Please forgive me if you are already tired of this subject. But I just received a comment from a friend of mine from an old post that does not deserve to be buried in the comment archives of last November. Gary is a well read and articulate thinker and his response deserves a post on this site. I do not agree with every thing he says, but as Voltaire famously said: “I will defend to the death his right to say it.” I consider myself fortunate to work in such an intellectually stimulating environment, I learn something new everyday. Here is Gary’s (unedited) comment:

I have just been made aware of this site and as I am a colleague of Steve’s on the other side of the debate I would like to enter in.

First, let me state that I have no firm conviction on the existence of a Creator, although I lean to atheism. There are questions which cannot be currently answered by science. Some cannot be answered because we have not had the time, or the resources or the theoretical understanding to deal with them or even to formulate them. Most of these will with time and effort yield, but the existence of a Creator is unlikely to, so we should be each free to come to our own conclusions: but certainly you cannot use science at this time to justify an answer either way.

Behe’s ideas fall into the realm of the miraculous (and I did read the book, Steve, when you lent it to me) although he is knowledgable enough in the science. His ideas are miraculous simply because they indicate that there are complex entities which cannot be explained in terms of simpler ones. The philosophy of science is that all problems are in principle explicable with time and effort, including biochemical ones. Thus a scientist is not likely to like Behe’s approach for philosophical reasons: it would close off so many avenues of research. That, of course, would not matter if Behe were right and some processes are irreducibly complex. But it is actually fairly simple to find explanations on the internet for the processes he sites. I give you here the website of Kenneth Miller (I am sure you will recognize the name, but you shouldn’t be deterred by him being a strong opponent of ID – he is after all a strong Catholic Christian as well). His explanation for a possible evolutionary development of the Clotting Cascade (which you like to cite) is clear and comprehensible: http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/DI/clot/Clotting.html

Keep in mind that to refute the idea irreducible complexity all that is logically needed is a feasible pathway based in current knowledge of biochemistry and genetics: the exact pathway will never be known.

As to probabilities, the calculations as presented are not correct or applicable. The most unlikely event in the whole process is the original synthesis of a self-replicating molecule from precursors. However, in a large “soup” of small molecules, given the chemical bonding rules as we know them and chemical energetics sooner or later a molecule would be built – it wouldn’t require all the small molecules coming together simultaneously which would be improbable to the point of impossibility: rather, if the first “living” molecule required 26 precursors, call them A to Z for convenience, they might first link chemically in pairs, AB, CD, EF and so on and then in pairs again. None of these steps would be prohibitively improbable especially given the times involved. From there variation and differential reproduction take hold: this process never requires multiple elements to come together simultaneously – an existing gene, for that is what the living molecules are, is modified and acts as a template for some new protein. Evolution does not build each new protein or enzyme from the beginning, from 0, but adapts existing models, which is why the probability calculation often quoted is wrong (I know you like Hoyle who it seems introduced this calculation: a brilliant physicist but not so hot in biology). The only point in this process which is random or at least unpredictable is variation in an existing gene or chromosome, by reshuffling of component parts, or duplication of a gene, or mutation and these occur so frequently that cells have evolved sophisticated repair mechanisms

Jon Wise brings makes a point that scientists are desperate. I don’t think so, although science is under attack particularly in America, by more literalist Christians who would censor science where it disagrees with their beliefs. But scientists are interested in the question of origins, naturally, and would like naturalistic explanations. At this point there are several possible explanations for the nature of our universe, that is the setting of certain constants at values that are necessary for life, often referred to as the Anthropic Principle. Possibly these were set this way be God, possibly it is mere chance – the values could have been anything, but at the time of the Big Bang, they settled at just the right values, perhaps the universe is a multiverse, with possibly an infinite number of universes each subtly different, perhaps the universe will go through a potentially infinite number of cycles of Bang and Crunch, with each new cycle having a new, random set of values and we are of course living in one of the cycles in which it is possible for us to live, perhaps, as Lee Smolen of the Perimeter Institute, suggests, black holes within our universe act as progenitors for new universes each with subtly different characteristics. All scientists know that these ideas are not science, they are interesting speculation: no serious scientist would ever say “This is how it was or is” because there is no data. There is no real evidence for any of these hypotheses and likely never will be. Thus origins, the nature of God lie beyond us, and reason and science cannot help us without fact to work on.

My own feeling is somewhat like Jon’s. Science is a means of exploring the nature of God, however one conceives it. If there is a God, then all of Creation is a book for us to read; if not, we should continue to learn in any case.

Personally, I find evolution and quantum mechanics (especially) far more elegant than a set-piece creation. If God made it all in a particular way, and knows all, how boring that must be and pointless, since all the outcomes would already be known. On the other hand, in QM, uncertainty rules, the outcome of any interaction is fundamentally unpredicable, based on current knowledge, let alone all of them. How much more interesting it would be for God to look with curiousity and amazement at the handiwork as it developed.

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