Friday, 30 May 2014

Why Jesus Was Probably Not A Socialist


A lot of people claim that Jesus was a socialist. They justify this by talking about His instructions to give away wealth and follow Him, and alluding to our being commanded to do our bit for the poor by giving charitably.  As well, we find in Timothy's first letter that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil". And let's be reminded that although we have Jesus' call to ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’, there is clearly no repudiation of State as a mechanism for governance.

So it's all pretty clear, right? Jesus endorses a system in which the means of production and distribution are owned by the State, but where the common welfare for everyone is to be achieved through the establishment of a socialist redistributive system.  

People who think this way must be reading a different Bible to me. They think it's obvious that Jesus would have rejected capitalism and been a staunch proponent of socialism. It may be obvious to Christians and atheists alike. Nevertheless, it isn't true.

While I hold the view that scripture is too low-resolution to distil any explicit political or economic framework applicable to the modern age - if people would take Christ's teachings as He instructed, and not as they want them to be, they would see more of an endorsement of laissez-faire monetary exchanges and voluntary giving than they would a heavy State-controlled command economy.

Clearly God sees a world full of suffering, and calls for us to work hard to earn the money* to be charitable, influential, and campaigners for social justice. But by its very definition, being generous means giving away something of your own accord. It doesn't mean being forced to give away something over which you have no control. If I draw out a quarter of my month's earnings and give it to WaterAid, I have been generous - but I have been generous because I wanted to do my bit to help out some desperate people. If, however, the government taxes me with the threat of imprisonment and gives the money to WaterAid on my behalf then I have not been generous, because I had no say in the matter.

Charitable foreign aid donations obtained from taxpayers' money are something to endorse, but foreign aid is not the same as voluntary giving, because foreign aid involves the government giving away other people's money, not their own. If the UK actually was full of Christian charity then it'd be full of people giving of their own accord.

I remember a couple of years ago when David Cameron was defending the governmental increase in the foreign aid budget because 'Britons are generous people'. I'm all for greatly increasing the foreign aid budget and helping the world's neediest more than we currently do, but David Cameron had his reasoning backwards there. The governmental increase in the foreign aid budget must have been necessary because too many Britons are not that generous of their own volition. Giving to the world's neediest of your own accord is more generous than the government giving to them on your behalf after taxing it from you. If Britons were increasingly generous people it would lessen the need for governmental foreign aid, not increase it.

Compulsory aid transference through enforced taxation subverts God's desire that people are generous of their volition. If the government is having to take our money and give to the poor then that's every suggestion that we are not being Christian enough in our generosity, and that others are having to be generous on our behalf. Given that the market of supply and demand and the efficiency of price theory have been proven to be the primary vehicles that will enable us to earn the money with which to be generous, I'm confident that God, being omniscient, supports things that yield to logic and empirical evidence.

EDIT TO ADD: At the risk of this article getting misrepresented, I want to reiterate what I said above - that the Bible is too low-resolution for water-tight contemporary political theory, so we must not speak beyond our station. But as the book of Proverbs (and John for that matter) evinces - accounts of truth are favourable with God. Moreover, Jesus being God means He isn't confined to the past - He is an active personality in the current age too, so cares deeply about how we do things.

Empirical evidence is one of those qualities. Empirical evidence shows that the Smithian invisible hand acts as a social mechanism that channels collective objectives toward meeting the needs of the people that make up a society, by ensuring competition between buyers and suppliers, which channels the profit motive of individuals into providing products that society desires at prices which are rarely above cost.

This is what makes laissez-faire economic philosophy (with light regulation) so compelling - it is that markets automatically channel self-interest toward socially desirable ends. Where there is still poverty and need, it is not because of the markets, it is because they haven't been able to partake in the qualities the market facilitates. Or to use a simple illustration I often use:

A) Inequality occurs not because trade is bad but because some cannot participate in trade.

B) Hunger occurs not because food is bad but because some cannot participate in eating food.

Finally, on Christians in the political arena - in the wake of the recent elections, I've been hugely disappointed by the Christian parties trying to gain some political ground. Instead of seeing refreshing calls to do more for the poor, engender social justice, and generally promote kindness and tolerance, we've seen only prejudice and passive-aggressive spiritual intimidation - which means a whole lot of 'my way or the wrong way' proclamations. No wonder they remain outside of the periphery of mainstream politics.

* You'll note the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-27

** Photo courtesy of http://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/libertarian-jesus

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Badly Needed Ripples That UKIP Has Caused In British Politics


Well, as you've probably read now, after the European Election UKIP has the most MEPs and has taken over 27% of the votes.

A lot of people seem genuinely shocked that a party so rife with scandal could accumulate such a large percentage of the votes. I don't find it at all surprising that UKIP members kept cropping up in scandal (it happens to the other parties to, but they are not so well publicised). The UKIP members that call themselves a party aren't really a party in the traditional sense - they are a collection of people who've become disenchanted with the parties they used to support. Nigel Farage is a dejected Tory who can't bear to see the Conservatives become so left wing on issues like economics, Europe, immigration and homosexuality.

Whatever else we can say about the results, one thing ought to be crystal clear now for the other two main parties (I say two because hopefully the ramshackled Lib Dems will fall off the political radar in the coming years) - their tactic of insulting, trivialising and pretty much dismissing UKIP's sound-bytes has not only been a mistake, it has been rather dishonourable too.

A few weeks ago I wrote this…

As you've probably gathered, I can't help but think that the way many people are simply writing off UKIP as a bunch of bigoted racists with nothing worth hearing is an exaggeration too far. There' s disagreement, and rational arguments in opposition, which are all fair game - but as for lobbing an egg on Nigel Farage's head, and sending bricks and faeces through the post, well I'm afraid that's ignoble, and to be guilty of sinking to a level way below the party they're supposed to be repudiating.

Let's be clear, I'm not affiliated to any political party - but what should be evidently clear by now is that what's making UKIP popular relates to issues that the other main parties have not been, and are still not, satisfactorily addressing. I don't want to get into those issues now, but suffice to say that if UKIP can obtain over 4,350,000 votes in a 34% turn out, then crass dismissals of them amounts to, at the very least, crass dismissals of the issues the main parties are not addressing, and one might also say crass dismissals of the current concerns of an awful lot of people in the UK - like the efficacy of the current EU set-up, and like our ability to control immigration in ways that mutually benefits all concerned

Looking to next year, I still don't imagine UKIP will obtain any seats at the 2015 General Election (the first past the post system disadvantages them there), although they might be able to pick up one or two if they focus all their attentions on the small minority of potentially winnable constituencies. And it is astonishing to me that this current Labour party - probably the worst bunch of political buffoons since the Labour party of the late seventies, or maybe even ever - looks set to get the most votes in next year's election (either obtaining a majority, or at the least acquiring the most votes).

Of course, this is more to do with disenchanted voters floating away from other parties (primarily the Lib Dems) than it is anything they've done of their own merit. But if it turns out that way then David Cameron will surely look back and realise that his biggest mistake was in not re-claiming the territory lost to the best parts of UKIP - most notably the libertarian values of free-enterprise and global trade, small State regulation, and standing up to the charmless, un-democratic bureaucrats in the European Union, many of whose laws are stultifying, economically inefficient and nannified. Here's a prime example of what I mean; the EU's dreadful tariffs on non-EU agriculture dampens the price signals of agriculture and creates trade barriers that hurt much poorer non-EU countries like those in Africa. The result is not only an unnecessary disadvantage for those who desperately need more traded, it is a wasteful misallocation of agricultural adaptation as it effectively subsidies EU farming against those whose goods are more cost-efficient.

For all its ills, what UKIP has done successfully is focus on a few of those few key issues on which David Cameron will regret not doing better in the last four years. The Conservatives, the Lib Dems and Labour have too often behaved like petulant children, throwing slurs at a party they should have instead pre-empted, on issues they should have addressed more intelligently and perspicaciously.

As someone with no party affiliation, I'm glad to see the political scenery changing in the way it currently is. As things stand UKIP are doing just well enough to give greater illumination to the way the smug, sententious, out of touch muttonhead politicians (and the prostrating media) need to do an awful lot better.

And now that they have shown their popularity and forced the Con-Lib-Labs to address some of these issues, it exposes all the more the likelihood that the main parties, and their sycophantically loyal media hucksters, never really believed UKIP were racist, they just employed those tactics as a slur to dissuade voters from putting UKIP in a position they (as it turned out, justifiably) feared they would obtain.   

As things stand, UKIP have lobbed in a bus-sized boulder into the stagnant lake of British politics, while at the same time remaining far away from having any direct influence in Parliamentary policies. It's probably going to turn out that, in the long run, that'll be a good thing for the political landscape in the UK, particularly if, as looks likely, the ugly racist, xenophobic BNP thugs disappear into oblivion, and the Lib Dems become a tiny fringe party again that does much of its good work at the hands of their many decent local councillors.

* Photo courtesy of The Independent.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Vince Cable's Bubble Muddle


This week Vince Cable claimed that increased property prices justifies capital gains tax because rent profits that come from investment make price rises unsustainable. Vince Cable and his Lib Dem cronies want to tax capital gains on people making lots of money from property rental.

Regrettably, Vince Cable is so focused on the mote of capital gains in the far distance that he’s failing to see the beam of regulation right in front of him. Here’s what he’s missing. Under normal market conditions investment in property should bring prices down, not up. If renting property is hugely profitable then investors will look to build more property in order to generate more profits. If lots of investors do this then housing supplies will increase, demand will lessen, and prices will be brought down. Vince Cable should ask himself what it is that is preventing this normal market chain of events. The answer, he'd find, is the huge restrictions placed on where (and how) property can be built.

The supposed ‘wisdom’ coming from Westminster is as follows: meddle in the markets to interrupt a natural flow that would increase supply and bring down prices, and then impose a capital gains tax on people who are beneficiaries of the short housing supply, disincentivising investment in property investment.

This is all preposterous and harmful to the UK, and yet another example of why the State should not try to dictate the industries we pursue. According to Paul Chesire's research on price differentials from the LSE, we find:

"Relative to other prices, house prices have gone up five-fold since 1955. In less than 20 years the price of houses has doubled relative to incomes; since 1997 lower quartile house prices have increased 80% relative to lower quartile earnings – even despite the crash of 2007-09”.

The logical corollary, then, according to natural market forces, is that demand for housing is high. If demand is high and supplies scarce enough to cause a drastic shortage, the obvious solution is to deregulate some of the green land prohibitions and allow the natural forces of the market to bring supplies closer to demand.

So we should just expand cities like London by keep building more houses on green land?

I didn't say yes or no to that – I merely pointed out that it's a bit rich politicians complaining about a housing shortage when it's the artificial restrictions by councils on the supply of land that creates the shortage. The economic answer is that we should expand cities like London where demand calls for it, and preserve green areas where demand calls for that.

That’s all very well, but even if they start to lift some of the restrictions we still have the problem of lots of foreigners buying our houses in London and leaving them sitting empty while UK folk struggle to find housing.

Careful now, that sounds very xenophobic, as well as being factually inaccurate.

Xenophobic and factually inaccurate?

Yes, there are no foreigners 'buying our houses' - we (whoever we is supposed to be) don't own those houses, so they are not ours to buy or sell. Any property sold to foreigners is sold willingly by the owner of that property. To adopt an aversion to that based on the principle that the buyers are foreigners smacks of xenophobia.

One of the few good things a government can do is ensure that its public spending makes the country a better place. Keeping more up to speed on the social housing need is a good place to start. And for the private market, diminish the housing shortage by lifting land regulations, which will the enable the building of more private homes in a market that badly needs them.

* Photo courtesy of pearltree

** Point of note: this article by the LSE’s Paul Cheshire contains the following finding: Most privately owned Greenbelt land is intensively farmed with limited rights of access and has no amenity value at all. Recent studies have shown that its value is captured only by those who own houses within it, and that intensively farmed land has a negative environmental value.”

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Taking Socialism To A New Level - A World Without Money


Take a look at this guy Daniel Lambert - I saw him on the Daily Politics pre-election show a couple of days ago - he's one heck of a socialist, and quite a charismatic and likeable guy too. He wants to go one stage further than most socialists - he wants to abolish money altogether, which means abolishing the very units that make price theory work.

To see how efficient the utility of price theory is, let's humour Mr. Lambert and imagine a world without money. Some people do live this way - the Anuta tribe in the Solomon Islands have a society based on a gift economy as their currency, but they haven't advanced very far materially (an observation which itself has pluses and minuses).

For most people, though, a world without money would be a disaster for commercial transactions. It would also bring about a world of hunger, neglect and social unrest. Consider Frank who owns a garage. In an economy with currency Frank sells his services to a range of customers - people who need their car services, MOTs, brakes changed, cam belt replacements, and so forth. Their common goal is that they need Frank to perform mechanical operations that they cannot.

 
Frank exchanges his services for money so he can buy things he wants - clothes, food, DVDs, holidays, DIY goods, and so forth. If money didn't exist then Frank's world of selling and buying would be up in the air. Rather than exchanging his mechanical skills for the right amount of money, he would have to find people who had clothes, food, DVDs, holidays and DIY goods and make a mutually beneficial exchange. Suppose Frank wants seven DVDs - he'd have to seek out a DVD salesman who had something wrong with his car in order to offer to trade seven DVDs in exchange for a car repair. Or if he wanted a holiday he'd have to find someone selling a holiday who happened to need car repairs to the same value. It sounds like hell.
 
But it gets worse. Suppose the DVD salesman needs a head gasket replacement. That's going to cost him quite a few dozen DVDs - far more than Frank wants. So Frank and the DVD salesman must strike a deal; an annual supply of DVDs that Frank wants until the bill is paid over a number of years, or a few hundred DVDs which Frank can then sell on. The trouble is, Frank is now a garage mechanic and a DVD salesman. He wants a new suit - but the suit salesman only wants a new exhaust - so Frank has to offer him a new exhaust and six DVDs. Multiply that by everyone in the country and, as you can see, the whole thing would be a nightmare for all concerned.
 
A world without money would be a truly miserable world for everyone trying to make a living. Rather than a world with specialised skills exchangeable for monetary currency, everyone might as well become like Tom and Barbara Good in The Good Life - self-sufficient vegetable growers knitting sweaters out of old ragged garments.
 
It would not be impossible to live without money - but its absence would limit us all to performing only the basic tasks necessary for survival. If there'd never been any money, we'd live in a world with no Internet, no telephones, no television, no cars, no trains, no ships, no holidays, no global travel, no space exploration, no Manhattan skyline, and not much science and knowledge either. Daniel Lambert is a nice guy - and his party seems full of well-meaning individuals (they are a party that, for good or ill, works on a no leadership basis) - but they should be careful what they wish for.
 
* Photo courtesy of seniorinfo4u.com
 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

On Farage’s ‘Romanian Neighbours’, And Why The Worst Thing He Said Went Unnoticed

A whole host of renowned political twits have come forward to condemn Nigel Farage's 'Romanian neighbours' comment as racist – most notably David Lammy, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, and Diane Abbott (whose own history of closet racist utterings makes her an ideal candidate to look for it in others).  

While he has lots of odious ideas, technically Nigel Farage is right when he says that if a group of Romanian men moved next door to you, you would be a bit concerned (I stress the point that he said ‘men’, not ‘people’). Clearly that comment needn't mean that all Romanians are a threat - but given the ever-expanding number of male crime gangs in this country, you wouldn't be human if you didn't at least consider that a group of men moving in next door does involve at least a small chance that they might be a crime gang. This is a natural reaction that just about anyone might feel, without being the slightest bit racist about it. Your house is one of the primary assets in which you've invested hugely, so to expect people to be devoid of alert in gauging potential dangers is a rather unrealistic expectation.

Nigel Farage may well have it in for most of the UK's immigrants, or he may just be genuinely concerned about what he thinks is a too-relaxed border policy that sees too many undesirable criminals enter the UK (make your mind up which it is) - or maybe it's a bit of both - but simply stating that most people would be concerned if a group of Romanian men moved in next door isn't factually incorrect, particularly in the initial stage before they had got to know them a bit.

Personally I think Nigel Farage would have been better trying to vindicate himself the next day along those lines rather than following it up by saying: "Any normal and fair-minded person would have a perfect right to be concerned if a group of Romanian people suddenly moved in next door" – which, when you substitute ‘men’ for ‘people’, does sound a bit dodgier. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett certainly seems to think so, saying:

“That is a statement that can only be described as bigoted, racist and disgusting. Those Romanian people might be doctors, or IT professionals or care workers, or Roma seeking a better life away from prejudice and as likely as any other people to be good neighbours, who'll feed the cat or lend you a cup of sugar.”

Well yes, quite – but that’s trivially obvious, and beside the main thrust of Farage’s point. If you’ve arrived at the knowledge that your new Romanian neighbours are doctors, IT professionals or care workers, and you’ve already engaged in sugar swapping and pet-feeding, you no longer are in the position where you are concerned that they might be a dangerous crime gang, so the point is somewhat academic.

I’m perfectly willing to agree that Nigel Farage is not the most desirable of politicians – it just seems surprising that the “Romanian neighbour” point was the one for which everyone is choosing to vilify him when there are so many more indictments to which he could be subjected.

Speaking of which, I said in the title that the worst thing Nigel Farage said went unnoticed. The comment to which I'm referring is when he said on Newsnight last night that 'foreign aid should be cut'. Let’s get this straight – Mr Farage thinks the piddling support we currently offer to the poorest people in the world should be even less than what it is? It's shameful that politicians are trying to score political points with Romania-Gate, but yet lack the discernment to see why suggestions to cut the already miniscule foreign aid is actually a far worse form of discrimination than being concerned about the probability of a Romanian gang moving next door to you.

Foreign aid helps the world’s neediest people – not enough – but it is recognition that outside of our comparably comfy UK surroundings, there are people out there still dying through lack of access to fresh drinking water. When Nigel Farage says ‘cut foreign aid’ he’s asking us to champion even further neglect towards people far far worse off than us in favour of people who happen to share the same nationality as him. Of course, we understand why he says it – there are no votes to be won from foreigners who lack drinking water, and there are plenty to be won from British people who’d be the beneficiaries of a foreign aid cut – but I’d have much more respect for a politician if he or she was brave enough to castigate Farage for that comment, and show that they could put integrity and solicitude before popularity-mongering.

Finally Nigel Farage’s comment that he was uncomfortable hearing foreigners speaking their own language on a train was a stupid thing to say, and does rather fuel the flames of racist accusations against him. Farage strikes me as a mess of contradictions, half-truths and unreasonable prejudices - but him and his UKIP members have clearly got the other parties worried, which is why they are targeting him with anything they can find. They've got it wrong, though, with Romania-Gate, because to target him with that involves indirectly targeting just about everyone else in the country too.  

* It seems, though, that Farage felt the outside pressure to the extent that he later disassociated himself from his original terminology - "Do you know what, in life sometimes people get things wrong. I regret the fact that I was completely tired out and I didn't use the form of words in response that I would have liked to have used."

** Photo courtesy of the BBC

Monday, 19 May 2014

Surrey Seems To Be The Hardest Word


There are myriad reasons why I'm not affiliated to any political party, and elaborating on them will be worthy of a Blog post of its own one day. But for now, one significant reason - the one that's relevant here - is that I abhor the political ethos that ensnares politicians so much on vote-winning and popularity mongering that they are all but forced to dispense with any sincere apologies or admissions of being wrong.

Sadly, politicians are handcuffed and gagged by popularity pressure to the extent that they cannot be seen to admit to past mistakes or concede to being wrong. A really embarrassing instance of this occurred in a recent episode of Prime Minister's Questions on BBC Parliament, with Ed Miliband and David Cameron going head to head over the Royal Mail share price fiasco. Clearly the coalition government (largely in this case Vince Cable and Michael Fallon) underestimated the share price (although I have my suspicions that there was 'do or die' pressure from investors to sell low). Ed Miliband tried his hardest to get David Cameron to concede the under-valuation, and Cameron kept ducking the issue, instead criticising Labour for their time in power - in particular Gordon Brown's under-valuation of the gold he sold off. The whole tit-for-tat exchange was as transparent as a piece of cling film.

I picked the Royal Mail shares example because it is a perfect example of an error for which the coalition government could easily be forgiven*, and thus an error for which Vince Cable and Michael Fallon could easily plead contrition. Instead we had Vince Cable on Question Time with Labour's smug twit of a Shadow Secretary for Business Chuka Umunna enjoying the benefit of hindsight to let rip into him. It would have been much more impressive if Umunna, or any detractors, had had the foresight to say all this before the sale - but as far as I know no one predicted the boom, not even the experts. In fact, the soundest advice at the time was to not pitch at too high a price.

It was daft of the government to promise that shareholders would be in for the long haul, as profit-seekers would fairly obviously be likely to cash in when the price surge flooded in double quick time. But aside from that, this was one of those unpredictable events, and, as it turned out, mistakes, for which the government could have covered itself in more glory by showing regret and being publicly contrite.

What goes on with the price of a stamp?
Despite its privatisation, Royal Mail is still not free to run as it wishes - it is regulated by the government through Ofcom to ensure what's called a 'Universal Service' for customers, which guarantees that service standards (affordability and deliverability) must be available to all addresses in the UK. This regulation acts as a guarantee that now privatised there will not be the issue of whether Royal Mail carries on delivering to and collecting from more rural properties. The coalition government fears that without regulation Royal Mail would be tempted to stop all services that were not cost-effective, and that naturally rural folk would be more displeased than urban folk, as many would miss out on vital deliveries and collections. They needn't worry.

Because not every place of residence or business is in the same geographical proximity to a city or town centre, Royal Mail operates under a system in which there is potentially an involuntary cost on a quite large segment of society (urban folk) for the benefits of small segment of society (rural folk). For example, suppose for simplicity sake that it costs £1 to provide postal collections and deliveries to rural folk, and 50p to provide to urban folk (including a Royal Mail profit margin). If everyone paid the same for a stamp then all customers would pay 75p. Were that the case then such a pricing policy would provide the minority rural customers with a subsidy of 25p, which would be borne entirely by the majority of urban folk.

This would leave room for competing forces. If a rival firm like TNT decides to target urban customers by charging, say, urban-rate fees of 65p then a lot of urban folk will switch to TNT which will take a lot of business away from Royal Mail and lave them with high-cost rural customers, which will then see even further price hikes for rural folk who are stuck with Royal mail.

All this sounds fine except for one problem - a privately run postal services is not like, say, a privately run waste disposal service. In the case of the latter, if it proves too costly to go all the way out to rural Surrey to pick up residents' rubbish, the waste disposal company can simply stop all collections from there and stick with more profitable built up routes. But unlike waste disposal where everything that needs to be collected is generated at source, correspondence that Royal Mail transports goes from urban to rural as well as rural to urban. That is to say, a postal service cannot discontinue rural stops without hurting urban custom, because there will be many letters generated in Norwich, Nottingham, London, Cambridge, and so forth that need to get to places like those in rural Surry scattered all around the country.

A price system which tried to factor in price per mile on top of the already existent price variables in weight and size would be prohibitively time-consuming for customers, which would hand the advantage to competing firms who could set single delivery prices. 

* Save for (perhaps) the nepotism going on with share sales to certain individuals not too far away from certain Cabinet members - but that's a separate issue from the valuation.

* Photo courtesy of thisismoney.co.uk

 


 

 


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

What Really Motivates Our Lawfulness Isn't The Law


In my last Blog post I pointed out a Home Office error of reasoning about prison deterrence. I wanted to say something else about deterrence, but felt it would be better in a separate Blog post. Despite what I said about prison being mainly a deterrent against first time offences, it's also the case that the law is not the strong motivational, incentivising device many think it is - human rationality is the real motivational, incentivising device that enables us to have the relatively peaceable co-existence we have in places like the UK.

Imagine a man in the ancient Assyrian empire living in 1200 BC - a time of sieges, cross-border invasions, sanguinary conflicts and relative lawlessness. Suppose he gets transported to modern day Britain. As well as marvelling at the technological advances, the thing that will strike him most would probably be how peaceful, tolerant and stable it is.

Anyone who has studied history knows that peace and good order are far from the natural condition of human beings. The freedom, liberty, stability and security we have in the UK would probably strike our Assyrian man as being as marvellous as all the modern day technology (of course, if you transported him to present day Syria, or Ukraine, or Burma - or London during the 2011 riots - he'd soon feel more at home).

How have we become so ordered? Clearly not just by authority. If the majority of UK citizens decided to seize control over the authorities, they would have more than enough numbers to do so. Suppose you were asked to form an allegiance with an ever-expanding majority group who wanted to take control of the UK, and had the power to do so. Under this power you could join them in running riot - stealing from banks and shops, raping whomever you fancied, commandeering rich people's houses, swim in their pools, drive their Aston Martins around, and generally take advantage of being able to do what you wanted. I think you know straight away that you'd be prohibitively reluctant to join - in fact, you'd probably be on your knees praying that they don't go through with it.

The reason is obvious - despite some possible temporary gains, the losses are greater, as no one wants to live in such a society. Clearly, then, we are ordered not primarily out of fear of the law, but because we want to be ordered and want to live in a stable and safe society. Some moral philosophers will tell you that we are ordered because we all share the same views about what is right and wrong.  One careful look at society shows that this is moonshine - we differ greatly on all kinds of moral views. Therefore I would suggest that the moral philosophers who postulate this view have got their reasoning backwards - it is precisely because we have little chance of agreeing if all left to our own devices that we leave it to the devices of an elected government instead, and volunteer our active part in ensuring that those State-run devices are used as little as possible.

In all likelihood, until the past few decades a great many people had been brought up on a diet of people like Thomas Hobbes' and his portents in the Leviathan, according to which the benefit of the State is that it helps engender the kind of order of which we'd be devoid without a heavy authority in place. Without it life would be "nasty, brutish and short" according to Hobbes - which, as we know from history and from present day places without a stable State and rule of law, can be the case.

What Hobbes underestimated is the extent to which people have an incentive to adhere to the law if it is consistently enforced and that the State has an easier time policing a nation whose citizens adhere to the law, as well as an incentive to create laws that best incentivise. Hobbes got this part wrong - he believed that our natural brutishness necessitated a strict authoritarian State that could keep us in good order. He failed to appreciate the true strength of the symbiosis between willing citizens and willing State to work together to constrain us only to the extent to which our willingness to be co-operative was realised.

* Photo courtesy of hurstpublishers.com

The Prison Deterrence Fallacy

This picture has been doing the rounds.....




Now it's fairly obvious that there are a number of factors behind this difference between Sweden and the USA; things like number of laws, population size, levels of diversity, and varying levels of cultural tolerance on things like social behaviour, drugs, and so forth. On the last one, which is a big determiner of crime, apparently - "The drug policy of Sweden is based on zero tolerance focusing on prevention, treatment, and control, aiming to reduce both the supply of and demand for illegal drugs".
 
I won't comment any further on the prison situation in Sweden or the USA, because I'm not extensively researched on either. But I do have something to say on UK prisons, as there seems to be a fundamental error of understanding that I can hardly believe is uttered by our Home Office representatives. Here's what led me to witness this strange piece of logical foolishness.
 
Apparently, the story goes like this: after Vicky Pryce emerged from her period of incarceration and publicly claimed that prison is 'not fit for purpose', our Home Office team have been working hard to address the reasons why. Guess what their conclusion was? They concluded that it is primarily due to the high re-offending rate that prison is not fit for purpose as a deterrent against crime.

They base this on the fact that, according to Home Office statistics, 3/4 of criminals are recidivists. What that means is that 75 out of every 100 criminals released from prison re-offend. Actually, that's how many are convicted - and given that not all crimes result in a conviction, it's a fairly safe bet that more than 3/4 of criminals end up reoffending.
 
But saying that prison isn't fit for purpose because of high re-offending rates is an absurd complaint, and a peculiar error of reasoning. It's a bit like complaining that sea defences aren't fit for purpose because occasionally there are extreme coastal conditions that break those barriers. It would be good if the sea defences prevented all flooding, but their primary job is to protect the land from the ordinary thrust of the sea on a daily basis. Similarly, prison's primary function is to reduce offending (by deterrence and by keeping criminals out of society), not re-offending. If it reduces re-offending then all well and good, but that is not its primary function.

It's preposterous to consider whether prison is fit for purpose by only considering the recidivism rates. It's as preposterous as considering how many men in the UK take steroids by only interviewing weight-trainers in gymnasiums. Such a biased research method would drastically skew the overall figures, and this is what is going on with the Home Office's consideration of prison's success rate. Recidivists are people who've already been convicted of a crime, so they are people for whom the threat of prison was no real deterrent first time out. Therefore they are the biased sample of the population for whom prison is the least likely to be a deterrent second time around.

The only proper way to enquire whether prison is fit for purpose is to ask how much of a deterrent it is for the vast majority of people in the UK - those who haven't found themselves outside of the orbit of the law. As far as we can gather, the threat of prison, loss of liberty, loss of employment, and so forth has been a very successful deterrent for a majority of the population.
 
This is compounded by the fact that when it comes to the change in social status from being an ordinary citizen to a convicted criminal, the first cut really is the deepest. That is to say, the first time a recidivist became a criminal was the worst time for him (or her). It was on that first occasion that he became incarcerated, when up until then he had only been used to freedom, and it was then that he first experienced the change in status that would give him a social stigma and make him harder to employ. If that wasn't a sufficient deterrent, we shouldn't be too surprised that criminals are even less likely to be deterred second time around.
 
Now, it's here that we must mention perhaps the most important word - 'rehabilitation'. A prison system works if it successfully rehabilitates offenders. And, alas, high re-offending rates in the UK shows that prison is not working as well as it could in its quest for rehabilitation. I think that's a better argument for prison 'not being fit for purpose' than saying it's failing as a deterrent - but there is a caveat.
 
I fully support the notion that rehabilitation is a primary goal in the judicial system, but unless deterrence and incapacitation are part of that process, a strong rehabilitation ethos might by itself actually increase crime instead of reduce it. Here's why. If rehabilitation is made a primacy at the cost of diminishing deterrence and incapacitation, would-be criminals will see the cost of committing crimes diminish, and this would likely increase their desire to take risks and commit crimes. Yet equally, I don't actually like the notion of punishment for punishment's sake at all - I don't think it has the desired effect on the individual, even if it does stop would-be criminals trivialising the risks by seeing rehabilitation as a too softly-softly measure. If there is to be punishment, let it be part of the overall effect of incapacitation and a strong focus on rehabilitation.


* Picture courtesy of Facebook

Sunday, 11 May 2014

God, Evolution, Genes, Morality, Altruism, Grace & Sacrifice




This Thursday just gone I attended an interesting talk by Professor Sarah Coakley at Norwich Cathedral (see her details at bottom of page). The primary focus of the talk involved the extent to which evolution can engender co-operative behaviours, and whether qualities like altruism need to be more aptly characterised in what she calls 'supernormal terms' once God is brought into consideration (in evolutionary biology, altruism means individual behaviour that increases the fitness of an organism while decreasing the actor's fitness).

The talk was broad enough to ensure that one blog post won't do it justice, so I'll just concentrate on the central thesis here, which is that Professor Coakley wants to depart from strict genetic determinism and propound the hypothesis that proper altruism in human form takes its cue from Christ's injunction to 'love our enemies'.

To frame human altruism in its proper context, let's first consider altruism in its precursory stage occurring in other species. In doing this I'm going to lead you to the central thesis in one of the books I've (nearly) written - that things like altruism, sacrifice, generosity, kindness, charity, even human goodness itself are all engaged with by our limited capacity in terms of ethics and morality, but are, in fact, subsets of some kind of supra-goodness emanating from God Himself.

Altruism in the animal kingdom
The animal kingdom consists of what could be referred to as ethological altruism in which animals are simply passing on their genetic information, despite a rich spectrum of emotional variances. There are lots of well known examples of altruism in animals which passed through because they conferred advantage to the group. The sting and consequent death of a honeybee is a good example. It is a form of self-sacrifice because the bee's genes survive and are shared in the colony of relatives. Also, various termites evolved a mechanism for releasing a sticky secretion which causes their own death by fatally rupturing a neck gland; but the autothysis creates a tar baby effect which defends against invading ants. Further, there are numerous examples where animals adopt orphaned animals of a different species.

It is particularly interesting that many behavioural patterns that we used to think were purely human have been observed in other animals that do not possess our fecundity. When dolphins are injured or suffering from malaise, others dolphins will swim under them for hours at a time helping them to the surface to enable them to breathe. Many of the ape groups will put themselves at risk to help other ape groups with food sharing, aiding injured group members, and with defense against predators. Some birds become "helper birds" and assist other breeding pairs in raising their young, and in some cases they will protect an unrelated bird's young from external threats. There are also a number of animals that give alarm calls to warn their kin of the presence of predators, and attract attention to themselves, which, of course brings about self-endangerment. Meerkats leave one member of their group on sentry duty to willingly act to warn others as the rest feed themselves. Finally, there are even cases of animals who will infiltrate a group of rival predators and rescue a herd member who has been captured (American buffalos are one example, and there are others).

The material distinction between humans and other animals is that we are not wholly subservient to mere biological stimuli - we can override our biology, with evolution of ideas being a big driver of many things in our species now. Unlike other creatures, our interaction with the world can adapt without ‘requiring’ a genetic evolution (although genetic evolution is still occurring, of course). Humans take generations to evolve; bacteria evolve during a routine sickness if the antibiotic isn't used correctly. With greater cognitive complexity and lifespan we see safeguards which slow evolution; yet paradoxically we have seen a driven need for increase in good acts and the avoidance of the over emphasis on self-centredness and parochialism (which is psychologically damaging). Moreover, the greater intellection associated with being human puts greater pressure on the complexities of altruism, because emotional factors are involved that are not involved with the same degree of complexity in any other animal.

In God's image
The Biblical distinction between humans and other animals is that humans are made 'in God's image', and that, as a consequence, we have qualitative superiority in terms of the relationship we can have with God and with each other. But even so, it is perfectly compatible to say that humans are made in God's image, yet also a repertoire of traits, components and qualities that find their legacy in biological evolution. In fact, this is precisely what we'd expect if morality and ethics are humanly evolved phenomena, and God's love, grace and goodness the very things to which our ethics and morality are leading us. In my book of the same name I've called this "The Ecstasy of a New Morality"

The whole purpose of moral thinking is that for every action there is a consideration related to the concepts of right and wrong - but in terms of assenting to God, there probably are concepts with explanations that are more closely identified with the ecstasy of a new morality than the evolutionary origins of ordinary ethical history. In the Sermon on the Mount we see in Christ’s words something that hints (stress 'hints') at more than just ordinary morality. I notice that His teachings on the human heart are not expressed with the consequences of failing in mind – it is not a ‘You must do this, or else!’ expression – it is more of a set of teachings that speak truths about what it is to be human, and the best state of mind that we can create for ourselves when trying to master God's wisdom given to us. Rather than being mere binary systems of right and wrong, the teachings seem to be hints of concepts greater than what mere morality can accomplish. 

The instruction to 'Love your neighbour as yourself' is sometimes taken to impose an automatic cost on the person doing the loving - but while sometimes costs can be incurred, it isn't a necessary component in the expression. Loving your neighbour reaps huge psycho-spiritual benefits on the individual - and as St Paul reminds us, love never fails the person doing the loving - so it's not good to think of loving your neighbour in terms of costs - the whole process is hugely beneficial to the giver as well as the recipient. 

Goodness for goodness sake
The relationship between being Christ-like and engendering self-interested rewards is an interesting one. When considering the idea of goodness, we find that the concept of goodness for goodness sake is quite obscure.  When pondering whether or not there is such a thing as a pure act of human goodness unrelated to self-interest, I find that I lean towards the view that there is not such a thing.  We are able to perform kind and heroic acts, but I doubt whether any pure form of selflessness can be attributed to them, for it seems true to say that while all acts are not governed by self-interest they certainly have a cosy relationship with self-interest. 

I once set a challenge to a group of people to think of a positive, kind or generous act that confers no benefits on the self. Everyone struggled to think of one. Even seeming acts of pure generosity naturally confer emotional benefits which stroke our ego, and give us satisfaction and moral worth. I ended up contending that it is impossible to act beneficently without some form of self-interest coming into the equation.

Volunteers give up their time to do socially beneficial work, but studies have indicated that the warm glow of looking good is hard to resist. Two economists, Jeffrey Carpenter and Caitlin Knowles-Myers, put this to the test by analysing voluntary firefighters. They found that when offered modest financial incentives, some took them, but many did not. While this isn't watertight general evidence by any stretch of the imagination, what Carpenter and Knowles-Myers found was that many who turned down financial incentives were also the volunteers who had purchased vanity plates exhibiting their volunteer status. Presumably cash incentives would have undermined the warm glow they wanted to retain from being explicit about their volunteering status.

There may be a correlation between knowing more about the beneficiaries of one's charity rather than giving to 'eradicate poverty'. For example, being asked to donate to help a particular village in Cambodia get drinking water probably would be a different proposition to being asked to give generally to assist with WaterAid. In terms of how they make you feel, I suspect there are differences too. Those who just want to give to charity to feel good about themselves are less likely to do research into the best charity to give to, or whether theirs is doing as much good as others. Just the fact that they 'are' giving may often be enough for them.

Naturally this warm glow of satisfaction effect comes with further consideration in relation to the gospel. If our goodness brings with an automatic sense of self-satisfaction, and possible evolutionary legacies capable of inducing automatic pleasure in response to our decency, we may always be under a cloud of self-doubt with regards the pure intentionality of our actions.

If you'll recall, altruism means individual behaviour that increases the fitness of an organism while decreasing the actor's fitness. In Robert Triver's "Social Evolution", for an act to be called altruistic it must be demonstrated that the actor is incurring a cost. We've said that although there are occasions when we do something with seemingly no ulterior motive or assent towards outward self-interest, there is always the concomitant pleasure and satisfaction that such acts confer on the self. If it is the case that the benefits to the self always exceed the cost of the beneficent act (and that's by no means a certainty), this means it is nigh on impossible for a human to be altruistic.

Neuroscientific studies give possible indicators too. Using fMRIs (which stands for 'functional magnetic resonance imaging'), neuroscientists can map the activity of the various parts of the brain. Jordan Grafman and his team found that the area of the brain that was active when a beneficent act was undertaken was the mesolimbic pathway (which is the cognitive area associated with rewards, and has the same dompamine-based distributive properties as we have with sex, money, food and drugs. Beneficent acts also engaged the part of the brain that doles out oxytocin, which is also associated with love (both the romantic kind and parental/familial love). So in terms of neuroscience, beneficence is inextricable from pleasure, love and self-satisfaction - there is virtually no way to avoid the conferring of pleasure on one's decency. Also, fMRI brain scans show that making decisions to donate to charity lights up the same region of the brain that reacts to other rewards like sex and money, which means that giving generously is inherently rewarding at a neuro-psychological level.

Evolution has been the stage on which the creation story has unfolded, and it is our biological legacies that give us the foundation to try to be Christ-like. That's why those who value the merits of others and take pleasure in their joy are better off than those who cannot. At this stage in our human evolution we have the ability to be expressly thoughtful, empathetic, generous, charitable, and improve ourselves by keeping our mind on realities that transcend self-centeredness. Cognition that knows others in all levels of their need motivates service for them on varying levels of their need, and this is played out in economic and the political systems too. Anything that can hold others in their deepest potential of value and goodness and purpose helps with our humanity. In being the sort of person who helps an old lady across the road, your act serves two dialectical purposes – both of which are not unrelated to self-interest. Just like being honest when a shopkeeper has undercharged you, helping the lady across the road positively benefits both individuals (the actor and the beneficiary) and it contributes to the overall good effect of society in net terms.

In terms of our nature in relation to God, all that we have covered seems to lead us towards the question and answer being part of the same equation; yes we are capable of great goodness and horrible badness, and each of us to different extents - but what we share in common is that we are all internally fraught, and thus all equally under grace. Even Isaiah was frank enough to point out to his fellow Israelites that "all of our righteousness are as filthy rags". One of the reproaches towards the Israelites was that they had turned their back on God and worshipped false gods (Isaiah 42:7). In the broader context I'm sure we can acknowledge that that applies to us too - self-aggrandisement being one of the primary tools for this fault. Thank God that Divine love, grace and goodness are far more powerful than human deeds.

* Photo courtesy of www.guernseywalker.me.uk
 
 
Professor Coakley and her faculty page here
 

Friday, 9 May 2014

Racism! But Not In The Form You're Used To Seeing


I’m sure you’ll agree it’s high time we kicked racism out of football. But on this occasion I’m not just talking about Dani Alves having a banana thrown at him while taking a corner, or the monkey chants sometimes heard from crowds across Europe, I’m talking about FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s desire to artificially reduce or ban non-European Union players outside of the UK top-flight, and reduce non-home grown players in Premier League squads*

To see why that’s a prejudiced claim that sounds a lot like racism – replace “non-European Union” with “black” and “non-home grown” with “non-white”, and you’ll find it’s the sort of statement for which you’d rightly receive widespread condemnation. One is a prejudice based on geography, the other is a prejudice based on skin colour – and both exhibit vile human discrimination.

The reason Greg Dyke can get away with such tripe is by appealing to national prejudice in a way that couches his language. This seems to be something that’s tolerated in sport but not in politics. Nigel Farage can’t get away with it without being egged, and his UKIP members can’t get away with it without having bricks and faeces sent to them through the post (and whether you like or dislike UKIP, I want to add that I’m pretty unimpressed by those acts, by the way).

That such language is still accepted when the subject is sport says a lot about how humans are apt at taking prejudices a la carte. Even if we put aside the fact that foreigners have brought an immense amount of quality and entertainment to the Premier League - discriminating against prospective league players based on the fact that they are not indigenous to the UK is morally repugnant and economically foolish, as well as being short-sighted. Moreover, if the FA restricts the number of non-UK players coming in, will they also restrict the number of UK players who can leave to play abroad? If they do then that’s bad for UK players; if they don’t then it smacks of inconsistency and hypocrisy.

Greg Dyke has in the past claimed to recognise unfair prejudice in institutions – he was once outspoken about the BBC being ‘hideously white’. It’s quite ironic, then, that over a decade later his complaints are tantamount to saying that the English Premier League is ‘hideously foreign’.

It just shouldn’t be tolerated – neither in terms of ethicality, nor with regard to what’s good for the sport. In a footballing market that thrives on freedom of mutually beneficial player transfers, being prejudiced on factors outside of ability artificially impedes the standard of UK football, and engenders a pretty abhorrent bias under the pretext of trying to improve the quality of the national team.

As well as ignoble prejudices, it looks as though Greg Dyke hasn’t understood the people he claims to represent either. Looking to improve the national team by lowering the overall standard of UK football sounds exactly like something the vast majority of fans would reject, because it’s quite evident that people care more about their annual domestic club season than they do bi-annual international tournaments. This only goes to show that the FA Director doesn’t really understand what supporters actually prioritise. Furthermore, no club should want to entertain this preposterous pro-UK discrimination, because markets punish unfair discriminators – and no club wants to be hit in their pockets by being forced to buy players they wouldn’t voluntarily choose to sign.

Strange accusations
Finally, on a similarly related topic today, UKIP are being taken to task over their apparent decision to employ Europeans to hand out their leaflets because ‘they are cheapest’.


Critics are suggesting this is ‘hypocritical’ and inconsistent with UKIP’s central ethos. This ought to strike you as strange. Regardless of how you feel about UKIP, that particular criticism is unfounded. Employing Europeans because they offer the most competitive prices is wholly consistent with their free market endorsement; and employing immigrants already within our borders is not in any way inconsistent with UKIP's complaint that stricter border controls are needed. In fact, if they want immigrants to be able to contribute to our society and earn a wage, then their decision to employ some of them actually seems pretty consistent with the party's aims, particularly given that it was under Labour’s super lax immigration and border policies that most of them got in anyway. And ironically, of course, if they had employed only Brits, that would have led to accusations that their anti-immigrant prejudice was compounded – so in this case UKIP were somewhat damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.


* See here for full Greg Dyke story.

** Picture courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Going 12 Rounds With An Evolution-Denier


Back in the day, when I was less preoccupied with writing books, and had more time to debate science and faith, I used to get into debates like this one below - a debate from 2009 with a staunch creationist fundie called Andrew Halloway, who is the contributing editor of the magazine ‘The Delusion of Evolution’.

The content of my original article isn’t really worth taking up extra space here – it was a standard reminder that Christianity and science are not mutually exclusive, and that they are comfortable bedfellows for those not beleaguered by a fundamentalist mindset. But as it might be archived soon, I think the debate that ensued in the ‘comments’ thread between myself and one of the so-called ‘top men’ of anti-evolution creationism is worth saving and sharing, not just for the factual errors seen in creationism, but as a quintessential example of the mental contortions into which creationists get themselves when trying to defend false dogma.

Hope it’s informative……


Andrew Halloway
There is much to recommend about James Knight's article here. I agree that good science and faith are complementary rather than contradictory, and that it is essential to interpret the Bible correctly. However, I cannot agree that evolution is good science. Far from anti-evolutionists all being raving lunatic fundamentalists, as James seems to think, there are many Christian scientists, highly qualified, who reject evolution and do not agree with a young earth creationist view of Scripture. Their objection to evolution is not on the basis of Scripture, but on the basis of science. There are even some atheists who doubt evolution!

The reason is that while the evidence for micro-evolution is well-founded (and no creationist disputes that), the evidence for macro-evolution is far from certain. It is an unjustified extrapolation from micro-evolution, that the latest studies in cell biology and genetics are increasingly showing to be too fantastic to believe. Prof Anthony Flew, the world's leading atheist philosopher for five decades, recently converted to belief in a God of some sort on the basis of the scientific evidence. He sees the evidence for intelligent design of the world as outweighing the against God, and says he is following where the evidence leads.

That said, to get back to the interpretation issue, I would say that far from evolution easily harmonising with Scripture, it presents enormous obstacles to a correct interpretation of scripture. You do not have to be a young earth creationist to see the conflict between evolution and an orthodox view of the Bible. In fact, accepting evolution forces you into a liberal interpration of scripture. If you don't mind that, fine. But for me, evolution conflicts with a whole panoply of biblical doctrines including the Fall, the Cross, and the restoration of creation at the end of time. True science does not contradict the Bible, so I argue it is quite possible that evolution is not true science. It is a philosophy - a belief system - that ultimately opposes a Christian view of the world.

So, James, defend science and I will agree with you. Defend evolution and I will not.

James Knight 
Hi Andrew,

What I have made clear from the outset is that evolutionary theory does not conflict with scripture at all. The comments about lack of intermediary fossils are simply incorrect, but even if that were true, given the vast timescales here, one shouldn’t be overly demanding, particularly bearing in mind that most creatures do not fossilise anyway. Given what they have to work with, evolutionists succeed as pretty good cartographers in mapping an accessible theory.

The human genome project has provided for us accurate information about the whole history of evolution through analysis of DNA and the chain of events which led to ourselves and other primates. Scientists are even very sure that they know at which point in the tree of evolution the chromosomal fusion occurred in our ancestors for Homo-sapiens to evolve. Technically to say that we evolved directly from apes is incorrect - there were of course many proto-humans, intermediaries that used to cause us to ask about the missing link, many of which have now been found and provide us with an accurate picture of what our intermediary proto-humans were like. The evidence in favour of evolution used to be utterly compelling, now it is virtually impossible to doubt, if one knows enough about it.

Take a look at atavisms as a prime example. Occasionally creatures are born with traits which have been repressed in their recent evolutionary history. For example, humans born with tails, horses born with feet, hens born with teeth and whales born with legs. These atavistic features are always those which were present in those creatures’ ancestors - completely consistent with the genealogy of life according to comparative biology, the fossil record and genetics. There are never birds born with nipples or lizards born with a placenta or mammals born with feathers. The reason for this is that the nipple and lactation evolved in mammals, and feathers in birds, after the common ancestor shared by birds and mammals. i.e. - the two groups had already split before these features were developed. Whales however, evolved from leg bearing ancestors, chickens from toothed ancestors and humans from tailed ancestors. The evolutionary perspective fits the facts perfectly.

Aside from Atavisms, there are many strong evidences to support evolution; vestigial traits, species transitions in the fossil record, biological cladistics (of homologous structures) and genealogy which matches the fossil record, genetic cladistics which give the same tree of life as the comparative biology and the fossil record, evidence from embryology, the position and sequence of endogenous retroviruses in our genomes, and, to some extent, animal and human psychology.

While once we might have had more reasons to be sceptical - now are we beginning to fill in the gaps - the evolutionary jigsaw is virtually complete.

Andrew Halloway
James, I'm sad that you seem to be so concerned with supporting evolutionary theory that you can't see its obvious conflicts with biblical theology. However, whatever the theological problems with evolution, the scientific ones are just as great. You make the same mistake as atheists when you claim that "no scientist with any credibility denies the two principal findings of evolutionary biology." This is simply an absurd ad hominem attack on your opponents.

There is a vast chasm between micro-evolution and macro-evolution... Micro-evolution is the in-built ability God has given to every creature that enables them to adapt to survive in their environment. It is an observable fact accepted by all scientists. For example, Darwin’s famous finches on the Galapagos Islands, some of which have larger beaks than others. In years of food scarcity, this gives them an advantage over smaller-beaked finches, so more of the larger-beaked variety survive – and the end result is that finches as a whole don’t go extinct. But when food is more plentiful, the smaller-beaked ones return, provided they have not died out completely. So this is not evolution, despite Darwin’s finches having long been promoted as proof of evolution. They merely represent a back-and-forth cycle of adaptation.

So micro-evolution is something of a misnomer, because it is not evolution at all. It could just as easily be called variation on a theme. Natural selection encourages different kinds of finches, but doesn’t change them into hippos. All it means is that organisms can produce a wide range of varieties, depending on what instructions for change are ALREADY contained within their genetic make-up. What is needed for real evolution - macro-evolution - is NEW genetic information that is capable of building completely new biological structures. The evidence for this is simply missing.

All the examples given by evolutionists to prove macro-evolution, are in fact examples of micro-evolution. Macro-evolution has never been observed nor proven, so evolutionists point to micro-evolution and just extrapolate, i.e. assume that organisms can change beyond all recognition.

What they never explain is how. How can new information arise in an organism’s genes that is capable of building new, useful structures, and so developing a fish into a mammal or a dinosaur into a bird? Mutation is simply not an adequate explanation. The gene shuffling in the bacterium merely plays with what information is already there - it doesn't create a fish from a bacterium, just another bacterium. Creationists don't believe in the immutability of species - just the immuntability of the created 'kinds' of Genesis (perhaps the genus or a near equivalent).

Scientific experiments have shown that all mutations are either damaging or neutral. So a mutation may give an organism a temporary ability to survive better in its environment (e.g. the salamander's loss of eyes), but it’s at the expense of its ability to adapt in the long run because mutations actually damage or destroy genetic information. They don’t add instructions capable of building new types of organisms. So where could this new genetic information come from? The only source of information that we know of is intelligence. DNA is a written code that could have only come from an intelligent Mind. Chance variations in the genes cannot write new instructions, only shuffle around and activate existing ones.

In any case, calculations of the rate of mutation have shown that it is too slow. Even if mutations could explain evolution, there hasn’t been enough time in the entire universe – never mind since life appeared on earth – for mutations to change micro-organisms into complex creatures like humans.

Today, aware of the failure of mutations to explain evolution, evolutionists are hunting for new ways to understand how macro-evolution could work. It is far from proven! As things stand, either miracles were needed for this grand evolution scheme, or God created without using evolution at all. On current scientific evidence, there really are no other options.

Of course, new research might one day discover another mechanism by which evolution works, but history suggests this is unlikely. Far from proving evolution, billions of pounds of research over 150 years has only uncovered more and more complexity in life that has become harder and harder to explain by chance processes. The more obvious explanation for life is becoming impossible to ignore: that nature bears all the hallmarks of intelligent design – and therefore of an Intelligent Designer. Many machines in nature look very much like human designs. For example, the molecular motors which turn the cilia of cells look exactly like little electric motors complete with bearings, shaft and housing. In fact, engineers are always looking at nature for ways in which they can copy God’s designs, because his designs are more sophisticated than our own. For example, the flagellar motor in bacteria is so efficient that it is beyond the capabilities of any human-designed motor.

In addition, many of these mechanisms are not only complex but irreducibly complex. That means that if you take away a single part, they will not work, so they cannot have evolved bit by bit – they had to be complete at the beginning. Evolutionists' attempts to explain the evolution of the flagellar motor are laughable. There are also many biological processes that are irreducibly complex. For example, to code for RNA production within a cell you must already have whole and complete DNA. Yet to make DNA you must already have whole and complete RNA. Without one, you can’t have either. Also, it requires about 70 proteins to fabricate a DNA molecule, but you must have whole and complete DNA to fabricate those same proteins. Which came first – the chicken or the egg?!

Finally, research on the human genome shows that it is decaying rather than improving or evolving over time. In other words, we are accruing mistakes – hence the increase in genetic diseases and abnormalities – which is evidence of devolution, not evolution. When you look at the evidence, rather than theories, it is obvious that without miraculous intervention by God, evolution is impossible. The Bible describes six separate acts of creation, and that is a more logical conclusion from the evidence than evolution. As you acknowledge yourself, evolutionists themselves are now acknowledging that Darwin’s ‘Tree of Life’ – which theorised that every living thing arose from a single common ancestor at the base of the trunk – was wrong. A more accurate representation of the fossil record would be a series of bushes – with big gaps in between. That fits well with the Bible’s account of separate creations of plants, trees, sea creatures, birds, and then “livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind”, and, finally, men and women.

The fossil record shows that life forms are complex right from the beginning – not simple. For example, various species of Trilobites had very sophisticated eyesight – some 620 million supposed years ago! And almost every major group or ‘phyla’ of complex animals that exists today appeared in a very short space of time during just one very early period in geological history – the Cambrian. It was so quick that this burst of creativity is called the Cambrian Explosion!  This explosion of life appeared in a geological instant, with no apparent evolutionary precursors. Even Richard Dawkins concedes that "it is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history."

In On the Origin of Species, Darwin acknowledged that "several of the main divisions of the animal kingdom suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks." He called this a "serious" problem which "at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.” It remains so. In fact, whenever organisms first appear in the fossil record, they are already fully formed and perfectly adapted. It looks as if they had just been created. Perhaps that’s because they were!

If God can create the universe, then life is no problem either. The truth is that it takes more faith to believe in evolution than creation. Perhaps that's because it is an atheistic philosophy, not a validated scientific theory. The incredible design intrinsic to all life shouts out one conclusion: an all-powerful Creator.

What I am concerned about is that you accept evolution as if it were fact, and are determined to build your theology on it. If evolution is proved wrong tomorrow, what will happen to your belief system? Science moves on. New theories arise. Even Isaac Newton's gravity theory is under review, and Einstein brought a new understanding that superceded much of what went before. Science arose quite happily in a theistic environment, and design was the accepted universal paradigm before evolution came along. What atheists have done is succeeded in imposing their own creation myth that, they believe, removes the need for a Creator. Christians who go along with it are aiding and abetting them, quite unnecessarily, as the evidence for evolution is by no means secure. In fact, every single 'proof' of evolution given in my school textbook when I was at school has since been discredited (not to mention that one or two were fraudulent in the first place - the peppered moth and Haeckel's embryos).

New ones have arisen, but they are not nearly as convincing. At the same time, insights into DNA and cell biology reveal a specified complexity that can have only arisen from an Intelligent Mind, not the chance processes of evolution. In addition, abiogenesis was disproved by Pasteur long ago, yet it is a pre-requisite for atheistic evolution today, despite a complete lack of evidence that life can arise from non-life. Theories of chemical evolution are at a dead loss to explain how the first life could have arisen. And the more we find out about life's complexity, the more unbelievable evolution becomes.

Intelligent Design is often written off by theistic evolutionists as a 'God of the gaps' explanation that will be removed one day, as God is gradually squeezed out of the gaps in knowledge. But quite the reverse is happening. As knowledge of life's complexity grows, the strength of the ID argument continues to grow. Evolution has become a 'Darwin of the gaps' - wherever an evolutionary explanation fails to bridge a gap of knowledge, evolutionists simply say 'Oh, one day we will have an evolutionary explanation.' Just give it time. Well, apart from that being a faith position rather than a scientific position, they've had 150 years and far more evolutionary explanations have been disproved by science than remain on the table.

James Knight 
Hi again Andrew,

Thanks for the response. Sorry mine hasn’t been so prompt, but I’m only just back online. There was certainly a lot to get through, and as you spent so much time with your response, I will take the time to go through your points with some detail. I have numbered your points and responded accordingly. I would like to extend the hand of friendship out to you, and say that although I think there are many parts to your post that are incorrect, I do not see them as impugnment against your faith, and I would ask that that precept is reciprocated. These subjects are contentious, and discussions about them should be conducted with the least pugnacity possible.

The numbering does not reflect the order in which your points were received, rather that there were a couple of questions/points that are quite involved, so I’ve left them until last. Here goes…

1) What I am concerned about is that you accept evolution as if it were fact, and are determined to build your theology on it.

I would like to address this first, and assure you that I regard us as brothers in Christ, and that intrinsically the issue of evolution has, for me, nothing to do with my Christian faith or fellowship with any Christian brothers or sisters. I most certainly do not build my theology around any science - in fact, I have gone to reasonably great lengths in my recent articles to show that the two do not negatively overlap. I have written nearly one hundred articles on Network Norwich, most of which are theological and do not mention evolution, so I would not say that my scientific views are at all cardinal in my theology.

2) If evolution is proved wrong tomorrow, what will happen to your belief system?

To my Christian faith? Nothing. To my scientific views? Plenty – but that is what good science demands of us - that we assent to what is shown to be right. I would be very excited at any discovery that demonstrated the falsity of evolutionary theory as we know it. Do I think it will happen? Absolutely not. But I have a very open mind. Do you, Andrew? When it comes to the more contentious tenets of science, to ask oneself ‘Do I have an open enough mind?’ is often to ask oneself the most important question of all.

3) James, I'm sad that you seem to be so concerned with supporting evolutionary theory that you can't see its obvious conflicts with biblical theology.

There aren’t any conflicts Andrew. The Bible is not a book of science.

Let me just reiterate, I do not think that most people reject evolution because of anything scientific. In most case, science is only a pretext to conceal their theological biases. Of course, if you know some of these good folk, Andrew, and they do not operate in a hermetically sealed discourse, you could always invite them on here to discuss these issues.

4)The truth is that, behind closed academic doors, evolutionists themselves dispute so many aspects of the theory that there is no overall agreement on the mechanisms, despite the united front presented to the public.

This is partially true, but it is not the mechanisms that are causing the principal disparity – we all agree that there is still work to be done before we can unfold the precision of the mechanism. But it is a sine qua non of the field of biological research that life has been evolving on this planet of millions of years. The only people who dispute this are those with a confused theological agenda, and those who know virtually nothing about science.

5) There is a vast chasm between micro-evolution and macro-evolution...

But only an imaginary chasm created and tailored by those on the minority fringes of sensible scientific enquiry. I think you’re confusing ‘chasm’ with ‘distinction’ - the distinction being that micro-evolution simply entails the extreme latter stages (the last few thousands years) of a very long macro-evolutionary timescale.

6) So micro-evolution is something of a misnomer, because it is not evolution at all. It could just as easily be called variation on a theme. Natural selection encourages different kinds of finches, but doesn’t change them into hippos.

Well of course it doesn’t! Finches and hippos are from different species-groups, so of course there is no change of that kind – but nobody is claiming there is.

7) All it means is that organisms can produce a wide range of varieties, depending on what instructions for change are ALREADY contained within their genetic make-up. What is needed for real evolution - macro-evolution - is NEW genetic information that is capable of building completely new biological structures. The evidence for this is simply missing.

The next one is a pretty meaty talking point - it concerns that tricky subject ‘information’. In a moment I will address here your claim that “Chance variations in the genes cannot write new instructions, only shuffle around and activate existing ones.”, because that is not quite right.

8) All the examples given by evolutionists to prove macro-evolution, including the salamanders and bacterium you mention, are in fact examples of micro-evolution. Macro-evolution has never been observed nor proven, so evolutionists point to micro-evolution and just extrapolate, i.e. assume that organisms can change beyond all recognition. What they never explain is how. How can new information arise in an organism’s genes that is capable of building new, useful structures, and so developing a fish into a mammal or a dinosaur into a bird? Mutation is simply not an adequate explanation. The gene shuffling you mention in the bacterium merely plays with what information is already there - it doesn't create a fish from a bacterium, just another bacterium. Scientific experiments have shown that all mutations are either damaging or neutral. So a mutation may give an organism a temporary ability to survive better in its environment (e.g. the salamander's loss of eyes), but it’s at the expense of its ability to adapt in the long run because mutations actually damage or destroy genetic information. They don’t add instructions capable of building new types of organisms.

This too is incorrect. Let’s have closer look at the problems here. When it comes to evolution, ‘beneficial mutations’ is the name of the game. Even in comparatively recent times there are many examples of beneficial mutations occurring, adding 'information' to the genome to confer a phenotypic advantage.

There is a German boy who has phenomenal muscles and superhuman strength. (http://www.genomenewsnetwork.org/articles/2004/06/24/musclegene.php).

There is a family with almost unbreakable bones.

(http://yalemedicine.yale.edu/ym_au02/findings.html).

There are some people with a ‘beneficial mutation’ which allows then to see UV light.

Also, bacteria in Japan have evolved a completely new gene for the digestion of nylon. This gene, called nylonase, allows these bacteria to live where there is otherwise no food.

There is a certain type of fungus that has evolved to withstand the highly radioactive interior of the Chernobyl reactor - in fact it thrives in this environment.

Here in the UK, there are piles of ore outside old lead mines. Lead is toxic to snails, but within the last hundred years, local snails have evolved a mechanism to live in lead rich areas - they incorporate the lead into their shells.

There are many more examples like the ones I have given above, but let me give a bit more detail on how new genes and 'information' can arise. I will give two mechanisms - each gene has a copy number. This is simply the number of times that that gene appears in an organism’s genome. Take the African clawed frog - Xenopus laevis - it has an extra copy of every single one of its genes; that is to say, the entire genome was duplicated. This is an extreme example; gene duplication usually occurs on a stretch of DNA, not the whole genome. Then, one copy of a gene can continue doing its function whilst the other can mutate. A mutated gene which confers survival advantage can be selected by natural selection and as a result the species has a new gene with a new function with new 'information' in the gene pool. An example of 'information' arising from this method is haemoglobin. I came across this a few years ago when I was researching beneficial and optimum growth methods in weight training. We have a version which is used to carry oxygen around in our blood as adults. There is a modified version, myoglobin, which is used to store oxygen in our muscles, and another version, foetal haemoglobin, which had greater affinity for oxygen, and is used to carry oxygen from mother to child during pregnancy.

Another fascinating way in which new genes and 'information' can be added is by endogenous retroviruses. A retrovirus inserts its DNA into its host and provokes the host to create more copies of the retrovirus. For one reason or another, the virus DNA is inserted but with mistakes which fail to aid the cause of the virus. Studies have shown that if this failed retrovirus DNA is inserted into germ line cells (i.e. sperm or egg cells) the inactive virus is inherited in the DNA, and that vast swaths of our genome have been produced in this way. We can trace genes for most things back to previous genes with previous functions. Take for example placenta development genes. At one point, an ancestor common to all humans was infected with a retrovirus. The virus genes were inserted into the DNA of a sperm or egg, the product of which is also a common ancestor to all humans. This virus DNA failed to produce more viruses, but was adapted through natural selection to form the structure connecting mother and child (the structure that we call the placenta). Wherever we go, the actual amount of evidence left in the wake of a certain evolutionary pathway is very conclusive indeed. Take the flagellum as a good example; the degree of homology between the flagellum and the components from which it evolved is overwhelming. Of course one must remember, it has been known for a long time that DNA from viruses are not only in our genome, but that they can make copies of themselves once they are in there. They were known about since before the human genome was sequenced, and appear in both famous original papers on the genome*

* They are, The Sequence of the Human Genome by Craig Venter, and Initial Sequencing and Analysis of the Human Genome by the International Genome Sequencing Consortium (which included our Christian brother Francis Collins; both of which were subsequently published in Science and Nature).

Studies have shown that as much as 8% of the genome is made up of retroviral DNA - and I have, in fact, read several papers belonging to the Journal of Virology, in which you can find as many as 22 families of human endogenous retroviruses, which in various states of disrepair appear in abundance in the normal human genome. Moreover, there are copies of numerous old endogenous retrovirus DNA which appear in exactly the same place in our sequence as in those of other primates, giving extra confirmation that we are ancestrally related.

A moment ago I spoke about ‘information’, but I ought to explain what is meant by ‘information’. Information in colloquial terms is a vague concept - yet mathematically, it is not - it is measured in bits where each bit acts to reduce uncertainty by a factor of 2. The question arises, uncertainty in what? The obvious answer is uncertainty in what is required to construct a useful biological molecule. This is incredibly difficult in practice because it would require making all the mutations possible for a given gene, and testing each of them for functionality by expressing in cloned life. This is not the perfect measure for information in biological systems - in fact, on the digital level of DNA sequences it is rather impractical. Furthermore, this information is only useful in the context of the other genes around it. If one gene in, say, the vitamin C synthesis cycle breaks, then all the other genes become useless and lose information. Information is ephemeral.

There are of course some examples where there clearly is new information, such as the creation of new genes - but it ought to be noted that in the strictest (and ideal) mathematical sense there is no new information out there because all possibilities are retained in the great nexus of mathematical potential - so in this sense nothing is new. Therefore when I talk about ‘new information’ I mean ‘new’ in the sense that they are new relative to that which is currently known or existent. In evolution, natural selection simply chooses the genomes with information that confers survival and reproductive advantage, occurring with repeated rounds of selecting the information that gives a better survival machine, and this results in a species adapting to its environment (the whole gene pool of the species shifts towards better survival). If one defines information as the genetic sequences available (that may do something useful - i.e. have the potential to have a function, but may not), then strictly speaking new information is generated whenever there is a fertile union between a male and female: the reshuffling of genes generates new combinations. Additionally, gene duplication events would also increase information.

The exact sequence of the parents is, of course, lost in the offspring, so there is also a loss of information, but if, however, you define information as only those bits of the genome which aid survival, then the animals with less information in their genome are more likely to die than those with more information. Therefore more information is naturally selected and for each generation that passes, more information is accumulated in the genome. Admittedly, it is one step back and two steps forward, but over a number of generations, there will be a ratchet effect.

This definition of information is related to a third definition; if you define information as that which encodes for complex functional structures, then information comes and goes, but still the ratchet effect which increases information occurs when averaged over many generations. Although complex structures do not a priori give survival advantage, one can observe from intricate structures evidential examples of our relation with our ancestors. We used to have vitamin C synthesis genes, but as we switched our diet to include more fruit we no longer needed these genes to produce vitamin C. The energy spent producing the enzymes needed for vitamin C production could have been better spent doing something else, such as finding food or pursuing mates. So losing the complex vitamin C synthesis pathway resulted in a survival advantage once we had plenty of vitamin C in our diet. Having said that, there are, of course, many complex structures that certainly do aid survival: the immune system, endocrine system, nervous system, vascular system, to name but four. So overall, complex structures can give great survival advantage - survival advantage is selected for by natural selection and so natural selection selects for complex systems and hence information.

A moment ago I said that with information we can compare different species and observe the exact DNA differences between them. Here is an example, related to the above paragraph. Vitamin C is a vitamin because it is essential, but it is not produced naturally by our bodies. Many species still have the genes for producing vitamin C. We know the pieces of machinery that are involved in its biosynthesis, and we know which DNA sequence makes these pieces of machinery. When humans had their DNA sequenced, scientists found relics of vitamin C biosynthesis genes. A broken gene with no function; still mostly intact but riddled with a number of mutations. When the DNA sequences of other simian primates are sequenced, not only do we find the same broken gene, in exactly the same place, but we find the same mutations. This is just one of many excellent pieces of evidence for the common ancestor between us and other apes.

But the story goes deeper Andrew. There are other primates that still have vitamin C genes intact - such as tarsiers and members of the strepsirrhini sub-order. These primates eat mainly insects, but we higher order primates eat more fruit. Fruit is rich in vitamin C, insects are not. Now we know that the last common ancestor that we shared with insect eating primates was approximately forty million years ago, as ascertained by dating the fossils which connect us and them. It appears that around forty million years ago primates switched from a vitamin C poor diet to a vitamin C rich diet. As there was no longer any evolutionary pressure on the vitamin C producing gene, mutations accumulated because detriment of this gene no longer affected survival rates.

The choice is straightforward - either we did not evolve from proto-human ancestors, yet God created very similar species with the same useless gene in the same place to make it look as though we did, or we did in fact evolve in the way that it appears. The answer seems to me obvious when we see that we share EXACTLY the same broken gene, in EXACTLY the same position, on EXACTLY the same chromosome, with EXACTLY the same mutations, in EXACTLY the same positions in the gene. This is even more remarkable when we consider how big the human genome actually is; we have more than six billion base pairs. This is precisely what we would expect from common ancestry. The fact that the genes correlate with feeding habits is both the icing on the cake and the cherry. Moreover, it isn't just this broken gene with which we see common ancestry. Genetic homologues are the same for almost every single gene in the human body. Of the 22,500 genes in the human body, every one that has ever been used in comparative genomic studies shows EXACTLY the pattern expected.

One only need visit the National Centre for Biotechnology Information page for human comparative genomics:


In the bottom right hand corner is a window called Tax Plot. Here you can plot the similarity between the human genome and that of two of 41 different species. So, for example, select Homo sapiens (human) versus Rattus norvegicus (rat) and D. melanogaster (fruit fly) and you will see that the rat has greater similarity to humans than the fly does. Now obviously the example I just gave has extreme differences, but you can do this for any combination of three species and get exactly what you'd expect from common ancestry as laid out by the fossil record and comparative biology. If the anti-evolutionists are right, God seemingly created all life with the specific purpose of making it seem that all species evolved from one common ancestor and that the further we observe along the evolutionary tree the greater the genomic similarities occur in exactly the places we would expect if evolution really happened.

Some creationists clutch at the thinnest straw and argue that the similarity in genomes between similar species is a testament to God using similar designs for similar species - but this does not really help matters, after all, there are many examples of useless genes in the genomes which give the appearance of evolutions, as well as the many intermediary fossils which give the appearance of transitional creatures.

I have already spoken of another example of a useless gene which we share with our primate relatives - endogenous retroviruses. Reteroviruses are viruses that implant their own genetic code into that of its host and the host's replicative machinery is used to make more viruses. Sometimes the virus successfully implants its genetic material, but the replication process fails to initiate. This occurred before the division of humans and other higher order primates. In at least one case, it occurred in s*x cells - and the virus genome was inherited by the progeny of our infected ancestor. We still have the relic of this virus in our genome, as do our higher order primate relatives. The working version is still seen in viruses. We have this relic in the same position, on the same chromosome as the other primates. This is another example of a useless gene which clearly shows ancestry.

9) So where could this new genetic information come from? The only source of information that we know of is intelligence. DNA is a written code that could have only come from an intelligent Mind. There are also many biological processes that are irreducibly complex. For example, to code for RNA production within a cell you must already have whole and complete DNA. Yet to make DNA you must already have whole and complete RNA. Without one, you can’t have either. Also, it requires about 70 proteins to fabricate a DNA molecule, but you must have whole and complete DNA to fabricate those same proteins. Which came first – the chicken or the egg?!

Again, this is wrong and based on more outdated science, but I had better take this further, as I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “new genetic information” - do you mean the special arrangements of items of meaningful units which represent concepts? Usually Andrew when I get in discussions about increases in information, I ask my interlocutor to define exactly what he/she means by information, and how they think it 'increases'. The two root fallacies are usually…

(1) Information is the special arrangement of items of meaningful units like letters or numbers which represent corresponding concepts.

(2) For evolution to be true information must increase.

So Andrew, increase in what? size? number? meaningfulness? corresponding concepts? Please, Andrew, if you going to argue on scientific grounds, at least use precise language. Can you stipulate what you think is a corresponding concept? A stretch of junk DNA with no use corresponds with the concept of ‘useless'. Does 100,000 base pair of useless DNA have less information than 200,000 base pairs of useless information?

Here is a question to aid me in understanding your definition of information.

If a number of genes (with their DNA sequences) are all involved in a process, such as ascorbic acid biosynthesis for example, then these genes contain 'information'. If all these genes are needed to perform the function of producing ascorbic acid (one gene for step one, another gene for step two, etc), then all the genes would have 'information' pertaining to their individual steps. If one of the genes was mutated so that the whole process is disrupted, then where are you saying is the loss of information; is it just in the gene that was mutated or do all the genes lose information?

This is a very relevant question, because a living thing is technically a non-linear system. What I mean by this is that all genes interact with each other in an intricate interwoven manner, with consequences far downstream from the location of the DNA. The 'meaningfulness' of the 'corresponding concept' of a gene (your “new genetic information”) simply cannot be assessed without the context of the other genes. Haemoglobin, which transports oxygen around our blood, is useless without other proteins to take that oxygen, split it up, move its electrons around etc. So which is it? Do all the genes involved in a chain of events lose information when one gene gets broken, or is it only the one that breaks?

Moving on to your point about DNA and RNA. DNA is a sequence which is transcribed into RNA and then the RNA is translated into proteins, which by their intrinsic properties then perform a function in the context other proteins, DNA, RNA, the environment and the by-products of the reactions between proteins, DNA, RNA and the environment, but you haven’t stated where you think the information lies?

Seek out 'A hierarchical model for evolution of 23S ribosomal RNA'. It is a paper I read showing the experimental validation of a hierarchical ribosomal evolution hypothesis. They believe that the ribosome, which appears almost unchanged in all life on the planet (apart from viruses), evolved from a simple machine into the complex machine we see today, very early in the history of life. Consistent with this hypothesis would be an essential core of the machine with non-essential units attached on the periphery. They found a layer of 19 non-essential components on the surface of the ribosome, which can be removed from the underlying structures. They then found another layer underneath, of 11 components. The interesting thing is that the structural features of the second layer were important for maintaining the integrity of the first layer only, not any of the underlying structures. They repeated this stripping of layers 12 times, identifying 59 elements along the way, leaving only a single, simple core. Every time they peeled off a layer, that layer was only important for the structural integrity of the layers above it. There were no cyclic dependencies - none of the units in the ribosome were irreducibly complex (i.e. every piece of the ribosome could be removed one by one without causing structural instability).

Here is an excerpt for you…

 "For justification of the suggested evolutionary model, we analysed those features of the 23S rRNA tertiary structure for which the 59 elements could be consecutively removed without damaging the integrity of the remaining part. Our analysis shows that removal of these elements is possible if and only if the arrows representing D1 and D2 dependencies do not form cyclic structures—that is, cases where a chain of several consecutive arrows arranged head-to-tail starts and finishes at the same element. A mathematically rigorous proof of this statement and the explanation of why the absence of cycles of dependence is essential for dismantling the 23S rRNA structure are given in Supplementary Notes 2. To demonstrate how unlikely the absence of cycles really is, we calculated the probability for the 23S rRNA structure to be cycle-free if the orientations of all A-minor interactions were chosen randomly. Our analysis presented in Supplementary Notes 2 shows that the total probability of a cycle-free arrangement in this case would be P < 10-9. Such low probability excludes the possibility that the absence of cycles of dependence in 23S rRNA has occurred by chance. Instead, it strongly supports a hierarchical scenario for its evolution, according to which the integrity of each element of 23S rRNA depends only on the presence of more ancient elements of its structure. The absence of cycles in the 23S rRNA tertiary structure does not depend on the way we defined individual elements, but instead represents a fundamental property of this molecule."
Besides, Andrew, it's common knowledge in the biology community that genomes regularly decrease and increase in information. It's all done enzymatically. Genomes often increase in information by uptaking DNA from the environment and then recombining with it in novel fashions. This is a very well understood concept and it's why people are worried about genes from GMO foods getting back into the environment.

10) In any case, calculations of the rate of mutation have shown that it is too slow. Even if mutations could explain evolution, there hasn’t been enough time in the entire universe – never mind since life appeared on earth – for mutations to change micro-organisms into complex creatures like humans.

Given that you think the earth is possibly 6,000 years old, I’m not surprised you think this, hahahaha!!! Only kidding!

But seriously, is this based on your Design Institute friends’ assertion that it would take 10,000,000,000,000 years for the differences between Chimpanzees and man to build up? This is complete nonsense, as I will show.

You should try to get a copy of a thesis called "Estimate of the Mutation Rate per Nucleotide in Humans" This is from a much better body of authority and puts a figure of 175 mutations per generation, comparing us to chimpanzees. With about 3x10^9 nucleotides in the human genome, and around 2% genetic difference between us (60m nucleotides), it would take around 350,000 generations. Chimpanzees breed at around 12-14 years of age (and Humans too, until relatively recently). Therefore it would take around 4.8 million years for the genetic difference to accumulate, not 10,000,000 million years as the DI says. Experts disagree on precisely (stress PRECISELY) how long ago humans and chimps diverged, but they all agree that it is less than 7 million years ago.

The DI uses underhand tactics to criticise radioisotope dating on the basis that we don't know if nuclear decay rates were the same in the past as they are now. But really they should know by now that the theoretical basis for calculating decay rates is quantum mechanics - the same theoretical basis for the field that the infamous Mr Peet worked in; spectroscopy. We can use spectroscopy to study the composition of stars that are many light years away from us and we find that they have the same spectrum as they do on earth. Therefore this shows that the underlying theory, which determines nuclear decay rates, has remained the same for millions of years!

11) 150 years has only uncovered more and more complexity in life that has become harder and harder to explain by chance processes.

Now it’s begging to become clear why you’re rejecting evolutionary theory – you’ve created a ‘chance’ or ‘random’ muddled caricature and rejected it on false premises. Even I reject your brand of evolution. Your interpretation represents a serious misunderstanding of evolutionary theory - a fallacious belief that the theory of natural selection is one of random chance. It is not, it is the very opposite. It is true that there is a certain chance element in the process; mutation is a process of random chance but it is only random with respect to improvement. Natural selection is the non-random survival of randomly varying genetic codes - the survival of which depends upon their phenotypic effects as regards the process of embryogenesis on phenotypes (on bodies) which cause survival or non-survival. Survival and reproduction depends upon the passing on of the genetic code of instructions that built them, equipped them and made them conducive to survival and reproduction. One of the reasons I think that this process is so hard for people to reconcile to their imagination is the sheer magnitude of the geological time in question (as I have shown in one of my earlier articles with Francis Collins’ clock analogy).

Things don't evolve by chance alone Andrew! Natural selection, the key to evolution, is not a random chance process. The environment applies very specific pressures (nature selects for certain characteristics). In a desert, for example, certain strategies for plant survival are favoured while others are selected against. Since major environments often last a long time, their effect on evolving life is not random. In the desert, the edge goes to plants with better adaptations for reproducing, despite the heat and lack of water. Mutations may be thought of as random, but mutations are not the same thing as evolution. They merely enrich the gene pool whose diversity natural selection acts upon.

In actual fact Andrew, it is easy to show you where you’re going wrong. Did you know scientists have shown that if the principles behind natural selection are fed into a powerful computer we can create complex engineering designs? Engineers (the prototypical intelligent designers, ho hum!) are using the creative powers of natural selection to aid them in their design efforts. The technique of "genetic algorithms", pioneered by computer scientist John H. Holland (somewhere in America, I forget where), simulates the mechanism of Darwinian evolution, involving mating, genetic recombination, reproduction, selection and mutation to design jet engines, integrated circuit chips, scheduling work in a busy machine shop, operating gas-pipeline pumping stations and recognising patterns. Thus, we have engineers using some of the key principles behind evolution to help them work out complex engineering solutions. There are loads more examples of this; anything from designing better bridges, to working out efficient routines for complex scheduling problems – they even use them here at the Council in Norwich. Clearly, this would be impossible if natural selection, the key to Darwinian evolution, involved nothing more than random chance. Natural selection serves as a powerful creative element in evolution, and that power is now being harnessed by computers for our benefit. Evolution works, Andrew, and it isn’t chance!!

12) Many machines in nature look very much like human designs. For example, the molecular motors which turn the cilia of cells look exactly like little electric motors complete with bearings, shaft and housing. In fact, engineers are always looking at nature for ways in which they can copy God’s designs, because his designs are more sophisticated than our own. For example, the flagellar motor in bacteria is so efficient that it is beyond the capabilities of any human-designed motor.

Again there is some confusion here. There are ~30 components in the flagellum, and we want to find out 'how did this evolve?'. If it could be shown that this could not have possibly evolve, then you are correct is assuming that this would be a major problem for evolutionary theory. But it isn’t at all. Just as we can build models of cancer related human proteins from similar (homologous) animal proteins by comparing the sequence of the proteins and accounting for the differences, we can do the same for the proteins from which the flagellum is composed. The first step is to get the sequence of the proteins in the bacterial flagellum. This is easy for someone who is qualified to do so (I’m not), as there are many databases that have this information (Entrez, ExPASy, SwissProt, PIP, to name but four). Searching for similar sequences in the databases (using a method called BLAST) we find that the flagellum has proteins related to three different systems:

(1) The type 3 secretory system. Bacteria use this to inject material into more complicated cells, such as human cells. This can cause cell death and provide food for the bacteria, or even stimulate the cell to take in the bacteria and allow the cell to be eaten from the inside!

(2) ATP synthetase. This generates ATP, an important molecule which stores energy in a way which can be used to fuel many cellular processes. This is a reversible machine. It has a rotor and a stator. It can work forwards, when the machine generates ATP from the food absorbed by the bacteria. It can also run backwards and destroy ATP as/when there is too much, preventing the build up of free radicals and subsequent cell death. It can do this because the rotor can rotate clockwise or anti-clockwise under biochemical control.

(3) The Tol-Pal system - this is important for maintaining the integrity of the bacterial outer membrane, but is more trivial in this issue.

So the first thing that stands out is that all these systems exist in the cell membrane. So does the bacterial flagellum. This fits nicely because you would expect the thing that is evolving to be in the same place as the bits it is evolving from, ho hum!! Now, (2) and (3) are very primitive and it is clear that they existed before the flagellum. It is possible that (1) actually evolved from the flagellum and not the other way round, but this is unlikely because there are 5 other, related secretory systems that are known. It seems that the secretory system evolved first and then diverged, with the flagellum evolving from the type 3 secretory system. There is also some other evidence which points to the same conclusion.

Having seen where the components came from, we are ready to ask the question 'how did these bits come together to form a working flagella?'. We know the motor came from ATP synthase and that the bit that sticks out came from the secretory system. What is needed is a simple modification of these components that gives an advantage to the bacteria over its competitors. Obviously this wouldn't be a direct signalling pathway because a signalling pathway for using a motor without the motor itself is of no use. If a signalling pathway were essential, then the system would be irreducibly complex and hence unevolvable, but it has been shown quite clearly how the motor came first.

(1) The secretory system that extends out of the bacteria is not rigidly attached to the membrane. Just as, say, bath water scum is at the interface between the water and the air, the extension is at the interface between the fatty membrane and the watery medium that the bacteria is in. This is easily demonstrable..

(2) There are often several copies of a gene. The number of copies is, not surprisingly, called the copy number.

(3) Mutations can cause an interface between two components to occur. This occurs all the time and again, is proven. One conceivable (and most likely) explanation is that a random mutation created an interface between a copy of the ATP synthase and the secretory system.

(4) This interface could cause a ratchet effect. ie) ATP synthase moves clockwise and the extension doesn't move. If ATP moves anticlockwise then the extension does move.

(5) When there is plenty of food/nutrients, the ATP synthase moves clockwise and the attached extension doesn't move. When there is not enough food, ATP synthase moves anticlockwise, causing rotation of the extension.

(6) This rotation propels the bacteria away from the food deficient region, giving an advantage to this bacteria over its competitors.

Now here’s the rub Andrew; this mutant with the interface between ATP synthase and the secretory system will have a survival advantage that is inherited by its offspring. This very primitive flagellum has just evolved. Natural selection can then refine the basic system and optimise it. There is so much evidence in the past few years that the flagellum is not irreducibly complex. One study showed that of the hundreds of copies of one protein that make the flagellum so powerful, it is possible to knock them away so that only one remains. The flagellum still worked even in these conditions, albeit not very well.

Not only is the flagellum not irreducibly complex; in fact, I would go further, I do not think any organism is irreducibly complex. Your underlying assumption that evolutionary theory fails to provide even a relatively complete idea of the evolutionary routes is simply not true, and is straight out of the anachronistic Michael Behe school, of thought. These claims are so outdated, but of course, if one is trying hard to close one’s eyes to them, one will remain in his own personal darkness.

When one talks about zooming in looking for creative qualities or intentionality, it is always important to remember something else here, Andrew. As a Christian, allowing that the primary ontology of our universe contains a cosmic blueprint designed by a vastly intelligent mind with the property of Aseity, then it is likely that He has incorporated creative qualities or intentionality at a level beyond the discernment of man. In other words, the universe isn’t necessarily going to serve up its ‘created’ secrets at the levels that IDists are looking for them.

12) In addition, many of these mechanisms are not only complex but irreducibly complex. That means that if you take away a single part, they will not work, so they cannot have evolved bit by bit – they had to be complete at the beginning. Evolutionists' attempts to explain the evolution of the flagellar motor are laughable.

Irreducible complexity is a deductively untenable proposition, for reasons already stated in the threads on my “Bringing Christianity and Science Together part one” article - namely because of the ‘scaffolding’ possibility, it is impossible to say that there are no evolutionary pathways. Given the foregoing, the very most one can ever say is that such-and-such MIGHT be irreducibly complex but it cannot be demonstrated that it is irreducibly complex

13) The fossil record shows that life forms are complex right from the beginning – not simple. For example, various species of Trilobites had very sophisticated eyesight – some 620 million supposed years ago! And almost every major group or ‘phyla’ of complex animals that exists today appeared in a very short space of time during just one very early period in geological history – the Cambrian. It was so quick that this burst of creativity is called the Cambrian Explosion! In On the Origin of Species, Darwin acknowledged that "several of the main divisions of the animal kingdom suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks." He called this a "serious" problem which "at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.” It remains so. In fact, whenever organisms first appear in the fossil record, they are already fully formed and perfectly adapted. It looks as if they had just been created. Perhaps that’s because they were!

Again, another example of your outdated science. All of the above represents a serious and rather crass distortion of the true picture. In fact, you are so wrong in so many places, I hardly know where to being here. This has to be one of the biggest myths perpetuated in anti-evolution circles - and it has to be said, not only do we have numerous amounts of transitional fossils (that is, transitional between species), when it comes to physical organisms, every species in the fossil record is, strictly speaking a transitional form (that is to say, watch us evolve for another few thousand years and there would be significant differences in our organisms - we are always progressing and, thus, transitional).

But when it comes to transition between species there are plenty of species in the fossil record which are so similar to others that they constitute that which most people would refer to as a "transitional form". In the mid to late 19th century when Darwin was first presenting the case for his theory he was challenged because there were no "transitional species" in the fossil record. Shortly after, a fossil of a half bird, half theropod dinosaur was found - Archaeopteryx lithographica. This astounding fossil is probably the most famous fossil on the planet and clearly fits the mould of "transitional species". There are many more: amphibians, molluscs, trilobites, bony fish and reptiles -all of which demonstrate excellent examples of a clear progression of species in the evolutionary records.

Moreover, if you examine the bones in your hand, a fish's fin, a whale's fin and indeed the forefeet of many tetrapod groups, you will notice that in a great many cases the bones all correspond. This is also apparent in many structures in the bodies of vertebrates - there are clear connections. Furthermore, aside from the many transitional forms, we see many kinds of events which bring about genetic isolation. An example is the Common Mynah, a bird from south-east Asia. This bird has been introduced by humans to many Pacific Islands, Australia and South Africa. Tests have indicated that after approximately 150 years these birds are already showing signs of genetic uniqueness. It will not be too long before these separated birds will have changed to the point where they no longer recognise each other as the same species. This happens in the natural world too; for example when glaciation occurs and divides a population. Species can become genetically isolated in many ways, as you say, which is one of many ways that evolution can take place.

Regarding our own transitional ancestors - what was once called ‘the missing link’ - we can look back hundreds of thousands of ape generations to see the small changes accumulate, by looking at the fossil record and dating the rocks in which the fossils are buried. When we do that, we see a branching tree, one of the branches of which connect us, along with other apes, to a common ancestor, via a series of small changes. First we became bipedal, then our brains started getting bigger, then we started becoming more skilled, more intelligent, etc, until we reached the point as an organism when God was ready to put Himself into it - the first Adam.

Here, going approximately from oldest to youngest, is a list of some of the ape fossils which can be used to trace our past.

Sahelanthropus tchadensis, Orrorin tugenensis, Ar. kadabba and Ar. ramidus, Au. anamensis, Au. afarensis, Au. africanus, Au. bahrelghazali, Au. garhi, Kenyanthropus platyops, P. aethiopicus, P. boisei, P. robustus, Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo ergaster, Homo georgicus, Homo antecessor, Homo cepranensis, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo rhodesiensis, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, Homo sapiens idaltu, Archaic Homo sapiens and Homo floresiensis.

Once we choose to break free from the chains of enslavement that manifest themselves in the shape of an anti-evolutionary bias, we can see that wherever we look there is demonstrable evidence that creatures have been evolving on this planet for millions of years, and that human beings are part of that evolutionary tree

14) What atheists have done is succeeded in imposing their own creation myth that, they believe, removes the need for a Creator. Christians who go along with it are aiding and abetting them, quite unnecessarily, as the evidence for evolution is by no means secure.

Your first assumption is, I believe, correct, but then you go and spoil it by claiming that any Christian that is pro-evolution is assisting atheists. Ever thought that it is, in fact, the fideists, extremists and crackpots that are doing more to damage the reputation of Christianity? One must look out for the warning signs, and realise that even the less systemic philosophies create their own system, as they so often emanate from a system of conjectures (see Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus for a fuller exposition)

15) New ones have arisen, but they are not nearly as convincing. At the same time, insights into DNA and cell biology reveal a specified complexity that can have only arisen from an Intelligent Mind, not the chance processes of evolution.

Hmm…..now we’ve arrived at the very difficult concept of Complex Specified Information (CSI for short). Above you say “insights into DNA and cell biology reveal a specified complexity that can have only arisen from an Intelligent Mind”. What? Not true!! Not yet anyway! This is a very long and complex investigation that many experts are working on – it’s a lifetime’s work, and I suspect we will not be able to know for certain. But here’s you decreeing by fiat that this is already a fait accompli, case-closed fact. Not true, and one can tell a lot about how competent a person is on this subject by how far they are willing to go outside of what is already accomplished. In science those that run before the others have finished learning to walk are usually the ones talking nonsense.

But let’s look at CSI further, shall we? As I’ve said, this is certainly still work in progress, but the main rub is that Creationists/IDists claim that "evolution can't produce new information." For example, this is the core argument of Stephen C. Meyer in his allegedly peer-reviewed paper, "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories" in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (see also the extensive critiques of this paper at The Panda's Thumb).

Natural selection doesn't increase the information; it simply chooses the genomes with information that confers survival advantage. Repeated rounds of selecting the information that gives a better survival machine results in a species adaptation to its environment - the whole gene pool of the species shifts towards better survival. If you define information as the genetic sequences available which may do something useful (i.e. have the potential to have a function, but may not), then new information is generated whenever a male and female mate: the reshuffling of genes generates new combinations. Additionally, gene duplication events would also increase information, as I have already said (see my response to your section 12) .

16) In addition, abiogenesis was disproved by Pasteur long ago, yet it is a pre-requisite for atheistic evolution today, despite a complete lack of evidence that life can arise from non-life. Theories of chemical evolution are at a dead loss to explain how the first life could have arisen.

Again, this is simply wrong, Andrew. The only way we can approach the question of abiogenesis (the spontaneous emergence of life) is by conceiving of everything conceivable and then removing the impossible, and that is something that neither Pasteur nor anyone else could do. If the means for making life is part of what is left, then life can spontaneously appear. Defining life as something that can replicate itself and is amenable to evolution, the first trimming of conceivable ideas is that the life must be constructed out of things that exist. As far as we know, all things that exist are made from a finite set of constituents which are called the elementary particles. The manner in which these elementary particles interact with each other is well known; quarks come together to form nucleons, nucleons come together to form nuclei, nuclei combine with electrons to form atoms, atoms combine with each other to form molecules and materials, materials and molecules and atoms can create or destroy photons, and so on.

Just as we know about the compounds that pervaded the early solar system, because we know what comes out of stars and what can be carried in by comets, we know this because we can do astronomical spectroscopy and observe the contents of newly formed solar systems - we know that amino acids, the constituents of proteins, life’s 'workhorses', are found in space and can be synthesised in a lab by mimicking lighting striking earth’s primordial oceans. We also know that ancient clays can catalyse the reaction of some of the early compounds on earth into nucleic acids - which are often touted as the 'building blocks' of life. Not only that, but we also know that nucleic acids can spontaneously form the molecule known as RNA. RNA can not only speed up chemical reactions which could confer biological advantage, but it can work as a template for itself - perhaps the first mechanism of reproduction. When in comes to explaining the biological changes that have occurred in the last four and a bit billion years, as highlighted by cladistics and the fossil record, evolutionary theory stands up wonderfully well.

Of course, the formation of life depends on the environment. In order for something to proliferate indefinitely, it would have to grow and extract the necessary matter it needs from its environment. So the second trimming of conceivable ideas is that this incipient life must exist in a possible environment. Looking out into the skies with telescopes tells us that there are many environments ranging from the cold depths of space to the tens of millions of Celsius in the heart of the hottest stars, with almost all intermediates. However, not all these environments are conducive to the forming of life, in fact, many are impossible incubators.

As none of the elementary particles nor their simplest combinations can self-replicate in an evolvable way, life can spontaneously form only in those environments which allows life to retain its specific configuration of elementary particles that allows reproduction. On top of this, an environment that stays static will not do. These considerations rule out the depths of space, as not only is it so cold that change is incredibly slow, but cosmic rays will blow out any configuration of elementary particles which is complex enough to reproduce. Similarly, the thermal fluctuation present in really hot environments also blow out complex systems before they are even made, so these considerations significantly reduce the fraction of the known universe that could create and support life.

A planet orbiting a star seems like the only places left where the temperature ranges are good enough for supporting life. Similarly, comets and asteroids can cause serious terminal destruction of these planets, and so a big planet capable of deflecting these away would be needed to create and support life. The next trimming down of conceivable possibilities is that life must be made of what can be created by possible processes - theoretical considerations suggest that there may be more stable elements in the periodic table than we those of which humanity is presently aware.

Now that most the difficulties have been removed, we are left with universe that is more than 14 billion light years wide - most of which cannot produce life. However, the elements of the periodic table still allow a rich range of chemistry to happen; so rich in fact that many complex chemicals do exist and undergo reactions. We know that the vast majority of these compounds cannot reproduce under any known environment, but it seems that reproduction (self-replication) is not so complex that it cannot happen - it is just such a rare event that it needed a molecule to form a template of itself, against which the compounds in the environment spontaneously form a copy of the template. Even given the fact that our universe has approximately 100 billion galaxies, each with 100 billion starts in it, such is the RNA molecule, it is unlikely that a self replicating RNA molecule will spontaneously form on any given planet. But what if the universe had a blueprint that made such as self-replicating organs not only possible or likely but certain? Believing as I do that God is the creator and sustainer of the universe, I see no reason to worry about the likelihood of life ‘spontaneously’ occurring - all we are left to do as Christians is to observe the mechanism by which God did His creating and sustaining - for then we can have a clear picture of the blueprint and, most importantly, keep adding to it when we discover new information about our world. That, in fact, is exactly the opposite of what young earth creationists do - they have a rigid and intransigent idea about creation, and foolishly reject any discoveries that do not accord with their own worldview.

What we know about the origin of life is this. In this world, the common states are liquid, solid and gas. We know such incipient life could not exist in solids, because things in solids cannot diffuse around, and atoms vibrate around an average position. Equally, life isn't likely to exist in the gas phase, because the replication machinery has a necessary complexity - and hence weight which is too heavy to get into the gas phase. The fact that life exists in liquids is because liquids allows signal transducation by diffusion and can act as a suitable solvent for bio-machinery. Life was unlikely to exist in any other state apart from liquid - hence the ‘primordial soup’ metaphor.

The high surface tension, low viscosity, boiling point, melting point and the fact that water expands upon cooling can all be explained by the way water molecules interact with each other - namely that it is capable of making four hydrogen bonds. Why it does this ultimately lies with the laws of quantum mechanics. The Schrodinger equation, when solved for a given collection of atoms, tells us the properties of that collection of atoms. It tells us how much energy we need to pull it apart, or equivalently, how much energy is released when it forms. The same can be said for collections of water molecules. The solution to the Schrodinger equation is found using the same methods whether we are dealing with water, or ammonia, or caffeine or any other compound we care to study. The properties of water and all other molecules are the inevitable outcome of the natural dispositions of electrons and nucleons. The properties of water aren't arbitrary, they are emergent phenomena of the properties of the universe - just one of a myriad of consequences of the laws of physics.

The fact that life on earth depends on water, is a testament to how life has adapted to the aqueous environment found on the planet on which it arose. It seems true that many of water’s special features played a key role in allowing life as it is to exist - however, seeing that the properties of water are just a consequence of the combination of fundamental particles from which it is made, it is no surprise that us complex beings find ourselves on a planet which has this life-enhancing molecule in abundance, as opposed to anywhere else in the universe

Having said all that, it is important not to fall in the trap that many creationists fall in, decreeing that as we have no evidence that abiogenesis has ever happened evolution fails as a theory. This is simply not true, and using a court trial analogy, that is tantamount to saying 'we don't know where the knife came from, so no crime took place’ despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It should be remembered that evolution doesn't say very much at all about the origin of life - it is a theory which explains the diversity of life via a selectional mechanism.

One must remember that a theory does not fail if it does not explain all of the observable facts. What makes theories great is that they unify facts. Quantum theory is fantastic because it explains so much. It can be used to calculate how much heat is generated when a compound is burnt, how a compound will behave in a magnetic field, what colour compounds are, even things such as why clingfilm is clingy.

There are so many discoveries that could show evolution to be false, yet not one of these discoveries has occurred. Rabbit fossils in a pre-Cambrian geological strata would prove evolution wrong, so would any land vertebrate fossils found in the Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, cretaceous, quaternary, tertiary, proterozoic or archean layers of rock. Moreover, if species were heterogamous and not homogamous, then that would falsify evolution too. If a bird with nipples or a mammal with feathers were to be found, that would also falsify the theory of evolution. The fact that 150 years of searching hasn't found anything to disprove the theory of evolution is a testament to how great a theory it is.

The theory of evolution predicted that transitional fossils will be found as intermediates between older and newer species. There are many such examples connecting dinosaurs to birds, fish to land vertebrates and primates to humans amongst others. Another prediction is that the unit of inheritance (DNA) should show more similarity between closer relatives than more distant relatives. Well, primates do have greater similarity to humans than other mammals. Other mammals have greater DNA similarity to humans than birds, and so on.

Evolution is a fact, Andrew.

17) And the more we find out about life's complexity, the more unbelievable evolution becomes.

To finish, I would say that, in fact, the more we find out about life's complexity, the more stupendous evolution becomes – and let me add to that, the more amazing.

I hope that’s given you plenty to think about, and been helpful in painting a bigger picture for you.

Best wishes

James

 
Andrew Halloway
Hi James, would just like to come back on some points you make.

1. When I said I am concerned that you are building your theology on science, I'm afraid you have not allayed my fears. As with all theistic evolutionists, you cannot avoid reading Genesis through evolutionary spectacles, which clearly affects how you interpret Scripture. Of course, an understanding of history, culture and archaeology can help illuminate Scripture, but as Denis Alexander's latest book on theistic evolution (Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?) clearly shows, maintaining belief in evolution requires a distortion of the plain meaning of Scripture.

2. To my question, 'If evolution is proved wrong tomorrow, what will happen to your belief system?' You replied, 'To my Christian faith? Nothing.' In general of course, I agree, but I was referring to your beliefs about how Genesis is interpreted, which directly affects your theology of creation.

3. You say 'There aren’t any conflicts (between evolution and Scripture)'. In your opinion, yes, but there are hundreds of theologians who would disagree with you. You say 'The Bible is not a book of science.' True, but I'm not contending that the Bible is a science book. However, it does tell the truth about the history of mankind and creation, and so whenever science conflicts with that truth, it is science (a human, fallible knowledge system) that we should doubt, not the Bible (divine truth). Instead, you seem prepared to idolise evolution over the Bible. True science does not conflict with the Bible, but evolution does - which means it's not true science.  A fundamental concept in biblical interpretation is 'Sola Scriptura' - which demands that all other authorities are subordinate to, and are to be corrected by, the written word of God. But theistic evolutionism falls far short of 'Sola Scriptura'. This is seen clearly in Denis Alexander's book, which performs interpretative gymnastics with Genesis in order to shoehorn evolution into the story of creation, when it clearly doesn’t exist there.

The Bible says the world was created very good and fell, beginning to decay. Evolution says it began in chaos and has gradually self-created into a state of complexity. The Bible says God created everything at the beginning, and his creative acts ended when he rested on the Seventh ‘Day’ (and we are still in that Sabbath Rest). Evolution says order has come about through natural processes which are continuing to ‘create’ today, and organisms will continue to be ‘created’ by evolution in the future. Both can’t be true. Which is authoritative and infallible, the Book of God or the Book of Nature? God can speak to us through nature, yes, but nature and human scientists are fallen – so they are not a perfect vessel for revealing God’s truth. Only the Bible is.

The Bible is our ultimate authority, and therefore takes the prime place in interpreting itself. so true Christian exegesis means to find out what the Bible itself actually teaches us about what Genesis means, e.g. how did Christ use its teachings and what was his and the apostles’ hermeneutic? When you look, you find out that Christ and the apostles refer to Genesis as literal history.  Denis Alexander warns us against the danger of reading passages with excessive literalism. Where, though, I wonder is the opposite warning? We live in times dominated by Enlightenment thought. We live in the unpleasant afterglow of over a century of unbelieving theological liberalism. We live in times when people think of the Bible in terms of myth… not the real world of time and space.

As one reviewer says: “It is not excessive literalism which has ruined the mainline denominations of the professing Christian church; it is liberalism. So where is Denis’ warning that we might be in danger of treating straightforward matters of history as if they weren’t? Where are we alerted to the risks of facing the Bible’s cold, hard assertions about real history, real space and time, and committing the sin of unbelief in their face?” Denis Alexander sums up his whole liberal approach when he says that Genesis “is describing creative events that occurred before anyone was around to describe them, so it cannot be history in any normal use of that term.” So, God isn’t capable of writing history unless he has human eyewitnesses to do it for him? Is it not possible that God inspired Moses to write real history – as the Bible itself claims – or are miracles not allowed in theology any more? For theistic evolutionists, Genesis is theology and evolution is science, and never the twain shall meet. The Bible wasn’t written as a scientific textbook, true, but they then conclude that where it does touch on scientific issues it can’t be trusted to say anything plainly – it must be all symbolic. In contrast, neo-Darwinism is science, so it can be trusted! Hail the new religion of evolution!  The truth is that Genesis makes historical claims and so does evolution, and in many places they are in conflict.

As the reviewer says: “As I read Dr. Alexander’s book, my main fear ironically isn’t that it’ll persuade Christians to embrace Darwinism. What this book will actually do to Christians who really take it to heart is much worse… it might lead them into a much more far-reaching theological downgrade, through the methods of Bible interpretation that Dr. Alexander uses… The authentic Christian approach to the Bible is to give it an unrivalled place of supreme authority and absolute truth, so that it dictates the parameters which any other supposed sources of truth must adhere to. The Bible is certain and non-negotiable; other sources of truth are uncertain, must fit within the parameters of Scripture and be believed with appropriate tentativeness.”

5. I said that evolutionists themselves dispute so many aspects of the theory that there is no overall agreement on the mechanisms, despite the united front presented to the public. You agreed, but said "The only people who dispute (evolution as a whole) are those with a confused theological agenda, and those who know virtually nothing about science." Please don't resort to ad hominem mud-slinging again. I don't have a 'confused theological agenda' and althogh I don't claim to be a scientist, there are plenty of scientists in the world who oppose evolution - do they all know "virtually nothing" about science?

6. I'm glad you agree that God would be needed to make evolution happen (if it happened) but believing God was needed undermines the concept of evolution itself. As Dawkins famously said, evolution made him an intellectually-fulfilled atheist, precisely because it enabled him to exclude God from the picture. Evolution is an explanation (however poor) of how life could have diversified from a single common ancestor to all the organisms we see today - by purely NATURAL processes, and therefore by definitin, WITHOUT the need for a supernatural God. You can't have your cake and eat it. You can have God as the originator of the first single common ancestor and as the designer of that ancestor's capability for evolution from then on, but he is not allowed to be involved in the process. But that's closer to a deistic than theistic belief.

7. You claim the poll showing most people don't believe in evolution was biased towards creationism because Theos is a Christian think tank? Think again. Theos co-published the research with Denis Alexander and theistic evolutionists as part of a 'Rescuing Darwin' from creationists campaign!

8. When I said evolutionists have had 150 years to convince the public, your answer was that "macro-evolution is... not amenable to simple laboratory testing or test/confirm or refute scenarios." Hmmm. How come you are so confident it's a fact, then? I quite agree it's not testable and difficult to prove -which is precisely why it is not a fact of empirical science but an uproven theory of historical science.

9. 'There is a vast chasm between micro-evolution and macro-evolution...' Saying it's imaginary is completely untrue, James. Evolutionists themselves use this terminology. There is a distinct difference between the two. Proving micro does not prove macro.

10. 'Natural selection encourages different kinds of finches, but doesn’t change them into hippos.' You said, 'Well of course it doesn’t! Finches and hippos are from different species-groups, so of course there is no change of that kind – but nobody is claiming there is.' Yes you are! Macro evolution is the theory that microbes can change to fish to reptiles to mammals etc. Evolution is all about change.

11. Information - see later.

12. Examples of apparently adding new information to the genome and mutations. All the examples you give are, as I said, micro-evolutionary adaptations to the environment. They are not the type of changes that involve the building of new bodily structures that can bring about macro-evolution. To take just your first example, the strong boy. The genetic info to create muscles was already there. The report says his strength was caused by "a mutation in a gene called myostatin, which regulates the growth of muscles. The mutation shuts down the gene." So a genetic mistake which allows muscles to grow unregulated is a good thing?! Look what happens when the regulation of growth hormones is 'shut down' - people grow abnormally tall but as a consequence have a whole load of other health problems. If this boy's muscles kept on growing out of proportion to his bone structure, his muscles could break his own bones. How is that an evolutionary advantage? Sure, nice to be stronger, but there is always a limit to the advantages of micro-evolution - a barrier which prevents macro. Michael Behe's book 'The Edge of Evolution' covers the latest genetic research which shows that micro-evolution cannot achieve much at all in the long run.

13. Regarding James's claim that Vitamin C synthesis loss is evidence for evolution, on the surface this seems to be a strong argument. But his comment in the first paragraph about natural selection selecting for complex systems and hence information is nonsensical. The example he gives is a LOSS of information, being that of vitamin C synthesis. It would be perfectly logical to imagine a scenario where a function is lost through Natural Selection, but this is a world away from showing that Natural Selection caused that same function to develop in the first place. The former is not the issue, the latter most certainly is and he has avoided the issue entirely. The real question for him is how does Natural Selection explain the emergence of the ‘but four’ complex structures that he cites. Further, how does he say the information (which he says Natural Selection can select for) was generated.

Secondly, on what basis can it be conclusively stated that the ‘useless genes’ are in fact useless? Evolutionists used to claim that most of the genome was made up of junk DNA and this was evidence of evolutionary history. As readers of the New Scientist will know, this has now been thoroughly debunked. There is now plenty of evidence for usefulness of the so-called 'junk'.

The key enzyme in this discussion is gluonolactone oxidase, GULO for short. The gene in humans is known as the GULO pseudogene GULOP, found on Chromosome 8.

Whilst the ancestry is an interesting point, James seems to be arguing that evolution has conclusively demonstrated that complex biological systems have been beneficially lost over the process of time. He suggests that this was caused by such a system becoming unnecessary and a waste of energy, but this is not the only conclusion that he could draw. For example, humans can manufacture 10 of the 20 amino acids that we eat plenty of in our diet. We do not call such systems a waste of energy.

The energy waste argument would only be valid if there was a large amount of vitamin C with a corresponding lack of glucose available in history, by deduction rendering synthesis of vitamin C from glucose a disadvantage, but this is simply not the case for fruit which has plenty of glucose and therefore it makes no sense to combine these two for his conclusion. To call such a scenario a survival advantage is frankly ridiculous.The only possible survival advantage I can think of is where some studies have tried to link high vitamin C intake with copper deficiency and birth defects.

I would argue that complex systems like the vitamin C pathway are hardly a waste of energy, even with modern diets, other studies have shown that the average lifespan of a human being using vitamin C went up by sometimes as high as 20%. Vitamin C production in humans, guinea pigs, primates etc.

have clear and scientifically validated survival advantages. It was one of the scientific observations that sparked off the 'free radical' nutrition movement years ago. One could argue from an evolutionary standpoint that such primates were forced to adopt fruit eating behaviour because they lost the ability to manufacture vitamin C. It is an error to conclusively assume that genetic change came after the change in behaviour and quite frankly it is naïve to call this a survival advantage open to natural selection. It would be quite sensible to suggest that behaviour was forced to adapt to accommodate a genetic disaster in the vitamin C manufacturing system. To me this is far more likely with an evolution paradigm, as the survival of a species to a shifting environment is dependent on adaptability based on adaptable survival systems rather than loss of such systems.

The existence of scurvy and no evidence of this system being able to re-evolve within the primate world would suggest to me that James' presented evidence is at best devolution evidence, if indeed his claims are not overblown, which I suspect they are. There are some studies that look at this same issue in birds but the variety is so great even within species that suggestions of re-evolution of this gene in birds are at best mere speculation rather than fact. Finally, There is a recent article in Scientific American about the HAR1 gene that has 18 differences between ape and man, but only 2 different between an ape and chicken. To follow James's logic, are we therefore more closely related to chickens than apes?!

See http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-makes-us-human

14.Mutation rates. There is plenty of evidence in the public domain that shows that current mutation rates are far slower than needed for evolution to be viable. I don't need Discovery Institute's figures for that.  For instance, if we want to turn an ape-like ancestor into a human in 2 million years we can assume 100,000 generations based on a 20 year generation period. If we assume out of 3 billion nucleotides 10 percent funcationality we have 300 million to work on - and if we assume a 5% genetic difference between apes and man then we need to find 15 million beneficial mutations in 100,000 generations; or we would need to find and fix in a population 150 beneficial mutations per generation. Now if we then consider some of the problems that Haldane and others identified, then to find sufficient beneficial mutations we need very large populations, and to get those mutations to spread through a population we need very small groups. To weed out the far more numerous harmful mutations and avoid error catastrophe we need evolution to proceed very slowly. Haldane argued that only 1 beneficial mutation could be fixed in 1667 years, whereas the current model requires 150 beneficial mutations fixed per 20 years. Even Steve Jones has said the current human population is not evolving for these types of reasons. But even if mutation rates were quicker in the past, there is still the problem of what mutation actually achieves - and for me it definitely doesn't achieve the sort of positive change that is needed to justify macro-evolutionary progress.

As for radioactive dating techniques, I'm sure that everyone realises they are based on several unprovable assumptions, and not just the decay rate in the past. But I'm not arguing for a young earth so I don't know why this is in the discussion.

15. James, when you argue that evolution is not a theory dependent on chance processes, you sound just like Richard Dawkins, who tries to argue the same. He says that because natural laws are involved then evolution is a directed process. But if there is no God, as Dawkins believes, then natural laws themselves weren't created but are themselves the product of chance processes, so they can't be used as an argument against chance. The fact is that you would say that God directed evolution, and I would say that for evolution to have occurred God would have had to intervene so much in the process to make it work that it might as well be called creation! The reason 'punctuated equilibrium' (PE) was invented as a theory was to take account of the fact that the fossil record shows too little evidence of gradual evolution. But all PE did was draw attention to the fact that there are huge leaps in the fossil record (I wish this site told me when I am running out of space!) that gradual evolution cannot account for. Then you say that natural selection itself is not random, so it can direct the process. Well, forgive me, but natural selection does not have intelligence, so it cannot direct anything. It is itself dependent on the random variations in the environment, so it is random too. Natural selection is not God.

And for the evolution of the first life form to be true, atoms must form useful molecules such

as enzymes, amino acids and proteins by random chance. It is mathematically impossible for these molecules, much less the far larger DNA molecule, to form by random action in nature. As for saying that a computer programme based on natural selection can help in engineering, well that's a self-defeating argument as the programme depends on an intelligent designer to design the programme and he can set it up to do what he/she likes.

16/17. Evolutionary arguments for how the flagellum came about. James, your explanation for how the flagellum MIGHT have come about by evolution is not proof that it did. The imagination can do anything (evolutionists need a lot of imagination, by the way) and you certainly have a lot, because so much of that explanation depends on so many other evolutionary assumptions being right. Just because we can conceive of an evolutionary pathway does not mean it happened that way. To disprove irreducible complexity you would have to find strong evidence that the flagellum DID evolve down a particular pathway.

18. Transitional forms. I'm sorry but you are so blinded by your acceptance of evolution that you say "every species in the fossil record is, strictly speaking a transitional form". What can I say if you see everything as evidence? That attitude is only evidence of your predisposition to see evolution where there is none. The truth is that a neutral person can look at the fossil record and see it evidence of the variety of forms created by a Creator (plus the variations within kinds that are possible under microevolution). Of course, someone with a predetermined view on evolution can come to the record and see it as macroevolution, sure. But both views are in the eye of the beholder. The fossil record is evidence that certain organisms existed. It is not evidence that one evolved from another - that is a huge assumption made only by those who have already assumed evolution is true. Hardly an unbiased, scientific approach to the evidence. The most that closely similar fossils can do is give us the idea evolution MAY have occurred. They cannot prove it one iota, because it is just as logical to assume that they represent micro-evolutionary variation. In the case of large differences, the fossils can logically represent completely separately created organisms, within the 'kinds' mentioned in Genesis.

Homologous structures, again, can logically be viewed either as a Designer using similar plans to construct species, or as common descent. You choose. And you already have, of course.

As for human evolution, that you seem to accept unquestioningly, you are on even weaker ground. The whole story is contrived on such meagre evidence of very incomplete skeletons (in some cases nothing more than one or two teeth and half a skull cap) and on evidence so widely disputed among evolutionists themselves that it takes a huge gullibility to believe. Really, James, we are told we all came from one ancestor in Africa, based on a couple of fossils of that earliest dated ape. Get real. You could not possibly prove the whole ape-to-human progression unless you knew you had dug up a statistically significant amount of fossils. Out of all the millions of apes and humans that have ever lived, few have fossilised, and even fewer have been dug out of the ground. There is an entire earth out there waiting to be dug up, and you would have to discover millions of fossils that all show the exact same sequence to have any hope of being able to prove the story. A statistician would say that evolutionists have an incredibly low statistical probability of being right, because their quantity of samples of all the apes and humans that have ever lived is so small as to be statistically irrelevant. It's a joke.

20. I said, "Every single 'proof' of evolution given in my school textbook when I was at school has since been discredited (not to mention that one or two were fraudulent in the first place - the peppered moth and Haeckel's embryos)."  You replied, "Any text book that proffers “the peppered moth and Haeckel's embryos” as evidence for macro-evolutionary theory, probably isn’t worth reading." Well, when I was studying O level and A level biology in the late seventies, these two were offered up as solid evidence of evolution, and they still are today. Even the BBC's own Darwin-celebratory programmes this year have put these forward as evidence for evolution yet again. And they are still in textbooks today.

But aside from those two, you didn't answer my statement that every 'icon' of evolution that was promoted as fact to me at school has since been discredited. It's taken time, but even the last two standing, Darwin's Tree of Life and junk DNA, have both been written off in only the last few years. Yet still I find good old David Attenborough presenting a BBC programme actually called 'Tree of Life' this year and going on about it as if it was still accepted by everybody. Of course the public trust him and are brainwashed by him and TV scientists who unquestioningly accept evolution.

In 2003, Richard Dawkins wrote: “…full knowledge of the tree of life will make it even harder to doubt the fact of evolution. Fossils will become by comparison irrelevant to the argument, as hundreds of separate genes, in as many surviving species as we can bear to sequence, are found to corroborate each other's accounts of the one true tree of life." (Richard Dawkins (2003), A Devil's Chaplain, Published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson London, UK, p.112).

How wrong Dawkins was. Less than five years later, the Tree of Life came under assault not only from paleontology but also from genetic data. In January of this year, even the highly pro-evolution New Scientist ran a front cover story saying, 'Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life.'

To quote from that article: "For much of the past 150 years, biology has largely concerned itself with filling in the details of the tree. 'For a long time the holy grail was to build a tree of life,' says Eric Bapteste, an evolutionary biologist at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France. A few years ago it looked as though the grail was within reach. But today the project lies in tatters, torn to pieces by an onslaught of negative evidence. Many biologists now argue that the tree concept is obsolete and needs to be discarded. 'We have no evidence at all that the tree of life is a reality,' says Bapteste. That bombshell has even persuaded some that our fundamental view of biology needs to change."

Creationists and Intelligent Design (ID) theorists had been saying that for years, but had been ignored, of course. Then take junk DNA. The scientific literature is now replete with examples that junk this concept. ID supporters predicted that functional DNA would be found within the 'junk', yet you say that ID has no testable theories. Well, this one has been tested and ID came up trumps.

In 1994, ID-proponent Forrest Mims predicted that non-coding “junk” DNA would have function, writing a letter to Nature, “Those supposedly meaningless strands of filler DNA that molecular biologists refer to as ‘junk’ don't necessarily appear so useless to those of us who have designed and written code for digital controllers.”

Nature rejected the letter, but in 1998, long before the "junk-DNA" revolution was in full swing, William Dembski predicted function for non-coding "junk"-DNA based upon intelligent design:

"But design is not a science stopper. Indeed, design can foster inquiry where traditional evolutionary approaches obstruct it. Consider the term 'junk DNA.' Implicit in this term is the view that because the genome of an organism has been cobbled together through a long, undirected evolutionary process, the genome is a patchwork of which only limited portions are essential to the organism. Thus on an evolutionary view we expect a lot of useless DNA. If, on the other hand, organisms are designed, we expect DNA, as much as possible, to exhibit function. And indeed, the most recent findings suggest that designating DNA as 'junk' merely cloaks our current lack of knowledge about function. For instance, in a recent issue of the Journal of Theoretical Biology, John Bodnar describes how 'non-coding DNA in eukaryotic genomes encodes a language which programs organismal growth and development.' Design encourages scientists to look for function where evolution discourages it."

(William Dembski, "Intelligent Science and Design," First Things, Vol. 86:21-27 (October 1998))

Finally, in 2004 Jonathan Wells wrote, “research shows that ‘junk DNA’ does, indeed, have previously unsuspected functions. Although that research was done in a Darwinian framework, its results came as a complete surprise to people trying to ask Darwinian research questions. The fact that ‘junk DNA’ is not junk has emerged not because of evolutionary theory but in spite of it. On the other hand, people asking research questions in an ID framework would presumably have been looking for the functions of non-coding regions of DNA all along, and we might now know considerably more about them.” (Jonathan Wells, “Using Intelligent Design Theory to Guide Scientific Research,” Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design, 3.1.2 (Nov. 2004), emphasis in original)

21. Complex and specified information. I didn't explain my view in detail as you have now done, so let me do so now. I can't explain it better than William Dembski himself, so forgive me if I quote him direct:

"Natural causes cannot account for Complex Specified Information (CSI). Natural causes comprise chance and necessity (cf. Jacques Monod's book by that title). Because information presupposes contingency, necessity is by definition incapable of producing information, much less complex specified information. For there to be information there must be a multiplicity of live possibilities, one of which is actualized, and the rest of which are excluded. This is contingency. But if some outcome B is necessary given antecedent conditions A, then the probability of B given A is one, and the information in B given A is zero. If B is necessary given A, Formula (*) reduces to I(A&B) = I(A), which is to say that B contributes no new information to A. It follows that necessity is incapable of generating new information. Observe that what Eigen calls "algorithms" and "natural laws" fall under necessity.

Since information presupposes contingency, let us take a closer look at contingency. Contingency can assume only one of two forms. Either the contingency is a blind, purposeless contingency-which is chance; or it is a guided, purposeful contingency-which is intelligent causation. Since we already know that intelligent causation is capable of generating CSI (cf. section 4), let us next consider whether chance might also be capable of generating CSI. First notice that pure chance, entirely unsupplemented and left to its own devices, is incapable of generating CSI. Chance can generate complex unspecified information, and chance can generate non-complex specified information. What chance cannot generate is information that is jointly complex and specified.

Biologists by and large do not dispute this claim. Most agree that pure chance-what Hume called the Epicurean hypothesis-does not adequately explain CSI. Jacques Monod (1972) is one of the few exceptions, arguing that the origin of life, though vastly improbable, can nonetheless be attributed to chance because of a selection effect. Just as the winner of a lottery is shocked at winning, so we are shocked to have evolved. But the lottery was bound to have a winner, and so too something was bound to have evolved. Something vastly improbable was bound to happen, and so, the fact that it happened to us (i.e., that we were selected-hence the name selection effect) does not preclude chance. This is Monod's argument and it is fallacious. It fails utterly to come to grips with specification. Moreover, it confuses a necessary condition for life's existence with its explanation. Monod's argument has been refuted by the philosophers John Leslie (1989), John Earman (1987), and Richard Swinburne (1979). It has also been refuted by the biologists Francis Crick (1981, ch. 7), Bernd-Olaf Küppers (1990, ch. 6), and Hubert Yockey (1992, ch. 9). Selection effects do nothing to render chance an adequate explanation of CSI.

Most biologists therefore reject pure chance as an adequate explanation of CSI. The problem here is not simply one of faulty statistical reasoning. Pure chance is also scientifically unsatisfying as an explanation of CSI. To explain CSI in terms of pure chance is no more instructive than pleading ignorance or proclaiming CSI a mystery. It is one thing to explain the occurrence of heads on a single coin toss by appealing to chance. It is quite another, as Küppers (1990, p. 59) points out, to follow Monod and take the view that "the specific sequence of the nucleotides in the DNA molecule of the first organism came about by a purely random process in the early history of the earth." CSI cries out for explanation, and pure chance won't do. As Richard Dawkins (1987, p. 139) correctly notes, "We can accept a certain amount of luck in our [scientific] explanations, but not too much."

If chance and necessity left to themselves cannot generate CSI, is it possible that chance and necessity working together might generate CSI? The answer is No. Whenever chance and necessity work together, the respective contributions of chance and necessity can be arranged sequentially. But by arranging the respective contributions of chance and necessity sequentially, it becomes clear that at no point in the sequence is CSI generated. Consider the case of trial-and-error (trial corresponds to necessity and error to chance). Once considered a crude method of problem solving, trial-and-error has so risen in the estimation of scientists that it is now regarded as the ultimate source of wisdom and creativity in nature. The probabilistic algorithms of computer science (e.g., genetic algorithms-see Forrest, 1993) all depend on trial-and-error. So too, the Darwinian mechanism of mutation and natural selection is a trial-and-error combination in which mutation supplies the error and selection the trial. An error is committed after which a trial is made. But at no point is CSI generated.

Natural causes are therefore incapable of generating CSI. This broad conclusion I call the Law of Conservation of Information, or LCI for short. LCI has profound implications for science. Among its corollaries are the following: (1) The CSI in a closed system of natural causes remains constant or decreases. (2) CSI cannot be generated spontaneously, originate endogenously, or organize itself (as these terms are used in origins-of-life research). (3) The CSI in a closed system of natural causes either has been in the system eternally or was at some point added exogenously (implying that the system though now closed was not always closed). (4) In particular, any closed system of natural causes that is also of finite duration received whatever CSI it contains before it became a closed system.

This last corollary is especially pertinent to the nature of science for it shows that scientific explanation is not coextensive with reductive explanation. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and many scientists are convinced that proper scientific explanations must be reductive, moving from the complex to the simple. Thus Dawkins (1987, p. 316) will write, "The one thing that makes evolution such a neat theory is that it explains how organized complexity can arise out of primeval simplicity." Thus Dennett (1995, p. 153) will view any scientific explanation that moves from simple to complex as "question-begging." Thus Dawkins (1987, p. 13) will explicitly equate proper scientific explanation with what he calls "hierarchical reductionism," according to which "a complex entity at any particular level in the hierarchy of organization" must properly be explained "in terms of entities only one level down the hierarchy." While no one will deny that reductive explanation is extremely effective within science, it is hardly the only type of explanation available to science. The divide-and-conquer mode of analysis behind reductive explanation has strictly limited applicability within science. In particular, this mode of analysis is utterly incapable of making headway with CSI. CSI demands an intelligent cause. Natural causes will not do.

James Knight
Hi Andrew, this pit of exoneration that you're digging for yourself is swallowing you more and more every time you post on here. Every time I see you transgressing the logical boundaries with comments like the ones above, a heavy wave of disquietude fills the air - these statements are a shriek for help. This horrible image appears - it’s you standing there with a light bulb over your head and the laughing devil standing behind it slow-dancing to Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’. Not a pretty site. Wouldn’t you like to be disenthralled from this nightmare and shown the way to true uninhibiting science?

If, on the methodological Richter scale, a top thinker and assimilator of the data is 1 and a crackpot is 10, I would place you somewhere between 6 and 7. It’s not that I think you’re mad, just that I don’t think you are capable of abandoning or sensibly adressing your anti-evolutionary prejudice - whatever the data.

Ok Andrew, now that we’ve had a bit of fun, let’s get down to some serious talk by addressing your points. I will address what I think are your misunderstandings regarding evolution, biology and selection, as well as provide an explanation as to why I think you are entirely misunderstanding both naturalism, evolution in its proper sense, how the universe itself actually works, and what seems like a good prima facie case for a 'cosmic blueprint' theory. I also need to run through with you the ways I think you can address your investigative techniques with regard to suitable philosophical enquiry. let me just address some of the biological issues, by reminding you that evolution has left a massive trail of evidence in its wake, which you seem to have overlooked.

1) Vestigial traits – there are huge amounts of relics of ancient ancestry that, frankly, make those who deny our evolutionary past seem quite desperate. Moreover, if the earth is over four billion years old (a fact which is beyond doubt) – using an argument on your lines, there is absolutely no reason to suppose that God left it uninhabited for all those tens of millions of years before the Genesis account. Don’t forget, Andrew, the life that has been evolving for millions of years is hardly ‘left to its own natural causes’ – God is involved every step of the way; nothing happens if it isn’t in His original blueprint.

2) Embryology - not only are human embryos indistinguishable (except chemically) from those of a fish or lizard in the early stages of development, consistent with the idea that each generation is a slight modification of the previous, but the course of development is telling too. The whale foetus grows legs and then absorbs them, a testament to its legged ancestry. A cow foetus has upper teeth which are also absorbed, leaving no upper teeth in the adult - an advantage to their rudiment feeding habits which rely on back teeth for chewing (you may not have noticed, Andrew, but superfluous teeth do little more than collect bacteria and cause disease. There are many books written on this subject.

3) The fossil record - there is a clear picture which arises from the fossil record, which is consistent with geology and physics. We can date these fossils, and we can see from our studies of dinosaurs that 200 million years ago, when pangaea broke up, that this one species started to diversify differently on different continents. Take another example - the formation of the ear. We can see the multi-boned reptilian lower jaw in fossils. We know that this structure could feel vibrations. Sound IS vibrations Andrew. We can see the bones rising upward as we look at more recent, but similar fossils. We can trace this all the way until we get to the modern mammalian ear - with three tiny bones in the middle ear which are essential for precision hearing. There are so many transitional fossils, such as those of wolf-like animals evolving into horses. We have fossils of ambulocetus, an intermediate between land mammals and whales. We have fossils of acanthostega and icthyostega, intermediates between fish and land vertebrates, etc, etc, etc - there are so many Andrew. Just do some research and see as an example the amount of proto-elephants – there are loads of them – and you will see what I mean.

4) Comparative biology. All our closest closet ancestors closely mirror human traits and characteristics and behavioural patterns. Have you ever seen the things that humans and apes do that no other animal does?

Also, consider this. Imagine that you have three butterflies and look at their appearance. One purple with big antennas, one purple with small antennas and blue spots and one purple with small antennas and yellow spots. The simplest 'family tree' for this would be:

(1 group) Big antennas Small antennas -> Spots (2 groups)

Yes, it’s possible that spots evolved first, then antennas got small, then the spots were lost and then the antennas grew big - but the simplest tree has the fewest connections. Now - imagine you look at other features - feeding habits, eye structure, bio-molecular signalling pathways, flower preference and so on. Nine times out of ten, you will end up with the same family tree. Now - make the tree bigger and include moths and dragonflies and other flying insects. It is possible, by comparing these creatures, to lay out a family tree to see the order in which species diverged. You can use common features to define common ancestors. Of course, you can do this with all creatures and the way different features co-localise on the same tree is astounding. Take lactation - it only happens in mammals. No bird or reptile or insect or fish lactates - not a single one. Lactation appears on one branch of the tree, the mammal branch. Take another feature - the placenta. This too appears on the mammal branch, but evolved later on. We know this because there is a branch off the mammal branch that doesn't have a placenta - these lactating, non-placental mammals are known as marsupials and are very common on the Australasian continent. If you actually did some proper research Andrew, you would find countless other examples; one-way breathing system of birds, molecules for the immune system, bone lengths, heart structure, blood types, shell composition, ear shape, lengths of intestines, fur thickness, intelligence and so on, and so on. Nature provides so many features that encyclopaedias could be written on the subject of comparative biology and it ALL fits into an evolutionary framework - not only that but biological characteristics fall into the same family tree as seen in the fossil record.

5) Atavisms - atavisms occur when ancient genetic pathways are expressed by accident. Every so often a child is born with a tail. I'm not kidding, Google it. This is a relic of our tail-bearing past that has been accidentally switched on during foetal development. Similar things happen in nature - Chickens with teeth and horses with feet instead of hooves. In fact, they say Julius Caesar would only ride atavistic horses that had feet instead of hooves. One remarkable observation is that according to the evolutionary tree, horses have footed ancestors, chickens have teethed ancestors and humans have tailed ancestors. Everything fits into place perfectly from an evolutionary perspective. I’ve told you this before, Andrew, but just like many of my other comprehensive points, these are the ones you chose to overlook, or ignore and hoped I wouldn’t notice. If I thought it would be in the least bit worthwhile I would carefully go through all of the things to which you failed to provide a satisfactory answer, but I doubt your mind is open enough to consider the evidence properly. I hope I’m wrong about that, because I think you’re missing out on so much. Did you find the time to read my ‘Miracle of Evolution article? Its’ hardly the circumscribing viewpoint that you seem to suggest.

6) Molecular biology and genetics - these is SO much evidence in this field that even if there were no evidence from any of the above, the theory of evolution would have more than enough proof from genetics. Would you even listen if I elaborated? The gene sequences can be compared to one another in all manner of different species. The difference between them can be categorised and used to work out exactly which species are related to which other species. You scoffed at the Africa ancestry, but it is in fact possible to trace the spread of human populations out of Africa, by looking at where certain mutations appear, and drawing lines on a map between the indigenous populations that have those mutations. We know the first wave of exploration went on to colonise Australia. In fact, it is so accurate that we can even tell the difference between the upper and lower members of the Indian caste system. There are many surprises to be had with genetics. One startling observation I already told you about is the appearance of a new gene which eventually became the genes for forming the placenta. This gene is common in retroviruses, but not in animals. Surprisingly, a virus put its DNA into one of our ancient ancestors, but failed to replicate. This retroviral DNA spread to our ancestors' descendents, which eventually became crucial to the development of the placenta! Not only are we apes, but we are more than a little bit virus too!!!!

7) The state evolution has left us in - our senses are terribly flawed. Our brain filters what we see, removing much detail and giving only a vague outline of the external world to our conscious mind. Scotoma patients, who have damaged retinas, fill in so much visual detail that it impacts their lives, but it is just an exaggeration of what occurs naturally in a normal human brain. Similarly, our eyes detect only three colours of the infinite number conceivable, the mixing of which form the palette of our visual experience. Our hearing is restricted in frequency and our taste buds, which come in but five varieties, are severely limited in chemical scope. Whatever external reality is, it is very different to how we perceive it.

There are some things we can only infer the existence of by their effects, such as most planets outside of the solar system. Modern physics seems to be like peeling back layers of an onion. It started in ancient Greece, with Democritus's proposition of the atom. Bohr showed that the atom was a strange thing, made mostly of nothing, but with a solid nucleus. Then came the notion of subatomic particles, and Schrödinger's wave-equation, which explained the behaviour of all atoms and subatomic particles with a single formula. Einstein added to the complexity by showing that intuitive notions of space and time were ill-conceived; just approximations to reality, but approximations which are valid to the range of all human experiences on this earth.

I have only just touched the surface of what’s out there on evolution. My simple examples are nothing compared to specific cases of evolution - cases we can investigate with the full repertoire of modern scientific methods.

Darwin’s theory simply explains adaptation with a model of mutation and natural selection. The mutations need not be determined. Conceptually, the source of mutation is irrelevant - as long as there is genetic variation of some sort, then natural selection will choose the variant that survives - the survivor, on average, being the one that is better genetically equipped for their environment. In effect - the mutations can be random, not determined. It matters not if the mutation is caused by soot from a volcano or the permanent background radiation, nor does it depend on which mutations occur, as long as there are beneficial mutations and the harmful mutations happen at a rate that isn't so high as to destroy all previously naturally selected advantages. In other words, Darwin’s theory is general and robust. Robust enough to deal with the many changes in environment, including those changes which are thrown up by unpredictable or chaotic systems such as the weather. Evolution HAS to be this robust in order to explain the fact that life that has adapted in the diverse environments found on earth in the last 4 billion years.

Moreover, the physical properties of the materials, from which machines and life are built, are those we would expect from the average behaviour of their atomic constituents. I'll give an example - a cosmic ray hits a tumbling molecule and passes energy to it. Quantum mechanics shows us that we cannot predict when the energy is re-released, only the probability that the energy will be released within a finite time, and so we cannot know what orientation the molecule will be in when it emits radiation, nor where that radiation will go - it may end up causing a beneficial mutation. If it doesn't, then something else would.

Moving on to your comments about the tree of life – you’ve twisted that one a little. Contrary to your assertions, the tree of life is still pretty much correct, at least for us metazoans. It's a bit like pointing to a Pepsi can and saying 'Look, it isn't blue because there is a red bit'. There are a few of examples when branches on the tree fuse - such as the mitochondial merger and subsequent endosymbiosis which resulted in the evolution of eukaryotes, or the later merger which resulted in chloroplasts. Other symbioses may have resulted in gene transfer in some species, such as starfish, where the two genomes can be completely merged, forming one species from two, where the genes for the two parent species are expressed sequentially – for example, a larval stage then a reproductive stage.

Whilst the benefits of such merges are clear (some species are better at eating, others better at reproducing - together they can have the best of both worlds), the mechanism isn't. I will explain a paradigm in the next paragraph, but first I will describe why the tree fails when studying the 'trunk'. Horizontal gene transfer is quite common in bacteria, but there is still a core set of genes for each species which can be used to define the species and place it on the tree of life. However, to place a branch on the tree requires a lineage from which it can branch. This is fine for all recent life - following back it gives three clear lineages from which all modern life arose: prokaryotes (bacteria), archaea and eukaryotes. The meeting point of these three lineages is where the problem arises, and that was the bit that needed addressing – it wasn’t that Darwin was wrong, it was more that the tree has a web fused with it. Putting it simply, so I don’t ‘drown you in the sheer flood of the narrative’ - we can't say that archaea split from bacteria and eukaryotes then split from archaea, because there are some eukaryotic 'core' genes which are also present in bacteria, but not archaea. We can't say that eukaryotes split from bacteria then archaea split from eukaryotes because there are genes shared with bacteria and archaea but not eukaryotes. Eukaryotes and archaea couldn't have split from bacteria separately because they share core genes which aren't in bacteria. The only reconciliation is to assume that all three lineages (or at least two of them) were rapidly exchanging genetic material. Genes were not transferred predominantly by inheritance, but horizontal gene transfer also played a major role in shaping these three lineages from which all life is derived. Not all scientists agree on the specifics*, but they agree on the general principles and observations – and the thing is, Andrew, we don’t go jumping around saying the whole thing is bunk.

* Check out Chris Ponting (you can see him here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MH8XgQzjEE discussing the platypus genome). With his latest methods of making phylogenetic trees (he is top of his game), he predicts that he CAN get all the way to the root of the tree. I eagerly await his next publication in my non-crusading way.

OK, so now we know why the root of the tree seems more like an intertwined network rather than a hierarchical tree, I will discuss two ways that genes can transfer from one species to another - one way which creates a new hybrid species, the other resulting in translocation of individual genes. Both are understood, and I will speculate on how for example, snake genes found their way into cows (have you read about that?).

1) Symbiosis. Some species adapt to live so closely together that they cannot survive without one another. We, for example, cannot live without bacteria in our guts, however we are still two distinct species. Lichen, which seems to be one species, is not. It is a fungus and another species (often algae) which live so closely together that their genes can flow from one to the other - which probably makes lichen taxonomy a nightmare, ho hum! However, they are still two distinct species, even if the boundary is fuzzier and taxonomists use the fungal part to place them on the tree of life (although this fungal part of the tree merges with another part, in a sense). Finally, we get species where two species have merged and the genome of one has been almost totally transferred into the other. Often bacterial consortia are found. A consortium is a group of different bacteria where the waste product of one, be it ammonia or oxygen or hydrogen sulphite or whatever, is the food of another. The material coming into the consortium is recycled, often leaving a very efficient colony. The transfer of materials between consortia members is limited by the surface area that they can share. If only one member could get INSIDE another, then the whole process would be even more efficient. This has happened at least twice in the history of life (probably much more often), including in our lineage. Once one species is inside the other, a strange situation occurs. Both have separate genomes that compete with one another, yet they still rely on one another. There is a battle between friends. If the genes of one can be transferred into the other, then having two genomes is no longer a biological imperative. One eventually wins over the other and two species merge into one species (Nick Lane has written a few excellent books on this).

2) Retroviruses. Retroviruses insert their own genetic code into the host organism, which is then read by the host’s replicative machinery in order to make more copies of the virus. When the virus attacks germ cells (sperm, eggs, ones that have DNA that is inherited), sometimes the virus fails to replicate and the viral DNA is passed on from parent to child. Our genome contains vast amounts of retroviral DNA. We know these genes come from viruses because they, and their relatives, are not found in other lineages and because they are found in viruses. In fact, I’ve already told you about three times, genes for the development of the placenta were derived this way - they started as viral genes which were then adopted for novel biological function. Now, it is completely plausible (although not likely, I admit) that some RNA of a snake entered the genome of a retrovirus, which then successfully reproduced in the host and went on to infect another species - a cow. If this happened, then we would expect to see the snake gene in the cow genome to be located right next to retroviral genes on the chromosome. Admittedly this is just one of the strange goings-on, but the point remains.

Also, Andrew, remember there was not a light switch from non-life to life, it was a long process, and the best working hypothesis at the moment is that RNA dominated in the early/pre-life stage. This RNA was free floating, not in cells, so be careful with your distinction of ‘an organism’ and what would constitute ‘horizontal transfer’. RNA molecules interacted with each other, and in some way or another teamed up, or just got bundled up into cell membranes. Once there were entities which could rightly be called individual life forms the tree analogy starts to work pretty well.

Imagine throwing a bucketful of pebbles onto the floor and throwing away the ones you don't find attractive. You are effectively saying that the act of throwing away pebbles cannot produce nice pebbles. You completely miss the point - reproduction and genetic recombination produces new 'pebbles' all the time. Natural selection throws out the bad ones most of the time.

Finally, on thermodynamics, Andrew, you make so many scientific errors, that one hardly knows where to begin. You've just demonstrated the problem with simply citing other people’s work without having much of a clue about what they're on about. This, in fact, forms the basis for most of your arguments - I'm not sure even YOU know what you're really arguing.

The second law of thermodynamics does no such thing – it is not a roadblock to evolution. It says that total entropy (a measure of useful energy) in a closed system will not decrease, but this does not prevent evolution from taking place, because increasing order is not being prevented.

Firstly, the earth is not a closed system Andrew; sunlight (with low entropy) shines on it and heat (with higher entropy) radiates off. This flow of energy, and the change in entropy that accompanies it, can and will power local decreases in entropy on earth. But entropy is not the same as disorder (although, of course, the two correspond), but sometimes order increases as entropy increases. Entropy can even be used to produce order, such as in the sorting of molecules by size and the subsequent cellular activity that goes on to produce change. We can take this further - even in a closed system pockets of lower entropy can form if they are offset by increased entropy elsewhere in the system. The rub, Andrew, is that order from disorder happens on earth all the time, and evolution is a prime example of this. The only processes necessary for evolution to occur are reproduction, heritable variation, and selection. All of these are seen to happen all the time, therefore, you are barking up the wrong tree - no physical laws are preventing them. Vast amounts of study have been done and this - connections between evolution and entropy have been studied in great depth - and never to the detriment of evolution. But you're the sort of guy that sees a catchy headline (as you did with the ‘Darwin was wrong’ title on the New Scientist mag, mentioned in the other thread - {he wasn't wrong, by the way] - and takes that as a great big bullseye on the posterior regions of those who argue differently (and as it happens, more sensibly) than yourself.

It may even be true that evolution/origin of life is driven by entropy; in fact, some see the information content of organisms subject to diversification according to the second law, so organisms diversify to fill empty niches, rather like a gas that expands to fill an empty container. One could even propose that highly ordered complex systems emerge and evolve to dissipate energy (and increase overall entropy) more efficiently - but the counter argument to that seems to be based on this spurious notion of yours (although it's not really yours, is it Andrew?) that increasing order is possible, locally and temporarily, only if there is a Governor to direct growth and a power converter. Once again, you’re confusing 'God is necessary for creation' (a true statement) with this 'I, Andrew, can claim a palpable absence of X means Y' (an incorrect statement) - given that your proprietary estimation of the nature of X and Y really are, of course faulty. Here's a better way of viewing the situation. The second law of thermodynamics says absolutely nothing about programs to direct growth, and the only "power converter" it deals with is change in entropy - you cannot justifiably make such claims by bemoaning an absence of intentionality. Growth and order can be seen arising without an X program in many places. Clouds form complex orderly patterns, streams sort the size of the stones in their bed along their length, cooling basalt forms a hexagonal pattern of cracks. All of these show an increase in organisation, but you wouldn't say that we can't make them fly with theoretical notions - that's just how the world is Andrew - at least, that's how we view it.

Let me reiterate something for you Andrew - increasing order is NOT a violation of the second law of thermodynamics - even temporarily. A violation would be a decrease in entropy without a greater increase in entropy to go with it. Neither growth nor evolution violate the second law of thermodynamics because both take advantage of local differences in entropy to get work done. The environment IS the program through which and in which evolution occurs, and natural selection serves to communicate information from the environment to the populations of organisms, which, as I have said before, we see happening in every area of evolution.

Here's some more homework for you Andrew - get to grips with the notion that an increase in organised complexity is NOT the same as a decrease in entropy. The second law applies only to entropy; it says nothing that you think it says about organised complexity.

I've given you enough evidence there so that no reasonable person could question the fact of evolution, or that it is perfectly compatible with Christianity.

Yours fraternally

James
/>