Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Limbaugh on Atheism No, not Rush. I'm talking about his brother David, who uses this recent column to praise the book I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. You might recognize Geisler as one of the people who testified in support of the Arkansas “Equal Time” statute when the ACLU challenged it in 1981. This was the same trial at which Stephen Jay Gould and Michael Ruse testified for the good guys.

I have not read the present book, but if it's anything like Geisler's earlier book, When Skeptics Ask (cowritten with Ronald Brooks), then I expect to be supremely unimpressed. Limbaugh's brief summary of the book does not inspire confidence.

Limbaugh chooses to focus on the argument from design in his column. He writes:

They note, for example, that naturalistic biologists claim "that life generated spontaneously from nonliving chemicals by natural laws without any intelligent intervention."

These scientists believe that a "one-celled animal known as an amoeba (or something like it) came together by spontaneous generation?" But we now know there is incredible complexity in "the message found in the DNA of a one-celled amoeba (a creature so small, several hundred could be lined up in an inch)."

"The message found in just the cell nucleus of a tiny amoeba is more than all 30 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica combined, and the entire amoeba has as much information in its DNA as 1,000 complete sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica." And "we must emphasize that these 1,000 encyclopedias do not consist of random letters but of letters in a very specific order -- just like real encyclopedias."

You get the point: Atheists have to have enormous faith to believe that such complex messages exist in the absence of intelligent design.

It never ceases to amaze me that so many people who use the design argument to defend the reality of God manage to get very basic details wrong. No one believes that the amoeba (or anything like it) formed by spontaneous generation. Amoebae are eukaryotic, meaning they possess a nucleus. The first unambiguously living thing is usually described as having been bacteria-like. Bacteria, you see, have virtually nothing in the way of internal structure. For that matter, this first creature was almost certainly simpler than any modern bacterium.

And while most biologists do believe that the first life form came about by natural means, it is probably misleading to call it “spontaneous generation”. That gives the impression that life originated in a rapid burst, in which the line between life and non-life is clearly drawn. It is unlikely that it happened that way.

It is true that we now know of the enormous complexity of the ameoba genome. It is also true that we have known this for decades. Richard Dawkins glories in this fact in much of his writing, for example. It would indeed be hard to explain this information as the result of spontaneous generation. But as the end product of billions of years of evolution it is rather less mysterious.

Though ID's deny it, we know of several genetic mechanisms that can account for information growth in the genome over time. It requires tremendous ignorance of modern science to argue that the phenomena of biological complexity can only be explained in terms of a vastly more complex designing intelligence.


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