David Noebel on Atheism and Biological Evolution (2000)

Jeffery Jay Lowder

 

Critical Notice: Understanding the Times: The Religious Worldviews of Our Day and the Search for Truth David A. Noebel, (Harvest House Publishers, 1991, ISBN 1565072685) 891 PP., $36.99 Cloth

 

I first became aware of David Noebel's book, Understanding the Times, as an undergraduate student when I noticed that my roommate had a copy of the massive book sitting prominently on his bookshelf. My roommate explained that the book was actually the textbook for a two-week, comparative worldview seminar taught by Noebel at the headquarters of Summit Ministries in scenic Manitou Springs, Colorado. Intrigued, I skimmed the book and noticed that it focuses mainly on three worldviews--"Marxism/Leninism, Secular Humanism, and Biblical Christianity"--while a fourth worldview, "Cosmic Humanism or the New Age movement," is addressed in an appendix. Noebel compares and contrasts each worldview in ten areas: theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economics, and history.

In this article, I will not comment on the majority of Noebel's book, for I am either unqualified or uninterested in doing so. Instead, I shall focus on two components of the secular humanist worldview: atheism (which Noebel calls the "theology" of secular humanism) and Darwinian evolution (secular humanism's "biology"). I will leave it to someone else to assess Noebel's comments about other alleged components of the secular humanist worldview.

The Battle for Hearts and Minds

Noebel states that there is a battle in North America between four worldviews: Christianity, secular humanism, Marxism/Leninism, and the New Age movement (p. 7). Since the concept of a worldview is crucial to Noebel's book, it is worthwhile to review Noebel's usage of that term. Noebel defines 'worldview' as follows (p. 8):

The term worldview refers to any ideology, philosophy, theology, movement, or religion that provides an overarching approach to understanding God, the world, and man's relations to God and the world. Specifically, a worldview should contain a particular perspective regarding each of the following ten disciplines: theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economics, and history.

While I think Noebel's definition of "worldview" is roughly accurate, I am not so sure that a worldview must include a specific view on each of the ten disciplines he lists.[1] For example, why must a worldview contain a particular perspective regarding, say, sociology? Granted, different approaches to sociology may have metaphysical presuppositions, implications, or both. But it seems far from obvious that a complete worldview must include a specific view of, say, sociology. Moreover, even if the Christian worldview implies a certain perspective on sociology,[2] it is far from obvious that other worldviews must also imply their own perspective on sociology. Of all the authors I have read who discuss the concept of a worldview, Noebel is the only one who has a list of ten disciplines that are essential to a complete worldview. For example, Christian philosopher Ronald Nash points out, "A well-rounded world-view includes what a person believes in at least five major topics: God, reality, knowledge, morality, and humankind."[3] In fact, Noebel admits that his conception of worldview is non-standard. He explicitly states that he has expanded the concept of a worldview "by incorporating psychology, sociology, economics, politics, and law" (p. 11).

But if we adopt Noebel's definition of a worldview, what, then, are the specific views of each worldview concerning Noebel's ten disciplines? Noebel neatly summarizes the answer to this question in a chart (p. 10), which I duplicate and expand (by adding a column for the New Age movement based on p. 870):

 

Secular Humanism

Marxism/ Leninism

Biblical Christianity

New Age Movement

Source

Humanist Manifesto
I & II

Writings of Marx & Lenin

Bible

?

Theology

atheism

atheism

theism

pantheism

Philosophy

naturalism

dialectical materialism

supernaturalism

monism

Ethics

ethical relativism

proletariat morality

ethical absolutes

ethical relativism

Biology

Darwinian evolution

Darwinian/ punctuated evolution

special creationism

biological punctuated evolution

Psychology

monistic self-actualization

monistic pavlovian behaviorism

dualism

higher consciousness

Sociology

non-traditional world state ethical society

abolition of home, church and state

home, church, state

view of all objects, people, and events as sacred

Law

positive law

positive law

Biblical / natural law

international law

Politics

world government (globalism)

new world order

justice, freedom, order

world government

Economics

socialism

socialism/ communism

stewardship of property

world economic system

History

historical evolution

historical materialism

historical resurrection

historical upward climb towards perfection

 

Noebel admits that it is difficult to derive specific New Age beliefs about law and sociology (p. 8), but otherwise he considers the above chart accurate and complete. Noebel states that "theological and philosophical assumptions color every aspect of one's worldview" (p. 9).

Since the bulk of Noebel's book concentrates on secular humanism, Marxism/Leninism, and Christianity, the question naturally arises: why focus on these worldviews and ignore others? After all, there is an Islamic worldview, a Hindu worldview, a Mormon worldview, etc. And why relegate the New Age movement to an appendix?

Noebel does not specifically comment on his silence concerning Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, etc. at all. Nor does he explain his decision to relegate a discussion of the New Age movement--which I take to be far more influential in North America than Marxism/Leninism--to an appendix. Instead, he limits his discussion to why secular humanism, Marxism/Leninism, and Christianity are worthy of discussion. He claims that Christianity "is the only worldview that provides a consistent explanation of all the facts of reality" (p. 13). He argues that "Marxism is one of Christianity's most vocal detractors and persecutors" (p. 17). And he asserts that secular humanism "vies for total control of education" (p. 21). Moreover, many humanists "have gained positions of considerable influence in our society" (p. 24).

Yet I'm not so sure about Noebel's justification for focusing on Christianity, secular humanism, and Marxism/Leninism. I agree with Sue Bohlin that the dominant three classes of worldviews in North America are Christianity, pantheism, and naturalism.[4] Christianity is worthy of consideration in a book about North American worldviews because Christianity is an extremely influential worldview in North America. Though not as prominent as Christianity, pantheism is significant and growing. Naturalism is also very influential in North America, but naturalism alone does not constitute a worldview (since it neither entails nor makes probable any specific beliefs about epistemology or ethics). Yet, in my opinion, no one naturalistic worldview has enough adherents in North America to justify receiving as much attention as Christianity or pantheism. While the number of naturalists in North America is significant, the number of secular humanists is not: many, if not most, naturalists do not accept secular humanism.

Atheism

I found myself in agreement with much of Noebel's chapter on atheism. As Noebel points out, secular humanism is not only atheistic, but naturalistic since secular humanism denies the existence of the supernatural. Moreover, Noebel accurately summarizes some of the standard atheistic critiques of the ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments. However, Noebel's treatment of atheism is weakened substantially by some very significant flaws:

First, when talking about atheists, Noebel often resorts to name-calling and ridicule. For example, Noebel refers to atheism as "militant" (p. 53) and "dogmatic" (p. 57). Elsewhere (pp. 52-53), Noebel portrays a couple of humanists as presumptuous for deciding at a "tender age"--one decided at the age of eighteen while the other decided at the age of thirteen--whether God exists. Yet Noebel would clearly not consider teenage Christians presumptuous for deciding at a "tender age" that God does exist, for his ministry is designed to equip Christian high school and college students to defend Christianity! Noebel is applying a double standard.

Second, Noebel ignores the strongest formulation of the argument from evil (AE), the evidential version. Instead, he discusses the logical argument from evil and even then he only spends one paragraph on the entire issue (p. 60)! Indeed, Noebel does not even discuss any of the formulations of AE defended by contemporary nontheistic philosophers.[5] This would be perfectly understandable in a book only intended for laymen, but later in the book Noebel is willing to defend arguments for the existence of God at great length (pp. 87-95).

Third, Noebel's book also ignores another important argument for atheism: the argument from reasonable nonbelief (also known as the problem of divine hiddenness).[6] According to this argument, the mere fact that nonbelief in God is reasonable is itself some evidence for the nonexistence of God. In fairness to Noebel, this argument had not yet been formulated at the time Noebel's book was published. However, since Noebel's book was published, the argument from reasonable nonbelief has received a growing amount of attention from contemporary philosophers of religion. In 1999, I attended a conference of the Society of Christian Philosophers; divine hiddenness was one of the two themes for the conference.[7] Moreover, I was told by conference organizers that the papers presented there would be part of a forthcoming anthology on divine hiddenness. Thus, the argument from reasonable nonbelief is clearly a major component of the case for atheism. In this sense, Noebel's discussion of atheism is outdated.

Fourth, quoting Kurt E.M. Baier, Noebel repeats the familiar argument that life is meaningless without God (pp. 59-60). Granted, if there is no God, then an ultimate or cosmic meaning of life is unlikely. But individuals can still have personal (or non-ultimate) meaning without God. Indeed, Baier himself makes this very point:

However, lack of [ultimate meaning] does not in any way detract from the meaningfulness of life. I suspect that many who reject the scientific outlook because it involves the loss of purpose of life, and therefore meaning, are guilty of a confusion between the two senses of purpose just distinguished [ultimate meaning and personal meaning]. They confusedly think that if the scientific world picture is true, then their lives must be futile because that picture implies that man has no [ultimate] purpose given him from without. But this is muddled thinking, for, ... pointlessness is implied only by [lack of personal meaning], which is not at all implied by the scientific picture of the world. These people mistakenly conclude that there can be no purpose in life because there is no purpose of life; that men cannot themselves adopt and achieve purposes because man, unlike a robot or a watchdog, is not a creature with a purpose.[8]

As Christian philosophers Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach, and Basinger point out, "there appears to be no widespread scientific (psychological or physiological) or logical support for the claim that one cannot justifiably claim to have personal meaning if one denies cosmic meaning."[9]

Fifth, Noebel argues that atheism strips atheists "of all sense of purpose" (p. 63). Yet this is false; atheism does not imply that life is completely purposeless. As I argued above, life can still have a non-ultimate purpose, even if God does not exist. Perhaps what Noebel meant to say is atheism strips atheists of ultimate hope. The atheistic response to this argument is three-fold. First, even if there is no ultimate hope in a godless universe, there may still be other reasons for hope, reasons which have nothing to do with a God. For example, a person trapped in a skyscraper during a fire might have reason to hope: he might know that the fire is several floors below him and that firefighters are on the scene. However, there may be times in which the situation does appear truly hopeless. This leads to my next response. Second, the charge of hopelessness is a double-edged sword: on certain theistic doctrines, life can be ultimately hopeless for the theist. For example, on the doctrine of predestination, a person might believe that someone is predestined to burn in Hell forever. Or consider the person who believes they have committed the unforgivable sin. In both cases we have a theist who believes that a particular situation is completely hopeless. Third, even if there is no ultimate hope in a universe without God, nonetheless there may be no God. The truth is not always pleasant. Just because atheism is not emotionally comforting does not mean that atheism is false.

Evolution

Noebel's chapter on "Secular Humanist Biology" divides into ten parts: (i) some introductory remarks; (ii) a discussion of methodological naturalism; (iii) various objections to abiogenesis; (iv) an attack on natural selection; (v) some comments about the ethical implications of the struggle for existence and survival; (vi) some brief remarks about the role mutations play in evolutionary theory; (vii) a critique of evolutionary theory's ability to explain "apparently meaningless" adaptations; (viii) an argument for the familiar creationist claim that the fossil record does not support evolution; and (ix) a characterization of punctuated equilibrium as a desperate attempt by evolutionists to explain away the gaps in the fossil record.

(i) Introduction: Noebel begins by noting the importance of evolution to the secular humanist worldview. He writes, "evolution is not one option among many [explanations for the origin of species], but rather the only option compatible" with secular humanism (p. 267, my emphasis). Actually, there are other naturalistic explanations compatible with secular humanism (e.g., Lamarckism), but all of those explanations are totally implausible in light of the available scientific evidence. Surely, then, what Noebel means to say is that evolution is the only live option for secular humanists. And that is a point well-taken: if secular humanism is true, evolution pretty much has to be true. Of course, secular humanism is not the only worldview limited to only one option concerning origins. As Noebel points out elsewhere (pp. 314-16), any Christian committed to Biblical inerrancy must reject evolution.

Noebel asserts that "the Christian worldview of creation had far more to do with the founding of modern science than did Humanism" (my emphasis). Yet Noebel provides no historical evidence for this claim, and there is good reason to reject it. As Richard Carrier points out, "science actually has its origin in pagan Greek philosophy, especially thanks to Aristotle and Epicurus... [Moreover,] the scientific revolution only began after these pagan writings were 'rediscovered' (in the aptly-named 'Renaissance')."[10] Furthermore, these pagans espoused methodological naturalism, in direct contradiction to Noebel's view of the philosophy of science. Consider what Cicero wrote, a full fifty years before Jesus was even born:

it is necessary that whatever arises, of whatever kind, has its cause from nature, so that even if it happens contrary to what is usual, it still cannot happen contrary to nature. Therefore, investigate the cause for every new and remarkable event, if you can, and if you discover none, you must still consider it certain that nothing can happen without a cause.[11]

Seneca put the matter even more succinctly, writing that "there is nothing greater than this: to know nature."[12] And in the fifth century, Hippocrates wrote:

People think that epilepsy is divine simply because they don't have any idea what causes epilepsy. But I believe that someday we will understand what causes epilepsy, and at that moment, we will cease to believe that it's divine. And so it is with everything in the universe.[13]

There is simply no good historical reason to believe, as Noebel claims, that "modern science was founded on the Christian worldview."

Elsewhere, Noebel reasons that "since science is based on the assumption that the universe is orderly and can be expected to act according to specific, discoverable laws," science presupposes that "the world was ordered by a Divine creator" (p. 318). Yet Noebel fails to acknowledge that Christianity has historically opposed scientific advances in a number of fields. Bertrand Russell, in his classic Religion and Science, catalogs Christianity's resistance to scientific findings in astronomy, psychology, and medicine.[14] Thus, even if science did presuppose the existence of God, it is unlikely that that God would be the God of Christianity. But why believe that science presupposes God at all? Noebel's argument is terribly obscure. Why postulate a Divine creator in order to explain a universe that operates according to natural laws? Why even assume that those laws need an explanation? Why can't they just be considered a brute fact, an "ultimate" of explanation? The answers to these questions are unclear from Noebel's book.

(ii) The Role of Science: Noebel also has occasion to attack the methodological naturalism of science, claiming that such a methodology is a humanistic "interpretation of science" (p. 268). Therefore, he argues, secular humanists arbitrarily ignore "the supernatural as a possible explanation for the origin of life" (p. 268). Yet nontheistic scientists are not the only scientists who reject "the supernatural as a possible explanation for the origin of life;" many, if not most, theistic scientists also exclude the supernatural from the realm of scientific investigation. They do so for good reason: if we allow for the possibility of one supernatural explanation in science, we have to allow for the possibility of all supernatural explanations in science. As Robert T. Pennock writes, if we accept creationist rhetoric against methodological naturalism in science, "medical schools and research physicians are doing a terrible disservice by not teaching students how to perform exorcisms and by not taking seriously the possible supernatural origins of diseases."[15]

Noebel repeats the familiar creationist argument that evolution is unscientific since "science cannot observe or measure" evolution (p. 269). True, no one directly observed the evolution of, say, Homo sapiens from ape-like ancestors, but we can observe the effects of that evolution. For example, paleontologists have discovered a number of transitional fossils that are ancestors to modern humans. These transitional forms included Australopithecus afarensis, A. africanus, and Homo erectus. (Strangely, Noebel does not even mention these fossils in his book.) Or consider the evidence from molecular biology: "Analysis of many proteins and genes has shown that humans are genetically similar to chimpanzees and gorillas and less similar to orangutans and other primates."[16]

Finally, Noebel claims that evolutionists simply assume that evolution is a fact despite the lack of observational or fossil evidence for macroevolution (pp. 269-270). Nothing could be further from the truth. First, evolutionists do not "assume" evolution is a fact; they infer evolution from the evidence! The evidence for evolution--which, with the exception of the fossil record, Noebel never discusses--comes from a wide variety of disciplines, including biochemical and genetic studies, comparative developmental biology, patterns of biogeography, comparative morphology, anatomy, and the fossil record. Second, macroevolution has been observed. Although on the evolutionary hypothesis we would expect observed instances of macroevolution to be rare, nonetheless we have observed instances of macroevolution in both plants and animals. The observed instances of speciation include the macroevolution of two new species of goatsbeard, a species of fireweed, a species of beetle, a species of worm, the Faeroe Island house mouse, and five new species of cichlid fishes.[17] And third, the fossil record does contain transitional fossils. Some of the most notable examples include "the transitions from reptile to mammal, from land animal to early whale, and from early ape to human."[18] I will have more to say about this later on.

(iii) Abiogenesis and the Origin of Life: Noebel blasts secular humanism for its belief that life arose from nonlife through purely naturalistic processes. According to Noebel, "Humanists are left with the pre-scientific theory of spontaneous generation, a theory so fraught with difficulties that few scientists consider it science at all" (p. 271). Noebel is correct in stating that the hypothesis of spontaneous generation is not taken seriously by scientists; however, he is woefully mistaken if he thinks that secular humanists believe in spontaneous generation. Indeed, secular humanists (along with all other nontheists) would join Noebel in criticizing spontaneous generation. The hypothesis of spontaneous generation claims that life instantly and spontaneously arises from non-life, which is the very denial of the long and gradual process implied by evolution. In contrast, theories of abiogenesis typically postulate a gradual chemical evolution of life from nonlife by deterministic (non-random) processes through various intermediate stages. These stages included sugars, the amino acids that are the building blocks of proteins, the nucleotide bases that are the building blocks of DNA, and so forth until the final stage in which there is an organic self-replicator.[19]

Unlike spontaneous generation, abiogenesis is taken very seriously by a number of scientists.[20] Andrew Ellington, a chemist at Indiana University, writes, "Once there is a sustained process of organic self-replication, natural selection at the molecular level should take over."[21] Kenneth Miller, a practicing Roman Catholic biologist at Brown University, notes that none of the intermediate stages in the evolution of life from nonlife are "forbidden, and some take place with surprising speed."[22] David Deamer, a biophysicist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, notes that there are far fewer questions about the origin of life to answer now than anyone expected. He says, "These things we're now doing [in abiogenesis studies] would have been unthinkable a few years ago."[23]

Of course, it is one thing to say that scientists take abiogenesis seriously; it is quite another to say that abiogenesis is true. As Noebel states, the evolution of life from nonlife has never been directly observed in nature (p. 328). And Noebel is certainly right to demand that abiogenesis should not be taught as a fact in science classrooms for the simple reason that abiogenesis is not a scientific fact.

Yet the above concessions hardly justify the conclusion that belief in abiogenesis is irrational:

First, the fact that no one has directly observed abiogensis is hardly surprising even on the assumption that abiogenesis is true. If life really did evolve from non-life, human beings could not witness the original evolution of life from non-life for the simple reason that human beings had not yet evolved. Moreover, even indirect observation (using the fossil record) of the intermediate stages of chemical evolution is difficult, if not impossible, by the very nature of the pre-biotic molecules: such compounds did not leave fossils.

Second, in order to determine whether the origin of life has a naturalistic explanation, one must "take into account all known information that may be relevant to the conclusion."[24] If a person's background information includes good, independent reasons for believing that naturalism is true (e.g., the argument from evil, the argument from nonbelief, etc.), such reasons indirectly imply that some sort of naturalistic explanation like abiogenesis must be true. Thus, such a person is entirely justified in believing that life began without God, even if the scientific explanation for such an event is (at present) incomplete.

Third, as my earlier quotation of Kenneth Miller indicates, many scientific theists accept abiogenesis for the simple reason that naturalistic explanations work. Indeed, naturalistic explanations have been so successful in the history of science that we have an extremely good justification for awaiting a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life. As Keith Parsons writes:

[A]s books such as [Bertrand Russell's Religion and Science] show, we now possess numerous historical examples of naturalistic explanations supplanting supernatural ones and none going the other way... Hence, we have the basis for an extremely strong inductive argument that runs as follows: In cases C, C+1, C+2, C+3, ... C+n, where C...C+n are past instances in which supernatural explanations were thought inadequate to account for phenomena, each of those supernaturalistic explanations has since been supplanted by a naturalistic one. Further, in no case has a naturalistic explanation been supplanted by a supernaturalistic one. Hence, when we discover a new case, C+(n+1), in which a supernaturalistic explanation is proffered, we have very solid inductive grounds for rejecting that proffered explanation and confidently awaiting a naturalistic account.[25]

Given that the origin-of-life field is relatively young (the first experiments were not performed until the 1950s), it seems incredibly premature to appeal to the supernatural to explain the origin of life, unless Noebel can show that all naturalistic explanations for the origin of life are doomed to fail. This leads to my next point.

Fourth, contrary to Noebel and other creationists, no one has ever shown that abiogenesis is too improbable to have occurred. Richard Carrier, in a recent article on the Secular Web, surveys various attempts to show that the odds against life emerging from non-living materials are so great that we must posit a creator to explain the event. All of the approaches are failures.[26]

(iv) Natural Selection: Noebel argues that the principle of natural selection is a tautology, quoting the following statement by the late Isaac Asimov:

... the phrase "the survival of the fittest" is not an illuminating one. It implies that those who survive are the "fittest," but what is meant by "fittest"? Why, those are "fittest" who survive. This is an argument in a circle. (p. 276)

Clearly, if the phrase, "survival of the fittest" could be reduced to "survival of those that survive," then the expression would be a tautology. Yet Asimov went on to write, "'fitness' is a relative term, and has no meaning unless you mention the environmental niche you are considering."[27] The "fittest" organisms are NOT defined as "those that survive"; rather, the "fittest" organisms are those organisms with a particular set of genes that can be expected to produce the most offspring in a particular environment.[28] Therefore, scientists can and have tested predictions about natural selection. For example, consider the hypothesis that "an ability to blend with its environment makes an organism less vulnerable to predators":

[Biologists] can watch predators at work. They can record the relative number of captures involving well-camouflaged moths and those that stand out from their surroundings. Moreover, they can eliminate other possible reasons for differential reproductive success. For example, it is possible to show that protective coloration makes no difference in fecundity, survival of larvae, or ability to mate. Thus they confirm the claim that the success results from the protection afforded by cryptic coloration.[29]

Thus, far from being a tautology, natural selection is a powerful problem-solving strategy that can explain a wide variety of biological phenomena. Pennock shows, by analogy, that natural selection is no more tautologous than "may the best team win." He writes:

Consider the formula: May the best team win. It seems harmless, but the creationist now points out that we determine which team is best by seeing which wins. If that is what it means to be "best," then the expressed wish seems to reduce to "May the team that wins be the team that wins." It is thus vacuous dogma, objects the creationist, to subsequently claim to explain who won in terms of one team's being "better" than the other. However, we sports fans are not fooled into abandoning the game by such arguments. Of course we do determine which is the best team by looking at its record of wins, and we would certainly explain why it won the trophy by noting its superior record over its rivals. But we understand that this is not the end of the story...even though we do judge on the basis of record, we do not doubt that it is the physical traits of a team, its superior characteristics and playing ability, that make it better than the others. Understanding this, we also understand that it is possible that the best team might not win...This parallels the distinction that biologists make between evolution by natural selection and evolution by natural drift, and the mere fact that we recognize such distinctions is by itself sufficient to show that the tautology objection does not hold in either sports or evolutionary theory.[30]

As Phillip Johnson, an outspoken anti-evolutionist, admits, "[A]lthough natural selection can be formulated as a tautology, and often has been, it can also be formulated in other ways that are not so easily dismissed."[31]

(v) Struggle for Existence and Survival: On the evolutionary hypothesis, Noebel argues, "the only moral good becomes survival. The only value evolved in the struggle is existence itself" (p. 276). Two observations come to mind. First, Noebel's argument is not a denial of biological evolution. As Douglas Futuyma points out, the "ethical implications of any scientific statement do not bear on its scientific validity."[32] Second, the claim that biological evolution destroys morality is patently false. While it is certainly true that, on the hypothesis of evolution, living organisms are engaged in a struggle for survival and only the fittest organisms will survive, it does NOT follow that stronger humans should exploit weaker ones.

(vi) Mutations: Noebel does not have much to say about mutations in his chapter on "secular humanist biology" except to (correctly) note that they are an important part of evolutionary theory (pp. 276-77). If we turn to his chapter on "Biblical Christian biology," however, we find two objections to the evolutionary claim that mutations could provide the new material for natural selection:

(a) Observations of Beneficial Mutations: Noebel's first objection is that an actually beneficial mutation--a mutation that serves as an aid to survival and reproduction--has never been observed (p. 334). Yet this is simply false; scientific research has shown that some mutations are tremendously beneficial. For example, "Microorganisms have acquired new enzymes that allow them to metabolize toxic industrial wastes never occurring in nature (e.g. chlorinated and fluorinated hydrocarbons), and are an increasingly important method of pollution control."[33] Laboratory experiments have confirmed that bacterial resistance to antibiotics is the result of mutations.[34] Mutations have even helped some humans infected with HIV delay the onset of AIDS:

Population geneticist Stephen O'Brien of the National Cancer Institute, his NCI colleagues Michael Dean and Mary Carrington, and their collaborators provide strong confirmatory evidence that people who have two mutant copies of the gene for CCRS (also known as CKRS), the chemokine receptor that HIV uses when it initially infects white cells, are highly resistant to HIV infection. Another, entirely new, finding is that people who get infected with HIV, but have one mutant copy of the CCRS gene, progress to AIDS more slowly than do people without the mutation.[35]

Granted, beneficial mutations are rare--the majority of mutations are neither beneficial nor harmful--but Noebel's claim that a beneficial mutation has never been observed is contradicted by the scientific literature.[36]

(b) Breeding Experiments and the Alleged Limits to Biological Change: Commenting on various "breeding experiments," Noebel declares that macroevolution is impossible because there are "limits to change" which cannot be crossed (p. 334). He writes, "If indeed such limits exist, then evolution is a meaningless explanation. If a species can only evolve so far before it hits a barrier and is forced to remain the same species, then no macroevolution occurs" (p. 335, my italics). According to Noebel, such limits have been experimentally confirmed: "breeding experiments have proven to be a fatal blow to the theory of evolution, because every experiment has eventually hit a barrier, at which point no more change in the specific direction can be induced in the species" (p. 335).

Yet Noebel's argument is doubly flawed. First, if there truly were limits to biological change, then evolution would NOT be meaningless; rather, evolution would be false. (If evolution were meaningless, then it could be neither true nor false; clearly, that is not what Noebel wants to say.) Second, Noebel is simply mistaken in his assessment of breeding experiments: breeding experiments have produced new species, and I encourage Noebel to review the relevant literature.[37]

(vii) Adaptations: Noebel criticizes biological evolution's explanation for adaptation, on the grounds that evolutionists "must overlook (or explain away) all the apparently meaningless adaptations existing in our world" (p. 278). I must confess I don't see a problem here. If an adaptation were a detriment to survival and reproduction, the adaptation would be eliminated by natural selection. However, what Noebel calls "harmful or meaningless adaptions" may very well be vestigial structures, the vestiges of adaptations that were beneficial in the past but are no longer beneficial today. Indeed, the presence of such structures is much more likely to occur on the evolutionary hypothesis than on the creationist hypothesis; therefore, the existence of vestigial structures is some evidence for evolution.

(viii) The Fossil Record: The creationist objection that the fossil record contains no evidence of transitional forms is not new. Neither is the refutation of that objection. Even prior to the publication of Noebel's book, the scientific community had already provided multiple refutations of this argument.[38] Yet Noebel gives the objection anyway, without any indication to his audience that evolutionists have heard this objection before and answered it. Moreover, his justification for this objection consists almost entirely of quotations of leading scientists taken out of context!

(a) Colin Patterson: Noebel quotes Colin Patterson, the late senior paleontologist who (until his death in 1998) worked at the British Museum of Natural History, as follows: "I will lay it on the line--there is not one such [transitional] fossil for which one could make a water-tight argument" (p. 279). Noebel clearly intends for the quotation to give his readers the impression that even prominent evolutionists admit there are no transitional fossils. Yet Noebel gives no reference for this quotation in his book; I had to track down the source of this quotation myself. As it turns out, Patterson did write the words Noebel attributes to him; the source of the quotation is a personal letter dated April 10, 1979 from Patterson to creationist Luther D. Sunderland. Here is the full quotation:

I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. . . I will lay it on the line--there is not one such [transitional] fossil for which one could make a water-tight argument. The reason is that statements about ancestry and descent are not applicable in the fossil record. Is Archaeopteryx the ancestor of all birds? Perhaps yes, perhaps no: there is no way of answering the question. It is easy enough to make up stories of how one form gave rise to another, and to find reasons why the stages should be favoured by natural selection. But such stories are not part of science, for there is no way to put them to the test.[39]

But does the above statement mean that Patterson rejected the existence of all transitional forms in the fossil record? In the above quotation, Patterson was referring to his 1978 book, Evolution. And, as anyone who has actually read Patterson's book knows, Patterson believed that we do possess several examples of transitional forms in the fossil record. He wrote:

In several animal and plant groups, enough fossils are known to bridge the wide gaps between existing types. In mammals, for example, the gap between horses, asses and zebras (genus Equus) and their closest living relatives, the rhinoceroses and tapirs, is filled by an extensive series of fossils extending back sixty-million years to a small animal, Hyracotherium, which can only be distinguished from the rhinoceros-tapir group by one or two horse-like details of the skull. There are many other examples of fossil 'missing links', such as Archaeopteryx, the Jurassic bird which links birds with dinosaurs (Fig. 45), and Ichthyostega, the late Devonian amphibian which links land vertebrates and the extinct choanate (having internal nostrils) fishes. . .[40]

Patterson goes on to note that "... Fossils may tell us many things, but one thing they can never disclose is whether they were ancestors of anything else."[41] Thus, when Patterson wrote to Sunderland that there is not one transitional fossil "for which one might make a water-tight argument," Patterson was simply stating that he could not make a "water-tight argument" to show that any living species is descended from any known transitional form. (This interpretation of Patterson's work was confirmed by Patterson in a personal letter to Theunissen, in which Patterson accused Sunderland of misinterpreting him.[42]) By relying upon Sunderland, Noebel has in turn misinterpreted Patterson. At any rate, Noebel's allegation that Patterson admits there are no transitional fossils is completely false. Patterson himself lists several examples of transitional forms in his book; if Noebel had read Patterson's book himself, he would have known this.

(b) Stephen Jay Gould: Noebel has now provided two quotations--one in his book and one in private correspondence with me--in which Gould allegedly admitted that the fossil record contains no transitional forms. Yet, as anyone even somewhat familiar with Gould's writings should know, Gould has repeatedly stated that such quotations are taken out of context. In 1984, Gould wrote, "It is infuriating to be quoted again and again--whether through design or stupidity, I do not know--as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms."[43] With Gould's allegations in mind, then, let us consider Noebel's interpretation of Gouldian scholarship.

(1) Gould on the "rarity of transitional forms": Gould once referred to "[t]he extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record."[44] Noebel, commenting on this statement, concludes that Gould admits a "lack of transitional forms" (p. 339, my emphasis). Yet, in that passage, Gould never claims that the fossil record contains no transitional forms; he simply says that they are rare. In fact, Gould calls creationists "dishonest" for quoting that very statement out of context! He writes, "This quotation, although accurate as a partial citation, is dishonest in leaving out the following explanatory material showing my true purpose--to discuss rates of evolutionary change, not to deny the fact of evolution itself."[45]

(2) Gould on "support for gradual change": Gould once wrote, "[t]he fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change."[46] In private correspondence with me, Noebel suggested that this comment implies that Gould believes there are no transitional forms.[47] Yet there are multiple problems with Noebel's understanding of this passage. First, note that Gould was only discussing gradual change, not all change. Second, Gould never stated that the fossil record contradicts gradual change. In fact, immediately following the comment Noebel does cite, Gould went on to write, "and the principle of natural selection does not require it - selection can operate rapidly."[48] Thus Gould clearly stated that the fossil record does NOT contradict biological evolution. Third, Noebel completely ignores all of the instances in which Gould explicitly states that there are transitional forms. For example, in his 1983 book Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, Gould wrote, "Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups."[49] Note that Gould does not say that transitional forms are completely lacking at the species level, only that they are generally lacking. More recently, in 1994 Gould gave a specific example of a transitional sequence in the fossil record:

I am absolutely delighted to report that our usually recalcitrant fossil record has come through in exemplary fashion. During the past 15 years, new discoveries in Africa and Pakistan have added greatly to our paleontological knowledge of the earliest history of whales. The embarrassment of past absence has been replaced by a bounty of new evidence-- and by the sweetest series of transitional forms an evolutionist can find. Truly, we have met the enemy and he is now ours. Moreover, to add blessed insult to the creationists's injury, these discoveries have arrived in a gradual and sequential fashion-- a little bit at a time, step by step, from a tentative hint, 15 years ago to a remarkable smoking gun early in 1994.[50]

But perhaps Noebel has an escape route. Even granting that, on rare occasions, transitional forms are preserved in the fossil record, maybe he would argue that the lack of abundant transitional forms is evidence for special creationism and against biological evolution. Yet that argument also fails. On the hypothesis of special creationism, macroevolution has never occurred; therefore, the existence of just one transitional species is evidence against special creationism. However, on the hypothesis of biological evolution, there is no reason to expect that we would possess fossilized remains of all or even most of the transitional forms that ever lived. Fossilization is an extremely rare process;[51] it is even more unlikely that the fossil of a transitional form would be preserved and discovered. Gould himself writes:

Such transitional forms are scarce to be sure, and for two good sets of good reasons: geological (gappiness of the fossil record) and biological (the episodic nature of evolutionary change, including patterns of punctuated equilibrium and transitions within small populations of limited geographic extent). But paleontologists have discovered several superb examples of intermediary forms and sequences, more than enough to convince any fair-minded skeptic about the reality of life's physical genealogy.[52]

At any rate, it is obvious that Noebel's portrayal of Gould's position is completely inaccurate. Noebel should issue a retraction and revise his book accordingly.

(c) David Raup: Noebel also quotes the following 1979 statement by David Raup, curator of Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, in support of the claim that the fossil record contains no transitional forms:

[W]e are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species but the situation hasn't changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transitions than we had in Darwin's time. By this I mean that some of the classic cases of Darwinian change in the fossil record, such as the evolution of the horse in North America, have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information--what appeared to be a nice simple progression when relatively few data were available now appears to be much more complex and much less gradualistic. (p. 338, my emphasis)

Yet, like Gould, Raup never said that transitional forms are completely absent from the fossil record. He simply says that we have "fewer" transitional forms. In fact, elsewhere, Raup explicitly says that we do have transitional fossils. He writes, "some new intermediate or transitional forms have been found [since Darwin's time], particularly among land vertebrates."[53] Moreover, Raup has provided three explanations for why the rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record is "compatible with the predictions of evolutionary theory": (i) the rules of taxonomy do not allow paleontologists to place transitional forms in intermediate categories, therefore "there appear to be many fewer intermediates than probably exist;"[54] (ii) the incompleteness of the fossil record; and (iii) if punctuated equilibrium is true, "the probability of finding intermediates" is low.[55] This last point is worth emphasizing because, in the above quotation, Raup is questioning strict gradualism, not the fact of evolution.[56]

But what about Raup's comment that "some of the classic cases of Darwinian change in the fossil record, such as the evolution of the horse in North America have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information"? Raup questions whether horse evolution was smooth, not whether it occurred. As Kathleen Hunt explains, the fossil evidence of horse evolution is evidence for evolution and against creationism:

Creationists who wish to deny the evidence of horse evolution should careful[ly] consider this: how else can you explain the sequence of horse fossils? Even if creationists insist on ignoring the transitional fossils (many of which have been found), again, how can the unmistakable sequence of these fossils be explained? Did God create Hyracotherium, then kill off Hyracotherium and create some Hyracotherium-Orohippus intermediates, then kill off the intermediates and create Orohippus, then kill off Orohippus and create Epihippus, then allow Epihippus to "microevolve" into Duchesnehippus, then kill off Duchesnehippus and create Mesohippus, then create some Mesohippus-Miohippus intermediates, then create Miohippus, then kill off Mesohippus, etc.....each species coincidentally similar to the species that came just before and came just after?[57]

In other words, it is obvious that all of the fossilized species in the horse transition are relatives of one another on what we might call the "evolutionary family tree." What is not obvious is the exact structure of the tree that links the relatives together.[58]

That fossilized horses provide evidence for evolution is confirmed by contemporary scientists. Futuyma writes, "Because its complications are usually ignored by biology textbooks, creationists have claimed the horse story is no longer valid. However, the main features of the story have in fact stood the test of time...."[59] B.J. McFadden states, "fossil horses do indeed provide compelling evidence in support of evolutionary theory."[60] And R.L. Evander says, "The fossil record [of horses] provides a lucid story of descent with change for nearly 50 million years, and we know much about the ancestors of modern horses."[61]

(ix) Punctuated Equilibrium: In 1972, Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium (hereafter "PE") to explain patterns they observed in the fossil record. As Wesley Elsberry explains, these patterns include

the characteristically abrupt appearance of new species, the relative morphology in widespread species, the distribution of transitional fossils when those are found, the apparent differences in morphology between ancestral and daughter species, and the pattern of extinct species.

According to proponents of PE, the fossil record usually reveals long periods of stasis ("equilibrium") followed by "rapid" speciation or macroevolution ("punctuations").

Since PE is extremely prone to misunderstanding and misinterpretation, it would be useful to clarify our terms precisely. When paleontologists like Eldredge and Gould refer to the "abrupt" appearance of new species, they are NOT stating that new species appear instantaneously. Rather, they are using the word "abrupt" in a geological sense. On the geological timescale, time is measured in hundreds of millions of years. Thus, 10,000 to 500,000 years would be "abrupt" in geological time, but ample ecological time for macroevolution to occur.[62] As Eldredge and Gould write:

The model of punctuated equilibria does not maintain that nothing occurs gradually at any level of evolution. It is a theory about speciation and its deployment in the fossil record. It claims that an important pattern, continuous at higher levels--the "classic" macroevolutionary trend--is a consequence of punctuation in the evolution of species. It does not deny that allopatric speciation occurs gradually in ecological time (though it might not -- see Carson, 1975), but only asserts that this scale is a geological microsecond. Our model must be tested at the appropriate scale--by considering tempos of change in species and in the process of speciation during geological time.[63]

Eldredge and Gould compared PE to an alternative hypothesis, phyletic gradualism (hereafter "PG"), which they believe is an inferior explanation. Eldredge and Gould defined PG as follows:

(PG-1) new species arise by the transformation of an ancestral population into its modified descendants;
(PG-2) the transformation is even and slow;
(PG-3) the transformation involves large numbers, usually the entire ancestral population; and
(PG-4) the transformation occurs over all or a large part of the ancestral species' geographic range.

The differences between PE and PG can be illustrated by the following diagram:[64]

Image

Thus, with PE and PG properly defined, it becomes obvious that PE is compatible with PG. In fact, in 1977 Gould and Eldredge clarified that they never intended to suggest that PE and PG were mutually exclusive. They wrote:

We never claimed either that [phyletic] gradualism could not occur in theory, or did not occur in fact (Eldredge 1971; Eldredge and Gould 1974, p. 307). Nature is far too varied and complex for such absolutes; Captain Corcoran's "hardly ever" is the strongest statement that a natural historian can hope to make.[65]

Instead, Gould and Eldredge claim that PE should occur much more often than PG:

The explicit formulation of punctuated equilibria should lead to the casting of a wider net for data to test the relative frequency of evolutionary tempos; for we know no other way to make reasonable inferences about evolutionary modes--specifically, in this case, the relative importance of speciation vs. phyletic evolution. Of course, we do not champion punctuated equilibria as liberal pluralists with no suspicion about the final outcome. We do regard punctuated equilibrium as by far the most common tempo of evolution--and we do assert that [phyletic] gradualism is both rare and unable in any case--given its characteristic rate--to serve as the source for major evolutionary events (pp. 133-134).[66]

As Ellsberry puts it, "In other words, examination of the fossil record should reveal examples of both PE *AND* PG, but that the number of examples of PE should greatly outnumber the number of examples of PG."[67] As biologist Michael Rose (not to be confused with philosopher Michael Ruse) explains, even when PG occurs, such change may still occur too quickly to be recorded in the fossil record:

Population geneticists showed that even gradual selection within populations could produce evolutionary change that would appear virtually instantaneous on a geological time-scale, such as that defined by the fossil record. [Punctuationist Stephen Jay] Gould backed away from some of his flirtations with non-Darwinian evolution. The main people who felt that something big had really happened were the editors who put together cover stories for popular magazines, as well as the rabble of anti-Darwinians, including creationists, who are often happy to celebrate confusion among the Darwinians.
The consensus now is pretty much where Darwin was. We expect evolution to be sedate in biological time, but its results can be fairly abrupt and disjointed in the fossil record.[68]

Noebel, however, repeats the creationist claim that PE somehow discredits the fact of biological evolution. As I read him, he presents three reasons why PE discredits evolution: (a) PE was proposed to explain the fact that NO transitional forms whatsoever exist; (b) PE entails that evolution occurred "too rapidly" to leave accurate fossil documentation; and (c) PE is a restatement of the "hopeful monster" theory. I will address each of these claims in turn.

(a) Was PE proposed to explain the alleged nonexistence of transitional forms? According to Noebel, PE was concocted to explain away the fossil record's failure to support biological evolution. He writes, if the fossil record

provides nothing observable that corresponds with the theory [of evolution], then the evolutionist is left holding a theory based largely on faith. This is intolerable for the Humanist--so a theory has been proposed that forces the fossil record to fit into the evolutionary mold. This theory is referred to as punctuated equilibrium. (p. 280)

In other words, Noebel presupposes that PE is incompatible with PG. Yet this interpretation is completely contradicted by by Gould and Eldredge's 1972 and 1977 papers on PE. Not only do they state that PE is compatible with PG, but they gave an example of transitional fossils supporting PG in their 1977 paper![69]

(b) Does PE entail that evolution "occurred too rapidly" to leave accurate fossil documentation? Noebel writes, PE "claims that science cannot discover the links between species and the fossil record because the change from one species to another occurs too rapidly to leave accurate fossil documentation" (p. 281). Yet, as far as I can tell, Noebel offers no support for that claim. He does not provide any quotations from the writings of Gould or Eldredge; instead, his only evidence is the following quotation of Christopher McGowan's description of PE (pp. 280-81)

Species remain unchanged (except for minor fluctuations) over long periods of time, for tens of thousands of years and perhaps for several million years. New species probably evolve only when a segment of the population becomes isolated from the rest. Speciation occurs relatively rapidly, probably in a matter of only a few thousand years and possibly less. This concept of long periods of stasis interspersed with periods of rapid change is often called "punctuated equilibrium."[70]

Yet this does not imply that, according to PE, there are never any transitional fossils; rather, PE claims that transitional forms in the fossil record are rare. Eldredge and Gould, in their original 1972 article proposing PE, spend over twenty pages discussing two separate fossil lineages supporting PE.[71] According to Eldredge and Gould, transitional fossils under PE are rare because speciation occurs within an "instant" of geological time. How long is such an "instant"? According to Gould and Eldredge, an "instant" of geological time can range anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of years:

We realized that a standard biological account, Mayr's peripatric theory of speciation in small populations peripherally isolated from a parental stock, would yield stasis and punctuation when properly scaled into the vastness of geological time--for small populations speciating away from a central mass in tens or hundreds of thousands of years, will translate in almost every geological circumstance as a punctuation on a bedding plane, not gradual change up a hill of sediment, whereas stasis should characterize the long and recoverable history of successful central populations.[72]

In other words, as Miller writes, the "appearance of [instantaneous] speciation is really just an artifact of the compression of time that takes place each time a new layer is formed in the fossil record."[73] Thus, Noebel's claim that PE implies that transitional forms should be totally absent from the fossil record is completely contradicted by a simple reading of Eldredge and Gould.

Moreover, Noebel completely ignores the evidence for PE provided by McGowan:

There is a small lake in Africa, Lake Nabugabo, which was once part of Lake Victoria but became separated from it by the formation of a sandbar. Based on geological evidence, the sandbar is known to be about 3,500 years old, so the new lake has not been in existence for more than this period. When the new lake was formed it was obviously stocked with fish from Lake Victoria, and most of the species found there today are identical to those found in Lake Victoria. There are, however, five species which are endemic to Lake Nabugabo and which have evolved from Lake Victoria species some time during the period of isolation. These species cannot therefore have evolved more than about 3,500 years ago. This may be a very long period of time in terms of our life experiences, but in geological terms it is a mere instant.[74]

In light of the evidence provided by Eldredge, Gould, and McGowan, one can only marvel at creationists like Noebel who suggest that PE was invented because the fossil record "provides nothing observable that corresponds with" evolution.

(c) Is PE equivalent to the "hopeful monster" theory? Richard Goldschmidt, 1878-1958, was a geneticist who thought that new species could arise within a few generations or less as a result of "macromutations." Fond of metaphor, Goldschmidt called his proposal the "hopeful monster" hypothesis.[75] Like proponents of PE, Goldschmidt rejected the notion that all evolutionary change could be explained by "natural selection plus gradual accumulation of 'micromutations.'"[76] But in direct contradiction to proponents of PE, he denied that any evolutionary change could be explained in that fashion. Moreover, Goldschmidt envisioned evolution proceeding at a much faster rate than even punctuationists propose. As Richard Dawkins explains:

As I have stressed, the theory of punctuated equilibrium, by Eldredge and Gould's own account, is not a saltationist theory. The jumps that it postulates are not real, single-generation jumps. They are spread out over large numbers of generations over periods of, by Gould's own estimation, perhaps tens of thousands of years. The theory of punctuated equilibrium is a gradualist theory, albeit it emphasizes long periods of stasis intervening between relatively short bursts of gradualistic evolution.[77]

Thus Noebel's portrayal of PE as "basically a restatement of the 'hopeful monster' theory" (p. 281) is a caricature. PE denies the "hopeful monster" hypothesis. As Gould himself writes, "Goldschmidt's theory [of 'hopeful monsters'] still has nothing to do with punctuated equilibrium."[78]

 

In summary, then, the PE-vs.-PG "debate" provides no ammunition at all for anti-evolutionary critics. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that Darwin himself would have accepted PE. In his Origin of Species, he wrote, "it is far more probable that each form remains for long periods unaltered, and then again undergoes modification."[79] Miller, commenting on this passage, asks, "Can we even conceive of a better definition of stasis, or equilibrium, than the notion that a species 'remains for long periods unaltered?' Or of a better definition of punctuation than the species 'again undergoes modification?'"[80] As Gould writes, "None of this controversy within evolutionary theory should give any comfort, not the slightest iota, to any creationist."[81] Noebel's characterization of PE is completely inaccurate and needs to be retracted.

Conclusion

Noebel's discussion of atheism misses the mark. Although Noebel accurately summarizes standard atheistic objections to theistic arguments, his discussion virtually ignores the arguments for atheism. His objections that life is meaningless or purposeless without God ignores the fact that life can have personal meaning or purpose without God.

Concerning biological evolution, Noebel's objections all fail. Noebel has not shown that modern science presupposes Christianity. Methodological naturalism is an integral part of the scientific method. There is no reason to reject a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life. Natural selection is not a tautology. Evolution does not destroy morality. There is abundant scientific evidence of beneficial mutations. Vestigial organs are evidence for evolution and against creationism. The fossil record contains several examples of transitional forms--none of which are discussed by Noebel--and punctuated equilibrium does not in any way discount evolutionary theory.

In short, I think Noebel's objections to atheism and biological evolution are mistaken on virtually every point. Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed his very interesting book. I think the chief accomplishment of Understanding the Times is Noebel's systematic, comprehensive comparison of competing worldviews. Perhaps some day a nontheist will write a similar analysis of worldviews from a naturalistic perspective.[82]

Notes

[1] In case you're wondering why physics and cosmology do not appear in Noebel's list of disciplines, Noebel includes physics and cosmology under "philosophy."

[2] Pace Plantinga, quoted by Noebel, p. 12.

[3] Ronald H. Nash, Faith & Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), p. 30.

[4] See Sue Bohlin, "Answering the Big Questions of Life" (<URL:http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/bigquest.html>, 1996), spotted August 21, 1999.

[5] See William Rowe, "The Problem of Evil & Some Varieties of Atheism" American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (1979), pp. 335-41, and Paul Draper, "Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists" Nous 23 (1989), pp. 331-50. For some recent treatments of the problem of evil written after the publication of Noebel's book, see Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990); Mark Bernstein, "Explaining Evil" Religious Studies 34 (1998), pp. 151-164; and Theodore M. Drange, Nonbelief and Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1998).

[6] See J.L. Schellenberg, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993) and Drange 1998.

[7] For a report on this excellent conference, see James Still, "Infidels Attend Society of Christian Philosophers Conference" (<URL:http://www.infidels.org/infidels/newsletter/1999/may. html#Conference>, May 1999), spotted June 20, 1999.

[8] Kurt E.M. Baier, "The Meaning of Life" in Critiques of God (ed. Peter Angeles, Buffalo: New York, 1997), p. 317.

[9] Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger, Reason & Religious Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 248.

[10] Richard Carrier, private correspondence, August 23, 1999.

[11] Cicero, On Divination, 2.28 (60). I owe this quotation to Richard Carrier.

[12] Seneca, Natural Questions, 6.4.2. I owe this quotation to Richard Carrier.

[13] I owe this quotation to Richard Carrier.

[14] Bertrand Russell, Religion and Science (1935, New York: Oxford University Press, 1961).

[15] Robert T. Pennock, Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998), p. 283.

[16] National Academy of Sciences, Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences (2nd ed., Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1999), p. 24.

[17] See Joseph Boxhorn, "Observed Instances of Speciation" (<URL: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html>, 1995), spotted 27 May 99; and Chris Stassen, James Meritt, Anneliese Lilje, L. Drew Davis, "Some More Observed Speciation Events" (<URL:http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/speciation.html>, 1997), spotted August 18, 1999.

[18] Mark Isaak, "Five Major Misconceptions about Evolution" (<URL:http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-misconceptions.html>, 1998), spotted 27 May 99. For additional examples of transition fossils, see Kathleen Hunt, "Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ" (<URL:http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-transitional.html>, 1997), spotted 27 May 99.

[19] Unfortunately, research in abiogenesis is moving at a very fast pace and all of the books on the topic are outdated. Still, there a few books which provide a good introduction to abiogenesis. See Robert Shapiro, Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth (Bantam Books, 1987); A.G. Cairns-Smith, Seven Clues to the Origin of Life (Cambridge University Press, 1995); Ronald W. Fox, Energy and the Evolution of Life (W.H. Freeman and Company, 1988).

[20] Noebel himself quotes five scientists who consider abiogenesis a science: George Gaylord Simpson, Chris McGowan, Victor Stenger, Carl Sagan, and Isaac Asimov. Moreover, I can think of at least 14 scientists who Noebel neglected to mention: Douglas Futuyma, Sidney W. Fox, Stuart Kaufmann, Andrew Ellington, Richard Dawkins, Peter Atkins, Stanley Miller, Kenneth Miller, Harold Morowitz, Reza Ghadiri, Phillip Anderson, Peter Wills, David Deamer, and Russell F. Doolittle.

[21] Andrew Ellington, "Interim FAQ: The Probability of Abiogenesis" (<URL:http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-abiogenesis.html>, 1995), spotted May 27, 1999.

[22] Kenneth Miller, "Scientific Creationism Verses Evolution," Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 58.

[23] Quoted in Carl Zimmer, "First Cell" Discovery November 1995. Reprinted at <URL:http://208.226.13.177/archive/output.cfm?ID=577>, spotted May 27, 1999.

[24] Michael Ikeda and Bill Jefferys, "The Anthropic Principle Does Not Support Supernaturalism" (<URL:http://quasar.as.utexas.edu/anthropic.html>, n.d.), spotted September 3, 1999.

[25] Keith M. Parsons, Science, Confirmation, and the Theistic Hypothesis (Ph.D. Dissertation, Kingston, Ontario, Canada: Queen's University, 1986), p. 46. Republished electronically on the World Wide Web at <URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_parsons/theistic/>.

[26] Richard Carrier, "Are the Odds Against the Origin of Life Too Great to Accept?" (<URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/addendaB. html>, 1999), spotted September 5, 1999; cf. Ian Musgrave, "Lies, Damned lies, Statistics and Probability of Abiogenesis Calculations" (<URL:http://www-personal.monash.edu.au/~ianm/prob.htm>, October 21, 1998), spotted February 15, 2000.

[27] Isaac Asimov, The Wellsprings of Life (London: Abelard-Schuman, 1960), p. 57.

[28] Philip Kitcher, Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982), pp. 57-59.

[29] Ibid., p. 59.

[30] Pennock 1999, p. 101.

[31] Phillip Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1991), p. 23.

[32] Douglas J. Futuyma, Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution (New York: Pantheon Books,1982), p. 228.

[33] George Bakken, "Creation or Evolution?" Berkeley: National Center for Science Education, n.d. Quoted in Mark Vuletic, "Frequently Encountered Criticisms in Evolution vs. Creationism: Revised and Expanded" (<URL:http://www2.uic.edu/~vuletic/cefec.html>, August 16, 1999), spotted February 14, 2000.

[34] Edward E. Max, "The Evolution of Improved Fitness by Random Mutation Plus Selection" (<URL:http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/fitness.html>, 1999), spotted 4 Jun 99.

[35] J. Cohen. 1996. "Receptor Mutations Help Slow Disease Progression." Science 273(5283):1797-1798. 27 September. Quoted in Vuletic 1999.

[36] For more information, see Richard Harter, "Are Mutations Harmful?" (<URL:http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/mutations.html>, May 23, 1999), spotted August 18, 1999.

[37] See Boxhorn 1995, paragraph 5.3 and Chris Stassen, James Meritt, Anneliese Lilje, and L. Drew Davis, "Some More Observed Speciation Events" (<URL:http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/speciation.html>, 1997), spotted August 18, 1999.

[38] See L. Beverly Halstead, "Evolution--The Fossils Say Yes!" Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 240-254; Roger J. Cuffey, "Paleontologic Evidence and Organic Evolution" Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 255-281; Laurie R. Godfrey, "Creationism and Gaps in the Fossil Record" Scientists Confront Creationism (ed. Laurie R. Godfrey, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1983), pp. 193-218.

[39] Lionel Theunissen, "Patterson Misquoted: A Tale of Two 'Cites'" (<URL:http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/patterson.html>, 1997), spotted 27 May 99.

[40] Colin Patterson, Evolution (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978), pp. 131-33. Quoted in Theunnissen 1997.

[41] Ibid, italics mine.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Stephen Jay Gould, Hens Teeth and Horse's Toes (New York: Norton & Co., 1983), p. 260. Reprinted in "Evolution as Fact and Theory" in Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 123-24.

[44] Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda's Thumb (New York: Norton, 1980), p. 181. Emphasis is mine.

[45] Quoted in Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences (second ed., 1999), p. 28.

[46] Stephen Jay Gould, "The Return of the Hopeful Monsters," Natural History 86(6) 1977, p. 22.

[47] David A. Noebel, private correspondence, June 3, 1999.

[48] Gould 1977, p. 22.

[49] Stephen Jay Gould, Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes (New York: Norton, 1983), p. 261.

[50] Stephen Jay Gould, "Hooking Leviathan by its Past" Natural History 5/94, pp. 11. I owe this quotation to Stuart <email removed>.

[51] See David M. Raup, "The Geological and Paleontological Arguments of Creationism" Scientists Confront Creationism (New York: Norton, 1984), p. 158.

[52] Gould 1994, my emphasis.

[53] Raup 1984, p. 156.

[54] Raup 1984, p. 157.

[55] Raup 1984, p. 158.

[56] Laurie R. Godfrey, "Scientific Creationism: The Art of Distortion" in Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 177.

[57] Kathleen Hunt, "Horse Evolution" (<URL:http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/horses.html>, 1995), spotted June 14, 1999.

[58] I owe this point to Mark Vuletic.

[59] Futuyma 1982, p. 85.

[60] McFadden, B.J. " Dental Character Variation in Paleopopulations and Morphospecies of Fossil Horses and Extant Analogs" in The Evolution of the Perissodactyls (ed. D.R. Prothero and R.M. Schoch, New York: Clarendon Press, 1989), p. 131. Quoted in Hunt 1995.

[61] R.L. Evander, "Phylogeny of the family Equidae" in The Evolution of the Perissodactyls (ed. D.R. Prothero and R.M. Schoch, New York: Clarendon Press, 1989), p. 125. Quoted in Hunt 1995.

[62] See Kathleen Hunt, "Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ: Part 1A" (<URL:http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-transitional/part1a.html>, 1997), spotted June 15, 1999 and author unknown, "Macroevolution: Tempo and Mode: II" (<URL:http://biomed.brown.edu/Courses/BIO48/37.Tempo&Mode.2.HTML>, n.d.), spotted June 15, 1999.

[63] Gould, S. J., & Eldredge, N. 1977. "Punctuated equilibria: the tempo and mode of evolution reconsidered." Paleobiology, 3, p. 121. Emphasis is mine.

[64] I found this diagram at <URL:http://www.hsu.edu/faculty/engmanj/bio2114/power/species/sld060. htm> on June 16, 1999.

[65] Gould and Eldredge 1977, p. 119. Emphasis is mine.

[66] Ibid., p. 119. Emphasis is mine.

[67] Wesley Elsberry, "Re: PE and Gradualism at Odds?" (<URL:http://www.rtis.com/nat/user/elsberry/evobio/evc/wre_arch/wre00119.htm#4>, October 30, 1996), spotted June 16, 1999.

[68] Michael Rose, Darwin's Spectre: Evolutionary Biology in the Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), pp. 88-89. Quoted in Mark Vuletic, "Frequently Encountered Criticisms in Evolution vs. Creationism: Revised and Expanded" (<URL:http://www2.uic.edu/~vuletic/cefec.html">, August 14, 1999), spotted August 18, 1999.

[69] Gould and Eldredge 1977.

[70] Christopher McGowan, In the Beginning: A Scientist Shows Why the Creationists Are Wrong (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1984), p. 29.

[71] Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould, "Punctuated equilibria: an alternative to phyletic gradualism" Models In Paleobiology (Ed. by T. J. M. Schopf, 1972), pp. 98-108.

[72] S. J. Gould and N. Eldredge, "Punctuated Equilibrium Comes of Age," Nature 366 (1993): 223, quoted in Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin's God (New York: Cliff Street Books, 1999), p. 117.

[73] Miller 1999, p. 117.

[74] McGowan 1984, p. 29.

[75] Laurie R. Godfrey, "Creationism and Gaps in the Fossil Record" in Scientists Confront Creationism (ed. Laurie R. Godfrey, New York: Norton, 1983), p. 211.

[76] Ibid., p. 211.

[77] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W.W. Norton, 1987), p. 244.

[78] Stephen Jay Gould, "Evolution as Fact and Theory" Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press), p. 124.

[79] Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (1872, 6th ed., London: Oxford University Press, 1956), pp. 119-120. Quoted in Miller 1999, pp. 114-115.

[80] Miller 1999, p. 115.

[81] Quoted in Godfrey 1984, p. 179.

[82] I am grateful to Mark Vuletic, Richard Carrier, and Donald Home for helpful suggestions concerning previous drafts of this essay.

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