One Flew over the Cuckoo's DNA

One Flew over the Cuckoo's DNA<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
Is belief in God rational?
By Chuck Edwards

If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank. - Woody Allen, <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />U.S. movie actor, comedian, & director.[1]

There is one issue that is foundational to every worldview-the question of the existence of God. All other issues of life, from psychology to ethics to politics, are simply a postscript to how that question is answered. So the first question is: Is God real?

A traditional reason given for believing in the existence of God involves the apparent design observed in all living things. The English theologian William Paley detailed this argument in his Natural Theology of 1802. Paley noted that if a watch was found lying on the ground, one would not assume that it came into existence through mindless natural causes, since no known laws of biology, chemistry, or physics can produce this kind of complex structure. It would be reasonable to assume that the watch came from an intelligent cause. By analogy, when complex design is discovered in nature, it is sensible to assume an Intelligent Designer, i.e. God.

However, two counter-arguments have been offered to dismantle this proof for God's existence. The first was the philosophical challenge of Scottish philosopher David Hume. Hume pointed out that, given an infinite universe in which there are an infinite number of possibilities, organisms may have come about by chance. Therefore, there is no need to postulate a Designer.

The second salvo came when Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, offering a naturalistic explanation for biological design. In a phrase coined by Oxford University Professor of Science, Richard Dawkins, "natural selection" is the wholly natural process that acts as the "Blind Watchmaker." By eliminating the need for a Divine Designer, Darwin's theory made it possible, according to Dawkins, to be an "intellectually fulfilled atheist."[2]

As a result of these philosophical and scientific critiques, the argument from design fell onto hard times and skepticism toward God's existence became fashionable. However, after 140 years of skeptics ruling the philosophical roost, there are rumblings in the hen-house. What is causing the stir?

Enter Antony Flew, the legendary British philosopher and champion of atheism. Now, nearing 82 years of age, Antony seems to have flown the coop. In a January 2005 interview, Flew described his personal odyssey from atheism to theism and the central place the design argument had in his journey.

Flew currently believes "…the most impressive arguments for God's existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries." He came to this conclusion because, to quote him, "the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design."[3]

To trace Flew's new line of reasoning based on evidence found in DNA, we need to recall that in Darwin's day, cells were thought to be simple lumps of matter. The inner workings of the cell were unknown. Just in the past fifty years have scientists discovered the vast array of intricate biochemical machinery doing the work to maintain cellular life.

In his book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Michael Denton comments on the inner workings of the cell.

"To grasp the reality of life as it has been revealed by molecular biology, we must magnify a cell a thousand million times…. What we would then see would be an object of unparalleled complexity and adaptive design."

Denton describes the millions of openings on the cell surface, the endless highly organized corridors and conduits branching in every direction, "some leading to the central memory bank in the nucleus and others to assembly plants and processing units." Further, "the simplest of the functional components of the cell, the protein molecules, were astonishingly complex pieces of molecular machinery, each one consisting of about three thousand atoms arranged in highly organized 3-D spatial conformation." And in the nucleus itself we find "miles of coiled chains of the DNA molecules." [4]

Not only has the cell revealed itself to be astonishingly complex, capstoned with the discovery of DNA, but other research into the world of the ultra-small blows the top off the skeptic's hen house by revealing additional incredibly sophisticated examples of molecular machinery.

Professor of Biochemistry Michael Behe details one such machine, the bacterial flagellum, a tail-like protein that rotates to provide movement for the bacterium through its environment. Recent electron microscopy shows several ring structures and a "motor," along with the tail-like paddle. In addition, there are about forty other proteins necessary to cause the flagellum to whip around, propelling the bacteria. All of these protein parts must be in place and functioning or else the bacterium has no motion.[5]

Darwinian evolution cannot explain the gradual development of this machinery, for what use is part of a machine without the rest of the machine? If it can only function when the entire machine is present, then individual parts are useless by themselves. In other words, if natural selection is truly the mechanism driving survival, it will not "select" useless parts.

Notice that the total inadequacy of a Darwinian explanation does not mean that the argument from design is based on what we don't know or can't explain. If that were the case, then future scientific research might fill in the gaps of our knowledge and eliminate the need for a designer.

But quite the contrary, the whole thrust of the argument rests on what we do know about complex structures. Like an outboard motor, the bacterial flagellum displays the marks of complex design, thus demanding an intelligence that far exceeds what any natural process can accomplish. And additional research only confirms increasing levels of complexity, further bolstering the analogy.

But how about David Hume's appeal to unlimited time, does this solve the problem in favor of nature? Not really, since no matter how much time is added to the equation, natural processes alone do not add up to specified complexity. Denton summarizes, "It has only been over the past twenty years with the molecular biological revolution… that Hume's criticism has been finally invalidated and the analogy between organisms and machines has at last become convincing."[6]

Of course, all of this makes sense in light of a biblical worldview, which postulates a natural universe reflecting the supernatural design of its Creator. As the Apostle Paul puts it, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." [7]

While Flew hastens to add that his belief is not in the God of the Bible, but an impersonal "first cause" akin to Aristotle's Prime Mover or Jefferson's Deistic God, the fact remains that a world-class philosopher has re-visited the argument from design and found it compelling. In light of the past 50 years of scientific investigation into "what has been made," skeptics have one less excuse to doubt the existence of God.


[1] http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/40.html.

[2] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, (W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1996) p. 6.

[3] Taken from an interview at http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew/.

[4] Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, (Adler & Adler Publishers, Bethesda, MD., 1986) p. 328-9.

[5] Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (The Free Press, New York, 1996), p. 70-72.

[6] Denton, p. 340.

[7] Romans 1:20.

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