up on God for allowing evil to exist.

  19. DonaldM: “Appealing to some notion of sub-optimal design on the basis of knowing what a “wise creator” would have done assumes prior knowledge of said “wise creator’s” intents, purposes and plan. Where did that information come from?”

    When you tell us the designer is intelligent, you are giving us information about that designer: he has the property of being intelligent. Intelligence is hard to define, but everybody agrees that humans have it, so an Intelligent Designer also has it. Any human can look at the layout of the recurrent laryngeal nerve and immediately see a better way to route it. Since the claimed designer didn’t do that, we have cause to doubt either the designer’s intelligence or its existence.

    This is not a theological argument because we’re addressing the secular manifestation of the alleged designer’s intelligence, not the designer’s supernatural capabilities. In other words, HOW a supernatural being got to be smart is a theological question that science can’t answer, but WHETHER the designer is smart is a question we can answer by observations.

    Judging by what we observe, life on earth seems to have been “designed” by something non-intelligent.

    The reason God keeps getting named as the designer is because He’s the only alternative to evolution that anybody realistically supports. Science can make observations of the claimed designer’s designs and infer the designer’s intelligence from them and the results do not support even human-level intelligence.

  20. allanius, my mistake. The nerve we’re talking about is only a part of the vagus nerve and its proper name is “recurrent laryngeal nerve. My argument doesn’t concern its properties, just its routing, which is pretty obviously non-intelligently designed.

  21. @illion

    -”Evolutionism “has no problem with evil” because evolutionism denies that there even are such things as good and evil … until, of course, it’s time to beat up on God for allowing evil to exist.”

    Or when they want to remind everyone of all the “evils” of other religions, while conveniently forgetting how the trifecta of atheism/materialism/nihilism lead to 100 million deaths during the 20th century.

  22. DonaldM,

    We are told that ID is based on recognising design in nature. And we recognise it because we ourselves create designed things. Engineers seem to feature quite heavily here, because they know when something is designed and when it isn’t.

    But then having recognised design based on this premise you want to throw your hands up and refuse to comment on whether it is good or bad design.

    To me that seems inconsistent. You use one standard to recognise the design but then refuse to apply that standard to say whether the design is good or bad. Then you get into slightly ludicrous territory trying to speculate that there must be a good reason why a nerve doesn’t go directly between two points.

  23. above, you mean daily double, not trifecta. Hitler was raised Catholic, went to Catholic schools, was an altar boy and wanted to be a priest at one time.

    By adulthood, however, he had turned against the Catholic church, regarding it as a foreign controlled organization.

    Hitler developed a deep appreciation of Martin Luther, Originator of Protestantism, 100% German and a Jew hater, just like him. (Google “On the Jews and Their Lies” for a sample of Luther on Jews.)

    Let’s not forget that Germany was also a Christian country and home of Protestantism. Almost all of the soldiers who enthusiastically did Hitler’s bidding were Christians and they even wore belt buckles that said, “God With Us” if there were any doubters.

    You also missed the first of the mass murderers, a Chinese man named Hong Xiuquan. He led the Taiping Rebellion, a 14 year civil war that led to about 20 million deaths. He was not only a Christian, he thought he was Christ, returned to earth to bring justice.

    I’d also like to point out that Mao and Stalin’s atheism had nothing to do with their murders, which were political and military in nature, but Hitler’s hatred of Jews was religiously based. Christianity split off from Judiasm in the first century, with enduring rancor between Christianity and Judiasm that lasts until this day.

  24. Warehuff:

    Much of Nazism was precisely driven by the great German apostasy premised on elightenment rationalism, empiricism and idealism, then Darwinism as it developed and spread across Germany through the work of Haeckel and those who followed him. It also drew on the occultism that rose in the aftermath of the general discredit that was heaped on the Gospel and the Bible through selective hyperskepticism, so triumphant by the 1840′s that Marx began his remarks on Fuerbach by saying that he criticism of religion in Germany was essentially over.

    The warnings on its consequences by Heine et al proved all too prophetically apt. Heine, 1831:

    Christianity — and that is its greatest merit — has somewhat mitigated that brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered [the Swastika, visually, is a twisted, broken cross . . .], the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. …

    The old stone gods will then rise from long ruins and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and Thor will leap to life with his giant hammer and smash the Gothic cathedrals. …

    … Do not smile at my advice — the advice of a dreamer who warns you against Kantians, Fichteans, and philosophers of nature. Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible as has taken place in the spiritual. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder … comes rolling somewhat slowly, but … its crash … will be unlike anything before in the history of the world. …

    At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in farthest Africa will draw in their tails and slink away. … A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll. [Religion and Philosophy in Germany, 1831. HT: Commenter, Tribune7 at UD.]

    Hitler drew on the streams of apostasy and arrogantly selective hyperskepticism, and his antisemitism is not simply Lutheranism or Luther in a brown shirt; a false impression and attempted turnabout accusation too often communicated nowadays by those who would shamelessly indict the Christian faith as a whole for the holocaust.

    Neatly forgetting Darwin’s legacy in Descent of Man chs 5 – 7, esp 6:

    Man is liable to numerous, slight, and diversified variations, which are induced by the same general causes, are governed and transmitted in accordance with the same general laws, as in the lower animals. Man has multiplied so rapidly, that he has necessarily been exposed to struggle for existence, and consequently to natural selection. He has given rise to many races, some of which differ so much from each other, that they have often been ranked by naturalists as distinct species . . . .

    At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

    Saint Charles’ halo is a bit tarnished.

    Here is Hitler in Mein Kampf bk 1 Ch X:

    Any crossing of two beings not at exactly the same level produces a medium between the level of the two parents . . . Consequently, it will later succumb in the struggle against the higher level. Such mating is contrary to the will of Nature for a higher breeding of all life . . . The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel, but he after all is only a weak and limited man; for if this law did not prevail, any conceivable higher development of organic living beings would be unthinkable.

    The consequence of this racial purity, universally valid in Nature, is not only the sharp outward delimitation of the various races, but their uniform character in themselves. The fox is always a fox, the goose a goose, the tiger a tiger, etc., and the difference can lie at most in the varying measure of force, strength, intelligence, dexterity, endurance, etc., of the individual specimens. But you will never find a fox who in his inner attitude might, for example, show humanitarian tendencies toward geese, as similarly there is no cat with a friendly inclination toward mice . . . .

    In the struggle for daily bread all those who are weak and sickly or less determined succumb, while the struggle of the males for the female grants the right or opportunity to propagate only to the healthiest. [That is, Darwinian sexual selection.] And struggle is always a means for improving a species’ health and power of resistance and, therefore, a cause of its higher development.

    If the process were different, all further and higher development would cease and the opposite would occur. For, since the inferior always predominates numerically over the best [NB: this is a theme in Darwin's discussion of the Irish, the Scots and the English in Descent], if both had the same possibility of preserving life and propagating, the inferior would multiply so much more rapidly that in the end the best would inevitably be driven into the background, unless a correction of this state of affairs were undertaken. Nature does just this by subjecting the weaker part to such severe living conditions that by them alone the number is limited, and by not permitting the remainder to increase promiscuously, but making a new and ruthless choice according to strength and health . . .

    Not much wiggle room there.

    DM is correct in his summary that specifically atheistical regimes in the past century, premised on evolutionary materialism in various forms [which rose to prominence in our time through Darwin] have been responsible for well over 100 million democide based deaths through preying on their own populations. That can be seen by simply counting up the toll of the Russian and Chinese Communist revolutions, plus a few others, without counting say the American Abortion holocaust, now at 50 mn or so and mounting at a 9/11 or so a day.

    GEM of TKI

  25. Here is how Dawkins descibes the recurrent laryngeal nerve: “The nerve starts in the head, with the brain, and the end organ is the larynx, the voice box. But instead of going straight there it goes looping past the voice box…No intelligent designer would ever have done that.”

    Let’s parse.

    “The nerve starts in the head.” No, it doesn’t. The recurrent laryngeal nerve is a branch of the vagus nerve arising at the aorta. Most organs served by the vagus nerve are served by branches of the nerve. This enables the designer to use one main nerve to serve many organs, much as a plumber would design a home plumbing system to economize on pipes.

    “The end organ is the larynx.” No, it isn’t. Several “end organs” are served by the recurrent laryngeal nerve, in spite of its name, including the esophagus, trachea and pharynx. Indeed, the RLN arises from the aorta because it supplies parasympathetic innervation to the heart, the first stop on the branch. Probably even chatty Richard would agree that parasympathetic regulation of the heart rate is more vital than the ability to speak.

    “Instead of going straight there…” Don’t fret, Richard. The superior laryngeal nerve does go straight there. It too is a vagal branch. The larynx is innervated from two vagal sources, just one of countless examples of beneficial redundancies in the body. In fact the larynx is quite capable of functioning without the RLN, albeit somewhat gruffly.

    Personally, we are rather fond of the RLN and its aortal route to the voice box. Gives new meaning to the expression “speaking from the heart”…

  26. Allanius: You’re a bit confused on the “RLN”. Here’s Dawkins from “The Greatest Show on Earth”: (thanks to books.google.com)

    “One of the cranial nerves, the vagus (the name means ‘wandering’ and it is apt), has various branches, two of which go to the heart, and two on each side to the larynx (voice box in mammals). On each side of the neck, one of the branches of the laryngeal nerve goes straight to the larynx, following a direct route such as a designer might have chosen. The other one goes to the larynx via an astonishing detour. It dives right down into the chest, loops around one of the main arteries leaving the heart (a different artery on the left and right sides, but the principle is the same), and then heads back up the neck to its destination.”

    So we have four nerves leaving the brain for the larynx. Two connect directly to the larynx on each side of the neck, but one of each pair takes a long detour down into the chest before heading back up to the neck and eventually reaching the larynx.

    Dawkins then goes into a couple of pages explaining how this all happened, as some fish gradually lost their gills and evolved into animals with necks, changing their anatomy greatly in the process. This dragged two of the poor RLNs, which happened to pass on the wrong side of major blood vessels, around Robin Hood’s Barn in the process while keeping their connections to the brain and the larynx throughout.

    You make as good a defense of the RLN as I’ve ever heard, but you can’t get past the fact that some nerves from the mammalian brain go directly to the larynx while their otherwise identical twins have to go all the way down to the heart, passing the larynx as they travel down and then they have to go all the way back up the neck before finally connecting to the larynx which was their destination all along.

    So, there’s no doubt that a direct path is possible – two nerves actually take the direct route. An intelligent designer could easily have made the other two nerves take the direct route instead of sending looping them around the heart.

    But an unintelligent designer, such as evolution, can’t do that. It has no way of “unhooking” the nerve from the brain or larynx, routing it directly, and reattaching it, so it’s forced to take the long, unintelligent route instead.

  27. My bad! I responded to an off-topic comment by “above” and now the thread is threatening to split into a discussion of Hitler, Darwin’s alleged racism and maybe abortion.

    I would just love to discuss them all, but it’s bad netiquette to explode a thread into four different topics. If anybody with posting privileges would be so kind as to start a thread on any or all of those three topics, please do so. I strongly disagree with just about everything KF has written above and I’d love to respond.

  28. I’ll also be happy to move to a different web site if necessary.

  29. Hopefully to get back to the question of theology . . . I was just relistening to an excellent interview with Dr Behe on Point of Inquiry done by DJ Grothe in 2007 (http://www.pointofinquiry.org/.....evolution/). I say excellent because I think Dr Behe is treated respectfully and makes his points very well and I recommend everyone to have a listen. It solidified some ID points in my head.

    At the end of the interview Dr Behe explains the presence of malaria as being part of God’s plan . . . sort of. Listen and see what you think. But it brought up another question in my mind:

    In public at least most ID proponents shy away from too much discussion of the designer or the designer’s methods, timing and motives. But most Christians are very happy to argue ad infinitum about other aspects of God’s history. I don’t think I will ever understand the Holy Trinity or why God chose to brutally murder his son. (Even though he did come back to life, if he wanted to forgive mankind its sins why not just forgive them?) My point is NOT to discuss those things here but to point out that there is no injunction against discussing those actions ascribed to God . . . why not talk about his possible reasons for designing Malaria or the laryngial nerve or men’s nipples or the remnants of legs inside of whales or wings on flightless birds or the inverted retinal cells or men’s prostates or marsupials or why not give humans a different genetic code so they had a harder time picking up viruses from animals or . . . lots of other stuff.

    I’m not trying to get at anyone, I’m just trying to understand the reasons for talking about one and not the other.

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