6 Reasons Why Jerry Coyne’s Claims Are Not Persuasive

Recently, I’ve been challenged by a new acquaintance to discuss some of the details and implications of Darwinian Evolution. This is a friendly discussion and I commend my skeptical, truth-seeking friend for his willingness to tackle these issues in a serious, respectful manner. We also agreed to read a couple of books that supported our respective points of view. I recommended Jay Richards’, God and Evolution and Fazale Rana’s, Origins of Life. To his credit, he ordered both books the next day. In turn, I agreed to read a book he thinks is compelling in support of evolution, Jerry Coyne’s, Why Evolution Is True.

Coyne is a very convincing writer and makes a compelling case for his view. Ultimately, I don’t find it persuasive but that’s why we’re having the discussion! In an attempt to engage Coyne’s arguments, I am linking to a series of blog posts by Jonathan McLatchie, a fellow CrossExamined instructor and frequent contributor not only to the CrossExamined Blog, but to the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News and Views.

This link gives a summary of Jonathan’s multi-post review of Coyne’s book and links to each of the posts in the series: Jonathan McLatchie’s Review of: Evolution is True.

Jonathan has a undergraduate degree in Forensic Biology and a Master’s Degree in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Glasgow, Scotland. He is currently serving as an intern with the Discovery Institute in Seattle. In other words, Jonathan is the kind of guy who can speak intelligently to this subject and I am happy to let him. As the discussion progresses, I will try to offer my own thoughts at a more practical, Marine-friendly level if I can.

Here are some quick takes on each post in the series with specific links to each one.

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Dr. Frankenstein?

Can Anyone Really Create Life in a Lab?

Craig Venter led the first privately funded effort to sequence the human genome. Some might think that would be enough to keep one busy for a while. Not so. Venter is currently trying to become the first to create synthetic life. If you’re interested, here is his own short description of the method he is using to do so. [Warning: Scientific jargon included]

If this sounds bizarre and a little scary, that’s understandable. But that’s why we should be thankful for people like Fazale “Fuz” Rana of Reasons To Believe (RTB). Fuz was a senior research scientist with Procter & Gamble right here in Cincinnati before he left his job to join RTB’s scientific apologetics ministry in Los Angeles. He’s ahead of the curve on this topic and has just had his book, Creating Life In The Lab published to anticipate a response to this kind of research.

Rana believes Venter will be successful in creating synthetic life
within the next 5 years.

So what should we think about this?

If you have a couple hours to kill on a treadmill or something, have a listen as Dr. Rana discusses his thoughts on the matter with Greg Koukl on his weekly podcast here: Koukl – Rana Interview. [The interview with Fuz begins at the 57:00 minute mark of the podcast]

Here is my summary:

First, don’t think that Venter is animating anything even remotely similar to something you might see walking around. What he is actually doing is reverse engineering simple, single-cell bacteria-like organisms (keyword: “engineering,” but more on that later) to unlock ways to create novel, new lifeforms. These would be designed for specific purposes and unique in that they don’t occur anywhere in nature.

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Evolution as Myth (Part 3 of 5)

As discussed in the first installment of this series, all myths contain a creation narrative meant to explain how life got going. Evolution is no different. In the case of Evolution, the creation myth is entitled: “Abiogenesis.” In this post, Henry, Dyke and Cruze summarize not only the ridiculous improbabilities associated with abiogenesis, but the utter lack of evidence that it did, or ever could, occur at all — regardless of the probability.

This is a crucial issue, even to those sympathetic to the theistic worldview. Many Christians despise the idea of an old Earth in general, or the Big Bang in particular, because they believe that to accept either of these is to capitulate to an anti-Biblical science simply to allow Evolution enough time to “get going.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The problem with Evolution, as this post points out, is not that it needs enough time to get going, but that it lacks a mechanism to ever get going at all. I have mentioned this before (here), but the authors put specific numbers on the problem of the origin of life from non-life.

cytochrome c, a small protein found throughout the biological realm, had to appear early in the evolutionary process. Yet information theorist Hubert Yockey calculated a probability of ~10-75 to generate it spontaneously from an amino acid-rich environment. To put this into perspective: a 10-75 chance is less likely than winning the Powerball lottery nine weeks in a row, buying only one ticket per week!

For reference, mathematicians define an impossibility as something with a probability of less than 1 in 10 to the 50th power. But cytochrome c is a simple structure. The simplest self-sustaining life form must consist of 1500 to 2000 gene products, each of them more complex than a simple cytochrome c. The authors provide even more mind blowing confirmation about the ridiculous improbability of abiogenesis in their article but, as is always the case, hard core naturalists cannot back down from their appeal to abiogenesis because, for pure Darwinian Evolution to get started, abiogenesis must be true. Just because it’s unlikely (no matter how unimaginably unlikely), that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. To which the authors refer us to the work of Trevors and Abel with respect to the incredible complexity of the genetic code:

Could the genetic code have been spontaneously generated? Biologists J. T. Trevors and D. L. Abel conclude: ‘The argument has been repeatedly made that given sufficient time, a genetic instruction set and language system could have arisen. But extended time does not provide an explanatory mechanism for spontaneously generated genetic instruction. No amount of time proposed thus far, can explain this type of conceptual communication system. It is not just complex. It is conceptually complex.’

All this has led one researcher to conclude:

An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to be satisfied to get it going.

A Creationist conclusion you ask? Oh no. That quote is from no one other than Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the DNA molecule and one of the most ardent proponents of Darwinian Evolution and abiogenesis you will ever find.

A miracle? I think in this case I would be glad to agree with Dr. Crick.