Real vs. Fake

About a year or so ago, I attended a “Science and Faith” symposium at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington. All of the panel members, representing five or six  different religious faiths, were quite clear that they supported all of the tenets of evolutionary biology. When a question was asked (by a member of the largely atheistic audience) how they could support the notion of Imago Dei when “science” has shown that human beings are merely another species in an unbroken line of primate evolution, the Protestant minister on the panel answered that  “created in the image of God” should probably  not be restricted to human beings but reinterpreted to mean all living creatures.

I scanned the other panelists (including a Catholic priest, and a prominent member of ASA) for any sign of the shock that I felt at hearing this, and saw none. It was a revelatory moment. Many of us here have wondered aloud (meaning in print) exactly what kind of theology theistic evolution holds when it comes to the manner by which (or even if) God works in the world. I sometimes worry (as I did that evening) that there tends to be a sense of retreat, among some TEs, from basic Christian beliefs in the face of an advancing “Science”. The problem is that in most cases it isn’t science that’s advancing, but scientism that is being advanced.

There is no scientific basis for the concept that human beings are merely another species in the evolution of primates. The scientific evidence to the contrary is so vast, and so obvious that it’s impossible to relate. The best I could is say that a similar panel session of highly educated academic Orangutans or even Chimps has not, to my knowledge, ever considered the issue.

On another occasion I was astonished to hear a very prominent biologist claim that DNA is not really an informational molecule, in an attempt to discredit ID. I am not fond of ID myself, but DNA is an informational molecule, and saying it isn’t for the sake of ideological correctness is just wrong.

My point is simple. Yes, let us indeed struggle to interpret Biblical text and Christian theology in the context of scientific knowledge, but in doing so, I plead that we be certain we are speaking of real science, and not the claptrap we are fed from self-appointed, largely militant atheist preachers of fake science, such as evolutionary psychology.

The good news is that if we are careful and rigorous, we will find that our task is not as difficult as some would have us believe. Because God did in fact create the world, and does in fact continue to guide the evolutionary and creative process, as He continues to guide each of us, so the evidence of His work is there to be discovered. I suggest boldness rather than retreat.  Science is not to be feared but revered: it is the method God has given us to uncover His mysterious world. And let’s never forget that the knowledge we have gained of this world, by His grace, includes not only the laws of motion, mechanics, and physiology, but the impenetrable mysteries of quantum mechanics, the observer effect, Godel’s theorem, fractals, the uncertainty principle and photosynthesis,  to name a few. Real science is totally consonant with God’s impenetrable glory and majesty. Real science points us to the Creator, and not away from Him. Real science is a boon and an aid to real theology, and we must not make the mistake of rejecting the reality of God’s words and works for the sake of trying to accommodate any science that isn’t real.

I will close with a Jewish folk tale. A poor old couple, who had no food and no money arrived home on the Sabbath to find a table magically spread with golden plates piled with food and silver goblets of wine. The woman told her husband to touch nothing. “This is the work of Satan”, she said. They went to consult the Rabbi, who told them. “It may be the work of Satan, or it may be a miracle from God”.

“But how can we tell, Rabbi?”

“Taste the wine, and try some of the food. If it’s real, and its good, then it’s a miracle of God, for all things that are real in this world are from God, while Satan makes only falsehoods.” Amen.

Sy Garte

About Sy Garte

Dr Sy Garte earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the City University of New York, where he also holds a bachelor’s of science degree in chemistry. In addition to publishing more than 200 scientific publications in genetics, epidemiology, the environment and other areas, Dr. Garte is the author of Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the Real State of Our Planet (Amacom) and Genetic Susceptibility to Environmental Carcinogenesis (Kluwer) and is co-editor of Molecular Epidemiology of Chronic Diseases (Wiley).
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24 Responses to Real vs. Fake

  1. Merv Bitikofer Merv says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience there, Sy.
    Regarding the apparent “consent” by silence from other Christians in the panel, I can easily imagine that some may have been sitting there with serious cognitive dissonance but felt it wasn’t the venue to interrupt with internal disagreements or squabbles among themselves if they were on a mission to present a “united front” to an audience perceived as largely hostile. Of course, the Protestant minister shouldn’t have presumed to be speaking for all Protestants (much less everyone else there) on such a doctrine even with speculative qualifiers. But since he (or she) did so, the others may have just been biting their tongues. How many of us have felt that way or kept silent in similar situations where we’ve joined ourselves with a representative group?

    • Sy Garte Sy Garte says:

      Merv

      Im sure you’re right. In fact that was exactly the impression I got when I spoke to the priest later. I will admit the story (while true) is somewhat apocryphal, but it does serve to illustrate a general problem that many evangelicals often face when confronted, often in an aggressive manner with phrase “but science says….” The truth is, science actually “says” a lot less than many non scientists have been led to believe.

  2. Lou Jost says:

    Sy, I came looking for the environmental post mentioned on BioLogos but found this instead. Can’t help but comment.

    You said
    “There is no scientific basis for the concept that human beings are merely another species in the evolution of primates. The scientific evidence to the contrary is so vast, and so obvious that it’s impossible to relate.”
    I don’t know what you mean by “merely”, but the evidence is clear that humans (with their intelligence, and their culture, and all that makes them so special in your view) evolved gradually from primates. There was no moment when man suddenly became intelligent. I’m sure you know this and agree with it, so I am not really sure what you are saying here.

    You also say “God did in fact create the world, and does in fact continue to guide the evolutionary and creative process, as He continues to guide each of us, so the evidence of His work is there to be discovered. I suggest boldness rather than retreat.” All these claims are without evidence and are rejected by most scientists While science can never absolutely prove that gods aren’t subtly tinkering with us now and then, there is no evidence that they do or did, and lots of evidence against it, at least if you make your god concept definite enough to support some predictions about why or how these gods would tinker. But sure, be bolder rather than retreat. Make your position concrete enough that it is capable of being falsified. Make some bold predictions about the fossil record, or about biogeography, or about our genome, and test it. That’s how “real science” is done.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Lou, welcome to the Hump. I should explain that our agenda is different from that of BioLogos: I guess part, at least, of their raison d’etre is to show the respectability of “evolutionary creation” to the secular scientific community. Ours is primarily providing a service to the Christian community, so personally I’m not over-keen on perpetuating the scientic atheist/scientific theist debates that raise the temperature on other websites. We are, in some respects, conscientious objectors in the culture wars on this blog, if sometimes combatants on other sites. It’s the equivalent of debating vegans on a meat-cookery website.

      That’s not to say we won’t answer, but we might just have a rather short attention span. In this case I want to amplify what was said on BioLogos in reply to your claims about divine oversight being “rejected by most scientists”, as if the best scientists had applied their expertise seriously and appropriately to the matter. It’s just naive, except for those who’ve never had any experience of scientists talking about religion..

      Mike Gene (another BioLogos alumnus, incidentally) has extracted the actual reasons given by leading unbelieving academics for their unbelief here , and they are shown to be the same tired and unsophisticated prejudices one gets from Joe down at the pub.

      • Lou Jost says:

        Thanks for the welcome, Jon. I was just looking for Sy’s environmental comment, as he had mentioned it on BioLogos, but I could not keep from commenting on Sy’s statements about evolution. My statement is correct that most scientists reject the evidence that god guides evolution. The evidence for guidance is poor and has often been rebutted in detail. I do not claim that this proves god does not exist. But I do claim that Sy here seriously misrepresents the state of the evidence in favor of god guiding evolution.

      • Hanan says:

        >In this case I want to amplify what was said on BioLogos in reply to your claims about divine oversight being “rejected by most scientists”, as if the best scientists had applied their expertise seriously and appropriately to the matter.

        Where was this?

        • Lou Jost says:

          For example, see Joe Felsenstein’s rebuttals of Dembski’s claims that evolution had to be guided:
          http://ncse.com/rncse/27/3-4/has-natural-selection-been-refuted-arguments-william-dembski

          Joe is one of the developers of modern population genetic theory, perhaps the top population geneticist alive today.

          Other prominent proponents of divine guidance are Behe and Meyer. Behe makes fundamental mistakes about population genetics and has been widely refuted. Meyer’s recent book has also been widely criticized.

          One of the scientists often mentioned by the ID movement in support of their view, James Shapiro, said this to Gauger and Axe in response to their claim that divine guidance is needed to explain the evolution of novel proteins:
          “I suggest you review this literature to see that well-documented natural processes are more than adequate to explain how protein evolution for new functionalities can occur in a purely natural and combinatorial fashion.”
          http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/01/a_response_to_a055351.html

          • Hanan says:

            To be fair Lou, ID proponents have never said James Shapiro supports their view of ID. What they bring up (from what I understand) is his stance against neo-darwinism.

            • Lou Jost says:

              Agreed. I cited him because IDers think of him as not a Darwinist (whatever that really means). He has no axe to grind, and this is his field of expertise, so maybe people here will be more willing to consider his assessment.

        • Hanan says:

          Jon,

          What I meant was, can you direct me to what Biologos said in their reply?

          • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

            Hi Hanan – forgot to welcome you (I don’t get replies to Sy’s post e-mailed to me).

            In that phrase I was actually referring to Sy’s reply (and if I remember, some posts of mine) at BioLogos, not to any official pronouncement of theirs. As you know many of their pieces are rather coy about the whole subject of teleology, leaving their rotweiler Melanogaster to silence dissent.

            You’re right about James Shapiro’s position. In fact, having read quite a lot of his blogs, and some of his papers as well as his book (twice!) I feel he places himself at more of a distance from the “Darwinian” tag than Lou admits.

            I don’t think that’s hugely significant, as he would be the first to say that it’s theories and data, not labels, that count. There are others just as “radical” as he who for whatever reasons count themselves within the Modern Synthesis. Psychological and social factors apply, as much as anything. But for his party-loyalty, see here.

            He expresses overt support for ID in its recognition of teleology and its critique of Neodarwinian mechanisms, but Lou is right that he rejects the need for external teleology. However, three things I’d remark:
            (a) If it’s difficult or impossible to distinguish Neodarwinian undirected mutations from Shapiro’s internally-directed mutations, then it’s doubly hard to distinguish mutations directed by internal mechanisms from those directed by an external agent like God.
            (b) What we’re primarily interested in at The Hump is not a God-of-the-Gaps argument (and to be fair, neither is the best ID), but how God gets the results he wants. If the dice turn out to be loaded to make protein evolution easy, that’s how he did it, not evidence that he didn’t… and particularly you have to account for our being in the kind of universe where the dice are so loaded, given the combinatorial problem.

            Furthermore if there is internal teleology, as Shapiro believes, that in itself is an argument in favour of preceding divine teleology, which is why militant materialists like Coyne attack Shapiro so fierecely.
            (c) Shapiro is at his weakest, I think, in two areas. The biggest is his failure to consider how his sophisticated “supra-Darwinian” natural genetic engineering evolutionary system itself evolved. Undirected processes, he says, are insufficient to account for evolution, but are sufficient to account for the evolution of self-directed evolution. That’s rather contradictory, in my book.

            But also he makes assumptions about the transferability of “modular” protein domains that other experimental research I’ve read appears to refute soundly. In other words, he envisages some mechanism by which organisms sort and recombine useful protein modules to produce potential new functions – that, I think, is what he was addressing to Gauger. But there is evidence that tertiary structure is messed up when you do that. And there is also the embarrassment of many unique “singleton” proteins occurring in every species yet sequenced. The biggest single category of proteins are entirely new folds, extreme rarities in sequence-space, that evolution keeps churning out rather than adapting the old models. That’s odd.

            In this, it seems to me he’s actually behind Ann Gauger in his thinking.

            • Lou Jost says:

              “…If there is internal teleology, as Shapiro believes, that in itself is an argument in favour of preceding divine teleology, which is why militant materialists like Coyne attack Shapiro so fierecely..”

              The mutation rate, and other processes that alter a gene, are partly under an organism’s control. The control mechanisms must themselves be subject to natural selection. There is no problem for materialism if, under some conditions (like stress), the organism relaxes its control mechanisms to increase mutability or reshuffling in some genes (for example genes involved in the immune system). This ability would evolve by natural selection if it produced more fit offspring than constantly-tight control mechanisms did. If someone wanted to call this process “teleological”, I guess they could, but a materialist would have no problem with it. It does not suggest divine intervention.

              Some other kinds of teleology(such as those requiring foresight about future conditions) would indeed give us materialists problems.

            • Lou Jost says:

              “…there is also the embarrassment of many unique “singleton” proteins occurring in every species yet sequenced.” These orphan genes are discussed by Dennis Venema and Kirk Durston in an old BioLogos comment thread (which miraculously is still up!):
              http://biologos.org/blog/behe-lenski-and-the-edge-of-evolution-part-2/P0
              Sadly the debate didn’t continue long enough to clear up the issue, but it is still interesting reading.

              It is noteworthy that these orphan genes are quite different from older genes: they are much shorter, and lack introns. They sometimes have non-coding ancestors, so what is new is not their entire sequence but a new ability to code proteins. The ability to code proteins may be produced by relatively small changes in the genome. Whether these new proteins are really functional is often not known, though some are functional.

              In Kirk Durston’s comments, he makes much use of his measure of functional information to suggest that functional proteins are extremely sparse in sequence space. I think his measure is seriously flawed from a mathematical point of view. Maybe I’ll write something about this in the BioLogos comments one day.

  3. Sy Garte Sy Garte says:

    Lou

    I think Jon summed up the purpose of this web site pretty well, and I agree with him that Biologos is probably a better place for the debate you would like to start here, but… I simply find it impossible to not answer you, so with Jon’s kind indulgence, I will, and Im sure we will go one or two more comments before one of us (probably me) decides that enough has been said, and that no more discussion is valuable.

    First, I entirely disagree with your statement that human culture, intelligence, and especially consciousness evolved gradually. There is a great deal of evidence for a rapid and abrupt change in human culture from 70,000 t0 40,000 years ago. I am quite aware that some scholars have “debunked” the Upper Paleolithic Revolution, but I don’t find the debunking very convincing. In fact some of the evidence against what Diamond called the “Great Leap forward” has been contradicted. But, even if the revolution took 150,000 years, rather than one day, or 100 years, it was a revolution. The Homo Sapiens who first appeared in Africa 200,000 years ago did not fish, had no jewelry, used primitive tools, did not travel much, did not use ceremonial burial, probably had very primitive language, if any. By 50,000 years ago, these creatures were people, and began to burst out of Africa, and were as modern as we are. That is not a gradual change. That is a remarkable explosion (remember the Cambrian “Explosion” took several million years) of biological and cultural advance. Does this prove that God endowed Man with His image? No, of course not, but that isn’t my point. My point is that right now and for the past 50,000 years, there is ONE creature on this planet that stands above the rest, only one that can communicate with language the way we are doing, and that is us. Sorry to go against the popular view once again, but human beings are special. (Stay tuned for an article about this coming out soon in the ASA’s journal Perspectives in Science and Chrisitan Faith).

    As for your second point, see my comment to you on the Biologos site. I will summarize it by saying that if you hold the belief (it is an unproven belief) that scientific methodology is the only path to truth, then it is circular reasoning to deny other truth claims based on the notion that they cannot be scientifically proven. I have spent my life doing science, and I will always uphold its value for finding truth, but would never consider that it is the only such path.

    • Lou Jost says:

      Humans are special. But they got that way gradually. Tool use goes back more than a million years. Chimps also use tools, and even the capuchin monkeys who live in my forests here use them. Neandertal man had ceremonial burials too. Cultural evolution can happen much faster than physical evolution, so your time scale of 150000 years for rapid cultural advances is no evidence at all for divine guidance.

      Your claim that consciousness arose suddenly is again something you have no evidence for. Anyone who has lived with a smart dog or cat, or who has spent time observing wild or captive primates, can recognize many of the same emotions and reactions in them as in humans. I cannot prove that they are conscious, any more than I can prove that you are not a robot typing these comments, but the evidence is all on my side of the argument.

      I specifically did not take a position on the claim that scientific methodology is the only way to truth. However, a truth claim made without any evidence except your (or my) say-so is one that should be treated with great caution.

      In your Biologos comment, you seem to advocate checking our critical thinking skills (what you call the “methodology of science” is really just that) at the door when we leave the science building. . Actually, I would guess that you do not really abandon your critical thinking outside the lab; I would guess you do not believe in astrology, and I bet your reasons for that are quite similar to the ones I (and most of the rest of the world) use to reject your Christian beliefs. I bet your arguments against the reality of Mormon truth claims would look very much like the ones I would use.

      Many people insulate their Christian beliefs from this kind of critical thinking, either because they grew up in a Christian culture or because of some personal experience. Yet people from other religions, or from recently-made-up cults, report equally convincing experiences supporting their beliefs, and some of these beliefs strongly contradict Christian “revelations”. This shows that even convincing personal experiences need to be critically evaluated and not accepted naively as alternate routes to truth.

      • Sy Garte Sy Garte says:

        Lou

        I was born into a militant atheist family and didnt come to faith until late in life. It was my scientific training and understanding that smoothed the way for me, and allowed me to accept Christ as my savior and redeemer. I know you might find this unbelieveable, but that is the truth. Now my question to you is, what are you doing here? Most of the “facts” you present are dubious at best. You are simply an antitheist, but a relatively polite one. Do you hope to convince me or anyone else reading this that you are right? Wont happen. Are you trying to convince yourself? I dont know what you are hoping to gain. As Jon quite nicely and patiently explained above, this particular blog is about Christians discussing science and theology, we are all (especially me, see above) very familiar with the atheist arguments you make, and they are, quite bluntly, boring. I dont see anything further that can be gained or learned by continuing this discussion.

        If you are interested in learning more about my views on the environment, my book is available on Amazon pretty cheap. I think its a few dollars for the Kindle edition. It has nothing to do whatever with Christianity or faith, but it is quite full of actual data. You might even learn something from it. All the best.

        • Lou Jost says:

          I came here because you directly invited me (in BioLogos) to read a post you wrote about your environmental science claims (a post which I guess you decided not to put up).

          I responded to this post, and then to your comment above, because I think they contain mistaken and misleading claims about science, and factual errors. In a post on “real and fake” science, these points are important.

          • Sy Garte Sy Garte says:

            Im sorry, but once again your facts are in question. I did not invite you here to read anything. What you are probably referring to is a comment on Biologos from Merv, reproduced below.

            Merv – #83398

            November 3rd 2013

            Sy—maybe if Jon gives his blessing, you could post something of this on The Hump so that I and others too can see where you are going with this.

            Merv and I did not discuss this, it was a suggestion to me, which I had no intention of following, since, once again, I believe (and Jon agrees) that this blog is not the place for this topic. I refer you once again to my book for the information you are seeking. And I trust you will be more careful about your facts in future.

          • Lou Jost says:

            Sy, on BioLogos right before the comment by Merv, you said:

            “Beaglelady and Lou,
            I wrote a long and comprehensive comment in answer to your questions, but I decided not to post it, in respect to Ted, and his post. I would love to discuss the misuse of science related to the environment further, but this is not the place.”

            Then after Merv’s comment suggesting you post it here, and my comment asking you to let us know whether you would do that, you wrote

            “sy – #83401
            November 3rd 2013
            Well, thanks to popular demand I will do that…”

            I assumed you were answering Merv’s and my request. However, you do close your long comment with “I will see about posting something somewhere for further discussion,” which should have clued me in that I had misunderstood you.

            In your previous comment you said most of the facts I mentioned are dubious or worse. I’ll reiterate what I said about tool use: Tool use evolved at least a million years ago in hominids (possibly as much as 2 million years ago), and also evolved in chimps and some New World monkeys like my local capuchins (Cebus), and also independently in non-primates like several distantly-related groups of birds. If you think that’s wrong, tell me so.

            • Sy Garte Sy Garte says:

              OK, yes, it was a misunderstanding. The popular demand was meant to explain why I was posting a long comment.
              But I see that you see that now.

              Anyway, about tools. Yes, many creatures use tools. Other hominids used and made tools. What anthropologists do is rank tools by level of sophistication, which includes how many kinds of tools are found at sites (Neanderthals and primitive Homo Sapiens had three or four kinds of tools, scrapers, knives, stones for pounding.) Modern man, starting around 50 to 40,000 years ago start using a much larger repertoire of tools, including different materials besides stone, some very sophisticated, like hooks, carved tools, fishing tools (primitive men didn’t fish) digging tools, ivory needles, evidence of a very different, much more sophisticated brain. Look up UPR, there is a lot of material available.

            • Lou Jost says:

              Agreed, tools diversified more rapidly between 150k and 50k yrs ago. This is hardly evidence of intervention from god, though. Note that tool diversity really took off exponentially in the last 100 yrs; nothing in our previous history matches the complexity and diversity of modern tools. Yet no one would blame this on an intervention by god in recent (100yrs ago) human evolution, even though this jump is much more sudden and much larger than the fairly gradual (at least taking tens of thousand of years) and modest diversification that you interpret as evidence for divine guidance.

  4. Hanan says:

    As the token Jew here, it’s nice to see some Jewish substance to the posts 🙂

  5. GD GD says:

    Just for the sake of acknowledging data and observations (I will not enter into another silly theist/atheist debate), an aborigine site has been dated in Australia at more than 40,000 yrs (give as usual) which has been described by the experts as equivalent to Stonehenge. The paintings and stories on the walls of this vast place carved out of solid rock are similar to present day aborigine art/story telling, but also includes giant versions of animals currently found in the country. Seems like we have more evidence (solid stuff, not more story telling by some) that asks questions about other areas taken as given by evolutionists (the link between Africa and Australia seems tenuous, and evidence of culture, and remarkable capabilities is obvious, but the result is more acrimonious debate by some rather than intelligent examination of the data).

  6. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Sy/Lou/Everyone

    There’s what seems to be the first in a series of articles on the relationship of Christianity to Science by my favourite blogger, The OFloinn, here.

    It’s beautifully done in the style of Thomas Aquinas in the summa. looks to be as instructive, entertaining and myth-busting as his series on the triumph of heliocentrism, to which I linked in an earlier post (use the search facility!).

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