What a Week - Thomas Nagel and Junk DNA

1 Peter 3:15 (ESV) — 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

There have been some significant developments that favor Intelligent Design and a theistic worldview over the last few weeks.
·  In fact, one of them is, according to The Guardian newpaper, a history maker.
·  And strikingly, these developments come primarily from the work of non-Christians.

The developments:
(1) An acknowledgment and argument detailing the short-comings of Darwinian Evolution, and its materialist reductionism, in accounting for the complexity of life, consciousness and reason (the mind), and morality.
·  What is incredible is that this acknowledgment is made in a new book by renowned, atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel in his book Mind and Cosmos.
(2) The complete rewriting of DNA history with the coming demise of Junk DNA.
·  This new development was revealed by the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project and published in the science journal Nature.

To get at the significance of each of these, we have to be clear on what we mean by evolution.

Darwinian Evolution (DE) Defined:
Darwinian Evolution can be described as natural selection acting upon the purposeless, random mutations of DNA.
·  These random mutations are selected for because they provide a survival and/or reproductive advantage.
·  These chance mutations, natural selection, plus the passing of time, supposedly account for the introduction of all new information in DNA and thus all the variety of live we have.

We are not simply talking about change over time.
·  Clearly, things can “evolve”, adapt, and change over time.
·  One need only look at the differences between a wolf and a pug to grasp this.
·  We are talking about the introduction of new information in the DNA through the purposeless process of natural selection acting on random, chance mutations.

And concerning DE, it just so happens that survival – that is to say life – is the object of the process.
·  No comprehensive explanation has been given why life is more beneficial than death.
·  Why the possibility of life?
·  Why the existence of life?
·  Why a process built around life?
·  What benefit for matter was there in “becoming” life?

It is odd that gravity, the law of thermodynamics, the laws of logic, mathematics or any other laws of physics could care less about life.
·   And yet, as even Thomas Nagel concedes, there is in the universe a "cosmic predisposition" towards life.
·  Nagel further concedes that a purely materialist view, such as DE, struggles to explain this “cosmic predisposition” for life.

Important implications of this theory:
The implication of this theory is that everything comes from matter.
·  There is nothing outside of the physical; there is only natural – no supernatural.
·  Even our freewill is an illusion – we do what “material” leads us to do.
·  This is called a “reductionist” view.
·  It is called “reductionist” because everything in existence emerges from physical matter.
·  Consciousness, reason, morality, truth, and ethics all emerge from matter – they do not exist outside of it; they are not objective; they simply emerge from it and are subjected to it – thus subjective.
·  This means that the mind is just the firing of neurons – it is nothing more.

So where does Thomas Nagel’s book fit in?

1) Nagel’s Nuke:
Christian Apologists and Philosophers have been pointing out the problems with this “reductionist” view both biologically and philosophically for years.
·  Problems, for example, such as relative/subjective morality; no grounds for trusting our reason to produce true beliefs; irreducible complexity; origin of life; etc.  
·  And now, with Nagel’s book, there is a full-on admission that Darwinian Evolution and its “reductionism” fail to explain much of what it purports to explain.
·  The problems cited by the so-called “flat earth” Darwinian Evolution critics are proving too real to be ignored anymore.
·  And, going against the fundamentalist tide of Darwinian Evolution, atheist Thomas Nagel has made clear that DE in its current form simply does not cut it.
·  He, and many others, has blasphemed against the establishment.

What does Nagel say?

On Organisms:
“But for a long time I have found the materialist account of how we and our fellow organisms came to exist hard to believe, including the standard version of how the evolutionary process works. The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes” – Thomas Nagel.
·  He gives props to the ID movement for demonstrating the problems posed to DE given the staggering complexity of DNA.
·  The monumental work of Stephen Meyers, The Signature in the Cell, is no doubt in mind.
·  This book was awarded one of the top science books of the year by The London Times Literary Supplement in 2009.

On Morality:
Speaking of a subjective view of values, He says, "...I find it impossible to take up this position"..
·  And he sees it as impossible to be subjectivist on morality because, "...value is not just an accidental side effect of life; rather, there is life because life is a necessary condition of value" and, "On a teleological account, the existence of value is not an accident..." - Thomas Nagel.

On the Mind:
“Just as consciousness cannot be explained as a mere extension or complication of physical evolution, so reason cannot be explained as a mere extension or complication of consciousness” – Thomas Nagel.
·  DE is simply not enough to account for the emergence of the mind.
·  And to make it even worse, reason itself cannot be explained by the existence of the mind.
·  He argues that there must be a necessary “proto-mental” reality that DE refuses to account for.

And with respect to reason, He argues that DE cannot account for our ability to “to arrive at truth, or even think about it”.
·  In other words, DE gives us no reason to trust that our reason gives us true beliefs.
·  He even acknowledges the arguments of Alvin Plantiga in this regard – specifically his evolutionary argument against naturalism.

He even argues for the need for purpose:
·  “I believe that the role of consciousness in the survival of organisms is inseparable from intentionality: inseparable from perception, belief, desire, and action, and finally from reason” – Thomas Nagel.
o   In other words, in direct opposition to DE, Nagel thinks that teleology is unavoidable in whatever system is to account for the mind.
o   And by “intentionality” and “teleology” he means purpose!

Nagel is not the only one:
·  “One thing that we will have to let go of is this kind of addiction to simplistic, primitive reductive materialism because there’s really no way that I can see a reductive materialist model coming remotely in the right ballpark to explain what we really know about consciousness now” – Dr. Eben Alexander (Harvard/UVA Neurosurgeon).

So where does Junk DNA fit in?

2) Demise of Junk DNA:
For years, it was believed that the process of DE produced an enormous amount of junk in DNA.
·  The junk was presumed to be result of millions of years of useless mutations.
·  It was said that the majority of the DNA molecule (over 95%) was in fact this useless junk and it served no purpose.
·  In fact, it was said that this junk is clear evidence of DE.

BTW – we are 95+% like a chimp in the 5% of DNA that was not considered junk.
·  I wonder how that figure will change when the “junk” DNA of humans and chimps is compared and contrasted.

Simultaneously, Intelligent Design scientists and intellectually honest Darwinists have speculated and been uncovering function for the so-called Junk DNA.
·  In fact, “ID” has hypothesized that if DNA was the product of design, we could expect to find more and more function in the so-called Junk DNA.
·  Well, it turns out they were right.

At the same time that Nagel is making waves with his new book, another blow is delivered to DE concerning Junk DNA by the ENCODE project study published in Nature (from Evolution News Blog).

The UK Guardian says (Sept 5, 2012):
·  "Long stretches of DNA previously dismissed as "junk" are in fact crucial to the way our genome works, an international team of scientists said on Wednesday. ... For years, the vast stretches of DNA between our 20,000 or so protein-coding genes -- more than 98% of the genetic sequence inside each of our cells -- was written off as "junk" DNA. Already falling out of favor in recent years [AN HONEST CONCESSION], this concept will now, with Encode's work, be consigned to the history books."

The New York Times says (Sept 5, 2012):
·  "The human genome is packed with at least four million gene switches that reside in bits of DNA that once were dismissed as 'junk' but that turn out to play critical roles in controlling how cells, organs and other tissues behave. The discovery, considered a major medical and scientific breakthrough, has enormous implications for human health because many complex diseases appear to be caused by tiny changes in hundreds of gene switches. ... Human DNA is 'a lot more active than we expected [THAN WE WANTED], and there are a lot more things happening than we expected [AGAIN, THAN WE WANTED],' said Ewan Birney of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory-European Bioinformatics Institute, a lead researcher on the project."

I suspect a PhD dissertation could be written on the understated irony to be found in the phrase “not what we expected” or “we were surprised” when uttered by Darwinian Evolutionists.
·  For example, just recently, pertaining to 200 million year old mites found encased in amber, Yahoo News reported the words of scientist David Grimaldi:
·  “And when Grimaldi compared the ancient mites to their modern day descendants, he was surprised about how similar they are. Except for difference in the mouth and fewer legs, ‘they're dead ringers for (modern) gall mites, he said.”
·  I bet he was surprised!
·  And even worse, now 200 million years of cast-off junk mutations that would account for the evolution of the mite are “consigned to the history books”.
o   Oh, that’s right, this aphid is a “dead ringer” for a modern mite.
o   I guess there is no need to explain away the lack of Junk DNA with this type of “non-evolving” evolution.

Who Cares:
So why is any of this relevant to us as Christians?

1) If Christianity is true, nothing contrary proffered by secular science, philosophy or culture should ever diminish our confidence or hope.
·  If Jesus rose from the dead, we have nothing to worry about.
·  Yet we need to be informed.
·  Peter tells us that we are to give reasons for the hope that we have in Christ – 1 Peter 3:15.
·  In other words, we need to be able to give reasons for our belief.
·  This means that when a challenge comes, we meet that challenge head on – we don’t dodge it.
·  If the resurrection is challenged, we respond with the arguments of N.T. Wright, Mike Licona, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, and others.
·  If the reliability of Scripture is challenged, we respond with the arguments of Richard Bauckham, D.A. Carson, Larry Hurtado, Andreas Kostenberger, Ben Witherington, and others.
·  And if we are told that mind comes from matter and there is nothing outside of the natural world, we respond with the arguments of Alvin Plantiga, William Lane Craig, Greg Bahnsen, and even expose the problems of such a view, as articulated by atheists Thomas Nagel, Anthony Flew or even David Hume.
·  Answering these challenges by saying, “Jesus is all that matters” is a lazy copout and is disobedient to Scripture.

2) As we will see coming up in Jesus’ prayer in John 17, as powerful as the reasons are to believe in Christ, they are not the reason for belief in Christ.
·  In other words, there are reasons to believe and a reason for belief.
·  Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He gave many reasons to believe in Him – signs and wonders; teaching; testimony of the Father, Himself and John the Baptist.
·  And yet most who witnessed these did not believe in Him.

Reasons to believe don’t necessarily lead to the reason for belief.
·  Likewise, arguments for theism, objective morality, intelligent design and the resurrection, for example, are heard by many reasonable people who never accept them.
·  This is because the reason for belief resides in the heart and in the work of the Holy Spirit.
o   Jesus and the prophet Ezekiel attribute it to the Father (Matt 16:17; Ezek 36:26).
·  More to come as we dive into John 17.