June 19, 2007

Dawkins and Shear Luck

Richard Dawkins, Oxford professor and bestselling author, is out to convince the public that macro-evolution — the idea that all present forms of life have evolved from simpler forms — is the scientific gospel. And he makes this claim with the fervor of the most committed televangelist. In his latest book, The God Delusion, Dawkins presents his case for why natural selection is the best answer for why we observe design in nature. But there is a fly in this naturalistic ointment that undermines Dawkins’ premise and makes his conclusion untenable. Worldview analysis uncovers the problem.

Dawkins is fond of using the analogy of climbing a mountain — Mount Improbable he calls it — to illustrate how natural selection works to arrive at improbable things like eyes and wings.[1] And he adds in a generous dose of genetic mutations as the raw material for moving from simple to more complex structures.

But mutations presuppose that the genetic code is already present to begin with. So the real question is not, can the genetic code be rearranged or changed? We know it can to some extent. We also know that most mutations are harmful to the species. However, the real question is: what is the origin of this discrete molecular coding in the first place?

Here we discover a major flaw with Dawkins’ mountain analogy — how does the first living cell arrive at the foot of the mountain to begin the assent to more complex life? Or, put differently, what is the origin of first life? You will be amazed at Dawkins’ answer.

Is Getting to Mount Improbable Probable?

How does Dawkins account for the origin of life? Dawkins’ explanation is an “initial stroke of luck”![2] (I’m not kidding, those are his actual words.) But that’s not all. In addition to the origin of life, Dawkins acknowledges there are a number of unique, “one off” events in the history of life. He mentions the origin of the eukaryotic cell (a complex cell with a membrane-bound nucleus), consciousness, and other unspecified events. In each case, Dawkins admits the need for a “stroke of luck,” “sheer luck,” “some luck,” and “major infusions of luck.”

This is an incredible admission from one of today’s most vocal macro-evolutionary proponents. Here Dawkins is reduced to basing his theory on “major infusions of luck” and “momentous, difficult and statistically improbable” steps! This is an appeal to unabashed chance. Yet, earlier in his book, Dawkins chastises people who claim that evolution is based on chance, writing that these people know nothing about the process of natural selection. But when it comes to the major events that make life possible, Dawkins is at a total loss to produce any scientific explanation other than appealing to chance, or, as he puts it, “sheer luck.”

But Dawkins is unfazed by this inconsistency. He attempts to provide a way out of this impasse by the following assertion:

“However improbable the origin of life might be, we know it happened on Earth because we are here.”[3]

The idea that life must have happened because “we are here” is a classic example of begging the question as well as a clear case of circular reasoning. Dawkins assumes that nature is all there is, therefore life must have come from natural causes. How does he know life came from natural causes? Because he assumes nature is all there is! This illustrates Dawkins’ dogmatic adherence to atheistic naturalism no matter how incredibly improbable the process might be.

But apart from Dawkins’ religiously held dogmatism, the question is how non-living matter can morph into the first living, reproducing cell. Dawkins’ attempt at answering that question is to appeal to a lucky break, as noted, and “by postulating a very large number of planetary opportunities.”[4]

As it turns out, proposing multiple earth-like planets sprinkled throughout the universe is another unfounded assumption on his part. And Dawkins fails to be persuasive in any scientific sense. That’s because the actual chances for other life-supporting planets has been investigated and found absurdly improbable. In their book, The Privileged Planet, authors Guillermo Gonzalez[5] and Jay Richards describe groundbreaking research into how the Earth is uniquely situated to sustain complex life. These “just right” conditions include the optimal distance from the right kind of star, plate tectonics, the size of a moon that can stabilize the earth’s axis, the shielding presence of larger planets nearby, the right amount of oxygen and water . . .  just to name a few. Mathematically speaking, the probability of a planet having all of the necessary conditions to sustain complex life is 10 to the negative fifteenth power, or one thousandth of a trillionth. No wonder Dawkins’ last bastion of hope for a naturalistic explanation of all these factors coming together in one place requires major infusions of luck! (Note to self: don’t take these odds to Vegas!)

Lots of Luck vs. the Law of Biogenesis

Dawkins wants us to believe that given multitudinous opportunities and a whole universe full of luck, presto-chango, anything can happen, right? Well, only if the “anything” is in the realm of possibilities. On the other hand, some things will never happen no matter how many tries or how much luck. That’s because some things are simply not possible.

For example, drawing a square circle is not within the realm of possibility because, by definition, a square has four sides of equal length and a circle does not. That is one kind of impossibility. Another type of impossibility is based on what we know from well-established science, like the principle that it is impossible for an unaided living organism to survive in the vacuum of space.

It is this second kind of impossibility that Dawkins fails to fully appreciate. Dawkins’ origin-of-life scenario turns a blind eye to the well-established law of biogenesis.[6] It’s been over 350 years since people thought that life generated itself spontaneously from the earth. For example, it was once believed that worms popped out of the mud. But through careful observations, scientists refuted that idea. Italian physician Francesco Redi demonstrated that spontaneous generation was a false notion as far back as 1668. Redi showed, for example, that maggots do not generate spontaneously on meat, but instead come from eggs left by flies.

Later, in 1860, one year after Darwin published The Origin of Species, French chemist Louis Pasteur further confirmed Redi’s initial observations. Through a series of experiments, Pasteur proved conclusively that microorganisms appear from air-born sources and not spontaneously. This laid to rest the controversy over spontaneous generation. The law of biogenesis was confirmed.

The law of biogenesis states that life only comes from pre-existing life. In other words, You don’t get something living from something non-living. This is one of the most fundamental laws of biology. It has never been refuted. All of our experience and experiments confirm this law to be true. Worms come from other worms, not from inorganic mud. Green mold on bread comes from pre-existing mold spores in the air. Human babies come from living parents.

If the law of biogenesis is confirmed scientifically, then why do Dawkins and other evolutionists insist that life originated from non-living matter? Isn’t that a contradiction of well-established scientific law?

Primordial Soup, Anyone?

In order to get around the contradiction with the law of biogenesis, macro-evolutionary scientists like Dawkins rely on a storyline that assumes things were different back then. This is a necessary step of faith because their worldview bias must account for life based on purely naturalistic causes. For example, high school and college biology texts describe the scenario of an early earth with a pond filled with rich assortments of various molecules. It is suggested that life could have developed from this primordial soup.

Verification for this idea is sought in “origin of life” experiments. Yet, these laboratory models have never produced anything close to a living cell. In fact, there are a number of known major problems with these experiments!

To begin with, scientists start with pure ingredients in order to get the results they want. In a natural setting like the early earth, there would be all sorts of chemical reactions and no way to purify the materials. No pure ingredients on the early earth means there is no way to start down the road to life.

Next, scientists filter out certain wavelengths of light. In a natural setting, light from the sun would destroy amino acids (the building blocks of life). The sun’s deadly rays would kill any attempts at developing life. If the sun was shining, you can be sure no life would be forthcoming.

Then, scientists design a trap in their apparatus. This trap removes the amino acids that are being formed in their experiment to protect them from disintegration. Where on the early earth would a trap separate out the right amino acid compounds to keep them from breaking down into the original chemicals? There was none. The only trap is found in the apparatus of the laboratory! No earthly trap for evolving compounds means no evolving life.

There are actually eight other major roadblocks that would keep any so-called evolving molecule from becoming a living, reproducing cell. These roadblocks are well-known laws of chemistry understood by all chemists. But Dawkins must get life from non-living matter. It seems Dawkins is not dealing with improbabilities, but impossibilities. Even heaps of luck won’t help Dawkins out of this predicament.

The Difference a Worldview Makes

The reason that Dawkins continues to maintain his position on the question of life’s origin is because he has locked himself into a naturalistic universe. This decision comes from his worldview. Dawkins’ theology presupposes no supernatural God and his philosophy assumes nature is the whole of reality. From this a priori foundation, he attempts to build an explanation for first life. The problem with his explanation is there is no natural process known to man that can produce something living from something non-living. Therefore, we conclude Dawkins’ explanation is not scientifically based, but a necessary inference from his religiously held belief in atheism.

On the other hand, scientific experiments continue to confirm that life only comes from pre-existing life. This is exactly what a biblical worldview affirms: “In the beginning was the Word,” “the Word was God,” “In him was life.”[7] The Bible states that the living God is the source of life on earth. This is consistent with the law of biogenesis. Therefore, the most scientific statement one can make about the origin of life is, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”[8]

  1. The failings of Dawkins’ mountain analogy were discussed in more detail in the May, 2007 Truth & Consequences.
  2. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), p. 140.
  3. Ibid., p. 137.
  4. Ibid., p. 140.
  5. Guillermo Gonzales and Jay Richards, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery (Regnery, 2004). Guillermo Gonzalez is an Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Iowa State University and has published over sixty articles in refereed astronomy and astrophysical journals including the October 2001 cover story of Scientific American.
  6. See chapter 2 of Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution is Wrong (Regnery, 2002), or Stephen C. Meyer’s online article, “The Origin of Life and the Death of Materialism,” reprinted from The Intercollegiate Review 31, no. 2 (Spring 1996), at http://www.arn.org/docs/meyer/sm_origins.htm.
  7. John 1:1 4, NIV.
  8. Genesis 1:1, NIV.

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