Learning from Skeptics - Dr. David Berlinski

(SeanO) #1

I was recently watching a few of the old Socrates in the City events (put on by Eric Metaxas) and stumbled across this one with Dr. Berlinski.

I remember first encountering Dr. Berlinski and being refreshed by his honest critique of evolutionary theory (here of course referring to macroevolution). Ever since I actually read On the Origin of Species myself, I have always felt the theory simply did not have legs to stand on (if you take my meaning). Even though he is not a believer, I feel he approaches the topic with an almost scathing level of honesty.

After watching the video, what are some things you think we can learn from Dr. Berlinski? Any critiques?

Please share freely. I am curious to hear your thoughts.

(Jimmy Sellers) #2

Read the book loved it. It was an RZIM recommendation. Ravi use to quote from it regularly particularly the the back cover:

• Has anyone provided a proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close.
• Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close.
• Have the sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close.
• Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough.
• Has rationalism in moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough.
• Has secularism in the terrible twentieth century been a force for good? Not even close to being close.
• Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy of thought and opinion within the sciences? Close enough.
• Does anything in the sciences or in their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even ballpark.
• Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.

Still a go to book for me because he is a skeptic.

(Helen Tan) #3

Hi @SeanO and @Jimmy_Sellers , I am so glad to hear an intellectually robust secular voice standing up against Darwinian Theory (DT). Berlinski certainly doesn’t mince his words. I’ve also found a 6 minute video in which he refutes DT and makes the point that in DT, one is not dealing in the sense which the serious sciences, eg. Physics, would recognize a theory but dealing with a collection of anecdotes, a certain point of view and a series of hunches.

His key points are:

  1. He sees fossil records as not sustaining any kind of predictions that can be intelligently derived from DT.
  2. There’s not the same kind of rigor (as seen in the history of Physics and what Newton did) in Biology to demonstrate the kind of mechanism adequate for the generation of the level of complexity that natural selection and random variation are supposed to accomplish.
  3. He had looked at all the genetic arguments and found that without a tremendous amount of very special manipulation and ad hoc constraints, computer programs can’t generate anything realistic that can be used as Darwinian mechanism like they can for the Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.
  4. There’s an utter absence of laboratory evidence for random variation and natural selection. What is seen in nature and the laboratory is very highly bounded variation, cyclic variation, for eg., finch beaks in the Galapagos Islands.

Berlinski also said in another video: “If it should come to pass in the fullness of time that we discover that there is no explanation for life, we will have to accept that. If it should come to pass in the fullness of time that the only explanation for life is that there is a process design for a transcendent or purposes by a transcendent figure, we will have to accept that too and if that should come to pass, I would like to ask who among us will feel genuinely diminished?

Listening to Berlinski, I was wondering if anything different has been uncovered in science to prove his statements to be erroneous. Looking forward to more thoughts on this.

(SeanO) #4

@Helen_Tan I would be curious to hear Hugh Ross’s take on the current state of scientific evidence.

The only one I can speak to a little bit is the computer simulations. I recently took a class on bioinspired computing and one of the topics was genetic algorithms - basically evolution.

The idea in genetic algorithms is that you start with an ancestor - something very far from the ideal solution - and the each new generation is randomly mutated in a predefined way. Whether or not the members of the new generation reproduce is based upon a fitness equation that determines their fitness to survive or to solve whatever mathematical problem you are trying to solve.

So - as you can see - there are some major assumptions in these simulations. The basic building blocks and ancestor already exist! Not to mention the fitness equation and computer to run the simulation :slight_smile:

Here are some of the programs that were examples of biological evolution if you are interested.

Like Berlinski said - lots of assumptions already baked in.

(Jennifer Judson) #5

@SeanO In the Karl Sims - Evolved Virtual Creatures video what I see is that the virtual creatures are learning. Is that the same as evolving? Are they replicating a next generation version that perhaps grows extra body segments to fulfill the goal more successfully?

All this science is WAY OVER MY HEAD. But one observation seems obvious, because you can program a computer to generate the outcome you want, merely proves the possibility of whatever you are proposing. It does not necessarily follow that it is in any way a proof of how life came to exist and/or whether evolution is viable.

Am I missing something?

It is refreshing to hear Dr. Berlinski indicate an honest assessment from science must still be maybe, maybe not. Also enjoyed his illustration from Daniel.

Thanks for sharing, enjoyed watching these.

(SeanO) #6

@Jennifer_Judson In the simulation each new generation of block creatures’ fitness for survival was evaluated based on its swimming speed. What is really happening is that the block creatures with the highest swimming speed are the ones who pass on their DNA and therefore, hopefully, better traits.

As I am sure you are aware, there is a major difference between macroevolution (fish turning into land mammals) and microevolution (a virus evolving to be resistant to bacteria or finch beaks). Berlinski himself points out we have no real evidence for macroevolution.

I would say the simulation from Sims is more like microevolution - since all of the basic building blocks for the creatures are already in place at the beginning of the simulation and the creatures do not transition from swimming to walking (to do so, the program would have to be altered).

I agree with Berlinski that there is no real evidence for macroevolution.

And yes, even if they could simulate macroevolution, where did all of the information embedded in our DNA come from in the first place? Information comes from Intelligence - and there is lots of information that has to be in place before any form of evolution can take place.

(Helen Tan) #7

Hi @SeanO

I looked up what some other scientists, who are refuting DT, are saying and they’re expressing conclusions similar to Berlinski’s. Four recent books are reviewed in this article and here are some highlights:


  1. Heretic by Matti Leisola and J. Witt– Leisola is a bioengineer with 140 peer-reviewed articles to his credit and a former staunch DT supporter. His current refutation of DT is largely based on the encoding of the DNA in the building of enzymes. The authors’ take-down of DT is candidly expressed in this quote: “ The Darwinian theory of evolution is the phlogiston of our day, festooned with a myriad and growing number of patches. Evolution is slow and gradual, except when it’s fast….It explains both extreme complexity and elegant simplicity. It tells us how birds learned to fly and how some lost that ability……It forced fish to walk and walking animals to return to the sea….Evolution is random and without direction except when it moves toward a target. Life under evolution is a cruel battlefield except when it demonstrates altruism. And it does all this with a growing number of ancillary hypotheses.”

  2. Darwin’s House of Cards by Tom Bethell – Bethell interviewed key Darwinian theorists about the meaning of natural selection, including Richard Lewontin, Stephen Jay Gould and Karl Popper. When asked what ‘fitness’ meant in terms of natural selection to produce new traits, he received no clear answer. In fact, Lewontin admitted that natural selection is not even a scientific theory, asserting that it’s not falsifiable.

  3. Zombie Science by Jonathan Wells – According to Wells, what really drove Darwin’s proposed mechanism was “a desire to replace design, which suggested the purposeful action of an agent, with materialism.” It is a magnificent image but doesn’t fit the facts.

  4. Undeniable by Douglas Axe – Axe, like Leisola, had the hands-on experience to evaluate natural selection. He describes the improbability of beneficial mutations being selected, even if they happen. Like Bethell, he sees natural selection as a “vacuous idea, assuming the existence of the very things it tries to explain.” His final blow to DT is reflected in this statement: “ Evolutionary theory ascribes inventive power to natural selection alone. However, because selection can only hone in on the fitness signal from an invention after that invention already exists, it can’t actually invent.”

I haven’t looked at length at these books but see that there has been some honest and increasing pushback to DT. As always, I look forward to more thoughts on this.

(SeanO) #8

@Helen_Tan I really like Leisola’s quote! Rolls off the tongue a lot like the one on the back of Berlinski’s book.

I think I would push back a bit on Wells’ conclusion that Darwin only wanted to replace design - I think his path to unbelief had many influences and that it is unclear when exactly he began that journey.

1 - Evolution was a Family Legacy

Erasmus Darwin, Charles’ grandfather, had written a poem called Zoonomia that had suggestions of evolutionary theory. Darwin read this book as a teenager and it may very well have gotten the ball rolling in his mind.

2 - Evolution was in the Air

Alfred Russell Wallace came up with the theory simultaneously with Darwin - there was a group of people among the elite academics who were all pushing in this direction. So, in some ways, it was a career move for Darwin. Of course, a rejection of creation and an attempt to construct a naturalistic explanation be traced back to Greco-Roman philosophers like Lucretius.

3 - It is Unclear His Daughter’s Death was the Motivation

Some people say when his daughter Annie died at 10 that caused him to disbelieve in God. But the articles below claim that perhaps he was influenced by Charles Lyell’s work on geology - which suggested the earth was very old - and may have held off publishing his theory of evolution because of his wife’s devout faith, which he did not want to upset. These are all theories, of course, in my opinion it is simply uncertain when his unbelief began or why.


On another note, one of my favorite historical characters is John Stevens Henslow - a devout Christian scientist who mentored Darwin, got Darwin his voyage on the Beagle and devoted the latter part of his life to ministering at a country Church.

(Helen Tan) #9

Hi @SeanO, thank you for the information on Darwin. It’s interesting to read what may have prompted Darwin’s apparent veering away from his training as an Anglican theologian. It is also said that there was always some doubt at the back of his mind with regard to his theory.

In a letter he wrote to William Graham on 3 July 1881, Darwin said, “ But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind ?”

Nancy Pearcey in “Mere Creation, Science Faith and Intelligent Design” edited by William A. Dembski wrote, “… But Darwin was not so dogmatic. He described his theory as an inference grounded chiefly on analogy. And he praised the author of one review foreseeing "that the change of species cannot be directly proved and that the doctrine must sink or swim according as it groups and explains phenomena" (Darwin 1899, 2:155). In an 1863 letter, he amplified by pointing out that evolution by natural selection was "grounded entirely on general considerations" such as the difference between contemporary organisms and fossil organisms. "When we descend to details," he wrote, "we can prove that no one species has changed [i.e., he cannot prove that a single species has changed]; nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory. Nor can we explain why some species have changed and others have not" (Darwin 1899, 2:210). In other words, Darwin was aware that the scientific evidence was short of compelling.

Stephen Myer in the prologue to his book “Darwin’s Doubt” wrote, “ In the origin of species, Darwin openly acknowledges important weaknesses in his theory and professed his own doubts about key aspects of it. Yet today’s public defenders of a Darwin-only science curriculum apparently do not want these, or any other scientific doubts about contemporary Darwinian theory, reported to students. This book addresses Darwin’s most significant doubt . . . and how a seemingly isolated anomaly that Darwin acknowledged almost in passing has grown to become illustrative of a fundamental problem for all of evolutionary biology.

This takes me back to Berlinski’s comment that DT is being perpetuated for reasons other than what scientific evidence points to. It makes me wonder what it would be like if the DT promulgators were scientifically honest.

(SeanO) #10

@Helen_Tan Yes - I think the type of honesty required to go against the flow of what will make you successful and reputable, in addition to bucking tradition, is a rare gift indeed. May the Lord raise up more men and women with pure hearts who pursue truth wherever it may lead!

(Helen Tan) #11

Amen, @SeanO.

I was wondering if you’ve come across the book, Contested Bones , which was published in 2017 after 4 years of research into the primary scientific literature on bones thought to represent transitional forms between ape and man. It’s written by Dr John Sanford and Christopher Rupe. Here’s a summary I found online. It’s an interesting read.

I quote verbatim from the article on what is covered in the book below:

1) Collapse of the traditional understanding of ape-to-man evolution.

2) Field in crisis—newest data only suggests “messy and undecipherable bush”, no clear fossil trail leading to man.

3) In the present, we see a diversity of ape-forms and a diversity of human forms. The fossils indicate that the same was true in the past—but there was even more diversity. Despite the diversity observed in the present and also in the past, it is still generally not difficult to distinguish ape bones from human bones—as long as the skeletons are substantially intact.

4) There is mounting fossil evidence that man and the australopithecine apes coexisted and interacted (at least until the australopiths went extinct).

5) There are major problems with the methods used to date the hominin fossils.

6) New genetic data indicates that ape-to-man evolution is no longer credible—evolution is going the wrong way.

7) Almost every major claim is fiercely contested within the field of paleoanthropology. Unfortunately, the competing views are not widely publicized. The interpretation that receives the most publicity is the claims made by the discoverers, who almost always promote their finding as a human ancestor.

For the last 150 years, bones and bone fragments have been used to promote the concept of ape-to-man evolution. One by one, these bones have been questioned, then challenged, and then have been either abandoned or simply put on the shelf. Tens of thousands of bones and bone fragments have now been catalogued, named, and often re-named. Some of these bones have been very strange indeed. Despite all this, the scientists who study these things now conclude that these bones DO NOT SHOW a clear progression from ape to man. All that is seen is a messy, tangled “bush” with no fossil trail leading to man.

What do the bones show? They show that there are basically two types of bones of interest— bones of the ape type (cataloged Australopithecus), and bones of the human type (cataloged Homo). There are no bones that are clearly transitional between the ape type and the human type.

As always, I would appreciate more thoughts on this.

(SeanO) #12

@Helen_Tan No, I had not heard of that book - apparently by the Feed My Sheep foundation. I have read Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross’ book “Who Was Adam”, which I found very helpful.

One thing I like about Berlinski is that, in a way, he is a prophet from within the skeptic camp. Os Guiness says in “Fools Talk” that sometimes peoples’ ears are more open to those from within their own tradition that challenge prevailing concepts - whereas they are not able or willing to hear voices from within the Christian tradition.

Of course, Dr. John Sanford is out of Cornell, so he is a reputable scientist, but clearly from within the Christian perspective.


(Jimmy Sellers) #13

@SeanO and @Helen_Tan
I have read half of, How to create a mind by Ray Kurzweil. I thought you might find this interesting. It’s not exactly on point with AI it does leap frog machine learning and goes straight for the holy grail, the first complete brain upload from a biological animal to a virtual entity that lives in a virtual world.
An excerpt from the book:
David Dalrymple, Harvard, is planning to simulate the brain of a nematode, a roundworm. Because their nervous system is uncomplicated he plans to simulate them to the molecular level. He will also create a computer simulation of it body and environment so that his worm can hunt for virtual food and do the other things that that nematodes are good at. Dalrymple says that it will be the first complete brain upload from a biological animal to a virtual entity that lives in a virtual world. Like his simulated nematode whether even a biological nematode is conscience is open to debate, although in their struggle to eat, digest food, avoid predators, reproduce, they do have experiences to be conscience of.
You might want to google David Dalrymple. He is a very smart dude.


(SeanO) #14

@Jimmy_Sellers Sounds cool - thanks for sharing :slight_smile:

(Helen Tan) #15

Jimmy, looks like one could be “opening a can of worms” when turning on the computer💻