The illusion of a Crumbling Worldview

“Scientists don’t have a clue how life began..  geologists, chemists, astronomers and biologists are as stumped as ever by the riddle of life.”

(..Science journalist John Horgan, February 28, 2011 (former senior writer at Scientific American) after the Origins Project Conference, Arizona State University.)

“We have no evidence at all that the tree of life is a reality”

(..Eric Bapteste, evolutionary biologist, Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris)

“The tree-of-life concept was absolutely central to Darwin’s thinking, equal in importance to natural selection.  Without it the theory of evolution would never have happened.”

(..W. Ford Doolittle, biologist, Dalhousie University, Halifax)

“We’ve just annihilated the tree of life.  It’s not a tree any more, it’s a different topology entirely.  It is clear that the Darwinian tree is no longer an adequate description of how evolution in general works.”

(..Biologist Michael Syvanen of the University of California)

“The tree of life is politely buried, we all know that. What’s less accepted is that our whole fundamental view of biology needs to change.. biology is vastly more complex than we thought.”

(..Michael Rose, evolutionary biologist,  University of California, Irvine)

It is hard to understand how someone who once said “I despise faith” can admit he relies on it to support a scientific theory.  What is the difference between something which only has the appearance of faith, and faith itself?

A 2003 interview with Richard Dawkins in the BBC’s Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief contained the following strange logic:

Three minutes into the embedded interview, in speaking of the purported instances of irreducible complexity in nature, Richard Dawkins succeeds in decimating any pretense to neo-Darwinism’s status as a falsifiable proposition.

“There cannot have been intermediate stages that were not beneficial.  There’s no room in natural selection for foresight.. it doesn’t happen like that. There’s got to be a series of advantages all the way.. if you can’t think of one, then that’s your problem, not natural selection’s problem.”

Is Richard Dawkins suggesting that the purported explanatory adequacy of neo-Darwinism is not a testable proposition? If there are no biochemical systems which cannot be accounted for by NS, then how to evaluate Darwinism’s explanatory adequacies? At what point is one justified in saying, ‘NS is inadequate.. and we must hence search for an alternative’?

“Well, I suppose that it is a sort of matter of faith on my part since the theory is so coherent and so powerful.”

But what exactly is so coherent and so powerful?  His unshakeable faith, certainly.  But if he means the efficiency of the mechanism, and its infallible progress across all planes of biology, then that is what he is obliged to demonstrate.

The irreducible complexity argument is well known, and stands to reason, but to get around it, vast treatises are produced to wave away the ordered nature of living matter.   I once saw a 27 page dissertation explaining how the bacterial flagellum could have arisen by several hundred flukes.  Every stage of matter’s conversion to life is irreducibly complex: at no stage can one reach the next higher level without an injection of order.

The illusion of purposeful design with zero component wastage, as distinct from actual purposeful design with zero component wastage

The atoms require an order imposed on their aimless state to form amino acids with strictly defined qualities.  Can we reproduce this process blindly by chance?  No, because left to themselves, the atoms remain whatever they always were, with no particular purpose in mind.

The amino acids require order imposed on them to form working machinery: can we demonstrate this assembly by blind chance?  Again, left to themselves, the amino acids remain what they are: strangely shaped molecules with no particular use, apart from inside a a rigidly defined structure that does not yet exist.  Where are the details of that structure kept?  In the DNA.  But from where does this information come from, and can we demonstrate its collation by random factors?  Apparently not: there is no room for spanners thrown casually into a gearbox where machinery works at millions of cycles per second: the result would be a disaster.

In fact the machinery is configured to prevent errors, stamp them out, and when these steps fail, other dedicated machinery steps in to repair the damage.  It is impossible to imagine error correction machinery being a product of errors.

It quickly becomes obvious why faith is required to bridge gap after gap.  Never mind a “God of the gaps” – this is a gap-shaped theory!

“The number of intermediate varieties which have formerly existed on Earth must be truly enormous.  Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links?  Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.”

(..C Darwin, On the Origin of Species)

Over time, the development of species towards the more complex seems certain, but as Darwin himself said, belief in chance as a cause is unscientific, for chance never moves in a single direction.

The the cause behind aimless atoms becoming determined creatures remains a matter of faith.  Gaps in evolution are handily filled by continuous lines on a chart, but where are the missing pieces?  These exist, at present, only in the minds of the faithful; the reason given being that intermediate forms do not survive for long.

But each intermediate form was at that time the most advanced in all of history.  It was only an intermediate form when a better one superceded it.  The term itself is a mental construct to re-label a successful form, and account for its disappearance from the fossil record.  As they clearly must have been a successful breed, where are they?

Atlas moth, illusion of a snake’s head disguise

At the lowest level of machinery, how do proteins find their way to the exact spot where they are needed?  Natural selection.  How is physical energy converted into thought?  Natural selection.  How does the body know to grow a thin layer of hair in a last ditch attempt to keep warm?  Natural selection.  Why do mothers hold their babies with the head facing to the left?  Natural selection.  Why does the mother’s internal hip have a corkscrew shape built in to turn the baby’s head on exit from the womb?  Natural selection. How is it that the large scale structures of the body seem to shape themselves to a precise pattern so strong that it survives – consistently and completely intact – the death of countless individuals manifesting it over spans of hundreds of millions of years?  Natural selection.

Eyed Hawk moth, illusion of a fox disguise

How is it that in every organism not a single part is extraneous to the overall design and how does every cell respond to the needs of the organism as a whole, living on a level which it – being aimless matter – can have no knowledge of?  Natural selection.  Why does all life have a certain purpose which they adhere to, come what may?  Natural selection, silly!

The phrase can be used left right and centre, morning, noon and night.  It is like listening to an orchestra which only plays one note, at full volume.  But is natural selection a force, a mechanism, a theory, a result of mechanical processes or a fantasy?  Nobody can say.

Butterfly leaf – completely convincing illusion of disguise.  But is the disguise a lucky illusion, or is it the illusion of a lucky disguise? It gets confusing

The molecular components work at staggering speeds – performing actions up to ten million times per second – inside trillions of cells.  Even at rest, we recline on a universe of bustling energy, which we can hardly imagine.  The cells turn over our own body weight each day in recyclable fuel.   But there is a gap dozens orders of magnitude in size between a molecular machine and an organism.  The organism is a lumbering colossus needing a different set of rules, defences and precautions than the molecular components.

We draw a straight line from the molecules to the human it produces.  But where are the rule sets governing specialised systems such as the liver, the heart, the brain, or the cochlea? These organs comprise billions of cells, no single one of which has control of the organ itself – and other than the imaginative characteristics we assign to them, like the selfishness of genes or the malevolence of viruses, they can have no interest in a higher level of existence,  any more than a grain of sand maintains a sandcastle.

The high prices charged for works of art often benefit from industry hype, but sustained over long periods they acknowledge that making memorable impressions on our senses requires unusual skill; they also treat the illusion of design as design itself

Richard Dawkins often states that nature continually shows the illusion of design; he said this only recently at a Rally for Reason in America.  In fact molecular biologists freely admit they remind themselves every day that the illusion of design cannot be design, for they do not see any designer, and nor can imagine one capable of the feats they observe.  Thus their position arises as much from a lack of imagination as from faith.  Which is worse?  An atheist told me only three days ago, “of course I’m an atheist, and it’s because I can’t believe that some old man on a mountain created the Universe.

But concerning the evidence in front of us, what we need to know is how the difference between a thoroughly convincing illusion of design and design itself, can be measured?

If I construct a painting which consistently maintains the illusion of being great art, down to the placement, tone, value and chroma of every last molecule of paint, is it not then by definition, the same thing exactly as great art?  If the idea that such a work can emerge from my hands without any effort on my part appears to be absurd, is this not reasonably convincing evidence that it may well be an impossibility?  If on the other hand we so quickly discard the impressions of our own intelligence, what is the point of having it in the first place, or claiming it to be a trustworthy sense when making proclamations about theories?

The Gecko takes advantage of nanoscale engineering to create superb, flexible adhesive grip. Why doesn’t every animal have it? Hmmm, I think I’m going to say.. natural selection!

If an author were to write a book which had the illusion of being well thought out, beautifully illustrated and soundly reasoned, which met all challenges and outlasted all the endless carping and whining of critics, perhaps remaining in circulation for decades, does it not mean it must in fact be all of these things, or every bit as good as if it were?  It is to find flaws in an apparently perfect system that randomisers try to find flaws in the illusion of design, but so far they have come up short.  Tonsils, “junk” DNA, the appendix, and the backwards facing retina are all now known to be instances of far more complex design considerations, ironically bringing attention to deficiencies in the materialistic theories instead.

When a woman goes to a glittering event presenting the illusion of being well made up, the illusion of being perfectly dressed, and the illusion of being punctual, gracious, impeccably behaved, polite and well mannered, what else can we conclude except that she must be all of these things, or at the very least, so aware of their determining factors that she can summon them at will, and is prepared to do so when called for, or that they are convincing elements of her own personality?  How do we establish with certainty the difference between this impeccable illusion of class, and class itself?

Were she to commit some slip of etiquette we might realise that the illusion is not as perfect as we thought.  But would a normal human being grasp in desperation at any perceived error – inventing or presuming them if none couldbe found – in order to loudly denounce her to the world as a worthless outcast, unless the aim was to make themselves look good by comparison?

The deceptive appearance of taste and colour had absolutely everybody fooled.  They were, in reality, nothing but only colourless, tasteless, unappetising atoms – as proved by science!  The shame of it – how could we have been duped for so long?!

Lastly, suppose one constructs a mechanical device or speech or book or theory which has the illusion of being sloppy, weakly designed, badly thought out and full of dreadful oversights, should we not conclude it must be formed of precisely these qualities, or of ones so similar in the impression made on our mind that we can dismiss it as if it were?  How else could such an illusion appear?

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were staggered to be toldby scientists investigating the composition of their house that it was nothing more than worthless bricks, held together with a filthy mixture of sand and cement.  To make matters worse, what they had assumed were beautifully polished mahogany floors and windowsills were in fact just organic materials cut from dead trees

If any of the above are in the least true, it indicates that if the illusion of design is  indistinguishable from design itself, this is precisely the evidence needed that design is in fact present.

Beyonce maintained the illusion of being well dressed while accepting the illusion of an award for a record which somehow appeared to be a best seller.  She later maintained the illusion of being pregnant, and followed this impressive feat with the illusion of producing a newborn baby.  Impressive – but I hope nobody was fooled by such shenanigans!

I can’t imagine a spider with a disordered half-working silk spigot making much progress as a spider or a half-constructed hemoglobin molecule doing anything useful as a carrier of oxygen in a fluid.  I can’t imagine half an ATP synthase motor or any part of it working apart from the whole to create ATP.  All these weird imaginings have the illusion of being a mess.  Would they not, therefore, be a mess every bit as messy as the illusory state of messiness they present to our senses?   Of course, if all this disordered stuff blindly assembled itself into a supremely ordered state, would that not be an even more remarkable thing than anything religion ever suggested?

In the highly demanding field of molecular biology, imagination is needed as well as intelligence.  Without it, how can we ever move exccept in the same old rut?  Appealing to faith instead of hard, solid proposals is not what you would expect from an enemy of faith itself, especially one who maintains the illusion of being the champion of random.

“Zombie science is science that is dead but will not lie down. Zombie science is supported because it is useful propaganda. Zombie science is deployed in arenas such as political rhetoric, public administration, management, public relations, marketing and the mass media generally.  It persuades, it constructs taboos, it buttresses some kind of rhetorical attempt to shape mass opinion.  Indeed, zombie science often comes across in the mass media as being more plausible than real science.”

(..Bruce G Charlton, 2008  Medical Hypotheses, Vol. 71, pp. 327-329.)


Introductory quotes originally from New Scientist 21 Jan 2009. Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life, by Graham Lawton and concluding quote sourced from  John Michael Fisher’s excellent article on evolution:


About iain carstairs

I have a great interest in both scientific advances and the beauty of religion, and created about 15 years ago with the aim of finding common ground between the scientist and the believer, and to encourage debate between the two sides.
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One Response to The illusion of a Crumbling Worldview

  1. Nandakumar says:

    I find it strange that there are many atheists out there who accept what ‘science’ tells them despite the fact that most of science and maths are based on assumptions..It doesn’t even matter that our understanding of fundamental issues like time,space & matter are still based on assumptions..& yet most of us ignore an intuitive quality within..Perhaps a perspective that reconciles seemingly contradictory facts is required. A truth that does not negate a previous understanding but its understanding comes from an expansion in perspective..One that reconciles..

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