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Richard Dawkins What if you are Wrong?

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Imagine a conversation between a student and his lecturer following a science class. It has left the student pondering a number of questions. The teacher was pleased at his student’s interest and prepared to spend some time at the end of his working day to help clarify the matter of how evolution works.

TEACHER

The story of evolution is that simple elements came together to form increasingly complex systems and forms. This was done very gradually through long series of very small steps. Every step seen to be advantageous was added by a natural process of selection.

STUDENT

Can you show me a proof?  Something I can watch, see it while it is happening. You know like a Dyson cleaning a carpet, so I can watch the dust disappearing as the machine is pushed across the floor.

TEACHER

There is admittedly nothing like that, nothing that can be observed, since it all happened so gradually and over such a long timescale. But it is certainly known to have happened, that much is a fact.

STUDENT

I looked up the word “fact” in the dictionary and it said: the quality of having actual existence in the real world. It also said that a fact could be a piece of information presented as having objective reality.  The second definition leaves quite a bit of leeway doesn’t it? I mean a Dyson salesperson could say the machine on offer is the best on the market. He or she is presenting this as a fact and as an objective reality. But another salesperson working for a different company might say something totally different.

TEACHER

I think you have missed the point. 99% of scientists agree that evolution is a fact, and evolution is best understood by these experts. There are hundreds of different household cleaners and thousands of salespeople but there has only ever been one theory of evolution. And that has stood the test both of history and forensic examination.

STUDENT

I think that is called an argument from authority; quoting a great majority or an authority figure as if history proves either of the above were ever guarantees of truthfulness or accuracy. Politicians, popes, philosophers, scientists, leaders, gurus and almost any group of experts you could name have been proved by history to have been horribly wrong.

TEACHER

Whatever you may say about the past there is a huge consensus among scientists that evolution has been seen to work over and over again both in nature and in laboratories. If we cannot at some stage say something is certain then we must be content to say nothing is certain. And that is not our position.

STUDENT

Are you saying that the modern theory of evolution is exactly the same as it was when Darwin first proposed it?

TEACHER

Well no, of course not, everything develops and in doing so alters a little.

STUDENT

Do you think if that if someone proposed a theory nowadays identical to the one Darwin first published it would be praised or laughed at?

TEACHER

Certainly not laughed at, but it would not be accepted as a fact describing exactly how nature is understood today. That would be unfair; Darwin knew nothing about genetics, or mutations, let alone the very recent discovery of master genes and genetic switches. The fossil evidence had not been fully gathered and catalogued and the complexity of even the simplest molecular systems was largely unknown.

STUDENT

So what you are describing as a fact today may in another 150 years be as far from the totality of truth as was Darwin in his time?

TEACHER

I think that is very unlikely, modern technology has given us a very complete overview of nature and a mass of detailed information relating to every sphere of knowledge. Science is no longer in its novice phase, its fully or close to fully grown up!

STUDENT

You say that, but there is still no explanation for the origin of life. Most of the universe is missing in dark matter and energy for which there is no explanation, and 98% of the human genome (junk DNA) is just beginning to be examined and marvelled at, leaving I would have thought potential for the entire theory of evolution to be forced to undergo drastic revision.  

TEACHER

This obviously needs explaining. There is no revision necessary. The process as I am sure you already know is one based on the very reasonable assumption that all things began in a simple state and without any intelligent external organiser. As I am a painter myself, I hope you will not mind if I use the production of a work of art as an analogy for how evolution works. As an artist the first thing you do is gather your materials together. Evolution suggests much the same thing, but admittedly over a vast time span and as a result of accident rather than design. Time is the hero of the plot. Over eons of time the chances are that the components parts that make up life must have come together many times over. On a least one of these occasions life was generated. So as I am sure you can appreciate, over this period various chemicals and elements came together, some almost certainly from beyond our planet, water, various chemical elements, maybe even amino acids. The earth would also have provided parts of the biological components and the necessary environment for the generation of life. This process produced what is called the pre-biotic soup. The result was the formation of the first viable proto-cell, one able to self replicate. This entity of course was very basic, very simple. So as I say, I bring the basic materials together: brushes, paints, palette etc.

STUDENT

OK, I’m listening.

TEACHER

It may be that when a painting begins it may look very disorganised and abstract, no form, no indication of any pattern or direction, in this regard it resembles the apparent disorganised beginnings that characterise how life evolved on earth…just gathering things together: as I say, simple beginnings!



Please Sir!

Gradually you can see how it grows into something that has the potential to work as a piece of art. By a process that can be seen as evolutionary, the finished article slowly appears. All the elements brought together by this process were chosen for the advantages they conferred. In biology each one would contribute to the formation of some part: limbs or nervous system, a light sensitive spot, or perhaps specify the body plan that defines the growth and placement of every part…


Then maybe you get a hint of something that could be sky, then again it could just be a colour swatch unconnected to anything meaningful at all. At this stage there is no clear indication what might appear…

The finished piece seen above could equally well be a biological system, a fish or a bird. It would then represent just one of millions upon millions of creatures, each one different, each one appearing as if designed. But as evolution has shown, this diversity is a consequence of a process that could be natural rather than deliberate, as in this painting. In nature complex units are un-designed rather than designed. This would be just as Darwin predicted, and not as the Bible suggests, which may be the cause of your questioning.

Eventually this painting, poor though it may be, will settle into its natural habitat. Nature provides for the small and modest as well as the great and inspiring, the plain alongside the beautiful. This painting hangs on the wall above the mantelpiece, but in terms of evolution, it could equally well have been a bat or a fruit fly living in their respective environments.

We know the painting was a work of intentional design, but scientists realised that similar and much greater acts of creativity could be achieved without this kind of exterior input. Darwin showed how nature has within itself the means to produce all the wonders we see around us without having resort to anything other than what nature provides from within its own systems. I hope you can now appreciate the wonder of Darwin's admittedly much adapted theory.

STUDENT

I like the analogy and can of course follow your reasoning. But how Darwin's theory became so compelling and nearly swept away belief in a supernatural creator baffles me.

TEACHER

What is baffling about it?

STUDENT

The fact that that there are billions of examples that have followed the exact pattern you have described, and not one of them has been seen to follow the evolutionary pattern you have proposed. And as for evolution, no biological system has ever been observed in the process of evolving. If you want to compare evolution to an artist then choose Jackson Pollock. His chosen method of dripping paint could never under any circumstances produce anything complex or organised like a Breugel or Canaletto, or Botticelli, or even the style of painting that appears in your example. Nature has enough self organising properties to create patterns such as those that appear in a Jackson Pollock painting, or snowflakes, sand dunes in a desert, the colours in a bubble, or Giants Causway in Ireland.

You began your evolutionary explanation of the painting by stating that all the raw materials were randomly gathered together according to Darwinian principles. But in reality we all know that there was nothing random about it. And much worse for the theory of evolution, the equipment, the canvas, brushes, white spirit and pigments were not the first cause of the painting. The first cause was a mind, a thought process, a concept, an idea. That process preceded every other and was the ultimate cause of the the effect. There had to be a first cause that is conscious and thoughtful and intelligent before either a painting or a molecule like DNA, or bacteria, fish, bird or human or universe could begin to exist. And the problem only intensifies. Following the mind that generated the ideas there was the input of specific coded information planted in every cell on the planet.

THE TEACHER GATHERS HIS PAPERS AND SAYS...

Well that was an interesting debate, but it is getting late and the caretaker will require us to vacate the building.

STUDENT

Before you go. You drive a Ford Taurus don't you?

TEACHER

Yes I do as a matter of fact. So what?

STUDENT

It is well known that Henry Ford and his Motor Company were between them the designer and producer of the range of cars that led to your own. From big to small from expensive to cheap, every one was designed to fit into niche markets that would attract a buyer from every level of society and income.

The existence of a top of the range motor does not mean it was preceded by anything simpler and cheaper. The modestly priced Ford KA is not the precursor to the Ford Ranger. Each make was developed for a specific purpose, whether urban or rural, for utilitarian purposes or for power, comfort or status. In the same way I believe God created small and great, simple and complex, flora and fauna equipped to colonise millions of niche environments.

In both car and in nature any evolution in complexity or design was I believe intentional and purpose driven. As regards a Ford product there was nothing random involved other than need provoked by fluctuations in the market and the whims of fashion. Ford designers may well use the words evolved and evolution to describe their creations, but they mean evolved as in purpose driven design. There is nothing random to be seen, not from the smallest nut and bolt to the exterior trimmings. Everything was created with intent and foreknowledge. There is just one final thing to add. Every creator or designer or painter leaves a signature of some kind. The Ford logo is very well known. It is the signature on every Ford vehicle.


Do you get the picture now?

Everything has come together, the various parts that individually seemed more or less dysfunctional now work together to form a coherent whole. That is the incredible wonder of the evolutionary process, natural selection working on the advantageous accidents provided by beneficial genetic mutations…


There are very few human creations that do not bear a signature or a logo of some sort. Certainly anything of which a creator is proud will have a mark or sign or signature attached to it somewhere. This includes the work of art you used in your demo. The artist signed it.





THE DOOR CLOSED. A FEW MINUTES LATER THE  STUDENT HEARD THE ROAR OF AN ENGINE BEING FIRED UP FOLLOWED BY THE SQUEAL OF TYRES.




 



There is a signature found in every cell of every living thing on the planet: from grass to human beings. It is coded language, writing, instructions passed through the medium of digital technology. It is DNA, the signature of the Creator of all things. It is written like lettered rock throughout the realm of nature. It is a miracle, but according to you miracles are not found in the domain of nature. So what is this? God's signature maybe.

THE DOOR CLOSED. A FEW MINUTES LATER THE  STUDENT HEARD THE ROAR OF AN ENGINE BEING FIRED UP FOLLOWED BY THE SQUEAL OF TYRES AND THE SMELL OF BURNING RUBBER.

The question is does nature bear any such mark or signature? Because if evolutionary theory is correct then there is no reason to expect anything like a creator’s mark. Logo, or signature. So how about this one”