Science & Faith
2/18/13 at 08:55 AM 10 Comments

Whales, Religion, and Evolutionary Biology

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Evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg explains well the implausibility of whales evolving from mammals that lived on land, which is the standard textbook story. Someone kindly rounded up some whale film footage and a few diagrams to illustrate Sternberg's whale story here (you will hear Sternberg's voice, but not see him in his original lecture context). If you want to dive deeper into the impressive primary peer-reviewed literature of Sternberg's career, go here. He holds a Ph.D. in Biology (Molecular Evolution) from Florida International University and a Ph.D. in Systems Science (Theoretical Biology) from Binghamton University. Let me offer a few thoughts today about Sternberg, whales, naturalistic religion, and evolutionary biology.

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Back in 2004, due to the religious-like devotion to Darwinism of some powerful scientific bureaucrats, Sternberg lost his job at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Sternberg tells that story here:

In 2004, in my capacity as editor of The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, I authorized “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” by Dr. Stephen Meyer to be published in the journal after passing peer-review. Because Dr. Meyer’s article presented scientific evidence for intelligent design in biology, I faced retaliation, defamation, harassment, and a hostile work environment at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History that was designed to force me out as a Research Associate there. These actions were taken by federal government employees acting in concert with an outside advocacy group, the National Center for Science Education. Efforts were also made to get me fired from my job as a staff scientist at the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Subsequently, there were two federal investigations of my mistreatment, one by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in 2005, and the other by subcommittee staff of the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform in 2006. Both investigations unearthed clear evidence that my rights had been repeatedly violated. Because there has been so much misinformation spread about what actually happened to me, I have decided to make available the relevant documents here for those who would like to know the truth.

The University of Chicago’s Jerry Coyne is a prime example of religious devotion to naturalism (the belief that nature is all there is), which is the sort of fervor displayed by the folks that got Sternberg fired (as also explained in the Ben Stein movie Expelled). Again, allow me to relate this to whales. In Coyne’s book Why Evolution is True (and in various blogs and presentations) Coyne engages in theological argumentation of this sort: "God wouldn't have done it that way, so Darwinism must be true." Coyne is fond of saying things like:

What I mean by "bad design" is the notion that if organisms were built from scratch by a designer—one who used the biological building blocks of nerves, muscles, bone, and so on—they would not have such imperfections [Coyne often cites allegedly useless structures in whales to make this point as noted in the next block quote below]. Perfect design would truly be the sign of a skilled and intelligent designer. Imperfect design is the mark of evolution. ... the particular bad designs that we see make sense only if they evolved.

Coyne made such points again at a recent talk at the University of South Carolina, as reported here by Cornelius Hunter (quoting yet another evolutionary biologist):

Earlier this month, University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne presented the 2013 A.C. Moore lecture at USC on Evolution and Society, in which he defended the evidence for evolution by describing several well-chosen examples. Particularly effective was his examination of structures such as the vestigial hind limbs of whales, which would be hard to explain under any hypothesis other than the Darwinian theory of descent with modification.

Dr. Hunter explains what is going here with whales and naturalistic religion:

We know evolution is a fact not from the science, but from our [naturalistic] religion. From a purely scientific perspective evolution is a bust, but from our religious perspective evolution, in one form or another, is a necessary fact. Our theological truths require it.

By "we" and "our" Cornelius Hunter means the mainstream establishment of evolutionary biologists, not critics like Sternberg or Hunter himself. Read Hunter's full account in This Week’s Dispute Between Evolutionists Can’t Hide the Religion. By the way, the overall trajectory of biological research is the progressive discovery of function for features once called "vestigial" (allegedly useless evolutionary leftovers in whales and countless other creatures). I have seen this happen numerous times in the last few decades, most recently with so-called junk DNA now considered quite functional (at least the majority of it). Design theorists would expect some non-functionality due to mutations. In any case, watch the whale talk by Sternberg linked above to see just how many features would have had to come into existence about the same time for whale evolution to be plausible.

Would you like more help disentangling naturalistic religion from legitimate science? Attend this conference in Philadelphia: How Did it All Begin?

How did the universe begin? How did life start? How did complex living things arise? Explore these big questions and more at the fourth annual Westminster Conference on Science and Faith on April 5-6, 2013 at Covenant Fellowship Church in the greater Philadelphia area. This year’s theme is “How Did It All Begin?” and features speakers such as renowned Oxford University mathematics professor John Lennox and leading intelligent design theorist Stephen C. Meyer.

Early-bird registrants (deadline March 1) can sign up for only $70, and as little as $25 for students.

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