Answering Lenny Flank’s Article Against Intelligent Design

While the hard sciences of mathematics, physics, and astronomy have been growing in the number of scientists who embrace belief in a personal God of some sort, the complex sciences of biology and anthropology have a large number of scientists who believe . . .

that all phenomena have a naturalistic explanation.

Textbooks written by these naturalist scientists permeate the classroom in our high schools and universities. Additionally, there are a number of lay skeptics who have published articles on the World Wide Web that available to anyone at no charge on numerous subjects related to naturalistic evolution and atheism. Believing professional scientists and scholars rarely devote any attention to lay skeptics, since they are busy conducting their own research and addressing concerns raised by professional colleagues who likewise almost never refer to them. This is not to say that lay skeptics have nothing valid to offer in their criticisms. Everyone is limited by time. For this reason scholars and scientists like everyone else must decide where their time is best spent. And a scholar or scientist who believes in God will usually spend his time more wisely by addressing criticisms from colleagues who have paid the price of obtaining an advanced degree over those who have not. We might see an analogy with the title fighter who accepts bouts with his contenders rather than with amateurs in the gym. It is not an issue of arrogance or insult to lay skeptics. It is an issue that involves the best use of the scholar’s and scientist’s time.

However, I think it beneficial once in a while to address certain writings by lay skeptics, especially when misleading information is being presented to a growing public audience and readers do not have the benefit of a counterview. Last year I embraced such an opportunity by replying to a book entitled The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold by Acharya S.[1] A national radio program invited Acharya and I to debate on the show.[2] I accepted and Acharya declined. We were both given equal time to present our view on separate evenings and a spirited exchange took place on the web when I was asked to document my assertions in writing.[3] In addition to some very hostile comments I received from some who agreed with Acharya, I have received numerous comments of gratitude from others for providing valuable information that enabled them to see some of the problems with Acharya’s thesis not readily visible to those who have limited knowledge of the Bible or the historical subjects discussed.

A week ago I was once again faced with the decision of whether to ignore a lay skeptic or devote a little time toward addressing some of the assertions he makes. I had never heard of Lenny Flank. However, a friend of mine was surfing the web for criticisms of the view that a Creator is responsible for the universe and life and stumbled across Flank’s web site. My friend was troubled by a particular article by Flank and asked me how I would respond to some of his assertions. The purpose of this paper is to do just that. Flank has other articles. However, time will not allow me to respond to them. I offer this paper as another sample of how weak and misleading many of the arguments presented by some lay skeptics truly are.

The latest generation of scientific advances has revealed much to us in terms of what we know about the cosmos and life itself. Data from the disciplines of astrophysics and molecular biology seem to point to an intelligent Designer as the cause of the universe and life. These data have led many scientists and philosophers of science to form what is referred to as “Intelligent Design Argument” or ID. ID does not argue for any particular God. Nor does it claim anything about the nature of God. It does not even require that the Designer be God. It simply states that the appearance of design in the universe and in life itself is best explained as being the result of a Designer who planned it rather than the result of natural causes.

That the universe has a strong appearance that it was finely tuned when created so that intelligent life might eventually appear is now granted by even many skeptical scientists. For example, consider the words of Dr. Arno Penzias, one of two scientists in 1965 who discovered evidence that confirmed the Big Bang. Penzias won the Nobel prize as a result.

Astronomy leads us to a unique event. A universe which was created out of nothing, and delicately balanced to provide exactly the conditions required to support life. In the absence of an absurdly-improbable accident, the observations of modern science seem to suggest an underlying, one might say, supernatural plan.[4]

Some of the results from molecular biology point to the same conclusion. Consider the words of Dr. Francis Crick, one of two scientists who discovered DNA. Crick is an atheist. Yet observing the complexity of DNA led him to the following conclusion:

Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.[5]

An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have to be satisfied to get it going.[6]

Crick estimates the odds that intelligent life exists on the Earth as the result of non-directed chance to be around 1:102,000,000,000.

The strong appearance of design in our universe has led many scientists of impeccable credentials to conclude that an intelligent Designer is the best explanation for the cause of our universe and life itself. Granted, some of these scientists were already committed to a theistic worldview and are also motivated by non-scientific factors. This, of course, does not negate the conclusion of an intelligent Designer, since the same could be said of atheistic scientists who are motivated by their own atheistic worldview to embrace naturalistic evolution. However, scientists with a prior leaning toward theism are not the only ones concluding that ID is the best explanation for origins. A number of atheists have jettisoned their worldview as a result. Consider the Templeton laureate Paul Davies, a physicist who went from promoting atheism in 1983,[7] to saying in 1984 that “The laws [of physics] . . . seem themselves to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design,” to writing in 1988,[8] “[There] is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all. The impression of design is overwhelming.”[9] The late prominent British astronomer Fred Hoyle also left a prior commitment to atheism with the comment that “a superintellect has monkeyed with physics.”[10]

While conversions do not authenticate truth, given the credentials of these scientists I believe we are safe to conclude that at a minimum, ID theory has some merit. But is it the best explanation for what we observe? Lenny Flank does not think so. In his article, “Is the ‘Intelligent Designer’ argument a Scientific One?” Flank offers several critiques of ID. Let’s look at these individually.

Flank holds that probability argument is problematic. He writes, “There are a number of things wrong with the creationist probability argument, however. The first and most obvious is that wildly improbable things happen all the time. How improbable must a thing be before it is ‘too improbable’ to have happened without divine influence?” He then provides an example of a person being struck by lightning: “The odds of any human being being struck by lightning are enormously improbable, yet every year at least a dozen people are killed in the United States by lightning bolts. Have they all been struck down by God? Is the chance of any particular person being struck by lightning “too improbable” to have happened by chance?”

I believe Flank here fails to grasp the enormity of the odds against the existence of life by natural causes. According to USA-Today (6/25/02), the chances of being struck by lightning are approximately 1 in 700,000 or 1:106.As unlikely as it is that YOU will be struck by lightning, in a country of approximately 265,000,000 people, the chances that SOMEONE will be struck by lightning are certain. Moreover, odds much more improbable than 1 in 700,000 (1:106) that go into the trillions (e.g., 1:1015) is next to certain when compared to Crick’s estimate that the odds of life existing on earth by chance are 1 in 102,000,000,000. And remember, Crick is an atheist providing these figures.

Flank provides another example of a deck of playing cards. He contends that the particular combination of cards that appears when a full deck is arbitrarily dealt has a higher improbability of being dealt than the number of electrons in the universe. “Yet again, there it will be. . . . Do I witness a Divine Miracle every time I deal out ten decks of playing cards? I very much doubt it.” I believe that Flank again fails to comprehend the deck he’s dealing with when it comes to the universe and life. While he is correct in suggesting that an arbitrary dealing of a deck of cards yields a particular combination that is as improbable as any other, it is a specific type of combination that draws our attention.

Let us suppose that Flank’s dealer shuffles a deck of cards, then deals the entire deck to four people at a table. Let us further suppose that when the four pick up their cards that they notice a particular order in which the cards appear. The first player notices that his cards are all hearts and were dealt in the order of Ace through King. The second player notices the same with the exception that she has all spades. The same occurs with the third and fourth players with the exception that they have cloves and diamonds. Our players then look at the dealer and say, “Hey! How did you do that?” How do you think our players would reply if the dealer answers, “What do you mean? It’s no big deal, since one combination is as improbable as another?” I doubt the four would accept that as an answer, because their hands would have the strong appearance that the deck had been stacked. When we look at our universe and life itself, the complex orderliness in them seems to indicate that the deck has indeed been stacked in favor of life.

Since Flank provides two illustrations for his point, I will too. Let us suppose that there is a very large container with 10 trillion marbles inside. Let us further suppose that all of the marbles are white with the exception of one black marble which hides somewhere in the sea of white marbles. Suppose the tank explodes and all the marbles fly up into the air. As they come down, a lone man in the vicinity places his hand in the air and catches a single marble. His chances of catching one specific marble is just as likely as any other marble. However, his chances of catching a white marble are astronomically greater than his chances of catching the black one. Likewise, with the event of the Big Bang, the chances that our universe would arbitrarily explode so that it’s laws and constants obtained in a manner incapable of sustaining life are so astronomically greater than what is required for a life-permitting universe that non-design of what we currently see strains our credulity. This conclusion was recently affirmed by three scientists from Stanford and MIT (8/15/02). In their paper, “Disturbing Implications of a Cosmological Constant,” Dyson, Kleban, and Susskind, conclude that the appearance of life in the universe by natural causes is incomprehensibly unlikely and that the laws of the cosmos seem to work against the very conditions that are essential for the existence of life. We may begin to understand why Penzias who does not claim to be a theist made the above statement.

Flank’s second argument against probability arguments is that odds are irrelevant in this matter, since, he contends, biomolecules and living cells are not formed randomly or by chance. Rather they are “governed by the deterministic laws of chemistry and physics.”[11] How does Flank support this? He contends that the laws of chemistry require that the necessary combinations obtain.

All of the other “possible” combinations are forbidden by the laws of chemistry and physics. . . . If we have a number of amino acids in solution, for instance, they do not combine “randomly”—they combine according to their chemical properties. Thus, any given mixture of amino acids will always combine in the same ways, in accordance with the laws of chemistry. This makes the ‘probability’ that a collection of amino acids will combine to form a particular protein very near 100%. The laws of chemistry and physics drastically reduce the number of ‘possible’ chemical combinations—and in many cases leave only one possible chemically stable configuration.[12]

Flank leads his readers to believer that the combining of amino acids into structures necessary for life is as natural as a magnet attracting a paper clip to itself. However, work done in the lab is not so impressive as Walter Bradley and Charles Thaxton explain:

All amino acids must be joined by a peptide bond . . ., an event that occurs only about 50 percent of the time in prebiotic simulation experiments. Finally, while amino acids come in left- and right-handed versions . . . biologically functional proteins have all L-amino acids [i.e., left handed]. Since L- and D-amino acids are equally abundant in nature and chemically react without distinction, this represents yet another challenge to the formation of enzymatically functional proteins.[13]

In other words, not only are peptide bonds necessary in order for amino acids to assemble and only occur approximately half of the time, there are two types of amino acids available for binding. The chances of binding to a right-handed amino acid are just as likely to binding to a left-handed one. However, only left-handed amino acids are useful for life. Now we begin to understand why scientists assembling amino acids in the lab must have a tightly controlled environment in order for a successful experiment to occur. This environment includes proper chemical proportions, appropriate solvent, proper duration of heating, and a purification process whereby the unwanted chemicals are removed.[14] The problem of course is that there were no chemists on a prebiotic Earth.[15]

Flank also states that “the appearence [sic] of the first replicating molecule (as well as the first living cell) was a steady process of step-by-step building, beginning with a proteinoid and adding bits and pieces from there. . . . Since a whole series of intermediate chemical steps preceed [sic] their formation, the creationist argument that intact biomolecules could not have arisen by chance is completely irrelevant.”[16] But Flank fails to tell us what scientific evidence he has for this step-by-step process. Instead, he merely makes a statement of belief. In the real world no evidence for his position exists. Flank’s view is science fiction. Michael Behe is a molecular biologist. In chapters three through seven of his book Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Behe explains how no one to date has provided a cogent hypothesis on how the complex biochemical systems we observe began in the first place. He then adds the following regarding scholarly journal articles on the subject:

Established in 1971, JME [The Journal of Molecular Evolution] is devoted exclusively to research aimed at explaining how life at the molecular level came to be. It is run by prominent figures in the field. Among the more than fifty people who make up the editorial staff and board, are about a dozen members of the National Academy of Sciences. . . . Each monthly issue of JME contains about ten scientific papers on various aspects of molecular evolution. Ten papers per month means about one hundred papers per year and about a thousand papers per decade.[17]

After surveying the papers, which when Behe wrote Darwin’s Black Box in 1996 would have amounted to approximately 2,500, he concludes the following:

. . . none of the papers published in JME over the entire course of its life as a journal has ever proposed a detailed model by which a complex biochemical system might have been produced in a gradual, step-by-step Darwinian fashion.[18]

Behe goes on to explain that neither do any books exist that present a cogent theory of how biochemical systems originated. He mentions two books possessing titles that suggest such a theory appears in their contents. However, he adds, “Neither book explains biochemical structures.”[19] Flank answers, “In fact, in several of the cases that Behe cites as ‘irreducibly complex’, new discoveries in biochemistry have indeed led to descriptions of precisely the sort of step-by-step development that Behe claimed was impossible.”[20] However, Flank fails to provide a single example that would overturn Behe’s examples. He need only produce one such journal article or book to prove Behe wrong. So let this stand as a challenge for him to do so. However, until he does we shall consider him refuted on the matter.

Flank then turns his attention to the scientific nature of ID. He writes that Behe’s “irreducible complexity” and ID are “based solely on religious assumptions” and do not have “anything scientific to say.”[21] Flank fails to provide any reasons in support of his assertion that Behe’s concepts are “based solely on religious assumptions”. As I stated at the beginning of this paper, ID makes no claims concerning who is the Designer of the universe and life. It simply recognizes that a Designer was involved. And this cannot be ruled out. Behe’s conclusion for a Designer is not as unscientific as Flank would have us believe.

Furthermore, as stated at the beginning of this paper ID does not argue for any particular God. Nor does it claim anything about the nature of God. It does not even require that the Designer is God. It simply states that the appearance of design in the universe and in life itself is best explained as the result of an Designer who planned it rather than natural causes, which seem astronomically unlikely at present. ID detects that a Designer was involved. It cannot at present tell us anything about the Designer. The answer to that question belongs to philosophers and theologians. What about Flank’s former contention that “a scientific proposition . . . must be capable of being tested and potentially falsified.”[22] He follows “But how can we do this? How do we differentiate a ‘designed’ organism from an ‘undesigned’ one? What sort of evidence, in principle, would indicate that a ‘designer’ exists, and what sort of evidence would, in principle, argue against the existence of a ‘designer’? What sort of objective test allows us to distinguish that something was designed (other than simply looking at it and concluding ‘it sure looks designed to me’ . . .)?”

I think Flank asks some fair questions here. However, we may note as William Dembski does that there are sciences that are created in order to detect design.[23] For example, forensic science exists in order to determine whether a crime was an accident or someone was behind it. In the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), scientists listen intently to sounds in space, hoping to identify some sort of complex pattern of sounds, a fair indicator that intelligence is behind them. While sophisticated equipment is used for forensics and SETI, the scientists involved are looking for patterns normally affiliated with intelligent causes. The same principle is employed in ID. Having accumulated data with the use of sophisticated equipment used in astronomy and molecular biology, many scientists believe they detect patterns normally affiliated with intelligent causes. So the scientist embracing ID does not merely look at something and conclude “it sure looks designed to me” as Flank suggests. If Flank rejects ID for scientific reasons, he must also reject other sciences for the same reason.

How do we detect design in something? In many cases we all can recognize when something has been designed. Describing the criteria we use can be somewhat challenging, however. William Dembski proposes specified complexity as the answer.[24] Dembski has PhDs in mathematics and philosophy. He suggests that we look for specification; that is we identify patterns normally associated with intelligent causation. As an example, the arrangement of sand molecules on the beach has an order to them. However, the order is arbitrary, since many other orders will accomplish the same thing. Thus, specification is absent. Conversely, the arrangement of molecules in a computer processor forms a pattern that we correctly associate with intelligent causation. Even if we had no idea what a processor did, we could recognize certain patterns that we associate with intelligent causation. Thus, a processor meets the criteria of specification.

The second part of Dembski’s criteria for identifying design is complexity. By complexity, Dembski means that something is so complex that it is extremely unlikely to occur by chance. On November 20, 2002, Angelo Gallina of Belmont, California won the jackpots of two lotteries on the same day for a total of $17,126,000. The odds of this occurring to the same person on the same day were calculated at 1 in 23 trillion ( or a little less than 1:1013). One might claim that Gallina’s good day demonstrates that events of enormous improbability do occur by natural causes. No one disagrees with that assertion. However, there are two problems with asserting that life was the result of natural causes: (1) Gallina’s probability of winning two jackpots on the same day are astronomically certain when compared to the probabilities involved concerning life. (2) While Gallina’s probabilities may meet the “complex” component of Dembski’s criteria of specified complexity, it fails the first component of “specification.” There is nothing in Gallina’s good day that we would strongly associate with intelligent causation. In other words, no pattern exists that is so strong that natural causes become highly improbable. Thus, we can identify something as being designed when something is so complex that it is extremely unlikely to be the result of natural causes and we also identify patterns in it that we normally associate with intelligent causation.

What is the difference between a combination of dust particles within a whirlwind and the amino acids in a DNA molecule? The former is an arbitrary combination of dust particles with no purpose behind their particular combination and could function in a similar manner given other combinations. The latter is a strict combination of amino acids arranged for the purpose of communicating to the cell what the living thing it is part of will be like and how it will function. It is the blueprint or program behind the living thing. If the amino acids were arranged arbitrarily a functional living thing would not be possible. The amount of information contained in DNA that leaves scientists amazed meets the criteria of specified complexity.

Since a good scientific theory must have a falsifiablility test, Flank is justified in asking, “[W]hat sort of evidence would, in principle, argue against the existence of a ‘designer’?” I can immediately think of two tests with certain results that would seriously challenge ID. If scientists someday succeed in creating conditions known to exist on a primitive Earth and found that amino acids naturally formed together into complex DNA molecules, ID would have to be reexamined and possibly abandoned. While we cannot rule out this possibility, we can acknowledge that to date it is the observations of modern science that have led to the forming of ID. ID may also be falsified by demonstrating the reality of physical laws other than the accepted physics of today: General Relativity. This new physics would have to eliminate the empirical evidence for a Big Bang that exploded out of nothing and explain in a cogent manner why the cosmological constant that screams of a Designer had to occur precisely the way it did by natural processes. The best hope for this presenntly is in quantum physics. However, from what we currently know, quantum models that account for the origin of the universe are still science fiction. Alan Guth, a proponent of quantum models of the universe concedes they are “speculation squared.”

Before we move on, however, we must ask whether Flank can defend his own naturalistic view by answering the same questions he asks of those who embrace ID. After all, what’s sauce for the ID goose is sauce for the naturalist gander. Let’s review Flank’s questions: (1) Can his scientific thesis be tested? (2) Can his scientific thesis be potentially falsified?

Let’s look at the first question and apply it to Flank’s position: Can naturalistic evolution be tested? It seems to me that for science to verify naturalistic evolution, the two most promising fields would be molecular biology and paleontology. We have already observed that the former is far from affirming Flank’s position. But what about the latter? Does the fossil record verify naturalistic evolution? It does not and cannot. It does not because even prominent paleontologists who are devoted evolutionists admit that the fossil record is disappointingly scarce. Richard Lewontin is Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard, former president of the Society for the Study of Evolution, a geneticist, and Marxist. He seems like a pretty good representative for naturalistic evolution. Yet notice what he says regarding the fossil record.

I’m a person who says in this book [Human Diversity] that we don’t know anything about the ancestors of the human species. . . . All the fossils which have been dug up and are claimed to be ancestors–we haven’t the faintest idea whether they are ancestors.[25]

Despite the excited and optimistic claims that have been made by some paleontologists, no fossil hominid species can be established as our direct ancestor.[26]

Niles Eldridge, a prominent paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History and strong proponent of naturalistic evolution writes,

No wonder paleontologists shied away from evolution for so long. It never seems to happen. . . . Evolution cannot forever be going on somewhere else. Yet that’s how the fossil record has struck many a forlorn paleontologist looking to learn something about evolution.”[27]

Thus, the two most promising disciplines in science can neither test nor verify naturalistic evolution. But Flank’s problems have only begun, because even if the fossil record was full, providing the transitional forms essential to evolutionary theory, it would not prove that naturalistic evolution is true. Remember, Flank is claiming that there is no cause for embracing ID and that things work together naturally. Since several scientists embracing ID, for example Michael Behe, hold theistic evolution, biological evolution that is supposed to occur after chemical evolution has done its job of forming complex life forms such as cells, proteins, and DNA fits within an ID framework too. Thus, even if biological evolution occurred by natural causes and left a clear trail in the fossil record (and it has not), the challenges posited by chemical evolution remain as a huge obstacle to naturalistic evolution. Accordingly, Flank’s view cannot even meet his own criteria.

Flank then turns his attack on Michael Behe. In his book Darwin’s Black Box, Behe defines then illustrates what he means by “irreducible complexity.” “By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.”[28] Behe then provides two steps for determining whether something is irreducibly complex: (1) “An irreducibly complex object will be composed of several parts, all of which contribute to the function” and (2) “all of the components are required for the function.”[29] Behe provides the example of a mousetrap. The function of the mousetrap is to immobilize a mouse. All parts contribute to the function and are required for the function. Five parts are required: platform, spring, hammer, catch, and holding bar. Any part missing and the trap’s function fails. Flank contends that Behe’s example fails, because he can show how a functional trap could have developed step-by-step. He does this by explaining how we might start off by leaving a simple piece of bait on the floor. When the mouse approaches the bait, we hit it with a hammer.[30] Step by step we make it more difficult for the mouse to reach the bait then find a means of escape after he claims his prize. Finally, we end up with our mouse trap of five parts, all contributing and required for the function of immobilizing a mouse. Flank concludes, “And there we have it—step by step development of something that is supposed to be ‘irreducibly complex’.”[31]

But Flank’s counterexample clearly misses Behe’s point that when something is irreducibly complex, it is a sign of a designer. Behe himself would be the first to say that a human designed his mousetrap and that it is merely an analogy in order for his readers to visualize what irreducible complexity is. He goes on to explain how irreducibly complex systems such as bacteria flagellum and cilium are infinitely more complex than a mousetrap and, thus, cannot be the result of natural selection plus random mutations over time. Flank’s evolution of a mousetrap requires a thinking person behind it who designs every step. Not one of his steps could have been the result of natural processes. Thus, if Flank proves anything by his reply to Behe, it is that progressive creation is true.

Flank then claims that “[e]volution is full of examples” that resemble the evolution of the mousetrap he provided. He gives two examples: (1) “the development of feathers for insulation in small theopod dinosaurs—feathers which were later incorporated into wings as flying mechanisms” and (2) “the therapsid-mammal fossil series . . . which shows the gradual changes that resulted from exapting the reptilian lower jawbones to work as inner ear bones instead.” At least two problems with these examples immediately surface. For one, they are not established transitional forms. While evolutionists may interpret these in this manner, no tests exist that can establish one form as an ancestor of another form. But much more damaging to Flank’s examples is that Behe himself has no problem with macroevolution and may even accept these examples as bone fide transitional forms, since he is a theistic evolutionist.[32] Behe’s point is that for macroevolution to occur we must have life to start with and that the most basic form of life is already so complex that there is no conceivable way that it could have evolved given an Earth only 4.5 billion years old. This is a point upon which Francis Crick agrees as reported earlier and of which no detailed naturalistic solution to date has been offered as to how life originated of Earth or somewhere else in the universe. Thus, Flank’s claim that Behe is “demonstrating a basic ignorance of how evolution works” instead demonstrates that Flank is not current in his reading of the scientific literature. This is especially true in his statement that follows:

In effect, Behe’s ‘designer’ is nothing more than the old ‘God of the gaps’, in which anything we do not yet understand is attributed to divine action. The problem with this viewpoint is that, as we understand more and more, there is continually less and less for the God of the gaps (or Behe’s ‘designer’) to do.[33]

Flank does not bother to share with his readers how he arrived at this conclusion. And it is difficult to bother guessing, since many scientists who do not embrace ID say that precisely the opposite is true. Klaus Dose, president of the Institute of Biochemistry at the University of Johannes Gutenberg, writes:

More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.[34]

Also remember the earlier admission by Francis Crick regarding the origin of life appearing “at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have to be satisfied to get it going.”[35] In order to explain the complexity, Crick and several others have proposed that life exists on Earth through alien intervention or from a comet or meteor from space, since life in its most basic form (i.e., parasite) is so complex that it could not have been the result of chemical evolution on Earth. When origin of life theories come to appealing to undetectable causes outside of our world, we can know that things must not be going well inside the laboratory. Moreover, “out of this world” theories only place the origin of life question somewhere else and to an even earlier time. In other words, if these scientists are claiming that life had to come from somewhere other than Earth because 4.5 billion years is not nearly enough time for chemical evolution to produce life, there is perhaps even less time to produce it on another planet.

Flank accuses Behe of presenting a “God of the gaps” theory. But who is here trying to plug in the gaps in science? Are not Crick and others like him simply providing a “naturalism of the gaps,” where an unknown natural cause for which there is not a shred of evidence is said to be the answer? This seems to me to be more of the product of the skeptical scientist’s metaphysics (i.e., philosophy) rather than his science. On the other hand, it seems that Behe and other IDers avoid this problem by pointing out patterns that are commonly found where intelligent causation exists and demonstrate how they likewise exist in biomolecules and in the fine-tuning of the universe as seen with the cosmological constants that even Penzias and other scientists cannot ignore.[36] The more we are learning from scientific advances in certain fields, the more difficult it is to explain how life arose by natural causes.

Flank then faults IDers for not being able to say anything scientifically about an intelligent Designer. Is this really a challenge to ID? Can we look at an automobile and recognize that it was designed without knowing anything about the designer? Granted: the Designer of the universe and life cannot be observed under a microscope. But this is a limitation of science, not a reason to reject the scientific evidence that a Designer exists or at least existed in the past. We begin now to see more of Flank’s worldview and it is not scientific. By his statement he in essence is claiming that what is essentially non-science is nonsense. If he cannot prove it scientifically, he will not believe it. But this is a self-refuting position. It is like saying, “There is no such thing as truth; and that’s the truth.” Let us suppose that Flank were to enlist a team of the world’s best scientists in the various disciplines to work in a laboratory with the most advanced scientific equipment. Could this team prove scientifically that only what science proves is true? Not a chance; because it is a philosophical position. Thus, it fails its own test and Flank is left without a perch to roost from.

Flank then asks, “Who designed the Intelligent Designer” as though this question undermines the conclusion of a Designer. Although professional philosophers who are atheists such as J. L. Mackie and Michael Martin stay away from this argument, associate editor and journalist George Smith likes it. In his book Atheism: The Case Against God, Smith writes the following:

Let us grant the premises of this argument and see where it leads. Order is exhibited in nature; order requires a designer; therefore, god exists. . . . Who designed god? Surely, nothing as complex and intricate as a supernatural intelligence can be the result of mere ‘chance.’ Therefore, there must be a super-designer who designed god. But a super-designer would require a super-super-designer, and so on ad infinitum. Thus, by the premises . . . we are led to an infinite series of transcendental designers—a ‘solution’ that leaves much to be desired.[37]

One problem with it is that it assumes that whatever is present in contingent living organisms that point to a Designer are also present in the Designer. Since we cannot know anything scientifically about the Designer, there is no way of knowing whether these patterns are present in Him (or Her or It). A second problem with this objection is that the search for a Cause or Designer must stop somewhere. Almost everyone agrees with Smith that an infinite regression of causes is logically impossible. Even most skeptical philosophers and scientists grant this point and that the overwhelming scientific evidence available to us today indicates conclusively that our universe is not eternal. But this is evidence for an eternal first Cause and supports ID rather than challenges it. Let us suppose that I show you a photocopy of a book and tell you that I copied it from another copy of the same book. Upon further investigation, you discover that the second copy came from a third, the third from a fourth and so on. Obviously, there cannot be an infinite number of copies without an original from which the first copy came. Likewise, everything we know of including the universe itself is contingent. That is, its existence is dependent on something causing it. There cannot be an infinite number of caused things without a first thing that caused the chain of events. There must be a first Cause. While we cannot prove that the first Cause and Designer are one, there is nothing logically that would prevent the two being the same and by no means renders theological interpretations of this being the case as inaccurate or unjustified.

A third problem with this objection is that it would render it impossible to recognize design. While this may initially be attractive to the naturalistic evolutionist, it breaks down any hope of success for the forensic scientist and those at SETI. If I cannot conclude that something is the result of an intelligent cause because it would require that the intelligent cause itself require another intelligent cause of it, we would be forbidden from concluding that computers, airplanes, and buildings are anything more than the result of unintelligent processes. If Flank can hold that a computer was designed by a being who himself was not designed, why can’t the IDer conclude that the universe and life were designed by a Designer who was not Himself designed? But that is far too easy to answer. Perhaps the motivation behind this objection is to rule out a monotheistic God or more specifically the Christian God. This brings us to the fourth problem with this objection: it shifts the question to the nature of the Designer rather than addressing whether a Designer exists. Some atheist philosophers have argued that ID is consistent with polytheism and they are absolutely correct. Perhaps if one were to argue that the evidence for a Designer aloneproves the Christian God, this objection would have more appeal. But this is not what IDers argue. Remember ID does not contend for any particular God. Nor does it claim anything about the nature of God. It does not even require that the Designer is God. ID simply states that the appearance of design in the universe and in life itself is most likely the result of a Designer who planned it rather than being the result of natural causes. But neither do Christian apologists make the claim that ID proves the existence of the Christian God. Rather they claim that ID’s Designer is consistent with the Christian God and may be used in a cumulative case for the Christian God. This case may include other arguments such as the necessity for a first cause (see second problem with this thesis immediately above) and the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Thus, Flank’s argument is invalid.

Flank then claims that ID “cannot be tested and cannot be falsified. It is based solely and only on the creationist belief that God designed and created life by divine fiat.”[38] I answered this earlier. Considering the accumulated scientific data with the use of sophisticated equipment used in astronomy and molecular biology, many scientists believe they also detect patterns normally affiliated with intelligent causes. Detecting intelligent causation is the backbone of certain sciences like forensics and SETI. There are no reasons why this same approach cannot be used in molecular biology and astrophysics, especially when it seems the more we discover in these disciplines the less likely it appears that natural origins were involved. Contrary to Flank, ID can be falsified and I provided two ways in which this could be accomplished earlier in this paper. It is insufficient to ask as Flank does that the IDer describe what an “undesigned biomolecule” would look like. For if what IDers are saying is true, “undesigned biomolecules” are impossible. They do not exist. They belong in the realm of fire-breathing dragons and unicorns. Perhaps in the future we will learn that our estimates are not as improbable as we currently understand them. However, for now they stand rather firmly and non-believing scientists themselves are bringing this to our attention. Until present estimates of incomprehensible improbabilities for the emergence of intelligent life by natural causes are substantially improved to reasonable possibility, ID appears to be the best explanation for origins. To avoid this conclusion with the hope that a cogent natural explanation is forthcoming is merely a “naturalism of the gaps,” since it is precisely the advances of science that are leading many scientists to opt for ID. The more we are learning, the more attractive ID is becoming.

In conclusion, we have observed that Flank’s critique of ID fails on every point. Moreover, his own naturalistic view of origins can neither be tested nor falsified. Rather it is founded on his metaphysical assumption that all things have a natural explanation. This is naturalism and it permeates the complex sciences of biology and anthropology where databases of knowledge are incomplete and a lot of guesswork is presented as scientific fact. But metaphysics is not science and our rock thrower now finds himself living in a glass house. And IDers are not necessarily those who are throwing the stones that threaten Flank’s dwelling. Rather, they are skeptical scientists like Crick and others who’s stones are most damaging. Consider what Jerry Coyne has to say. Coyne is Professor of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, Professor of the Committee on Genetics, and Professor of the Committee on Evolutionary Biology. Coyne is no friend of IDers but admits:

We conclude—unexpectedly—that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view: its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak.[39]

Flank’s view that intelligent life is entirely the result of natural causes is in trouble. And the more we are learning from science, the less likely his view appears. Let us not be deceived into believing that naturalism is in any sense part of science. Rather it is a self-refuting position that is entirely without any direct factual support. On the other hand, ID is a live option for consideration concerning origins. It is philosophically plausible and uses the same principles used by other sciences in detecting design. Thus, those like Flank claiming that ID is not scientific eliminate other established scientific disciplines in the process. Moreover, if Dembski and others are correct, we now have criteria for determining whether a Designer was responsible for intelligent life and the data received thus far is very encouraging of this conclusion.


[1] Acharya S. The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold (Kempton: Adventures Unlimited, 1999).

[2] The Lou Gentile Show.

[3] You can find both of my papers on my web site (www.risenjesus.com). Click on “Resources,” then “Articles.” The first article is easy to locate. A hyperlink to the second is located at the end of the first.

[4] Cited by D. L. Brock in Our Universe: Accident or Design: (Wits, South Africa: Star Watch), 1992. However, I also corresponded with Penzias who affirmed the statement in a personal email on 7/24/02.

[5] Francis Crick. What Mad Pursuit (New York: Norton, 1986), p. 1.

[6] Francis Crick. Life Itself: It’s Origin and Nature (New York: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 1981), p. 88.

[7] Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983) pp. viii, 3-42, 142-143.

[8] Paul Davies, Superforce: The Search for a Grand Unified Theory of Nature (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 243.

[9] Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Nature’s Creative Ability to Order the Universe(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), p. 203.

[10] Quoted in Paul Davies. The Accidental Universe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 118.

[11] Article, p. 1.

[12] Ibid., pp. 1-2.

[13] Walter L. Bradley and Charles B. Thaxton, “Information and the Origin of Life” in The Creation Hypothesis (Downers Grove: IVP, 1994), p. 179.

[14] Michael Behe. Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Free Press, 1996), pp. 168-70.

[15] Any self-ordering tendencies in molecules such as those found in ice crystals contain a low amount of information and do not begin to explain the amazing amount of information contained in life. See Walter Bradley’s comments in Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), pp. 102-103.

[16] p. 2.

[17] Ibid., pp. 165-6.

[18] Ibid., p. 176.

[19] Ibid., p. 178.

[20] Article, p. 3.

[21] Ibid., p. 2.

[22] Ibid., p. 2.

[23] “There does in fact exist a rigorous criterion for distinguishing intelligently caused objects from unintelligently caused ones. Many special sciences already use this criterion, though in a pretheoretic form (e.g., forensic science, artificial intelligence, cryptography, archaeology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence [SETI]). William A. Dembski. Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology(Downers Grove: IVP, 1999), p. 127.

[24] Ibid., chapter 5.

[25] Tom Bethell, “Agnostic Evolutionists: The Taxonomic Case Against Darwin” in Harper’s Magazine. February 1985, p. 61

[26] Richard Lewontin. Human Diversity, p. 163, quoted in Harper’s Magazine, ibid.

[27] Niles Eldridge. Reinventing Darwin (Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated, 1995), p. 95.

[28] Behe. p. 39.

[29] Ibid., p. 42.

[30] Article. p. 3.

[31] Ibid., p. 3.

[32] Behe. p. 5, 176.

[33] Article. p. 4.

[34] Klaus Dose. “The Origin of Life: More Questions than Answers,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Volume 13, Number 4, 1988, p. 348.

[35] Article. p. 1.

[36] Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983) pp. viii, 3-42, 142-143. Paul Davies, Superforce: The Search for a Grand Unified Theory of Nature (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 243. Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Nature’s Creative Ability to Order the Universe (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), p. 203. John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 442. Fred Hoyle, Astronomy and Cosmology (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1975. Prominent atheist philosopher, Antony Flew, in a pending article with Oxford University Press writes, “Indeed, again so far as I know, no one has yet produced a plausible conjecture as to how any of these complex molecules might have evolved from simple entities” (God and the Big Bang). A list of the cosmological constants may be found at www.reasons.org.

[37] George Smith. Atheism: The Case Against God (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1989), p. 259.

[38] Article. p. 4.

[39] H. A. Orr and J. A. Coyne. “The Genetics of Adaptation: A Reassessment” in American Naturalist, Volume 140, p. 726, quoted by Michael Behe in Darwin’s Black Box, p. 29.