There are 60 thoughts on ““Endless Forms Most Beautiful”: The uses and abuses of evolutionary biology in six works”.

  1. Pingback: Tales from the Far Side of Reality

  2. Heya! I’m at work surfing around your blog
    from my new apple iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading your
    blog and look forward to all your posts!

    Keep up the fantastic work!

  3. What a marvelous article. My own background is in engineering, so I can’t say that I have an intrinsic understanding of biology other than the very basics. That said, I have often wrestled with my fellow LDS when I hear the knee-jerk attacks on many of the ideas surrounding evolution. I tend to keep my opinions to myself because it seems that there are few things that can elicit strong emotions in a church house more than trying to stand up for Darwin. But one question I found that nobody could really ever answer to my satisfaction was: why do concepts of evolution (and other sciences) stand in the way of our beliefs as church members?

    Year by year I am becoming more comfortable in quietly proclaiming that I’m alright with Darwin while holding a temple recommend at the same time.

    I am extremely grateful to Bro. Smith for this thoughtful article.

  4. I know that we do not have the whole story from either a scientific or a religious source, or a combination thereof. I also know that Heavenly Father does not lie to us, though he withholds information due to our spiritual and intellectual immaturity.

    We know that Adam and Eve were literal people who lived on this Earth and are our ancestors. Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon saw them in the vision recorded in Section 76 of the D&C. Joseph also taught that Adam is the Archangel Michael mentioned at times in the Bible.

    We also know that (at some point) Adam and Eve were placed in a paradisaical Garden of Eden somewhere on Earth after the creation was “completed”. I use the term “completed” since the Book of Abraham mentions the Gods ordering things and waiting until they were obeyed. What precisely happened during this “ordering” and “obeying” period the scriptures and prophets have not said.
    Even if the entire planet and not just the Garden were in a paradisaical state during the time of the Garden, it does not preclude a lengthy, non paradisaical creation period. We also have no idea how long Adam and Eve (or the Earth) were in this paradisaical state.

    The question of whether Adam and Eve had physical parents/ancestors or were given physical bodies directly by our Heavenly Parents is unresolved. It is also unresolved how long ago the Fall occurred. Our various archaeological methods of measuring time are imperfect and the scriptures are likewise vague at many points. There is a chronology in the Book of Moses of the number of years between the Fall and the Flood (1720), but there isn’t a specific chronology of the subsequent years after the Flood. It is also possible that the Fall to Flood chronology we have is incomplete.

    I think there are a lot of things we don’t understand about the Flood and the Tower of Babel. I say that from a scriptural perspective as well as a secular one. We don’t know when these events occurred and we don’t know many details about how they occurred. I personally wish we did know more about these things, but we need to be careful about the conclusions we draw from what we have.

  5. he Younger Dryas stadial, a period of cold climatic conditions and drought which occurred between approximately 12,800 and 11,500 years BP this way to old for the Biblical Food and if Adam and Eve were in North America at this time they would have been big game hunters or transitional hunters and gathers and would have been decedents of asian immigrants or possible european immigrants depending on which theory you like. I dont see how this can helo reconcile human evolution and the biblical account. Pratt has some interisting things to say about the biblical account of the creation in ‘Key to Theology.’
    “In after years, when Paradise was lost by sin; when man was driven
    from the face of his heavenly Father, to toil, and droop, and die; when
    heaven was veiled from view; and, with few exceptions, man was no
    longer counted worthy to retain the knowledge of his heavenly origin;
    then, darkness veiled the past and future from the heathen mind; man
    neither knew himself, from whence he came, nor whither he was bound.
    At length a Moses came, who knew his God, and would fain [gladly] have
    led mankind to know Him too,and see Him face to face. But they could not receive His heavenly laws, orbide His presence.
    Thus the holy man was forced again to veil the past in mystery, and
    in the beginning of his history, assign to man an earthly origin.
    Man, moulded from the earth, as a brick!
    A Woman, manufactured from a rib!
    Thus, parents still would fain [gladly] conceal from budding
    manhood the mysteries of procreation, or the sources of life’s ever-flowing
    river, by relating some childish tale of new born life, engendered in the
    hollow trunk of some old tree, or springing with spontaneous growth like
    mushrooms from out the heaps of rubbish. O man! When wilt thou cease
    to be a child in knowledge?” Sorry for the long quote.
    When we read see the Bible as literal we have problems reconciling certain things If we can reconcile the length of the creation from the 6 days mentioned in Genesis then we should be able to see the whole story as an allegory. Remember the Lord told the brother of Jared and other many things that they we told not to share with us perhaps the answers are among those secrets.

    • Well, the problem with the Biblical flood (global immersion around 2300 BC) is not only the profound absence of evidence for it, but the overwhelming evidence against it: geological, archaeological, and biological (cf. Clayton & White’s article in Dialogue from about six years back [PDF]: Again, I have greater trust in Book of Mormon chronology (“a great many thousand years”) than in the Old Testament. Also, if Adam and Eve were placed here (as I believe they were), then they wouldn’t be descendants of anyone — and genetics dispersion tells us that even if other ‘pre-Adamites’ were around and survived, all humans today would be descendants of Adam and Eve (just as everyone of European descent has Charlemagne and Mohammed as ancestors); cf. Moses 7:51-53, which seems to suggest that other lineages than Enoch/Noah would be around after the flood, which makes no sense if the flood killed everyone but Noah & his family.

      Beyond that, I can do no better than to quote Nibley: “The stories of the garden of Eden and the Flood have always furnished unbelievers with their best ammunition against believers, because they are the easiest to visualize, popularize, and satirize of any Bible accounts. Everyone has seen a garden and been caught in a pouring rain. It requires no effort of imagination for a six-year-old to cover concise and straightforward Sunday-school recitals into the vivid images that will stay with him the rest of his life. These stories retain the form of the nursery tales they assume in the imaginations of small children, to be defended by grownups who refuse to distinguish between childlike faith and thinking as a child when it is time to ‘put away childish things.’ (1 Corinthians 13:11)” — “Before Adam”, CWHN, Vol. 1.

  6. Thank you Gregory for a well-researched review. I also enjoy your work on polygamy. Just to preface my comment – I consider myself an active and believing LDS. I personally find there is quite a big dichotomy between Church doctrines as found in the scriptures and at least the theory of human evolution.
    According to the scriptures and what we hear at General Conference, Adam and Eve were the first man and woman on Earth and before their Fall there was even no death. Their lineage is traced back 6000 years ago. Evolutionary threory puts homo sapiens back a few hundred thousand years ago, having emerged in Africa.
    I cannot reconcile these differences and have “put it on the shelf” – I will find out one day, perhaps after I pass through the veil.
    How do you reconcile the differences? Are the scriptural Genesis stories just symbolic? That would be rational, if only our restored doctrine was not so full of Adam and Eve as literal people (just read D&C 138 yesterday).
    Anyone´s comments are welcome.

    • I think it may have been Elder James E. Talmage who pointed out that the plants that Adam and Eve and presumably animals ate in the Garden had to “die” when they were eaten, so he argued that the phrase about “no death” was referring to the condition of Adam and Eve specifically, and not to the entire ecosystem of the Garden or of the earth generally.

      The Young Earth Creation theory grows out of the fundamentalist bibliolatry. Since they reject prophets and a (hopefully) inspired church tradition as in Catholicism, they are totally dependent on the text of the Bible, and since it is all the information they believe they are going to get from God, they deduce that it has to be complete and comprehensive. They cannot tolerate the existence of any question not already answered by the Bible. But given the very limited text about the creation, the effort to find a correlation between the words of Genesis One and the observed universe forces them to extreme extrapolation from just a few words. Thus, even though most of the language is clearly about just this earth, they extrapolate the statement “Let there be light” into the creation of the entirety of the universe, other than the sun and the moon. Note that even though the classic eye-visible planets were well known anciently (especially Venus) there is no mention of them.

      The Book of Moses makes clear that the Genesis One account addresses this earth only, and that there were innumerable prior creations of similar inhabited planetary systems that predate the clock in Genesis One. We should be careful in how far we extend the meaning of sentences that applied within a subset of reality. For me personally, avoiding unjustified universality is also key to understanding the Noah story in a way that is consistent with geology, as well as some of the statements in the Book of Mormon about the extent of the events recorded. In a time before people had circumnavigated the earth and had a comprehensive geography, the meaning of the phrase “all the earth” was not the picture we now have from orbit of the “big blue marble”. Just as with the Book of Mormon, there is stuff going on offstage all through the Bible.

    • “Their lineage is traced back 6000 years ago.” Well, that’s based on a particular reading of the Old Testament. The more correct record of the Book of Mormon, on the other hand, seems to indicate that people have been here on the earth much longer than that. Nephi[2], speaking a few decades before the birth of Christ, says, “Yea, and behold I say unto you, that Abraham not only knew of these things, but there were many before the days of Abraham who were called by the border of God; yea, even after the order of his Son; and this that it should be shown unto the people, a great many thousand years before his coming, that even redemption should come unto them.” (Helaman 8:18). I’ve looked at the other usages of “many thousand” and “a great many thousand” in the Book of Mormon, and I think it’s defensible and probable that “a great many” in this case means more than 4 (i.e., “a great many thousand years” refers to much more than “four thousand years”). For what it’s worth. ..bruce..

    • Raymond and Bruce. Thanks for good responses. I would say it is not too hard to reconcile a 4.5 Billion-year-old Earth with Church doctrine. I would, however, say that Church doctrine on Adam and Eve and theory of human evolution are very hard to reconcile. And that´s what I would like to know everyone´s opinions on.
      When I attend the temple, read scriptures both ancient and modern and read the sayings of Joseph Smith and subsequent early prophets of the restoration, there is no way around considering Adam and Eve LITERAL, HISTORIC persons.
      On the other hand, human evolution just makes a lot of sense and for me it is intellectually difficult to deny it.
      So what options do we have to reconcile literal Adam and Eve with human evolution:
      1. Adam and Eve were the first homo sapiens born in Africa 250 000 years ago (presumably black people?).
      2. Adam and Eve were a pair of homo sapiens who lived about 6000 years ago whom God chose to start a special dispensation of covenant people, but human evolution theory is correct. If that is the case, though, much of our LDS scriptures about creation, Garden of Eden and the Fall have to be symbolic only, because the following parts could then not be literal – Adam and Eve being first humans, first parents, first to sin (I guess pre-Adamites from 250 000 yrs ago to 6000 yrs ago would have been considered sinners?) or first mortals.

      P.S. And also – what exactly would the Garden of Eden then been, if it WAS literal?

      Keep the thoughts coming, please. I like the conversation. It is not something I bring up in Sunday School 🙂

      • Short answer: I’m not really concerned. As the quotes in the original article showed, the First Presidency isn’t really concerned, either. There’s nothing around this issue that prevents me from seeking to live up to my covenants or otherwise being a faithful member of the Church.

        Slightly longer answer: My current favorite scenario is that Adam and Eve were actual people who likely lived on the North American continent sometime prior to the Younger Dryas Ice Age (which started around~10,900 BC), during one of the interstadials (warming periods) that preceded it. I also think the Younger Dryas itself — a very-sudden-onset (perhaps less than a decade) and short-lived (1300 years) ice age — could be the event that inspired global stories of the Flood, since it is also tied into significant human and fauna extinction, particularly in North America. Worldwide increase of glaciation would have led to stories of the time when “water” (ice and snow) covered the tops of the mountains, an observation that could later (particularly in warmer climates) be construed as liquid water somehow covering the tops of mountains, especially in warmer climates not used to snow-covered peaks.

        In this scenario, the Lord likely had Noah pull a reverse Jared/Lehi and lead a migration from North America to the Old World, either in advance of the upheaval in North America or just as it happened. Noah would likely have no concept of the ocean as an ocean per se; if he left during a period of weather upheaval, he might simply conclude as he sailed for months that the whole world had been submerged, with occasional islands being ‘peaks of mountain’ appearing above the flood.

        If you throw into this the theory (still hotly debated) regarding a possible meteor/asteroid impact over North American causing the Younger Dryas onset, then you get a real catastrophic setting for Noah’s migration. 🙂 ..bruce..

      • I hope for further revelation on the subject. I do believe that there is some evidence for creationism, but much evidence against it. I also think that there is a strong psychological reluctance on the part of both believers and non-believers to accept evidence for creationism. The reluctance for non-believers is obvious. The reluctance of believers is due to the desire to not get ones hopes up that science will prove the bible true, only to have it dashed like it has been dashed before by contrary evidence.

        Having said that, I know that the church is true. The objective and subjective (spirit) evidence is very convincing to me. So I will assume that I do not have all of the pieces of the puzzle yet and that they will fit together well in the end, giving us a complete picture. I hope that those of you who are fully convinced that evolution and an old earth are true, that you will periodically reassess and consider any new evidence with an objective eye.

    • Thank you everyone for thoughtful comments. I hope I do not do anyone injustice when I say that it seems to me that some of you lean towards Adam and Eve being literal and some towards them being symbolic / allegorical.
      I, too, have a spiritual testimony of the Gospel which keeps getting more solid as I go through life living as a latter-day saint.
      I sometimes do wish that the First Presidency or at least an apostle would come out in General Conference and say something to the extent that those having a non-literal view of the Creation, the Fall, Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden do not have to be concerned. It is hard to argue against the notion that at face value our current doctrine on the matter is to treat those subjects as though they had been literal. We are to consider Adam our first parent (First Presidency 1931, Gordon B. Hinckley 2002). Literal parent or only symbolic?
      I sometimes wonder when I watch the General Conference and there is a talk that mentions Adam and Eve or the Fall, if the speaker means it literally and has a personal science-defying spiritual testimony of it or if he actually accepts human evolution and considers the matter symbolic / allegorical and simply, pardon my expression, “plays along” in a “wink-wink, nod-nod” way.
      I do not mean to go on and on about this, it is just that I think if there is hope for those who believe symbolically only, it would be really generous of Church leadership to acknowledge it.

  7. Sorry, I just remembered something else from college.

    When Darwin published Origin of the Species, there was a huge attempt among naturalists (zoologists and botanists) to find a selective advantage for every single trait in the species they studied. They often ended up frustrated and they wasted a lot of time coming up with convoluted arguments for the advantage of some of the traits they observed. I see ID as an equally frustrating search for “irreducible complexity”.

    • Thanks for your comments Michael. This is a lengthy response, and not entirely directed at you, as it contains many of my own questions and musings.

      I’ve never heard of an ID advocate being frustrated with a search for irreducible complexity, quite the contrary actually. Something is either irreducibly complex (i.e. all parts produce a necessary function for the overall system) or it is not. Many may disagree on the origin of irreducibly complex systems in biology, but this is only a problem if one limits the mechanisms to methodological naturalism. Our uniform and historical experience tells us that irreducible complex systems are the product of mind or intelligence. Minds produce irreducibly complex systems all of the time, and if minds can do so now, then is there any reason to think that they could not do so eons ago, or are unable to do so in the context of biological systems? If the glory of God is intelligence, and intelligent beings design and create, then why the apparent timidity when it comes to detecting real design in nature?

      Whence the apparent adoption by some LDS biologists of the methodologically natural evolutionary biology as the only mechanism by which God could bring about the complex and diverse body plans of creatures that have lived and died through the ages on the Earth?

      Allowing for ID, and in the context of LDS theology, the abrupt appearance and disappearance of the unique, fully formed and functional body plans of species in the fossil record may best be understood to be periods in which those creatures fulfilled their times and seasons upon the earth, in the context of their mortal existence, in the time and sphere to which they were placed, just as mankind is now.

      In regards to ID, it is probably the most misunderstood Origin of Life and Biological theory. It is nor more a philosophical argument for the existence of God as evo-bio is an argument for His non-existence. The philosophical implications follow the premise in both cases, but that is outside the limits of science and neither ID or evo-bio attempt to answer them. ID is a rigorous and disciplined study which holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random mutations. Probably the best and most recent article I’ve read defining ID (what it is and is not) can be found here:


  8. Apologies to Sharee for repeating her comment about a waiting period for the creation as described in Abraham. I hadn’t noticed her comment when I wrote my own.

    ID makes me nervous, not because I don’t believe, but because I know that it is unwise to attempt philosophical or scientific proofs for the existence of God. Hugh Nibley often remarked about the various philosophical “proofs” for the existence of God, particularly in the Medieval period. These arguments were later shown to be inadequate.

    Truman Madsen pointed out in his “Joseph Smith: the Prophet” book in the early 1980’s that Joseph Smith never presented a philosophical or scientific “proof” for the existence of God. His testimony was that God lives because he saw him. He didn’t attempt to prove that God must live. I think that as Latter Day Saints we would be wise to remember that.

    Developmental genes are very complicated. However, they are also very important and affect many other genes “downstream”. Therefore, there is huge “selection pressure” to conserve developmental alleles that function properly and provide a reproductive advantage. The vast majority of embryos with deleterious mutations in one or more developmental genes would probably never even be born, let alone reproduce.

    • Bruce, I read your article. Makes a lot of sense to me. And when you talk about a Xerox machine–well, they have 3-D copiers now that copy machinery parts, etc. I guess God could have one of those to make worlds with. 🙂

  9. One of the interesting developments in evolutionary biology in recent years has been “evo-devo”, “evolutionary development”, in which we are coming to understand that much of the evolutionary development we perceive since the Cambrian Explosion 550 million years ago has been made much easier by the existence of preexisting DNA subprograms which can be swapped out or turned on or off, like complete functional modules in a Lego kit, to create new species. Some of these modules are shared across phyla, such between insects and mammals, which indicates that they originated before the differentiation from a common ancestor. This view pushes the creativity of the evolutionary process way back earlier. But this creates significant new questions. How did all of that evolutionary development get compressed into such a relatively short time? How did this modular design process come into being, since it is a higher level of sophistication than a process of direct interaction between a DNA-created mechanism and its environment. The relationship between the standard concept of DNA mutation leading to evolution through natural selection, and the evo-devo concept of modular DNA and mechanisms adapting by turning subprograms off and on, is precisely the same as the relationship between the “spaghetti code” that computer programmers have long generated in their trial and error attempts at creating working software, and the structured programming that requires more discipline at the front end but allows more adaptability (and easier repairs) down the road. Spaghetti code (so called because the flow charts that diagram it have lines jumping all over the place like a mass of pasta) is what comes from successive adaptation of existing code in order to serve additional functions in new environments. The natural tendency of spaghetti code even in the hands of a thinking programmer is for the complexity of the interconnections to become even more complex, and that is what would surely happen with a random, undirected process. I see no logical reason to expect that spaghetti code would ever replace itself with structured programming in logical modules, because spaghetti code can be just as successful in immediate terms as any structured program. It is only down the road that structured programming provides an advantage in terms of adaptability, but future superiority cannot travel back in time and favor structured programs over the standard spaghetti code in the present competition for survivial. Yet selection in favor of structured programming is the only way that structure could come to dominate the gene pool.

    Thus, the existence of structured programming in DNA argues that the process of evolution involved foresight, which selected for features of life which gave no present advantage, but only future advantage. Darwin’s theory does not explain this foresight, so it is inadequate as an explanation for some of the most fundamental aspects of the mechanisms that enable most of the evolutionary process to actually work in the ages since the Cambrian.

    I think it is an interesting coincidence that scientific knowledge of the nature and function of DNA has grown at exactly the same time that we acquired the ability to create computers that could be controlled by similar binary programs, and came to understand that all information, no matter how complex, could be encoded into the freely sequenced ladders of the alternate matched pairs of molecules in a DNA helix. I think our knowledge of computer software should also make us skeptical of the belief that the complex software of the living cell, including the even more sophisticated structured programming being discovered in evo-devo, could come into existence purely via random processes.

    • Yes, evo-devo is very cool and very much where a lot of the action is.

      If there is a good scientific case to be made for ID, I think it will be found in those realms. As a result, it also means that the evidence might be very, very far back, and very hard to lay hold on, since fossils can’t tell you a lot about that sort of thing, and all we have by way of genome data are the survivors 3.5 billion years later.

      One of the most intriguing things, for me, is how quickly life appeared. The biggest step (abiota to biota) happened very rapidly. Or it least that strikes me as by far the biggest step.

      But, I must remember that things that wouldn’t be viable when competing with a full biosphere might be more workable in a completely abiotic environment. I don’t know. One wonders if seeding the earth with a single bacterial cell would be the most parsimonious way to go, sometimes. Frank Hoyle and Francis Crick bought it, why not me? 😉

      [A chemist who tries to account for the ‘middle ground’ between life and non-life has recently written another book: Addy Pross, What Is Life? How chemistry becomes biology, Oxford Univ Press, 2012, ISBN 9780199641017). Interesting, but I don’t feel I have the background to assess it well. I didn’t come away super convinced, but maybe I should have been. 😉 It seems to me a good place to start, at most, not a final answer.]

      We must remember, though, that evo-bio doesn’t posit a completely random, undirected process. There is a good deal of non-randomness via selection. And, for the core modules you alude to, there could well be a ruthless selection for maximum efficiency (one sees this is bacterial genomes, for example, where generation time is a really big deal–as opposed to eukaryotes who can have a lot more sprawling genomes). So, anything that far back could arguably have had a lot of the spaghetti “winnowed out”….

      • “Yes, evo-devo is very cool and very much where a lot of the action is.
        If there is a good scientific case to be made for ID, I think it will be found in those realms.”

        Pardon me for mentioning Stephen Meyer’s DNA argument again, but I think that this particular argument is a better case for ID than is evo-devo. In his argument regarding DNA he clearly demonstrates that the biological or genetic information within the DNA macromolecule is best explained as the product of an Intelligent Agent, Being, or Designer. Since DNA contains digital code and functions in some ways like an advanced computer code (in this case 4 digits, not merely binary) we make the inference to design. In our repeated experience as humans we never find information arising as the result of purposeless chance, blind forces, or some materialistic cause. When we browse the internet, we instinctively know that behind all the information through which we comb is a mind or many minds or intelligence. Digital code is frequently and most logically ascribed to be the product of some conscious activity or intelligent designer, whether we’re addressing ourselves to the subject of man-made digital code by which computers operate or the digital code by which our DNA functions. Also, because DNA requires a suite of about 100 proteins to operate it, it’s also a good example of irreducible complexity.
        In addition, the arguments for homology are not good evidence for common ancestry, but strong evidence for a common Designer, even when DNA is the homologous feature in question.

      • Although I have admired all of your papers, including this one, I wish you had done three things differently in this essay and its thread of comments.

        First, it would have been better, I think, not to have relied on what seems to me a narrow range of reviews and/or second-hand characterizations of Dembski’s mathematics and of Behe’s treatment of irreducible complexity (IC). After all, there is no reason a priori to attach greater confidence to reviews than to original works. If we assume (and we do) that authors can have biases and can make mistakes, why would we fail to assume the same of commentators? (The propensity to give reviewers a pass almost rises to the level of its own form of illogic; we could call it “the reviewer fallacy.”) That is why it is essential to engage authors’ responses to those who criticize them. In Behe’s case, for example, it is easy to find his replies to critics (I imagine the same is true of Dembski), and no dismissal of him seems fair that does not responsibly engage such replies—either by being informed by them or by thoughtfully rebutting them. If you did this somewhere, I completely missed it.

        Second, it also would have been better, I think, if you had engaged the correction Log made of your characterization of Behe’s irreducible complexity. Early in the comment thread you summarily dismiss Behe’s IC, but when Log corrects you, you fail to engage the correction (either by acknowledging it or by rebutting it), and yet later in the thread you summarily dismiss Behe again—as though your characterization of him had never been questioned, much less corrected. Along the way you defend yourself by saying that you didn’t need to take up the ID version of IC because Log had done that himself. But this misses the point. Log’s argument was not that there is a different point of view on IC that deserves to be heard; his point was that the characterization of IC that you are relying on is wrong. To dismiss Behe summarily after this requires that you demonstrate Log himself to be mistaken, and I see nowhere that you do this. (If I missed it, of course please correct me.)

        Third, I think it would have been better not to create this kind of implicit argument: (1) We should be suspicious of anything that creates a slam-dunk proof for the existence of God. (2) Finding ID would be a powerful argument for the existence of God. (3) Therefore, we should be suspicious of any evidence for ID.

        Leaving aside other problems in this way of putting the matter, the central fallacy is evident if we fashion a similar argument regarding the Book of Mormon: (1) We should be suspicious of anything that creates a slam-dunk proof for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. (2) Finding Hebraistic linguistic features in the book would be a powerful argument for its historicity. (3) Therefore, we should be suspicious of any evidence for Hebraistic linguistic features in the Book of Mormon.

        It is one thing to say that no slam-dunk evidence will ever exist for the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and thus to say that accepting it ultimately depends on our responsiveness to the Spirit. But it is another thing entirely to say that we should expect no evidence whatever of the historicity of the Book of Mormon and that we should be constitutionally suspicious of anything that looks like such evidence. If the book is historical, it is inevitable that evidence of this will be apparent in one way or another, and I see no reason to reject out of hand, or to be suspicious of, a priori, the very kind of evidence we ought to expect.

        Similarly, if God was involved in the creation of life on earth it is inevitable that evidence of this will be apparent in one way or another. Given this, why should we be prepared to reject out of hand, or to be suspicious of, a priori, the kind of evidence his involvement would predict and that we therefore ought to expect? Yet it seems to me that this is what you do. I may be wrong, but this is the way it looks to me and I can make no sense of it. The only reason I can see for adopting such a stance is a prior commitment to the proposition that it is forbidden, on philosophical grounds, to consider evidence of design to be evidence of design and to insist that it must be something else. But to a Latter-day Saint—one who knows that God was involved in the creation of life on earth—this surely must be equivalent to saying that it is forbidden, on philosophical grounds, to consider evidence of the truth to be evidence of the truth and that it must be considered to be something else. Why should a Latter-day Saint ever accept such a condition of intellectual inquiry?

        None of this is to deny that we must be exceedingly careful in our examination of evidence of one kind or another. Fools’ gold abounds and we must always bring to bear proper intellectual care. All I am saying is that I can see no reason to doubt at the outset that (at a minimum) we will find evidence of God’s hand in the creation and therefore that we should summarily dismiss the very idea of something we all already know to be true. On the surface, at least, it seems to me that this is what you are very close to doing and I don’t see how that can fail to be a mistake.

        In saying all this I recognize that I could be misunderstanding and/or mischaracterizing your comments. I am happy to be corrected where I have gotten them wrong.

        • Duane:

          Thanks for this.

          1. None of the books reviewed dealt with ID or IC. So, I have not treated those ideas in any detail. I mentioned a reviewer’s account of Dembski’s (in his view) needless obfuscation via mathematics simply because it matched my reaction to his signal processing stuff. As I said, I felt like I was being bamboozled as a reader, but not knowing a lot about signal processing, there may well be things there that are profound and true. But, I figured the reader should at least know I didn’t get it, and others have had the same reaction in another context.

          2. As for ID, I deliberately didn’t want the comments to be dominated by that discussion, because a) none of the reviewed works dealt with it; b) I’ve watched enough such debates to know they are interminable, and people tend to speak past each other; c) I don’t regard myself as having anything novel to add.

          So, I frankly acknowledge not addressing Log’s questions rigorously on that front, but rather declining to do so in any detail. I was just trying to thumbnail sketch areas I’d see as problematic, more for full disclosure of me as the author than hoping to persuade. Figured people should know sort of where I was situated.

          I tried to provide a few links to what I take to be “mainstream” evo-bio responses for general readers for those who wanted to get into what can be a technical area. I don’t pretend–and apologize if I gave the impression–of regarding this alone as an adequate or complete treatment. I see ID as off-topic for my review (save that many have seen the same kinds of rhetorical trickery–if such it is–in Dembski’s other works) and this type of comment thread as a bad place to hash it out. I was trying to ackowledge the question while being brief and avoiding derailing, and prob didn’t handle it well. Apologies all around.

          3) On point #3, I think we’re in violent agreement. :-)I think there’s just far too much (as you say) intellectual fool’s gold in them thar hills. Plus, things like IC seem to me to be very all-or-nothing constructs. There isn’t as much potential for gradations of evidence. (Can something be 50% IC? Can we be 75% sure it is IC? How would we know? What is our confidence interval? How could we confirm or disprove our estimates? Tricky.)

          I don’t think evidence for God doesn’t or can’t exist. I’m just skeptical of the certainty many evince on this score with ID or “creation science” in regard to how powerful the current state of the art is. I think our predisposition to see that evidence is due to more than just the data, so I was hoping to encourage those who can’t understand why everyone doesn’t see what to them is so plain to consider that our theology may require us to expect more nuance than your typical (say) YEC of the Henry Morris school.

          But I feel that way about all the philosophical “proofs” (I realize they weren’t intended as proofs in the formal sense) for God’s existence. Which may well reflect an intellectual or spiritual defect.

          Pray for us, poor sinners!


  10. I really enjoyed your reviews, that you for your insite. As I was looking for the Dr. Stutz book on Amazon I came across the this DVD “Unlocking the Mystery of Life DVD + Using the Book of Mormon to Combat Falsehoods in Organic Evolution” I wonder if you have heard of this before. It is produced by Illustra Media and purports to be the “Scientific case for ID”

      • Thanks for the reference. I did a little research on Illustar Media and found that Stephen Meyer is somehow involved with them and is used quite a bit in the DVD.

      • I have watched several of the presentations by Illustra Media. All of them are very well done. The most recent that I watched is called “Metamorphosis.” The scientists and lepidopterists interviewed gave various reasons as to why they felt that intelligent causation was the best explanation for the functions and development of butterflies. I cannot remember if Stephen Meyer was in it, though I highly recommend his book, “Signature in the Cell.” I think that he makes some great arguments as to why the information-rich DNA macromolecule is good evidence of an Intelligent Designer rather than a strictly materialistic process, such as, natural selection acting on random mutations of genes. I think it’s worth the read. The last chapter is for people more versed in the technical literature and less so for amateurs like me (but I read it anyway). I don’t think that Meyer’s DNA argument is compelling in the sense that you have to believe it, but it is simply very clear logically; and it’s much more intuitive and logical than maintaining that all of life descended from a common ancestor via natural selection acting on random variations and mutations IMHO.
        In addition to Stephen Meyer, I also like the work of Douglas Axe and Ann Gauger, and how they seek to test the claims of Neo-Darwinism and make a solid case for an Intelligent Designer. They work at the Biologic Institute:
        Please forgive me for the length, but I just wanted to post some of the critiques that mathematician and philosopher, David Berlinski (an agnostic) made regarding the adequacy of the Neo-Darwinian mechanism to account for life as we observe it. I think that his article is interesting and so are the responses to it, including from Richard Dawkins, and others. It’s a long article, but I thought it was worth looking at:
        Cheers 🙂

  11. “We are also told in scripture that intelligence cannot be created or destroyed, it just eternally exists. If Heavenly Father cannot create intelligence, then maybe He has to deal with the properties of intelligence as they are. I suspect that the problems in our telestial world are partly a result of this and not entirely a result of engineering of a telestial world by Heavenly Father.”

    A very interesting idea.

  12. I am a member of the LDS church and I have a BS in Biology from the University of Utah. I spent 1.5 years in a Molecular Biology PhD program before obtaining a master’s degree in an unrelated field (librarianship). I appreciate this very well written article and I have a few observations.

    We are told in scripture and prophetic statements that we existed as intelligences even before we existed as spirit children. We were given spirit bodies by our heavenly parents in order to further our progression. I suspect that even as intelligences there were differences between us. I remember the statement in Abraham about intelligences higher than others and that God is the most intelligent of all. I suspect that our spirit bodies (and minds) reflect this difference in our original form as intelligences. Likewise, our mortal decisions are affected by this.

    We are also told in scripture that intelligence cannot be created or destroyed, it just eternally exists. If Heavenly Father cannot create intelligence, then maybe He has to deal with the properties of intelligence as they are. I suspect that the problems in our telestial world are partly a result of this and not entirely a result of engineering of a telestial world by Heavenly Father.

    The Book of Abraham provides important information about the physical creation of the earth. These verses imply that the creation (or ordering) of our planet took an unspecified amount of time. The Gods waited until they were obeyed. Since Heavenly Father perceives time very differently than we do, I find the use of the term “waited” to be very interesting.

    Again, thanks for writing this article

  13. Thank you for a rather exhaustive (and occasionally exhausting) review of these books. Stephen Smoot’s quotes from Elder Widtsoe were great as well. My own background is information technology, not biology or its many branches, but I did write a brief blog post on evolution some years ago that started with a well-known quote from my own field: “The best way [and some would say, the only way] to build a large, complex system that works is to evolve it from a small, simple system that works.” (Gall’s Law) I concluded the post by saying, “I think we in the Church set up for ourselves some unnecessary dichotomies and dilemmas, particularly on issues for which we have relatively little scriptural information.” I still feel that way. ..bruce..

  14. To me the scripture in Abraham that mentions the gods watching the things they had made until they obeyed means evolution.

    By the way, vave you read The Lost World of Genesis One by John H. Walton. I’d be interested in your take on his theories.

    • I’ve read it and enjoyed it. It dovetailed with what I myself had sort of thought after I read a monograph called Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible (Catholic Biblical Association, 1994) which I found for $5 and couldn’t resist buying. (Walton cites this work, actually, which made me feel slightly clever….) So, I’m kind of inclined to like it because it meshed with my pre-existing ideas, less well-formed though they were.

      But, I’m not a Hebrew Bible expert, so I have to trust Walton or not trust him. I would be comfortable with his read of scripture if it was a scholarly-rigorous one, but I’m not really well-placed to assess it independently.

      His take is, however, more how I see the purposes of scripture, rather than as a scientific revelation of the mechanisms behind creation, which don’t strike me of much salvational importance or of interest to the original audience of Genesis.The kinds of questions

  15. I don’t see the word evo-bio defined when it is first used. I’m not familiar with the word. Is it a short hand for evolution biology?

    • Yes, “evo-bio” = “evolutionary biology”.

      Sorry for the slip into jargon; it’s an abbreviation I don’t even think about as being an abbreviation: sort of like “EKG” or “ASAP”. 🙂

  16. As luck would have it, I’m currently reading a book by Elder John A. Widtsoe (who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve from 1921-1952) titled “In Search of Truth.” In this short and (unfortunately) relatively obscure volume, Elder Widtsoe makes the following wise observations about organic evolution (I’m quoting from the Grandin Press reprint):

    1. “The evolution squabble, undignified and often unfair on both sides, is a good illustration of the unscientific treatment of a scientific subject” (p. 35).
    2. “No one, least of all the Church, objects to these facts [of evolution] if properly verified. They are all accepted, acceptable, and welcome. The work of gathering more knowledge in the field of biology is favored by the Church” (p. 37).
    3. “The Church, which comprehends all truth, accepts all the reliably determined facts used in building the hypothesis of organic evolution. It does not question the observed order of advancement or progression in nature, whether called the law of evolution or by any other name” (p. 40).

    There is more Elder Widtsoe says on this subject, but the above statements give a general impression of what he was getting at: the Church accepts scientific facts relating to organic evolution. What the Church rejects, according to Elder Widtsoe, and this is something highlighted by Smith in his new article, are many of the non-scientific inferences made by those who wish to use evolution to discredit belief in God. Although Elder Widtsoe didn’t have them in directly mind, I think his caution could be directly applied to many of the inferences made by Neo-Darwinists like Richard Dawkins, who want to use evolution as a sort of omni-explanatory theory that can account for nearly every aspect of life and society (and the question of God’s existence).

    I appreciate both Elder Widtsoe and now Greg Smith for urging caution in accepting many of the (questionable) inferences scientists and philosophers make out of the facts of evolution without denying the facts of evolution themselves. Certainly there is much we don’t fully understand about the origins of life, from either a Gospel or scientific perspective. But that doesn’t mean we should reject what we do know.

    So kudos to Greg on a very thought-provoking article.

    (And, BTW, I totally agree with Greg that an LDS theodicy can more easily accommodate the facts of evolution than many “mainstream” Christian theodicies.)

  17. Greg, I enjoyed reading your insightful reviews.

    After reading Stephen Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell” and more recent “Darwin’s Doubt” I find myself wondering why Latter-Day-Saint academics are slow to embrace the scientific theory of Intelligent Design as set forth in these books and other publications by members of the Discovery Institute. I believe this is due to the rather unfortunate preaching of a false equivalence of ID to Young Earth Creationism by ID critics and a resulting reluctance to read and understand the theory of ID properly. This is a shame really, as I believe the evidence for ID presents a clear picture of a designer, intimately involved with the creatures of various kinds as they fulfilled their unique times and seasons here upon the Earth.

    If you haven’t read them already, I highly recommend both of these books. They present some challenging questions to prevailing beliefs about the capabilities of Neo-darwinism mechanisms that I believe Latter-Day-Scientists should consider.

    Kind regards.

      • Thanks, see above — philosophically, I am a bit leery of anything that can be made intellectually compulsive for a belief in God, ID included. These are discussions I’d enjoy, but Interpreter work, my day job, and Church stuff sadly leaves me too short of time to do it justice….

        I’ll have to look for these books if you think they’re the best thing on ID at present. I didn’t find Behe very convincing, as I noted above.

        • I also read Stephen Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell” and highly recommend it.

          According to Meyer, it is a mischaracerization of ID to say that it attempts to make a slam-dunk, irrefutable proof of the existence of God. Meyer would say that specified complexity is evidence of design, with life being a major example of specified complexity. But ID scientists would say that presence of design doesn’t immediately prove presence of the God of the Genesis, and in fact there are lots of atheist and/or agnostic intelligent design advocates. It is not accurate to represent ID as a branch of religious apologetics.

          As an engineer, I find Intelligent Design to be very compelling. The more I learn about how cells work, the more I see the similarity between DNA and the software I write. It’s a compelling analogy. The more evo-biologists try to dismiss Intelligent Design with smears, deliberately and dishonestly conflating it with young-earth creationism, calling it “pseudo-science” without addressing any of its arguments, the more I think they don’t have any real arguments against it.

          • Yes, realize ID does not necessarily imply a Judeo-Christian God.

            I think, though, that anything that was definitely ID (i.e., could not have arisen spontaneously, required some type of intelligence to design it) would be a pretty good argument for a divinity of some type. The designing intelligence:

            a) must either be a divinity; or
            b) must be some non-divine creature (call it a super-intelligent alien, or SIA).

            But, if the SIA created earth life, this simply pushes the question back a step–OK, so whence the SIA? God can–in either conventional creedal theology or LDS theology–be self-existent. Harder for a SIA to be self-existent without divine aid–or, without something very like evolution to produce them.

            The existence of the SIA itself is thus either proof of divine existence (one could regress through several generations of SIA, of course, though it would have to end somewhere) or the product of evolution. And, if evolution can create the SIA, then the ID structure on earth is, in a roundabout way, also the product of evolution, since it was produced by an intelligent agent that arose via evolutionary means. 🙂

            I suspect this argument is not new, but it seems fairly compelling to me. So, I think that finding ID would be a powerful argument for a god’s existence.

            I have not claimed that ID is only religious apologists. I know that some have made that claim–and, in fairness, much of it certainly has been driven by such groups (or has been co-opted to be so).

            I will look forward to reading Meyer if he is an improvement on Behe.

  18. “God could not create or alter our ability or tendency or moral temptation to sin.”

    I’m not quite certain of this. The usual statement regarding agency is along the lines of that Satan cannot, and God *will not* force us. It’s not incapacity, but respect for our agency that restrains him. And he does indeed ‘alter our ability or tendency or moral temptation to sin’ as we yield to the enticings of the spirit and become sanctified through the atonement – namely *as we let him*. Of course (and close to your point here), it’s the idea that a portion of us has always existed that means that this respect for our agency explains anything, as creation ex nihilo leaves the question of why not create morally perfect beings in the first place.

    Otherwise, interesting thoughts. I suspect this is one of those things where we’re not only missing the full picture, but we can’t even imagine what those missing pieces are yet. And causality can be a bit of an assumption (as you note regarding the atonement, there’s already an exception there).

    • You’re right; I should have gone with a more wordy version, something like, “God could not–without violating the principles of moral agency and/or his own nature as one who will not compel love or obedience–create or alter our ability or tendency or moral temptation to sin (without, of course, our cooperation).”


  19. Thank you Greg for your very thorough review of these books. I would love it if you would spend time on the forum where a lot of these issues are debated and discussed in a (usually) polite manner among YECs, OECs, atheists etc.

    I also am frustrated that so few mormon scholars engage in the stronger and more intellectually honest and rigorous Intelligent Design or creationist literature. I haven’t found anybody who has engaged in Michael Behe’s work or Hugh Ross’s “More than a Theory.” I know that creationists have shot themselves in the foot with bad scholarship in the past, so I was hoping that David Stowe’s book would be as good as Jonathan Wells’ “Icons of Evolution” which is much better known among Intelligent Design advocates. Both Wells and Behe are biologists as is John Sanford who wrote “Genetic Entropy” (which is another book I wish mormon scholars would pay attention to. Sanford is a retired geneticist who became a young earth creationist by studying plant genomes, so his view could be a good counterpoint to Fairbank’s work.

    Anyway, thanks again for your insightful reviews!

    • I can’t speak for LDS scientists on the matter. I didn’t find Behe at all persuasive–he seems to me have yet to overcome the hurdle of how to even identify “ID” when he sees it (and how do we know that he’s right?). The examples which he first gave are all demonstrably not ID–the bacterial flagellum, the mammalian clotting cascade, etc.

      And, the further one goes back phylogenetically, the harder some evidence is to find–but, this doesn’t make it ID, just sometimes difficult to study something at (say) 3.5 billion years’ remove.

      As I indicated in my review, I think LDS doctrine makes it unlikely that a “slam dunk” argument for God from the natural world will be forthcoming. ID would be such an argument, in my view–since by definition, ID cannot exist via natural, non-intelligently directed processes. And, it seems to me that this is precisely what the Discovery Institute is trying to do–I sympathize with their motives, but have yet to embrace their tactics or conclusions.

      So, from a personal philosophical point of view, I wouldn’t expect something like ID to work out–and in its Behe incarnation, anyway, I didn’t think that it did. I’ve not read Stephen Meyer’s works cited below; perhaps they have more to offer than Behe did.

      If you want an LDS biologist’s take, the Fairbanks book I cited treats the matter somewhat in the last couple of chapters.

      • “The examples which he first gave are all demonstrably not ID–the bacterial flagellum, the mammalian clotting cascade, etc.”

        I humbly disagree.

        I hope that your philosophy does not prevent you from looking at the evidence dispassionately. I have wondered if some are worried that if they let science possibly prove God, then they run the risk of science disproving God and that risk is just too hard to bear. It is much more comfortable (and perhaps much wiser and less contentious, I admit!) to defer the question and let God reveal the truth in His own time.

        • I hope so too. 🙂

          But, the flagellum seems phylogenetically related to a type 3 eubacterial secretory protein, and the coag cascade is found in various forms.

          See Catholic biologist’s discussion here, if you’re interested:

          The first problem it seems to me is identifying IC, which has turned out to be not straightforward. As an interested amateur, perhaps my understanding is inadequate.

          But–as I argue–with this and other such debates, I think the Church is a large tent and we ought to be charitable to each other. I think the gospel can comfortably accomodate everyone from Young earthers to ID to dyed in the wool Darwinists.

          • I appreciate the response. This is probably not the appropriate forum to go further on this tangent. But I hope you will join us at occasionally. (I don’t mean to imply that I own that blog. I just frequent it often. It was founded by William Dempski, but he turned it over to others a while back).

          • “The examples which he first gave are all demonstrably not ID–the bacterial flagellum, the mammalian clotting cascade, etc.”

            Has there been a stepwise evolutionary path from the type-3 secretory system and the bacterial flagellum demonstrated? It’s all well and good to assert evolution because “similarity” but it is quite a different beast to show each step and how it was selected for.

            The same question can be asked of the other examples, as well, and the answer will be the same in each case – “no, a plausible evolutionary path from the purported precursor system to the target has not been demonstrated.”

          • Log:

            The point is simply that the flagellar assembly itself is not IC: there are both structural and sequence homologies to structures that are simpler and yet still functional.

            One can play the game of infinite regress, but that won’t get you very far with a scientific audience, because unless one demands a base-pair-by base-pair fine grained series (which it is unreasonable to expect, esp with something that old phylogenetically) you can always complain that we don’t know the series precisely. Which is true, but also irrelevant.

            IC claims that the structure cannot lose even a single part and still have (some) function and that it also cannot have had structural aspects in the past which it has now lost, making the current structure (but not its ‘evolved’ antecedants) IC.

            As negative claim this is very hard to prove, and part of the problem is even identifying IC with confidence in an objective way that has good “inter-examiner reliability”….

          • “IC claims that the structure cannot lose even a single part and still have (some) function and that it also cannot have had structural aspects in the past which it has now lost, making the current structure (but not its ‘evolved’ antecedants) IC.”

            They have done knockout studies with each piece of the bacterial flagellum. The system cannot lose even one part and retain any selectable function (the actual claim of IC). That rules out the existence of direct Darwinian pathways to produce the bacterial flagellum.

            There has never been a single demonstrated instance of an indirect evolutionary pathway to a functioning system, either – so the objection you raise would have teeth if it were to be observed in nature. As it stands, it is simply a theoretical claim, the sheer logical possibility of which is held to preclude design inferences. However, it is analogous to claiming Santa Claus truly is the source of the presents under the tree at Christmas.

          • Log:

            I don’t want this to “devolve” into a discussion of ID, which I didn’t address in my review. Pun intended. 😉

            But, a “knock-out” study of the flagellum is simply not enough to declare something IC. You have to also prove that there was no step-wise way to get there and then LATER lose parts. That’s why this is tricky, and what some people claim is IC doesn’t look IC to those who know more about possible (or putative) mechanisms for getting from A to B to C.

            It’s sort of like building an arch with scaffolding. You can’t just pile one stone on another and make an arch-it will fall down before you get done. But, if you first build a scaffold, assemble the stones, and then remove the scaffold, the arch stands. Remove any stone and it collapses, but you can build t one stone at a time with the scaffold in place. The trick is identifying the scaffold (or ruling it out) in a biologic system.)

            IC structures need not only to be IC in their present configuration, but there has to be no route from the putative precursor to the current state without intermediaries that can later be lost.

            There’s a graphic here that shows a bridge with irreducibly complex structure that was formed via stepwise addition and later removal of parts:


            It also points out an irreducibly complex bacterial metabolic system that has developed within a human lifetime in the last 70 years–likely by stepwise mutation unless you posit that it was intelligently designed in that time frame. So the claim that such things can never happen is not sustained by the evidence. (Whether such things are sufficient for all biodiversity is an entirely separate question.)

            That’s why I say I think IC is much harder to see (much less prove) than its advocates believe. Proving a negative is very difficult.

          • The metabolic pathway in question has selectable function even if not all of the pathway exists. Therefore it is not an example of irreducible complexity.

            The diagram of the bridge is – unfortunately – an example of intelligent design in action.

            And this – “IC structures need not only to be IC in their present configuration, but there has to be no route from the putative precursor to the current state without intermediaries that can later be lost.” – is to again require ID to prove logical impossibility, a requirement not found anywhere but in mathematics (as noted in the link I posted).

            ID doesn’t have to prove a negative. All it has to do is prove that a structure is inaccessible to direct Darwinian pathways, and, given the utter lack of observed indirect Darwinian pathways, it wins. The job of evolutionary biology is to produce a demonstrable process which renders these things more likely than not given the time and resources claimed for them. The fact that evolutionary biology has thus far failed to demonstrate this is why we are having this conversation. The ID theorists have given us good grounds for expecting such a demonstration shall not be forthcoming.

            As an aside, Mormonism is doctrinally wedded to the argument from design.

            In Alma 30:44, Alma says the following – [A]ll things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.

            It would be interesting indeed if Darwin, and not the prophet of God, was right, and order imposed upon chaos, matter organized into planets with regular orbits, and biological life in all its beauty and varieties indeed witnessed not so much any such thing as a Supreme Creator, but the awe-inspiring power of sheer dumb luck.

            • I think we’re speaking past each other:t bridge is an analogy of how extraneous material, processes, or structures can become irreducibly complex. If that isn’t clear, I don’t think we’ll accomplish much by discussing these matters.

              I suspect this is a fair example of why ID has yet to make much scientific headway.

              I believe in divine design. I don’t believe in pure dumb luck.

              Alma believed the planets were evidence for God. I think they are too–but that doesn’t mean that their accretion or orbits can’t be predicted by gravity. Such arguments will convince–according to Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, or whoever you conclude wrote this excerpt from the Lectures on Faith–only following, and not preceding, revelation:

              “In order to present this part of the subject in a clear and conspicuous point of light,” reads Lectures on Faith, “it is necessary to go back and show the evidences which mankind have had to believe in the existence of a God and also to show the foundation on which these evidences are and have been based since the creation.” And what were these evidences? Not the natural world: “We do not mean those evidences which are manifested by the works of creation which we daily behold with our natural eyes. We are sensible that, after a revelation of Jesus Christ, the works of creation clearly exhibit his eternal power and Godhead throughout their vast forms and varieties.” But such things are only compelling afterward. The initial ground for belief lies elsewhere:

              The way by which mankind were first made acquainted with the existence of a God was by a manifestation of God to man.

              It was by reason of the manifestation which God first made to our father Adam, when he stood in his presence and conversed with him face to face at the time of his creation, that the first thought ever existed in the mind of any individual that there was such a being as a God who had created and did uphold all things.

              God became an object of faith for rational beings, and . . . [the] foundation the testimony was based [on] which excited the inquiry and diligent search of the ancient Saints to seek after and obtain a knowledge of the glory of God . . . was human testimony, and human testimony only. . . . It was the credence they gave to the testimony of their fathers, it having aroused their minds to inquire after the knowledge of God . . . [that] always terminated when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries and eternal certainty.

              Science, however, does not factor in revelation. It cannot. That is neither a slur on science or a weakness–it is simply all that science was intended to do.

              So, I think many believers will continue to find ID compelling, but for reasons which are simply not accessible to those without revelation, ie, those reasons will not be purely, or ultimately, scientific.

          • “I think we’re speaking past each other:t[he] bridge is an analogy of how extraneous material, processes, or structures can become irreducibly complex. If that isn’t clear, I don’t think we’ll accomplish much by discussing these matters.”

            Yes, we are speaking past one another. The reason is because you have gotten your notion of irreducible complexity from the talk-origins folks, rather than the design theorists.

            The reason the bridge is not an example of irreducible complexity is because the first piece of the bridge, alone, does the job the finished bridge does, or else it doesn’t get laid out, in biological terms – if it serves no function, natural selection weeds it out because, well, it’s a waste of resources. That’s why the bridge is an example of ID in action – the first piece of the bridge is laid out with future function in mind, something natural selection does not do. There is no biological analogy to the bridge.

            The metabolic pathway you have adopted from the talkorigins folks is not irreducibly complex because the first step in the pathway performs the same function as the whole pathway. Granted, it doesn’t do it very well, but it does it well enough where a bacterium which has that sole portion of the whole metabolic pathway has selective advantage over a bacterium which does not have any portion of the pathway. Therefore, it is not irreducibly complex.

            I wish you had read the link I posted.

            The reason why the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex, despite its similarity and perhaps part reuse from the type-3 secretory system is because when you knock out any number of its N parts, from 1 part to N-1 parts, the system as a whole performs no function at all. It is a waste of resources, and confers no selective advantage.

            “So, I think many believers will continue to find ID compelling, but for reasons which are simply not accessible to those without revelation, ie, those reasons will not be purely, or ultimately, scientific.”

            This position can only be taken if you have taken talkorigins for your sole source. Having the necessary mathematical and computer science background to understand The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities, and its follow up No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot be Purchased Without Intelligence, and the latest paper on the topic – Specification: The Pattern That Signifies Intelligence (available here: ) I can say that your characterization of ID as an essentially religious position can only be maintained in ignorance. It is an information theoretic – statistical tool which gives us a rigorous and rational basis for asserting certain events are, at least in part, the product of intervening intelligences. This tool is already a part of science; and its status only gets denied when it is applied to biology and produces unwanted results.

            Just as some doctors get irritated when it is asserted there is a link between autism and certain vaccines, I find it wearisome to see the my co-religionists refusing to engage both sides of an issue fairly, and, in particular, this one, which actually strikes at the foundations of the faith. I sometimes can excuse misunderstandings, because, after all, math and logic are hard, but the attitudes and posturing concerning this topic strike me as more befitting the great and spacious building rather than those who are tenaciously pursuing the truth.

          • I misspoke – the bridge *is* irreducibly complex; my point was that there is no biological analogy to it for the reasons stated. I would replace that paragraph with this.

            “In biological terms, the first piece of the bridge, alone, does the job the finished bridge does, or else it doesn’t get laid out – if it serves no function, natural selection weeds it out because, well, it’s a waste of resources. That’s why the bridge is an example of ID in action – the first piece of the bridge, which does nothing of itself, is laid out with future function in mind, something natural selection does not do. There is no biological analogy to the bridge.”

            • I think we’re still speaking past each other. As I’ve argued, I think that those who opine on this topic ought to treat Saints on whatever side they come down on with charity and forbearance. To disagree or be unconvinced is not to rent rooms in the Great and Spacious Third Rate Hotel.

              I cite for the benefit of non-specialist readers who would like an accessible discussion of the mainstream scientific view, with extensive links to the peer-reviewed literature.

              It is not my only source of information.

              I have seen the material from Dembski you posted, thank-you. He has, unfortunately, yet to persuade me. I cannot do all his math, but many who know more than me are not convinced either.

              There is, by contrast, no such disagreement on the vaccine issue among those skilled in the relevant disciplines.

              I’m sorry if my suggestion about “many believers” was offensive. I did not intend to apply it to anyone in particular. I maintain that it is worth considering that no one can approach these matters ideologically untainted. If you can claim the truth of ID is ignored because of ideology, must we not also in humility recognize that we might find the idea compelling for other ideological reasons, despite evidentiary or logical lacunae?

              If that is posturing, I can only apologize and say that that is not my intent. People of good will can in good conscience differ. Since you feel I’m being unfair, I will leave you the last word. Again, my apologies.

          • Greg,

            Thanks for your graciousness in allowing opposing viewpoints to be aired.

            “I cite for the benefit of non-specialist readers who would like an accessible discussion of the mainstream scientific view, with extensive links to the peer-reviewed literature.”

            To use TalkOrigins as an authoritative source on ID is analogous to going to Catholics for information on Mormonism. In both cases, one is better served going directly to the source.

            The scientific status of design theory is also red herring, as well, since whether a thing is “science” or not depends solely upon the definition of “science” being used, and not the nature of the thing itself. It is similar to discussions as to whether Mormonism is a “cult.” Much heat is generated, and not much light.

            “There is, by contrast, no such disagreement on the vaccine issue among those skilled in the relevant disciplines.”

            There has not, to my knowledge, been a double-blind experiment performed with an unvaccinated control group, which would be the only way to test the hypothesis that there is a link between vaccinations and incidence of autism. The experts in the relevant disciplines are operating in ignorance without this experiment being performed, and lacking this evidential foundation also goes far to explain the hostility and mockery which the mere suggestion that there could be a causal link between vaccination and incidence of autism arouses. One sees from the rhetoric deployed that these are not dispassionate debates.

            “I maintain that it is worth considering that no one can approach these matters ideologically untainted. If you can claim the truth of ID is ignored because of ideology, must we not also in humility recognize that we might find the idea compelling for other ideological reasons, despite evidentiary or logical lacunae?”

            I believed my instructors when they told me that speciation had been observed, and that the same processes which produced these species – sheer dumb luck, on the final analysis – was, in fact, responsible for all of biological diversity. It was not until years later, and many courses in advanced mathematics and computer science, that I ran across Behe and Dembski. Because I had a lot of experience writing mathematical proofs, I recognized in Behe’s work as tight a formal proof as can be made on both theoretical and empirical grounds against the notion that sheer dumb luck can produce anything like what has been claimed for it.

            Since then, the search has been for counterexamples, as their logic is sound. No counterexamples have been forthcoming, and those which are proposed as counterexamples rely upon defective applications, or even intentionally misrepresented definitions, of the concept of irreducible complexity.

            In the end, it is odd to me that design theory should be controversial because the concept of design detection is readily applied in law, medicine, and the sciences. It is how we detect insurance fraud, scientific fraud, election fraud, plagiarism, and why we don’t look at Mount Rushmore and marvel at the awesome creative power of sheer dumb luck, in the form of, say, wind, rain, and erosion.

            Sometimes, truth in a secular setting can be hard to recognize when we don’t have the necessary background to understand it when it is presented. Ofttimes, as a shortcut to the laborious acquisition of knowledge necessary to apprehend certain things, we simply choose sides based on the appearance of credibility of the advocates, and I fear that there is altogether too much of that going on within this particular topic.

            I applaud your willingness to allow others to hold forth contrary views in this forum.

            • I repeat, I offered for the mainstream scientific view of the issues raised. You had already provided the ID view.

              Randomized controlled trials for vaccines known to be effective would likely not clear ethics approval looking for autism, given that no association between vaccine status and autism has been detected by other analyses. RCT are the gold standard, but retrospective cohort analysis and the like are not without value, especially in hypothesis generation for RCT checking. Since they have not detected any such linkage, it would be foolhardy to spend the time and money (to say nothing of exposing both trial participants and general population to deadly illness) to do a RCT.

              References and data here:


              Certainty is rare in biology, especially human biology. But we need not succumb to therapeutic nihilism and conclude we know nothing.

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