My presentation at Lipscomb University in front of faculty and deans of several universities available for free online (expense for live attendance is $390)

Below is a link to a 22.5-minute video which is a rehearsed version of a speech (with power point and video and animation) to be delivered before several faculty and deans of various Christian Universities at the Christian Scholar’s Conference at Lipscomb University June 7, 2017.

My talk addresses the design of chromatin and the problem of evil.

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Is ID really a reasonable alternative to “it just happened”?

One of our regular commenters explains why they stick with ID:

ID is a perfectly reasonable alternative to “it just happened, that’s all.”

Yet that “reasonable alternative” is just “it happened like that because it was Intelligently Designed“. ID as yet has no specifics as to who, when, what, how, why etc.

So it seems to me that said commenter has just replaced “it just happened” with another phrase that means exactly the same thing but now they can be an intellectually fulfilled theist.  Continue reading

Dale Tuggy’s Trinitarian challenge – and a survey

Dale Tuggy is a Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York. He is also a podcaster and an enthusiastic blogger. Tuggy’s intellectual odyssey is an interesting one. He grew up as an evangelical who never seriously questioned the doctrine of the Trinity (that there are three persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – in one God), until he went to graduate school. After examining various rival Christian interpretations of the Trinitarian doctrine, he came to believe that it was profoundly unbiblical, and now calls himself a Christian unitarian, who identifies the one God of the Bible (YHWH) with the Father (and not the Son or the Holy Spirit).

It is not my intention in this post to argue either for or against the doctrine of the Trinity, or to explain precisely what it means. Rather, what I intend to do is evaluate a specific argument put forward by Professor Tuggy, which is deliberately targeted at certain evangelical apologists who have recently maintained that Jesus is God tout simple – in other words, that Jesus simply is God Himself, and that Jesus and the one God are therefore numerically identical. It should be noted that most Trinitarians do not say this: for them, the term “God” designates a being (or as some would prefer to say, Being Itself), whereas the name “Jesus” refers to an incarnate Divine person (God the Son). These Trinitarians would therefore agree with the conclusion of Tuggy’s argument, which is that Jesus is not divine in the same way that the one God is.

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That Dead Horse Just Won’t Stay Down

This isn’t one of the 10 unanswerable questions, but it’s still from Jonathan Wells’ book Icons of Evolution, p. 51. Wells is attempting to cast doubt on the efficacy of molecular systematics, by pointing out how silly some of the results are:

Even when different molecules can be combined to give a single tree, the result is often bizarre: A 1996 study using 88 protein sequences grouped rabbits with primates instead of rodents; a 1998 analysis of 13 genes in 19 animal species placed sea urchins among the chordates; and another 1998 study based on 12 proteins put cows closer to whales than to horses.

Of course the last example is the funniest, given the wealth of molecular and fossil data showing that cows and whales are indeed related. Continue reading


So I’ve gotten a tad bored with the discussion of macroevolution at the moment (it’s yet another rehash of the same points that keep cropping like cicada eruptions every few years. For a very similar recent exchange, look up Sal and his lungfish discussion. Or check out Things That IDers Don’t Understand, Part 1 — Intelligent Design is not compatible with the evidence for common descent – from 2012!)

So, as a public service, I figure I’d toss out a something that is a little less dramatic (on some levels) and wholly entertaining.

So I’m a big Alien fan. A fan of the original movie of that name that is and mostly a fan of the franchise that spawned from it. Big fan…HUGE! I loved the original movie (after getting the willies scared out of me the first time I saw it) because it was the only movie I’d ever seen that even remotely tried to come up with a concept of what an organism that did not develop on Earth might be like. And let’s face it, that was one cool organism they came up with!

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Jonathan Wells and Homology

This is the third and last of my answers to Jonathan Wells’ 10 unanswerable questions for evolutionists.

Question 3: Homology.

Wells: Why do textbooks define homology as similarity due to common ancestry, then claim that it is evidence for common ancestry — a circular argument masquerading as scientific evidence?

This question stems from confusion on Wells’ part between how something is defined and how it is recognized, which are two quite different things. Homology is indeed defined as similarity due to common ancestry. But we don’t just label any similarity a homology and call it evidence for common ancestry. That would indeed be circular. What we really do is quite different. Similarity between the characteristics of two organisms is an observation. If the similarity is sufficiently detailed (“both are big” or “both are green” won’t do) we consider it a candidate for homology.

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Jonathan Wells and Archaeopteryx

Since I’ve been asked, I’m posting another of my answers to the 10 unanswerable questions for evolutionists in Jonathan Wells’ book Icons of Evolution.

Question 5: Archaeopteryx.

Why do textbooks portray this fossil as the missing link between dinosaurs and modern birds — even though modern birds are probably not descended from it, and its supposed ancestors do not appear until millions of years after it?

What does Archaeopteryx have to be to qualify as a “link” (not a missing link, because it isn’t missing)? Wells apparently (he never really says) requires an insensible gradation of ancestors and descendants leading from an unquestioned dinosaur to an unquestioned bird, with Archaeopteryx in the middle. While that would be nice, it’s hardly necessary — and considering the quality of the fossil record, that’s lucky.

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Evo-Info review: Do not buy the book until…

Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, by Robert J. Marks II, the “Charles Darwin of Intelligent Design”; William A. Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of Information Theory”; and Winston Ewert, the “Charles Ingram of Active Information.” World Scientific, 332 pages.
Classification: Engineering mathematics. Engineering analysis. (TA347)
Subjects: Evolutionary computation. Information technology–Mathematics.

… the authors establish that their mathematical analysis of search applies to models of evolution.

I have all sorts of fancy stuff to say about the new book by Marks, Dembski, and Ewert. But I wonder whether I should say anything fancy at all. There is a ginormous flaw in evolutionary informatics, quite easy to see when it’s pointed out to you. The authors develop mathematical analysis of apples, and then apply it to oranges. You need not know what apples and oranges are to see that the authors have got some explaining to do. When applying the analysis to an orange, they must identify their assumptions about apples, and show that the assumptions hold also for the orange. Otherwise the results are meaningless.

The authors have proved that there is “conservation of information” in search for a solution to a problem. I have simplified, generalized, and trivialized their results. I have also explained that their measure of “information” is actually a measure of performance. But I see now that the technical points really do not matter. What matters is that the authors have never identified, let alone justified, the assumptions of the math in their studies of evolutionary models.a They have measured “information” in models, and made a big deal of it because “information” is conserved in search for a solution to a problem. What does search for a solution to a problem have to do with modeling of evolution? Search me. In the absence of a demonstration that their “conservation of information” math applies to a model of evolution, their measurement of “information” means nothing. It especially does not mean that the evolutionary process in the model is intelligently designed by the modeler.1

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Jonathan Wells and the Cambrian explosion

In honor of Jonathan Wells’ new book, which I haven’t yet seen, I’m recycling from his first book Icons of Evolution, in which he poses 10 unanswerable questions for evolutionists. Here’s my answer to question #2: Darwin’s tree of life.

Wells: Why don’t textbooks discuss the “Cambrian explosion,” in which all major animal groups appear together in the fossil record fully formed instead of branching from a common ancestor — thus contradicting the evolutionary tree of life?

There are a great many premises hidden in this question. Wells claims that 1) textbooks don’t discuss the Cambrian explosion, 2) all major animal groups appeared during the explosion, 3) the groups were “fully formed” when they appeared, and 4) that this all somehow falsifies the idea of common descent. As we will see, none of these premises is true, so the question is pointless. It’s would be surprising if textbooks didn’t discuss the Cambrian explosion, since it’s a major event in the history of life. And in fact they do. Of ten textbooks examined by Wells, he claims that eight don’t even mention the explosion.. In fact all but one does mention it, and four of those give it more than a hundred words. Still, a hundred words isn’t much to deal with such a major event; Wells’ implication is that coverage of the explosion is being deliberately suppressed. Then again, textbooks have limited space to deal with all of the complex field of biology; an alternative explanation is that these books just have limited coverage of the history of life and of evolution in general.

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Can prairie dogs talk?

Ferris Jabr has recently written a highly illuminating article for The New York Times Magazine titled, Can Prairie Dogs Talk? (May 12, 2017), on the pioneering work of Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, an emeritus professor of biology at Norther Arizona University. Professor Slobodchikoff has been analyzing the sounds of prairie dogs for more than 30 years, and he thinks that they possess a form of genuine language. Specifically, he claims that when they give alarm calls for different kinds of predators, they identify not only the type of predator, but also its size, shape, color and speed. In other words, their messages do not consist merely of nouns; instead, they are more akin to descriptive phrases. In a follow-up interview with Professor Marc Bekoff (Psychology Today, May 14, 2017), Slobodchikoff argues that since the rate at which the alarm calls are produced tends to correlate with the speed of travel of the approaching predator (hawks, for example, elicit only a single bark because they are so swift), prairie dog talk also contains something analogous to a verb in human language. Most surprising of all, prairie dogs are capable of coming up with new alarm calls for abstract objects which they have never seen before, such as an oval, a triangle, a circle, and a square. And if that were not enough, it turns out that prairie dog calls, like human language, are composed of phonemes. Indeed, Slobodchikoff even declares that prairie dogs have the most complex language of any non-human animal.

Professor Slobodchikoff contends that it is only pure prejudice on the part of “human exceptionalists” (many of whom are linguists and philosophers) that prevents scientists from describing prairie dog calls as true language, rather than mere “communication.” In addition, many people’s thinking is still influenced by Aristotle’s Scala Naturae, which ranks humans at the top, followed by “higher” mammals such as apes and then “lower” mammals such as mice (and of course, prairie dogs), with birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish lower down in the pecking order, and with insects, worms and one-celled animals at the very bottom. Such a view, argues Slobodchikoff, is speciesist and profoundly primatocentric. It is time for scientists to cast aside their prejudices and recognize that humans are not the only animals that can talk.

Is Slobodchikoff right? In today’s post, I’d like to explain why I’m inclined to be skeptical of the claim that prairie dogs are capable of anything like language.

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What is Death

In reading through a number of the threads, I’ve been struck by apparent conceptual acceptance most folk have with the term “death”, taking for granted (it appears) that everyone else reading the term understands it pretty much exactly as the poster intended. However, it also appears to me that there are a few different underlying understandings of the meaning of that term.

I for one am not and never have been all that comfortable conceptually with the term. I find the term to be sort of a contrast place holder for “that which is no longer alive”, but vaguely defined. And from there different folk attach all sorts of esoteric or assumed baggage that I don’t fully grasp or understand. For example, some folk apparently think of “death” as a thing – an actual object independent of (though clearly tied to) living things. I don’t understand that concept. Then there are some folk who think of “death” as something like a transition or perhaps threshold (portal…door…take your metaphorical pick) that living things “pass through” when they “lose life”. Uhh…oookay… And then there are some folk who think of death as something like a state of existence – like sleep I guess only…uhh…deeper…maybe? I do not understand any of those concepts of death.

To me, “living” is a term I use to denote a functioning autonomous system that seeks out resources for the perpetuation of the system’s operation and/or reproduction, and that expels byproducts derived from the system function and resource use. As such, fire to me is very much a living thing. And while in a metaphorical sense I might say that a fire has “died” after it’s gone out, I simply mean that the conditions for that combustion system no longer exist. Similarly, to me, bodies no longer living have simply reached a state where the conditions for the physiological system no longer exist. Systems, by their very nature of resource use and environmental stress, wear. As such, they eventually get to a point they stop functioning. Seems odd to call that “death” to me.


Evo-Info sidebar: Conservation of performance in search

Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, by Robert J. Marks II, the “Charles Darwin of Intelligent Design”; William A. Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of Information Theory”; and Winston Ewert, the “Charles Ingram of Active Information.” World Scientific, 332 pages.
Classification: Engineering mathematics. Engineering analysis. (TA347)
Subjects: Evolutionary computation. Information technology–Mathematics.

Denyse O’Leary, an advocacy journalist employed by one of the principals of the Center for Evolutionary Informatics, reports that I have essentially retracted the first of my papers on the “no free lunch” theorems for search (1996). What I actually have done in my online copy of the paper, marked “emended and amplified,” is to correct an expository error that Dembski and Marks elevated to “English’s Principle of Conservation of Information” in the first of their publications, “Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success.” Marks, Dembski, and Ewert have responded, in their new book, by deleting me from the history of “no free lunch.” And the consequence is rather amusing. For now, when explaining conservation of information in terms of no free lunch, they refer over and over to performance.1 It doesn’t take a computer scientist, or even a rocket scientist, to see that they are describing conservation of performance, and calling it conservation of information.

The mathematical results of my paper are correct, though poorly argued. In fact, the theorem I provide is more general than the main theorem of Wolpert and Macready, which was published the following year.2 If you’re going to refer to one of the two theorems as the No Free Lunch Theorem, then it really should be mine. Where I go awry is in the exposition of my results. I mistake a lemma as indicating that conservation of performance in search is due ultimately to conservation of information in search.
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In Defense of Republican Atheism

In a recent comment, Vincent writes that

However, I would argue that if we believe in human freedom, then that freedom has to include the freedom to bind oneself to a particular vision of humans’ ultimate good – whether it be one that includes God as its core or one which excludes God as a hindrance to unfettered liberty.

I’m very interested in theories of freedom and this idea of atheism as somehow involving “unfettered liberty.”

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God loves you. Enjoy your eternity in hell.

A question for Christians, particularly those of the inerrantist stripe.

28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28, NIV


8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.

2 Thessalonians 1:8-10, NIV

“Punished with everlasting destruction.” Is that what a perfectly merciful, perfectly benevolent Father would do to his children?